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Plugs - Ch. 6/9

Billy was sitting on Mel’s doorstep when the others finally made their way back. There were dark smudges beneath his reddened eyes and his shoulders drooped when he stood to face them as they came to a halt in front of him. He kept his gaze downcast as the others silently considered him.

Then Noah nodded sharply and said, “Good. We have a Plug to carry down thirty storeys once we’re ready.”

Billy’s head snapped up and he gaped. “A - what?”

Doc quickly explained, and Billy shook his head. “You mean you just left her there? All alone?”

Noah calmly met his glare. “She’s in better shape than most of the Plugs, but she can’t walk. She knows we’re coming back for her tonight, but we have to get things ready. Not least of which is finding something for all of us to eat.”

He turned to the others.

“Mel, you set up here. Moira, you and Holland go back to the processing plant and see if you can find more nutrients left in the machinery. Bring back whatever you can because it won’t last much longer. Doc, come with me. Girl, Billy - stay here and help Mel. You’ll both be coming with us when we go to carry the Plug downstairs.”

“Where are you guys going?” Billy demanded.

“Back to the dispensary. This time we’re not going to stop until we find where the drugs were manufactured.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re going to need them.”

~~~~~

Doc and Noah walked into the dispensary armed with torches, crowbars, tools with thin edges of various thicknesses, and hammers. They went immediately to the square in the wall where the medications were delivered, and began to examine the seams.

“I know there’s a way to get to the equipment,” Noah muttered.

“Even if we do get to it, there’s no power. And we don’t have the faintest idea how to manufacturer the drugs anyway!” Doc growled.

Noah glanced at her with a slight smile. “I think you need a cigar,” he murmured.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m down to my last two. I’m getting a new shipment next week.” She bit her lip. “I’m really going to miss those cigars,” she sighed.

“Well, there’s nothing to say we can’t build a boat.”

Doc stared. “Eh?”

Noah included the entire city in the jerk of his head. “We’re surrounded by resources. We just have to figure out a way to make them work for us.”

“There’s no power,” she said flatly.

He chuckled. “We used to cross the oceans with nothing but wind and waves to drive us. I’m sure we can figure out a way to do it again.”

He grunted, and took a step back from the wall.

“There’s no way we’re going to pry that open,” he said. He stood with his hands on his hips and looked around the room. “I’m going to take another look outside. Why don’t you check around in here again; maybe there’s a door hidden somewhere.”

Doc shook her head. “I’ve worked here for almost a hundred years, Noah, girl and woman. I think I would have been told about any secret doors when I trained for the job.”

“Unless your predecessor didn’t know about it either,” Noah smirked as he left the building.

Doc huffed and shook her head as she prowled around the room, carefully searching for anything that might indicate a door, closely inspecting any slight difference in the texture of the wall, but finding nothing.

She stood back with a frustrated growl, and glared around the room. She turned to Noah as he came back inside, and frowned when she saw his grin.

“I told you there’d be a door,” he said. “Light the torches and come on.”

~~~~~

“You’re very quiet. What’s wrong?” Noah asked as they walked back to Mel’s.

Doc slid a very thoughtful look in his direction.

“You seemed to have personal knowledge of the experimental Plugs,” she said slowly, “and you also seemed to know exactly what we were going to find back there. You even knew exactly what to do once we got there.” She held up the small, clear baggy that held several small vials of clear liquid along with a few syringes.

He smiled slightly, but remained silent.

She stopped walking and he took a few extra steps before he, too, stopped. He turned to face her.

“How did you know?” she asked.

He chuckled softly. “I’ve been here since the beginning.”

“Since the beginning.”

“I was here before people started Plugging In, Doc. That’s all. You have to remember, I’m over two hundred years old. During my time here, I’ve worked in every area of this city. I’ve worked for the Eye and with the Plugs for almost a hundred and fifty years. I worked in the dispensary in the very early days; I worked maintenance throughout the city for a few decades, and I was on Team 15 when the experimental Plugs first Plugged In. Of course I have personal knowledge! When you’ve been around as long as I have, you have personal knowledge of a lot of things, and the bots help make sure you never forget it.” He smiled with a slightly cynical edge. “Selective memory is a luxury for the Plugs, not the Mundanes.”

Doc considered him thoughtfully, her mouth turned down in a puzzled frown. She finally shook her head and shrugged as she started walking again. “I just wondered,” she said lightly. “I sometimes forget just how long you’ve been around.”

