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The Teacher and The SurMon

A coin met fingers between the fabric of pockets and the cooled metal began to warm at the touch. The bell rang and Mr. Lamb was standing hunched over his desk. He looked up from the wood grain he pretended to study, seeing his classroom empty. Digits returned their attention to the coin, feeling the same imprint on each side. His eyes shifted to a note printed with neat letters on the board: “Dismissed when test is turned in on my desk.”

No other classes were scheduled today and Mr. Lamb took the coin out of his pocket. He looked at it, checking the shining surface for any lint. Positioning it in his hand, he gave it a flip toward a pre-determined result. The coin spun fast enough to appear like a sphere against the still classroom. It fell toward his hand as he caught and clasped the coin with a sigh. A standard camera, placed in each classroom, watched him. His eyes glossed, ignoring camera and coin.

On a nearby block, a tall, grey building housing a museum had stood long enough to display some weathering along its concrete edges. A glass door serving as both exit and entrance opened to release one visitor. Mr. Miles began his short walk back to his office on an adjacent street, sorting painting subjects he had witnessed from which to draw inspiration until he was satisfied with his mental notes. His hand checked a pocket for his phone, extracting it. He dismissed a social message about a card game after work tonight.

Navigating through the display, Mr. Miles opened up a surveillance monitoring application. Tapping the screen, the SurMon logo replaced everything while the app loaded. He glanced up to check his surroundings, finding the usual nothing out of the ordinary. His eyes returned to a dark screen, reflecting his balding head before displaying a user interface with the message, “Welcome back, Detective Miles.” Another tap navigated to a user interface communicating everything the way he left it: All clear. With nothing of note, he put his phone away and continued the remaining distance to his office uninterrupted.

Mr. Miles arrived at a muted brown office building tucked between more interesting places. A law enforcement sign designated the use of the building, with smaller letters declaring “Local SaaS”. He scanned his badge in a conspicuous area and entered while his phone sounded a notification. Extracting his phone as the door closed behind him, no one else looked up from their work. Another glance to the screen displayed the words “Missing Person Likely.”

The phone glowed to continue displaying the notification and Mr. Miles navigated to Mr. Lamb’s Citizen Profile. He observed several things about his new subject: A long residence in the area, no prior record, two decades experience of teaching. Still in the entryway, he stepped to the side while a few colleagues moved to exit the building. His attention was back to his phone before they reached the door. An extra measure of precision guided his fingertip to highlight the school on the map, noting it as the same place the teacher had gone missing. His forehead wrinkled. He tapped the school again, bringing up a menu with a messaging option. Fingers moved to type out a quick text: “We’ve received an alert from your school. Requesting student attendance records for Lamb, Danny.”

Pocketing the phone again, Mr. Miles moved from his peripheral position and exited the building. No one else looked up from their work. His phone managed its way back into his hand by the time the door closed behind him. “Just be good,” he mumbled to himself as his thumb hovered over an icon noting unread social messages. A notification from the SurMon app popped up at the top of the screen and he tapped it without hesitation. “All students are in attendance today. To confirm, our alert is for Mr. Lamb.”

“Confirmed,” replied Mr. Miles, weighing possibilities between lost or abducted. As his thoughts wandered, his eyes stared at nothing. Procedure: The word arrived before he could get too carried away with himself. He looked back at the screen, still glowing. The user interface displayed a map point with some other options below it: “Dismiss”, “Alert”, “Dispatch”. He tapped “Dispatch” and a list of several more options replaced the map. His mind wandered back to the paintings he had seen before returning to the matter at hand and selecting “Search & Rescue” from the list.

A self-driving car pulled up to the side of the road, opening an automated door. Mr. Miles entered the vehicle, observing the others on his law enforcement team were already confirming their presence at the scene. The car maneuvered through a few traffic lights while he reviewed the facts so far. He produced a notepad and a pencil from another pocket and made a few notes. The car stopped and he exited, making his way toward the school.

Another glance at the phone displayed an update: “Missing Person – Found.” Mr. Miles slowed his pace while an expression of concern mixed with caution crossed his face. He double-checked the update, matching the name beneath listed to the person missing earlier. The automated door to the school opened and he entered a foyer with an adjacent front office displaying the usual, “Attention all visitors: Please check in at the front office.”

“Police,” Mr. Miles announced in accordance with the law. A camera watched from some unobserved space. He searched for his badge, finding it in a lone jacket pocket before adding, “I’m Detective Miles.”

A one-way mirror adorned the office. Mr. Miles watched a light on the door to the rest of the school go from red to green. His reflection showed his tall figure holding the badge toward it. Putting away the badge, another check of his phone showed an option for additional details by tapping the word “Found.” The map changed to show a path in the school to the updated location. It read, “Living Facilities – Entertainment.”

