Knox would never get used to it, two small metallic slits just behind his left ear. Every morning it was the first thing he noticed. He reached behind his ear and felt them. It didn’t really hurt; it was more like an itch he couldn’t scratch. On the nightstand was his implant. It was a small crescent shaped device, with two-fork like studs protruding from the back. Knox slid the mechanism in place behind his ear; it fit like a glove. The implant was supposed to be virtually unnoticeable to the user but Knox noticed it, even more than that peculiar itch he felt every morning. The moment it clicked in place he was connected. The first thing the device delivered to Knox’s cerebral cortex was the news. Almost instantaneously he knew that the markets were up and that crime was down, no surprises there. But the big news of the day was the upcoming tenth anniversary of the Algorithm. Had it really been ten years? A small chirp emanated from the implant.
“Detective, this is Director Lantz, “ a man’s voice said in the implant.
“Director?” Knox said with surprise in his voice.
“There’s a situation at the Complex.”
“What kind of situation?”
“Your presence is required,” Lantz answered back. “Twenty minutes.”
The connection was severed.
As a detective for the National Police Force, he hadn’t gone anywhere but the office in nearly ten years. Ever since the Algorithm was put in place he had done little more than paper work every day. He couldn’t remember the last time an actual crime was committed.
It was an overcast day in the city. Only neon lights and video displays illuminated the morning gloom. His bones were stiff today. They said that sixty was the new thirty but Knox didn’t feel like it today; he felt old, like he’d been left behind. The Hyper-Tram zipped by overhead, you barely noticed, just a slight buzz.
Knox had never actually been to the Algorithm Complex before; he knew it was big, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. It was the biggest man made structure on the planet, a city unto itself. The Algorithm Project employed hundreds of thousands of people in the city, millions worldwide. It was a joint venture between Synth Corp and the world’s government’s but it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. In the front lobby a 100-foot wide video display was playing a short film commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Algorithm.
“…Our founder Aldous Schroder developed the most complex computer ever invented and an even more complicated mathematical formula known as the Algorithm.” At the front desk, a biometric machine scanned Knox’s retina. The film continued, “…An Algorithm that can predict the outcome of any circumstance with 99% certainty.” A set of double doors opened down the hall with a slightly audible hiss. A camera followed Knox through the doors and down a pristine white corridor where Director Lantz met him.
“This way detective.” Knox followed the Director through another set of double doors marked TECH SECTOR 9. Lantz was a good twenty years older than Knox, not far from retirement, though it wasn’t unusual for a man to work well into his 100’s these days. Lantz led Knox through a labyrinth of electronic equipment; he had never seen so much tech but knew it was only a small part of the Algorithm Complex. “Tell me detective, when’s the last time you were surprised by something?”
“Surprised? Do you remember what it’s like?”
Knox wasn’t sure what the Director was getting at. There wasn’t much to be surprised about these days. The Algorithm changed all that. But Knox played along. “I suppose it was 6/6.”
The Director only met Knox’s eyes at that response as he opened another set of sliding doors. Through the doors a man was lying in a pool of his own blood, a bullet hole through the back of his head. “Well detective?” Lantz asked. “Does it still feel the same? To be surprised?”
Knox was speechless. He knelt by the body for a closer look. It had been a while but the old instincts came back. A bullet in the back of the head, this man was executed.
“Most of the other guys on the force have never investigated a real crime,” the Director said, “let alone a murder. That’s why you got the call.”
Knox wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or horrified. “Any witness’?”
“No.” Lantz replied
“What about the cameras?
“No.” Lantz chirped back
That took Knox aback. “How can that be,” he said while motioning around the room to the many cameras. “They’re everywhere.”
“We were hacked.” The voice came from behind Knox, when he turned he found an old Asian man, even older than Lantz. He was impeccably dressed, not the slightest hint of emotion showing on his face.
“Detective Knox, this is Hiro Koshi,” said Lantz.
Knox didn’t need to be introduced. He was well aware of who the CEO of Synth Corp was. “Mr. Koshi,” Knox said as he bowed.
“Detective Knox is one of our best and he’ll be the sole investigator on this case,” said the Director.
Koshi was showing emotion now. “One detective? I assumed you would have the entire force working on this.”
“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how sensitive this matter is,” Lantz said. “The first murder in ten years and it just happens to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Algorithm. If word gets out about this, there will be panic in the streets. I have every confidence that Detective Knox will bring this matter to a speedy close.”
Knox was just as surprised as Koshi but he went along. “For right now the less people who know, the better.”
“Of course,” replied Koshi. “Whatever you think is best.”
“Who was this man Mr. Koshi?”
“His name was Gomez, one of our system analysts.” Koshi handed Knox a small tablet computer. The security footage had a time stamp of 12:07am when Gomez was seen coming through the door of sector 9 and then the screen went black. The next image was Gomez lying on the floor dead; the time stamp read 12:16am.
