Welcome back. I’m sure many of you are as anxious to find out what Ron’s deal is as I am. I’ve been trying to get a hold of him ever since he disappeared from Brianne’s. The first couple times I called him it rang and rang before it hit voicemail. The next time it didn’t even ring and just went straight to voicemail. I tried one last attempt just yesterday to find that the phone number has been disconnected.
I’d reached out to Brianne to see if she’d heard from him the day after we got back from Hellhole Canyon, but she was still half asleep. Probably playing catch up from however long she’d been running on an hour or two at a time. Whatever the case, she didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk about Ron and I didn’t want to press her. I’ll let her reach out when she’s ready. After what she’s been through, she deserves that much. Truthfully, I wish I could get the kind of rest she’s experiencing now, but things haven’t improved much in that department for me. There’s just something about these papers… it just feels too important to me.
I intend to reach out to Detective Anderson next. I’ll keep all of you posted on any updates or new developments on that front. But enough of my rambling about every concern I have. I doubt most of you subscribed for that. I’ll go ahead and jump into another paper. Well, something paper-adjacent, at least.
As you may remember, I’ve been trying a number of things with my dreams lately. There have been the attempts at lucid dreaming, as well as trying to tap into the shared dreams that may be out there as discovered in [1:06]. For those who may not recall, it seems that there are dreams that we all may share, or maybe just some of us. Since typically the only dreams you remember are the ones just before you wake up, I’ve been setting my alarm to go off at various points throughout the night in hopes I’ll be able to not only experience it, but also remember it. I’ve also requested those of you who have been trying this with me to let me know what you’ve dreamt so far. I’ve received a handful of dreams which I appreciate, but so far I haven’t found one that we’ve shared.
As I alluded, today’s episode isn’t exactly a paper. I’m sharing it to relay an experience of my own. You see, while I haven’t had a shared dream yet (that I know of), I did have something that was… more than a dream. I’ve mentioned these before, but this was by far the most vivid to date.
It started much like a movie. One second I didn’t exist, and the next I did. I was lying in bed which led me to believe I had just woken up. I looked over at my alarm clock to see that I had a few minutes before it was set to go off. I reached out to adjust it when it suddenly exploded. There wasn’t any sort of apparent combustion – no flame or anything – but the white plastic casing and black screen suddenly ripped apart and flew into the air, the internal circuit board and wiring following just after. I instinctively closed my eyes and lifted my arms to shield myself from the plastic shrapnel, but it never hit me. In fact, it didn’t hit anything. When I opened my eyes, the broken pieces were frozen in midair.
I cautiously reached out and touched a piece. It moved when I touched it, but remained still once I stopped. I looked around and that’s when I noticed someone else was standing in my room. I tried to look at them, but they were completely out of focus no matter how much I strained my eyes. It looked like whoever this was wore dark outfit and a gas mask, but I couldn’t distinguish anything beyond that. They lowered an arm which had been pointing at my clock.
“Who are you? What do you want?” I asked it.
They didn’t say anything. Instead, they just looked up at the ceiling and pointed. The ceiling over my bed started to rumble, then crack as dust dropped. Paint and plaster fell away before slowing to a halt about two feet above me. Screws untwisted themselves to follow suit, then chunks of sheetrock split away, exposing joists, wiring, and ductwork that were in the process of splitting and spreading upwards as they groaned in resistance.
I peered through what was now a roughly five foot wide hole in the roof directly over my bed that was frozen mid-explosion to see that there were no moon or stars out. Above me where I would expect to see clouds was a dark, turbulent sea. I looked back at the figure before me to see that they were redirecting their gesture to me. I froze in fear as I suddenly felt myself being ripped apart. I closed my eyes in a moment of agony, then it stopped. I looked down to see my body beneath me, still lying in bed with my eyes closed. The figure flicked their blurred hand and suddenly I was flying upwards, past the shingles hovering above my home and into the sea.
I closed my eyes at the sting and panicked as I felt myself submerge in saltwater. My lungs began to burn but, if this were some form of astral projection, I really shouldn’t need to breathe. Oxygen escaped my mouth and I knew I was going to drown.
I blinked when air hit my face and I found a rapidly approaching metal floor below me. I braced myself when I noticed my hands looked different. I didn’t really have time to process it though, because I impacted the floor. It didn’t hurt as much as I expected. I could still feel it and it was mildly painful, but not anything like it should have been based on the speed at which I was falling.
I slowly stood and took in my surroundings. It reminded me of a supermarket: row after row of neatly arranged shelving. Only this wasn’t shelving, it was cabinets full of blinking black boxes. I was in a data center, and a massive one at that. What little light spread throughout the area was red. This place was clearly not meant for regular access. At least, not from humans.
My slow spin finally stopped as I found someone behind me. Her dark hair stopped before the shoulders of her wetsuit, and her oxygen mask was obscuring her face in the darkness. This had been the person in my room. She turned around, glanced back at me, and nodded her head, as if to say “come on.”
