(A horror story about Bitcoin.)
A little help?
I’m a research assistant working at a science facility in China. We’ve got one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. We had to power it down a few months back to do some upgrades, and we’ve got a skeleton crew until it’s all done. Last night, my friend Chen and I were the only ones on the overnight shift. The majority of the hardware was up and running and we were supposed to be stress testing the nodes.
We had software we were required to run, but I had the bright idea to mine Bitcoins to test it instead. God knows those calculations can stress your hardware.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Chen on board with the idea. If we could make a little extra money on the side from our endeavor, it was that much better. Besides, we could run the regular software after.
Chen downloaded the blockchain, installed everything, and we started processing. Lo and behold, BTC fractions started rolling in. It was way faster than either of us had expected. After an hour, we’d made a couple hundred USD. This supercomputer is something else. Adiabatic quantum emulation, baby. Not quite full QC, but close enough where it matters. When the upgrades go public, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
All that said…I think we fucked something up.
We were well on our way to our first thousand USD when Chen noticed one of the temperature gauges on a series of node clusters had reached a critical level. Now, each node is set to shut down automatically if anything is running in a manner that might damage the hardware. When stress testing, it’s expected that temperatures will get high enough to cause warnings.
The weird thing was, the warning wasn’t because the temperature was too high. It was too low.
We both looked at the screen with a good deal of confusion. All the nodes were pegging near their maximum temperatures except a cluster in the very rear corner of the football-field-sized room.
“Are those nodes on?” I asked Chen.
He nodded. “Yeah, they’re doing just as much work as all the other ones. They should be hot.”
“Maybe the gauges are fucked?”
“Maybe. I’ll go take a look.”
Chen grabbed a walkie-talkie and started the long walk from the office to the far-end of the supercomputer room.
I watched the screen readouts with interest. The temperature in that area kept dropping. Another few degrees and the nodes would power down.
“It’s fuckin freezing in here,” Chen complained over the walkie-talkie.
“You worked in a datacenter for six years, retard,” I replied. “You know it’s supposed to be cold.”
“I know, dick. But this is different. Like I think something’s really wrong. There’s frost on the floor.”
I took another look at the readouts. Despite the supercomputer operating at 99.997% capacity, all the temperature gauges had started to drop. A flash of red showed up on screen. The first nodes to be affected by the cold had shut down.
“Keung, you need to come in here,” Chen said.
“Why, what’s up?”
“Just come see. And shut down the mining for a minute.” Chen paused. “And bring your jacket.”
I gazed lustfully at the BTC readout. $2443 already. I sighed and hit pause. I went to grab my jacket and decided against it. I wanted to call Chen a pussy for being cold.
After three steps into the supercomputer room, I realized Chen was not a pussy. Or that we both were pussies. Either way, it was fucking freezing in there.
“Holy shit!” Chen yelled.
I broke into a jog and met him on the far end of the cavernous room.
“What?” I asked. I shivered and balled my fists under my armpits.
Chen pointed. I followed his finger with my eyes and squinted to see better in the dimness. It took a second, but then I saw it. Hugging the wall around the corner from a server rack was…well…a hole.
“What the fuck?” I muttered. I took a step closer. The cold was borderline unbearable. It was definitely coming from the bizarre opening. Frigid wind washed over us and forced us to step back.
On the other side of the hole, there was gray, stony ground and pitch black sky dotted with stars.
“What did we just do?” Chen asked.
“Did we cause this to happen?” I replied. “Like what the fuck is going on?”
The hole was closing. I think Chen was about to respond, but before he could, some…thing… emerged from the hole.
We both shrieked and leapt back. Chen fell into the back of one of the racks and I heard a piece of equipment snap. I didn’t care about that. My eyes were trained on whatever had just come out.
It was dull red and shaped like, oh hell, I don’t know, a mix between a pineapple and a crocodile with eye stalks all over its back.
Chen and I, our breaths held, tried to back away to avoid its attention. The creature’s eye stalks waved around in the air, as if trying to figure out what had happened. Behind it, the hole closed.
I grabbed the back of Chen’s shirt and pulled him to his feet. The thing’s stalks fixated on us. We stopped moving. It took a few steps in our direction on its six, pointy legs. Then it leapt forward. Onto Chen.
Chen made a sound I’d only previously associated with cats fighting for their lives. He grasped the dog-sized thing and pushed it away. It crashed into a rack of machines.
I pulled Chen away and we ran as fast as we could back to the control room. Despite my terror-induced tunnel vision, I didn’t fail to notice another hole in supercomputer room. This time in the ceiling. And another one of those things was coming out of it.
Once we were out, we had no idea what to do. Chen wanted to call the head of the supercomputing project but I talked him out of it. That guy had connections to the Party and, technically, the whole project is a government-run operation. We’d be fucked beyond fucked.
I helped bandage Chen’s wounds. Every so often, we’d catch a glimpse of one of the creatures in the monitors overlooking the supercomputer room.
After a discussion, Chen and I left without telling anyone what we’d done. We didn’t go home because we knew people would be looking for us as soon as they discovered what had happened. We got in his car and drove for hours.
Now we’re sitting in an internet cafe. The scratches on his hands and arms aren’t closing up. They’re getting puffy and itchy. He just told me he thinks he felt something move under his skin.
Our phones wouldn’t stop ringing before I pulled out the SIMs and flushed them. Now we’re stuck here and we don’t know what to do. To say I’m concerned is a bit of an understatement. I’d really love some advice.