There have been rumours circulating about The Network for some time now, but I believe that I am the first to properly investigate them. I’m certainly the first to share my findings. I’m not going to shove this stuff down your throat and blow it out of proportion. Nor am I going to tell you everything that I saw. I shall not respond to any messages regarding the matter, but I will leave instructions to those of you who would are motivated enough to replicate my trip.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to North Wales. Lots of mountains and valleys, and very few large towns. Mostly rural communities out there. I visited a friend up in Bangor a few times, so I knew the way to the coast. From there, it was a matter of heading south, into the foothills of Mount Snowdon.
It took a while to find the old Research Building. It's been abandoned for years, and so the address wasn’t on my SatNav, but a couple of locals out on a hike pointed me in the right direction. If you plan on heading out there, I’d advise asking around. It’s easy to get lost out on those country roads.
Sure enough, there was the sign that I’d read about: the original words, “Gwynedd Climate Research Centre” just visible through the fading coat of black paint which had been sprayed across the sign. In their place had simply been daubed ‘end’.
Passing this charming exterior, I turned up a narrow path, where the hedges grew tall and tangled with weeds. I’m not talking narrow like “Oh, it’s going to be awkward if I meet another vehicle coming the other way." I’m talking, “grit your teeth the entire way because you can ear the bushes scraping the sides of your car,” narrow. The road-surface turned to gravel and then angled up, sharply. My tyres span, the innards creaked painfully and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to make it up. I reversed down the short distance that I’d managed and parked, shrugging-on my laptop bag and pocketing my dad’s Maglite. It was a fairly grey morning, and I had no idea what state the building’s lighting would be in. Buttoning my jacket, I headed up the hill.
The front door was not locked, but I set-out to check the perimeter. It was pretty much as-described in the original online post: windows boarded, no visible telephone or power-lines feeding into the building and an exterior shell which was covered almost entirely with graffiti tags. No vehicles were in sight, and the CCTV cameras hung limp and dead in their cages. Good enough for me.
The interior was dark, as I had anticipated. I flicked on the maglite and let it play-over grimy walls and a dusty floor. Odd that it should seem so undisturbed, one would think that it would be a squatter’s heaven, or at the very least, littered with used needles and condom wrappers, as most other abandoned buildings tend to be. The graffiti was still present, but it seemed more ‘hesitant’. It was spaced-out and faltered, the further down the hallway I went. It finally petered-out a few feet from the reception-desk. The local teenagers had obviously lost their nerve.
I found the fuse box behind the desk and flipped a few of the switches experimentally. Nothing happened. Whether the fuses were all blown, or there was no power at all, I did not know, but I definitely did not have the capacity to fix it. The email that I had received on the matter specifically stated not to worry about the electricity supply, but (and call me a coward if you like) given a choice between functioning lights, and creeping round a dark, isolated building on my own, I’d rather the former.
After climbing a bare stairwell to the next floor, I was able to stow my light. The windows here were not boarded-up, and great cones of sunlight had crept through the empty frames. The only ‘creepy’ thing about this place was how tidy it was. Yeah, a thick layer of dust coated everything, and what few furnishings were left had been piled up in the corners of rooms, but there was literally no sign of human disturbance. The sort of place an urban-explorer would kill to stumble across, no doubt. I actually felt almost unwelcome there. The closest example I can think of is when you walked into class really late, back in school. Everyone turns to look at you and you feel weirdly unwelcome? Yeah, well, I was getting that same feeling in my stomach when I found the room.
It was pretty much as the email had described: a big, open-plan office layout, with marks on the floor and ceiling where the cubicles had once been, and a great reef of office-chairs, tangled together in one corner. There was only one desk in the room: pushed against the far wall. As I approached it, I noted that, unlike the rest of the building, it was completely devoid of dust.
I pulled the laptop out of my bag and set it down. It was a cheap piece-of-crap 2000 model, which I’d bought online for about £30, reformatted and installed only the basic functions onto. It was specifically for that excursion: I was not going to gamble my personal machine on an interesting story I’d read on the internet.
Once booted-up, I produced the network cable. It was an old grey one: the kind you attribute with screechy dial-up tones, and parents complaining about your hogging the phone-lines. One end slotted into the back of the machine, and I looped the other down behind the desk, crouched beneath it, and felt my way along the flaking plaster, until my hand brushed the port. My probing fingers discovered a cable already attached, which I unhooked and replaced with my own. When I stood up, I noticed that the cable that I held in my hand was torn: as though the other half had been yanked away so abruptly that the plastic had ruptured and the wires inside snapped. I still have it around my office somewhere, actually.
Nothing happened. No icons popped up, announcing that I had successfully connected to the Network, and the little signal-strength symbol in the bottom right of the screen insisted that I was not online. Puzzled, I checked the printout of the email. No mention of this. Perhaps the power being off was an issue, contrary to the given directions.
I called up the CMD window and tried sending a ping. A ping, by the way, is a kind of ‘echoed’ message that the computer can send out, to test a connection. It bounces back, or receives a response, from other machines and servers on the same network as you. To my surprise, I received two or three automated responses. I was online, all-right.
The next given step was the internet. My homepage was set to Google, but strangely, the program spent a good few minutes just on a blank white screen, before I was redirected to a different search-engine. It was similar to Google in its minimalism; empty background with a central text bar, but the address was
‘www.patriotsearch.com’. In place of the ‘Google’ text logo, there was a simple, sketch-style picture of a stoic-faced soldier, holding a British flag in one hand a US one in the other. The words ‘Semper Fidelis’ were scratched onto his helmet. I tried YouTube, but the page briefly 404′d before redirecting me to the patriotsearch website once more. My mouth felt dry as I clicked the search option, and headed to the BBC News website. This, it seemed, was still online.
