Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable
The footsteps that Detective Sakamoto heard at the end of the hallway grew closer and closer until they barged into the room. The first set of footsteps belonged to a lean man with sharp and angular facial features. Pointy nose, slim serious eyes, even the curvature of his lips. It might have been easy to laugh at his predictably blasé mahogany fedora, but everything from his woolen top coat and slacks to the expensive luxury brand amber belt that matched the color tone of his hand crafted oxford shoes signaled that he was a man of comfortable standing.
He was flanked by a man and a woman. The large man sported broad shoulders and commanded the room’s attention, more so than the leader of the trio in fact. A tattoo crawled down the nape of his neck and buried itself beneath his suit. His professional attire strained itself trying to hold his muscles inside. His buzz cut suggested some military background, and the barely noticeable knives and sidearms concealed behind his suit jacket seemed to confirm it.
The woman, on the other hand, was dressed in a dark leather poncho coat and heavy duty boots, her hands covered by a fingerless gloves with steel emblems pinned against her knuckles. One could say she looked a little eccentric for the occasion. Her fingernails wore an assortment of orange and blue polish. Amber tinted goggles pressed against her short cyan colored hair and a pair of mismatched stockings hugged her legs.
“Head investigator Miles Gregory, Special Victims,” announced the leader. He glared at Lana. “Officer, would you care to explain why you have a civilian at the crime scene? We made it very clear no one was allowed in here. Milton, secure the hard drives. Sasha, the body.”
“Hey, hey, this must be some kind of misunderstanding,” Sakamoto spoke up for the officer, who silently crept towards a dark corner of the room. Milton brusquely pushed past Jay as if he wasn’t there. Sasha gave him a slight tilt of her head to show she at least acknowledged his existence. “I’m here by request as a detective.”
“Well I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time,” said the head investigator. “This scene’s been passed over to special victims. Translation, it means it’s been passed over to me. I don’t like other people on my scene, detective. You’re going to have to leave.”
Jay said nothing. He sized up the investigator in front of him, as if daring Miles to forcefully shove him out of the room. Lana shifted her feet, occasionally passing a glance at Milton. The huge man reached for the computer tower tucked away at the professor’s desk behind wrinkled stacks of paper. The computer was still awake, though it was hard for Jay to discern what was flashing on the bright screen so far away.
Sasha glanced at Dojo, who had not moved since she had entered the room. She snatched and unfurled the slip of paper that the dead professor held in his hand.
“Judgment Day is coming, so end it however you must,” she read aloud. “That’s all it says, chief. No signs of a struggle. No wounds. Strange. There’s no build up of haze in the cornea. Body’s only been dead for a little under an hour and a half at most then. But we got the call a couple hours ago.”
“What about lethal injection?” Sakamoto conjectured. “Could be some neurotoxic agent that caused paralysis? That would explain the time lag. He would've still been alive when the caller dialed in.”
“Unlikely,” Sasha replied. “No foaming of the mouth. Plus, there aren’t any sort of contortions that would signal some kind of distress from a spasm or a hypertensive or allergenic response. The good professor’s also covered in his pajamas, which don’t seem to have any signs that they’ve been torn through by a needle. Might have a moth problem in here though. Face and neck look fairly undisturbed. The usual entry points for injection are out of the question. An autopsy would tell more though. But this cat. That’s the professor’s?”
“No, he’s my partner,” Sakamoto replied.
“He’s cute,” Sasha smiled, then turned back to the body. She rolled the cryptic message between her fingers while spinning a black pen in her off hand.
“Don’t talk to the civilian Ivanova,” Miles grumbled. “And you, stop talking with the investigators. I want you out. Now.”
“Look, what’s the big deal?” Sakamoto asked. “You don’t want me touching your crime scene, fine. It's your call. But I got called in to do an investigation, so if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to lend my expertise. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
“Expertise? I don’t think so,” Miles scoffed. “What’s your name anyway? You don’t look familiar. You'd think they'd send someone famous at least.”
