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Plugs - Ch. 4/9

They spent the night at Mel’s, lined up in the living room almost like Plugs. Noah was given the couch in deference to his age, although no one dared say that to his face, while Doc was given the armchair. It was dark and silent and slightly chilly as they slept.

Well.

Holland slept. He ignored the darkness and the silence, and slept the sleep of the just.

Billy stared at the ceiling, terrified that the Worlds - the Worlds he’d yearned for his entire life - were now beyond his reach. As the night ticked slowly towards dawn, he tried to convince himself the power would turn back on at any moment, and everything would be back to normal. The Worlds and the Plugs who created and populated them were immortal and nothing could change that.

Nothing.

Mel, alone in his bedroom, wondered what his wife and the other Plugs were currently experiencing. Were they in the dark and silence too? In a way, Mel hoped so; it made him feel closer to those bodies in the tubes that he tended every day. But the more he thought about it, the more his stomach churned until he finally forced himself to stop thinking at all. He laid on his back and stared up at the ceiling he couldn’t see and waited for morning.

Moira thought of the greenhouses, of the nutrient-giving algae and wondered how long they had before the algae began to die. She tried not to think about what they would do if the power was off long enough for that to happen.

Doc thought of the millions of Plugs in the city, of how long they’d been Plugs, about the state of their bodies after decades, in some cases a century and a half, of inactivity. She thought about their potential state of mind after their lengthy isolation from the physical world. She fervently hoped Noah was wrong, and that the power would be back by morning.

Girl longed for her hut and solitude, and wondered if the cat would be all right. She shied away from thoughts of the Plugs or the Worlds. As she listened to the dark, she told herself they were barely human, and she had no interest in the fate of the Worlds.

