Ray Seymour was a postmodern monster.

But if you asked he would say he was just having a little harmless fun.

“All right, let’s see what slaves are online today,” he said, cracking his knuckles in front of the massive self-built computer rig that took up a whole corner of his tiny apartment. Built with parts scavenged from his minimum-wage day job at Best Electronics, the rig was Ray’s whole world. Everything else was going out for groceries or the pennies needed to keep the lights on.

They weren’t real slaves, Ray would have been quick to point out if cornered. It was just the jargon that people in his circles used for people whose computers had been hacked with a remote access tool–a RAT, the same thing that system administrators used to take control of the poor old Susie’s computer in accounting when she couldn’t figure out how to eject a thumb drive.

“Only one? Shit. Well, at least that makes my choice easy.” Ray brought up his RAT’s interface, which gave him full remote control of a laptop two counties away. Like most of his “slaves,” the person behind the computer had downloaded a trojan file that Ray had seeded onto file-sharing sites and torrents–in this case, the copy of Sex in the City 2 they thought they’d downloaded had been a screen for giving Ray’s RAT root-level system access.

From there, he could browse and copy personal files, access the screen and volume controls (which he usually did only to spook the “slave” on the other end), and, most importantly, access the built-in webcam and disable its “on” light. “I have access to everything they have, everything they are,” Ray had written on an internet forum for RAT hackers like himself (of which there were surprisingly many). “I could steal their identity or ruin their life, but all I do is take a few pictures. It’s harmless fun.” The person in question had been outraged to find their vacation photos on the forum; Ray had made his pronouncement and then banned the user (as he was an admin) before they could respond.

“Just doing what the NSA already does,” Ray muttered to himself as he remotely activated the “slave” webcam. “But she won’t end up in Gitmo.”

He opened up the webcam in a separate window, ready to capture any screens that piqued his interest. It was never the kind of salacious things you’d see on an episode of CSI or NCIS, naturally–those were always in JPEG form on the hard drive, never from a live feed. But the voyeuristic thrill, the endorphins that came with Ray’s smugly self-satisfied outsmarting of women who–he assumed–would not give him the time of day…that was the real money shot.

The screen fuzzed into being, and Ray witnessed the same “slave” he had watched through her own webcam on and off for weeks. She was kicking madly, desperately, as an assailant in a black ski mask attempted to drag her off.

Ray Seymour was a postmodern monster.

Someone upstairs had apparently decided to lay a test before him, to see how deep and wide that monstrous streak actually ran.

Based on this news story.

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People find hidden or dummied-out content in video games all the time. Often, especially for games released in the infancy of a platform or on a tight schedule, relics of development or pieces cut out at the last moment remain.

With the development of computer-based emulation, enthusiasts have been able to pull back the curtains and see things that developers didn’t want them to see. It might be as little as an unused enemy or palette, or as much as a whole area, plot thread, or ending.

For most people, it’s harmless fun, something to post in fan wiki.

Then, there was the programmer/artist that worked on the obscure 1991 platformer Mighty Metal Adventures. When a group of enterprising hackers downloaded data from the cartridge onto a computer to sift through it…most were never seen again. The few who could be found were driven to frenzied bouts of madness by what they’d seen.

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The hopper disgorged another ream of paper onto Sandra’s desk. “Paper” was perhaps a misnomer–it was really more of a polymer stack that communicated with her desktop–but that’s what it felt like, what it was designed to feel like, and that’s what she called it. Readers had the option of using polypaper or their desktops and almost all of them chose the polypaper, as editing was so much easier stylus in hand.

She picked up the new contestant and leafed through it. Generated by Lucky 777 Jade Emperor Press Algorithms in Guangzhou, the book told the story of a lonely and sexually repressed middle school teacher who was seduced by a handsome Manananggalan (a Malaysian vampire-sorcerer that manifested as a disembodied floating head when it fed). The overall concept was sound enough to sell; Sandra delicately made a few changes right off the bat, though.

The heroine’s name, Arisser, was clearly the product of a bad algorithm; it was changed to Alyssa. The story, ostensibly set in North America, opened with a description of Paris; a few tweaks here and there changed it to Quebec. All instances of the word “toilet” had been replaced by “teliot,” probably another consequence of a wonky text generation algorithm. Similarly, “restroom” had received the all-too-literal translation “urine district” from Lucky 777’s novel generation software. Sandra chuckled softly at that one and wrote it down to share with the other readers at lunchtime.

That done, she scanned the novel for the usual suspects, errors common to all novels generated using cheap and market-leading but imprecise Chinese algorithms (many programmed by wage slaves with virtually no English aside from machine translation and phrasebooks). A find-all to replace “water buffalo” with “horse,” for example (who wanted to read that Allison and her Manananggalan lover “worked like water buffaloes?”). There was still plenty of work to be done by going painstakingly through the thing, adding “the” and correcting word-order problems and egregious misspellings and mistranslations, but it was a good start.

It sometimes wore on Sandra a little bit that she, along with everyone else employed by Writers’ Creative Services, was only employed to proofread and copy-edit, not to write. But Hollister upstairs, and the market forces he personified, had spoken: it was cheaper to have writing generators in China automatically generate books and have native English speakers clean them up. After all, if you fed enough market data, psychological studies, and multi-platinum texts into a computer, it would cough up bestselling drek at least as well as any human.

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