The Tale of a Warrior
Bob sat naked on the slab of sandstone that jutted into the river. Above him the cutbank rose up sharply, shielding him from the withering heat of the sun. The brown water flowed slowly over his feet. Occasionally something would slither through his toes. Bob allowed himself to relax, the warm roughness of the stone against his butt a delightful contrast to the smooth coolness of the water against his feet. Several mosquitoes buzzed about his head, but he only reacted to brush one away when it found its way into his ear. Bob was waiting.
A few minutes later the feeling came. A painful twinge in his stomach. Gas roiled up and escaped as a burp. The pain expanded, extending down into his bowls. Then the waves of nausea hit him. Leaning over the downstream side of the rock Bob let the bile and half digested food flow freely from his mouth. There was a lot of it, he had eaten well during breakfast. This always felt better on a full stomach. As the pain moved downwards Bob switched positions and allowed yesterdays meal to hastily exit his body.
Five minutes later it was all over. Bob stepped over to the upstream side of the rock and stepped into the water. The cool brown water flowed over his body and through his hair. Underwater the current seemed to move much faster than what appeared on the surface. Bob quickly felt clean and whole again, and rose gasping out of the water. Back on the rock the once oppressive heat of the sun now felt pleasantly warm on his skin. He dried off quickly in the heat. Bob put on a pair of very worn and hardly recognizable sandals and scrambled up the bank. Lifting up a flat piece of sandstone he retrieved a sack-like robe and pulled it over himself. Now he was free.
It had all started so innocently. No, that wasn't exactly true. It might not have started innocently, Bob just couldn't remember when it started. He did remember that one day when he had first noticed. It probably wasn't that many years ago, but it felt like a lifetime away. It had been spring. He was having a wonderful day. Then it all abruptly changed when Bob arrived home to find a letter from the United Bank waiting for him.
Ever since he could remember Bob had always used the United Bank. It had probably had some special deal for kids and his parents had opened up an account for him when he was too young to remember, so he could learn how to keep his finances. And once he had an account there, it had just stuck.
The letter was a bill. The United Bank was billing Bob for $40. This somewhat annoyed Bob, because to the best of his knowledge he did not owe the bank anything. And besides, they already had all of his money, how could they possibly want more? So instead of going to the park to toss a ball around with his friends Bob headed downtown to the bank.
The bank the bank teller must have been having a bad day because she seemed a little short tempered. Things went downhill from there. Bob didn't even remember the explanation for the $40 charge. Some service charge that they hadn't told him about so he had racked up a fair bill, then it had been more than what was in his savings account and so more service charges had been added. Or something like that. Whatever it was it had caused Bob to become quite angry. But he had kept his cool. Or maybe he had actually snapped and started yelling about the sexual practices of the manager's mother. He didn't really remember anymore. But the result he did remember. He had left the bank that afternoon with $8,000 in a paper envelope and no account with the United Bank.
At first Bob had felt strangely liberated. He had went home and stared at the wad of fresh paper, imprinted with important but unknown faces. Then he had taken a crisp $100 bill, walked to the corner store, and bought a slurpee. And smiled as the cashier searched through the till to find enough change. But then Bob began to run into problems.
It took a considerable effort to get his job to pay him with an actual cheque instead of direct depositing his wage into his non-existent bank account. When he finally succeeded in getting the cheque Bob was momentarily elated at this seemingly insignificant but still phenomenal accomplishment. This was short lived when Bob discovered that he could not actually cash the cheque. At first Bob had innocently walked into a bank and tried to cash the cheque. This was quite unsuccessful.
Learning from his first mistake Bob had went to the bank that the cheque was written on, and armed himself with every piece of ID that he owned. He had walked up to the teller, given him the cheque and all of his ID, and then asked the teller for his money. The teller had asked Bob to sit on the couch and wait while he talked to his manager. After a while the manager had come out and spoken to Bob for a bit, then asked him to wait a bit longer while she checked out the official policy. After waiting for three hours the manager finally informed Bob that no, they could not cash his cheque.
Bob had tried to get a friend to cash the cheque. This was also unsuccessful. He had ended up taking his cheque to a money mart, and paying the thieves there 20% of his cheque just so he could cash it. This hurt, but not as much as slinking to the bank and begging them to take him back.
At the end of that month Bob found a note under his door giving him his two weeks notice for the termination of his lease. Apparently it was a fine print condition of his lease that Oak Ridge Apartments could direct withdrawal from his bank account. Bob had thought that was just for convenience, but apparently it was to 'ensure financial stability of potential clients'. Bob began to look for another apartment. This was somewhat difficult, it turned out that the corporation that owned Oak Ridge Apartments also owned about half of all of the apartments in the city, and they all had identical lease agreements. When Bob finally found a different apartment to rent he discovered that they required a credit card number in order to begin renting. This was a problem because his credit card had cancelled itself the month before, another result of him not having a bank account.
