Detective Lee scanned the console rooms, finally finding the door number he had spent the past ten minutes looking for. The offices all looked the same to him; pristine, clean and without character. It wasn’t like his younger days. Sure the boys then decorated their desks with tacky stuff, generally the smuttier the better, but at least then they had character. Not like the offices around the station now. Now you could port from one office to another and not even know you’d changed rooms.
“What you got for me?” he asked the Scanner as he entered. The fresh-faced, red-headed boy in his early twenties looked up at him with a condescending smile that told Lee he’d soon be redundant.
“Murder”, said the boy happily, “We’ll finally be able to configure these systems in a real world scenario.”
Real world scenario, thought Lee, the kid doesn’t even understand that a real person has died. That was the problem with all the tech, too much abstraction. Scanners like the boy would just never get it. He supposed they’d never have to, but wasn’t that the point in it all?
“Give me a sec,” continued the Scanner, fiddling with some complicated looking controls on the desk in front of him. “OK, the drone is in place, come with me.” The boy got up from his desk revealing an impressive black suit that made Lee feel scruffy in his unwashed trousers and tie-less shirt. Not looking back he entered the door marked, ‘Analysis Room’. Lee followed on slowly after. He wasn’t eager to meet his competition.
The room they entered was large, cold, and as disgustingly sterile as the office they had just left. He didn’t like places like this, people that were too clean almost always had something to hide. Dustless, black screens surrounded the entire room, turning the place into a hall of mirrors. Catching sight of himself in one of the surfaces, he couldn’t help but notice how old and out of place he looked compared to the younger boy.
Lee was in his late forties, but his eyes and hair said he was older. The stubble didn’t help. He couldn’t exactly remember the last time he had bothered to shave. A day ago, maybe two? His father had come from one of the Japanese, New Pacific Island colonies, his mother from what used to be France. Going by his family name there were more connections further back, but it had never interested him to find out; country and race were non issues in the new “global community”.
Whatever his family history, clearly his father’s genetics had been favored in his make-up. At least there was still one place where the laws made sure there would no scientific interference. He wondered how long that would last.
The screens flicked in to life and they were presented with a three hundred and sixty degree view of an almost empty street. The fresh corpse on the northern screen was the only sign that life hadn’t completely abandoned the place.
“Now let’s see where we are, shall we?” asked the red headed Scanner, chirpily tapping parts of his arm where his skin projected a console of information.
“Northern outskirts of Beijing,” said Lee matter-of-factly. The boy looked at his arm doubtfully, his eye’s lighting up in surprise when the fact was confirmed.
“How did you know that?” asked the Scanner, trying to mask the surprise in his voice. Lee shrugged.
“Look at the sand building up by the body,” he said pointing to the corpse. “Beijing is one of the few desert cities that’s still running. Factor that in with the daylight, time of day, the architecture and the prominence of our dead official there, then it has to be Beijing. Your computer works it out the same way. It’s just that I’ve had more practice.” He tried not to smile smugly.
“Actually, the computer uses satellites for location. It only does the crime scene investigation that way,” started the boy, before suddenly remembering something. “Hang on, what do you mean by the prominence of the official?”
“Now don’t tell me a technocrat like yourself doesn’t watch the news?” The boy squinted at the face in front of him.
“Santiago Collins!” said the boy in shock.
“That’s right, your own boss! Well your boss’s boss to be precise. And the technical investigative director of the UN. Based in Beijing isn’t he? Not that it means much these days.”
“Hang on, I want to run a facial print check first,” said the Scanner, tapping furiously on his arm. A profile of Santiago Collins appeared on the screen beside the body. “I can’t believe it! Should we tell someone?”
“Now calm down,” said Lee, “We are the police after all. Let’s get our facts first then we can see about reporting it further up. Run your scans and see what you can pick up.”
The boy didn’t argue, using the computer to search the crime scene for any clues that it could uncover. At the same time Lee circled the room examining the screens as closely as he could.
