By Carl Macek
Inspired by a concept from Stan Slavutsky
©2009 all rights reserved.
The young man got to the crowded elevator just as the door was closing. He was glad he missed it. The collective smell of nearly two-dozen people all crammed together in a 3x3 meter cube, after a brutal day at work, would have been too much for him (considering the day he’d just had). He knew he’d have to wait a few minutes for the next elevator, but he was willing to sacrifice a little down time for the sake of his stomach and his sanity. As the minutes dragged on, the young man was surprised by the fact that no one else had made his or her way to the elevators. Apparently, he was the last one to leave the office.
“What a day,” he thought to himself as he looked at his watch without really seeing the time. He had been a production assistant for the central government’s Information Bureau for the last 6 years and couldn’t remember ever working so hard on a story like the one that broke earlier that morning.
A group of five gunmen had stormed the Parliament and opened fire on the legislators while they were in session. The terrorists had used handmade, cast-resin automatic pistols – which allowed them to breeze through the metal detectors – for their well-orchestrated attack. Before they were stopped, nineteen senior members of Parliament were killed and twenty-three others were wounded, including four security guards. When the S.W.A.T. Team arrived it was obvious that the gunmen were not going to be taken alive. It was a classic case of “death by police.”
After the dust had settled, the local authorities scanned the biometric chips implanted near the shoulder blades of the assassins and passed the raw data onto the Information Bureau. This was when the young man got involved with the story. His unit was tasked with compiling as much personal data on the gunmen as possible and sending it out to intelligence analysts for further scrutiny. At first, no one in the government thought that the investigation would be anything else but routine. However, once the initial data was processed it became obvious that their assignment was going to be much more challenging than anyone had imagined.
The first inkling of a problem surfaced when the IT department discovered that the data flow from the various biometric chips was still active. Then someone pointed out that the GPS information was incorrect. The chips were streaming statistics from five different locations – and none of the sites were anywhere near the Capitol. The logical explanation was that someone had hacked into the Government’s biometric grid and cloned the personal ID signatures of five different people. The whereabouts of these people was forwarded to local authorities and they were picked up for questioning without incident. After a few hours of intense interrogation it became obvious that the cloning was random and the suspects were released.
By the time the young man had been assigned to the story, news of the assassination squad’s clever high-tech ruse had been plastered all over the airwaves. In the face of this public relations nightmare, it was up to his department to track down leads generated by the Information Bureau’s proprietary facial recognition software to determine the real identity of the gunmen. No one had ever tested the system to this degree, but considering the gravity of the situation and the public outcry for “justice” the government allowed the unprecedented examination to proceed without the usual bureaucratic oversight.
While most of the young man’s team concentrated on pinpointing the identity of the alleged leader of the hit squad, he was assigned the seemingly mundane task of identifying “Suspect 4”. It was a matter of seniority and security clearance. At the early stages of any facial recognition investigation the job was little more than sitting by as a super computer scanned through tens of thousands of potential matches from video feeds warehoused by various government sources looking for a hit. However, rather than wait around twiddling his thumbs while his computer program chugged through the data, the young man decided to analyze the various raw, closed-circuit video feeds from the legislature’s surveillance monitoring system. Had he not done that, the anomaly surrounding the shooting might never have been discovered.
Watching a bank of monitors, he attempted to follow Suspect 4 across the various closed-circuit video feeds. He used a sophisticated non-linear video-editing system to track the suspect. It was a routine procedure that he had performed countless times before – but never for such a gruesome and ultimately disturbing scene. He called up the twenty-seven minutes of footage warehoused from the Parliament’s AV archive. His request started from the time the shooters entered the legislative chamber until the point that they were shot to death by the S.W.A.T. team. He was looking for good angles on Suspect 4 to extract for distribution to the media. Each of the official videos was synchronized by internal time codes. Yet after a few minutes of processing the young man’s off-line system came back with an error message. The software was unable to follow Suspect 4 continuously from camera to camera through the various feeds. Whenever Suspect 4 was viewed from individual source material there was natural continuity. But when one source was compared to another, the continuity became totally screwed up. It was almost as if each camera recorded a completely different take on the event. If he didn’t know better he might conclude that the attack was staged and filmed multiple times. The beginning and end were always the same, but the action between was slightly different. The progression of movement and the choreography of action was similar but still there were subtle differences. By looking at all the video feeds at once it was obvious that Suspect 4 would get to particular landmarks at different times. He even tried to manually sync the video – but still the action was not analogous from feed to feed. Briefly singling out each of the other suspects, the young man discovered that their movements also differed from feed to feed.
