FRIENDSTRANGERS — Episode 1
Philip Dirk runs a technology firm that dominates the world’s major networks called Global Friends Strategies. A dissident group named The Strangers gains popularity on GFS and brings Philip into the orbit of May White, a ruthless businesswoman. Then a member of The Strangers is killed and sparks an investigation exposing the rot of every technological advancement.
“Welcome to Global Friends Strategies yearly summit!” Philip Dirk, the chairman, shouted to the crowd with a big smile. Everyone sitting in the audience wasn’t as thrilled. For the next 12 hours they were going to witness uncolorful powerpoint presentations and terrible speakers. But Philip was still a bit excited because for the past five years, his firm had dominated Expression. No one had been able to compete with the grip he had on communication and information. Of course there online dissidents, like The Strangers, who attempted to work around his company’s searches and post information that generated millions of views before they were taken down. Expression was allowed, as long as the rules were followed.
“Our first speaker will be Jonathan Allen! He’ll be speaking about combating dissidents on our platforms and how to guide, implicitly, discussions on topics of politics, money, and religion! Remember, all friends must vote, vote, vote; spend, spend, spend; and pray, pray, pray!”
The whole crowd repeated his chant. “Vote, vote, vote. Spend, spend, spend. Pray, pray, pray!”
“We tell them what to want and when to want it! They want a guide. They’ve got the aptitude and will, but they don’t have the reputation and gumption. We’ll give them that in the style of culture. They’ll drown in it. All they’ll ever end up doing is regurgitating everything to their friends and closest lovers. My fellow compadres, we do this for the riches! For the riches!”
The whole crowd repeated his chant again, “For the riches!”
The whole crowd applauded him. They all wanted a piece of the action that he was giving them access too. Global Friends Strategies had built artificial relationship all across the globe, crossing borders and handing off access to millions of profiles and messages to the highest bidder.
Philip walked off the stage and grabbed his Dirk Smooth. A smoothie made up of 14% alcohol and 86% juice. He gulped it up. He was barely functioning. Every night he contemplated jumping off his 18th floor balcony. But he resisted everytime. It would have only made everyone believe that he hadn’t been capable of holding on to his wealth and prestige. No one was a friend. He knew this but his whole network thrived off this manufactured belief. Ever since he had left Acquaintances Corporation to start Global Friends Strategies, colleagues had second guessed his venture. Friends? They asked. Hadn’t he taken it a step too far? Then he started driving cool cars. Hosting large parties. Dining with powerful people. His colleagues were silenced. It paid to have ‘friends.’
Most people couldn’t believe that Philip Dirk, an above-average employee would be able to compete in the globalized world with a new venture that didn’t accomplish much except make the classifieds section of a newspaper look a bit cooler, searchable and be able to target specific readers.
“We are disrupting the visual catalogue business.” He told investors years ago.
There were so many others like him. All those fairs he had attended.
What do you guys do? “We put all the books you’ll never read into a database, and track your purchases.”
What do you guys do? “We put listings for places you might stay at with some trendy lettering and soft lighting.”
What do you guys? Oh sorry don’t castrate me! Jesus Christ, put the sickle away! I’ll rephrase. Okay? Thank God. Alright, what do you do? “We sell cosmetics to the world.”
The graphic designers hired to spruce up the online classifieds worked like slaves until they produced something that a jack-off CEO approved of after finishing up on his monk-like morning practice of posting articles to the company’s team chat, he uncovered from one of the many morning news emails he was subscribed too.
This was a wasteland and Philip had buried his hand like the rest of the world into the sands. Luckily, he had knocked his head against a water table and built a well.
As he slurped up the last few drops of his Dirk Smooth, he noticed a young woman had been watching him the entire time. Philip quickly smiled. Had she seen him not smiling? He hoped to God she hadn’t. Global Friends Strategies was a happy place!
Who was she?
He flashed her another smile and opened up his Uggie. He scrolled through the security cameras wired in the convention center. Global Friends Strategies had helped the Chinese with surveilling dissidents in Xinjiang. All the technology Dirk had been commissioned to make for others, he used for himself.
May White was her name. His heart jumped off the 18th floor balcony.
Philip walked to the men’s restroom, locked the door, found a stall, sat down on a toilet lid and began to cry. May’s name had been floating around the past couple years because she had made a few good bets and was known to tear apart competitors. Men and women walked away with their careers and lives in shambles after bumping into May.
“She sliced open my jugular and watched me bleed out.” One CEO said to a reporter.
Philip wiped away his tears. There was only one thing to do. Either bring her on to the board, or find something that ruined her reputation. The latter option was going to be terribly difficult. People like May did not make their presence known without having a secret hangar of artillery and soldiers prepared to wipe you off the face of Earth.
Did she know what he had done to make Global Friends Strategies make record profits for the past two years?
A knock at the door. It was too polite. It must be his secretary, John Moritz.
“Give me a minute John.”
John was a good secretary. Didn’t have any good ideas about anything, but did what Philip said. John was forgettable but greatly appreciated during the times that Philip was enduring.
Philip washed his face. Grabbed a few paper towels, dried his hands, and looked into the mirror for a brief minute. This was me.
Philip opened the door.
“People are starting to wonder where their best friend is.” May said.
Philip’s stomach did a backflip. May probably knew what he had done.
“There are other people to befriend while I’m using the john.” He said.
“Not many people are worth much time. I don’t stand outside of restrooms for nobodies.”
Time was money. She understood the plain fact that most people active on Global Friends Strategies networks weren’t millionaires. As they spent hours in college classes and then dead-end jobs that drained them of all their mental and physical worth up until they were 35 years old, and beginning to become permanently forgettable, Philip’s networks dried them up in the meantime.
“What do you want from me?”
“The Strangers are getting more attention and they are becoming more and more popular on GFS networks. A couple of them are starting to target me personally as well as my partners. I want you to help me find them all.”
GFS might have taken down articles written by The Strangers but Philip didn’t ever attempt to find them. He had a tiny code of ethics. Philip cherished a bit of anonymity in the world. A part of himself cheered The Strangers on. They were who made the early days of the Internet exciting. Everyone else could make themselves known on GFS networks. As for those that understood how to evade GFS censors, they enthralled his childhood self.
But times were changing. He could sense it. Everyone around him wanted action taken against The Strangers.
He was going to have to bring May on to the board.