I woke up the morning of the funeral in a melancholy mood. My friend Harry had died two days ago in a car accident and I was still in shock. Our last conversation ended in a shouting match and it had been two months since we had spoken. We had fought about his decision to go public with his newest work and I knew that it would not be met with the widespread praise that he had envisioned but he went ahead and launched it anyway. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that he was really dead.
A few days after our verbal dispute he had announced to the world that he was launching his new app that would allow anyone to unlock the real identity of anyone online. He called the app It's You!. The technology effectively rendered anything anonymous online no longer anonymous. I told him that there would be no end to the chaos that would ensue and that the government would take it over instantly. He had said that he didn't care what the results were because the truth was more important. Assholes, terrorists, racists, pedophiles and the like would no longer have a mask to hide behind online.
He made the app free and created dozens of places to download it so that no one could shut it down. The application effectively ran on its own once it went live as it wasn't stored on a single server. He had hacked into all the major databases in the world, including governmental, communications and social media servers and used a complex algorithm to cross-reference IP addresses, personal information, typing patterns, personality matrixes, search histories and a slew of other information to accurately identify anyone's real identity, assuming they existed on a database somewhere, within minutes. The app only identified the account holders full name unless they were under 18, then the app would only give the person's first name.
I don't know what he was thinking but in the two months since it's official launch governments around the world had arrested millions of people for child pornography, drug, and human trafficking, conspiracy to commit murder, and a thousand other crimes that people used anonymous online accounts to commit. The dark web was no longer dark and the cockroaches were scattering. Like I had predicted, governments around the world used the software to spy on anyone and everyone. They began to create new databases that linked accounts to real people so they could track their activity and find out what they were doing when they thought no one was looking.
Also, people had started using the application to find out the real identity of the people they despised. Escorts, cam girls, and porn stars were being targeted and publicly shamed and sometimes violently attacked by religious groups. Communists, atheists, and anarchists were being targeted by the government and other groups for their beliefs. It was neighbor versus neighbor and a whole new world was beginning to emerge. One where people couldn't hide behind twitter bots and troll accounts.
I wasn't too worried about myself, actually. After going to school for programming, where I met Harry, I had become burnt out by the hustle and bustle of city life and after ten years of programming apps with Harry, I decided to slow my roll, as they say. I opted to stay relatively off the grid and moved into a small house on the beach. I had a computer and the dumbest phone I could find. I only had one email and since it already revealed my full name there was nothing for anyone to try to figure out about me. I now spent most days teaching woodshop at the high school and when I wasn't doing that I read, took walks, and led a very boring life. All that would change.
I made myself some coffee and eggs and sat looking out at the ocean. It was a beautiful day and I wasn't looking forward to the two-hour drive into the city and all that waited for me there. I must have missed the delivery person because when I finished getting ready and opened my door to leave I found a small flat package waiting for me there. Inside was a laptop I recognized immediately as Harry's by the sticker that displayed the words It's You! in bright yellow over a red finger pointing back at me.
I opened the laptop and immediately it asked for a password. I assumed that he had wanted me to get into it but he hadn't left me the password so I tried three things I thought might work but it locked me out for one hour so I gave up. I decided I would try again when I got back from the funeral and put it in a drawer and took off toward Santana Row.
The funeral was massive. Harry had become very wealthy from two very successful apps, one of which I helped him with back in the day and was still a shareholder. At least two hundred people had come to witness the funeral including famous people from the tech world, world famous celebrities, and a few politicians. Harry had been quite the socialite and was always making connections. He owned a few companies, had two ex-wives and had traveled all over the world. It was hard to know which attendees were there because they loved him, hated him or were still trying to get something from him.
I found Harry's mother who was the only person I actually knew. She was sobbing and held me for a long time at which point it all began to sink in and feel real. I started crying as she held me and we both just stood there for a while in silence. She had always been so loving and supportive and even after I left the business world we had talked on the phone and visited each other a few times a year. She had really helped me when my mother died a few years ago and I couldn't believe that it was just her and I now. I felt like she was my only family now.