“It’s Jay Sakamoto, sir.”
That’s when Jay knew he had made a mistake. He possessed a ton of aliases just for moments like this. But he had been caught up in the moment, too focused on the investigator’s condescending question. He could hear Milton's rummaging pause at the mention of his name. Behind him, Sasha almost perfectly masked her shifting glance that signaled she knew who he was.
“Of course. Sakamoto,” the head investigator’s eyes widened in recognition. His face darkened. “You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face in front of SVU, detective. As if we can even call you that anymore! Your handiwork single-handedly sabotaged the investigation in ‘54, the lives of two investigators, and answers for two dozen families.”
“Is that what they tell the investigators to make them feel better about having completely dropped the ball on apprehending the culprit?” Sakamoto rolled his eyes. Years had gone by and this subject would always rise to the surface. Well, now that the lead investigator knew, might as well air out all the dirty laundry.
“No, it’s what I tell them,” Miles growled. “I lead that investigation in ‘54. I was there when you escaped out of a burning building, but our investigators didn’t. And I was there when my higher ups dropped the hammer on the investigation when the leads burned up. I had to tell each and every one of those families that their kids weren’t murdered. They all simultaneously committed suicide in perhaps the most grotesque display of sheer coincidence ever to have transpired.”
“Okay, I made mistakes during ‘54. I really did,” Sakamoto shook his head. “But let’s set the record straight. I specifically warned officials about that apartment complex and recommended that I go in alone. And did you forget to tell the families that you went to the press? And then, get this, you fabricated a news story to try to smoke out a culprit, a story so unconvincing that you likely sent the culprit into hiding forever?”
“Don’t screw with me,” Miles glowered. “Whatever your perverted understanding of back then, the public is on our side. So now that I know who you are, yes, I will go to the press just like before. I’ll just let some journalist know that the detective who failed so spectacularly in the homicide cases in ‘54 is up to no good looking into a case like this?”
“Ow,” Sasha interrupted the tension between the two men with a muffled yelp. Dojo cried out and bolted from the room. Sakamoto's attention shifted away Miles to the other investigator behind him. Sasha shook her right hand vigorously, as if to shoo away the pain. “I’m sorry, detective. He was just in the way. I was trying to move him a little.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. He hasn’t seen many others besides me in a while. Maybe he got a little jumpy. Sorry about your hand,” Sakamoto took a deep breath, nodding apologetically to Sasha. He stepped towards the door. “I was just about to leave anyway.”
“Good choice,” Miles mumbled, then turned his eyes to Lana. “Officer Searle is it? I think it’s best if you helped escort the detective out. Sasha, let’s do a scan of the body.”
Outside the room, Lana caught up with the detective. Jay took his sweet time catching up with his cat that had scurried off, muttering a varied list of expletives to himself.
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
“You get used to these responses from people like him,” Jay sighed. “It’s not a big deal. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m more surprised you didn’t say anything at all when I first introduced myself. You said you interned at my office for a summer?”
“Only as a secretary,” Lana admitted. “I filed your papers. Taxes, actually. I didn’t really pay attention much to the news back then. I've heard the rumors, though. It’s hard to avoid them. They said you lost the culprit. Burnt a building to the ground with a team of detectives still inside. Is that really true?"
“You heard it back there yourself. That’s what they think happened,” Jay pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let people believe what they want to believe. It’s a cold case now. We all lost to whoever did it. Some people just need to get over themselves and admit we all had a part to play in it.”
“Well, I’m sorry about all this. But, if we look at the bright side, at least it looks like you’re relieved for the night,” Lana said. "I'm still stuck with the night shift. I’ll escort you out. Then I’ve got to get back to my unit afterwards. I hope you have a good night.”
Dojo sat by the elevator, calm as ever, as if he had never bitten Sasha and ran off crying. He stared at Jay as he approached. The cat walked up to Jay and opened his mouth wide, revealing scraps of paper lodged in his mouth. Dojo dripped the scraps onto the carpet floor.
