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Plugs - Ch. 9/9

The members of Team 140 were unceremoniously herded into a large meeting room in a long-abandoned hotel. They glanced questioningly at each other, then turned their attention to Marissa and her team of twenty Mundanes.

Noah raised an eyebrow when he realized he and his team were surrounded, and calmly considered Marissa.

Beautiful, sexy Marissa. She was still beautiful, still sexy, but in person there was something in her eyes that couldn’t truly be seen through the com screen.

“What are we doing here?” Noah asked mildly, his voice light but his dark eyes watchful.

“We’re the only Mundanes left in America,” Marissa replied in her seductive voice. Even with the bots still repressing their sex drives, Noah could see the wide eyes and dropped jaws of the others on his team, men and women alike. Marissa was just that kind of woman, he thought wryly.

“True,” Noah acknowledged, “although our numbers are growing slightly every day. How did your Plugs fare?”

Marissa frowned slightly. “Our Plugs are fine. Still asleep, thank God.”

“They’re still alive?” Billy asked eagerly. The hope on his face was almost painful.

Marissa glanced dismissively at him. “For now. But they won’t be alive for much longer if we don’t restore the Eye.”

Billy quivered like an excited puppy. “What do we need to do?”

“Do we know what happened to the Eye?” Doc asked. She was assessing Marissa with hard, cynical eyes. Her fingers twitched like she was wishing she had a cigar to roll between them.

“We know,” Marissa said, her eyes steady on Noah.

Noah stared calmly back as he cocked his head and raised an eyebrow in question.

“What do you want from us?” he asked quietly.

“The truth.”

There was profound silence as Noah’s team shared covert questioning glances. Noah could almost hear them wondering if she was talking about Holland or something else.

“The truth?” Noah asked calmly. “About what?”

She walked sinuously towards him, intently searching his face and eyes. She stopped just over a foot away.

“Who are you?” she murmured softly, and now there was a slight smile curving her lips, her exotic dark eyes watchful.

“You’ve talked to me every night for at least fifty years, Marissa. You know who I am.”

“Do I?”

Noah shrugged, his face impassive, his eyes sharp and watchful. “I’m just Noah,” he said, his voice soothing. “Like I’ve always been.”

She stared intently at him, her gaze boring through him until she seemed to see something in his face she recognized and she nodded, a smug smile curving her lips.

“I thought so,” she murmured. She took a step back and flicked a contemptuous glance over him. “Did you really think you could hide from the Eye? From me?”

Noah shrugged again even as a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I managed it for a hundred and forty years,” he said mildly. He could feel the confusion rolling off his team in waves.

Marissa snorted. “You flatter yourself. I’ve known almost from the start.”

Noah threw back his head and laughed heartily. “You always were a bad liar, Marissa. Brilliant. Fanatical.” His voice deepened with appreciation. “Beautiful. But a very, very bad liar.”

She glared.

“You and I both know, Marissa, that if the Eye hadn’t gone down, I would have faded away into the empty countryside, and I would have finally been free. Free from the burden of caring for those bodies that now pass for the human race. Free from your fanaticism. Free -”

“From your own guilt? From your own, starring role in creating those bodies that now pass for the human race?” Each word was like a skewer.

“Your role?” Billy asked sharply.

“What the hell’s she talking about?” Doc demanded.

Noah’s eyes never wavered from Marissa’s as he said, “She’s talking about the person who invented and commercialized the technology that made the Worlds possible, that made the ability to Plug In possible.”

Billy’s face remained blank.

Doc frowned as she thought furiously.

“Joel Beecher?” Mel blurted.

Marissa gave him a thin smile and a gracious, appreciative nod. “You know your history.”

“Vaguely,” he said with a shrug and his familiar obsequious smile. “Didn’t he disappear not long after the first Farms were built?”

“About ten years after they were first populated,” Noah corrected drily.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Billy said with a stunned half-laugh. “Are you saying, that Noah -”

“Meet Joel Beecher,” Marissa said, sarcastically courteous.

They turned and stared, and Billy saw -

An old man with sharp, intelligent eyes and a no-nonsense expression.

He saw...Noah.

He shook his head in disbelief.

“I don’t - what?”

“Marissa and I were...colleagues, before the Farms,” Noah said. “Among other things.”

Billy’s eyes widened even more as he looked from the young, vibrant, exotically beautiful woman to the man who looked much, much older.

