John Scalzi’s Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi: Chapter 4

Read a free excerpt from Lock In, John Scalzi’s new novel, out on August 26 from Tor Books! And check back every morning for another chapter from Scalzi’s new science fiction thriller.

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.


Chapter Four

“This doesn’t look like the Watergate,” I said, as we entered the third subbasement of the FBI building.

“We’re not going to the Watergate,” Vann said, heading down a corridor. I followed.

“I thought you wanted to take another look at the room,” I said.

“I do,” Vann said. “But there’s no point going back there now. Metro police have been all over it. Trinh and her people have inevitably messed it up looking at things. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Trinh released it to the hotel for cleanup.” She stopped at a door. “So we’re here to look at the room instead.”

I read the placard next to the door. “Imaging Suite,” I said.

“Come on,” Vann said, and opened the door.

Inside was a room roughly six meters to a side, white walls, bare except for projectors in each corner and a space where a technician stood behind a bank of monitors. He looked over at us and smiled. “Agent Vann,” he said. “You’re back.”

“I’m back,” Vann agreed, and motioned to me. “Agent Shane, my new partner.”

The technician waved. “Ramon Diaz,” he said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Are we ready?” Vann asked.

“Just finishing diagnostics on the projectors,” Diaz said. “One of them’s been wonky for the past couple of days. But I have all the data that came over from Metro.”

Vann nodded and looked at me. “Did you upload your scan of the room to the server?”

“I did that before we left the room,” I said.

Vann turned to Diaz. “We’re going to use Shane’s scan as the base,” she said.

“Got it,” Diaz said. “Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Fire it up,” Vann said.

The hotel room popped into being. The scan wasn’t a live video feed of the room but instead a mass of still photos knitted together to create a static, information-dense re-creation of the room.

I took a look at it and smiled. The whole room was there. I had done a good job of panning and scanning.

“Shane.” Vann pointed at a curving object on the carpet, not too far from the corpse.

“Headset,” I said. “Over-the-head scanner and transmitter for neural information. It suggests that this guy, whoever he is, was a tourist.” I figured Vann knew this but was checking to see if I did.

“Looking to borrow Bell’s body,” Vann said.

“Yeah,” I said. I knelt and got a better look at the headset. Like all these sorts of headsets, it was a one-of-a-kind affair. Technically speaking the only people cleared to use Integrators were Hadens. But wherever there’s a less-thanlegal demand, there’s a black market.

The headset was jammed-together medical equipment designed for early-stage Haden’s diagnosis and communication. It was a kludge, but a clever one. It wouldn’t give the tourist anything close to the actual, full Integrator experience—you needed a network implanted inside your head for that sort of thing—but it would offer something like high-definition 3-D with additional faint but real sensory perception. It was more real than the movies, anyway.

“This one looks pretty high end,” I said to Vann. “The scanner’s a Phaeton and the transmitter looks like General Dynamics.”

“Serial numbers?”

“I don’t see any,” I said. “Do we have the real thing in evidence?”

Vann glanced over at Diaz, who looked up and nodded. “I can take a closer look at it if you want,” Diaz said.

“If you don’t find anything on the exterior, see if you can scan the inside of it,” I said. “The processing chips probably have serial numbers on them. We can see when the batches were sent off, and from there piece together who’s supposed to be owning the scanner and transmitter.”

“Worth a shot,” Vann said.

I stood up and looked over to the corpse, face down in the carpet. “What about him?” I asked.

Vann looked back to Diaz. “Nothing yet,” he said.

“How does that happen?” I asked Diaz. “You have to get fingerprinted to get a driver’s license.”

“Our examiners only just got him,” Diaz said. “Metro took fingerprints and did a face scan. But sometimes they take their time sharing information, if you know what I mean. So we’re doing our own and running those through our databases now. We’ll be doing DNA too. We’ll probably find him by the time you’re done here.”

“Let me see the face scan,” Vann said.

“You want just the face, or the wide-angle shot when they turned him over?”

“Wide-angle shot,” Vann said.

The man on the floor instantly flipped. He was oliveskinned and looked midto late thirties. From this angle the severity of the cut throat was a whole lot more dramatic. The wound slashed from the left side of the neck, near the jawline, and continued downward, terminating on the right side of the hollow of the throat.

“What do you think?” Vann asked me.

“I think we’ve got an explanation for the arterial spurts,” I said. “That’s a hell of a cut.”

Vann nodded but was silent.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’m thinking,” Vann said. “Give me a minute.”