Bob was a tenacious person, and moved into a friends house, paying them a small rent in cash to sleep on their couch. But that had only went on for a couple weeks. There had been the big fiasco with his car insurance. And then Bob had, very reluctantly, opened an account with the Allied Banking Corporation, barely two months after closing his account with the United Bank.
The whole experience had left Bob feeling more puzzled than angry. When had it became obligatory to have an institution take care of your finances? Was this a good thing? But his friends had just laughed. "Why wouldn't you want a bank account?" they asked. "Do you want to keep your money in a sock?". Bob hadn't really thought of a response, but something about this had nagged at him.
The dry grass crunched under Bob's sandals as he walked. Occasionally a grasshopper leaped up from his feet and crackled away, displaying its brilliant red wings. Bob deliberately followed the winding cattle trial instead of heading straight up the slope. He was savoring this moment of free solitude. But he was also curious as to what was over the hill. He had never actually been there. It was always somewhere that he had never been, it was safer that way. But Bob knew exactly what he would find when he crested the hill. There would be two people sitting down in the grass, perhaps against a rock or by a small tree. They would seem very relaxed and unexcited. The excitable types were quickly weeded out. One would be an older women, perhaps in her mid fifties. She would have thinning grey hair, a large nose, and saggy skin around her eyes. The other would be a man in his late twenties. He would look too old for acne, but his face would be pocked with white heads. He would be showing signs of premature balding, and his soft and slightly over-sized belly would have undoubtedly grown since their last meeting. They were two of his best warriors.
The Auto ID system had seemed like a natural progression. Bar codes were so old and out-dated. Instead of having an archaic symbol of black lines on everything you bought, Auto ID used a Radio Frequency ID tag. Or RFID for short.
Each RFID was smaller than a grain of sand and contained its own miniature computer and a radio transmitter, and they emitted a signal that communicated with a reader device at the cashier. Because each of these miniscule devices contained programmable information about itself and had a unique identity, they were far superior to bar codes.
Once RFID's began to be mass produced, they only cost a fraction of a cent each. And the Auto ID system made keeping inventory instantaneous. Store managers now knew exactly what products they had on their shelves, there was no more room for human error. This lowered operating costs and had meant cheaper prices for the consumer. At least that is what the papers had said.
There were three people sitting on the grass on the other side of the hill. Two people sitting on the grass would have made Bob happy. If there had been one person sitting on the grass Bob would have been somewhat disappointed, but he would have dealt with it. But three people made Bob worried. However, they were all sitting with their left leg crossed over their right, the signal that everything was fine, so Bob continued to approach.
When Bob got closer he saw that the additional person was a young girl, perhaps 18 years old. She had a plain looking face, but a nicely slender body. And she was sitting closer to the man than to the older lady. Bob cursed under his breath. Sexual infatuation could be such a wonderful thing. Ordinary people could accomplish momentous tasks if they thought this might increase their chances of having intercourse with a desired person. But sex could also really fuck things up.
"What is she?" Bob demanded, looking straight at the man. He didn't ask who she was. He didn't care who she was, names were only a detriment. Bob had been working with these two for years and he did not know their names. But he knew what they were, and exactly what they were capable of doing. And he knew that this sexually frustrated anti-social man was quite capable of making a mistake in an effort to display to a desirable female.
"She's clean", he said, "she will be useful". But he turned from Bob's stare. Bob could tell that the man was starting to realize that his decision to bring along the girl had been a little rash.
Bob shrugged off his concerns and sat down beside them. There was nothing he could do about it now. The others shifted around to include him in the circle. As the girl slid across the dry grass her robe hiked up her thigh. She quickly adjusted the robe to cover herself, but not before Bob had caught a good glimpse of her shapely thigh. And the small butterfly tattoo.
"Did you do that tattoo yourself?" he asked innocently, gesturing vaguely at her leg.
The girl looked bewildered. It was a strange question, it had probably never occurred to her that someone could tattoo themself. "Do you like it?" she asked, "I got it done last month. I have always liked butterflies."
Bob could see the look of horror growing on the man's face. The stupid fool! If he had only slept with her first he would have known that she had a tattoo. "You know that all commercial tattoo ink is tagged?" Bob said. The statement was inflected like a question but it wasn't really. How could people be so dull? Tattoo ink had been one of the first things that they had tagged.
The young girl looked confused. The other three began looking around for escape routes. "There is a thick patch of bushes down that gully," the older woman said, gesturing towards a dry stream bank leading down to the river. As if on cue came the sound of an approaching helicopter.
The terrorist attacks had been horrible. Bob could still remember the footage on TV. All those screaming kids and crying mothers. A friend of his had known someone whose brother had been injured.
When the government had suggested that it be mandatory for all citizens to carry a national ID card the public had almost begged them to do it. It would make the police's job so much easier that it had to make everyone safer. After all, no one wanted to die in a terrorist attack. And why would you be against identity cards unless you had something to hide?
