The flash disk contains a directory called “Books”, a text file named “readme” and another file named “solution”, which appears to be encrypted.
Within “Books”, you find about 50 plaintext files that appear to be the entire texts of classic works of literature. The “readme” file contains some text.
You search the flashdisk for hidden files but discover
none. There’s no explanation of what the numbers mean anywhere. What’s more,
the encrypted “solution” file doesn’t
yield to any common password.
It must be a puzzle. No doubt some clever challenge invented by some idle person living before the bombs fell, back when people didn’t have to scavenge or fight just to survive, and could immerse themselves in these kinds of pointless mental exercises.
You’re just about to unplug the USB drive in disgust when
your eyes glance over the timestamps on the files. Your hand stops dead as you
realise: these files were created after the bombs. In fact, if you’re not
mistaken about today’s date – the files were created yesterday.
This puts a whole new spin on things. Someone, someone very much alive and relevant, wanted you to find this flashdisk. There must be a very important message hidden in the solution file. But they’re testing you.
Your fingers are shaking as you enter the password into the decryption prompt. Instead of yet another “Password incorrect”, the screen flashes and then fills with text. Your heart leaps into your throat, and you eagerly begin to read.
Just as you suspected, the flash disk was planted by someone on your side of history. According to the decrypted text, this mysterious individual has planted similar flash disks all over the wasteland, in the hopes that they will be discovered by scavengers with the skills to solve the puzzles they contain.
The flashdisk planter, who refers to themself only as “MM”, congratulates you on completing the first of what are to be many challenges. They laments that the skills required for such puzzles are fast disappearing from the world. “THE PEOPLE FOREGO WISDOM AND THE ARTS OF CUNNING FOR BRUTE STRENGTH AND THE SEDUCTION OF VIOLENCE,” begins one particularly lengthy diatribe in the text.
They warn you that this has been the easiest, and that the difficulty will only increase from here on out. “THOSE UNSURE OF THEIR ABILITIES SHOULD GIVE UP NOW AND CAST THIS DISK INTO OBLIVION,” he writes. “THE FUTURE NEEDS ONLY THE BRAVEST AND THE MOST RESOURCEFUL”.
You’re not sure why the entire file is typed in capital letters, but you are sure that you’re up for whatever MM’s challenges are going to be.
The final paragraph of MM’s message tells you the location of the next challenge. You are to travel from your home settlement to the great market in Onia, and there meet a technology merchant with one eye. This merchant will provide you with everything you need for the next challenge.
The next morning, you pack up what few supplies and valuables you own and place them in a worn rucksack. After carefully rigging the various deadly booby traps that protect your hovel, you shoulder the rucksack and head towards the road.
It’s going to be at least half a day’s walk to the
market at Onia. As you hit the road, the wind picks up and you pull your
bandana and protective goggles on to protect your face against the eroding