A Puzzle Piece is written by Mariah Avix.
You can learn more at 600 Second Saga.
Music is provided by MADS.
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A Puzzle Piece
I yawned and flicked away another set of screens. I refreshed the page for the thousandth time tonight. If I was right, and I knew I was, then the next puzzle would be dropping soon. There was a faction of people who were sure it would be next week at like 2:15 am, but they were wrong.
But the clock was ticking. I drummed my fingers on the desk. Refresh.
The last puzzle had been a video. Most people dismissed it as just some testing or some idiot who didn’t understand how to work basic file uploads. But some of us knew the truth, when you stripped out the noise and adjusted the speed and added in a few filters it was all perfectly clear. I’d given away the answer to other pieces, but I was going to hold onto this one.
Refresh. A file! I downloaded it. It was just a text file. I was expecting something…more interesting. I sighed and checked to see if anyone else had figured it out and started on it yet. The file was huge. Text shouldn’t take more than a moment to download.
I flipped back to my browser. The file was gone. I still had it, the download had gone through. But it didn’t exist on the page anymore, the link was gone, everything was gone, it was just like it had been minutes ago. A white page with a single string of numbers and letters and in the bottom corner a tiny little video of supposed static.
I opened the file. It was garbage. I wasn’t actually surprised that it was garbage. They all started out this way. The trick was figuring out what it really meant. I made a copy. I made another copy. I saved it to a physical drive. I stuck the physical drive in my safe.
I checked forums to see if anyone had commented on it, everyone else would have posted if they’d seen it. They were silent.
This file was mine.
I pulled the blanket up over my eyes. It was too bright out. Then I remembered the file. I hadn’t gotten anywhere last night. Or this morning. It was 6 a.m. when I finally went to bed. It couldn’t be that much later now, but I was going to crack the code.
I climbed out of bed, stumbled to the kitchen, and smashed the button on the coffee pot.
Last night I tried all of the easy decoding tricks, I knew none of them would work. The only thing that I found, was one simple note at the top of the file.
Share this and the key will be destroyed.
I was going to be the only one to figure this out, and I was pretty sure I had until next week Tuesday at 2:15 a.m.
I sat down at the computer and drummed my fingers on the desk, waiting for the coffee–and inspiration.
I stared at the cursor, blinking at me like a monster. “You are a demon from hell sent to rend my soul from my body.” I smacked the tiny box on the screen with my finger.
Share this and the key will be destroyed.
No. This had to be solvable. And I was going to be the one to solve it.
I started to type, I tried number sequences.
Primes, cubes, the Fibonacci sequence. They were all too easy.
There had to be a secondary key. Maybe it was somewhere physical. So far all of the information had been completely US centered in a way that was a little odd, like the rest of the world didn’t exist. I started running some location decoding scripts.
I stood in the middle of the park. It was four am and I’d been looking for the key for hours. A six hour bus ride got me here just at dusk and I had been alone in the park all night.
I scoured all the satellite photos I could get my hands on. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I didn’t find anything that looked like a key. Since the park wasn’t that far I thought I’d just show up and look around. I maybe should have thought it out better.
I waved the light from my phone around hoping to see something out of place. I didn’t know how much time I had or what I was looking for. So far I’d collected almost two dollars in change, but no pattern I could figure out.
A glint caught my eye and I headed toward it, maybe I’d get enough in change for the bus fare home. I crouched down.
A marble this time. I took a photo, in case the location or position was important, and then picked it up. It was strangely heavy had a thread of coppery orange running through it. I spun it in my hand and it looked like 7. A number. A clue. My heart raced.
Two hours, seven dollars, and sixteen marbles later the sun started to come up. I headed back to catch the first morning bus.
0, 7, 9. The same numbers over and over. I had all 3 numbers in red, orange, green, and a dark blue. I had a yellow 9, a purple 7 and 9. I let the marbles roll around on my desk, trapped by a couple phones, a pen, dinner and my keyboard. I had tried running them as keys in every order I could think of. I was pretty sure it was just those three numbers, but there had to be another piece to the key.
I lined them up in order, all the 0s, all the 7s, all the 9s. I didn’t think this was all the marbles in the park. Someone else would find a purple 0 at some point. I paused and looked for images of marbles found in the park. They rolled around again.
The rainbow. I lined them up in order of the rainbow and grinned. This would be the final piece. It fit all the requirements of a good key.
I rolled the marbles aside and started in on running through the possibilities.
I had the file decoded. I was pretty sure I had decoded the file. But I still wasn’t entirely sure what I had, even less sure what to do with it. It looked like bank account information. All the rest of the puzzles had led to the next clue. This couldn’t be the final clue. Could it?
Why would someone go through this much trouble for this? I put my head on the desk and growled. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting to find at the end of the chain of clues but it wasn’t this. This didn’t seem like the end.
It was 2:15 am and I hit refresh on the page. Looking for something, anything. Feeling entirely dejected. What was the end goal? What was the final step? It had just been a game, a puzzle, a really hard interesting puzzle. Some people said there would be an encryption job, I’d take that job; some thought it was a government conspiracy, to do what I wasn’t sure; I had never really considered the end of it myself, I was so focused on the puzzle.
Hundreds of bank accounts were wide open. Maybe it was a trap, trying to get someone to steal, but wouldn’t they want to get more people if they were trying some kind of entrapment sting?
A new file. I downloaded it to start again.
Maybe it was just a puzzle, I kept playing and locked the other file away.