It was the summer of 2003, and I was spending most of my free time reading Matrix forums, in hopes of understanding Matrix: Revolutions before it came out. So, August 19th, there I was, browsing the Revolutions forum of matrixfans.net, when I saw a thread entitled “metacortex.” For those weird non-geeks who don’t recognize the name, that’s the company that Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo) worked for in The Matrix. Intrigued, I clicked, and read that a user called Statik had found a… eh, here, I’ll just show you Statik’s original message:
found this as a sponsored google link while searching for matrix revolutions.
the spelling on the site is metacortex unlike the URL
metacortex is the company where neo worked, no?
has a picture of the same building on the site.
Here’s a snapshot of what the site looked like at the time:
The numbers were counting down (by years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds) to midnight on October 1st. The little circle on the bottom was a link to an e-mail address, to which I randomly sent a request for information, thinking, “eh, why not?” I got the following automatic reply:
you for your interest in
MetaCortex. With the aid of our exclusive MetaMail technology, your message
has been forwarded to the appropriate department or individual.
If a response is required or necessary, you should receive it soon.
I think we might need some background here to understand why the website intrigued people (ok, obsessive Matrix fans) so much. The official Matrix team has a history of doing weird interactive things on the internet. The official site (http://www.whatisthematrix.com) has a complicated hidden system involving binary and hexadecimal codes that allow fans to “hack” the website. Things referenced in the Enter the Matrix videogame, such as Omega Hardware Solutions and the Daniel Institute of Dream Interpretation, have real web pages (http://omegahardwaresolutions.com/ and http://www.danielinstitute.com), although there isn’t anything particularly exciting there. So the first thought that came to mind was that the Metacortex site was something similar and was likely to be official.
a quick note on the “misspelling” in the url. In the movie, the company is spelled
both ways, Metacortex as well as Metacortechs, so what could have been a sign
of carelessness was actually a sign of freakish attention to detail.
(if you don’t want to take my word for it… according to moviemistakes.com, “When Neo comes to work he glances at the name of his company. The sign says Metacortex. When Neo is running from the agents there is a sign on the back wall which says Meta Cortechs.”)
Judging from the responses to Statik’s post (a lot of “whoa!”), I gathered that this was the first spotting of the site, so I proceeded to check it out more closely. The countdown was a Macromedia Flash file, so I isolated it to see if there was anything interesting about it. Randomly, I tried going to the next page of the file, and promptly felt blood rush to my head. Rather than the blank page of empty nothingness that I’d expected, there was actually something there! Something rather interesting, in fact… six buttons, creatively labeled “Button 1,” “Button 2”, etc., that linked to various Matrix fan sites. Not even very good fan sites… some hadn’t been updated since 1999. Well, that was quite confusing. The logical conclusion to be drawn was that the site wasn’t official, because why on earth would official Matrix people hide links to random fan sites? Weird.
Less than 24 hours after posting my find, I went back to the site to examine the links more closely, only to find that the hidden page had disappeared! Huh, so they wanted to play like that, did they?!? This amused me to no end, as you can see in this post that I wrote soon after:
it's gone. Coincidence? I bet not...that's hilarious, so someone that
reads this board created that site, saw that someone found their mistake,
and quickly got rid of it?
And thus my obsession with this website began.
However, the obsession was put on hold for about a month as nothing new happened with the site. I’d check back every few days to see if anything had changed, but nope, still that steady countdown to the mysterious Oct. 1st. So back I went to debating the symbolism of Smith’s sunglasses.
Fast-forward to September 19th. That day, I got an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org entitled “Press Release 9/19/2003”
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Redland, WA - SEPTEMBER 19, 2003 - MetaCortex Corp. announced today the development of its new MetaVR entertainment system, for use in conjunction with its MetaGamex computer gaming console.
The MetaVR entertainment system is currently the most sophisticated Virtual Reality complex developed for the home entertainment market. Consisting of a set of MetaVR goggles, a stereo headset, infrared tactile sensor/emitters and an olfactory chest plate, the MetaVR system breaks new ground in providing absolutely immersive, lifelike, convincing gaming like nothing ever seen before.
”Our new MetaVR system will take gaming a quantum leap beyond anything that our competitors have been able to create so far,” stated Steven Walsh, CEO of MetaCortex. “We're on the cutting edge of the gaming marketplace. We’re very excited about the worldwide anticipation for this new system, and we’ve put a lot of effort into putting more of what players want into the MetaVR. Already, we are building substantial inventories in anticipation of consumer demand.”
