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68%

I needed something like the cameras hunters use, triggered by motion and snapping pictures of animals hanging around and generally having a good time, at least until the hunter eventually shows up. I don’t think they can alert the owner remotely of any movement though. And besides, I didn’t have any. I was itching to set up a video surveillance so I would not miss any action happening in my absence. I figured I could rig something similar right there. 

I dug through the geological strata of gadgets and parts inside my toolbox again, and eventually found what I was looking for: an old and beat-up Samsung flex-phone that still had some data credit left on it. I enabled hotspot on my main phone, connected the old phone to it, and started browsing through the XDA Developers site looking for a suitable app. Bingo! There was an app that would monitor phone’s camera for motion, take a series of photos for a set time period and send them to me. Then it would wait for another trigger. I installed the app, gave it root access and attached the phone to a hefty power bank. The phone’s screen would remain dark, so there should be enough power for days, and the app would alert me when it’s low on juice. I made sure the alerts were sent through an anonymizer, and thoroughly wiped all personal data from the phone, just in case. I wouldn’t want to have any uninvited visitors. 

I looked at the contraption in my hand, and feeling a bit ridiculous, considered wiping the fingerprints from it, like the smarter criminals in old movies always do. But I didn’t have gloves, and besides, I was a law-abiding citizen, and unless my phone’s fingerprint scanner was hacked, nobody had my fingerprints on file.

I got back to the barrier. Just to make sure it’s still there I threw a pebble, which silently stopped mid-air and fell on the ground. Yup. Still there. I climbed up the nearest large tree… Correction, I tried to climb up the nearest large tree. Not very successfully. I’m not very good at such things. However what I lack in agility I overcome with stubborn perseverance. After a while I was a few meters up the tree. Only to find out that I forgot a roll of duct tape at the bottom. Down I came, then up again, looking for a suitable branch that was thick enough to wrap a flex-phone around, with camera oriented in the right direction and free of obstructions. Eventually I managed to firmly attach the phone and the power bank to the branch, with the help of duct tape and some verbal abuse. I did my best camouflaging the haphazard installation with some leaves so it would not be noticeable from below.

I went behind a tree, waited a minute to let the motion trigger reset, then went right to the barrier. My pocket loudly blipped at me and vibrated for a moment. I swore and jumped away from the barrier. I don’t know why I got scared, this is what the app was supposed to do. I think my nerves were just shot to hell. Too much excitement for one day. I fished the  phone from the pocket and opened the photos I got: not too bad. I saw my back (damn, I definitely need to get more exercise and do something about my posture) as I was going away from the camera towards the barrier. All right, if there is any activity here in the next few days around whatever the barrier is protecting, I would know. 

I collected all of the pieces from my drone crash site, trying to clean up as well as I could, so nobody could tell I was here. I diligently attempted to spread the leaves and other miscellaneous forest debris to cover my tracks, and made sure that no artificial object (or broken piece of thereof) remained on the ground. This was somewhat exciting, like I was a character in a spy novel or a sci-fi technothriller. The result was far from perfect, but to my untrained eye, if you wouldn’t know what to look for, there was no obvious difference between this place and the surrounding forest.

The barrier was definitely artificial and it was hiding something from me. I was determined to find out what it was. But this determination would not help me at the moment – I was out of pseudo-scientific experiment ideas. There was literally nothing more I could gain by hanging around. I wanted to linger, absorbing the experience of discovering the unknown, which in itself was almost unknown to our generation. But I had that unpleasant feeling of my internal voice screaming something at me from the depths of my psyche, like a hostage tied to a chair with his mouth sealed by duct tape. I mentally tore the tape off, and after an imaginary “Ouch!” the internal voice hurriedly told me in a nervous and tense voice, and I quote here, that “whoever has bleeping means to create this bleeping artifact might not be bleeping friendly, not in the slightest! So the most prudent course of action is to get the bleep out of here, before anyone bleeping dangerous shows up, and watch it from the safety and comfort of my bleeping home, before I dare to face whoever the bleep is responsible for this bleeping thing, and suffer the bleeping consequences!”

You can see now why I keep my internal voice locked-up and restrained. It swears too much. Probably from seeing life as it is, with all its suffering and malevolence, and constantly calculating the odds, which are rarely good. Unlike my regular self that employs a filter on reality, selectively hiding its ugly truths so I can continue living without constantly panicking, at least most of the time. I try to control my speech and be respectful to myself and others, and not let my internal narrative get out, but it takes will to keep it under control sometimes.

