MY MIND ON THE SCREEN
"The death of a suspect in custody," says Inspector Neith of the Witness, "is a very serious matter. There is no one at the Witness Programme who does not feel a sense of personal failure this morning."
She is looking straight into the camera and her sincerity is palpable. A dozen different mood assessment softwares examine the muscles around her mouth and eyes. Her microexpressions verify her words. As a matter of course, the more sophisticated algorithms check for the telltale marks of Botox and of bioelectric stimulators that might allow her to fake that painful honesty, but no one really expects to find anything, and no one does.
Polling data streams across the screen: 89 per cent believe the Witness was not at fault. Of the remainder of the population, the overwhelming majority believes that any culpability will turn out to be negligent rather than designed. Neith's own figures are even better: she has been called in to investigate the matter precisely because her personal probity is the highest ever measured. All but the most corrosively paranoid of the focus groups accept her good faith.
It is a very good showing, even granting that the Witness has consistently high approval anyway. All the same, the discussion of Diana Hunter continues in the Public Sphere—as it should—until it is eclipsed by the next of the killings.
Ninety minutes before, Mielikki Neith stares into her morning mirror, feeling the vertiginous uncertainty that sometimes comes with viewing one's own image, the inability to understand the meaning of her reflected face. She repeats her name, quite softly but with growing emphasis, hearing the noise and yet unable to connect it with the self she feels. Not that she is anyone else: not that any other collection of syllables or features would be better. It is the intermediation of physicality and naming, of being represented in biology or language, that doesn't sit with her in this disconnected instant. She knows it is simply a lingering trace of the dream state, but that does not alter her conviction—inappropriately cellular, felt in blood and bone—that something is wrong.
She is correct. In a few moments she will start work, and the day will set her inevitably on the path to the involuted Alkahest. She is just hours from her first meeting with weird, cartilaginous Lönnrot, just over a week from her loss of faith in everything she has believed in her life. As she steps out of her slippers and begins to wash, finding in the animal business of grooming the growing understanding of her body and its place in the process that is her, she is stepping not only on to the cracked white shower tray but also on to that road, the one that conducts her without let or hindrance to a point of crisis: to endings and apocatastasis. She apprehends this now with knowledge she has, from her limited vantage point inside the flow of events, not yet gleaned—but that knowledge is so significant that its echo reaches her even here, gathered in the slipstream of the Chamber of Isis and the most complex and saintly murder in the history of crime. Neith's consciousness is etiolated this morning because it touches itself irregularly along its own extension in time, a contact that makes her almost—but, crucially, not quite—prescient. Instead of foresight, the Inspector gets a migraine, and in that small difference she sets her feet on the pattern that must eventually lead her to all the things I have already mentioned, but most fatefully—fatally—to me.
I can see my mind on the screen
The Inspector awoke this morning, as she does almost every day, to the sound of technological obsolescence. Her residence, provided by the System to employees of her grade, is an airy one-bedroom flat in a period building in Piccadilly Circus. The ancient neon light directly outside her window is faulty and makes a noise when it switches on: the death rattle of twentieth-century advertising. She has complained about it, but does not anticipate any change in her circumstance. Machines these days are somewhat perfected; a visible glitch in a high-profile space such as this has been found to project a reassuring fallibility and evoke a sense of well-being which endures for several days. It conveys the continuing humanness of a nation under digitally mediated governance. The figures are unambiguous.
She listens now, in the quiet aftermath of her public statements, to the hum of the light at full function. When she goes close to the window, she is sure she can feel the hairs on her arms plucked by a static charge, but knows this for a psychosomatic illusion. She turns back to her desk, palms to forehead, then cheeks, and down the line of the nose. Broadcast lights make her eyes itch in their sockets.