Based on the Ghost Targets novels by Aaron
I. Introduction and Overview
A. Log Line:
“Surveillance” is a near-future cop drama that follows Katie Pratt as she joins the FBI Ghost Targets team. In a world with near-perfect AI surveillance, her team tracks the criminals rich or powerful enough to evade the all-seeing eye of Hathor Corp.
Think “Law & Order” meets “Minority Report.”
B. Series Synopsis:
A few decades in the future, when self-driving cars anticipate your movements and meet you at the curb, when you redecorate your walls by asking them to change, and when crimes are recorded, judged, and prosecuted as they occur…there will still be mysteries.
“Surveillance” starts with Katie’s first day on the job with the FBI Ghost Targets team. She was a good detective in New York, but ordinary detective work has become almost clerical, reviewing the reports generated by the Hathor surveillance systems and testifying in court.
Ghost Targets is a small, underfunded, high-tech FBI team that tracks down the rare (and dangerous) individuals who are able to commit crimes undetected by Hathor.
Katie’s first day on the job sees the whole team supporting the Secret Service in an attempt to thwart a pending assassination attempt.
Too new to help with that, she’s asked to investigate a weird technical glitch in the record of a murder in Little Rock, AR.
The technical glitch turns out to be a major problem—a denial-of-service blackout that is growing, and threatens to destroy the whole Hathor system.
With her superiors busy protecting the president, she has to learn in a hurry.
She meets up with Ghoster—a slick businessman who specializes in deleting his clients’ actions from the Hathor archive. Ghoster isn’t excited to work with the FBI, but when he learns Hathor itself is at risk, he throws his support Katie’s way.
Katie’s investigation leads her to the two mysterious creators of Hathor—Jesus Velez and Martin Door—who are trapped in a decades-old battle to destroy or reform the thing they made.
After putting her life on the line, she solves the murder mystery, saves Hathor from destruction, and earns her place on the Ghost Targets team.
Of course, there’s fallout. The team is left in disarray and under scrutiny from congressional oversight.
Future seasons follow Katie and the team (with occasional support from Ghoster, Door, and Velez) as they try to do their crime-solving work while navigating the political demands of far more powerful people.
II. World Building
The story is set in 2045 (using technology that should be available by 2030). It takes place primarily in the United States, focused on the FBI Ghost Targets offices in a high-rise building in Washington, DC.
Hathor technology is abundant (and stylish). Imagine a future designed by Jony Ive.
Everyone wears a headset (mic and earpiece) that connects to Hathor. They also carry “handhelds,” which operate like smartphones, but they’re all connecting to the Hathor database. Most people also wear Hippocrates watches.
Guns have identity locks, so they can only be fired by the registered owner. Airports have identity gates instead of security lines—gates that stand open and let everyone pass through as long as they’re recognized in the Hathor system. Desks and walls are video displays.
Self-driving cars show up when you need them and already know where you’re going.
This is all driven by the Hathor database, which is fed by millions of location-aware microphones. Photos and surveillance video is used, too, but most identity tracking is voice-based.
Hathor is a private company, and the government has the same access to its surveillance data as the general public, so instead of being a story about the dangers of oppressive government oversight, it’s mostly about the risks of unrestrained technology and corporate greed.
The underlying premise is that society chose to trade privacy for convenience, and society is mostly happy with the exchange. The series explores the edge cases and problems that persist within the system.
B. Rules and Systems
The most important rule is this: Hathor is always listening.
There’s almost nowhere in the developed world that doesn’t have a microphone. They run off broadcast power and feed everything they hear into Hathor’s AI processing algorithm.
The algorithm does its best to recognize and record the identity of any voice it detects and parse any recognizable words for instructions or important information.
If you’re plotting a crime, Hathor will notice. You won’t get arrested until you commit the crime, but when you commit a crime, Hathor can generate a detailed timeline from the inception of the plan all the way through to execution.
The government pays for access to that data. Anyone with a subscription can access that data. There’s no real privacy.
Hathor is always listening, and she’s happy to share what she hears. Any subscriber can listen to the feed for anyone recorded by the system. Government agents aren’t exempted (except under extreme circumstances). Secure facilities mostly aren’t. Everything is done in the open.
This makes it easy to capture and arrest most criminals, but the ones who have the means to evade Hathor detection can easily track the ones who are trying to catch them.
Every idea tossed around in FBI headquarters can be heard by the people they’re hunting.
One of the most important systems is “Unbroken Positive Identity.” Positive Identity means that as you are operating in the world, Hathor can tell you’re you. So if you try to board a plane, there’s no lines. You approach the gate, and Hathor charges you and issues your ticket.
You’ll hear a notification in your headset and get seating details on your handheld. If you can’t afford the ticket, you’ll get that notification instead. If you walk past that gate to a different one, your ticket will be refunded and a new one issued.
If you want to conduct a bank transaction, you authorize it out loud in conversation. As long as you have sufficient Positive Identity (and funds), Hathor will transfer the money. No routing numbers needed, no password or authorization.
Your voice is your passport.
III. Character Profiles
A. Katie Pratt
Katie Pratt is the protagonist. She’s cute, kind, and driven. Early thirties, long dark hair, small but strong.
She always wanted to be a detective of the old-fashioned sort, but by the time she got to police academy, it was all computer work.
As she comes to work for Ghost Targets, it’s her dream job, but she feels like she’s in over her head. She doesn’t yet know the high-tech tools the team uses, and she has no experience with the kinds of people they deal with, but she uses old-fashioned police work to do the job.
Katie’s defining characteristic is how much she cares about people. She solves the first murder case (and saves Hathor from destruction) because she cares about the victim. She can’t let it go.
She gets through to Martin Door and Ghoster for the same reason.
Character Arc: Her character arc is mostly growth trajectory from being the junior member of the team—overwhelmed but determined—to the natural and confident leader of some of the most powerful people in this strange new world.
B. Agent Reed
Agent Reed is Katie’s main love interest and professional foil. He’s mid-thirties and built like a panther, with stunning green eyes. An all-American boy glowing with potential, he’s the boss’s protégé when Katie first joins the team. He knows how everything works.
The events of the pilot/first season see the team’s boss (Rick Goodall) disgraced and destroyed, and Ghost Targets nearly suffers the same fate. Reed takes over the team, but his shining promise is tarnished now. He drinks hard and spends most of his time wrestling with Congress.
Character Arc: Reed’s character arc occurs through his mentorship of Katie, as he’s forced to maintain some connection to his past and pass on what was best about him so she can learn the ropes and save the world. As her boss, he won’t date her, but they are very in love.
Ghoster is a slick salesman who sees himself as the good guy while he’s clearly not. Mid-fifties, fit and stylish, he runs a boutique database management agency for high-profile clients. He’s also secretly running Hathor.
He has no love for the FBI, but Katie wins his respect.
Over the course of the series, Ghoster is one of her most powerful allies, but he’s also often her primary antagonist. When she needs his help most, he leverages that need to gain control of Ghost Targets. He also doxxes her comatose hero-cop dad. It’s quite sleazy.
Character Arc: Ghoster’s character arc is complicated all the way through. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone, and he’s committed to doing what it takes to make things turn out right. He spends a long time chasing power, sacrifices good friends to get it, and regrets it in the end.
D. Martin Door
Martin Door is the Boomer-coded father figure in the series. Mid-fifties, heavy-set, unkempt beard, and unstylish clothes, but with a twinkle in his eye. He was one of the two inventors of Hathor, and he regrets how powerful it has become.
Martin Door has spent his life trying to redeem Hathor. He invented the most prosocial services that run on the architecture (Hippocrates, Midas, Jurisprudence, and Informed Electorate), and he helps Ghost Targets whenever he can.
The tricky thing is, he’s a ghost.
Both of the original inventors have special security protocols built into Hathor that allow them to operate freely in the system using throwaway aliases. This means Martin has root access to Hathor, he can do almost anything he wants, and Hathor forgets about it afterward.
He takes a fatherly attitude toward Katie (and remains her most powerful ally), but the FBI, Ghoster, and Congress all see him as a huge threat, so he spends most of the series as a fugitive. That also regularly complicates Katie’s relationship with her superiors.
Character Arc: Martin’s character arc starts with him burnt out and living in hiding and forces him to confront the real dangers in the system he made and take a more active role in fixing it (even as that antagonizes powerful people and puts him in real personal danger).
