AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the final chapter of the flash serial, “Connected.” Search for the tag “Connected” to find other chapters.
They find Morello surrounded by the bodies.
“My son,” he says, by way of an excuse. “They put my Caul in a coma.”
One hundred forty-seven dead. All terrorists. Responsible for thirty-six deaths and sixty-two comas. Including Morello’s son. One forty-seven to ninety-eight. Morello takes that as a win.
The Vigilant Vigilante, the pressfeeds dub him. Rogue AI leak parts of his recorded feed. Children relive his moments of rage and revenge. They hack Caul’s feed too. Five hundred bucks for five minutes of coma static. It’s a seller’s market.
They put him on trial. The pressfeeds go wild. They blame themselves, music, society. A society of hate they say.
“No,” Morello says. “I did it for love.”
With Morello, society is on trial. When everyone is connected, when the thoughts of parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, celebrities, presidents, all mutter in the back of your head, who is innocent? Who is guilty?
And Morello sits in his cell. And his son lies in his coma.
The first jury is hung. Perfectly balanced. Mind connects to mind and fails to find black and no white. Just gray.
There is no answer, no simplicity. Only fuel for a media funeral pyre. And eventually that burns out.
Finally the government lawyer comes for him. “We cannot hold you,” he says. “We cannot let you go.” The lawyer’s meatsack wears round polished glasses. He outlines the compromise.
Caul’s hospital room is cold and white. Caul’s meatsack is two years older than when it first lay down. Morello lies down next to it. Nurses attach wires and evict his soul.
Caul’s mind is cold and white. His body does not move. Morello is the ghost in its machine. “Caul,” he says, “I want to tell you a story. I want to talk to you about love.” And he speaks into the white blankness of his son’s mind, and he tells him of ties stronger than wireless signals, and what it drove him to do.
Outside, Morello’s wife sits and watches what passes for justice. She sits alone. Disconnected. And she does not share the moment when her son’s hand twitches.
Maddy was asleep, a smile on her face. Cliff slid out of bed and padded, naked, to the hall. Curiosity always got the better of him in a new place, and most girls didn’t seem to mind. He had already seen every room of Maddy’s small apartment except the spare room. Maddy was … perplexing. Tall, dark, her face oddly proportioned, as if she had been made by someone who had had women described to him but who had never seen one. Different in bed too. Earlier he had felt like his entire body were about to explode. Afterwards he had patted himself down, just to make sure he was all there. Her décor…. Her books had never been opened, the TV was dusty. Only the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen had seen any use at all. He eased open the door of the spare bedroom and slipped inside. The only light came from the hall.
He took a few steps in, waiting for his eyes to adjust. There was not a sound except his own breathing, but he felt as if the room were crowded. This might have been a bad idea. The door closed with a snick and the light came on. Maddy pressed herself against him from behind, pinning his arms with hers. He was staring at a stone idol that almost brushed the ceiling. It sat with legs crossed and arms curved forward as if to catch whoever stood in front of it. Its teeth were large and sharp. Eight eyes, or, rather, empty sockets where they should be, seemed to stare right at him. Masks, censers, diverse weapons, and other paraphernalia lined the room, but he could spare no attention for it. The idol seemed to be flexing its muscles. Maddy was flexing hers too. She whispered in his ear.
“It’s me or the god,” she said. “Join me, worship him, or join him a different way.” She turned him around and stared into his eyes. “Choose.”
“You’re freaking me out.” He pulled back and she let him go.
“Goodbye Cliff,” she said sadly.
“Wait.” He licked his lips. Rough hands seized his shoulders. The nails were sharp and long.
The phase ships drifted overhead, immense and slow as clouds — rusty clouds, Last Empire surplus that had spent a few decades rotting in a parking orbit around one of the further ring-moons — and flocks of drones flew around, among, and between them.
Coming down from the viewing platform, I missed the last stair. One or more of the ships must have needed its gravity tuned. My feet pedaled around a couple times before I found the ground. The auction wasn’t going well.
“That’s minor,” said my Aunt Artemisia. Her voice echoed over the salt flat in waves as the translators for each group of bidders caught up. “They cleared a thorough inspection by registered engineers. Nothing’s wrong that’ll cost much to fix.”
I could tell that from the way that the Zhrrkians had sheathed their foreclaws they weren’t planning to scratch any bids on their translator pads, and the ecto-projections from the 11th dimension were barely bubbling in their jars, so they didn’t look ready to jump into the bidding fray either.
The phase ships were essentially big hovering rocks, triumphs of solid-state engineering and utter failures of livability. Aunt A. had to drop the starting bid twice, and the price moved sluggishly from there.
“Do I hear nine billion?” Her enthusiasm was “Eight?”
But the auction kept rolling; every time it seemed like someone had won by a few credits, another bid came in. More often than not, the keep-alive bids seemed to come in on the screens hooked to the transdimensional relays. But they seemed to come in just a little too quickly; there should have been more of a lag.
“Fifteen?” said Aunt Artemisia. “Fourteen-five?”
I monitored the input, waited for another lull, another last minute save. It happened twice more before I could trace it, another time before I believed the results: it was the drones. The drones we’d rented along with the auction platform, the salt flats and the airspace above.
I looked up. They weren’t just randomly flocking around the ships, transmitting images. They were looking for something, following some kind of ridges or cracks that hadn’t been in the inspector’s report.
I wondered for a moment why they’d been stalling — surely the weren’t trying to run up the price. Then the first of the phase ships hatched, and the drones helped the vast glowing thing within to emerge into the universe. From then on, we all had far more interesting things to wonder about.