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  • “My name is Daniel Powers. And I’m the last one left.”

    Daniel’s face was twisted into an expression of deep sorrow. His face was stained with tears, his eyes red and watery.

    “I’m broadcasting this message from an undisclosed location. Everybody here is dead.”

    Lifeless bodies were sprawled out on the floor, deadly still, as Daniel panned the camera away from his face.

    “Except me. The government has been lying to you. This message is not a prank, experiment, or test, nor is the information that will follow it. It is simply an apology. I am sorry for what I have done. I am sorry for the lives I have taken, and the lives that will surely be taken over the next few years.”

    Staring down at something off frame, Daniel looked up at the camera one last time, placing an unseen object in his mouth.

    “Forgive me.”


    “Good evening, Daniel.”

    The woman spoke gently with the robotic mannerisms of a smartly-dressed, heavily made-up receptionist. Her auburn hair rested neatly on her shoulders, the fluorescent lights shining against her skin. She smiled, but not in a way of warmth or kindness. Her upturned lips, creased cheeks, and slightly narrowed eyes gave every impression of a smile, but with a distinct absence of soul or personality. Rather, it was as if she was smiling without smiling at all.

    Daniel leaned back in the padded chair, a hateful glint in his eyes. He scowled wickedly, undeterred by the woman’s pointless gestures. Here she was, surrounded by no cameras, nor watchful eyes, nor prying media, yet her feet were adorned with sparkling high heels that dazzled like priceless minerals, her ears pierced with glossy gemstones like that of a celebrity. This charade, this display of glamor and style, what meaning did it have? What meaning did any of it have in the world they lived in?

    The clock on the wall ticked solemnly by, echoing in Daniel’s head, yet somehow staying completely unnoticed. Such is the nature of a clock, he thought to himself. Always there, always visible, but never truly seen.

    “My name is Erin Matthews. You are Daniel Powers, a moderately skilled computer hacker living in a small apartment in Wyoming. I read your file. No girlfriend, no immediate family, no social life outside of internet forums. A good few years of experience. Sounds familiar to me.”

    Daniel rolled his eyes.

    “Now, it has come to our attention that you, after some…”

    Erin coughed dramatically, covering her cherry lips with her fist.

    “…shall we say, laborious digging, you may have stumbled across something quite out of your depth.”

    Raising an eyebrow, Erin crossed her arms and rested them on the table like a mildly frustrated schoolteacher. Daniel drew in a long breath, already tired of Erin’s condescending nature.

    “And, it would also appear that this discovery may have led to even more confidential information being divulged. Now, fortunately, we were able to step in before anything got too…out of hand.”

    “Ah yes, I’m quite familiar. I think it might have been something to do with a heavily-armed SWAT team breaking into my house and kidnapping me. But I don’t know, the butt of a shotgun against my head did mess me up a little.” Daniel spoke up, pointing to the large, purple bruise by his temple, it partially concealed by his spiked hair.

    Erin paused and stared blankly at the wall for a couple of seconds. Her eyes traced along the floor, never quite meeting Daniel’s piercing gaze.

    “Yes, well, my colleagues were quick to suggest killing you on the spot, but I overruled that idea. You’re very welcome. It must be a little disorientating for you, waking up in a small, grey little room, with no idea where you are in the world, but I’m glad to see you’re co-operating.”

    “Oh, just a standard Saturday, honestly. I’m sure you would know what it’s like.”

    Erin chuckled quietly.

    “Oh, believe me, you have no idea…”

    There were another few seconds of silence.

    “I’m offering you a choice here, Daniel. The government, we’ve done some pretty appalling stuff, but we’re not brutes. Of course, as you’ve probably seen, we have partaken in a fair share of violence and human rights violations. But we aren’t savages. How do you think we’re so big? Our numbers are immense, yet 99% of the population know nothing about us. Even after all you’ve seen, that leaked file barely scratched the surface of what we do. You know what’s funny? Almost all popular conspiracy theories have been created by us. Moon landing was a hoax? Who knows, but we started the idea. Big Pharma? Vaccines? Fake news? It’s all us.”