Jesus Velez is the other inventor of Hathor. Mid-fifties, wiry, awkward… standard nerd. Also, he’s not hispanic—the alias is a cover.
He’s a better programmer than Martin but a worse person. He also decides Hathor has become dangerous, and he decides to destroy it, while covering up murders to make it happen.
After the pilot/first season, Velez spends most of his time in prison, playing something of a Hannibal Lecter role. He does inspire a privacy cult (the Gun Clubs) who eventually learn how to access his privacy protocols and wreak havoc on society while appearing to be him.
Character Arc: Velez’s character arc sees him regularly playing the contrite martyr for sympathy while constantly scheming behind the scenes to destroy Hathor. He’s too valuable to ignore (or destroy) because he has the most knowledge about how Hathor really works.
As the series progresses, Katie learns how to manage Velez’s better intentions and back him into being genuinely helpful, but he never loses his sociopathic edge.
In the end, he convinces the prison he’s already dead and walks out the front door to disappear among his followers.
F. Minor Characters
Marshall is a beat cop from Brooklyn, and Katie’s former crush. He’ll make occasional appearances in season one as a link to her old life and then join the Ghost Targets crew in season two to throw Katie’s relationship with Reed into disarray.
Eva is a sassy state prosecutor and Katie’s best friend from Brooklyn. She only appears for a chapter or two in the novels, but she can be a recurring confidante for Katie in the show.
Dimms is the plucky analyst who never does field work but knows every trick in the book, and he’s anxious to help Katie learn the ropes. (He gets kidnapped and held hostage for the season one finale.)
Agent Phillips is a boisterous and playful field agent who quickly takes on an older-brother role to Katie—both protective and patronizing. Think Patrick Wharburton playing The Tick.
IV. Plot and Structure
A. Pilot Summary
Season One starts with a multi-part pilot that could easily be a feature film. It covers all of the events in the first book, Surveillance. Katie joins the team and meets Ghoster, Martin, and Velez.
The pilot opens with a prologue showing the aftermath of a murder from the point-of-view of the killer. The killer looks down on the corpse of a recently-strangled young woman in a small office in a Little Rock office building.
The camera (and killer) move out into the reception room of a digital dating service. It’s night, and nobody is around. The camera moves into the elevator, down to the lobby, and out into the street, where a car is waiting. The camera moves into the car (and we see it’s self-driving), then everything goes black.
As the opening credits roll, we meet Katie getting out of a different car in a different city. She looks up at the impressive D.C. office building, hesitating nervously for a moment, then goes in. She crosses the lobby and gets into an elevator, where a powerful older man is already waiting. As they ride up, an automated voice in her headset informs her that this is her new boss, Rick Goodall, head of the FBI Ghost Targets office.
He introduces himself a moment later and begins her entrance interview. Upstairs, we see the high-tech Ghost Targets offices with a dedicated floor, where a dozen agents and analysts are working at their desks. (The desktops are huge high-resolution monitors.)
Katie follows Rick to his private office where they continue the conversation. They discuss what Hathor is and how it has affected modern policing, and Katie asks about the ghosts—people rich or powerful enough to hide themselves from Hathor.
Instead of answering, Rick leads Katie to one of the other agent’s desks where they watch a crime in progress. We see a drug dispensary robbed by floating guns, then local cops and a Ghost Targets agent on scene swarm in. There’s a firefight. Then the Ghost Targets agent identifies the perpetrators, and they resolve on camera. We can see they were small-time robbers who exploited a glitch in the recording software.
Katie is anxious to get started, but Agent Reed calls for Rick’s attention, and we learn that there’s an active threat to the president, but the would-be assassins have been ghosted. The team’s best agents and analysts are all tied up with that, and it’s too complicated (and high-profile) to bring Katie in right away.
Instead, Rick tosses her a weird murder case for a girl who was recently strangled in Little Rock. She dives right in, but quickly feels overwhelmed. Her boss encourages her to take her time, but she’s driven. She wants to solve the murder. But the evidence has already been erased, and she soon learns that more is disappearing constantly.
She learns about a private specialist, Ghoster, who offers a service like that, and she reaches out to him. He doesn’t want to work with the FBI at all. But he discovers the issue is more than a little database manipulation; someone has injected code into Hathor that is going to destroy Hathor altogether.
