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Plugs - Ch. 3/9

The silence after Noah’s statement seemed to thicken, to fill every inch of the bus with its weight. Billy felt unnaturally aware of the city as he sat there between the rows of Farms, the walls of which seemed to sway and swell in his peripheral vision.

A hundred thousand Plugs in each Farm, he thought, and for the first time in his life, he felt the sheer immensity of New York.

If this was more than a connector failure; if the power was gone from the entire city...Billy swallowed hard.

Fourteen. Million. Plugs.

“Billy!”

He blinked and looked up, to find he was alone in the bus. The others were outside, staring at him with varying degrees of annoyance, concern and indifference.

“Come on,” Noah said. “We’re heading to Mel’s. It’s closest.”

~~~~~

They were all staggering by the time they got to Mel’s. The muscles in Billy’s legs were quivering and felt like mush. He half-expected them to give way beneath him with each step. He couldn’t wait for the bots to do their work and ease the strain on his body.

As he collapsed on the living room floor, he suddenly understood the other reason they’d come here: it was on the ground floor.

“What’s going on, Noah?” Doc asked, and Billy turned his head to look where she was lying flat on the floor, an arm flung over her eyes, her mouth twisted in pain.

“I’m as much in the dark as you are,” Noah replied, “no pun intended.”

Billy looked up and around and realized there were no lights, no sound, the com was blank and lifeless, just like the clock on the wall behind it. He didn’t know why, but he’d hoped...he closed his eyes.

“It’s probably just New York,” Mel said, but his omnipresent, self-effacing smile was, for once, gone.

“Yeah,” Girl said. “I mean, nothing could take out the whole world, right?”

Noah remained silent, staring off into the distance, his face blank.

Doc glanced at him from beneath her arm and said, “What’s next?”

Noah’s eyes roamed over them, his ragtag team of Mundanes, the last in New York City. His gaze lingered on Girl and Billy, and his expression softened slightly, before he looked at Doc and said, “Well, we can’t be down for a few days because we’re too stiff to move.”

“The bots -” Moira started, then stopped, blinking uncertainly.

“They should have been working all along,” Girl said, her voice tight. “We should have made it down all those stairs without a problem.”

Heavy silence followed Girl’s words, then Holland said, his voice low and tentative, “We pushed ourselves pretty hard. I think the bots just need time to catch up.”

The relief rolled off the others in waves although Noah’s solemn expression didn’t change.

“Doc,” he said, turning his dark gaze on her, “can we get to some painkillers at the dispensary?”

Doc shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Everything’s automated; how things work behind the walls...I don’t know.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I just don't know.”

“Well, let’s go find out.”

They all stared incredulously at him. Noah glanced around.

“Just me and Doc,” he clarified. Their expressions didn’t change.

“Look,” he sighed, “maybe this...whatever this is - is temporary, and the Eye will have fixed the problem by morning. And yeah, the bots in our blood probably just need some time to catch up with us. But if this -” he gestured helplessly, indicating all of the silent equipment in Mel’s living room as well as the unnatural silence that permeated the rest of the city, “takes a little time to fix, then we need to be prepared, and if our bots can’t catch up as quickly as we expect, then we’re all going to have trouble moving tomorrow.”

He looked at their puzzled faces, and suddenly realized that none of the other people in the room had ever lived without the bots maintaining their bodies. He shook his head.

“Trust me, you’ll have trouble walking tomorrow. Doc - let’s go. Let’s see if we can figure out what’s in the dispensary, and how to get to it. Mel.”

Mel started slightly and stared, his dark eyes wide in his broad, good-natured and now worried face.

“We’ll need food soon.”

Everyone looked towards the silent kitchen. Mel frowned.

“Yeah,” Noah said. “Good luck.” He reached down and pulled Doc to her feet; she stood with a pained groan. “We’ll be back soon.” He opened the door then glanced over his shoulder at the others. “We’re also going to need light before too long. Somebody might want to get on that, too.”

The door closed behind them with a tiny click that echoed in the silence of Mel’s living room.

~~~~~

Doc leaned heavily on Noah as they walked into the dispensary.

“God,” she groaned, “my legs are shaking. If the bots don’t start making a difference soon, I’m not sure I’m going to make it back.”

“I guess you can always sleep here,” Noah shrugged, already prowling around the featureless room.

“That’s what I love most about you, Noah: your compassion.”

Noah smirked and shrugged. He finished his inspection of the room then turned back to her.