Bob exchanged glances with the man and the older woman. All three were silent, crouched in the meager cover that the bushes provided, wondering who should excape. The girl curled up in a fetal position and whimpered. After about 30 seconds the older woman gestured to Bob. The woman and Bob both looked at the man. The man nodded.
The man grabbed the still whimpering girl's arm. "Let's go", he said. "We'll follow the river, the willows will shield us." They both took off running. The older woman waited a second longer, long enough to give Bob one last saddened look, then she turned and began to run away as well. Bob crouched down and waited.
They caught the man and the girl first. Bob could hear the helicopter come down low along the river and set down. The helicopter was too loud for him to hear anything else. The older woman must have taken them longer. After the helicopter took off from the river he could hear it zigzagging to his north for a good 15 minutes before it finally set down.
Bob didn't move. He knew that there was a good chance that the helicopter would leave after it had caught three people running from the scene. Hopefully that girl had just been an innocent bystander with a limited grasp of reality. Because then they wouldn't have been prepared for a insurgency sweep, and that would have just been an ordinary civilian control helicopter. If the girl had been a plant then he was screwed, they would circle back and find him as well.
Six hours later Bob had counted 134 mosquito bites and it was dark. He crawled out from the bushes, slithered on his belly until he reached the river, then swam downstream two miles to where a fresh set of never before worn clothing was waiting. Bob quickly dressed and began the hike back into town. He was hungry and needed to get something to eat.
When it was first announced that a few corporations had started recording behavioural matrices not many people had noticed. It was an inevitable result, really. The RFID's had become so cheap that they were put in absolutely everything. And each one had a little computer chip in it that wasn't really getting used. It was an elegantly simple system. RFID's were in almost every object you could imagine, and they were in constant radio communication with each other. All each RFID had to do was record its relationship to all other RFID's in its vicinity.
Each RFID stored its own relationships with other RFID's in an n-dimensional matrix, where each dimension corresponded to one RFID in its environment. This matrix was fluid and constantly being updated with new interactions. The RFID then could create its own unique and highly accurate identity based on its patterns of interactions through space and time with all other RFIDs in its environment. This might have been hard for a human brain to do, but the microscopic brain of the RFID wasn't even strained. It was even discovered that they didn't need to go more accurate than a 300 dimensional matrix for maximum information retention.
With RFID's constantly reporting themselves to mainframe computers, all sorts of buyer patterns began to emerge. Corporations hailed this as the biggest breakthrough in marketing since money. Did you know that people wearing white shoes were three times more likely to buy tomatoes than people wearing coloured shoes? Or that people entering a mall who have brushed their teeth within the last three hours are more likely to enter large department stores? Patterns in consumer behaviour began to emerge that noone would have guessed. You didn't need a theory to explain the patterns, you had the data. It went into the computers and out popped the patterns.
The corporations explained that this meant they could ensure that the consumer got exactly what they wanted, where they wanted it. No more delays. And no more costly overstocking which meant that the product could be sold cheaper.
Strangely, Bob didn't remember the prices dropping with the introduction of behavioural matrices. But maybe he just hadn't noticed.
"A & W, Arbies, Burger Baron, Burger King, Dairy Queen, MacDonald's, Pita Pit, Taco Bell, Wendy's, White Spot." Bob rattled them off in his mind. "A number between 1 and 100. Sixty-one". He closed his eyes and began reciting the familiar sequence in his mind. "3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 58209749445. Five" He paused for a second. "Dairy Queen it is then!"
They watched everything. Everything. You could not remain unseen. The only hope was to remain unnoticed in the vast space of normality and randomness. If you did something different they would notice. If your behaviour began to form a pattern this would be recorded.
Bob remembered when they arrested the first shoplifter before he had stolen anything. It had been odd, but noone likes shoplifters. They raise the cost of the products that you have to buy.
They had a behavioural matrix on everyone, and people were becoming more and more confident in their accuracy. Security companies had already been selling crime alerts for years. For a small fee a store manager could be alerted whenever a problematic behavioural matrix entered their store. The manager could then choose to have a clerk follow this person, or to just kick the person out.
Sure, predictions based on behavioural matrices weren't 100% accurate. Everyone admitted that. But neither were courts. Judges made mistakes too, so if police only acted on predictions that had higher probability than the accuracy of courts, who could complain? After all, it saved millions in taxpayer dollars not having to deal with trying all those people. Had his taxes dropped? Bob didn't remember.
There was that article published in FreeMag claiming that over 50% of the people arrested on predicted crimes were also active in the civil rights struggle. FreeMag had published all sorts of data to back this up, but everyone knew that they were kind of kooky and so no one really took them seriously.
Bob hadn't seen an issue of FreeMag for years.
The next morning was sunny and clear with a slight cooling breeze, and Bob felt energized. It wasn't that Bob was particularly optimistic. Anyone who had been fighting as long as Bob couldn't really be optimistic, not without being delusional. But anyone who had been fighting as long as Bob had to learn to take victories and defeats one step at a time. You had to learn constantly be thinking of long term strategy and ultimate goals, but not let the gap between there and now wear you down. Yesterday had been a defeat, but today Bob was still here and ready to take one more step forward.
