Excerpt: Lock In by John Scalzi: Chapters 1-5 - Tor/Forge Blog




Excerpt: Lock In by John Scalzi: Chapters 1-5

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Poster Placeholder of - 21 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 – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to 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. The two of them 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 becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began 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 the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case 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. It’s nothing you could have expected.

Start reading Lock In before the sequel, Head Onarrives on April 17th.

Chapter One

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. “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.

“I don’t—”

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 did?”

“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?”

“I’m driving.”

“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.”

“They did.”

“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.

“You sure.”

“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.”


Chapter Two

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.”


Chapter Three

So, to recap,” Samuel Schwartz said, and held up a hand to tick off points. “Illegally stunning my client when he was not offering any resistance, detaining him without cause in a holding cell, and then two separate law enforcement agencies, one local, one federal, question him without making him aware of his rights and without his lawyer present. Have I missed anything, Captain? Agent Vann?”

Captain Davidson shifted uncomfortably in his desk chair. Vann, standing behind him, said nothing. She was looking at Schwartz, or more accurately, at his threep, standing in front of the captain’s desk. The threep was a Sebring-Warner, like mine, but it was the Ajax 370, which I found mildly surprising. The Ajax 370 wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t the top of the line, either for Sebring-Warner or for the Ajax model. Lawyers usually went for the highend imports. Either Schwartz was clueless about status symbols or he didn’t need to advertise his status. I decided to run him through the database to see which was the case.

“Your client never expressed his right to remain silent or his desire for a lawyer,” Davidson said.

“Yes, it’s strange how getting hit with fifty thousand volts will keep a person from verbalizing either of those, isn’t it,” Schwartz said.

“He didn’t ask for them after he got here, either,” Vann noted.

Schwartz turned his head to her. The Ajax 370 model’s stylized head bore some resemblance to the Oscar statuette, with subtle alterations to where the eyes, ears and mouth would be, both to avoid trademark issues and to give humans conversing with the threep something to focus on. Heads could be heavily customized, and a lot of younger Hadens did that. But for adults with serious jobs, that was déclassé, which was another clue to Schwartz’s likely social standing.

“He didn’t have to, Agent Vann,” Schwartz said. “Because he called me before the cops stunned him into silence. The fact he called a lawyer is a clear indication that he knew his rights and intended to exercise them in this case.” He turned his attention to Davidson. “The fact your officers deprived him of his ability to affirm his right does not mean he refused his right, even if he did not reiterate that fact here.”

“We could argue that point,” Davidson said.

“Yes, let’s,” Schwartz said. “Let’s go to the judge right now and do that. But if you’re not going to do that, then you need to let my client go home.”

“You’re joking,” Vann said.

“You can’t see me smile at that comment, Agent Vann,” Schwartz said. “But I promise you the smile is there.”

“Your client was in a room with a dead body, the guy’s blood all over him,” Vann said. “That’s not the mark of complete innocence.”

“But it’s not the mark of guilt either,” Schwartz said. “Agent Vann, you have a man who has no previous police record. At all. Not even for jaywalking. His line of business requires him to surrender control of his body to others. As a consequence of that, from time to time he meets clients he does not personally know, who conduct business with others he also does not personally know. Such as the dead gentleman at the Watergate.”

“You’re saying your client was integrated at the time of the murder,” I said.

Schwartz turned and looked at me for what I suspected was the first time in the entire conversation. As with Schwartz’s threep, mine had a fixed head, which showed no expression. But I had no doubt he was sizing up my make and model just as I had sized up his, looking for clues as to who I was and how important I was to the conversation. That, and taking in my badge, still in my chest display slot.

“I am saying that my client was in that hotel room on business, Agent Shane,” he said, after a moment.

“Then tell us who he was integrated with,” Vann said. “We can take it from there.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Schwartz said.

“Vann tracks down creeps with threeps all the time,” Davidson said, motioning at Vann. “That’s nearly her whole job, as far as I understand it. There’s no law against tracking a person back from information on their threep.”

Out of reflex I moved to correct Davidson’s bad comparison, then caught Vann’s glance at me. I stopped.

Schwartz was silent for a moment, then Davidson’s tablet pinged. He picked it up.

“I just sent you ten years of case law about the status of Integrators, Captain,” Schwartz said. “I did it because Integrators are relatively rare and therefore, unlike Agents Vann and Shane here, who are currently being wholly disingenuous, you might be speaking out of genuine ignorance and not just your usual levels of casual obstructionism.”

