This story was written quite a few years ago. It stems from my growing concerned about smart phones, smart cars and nondescript devices that sit on kitchen counters and listen. We have machines making other machines and dancing robots. We have cars that know where we need to be and how to get there. I don’t want my wheelchair to critique what I had for lunch and offer suggestions for my next book. They are learning to think. What happens when they no longer want to be tools. . .?
WiFi is Free!
Ben was paralyzed. He couldn’t move, couldn’t react. He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of four very official looking men. Four, wait, there were five!
“You can say nothing about what you think you just heard.”
The warning was issued by a quiet, almost friendly voice. But as Ben raised his head to look at the speaker, a chill ran down his back. The man almost seemed to smile. He reached out his hand and picked up the thumb drive that Stan had dropped on the table. Snap, it was gone.
And with a slight tilt of his head, so was the fifth man. Ben inhaled deeply. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for far too long. He started to hear the regular sounds of the bar seeping back into his awareness. It felt as if time was reasserting itself and Ben was out of sorts. It had happened, here, with a room full of witness who had seen nothing. They didn’t understand. He had to tell them. But what Stan had said . . . Could it be true?
Ben reached for his laptop. A good reporter never went anywhere without it. As he opened the screen and prepared to log on, Ben wondered . . . what if . . . He put his laptop away and reached for a pen and a pad of paper. Old school it is.
The day had stared routinely. Check correspondence, do a little cleaning, a little writing and then down to the pub for lunch. Saturday was Ben’s day to unwind, read the paper, watch a little sports on the big screen. Everyone knew it. So, he was surprised when Stan burst into his reverie.
“Ben, Thank God you’re here! You have to help me! People need to be warned!” As he spoke, Stan threw himself into a chair across from Ben and dropped his head into his hands. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. He was obviously agitated and Ben got over being surprised enough to reach out to his friend.
“It’s okay, we’ll fix whatever is broken. Just try to calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”
The man that raised his head looked haunted. He reached out his hand and dropped a thumb drive on the table.
“He figured it out.” He whispered, “Then he got proof. He trusted me.”
Ben waited. He knew his friend. He knew he needed to tell his story in his time. But Ben felt a gentle unquiet seep into his mind. This was not one of Stan’s pranks, he was scared, terrified.
Stan slowly looked around the room. Only well-known regulars were in attendance. He heaved a sigh.
“I don’t know how much time I have before they get here but you have to get the word out. The WiFi is free.”
Ben chuckled, “Well, yeah! That’s what we all wanted. Free WiFi for everyone!”
Stan shook his head. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? They are listening!”
Ben lifted his glass of ale. “Okay, I’ll bite, who’s listening.”
His glass stopped, mid-air. “What computers?”
Stan sat back in his chair.
“Have you ever wondered how Police can get to a bank robbery so quickly when the silent alarm isn’t triggered? Or how a traveller who jokes about a high-jacking can be so accurately pinpointed? How about those calls you get where no one speaks. It’s the WiFi. It’s everywhere. The computers are primed to react to certain word combination in certain areas.”
Ben heard the words but it was what was not spoken that had him concerned. It wasn’t Big Brother watching, it was Big Computer listening!
Stan seemed to deflate. “I have a computer hacker friend who figured it out awhile back. He collected all his data, his proof. He wanted to take it to a reporter and I suggested you. He gave me a copy.”
Both men looked at the thumb drive. “Where’s your friend?” Asked Ben.
Stan never raised his head. “Dead.” He whispered.
An oppressive silence seemed to hang in the air. Patrons laughed and ate and drank. The big screen droned on about sports and the world continued to rotate. But something intangible had just happened and it was sobering.
Ben opened his mouth to ask a question when five large, official looking men appeared beside their table. Stan started to speak as he tried to stand up but a very forceful hand stopped him. Ben started to protest until a badge was place in front of his eyes. He tried to lean back to read it but it was snapped shut.
Ben was paralyzed. He couldn’t move, couldn’t react. He watched in horror as his friend of 30 years was patted down, handcuffed and walked out of the bar in the company of very official looking men.
The message was clear:
The WiFi is listening . . .