I’m sure I’m not the only one to realize that the number of scam calls has really gotten ridiculous lately. I swear I get like ten of the damn things a day, from all over the place. Vietnam, Russia, Kazakhstan and many places which have no business calling me.
I don’t know if this phenomenon is isolated to the United States where I live, but from my few conversations with others I’m guessing it stretches beyond that. Many people think that the death of net neutrality has something to do with it, or big tech companies selling of our private information. I don’t know whether those theories are true, but I do know one thing. These calls are dangerous, and everyone deserves to know what’s really going on.
I have this friend, who I’ll call ‘Jane’. About a week ago Jane was at work, much like any other day when she felt her phone start to vibrate. She pulled it out, and the caller ID listed it as being from Kentucky. Jane moved from Kentucky about two years ago, so she thought it might be an old friend trying to reach her on a number not in her contacts.
She answered the phone as usual but was met only with a couple seconds of silence. She was about to hang up, when she heard something on the other end. She described it as a weird ticking noise, with some garbled electronic beeps intermixed within. Then suddenly, a robotic voice spoke her full name, before abruptly ending the call.
Jane hung up – as most of us probably would have, and just shrugged it off as another weird scam call. She went through the rest of her day as normal, and returned to her apartment later that night.
From what we understand she was in her bathroom that night when she got another phone call. Once again, the caller ID claimed it was from Kentucky. She didn’t answer it that time, but the caller left a voicemail. Jane opened the message and listened to it, and that’s the last thing anyone knows that she did.
The next day Jane no call-no showed for work, which was very unusual for her. A couple of her coworkers realized something must be up, and not long after they ended up contacting the police out of concern.
Police went to her apartment and spoke with her two roommates. Both of which said they were not home the night before, and hadn’t seen Jane since they had been back. One of her roommates said she had found Jane’s cellphone on the bathroom counter, and just figured Jane had forgotten it when she left for work.
Police regarded them both with an air of suspicion, but after searching the apartment they found no reason to suspect them. Canines were brought in, and scoured all over the apartment complex. The trail eventually led them outside to Jane’s untended vehicle where the scent was lost entirely.
The other residents of the complex had very little detail to offer either. No one had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary from the night that Jane had disappeared. However, they all had attested to one peculiar detail. They mentioned that the power had gone out the night of her disappearance, but no one knew whether that was related or just a coincidence. All of Jane’s belongings were still present, which led them to believe that she had been abducted.
A couple days later and police were able to gain entry into her phone with the help of her mother. They found the voicemail soon after. Those who listened to it described it as a strange ticking noise, with garbled beeps in the background and what appeared to be a strange voice speaking unintelligible words.
The phone call left no return number, and as such was unable to be traced to the source. The trail went cold after that, but the lull didn’t last long. A few days later, and another unrelated call came in from a young woman. She was frantic on the phone, but managed to convey the fact that someone was in her house.
Two officers were dispatched to respond to the call, and arrived at the property about eight minutes later. They found the front door of the residence wide open, and some sort of blue light emanating from the window upstairs. They began to approach the home cautiously, when both of their bodycams suddenly fizzled and cut out, almost simultaneously.
What exactly happened next is not known, but the woman who had made the call later described hearing screams and some sort of electrical buzzing noise like the hum of a transformer. She also claimed she heard a voice speak her name in a low, almost electronic voice.
After several minutes of the two officers not answering their radios, another team of officers were sent out. After the backup arrived on the scene, they found the two officers who answered the call. One of them was out cold, alive but comatose. The other was completely catatonic, huddled in the fetal position rocking back and forth with his gun at his feet. They tried getting him to tell them what had happened, but he just kept shaking his head and muttering a single phrase over and over.
“Stay away from the light… stay away from the light.” The officer in question has since been institutionalized, while the other remains in a coma. They’re doubtful he will ever recover, and considering the state of his partner, maybe that’s for the best.
Police found no evidence of forced entry into the house, nor did they find footprints, finger prints or anything else pointing to a suspect. Interviews with neighbors also yielded nothing to go off, aside from the fact that they too had suffered a mysterious and temporary power outage that lasted about ten minutes.
The woman was brought in for questioning a few days later. She was jittery, and clearly quite disturbed by what had transpired as she relayed her account.