Not seeing any other options, I followed her lead. As we walked I raised a hand in front of me. The red light seemed to pass through it. When I looked down I saw my entire body was… translucent. It’s like I wasn’t fully there. I reached out and let my fingers brush against one of the cabinets. I could definitely feel it.
We came to a stop as she unzipped a pocket on her suit and pulled out a sealed back. She opened it and withdrew a small keyboard which she plugged into a terminal. The keyboard, like me, was almost see-through. The woman, however, was as solid as the rest of this place. Some text appeared on the screen in front of her and I won’t pretend that any of it made any sense to me. I found myself looking around again when she broke the silence, making me jump a little and snapping my attention back to her.
“We don’t have much time, Jeremy.”
I tried to respond but found no noise came out when I opened my mouth. She glanced over at me, then returned her focus on whatever she was typing.
“It’s no use. You can’t talk in this state. But you can hear, and you can see, and that’s what’s important. That’s why you’re here.”
She fell silent again and the inability to ask what she meant was maddening. The screen in front of her went blank. She unplugged her keyboard and started moving again, this time faster than before. I found myself half-jogging just to keep up.
“This place isn’t supposed to exist, and the security… it’s almost a miracle I was able to make it in. But I’m the one who did. And that means I was able to get you in, too.” She gave a half chuckle as she added, “I’m pretty much their worst nightmare.”
She took a hard left and plugged her keyboard into another terminal.
“They know that, of course. After all, they’re the ones who made me.”
Despite the fact that I couldn’t talk, I still tried to ask who she was talking about. Then an image appeared on the computer screen. It was made out of letters and special characters, but it was still recognizable. It was a gear with some lines in the middle of it; I’d seen it on a couple of the documents I’d been sorting through. She looked up and saw me staring at it.
“It’s Hydra’s icon they use for all their technology projects – they have others for different types of projects but I don’t know all of them. That’s where we are right now, by the way. I figured you knew that, but just in case. This is one of Hydra’s servers on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. You can get a lot of info if you know where to look on the dark web. Some stuff – the really damning stuff – you have to access on site, though. And, unless you go through the proper channels, getting on site isn’t exactly… easy. You probably noticed that, though.”
An alarm started blaring. She ignored it, remaining entirely focused on her work. I heard a rumble in the distance, followed by a crackling of electricity. There was a brief glow, but it disappeared before I could pinpoint the source.
“Like I said, not much time,” the mystery woman said as she unplugged her keyboard once more. I looked around nervously as I heard the crackling again, this time closer. She was already leaving the aisle when I turned my gaze back to her. I quickly chased after her. There was a steady hum vibrating throughout the floor now.
About a dozen rows down, she stopped and plugged in her keyboard one final time. Less than a minute later, she turned to me. “This next part is tricky and it’s gonna take some time; probably more time than we have right now. So here’s the plan.”
Footsteps echoed in the distance. She took a deep breath and glanced around before continuing more quietly, but still loud enough to be heard over the alarms.
“I have some code compiling that’ll mess with their hydro-cooling system and take this whole datacenter down. Over here I have a script running that is crawling their files. If we’re extremely lucky, I’ll be able to get a bunch of the files out of here, then destroy the place. What’s more likely to happen is that we’ll only have time to screw the cooling system up. But even that is gonna require some stalling.”
The footsteps were getting closer now, and it was more than one set. She glanced back, then motioned for me to follow her. We ran as softly as we could. We were both out of breath by the time we stopped, but the footsteps were further away now.
She continued. “They have really good security, and I don’t just mean cyber security. They’re coming for us. But we have to lead them on a wild goose chase to give my code time to compile and – ideally – time to get the files from them.”
We both jumped as a bright flash illuminated the aisle we were in. At first I thought it was a child that stepped out of the light. As the light blinked out and the dull red glow was once again our only illumination, I realized what was before us wasn’t human at all, though. It was covered from head to toe in eyeballs, all blinking independently. In near unison, each eye turned to focus on us.
The woman pulled me out of my shock and horror with one simple command: “Run!”
I turned and ran after her, turning from one row to the next, creating a complicated path until I had no idea where we had been and where we were going. Every so often we’d be stopped at the end of an aisle as another flash of electric light appeared or some creature would step into our view.
My lungs were burning and I managed to get her attention enough to let her know I needed a second. We paused and doubled over, once again breathing hard. She turned her head to me and whispered in my ear. “If the code compiles and I can’t do it, hit Enter for me.”
I nodded, although I’m not sure if she could see that with how blurry I was. I heard the now-familiar sound of crackling electricity which told us we needed to move. We continued running on legs that felt increasingly like rubber. We rounded another corner to realize too late something was standing on the end of the aisle. It was hard to see in the light available – it’s skin dark and reminding me more of lava rock than actual skin. It wasn’t until a flash of light behind us illuminated him that our situation sunk in. We were trapped.
The woman looked past me at whatever was behind us. I was too exhausted to even bother. Ignoring the encroaching monsters, she turned to the terminal next to her, plugged her keyboard in, and began typing.
