Low Fidelity officially begins

VP header

Public announcement

At the beginning of June 2014, I officially launched my latest project: Vantage Point magazine, a compact digital publication available on Apple’s Newsstand platform.

You can read more about the magazine and its contents in this article on my main website. This magazine is crucial to Low Fidelity because in every issue of Vantage Point you’ll find a new episode of the novel.

A new issue of Vantage Point will be available every two weeks, and will include 4–5 articles. Since it’s available on Apple’s Newsstand, you’ll be able to read it on any iOS device, both in portrait and landscape orientation.

Subscriptions will cost $2.99 a month (I’m not sure whether that translates to 2.99 or 2.69 Euros), which means each issue is going to cost you about $1.50, which seems a fair enough price to me.

At the time of writing, the following issues are available:

  • Issue 0 (“Demod”) — containing Low Fidelity’s Prologue [Free issue]
  • Issue 1 (“Approach”) — containing Episode 01: Watson

Discover the world and the story of Low Fidelitysubscribe to Vantage Point magazine today, and support my writing. Thank you!

In the Library — III


Bert opens the envelopes. The first contains 36 photographs, each with an accompanying card stamped Classified War Structure. He browses them quickly first, to have a general idea of the places, hoping to find something, anything that may be connected with the elusive group of people targeting the old district archives. He doesn’t know exactly why, but he keeps feeling that there’s a connection with the War, that something happened during the War or in its aftermath which deeply affected whoever is organising this sudden, unexpected series of terrible acts against Arslan.

The photos, at first glance, look remarkably nondescript. They probably could be declassified tomorrow and hardly anybody would be able to pinpoint the exact location of these places — if they still exist. A mix of indoor and outdoor photographs, all with a superimposed label bearing a terse description of the place, a coded geolocation string, and the date when they were filed (all between early 2043 and late 2044). Yet Bert feels that there’s more that meets the eye about them.

They don’t appear to be ordered by date. They may be ordered by location, but Bert needs to decode the georeferences to be sure.


Bert follows the first train of thought: “Location #B4E5-801… The first part of the code could simply be a hexadecimal value. That simple? B4E5 is 46309 decimal. Translated to coordinates it could be 46° 30′ 9… and the 801? Let’s have a look at another one.”

DSCN0161 Snapseed txt

“The location designation for this one is #H2G2-593… And there goes the hexadecimal theory. I knew it was too easy.”

Bert decides to look inside the second envelope, which appears to contain mostly documents and a small pocketbook. Perhaps the key — or a useful link — to understand where these places are or were, and their role in the matter, can be found there.

He opens the pocketbook, and a small note comes out. It’s written in the same beautiful, ornate handwriting he has just seen on his notebook, in that mysterious message left by the equally mysterious ‘JF’:

Conflict. You are sincere / and are being obstructed.

The rain outside intensifies, and Bert worries there’s going to be another flash flood. He puts the note in his shirt pocket. He’s startled by the voice of Mr Lindner, that breaks the silence of the library in an unusual manner. But then he realises that there’s only himself and Lindner (“How late is it, anyway?”) and that whispering is pointless.

– Apologies, Mr Kay, but there’s Mr Browne on the phone for you. Says it’s urgent.
– Thank you.

Bert takes the receiver.
– Yes, Terry.
– Mr Kay, in my research I keep getting references to Fanshawe, but since the context seems different every time, I can’t say if it’s a person’s name, a place, an old district…
– It should be a district archive. We could go there, but I’ll have to request some forms if we want to conduct a proper search at that place.
– Is there anything I can do in the meantime?
– Yes, there is. Add the string ‘JF’ to your research. Those should be initials. Search the old tape databases for any reference. It’s probably the only decent lead we have at the moment. Prioritise any document that has even the faintest relation to the term ‘War’ and its synonyms, like ‘conflict’, et cetera. Thank you.
– Gonna be a long night, Mr Kay!

Bert glances at the window behind Mr Lindner, watches the pouring rain for a couple of long seconds.

– You have no idea.

