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Hunt the Truth Episode 04: Crossing the Black

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Thomas Wu: I shouldn't be talking to you.

Benjamin Giraud: No, wait, Thomas hol-hold on.

Wu: I can't. Leave us alone.

(Call ends)

Giraud: Oh God. O- no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Go down! No way! No way! No way that- you did not just-

Giraud: (voiceover) If you want privacy online, ChatterNet is a pretty good bet: not foolproof, but relatively difficult for the government to monitor. Waypoint, on the other hand, is wide open. Supposedly, the Office of Naval Intelligence has software on the network capable of listening to every single conversation galaxy wide, and if you say the wrong thing... the conversation gets flagged. 

Giraud: (continuing) Oh God! What did I just do?!

Giraud: (voiceover) What I had just done was conduct an unsanctioned followup interview with a survivor of a war camp, accused him of lying about it, basically got him to admit that lie, and then ended by possibly indicating my employer, the most powerful military agency in history, in either bribery or coercion. I'd done all of that on Waypoint. I thought I was going to throw up.

Giraud: (continuing) Wait a min- wait a minute- wait a minute- wait a minute-

Giraud: (voiceover) Maybe it wasn't that bad. I went and listened back. Would they flag that word? What about that one? That phrase sounds bad by itself but not in context. The factor in tone of voice, right? I was sitting there emotionally guessing how an insanely sophisticated algorithm is weighted. Basically, I was trying to outsmart a legion of robots.

Giraud: (continuing) Damn it, Ben!

Giraud: (voiceover) It was too late. Those words were gone. That data had been processed. And I had either been flagged, or I hadn't. I had no idea what would happen next. I'm Benjamin Giraud and this is Hunt the Truth.

Mshak Moradi: Benjamin!

Giraud: (voiceover) I've never been so happy to hear from Mashak Miradi. I made him triple check the security of our call.

Moradi: (continuing) Relax! We are under the tin foil hat of secrecy. (laughs) Seriously though, we are fully secure.

Giraud: (voiceover) Mashak could probably tell I was desperate when after months of his unsolicited theories, I actually solicited one.

Giraud: (continuing) What's going on out there right now?

Moradi: I'm glad you asked. Strong patterns: a lot of chatter in the military bars, soldiers drunk and unhappy. Local graffiti corroborates these complaints. The helmet overfloweth!

Giraud: (voiceover) This is how Mashak talks. For a while I thought maybe there was an actual group of people somewhere that used these terms, but there's not. It's just Mashak.

Moradi: (continuing) My prognosis? Ripples in the ranks. Army, Orbital Shock Troopers, Marines. Across the board; men at arms, up in arms.

Giraud: (voiceover) When soldiers get frustrated, they get sloppy with their communication. The more frustration, the more unsecured chatter. Right now, there was a lot of both.

Moradi: (continuing) And there's a sizable leak of, booyah, worthy transmissions distilling the slush.

Giraud: (voiceover) Ah, the slush. That immense soup of data siphoned off of insecure networks. The preferred source for nutjobs everywhere. The data's all legit, there's just such an ungodly huge amount of it that it's practically useless. To Mashak's credit though, he somehow managed to draw somewhat sound conclusions from it on occasion. It was kind of amazing. I asked why there was so much discontent across the military.

Moradi: (continuing) M.C. One-one-scepter.

Giraud: (voiceover) That's Mashak for the Chief.

Moradi: (continuing) He's off being creative. He could be off the grid. FLEETCOM's trying to smokescreen like they're on top of his posish, but their not. The trombones are playing the brown note on that one and the grunts are a-grumbling. The military is one pissed off polygon right now.

Giraud: (voiceover) Apparently, some are even questioning Master Chief's motivations and allegiances. The word traitor has been used.

Giraud: (continuing) Seriously? If he's disobeying orders that's bad, but calling the Chief a traitor? The guy who legitimately saved humanity multiple times, that's just- come on.

Moradi: Either way, you haven't considered the underlined question. M.C. is the precedent for free reign in the military. He's responsible for protecting a galaxy. A job that big requires absolute mobility. But then, that's a lot of power to give one man, hence the dichotomy, Benjamin. Power and responsibility.

Giraud: (voiceover) Mashak was getting philosophical, and making a lot of sense. When it comes to threats against us though, this issue of power and responsibility has always been shrouded in secrecy. As civilians we don't know what's happening, who's out there, what their doing. And according to Mashak, that ignorance could be about to blow up in our faces again.

Moradi: (continuing) There's something else afoot, Benjamin, out here in deep space. I hoped these events would turn out to be random, but now it's... it could be bad.

