The Breaker

  • Article

Night had arrived; the street became quiet and empty. The ground was as clean as someone hasdcarefully maintained it. The neighborhood had always been harmonious. Friendly residents were polite and considerable and never dropped a thing on the ground. Suddenly, two Molotov cocktails flew straight to the street lamp, and the whole street went dark with the harsh cracking sound. A young man in black quickly climbed up the light pole with a searchlight on his head, smashed the surveillance camera, and then ran away like a fleeing.

Warning! Codenamed Breaker! The camera recognized the iconic lightning symbol on the young man’s mask. With a last bit of power, the camera sent the signal back to the control center before it stopped working.

Two large trucks suddenly broke into this blind spot where the cameras were missing. Four or five people jumped off from the trucks. Carrying oil lamps and torches, they made a skilfully enclosed area. They put up a sign at the entrance — “Lose Your Control Freely — The Sanctuary.” They took the bar and chairs off the trucks, also with professional bartending equipment. They began to work as fast as possible as if the show would be in this place.

His name is Alex, and today is an exciting day for him. He was informed from a secret software that the Breaker, the well-known anti-surveillance organization, had finally started their business again. Nowadays, surveillance is everywhere. Since the police’s abolition, the government turned its physical control into a kind of “Soft Control” brought about by surveillance cameras. Also. It promoted an autonomous security maintenance system where everyone gets a dynamic safety credit as a passport. People with high evaluation can access more areas. On the other hand,  your daily behaviors and rates from others around determine the credit.

Had to admit that it’s a smart and energy-saving way to rate others because monitoring cannot carry out all the details. Still, people will communicate with each other in most aspects. In this case, they would rate the directly or indirectly contacted on the government-supported application called Relp.

 

Alex is a journalist. He had been messed up for a couple of weeks. Something was bothering him in his work. He intended to go to a bar to have a drink and relaxed. Still, the government-affiliated agency – the Balancing Organization (B.O.), which is always tireless and never stops working, had recently received a petition from people: they wanted to ban the bars, because drunks made people feel insecure. Therefore, B.O. was considering raising the safety credit requirement for bars or adding some punitive measures. Alex was anxious about the future of bars and his safety credit, so he gave up the idea to go there. Even Alex didn’t feel like himself to be a lousy drinker. He liked to indulge a little bit in the status high alcohol levels bring him into; it made him feel relaxed.

After work, Alex had some food at will and waited until the dark. Hearing the sharp alert, he knew it was the time. He walked towards the brightly lit place, where was entirely cut off from electricity.

“Welcome to the Sanctuary! Have fun tonight. The maintenance guys are off work. They won’t come to fix anything before dawn. Forget about the hypocritical safety credits here! Just be yourself!” Said an excited voice, with a hint of sarcasm.

Alex sat down in front of a small bar, and the glass provided by the bartender has a lightning symbol on it. Alex drank a whole glass of wine but still looked preoccupied. A small man came over to talk, 

“You seem to need some help.”

Alex was surprised, “… who are you?”

“Don’t worry.” The small man said, “We all know some shady deals happen in this place, where all the surveillance is gone. And I am kind enough to hear your problem. Your secret is safe to remain here.”

After a few small chats, Alex talked about his troubles. He was a journalist. A few weeks ago, he went to the low-credit zone with his partner, Anna, and accidentally ran into an infamous group. It  organized a demonstration in that area. It was a group most members were angry and misogynistic men. Some of the other members were influencers on social media. After all, there were plenty of people nowadays gaining their attentions by abetting conflicts between male and female.

“As we all know, B.O. carries out a famous policy that, when born, women will get 1.2 times the initial safety credits of men in the same environment.  According to previous crime data, women are three times more likely to be victims of violence than men.* This measure by B.O aroused this group’s dissatisfaction. They think it is discrimination against men. They describe themselves as just system debugger and give low ratings to almost all the women they meet. They say the goal is to balance the initial 1.2 times credits assigned by the algorithm.” Alex sounded resentful. He thought the group went too extreme.

