Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Final Vote ~ Short Story

Sci-Fi Short story written a few years ago.

The Final Vote

October 22nd 2007

‘And this works?’
‘Yes, it does. It’s very simple really. The fusion of the two technologies has been very successful. I think you’ll find the nanobiobes are a valid and effective inclusion into this new entry system you propose. Nano tagging is the way forward.’
Dr. Harris Hope leans back in his chair, fingertips lightly pressed together, elbows resting on the polished granite slab that passes for a conference table. In front of him, his computer screen takes a second or two to refresh; they were clearly trying to reach a decision. Well, he could wait. He had waited before.
The screen reloads and this time Dr. Salts’ face is sweaty and tense. ‘The board would like a little time to think through their decision… a matter of determining the ethics. Can we extend the offer period at all?’
Harris stifles a laugh, to be concerned with ethics at this late stage was ludicrous. ‘Take as long as you need Dr. Salt, the offer stands till midnight tonight.’ As he leans forward to switch off the video link, Harris can see the visible relief on Salts’ face. The man was clearly under pressure. Ethics, indeed. Culpability more like. But they’d buy it in the end even if they shelved it. They had to. Otherwise the technology would go to their competitors. Harris sighs and runs a hand over the cold marble. He had six hours before he needed to be back on the secure video link. Just time to get into town for dinner.
Harris retrieves a small portable phone from his jacket pocket and texts his favourite restaurant. They have his table free at nine which leaves him enough time to shower, change and maybe ring Martiece.

Dr. Parson Salt sighs and turns off the flat screen panel and the freeze-frame face of Harris Hope shrinks to a pixel then vanishes. Behind him the board are in deep discussion already about the new technology. Nanobiobes. Infinitesimally small bio-engineered organisms, fusing micro-replicating viral electronics and biological tracers into intelligent markers, ready to be activated at the unique signature pressure of the fingerprint. Electronic tagging was nothing new. Nanobots were nothing new. The genius lay in combining the two technologies. An intelligent marker virus, activated at the touch of an individual fingerprint, jumping from the touch pad to it’s new host. Replicating and mutating at a specific rate in the microscopic terrain of the fingertip. Invisible to the naked eye, unobtrusive. Yet every touch pad in the system would immediately be calibrating the same rate of mutation and only, only the fingerprint containing the right sequence for that particular period in time would be viable. It also relied on a live host. Dr. Hope’s nano tagging system was, admittedly, only an add-on security feature but nevertheless, not one they can ignore. These days, even fingerprint scans were being deemed as unsafe. Parson blamed the movies, all those fingers being chopped off, public perception had been tainted, leading to distrust of the technology and falling sales. The Portal Security Access Company (PSAC) was in trouble. Big trouble. Retinal scanning technology was being heralded as the holy grail of security entry systems and their main competitor I-Scan-U-Safe had the patents sewn up. Their legal department had spent a year looking for loopholes but there were none. PSAC had to make their touch screen panels and keypads as effective and tamperproof as the retinal scan and Dr. Hope’s research seemed to provide just that solution.
He checks his watch, only six hours to go, then he calls the meeting to order. They needed to decide and decide fast in order to secure this technology from their competitors.

Martiece is ready and waiting as Harris pulls up outside her front door. She smiles as he holds the car door open for her and comments on how beautiful she looks.
‘Harris, you’re an angel. But to be quite honest, you didn’t leave much time for me to get ready in. Are we celebrating tonight?’
‘Yes, well, not yet. Anyway, if this deal goes through tonight I shall be a very wealthy man. Will you marry me, then?’
‘No, not for all the gold in the sea. How rich? Richer than me?’ Martiece smoothes her skirt back over her thighs and snaps the seatbelt into its catch. Then, retrieving a small mirror from her purse, proceeds to shape her eyebrows with her index finger.
Harris watches her for a moment before answering, it was impossible to tell what she was thinking sometimes. ‘No one is as rich as you.’
Martiece laughs at his reply, ‘Actually there are about half a dozen people in this country who are and that’s before we get to the rest of the world.’
‘Well, rich by my standards, if not yours.’
‘You don’t need to be rich, Harris, I quite like you as the poor struggling inventor. So, where are we eating?’
‘The Pickled Egg, where else?’

