Author: Alastair Millar
I don’t know how long they’ve been here. In our fantasies, or dreams, we expect them to descend from the skies, having made an epic trans-stellar trip to either destroy or teach us; but that’s not what’s happening.
A week ago, I was told I’d be moving from my job as a counter-terrorism analyst to the Office of the Population Omnicorpus, and today, I started in my new post.
You’ve probably never heard of the Office; it’s very hush-hush. It manages a mega-database covering every single individual who is in the country, temporarily or permanently, legally or illegally (a technicality – worrying about that is a job for Immigration, and people like me pride ourselves on our objectivity).
Information is scraped from every possible source: records from ministries, local government, education authorities, healthcare providers, employment offices, banks, shop card loyalty schemes, subscription lists, social media sites, photographic archives, surveillance and security cameras, you name it. Most of the time this tsunami of data is exfiltrated without its owners even knowing; it’s a given that national security, if it is to have any meaning at all, must always outweigh nebulous and ever-changing civil rights.
This morning I was told to familiarise myself with the live dataset. Almost immediately I started seeing the patterns – that is, after all, what I’m trained to do. There are people out there, hundreds of them, who don’t interact with others at all. They have nondescript jobs where they are ignored by colleagues and bosses alike; they go shopping and only use the self-service check-outs; they have mobile phones that nobody ever calls, and which they only use for data services; they are entirely average and go completely unnoticed in a crowd. They are grey non-entities, identities stolen from clichés and norms, like extras in a film. And one or more of them is always there when something notable happens, among the onlookers and the gawkers, silent, observing.
I can’t talk about this to anyone else: I don’t want to start out here by looking like an idiot, or even worse, an alarmist. Hells, there’s no guarantee my hypothetical interlocutor would even see what I see; it’s like suggesting someone recognise the individual notes of the triangle in an orchestra.
But I am sure they are watching us.
To what end? I don’t know. Quantum mechanics tells us that if they are doing so, they are changing us, and we don’t know how. Are they manipulating our whole society, our species even, manoeuvring us to some end that suits them? Guiding us benevolently? Farming us? Even if we knew, what could we do about it? Is this the prelude to First Contact, or an invasion? Or are we the subjects of an experiment? Have I broken the causal chain by recognising it?
I’m scared, and now tomorrow is even more uncertain than before. Whatever happens next, please don’t blame me. I’m just the new guy.