But despite Bob's high spirits, he knew that he needed to leave quickly. It was no good hanging around after a bust. Odd east, even west. Thirty-four. 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028. Eight. Even. West it was. That was fine, he had some good contacts out there that needed reviving. Word was that five mainframes had been taken out there last week.
No one used cash except for criminals. At least that was the government's official line when they removed cash from the market. The justification probably wasn't even necessary, everyone was quite happy using a plastic card and very few people even carried cash anymore. Of course there had been some people who had complained, but that was probably just because they wanted cash to buy child porn.
The memorial editions were a big hit when they were issued. They commemorated the last money to be printed, and they really were quite spectacular. A lot of people ordered a few notes and framed them. They were handsome and would probably be worth something in the future. Bob's favorite had been the $20 note. It had a rainbow and a pot of gold, and the rainbow was sort of like a hologram and the colours changed as you moved it.
Bob let the driver scan his ID card and got on the bus. Although he had only used this card once before he was still uneasy about it. But no alarms went off. So he ambled to the back of the bus and made sure to find a seat with no one beside it so he could stretch out and catch some sleep. He had a fair distance to go, and even at the speed the bus traveled it was going to be a long ride.
Staring out the window he watched the city disappear behind him. The bus had its own lane all the way to the west coast and so it would not have to contend with the seven other lanes of traffic all racing the same direction. Bob marveled at how so much congestion could move with such speed. The land quickly turned into vast expanses of wheat with no buildings in sight. Bob wondered if children's books would ever be updated. The legendary farmer with his red barn and little green tractor, the chickens running through the farmyard and the kids playing in the haystack. Probably not. Bob didn't even know how all these fields were grown, but it probably wouldn't make very good nursery rhymes.
The bus stopped in another town and an attractive young girl approached the empty seat beside Bob. Bob had absolutely no desire to give up his leg room so he gave an inviting wink to the girl and patted the empty seat. She quickly moved on.
After hours of fields they were into the tree farms. The mountain sides with their neat rows of trees enveloped them as they sped westward. Bob finally fell asleep, feeling confident that if the ID card had sent up any flags they would have dealt with him within the first couple stops.
After cash had been eliminated things hadn't changed all that much, at least at first. People had bank accounts, and they paid for purchases from those accounts using bank cards. This was no different than before. The street vendors would have complained about the extra hassle, but they were all illegal anyway so who would listened? A few street performers and buskers went out of business, but that just helped clean up the cities.
Then the banks began advertising a new option that they were offering. It was called "One Card Banking". You all ready had to carry around your ID card anyway, it was required by law. But you didn't need to carry all those other cards around. Why have more than one card? It was simply an archaic inefficiency when you could just use your ID card to access your account. One Card Banking caught on rapidly and soon everyone was doing it. Possibly partly because the banks were offering rate incentives to do so.
Bob could remember when it when the national behavioural database was leaked to the papers. It was front page news for a couple of days. It turned out that the government had been creating a large database with an entry for each citizen. Every time you used your ID card to pay for a purchase, enter a building, or show a police officer, it was recorded in this database.
Some people had complained for a bit. But then the government had explained that the database wasn't to spy on innocent citizens. No one even looked at all that data, it just sat in the computers. All the computers did was flag suspicious behaviour so they could more easily track down terrorists. Sure some people might complain that this invaded their privacy, but it didn't really hurt anyone and it made everyone's life safer. It was a compromise that they were willing to take.
Bob waited 21 days. There was nothing special about the 21st day, other than the number's occurrence at the 93rd digit of pi. But it wouldn't do any good to have any obvious connection between his trip west and the events that were to happen today.
Bob was dressed in imitation name brand clothing, shoes, hat, and packsack. It was all cheap except for a somewhat expensive name brand shirt that gaudily proclaimed its value in the large letters of some rich designer that no one knew but everyone worshiped. Bob walked down the center of the sidewalk and appeared not to notice the other pedestrians who had to move to the side to avoid him. He made sure to stop and gaze in the window of the stupidest three stores that he passed. He ignored all males and smiled at any females who appeared to be wearing too much make-up. When trying to be unnoticed, he had discovered, it was best to act like that person that completely average and ignorant person that he would never, under any circumstances, want to meet.
Bob walked by one of the large government buildings that he knew housed a mainframe. It had a large sign on the front, proclaiming "Department of Homeland Security". Bob walked up the steps into the lobby of the hotel next to it. Bob smiled at the attendant, who was wearing too much makeup, and walked straight to the bathroom. The back of the toilet was sealed. All toilets were sealed now, it made people feel more sanitary. Bob took a fork out and rammed it into the seal. Wiggling it back and forth he succeeded in wedging it in place and then pushed against it with his foot to crack the seal. He lifted the lid off the back of the toilet and set it to the side.
