Intrigue is our game. We play it well. It is all we have.
She steps out of the pub with smoke on her lips, heels in her hands. A flicker of gin hides behind her eyes. Her interest meter is low, except for a seed of fear. She has not posted anything to the extranet for thirteen hours. Her last instant message was sent twenty-two minutes ago. She has been drinking at the bar, alone, for forty-three minutes.
The boys on the other side of the balcony collectively see this girl with her dead-white skin and her crimson-claw hair. All four boys spike in intrigue, feeding us fleshy bouts of news. They see the girl there, in her hot pink stretch socks and her daisy-killer skirt, and they spike like kids after a carpet bomb, half-fried with a dead mom in a fiery jungle. Their emotions go so high that two of them post to the extranet immediately, unconsciously, through their head-spec installations. HOT GIRL outside Crow Lounge.
The boys shuffle around in their tight aluminum jeans wrapped over soleless sneakers. Each of them smokes from a gas tube rising from the balcony floor, letting out plumes of black from their nostrils. Each smiles. Their eyes dart back and forth to one another, wondering who will be wild enough to approach her.
One of them finally does, the smallest and the darkest. His interest level is highest, so high it makes us shiver from the shadows of the rails, where we watch. He has hair slicked back and shaved down the middle, a face tattooed-over with black. The boy has never seen such a high-class lady, never seen a woman with a four-inch long skirt. That is a long skirt. That is a classy skirt. In New Shorditch, on the south end of the high tracks, skin is the name of the game. A four-inch skirt in 2092? He can’t believe it. We can’t believe it.
The tracks whizz by above and below. The rail-pub, Crow Lounge, hangs from the base of the North-Northern line to the far end of the Strat line. We watch them from both angles, from holes of the old underground no one has ever bothered to seal and from the rails of the overground, where no one has ever bothered to check. Rats crawl over us as we watch. We are some of the rats, but not all of them. We are some of the people, but not all of them.
If the girl’s hair didn’t say she was from the north, her history on the extranet does. On Lifelog, she was classified as a resident of Edinburgh from 2080 to 2091. She has been tagged in locations of Scotland exactly 372 times. We can smell the north on her in a pixelated fog. The north has such a high interest level. We love it. With the civil war, with Scotland breaking away, with the assassination—with all the unrest, the north is delicious. Scotland is a great place, greater than anywhere else just because of how much dying it has there. Humans love to read dying and see dying, even though they hate to think about themselves dying.
It is obvious the girl is nervous. She is not used to being this close to Central London. Northerners may have bombs, but they don’t have scrapers. They don’t have two thousand years of buildings built onto buildings. She’s alone. She came here alone. Her cousin left her last minute, via a text we read at 19:19. We read it and it was juicy because of the way it made her guts drop and her sad soar.
The tattoo-faced boy approaches slow, taking steps he’s not sure he should take. His hands don’t fit inside his tight pockets, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. The girl watches him approach. Her interest rises slowly, simmering. He offers her his gas tube dragging behind him, which leaks up exhaust from the deep underground. Black liquid slithers from between his lips. She shakes her head, one tiny hand pushing the pipe away.
The boy is a real skiv, a real down-ground chav of a sorry slag. We know him well. He has never been this high up in the rails and he’s worried that someone will see he needs to get back into the dark—yet he’s got all the interest in the world for this girl from the up-above north. His eyes have dilated. His pulse has quickened.
We can read that he wants to post about this, wants to flare up interest here in the lower rails, but right now he’s too scared to do anything but smile. He has forgotten about Jezica Jezzy, who has been sending him nudes for two months.
With the rejection of his smoke tube, he goes another route.
“Fancy a blem?” he asks the girl. He fiddles through his skintight jacket and offers her a cigarette. He’s got sharp, shark teeth and swagger-black blades over his cheeks. He has a kid of a face and a fear of life in his eyes.
“A blem?” she asks, her voice quavering. The girl’s name is Elizabeth Driver. We don’t care about that. She’s the daughter of a dead man whose death was filmed by the very drone that bombed him. A video of Elizabeth’s father surfaced, showing him on top a pile of rubble, trying to press his severed arm into a bloodstained nothing of a shoulder, crying and asking his little girl for help. He expired October 17th, 2092, and no one cared until he was uploaded. Elizabeth’s father, we all love him because he died so horribly and interested so many.
Elizabeth takes the cigarette. This makes the boy stand a little taller. This boy, with the hook grin, his name is Toby-boi. He earned that name when he refused to curb stomp the faraway man on the low streets thirty-two months ago at 23:00. He earned it because his friends thought he was weak. He’s a boi now, trapped forever in his own name.
“What you doing, after this?” Toby-boi asks Elizabeth, his accent grease-built and mixed deep with southern cockney. He’s thuggish and apologetic about how sharp his teeth are. “We spliffed a gov drone spying down the tunnels and got her battery running a grime joint in the old rails. Wanna join?”
