Jan Alexander Stiehl
Just as I could feel him waiting, I instantly turned around to have a look. Nobody was there, just the emptiness of the mild summer night. Suddenly, I heard steps, coming closer, I thought. I did not turn back again and I even did not need to. His cold, monotonous voice touched my ears, making me shiver. „Why didn’t you go along with that, you could have lived in such perfect peace, couldn’t you?“ I searched for words to answer with; and I needed a while to find any. „Everyone knows pretty well that peace and freedom have got quite different definitions!“ Grinning, he answered, „Perhaps, but does anyone care?“ „If not, I will make them care.“ After a silence, „You won’t.“ …
A Saturday morning
Some days ago:
It was just another day in our everyday life. Without things turning out as they did, it would have been an ordinary Saturday morning. I set my computer’s alarm to 7:30 AM this weekend, because I wanted to watch my brother on TV – He had been offered the job for a morning show‚s presenter, that day was supposed to be his first appearance ever and I had promised him to watch it. – And it started at 9 AM. – Honestly, it was not one of my best ideas of time management, but it was not my idea at all, I actually just followed CEOPS‘ (Computer Engaging Operator Processor System) suggestion of the best waking time. What nobody knew: I modified my CEOPS assistant to increase his performance of reaction and precognition; unfortunately, this improvement opened a kind of backdoor access. Well, he expected me to press the snooze button hundreds of times and to miss his show that way. Anyway, I took a shower, had breakfast, put on my NUI (Natural User Interface) extender glasses (which are half-transparent sunglasses working as head-up displays extending a computer’s desktop environment) and started the „Media“ application in background mode to be notified as soon as the broadcast starts. I told CEOPS to receive my news and messages to put them onscreen. „There are no messages unread, but there are new topics available in one of your subscribed newsletters,“ he replied and went on displaying the new topics. I laid my glasses on the kitchen table saying, „Switch to external desktop! … And go make some coffee; I’m still tired and thirsty.“ The coffee machine was turned on and I decided to check the news meanwhile. Most of them were not of any importance to me, it was just a single particular headline that I took notice of:
Criminality has risen! Government discuss a new world-wide surveillance system.
Instantly I opened the article and read it as closely as possible; its content was:
The Pub-Stat organization published the latest figures especially about how many crimes have been committed and which types of crime have been committed. It says the numbers of crimes have risen from 6,000 crimes a year in the whole world to 12,632 crimes a year in an average sized city, which are about more than 30 crimes a day in a small town, mostly committed at daytime. Additionally, these crimes are mostly cyber-crimes, the most dangerous type of crime today, e.g. recently the Prime Minister has been blackmailed by „Blackvirus“, the currently most dangerous criminal, using stolen secret political documents and about $10,000,000,000 transferred directly from his private bank account. Therefore, the World Security Council is now discussing a completely new surveillance system for the whole world. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has finally come up with concept schemes, showing how the system might work: …
I loaded the attached pictures and saw how it was designed: Everyone was supposed to be shadowed by their own „pursuer process“. This requires CEOPS AI assistants to be digital representatives of their owners, which would be only possible due to every user having his or her individual profile saved online and loaded when logging in with face recognition and passphrase. So far, nobody had protested as they were told all kinds of data about them would be collected and saved, but only because they were secure: Every CEOPS AI would protect their data from any abuse. Those data sets were sacrosanct for any use except their own: services, just as desired. But now?
