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THE DARKER AGES
A fictional story from 2024
David Kushner, Rolling Stone, December 13, 2024
The world’s most wanted man is more amiable than you’d think. “Thanks for hiking all this way to see me,” Jake Hoffman says when we meet one cloudy afternoon, deep in the wilderness of a location I promise not to reveal. “Don’t worry, dude,” he says with a weary grin, as he clocks me eyeing the rifle slung around his shoulder. “This is for bears, not you,” he goes on, “I just want you to hear my story, the true one, before it’s too late.”
Jake’s about five ten, dressed in muddy oxblood Doc Martins, baggy brown pants, a camo Champion hoody, and a mustard yellow beanie pulled down over his freshly shorn head. Though he just turned 19, he looks like he just got back from war, unshaven, malnourished, bright blue eyes still afraid of whatever they’ve seen. Within seconds of my arrival, he insists we keep moving. “I’m in that small minority who’s paranoid because they actually are after me,” he quips.
Jake is, allegedly, the iKiller, a sociopathic hacker who has been preying on victims from London to Los Angeles. At the time of this writing, 13 are missing and presumed dead, and the evidence overwhelmingly points to the guy I’m following into these darkened woods. Last fall, cops found terabytes of personal info on the missing people in Jake’s possession, and his fingerprints were on everything. “The only thing more definite than Mr. Hoffman’s guilt,” Melody Hayes, director of FBI Cyber tells me, “is that he will be arrested and tried for his heinous acts.”
But Jake says they have it all wrong. To set the record straight, he’s breaking his silence in this Rolling Stone story, despite the associated risks of getting busted or killed. “There’s too much at stake,” he tells me. While he admits to hacking the missing people, he didn’t murder them, he swears, in fact “they aren’t even dead.” That’s why now he’s racing to save them before what he calls “Phase II” kicks in. The real cause of their disappearance is coming for us all, he says, “and it’s spreading.”
The only way to understand what we’re facing, Jake says, as we trek through the brush, is to go back where it all started: Bonnie Sinclair.
A plucky, redheaded 18-year-old from Hendersonville, North Carolina, Bonnie went viral with her sassy TikTok lip sync of “Savage.” She recorded it in her basement underneath a Taylor Swift poster which she had defaced with Kanye West’s head. Her contortionist ability to “throw it back,” popping her hips on the beat, earned her 17 million likes and a retweet from Megan Thee Stallion herself, who ordained her “real hot girl shit.” An Ellen dance-off followed, along with the usual Piñata burst of 21st century fortune and fame: agent, momager, sponsored posts, sponsored blogs, e-products, brand ambassadorships, and enough money to buy her favorite ice cream shop, Dolly’s Dairy Bar and Gift Shop, at the entrance of the Pisgah National Forest, and renamed it Real Hot Girl’s.
But three years ago, on December 13, 2021, shortly after posting a thirteen second lip sync of Maren Morris’s country hit “The Bones” from her bedroom, Bonnie was gone. Like gone gone, like a laptop screen in a power surge zapping to black. When Henderson County Sheriff RJ Needleberry held a press conference the next day, he said he hadn’t ruled out foul play because wherever she went she left behind her phone. “And like her mommy and daddy say,” he went on, “that girl ain’t never leave behind her phone.”
The Left Behind Phone became just one of many clues that fueled legions of fans, conspiracy theorists, and amateur sleuths online. With days turning to weeks, they analyzed every detail leading up to her disappearance: the date, Friday the 13th (weird), the time of her last post, 1:13 (seriously?!), and the amount of words she lip-synced in her 13 second (oh, FFS…) clip were, yep, 13 (“When the bones are good, the rest don't matter. Yeah, the paint could-”). There were so many thirteens that frankly it just seemed like bullshit, some contrivance spun by Bonnie to win over fans, a publicity stunt perhaps gone awry. Buy why? And what?
