Wednesday, 12 December 2012

SILHOUETTES - Fourteenth instalment

SILHOUETTES - Fourteenth instalment - Chapter twenty-eight and twenty-nine. For more information on this novel, click Here. Next instalment coming soon.

TWENTY-EIGHT

The police station they walked into was the closest, and was also the Headquarters of Strathclyde Police in Pitt Street, so the building was large, extensive, ostentatious even, once they had been guided past reception after stating their reason for the visit. Expensively framed paintings of past and present senior members of the constabulary donned the corridor walls. A chirpy whistling desk sergeant led them along to a bank of elevators, tapped a foot in time to his whistling while they waited, and when the elevator arrived, bode them to enter, pressed the number four and they ascended.

Debbie felt pissed. She knew Jo was also well inebriated. But she had insisted, alone or not, after seeing the mugger on the local news, she was going to the police station to make a statement.

On leaving the elevator, a tall man in a gray suit was waiting for them. He introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Adrian Hartless, CID, and beckoned them to follow. The desk sergeant disappeared back inside the elevator.

They were led into a room barren of all but a table and four chairs, there was a camera blinking in a top corner of the room, and a panel of controls that looked to be a recording machine built into the wall adjacent to the table. The room was windowless, and Debbie began to think she was more of a suspect than a witness.

'I know,' said DS Hartless, 'it looks so formal and official, sorry.'

Debbie discreetly pinched herself in the side, hard. She suddenly felt the need to laugh aloud. It was ridiculous, an old man could be dying and she was having hysterics. Jo seemed to be already eyeing up the CID man as a replacement for Dave. She had been a bit miffed when Dave only walked them to the entrance of the police station, and left them there.

The CID man asked them to sit and he sat himself down across from them.

A female in plain clothes entered, carrying a large file, she sat down next to DS Hartless, she was the one in charge, thought Debbie.

'Ok, Deborah, Josephine,' she said with an air of authority, 'I'm Detective Inspector Oswalk,' she paused, 'Jenny Oswalk.'

Debbie pinched herself in the side again to stop herself from laughing, she had a vision of the phrase, 'Bond, James Bond,' in her head.

They were both asked in turn to relate the events leading up to, during, and after, the incident with the 'gentleman' in the photograph they had been shown. No details of his name or if he was in custody or not was offered to them. The entire process took little more than thirty minutes, including a break of a minute or two when the coffees they had been offered had been brought to the room.

When the statements were given, DS Hartless left the room and returned with two sheets of paper moments later, they were transcripts of their statements, either copy typed or printed from some word to text software. They each read their respective statements, and signed the dotted line.

The formalities complete, DS Hartless opened the door and beckoned them to follow. He led them back to the elevator where the whistling sergeant was waiting, tapping his foot in time to the tune. They were out of the station a minute later, wondering what would happen next, or if anything would.

Detective Inspector Oswalk turned to DS Hartless and said, 'Ok, we've got him. Now all we have to do is get him.'

It was after eleven when they left the Police Station, and Debbie turned to Jo.

'Y'know,' she said, 'I know we've been drinking all day, it seems, but I could use another drink.'

'We've a bit of a walk, Debbie,' said Jo, 'unless we get a taxi. Let's just go home?'

TWENTY-NINE

Stood in a doorway across the road, Dave watched them leave the Police Station. After escorting them to the entrance he had walked back to a late night fast food bar on the corner, and ate a burger with some hot dark fluid purporting to be coffee. The place was quiet, almost closing time, and he found a table by the window and watched up the street. He had been getting the come on from Jo all evening, and she was very much attractive and adorable, but he had sense enough not to just plunge in. Rules had to be followed, checks had to be made, caution had to be observed.