To the Annexed Districts — I


Eric Sebring, an old acquaintance of Andrew ‘Soup’ Campbell now working as a senior Customs officer, is taking a cursory look at Soup’s travelling papers. Cursory because he knows Soup is a trustworthy fellow and that his business is legit.

– So… Going up North eh?
– Yeah, quite the trip. You heard about that damned flood in the Annexed Districts, right?
– Of course. I’ve a distant relative living there.
– EolCorp is sending portable generators to the areas without power, and I’m carrying a batch of forty of those buddies in my vehicle.
– Weather’s stable for now, I hear, so you should be good.
– Weather’d better stay okay. I swear I’ll overcharge those morons at EolCorp if I have to endure three days of fuckin’ rain…

Sebring chuckles, signs the documents and calls for a junior officer.

– Sir.
– Open Lane B17, Mr Campbell is cleared to go.
– Very well, Sir.
– You have safe travels, Soup.
– Thanks mate, see you in a week.

Soup exits the office and walks to his modified AM-Transporter escorted by the junior officer, who hands him the travel documents once Soup is inside the vehicle. Soup smiles, puts on his sunglasses and drives away. As he exits Lane B17 and takes the Northwest M4 overpass, he can’t help but look at the incoming traffic in the clearways below. Mostly cargo vehicles like his, carrying imported goods, but also private vehicles of tourists, people looking for a temporary job in the megalopolis, or travellers going to New Greenland and stopping for a couple of days in Arslan to rest after such a long drive. Outbound traffic, especially on the M4N clearway to the Arslan Annexed Districts, is however quite scarce — a few emergency vehicles, and a few other AM-Transporters, mostly carrying perishables.

Despite his frequent travels, and despite his claimed impatience with ‘Arslan’s way of life’, leaving the big city behind always feels strange, and leaving the peninsula altogether has almost a disquieting touch, as if he were leaving the whole civilisation to venture out into that mysterious, dangerous, post-war wilderness that now separates all the major surviving metropolises in the world. At least it’s not raining.

Soup tunes the communicator to the Newswire. “Let’s listen to some crap”, he says out loud.

…haven’t seen something like this in the Northern peninsula since the Wet season of 2059. The two districts that are closer to the coast are completely submerged… – Are you and your family safe, professor? — Yes, we all are, luckily. We live up in Heaney, which is the most elevated area of the Annexed Territories. We’re still waiting for power to be restored, but we can’t complain, really. My two sons are helping the Fire & Water brigade along the coast. It’s really a tragedy, so many people dead or missing.

As much as he tries to stay detached from things like these, Soup just can’t. Losing your home and family when you’re a child is terrible, but losing all that when you’re a teenager — as it happened to him — is worse. Memories have time to fully develop and form a clear picture of happiness, and then there’s this wall of fire and nuclear radiation engulfing everything and ripping lives apart in a matter of 48 hours. All thanks to a mindless chain reaction triggered by power, money, religion, and poor decisions made too impulsively by scared and fucked-up people.

Every time these thoughts flood Soup’s head, he gets ‘gut-angry’ (as Bert once told him) and just wants to throw things and cry like a 15-year-old. He turns the communicator off and bangs the wheel a few times. When he finally calms down, he notices something blinking out of the corner of his eye: it’s the orange warning light of the emergency network system the government installs on every commercial vehicle used for carrying out governmental tasks or missions. Thankfully, the next Service & Charging Station is just 3 km away. Another yellow warning light signals a rapid increase in outside temperature. “Shit, it’s gonna be hot out there. Already!” Soup grumbles as he unzips the travel bag, looking for his thermo-jacket.

The M4N-06 Service & Charging Station is semi-deserted. Soup has no trouble parking the AM-Transporter in the standby area, as there are only two other vehicles. He puts on his thermo-jacket, since the outside temperature has risen to 44°C, and walks to the public phones near the entrance of the station’s main building. He enters a booth (clima-adjusted, thank goodness) and dials #07#.

– Operator. To fulfil your request for a secure line, please enter your code.