He didn’t like the technical crime scene investigations, but he had to admit, they had their advantages. Often they could find much of the evidence in advance before the place could be trampled down by the flat footed enforcers. He’d seen too many investigations ruined by contaminated evidence.
Two years ago, he’d lost a high profile criminal in the courts thanks to the enforcers. In the arresting fire fight, an enforcer lost his weapon and managed to pick up a terrorist weapon instead. Of course it turned out that, like most enforcers, the officer had a rather colorful history. It was enough for the lawyers to instil some, “reasonable doubt,” in the tribunal.
The computer could also analyze the evidence on the spot, no more waiting about for hours on lab results. It could all be put together there and then. In a world were people could port from one city to another in a few seconds those few hours made all the difference.
His big objections, he had to admit, were purely on principle. There was something wrong with not being there in the real scene, not being able to taste the flavor of the crime or the smell of the motive. Stuck behind a screen, his intuition felt hazy; like he was at the scene, but covered in a veil designed to reduce all his senses.
It was starting to seem that everything in life was removing the human aspect. This time he felt it the most as he was the human being removed. There would be no future for him in detective work. He’d be given a nice little job in an office somewhere and would type warnings to kids on their networks about the dangers of unlocking their ports to strangers. Soon the computers would take control of his work just as they’d taken control of the rest of his life. He would be obsolete and the world would be a little worse for it.
“All blood traces are his own, he was stabbed several times in the lower back near the kidneys with some kind of pointed object. Apart from that there is nothing,” said the Scanner with a hint of disappointment; if his program could have identified the killer it would have made his name.
“Nothing?” asked Lee surprised. “What’s that there?” He pointed to a small brown branch that lay off to the side of the body. The Scanner zoomed onto the area and ran another cycle.
“It just comes up as branch,” he said.
“A branch? In the middle of a desert? I guess I’ll have my job for a little while yet,” said Lee. “Send a memo to the programmers, they’re going to have to make the program location specific. You can’t have a general set of rules for every situation.” The boy nodded, typing on to his arm. “Now I’m going to port in there.”
“What?” asked the boy.
“You should come with me, maybe you’d understand it better if you see it in the real world. What’s your name by the way?”
“Martian, but most here just call me Red,” said the boy nervously.
“Well Red, prepare a port and let’s go.”
“Actually, this all works on ports,” said Red. “All we have to do is touch the screen.”
After taking a moment to check the pistol on his hip, Lee reached out and touched the screen his body dissolving as he did so. Porting was a technology he knew well. He’d grown up with it in its simpler forms. First it started with online shopping. No one wanted to wait weeks to have clothes shipped to them that would be out of fashion when they arrived. So some bright spark of his age came up with a machine that could use patterns supplied by the designers to manufacture clothes in a local branch then post it on.
With time and investment, the technology became smaller and smaller until people had machines in their own homes that could manufacture the clothing. Then it moved on to food, drinks, simple machines, complex machines; all could be sent directly through the internet. Finally it was the turn of animals and humans. It was amazing what could be achieved with the combined financial backing of the world’s major retailers, and all of it in his lifetime.
Of course at that point ethical questions were raised. Especially when people started to understand that in porting you didn’t actually transfer your whole self through the net, but rather, that you abandoned your body in one place and it was recreated somewhere else using what was unfortunately referred to as, “waste material,” from previous ports. But again the collective advertising powers of the multinationals came to the rescue and soon most, though not all, were convinced.
His eyes opened on the street of Beijing, the Director’s body lying not far from his feet. Red appeared behind him, emerging in a beam of light transmitted by the floating porting drone that they had been using to survey the site.
There was talk of allowing people to port in from satellites, but there had been a few undisclosed “issues” on testing. As someone who regularly used the porting system, he was for the first time in his life glad that the specifics had remained censored.
He walked over and picked up the branch, it had been sharpened to a point at one end.
“I don’t get it,” said Lee. “There’s no blood on it. If they had cleaned it with some kind of chemicals, wouldn’t your computer scans have picked it up?”
