“The Brain Dump,” by Bruce Sterling, 2014

Bruce Sterling
9 min readFeb 22, 2024


The Brain Dump

by Bruce Sterling

November 17, 2014, 4:30pm

Of you Internet world people, many know our new bad troubles here in Ukraine. Beloved cool techno-culture center “Izolyatsia” is seized by ethnic rebels in city of Donetsk. Armed separatists get real drunk, bust up the art gallery, carry off all our favorite 3DPrinters. No nice gadgets left in Izolyatsia now, just landmines.

We are independent digital culture center from Frunze, Hirske, Borivske (careful not mentioning exact village where we live). In our “Brain Dump” hackerspace we are underground alternative freeware hack scene. Total do-it-yourself. Share everything, build own desks from old packing crates. Way into Linux, Wikipedia and Instructables. Every day we learn something good from Internet community.

In Brain Dump we have broadband, so we are watching cool videos from motherboard-vice-com. We see on Motherboard that Iraqis, Mexicans and Syrians getting shot up and bombed even worse than us. We are grateful to explain ourselves on much-respected Vice classy website backed by Intel.

Because we are open-source freaks, no cash, also no real jobs, we settle inside dead rubber-tyre factory where we “borrow” electricity from local nuke plant. We listen to streaming techno and metal, coding a lot, smoking cannabis and never go into a church. So we are called “decadent” by repressive Russian-Orthodox militia of Donetsk Peoples Republic. Not looking good.

Also, Ukrainian National Guard will probably blow up our hacklab with artillery strikes or chopper missiles. “Brain Dump” is rusty old concrete bunker with young men in and out at any time day and night, to carry big package of laptops also beer. Therefore Brain Dump fits ideal drone surveillance profile for terrorist headquarters. Sure to get blasted by authorities with no warning and no civil rights.

Too late we Ukraine hackers regret our growing fame and high public profile online. During Euromaidan, we broke into the secret services of the former president of the guardhouse and stole all their Chinese and Korean wiretapping equipment. After that, many western hippies hacker come to visit us and share the cool knowledge. Chaos Computer Club, Icelandic Pirate Party, Lebanese cypher scene. These fun guys really help us in our creative art projects.

Richard Stallman, too. He is our hero. Stallman does not visit our Brain Dump hackerspace, because he refuses to use Google Maps on principle. But Richard Stallman sends much helpful email clarifying important ideological differences between the “GNU” and the “Linux”.

In our paramilitary emergency, even the great Richard Stallman can not help us. He is a prophet of a better world, Richard Stallman. This is his job. If only we could roam the whole world as him, to preach intellectual freedom for creative coders as us. We have hair as long as Richard Stallman but we have no passports. No money. No guns. No lawyers either. We are stuck inside “NovoRossiya” of angry separatist region of east Ukraine with new roadblocks onto every bridge. It’s like sad emoticon.

We collect in the Brain Dump to discuss our crisis, we are stockpiling water in plastic jugs, also stealing a new generator. Crisis committee is me, also “Objekt110”, “Uroboros”, “Grey Turtle”, “Nashie” and “PizzaHutFan”. “Turla” and “AgentBTZ” busy at day of work at a computer repair shop. Also two girls from our digital culture group are gone to Femen rally cutting up icons with chainsaws.

The dark truth of our grim situation do not require a lot of discussion on us. Everyone agrees it’s likely fatal. In our national tragedy, our hacker club of Internet freedom are only sane people left around. Being hip 4Chan hackers and LOLcats, we have always been considered craziest people in our village. Now the world turns. We hackers are only remaining source of common sense.

Madness is at every hand. Unbelievable! Ukrainians of our sleepy eastern province are best known as the grumpy wheat farmers and boozy coal miners. When their TV is turned off and no police around, these normal Ukraine people get plenty weird. Not one shred of reality not to be found inside their heads. Daily life is like rave party of hallucinations bad trip Slavic political extremism. Even harmless old kerchief-head Grandma is a terrorist, fascist, and also World War Two Stalinist. New words of Cyrillic political abuse unknown to Latin alphabet, like “zionazi” and “liberast.”

The modern telecommunication is no help to these people. Forget that. Never heard of useful hacker sites like GitHub and SourceForge. Instead they use social media stupid computer illiterate mobiles! Everybody’s fingers busy to send each other bloody scary pix of imaginary enemies!

Never heard of Photoshop, so they believe every thing they see! Blonde Baltic sniper girls two meters high. Obama Predator UFOs. Kremlin Little Green Men with virus weapons. All accredited journalists who check any facts are arrested as spies and beaten up by factions. Also trolls and black propagandists pouring fire on rumors machine to panic normal people in their pathetic simplicity.

Of course, hackers, so we know what a “meme” is. We swiftly create useful fact check wiki leaks site for the public good, upload it, get own URL. We coder brainy guys are good at math, have critical thinking skills. No one notices us except Canadian teenage girls doing high school homework. It is already too late. Facts are dead, truth is over. Civil war life is glorious poetry!

Ghosts rise up from dark earth of Ukraine. Cossacks with crests and shaved heads. Tragic serf bards with balalaika and long mustaches. Heroic militia commander unfortunate personal friendship with Adolf Hitler. Every dead Ukraine hero, except for long-forgotten Nestor Makhno, who is total wild free anarchist with steam trains and therefore only national hero Ukrainian hackers actually like.