The MetaVR system uses new proprietary MetaCortex software to actually anticipate the players' moves, buffering what it thinks will happen in order to avoid any kind of perceptual lag on the player's behalf. “This lag has been the primary limitation on the gaming community's willingness to wholly embrace true virtual reality systems in the past, since it has a tendency to make players nauseous, which clearly is not in our best interest as a developer,” stated Walsh. “However, all indications are that these anomalies have been completely eliminated from the core MetaVR operating system.”
Providing sensory input to four of the five senses, the MetaVR system will let players see in stereo 3-D vision, hear in simulated surround stereo, feel objects when they’re held or impact their bodies, sense temperature changes, and even smell their simulated surroundings. “Players have yet to realize how important olfactory feedback is in the gaming world, because they take it for granted in the real world,” Walsh continued. “Imagine the adrenaline rush as, while you’re exploring an alien world, you realize that you are smelling the sour musky odor of an invisible grungbeast. That smell could give you those precious extra seconds that may mean the difference between life and death, or at least having to start a level over.”
MetaCortex has only recently made inroads into the gaming genre. Known for its expertise in developing business and information applications, the Company has made a huge impact worldwide, quickly becoming *the* force to be reckoned with in the computer industry.
For further information, contact:
I started a new thread with the press release. Within a day or so, it had grown to around five pages (much to my amazement). Here’s what we got from the press release:
|Even if fan-made, this was all ridiculously cool
|The address sounds suspiciously like the address of Microsoft… (One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052)
|Incidentally, Redland, WA doesn’t exist
|The phone number, while unlisted, does exist
|The area code (206) is from Seattle, WA
Around this point, there was an update to the website. Now a pop-up came up that said:
Please contact Dave Regenhardt in I.T. (ext. 2335) for instructions on upgrading your system and receiving your new login information.
Looking in the source code (1) of the pop-up gave us his ID number and telephone.
<MCEmp name="Regenhardt, David" id="0280339" office="Redland" tel="206.202.2335">
Inspired, I looked in the source code of the press release e-mail and saw that, next to where Steven Walsh is introduced, it says, “<MCEmp name="Walsh, Steven" id="0281542" office="Redland" tel="private">“ Maybe on Oct. 1st we’d be able to somehow use those IDs to log in! Whee, this was fun!
Inevitably, someone called Dave, and got the following recorded message:
"Hey you've reached Dave Regenhardt in HR. Sorry I can't take your call but leave me your name and number and I'll call ya back. If you're calling about your Employee Login info, go ahead and leave me your Employee ID number as well. Thanks."
The poor guy must have suddenly been flooded with people pretending to be either him (“hi, myself, it’s me, how do I login?”) or his boss. Then someone looked up Thomas Anderson’s ID in the movie (you can see it on the folder that Smith has on him… it’s 3809940), so people began calling in spades and pretending to be him, innocently wondering how to log in to the system.
Every few days, starting on 9/22 and continuing up until Oct 1st, the website would be updated with new pop-ups that kept reminding us that something cool was about to happen. For instance, the first one was:
On the 22nd, a user called Mod got a reply to an e-mail that he’d sent to metavr.com (a legitimate website that had nothing to do with metacortechs.com):
> > Could
you inform us if you are affiliated with www.metacortechs.com . This company
this looks to be a
penny stock scam run out of
we are not affiliated with this organization
> > and an olfactory
as well, we do not make products that smell
Heh. Heh. Penny stock scam. Oh, those scamming criminal Metacortex people…
Incidentally, after the Oct. 1st launch, the name MetaVR was changed to MetaVRX, probably to avoid copyright infringement, and because random Xs are cool. We all pretended that it had been that way all along.
I should mention at this point that, in the headers of all the e-mails from Metacortex, the return path was "from email@example.com". People checked out underscorehosting.com, but it seemed to be a legitimate hosting company.
So, days pass, we speculate some more. Was this connected to The Matrix Online (the Matrix follow-up game that was supposed to start beta-testing in late 2003)? Who on earth was Steven Walsh or Dave Regenhardt? We were pretty baffled. I personally hadn’t the faintest idea of what was going on.
Then, on the 26th, a user on The Last Free City forum called lidox pointed out that underscorehosting.com wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. Ha! What followed was lots of banging-head-against-wall on my part. My original response:
Whoa...omg, I seriously almost fell over when I read that. These people created that entire Underscore site...that's crazy. This does go SO much deeper than I first thought... there's so much on that site to explore! *gets started*
From the terms of
Quote from their affiliate
We will begin accepting
new customers again soon!
Their phone number starts with the same 3 digits (I'm not talking about the area code) and uses the same service provider as Metacortechs.
Underscore Hosting has temporarily suspended new customer applications until our extensive systems upgrade is complete. We feel from a customer service standpoint that it is best if we concentrate on providing the best service possible to our existing customers during this time of transition.
We are sorry for the
inconvenience, and look forward to serving you soon. Thank you for your
P.O. Box 1042
Redland, WA 98076
Right. How on earth had we missed that for so long?!?!? Of course, the only possible response to this find was to squeeze every last possible clue out of the site. So we went ahead and did just that, with what appears to have been, in hindsight, a bit too much enthusiasm. *cue dramatic music*
Underscore Hosting had a page for members to log in. Looking at the source code revealed a simple and not-very-secure password and username encryption code that allowed for only one very limited set of logins. The password was encrypted into a long number. The characters of the password formed the number by being converted to ASCII and then multiplied together. A successful attempt would automatically take you to /correctpassword.htm. So. After figuring out the range of possibilities, people (mr2828, specifically) began to brute force (2) the server with attempts. Since I lacked basic programming skills, I sat back and waited for the codes to run. I might add that I was waiting in considerable excitement… this was just totally awesome. Why would they have used such an obvious password encryption if they hadn’t wanted us to crack it?
Sure enough, a little over an hour later, the brute force program found something. More specifically, it found http://underscorehosting.com/f9dds33.htm:
You’d think the “bruteforce attempt detected” bit would be the equivalent of hitting us in our collective head with a big brick, but you’d be oh so very wrong! The result got us quite a bit more excited. We’d found something! There was a correct login, and surely this was telling us that we were on the right track. At that point, any response that we could have gotten would have been exciting, just because it was actual interaction with these websites that looked so official and yet were so mysterious. So… yeah, in all the excitement, we remained completely oblivious to the not-so-subtle hints about the evilness of bruteforcing the server.
So mr2828 expanded the program to include other characters besides letters and numbers, and continued to search. I sat on the sidelines, handing out virtual lemonade and cheering. Ah, good times…
The program failed to find anything else, so we all tinkered around for a few days… tried to find hidden directories on metacortechs.com, etc, etc. Interestingly, by this point, I’d completely forgotten about Revolutions… this was so wonderfully distracting. Every few minutes: “Oh, I’ve gotta check the forums, maybe something new has happened!” I was having Metacortex conversations on three different Matrix forums by that point, and just having a fantastic time.
On the 29th (two days to go!), someone mentioned that the ARG forums were now aware of the sites and of our discussions. I hadn’t the faintest idea what an ARG was, but someone explained that the letters stood for “Alternate Reality Gaming” (3) and that Metacortex seemed to qualify as one of those. Soon after, ARGers began trickling into the Matrix forums with sweet long technical posts. So we all waited some more, while casually tracking down every metacortex.* site we could find. Dum dee dum…
On the morning of the 30th, the main metacortechs.com page was changed. The flash countdown was removed altogether, and in its place was just some text along the lines of “Stand By.” I personally found that quite exciting because I wasn’t convinced that anything cool would happen on Oct. 1st. This update seemed to indicate that someone, somewhere, was preparing for what would happen tomorrow.
That morning, mr2828 (the guy doing most of the bruteforcing) noted that he couldn’t access the sites anymore. He was getting “forbidden” errors. We briefly sympathized. Very briefly, because there were only a few hours to go!
That day was marked by people going “Huh, it’s 10/01 where I live and nothing’s changed! American time zones suck!” We did conclude that we were most likely going by the evilness that is Pacific Time, so the launch would just happen to be 3am my time. I had class the next day, but I decided to stay up as long as I could. 3am came and went, and nothing happened, so I decided to go to sleep. Yeah, that was a wonderful idea. Note to self: do not go to sleep on the night when a new ARG is supposed to launch. Bad idea. I woke up the next morning with about five pages to get through per forum, and with nearly everything solved. The ARG had launched at just a few minutes after 3. And so it began… (by “it” I obviously mean complete lack of sleep for a solid six weeks)
*cue evil PM (4) laughter, echoing into the distance*
I was on one of the matrix forums when I first found out about the Metacortechs website, which at that time was just a countdown to Oct. 1. I didn't think much of it, actually, until it went live on Oct. 1. Then, of course, my reality just imploded; I was suddenly and entirely consumed with this alternate reality (not that I knew the term at the time). You see, MetaCortex is this company that "employs over 250,000 people", and has its brand on "over 80% of computer software worldwide", and it's headquartered in a non-existent city of Redland, WA. And its mission statement is "To enable the world to fulfill its destiny through technology." And, its MetaVRX system will "immerse you in a virtual game world like nothing you've ever experienced." Wired reality, ha!
We found that the employees mentioned on the "News" page could be looked up in the Redland database on the "Directory" page; and when I found this information for "Thomas Anderson"
|Name: Anderson, Thomas
No forwarding information available.