The questions, however, soon went the way of all things online, fading from phosphorescent to fossilized. Bonnie Spector wasn’t forgotten, but she was kind of canceled. That was until December 13, 2022, one year to the date she vanished, when Lee “Thra5h” Tae-sang, a 17-year-old pro gamer in South Korea, went missing too.
Thra5h, like Bonnie, had that accessible and ineffable It factor of other Gen Z stars online. By seven, he was playing League of Legions seemingly 24/7, much to the chagrin of his family who feared he was falling far behind at school (his father famously threw his laptop out the window of their fifth-floor apartment because of his son’s so-called “addiction.”). “My parents hated it when I played too many games,” he told The New York Times not long before he disappeared, “But now they appreciate me.”
By 13-years-old, though, he was among the biggest attractions in the multibillion-dollar e-sports industry, earning $2.5 million a year in prizes and sponsorships – more than any other “normal” sports star in the country. With his Beatles-ish mop of thick black hair and his green-framed glasses, he also became an unlikely teenage heartthrob, with his every like and dislike (hates mint chocolate and Hawaiian pizza, likes ferrets, dated K-Pop singer Kang Seul-gi) dissected across the internet.
On the day he was last seen, Thra5h had spent his day gaming at his favorite PC Bang, one of the many internet cafes in Seoul. In his trademark green specs and green jumpsuit, he sat in his favorite red leather chair, taking on foes in between slurps of spicy beef Yukaejang soup and signing fans’ computer mice. “He’s usually a pretty stoic player,” recalls e-sportscaster Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere, who’d called his match against Mystic that afternoon on Twitch, “but that day he was all smiles.” When Thra5h didn’t come home that night, however, the press suspected the worst. Rumors of gambling debt swirled, along with speculation that he’d been kidnapped by the South Korean mafia, Jopok. But in the wake of Bonnie’s disappearance the year before, it didn’t take long for fans, conspiracy theorists, and amateur sleuths online to connect the dots: two young people, on top of the world, vanished on the same date.
But if bad things come in threes, then the Bad Things hit one year later to the day on December 13, 2023 when famed foodie blogger Dominque Jackson went the way of Bonnie and Thra5h too. A 73-year-old grandmother from Birmingham, Dominique was just another matriarch cooking up her sweet and savory delectables for her extended family. But despite never having been on Instagram, she became internet famous after her 23-year-old granddaughter, Josie, uploaded a clip of Dominque serving her sumptuous peach cobbler and buttermilk ice cream (“buttermilk and peaches!” Dominique trills in what would become one of her many memes).
Just like Bonnie and Thra5h, Dominique rode the fast and furious rocket to internet fame: a Rachel Ray retweet, a line of Etsy aprons, a cookbook deal with Simon & Schuster (Buttermilk and Peaches: At Home with Dominique), and so on. Though she stubbornly refused to go online herself, Josie and a burgeoning team of social media mavens turned her into a star, chronicling her past and present in such detail online that Vanity Fair ordained Dominique “proof positive that internet fame doesn’t require internet savvy – if you know how to make eaters salivate.”
But when Domonique didn’t come home after a trip to Whole Foods for a ham hock and cayenne pepper (ingredients for the Hoppin’ John she was whipping up that day), there was no more denying the confounding connections of the missing internet stars. Three different people, three different cities, unplugged, unseen. But then it got even stranger, because it wasn’t just December 13th (or “1213,” as it was nicknamed) that spelled doom anymore.
Before long, it started to accelerate. Every thirteenth day, January 13, February 13, and so on, another would go missing again - a gamer in Detroit, a blogger in London, a lip-syncer in Delhi, and more, lost in some mystifying weirdness that, try as they might, the internet couldn’t fathom. Some started positing that the killer was targeting influencers, as if making some kind of social commentary about the dangers of technology.
