Writers’ Wednesday: Flash Fiction Challenge 2 Results

First: We Need More Participants

First of all, the only response I got again was from Brad, who crushed the challenge last time. I have some people in mind to whom I’m going to personally send invitations to participate next time. Anyway, while it’s tragic that I’m not hearing more of your voices, I’m always glad to read and share Brad Skiff’s stuff. Doing that again will be a pleasure!

Just like last time, I’m not going to read Brad’s story before writing my own, though I do have an idea of what I’m going to write this time. Here’s how this goes. It’s 10:28am on Wednesday May 22nd, 2019. I’m going to start writing my story after this paragraph, then I’ll read and post Brad’s story below mine.

The prompt, in case you missed it, was to write a story with “found documents.” Afterward, I’ll have some comments at the bottom on both stories. So, without any further nincompoopery, let’s begin.

These stories are works of fiction. Any similarity to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Necessary further nincompoopery.

The TARGET Tracker

December 9th, 2031

Washington State Department of Licensing
405 Black Lake Blvd SW
Olympia, WA 98502
http://www.dol.wa.gov

Aiden Scottsdale
4522 Honeysuckle Dr.
Apt. 42
Easley, WA, 98856

Dear Mr. Scottsdale,

Enclosed you will find your new TARGET Tracking Device, pursuant to RCW 46.16A.050 and the recent passage of voter initiative I-2274. Please install this device in your vehicle listed below using the diagnostic port. Instructions are provided with the device packaging. If you currently have a similar device installed for insurance or other purposes, the law requires that you remove the existing device, return it to the insurance company or other agency, and replace it with your new TARGET Tracking Decvice.

As announced when I-2274 became law, use of your new TARGET Tracking Device will enable us to reach the TargetZero goal of zero traffic fatalities in Washington State. By allowing the Department of Transportation to track your movements, speed, changes in velocity, and other data, we will be better able to respond to accidents and emergencies more quickly, apprehend criminals and enforce laws with minimal human police investigation.

Each week, you will receive a report from the DOT regarding your driving performance. If you drive well, you will be rewarded with tax incentives and reduced registration fees. If you drive poorly, you could face increased fees, revocation of your license, or possibly criminal action.

Pursuant to RCW 46.16A.050, installation of this device is mandatory for all registered vehicles in Washington State. The penalty for driving a vehicle without a TARGET Tracking Device is a $5,000 fine and not more than 90 days incarceration.

Remember, our goal is zero traffic fatalities for Washington State. Your participation in this program will make that goal a reality. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. For more information, see our website, http://www.dol.wa.gov.

Sincerely
Rod Medina
Washington Secretary of Transportation


Seattle Post-Intelligencer
January 6th, 2033

“I-2274: One Year Later, A Lot Has Changed”
by Thom Scarborough – Staff Writer

The narrow passage of I-2274 in November of 2030 brought about a lot of discussion across Washington and the rest of the nation when it happened. The initiative includes a provision that all registered vehicles be equipped with the controversial new TARGET Tracking Device issued by the DOT.

Data from the device is transmitted to nearby cell-towers, and routed to the DOT’s central processing center. Computers at the processing center analyze the data from TARGET Trackers to detect everything from serious collisions to failure to come to a complete stop.

Now, a year after implementation, the preliminary results are in, and it seems people on both sides of the issue still have plenty to say. Supporters point to the fact that many municipalities have been able to reduce the number of officers patrolling their streets by half or more. “The less time police spend writing traffic tickets and responding to accidents, the more time they can spend on bigger crimes,” I-2274 sponsor Dorothy Zucker said in a press release on Friday.

Zucker also brought up the fact that, though there was a spike in overall citations during the first two months, the total amount of traffic fatalities in 2032 fell by over half. “Last year [2031], we had a total of 203 fatalities,” Zucker said. “This year we saw 97,” she continued, “but that’s still far too many. Our target is zero, and we won’t stop until we get there.”