“Remind me how this place works. It’s been – hmmm – a hundred and twenty years since I’ve worked in the dispensary. I’m almost certain things will have changed since then.”

Doc chuckled and said, “Well, I put an order in on the com, and the medication comes out there,” she nodded towards one of the smooth walls where there was a square etched in the plasmet. “More often, though, the drugs are already there when I come in, especially when they’re for one of the Plugs.”

“That means there has to be someplace in this building that synthesizes the drugs,” Noah muttered.

“Well, somewhere in the city, anyway,” Doc agreed. “I’m not sure what you’re hoping to find, Noah. The drugs are synthesized upon demand. It’s not like I have racks of all the drugs in the world in the basement.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no matter how they’re made, or how well they’re stored, drugs will eventually go bad. I would have killed more Plugs than you can possibly imagine if the drugs were more than a couple of years old.”

Noah sighed. “Humour me.”

She shook her head in resignation. “Fine.” She paused and looked thoughtfully at him. “Why are we here? The power should hopefully be back on before nightfall. Even if it isn’t, the bots will start making a difference soon; we should be as good as new by morning. We don’t really need the drugs. Do we?”

Noah turned away and prowled restlessly around the cool, grey room.

“Noah?” Doc asked sharply.

“If this is what I think it is, the power won’t be coming back.”

Doc stared, eyes wide. “What are you talking about? What do you think this is?”

He kept his back to her as he said, “I think the Eye has been destroyed.”

Doc continued to stare at his back until she finally closed her mouth with an audible snap.

“That’s impossible,” she said flatly.

Noah turned to look at her, an eyebrow raised in dark amusement. “Nothing is impossible,” he said.

“But...it’s in space! Isn’t it? I mean, it’s been well over a hundred years since I’ve really thought about it, but...I mean...it...”

They stared at each other in uncomfortable silence, then Doc said, very quietly, “Why do you think the Eye’s been destroyed?”

“Because the original designers tried to think of every possible scenario and planned for them. The Eye, the Farms and the city – hell, the world - have redundancies built upon redundancies built upon redundancies.”

“So?”

“So. What’s happening here is supposed to be,” he huffed a humourless chuckle, “impossible.”

~~~~~

Mel hobbled into the kitchen and stared around helplessly. Like all the homes in the city, everything was automated. All the appliances were connected to the greenhouses. In the morning, he set his breakfast glass in the alcove, ordered his nutrients on a timer, and the glass was filled by the time he got out of the shower. For supper, he programmed the stove for whatever he felt like eating. The nutrient mixture fed into the stove, which seasoned it, processed it and presented him with a facsimile of whatever meal he had requested. Of course, for the most part, Mel and especially the younger members of the team, had never tasted the meals the nutrients were simulating; for all they knew the food provided tasted nothing like the real things.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, telling himself to focus. None of that mattered right now; what did matter was the fact that they were eventually going to get hungry, and he had no idea how to get food into his kitchen - or what to do with it if he did.

~~~~~

Moira shuffled around Mel’s living room while Billy, Girl and Holland appeared to be sleeping on the floor. She told herself her legs were feeling better already. To take her mind off her quivering muscles and the oppressive silence that permeated the room, she carefully looked at each picture on the walls and on the side tables. They all, she saw, had Mel’s smiling face beside a woman Moira didn’t recognize.

Mel limped in to the living room, his smile replaced by a worried frown. She glanced at him.

“Who’s this?” she asked, nodding towards one of the pictures.

He stilled for a moment, staring blankly at the pictures, then shook himself out of his daze as he said, “My wife. She Plugged In about ten years ago.”

Moira nodded. “She’s lovely.”

Mel smiled. “I’ll be sure to tell her you said so.” His smile abruptly vanished, and he swallowed as he looked away, then, with a mumbled excuse, hurried back to the kitchen.

Moira returned to her careful pacing.

They all had somebody in the Worlds, she thought, although she hadn’t talked to her parents in fifteen years, possibly more. She supposed, when the time came, she’d Plug In like everyone else. She supposed she’d eventually find a World she liked; more likely, she’d find many Worlds she liked. She had a long time to explore them, after all.

She was suddenly acutely aware of the silence, broken only by the others’ soft breathing. She swallowed as the meaning of that silence struck her again.

She visualized a floor of Plugs: ten thousand of them, laid out in their tubes, in neat columns and rows. A hundred floors in each Farm, each floor looking exactly the same. A hundred and forty-one Farms; fourteen million Plugs...and if the power didn’t come back on...

