A short hard sci-fi story that I wrote earlier this year about the clash of memory digitisation and the law. It was originally intended to be a one act play with Frost becoming a lot more sinister before realising what a bastard he had become, I might fix this at a later date.
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The paramedics had rushed to the hospital and the surgeons had taken her straight into theatre. She had stabilised as best as could be expected under the circumstances and now it was in the hands of fate and her own will to live that would determine the next twenty four hours.
Detective Michael Frost had sat outside of her door since getting the call that she was in surgery, his head was in his hands, he was tired, and he was scared. His partner, a rookie who had just made detective was in the canteen seeking out two coffees and any kind of product that could be called food.
He looked back through the window behind him at the girl, she was blonde and was once beautiful but after the beating she had sustained today she would undoubtedly require reconstructive surgery.
“Detective Frost,” a tall African American woman approached him, she was wearing a trim business suit under a white lab coat, “Doctor Christine Tambor, Libra Neurosciences.”
He stood and accepted her extended hand before turning to the young, red haired man who accompanied her, he was a man Frost knew to be an adjunct from the District Attorney’s office.
“Nathan,” he shook the lawyer’s hand, “sorry to see you under these circumstances.”
“Indeed, Detective,” he looked in to the girl, “how are her vitals?”
“Not great,” Frost sighed, “it has been touch and go since she came out of surgery.”
“Who is she?”
Tambor set the case that she had been carrying on the chair Frost had not ventured far from since he had got here.
“I don’t know,” he looked in at the girl with an almost fatherly concern, “we haven’t been allowed in to run a genetic ID yet.”
That was why Christine Tambor was here. The girl had inadvertently become a material witness in one of the biggest investigations in Boston history, but she may not live through the night.
Libra Neurosciences had developed a technology for backing up memories and there had developed a whole new industry of mental preservation and display technologies. Commercial memory-frames bad become commonplace in households the way static picture frames once had been.
But being unconscious she could not consent to the imprint so Nathan Hagan had to come down from the DA’s office to view the memory and sign off that only the memory relevant to the crime had been extracted.
“How soon until we can get in there?”
Doctor Tambor had opened the case and had began assembling the sleek imprint kit; unlike the commercial units that were plastic and looked like headphones this unit was brushed aluminium and had two additional probes that sat on the forehead and fed back to a tablet pad. The high end kits used to ensure accurate collection and preservation of evidence for prosecution.
“I’m waiting on a doctor coming down to give us the go-ahead,” Frost paced back and forth in front of the door, worried his witness might not make it that long.
His partner, Carl Fairgrieve returned with two plastic coffee cups and a bag of potato chips, he handed over the chips and a coffee with an apologetic look on his face. Bad coffee and worse food came with the job, Frost was long enough in the tooth to ignore it.
“Any change in the girl?”
“No,” Frost looked back in on her for maybe the hundredth time this hour, “there was a small spike in her heart rate but it settled again.”
“Listen, boss,” Fairgrieve pulled an evidence bag from his pocket; lipstick, address book, some jewellery, some money but no ID, “I was going through her address book trying to find some reference we could use, mom, dad, anything like that.”
“No,” the young detective frowned, “it’s all guys.”
“Yeah, boss,” Fairgrieve said, “it looks like a client list.”
“Wow, hold up,” Hagan said from across the hallway, “are you saying she is a prostitute?”
“I think so,” Fairgieve tossed the evidence bag across to the adjunct.
“I’m sorry, Detectives,” Hagan held up his hands, “you can’t extract that memory.”
Frost had practically dropped his coffee in a mixture of shock and anger, “What the hell do you mean we can’t extract it?”
“It’s a Fifth Amendment issue,” Hagan took a step toward Doctor Tambor, “Prostitution is illegal in this state, if she was working at the time of her assault and we extract her memory while she is unconscious it would be a violation of her Constitutional Rights.”
“She could die,” Frost practically spat the words.
“It’s not a nice thing to say but we can attempt an extraction in that case,” Hagan looked to Tambor, “can a post-mortem imprint be done?”
“As long as there is some brain activity we should be able to get something,” the neuroscientist replied, “I can’t guarantee how accurate it will be though.”
“I can’t build a case on that,” Frost said, “I need to get an accurate snapshot.”
“And I’m telling you that it will not be admissible in court,” Hagan said, “no judge in the country will take on a case that from the beginning has been a Constitutional Violation.”
“What about her right to live,” Frost was trying to control his anger, “what about her right to justice?”
“What about her right to avoid giving self-incriminating evidence,” the adjunct said, “bottom line, Detective, when it isn’t a matter of national security the constitutional rights of another cannot be suspended.”
Frost stomped the corridor in frustration whilst Tambor stood helplessly between them, she shared a look with Fairgrieve who for his own part bore the expression of one who wished he had remained silent.
“What about the McKenzie Act,” Tambor held up her hands in a conciliatory gesture, “can you get DA Haugh to activate it?”
With the advent of memory digitization a congresswoman from Los Angeles recognised the potential for evidence gathering in cases of violent crimes in which the victim may be a terminal case or otherwise be rendered incapable of giving evidence. She successfully lobbied Congress and thus was born the McKenzie Victims Neural Evidentiary Act that enshrined in law the emergency collection of a person’s memories in case of homicide or attempted homicide.
“Do you still suspect that she is a sex worker,” Hagan said, his palms open, “because if you do the McKenzie Act cannot apply whilst she’s stable.”
