Category Archives: Fiction

Scrape to soothe the rasp, hiss to hide the hum

Emily had been dreaming again. No tears on her pillow this time but the sound of rocket engines still rushed in her ears for a few fleeting moments. Slowly she came into her body, felt it materialize. Slowly the concrete around her became, well, concrete again. The camping mattress underneath felt like it had become concrete during the night as well. Against all inertia and blanket warmth a slow familiar ache in her back convinced her it was time to get up.

She limped to the bathroom with the tenderness of intense sleep.

At least there’s still hot water, she thought. One of the few comforts of her building compared to others around the country. Others might have not had the entire rest of the staff abscond but damn it she could still take a civilized shower.

She turned the water on to let it warm up and took a few spare moments to look at herself in the mirror. Tired eyes framed by faded pink hair, roots showing through, undershave grown out. She had wanted to do something about her hair for months but she couldn’t risk the trip to town. Not any more. Maybe a care package would come soon. She had listed pink dye under essentials, only partly expecting to be taken seriously, but hoping someone would come through. Those packages, though. They had been coming less and less frequently. It contributed to her feeling that the whole clandestine enterprise was expiring with a whimper and it was probably time to wrap things up.

That line of thinking always felt like a mood trap but as she looked around she couldn’t deny the multivariate truth of it. Less external support, more equipment problems, hell even the bathroom needed a good cleaning. She slipped as she felt the place slip, somehow out of time and consequence into its own experimental bubble. She needed to clean the bathroom but she recognized for the hundredth time that she needed to pull the trigger on her data even more.

After the shower she sat down to check her email and found one precisely to that effect. Sergio pestering her for a final go-ahead despite being the original Principal Investigator at her site and also being the first to flee. The fucking audacity bothered her as much as the nagging concern that he’d make her effort as much his when the time came for credit. But the packages he sent helped, and the occassional pep talks. She archived the email rather than responding to it just to let him stew a little more. It took three tries while the network connection flickered. One more failing piece of shit equipment. Lovely.

The near-silence only served to let her brood more and to let her analytical side pick apart the hum from the next room. Always noisy, the combined thrum of computation and exhaust fans had developed a noticeable rasp recently. Probably not unfixable especially given her comp sci chops. But that depended on replacement parts and those were harder and harder to come by. They hadn’t planned for extended isolation. They had barely planned for anything. But that rasp increasingly felt like her throat and her mood, felt like the slightly threadbare clothes on her frame, felt like the discordant protests of undyed hairs and a body that hadn’t danced at a nightclub in eighteen months. She didn’t want to own the rasp yet.

So she put on music; the new Nine Inch Nails, the only good thing that had come out of 2016. The scrape to soothe the rasp, the hiss to quiet the hum. Code waited for her as it had every day for the past few years. Code sat coiled in its box at the propulsion lab, then the oceanographic fellowship, and finally the Midwest Computing Cluster. It sat coiled waiting to flex; waiting to be let out; waiting to strike. And it responded to the harmonics of her snake-charmer keytaps. Just not always in the way she expected. She dove into the code.

Numerical models lay in wait as she worked her magic, repeating her mantra at the beginning: I’ll show you snowballs in congress, you dumb motherfuckers. Cold fingers jumped across the keyboard arrhythmically. A flurry, a pause for thought, a blizzard. Then rumbling back through with a logical plowblade to clean up the mess. She banged away and hit her own runner’s high stopping only to think or sip rapidly cooling coffee. Work continued straight through lunch without a thought for it until the eventual trip to the bathroom (hello, caffeine) and only then she felt the rumble of hunger.

She set the data to run and wandered into the small, cluttered kitchen to make a sandwich. Made a mental note to do some of the dishes she often neflected as the only person there. And studiously ignored the aged refrigerator as its compressor labored. Only the coolant pump for the GPU cluster sounded worse.

Chewing unenthusiastically, she put a language lesson on speaker. German. Which she’d need assuming she made it out. French may have been smarter for general communication – it had encountered a renaissance of sorts across continents as English fell out of favor – but the Germans were doing more science, and science she was.

After the lesson she answered a few emails. One from her father that mentioned grandkids for the third time in a row. Reading the news soured quickly. She browsed old data. And got up the will to clean the bathroom, ignoring the fact that the model had probably finished.

Scrubbing the toilet she thought for maybe the thousandth time about the NOAA bureaucrat that saved her, saved them all. Cabinet pushed against the door, moving from server to server wiping their data, especially their facilities data, while federal agents pounded and demanded access. First the transition team request for the names of government climate scientists. Then the president’s demands. Then the agents. They would’ve had every observation and computation site in the world. So he exfiltrated as much data as he could and then rushed from cage to cage with a handful of thumb drives and instructions printed off the internet. DBAN became a tool of the resistance.