Noah grinned. “The bots have certainly done their job well, in that case, although I wish I still looked as young as the rest of you do.” He glanced at the sky where the sun was beginning to head towards the horizon. “Come on. Let’s get Girl and Billy and bring that Plug downstairs before it gets too dark..”

~~~~~

The Plug stared at them with wide, blue eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Doc asked, more gently than the others had ever heard her speak.

The woman licked her lips, grimaced, then croaked, “Thirsty. Sore. Cold.”

“Well, your voice is already stronger,” Noah said, his own voice at its most soothing, almost hypnotic. “That means the bots are working.” He glanced at Billy, who was standing motionless, staring with wide-eyed fascination at the woman. “Billy, Girl - why don’t you get the tube open?”

Billy started, and flushed. He nodded quickly and clumsily began to undo the clasps that kept the tube’s lid attached to its bed. Girl watched him for a moment in bemused fascination, then rolled her eyes as she moved to the other side of the tube and quickly dealt with those clasps. She and Billy grasped the lid then, with a nod, carefully lifted it, and set it on end at the foot of the bed, exposing the Plug.

She was naked beneath a white sheet, the same type of sheet they’d been using for their torches. She was pitifully thin, the bones of her shoulders sharp and fragile, each rib clearly outlined even through the sheet.

“Can you move at all?” Doc asked.

The woman frowned as she concentrated. She closed her eyes in defeat. “No,” she rasped.

“It'll take time for the bots to finish their work,” Noah said. “You’ll probably have some movement by tomorrow.”

She opened her eyes. “Yes.”

“What’s your name?” Billy blurted.

She shifted her gaze to him. “Hope9326590,” she managed slowly and painfully.

“Well,” Girl said drily, “I think we can just call you Hope.”

Doc choked on a laugh, then said, “Okay, Hope. There are two more tubes to remove, and that’s could be very uncomfortable. I’m sorry about that; unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about that, although I have brought some painkillers if you’d like me to give those to you first.”

Hope blinked at her then nodded once.

Doc smiled slightly and busied herself with filling up a syringe from one of the vials she’d carried back from the dispensary. As she worked, she said to Hope, “After we’ve removed the last of the tubes, and you’re ready, Girl and I are going to sit you up and wrap you in the sheet. Noah and Billy will then take turns carrying you down the stairs.”

Billy blushed painfully, and Girl rolled her eyes again.

Doc ignored Billy’s discomfort as she pressed the syringe against Hope’s hip and plunged it home. The needle and drug were administered so quickly, the woman didn’t even realize what Doc had done until she straightened and placed the now-empty syringe back in the bag.

Doc continued with her explanation. “Girl and I will be carrying the torches and we’ll also take a turn if necessary. There are only thirty storeys, though, so we should have you downstairs pretty quickly.”

Doc and Girl quickly dealt with the excretion tubes, then Girl positioned herself beside Hope and opposite Doc. With a nod, she and Doc touched Hope’s shoulders - and she immediately began to scream; a thin, hoarse sound that was particularly heartrending because it was so pitifully small. Doc and Girl snatched their hands away, and Hope stopped.

“Did that hurt?” Doc demanded.

Hope licked her lips, grimaced, and said, “What was that?”

Girl frowned. “What was what?”

“That - that -” she paused, swallowed, “that!”

“Our...hands?” Girl asked, confused.

“That’s not what hands feel like!”

Doc and Girl exchanged a puzzled look, then turned to Noah, who looked as confused as they did.

“She’s not used to physical touch,” Billy said softly, almost dreamily. “She’s used to the far more beautiful and intense sensations of the Worlds.”

“That may be, but we still have to get her downstairs,” Girl snapped, “and I don’t want to listen to her screaming and crying the entire way!”

“Girl!” Billy said sharply, and Girl had the grace to look somewhat abashed.

She sighed and turned to Hope. “I know this isn’t going to be easy for you, but you’re going to have to tolerate this until you can move on you own. So. Please don’t scream anymore unless we’re actually causing real pain!”

“Girl,” Noah chided softly, and she subsided, pouting but also somewhat shamefaced. He turned to Hope. “She's right, though, about carrying you down the stairs. It’s going to take some time to get to the ground. This isn’t going to be pleasant for you as it is but...did they actually hurt you?”

Hope carefully considered the question, then said, “No. Not...really. But it surprised me.”

“Okay. We’re going to try this again. This is going to be tough, but you’ll have to bear it until we get you settled in at Mel’s. Okay?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Noah nodded at Doc and Girl, and they once more reached out to Hope as she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. Soft, high-pitched, panting whimpers escaped as Doc and Girl quickly and efficiently lifted her up, swung her out of the tube and onto her feet, then wrapped her securely in her sheet before Noah stepped forward and, as gently as he could, slung her over his shoulder.

They wasted no time heading for the stairwell.

“We’ll switch at the fifteenth floor,” Noah said to Billy as he started following Doc and the torch she carried down the stairs. Billy agreed as he hurried after him.

