Pub: August 26, 2014Pre-Order
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. A novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern science fiction.
Haden’s Syndrome is the name given to a set of continuing physical and mental conditions and disabilities initially brought on by “the Great Flu,” the influenza-like global pandemic that resulted in the deaths of more than 400 million people worldwide, either through the initial flu-like symptoms, the secondary stage of meningitis-like cerebral and spinal inflammation, or through complications arising due to the third stage of the disease, which typically caused complete paralysis of the voluntary nervous system, resulting in “lock in” for its victims. Haden’s syndrome is named for Margaret Haden, the former First Lady of the United States of America, who became the syndrome’s most visible victim.
The physical origin of “the Great Flu” is unknown but it was first diagnosed in London, England, with additional diagnoses occurring in New York, Toronto, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Beijing almost immediately thereafter. A long incubation period before visible symptoms allowed for wide dispersal of the virus before its detection. As a result, more than 2.75 billion people worldwide were infected during the disease’s initial wave.
The disease’s progression exhibited differently in each individual depending on several factors, including personal health, age, genetic makeup, and relative environmental hygiene. The first flu-like stage was the most prevalent and serious, causing more than 75 percent of the overall deaths associated with Haden’s. However, a similar percentage of the affected presented only the first stage of the syndrome. A second stage of the syndrome, which affected the rest, superficially resembled viral meningitis and additionally caused deep and persistent changes in the brain structure of some of its victims. While affecting fewer people, the second stage of Haden’s featured a higher mortality rate per capita.
Most who survived the second stage of Haden’s suffered no long-term physical or mental disabilities, but a significant number—more than 1 percent of those initially infected by “the Great Flu”—suffered from “lock in.” An additional .25 percent experienced damage to their mental capabilities due to changes in their brain structure but no degradation of physical ability. An even smaller number—not more than 100,000 people worldwide—experienced no physical or mental declines despite significant changes in their brain structure. Some of those in this latter category would go on to become “Integrators.”
In the United States 4.35 million of the nation’s citizens and residents experienced “lock in” due to the Great Flu, with other developed nations having a similar percentage of citizens locked in. This prompted the United States and its allies to fund the $3 trillion Haden Research Initiative Act, a “moon shot” program designed to rapidly increase understanding of brain function and speed to market programs and prostheses that would allow those afflicted with Haden’s to participate in society. As a result of the HRIA, innovations such as the first embedded neural nets, Personal Transports, and the Haden-only online space known as “The Agora” came into being within twenty-four months of the act being signed by President Benjamin Haden.
Although the HRIA led to significant new understanding of brain development and structure and prompted the development of several new industries catering to Haden’s affected individuals, over time many people complained that Haden’s-related research was overprioritized and that the intense focus on Haden’s sufferers, known as “Hadens,” had created a government-subsidized class that despite their “locked-in” status nevertheless had several competitive advantages over the population at large. This led to United States senators David Abrams and Vanda Kettering sponsoring a bill to cut subsidies and programs for Hadens, tied to a significant tax cut. The Abrams-Kettering Bill was initially defeated but was presented again with changes, and passed both houses of Congress by bare majorities.
Despite significant research into the virus that causes Haden’s syndrome, and the development of social hygiene programs to minimize its spread, there is still no reliable vaccine for the disease. Up to 20 million people are infected worldwide each year, and in the United States, between 15,000 and 45,000 people suffer from lock in annually. While a vaccine eludes researchers, some progress has been made in after-infection treatment, including promising new therapies for “re-wiring” the voluntary nervous system. These therapies are currently in animal trials.—“Haden’s Syndrome” article on HighSchoolCheatSheet.com.
My first day on the job coincided with the first day of the Haden Walkout, and I’m not going to lie, that was some awkward timing. A feed of me walking into the FBI building got a fair amount of play on the Haden news sites and forums. This was not a thing I needed on my first day.
Two things kept all of the Agora from falling down on my head in outrage. The first was that not every Haden was down with the walkout to begin with. The first day participation was spotty at best. The Agora was split into two very noisy warring camps between the walkout supporters and the Hadens who thought it was a pointless maneuver given that Abrams-Kettering had already been signed into law.
