The Internet Has Everything
After he logged into his computer, Erik opened a blog that had a gold coin logo and a header that proclaimed: Mr. Bullion—Living the Good Life through Financial Independence. The first featured article on the blog had a picture of a congested freeway and bore the title: Eject Your Inner Auto-A$$hat. If Sean saw it, he would’ve recoiled in disgust and declared it a blog only a hipster could love.
Erik found Mr. Bullion about two years ago, back in the days when he thought urban container gardening could be a solution to his ludicrous salad bill. It was a massively popular blog. Mr. Bullion’s intelligent if polemic blog posts on how to live a fulfilling life while spending very little attracted millions. Erik didn’t find what he was searching for on the blog, but he kept returning to it. Mr. Bullion was forever coming up with clever ideas on how to pay almost no income taxes and creating Do-It-Yourself (DIY) solutions for the weirdest things. He also waged a forever losing battle against his homestead, and the antics of his guardian swans—as opposed to guardian dogs, which Bullion claimed were not as effective—were always good for a laugh.
Anyway, during his banter with Sean, Erik realized one potential site where he could sniff out possessors of superpowers was Mr. Bullion’s online forum. His reasoning behind the idea was as follows: To assume his superpower was unique was the ego equivalent of entering Megalomaniac Tooth Fairy territory. There had to exist people who had discovered their superpowers at an earlier date and then found practical ways in which to use it. A subset of these people wouldn’t resist the temptation to share their brilliance, and one avenue to showcase said brilliance was a popular website where people enthusiastic about DIY solutions gathered.
In short: he might find others like him among those who fit Sean’s definition of hipsters, which so happened to describe a lot Mr. Bullion’s acolytes.
Erik crafted a few queries and typed them into Mr. Bullion’s blog search box. ‘Off grid generator’ produced too many results, and the blurbs made it clear the posts were about renewable energy. ‘Man powered generator’ returned a meager handful, and most of them were links to Mr. Bullion’s blog posts that talked about man-powered appliances. A quick cross-reference to the blog posts, however, showed the man-powered appliances were things like push reel lawn mowers. That brought him back to square one.
Erik kept at it for quite some time, using different word combinations as ideas came to him. He eventually gave up Mr. Bullion’s blog and its forum as a lost cause and used the web search engine Google.com, but his queries kept returning websites on renewable energy or news articles featuring Mr. Bullion, whose popularity he was starting to resent.
Fifty plus queries and hundreds of websites later, Erik felt fed up. Out of unreasonable petulance, he considered riding a proxy server in Timbuktu to write a scathing comment on Mr. Bullion’s blog and watch the fireworks. Alas, his reclusive nature put its foot down, so Erik tried to think up another query he hadn’t tried yet. As he pondered, the fluorescent lights overhead started to annoy him, so Erik put his face in his hands to block out the light.
In the temporary darkness, Erik churned his brain. Was he approaching this the wrong way? Were his queries too narrow or too broad? He’d been looking for generators for the lack better ideas, but did he have to look for generators?
Erik sat bolt-upright.
No. No, he didn’t.
Therein lay his problem. Erik made the tacit assumption his superpower was useless as is, so he needed to convert it to a different, more useful form. Thus he got hung up on generators. But why convert at all? And if he assumed the practical usefulness of his superpower, his next step was obvious: Look for engines.
Erik went back to Mr. Bullion’s online forum and queried engines. The first attempt produced hundreds of posts about cars, but they clued him to look for more primitive engines, like steam.
The third attempt (“no fuel engine vehicle”) returned a result that caught his eye. It was a forum post that had the unassuming title: Why I fly a helicopter. That in and of itself wouldn’t have drawn Erik’s attention, except it posted by user On Money and Life, one of the Big Name affiliates of Mr. Bullion.
Erik followed On Money And Life ever since he read his guest post for Mr. Bullion titled Why You Need F*** You Money, sometimes leaving anonymous comments under his initials. Much to Erik’s disappointment, On Money and Life updated sporadically at best. So it wasn’t long before Erik read all his existing articles and committed them to memory.
