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Straining Out the Gnat

classifications: Science-Fiction / Hard

Another New Scientist inspired idea. Yes, this stuff exists, but it's still measured in centimeters, fortunately. Yes, they are known as motes. They can already network after just random scattering, triangulate, cope with network members dropping out, etc.

Tweaked a few words, here and there, and added a bit more description of the world around.

More like this / More by this author

John blinked sleepily once, then again. Darkness surrounded him, but that was as it should be. Laying his hand against the wall to his right, he pushed. The sound of well-oiled bearings echoed around the small living quarters as his bed slid out of the wall.

Habitually, John checked the wall as the comportent closed. Nodding in satisfaction at the smoothness of the join, he walked with the stiffness of early morning to the one visible piece of furniture. Curving out of the relentlessly featureless white walls was a moulded surface, a sterile, plastic mushroom. A slightly flattened bulge protruded from the base of the stalk, and when John sat upon it, the top of the mushroom was at the perfect height for a work surface. Unsurprisingly then, several sheets of paper were spread across it, thouhg unusually, they all seemed to be handwritten. On the far left of the desk was a black, angular device, and the only visible piece of technology in the room. It was as if an artist had deliberately designed it to be the antithesis of its surroundings. It stood out, ugly, like a blister on the pristine skin of his dwelling.

John slid his hand into the strap on one side. Pressing down a small red button located conviently on the top of the device, he passed the protuding end of the strange appliance across the surface of his desk, over himself, and then over the spherical walls of the room. Pressing the button marked "stop", he set the object down again.

There was a slight pause, as John collected his thoughts, then he lifted the pen that lay amongst his work, and began to write.

28th February, 2062

Today. It must be today. Everything is ready, and despite my care, I dare not risk delaying more than necessary. No matter how hard I try, I am sure some motes make it inside. I can only hope the EMP generator has worked.

John stopped writing for a moment, and look across at the alien piece of technology by his elbow. Not for the first time, he thought how ironic it was that having dedicated his life to eradicating the hold of technology upon man, he should be so dependant on it. As he had done many times before, he clicked another of the buttons that ran along the device's side. A panel opened, and John slid the odd catridge out. He again wondered why it was necessary. To be honest, he had not fully followed the shopkeeper's explanation, but he remembered it stored the necessary frequency information, or something like that.

"Why not use standard memory?" he asked.

"In something that produces an electro-magnetic pulse? It'd wipe it's own information the first time you turned it on. It has to be on something physical, that won't be affected."

John shrugged, and slid the cartridge back in. The dealer had been recommended to him by several underground sources, so he had to assume he was reputable. Certainly the demonstration had been satisfactory - there were a few odd pieces of tech around that the dealer had allowed him to test it on. All had stopped working the moment he pointed the device at them.

"And it will work on motes too, right?"

"The smart dust?" the man shrugged, "Yeah, I guess so. Doesn't seem much point though, with so much of it around."

John had only smiled, and passed the cash across the counter. That had not been easy to get hold off now everyone used cards, but no less-than-legal trader would accept anything that left a record. John more than understood the sentiment anyway.

John started to pick up his pen again, but changed his mind. There was nothing left to write anymore. All that remained was to do. Picking up the EMP device again, he ran it over the surface of his simple one piece suit. Turning the suit inside out, he performed the process again, though he knew that the pulses would pass through the cloth easily. There was no harm in being careful.

After dressing, John pressed a section of the wall, and a previously invisible panel folded inwards. He stepped into the chamber so revealed, then shut the door behind himself. He took several deep breaths, while mouthing a countdown to himself. At one, he quickly breathed out as hard as he could. There was a roar a second later, as the air was ripped away. John braced himself against the pull of the vacuum, and squeezed his eyes shut tight as the lack of air tugged at his eyeballs. A moment later John staggered backwards, a giant fist of air striking him as the outer door opened and the outside atmosphere forcibly filled the vacuum.

Outside, the sky was permanently dirty, a testament to the short-sightedness of earlier generations. The corporations who oversaw such things assurred everyone the situation was improving, but John doubted it. They were all too busy watching each other - and their "clients." Most of the particulates floating around were probably put there for just that reason, he was sure.

Gritting his teeth behind his face-mask, John headed left, way from his apartment. It was a long walk to his fellow conspirators' apartments, but again, John did not want to risk a taxi. Taxicabs could be traced and tracked. They could track him anyway, admittedly, but it was harder to watch every person than it was to watch just the cabs. Every little helped. He weaved his way between the other pedestrian traffic. They were mostly the dregs in this section of the city, but occasionally John glimpsed one or two with the nano-sculpture clothing. The latest in the endless stream of fortune-creating fashions, the clothing used nano-machines to sculpt three-dimensional shapes that changed and flowed as the user moved. Some even wore masks that mimicked the faces of passers-by. Watching their visages flow and melt into new forms was extremely disconcerting, and John kept his head down as much as possible. He shuddered involuntarily. People were getting used to the tiny machines, too comfortable. How could they have them so close, feel them crawling across their skin like that? He walked faster, impatient to reach his destination. The nano-tech had to be stopped.

At his destination, John announced his arrival with the pattern of knocks they had agreed for this meeting. It changed each time, another of the precautions John had insisted on.

The outer door opened, and John stepped into an airlock like the one on his apartment. Again, he had insisted on such a device for everyone involved. Peeling off his suit, he placed it in a draw. He prepared himself for the vacuum, mentally willing any of the motes that had clung to him to be sucked off. For once, their small size worked against them, their small weight making them vulnerable to air motion and currents. Once the ordeal was over, the inner door opened. It revealed another sphere, again flawless and uninterrupted, nowhere for the nano machines to hide or settle. A lucent pearl of privacy.

