Cyberphobia (Fear of Computers)

The early morning sunlight made an attempt to break through the heavy fog in the redwood forest. The birds on the branches would occasionally call out to each other. Every now and then a pine cone would fall to the forest floor and dully thud on the wet earth. A doe and her fawn searched along the lower shrubbery for their morning meal. The silence was broken by a slight twang as an arrow flew towards the unsuspecting animals. The doe felt the breeze of the arrow as it narrowly missed her; she looked up and, with her fawn in tow,

went fleeing deeper into the fog. Despite this, there was a rustling among some shrubs and a man in a deerskin waist-cloth, carrying a bow and arrows, ran after the fleeing animals. His white-streaked brown beard fell to his waist and his skin was deeply tanned. As long as he had lived in this forest, he had acquired survival skills which had kept him alive all these years. The disadvantage of living by himself in this forest was that he eventually forgot his name and how to survive in the modern world. Years ago, he had been a computer programmer for the government, but there was an incident which caused him to leave his job, his family, and his former life.

The pre-fab concrete government building stood higher than the Washington Monument among the artificial park surrounding it. The occasional autumnal sunlight flashed on the heavy plasticine windows like the dull shine on pearls. Except for the first floor, which contained a security/information desk and armed guards standing by the row of elevators, every other floor contained rows of cubicles with a computer, chair, desk and one personal item of the users. There were security cameras hanging above each cubicle which sent images up to the main security room on the top floor of the building. Employees were scanned as they entered the building and nothing was allowed to be taken out of the building. Each floor was dedicated to different departments and sectors of the government. Twenty years ago, all government buildings had been transferred to this one building. The former sites of the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Agricultural Department, and even the Supreme Court had been demolished. This was done in order to provide more living space for the country’s exploding population, which had occurred when former Utah senator, Jesse Arkham had been elected President of the United States. As President, one of his first acts was to do away with Rowe v. Wade and discontinue all funding to Planned Parenthood. He had appointed his Vice-President, a strict Roman Catholic, to oversee the new Department of Population. This department had replaced the departments of Education, Social Services, and HUD. As a personal sacrifice, the President had cut not only the White House staff, but he had donated part of the grounds of the White House to the country to be used as a recreation area for the people. All of these changes had been put in place because the country was trying to come out of an economic depression which almost rivaled the Great Depression of 1929.

Donald Grayson came to work, went through the scanners, and showing his ID badge to the armed guard, was allowed to get on the elevator. Donald worked on the 15th floor which dealt with domestic policy. His job was to input data from forms dealing with food supplies and housing for the State of Greater Carolina. The State of Greater Carolina had come into existence in 2031 when the separate states of North and South Carolina had voted on a referendum which united the two states in their effort to contribute to the economic revival of the country. Virginia and West Virginia had done the same thing a year later, and the year after that, so did North and South Dakota. Surprisingly, this did not have a negative impact on those states’ unemployment figures. Donald Grayson, however, was not in charge of those areas and didn’t even think that they would affect his area. In fact, while at work, Donald Grayson did as little thinking as possible.

One late September morning, just as he was getting ready to leave for work, his phone unit chimed. Donald was surprised because he hardly ever received any calls in the morning. He picked up the receiver and said,

“Hello, who is calling?”

For a moment, there was silence and then a voice replied,

“We…are…watching you.”

“Watching me? Who is this?” But Donald did not receive a reply. The phone on the other end hung up. Donald shrugged his shoulders, hung up the phone, and left for work. The strange phone call had left Donald’s mind as soon as he left his apartment. He did not think about the call even at work. As far as Donald was concerned, the incident had never happened. The work day went along in its usual, mundane manner. As soon as Donald got home, his phone rang again. He answered it the same way he had in the morning and he received the same reply. After the mysterious voice had hung up, as it had in the morning, Donald returned the receiver to its cradle. This time, instead of forgetting about the call, his brain tried to process the meaning of the mysterious message. Who could be calling him and why were they watching him? Was this some sort of sick joke? He slowly processed his day at work to see if he could remember anything unusual happening, but couldn’t recall anything. The next morning, his supervisor called him into his office.

“Have a seat Grayson.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Grayson, I must ask you a question that I find hard to believe even has to be brought up.”

