Three strange entities sat quietly in the narrow space facing Xun, as if they had been anticipating his arrival. On the left was a slim, bald man – unremarkable in many ways, except for the game of Space Invaders playing out on his bare chest like a living tattoo. On the right, upon an old wooden chair sat an unsettling Dobermann, anatomically perfect with one major exception: a lack of eyes or a place for them to set into. Between these two was a gentleman wearing an exceptionally well fitted suit, whose head had been replaced with a 1950’s CRT television set.

“Hello Xun,” said the one in the center his voice laced heavily with static. “I am Stex-two-eighty-two. I take it you’ve come because our little puzzle has piqued your interest?”

“Yes,” Xun stated. “And if I do break the encryption…”


“I’d like to talk to Faust.”

The television screen head in front of Xun flickered back and forth between color bars and a snowstorm of visual noise.

“I would be more than happy to arrange a meeting between you and our boss. But what makes you so confident you can crack this? Thirty-seven of the best cryptographers on the dark net have failed so far…”

Xun shook his head slightly. “If you doubt my abilities why are we having this meeting?”

“I’m a realist,” replied Stex.

“Then you wouldn’t waste your time with me if you didn’t think I had something to offer. What is that?”

The canine and the bald man briefly looked at Stex, and then all three looked intently at Xun.

“You’re a gifted hacker with an unconventional moral compass…”

“I’m no hacker. Hacker is a profession. I’m a software developer who understands how to break poorly constructed systems.”

“Semantics, Mr. Jiang. Tell me, is it true that you managed to kill one of Parallels moderator AIs?”

“Removed,” corrected Xun once again, “not killed.”

“Do you have a prejudice against artificial intelligences? For all you know the three of us could be AIs ourselves…”

“You could be,” said Xun, “and I couldn’t care less. I did that because…”

“…no one else had done it yet,” Stex finished for him. “For a man of few words and fewer signs of emotion, you have an intense curiosity. And perhaps that is where we are very much alike… ” He paused. “What has stopped you from tinkering in Cognetta?”

“I’m no idiot. There is far more reason to fear a network of social deviants than a capitol-driven corporation.”

“Indeed. I’m transferring the file to you now.”

“And where does this code come from?”

“Let’s not waste valuable time with such petty details…”