Turn Your 3D Printer Into a Gold Mine
I’m going to tell you about something highly illegal. Not federal ‘pounding-in-the-ass’ prison illegal. I’m talking about ‘forever locked in a Gitmo basement’ illegal. Even if you never get caught, the risks could rise to the level of fatality if not done properly. As with any risky endeavor, the potential gains are limitless. Such a selling point was quite enticing to someone like me.
I came from an unprivileged family, living in a poor neighborhood. As a child, I didn’t know I was poor until some little shit started taunting me about it day in and day out. It only stopped after I granted him a bloody nose, which got me expelled. I straightened up my act following that incident and learned to ignore most of the future little shits that came along.
I can thank my cousin Dax for my fighting skills. We lived in the same trailer park, and he kicked my ass many a day. As I grew bigger and stronger, I managed to get my win record up to about 35% before finally growing out of that kid stuff. I was halfway through middle school when I really started taking my education seriously. The gifted label had already been stamped on me in grade school. I also didn’t want to move out of my mom’s trailer, only to move into one of my own.
Dax was two years older than me and didn’t care much for school. Instead of being the guy who punched the little shit, Dax always seemed to enjoy being the little shit. He had a reputation. Everybody already knew I was Dax’s cousin when I entered high school. I was automatically awarded the respect he had earned. He failed his senior year, claiming that he planned to stick around to look after me. He dropped out before the start of his second senior year.
Grand theft auto, the real thing, had already landed Dax in juvie a couple of times. As an official adult, he wasn’t too fond of going to prison. So he decided to find a job and commit infractions that only rose to the misdemeanor level. His partner in crime was an older guy named Larry. If you can think of any random petty crime, Larry had done it. His main profession was drug dealing. Dax never got into that but did sell much of the stolen merchandise Larry had skillfully acquired.
Dax eventually made enough money to move into a duplex. After school, I would sometimes go hang out with him and his girlfriend Sara. Her favorite line to me was: “Stop looking at my tits.” It was usually followed by: “You need to get laid.” I didn’t have any problems in that arena, thanks to my ‘Dax status upgrade.’ All of my relationships around that time were casual flings because having a steady girlfriend at such a young age never made sense to me.
My senior year marked a seismic shift in all of our lives. Larry had gotten into some trouble that landed him a thirty-year stint in prison. Before he got pinched, he told Dax to come pick up some special equipment. Dax was super pissed when Larry suggested that they break off all contact with each other. Larry didn’t have to worry about Dax’s loyalty. Dax knew all about the heavy shit his friend was involved in, but he never spoke of it to me or Sara.
One day Dax asked me to come over and help him set up a new computer and a printer. When I got there, I was in awe. The computer looked like a typical gaming PC, but the expensive 3D printer was a priceless jewel in disguise. This was clearly the ‘special equipment’ he got from Larry.
I lost track of time, spending most of that evening getting it set up. When I finally finished, I stood up to let my cousin test it out.
“Nah, sit back down,” Dax said. “I want you to drive.”
“You do the honors,” I replied. “I’ve already played around with 3D printers.”
“When did your broke ass have access to a 3D printer?”
“At a science camp a few years ago.”
“Well, I promise you they were nothing like this one. As a matter of fact, you could call this first printing an early Christmas present.”
“That’s… that’s so special,” I said using my best southern trailer park accent. “Dax made me work several hours for my own gift.”
“When you put it that way…” Dax shook his head. “Just sit down, dog. This experience will be worth a thousand times the work you put in.”
I rolled my eyes before plopping back down on a butt that had fallen asleep. After spending several minutes trying to convince him why the printer needed resin, he persuaded me to print without it. That’s one of the things I hated about him. You had to always demonstrate to him why something wouldn’t work. A logical explanation just wasn’t enough.
First, he instructed me to open the GankIt software I had installed. Then I had to open Google Maps. GankIt apparently linked you to a server on the dark web, which acted as a VPN along with a few other hidden features. When a list of street addresses popped up, he asked me to pick one and switch to street-view.
“Any one of these?” I asked.
