Zai swam through Gamma City’s data streams on a mission to murder a man who never existed.
Carlton Merriweather was a fiction, an identity Zai created from the receipts and subscriptions and overdue notices. He began with an overdue library book. The digital rights complaint was automatically generated against his account without checking the validity of whether the book in question had ever been reserved. There was a significant bit of profit to be found in processing all charges for a publisher’s right to control the works they owned, regardless of whether or not those rights had been infringed on, or even existed in the first place.
Typical individuals paid off small charges without questioning them, and that was exactly what Carlton did in order to “lift the freeze on his account credentials”. The charges could have been contested of course, but that would have involved hours of navigating through perplexing message menu systems, only to reach support personnel who were guaranteed to be fluent in the caller language and also guaranteed to fail to understand anything that was asked of them.
The digital rights charges were an abuse of power, but like so many others, people tolerated them because doing so was faster and cheaper in the short term than battling against a system designed, implemented and iterated upon with the goal of wearing down even the most determined of “defendants” through mind melting levels of frustration.
Zai took the receipt of payment for the late books and used it to file a request for a lifting of sanctions against Carlton’s account in the city’s “lending service system”.
The “LeSS” responded that no account could be found for Carlton Merriweather, because of course there was none.
But mistakes happen all the time, and an account being deleted when it should have been flagged as suspended was hardly unheard of. It was so common in fact that there were automated retrieval services in place to restore an improperly deleted account to full standing.
The retrieval process was a simple one from an implementation standpoint. “Deleted Accounts” were rarely purged from the LeSS databases. They were simply marked as Inactive and allowed to clutter storage space since they took up a vanishingly trivial amount of space.
Like with any garbage though, accounts that were left to rot in the inactive portion of storage occasionally suffered real losses. IDs were corrupted, or reused by other accounts, sections of the account were overwritten, and so on. The automated retrieval process was able to handle a wide spectrum of these issues as well though. It was much better from the corporation’s point of view to allow the machines to make all the decisions on marginal accounts rather than require a human become involved. Humans cost money, and even a task which would take seconds to resolve could mushroom out to demand an entire department to handle when you were faced with servicing tens of millions of people in real time.
Zai passed a deliberately corrupted account packet to the LeSS retrieval system and like the mindless automata it was, the LeSS account bot spit back a fully repaired and signed library card for one Carlton Merriweather.
Having access to the GCPD case system made Zai’s next step disappointingly easy.
Carlton was barely an outline of a man yet. With one account to support his name, even the briefest of cross checks would reveal that he was less substantial than smoke.
So Zai wove more history for him.
Carlton had been assaulted a few days prior. An automated report to the GCPD’s Bronze Tier Response System indicated that Carlton had suffered a Type 3 Mugging – threat of harm, loss of valuables, but no injuries. No need for an active duty officer to be called in, and no agreement from Carlton to pay for any expedited processing. With Type 3 assault related crimes the victim attested to believing they were in no immediate danger and that they did not believe they had sufficient evidence to merit an investigation or prosecution of a case. Carlton was resigned as so many others were to suck up the loss and move forward, though he did mention in his verbal notes that he was afraid of what would happen if the same group accosted him again and he wasn’t able to distract them by throwing his money away and running in the opposite direction.
Zai felt like her synthesized voice work as Carlton was one of her better performances but she planned to check with Ai in case she’d missed something. And maybe with Harp too, if Ai thought spilling the details of their plan was a good idea.
With the police report and an active City Library account to reference, Zai was able to send out cancellation requests for a wide variety of other accounts Carlton should have possessed.
Drivers license? Check. As one of the primary accounts checked for identity verification, the Driver’s license database had a robust system for reporting losses. The DMV’s computers were at one time a significant weak point in the battle to prevent people from creating fake identities. With the usual level of underfunding government regulatory agencies received that problem was a long standing one well after it was formally acknowledged. Over time though the wheels of change do turn, and, with updated procedures in place, the only method of gaining an active Driver’s account was to show up for one in person bearing a mountain of forms, many of which authorized the DMV to perform direct biological testing on the applicant and keep those results on file in perpetuity.
Zai could do many things but show up in a biologically human body that was no Ai’s was not one of them.
Fortunately she didn’t have to.
The DMV’s rules prevented any but the most determined of souls from creating an active ID. Their safeguards against someone creating a deactivated ID however were noticeably less well thought out. After all, what harm could an inactive account do?
Carlton’s history stretched back 20 years by the time Zai was done abusing the loophole in the DMV’s system. There was even an appointment registered for him to appear with the required paperwork and a readiness for the biometric testing to establish that he was who he said he was. As a ghost, Carlton was just as incapable of making that appointment as a work of fiction would be, and so no one would ever spend the time or energy to notice the difference.
From the DMV’s database, Zai took the expired but otherwise perfectly valid identity string for Carlton’s license and combined it with his similarly perfect library card and registered him with the city tax department.
The city tax records were the lifeblood of the politicians who ran each of the districts and so the security on them was substantially better than in other areas of the municipal web infrastructure. Creating a fake tax history was not the work of hours, or even days. To many changes logged all at once would alert even the least aggressive scans, and too short of a history would appear like a blazing beacon to anyone investigating whether Carlton Merriweather was real or not. Zai could craft Carlton a new history in time for Harp’s midnight deadline.
So she used an old one.
One of the many tasks that was part of creating the Heartless identity she and Ai used to manage their less-than-legal enterprises was the creation of a web of identities to support it. Most of the ones which Heartless used were either fully fleshed out or intentionally blank slates. Zai managed a larger constellation of unused identity fragments though so that she could cobble together which specific personas a need arose for.
It was Ai’s idea to take one of those partial personas and slice it off from Heartless’s sphere. Blending the two worlds was something she always frowned on due to the danger involved, but Ai had deemed it safe enough to use a piece of documentation that hadn’t been touched by Heartless at all in creating the poor, deceased, and never to be referenced again Carlton Merriweather.
Armed with a library card, driver’s license and poor tax history (since no one filed spotless returns each year), Zai turned to finding Carlton a place to live. Or to have lived.
It wasn’t hard to hack the tenancy records of an apartment in Gamma City. Zai wouldn’t even consider creating identities if she couldn’t manage that. What was difficult however was creating memories in people like neighbors or coworkers. Placing Carlton in an apartment that was empty would have been simple. Placing him in one that contained furniture that was lived in and where a person had been seen at least entering and exiting the space was somewhat trickier though.
Unless Zai made Carlton a salesman.
Despite all of the advances in telepresence technologies, all the myriad methods of making people feel “like they were right there!” despite being hundreds or thousands of miles away, there was still an inexplicable human need to meet face to face when discussing matters of financial importance.
Carlton therefor was a salesman, traveling from Gamma City on most days, with a home that existed largely as a convenient layover spot during the days he wasn’t called to negotiate a deal somewhere else on the eastern seaboard of North America.
There were many apartments that were cared for by automation and whose owners were rarely enough seen to make cryptids like Bigfoot seem positively photogenic. That took care of Carlton’s neighbors
With a job, Carlton needed a business to work for and that meant coworkers had to be able to vouch for his existence. Here again, Carlton’s role as a salesman worked to Zai’s advantage. Sales staff frequently have the highest turnover rate of all professions within a company. The unsuccessful ones are quickly fired for being underperforming regardless of the reason, and the successful ones parlay their luck into jobs at other companies who are willing to pay for anyone who can work the magic and bring revenue in.
Carlton was not a successful salesman. He was a typical one. Underperforming in most jobs, with occasional wins that kept him from washing out of the role entirely. Zai inserted him into the lower-middle tier of half a dozen corporations, knowing from Ai’s advice that if anyone researched his history at any of the businesses, people would check their records and “dimly remember some guy who was here for a bit and didn’t work out so we must have left him go”.
For his current employment, Zai set Carlton up with a bottom of the barrel external sales contract. Carlton was responsible for doing pre-convention setup and acting as a live salesman at events sponsored by different companies looking to launch the latest fad products.
Carlton generated no leads at these events, as was typical of someone with pamphlets and a sign board as the sole resources they could work with, but he also didn’t report any injuries, which rendered him indistinguishable from the non-entity that he was.
With all of the pieces of Carlton’s small and uninspiring life in place, Zai turned to murdering her creation.
Carlton existed for one reason. He needed to die to create a specific type of homicide case file. A spectacular murder was out of the question. As his fictional life was barren of the extraordinary, so to would be his death.
Zai created enough a life insurance policy that payment for an investigation could be arranged, but not so much that anyone would be eager to fight through the probate courts to claim it.
With that in place, Zai picked up the carefully drawn pieces of Carlton’s fictional life and placed him within the GCPD reporting system, weaving around the illusion of his existence a very real trap for another officer from Ai’s “Special List”.
No one was harmed by Carlton’s creation or destruction, but when Tython followed the trail to find who had purloined the data they had on lockdown, Zai was going to make sure they found someone who richly deserved what would happen next.