The Serendipity of Self
0x4086
May 20th, 2022

Suffering induced memory loss, Grayson wakes up to a world where everyone’s private messages were leaked. Delving deeper, he comes face to face with a surreal new reality.

-

This is story #1 from The Collector’s Tales: The Collectible Magazine for Speculative Fiction by Untitled Frontier.

Written by Simon de la Rouviere.

License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

-

The Serendipity of Self

“Who do you think you are, calling me again?! Jesus, Grayson. What strength?” came his sister’s voice through the phone.

Grayson squinted through the dawn sun at the bottle of pills he had grabbed from his bedside table: Losonil. Memory Loss. For A Sound Mind. “Extra Strength… 1 year.”

“I knew it! Just like all the other cowards!”

“Sis, please. There’s nothing?”

“Nothing. You left nothing. You told me nothing. There’s no fucking note. The gall. After everything you’ve said.”

“Everything I said?”

“You haven’t even read the news yet haven’t you? Go fuck yourself. No wonder she left you.”

Click.

Silence.

Stealing himself from the dizzy desire to expel whatever food he ate last night, Grayson swiped past a year’s worth of missing data on his phone to open the browser. He took a deep breath and opened the headlines.

Private Message Leak Continues to Wreak Havoc.

Who Is The Hacker? Search Continues.

Never Reader Groups Protest Face2Face Offices.

Calls for Social Debt Jubilee Rises.

New York Opens Additional Mental Health Clinics.

Layoffs at Face2Face Continue.

Bank CEOs Say That Their Money Is Safe.

As Grayson scrolled through the news, the pieces fell into place.

Two weeks ago, a hack of Face2Face was revealed. By breaking the encryption through an unknown method, about a year’s worth of private messages and location data from a billion people were collected by a hacker, and leaked. Almost immediately, as the world verified the truth of it, the fallout began. At a college party in Georgetown the beer pong and loud EDM turned down to hushes. A woman left an apartment in Cape Town with all her belongings in a box, slamming the door in the face of her now ex-boyfriend. A woman in Dubai called her sister in Mumbai to ask if she knew about their father. A Hong Kong man threw xiaolongbao at his friend, asking him why he lied about the money. In Sydney, a friend texted another friend wondering why they were always so afraid to share the truth of how they felt towards each other. In Buenos Aires, a woman cried and kissed a fading picture of her husband after learning the truth about his death. A father in Reykjavik cried over hearing his daughter’s last, joyful voice notes sent to her friends before the accident.

At first, it was all individual stories of pain, guilt, and frustration, but also of joy, release, and closure. New connections and disconnections. But, then, the fallout snowballed into groups: Never Readers, Forgivers, and Transparenters to name a few. Never Readers resisted the temptation and vowed to stay with the true intent. They wished to not violate the consent of those who discussed things in private. The Never Readers had its own sub-groups, with one side going with the flow (the Flow Nevers). Their belief was: it happened, it doesn’t need to be read, and that’s okay. The other (the Never Evers), vowed to destroy the dataset through any means possible. It was an abomination and a temptation that had to be forever erased.

The Forgivers read the dataset, but vowed to accept the true nature of humanity. None of us were perfect after all: we bad mouth others, cheat, and lie. Now that the truth was out: we forgive and move on. However, the Transparenters were a bit more radical: believing that this represented a new reality and evolution for society. We should all be transparent with all our thoughts with everyone around us. It was telepathy, a way to grow collectively, and to erase the harm of the ego.

The world economy also fell off a cliff. Not only did most people stop using social media, but it was uncertain whether any technology was reliably encrypted: the entire bedrock of the world economy. It faltered, with group CEOs of the Fortune 500 coming together to issue a statement saying that while investigations continue, they believe it was only an issue at Face2Face. The hacker was also still on the loose, having managed to hide their tracks. It was then that Grayson checked his phone again. He couldn’t log into his Face2Face work email. Smearing his hands through his face as if it would somehow paint back a year’s worth of memories, he ghosted towards the kitchen and rang his colleague. Inside the fridge was a sandwich with a note to himself: “This is the only thing you get. Sorry. - Grayson”.

As he inspected it, his colleague answered. “Grayson? Yo. What’s up?”

Biting off a mouthful of egg and bacon, and briefly pausing with it in his mouth, Grayson responded. “Rick…”

“Grayson?”

“Rick…”

“Oh shit. Fuck. G. You didn’t? You promised!”