The voice physically brought me to my knees. She remained standing, but only by clinging to the server cabinet. I looked to see the dark creature pointing at her with fingers too long for its body. Its face consisted of a circular mouth full of teeth which rippled as it spoke.
“You keep trying even now? It’s too late. Give up.”
She stood back up and kept typing. Faster than my eyes could register, the creature reached out and grabbed her hands, instantly breaking them. She cried out in pain. I wanted to help, but what could I do?
“You came all this way. For so many years. Just to fail.”
Something like a laugh came out its gaping mouth, but sounded more like a screeching animal than anything. It picked her up by her broken wrists until her feet no longer touched the ground, then turned and shoved her into a cabinet.
“You could have been so much more than this. There’s so much within you.”
She spat at it, then spoke through seething anger, “You’ve all done enough to me as it is. It’s about time you aren’t able to do this to anyone else.”
It slowly wiped the spittle off of its gravely skin, then said, “I don’t think you’re in a position to make those decisions now. Do you?”
Without warning, its other hand shot out and crunched into her jaw. Her eyes closed in anguish for a moment before opening them back up, spitting out teeth and blood, and looking up to meet my gaze. The corner of her mouth that wasn’t already swelling ticked up. If she weren’t in so much pain, I would have said she was smiling. Then she winked at me.
I stood there, confused. The creature looked towards me, then back at her. “What are you looking at?”
It shook her, slamming her back into the cabinet. “Tell me! What is it you are looking at?”
Behind me I heard something making a low, guttural noise. I turned to find a monster on all fours yet standing eight feet tall. It sniffed at the air. I think it was looking for me. I looked back at the black thing, then to the four-legged thing again. That’s when it dawned on me. They couldn’t see me.
I dove to the console, reaching for the blurred keyboard she had plugged in there. I glanced back at her to see a full, half-toothed smile of encouragement. Before I pressed Enter I looked at the screen. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember everything that was on it. I do remember the gist of at least part of it, though.
The top portion of the screen had a list of filenames. There were a couple I remember like Malcom Foye dot TXT and Lucas Stone dot TXT, but the one that really caught my eye was my own name. I didn’t have time to figure out how to access it, though. The one selected was simply labeled SHE dot TXT.
This is where it really gets fuzzy in my memory. There were descriptions of things that had been done to this person for decades since birth; I remember them being terrible. Dead center in the middle of the screen was a gray box with the direction “Press the Enter key to execute.”
I glanced down at my hands to see one of them appeared as if it was trying to grab something while it moved, seemingly on its own. I looked back up at the woman, fear at the loss of control of my own body hitting my gut. She just looked at me while this creature roared at her and said, “Do it.”
I reached up with my other hand and hit the Enter key.
The alarms stopped and, just before the lights went out, I saw the creatures looking up and around in confusion. There was an eerie silence for a moment, then the groans of straining metal echoed through the darkness. The creatures spoke back and forth in a language I didn’t recognize when they were interrupted by the woman laughing.
“What did you do?” the creature demanded. “What have you done?!”
She just continued to laugh until it was cut short by the sound of bones breaking. She managed to wheeze out, “See you on the other side.”
As soon as she said it, there was a low rumble that quickly grew to a roar. It was the sound of water rushing inside. The creatures shrieked and I suddenly lost my footing as a sudden flood of water swept me away and pulled me under. I tried to swim up but in total darkness, couldn’t tell which direction was which. I once again felt a familiar burning in my lungs. I hadn’t been able to take a deep breath in time and was quickly running out of oxygen.
I involuntarily sucked in, finding only seawater to fill my lungs. I barely registered an arm wrapping around me and pulling me up. I choked and coughed as my head broke the surface. Between my struggle for air and the rushing water, I almost didn’t hear her when she simply said, “Goodbye, Jeremy.”
I felt her let go and slip past me into the water. The next thing I knew, I was in bed, soaking wet, and still coughing up salt water. My alarm clock was in one piece. My roof was fine. If it weren’t for waking up to find myself drowning in my own bed, I’d say it was all a terribly vivid nightmare. Well, that and one other thing. When I woke up, there was a pen in my hand and a piece of paper with my own handwriting on it. I had written, “The password is X973-BRAVO-34RI.”
I’ll put that in the show notes, too, in case anyone has any suggestions on what that might be for.
Thinking back on it I can’t help but wonder if my dream – or whatever it was – really had the consequences the mysterious woman had hoped. Had we really just dealt a blow to Hydra? The downside is that, if we did… well, she had just had both her hands shattered, plus whatever else that monster had done to her. I’m not even sure how she was able to pull me up. But I know there was no way she could have made it out of there.
The stakes in this are high, and it seems that the body count continues to grow. My hope here is that there’s some way I can help to put a stop to that. The frustrating thing here is that I feel like there was something incredibly important on that file that, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t recall. I have to wonder if this message I wrote down, this password, can somehow get me access to it again, though. The question now is, where do I find it?
Again, if anyone has any ideas, please reach out to me. Otherwise, barring an unexpected breakthrough with Ron of course, we’ll continue with another storage paper next time. I won’t hold my breath on that. Either way, until then, stay safe.