FROM THE PRIVATE DOCUMENTS OF DETECTIVE GIZELLE ARDEN.
DO NOT READ WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION.
SHOULD YOU FIND THIS POSTED ON A PUBLIC FORUM, CONTACT MY OFFICE IMMEDIATELY. YOU WILL BE REWARDED.
SHOULD YOU STEAL THIS, YOU WILL REGRET IT. ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS ASK. YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU FRANK. GET OUT OF MY SYSTEM.
Transcript of recorded conversation with Franklin Riverside on Sunday, October 10, 2219. (The following are only his words, with mine being removed for simplicity’s sake.) The exchange began when he entered my office at 9.15 in the morning.
Nice place you’ve got here, Arden! Love the new digs. It’s been awhile, huh? I have so missed your scathing looks and dry wit. Thoroughly underappreciated, if you ask me. But hey, I promise you’re going to be glad I showed up on your doorstep when this whole thing is done. Don’t worry, I’m not holding a grudge. Truth be told, after serving a four year stint on the coast, my respect for you has grown. The more I thought back on it, the more I realized: you were the only one in that entire scenario who was honest. Honest to me, honest to the judge, and honest to yourself. And that’s what it’s about, really; it’s the reason I am sitting here instead of some journalist’s apartment, making their career with this ‘scoop’. I care about the truth; it matters. As with every other major event in my life, this last week has reminded me just how much it matters. People lie for it. People steal for it. People betray for it. People kill for it.
Let’s see, where do I even begin? Since my return, I’ve gotten pretty good at my ‘clandestine’ profession. A solid underground reputation helps. I chalk that up to having a fairly unusual attitude when it comes to commandeering information for a given job. I will take only what the client asks for; no more, and no less. If that data turns out to be relatively useless when all is said and done, sobeit: you should’ve asked for something else. I am not paid to obtain your desires, I’m compensated to fish out specific zeroes-and-ones. If I see something else, something personal, something unseemly, something revelatory, then it dies the second the skim is done. I bleach it from my rig, and then from my brain. That sounds absurd, huh? But, I’ve had a lot of practice with forgetting. Guess you are partially to thank for that, eh? I know, it strikes my peers as ‘misplaced nobility’. I don’t see it that way though. I view it as pragmatic self-defense. I mean, if I’m going to keep living, drinking, and contracting in this town, it’d be better not to know the dirty little secrets about many of its prominent residents. They could be potential customers. They could be potential targets.
See what I did there? ‘Targets’, ‘jobs’, ‘data’; I stick to degrees of separation like glue, because it’s much easier with the forgetting. A name, a face, an identity? That’s rough to sponge outta your head. I avoid specific personal details as possible. So then, the clients have identifiers, targets have tags. Hey, it worked for the military right? Well you know, back when they weren’t just ‘Police 2.0’, and had other armies to fight against. It’s all about dehumanizing your opponent. Oh, the things I do for a roof, some food, and less-guilt-ridden sleep at night. Over the last four years, I’ve excised bits of truth stretching to every corner of the world, from many, many unsuspecting folks along the way. Sometimes I was taking data, and other times I was erasing it. Shit, I might’ve hacked you along the way, for all I know. If I did, I’m sorry about that. But, rest assured, the way things are out there these days, if someone wanted your data bad enough, odds are that they were going to get it. And, if they came to me, they must’ve wanted it pretty damn bad. At least I probably glossed over anything damning about you that wasn’t on the list. No, I don’t mean your weird fetishes. Everybody has some weird fetishes. Trust me, I mean everybody. Whatever floats your boat there, detective. That’s why, if you gotta get hacked, you better hope it’s me. Most others in my line, well, they’d just leverage the hell out of those ‘extras’ as chips for negotiating a higher payday. God knows, I’ve seen that plenty of times.