Noah shrugged. “I needed more than just a change of name, face, and voice. After the surgeries that gave me the younger version of this face, I reprogrammed my bots so I would age rapidly. For a little while, at least.”

Billy gaped then took a deep, choking breath as he suddenly realized he’d stopped breathing for a few moments. Doc seemed to be having the same issue; she was panting, almost gasping for breath, her mouth opening and closing as she tried to get words to come out of her mouth.

Everyone on the team was in the same state of speechless shock until Girl finally said, “Are you saying you could have fixed the Eye? Are you saying you could have turned the power back on? Restarted the greenhouses? Are you saying you could have saved the Plugs?”

Noah’s expression softened. “No, Girl. I couldn’t have saved the Plugs. Or turned the power back on. Or fixed the Eye.”

“Why not?” Billy demanded, his voice cracking.

“Because the Eye really was destroyed.” Noah turned back to Marissa. “What was it?”

She sniffed, and even that seemed somehow exotic and elegant. “A massive solar flare. A series of them, actually. They knocked out the majority of the Eye’s satellites, which led to the others becoming overloaded. The remaining satellites began to fail, and with each one that failed, the higher the load on those that remained. Complete collapse of the system was inevitable.”

“A chain reaction,” Noah murmured, without surprise.

“Yes. And of course, without the Eye to regulate the power grid, and with the solar flare putting more pressure on it, all it took was one unexpectedly large power surge, one overloaded transistor, and...” she shrugged. “Everything’s interconnected; you know that, Joel. Do you mind if I still call you that?” Her voice dripped sarcastic sweetness.

Noah huffed a short laugh. “I’ve been Noah much, much longer than I was Joel. But whatever makes you comfortable, Marissa. You are, after all, my guest.” His mocking half-bow took in the Mundanes who surrounded Noah and his team.

Marissa raised an eyebrow and regally inclined her head in acknowledgment. “You designed everything so it was all interconnected. Tell me, Joel, why did you do that? Was it a built-in failsafe? A surefire way to return everyone to the physical world, sooner or later?”

Noah sighed, and shook his head. “You give me far too much credit. It was more efficient, that’s all - and the Eye was never supposed to go down. It’s why it was spread over so many satellites. Copies upon copies of it, over hundreds – thousands - of satellites. There were built-in protocols to restore and reboot any satellites that failed; each satellite had more than enough capacity to carry twice the load they were already carrying.” He shook his head. “But you know all of that as well as I do, Marissa. You helped design the thing, after all.”

“But you built it.”

“Yes. I did. And I’ve regretted it ever since.”

“Not at first.”

“No. Not at first. But when you and the rest of the world began to use the Eye and the Worlds as a way to permanently remove those you saw as a threat, or a problem -”

“It was world peace! True world peace! It didn’t matter what atrocities the Plugs committed in the Worlds, they could simply reboot and start all over again. No harm, no foul. Even better: the physical world would survive! And without us constantly destroying it for resources, or just for shits and giggles, the physical world would even thrive! And it has! Just look around you!”

You didn't give them a choice!”

“Choice? Choice! The world was dying, Joel. I saved it!”

Noah shook his head and turned to the others, his eyes sad. “The problem with longevity - hell, immortality in all but name - is that the fanatics don’t die either. And if the fanatics are smart, like Marissa, and manoeuvre their way into positions of power and influence, well. Look at what you can do to the world.”

Marissa glared. “I saved it,” she snarled again.

Noah sighed. “What do you want from me?”

She stepped close to him. “I want you to fix it! Fix the power grid. Fix the Eye. Save the world. Save the Worlds!”

Noah shook his head. “I can’t.”

“You can! You’re the only one who can! You’re the only one left who truly understands how every element works together.” She stared hard at him. “You were always in the Eye, weren’t you? All these years?”

Noah shrugged. “Of course. What kind of inventor would I be if I didn’t leave back doors to go through?”

Marissa nodded. “It’s how you were able to stay hidden for so long, isn’t it? Every time you thought you were being detected, you went into the Eye and hid yourself again, didn’t you?”

“Of course.”

She clenched her hands into tight fists. “So you can fix this!”

“I told you: I can’t! There’s no power, Marissa! There are no satellites! If they were damaged due to solar flares, then they’re fried - they can’t be fixed from Earth! We need to send astronauts - oh, wait! There are no more astronauts. They’re all Plugged In, exploring alien planets that don’t exist except in ephemeral bits and bytes.”

“Turn the power back on!”

