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An End To Hunger – page 4

by China Miéville

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by China Miéville

'I keep watching them, man,' he told me in one of his irregular phone calls. 'I swear they are so on my tail. I'm going to have to be really fucking careful. This could get very fucking nasty.'

'Stop talking rubbish,' I said, exasperated. 'You think you're in some cheap thriller? You're risking jail for hacking - and don't shout at me, because that's what they'll call it - but that's all.'

'Fuck you, bro!' he shouted, excitedly. 'Don't be so naive! You think this is a game? I told you... these fuckers aren't going to the police. Don't you fucking see, man? I've done the worst thing you can do... I've fucking impugned their philanthropy, man! I've fucking sneered at them while they do the Mother Theresa thing, and that they can't fucking stand!'

I was worried about him. He was totally infuriating, no longer even coming close to conversing, just taking some phrase of mine or other as a jumping off point to discuss some insane conspiracy.

He sent me bizarre, partial emails that made almost no sense at all. Some were just a sentence: 'They'll love this' or 'I'll show them what it really means.'

Some were longer, like cuts from the middle of works in progress, half-finished memos and snatches of programming. Some were garbled articles from various encyclopaedias, about international politics, about online democracy, about computerised supermarket stocktaking, about kwashiorkor and other kinds of malnutrition.

Slowly, with a stealthy amazement and fear, I started to tie these threads together. I realised that what looked like a patchwork of mad threats and ludicrous hyperbole was something more, something united by an extraordinary logic. Through these partial snippets, these hints and jokes and threats, I began to get a sense of what Aykan planned.

I denied it.

I tried desperately not to believe it, it was just too big. My horror was coloured with awe that he could even dream up such a plan, let alone believe he had the skills to make it work. It was utterly unbelievable. It was horrific. I knew he could do it.

I bombarded him with phone calls, which he never picked up. He had no voicemail, and I was left swearing and stalking from room to room, totally unable to reach him.

An End To Hunger had been ominously quiet for some time now. It had operated without interruption for at least three weeks. Aykan building up to his final plan. I was going crazy. There was a mad intensity to everything, it was like some frenetic nightmare, every
time I thought of Aykan and his plans and conspiracies. I was scared. Finally, at ten minutes to eleven on a Sunday evening, he called.

'Man,' he said.

'Aykan,' I said, and sighed once, then stammered to get my words out. 'Aykan, man, you can't do this,' I said. 'I don't care how fucking much you hate them, man, they're just a bunch of idiot liberals and
you cannot do that to them, it's just not worth it, don't be crazy...'

'Shut up, man!' he shouted. 'Just shut up, for fuck's sake! Listen to me!' He was whispering again, urgently.
He was, I suddenly realised, afraid.

'I don't have any fucking time, bro,' he said, urgently. 'You've got to get over here, you've got to help me.'

'What's going on, man?' I said.

'They're coming,' he whispered, and something in his voice made me cold.

'The fuckers tricked me,' he went on, 'they kept it looking like they were searching, but they were better than I thought, they clocked me ages ago, they were just biding time, and then... and then... They're on their way!' He hissed the last sentence, like a curse.

'Aykan,' I said slowly. 'Aykan, man, you've got to stop this crazy shit,' I said. 'Are the police coming...?'

He almost screamed with anger.

'Godfuckingdammit don't you listen to me? Any fucker can handle the police, but it's this charity wants my fucking head!' He was in a terrible state.

He had invited me to his house, I realised. For the first time in five years, he was ready to tell me where he lived. I tried to cut into his diatribe. 'I know shit about these bastards you wouldn't believe, man,' he was moaning. 'Like some fucking parasite... You got no curiosity what kind of fucker lives like that?'

I managed to break in.

'What can I do, man?' I said. 'You want me to come over?'

'Yeah, man, please, help me get my shit the fuck away,' he said.

He named an address about twenty minutes walk away. I swore at him.

'You been close all this time,' I said.

'Please just hurry,' he whispered, and broke the connection.

Aykan's house was one in a street of nondescript redbricks, and I was staring at it for several seconds before I saw that anything was wrong. The front window was broken, and fringes of curtain were waving like seaweed through the hole. I sprinted the last few feet, shouting. No one answered the bell. I pounded the door, and lights went on opposite and above me, but no one came to his door.

I peered in through the hole. I grabbed careful hold of the ragged glass frame and climbed into Aykan's house. I stood, my breath shallow, whispering his name again and again. The sound of my own voice was very thin. It frightened me, such a little sound in that silence.

It was a tiny flat, a weird mixture of mess and anal fastidiousness. The bed-sitting room was crowded with Ikea-type shelves wedged tight with carefully ordered magazines and software, all exactly lined up. In the corner was a collection of extraordinarily powerful computer hardware, a tight little local-area network, with printer and scanners and modems and monitors wedged into unlikely angles. The coffee table was revolting with ashtrays and unwashed cups. I was utterly alone.

I wandered quickly through all the rooms, again and again, back and forth, as if I might have missed him, standing in a corner. As if he might be waiting for me to find him. Apart from the shattered window, there was no sign of trouble. I waited and moped, but no one came.

After a few minutes I saw a green light winking langourously at me, and realised that his main computer was on sleep mode. I pressed return. The monitor lit up, and I saw that Aykan's email program was running.

His inbox was empty, except for one message, that had arrived earlier that evening. It was listed as from AETH. I felt a slow, cold surge of adrenaline. Slowly I reached out and clicked the message, opening it.

'We're so very disappointed that you don't consider our mission to improve the lot of the world's hungry to be a worthy one,' I read.

'We are motivated to try to help the poorest people on earth, at a cost of nothing to our users. We consider this to be a winning situation for all sides. Without us, after all, the poor and the hungry have no voice.

'It is a matter of great sadness to us that you do not share our vision, and that you have found it necessary to undermine our work. As you see, we have been able to trace you, through the sabotage to our website. We do not believe that this situation would be satisfactorily resolved through your country's courts.

'We think it only reasonable to inform you that we take your conduct very seriously. We have our mission to consider, and we can no longer allow you to endanger those lives for which we work so hard.

'We intend to discuss this matter with you. In person.

'Now.'

And that was all.

I waited in the cold, reading and rereading that message, looking around me in that quiet flat. Eventually I left. I debated taking the computer away, but it was too heavy, and anyway, it was really beyond me. I was never more than a day-to-day user. The kind of stuff Aykan had on there I'd never make head or tail of.

I called his mobile hundreds of times, but got only a dead signal. I have no idea where he went, or what happened. He could have broken that window himself. He could have written that email himself. He could have lost it completely and run off screaming into the night, with no one at all on his tail. I keep waiting, and hoping that maybe I'll hear from him.

He could be hunted, even now. Maybe he stays out of sight, keeps offline, uses pseudonyms, a thief in the night, letting dust blow over his online tracks. Or maybe he was caught. Maybe he was taken away, to discuss the politics of charity. Every week, some email or other recommends I visit An End To Hunger. The site is running well. Its problems seem to be over.

THE END

Page 3

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