The Defence Science Technology Laboratory's Future Threat Understanding and Disruption (FTUD) programme aims to ensure that UK Defence and Security decision makers “understand the potential impact of emerging technologies to reduce the likelihood of future technological ‘shocks’ and enable MOD to be better prepared to make timely decisions to respond to and counter future threats”.
Aleph Insights approached me with the idea of writing interactive speculative fiction for the programme, and together we won a contract for doing so. The Data Drought is an example, a story set in the near future in which you are asked to make decisions on behalf of both a British diplomat stationed in Oslo and a Russian commander just over the northern border. Here's the intro. The rest is available to be read here.
“Thirsty? You will be.”
The Nordic post was supposed to come as a respite after the searing mess of Syria, but when everyone at the ambassadorial reception in Oslo receives the same phantom message, it becomes clear this is the beginning of a major cyber offensive and it falls to Martin Shawcross, the UK’s Defence Attache, to coordinate British interaction with the Norwegians. Whitehall is pointing the finger at Russia, but the Kremlin denies any involvement, state channels insisting they too are victims of the attack. But then, as data sources continue to fall - affecting everything from finance to playlists, news feeds to personal information, radar systems to armament logistics - Shawcross receives word of a Russian report stating NATO missiles are arriving on its remote northern border with Norway, which the Kremlin is treating as an act of aggression.
But in a world of scrambled information, where all digital communication has been rendered unreliable, can he be sure it’s true? Are the Russians creating an excuse for conflict? Or are Shawcross’s own people pulling the strings in an attempt to bring the Kremlin to heel?
The drought plunges him into a flood of doubt and questions. But of all of them, there’s only one that really matters: What would you do?
And not only as Shawcross. Family-man and unquestioningly loyal patriot, Major Vladimir Metzinoff is stationed on the Russian side of the border when he receives word that missiles are being positioned just a hundred kilometers away from his base. The borders have been closed, radars can no longer be trusted, drones are resisting guidance and satellite feeds have been disabled. Despite a scout team failing to find physical evidence of the armaments, the Kremlin maintains that the drought is part of a NATO offensive to bring Russia to its knees and written word is passed down to ready the base for pre-emptive cross-border action.
But as the base scrambles to prepare non-digital systems of attack, Metzinoff receives a communique that makes him think twice.
In the shadow of ever-diminishing sources of reliable information, both men are forced to contend with a series of decisions that could bring their countries into armed conflict as they question who is behind the offensive and whether, in the face of compromised national security, it even matters.