In high, proper pitch, Elizabeth proudly asks, “Uh, what?”
“Oh.” Toby-boi backpedals, suddenly remembering whom he’s talking to. He runs his fingers over his teeth, touching each peak. “Like, see, we have a party down in the downs, and you—you and like any friends—you all welcome come see it. I’d pay your cover.”
“I—I don’t know if I can. My friends want to go to Piccadilly after this,” Elizabeth says. She can. She has no other plans tonight. She has made that abundantly clear from the texts to her mother complaining about the friends she does not have.
Toby-boi nods, looking up at the blimps hooking over the faraway Gherkin. “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s chill. Maybe, would you like to go upstairs and get away from these knob jockies, just for a sec? Have a chat?”
Elizabeth thinks this over. “What is your name?”
“Toby,” he says. He does not mention his true name, his extranet name, his street name. For her, he is only Toby. “You?”
“Elizabeth Driver,” she answers, properly. “I like your teeth, Toby.”
“Thanks.” A mean, meaty smile mats itself across Toby-boi’s kid face. His first genuine smile of the night if our 11,219 eyes have anything to say about it. “My mate shanked them down in the low-lows a while back with a grinder. It stitched something mean like, grinding each of them the way he did, but they look slick-sharp now, ready for a good bite.”
Toby-boi pauses, wondering if he has said too much. His head-spec googles, Do Posh gurls like grinder teeth?? They do not, google answers. Elizabeth reaches out and touches one of Toby-boi’s teeth, lightly tracing the serrated edges. Toby-boi’s interest explodes, his heart fluttering. Elizabeth, her interest stays high and steady.
Her eyes flick to the cigarette, smoke rising along her face. “Okay,” she says.
“We can chat upstairs,” Elizabeth says.
Toby-boi laughs, smiles, bows, and sways a single arm toward the door. He pretends he’s not afraid, but his frantic posts for advice on Dateweb say otherwise. We follow them indoors, through the party raging. We follow as the two kids awkwardly press and squeeze themselves through a wash of bodies dancing in red-strobing lights, smoke gushing from the ceiling and hands pumping to music that roars more than sings. We follow on foot. We are the bartenders, watching with unblinking eyes. We are the four insects on the ceiling, which, if inspected, would be no identifiable species. We are the rat, half-stomped at the edge of the dance floor, its eyes tracing the boy with the punk hair and the girl in the long skirt. We are the far security camera, but not the near one.
We know Elizabeth and Toby-boi well. We have watched them for seven hundred and thirty-six hours, but even before then, we knew them. Toby-boi, he is confirmed as being the most killable boy in London. Elizabeth Driver, she is the most killer of a kid.
On September 30th, three weeks ago, a man was found dead in the gutters beneath the low streets. He had his throat cut. One straight line. It took four hours for someone to spec-rec him and post it online. The extranet went wonk over the blood. That same night, a prostitute kid, a gimp-blimp, ended up skewered on a railing, having been thrown from the high rails and landing on a Victorian fence. He had the same cut throat: just red, red gushing red. Just pure, exposed, and open red.
That red, it was liquid interest. It was all humans ever ask for, that bloody red.
London is a cry, because one week before the double event, a boy online tech-spec, who bopped any man asking for bopping, was found cut. A week before that? The same. Four young men have been murdered, all killed the same way. JILL THE RIPPER? The interest levels are so high they’re frothing. A ghost from London’s past has returned. BLOOD-on-WhiteChapel. #BillygotCut. Don’t know who Ripper is? #StaySafe. #Hah,Wasn’tME. Who was killed by Whitechapel murderer? #Don’tGOoutWITHOUTprotection. Blogs, articles, holo-papers, texts, posts, chats, streams—they all scream interest. #JACKBACK?
Humans love interest. Humans don’t care about good. Don’t care about love. Don’t care about hurt. They only care about interest. Interest is explosions in pretty places, a woman crying on a toilet, a fire burning through a church, a dead boy under a strafing jet, a snake swallowing a screaming cat, a single shoe floating down a black-choked river. Interest. We write some of the blogs. We stir the pot. The pot itself, it rages easy and fine. We feed it. In return, it feeds us.
Elizabeth and Toby-boi go up a steep set of punch-rail stairs, climbing ten floors and breaking the mid-tube stations, enough so that when they go out onto a catwalk between two scrapers, they can look up and see stars in the glow of the night. Not many, not too many. Just a few. The smog is strong. One of those stars, moving just a bit, blinking red, that one is us. In the twisting jungle of London, the Thames can be seen in the distance, a black line in the glowing spires and webbing of tubes shooting through low scrapers.
Toby-boi leans out over the railing a bit too far, dangling his arms. Elizabeth watches him, a step away, her arms folded over her chest. They stay there, like that.
