John Scalzi’s Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi: Chapter 5

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 Five

The Realtor was a small, elegant-looking woman named LaTasha Robinson, and she met me directly outside the Bureau building. One of her realty specialties was the Haden market, so the Bureau connected me with her to help me find an apartment.

Given her clientele, the chances that she might not know who I was were close to nil, a suspicion that was verified as I approached. She smiled a smile I recognized from years of being trotted out as the official Haden’s Poster Child, part of the official Haden’s Poster Family. I didn’t hold it against her.

“Agent Shane,” she said, holding out her hand. “Really lovely to meet you.”

I took the hand and shook it. “Ms. Robinson. Likewise.”

“I’m sorry, this is kind of exciting,” she said. “I don’t meet that many famous people. I mean, who aren’t politicians.”

“Not in this town, no,” I agreed.

“And I don’t think of politicians as being famous, do you? They’re just . . . politicians.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I said.

“My car’s right over here,” she said, pointing to a relatively unflashy Cadillac parked where it would get ticketed. “Why don’t we get started?”

I got into the passenger side. Robinson got in the driver’s seat and pulled out her tablet. “Amble,” she said, and the car slid out from the curb, just ahead, I noted as I glanced in the rearview mirror, of a traffic cop. We headed east on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“The car’s just going to drive around for a few minutes while we get set up here,” Robinson said, tapping her tablet. For all her gushing a few seconds before, she slipped into business mode pretty quickly. “I’ve got your basic request list and personal information,” she looked over as if to acknowledge I was, in fact, a Haden and she knew it, “so let’s get a few things narrowed down before we start.”

“All right,” I said.

“How close do you want to be to work?”

“Closer is better.”

“Are we talking walking distance close, or Metro line close?”

“Metro line close is fine,” I said.

“Do you prefer a neighborhood that’s hip, or one that’s quiet?”

“It doesn’t really matter to me.”

“You say that now but if I get you an apartment over a bar in Adams Morgan and you hate it, you’re going to blame me,” Robinson said, looking over at me.

“I promise noise isn’t going to bother me,” I said. “I can turn down my hearing.”

“Do you plan on using the apartment to socialize?”

“Not really,” I said. “I do most of my socializing elsewhere. I might have a friend over from time to time.”

Robinson looked over again at this, and seemed to be considering whether to ask for clarification, and decided against it. It was a fair call. There were threep fetishists out there. They really weren’t my thing, I have to say.

“Will your body be physically present, and if so, will you need a room for a caretaker?” she asked.

“My body and its caretaking are already squared away,” I said. “I won’t be needing space for either. At least not right away.”

“In that case I have some Haden efficiency flats on my availability list,” she said. “Would you like to see those?”

“Are they worth my time?” I asked.

Robinson shrugged. “Some Hadens like them,” she said. “I think they’re a little small, but then they’re not designed for non-Hadens.”

“Are they close by?”

“I’ve got a building of them on D Avenue in Southwest, right by the Federal Center Metro,” Robinson said. “The Department of Health and Human Services hires a lot of Hadens, so it’s convenient housing for them.”

“All right,” I said. “We might as well check them out.”

“We’ll go there first,” Robinson said, and spoke the address to the Cadillac.

Five minutes later we were in front of a depressing slab of anonymous brutalist architecture.

“This is lovely,” I said, dryly.

“I think it used to be a government office building,” Robinson said. “They converted it about twenty years ago. It was one of the first buildings redesigned with Hadens in mind.” She nodded me into the lobby, which was clean and plain.

A threep receptionist sat behind a desk. The threep was set to transmit ID data over the common channel. In my field of vision its owner’s data popped up above the threep’s head: Genevieve Tourneaux. Twenty-seven years old. Native of Rockville, Maryland. Her public address for direct messages.

“Hello,” Robinson said to Genevieve, and showed her her Realtor’s ID. “We’re here to look at the vacancy on the fifth floor.”

Genevieve turned to look at me, and I realized belatedly that I didn’t have my own personal data out on the common channel. Some Hadens found that rude. I quickly popped it up.

She gave me a quick nod as if in acknowledgement, did a small double take, then recovered and turned her attention to Robinson. “Unit 503 is unlocked for the next fifteen minutes,” she said.

“Thank you,” Robinson said, and nodded over to me.

“Hold on a second,” I said. I turned back to Genevieve. “May I have guest access to the building channel, please?”

Genevieve nodded to me and I saw the channel marker pop up in my view. I connected to it.

The lobby walls exploded into signage.

Some of the notes were your basic corkboard notes: people looking for roommates or to sublet or asking after lost pets. At the moment, however, signs about the walkout and march dominated—signs reminding tenants to stay home, plans for walkout activities, requests to let Hadens coming into town for the march crash in apartments, with the sardonic notation that they won’t need much space.