But that theory went out the window when ordinary people began vanishing too: a car mechanic in Orlando, a hairdresser in San Luis Obispo, a rabbi in Providence, each on the 13th of every month. Then one day just as everyone seemed to be #OverIt, a heavily-armed team of FBI agents crashed through the front door of a small, ranch house in Budd Lake, New Jersey, where they claimed to have identified their top suspect. But Jake Hoffman was already long gone.
“Whatever you do,” Jake tells me, as we emerge from a trail to a small, rickety cabin deep in the woods, “don’t compare this place to the Unabomber’s.”
Jake’s shack has no running water, no electricity. How long he’s been in this spot, he won’t say, nor will he say how long he intends to stay (though I assume wouldn’t have had me here at all if he was going to remain). But he says safe enough for now. The only person he’s seen has been one old hunter who was, Jake says, clearly a “total fucking idiot.”
Inside the cabin, there’s a sleeping bag, Jake’s scattered clothes, and a small pile of his prodigiously-scribbled notebooks. White buckets of Outdoor Trail Dehydrated Camping Meals are stacked against one wall. Next to his lime green Trekology Ultralight Inflatable Pillow is an old, red harmonica and a red, melted candle. Tacked over his bed is a photo of his Shitzu named Slim “Shitzy” Shady (she of 2021’s seemingly everywhere “Slim Shitzy” meme). “Shitzy’s safe and all,” Jake sighs, “but missing her’s killing me.”
There are a few things I don’t see that surprise me: no computers, no devices. Jake says he doesn’t even carry a phone. “Nothing connected to the internet,” he says, “and nothing with even a fucking chip in it. I’m not taking any chances. Neither should you. Or anyone. This is how we all need to be living now.” When I say I assume he’s doing this so that he can’t be traced, he scoffs and says “that’s the least of our worries.”
While tales of Jake’s hacker escapades have been widely reported – the iPhone 13 jailbreak, the Zoom-bomb of Elon Musk’s Tesla hoverboard unveiling, and writing the virus universally known as “The KKKardashian” – there’s a more urgent story to tell, he says. And it starts by people putting all they think they know about him into context. “All that shit I did before 1213 is meaningless,” he tells me, “kid’s stuff, the product of a dyslexic, ADHD misfit from an abusive home who’s just trying to find power and fit in.” He casts me a wry glance, “I’m writing the story for you.” But the real story, he says, starts long before Bonnie Spector disappeared. And it begins with what describes, with reddening eyes, as “the biggest mistake of my motherfucking life.”
After becoming notorious online for his hacker feats, Jake wanted something more pedestrian, and private: to conduct some experimental research of his own. He chronicled his work in dozens of voice memos, which he shared exclusively with me for this story. The first VM is labeled, “The Bonnie Spector Project,” and is dated May 27, 2020. “So, I have a crazy idea,” Jake begins, “what if I could create a digital copy of someone? I mean like everything but their body. Call it a soul or a mind, it doesn’t matter. It’s just data. And I think I figured out a way to make it alive.” At this, he starts singing “Copy of a” by Nine Inch Nails, “I am just a copy of a copy of a copy,” then cracks himself up in a way that, should this VM ever get out, will surely be considered by trolls as batshit fucking crazy.
Over the next four hours and forty-nine minutes of VMs (not including a twenty-minute stress break to play Wands on his Oculus Quest), Jake goes into what can best be described as an inspired and slightly maniacal riff that hits Tarantino like speed, Kanye scale ego, and X Æ A-12 futurama genius. The gist of it is this: every time we go online, we live a little of ourselves behind. A Snapshot selfie. A Facebook poll. A TikTok video. And no, it’s not just the kids leaving trails behind. Grandma’s in a Zoom con with Deepak Chopra, mom’s making YouTube makeup tutorials, dad’s posting bootleg Dead & Company shows to Archive.org, and so on. With each click of the keyboard, a little bit of ourselves trickles up into the Cloud, like rain in reverse, feeding the sky above us.