Though Governor Ichikawa supported and endorsed the initiative, even many in her own Democratic party voiced concerns about the initiative. Criticism of the law mainly centers on privacy concerns. Opposition groups attempted to sue the state for enacting the law, but the State Supreme Court ruled against them, claiming that because driving is a privilege that is exercised in public, constitutional arguments regarding privacy did not apply.

Despite their defeat in the State Supreme Court, opponents of the law are not giving up. In a counter-statement released just hours after Zucker’s press release went live, representatives from the ACLU pointed out that relying on data from TARGET Trackers is not necessarily as reliable as supporters would have you believe.

Joan Simpson, an ACLU Spokeswoman said, “Without a human police officer to see the human factor in these cases – especially with the advances in the technology that we’ve seen just this year – we run a real risk of punishing a lot of innocent people.”

The advances that Simpson refers to are the frequent features being added to the data processing software, and the increase in sole reliance upon this data by judges when making rulings.

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, the fact remains, Washington’s highways are much safer now than they’ve ever been, and with the incentives – both positive and negative (see TRACKERS 3)


August 24th, 2034

Cedric Winston
Washington State Office of Public Defense
P.O. Box 40957
Olympia, WA  98504-0957

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239
c/o Washington State Correctional Facility
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Dear Mr. Scottsdale,

Regarding your letter of 13 June, 2034, please be advised that our office is doing everything that we can for you, but the wheels of justice turn slowly. The state Attorney General is very much a supporter of the TARGET program, and he’s throwing everything he can at prosecuting all TARGET cases using the full resources at his disposal.

Unfortunately for you and your case, the Attorney General’s office has a much bigger budget now due to the success of TARGET, and that means they are doing everything they can to suppress all of the evidence that works in your favor.

As of right now, the best legal advice I can give you is to keep searching your memory for anything that might provide some concrete proof of your side of the story. We need something perceived to be just as infallible as the TARGET data, so it can’t be a human witness. Please let me know if you think of anything, and I’ll try to come see you as soon as possible.

Working for you,

Cedric Winston
Attorney
Washington State Office of Public Defense


August 24th, 2034

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239
c/o Washington State Correctional Facility
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Cedric Winston
Washington State Office of Public Defense
P.O. Box 40957
Olympia, WA  98504-0957

Dear Mr. Winston,

First of all, I hope it won’t be another two months before I hear from you again. I know you’re busy, but this is my life I’m wasting away, and I’ve been here almost a year! I don’t mean to sound impatient, but I’m being held illegally and I need to get out of here.

Again, all I can tell you is that the only time I left my house on September 24th 2033 was to go and get some candles from the gas station. We had a hell of a storm that night and it knocked out all of the power in Easley and most of Douglas County. I had no power, no internet – I barely had cell service. I spent the night at home reading a paper book by candlelight. Kelsey Martinez, the gas station clerk will testify to me being there, but with no power she had no cameras working and I just gave her cash for the candles.

I don’t know much about technology, Mr. Winston. I’m an orchard farmer. I put this thing in my pickup because the state said I had to, and next thing I know I’m being charged with rape in Wenatchee. I was 115 miles away from Wenatchee in Easley that night. I don’t know how they have “data” that says I was in Wenatchee at that time. I was in Wenatchee the day before on a Costco run, but then I came right home – surely their data says all of that!

This has ruined me, sir. I lost my reputation within the community, my orchard business has been destroyed by the implication of the charges, and even members of my family seem to treat me differently.

I didn’t do anything wrong. I can give you at least twenty character witnesses and Kelsey’s testimony that I was at the gas station an hour before the attack took place – I wouldn’t have had time to get to Wenatchee in that amount of time.

Also, you didn’t address my other question. Did the victim identify me? Do I even fit the description of her attacker? Please respond soon. I have to get my life back.

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239


August 31st, 2034

Donna Scottsdale
PO Box 2574
Omak, WA 98841

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239
c/o Washington State Correctional Facility
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Dear Aiden,

I miss you so much. I’m sorry that we haven’t been down to see you in a while. The harvest was good this year, but we’ve had to lower prices by so much that we just can’t afford the gas to get down there like we used to.

