28: The Flinchite

28: The Flinchite WOE.BEGONE

SUMMARY:

Mike sits down for a Q&A with someone who has a better idea about what is going on and then treats his company to some international travel.

TRANSCRIPT:

[Hey, Patreon! Guys.com/woe_begone. Wait, that’s backwards. Hey guys! Patreon.com/woe_begone is the place to get all the cool bonus WOE.BEGONE stuff you’ve ever wanted. I haven’t recorded the Q&A yet so if you’re listening to this on release day, there’s still time to get a question in if you’re a $2 patron. Early episodes, instrumentals, soundtracks, extra art, audio clips of my cat, directors commentaries and more. When we hit $200/mo, I’m launching a merch store. Thanks to my 10 newest patrons: marie koo, fbt, Casie Murphy, Pineapple, johnny bazookatone, Elliott K, SRaye96, JMaths, Lucia Dubra, and Julia B for supporting the show. Enjoy.]

[Warning: this episode contains a depiction of violence. Listener discretion is advised.]

Credential spoofing has gotten to the point that it feels like something from a sci-fi movie. In Mr. Robot, a show that I could rant about in the same way that I used to rant about Dexter and every day have to choose not to, there is a scene in season 1 where a character does some refreshingly realistic credential spoofing in order to clone a badge and get access to a building. Whoever they had consult the writers on technical stuff did a great job, actually. I am done saying nice things about Mr. Robot. 

In case you don’t know, credential spoofing is a method of physical penetration—don’t laugh—wherein you steal the information on the device used to enter a building and build your own badge out of it. It’s badge cloning, if you will. The vulnerability in an RFID badge is that in order to get the information on the badge, you have to be able to read and write to it. And if it can be read and written to, then someone with access to a badge can get that information and write it to a new card. I think you see where I’m going with this. 

Security experts and pen testers—I think they call themselves “pen testers” because they didn’t want to say “penetration” every time someone asked what they did for a living—have gotten so good at cloning badges that they can do it completely covertly, without having to touch or even see the badge. A strong RFID card reader can read a badge from up to 6 feet away and can easily fit in a backpack with an arduino to get the data from the badge. I don’t know what an arduino is and at this point I’m too embarrassed to look it up. Someone with this high tech pen tester backpack on can get the data off your badge from being in the same elevator as you and then they have access to everywhere that you have access to. 

As you are aware, I have a problem with access at Oldbrush Valley. My only way into Tier 2 was through breaking into 116E, where I had someone on the inside give me codes… that I was stealing from him. That’s no longer an option. I got too greedy and looked too suspicious and now I can’t so much as enter 116E without the potential of jeopardizing the whole thing. Edgar doesn’t suspect me of anything as far as I can tell, but he did tell me that my presence there was raising some eyebrows that I would to not be raised. Edgar and I are fine, though. Better than ever, actually. But 116E is off the table, I need a new way in. 

Thankfully, during my last trip into Tier 2, I stumbled across a new way of getting into Tier 2 that would not require me to manipulate my boyfEdgar… my boy Edgar…  into giving me access. I’m fine with delving as deep into this murky pit of science and conspiracy as far as I can go, the health of my mind and body be damned, but I refuse to let anyone else get dragged down with me. I mean, unless they are useful to me and even then, not to the point that they get hurt… unless I have to kill them in order to complete a challenge. I’m just happy that Edgar isn’t in the middle of it anymore. 

Next in line to be dragged into the fray after Edgar is Innocent Hunter.  I think I’ve done a good job of keeping him out of this so far. He is only aware of a scant few of my misadventures. He knows that I have been inside of Tier 2 but only once to his knowledge. He knows that I accidentally teleported Edgar, and he knows that I know about the other 2 Hunters, but that’s about it. I didn’t even want to drag him that much further in. I just needed the data on the badge that he had so that I could snoop around in Tier 2 some more, namely that building that I saw Mystery Hunter and Punished Hunter go into. He didn’t even have to know that I had cloned his badge. So, that’s when I got the idea. Simply by modifying a RFID garage door opener with a reader/writer built out of an arduino, I could make a device small enough to sneak into his cabin, powered by an array of batteries. From there all I would have to do is reverse-engineer the—

I’m kidding. I bought an RFID reader/writer on Amazon and stole the badge for one night. It arrived just in time, too. I needed access to the Security.exe program in order to safely get the kidnapped Flinchite out of my cabin. Did I mention that yet? This is WOE.BEGONE.