“Actually, it needs to be one of the addresses with the red AFH tag next to it.” That meant ‘away from home.’ He waited for me to pick one. “OK, now click on the front door.”
I expected it to just give me a blurry zoomed-in view of the door. Instead, I was treated to a high res view of the interior.
“So now Google lets you do some kind of Zillow walkthrough of a piece of real estate? Amazing.” I exaggerated the flatness of my voice and the sarcasm.
Dax popped me in the back of my head. “Keep going, numb-nuts!”
I gave him the ‘watch it’ look before continuing. I moved through the house in still frames. I was actually amazed at the detail when zooming in. I had to turn on the night vision to see inside the darker rooms. Dax told me to click on a dropdown below the address. There was a list of items associated with different rooms. He told me to find the Rolex in the master bedroom.
This mansion was huge. It took a while before I found the right bedroom, which was large enough to swallow Dax’s half-duplex. I moved to the dresser, where there was a watch stand. Before I zoomed in, Dax made me enlarge the picture next to it. It was a photo of a woman and man in their late twenties or early thirties.
He stared for an uncomfortably long time. “She’s hot. OK, dude. Pick a watch you like.”
“You know I don’t wear watches. Let’s find something else.”
“It’s about time you start getting into grownup shit. You’re not a kid anymore.”
More of Dax’s nonsense. When I’m sixty, I still won’t like watches. I shrugged and picked one with a dark casing and band.
“Not bad,” he said before nudging me off the chair. “There may be hope for you after all.” Dax sat down and proceeded to orbit the watch while hitting a hotkey combo with each angle. When he was finished, he sent the images to the printer.
I was impressed, but a plastic replica of an expensive watch was not much of a Christmas gift. And hardheaded Dax still didn’t understand that nothing would come out of that printer. I chose to stay quiet until he figured it out. He leaned back in the chair with his arms folded as the printer zipped over the empty pan.
“I hope you’re not gonna sit here and watch this print out. Something that detailed might take an hour or more.”
Dax looked at me, then back at the printer. It was moving faster than the ones I had used. What surprised me the most was the material coming out of it. It resembled spider silk as it was layered on. There was a faint blue glow around it. He wouldn’t tell me much about what was happening. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, it was done. I watched in amazement as the wispy glowing substance solidified into an actual Rolex.
“Take it,” Dax urged enthusiastically. “It’s yours,”
I just stood there, still trying to figure out what I had just witnessed. I reached for the watch, expecting it to be some kind of hologram. When I touched it, I felt a zap of static electricity. It was definitely real, not plastic. Dax pointed to the screen, showing me that the watch was no longer in the bedroom. My jaw dropped.
This was my introduction to ‘shadow doxing.’
search for and publish private or identifying information about a particular individual on the dark web, typically without the individual’s knowledge in perpetuity.
The main point of shadow doxing is that the victims could spend the rest of their lives unaware they had ever been doxed. It exposed the person’s personal information on a dark web network where most members had a 3D printer setup like Dax’s. He couldn’t explain how the detailed images of the houses were acquired. That was the easy part for me to imagine. They could use security cameras, or a fake exterminator could enter the home wearing cameras. The unexplainable part was the teleportation. How was this not the greatest discovery in human history?
“Oh, the CIA has had this technology for decades. They’ve been using it to steal foreign secrets and plant incriminating evidence.”
I was speechless. Eyes widened.
Dax could only hold a straight face for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. “Oh, shit! You should see your face! I’m just fucking with you. I don’t know where this came from or who all is using it. All I know is we’re gonna be rich bitches soon.”
“That big brain of yours is always overthinking stuff. Sometimes you need to just go with it.”
It turned out that teleportation wasn’t a perfect science. My Rolex never worked. I left it at Dax’s house along with the other useless items. Electronics and devices with intricate moving parts rarely came through functional. Solid objects like figurines, jewelry, and glassware typically worked the best.
Dax got Sara in on the gig. We made the perfect team picking out addresses and choosing the best items. Over a few weeks, we made several thousand dollars fencing the goods through one of Dax’s contacts.