Anyway, now it was time to go. I drove back home on autopilot, looking at the civilized and neat version of rural Ontario landscapes, with that slightly fake country-style look they have around densely populated areas. It all looked so familiar, but it wasn’t the same anymore. 

It was dark by the time I got home. I instructed the car to park itself in the garage and went up to my door. Smart lock neatly whirred as I approached (I just oiled it yesterday to stop it from squeaking and throwing annoying error messages on the fridge), and the door unlocked. I went straight to the kitchen, opened the cupboard above the microwave and reached for a bottle of my favourite single malt scotch, probably shattering your stereotype about Russian tastes for alcoholic beverages in the process. I poured a modest amount into a whiskey glass, upended it without feeling any taste in my mouth, and put the bottle back. The display on my Xiaomi fridge has lit up and the nice – though slightly disapproving – female voice told me that I had now less than 200 ml of whiskey left, and that based on my consumption patterns I would run out in less than a week. Should it order more? After I declined the offer the fridge drily informed me that my car’s manual driving mode was now temporarily disabled in accordance with my insurance terms, until I am no longer intoxicated, which it estimates may happen in not less than 3 hours. I flipped a finger to the fridge and got a cold “good night” in return. 

Trying to fall asleep was an exercise in futility. I couldn’t sleep because all my overexcited mind could do was, obviously, thinking about the anomaly and nothing else. Trying to take my mind off it, I entertained the idea of counting sheep jumping over an invisible fence. While jumping, each one would look at me disapprovingly and bleat “Ba-a-d idea… Ba-a-a-a-d idea!” I snickered at the ridiculous scene. But the question was still valid. Did I do the right thing? 

The safest way would have been just to leave the mystery behind and forget this incident had ever happened. But I knew full well that my curiosity wouldn’t let me, under the threat of regretting this decision for the rest of my life. So, forget the safest. Now, the responsible way would be to alert the authorities. But who would believe me? I imagined a phone call going something like “911, do you want the police, fire or ambulance? – Give me the police and the military! I found an invisible wall in the forest! It has to be investigated at once! Bring the canine unit!” I would be lucky if they don’t charge me with prank calling. 

I needed to learn more about what it is, so I can make a more educated decision about what to do. I assumed the barrier was artificial, meaning someone had made an effort to put it there, protecting or concealing something. And I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to personally confront that someone, or to poke the hidden artifact with a stick (at least not more than I have already done). Not the Indiana Jones style, shoot first, run from a rolling boulder later.

So the reasonable compromise seemed to be getting some surveillance going – which I just did – and see who shows up, if anyone. If I see a group of drug cartel thugs with AK-47s, or insectoid aliens barbequing a human, I will pretend I was never there and try to live happily ever after. The contraption I left on the tree was anonymized, so it should not be easily traceable back to me, I took care of that. In any case – if something happens there, I will have it on video. At least then the authorities might take me a bit more seriously, instead of dismissing me as a looney right away. 

Eventually the adrenaline rush had subsided enough to transform into a kind of an exhausted hangover-like feeling, which softly sank me into the depths of a dream. Very disturbing and vaguely threatening dream, almost becoming a nightmare but not quite getting there.

Summing up the next couple of days I can say that, objectively speaking, they went by uneventfully.  But you know what? To hell with objectivity – it was a torture! I had barely done any work, not being able to concentrate and waiting for the camera notifications. 

I had several projects piled up on my gorgeous holosphere monitor. Left hemisphere was occupied by corporate clients. It paid well, but wasn’t too challenging or interesting. I needed it though, and busting any deadlines with those guys was extremely bad for my reputation. With the silent invasion of Chinese and Korean mega corporations, taking over less tightly run North American enterprises, the Asian work ethic was omnipresent, demanding and unforgiving. I needed to keep those clients, and I was falling behind on my work.

The right hemisphere of the semi-holographic display was dedicated to the most exciting stuff – all of the DarkNet news, rumors and hype; several potential client leads with internal documentation and budget data, obtained from ethically questionable sources; news about the latest government database hacks, with price tags on each dump that was readily available on DarkNet; insider information from recent corporate attacks that could be useful on the stock market. All this was getting neglected. I just could not think about anything else at the moment.

