Plugs

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the first 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 2 weeks.

Every man has his tribe. Home. Work. Streams of consciousness flooding in. No man is an island. Even in the dark of the night, dreams stream in. Everyone, everything… connected.

Except for these moments. These transitions. Tribe to tribe. Home to work. Family, friends, all-access celebrities, blinked away. Alone. Isolated. David Morello–just a sack of meat waiting.

But only for a moment. The system dials, reconnects. His feed swallowed, disseminated, reconstructed. Detective David Morello. NYPD tribe.

Macros pilot his meatsack to its desk but he’s already got a homicide request. There is a moment of disorientation as the on-scene detective’s visual feed obliterates his own.

A man on a bed. As if asleep. Except his eyes. Black ruins that ran down his cheeks. Crisped flesh at the edges.

Morello patched in,” he says.

Chambers,” comes back a hard nasal voice. “My ‘sack’s on-scene. John Doe. Dead on my arrival. Fried.” Chambers pulls up images from the crime lab mainframe. Twisted cranial wiring. Morello asks the AIs in research to cross-reference them.

Too much heat,” Chambers says. One more image. Graphic.

We know what the Doe was connected to?” Morello asks. Known harmful feeds, or downloaded malware will cut the case time.

That’s just it,” said Chambers. Diagnostics begin scrolling down the shared feed. “He wasn’t connected at all.”

No. Morello denies it. The thought of it. It is as if he is suddenly alone. Suddenly in the dark. In that yawning moment of disconnection stretching out, out, out. No feeds. A man alone. Quaking, Knowing this is the last transition. Life to death. Just a sack of meat.

#

He cuts the police feed. Dials his home tribe. His kids, his wife. Sensations wash over him, through him: puzzling over a math problem, over a recipe for stew, watching an ass track down the street.

#

Back. The murder scene. NYPD tribe.

Thought I lost your feed,” Chambers says.

Again, the fear. But weaker now. John Doe’s problem, not his,

He gets Chambers to flip the corpse over and sees the burn mark. Suicide. Overcharged himself. Morello isn’t surprised. Disconnected… alone… No man is an island. He is either buoyed up by others, or he drowns.

Morello posts his report. He watches the feeds of those who read it. All of them sharing the knowledge. All of them, through him, connected.

“Say, mister, you sure are going fast in that thing.”

“My God–get out of here, kid!”

“Whatcha got there, a rocket pack? You invent it?”

“No, don’t touch that! Keep away!”

“Aw, you don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m not a ghost or anything like that. I’m a angel!”

“I can see that.”

“I wasn’t always a angel, though. I was a kid once. You got kids?”

“Angels are a separate kind of beings. They’re not people.”

“Some of ‘em. Not me, though! I died in 1938. Fell in the creek and banged my face on a rock and whaddaya know, next thing I’m a angel! Lost my two front teeth, too. See?”

“Stop getting so close! You touch the wrong knob and I’ll drop a mile straight down. Can you just go home? I have to talk to God. Things aren’t going right down there. I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to be.”

The kid-angel swooped in little spirals around the man as the rocket pack blasted the man up through the blue glare and toward the golden glimmer he could already glimpse far above him.

“I don’t know,” the kid said. “Maybe that’s not such a good idea. Cantcha talk to him from down there?”

“I tried that.”

“What are ya, a preacher? Ya look like a preacher.”

“I am.”

“But yer an inventor, too?”

“Get away from that! Shoo! Didn’t you hear me? You could kill me fiddling with that!”

“Sorry. I just never seen anything like this. I’m mighty interested! What’s this do?”

When the kid-angel touched a switch, the rocket pack sputtered and died. The man screamed as he tumbled backward, down toward the clouds, his arms outstretched and a pleading expression on his face. The kid-angel fluttered in place.

When the rocket pack man was gone, the kid-angel wiped his nose on his sleeve, which had gotten runny from all the crying. Finally he looked upward and flipped his wings once, sending him shooting toward Heaven. He wouldn’t be needed again for another 63 years, Saint Peter had said. He’d be able to spend the rest of the time playing and talking and swimming and singing hosannas and whatever he liked. In Heaven, even. And he could go say sorry to that man when the fella arrived in a few minutes.

