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Jan/Feb 2006 Spotlight

Roads That Go On and On

by Ian Duncan Smith


"During the recent 100 million renovation at the Imperial Broadhurst Village, mall management installed a 200,000 CCTV system with fifty cameras routed through a 128-input, sixteen-output matrix switcher to three digital video multiplexer recorders."

George McGoey, ghost-like against the screen, switched off the promotional video.

"What is it now, Mike?"

"Did you just send me e-mail, George?"

"Did I send you what?"

"Did you send e-mail?"

"Why can't you shut up and look at your screen like you're paid to do, Mike?"

"It's a civil question."

"I'm sitting right next to you, Mike, trying to do my job. Why would I need to send you e-mail?"

"I don't know, George, but you did. You sent me e-mail."

George stared at the screen. A security man shouldn't miss anything that happens down in the mall.

"I did not."

"Sure you did."

"Sure I did not."

"Lift your hands off the keyboard, George. Then I can see you aren't sending me mail."

George lifted his hands off the keyboard.

"What does the mail say, Mike?"

"It says, 'Hi Mike, George here.'"

George looked at Mike's screen.

"Come on, Mike, you sent that to yourself."

"I did not."

"Stop being a wise guy, Mike, and look at your screen."

"You can't take a joke, George. That's your problem."

"Give me a break, Mike."

George looked back at the screen. It was indicating someone suspicious down in the mall.

"Did you see that?"

"See what, George?"

"Nearly missed that thanks to you, Mike."

"I'm watching, George. There's a guy just standing there. What's he done wrong?"

George kept the camera on the man in the mall, and smiled. Camera control routines kicked in. The system captured the hood, the nervous hands, and the hidden face. The profile showed up one hundred and ten per cent danger levels on the risk assessment.

"So what's he doing wrong, George?"

George wasn't listening. In one point eight seconds, the computer converted the image, producing a digital breakdown, isolating the man and fitting him up to unsolved crimes in the vicinity of Imperial Broadhurst Village.

"Shut up, Mike, and watch this system go."

The suspect's image rotated. The screen zoomed in for retina identification. A DNA search scrolled down. A rotating triple helix appeared.

"You ever ride a bike around Europe, George?"

"No, Mike. I did not ride a bike in Europe."

"Well I did... a Yamaha."

"Mike, watch."

"I took it to Europe."

"Mike, shut up."

"You know where Europe is, George?"

"Of course I do, Mike. Now shut up."

"Big countries, wide open spaces, winding roads that go on and on."

"Yeah, Mike, on and on. Watch the screen."

"The wind in my hair... 'How many roads...' Hey, George, that's Dylan."

The man in the mall put his hands in his pockets. The screen flashed more warnings.

"Watch the man. Hands in pockets now."

"I'm hitting the gas, George, and the bike's really moving."

"Mike."

"I'm heading down this mountain road, full throttle."

The man in the mall pulled up his hood.

"Oh look, Mike. Hood up."

"And a bend comes out of nowhere."

"Big deal."

"So I squeezed the brakes, not too hard."

"Mike, shut up."

"But the wheels locked, and the verge came up. I'm heading straight for it. And then, blam... nothing. I must have hit it, George. I must have. And yet somehow, there I am, further down the road, bike upright, riding along with no scratches, no leaves, no nothing, bike perfectly clean, and no recollection of having left the road. How do you explain that one, George?"

"You're crazy, Mike, that's how."

"How do you explain that one, George?"

"Shut up and watch your screen."

"Where's your man gone, George?"

George looked. The man in the mall had vanished. He switched the camera back and forth.

"I'm going to complain about you, Mike Sanders."

"You can't explain it can you, George? A man disappears into nowhere."

"I'm going to put you on another roster."

"Where is he, George? Carrying out a soft toy heist? How do you explain it, George? Come on."

But George couldn't explain it. The more he switched cameras, the more people appeared just like the man, the more warnings burst onto the screen, locking it out. The fact was, there was nothing he could do about them. He was outnumbered. He was helpless, no way of avoiding what was right in front of his own face, a giant hard landing, his hands on the screen trying to push it all back inside.

And then nothing but Mike, still speaking.

"Hey, come along, George. You need a break. It's all going to be fine, George. It's all going to be fine."

 

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