The first thing he thought of when the report of the Capital shooting came in was the way that Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of John F. Kennedy, was gunned down on live television back in 1963. It was big news at the time seeing that at the time of the assassination Kennedy was the President of The United States of America – a major global superpower when the world was still defined by tribal and multi-national delineations. Later, after he’d discovered the anomaly his thoughts turned to the first pictures of men walking on the moon back in the later half of the 20th Century. Both were classic examples of media at its most effective - visceral broadcasting that had influenced public opinion for generations to come. And both incidents were riddled with controversy. The shooting of Oswald pointed to a secret agenda by a shadow government looking to erase the facts in one of the greatest tragedies faced by any nation – the senseless assassination of a charismatic leader.
The first Moonwalk, on the other hand, had its own brand of controversy. Some people were convinced that the entire event was a hoax and that men did not actually fly to the moon in spacecrafts, as was reported, to the wonder and amazement of people all around the world. While the Oswald controversy persisted over the years, the fake Moonwalk never gained widespread support and soon fizzled out. The young man was not alive to experience either event firsthand. But he studied the incidents in college. He understood how Oswald’s shooting could be clouded in mystery, but he never quite understood why people could distrust the government and the media to such an extent that they believed the preposterous claims of naysayers and religious zealots in regard to the Moonwalk. Before he was ten years old the Government had set up permanent colonies on the moon. And by the time he had graduated from college, travel back and forth from the Moon had become a mundane occurrence. Still witnessing firsthand this particular anomaly involving the murders in the chambers of Parliament, he now realized how people could be swayed into believing the impossible.
The young man wanted to be absolutely sure of his facts before he brought his discovery up to his team supervisor. His biggest concern was that he had begun his review of the raw feeds without proper authority; and he wasn’t up to speed on the right protocol that needed to be followed in situations such as this. However, after carefully reviewing the raw data, he came to the conclusion that he should point out what he found to someone – if for no other reason that to get a simple explanation for his discovery and to set a precedent to avoid a similar situation in the future.
The first thing that happened after he shared his findings with his supervisor was that he was temporarily pulled off his original assignment vis-à-vis Suspect 4. He spent the next forty-five minutes explaining his inexplicable discovery to a host of Information Bureau lower-echelon executives and IT techs. Everyone saw what he saw, but no one could offer a logical explanation for the anomaly.
As he was ushered up the bureaucratic ladder he noticed that the higher up the chain of command the less surprise and resistance he encountered. It was as if the top brass knew about situation and were trying to spin it so that it was not such a big deal. The whole thing made the young man nervous. At one point he even wondered about his own personal safety. If he had uncovered something sinister, maybe those responsible might try to keep him quiet.
The number of incidents of civil disobedience around the world had been growing in frequency and severity over the last decade. But each time something happened, the Central World Government had stepped in to take charge of the situation. The concept of homeland security had changed radically over the years. What was once a highly pro-active intervention policy had evolved into a more orderly roundup of the usual suspects when something went wrong. Today’s shootings at Parliament were the exception. The disclosure of the bogus biometric chips caught everyone by surprise. And now the young man’s discovery was just the icing on the cake. It was as if the whole system was coming apart at the seams and the grunts were trying to keep everything in one piece.
By the time the young man was finally finished giving his statements and defending his actions in regard to the shootings, it was time to go home. He was worn out, talked out and ready to put the entire incident behind him. His superiors had analyzed the video feeds and his testimony and skillfully twisted the facts to conclude that the young man had discovered a glitch in the video compression codex. They thanked their production assistant for his vigilance and informed him that they would get someone to fix the problem. He was also told that there was enough confusion surrounding the shooting that his discoveries were going to be kept classified. The young man had no problem with that. Being a part of the media machine, the last thing he wanted was to become known as a whistleblower - his face plastered all over the news and reporters clamoring to interview him. He was just glad that he could be of some help.
When the elevator doors finally opened, four men in black military-style jumpsuits and wearing skin-tight wool balaclavas surrounded the young man. They were carrying a virtual arsenal of automatic weapons. Before the young man could react, one of the masked men covered his nose and mouth with a rag soaked in chloroform. The Information Bureau production assistant succumbed to the sweet-smelling liquid almost immediately and collapsed into unconsciousness.
When the young man regained consciousness he found himself shackled to a small metal chair in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Two men brandishing automatic weapons stood a few feet away from him to either side of a wide glass mirror. Looking at his reflection the young man could see that he had not been beaten, even though his entire body felt as if it had fallen down a flight of stairs.
“Who are you?” The young man screamed at the top of his lungs once his initial fear had worn off. Neither man responded to his question.
“Where am I?” Still the gunmen offered no reply.
“We ask the questions.” A female voice, with the hint of an accent, proclaimed from a small speaker attached to the wall above the mirror.
“I am a Government employee - an analyst at the Information Bureau - and I demand that you release me at once!”
One of the armed men stepped over to the young man and leveled the barrel of his weapon at his face.
“This will not take long,” the disembodied female voice said in a calm and even tone, “so long as you cooperate.”