After that no one could quite piece together where all the sites were. They tried but legal documents had been, well, misplaced. Each site had a networked generator installed on a DHS grant but imagine how quickly computer science-savvy lab rats de-networked them. Then government threats, please, bribes. Some worked. Some didn’t. Some sites got raided and some sites remained to moulder along with their staff.

The cash rewards to the public for turning in climate labs changed things, of course. No more trips to town just in case the locals remembered who they were. And no more pay. And figuring out how to keep the power on in the labs.

And why.

She knew why. Earth was her favorite place and she wanted kids to have a better one, or at least know what a shitty hand their elders had dealt them. And she didn’t even like kids.

Emily scrubbed and imagined that middle manager and his USB drives, defying armed agents, a president, a cabinet worth more than the bottom third of American households. It would’ve been cold in the server room. The cabinet was wedged between the door and a pillar and the feds didn’t think to kill the power. And so there had been just enough time.

A brief flight of fancy had her thinking about one of the men behind it standing in an East German courtyard nearly thirty years previous. The young KGB officer had brandished a pistol to keep an angry crowd at bay so that Secret Police files could be destroyed before the crowd got their hands on them. Data then, data now. Angry crowds. A future in the balance.

Holding that crowd off had made the spy’s career. The NOAA guy, on the other hand, ended up in prison.

The final crash of the door coming down. The rush of thick bodies and the shout of indignant authority. The click of handcuffs chilled by the air of the server room.

And then, well, Emily Wong and her climate science team had been on their own.

It’ll be nice to dye my hair again, she thought. And buy some comics books.

She stopped ignoring the completed model run and looked it over. Waves of unreality washed over her as she reviewed data she already knew. She watched the room from outside herself, disconnected. The data was thorough. The model was groundbreaking. She could string it out a while longer. Surely a new package would come soon.

She sent the email that faceless internet people were waiting for. Not the data of course. That would go later and unintercepted if everything went to plan. Every border, even digital ones – especially digital ones – acted more as intelligent and sinister membranes now, analysing what lay at the surface and keeping most of it in or out.

The email was surely intercepted. Luckily it consisted of a donut order. The order was received. She wondered if a package would arrive soon. Then she started packing.

The courier arrived the next day in a car slightly more dated than her student loans. Older, she realized. No integrated GPS, no satellite radio, no smart system. He brought donuts which she scoffed at. He brought fresh coffee that she blessed him for.

“Don’t knock the donuts,” he said. “Know what we used to call those in the station? Power rings.”

She stiffened. A cop. He read her and raised his hands nonthreateningly.

“Sorry. Just trying to banter. Long gone from the force, but we aren’t all bad.” She nodded. It had gone too far now anyway. She traded the hard drive for the donut box.

“Where does it go from here? I guess I shouldn’t ask.”

“Nah, you can ask. I just can’t tell.” He smiled at her and raised the hard drive before slipping it into a black canvas messenger bag. “Thanks for this, doc.”

She wanted to tell him what was on it. She said nothing. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him what it suggested, what might be coming. Not with the rollbacks, the broken accords, the new government and its partnerships. She desperately needed someone to talk it over with that didn’t see it in numbers and code, but she said nothing.

The courier left. She enjoyed a donut – sweet and moist and perhaps indeed a power ring – before getting into her own aging car and heading north.

The data, she knew, would make its way north too. Through some complex chain of handoffs and pirate microwave transmissions from abandoned and decrepit offshore broadcasters. North to exile, refugee status like her. A country Americans had once fled to in order to avoid being drafted. And yet the data headed north to be drafted in its own kind of conflict, nearly of its own intention.

Emily thought about visiting her parents on the way. It wouldn’t be riskier than anything she had done already. She wiped powdered sugar on the steering wheel and queued up the CD changer to her road trip tunes. Her data would find its own way home.

Report Approved: A Story

Note: AnticiPol is a real thing, and works along the lines of what’s described here (though the DOJ doesn’t certify policing augmentations, yet). UbiquiPol is entirely made up but plausible given current technology. Behavior analysis programs exist, though they’re entirely prone to false positives and carry wickedly inherent bias. Investigational databases exist currently. Automatic querying and cross-referencing of multiple databases already exists. Shopping malls use MAC tracking already, for god’s sake.

We’re less than a year out from this.

The following is a brief summary of events that occurred on July 22, 2017.

