Courtesy Call

Short Fiction


Laston Kirkland


“Sir, this is Officer Bluson of the Happy Valley Police Department. We noticed you are carrying a model Saiga semi-automatic assault rifle and walking down a public street towards town.”

“It’s my right. I don’t need a licence because it isn’t concealed. I’m carrying this rifle wherever I go!”

“Absolutely, Sir.”

“You can’t stop me! As long as I don’t go near to a school or into a private establishment! I know my–  What did you say?”

“I said, Absolutely. We won’t stop you.”

“You won’t?”


“Uh, Why?”

“The police force recently purchased nine Aeolia hydrogen drones, each with camera systems. And Argus system software. Six of them are slowly circling above of us right now. According to my screen, all of them can currently see you. They recognized the rifle, it triggered a flag, which is why we chose to call you.”

“Why did you call if you weren’t going to take it away then?”

“As a personal courtesy, and to warn you. While the weapon is visible, the drones have you in target sights as standard procedure. Should the rifle appear to be “brandished” or should the subroutines determine you are acting in an overly hostile manner, the drones will alert the officers on duty, and we will have to make a ‘fire’ decision. We will probably dispatch a patrol car first.  –If it looks like we have time.”

“Wait a minute, let me make sure I understand this. As long as I carry this rifle, you are pointing a sniper gun at me?”

“Yes, Sir. In this case, six of them. Also long range rubber rounds. And four taser net rounds report they have a lock. It’s a small town. Not much happening today. You are getting a lot of attention.”

“What? How?”

“The new Argus software can handle several thousand simultaneous targets without effort. It’s directly tied into the Aeolia drones which have quite a collection of weapons and sensors. The drones can float up there for about nine months before needing to be serviced, using solar panels for power and artificial photosynthesis cells to convert water into hydrogen for the gasbag. Every now and then they skim a lake to refuel. Mostly we only ground them to reload the ammunition.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Which part, Sir?” the officer asked pleasantly.

“You can’t just arbitrarily point weapons at people!”

“Technically, the weapons are at rest and not actually pointed at you, just the targeting system. However, if we give the go-ahead, that changes fast.”

“You can’t let a robot shoot people just for pointing a weapon!”

“No Sir. We have officers at computer monitors, watching live streaming video, seamlessly connecting to every other camera in our network. We would be the ones shooting. A lot like my game controller at home. Remarkable how smoothly I can pan and zoom the cameras.”

“That’s– That’s horrible!”

“Well, Sir, look at it this way. If we pull our own service revolvers, Argus instantly targets us as well. Lots of cameras on police in the field now. With Argus, we should have a lot fewer reasons to use a gun at all.


“Just so you know, we have tied Argus automatically into the detection of your cell phone signal. Your movements will now be tracked wherever you go within city limits. That’s going to last for thirty days, due to the visible firearm, after which a review will be made on whether to continue.”

“I am a law-abiding citizen! You can’t do that!”

“Actually, Sir, your record shows ten arrests over the last six years, all for disturbing the peace. All involving constitutional rights. And all resulting in misdemeanor charges and a little jail time. Technically, you are still on probation. We can do that. And we just did.”

“But I have done nothing wrong!”

“We know Sir. However, we felt it was important to let you know where you currently stand. At this moment, Happy Valley has over five hundred interest targets that the Argus system is tracking. While I am talking to you, I’m also tracking a couple kids climbing over fences, one after another. We will send a patrol car to talk to them. A partner I sit next to is making a call to a person dumping his truck-load of old appliances on an empty road.

“It’s really the same thing as a patrol officer seeing you, but why use a patrol car, when we have Argus? And why should we put an officer in harm’s way, when we can simply call you?”

“Wait a minute. How did you get this phone number, anyway?”

“Well, Sir, once you were spotted, I ran the recording back while following the various feeds to where you got out of your car. I then referenced your licence plate. Your phone number was on file. We could have triangulated your cell phone signal and used the SIM Card identification to determine who you were. But tracing back the licence plate was faster, and we didn’t have to contact the cell company.

“Or we could have run it through a face recognition program, that’s getting fewer false positives than it used to. Records show your wallet has an RFID chip on your driver’s licence, but you haven’t passed a reader since Saturday, so that wouldn’t have helped that much. We used that method to find the names of the kids hopping fences, their school ID’s have radio emitters in them, and we ran tape back till they came out of the mall. They passed a reader that tagged their names there, and the time stamp positively identified them. I’ll probably be the one to call their parents.”

“You are recording all this stuff?”

“Argus keeps all information. Our own office has a Yotabank, and it’s tied into and sharing drive space with every other Argus equipped station in the country. Every camera on every street corner, the drones, the ones in all official vehicles, all hooked up to Argus. All officers are required to carry a camera while on duty, also hooked to Argus. We now record everything.”

“Wait. Can I see this information?”

“You can legally request any recordings if you wish. Any public location, at any time since Argus has gone live is now available on request. There is a fee. A lot of businesses will probably use the data. I suspect Arguscorp will become very large, very fast.”

