“I’ve warned you about your temper tantrums, Dylan.”

@syntakhelpdesk hi there 

How may we help you today? @ninjavirusxx

@syntakhelpdesk my package didn’t arrive yesterday

We’re sorry to hear that, @ninjavirusxx. Can you please share the tracking number with us?

@syntakhelpdesk 14viidxl38431490

@ninjavirusxx Hmm I don’t see that tracking number. Are you sure it’s not 15viidxl38431490 or 16viidxl38431490

@syntakhelpdesk did i fucking stutter

@ninjavirusxx ok you can file a complaint with the department, please contact the complaints department on our website. 

@syntakhelpdesk fine 

@ninjavirusxx have a nice afternoon.

Dylan Simcoe hunched in his chair, staring at the empty desk in front of him, sweating as the temperature rose inside the nondescript college counsellor’s office. The Riverside Baptist Technical Institute was not a well equipped organization, notably lacking in basic amenities such as air conditioning, or a regular full time counsellor. Legally it was required to retain a psychologist in order to meet funding standards for colleges in its league, but it was cheaper to contract them on a rotating basis. 

That, in any case, would have been the reason the board of governors would have given out if anyone had ever bothered to ask, which they wouldn’t. They also, if asked, would have disclosed several religious organizations as being benefactors of their institution, which Dylan also knew to be a lie. He had never attended Riverside, having attained his skills through self education and direct instruction. He had no interest in the students here now being educated in the same discipline, and was not expected to mingle with them face to face, though he no doubt knew some of them online.

Online was where Dylan preferred to live, spending his time building and interacting with dark web hacker networks. He didn’t like driving out of his way just so he could sit in this shitty office, look at the black mold on the ceiling while he waited for his contact to arrive. His apartment was a trash pile, but at least it was air conditioned. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. A gallon of diet Mountain Dew coursed through him, and he fidgeted, his foot and leg working, seizure-like, while sweat trickled down his neck.

Miryam, for the benefit of anyone outside, entered the room with a warm smile, but it dropped as she shut the door behind her. She was about his mother’s age, and had once been a friend of his family’s. That was before their farm was bulldozed for project housing, and before his parents had both been shot by state police while trying to defend their property. Dylan had been a kid back then, and so he had been left at an aunt’s house before the demonstration. It was only in the last two years had Miryam’s people had contacted him, told him that he still had a legacy. That he had a mission.

“I’ve warned you about your temper tantrums, Dylan,” Miryam said in her deep stern voice, her arch lined face adopting an expression of firm castigation.

“This is important,” Dylan insisted. “Urgent.”

Miryam moved around the desk and sat down, resting her folded hands on the blotter, adopting the pose of counsellor in the unlikely event someone opened the door. She fixed her dark eyes on Dylan, her mouth thinning into a line of annoyance. 

“You know that I hold your interests dear to my heart,” she said slowly. “You know that I want you to thrive, to achieve something material in this cause.”

“Reverend — ”

“But you need to show respect to the people who are helping you, often at great risk to themselves,” she said firmly, making him feel like an ungrateful child. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, not looking at her. “But that’s just it. I want to do something real. I’m tired of… “

He wanted to say he was tired of one-off missions, of driving Teslas into tour groups, of knocking out drones and crashing cargo ships into each other. Even pulling down fighter jets was starting to bore him, though everyone on the hub agreed it was his best thing. He was always able to get a couple thousand upvotes on the pilot’s helmet cam footage before it was taken down. 

“Is this about the girl?” Miryam asked, softening slightly.

“No,” Dylan lied sullenly, knowing he’d never deceive his benefactor. Miryam was extremely skilled at spotting untruths, something he, an unbeliever, found ironic given her stated calling.

He had met Natsuki at the kids coding camp his handlers insisted he join, ostensibly to give him some visible legitimacy, and account for his swollen resources. He had another job while he was there, to scope out the older kids and see if there was anyone promising that might be useful to the organization, but he’d completely abandoned that goal after he met Natsuki. She was a visa student, beautiful, funny, excellent with the kids, and empathetic towards Dylan’s deprived upbringing. 

She’d agreed to go to dinner with him, had been unfailingly kind, and had held his hand as they’d walked along the riverfront. For the first time in his life, he felt as though he’d met someone who wanted to understand him, even if there were a few cultural barriers. It helped that they both loved the same manga, and her enthusiasm for the interests he held in common with her made him wonder if he had misjudged the whole, seemingly indifferent female gender.