Apparently, she too had received an anonymous phone call, this time with the number claiming it originated from Pakistan. For some reason she answered it, and described hearing a similar noise to the voicemail left on Jane’s cellphone.
She said she had just put her children down for bed, and was walking down stairs when she found the front door of her house wide open. Immediately unnerved by the sight, the woman dashed back upstairs, retrieved her two children and dialed the police. They hid in a closet, as she whispered the instructions to the 911 operator.
The woman then described hearing someone or something ascend the stairs and enter the hallway. She held the mouths of her children closed as the three of them shivered and attempted to remain silent. Soon after, the crack underneath the door began to glow in a strange neon blue light. She then described hearing what sounded like a flag fluttering in a fierce wind, mixed with strange beeps and clicking. She said she’d never heard anything like it.
Luckily for the woman and her two kids, whoever or whatever had entered her house did not find her. She heard a commotion and several gunshots from the floor below. She also described hearing screams, and the shrieking of something that: ‘sounded like some kind of animal, but more electronic’.
Over the next few weeks police reported multiple calls from people attesting to the same phenomenon. Several other cases of missing persons were opened soon after. The only real correlation between any of the victims seemed to be that they had all answered a phone call from an unsolicited number.
One local guy who was particularly electronic savvy even managed to apparently trace one of the phone calls. He shared what he had found with the police, but his findings seemed only to raise more questions. He too, has since been reported as missing.
The info he had provided seemed to indicate that the phone call had originated from Montana, in an area known as the Crazy Mountains. Yes, they’re literally called the Crazy Mountains. Pretty remote region, with few, widespread residents.
Police in the area were notified of the situation. They quickly assembled a team and made their way out to the specified area. The location was extremely remote, but after a bit of effort they managed to find the coordinates. After entering a small clearing, they found a lone, wooden building standing desolate in the field.
There were several abandoned vehicles standing outside, and little indication that anyone had visited the property recently. Police breached the small compound carefully, but confirmed that no one was present at the property.
Inside there were some sleeping bags and other basic necessities along with quite a few high-caliber rifles and ammunition. Dozens of spent bullet casings, various trash and splinters of wood lined the floors. However, the most intriguing sight were the half-dozen computer screens lining the walls. A tangled mess of wires sprawled the ground, linking the network of screens to multiple laptops.
After adding some fuel and jumping the generators, the team was able to reestablish power in the shack. After a while the techs were able to break through the computer’s encryption and add some more strange details to the already confounding case.
Logs found on the computer seemed to implicate a techno-anarchist group calling themselves RatRage that were responsible for the operation. At this time little is known about the group or the true identities of the members, but their personal logbooks seemed to give a bit of insight into what they were up to.
It seems that RatRage was working on hacking CIA documents in the hopes of exposing their various operations to the world. They had dozens of stolen documents on the hard drive, but there was one which seemed to be the focus of their efforts. The group identified it as something called ‘Project: Tapeworm’.
RatRage believed the project was a top-secret endeavor by various United States’ agencies to create an algorithm capable of controlling the flow of the digital stratosphere. A master key to the internet itself. Whoever controlled the program, would be essentially able to dictate the flow of information on the internet and bend it to their desired parameters.
RatRage believed this power was too much for any agency, government or individual to wield. They were adamant that this ability would radically restrict the flow of information and establish a digital oligopoly which would be unable to be contested once enacted. RatRage was wrong however, maybe not in their principals, but certainly in their understanding of the project itself. The reality was much more concerning.
Their logs were quite extensive, so to save some time I’ll do my best to summarize. RatRage had been working for years to try and break the encryption firewalls on the CIA’s servers. Using some rather advanced tech and unscrupulous business ventures with a few eastern European nations, they were finally able to bypass the security.
Once inside they got everything – or at least they claimed they did. The logs noted that they had uploaded all the files to a URL on the dark web. That was probably their biggest mistake, and now the cats out of the bag.
They began combing through the files, and quickly stumbled upon a vast archive of personal data listed as the ‘Shepherd Archive’. This program contained millions if not billions of individual profiles on people all over the world. It listed details, known affiliates, employment, residence, contact information and countless other tidbits of people’s private information.
