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.
Something was trying to crawl out of the pool. Cele turned on the light. The carpet was wet all the way to the couch. A lobefin squeezed its eyes shut against the glare, then opened them again and dragged itself past the TV towards her.
“Urrk,” it croaked, and pushed up on its forelimbs. A low wave ran up behind it from the dark, quiet sea that had replaced the wall. The wave ran under the couch, and presumably was soaked up by the remaining dry part of the carpet.
“Tim,” Cele called over her shoulder, “Fish!”
Her husband came in from the kitchen. “Kelly’s pool’s a bit full. I’ll drive ‘em down to the river in the morning.”
“I think they taste good.”
“Cook ‘em then.” But Tim was such a good cook anything she made would be a disappointment. She sighed.
“Tell you what. In the morning I’ll drop them off at St. Mark’s, instead. They can cook some coelacanth steaks for the clients and it won’t go to waste.”
Cele smiled and got to her feet. “You are so good to me! I don’t deserve it.” She patted him as he staggered by with the lobefin in his arms.
In the shower she had to shut her eyes. Sunlight shone in from where the ceiling used to be with blinding intensity. Her thoughts drifted to Tim. Immersed in an erotic daydream, Cele took a while to realize she wasn’t imagining her body shaking. Her eyes shot open. The shower stall shook to a heavy beat. It reminded her of that scene in “Jurassic Park;” with the ponderous but swift footsteps of an approaching tyrannosaur. She looked up.
Tim dashed up the stairs. Cele was standing in the hall, shrieking and trembling. He encircled her with his arms and stroked her, making calming noises. Eventually he got her to tell him what was wrong.
“You’re shivering,” he said. “Go put something on. I’ll check the shower.” He opened the bathroom door and strode inside. A few moments later he came back out. “I don’t see any…. Cele?”
A wet area on the carpet marked where she had stood. He hunted all through the apartment and found no more trace of her than that. Unless you count a two-inch placoderm, flopping on the bedroom floor in front of her open closet.
A. The front door of your hovel
1. Take the goat path down the mountain . . . . . . . 240 steps
2. Follow the royal city road . . . . . . . 12 stadia
3. Continue to the spot where an old woman who isn’t really an old woman will need your assistance . . . . . . . 8.53 stadia
4. Continue to the spot where highwaymen will rob you of everything but the magic flower the old woman gave you, which they’ll snatch from your button hole and trample into the mud . . . . . . . 6.1 stadia
5. Climb until you’re exhausted from shimmying up the stalk of the giant plant that grew from the flower . . . . . . . 0.27 stadia
6. Run across the fields of the cloudland, away from the dragon, into the fog-cave . . . . . . . 763 steps
7. Stumble through the cave passages . . . . . . . 94 steps
8. Veer left at the first fork . . . . . . . 32 steps
9. Veer right at the second fork . . . . . . . 82 steps
10. Emerge into sunlight, and wander the upper cumulus plateau . . . . . . . 102 steps (approx.)
11. Run to that wispy castle-like structure up ahead (the tracking ability of dragons is generally underestimated) . . . . . . . 289 steps
12. Up the stairs to the drawbridge lever . . . . . . . 11 steps
13. Up many more stairs to the top of the tower, since dragons are more solid than cloud-drawbridges . . . . . . . 200 steps
14. Run in panicked circles, searching your pockets for anything with which to defend yourself, and discovering only petals from the old woman’s flower . . . . . . . 54 steps
15. Soar back to your mountainside hovel, on the magical wings into which the petals bloom . . . . . . . 24.3 stadia
16. Run, this time in a panicked straight line, right through your goat pen. (Dragons: no slouch at the soaring thing themselves.) . . . . . . . 289 steps
17. Cower, while great whooshes of fire explode everywhere . . . . . . . 0 steps
18. Crawl out from under the crispy goat. . . . . . . 2 steps
19. Cavort, in the heaps of gold doubloons. (Who knew dragons’ scales were actually layers of hoarded coins? Or that they were so allergic to goats?) (Apparently fairytalemaps.google.com did.) . . . . . . . 330 steps
B. Your destiny.
Our village lies up with the hawks. I can name you every current and cross-current of wind that rails around our high seat. Some several thousands of years ago, my people diverged from the human tree, choosing a peculiar kind of self-protection over terror and aggression: we fly.
But not all of us.
That’s the hard part.
We train and train, when we are young; we name the winds and learn the ways to speak from mind to body, to say, we are as birds, we are as dragons, we are as air, and we shall not fall. We study, and prepare, and then—no amount of preparation can ensure that we will pass the test when we are old enough.
That’s where I stand, right now. I stand at the edge of the Cliff of Deeds. I don’t look down. The nets don’t catch everyone, after all, and before today my friends and I have crept to this edge and picked out a white skull, here and there, far below. Those who fall and live have to stay in the village forever, and may take no-one to child with. Those who fall and die have peace, I suppose; I have thought sometimes I’ve heard their spirits. And those who fly…
I have no time left. It’s my turn and my mother is watching. I judge the currents, my hands shaking at my sides.
My stomach lurches—
There’s nothing at all, nothing at all under my feet—
I can see the horizon—
And then, I am not among the white skulls or the trapped living, I’m myself, flying, and there is nothing more lovely than the edge of the earth, out there ahead.