Friday Flash Fiction: Left Behind

‘Switch to South… Okay, he’s up again. End Command.’ Walter quickly scanned the other 359 images he was responsible for to see if any had “lost” their target. The board was green and he turned back to the memo he’d been reading before he’d been distracted.

GCHQ was ramping up their monitoring of the population, with a 400% increase in random surveillance to be offset by server and software improvements, that meant they would only need an extra ten staff.

Old George would be spinning in his grave if he could see his “office”, Walter thought to himself. He leaned back and nudged his chair so it moved out from his cubicle and he gave a lazy scan left and right. Ten cubicles to his left, thirty nine to his right and four rows behind him, collectively monitoring up to 90,000 citizens at any one time. He scooted forwards again and closed the memo, pulling up the next email.

Walter had never been able to fathom the amount of storage or processing capacity required, but then he didn’t need to know that. His role was to direct the acquisition of signal when the computers couldn’t recognise the target and provide in depth analysis when required. Which was happening more frequently, he admitted to himself.

When he’d started at GCHQ, three long years ago, he hadn’t been surprised to find out the government had quietly stepped up their monitoring of suspected terrorists.

He had been surprised to find out what capabilities they now had.

George had only envisaged a camera in every home, we had given the government far broader access by willingly accepting a camera on every smartphone. Not just one camera either, and not just the two that most people thought their devices possessed. A secretive bill had been passed forcing all makers of mobile phones to install a full six in each device, one for every direction allowing the government to obtain a full 360 view of people’s lives and even continue spying when the main cameras were covered. Front, Back, North, South, East and West, wherever you went, the government would go with you, at least if you were a person of interest…


He started at the sound of his supervisor’s voice, turned to see Marsha standing observing his board. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said, his pulse quickening slightly.

‘You’re monitoring suspect 2897.’ A statement, not a question.

‘Let me check.’ William entered the identifier into the search form and saw one of the images on the board expand to fill half the available display, the others shrinking in size to make room. ‘A burner phone,’ he said, reading from his monitor. ‘Bought four months ago, activated last week. Facial recognition identifies suspect as Josef Karrakis of Algerian origin.’

‘Bring up all feeds from his phone.’

Walter selected the option and the large image split into six, three of which were obstructed, one which showed an empty wall. As well as the target though, one of the other images showed two people… He looked round at Marsha.

‘Excellent. We received intel that a meet was happening. Run facial recognition on those two and spin back the feeds to see if you can get audio or anything else of use.’

‘Will do.’ He noted that Marsha hurried away, her role demanding she divide her time between the urgent and top priority.

Before he did anything, he messaged a colleague to ask him to begin active observation of the still in progress meeting. It wouldn’t do to miss something important because he was reviewing the start of the meeting!

All feeds from a device were linked which allowed him to skip back, watching the images in step with each other. He identified the start of the meeting, logged the timestamp and set it to play at twice normal speed. The meeting had been going for just over an hour and he spent the next hour catching back up to real time.

Most of the discussion was un-actionable, but disturbing in its content. He wrote up commentary as he listened and then when the meeting broke up, summarised it and emailed everything to Marsha.

Stretching, he checked the time and decided it was time for a rest break. He logged off his system which automatically reassigned the feeds he was monitoring amongst his colleagues. He pulled his phone from his pocket and checked for messages, then left it on his desk while he went to use the toilet.

He stopped by the canteen on the way back, got a double shot coffee and was sipping it as he reached his cubicle.

Marsha was there, sitting in his chair, his phone in her hand.

‘Walter, you left this behind.’ She handed him his phone which he glanced at before putting it back in his pocket.

‘Thanks for sending me the summary of the meeting,’ she said, standing and allowing him room to sit down. ‘Place an audio alert on his device, log everything it records and keep an eye on the transcripts.’

‘Will do,’ he said.

She studied him for a moment, then turned abruptly and walked away.

He pulled his phone back out and unlocked it. The front camera caught his eye as he checked once more for messages. He locked his phone quickly and put it away in his pocket. Looked round at the tall dividers which cordoned off his row from the next bank of cubicles. Wondered, just for an instant, whether someone there had seen his face on their screen…

Copyright Mark Anderson Smith 2017 You may link to this post from or share on a non-commercial website so long as the full copyright notice and this statement is included.

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