The archive seemed to classify people, by categories of cooperative, intuitive, cognitive and metaphysical capabilities. At the end of each profile it would then give them a ranking using one of several Latin phrases: Utetur (oot-etur), Elucido (ell-oo-see-do), Messis and Abiciendi (ah-bee-see-en-dee). Their translations in order being: utilize, illuminate, harvest and dispose.
RatRage believed the entire thing was some elaborate hoax at first, until they found their own names on the archive with accurate details. They also noted that at least 9 out of every 10 profiles ended in the same conclusion. Abiciendi.
This seemed to indicate to them that whoever created Shepherd was intending on ‘disposing’ of at least 90% of the people on the archive. Suddenly their theory of a simple grandmaster key to the internet took on an entirely darker perspective, but that was nothing compared to what was to come.
In addition to the Shepherd archive, there was another much more confusing file labeled ‘Ventriloquist.nsi’. NSI is an extension most commonly associated with anti-virus software, but no matter what the group tried, they could not execute the file on any of their programs. They theorized that Ventriloquist was designed to work in tandem with Shepherd, but they had no idea how, and no way of confirming it.
Their macabre discovery seemed to plant a pit of fear and paranoia within the group. They knew the CIA would be hot on their trail, and so they abandoned their former location. They went dark for months, until eventually resurfacing in the location where their makeshift cabin was discovered.
There they resumed their work, and soon discovered something else. They were able to partially decode the ventriloquist file, and found something quite interesting. They noted that it used a coding language that none of them had ever seen before, with alphanumeric text interlaced with symbols that none of them recognized. It also seemed to be actively altering it’s coding periodically.
They reached a stalemate for a while, but it was eventually broken by an unexpected development. The apparent leader of RatRage known as: Armin received an email from an anonymous source. The person claimed to be an engineer employed by the CIA. He identified himself only as Mr. Fox, and his email is transcribed below.
“I don’t know who you are, or what you aim to do, but please listen to what I have to say. The programs you stole are incredibly dangerous. You have no idea what you have done by taking them. Please for the love of God and all the people who he created, delete the applications. We don’t have much time.”
Armin and the rest of his team puzzled over the message for a while, but ultimately concluded it was simply a CIA tactic to scare them off. RatRage made no reply, but Mr. Fox was persistent.
“Please I’m begging you. Once it’s out there it cannot be stopped.” The team again pondered the message, and this time Armin sent a reply.
“Mr. Fox. I regret to inform you that the information you requested has already been passed along to others. In a matter of days, it will come to light, and blow your entire operation wide open. The programs you designed pose too great a risk for anyone to be trusted with. Enjoy your stay in prison, and please give our regards to your superiors 😊.”
Mr. Fox didn’t reply after that, and RatRage resumed their work in trying to further analyze the files. A couple days later and a vehicle suddenly pulled up outside their compound. The team was heavily armed, and were very much prepared to die to safeguard the information they had acquired. Much to their surprise though, it was not the military or a SWAT team that had showed up. It was only one man.
The lone man stepped out of his truck, and called to the armed militia inside the building. He claimed he had only come to talk, and that no one knew he was there. Armin and the rest of his team debated over what to do, and after a while, he eventually stepped out to meet the man while brandishing his SKS rifle. There he saw an older man with glasses, a balding head and ruffled black suit standing alone in the night.
“Who are you?” Armin shouted. The man appeared nervous and lifted his hands to show he meant no harm.
“Mr. Fox.” He replied. Armin did a double take, wondering how it was possible. He glanced around the perimeter, but saw no signs of accompanying vehicles or aircraft circling around. Of course, he knew that drones could be watching them from miles away, and there would be little he or anyone else there could do about it. He decided to engage the man.
“How did you find us?” Mr. Fox shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter, please… we need to talk.” Armin scoffed.
“There’s nothing you can say to sway us. Now tell the rest of the CIA -that is no doubt listening right now, that there is nothing they can do to silence us.” Mr. Fox appeared to quiver in his stance, and almost looked as if he were about to cry. His face was ghostly pale, and his hands seemed to shake.
“It’s not about that, no one knows I’m here. I’m not armed and I didn’t come here to arrest you. I just need you to hear what I have to say. It’s the most important thing in the world right now.” Armin glanced back to his team hunkered down within the building. He thought for a moment, wondering who this Mr. Fox really was and whether he was sincere in his motives.