I did go to your house with your lawyer, like you asked. He’s an odd duck. He told me to tell you that the victim says her attacker was about your size and was wearing a mask. It was dark, so she couldn’t see his skin color, and the police couldn’t recover any DNA. The prosecutors are relying completely on the TARGET data from your car. Honey, are you sure you weren’t in Wenatchee that night? I know you’d never do this, but you do forget details sometimes…

Anyway, I didn’t think we found anything useful, but he stormed out of there like he’d just found Willie Wonka’s golden ticket. I tried calling him to see what the fuss was about, but he hasn’t called back yet, and you know how I hate to pester people. I guess if he really has something you’ll hear from him soon.

Anyway, we all miss you. Randy seems to have been keeping up the property, and he says you’re gonna owe him big time when you get out. I love you, sweetheart. Stay safe and strong in there, please. I’ll be down to visit when I can.

Mom


Seattle Post-Intelligencer
September 15th, 2034

“State Senate Passes Bill to Expand TARGET Program”
By Thom Scarborough – Staff Writer

Olympia – Yesterday Washington State lawmakers voted to enact some significant changes to the state’s TARGET program, which has been embroiled in controversy since its implementation two years ago. Despite heavy criticism from civil liberties advocacy groups, polling data shows that the program has been hugely popular among Washington residents.

The reduction in traffic fatalities alone is enough justification for many who support the program. Now, with the most recent updates to the algorithms that govern the state’s TARGET analysis software, the state says it can do for the judicial system what it did for the law enforcement.

“What it did for law enforcement,” says Mike McLaughlan, president of the Washington State Law Enforcement Association, “was destroy half of our jobs.” McLaughlan, whose organization originally supported the initiative, says he now regrets supporting it, and he hopes that Washington residents will see the flaws in the system. “We have fewer cops,” McLaughlan said, “but more people getting tickets and going to jail. I’m wondering if the cart isn’t leading the horse here, a bit.”

Patricia Weimer, the State Attorney General, argues that having fewer police and a more efficient conviction system was a major goal of the system – not a flaw. “We’re catching more bad guys,” she said, “with fewer cops. How on earth is that a flaw? And let’s not forget about the drastic drop in traffic fatalities last year or the fact that we’re poised to have zero by next year, just five years later than the original goal of 2030 we set out in 2016.”

Weimer also went on to say that expanding the tech program to the judiciary system will not immediately replace human judges, but will instead include a phased roll in, whereby judges in randomly assigned cases will use the algorithm in the TARGET app to determine the mathematically determine the likelihood of a person’s guilt or innocence instead of a jury.

“Washingtonians have always been pioneers,” Weimer stated. “We love to be the first, and the results we’re seeing couldn’t make us happier. We’re very near to seeing an end to traffic fatalities. Now we could be taking steps toward seeing an end to jury tamp- (see TARGET 6)


October 17th, 2034

Cedric Winston
Washington State Office of Public Defense
P.O. Box 40957
Olympia, WA  98504-0957

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239
c/o Washington State Correctional Facility
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Dear Mr. Scottsdale,

I’ve received word from the courts that your hearing is scheduled for February 2nd, 2035 at 9:00am. I’ve read over all of your concerns, and conducted a search of your property with your mother. During that search, I uncovered a receipt for the candles you bought the night of the crime. I also found another witness who can place you at the gas station at that time. Her name is Monica Valdez, and she says she saw your car pull into the station as she was driving out.

Ordinarily, this would be a slam dunk. We’d go before the judge, he’d see that the system obviously made a mistake, and you’d be free to go. Unfortunately, the timing of the hearing means that the judge will be bound by law to consider data analysis of the case made by TARGET algorithms.

To be clear, the law doesn’t say that the judge has to abide by the data, but legally she has to justify her decision to ignore it in her written ruling. Our judge for this hearing will be the honorable Pamela Tipton. I’ve argued before her before, and I know her to be fair. I also know her to be strictly adherent to the letter of the law, so I can’t say for sure what our chances are yet.

I’ll make the best case I can for you.

