Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
Sheffield Wednesday FC were on the verge of relegation. Again. A disappointing season beset with injuries, drug scandals, and ungentlemanly conduct was finally coming to an end. Fans were abandoning them and home-games were played to a half empty stadium. With revenue down and shareholders revolting, I was brought in to fix things. Because I'm a martyr for lost causes.
"You've all seen Moneyball, right?" The assembled heads nodded as my PowerPoint flashed up a still from the Brad Pitt movie. "Yeah," I said, "you're not looking for athletic ability - you're looking for 'runs on base', right?"
"That's bullshit though. Utter crap. Makes for a good movie but, ladies and gentlemen, this is real life. The one thing that piss-poor excuse for a film got right was that sports teams need to be data driven. And I have just the solution for you."
I began to strip.
In earlier pitches, I'd been wearing quick-release stripper clothes. One quick tug and they came off. It looked impressive, but it rather undermined the demo. Instead, I unbuttoned my blouse while I spoke.
"We now have the technology to give coaches and managers precise data about their players." I slipped the blouse off and adjusted some of the wires poking out of my sports bra.
"Each of the electrodes you see," I gestured at the sticky patches dotted around my chest and torso, "Each of them has a unique function. With careful calibration, they can let you see inside your players."
I shimmied out of my skirt. I held them in rapt attention. My thighs and calves were similarly dotted with electrodes. A dozen years ago I'd won bronze at the Olympics and now I was running the hottest sports-tech start-up in the UK. Even after all those years, I was still fit, supple, and used to people staring at me cavorting half-naked.
They watched. Oh how they watched! I fiddled with the chunky bracelet on my wrist and the PowerPoint changed to a live view of my body. The corner showed a readout of my heart rate. A little graph in the middle showed my oxygen levels. A gauge was ticking out lactic acid build up in my major muscle groups.
"What you are seeing is live. Beamed from my body to the laptop."
With that, I started jogging on the spot. Half the eyes in the boardroom were pinned to the fluctuating numbers on screen, half on me.
"No more guessing if a player is exhausted. No annoying questions about blood-alcohol levels. No worrying if someone is going to pull a Lineker and shit on the pitch. No more guesswork."
I turned to the screen and pointed out all the major muscle groups. As I started doing plyometric squats (yes, I was that shameless) the muscles lit up on screen.
"You can track which muscles your players are over-extending. You will have a complete insight into their physiology throughout a game."
I spent the rest of the presentation doing various exercises, holding my breath, deliberately overextending myself. By the end of the pitch I was a sweaty mess. So were the board members.
The players had taken less convincing than the board. They knew what relegation meant for their careers and for their reputations. No one wanted to finish the season on a low note. I gave them the strip-show demo anyway, it felt like the least I could do. There were a few grumbles about privacy, but I assured them that our encryption was state of the art. Besides, the board had voted. They were doing this.
"What on earth is he thinking?" Hollered the commentator. "A substitution this early in the game?"
The coach wasn't thinking. He was staring at his tablet and seeing that Number 9 was running on fumes. Better to sub now rather than let him hold the rest of the team back. Injuries were quickly spotted and corrected for. Players were subtly instructed when to slow down and reoxygenate. It worked. Sure, it was only a 1 all draw, but that was a hell of a lot better than the last few games.
The rest of the season played out spectacularly. With better data and better insights the team were able to recover some of their pride. They barely avoided relegation, but that was enough for them. Our bonuses were spectacular! We were a small start-up and had just achieved our first major win. Sheffield Wednesday eagerly agreed an outrageous fee to keep our technology exclusive to them.
Halfway through the next season the team were flying. Win after win chalked up. We were all riding high. Until the penalty shoot-out disaster.
It had been a difficult game. The data enhanced Wednesday were usually better than this. Something was going wrong. Our boys were getting frustrated and those frustrations turned into dangerous tackles and those turned into penalties. Our goalie missed every single one. Dejected, we watched the data back to see what had gone wrong. Nothing out of the ordinary that we could see. So we decided to watch the video replay to see if we could spot any clues.
There! Overlaid on the video we could see the biometric data indicating that the goalie was going to jump right. Just as their striker approached the ball we could see in the corner of the screen the opposition's coach mouthing something. Again and again it happened. Watching back the whole game with augmented reality it became clear that the opposing team were able to see inside our players. Somehow, they'd hacked our encryption!
Proving it was going to be impossible. We sent some sternly worded emails and upgraded our encryption. The next game, play returned to usual. A minor blip. Nothing to worry about.
A Chinese gambling syndicate was caught flying a drone above our games.
For months they'd been hijacking our players' biometric data and using it to gain a monumental advantage with bookmakers. They could see who was having an off day, which player was going to be subbed, and - of course - which way the goalie would jump. They were making millions off us.
So we beefed up the encryption, ran anti-drone technology, and reduced the range of the personal transmitters. Which completely solved the problem. Until the newspapers somehow hacked in.
At first it was just the usual back-page gossip. So-and-so is injured. That one can't catch his breath. The transfer price for our striker had increased because his lactic acid build-up was 7% lower than the average player. The team didn't like it, but their contracts didn't give them an easy way to refuse the technology. They were still riding high in the league and were determined to play through.
On the eve of the cup-final, a particularly vicious tabloid launched a devastating front page. They claimed that two of our player were gay and romantically linked with each other. They had biometric data which showed their heart-rate quickened whenever they looked at each other. Blood flow analysis to their groins showed definite signs of sexual arousal when they were close. The lurid headlines were backed with incontrovertible print-outs from our private data store.
The beautiful game was surprisingly tolerant and the blowback was mostly on the papers. The players were able to turn their love story into a nice splash in Hello magazine and cashed in on their celebrity coupledom. The newspaper which broke the story didn't have as much luck. They were sued for hacking and invasion of privacy. Throughout the trial, they insisted that they hadn't technically hacked anything; they'd just paid a data broker for the information. The jury didn't believe them which, I thought, was a shame. Because it was true.
Our start-up couldn't survive on the contracts of one crappy football team, so we pivoted. After realising just how valuable other teams found the data, we decided to try out luck selling it on the sly. We made fat stacks of cash providing data to gamblers, but that wasn't enough to keep our little start-up solvent. So we leaked to the papers anything juicy which would earn us enough to keep the business running. The players refused to wear the gadgets any more and, unsurprisingly, the football club cancelled our contract. So we were now free to sell the tech to other organisations.
I adjusted my sports bra and checked that my skirt was loose enough to shimmy off. I passed security and strode up the steps into the Houses of Parliament. If I could make this sale, it would make Prime Minister's Questions fun!
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.