Ghoster can’t fix the problem for her (and Rick gets angry when he discovers she’s been working with him), but Ghoster does point Katie to Martin Door, one of the two long-lost inventors of Hathor. It turns out Martin is related to Katie’s murder victim, and she goes to Little Rock for the victim’s funeral, Katie catches Martin watching from afar. She apprehends him and convinces him to help her unravel the mystery.
When she brings Martin (a ghost) back to the Ghost Targets offices, it triggers an emergency lockdown, and Rick goes nuts. He decides Katie is a rogue agent, and directs all of his agents to capture her and Martin. Martin uses his tricks to get them both out of the office, but while they’re running for it, Rick almost catches them. He does his best to kill them, firing recklessly into a crowd in a busy subway terminal, but Ghoster and Katie get away.
Now Katie has to become a ghost, as she and Martin track down the other inventor of Hathor, Velez. Velez is hiding out in Argentina, in a high-tech underground bunker where he’s monitoring everything going on with Hathor. When Katie and Martin arrive to confront him, Velez reveals that he’s lured Martin here on purpose. He recruited someone else to murder Martin’s niece, and he provided the code that covered up the murder (and threatens to destroy Hathor).
It turns out, he wants to destroy Hathor, but there’s some flaw in his code, and it’s not working fast enough. He demands Martin’s help. When Martin refuses, Velez shoots Katie in the leg, badly wounding her, and refuses to get her medical help until Martin finds the flaw.
Katie, woozy from the pain, finds a way to get a message out to Ghost Targets, and Rick Goodall shows up quickly. Turns out, he was already on his way. He’s in cahoots with Velez, doing his dirty work (including killing Martin’s niece) in a bid to get privileged access to Hathor data. He gave the case to Katie (and manufactured the threat against the president) to buy himself time.
Rick and Velez have a violent confrontation. Katie takes advantage of the distraction to disable some of Velez’s security system. Then Reed shows up with a handful of other agents, alerted by Katie’s earlier distress call. He takes Velez into custody and gets Katie and Martin to the hospital.
The final scene is Martin (mostly recovered) visiting Katie in her hospital room while Ghost Targets agents stand guard outside her door. They share a heartfelt moment over everything they’ve been through. Then Martin borrows Katie’s handheld, does some technomagic with it, and the guards outside the door run off after an imaginary threat. Martin walks out and disappears.
B. Series Structure
Building on the setup from the pilot, each season follows Katie as she tries to do her job, investigating cases where someone has managed to evade the system. Episode arcs will feature “Law & Order”-style cases, ripped from the headlines or designed to showcase a cool technology in the story setting.
The planned book series features 25 novels. (Four are currently published, with a fifth in production.) These 25 books are narratively organized into 5 “seasons,” with each novel exploring a specific case while also advancing the season arc (usually “Who controls Ghost Targets? Who controls Hathor?”) and the overall series arc (“What can Katie do about it?”).
The “Surveillance” TV series could directly adapt each of these novels into movie-length episodes, multi-part episodes (with 3-5 episodes per novel storyline) or springboard off them to tell new stories of Katie’s investigations between the events in the books.
C. Season One
The pilot establishes the story world and introduces Katie to the team and main characters. During the first season, she works as a detective researching a series of crimes.
- A top-secret medical researcher working for the Army slips into a coma under suspicious circumstances.
- Later, a murder is covered up using a device that can hide anyone from Hathor.
- When Katie investigates another murder in West Virginia, she uncovers a sophisticated plot to build a Hathor-proof bunker away from society. This is the first of the Gun Clubs.
In the season finale, one of the privacy-obsessed Gun Clubs kidnaps an analyst from the Ghost Targets team, and Katie has to call on all her resources. Her efforts to save the kidnapped analyst accidentally expose Martin Door (who has been helping her in secret), and he ends up in the clutches of Ghoster, who is refusing to give Katie the help she needs.
Katie and Martin learn that Ghoster has been secretly running Hathor, but before they can expose him, he convinces a compromised Senator to appoint him the new director of Ghost Targets.
D. Season Two
Season Two starts with Ghoster as boss of Ghost Targets. He makes catching and permanently unmasking Martin the whole team’s top priority.
