Saturday, March 05, 2005

Friday Fiction Blogging: The View from Slate's Window, Chapter 1

I'm working on a science fiction novel. I don't claim to be a great novelist, but the feedback so far is good. I made a few more edits today (March 30).

Slate sat hunched against the wall of his cell. He rubbed the stubble on his chin and assessed his injuries. He sighed. And then sighed again. Slate's bruises came from a run-in with a gang member, but that wasn't what was really on his mind. He was thinking about his interview with the homicide detective, Callaghan. Slate'd been in prison for three years and had learned how to do time. Slate had found his calling as an identity thief during his sophomore year of college. He'd spent twenty years and several trillions of World Corp's carbon and fuel credits before he'd made his first (and last) mistake. That mistake had landed him in Canada’s highest security prison. The prison didn't need locks on its doors because every prisoner carried the prison on his or her person. Two grams of the world's most hypo-allergenic explosives laid on the brain stem of every inmate. Slate thought that the burden was much heavier than its two gram existence would otherwise lead you to believe.

* * *

Callaghan hunched his coat tighter against the wind off the lake and walked out to stand in front of the prison's solar cell array. It was much warmer in the sunshine. This prison sure was a hellhole. Located in Yellowknife under a transnational agreement, this is where Canada, the United States, and Mexico kept their least favorite citizens.

No one had ever escaped from this prison. Even if they made it past the motion sensors, the heat sensors, the minefields, the automated guard tower and cybernetic dog teams, the climate would kill a man without the proper equipment and clothing. This time of winter it was damned cold.

Callaghan had never visited this prison before and hoped he never would again. Travel was much less common since the price of fossil fuels had moved beyond the reach of most working people. Now only governments could afford oil and coal.

A nuclear-powered sled had been dispatched to bring Callaghan to this icebox. Callaghan's charge was simple, figure out how someone had detonated Twyxla Harkins' head. No one would be losing any sleep over the demise of Harkins. He'd been serving a life sentence with hard labor for rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child when someone had detonated the synthtech explosives on his brain stem.

The kill command was only supposed to execute at the direction of the warden or the captains of the guard. *Or* if one of the inmates left the reflective box of the prison for the frozen wasteland where Callaghan now paced.

As Callaghan shivered in the cold, he reflected on the path that had brought him to this place with its rugged beauty and bone-chilling cold. Callaghan had spent twenty years in law enforcement before becoming a High Commissioner for National Security, or a Hicomm as the newsies called him.

As a Hicomm, Callaghan rarely left his apartment except for social occasions. He had full investigatory powers for everyone up to and including the Prime Minister and could have anyone detained by invoking his national security powers. Callaghan had three support staff and could request support from any agency or branch of the military necessary to conduct an investigation.

For Callaghan to be summoned to this nameless prison referred to only as E-12, then someone in the upper reaches of government was quite concerned about persons unknown bypassing all of the safety protocols built into the Authority to prevent system-mediated murder.

Callaghan spent most of his time connected to the Authority through his mindjack, eavesdropping on the communications traffic generated by Suspicious Individuals or SIs as he usually thought of them. Callaghan had full access to the Canadian public observation network or PON. Canada's PON was not as impressive as the one in the UK or the US, but it was better than many countries' and Callaghan could usually get an auditory and visual record of people in public places anytime he wanted and, of course, he had access to all their voice and electronic communications. All communications were recorded by the Authority, but only those with a high enough security clearance could access real-time communications as well as the electronic archives.

In the latter parts of investigations, Callaghan would receive approval from the Authority to have tracking nanites placed in the SI's food which would create an even more solid evidence trail for the tribunal.

The predecessor to the Authority was the the UN and WiCTA, the World Counter-Terrorism Authority. Under the powers granted to him as a HiComm, Callaghan could eavesdrop on anyone within the territorial confines of Canada. And if he learned anything suspicious, he would have the SI tracked, arrested, charged, tortured and brought before a tribunal for violations of the existing order and being a threat to the Authority. These types of violations could be punished by death, imprisonment, more torture or banishment to a corporate work camp on Mars or in the asteroids.

The annual fatality rate for asteroid miners had averaged fifty percent for the last several decades. Mars was safer only by comparison.

Of course, most of what Callaghan documented were more pedestrian felonies like conspiracy to commit corporate theft. Callaghan had hoped he was done with fieldwork at his age. He was only fifty years from retirement age after all.

As Callaghan paced in the snow and reminisced, he noticed that his pipe had gone out. The pipe was an eccentricity, one of his many anachronisms. Callaghan stopped and fished out his new wind-proof lighter and relit his pipe. Then he resumed pacing as best he could in snowshoes. He didn't mind the cold so much, it focused the mind. And Callaghan was sure that if he could just focus on the facts closely enough, he could figure out who had killed Harkins.

* * *

Callaghan had already gone through the facility's location logs for all the prisoners. The prison had 10,000 occupants and five full time staff. Callaghan was focusing his investigation on the five full time staff and three prisoners. Slate, his current top suspect, was an electronics genius who'd been almost perfect. Then he'd screwed up and a Canadian data mining program had uncovered his identity after twenty years of total anonymity.

Anonymity had been made illegal under the Patriotic Acts after eco-terrorists blew up the space ferry Atlantis with her full complement of crew and passengers. Nowadays under international law, all citizens were implanted with identity chips at birth. Their identity chips allowed them to interface with the Authority and participate in society.

Callaghan was old enough to remember what life was like before the Authority, if only briefly. Thanks to anti-aging treatments, Callaghan didn’t look like an old man, but on days this cold, he sure felt like an old man.

Talking to that creep Slate reminded Callaghan of the time he’d gone swimming with sharks. Way too much cunning and violence lurked behind Slate’s eyes. But Callaghan wasn’t sure that Slate was the culprit in this murder. He turned his attention to his next interview, which was with the deputy warden of the prison, an American named Doug O’Connor. O'Connor had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill Harkins. O’Connor’s youngest child had been murdered by a paedophile ten years earlier. The strain of the murder had shattered his marriage and led O’Connor to apply for his current position in this frozen wasteland.

The only problem with this theory was that there would be a record if O'Connor had ordered the detonation of Harkin's head. But there was no record in the system of who had ordered the detonantion, which wasn't supposed to be possible.

O’Connor was a bright guy with advanced degrees in law and prison administration; O’Connor wasn't stupid enough to murder one of his charges at the prison. Nothing in O'Connor's background indicated much technical expertise. O'Connor just didn't seem cunning enough to pull off a murder like this without leaving a trace.

No, Callaghan was pretty sure that O'Connor wasn't the murderer. Why use the explosives at all? Hundreds of men in this prison would murder anyone for a few of the privileges O'Connor could dole out. O'Connor could re-draw the boundaries of the prison at will and had control over everything from food distribution to pain infliction through the tiny generator located on every inmate's spinal cord. The min-gen, as they were called, produced negligible amounts of power that fueled the locator system that reported the position of every inmate to the Authority. Tracking nanites were too expensive to expend on prisoners, so they had hardwired track-and-kill systems powered by the min-gen.

O'Connor could have electrical shocks delivered the nervous systems of any of the men in his charge who disobeyed or tried to escape. O'Connor could have tortured Harkins for years before anyone would have ever noticed. The men and women held in this prison had been written off by society and few would care how or if they died.

The only reason most of these prisoners hadn't been sent to the off-planet work camps was because they were seen as too dangerous to be entrusted with mining equipment.

Callaghan's pipe went out again. He decided it was too cold to be outside and headed back into the relative safety of prison E-12.

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