„CEOPS, is there a contact link to that article? ,“ I asked. „I have got a notification for you,“ he replied, seeming not to have listened at all, „A referendum on the topic mentioned in the opened newsletter article.“ „When does it start?“ „In thirteen minutes, 8:40 AM. For those who are at work or sleeping, but only for those, there is a second survey later in the afternoon.“ „I want to preset my answer, is that possible?“ „Presetting is available, the question is: ‚Are you for or against the world’s new security system? Please read the factual article before giving your vote.‘ You have a priority level for this survey of 76 of 100 points.“ (Besides, „presetting“ means to give votes before they are retrieved and the „priority level“ tells you how much your vote will be weighted in the analysis. It depends on how much you are affected by the topic and how much you know about it.) „76 percent? That is a really high result! Set the vote to ‚Deny‘.“
I was on the way to my brother in order to congratulate him on his wonderful show. I went by car; it was new, one of the first ones of the „Nautilus“ series, a weird combination of tank and sports car. „CEOPS, when will we arrive?“ „There are estimated 5 minutes remaining.“ „Phone him, I want to tell…„
„Initializing phone call… He seems to be busy, please hold the line…„ After a minute, his CEOPS assistant took the call. „Please excuse, but Steve is currently not at home, shall I take a message for him?“ „No, I wanted to talk to him personally, but it’s not that important… Did you say he‚s not at home?„
„Yes, he is waiting for you at ‚Johnson’s diner‘.“ „Then I’m on the wrong way! Thank you.“ His visualization disappeared from the front window. „Navigator, search for ‚Johnson’s‘. Calculate the route.“ „Route is set.“ I knew Johnson’s diner was located in the historic part of New Manhattan, a way half across the country. It had been built decades ago in 2010. This part of the city is untouched concerning NUI devices and public internet connections. It is still the old-fashioned lifestyle of the early 21st century. Many things have changed; I began to list for myself a couple of them as I was interrupted by an „Arrived in target.“
I left my car and made it park itself. While departing, I watched out for Steve. He sat inside the diner, next to the counter. I waved to him, but he did not wave back. My friendly smile was washed away… Something was wrong. I had not seen him for a while, but the „bad news“ expression in his eyes is one of the things I will certainly never forget. I forced myself to smile and say „Hey brother! You gave a wonderful performance this morning…„
I need to talk to you. Urgently!„ The intonation of the sentence sounded suspicious. „What exactly do you need to talk about?“ „About today’s referendum. What was your vote?“ „A clear and direct ‚Deny‘. Why do you ask?“ „You really should vote for the security system.“ „I know what you are pointing at. It’s not that I don’t want to be safe, it’s just the way; and to observe everyone, innocent or not, is not the right way!“ „The analysis will be finished in a minute. Have a look?“ „Why not…„ Then, the news appeared on an old flat screen device. The reporter showed at first local, national and international news; then finally, he presented the article of that day’s morning and continued with the referendum’s results. It was 14.3% pros and 85.7% cons. „Huh! I knew it! ,“ I shouted in euphoria, „Now you see? I’m not the only one thinking observation can go too far.“ „This might have its consequences; if cybercrime continues rising, no one will be saved. Thinking of today’s lifestyle, life could turn into shatters in any instant.“ „Of course you are right, but, as I said, there must be another way of stopping these criminals.“ „Let’s see. The committee will revise the plan and do changes. With some good luck, they’ll find some other way.“
I wondered whether he used sarcasm in the last sentence, but I did not care at this moment… He had his point of view, which he would never change, and I had mine, which I would never change, but that was okay for me. We ordered each a cappuccino and talked about his new job until we noticed that it was late in the afternoon. I said goodbye to him and called for my car. When I arrived at home, it was evening. I prepared and had dinner and went directly to bed.
The next morning was pretty much like the previous one except for me not being woken up. This time I was very curious about the news: ‚Have they made any changes or have they not? ,‘ I wondered. Indeed they had, it looked like that at least. When I retrieved the news, I found this headline:
World Security Council in search for ways to make surveillance more attractive and understandable…
„Which means they won’t change anything, just do some advertising,“ I said to myself in a sigh. „CEOPS, open the article. I’d like to have a closer look.“ They showed a new concept scheme, which told its reader where and which kinds of surveillance are used and their effect on everyday life. It made some pros and cons clear, but they never had all in their list, especially on the cons‘ side. There was for example the effect on phone calls:
Usually phones use voice recognition to ensure the caller’s identity for filtering faked calls. It has a specific tolerance to the caller’s voice, because the user might e.g. have his mouth full or be sick (and therefore talk hoarsely); these are all things that modify your voice in some way, so some tolerance is required so that users will be identified as who they are. With the new surveillance system, this „voice match tolerance“ would be reduced, which would result in e.g. a mother calling her children being identified as a terrorist just because she caught a cold.
