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Plugs - Ch. 5/9

The team, minus Billy, stood on the street, and looked at the Farms, stretching into the distance and into the sky. Just over five square miles of Farms filled with Plugs, Moira thought, and shivered.

If what Noah said was true, and the Eye was truly gone, then these Farms were now something else entirely: tombs for almost the entire human race. Her mind skittered away from that thought, from imagining other places on the planet: cities like Mexico City with almost forty million Plugs, or China; four billion people there alone. Fifteen billion people around the globe, snug in their tubes, Plugged In, oblivious to the physical world and the way it had betrayed them.

Fitting in a way, she thought. After all, hadn’t the Plugs basically betrayed the physical world, and the Mundanes left behind to care for them? She blinked, and wondered where that thought had come from.

She glanced at Noah, standing grim-faced as he stared thoughtfully at the Farms.

He seemed to feel the weight of her gaze because he glanced at her, then the others, and said, “We’re going to split up. We have three priorities. Girl, you and Holland will unPlug teams 139 and 138. They’ve been Plugged in the least; 139 definitely won’t be a problem - it was only a day! Hopefully 138 will transition back to the physical world relatively easily; they only Plugged In - what? Not quite two years ago?

“There’s also a small group of experimental Plugs. They’ve been Plugged In almost since the beginning, but they signed up for some experimental bots that were programmed to prevent atrophy in their bodies. The bots were designed to keep the muscle mass healthy and toned, and the ligaments flexible.” He glanced at their puzzled looks. “The bots ended up being more complex than expected. They were simply too expensive to roll out to all the Plugs. Besides, the innovation wasn’t necessary after we understood that once Plugged In, people tended to stay that way.”

They nodded their understanding, and Noah continued. “Their bodies should easily adjust to the physical world. Plus there’s only about twenty of them. Hopefully that’s a small enough number and we should be able to control them if they’re as dangerous as we suspect. Doc, you and I will unPlug them.

“Moira, I want you and Mel to go to the nearest greenhouse. See if you think there’s some way to convert it to grow the algae manually; maybe we can still save the current crop.” He hesitated, then said, “I have some vegetables - real ones. We’ll also have to search for fruits, vegetables and grains in the wild that - maybe - we can grow in the greenhouses instead of, or in addition to, the algae. We’ll worry about processing the algae later.”

Moira and Mel glanced at each other and nodded briskly.

“We’ll meet you at the greenhouse when we’re done. Let’s go,” Noah said, and the team dispersed to complete their assigned tasks.

~~~~~

Girl and Holland worked in somber silence, the only sound their soft footsteps and the sickening sound of feeding tubes being removed from living bodies. They, along with the excretion tubes, were the only physical tubes the Plugs needed; the bots in their blood and the microfibres on their brains monitored their vital signs without the need for physical wires. It made it easier to look after the Plugs, Girl thought, grimacing with distaste as she opened the next Plug’s container and began to remove the next set of tubes. She paused in her task and blinked.

It had made it easier to look after the Plugs.

They worked steadily and Girl felt oddly guilty that they weren’t replacing the tubes. She knew it was a stupid feeling; they had no idea if they themselves would have anything to eat tonight, let alone try to figure out how to feed and maintain all the unconscious Plugs in the city.

She was suddenly tired of silence. She glanced at Holland, and said, “What do you think is going to happen?”

Holland turned wide, startled eyes towards her.

She grimaced. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m not sure what I was thinking.”

She shook her head and turned her attention to the next Plug.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Holland standing still, his dark eyes fixed on her. Girl could see him almost physically struggling with her question. She pulled another tube from a Plug as she said, “Holland, it’s okay. Don't worry about it. I was just trying to make conversation.”

He didn’t react for another long moment, then he slowly nodded and turned his attention back to the Plugs.

~~~~~

Moira found herself relaxing as they walked into the greenhouse. Even though it was unnaturally silent, the smells, colours and warmth were the same. She thought that was a good sign and said as much to Mel.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it hopefully means we’ll be able to use the greenhouses like Noah suggested: to grow other things in addition to the algae.”

“You really think so?” Mel’s broad, amiable face was almost painfully hopeful.

Moira looked around and nodded briskly.

“Yes,” she said firmly, “I really think so. Come on. I’ll show you around.”

~~~~~

Noah and Doc worked in companionable silence, briskly and efficiently removing the feeding tubes from the experimental Plugs. They were on the thirtieth floor of Farm 15, and Doc was inordinately glad the bots had efficiently repaired the damage done from walking down a hundred storeys the day before.
“How’d you know about these Plugs?” she asked casually.

Noah glanced at her, then shrugged. “I’ve been around for a long time, Doc. I’ve heard things. Plus I’ve been the City Supervisor for the last thirty years. I was told things.”

“Yeah?”

“You sound skeptical.”

Doc shrugged. “I’ve been around for a long time, too, Noah, and I never heard of them. Besides, you sounded like you had first-hand knowledge of these specific Plugs.”

“I do.”

She glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

Noah chuckled. “You’re very curious all of a sudden.”

“It’s starting to look like we’re going to be stuck in the physical world for the rest of our lives, and there aren’t going to be enough of us left to avoid each other.”

Noah chuckled again. “And I won’t even have any more beer, either, to make it better.” He shrugged at her disappointed frown. “I got it from Alfred in Toronto. He was going to bring me the recipe when he arrived to Plug In.”

She chuckled. “I don’t have that option for my cigars. I don’t think we can - Noah.”

Noah turned sharply at her tone of voice.

Doc was staring, eyes wide, mouth gaping, at the Plug in front of her.

“This one’s awake.”

Noah rushed over and skidded to a halt beside her. He, too, stared down at the Plug.

She was young, delicately pretty, and not nearly as emaciated as the Plugs equipped with standard bots. She was blonde with large blue eyes and she was staring up at them with a mix of terror, relief and confusion on her face.

Noah closed his mouth with a snap. “Well,” he said slowly, “we knew the drugs would wear off at different times.”

“This is awfully fast, though,” Doc muttered. She leaned forward and said, very carefully, “Can you hear me? Blink once for yes.”

The blonde blinked once.

“Well, that’s good,” Doc muttered. She gestured to the feeding tube. “I need to remove that; you won’t be needing it. It’s going to hurt, though,” she warned. “Are you ready?”

The blonde’s breathing hitched, then she very slowly and deliberately blinked once.

“Okay,” Doc said, then steadied her trembling hands. “Okay. I’ll do this as quickly as possible. You may want to close your eyes.”

The woman closed her eyes, and Doc took a deep, slightly shaking breath, then grasped the tube and pulled it from the woman’s throat in one smooth motion.

“I’m glad you didn’t make me do that,” Noah muttered.

“Believe me, it crossed my mind.”

The woman was whimpering quietly, and Noah thought about how that tube had been in her body for over a hundred and thirty years. Even with the bots to prevent her body from trying to absorb or reject the alien thing inside it, the removal of that tube still had to have been painful. He winced inside at the thought of removing the excretion tube. The physical discomfort was why he’d wanted to remove the tubes from those Plugs he thought had the best chance of reintegrating into the physical world before they woke up.

There was a whisper from the tube-like bed, and he realized the woman was speaking. Doc bent low, trying to hear the voice coming from a throat that hadn’t physically been used in well over a hundred years.

“Is this a new World?”

Noah blinked, and suddenly the events of the last two days hit him all at once. He laughed, grim, determined, half-crazed.

“You have no idea,” he said.


Chapter Four                        Chapter Six

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
onceiwasaturtle
Feb. 21st, 2013 12:08 am (UTC)
The mystery deepens! :D
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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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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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."

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