“Hmm, let me see,” said Red, taking the stick from Lee and raising it up to the port drone. He looked at the results on his arm. “Well that’s scary. Seems someone’s made some kind of natural resin that matches the chemicals normally released by a branch. Worrying part is that they’d have to know our systems really well to know exactly what kind of things we look for.”
“Luddites!” said Lee.
“Luddites? But they’re against new tech. They’d never be able to come up with this kind of thing.”
Lee frowned at the boy. “I’m guessing you’ve never dealt with them before then. It’s not that they’re against technology, in fact they love it. They’re just against the way it’s being used.”
“What? They’re against people having more convenient lives?” asked Red sarcastically. Lee shook his head.
“It started with right wing religious types. But it didn’t really take off until the Holmes bots.”
“Them I know! Prototype drones to replace the enforcers, right? They were phased out because of technical problems.”
“If, ‘technical problems,’ means mass murder, then yes. The UN keeps it all hush hush these days, but basically they were programmed to hunt down people who broke the law. Unfortunately the programmers were not overly specific in defining their parameters. One of the Holmes bots uncovered some corruption in the UN and since the UN is a semi – democratic body, it labeled all citizens of the UN as criminals and subject to termination. Luckily there was a kill switch, but the bots had managed to massacre more than two thousand people before the authorities knew what was going on.”
“Thus started the Luddites?” asked Red dryly.
“Pretty much,” said Lee, taking the stick back from Red and smelling the resin on the point.
“I’m surprised you’ve never heard about it. It’s amazing the number of scientist types that actually joined them. Seems not all of you are as amoral as people like to think.”
“Yeah, it’s sad to think that educated people like that would have us living in caves and picking fleas out of each other’s hair.”
“It’s not about that!” said Lee in annoyance. “It’s about not having everything controlled by process. It’s about being able to have more than the ‘yes and no’ options that the computers give. It’s about letting people just be human.” He took a deep breath. He was letting the kid get to him.
Placing the stick back on the ground where he found it, Lee paced the scene in slow measured steps. Red watched him cautiously, unsure if he should be doing the same thing or not.
“Why is he here?” asked Lee, “Why would Santiago Collins, be wandering around a street on the edge of Beijing? Sure his home is here, but people like him port everywhere and if for some strange reason he did decide to wander on the Beijing streets, he wouldn’t be doing it alone.”
“Maybe he wasn’t killed here?” suggested Red.
“Wouldn’t your computer have picked that up?” asked Lee, “Now, I’d have to check with forensics to be a hundred percent, but looking at blood splatter, I’d say he was done in here.” He paced on a little looking round the Scene. “Could someone intercept a port signal?”
“You mean hack into the port net?” asked Red. “In theory, but it’s one of the most protected networks in the world, doubly so for political transmissions, and even then why go to the bother of materializing him? It would be much easier to kill the transmission and scatter his signal.”
“Unless he was carrying something that they wanted to get a hold of?” said Lee. “We need to get back so I can check port transmission records.”
“No need, I can do it here,” said Red, already touching two points on his arm that activated the skin console. A list of records scrolled down his arm and then just as quickly disappeared to be replaced by a single line sentence, ‘Access Denied.’
Red looked over at Lee. “Maybe this is something we don’t want to get involved in?” he said. “This is political. It’s not good to get mixed up in politics.”
“Who blocked the signal?” asked Lee.
“Really Detective, you don’t want to get into this,” said Red worriedly.
“The name!” demand Lee
“Simon Silver,” whispered Red. The name was a familiar one to Lee. Simon Silver was the head of Microport systems, the company responsible for the maintenance of all transport Ports around the world. “I’ll set up a port to him now. I can take you straight to him.”
Lee looked at the other man, the urgency of his words confirming what he had, until now, only suspected.
“And what’s going to be waiting for me at the other side of that port Red?” he asked carefully, his had falling to the pistol at his waist. “Simon Silver or your Luddite friends?” The color drained from Red’s face.
“My Luddite what?” he asked nervously.
“Your Luddite friends, brothers, comrades, or whatever you want to call them.” His hand rested unmoving on the pistol. “I’m old Red, but I’m not an idiot. You already good as told me yourself that the Luddites have to have someone on the inside of crime scene investigation program, didn’t you?”