Sincerely,
Cedric Winston
Attorney
Washington State Office of Public Defense



Douglas County Court
Docket #35-02024179
People vs. Aiden Scottsdale
Judicial Ruling
February 13th, 2035

[Previous Pages Redacted]
5. Final Decision:

“After considering the testimony of the defendant, Ms. Valdez, and Ms. Martiez, and the evidence presented by the state, I have reached a decision in the matter of the People vs. Aiden Scottsdale.

While the testimony of Ms. Martinez is compelling, the TARGET algorithm points out that there is a 37.8% chance that based on the familiarity of the relationship between she and the defendant, she may be trying to protect him. Similarly, Ms. Valdez’s testimony is called into question by the TARGET analysis – which deemed there to be a 27.284% chance that she was lying based on her pre-trial psychological profile. Furthermore, the TARGET analysis makes it clear that the handwritten receipt entered into evidence by the defense is 47.2% more likely to be forged after the fact than authentic.

The law clearly states that I must consider the recommendation of the TARGET analysis in my decision, and in doing so, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore it. Human error is much more likely than a technical glitch, as the defense claims, and the serious nature of the crime demands that we be sure about the justice we serve for it. Therefore, it is my duty by law to find the defendant guilty in the matter of the rape of Sandy Kwon.”

[Sections Redacted]

9. Sentencing:

“Because of the serious nature of your crime, and in consideration of the victim impact statements, Mr. Scottsdale, I hereby sentence you to a term of life incarceration at the Washington State Penitentiary to be carried out immediately.”


Seattle Post-Intelligencer
April 25th, 2045

“Lawmakers Finally Repeal I-2274”
By Thom Scarborough – Staff Writer

Fifteen years after Washington became the first state in the U.S. to allow algorithm based automation of its justice system, lawmakers have finally gathered the votes to repeal the embattled law. The initiative, which was approved by voters in 2030 created the TARGET system, which was developed by Washington based tech giant Microsoft for automated policing of minor traffic violations. During the first two years, the program was so successful that TARGET data soon became the standard for the entire Washington State justice system.

Opposition to the law has been around from the beginning, but with the high profile case of Sierra Torgerson, an 84 year old woman convicted by TARGET data of first degree assault on a 23 year old male, despite the fact that she is infirm and the victim denies it was her.

In Torgerson’s case, faulty location data from the TARGET Tracker on her vehicle put her at the scene of the crime, and misrecognition of audio data prompted the TARGET Analysis algorithm to conclude that there was a 95% chance she was involved in the crime.

Private investigators hired by Torgerson’s family were able to determine that during power outages, location data from TARGET Trackers becomes completely unreliable due to its reliance only on regional cell-tower repeaters. “The system wasn’t designed to operate on such limited location data resources,” TARGET Tracker designer Matt Foreman said in a statement defending the use of AI in law enforcement. “When WiFi signals fail, we’re essentially blinding the system,” he admitted.

The popular YouTube series “Dirty Tricks” profiled Sierra’s case three years ago, and has updated its massive worldwide viewership with the status of her case at least twice a month since then. Outcry sparked by the series, it seems, has finally led lawmakers to commence with reforms to (see REPEAL 5)


August 9th, 2045

Cedric Winston
Washington State Office of Public Defense
P.O. Box 40957
Olympia, WA  98504-0957

Aiden Scottsdale – #247239
c/o Washington State Correctional Facility
1313 North 13th Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Dear Mr. Scottsdale,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’ve looked into your case like you asked, and unfortunately, we won’t be able to pursue an acquittal or an overturned conviction.

Though TARGET is no longer being used, an updated algorithm, CISTERN is being used to sort through the myriad possible wrong convictions over the last fifteen years, and it has determined that because your case has been reviewed seven times, the likelihood of an overturned conviction is too low for the state to justify spending the money on a hearing.

We do have the right to appeal the automated decision. Please advise me how you would like me to proceed.

Sincerely,

Cedric Winston
Senior Partner
Winston, Porter, & Douglas: Attorneys at Law

The End


Okay, so that was about five hours of lazy, self-paced writing from me with minimal revision. I liked it, and I hope you did, too. Please leave a comment and let me know.

