“It's OK lady,” says the policeman, in tones usually reserved for a disconsolate child. “This stuff is always upsetting – not just for you, for everyone it happens to. We're sort of the experts in these cases.”
He sighs, and leans back from the vidscreen. “I'll try to make is as simple as I can, and don't worry if you need me to explain anything twice. Just ask.”
“Th-thanks,” sobs the young woman. “Tell me again about the pensioning thing.”
“Not pensioning, pynchoning,” corrects the policeman. “Or in your case, cross-pynchoning.”
“It's like this. Imagine a rich guy, or a rich lady. They pay to live in a gated community. They pay to drive on the priority roads, so they don't have to sit in traffic jams behind the likes of you and me. They eat in Old Dollar restaurants, not the Carbon Dollar places we go to. So they don't want to rub shoulders with us on the interwebs either.”
“What has this got to do with my pictures?” asks the woman.
“See, the rich people, they have this thing called Pry Vuh Sea...” The woman looks at him blankly.
The policeman tries again. “You know, like in the old days – when some things about people were sort of secret. Well, not exactly secret, just things you didn't tell everyone.”
“Yeah, I know it's kind of hard to take in. You and all your friends are posting pics and vids of yourself twenty-four seven, and telling each other and everyone else what you are doing and thinking and what you had for breakfast.” He pauses for effect. “And these folk are doing the opposite.”
“Thing is, everybody leaves traces on the interwebs, even if they don't mean to. But the very rich, they don't like this. They don't want to be in the same space as you, even a virtual space. It makes them feel dirty, like you touched them.”
“So they pay for a pynchoning service. Back in the twentieth, there was this writer – sort of a blogger, but on paper things called books – called Pynchon. He went to a lot of trouble to make himself disappear – found all the old paper records of himself and tore them up, stuff like that. So now they call a bot that trawls through the webs, cleaning up those traces – the billing records, the address databases, and the CCTV footage -- they call that a pynchoning service, after the writer guy. The bot just erases everything on the web that's a trace of the rich people.”
“But I'm not rich, and I haven't paid for any service,” whines the caller.
“That's what I've been trying to explain for the last half an hour. You haven't, but you look or sound like someone else who has paid for pynchoning. Enough like them for the bot to be erasing the traces of you. Maybe you've got the same name as a rich lady, or there's something similar about your behavioural footprint – the shape of the traces that you leave. Anyway, the bot has a fix on you now, and any trace you make gets rubbed out. We call it cross-pynchoning because it's like cross-fire. Nobody wanted to wipe you out, you just got caught in the cross-fire.”
“And it won't just be the pictures, I'm afraid. It's going to get worse.”
“Worse? What do you mean, worse?” asks the woman.
“It's going to be everything, I'm afraid. Your high school records. Your medical records. Your accounts. If it's still there now, it'll be gone soon. The bots have a very high level of access on all the major public servers.”
“This must be against the law! Why can't you do something?” She is gasping now, and her voice is shrill and loud.
The policeman looks embarrassed. “It's...it's a very grey area. The identity laws are mainly about theft. Somebody steals your identity to get stuff they aren't supposed to have, it's against the law. You try to use someone else's identity, it's a crime. But the law is about the deception and the thing you use it for. Identity wipe? Did anything get stolen? Did anyone lose any money that was coming to them? Nah...so no crime.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
The policeman shrugs helplessly. “Live with it. Change your name and start over. I can recommend a counsellor that helps with cases like this. Unless you are really, really rich – then you could try a counter-pynchoner; but you aren't really rich, are you? Because if you were, you wouldn't be calling me, would you?”
For a while the woman caller stares at the image of the policeman on her vidscreen. After a long minute she hangs up, and his screen goes dark. The policeman goes back to his keyboard. He knows that she will call back for the name of the counsellor in a few hours. They usually did.