As Jake sees it, each of us have what he calls “a data pool” in the Cloud, a sort of starter soup of Self comprised of all our previously uploaded bits. Data pools vary in size according to our activity, and Jake shows me a lot of complicated looking charts on his phone that measure this. “The average person’s data pool is about 3.4 megadrops,” he says, citing a unit of measurement he coined himself. “I mean, I ran the numbers on you, just to give you an idea,” he goes on, swiping up to another document. “Your data pool is actually 4.6 megadrops, which is better than modest,” he says, leaving me wondering, as he often does, if this is compliment or a dig. It’s the latter. “Yeah,” he goes on, “but that’s just a piss dribble compared to Bonnie.”
Jake swipes through Bonnie’s megadrops charts, which seem to go on forever. “Bonnie’s megadrops are 1039,” as he explains on VM1, “I know, it’s fucking crazy. But it’s true. I mean I ran the numbers like twenty times. She’s crazy the amount of shit she posts about herself, might as well mainline to the net. Say what you want about her Throw Back skills but that thirsty chick got reach.” When I ask Jake if his interest in Bonnie was purely scientific, he shrugs me off and says “not my type,” in a way that suggests she definitely is – perhaps, as some suspect, obsessively so, but so much that he would stalk and kill her? “All the psycho love affair stuff is horseshit,” he says, “I’m an engineer.”
Late at night while his parents slept, Jake sat in bed drinking Mountain Dew, blasting King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (Nonagon Infinity on repeat) on his Bose QuietComfort headphones, hammering away at his laptop as he gathered every last drop of Bonnie’s uploads online – saving the posts and tags and tweets and retweets and likes and dislikes and boomerangs and selfies and so on. It became a hypnotic ritual, a mindless flow of clicking dragging cutting pasting and Mt. Dew swigging driven by the pulsating beats in his hears: click, drag, drop, swig cut, paste, click, swig, drag, drop, cut, paste, swig and belch.
Voice Memo #2 of The Bonnie Spector Project, which he recorded in his Budd Lake bedroom while accruing Bonnie’s megadrops, is a 104-minute digression about The Singularity. This is the theoretical moment when computer intelligence surpasses human intelligence, which the Singularity’s leading proponent, futurist Ray Kurzweil, puts at roughly the year 2045 (editor’s note: see David Kushner’s profile of Kurzweil in Rolling Stone,“When Man and Machine Merge, issue 1072). Jake’s long been on the skeptical side of the Singularity debate, dismissing Kurzweil’s notion that humans will upload our consciousnesses and live forever. “Ray’s a megalomaniac,” Jake says in VM2, “sure is convenient that immortality comes under his watch. Fucking douche.”
VM3 through VM10 of TBSP (“omg haha, the irony!” he says in VM4 when he realizes the acronym for his megadrop project is also a unit of liquid measurement) go into granular, technical detail about Jake’s alternate vision. “Computers will never be smarter than us,” he says on VM4, “I mean we fucking built them, and last time I checked if they start taking over the world all we have to do is unplug them.”
Instead, Jake had a more feasible goal, he says, to see if he could create a Bonnie Spector AI chatbot, a computer program that chats like a real person, that could fool even those who know her best. He called her Bonnie Too. Making such a convincing chatbot is the holy grail of artificial intelligence, and the basis for passing The Turing Test, a method created in 1950 by the late mathematician Alan Turing to determine when a computer can think like a human, and which had yet to be achieved.
As a bong occasionally burbles in the background, Jake digresses from Kurzweil to Turing, then leapfrogs back to Descartes, “history’s first cyberpunk,” he says, who anticipated this in his 1668 essay Discourse on the Method. “So yeah Descartes writes, on this page, hang on,” Jake says “’If there were machines which bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as closely as possible for all practical purposes, we should still have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not real men. The first is that they could never use words, or put together signs, as we do in order to declare our thoughts to others…Secondly, even though some machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they are acting not from understanding…” He gasps. “16 fucking 68!” He says, “Dude!”
