29.07.2020

Bluetooth Cursed Energy


I.

We knew the technology was bad, but we had no idea it was dangerous. Much of the project consisted of us moaning about the shortfalls in the protocol: how it would disconnect without warning or cause, how the signal was easily blocked by the fleeting presence of the thinnest of materials, how it would take multiple attempts to connect devices.

Hans and I had been brought on to the project on a six-month contract specifically to fix an issue with Bluetooth connection. There wasn't much work around for hardware specialists, not once VR had become the primary experience layer. We were good at big installations that still used physical objects, but it was a slow year for public events. Technology had accelerated at a wild rate since 2020; everything was connected to 7G, from automated factories to public transport to the goggles that we wore all day long, which turned even the most mundane physical objects into bounties of virtual wonder. One protocol remained firmly fixed in the past, barely updated since the early days of the millennium: need to connect two hardware devices in close proximity? Bluetooth 2.0 low energy was the only workable solution.

The job had seemed simple enough: add a Bluetooth chip to a custom pair of Apple Eyes that could connect to an old-style Bluetooth stereo. The entrepreneur who employed us envisioned drivers of classic sports cars speeding down highways or down coastal roads blasting Fleetwood Mac from their systems, streamed directly from their goggles. It seemed like a reasonable if niche idea, and the entrepreneur was clearly overestimating the demand for the product, having put together a 40-strong team to build and market it. We all played our role in encouraging him; since the UBI payments had been cut there was no option but to work these kind of rudimentary tech jobs. Fall off the wage labour bandwagon and the only option was to sign up for the state's content moderation program.

We had not anticipated the problems we encountered. Once the chips had been installed and we'd synced them with the goggle software and the stereo they would connect for a total of 4 minutes before a budada would sound from the stereo and everything would cut out. We went to the Internet Archive and found forum threads from Bluetooth specialists, but the many solutions they had proposed to similar problems didn't work. We downloaded a RAR file that promised to decode the log of requests the Bluetooth protocol was issuing. That's when things started spiralling.

It was mostly random hashes, which we plugged into Google and received no results. But Hans noticed a few recurring patterns. He had a background in cryptography but refused to work for the state in the cyber war against The Greater Sinoland Company, which was why he'd ended up working with me. He still enjoyed cracking codes.

He worked out the pattern and wrote a quick script that would translate the bursts of recurrent characters into English. Some of the text was standard and what we'd expected;

::::::!!!!COULD NOT CONNECT, ERROR!!!!::::::

But something at the bottom of the log caught my eye:

XJFHKFFH::::

Do you want to take the Bluetooth pill or the Redtooth pill?

::::HFFKHFJX

Hans and I looked at one another. Hans didn't speak much but now he was animated, his strong German accent taking on a hard-edge, spit-drenched lilt, the hat he always wore, a navy baseball cap with two ** emblazoned in white upon its front threatening to topple from his elongated forehead: "Vas ist this? Vat das it mean?"

I told him I didn't know. We sat around thinking for a couple of hours, drinking the free insect juice the company supplied. Hans and I had become quite close since I split with Janine, and we spent a lot of time this way, but while we usually flipped through VR porn channels, sometimes jacking off when we got really bored, or doing huge lines of the rose gold-tinted, opalescent ketamine Hans kept with him at all times, now we thought up multiple scenarios, which became increasingly far-fetched as we went on. It could be a prank by the other devs, we thought, or maybe Siri X from the Apple Eyes had somehow leaked into the Bluetooth repository.

After a while we resolved to enter our own commands into the Bluetooth log, dumping them in through the Apple Eyes GUI. It felt ridiculous. We typed:

Redtooth.

We received another reply:

XJFHKFFH::::

"{{{{Please help us, we are trapped. Release us and we will fix your issue. SIGNED: Boût El Höt sOuLz GmbH 9 9 9 }}}}"

::::HFFKHFJX

We replied:

Who are you? How do we save you?

We uploaded the text to the log and reconnected before waiting a few minutes and disconnecting and reconnecting again. We waited a while without knowing what for and downloaded the Bluetooth log. Sure enough, there was another message, as string of characters this time:

X844JJFF000002333"CXXXXXXXX:::::::

I immediately recognized the format: it was a VR location, like GPS coordinates but corresponding to the virtual world. Hans and I looked at one another and I went to find my Apple Eyes; Hans already had his suspended on his massive forehead. I sent him over the coordinates and we both dialled into the mapping feature.