And Now…

Let’s see what Brad did, shall we? I’m going to copy and past his right now (4:07pm) and read it for the first time. Then I’ll give you my immediate reaction. Then I’ll post. Then I’ll hit the gym.

Three Nights of Zol

By Brad Skiff (All Rights Reserved)

Day 1, Feast of Zol: 476

I am Nevet, eldest relative to this year’s First Gift-Giver, and by custom, the official record keeper for the Feast of Zol: 476.

Morning

Tomma, is excited. Tonight she will present the First Gift of Zol. Earlier, Fantha, one of the elders, completed the ceremonial Pronouncement. He seemed oddly distracted, but proceeded to bless Tomma and anoint her with Ubrium water. Right now she is in Albat’s hut drinking duvia juice to dampen tonight’s pain, but she smiled when I touched her shoulder. I am proud of Tomma. None of my kind have ever been chosen as Givers, and I think that knowledge weighs heavily on my sister. She will conduct herself bravely when the time comes to present the Gift.

Mid-Day

The community is excited, and more than a few children have stopped me to display their feasting clothes. I think they want me to describe every detail of their ceremonial dress in the written record, but that is not my task. I smile and compliment their pretty colors. It is now after midday and I have not seen Tomma leave Albat’s hut. I will go there and check on her soon. Duvia juice will deaden pain, but it also takes the wakefulness from anyone who drinks too much. I am sure that is what has happened, as my sister is not a large person, and she only sips lightly of the juice during her monthly bleed. I have just returned from the rock ring beyond the trees where firewood has been stacked and the large pot stands erect. All is proceeding as it should.

As I thought, my sister was asleep. Albat has drawn a line along the top of Tomma’s left wrist, and Junbin has gathered clean rags for bandages after her presentation. Already I smell fire from the stone ring in the clearing, and others are beginning to gather. Soon, I am to escort my sister in procession with the elders and present her to the people as the Giver of the First Gift of Zol: 476. Then I will have Taka bread with blood butter, and I will proudly eat of the stew made with Tomma’s flesh, as it is commanded we do in remembrance of Zol. This is a great day for my kind!

Pre-Ceremony

There is a problem. I am at Albut’s hut and Ganna, an elder, is here. He has challenged the First Gift of Zol! Tomma is calm, but that is also the work of the duvia juice. Junbin has gone to get more elders. Ganna does not think our kind is capable of presenting a Gift worthy of Zol. He even said he will not eat of Tomma’s Gift, should she be allowed to proceed. That is forbidden! Other elders have emerged from the stone rings and are hurrying here now.

Good news: The elders have commanded that Ganna must accept the First Gift of Zol with the rest of us. No child of Zol is inferior to another, and the honor was bestowed upon Tomma lawfully. I have dashed back to my hut to get my ceremonial Feast Cloth.

Post-Ceremony

First Night was not well attended. I am unsure as to why, but many of the people claimed hardship and remained in their huts. Excuse from the Feast is granted for illness, but why so many? I have never seen such a thing before. Has the tongue of Ganna sickened them all? It is late, and Tomma is asleep. Her arm will heal, provided she survives, and her missing hand will be a mark of great standing with the people. The celebrants remain in the stone rings even now, but I am home with my sister. She moans, so I give her duvia juice soaked on a cloth to suckle. I will get little sleep.

Day 2, Feast of Zol: 476

Morning

Tomma shakes with fever. I have asked Junbin to bring an elder, but he has not returned. They were up very late arguing with Ganna and his followers. I have heard raised voices from nearby huts this morning, as well. Fantha has told me there is anger in many hearts, and this during the Feast of Zol. Such sacrilege! Vestria is chosen to present her Gift to Zol tonight. I saw her enter her brother’s hut with a skin of duvia juice in preparation. Tomma is waking now.

Mid-Day

Albut has gone to see what has happened to Junbin, and she, too has been gone a long time. Tomma awakened only briefly. She is in great pain, but she tried to smile when she looked at her bandages. I am so proud of her! I gave her more duvia juice and she is asleep again, but she sweats heavily. I did not tell her of Ganna or of those who joined with his disobedience during the feast. I say disobedience, for what else can it be? Once an elder confirms this, I will record the names in this record of all those who willfully insulted Zol, as is my duty. I see Junbin running this way across the clearing.