Soup dials *05*11*2066003.

– Thank you. You have received an emergency contact request at 0956 hours today from the HL Department, extension 1191. I shall put you through right away.
– Okay, thanks.

A fast-paced tone.

– Yes. Mr Campbell?
– Speaking. Who’s this? I thought Ber– Mr Kay was calling.
– I’m Terry Browne, I work with Mr Kay. He asked me to contact you.
– Is he fine? What’s the matter?
– He’s fine, but off-site at the moment. He wanted me to warn you, since you’re going to the Annexed Districts. Are you there yet?
– No, I’m like 60 kilometres outside the big city, on the M4N clearway. What the fuck is going on? I’m losing time.
– After speaking with Mr Molloy, Mr Kay has learnt that the flood in the Northern peninsula is not the result of a natural phenomenon but malicious sabotage. Two dams in the Northwest AA2 Sector have been compromised.
– Fuck.
– Yeah. Mr Kay told me to tell you to watch out. If the group of saboteurs is interested in keeping most of the Annexed Districts cut off, they may try to intercept your cargo. Do you want me to send an armoured vehicle with a support team to escort you?
– Thanks, but no thanks. I’m armed and dangerous myself, and my vehicle is modified to withstand sudden climate changes, nuclear fallout and armed attacks.
– Whoa, okay.
– I’ve been in dangerous situations before, you know.
– Well, now at least you’ve been warned.
– Yeah, we eliminated the fucking surprise factor. Thank Bert for me. I’ll definitely call if I need help. Is there a way to get to you or Bert directly?
– Yes. Request a secure line in the usual way. When you’re asked to insert your code, dial it, then append two asterisks and the extension. I suppose you already know Mr Kay’s extension. Mine is 1191.
– Thanks, mate.
– You’re welcome. Take care.

Soup hangs up and gets out of the booth. He looks around and finds the station to be even more deserted than when he arrived. Suspiciously deserted. All of a sudden, he doesn’t think that walking a straight line to get back to his vehicle is such a good idea.

A mysterious intrusion


Bert’s office door is open. Munro appears and raps gently but firmly on the doorjamb. Bert lowers the desk lamp, sees who the visitor is, gets up and grabs his jacket from the coat rack nearby. He was looking forward to that visit.

– So it arrived. That was rather fast.
– Yes. I got a Dispatcher on it as soon as we had confirmation. You have good informers, Bert. Thank goodness.

Munro leads the way to the Management lifts. A security officer is holding Lift 2 with his key. Munro inserts his custom key on the opposite side and the lift doors slide open. Once inside, Munro pushes a button marked with the letter “P”. The lift goes up. Bert is puzzled.

– Aren’t we going to the Media Room at level -1?

Munro takes the v-disc from his shirt pocket. – I thought it’s best if we take a look at this in the Palladium. It’s more comfortable there, and the fewer people see this v-disc, the better.

– Agreed.

The lift stops, the doors slide open. The access to the Palladium is direct. Munro guides Bert to one of the side aisles, in what appears to be a sitting space of some sort. It’s not the first time Bert has been granted access to the Palladium, but that place never ceases to awe him. Munro inserts the v-disc on the side of the huge monitor and pushes some buttons on a numeric pad. Suddenly, the room feels different. Quieter. No, soundless. Bert looks around, trying to locate the weirdness. Munro sits in a comfortable armchair Bert didn’t notice before, and invites him to sit in another one by his side. Bert looks at him quizzically.

– I’ve activated room cloaking.
– Ah. Of course. I seem to never get used to it.
– You should see the effect on McAdams, the Head of the Environmental Department. I remember this one time when—
– Okay, let’s have a look at the footage now.

Munro darts a cold glance at Bert. Bert smirks.

– Apologies.

Munro smiles, satisfied. The monitor comes to life, and eight different feeds start playing in as many windows. Bert tries to make sense of what’s happening.

