Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent—nearly five million souls in the United States alone—the disease causes “lock in”: Victims are fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to any stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.
A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. They are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “Integrator”—someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder will be that much more complicated.
But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the puzzle that ensues. As Shane and Vann begin to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery—and the real crime—is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with change comes opportunity that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture.
For additional context, check out “Unlocked,” a short story by John Scalzi set in this world.
Who’s the clank?” the man asked Vann, as he met us at the precinct. My facial scan software popped him up as George Davidson, captain of the Metro Second Precinct.
“Wow, really?” I said, before I could stop myself.
“I used the wrong word, didn’t I,” Davidson said, looking at me. “I can never remember if ‘clank’ or ‘threep’ is the word I’m not supposed to be using today.”
“Here’s a hint,” I said. “One comes from a beloved android character from one of the most popular ﬁlms of all time. The other describes the sound of broken machinery. Guess which one we like better.”
“Got it,” Davidson said. “I thought you people were on strike today.”
“Jesus,” I said, annoyed.
“Touchy threep,” Davidson said, to Vann.
“Asshole cop,” Vann said, to Davidson. Davidson smiled. “This is Agent Chris Shane. My new partner.”
“No shit,” Davidson said, looking back at me. He clearly recognized the name.
“Surprise,” I said.
Vann waved at Davidson to get his attention back over to her. “You’ve got someone I want to talk to.”
“Yes, I do,” Davidson said. “Trinh told me you would be coming.”
“You’re not going to be as difﬁcult as she’s been, I hope,” Vann said.
“Oh, you know I’m all about cooperation between law enforcement entities,” Davidson said. “And also you’ve never crossed me. Come on.” He motioned us forward, into the bowels of the station.
A few minutes later we were staring at Nicholas Bell through glass. He was in an interrogation room, silent, waiting.
“Doesn’t look like the guy to shove someone out of a window,” Davidson observed.
“It wasn’t a guy,” Vann said. “The guy was still in the room. It was a love seat.”
“Doesn’t look like the guy to shove a love seat out of a window, either,” Davidson said.
Vann pointed. “That’s an Integrator,” Vann said. “He spends a lot of time with other people in his head, and those people want to do a lot of different things. He’s in better shape than you think.”
“If you say so,” Davidson said. “You’d know better than I would.”
“Have you talked to him yet?” I asked.
“Detective Gonzales took a pass at him,” Davidson said. “He sat there and didn’t say a word, and did that for about twenty minutes.”
“Well, he has a right to remain silent,” I said.
“He hasn’t invoked that right yet,” Davidson said. “He hasn’t asked for a lawyer yet, either.”
“That wouldn’t have anything to do with your Ofﬁcer Timmons zapping him into unconsciousness at the scene, now, would it?” Vann asked.
“I don’t have the full report from Timmons yet,” Davidson said.
“You’re a beacon of safe constitutional practices, Davidson.”
Davidson shrugged. “He’s been awake for a while. If he remembers he’s got rights, then ﬁne. Until then, if you want to take a pass at him, he’s all yours.”
I looked over to Vann to see what she was going to do. “I think I’m going to pee,” she said. “And then I’m going to get a coffee.”
“Down the hall for both,” Davidson said. “You remember where.”
Vann nodded and left.
“Chris Shane, huh,” Davidson said to me, after she was gone.
“That’s me,” I said.
“I remember you when you were a kid,” Davidson said. “Well, not a kid, exactly. You know what I mean.”
“I do,” I said.
“How’s your dad? He going to run for senator or what?”
“He hasn’t decided yet,” I said. “That’s off the record.”
“I used to watch him play,” Davidson said.
“I’ll let him know,” I said.
“Been with her long?” Davidson motioned after Vann.
“First day as her partner. Second day on the job.”
“You’re a rookie?” Davidson asked. I nodded. “It’s hard to tell, because—” He motioned to my threep.
“I get that,” I said.
“It’s a nice threep,” he said.
“Sorry about the ‘clank’ thing.”
“It’s not a problem,” I said.
“I’d guess that you’d have less-than-ﬂattering ways of describing us,” Davidson said.
“ ‘Dodgers,’ ” I said. “What?”
“ ‘Dodgers,’ ” I repeated. “It’s short for ‘Dodger Dogs.’ It’s the hot dog they serve at Dodger Stadium in L.A.”
“I know what a Dodger Dog is,” Davidson said. “I don’t think I get how you get from us to them.”
“Two ways,” I said. “One, you guys are basically meat stuffed into skin. So are hot dogs. Two, hot dogs are mostly lips and assholes, and so are you guys.”
“Nice,” Davidson said.
“You asked,” I said.
“Yeah, but why Dodger Dogs?” Davidson said. “This is a lifelong Nationals fan asking.”
