May 21 2014 10:00am
Lock In by John Scalzi: Chapter 1
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.
My first day on the job coincided with the ﬁrst day of the Haden Walkout, and I’m not going to lie, that was some awkward timing. A feed of me walking into the FBI building got a fair amount of play on the Haden news sites and forums. This was not a thing I needed on my ﬁrst day.
Two things kept all of the Agora from falling down on my head in outrage. The ﬁrst was that not every Haden was down with the walkout to begin with. The ﬁrst day participation was spotty at best. The Agora was split into two very noisy warring camps between the walkout supporters and the Hadens who thought it was a pointless maneuver given that Abrams-Kettering had already been signed into law.
The second was that technically speaking the FBI is law enforcement, which qualiﬁed it as an essential service. So the number of Hadens calling me a scab was probably lower than it could have been.
Aside from the Agora outrage, my ﬁrst day was a lot of time in HR, ﬁlling out paperwork, getting my beneﬁts and retirement plan explained to me in mind-numbing detail. Then I was assigned my weapon, software upgrades, and badge. Then I went home early because my new partner had to testify in a court case and wasn’t going to be around for the rest of the day, and they didn’t have anything else for me to do. I went home and didn’t go into the Agora. I watched movies instead. Call me a coward if you like.
My second day on the job started with more blood than I would have expected.
I spotted my new partner as I walked up to the Watergate Hotel. She was standing a bit away from the lobby entrance, sucking on an electronic cigarette. As I got closer the chip in her badge started spilling her details into my ﬁeld of vision. It was the Bureau’s way of letting its agents know who was who on the scene. My partner didn’t have her glasses on so she wouldn’t have had the same waterfall of detail on me scroll past her as I walked up. But then again, it was a pretty good chance she didn’t need it. She spotted me just ﬁne in any event.
“Agent Shane,” said my new partner, to me. She held out her hand.
“Agent Vann,” I said, taking the hand.
And then I waited to see what the next thing out of her mouth would be. It’s always an interesting test to see what people do when they meet me, both because of who I am and because I’m Haden. One or the other usually gets commented on.
Vann didn’t say anything else. She withdrew her hand and continued sucking on her stick of nicotine.
Well, all right then. It was up to me to get the conversation started.
So I nodded to the car that we were standing next to. Its roof had been crushed by a love seat.
“This ours?” I asked, nodding to the car, and the love seat.
“Tangentially,” she said. “You recording?”
“I can if you want me to,” I said. “Some people prefer me not to.”
“I want you to,” Vann said. “You’re on the job. You should be recording.”
“You got it,” I said, and started recording. I started walking around the car, getting the thing from every angle. The safety glass in the car windows had shattered and a few nuggets had crumbled off. The car had diplomatic plates. I glanced over and about ten yards away a man was on his phone, yelling at someone in what appeared to be Armenian. I was tempted to translate the yelling.
Vann watched me as I did it, still not saying anything.
When I was done I looked up and saw a hole in the side of the hotel, seven ﬂoors up. “That where the love seat came from?” I asked.
“That’s probably a good guess,” Vann said. She took the cigarette out of her mouth and slid it into her suit jacket.
“We going up there?”
“I was waiting on you,” Vann said.
“Sorry,” I said, and looked up again. “Metro police there already?”
Vann nodded. “Picked up the call from their network. Their alleged perp is an Integrator, which puts it into our territory.”
“Have you told that to the police yet?” I asked.
“I was waiting on you,” Vann repeated.
“Sorry,” I said again. Vann motioned with her head, toward the lobby.
We went inside and took the elevator to the seventh ﬂoor, from which the love seat had been ﬂung. Vann pinned her FBI badge to her lapel. I slotted mine into my chest display.
The elevator doors opened up and a uniformed cop was there. She held up her hand to stop us from getting off. We both pointed to our badges. She grimaced and let us pass, whispering into her handset as she did so. We aimed for the room that had cops all around the door.
We got about halfway to it when a woman poked her head out of the room, looked around, spied us, and stomped over. I glanced over at Vann, who had a smirk on her face.
“Detective Trinh,” Vann said, as the woman came up.
“No,” Trinh said. “No way. This has nothing to do with you, Les.”
“It’s nice to see you too,” Vann said. “And wrong. Your perp is an Integrator. You know what that means.”
“ ‘All suspected crimes involving Personal Transports or Integrators are assumed to have an interstate component,’ ” I said, quoting the Bureau handbook.
Trinh looked over at me, sourly, then made a show of ignoring me to speak to Vann. I tucked away that bit of personal interaction for later. “I don’t know my perp’s an Integrator,” she said, to Vann.