“How? If some of the transformers shorted out, that means there were probably multiple explosions somewhere in the power grid. If there were explosions, there were fires. We’d need to send technicians to every power plant and down every power line - oh, wait! There aren’t any technicians either! They’re also Plugged In.”

“Well, unPlug them,” Marissa snarled.

Noah laughed harshly. “Even if we could, which Plugs are the people we need? We can’t just send anybody to do this work; they actually need to know what the hell they’re doing. And think about it, Marissa, because somehow, I doubt you have. These Plugs - some of them have been Plugged In for a hundred and fifty years. Even with the bots, think of what their bodies are like; think about what they’re like. Think about it! Their muscles have atrophied. In the last hundred and fifty years, they haven’t walked, or talked out loud. They haven’t physically touched another human being. They’ve been in the Worlds where they can do anything to anybody at any time without permanent repercussions. Anything to anybody. Think about that for a minute! If every Plug had survived and could wake up right now, there would be fourteen billion psychopaths in the physical world right now.”

“Then why didn’t you take everything down before it got this far?” she sneered. “You said yourself you were in the Eye on numerous occasions.”

“Because I was stupid,” he said bluntly. “I believed for too long that the Eye and the Farms could still be a positive thing, and I could make changes without completely destroying my invention. Of course, I had an added complication, didn’t I, Marissa?”

She frowned, but her eyes slid away from his. “In what way?”

“You were searching for me, weren’t you? To finish what you’d started.”

Her eyes snapped back to his. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you? You mean you don’t know what drove me to change my identity so drastically? Really.” Noah chuckled softly. “I had more power and influence than you did, Marissa. I was beginning to make inroads with the politicians, with the general population, about the appropriate use of the Eye and the Farms. You wouldn’t let that happen.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It took me a while to figure it out, I’m ashamed to admit. There was an odd smell to my nutrient steak once; I threw it out and made another. The car I was in malfunctioned and drove right off the road, even though I couldn’t find anything wrong with it afterward. There was a freak accident on a street, when I was almost hit with what might have been a rock - or it might have been a bullet, considering the streets were already plasmet by then; don’t know where someone might have picked up a rock. Not to mention the hole I found in the nearby building that looked suspiciously like a bullet hole.

“Then, of course, the politicians began to approach me differently. They’d been hearing stories, you see. They’d heard I was having some problems with the upcoming upgrades to the Eye and it was starting to impair my judgement. Of course, when I narrowly missed being hit by a car - a car being driven by a person, by the way, not by the Eye; I checked - was when I finally decided I wasn’t imagining things. There was a pretty short list of suspects. You were the only person with any reason to eliminate me, especially at that stage of deployment of the Eye and the Farms.

“It was time for me to disappear. So I did.”

Marissa glared daggers at him. “You’re a fool. You always were a fool. You never could see that the end justifies the means.”

“No. I never could see that.” Noah sighed heavily. “Regardless. All of that was a very long time ago. And none of it changes the reality we’re facing right now. There’s nothing I can do. I can’t repair the Eye, or the power grid. I can’t save the Worlds, and I can’t save the Plugs. In fact, most of the Plugs in New York are already dead. As far as I know, there are less than a hundred humans alive in North America right now. That’s a pretty small number to try and restart the human race.”

Marissa snorted, tears standing in her eyes. “Restart the human race? So that, what? It all begins again? The violence, the hardship, the scrabbling for survival?”

Noah nodded slowly. “Yes. It will hopefully all begin again.”

She shook her head. “I can’t accept that.”

Noah’s gaze sharpened. “You don’t have a choice.”

She smiled grimly. “There’s always a choice. You should know that better than anyone. Joel.”

“Are you going to kill all of us?” he asked with interest, indicating the others on his team. “Are you going to kill all of the other survivors here in New York? What about Toronto? Are you going to kill them, too?” He glanced at Holland, who was watching everything with alert, wary interest. “Did you plant someone like Holland on all of the last teams of Mundanes?” He saw Marissa's expression and laughed. “You did! That was well done. Only there’s no point to killing all of us in North America. There are other survivors in other parts of the world, as you know. How are you going to get there? How are you going to activate the others like Holland? Or did you have a plan in place for this exact scenario?”

She glanced away.

“I see you didn’t. You never did learn from my example, Marissa: plans within plans; redundancies upon redundancies.” He shook his head sadly. “Killing us won’t ensure the end of the human race. There are other Mundanes, and they’ll survive, and reproduce, and the human race will rise again. You may as well let us be a part of it.”