– So… Cam 1 overlooks the building entrance. Cam 2 covers the lobby. Cam 3 is inside the security office. Cam 4… What’s that exactly?
– It should be the inside of the main lift.
– …Right. Cam 5 is inside the Management office. Cams 6 and 7 take care of the Recordbase Halls. Cam 8 is… dark. Is it working at all?
– Cam 8 is inside the Maintenance room.
– Right. Since Maintenance is automated, the camera is activated only when someone enters the door to perform manual diagnostics.
– Correct.
– I hope they dispatched only the relevant footage.
– As you requested. The first three minutes show everything during normal operations, which means extremely boring feed. Then there is the recording of the intrusion up to the point when the CC monitoring gets deactivated.
– Okay, here they come.
– That looks like a service van.
– They’re dressed as telephone maintenance workers, you can spot the ARSCOM logo on the back of their jackets.
– They’ve stopped. They’re not going in. What are they doing?
– Cam 1 is too far from where they are. It’s difficult to make out exactly what they’re doing. That guy is crouching. Drawing a mark on the floor, perhaps?
– Well, telephone and power lines don’t run under that spot. District archive buildings have serialised schematics and I know them quite well.
– Yes. I expect they’re about to place some sort of machine. They have to do something to disrupt the security and gain access.
– I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled out an old EMP from that rugged briefcase.
– Heh. I’ve studied their operations the best I could, and I’ve deduced that they must be Outsiders. What’s really bugging me is their relative freedom of movement throughout the megalopolis. How can they do that?
– Hmmm. The two quickest ways coming to mind are, a) they’re using temporary transit papers, or b) they have white governmental cards. Both of which can’t be easily forged as far as I know.
– Well, temporary transit papers are enough to move around Arslan.
– Problem is, TTP holders are forbidden to drive private vehicles. They are required to use public transportation.
– So we’re back to the government angle.
– Or… they’re not Outsiders.

Bert pauses the feed.

– Look at this.
– What?
– Elegant man with a briefcase approaching from the north side. Getting close to crouched worker.
– Asking for information?
– Mmm. I don’t think so.

Bert resumes the feed at half speed.

– Crouched guy stands up and gives the man something. And look there, on the ground.
– Something… shiny?
– Yes.
– Maybe a lens reflection?
– Come on, Munro.

Bert slows the feed to frame-by-frame progression.

– It seems… two shiny somethings.
– We can’t see more on this lousy footage, but I’m willing to bet it’s three shiny somethings.
– Your three coins theory again.
– Okay, we’ll discuss that later. Now let’s see how things proceed from now on. But my guess is that what we’re seeing here is someone giving or receiving an order.

Bert resumes the feed at normal speed.

– Second worker opens his rugged briefcase. Takes something out.
– Looks like he’s using his shortwave phone.
– Elegant man approaches the entrance. Now we see him on Cam 2.
– Look, he passes the scan without triggering any alarm. So he’s certainly not an Outsider.
– I’m more concerned with the fact that the lobby clerk doesn’t check his briefcase.
– Perhaps it has something to do with what the elegant man shows him. Take a look at the feed from Cam 3.

Munro pauses the feed.

– You’re right, M. He gives something to the clerk. Looks like a document with something smaller attached to it. Meanwhile, the two guys outside are getting busy. They’re opening a small hole near the entrance stairs.
– Just what are these guys up to? Any drilling deeper than one metre sets off a Structure Integrity alarm…
– Huh.
– What?
– Just wait a second, M. This is the Bunyan District Archive.
– So?
– So… Think: what’s peculiar about it?
– Hmm.
– I’ll give you a hint: the Decentralisation.
– Shit. You’re correct. When the Decentralisation came into effect in 2052, the first four District Archives were Caxton, Langland, Wycliffe and… Bunyan.
– So that guy is not drilling anything. He’s opening the external maintenance panel using the old emergency procedure to temporarily isolate the Archive from the mainframe. Only in the oldest District Archives that panel can be reached from the outside. You have to know the exact location, though.
– That’s why no alarm’s been triggered.
– There is a major classified information leak going on here.

Bert resumes the feed.