Swallowing more of the sandwich, Grayson replied with a clearer voice. “I did. Rick. Holy shit. Please tell me I told you something?”

“Well, fuck. This is not good-”

“Why did I take it? Wait, why?”

“Shit, this is not good. Shit. Shit. Okay-”

“Rick, what’s going on?”

“Where are you? At your apartment?”

“Yes.”

“They are coming today. Meet me at Dawns in thirty. We can’t talk about this over the phone.”

Grayson pulled back his phone to check the day of the week. It was Monday. “I don’t have a job anymore, do I?”

“Right on, dickhead. I don’t either. See you soon. I’ll explain.”

Click.

Silence.

Grayson wolfed down the rest of his breakfast sandwich and jumped into the shower. When the condensation evaporated he saw a self he did not remember: neat haircut, chiseled abs, and a smooth face. After a short walk, he arrived at Dawns to the smell of coffee, breakfast, and a hint of newly cleaned floors. Scanning the room, a wave from a table in the corner greeted him and he hesitantly walked over amidst a TV blaring the news.

“Yeah, I’ve let go a bit from when you last would remember me. It’s been tough on everyone,” Rick said as Grayson sat down.

“What’s going on?”

“We were all fired. Most of Face2Face got fired. But, since then, our team has been placed under investigation and-”

“They think we did it?” Grayson asked as the waitress arrived.

“We’ll just have some coffee. Thank you,” Rick replied before turning back to Grayson.

“Actually, hang on,” Grayson said, turning towards the waitress before she left. “Can you turn down the TV? It’s a bit much.” She frowned a bit and then nodded affirmatively before heading to the kitchen. “Continue”, he said to Rick.

“Yes, so, yeah. They think we did it. And our lawyers were coming today to take statements to bolster our case. Taking Losonil the day before, do you know what that looks like?”

“Yes, I’m not stupid.”

“Then why Grayson?! Are you sure you left no note?”

“Nothing besides my other self leaving me a sandwich, nope. And if there’s one thing I know about myself. I won’t leave myself a fucking treasure hunt.”

Rick sighed after a sip of coffee. “Dude. Okay. Well. The lawyers are still coming today… Just tell them the truth, please. And when you can, please check the leaked database. Anything will help our case, even if you took Losonil. Have you looked at the dataset at all?”

“No.”

“About two months in, we switched all our internal comms to exclusively use Face2Face internally. It’s all there. Maybe there’s something in there that will help us.” Grayson was silent as he sipped his coffee. “You’re not going to reply to that? After all we’ve been through?”

“Rick. Relax. I just lost a year of my life. I don’t have a job anymore. The world is in chaos. We’re apparently under investigation? It’s not even obvious that combing through this dataset will actually help us. I also apparently had a girlfriend that left me? None of this makes sense at all. Rick-”

“I know, I know,” Rick replied, catching his breath. “Just. Anything will help at this point.”

“You think someone on our team did it?”

“I didn’t think so, but with more of the team taking Losonil…”

“Who else did?”

“Li did. Aphiwe did… Your ex also. Allison.”

“Is… is that why we broke up? When did she join the team? Do you have a picture of us?”

Rick pulled out of his phone, opened his photos and started scrolling through it. Grayson put down his coffee and leaned across the table. Before Rick could get to a photo he suddenly closed his phone.

“You know what. No,” Rick suddenly responded. “Stop changing the subject.” Grayson pulled back in his seat frowning at his friend. “You broke your promise. How can I actually trust you after this?”

“Who is she, Rick?! What did she do to me?!” Grayson shouted at his old friend, yanking the phone from his hand.

Rick stole his phone back and stood up. “So close Grayson. So close. You actually were so close to changing for the better.” Rick left towards the door.

“I’m just looking for answers!”

“Everyone is, asshole. Can’t even say sorry. Maybe stop looking elsewhere for your answers,” Rick shouted into Dawns before exiting into the morning outside.

The waitress returned and asked if he was sure he didn’t want some food. He nodded no, downed the coffee, dropped some dollars on the table and left. Outside, he lit a cigarette as a faceless crowd with placards mobbed towards the local park. The only part of their chant he could hear was “Face 2 Face”. Staring into the road as if it hid the answers from him, he took a deep draw of the cigarette and turned the other way back towards his apartment.

When he arrived, two men in suits and briefcases were waiting for him next to a statue of a bird he did not recall buying. Grayson straightened himself and walked towards them.