No one watching he rubbed a finger along his temple and touched his chip, the bar faded and a data screen appeared in front of him. He flicked back thoughts till images were captured of both Debbie and Jo, these he slid with a thought along a side marker menu that requested more info. All during his conversation with the girls, his mind was taking in and remembering everything said and done, and everything in his vision was recorded in the brain. Portions of this memory was then channelled in data form and duplicated in the chip for the purposes of transmission to the mainframe where detailed information on a picture, or a name, or both, could be collated, expanded, updated. The details held in the mainframe of both Debbie and Jo were scrolling down a screen in front of him right now.  This particular mainframe was situated at a secret location somewhere on the planet, and it was linked to and fed from a dozen or so other mainframe computers elsewhere, for whatever purpose, Dave was not privy to, but he knew these computers were huge. The largest computer known to the public at this time was the K Computer in Japan, and was the first supercomputer to achieve a performance level of 10 Petaflops, or 10 quadrillion calculations per second. In secret bunkers though, in other parts of the world, are computers that make this monstrosity of computational power a mere minnow. Combined together, these super computers held every little scrap of information a citizen in most countries of the world had ever entered into a machine, whether it was a form for a bank card, a passport, an email address, a jar of coffee bought by credit or debit card, everything was collated, time stamped, listed in an orderly easily accessible form. Very little escaped these machines, most everything people do today is recorded by one type of computer or another, these are increasingly connected in real-time to others, leading back to the big beasts. Most public places anyone may venture is covered by CCTV, most of which are also linked to computers, every phone call made, every email sent, every text message received, are all available for scrutiny. Computers can analyse voice and pick out specific key words or phrases, text in email or phone is easier still, from birth till death, there are reams of information on just about every citizen in the world, and with the right security access this is easily searchable, and due to the immense computational power, the required details requested are available almost instantly.

Information was one thing, tracking of movement was another, most every vehicle now had GPS, so not only could find its own position on the planet, this was also a means of tracking, every mobile phone bounced the nearest network masts for the strongest signal, this positioned the owner of the phone with triangulation to within a few metres. More and more CCTV systems were being upgraded with facial recognition software, if a picture of someone was used for a search and their image walked across the vision of one of these cameras, this was noted in real time, and from then on they could be tracked on their way. Increasingly, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags were used, most everything bought now contained these tags, they are almost microscopic, can be placed on packaging, under labels, or in clothing, they relay a simple numerical code to a nearby receiver, but if the code is known, that is a means of tracking someone with an RFID hidden in their person. Technology for these is increasing rapidly also, within a matter of a short time, range will increase, information relayed will become more detailed, and all the while, the data picked up from a local receiver, will in turn be relayed on to ever bigger and more powerful databases. Almost every man, woman, and child, on the planet, is now a number on a database. That number is a date stamp of a life, and as time goes on, that date stamp becomes larger, and more detailed, and more intrusive.

Avoiding technology was a method some used to deter what they saw as an encroachment in their freedom of speech, movement, and their civil liberties. This in itself did little but attract more scrutiny, for the authorities believed, rightly or wrongly, that anyone that took active measures to avoid their net, was probably up to no good, therefore more subtle and covert methods were used to collate information. No one was completely off the radar. Employee records, tax receipts, discreet enquires to neighbours and friends, other members of the family even, memberships of political parties, libraries, clubs, gyms, supermarket loyalty cards, the information was all out there in one form or another. Stepping out of the net, whether consciously or not, whether deliberately or not, was not an option anymore. No one could be truly anonymous anymore, not for long.

Despite all the observation and collation of information from the authorities, laws were still broken, crimes were still committed, and terrorist activities were still undertaken. Measure and counter-measure, the surveillance society was not yet perfect. This though, knew Dave, was only a matter of time. He also knew that the purpose of all this gathering of information was not first and foremost to stifle crime, or detect conspiracies, or thwart subversion, which was the usual reasons put forward to fool the public into accepting ever more intrusive measures, it was simply for information. Information is power, knowledge is power.

The information he was receiving about Jo was a bit disheartening. He already knew she was a staunch believer in Scottish independence, ran a few web blogs promoting this, nothing too radical or out of the mainstream, but she was tagged as an active Cybernat by the UK government, and had recent convictions for breaches of the peace, one at a rally against the imposition of student fees, which were later withdrawn in Scotland, and one at a more recent march against Fascism gig. She also had an 'incident of theft' mark against her, though she was only fourteen years old at the time and it was never actually taken to court or children's panel, though a 'one to watch' asterisk had been placed on her file because of it. This occurred when she and a friend had apparently tried to do a runner from a local cafe without paying. Charges were dropped though, and it was put down to childish misadventure, when her father intervened and offered some financial compensation to the cafe owner.

On the whole though, she seemed to be an A-grade student, a bit fiery, perhaps, main interests were Scottish independence, the environment, and saving of such, she occasionally helped out at a charity run dog and cat home. Regularly partook in alcohol, and also partial to parties where illicit drugs were normally present and in use. Her parents were unnoteworthy, therefore probably good citizens. A fifteen year old male sibling was a potential football star of the future, though also had a 'one to watch' asterisk on his file due to a defective gene discovered during a routine health check on school pupils, the gene apparently could be an indicator of future sexual deviance, though it was remarked this was based on early research and not conclusive.