While she was thinking I looked at the corpse’s face. “Is he Hispanic?” I asked. Vann ignored me, still thinking. I looked over to Diaz, who pulled up the face by itself to examine it.

“Maybe,” he said, after a minute. “Maybe Mexican or Central American, not Puerto Rican or Cuban, I’d guess. He looks like he might have a lot of Mestizo in him. Or he might be Native American.”

“What tribe?”

“No clue,” Diaz said. “Ethnic typing’s not actually my gig.”

By this time Vann had gone over to the image of the corpse and was looking at the hands. “Diaz,” Vann said. “Do we have a broken glass in evidence?”

“Yes,” Diaz said, after checking.

“Shane got an image of it from under the bed. Pull it up for me, please.”

The image of the room spun wildly as Diaz yanked it around, pulling us all under the bed and looming the image of the shattered, bloody glass over us.

“Fingerprints,” Vann said, pointing. “Do we have any idea whose they are?”

“Nothing yet,” Diaz said.

“What are you thinking?” I asked Vann.

She ignored me again. “You have the feed from Officer Timmons?” she asked Diaz.

“Yeah, but it’s pretty crappy and low res,” Diaz said.

“Goddamn it, I told Trinh I wanted everything,” Vann said.

“She might not be holding out on you,” Diaz said. “Metro cops these days let their feeds run their whole shift sometimes. If they do that they use a low-res setting because it lets them record longer.”

“Whatever,” Vann said, still clearly annoyed. “Put it up for me and overlay it onto Shane’s room shot.”

The room wheeled around again and went back to its real-world dimensions. “Feed coming up,” Diaz said. “It’s going to be in bas-relief because of Timmons’s position. I cleaned up the jerkiness.”

On the bed, Bell appeared, hands up. The feed started running in real time.

“Wait,” Vann said. “Pause it.”

“Done,” Diaz said.

“Can you get a clearer image of Bell’s hands?”

“Not really,” Diaz said. “I can blow it up, but it’s a lowres feed. It’s got inherent limitations.”

“Blow it up,” Vann said. Bell jerked and grew large, his hands racing toward us like a giant trying to play patty-cake.

“Shane,” Vann said. “Tell me what you see.”

I looked at the hands for a couple moments, not seeing whatever it was that I was supposed to be seeing. Then it occurred to me that not seeing a thing was what Vann was going for.

“No blood,” I said.

“Right,” Vann said. She pointed. “He’s got blood on his shirt and his face but none on his hands. The broken glass has bloody fingermarks all over it. Diaz, pull back out.” The image zoomed out again, and Vann went over to the corpse. “This guy, though, has blood all over his hands.”

“This dude cut his own throat?” I asked.

“Possible,” Vann said.

“That’s genuinely bizarre,” I said. “Then this isn’t a murder. It’s a suicide. Which would get Bell off the hook.”

“Maybe,” Vann said. “Give me other options.”

“Bell could have done it and cleaned up before hotel security got there,” I said.

“There’s still the bloody glass,” Vann said. “We’ve got Bell’s fingerprints on file. He had to give them when he became a licensed Integrator.”

“Maybe he was interrupted,” I said.

“Maybe,” Vann said. She didn’t sound convinced.

An idea popped into my brain. “Diaz,” I said. “I’m sending over a file. Pop it up as soon as you get it, please.”

“Got it,” Diaz said, a couple of seconds later. Two seconds after that the scene shifted to outside of the Watergate, to the hurled love seat and the crushed car.

“What are we looking for?” Vann asked.

“It’s what we’re not looking for,” I said. “It’s the same thing we weren’t looking for on Bell’s hands.”

“Blood,” Vann said, and looked closely at the love seat. “There’s no blood on the love seat.”

“Not that I can see,” I said. “So there’s a good chance the love seat went out the window before our corpse cut his own throat.”

“It’s a theory,” Vann said. “But why?” She pointed to the corpse. “This guy contracts with Bell to integrate, and then when Bell gets there he throws a love seat out the window and then commits bloody suicide in front of him? Why?”

“Throwing a love seat out of a seventh-story window is a pretty good way to get the attention of the hotel security staff,” I said. “He wanted to frame Bell for his murder and this was a way to make sure security would already be on their way before he killed himself.”

“It still doesn’t answer the question of why he’d commit suicide in front of Bell in the first place,” Vann said. She looked back down at the corpse.

“Well, we do know one thing,” I said. “Bell was maybe telling the truth when he said that he didn’t do it.”

“That’s not what he said,” Vann said.

“I think it was. I saw the feed.”

