Prevention Force

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Chapter 7

Summertime joy; 50° in January. People walking dogs. Dogs walking people. Joggers. Pack of yelling teens flying bikes around pedestrians. Sunbathers on blankets. Every variety of scooter, hoverwheel, and flying chair. Even the occasional antique enthusiast in a gasoline car with its sickening exhaust sputtering down the little lane on the right side of the road, which is designed to prevent speeding. The road surface is slightly waved, which does nothing at the proper velocity, but if you speed, the car bounces.

Healy and Spoct walk the beat down Main Street, past a group of kids practicing tricks on flying skateboards.

A notification comes over everyone’s phones: “Attention citizens. Please vote on the following proposition: Should movie theaters be allowed to serve fentanyl? Voting will remain open for 24 hours.”

People on the street cast their votes into their phones. Spoct hits the No button three times. “That’s crazy.”

Liesl wears her police issue wide brim safari hat and oversized black sunglasses. “Look how blue the sky is.” She never gets tired of it.

Spoct says to her, “Is it just me or is the sun getting hotter?”

“Global warming.”

“I’m literally cooking.” He tries to block the sun from his eyes with his paw.

“Why don’t you put on your sunbrella?”

“That’s a good idea.” He takes a little square off his belt. It unfolds it into a silver screen that floats over his body and adjusts itself depending on the sun’s angle, and is equipped with solar panels. “My phone needed charging any way.”

“I’m still thinking about that unexplained data.”

“Give it a rest. The department declared the case resolved.”

“I like to do a good job.”

“You did a good job. You did a great job. Now it’s time to declare victory.”

“I won’t declare victory until every loose end is tied up.”

“I don’t know where you get your energy.”

“I was born with it, baby!”

A call comes over the radio. “293 in progress.” Spoct spots the guy across the street, walking with his head down. “There he is.” The man lumbers along slowly, slumped over, as if in a trance. “He looks tired.”

“Possible depression.”

They approach. Spoct wags his tail. “How you doing buddy?”

“Was I speeding?”

Spoct scans him with a laser pen. “The camera detected an abnormality in your gait. Your metabolic profile indicates you’re suffering from hyperstarchism, eating too much flour.”

“Tell me about it.”

Liesl puts her hand on his shoulder. “Have you been experiencing any unwanted weight gain?”

He holds his big belly. “What do you think?”

Spoct asks, “Do you feel fatigued a lot of the time?”

“I don’t know. Is ten hours a day a lot?”

Healy taps commands into her phone. “The serotonin levels don’t lie. Your hormones are through the roof. You’re at risk for a whole slew of nasty diseases. A diet change will work wonders.”

“I like to eat.”

“That’s fine. Just eat the diet versions of whatever foods you like. They taste exactly the same, but you’ll lose weight no matter how much you eat.”

Spoct adds, “And feel a million times better.”

“I guess that sounds good.”

Spoct enters an appointment into his computer. “We’ll check up on you in a week to see how it’s going.”

As they resume their patrol Spoct says, “Another satisfied customer.”

“That’s what we do. Spread joy.”

The sidewalk tables at Java’s cafe are crowded. George is sitting on the sidewalk playing his accordion in his regular spot, with an everpresent smile on his wrinkly, bearded face. Spoct hikes his leg as he passes, dropping a Susan B. Anthony ten dollar coin in his weathered instrument case, which makes a pleasant ching against the others.

A tall woman with black hair like a clump of straw, stands in the middle of the sidewalk accosting passersby. Her voice is shrill. “Excuse me, I have an emergency.” Her posture and speech are stiff. “I have my period. Can you give me a hundred dollars for tampons?”

Healy whips out a sealed tampon and hands it to her. “Here you go.”

The woman wasn’t expecting that. She looks at it with an open mouth.

They keep walking.

Spoct asks Liesl, “Where did that come from?”

“She’s out here all the time. I came prepared.” She smiles.

The lady approaches people sitting at the sidewalk tables.“Excuse me I have an emergency.” A women in her fifties opens her purse and hands her a hundred.

Spoct snaps it away in his mouth, and gives it back. “Don’t do that.”

She whines, “Hey, she gave that to me.”

“We just gave you a tampon. You need to stop bothering people.” He says into his radio, “Transport for one.”

She says, “I’m sorry,” like a little kid who got caught in the cookie jar, and who will return the moment you turn your back.