If I hadn’t received any alerts for a few hours, I imagined the alien artifact masters (because of course I was hoping them to be alien) finding my device, blasting it to oblivion and relocating the artifact somewhere else. I imagined the military commanders with lots of stars on their shoulders ordering a drone hit on my house, and covering it up with a tragic but inconspicuous residential gas explosion story. I imagined drug cartel making it known that there was a contract on me and that my murder would be paid for in CryptoCa$h, or crack cocaine.

Not seeing anything but the forest in the pictures I got, I started doubting whether the experience was even real. Then, eventually, came questioning my sanity. I had almost decided to tell a friend, but crazy as it would sound, didn’t want him to laugh at me, or worse, to think that I went bonkers. Also, in case this turns out to be dangerous, it wouldn’t have been nice to involve a friend.

I was struggling with the urge to just drop everything, jump into the car and drive to the farm to do… Well, anything – better than just sitting on my hands doing nothing. Go and check that the invisible wall is still there. What if it just isn’t there anymore? No sign of it at all, as if it had never been there. That was a frightening thought! 

But, grinding my teeth, I kept convincing myself over and over again that patience is a virtue, that I just had to wait however long it took until I get something interesting, or until the power bank runs out of juice. Then I could risk going there and replacing it.

I got a couple of photos of various animal life – a deer, few birds and a racoon. At night the camera would not resolve anything useful so thankfully I was not woken up by false alarms, except for the second night, which had a full moon out, so when an owl had landed right next to the phone I received  a nice selfie of that owl’s butt. Every time my phone beeped, I jumped, grabbed it – and then hesitated before opening the feed, afraid of what I was going to see there: just another owl’s butt, or some mating badgers, or… a terrifying insectoid alien devouring a poor drunk that had wandered into the forest to take a piss.

On the third day I had almost given up hope. 

On the third day I was mocking myself sarcastically that even though many books and movies have important things happen on the third day, with my luck my third day will be just as uneventful. 

On the third day I had accepted the fact that it’s entirely possible nothing would ever happen, and I will never know what that thing is, and might as well just get back to living my usual, boring life.

On the third day I hit the jackpot.

20 Comments
  • Garvey
    Posted at 21:20h, 12 June Reply

    “send them tome” – misprinting?

    • roman
      Posted at 22:01h, 12 June Reply

      It was a typo. Thanks.

  • Konstantin
    Posted at 21:24h, 12 June Reply

    “send them tome. ” > to me

    This detail: “It needed root access rights but that was not a problem: my old phone was already rooted. ”
    Will it be used further? Does it bring anything into the story?

    Putting myself in protagonist shoes I would spend some time for emotional internal dialogue: should I inform authorities, CIA, scientific world? Who will believe me?
    Even though the answer is “definitely nobody” the run for help scenario is natural. There should be reasons why I did not do that.
    Am I “do it yourself” man? Am I greedy to share the discovery? Am I in a conflict with police?
    To stand 3 days not telling to anybody (friend or family or facebook) is a heroism. Well, at least there should be at least an explanation of the behavior.

    • roman
      Posted at 21:59h, 12 June Reply

      Good point. I’ll meditate on that… Will likely add something. I think there is a “Who will believe me?” part somewhere, but it can be made more prominent.

    • roman
      Posted at 22:08h, 12 June Reply

      About the root access: the point is to illustrate that our protagonist is a true geek. A person that won’t have a phone that can’t be rooted. Geeks will do it just because they can. It’s not needed for a plot, but the drone tinkering and phone rooting and camera rigging illustrates that this guy knows technology and can orient himeslf with new tech and think out of the box. Which will become handy later in the book.

  • Konstantin
    Posted at 12:29h, 13 June Reply

    I understand your point.
    What about me as a reader … i would love to read less words with more intensive actions.
    The place with root access and battery sounds for me as an instruction to a DIY kit.

    Ho about this?
    Then it would wait for another trigger. Root access is granted. Battery is attached. Should be enough for days. The app was smart, so it would also message me when phone’s battery….

    Like fast rewind

    Another point regarding 3 days in wait. Does he has a family?

    And I believe his mind should work constantly to search all possible ways to investigate what the wall is: I would find an dosimeter to measure radiation (to check if I was exposed) , laser to check if the light goes through, dinamite etc.

    K

    • roman
      Posted at 14:46h, 13 June Reply

      Good points, I’ll give it a thought. The reason for just waiting is that he decided that someone has placed it there, so he wants to see if there is any activity. He wanted to hide and watch. Alsto it’s a battle of curioisuty and caution. Being there too much might not be healthy. Trying to find out who’s behind it is risky enough… Dosimeter is expensive and hard to come by. Laser doesn’t make much sense, because it it’s transparent to notmal light it will be transparent to veherent light, there is no difference.