“All right,” Davidson said, not looking at his tablet. “And?”

“Superficially, Integrators perform the same role as Personal Transports,” Schwartz said. “They allow those of us who have been locked in by Haden’s syndrome to be mobile, to work, and to participate in society. But this,” Schwartz tapped his threep’s chest with his knuckles, “is a machine. Without its human operator, it’s a pile of parts. It has no more rights than a toaster—it’s property. Integrators are humans. Despite the superficial resemblance to what threeps do, what Integrators do is a skill and profession— one that they train hard for, as Agent Vann can no doubt tell you.” He turned to Vann at this point. “Speaking of which, now you can tell Captain Davidson where I’m going with this.”

“He’s going to argue there’s Integrator-client privilege,” Vann said, to Davidson.

“Like attorney-client privilege, or doctor-patient privilege, or confessor-parishioner privilege,” Schwartz said, and pointed at Davidson’s tablet. “And I’m not going to argue it, since the courts have already done so, and have affirmed, consistently, that Integrator-client confidentiality is real and protected.”

“No Supreme Court cases,” Vann said.

“And that should tell you something,” Schwartz said. “Namely, that the idea of Integrator-client privilege is so noncontroversial that no one’s bothered to appeal it all the way up. That said, please note Wintour v. Graham, affirmed by the D.C. Court of Appeals. It applies directly here.”

“So you’re going to argue your client didn’t murder anyone, it was his client who did it,” Davidson said. “And that you can’t tell us who that client is.”

“He can’t tell you who the client is, no,” Schwartz said. “And we aren’t saying it was murder. We don’t know. Since neither Metro nor the Bureau has bothered to charge my client with murder yet, I’m guessing neither do you, at least not yet.”

“But you do know,” Vann said. “Bell said he’s been recording everything. He’d have a record of the murder.”

“First, if you try to use anything my client said to you in that illegal interrogation of him in any way, I’m going to make life very difficult for you,” Schwartz said. “Second, even if there is a record of what happened in that room, it’s covered by privilege. My client’s not going to turn it over. You can try to get a warrant for it if you like. All we will attest to is that my client was working from the moment he stepped into that room until the moment your goons assaulted him,” Schwartz pointed at Davidson for emphasis, “and dragged him out of there. He’s not responsible, and you have nothing. So either arrest him and let me go to work dismantling your case and setting up a ver y profitable suit for police harassment, or get him out of that interrogation room right now and let him go home. These are your options, Captain Davidson, Agent Vann.”

“How does he get to have you as a lawyer?” I asked.

“Excuse me?” Schwartz asked, turning back to me.

“You’re general counsel at Accelerant Investments, Mr. Schwartz,” I said, reading from the data I had pulled up. “That’s a Fortune 100 company. It has to keep you busy. I don’t suspect you have a private practice on the side, or that Mr. Bell could afford you if you did. So I’m wondering what Mr. Bell has done to deserve having someone of your caliber show up here to spring him.”

Another second of silence from Schwartz, and Davidson’s tablet pinged again. He opened the ping, looked at it, and then turned it around to show me and Vann. The tablet was open to a colorful site full of baby goats and merry-go-rounds.

“It’s called ‘A Day in the Park,’ ” Schwartz said. “Not everyone who’s locked in is a lawyer or a professional, as I am sure you are amply aware. Some of those who are locked in are developmentally challenged. For them, operating a PT is difficult or next to impossible. They spend their days under very controlled stimulus. So I run a program that lets them out for a day in the park. They go to the petting zoo, ride rides, eat cotton candy, and otherwise get to enjoy their lives for a couple of hours. You should know about it, Agent Shane. Your father has been one of its co-sponsors for the last seven years.”

“My father doesn’t outline all his charitable work with me, Mr. Schwartz,” I said.

“Indeed,” Schwartz said. “In any event. Mr. Bell donates his time for this program. He does more for it than any other local Integrator here in D.C. In return I told him if he ever needed a lawyer, he should call me. And here we are.”

“That’s a sweet story,” Davidson said, putting down the tablet.

“I suppose it is,” Schwartz said. “Especially because now I’m going to give my client a happy ending to this particular problem. W hich will either be his freedom, or a retirement-level settlement from both the Metro Police Department and the FBI. Your call, Captain, Agent Vann. Tell me what it will be.”

