Ray Sullivan publishes science based fiction adventures on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, WH Smith and other good eBook retailers as e-books. Additionally all of his books are available in paperback on Amazon. He also muses on technology, posts comedic books in serial format and discusses the world of self publishing.
Books written by Ray Sullivan
Wednesday, 3 April 2013
Parallel Lives chapter 79
As Michael drove he found himself bombarded with questions,
unsurprisingly as he was technically still the opposition. Alan had sat in the
front, forcing Karen to take the back seat. Karen doubted if any other
permutation had ever crossed Alan's mind. Leaning forward as far as the seatbelt
would allow, she led the questions.
'What have you lot been doing to John?' she asked, unable
to wait any longer. Michael drew in a deep breath, he knew he would have to
come clean, or at least fairly clean, over this. He really wanted to do this
'I'm not stalling you, but some of the things I need to
explain are quite complex. Would you mind if we held that one over until all of
us are together. I don't mind telling you about myself and who I work for but
if its all the same...' he said, keeping his eyes firmly on the dark road
ahead, ensuring that Jack's rear lights were always in view.
'Go on then,' encouraged Alan, keen to drag as much
information as he possibly could. 'tell us about who you work for.' Michael
'I work for DTRU, the Defence Technology Research Unit, he
explained, 'We're based in a few locations in the UK,' he said, surrendering
his right to liberty in one sentence. Alan was unimpressed.
'Can't say I've heard of it,' he proclaimed. Michael
shrugged as he drove.
'Good, then we've done something right at least. Its meant
to be secret, we carry out the research that the Government wants to keep
British, not necessarily to give us any kind of commercial edge but more of a
technological one. Most of our work is destined for the military and the
intelligence services, but a lot filters its way into everyday life sooner or
later,' he said, pleased to have an audience for his life's work for once.
'One example of our work, that is now used outside of the
intelligence field it was developed for, sits on virtually every matrix sign on
'We developed a system for reading vehicle number plates
some years back, for use in Northern Ireland. The army were having great
difficulty in tracking vehicle movements, especially across the border. Sure,
you can set up checkpoints at border crossing points but that gives you two
The first is that the enemy knows you are logging vehicle
details and can take actions to disguise their movements, and second, it's very
manpower intensive. Also, if you take it to its logical conclusion and man
every passing point all the time you end up forcing the enemy to take
alternative routes, ones you aren't covering at all,' he explained to his
passengers. Alan thought for a few seconds before pitching in.
'So this technology, it reads number plates. Couldn't a
camera do that?' he asked.
'Cameras did and do, all the time. But they have one major
limitation, the film or video tape has to be manually searched afterwards.
You've still got the manpower overhead, but you add in a time lag.
'Our system reads number plates automatically and feeds the
information directly into an intelligence database. From there it is
manipulated a dozen ways; sorted, collated, trended and suspect vehicles
The Irish never knew how much intel was gleaned just by
watching their vehicle movements,' finished Michael, aware that he didn't know
that much about these two or their affiliations. Karen took up the mantle, keen
to demonstrate that she was not just a 'woman indoors'.
'So they have rolled this out onto the matrix signs. I
think I read that somewhere, it's to replace the speed cameras, isn't it?' she
asked. Michael warmed up to this interest.
'More than that, traditional speed cameras are basically
flawed. They have to calculate a near instantaneous velocity on a moving object
over a very short distance. When you think about it, most cars are either
accelerating or slowing down, rarely travelling at a constant speed. Probably
the only cars not changing speed are the ones keeping exactly to the speed
limit, because the drivers are aware of the speed camera.
'I'm amazed that the speed cameras aren't challenged more
in the courts,' he said, on a personal hobby horse, 'given that they are
measuring variable shapes, bunched up traffic, cars travelling in the opposite
direction.' Karen interrupted.
'So they use your number plate reading equipment instead of
cameras, how does that help?' she asked. Michael half turned as he spoke, now
he was getting to what he regarded as the exciting bit.
'Well, what they don't do is any speed calculations on
moving targets. That's their strength.