“Some cats offer dead birds to their owners,” Sakamoto muttered. “You, however…”
Sakamoto unfolded the crumbled bits, wiping his fingers clean of fresh drool. The first piece of paper contained the last message that had been left in Professor Eichenbaum’s hands.
“Judgment Day is coming, so end it however you must...” Sakamoto scratched his head. “Man, I hate cryptic loons. It’s always the scientists too, so you actually have to take them seriously.”
Sakamoto turned his head back at the room, where he could still hear Milton dismantling the computer. There was also some kind of high pitched whine, a machine that Sakamoto did not recognize. Sasha's voice let out a curse. “Damn it, no wonder there’s almost no build up in the cornea; they aren’t real. What little haze there is must be some kind of electronic discharge. Maybe a leaking ion cell? Hold on, I need to chat with my cybernetics specialist.”
But then Sakamoto noticed the second scrap of paper that had been dropped on the floor. Written on it was another message. The words were scribbled on very quickly and almost illegible, but the handwriting was noticeably distinct from the handwriting on Eichenbaum’s note.
“Message from a friend?” Sakamoto murmured, looking up at the ceiling. “Or maybe a cry for help?”
On the note, scrawled in indelible black ink, read, “Ryu Fukuyama. Lost Hours. Closes soon.”
After Maya premiered the dead body of Dr. Eichenbaum on her stream, the amount of donations she received tripled her weekly count in a matter of minutes. Her manager, Reus, was right. Audience members, no matter how morally principled, could easily fall for the hysteric trappings of a crime mystery. That was evidenced by the flood of theories that backlogged her donations for the next hour.
“This looks like an open and shut suicide case. Move on, people.”
“Closed room mysteries? How fun! Chat has some great ideas already.”
“Doesn’t he look kind of old? Life expectancy of senior male citizens isn’t too hot in recent years. Maybe people are putting too much thought into this?”
“Hey, I’ve done a close up shot of the paper in this guy’s hand. Something about Judgment coming soon?”
“Please sing your songs!”
“What does the geodata say about the picture? When was it taken?”
“Are there any photo engineers in here? I’ve love to analyze the reflection of the window at the edge of the frame.”
“It says Judgment Day is coming actually.”
“What do you guys think that means? What's Judgment Day?” Maya asked, picking out one of many donations streaming across her feed. Immediately, her audience responded with a clamor of different comments, and she began to read the responses back. “‘Just a religious clown. The apocalypse. Message was placed there by the killer. Sounds familiar, a prediction of some kind. The end of the world is coming.’ No way he actually means the end of the world right? I mean, how can that even happen?”
“A war is coming?”
“Is anyone watching the weather channel? Maybe there’s a typhoon on its way?”
“Just a misanthrope who’s hoping for the world to end.”
“Can we at least talk about this guy first? Has anyone else done a facial reverse search on the web? He’s actually kind of famous.”
“He’s famous?” Maya highlighted the last donation. “What’s his name? ‘Tash Eichenbam,’ says someone in the chatroom. Is that correct? No, it’s ‘Tasha’? Alright, Tasha it is. Oh I misspelled his last name too? Got it, okay here we go.”
Maya dragged the search results for Tasha Eichenbaum onto the stream, clicked on the first link to a web based encyclopedia, and began reading the profile of the professor aloud. “‘Professor Tasha Eichenbaum is a renown mathematician and cybernetics and artificial intelligence researcher, who specializes in quantum ontology and cyber mnemonics.’”
The words and descriptions of this man she had never met felt oddly familiar to Maya. A kind of lukewarm feeling resonated inside her. The scientific verbiage simply made sense without her really knowing how and why. “‘Dr. Eichenbaum gained recognition and controversy for his discoveries and treatment of patients afflicted with varying degrees of psychosis, consulted on a number of virtual simulacrum games and projects, and was given the Cyberhumanism Award with his efforts in resolving the ‘54 Fukuyama Incident.’”