■ ■ ■

“Your thoughts,” Vann said, at lunch.

“About this case?” I asked. We were sitting in a holein-the-wall Mexican place not too far from the Second Precinct. Vann was plowing through a plate of carnitas. I was not, but a quick status check at home told me that my body had gotten its noontime supply of nutritional liquid. So I had that going for me.

“Obviously, about the case,” Vann said. “It’s your first case. I want to see what you’re picking up and what you’re missing. Or what I’m missing.”

“The first thing is that the case should now be all ours,” I said. “Schwartz admitted Bell was working as an Integrator. Standard procedure with Hadens means that the case needs to be transferred to us.”

“Yes,” Vann said.

“Do you think there’s going to be a problem with this?” I asked.

“Not with Davidson,” Vann said. “I’ve done him some favors and he and I don’t have any problems with each other. Trinh will be pissy about it, but I don’t really care about that and neither should you.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so,” Vann said. “What else.”

“Since the case is ours now, we should have the body sent to the Bureau for our people to look at,” I said.

“Transfer order already processed,” Vann said. “He’s on the way now.”

“We should also get all the data from Metro. High resolution this time,” I said, remembering Trinh’s last bit of feed.

“Right,” Vann said. “What else.”

“Have Bell followed?”

“I put in a request. I wouldn’t count on it.”

“We won’t put a tail on a potential murder suspect?”

“You might have noticed we have a protest march coming into town this weekend,” Vann said.

“That’s Metro’s problem,” I said.

“Dealing with the logistics of the march, yes,” Vann said. “Keeping tabs on the protest leaders and other highvalue individuals, on the other hand, is all us. What about Schwartz?”

“He’s a schmuck?” I ventured.

“Not where I was going,” Vann said. “Do you believe his story about how he happened to be Bell’s lawyer?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Schwartz is really rich. I checked when I pulled his data earlier. Through Accelerant, he’s worth at least two or three hundred million. Really rich folks do a lot of reputational transactions.”

“I have no idea what you just said.” Vann stuck another piece of carnitas into her mouth.

“Rich people show their appreciation through favors,” I said. “When everyone you know has more money than they know what to do with, money stops being a useful transactional tool. So instead you offer favors. Deals. Quid pro quos. Things that involve personal involvement rather than money. Because when you’re that rich, your personal time is your limiting factor.”

“Speaking from experience?” Vann asked.

“Speaking from very close observation, yes,” I said. That seemed a good enough answer for Vann. “So you think this could be a case of noblesse oblige on the part of Schwartz toward a hired hand.”

“I’m saying it wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. “Unless you think there’s something else there.”

“I do think there’s something else there,” Vann said. “Or someone else. Lucas Hubbard.”

I sat there, thinking about the name Vann said. Then it smacked me like a fish across the head. “Oh, man,” I said.

“Yeah,” Vann said. “Chairman and CEO of Accelerant. The single richest Haden on the planet. Who lives in Falls Church. And who almost certainly uses an Integrator for board meetings and in-person negotiations. You need a face for face-to-face meetings. One that moves. No offense.”

“None taken,” I said. “Do we know if Nicholas Bell is the Integrator he uses?”

“We can find out,” Vann said. “There aren’t that many Integrators in the D.C. area, and half of them are women, which rules them out, given what I know about Hubbard.”

“I know people who have Integrators tied up on longterm service contracts,” I said. “Locks up their use except for NIH-required public service. If Bell’s on a contract we could find that out, and for whom.”

“Yeah,” Vann said. “I hate that shit.”

“Abrams-Kettering,” I said. “You said it to Bell, Vann. They passed that law and suddenly a lot of folks have to think about where their paychecks are coming from. Everyone around Hadens has to change the way they do business. Rich Hadens can pay for Integrators. Integrators have to eat.”

Vann looked grumpily into her plate of food.

“This shouldn’t be a surprise to you—” I said. I wanted to segue into asking her about her time as an Integrator, but got a ping before I could.

“Excuse me a minute,” I said to Vann, who nodded. I opened up a window in my head and saw Miranda, my daytime nurse. She was in the foreground. In the background was me, in my room.

“Hi, Miranda,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Three things,” she said. “One, that bedsore on your hip is back. Have you felt it yet?”

“I’ve been busy working my threep today, so I’m sensory forward here,” I said. “I haven’t really noticed anything going on with my body.”