Spoct say somberly, “You’ve had your period every day this month. You need to see a doctor.”

The woman who gave the money says, “It’s okay. I don’t mind helping.”

Spoct is a little ticked off. “Giving panhandlers money supports crime. If you want give, donate to the Open Door Mission.”

Liesl explains. “We’ve tailed her before. She goes straight to the crack house. We’ve given her cases of tampons. She goes out and sells them.”

“Please don’t arrest her.”

“Nobody is getting arrested. We’re taking her to a spa where all her needs will be addressed.”

The van arrives. A grandmotherly figure comes out and gives her a big hug. “It’s okay, dear. We’re gonna take good care of you.” It drives off.

Healy says to Spoct, “Panhandlers drive me nuts. You want to help them.”

“Money doesn’t help them. It keeps them trapped in a miserable existence.”

“But who are we to judge?”

“We’re police officers. It’s our job to prevent crime. Lying for money is fraud.”

She shrugs her eyebrows.

They resume their beat down East Ave. A block from Moe’s cigar shop, they are blasted by the powerful smell of stogies as big as tailpipes. They pass by, hearing sounds of talking and coughing. Spoct stops, sniffs around and perks up his ears. His computer circuits analyze the sound waves.

“What is it, boy?”

“One of those coughs is not a smoker’s cough.” They open the door and a thick cloud bellows out.

Liesl gags. “I’ll wait outside ’til it clears.” She holds the door open and makes a sour face.

Inside the small place the smoke is so thick visibility is zero, but Spoct follows the sound waves straight to one guy in the crowd, a man in his 70s. He furrows his brow. “Sir, you have the flu.” He takes a disinfectant spray bottle from his belt and soaks him. The others back away.

The man cries, “Hey, what are you doing?” He makes faces and flaps his mouth open and closed. “Ugh. You got in my mouth. It tastes like…” He thinks about it. “Not bad, actually.” He tastes it some more. “What is that?”
Healy answers, “Pumpkin spice.”

He nods.

She says, “Sir, would you please step outside? We’d like to talk to you a second.”

“Why do you say talk when you really mean arrest?”

“I promise I won’t arrest you. Please come out. I can’t stand the smell of smoke. My eustachian tubes are clogging up.”

He walks out onto the sidewalks, where the smell of cigars combines with the fragrance of strombolis from across the street.

“What is your name?”

“Donald Stafford. I’m half Italian and half English.” He’s from an older generation where everyone had to have a label.

“Sir, we are not allowed to take any information regarding race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.”

After years of race mixing there were too many categories. A person could be 1/4 this, 1/4 that, 1/3 something else, ad infinitum. Which box to check became even more complicated as new sexual orientations were added--trisexual, gender continuous, pentasexual-curious, femme, butch, top, and bottom. Filling out a simple loan application became quite a complex affair with five pages of boxes to be checked off. It was decided to just to call everyone “human” and leave it at that.

Spoct interrogates. “How long have you had this cough?”

“It’s nothing. I’m going to quit smoking on Easter.”

Spoct’s belt goes beep--beep--beep. “The detector indicates that that was a lie.”

His buddy sticks his head out the door. “Don’s been saying he’s going to quit for years.”

Liesl says, “We will develop a personalized plan to help you. If you like--”

His buddy says, “He doesn’t really want to quit. He just likes talking about it.”

Spoct reads the device. “Mr. Stafford, you have the C1-stapphococcyl HN12 flu. Highly contagious.”

His buddy says, “Oh no,” and walks away.

Healy stops him. “Sir, you can’t leave until we sanitize you.”

“I can do what I want!”

“We can’t allow you to make others sick.”

From inside, another guy, with a gravelly, froggy voice, says, “Thanks a lot, Don. Now we’re all gonna get sick.” He succumbs to a coughing fit lasting a full minute.

Don barks, “I didn’t know, okay?”

Spoct says, “Take it easy. No one’s going to get sick. Everyone will be treated.”

“It was an accident, okay?!”

Liesl punches information into her phone. “There is no such thing as an accident. When you started feeling sick, you should have run a diagnostic scan.”

“Why didn’t you? You’ve got cameras everywhere.”

“I suppose you have a point. I’ll make a note of that so we can update the system.”

“Look I’m clean okay. I have my hand sanitizer right here.” He goes through his pockets.

