The first time I quantum leapt was on accident.
I was in Europe.
I was 33, and had been sent there by the NSA to interview and vet an upstart hacking group who called themselves ßtwiddlers pronounced like shetwiddlers.
I’d had a long history in avoiding drugs prior to this point….Which is what made me the #1 selection for this particular trip. They knew I’d have the willpower to resist the temptation while I was there.
My history with drugs was limited – When I was 14 I tried marijuana, and while I was never into sports I found enjoyment with lifting and by the time I was 16 I’d shaved my head and got into the health kick – eliminating weed – and the friends it brought with it – from my diet altogether.
From there. I’d go to parties where my friends would disappear into the back room.
I knew they were doing lines back there.
But I’d have nothing to do with it.
I abhorred the stuff.
Things that messed with my mind.
Just didn’t enjoy it. With one exception: alcohol.
Now if you’ve never been to Amsterdam, even if you don’t do drugs it’s an absolute treat from the moment you arrive.
Amsterdam has a system of canals built throughout the city that provide an alternative transportation to driving and the rail system.
Yes, it really is that gorgeous there.
Despite all the transportation options, a great deal of citizens choose to ride bikes to get around. You could say the canals present a navigational challenge during rush hours to get around in the city, providing another reason for the popularity in bikes.
Here’s a picture of a ‘bike rack’ at a major rail station.
Yes there really are that many bikes there!
Now in any case. I’d been put up at a nice hotels while I was there, so when the meeting was arranged for me and the hackers at “The Flying Pig” hostel, a place infamous for it’s condoning of drugs on premises, I knew my patience was going to be tested.
But I had a job to do.
Being sincere. The pair – a male and female hacking team in their mid 30s – were unremarkable. They’d been caught hacking into a secure US Army honeypot server based out of Fort Benning, Georgia.
The US had put pressure on them through the UN, as they quickly agreed to discuss how they breached the server in exchange for the US not prosecuting them.
So when I met this rather unkempt pair – Josette and Tom Von Stiphout – I knew their relationsbip was on the fritz right away as she lit up a marijuana cigarette and Tom switched seats to the other side of me as we sat at their computer they’d dragged in.
Now the two were very intelligent, I will give them that – but there was something – odd about what they’d done.
You see – they’d geographically traced the computer they’d hacked to Fort Huachuca Arizona, a well known US military outpost which was infamous for military intelligence gathering through eavesdropping.
Josette showed me sketchy evidence she’d found on a hacking forum which suggested that the US military was actively listening in on NATO allies, which she thought (wrongly, I might add) would have been a clear breach of the Geneva Convention. So while she pursued this evidence with her government, with nothing but rhetoric as support – she felt compelled to leverage her soon to be estranged husband’s skills with her own meager skills to go to the source and find the evidence herself.
Now what’s lesser known in the hacking community is IPs – internet addresses – were initially handed out geographically. This made it easier for the ‘policing agencies’ to trace down hackers, and also made it easier for everyone involved in the maintenance and support – whether it was billing, customer support, or problem resolution.
And Tom was familiar with something called ARPANET, the precursor to the modern day internet, which the military workforces had transitioned over from – and as they did so – the US Military obtained regionally based IPs. From this, he narrowed down his search to Arizona which left a handful of targets to which he then found his target.
He thought it was a sure thing when he found a server that claimed to be Fort Huachuca when it was actually something the NSA had assembled on behalf of the US Military to ‘catch’ hackers and placed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where most of the US Military cyber security operations occur to this day.
Now I didn’t inform him of his mistake. So as he outlined how he found the server, that much was obvious.
But what struck me next blew my mind.
He’d found a parallel server – something that was leveraging the same address – based out of China.
I later learned the tip off about these two’s hacking originated from him, and his concerns over cyber-warfare in an east meets west showdown were well founded by this find.
I’ll be the first to admit a chill ran up my spine that night as I walked back to my hostel.
And between that, and the second hand marijuana smoke, my head was reeling. This wasn’t something I could discuss over international communication channels, and I had 3 more days remaining in Europe, one day in Amsterdam then a flight back to Munich – before I could return to discuss my findings.
To say I was concerned would be an understatement.
So that evening. I went to the hostel across the street where the beer was cheap.
I wanted to get laid.
And thought I will get drunk – then head over to the red light district and have some fun.
But as I sat there watching Westworld on the television.
The implications of warfare happening with China clouded my mind.
My heart was palpitating. Yul Brynner’s face melted on the screen as I imagined the climate intensifying quickly when the United States had discovered it’s international communications had all been compromised.
“Made In China” on every router.
On every phone.
And here China is.
Setting up servers to mirror the United States’ s military operations.
So if you were serving abroad. What was China doing with the communications?
I couldn’t breathe and ran outside. The visions of nuclear warfare became eerily real.
I was hyperventilating – and as I ran outside – I felt calmer – until I saw the asphalt on the street, which looked like an ocean wave was passing over it.
I’d questioned if someone had put something into my drink as my world unwound around me.
I’d never known fear quite like that.
And the hopeless helplessness that it meant.
A car drove by. The asphalt behind it being pulled up like the wake of a boat.
I looked up. The buildings all looked like they were bending in towards me.
Even light bent in an unnatural way.
About then. The door opened behind me.
Something said to me “Calm down. Things are going to be ok,” as a lightness of being washed over me.
Marco said “Dude, you ok, I’m worried about you.”
Marco? Who the fuck is he?
New memories washed over me. I was now here on vacation. That old me who’d traveled to Europe for the NSA was now here on vacation. That old me who hated drugs was now here experimenting with them.
And that old me would be forgotten until I told this story and reminded myself of how it was then that reality split.
Marco, on this timeline, was a friend I’d met on the train from Munich, Germany to Prague, Czech Republic as I first started this Europe trip.
And this was the first time I leapt across dimensions.
You see the nuclear war had already started in my mind. And the world unraveling around me was nothing more than a story that needed something else to explain what happens when you begin to peer across dimensions.
Something temporary, mind you, called a hallucination, until I could understand it was a manifestation of my desire to explore when it would start becoming permanent.
Josette and Tom, in this reality, owned Mach 2 Systems, a company I worked for in 1993.
Both are from the Netherlands.
Thank you, Tom and Josette, for being you.