“I do,” Vann said. “When your ofﬁcer on scene called it in, he ID’d the perp. It’s Nicholas Bell. Bell’s an Integrator. He’s in our database. He pinged the moment your guy ran him.” I turned my head to look at Vann at the mention of the name, but she kept looking at Trinh.
“Just because he’s got the same name doesn’t make him an Integrator,” Trinh said.
“Come on, Trinh,” Vann said. “Are we really going to do this in front of the children?” It took me a second to realize Vann was talking about me and the uniformed cops. “You know it’s a pissing match you’re going to lose. Let us in, let us do our job. If it turns out everyone involved was in D.C. at the time, we’ll turn over everything we have and be out of your hair. Let’s play nice and do this all friendly. Or I could not be friendly. You remember how that goes.”
Trinh turned and stomped back to the hotel room without another word.
“I’m missing some context,” I said.
“You got about all you need,” Vann said. She headed to the room, number 714. I followed.
There was a dead body in the room, on the ﬂoor, facedown in the carpet, throat cut. The carpet was soaked in blood. There were sprays of blood on the walls, on the bed, and on the remaining seat in the room. A breeze turned in the room, provided by the gaping hole in the wall-length window that the love seat had gone through.
Vann looked at the dead body. “Do we know who he is?” “No ID,” Trinh said.
“We’re working on it.”
Vann looked around, trying to ﬁnd something. “Where’s Nicholas Bell?” she asked Trinh.
Trinh smiled thinly. “At the precinct,” she said. “The ﬁrst ofﬁcer on the scene subdued him and we sent him off before you got here.”
“Who was the ofﬁcer?” Vann asked.
“Timmons,” Trinh said. “He’s not here.”
“I need his arrest feed,” Vann said.
“Now, Trinh,” Vann said. “You know my public address. Give it to Timmons.” Trinh turned away, annoyed, but pulled out her phone and spoke into it.
Vann pointed to the uniformed ofﬁcer in the room. “Anything moved or touched?”
“Not by us,” he said.
Vann nodded. “Shane.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Make a map,” Vann said. “Make it detailed. Mind the glass.”
“On it,” I said. My recording mode was already on. I overlaid a three-dimensional grid on top of it, marking off everything I could see and making it easier to identify where I needed to look behind and under things. I walked the room, carefully, ﬁlling in the nooks and crannies. I knelt down when I got to the bed, turning on my headlights to make sure I got all the details. And there were in fact details to note under the bed.
“There’s a glass under here,” I said to Vann. “It’s broken and covered in blood.” I stood up and pointed over to the room’s desk, which featured a set of glasses and a couple of bottles of water. “There are also glass shards on the ﬂoor by the desk. Guessing that’s our murder weapon.”
“You done with your map?” Vann said.
“Almost,” I said. I took a few more passes around the room to pick up the spots I’d missed.
“I assume you also made your own map,” Vann said, to Trinh.
“We got the tech on the way,” Trinh said. “And we’ve got the feeds from the ofﬁcers on the scene.”
“I want all of them,” Vann said. “I’ll send you Shane’s map, too.”
“Fine,” Trinh said, annoyed. “Anything else?” “That’s it for now,” Vann said.
“Then if you don’t mind stepping away from my crime scene. I have work to do,” Trinh said.
Vann smiled at Trinh and left the room. I followed. “Metro police always like that?” I asked, as we stepped into the elevator.
“No one likes the feds stepping into their turf,” Vann said. “They’re never happy to see us. Most of them are more polite. Trinh has some issues.”
“Issues with us, or issues with you?” I asked.
Vann smiled again. The elevator opened to the lobby.
■ ■ ■
“Do you mind if I smoke?” Vann asked. She was driving manually toward the precinct house and fumbling for a package of cigarettes—real ones this time. It was her car. There was no law against it there.
“I’m immune to secondhand smoke, if that’s what you’re asking,” I said.
“Cute.” She ﬁshed out a cigarette and punched in the car lighter to warm it up. I dialed down my sense of smell as she did so. “Access my box on the FBI server and tell me if the arrest feed is there yet,” she said.
“How am I going to do that?” I asked.
“I gave you access yesterday,” Vann said.
“You’re my partner now.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “But what would you have done if you met me and decided I was an untrustworthy asshole?”
Vann shrugged. “My last partner was an untrustworthy asshole. I shared my box with her.”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“She got shot,” Vann said.
“Line of duty?” I asked.
“Not really,” Vann said. “She was at the ﬁring range and shot herself in the gut. There’s some debate about whether it was accidental or not. Took disability and retired. I didn’t mind.”