Ukraine is the largest nation in Europe, vast horizons, wide blue rivers, pretty girls with penchant for sweet flowers hairstyles, also the world’s largest national park wilderness, which is also slightly radioactive. But in spite of our great national wealth and splendor, fierce popular cyberwar exploding all over Twitter, VKontakte, LiveJournal, YouTube and Facebook.

Looks like we brainy hackers will soon be drafted, put in homemade fake uniform and forced to shoot each other. The situation quickly splitting up on the ground, as good pals “Uroboros” and “Nashie” will have to shoot besties “PizzaHutFan” and “Turla. “ Game Over for our hacker club.

We decide to dismantle our cultural center and go into hiding. Only real choice for us, and besides, this is typical history of avant-garde culture in our region. Destruction of our beloved club is not difficult as Brain Dump is scavenged furniture, leaking roof, bare insulation stripped much wiring, tube TVs and aging Linux PC without any consoles. No one in the three years we ever cleans up the Brain Dump, except for “Kimchi” and “XFox,” our two Femen girls who are big fans of anime video chat, have to make things look nice for fans.

We decide to collect electronics and hide it place safe from 240 mm artillery rounds. As we remove the fluorescent light tubes as valuable for future use, “Grey Turtle” makes a strange discovery. One of the glass tubes has a secret obstacle inside.

Someone has put a dense roll of fifty U.S. hundred dollar bills inside this secret place. Cache is five thousand dollars, this is incredible find, as Ukrainian hacker could live a year on that kind of money even with girlfriend.

How has a huge amount of money fall into the Brain Dump Hackerspace? We consider discovered dollar bills closely. Did they leave here by an American spy? No, some of the bills are counterfeit, like most in Ukraine. American CIA spies not big users of those.

Maybe some rich hippies left money to annoy us as joke. Maybe, some of them act on weird humor of Chaos Computer Club, as they are German and therefore just not funny.

We stop arguing about how to divide the money. We are looking for more money hidden around.

We are anarchists of immaterial cyberspace, never ask for money. Cash just gets in way of our spiritual journey. Also, Ukrainian hryvnia is not a currency in order to provoke a lot of enthusiasm. We find no hryvnia. Not one hryvn. But there are whole lots of dollars stuffed inside round metal chair legs. Euros hidden inside panels of cheap hollow door. Hundreds of dollars stuffed into electrical junction boxes. Thousands of euros crammed secret into wall sockets of telephone jacks. Also some rubles, Swiss francs and sums of Asian currency we can’t recognize.

We start to quarrel about this. Fantastic black-money situation is like from Bulgakov novel, not really helping our situation. Argument is that one of us in Brain Dump is clearly super-spy or master cyber-criminal. Must be one of us hackers who is hiding the money from the rest of us and secretly amazing rich guy.

One by one, everyone is denying paranoid purge allegations. “Grey Turtle” is most suspicious as he was first to discover money, but Grey Turtle cannot possibly be any master cybercriminal as he is mere website designer, cannot even code properly.

“Objekt110” admits he has been selling “Phoenix” and “Adrenalin” trojans to Western teenagers, but only on weekends. “Uroboros” is picking up some fraud credit card traffic with “eCore Exploit Pack,” but just buys cute shoes for girlfriend. “Nashie” is console game cracker, but he is 17 years old so this is just kid stuff.

“PizzaHutFan” is running proxy server host on cracked machine at local university. “AgentBTZ” is small-time DDOS operative on local Zeus botnet, just does it as favor for uncle.

I have to admit my part in “Lonely Russian Girlfriend” 419 fraud, but I was only doing that to improve my English on foreigners. By standard of local computer underground we are very clean guys.

Also, search for illicit Ukrainian hidden money is just not ending for us. Not at all. I am counting over well USD 100,000 in small and crumbled bills, and now bond and stock certificates are show up among old and water-stained O’Reilly coding books. Shell companies in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands, Switzerland. Our humble hackerspace has several title deeds to real-estate properties in London. Also, New York real estate from well-known offshore laundering scheme of “Anna Chapman” famous Russian television star and hot high-tech entrepreneur girl.

At this point we are ransacking our own place worst than armed militia. “Gray Turtle” remembers the thumb drives. Being hackerspace we have a thousand USB drives, mostly bad mp3s of pirate American scifi TV and YouPorn downloads.

These USB drives have been replaced with “TAILS” anonymized crypto pre-loaded with control over legendary “Snake” Cyrillic cyberwar botnet. “Snake” is top-notch cyberspy code embedded in so many Russian and Ukrainian systems that Edward Snowden choke on his borscht.

User logs show that cyberwar “Snake” is all about black money. “Snake” subroutines are all about trade misinvoicing, sales of underpriced gas and oil to false European subsidiaries, under-reported export earnings, and fake advanced import payments. Big-scale global money laundering is pretty new to us, but surprisingly easy and simple compared to Linux coding. Everything on pull-down menu.

We are rich. We have as much illegal wealth as usual corrupt Ukrainian state politician. We have illegal fortune between three and ten billion dollars.

We were thinking all along we were helpless victims of situation, but truth is now clear to us. We are Internet people, but also major part of the problem. We are serious power player, frankly. We can do anything Internet black global money can do, buy media, hire liars, recruit mercenaries, ship weapons, buy own private jet get the hell out go live in Costa Rica.

We’re just like the “Gas Princess” and the “Chocolate King.” We’re oligarchs. We’re moguls.

But how does that help us? The fires are rising all around us anyway. We can give you a million dollars if you have any answer. What do we do?