[Intro theme plays.]

I’m not even sure that the story of how I stole Hunter’s badge is even that interesting. It wasn’t the heist of the century. I don’t do heists anymore. I hate that word. I say it so often that it has semantically degraded into non-meaning. Heist. Heist. Heist. Heist.  

Going over to Hunter’s cabin after we both got off work wasn’t a big deal to either of us. I had been over there plenty of times before, though it had been awhile, between leaving O.V.E.R. for awhile and hanging out with Edgar all the time. It was rare that anyone came over to my cabin to hang out, though. Probably because it’s a mess. But once I got inside Hunter’s cabin, it was trivial to swipe the badge off of his table and stick it in my back pocket. It was just a thin plastic badge with an RFID chip inside of it, nothing fancy. 

I know it might seem like a badge that grants access to Tier 2 might be something that would be closely guarded by its owner, but people are surprisingly cavalier with their important stuff in Oldbrush Valley. It is more common to see guns out on the coffee table than to see them stored away properly. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t do the same thing. It’s not like there’s anyone besides myself and people that I trust that enter my cabin most of the time. Convenience wins over all other considerations. Plus, I suspect that the button is more dangerous than any gun could be, not that I even have a button anymore. But the badge sitting out in the open wasn’t surprising. It was exactly what I was counting on. 

Reading the badge and writing that data to a new badge was easy. I was a little nervous about it after reading a 1 star review of the reader/writer that I bought that complained that it had wiped that person’s badge entirely. That would have been bad news for me and Hunter both. I officially had access to Tier 2 in a way that could not easily be taken from me. Even if my cloned badge got taken from me, I would still have the data to make a new one. No more relying on 116E and having to break into the lobby and steal the code. Now I could walk right through the main gate. I suspect that there are other places on the border of Tier 2 that I can enter through now as well, but I don’t know what those are yet. Marissa might know. 

Returning the badge was also simple. I just waited until I knew that Hunter was asleep, which wasn’t very late because he goes to bed almost as early as I do most nights, and went to his cabin. The original plan was to slide the badge under the door without enough force that it would end up across the room, thus making it less obvious that it had been slipped under the door, but at the last moment another plan occurred to me. I turned the doorknob and was surprised to find that it was unlocked. It opened soundlessly and I crept as fast as I could to the table I had taken the badge from, placed it back exactly how I had found it, and got out of there. Now this was the perfect heist. I realize that I have now described the event that I called uninteresting at the beginning to a great degree, but it is rare that Mike Walters does something the way that he intends to do it without something going brutally awry. Just let me have my moment, okay?

Hunter didn’t ask about the black eye, which was fortunate because I hadn’t decided on an alibi yet and one made up on the spot might have holes in it later. I think that I’ve been injured enough times that at this point people just assume that something terrible happened to me, typical Mike. When really, this time, you should’ve seen the other guy. Let’s back up to that morning.

The other guy had teleported into my cabin in the early hours of the morning that morning, before I had even gotten dressed. Still groggy, I almost immediately recognized him as one of the people who had held me hostage in my own cabin several weeks prior. A Flinchite, if you will. I was groggy and frightened, but he appeared to be groggy and frightened as well. A skirmish ensued, in which I earned the black eye, but I was able to overcome him and knock him out briefly, which gave me the second I needed to restrain his arms and legs and to grab my gun off of the table. I was lucky to have left both the rope and the gun out in the open for my own convenience. One he was restrained and I was in control of the situation I hit him in the head again, which I’m not exactly proud of but this guy’s buddy stabbed a knife through my hand so I consider it an extenuating circumstance. Not to mention that I’m not as good at punching as I used to be thanks to him. 

