My phone rings as I walk into my company’s lobby from the staff parking garage. Probably Dan Simmons. I’m late for our meeting because a disheveled man accosted me as I got out of my car, shouting gibberish and blocking the stairwell. Nobody had come to help, which was strange. I’d been worried for a minute, but then he’d looked at his phone, stopped yelling, and left quietly. I’d even heard him mumble an apology. A weird start to the day.
I take the call. “Mr. Stoughton, you’re going to need a few minutes to talk. Find somewhere you won’t be overheard, or things might go poorly for you.” The voice sounds odd.
“What? Who is this?” I ask sharply. “Dan, is that you? I’m sorry I’m late, but this isn’t funny. I’ll be right there.”
“No, not Dan. Before you do anything further, check your life chronicler.”
My DIDNOT? Its alarm isn’t beeping. It must be fine, recording everything I see and hear, like always. But when I look, everything is offline. In fact, the display shows that I switched it off. No sound, no video, no location trace, no call recording. Nothing for almost the last half hour. I can’t prove where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing. My God.
“What is this? Who are you?” I walk to an empty spot along the lobby wall, trying not to sound shaken.
“Unimportant. What matters is that I disabled your DIDNOT. Nearly thirty minutes unaccounted for. Who knows what you did?” The reply sounds like a text-to-speech app, not really a voice at all. “You know what this means.”
I think furiously. “The street monitors by my house will show me getting into my car. The car’s GPS will show me on the road. The cameras in the parking garage and my office building will show me walking in. Even if my DIDNOT is out, I’m still covered. Everything’s still transparent.”
The chuckling robotic voice sounds eerie. “Parking garages are tricky, aren’t they? So many places out of sight behind pillars and vehicles. And your section’s camera doesn’t have your spot in view anymore. Maybe that agitated person you met earlier jostled it. Bad luck for you.” The voice sounds smug, if a synthesized voice can. “Don’t try to get clever. To all appearances, you drove into a blind spot in that garage and stayed out of surveillance for over five minutes. Any accusation made against you could have happened. You know the law. If you can’t refute it…”
“The accusation is the proof,” I finish automatically. It’s true. That crazy guy must’ve been in on it, turning the camera when I pulled in, then keeping me out of its view. That’s why security hadn’t come. Nothing was on their screens. He knew someone would check the camera, though. A hidden area like that wouldn’t be left unwatched for long. That’s why he took off so suddenly. This is real trouble. What am I going to do?
“What do you want?”
“Only two things, and they’re not so bad compared to the alternative,” came the reply. “First, as you might suspect, I want money. But don’t worry, it won’t be too much. I’ll send you a number for an account that’s registered as a charity in a country with less rigid laws than here. If anyone asks, you can say that you simply wanted to help people in need. That will cover you as well as me. I’ll contact you occasionally with instructions on where to send more. Just a few thousand, here and there, never often. You do well enough, but you’re not rich, and I have no desire to bleed my sources dry. It won’t even really be a hardship to you.”
A few thousand, once in a while. I can afford it, if that’s all. If it doesn’t get worse over time. What choice do I have? If I tell my side, nobody will believe it without corroboration. Ever since the government decided to cut policing costs by replacing Privacy with Transparency, the law says everyone has to prove their own story. If he can mess with my DIDNOT, he can probably rig one for an accuser, too, and I’ll have no counter. “What’s the second thing?” I ask.
“The man you encountered earlier was in your same situation,” answers the unnatural voice. “He got you for me, and one day, you will help me get another… client, let’s say. One new client only. After today, that man has only to send me some cash now and then. You’ll be the same, provided you cooperate. This is my business model, you see. I don’t get greedy, draw attention, or take risks. You, however, take a big risk if you resist, but only small losses if you obey. Do we have an agreement?”
I can’t see a way out. “You win. I’ll cooperate. But I won’t be a false accuser. I assume you get them the same way?”
“Fine. Human nature being what it is, I have no shortage in that area anyway. You should remember that if you think of doing something rash when I contact you again. Whatever else might happen, you have no defense against today. For now, go on with your life. I’ll be in touch.” The line goes dead, and a few seconds later my DIDNOT’s display shows that it’s active again.
Dammit! Life chroniclers are advertised as uncrackable. That’s the whole point. How can I stop this from happening again? Switch to that Overseer drone service? It’s so expensive. You always end up having to get the next thing, and it always costs more. It’s like life is just the time between mandatory upgrades. And they still can’t keep you secure.
Hmm. I’ll keep my DIDNOT, too, as backup. Multiple layers, so each can also protect against the other. It’s just more of the same, really, but maybe it’ll work.
What other choice is there?
Rex Caleval lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he spent twenty years as an air-traffic controller. Always an avid reader with story ideas popping into his head, he decided to try writing a few, and has been pleased to find that some people like them. His stories have appeared or are upcoming in Every Day Fiction, Antipodean SF, and Medusa’s Laugh.