“Anna and I met them, and this group wanted us to cover their demonstration, and that’s not what we were there for. So, Anna turned them down. It was only later that I learned the influencers they were with, called for Anna to be rated a low credit.”

“What then?” the man asked slowly as if he was used to hearing about such encounters.

Alex sighed, “Anna is a very kind person, but two weeks ago, she came to say goodbye to me crying. She said she had to move into a low-credit region because her credit had been subject to many low ratings. And because her rating dropped so fast that our company thought she must have done something importantly wrong, so she was fired.” Alex continued, “I am very guilty now. If I knew a little about this infamous organization, I wouldn’t let Anna turn them down first. I’m just thinking about how I can save it.”

“It’s not particularly difficult,” The small man said, “I can give you an invitation QR code. You can go to this address and have a chat with the person in charge. But be prepared for offering a generous fee.”

Alex hesitated for a while, apparently, he was desperate to help his partner, so he took the business card with the invitation code handed over by the man. After the man left, he sat down for a long time and didn’t leave until the bar was about to close.

The Data Agency

The next day Alex took a leave of absence. He chose a path that he thought was less monitored and rushed to the address on his business card yesterday. The company looked ordinary but had a tolerant range of safety credit requirements . People with high or low credits could both access.

It wasn’t until he walked in that Alex found the company was not so simple. Everything here was well-organized. Photos of government departments and commercial companies hung in the lobby. Some slogans were highly regarded by the government, like “Your Rating matters,” “Supporting B.O. , is supporting justice.” It was like everywhere was to highlight their social status and strength.

Everything here was highly automated, and there was no service staff at the front desk. Alex took out his business card with the invitation code printed on it, let the camera scan it. The door opened slowly. Then, the indicator lights on the ground lighted up in sequence, leading him to a small, hidden entrance: the Customised Service Reception. Alex turned several corners before he found the department. It was like a clean room temporarily remodeled, with nothing but a handwritten sign hanging on the door.

Alex thought it was a little weird, like a reputable company secretly set up a position for illegal activities and hid it in an inconspicuous corner. Fortunately, the person in charge seemed to know this violation and explained it politely.

 “We’re a data analytics company that mainly provides more extensive application services for our safety credits. Because a lot of our business comes from the insurance industry and investors, we try our best to be more reliable in most parts of the company.”

Alex nodded and accepted this explanation. As an experienced journalist, he knew that these third-party data agencies had a good understanding of safety credit mechanisms. Although the government banned the promotion of it in business areas, such services are still top-rated.

“Then how can you help me?” Alex spoke directly of his confusion, “A friend of mine had to move to a low-credit area because her credit was maliciously rated.”

“Can you tell me the details?” the person in charge said friendly.

Alex explained the ins and outs of the matter.

“It’s not as easy as you think. If she only suffered a small number of bad ratings, we can contact B.O. to launch an arbitration. However, she got many bad ratings in a short period and received more negative reviews on the Internet. Such data is very consistent with violent crime characteristics: passers-by at the scene report the offender, and the righteous users will also condemn it after the video is posted on the Internet. It is difficult to pass an application for arbitration in this way.” The person in charge reasoned so.

Alex was a little annoyed, “Isn’t there any other regulation?”

The person shook his head and said, “Isn’t our regulation the safe credits controlled under the ubiquitous monitor? Although it is reasonable in most cases, some problems are inexplicable. But we do have other solutions.”

“What’s the solution?”

“Our company has created a lot of pseudo- identities as experimental subjects to study the algorithms of our credit system. Some of them have high credits, and some have lower. Now we continue to maintain these identities active, which takes a lot of costs. So I can sell your friends a well-rated identity.”

Alex took a deep breath. He didn’t expect this company to have such great energy, “Does that mean she needs to abandon her previous identity completely? And is this new identity stable?”

“Of course, it’s stable. These identities are just real-name accounts in the eyes of the system. As for abandoning identities, just like a game account. You’re out of practice, can’t you change another one?”  The man answered,  “Of course she might be able to return to the high-credit area through good behaviors. According to my years of experience, it’s hard for people living in low-credit regions to come back. They are surrounded by malicious and dangerous people screened by the system.”