Giraud: (voiceover) Mashak was a lot of things, but never vague. I asked him what sort of bad he was talking about.

Moradi: (continuing) Electromagnetic fluctuations, slipspacious disruptions, epidemic data corruption. All of it, ya' know, what's happening? It's quiet, it's slight, but it's effecting... everything. Ripples on a gigantic scale. I'm talking whole star systems, it's just- I don't want to say I'm frightened, ya' know what I mean? (phone ring) But to be honest-

Giraud: I'm sorry, Mashak. Hold on a second. Just... hold on.

Giraud: (voiceover) As Mashak's sketch of a horrifying reality started to emerge, the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt him but I'd just been reminded of a more immediate, horrifying reality. From Sully, an event on my calender, no message.

Giraud: (continuing) Oh no.

Giraud: (voiceover) My stomach dropped. My flight to ONI's Boston Headquarters left in three hours. They were calling me in. This had never happened to me before. I said goodbye to Mashak. It now seemed painfully clear that my Waypoint conversation with Thomas Wu had been flagged. By the time I landed on Earth I was one giant ulcer. I'd spent every sleepless night's hour running over everything in my head. The conflicting stories I'd heard, the gut twisting possibilities of what would happen in Boston. I looked and felt like death. All I was looking forward to at this point was Petra Janecek. I'd hit her up right before I left, asked if she'd meet me near the ONI campus. Thankfully, she said yes. Petra and I are in the same line of work. We make the government look good. The last time I saw her was six years ago in New Mombasa, the day it happened. We were both there. We both saw the Chief do what he did. But afterwards, while I retreated to a quiet little hamlet across the galaxy, Petra stuck around and made a name for herself. I was hoping she could throw me a lifeline, so I threw some cold water on my face, pulled myself together, and met up with her at a local pub.

Petra Janecek: Ya' know, for a guy just returning from a six year spirit-walk in deep space, I'm impressed. You actually showed up on time.

Giraud: (voiceover) Same old Petra. She'd already knew I got the Master Chief assignment and she was not happy. Apparently she was still waiting for her face to face exclusive with the Chief. I refrained from laughing out loud at that little fantasy, but she continued with the ball busting anyway.

Janecek: (continuing) So why are you here? No wait, lemme guess, lemme guess the title of your story: "Heroism Untold".

Giraud: (laughs) Something like that.

Janecek: Yeah, I'm sure it's hard-hitting. What's a Sully commissioned exposé look like nowadays, anyway? An ONI one-sheet of approved sources?

Giraud: Yeah. (laughs)

Janecek: Whatever, you can do a fluff-piece over Waypoint from your rebel rock. So, again, why are you here?

Giraud: (voiceover) If you haven't noticed yet, Petra cuts to the chase.

Giraud: (continuing) Sully called me in.

Janecek: Sully? He what? He called you here?

Giraud: (voiceover) Yeah, yeah, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I told her about confronting Thomas Wu. How I'd contradicted a statement of his that was probably supposed to be Sully's main deliverable for the interview. Not only did Petra not see the problem with that though, she seemed to think it was cute.

Janecek: (continuing) Whoa! Whoa! Old Ben G-raud! You're coming off the bench feisty.

Giraud: No, no, no, no- I, I, I-

Janecek: The guy's not gonna run on you. They'll just make him look as bad-

Giraud: I-I did the whole interview on Waypoint.

Giraud: (voiceover) That got her attention.

Giraud: (continuing) I think it got flagged.

Janecek: You think it-

Giraud: I got the summons from Sully a few hours later.

Giraud: (voiceover) Petra's face and voice hadn't changed, but her eyes were suddenly on fire.

Janecek: (continuing) Ben-

Giraud: I-I-I messed up, Petra.

Janecek: You messed up how? I-

Giraud: The story! The story! It was falling apart! And these inconsistencies between the sources-

Janecek: Inconsistencies, with ONI sources?

Giraud: No with mine.

Janecek: You found sources in the Outer Colonies?

Giraud: Yeah, yeah I made friends in the past few years. I doubt Sully realized I'd have that resource in my arsenal.

Janecek: He defiantly didn't. Ben, listen to me. You used to be a government lapdog at your peak. Then you deep-spaced yourself into obscurity. You have no juice now, and that's why they picked you. Sully gives you this bone, you're supposed to be extra eternally grateful. Just wag your little tail, and play fetch. So why the hell are you peeing on the rug instead? Have you forgotten the way everything works?

Giraud: No, I don't know, I just- This is bad Petra!