It took him awhile to become fully responsive, both because of how many head wounds he had suffered and because he had just traveled through time and space to end up in my cabin. He didn’t lose consciousness again. He only lost consciousness for a second when I hit him. If someone is out for as long as is depicted in movies and television, then congratulations! You have killed that person. Losing consciousness as the result of head trauma is no joke and extended unconsciousness must be attended to immediately. This has been Mike Walters from the Oldbrush Valley Health and Safety Council. Thanks for listening. 

I had kidnapped someone before, so I had some idea of what to expect. I actually think that legally it’s technically “false imprisonment,” not kidnapping, but either way it is a felony. CANNONBALL had been the perfect uncooperative hostage. He refused to give up any information that wasn’t directly taken from him. He would yell for help every time that I unmuzzled him to talk. He resisted and defied me at every turn, all to protect the identities of people who never really cared about him. All for WOE.BEGONE. They really did him dirty, but I digress. I had an idea what I was in for with this guy. CANNONBALL was the perfect worst-case scenario. If I could successfully wrangle him, I could successfully wrangle this guy.  

I waited patiently for a minute for the Flinchite to get his bearings. Much to my relief, he didn’t immediately begin screaming for help. It wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much because we were in my cabin and not in CANNONBALL’s apartment where somebody could have easily heard him, but it was too early in the morning for that kind of stuff. He was considerably more relaxed than CANNONBALL, perhaps because he hadn’t been kidnapped as many times as Ryan hinted that CANNONBALL had been. 

“A-aren’t you going to put some pants on?” were the first words out of his mouth. 

“No,” I pointed the gun at him. “Why are you in my house at 5 in the morning?”

“Beats me,” he said. “Do I look like I meant to come here? Do you think you would have stood a chance if I had showed up to your house with a plan?”

“Ok, then. So someone teleported you without your knowledge?” I asked.

“Looks like it,” he sounded impatient. “Do you want to know anything important or not?”

“Are you going to tell me anything important?” I asked.

“Sure. You’re gonna torture me for information if I don’t talk, right?” he asked.

I was taken aback by this. At first. “Honestly? Yeah,” I said. I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. “You guys tortured me for information and it truly ruined my entire life. I spiraled completely out of control for awhile. I’m just now getting my life back together and you show up in my cabin out of nowhere. I am not inclined to be gentle with you,” I said. The gun was still pointed at him. 

“I get it,” he said. “They train us to say or do anything that we have to in a hostage situation in order to not get tortured or killed. I can tell you anything that I want, the higher-ups will understand. I’m too expensive an asset to risk my life over whatever it is you want to know.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that’s refreshing. I’ve never had a hostage that cooperated with me before,” I said. 

“You’ve taken hostages before?” he asked.

“Once. I don’t think WOE.BEGONE trained him to handle it like your people did,” I said.

“Sounds like WOE.BEGONE,” he said. 

“So, the fuck’s a Flinchite?” I asked.

He looked confused. “Where did you hear that word?” he asked. 

“One of my contacts heard it. What is it?” I asked. 

“It’s slang for the organization. We’re trying to recreate Flinch on our own, hence Flinchite,” he said. 

“How could you possibly do that?” I asked. 

“Well, take WOE.BEGONE for instance. You know Ryan, I presume? Did he tell you how he got WOE.BEGONE to begin with?” he asked.

“He said that he submitted code for some contest that Flinch was running and the prize was access to whatever time travel technology that Flinch had access to. He made like an SQL injection or something?” I said. 

“What Ryan made wasn’t even close to an SQL injection, but other than that, yes,” he said. “But Ryan wasn’t the only lucky prize winner. Flinch put out all kinds of contests like that all over the internet. We don’t know how many exactly, but we think there might be hundreds of people who won the prize and probably thousands that entered. Flinch cobbles together code from all of these sources and uses them to bolster the main code, which eventually resulted in the technology that you experienced. We don’t know when that results in time travel, but it must be in the future. The organization is made up of people who were made aware of Flinch by the contests and began working together.”

“So is everyone in your organization a prize winner?” I asked. 

“Not everyone. I’m not,” he said. “They cast a wide recruitment net to get as many people on board as possible. There are some people who are in contact with Flinch and some people who used to be and they are all working together to figure out how Flinch works and design an equally powerful system to compete with it.”