Frost was getting angry with the adjunct, the cocky young lawyer was interfering with the first break in the biggest case currently going on in the city. Of course he cared about the girl but the man who had beat her was one of the largest importers of narcotics into Boston, there were more important issues at play here.
“What about you perform the imprint just in case,” Fairgrieve spoke up, “if she doesn’t pull through at least we’ll have the memory, use McKenzie as our defence, and if she pulls through we can hold the memory and ask her to prosecute?”
“Detectives, I understand your frustration,” Hagan sat down next to Tambor’s case, “and I am not trying to get in your way, all I’m doing is telling you how it is viewed by the law. And if I don’t do this now then you’ll get to watch your case get pulled apart in Court by the defence attorney.”
Frost was thinking about what his partner had suggested and it had merit. But he would still have no case if they did, that was the whole purpose of the DA having a representative at evidentiary imprints, the adjunct had to ensure that the evidence was admissible.
He thumped the wall in frustration and took several deep breaths to calm himself, to try and focus his thoughts into something useful. He could come to only one conclusion, this case was too big to let the evidence fade away.
“Doctor Tambor,” he said, staring through the window at the unconscious girl, “get set up to take an imprint.”
“Detective, you can’t,” Hagan was on his feet and crossed the room to Frost, “you cannot violate her Fifth Amendment rights.”
“I have no choice,” Frost rounded on the lawyer, “that girl’s memory is the only solid evidence we have to convict one of the biggest felons in Massachusetts and it is too important to lose on a legal technicality.”
“It’s not a legal technicality,” Hagan slapped the evidence bag with the little black book into Frost’s chest, “it is the fundamental principles of this country. To take those away from her makes you no better than the man you are trying to convict.”
“When the only choice you have is the wrong one then it isn’t a choice,” Frost snatched the bag from Hagan, “my back is against the wall and this is what I need to do. I think you’ll agree, Doctor Tambor.”
“Leave me out of this,” the Doctor set the headset back on her case and stepped out of the line of fire, “I’m just a neuroscientist, the legalities of this imprint are nothing to do with me.”
“Actually,” Hagan turned to her, “if you imprint without her consent and she comes around you will be equally indictable for violating her Fifth Amendment rights.”
“That settles it,” she sat down, crossing her arms and legs, “I’m not touching this until either she is determined to be terminal or we get consent.”
“God damn it,” Frost threw the evidence bag across the room.
“Boss,” Fairgrieve placed a hand on Frost’s arm, he wished that they had never found that damned book, “they’re right. The girl is already a victim to the people we’re trying to put away, she shouldn’t be a victim to the people who are meant to protect her.”
Frost looked at his partner and then through the window at the girl, wishing that she would hurry up toward the pearly gates so that they could enact McKenzie.
“Oh my God,” he said with the realisation of the thought that had just passed through his mind, “what kind of bastard have I become.”
“It’s not so bad, boss,” Fairgrieve knew his partner to have the determination of a dog with a bone once something got under his skin, “you just want to catch this guy.”
“I just wished that she would die,” Frost said as tears formed in his eyes and he had to sit as the strength was leaving his legs, “I’ve become so obsessed that I wished that girl was dying so that we could collect our evidence.”
Fairgrieve took a step back with no words to say, Hagan shook his head and stared at the floor, and Tambor simply turned away.
From within the room alarms started bleeping insistently, the lines on the monitors turning red and signals would be firing out to the nurse stations about the emergency.
“Oh God no,” Frost said as he stood and stared in at the girl.
“Crash cart,” Doctor Tambor shouted to one of the nurses running to the room.
Nobody said to Frost that it looked like he was going to get his wish, and right now he was praying with all his heart that the girl would pull through.
No case was worth the life of another. They’d get the evidence another way, there was bound to be a trail somewhere and all they had to do was dig like old fashioned police officers. He’d gladly do that. Any amount of work was better than the cost of an innocent life.
Doctor Tambor returned to her case and began to set up the imprint kit, the neural monitors glowing to life as the blue text of the boot-up sequence scrolled by.
She began to sync the headset when Frost put a hand on her shoulder, when she looked up he shook his head.
“No,” his sad eyes penetrating her soul, “let them work without distractions, she might come through.”
Tambor simply nodded and set down the headset. She stood up and joined Hagan, Fairgrieve, and Frost in earnestly watching the medical team, hoping against hope that the girl would pull through.
It was out of their hands now.
Hours later, long hours that had felt like days for Detective Michael Frost the corridor was now quiet. Most of the lights were now out and he say alone in the chair, his head in his hands.
His hair was ruffled and he had a growth of grey stubble on his face, but most tellingly of all were his eyes. They were black with fatigue and tears.
He had cried for hours. Cried for the girl whose name he did not even know, cried with the shame of what he had nearly done.
And he had cried because he was deeply ashamed of the kind of person he had become. However briefly it had been for it still had been him, he had thought those terrible things.
Years of life as a defender of justice, seeking out those who had done wrong to others, and in one night he had thrown it all away by wishing one innocent girl dead just so he could harvest her memories.
He hated himself right now.
The door beside him opened and a young doctor stepped out, himself looking ragged from a long night and Frost turned his tired eyes to him with hope.
“She’s stable,” the doctor said and Frost’s heart leapt, “she’s conscious for the moment and has asked to speak to you, Detective.”
Views expressed may not be representative of reality.
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