– 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:
STEP 1. SCAN OF ORIGINAL PARTIAL FP. NO RECORD PRESENT. ADD OVERLAY?
Bert presses Y.
A few minutes pass, then the terminal panel displays:
STEP 2. SCAN OF ORIGINAL PARTIAL PLUS OVERLAY. ONE RECORD FOUND. RECORD N. PR19/961037/01/D
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.
SCAN RECALIBRATION COMPLETE.
STEP 1. SCAN OF ORIGINAL PARTIAL FP. [TEN-PASS OVERRIDE]
TWO RECORDS FOUND. WARNING: POSSIBLE RECORD MISMATCH. CONTINUE?
– 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.
STEP 1. SCAN OF ORIGINAL COMPLETE FP.
ONE RECORD FOUND. ADDITIONAL GOVERNMENTAL PROTOCOL SUFFIX -799 NEEDED TO ACCESS RECORD.
– 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.