Tracer - Eliane Boey

Tracer - Eliane Boey

   It’s quiet up here. Picture an observation deck, over a container terminal at night. Except in this Port, there are no gangs of stevedores, nor cranes. The containers move on their own. At the birth of this technology, it took ten minutes to move a container. Now, you miss it mid-blink. I select the boxes that I need, and type the command. Nothing happens. I had to know it wouldn’t be easy to disappear. 


   “How much are we talking?" I typed.


   “Keep your bounty, Nemo. We’ll come for you when we need it.” 

   Like a fool, I breathed relief. I needed my earnings, for her. I have yet to figure out how to transmute them without flagging myself in the Port, but knowing they’re there makes me feel safe. The only reason I stayed this long is because I’ve tried to act as I would be treated; which is not only absurd because it’s Old World romance, but because few people wield the kind of power I control.  


   Across the floor, the lights are on at the Research and Development team’s pod, where the headset and gloves are, unsecured. I need to be in the Port, for this to work. With the infinite divisibility of digital currency, the smallest value has ceased to exist. When no value is too minor, our world has both shrunk, and expanded. 
   It requires no effort to extract what I need from the Research pod, because no one at the Administration expects terminal transgressions from an officer. I suit up, slip on a facial encryption mask for what it’s worth, and launch the node. Then, I’m in. 


   A year ago, I was in the room when the Administration’s Monitors discussed the creation of the Special Anonymity Zone, a test domicile of anonymous social and economic interaction. It was supposed to be a short-term exercise, until I saw new entities populate the space after the designated end of the experiment; with regular payments to minor subscriptions and services. I dug in, and found each linked back to older dark pools. The Regulators were creating entities and wallets for their children, in the Free Zone. 
   I acted as any parent would. I did the same for my daughter. Except, unlike any parent, I am responsible for tracing, and summing, all recorded actions. 


   It is bright, in the Port. Seen from above, it was a stream of white lights across darkness. From within, it is dazzling. Each container’s movement leaves a shadow trail of itself, joining the one that follows it. I leap from the middle of one loading stack to the peak of another. Ableness is irrelevant in the Port, when everything moves at the speed of digital transactions. I squat and look over the canyon of light. There’s the stack I need. The homing signal flashes at the corner of my headset, and disrupts my vision. The Research team is back, and is looking for the suit.  


   “What is it that you want?” As I typed, I saw the Chief at the door to her pod.

   “What everyone wants. To feel safe.”

   “What will it take, to make you feel safe?” 

I looked up with a smile in my eyes. 

   “The Regulators are so high up my arse they know when I’m about to shit before I do.” Chief flicks a minimised projection at me across my desk. The headline reads ‘Investigations of Hub Blackouts Point Towards the Sailor’. 

   “A few more months of this, and more citizen users will try to go off-grid.”

   “I’ll deliver them to you, Chief, my lead is solid.” 

When she was gone, I checked my projection. 

   “To disappear,” they wrote, four minutes ago. 

   I have a favour to beg of you,” I typed. Under the table, I was shaking a leg.  “Her name is Echo; she already exists in the Zone. Add her to your network.”

   A pause. “Who are you to command, Nemo?”

   “I know who you are, Sailor.” 


   The flashing light at the corner of my headpiece is too bright to ignore. My temples reach for each other, crushing everything in between. The suit is forcing me to return it. The Sailor’s stack is right below me. I need to tag the corrupting chip to it. People have been deleting themselves for years, only now the Sailor provides them a continuously encrypting shielded domain, and a community. But even the Sailor cannot delete what the Port already knows. That’s where they need me. Except there is one other thing I need to accomplish first, in case of collateral damage from the explosion. 
   At the higher levels of the stacks, Gold is airborne, and sheltered within protected channels. Here privacy remains a right that can be bought. Guarantee that protection, and you can strip people of everything. I need to extract the returns I amassed as Nemo, from the dark pool I traded in, and tag it to Echo’s wallet. But I’ve been lying to myself. I have time enough to achieve one thing, not both. 

   How can I know it won’t corrupt you, Sailor?”

   “You cannot know, Nemo.”  

   “And my safety?” 

   “Your safety is in the sum of ours.”


   I take the leap to where the Sailor needs me. Time, like value, has no limit in the Port. One last look, up at the sparkling transit of Gold. At the sharp white outlines of the stacks; towers of a city populated by the traces and the future of real life. The headset sends another painful shock. I tag the chip to the stack at the highest reach of my arm, and I turn and run. 
   In the nanosecond where nothing happens, I think of Echo. Of myself holding her, crying the second after she was born. Not knowing if I cried for her, or for myself. Then I see it before I feel it. Shockwaves find and rend my body. 
   Fair winds, Sailor. 


Written by Eliane Boey

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