Parson glances at his watch again. It is twelve minutes past nine and they have stopped the discussion for a much-needed break. They would reconvene at nine-thirty. Instead of following the others to a nearby suite of rooms where there was a buffet already waiting, he heads for his office and straight for his small, private bathroom. Once there, he locks the door and, in its sound-proofed safety, calls a number on his mobile phone. The number is unavailable. He waits for a few minutes and then tries again. Still no connection. He shakes his head and then, seeing his reflection in the mirror, runs a sinkful of warm water and proceeds to freshen up. He would try and get hold of Martiece again in a few minutes.

The Pickled Egg is as good as ever. Harris always enjoys the understated ambience of the place and tonight is no exception. Just as the lobster arrives, Martiece’s mobile starts ringing and she smiles apologetically and answers, gesturing to Harris to continue without her.
‘Hi, yes, it’s me. Darling, can you hold for a moment… Harris, I’m going to have to take this call, carry on, do. I’ll be in the lobby.’ and she leaves the table, her napkin sliding to the floor from her lap. Harris reaches down to retrieve it and by the time he returns it to the table she has left the main room of the restaurant for the private lobby.
‘Martiece, I need to know if he’s got any other companies on board over this. We’re pushing the deadline as it is to reach an agreement and I don’t want to have to lie to the board. But I can only make the deal on the referendum franchise if I can promise this new technology. Otherwise the contract will go to I-Scan-U-Safe. Retinal scanning is burying us.’
‘I’ll try and find out for you darling but you must understand its not easy…’
‘Just find out, Martiece and get back to me before midnight. I pay you more than enough.’
‘Ok, ok, I’ll find out.’

Harris is losing his appetite for lobster, its not quite the same trying to eat it on your own. Martiece returns looking angry. ‘Everything ok?’ Harris gives up trying to crack open a claw.
‘Yes, fine. So sorry, just business. Talking of which, tell me about your big deal tonight.’ She smiles and the anger lifts away from her face and Harris, with half a bottle of good wine in him, cannot help but think how beautiful she is.
‘I’d rather talk about you.’
Martiece laughs and sips her wine thoughtfully, ‘No, but if this deal falls through, will you be really set back? Is there some way I can help? Financially I mean?’
‘Well, if does fall through, I simply go to their competitors with it. I’m pretty confident it won’t but thanks for the offer.’
‘So, single client, then. Not in some bidding war?’
‘No, no. No point. Someone will buy the technology and for the right price. More lobster?’
Martiece shakes her head and wonders how soon she can leave the table again without arousing suspicion.
After the main course is cleared she makes her excuses and calls Parson. He answers after two rings. Martiece can hear the anxiety in his voice.
‘You’re ok, so far as there’s only you in the running. But after midnight he’ll be approaching your rival.’
‘Martiece, that’s great, I’m going to double your fee for this!’
Martiece swiftly rings off and then sighs. No wonder PSAC was going down the drain, Salt was far too trusting. And, since her loyalty could always be bought, it always went to the highest bidder. She dials a new number from memory and is put through almost immediately to Gregory Church. Church was paying her ten times the amount Salt was, usually a fair indication that whatever he wanted the information for, it wasn't legal.
‘The deal will go through by midnight.’ She immediately terminates the call and then, spying a large tropical fish tank in the lobby, drops the phone gently behind the rock ledges. It disappears from view. From her handbag she retrieves an identical looking mobile and returns to the table.
‘Harris, my darling, I’m afraid I seem to have some trouble tonight and have to rush off back to the office, you couldn’t drop me back at home could you?’ Harris looks peeved but does his best to hide it.
‘Of course, shame though. I was enjoying the meal.’
‘We can do this another time. I’m sorry about your celebration but you probably should be getting back anyhow?’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’ Harris gets up from the table reluctantly and calls for their coats.

Parson, buoyed up from Martiece’s news, finds it easy to swing the views of the board to his way of thinking. The ethics were a pill. Legally, they would be able to sell the technology with the onus for disclosure firmly resting with the company buying the product. What that company did, or didn’t tell their employees was up to them. Legally, PSAC would be in the clear as long as they fully informed their clients of all the risks involved. Spying, industrial espionage, infringement of civil liberties, these would all be the dilemmas facing their clients. A rather monumental corporate pass-the-buck. Bitter, but not too hard to swallow and the board, with the added sweetener of the referendum franchise, reached an agreement by eleven twenty-three p.m.

