Kate’s anger always knew it first. The rest of us would follow: we were looking at the data with as much focus and training as her – and also with half an eye on her emotions. It was part of the uniqueness of her instinct that when analyzing what would turn out to prove to be traces of a crime she would get increasingly tense and impatient, throwing around words — Kate, usually the kindest and most patient of people — and one memorable time a coffee mug against a wall, yet had never been able to leverage her own tell.
The general opinion, and I agreed with it, was that she was the quickest analyst in the forensics team but also the most kind-hearted. So she would understand and get angry at a crime before any of us and at the same time be blinded by her good nature delaying conscious acceptance of the atrocity.
I had a complementary theory I kept to myself. One with an hypothesis and an untested implication. The hypothesis was that besides being the best of us in mind and soul she was also the one with the largest capacity for the sort of violence we analyzed and told ourselves helped fight. If what we did was to be more than the soul-crushing cataloging of still-fresh destruction we had to believe it could lead however indirectly to preventing another one. At least one. One would have been enough.
We had dissected the archives of dozens of once-thriving online communities that had been places of nurturing, protection, and creativity. We had found many of them deliberately poisoned. Turned into hateful dysfunctional places that damaged everybody inside themselves – even those whose job was the murder of that beautiful, rare, living thing that a community could be. We had tracked most of the groups responsible for what we knew were murders in every sense but the legal — even ignoring the very real individual deaths that often followed microsocial collapse — made their names public, presented solid, clear evidence. Not once we had prevented the next death.
Kate’s frustration after every successful report wasn’t stronger than the rest of the team’s. Neither was her badly concealed shame when accepting awards and accolades. Those weren’t signs of violence but of humanity. I had never seen violence from her other than the anger that was the herald of a discovery that no longer surprised us but hadn’t stopped hurting. My untested implication was still unproven.
I never doubted it would be.
One day one of the groups we had tracked would collapse, viciously and fast. Then another. Then another. I wasn’t more skilled than the rest of the team, Kate aside, but I believed I understood her the best. Certainly better than she did. When it began to happen, and it would, they wouldn’t understand. Not at first and maybe ever. I could tell our colleagues and stop the killings. I could warn Kate about herself and prevent them.
I knew myself well enough to suspect I wouldn’t. Not even when the death of those loathsome killing societies led to deaths among the individuals who were part of them.