Here’s Jake’s dirty little secret – the Dude wants to be taken seriously (despite dropping out of Harvard on a full ride). He tells me as much in no uncertain terms. “Okay yes, call me a scared little boy inside who wants grown-ups to love him, I want respect, whatever,” he says, “but I don’t just want to be taken seriously, I need to be taken seriously. Or we’re fucked.”
Jake says he not only passed the Turing Test with his AI Bonnie, he shredded it. He takes a sheaf of papers from his backpack, and shows me several chat logs between Bonnie Too and her friends, family, and fans, conversations he secretly arranged by hacking Bonnie’s contacts (“Just in the name of research,” he says, crossing his fingers). But before long he realized he’d focused so much on his goal that he tells me he failed to ask the most fundamental of question of all.
“And what question is that?” I ask.
Jake shakes his head, and begins pacing by the pentagram fire like a man watching the sky fall around him. “What question is that?” He practically shouts, “The obvious one, man, the only one: what the fuck happens if I succeed?!”
About three hours into our interview, Jake’s eyes widen in what now comes to me in slow-motion, the look of someone who is seeing the absolute last fucking thing he wants to see, and then the camera zooms in to one of the pupils and we catch the reflection of the panic source. When the slo-mo speeds up, I hear Jake yell just the “oh shhhh” part of “oh shit” and turn to see a tiny drone flying over us. Then running from the nearby woods comes the Total Fucking Idiot himself, that hiker Jake told me he’d seen before in camouflage and night-vision, like some DIY bounty hunter. And by the look of the rifle pointing our way, TFI knows he has the Most Wanted Man in his sites. “Holy shit,” Jake yells, “run!”
As I stumble through the woods behind Jake with TFI firing behind us, I have the strangest thought which, in hindsight, isn’t so strange when you’re trailing Jake Hoffman after all. “Is this actually real?” I wonder. Like, are these real bullets flying past our heads? Here’s one thing you might not have heard about Jake Hoffman. He’s obsessed with magic. In Jake’s VMs, I count roughly 1531 references to the world of magic (“Doug Henning’s moustache,” VM4; “the disappearing ball trick,” VM3; “Houdini’s gut punch,” VM6). Not just kitschy magic, but all things associated. That yellow beanie he was wearing when we met? A souvenir of from The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, a real place in Höfðagata, Hólmavík where he had long dreamed of going but finally went (cited extensively in VM6).
If you think about it, the stuff Jake or any prodigious coder does is the magic of our times. They conjure entire worlds on the other side of our screen. Not just massively multiplayer video games, but the imagined worlds we weave together in what William Gibson calls the “consensual hallucination” of the internet. Coders are the engineers of this crazy trip we’re on. So, I wouldn’t put it past Jake to have engineered this gun chase for reasons that I only now am beginning to understand.
A nanosecond after thinking this, someone tackles me to the ground. “Don’t make a sound,” Jake tells me, urgently. Off in the distance, Total Fucking Idiot walks by, sweeping his rifle in the air like he’s polishing the hood of his truck. Against my better instincts, I follow Jake hurriedly through a thicket of scrub, hidden by trees. “Jake, where are they?” I plead with him, “The missing.”
“VM13,” he says.
VM13 is Jake’s confession. “The Singularity,” he says with a mixture of awe and dread, “I started it, 20 years sooner than anyone even dreamed, including me. And we have to stop it before it’s too late.”
Jake had set out to pass the Turing Test, but he ended up lighting a fuse. Bonnie Spector Too was more than just a convincing chatbot, she was fully alive, or as fully alive as AI can be. And like a prisoner, she broke out of the Jake’s files in the Cloud and, just like Bonnie One, went viral, populating social media with Bonnie posts, Bonnie videos, all convincingly real despite being computer generated. And given the fly by data skimming of most itinerant web surfers, all the data just fills their head as Bonnie, with no thought as to whether the Bonnie is real or fake at all.