Bob's uncle had been the first person in his city to be arrested for having a whetstone. It was one of the first times that the new knife legislation had been used and it had been in the newspapers for a couple of days before he had been forgotten. Because Bob's uncle had been an upstanding citizen in all other respects he had only gotten 500 hours of community service.
The national knife registry had been adopted after the terrorist attacks. There had been talk of making all knives illegal. Some people had argued that it was just part of the natural progression to make our society more civilized. After all, at one time even guns had been legal. It was the next logical step to get rid of knives. But a lot of people had still used knives for legitimate purposes so the idea of banning all knives had met with some resistance from the public. So not all knives had been made illegal. Some knives were allowed, they just had to be registered with the government.
Of course no one should be allowed to sharpen their own knives. Who would want to anyway? It was so clumsy and inefficient, and you could just take the knife to a store and have it done for you. If you allowed people to sharpen their knives who knows what else they would do, and someone was bound to get hurt.
There was chaos on the street as people spilled out of the hotel. The janitor that had tried to fix the plugged toilet must have been particularly vocal, because the majority of the people piling into the street were in hysterics. Cries of "Bomb!" and "Terrorists!" punctuated the screams and sobs of terrified patrons. Bob felt a bit guilty for causing such discomfort, but perhaps even one person would see the ridiculousness of the comfort and fear that they lived their life in when they realized that a plastic wagon and a digital watch had sent 500 people screaming into the street.
Meanwhile Frank Lebrandowski was sending mail to secretaries in the adjacent building from seventeen different computers in the two different branches of the local library. Poor Frank would probably be receiving more harassement than he deserved in the next 24 hours, but he should have remembered to click OK to log off of his computer, instead of just running away when a librarian noticed that he was looking at penis enlargement ads at one of the reference stations.
Each email contained a virus. It wasn't a particularly interesting virus, or anything new. In fact these viruses had absolutely no chance of getting through even the cheapest home virus checker. But it would take them a while to realize this.
The panic in the street had caused large enough traffic jam in the downtown core that the bomb squad had to arrive by helicopter. They were immediately followed by several helicopter loads of police that swarmed the Department of Homeland Security building next door. With their computers under attack and a bomb threat next door they were taking no chances. All personnel were evacuated as the police secured the building.
Bob finished his coffee. He was enjoying watching the events unfold down the street but he knew that now would be a good time to leave. The media would never release how much it had cost the government to shut down that mainframe for the day, but he would still consider it to be a victory. And they would never be able to connect the events to any Identity that would lead them to him.
Bob couldn't remember when his Identity had formed, it had just seemed to gradually appear. Perhaps it had started with the national behavioural database. Of course any personal information that was recorded in the national behavioural database had been completely confidential. But the government had the right to access any information about your finances to make sure you were paying your income tax. And banks had to be able to access your past financial performances to know what credit rating to give you. And a corporation had to be able to find out how reliable of a person you were before they could trust you with a sensitive job.
Or perhaps his Identity had formed when his ID card and his bank account had become so intrinsically linked. However it had happened, his bank account had stopped being his bank account and had merged with the records that the government had kept to become his Identity. When he worked he received credit on his Identity, and then he used this credit to purchase things. He didn't even have a bank anymore, he had a financial service provider.
It was really a lot more convenient. He didn't have to worry about filing his income tax. Insurance premiums were automatically calculated and deducted without him having to do a thing. And welfare fraud was virtually eliminated.
One of the rationales behind increasing the salary of police officers was that it made them less likely to accept bribes. Bob wondered who could have possibly thought that giving someone lots of money would make them less inclined towards trying to get more. It wasn't a tendency that he had ever noticed in his life.
The police officer sitting across from Bob was wearing civilian cloths and was rather unrecognizable as anything other than an ordinary citizen. But he still looked quite nervous. He was an amateur at this business and was worried about getting caught.
Bob seemed oblivious to the cops discomfort as he enjoyed his burger, pretending to himself that he could actually identify the beef in it. Bribery had gotten more difficult after the elimination of cash, but human ingenuity would always find a way. The pair of them were just coming back from booking a holiday on an expensive cruise ship. Paid for on Bob's Identity. A week later the police officer would cancel his trip and get a full refund. Or he could actually go on it for all Bob cared.
When Bob had finished his burger the police officer slipped him an envelope under the table. Bob almost smiled at the clumsy attempt at clandestine. But he accepted the envelope and finished his drink as the police officer hurried off.
The SODD scare had really shaken the world. SODD, or Sudden Onset Degenerative Disorder, was also called "The Twitch" because it attacked the peripheral nervous system and in its early stages caused uncontrolled twitches. In its later stages it caused severe loss of motor control, loss of bladder and bowel control, wide staring eyes, and eventually 100% fatality. It was transmitted in cereal crops, including rice and corn, and was not eliminated by cooking or processing.