“No,” she growled, “and I’m going to find a way to get to the other Mundanes and stamp out this - this - infestation once and for all!”

Noah shook his head. “I’m truly sorry to hear that, Marissa.”

She snorted. “I’m sure you are,” she said sarcastically, “but since you won’t fix the Eye, you won’t be around to see it anyway.”

She glanced at the other members of her team, and nodded.

Her team members glanced at Holland’s sudden shift on his feet, and hesitated. Noah smiled, then he leaned closer and said, calmly and clearly directly in Marissa’s ear, “Nay-Dal-Ghal.”

Marissa frowned, then her eyes widened as she slowly bent double, gasping.

Everyone, even the members of her team, took a step away, looking frantically at each other, trying to understand what was happening.

As Marissa fell, whimpering, to her knees, her arms wrapped tight around her midsection, Doc took a hesitant step towards her, only to be stopped by Noah’s hand on her arm.

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said simply.

She turned wide, shocked eyes to him.

“What did you do?” she finally whispered, as Marissa slowly collapsed onto her side, her eyes sliding closed.

“I struck first,” he said simply, his face grim, his eyes on the woman curled on the ground as her breathing slowed, then stopped entirely.

He turned and looked at Doc, then at the others in the room.

“Shortly after I dropped out of sight, I went into the Eye, and used it to reprogram Marissa’s bots with a hidden verbal command.” He nodded at the lifeless body on the floor. “You see the results.”

Doc stepped back radiating shock and horror. “Why didn’t you kill her before?”

“Because I’m not a cold-blooded killer,” he snapped.

They stared from Marissa’s lifeless body to Noah.

“Do we have a code like that in our bots?” Doc demanded hoarsely.

Noah glanced from Doc to the others on his team, to the Mundanes who’d arrived with Marissa.

“It depends,” he said slowly. “Were you trying to kill me, too?”


Noah wasn’t surprised when the knock sounded on his door. It was late, the moon high in the sky, bathing the city in its silver light. Noah knew who would be on the other side as he heaved himself almost painfully to his feet and slowly made his way to the door.

Doc impassively met his gaze, then slightly inclined her head and said, “Walk with me?”

“Are you luring me into an ambush?”

She snorted a laugh. “No. We still need you. Besides, Holland’s way more unpredictable than you and we’re letting him stick around...although what happened today was pretty shocking.”

He shrugged ruefully as they walked down the steps and headed in casual silence towards Mel’s house that was now the centre of the Mundanes’ new homes.

Doc was carefully rolling one of her cigars between her fingers as they strolled in a silence that was surprisingly companionable, considering the events of the day. Noah looked at Doc’s restless hands, then glanced around the dark, silent streets.

“This place,” he murmured, “used to be filled with people, and movement, and sound. This place used to be...alive.”

Doc’s mouth lifted in a slightly mocking smile. “And you despair of Billy’s idealized vision of the Worlds. I remember those days, too, Noah, and not everything was sunshine and roses, you know. There’s a reason why so many people chose to Plug In.”

Noah chuckled. “Why do you think I invented the technology in the first place? How it was used, though - well.” He shrugged. “Regardless. I saw what the Worlds were like in some places. Regardless of which world it was, humans didn’t change very much.”

“Until now,” Doc murmured.

He chuckled ruefully. They strolled in silence, the only sound their soft footsteps against the plasmet sidewalk and the soft rustle of the cigar in Doc's hand.

“You killed somebody today, Noah.” Her voice was carefully neutral.


“You’d planned it for...a hundred and forty years?”

“About that, yes.”

Doc shook her head as she stopped walking. She lit the cigar then took a long drag. She held the smoke in her mouth, rolling the taste over her tongue then let the smoke out in a soft stream.

“And you said Marissa was a fanatic.” She gave him a twisted smile, then said, “We’re fucked, aren’t we?"

Noah blinked and frowned. “We’re in excellent shape,” he said. “We have the greenhouses, and the wildlife outside the city is amazing. We also have guns, now, thanks to the Washington team.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”

Noah nodded. “I know.”

Doc took another puff off her cigar, then muttered, “We’re just as batshit crazy as the Plugs.”

“Maybe. Possibly. Most likely. But we’re also all that’s left.”

Doc snorted. “Comforting.”