Noah thought of many things, and wondered what the morning would bring.

~~~~~

The morning brought sunshine, and the continued blackness of the com and the silence of the electronic equipment in Mel’s house. While making only fleeting eye contact, the team quietly and quickly drank the nutrients they had hoarded from the night before. The problem of the bathroom was solved, at least for the short-term, by using facilities in the long-abandoned houses next to Mel’s.

After they’d all returned, Doc took a deep breath, then levelled her gaze on Noah and said, “What now?”

Noah shook his head, staring at nothing, the grooves of his face deeper than usual. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe this is local?” Mel asked hopefully.

“Maybe.”

“But you don’t think so.”

“No.” Noah blinked and focused on the others of his team. “If it was local, it would most likely be fixed by now.”

“Maybe it is,” Billy said. “In different parts of the city, I mean.”

Noah shook his head. “The city’s on one grid. If one part of the city has power, then every part of the city has power.”

Billy deflated. “Oh.”

“So, this could last for a while,” Moira said slowly.

Noah blinked slowly at her. “A while. Yes.”

“Forever, you mean,” Girl said flatly.

“Possibly.”

Billy gaped, then snapped, “No. No! That’s impossible!”

Noah exchanged a glance with Doc and shared a glimmer of a smile with her as he said, “Nothing’s impossible.”

“This is! If the Eye can’t fix this, then - then -” Billy stuttered to a stop.

“Then the Eye is gone,” Holland said flatly. Everyone turned to him in surprise, but his eyes were focused only on Noah.

“Possibly,” Noah agreed, then turned his attention back to a glaring Billy.

“So...what? There’s nothing we can do to fix things? What about the Plugs?”

“We can take a look around, but I’m not sure how we’re supposed to find the problem without the Eye,” Noah replied calmly. “If the Eye is gone, then there’s nothing we can do except survive.”

There was a horrible, smothering silence.

“Is there any way to call other Mundanes?” Billy asked in a more subdued voice.

Noah sighed. “I can cobble together a HAM radio, but if there’s no one on the other end of it..." he shrugged helplessly.

Mel said, “Well, if this is bigger than New York, then the other Mundanes will be trying to figure out what’s going on, too. They’ll be trying to contact us.”

“Toronto’s Mundanes were supposed to be on a train yesterday, on their way here. If they got onboard before the power went out, then they’re stranded somewhere. Washington’s Mundanes are the most likely to be trying to contact us right now, but they’re responsible for the Eye and the power grid; they’re likely too busy scrambling to fix the problem - if it can be fixed - to worry about building a HAM radio, at least for today. Mexico, as you know, accelerated their upgrades; they were the first country to have a hundred percent of its population Plugged In. There’s nobody else left in North America.”

He glanced at Doc. “Where do you get your cigars?”

“From a guy in Cuba. I think he rolls them in his basement.”

“So, there’s somebody in the Caribbean, too,” Noah said. “There are probably a few Mundanes left in the rest of the world, especially China, India and Africa; they have the most Plugs after all, and it’ll take them a while longer to upgrade and Plug In. But even if we can make contact with them, it’ll be some time before we’re able to travel great distances again.”

“What about all those Mundanes in North America who refused to Plug In?” Billy asked sarcastically.

“If they have a radio, then they may be a source of assistance,” Noah acknowledged. “But they’d have to have a radio, and they’d have to be listening.”

“So...we’re basically it,” Moira said, her eyes wide and staring at something only she could see.

“For Mundanes. Yes.”

“What about the Plugs?” Billy demanded.

“Yes,” Moira said, nodding eagerly. “Can the bots keep the Plugs alive until we can fix the Eye? Or - or repair the Plugs enough so they can survive in the physical world?”

“The bots don’t last forever,” Noah said, his voice at its most soothing and calming. “They need to be replaced regularly - and they also need energy. If a body doesn’t get enough nutrients, the bots will begin to convert the body’s stored resources into energy. That’s great, if you could stand to lose a few pounds. Not so great if you’re already down to skin and bones. If we could provide enough nutrients, then could the bots repair the Plugs enough so they can survive in the physical world...? Well. Some of them. Maybe.”

“There’s more to surviving in the physical world than just the body,” Doc said.

Everyone gave her their attention. She had one of her cigars out again, and she rolled it gently between her fingers as she continued.

“Besides the physical limitations created by their bodies’ natural deterioration after being physically comatose for decades or centuries, you have to remember these people have also been living virtually for all that time. Think about that for a minute. They haven’t had to be tired, or in pain, or hungry or sick unless they chose to be. They haven’t had to physically eat, or pee, or shit, or even speak. They’ve been able to select their memories and restart scenarios or entire Worlds when something doesn’t go right.

“Then you take into account that there’s nothing in the physical world that can readily compare to the pleasure and the pain they’ve experienced in the Worlds, thanks to the bots and the microfibres directly connected to their brains to intensify the virtual experiences. Finally, you have to understand that over the years, there’s nothing they haven’t done or had done to them. No beauty left unseen, no depravity left to experience or commit. They have spent years, decades - centuries - doing anything they want to anyone they want with complete impunity.”

“What are you trying to say?” Billy demanded.

Doc stared fixedly at the cigar in her hand. “I’m saying the vast majority of the Plugs are most likely batshit crazy. What used to be called psychotic, or sociopathic, or psychopathic.” She straightened her shoulders, and met their blank looks. “Basically, they’re a group of people who, if they could move under their own power, would hunt each other down just so they could experience the thrill. They could murder someone and not understand it’s real here: that person isn’t coming back.”

Billy stared, his dark brown eyes wild. “What are you trying to say?”

Doc calmly met his gaze. “Even if, by some miracle, fourteen million Plugs could survive without the Eye, we may not want them to. They’re most likely dangerous. Beyond dangerous.”

Billy violently shook his head.

The others’ horror was almost palpable.

Noah glanced around, and said carefully, “There are other things we have to think about. Without power, there’s no easy way to get the Plugs down from the top floors - and no place to put them if we did get them down. Not only that, but most of the Plugs will never move under their own power again. Their muscles have atrophied too much, and their bones -”

“What are you saying?” Billy demanded angrily, his voice strident.

Noah turned a suddenly hard, clear stare at him.

“I’m saying - there’s nothing we can do for the vast majority of the Plugs.”

“But - they’ll die if we don’t help them!”

“Then let them die.”

Billy gaped at him, then at the others, his mouth opening and closing before his expression hardened, and he turned and slammed out of Mel’s house.

Noah looked at the others. “We can save some of them,” he said.

~~~~~

Billy’s apartment looked alien.

He leaned wearily against the door and slowly glanced around. It was dark, the com black and cold. There was no comforting hum of power from the kitchen. He slowly slid his hand up the wall beside him and pressed the button for the lights. Nothing happened, and he crumbled, sliding down the wall to the floor with a choked, hopeless sob. He stared around his living room, and saw the VR cap he’d so carelessly left on the lounge chair a lifetime ago. He crawled to the chair, clutched the cap to his chest, and his tears fell. They burned his cheeks as they dripped onto the cap, scalding his fingers.

Gone, he thought, all he could think. Gone.

His sobs grew louder, deeper, wracked his body.

Gone.


Chapter Three                    Chapter Five

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
onceiwasaturtle
Feb. 21st, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
I love the intensity here. :)
shirleyann66
Feb. 22nd, 2013 06:07 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was a really tough chapter to write because of the intensity. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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shirleyann66
shirleyann66

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"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

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"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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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