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Operation ICU by Jerry Guarino

“That’s it. Now we’ll just activate the tracker.” The guard checked the wristband for security and comfort, then had the prisoner, soon to become an outmate, the new term for criminals released under the Inmate Confinement Ubiquity program, sign the release form. “OK, you’re free to go. Stay out of trouble.” With those parting words, the former con man left the island prison and boarded the ferry for San Francisco.

It was 2015, the year San Francisco took a byte out of crime. The new prisoner release program had already been a success. While drug dealers and those convicted of violent crimes like murder and rape were kept behind bars, delinquents, white collar criminals and first time drug users were allowed to leave confinement with one qualification. Each one would have to wear an electronic monitoring wristband, a sort of virtual parole system. Their movements and locations were tracked by the massive supercomputer (affectionately nicknamed ICU).

Now in it’s fourth year, the benefits were adding up. Prison populations were cut down to match available resources so more room was made for violent offenders. The cost of maintaining non-violent prisoners was cut by 80%. Instead of feeding, housing and rehabilitating these miscreants, the money saved was transferred to public schools and teacher salaries. It was ironic that San Francisco, the iconic city of liberalism, would be the first city to install the ICU system, also known as Little Brother. The engineers from Silicon Valley had created the technology on spec from the Governor.

In 2014, thousands of cameras were installed around the Bay Area to watch out for crime, an American version of London’s security program. These cameras were automatically turned on when one of the ICU outmates were in the area. If an outmate came in contact with another known criminal, an email and text message was sent to local authorities. Even though outmates understood how the system worked, some tried to get around it.

Danny was back in his neighborhood. “Hey Danny”, said Juan a member of the Chaves gang. “They let you out?” Danny pointed to the black wristband. “Sort of. This is supposed to keep track of where I am, but I don’t think it works.” Juan smiled. “We’re going to hit the bodega tonight. We could use a driver. Are you in?” Danny gave Juan a fist bump. “I’ll pick you up at midnight”, and he laughed.

But the ICU supercomputer was already tracking their location and recording their conversation through an ingenious, micro-sized audio transmitter hidden in the wristband. They notified the bodega owner to make sure he was out of the store by 9pm for safety. The police quickly installed two new cameras inside and outside of the bodega and coded them into ICU’s database. Blinking red lights confirmed their position on a digital screen in police headquarters.

Across the bay in Oakland, members of the MLK42 gang were welcoming back James, another outmate. James didn’t tell the others about the ICU wristband. “My lawyer got me out. Some screw up by the cops.” High fives all around. “Yeah, I need a score. Where’s the mailman?” Another member updated James. “He’s over on International, by the record shop. He’s sitting in his El Camino.” James nodded, “later” as he took the car keys from the table.

ICU heard the conversation, dispatched an unmarked vehicle to the drug dealer known as ‘the mailman’s’ location and waited. The police positioned the camera at that corner above the El Camino, focusing on the drug dealer. James pulled his car up to the El Camino, rolled down the window. The mailman rolled down his window. “James, you’re out. What can I get you?” James handed $50 dollars over. “Some ice.” Flashes popped from the camera, sirens squealed and two patrol cars boxed in the dealer and his outmate. “OK boys, game’s over”, said the detective as he cuffed them. “We have it all on tape. “WTF”, said James. The mailman yelled. “You brought this on me. I’ll have your ass boy.”

Later that night, Danny rolled his car over to pick up his crew. “I have some cold ones in the cooler. Didn’t think we should take time to shop at the bodega.” His friends laughed and got in the car. “No reason to wait. The bodega closed early tonight.” Danny parked in the alley behind the bodega and waited. He heard glass breaking, but no alarm. It would only be a matter of minutes. A flash from a camera above him went off. “Who’s there?” Suddenly, police cars boxed them in. “Danny, so good to see you. One day out, huh? I’ll bet they missed you back at Quentin.”

The guard at the island prison shook his head. “Well Danny, that wasn’t very long. Guess you’re going to bunk here for a while.” Danny shuffled inside and held out his arm. The guard cut off the wristband. “Those damn engineers.”

——————-

Jerry Guarino writes short stories and plays. Please visit his website at http://thedevilsorchestra.us. His work has appeared in four countries with the journals 6 Tales, Bewildering Stories, The Chaffey Review Literary Magazine, Daily Love, Eskimo Pie, The Fringe Magazine (Australia), Hackwriters Magazine (Great Britain), Larks Fiction Magazine, Leaning House Press, The Legendary, Litsnack, MediaVirus, Piker Press, Postcard Shorts, Ray’s Road Review, The Scarlet Sound, The Stream Press, Weirdyear, Writing Raw and Zouch Magazine and Miscellany (Canada). He is currently working on a murder mystery for the stage.

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