Monday, July 4, 2011

Precious Cargo

Image Credit: extranoise via Flickr

aghavan walked to his desk dressed in a white bathrobe. He pressed a button and a monitor sprung up on his desk and lit up. It seemed to be a busy day ahead for the Minister of Transportation.

An instant message popped up from his daughter Manju in Cleveland. She had moved to the United States with her husband, an American citizen about a year ago. Raghavan opened the message—‘Please send a bottle of spicy mango pickles!’

Even in this day and age, certain products have to be ordered from the source, thought Raghavan. 

“Send to secretary!”

The message was automatically forwarded by the machine to his secretary, an autonomous software agent. The secretary, a holographic 3D avatar appeared before him.

“Sure sir. I will place an order today. You have a video conference with the Prime Minister on the transport budget coming up in half hour.”

“Yes, thanks. Can you organize all files related to that meeting? I will be back in a few minutes.”

Raghavan walked into an adjoining room while the secretary automatically placed an order for a bottle of spicy cut mango pickles and paid for it using Raghavan’s credit card. She received an acknowledgement of the transaction and a message confirming delivery within two hours was automatically sent to Manju.

* * *
“What are the growth plans for this year?” asked the Prime Minister who also held the Finance portfolio.

“We are asking for a twenty percent increase in budget this year. A majority of the increase can be funded from the carbon credits account and additional taxes for those using traditional means of transportation. About ten percent would have to come from other sources.”

 “The additional taxes for traditional transport will be a hit with the masses. I am all for it. What does this do to the infrastructure?”

“The Indian network is already saturated and we are only going to be adding very few nodes. The improvement plan is focused on connecting China and Africa with better routes. This improvement will bring in internetwork transit fees as revenues. We should have a payback within nine months.”

“Fantastic. Let us go ahead.”

* * *
Fred Gusteau parked his vintage 2020 Harley Davidson and walked into the night club. The man he was to meet that evening was sitting at a booth, shifting in his seat restlessly.

“You are late!” he said, looking up at Fred.

“Do you have what I had asked for?”

“It took me a lot of work to find this for you. Why do you need the blueprints for?”

“Look! No questions…”

“That’s fine by me. Do you have the money?”

Fred pushed a fat brown envelope towards him. He picked it up and opened it to check its contents. He quickly flipped through the currency notes. Satisfied with it, he pulled out a small package from his jacket and handed it over to Fred.

“Thanks.” Fred left the club.

* * *
The Interpol cabinet meeting was in session. Chief Detective Dominick Melloul was making a presentation.

“A few hours ago, we detected an unidentified computer plugged into the grid. It is an illegal untrusted node. We were able to grab some of the data packets transmitted by it. We traced the location of that computer and our agents found this man—Fred Gusteau—who was killed in the ensuing gunfight. He is a known anarchist and wanted by governments all over the world. We found these on the computer we recovered from his hideout.”

The screen displayed a scanned image of an old blueprint of the Physical Interconnect.

“The current generation of the Physical Interconnect that is operational is in its fourth generation. The original Physical Interconnect, as you all know, was commissioned more than half a century ago. It revolutionized logistics and transportation and we take the conveniences offered by it for granted. The Interconnect was envisioned as an open network of nodes and tubes used for transporting physical goods in standard secure canisters. Just like the Digital Internet of the twentieth century, the Interconnect used routing algorithms and an open architecture to make scalable global physical object transport possible.”

The audience listened intently.

“Each time the Interconnect was upgraded, some parts of the older version were decommissioned. Some countries that did not have the resources to disconnect didn’t bother and left the old routes unused. These unused routes offered surreptitious entry into the current Interconnect, but were thwarted by the sentries that we introduced in the new Interconnects. The sentries detected any canisters entering from the old routes and destroyed them. We thought the Interconnect was secure, until now!”

“At 0600 Hours today, our sentries detected thirty unidentified bogies inside the Interconnect. But they failed to destroy them. Our Network operations command monitors the sentries and found the sudden spike of failures by sentries to be abnormal. We were able to identify that these canisters were inserted into the Physical Interconnect from an abandoned network segment in the Swiss Alps by Fred Gusteau’s men. They are currently zipping through the Interconnect in what appears to be a randomly chosen route.”

“Do we know what is in these canisters?” asked a cabinet member.

“We think we do. We managed to stop one of these canisters by sheer chance and found what appears to be radioactive Plutonium based nuclear bomb armed with a detonator. We don’t know what its final destination is. The canisters seem to be changing it between each hop to evade detection. We also found drawings for a nuclear explosive device from Fred Gusteau’s hideout. There are 29 more of these in transit. So, we are still at risk.”

 “What are our options?” asked another member.

“Short of ordering a full ground stop, we have only one other way…”

Detective Melloul proceeded to explain the plan.

* * *
The canisters were laid out on the desk in two separate piles. Melloul explained how their plan worked to the head of Interpol.

 “The first pile consists of the bombs. They have all been defused and disabled now. We identified the packages from their abnormal behavior of changing their destination between each hop. All we had to do was record the destination of a canister at two consecutive hops and we could find out the mischievous bogies by checking if their destinations were different. Once we found them, we changed their destination so that all those canisters came to us.”

“So, what is in the second pile?”

“Well, it turns out these were other genuine canisters that had their destinations changed in transit. Retail companies keep some stock circulating between their warehouses and change the delivery address for the canister in transit that is closest to the destination to speed up delivery. Our algorithm picked up these false positives. Senders have been notified that their shipments have been damaged in transit”

Melloul opened a canister. It contained a bottle of spicy cut mango pickles.

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