One of On Money and Life’s earlier blog posts detailed the reason why he didn’t update often. Given his family history, which showed the men often died after living sixty-five years, give or take, he was more concerned about running out of time than money. Thus he and his wife spent the majority of their time doing what they both loved best: flying their private helicopter and visiting their many children and grandchildren. Perfectly understandable, except the post ended on a curious note:
There will come a day when the street lights will go out, engines will break down, and, dare I say it, fuel will run out. On that day, I will put my chopper to bed, this time forever, and that’ll be the end of it.
I shudder a little when I think of that day. But then, I’m the worrying sort.
Lately, though, I’ve been trying to picture something else. Imagine with me, if you please, of a helicopter that doesn’t need any fuel at all. I would just kick back and the engine would start. I won’t smell any fumes, and perhaps I won’t hear the usual din. I might miss that. But soon…
Soon it’ll be just me, endless blue skies and the wind. I dare say I won’t miss either by then.
Erik hadn’t thought much when he first read those words. He’d just assumed this was On Money and Life channeling his literary side. But now, in light of the existence of real superpowers, could it be On Money and Life had…?
There was only one way to find out. Erik clicked the link to the forum post and started to read. About halfway through, Erik knew he hit the jackpot.
I don’t have a black-belt in Google-fu for nothing, he thought smugly.
The time Erik found his first solid lead coincided with the end of his workday. His elation over his discovery, however, had departed him by the time he left the office, for it dawned on him he now faced a challenge far greater than finding people who may have superpowers.
One did not simply email a virtual stranger, even one with whom you have built some report over the Internet, and asked him if he had superpowers. The myriad of ways in which one could doctor digital media meant Erik couldn’t just send a video recording of him using his superpower and expect to convince a thinking person that he had superpowers either. No, he had to take a different approach with On Money and Life. But what?
Erik brooded over the conundrum as he biked back home. He was still mulling over it when his cellphone rang later that night.
“You didn’t finish your marathon in a hundred sixty minutes, did you?” said Erik’s older sister Rena, without saying “hello, how are you, good to know you’re not dead, why didn’t you call me yesterday, you tit”, because she never wasted time like that.
“No,” Erik replied.
“Okay, now I’m not so sure anymore. You don’t sound like Armageddon is knocking on your door,” said Rena.
Erik frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That’s more like it,” said Rena, and Erik could almost see the smirk on her face. “So what have you been up to?”
“Nothing. It’s only been a day,” Erik grouched.
“You can get into all sorts of trouble in twenty-four hours.”
“I’m a very boring person.”
“Your track record says otherwise.”
“What track record?” Erik demanded, his temper flaring.
“I have a spreadsheet,” said Rena. “The data points show the chances of Erik Shin Ransom engaging in monkey business quadruples after failure to achieve a personal goal.”
Erik roiled with indignation while Rena laughed at him.
“So there’s nothing going on—yet,” said Rena, cutting her laughter like she’d sliced it off with a fine knife. “Now ask me a random question.”
Erik pretended to think about it. Asking each other random questions was something he and Rena did when they ran out of things to say, which usually happened after the one minute mark. This wouldn’t be the first time Erik considered asking something that wasn’t random to use Rena’s better wits.
“If you discovered you have a superpower and wanted to find other people who have the same power, where would you look?” Erik asked.
“The Internet,” Rena answered promptly. “It’s the cesspool that draws all the people who want to talk about their weirdness, but can’t bring themselves to face the public ridicule that accompanies the disclosure of thereof.”
“I agree,” said Erik. “So what would you use? Google?”
“For starters. I’d also search fan sites. Many comic book characters have superpowers, so no one will bat an eye if you ask: ‘if you had superpower XYZ, how would you use it?’”
“How will you filter the real from the lucky guesses?”
“Good question. People are bound to get lucky since ‘what is your favorite superpower?’ is a popular ice-breaker question,” Rena paused. “Here I’m going to make an assumption: Superpowers will work like nature. That is to say, not the way we imagine it does. It’s those differences that you need to discover and look for.”
Erik mentally wrote that down for future reference.
“Okay, now here’s a twist. You don’t want to get detected, not when the NSA—and people like you—are out sniffing the Internet to find terrorist activity. How would you work around it?”
“You tell me,” said Rena.