– Now that fucker can access any of the Recordbase files archived locally.
– He’s not going to the Recordbase rooms yet. Look, he’s stopping on the Management floor. Soon we should have him on Cam 5. Who’s Head of Management at Bunyan?
– A Mr Patricks.
– I met him briefly at the last coordination symposium. A fairly morose fellow.
– He’s looking rather friendly with our mystery man. Observe the body language: it almost seems that Patricks is treating him like a superior. “Welcome to my humble archive, Mister X! Please make yourself at home, blah blah blah”… What the hell!?
– Patricks drops on his desk like a sack of potatoes. Mister X must have used a contact drug.
– And now he goes down to the Recordbase rooms.
– Look, one of the two fake telephone workers enters the lobby. Shows a card to the clerk. Proceeds undisturbed. This is so, so fishy, Bert.
– Mister X sits at the Manager’s workstation. It’s on Cam 7. Fake worker enters the Maintenance room. Cam 8 is on.
– Mister X opens the briefcase. What’s he doing? Those look like wires…
– …And that’s an odd briefcase. Hmm. Fake worker joins Mister X in Recordbase Hall 2. I don’t get why they’re lingering.

The eight windows on the monitor all go dark. Munro looks at Bert.

– That’s why.

Munro decloaks the room and retrieves the v-disc from the monitor. They both get up and Munro motions Bert to follow him. They approach the panoramic windows on the north-facing mezzanine. There’s a wonderful view of the megalopolis from there, although there isn’t much to see on a rainy evening in the Wet season. Low haze, drizzle, city lights. The two men just stand there looking out, without talking, for a long while. Then Munro breaks the silence.

– What we just watched over there has troubled me, Bert. Deeply. You know I’m an idealist at heart. I thought we were handling things rather well here in Arslan. You know, after everything that happened to this planet in the last forty years, and especially after World War III, I thought that we humans would finally learn the lesson. Seeing how great the Arslan community was doing, for a while I really thought everything was going in the right direction. But no. There’s always someone willing to sabotage, damage, destroy, undo the hard honest work of others.

A short pause. There’s now a hint of bitterness in Munro’s gaze. He stares at Bert: – I want you to get to the bottom of it, Bert. Find those responsible. Leave no stone unturned, etcetera. Whatever you need, you’ll receive.

– I have set a few markers on the footage. I’ll bring the v-disc downstairs and request some enlargements. I think I saw something on one of the feeds, but I want to be sure before working on a theory.
– All right. Let’s go. I’ll be in my office until 21:30 if you need me.

Glass hours


Jay Burma is sitting at his usual spot in his usual haunt. Corner table, near the round window with the best view of the Vehicular 73. He likes to spend his time there every Friday afternoon until late night. The excuse is that he’s working on his next book, but writing is often replaced by a lot of reading, coffee drinking, smoking tobacco of unknown provenance, and people-watching, probably his most favourite activity.

There’s definitely more to Jay Burma than meets the eye, and Tweed knows that. ‘Tweed’ is not the real name of the man now entering the café and approaching the corner table, but an easy nickname Burma gave him the second time they met. The man, in fact, always wears tweed suits — apparently, where he comes from, it’s a custom to indicate his status. But Jay Burma doesn’t know where he comes from — Tweed wouldn’t tell him — and despite Burma’s erudition, he doesn’t know of a place with such customs. Tweed is definitely a foreigner, but with a great deal of knowledge about what’s going on in the megalopolis. Sensitive information about the current events that only a government employee with a certain level of security clearance is supposed to know. So what does that make him? A diplomat? An undercover agent? A spy?

These thoughts rapidly crowd Jay Burma’s mind as he watches Tweed approach his table. It’s their sixth meeting, yet Burma (whose instincts very rarely failed him) still hasn’t measured him up, and is bothered by finding it unusually hard to do. As soon as Tweed sits, Roy, one of the waiters, brings another cup of black coffee for Burma and a cup of steaming water for Tweed.

