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An End To Hunger – page 2

By China Miéville

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by China Miéville

I still own it, Aykan's guerrilla software, his illicit work of art. I still play it. Two years on I'm still discovering new levels, new layers. Later, before he disappeared, Aykan translated the scrawled
title for me: We Deserve Better Than This.

Aykan's occasional emails to me often included web addresses for me to look up. I say Aykan's emails, although no name ever appeared in the 'Sender' column, and they were never signed. Whenever I tried to reply to them, they would register as coming from a nonsense address, and the messages would bounce back to me. But Aykan never denied the emails were his, and sometimes even asked me if I'd received certain messages. He irritably dismissed questions about how or why he sent them anonymously. If I wanted to contact him, I had to do it by phone.

This was a time when mass-circulation emails were getting out of hand. Every day I'd get one or two urls to look up. Sometimes they were pornographic, with a message like 'Did you know that was possible???!!!' from some sad lad or other I vaguely knew. More often they were links to some weird news story or other. Usually they looked too dull to chase up.

Aykan's, though, I always checked. They were pretty extraordinary. Essays, art pieces, things like that.

Sometimes he provided a password to get into hidden pages online, and when I visited them they were incomprehensible internal reports that looked very much like governments talking to governments, or rebel groups talking to rebels. I couldn't tell if they were hoaxes, but if not, I was rather alarmed.

'What's all this shit you keep sending me?' I demanded.
'Interesting, huh?' he sniggered, and put the phone down.

It wasn't just websites he sent me. Sometimes he directed me to one or another of his online projects. That was how I realised that Aykan was a virtuoso of programming. He was something extraordinary. Once, on one of our infrequent rendezvous, I called him a hacker. He burst out laughing, then got very angry with me.

'Fucking hacker?' He laughed again. 'Fucking hacker? Listen bro, you're not talking to some sebum-faced little 16-year old geekboy with wankstained pants who calls himself Dev-L.' He swore furiously. 'I'm not a fucking hacker, man, I'm a fucking artist, I'm a
hardworking wage-slave, I'm a concerned motherfucking citizen, whatever you want, but I'm not a fucking hacker.'

I didn't care what he wanted to call himself. Whatever he thought he was, he left me awestruck - disbelieving, really, utterly bewildered - with what he could do.

'What search engine do you use?' he wrote to me once. 'How often does your name come up? Try it now and then again tomorrow morning.'

According to searchsites.com I appeared on seven websites, all of them work-related rubbish. When I typed in my name again the next day, I was nowhere. I looked up my company's website and there I was, halfway down the page. But when I ran my name through searchsites or runbot or megawhere, I had no luck. I had become invisible.

'What did you do, you fuck?' I yelled down the phone. I was excited, though, feigning anger badly.

'How's that, huh? I ran you through my hide engine.' I could hear him smoking. 'Don't worry, man,' he said. 'I'll take you out of it. But it's good, huh? Tomorrow I think I'm gonna run Jack fucking Straw
through it, or maybe every fucking sex-related word I can think of.'

He put the phone down.

If he did run those words through his engine, it had stopped working. I checked the next day. But maybe he just hadn't bothered.

I spoke to Aykan several times, but a couple of months went by without me seeing him.

One morning I found another of his unmarked emails in my inbox. 'HAVE YOU SEEN THIS FUCKPIG SCUMSUCKING PIECE OF SHIT?'

I had. It was the homepage of an organisation called An End To Hunger. I had been sent it at least twice already, as a recipient on mass emailings.

The site contained low-key, muted and simple graphics, with a selection of harrowing statistics about world hunger. There were links to the UN Food Programme, Oxfam, and so on. But what made it such a popular site was its push-button charity donation.

Once per day, anyone visiting the site could click a little toggle, and in the words of the website, 'feed the hungry'. Alongside the button was a list of sponsors - all very dignified, no logos or bells
or whistles, just the name of the company and a link to its homepage.

Each sponsor would donate half a cent per click, which was roughly equivalent to half a cup of rice, or maize or whatever. It all made me feel a bit uneasy, like corporate charity usually did. When I'd first visited the site I'd pressed the button. It had seemed churlish not to. But I hadn't visited it since, and I was getting irritated with people recommending it to me.

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