After we parted I composed myself and looked around. What I found strange about the funeral was that it was so dull. I knew that Harry had nothing to do with it because if he had it would have been a huge party. He would have been so disappointed if he had seen all the black tablecloths, suits, and predictable floral arrangements. If he had planned it this thing would have been at night, with a DJ and everyone would be dancing around his grave or something.
None the less the funeral went as most do and a few people spoke about how innovative and controversial he was. His mother tried to speak but her sobbing didn't allow her to get more than a few words out. I would have spoken but I didn't know anyone there and I didn't care to reveal the Harry I knew to so many strangers.
As the funeral began winding down and the crowds had started to thin out a man with a briefcase approached me.
"My name is Craig Harper," the man said extending his hand. "Harry's lawyer."
I shook his hand and said, "My name is Ivan Lynch."
"I know. I need to talk to you about Harry's will," Craig said in a somber tone. He walked passed and I followed him to a small room.
Inside the room, Craig opened up his briefcase and started pulling papers out.
"What's this all about?" I asked.
"Well, there is a problem with Harry's will," he said.
"Oh. What is that?" I asked, curious how such a rich man, with such an expensive lawyer, would have any issues with his will.
"Well, he never finalized it," the lawyer said. "We started drafting it up months ago but whenever I would bring it up he would brush it off."
"Why are you telling me," I asked.
"Well, you see. During our conversations, he had told me that he was drafting up his will personally, at home. He told me that he kept it on a secure computer at home and that he was nearly finished," Craig said while handing me a document. "This is the last email he sent me."
It was a print out of an email from Harry dated the day before he died. It read:
I am almost done with the will but I want my friend Ivan Lynch to look it over first. I will be heading to see him tomorrow and then we can finally finish this thing. You were right to keep badgering me but who knew that everything would go to shit so quickly. I guess Ivan knew. Anyways, thank you for everything and if you don't hear back from me soon it is because one of these lunatics actually made right by their threat. If that happens tell Ivan that the antidote is in the flowers and that he needs to find the key from the past. He will know what that means.
You have always been a good friend even though I never treated you well.
"You see. That is why I needed to talk to you," Craig said with a grave look on his face. "Do you know what that means?"
"I have no idea," I said trying to wrap my head around the phrase the antidote is in the flowers and I need to find the key from the past. "What does that mean for his estate," I asked.
"Well, I only have a few days before the board's lawyers get annoyed with my stalling and begin to take control of his assets regardless of anyone's wishes. It is imperative that we get the will as soon as possible but I can't find it. I looked everywhere. Do you know where it might be?"
I looked at him for a moment skeptical about whether he could be trusted but after reading the letter it was obvious that Harry trusted him so I said, "Yes. I received his laptop by mail this morning. He must have known that something might happen and shipped it out ahead of himself. But I can't get into it. Do you know what his password might be?"
"No clue," he said looking concerned. "If we don't get into that laptop then it will be a feeding frenzy, Ivan."
"I understand. I will figure it out as soon as I can. I just need to think about what his password might be." I said to Harry's loyal lawyer. He handed me his card and I made my way back to my car. I rushed home in the driving rain almost ending up like Harry but I couldn't help myself. I had to get home to figure out the password and find out what this antidote was.
My mind raced with password possibilities as my car raced around the winding corners of the rural highway. Would Harry use a randomly generated password? No, I thought. Those weren't the best way. He would have used mostly letters because there are more potential combinations if you use letters. And he would have picked unrelated full words coupled with capitalizations and maybe a few symbols and numbers here or there. It could be anything. I just had to try.
When I got home I slammed the door shut and pulled the laptop out from the drawer and looked at the prompt for the password. Not knowing where to start I decided to go into the laptop's troubleshooting software where I tried to search for some underlying information that would be a clue to what it might be. Everywhere I looked it just kept asking for the admin password but at one prompt I got lucky. In the section entitled Reset space where a password would be typed, I saw ***************** already typed in. I counted the symbols and saw there were 17 characters. Thinking I would get even luckier I decided to try to copy the text but when I clicked into the area they all disappeared. Probably a good thing as if I had hit enter it might have erased the entire hard drive and all the data might have been lost.