“Everything okay?” Robinson asked.

“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m just taking in the posters on the wall.” I read a few more and then we walked over to the elevator bank and took the next lift up to the fifth floor.

“Extra-large elevators,” Robinson noted, as we rose. “Hydraulic lift. Makes it easier to bring bodies up to the rooms.”

“I thought these were all efficiency apartments,” I said.

“Not all of them,” Robinson said. “Some of them are full-sized and have dedicated medical suites and caretaker rooms. And even the efficiencies have cradle hookups. Those are supposed to be used on a temp basis, although I hear some Hadens are using them full time now.”

“Why is that?” I asked. The elevator stopped and the doors opened.

“Abrams-Kettering,” Robinson said. She walked out of the lift and down the hall. I followed. “Assistance is getting slashed so a lot of Hadens are downsizing. Those in townhomes are moving into smaller apartments. Those in apartments are moving into efficiencies. And some of those in efficiencies are taking on roommates. They’re using the chargers in shifts.” She glanced back to me and her eyes flickered over my shiny, expensive threep, as if to say not that you have to worry about that. “It’s been bad for the market, to be honest, but that’s good for you as a potential renter. Now you have a lot more options, a lot cheaper.” She stopped at apartment 503. “That is, if this doesn’t bowl you over.” She opened the door and stood aside to let me pass through.

Haden Efficiency Apartment 503 was two meters by three meters and entirely bare, save for one small built-in countertop. I stepped inside and immediately got claustrophobia.

“This isn’t an apartment, it’s a closet,” I said, stepping forward to let Robinson in.

“I usually think of it as a bathroom,” Robinson said, and pointed to a small tiled area, which had a bank of electrical outlets and a couple of covered drains on the floor, flush with the tile. “That’s the medical nook, by the way. Right where the toilet would be.”

“You’re not exactly giving me the hard sell on this apartment, Ms. Robinson,” I said.

“Well, to be fair, if all you’re looking to do is park your threep every night, this isn’t a bad choice,” Robinson said. She pointed to the back right corner, where grooves and high-voltage outlets were set into the wall, ready to receive inductive chargers. “It’s designed with standard threep cradles in mind, and the hardwired and wireless networks are fast and have deep through-put. The space has been designed with threeps in mind, so you don’t have inessential things taking up space, like closets and sinks. It’s everything you need and absolutely nothing you don’t.”

“I hate it,” I said.

“I thought you might,” Robinson said. “It’s why I showed it to you first. Now that we have it out of the way, we can look at something you might actually be interested in.”

I stared back at the spot of tile and thought about putting a human body there, more or less permanently. “These kinds of apartments are hot right now?” I asked.

“They are,” Robinson said. “I don’t usually deal with them. Not enough commission on these. They usually get rented through online want ads. But yes. Right now, this kind of apartment is selling like hotcakes.”

“Now I’m feeling a little depressed,” I said.

You don’t have to feel depressed,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to live here. You’re not going to have your body in here.”

“But apparently some people are,” I said.

“Yes,” Robinson said. “Maybe it’s a blessing the bodies don’t notice.”

“Ah, but that’s not true,” I said. “We’re locked in, not unconscious. Trust me, Ms. Robinson. We notice where our bodies are. We notice it every moment we’re awake.”

■ ■ ■

I felt like Goldilocks for the next several stops. The apartments were either too small—we didn’t look at any more apartments that were officially efficiencies, but a couple were at least informally around the same square footage—or too large, too inconvenient or too far away. I began to despair that I would be destined to store my threep at my desk at the Bureau.

“Last stop of the day,” Robinson said. By now even her professional cheeriness was wearing through. We were in Capitol Hill, on Fifth Street, looking at a red town house.

“What’s here?” I asked.

“Something off the usual menu,” Robinson said. “But it’s something I think you might be a good fit for. Do you know what an intentional community is?”

“ ‘Intentional community’?” I said. “Isn’t that another way of saying ‘commune’?” I looked up at the town house. “This is a weird place for a commune.”

“It’s not exactly a commune,” Robinson said. “This town house is rented out by a group of Hadens living together and sharing the common rooms. They call it an intentional community because they share responsibilities, including monitoring each other’s bodies.”

“That’s not always a great idea,” I said.

“One of them is a doctor at the Howard University Hospital,” Robinson said. “If there’s any substantial problem, there’s someone on hand to deal with it. I understand it’s not something you’ll need, of course. But there are other advantages and I know they have a vacancy.”

“How do you know these people?” I asked.

Robinson smiled. “My son’s best friend lives here,” she said.

“Ah,” I said. “Did your son live here too?”

