Compromised Part II. Compromised Part II.

10 May 2023 - by: Darkwraith Covenant

Paul’s smartphone lit up his face like an ember in the pitch-black Texas night, as he sat in his employer’s security truck. White earbuds dangled carelessly from his ears. He interrupted his favorite Youtuber MrThatGuyTV’s latest video — 100 kids vs 1000 snakes — to tap out a text to his girlfriend Shay: “Ain’t shit happened tonight. Can’t wait to see you, baby.”

He was already well into the throes of working another typical Sunday night graveyard, his least favorite shift. Sundays held a certain anxious calm for him. They marked the end of his weekend, and the slow descent headfirst into the normalcy of the work week. The only thing atypical about this night is that it was unusually hot for early June, much hotter than his recollection of the year before. He had heard the weather report mention something about climate change, but he balked and chalked it up to “liberal nonsense.” He recalled a meme that he found hilarious, tweeted out by Texas Republican Senator Marquez, calling The Weather Channel a Chinese conspiracy to take away jobs from honest hardworking Texans, or something to that effect. I’m not political, but I like that guy Ed Marquez, he’s a straight shooter, he thought.

Despite the boredom and late hours, he was happy to be employed. This was one of the few decent paying jobs left in Glen County. The Safeco aluminum processing plant where his father worked had been there since the Truman administration, but finally ceased smelting operations in 2014. There were few jobs left in Stone Meadow since the plant chained its perimeter fences. The town was dotted with boarded up storefronts and shuttered businesses, bruised up like a street-fighter with missing teeth. At least it was a step up from his previous job working loss prevention at the Ultra WillyMart, another major local employer. It could be much worse. Monotony, rather than drudgery, was his foundational adversary.

A couple of his buddies in loss prevention graduated to employment at the Warren T. Millis Supermax Prison near the Mesquite/Glen County line, a job that came packaged with tales of horror. It was either that, or military service. He had become convinced that the military had “gone woke,” and that men like him were no longer accepted. He didn’t feel drawn to a higher calling in the military, unlike his older brother Darren, who tragically caught a one-way C-17 ride to Afghanistan in the Winter of 2012. He was making a higher hourly wage than many of his peers, even more than Brad Sexton, a supervising CO at the prison. He had been working overnight security at the CoinMountain mining operations facility for the last 6 months. An easy, boring ass security job where I don’t have to deal with tweakers, that also pays, he said to himself. Sign me the fuck up, y’all. Despite the sometimes crushing ennui of his job, where the most excitement involved chasing animals off the property or reporting migrants to CBP, his vigilant sensibilities were a natural fit.

The CoinMountain mining company’s enterprise wasn’t anything like the typical industrial mineral mining efforts strewn throughout rural Texas. The only link Paul could make between extracting expensive rocks out of the ground and CoinMountain, was that the company had revived the dormant Safeco aluminum mining plant and transformed it into a Bitcoin mining facility. Although he had only half paid attention during orientation, he had a basic understanding of how things worked. However, he had not yet made the same link between the enormous banks of Lithium-Ion batteries with the big “explosive” warning signs he passed by each shift. The part of his training that always stood out to him was how the electricity transmission lines needed for smelting aluminum were now being used to deliver vast amounts of cheap power to mine Bitcoin, straight from the nearby power plant. That fact stood out to him because he recalled his father talking about the power lines at the dinner table when he was a young boy.

Shay hadn’t written back, so Paul turned back to his YouTube app. She’s probably asleep, he thought. She worked exhausting nights at the short-staffed local tap house, which had once served as a prime watering hole for parched and famished Safeco employees rushing through the doors with permission from every post shift steam whistle. The bar seemed to be having a bit of a renaissance as a pit stop for looker-loos curious about the burgeoning cryptocurrency industry in Glen County, and for Stone Meadow’s newly minted professional workforce.

The droning hum of the mining facility disappeared into the sweltering hill country air, swallowed whole by umbra. He heard the humming increase in intensity, but thought nothing of it. He didn’t know exactly why this sound happened so often throughout the day and night, but knew it had something to do with the Bitcoin network drawing extra power. The orientation had been purposefully scant on technical details. He would have mentally filtered them out anyway.

A banner on his phone displaying “Jacob” with “Supervisor” beneath the caller ID yanked his attention away from his 100 kids vs 1000 snakes. “Why is he calling me right now?” Paul said out loud, vexedly.

A panicked drawling voice barged in as soon as he answered, “Are you at the annex? We have a fire in building 3! Gitcher ass down here, now!”