She had been brought up by both parents in the affluent suburb of Bearsden in Glasgow, her father a merchant banker with one of the larger banks, her mother a known face in the upper middle class charity baking brigade, regularly holding fetes and tea parties to raise funds for whatever need was in vogue at the moment.

She seemed to have had a happy childhood, did well at school, no teenage rebellion, apart from the cafe episode, and it wasn't until she entered university life that she began to find a political voice, and express her views to any audience that would listen.

The Cybernat nomenclature was disturbing though. Cybernats were reputedly militant prone activists with tendencies to attack online the fabric of the UK government, using disruptive and antagonistic methods over the internet to promote their cause. These attacks could be personal and virulent, on both politicians and people opposed to their views. This was his whole reason for being here, to investigate the rise of the Cybernat and discover their real agenda, if they had such, or discount them as mere political ticks on the back of the mainstream UK government.

In the six months he had been in Scotland, he had discovered they were not an organised group under control of a covert and militant branch of the Scottish National Party, but were instead an uninteresting group of advocates for the independence of Scotland from the rest of the UK. Due to their lack of support and voice in the main print press and television mass media, they tended to express their views through the one outlet that was available to all, and could be used as a channel to raise their profile, and get their points across to a population seemingly content to absorb nothing but the usual Westminster UK government take on events. Events that almost always had a twist that promoted the unionist agenda while denigrating the nationalist viewpoint. The Cybernats, he had decided, were not a threat in any way to anyone at all. They were simply a label, or invention, created by some of the Westminster power brokers to denigrate a group that had views not in harmony with their own.

The people who called themselves Cybernats, were only adopting a term that was invented to disparage a community, and had now circumvented the intended derogatory meaning of the expression, and used it as a badge of ownership, to proudly put forward their views.

Most of his intelligence reports sent back home had been of the 'nothing relevant to report' variety. Occasionally he had been sent a profile of someone to investigate more fully, and even these investigations had uncovered no plots of subversion or even whispers of malcontent that would warrant further attention or deeper investigation. There was, in reality, nothing much going on in Scotland to worry the interests of the United States. The political debates, and sometimes heated discourses, about the independence referendum, which would be coming soon, may lead to shouting matches at times, but there was no indication on any level, of any kind of militancy that may escalate differences to more than heated debate. He had to view it from the angle of the Agency though. His take was what would happen to relations with the United States if Scotland voted for independence? As far as Dave could see, apart from the nuclear weapons uncertainty, nothing much would change. At least nothing much would change regarding Scotland and the United States. The relationship between England, or the rest of the UK, and the United States would change though. It was never a partnership of equals, the US said jump, and the UK jumped. Without Scotland though, the UK could not jump so high, therefore the UK could no longer expect to maintain and indulge in its chest-puffing world diplomacy to the same extent, or be afforded the same respect and prestige in the world as before. The UK always had been punching above its weight, or it had been, ever since it lost the empire. It was unfortunate for the government in Westminster that they still hadn't come to terms with the fact that the empire was long gone. Losing Scotland in a few years time may be the jolt of reality it needed.

Jo was a Cybernat, but she wasn't a criminal, or a terrorist, or even a political subversive, she was just stating her political views on a means of communication that was open to her, whereas most other ways of stating her opinions were closed to her, for the opinions she had were not given free expression in the UK mass media. The fact that her political views were not extreme, or biased against any particular section of the community, and yet were so derided in the mainstream press, worried Dave a little, but it did not surprise him. What was at stake here was not a socially fairer and just small country finding its way in the world of new statehood, it was an established all-powerful UK government losing power and face in a wider world that it felt it still had, and merited, a controlling interest in. Scotland, leaving the mix of the UK, diminished the UK government to such an extent, that raising its voice to opinionate on world affairs, on a par with the real power-brokers in the world of the twenty-first century, would render it open to ridicule. That though was something the UK government would have to deal with, and that was outside his remit, or what his remit had been, till he had been allowed to stand down.

He watched the girls as they sauntered down the street. He watched them till they faded into the distance, they were walking home, and at a distant junction, they turned and they were no longer in view.

Next instalment coming soon... 

Copyright © Stevie Mach 2012 All rights reserved 

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