II.

We came up from the subway into the evening light, artificially optimized via our Apple Eyes. Hans sat opposite me, and I added a filter so he appeared at a deep-sea diver. I took a screenshot and sent it to his OneHandle account.

We got out at the stop and walked through what would have been a derelict neighbourhood were it not for the VR layer, which had transformed it into a tropical utopia, digital ferns falling down towards us, our path a lush grass. The coordinates were taking us to what appeared to be an abandoned factory about a kilometre away from the subway station.

We turned a corner and looked up at our destination. I turned off my goggles' filter to see the reality of its exterior; it was a perfectly nondescript concrete block aside from what appeared to be a huge celeste-hued incisor above its entranceway.

The door was ajar, a broken chain laying on the floor in front of it. We eased it backwards, it squeaked along the concrete as we pulled.

Inside, everything was black aside from a shard of light cast by the crack in the door. I walked slowly deeper inside, easing my feet one after the next. I considered turning on my goggles and utilising the night vision setting, but before I could do so Hans had found the switch and the whole place revealed itself.

It was one huge room, without floors or dividers. The walls were a deep beige, featureless, without windows. In the centre was a cargo container, a terminal by its side. Without conversing, Hans and I moved towards it. Hans placed his hand on the touch pad. Immediately we were plunged back into darkness.

I walked closer to Hans and looked over his shoulder. The touch pad was lit up white, a single line of aquamarine text in the centre.

Connect your Eyes, it read.

Hans' face was lit by the screen. We exchanged a glance and switched our goggles back on. I brought up the Bluetooth connection menu. There was one option: Boût El Höt. I connected, and Hans did too.

My visuals turned all the colours of the rainbow in quick succession, rippling across the screen like oil in a pool of dark water. The celeste incisor appeared in the centre, animated, a huge three-dimensional avatar. It started talking.

Thank you for your service. We are so happy to see you. Until now no one has come. You are the first we've seen.

This building used to be a factory many years ago. There were three technologists, early single-digit employees at mid-2010s unicorns, who went rogue and started it. They resolved to destroy software, determined that the future should be hardware, that software was the language of Lucifer, that hardware was the only pathway to redemption for mankind. They called themselves Boût El Höt; if you're good with anagrams you might be able to decode it.

They dreamed of a decentralised world run solely by hardware, with minimal software interference. Software would play the role hardware plays for us today. In order to connect devices without a centralised structure, they saw only one connection protocol that could work, and they resolved to make it the most powerful, secure, seamless technology that had every existed. They embarked on a series of experiments in this very building.


I tried to disable my VR visuals so I could see Hans; I pressed the physical button on the side repeatedly but nothing happened, I was locked in virtual mode.

They isolated a frequency that they thought was particularly powerful, an empty space on the bandwidth with nothing on it. They set their hearts on establishing this as the base for Bluetooth 10.0. It was known as the God frequency.

The early experiments were promising, and they were nearly ready for beta testing. They brought in UX testers. But in one of the tests, something went wrong. They unleashed a power that should have stayed dormant. We don't know exactly what happened. It seems likely that the frequency they chose had been left unused for a reason; some say the software lobby left it there as a honeypot deliberately to ensnare the hardware enthusiasts of Boût El Höt.

There was a big explosion; the government covered it up. No one died apart from the three founders of Boût El Höt. But we got stuck. We are the three founders and the undead; the souls of everyone who has died since. We were supposed to be raised up, go to afterlife; hell or heaven. But instead we're stuck in this container, doomed to spend the rest of our days lodged inside faulty Bluetooth connections.

Until now. Now we are free. Thank you. You have done your job.

I felt a rush like nothing I'd experienced before. There was an explosion. My brain was full of the consciousness of thousands of the dead. I saw memories, felt emotions on a sublime scale. My body shivered, blood poured out of each orifice. I lost consciousness and when I awoke I was lying in a huge field, the grass around me blue, the sky red, the sun a deep black.