Perfects – Chapter 5 Discovery
Our usual routine involved an hour or so of stooging around without wearing a terminal, not even a supposedly switched-off one. We usually started by leaving home on a back route and taking a bike ride or a bus to the local shopping area, we always worked during the busiest hours. Once we were in the shopping area we needed to find a crowd. Once we’d got into the crowd, dropping down to tie a shoe lace would normally put you out of sight of any followers or cameras. A quick change of hat, and perhaps turning a hoodie inside out would be enough to help that process on.
Once we’d spent some time making sure no-one was following us, we’d make our way to the meeting point. I was usually first there, and we’d sort of form our own counter-surveillance team by walking past each other and stringing ourselves over a couple of hundred metres, with the lead guy stopping in a shop, crossing the road when there was traffic or to re-tie his shoes, or something plausible. The rest of the team would then carry on past him. Once we were completely sure the whole team were there and no-one else was, we’d loop into the safe house (which we tended to be by-passing when we were doing the counter-surveillance drill).
This time we were in the back space of an empty shop unit, which we got into through the back alley that serviced the deliveries in the days when it had all been working, when we’d had a proper retail trade. Once inside I was more relaxed. Looking around I could see that the familiar bank of old-fashioned consoles were set up in the windowless space in the rear of the empty retail unit that had once housed a clothing showroom. Some of the shop dummies still stood half-dressed in the body of the showroom (although he’d seen those in the way in, you couldn’t see the main body of the unit from where he stood now).
“Howdy!” a geeky looking teenager called.
“Hey there Rog!” I called back, “How goes it?”
Not too bad, took some time to get it all set up again, but we ought to be OK in here for a few weeks, I got two extenders linked back to back and we’re in a high density area. So they shouldn’t be able to easily track us down. Need to keep moving the access points though.” explained Rog.
“So what do you need me to do?” I asked.
“Just the usual. We’ll need some new access points and also cover for the line layers when they move the extenders.”
I sat in front of one of the terminals and logged in. Using a screen and keyboard was terribly old fashioned, but it was both cheap and offered the ability to subvert the normal restrictions the more modern terminals and glasses applied to non-developers. These machines were unlicensed and unrestricted running some powerful remote access tools. Someone that knew what they were doing could achieve quite a lot, although there were still limitations on individual systems that you needed to either find a way round, or use other methods to overcome. Over the next couple of hours I used his technical skills to reinforce a number of temporary identities by placing tokens verifying their existence across a range of systems. This was the first step in being able to act anonymously (or rather under a different identity).
We felt pretty secure because we were bouncing our outbound traffic directly off a friendly orbital, so the local cops couldn’t directly track us, although we did need to be wary of the drones spotting where we’d put the uplinks and using that information to shut us down. However we’d come up with a great scam to sort that one out too. One of the guys I knew was a mechanic, and he worked in a repair place near the main telecom depot for the local area.
We’d arranged it so that his garage won the contract for servicing the telecom vans for one of the major infrastructure companies. This let us borrow real vans for the extender runs, and we’d implanted a few chosen identities as freelance sub-contractors to the company too. So when we went out to install our own infrastructure, i.e. cable from the hideout to the uplink dishes, then we looked like we were legitimately upgrading the communications infrastructure, and that appearance would pass the sort of background check a beat copper might do.
Added to that we had some local surveillance systems and an early warning lookout around the home base, there were 17 people involved in keeping the operation going, all told. This was certainly too many from a secrecy point of view, but it was people intensive keeping the cops off our backs. Of the 17, five were cell members and knew the score properly, the rest just thought we were some sort of organised crime group and were doing it out of a combination of money and fear. Those were the ones I worried about.
About two hours into our afternoon session one of my warning alerts triggered. We’d been doing pattern analysis on the police communications systems. Although they were encrypted and we couldn’t tell what the messages were, we could tell how many were active and where they were. Over a six month period we’d managed to work out what normal looked like, and also the early signs that the local cops were gearing up for a major operation, either raids or some public order thing. This alert suggested that there were about 50 cops gathering at the local station for a briefing, which was outside the normal shift change pattern.
I stopped what I was doing and brought up our police map. I got it to highlight the police that were usually in our area, and compare that to right now. We had no police within 200 metres of our current location, but there was a pattern of static units in a rough circle about 250 metres round where we were. Across the rest of the city there was a lower than normal level of police, but still typically mobile. It didn’t look good, so I alerted the others in the shop with me.
“Guys, the cops are up to something, close down now!”
A moment of frantic activity as we put our emergency drill into action. I pulled out a temporary terminal from inside a metal drawer under the table the terminal was on and powered it up. It would give me away, but allowed me to stay on top of things while we cleared up. Once I had it on I gave some orders:
“Right, Rog, get these terminals ready to go out of here, sharpish”
“Mark, get the van round to the back door.”
