Standing in front of a bus, Jaffna
This is fiction. It’s sort of a mash-up of current news and science fiction. I call it Science Friction.
On January 25th at some point in the future, fifteen thousand people gathered in Deliberation Square for no reason at all. Upon entry, each received $50. After hanging around for three hours, they received another $50 and went home. They had no idea what they were doing there and the condition was not to talk, besides saying, ‘down with imperium’. They all thought it very funny. The stock market didn’t. It was Friday and it just tanked. If there’s one thing markets don’t like, it’s instability. Somebody, somewhere, however, made a killing.
“Who the fuck is Keez?” asked Ashok Leyland, green eyeshades on, feet perched precariously on top of an over-abundant desk.
“You blue bastard you,” said Leyland somewhat rudely to the machine, somewhat irrelevantly as well, since Watson had neither shape nor color. “I do think someone is pulling my chain.”
“You have all the charm of a water closet,” said, Watson, hopefully. He could look stuff up and put it together but never quite tell if a joke would hit. By Leyland’s facial strictures, however, he could deduce that this one did.
What Leyland did was look through information. He was a forensic accountant by trade but by all accounts he was a made man in the arcane field of finding shit that stuck out in a marketplace that spent a lot of money spotting and leveling out competitive advantages. What made Leyland different was a particularly tuned case of obsessive compulsiveness plus an exquisitely curated social network. It was still amazing how much data loss there was when putting the human brain into the information blender. People still knew more than they let on, if you knew how to read them right.
This case was easy enough to read. Short the whole national stock market, pay some jobless people to go to the square, take home the difference. Too many fingerprints, however, too fucking easy. But this one didn’t have discernable prints at all. That is, there were so many prints on the caper that it was impossible to tell who sent the message, who shorted the stock, and who was left holding the bag. Leyland had heard of flashmobs before, but this was something different. “Cashmob,” he thought. Then he though, “I should tweet that”.
This caper was so bloody obvious that everyone from major magazines to corporate content gobbling behemoths was covering it. Every monkey’s uncle and sainted aunt was commenting, Facebooking and joking about it and quite a few Russia mobsters were wondering why they hadn’t thought of it first. Leyland had, however, he’d been following similar patterns for weeks. Now he could see them coming together, and he got that awkward bendy feeling of being behind the curve.
The first data point was a hollowpoint, straight through the skull of Congressman Linklater as he walked through the Chicago wards, slumping over with a seeming finality if not for the efforts of his portly Vietnamese aide holding a scarf against his hemorrhaging skull like a mental tampon. The assassin was obviously nuts, a casebook paranoid schizophrenic, his mind a collection of Glenn Beck chalkboards, the sum divided by zero, producing a fatal error. That much was somewhat regular, indeed, had been altogether regular when people were quite comfortably acknowledged to be possessed by demons and burnt at the stake.
Now, in the post-modern cosmology, everyone self diagnoses a little and identifies with the culprit in some way, when in fact it could just be demons, but it’s probably not. His brain didn’t process things the same way, which is a bit disconcerting because, when they’re leaking out, most brains look pretty much the same. What made Kirby Psycho Fuckshits slightly different was that, as he lay leaking out his pinkish grey corollary to Congressman Linklater, he had a text message on his phone telling him exactly what and who to shoot, which would have been fine if he hadn’t killed himself properly and his target only half-way.
Not that it was unusual for a killer to an accomplice. It was, however, unusual that the accomplice didn’t exist. Again, not that they didn’t exist, that message came from a number. That number was registered by someone dead, had been used by someone living, lost, found, disconnected, randomly reconnected in some other town by someone who had their identity stolen and then the final call was found to have been placed by a Zimbabwean teenager who had no idea what he was typing and who had been following instructions passed through a similarly byzantine, Rube Goldbergian network designed to diffuse responsibility somewhere into the ethernet.
In the political turmoil surrounding the killing this was ignored, except by about ten thousand Internet geeks and conspiracy freaks of which Ashok Leyland numbered about ten by sheer ferocity of appetite and raw filtration powers of will. Among nutsos, he was the nutcracker, and somewhere deep within his vestigial monkey jaws he was storing nuggets of information that seemed like they would be good eating right about now. The food poisoning of Ukranian Presidential candidate Ivechenko, for example, or the chronic diarrhea that kept tennis champion Yvgeny Chertov out of the Wimbeldon final, or the random stabbing of rapper Too Animalistic which, paradoxically but predictably, led to his single ‘Untouchable’ actually making money and spurring a pathetically sympathetic biopic. What each of these cases had in common and what each separate investigating body had ignored was that each culprit had been a random Johnny and that each had claimed that the ‘phone told me to do it’.
This is the legal equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’, itself the theological equivalent of the ‘god ate my homework’, which is to say, not kosher. In isolation, these were all isolated nutjobs, but the sudden appearance of 15,000 people on the streets of whatever city is the capital of whatever country suddenly connected a lot of dots. It also made Ashok Leyland, comfortable in his position of unique Internet snowflake, extremely uncomfortable.