This will probably get annoying for both of us, but I have to change a few names in this post. Basically, I signed a non-disclosure agreement with a certain corporation, and I'm not even supposed to be sharing what I'm about to say. Changing the names will at least give me some little shred of legal safety.
In fact... for legal purposes, I'll go ahead and say this story is completely fictional, and any relation to real-world events is a total coincidence. Plus, let's be honest. Any attempts at tracking my account will not work, but you're welcome to try.
So... There's this company called "Zillion", that I'm sure you've all heard of. They're probably one of the most well-known corporations in the world, and everyone with an internet connection has definitely used their search engine at least once.
Zillion started out with a simple motto. "Never be bad". The idea was that they were a different sort of company, one that actually cared about the users, their happiness, and above all else, their privacy.
That last concern went out the window pretty quickly. Now it's all about serving targeted advertisements and collecting data. In fact, I've heard that Zillion itself has more information on citizens than any world Government.
All of this is why I was highly skeptical about their intent when they launched the "Donational" project. They claimed it was the next step in crowd funding and charitable giving, but I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking there had to be some major catches.
The premise was simple enough. Two randomly selected applicants to the program, one male, one female, would be given the new "Zillion Specs" internet-connected glasses to wear during every waking moment. A group of 100 other applicants would then be able to watch a live stream of these two subjects at any time they chose, using a very secure browser-based control panel through Zillion's subsidiary video platform, "ViewPipe".
In other words, you could see through the eyes of these two subjects at pretty much any time of day. The only time the glasses were allowed to be disconnected from streaming, by contract, was between 8 PM and 6 AM Pacific Standard Time. That was to allow for sleep, showers, etc. Exceptions could be made for bathroom breaks, but Zillion seemed oddly specific about their duration in the original application process.
Now, on to the crowd funding aspect. The 100 viewers were given randomly assigned names combining an adjective and an animal name. For example, users would be known as RedShark, PurpleFlea, etc. These users also each received a healthy daily allowance of "Z Points", which they could send to the two streamers at any point they chose. Points would roll over from day to day, and if the project had officially launched, these points would've been purchased with real world currency.
If you're lost by now, I guess I would sum up the whole thing like this: Viewers watch the streamers in their day to day lives, and give their Z Points to a streamer when they want to support them.
In practice, I suppose the final service would've allowed viewers to enter the Donational website, select what kind of person or project they wanted to support, and then monitor the work and deeds of whoever represented the cause and wore the Zillion Specs.
Streamers would then be able to withdraw the Z Points in the form of real money... with Zillion taking their cut, of course.
Right away, BlueMule was a problem. I saw him in one of the stream chats on the very first day, when the streams began. I had started off watching the male subject, dubbed "Keith", though I'm sure it wasn't his real name.
BlueMule was an obvious troll. There were strict moderators in place to keep chat from getting unruly, but I could tell he was testing the limits. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it in order to avoid actually triggering punishment. He'd twist the arm just enough before it broke.
At one point, BlueMule asked if Keith was gay after the streamer had randomly looked at a passing man's body on the street. When people asked why he would say that, he explained that he was just wondering if Zillion was representing alternate lifestyles properly.
I don't think anyone believed that, but there was no real way to prove his concern wasn't legitimate.
BlueMule is actually the reason I switched from watching Keith's stream to watching Kelly's. The moderator presence was kind of having a chilling effect on the flow of the chat, and I didn't enjoy the extra surveillance he was forcing on us.
Kelly was an interesting choice for the program. Whereas Keith was the standard blonde "surfer dude" who was hoping to get funding for a new board and gear, Kelly was looking for help with her terminally ill mother, and possibly opening a dress shop if that funding goal was met.
She seemed sad. All the time. It wasn't something incredibly obvious, but when we watched through her eyes and heard her speak, there was always a little bit of a dark cloud in her voice. She enjoyed an ice cream cone, strawberry cheesecake, I think, but went on to say it reminded her of when her mom took her out for ice cream. She saw a stray cat and stopped to pet it, then asked if it used to have a warm bed before it was thrown out.
Everything had that sort of depressing tinge to it, which I guess is why she wasn't getting anywhere near the same Z Points that Keith was.
As the days went on, viewers helped Keith pick which type of board he was going to buy, what graphics it would have, and so on. It quickly became a system of putting numbers into the stream chat to signal which choice would "win". Almost as quickly, Keith realized his missed opportunity and switched to making us vote with Z Points.
"Donate now for this design... okay, donate now for this one...." and so on. Very smart, if not subtle.