He had seen her off at the airport, and had kissed her cheek after she hugged him. He’d promised to visit her at the Kyoto address she’d given him. His message history was now full of smiley little emojis, her preferred way of answering his texts. And then, as time passed, they had dwindled in number. The delays between her responses had grown longer. He told himself that this was normal, but it sent a bolt of anxiety through him. The feelings of inadequacy were returning. The Heartland conflict had intensified, making it impossible for her to return, and he, Dylan, believed he had the power to end it. To resolve it, and in favour of the heritage he had been denied. Finally, it all made sense. He just knew. 

“Something real,” Miryam repeated. “Do you know what you’re talking about, young man?”

“The Promise,” Dylan said quietly. “God’s promise. No more bulldozers. No more federal projects. Just us, and the land, and the crops.”

Miryam contemplated him, and he was sure that she was weighing his blatant insincerity in her mind against the possibilities they had never given voice to. So far, they had made incursions against the food producing African nations, disrupting supply, punishing American consumers for abandoning their own producers. There was always talk about scaling up, about making a permanent hole that would result in a global sea change, force the US to capitulate and return farmland to its caretakers. 

That was given pretext, anyway. Or as Dylan thought of it, the “fatwa”. The methodology of ISIS had been part of his early education, and the religious angle, to Dylan’s mind, made excellent cover, even if a large number of the Revelation collective’s members were in fact true believers. It didn’t matter what they believed — the plan was nothing less than a coup. 

“We’re ready,” Miryam said, her eyes narrowed as she looked searchingly at him. “Are you?”

Dylan met her eyes. He nodded. 

And so he found himself in Cook County, Minnesota, hiking to the top of Eagle Mountain as the sun set behind him. He had his laptop in a backpack, and an untraceable mobile phone, alive with encrypted messages of encouragement from the hub. They were, many of them, the same guys who followed his gaming career on Twitch. He’d hang out with them in the virtual lounges, having more in common with them than the people he encountered in reality. 

He knew that all of that would change. He would change. He already had a plan for locating Natsuki, having thoroughly researched her information so that when the time came, he’d be able to evacuate her from the chaos. Like a superhero, he would shed his dorky, awkward exterior and become the secret warrior he had trained to be his whole life. 

He slipped on a bluetooth headset, and opened up a one way audio stream. His audience would be able to hear him, but he needed to be free of distractions. 

“Coming up on 37° 28 9,” he said into the headset as he looked around, searching for the promised clearing.

Eagle Mountain was not exceptionally high, but it was the highest peak within driving range. To accomplish his task, he would need a good signal, and a clear view of the night sky. Luck had furnished him with both, and he felt good. Strong. Even the hike, something out of his normal practice, did not fatigue him. He was ready. He was primed. Tonight, he would erase the record, and begin a new world order. Vikram Kori, whose illegal manipulations were known the world over by agents of the organization, was about to go down.

You never saw me coming, did you, faggot.

He looked at his mobile, turning down the brightness so he wouldn’t become night blind. 

“im so ready”

“i know, finally”

“what r the coordinates??”

“0°03’25.7″N 27°24’11.9″W”

Dylan checked the time. He had a few moments to get his bearings, and he found a good spot where he had a clear view of the sky, and where the chopper waiting on standby would have plenty of room to land when it came to collect him. 

As he lay back and watched for the approaching light passing through the firmament, he thought about Natsuki, how much he wished she was with him now. He should have made her exfiltration a condition ahead of time, but it wouldn’t have made him look too good in her eyes. She’d know the reason if he was too far ahead of schedule. She was quick, a born programmer, and he loved that. 

“Ten minutes,” he said to his audience as he pulled out the laptop, and called up a raw code window. It was already filled with lines, a program that would run after he made the initial DOS attack. 

An alert appeared on his navigation bar. Dylan looked up, and after a moment of searching, spotted the drifting light, moving among the stars as though it too was millions of miles away: The Atmospheric Regionless Cloud. A nuclear satellite the size of the Titanic, housing most of Earth’s internet servers, commerce and communications. The last technological contribution of Aeneas Musk before his suicide, the ARC supposedly belonged to no country. After demonstrating its limitless bandwidth, internet providers had moved their services to its global servers. Land based servers were eventually abandoned, except by those, like Dylan, who did not want to see the internet providers conglomerated, and who found anonymity suited them better. 

