Twelve seconds before the clock ticks 12 midnight, Keen wakes up to the summons of his guilt again.
”Sieg! ” he exclaims, shaking palms against his sweaty face.
The room is dark and filled with the scent of instant noodles and untended plates. To add, Keen reeks of beer and nachos. The dark bags under his eyes also seem to have doubled since he last looked in a mirror.
For the last six months, he cannot doze off without the help of alcohol. Every night, he fights the guilt and responsibility for the disappearance of his younger brother Sieg, eight years old, on a very normal day when they visited the theme park.
It is common for their parents to treat them to something if their freelance work gets paid generously. That time, a fairly big allowance was given to the brothers. ”Loosen up once in a while, ” they said.
On the fateful day, his brother was wearing a red-and-white striped shirt, black shorts, brown sandals, and his favorite white fedora hat. His murmuring pale lips is something Keen has grown accustomed to seeing as his younger brothers sign of excitement. It was unusual though that he brought his reading glasses. For an eight year old, Sieg is a mathematical genius. However, his eyes are a bit less promising, which endowed the young kid a poor eyesight for reading. However, reading glasses made him easily overcome the ordeal.
It was fair day then; the sun was high up and the sky filled with cottony clouds. The wind was a gentle one just enough to make scampering kids deny their perspiration.
Keen, on the contrary, was awfully dressed. He wore black trousers, a body-fit dark blue shirt, and white sneakers. He was surprised that his brother suddenly wanted to go to the theme park instead of a science museum. Maybe he wants a change of pace, he convinced himself. The brothers love each other but never really talked much about their personal intellectual pursuits. Keen has always been creative and Sieg logical, yet both acknowledge the others skills.
Just a few minutes of being in the theme park, Sieg asked for a strawberry ice cream, complaining about the heat he was not used to being exposed to. He sat on a grey bench adjacent the ice cream stall, next to another kid around ten years old who seemed to be having a tantrum, while Keen bought ice cream.
When he looked back at the bench, Sieg was gone. Nowhere near the immediate vicinity. The other kid is there. Sieg is not the type to wander off on his own he told himself while looking around and yelling his brothers name.
”Sieg! Where are you? ” He raised his voice while running to the bench, head-turning quite an audience. A smooth, perfectly disc-shaped black pebble kept a torn piece of paper placed on where Sieg should be sitting. Keen knew those: the pebble Sieg was fond of looking at during his rare free time and a torn page from the stationery he always brought for taking notes on various observations.
A single ambiguous sentence was written in the paper when Keen scanned it.
”Im off to Esprit for a bit, ” it said. Siegs familiar signature was placed after it, as if to add authenticity.
Where are you? Keen asks the nothingness.
His deft hand slams the alarm clock just executing its first ring. I have no time for trivial things he thinks to himself. With a quick jerk, Keen gets off his bed and prepares for his routine every weekend: looking for clues to his younger brothers whereabouts.
For almost six months, Keen has been acting on his own kind of investigation to find the Esprit that Sieg mentioned in his last written message. Knowing his younger brothers complexity, Keen considered the disappearance as some sort of puzzle, but one too bizarre to keep up for such a very long time. Private investigators and the police show a mask of optimism above their cluelessness for any lead, saying a significant update can be delivered very soon. There has been no update of any sort since day one.
Even given Siegs high neural capacity, this is too much.
”Rather than kidnapped, Sieg could have been tricked into going to that Esprit using his curiosity. Thats the only remaining explanation that can make sense. The kidnapping could have followed. But how? He may have sparked the imagination of some underground organization where his mind will have uses society has never upright considered, ” Keen tells himself as he types heavily on his laptop.
He has tried all conventional means: telling the police and investigators all the details he remembers about the incident; posting online in a missing person website; conducting his own investigation and beefing up some logical sense in himself using all resources he saw in his brothers room. Not a clue. As if his precious Sieg disappeared into thin air.
Exasperated, Keen freshens up by going to the shower. There is only one option remaining; one that can be too dangerous to explore. The dark web.
A schoolmate of Keen has offered him an exclusive access to the dark web. Someone named Des, a computer science geek guy famous in school for hacking into the social media accounts of beautiful girls he stalked. He has the complete opposite on the kind of fame Sieg has.
Can I trust that guy? Hes someone to be suspicious of, after all Keen finishes his bath. ”But Im out of options. Ive got nothing to lose, anyway, ” he shrugs.
Sitting back on his laptop, Keen opens an email from Des containing a series of instructions that will supposedly lead him to the dark web.
A few minutes later, he faces a domain he has never seen before. Items and auctions not considered ethical by society fill the space called the dark web. Things like human trafficking, sextortion, gladiator-like events for slaves, and illegal firearms are just a few regular activities there. Some are too rebuking that his eyes revolt against absorbing more than a split second of exposure.
Finally, Keen sees the section for the most in-demand trade of all: information brokerage. Even the military of some top countries are said to be roaming this section to gather intel unaccessible elsewhere. Or so they say.
As if robotically, Keen types in a regular-looking search bar the last ambiguity Sieg left in his departure note. E-S-P-R-I-T.
His eyes widen. Unlike the faces of the police, investigators and his very own, several search results immediately return as if like a spam or virus. The one on the top of the list contains a logo of the human brain growing roots that punctured the earth. It has a very tempting tagline: ”Information? We have it. Come visit Esprit and meet Mephistopheles, the one who knows all. ”
A pop out window arrives in Keens screen. It has a single line of message that makes his heart skip a beat. We actually know where you can find Sieg Calisto, Keen. ”
His phone rings beastily, jumpscaring him while showing the date today: August 26, 2051. Below it is a countdown timer from ten seconds and an unknown caller with no number to display.
”What the hell? ” Keen realizes his room suddenly doesn feel safe anymore.
He can hear a glitchy sound from the phone he has had since entering college.
Has my phone turned into a bomb? Keen rushes to the door for an escape attempt.
However, as the countdown reaches three, his eyesight blurs and muscles lose strength. He drops to the floor. No voice comes out when he tries to scream.
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