– I think I already told you I find odd that you have the same habit of bringing your own lyophilised drink as a good friend of mine.
– Yes. The same time you started referring to me as ‘Tweed’.
– [Glancing at the light-green capsule] What’s that anyway? Some rare tea?
– It’s a mixture of Rosmarinus officinalis, Salvia and Mentha spicata. Quite refreshing.
– Hell. Those are even rarer than most teas.
– Well…
– Yes, I know. You’re not here to talk about endangered herbs.
– Are you familiar with the expression Glass hour?
– That’s World War III slang. It’s been a while since I last heard it.
– You’re about to hear it again.
– Shit. Do you know what’s going to happen?
– I know that something is about to happen. I’m not privy to all the details, but it has to be a complex operation, some kind of multi-pronged attack. Maybe your good friend in the government is resourceful enough to perform some damage control. Call him and tell him that a Class H4 event is likely to happen.
– H4? Are you serious?

And now Jay Burma realises that he never saw a smile on Tweed’s face, not even as a fleeting expression while speaking. Tweed takes a sip of his herbal tea, looks outside the round window, then again at Jay, sternly, because time is tight and…

– Hey Roy! I need a phone.
– You can use that one over there. I’m giving you the line now.

Jay stands, shakes some ash from his jacket’s sleeve and reaches the phone. He dials #07#.

– Operator. To fulfil your request for a secure line, please enter your code.

Jay dials *10*02*20660915.

– Thank you. Which Department?
– HL. I’d like to speak with Mr Kay. His extension should be 1197.
– Thank you. Please hold.

A familiar voice. – Hey Jay.
– Bert. Great I caught you at the office.
– I won’t be out of here before 2 AM, I’m afraid. What’s the matter, mate? You sound nervous.
– No shit. A Class H4 event’s about to go down.
– What? Is the source reliable?
– Same source as the other time…
– Probability?

Jay mouths ‘probability’ to Tweed. Tweed makes a gesture in sign language.

– Eight to nine.

– How many glass hours?

Jay starts mouthing ‘glass…’ to Tweed when he notices Tweed’s fingers.

– Three.

– Jay, does your source know more? H4 is a very serious classification.
– He says it’s going to be a multi-pronged operation.

Tweed, always in Jay’s line of sight, makes another gesture with his hands.

– He also says that… wait… that you should keep an eye on the power grid. Check the power stations… in the SE District.
– I’ll contact Molloy. His Department is more suited to handle this kind of situation. Though I honestly don’t know what can be done in just three glass hours. Anything else I should know? Has your source mentioned specific targets?

Jay looks again at the table, but Tweed is gone. He mutters, Son of a bitch…

– Jay? Are you there?
– Uh, yeah. Wait… he wrote something on a napkin…

Jay tries to reach the table from where he stands, but the wall phone’s metallic cord is too short. Roy comes to take away the empty cups, sees what Jay’s trying to do, and passes the napkin to him. Jay makes a thank-you gesture with his free hand.

– Okay, the note reads: There is a map inside a map. Your friend in the government will understand. Be safe. Do you get it? ‘Cause I don’t.
– Yes. It’s a reference to the Arslan Underground System. I hadn’t heard that phrase since the war.
– And I hadn’t heard the glass hour expression since more or less that time. I have a bad vibe, Bert.
– Me too. They’re escalating. Fast. First the acts of protest and the two burnt diplomatic cars, then the robbery and the flood at the BRC, then the sabotaged trains at Barrett and Ralegh stations…
– And the authorities still have no clues?
– If they’re planning an H4 event, we’re dealing with a group of subjects who are outsiders, last-generation hackers and World War III veterans.
– Christ.
– Thanks for calling, Jay. I have to make some calls now, you’ll understand. Take care.
– You’re welcome.

Jay Burma goes back to his table. He’s lost his appetite, so he’ll probably order some strong drink. He looks outside, at the Vehicular bustling with people and cars under the rainstorm, but then his gaze returns to the mess of personal effects on the table: newspapers, notebooks, his smoking kit, his portable typewriter… and the note left by Tweed on that napkin. Looking closer, there’s like a doodle near one of the corners, something he mistook for an ink stain at first. It’s indeed a symbol, three small dots arranged in a triangle, like this: ∴

Jay could swear he’s seen that before, but can’t remember when, and what it means.

