Barcode, by RavenBlack
There was a knock at the door, a crash, and suddenly they were all over me. Enforcers, must have been dozens of them, eight of them held all my limbs, then I was cuffed, and dragged out of my house and into their X17 hover-van.
As you can imagine, I was more than surprised. We were always told that the enforcers were there for our protection, to catch criminals, and I quite certainly wasn't one of those.
As the car rose and accelerated, my polite enquiries went unanswered, not even eliciting any sort of a response. My captors sat around me in stoic silence. After a few minutes of protestations and questions, I resigned myself to reaching our destination before I would get any answers. Most likely it was just a mistake. Wrong address, I kept telling myself. But I knew that couldn't be it. Not with the technology these guys used.
Perhaps I should explain something of myself and how I lived. An ordinary citizen, my ID code had never had so much as a minor misdemeanor attached to it. This makes it pretty much certain I had never done anything illegal, the way society was run. Nowadays it's different... But I digress.
Everyone had an ID code, and a tiny subdermal transmitter, which would send out a signal indicative of their code, once a minute. A network of detection stations, each two miles apart, in a pattern of equilateral triangles, would pick up these signals, and relay every single person's exact location. If anyone's signal was missed for five minutes in a row, they would be searched for and questioned.
Oh, the transmitters also had a few safeguards built in. An abnormal change in temperature or pulse-rate would cause a different signal, an alarm signal, to be sent. People, sick people, had tried cutting themselves to remove their transmitters. Of course, there's no pulse in dead flesh, and the criminals were caught. Perhaps some had been successful with more complex technology. But we wouldn't hear of that. They wouldn't want to give us ideas.
Half an hour later, the car landed, and I was dragged into a building, then into an office. The room was sparsely decorated, dark colours abounding. A bulky man sat facing away from me, in a swivel chair on the far side of a spacious and empty mahogany desk. I was unceremoniously dumped in a plastic chair, and my captors left.
The chair turned around slowly, in the way that the villain's does in old films, revealing a fat, balding man.
"How did you do it?"
I decided to start out by not being defensive. "Why am I here?"
"How did you do it?", he said, somehow managing to make such a simple sentence sound threatening.
"What am I supposed to have done?" I asked.
The man sighed. "Are you going to co-operate?" he asked, "Or do I have to press this?"
He indicated a small red button on his desk.
"I'm trying to co-operate. What is it that you're asking me about?"
"You know very well. Surely you didn't think you could fool the system?"
"You don't seem to understand." I said, impatiently. "What am I supposed to have done? It's a simple question!"
He slammed his fist on the desk, within inches of the button, but didn't press it. "Last night." he said, "Thirty-five minutes past midnight. You were in the Tarcorp records office."
"I was in bed."
"12:30." said the man, "You were in your bedroom. 12:40, you were in your bedroom. 12:35 you were in Tarcorp."
I almost laughed. "How did I manage that? Two half-hour trips in ten minutes?"
He didn't laugh. "How did you manage that?"
"Oka-a-y..." I said, "As far as I know, I didn't do it. What did the detectors do to make you think I did?"
Now the man laughed. "You want me to tell you how the system works? You do something like this, and expect me to help you do it right next time?"
"Look." I said, "I don't know how I did it, I don't even know that I did it. Hell, I don't even know what 'it' is. I can't answer your questions."
The man nodded. "I expected little else.". With a small sigh, he pressed the button. Four enforcers came into the room within seconds and grabbed me. They took me back out of the room, out of the building, into... Not a car, but a cell. Obviously I wasn't getting home yet...
* * * *
The cell was simply a small square room, metal walls, metal ceiling, metal floor, metal door. The door was a few inches thick, as was the wall it was embedded in. Presumably so were the other sides. In the two top corners opposite the door were a pair of cameras, evidently leaving nowhere in the room where I couldn't be seen. A small air-vent, the size of my wrist, was behind a grille in the ceiling.
For a while I alternated between pacing around the room and sitting with my back to the wall opposite the door. When I got sick of this, which didn't take long, I banged on the door for a bit, getting no response.
I came up with a way to attract some attention - I faced one of the cameras, and did an elaborate series of gestures looking like it might be an explanation of what had happened the night before. As I had expected, the fat man and a few enforcers were at the door in seconds.
"Can I help you?" I asked in an amused tone.
"What did you mean by those gestures?" snapped the man.
"Oh." I smiled, "Could I have a glass of water please?"
The man glowered and his hand tensed into a fist. I started to think maybe my joke was a bad idea, but the man just turned and walked out, taking the enforcers with him. The door banged closed. No water arrived.
I lay on the floor, cursing my luck that the system would choose me for it's mistake, and cursing the people for believing the unbelievable just because the machine said it was true. After a few hours I dozed off, because there was nothing else to do.
* * * *
I slept fitfully, dreams of different places filling my mind, but always with the subconscious knowledge that I was in the cell.
The final dream, it seemed, I was in one of the underground shopping centres of the city. I just stood there, the crowd rapidly shuffling around me, some using the conveyor belts, some walking, which was often the faster way. A man jostled me, apologised, then shuffled away muttering obscenities.
In the distance were enforcers, which wasn't normal in these places. Not visibly, at least. They were looking around over the crowd, one of them watching a box-shaped device in his hand. That one looked up, then, in my direction. He said something to the others, and they too looked towards me. One saw me, shouted "There!", and began pushing through the crowd, the others following as one-by-one they saw me.
About now I began to feel that this wasn't a dream. It was all too solid, too unchanging. Too late. I did my best to run from the enforcers, pushing and dodging between the crowds, achieving about the speed of a fast walk. The enforcers were having a little more luck, as the crowds parted for them as much as they could.
My mind raced. I didn't know how I got here, but obviously next time they wouldn't be satisfied with just putting me in a cell. I really didn't want to know what they would do instead. But surely I couldn't avoid all the enforcers forever, with them detecting me every five minutes. Heck, I probably wouldn't even make an hour.
I spotted a shop that could possibly help for a moment. It was worth a try, anyway, since I was losing without it. In I went, "Ashton wigs". Quickly I grabbed a curly brown wig, read the price-tag, and reluctantly payed. Reluctantly not because of the price, but because my paying for something here would go on record, and set off alarms if they'd got as far as telling the computer I'm wanted.
On with the wig, then I went back to the door. Four enforcers were just outside. Holding my breath and trying to keep calm, I stood right by the door, back to the enforcers, looking at straight blonde wigs. They ran into the shop, looking around. As the shopkeeper was looking at them, I slipped a blonde wig into my coat, and walked out, making an effort not to run.
When I judged that the enforcers would have given my description to the shopkeeper, and have been told of my purchase, I dropped the blonde wig. I bent to pick it up, being hidden in the crowd, exchanging the wigs while bent over.
Pretending to look into shops, and at the decor of the centre, I looked at the enforcers. None had noticed me, it seemed, and their detection wasn't accurate enough to pinpoint me in a crowd. It could give them directions, but they'd have to recognise me, and they'd be looking for curly brown hair or short black hair. Seemed I'd earned myself a brief respite.
Back to thinking again, what might I have been doing in the records office? Judging by the fact that I was in the shopping centre rather than a cell, it seems I could have been at the records office, but I still had no clue as to why. Also, more importantly, I didn't know how.
There were only two places that I might find the answer. My house, where there would surely be people watching for me, or the records office. I guessed my house would have been searched anyway, more thoroughly than I could search it myself, so I made my decision. Acting upon it would be a little more difficult.
* * * *
Back to where no-one knows who you are
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