Sunday, February 13th 2008

The referendum voting system was unique. Old paper ballots and locked tin boxes in parish town halls and schools were being replaced with touch pad screens at supermarkets, post offices, garages and libraries. National voting was about to go online as secure computer lines fed information back to a network of computers, housed in local council offices. These, in turn, reported back to a national data bank where the results could be finally tallied and ratified by independent inspectors. And, with the inclusion of the nanobiobe technology, fiddling the vote via multi-voting either by accident or on purpose, would be eliminated. The government was proud to herald in the new technology and PSAC’s touch screen voting panel technology had afforded the most economical, tamperproof solution. The first and possibly the biggest vote was about to take place on the Monday. Gregory Church slips into his stolen uniform in the back of the nondescript white van he has parked outside the only supermarket in the main street of Pindlehay. He picks up a clipboard with spurious paperwork and a small plastic briefcase and then climbs back into the front of the van and opens the door. No one even notices him as enters the supermarket and heads for the supervisor’s desk.
‘..Oh, yes, the referendum unit is over here. Been having trouble have they, with the tests? Wouldn’t surprise me at all. Don’t know how many people round here will trust it tomorrow. I don’t hold with this kind of thing really, ballot papers are much better. So, will you need anything else?’ The name on her supervisor badge reads Janet.
‘No Janet, that’s all. I can connect to the mainframe from this end. Should be about half an hour.’ Gregory watches her turn as a bell rings on one of the checkouts and smiles to himself. The shop, as he had predicted, was reasonably busy as it was a Sunday. He would go largely unnoticed, just another technician installing more equipment. Within minutes he had bypassed the security codes and logged into the local council office terminal. No one would be working in the offices today, it being Sunday and the computer, with the information coming from a validated source rather than being hacked in, would accept his new programme without raising any alarms. It was an easy enough bit of programming. For every yes vote, the touch screen would tag the fingerprint, not with nanobiobes already built into the screen, but with a new hybrid generation he would create in a moment. A mutation to the viral code which the nanobiobes would find irresistible and immediately start replicating. And the genius of the system was that it was linked in its whole entirety and once it all went online on Monday, the re-coding programme would infect the whole system within minutes and the nanobiobes would start replicating and tagging almost immediately. He carefully types in the new code, a bio-patent for a new and lethal influenza. This referendum was going to be more than a landmark for national voting, it was going to be the start of the end.

Dr. Harris Hope lies back in his bath and peruses the Sunday newspaper. Outside, through the huge windows of the atrium he can see the steam rising up from the rolling fields as the sun burns through the low river mist. The headlines were mainly about the referendum tomorrow and he makes a mental note to stop in at the supermarket in Pindlehay on his way to the office to vote. It would be fun to use the technology he had helped to create.

Friday 18th February 2008

Martiece sips her champagne cocktail and dips her toes gingerly into the ice bucket at the side of her sun lounger. The ice is instantly refreshing against her skin and she smiles as she rereads the lead story under international news on her laptop’s internet browser. England seemed far away and almost forgotten as her boat pulls into the harbour in Sydney.

‘Millions Infected as Flu Spreads like Wildfire.
Widespread panic ensues amid government calls for calm as an epidemic of a virulent and as yet unknown, strain of flu grips the nation. Army troops are mobilised as looting and lawlessness spreads from inner cities out into the countryside. Temporary morgues are being set up in town halls and schools as the death toll mounts into the thousands. All schools, public institutions, public transport systems and airports remain closed as the country grinds to a halt. The government is holding crisis talks amid growing fears of there being no cure for this dreadful contagion.’
Beneath the lead article, a much smaller headline grabs her attention,
‘Referendum a Failure.
Less than a third of the population turned out on Monday to take part in the first national referendum via touch screen voting. Such poor turn out figures could spell the end for touch screen voting.’
Martiece chuckles to herself, logs off the computer and pours herself another drink.