At the Fanshawe district archive


– HL Superintendent Kay and Specialist Browne. We have authorisation protocol HLD711.

A hint of surprise shows on the clerk’s face.

– I hadn’t seen one since the Decentralisation. Wait a moment, please.

The clerk disappears behind a door.

– Is everything all right, Mr Kay?
– Oh yes, Terry. He just needs to fetch a screener.
– Oh? Weren’t we scanned on entrance?
– Yes. But since we’re requesting unrestricted access to the Electronic Recordbase, there’s an additional security procedure we have to undergo.

The clerk returns with the screener in his hand and, hearing what Bert is explaining to his colleague, he volunteers further information:

– Exactly. When you exited the HLD before coming here, you’ve been given an injection, and all the documents you’re carrying have been marked with a special black tag. It’s called Nanobot Pairing Security Sequence, or NPSS. This screener verifies that the nanobot biotag in your bloodstream and the doctag on the authorisation form and all attached documents are indeed a match. Now you both need to show me your left inner wrists, please.

Terry Browne is fascinated. – Aha, so this is the nanoencryption I’ve read about.

Bert nods, then puts all the papers on the clerk’s desk, in a neat array, all with their doctags aligned, then unbuttons his left shirt cuff and shows his inner wrist to the clerk. It’s evident that this is not the first time for Bert. The clerk notices and smiles — when someone knows the procedure it’s less time wasted for everybody.

After the screening process, a designated floor officer escorts Bert and Terry to the sub-basement. Terry is a bit intimidated by all the AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY, RESTRICTED AREA and STRICTLY GOVT ACCESS signs they encounter on their way. But also excited because he gets to see and possibly interact with advanced technology regular people don’t see, especially after the Restoration.

The lift doors open, and the floor officer invites Bert and Terry to exit the lift and follow another officer, who is waiting for them before the doors of the Electronic Recordbase Research Room. The two officers exchange a special set of keys, then Bert and Terry are finally granted access inside the Recordbase — a bare room resembling an empty library, where only desks, chairs, lamps and terminal workspaces have survived.

Bert passes the HLD711 authorisation form under a wall screener, and that simple gesture has the effect of switching on the whole room. Terry has the feeling that, although there’s no one there save for Bert and himself, somehow the place is acknowledging them. Lights and temperature adjust. Terminals prepare for manual inputs, CCTV cameras start tracking.

– Okay, Terry, let’s get to work. Forensic scene captures have resulted in three usable sets of fingerprints. You take these two and search the records at that terminal. I’ll take the third and start my research here.
– The one you have… is different.
– You have a trained eye. Yes, it is. As you can see, the original capture returned a print that was only 70% complete. I have developed an alternative completion algorithm and printed an overlay with the possible full fingerprint. I’m confident I can find who’s the mysterious man with the illegal portable computer.

They both sit down and open a Recordbase search session. Bert inserts the fingerprint sheet and overlay in the appropriate scanner tray.

A few seconds later, the terminal panel reacts:


Bert presses Y.

A few minutes pass, then the terminal panel displays:


BRENNAGH, WILLIAM FINGAL (b. 10-31-1861 – d. 12-03-1937) /// William Fingal Brennagh was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 31, 1861. He was the second son of Seán Padraic Brennagh, a painter and writer of some repute, and Elizabeth Deane, a theatre actress.

He was educated first at Portora Royal School, then at Trinity College, Dublin, where he remained from 1878 to 1881. A brilliant and very talented student, he was only 22 when he graduated in English Literature with honours. He soon started performing extensive research in Norse mythology, travelling in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Hebrides.

