Hey, Rob here. I’ve been sitting on this article for a couple of years, not knowing what to do with it. It’s the true story of the Chinese government’s spy infiltration of major companies and government agencies in the U.S. through the use of a tiny, undetectable chip placed on computer motherboards. I couldn’t even believe it when I read it. Here’s the link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies
Anyway, I started thinking, “What if they could make that technology even smaller? Even more undetectable? What would the limit be? Would there even be a limit?”
So now that Halloween is upon us, and we’re also on the eve of another sort of surreal Presidential election, I figured the time was right to bring this inspiration to you with something creepy as hell. Enjoy!
Listen to the Audio (17.5 min):
Read the Story (2,500 words / 9-minute read):
“Happy Sun Vitamin C!”
Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
He had prepared.
The small room he and one other person would occupy for the next thirty minutes was lined with what his handlers called a Faraday cage, capable of blocking any incoming or outgoing electronic transmissions. The room was also several hundred feet below ground, essentially blast-proof. Its ventilation system was a closed loop, monitored constantly for any newly introduced particulates as small as point-five microns.
The crew would remain at the surface in their vehicles. Only he and the other person, and several hundred feet of cable, would make the descent.
Lastly, and possibly most important, he wore a vest under his shirt called an MEIG – a micro-electromagnetic interference generator. They told him he wouldn’t have to use it. He wanted to believe them.
Yes, he was prepared. But he prayed silently as he exited the elevator and entered the room. He was never a religious man, and this new instinct caught him off guard, and he almost laughed. His mother would have been happy, her son finally finding God. He smiled.
The other person smiled back, though his smile wasn’t meant for her, and she set up a tiny camera, the size of her palm, connecting it to the cable, placing it on a tripod left for them beforehand. The camera had two lenses, one pointed at him, and one at her. She placed a small plastic node into her ear.
“I said no wireless.”
“I’m sorry…” she motioned to the camera, reached over and plucked a thread from the main cable’s end, pulling it toward her and attaching it to the ear node. “…but it’s all hard-wired, as you specified, no wireless, Mister President-elect.”
He nodded. “Good. I apologize if I seem curt. It’s just that there isn’t much time.”
“I… understand.” She looked up, as if she could see her crew at the surface, and tapped her ear. “They’re saying we’re ready to go with the live broadcast. Are you ready?” Her heart was racing. She had interviewed Presidents before, and it was always a bit nerve wracking, but all this cloak-and-dagger gave her anxiety an even sharper edge. It wasn’t a completely negative feeling, though, as she knew all this mysterious and strange energy would translate into many more millions of eyeballs watching, and, she dared to think, perhaps even another award for her shelf.
When the President nodded again, she counted down silently with her fingers in the air: five, four, three, two, one…
“Welcome, America, and the rest of the world, to Sunday’s edition of Current Times. I’m Marilyn Miller, reporting from an undisclosed location. And I’m thrilled to be here with our new President-elect, Sean Lee. It’s an honor to have this opportunity, sir. To host your first live televised interview since the election.”
Lee smiled, a thin smile, while he thought: let’s just get to it.
As if reading his mind, she beamed into the camera. “Well, then, let’s just get to it, shall we?” And turned to Lee. “You have been the darling of the media, vast swaths of the left and right, and the international community, for the past nine months. In fact, your rise to prominence and approval ratings seem like something out of a fairytale. And as a climax to that tale, the United States has elected its first third-party candidate since Millard Fillmore in 1850. Almost unreal.” She paused. “To be frank, President-elect Lee, some are saying it is unreal. That something ‘nefarious’ played a role in your election.” She smiled coyly now, leaving the field wide open for him, and asked quietly, “What would you say to your detractors, the fringe, the non-believers?”
“They were right.”
“Um… excuse me?”
“They were right. Election interference. On a scale you could never have imagined.”
Her mouth hung open. That was NOT the answer she was expecting. Suddenly, the room seemed even smaller, and she realized that this bunker, and the blindfolded four-hour flight, and the strange vest she was asked to wear under her shirt, was not a PR stunt, not at all just this charismatic new leader’s flair for the dramatic, not something fun to drum up interest and engagement.
No. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
She stammered. “I… but surely… wouldn’t you say…”
“Please, Marilyn. You are a wonderful journalist. But I have a story to tell. Are you ready?”
“No.” She couldn’t stop the word from leaving her lips. But it was the truth. She was stricken with fear.
Now Sean Lee smiled a sincere smile. Not just of compassion, for Marilyn Miller, who’s life would never be the same, or compassion for all the lives that would never be the same, but also a smile of relief. He had broken the seal. There was no turning back.
“Marilyn, do you know who produces ninety percent of the world’s computer CPUs?”
“Yes. And are you familiar with the infiltration of SuperMicro motherboards by the Chinese government?”
She shook her head.
“In 2015, as part of a new company acquisition, Amazon investigated that company’s hardware security, and found something nearly unbelievable: on their imported server motherboards was a tiny chip, about the size of a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the board’s original design. The chip would open a door, pinging anonymous computers on the Internet, allowing access to anything the infiltrators wanted. The discovery sent shockwaves through the technology and intelligence communities, as these motherboards were used by not only powerful private companies, but Department of Defense data centers, the CIA, and even Navy warships. The Chinese government had been using these tiny chips to spy on American interests for years. It is still unknown how broad and deep the surveillance was, how much intellectual property and state secrets have been stolen, and if it continues to this day.”
“Oh, Lord. So the Chinese infiltrated voting machines?”
Lee actually laughed. “If only. No.”
Lee’s stomach grumbled. He convinced himself it was just his nerves. Still, he held the small button that activated the MEIG vest a little tighter in his hand. “Another question: do you know who produces ninety percent of the world’s vitamin C?”
Miller’s eyebrows involuntarily raised. Where is he going with this? “China, I assume.”
“You assumed correctly. China manufactures the vast majority of the vitamins we take, primarily vitamin C. So, my last question: can you connect the dot?”
She couldn’t believe what she was about to say. It was too strange. Was our next President insane? “Um… the Chinese government has somehow infiltrated… vitamin C?”
“Yes. Specifically HappySun brand, but many others as well. The Chinese government has created chips smaller than a grain of sand, nano-scale parasites, that we have been ingesting for two years. All of us. Me. You. Virtually everyone.”
“Do you take vitamin C? Or any vitamin at all?”
She hesitated. Nodded.
“Then yes. In you. Most definitely. Only this bunker is protecting the two of us from them right now.”
His stomach lurched again. This time he nearly vomited. He realized all their precautions were not enough. They had been naive. The nanosites were attacking. He pressed the button in his hand, once, quickly. His body convulsed as a tiny electromagnetic pulse travelled through him from the vest. His stomach immediately relaxed.
Miller shot up and reached out to him. “Mister President-elect! Are you all right?”
“Yes, yes, please sit. I must continue. There are many of the nanosites in my body, many more than you. They’ve been activated, despite our preparations. You should be fine, but if they attack, you will know it, and you should press that button at the sleeve of your shirt. Just once. Repeated pressing may kill you.”
She nearly fainted. “What… what is happening? Is this a joke?”
“I wish it were, Ms. Miller. Please, time is not on our side. The American people must know. The world must know.” He shifted in his seat, feeling more steady, but still with dread. They were in him, waiting.
“As the miniaturization of spy technology progressed, the Chinese did not have a goal, but simply wanted to experiment, to see if they could affect subtle behaviors in people. The first generation of nanosites only attached themselves to the wall of the small intestines, and stimulated a microscopic amount of hormone release whenever Happy Sun Vitamin C was ingested. One or two of the nanosites couldn’t do much of anything, and the vast majority of them were eliminated by the body, but over time, as hundreds of them attached themselves, the victim would feel a subtle pleasure sensation after taking the vitamin. Sales of Happy Sun, of course, increased eight-hundred percent.”
Suddenly his vision blurred. He pressed the button again, and convulsed, but his vision remained clouded.