Then I thought, why don't I just pull the hard drive out of the laptop and force my way into the files? So, I spent the next half an hour trying to find a small enough screwdriver to open up the case. I finally pulled the hard drive out and spent the next hour trying to find a device that would let me get the information off of the hard drive. Finally, in a box in the garage, I found an old USB hub that had a SATA port that I could plug into my basic computer and read the data off the drive but when I plugged everything in another password prompt popped up.
"Fuck!" I yelled at the ***************** mocking me. Harry had password protected his hard drive directly. Of course, he had.
I spent the next few hours trying to hack into the hard drive with sheer guesswork. I wrote down each attempt but after a while, I finally gave up. There were too many possibilities and the only way to get it was to hope that Harry had written it down somewhere. So, the next morning I got up early and drove back into the city to visit Harry's house.
When I pulled up to Harry's mansion I noticed two black SUVs in the driveway. Harry would never drive a dull black SUV so I knew someone was there. As I walked up to the front door I noticed a small hole in the glass near the door handle and I stopped breathing. I felt fear bubbling up and stood frozen on the porch for what seemed like forever. After forever I smacked myself in the face, a trick I learned as a child but hadn't used in a long time, and came to.
As I walked back toward my car I pulled out my phone and with a shaky hand dialed 911. I inched closer and closer to my car as the operator's phone continued to ring and just as I heard, "911, What's your emergency," a loud crack broke through the air and the window of my car shattered next to me. I clumsily dropped my phone and instinctually spun around to see a man in a black suit pointing a gun at me. Another loud crack rang out and it felt like my left shoulder had been punched by Mike Tyson. I turned again and started running away down the driveway as fast as I possibly could, loud bangs going off in rapid succession behind me.
I could hear the SUVs' engines starting up and knowing that they would simply run me over if they could I decided to attempt to jump the fence to my left. It was a fairly tall wooden fence but I managed to pull myself over it just in time to hear the SUVs driving past. I crouched in fear on the grass listening for anyone that might be near and after a minute I realized that I was in Harry's yard blood dripping down my left arm. I pressed my hand hard against the wound and winced in pain trying hard not to make a sound.
After that moment of intense fear, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself. A tennis court was in front of me and up to the left was Harry's garage. I rushed over to the garage and broke my way in by breaking a window with a rock. Inside the garage, I looked around and found a first aid kit with hydrogen peroxide, gauze, and medical tape. I poured the peroxide on the hole in my shoulder, put a large clump of gauze on top and attempted to tape myself up as best I could while attempting not to pass out from the pain and shock.
After composing myself a bit from my intense self-doctoring I looked outside the garage to find that both the SUVs were gone. I hit the button for the garage door and rushed over to get my phone but it was not where I dropped it. The assholes must have taken it. I ran over to the front door and went inside to find that the house had been ransacked. Crude graffiti was painted on the walls and Harry's belongings were strewn about all over of the house. I looked around and saw a landline phone on the wall but there was no dial tone. Thinking that this might be my only chance to find his password I ran up the stairs to his office.
I looked around the room covered in papers, books and other mounds of clutter and noticed a small black notebook on the ground. Recognizing it as Harry's journal I quickly maneuvered around the mess and picked it up. As I began to look through it my heart stopped again when I heard a car pull up to the house. I slapped myself in the face again and convinced myself to move into the hall. To my relief, I heard a voice call out, "San Jose Police Department!"
I started back down the stairs and called back, "Yes. I'm here!" Naively thinking they knew I was a good guy even though I was in a house obviously broken into. I could see two police officers at the bottom of the stairs with their guns drawn. When they saw me I paused with the journal clutched against my chest.
"Stop right there! Put your hands up now!" One officer shouted.
I put my hands up holding the journal in one hand.
"Drop what's in your right hand now!" The officer commanded.
"I need this, sir," I said hearing my voice shaking.
"I don't care what you need! Drop it now!"
I dropped the book and waited for my next instruction.
"Walk slowly down the stairs to us and keep your hands up," the officer said in a slightly less threatening tone.