“Got me,” I said. “ Why ‘threep’? Why ‘clank ’? Slang happens.”
“Any slang for him?” Davidson pointed to Bell, who was still sitting there, quietly.
“He’s a ‘mule,’ ” I said.
“Makes sense,” Davidson said.
“Ever use one?”
“An Integrator? Once,” I said. “I was twelve and my parents took me to Disney World. Thought it would be better to experience it in the ﬂesh. So they scheduled me an Integrator for the day.”
“How was it?”
“I hated it,” I said. “It was hot, after an hour my feet hurt, and I nearly pissed myself because I had no idea how to do it like you guys do, right? That’s all taken care of for me, and I got Haden’s so young that I don’t remember doing it the other way. The Integrator had to surface to do it, and they’re not supposed to do that when they’re carrying someone. After a couple of hours I complained enough that we went back to the hotel room and swapped back out with the threep. And then I had a good time. They still had to pay the Integrator for the full day, though.”
“And you haven’t done it since.”
“No,” I said. “Why bother.”
“Huh,” Davidson said. The door to the interrogation room opened and Vann came through it, carrying two cups of coffee. He pointed to her. “She’s one, you know.”
“She’s one what?”
“An Integrator,” Davidson said. “Or was, anyway, before she joined the Bureau.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. I looked over to where she was sitting down and getting comfortable.
“It’s why she’s got this beat,” Davidson said. “She gets you guys in a way the rest of us don’t. No offense, but it’s hard for the rest of us to wrap our brains around what’s going on with you.”
“I understand that,” I said.
“Yeah,” Davidson said. He was quiet for a second, and I waited for what I knew was coming next: the Personal Connection to Haden’s. I guessed an uncle or a cousin.
“I had a cousin who got Haden’s,” Davidson said, and internally I checked off the victory. “This was back with the ﬁrst wave, when no one had any idea what the fuck was going on. Before they called it Haden’s. She got the
ﬂu, and then seemed to get better, and then—” He shrugged.
“Lock in,” I said.
“Right,” Davidson said. “I remember going to the hospital to see her, and they had a whole wing of locked-in patients. Just lying there, doing nothing but breathing. Dozens of them. And a couple of days before, all of them were walking around, living a normal life.”
“What happened to your cousin?” I asked.
“She lost it,” Davidson said. “Being locked in made her have a psychotic break, or something like that.”
I nodded. “That wasn’t uncommon, unfortunately.”
“Right,” Davidson said again. “She hung in for a couple of years and then her body gave it up.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“It was bad,” Davidson said. “But it was bad for everyone. I mean, shit. The ﬁrst lady got it. That’s why it’s called Haden’s.”
“It still sucks.”
“It does,” Davidson agreed, and pointed to Vann. “I mean, she got Haden’s too, right?” Davidson asked. “At some point. That’s why she’s like she is.”
“Sort of,” I said. “There was a tiny percentage of people who were infected who had their brain structure altered but didn’t get locked in. A tiny percentage of them had their brains altered enough to be able to be Integrators.” It was more complicated than that but I didn’t think Davidson actually cared that much. “There’s maybe ten thousand Integrators on the entire planet.”
“Huh,” Davidson said. “Anyway. She’s an Integrator. Or was. So maybe she’ll get something out of this guy after all.” He turned up the volume on the speakers so we could hear what she was saying to Bell.
■ ■ ■
“I brought you some coffee,” Vann said, to Bell, sliding the coffee over to him. “Knowing nothing about you, I guessed you might want cream and sugar. Sorry if I got that wrong.”
Bell looked at the coffee, but otherwise did and said nothing.
“Bacon cheeseburgers,” Vann said.
“ What?” Bell said. Vann’s apparent non sequitur had roused him out of complete silence.
“Bacon cheeseburgers,” Vann repeated. “When I worked as an Integrator I ate so many goddamned bacon cheeseburgers. You might know why.”
“Because the ﬁrst thing anyone who’s been locked in wants when they integrate is a bacon cheeseburger,” Bell said.
Vann smiled. “So it’s not just me it happened to,” she said.
“It’s not,” Bell said.
“There was a Five Guys down the street from my apartment,” Vann said. “It got so that all I had to do was walk through the door, and they’d put the patties on the grill. They wouldn’t even wait to take my order. They knew.”
“That sounds about right,” Bell said.
“It took two and a half years after I stopped integrating before I could even look at a bacon cheeseburger again,” Vann said.
“That sounds about right, too,” Bell said. “I wouldn’t eat them anymore if I didn’t have to.”
“Be strong,” Vann said.
Bell grabbed the coffee Vann brought for him, smelled it, and took a sip. “You’re not Metro,” he said. “I’ve never met a Metro cop who’d been an Integrator.”
