It's What They Wanted

© 2004 by Robert Krten, all rights reserved.

Phil shifted uneasily in his chair. What the man was asking was completely unreasonable.

"I'm really sorry, sir, but I just can't tell you that!"

The voice on the other end of the phone was starting to get tense. "Look. It's really simple. I just want to know where it is. That's it!"

Phil could see that this was going to get ugly. He glanced at the clock. 3:32. Not yet time to go home. Not by a long stretch.

The voice added, "Please?"

Phil felt sorry for the fellow on the other end of the line. He sat up in his chair, looked around his cubicle at the call center, and decided to try and help this guy understand. Understand that they lived in a different world than they did a few weeks ago.

"Ok, look, I can't tell you — you're going to have to leave it at that. But I can tell you, that by not telling you, we're both helping to prevent terrorist attacks." That sounded reasonable. He added, "What if the terrorists knew where the hockey game was? Why, they'd be out there immediately, going to blow the place up or spread a deadly gas or..." Shit. He cut himself short. He wasn't supposed to give out any ideas to the terrorists. He glanced at the plaque in his cubicle, and his eyes fell on directive 7: "Never give out any ideas to anyone about vulnerabilities of any nature." A hockey arena was just the place to plant a bomb, or spread a deadly gas, or who knows what! He shuddered as he thought about it. Even thinking about it was wrong. He could inadvertently think up new ways for them to get at us!

Suddenly, Phil slipped back to the latest terrorist attack. Despite the best airport security, the best biometric data, voice analysis, psychological profiling, EEG technology, and an "items not allowed on plane" list that was now so long that the standing joke was to just make a "here are the three items you are allowed to bring onboard with you" list, it happened. A single terrorist slipped through. He boarded the plane, and started drinking. Drinking heavily. Or so the crew thought — they happily brought him those little vodka bottles, and he was happily drinking them. And then the plane blew up. Phil remembered the analysis of the cabin cameras fed to the satellite in-flight. The man wasn't actually drinking. He was loading up on alcohol, but not drinking. Initially this puzzled the investigators, until they saw what happened a few seconds before the flight went down. The man quickly smashed all the bottles, spilling the alcohol all over the floor, and threw a match into it. All in the space of 3 seconds before anyone noticed. After that, the picture cut out.

Phil snapped back. The voice on the phone just wasn't going to give up, "But there are already thousands, if not tens of thousands of people who KNOW where the game is! I misplaced my tickets! I need to KNOW WHERE THE GODDAMN GAME IS!"

"Sir, now there's no need to swear. I'm sure you realize that all the fans of the game have been extensively screened, fingerprinted, and had other biometric and mental data collected..." Phil could feel himself slipping into the abyss. Directive 6 stared out at him: "Never reveal which surveillance or screening or qualification methods are used." After all, the terrorists could find that out and try to bypass those same methods! He glanced at the clock on the wall again. 3:34. Today was not going well.

"Yes, yes, I know that," the voice was impatient. "I've been screened, fingerprinted, and all that crap. I just lost my tickets, and need to get them replaced at the gate before the game. I have all my ID," then, slowly, one word at a time, as if explaining to a three-year-old, "I JUST NEED TO KNOW WHERE THE GAME IS."

Phil wanted out. This guy just didn't get it. He looked around fleetingly, and whispered, "Look — call back one minute before the game starts, and I'll tell you where it is."

"Really?" the voice sounded puzzled. And then softened, "ok, geez, well... thanks!" Phil could imagine the man's thoughts: Surely, with just a minute left before the game, even the security ministry must realize that a terrorist couldn't plan an effective disruption.

It wouldn't matter. Phil shook his head. He didn't even look at directive 1, "Report all suspicious activity," as he hung up, and speed-dialed security. In his mind, he could already see the vans lining up outside the poor bastard's house, the squad surrounding it, getting ready to break down the doors. Phil pictured the man's wife and kids being hauled off to the security ministry, with the neighbours gawking, jumping to the inevitable conclusions, gossiping amongst themselves: "He was such a quiet man. Always kept to himself. I never did like him. Suspicious fellow if you ask me."