I followed the instructions and walked down to them. At the bottom of the stairs, they instructed me to turn around where they placed handcuffs on me even though my arm was obviously bleeding through the gauze bandage. They took me outside where they called for an ambulance and I told them the story about what had happened. The officers must have believed me because as the ambulance was pulling up they took my handcuffs off. They took my information down and told me they would follow up with me soon but that for now, I wasn't under arrest. I went with the EMTs to the nearest hospital where they treated my gunshot wound.
I was in the hospital about an hour and I was feeling groggy from the painkillers and loss of blood when a San Jose detective came into my room to ask me questions. I told him the same thing that I had told the other officer's about what had happened at the mansion but they had additional questions to ask.
"What do you think the men were looking for at your friend's house, Ivan?"
"I think it is related to the new app Harry released a couple months ago. The one that made it so that no one is anonymous online." I said.
"Yeah, I could see how that information might be valuable and how he might have created more than a few enemies. Anything specific they might have been looking for though?"
"Maybe Harry's personal computer," I said.
"Any idea where that might be?"
"Yes, I have it," I told the detective who looked surprised.
"Oh. Well, what's on the computer that is so important?"
"I think that the original code for the application is there and it could be the only way to deactivate the app and put things back to normal. Lots of people would want to get their hands on that code for many reasons." I told the detective.
"I think your right. You should be careful. Do you think anyone knows you have it?"
"Only Harry's lawyer and you," I said. "But it doesn't matter anyway because it is password protected and Harry is the only one who knew the password and he's dead now. And I don't think it is a coincidence that he died right before app went viral." I told the detective who was writing all this down in a little book. "That's why I need his journal that I dropped in his house today. Can I get that journal?"
The detective looked up from their little book and smiled. "You mean this book?" The detective said and pulled out Harry's black leather journal from out of the inside pocket of their coat and handed it to me.
"Yes," I said, dumbfounded that they had thought to get it and bring it to me.
"The officers thought this was yours so they gave it to me to give to you."
"That's great. Thank you so much." I said.
"Well, I think I have everything I need. Unfortunately, there isn't much to go on since so many people wanted Harry dead but this just became a high priority case and I will reexamine Harry's crash to see if there is any reason to suspect foul play there too." The detective handed me a small prepaid phone and their business card and said, "Take this. You said they took your phone and if they were stupid enough not to get rid of it we might be able to track it. Call me if you think of anything that might help me track these guys down and keep that on you just in case."
"Thank you," I said and shook the detective's hand before they left.
Sitting on the bed in the dimly lit hospital room I began looking through the journal and before long I found myself tearing up reading Harry's personal writings. I read for a while about his life before we met and about how his father left when he was in high school. He wrote about meeting me in the dorm on our first day at college and how he thought I was a pretentious nerd. Then he wrote about the time we almost got kicked out for hacking into the football scoreboard and posted everyone's GPAs. The last page of the journal explained how he wouldn't have been able to graduate without my help but how he never knew how to tell me. I started sobbing, my tears dripping over the pages.
After my moment of sadness, I tried to dry off the wet drops on the journal smearing the ink slightly but just then I noticed something about the lettering on that page. One letter in the middle of a sentence was capitalized when it had no reason to be. It was an E. I turned to the first page and started looking for any out of place capital letters. Nothing on the first page but a few pages later I found a conspicuous looking P and then a couple of pages later I found a Y. I took a pad and pen off a shelf and started writing the letters down as I found them. By the end of the journal, I had 16 characters that read PYTHONGOLD7QUIRE. I was one character short and as I was about to start over to find the missing character when the door opened.
A nurse came in to say, "How are you feeling?"
"I feel OK," I said.
"Do you have someone that can pick you up?"
"No, can you call me a cab?" I asked.
"Yes. I will do that. We need this room though so if you could wait in the lobby downstairs please."
"No problem," I said and gathered up my things and went downstairs.