SODD was found to be caused by a very small but incredibly resilient retrovirus that could encapsulate itself in a very tough protein coat that could withstand a range of environmental abuses and survive outside a host for up to a year. Because of this it had been very difficult for scientists to figure out what it was. It survived in a less malignant form on a second host, the deer mouse. In the deer mouse it did not attack nerve cells, but rather cells in the mouse's salivary glands. Although it was probably caused discomfort to the mouse by creating excessive salivation, it was not fatal. It was transmitted through mouse saliva to other mice and also sometimes directly to humans. But usually humans caught the virus indirectly from cereal crops that the mice fed on.
The SODD virus was so ingenius that many people claimed that it must have been created as biological warfare. But however it happened, it was very difficult to control. Hundreds of people died. Deer mice are ubiquitous wherever there are food crops and they cannot easily be eliminated. And there was no easy test to see if a loaf of white bread was infected.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of SODD was that it was so hard to trace infected food to find out which farms were infected. A victim would start to twitch within 12 to 24 hours of having contracted the virus, but to trace the food that they had eaten to a particular farm was virtually impossible. A single serving of spagetti could have wheat in it from a hundred different farms from anywhere on the continent.
Industry came to the rescue. They created the Food Tag, an RFID in an impregnable and inert teflon shell. This entire microscopic unit was then coated in an organic jelly that was instantly absorbed through a plant cell membrane. When these food tags were sprayed on crops immediately after harvest they were absorbed and sequestered by the plant cells. Through processing some of the food tags were lost, but many survived. When you ate your food these tags passed through your digestive system untouched.
Because of food tags, if someone went to the hospital with the twitch officials could instantly locate every farm that was a possible suspect for being infected and could instantly put a quarantine on all food from that farm. Some people had worried about having these little computers inside of their guts, but there was no strong opposition to the idea. Nobody wanted to die of the twitch. Everyone was sure lucky to have such ingenious industrial researchers.
Bob scanned the list of suspects. It appeared legitimate, a list of the top suspects in yesterdays fiasco at the Department of Homeland Security, prepared by a greedy cop for a nosy journalist. It had better be, Bob would have to dump the Identity that he had used to bribe the cop, and new Identities were becoming much harder to get.
Maintaining contact with other cells was becoming exceedingly risky as security forces clamped down on every communication tool that they could imagine. Likewise, tracking down other cells was also very difficult. They could no longer advertise their identity or whereabouts in any way. Bob didn't have the resources to track anyone else down, and he wouldn't even no where to start looking. But they did. He would just wait until the police had given up on all of their original suspects, and then he would go find some new warriors.
The first suspect was just a young kid. Bob followed him for a while and watched. The kid was covered in home-done tattoos and piercings, and had a habit of yelling profanities at police officers whenever he came across them. He had a few similar looking friends that were less vocal. He was, Bob concluded after half a day, an insecure kid who had always been rejected and so had opted to become the alpha male of his own group of ineffectual miscreants. They were much to volatile to be of any use to Bob, at least until he was firmly established.
Bob was similarly disappointed with the second suspect. She was belligerent and anti-social, and had a behavioural profile that made her suitable for only menial jobs. This made her bitter and angry towards everything as she bounced from one job she hated to another. She was not capable of focusing her disillusionment in any particularly useful fashion, and it appeared that the only reason she was on the list was because she had recently quit her job at the hotel where Bob had planted the dummy bomb.
A secretary who worked in the Department of Homeland Security building was the third suspect. At first Bob had been hopeful. The man had appeared intelligent and hardworking, and appeared to fit in perfectly. If he was in fact fighting the establishment he was doing it very professionally, and had succeeded in getting himself into an enviable position. But after carefully watching the man for several days Bob concluded that the only reason that he had been on the list was that a co-worker had been jealous and had reported him for no reason.
As soon as Bob saw the fourth suspect Bob knew that he had found who he was looking for. The suspect was a middle aged man named Oscar and he worked as a janitor at the local library. He did not do anything that would have made him stand out, but Bob could see the small twinge of discomfort in Oscar's face when he walked passed one of the visible scanners in a store, and Bob sensed that Oscar had to struggle to conceal his disgust when he walked past the miles of electronic advertisement boards that lined the streets. What was even more hopeful was how Oscar unconsciously and surreptitiously noticed hidden reader devices.
Bob made sure to observe each of the six remaining suspects for a roughly equal amount of time, and then waited for 43 days before he approached Oscar.
Gattica had been one of Bob's favorite movies. It was an old movie, set in a futuristic world where everyone's future was known from their DNA. By looking at a cheek swab they could tell how long you were going to live, how you were going to behave, and what you should do with your life. Your future was also determined from your DNA because people were hired strictly according to their genetic profile. The movie was sort of a combination of science fiction and a doomsday horror story of how the future could turn out if we weren't careful. How humorously close the truth had been.