Spoct says, “Sir, please. Scientific studies have shown that viruses are spread through hand sanitizer.”

Although no one asked him to, Don empties his pockets onto the sidewalk table. Rolling tobacco. Packets of PCP. A tin of LSD lozenges. A bottle of Woodford Reserve, and another of candy flavor chewable heroin tablets.

“Quite the party animal I see. You can put all that away.” Spoct takes from his utility belt a tiny cube. He unfolds it once, twice, thrice, fornth. It keeps doubling in volume until it’s the size of a person, a feather-light see-through box.

He brings it towards Don, who pushes it away. “What are you going to do with that?”

Healy says, “Don’t be a baby. It’s just a quarantent.” She seals it around him.

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

Spoct says, “This isn’t about blame. It’s about getting you well.”

“How long do I have to wear this thing?”

“Don’t worry. It will automatically dissolve when you are no longer contagious.”

“This is a violation of my rights!”

“Sorry. But you don’t have a right to make people sick.”

He tries to punch through, but it is strong and flexible. “False imprisonment!”

“You’re free to go.”

His friend says, “Stop complaining, Don.”

“I know. I complain too much.” He presses the inside of the tent. “How am I supposed to play the sax with this?”

Frog voice says, “You weren’t playing it any way.”

The tent shrinks down to form fit his body, hardly noticeable.

Spoct sniffs around. “Four people in this room contracted the virus.”

Groans.

Don stutters, “I didn’t know.”

They spray down the four and put them in tents. One of them calls Don a filthy animal.

“Sorry, Chuck.”

Chuck is missing his front teeth. “Stop saying you play the sax. All you do is talk about it.”

The other says, “It’s okay, Don.”

Healy tells Don he’s free to go.

“Before I go, let me roll a cigarette.”

Chuck glares at Don, drilling a hole in his head with angry eyes.

Spoct’s analyzer beeps. “Excuse me, Chuck, but I’m going to need to talk to you.”

“For what?”

“The psychological analysis of your facial expression indicates that you have a high probability of committing a future crime. Your body language indicates that you are harboring feelings of resentment against Mr. Stafford. We have to help you work out these emotional issues before they fester.” He tugs at his shirt. “Okay, let’s go.”

“I didn’t do nuthin’!”

Healy tells him, “What kind of cops would we be if we sat around waiting for people to commit crimes?”

Spocts says, “We’ve got some great Gestalt therapy exercises back at the station.”

Liesl watches the map on her computer screen. The blinking red dot represents Don, showing his movements over the past two weeks. The green dots are people who came within six feet of him. After the simulation is over, it spits out the names and locations of 32 people who were possibly infected.

* * *

The computer dispatches a squadron of drones.

A man sits on a park bench eating. The drone flies up. “Andrew Pratt, you have been infected with a virus. Prepare to be disinfected.” It sprays a cloud that saturates the entire bench.

“Hey, my canoli!”

“The spray is non-toxic, completely edible, and gluten-free.”

“This tent will prevent you from infecting others.” It puts it on him. “Thank you for your cooperation.” It flies off. He shrugs and goes back to his canoli.

* * *

Liesl fills out the report for the flu outbreak. Every crime must be analyzed to determine its root causes so that a preventive plan can be formulated. Tracing causes can be challenging because many factors contribute to any given event. The lines of causality branch out like the roots of a tree. It is virtually impossible to follow every one.

Mr. Stafford was right. The police should have tested him sooner.

Her eyes goes right to one number in the chart--

Unexplained Responsibility 0%.

“Wait a minute. Elizabeth said there is always error. How can it be zero?”

Spoct puts his head on his paws. “Don’t you ever get tired. We’ve been at this all night.”

“If I’m going to be manic, I may as well used it for something positive.”

like to do things right.”

“It’s good enough. The captain already said so.”

“Good enough is not good enough. If Mr. Stafford were my own child, I would want him to have the best treatment plan possible.”

“I don’t see how we can make it any better.”

“I want to know why the last cases were 3% and this one is zero.”

“Like everything else, variance varies.” He licks his paw. “Besides, it makes sense. The cause of the flu involves biological processes we understand very well. A knife attack, on the other hand, has multiple psychosocial factors which are difficult to measure.”

“So what you’re saying is, there’s a good reason why this is zero.”

“Absolutely.”

“Then there’s a good reason why those other two numbers were both 3%.”

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