“Mr. Cave. It’s me, Austin, and this is my colleague, whom you’ve also met, Gerard. How are you?”

“Good, and you can call me Grayson,” as he shook their hands and led them inside. As they opened up their tablets on the kitchen table, Grayson interrupted. “Listen. I’m going to make this easy on you. I took Losonil last night. A year’s worth.”

They kept typing, and then suddenly stopped. “Wait. Can you repeat that?”

“Gerard, right?” Grayson asked as he pointed at the one with the balding head. “I don’t remember you. I took Losonil. Should I say it again?”

“You took Losonil right before we could help you? Why?”

“If I knew why, it wouldn’t be a memory loss pill, now would it?”

“Are you insane?!”

Austin, the one with the big glasses, shifted in his seat, “...okay, guys. Relax.”

“He took Losonil. The day before taking statements. What are we doing here?”

Grayson offered a solution. “Look, if you can figure out why, then we both win, no?”

Closing his tablet, Gerard stood up and started searching through the apartment.

“You could’ve just asked,” Grayson responded to the lawyer going through his stuff.

“Sorry about that,” Austin chimed in.

“It’s fine. There’s no treasure hunt here. I would’ve made it more obvious.”

“Do you mind if we go through your apartment? We’re here to help.”

Grayson looked at Gerard scanning in between stacked books. “Your partner is already doing so. Go ahead.” As much as he hoped that they might find something, he let out a sigh of relief when they finally left with nothing in hand.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Grayson downloaded the leaked dataset. Amidst the general chatter of tasks and project management comms from his old team, he found her full name: Allison Bleicher. He copy-pasted it into the dataset’s search bar and for a moment hesitated before he hit search. A warmth rose up in him and he went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water first. He took a deep breath and hit enter.

There she was. A beautiful dark-haired woman with blue eyes and a button nose. She was into birds, running, cryptography, and old French films. His hands started shaking as he entered both their names into the search bar. Allison Bleicher. Grayson Cave.

He lurched at the life he won’t ever get back again. They were in love. He effortlessly said all the right things. They were very much in love. He kept scrolling through the early days of their relationship until he halted at a picture of her in lacey lingerie. He moved his chair back, and then suddenly closed his computer. After pacing around in his apartment, he opened the dataset again and entered his own name.

The past 365 days actually went well. Even went to the gym more often. He pulled up his shirt and felt his abs again. He tapped his nails on his laptop, shook his head, and typed in their names again. The lacey lingerie photo appeared again. With a deep breath he kept scrolling until the photos shared between them undressed themselves to her naked body. The cursor inched closer and hovered over her hips and her breasts. He had responded with his own warm, sunset nude.

>> I’m the luckiest man in the world. :heart-eyes-emoji:. You have a body that belongs in a gallery for all the world to see.

<< :winky-face-emoji: We’ll both be on those pedestals one day. For now though. You know where to find me…

The next message was 16 minutes later.

>> I’m outside.

The next message was a few hours later.

<< Thanks for last night. You’re welcome to apply for a membership pass to this gallery. :winky-face-emoji:

As he continued scrolling through their relationship, it was all positive messages of affirmation and love. Despite seeing the body of a woman he once shared, what made him choke up the most was hearing her voice: a kind, happy, and gentle voice. One such voice note, left during a humid summer’s day on her way to the grocery store, left her slightly out of breath after listing the ingredients for their dinner. The cicadas sang in the background. As it got closer to the date of the leak, Grayson’s heart kept beating faster. And then, all of a sudden, it ended.

>> You are so obsessed with your work. You changed. I can’t anymore. We have to talk.

A week later, the leak was revealed. He logged onto Face2Face to find his account still active, living in a ghost town. All other social media too. In the wake of the hack, 80% of users deleted their accounts. The Allison Bleicher of today was nowhere to be seen. Her number was still in the database, however. He called it.

A dead tone.

He sighed and called Rick.

It rang.

It rang.

It went to voicemail.

“Hey. Rick. Sorry about this morning. Can we talk? The lawyers were here. I let them look through my apartment. They found nothing. I still know nothing. I’ve looked at the database, but it would really help if I could ask you some questions. Call me.”

Click.

Silence.