They were severing his optic nerve.
“The second generation had microscopic navigation flagella, allowing them to travel through the body, into the various organs, including the eyes, and could communicate with the Internet via short-range electric signals through the victim’s cell phone. These nanosites were designed to create more overt behavior changes. For example, on viewing a certain product on a website, the victim might receive a tiny burst of dopamine, or feel just a bit nauseous. Predictably, victims’ behaviors fell exactly in line with the desired effects. That’s when the third generation was developed, and their most audacious goal became clear.”
Miller whispered. “The election.”
Lee nodded. “By now, the nanosites, working as a swarm inside the body, were so smart they could create, unknown to its victim, almost any behavior change. I, for example, though loving my country very much as the successful lawyer son of Chinese immigrants, had no desire to run for public office. Ever. And yet, I found myself assembling and launching a campaign, all of it happening very serendipitously, or at least it seemed so at the time, as if luck and fate had conspired me to a great destiny. And people, also unexpectedly, received and reflected my enthusiasm equally. It was far too easy. Getting a majority of Americans to vote for me? For them it was as simple as writing a few lines of code.”
He felt her hand shake his knee. He realized he could no longer see. He was blind.
“Mister President-elect! Your eyes! Blood…”
“Stop. Sit down. Please.” He faced in the general direction of the camera. “People of America. Of the world. You must listen to me. I am not insane. Look at my eyes. This is what they can do. You must stop them. There is a way.”
He felt his throat constrict. They were massing in his esophagus. He pressed the button for the vest hard now, without stopping, and felt shock after shock jolt his nervous system, almost to the point of passing out. But he maintained consciousness, willing himself to stay awake, alive, just for a few more moments. He croaked, “I sensed something was wrong when I met with the Chinese two days after the election. It was again all too perfect. And their demands, trade demands, human rights ‘suggestions,’ I found myself agreeing to things that would have been abhorrent to me mere months ago. Something was wrong. Wrong inside me. I asked if they thought my Chinese descent made me more pliable, more agreeable, if somehow I had been ‘chosen’ for that reason, and they said:
“It could have been anyone.”
“And I knew. I knew the truth in that instant. They were pulling all the strings, somehow. Somehow inside us. So I have been secretly working with the current President and the BCT Task Force – Bio-Cyber-Terrorism – it’s an agency you’re not even supposed to know exists, but they do. They found a pharmacologist within the Chinese ranks willing to share the entire plan, have analyzed the nanosites, and are developing a form of synthetic antibody. It is at the final stages as I speak. There is time. But only if enough of you, those of you uninfected, take the necessa-“
Lee dropped to the ground, wheezing. He felt for Miller’s hand and pulled her toward him. “Please, Marilyn… believe…” and he exhaled. And was gone.
Miller recoiled in horror, falling back to her seat, head between her legs, tears streaming down her face, her body shaking. The next President of the United States just died in front of me. In front of a billion people.
And then, strangely, she began to feel calm. Her breathing slowed, and despite the gruesome scene at her feet, she felt… good. Very good, actually. Interesting. Her hand reached over and turned off the second lens, so her face was the only focus now. Her mouth opened and spoke words, almost with a mind of its own, as if she was watching some other Marilyn Miller speak from somewhere far away. “I apologize, my fellow Americans. Clearly President-elect Lee had some unresolved and profound mental issues. We are saddened at his passing, and will report on anything we find in the coming days, to keep you, as always, informed. In the meantime…” she tapped her ear, “…my producers have just told me that Vice-President-elect John Yung will be joining us tomorrow night, not here but in his transition headquarters. He will, of course, debunk the outrageous conspiracy theory you unfortunately had to witness, and also will ensure a peaceful transition to a new era of governance, in service of the people.”
I hope you enjoyed that short story. And thank you again for tuning in to Listen To The Signal. I’m Rob Dircks, author of the Where the Hell is Tesla? science fiction series, The Wrong Unit, and the #1 Audible Bestselling novel, You’re Going to Mars!
Copyright ©2020 Rob Dircks