Memories of Summer Rain
by Stewart Wilson
A tray of supermarket sushi by the monitor, bad wasabe and soy sauce to add some flavour to bland maki rolls. It's all food and I need something for the burning deep in my guts. The acid within me is building up and I need to eat like a motherfucker to stop it boiling up into another ulcer. I would break open a roll of antacids, but I've gone through three in the past two days and I really should eat something this week. Normally I remember, but I've been busy.
Rain's bouncing off the window. New Milton Keynes in the summertime when the weather control butterflies have fucked up again. Probably another strike from the quantum weather beehives over in Nanking, they love fucking with our weather but we can never claim it was them. At least it's a good English summer. I light another cigarette and try to ignore the jetpackers spiralling to avoid one another.
Somewhere out in that rain is a killer,and I'm barely closer to finding him than I was when I started this sorry mess. I have paperwork spread all over the desks and on the computer monitors, psychological profiles and pathology reports and ballistics and fuck alone knows what else. Every little detail, every trace. I'm not supposed to have any of it. Some of it was stolen from an old police evidence lockup, some was stashed at the Antarctic Archive Station, and those places are always about four security updates behind. The ballistics report cost me fifty quid and a bad blowjob. But I had to get them, because the police will never get anywhere. They aren't equipped to catch an idea.
Finnish vodka in a glass, a present from an old friend. It's times like these, sat alone in this office and waiting for inspiration, that I wish I'd stayed away. Left this city and this country to its fate and danced in the rubble. But I guess I'm too nice a bloke to do that.
* * *
I step off the plane from Schippol and pass through passport control in a blur. I'm not questioned when they scan my passport. Will wonders never cease? Three years ago I was a dangerous man, a head full of free ideas and the notion that I should use them. Now, they've forgotten about me. Good. Welcome back to the city that left me behind.
My flat's still there. The new buildings are expanding in both directions so fast there's a surplus of room. No need to repossess anyone's space. Coming back to it feels weird, like a one night stand with an ex-girlfriend after the latest fling goes for someone with a multi-function penile implant. Now there's a memory, her telling me "It's not you, it's just that his dick plays beautiful music when he comes." Shallow bitch. The flat is too depressing for now, soI go to get acquainted with my ex.
The Greek place on Liverpool Street is still open. The owner, Stelios, is a mad futurist on thirteen kinds of crack, talking about his fleet of jetpack delivery boys. "All the rage," he assures me, "but the next big thing is automated pizza delivery drones. Jetpacks with guidance, they shoot the gyros to your door. But only while we're waiting for the nanotech." Always with the nanotech. He lets me into the back and we talk business for the first time in three years.
When I left — was forced out, I should say — he seeded me with an idea, and now I'm returning his investment. I have a powerful brain, the kind of thing that scares the city administration. Adaptive intelligence, ask me to come up with something to detect file changes and I'll have the concept behind hashing done in a week and initial algorithms in a month. Give me five years and I'd have coded the MD5 hash algorithm from first principles. I never claim to be fast at anything other than high concept, but I get the job done.
The last year has been interesting. We've got the reaction grav-crystals, so getting out throughout the system could be coming sometime in the next few years. Of course, this place will be the first to have extraplanetary branches. People are talking about expanding the uses of broadcast power, digging up old ideas that Tesla had years ago and wondering not if they're feasible but how to implement them. New Milton Keynes is the new hub. We've needed one for long enough. After the climate change and the ruinstorms that fucked London up the arse and the cache of World War 2 bombs that wiped out old Milton Keynes there was only enough to build one supercity. By popular vote, Milton Keynes got it. Admittedly, there were accusations of vote rigging and worse, black magic, but nobody takes them seriously any more.
I'm thinking about all of that while Stelios hooks up a scattergather braincoder to a hunk of old storage. Magnetic media, the old crap nobody has the equipment to read any more. I need to get things straight in my head and the history of this city is one of my mnemonic keys. I run through the rest and pour my mind out in electromagnetic streams, beaming the results of my ideas and my processing straight to his disks. Once he's done, Stelios nods.
"Thanks. These kind of ideas... things have been getting worse in the past years."
"Advanced technology? Telepaths? I don't know. But ideas aren't safe any more."
"So seed me again and I'll hop on a plane."
"Don't do that. It's not that they'll get suspicious, but- I'm paranoid."
"I can tell."
"It's justified in this situation. They're all for reducing the power of the government and we can't have that."