“No,” Vann said, and turned back to Diaz. “Run the Timmons feed again.”

The image snapped once more to the hotel room, and the bas-relief of Bell reappeared. Diaz set it running. Timmons asked Bell why he killed the man in the room. Bell responded that he didn’t think he did. “Stop it,” Vann said. Diaz stopped the feed just as Timmons zapped Bell. He was frozen mid-spasm.

“He didn’t say he didn’t kill him,” Vann said to me. “He said he didn’t think he killed him. He’s saying he didn’t know.”

A light went on in my head, and I remembered my one personal experience with an Integrator. “That’s not right.”

“Integrators are conscious for their sessions,” Vann said, nodding. “They subsume and stay in the background during integration, but they’re allowed to surface if the client needs help or is about to do something outside the scope of the integration session.”

“Or is about to do something stupid or illegal,” I said.

“Which is usually outside the scope of the session,” Vann pointed out.

“Okay,” I said, and motioned back to the corpse. “But what does that matter? If this guy is a suicide, then Bell telling us he doesn’t think he did it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know. Because now we’re thinking that maybe he didn’t do it, either.”

Vann shook her head. “It’s not about whether this is a murder or a suicide. It’s about the fact Bell says he can’t remember. He’s supposed to be able to remember.”

“That’s if he’s integrated,” I said. “But we think he came to the room to pick up this side job, right? In which case, there was no one else in his brain when he allegedly blacked out.”

“Why would he black out?” Vann asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s a drinker.”

“He doesn’t look drunk on the feed,” Vann said. “He didn’t smell or act like he’d been drinking when I questioned him. And anyway . . .” She fell silent again.

“Are you going to be doing a lot of that?” I asked her. “Because I can already tell it’s going to bug me.”

“Schwartz said Bell was working,” Vann said. “That client-Integrator privilege applied.”

“Right,” I said, and motioned to the corpse. “That’s his client.”

“That’s just it,” Vann said. “He’s not a client.”

“I’m not following you.”

“Integration is a licensed and regulated practice,” Vann said. “You take on clients and you have certain professional obligations to them, but only a certain class of person is allowed to be your clientele. Only Hadens are supposed to be clients of Integrators. This guy,” she indicated the corpse, “is a tourist. He’s able-bodied.”

“I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not a hundred percent behind this theory here,” I said. “A priest can hear a confession from anyone, not just a Catholic, and a doctor can claim confidentiality from the second someone walks through the door. I think Schwartz is probably making the same claim here. Just because the dude’s a tourist doesn’t mean he’s not a client. He is. Just like someone who’s not a Catholic can still confess.”

“Or Schwartz slipped up and let us know that someone was riding Bell,” Vann said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I countered. “If Bell was already integrated then why would he be meeting with a tourist?”

“Maybe they were meeting for something else.”

“Then why bring that?” I pointed to the headset.

Vann was silent for a minute. “Not all of my theories are going to be gold,” she said, eventually.

“I get that,” I said, dryly. “But I don’t think it’s you. None of this makes much sense. We’ve got a murder that probably isn’t, of a man we haven’t ID’d, who had a meeting with an Integrator who may have already been integrated, who says he can’t remember things he should. That’s a mess, right there.”

“Your thoughts,” Vann said.

“Shit, I don’t know,” I said. “It’s my second day on the job and already it’s gotten too weird for me.”

“You guys gotta wrap it up,” Diaz said. “I’ve got another agent who needs the room in five.”

Vann nodded at this and turned back to me. “Let me put it another way,” she said. “What are our action items?”

I looked over to Diaz. “Any matches on our corpse yet?”

“Nothing yet,” Diaz said, after a second. “That’s a little weird. It doesn’t usually take this long to process a match.”

“Our first action item is to find out who our dead guy is,” I said, to Vann. “And how he’s managed not to have any sort of impression on our national database.”

“What else?”

“Find out what Bell’s been up to recently and who is on his client list. Maybe that’ll pop up something interesting.”

“All right,” Vann said. “I’ll take the stiff.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “You get the fun gig.”

Vann smiled at this. “I’m sure Bell will be tons of fun.”

“Do I need to be here while I’m doing this?” I asked.

“Why?” Vann asked. “You have a date?”

“Yes, with a Realtor,” I said. “I’m looking at apartments. Federally approved. Technically I’m supposed to have a half day today for it.”

“Don’t expect too many more of those,” Vann said. “Half days, I mean.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m kind of figuring that out on my own.”


Lock In copyright © 2014 John Scalzi


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