    Daniel smirked and pushed up his glasses. To him, the more info Erin divulged, the better. All this was to him was just more evidence, stacking on top of each other like a Jenga tower, all coming into place.

    Erin leaned over sideways from the chair, lifting a jet-black briefcase from the floor and setting it gently down on the table. Clicking open the locks, she pulled out something flat and rectangular.

    “It’s your laptop, Daniel. We had a little looksie for ourselves before you woke up. Deleted search history, but that just circulates back to us, anyway. Luckily for you, none of the pornography was illegal, but you were really pushing it with some of those videos.”

    Daniel slid the laptop to his chest and circled his finger on the mousepad, checking its functionality.

    “Mostly, we just looked. Long list of government websites you were trying to hack. I’ll give you credit, you got pretty close a few times. Most of the others couldn’t hack half as well when they were in your position. Of course, then you got lucky, just like they all did, and that’s how you ended up in this mess.”

    “The others? What do you mean? Why are you showing me this?” Daniel questioned.

    Erin sighed and stood up from the chair, beginning to pace around the room.

    “You aren’t special, Daniel. Don’t let this experience go to your head. You’re one of many, just like we all are here. We could easily make the government websites unable to be hacked if we wanted to. That’s the point. It’s a recruitment process. As strange as it might seem in your situation, the government’s power isn’t unlimited. Once you know, there’s no way for us to magically whisk the info out of your head. People die, people are killed, people get overconfident and snoop in places they shouldn’t. We always need more members.”

    “You said I had a choice. What’s the choice? Can I leave?”

    Erin laughed, a brief, nasal laugh, stopping to lean against the wall.

    “It’s not that easy, Daniel, I’m afraid,” Erin continued. “Pay attention.”

    “That laptop has full, unlimited access to every juicy little detail the government has been hiding up their sleeve. Every suspicion quelled, every query answered. You have it all. Everything you’ve ever wanted.”

    Daniel’s eyes widened as he hovered the mouse over a folder marked “Government”.

    “You have two options. You can join us and know anything you’ve ever wanted to know. Think of it as a premium pass at an amusement park. Do aliens exist? Are politicians secretly lizard people? You’ll know.”

    Practically salivating at the idea, Daniel cupped his hands over his mouth, in deep thought.

    “Or, alternatively, you can leak the info. Make it public. Shout it from the rooftops. Find every major media outlet you can and spread the word. There’s nothing stopping you.”

    Daniel looked back up to Erin inquisitively.

    “But why? Why would you let that happen?”

    “Because, Daniel, it’s the same choice that was given to me 17 years ago when I was in the same position as you. And to everyone before me. It’s the principle, Daniel. The idea is, nobody would ever be dumb enough to consider leaking the info. They chose for the good of the country, Daniel. For the good of the world. I’m hoping you will too.”

    Daniel glanced to the screen, rubbing his chin.

    “How content is the public nowadays, Daniel? Do you think that if they see this blaring from their televisions or their radios, they’re just going to roll over and accept it? Or will there be uproar, rioting, blood spilled over your actions? Is that what you want? Would that truly be better?”

    Beads of sweat began to form on Daniel’s brow.

    “This isn’t just the US, Daniel. People all around the world will see this. And then what will happen? They’ll have questions of their own for their governments. Surely, we wouldn’t be the only guilty party. In a matter of months, maybe even weeks, one by one, civilizations will fall, until all that’s left will be anarchy and bloodlust. That’s the price of knowledge, Daniel.”

    Daniel breathed heavily, an internal debate raging in his head.

    “Clock’s ticking, Daniel. Make your decision.”

    Heart pounding, Daniel clicked on the file. Pages and pages of secrets were laid out before him, everything he had worked so hard trying to find out. Life-changing information. How long? How long had it been stashed away, locked behind guarded doors, never to see the light of day again?