"I know. But why should I stick around?"
"We need someone to farm ideas, but we need to make progressive upgrades. Listen..."
We talked long into the night.
* * *
Inspiration struck during the flash of memory, my brain returning with the results of my deep thought. I close all the files on my desk. Turn off the computers, flick the television to standby. The killer is out in the rain, and I have to go find it. The trenchcoat hangs on the back of the door, the hat's resting on the same peg. I take them both down and check my gun.
The rain beats a tattoo on the brim of my hat, and my cig's so soaked I can barely smoke it, but I still manage. I head for a Greek restaurant in Liverpool Street. A delivery drone hurtles past from a third floor window, trailing hot meat. Someone's not going to get their takeaway. I shoot the lock from the door and walk calmly through the dark front, pushing through to the back office we'd used as a meeting place, before Stelios and his band of state-power bastards let loose Mercury Jones.
Stelios is there, alone. A glass of ouzo in his hand, cigar between his lips. He's expecting me.
"You're late. I thought you would have come to kill me by now."
"I'm not going to kill you." I'm quiet, calm. "I want to know why you let Mercury Jones out. Then I'm going to work out what to do with you."
"I don't know what you're talking about. It was an accident."
"You're lying to me." Every word my voice is quieter.
"It was an accident! Steven read the code before it was completed!"
"He read the code. By himself. Knowing what it would do."
"He thought it was ready."
"Stop lying to me. You knew that nothing gets people to flock to authority figures like fear. The basic human emotion, the most base reaction that we remember from our days as amoebas. Primitive. You needed something big to get people to rally to you."
"No. No, you're wrong. And why is this now about me. Were you not part of us?"
"I was wrong. I admit that. Now, I have to find Mercury and I have to stop it. I also have to stop the person who let it out."
"You can't stop it."
"I can. Now, for the last time, tell me what happened."
"It was an accident!"
Those words, over and over again. I couldn't keep my patience if I forced myself. Papers go flying as I sweep them off the table.
"Oh, please! You expect me to believe that? Stephen somehow accessed a locked file on hardware that you knew better than him, and read something he knew to be incomplete in the vain hopes of accelerating the program. That's the worst pack of lies I've heard all day. You were the one to retrieve the file, you gave it to Steven, telling him I'd finished early. You did it because you knew the same as I now do that people don't flock to a dictator because he's charismatic, they do it because they are scared. You wanted to scare people and Steven was your tool. You used him as a pawn. Didn't you? Didn't you?"
"Spit it out!"
I punched him in the face and left. I wasn't going to kill him. There wasn't any point. When all this was over, I'd go back and take him with me as I turned myself in as the man who invented Mercury Jones.
Mercury's present state is a viral serial killer. An idea expressed as an equation in words, a poetic formula to spark the mental processes. Subtexts unfold, and the whole thing takes over its host. A parasitic meme. And every time someone takes Jones out of action, they become the new carrier.
Another cigarette in the pouring rain as I step back on to the street to catch a killer. He's not hard to find. He likes to leave clues, to let people know he's still out there. My Mercury's learnt to become quite the source of fear. I can track the clues. I thought it all through for a week and a half. I can't be wrong.
I'm not. The smell of the place is hideous. He's been taking trophies from each host. A finger here, a tongue there. Fifteen so far. Each one a unique body part, starting to rot slowly in the putrid air of a disused groundcar parking bay, fifty feet under the surface of the city. Mercury's there as well. He's done up well. The costume is easy to recognise even if the face in it isn't. It's all brand recognition for a serial killer.
He bears down on me, charging at me and sure that I'm not going to do anything but become his next victim. I raise the gun and desperately try to remember going to the seaside back before the bombs and the weather control and the whole new society. As I pull the trigger, I can remember rain on the train windows, a grey and wet day at the seaside with fish and chips for lunch, my Gran promising to take us to see a film to make up for the weather. I told her that I didn't mind and she smiled and we went anyway, playing the cheap slot machines with two pence pieces while we waited. It's a good memory. It has to be.
The look on my Gran's face triggers a mnemonic key that I've prepared. Mercury Jones meets his antimeme, and in that one second, he falls apart. I throw the gun on top of the latest host's body, and go to find Stelios. Time to face the music for what we've done.
I could have left and not come back. I should have left right after giving Stelios the files that first time round. But I guess I'm not that much of a bastard after all.