At approximately 1455 hours I was directed by Sergeant Michael Wesley to deviate from my traditionally assigned patrol area and conduct a combination foot/vehicle patrol an area around Snow Ridge Park identified by AnticiPol as particularly at-risk for property crime during my shift. AnticiPol is a private software package that analyzes past crime statistics and area features and compiles a list of locations where crimes may be reasonably expected to occur at certain times. The Snow Ridge Police Department utilized AnticiPol successfully for over a year and it is certified by the Department of Justice as a verified Policing Augmentation Tool.

As my patrol began at 1500 hours I proceeded to the defined zone and parked my cruiser on Main Street. I then initiated foot patrol southbound on Main Street, intending to take a right on Cutlass Way approximately 575 feet south of my police cruiser. I would then take another right on Elm Ave, continue northbound to Poplar Street and then eastbound back to Main Street. Each of these streets is a public way in the city of Snow Ridge. This prospective patrol route was established by AnticiPol to also keep me within signal range of my cruiser so that body camera video and audio could be relayed back to the UbiquiPol servers for automatic recording, analysis and feedback.

The AnticiPol report generated for my shift indicated the high likelihood of property crime in this specific area between 1500 and 1900 hours, to wit vandalism. The Main Street/Elm Ave area is known to me as an area in which vandalism has occurred repeatedly over the last six months. It has largely consisted of the spraypainting or “tagging” of various names and political statements on businesses in the area, causing damage to their buildings and profitability. With the benefit of AnticiPol’s report I therefore began specifically looking for subjects committing, or about to commit, vandalism.

In preparation for casual encounters with the populace I activated my UbiquiPol body camera and initiated my patrol. I then had approximately four casual encounters with citizens on Main Street. Utilizing my training and experience as a law enforcement officer I evaluated each person according to my general impression of the typical spraypaint vandal. I did not find any suspect meeting the likely criteria. UbiquiPol similarly performed evaluations according to its own programming which, after attending an 8 hour class on its operation, is known to me. UbiquiPol transmits images via a repeated radio system in the cruiser to UP servers in the state of Nevada. UP computers analyze the video and audio and provide feedback to the Mobile Data Terminal Tablet each officer carries on patrol. The UP feedback includes the result of facial recognition and cross-references a number of databases, including that of the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), Board of Probation (BOP), investigational databases such as the Investigational Information Relay System (IIRS), our local police department files, and those databases of UbiquiPol’s corporate partners. It then returns information ranging from an individual’s driving and criminal records to investigational entries on the IIRS network to corporate intelligence shared by UP. In addition the UP data is analyzed according to UP’s own algorithms for anomalous material. According to metrics established by UP if anything suspicious is detected an alert is sent to a Wireless Investigational Notification System wrapped around my left wrist, and the WINS unit vibrates.

A corresponding profile on each individual was transmitted to my MDTT and available for reading. I reached Cutlass Way and reviewed the material before continuing after being satisfied no person encountered fit the profile of a property criminal.

Approximately 75 feet westbound on Cutlass Way the WINS unit vibrated and alerted me to suspicious material – in this case, an individual approximately 50 feet further westbound and walking away from me had a backpack slung over one shoulder. WINS advised that subjects prone to PROPERTY CRIME – VANDALISM – SPRAYPAINTING/TAGGING often use such bags to transport spraypaint cans and other contraband. WINS further advised that the individual in question had been looking eastbound when I reached the intersection of Main Street and Cutlass Way and had immediately turned and begun proceeding away from me, an action classified as FURTIVE MOVEMENT – AVOIDANCE. Due to the subject’s furtive movement WINS did not capture a clear image of their face and was consequently unable to provide a complete profile. According to department procedure, upon the notification of elements of suspicion, I used the WINS unit to request patrol guidance. The WINS unit advised as follows: “SUSPICION INDEX 0.7 – INITIATE CONTACT LVL III.” According to my training I knew this to mean that, having been computed higher than 0.5, this individual’s Suspicion Index along with my own training and experience combined to provide reasonable suspicious that he had committed, was committing or was about to commit the crime of vandalism.

I initiated contact with the unknown subject by calling to them. The party paused mid step but did not turn around. I called again and requested they come over to me. The WINS unit provided feedback that their servers considered this pause to be FURTIVE and may indicate criminal consciousness of a previous crime and/or intent to commit a crime by way of fleeing from a lawful officer. The subject turned to face me and appeared to be a white male with close cut brown hair, approximately 19 years of age, approximately 5 feet 8 inches. He wore blue jeans and a grey hooded sweatshirt or “hoodie.”

