Thursday, May 20, 2010

Block #fridayflash

Ryan was shown into the Coordinator’s office, a small space that bore more in common with a closet than it did a room. The two chairs faced each other over a fold-down desk, the Coordinator already seated in his, tapping away at the computer in his hand.

Ryan slid in next to the Coordinator, waiting for the older man to speak. The Coordinator was a man who operated at his own leisure. Not that Ryan was all that excited to hear what he had to say once he was done. Nothing felt good about this meeting.

“We have a problem,” the Coordinator said as he tapped the screen on his computer one last time, setting the small device down on the table.

“I’m not surprised you’d think that,” Ryan said.

The Coordinator looked at him expectantly. It was hard to meet the Coordinator’s gaze. His one good eye was bright and piercing, intimidating enough, but the replacement for his other eye was the flat black lens of the video implant. It’d be easier if it was just an old fashioned glass eye, not this technological monstrosity.

“You don’t have an excuse to offer me for your poor performance?” The Coordinator spread his hands helplessly. “I’m running out of options here. You were brought on board for a very specific purpose. An obligation you’ve failed to fulfill for nearly five years, now. You understand how that’s unacceptable, given the circumstances.”

“You can’t rush this type of work,” Ryan said. “I’m doing the best I can. It’s not as if I haven’t tried. But sometimes these things just work and sometimes they just don’t. It’s not as if I haven’t provided years of good material previously.”

“That’s half the problem,” the Coordinator said. “There are certain expectations you set by how prolific you were, both before and after Gathering Day. The people here relied upon you to provide for them on a set schedule. And you exceeded their wildest dreams. We were all very impressed. But now … nothing.”

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Ryan said. “I’m doing the best I can.”

The Coordinator shifted uncomfortably, his eye lowering as a sign that he didn’t want to say what he was about to say. “There’s been a proposal from the archivist that she be given permission to produce a series of stories set in a pre-Gathering Day world. I spoke to the morale officer, and he seemed to think it would be a good idea to pursue that.”

“A … but .. the archivist?” Ryan sat up straighter in his chair. “She’s not capable of providing for all of us. She’s a librarian.”

“She’s already submitted a writing sample, some ideas for stories, the outlines of five novels.” The Coordinator pressed a few buttons on his computer and then slid it over to Ryan. He picked it up and quickly scanned the writing. It was amateurish, but it had promise. He perused the outlines. They were solid stories. Shit.

“She already has a role, though. One person, one job. Remember? That’s how the community is being run.”

“Ideally, yes,” the Coordinator said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t forsee that the archivist would have diminishing responsibilities as other communities went silent and our affairs settled into a routine. She notes the personal highlights of the community, helps people organize their private logs, but in reality there isn’t much left for her to do. We think expanding her role to envelop yours is an efficient use of resources.”

Ryan’s face went white. He felt bile rising in his throat. He couldn’t be suggesting… “So what happens to me?”

“The community doesn’t need two storytellers,” the Coordinator said. “Especially not when one of them hasn’t told a story in years.”

“So … what … you can’t just let me go! Let her go! I was one of the first choices for this community. I can learn her job.”

“She’s a mother of four. As hesitant as I am to bring it up, your partner did pass on some years ago. No children to worry about. And much like will happen with you, her job was assumed by the community over time without too much trouble.”

“So you’re just going to get rid of anyone who’s redundant? How is that any way to run a community? You’re supposed to be protecting us, not kicking us out when we don’t meet your standards!”

“I’m not in the position to be swayed by pleas to my emotions,” the Coordinator answered. “And unfortunately for you, there is no ‘we.’ Everyone else is fulfilling their assigned roles. You are the sole exception. And it’s come to the point where keeping you here is one more child I can’t authorize people to have. You do realize we’re about to become a third-generation community? I’m sorry, but my decision stands. You are hereby stripped of the title of this community’s Writer, and asked to leave.”

