Today’s writing was a challenge. My depression has been hitting me real hard these past few days. Not too sure why. Anyway, I had no real idea what I wanted to write, so I just threw something together. It’s not great, but at least I got it done. And that’s what this month is about. Getting words out, realizing that not everything I write will be brilliant the first time and learning not to let that bother me. So, there’s still growth in this. I hope.
Writing Challenge Day 19 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2013
Isaac was surprised that there were still towns like this. Most of the small, rural areas had either been swallowed by the tide of metropolitan expansion or withered up completely after all the arable land in the area was bought up by the mega-corps. He imagined you might still have little towns in other places, countries at the ass end of the world that nobody cared about anymore, if they ever had, but not in the heartland of America. Maybe it was cheaper to have all the human personnel live on sight rather than ship them in whenever they needed to perform drone maintenance or swap shifts on one of the few jobs not automated.
A whistle blew somewhere in the distance. An old fashioned steam whistle by the sound of it, but Isaac knew that that was all it was, a sound played out over the PA system. He closed his eyes and listened for the subtle variations in tone that let him know the sound was indeed playing through the speakers all around the town, even out in the fields, simultaneously. Somebody had obviously made an effort to keep the tone of the place authentic, but Isaac knew they’d slipped up. You didn’t get steam whistles on farms back in the day. Roosters, maybe, or an old woman banging on a bell, but not steam whistles. Those were mining towns.
Isaac sighed and thumbed a button on the side of his digi-reader. It was an older model, but Isaac liked the way it felt in his hands. He was only half reading the story popped up on the screen. It was another trashy cyber thriller, little more than a fanfic taken straight from a message board and edited slightly, removing almost all of the spelling mistakes. Novels like this were Isaac’s guilty pleasure. He laughed at the way the author’s portrayed law officers and private detectives, how they always seemed to know just enough about computers to get by whenever a right hook or a gun couldn’t get them by. The villains were always over the top and unbelievable, making stupid mistakes or always trying to destroy the world rather than rule it.
And yet, something about the raw, unashamed enthusiasm the author’s poured into their work made him unable to stop reading them. They had a charm all their own. He just couldn’t ever explain that charm to anyone else.
“You gonna sit there all day or you gonna order something?”
Isaac lowered the reader and glanced at the slightly overweight woman in the yellow uniform and apron in front of him. The name stitched into her shirt read “Pam”. She held a steaming pot in her hand and had a look in her eye that said she was going to pour it’s contents out either into Isaac’s cup or onto Isaac’s lap and she hadn’t decided which. Isaac had a little sympathy for her. His mother had been a waitress back home. Waitresses weren’t exactly ostracized, even in the major cities, but the profession was one that was looked down upon. Anyone who had to resort to manual labor in a digital age was not the kind of person you were inclined to be friendly with.
“Got any pie?” Isaac asked politely, pushing his cup a bit closer to her.
“Depends,” she said, grudgingly filling his cup for the seventh time that day. “You want apple, or cherry?”
“Apple’d be great,” Isaac said.
“All we have is peach.”
“Oh,” Isaac said, not sure whether he should laugh at the joke or not. He decided not. “I’ll have a slice, thanks.”
Pam sucked her teeth and walked away, leaving Isaac alone with his coffee and his stories. He did his best not to take the interaction personally. He’d come to the diner two hours ago, expecting to only have to stay for fifteen minutes or so. Gerath was late. And in this line of work, when your boss was late you started to worry. Isaac’s main worry right now was that he was going to have to start looking for another job, something he hated even more than keeping one.
The bell above the door jingled and a collection of men ambled into the diner wearily. They were tough, tanned men. The kind of men who’s job it was to go out into a field and bang on things until they started working again. They weren’t exactly stupid, they had to know where to bang and how hard, and that usually took a bit of creative analysis that was beyond men much smarter than they, it was just that when a man with a name like Chuck or Cletus came up to you, hands smeared with grease, overalls covered in dirt and manure, you tended to forget this fact. The Chuck’s and Cletus’s of the world knew this, and were often quite quick to take offense when it happened since it happened so often.
The men sauntered up to the diner’s bar at took seats at the bare wooden stools. Without a word Pam started serving them drinks, what they would probably call their “usuals” if they ever actually drank anything else. Mostly coffee, and most of them took it black. One or two added cream, and one or two others added whiskey from flasks from their chest pockets. They had pretty thick accents and deep, rumbly voices that made it hard for Isaac to understand what they were saying. He tried to keep reading.
When he looked up again several of the men had spun around on their stools and were looking at him curiously. One had downed his coffee already and was spitting chewing tobacco into the empty cup. Another was cleaning under his nails with a butter knife.
“’Choo readin thar?” asked one of the men.
“Um…” Isaac said, not wanting to try and explain his fascination with bad pulp fiction to a bunch of brutes like this. “Just a book.”
“Yar.” said another. “We cun see that. Wussat called?”