There you go. Now you’ve got some context for what I’ve been up to for the last half-decade. Suffice it to say, I’ve made a few very powerful friends, and built some hard-earned trust with them. In fact, one of those powerful friends started this whole mess, about a week ago, even if I didn’t know it at the time. I was camped out at home, tying up a few loose ends from a lift I’d done two days prior. You familiar with my place? Guess, I don’t tend to have a lot of visitors. I’ll lay it out for you: The place has the basics, including a little kitchen, a bathroom, and a study. I was sitting in the well-furnished office, at the same old desk where my dad used to pen letters. Before him, his dad scribbled brilliant things there at that plain, humble little oak piece. I like it, and I always have. It’s been in my family for an unknown number of generations. The room was pretty dim at the time, since I just had the screen-light from my triple monitors, and a single old-timey desk lamp buzzing away indifferently. Saves on the energy bills, you know?
Besides, I didn’t need a lot of light to navigate around there. I knew every inch of that dusty old sanctuary by heart. It had a small red-leather couch, antique radio, and dark-wood floors. It had this painting on the wall, next to the office door. I used to stare at it all the time when I’d be waiting for gramps, or my dad, to finish something. It was this real manly looking gent on a white horse, and they’re jumping a fence in a nondescript field somewhere. I don’t have a clue what the story is behind it. Anyway, enough about the office. I don’t wanna lose you here. I was sitting at the desk, closing up shop, and thinking about what I’d scrape together for dinner. That’s when I got a ping from Widow. That’s short for ‘Widow Maker’, a tag one of my most frequent customers goes by. She was quite a prodigious cyber-sleuth in her own right. We tended to partner up out of mutual respect of each other's work. Truth be told, I knew very little about her; even the ‘her’ is speculation. A gut feeling based on our exchanges, I guess.
The message popped up on my main screen: “Gable, would you please resend last week’s results? The images came out blurry. They must’ve been corrupted somehow. Thanks.”
That gave me pause. Firstly, she knew I wasn’t a big fan of my old auto-assigned handle ‘Clark Gable’. I looked it up; apparently he was some famous, old-timey actor. I pulled a few archived videos of his work, and the guy was quite good at his job. I’ve got nothing against him. It’s more, I don’t like who originally did the naming. Secondly, there were no images in the secured stuff I’d sent her two weeks earlier. It’d been only digits. Lastly, she’d confirmed the integrity of the files by paying me days ago for my ‘independent contracting’ work. You don’t pay someone for broken results.
Before I got a chance to respond, a second message arrived. It contained a link that I scanned before clicking, but of course. It was safe, and only she and I could see what was on the other end. It downloaded several folders. Inside, I found a secured document I couldn’t open, as well as a sequence of snipped up, jumbled images. I’d need to reassemble them to get the message. That was a common way for her and I to communicate. It took a few minutes, but when I had everything in order, I found myself blinking in confusion. It was me. Well, it was my place. It’s not that I haven’t been ‘surveilled’ before; that’s happened plenty of times. It’s more that it was a shockingly sharp series of images of my little wooden abode. Beyond that, there were several weird factors jumping out immediately. It was an aerial shot, as in, from straight freaking above my place. That’s technically not unheard of. It’s just that, people don’t really fly that low and slow anymore, unless they are an ambulance-chopper, or a government official, headed for a summit.
At that point, my hackles were already sufficiently upended. Yet, it wasn’t until I actually flipped through all ten of the pictures in order, that it really hit home. They showed jump-cuts of me, tiny, but distinguishable as ‘me-shaped’. I was leaving my front door at around midday, getting on my bike, and riding away. The images followed me for several blocks with perfect clarity before they cut off. Mesmerized, I cycled through them four times in quick succession, and then finally noticed what was in the upper right-hand corner: a timestamp, indicating the the day before.
“Uhm,” I muttered to myself, it being more of a feeling, than a statement. In moments, I was on my feet, shaking my head. Then, I flung into action. It took me, oh, probably ten minutes to pack up a bag. I had to stop and think about it several times, as I wasn’t sure when, or if, I’d be coming back there. Once I was satisfied, I hopped on my computer and answered with just one word: ‘Acknowledged’, and then proceeded to unplug my computer’s power, and NET cord. I pulled the old-timey lamp’s chain, and it winked out with that definitive ‘ca-chunk’ noise. As I b-lined for my front door, there were three basic, burning questions branded into my craw, easily summarized as: Who, how, and why? Who was watching like that, how the hell were they doing it, and why me? It was time to find out on my terms, before I was locked in to theirs, whomever ‘they’ might’ve been…