She swallowed, tasting acid.

They’d begin to wake up.

She swallowed again.

Some of the Plugs had been Plugged In for a hundred and fifty years. If they woke up...

Moira’s stomach heaved, and she clapped a hand to her mouth as she bolted as fast as her shaking legs allowed down the hall, where she heaved bile and air into the toilet, the acid burning her throat.

When she was finished, she closed her eyes as she leaned her forehead against the cool plasmet of the bathtub.

The power had to come back, she thought dully.

There simply was no other option.

~~~~~

Girl heard Moira retching in the bathroom.

She sat up and met Billy’s worried gaze, then waited tensely as she tried to determine if Moira needed her help or not.

The toilet flushed, and Girl dimly wondered if that was the last time she’d hear that sound. Moira staggered slightly as she returned to the living room, avoiding Billy’s and Girl’s eyes. She collapsed into the armchair, leaned her head back against the cushions and closed her eyes.

Girl glanced at Billy, then she laid back down on the floor, covered her face with her arm, and closed her eyes. A moment later, she heard Billy lay down again as well.

There was no sound at all from the kitchen.

There was no sound anywhere.

~~~~~

Holland kept his eyes closed, his body relaxed, his mind blank.

They needed to let the bots do their work, and they needed to wait until the power came back.

He was good at waiting.

~~~~~

They were sitting up, telling each other they were already feeling better and carefully avoiding discussing the still-silent com and the darkening room when Noah and Doc returned, bearing not medicine, but several bottles of nutrients.

They all groaned as they clambered to their feet and Mel bustled to the kitchen for glasses, which he handed out to them.

“Well,” Billy said, relieved, “the repairs must be underway or the power outage can’t be so widespread if the greenhouses are still working.”

Noah shook his head. “We got this from the processing plant,” he said, beginning to carefully pour out the nutrients. “The greenhouses aren’t working either.”

The others stared, frozen in the act of holding out their glasses for nutrients.

“What...does that mean, exactly?” Girl finally asked, her voice tiny.

Noah stared impassively at her. “It means there’s no power here in New York.” He shoved the container with what was left of the nutrients into Holland’s hand, then settled himself heavily on the couch.

“Are we the only ones without power?” Billy blurted.

“I don’t know.”

“Well - well, is help on its way?”

“I don’t know, Billy.”

Billy stopped and blinked. He glanced at the others, and saw his own dismay mirrored in their faces.

Noah sounded...tired. And old.

And afraid.


Chapter Two                         Chapter Four

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
onceiwasaturtle
Feb. 20th, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
You always do such an great job with emotions! Loving this story so far!! :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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shirleyann66
shirleyann66

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Quotes

"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need...fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little --"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

-- Susan and Death in Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

"And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based."

-- Lord Vetinari in Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.

-- Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

As a wizard, it was something that Ponder had only before encountered in acorns: a tiny soundless voice which said, yes, I am but a small, green, simple object - but I dream about forests.

-- Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

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In the 24th century, there will be no hunger. There will be no greed. And every child will know how to read.

-- Gene Roddenberry, as repeated by Jonathan Frakes in the documentary How William Shatner Changed the World

---------------------

We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way.

-- Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Hard Way from the album Come On, Come On

---------------------

Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

-- John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change from the album Continuum

---------------------

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, "I'll try again tomorrow."

-- Mary Anne Radmacher, as seen in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Tales to Inspire

---------------------

I never loved the soldier
Until there was a war.
Or thought about tomorrow
'til my baby hit the floor.
I only talk to God
When somebody's about to die.
I never cherished freedom
Freedom never cries.

-- Five for Fighting, Freedom Never Cries from the album Two Lights

---------------------

It may sound absurd: but don't be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed: but won't you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream

-- Five for Fighting, Superman (It's Not Easy) from the album American Town

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Had a dream last night took a time travellin' ride
Back to my childhood where those monsters reside
They snack on innocence and dine on self-esteem
But I like to be in touch with what makes me scream
Vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost
These are the things that terrify me the most.
No alien, psychopath or MTV host
Scares me like vampires,mummies and the Holy Ghost.

-- Jimmy Buffett, Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost from the album Fruitcakes

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"I want to believe that... the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us... as part of something greater than us - greater than any alien force. And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen, to what's speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves."

-- Fox Mulder, The X-Files from the episode The Truth, pt. 2
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