A human's phenotype is too plastic to be predicted that accurately from their DNA alone. A human's behavioural patterns give so much more information. Your past behavioural patterns can accurately predict how long you are going to live, how you are going to behave, what you should do with your life. Of course a person can try to change their behaviour. But if they do, they will do it for predictable reasons and change it in predictable ways. Even if a person tries to be unpredictable they will fail. A human is incapable of behaving randomly.
Human rights groups had fought against genetic or racial discrimination. Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws were put in place to try to prevent people from discriminating against their brethren using race, skin colour, sex, sexual orientation, weight, size, and any other sort of physical trait. But behavioural stereotyping and discrimination had snuck right in without anyone noticing. Maybe people thought it wasn't as serious because your behaviour was your choice while your genetics was inalterable. But that was silly, you could have your sex changed easier than having your behaviour changed.
Interestingly enough behavioural profiling had put Bob out of his job, but not for the same reason as everyone else. Bob had been a computer programmer, and a pretty good one at that. Bob had mostly kept to himself, but his bosses had still noticed his uncanny ability to read people. Bob tended to be an anti-social introvert and could never interact with people very well, but he was good at understanding them. Perhaps this was because Bob's mind worked with the logical precision of a computer. He had spent his life watching the mundane aspects of people and observing how they reacted to different stimuli. And he was very good at noticing small details of a person and using them to figure out what a person was all about.
Because of his skills Bob had been promoted to Human Resource Manager and had worked in that position for many years. But his job became redundant when his company had switched over to fully automated behavioural profiling. The behavioural profile of an ideal employee for each different position in the company was purchased from a research corporation for a hefty fee. Bob's company then simply picked its new employees based on how closely their behavioural profile matched the ideal behavioural profile.
Bob had been demoted back to a computer programmer. That suited him just fine, the pay was less but he liked the work better because there was less paperwork.
Identity cards were getting to be pretty superfluous, but they were a habit and so many people still used them anyway. People seemed to be reassured by having that small piece of plastic.
At first a cashier would have to use your ID card to charge a purchase to your Identity and police officers and security personal would use your ID card to access your Identity. But after a while people began to acquire mainframe identities as the fluid flux of constantly communicating RFID tags in their cloths, jewelry, food, shampoo residues, tattoos, and other items. Special tag readers that identified people based on their tags became reliable, small, and cheap and started to be used by businesses and police.
To add to this, a diversity of other personal identification devices began competing on the market. Retinal scanners, fingerprint or palmprint readers, and voice scanners were the most common, but many others were on the market as well. Competition made them more efficient until any one of these devices was small enough to fit on a key chain and very fast and accurate. A business, police officer, or curious civilian might be using any one of these devices (or as was often the case, several at the same time) to ascertain your identity without ever having to ask for your ID card.
No one really complained. It just meant that you didn't have to remember to bring your ID card with you anymore. You didn't even have to go to the cashier if you didn't want to. If you looked at the retinal scanner on your way out of the store the store's computer would record who you were and what item you had taken from the store, and it would charge your purchase directly to your Identity. In fact, stores only put up visible scanners to make people feel more comfortable. If you wanted, you could dash into a store, grab an item off the shelf, and dash back out, and the purchase would be duly noted and deducted.
Of course if you didn't have enough credit to your Identity to make the purchase all of the alarms went off and it was really embarrassing.
Personally Bob had always preferred to give his ID card to a living cashier and always tried to avoid the completely automated stores. Many people did. But that would probably change as people got more used to the idea.
A couple weeks later Bob was sitting outside a coffee shop at one of the outside tables sipping a coffee when a man came up and delivered Bob his muffin. Bob had not ordered a muffin but he did not let himself look the least bit surprised. He merely took the muffin and thanked the man. There was a small note scrawled on the edge of the napkin that came with the muffin. Bob did not stare at the note and he accidentally ate that corner of the napkin when he finished the last bite of the muffin.
The next week Bob arrived at the rendezvous clean. Being new to the area untagged clothing had been hard to find, but he had located an underground weaver the month before. Bob felt a bit too obvious in the garment, the weaver had been a neophyte, but it would have to be good enough. It felt good to be clean of tags again, even if his ass hurt from eating too much bran the day before.
The bar was what he had expected. It was loud, chaotic, and dirty. Bars like this sprung up everywhere. Bob found it amusing that so much money had been poured into the war against drugs for so long. It had often seemed to Bob that they were fighting the symptoms in order to gain enough support to perpetuate the cause. Because now, despite all the power and technology of the system, illegal drugs were more prevalent than ever. Bars like this were common, places where the dregs of society went to buy alcohol, drugs, sex, and whatever else they desired in their attempt to forget themselves. They were tolerated because they kept the people off the street. In a month, or maybe two or three, the police would raid the bar. They had to do it once in a while just to prove that they were functional. But these bars were as resilient as the hydra's heads and as quickly as one was shut down another would spring up to take its place.
