Some evenings, when Martha went out walking along the gravel roads between the fields, she felt a ghost city growing solid in the cool air. As the fog gathered in the drainage ditches and creek beds, buildings massed in her peripheral vision, terraced, balconied and impossible.
Some nights, rain came down and swept the city from the night. Others, she walked and walked. Her calves grew sore while the buildings grew more present. After weeks her legs grew stronger, but the city remained a pressure at the edge of her vision.
As winter gave way to softer ground, heavy machinery leveled the fields behind plywood signs with the names of stores and franchise restaurants. Martha tried the new roads in every direction, slipped through the gates to trudge the churned earth. She walked on until it was too dark to see anything; the city’s inhabitants walked beside her, and she wouldn’t have known.
When the concrete and asphalt covered the fields, then sprouted a forest of upright girders, she saw the city less often, but more vividly. Once, she found herself in a market crowd between rows of booths hung with bright, unfamiliar objects — but only for the time it took her to gasp in a shocked breath, and then it was only a row of dumpsters along the store-backs. Another time, she thought she saw a hand, beckoning her around a corner and she sprinted to find a food court full of plastic picnic tables.
After the stores opened, after the restaurants filled the air with smells of frying and bulk spices, she kept walking, even though she didn’t see — didn’t sense — anything for weeks.
Then, one fall evening, when it seemed she’d never walked for anything but the exercise, she went into an office supply store and pretended to look at multi-tabbed planners until she warmed up.
As she left, a clerk ran to her. “You forgot this,” he said, “Left it on the glass.”
He pointed to the copiers in a corner of the store.
It was a sheet of 11×17 paper, warm with machine-light, covered with streets and parks and buildings whose terraces she could see as if she remembered them. A map, clearly labeled in her own handwriting.
Sabertooth boy is dating a dental hygienist. He likes to surprise her. His smooth cold curves tickling the side of her neck make Carla shiver from head to toe. She likes to floss, gets DOWN with the unwaxed string, has plenty of uses for those big big teeth. Genetic Modifdication doesn’t bother her. In college she lived with a phytosaur, captain of the GM rugby team, now a personal trainer, lots of big teeth. A whole forest jutting out of that girl’s mouth. Lately, STB has been getting pangs of jealousy, can’t stop thinking about Carla and that rugby player.
STB is not an athlete. As an ambush predator, he played chess, a little scholar bowl in high school. But it’s not the sweaty locker-room thing that bothers him. It’s the teeth.
STB walks into the consultation room. Dr. Holden is some kind of human-dinosaur blend, probably a tyrannosaur. He’s seated in an tan upholstered armchair. STB sizes him up, one predator to another. “I could take him,” he thinks. The shrink smiles slightly, keeping his teeth hidden. STB looks around the room. No couch, just a brown recliner facing the doctor’s chair at an angle.
“Have a seat.”
STB sits. He’s not comfortable talking to anyone about his problems. Holden puts him at ease with a little chit chat, eventually getting around to STB’s feeling that he’s not satisfying Carla.
“In the bedroom. She likes teeth.”
The Doc smiles slightly. He recovers quickly; but STB notices.
“I’ve only got two, Doc. Sure, they have some size on ‘em, But Gladys had a mouthful. And Carla’s always talking about them, even when she’s flossing mine.” He shudders.
“And my neighbor, Poison-ivy boy. He’s dating the beagle twins. Everyone knows when it’s their night to howl. Carla doesn’t ever make that much noise.”
Holden tries to reassure him, but when STB leaves, he’s more worked up than ever.
“She’ll see,” he shouts over his shoulder, “these babies have some action left in ‘em!” He flicks his thumb off the right one.
About a half hour later, Holden tries to call STB on his cell, but it’s turned off. He calls Carla, but she doesn’t sound worried, says he’ll calm down. As she heads home, sweat-stained exercise outfit in her gym bag and family-size floss dispenser in her pocket, she starts to wonder. Is he in the apartment, waiting, teeth bared?
L5O (UWN). – Cosmologists at L5 Observatory reported new calculations of the fate of the universe. It turns out the end is near. Click for more.
>> Comparatively speaking. Scientific estimates of the remaining lifetime of the universe have been reduced from 260 trillion years (plus or minus 55 trillion) to a scant 82 trillion plus or minus 17 trillion. Results are based on assessment of density of dark matter in a randomly selected 0.5% of the visible universe. Professor Llongo Zawekki is senior researcher at the Equatorial Cosmographic Institute on Platform Mbelo: “New methods of quantifying the density of matter between L5 and distant bright objects allow rapid calculation of a much more accurate estimate of time remaining.” Click for more.
UpToTheMomentNews reported a few moments ago that in a European Institutes of News study published moments ago at pollsters.com 62% of respondents reported clicking “click for more” “never or rarely.” Click for more.
PanicinDetroit.com. PiD brings word of an alarming trend sweeping the globe since 14 minutes ago. Suicides up. Click for more.
Billboardsmocked.com. Ads warning that short attention spans kill are verbose, study finds.
@infrastructure world-record # of #bridges closed by jumpers. #ERcrowding worsens. #selfharm
@firstrespondernet Suicide uptick of this a.m. continues, hits hand-held users worst. Clik 4 mor.
@globalmoola Stocks tumble. Sh!t hits fan. Regulators: where were they? Clik 4 mor.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the sixth chapter of an ongoing flash serial, “Connected.” Search for the tag “Connected” to find other chapters. Subscribe to the Daily Cabal RSS feed for a new chapter every week or two.
Morello holds his son’s hand. Two months Caul was in the coma now, since he was disconnected from his tribe. A month since AI counselors talked Morello out of retribution. He feels his wife’s grief through the wires like a toothache. Feels a hundred sympathetic thoughts. His tribe. Caul’s.
He leaves his meatsack holding Caul’s hand. His mind leaves one tribe for another. Morello to Detective Morello. The hum of police work thrums in his bones.
Abruptly: all hands on deck. A steelsack depot hacked. Rogue minds piloting sleek silver bodies.
Morello’s ‘sack is close. He slams back into his flesh, starts running. He sees steelsacks tumbling past. Hundreds clogging the street. Too many to stop.
He pulls up security drone vid feeds. Everywhere. They’re coming from everywhere. Converging on a residential block.
And then the army stops. Its first wave collapses. And he has seen these lifeless bodies before. These mindless bodies. Disconnected. All around the buildings they pile up. Wave after wave of bodies. A demarcation zone of disconnection.
A steel body waits there for him. Morello readies his firearm. The steelsack holds out an arm.
“We have found them,” it says. A familiar voice. He tries to place it. “They took your son. But we cannot get closer. They exist in the gaps of our knowledge, where we cannot go. We can only point the way, but you must walk the path.”
“Who?” he asks. “Who are you?”
Morello doesn’t understand. But then the steelsack sweeps aside his firewalls and he sees. A new tribe. His own. Every steelsack steered by a copy of himself.
“The AI. The counselors. They copied you.”
Illegal digital copies of himself. Sackless. All working for the retribution he isn’t. Unable to act in meatspace unless connected. And here they lie. Disconnected. Over and over. Like Caul. Over and over.
He thinks of violence and a thousand carefully programmed reprimands spring into his mind. This is giving in. This is dangerous. Revenge is not the basis of a sound society.
He looks at his hand. It remembers the feel of Caul’s palm. Skin-to-skin. His pistol is in it now. Society disapproves. But he does not care about society now. He cares about his own. His tribe. Caul’s tibe. So Morello climbs the wall. And Morello opens fire.