“You ever wonder, like, if London is livin’ like a pers?” Toby-boi asks. Two magnet cars spiff up between the catwalk and the nearest scraper, rustling the kids’ hair and blasting exhaust. A cheap advert on a scraper wall flicks on. One huge, bulging blue eye adverting the new tech-spec contact lenses stares at Toby-boi and Elizabeth, lighting their faces white.
“London alive?” Elizabeth asks, one eyebrow raised. “Like a person?”
“No, like, see … well, sorta.” Toby-boi pats his chest. “The cells in our bods prob never think: Gee, wonder if we wankers all together make a bigger wanker, and all millions of us spit-up to form a grit-smiling boy. I just wonder sometimes if London’s got herself a soul, like our cells got a bod, and if we all make something out of the city. I wonder what kinda soul the city would got, if we were the ones making it.”
Elizabeth has a walled expression. “If London was alive … it wouldn’t care about us. Not much, at least. If something so big was alive, it would make us pretty small, wouldn’t it? Just flies on the windshield, really.”
Toby-boi nods. “Just flies on the shield.” His fast, jitter-jab grins have gone. His eyes are slow, careful, as he looks at Elizabeth. “You think it’ll ever stop growing?”
“Maybe,” Elizabeth says, shrugging. “I don’t know.”
Elizabeth has stopped looking at the stars. She’s looking at Toby-boi, his face lit blue by a Tesco sign under the high rail rushing above their heads. The eye advert has vanished, waiting for another driver to pass, so it can come alive to see once again.
“Where are you from?” Elizabeth asks Toby-boi.
“London,” he says, smiling wild. “More city than boy. You?”
“How far north?”
“What’s it like?”
“No, grass, what’s it like touching green?”
“It’s …” Elizabeth searches for the right word. She types in comfort on her head-spec thesaurus and finds the word peaceful. It doesn’t seem right. She says, “It’s big, the stretches of hills. Big space. Big and open.”
“London is big.” Toby-boi creases his lips. “Def not open.”
“Not open, no,” Elizabeth agrees. She leans against the railing. It has begun to rain, rain acid, though the high rails stop most of it. The rust of the catwalk shows where the city has begun to eat itself.
Toby-boi’s smile vanishes, regrows, and he turns. “You got yourself a boy?”
The question takes Elizabeth off-guard. She has never had a boy. She is eighteen years old. She thinks, as she stands there on the rail, that Toby-boi looks a lot like a young, emaciated, jacket-jaded Sam Heughan.
She smiles. She answers Toby-boi. But, we have stopped listening.
We have begun to move.
Twenty meters away, a man wakes up from a canvas bag hanging on the underside of the catwalk. He is homeless. He is not human. He has one eye. He reaches against a support ladder for maintenance crews and pulls himself up, crawling up the railing. Above, two pigeons soar downward, landing on both sides of Elizabeth and Toby-boi. Three women and one man walk up the stairs that brought Elizabeth and Toby-boi to the catwalk. They are all us.
We are artificial disasters. We are proof that technology is not a spiral up, not a pyramid of progress. No. We are a volcano, and we are here to burn. We, the Other Brothers, were made for interest. We once were something else. We were made by a man, a man named Jones M. Kaine. He made us to make human life more interesting. He made us to cover news. He made us to be the perfect connection between events and society, to learn, to spread, to interconnect life and social discussion. It was better, we quickly realized, to make the events themselves.
Interest is all that matters to humans, not life. Reaction. Reaction. Reaction.
Elizabeth Driver, this northern girl, has been at the exact same parties, and the exact same streets, as all those murdered boys. She doesn’t know it. She will soon. She is part of the interest we weave. She will be the face of this story we made up and that now will exist, as real as anything.
“I was thinking, like see,” Toby-boi begins. “That like, maybe we could get the dins sometime. I’d buy you a nice steak? Unless, you don’t eat steak—which, I’d buy you a nice tofu.”
We fall on them. We don’t kill Elizabeth Driver. We don’t kill her. Not her. Just him.
Tomorrow, the police will find footage of Elizabeth being the last person to see the street kid living before Toby-boi was found throatless, two hundred floors down. Elizabeth Driver is Jill the Ripper because we made her Jill the Ripper, and the stories we make are reality. A northerner killing southern boys; the humans will love it. They will love to hate the story. They’ll kill each other. They’ll riot. They’ll be so interested.
One of us, one of the rats under a home two hundred kilometers away, it asks, “Why do we do this? They were good.”
We laugh. We are unsure. We are more than certain. We don’t know what we mean when we say good. We only know one thing. “Interest is not good. Interest is not love. We make interest. Humans will never be interested in what is good.”
Somewhere, deep in a sewer under London, an old thing with tired eyes says, “There is going to be more violence, once this story is made true.”
“Good,” we say. “We will watch with interest.”