“Well,” I said. “I promise not to shoot myself in the gut.”
“Two body jokes in under a minute,” Vann said. “It’s almost like you’re trying to make a point or something.”
“Just making sure you’re comfortable with me,” I said. “Not everyone knows what to do with a Haden when they meet one.”
“You’re not my ﬁrst,” she said. The lighter had popped and she ﬁshed it out of its socket, lighting her cigarette. “That should be obvious, considering our beat. Have you accessed the arrest feed yet?”
“Hold on.” I popped into the Bureau’s evidence server and pulled up Vann’s box. The ﬁle was there, freshly arrived. “It’s here,” I said.
“Run it,” Vann said.
“You want me to port it to the dash?”
“Autodrive is a thing that happens.”
Vann shook her head. “This is a Bureau car,” she said. “Lowest-bidder autodrive is not something you want to trust.”
“Fair point,” I said. I ﬁred up the arrest feed. It was janky and low-res. The Metro police, like the Bureau, probably contracted their tech to the lowest bidder. The view was fps stereo mode, which probably meant the camera was attached to protective eyewear.
The recording started as the cop—Timmons—got off the elevator on the seventh ﬂoor, stun gun drawn. At the door of room 714 there was a Watergate security ofﬁcer, resplendent in a bad-ﬁt mustard yellow uniform. As the feed got closer the security ofﬁcer’s taser came into view. The security of ﬁcer looked like he was going to crap himself.
Timmons navigated around the security ofﬁcer and the image of a man, sitting on the bed, hands up, ﬂoated into view. His face and shirt were streaked with blood. The image jerked and Timmons took a long look at the dead man on the blood-soaked carpet. The view jerked back up to the man on the bed, hands still up.
“Is he dead?” asked a voice, which I assumed was Timmons’s.
The man on the bed looked down at the man on the carpet. “Yeah, I think he is,” he said.
“Why the fuck did you kill him?” Timmons asked.
The man on the bed turned back to Timmons. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “Look—”
Then Timmons zapped the man. He jerked and twisted and fell off the bed, collapsing into the carpet, mirroring the dead man.
“Interesting,” I said.
“What?” Vann asked.
“Timmons was barely in the room before he zapped our perp.”
“Bell,” Vann said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Speaking of which, does that name sound familiar to you?”
“Did Bell say anything before he got zapped?” Vann asked, ignoring my question.
“Timmons asked him why he killed that guy,” I said. “Bell said he didn’t think he did.”
Vann frowned at that.
“What?” I asked.
Vann glanced over to me again, and had a look that told me she wasn’t looking at me, but at my PT. “That’s a new model,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sebring-Warner 660XS.”
“Sebring-Warner 600 line isn’t cheap,” Vann said.
“No,” I admitted.
“Lease payments are a little steep on a rookie FBI salary.”
“Is this how we’re going to do this?” I asked.
“I’m just making an observation,” Vann said.
“Fine,” I said. “I assume they told you something about me when they assigned me to you as a partner.”
“And I assume you know about the Haden community because it’s your beat.”
“Then let’s skip the part where you pretend not to know who I am and who my family is and how I can afford a Sebring-Warner 660,” I said.
Vann smiled and stubbed out her cigarette on the side window and lowered the window to chuck out the butt. “I saw you got grief on the Agora for showing up to work yesterday,” she said.
“Nothing I haven’t gotten before, for other things,” I said. “Nothing I can’t handle. Is this going to be a problem?”
“You being you?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Why would it be a problem?” Vann asked.
“When I went to the Academy I knew people there thought I was there as an affectation,” I said. “That I was just farting around until my trust fund vested or something.”
“Has it?” Vann asked. “Your trust fund, I mean. Vested.”
“Before I even went to the Academy,” I said.
Vann snickered at this. “No problems,” she said.
“Yes. And anyway, it’s good that you have a high-end threep,” she said, using the slang term for a Personal Transport. “It means that map of yours is actually going to have a useful resolution. Which works because I don’t trust Trinh to send me anything helpful. The arrest feed was messy and fuzzy, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s bullshit,” Vann said. “Metro eyewear feeds autostabilize and record at 4k resolution. Trinh probably told Timmons to shitty it up before sending it. Because she’s an asshole like that.”
“So you’re using me for my superior tech abilities,” I said.
“Yes, I am,” Vann said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“No,” I said. “It’s nice to be appreciated for what I can do.”
“Good,” Vann said, turning into the precinct house parking lot. “Because I’m going to be asking you to do a lot.”
Lock In copyright © 2014 John Scalzi