Janecek: Ben, it's-

Giraud: And it's not ancient history, either! There are rumblings in the Outer Colonies right now, maybe something really bad! I was talking last week to this guy I know-

Janecek: Mashak Miradi, I know.

Giraud: What?! H-How do you know that?

Janecek: I've continued being an actual journalist for the past six years, but who cares Ben? I hear what your saying okay?

Giraud: We can blow this thing open Petra!

Janecek: (sigh) Okay. Alright, cowboy.

Giraud: No, seriously! This is big! I can't even begin to reconcile the things I'm hearing with the story I'm supposed to tell! Multiple sources that Chief died at six! Complete fabrications! Genetically augmenting kids!

Janecek: I know! They are crazy charging that much for a shore trip.

Giraud: (voiceover) Suddenly, Petra was ranting about the beach, loudly, and digging the tip of her fingertip hard into my forearm. I just sat there totally confused as she rambled nonsense. Intermittently glancing down at her ComPad what was happening? Then I understood... and I froze. They were listening. I'd figured there were cameras on us, there were always everywhere here, but there was full audio surveillance now too? Is that even possible? She glanced down at her ComPad one last time.

Janecek: (continuing) Ben?

Giraud: Are there ears on us?

Janecek: There were for the last forty-five seconds, but there are always eyes everywhere, so don't look so... dramatic. Talk about whatever you want, but look like your talking about the weather and if I start actually talking about the weather, you play along, ok?

Giraud: (voiceover) Apparently, the system didn't bother listening in until you gave it certain visual cues, facial expressions, body language, anything that looks intense like my little outburst, the video flags it and your conversation gets temporarily isolated. Petra's vacay babbling had just saved my ass.

Janecek: (continuing) Listen, I believe you that the truth about the story... is terrible, but what you're talking about doing, that's door-number-two stuff. You're a door-number-one guy.

Giraud: But I have-

Janecek: Oh, come on! Come on, what are you going to do, Ben? Get the real scoop? Your too sloppy, you can't do this, your-your out of touch. You haven't been-

Giraud: Maybe not by myself, but with your help, with other people's help-

Janecek: Honestly I love the idea of cutting the strings and tearing it all down, but I'm sorry. It's not going to be today. And to be brutal, it's never going to be you.

Giraud: (voiceover) That was brutal. It stung. I got pissed. And then I immediately knew she was right.

Janecek: Ben, take the money. Do your job.

Giraud: God. Oh God. Oh God. I'm supposed to walk over there right now.

Janecek: Just- Hey, just tell Sully you were drunk, you were trying to get a rise out of the guy, something. Just play stupid. Besides you don't-you don't know you got flagged! This meeting could just be a coincidence.

Giraud: No, no, they called me in. This is so weird, I mean-

Janecek: You'll be fine. The worst thing they'll-

Giraud: They've never-

Janecek: Hey Ben, the worst thing they'll do is kill the story and cut you from rotation. That's probably it. I mean I can't imagine they would... no, you'll be fine. Just be a good dog. Knock 'em dead. I'll get the bill.

Giraud: Thanks Petra.

Janecek: But Ben, if I were you, I'd upload whatever you got on the story before you go in, just send back ups to someone you trust, ya' know? Just-just in case.

Giraud: (voiceover) That was the closest thing to concerned I'd ever heard from Petra. I immediately took her advice and was queuing up all my files to Ray as I crossed to Rainja Avenue toward ONI. The campus was integrated right into the city: a courtyard of dark buildings, mature oak trees, grass, walkways. It just looked like a campus. The only thing different about it was the side walk: twice as wide as it was across the street. In the inner half of the pavement was black stone. A thick, dark border several feet wide that surrounded the whole complex.

I walked right up to the obsidian half of the sidewalk and stopped. Something was off about the courtyard in front of me, like something was missing. I look both directions down the sidewalk. There were no fences or guards. Plenty of pedestrians, seemingly none of them paying attention to the complex as they passed, except for one tiny thing: none of them, not a single one of dozens of white-collar workers and shoppers and parents and kids walking up and down that sidewalk laid a foot anywhere near the black half of the pavement. On a twenty-five foot walkway, they were all moving single file, right up against the curb.

I turned and looked back at the campus, listening... no birds. That's what was missing. There were no birds in the trees. In fact, there was no sound in the air at all. Nothing moved. I stood at the edge of the obsidian. I had no choice. I swiped the transfer file over to Ray's hard drive, took a deep breath, crossed the black line... Please join me for the next episode of Hunt the Truth.

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