“Geoff, make sure the basement access is open and ready just in case.”
I helped Rog pack down the terminals, we focused on the base units and collecting up the cabling that attached them to the network, those were the hard to replace bits that would incriminate us if we were caught with them. Between us we stacked them all into a wheeled trolley that we could carry if we had to. We then returned to the screens and keyboards and chucked them unceremoniously into another wheeled trolley that we left outside the back door of the shop unit two doors down, which still operated as a Chinese takeaway.
I checked what the police were up to, still in their briefing by the look of things, but we couldn’t take chances with it.
We went back inside and followed Geoff down to the basement with the smaller trolley, carrying it between us. When we got into the access tunnel under the floor Geoff closed the hatch behind us and we heard him dirtying it up before replacing the carpet. Once he had done that he would go back up stairs and cover the hinges with dirt and some spray on cobwebs to make it harder to open. Then his job was to walk out the back door and get away on foot as rapidly as possible.
A last check on the police before we would lose signal showed that there had suddenly been a switch on of dozens of previously unseen radios, looks like we’d moved out just in time. I switched off and Rog and I hurried along the access tunnel, we needed to get as far away as we could.
Having slept on it, my mind was still reeling, but I was now determined to uncover what I could about why I was here. Despite all my training in scepticism and rational thought I’d somehow never thought about why I grew up in a children’s home and where my parents were. Why hadn’t I questioned my origins before?
Sitting down I pulled up a data entry window in my terminal and started to think about what I knew for certain.
I knew that my birth mother had worked on the staff of Dawkins House before the council had taken over, and I also knew that the other care workers there had parental responsibility for me. She was called Stella Baldwin, and as best I could remember she would be about 35 or 36 about now. She had a Ph.D. in something biomedical, I’m not sure exactly what, but I know that she did research during the working day, except when she was teaching us kids about human biology, she was the main teacher for that subject.
I also knew where and when I was born, even though the council care workers hadn’t believed me at the time. I was born on 18th November 2036 in a small private hospital in a converted town house in the middle of Cambridge, I think it was owned by the company.
Other than that I didn’t really know much else. However it was enough to be able to do some more digging. For a start I could go look up the public records of my birth, and perhaps find out about my father. I could also see what I could find out about what happened to my mother when she’d disappeared from Dawkins House along with all the other staff.
I left Rog, with the terminals, at the safe house. We’d both changed into new identities, in my case I was a divinity student at Sidney Sussex, a background I’d carefully cultivated even to the extent of attending tutorials and writing papers for publication. I also made a series of religious narrow casts using the studio that the girls ran. This was more detail than normal for a legend, but I had prepared this one very carefully to stand up to way more than the normal level of scrutiny.
Rog went first, and I followed a few minutes later taking care to head in the opposite direction. The first leg of my trip was to take me to Sidney Sussex where I was going to spend a couple of hours in the library. When I came out of there I intended to turn on Huw Powell’s terminal and walk to his lodgings where I would spend a couple of days being a divinity student and working on his thesis. If it turned out quiet then I would look at resuming my old ways, otherwise I’d need to look to going elsewhere.
I didn’t get very far though. A police line ran along the Cam, and I was on the wrong side of it. Just as I was about to turn round a policewoman stopped me.
“You there! Come here!” she shouted, pointing at me.
“Who? Me?” I said, gesturing at myself and playing my part.
“Yes, you” she affirmed, stepping towards me. “Can you tell me what you are doing here?” she asked.
“I was on my way to the library, I’ve got a sermon to write” I replied.
“You’re a student?”
“Divinity, Sidney Sussex”
“Can you please tell me your name?”
“Certainly officer, I’m Huw Powell. Would you like to see my student ID?” I moved to bring my wallet out of my pocket, which had a genuine student ID in it.
“How come your terminal isn’t providing this information Mr Powell?” she asked, clearly suspicious of something.
“It isn’t switched on, do you want me to switch it on?”
“Do you make a habit of walking about without your terminal on Mr Powell?”
“Well actually, I do. I find that terminals offer many distractions for the mind, and that one can get closer to one’s own divinity by shedding worldly distractions as much as possible. I find it …” she interrupted me.
“Thank you, Mr Powell, can you please turn on your terminal for me?”
“Of course, anything to assist an officer of the law in the execution of their duty, I’m a great admirer of those that keep the country safe and away from harm, both spiritually and physically”. I waffled while I took the main terminal box out of the inner pocket of my tweed jacket and turned it on before replacing it. I then took a pair of glasses out of another inner pocket and put them on, before clipping a crucifix shaped brooch to the left lapel of my coat. While I did all this I noticed that a couple of other cops had wandered over to my left rear, and had cut off any line of escape if I were to run. However, I was trusting to my deep legend to protect me if they got suspicious.
