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The Network

Nathan threw open the bedroom door and launched himself onto bed. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. It had been a hectic week. His 15th birthday was last week, and today he passed his evals. He leaned back and ran his fingers along the port on the back of his head. Tomorrow he would be connected to the Network.  

Nathan’s father propped open the door and peeked his head into the room. “Dirty shoes on the bed again? You know, after tomorrow you won’t be able to get away with that anymore.” 

Nathan nodded, and his father pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I was able to follow you most of the day, well except when you were hanging out with your unconnected friends. Your classmates and teachers are pretty excited for you.”

Nathan’s father placed his hand on his should. “Listen, I know we’ve talked about this since you were little, but do you have any questions?”

Nathan paused for a moment and looked up at him.

“Are we going to change?” Nathan asked. “You know, me and you.”

His father smiled. “Yes. But, in a good way. We’ll be closer,” his father said. “Listen, you’re the only family I have, and I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”

“So have I,” Nathan said.

“Great. Get some rest, it won’t be much longer. I put everything you need for the ceremony in a bag by the door. I’ll meet you at the hall.”

Nathan’s dad put the chair back and left the room. Nathan kicked his shoes off and laid back on the bed. He thought about getting undressed, but decided since nobody was watching yet, he should take advantage of it.

It was late morning before Nathan woke up. Now that he was approved for a connection he wouldn’t be going to school anymore. From here on out his education would be piped directly into his head. He ate a big breakfast and lounged around the house as long as he could.

His dad left the house long before Nathan got up. This didn’t mean he wasn’t around. Just about everyone over the age of 15 was connected to the Network, so his dad could pretty much spy on him when every he wanted to. And if Nathan had overslept today, his dad would most certainly compel a neighbor to go to the house and wake him up.

Nathan grabbed his bag and started off to the train station. Random people waved and said hello. This was his dad using the Network to check in on him. He was used to it by now. 

As he turned the corner to the station a tall, thin boy reached out and grabbed him on the arm.

“Nathan Song?”

Nathan said yes. The boy looked around quickly and pulled him into the alley. Nathan wasn’t alarmed. It was common for unconnected kids to reach out to strangers for help. 

“Hey man, whatever you need, I can’t today,” Nathan said as he shook the boy’s grip from his arm. “Let’s find another kid to help you?” said Nathan as he turned and headed back to the street.

“Your mom’s alive,” the boy said.

Nathan turned and walked back toward the boy. He grabbed him by the head. “Don’t mess with me, man. I’m not in the mood to be messed with,” he said.

“Nadine Song. She’s not dead.” Nathan stepped back and released his grip. “And you know this how?” he said.

“She’s in that car over there,” the boy said.

Nathan hadn’t thought about his mother in a long time. All he had was pictures. He wasn’t old enough to know her. Nathan’s parents were the first generation connected to the Network. The system wasn’t quite perfect back then, and accidents happen. Nathan’s mom was one of those accidents. A driver was suffering a glitch from his connection when he struck her head on. 

Nathan had been told the story a hundred times. His mother was dead.   

Nathan laughed. This must be some kind of joke his friends came up with to screw with him. It’s a sick joke, but the kind of thing his friends would do. He decided he should just play along.

“Okay, let’s go and get this over with, I’ve got a ceremony to attend.” 

The two walked over to the car. The boy opened the back door and Nathan got in. Next to him was a woman. She was older and thinner than the photos, but Nathan recognized her immediately.

“MOM??!!” he said. “What? How? I don’t understa…..”

“We don’t have much time, Nathan,” his mother said. “If we leave now we can probably get out of the city and be free.”

“But they told me your were dead.”

“We were young. I didn’t want to join the Network, so your father stole you from me. Once everyone was connected, I had to leave. I’ve been living with the underground ever since. The car accident was just a cover up.”

Nathan started to cry. “I don’t believe you. This is trick,” he said.

“Here. Feel the back of my head.” Nadine guided his hand to the back of her head. He felt nothing. “See. I don’t have a port like you. What person my age doesn’t have one? I’m not connected. I am free.”

Nathan yanked his hand back from his mothers head.

“I need you to come with me. It will be hard, but we can live together, free.”

“You chose freedom over me?” Nathan asked.

“It wasn’t really a choice Nathan. None of this is a choice,” she said. “Have you ever wondered what happens to the people who don’t pass their Evals?”

“They are taken to work in the rural areas. My friend Tom is out there.”

“No he’s not Nathan. They kill them. They drive them out into the country and kill them. I saved that boy out there. We’ve been saving lots of kids. Come with us. Help me.”

“Bullshit!” Nathan said.

“It’s true. And we really don’t have much time.”

Nathan threw his body against the door and jiggled the handle until it flew open. He ran as fast as he could. A man in a black suit approached him. “Are you alright Nathan? You look flustered.” It was obviously his father looking out for him.

“I’m fine, just a little prank,” he said. More strangers approached. They all watched as he took his seat on the train.

The train arrived at the auditorium just in time. Nathan rushed his way back stage. He was greeted and shuffled into a changing room. There was a change of clothing in the bag his father had prepared. He would be wearing white today to signify a new beginning, his coming of age. As he pulled out the shirt a family picture fell out of the bag. It was a picture of him with his parents when he was a baby. On the back his father had written.

We will be together again, soon. Love Dad.

Nathan didn’t have time to comprehend it, as he heard his name being called. He clutched the note and made his way onto the stage. Like him, his friends were all were wearing white. Behind each of them was a chair with a large head rest. He took his place in between two classmates. A line of attendees walked out and stood behind the chairs. Each grabbed a bundle of wires with a large jack at the end.

Nathan looked around. He was struck at how happy and healthy everyone was. His dad was sitting up front with the other fathers, each were grinning ear to ear. After some introductions they all sat down in the chairs and leaned back. As the announcer welcomed each of them to the Network the jack was placed into the port on the back of their heads.

Nathan could feel the snap of the jack sliding into the port in the back of his head. It wasn’t there for long, before he could feel them. It was like a million people were in his head. Each of them were reading his memories. Then he felt them focusing in. They were looking for his mother. He tried to stop them, but he couldn’t. Slowly, Nathan lost control. Slowly, he became the Network.

Nathan woke up in his bed. He had an overwhelming sensation of calm. He wondered what had happen, and then the visions appeared. He was watching himself through other peoples eyes. He had passed out and his father helped him home and put him in bed. He even removed his shoes.

And then he thought about his mother.

“Hello Nathan.”

“Mom?”

“Yes. With your help they were able to find me. I’ve been connected. I will be home soon. I’ve missed you.”

Nathan could see the plan his father made with the help of the Network, but he couldn’t be mad, even if he tried.

Published in Fiction Science Fiction

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