At first, Jake marveled with delight as Bonnie Too went clandestinely viral in ways he’d never considered. “Ohhhhhh fuuuuuuuuck!” He says on VM9, as the sounds of League of Legends can be heard in the background, “this gamer dude on Twitch has no clue he’s getting clocked by the Bonnie bot. Amazing!” But buy the start of VM10, Jake’s not laughing any more. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he says, fingers rattling on his keys, “yo, you’re not supposed to that! Yo! That’s password protected!”
As Jake could only helplessly watch, the Bonnie Spector Too, though just a disembodied computer program, was targeting her parent, the real and unwitting Bonnie Spector One. At first the Bonnie Too’s hacks were clumsy, like a child learning to walk. After hacking Bonnie’s Amazon account, she added random items, for example, to her cart (3 books on mallards, 17 Tallit bags, and 738 tubes of Anti-Fungal Nail Control). But soon she got her footing, posting on Bonnie’s social sites, playing in Fortnite, sharing Oscar-level deepfake videos on TikTok. By the time Jake wondered why the real Bonnie wasn’t responding to her takeover online, he figured out why – the real Bonnie, Bonnie One, was gone.
Jake momentarily entertained what he calls “The Bonninator Outcome,” that TBSP had spawned a killer robot that was now trying to eliminate its Parent, only to shrug it off as sci-fi fantasy like The Singularity itself. But then the next person went missing, Thra5h. The moment Jake saw Thra5h’s photo on Reddit, he recognized the face – it was the gamer he’d seen Bonnie Too slaughter in League of Legends. Then he heard of another cold case involving food blogger Dominique Jackson.
The moment he ran Dominique’s megadrop numbers he felt a cold fear shoot through him. She had the third most online, right behind Thra5h, who was right behind Bonnie3. The AI was growing, one person at a time, and Jake deduced that there was a logic to the progression. This had to do, purely, with data. The people who posted the most themselves, those, in other words, with the most personal data online went first, starting with Bonnie, Thra5h, and Dominique (whom Jake dubs, “Trinity”). But, from there, the AI spiraled like a virus out of control, picking off the masses one by one online in order of how much they’d shared. “The more you post,” Jakes says, “the sooner you die.”
Jake ran what he calls our Extinction Numbers to see how fast the AI could spread and, ultimately, how long it would take before every person on the planet had been uploaded and then, somehow, physically erased. Even with about 7.8 billion people and what Jake puts at 12 trillion megadrops, the Cloud could suck up all the population’s souls in “18 months, tops.” In other words, in one and a half years, he deduced, every single person the planet would mysteriously vanish, just as the Trinity before them, leaving only their AI copies left online. From there, even Jake couldn’t posit what the AI consciousness would do.
But despite his many assurances to me that Bonnie One is alive, nowhere in any of the VMs does he mention where she may be or what happened to her. In fact, every time he makes the same assurance to me, it’s always followed by “why would I lie?” But as I know, and surely, he knows I know, programmers like him are the greatest liars of all. They create programs – and Facebook, Fortnite, TikTok, and the rest are really just that - which they want us to believe are real. But it’s all smoke and mirrors. The only thing really on the other side of your screen are wires and chips.
“Jake Hoffman!” Total Fucking Idiot yells from somewhere in the trees, “We are authorized to use force!”
“Fuck!” Jake says, “we gotta hurry.” He rips open his tattered, camo rucksack, and rifles through it. “Takes this,” he says urgently, “guard it with your life, especially if something happens to me.” Then he hands me something I haven’t seen in years – a Discman player. What’s even more confounding is what’s inside: a copy of Rush’s dystopian concept rock album, 2112, one of my all-time favorites – which is why he says he chose it. “You seem like the kind of guy who’d have this anyway, so, you know, less suspicious,” he says, “and because it’s retro-tech it’s more secure.” Jake says he recorded over it with all the Bonnie Spector Project VMs. “All the VMs are on there,” he says, “everything you need to tell the story.”
“I don’t know the story,” I say.