Red didn’t answer, instead he stood listening, his eyes focused on Lee’s weapon hand.
“Then a man like you, steeped in criminal tech, doesn’t know that the Luddites are technical masters and knows next to nothing about the Holmes bot program? That was hard to believe, but possible nonetheless.”
Red still stood unmoving.
“Finally of course you gave yourself away, one minute you want to give up the chase, next you’re ready to go charging in to make an arrest.” Lee paused, studying the other man’s nervous reaction as he did so. It had been a risk, but the man’s guilt ridden face had been the final confirmation that he needed. “You see, that’s the thing your programmers have always had a problem with. They think detective work is just following the big arrows. But really it’s about tying all the little stuff together. When they figure that out, then they’ll have a program worthy of my job, not before.”
Suddenly the port drone came to life behind Red, two figures were created in microseconds by its internal mechanism. Lee’s pistol was drawn and pointing at Red, but the two new arrivals, both dressed in heavy woodsman’s jackets had their own weapons locked on him.
“You’re right!” said Red, relaxing a little. “But you want to know why we didn’t just hack his program, you want to know what we got, don’t you?”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious,” said Lee, trying not to be put of by the stern men pointing their weapons at him. They looked like warehouse workers, definitely not the sort of men who would normally be doing this sort of thing. That made them nervous and he knew from experience that nervous men were dangerous and unpredictable.
“The Holmes Bot program. I know about it far too well,” said Red, not taking his eyes off Lee. “My father was one of the victims.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“It was a long time ago. But it’s starting again. The crime scene program that we’ve been working on, it’s just the start of much greater automation of policing. Computers will investigate, then the new improved bots, not so dissimilar to the Holmes bots, will be deployed to arrest. Not a single human will be involved from beginning to end.”
That can’t be true, thought Lee, not after the last time. It would be madness. “I suppose you have evidence of this then?” he asked.
“We do now, thanks to the director,” said Red looking towards the corpse, “A comprehensive plan of world security in the hands of the Luddites.”
“Was it worth murdering a man?”
“His death was a mistake, we would rather no one had known we had the plans. We hadn’t expected him to put up so much of a fight. Either way, we got them and we’ll be broadcasting them to the world soon enough.” He reached into his pocket and took out an electronic pad throwing it at Lee’s feet. “It’s all in there, see for yourself.”
Lee bent down and picked up the pad, still keeping his gun trained on Red. He scanned the overview. Stage one was the phasing-in of crime scene automation, that he knew was a fact. But further down, there it was, “re-automation of enforcement”. What were they thinking? But even as the question was asked, he knew the answer; power. People were malleable, corruptible, rebellious. Machines would carry out any orders that they were given. The people in power always wanted the law to be black and white. Years of experience had told Lee there was more gray than anything else.
“Detective, you’re a good man and talented one,” said Red, “We could use a man like you on our side, someone who knows real policing. Someone who can outthink the computers.” He looked round at the two men beside him and nodded. They reluctantly lowered their weapons. “I see the way you look at all this new tech that’s stealing away your job and your reason to live. I see your skepticism in its effectiveness. You know we’re right and there are far more of us than you think.”
It wasn’t the first time a criminal had tried to persuade Lee to join their side; it was funny how everyone wanted you to join their team once you outsmarted them. But this was the first time in his life that what they said actually made sense to him. He was no rebel; he even enforced the laws that kept the UN and the multinationals in power, but it had all just gone too far even for him. All he wanted in life was just to do his job, to catch real criminals like he had in the old days. Now they were taking that away as well. Technology was meant to be a tool for humans to use, to make their lives better. It was never supposed to replace them.
He looked over at the two armed men. They didn’t look like thugs or criminals. On another day he would have thought of them as family men and he was a good judge of character. It was his job after all.
“Have it your way then.” he said, dropping his gun to floor and kicking it to Red. “I’m becoming obsolete anyway. I’ll do it, I’ll join your Luddites.”
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