    • roman
      Posted at 15:36h, 13 June Reply

      I added some internal dialogue at the end. It takes care of motivation and reasoning for choosing this course of action. And simplified the assembly instructions 🙂

  • Konstantin
    Posted at 16:23h, 13 June Reply

    Looks good.

    Regarding the dosimeter and regardless of the Chenobyl influence. )))
    A geek can have a friend who is working with radioactive materials. It is quite natural for a smart tech person to make sure he is safe and not contagious. Especially if he has family.

    For example, I have a dosimeter. Though it is not 100% working I have one.
    You are living in the 100km radius from two nuclear power stations. There are many reasons to buy one.

    • roman
      Posted at 16:48h, 13 June Reply

      LOL, I’m sold. Going online to look for one… Art has made a decision to watch, and not to return there until he knows it’s safe, or knows more about the place. If nothing would have happened over time – he would get back there, maybe with some equipment. But not right away…

      • Konstantin
        Posted at 21:36h, 13 June Reply

        Well. May be I need to start new business in GTA – selling dosimeters. Good moment. Chernobyl film made good advertisement.

        • roman
          Posted at 22:52h, 13 June Reply

          Just checked – you can get one for $55 USD on Ali Express. It even has the classic sound, and color scree with graphic plotter, real-time measurement and average values. I’m itching to buy one…

          • Konstantin Medvedev
            Posted at 08:20h, 17 June

            Just recently I realized that I had a laser pointer in my pocket all this days. One from dollarama.
            Reason?
            Not to play with a cat.
            One of my neighbors burns garbage in his fireplace. I used laser beam to understand where the smoke is coming from. It is not easy to catch it when the fire ends up.

            Art also could have one. He sends light through the wall (at a tangent to the circle of the wall) and notice that the beam has a delay in the movements. Like the wall has to process the light and send it to the other side.
            It makes the wall less magical and more technical.

          • roman
            Posted at 11:06h, 17 June

            Ah, that can be a nice addition to the berrier discovery. I’ll make a note.

          • Konstantin Medvedev
            Posted at 16:29h, 17 June

            More crazy Idea regarding laser.
            I hate lawn mowers because they are noisy. Electrical ones are much better but anyway they create quite loud background.
            My dream is a mower with laser inside. Some day it will be possible.
            Quite fresh idea.
            Unless a DNA modified grass will be wide popular that cuts itself every Saturday.

            What if Art extracted the laser for other purposes and had one in the car?

          • roman
            Posted at 10:11h, 18 June

            I jus thought of that this morning. I actually have a Chinese 100mW laser with 18650 Lithium battery and key lock (child protection), the one people are jailed for when blinding pilots. I have it in my car during all summer trips. It gives a visible green beam even at daytime. I use it to point constellations at night, it has a super bright beam at night, goes for many kilometers. It’s totally plausible that Art would have it in his toolbox. I will add that bit, laser can help determine if the wall is truly transparent, or is some kind of projection (is covering something).

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 17:27h, 24 June Reply

    An inconsistency
    Last chapter you told there is a data left on the cell phone.
    Now : “The contraption I left on the tree was anonymized, so it should not be easily traceable back to me, I took care of that.”
    It means the phone is traceable at least to ones who has an access to the data provider where you used a credit card. Unless it was a cryptocurrency and the data plan already anonymous that sounds suspicion because Art was not going to plot a revolution.

    Removing personal contacts on a password/fingerprint protected phone means you prepare someone will crack he OS. Then it is illogical the hacker will not go forward and trace SIM card or a network configuration that will replace SIM cards (actually is on the way)

    • roman
      Posted at 17:42h, 24 June Reply

      Pay-as-you-go anonymous plan… Not because he prepared, but because it was easy. Also, he couldn’t know that anyone would hack his provider. He was just worrying about someone looking at his phone and easily seeing who it’s sending messages to. He just took care of basic precausions, not a total systems hack.

    • roman
      Posted at 17:47h, 24 June Reply

      Also, note that the phone “still had some data credit left on it”, it was not about personal data, but data traffic. As there was no SIM card as you correctly assumed, tracing this particular purchase with the provider needed a serious police work, and we see that he wasn’t too worried about his fingerprints even. Who would expect that kind of a hack?

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 17:32h, 24 June Reply

    I like the internal dialogue and hesitations you added. They give feeling of a real person.

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