The young man struggled against his shackles.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
The gunman swung the butt of his weapon into the young man’s chest.
“Like I said, with your cooperation we can get through this in a few minutes. But if you insist on being difficult… Well then, it could get extremely unpleasant for you. Do you understand?”
Gasping for breath, the young man nodded his understanding.
“Good, then let’s begin. How many people did you tell about your discovery regarding the shooting at Parliament today?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a dozen.”
The second gunman approached and held out a piece of paper with the names of fourteen people neatly typed on it in large bold letters.
“Are these the names of the people that you discussed you findings with?”
“I only knew a few of them by name.”
“All right then. Can you match any of the people you told about your discovery with the names on the list?”
The young man took a few seconds to scan the document.
“Yes, my supervisor and…”
“Are there any other people that you can recall that you spoke to about your discovery that is not on this list?”
The young man looked the list over for a few seconds before answering.
“That about covers it.”
“Think carefully. Is there anyone else who you may have told about your discovery?”
“No, I told you!”
In the upper left corner of the mirror a section of the reflection was replaced by a video feed of the young man talking to a middle-aged woman in the break room frequented by the members of his task force at the Information Bureau. The scene that played out for him to watch was from earlier that day.
“Do you recall speaking to Sondra773165?”
“Yes. We were both shocked to hear about what happened.”
The audio from his conversation was piped through the tinny speaker above the mirror.
“Can you believe it?” The young man said as he poured sugar into his black coffee.
“It happened so quickly,” Sondra773165 replied.
“Yeah, I know. It was almost as if it was a scene from a movie.”
“I know what you mean. It was just so surreal. Even down to the way that the gunmen refused to be captured.”
“Are you working on it?” The young man asked.
“No, I’ve been assigned to cover a state dinner.”
“Too bad. I’ve been pulled in to identify one of the shooters.”
“The guy that blew Speaker Harlon989521’s brains out.”
“Yeah right, lucky me! I’ll be babysitting an agency super computer while it scans a gazillion mug shots in the hope of coming up with a match.”
“At least you don’t have to translate a mundane speech for some mid-level bureaucrat. Why not make the most of your down time by multi-tasking. That what I generally do.”
“Good idea. Maybe I can score some points with the Supervisor.”
“Who knows, if you do a good job it might just be your ticket out of here.”
“Why? I like it here.”
“I was just saying…”
“I know. Anyway I better get back to work.”
The video feed in the image snapped off.
“Sondra 773165 is not on the list.” The female voice noted with a tinge of sarcasm.
“You’re right. She’s not on the list. We talked before I started looking at the videos.”
“But you did discussed the shooting with her?”
The armed gunman jabbed the young man in the chest with the butt of his weapon again. This time the hit was significantly harder.
“We are just trying to determine who you spoke to regarding the shooting,” the female voice explained.
“You seem to have bugged the Bureau. Why don’t you tell me?”
“Our surveillance covers most of the common areas, but there are a few dead zones.”
“You admit to spying on Bureau personnel!”
“Spying is a relative term.”
“I get it now. You’re part of the Government. And this attack on Parliament was a set up. Am I right?”
“Thank you Bresson087325. I think we’ve heard enough.”
The two gunmen left the room without saying another word.
“You killed your own people! And you’re sitting there laughing at all the people who just sit back and let you force feed them all this pap you call news! Well sooner or later your little bubble’s going to burst. I may not be there to see it, but it’s going to happen!”
A thick yellow gas began to flow from several jets placed in the corners of the room.
“Did you know that I sent an editor at Headline News an exclusive EPK of the shooting? They were up against stiff competition from the Public Broadcast Network, and were looking for an exclusive for the evening news.” The young man began coughing but felt compelled to keep talking. “He got the raw footage from a number of the Parliament feeds because I was unable to resolve the glitch in the system.”
The young man’s eyes were tearing up and he was gagging on his own frothy saliva.
“If he’s any good he’ll figure it out, just like I did.”
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Comments from Our Readers
||"Carl, as i told you in your facebook: Awsome!! I just love this story! It's a compilation of many interesting things: action, paranoia, conspiracy, and the invaluable element that brings the story alive --> the young guy, little bit depressive or at least bored (as i may see) who suddenly discovered a few things to have fun with ;-)
All the topics you picked up for your story are just hot, even trough the years since they happened!!
(Man, i sincerely admire your capacity of creating such different stories!).
Thanks a lot for publishing your stories, so we can enjoy your job!" - Sole, December 8 2009 - reply
||"Nice story!! Glad you're back and showing us this story along, good writing as usual. I like how persuasive and tenacious is your style of writing, and yeah, the way you make me feel at the same time. The young man is a cool character half depressed, half misterious...
I like how the story goes and can't wait for more of yours.
" - Cindy, December 8 2009 - reply
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