“Code Black,” Isaac said. It had a longer title than that, but he decided that it wouldn’t be prudent to mention “Dick Asston, Private Eye” in present company.
“Um…A detective.” Isaac said. “Looking for bad guys.” He knew that it sounded stupid, but he really didn’t want to explain any further.
“Oohwee!” said one of the men while the others chuckled. “Lookin’ fer bad guys. Aint that sumthin.”
“Why don’t choo give it on here?” said the largest of the men. “Lemme see if it’s any good.”
Isaac withdrew the digi-reader and set it on his lap. They probably meant no harm. Probably just wanted to have a look, maybe poke some fun at him, and leave it at that. But Isaac didn’t like people touching his things, especially bullies. The big man stood up.
“C’mon now, I jus’ wanna see it, that’s all.” He cracked his knuckles as he spoke. This had definitely been one of the men pouring himself a generous portion of whiskey.
“I’d rather not,” Isaac said. “No offense.”
“No ‘fense?” said the big man. “Can’t see as how I’m supposed to take anything other than ‘fense at it.” He was leering now.
Isaac hoped it wouldn’t have to come to this. He gripped the stock of his blaster under the table, angled it towards the man’s legs. It probably wouldn’t be a kill shot, not at this angle, but if the big man didn’t back down he’d lose a leg and spend several weeks out of work while a prosthetic one was grafted into place. Isaac didn’t like shooting to maim, but he liked killing even less. He might have a legitimate and entirely literal license to kill, but maiming created less paperwork.
“I’m sorry if I seem rude,” Isaac said, resting his finger on the trigger, “but I’d rather just sit here in silence if it’s all the same to you.”
The big man never got a chance to answer. He’d taken half a step toward the table when the door at the other end of the room jingled once more. Everyone in the room turned and looked at the newcomer. Everyone but Isaac. He knew that silhouette even in his periphery. It was Gerath.
Gareth was a tall, thin man with equine features and a completely shaved head. He had a long leather coat on and a dark, nondescript shirt and pants. The big man backed away from him and the others took their seat. At Gareth’s hip was a shimmer of silver, the handle of his personal blaster, polished to a sheen and displayed proudly to the entire world. But that wasn’t the real reason the men had drawn back. The back of Gareth’s head were covered in intricate tattoos that looked like a cross between a circuit board wiring and a Celtic knot. Everyone in the room knew what tattoos like that meant. Psych-mage. But even those were not the entire reason for the men’s fear. Gareth was smoking slightly as he walked and the tattoos were pulsing red and blue and green and every color inbetween. But even that was not the real reason the man were so afraid.
On Gareth’s jacket, just below the collar on his right, was a bright, white symbol. A large, stylized letter I surrounded by the All Seeing Eye: they symbol of the Global Inquisition.
Gareth payed the diner’s patrons no notice but slid into Isaac’s booth silently. Isaac saw him reach under the table and loosen the strap on his blaster’s holster before placing both elbow’s on the table in front of him and resting his chin in his hands.
“Coffee?” Isaac asked, proffering his mug. Gareth shook his head. “Hungry, then?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Got a piece of pie coming, eventually,” Isaac said with an all too casual glance at the waitress.
The waitress bustled over and place a very large slice of peach pie on the table in front of Gareth. She tried to move away hurriedly but was stopped in her tracks by a slight cough from the inquisitor. He looked over at the waitress, looked down at his plate, and the back at the waitress. A spark of realization crossed her face and she fumbled in her apron pockets before managing to pull out a set of silverware wrapped in a paper napkin. Gareth smiled at her and watched her go.
“Don’t suppose you want to tell me what happened,” Isaac said as his boss dug into the pie with vigor. Gareth didn’t say anything, but reach inside his jacket with his free hand and pulled out a thin piece of metal, sliding it across the table to Isaac. It was a simple storage drive, the kind you could by almost anywhere. Someone had stripped off the plastic housing, maybe in a misguided attempt to hide it’s manufacturer, but more likely to reduce it’s size, even if only marginally.
“Please tell me this wasn’t hidden inside somebody,” Isaac said, picking it up with a napkin and plugging it in to his digi-reader.
“You know how I feel about lies,” Gareth said between bites.
“And you know how I feel about things that have been inside someone’s body. Doesn’t matter where it went in at, it’s always some place disgusting.”
“You should just be happy that I didn’t have you retrieve it yourself.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You vomited on the last one, I recall.”
“Hey, we still got the information off of it, and I’d had some bad fish that day, so it wasn’t my fault, was it?”
“Yes, truly your skill with electronics is only matched by the frailty of your constitution.”
“So,” Isaac said, letting the comment pass as though he hadn’t heard it. “What’s on this thing? It’s not gonna fry my drive, is it? These things are a bitch to repair nowadays. I have to order the parts for it special.”
“If I knew what was on it, I wouldn’t need you, would I?”