I just about fainted (btw, I suspect that there were several hundred e-mails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org on Oct. 1 alone). I wasn't sure what to think: was this a lead-up to The Matrix Online game? to Revolutions? I have never even heard of alternate reality games before; I think I was convinced at the time that this was some trick by the Wachowski Brothers. The fact that the news page addressed a "rash of attempted security breaches this past week" only made things that much weirder - I mean, were they talking about... us?
So, we kept looking up employees' information in the Redland database, and a search for the former CEO of the company, James Avery, would produce this and a string of binaries, which decodes to
|Na e: Aver , J es
D pt x c iv
|Name: Avery , James
Hah! Those missing letters, "myame:eEute" - they would haunt us for weeks to come.
But the most mysterious discovery on the MetaCortex site was - by far - the wallpaper (still conveniently available for download on the "Products" page, along with the screensaver). It was another string of binaries, only it was not text; so it was a painful process of typing all the 1s and 0s into the converter. The payoff was great, though:
|The machine turns, turns and must keep on turning for ever. It is death if it stands still. A thousand millions scrabbled the crust of the earth. The wheels began to turn. In a hundred and fifty years there were two thousand millions. Stop all the wheels. In a hundred and fifty weeks there are once more only a thousand millions; a thousand thousand thousand men and women have starved to death.
It's a quote from "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, but people immediately started trying it for fit in the Matrix universe; we saw Matrix references everywhere: 72 hours (that's how long Zion lasted last time, you know), and the music in the intro flash (the last bits sound just like the theme in "Beyond" - an episode from the Animatrix), and... ok, I'll stop.
Oh, and then there were these strange strings of code in the screen saver and the intro flash:
With each new discovery I felt more and more like... falling down the rabbit hole (sorry for the cliche). The fact that this weird, unreal stuff was being passed off as something so usual, so normal - the corporate meet-and-greet... normal... in Redland... where?! - blurred my comprehension of "reality" to the point that I wouldn't have been all of that surprised if a "wake up, yanka" message popped up on my screen. The awesome, rather unfamiliar feeling of stumbling upon something so mysterious, so... BIG... was overwhelming; I was instantly addicted.
So... *cough* yeah... anyway, we kept looking people up in that database, and found everybody else that has been mentioned in the news (and many people, including myself, were very persistent in the search for Mr. Rhineheart, Neo's boss in M1). Here they are are, in no particular order:
Of course, we called all of them; personally, I must have called David Regenhardt at least twenty times - I wanted to pretend to be Beth asking for my login, but chickened out every time.
Mr. Ormond's voicemail greeting led us to the discovery of k7 - a company that provided all the Metacortechs' phone numbers (as well as numbers listed on other in-game sites). Conveniently, k7 only gives out phone numbers in the 206 area code (Seattle area, home to a certain well-known corporation based in Redmond). Several people get busy hacking Metacortechs' k7 accounts in hopes of finding voicemail or fax files.
Another site linked from the "News" page was The Aquapolis. A whopping $1.3 billion (!!) has been invested into this underwater resort by "Greece" (via GDIA, I suppose), MetaCortex, and an undisclosed British investor. Despite the abundance of information, none of us really know what to do with The Aquapolis, so we all just begin making elaborate Atlantis parallels. Oh, and btw, that Greek text at the bottom of the main page translates as "Welcome to the website of Aquapolis. Greek version coming soon."
MetaCortex' "employee of the month," Elizabeth McConnell, had a dextop at /usr/emc2/bio/ (the quotes changed with each refresh of the page). She had three quotes there, but the one that made me jump was "Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot." Too bad Beth couldn't have a talk with her former co-worker, Mr. Anderson, on the subject of silverware.
We found Beth's website, little-boxes, by following a link from her MetaDex. Without a password we could only see the few archives in the "Current Research" section, and the biography pages.
Biography: My Life
What is there to tell?
|Biography: My Hobby
It all started out so
innocently. A simple link to a website sent from a friend with the half-hearted
plea, “You’ve gotta check this out! It can’t be real, can it?” One website
led to another and another and another... Before I knew it, my bookmarks
were filled with crazy sites that seemed to be documenting another world.
A world that called to me, that fascinated me.
So, it appears that Beth's life is pretty much dedicated to work and study of the paranormal. I was rather intrigued with her remark on rules and logic; don't you think it sounds like something Morpheus would say? And her dislike of birthday celebrations - is that a hint that her password would not be her birthday?
In retrospect, it's ridiculous how many logins were cracked that day. Somebody recognized the music in the background of Beth's voicemail greeting; "Evanescence" turned out to be her MetaDex password. This is what we found there:
|Email from email@example.com
Yes, I was able to get in just fine. Thank you. It is a shame that it has come to this, but perfectly understandable. Do you have an eta for the others though? Let me know if I can be of any assistance.
|Email from Mom
I tried calling you earlier but just got the answering machine. No real news, just wanted to chat a bit. There was a time, not so long ago, when mothers could reach their daughters without having to go through a computer to do it. We should meet for lunch later this week.
|Email from firstname.lastname@example.org
I happened upon this link today and wasn’t sure what to make of it. This isn’t him, is it? I don’t remember him looking so disheveled. Have you heard from him? Do you know anything about this? If you want to talk, give me a call. I should be home all night.