Noah grimaced, and looked around. The Farms loomed some distance behind them, dark tombstones stretching towards the stars they had long ago stopped trying to reach. He turned and looked in the direction they had been walking, soft light flickering in the windows of several houses clustered around Mel’s home. Further away, on the outskirts of the city, Noah knew a similar light was on in Girl’s hut, and he imagined her sitting on her small bed, young and alone; he hoped her cat was there. Moira was sharing her greenhouse apartment with Billy until he decided where he wanted to settle. His own apartment, he said, held nothing for him except too many memories. And Holland...Holland was staying a fair distance from the other survivors, until, he said, he knew he could trust himself.

Noah sighed. “I wish I could give you some comfort. I wish I could tell you we’re beacons of hope, that we were going to be the last to Plug In because we’re better than all the rest. I wish I could tell you that our survival was fate; that we were meant to be the salvation of the human race.” He paused, and looked intently into her eyes. “Is that what you want me to tell you?”

“No,” she said softly, “but I wish you could.”

Noah smiled sadly. “All I know for sure is we’re going to try to do things better this time. That’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”

Doc lowered her gaze to the glowing tip of her cigar. She took another puff, then muttered, “You really need to work on your inspirational speeches.” Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight. “Then again, I’m not known for my inspirational speeches either.”

They resumed their stroll by unspoken consent.

“Are there other Marissas out there?”

“Marissa was truly one of a kind.”

“You sound like you admired her.”

“I did admire her. We were...close for a long time. She was exhilarating and challenging, and she was brilliant when we were inventing the Eye and the Worlds, and the technology for people to Plug In. Then when we began to build it -” he sighed, throwing his head back, his eyes on the moon, “it was...indescribable. We were creating something completely revolutionary. We were changing the world.” He shook his head. “We just had different ideas about how, exactly, we were doing that. I got in the way of her vision.” He shrugged. “It was nothing personal,” he said with a touch of bitterness.

They sauntered for a few moments in silence.

“It’s going to be hard,” Doc said.

“Eventually,” Noah agreed.

Doc shook her head and laughed ruefully. “You really do need to work on those inspirational speeches.”

Noah chuckled. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.

“Mel’s. For supper.”

“Even though I killed somebody today?”

Doc shrugged, and glanced over her shoulder at the Farms. “It’s been a bad couple of weeks for everybody,” she said drily.

Noah slowly grinned and laughed although there was no humour in it. She huffed a chuckle.

“Is this really a good idea?” Noah asked.

Doc shrugged, and tentatively slipped her free hand into the crook of his arm. He started, and realized he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been physically touched in a way that didn’t involve caring for a Plug. He stared down at her, his dark eyes wide.

“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing his arm. “We’re all family now.”

He put a warm hand over hers. “Now those are inspirational words.”

Chapter Eight                   Here be Art by lylithj2

A/N1:  The word/phrase Noah speaks to Marissa is stolen with thanks but no remorse from the vocabulary of the Navajo Code Talkers, who operated during World War Two.  Nay-Dal-Ghal was code for "Strike" according to this site.   The official site for the Navajo Code Talkers is at www.navajocodetalkers.org .

A/N2:  My cast list was Morgan Freeman (Noah); Claudia Black (Doc); Justin Long (Billy); Kat Dennings (Girl); Michelle Rodriguez (Moira); Jackie Chan (Mel), Robert Downey Jr. (Holland), with special guest star Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marissa).  :D


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 20th, 2013 06:02 am (UTC)
Oh, wow! This was so fascinating and really original. I would love to read more, if you have any written!
Feb. 22nd, 2013 06:28 am (UTC)
Thank you! I really appreciate that! I'm so glad you liked it.

I don't have any more written, although I do have a few ideas rattling around in my head. I don't know if they'll ever get out of my head though. :D
Feb. 21st, 2013 03:09 am (UTC)
Love. :) Love, love, love! You did a great job!! :D
Feb. 22nd, 2013 06:29 am (UTC)
Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you - LOL!

I'm so glad you liked it! :D
Feb. 23rd, 2013 04:20 pm (UTC)
Aaaah! This was brilliant and amazing and awesome! I really enjoyed reading this and it was so engrossing that I was not ready AT ALL to reach the end :)

Brilliantly done. Your characterizations were done so well that I honestly find myself caring about what happens to these people next. I would read anything else from this verse with pleasure!

Thanks for sharing.
Feb. 23rd, 2013 11:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!! I'm glad you liked it and that you weren't ready for it to end - yaaaay!!! :D

I don't know if what's rattling in my brain will ever make its way out, but I'm glad to know people would be interested in reading more if it ever does - LOL.

Thank you!! :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



Latest Month

January 2015


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Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
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