He sighed, ordered some Chinese takeaway, and searched online for any news about leases. It confirmed what he wanted to know: many people had moved after the dataset leaked. There were fresh calls from congress to consider a lease jubilee, allowing anyone to exit without penalties. He started typing in Allison’s name in the search bar alongside the request to display all associated locations. His hand hovered over the “Enter” button, but he pulled back, and slammed his fist into the table to noodles and chopsticks flinging out from his takeaway.

He recalled his conversations today. His sister shouting at him: “Who do you think you are?!” Rick telling him to: “...maybe stop looking elsewhere for your answers”, and Allison’s last message to him: “...you’ve changed”. In his notepad, he scribbled: Who am I?

In the dataset, he searched for all mentions of himself. Rumours, whispers, and messages from people orbiting his life. Unlike some people who discovered newfound loneliness after discovering that no one ever talked about them, Grayson found plenty of chatter. It crossed the scope of the human condition.

From the good:

“Grayson is a great candidate! Definitely send the offer letter.”

“Yeah, Grayson is also coming. He usually makes this kickass cocktail. Also, knows a shit-ton about obscure poetry. You’ll love him.”

“I miss Grayson, man. Wish he didn’t move.”

To sexual, “Did you see Grayson’s abs lately? The thirst traps on Face2Face. Um. Yum.”

But, most of it was negative.

“Why are you still dating him? Does he even listen?”

“Can’t we do something? He literally hogs all the meetings?”

“Can’t you call him? Please, he’s just gonna gaslight me again.”

“Is Grayson coming? He sometimes gets just so abrasive when he’s had a few drinks.”

He searched for any open source tools that would allow him to get a bigger picture. Not a lot existed, but there were open source libraries for people who wanted to run sentiment analysis on people: insert your name and you would get a word cloud of positive and negative associations. Another interesting one: the serendipity maximizer. It went through the dataset and determined the person in the dataset that would be the most unlikely person that you should’ve met in your life. All those strange coincidences that should’ve happened, but never did. It reminded him of a conversation with Allison that he read a few hours earlier.

<< G. Isn’t it weird that through all of time and space, we managed to meet?

>> Life is weird, yeah. A wonderful coincidence. Serendipity at its finest.

<< No, but like specifically. What are the actual odds? If I didn’t meet Skye at that party, so many things would’ve been different. We would never have been put in touch. I wish I knew.

>> We would’ve met. I’m sure of it.

When he entered his name into the serendipity maximizer, it popped up a name that, as expected, he had never heard of: Hel Witte. Grayson frowned as he browsed through what was available of Hel’s life. Seemingly quite active, socially, but only a few photos of others in his life. Although they were supposed to have met, with their apparent coincidental proximity, they haven’t. He scribbled in his notebook: “Come back to Hel Witte…”

Grayson kept searching for more open source libraries, but didn’t find any of use. There was one thing he was now after and it was in the notebook, encircled with more thoughts.

“Who am I? -> I am not myself. I’m the stories in everyone else’s heads. I’m not one person. I’m a composite self. I am many.”

So, after hours of work, the sun already having set, he combined the serendipity maximizer and the sentiment analytical tool to create a new tool: one that would create a composite self. It was the combination of what everyone said, influenced and embedded into the social graph of his life. Those closest to him had the highest impacts and weak connections elsewhere had less. When combined, would see his full and real self. After the data crunched, the bright screen in the dark night illuminated the question Grayson was after. There he was, the real complex, messy Grayson. It was an indescribable mirror that suddenly forced tears into his eyes. It was his younger self that felt the joy, the one that was always bullied for misunderstanding. It was his younger self that didn’t have the luxury to know what needed to be done before he was punished for being clueless. All those selves pushed tears into his face, blurring the composite self on the screen into what he always wanted to see. He understood himself. Despite this joy, there was a part of himself that glowed dark: his utter selfishness. It wasn’t long before that consumed him again.

His notebook had collected a new scribble: “If you could know your composite self and see everything that influenced it, could you manipulate it?”

Based on his model of the composite self, he determined possible ways that one could manipulate it. Some actions were more powerful. For example, initial impressions and first mentions had a strong halo effect: it lasted very long. Additionally, it seemed that manipulating the social graph itself would also alter his composite self. New people that entered a social circle would drastically alter the composite selves of everyone they directly touched, even to second and third degrees of separation. After he ranked the actions to their strengths, he polled through the dataset to see if there were any instances where these strong manipulative actions clustered unexpectedly. Somewhere in the early morning, energy drink in hand and new stubble on his face, his stomach lurched again - and it wasn’t from missing dinner.