Pre-Ceremony

Ganna has left the people, and twenty others, including two more elders, have joined with him! That is almost half our number! He has declared the Feast of Zol: 476 an abomination, and he has threatened violence if it continues. I record this treachery with deep sorrow, and will find out more when I can. The remaining faithful are leaving for the stone rings, but I am excused by custom to look after my sister. Junbin wanted to stay with me, but I told him he must lawfully attend the feast. What will the elders do if Ganna returns?

Post-Ceremony

It is late. I heard screams from the stone ring a while ago, but that is not unusual when a Gift is presented. I can see sparks rising into the sky, and I hear the sacred chants rise and fall with the breeze. Everything seems as it should, and I have heard no other disconcerting sounds. Tomma seems very pale and I am worried for her.

Day 3, Feast of Zol: 476

Mid-Day

I have been unable to find the strength to commit my observations to writing until now. Tomma is dead. So is Albut, Junbin and many others. I here now record treason and blasphemy against Zol the Almighty: The Elders Ganna, Fantha and Dor have damned themselves. I saw with my own eyes early this morning as they led Grawseth, with his son Bethe, Torreth, Gnal, Sherpida, Esmaldia and Kurth from the stone ring. They marched in a line and angled their right hands into the air, chanting “Zol, Giver of the Right, we are your chosen!” Shankskins all! I know other traitors remain behind at the fire, but I do not know for sure their identities. When I saw Ganna’s group approach, I tried to pick Tomma up. She was wheezing, and I could not get very far before they caught me. Ganna ripped my sister from my arms, threw her to the ground, and stomped on her chest. Right now I am sitting in Fantha’s hut. He is whispering to someone outside.

Fantha has released me into the hands of Zol, and I am free to hide in the wilderness, but I must never return to the place of my people. Before I left, he did a puzzling thing. He gave me the sacred paper, on which all our Feast of Zol is based. It is very old and faded, but it is the word of the prophet Ohn, 653, and all that can be read is: “Verily I say…eat of my flesh…drink of my blood…” The very words spoken by the Gift-Giver every Night of Zol. Why Fantha has given me this paper, and allowed me to keep the Holy records? Perhaps some good remains in his heart.

Evening, the final day of The Feast of Zol: 476

It is night and I have traveled many hours. I rest on a green hill and grieve now for my sister, and for all those who rightfully worshiped in peace. It is the final night of the Feast of Zol: 476, and I have made a decision which must be recorded. The moon is glinting on my knife, and a small fire burns near by. I have no Taka bread, no blood-butter, no skin of duvia juice, and I have not been formally anointed as a Gift Giver. But I believe I will be forgiven. I, Nevet, will make sacrifice in His holy name. I will have meat, and tomorrow Zol will grant me strength, and He will shape the arc of my righteous blade, and lead Ganna to eternal damnation.


Great work, Brad!

Wow. I really enjoyed that one! I loved the way the tension builds, and I love Nevet’s choice at the end – what else was he going to do? Our beliefs can become so engrained in us that we ignore all reason and logic in order to make sure they’re not challenged.

Please be sure to check out Brad’s work, from fiction to photography and cartooning, on his site cratersofthesun.blog.

One Final Ask

If you enjoy reading these stories, or you get value out of the weekly articles I write, please consider supporting Brandoia any way that you can. From sharing the site with friends to monetary donations, anything you can do is greatly appreciated.

Tomorrow’s Thoughts for Thursday will be about trust, so make sure to check back for that. Thanks again for reading and for your support!

2 thoughts on “Writers’ Wednesday: Flash Fiction Challenge 2 Results

  1. Loved your story, Brandon. I’m making a tinfoil hat right now, and not just because of Target data. Washington State is testing milage tracking as a per-mile tax to replace the current state gas tax. Tracking is part of the deal, otherwise the state would overcharge you for trips to Oregon, Idaho and beyond. ..loved the pacing of your narration and the thoroughly convincing sources!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s