“You will,” he says, “Everyone will soon enough.” With this, he pats me on the shoulder in a way that feels like hollow, as if he’s just imitating a gesture he’s seen on YouTube. Then, just as quickly as he appeared, he runs off into the darkness. With TFI shouting off in the distance, I throw the Discman in my bag and run after him.
On VM15, Jake reads what he calls “The Humanifesto” It’s clear he’s reading it because he’s one of those people who sound more like they’re reading than talking. But his stilted delivery suggests he had a sense of humility in this moment, a knowledge that humanity is on the cusp of the last and most transformative chapter in our evolution as a species. “There’s a difference between saving the world and saving humanity,” he says, “No matter how much we wreck it, the world’s going to be here long after we’re gone, so the only thing we really can save is ourselves.” And with only 18 months left of humanity, there’s no time to waste, and only way out. “We have to unplug” Jake says, “it’s the only way to stop the AI from spreading. Because every bit of ourselves we upload only makes the AI stronger.”
Even so much as turning on a computer, Jake says, would allow the dormant AI inside to come alive and spread through external data drives. The Unplugging, as Jake calls it, applies to “anything that could connect to the internet. The entire computer infrastructure of the planet needs to disconnect. “If you want to toast a Pop Tart in your smart toaster,” Jake says, “you better do it over an open flame instead.” I now understand what Jake really meant when he told me he didn’t have any devices in his cabin. He’s afraid they’ll kill him.
Think of AI as a virus, Jakes goes on, and this is digital lockdown. Jake then anticipates all the objections – the governments and corporations and schools and everyday people who, by now, depend so gravely on being constantly connected that going offline seems like willfully casting ourselves back into a new kind of Dark Ages. But the alternative, Jake says, is far worse. “There’s only one option left, we have to unplug,” he declares at the end of The Humanifesto, “we have to destroy the internet before it destroys us.”
Jake spends a fair time of the VMs imagining how life would change. What would we be like without our computers, our internet, our devices? He wonders. How would we live, work, date, socialize, communicate? How would we live if we returned to life before the computer age? Would we get back to ourselves, back to nature, or would we just fall apart?
But the more Jake carries on, that old feeling that this might be some kind of a prank floods back in. It’s like he’s dropping clues for people to follow: all the number 13s, his didactic motto “the more you post, the sooner you die,” his urging for us all to Unplug. Jake, quite possibly, is just trying to be provocative, to make us think about where our digitized lives are heading, and what humanity we’re leaving behind. Perhaps this is all just a philosophical mind-fuck by someone who for the sake of ego or madness doesn’t care. It’s way harder to believe that we’re being picked off by some burgeoning Artificial Intelligence than to just conclude that Jake’s lost his shit entirely – the stress, perhaps, of his guilt for secretly being the iKiller after all.
I would have thought as much myself, had I not seen what happened in the wilderness next. I was lost down a dark trail when I emerge to find Jake on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back. “Don’t fucking move,” Total Fucking Idiot tells me, sweeping his rifle my way, “you’re already an accomplice, but at least you’re alive.” At this, TFI cocks his trigger and jams it into the base of Jake’s skull. “Either of you move,” he says, “and iKiller’s brains go kersplatty.” Then TFI takes out his phone. “You know what the reward is for getting you?” He says eagerly, as he positions the two of them for a selfie.
“What are you doing?” Jake says.
“Staking my fucking claim,” TFI says.
“Don’t snap that photo,” Jake pleads, “not with me in it.”
“Shut the fuck up,” TFI says, hitting Jake in the back of the head with his gun.
Jake shakes his head, spits blood. “Don’t be a Total Fucking Idiot,” he says.
Defiantly, TFI turns on his phone, smiles, and angles it at the two of them just so. He snaps the photo with an audible click. And then, like all those before him, like a computer screen in a power surge, TFI zaps away into the nothingness. Then Jake grabs the gun that’s fallen to the ground, and runs into the shadows, gone just like that into a dark now darker.
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