Phillip's MetaDex was discovered immediately thereafter; and his quote by Plato yielded two more passwords: "critias" for his dextop (user: pgairden); and "timaeus" for little-boxes (user: phillip). This e-mail from Beth was in Phillip's MetaDex:
|Email from email@example.com
Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. You know that I rarely say that, but I'm just so upset right now. I hate seeing the notes and evidence that I've gathered mocked or destroyed. I realize that is the chance that you take when you post stuff up for the world to see, but it is still upsetting. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I saw a huge spike in my stats and when I went to password protect the archive directory I must have done something wrong as suddenly all of the data was gone. There were a few things that wouldn't delete, but all in all it was a complete loss. I finally just cleared the entire database and started from scratch. I've also made the entire archive registered user only. I set you up as a user, I'm sure that you know the password. I should have everything back up in a couple days. Let me know if you were able to get in without a hitch.
The more we read through the little-boxes' archives, the more "obvious" evidence of the matrix we saw: levitating cats, blackouts, green orbs in the sky; vortices and vampires, found on two other sites linked from little-boxes - Cascade Vortex and Paranormal Journal (which Phillip is an editor of). We figured all of these fell into either of the two categories: matrix glitches (as in "Beyond"- the Animatrix episode mentioned above, in which a certain area of the matrix has defective spacetime coding) or malfunctioning of programs (or, as The Oracle explains in M2: "the system assimilating some program that's doing something they're not supposed to be doing"). Between the two of them, Beth and Phil must have received a few thousand e-mails, in which concerned players offered their explanations of paranormal events as the inherent flaws in the nature of the matrix, and advised them both to seek Morpheus... or to stay away from the Agents... or just to simply wake up.
Upon noticing that there were up to 50 archives missing, according to the current numeration, we began looking for unlisted archives, and found #28: titled "Anomaly 5" and classified as having occurred 4 times, the archive featured this text:
Nullam est. Etiam nulla purus, volutpat sit amet, lacinia sed, consequat vel, neque. Fusce at orci. Donec eros purus, interdum sit amet, scelerisque lacinia, ornare ut, enim. Etiam non mauris. Morbi molestie nisl eget pede. Donec dictum purus quis diam. Mauris rutrum, mi ut hendrerit laoreet, nulla urna interdum erat, nec laoreet nibh sapien nec mauris. Suspendisse interdum, nulla sed imperdiet sagittis, enim turpis sagittis ante, a vestibulum turpis quam non purus. Etiam odio. Etiam sagittis feugiat velit. Sed ut turpis.
The translation, despite being utterly nonsensical, did include enough eerie concepts, which, combined with "anomaly 5", allowed the overly-excited Matrix fans to get even more overly excited and concoct additional tie-ins with the matrix world.
The link to "He is missing" that Phil was talking about in his mail to Beth turned out to be this site: www.heismissing.info. It was immediately proposed that heismissing is James Avery - the former CEO of MetaCortex, whose retirement story did not seem so believable, especially in light of his glitched record in the corporate database.
Heismissing and sheismissing images were hosted on www.paintover.net (I'm intentionally not linking you to paintover at this point, as it will display much more than what we were able to see that day, but here's what it looked like). Paintover gives us plenty to talk about: what is the point of this rather random and somewhat creepy site? What is Tavern.Pointe (aside from being an anagram for paintover.net)? Is that an electrical outlet behind the picture frame on the background image (get it: an outlet, as in, exit?)? The sheer number of comments left on paintover that day should serve as enough evidence of our fascination with this site.
And, of course, here begins the saga of "Oct. 1":
The index page on paintover consisted of 2 frames: the main frame, and the other that contained the above picture, captioned "eye see" and posted by someone named Caesar. There was also a separate frame for comments. As more people from various forums, blog exchanges, and god knows what other places were finding their way to paintover, the comments were becoming more and more diverse - from stuff like "this is Beth, I've just been told abo... help! they're here!" (people really went out of their way in pretending to be game characters; someone even created a k7 account for Phillip and posted the number) to "omfg, that skeleton is creepy". Heh, I can almost hear the fates' evil laughter as someone innocently wonders for the first time what the little girl is looking at.