As I skimmed the news headlines, any doubts that I’d had quickly vanished.
“Second American Civil War grows in size and intensity.”
“US Troops re-deployed from Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey, to defend home-soil.”
“France and Spain left reeling after terrorists detonate a thermonuclear device on their borders.”
“Police in Texas circulate CCTV images of men believed responsible for the kidnap and murder of over fifty women since 2008.”
“Handgun ban set to become law across America, after last week’s Whitehouse Shooting-Spree.”
“The US and Britain to allow Australia and Canada to join the ‘Patriot Alliance’.”
“UK terrorists continue to murder in border towns; demand Scottish Independence.”
“German Theoretical Physicists arrested by US Agents. Accused of Treason. Research on Alternate Universes and Inter-Dimensional Travel amongst confiscated items.”
I sat back, fumbled a cigarette into my mouth and lit it. I had no idea precisely what it was I’d just stumbled across, I still don’t, but it was huge. Some kind of Alternate Reality? News from the future? It seemed too big to be a trick. Anyway, as the email had told me, this network, this ‘other internet’, was an overlap between our world and another one. I went back to the patriotsearch website, began punching-in anything that came to mind: “Olympics”, “facebook”, “Human Rights Act”, “police powers”, “current world map”.
Slowly, surely, a picture began to form. A picture of the world beyond my laptop, and the little umbilical cord which was the cable. I was a blind man, feeling his way through a cave, bit-by-bit. The more I read, the more fearful I became. A lot of bad shit had happened. I have neither the time nor patience to list everything here. You can’t expect me to describe an entirely separate historical timeline, but I’ll leave you a few examples: police in the United States and the UK were gradually being phased-out, and the Army was taking their place. From what I gathered, the only crimes that were properly investigated were treason and fraud; leaving all kinds of depraved killers and perverts free to do as they pleased. Some had even gained fan-followings; I stumbled across one website dedicated to somebody called the “Dockyard Butcher”. It had an image and video gallery in the sidebar, and the things I saw made me feel queasy. The world was overcrowded, but not just like ours: I make no exaggeration. London was ringed by shantytown slums: the sort of place you wouldn’t expect to find outside of a third-world country. There was so much to take-in, that I’m probably forgetting half of it as I type…
Oh, and something had happened to New York City. There were plenty of records about it, dating back to the late 90s, but then they just stopped, like it never existed. I couldn’t find it on any of the maps. No discussions on any public forums about it, either. I’m not sure if it’s an isolated example, or one of many places to officially ‘stop existing’, but if anyone decides to look for themselves, then it’s something interesting to investigate. I really…
…I really recommend that you don’t, though.
A shrill ‘bleep’ startled me. I’d left the CMD drive open, after testing my connection. It was notifying me of an echoed ‘ping’. I re-opened the window and, sure enough, I had been pinged. Moments later, a second ping popped-up on the feed. A different source, though: the I.P address was listed beside the notification. As far as we know, that building is the only one with a connection to ‘the Network’, meaning that they hadn’t come from this side. As I tried to grasp what was happening, a third ping appeared. Something clicked inside my head, and I felt my stomach turn. I had grasped, blindly, into the unknown, and now the unknown was grasping back. People from this ‘other world’ had felt my clumsy investigations, and were, in-turn, investigating us.
That was when my laptop went crazy. The mouse stopped responding to my usage; in fact, the pointer disappeared completely from the screen. The internet browser instantly froze-up, and then forwarded me to another website: a blank white screen which loaded almost instantaneously. A file began to load itself onto the machine; its icon a pale, pupil-devoid eyeball, and its name a blank space. Though I wasn’t hugely worried about the well-being of the old laptop, the idea that something from this ‘other place’ was pushing its way into my reality was strangely horrifying. I leapt to my feet and just as the download reached the 75% mark, I yanked-free the cable from the wall. A squeal of static emerged from the computer speakers, and the download-bar quivered, frozen on-screen.
I had dropped my cigarette in the rush, so I sat back, lit another one, and stared at that socket on the wall: scratched and slightly deformed due to my rather rough exit from the world that lay beyond it.
I have no idea what that eye-program was for, and I didn’t try to find out. I took the laptop apart then-and-there, and then carefully ground each piece below my heel. All that’s left of its inner workings is a scattering of green plastic shards and bent metal.
As for what the future holds for the old Climate Research building; I have no idea. Gwynedd council have been talking about demolishing it down for years now, and perhaps one day they’ll pull their fingers out and get round to it. I’ll be honest; when it’s nothing but rubble and ashes, I won’t be mourning its loss. Until that time, the socket; a little window into the unknown, is still there. If you desperately want to investigate, I can’t stop you. Still, it’s plain to see that whatever world The Network represents is a cruel and malicious shadow of our own. Just a word of warning to any other would-be pioneers, however; if they try to make contact, ignore them, and if they try to get-through, deny them.
Scientists believe that should alternate universes exist, then it would be almost impossible to knowingly transfer physical objects from one to the other. Then again, though data is simply electrical impulses, energy, that such a force should be exchangeable between two ‘realities’ simply paves the way for other, far less desirable visitors. I believe that whatever possibilities The Network holds for us are outweighed by the risk. Because what lies just across the veil is not some monster or demon, but a humanity turned cold and hateful. It knows how we think, and it knows we’ll come back. If all this hasn’t dissuaded you from exploring then please, please be careful.
Created to Steven Shorter