Fukuyama Incident, Fukuyama Incident. The name rolled around in Maya’s thoughts as she repeated them to herself. She had heard of it, seen a bit of the TV coverage. An entire wave of cybernetics recalled due to a critical failure in production that resulted in the equipment igniting when the body began to reject the metallic implants.
“Is. More like was.”
“My kid wasn’t even born when some of this stuff took place.”
“His profile page hasn’t been updated yet. It’s probably changed by now though.”
“He does sound a little familiar now that you’ve read all that.”
“All these accolades kind of remind me that I’ve done nothing with my life, haha.”
“Mnemonics? What’s that.”
“Mnemonics,” Maya repeated. The word left a familiar sensation in her mind. Why did that word stand out to her? “Like stuff to do with memory. But, I mean. What does any of what I just said have to do with the end of the world?”
“How many people have cybernetic implants? Aren’t they quite rare?”
“There’s a lot of people in this Clouds server talking about this. Everyone should join #Clouds too.”
“Maybe it’s something he heard from a different scientist? In another field?”
“You know, that piece of paper honestly gives me the creeps. It reminds me of that old urban legend in this city. You know, the one about death sentences?”
“If we think he’s serious, there might be a code in the message. Does anyone know exactly what that piece of paper says?”
“Cybernetics fell out of vogue after the Fukuyama Incident, and most people just opted for normal artificial limbs that wouldn’t blow up in their faces.”
“You sound like you know a lot about that,” Maya responded to the latest comment, which began to give her ideas. “Since he was involved in all those events, maybe that’s what his message was about? Maybe he’s talking about a different kind of judgment? Maybe, maybe, are we being judged for things in the past? Or judgment day for those who have cybernetics?”
“What, like cybernetics are going to expire? That sounds scary.”
“What if it’s the other way around?”
“Ooh, I like the sound of that!” Maya clapped her hands excitedly. Now her mind was racing with more possibilities, theories, and wild speculation. “Yes, I mean it’s like the other comment said, right? Cybernetics fell out of popularity. Just think of it, everyone. A scientist who spends his entire life researching machine augments to people’s bodies. Then, there was a tragic incident. His research went up in smoke. Everyone decides to disregard his work during the fallout. What if it’s not those with implants that are to be judged? What if it's us, who have never been implanted? Ah, that gives me the shivers, what about you guys?”
After that, the chat devolved into a clash of dichotomous voices at the sound of Maya’s theory. Despite being something as autonomous and cacophonous as an online auditorium of anonymous users, distinct sides started to emerge as the chatroom began to take hold of Maya’s theory. Maya shuddered at the thought that perhaps she had pushed the envelope too far.
“Maya might be right. Scary to think what a genius can do when he turns against humanity.”
“Every humanitarian has their limits. Professor Eichenbaum probably couldn’t stand that the society he helped cultivate disregarded his work.”
“I’m not so convinced. This is the kind of theory that comes from growing up only with comic book villains. People are not so sinister that they become genocidal when their work gets rejected.”
“But how is he going to judge us? A weapon? Some kind of new technology? Does anyone know what the doctor has been researching in recent years?”
“Now, now,” Maya soothed, attempting to assuage her now alarmed and anxious viewers. “This is all just fun theories and speculations. Remember we got all this way just by looking at a picture of someone. Let’s not jump to any hasty conclusions. Someone might get hurt.”
But in the back of her mind, Maya knew her words were empty, that it was already too late for precautions. It all began when she had acquiesced to her manager’s demands, when she showed the image of a dead man to a worldwide audience.
In her rush to prolong the exposure to this story, Maya realized she had unleashed something on the world. Many would likely doubt and scoff at the power of an anonymous mob, but Maya knew better. She had seen them tear apart the walls and private identities of her colleagues. They conducted countrywide manhunts for alleged convicts with no remorse for collateral damage. Now that force had trained its eyes on the work of one dead scientist, and one could only wonder what else they would soon discover.