This was one of the reasons why I was against this system all the time.
As time went by and I finished reading the article shaking my head. I wanted to walk in our new „Utopia Park“. I went to this new „green-zone“ by car. „Green-zones“ were air spheres optimized for inhabiting vegetation and plants. Living in a green-zone next to these oxygen-emitting living forms was possible, which equals having a house with a garden, but extremely expensive. Usually people live in a house with additional artificial photosynthesis machines. Once invented, these machines had been the things most in demand, even more than electronics.
Anyway, I arrived at the new park. It had the greatest variety of plants in the whole world; there were such ones from old vegetation zones called „rainforests“, but there were plants that once had belonged to our local plant life as well. I have definitely never seen, even more, never experienced such a beautiful sight. These colors of light shining through leaves, all the flowers, they were amazing! I went the ways up and down and sat down on a bench to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. I heard someone, a man, sit down next to me, but I did not care and closed my eyes instead; nobody would be able to destroy this moment of joy. Suddenly, he started talking to someone. I tried to ignore him, until I noticed what he was talking about: It was the surveillance… again! I surely do not want to be reminded of that topic on Sundays! Therefore, I wanted to tell him to be quiet. I opened my eyes and turned my head to the left… That was when I noticed he was talking to me. A tall man in a grey anorak; and he was staring at me all the time. „I don’t want to talk about politics in my free time, especially not with strangers,“ I answered hoping he would stop bothering me. He did; as I closed my eyes and turned my head to the front again, I could hear him stand up and go away. „Finally,“ I thought, but I knew that some things would change from then on.
An hour later, I was tired of relaxing, so I stood up and went to leave the park. I saw women standing up from their benches and walking to face me, each of them held brochures in front of me and asked in a friendly tone, „Would you vote for the surveillance system?“ I said no to everyone. However, they did not stop. They started to follow me. I considered taking a different path, but when I looked for another way, there were other people standing up to cross it. When I finally made it to my car, they stopped their pursuit. I wondered why.
Almost in a shout, I told CEOPS to drive me home. I had passed just half of the way back, as the address of the navigator program changed. I told it again to drive me home. Nevertheless, the address changed back every time, so I decided to drive manually. After that, I reached my target without any interference. I went in and told CEOPS to open the browser, I wanted to write my experiences of that day on my weblog site and ask for advice. However, the site had been blocked, I could not gain access; but I could redirect it to my private server and I had to write down my article directly. I knew this would be that kind of days. I was not stupid, of course I knew that the government or whoever tried to force me to vote for the surveillance system. But there were two questions left: First, was I the only person affected and, second, how far were they prepared to go?
A sort of cataclysm
I woke up. I got ready. I had breakfast. Then my day really began. Luckily, it was in my holidays, so I could concentrate on the only issue I could think about. Therefore, I asked for the news. It was the first time I had ever seen something going wrong. CEOPS could not connect to the news server. „What happened? ,“ I asked. After a while, he just responded with „I’m not sure. The news server seems to be offline. I am still in search of a reason. Would you like to watch the news on TV instead?“ I nodded, and then the TV was turned on. It showed a „breaking news“ program; Steve was the reporter and he was talking about a worldwide online newsletter failure; he said its producer had been the most wanted cyber-criminal Blackvirus, he had hacked the new mail server „Dionysus“, which had started a chain reaction having shut down every server connected to this one. To him, it sounded like he would be going to destroy every kind of communication worldwide. I needed to do some research; maybe I would find the real reason why he had done such a thing. „CEOPS, minimize all windows onscreen. We need to search for something.“ „What are you in search of?“ „Do a complete research on Blackvirus. I need: identity, biography, everything.“ „Sir, this requires logging in into police databases. And this task may take a while.“ „So, what are you waiting for?“ „Task in progress… Besides, the news server is online again.“ „Retrieve…„
„I have a notification for you.„
„A referendum again?„
„Correct. The same topic as last time, but attached to another headline.“ „Which is?“ After that, a new window appeared.