Several of the members already present nodded in greeting. One, however, looked disturbed, and more than a little nervous.

"Delta." They couldn't use real names, obviously. The Greek alphabet had been an easy solution.

Delta looked up. She was quite an attractive lady, and right at the beginning had been one of the more vocal opponents against depositing their clothing when entering. Her protestation that everyone would simply be staring at her chest or groin was proved true, at first. John pointed out, however, that the novelty would soon wear off, and indeed, it had.

Her discomfort today, however, was different. John sighed.

"Yes?" she replied, trying to get herself under control.

"You seem nervous."

Delta shrugged unconvincingly, looking like a frightened rabbit preparing to run. "No, no. Just..." Delta shook her head, "Why? I know I've asked before, but really. I still don't see why this is so necessary."

John rubbed his eyes, giving himself a chance to think, and compose himself. How could she not see? She was the only person close to a monitoring station they had managed to persuade at all, however. The corps chose their staff carefully - and so they needed her, for all her doubts.

"Remember how much you complained at having to dispose of your clothes? How much hated the idea of people watching you intimately?"

Delta shook her head. "I know, I know. The motes get everywhere. Nano-scale cameras watching our every move, radioing back candid live feeds. You've fed us the scare story constantly." Delta looked around the group, almost pleading. "But how much of a threat is it really? Sure they watch they criminals, their competitors, their employees at work. But how can they possibly have the resources to watch us all? Just the bandwidth requirements would be prohibitive."

"They don't need to. AI can do much of the grunt work - flagging suspicious behavior a surpervisor or highlighting unusal events."

"I don't care if AI is watching me." Delta said, her confidence improving. John suspected she had rehearsed this little tirade. "And that's all that will be. Emotionless, disinterested computer programs."

"As long as you don't do anything classified as suspicious. Any of you have any idea what the corps class as suspicious?"

Everyone shook their heads, though with various degrees of certainty.

"Neither do I. Picking your nose, maybe, or making silly faces. No one knows! So how do you know you're not doing anything suspicious? How do you know they won't come knocking for something innocuous you did in the privacy of your own home?"

John looked around carefully, watched the doubt burrow into their minds. He noted with satisfaction that Delta was becoming less sure of herself. He decided to use his advantage.

"Besides, the people running these monitoring places are only human. Suppose you have to sit around for half the day, just in case someone in your sector does something suspicious. How are you going to pass the time? Read a book maybe? With all those wonderful cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms? Hell no." Most of the men, and several of the women, nodded. "You have your pick of several blocks worth of voyeurism. Sure, maybe they're not looking at you today, or tomorrow, but, they will. You can bet they will."

He had them now. He could see it. Even Delta was, if not convinced, sufficiently unsure of herself to disagree. He smiled.

Then the world exploded.

The airlock panels flung themselves scross the room and into the gathered conspirators. Sharp plastic edges dug into flesh. Several screams, male and female replaced the echo of the explosion. John noted with a bizarre sense of satisfaction that Delta would not be as attractive any longer - at least not without a lot of cosmetic surgery.

As John's attention finally focused he saw the corp SWAT teams flooding into the room. Despair filled his mind; they had been so close. He found himself counting the numbers, working out the odds - but he knew it was futile.

As the dust settled, a corp security manager stepped into the room, idly looking around. His eyes lingered on the figures of Delta and the other women, but eventually he brought his gaze round to John.

"Boo," the man said, and laughed.

"How?" John heard himself say, though he did not recall speaking.

The corp official reached back through the hole, and was passed a familiar black shape. He held up the EMP device by it's strap, and looked at it for a moment, as if it was the first time he had seen it. He pressed the button that had so fascinated John, and withdrew the cartridge.

"VHS tape," the man said simply. John just stared, uncomprehending. "A popular recording medium in the late twentieth century. Soon outdated, of course. But that was the point. It needed to be something you wouldn't recognise."

A smile. Not a pleasant one. "I would love to know what's going on in your head. To spend so much time and energy avoiding all those tiny cameras...and there was a huge one right next to you all the time."

"The dealer? The devices that I tested it on?"

"An undercover agent, and all rigged, respectively." The manager shook his head, then laughed again. "Our orders were to shoot on sight, but I had to see your face when you found out first."

He turned back to the entranceway. Over his shoulder he said casually, as if asking for a file, "Kill them."

There was noise, and John tasted iron. He blinked once, then again. Darkness surrounded him.

Aah, smart dust

Wanderer (October 8th, 2003, 2:51 pm)

Wasn't i the one that informed you of the existence of smart dust back on AxisMutatis? ;P

Nice story though, somewhat disturbing, but still cool.

Probably... :P

cruise (October 9th, 2003, 9:17 pm)

But the article reminded me, and the fact that it is starting to become reality too...

And it was meant to be disturbing :P Glad you like it...


BlacklightResponsive (October 15th, 2003, 10:31 pm)

What were they going to do if they werent all blown to pieces.

No idea :P

cruise (October 16th, 2003, 12:37 pm)

Bit if a moot point considering what happened really :P

Aah, smart dust

drd (November 23rd, 2003, 5:57 pm)

Aah, smart dust

drd (November 23rd, 2003, 5:58 pm)

You could have made so much more of the nano tech, but I think you did a good job with the camera idea, a lil different.

Works well with the title to! ;)

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