24 August 2012

#fridayflash: data-driven

"Because it doesn't work that way!" Fenmore would have banged his head on his desk if it hadn't been a video call.

On the main screen, Detective Gordon was staring at the camera like a bulldog trying to decide where to bite first.

"Teleport Inc.'s machines gather all the data there is to know about a person when they step onto a departure pad and tap that keycard," he said. "Your network knows their height, weight, hair colour, what's been left stuck between their teeth from lunch. You know what's in their purse, their wallet, what the shape and size of the skidmarks in their underwear are."

"More or less, but — "

"So you have all this data about a person when they use your network to teleport. And you Teleport Inc. folks, you're careful. You've never lost anyone yet, never forgotten to give them their fingernails back on the arrival pad. You have to have data archives."

"Not the way you're thinking of."

"What I'm thinking, Dr. Fenmore, is that under the Criminal Information Act, I don't need a warrant to demand the data I'm asking for. I don't need you to give me the logs of the past week. Just the one. Gina Saunders. I have her DNA sample right here. You find me the record, we know where she last teleported to, and we'll continue our investigation from there."

"But it doesn't work that way," said Fenmore. "We're exempt from the CI Act, because we're considered transportation, not communications. And our data is encrypted. And you can't just 'access' it, because we deliberately stored it in such a way that it can't be queried like a regular database. It's sent redundantly, but not all redundant streams have the same data, so even if one stream gets hacked a hostile force can't go and kidnap someone by re-routing their data..."

"We don't want access to the live data, doctor," said Gordon. "Just the archives. Saunders was last seen at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst on 17 August. We want you to check the archives for then..."

A laugh cracked out of Fenmore's throat. "The seventeenth? That was six whole days ago. Are you kidding me? We only keep stuff for thirty-six hours. Detective, that data is long gone, even if it was legal for me to help you. Do Canadian police still keep notes on paper too?"

Detective Gordon glowered at him. "You better be telling the truth, Fenmore."

Dr. Fenmore tapped his desk in a few different places. "Just sent the documentation proving it. Nice talking to you, Detective Gordon."



Dr. Fenmore made a point of using all the locks on his front door, even though the detectors would let him know if anyone was within five kilometres of his house.

He checked that the arrival pad was completely powered down, then prised off the cover panel and reconnected the wire he'd loosened a week ago. He replaced the cover panel and powered up the pad. The machine ran through boot-up and self-diagnostic processes for a minute or two, and then there was a white flash over the pad itself.

A young woman stood on the pad, her fedora and trenchcoat dripping water onto the rubberised sensor surface at her feet.

"Amazing," said Dr. Fenmore. "Toronto hasn't had any rain since the day you left. How do you feel, Gina?"

Gina Saunders shrugged and stepped off the pad, doffing her hat and coat at the same time. "Fine," she said. "Felt just like a regular port." She noticed the coat rack by the door and hung her hat and coat up. "How long was I gone?"

"Seven days in total," said Fenmore.

"And no-one figured out where I was?"

"The broken circuit meant you registered as arrived on the network, but you stayed in the local cache until I re-connected the wire just now."

Gina raised her eyebrows. "And you think no-one's going to question that the pad was off-line for a week?"

Fenmore shrugged. "Technically it's a lab machine. They're not supposed to be up all the time."

Fenmore watched her check out his living and working space. She ran her hands over his worktable as if she expected the sensors to recognise her hands. As if he'd leave all that data open for access by just anyone. Suddenly she froze and held her hands up close to her face.

"What is it?" said Fenmore.

"I was wearing light blue nail polish when I left Toronto. Look." She flipped the backs of her hands to face him. All the fingernails were bare.

"Oh, that," said Fenmore. "Well, you know, being a man, and not one who wears that sort of thing, I don't have any nail polish remover handy, so I just edited it out of the data record. You understand."

"What, they don't have pharmacies in Australia?"

"If I'd bought cosmetics, it would have shown up on my transaction records. Some marketer or another would have flagged the data, and then it could have gone anywhere. The whole point is to hide the fact that a woman is living here."

Gina frowned. "I figured I'd just find my own way. That last job means I've got loads of credits saved up, even after I give you your share. I just can't spend them in North America without getting flagged."

Dr. Fenmore smiled. "We're in the outback, Gina."

Gina glanced out the living room window. "Looks like it."

"The teleporter pads are the only means of transportation in or out of here. I got rid of my car as a sign of good faith when I joined Teleport Inc. Anyhow, petrol hasn't been for sale within a thousand kilometres of here for two years at least."

"Okay, so I'll teleport out. It's a risk, but if I have to, I have to —"

"You don't understand," said Dr. Fenmore, a little too loudly. "The company hired me to work on secure network nodes, so private areas with teleportation pads couldn't have just anyone using them. The departure pad only responds if it's going to teleport my DNA. It won't take anyone else's. If I so much as have some of your dead skin cells on my sleeve, the departure pad will edit them out."

He watched the information sink in. She was far more pretty than intelligent, this one, but eventually she understood.

"How far is it to —"

"Five hundred kilometres."

More pretty than intelligent, for certain. Prettier still with a pale face.

20 comments:

  1. Oh my Gina is stuck! I loved the feel of this piece, it has me wondering what will happen next.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! What's going to happen next is nothing good, I'm afraid.

      Delete
  2. That "pale face" close is almost chilling, Katherine. I'd have significant trust issues with any teleportation company.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm trying to work it out in the world-building that teleportation isn't actually any more dangerous than driving a car (make of the risk assessment there what you will). In theory you should be safe so long as you don't ask any sociopathic employees to help you outrun the law.

      Delete
  3. I don't normally like sci-fi but you have changed that Katherine. The voice and the pacing in this is outstanding, and you've left me wondering what will happen next.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Katherine, these teleporter stories get better and better, ranging from comic to sinister, and all are very cleverly written and enjoyable, hats off to you. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! They all come from a three-hour car ride which should only have taken forty-five minutes, tops.

      Delete
  5. particularly liked the details of the nail polish

    marc nash

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most excellent good -- it was either going to be that or her hair colour.

      Delete
  6. I enjoyed this immensely! Right from the beginning, I was pulled into your world of teleportation. Fun, fun read with a startling creepy ending.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I finally got around to tagging all the teleportation stories (um, the tag is "teleportation") and put links to them on their own blog page. The link to it is on the top of the right-hand column of this blog.

      Delete
  7. I really liked the first half of the story, but the end makes me wish Fenmore a slow and painful death.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If Larry's comment (see below) is correct, that may well be happening sooner than Fenmore realises.

      Delete
  8. He's going to "keep" a wanted criminal in his house? Oh yeah, that's smart of him. I have a feeling he's going to find himself getting "edited" with a sharpened spoon. :-D

    I need to catch up on Tilly, and find more of these teleport stories. They sound fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's an interesting situation, since each thinks the other is naive and an idiot.

      Peter Newman recommended The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester for more teleportation stories. As it happens, the Goodreads Science Fiction group just recommended it too.

      Delete
  9. I love your teleportation stories, they always make me think.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm a bit late to this one. One of your best I think. Very tight writing but good characterisation. And dark ending. Nice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Funny, because I wrote it when I was ill and tired and not sure where it was going... always the way, isn't it?

      Delete

Comments are very welcome.

Spam will be deleted without mercy.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.