Government revises security program in reaction to Blackvirus‘ actions
I did not see any attachments showing concept schemes. Something was wrong with this headline, with this article. Maybe they had never made any changes. The last thing I want is a state watching their citizens all the time. I did not read the article; I already knew I had to vote for „no“ again. „Preset my answer to ‚deny‘.“ „Presetting is available; you have got a priority level of 76 of 100 points. Your vote is preset. The preset vote will be sent in half an hour.“ I leaned back in my chair. I listened to some music, as CEOPS notified me to watch the news. I denied, but then CEOPS acted on his own. The TV searched for a news program and when it found one, the reporter said „Caution! Power plants report their computers have been hacked and these ones are now shutting themselves down! A possible result is an unstable electricity infrastructure, which has already caused thousands of households being without energy…„ I asked, „Why are you showing me this?“ „If the house’s electronics are not shut down in time, data might be lost; therefore, I recommend an emergency shutdown. Not shutting the system down might result in a nationwide power–„
Suddenly, light became darkness. It was the case CEOPS tried to avoid. The energy supply system collapsed. All we could do was wait for the power cut’s end. It came earlier than I had expected; all lights in my house were turned on a few seconds later. As I heard my computer turning on, I shouted „Run maintenance program!“ without any reaction. I went to my study to have a look at my computer. It was offline… Or was just the screen turned off? I needed to have a closer look, and it was, as well as the speakers. I turned both on to see what happened, what I now saw was definitely not what it was supposed to look like. The first time I saw CEOPS crashed: His visualization splashed across the screen, its color-lit glow flickering, you could hear him trying to say, „Power cut detected“, but he could only stutter the sentence, his voice was distorted and modified to a tone I could not describe, and its pitch fluctuated between light and dark. It went on until I pulled the plug and plugged it in again. AuRea OS was loading and CEOPS was started soon. „Startup completed… Online! ,„ he said. I had to check his functionality first. „CEOPS, what is the last thing you can remember? ,“ I asked. „There was a power cut… I didn‚t experience it, because I was… unconscious, you could say… but it‚s written down in my error log file.“ Okay, he was full in function, now to his tasks. „What about the research… and the referendum?“ „Your vote is still preset, but the retrieval is delayed by an hour. Concerning your research, I am not able to continue. I don’t know the reason, but I can’t access any websites.“ „Turn on the TV. Let’s watch the news. I want to know what ‚as happened!“ A video player window appeared onscreen showing a 24/7 news channel. The reporter said:
Attention! Billions of people are reporting their internet connection is not working; or rather, no sites are available to access. Instead, the state sites are still available. Everyone is sure this is a result of the recent power cut caused by Blackvirus. He has hacked into nationwide power plants‘ computer systems to shut them all down. The systems are restarted now. However, private web servers still seem not to work. Experts guess, although the upcoming referendum has been delayed, that governmental servers are protected from energy fluctuations to ensure the surveys‘ functionality.
Additionally, the World Security Council is debating whether the new security system should be forced to be enabled, no matter if the people agree or not…
I listened to that for a while. I had feared that; the state started acting against its population’s will. The last thing the people should do was to change their opinion just because of one accident. I had to stop that, but how? I could not do anything, but vote…
–The vote! I almost forgot… „CEOPS! Check my priority level for the survey!“ „I cannot check your priority level. Your vote is being retrieved.“ No, that was too early. Did they know about my suspicion, that I might have no priority anymore? Or did they do so now in case if something else had gone wrong? I did not know. I had to wait for the results. They needed them now, too, so it did not take a long time to analyze them. Then they showed them on TV. I was scared, so much that I even could not clearly define why. Was it because of the result itself, or its consequences? I was not sure, but either way, in the end the result was the same: 74.82% of all valid votes were for the total surveillance. That was the exact two-thirds majority our nation wanted to provoke. The Supervision Update Recognition Validator, called SURV, was warming up. The end of freedom was coming upon us, and no one would notice.