Kelly had a day where her grand total of Z Points earned came to 200. Barely anything, and before Zillion's cut. She had spent the day in bed, not saying anything, with her Zillion Specs on the nightstand, facing an empty section of her bedroom. Some of us speculated that she had gotten a bad call about her mother during the stream's down time, but no one knew for sure.
At first, people sent her Z Points to try to cheer her up, but BlueMule had come over at this point and "helpfully" stated that she wouldn't see the donation alerts if she wasn't wearing the glasses.
It went down hill from there. Far and fast.
They didn't care if she had tears in her eyes, or snot in her nose. The fact that she was crying did little to stop what was happening.
It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure it out. Kelly realized that she was getting donations when she was in front of the mirror. Donations that grew when she would adjust her top, and would shrink if she was doing her make-up or just primping in general.
I don't know how serious the situation was with her mom, but Kelly went to a very dark place... and BlueMule was there to crack every borderline joke possible.
Kelly outpaced Keith in donations when her streams became largely about trying on bathing suits. Painting her toenails and putting lotion on her feet weren't as popular, but had their own dedicated fan base with Z Points to burn.
She ended up looking completely dead inside. There was a definite clause about nudity in the application we'd seen, but in the same way BlueMule knew how to avoid a ban, Kelly became an expert at showing "everything but".
I started watching Keith again, after it became apparent this was going to be Kelly's life going forward. The chat moderators seemed oddly tight-lipped about the direction things had taken, as if they'd been notified by higher-ups that they needed to be very careful about not supporting or condemning the behavior.
After all, this was all data for the test run, right?
Keith's streams were boring and predictable as I'd expected, especially after the descent into depravity I had just witnessed. After he was basically getting nothing in terms of Z Points, he was far less interested in interacting with the chat. He would do things like wear the Zillion Specs on his forehead, angled at the ceiling, while he watched television or ViewPipe videos.
I was in Keith's stream when Kelly was killed.
I phrase it that way, because I'll always blame the viewers for what happened. Someone popped into Keith's chat and shouted, in capslock, that everyone needed to come to Kelly's stream right away. Watching Keith's ceiling fan spin wasn't really doing much for me, so I switched over quickly.
As was now usual in Kelly's streams, I could see a mirror. The Zillion Specs were lying on the bathroom counter, and the sink was painted with red streaks. A previously white towel was now entirely damp and crimson.
I asked what was going on, but the chat was flying by at this point and I could tell people were already tired of explaining the situation to a constant stream of newcomers. I only found out later that someone had been funnelling an extreme amount of Z Points into Kelly's account. Someone who had apparently saved all of their points... they had donated to no one, until that very night.
They started coming in when Kelly got a paper cut and looked at the blood on her finger for a split second. She noticed, and, putting two and two together quickly, tried making a small cut on the palm of her hand.
Blood. Money. More blood. More Money. Lots of blood. Lots of money. Eventually, she must've hit an artery by mistake.
Zillion shut the chat down and the screen went black. Within moments, the URL wasn't even reachable. It was like the project hadn't even existed.
I mean, you'd have to be kind of stupid to not see what company I'm referring to, here. Go ahead and try to find any mention of them running a crowd funding social experiment using their patented internet-connected lenses and video streaming website. It's completely white washed.
Hell, this is probably why they stopped promoting those lenses in the first place.
Those of us seeking answers set up a small, private group to discuss what exactly had happened. Unfortunately, in our haste, we put it right on Zillion's failed social media platform, "Zillion Sphere", and it was found and deleted on the third day it existed.
What I did find out, however, was this... BlueMule was probably far worse than any of us even realized.
One member of the group said he had chatted with the user at one point, asking what he did or didn't give Z Points for. It was a common question at the time, since everyone was anonymous and we could only really connect with each other by discussing the project.
BlueMule's answer was innocuous at the time, but given his penchant for wordplay and pushing boundaries, it's taken on a much more chilling tone, now.
"I'm saving mine for when someone really opens up to me."
I don't know what Zillion was thinking, really. Someone as obviously sick and antagonistic as BlueMule should never have gotten past the first phases of test group selection.
What's more, it seemed like they didn't even take any action after the fact. I can't say for sure, since this isn't first-hand information, but multiple sources in the group remember BlueMule dropping a few hints about his true identity... again, something that was expressly forbidden.
"If you watch ViewPipe, you've seen me.
It's a disturbing thought, to say the least. Who would be so important to Zillion that they'd not only let him into the project despite all red flags, but would also protect him to that degree?
If Zillion has its way, I suppose we'll never know.