Steganography

The feeds are not for the news. The feeds are the distraction, the feeds are the facade. The news is contained within them, invisible to the naked eye, downloading itself as cookies, slipped into meta tags. Sometimes, Anna wondered who controlled the news, who encoded it so carefully before covertly disseminating it to a throbbing public that would never be able to read it.

“Six civilians reported dead after recent bombing,” the scrolling headline told her as she slapped a post-it above the monitor.

It is a crime to open up your computer. Computers come fully assembled: white cubes with no seams, glowing power button and white cord.

You had to buy a saw, the kind used for cutting pipes. It was a tedious process. When Anna was thirteen, it took her five hours to get through the half-inch of white plastic and the quarter-inch of metal beneath it.

She was disappointed at the interior, which consisted of shiny green boards pricked with bits of copper. It was too mundane to be forbidden, she thought. She resented the laws for tricking her into wasting her time.

The newsfarms were self-contained as well. The boy who lived down the street told her that the buildings were empty, operated by machines. Machines made the feedsites, and machines maintained them. That was why they had no doors.

“How do we know they’re telling the truth?” she asked, squinting at the windowless building.

“Machines can’t lie. They don’t even know what lies are.”

In the cafe, Anna inserted a small black cartridge and cut off the auditory alarm with a few keystrokes. The computer could recognize “malicious code.”

She glanced up to the innocent-looking post-it note attached to the top of the monitor. The usercamera was the first line of offense, and it was the first one to be neutralized. Now, it was busy converting the image of the yellow paper to digits, which were stored and immediately printed by the DHS for deployment. Their enemy is the color of dandilions, she thought, smirking at their waste of yellow ink. The front of the square said 10.12.01.

Judith had been a few years older than Anna, and lived in the apartment beside her. Judith’s apartment was sealed like a newsfarm, and, though there was a door, Anna had never seen it open. Eerie blue light flickered from the inch between wood and tile.

The first and last time she saw Judith was a week before she graduated from high school. Anna answered the door at three am, mostly because her mother told her not to answer the door at three am, and Judith shoved a box into Anna’s arms. “This is for you,” she whispered breathlessly before turning and running down the hallway in a mess of curly hair and toffee-colored skin. The police arrived three minutes later.

Confident that the computer’s safeguards had been bypassed, Anna opened the program on the disk and stared at the black window for a second before filling it with white letters and numbers. Another window opened, and the guts of the feedsite spilled out into black and white as numbers and letters. Anna hit print, then eject, then yanked the cord out of the wall and replugged it. Pocketing the disk, she looked at the startup screen. “Shit!” she said, loudly enough for the clerk to hear. He glanced up. “It turned itself off,” she explained.

“Do you need-” he started, then the phone rang, exactly on schedule. “One second,” he said, and picked up the receiver.

Anna grabbed the stack of seventeen freshly-printed pages and exited while his back was turned.

Sitting in the diner, drinking her fourth cup of coffee, Anna worked over the pages with a ballpoint pen. Eighty three people had died, not six. Their names were half-assembled as letters trapped in little blue circles of ink.

“You shouldn’t do puzzles in pen,” The waiter said, refilling her coffee. “What if you want to erase something?”

“I don’t like erasing things,” she responded without looking up. He walked back behind the counter and she circled another letter, frowning.

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