Pursuit of perfection
The next day, in the late morning, I wanted to phone Steve. I tried many times, but each time his CEOPS said I should try again later. Something was wrong with him, and I had a precise idea of who to blame… and how to find those people. I was sure the people who had chased me recently were agents or something, so I just had to be captured by them to find him. As soon as possible, I drove to „Utopia Park“ and ran down the paths to find the same bench to sit down as last time. I took a newspaper with me to pretend being busy. Sometimes I looked around if someone was coming. But there was nobody noticing or caring about me. Then, I heard something far away. Police arrived. Why did they face a father with his children? Three police officers were striking him down. He screamed, „I just voted against…“ „You are under arrest! ,“ one of them shouted. I was first shocked, and then scared – Did this mean that people could be arrested for their opinions?… Opinions similar to mine? One of them looked in my direction, he saw me and told the others. I was supposed to be the next one! I had to hide, but where to go? Due to SURV, all possible ways were closed… I searched for the greatest crowd nearby, and I walked to the next one up ahead. Nobody was staring at me, which was perfect! I phoned my car. „CEOPS, you’ve got my position, get the car to the park entrance next to me.“ But he didn’t respond. Instead, I heard, „Access denied due to a temporary injunction.“ Well, what had been unfortunate before, was now turning out to be good luck: I just had to say… „Open 1A8363F2E9D4B5“ „Access granted. Welcome back.“ „CEOPS, drive my car to the next park entrance.“ „I’ll get your position.“ Staying in the crowd for as long as possible, I headed north to meet my car. I was not sure if my pursuers were still behind me, I could not see them, but I supposed them to be, so I did not lose any time. Because I was still looking behind me, I crashed into someone.
It was Steve.
Things turning out
„I’m so glad to see you,“ I said, „We need to go now.“ „Yeah. You’re right.“ What did that mean? Suddenly, every one of the crowd turned around to me, now coming closer. Then, I realized the people around me belonged to this kind of police all the time! If they caught me, I would be lost. „Run! Just the fuck run‼ ,“ I thought. I pushed my brother to the side. I struck everyone down standing in my way, just to get to this entrance. I took a look behind me. I saw Steve making it up to me; he was fast. When I looked to the front, I saw my car arriving and opening its windshield door. „Hey bro! I’m going with you! ,“ I heard my brother shout. Why did he want to go with me now? It could be a trap, but to make sure… „D‘ you know a place to hide? ,“ I replied. „Yeah, got something in mind!“ So it was a trap. He would lead me to a campsite with a perfect ambush prepared or something like that. But I also had to pretend trust. As soon as I reached my car, I jumped in. I did not have to wait for my brother; he sat behind me an instant later, and not any instant too late. The door was just closed the second when all the other „agents“ arrived, so that we could depart right at that moment. I did not care about running them over. I just brought my car to full-speed to make a perfect escape. And I made it, although there were still others trying to chase me down. But they could not reach my speed. There was a car in front of me. It did not need to be the fastest one: It slowed down to my left and turned to the right to bump me. I did not slip away, but the other car did. There were a lot of others trying to do the same. All of them failed. „Now turn right! ,“ Steve suggested. „There’s a tunnel. Perfect for getting rid of our pursuers, but perfect for an ambush as well… I’m not taking that risk. Wherever you want to go, find another way!“ „There’s no other way out of the city.“ Out of the city? Where did he lead us? If his target was outside the city… I really had to turn right. One positive point in driving through tunnels is that you can use the real full speed. I never did, I never could so far. But now was the time: I turned right into the highway tunnel and hit the accelerator as hard as possible; I engaged the greatest gear, and felt my „Nautilus“ accelerating up to its limits. The speed indicator showed about 431 kmph, when CEOPS suddenly shouted, „Attention! There is a road blockade up ahead in 4 kilometers.“ „On which side?“ „The left one.“ I drove on the right side from that on. Suddenly, I had another idea. I waited for a break in the wall separating the left from the right roadside. Soon I spotted one a few meters away from the blockade. I steered the car to the left roadside, I almost hit a police car, but I passed the blockade, so I could continue accelerating.