~~~~~

They were all exhausted by the time they arrived at Mel’s, although the switch to the stretcher outside Farm 15 helped enormously.

Moira and Holland were back when they arrived, and they’d managed to find enough nutrients for everyone which, if rationed, would last them for another two days. They settled Hope into Mel’s bed, then drank their nutrients. After she ate, Doc carefully fed Hope, gave her a small shot of the sedative they’d made in the basement of the dispensary, then left her to sleep.

Doc collapsed beside Noah on the couch. She tiredly watched the others as they set up their various beds on the floor. Holland paced the room after he was finished, a slight frown creasing his usually expressionless face. Billy was dreamily setting up his bed, pausing often to stare at the closed bedroom door.

Girl was already stretched out, her arm flung across her eyes, frowning furiously.

After a moment of in silence, Noah looked at Moira then Mel and said, “Do you think we can keep growing the algae and manually process it into nutrients?”

Moira cocked her head as she considered the question, then said, “We can grow the algae, and process it, and end up with an overabundance of both the algae and the nutrients. But you do know we can’t survive off just that, right?”

Billy blinked at that and shifted his attention to Moira. He laughed. “We do it now!”

Moira shook her head at him with a slight, almost-fond smile. “When the algae is processed normally, there are multiple vitamins and proteins added to ensure we receive everything we require for optimal physical health. The product created from the algae alone isn’t enough.”

Noah nodded. “It’s just one ingredient – the base ingredient – for the nutrients.” He stared off into space. “Well, it’ll be just another food source for us, then. Tomorrow, I’ll go to my place and get the vegetables I’ve been growing. You can put them into the greenhouse. It’ll take awhile before they’re ready for harvest, and we’ll have to save most of them for the next crop, but we have to start somewhere. Then I think we need to go outside the city and see what we can find.”

Everyone stared at him in silence, except Girl. She kept her arm flung over her eyes even as her frown deepened.

“Outside the city?” Billy finally managed. “What for?”

Noah sighed, then said with barely controlled frustration, “To find other sources of food. Plants. Animals. You heard Moira. We need to supplement our diet.”

Billy looked revolted. “You mean...eat something other than the nutrients? That’s disgusting! And what about the Worlds? And the Plugs? We need to feed them, too!”

Holland suddenly exploded into motion, rushing across the room and lifting Billy to his feet, and slamming him against the wall.

“Listen, you whiny little punk,” Holland snarled, dark eyes blazing, “don’t you fucking get it? It’s over. The Worlds - the Plugs - hell, the entire human race - it’s all over!”

Everyone stared, frozen, until Billy started making small choking noises, then they surged to their feet and Mel and Moira both gently, cautiously, touched Holland’s shoulders and eased him away from Billy.

Billy, gasping, slowly slid down the wall and sat on the floor. Girl’s frown returned as she, along with Doc, went to check on him. She knelt beside him, then watched as Doc gently raised his head to check his neck, already bruising where Holland’s fists had pressed hard against it.

“Do you get it now?” Girl asked softly.

Billy stared at her, his dark eyes wide and stunned. He looked over at Mel, Moira and Holland, standing in a soothing huddle; he looked at Noah, standing with his arms crossed and his face expressionless except for his sad, brown eyes. Billy thought of Hope, thin and fragile, and hopefully asleep in Mel’s bedroom.

“He’s wrong, you know,” Noah said.

Everyone stilled and turned their gazes towards him.

“The human race isn’t over. Not yet, anyway.”

“Eight people can’t repopulate a planet,” Doc said drily.

“But there are more than eight of us,” Noah said softly. “Toronto’s Mundanes were supposed to be on a train on their way here - that’s another what? Six or so. Then there’s Marissa’s group, in Washington, DC. That’s another twenty. And let’s not forget the Plugs we’ve identified who we may be able to save; there’s thirty-four of those. So that makes, what? Sixty-eight?”

“That’s still a pretty small number,” Doc said skeptically.

“The human race itself started from far less.”

Doc gave him a glimmer of a smile.

Noah glanced at Billy as he said, “We might be able to save even more Plugs, if things go well the next few days with those we’ve already identified. Maybe they’re not as psychotic as we fear. Finally, don’t forget those Mundanes who, for one reason or another, didn’t Plug In. They’re out there, somewhere, already living independently of the Eye.”

Holland jerked as if he’d been punched.

“Holland?” Moira asked, concerned. “You okay?”

Holland put a hand to his head, blinking rapidly. “I - yeah. I just...” he bowed his head and gingerly shook it. “Just...headache.”