Anyway, this very unproductive exchange of comments continued until the next morning, when sapagoo solved the cryptic writings on the right. Substituting them with letters and treating the result as a regular cryptogram produced "ALWAYS TO HAVE LESSONS TO LEARN", which is a quote by Alice (the one who fell down the rabbit hole, to be sure). Uncertain of what else could be done with the picture, matrix fans rejoice at yet another tie-in to the movies, which have abundant references to both "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass".
So, the first day ends and weeks of sleepdeprivation begin. In an aside, I did not get a stitch of work done and forgot to eat that day, which becomes somewhat of a norm for the duration of the game. Keep that in mind if you're considering playing an ARG.
We spent the last couple of days primarily digesting the load of information that the game kicked off with, reconfiguring our schedules for daily "game time" allowances (leaving... I'd say, about 2 hours for all other activities), and reading Beth's archives. Due to technical difficulties and... uhh... other stuff... the archives are probably not going to be available to you in the order they were arranged at this point; so here are a few that we found particularly interesting.
This is an archive that has a chunk of text missing, which: 1) sets us off on a spell-checking spree for the rest of the game; 2) undoubtedly means that Cascade Vortex is a place far more abstruse than it seems.
Document #73 Status: Unverified
Objects crash to the ground (sometimes very gently!) as the gravity levels shift. Things that stand upright are suddenly askew, and meteorological data is very difficult to fix within a 2-2.5 mile radius.
Well, this one is definitely interesting because: 1) it is very recent; 2) it describes an event that actually took place in Redland; 3) it just sounds very matrix-y, don't you think?
|Document #50 Status:
Class: Year: 2003, Location: US-Northwest
July 18, 2003
And this one is a prime example of how much effort we devoted to searching for matrix symbolism and possible literary references. Clearly, this is the case of Alice not being able to move to the next square on the chessboard:
Document #57 Status: Unverified
Oliver Schrader, the most experienced of the group, explained that every time the group was about to cross into an adjacent grid square, they found themselves at the opposite edge of their original square.
It seems unlikely that they could simply have gotten turned around or lost, not with their collective years of experience, and not for four full days.
This is a trivialization, but it reminds me of a computer game I once played where you’d walk off one side of a map and appear on the other side.
There are plenty of "weird" things going on with the archives; for instance, some are created by a deleted user (as opposed to by Beth or Phillip), some are formatted differently, others say they have an attachment, while they actually don't *cough* (I have a feeling this cough is going to last for a really long while), and yet others (as well as some Paranormal Journal articles) seem very similar to certain short stories on the official site. Add to that the messed up numeration (I'm actually not sure if there was ever a time that the archives were "in order"), and you'll understand why mining for archives' possible clues becomes our activity du jour.
But today - on the third day of the game - we finally have the much-anticipated updates; first, Phillip's:
|Email from David Crane
It has come to my attention that you are the ultimate reason for the delay in the Fall edition. This news is very disheartening as it was my recommendation that ensured your position. I urge you to remember that you are part of a team and their judgment is to be respected.
|Email from firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, I am convinced that there's more to these. I've been going over it in my head and it just doesn't make sense. I'm sure that I'm just seeing things that don't exist, especially at this hour. Have to run some errands and get some work done today, will try to call you later.
Oh, I wanted to thank you for the other night. I'm not sure why seeing him affected me so. It was such a long time ago, I know. I was over it. I am over it. Besides, it makes no sense to dwell on the impossible.
Apparently, the former editor of the journal is rather pissed at Phillip, and Beth is still distraught over the fact that somebody messed with the archives. Oh, and, of course, we are obsessed with the identity of the person that "affected [Beth] so", with the popular vote going to Mr. Avery. A side note here: if you lay Avery's image over the photo of heismissing, there seems to be a pretty good match:
But while we can somewhat file both of the e-mails away, we are still very perplexed about the Cairo lodging and the "UH" that is somehow involved with the "LK".
Beth's updates are:
|Email from email@example.com
your Friday progress sheet, you say that you worked on your report for
the Labyrinth project that afternoon, but I know you took that afternoon
star worker, so I'm not going to make an issue of it, which is why I'm
sending this here rather than at work; but let's be clear that it mustn't
you to have the report finished and ready to go by Monday morning.
Project Labyrinth? What could that possibly be about? And does it have anything to do with the Aquapolis? Maybe if we knew Marcus' MetaDex password, we could find out; but without it, we are left to pure speculation, mostly involving the Minotaur and a giant web-maze.
Beth also had lunch with her Mom and ran some errands.
|Email from Mom
for the lovely lunch. It was nice to see you, however short. However,
you know me, I'll always worry. Please take care of yourself. And don't
forget to call your father, he would appreciate hearing from you. Have
you thanked him yet for your birthday gift?