Quiet, digital sounds from the arcade machine speckled the room. Mr. Lamb hunched over its black casing, ignoring some sixties-era lettering overhead while he moved a key card toward a door using the singular joystick to dodge faster action from abstract shapes of various colors. Several pairs of footsteps sounded behind him. A camera in the room recorded several officers wearing black jackets with the words “Search & Rescue” printed in letters too large to be comfortable across each torso as they entered the room. He did not look up from his progress in the game while one of the officers rattled off some statutory jargon. A button met his finger a little late and his character on screen disappeared before the screen went dark.


The word appeared in glowing letters across the darkened screen with a countdown timer. 10.

Discontent expressed itself on Mr. Lamb’s face. 9. He turned to the responding group with a neutral look.

“Mr. Lamb?” asked the same officer. 5.

“That’s me. You can call me Danny, if you like.”

“I was saying, we received an alert that you’re missing.”

Mr. Lamb looked back at the game, seeing the timer display “0”. The digital sounds continued to emanate their low tones from the arcade case. Returning his attention to the officer he mentioned, “I was lost.”

“Are you aware of where you are, sir? This is the employment’s living community where your residence is located, isn’t it?”

Mr. Lamb looked around the room. “Yes,” he started. He swallowed, breathing. “Yes, it can be so dangerous in public, though. Having you guys around sure makes it easier.”

“We appreciate that, sir. If you wouldn’t mind answering the question?”

“I’m at West High School campus, in the Living Facilities building, Entertainment room. Do you guys like arcade games?”

Some other officers nodded, but the interrogating officer continued. “And you’re okay? Nobody dangerous hiding from us in the shadows, keeping you here?”

“Not at all,” answered Mr. Lamb. “Feel free to check the cameras, but I’m doing fine. Just catching up on video games.”

A series of tones overtook the sounds from the game’s title screen as Mr. Miles entered the room to join the rest of his team. “Another call, sir,” a third officer announced.

“Well, we just wanted to check on you. That’s another call, so if you could mention this as a false alarm to the appropriate TechOps Admin, it would really help reduce the paperwork on our end.”

“And, we can’t be too careful with our use of paperwork when it comes to the environment, can we, Mr. Lamb?” added Mr. Miles.

“I suppose not,” Mr. Lamb remarked.

“You suppose?”

“Detective Miles, we need to get going, sir. Catch up with us?” asked the interrogating officer.

“Sure. I’ll see about submitting the report myself.”

The other officers exited the room to go about their duty. Mr. Miles flashed a smile, asking, “You didn’t kidnap yourself, did you?”

Mr. Lamb’s expression changed before regaining its composure. “I’m sure you’re aware via whatever facial recognition app your team uses that you and I are alone in this room. But I do need your help.”

“My help? I heard you confirm your sensory awareness. You know where you are now, why didn’t you say something about it to them?”

“You heard them yourself, they got another call. I’ve been hiding in here because someone tried to abduct me. The system must have lost my location when they broke into my place. I had to hide.”

“And, what if I were to check the cameras?”

“You’ll see exactly what I mean. Although, there aren’t cameras inside the rooms. Not yet, anyway.”

Mr. Miles studied the teacher, their tired eyes meeting. “Then why claim you were lost?”

Mr. Lamb waited.

With a scowl, Mr. Miles looked away at nothing in particular while he waited for an answer to his question. The ever-flashing, color-changing screen of the arcade game caught his attention and he turned back to Mr. Lamb as something clicked. “Let me escort you back to your room.”

“Thank you,” answered Mr. Lamb, communicating the sentiment with a humble bow of his head. The detective followed him to his room.

Mr. Lamb entered a code, opening the door. Mr. Miles entered first. The room was in disarray: overturned tables, broken glass and a chair sticking sideways out of an outdated sheet rock wall. Torn papers were strewn across the carpet, too.

“Is this the usual décor?” asked Mr. Miles.

“We had a struggle. I managed to keep a distance by throwing the glass table, but it didn’t stop more damage to the room. That’s when they threw the chair at me, but it hit the wall. I went for the table that had all the papers on it and threw it at them without looking back. Then I ran to the arcade room and hid between some machines. That’s when you guys showed up. Or at least, the other guys. I think the intruder had a way to watch me on the cameras.”

“Why do you think they had a way to watch you on the cameras?”

“I’ve been coming home to find things in places I didn’t leave them,” Mr. Lamb looked over the mess about the room before watching the detective. “After school’s over, there’s still homework to grade so I’m never home at consistent times. I don’t know how else they would have known.”

The evidence remained to present itself. Mr. Miles studied it with care. With an extra measure of caution, he picked some words from among the data. “So, someone tried to abduct you, you escaped and lost them while getting lost yourself, then decided to play a video game? I’m partial to card games myself,” he looked to the former missing person. “But, what kind of game are you playing now?”

The unclear sound of something settling or someone shifting reached them from a darkened bedroom with the door opened a space, causing both of them to look toward the doorway.

“Game?” Mr. Lamb asked. “Why do you think I needed you looking after me back here?”

“I didn’t see any pets or roommates on your Citizen Profile. Anything to declare now?”