* * *

Ryan walked down the narrow corridor leading to the entrance to the community. This was a rarely-used part of the structure, sealed and forgotten for years. There were storage containers lined against one wall, so narrow that the small farewell party that accompanied him had to go single file past them.

“Please, I beg you to reconsider,” Ryan said to the Coordinator. “You know what it’s like out there. You know I’m not equipped for this.”

“You have been given plenty of tools with which to survive,” the Coordinator said. “I’m not heartless. But I have to make decisions for the good of the whole, not the individual.”

“We will not forget you,” the new Writer, Deborah, said. She seemed genuinely distressed by this turn of events, bless her. “I will write of you, and your sacrifices. The community will revere you by the time I’m done. I know it’s a small comfort, but it’s all I can do.”

The security director, a thick ex-military man, was the first to the door. “When you get out there, you need to find shelter before nightfall. We don’t know what’s out there, but the last thing you want is to be stuck in the dark, unprepared.”

“What time is it out there?” Ryan shouldered the heavy pack he wore. It was full of tools, each carefully explained to him, though he was sure that he had forgotten all of it already. It didn’t matter. They had provided him two other tools, the old but well-maintained pistol from the armory that was heavy and alien in its holster, and the single pill in the locket around his neck if he decided that he couldn’t take this new reality.

The door of the community opened for the first time in over a decade. This was the first door, leading to a small decontamination chamber that had been built in case there had actually been traffic from the outside. In all the years of the community’s existence, that had never happened.

Ryan stepped through the first door, which closed behind him. He could see the three of them, crowding at the window, watching him. The second door unsealed itself, dust blowing in from the outside, quickly sucked up by the vents in the room. The community was not to be contaminated.

Ryan stepped up to the door to the Outside. The community had been sunk into the side of a mountain, the path hewn into the rock. The tunnel was dark and cool, various debris from animals or travelers or god knows what littering the floor. Ryan stepped out into the cave, and the door shut behind him.

Slowly, carefully, Ryan made his way out to the mouth of the tunnel where it emerged into the open air. It was full daylight, but the sun only lit the sky a dull, tumultuous grey. He knew that there was no clear sky anymore, but he had hoped to see some of the great blue dome stretching up forever. After ten years with low ceilings and cramped spaces, though, even this low cloud that had been the doom of so many people looked impossibly high. It gave him a sense of vertigo to look up.

Instead he looked out. The land was blighted, an endless expanse of rocks and dust and hard-packed dirt that was slowly being eroded into desert. There were buildings, many of them still standing, but he saw nothing moving. That fit with the reports the community had. Whatever was left out here in the Outside, it was scarce.

As he adjusted his pack and began to climb down the slope of the mountain to the flat ground below, a thought crossed his mind. A thought so powerful that he felt his spirit break under the weight of it. He wanted to cry, but instead he grinned fiercely, laughing softly to himself. Of course, it was so obvious!

This, he thought to himself, would make for a great story!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Mob Lawyer (part 4)

Hiroki shifted uncomfortably in the heavy silence that had fallen over the study. Patricia Wallace was sitting in the massive leather chair behind the desk, her knees pulled up under her chin. She looked ill at easy, though he supposed that if he had lost a spouse and was potentially connected to a murder that he’d be upset, too. In the large chair she looked like a girl, awoken by a bad dream and taking comfort in a parent’s things. 

“So … what do we do now?” She asked the room.

Hiroki had no answer. He was still in the chair he had been shown to when they arrived, feeling completely unable to contribute to this situation. Camen was standing off to one side, smoking a cigarette, smoke rising in a cloud above him as he seemed to be browsing the leather bound books on the shelf. 

“The most likely thing,” Camen said, “is that the police will come and question you. It might be prudent to cut them off at the pass, go to them and tell them your husband is missing. They’ll question you about the murder, I’m sure, but I don’t doubt that you’ll quickly rise above suspicion.”

“You’re so sure of that?”  She looked over at Camen. “What if I, in a fit of passion, went over there and murdered her? Why wouldn’t they believe that?” 