Tesla autonomous vehicles might be robustly encrypted when operated through Musk’s satellite, but Dylan had bypassed it on a regular basis, sending public transit off bridges, trucks into busy pedestrian areas, and even effecting the assassination of the US senator for New Jersey when she and her family made the mistake of using a ride share. 

Truly, her mistake had been pushing for legislation against the National Agricultural Protection Front. That had been neat work, and Dylan had received a considerable bonus. He was rich by anyone’s standards, but he had nothing he really enjoyed spending money on beyond technology and junk food. And global currency was about to suffer a serious disruption.

“Five minutes,” he said to no one in particular, then opened his mobile, and looked through the last photos he had taken, selfies with him and Natsuki. 

Her face was so open, her smile so natural to her face. She’d actually made teaching those brats how to code less miserable. He wondered if they’d ever get the chance to do something like that again. If he succeeded in his objective, the world would re-stabilize enough to consider such things. It would take years, probably. And some regions, the food producing areas that had moved to Africa because of climate change, would never recover at all, because they would cease to exist. 

As the ARC’s trajectory moved over the Pacific Ocean, Dylan added a few more lines of code, adjusting the ventral thrusters, the engines that would propel the satellite into Earth’s gravitational field. It would make landfall over the Congo, and in a flash, the continent would be erased from the market, no longer a rising economic force, but a blank slate on which his own disenfranchised nation could write a new destiny. The African Renaissance would come to an end, and North America would rise again.

That was the pitch, anyway. Dylan doubted that it would do more than scramble the status quo, and if he was honest with himself, it didn’t really matter to him who came out on top. It wasn’t about politics. It was about the power of chaos. The big reset. An experiment in human resilience, and one giant culling of anyone who couldn’t measure up.

He opened his chat history with Natsuki, then hesitated. What to say in this moment? He wished he knew how to explain that he had his finger on the scale of history, and he was about to let it go, to rebalance it, and that he wanted her to be with him for the aftermath. 

Hey, u up?

After a moment, the read receipt popped up, a friendly little blue check mark. He smiled, feeling a flutter in his chest and added a follow up message.

Miss u. 

He waited, lifting his eyes to glance at the screen. Then, as he looked down, the words Message Not Delivered appeared under his message. He frowned, pressed the retry button, and was greeted with the same notice. 

He could not believe it. She’d blocked him.

Frantically, ignoring the increasingly urgent hub messages asking about the ARC, he scrolled through her social media, where she had “liked” everything he’d ever posted, and had even shared their photos prominently in her image galleries. In a matter of minutes, she had blocked him on every single site. 

“You fucking cunt,” he said out loud. This remark was greeted with a chorus of question marks from the chat hub. He threw down his headset, tossed aside his mobile and turned to his laptop.

Furiously, his eyes blinded with tears, Dylan typed rapidly into the code screen. Sweating, his heart thumping in his chest, his rage was so visceral that all thought of his mission had fled. He had been rejected by women all of his adult life. He had been ghosted, blocked and insulted for daring to have expectations. This would be the last time.

He checked the coordinates. The ARC was drifting over the Pacific Ocean, heading east. If he pulled it down now, the eastern Asian seaboard would be well within the blast radius. His cell phone was ringing now, his handlers desperate to reach him, to stop him. 

Fuck you. Fuck them. Fuck everyone. You made me do this. 

Through a haze of angry tears, he made the necessary adjustments so that the ARC’s thrusters would slow its descent. It would enter the water and break apart on the ocean floor, causing maximum damage with the unprecedented nuclear explosion. Dylan felt that was appropriate for Japan to provide his stage. He would erase it, erase her, and everyone she had ever known or cared about. She had made him believe that he was counted among that number, and then blocked him without an explanation. He hoped she lived long enough to regret it. 

Dylan typed the letter “Y” into the screen, and pressed enter. The code zipped itself up, and the automated program started, issuing instructions to the satellite, and counting down to the pre-written broadcast of the message his organization wanted humanity to receive. 

Then he lay back, letting his tears run down his face into his hair as he waited for the star to fall on another bitch who had led him on. He was going to rescue her, protect her from the hurricane of change. He had done all of this for her and now she was just another corpse on the pile. He’d been so sure. 

Between one breath and the next, Dylan never saw or heard the silent bullet as it punched a hole in his chest. His body collapsed, his nervous system reacting automatically to the catastrophic damage, but his hearing still worked perfectly, perceiving the words of the shadow above him. 

“It’s done, but there’s worse news. The idiot changed the coordinates. It’s going to go into the Marianas Trench.”