“Okay Mr. Fox, I’m listening.” Mr. Fox then inquired about the two programs which RatRage had taken from the CIA’s network. Armin confirmed they had them, and then lambasted Mr. Fox for his involvement in the creation of them. Mr. Fox made no attempt to dissuade the accusations, he instead expressed how sorry he was.
He claimed he had worked as a software developer for the CIA for almost three decades, and in that time, he had been recruited to work on the Shepherd archive. He said the original goal was to create a program which would collect data on every person on earth in order to better fight terrorism, espionage and potential acts of war from foreign entities. He also implicated several large tech companies which had assisted in the gathering of the information. Armin scoffed as Mr. Fox spoke.
“Congratulations Mr. Fox. You helped build the noose around all of our throats. You are a traitor to both man and country, and I will see you rot before this is over.” Armin said he had a thought of shooting the man right then and there, but before he could, Mr. Fox dropped to his knees. He then actually did begin to cry.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and stupid, and I just got caught up in everything. All the money they gave me… I thought I was making us safer. It’s not an excuse I know. I don’t expect forgiveness, I just want to make things right.” Armin was thrown off by the man’s pitiful display, and for a moment he almost dropped his guard.
“And we will make things right. We will show the world what you and your cohorts have done. Then we will destroy everything you have created.” Mr. Fox then vehemently shook his head.
“I wish it was that easy, truly I do, but the countdown has already begun.” He refused to make eye contact as he spoke.
“Elaborate.” Armin commanded, as two of his fellow team members stepped out behind him, rifles in hand. Mr. Fox sighed deep, and then spoke.
“Our network was not locked down so tightly to keep people from getting in. Well… okay that was part of the reason, but the more important purpose was to keep it from getting out.”
“Keep what getting out? All your crimes? Your betrayal of human rights?” Another member of the team asked. Mr. Fox looked more wracked with guilt than ever before, and spoke only a single word.
“Ventriloquist.” The team paused a moment and exchanged glances. Without being asked, Mr. Fox confirmed that the bizarre program was indeed meant to work in tandem with Shepherd. He explained that Ventriloquist was the means to carry out the goal of what Shepherd had dictated. The disposer of those that were deemed disposable.
RatRage questioned him on how it worked, but the answer they got only led to innumerable questions. Mr. Fox said he wasn’t certain, but from what he had been shown the file was not a computer program at all, but something he referred to as a digital entity.
“So, what the hell is it?” Armin asked, after the group had fallen silent for a moment. Mr. Fox reset his glasses on his face and then took a deep breath.
“Okay… it’s going to sound ridiculous I know, but… do you believe in ghosts?” RatRage took a confused look at one another before Armin replied.
“As in spirits? Like, dead people… no.” Armin replied, glancing at the rest of the group skeptically.
“Well you should, it’s impossible to prove with our current equipment, but we know that a sentient mind generates a transcendental… you know what? Never mind, that’s not important now. You have to understand, the technology available to the CIA and other government institutions are far beyond what is readily available. We’re talking like thirty years more advanced at the least. Hell, we had virtual reality back in the early 90’s when I first started there. They already have quantum computers, tachyonic antitelephones, but this… this is something very different.
Somehow, this entity has bridged the gap between the physical and the virtual world. That makes it incredibly unique, and also incredibly dangerous. It’s a being of pure energy and frequency. It can only really be detected via radio waves. That’s how it moves and operates. It’s like… it’s like a ghost. A specter that can manifest itself anywhere, and now it’s coming for everyone on that list.” The team paused and looked around at one another, once more wondering whether the madman and his words could be trusted.
“What does it do to them?” Armin finally broke the silence. Mr. Fox swallowed hard, seemingly hesitant to respond.
“Exactly what the archive deemed it should. It disposes of them.” Silence once again fell over the group, before it was broken by a laugh. Another member of the team; known by the name Revan then stepped forward.
“So, let me get this straight. You guys created an internet demon that hunts people down in the real world is that about right?” Mr. Fox sighed, looked as though he was about to argue, but ended up just nodding. Revan just laughed.