“Does Flinch know you are building a parallel technology?” I asked. 

“It would be impossible for Flinch not to know. Flinch doesn’t care. At this point it’s like someone trying to recreate the Empire State Building out of Lego. Anything progress we do make only helps him, anyway,” he said. 

“Okay, so, sorry to break the flow here, but why are you giving me all of this information?” I asked.

“Nothing you have asked me about even borders on being important information,” he said. 

“And what if I asked you about something important?” I asked.

“You don’t have the imagination to even get close to figuring out what an important question might be,” he said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but WOE.BEGONE is small potatoes. You’ve been set up to fail.”

“What do you mean, small potatoes?” I asked.

“Ryan is sort of a joke in the Flinchite space,” he said. “He only hired one or two people and then outsourced the rest of the work that he wanted done by running a stupid game. He spent more time fucking around making people kill each other than he did trying to actually get work done. I mean, it’s whatever. Not everything has to be about obtaining the ultimate power. But it did seem like that’s what Ryan wanted and if that’s true, then it’s a dumb way to go about getting it.”

“Sometimes the truth hurts,” I said. “But if WOE.BEGONE is such a loser technology, why is it so important to come to my cabin and almost kill me?” I asked.

“We didn’t almost kill you, did we?” he asked.

“You severely injured me. I had to walk with a cane,” I said. 

“I think there’s a distinction there. Anyway, you had the device for the boulders in the inner ring and we wanted that device. We still do, by the way,” he said.

“I’ve noticed. You went after some of my best friends for information that they don’t have. I don’t have the device and I never did,” I said.

“Then how did you get access? he asked.

“I don’t know. Sometimes effects happen out here before the cause. That’s just the way time works sometimes,” I said. This was the first time that I had lied to him. I didn’t know everything about how I had gotten access, but I did know that there was some sort of device that I accidentally found a shortcut around. I didn’t want him to know about the shortcut. 

“I can believe that,” he said. “I mean, I don’t even know who sent me here or why. Or even when they did it from. Or even when it is now. What day is it?”

I told him the date.

“Oh, so not too far off from where I was,” he said. 

“Back on track, what’s so important about the boulders?” I asked.

“I don’t know. In fact, I don’t think we know. We just have some sort of information that they are important and they can only be accessed by two people in two different places turning keys at the same time,” he said. 

“Okay, lightning round. How did you do the thing where you slammed my head against the table with only your mind?” I asked. 

“That’s part of our tech. It has to be planned and timed in advance. It’s not something that we are doing on the ground. That’s why I can’t use it to get myself out of this situation,” he said. “I’m not a coder, you’re not a coder. There is nothing I can say that will give you any idea how to pull this off for yourself.”

“Noted. Who is WOE.BEGONE?” I asked.

“Not one of us,” he said. “That’s all we know. We think that Ryan lost access to some random spear phisher, which made him even more of a laughing stock. Whoever took it over seems to be just as interested in fucking around as Ryan was. Whatever happened to his lackey? JACKKNIFE or whatever?”

“CANNONBALL,” I corrected him. “Dead, unfortunately.”

“That’s a shame. He was like a golden retriever puppy. Eager to please,” he said. 

I was quiet for a moment. 

“Anything else I can do for you this morning?” he asked.

“Tell the other Flinchites to leave my friends alone. I don’t have that device and they don’t know anything about anything. You tore my whole cabin apart looking for it. I don’t have anywhere that I could’ve hidden it if I wanted to. I wasn’t expecting you so I had no reason to hide it. Leave. Them. Alone.” I said. 

“Consider it as good as done,” he said. “We had largely exhausted that possibility, anyway.”

“Cool. Well, then I’m out of questions, I think.” 

“I told you that you wouldn’t come up with anything substantial to ask,” he said. 

“Would killing you escalate this to your bosses for more information?” I asked. 

“Probably not. I’m valuable but not that valuable,” he said. 

“Alright then, I think we’re done. I need to go to breakfast and then get to work anyway. I’m already running late. I’ll have to find a way to let you go. I’ll think of something while I’m on my patrol route today,” I said. 

“You could just let me go,” he said. 