It was an easy system, and the software would only allow one or two thefts a day. Larry had already told him that the addresses needed to be as far away as possible. That made sense because initial searches for stolen goods always started locally. What made this a perfect crime was that there was no evidence that anyone was even there. This is what made another rule a bit confusing.
One of the warnings from the GankIt software was to never enter an occupied home. Dax was the wrong person to impose rules upon without a good explanation. He always had to test limits and see what he could get away with. That’s why I would rarely take him serious when he said things like ‘just go with it.’
I was present the first day Dax decided to bend the rule. I thought we would go through our usual routine, but he clicked on one of the occupied homes.
“What are you doing?”
“I just want to see what the big deal is with occupied homes.”
The one he chose happened to be the mansion where we got my broken Rolex. He moved from room to room until we saw the woman from the picture. She looked slightly older, but it was definitely her. She also had no clothes on because she had just gotten out of the shower. Only a towel was wrapped around her hair. If I wasn’t there, I’m positive Dax would have whipped out his junk and started whacking away. She was gorgeous.
Dax kept the POV outside the door while she sat on her bed applying lotion. The increase in his breathing creeped me out.
“Dude, this is wrong. This feels really wrong.” Still, I couldn’t peel my eyes away.
“Says the guy who almost got caught hiding in the girls’ locker room,” Dax reminded me. “I just want to get a snapshot of her titties, then I’m out.” I hadn’t realized that he was taking screenshots every few seconds.
The next still was of her walking back to the bathroom. Dax followed her.
“I don’t think you should get that close to her,” I warned.
“Shut up, you puss!”
He stopped at the door, taking about a dozen shots of her naked profile while she dried her hair. I figured he would stop once he got his coveted breast shots, but he moved in closer, breathing heavily. The next view was directly behind her, with a full view of her body. The image that followed shocked us both. There was a look of sheer terror as she stared directly at us. The next still was a skin-colored blur running from the bathroom.
Dax laughed nervously to mask whatever was going on inside his head. “Let’s follow her.”
I hit CTRL-Q to immediately close the app.
“Da fuck you do that for!?”
I couldn’t look at him. I just walked out of the room while he cussed me out in rapid-fire fashion. He couldn’t seem to understand why it bothered me so much. The more he tried to rationalize it, the worse it sounded. He eventually apologized and said he wouldn’t do it again. I couldn’t look at my cousin the same after that.
“There are entire websites dedicated to voyeurism. It’s not illegal.” His rationalization was pathetic.
“Considering what we’ve been doing with this printer for the past few weeks, you think I’m worried about what’s illegal? I’m not about invading somebody’s private space like that. And she clearly saw something in the room with her.”
“She probably heard something downstairs, my dude.”
“She was looking directly at us! Or it!”
Dax laughed. “You’re just getting worked up over nothing. I couldn’t see a damn thing in the mirror but her tig-ol-bitties.”
“You said you’d never do this again, but I know you still will. Just don’t do it when I’m here. Then you can jack-off to it all you want.”
“OK. But I’ma kick your ass if you mention this to Sara.”
“Whatever. I’m out.”
I noted definite changes in Dax’s behavior during the weeks that followed. Thankfully, there was no way to move organic matter through the printer. I could clearly envision walking in on Dax smacking a pair of disembodied ass cheeks. One could only imagine the resulting condition of the previous owner. Sara also noticed the changes, so they started arguing a lot.
I knew Dax better than anybody, but Sara and I had an unwritten rule. We could never have any deep discussions about Dax when he wasn’t present. She could express her concerns as long as it didn’t turn into an actual discussion.
“He’s been acting weird. I found a bunch of photos of naked women on his computer. It looked like they were taken using the GankIt app. I know he watches porn. I’m fine with that. But this is like some weird peeping Tom shit. It’s sick.”
“We screamed at each other for a while. He eventually convinced me it’s no different than voyeur porn. Then he hit me with this line: ‘would you rather I hook up with these women in person.’ I didn’t want to give him any ideas, but I really would have preferred if he did that instead. At least he’d be cheating on me in a way that guys normally do. I know that sounds retarded”
I shook my head.