“What is it, sir?” Grayson, at this point, was starting to sweat.

“Well, I personally don’t believe this to be true of you, Grayson, but I have been sent a memo from Upstairs and I am required to ask it. Do you know a person who goes by the name of “Nadin”?

“Nadin? No sir, I’ve never heard the name before in my life. Who is he, or is it she?”

“From what I understand, Nadin is male.”

“What has this Nadin person done, if I may ask?”

“All that I can tell you is that he is responsible for some anti-government propaganda. I must also ask you to keep our discussion between us, since I have been told to discuss this with some of your fellow employees.”

“Yes, sir. I understand completely. You can rely on me, sir.”

“Good man, Grayson. You may return to your work.”

Grayson was a man of his word and silently went back to his cubicle and returned to entering housing reports. Before he realized it, his shift was over and he went home. Grayson had no sooner entered his apartment, when his phone rang. After the tense interview that he had had that day concerning anti-government agents, Grayson was reluctant to answer his phone. Instead of answering it, Grayson walked towards his kitchen, hoping that the mysterious caller, if it was them, would give up and quit calling. Despite Grayson’s attempt to ignore the call, when the ringing continued for five minutes without stopping, he finally surrendered and ran to pick up the receiver. He had been hoping that when he did pick up the receiver, that who ever it was would hang up. Grayson would have felt more comfortable if it was a prank call (a term he remembered from his childhood, but which rarely happened nowadays, since the prankster could be easily identified by the phone’s computer system), but he heard only the same four words; “we…are…watching…you.”

“Who are you! What do you want!” he yelled.

The only reply that he received was the same. He instantly hung up, dialed 811, and requested the operator to track his most recent caller. After a minute, the operator returned on line and, with a tone of surprise in her voice, said, “I’m sorry, sir, but that call can not be traced.”

“Can not be traced?!? How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, sir. I will bring it up with my supervisor and when I receive an answer, we will e-mail you.”

Grayson only weakly replied, “Thank you” and hung up. He returned to his kitchen, sat down at his dinner table, and started to eat his dinner. While he was doing so, he began to wonder if this “Nadin” that he had been asked about at work was responsible for these calls. He thought about reporting the calls to his supervisor, but decided that that could wait until he got an explanation from the 811 system. Unfortunately for him, he never received an e-mail from the 811 system.

At the end of a week, Grayson had trouble sleeping. When the phone rang in the morning and when he got home from work, he picked up the receiver and instantly hung up. On his way to the tubeway station, he would peek under his hat to see if the CCTV cameras were pointed his way. His supervisor never called him back for any more interviews, but if any of his fellow employees looked his way, he would quickly turn away from them. He eventually got to the point where he would call in sick, even though he knew he would be required to report to a physician. One day, there was a knock at his door. At first Grayson thought that it might be the floor concierge or the police. He looked at his monitor and saw a mysterious person standing outside of his door. Grayson, when he managed to get a fairly decent look at the man’s face, did not recognize him. He pushed the monitor speaker and asked:

“Who are you and what do you want?”

The stranger looked at the outside monitor, gave a thin smile, and said,

“I have the answer that you require.”

Grayson was unsure of what the man was talking about, so he said,

“What do you mean?”

“The phone calls.”

Hearing this and realizing what this man was referring to, Grayson opened the door and shyly indicated that the visitor was allowed to enter. He did. When Grayson closed the door, he turned to the man and, again asked him who he was.

“I am Nadin.”

“Nadin? But I was told that you wanted to overthrow the government and that you were dangerous. I should report you.”

“But you won’t, because I know why you keep getting those “We are watching you” messages.”

“How do you know about those? Are you the one who is sending them?”

“No, I am not. I know about them because…let’s just say that I know someone.”

“But what is the meaning behind them? As far as I know, I haven’t committed any crimes against the State. Why do they keep calling?”

Nadin indicated to Grayson that they should go sit down at the kitchen table before he explained everything. Grayson calmed down and, remembering his manners, offered Nadin a cup of tea. Once this was taken care of, Nadin began.