But it was still a crummy job.

The skirt was the reddish brown of cinnamon with white circles, as varied in diameter as the city Koti’s coins, clustered in the bottom right-hand corner of its front. “It grew this morning in my garden,” the old man said.
Bganti needed only a bird’s cry of time to translate it.

“Thank you,” he told the old man. When the man had gone, with the skirt neatly folded and thinking, no doubt, of how he would possibly sell such a plain garment, Bganti reached for his stack of thick notesheets.

‘A brief fall of hail in the south-east of the city’ he wrote, and had a boy take it to the Council-Head, who wanted every skirt-message that grew across the city — even trivialities like the previous night’s weather.

Bganti, Master Translator for the city Koti — only translator of the city’s skirt-sent communications — reclined in his chair and schooled a carefully neutral expression as he flicked through his lie-filled records.

~

A week later the apple crop failed, as the city had known it would. A sudden chemical imbalance in the soil.

~

“This grew in the night. Looks like a complicated one.”

“Bring it closer.”

The woman with a crescent moon birthmark on her cheek did so, allowing him a thorough look: a discord of colours and patterns, triangles tessellating into stars and squares, smears of black like spilled ink across the spice hues of the rest.

Bganti’s whole body stiffened, as if petrified.

“Bad news, Translator?” the woman asked.

“Ah… yes. Trouble at the market today. Perhaps another of those earth tremors.”

“Not a bad one, is it?” Her voice went soft, worrying.

“I’ll have the Council-Head put a warning out.”

~

Sturdy travelling clothes, a few treasured books, a thumbnail painting of his mother — Bganti packed them as fast as he could behind the concealment of pulled-down blinds. He’d expected more time than this, but natural forces did not follow a man’s desired timetable.

The city bells rang the tenth hour of morning. He needed to leave.

But outside, in every street of the city, people hurried towards the southern gates carrying packs and loose possessions, and Bganti saw the woman with a crescent moon birthmark shouting through a megaphone.
Pointing at the mountain to the city’s north, warning of fire and super-hot smoke.

He had been promised so much money to conceal this.

“Working for the Abani, I take it,” said a voice — the Council-Head’s — as a pair of men seized Bganti, held him still. “Surely you didn’t think my failures to train another Translator would continue forever. She’s rather good.”

As the men dragged Bganti back inside, the woman looked at him just once, with anger as visible on her body as her clothes.

It was a still sea that spat him forth, the surface as flat as a pond, the waters rank with dead sea-grass and the bloated bodies of fish. There was no sun to herald his arrival, nothing but a faint spot somewhere above the slate-grey clouds.

A jagged rock snagged his bobbing vessel, and the skin around him tore. As he uncurled from his foetal position he found twin horns on his head, sharp and mean. They made short work of the amniotic sac, and in moments he’d freed himself.

Awareness. Movement.

He saw his body for the first time, drank in the enormity of his limbs, his height, touched his long snout and horns. He was. The newborn knelt in the motionless brine, sluicing the wreckage of skin and slime away from his matted fur.

He cupped a handful of water in his broad hands, and lifting it above the murk he saw his own face reflected. He was a bull-man, a hybrid of man and beast. A minotaur. While there were many blanks in his mind, these terms of reference came instantly to him.

The child stood for a long moment in the shallows, pondered the desolate stretch of shore, the endless cliffs. The beach was loose stone, here and there covered in thick drifts of dead sea-grass, white and crumbling to dust. There’d been no high tide in months, if not years. In moments he realised the concepts of tidal patterns, lunar cycles, the works.

With some panic he realised that he was the only living thing on that desolate shore. The world he’d just been born into had an ocean but no tides, death but no new life to make way for.

‘I’m alone?’ he asked, voice a thick rumble. It was a strong and deep sound. He cried out in fear, an animal bleat, the sound echoing against the cliff-face.

As the sound faded, the beach was once again silent and still.

Drawing a deep breath through the fat pipes of his nostrils, the bull-man found control. He clambered ashore, the rocks doing little against the thick leather of his feet. This shale shifted beneath his weight, but he kept his balance, shuffled forward.

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