Over time, Dax’s obsession only got worse. Sara and I kept the business going while he devoted time to what he called a crusade. When he wasn’t ogling women, he was looking through people’s personal belongings. He’d convinced himself that snooping around strangers’ homes could uncover crimes or even child abuse. The irony was lost on him.
Along with the photos of women undressing or having sex with their lovers were a few disturbing images. Inside a separate folder were hundreds of screenshots of people with the most horrified expressions on their faces. Sara came to me about it when she found a handful of photos of frightened children. She confronted him again, which resulted in the biggest argument they ever had. He kicked her out, and she arrived at my house in tears.
“Is he a pedo?” she asked directly. “I know we have our little rule, but I need to fucking know.”
“I think we’re past arbitrary rules. I’m pretty sure if the cousin I spent most of my life with was a pedo, I would have found out long ago. But then again, some people are good at keeping secrets from even their closest family and friends.” My statement of uncertainty made her visibly cringe. She might have been thinking it was something we were into together!
“I feel sick.” Sara doubled over with a gagging motion.
“Were there any kid pictures mixed in with the others? You know. The nudes?”
“No, the only ones I found were in that ‘scared bitches’ folder. There were about six.”
“Was it just women and children?”
“Come to think of it, there were just as many men in there as women.”
“I think I know what this is. Dax has always gotten off… I probably should use another word… enjoyed doing things to shock people. My aunt caught the brunt of it while raising him. Intimidation has also been one of his strongest abilities. I don’t think he’s focusing on little kids. Even so, this is still messed up on a whole other level. I’ll go talk to him.”
Sara appeared a little more at ease. She warned me that he was still very pissed, but I knew I needed to go over there right away. I told her to hang out and maybe take a nap on my couch.
When I made it to Dax’s place, he opened the door before I knocked. He gestured for me to come in. His eyes were bloodshot like he’d been drinking and probably crying.
“Before you start, you know I’m not a fucking pedophile.”
I hadn’t even gotten all the way in the house yet. “I wasn’t gonna say you are.”
“You know that bitch accused me of being some kind of child molester?”
“Did you have pictures of little kids on your computer?”
Dax was silent for a long time, running both hands through his hair. “Yeah, but it’s not what you think. I thought some of them were funny. Like watching those videos of kids playing that fake game before the demon face pops up. Are all those people perverts for watching kids get scared shitless?”
“Can I see the screencaps?”
“Of the kids? I deleted them after Sara left.”
“Let me see the others then.”
“I can’t right now. Something’s printing, and it might take a while.” An amiable smile painted itself across his face. “As a matter of fact, this might be the last print we’ll ever have to do?”
“A special challenge came across the network. I’m telling you, dog, this is the one. It’s an artifact in a glass case that no one had figured out how to… print.” Although no one lived on the other side, Dax was mindful of what he said out loud. “Guess who cracked it.” His pride beamed as he pointed a thumb at his chest. “It’s coming through right now.”
I looked at the address and noticed that it was local. “Didn’t Larry tell you to never enter places in the same city?”
“Larry said a lot of things, yet he’s the one rotting away in prison.”
“I don’t even want to know what point you were trying to make with that.”
“Hey, if another local address comes up, I want you to do me a favor.”
“I’m gonna come up with a way to enter the house. Maybe act like I’m selling something or some shit. Then I want you to navigate inside and stop in front of me. I want to see what the people in those pics are seeing. Like, what made them so shook?”
I stared at him incredulously before yelling, “Are you out of your goddamn mind!?”
Dax actually flinched.
“You’re going to show your face in a house where god knows how many people are stealing things!? You always tell me to just go with it, but you’re the last person to follow your own advice. For the first time in your life, you’ve stumbled on a good thing. Something that’s so lucrative and low risk, it’s unreal. But there you go. Dax being Dax. You have to try everything you can to fuck it up. Poke the mad dog with a stick. Stir the ant mound. Knock down the hornet’s nest. For fucks sake, man! I don’t understand why Larry is the one in prison and not you!”