“I don’t want you walking around O.V.E.R. like you own the place. I am security after all,” I said. “I’ll figure something out.” He grimaced. I walked over to him and, as casually as I could, pushed over the chair that I had tied him to. He landed flat on his back and let out a pained exhale. Using some additional rope, I tied the chair to the table in front of it and a closet doorknob behind it so that it couldn’t move. I made my way to the door.

“You’re just going to leave me here? What if I have to pee?” he shouted.

“I wouldn’t do that,” I said, putting on my pants and grabbing my work tools. I left the cabin and closed the door behind me. I could still hear him yelling inside of my cabin, but it was extremely muffled. No one would come close enough to the cabin to hear him. He was stuck there until I got back. 

There is no justice out here in the Wild West. Only retribution. 

It was difficult to go about my day without letting on what had happened that morning. People could definitely tell that there was an extra spring in my step. I was more boisterous and confident all day, two qualities that I don’t typically have in spades. Whether I was in such a good mood that it drew suspicious is up for debate. Nobody said anything. It could be that they saw shaggy dog Mike Walters happy for once and decided not to look into it further. 

I figured out that I could clone Hunter’s badge and get rid of the Flinchite as part of the same objective fairly early in the day. This gave me my whole patrol route to think about how best to go about doing that. I know that I don’t talk about it much but I still do have a job. I’m good at it, too. It’s just not very interesting. Some grass got mowed a day early on part of the route. Nobody but me would ever notice, but I noticed immediately that the lawn people were there on a day that they normally weren’t. That’s how my patrol went. You’re welcome for such a thrilling account. My day was exceedingly normal. 

I didn’t get to check on the Flinchite again until I had been to Hunters house and swiped the cloned badge. He was not happy to see me. 

“My legs are veeeery fuckin’ asleep,” were the first words out of his mouth. I hadn’t thought about how leaving him in that position for so long would affect his nerves. It’s nerves that make your body parts fall asleep, not circulation, by the way. It’s a common misconception. I got him upright again but did not untie him. I was relieved to discover that he had not soiled himself. 

“You’ll be free in no time,” I explained. “I just have to figure out how this stupid card reader works. Once I get into Tier 2, you’re good as gone.”

“Wait, you don’t even have regular access to Tier 2? Still?” he asked.

“Nope. I’ve been breaking in and you showed up just as my way of breaking in got interrupted. This is the new way of breaking in. Stupid piece of shit,” I said.

“Hey, that’s not warranted,” he replied. 

“Not you. This card reader. I bought the cheapest one and I really shouldn’t have. Some of them go for over $100. I just want to clone this one badge. I’ll probably never use it again. Why would I spend $100 just to do this one thing?” I said. 

“So that you can get into Tier 2,” he retorted. 

“No retorts allowed,” I warned him. “Stupid piece of shit.”

He didn’t respond.

“That time it was about you,” I said. 

He still didn’t respond. I continued to fidget with the card reader. I eventually got the janky program to run. I got the data and I wrote it to a new blank card. I checked the first card to make sure that it still had data on it. It did. Success. 

“Alright, it’s game time,” I told the Flinchite. “If all goes according to plan, you will be out of here in no time flat. “Remind me when you came from again? I’ll put you back there. That should create the least amount of disturbance, I think.”

He told me when he came from. 

“Sounds like a plan. See you never, hopefully,” I said and left the cabin. 

After dropping off the original badge at Hunter’s house. I made my way to the main gate. It was a large, imposing structure that made itself known on the landscape. The doors themselves were not much larger than normal doors, but the metal structure around it proclaimed “do not fuck around here.” It was designed to make sure that people like me knew that it was not worth losing life or limb or both (maybe both repeatedly) in order to see what was on the other side. I ignored the proclamation. I walked up to the doors and pressed the cloned badge against the badge reader. It beeped, a small LED light turned green, and I was inside. Inside through the main gate. Inside without sneaking. 