We assume "PA file" means "paranormal archives" (Beth is probably still trying to sort them out after they somehow got deleted). We also hope that Laika (Beth's dog whose name is not, unfortunately, her password to little-boxes) is not too sick. From here on, with each new update we will grow more and more attached to Miss McConnell... too attached, in some cases, imho *looks around for Monki* ah, well, he's probably dreaming... of Beth :P
The spooky image of the little girl on paintover is now changed to this picture, captioned "et tu?"
A whole lot of observations are made about the image: the quote is from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", spoken by Cassius ("et tu?" are Caesar's famous last words addressed to Brutus) with the word "carelessly" omitted; there is a layer of a file/search icon over an urchin background; there is a screaming face (creepy!!) to the right of the policeman's head; the policeman photo itself depicts a British cop (and British cops used to be nicknamed "Bobbies")... As imbri would say later "It surprised me... how you danced around that puzzle, so close on so many occasions, but just never quite there."
Last bit of news for the day: those who signed up for MetaVRX beta testing received this autoresponse:
|October 4, 2003
Dear Beta Test Applicant,
We're very excited that you have applied to help us test our new MetaGamex software, which includes some amazing titles for the new MetaVRX system. We have frankly been overwhelmed with the response, and are currently sorting through the many applications we have received. In spite of this, rest assured we are reviewing every application.
In the coming weeks, we will be selecting testers who meet our requirements, and will be contacting those people by email. In the meantime, check back to the MetaCortex website often, and while you're there, be sure to check out our desktop wallpaper and screensaver to give your computer that MetaCortex look.
The MetaCortex Beta Testing Team
Apparently, Beth is quite stirred about "seeing him" (and our best bet at this point is that "he" is heismissing) - she even goes off about that on her Biography page:
Biography: My Life
What is there to tell?
I’m a 20-something living in the Northwest and working in the tech industry. Rather typical, really. My life is simple and content, which is exactly how I like it.
I've learned that living a lie can be quite difficult. One lie leads to another and that to yet another. Before you know it, you are left choking in the very web you wove. That's how it was with us, the secret meetings, the cryptic phone calls, the emails that said volumes by saying nothing at all. We were choking ourselves, we were choking each other. One day we just let go. We went our own ways. It wasn't our choice but it was the only way. I just never heard from him again and it was done. As the emotion faded, the situation became clear. It was the only way and I see that now. Yet suddenly it's back. I wonder, am I the spider making the web or am I the bug trapped in it.
Kudos to imbri, the master of hidden meanings, even if unintentional. While the most obvious interpretation of "living a lie" is that Beth had an affair with someone, I find it fascinating that virtually everything Beth said can be taken in a completely different context. "Living a lie" - living an imaginary existence in the matrix? "Secret meetings" - a la the club scene in M1? A bug trapped in a web - a person trapped in the pink pod? Is it possible that Beth is beginning to realize that her life is a much more elaborate lie?
Despite the stress, or, perhaps, because of it, Beth continues her research:
Research : Current
Les Depeches de Brazzaville reports that a sudden and unexpected hailstorm decimated four hectares of cropland in the northern part of the country. Sources indicate that the usually clear skies darkened within two hours, and that after six hours the weather patterns were back to normal. No-one was killed in the storm, but an estimated $0.5M of damage was done. The Congo has no prior experience of hail, and such weather conditions would be especially unusual in August. However, meteorological prediction is not an exact science; we have to conclude that this is merely an unusual event, rather than a paranormal one.
It would be hard to miss the resemblance to the Biblical hailstorm here. In fact, there are other archives that echo some of the plagues: raining frogs, water turning to blood, the locusts; the abundance of biblical references in The Matrix itself makes that aspect of Beth's research all the more poignant.
On October 5th, about midnight EST, one of the most frustrating (well, for me anyway) puzzles of the entire Project MU came into sight. We already knew that Marcus Ormond was an in-game character - he was mentioned as the head of the Research & Development department of Metacortex, had a phone number complete with voicemail, and we were able to look him up in the Metacortex Redland personnel database.
That night, Diandra discovered that Mr. Ormond also had a Metadex account. Diandra's post was the first in a thread that would get 14241 views by visitors of unFiction and would spawn 15 pages of replies.
Marcus' Metadex biography page was at metadex.net/usr/mlo/bio/, indicating that his username for Metadex was MLO. The info stated on his bio was his birthday (04-22-1939) and his personal quote: "We can't allow science to undo its own good work". This is a quote from "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, and it wasn't the first time this book made an appearance in relation to Metacortechs.
Thus began the password-guessing... Because Phillip Gairden's passwords were derived from the quote on his bio page, most of the attention at first went out to the Huxley quote. It was soon known that the quote was from chapter 16 of "Brave New World", and was a line by the character of Mustapha Mond, World Controller. When that didn't immediately lead to a solution, the other part of the bio was scrutinized: MLO was the only known Metadex account owner with his date of birth listed. Surely, that must be the definite hint to the solution!