Katie, disfavored by the new boss and a known friend of Martin, is left out of the loop and handed undesirable cases. She does her job.
When Katie helps Martin evade the rest of the team, Ghoster decides she’s becoming too friendly with Reed, so he recruits her old partner (and forlorn love) from Brooklyn to join the team. Katie’s love-triangle creates drama at work even as she’s trying to solve cases.
The Season Two finale sees Ghoster exposed and his access to Hathor permanently revoked.
E. Season Three
Season Three starts with Reed back at the helm, but there’s a problem. Hathor is falling apart. People are losing their Positive Identity, and details are disappearing from the archive.
Suddenly the Ghost Targets team is overwhelmed, as the system becomes newly flooded with ghosts.
Velez escapes from prison. While hunting him down, Reed discovers a mole within the Ghost Targets team is working with the Gun Clubs.
Katie discovers it was Martin who freed Velez.
When she confronts him, she learns that Martin accidentally introduced a bug that triggered all the recent problems in Hathor, and he reached out to Velez for help. Turns out, Velez orchestrated all of that.
She puts him back behind bars and they fix Hathor.
F. Season Four
Season Four opens with congressional oversight furious about all the chaos inside the department. A new boss takes over, and it quickly becomes apparent he’s a puppet of the corrupt Senator who appointed Ghoster before.
Meanwhile, Velez grows his cult while in his prison cell.
Assigned by the new boss to frame one of the Senator’s political opponents, Katie goes rogue to investigate the Senator instead. Midpoint of Season Four, she’s fired from Ghost Targets.
While on Administrative Leave, she tries to set up a sting operation to expose her bad boss.
The sting goes wrong, and Katie ends up in jail. Before Reed can clear her name, Martin busts her out (and destroys her reputation).
While on the lam, Katie feeds information to Reed that he’s able to use to take down the boss. Unfortunately, they don’t get the Senator.
G. Season Five
Feeling threatened, the Senator kicks off Season Five by seeing to it that Ghost Targets is disbanded. He frames Reed for a crime he didn’t commit. Katie frees Reed, but now they’re both fugitives.
Martin takes in Katie and Reed and helps them escape a federal manhunt.
The marshal leading the hunt against them is a brutal monster, and they lure him into a trap and dispose of him.
Investigating their adversaries, Katie and Reed find Velez directing the hunters. Katie and Reed act as decoys, and Martin finally takes out Velez for good.
Knowing that the law is no longer on their side, Reed fabricates a plot to kill the president (fooling Katie as much as anyone else), and with Katie’s help he pins the crime on their enemies, making himself a hero in the process.
Ghost Targets is restored, Reed is boss.
Disillusioned with the process and hurt by Reed’s choices, Katie leaves the FBI to be a private investigator working with Martin to keep Hathor healthy and all the bad guys in check.
V. Themes and Tone
A. Central Themes
The main theme in all the Ghost Targets stories is humanity. Despite all this new technology, people are people the same as they’ve ever been. This is what allows Katie to do her job no matter how novel the situation she encounters.
The next most prominent theme will be corporate power and greed. Hathor’s control over the data feed creates constant conflict with government officials, and it regularly allows individuals like Ghoster, Martin, and Velez to behave with extraordinary power.
The stories rarely mention privacy explicitly, because it’s a totally outdated concept in-world, but the contrast between this world and ours will be a recurring theme. The stories spend a lot of time showcasing the cool factor of the technologies and the convenience of services.
Velez and the Gun Clubs, as often as they come up, will argue in favor of privacy. Everyone else will see them as terrorists and threats to society.
Government intrusiveness will get some discussion, especially in the form of entitled politicians trying to pressure Katie’s team.
The stories will also frequently explore the pitfalls of building a society on top of unreliable technology. Software bugs and rogue actors alike will pose existential threats to society, with nothing but a small crew of techs to keep things running.
B. Tone and Style
The overall tone of the series should be serious but hopeful. Many of the stories are tense or suspenseful, and the most common narrative format is police procedural, but as Katie navigates the procedures, her focus is always on taking care of people and fixing systems.
The villains tend to be sympathetic, and the heroes tend to be complicated, but everyone should feel intensely human. The sci-fi world should feel familiar, not alien, even if it’s all shiny and candy-coated like Apple products.