Someone had indeed been using these strong manipulative methods to alter their composite selves, and it was a name he’d seen before: Hel Witte. A man he had never known that was his highest serendipity match: someone who he should’ve met in his life, but never did. With what space was left in his notebook, he wrote in bold: “COULD THIS BE THE HACKER? WHO IS HEL WITTE?!”

Grayson put Hel Witte’s name into Face2Face, and there he was, not deleted. An anomaly.

Opening up the messenger, Grayson shakingly typed: “Hey?”

His heart pounded as the person on the other end was typing …

<< Hey Grayson. I knew this might happen.

>> What? I don’t understand?

<< Do you want to know who I am?

>> Yes.

<< Then this was the only way. Trust me. Come find me here.

<Location Pin Shared*>*

>> Who are you?

There was no further reply. Entering the pin on Face2Face Maps revealed a location a short drive away in an old warehouse. His eyes darted around, uncertain if this was a memory he was supposed to remember. He entered this location, and Hel Witte into the dataset. Nothing for the latter, but the location popped up occasionally, precisely for what it seemed to be: a seemingly empty warehouse. Squinting at the screen, hoping that it would reveal who Hel Witte was, Grayson called Rick again.

It rang.

It rang.

It rang. Click. Silence. No voicemail.

He took a deep breath and searched for his name alongside his sister. There, in a message to a co-worker, was the Grayson that his sister rejected.

<< This firewall bug feels like my ex, lol. Seemingly impenetrable, but if you push the right button, it all falls down.

>> I know the feeling. Sounds like my sister, tbh. So scared of life that she feels compelled to lash out at everything with even the slightest breeze against her. Makes her a bit of a bitch.

He called her.

It rang.

It rang.

It rang. It went to voicemail.

“Hey, this is Steph. I’m not at the phone right now. Please leave a message if you are the kind of person who likes to leave a message. Voice notes are also fine. Okay, bye.”

“Hey, sis. I’m sorry about what I said. I truly am. I found the messages I wrote. Can I make it up to you? I’ll bring you some key lime pie? Listen. I need to know something. Do you know a Hel Witte? The dataset says you do? Call me back when you can, please.”

When Grayson put the phone down, he realised partly why no one was answering. It was 5:12 AM. He looked towards his bed and towards his apartment door. After a deep breath, he threw on some warmer clothes, picked up his keys, and jumped into his car to the radio blaring an early morning talk show on the hack. He turned it off and drove towards the warehouse.

On the highway, the first signs of the dawn gradient painted itself on the horizon. It was cold and fresh as the Sisyphean sun swept the night away. Alongside ads for injury lawyers, a billboard stood out: “God always knew everything. Repent, forgive, and trust Him.”

When Grayson arrived at the warehouse and turned off the rumbling engine, the silence rang in his ears. The only noise was the distant highway and early planes jetting consultants off to cities elsewhere.

A door into the warehouse was ajar with a light clawing into the yard. He edged closer as the crunchy cold dust pierced underneath his boots through the morning silence. Peering around the door’s frame, he suddenly winced back when he saw about ten silhouettes inside. He tried to slow down his breath, but his heart felt like a kick drum, booming away.

Nothing. He heard nothing. Peering back around the frame, holding his gaze, he saw that the silhouettes weren’t moving. He inched in and his eyes acclimated to the static crowd in front of him. It was cardboard cutouts with question marks on them. Frowning, he moved through the crowd to a tiny table at the back of the warehouse. On it, was a phone plugged into a power outlet. He picked it up and it instantly recognized his face, unlocking it.

Shaking and dizzy, he picked up the phone to see that there was one text file on it that simply said: README. He tapped on it, and it prompted for a password. He tried some of his own passwords, but none worked. Looking around, he found nothing that could indicate that there was a password nearby. Grayson tried recalling parts of what he had read about Hel Witte. He tried a bunch of long shots, to no avail. His stomach churned after not having had dinner, taking him back to the sandwich he left himself the day before. Frowning, Grayson typed: “This is the only thing you get. Sorry. - Grayson.”

It opened and the first sentence took his breath away.

“Hey Grayson. I knew this might happen. Hel Witte isn’t real. I created him. Or, we, created him. I am your other self. I left this letter to you. You hacked Face2Face and you leaked the dataset. I’ll tell you why, and I’ll tell you why I took Losonil.”

Grayson fell to his knees as he rested his back against the table legs before continuing to read the letter he wrote to himself.