    He had to. People deserved to know.

    “I’m going to do it.” Daniel said slowly.

    Erin stood still, staring blankly at the wall. She reached into her trouser pocket, pulling out a small remote-looking object. Whispering something unintelligible into it, she placed it on the table, producing a small pill from her other pocket. She held it up to her face, staring deep into Daniel’s eyes.

    “One day, poor Daniel, you will realise. You will look across the ravaged cities and war-torn streets of what were once working societies and you will have to face what you have done. What you have turned the world into. The world that you spent so long and worked so hard trying to make free, free from government tyranny, free from oppression, free from the cruel hand of structure and law. And you will weep, and shout, and beg for the days of old, wishing you had never bothered, perhaps finally understanding that the biggest danger people have always faced, and always will face, is themselves. Goodbye, Daniel. You have made your choice. Now endure the consequences.”

    Erin placed the pill in her mouth, quickly swallowing it. Within a few seconds, she slumped down onto her knees, clutching her stomach with a painful moan. An agonised grimace lay across her face. Taking one last look at Daniel, Erin’s eyes rolled backwards, and she collapsed onto the floor, convulsing slightly.

    Daniel’s mouth hung open in shock. Several quiet thuds could be heard from outside, with a few more groans to accompany them. Horrified, he inched around Erin’s body, approaching the door on the other side of the room.

    It was unlocked. Daniel stepped into a long hallway, his face as pale as a sheet. More bodies were slumped against the walls, completely still. He recognised some of them, politicians and representatives from TV.

    “Hello?” Daniel called out, his words bouncing back and forth between the walls. No answer.

    As he walked, the horror of what he had done began to set in. Each room was occupied by at least a single corpse, not a sound in the air apart from Daniel’s own footsteps.

    Finally, he reached the end of the corridor, leading into a single room. Whirring computer hardware surrounded the walls, a single body lay flat on its face in the centre of it all. Reaching into the corpse’s pockets, Daniel found only one thing: a spare cyanide capsule.

    Approaching the central monitor, Daniel explored the computer’s functions. It was immense, a technological marvel so great, it was capable of broadcasting to every screen in the country at the press of a button. There was a solitary camera stood on a tripod in the room, facing Daniel as he sat down on an office chair. Within a few minutes, he had rigged the broadcast, having the confidential info displayed on the screen once he had switched it over.

    Beginning the broadcast, Daniel turned to face the camera.

    “My name is Daniel Powers, and I’m the last one left.”

      Loading editor
    • Hi!

      English - generally far above average. It was refreshing to see a first draft post here that only had a handful of issues.

      You seem to be using UK spelling rules. Is that deliberate? Yet you say "This isn’t just the US, Daniel."

      Errors:

      “I’m going to do it.” Daniel said slowly. (Needs comma where first period is)

      Moon landing was a hoax? (The moon landing ... missing determiner.)

      Mostly, we just looked. Long list of government websites you were trying to hack. (Needs a determiner. I'd phrase it as "Mostly, we just looked at the long ...)

      Story:

      I don't get it. The nobody would be hacker guy from Wyoming is mysteriously given the opportunity to learn all that truth that's out there, Fox Mulder's wet dream. The woman who offers it commits suicide. All the workers at the site do. So he broadcasts from this miracle computer to all screens. Why do they give him the choice to destroy the world? If you believe it will destroy the world, you're playing Russian Roulette with half the chambers loaded. Of course, a hacker will disclose. What is the profit to them? To find an excuse to commit suicide? Why do they commit suicide? They already know that the Queen of England really is a giant lizard. So why die over it?

      Maybe I am missing something, but if I am then I think others will miss it too.

        Loading editor
    • DrBobSmith wrote: Hi!

      English - generally far above average. It was refreshing to see a first draft post here that only had a handful of issues.

      You seem to be using UK spelling rules. Is that deliberate? Yet you say "This isn’t just the US, Daniel."

