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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chapter 2 (serialized novel)

“Tell me what you did.” She doesn’t introduce herself. She simply begins.

"At approximately 0300 we detected overlap in the archives,” the cadet hesitates, “on eighty profiles."

“Eight?”

“Eighty.”

"Emergence pattern?"

"Simultaneous." Inspector Tenka smiles and lets out a long, respectful sigh. She’s exhausted and determined not to let it show. The cadet is expressionless. He’s a muscular giant, the product of the academy’s finest bodymods -a curious physique to sit behind a desk. His hands twitch in the small interface boxes.

She looks around the office. Almost everything has changed. Undoubtedly, this young staff is surprised to find that hitting the emergency connect in the middle of the night has summoned this small, elderly figure. The Inspector’s short, bright white hair is the only sign of seniority in the room. Every data officer is pretending to continue their work. They’re watching through their fashionable heterochromic eyes for her reaction. Eighty overlapping profiles is a legitimate emergency but she shows no sign of panic. She is the only one in the branch who has seen the days of seven percent.

“Continue your report.”

“All profiles were replicas of OrMod’s inner council executive Jana Berrin.“ Now she understands the tension in the room. It’s a corporate job.

“Phantoms?”

“The lowest thirty profiles all register at exactly ninety-six point nine.” Tenka bursts into laughter but the thick-necked cadet only tilts his head in confusion. She realizes that the entire staff is starring at her in anxious silence.

“It’s a game,” she tries to explain. “Games within games within games.” Suddenly she feels lonely and nostalgic. Nothing separates veterans from rookies more than sense of humour.

A data officer’s career can be divided into distinct phases. Cadets take everything very seriously. They want to save the world by discovering the formula that eliminates crime. They analyze the archive with a fervor that soon overwhelms them. Eventually, statistical analysis will make them numb. Force them to step back. They will see human beings as groups of numbers. People become disappointing masses of predictable patterns. By the time they’re mid-career they’ll have become cynical critics of human nature, unable to make the world a better place.
Senior Investigators, the final incarnation of data officers, are at peace. They cease desiring change. It becomes clear to them that every civilization has deviant behaviour. The purpose of law enforcement is to ensure that it stays at four percent. In some generations, the criminals have the advantage, in others, the police. Veterans understand that the role of the data officer is not to stop the pendulum, only to slow its momentum.

“We’ve compiled a list of suspects.” The cadet’s voice brings her back. She can detect a trace of pride in his voice. He thinks he’s close.

“How many?”

“Three hundred.”

“Three hundred suspects,” she contemplates the logistics, “at what level?” The cadet moves his hand in the box and more figures begin to appear. “Let me guess, ninety-six point nine?” He stops in frustration. Games within games. “Have you run a subcon?”

The cadet turns to her in embarrassment. Of course. To this generation, a subcon is an outdated method, something they memorize to pass their exams. They have a dangerous faith in the reliability of the archive. Tenka smiles at the situation. Had not she been as young and misguided? It has come full circle. Now it is her turn to educate the next generation.

"Consider an imp who has been posing as five separate individuals.” She doubts that these cadets have seen a single case of imping in the field. Consider the case of LaMarte, an imposter from the early age of the archive.” Tenka slides her hand into the box and calls up the example. Five people are projected before them. “We knew that LaMarte was masquerading as these five profiles. If you correlate ker features you’ll find a ghost print of the original.” The computer merges the five separate faces into one. The resulting image resembles LaMarte. “There. A subcon scan reveals that imps subconsciously adopt their original features.”

“Inspector,” the cadet asks cautiously, “are you suggesting that these three hundred suspects are the work of one imposter?”

“It seems impossible.” She responds with patience. “But tonight you’ve already seen Jana Berrin appear in eighty places at once. You tell me that there are enough correlating tracks in the archive to suggest that this is the work of three hundred suspects. And everything that you uncover verifies at ninety-six point nine percent. Doesn’t that strike anyone as odd?” The answer is obvious. Ninety-seven percent is the minimum requirement for information to be considered reliable. It was as if all of their data was daring them to discard it. “Someone is playing a game with us to show what they can do. We have no information. We have only what they want us to find. Run the subscan.”

The room fills with projected images of three hundred different people. A small, young woman with a sharp nose poses for a picture in a forest, an elderly man laughs as he holds his wig on in a boat, a middle-aged woman selects a new skin color from a catalogue. Tenka’s peripheral vision picks up a tall, red-headed man waving in a sign-off, a woman saluting in uniform, a well-dressed young man rolling dice, flashes of different skin, eye, and hair colour begin to swirl as the cadet runs the subscan. All of the projected people begin to merge into one. Could all of these lives truly be the work of one imposter? Is the pendulum swinging again? The staff stops pretending to work. They’re all watching for the face to emerge from the overlapping profiles. The room is emptying as all of the data is pulled toward the center. Suddenly, it’s complete and the Inspector is looking at an image of herself.

“We’ve been infiltrated. This imp has detailed knowledge of our investigative methods, khe knows I’ve been assigned ker case, and khe has taken the time to masquerade as three hundred different profiles to play a joke. I need an emergency connect to Daria-Zeh Motema. Now.” Despite the severity of the situation she smiles. You could spend your life in the Department and never see an aberration on this scale. It was genius.

1 comment:

lfar said...

more more more and never ever stop! more now! NOW!