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The Walkers

Chapter Text

Every Walker had their own reason to wear the mask. Most hid terrible scars behind them. Walker Gray did it for her brother.

At first she had no idea who the Walkers were. After the incident, someone had anonymously slipped a card inside her locker. Written upon it: the invitation "Walkers join. You are not alone," and a weblink. On the back was an insignia of a large W with a mountain over the center peak. Maybe it wasn't a mountain, but some sort of cross, arrow, chevron, or A.

She didn't think much of the card. Students frequently spammed every single locker with advertisements, links to shamings, and other unwanted junk. Before long the halls would be filled with rumors and card stock that didn't quite make it to the trash can.

Even with her astute hearing she often wished she could turn off, no word was whispered of the matter. That piqued her curiosity. Still having heard nothing from any other classmate by final period she was too curious to refrain. The note must have been given only to her.

While the teacher lectured on a subject she had studied at least three other times throughout her years of schooling, she hid her phone beneath the desk for some discreet research. The address indicated wasn't to a website; rather it was a direct link to a single page. That itself alluded to a secret as much as did the strange logo and mysterious wording. Before going to that page, therefore, it seemed best to try to gather some kind of information.

A web search revealed nothing about a group called "Walkers," just pictures of people exercising. She couldn't find any trace of the insignia either. Her curiosity increased with each passing minute. It may have been the first exclusive invitation she had ever received! Or it might be a prank virus. For the sake of device safety, it would be best to access the page on a desktop with a firewall and anti-malware software.

She went to the computer lab after class was over. A handful of teenagers spent the majority of their days in the dark lit room filled with a constant low hum. Particularly after school was over, they would gather to play world domination games online, or comparing specs of the newest technology.

One was a pale, lanky boy with flat hair and a face covered in acne who spent all his time on CG and altering pictures in Photoshop. Ten years into the future, he'd probably be a handsome, wealthy man, but for now others just saw him as a dork with weird hobbies. A female in glasses, straight cut hair, and clothes that went out of style five years ago might have been easily accepted by the other students if she wasn't so obviously poor. Instead, this computer lab was her only chance at a better future, and she immersed herself in it.
An Asian boy with a permanent joke hiding behind studious eyes built machines out of spared parts. A chunky teen who always wore memorabilia from different fandoms supported his single mom and baby sister with money he earned beta testing new apps. One other was so timid even those in this room only knew about him via his blog.

They didn't talk much to one another, at least not verbally. They would sit at different stations in the same room and text each other coded messages in a chat application. To outsiders, such behavior might seem bizarre, artificial, detached. Between them, it was far more comfortable than the reality of high school sociality. They neither welcomed nor rejected the newcomer in their midst, as she was by no means foreign in the environment. She was acknowledged silently and left to do what she wished.

Normally, she would be expected to join them in the chatroom, but that was far from her mind at the time. Choosing a computer she knew to have recently been updated with the best security by the student coder who upgraded all the school equipment without authorization, she opened a browser. So that the school couldn't later find out the places she visited, she used a proxy to conceal her path.

For some reason, she felt as if it wouldn't be okay even for these people to know what page she was about to view and looked around to make sure none of the other students were watching. They really had no interest in what she was doing.

The screen went black. At first, she was startled, thinking the computer had shut down, but the curser remained active, as well as the title and address bars. It wasn't a virus or an attack, just a blank page. That couldn't possibly be all there was to it.

She right-clicked on the frame to access the menu where she selected the option View Source Code. According to the code, the site contained no links to other pages under the same domain. It had no hidden keywords listed to optimize a higher placement in the results of a search. The site was uncrawlable. It could not be found by even the strongest automated search engines because it had no connections to trace. One could not stumble upon it by chance. It truly was by invitation only, an address to a single location, remote and isolated on the information superhighway.

But it was completely empty.

No one would go through all the trouble to keep something so perfectly secret unless what was hidden was valuable. She had to dig further. Upon closer examination, the code indicated the page contained a picture, a .png. That file format could have a transparent background, meaning if the image was drawn in black and the page was black, the two would effectively be indistinguishable.

Increasing the brightness and contrast of the monitor revealed a faint difference between pure black #000000 and one slightly duller, not even as far off as #333333. She traced the shape with her cursor, southeast, northeast, southeast, northeast: the W and its accompanying peak. She clicked on it.

While still by no means a hyperlink, the image was coded with an OnClick() action listener which called to a script and launched a dialog box that contained a chat.

[Welcome Walker. We are glad that you have joined us.] - Walker #611

Unsure of what she was getting into as the mystery developed, she found she neither knew what to respond nor if she even should. This stranger with the handle Walker #611 wasn't dismayed by the delay and continued with the greeting.