“I can’t tell you the specifics of the case, otherwise they might believe that. I’m just going to say that I find it unlikely you’re that capable. It is more likely, though, that they’ll suspect your husband. Especially after you tell them that he’s missing.”

The horrified look on her face prompted Hiroki to speak up before she got really riled and made things difficult. “If they suspect your husband, they’re going to look for him. They have more resources than we do. It’s not a bad thing.”

“I told you I didn’t want this made public,” she said. 

“Right now, it won’t be,” Camen said. “The last thing they want to do is publicly name your husband if he’s not the killer. No sense going out and begging for a lawsuit. They’ll keep it quiet enough. And if he’s not guilty as I assume, then he has nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have much choice,” Camen said. “Your husband’s mistress turns up dead, there’s enough information to point them towards mob involvement. It wouldn’t take much searching to figure out that she was spending her free time with a lawyer with mob involvement. If you don’t go to them, they’re going to come to you. And they’ll be a lot less nicer about it at that point.”

There was a protracted moment of silence after that, as their client digested this new data. Hiroki shifted in his chair. It was late, he was going to be in trouble as it was, and now here they were telling someone to go see their biggest competitor. This wasn’t exactly the glamorous detective life he envisioned.

Camen finished his cigarette, putting it out in the small ashtray that Mrs. Wallace had given him. He turned around and began to speak. “If you like, we can take you down there ourselves, I can talk to the detective in charge. It’ll make things nice and smooth, they can question you and you can be back home in a few hours.”

“Right now?  It’s the middle of the night.”

“If we take her down there now, we’re going to be sitting around for hours,” Hiroki said. “Better to wait until morning.”

Camen shrugged. “If you insist. That’s not quite as pre-emptive as I would like, but I suppose it’ll-“

He was interrupted by the chime of the doorbell. There was a moment’s hesitation, the sound so foreign that nobody moved. Patricia was the first one to speak. “I … how did someone get past the gate?”

“It closed behind us when we came in,” Hiroki said. 

“Maybe it’s the police?” Patricia was already standing up, walking towards the door of the study. As she reached for the knob, Camen reached out and put a hand on her arm.

“You wait here. In case it isn’t the police. Stay here with Hiroki, I’ll go check it out.”  He reached into his coat and pulled out a small gun from the underarm holster that Hiroki knew he had. He turned towards Hiroki, nodding. “Watch her. If you hear anything go bad, get her out of here and get to the police.”

“You think it’s that serious?” Hiroki asked, heart pounding. He stood up, a sudden rush of energy making him jumpy, heading towards the door.

“I’m not planning on taking any chances,” he said, before he retreated down the darkened hallway towards the foyer, the bell still ringing. 

Hiroki closed the door after Camen had left, turning towards Patricia.  She was pale and nearly trembling. Hiroki motioned to the chair. “Come on, sit down. It’s fine. He’s paranoid because that’s part of the job. But he’s good at what he does. We’ll be just fine here.”

“But what if we’re not?” she asked. “What if it’s some sort of burglar?”

“Then they wouldn’t be ringing the bell, would they?” Hiroki said.  '”Like I said, just sit down and relax.”  Once she was sitting down, seemingly a little more under control, Hiroki made his way over to the door. There wasn’t any sound now, just the sound of the two of them breathing in this room.

“Mrs. Wallace, I’m going to turn off the lights. Don’t be alarmed.” Hiroki reached up and flipped the switch, plunging them into darkness. Then he cracked open the door and peered out into the darkness of the hall. The hallway was empty, and Hiroki couldn’t see any motion out in the small part of the foyer he could see from here. The house felt suddenly like a tomb, large and still and indifferent. 

Suddenly there was the sound of two heavy impacts, one accompanied with a low grunt. Hiroki was ready to bolt if need be, but in the gloom of the hallway he saw Camen coming down the hall. Of course, he was coming down the hall at a full run, his gun out.  “Hiroki, come on!”

