“Hello,” a voice said. The voice belonged to the woman I had spoken to and helped at the store. Why, indeed how, we had ended up in the park simultaneously, I have no idea. I do not believe in fate or destiny, so I am only left to thank the hands of chance. She looked down at me as I sat slumped in sadness and wallowed in self-pity. I had been crying and must have looked quite a sight. “Are you okay?” she asked with what seemed a genuine concern in her voice. “No,” I replied, more gruffly than I had meant. “Oh,” she said, disappointed, “is there anything I can do to help?” I was, once more, far ruder than I meant to be. “Help,” I said, “ha! I am far beyond help.” She turned to leave; I suspect she was slightly unnerved by my attitude and the manner of my answers to her questions. She then stopped and turned back to me. “There is something about you,” she said, “ever since I saw you, I feel different.” My brain and mouth then joined forces against me, we were not arguing, but it was like that. I spat something out without thinking of the consequences first. “You feel different because I manipulated you,” I said. I threw it out there like a teenager scowling ‘I hate you’ at their parent. She said nothing for a moment, and I waited to be scolded. “How?” she asked.
It was not the reaction I had been expecting. I had just admitted to manipulating her; there can be few greater betrayals. I had expected shouting, accusations, or maybe just a defiant walking away, but instead, I had this question. “I am not quite sure how to explain it,” I said. I could explain it, but how to do so without sounding crazy eluded me. Ultimately, I gave up deliberating and said, “I’ve written about it.”
“May I read it?” she asked and sat herself down next to me. I hesitated momentarily, then pulled the laptop from my bag and switched it on. I opened the document and handed it to her. I was careful to ensure that the gun remained concealed in my bag. After handing her the laptop, I remembered writing the bloody thing so she would find out anyhow. I may have just made a strange situation worse. She sat and read, and I sat in silence. My imagination does me no favours at the best of times. It was now going through all the worse-case scenarios, was spending the rest of my days in a padded room really that bad? It could be worse! She let her eyes wander the pages and finally spoke. “I don’t know about strings and tar, but I know how they knew about you.”
My mind had worked out every possible scenario and outcome of this strange meeting. The one that it had obviously disregarded and thrown to one side after finding it too ridiculous was that she would believe me. “You believe me?” I asked. Picking her words carefully, she replied, “I don’t not believe you. Much of what you have written about The Party rings true. If that is true, who am I to discount the rest?” It seemed a strange logic. I’d always thought you mix in the truth to make a lie believable. You add a little spice of deception to the cake and hope that people are too busy enjoying the rest to notice it. I was not lying, but she had no way to confirm that. She had no way to know for sure. She handed the laptop back to me and stood up; offering her hand, she said, “Anne.” I got to my feet, not using the offered hand, and said, “Winston.”
“I know,” she replied, “it said so in the corner on the word processing software.” I had considered lying about my name, but as she, as Anne, had trusted me, I too felt that I could trust her. “You will need somewhere to think,” Anne said, “come with me; you can crash at my place.”
We walked without talking. I let Anne lead me as I followed in silence. My mind sprinted with thousands of thoughts, very few of them helpful. I had to trust someone that I knew next to nothing about. I could see no other choice. Anne opened her front door and invited me in; her place was small but homely. The well- worn but tidy sofa was pushed up and under the front room window. A large computer monitor flickered with life on the opposite side of the room. The lines of code – I think, I am no computer expert – scrolled the screen as Anne offered me a seat. “What do you know about the internet?” she asked.
Here I was, having been invited into Anne’s home, and the last thing I had expected was a question on technology. “Well, the basics, I suppose,” I replied awkwardly. “Look,” she said, and grabbed a pen and paper from the computer’s desk. “Remember when they brought all the infrastructure in-house. They claimed it was so they could invest, and the country could have super-fast broadband?” Anne stopped, and looked up at the ceiling. “It is all so clear. I had my reasons for hating The Party, but I never cared. I detested them, but my mind turned off when I thought about it. I started saying things like, they are all the same, I knew they were not, but I still said it.” She held up the paper and showed it to me.
The page contained three boxes. The first had ‘PC’ written inside, and a line connected the first and second. The next box had the word ‘cab’ and was connected to the final box, ‘exc’. “First box, pretty self-explanatory,” Anne said, and pointed to the word PC. “The next is the cabinet; you know those green and grey boxes at the end of your street. Then the cabinet connects to the exchange.” I listened; Anne had a voice that would have been suited to teaching. I knew some of this already, but her passion for the subject was infectious and flowed with every word. “At any point in this chain, you are vulnerable to interference, heck at points afterwards,” she said. “When they took control of the system for upgrades, this is what they seized. This is where they took control.”
“Sure,” I said, “but I don’t see the point. I knew they controlled that side of things.”
“So you knew, but you thought a VPN or Onion could get you out of their grasp?” The second Anne said this, I felt pretty foolish. It was evident that if they controlled the infrastructure, they would control the information route. “You should have run a traceroute,” Anne said. “You would have seen the traffic double back into their network. It is a closed system, and they pick what you see! They can see anything you buy on the dark or normal web. That is how they knew about you.”
“God, I feel so stupid,” Anne said as she crumpled and threw the page to the floor. I knew how she felt; I too felt like a moron. “How the fuck have I been so apathetic all this time!”
“I don’t think it was your fault,” I said.
“But it is!” Anne replied. “We all know what is right and wrong, and we all put these parasites into power. Sure, I can blame the goo, but I knew, I knew.” Anne made her way to the mantlepiece and grabbed a photo housed there. She handed it to me and asked, “Recognise him?” I looked at the photo of the man. The photo was old and in black and white. The man sat with his bowler hat on and held an umbrella. He was familiar, but I could not quite place him. “I feel I do, but I can’t put a name to him,” I answered honestly.
“Your namesake, Winston Price, my grandfather,” Anne said. It was then that I remembered. He was instrumental in fighting The Party before it grew and came to power. He was one that inadvertently gave them validity. You can’t, after all, be considered a danger if you are participating in a legal and fair election. Fair is a manner of speaking; is it fair if you can manipulate the public in a way that others can’t? Is it fair to manipulate the public? Does the public get what they want? “He was my grandfather, and I should have known of the dangers,” Anne said forlornly.
“You really can’t blame yourself,” I said, but I knew how she felt.
“Oh, I can,” Anne snapped back. “I wonder if he saw the world as you do? I should have known better.” I had no doubt that he saw the world as it was. That he saw the truth that others are blinded from. “The strings. It is, suggestion, isn’t it?” Anne said, “I know a little about the power of suggestion. You can’t make someone do something that they are vehemently opposed to. You can tell someone to murder, but they won’t do it. You can’t force someone to go against their will.”
“But why do it at all? Is it just about power?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Power is quite an addiction,” Anne replied and then asked, “how’re the cracks?”
I looked out of the window and up towards the sky, “They actually look better,” I said, and it was true, they did. The black edging of the cracking smiles just looked a little feinter and less prominent. “What do you think is causing the difference?” I asked. Anne waited a moment and replied, “Maybe it is you accepting your fate?” I am not sure I was, but maybe it was just fate; am I in control of my own destiny? Are any of us?