He emigrated to the United States of America in 1885 and settled in New Jersey, where he taught English Literature at Princeton University. There he met Sylvia Mailer, a rather eccentric poetess, and about a year later they married and had a son, Daniel. The next three years were a relatively quiet period: Brennagh collaborated with some local newspapers and wrote a few essays for the Princeton University (on William Blake’s engraving work in 1887, on Shakespeare in 1888 and on the religious production of John Donne again in 1888). Those essays demonstrated Brennagh’s remarkable erudition, but combined with a lively, captivating style, eschewing obscurity and often providing original, thought-provoking arguments for further debate.

While this earned him some notoriety and a certain prestige in the academic world, his personal life was another matter entirely: his wife Sylvia, in fact, gave alarming signs of mental instability, manifested by increasing bouts of hysteria. In the beginning they tried in every way to tackle the problem in a strictly private sphere. In 1890, however, to avoid the worst, Sylvia Mailer was transferred to Monroe County Insane Asylum (State of New York), where she died nine years later.

In 1892, William Brennagh decided to move to California with his young son Daniel. Initially, to make ends meet, he gave private classes of Latin, Greek and English literature [UEOF-787]

– This can’t be.
– What’s the matter, Mr Kay?
– The print we found belongs to a dead man!

Terry approaches Bert’s terminal workspace.

– My completion algorithm is usually quite solid… — Bert adds, a bit of defensiveness in his voice.
– I’m still waiting for a result from the first of the two prints you gave me. I’m not familiar with this kind of search, but it shouldn’t take this long, should it?
– No, it shouldn’t. Let’s get over to your terminal. The prints I gave you were 98% and 100% complete, so I can’t imagine what the problem is…

Bert presses a sequence of keys on Terry’s terminal.





– What the hell? – Terry utters.

Bert presses Y.

RECORD (A) N. PR19/970044/01/D

MARTINS, GEOFFREY SAMUEL (b. 06-06-1870 – d. 11-01-1944) /// Geoffrey Samuel Martins was born in Paris, France on June 6, 1870. He was the fourth son of Edward J. Martins, [UEOF-787]

RECORD (B) N. CC20/1441IA578/01/L

ATWOOD, COLIN MATTHEW (b. 07-29-2044 – ) /// Colin Matthew Atwood was born in Arslan (S District) on July 29, 2044. He is the only son of Timothy Atwood, barrister, and Althea Joanne Farthing, mechanical engineer currently employed at Noegoa Nyom Corp. [UEOF-787]

– So, one is the fingerprint of a dead man, the other may be of a dead man or not… Can’t wait for the third. As if this case wasn’t enough convoluted already.
– Let’s try it, Mr Kay.

Terry puts the third fingerprint sheet in the scanner tray.




– What is this -799 suffix? The Procedure Manual at HLD goes no further than -722.

Bert’s frustration is mounting up. – Aw shit. -799 is old. It’s Restoration-early-days old. Need-to-know stuff and things like that. I had vague suspicions, but now the picture is getting clearer.

– For you, perhaps.
– No, I mean, it’s clear that now things are officially Not Clear. Someone doesn’t want to be found, that’s a given. And this level of tampering means that either of two types is involved. We’re talking, a) someone with an absurdly high governmental clearance, or b) a hacker from the Outer Areas.
– …The man with the ancient portable computer.
– Him. But don’t let the age of that machine fool you. If he’s Old Movement, the danger is more in the way he thinks than in the tools he uses.
– Shall I print the information we found?
– Yes. However inconclusive or apparently useless, now we need all the clues we can find.
– By the way, Mr Kay… I’ve noticed that all records are truncated by this [UEOF-787] code. Another anomaly?
– Yes, I was forgetting that. I know that ‘UEOF’ stands for ‘Unexpected End Of File’, but I’ve never seen the 787 error code. I’ll ask Munro about it. And I’ve the feeling he’ll lose himself in one of his speeches: Shut the door, Bert, there is something you ought to know…
– You make a great impression of him!
– I’ve known him for, what, fifteen years.
– Maybe he can help with the classified information as well.

Bert collects the Recordbase output sheets and passes them through a doctag machine near the door.

– Nah, for that I shall call my friend Jasper.