Hiroki turned towards Patricia. “We need to go, now!” To her credit, she was up in a flash, the two of them both making their way out of the study and into the hall. Camen caught up with them, handing Hiroki the keys to the car. “What’s going on?” Hiroki asked.

“There’s someone here. I tackled them, but they’re still here. I don’t know if they’re armed or not.” The three of them raced out into the foyer, Camen at the lead, gun out and scanning the darkness for sign of the assailant. Hiroki led Patricia to the open door, Camen right behind. Out in the yard, they were nearly completely exposed if someone wanted to take a shot at them, but Hiroki knew the drill on safely getting to the car and ran at a half crouch to the vehicle.

He put Patricia in the back, telling her to get down and stay down. Then he made his way over to the driver’s side of the car, Camen right behind him, gun out and sweeping the yard. Out here it seemed much brighter than inside, but the shadows made it hard to tell what was trees moving in the wind and what was the intruder. 

Hiroki started the engine even as Camen was climbing into the passenger seat, peeling out of the parking lot and towards the gate. The headlights revealed that the gate was open, the sliding mechanism smoking faintly. Hiroki kept his eyes on the road, though, getting them out of the there.

“What happened?” Patricia asked.

Camen settled into his seat. “I opened the door but there wasn’t anybody out there. I felt like someone was watching me, though, and got out of the doorway so I wasn’t such an obvious target. Just in case this was the same person who killed Ms. Falchi.”

“I heard a struggle,” Hiroki said. 

“While I was hiding, someone rushed in through the door. I grabbed them, but they were ready for me and there was a fight. I ended up landing a punch that knocked them to the ground, though. Then I went to get you. I’m not sure where they went, but it seems we’ve lost them.”

“What do we do now?” Patricia asked. 

“Well, you can’t go back,” Camen said. “But apparently whoever killed Falchi is after you.”

“You’re sure they’re related.”

“No…” Camen shook his head, pausing. “We need to learn more about this case. And quickly. But until we get a grasp on what’s happening, we need to get you to safety.”

“What did you have in mind?” 

Camen shook his head. “I don’t know. I need time to think. Hiroki, I need to get you home. I’ll take over, and I’ll pick you up tomorrow afternoon.” 

Hiroki’s jaw tensed. The last thing he wanted was to be dropped off and sent back to the safety of his apartment and his mother right when things were getting interesting. This was an adventure! This was exactly the kind of thing he had signed up for when he insisted on being Camen’s assistant. But it was always ‘get Hiroki out of the way’ first and ‘have awesome experiences’ second.


Hiroki trudged into the apartment to find his mother sleeping in the recliner in the living room. He set down his bag and gently shook her awake. “Hey mom, I’m home.”

“Oh, Hiroki,” she said, yawning and stretching. “What time is it?”

“A little bit after three,” Hiroki said. “Sorry it took so long. Ben’s server was invaded, had to fight off the intruder and secure the data.”

His mother nodded, glazing over at the first mention of the technology he was ostensibly hired to do. She climbed to her feet and began to head towards bed. “I worry about you staying out so late. You can’t be running around at all hours at your age, it’s unnatural.”

“Mom, everyone my age is running around at all hours,” Hiroki said.  “The difference is that I’m getting paid for it and building up a resume. Don’t worry, I take care of myself. And Ben looks out for me.”

She scoffed. “That man doesn’t look like he can take care of himself, much less anyone else. I don’t trust him. He’s shifty.”

Hiroki rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say.” When his mother went to bed Hiroki sank into the living room couch. He sighed, turning on the TV for some noise and light but not really paying attention to it. At this rate, he wasn’t sure he would ever fall asleep, anxious about what Camen was doing right now, fleeing a would-be intruder—maybe a murderer!---and leaving him here to wait for information.

Thinking about the case, and the adventures that he could be going on if only he wasn’t stuck here, Hiroki fell asleep on the couch, accompanied by the muted light of the TV.