„So, ohm, where are we about to go? ,“ I asked Steve finally. „Brad, you can be sure I will lead us to a place where SURV can’t find us once we got there,“ he answered. „Sounds good. Just tell me which direction to go, all right?“ There was another question I had to ask someone. „Hey, err, who are these people and what do they want from me?“ „As its first action, SURV classified every people who voted against it and know a lot about computers as terrorists, including you, and these people are undercover agents specialized for finding terrorists.“ This was too much to believe; I was not the only one having voted against this system, how many innocent people like me had to suffer now? We’ll have to shut it down… „You know any shortcuts to wherever we go?“ „Of course I do. Take the next exit right… err… After you got back on the right roadside.“ I had to watch out again, but it was difficult, so I took the next exit left. It led to the open street. There was no barrier between right and left, so I could easily turn around to the right side. „Awesome, now get back on the normal street,“ Steve added, while I realized something else…
„Wait, are we in New Manhattan? This would mean… I know where you want to go!“ „Have you already guessed?“ „Yep. I know a shorter way.“ From that on, I led us to the historic New Manhattan. We found a quiet place behind a café. We had to stay there for a while.
When it was nightfall, I just wanted to fall asleep, but Steve stopped me by saying, „Come on, let’s go for a walk, there are a lot of things you still don’t understand.“ He was right, but what could he tell me now. „But first, I want you to understand, although we have been chased all day, SURV is to protect us.“ „No, please, don’t start like that…“ „The world needs SURV… And we had to do everything to pass it.“ Now I stopped understanding. „We tried to make it more attractive. It didn’t work. Then, we showed the people what would happen if SURV didn’t exist. And it was my task to think of some examples… and perform them…“ „No, but this means…“ „I am Blackvirus. And this task had another part…“ So far, I could see: My brother was the most wanted criminal, even worse, there had never been a criminal, and everything was just a big fake, or wasn’t it? „Are you working for the government?“ „Unofficially we do. Just trying to convince the others was not the only task to perform. I also had to ensure that everyone still being against the system would be eliminated so that their terroristic thoughts can’t spread.“ At the same moment, in which his intonation changed, I could see shapes in the darkness, which was hardly illuminated by the few streetlights. It had become nighttime meanwhile, and the silhouettes were hard to recognize, but I was sure they were drawing nearer. My brother started to smile, while taking some steps back into the darkness of night. I knew that now was the best time to run. I hurried across the streets. I did not hear other steps than mine, which meant no one made any effort to track me down, most likely because everyone, including me, knew that I would never escape. But did I have any other choice than trying? I ran faster and faster. After some minutes, I could not even breathe, but I still went on. Then I stopped. I stopped on a sandy pavement. Another park maybe, because I could see leaves hanging in front of a streetlight nearby. I needed some time…
I didn’t have any time.
Suddenly, I had a strange feeling. A feeling of… being shadowed! Just as I could feel him waiting, I instantly turned around to have a look. Nobody was there, just the emptiness of the tempered summer night. Suddenly, I heard steps, coming closer, I thought. I did not turn back again and I even did not need to. His cold, monotonous voice touched my ears, making me shiver. „Why didn’t you go along with that, you could have lived in such perfect peace, couldn’t you?“ I searched for words to answer with; and I needed a while to find any. „Everyone knows pretty well that peace and freedom have got quite different definitions!“ Grinning, he answered, „Perhaps, but does anyone care?“ „If not, I will make them care.“ After a silence, „You won’t.“ I could hear him smiling by his glad voice. He sounded like… he was looking for what he had always desired. It was simple to guess what he was looking for, scarifying simple! I turned around and shouted, „I want to see your face!“ He took a step forward into the streetlights‘ illumination. He held a shotgun in his right hand. „Is this what you always wanted?! ,“ I shouted. „There are so many things you don’t understand…“ He pulled the trigger. My chest hurt… I felt dizzy… I felt… nothing.