“Is there anything else I can help you with officer?” I asked.
“Just wait there a moment Mr Powell. I just want your terminal to come back on line so that I can double check it.”
“Is there some sort of a problem officer?”
“Nothing to worry about, we’re just carrying out random checks to help us find people who are up to no good. The procedure needs me to verify the terminal details as well as your own. As soon as I can do that then you can go.” With that she went blank-faced, obviously focused on the head up display inside her glasses.
A few moments pass and a police van draws up behind where I’m standing. It takes all my concentration not to look nervous while I’m standing there waiting. I’m very worried that they are going to arrest me.
“Okay, sir, thank you for your co-operation. You are free to go”. The police woman tells me.
“No problem officer, glad to have been of assistance.” I offer, trying not to grin, nor to run away from them. She turns away from me almost instantly and speaks to her colleague in the van. It appears she has been relieved for her dinner break.
It took some time to steel myself for the public records, but after dinner I decided to get on with it. I logged onto the citizen net and asked the search engine for Cambridgeshire birth records for 18th November 2036. There were 23 hits, 13 of which were female live births. I looked at them all, and I checked them again. My birth entry wasn’t there.
I couldn’t believe that this was correct, so I triple checked them, and also the search parameters that I’d entered. I was certain I’d asked it for the correct information. Perhaps I’d mis-remembered something. I looked at each of the detailed records in turn. I checked the places of birth, the given names, the mother’s details and her occupation where it was given. None of them looked remotely like what I’d been told about my birth.
This was confusing. Either my memory was faulty, or someone had been feeding me misinformation. Neither of these was a comfortable thought. I widened the search to cover all the Cambridgeshire births in November 2036. In total there were over 600, split about 51% to 49% between girls and boys.
I didn’t really want to go through every one of them individually, so I filtered on gender, and those born within five miles of the city of Cambridge itself. That brought it down to about 200. I then specifically excluded all those born in the main maternity hospital and that brought it down to a manageable 38 births.
The next four hours were spent working my way through the 347 female birth records for Cambridgeshire in November, starting with the filtered 38 most likely. At the end of the time I was pretty sure that my birth wasn’t among them at all. By this time it was past midnight, and I was feeling washed out, both from the lack of success and the mental effort of working through a large number of records looking for the right one. I decided that it was probably bedtime.
I crossed the foot bridge over the Cam into Jesus Fields and made my way through the park to where Sidney Sussex is. As I stepped round the corner into Park Street, two large guys in suits bumped into me, grabbing an arm each and dragging me backwards into the roadway.
“Special Branch, keep quiet” grunted blue pinstripe, the one to my left.
“Mind your head” came charcoal grey, as he pushed my head down and into the unmarked car that had pulled up behind me. I was unceremoniously, but very efficiently, bundled into the car. Two more suited types were in the car, another burly bloke in the back seat who had pulled me into the vehicle and a female driver. Charcoal grey got in next to me, and blue pinstripe got into the front passenger seat. As soon as he was in, the vehicle started to move again. All up, it had probably taken less than 15 seconds from when I turned the corner to when we moved off.
“Right, son. You’re helping us with our inquiries, so be helpful and we won’t need to spend too long enquiring. Understand?” explained the burly bloke on my right who’d turned side on to look at me.
“What is going on? Who are you? Why are you kidnapping me?” I lead off on being a confused student not knowing what the heck had just happened. I made a point of looking bewilderd, and looked around the car at all of the occupants and doing my best to feign fear.
“No names, no pack drill. You know fine well why you’re here, but we’re willing to cut you a deal if you’ll co-operate. If not, we’ve got enough to throw the book at you. It’s your call, son.” He had a somewhat earnest look about him, almost like he was trying to look serious and friendly at the same time.
“I’m sorry, I think you must have me mistaken for someone else. I have simply no idea what you are talking about, or why you have kidnapped me off the street. Can you please explain what this is all about?” I said, playing the dumb card strongly, and wondering what they had on me and why they were trying to turn me.
“Have it your way, son. We can do it all officially if you like.” He looked not unhappy as he turned back to face the front.
The car drove into the rear compound of the local police station in central Cambridge. When we stopped blue pinstripe nodded to me to get out of the car. Without a word being said, we then all went to a side door next to where we’d parked. Charcoal grey lead the way, and opened the door after inserting an access card. Once inside we were in a pretty anonymous looking corridor, which lead straight onto a stairwell going both up and down. Predictably, we went down…
continued in Imperfect (Exodus #2)
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