The second was that technically speaking the FBI is law enforcement, which qualified it as an essential service. So the number of Hadens calling me a scab was probably lower than it could have been.
Aside from the Agora outrage, my first day was a lot of time in HR, filling out paperwork, getting my benefits and retirement plan explained to me in mind-numbing detail. Then I was assigned my weapon, software upgrades, and badge. Then I went home early because my new partner had to testify in a court case and wasn’t going to be around for the rest of the day, and they didn’t have anything else for me to do. I went home and didn’t go into the Agora. I watched movies instead. Call me a coward if you like.
My second day on the job started with more blood than I would have expected.
I spotted my new partner as I walked up to the Watergate Hotel. She was standing a bit away from the lobby entrance, sucking on an electronic cigarette. As I got closer the chip in her badge started spilling her details into my field of vision. It was the Bureau’s way of letting its agents know who was who on the scene. My partner didn’t have her glasses on so she wouldn’t have had the same waterfall of detail on me scroll past her as I walked up. But then again, it was a pretty good chance she didn’t need it. She spotted me just fine in any event.
“Agent Shane,” said my new partner, to me. She held out her hand.
“Agent Vann,” I said, taking the hand.
And then I waited to see what the next thing out of her mouth would be. It’s always an interesting test to see what people do when they meet me, both because of who I am and because I’m Haden. One or the other usually gets commented on.
Vann didn’t say anything else. She withdrew her hand and continued sucking on her stick of nicotine.
Well, all right then. It was up to me to get the conversation started.
So I nodded to the car that we were standing next to. Its roof had been crushed by a love seat.
“This ours?” I asked, nodding to the car, and the love seat. “Tangentially,” she said. “You recording?”
“I can if you want me to,” I said. “Some people prefer me not to.”
“I want you to,” Vann said. “You’re on the job. You should be recording.”
“You got it,” I said, and started recording. I started walking around the car, getting the thing from every angle. The safety glass in the car windows had shattered and a few nuggets had crumbled off. The car had diplomatic plates. I glanced over and about ten yards away a man was on his phone, yelling at someone in what appeared to be Armenian. I was tempted to translate the yelling.
Vann watched me as I did it, still not saying anything.
When I was done I looked up and saw a hole in the side of the hotel, seven floors up. “That where the love seat came from?” I asked.
“That’s probably a good guess,” Vann said. She took the cigarette out of her mouth and slid it into her suit jacket.
“We going up there?”
“I was waiting on you,” Vann said.
“Sorry,” I said, and looked up again. “Metro police there already?”
Vann nodded. “Picked up the call from their network. Their alleged perp is an Integrator, which puts it into our territory.”
“Have you told that to the police yet?” I asked.
“I was waiting on you,” Vann repeated.
“Sorry,” I said again. Vann motioned with her head, toward the lobby.
We went inside and took the elevator to the seventh floor, from which the love seat had been flung. Vann pinned her FBI badge to her lapel. I slotted mine into my chest display.
The elevator doors opened up and a uniformed cop was there. She held up her hand to stop us from getting off. We both pointed to our badges. She grimaced and let us pass, whispering into her handset as she did so. We aimed for the room that had cops all around the door.
We got about halfway to it when a woman poked her head out of the room, looked around, spied us, and stomped over. I glanced over at Vann, who had a smirk on her face.
“Detective Trinh,” Vann said, as the woman came up.
“No,” Trinh said. “No way. This has nothing to do with you, Les.”
“It’s nice to see you too,” Vann said. “And wrong. Your perp is an Integrator. You know what that means.”
“ ‘All suspected crimes involving Personal Transports or Integrators are assumed to have an interstate component,’” I said, quoting the Bureau handbook.
Trinh looked over at me, sourly, then made a show of ignoring me to speak to Vann. I tucked away that bit of personal interaction for later. “I don’t know my perp’s an Integrator,” she said, to Vann.
“I do,” Vann said. “When your officer on scene called it in, he ID’d the perp. It’s Nicholas Bell. Bell’s an Integrator. He’s in our database. He pinged the moment your guy ran him.” I turned my head to look at Vann at the mention of the name, but she kept looking at Trinh.
“Just because he’s got the same name doesn’t make him an Integrator,” Trinh said.