Dax and I went back and forth, arguing without actually arguing. He tried to offer justifications as to why he was the way he was. I just wasn’t trying to hear it. After a while, we settled back into a normal conversation.
“There’s something I swore I wasn’t gonna tell you but… just go with it, right?” Dax had an earnest look about him.
“A while back, Sara told me she liked you. And I was like, ‘duh.’ Then she got real serious and told me that she could see herself marrying somebody like you. She said something like, ‘you had all of the qualities she liked about me without all of the fuck shit.’ I think that’s how it went.”
“Anyway, she thought I’d be mad, but I wasn’t. I was glad that I had a girl who wasn’t silly in the head like a lot of them. I told her if something ever happened to me, like getting life in prison or something, she had my blessing to fuck with you. After that, she laughed at me and said if something ever happened to me, I wouldn’t have any say about whoever the hell she decided to screw. That’s my girl. That’s why I love her.”
I shook my head. “You know that’s gross as fuck, right? It wasn’t that long ago that I told you you were like a surrogate father to me. That would mean Sara is my damn stepmother.”
Dax shrugged. “Well, there are porn sites dedicated to that, and they get millions and millions of hits.”
I made a face.
“I’m just saying you have my blessing. Hey, it’s coming out! I think most of the people trying it kept capturing the glass case instead of the thing inside.”
“How’d you do it?”
“My secret.” He put a finger to his lips.
We watched as the printer expelled the ghostly material. For some reason, it was red this time around. I thought that was some side effect of the house being so close to us. When it finished, a jewel-encrusted broach materialized in front of us. It was one of the ugliest things I had ever seen. Before either of us could say a word, I heard a squishy sound, like somebody had stabbed bloody meat. Dax crumpled to the floor with his calves folded under him at painful angles. The suddenness of it almost sent me into shock.
“OK, you got me with that one. What the fuck?” Dax didn’t move or blink. It didn’t take long for me to realize something was very wrong. “Dax? Dax? Come on, dog, stop fucking around.” No movement. His eyes stared at nothing. A shiny red streak left his nose.
A whirlwind of events followed. It was chaotic at the hospital. My mother and aunt were inconsolable. Sara glared at me with accusatory eyes, as if she was sure I had done something to hurt him. She never said anything because she was probably struggling with the guilt of having sent me to his house.
Time dripped away painfully slow. One of the doctors eventually came out to tell us my cousin was in critical condition within ICU. They had him on life support and were running more tests. She said that we needed to seriously think about saying our goodbyes because Dax had yet to show any brain activity. They would have to contact the authorities because they found what appeared to be a bullet inside his skull. My first thought was that a sniper had taken him out, but they must have fired through a brick wall. What the doctor said next baffled us all.
She asked if Dax had ever been shot when he was a toddler. As far as any of us were aware, he’d never been shot in his life. Radiology said the bullet appeared to have ricocheted within his cranium, but there was no apparent entry wound anywhere on his body. Their only guess was that it happened many years ago and healed exceptionally well. They couldn’t be certain of what they were seeing until they ran a few more CT scans.
Sara and I rushed to Dax’s place to get things tidied up before police came snooping around.
Sara looked sheepish. “I’m sorry I accused–”
“No need. I would have thought the same thing.” It was like we had had an entire telepathic conversation at the hospital and resolved everything after the doctor finished speaking.
Before doing anything, we checked for a bullet hole or broken glass in the office. Nothing. We needed to get the stolen goods out of the house. I had already put the ugly broach in the safe right before the paramedics arrived. I wanted Sara to take the items to the storage location, but she didn’t want to go anywhere alone. My being with Dax didn’t save him from his fate, and it probably wouldn’t help Sara. I decided to clean up some things on the computer before we left.
The files were hidden and encrypted, but I still wanted to delete all of Dax’s screen captures. Going through the pics led me to conclude that my cousin was troubled in ways I might have been in denial about. Image after image revealed that the people weren’t just scared. They were mortally terrified. What had Dax subject these people to? I deleted them all. Before shutting the computer down, I took a look at the cached files within GankIt. When I saw the last one, I called Sara to the room.
