Thursday 8 May 2014

Short Story - Base Station Q

This was my entry to the SciFiLondon Flash Fiction challenge. I was given the following and the challenge was to write a story that used all three:


Line: "If, for any reason, I do not respond I'll leave a note."

Theme: "Everything we touch gets our DNA, Litter is now traceable to the owner"

And here was my story.


I saw him break.

He tried his best to withold the information, but our heightened interrogation techniques are essentially impossible to stand for long. They're physically harmless, as they only involve a series of injections to the base of the skull to allow us to reroute their pain receptors and control them. The agony that they feel is strictly illusion.

We do not torture. We create the illusion of torture. We are humane.

But when we find out that one of the higher-ups in the movement has left some physical evidence somewhere, we have to find out where that is. Our security depends on it.

We had been monitoring his communications for some time. We believe him to be mid-level, but based on the tone of the conversations, we believed that he had affection for her. Maybe was even in love with her.

She is very clever. She communicates with her network almost entirely virtually, and then using every level of encryption and re-routing that is possible, and a few that some of our technicians claim are impossible. She's like smoke, twisting through every attempt to find her.

If we have DNA evidence, no matter how small, we can track someone. The entire city is monitored.

It started in the days of closed circuit television, but as scanners became more sensitive, we ended up being able to track and trace information far more carefully. Crime dropped quickly when this happened, because all it took was the slightest touch of something, in a way that allowed us to identify the DNA, and then...

Then we scan the entire city for skin particles. You leave them everywhere, whether by touching something or the way they just slough off your skin. Sometimes the breeze scatters them, but it doesn’t matter. We just find the highest occurrence locations, and we have a nice, simple, easy-to- follow trail.

But we need something that we know they’ve touched.

So when she asked him to go to 'the usual place' to pick up contraband, and then respond with confirmation, she signed off with something she'd never said before.

"If, for any reason, I do not respond, I'll leave a note."

When she then didn’t respond, that changed everything.

A note. An old fashioned, honest-to-goodness note. Ink on paper. Actual physical paper. That she would have had to have touched at some point. And because of the way that it was said, he must have known where that note would be left.

And so we interrogated him, and when that didn’t work, we moved to enhanced interrogation. The
needles in the base of his skull pierced through the bone, almost imperceptibly. He would have barely felt them.

But once we started dialling up the pain receptors, once we started sending his brain the message that every single one of his nerve endings was individually being ripped, torn out and shredded, but we denied him the ability to pass out through pain... then, he talked.

It reminded me of watching my brother go through the same techniques. He had fallen in with the enemy, fallen in with the movement. They had seduced him, and he had begun to speak out against the government. He began to speak out about security being a sham. He was arrested. He fought. I had to watch in Base Station Q while he was injected. I had to watch while he screamed. Even though I knew it was not torture, it was still difficult to watch. And then, because of his confessions, he was executed.

The same method. The same chair. The same machine to engineer the injections into the back of the skull. Except this time, cutting off the brain. Painlessly. Simply. He was scared, but it lasted seconds.

He told me he was sorry. He told me that he had to fight. That I was wrong. I remembered us as children, and these are the memories I have tried to cling to the most.

But this was not my brother. This was another traitor, another person who hated us. He had arranged numerous crimes in cooperation with her, and if we could get her, that would lead us to the rest.

It was the biggest break we’d ever had.

He became confused as a result of the injections, and couldn’t give us the exact location, but we knew that it would be in one of a number of safety deposit boxes in a major bank. There were thousands of them.

This would take time, but the evidence would be there. That note would be the key.

There was no need for contamination control. The scanners would simply remove my DNA from the equation, focus on her DNA and then send the message out to the rest of the scanners across the city. Once we had it, it would take seconds, and then we would have our trail to find her.

When I found the note, my hands shook. I read it before I scanned it.

It wasn’t for him. It was for me.


When was the last time you read a letter? I suspect it has been a long time. Savour it. Enjoy it. Feel the paper in your hands and be aware that this is how we have communicated as a species for centuries.

Are you a detective? Or a soldier? Whoever you are, you now hold my life in your hands. Once you scan this, I will be easy to find. And once I am found, I will be easy to interrogate. And once I have been interrogated, I will be easy to kill.

So please, before you do, take a moment to question.

Have you lost someone close to you? We all have now. Due to the way we govern ourselves now, we all have lost someone because they disagreed. Because they wanted to be free rather than be safe.

We have not killed anyone. We have not hurt anyone. We have only tried to be free.

We spread messages. We ask questions. This is all we can do.

We are made complicit in the murders of those we love. We are made to watch. Made to testify against them, so that even while we hate ourselves and mourn them, we are controlled. Disagreement is not a crime. Freedom is not a crime. But we have made them so.

But anything we can make, we can change. Anything we can create, we can destroy.

You hold this note in your hands. You can use it to kill me.

Or you can use it to make your own choice.

You could burn this note.

You could be free as well.


I looked around me. My heart was racing, and I could feel sweat trickling down the back of my neck.

I had a lighter in my pocket. A privilege I am afforded. A sign of status. The ability to create fire.

Something we deny many people.

It felt heavy in my hand.

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