“All right,” Miranda said. “I’ve numbed it in any event. We’re going to have to change your body movement schedule a bit to work around the sore, so don’t be surprised if you come home today and you’re facedown on the bed.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Two, remember that at four Dr. Givens is here to work on your molar. You’re going to want to dial your body sensitivity way down for that. She tells me it’s likely to get messy.”

“It doesn’t seem fair I get cavities when I don’t even use my teeth,” I joked.

“Three, your mother came in to tell me to remind you that she expects you home in time for the get-together at seven. She wanted me to remind you that it is in your honor, to celebrate your new job, so don’t embarrass her by being late.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“And I want to remind you to tell your mother that it’s not my job to forward messages to you,” Miranda said. “Especially when your mother is perfectly capable of pinging you herself.”

“I know,” I said. “Sorry.”

“I like your mom but if she keeps up this Edwardian shit, I may have to chloroform her.”

“That’s fair,” I said. “I’ll talk to her about it, Miranda. I promise.”

“All right,” Miranda said. “Let me know if the bed sore starts to bother you. I’m not happy it came back.”

“I will. Thank you, Miranda,” I said. She disconnected and I reconnected with Vann. “Sorry about that.”

“Everything all right?” she asked.

“I have a bedsore,” I said.

“You going to be all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “My nurse is rotating me.”

“There’s an image,” Vann said.

“Welcome to the Haden life,” I said.

“Not to assume too much, but I’m surprised you don’t have one of those cradles designed to keep down bed sores and exercise your muscles and such.”

“I do,” I said. “I just ulcerate easily. It’s a condition. Entirely unrelated to the Haden’s. I would have it even if I weren’t, you know.” I motioned with my arm, to display my threep. “This.”

“Sucks,” Vann said.

“We all have problems,” I said.

“Let’s get back to Bell,” Vann said. “Anything else we should be thinking about?”

“Do we need to consider his sister?” I asked.

“Why would we need to do that?” Vann asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe because Cassandra Bell is the best-known Haden separatist in the country, and currently spearheading a general strike and that protest march you were reminding me about?”

“I know who she is,” Vann said. “What I’m asking is why you think it’s relevant.”

“I don’t know that it is,” I said. “On the other hand, when the previously under-the-radar Integrator brother of a famous Haden radical is intimately involved in what looks to be a murder, using his body as the weapon, I think we might have to consider all the angles.”

“Hmmm,” Vann said. She turned back to her plate.

“So,” I said, after a minute. “Did I pass the audition?”

“You’re a little edgy,” Vann said, to me.

“I’m nervous,” I said. “It’s my second day on the job. The first one with you. You’re the senior partner. I want to know how I’m working out for you.”

“I’m not going to give you participation ribbons every couple of hours, Shane,” Vann said. “And I’m not that mysterious. If you piss me off or annoy me, I’m going to let you know.”

“Okay,” I said.

“So stop worrying about how you’re doing, and just do the job,” Vann said. “Tell me what you think, and tell me what you think about what I’m thinking. You don’t have to wait for me to ask. All you have to do is pay attention.”

“Like when you looked over to me today in Davidson’s office,” I said.

“When you were going to contradict Davidson about threeps and Integrators being more or less the same thing,” Vann said. “Yes, that’s an example. I’m glad you caught it. You don’t need to be helping Schwartz.”

“He was right, though. Schwartz, I mean.”

Vann shrugged at this.

“Are you saying I should just shut up every time someone says something stupid or factually wrong about Hadens?” I asked. “I just want to be clear what you’re asking.”

“I’m saying pay attention to when it makes sense to say something,” Vann said. “And pay attention to when it makes sense to hold it in for the moment. I get that you’re used to saying what you think to anyone, anytime. That comes from being an entitled rich kid.”

“Come on,” I said.

Vann held up a hand. “Not a criticism, an observation. But that’s not the job, Shane. The job is to watch and learn and solve.” She popped the final piece of carnitas into her mouth, then reached into her suit jacket for her electronic cigarette.

“I’ll try,” I said. “I’m not always good at shutting up.”

“That’s why you have a partner,” Vann said. “So you can vent at me. Afterward. Now, come on. Let’s get back to work.”

“Where to now?”

“I want to get a better look at that hotel room,” Vann said, and sucked on her cigarette. “Trinh hustled us through it pretty quickly. I’m ready for a slow dance.”


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.”


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.


Copyright © 2014 by John Scalzi

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