19 July 2013

"Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?"

By Curtis C. Chen

"I'm not a terrorist," Ava said as soon as the man in the dark suit walked into the room. He ignored her, sat down across the bare metal table from her, and continued reading his display tab.

Ava watched the man's dark eyes scan back and forth. He swiped his finger across the display once, twice, three times. How was it even possible that her police file would be that long?

"I want a lawyer," Ava said.

The man looked up from his tablet. His expression was unreadable.

"I want a lawyer," Ava repeated.

The man turned the display face down on the table. "Where do you think you are, Miss Farman?"

"I want a lawyer!"

The man shook his head. "You are no longer on American soil. In fact, since this room doesn't officially exist, you are not anywhere. And nothing that happens here is real."

His smile made Ava want to punch him. She couldn't do that with her wrists cuffed to the table, so she kicked him in the shin. He yelped and jumped out of his chair.

"What the hell!" he said.

"Oh, are you experiencing some phantom pain?" Ava asked. "Because I'm pretty sure nothing at all just happened."

The man glared at her. "Fine. Here's the deal. We've confiscated all the computer equipment in your home and disabled your networked computing projects--"

"Bullshit," Ava said. "You can't shut down the grid. It's a decentralized global volunteer network. Open source, asshole."

"What do you think the 'National' in 'National Science Foundation' means?" the man snapped. "We see everything that's managed by the Berkeley servers."

Ava gaped. "You're NSA."

The man shrugged. "Close enough."

"I'm not a terrorist. I was sequencing my mother's genome—"

"To try to cure her, we know."

Ava shivered. "Right. My search history." She had always known the government was watching every unencrypted thing she did online, but the reality of it had always seemed distant, academic. Now it was a very real knot in her stomach. "Then you know I'm telling the truth. I haven't done anything wrong."

"Not yet," the man said. "But it's only a matter of time."

He turned the display tab around and held it up. Ava recognized a PCR scan of her mother's DNA, showing the thousand or so base pairs which might be causing her cancer. Ava blinked back tears.

"How the fuck is curing cancer a national security issue?" she spat.

The man lowered the display tab. "You're not going to cure cancer, Miss Farman. Not like this. We already know what these particular genes do."

"And what's that?"

The man manipulated the display tab, then slid it across the table. Ava looked down and saw a dense block of text. She had to read the page twice before its meaning registered.

"This is an employment contract," she said.

"Yeah," the man said. "All things considered, Miss Farman, I'd much rather hire you than kill you. But I'm going to let you choose how you leave this room: in a body bag, or with a keycard."


Photo Credit: Boreio Selas via Compfight cc