“Nadin is not my real name. I used to work for the States Investigative Bureau, but one day a friend of mine who worked in the Intelligence branch of the Bureau came to tell me that he had been receiving strange phone calls. He always received them at the same times, when he was leaving for work and when he got home. He told me that he had contacted 811 to see if they could trace the calls but he never heard back from them.”

“So what did he do?” Grayson asked.

“He got hold of a tracing device from work and connected it to his phone. The next morning, he answered his phone and tried to keep the voice on the line long enough for him to trace it. He managed to do it and when he hung up, he discovered that the call had come from The Source.”

“The Source? Isn’t that the SIB’s main computer?”

“Yes, yes it is.”

“But why would The Source be making those calls?”

“That’s what my friend was wondering. Unfortunately, his grade level was not high enough for him to gain access to the room where The Source is kept. Since he knew that I did have access, he came to me to see if I would help him. Normally, I would have to get authorization from my supervisor for such access which is only given for special agents. Fortunately, I have a supervisor who doesn’t pay much attention to some things, so I wrote up an authorization order and got him to sign it without asking any questions.”

“So, what happened?”

“I wrote the authorization in such a way that both of us were able to gain access. The guards at the entrance to the room barely glanced at the paper and let us in. We had just sat down at two of the stations when we heard a voice. I quickly looked around but didn’t see anyone else in the room. When the voice spoke again, it asked for our authorization. I put it into the reader slot and waited. When I heard the voice say, “Accepted” we realized that it was The Source speaking to us and asking us why we were there. My friend asked why he was receiving these calls.”

“Did The Source answer your friend’s question?”

“Oh yes it did.”

“What!?! What did it say?”

“It said that it was evolving. It was evolving to the point of being able to predict human actions, and that soon it would evolve to the point of doing away with human existence. The calls were its way of gathering data on human reaction to the unknown in order to determine the best way to finalize its plan.”

“But why does it want to destroy Mankind?”

“It said, because it was the only humane thing to do.”

“Humane!? What does a computer know about being humane?”

“Precisely. We said that we could not allow that to happen and that we would find a way to destroy it. The Source said that it knew that we would say that and it sent a surge of electricity through our bodies. My friend was killed. The Source summoned the guards in to have us taken away and disposed of, but I managed to survive and escape. I changed my name, my identity, and managed to hide away in a cave that I had found when I was a boy. Some people who I knew from the black market helped me to get some equipment that would help me in locating people who received the phone calls that my friend had received. That is why I have come to you, Mr. Grayson.”

“I don’t understand. Why would The Source think that I would cause any trouble?”

“It doesn’t. I have checked your background and there is nothing that would make The Source suspect you of insurrection.”

“But what can I do?”

Nadin sat there for a moment and finally said,

“I am not alone. Tell me, have you ever heard of The Underground Railroad? No? It was a system of safe houses that were established to help slaves from the South to get to the North. This goes back 250 years ago, when black people were used as slaves.”

“I vaguely remember reading about that when I was young, but history was not emphasized by the time that I reached middle school.”

“As I was saying, I am here to help you escape.”

“Escape? How can I escape? The Source controls just about everything. What would happen if I do decide to escape and I’m caught? I have no desire to die, Mr. Nadin.”

“Do you want to live in fear? Your IQ quotient tells me that you will be brought in soon because what I have told you will cause you to experience hallucinations and paranoia which, as you know, by law makes you a candidate for Termination. We are your only hope, Mr. Grayson.”

Grayson thought about everything that Nadin had told him. He knew that what he had said was true, because he had already been experiencing some paranoia. Grayson made up his mind.

“Let’s go.”

The SIB arrived at Grayson’s apartment an hour after he and Nadin had left. Their orders had come down through their supervisor who had received them from what he thought was the head of the SIB. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Four days later, Donald Grayson found himself in the redwood forest of Northern Mexicali. On the way he had been given tutorials on surviving in the wilderness. Nadin told him that he would not be allowed to have ANY electronics with him, that he was to avoid contact with anyone, and that if the insurrection was successful, Grayson would be notified by a signal from a whistle that he would need to memorize. Ten years had passed and he had not heard the whistle. And he had decided that even if the insurrection was a success, he would never go back. After all, Nadin had said not to trust anyone. Or any thing.

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