It was apparently the house where he stole the ugly broach. It was not just a flat picture. It was a 360-degree panoramic view. While the camera was capturing the broach, a man was standing in front of it pointing a gun at… whatever he saw. That now-familiar look of fear was all over his face. The printer didn’t just capture the artifact. It also captured the high-velocity projectile that left the muzzle. Maybe the bullet was still in its ghostly form as it entered my cousin’s head. I started to take Dax’s previous statement about the CIA seriously.
We quickly took the items to storage and came back to Dax’s to finish up. When we opened the front door, there was a high-pitched sound coming from the back. Sara figured I left the computer or monitor on. When she went to the office, I heard a loud, piercing scream. I rushed down the hallway.
Sara was on the floor with her back against the door; her face was twisted into a horrifying grimace. I stepped into the room the see what Dax had wanted to see. I would give anything unsee it. Standing in front of the computer desk was something that looked barely human. It had translucent skin that writhed as fetus-like things swam around beneath it in a dark, oily substance. There was a bluish glow where it touched the computer and printer. It never turned its head, but I felt like all those things under its skin were staring at me, each with a single dark eye. This creature could probably see everything all around it at all times. I kept telling myself it didn’t look that scary, but gut-wrenching fear was thrust violently upon me. I heard screaming so loud that it made my ears ring.
Suddenly, it was gone, along with the printer and computer. I was still screaming while Sara held me from behind. “Shhh. Shh. It’s OK. It’s gone. It’s OK.” She kept repeating it in a way that seemed like she was trying to reassure herself just as much as me. I turned around, and we held each other, tears still streaming from our eyes.
We packed up Dax’s apartment because neither of us wanted to live there. I would be heading to college in another month anyway.
We sold all of the items in storage except for the broach. Dax’s fence said he wouldn’t be able to move it and didn’t want to ever see it again. It wasn’t reported to the police, but word on the street was that it was stolen from a mob underboss. He vowed to dismember whoever stole it and beat them to death with their severed limbs. He had already ‘fired’ the guy who failed to stop the thief.
The police decided not to open a homicide investigation of Dax’s death because there wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone with anything. They were convinced that Dax had been shot at another location, and I dragged him inside the house. Still, the lack of an entry wound rendered any notion of a gunshot null and void.
I was several states away, in college, when my mom convinced my aunt to take Dax off the machines. She was still holding out hope that he would wake up. I seriously doubt he would have wanted to live the rest of his life in that state. They asked if I wanted to be there, but I told them I had already said my farewells.
I thought Sara was calling me about Dax’s funeral the following week, but what she said instead blew my mind.
“Hi, kid.” There was a buoyancy to her voice.
“Yuck!” she exclaimed. We chitchatted about nothing for a while before she got to the real reason she called. “The ugly duckling is missing from storage.” She was talking about the broach.
“You calling to see if I took it? I haven’t been there since the last time you and I went.”
“No, I don’t think you took it. I already know who did. Well, not specifically who, but…”
There was a long pause. “Well?”
“They deposited two million dollars into Dax’s secret account.” I could tell she was smiling without seeing her. I didn’t know what to say.
The only explanation was that it was payment for acquiring the broach. I couldn’t imagine who would pay two dollars for that thing, let alone two million dollars. Sara said she would make arrangements to wash the money and split it with me and Dax’s mom. He made good on his promise to score big. Sadly, it cost him his life.
The demonic thing Sara and I saw in Dax’s office still gives us horrible nightmares. I think if Dax had seen it early on, there’s no way he would have exposed all those people to it, especially the kids. Those children are as deeply scarred as I am. I don’t want to see it again for as long as I live. Experiencing that level of terror and fear has permanently broken something inside me.
I will say one thing. If anyone ever wants to talk to you about ‘turning your 3D printer into a gold mine,’ walk away. No, run away as fast as you can.
Copyright 2021 Darrell Winfrey