Midhurst looks from Nonsiu to me and I quickly look down; unwilling to meet his gaze.
Nonsiu leans back into his chair. “Explain.”
Midhurst looks away from me and back to Nonsiu. “A consequence of Rereading. I assumed you knew.”
“I don’t,” says Nonsiu, and O’Neil tenses.
Midhurst nods slowly. “REM Protocol is…tricky. Brain tissue can never be converted into binary – into any language a computer can understand. We’ve been trying for centuries, and Rereading is the closest we’ve gotten. REM Protocol is designed to train Rereaders to reach a state of complete meditation, opening up their minds to foreign computerised influence. With it, we can digitally trace a victim’s last brain activity patterns – and recreate them in a Rereader.”
Nonsiu digests this. Next to me, O’Neil shifts his weight from one foot to another. “I know of this…but it has never made any sense to me. Even if you could provoke a Rereader’s brain activity to mirror the victim’s, there’s no point because…”
“…because the Rereader doesn’t have the sensory data the victim had when reacting to the situation?” Midhurst finishes. “No, they don’t. They don’t know what the victim saw, heard, smelled, felt – anything. They just know how the victim reacted to what they saw, heard, smelled and felt. Which, arguably, makes it all pointless. But all that information is there, and it’s stored in the victim’s brain – in the memory tissue.”
“The one computers can’t read?” Nonsiu says slowly.
“Computers can’t; another brain could. With the right technology, we can absorb the tissue and convert it into foreign brain signals, direct it to the Rereader’s brain and allow them to experience the last twenty or so minutes of the victim’s life in explicit detail,” Midhurst’s eyes flash to me. “We call that state alt-con or Alternative Consciousness – when the Rereader is technically awake but in a dream induced state, experiencing the victim’s memories.”
I bury my hands into my pockets. Hearing the of the process – even in simplistic, layman terms – has never comforted me. I focus on the rhythmic light tapping of O’Neil’s boot on the floor; impatience evident in the bulging veins on the back of his hands. It surprises me that Nonsiu doesn’t know this; all this information is available after a keyword search. I’ve checked the page too – devoured it – for the first time in five years. Foreman Ita Ru’s anointment made ‘Rereaders’ and ‘Rereading’ two of the most popular searched terms. Most people have read the page, have swallowed the information one rocky spoonful at a time. Then they came to The Line – the one buried between paragraphs of information and years of research. And they never scroll further than that.
“What happens to the brain then?” asks Nonsiu.
And the line of text betwixt the paragraphs sparkles. Midhurst is visibly hesitant; he starts to speak and then stop. His fingers twitch. The one sentence that leaves everyone knowing Rereading is wrong, that makes the benefits of Rereading not worth the cost. “It…disintegrates during the process,” Midhurst says and Nonsiu flinches.
He moves further back into his seat. O’Neil places a steadying hand on the small of my back. “You absorb someone’s brain?” Nonsiu says but it isn’t to Midhurst anymore. He is looking at me. I want to shrink and run away. His light green eyes are a contrast against his ebony skin.
Midhurst comes to my rescue. “Computers absorb the brain,” Midhurst emphasises. “The data is directed to a Rereader’s brain.”
This does not ease the frown lines on Nonsiu’s face.
O’Neil’s stance stiffens. “This is all good and well,” he says, not unfamiliar with the process, considering how long he and I have worked in conjunction: “but there is a murderer on the loose and a body that grows colder by the minute. Is this really the time to discuss the morality of something that does more good than harm?”
Nonsiu looks at O’Neil. “A brain is being absorbed. That isn’t something to be taken lightly.”
“A dead brain. It’s not like it was going to be repurposed and reused, now was it? It’s easy to stand and judge, but the way I look at it, if I was given a choice between being dead, keeping my brain and having a killer on the loose versus losing my brain to catch someone who could potentially be hurting others – I feel it’s sort of a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
Midhurst clears his throat. “Back on topic, relating to Szah – and perhaps even Lio – are the mental ramifications. We’re tricking Rereaders’ brains into following signals that aren’t their own. Your mind has to be more vulnerable than the average person – susceptible especially to computer interference. Needless to say, it takes its toll. The brain has to relax when it’s naturally programmed to defend. It has to accept BM tissue data from an external source – none of this is natural…none of this is safe long term.” Midhurst walks to stand beside me after finishing his speech. He smells sterile, like disinfectant.