“Wow. This is monstrous. What about non-public information, can Argus see my backyard?”

“Yes. However all designated private locations are blacked out before information is released to private entities. If you can prove a location is your property, Argus will release data to you.”

“But I don’t want them recording that in the first place!”

“Sorry, Sir. If it can be seen from a plane or public area, it will be recorded. All we currently promise is we cannot request Argus give us information on a private location without a court order or a crime being committed, like the kids hopping fences.

“We aren’t going to stop the kids for a while. The department is getting a lot of interesting data from the yards they hop into. Looks like a lot of construction projects without licences on Evergreen Road. I’ll be sending those over to a building inspector this afternoon.”

“But this means from now on, you can just scroll back on a video till you see what happened! Anything in town a bird has seen, the police can too!”

“Exactly, Sir! We will also be archiving all files by location, day, month and year. We expect the drop in crime to be quite impressive. Especially once the new smaller drones come online.

“Each of those little quads will also be hooked into the Argus system, and will have an interchangeable weapon point, a taser, mechanical arm, flashing lights and a loudspeaker. If we had the little drones now, we’d send one of those after those kids, instead of a patrol car.”

“Why are you telling me all of this?”

“Well honestly, Sir, two reasons. First, I peeked at some files I’m not supposed to have access to. They plan to lay off seventy percent of the Valley police force next month, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’m a little annoyed. Second, when I looked up your file, I noticed you’ve been arrested ten times for various things that can really only be described as defying authority and demanding your rights.

”We know you are heading into town with the rifle to deliberately provoke a response. Just a few months ago, Sir, you might have gotten a response. I would not have had this file pulled up before talking to you, and might have reacted as you proceeded to needle me. You’d end up arrested, and it’s possible you could have gotten one of us to hit you a few times. Not me, Sir, but your file shows you tend to be pretty good at getting under our skin, and we have our share of hotheads.

“Frankly, Sir, I’m hoping you will take this info and raise a hell of a stink. I’m not personally scheduled for a layoff this round, but most patrol officers are. I’ve seen the list. Looks like the Happy Valley police will mainly be computer jockeys.

“The thing I want you to be aware of, and be afraid of, Sir, is that I have full access to this recorded call, and I intend to erase it. That’s the truly disturbing thing, not that I can see you. Bluson isn’t my real name. There will be no record of this call. I can do that.

“Since I am being completely honest, we had all of this before Argus, it’s just that now we can change weeks of data-sifting into seconds. No, Sir, what is new and disturbing is that while I can watch you, you can’t, in turn, watch me.

“I’m deeply concerned, Sir, because along with the layoffs, I saw the budget proposal. The plan is to buy sixty more Aeolia hydrogen drones and several thousand quadrotors for this county. The planning commission intends to consolidate them into a single data center. This call center will cover five counties. It’s only a matter of time till police enforcement isn’t even done in the same state you are in. I see Argus call centers in our future, twenty of them could cover the whole country.

“What happens to your ability to talk to a person honestly after they lay ME off? You’d be arguing your point with someone in another state. Someone you cannot see, who can click a button, and can shoot you.

“This was a courtesy call, Sir. You have now been warned. Enjoy your semi-automatic rifle.” (Click.)

Author Bio:

Laston Kirkland

Laston lives in a small two bedroom apartment with his wife, three daughters and an old cat.  He writes with one hand, gently holding the rest of the world at bay with the other.  He's fond of tabletop boardgames and all things nerdy.

How to cite the above article in APA format:
Kirkland, Laston. (2013).  Courtesy call.
The Journal of Social Era Knowledge, Volume 1, Issue  3.  Retrieved from

About the Artist:

Peter Gentenaar writes:  

My interest in paper started while working as a printmaker, when my engravings had such deep relief, that commercial paper could not fill it. 

I decided to make my own paper and was helped by Jo Persoon at the Royal Dutch Paper Factory, KNP. He taught me about beaters for making paper pulp and vacuum systems to suck water out of pulp, to make paper. The laboratory beater I used was unable to process long fibers, so I built a beater of my own design. 

A paper sheet is thin and strong and, reinforced with very thin ribs of bamboo, can be compared to a leaf. By beating pulp a long time, an extraordinary play of forces occurs during the drying process of my paper sculpture. The paper shrinks considerably, up to 40%, and the force of this puts the non-shrinking bamboo framework under stress, just as a leaf when it drys. 

My sculptures start as totally 2-dimensional, colored sheets of pulp laying on my vacuumtable. The forms in my work are caused by pulp drying and shrinking in unison. The simplicity of the material, which is the carrier, the color, the texture and the form, in one, makes working with it wonderful and direct. 

To bring paper art to the public and to be inspired by fellow paper artists, I instigated the Holland Paper Biennial in Museum Rijswijk and CODA, Apeldoorn. With friends, Pat and I have published seven books with the first seven Biennials.

To learn more about this fascinating artwork or to reach the artist, Peter can be reached through his website at the following URL: