Plugs

Carla backed up so she could see the reef better. A tessellation of almost-identical shells, each occupied by something vaguely resembling an octopus, individually as intelligent as a cat, and about half the size of a cryopod. As in a coral, the “animals” were connected, forming one colonial organism. It sounded like the cell right in front of her was the one that had spoken. Last time, the colony had been much smaller, and it had not understood her next question.

“Which one of you spoke?”

I am only one. There is no one else but you.

That was interesting. The first few visits, she had not been sure it recognized her as an independent entity. And the language lessons she’d broadcast from the buoy seemed to have been assimilated. Was it gaining intelligence as it grew? She went through the rest of the questions, recording the answers.

“I’ll be back next year. Your health and prosperity.”

As on her previous visits, it only responded to direct questions.

You have returned. Why?

The reef was huge, extending several meters above sea level and for kilometers along the sand ridge. The base was lost in darkness. She hovered above the waves on the seaward side. As always, it seemed that the polyp directly in front of her was the speaker, though she never could see an organ moving or vibrating. She set up a slow leftward drift of the skimmer, to see if the conversation stayed with the original polyp or moved with her.

“You are my research project,” she said. “I study you, to find out how you grow, how you think, what you do.” The reef was silent for a bit.

Again, why? Small organisms that I eat don’t visit me. Only you visit me, and you are not like anything else I know.

The voice moved with her, transferring seamlessly from one polyp to the next.

“I visit you because my people want to learn about others. Because we are not alone.”

Another pause.

Do you know others like me?

“I don’t,” she said. She and her Thesis Committee had agreed to say nothing about the fossil reefs stranded 100 meters above sea level. The reef spoke again.

I will create a motile form. It will transport my essence as you do for your “people.” There will be more like me. They will speak with you.

Your health and prosperity.

end

A demon of pestilence and a demon of fear emerged from the rough road through the forest into the sleeping village. The demon of pestilence was called Jakob Black-Thumb, and the demon of fear preferred not to have a name.

“Why do you always go first?” rumbled Jakob. “Your thing isn’t even real.”

The demon of fear turned a cold glare on Jakob, and Jakob felt a familiar chill trickle down from the base of his horns to the tips of his talons.

“Well, I’m … I’m going over here now,” said Jakob, and he headed for a large house fronted with neat flowerboxes full of pink and blue pansies. He began looking for a rat to infect. Minutes later, he was interrupted by a scream.

Near where the fear demon lurked in the shadow of a doorway, a fire had broken out, and two men were struggling in the street, scrabbling for each other’s throats. That demon of fear was a fast worker.

The screamer was a young man, or a nearly-grown boy, and he was running through the hard-packed dust of the village street, straight toward the demon of fear. The boy had one of those monocles in his eye, the ones men made sometimes by imprisoning an executed murderer’s fleeing soul, and through this he apparently could see the demon of fear. What made no sense was why he was running toward it instead of away from it.

The demon of fear drew itself up and roared, its mouth distending into a slobbering, iron-toothed muzzle, its skin rippling with flames and unidentifiable, writhing masses. Jakob flinched involuntarily, and the boy screamed again, but he flung himself at the demon of fear and … hugged it.

Jakob would have liked to think it was a tackle or some kind of wrestling, but the boy wasn’t squeezing the demon hard, and he wasn’t trying to force it down: he simply wrapped his arms around it and hugged. Jakob’s gorge rose.

The demon of fear, defenseless against the hug, howled desperately as it broke into pieces, falling to the ground like chunks of a burned, rotten tree.

The boy wasn’t screaming any more: now he was breathing hard and gritting his teeth. His chest and arms were badly burned, but he still had the monocle and he had a fervent gleam in his eye. The men in the road stopped fighting. The boy smiled at Jakob.

Jakob ran.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the third 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.

Police work is minutia, is cataloging detail upon detail, is studying lacunae—building images from what’s absent.  It is dull and tedious.

But there is another police work—as old as Cain policing Abel.

Morello’s  feed is being monitored by internal affairs.   They connected as soon as Morello requested his meatsack be the one to chase the lead.  Because someone took Morello’s son.  Someone disconnected Caul from his tribe and put him in a terror coma.  And even reconnected, Caul remains a phantom limb, a pain that cannot be eased.

The shop is an old religious place. Hard copy bibles, crosses, rosary beads.  Software overlays the walls with glory—gold and colored light.  NYPD AI hacks through, reveals the squalor beneath.  The store owner’s ‘sack is middle-aged, skin worn thin by an ache that bleeds out around his eyes.

“Can I help you?”  A bright voice mismatched to the body, the expression.  Morello guesses the store’s visual overlay doesn’t just cover the walls.

He throws an elbow into the ‘sacks throat.  Pin him against a wall.  Cuffs him.

“Careful.”  His partner, Chambers also riding shotgun in his head.  Chamber’s voice emanates from where his conscience should be.  IA remains quiet.

“Hack him,” Morello tells Chambers.  “Find his tribe, his feeds.”

Chambers works.  Morello searches.  Just one thing to connect this guy to the disconnections, to the ‘sacks severed from the network, from the minds of friends and family.  But nothing.

“I got zip,”  Chambers says.  “Can’t find him.  Like he’s not even connected.”

“Everyone’s connected.”  Morello can’t keep the frustration out.

Everyone’s connected except the bodies.  Except the dead men.  Except his son.  And there’s no reason for the crime.  Indiscriminate terrorism.  Unless… Morello stares at the paraphernalia of belief in the store, and sees the disconnections not as a threat or a demand, but as a mandate.  Men and women committed to disconnection.  Men and women who wouldn’t be connected.

He looks at the store owner sweating it out.  He sees Caul’s sack lying in the hospital bed.  He feels IA riding shotgun in his head.

“Careful…”  Chambers can feel the rage boiling out of Morello’s feed.  No-one is disconnected.  But there are two types of police work, and one must be done alone.

Morello drops the connection.  Drops all connections.  Everything noise to the signal of his rage.  Alone he sets to work.

Jake jerked his head up. He’d been drooling. He wiped his face on his sleeve, looked around, then saw the message flashing on the screen. The scanning electron microscope had finally finished pumping down. They really needed that new machine.

He groggily clicked thru the startup procedure, finally got an image of the sample. One am. He had 6 hours left till anyone else had the machine scheduled.

Zoom in, focus, zoom in, focus, Jake was reading license plates before it registered that he’d imaged a city on an antarctic meteorite. One of those meteorites that, mineralogically, seemed to have come from Mars.

Jake excitedly scanned the rock surface. The city covered a good part of it. This was incredible! Forget the thesis. Nature, Science, a Nobel prize!

Jake feverishly scanned and photographed streets full of dwellings, temples, public buildings, focusing in on smaller and smaller details. Fountains, park benches, things that could be statues or streetlights, even people. Hundreds of people, all froxen in place, the monochromatic SEM display reminding him of the ash people of Pompeii.

“This stupid machine,” Jake grumbled. No matter how he focused or adjusted the stigmation he could not resolve facial features. He became obsessed with getting the perfect shot. Backscatter electrons didn’t help. He tried an alternative view and suddenly, one of the faces swam into focus. It had a pair of wide-spaced oblong eyes, a thin, sharp nose, and a wide mouth. The martian looked up at Jake, beckoned with a finger.

Jake began to doubt, for the first time, that he was awake.

“I don’t know,” Sara said. “Jake was supposed to be on overnight. I unlocked the door, and the place was a mess.”

“Ew. His clothes are here.” Jili poked her foot at the crumpled jeans and T-shirt that lay on the floor between the chair and the SEM. The worksurface was littered with empty Mountain Dew cans, candy wrappers, and a spiral notebook, open to a blank page. “He doesn’t use a laptop?”

“No, and it doesn’t even look like he was working last night. He didn’t take any photographs. Do you suppose he ran out of here naked?”

Jili woke up the screen. “He’s got a sample in there, but at such a high power and so out of focus you can’t see a thing. Well, let’s clean up and get to work.”

end

Archive for the ‘Site News’ Category

Auto Draft

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Auto Draft

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

« Older Posts |