There were two guards on the other side of the gate holding rifles. I did not recognize them and they did not recognize me. They seemed unconcerned to see me entering Tier 2 through the main gate. After all, I had just successfully badged in without a hitch. There were tons of Tier 2 employees and there is no way that security could ever be expected to recognize them all. Plus, there had to be people who weren’t even Tier 2 employees but were granted access, such as people from other top-secret facilities or the president probably. So, while they could tell that I wasn’t the president, they couldn’t tell that I was a Tier 1 guard up to no good. I smiled and gave a polite wave hello as I passed by. They did the same. 

I still wasn’t free to walk around as I pleased inside of Tier 2, not really. As soon as I was out of the sight of the guards, I ducked behind a building and returned to my usual stealthy approach. There was always a chance that someone might recognize me and know that I didn’t belong or ask for identification that I didn’t have. My cloned badge was blank on the front. It didn’t have the normal information and picture that go on the real badges. I would have nothing to show them. I could act normal while walking up and badging into buildings, but other than that I had to remain in the shadows, dodging patrols and spending as little time on the main roads as possible. 

The building I had used last to access the Security.exe program had been destroyed and the computers relocated, for a second time and for reasons that were entirely my fault, so I had to find them for the third time. The first two buildings were relatively close to each other, I think because they want to keep security related buildings close to the main gate. So, I started trying to badge into every single building that I could in that area of the valley. 

I was soon struck with just how lucky I was the first two times that I had located the security building. I think on both attempts, I had to try less than five different buildings. I had so effortlessly found the needle in the haystack twice that I didn’t even know how big the haystack was. 

28. 28 buildings until I found the new security building. Badging in was easier and faster than tricking the lock, but 28 is a lot of buildings when you’re trying to work fast enough to keep a kidnapped man from figuring out how to escape. I had actually given up hope by the time I found the building, but I hadn’t come up with a better plan so I was badging into buildings while thinking about what to try next. The right building just happened to show up before the next plan.

I approached the security program like a seasoned professional, which I wasn’t. I had successfully used the program to do exactly what I wanted to do once, though, and it was the most recent time that I had used the program so I was optimistic that I had figured it out, once and for all. 

I found the exact spot the Flinchite had been the moment that I left the cabin last and input that date and time along with his coordinates into the program. Not only did securing the chair keep him from finding something in my cabin that he could use to free himself with, it also let me know with exact precision where he was. There was no chance of me accidentally teleporting my refrigerator into the center of the ocean this time.  

For the location, I chose a sidewalk on a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Since it was late at night for me in Oldbrush Valley, it would be midmorning in Almaty, 14 time zones away. As far as why Almaty, Kazakhstan in particular? It’s an incredibly interesting place with fascinating culture and it is faaaaaar away. Even after he manages to navigate getting out of the country without having a passport and probably not speaking either of the national languages, it’s still a grueling plane ride to get back to America. He could make a good vacation of it if he wanted to: eat some kebabs, go skiing, and just generall Отьебись от меня. Ya know? 

Пока, Флинчайт. Ты долбоеб. Убогий уебок. Пошел нахуй. Good riddance. Maybe you’ll learn what any of that means while you’re gone. 

And with a click he vanished. The readout on the computer screen confirmed that the person that was in my cabin was now back in his proper time in one of the most bustling cities in central Asia. I wouldn’t learn until I got home that the chair had traveled with him. That’s probably fine. I’m sure that someone came along and helped him out. It’s a shame, though. I really liked that chair. It was good for sitting in. 

I made my way back home as fast as possible. It was quite late at this point, after having tried 28 buildings before finding the right one. The later it was, the more suspicious it would look moving through Tier 2. I managed to make it back to the gate without arousing suspicion and walked out the same doors that I came in through, waving a polite hello to the guards again. Did I… did I just pull off the perfect heist, for real this time? 

I admit, it’s not much of a story when everything goes right. There has to be some conflict in order to push the hero across a threshold that he would otherwise not be able to bring himself to cross. But good things have to happen eventually. The universe can’t just wear me down forever or I’d never be able to get back up. I won and it’s notable because I can’t remember the last time that I fully got my way. So now you know the tale of the time that Mike Walters actually checked some stuff off the to-do list and only paid for it with a black eye.

And it’s not like there will be any consequences for cloning a Tier 2 badge, kidnapping a Flinchite, and transporting him to a post-Soviet country. Right? Right?

[End theme plays.]

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