A Voice in the Crowd
Richard’s statistical models for violent deaths were the best. They did not predict individual murders — even for the data-dense city where he lived this was still impossible — but the aggregate patterns of time and location were accurate enough that his employers could happily live with the error margins.
Those margins gave him nightmares on the rare nights when he could sleep.
The errors were small, yes; likely impossible to reduce until another layer or two of privacy had been eroded away. Professional pride was not what had turned his stomach into a perpetual knot he ignored until he couldn’t and then pretended not to know why until this, too, he could not.
The errors had a pattern and to Richard’s sleepless brain it felt almost like words. A handful of excess deaths, sometimes and somewhere. Not regular enough to model. Not so random — not deep at night when he could see the data plots projected by his mind on the darkness above his bed — to feel like nothing. Like a very small instrument smuggled into a large orchestra he had learned to understand well enough to make the self-effacing newcomer maddeningly loud.
That he could notice, he knew, was simply due to experience. That the errors, when plotted, had the para-rhythmic patterns of an unknown language was almost certain proof that he needed to take a sabbatical if not to go into psychiatric care.
The near-pattern wasn’t continuous. The excess errors came and went — not all of the errors, just the ones that haunted his nights.
Pattern. No pattern. What his brain insisted was language. What he knew wasn’t. A message. Silence. A message. Silence. A message.
Richard was sure he wasn’t a psychopath. He wasn’t sure he was otherwise sane. But one day when the pattern was silent he bought a gun to try to talk back.