      Errors:

      “I’m going to do it.” Daniel said slowly. (Needs comma where first period is)

      Moon landing was a hoax? (The moon landing ... missing determiner.)

      Mostly, we just looked. Long list of government websites you were trying to hack. (Needs a determiner. I'd phrase it as "Mostly, we just looked at the long ...)

      Story:

      I don't get it. The nobody would be hacker guy from Wyoming is mysteriously given the opportunity to learn all that truth that's out there, Fox Mulder's wet dream. The woman who offers it commits suicide. All the workers at the site do. So he broadcasts from this miracle computer to all screens. Why do they give him the choice to destroy the world? If you believe it will destroy the world, you're playing Russian Roulette with half the chambers loaded. Of course, a hacker will disclose. What is the profit to them? To find an excuse to commit suicide? Why do they commit suicide? They already know that the Queen of England really is a giant lizard. So why die over it?

      Maybe I am missing something, but if I am then I think others will miss it too.

      Firstly, the story is meant to be in American English. I am from the UK, so any UK spellings are just out of habit. I'll try and rectify them accordingly.

      Secondly, the idea is that the option to leak the confidential stuff is part of the initiation process of joining Erin and the rest of the workers. They have to take the risk that someone will eventually end up leaking the info so that they can have more people. If Daniel was forced to work for them, he might one day grow tired of perpetually guarding the secrets and end up wanting to leak them anyway.

      Basically, it's just their allegedly fool-proof way of making sure people who decide to work for the government never disobey. If someone truly wanted to leak the info, why wouldn't they have leaked it when they had the chance?

      Erin and the workers commit suicide so they don't have to be held accountable by the public for what they've done, the same reason why Daniel ultimately commits suicide too.

      Daniel is blinded by his idea that leaking the info will make him a hero, which is why he actually ends up doing it. But, of course, he realises that the secrets can only do more harm than good when he sees the corpses.

      So, really, the whole message of the story is that sometimes we are better off not knowing certain things.

      I understand that the points I've made above aren't exactly very clear in the story, so I'll let you know when I finish editing them in.

        Loading editor
    • I personally wouldn't bother with UK vs US spelling conventions. Personally, I find that I use a blend, which has never been an  issue anybody's brought up. And as far as making dialogue gramatically correct, you want it to be as grammatically correct as natural dialogue would be. So yes, add a "the" before Moon Landing. But the other sugestion seems a bit overdone. People don't speak perfect grammar. Which brings me to really my only criticism, which is that the dialogue does seem a bit stiff, even for formalities. I would suggest giving them distinct personalities and letting that show through dialogue. Maybe the woman can be a stiff prude, and maybe Daniel could be a wise-cracking know-it-all. It doesn't have to be that, but just distinct characterization to help the dialogue feel more natural I like the premise and how it's delivered, so a pretty good story, I say

        Loading editor
    • So I was reading this and the whole time I was wondering, where's the scare or the punchline? There's none. You do not need to entertain the notion that there's a hidden truth, or that the conspiracy theories are correct in regards to the American Government. Firstly, they aren't true, most of them make as much sense as the world being a flat disk while all of the other planets are spherical (a statement issued by an actual flat earther somewhere on Twitter). 

      All you need to do to make this kind of story somewhat guttwrenching is just have a character from the upper echelons admit that the government doesn't give a shit about the population, which is basically how it is. You could also have a revalation of something politically sinister (like secret police in the USA, a slow build towards totaliarianism, an establishment of world domination by proxy through shrewed political and economical manuevers).

      Something more outlandish could be to pull a full blown Hitler-plan that gets discovered. 

      You could go for something less realistic with a discovery of plans towards the end of the world scenario where the elite get to survive at the expanse of the whole population or something. 

      Iluminati scares and Aliens in ma gov't aren't exactly scary. 

      Also, even if we found out there are antmen in the governent, society wouldn't fall apart, it would just change itself (probably through violence towards that goverment) but no end of the world or apocalypse scenario. 

      Your story though, so up to you.

        Loading editor
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