The internet is a vast place. Thousands of abandoned websites, dead links and 404’s. The dark web larger still – a universe of unindexed pages endlessly expanding like dark matter. It harbors both legitimate, honest content and some of the worst, most depraved acts a human being is capable of. It’s the bottom of the iceberg, drifting insidiously beneath the surface, waiting to sink the unaware freighter.

And that’s where we worked, tirelessly for almost a decade. Our team of anonymous experts crawling web pages with bespoke tools, developing zero-days to trap and catch predators, terrorists and human traffickers across the globe. We were good at our jobs, and liked to think we’d done the world a service.

I no longer think that. I no longer believe that we helped more than we harmed.

A year ago, it was business as usual. We were running OSINT on a group who were spreading certain extreme ideaologies through private forums. It was slow work, scraping each post in an effort to scry some shred of identity from these individuals. The website was a mess, most of the hyperlinks were dead or cyclical redirects, there were no images or any sort of thread to pull, and the team was getting frustrated.

We packed it in for the night, the others shut down their terminals and left the office one-by-one. But I knew I wouldn’t sleep, so I stayed on into the early hours of the morning. Fueled by caffeine and a building frustration, I started manually clicking every link in every post signature, the browser lagging from the sheer number of tabs loading.

I don’t remember exactly which one I clicked, but I remember most of them being dead, except the last…

The page looked empty, but hitting F12 revealed that it was full of text. The font was an identical colour to the background, blending it like camouflage. It was hyperlinked, and revealed another similar page. Then another. The text was gibberish, unintelligable nonsense covering the entire site. I clicked again, the redirects seemed to never stop.

Finally I clicked what was apparently the last in the chain and was greeted with an inconspicuous black square. This one had no hyperlink, so I saved it to the virtual drive and opened it in Binwalk to check for any steganography. Nothing. No metadata either. It really was just a blank image.

Or so I thought.

I yawned sheepishly and looked at the clock: 3:35am. I remember stubbing my foot as I stood up to check if there was any coffee left in the pot. The pain shot up my leg. I gave up for the night, powered down the computer and grabbed my things. But as I was opening the door to leave, a noise caught my ear.

One of the other terminals was booting.

This wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, I assumed one of the others must have slept the computer instead of shutting it down, and I had awoken it when I kicked the desk.

I held the power button down to shut it off properly, but it didn’t power down. To my surprise, one of the terminals behind me also turned on. This worried me. The screens didn’t respond, nor did any of the inputs, or the power switch. I couldn’t turn these computers off.

One-by-one the others started to boot, the soft hum of the fans slowly filled the silence. My phone vibrated. I wondered who could possibly be messaging me this late. I took it out of my pocket habitually and almost dropped it when I realized that the same thing happening to the computers had also bricked my phone.

What was this? Malware? What kind of virus can jump between devices that aren’t even on the same network? I scuttled behind the desk and pulled the plug, literally.


The machines whirred on, completely indifferent to my attempts to shut them down. This thing… whatever it was, is somehow keeping these machines running without any power source.

I’m not sure how I did it, but I know that I woke something up that night. Something insidious, something that can infect devices without ever interacting with them programmatically.

Something alive.