'What they do, and they do it very well, is read every
visible number plate that passes in front of them, and then passes the info
onto a central computer, along with the time and the location. The next time
the car passes under one of these devices the data is compared. They know where
the matrix signs are, or more importantly, how far apart they are. It's simple
maths to work out the average speed of a car from that information,' Michael
said, looking around to check that his audience were still interested. The sums
were swimming around Alan's head, not quite adding up.
'This must cost a fortune to set up,' he exclaimed. Michael
was ready for the fiscal argument.
'In principal, you're right, and I doubt if the Department
of Transport has paid a fraction of the real cost of the system. Don't forget,
the development costs were absorbed by the Northern Ireland budget. There would
be some implementation costs, but the biggest hitter is undoubtedly the
'So, who paid?' asked Karen. Alan was ahead of this game.
'His intelligence friends, I reckon. That short-arse with
you is part of that crowd, I assume,' he stated.
'He is, yes,' replied Michael before continuing, 'Them and
other agencies, including the police. The speeding element is simply a bonus
which will pay for extensions to the system in time, but can never recoup the
real costs,' he explained. Karen had caught up and was in danger of overtaking
the pair of them.
'So that's why you told us to avoid the motorways, its only
in place there,' she said, half asking, 'and I suppose that all traffic is
being tracked while on the motorway network. Talk about Big Brother.'
'It's technically more challenging on other roads,
motorways have clearly defined and controlled entry and exit points,' Michael
agreed, 'but tracking all vehicles is a waste of time. It would take inordinate
resources to collate and sift the information, even after the computers have
done their bit. But you're right about my reason, it's more or less standard
practice for the Secret Service to have the system "keep an eye out"
for specific number plates, that's what its good at.'
Alan felt the explanation was reasonable, well within his
understanding of current technology.
'The mobile phone thing, another way of tracking?' he
asked. Michael flicked his head swiftly to one side, indicating agreement.
'As soon as you switch on a mobile phone it searches for
its' network. It does this periodically so that the network "knows"
where to send text messages and phone calls. By triangulating three cells they
can work out your position to within a hundred metres or less.' This
explanation seemed to satisfy the two passengers and slowly the group fell into
an uneasy silence, each watching the tail lights in front.
Jack was doing a lot of thinking, driving along virtually
alone. John had surfaced, mumbled about various events and people, mostly
strangers to Jack's ears, then had sunk back down. He had tried engaging John
in conversation once or twice but had eventually given up.
As he drove through the dark evening on predominantly unlit
roads, squinting in near pain whenever cars approached from the opposite
distance, he realised that neither he nor Karen had eaten since breakfast. He
didn't even know if Alan had eaten at all that day, he was the kind to skip
breakfast, Jack reckoned. As he rounded a left hand curve Jack was greeted by a
petrol station, its brand name illuminating the grassy areas surrounding it.
Checking his gauge he decided to pull in and fuel up, using the opportunity to
discuss tactics with the occupants of the other car.
As he pulled up to the pumps he noticed there was a
ramshackle cafe sat alongside the petrol station, seemingly open although
clearly under-utilised. Michael had pulled up to the adjacent pump and was
fumbling with the hire car's fuel cap. He turned to Jack.
'How are you paying? I've been using John's credit card,
but I guess that's been compromised, judging by those two guys in Bristol,' he
rationalised. Jack patted his pocket.
'Cash,' he said, 'I reckoned that credit cards would be
easy to trace. I assume that was the object of the exercise today, avoiding
being traced. I drew some out while in Manchester, I didn’t know how the day
was going to pan out.' Michael agreed with the sentiment of not being traced.
'Unfortunately I hadn't planned on any of this and when I
grabbed the opportunity to get John away the last thing I wanted to do was stop
for cash,' he explained.
'I'll cover the fuel costs,' offered Jack, not believing
that he had gotten himself into something like this. The thought crossed his
mind, 'something like what? I don't know what all this is about.'
'Let’s stop for something to eat, that place looks open and
I reckon we can park around the back,' he added. The looks on the faces of
Karen and Alan, who had been following the exchange closely from their seated
positions, told Jack that he had made a popular suggestion. He completed his
fuelling and, once Michael had done likewise, walked over to the kiosk and