In the lobby, I searched the journal for the last character and finally, after combing its pages I found one on the first page. There was a sentence with a pronounced dollar symbol. I hadn't noticed before because a dollar sign is normally large but this one had been traced over multiple times making it bolder than the surrounding letters. I wrote this down at the front of the set of characters and hoped that it was the right one. I stared at the password until the cab came.
I asked the cab driver to take me to Harry's address where my car was still sitting there with its broken window. I looked over at the house and saw the front door covered in police tape and thought about going back inside but decided against it. There was no time to waste. I cleaned off glass shards from the front seat and drove back home in silence.
At home, I slammed the front door closed, locked it and pulled all the curtains and windows shut. I checked the rooms, closets and behind the shower curtain but there were no suited men lurking inside to take me out. I went to the computer and fired it up making sure my the can of mace that I usually kept in a drawer was sitting within reach. I plugged in the hard drive and when the password prompt came up I tried the characters I had found in the journal: $PYTHONGOLD7QUIRE. The prompt quickly read out that it was wrong. Next, I tried only capitalizing the first letter of each word and with that, the prompt disappeared leaving the naked file system.
I opened the folder called Users and started to read the folders. I opened one marked personal finances and started to open files. One file showed all of Harry's bank account information including which banks he used, the account, routing numbers and contact info of who he preferred to deal with. Another file showed a list of his actual investments and contact information for his financial advisor. Harry had millions of dollars in businesses, stocks, bonds, and real estate investments. Then I found a file called All the Marbles. This file showed a breakdown in the form of multiple pie charts, spreadsheets, and graphs of Harry's entire estate from assets to liabilities. At the top was a large green label the read NET which showed how much he was worth at the last calculation. The number showed 125 million dollars!
Still looking for Harry's will I looked through more folders and files until I found a folder marked xFor ILx at the bottom of the list. Inside this folder, there were two more folders. One was entitled Will and Testament and the other was called The Antidote. I opened the Will and Testament folder which contained one document with the same title and found that it was a PDF copy of a notarized document dated the day of Harry's accident. I skimmed through the document and found that he left a large sum to his mother, another large chunk to his ex-wives, and a large chunk to a set of charities. As far as his stakes in his app and other businesses he left to me making me majority shareholder in his current app company worth millions of dollars as well as a partial owner of many other smaller companies. He also left me a lump sum of 5.2 million dollars.
With my heart beating in my chest I quickly made a copy of the entire hard drive onto my backup external drive and an additional copy of the xFor ILx folder to my computer and to my cloud storage. I password protected the folder in each case and used Harry's journal password but added the number 1 after it just to make it my own. I emailed the Will and Testament file to Harry's lawyer and then opened the file marked The Antidote.
When I opened the folder I found the entirety of his work on the It's You! application. His code, encryption keys, algorithms, government database backdoors, and hacking information. Looking at the long list of files and folders I came across one marked Killswitch. I opened the folder and read the ReadMe file:
In the case that the It's You! application should need to be terminated utilize the program "Killswitch" to activate a total system format. This program will activate a worm that will find any and all It's You! data stored anywhere in the world and delete it. This should only be done if the owner of this file deems the It's You!application to be the cause of more harm than good. Once the Killswitch program is enacted it cannot be undone. Use with extreme prejudice.
I read over the file one more time and sat thinking about whether or not to enact the Killswitch worm. Ever since the It's You! application had gone public it had definitely caused harm to those who deserved a safe place to express themselves even if it was in a way that the majority deemed unacceptable. On the other hand, it had also brought many evil people to justice. It had created a kind of online purge that brought those with something to hide, for good or bad reasons, out of the shadows. It was a blunt force tool that I wasn't convinced was the right way to solve the world's problems but I also had to admit that such power in the hands of the people was potentially better than leaving such power only to the government.
My cursor hovered over the Killswitch icon for a while when I heard a knock at the door. I nearly jumped out of my seat with fright. I grabbed my can of mace and slowly walked over to the door.
I called out, "Who is it! I have a gun!" I waited for an answer and when it came I recognized the voice and my heart skipped a beat.
From behind the door came the voice of my dead friend Harry, "You don't have gun you fucking liar! Open up. We need to talk."