“You’re asking if my son is a Haden,” Robinson said. “No, Damien is unaffected. Tony, Damien’s friend, contracted Haden’s when he was eleven. I’ve known Tony all his life, before and after Haden’s. He lets me know when they have a vacancy. He knows I won’t bring over anyone I don’t think would be a good fit.”

“And you think I would be a good fit.”

“I think you might be. I’ve been wrong before. But you’re a special case, I think. If you don’t mind me saying so, Agent Shane, you’re not looking for a place because you need a place. You’re looking for a place because you want a place.”

“That’s about right,” I said.

Robinson nodded. “So, I thought I would let you look at this and see if it’s something you want.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s take a look.”

Robinson went to the door and rang the bell. A threep opened it and threw its arms wide when it saw her.

“Mama Robinson!” it said, and gave her a big hug.

Robinson gave the threep a peck on the cheek. “Hello, Tony,” she said. “I brought you a prospect.”

“Did you,” Tony said, and looked over to me. “Chris Shane,” he said. I was momentarily surprised—I didn’t think my new threep was that well known already—but then remembered I had turned on my public ID earlier in the day. A second later Tony’s own ID popped up: Tony Wilton. Thirty-one. Originally from Washington, D.C.

“Hi,” I said.

He waved us in. “Let’s not keep you standing on the stoop,” he said. “Come on, Chris, I’ll show you the room. It’s up on the second floor.” He led us inside and up the stairs. As we walked down the second-floor hall, I glanced into one of the rooms. A body lay in a cradle, monitors nearby.

I looked over to Tony, who saw me looking. “Yup, that’s me,” he said.

“Sorry,” I said. “Reflex.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Tony said, opening up the door to another room. “If you live here you’ll do your time checking in on all of us to make sure we’re still breathing. Might as well get used to it. Here’s the room.” He stood aside to let me and Robinson in.

The room was large, modestly but comfortably appointed, with a window facing out to the street. “This is really nice,” I said, looking around.

“Glad you like it,” Tony said. He nodded to the furniture. “The room’s furnished, obviously, but if you don’t like what you see here we have basement storage to put it in.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said. “And I like the size of it.”

“It’s actually the biggest bedroom in the house.”

“None of the rest of you wanted it?” I asked.

“It’s not a question of wanting it,” Tony said. “It’s a question of affording it.”

“Got it,” I said, and figured out another reason Robinson thought I might be good for this address.

“You understand what the setup here is?” Tony asked. “Mama Robinson explained it to you?”

“Briefly,” I said.

“It’s not really that complicated, I promise,” Tony said. “We share chores and monitoring duties, make sure everyone’s tubes and drains are in working order, pool funds for house improvements. Occasionally we go out as a group and do social things. We call it an intentional community, but it’s more like a college dorm. Just less drinking and smoking pot. Not that we ever did that. Also less roommate drama, which we did do, if you remember college at all.”

“Are you the doctor?” I asked. “Ms. Robinson said one of you was a doctor.”

“That’s Tayla,” Tony said. “She’s at work. Everyone’s at work, except me. I’m a contract coder. Today I’m working for Genoble Systems, on their brain interface software. Tomorrow, someone else. I usually work from here, unless a client needs me on site.”

“So someone’s always here.”

“Usually,” Tony said. “Now. Should I make like I don’t know who you are, or can I admit that I was reading about you on the Agora yesterday?”

“Oh, joy,” I said.

“You’ll note I said everyone is at work,” Tony said. “So you’re not likely to get judged for that. We have a range of political opinions in the house as it is.”

“So you know I’m an FBI agent,” I said.

“I do,” Tony said. “Deal with conspiracies and murders?”

“You’d be surprised,” I said.

“I bet I would,” Tony said. “Well, I just met you but I like you. You’ll have to meet and get the approval of the others, though.”

“How many more of you are there?”

“Four,” Tony said. “There’s Tayla, Sam Richards, and Justin and Justine Cho. They’re twins.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“They’re all good folks, promise,” Tony said. “Can you swing ’round tonight to meet them?”

“Ah, no,” I said. “I have a family thing tonight. It’s my second day on the job. I’m supposed to go home for the official ‘hooray, our kid is employed’ dinner.”

“Well, you can’t miss that,” Tony said. “When do you think you’ll wrap up?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably nine thirty, ten at the latest.”

“Here.” Tony pinged me over the common channel with an invite. “Tuesdays are our group night in the Agora. We hang out and usually frag each other’s brains out in an FPS. Pop in. You can meet the crew and take a head shot or two.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Great. I’ll send over the room application and we can do it up formally. We’ll need first month and a deposit.”

“I can do that.”

“Even better,” Tony said. “Presuming you get the signoff from everyone tonight, you can move in as soon as your payment arrives.”

“You’re not going to want a background check?” I joked.

“I think your entire life has been a background check, Chris,” Tony said.


Lock In copyright © 2014 John Scalzi


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