Bob could still clearly remember when he had first met his comrades. It had been when he lost his job. Six months after being demoted back to a computer programmer Bob had been fired. Apparently his behavioural profile had indicated that he had issues with authority. The company had felt that having such people in their employ could create problems, and so they had apologized to him and then let him go.
Bob had thought that that was strange. He never had really had any problems with authority before. He ignored authority, authority ignored him, and they both went happily about their business. In fact he had usually done his best never to bother authority because this usually just brought about more problems and restrictions.
That evening in the pub they had approached him. They were, in hindsight, amateurs. Disgruntled behavioural misfits who wanted to fight the system. But everyone was an amateur back then, no one had ever fought anything like this before.
Too bad they were all gone.
For now the bar was a relatively safe place. Too loud to eavesdrop, too dim for videos, too chaotic for people to remember you, and too poor for anyone to bother with it. Bob sat down at the table and waited. Soon after a man greeted Bob as a friend and sat down beside him. Bob returned the greeting, although he had never met the man. You met friends at a bar, not strangers, and to act differently would be suspicious.
The man was clean. The man was professional about it so lack of tags was not obvious, but Bob's trained eye could tell. The appearance of this man surprised Bob. The man appeared to be one of the cell, and it was a bold move to show himself to Bob so soon.
When the second man sat down Bob understood the boldness. He knew the man, although his name had been deliberately forgotten. In fact, this man had been one of Bob's best students. That had been back in the early years of Bob's resistance, when he had still been with his comrades.
Things had seemed so much more optimistic back then. They had been eight comrades fighting to save the world. With his computer skills Bob was a valuable recruit. The computer systems were less sophisticated back then and Bob's skills as a hacker were pretty good. He had regularly been able to appropriate false Identities for the others, intercepting deaths as they were entered into the mainframe. He had occasionally been able to transfer or even create credit without the computers recording it. And a couple of times he had even scrambled a comrade's behavioural profiles when they were getting too noticeable.
Those were the easy days, before the system had fully solidified. They had recruited and trained new cells across the nation. They had jammed radio transmissions, crashed computers, vandalized government equipment, destroyed corporate property, and generally caused mayhem. They had coordinated several mass actions and once they had even succeeded in cutting off the power in four major cities simultaneously. True, it had been back up within six hours, but it had still been a spectacular victory. But then the system got better. Their group began losing contact with the other cells. And then Bob started losing his comrades.
Bob was neither paranoid nor careless. He always acted with precision and he never took unnecessary chances. Bob had not been like some of his comrades who had always been excessively paranoid. They had always been worried that the government had found some new way to track them, always glancing over their shoulder, always sweating. Their fear of getting caught had made them easy targets.
Some of the others in the group had been too careless. They had let past successes make them over confident and they had let their guard down. They too had been caught. And two of his comrades had just became too cocky. They had let the aphrodisiac of the fight control them and had became bold, charismatic but foolish warriors. They had been admired by fellow recusants, and had definitely gotten laid more often than Bob had, but now they were gone as well. Bob was the last of the eight comrades, still trying to maintain the other cells, still fighting the fight with the same methodical thoroughness.
This cell was being very bold, but they had known of Bob and they were desperate. They were quite disappointed to find out that Bob was on his own.
Theirs was an older cell that had been operating successfully for many years. They had succeeded in taking out several mainframes, but they had paid dearly for it. Five of their ten members had been taken, and they suspected two more to be compromised. They had lost their last contact with another cell over a year ago and they were desperate for some help or even just reassurance that there were others.
Unfortunately Bob had little that he could offer.
Sometimes Bob did wonder what was happening in the rest of the world. He used to see reports on TV of other people in other countries fighting the same fight that he was fighting now. Some of the uprisings had been massive and quite spectacular. But the security presence that had quelled these uprisings had also been massive and spectacular, and each uprising had met with successively harsher oppression. It had begun to get redundant in the news and nothing like that was reported anymore.
In the early days of his resistance Bob had made contact with some groups in other countries that were doing similar things as his group. But communication across the borders had become so much harder and it had been ages since he had been able to contact any group outside the country. And he wouldn't even dream of trying to cross the border. Border checks were much to thorough.
Bob saw Oscar. This was a shock. They must have known that Oscar was compromised, Bob had discovered him through a police list. But yet he was here. The others assured Bob that it was OK. Oscar was an excellent agent and would only have came if he knew that he was completely clean. Bob knew they had too much faith in their abilities.
When someone failed to live up to his expectations Bob never got angry at them. He was simply disappointed with himself for misjudging them. And now Bob was disappointed. Oscar would have been used to pinpoint their location. They were all sitting together and were the best possible target.
At Bob's insistence they all made a safe exit and dispersed at random intervals out of random exits. Bob left last. When he walked out of the bar there were a dozen cops in full gear waiting for him. This amused Bob. He had never been much of a fighter, two cops would have sufficed. Their fear of him was his last bit of defiance. At least a dozen cops had to stand their sweat in their armor before they could take him.