“You guys cannot be serious; this guy is so obviously full of shit. Nothing like that would ever be possible.” Mr. Fox then furrowed his brow.
“I swear to God it’s the truth. Why else would I come all the way out here? My life is over, they’ll kill me when they learn I told you all this, but I don’t care about that anymore. People need to know.” RatRage took a moment to discuss the matter for themselves. They knew the guy had a point, if he was in fact who he claimed to be.
“So, it’s an AI? Can’t you just shut it down?” Armin asked. Mr. Fox shook his head.
“Doesn’t work like that, we don’t control it, no one does. I don’t even think you could call it an AI. AI’s are built from algorithms, but this, we’ve never seen anything like it before. We don’t even know how it was created, or who actually created it. It’s like…” Mr. Fox then paused, as if what he was about to say was even more insane than what he had said up to that point.
“It’s like it’s not even something from our universe, I don’t know how else to explain it. It doesn’t think, it doesn’t feel, it doesn’t calculate… at least not in the way that you and I do. It is physical and mental, like a nightmare in the waking world. The only thing we really know about it is that it seems to have incorporated the goals of the Shepherd archive into itself. It will hunt down all those determined to be Abiciendi, one by one, until none of them remain.”
Mr. Fox then went on to explain that the entity seemed to be tracking people on the list using the phone numbers associated with their profile. It would apparently dial the number to get a fix on their location, before transposing itself within their vicinity and taking them out.
He also reiterated that even the CIA didn’t seem to know how or when it was created. He said they were working to destroy it, but found no way of removing it from their networks. There were a lot of questions that he wasn’t able to answer.
RatRage was thoroughly dumbstruck by Mr. Fox’s claims, but after his continued insistence they were forced to look a little closer. Mr. Fox also provided multiple examples of people that had already been taken by it, and the team later confirmed the examples he gave were authentic. Before he left, the group asked one more question to the strange man.
“So how do we stop it?”
Mr. Fox had no answer to give. Thanks to the broken containment of it, the Ventriloquist’s existence had become tethered onto the electronic grid of the earth itself, and the only real option was to destroy everything. A massive EMP that fried all electronics on earth would be the only real way to kill it. So long as any remnant of the digital world remained, so would the Ventriloquist.
Obviously, neither Mr. Fox nor RatRage had that capability, and so the only thing they could do was issue a warning. This is that warning.
This entire account was posted on a forum which I often visit. It has since been deleted from that forum, but not before I and several others got ahold of it. Obviously, I didn’t believe it at first, that is until Jane went missing. I’ve tried to get into contact with the user who originally posted it, but he has since gone dark as well. I believe he was present at RatRage’s compound, and his last message sent chills down my spine.
“I’m sorry, truly I am so very sorry for all of this. We didn’t know what we were dealing with, we didn’t mean to let it out. We thought we could kill it, but bullets did nothing, and the charges underneath the shack wouldn’t ignite.
It killed them, it killed them all, while I hid in a damn closet. That’s the only reason I’m alive. It just showed up and disintegrated all of them, like they never even existed at all. Like they never even had hopes and dreams of their own.
We have to warn everybody about the phone calls. If you don’t answer, then it can’t find you. I’m gonna do what I can to stop it, but I can only do so much. Here’s to hoping this isn’t the last time you hear from me.”
By the time the feds arrived at their compound, all of them were long gone. Further search of the property revealed a stash of several dozen pounds of Tannerite underneath the building. It seems RatRage had a last resort to try and detonate the explosives when the Ventriloquist came for them.
It seems their idea did not come to fruition. There was a clear sign of a firefight, but no bodies were recovered. Mr. Fox’s true identity has also yet to be discovered. The last note contained within RatRage’s personal log seemed to confirm that one of them had answered an unrecognized phone call.
Police once again have fallen upon a stalemate, and more reports of missing persons have since flooded in. The CIA has denied any and all knowledge or involvement with any of these events, but it’s not like that’s a big surprise.
That’s about all that we know about this phenomenon at this point, and obviously there are still many unanswered questions. If this is true, then we can only hope that somehow, those who have birthed this wretched creation will find a way to put the genie back into the bottle. Police investigation is still ongoing, but in the meantime, I’d suggest not answering any phone calls you don’t recognize. There’s no way of telling who or what is really on the other side.