That too didn't turn up any quick solutions, so we figured it must have been something a little more sophisticated. For days, all sorts of research will go into subjects like books Huxley wrote in 1939, drugs (Huxley apparently was a fan of LSD, and the drug 'soma' plays a prominent role in "Brave New World"), Marcus' zodiac sign (Taurus, which was soon linked to the mysterious Metacortechs "Labyrinth" project, and associated with, to no avail, the Kretan Minotaur) and lots more. Judging from the uF forum thread, calls to Dave Regenhardt's voicemail were once again hugely increased in number.
In other news, the PMs (4), tired of watching us turn up new findings on the history of British police force, change the red thingie (sorry, there is just no other word for that... thingie) to an obvious "@" symbol, and highlight the letters "F", "P", and "T":
Numerous "omg, they're watching!" posts are made on various Matrix forums by spooked non-ARGers. And still it takes some time to put "aqua" and "police" together to arrive at ftp://theaquapolis.com. In their infinite kindness, the PMs... I mean, Caesar even change a standard 220 response to a "220 Remember, firstname.lastname@example.org -- caesar." And finally, Worker hacks in.
intermission by: yanka
Everyone in the #matrix (5) IRC channel was speculating about whether the domain (aquapolis.com) and username (cassius) we had gotten from the paintover picture were correct. Wix noticed that there was a slight delay before the "Login incorrect" message appeared when using the "cassius" username compared to other usernames. Not everyone else noticed it because they were using IE and other tools to try to log in, but when using the Windows command-line FTP client, it was clearly noticeable. Given that we now had 2 out of the 3 elements needed to log in, I started to just try any password I could come up with. I probably tried about 20 or so, including things like "bobbie", "search" and other image-inspired passwords before I tried "urchin". The rush that came from seeing "User cassius logged in" was amazing. What happened in the minutes after letting everyone in IRC know the password is kind of a blur, but I know that other people already found the first 'carelessly' files long before I was done grinning from ear to ear.
There were no open directories to explore; so thebizrock's find of the first "carelessly" file in the /urchin directory was quite a discovery. The next 4 files with rather common extensions - mp3, jpg, gif, doc - were found quickly after that.
And now I must bring up a rather controversial subject... uhh... a few, actually. What happened first was that somebody discovered a PM's login to the aquapolis' ftp server, which also worked at the metacortechs' ftp. I believe it was this discovery that started off the whole "who is the game made by?" debate. All the game sites were temporarily taken offline, and after they came back on, everything was moved off to web servers.
Shortly after, this conversation took place in #matrix. Caesar revealed the carelessly.graffle file, which suggested that there were more "carelessly" files with obscure extensions. However, there was no indication of what these extensions might be - just as there was no indication of .graffle, aside from Caesar's mention of it. That basically meant that the only way to find all the carelessly files would be to try... like, a lot of extensions; and given that there are tens of thousands of them, doing this manually was not feasible. So the next morning thebizrock wrote a script to retrieve all the carelessly.* files. The controversy here is, of course, that brute forcing is largely frowned upon, if not flat out forbidden in ARG... nonetheless, that's what happened - thebizrock found the rest of the files.
Lol, probably the single largest source of non-puzzles - the carelessly files (and let me take a moment here to give huge thanks on behalf of all the players to BriEnigma for his awesome site!). Everything seemed to be loaded with clues - the little boxes in .doc, and mountain Zion in .jpg, and the vortex in .bh... and the crossword puzzle... and, omg, BORSCH-POO!! I remember being at work that day - I spent the whole day simply glued to the monitor, cheering each new file, and every time I was bothered with having to do actual work stuff, I felt so disturbed... which is ironic, of course, given how disturbing most people would consider something like being obsessed with deciphering hacked files.
We had no idea as to what to do from here. We decided that /urchin/carelessly.* was sort of a cyber-meeting-spot for a group of hackers; a few of them indicated in more or less plain terms that they were responding to a roll call (for example, Statik's and Scratch's files, and even a slightly more cryptic "Texel is here" or Buzzkill's crossword solution). But what about others - like Omni, and Leak - and Random?.. the golden Random... his nonsense bordering on proverbial... we shall forever heart him. AND - what do we do with all of this now? Talk of "maybe we didn't find all the files" grows louder, but within a matter of hours of thebizrock's find of carelessly.ypt, the picture on paintover is updated... twice. And though the PMs have explicitly stated that the "congrats" image was a way for Caesar to congratulate his hacker buddies for joining him, I still believe that its true purpose was to remove all doubt as to whether there was anything left in "carelessly" and to relieve all the frustration associated with not knowing what to do next.