“My name is Agent Leslie Vann,” she said. “I’m with the Bureau. I and my partner investigate crimes that involve Hadens. You’re not typically what we consider a Haden, but you are an Integrator, which means a Haden might have been involved here. If there was, then you and I both know this is something you may not be responsible for. But you have to let me know, so I can help you.”
“Right,” Bell said.
“The police tell me that you’ve not previously been forthcoming on the whole talking thing.”
“I’ll give you three guesses why,” Bell said.
“Probably because they zapped you as soon as they saw you.”
“Not that it means anything, but I apologize to you for that, Nicholas. It’s not the way I would have handed it if I were there.”
“I was sitting on the bed,” Bell said. “With my hands up. I wasn’t doing anything.”
“I know,” Vann said. “And like I said, I apologize for that. It wasn’t right. On the other hand—and this isn’t an excuse, just an observation—while you were sitting on the bed with your hands up, not doing anything, there was a dead guy on the ﬂoor, and his blood was all over you.” She moved a single index ﬁnger to point. “Still all over you, come to think of it.”
Bell stared at Vann, quiet.
“Like I said, not an excuse,” Vann reiterated, after ﬁfteen seconds of silence.
“Am I under arrest?” Bell asked.
“Nicholas, you were found in a room with a dead guy, covered in his blood,” Vann said. “You can understand why we all might be curious about the circumstances. Anything you can tell us is going to be helpful. And if it clears your name, so much the better, right?”
“Am I under arrest?” Bell repeated.
“What you are, is in a position to help me out,” Vann said. “I’m coming into this late. I’ve seen the hotel room, but I got there after you were taken away. So if you can clue me in to what was happening in that room. What I should be looking for. Anything would help. And if you help me, I’m in a better position to help you.”
Bell gave a wry smile to this, crossed his arms, and looked away.
“We’re back to the not talking,” Vann said.
“We can talk about bacon cheeseburgers again, if you like.”
“You can at the very least tell me if you were integrated,” Vann said.
“You’re kidding,” Bell said.
“I’m not asking for details, just whether or not you were working,” Vann said. “Or were you about to work? I knew Integrators who did freelancing on the side. A Dodger wants to do something he can’t be seen doing in public. They’ve got those gray-market scanner caps that work well enough for the job. And now that Abrams-Kettering’s passed, you’ve got a reason to go looking for side gigs. The government contracts are drying up. And you’ve got family to think about.”
Bell, who had been sipping his coffee, set it down and swallowed. “You’re talking about Cassandra now,” he said.
“No one would blame you,” Vann said. “Congress is taking away funding for Hadens after the immediate infection and transitional care. Said that the technology for helping them participate in the world has gotten so good that it shouldn’t be considered a disability anymore.”
“Do you believe that?” Bell asked.
“My partner is a Haden,” Vann said. “If you ask me, it means now I have an advantage, because threeps are better than the human body in lots of ways. But there are a lot of Hadens who slip through the cracks. Your sister, for example. She’s not doing what Congress expects her to do, which is to get a job.”
Bell visibly bristled at this. “If you know who I am then you certainly know who she is,” he said. “I’d say she has a job. Unless you think being one of the prime movers behind the Haden Walkout this week and the march they have planned for this weekend is something she’s doing in her spare time.”
“I don’t disagree with you, Nicholas,” Vann said. “She’s not exactly working at Subway, making sandwiches. But she’s also not making any money doing what she’s doing.”
“Money isn’t that important to her.”
“No, but it’s about to become important,” Vann said. “Abrams-Kettering means that Hadens are being transitioned out to private care. Someone has to cover her expenses now. You’re her only living family. I’d guess it falls to you. Which brings us back to that hotel room and that man you were with. And brings me back to my point, which is that if you were integrated, or were about to be integrated, then that’s something I need to know. It’s something I need in order to help you.”
“I appreciate your desire to help, Agent Vann,” Bell said, dryly. “But I think what I really want to do is wait until my lawyer arrives and let him handle things from here.”
Vann blinked. “I wasn’t told you’d asked for a lawyer,” she said.
“I didn’t,” Bell said. “I called him while I was still in the hotel room. Before the police zapped me.” Bell tapped his temple, indicating all the high-tech apparatus he had stuffed into his skull. “Which I recorded, of course, just like I record almost everything. Because you and I agree on one thing, Agent Vann. Being in a room with a dead body complicates matters. Being electrocuted before I could exercise my rights complicates them even more.”
At this, Bell smiled and looked up, as if paying attention to something unseen. “And that’s a ping from my lawyer. He’s here. I expect your life is about to get much more interesting, Agent Vann.”
“I think we’re done here, then,” Vann said.
“I think we are,” Bell said. “But it was lovely talking food with you.”
Lock In copyright © 2014 John Scalzi