“Come on, Trinh,” Vann said. “Are we really going to do this in front of the children?” It took me a second to realize Vann was talking about me and the uniformed cops. “You know it’s a pissing match you’re going to lose. Let us in, let us do our job. If it turns out everyone involved was in D.C. at the time, we’ll turn over everything we have and be out of your hair. Let’s play nice and do this all friendly. Or I could not be friendly. You remember how that goes.”
Trinh turned and stomped back to the hotel room without another word.
“I’m missing some context,” I said.
“You got about all you need,” Vann said. She headed to the room, number 714. I followed.
There was a dead body in the room, on the floor, facedown in the carpet, throat cut. The carpet was soaked in blood. There were sprays of blood on the walls, on the bed, and on the remaining seat in the room. A breeze turned in the room, provided by the gaping hole in the wall-length window that the love seat had gone through.
Vann looked at the dead body. “Do we know who he is?”
“No ID,” Trinh said. “We’re working on it.”
Vann looked around, trying to find something. “Where’s Nicholas Bell?” she asked Trinh.
Trinh smiled thinly. “At the precinct,” she said. “The first officer on the scene subdued him and we sent him off before you got here.”
“Who was the officer?” Vann asked.
“Timmons,” Trinh said. “He’s not here.”
“I need his arrest feed,” Vann said.
“Now, Trinh,” Vann said. “You know my public address. Give it to Timmons.” Trinh turned away, annoyed, but pulled out her phone and spoke into it.
Vann pointed to the uniformed officer in the room. “Anything moved or touched?” “Not by us,” he said.
Vann nodded. “Shane.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Make a map,” Vann said. “Make it detailed. Mind the glass.”
“On it,” I said. My recording mode was already on. I overlaid a three-dimensional grid on top of it, marking off everything I could see and making it easier to identify where I needed to look behind and under things. I walked the room, carefully, filling in the nooks and crannies. I knelt down when I got to the bed, turning on my headlights to make sure I got all the details. And there were in fact details to note under the bed.
“There’s a glass under here,” I said to Vann. “It’s broken and covered in blood.” I stood up and pointed over to the room’s desk, which featured a set of glasses and a couple of bottles of water. “There are also glass shards on the floor by the desk. Guessing that’s our murder weapon.”
“You done with your map?” Vann said.
“Almost,” I said. I took a few more passes around the room to pick up the spots I’d missed.
“I assume you also made your own map,” Vann said, to Trinh.
“We got the tech on the way,” Trinh said. “And we’ve got the feeds from the officers on the scene.”
“I want all of them,” Vann said. “I’ll send you Shane’s map, too.”
“Fine,” Trinh said, annoyed. “Anything else?”
“That’s it for now,” Vann said.
“Then if you don’t mind stepping away from my crime scene. I have work to do,” Trinh said.
Vann smiled at Trinh and left the room. I followed. “Metro police always like that?” I asked, as we stepped into the elevator.
“No one likes the feds stepping into their turf,” Vann said. “They’re never happy to see us. Most of them are more polite. Trinh has some issues.”
“Issues with us, or issues with you?” I asked.
Vann smiled again. The elevator opened to the lobby.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” Vann asked. She was driving manually toward the precinct house and fumbling for a package of cigarettes—real ones this time. It was her car. There was no law against it there.
“I’m immune to secondhand smoke, if that’s what you’re asking,” I said.
“Cute.” She fished out a cigarette and punched in the car lighter to warm it up. I dialed down my sense of smell as she did so. “Access my box on the FBI server and tell me if the arrest feed is there yet,” she said.
“How am I going to do that?” I asked.
“I gave you access yesterday,” Vann said.
“You’re my partner now.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “But what would you have done if you met me and decided I was an untrustworthy asshole?”
Vann shrugged. “My last partner was an untrustworthy asshole. I shared my box with her.”
“What happened to her?” I asked. “She got shot,” Vann said.
“Line of duty?” I asked.
“Not really,” Vann said. “She was at the firing range and shot herself in the gut. There’s some debate about whether it was accidental or not. Took disability and retired. I didn’t mind.”
“Well,” I said. “I promise not to shoot myself in the gut.”
“Two body jokes in under a minute,” Vann said. “It’s almost like you’re trying to make a point or something.”
“Just making sure you’re comfortable with me,” I said. “Not everyone knows what to do with a Haden when they meet one.”