O’Neil covertly retracts his hand.
“This could have a connection to Lio?” Nonsiu asks, thoughtfully.
“It could,” Midhurst responds. “I don’t know if Lio had begun to feel its effects – but it’s clear that Szah has.”
My cheeks burn. I don’t make eye-contact. “I’m fine,” I lie.
“From what you’ve told me, REM Protocol is not safe – and it isn’t morally correct either. Why still active?” Nonsiu leans forward.
And even though Led is not here, I can hear him chiming enthusiastically: “Don’t worry, we’re in the process of banning it entirely.”
This time, O’Neil takes point. “REM Protocol has a 100% success rate.”
“By who’s estimate?” I can almost hear the conjoint voices of Led and Foreman Ita Ru saying.
Nonsiu shifts in his seat. “Is there a way to stabilise the machine? Make it safer for Rereaders and to not…you know, the brains.”
Midhurst does not miss a second. “No.”
Nonsiu’s lips thin. O’Neil is antsy. His hands are in his pockets, then they are not – they are wringing one another; he hops from foot to foot, shifting his weight every other second; he has a murderous look about him. And I’m not the only one who has noticed.
Midhurst’s gaze is attracted by O’Neil’s impulsive, rapid movements, and Nonsiu follows suit. “Is something wrong, Investigator?” asks Nonsiu.
O’Neil flashes a sarcastic, tight smile – the muscles in his face and form, taut. “I’m wondering whether or not we’re giving the murderer enough time to cover his tracks. I think another five minutes and we’ll be good.”
“I don’t appreciate your tone, Investigator. This is a high-profile case. One wrong whisper and it’ll turn into a political battle.”
“It’s already a political battle. Information is free in the Republic, Inspector – or have you forgotten? The case data has already been published and it’s only a matter of time before Colden releases the autopsy reports. I wouldn’t be surprised if this makes the evening news. As ignorant as Led is, he’s also right. This is gold for Ita Ru’s opponents, it’s exactly what they need to combat his campaign and with too much media and public influence, we could lose this case. It has nothing to do with whether Loscester or Colden takes point, with the right interference, if by the slimmest chance Tirete was not killed by a radicalist – are you truly naïve enough to believe Ita Ru’s adversaries are stupid enough to let this opportunity pass them by? What’s the justice of one man when the fate of this country’s entire justice system hangs in the balance?”
With the moments that pass, I am finding myself more in-tune with O’Neil. Is he necessary for this briefing when he can be on the ground, making headway? Am I really even necessary?
Nonsiu looks ready to bash his head into the desk, yet through his exhaustion, there is a spark of rage in his eyes; a fierce set of his features. “I am trying to understand the situation. We should have an idea of the groundwork before rushing out there and trying to make sense of something that clearly puzzles everyone.”
“Really? ‘Clearly puzzles everyone’? Have we already sent out a battalion of officials to negotiate with Colden, assess the crime scene, question potential witnesses, gather suspects? Am I somehow behind on these updates? O’Neil stalks over to Nonsiu’s desk and looks him in the eye. “Because the last time I checked, we abandoned a, how did you say, a high-profile murder scene on the public streets and came in to have this ridiculous meeting where you’ve had easily accessible information spoon-fed to you by a man who is one of the best in this industry; a man who has better things to do. The last time I checked, we don’t have enough information to make any plans, and nothing can puzzle us because we know nothing.”
Nonsiu looks thunderous. He jerks to attention, his chair sliding violently out from beneath him and looks ready to tell O’Neil exactly where he can stick his self-righteous speeches. O’Neil opens his mouth to rant again. I take a tentative step back. I think he is about to explode.
But then everything else does before O’Neil can.