They were interrupted by Hiro’s implant going off. Koshi lightly tapped the device behind his ear. “Yes? I’ll be right there.”
“Gentlemen,” said Koshi, “if you will excuse me?”
“Of course. Detective Knox and I will be in touch”
“Very good.” Hiro bowed slightly then he was gone.
“Gomez’s work log will be uploaded to your implant. Keep me apprised of your progress Detective,” said Lantz as he too left.
On the way out Knox synched his implant. Gomez seemed to have had a pretty routine night at work but the one thing that did stand out was an IP address. Internet Protocol Address’ had been phased out in the late twenty-first century. So how the hell did Gomez come across one? “Well, it should be easy to trace,” Knox said aloud to himself.
The Gates. Knox frequented this area even less than the city; there was no reason to unless he was looking for cyber drugs, a prostitute, or just down on his luck in general. The IP address was definitely in Gatestown but Knox could only narrow it down to a few blocks. He had been walking for an hour when he came to dilapidated apartment building. The door wouldn’t budge and the intercom was busted, if it ever worked at all. “Fuck.”
“That’s usually my reaction when I get home everyday.” She couldn’t have been a day over twenty-five, jet-black hair with neon green highlights. She had taken Knox by surprise.
“You live here?” he asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it living, per say, it’s more of a dwelling,” the girl said bugging her eyes out playfully. “If a guy like you is living here though, you must be way worse off than me.” She reached past Knox. “There’s a trick to the door, gotta jiggle it.”
As the girl fussed with the door, Knox noticed a twenty-first century style laptop in her shoulder bag. “Nice computer,” he said.
The girl froze and locked eyes with Knox. She tried to run but
Knox restrained her and took out his Pulse-Shock. It wasn’t a lethal device but it could be extremely painful. The weapon fired a concentrated electronic pulse that would paralyze the target for about a minute. He held it in front of her face. “I could use this.” The girl stopped struggling. “But I won’t.” Knox put the device away. “What’s your name?”
“Ocea, I just want to talk.”
Her apartment was like a museum; post twenty-first century technology everywhere. Old CPU towers, laptops, servers, and everything seemed to be in working order. “What is all this?” he asked.
“My office I guess,” Ocea replied.
“Why did you run?”
“General principle, you’re NPF.”
Knox wasn’t buying it. He pulled out a picture of Gomez and slid it across to her. “You know this guy?”
She glanced down at the picture then back at Knox. “Nope. What he do, download too much kiddy porn?”
“No, he was a tech at the Algorithm Complex”
Ocea rolled her eyes and shuddered, “Even worse.”
“He’s dead.” That shut her up. “Shot in the back of the head and right now you’re my number one suspect.” She was fuming now; angry, scared, both? Knox couldn’t tell.
“Where were you last night around midnight?”
She didn’t answer.
Knox got up and looked at all the old tech in the room. “You hacked the Algorithm, with all this?” The girl didn’t answer. “That’s how you slipped by. The Algorithm or the Machine wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails out of this old gear. And what about Gomez?”
“My guess is he saw something he wasn’t supposed to.” Suddenly a red light began to flicker in the room. Ocea shot up, “Who knows you’re here?”
Ocea flipped on a large video display. Grainy footage showed a squad of NPF officers storming in the building. “Liar!” she screamed.
“I’m telling you, no one knew I was coming here!”
“Then you were followed.”
“Look, I can help you,” said Knox. “If you’ll just cooperate.”
“Cooperate? I may have hacked that unholy machine but I did not kill that guy. I’m being set up and I can prove it!” Ocea packed a few things in her shoulder bag. She flipped up a rug on the floor; underneath there was a hatch.
Knox pulled out the Pulse-Shock and pointed it at her. “Ocea, I can’t let you leave.”
She walked towards Knox, stopping an inch from his face. “Then come with me. I’ll show you, I’ll show you everything.”
Knox looked in her eyes, they were green and radiant, and then he felt something. Something he hadn’t felt in a long a time: a gut feeling.
Knox’s legs were throbbing by the time they finally hit the ground. He had no idea how deep they had gone in the tunnel, it seemed like they had been climbing down forever. He wasn’t sure where they were at; it looked like an old train station. No, it couldn’t be. Knox wiped some soot from the wall, underneath it read:
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
He looked at Ocea, “The old city.”
“What’s left of it,” she said. “C’mon this way.”
There wasn’t a day that went by that Knox didn’t think about 6/6. An entire city reduced to rubble, millions dead. But we came back from it, we rallied, built the city back; made it better. It was better right?
Ocea led them up the main concourse; a scorched American flag still hung from the ceiling. “Start talking Ocea and it better be good. When this is all said and done, I’m likely to end up in jail with you.”
They came to a door that was marked as restricted access. “When’s the last time you were surprised by something Knox?”