Erik described the way he pinpointed On Money and Life as a possible superpower possessor, without mentioning the blog post about fuel-less helicopters. Instead, he talked about OMAL’s forum post that showcased a helicopter model blueprint. Its engine bore little resemblance to a conventional one and assumed the existence of an external forward push force to make it work.
“That only works for superpowers that have severely limited capabilities,” Rena said when Erik finished speaking. “As such, you can’t rule out the possibility the poster thought up a correct answer by accident. To verify whether the user actually has your superpower, you need to observe him or her in person.”
“Another good question. The move doesn’t make sense from the risk mitigation perspective. The more people know you have superpowers, the more trouble you’re likely going to find yourself in. But I’d still do it. To use the words of the late Kurt Vonnegut:
Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”
Erik smirked. “We can’t help but want to understand the things that make us feel meaningful.”
“Yup,” said Rena, her own smirk evident in her voice.
“Then what are we to make of the public sentiment that there’s no such thing as truth or meaning?” Erik mused.
“The idea collapses under its own weight since it assumes the idea itself is absolutely true and meaningful,” said Rena. “It’s an irrelevant sentiment to you, at any rate. You are seeking others because you care and want to discuss. And if there are discoverable traces on the Internet, then there are others who are thinking the same thing. Now, do you want me to sniff them out for you?”
Erik felt tempted. Rena was an information security analyst who consulted for government contractors and business conglomerates on a freelance basis. If anyone could shift through the Evil Internet and hone in on a particular user, it was her.
Then he realized Rena’s offer was bait, and the length of his silence, during which he honestly considered the offer, implied he took the bait because he was actually looking for people who had paranormal abilities.
“Superpowers. Seriously, Erik?” Rena admonished.
Erik sighed. “I neither confirm nor deny.”
“Good answer,” said Rena dryly. “I’m not sure what to make of you turning from a practical materialist to a person who affirms the existence of supernatural powers overnight. What gives?”
Erik didn’t bother to voice his true reasons. The naturalism he’d embraced in rebellion against his father’s strange beliefs he’d disavowed years ago. At some point, he realized if minds were the product of mindless atoms alone, then all thought was mere chemistry, thus impossible to validate. After all, how could one say one brain chemistry was more valid than another brain chemistry? But one knew truth through thinking, including the ‘truth’ that all things came from time, matter and energy and nothing else. Behold, the futility! He never told Rena this because he didn’t think he’d survive the philosophical melee that was sure to follow. Anyway, it was impossible to explain to a non-athlete just how minuscule were the chances of him imitating a fleeing gazelle after running six-minute miles for over two and a half hours without preternatural help. So instead he said:
“Let’s just say I did something that made superpowers a plausible explanation.”
“If you say so,” Rena huffed. “But you know you’re being stupid, yeah? It’s not like you’re going drop everything and join a secret school for supers.”
“I’d only consider the school if it had affordable online classes, yeah,” Erik affirmed. “But I can’t leave it alone. I’d hate to lie on my death bed and wonder why I didn’t take the risk.”
“You don’t think you’ll hate yourself for not leaving it alone?”
“I might. But my life choice tracker spreadsheet tells me I’m happier when I take the risk, as long as the risk doesn’t involve heavy doses of pain, sex, and drugs.”
Rena snorted. “So what are your plans?”
“Meet the guy who I think has the same thing,” said Erik. “I don’t how to go about it, though. How would you do it?”
“Reply to the post that made it click. Say how much the post inspired me, and I’d love to talk some more over coffee. If you ever swing by the DMV, I’ll treat you.”
Erik mentally filed that. “Sounds good.”
“You sure about meeting this guy?” Rena pressed. “You know what they say about meeting people you find online.”
“He’s not dangerous,” said Erik quickly. “From what I can tell, he’s an old guy who got into blogging when he realized he might die before he could teach his children and grandchildren everything he’d learned about life and money.”
“Perhaps. But Erik, you know as well as I do that you can be very oblivious…”
“I won’t let a serial killer get me!” Erik shouted.
“I didn’t mean that kind of oblivious,” said Rena, equal parts fond and exasperated. “Do what thou wilt, baby bro. Just tell me when and where, if it does happen. And if the situation turns sour, tell the person you have to babysit my kids and skedaddle.”
Erik let out a long, guttural sigh.