“Fuck you, bo.” He rolled his windows down, heard nothing. “Quit fuckin’ ‘round, JJ,” he matched Jacob’s deep Texas drawl. Jacob and Paul often messed with each other to cope with boredom, playing silly pranks on each other that wouldn’t raise the hackles of HR too much. Jacob may have been his superior, but they had partied together in high school and had been acquainted for years. He knew Jacob was joshing him since none of the facility alarms were going off. If the safety drill videos were to be believed, they would have woken up half of Stone Meadow by now.

“I swear! Dadgum alarms ain’t going off.” He heard a wavering fear in Jacob’s voice that he had never heard before, which worried him.

“Copy that. Coming over to you. Y’out front, Building 3?”

Jacob seemed distracted and did not answer immediately. Paul heard commotion in the background, and what he thought was someone saying “we’re locked out! I am trying to get Glen Fire on the line, but it just drops!” on the other side of the call.

Paul didn’t wait for a reply. He depressed the brake, pushed the power button on his pursuit rated F-150, shifted hastily out of park, and left his post on the outskirts of the facility to charge back towards the main building complex. The truck’s patrol sirens wailed, illuminating the dusty road with swatches of blue and red. The 3.5L V6 engine roared like a big cat emerging from darkness.

“Jacob, what the fuck, man?” Paul asked, anxiety beginning to well up in the pit of his stomach.

“Dunno. Dunno, just git here. Oh shit, Ernie’s callin’, gotta go’.” Jacob hung up before he could ask him why in God’s good name would Ernest Redmane, Corporate Head of Security at CoinMountain, be calling unless it was Critical level incident. So far nothing made sense to him.

Paul was nowhere near the main complex, he was parked over by the security annex closer to County Road 213 which encircled Safeco Lake and snaked back into town. He reached the East gate a lifetime later, the dull orange lights of the main building complex coming into the view before him. A large, familiar sign on the gate read “CoinMountain Industries, Beijing, China. Founded 2014.” He attempted to badge in past the tall, heavy-duty chainlink gate, but instead of the usual green indicator light waving him through, it retorted an angry red. He smashed his keycard against the large black card reader again. Nothing happened. Upon rapping the edge of the card against the shallow raised slats of the card reader a third time, he remembered the voices in Jacob’s earlier phone call. They were “locked out.”

Paul tried calling Jacob back, but it went straight to voicemail. He navigated to his work’s chat app, but realized his account had been logged out. For how long, he wasn’t sure. His team had come to mostly rely on the messaging app Slack for communications. Jacob thought the walkie-talkies were less efficient, antiquated, and inconvenient to use for comms, a decision Paul questioned but kept to himself.

Paul pulled his walkie from the center console, and turned it on. He was immediately greeted by lot of excited chatter. “This is Paul, I am at the East Gate, but I can’t get in, over?”

“No one can get in anywhere, the badges don’t work anywhere in the entire place,” his shift-mate Arturo Williams’s reedy baritone came billowing out of the speaker at full volume. Paul waited for Arturo to say “over,” but others were chattering on the line, stepping over each other in confusion. It was difficult to make out a lot of what was being said. Did any of these people get trained at all on the walkies? he wondered.

“Guys what should I do, where’s Jacob? Over. ” No one seemed to know where their shift supervisor had gone. “Someone’s going to have to let me in from the inside, I’m stuck out here. Over.”

Precious seconds burned. Arturo finally showed up in an all-terrain security cart by himself. Oh great, the cavalry’s here, Paul thought. The giant chain link fence slowly cracked its jaws open to let him in so he could pull up alongside Arturo. “What the fuck is happening over there?” Paul caught a glimpse of Arturo Williams’s mortified face, which was covered in sweat, the first human visage he had seen in hours.

“3, 2, and apparently 5 now are all on fire,” Arturo gasped.

Paul froze for a moment realizing how serious this situation was. There were state-of-the-art fire suppression systems in every building, so this didn’t make sense either. “How is that even possible?”

“Dunno bro, nothing is working, we can’t get holda police or fire neither. Nothing yo.”

This was starting to sound suspiciously odd to him. How could they call each other, but no one could reach emergency services? Why were their badges no longer working? Why were the alarms not going off, and now the fire suppression wasn’t working?

“Are you logged out of Slack too?” Arturo asked, but before Paul could answer affirmatively, a brilliant flash of yellowish orange ripped through the sky. The deafening silence that followed was met half a beat later by the most eardrum shattering blast that Paul had ever heard, louder than what he imagined his Glock 9mm would sound like if he fired it with his ear up against the ejection port. As the ringing in his ears swelled up to an unbearable crescendo, he realized that off in the distance — several hundred yards to the west, through the light of the flames that engulfed the place where he had been having his lunch just hours earlier — several buildings in the Main complex which housed all of the Bitcoin mining rigs, were no longer standing.


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