Mr. Lamb shook his head, watching the detective.

“Does this intruder of yours have a gender?”

“I didn’t get a clear look.”

The two of them exchanged glances, with each one communicating some unspoken combination concerning safeness and being responsible. Mr. Miles entered the room, moving his hand to a pocket. Mr. Lamb followed him.

“You might want to keep a distance,” cautioned Mr. Miles. Extending his hand through the opening, the detective searched for a switch. “You got a light switch in this room?”

“I want to catch this guy as much as you do,” answered Mr. Lamb from close behind the detective.

Mr. Miles halted the unseen search to glance behind his personal space, catching a look at the room without observing any particular details. A quick movement gave the detective no time for reaction among recalculations and everything went dark.

An engine running became apparent. Images of paintings from earlier in the day surfaced among other associations and darkness still surrounded Mr. Miles as he tried to move. Something stopped him. The absence of pain formed a detail in his mind.

“Hello?” asked Mr. Miles. “Hello? I need help. I can’t move.”

“Trusting, aren’t we?” Mr. Lamb remarked from somewhere unseen.

Mr. Miles swallowed the words in his mouth, waiting.

“I mean, I trust you because you’re in a box in my trunk. No need to get claustrophobic, though; the trunk itself has plenty of room. I suppose the box might be an issue, but no one else has complained yet. In any case, seems awfully trusting to me.”

“Why am I in a box?” during each word spoken, Mr. Miles attempted to move his limbs. Only the borders of the box bound him.

“Better than a coffin, isn’t it?”

“You don’t have to do this. You can still let me go.”

“Relax, okay? Your friends in forensics will find you. Eventually. But students need their test cases, don’t they?”

“You’re going to kill me?” Mr. Miles checked the borders of the box. His hands located a loose top, removing it with minimal noise as Mr. Lamb answered:

“I haven’t killed you yet. Why would I kill you now?”

“But that doesn’t really answer my—”

“No, and I’m not going to kill you, either. They said you’d been on the main police force a bit too long. Still, your fixation on death is surprising to me. Maybe get that checked. You and I are only testing the system, after all. What kind of lesson would the system learn if one of us kills the other?”

Movement slowed while Mr. Lamb maneuvered the car to a stop, parking it. He left the detective’s smashed phone under his seat and exited the car.

The sun had set and stars littered the night sky on the city outskirts. Outside the car, Mr. Lamb leaned against the rear passenger window with a hand in his pocket. Metal warmed with some ease from a combination of the evening air and his body temperature through teaching attire. The man inside the trunk mumbled some choices of words the man outside heard and ignored. Grasping the coin, it again exited the pocket.

“Would you like to make a wager, Mr. Miles?”

“I try to avoid most gambles these days,” dismissed the detective from inside the trunk. His arms managed movement of a hand to where his phone had been earlier, finding it empty.

“Sure, you do,” the teacher encouraged. “Don’t tell me you’d shy away from a simple bet?”

“What kind of bet?”

“I bet I can call this coin. If I don’t, I’ll let you out.”

A pause occurred while Mr. Lamb waited and Mr. Miles considered his options. “If I were only to hear the result from you, you could call it whatever you wanted and I wouldn’t be able to see the result. Why would a coin flip matter?”

The sound of fingernail striking metal resonated, launching the coin into the air. The object fell back into Mr. Lamb’s hand, caught. “Both sides of the coin are the same, so of course the result doesn’t matter,” he pocketed the coin again. “And if results don’t matter, do tests?”

“But how did you trigger the system? How did you manage to get me in here?” Protests of other usual grievances followed from the trunk. The teacher accepted the result and began to walk home without listening to any further words from the detective.

Home was a distance away from here. The distance shortened with each step. Several public transportation options were close to shorten the commute without a car. Some more paces yielded a passing police vehicle stopping a length ahead of Mr. Lamb. He slowed his approach without coming to a complete stop. Allowing himself a deep breath, he continued.

The police vehicle rolled down a window and Mr. Lamb began to pass it. He walked a little more before stopping as an officer spoke up from inside the car, “Hey, just checking to make sure you are safe tonight.”

“I’m safe,” Mr. Lamb affirmed with a slow movement to his pocket, removing the coin to present it in his open palm. He watched himself position the coin and give it a flip. It spun overhead, falling until the teacher caught it again.

“Care to call it?”

“Not really, duty calls and all that.”

Mr. Lamb sighed, looking at the road behind him. “SurMon doesn’t keep anyone safe.”

The officer poked his head out the window. “Are you that missing teacher from earlier today?”

“Sure. Thanks for finding me.”

“You know, a colleague said their detective friend never showed up for cards tonight.”

“That’s too bad. He must be busy.”

“Word is, he never misses a game,” explained the officer. “Now, he’s been reported missing.”

“That so?”

“Sure is. He was looking after you, the last time we heard anything from him. Would you mind answering a few questions about that for us, teacher?”

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