Alex picked up the pad handed over by that person. The fake identities were displayed on the screen like merchandise. He frowned and said, “Money is not a problem, but how can I be sure if she wants to change her identity?” “

“Most people will not refuse, especially those from the high-credit region. But if you still worry, we will give you a digital injector. If the identity is activated, the bill will be charged to her, and you’ll come back and help her pay for it. Now you only need to pay a deposit to take away the injector. “The person in charge smiled sincerely, “Why are you still hesitating? Don’t you think this is a great opportunity? In the past, when a person was not recognized by society, could this one change the race and the family? Under the current mechanism, many people have the opportunity to be reborn.”

Alex nodded noncommittally and thought to himself that those extreme marchers, many of them, might have changed their identities.

“We will also send you a safety map with all the surveillance cameras marked associated with the Safety Credit System. Although the cameras will always see you, you can choose to be seen as few as possible.” He spoke so enthusiastically.

Alex left satisfied with the digital injector handed in by him.

B.O

Alex and Anna planned to meet at a coffee shop where she got a new job as a waiter last week. The credit requirement was not low in the shop, so some unemployed people couldn’t access it. Even so, Alex still has a negative impression of this area, which was full of various protesters and potential dangers.

In addition to the notorious groups, there are also some normal protesters. He even knew of the demonstration against bar credit increases in previous days.

A man yelled in front of the camera, “Why improve the bar credit requirement? Is there nothing to do for B.O.? If everything is done from a statistically significant view, how many people will be influenced by mistake? Anyway, I would never beat people up after drinking, but now I want to beat those people from B.O. without drinking.” Alex supported him silently in his heart.

There were also anti-surveillance organizations, which had been on the rise since the safety credit system was established.

A masked man with sunglasses spoke to the camera in a neurotic voice, “I’ve been allergic to the camera since I was a child. I mean, if a beast is looking at you and treats you as prey, you can tell from its eyes that you are definitely dead. But if those cameras stare at you, 

you don’t even know who’s looking at you. They are conspiratorial. They can kill you in silence. This makes me insecure, and I’m so anxious every day that I can’t sleep. Still, B.O. frantically placed cameras in every corner like being controlled.” This man belongs to a small anti-surveillance group.

It was already afternoon when Alex arrived. He sat in the corner of the coffee shop, quietly waiting for Anna to leave work. Anna glanced at the place where he was sitting from time to time but quickly took it back, as if she didn’t want anyone to notice. When it was finally time to get off work, Anna walked over and sat down across from Alex. Her whole person looked distressed and weak, and her eyes were full of fatigue.

“What have you been through lately?”

“Well, I think this is a tough job. I didn’t need to look at anyone’s face before, but I’ve always been running into quite demanding customers recently. Yesterday came a man, shook his Relp in front of me, said, I know you want high ratings desperately, so can you give me a smile? How can you smile so ugly? Do you look down on me? Then he gave a low rating and went away directly.” Anna sighed, “I don’t know why many people here seem to be hostile to people from high-credit regions.”

“Sorry… I’m sorry to hear that. I think your situation … there is also my fault.”

“I was thinking about working hard here, and I should be back in a few months. But now, I don’t have that confidence. “

“Probably they’re not doing well, so they don’t want anyone else to be okay here.”, Alex said.This comfort seems to be powerless, Alex thought, so he fell silent and started to think about how to tell her that he found a way to get her out of trouble.

But soon, Anna broke the silence.

“I feel more and more that the entire Safety Credit System is a lie.” Although Anna was fired, she still maintained the sensitivity that a professional journalist should have. “I witness these protesters come and go, through the window. Most of them are opposed to B.O., who has not considered their demands or feeling that the algorithm is unreasonable. But few people question the existence of the Safety Zone itself. I remember before, everyone could go everywhere. There is only one place where ordinary people cannot go, and that is the prison. And now the low-credit area is like a huge prison, with dangerous elements roaming inside, and ordinary people who are bound by Relp and cannot escape here.”

“Perhaps the safety credit system is problematic. Why should an automated algorithmic system measure us?” Alex thought along Anna’s line of thinking. Well, they’ve been partners for years, and there’s some tacit understanding between them.

“At least most areas are indeed a lot safer, in a physical sense. But…”

 

Reborn

Anna stopped suddenly, and she raised her head sharply, her expression turning from surprise to fear and then to anger.

“Isn’t this our journalist lady?” A snobbish male voice suddenly came through Alex’s ear, “This is the result of justice!” I didn’t expect to meet you here! “

Alex felt that this man was familiar and saw him expertly streaming on his cell phone. He remembered that this was an influencer in that day’s women-weary group. Most of his audience was an angry group of men.

“Look at that! Another lady is back where she should be! This is our credit. We call for equality between men and women. Women should not have a higher initial safety credit! If BO’s algorithm goes wrong, we can take the role of debugger!”

The man in casual short sleeves, as if he had found the treasure, became increasingly excited, rudely pointing the camera at Anna and asking happily, “Are you looking for a new job here?”

Alex accidentally caught a glimpse of his live screen. He noticed that the man set himself up with a virtual avatar but showed Anna’s face without hiding anything. Alex also read from the screen about Anne’s ineptive anger and pent-up emotions. Anna suddenly stood up, as if she was about to rush up and take the phone that’s live.

“No.” Alex groaned, stood up, hugged to constrain Anna, who was about to hit the man, and said in her ear, “You can’t do this, you’re judged to be violent.”

The man in short sleeves seemed to have captured the footage he was satisfied with. He yelled and ran away quickly, without looking at Anna who was still angry, 

“Look, the lady wants to attack me, I mean, women are also violent. It’s not fair to give them an initial high credit! Everything in your life is not going well, isn’t it because that initial credit put you in such a situation!”

Anna stood for a moment, trying to calm down. She had suddenly realized something. She opened her Relp and found that the rating was dropping frantically again. Her video was also cleverly intercepted by the fist waving anchor, with her angry and distorted expression, and the retweet with hashtag #ViolenceFromWomen #SaveMan was heading out of control.

Anna dragged Alex out of the cafe in a hurry, crossed several streets, found an unmonitored corner, and finally stopped. She crouched down as if she had lost all her strength. 

“Why blame me? Everything is Safety Credit’s fault. The algorithm gives the initial low credit based on factors such as family and education; It’s all doomed, a lot of people are doomed not to have high credit…”

Anna began to sob. She took out her phone again and found that her Safety Credit was still dropping. “Can I still apply for arbitration from the balancing organization…” she said to herself.

Alex felt it was time to reveal the reason he came here, so he asked, 

“If a person has a good education background, with a steady job, and never had a bad record, do you think the one who holds this identity can return to the high-credit area?”

“Of course… Such a person should be born in this area.” Anna naturally answered and suddenly looked at Alex in amazement, “What are you trying to say?”

“I mean, since you can’t change the status quo, what about changing your identity? It’s just a new name, and we can start again. This is the digital injector. Take it, and you’ll have a new identity.” Alex said, “It was my mistake from the start, and I want to make things right.” 

Anna looked at him in a complex and kept silent for a while, “I don’t know how to express my appreciation, I didn’t expect you to do so much for me. I should really say, thank you for saving me. But I have one more important thing to do before that.”

Alex watched Anna take out her phone. She clicked on the influencer’s live broadcast. She took Alex around a few streets to find the man. Alex had to admit that this man was brilliant, always putting himself under the camera at the right time. 

She picked up the stick thrown by the side of the road and went straight to the young man. One stick knocked off his cell phone, and the other hit him hard in the crotch. The man wailed and curled up in pain.

Anna knew that her credit must be dropping crazily now, and she should be assigned to a lower credit area by the system, where it is more chaotic and disturbed. Even the surveillance cameras will be smashed.

Anna didn’t care anymore because right away, she’ll have a new identity. 

 

It’s time to be reborn.

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