The subject approached me and I requested his name. The subject replied “None of your business.” I stated I was a police officer and he was required to provide his name at this time. The subject replied “I haven’t done anything, you don’t need my name.” At or around this time the WINS unit vibrated to notify me of new information. I requested the subject stand still and kept him in view while retrieving my MDTT. UbiquiPol had processed the party’s face according to procedure and run several pre-programmed database queries.

The subject in front of me was positively identified as DAVIES, MARK (see attached face sheet and supplementals). The MDTT first provided his Registry of Motor Vehicles driver’s license photo from the state of Colorado and through visual inspection I found the subject and DAVIES to be the same person. As this investigation did not involve vehicle issues I skipped past the RMV section. The Board of Probation data stated that DAVIES had three recorded arrests, two for trespassing and one for disorderly conduct, all closed. The Investigational Information Relay System provided several investigational notes entered by other law enforcement agencies. They provided general information on DAVIES, addresses, known associates and specific intelligence. DAVIES is known to two other law enforcement agencies in the state of Colorado to be an active member of several political organizations on record as instigating civil disturbances, impeding the free movement of traffic, and property damage. Finally, UP corporate partners provided similar intelligence on DAVIES as well as current and suspected cell phone numbers, MAC addresses of known or suspected devices, email addresses, intermittent GPS data and other information. UPCORP data indicated that DAVIES possessed one of the suspected devices and had left the wi-fi active, broadcasting a MAC known to him or his immediate surroundings, further confirming that the subject was indeed DAVIES.

At this time the dispatcher informed me over the radio earpiece that they received a call on a past vandalism approximately a block away. OurBank (Snow Ridge Branch) manager HOLMES, SKYLER called to report finding obscene graffiti on the side of the building. The graffiti consisted of “FORECLOSE THIS” with an image of a hand with middle finger extended. See witness statement from HOLMES, S as well as supplementals 911 recording and digital image attached to this report.

I pressed a button on the MDTT requesting a second officer with the flow of traffic/non-emergency and replaced the MDTT on my belt. Subject DAVIES shifted his feet – it is unknown at this time whether he was uncomfortable standing in place or preparing to unlawfully flee – and I observed an audible clinking sound from the backpack slung over one shoulder. Through knowledge and experience that sound reasonably appeared to be the sound of several metal/plastic cans rubbing against each other, such as cans of spraypaint. I observed DAVIES tense up and stare at me. DAVIES became angry and demanded to know if he was being arrested. I stated he was being interacted with in the process of an investigation. DAVIES requested the presence of his attorney. I stated we do not invite attorneys to participate in field interactions. DAVIES then told me to “fuck off with your fascist bullshit.” DAVIES continued to tense up in a manner familiar to me through training and experience that he was about to unlawfully flee or assault me. It was at this time for both our safety I assisted DAVIES to the ground in order to prevent him from fleeing or attacking me. DAVIES stayed on the ground until Officer Wilcock arrived.

I requested Officer Wilcock take over primary control of DAVIES and he did so. I retrieved my MDTT to enter elements in the Interaction Report for DAVIES, most of which backfill automatically. I also entered the reported OurBank vandalism as possibly associated. Ubiquipol alerted me that the MAC address for DAVIES cellphone had been within 25 feet of OurBank – Snow Ridge Branch for approximately six minutes around the time of the crime.

I asked DAVIES if he had just vandalized OurBank. DAVIES again repeated “fuck off” and requested access to an attorney. I asked what was in his backpack. DAVIES stated he did not give consent for any search. Given the sum of all information at hand including DAVIES’ furtive movements and attempted evasion, his records and being placed at the scene of the crime probable cause was established to search DAVIES backpack. This search was also conducted for the safety of all at the scene, and according to Snow Ridge Police Department guidelines. I unzipped the backpack and observed several cans of what appeared to be spraypraint, tape, and several heavy pieces of cardboard that appeared to be stencils.

DAVIES was read his rights and placed under arrest at that time for property crime, to wit: vandalism, as well as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He was transported in a marked cruiser directly to court for a magistrate hearing.

Officer Blake Summerhill
Snow Ridge Police Department

Report approved by:
Sergeant Timothy Carson
Snow Ridge Police Department

Supplementals available:
Face sheet: DAVIES, MARC
AnticiPol predictive report
HOLMES, SKYLER witness statement
HOLMES, SKYLER 911 call recording
Photographs: vandalized property, arrestee’s property
MACTRACK Community Protection Monitoring Report, Snow Ridge Park area 07/04/17
Booking report and photograph: DAVIES, MARC
Supplemental report: Officer Wilcox, John

Note: AnticiPol predictive algorithms, IIRS and UPCORP data are proprietary and unavailable for evidence review per their respective rightsholders and/or the Colorado Revised Statutes.