In which a former CEO joins an encrypted gang.

Finally. It’s working. The screen’s showing a success page that indicates that I’ve connected to the test page properly and, most importantly, securely. Now I just need to get onto the real one.

I guess I’ll do one last check behind me to make sure nobody’s watching me. No. How could they? All the blinds are drawn. Even so… this isn’t worth losing my future over. Better to be paranoid than reckless.

The two addresses are written on a piece of paper, safely tucked away in my pocket. I pull it out again, although I’ve already memorised what’s on it. The government will be able to see that I’ve connected to something securely, but they shouldn’t be able to track me. Might be worth moving home in case this thing I’m connecting to turns out to be serious business.

Although I still don’t want to disrupt my normal life (or at least my return to a normal life) for this. I just want to keep protesting the encryption ban until the decision is revoked, really. I’m not interested in a secret underground cult. I just want everything back how it was.

I carefully type in the address. Should I clean my keyboard? Wear gloves? No, no. That’s crazy. Nobody would be able to work out what I typed.

It steadily loads (I thought I’d found a good internet provider, but I guess generic web traffic is slower on it than I thought. Or maybe encryption is just slow.), and… eventually… it works! A series of text appears on the screen. It’s shocking how unremarkable such a powerful thing is. The site is, essentially, a chatroom, but the interface is less impressive even than the old IRC. I guess the smaller the site is, the less chance someone’s going to notice the packets travelling to and from my home. I’ve got several data-intensive sites loaded up in the background, as instructed, to help hide it.

I enter my name as “ph”.

[Server] New user ‘ph’ has joined.

[fishmonger] Hello. I am a chatbot built in the year 1998. How can I assist you? Some functionality may not be available.

[webmaster] Drop the act, Fish. This is that Stephen we invited.

[fishmonger] Hello. I am a chatbot built in the year 1998. Please enter password.

[ph] Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

[webmaster] Welcome to the Encrypted State, Stephen.

[ph] So what is this? Are we hacking GCHQ? Blowing up the Houses of Parliament?

[webmaster] We wish to provide a raft amidst the chaos for people whose lives have been ruined by the government’s decision to ban encryption. The Encrypted State is a country without borders, operating outside of the jurisdiction of any physical government.

[ph] Okay, that makes a lot of sense. It sounds like you’ve really thought this through. Wait, no it doesn’t. What exactly do you do in here? Is this just for people to chat about how crap life is without encryption?

[spiderman] Don’t worry. Webb likes to use fancy words. Maybe that’ll be useful when we get bigger.

[fishmonger] Basically, we’re here to do achieve exactly what you wanted, Stephen. To bring back encryption and get our lives back.

[ph] Well, that sounds fun and useful. It’s a shame I already made a big show of shutting down my company, but it’s good to know there’s support.

I might be looking into non-technological business ventures, but honestly, I do just want my old company and old life back. Its sudden collapse has thrown all my plans off, even the backup ones.

[webmaster] Actually, that move has been crucial for all of us. We wanted you here to thank you. The average citizen is still brainwashed against encryption, but you have managed to make many other businesses interested in our cause.

[ph] I did kinda hope it would spark something. Good to see it did.

[ph] So how many of you are there? I’m trying to figure out a list command, but not even /help works. How barebones is this?

[webmaster] I am afraid I cannot tell you that. We must remain secret lest this space is discovered.

[spiderman] Ah, of course, that’s why we use our REAL NAMES.

[ph] So there are so few people here that you’re embarrassed to admit it. Probably just this four.

Nothing but silence for a while. I wonder if they’ve decided I might not be a good fit after all. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the connection?

[webmaster] Are you going to join the Encrypted State, Stephen?

[spiderman] Don’t worry, a comedic internet-themed username isn’t necessary. Just ask Fish.

[webmaster] You can, of course, drop out at any point. You may even be forced to if there are concerns that you are no longer secure.

[ph] I’d like to say I’ve got nothing left to lose, or something like “Screw it, I’m in.” But this is actually an important decision, and I do have a lot to lose. I don’t have enough power that me going to prison would stir anyone to fight the change.

[ph] So I’m conflicted. One part of me just wants to move on, avoid risks, and start a grocery chain or something. But the other part knows that this isn’t just, and I have an opportunity here to achieve what I actually want to achieve.

[spiderman] So you’re in, right? Or do you have more to say?

[fishmonger] I hate to say it, Steve, but we DO hear basically this exact thing with every new member.

[ph] Sure. Whatever. Screw it, I’m in.

[spiderman] Yeah! That’s the spirit!

[ph] I’m currently reloading Netflix every five seconds in the background to make sure that nobody notices this chat. I don’t think rash decisions is “the spirit”.

[webmaster] Welcome to the Encrypted State, Stephen. I can assure you that this is certainly not your everyday criminal gang.

[ph] Let’s hope it’s worthwhile.

[webmaster] And remember: the Encrypted State never meets in real life. That’s a rule.

[fishmonger] Big part of his policy, for some reason. He’s all in on the whole virtual country thing.

[ph] I see. Well, I gtg now.

It’s getting late, so I think it’s time to log off, eat dinner, and go to bed. Hopefully I won’t wake up in prison.