[Have you heard about us?] - Walker #611

The reply was hesitant. [Who are you?] - Unknown Walker

[We are everyone. We are you. We are all.] - Walker #611

[And all are nobody. Therefore, we are one.]  - Walker #611

The first message was bizarre and unsettling. The second didn't clarify at all. The safest course of action seemed to be to close the browser entirely and never return to the site at all. Somehow, she couldn't bring herself to exit just yet. Just one more chance.

[I don't understand.] - Unknown Walker

[We are Walkers. Others find unity in likeness, draw power from creating differences. We are nobody. We are united together as those who are not.] - Walker #611

Thankfully, another person entered the chat to lend this Walker #611 a hand in a far less enigmatic way.

[What #611 means is our philosophy is one of unbias. Afraid #611 thinks himself a poet. People judge with their eyes, what they see rather than what they know. Unbiased society, therefore, is achieved by knowing without seeing. Because if we are all the same, the only basis by which to judge a person is their actions. Hope that cleared things up a bit.] - Walker #1048

That did indeed clarify some of the confusion, but many questions remained to be answered.

[A world without prejudice? Why was I invited?] - Unknown Walker

[Another Walker has seen your suffering. You are not alone.] - Walker #611

Suffering. Prejudice. These were words that were not unfamiliar to the young woman. She had seen it all too clearly with her brother. Their message was beginning to sound appealing compared to the hopeless world in which she lived daily. She had always thought, apart from the bullies, she and her brother lived under the radar, unnoticed by anyone at all. Apparently, however, someone who was familiar enough with her to know of the incident was a member of this group -- a cult? a following? -- of nobodies who judged people only by their deeds. Was it a classmate? Someone from the very same school?

[What if I want to learn more?] - Unknown Walker

[We're walking in your area soon. Check it out for yourself.] - Walker #1048

[What do you mean? Is "walking" like a protest? What is the date?] - Unknown Walker

[You'll know when it's time.] - Walker #1048

The assurance was vague enough to raise doubts while certain enough that she thought #1048 must be the person from the school who invited her in the first place. They might even be in the same room with her at that moment. She looked around at the computer club as if she might be able to see the same chat room open on another monitor. With the absolute anonymity, she would never know if a Walker was around her or not. That seemed to be part of the idea.

Walker #611 sent a shortlink to a different URL along with an access code, with neither explanation nor context. She was intrigued enough by brief taste of their ideals that she went straight to that website without pause.

This page was similar but clearly more developed. The insignia was easily visible, a pixelated, glowing gray against the black. It had only one option: login. Not seeing the alternative Sign Up, she assumed she was to enter the access code 36c7A7da. That triggered the registration page. No other information was requested but a username and a password, which led her to believe the original URL had been designed for the vetting process. Anyone who reached this point was already welcome.

If the Walkers turned out to be some creepy cult, she could always unregister. Decided, she pondered over a selection of a username for some time, wanting to make sure she chose a handle that truly spoke to her nature. At last, she entered her choice: Grayscale.

She herself was neither white nor black, and, for that matter, neither was anything else in life. The title suited her physical characteristics as well as the cause ideally, and it spoke of a value near to her heart.
Her application was accepted, and the screen changed to display a landing page.

Welcome Walker
Connecting... ...

The dots progressed slowly across the screen while the full site loaded. Anticipation built within from the slow download speed; although, it surely took less than five seconds. Her mind was racing with questions.
The site contained a navigable map with the relative locations of hundreds of active Walkers currently logged in around the world. Upon closer inspection, the locations were not tracking live. They indicated a radius of a few squares miles around what each person has chosen as a sort of "home base." She was also prompted to select a region in order to be connected with local Walkers. Once she had, choosing the school rather than her home address for security purposes, a new pin appeared on the map, labeled Walker #2629.

Why had she been asked to choose a username if they would refer to her by number in any case?

In her city, at least five others were currently logged on. That didn't mean much with a population numbering in the millions and a diameter that measured in the double digits of miles at the most narrow point. However, Walker #1048 was in her immediate vicinity, with a radius so similar to her own that it was quite likely that person had also chosen the school as their base. She had been right in assuming #1048 was the person to invite her.

As for the rest of the site, it mostly consisted of forums, like an old fashioned bulletin board. People spoke of current events, ways to give back to the community, and inspirational quotes about diversity. Some encouraged one another to stick it out through difficult times. Above all, the thread she found most interesting was the walks.

Around the world this anonymous group of people organized manifestations against prejudice, in support of one another. A few were large gatherings. A link had been posted to a news article about a recent shooting that everyone knew about with a photo of a vigil held for the victims. Scattered in the crowd of a hundred people, half a dozen looked suspiciously alike in black hoods with masks covering from the nose down. Sometimes only a person or two acted alone in defense of universal tolerance.

No matter what the circumstances, two things were certain: the W insignia appeared somewhere on the scene, and the Walkers involved kept their faces hidden by the black, half masks.