“You’re not my first,” she said. The lighter had popped and she fished it out of its socket, lighting her cigarette. “That should be obvious, considering our beat. Have you accessed the arrest feed yet?”
“Hold on.” I popped into the Bureau’s evidence server and pulled up Vann’s box. The file was there, freshly arrived. “It’s here,” I said.
“Run it,” Vann said.
“You want me to port it to the dash?”
“Autodrive is a thing that happens.”
Vann shook her head. “This is a Bureau car,” she said. “Lowest-bidder autodrive is not something you want to trust.”
“Fair point,” I said. I fired up the arrest feed. It was janky and low-res. The Metro police, like the Bureau, probably contracted their tech to the lowest bidder. The view was fps stereo mode, which probably meant the camera was attached to protective eyewear.
The recording started as the cop—Timmons—got off the elevator on the seventh floor, stun gun drawn. At the door of room 714 there was a Watergate security officer, resplendent in a bad-fit mustard yellow uniform. As the feed got closer the security officer’s taser came into view. The security officer looked like he was going to crap himself.
Timmons navigated around the security officer and the image of a man, sitting on the bed, hands up, floated into view. His face and shirt were streaked with blood. The image jerked and Timmons took a long look at the dead man on the blood-soaked carpet. The view jerked back up to the man on the bed, hands still up.
“Is he dead?” asked a voice, which I assumed was Timmons’s.
The man on the bed looked down at the man on the carpet. “Yeah, I think he is,” he said.
“Why the fuck did you kill him?” Timmons asked.
The man on the bed turned back to Timmons. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “Look—”
Then Timmons zapped the man. He jerked and twisted and fell off the bed, collapsing into the carpet, mirroring the dead man.
“Interesting,” I said.
“What?” Vann asked.
“Timmons was barely in the room before he zapped our perp.”
“Bell,” Vann said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Speaking of which, does that name sound familiar to you?”
“Did Bell say anything before he got zapped?” Vann asked, ignoring my question.
“Timmons asked him why he killed that guy,” I said. “Bell said he didn’t think he did.”
Vann frowned at that. “What?” I asked.
Vann glanced over to me again, and had a look that told me she wasn’t looking at me, but at my PT. “That’s a new model,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sebring-Warner 660XS.”
“Sebring-Warner 600 line isn’t cheap,” Vann said.
“No,” I admitted.
“Lease payments are a little steep on a rookie FBI salary.”
“Is this how we’re going to do this?” I asked.
“I’m just making an observation,” Vann said.
“Fine,” I said. “I assume they told you something about me when they assigned me to you as a partner.”
“And I assume you know about the Haden community because it’s your beat.”
“Then let’s skip the part where you pretend not to know who I am and who my family is and how I can afford a Sebring-Warner 660,” I said.
Vann smiled and stubbed out her cigarette on the side window and lowered the window to chuck out the butt. “I saw you got grief on the Agora for showing up to work yesterday,” she said.
“Nothing I haven’t gotten before, for other things,” I said. “Nothing I can’t handle. Is this going to be a problem?”
“You being you?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Why would it be a problem?” Vann asked.
“When I went to the Academy I knew people there thought I was there as an affectation,” I said. “That I was just farting around until my trust fund vested or something.”
“Has it?” Vann asked. “Your trust fund, I mean. Vested.”
“Before I even went to the Academy,” I said.
Vann snickered at this. “No problems,” she said.
“Yes. And anyway, it’s good that you have a high-end threep,” she said, using the slang term for a Personal Transport. “It means that map of yours is actually going to have a useful resolution. Which works because I don’t trust Trinh to send me anything helpful. The arrest feed was messy and fuzzy, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s bullshit,” Vann said. “Metro eyewear feeds autostabilize and record at 4k resolution. Trinh probably told Timmons to shitty it up before sending it. Because she’s an asshole like that.”
“So you’re using me for my superior tech abilities,” I said.
“Yes, I am,” Vann said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“No,” I said. “It’s nice to be appreciated for what I can do.”
“Good,” Vann said, turning into the precinct house parking lot. “Because I’m going to be asking you to do a lot.”
“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. “Thanks.”
“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.
“ ‘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 handled 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.”
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