“The last time someone asked me that, a corpse was involved.”
Ocea gave the door a brisk shove with her shoulder and it was open. “Well, let me ask you another way. Do you know what the Algorithm does?” Ocea hit a switch on the wall to power up the old control room. Dozens of ancient computers and video displays came to life.
Knox didn’t have time for this but he humored her. “Sure,” he said with resignation in his voice, “It’s a mathematical formula, that’s way to complicated for a guy with my pay grade to understand, and it can predict the outcome of any given scenario with 99% certainty. Did I pass?”
“Close,” she said as she sat down in front of a computer. “Thanks to your friends up there I had to nuke all my data in my apartment but I back up everything to this control room. This place is kinda like my Bat-Cave. “
Who is this girl? Knox thought.
“My father always told me that the Algorithm was meant to help people and it did… for a while.”
“And what was he?” Knox asked. “Some kind of tech philosopher?”
“No, he was Aldous Schroder.”
Knox was stunned. “I wasn’t aware that Schroder had any children.”
“Something tells me there’s a lot you’re not aware of.” Ocea pounded on the keyboard and brought up a map of North America. “When my father was first developing the Algorithm his vision was to give people certainty in an uncertain world. It was a noble endeavor but shortly after the program went online 6/6 happened and everything changed.” Ocea hit a button on the keyboard and the map on the screen was suddenly filled with tiny orange dots. The map was completely covered, hardly a map at all now, more like a big orange glob.
“What am I looking at?” he asked.
“Each dot represents an implant logged on to the network. A lot of people right?” Ocea then brought up a global map. “This is every implant on earth.” The entire room was bathed in orange light.
“Jesus,” Knox said. “Where’d you get this?”
“This is off the Synth Corp mainframe.”
“Where are you going with this Ocea?”
“After 6/6 happened the government and it’s top scientists, my father among them, ran every possible scenario against the Algorithm to find out how they could prevent another attack.”
Then Knox began to understand.
“Time and again the solution the Algorithm produced was to monitor every bit of data from every single implant on earth.”
Knox sat down.
Ocea pointed to Knox’s implant. “Do you have any idea how much of our lives are stored on those things?” Knox reached behind his ear and felt his implant and that’s when he noticed that Ocea didn’t have a port behind her own ear. “Your father never allowed you to have one?”
Ocea shook her head. “Never, and he only agreed to let our government and Synth Corp spy on the entire planet until the city was rebuilt. Unfortunately he died before that could happen.”
“But that still doesn’t explain who killed Gomez.”
Ocea brought up a new screen on the computer. “What time was he killed?”
“There was a gap in the security footage last night between 12:07 and 12:16am.” Knox watched as Ocea shuttled through the security video. She stopped when the time stamp read 12:07am. Gomez was seen going through the doors of tech sector 9. He stopped to check something at one of the terminals, he seemed confused, and then a man with a gun stepped into the frame. The shooter’s back was to the camera. He raised the weapon and fired; the front of Gomez’s head exploded. When the man turned to leave, Ocea paused the video: it was Hiro Koshi.
They made it into the Complex easily enough which didn’t sit well with Knox. As they made their way towards Tech Sector 9 Knox noticed the cameras weren’t following them. “Something’s wrong.” The double doors in front of them hissed open. It was Lantz and Koshi.
“Good work Detective,” the Director said. “We’ll take it from here.”
“Sir you don’t understand,” Knox pleaded. “Koshi killed Gomez!”
“No you don’t understand!” he fired back. “There are things going on here bigger than you and I, the Algorithm keeps us safe and this girl is going to destroy that!”
“I only want people to know the truth,” Ocea said. “Let them decide if it’s worth trading privacy and freedom for safety.”
Lantz pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “Knox put these on her and I’ll forget about your little indiscretions today.”
Knox didn’t even have to think about it. He drew his Pulse-Shock and fired two quick bursts at Lantz and Koshi. The two old men fell to the floor writhing in pain. Ocea couldn’t believe it. “Go!” Knox beckoned her.
Ocea scurried over to a terminal and got to work. “They won’t be out for long,” Knox said.
“You’d be amazed how quickly you can undo ten years of tyranny,” she said.
“So how’s this work?”
“I’m uploading everything from the mainframe to the Network. Everyone who’s logged in will know the truth about the Algorithm, Synth Corp; everything. Then they’ll make a choice.”
“Whether they want to live a life of certainty or freedom.” Ocea went through a few more keystrokes, and then brought up the screen with the orange dots. One by one, they disappeared. Knox took out his own implant and smashed it under his boot.
The complex erupted in chaos, workers scrambling and a squad of NPF officers stormed in but seemed more interested in Lantz and Koshi than the couple boarding the Hyper-Tram.
Inside the car Knox asked, “What now?”
Ocea looked at Lantz and smiled, “Surprise me.”