Mel and Moira helped Holland to the armchair and settled him in while Doc walked over. She felt his forehead, and he closed his eyes at her touch.

“I have some painkillers that Noah and I made at the dispensary,” she said, lifting his head so she could look in his eyes. “I can give you some of that, if the pain’s too much.”

“I’m okay,” Holland muttered, looking anywhere but at her. “I just have to let the bots do their thing.”

“If you’re sure...”

“I am.”

An awkward silence fell on the room until Mel cleared his throat.

“How long do we have?” he asked quietly. “Really.”

Noah frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. How long before the bots begin to die?”

Noah stared unblinkingly, then shrugged. “They’re dying now.”

Everyone except Holland drew in their breaths in soft, sharp gasps.

The smile on Mel’s broad, good-natured face was a twisted version of his usual grin. “Fair enough,” he said. “How long before they’re all dead, then?”

Noah sighed and roughly scrubbed one hand over his face and said, “The bots have an average life span of about five years.”

The others visibly relaxed, and he grimaced. “There’s a daily attrition rate of just over sixteen billion. We all had, on average, approximately thirty trillion bots in our bodies when the power went out. As the bots die, the remaining bots become, naturally enough, less and less effective, unable to keep up with the demands of maintaining our bodies. We’ll be more or less normal humans again long before the five years are up.”

Mel stared hard at him. “Then...I ask again. How long do we have?”

“We’ll start to notice the difference in about fifteen months; a quarter of the bots will be dead by then. As time progresses, we’ll tire more easily, take longer to recover from injury or exertion. Not long after half the bots are gone, it’ll almost feel like we don’t have any bots at all, except maybe when we’re fighting off an infection or a virus. After five years, they’ll all be gone.” He paused, frowning, then added, “That’s the average timeline, of course. If one of us happens to catch a particularly nasty virus, or break several bones at once, or too often,” he hesitated at Girl’s flinch, then continued, “anything, really, that might put additional pressure on the bots over an extended period of time, then that timeline will shorten somewhat – or even drastically – as more bots will die on a daily basis as they respond to the crisis.”

“Like starvation?” Doc asked.

Noah nodded. “Yes. Like starvation.”

“So...what does all that mean? Exactly?” Moira demanded.

“It means we’ll eventually have nothing but our own bodies to rely upon. We’ll no longer be so long-lived as to be almost immortal. Eventually, when we get sick – and we will get truly sick again – or when we get injured, it’ll take us longer to recover, if we recover at all. Our emotions will no longer be controlled for us. We’ll get angrier, and happier.” Noah smiled slightly. “On the up side, we’ll also eventually regain our sex drives. Well. Most of us. We’ll even, eventually, be able to have children again.”

They began to look anywhere but each other.

“There was no need for children; we would have lived forever,” Billy muttered, hanging his head.

“Nothing lives forever,” Noah said, “not even the human mind, and not even the Eye. Obviously.”

Holland heaved himself to his feet and began to pace, clenching and unclenching his shaking hands. He turned to Noah.

“Do you realize what will happen when fourteen million Plugs begin to die?”

Noah watched him carefully and nodded. “Yes.”

“We can’t stay here,” Holland muttered, continuing to pace around the small room. They watched him, with varying degrees of wariness. Noah stood with his hands hanging loose at his sides.

Holland glanced at him, and Noah realized his eyes were sharply focused, blazing with an intelligence Noah had never seen in him before. Holland flicked his eyes over Noah’s stance, then waved his hands in a vaguely comforting manner.

“Don’t worry, Noah,” he said, “I’m not going to go crazy.” He glanced at Billy. “Again, I mean.”

Billy scowled and gingerly rubbed his throat.

“So...what can we do?” Girl asked. “About the Plugs, I mean.”

Holland glanced at her. She was trying to be tough, but her voice shook, her eyes wide and vulnerable. He blinked then turned his attention back to Noah and Doc.

“Is there any way we can...hurry the process?” he asked quietly. “Painlessly, I mean. It would be more merciful than letting them starve to death. Especially with the bots...trying to keep them alive...” he trailed off and swallowed, his throat clicking in the silence.

“Hurry the process? And then what?” Billy demanded shrilly. “We’d still have millions of bodies!”

“Then we burn the Farms,” Noah said slowly.

Holland nodded. “Then we burn the Farms.”


Chapter Five                        Chapter Seven

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
onceiwasaturtle
Feb. 21st, 2013 02:05 am (UTC)
Noah's not the only one with secret depths! :D
shirleyann66
Feb. 22nd, 2013 06:09 am (UTC)
True, very true! LOLOL

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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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

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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

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

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

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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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