“By the fact that you found this letter, it tells me that what I might tell you, won’t be new. It all started a month into your memory loss. By accident you discovered a serious vulnerability in the key generation of Face2Face’s encryption. This also affected end-to-end encryption. The possibilities were intoxicating. For so many years, you’ve felt misunderstood, and this meant that maybe, finally, you could get out of your rut and understand so many more things: yourself, the world, and others. You didn’t hesitate.

“During this initial data gathering phase, Allison joined the team. At first, there was light playful attention between you and her, but when it didn’t go further, you saw it as the perfect time to finally use the power you had at your fingertips. Slowly, but surely, learning who she was, you changed yourself and said exactly the right things. It worked, and you grew closer. Once the relationship worked, the desire did not go away. It burned in you, to know more. Delusions of grandeur spiraled and you knew that the most important project you could do, was to perfect the use of this dataset to your benefit. You always wanted to know yourself, and now you could. You saw, in real-time, how the dataset moved and morphed: words, messages, and actions spiraling into new connections and disconnections. In order to gain power over this beast, you had to know yourself. So, you built the composite self: a combined person of all the people you are to others.

“Many variables were involved, including yourself, where others were in the social graph, what they said about you, and where they were. That moment you first saw your full self, you were in ecstasy. And then, you became all powerful. You could see how any and all actions in your circle affected you. And so, with your composite self, you started crafting the version you wanted to be. By saying the right things at the right time, and introducing the right people to each other, you saw in real time how your composite self improved. But, your hubris got the best of you. All of this manipulation started seeping into the people around you. Allison left you because you became consumed by altering your composite self. At first, with her leaving, it even improved your composite self because she blocked you. Slowly, but surely, the feedback loop went into the wrong direction. You increasingly manipulated yourself, even to the point of personal abuse.

“When the composite self didn’t change the way you wanted it to, you even punished yourself. In your wake was not just a self destroyed, but also the wreckage of many broken relationships. It all came to a head when the woman who was there for you, for all your life, was ostracized to improve your self image. After you sent that message to your sister, the cracks of the composite self appeared and you came face to face with yourself.

“Staring ever deeper into this abyss, drunk on creating a new you, you saw the real Grayson that was led to this point: a Grayson that just needed self-love. You didn’t need to manipulate yourself into a perfect you, you just had to accept what you’ve done and who you’ve become. You are just human, Grayson. Flawed, like everyone else. Just a human that tries to do good with the world that forced them into the spaces and times they weren’t ready for. From the brink, however, you could see the void that awaited others and humanity if this power was left unchecked: an undetectable human with vast manipulative power. If they didn’t have a filter, the world would never be the same.

“The entire system had to be nuked. By leaking the dataset, trust in private communications on social media would evaporate. It would be costly for society, but worth it. You, however, would still be a broken God. While you would save humanity from a potential disaster, you achieved an epiphany at the cost of the lives of others. You manipulated the people around you to arrive at this point. You had to atone to truly deserve this epiphany. You could’ve asked for forgiveness, but it would be meaningless without the entire truth that you were the hacker. That wasn’t a cost you would then consider to bear. And so, the most meaningful atonement would be merely to forget the epiphany. You would take Losonil and delete as much of this past year from your life as you can.

“However, I knew that there was a possibility that having forgotten this entire year, I would follow the same path without the lesson I had learned. Even though the dataset wouldn’t be real time anymore and people would stop using private social media, I was afraid you would somehow continue down a dark path and cause more destruction again in your wake. I still had a duty to stop that from happening, and so instead of just leaving a note on your bedside table, I would only intervene if you arrived at the same conclusion: that a dataset like this would be used to manipulate others. I moved many of the manipulations I did in the past year and split it into a fake person: Hel Witte. By baiting your curiosity, I knew if you arrived at Hel Witte, I’d be able to get you out here and share the truth with you. You know yourself, but not nearly as well as you think you do. The faceless crowd in this room is there to help you answer the question that’s been plaguing you, your entire life.

Who am I?

Rather, the question should be. Who are we not?

While you now know the full truth again, you’re back where you started. You’ve failed. It’s time to truly atone.

I love you, asshole.”

The screen turned black and he saw himself briefly in the reflection before a choice appeared.

“In five minutes, the phone will notify the press of your hack, the way it happened, and why you did it. Or, you can cancel this countdown and erase the phone. I know what I would do, do you?”

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