Monday, 11 February 2013

Day Forty-Two: Prologue

A pretty good day, readers. Below is the output from the first day of writing: the complete text of the prologue, presented without editing or comment. Enjoy!

It was just past seven when Emory Dow came in from his run; still early enough so that when he closed with the hillside and the little stilt house that came out of it, he approached it by the front—with its flight of stairs and kitchen access—rather than jogging up the hill path to enter through the door off of the bedroom patio. It meant not checking the power levels on the collection tower that loomed up from behind the house, but there was also less chance of him waking Marisol.

He loped the dusty road that ran through the hills and passed under the misshapen lower-case “t” of the tower’s shadow, panting and stretching as he cooled down. At the base of the house there was a little garden dug down in the softer earth around the big well pump—the rows weaving between the stilts so that the plants’ delicate leaves could be sheltered from the pre-noon sun by the bulk of the house. Dow stopped for a moment there, leaning up against one of the stilts as he glanced around for the bucket that his wife kept down in the shadows. When he found it, he filled the bucket to heavy with ripe melon and squash, and a pair of gene-hardened Mandarin Oranges, and hoisted it up onto one shoulder.

Laden, he hopped up the stairs two at a time, feeling the extra strain in his legs and thinking that—at his meager height—it was a fair enough replacement for the longer trek up the hill.

Dow slid the door open, backed into the cool dampness of the kitchen, and turned. Marisol was there: showered and dressed and holding a small bowl of fruit salad and thin yogurt. On the island between them was a silvery, carbon-fiber suitcase from the set that they had bought when they were first married and talking about leaving England. When he saw it, he had a clenched up feeling in his guts like all of his bad dreams and all of his good ones were coming true in the same instant.

They looked at one another. She had unnaturally pale brown eyes, the color of well-creamed coffee, and he thought that there was surprise in them.

Dow eased the bucket down onto the island. “You’re leaving,” he said, flatly.

Her lips turned up at the corners. A fraction of a smile. Dow’s insides seemed to uncoil by the same amount. “Work. I’ve been called out,” she said. She put a spoonful of berries and yogurt into her mouth before waving the spoon in the direction of the television.

Dow followed her movement. The television was muted, and he’d not noticed that it was on. It was one of the twenty-four hour news networks: a simulact of Walter Cronkite superimposed over shaky, poorly lit images of shattered, shoddily made buildings. In the background of each was a dark, stack-capped hulk that seemed to have been split open with a gigantic hammer. The hulk spewed flame and black smoke, and amidst the slow crawl of the chyrons the headline blared, 3.8 Earthquake Destroys Venezuelan Coastal Town, Causes Fuel Refinery Explosion.

Dow blinked, suddenly ashamed and not sure why. “Jesus Christ.”

“It’s a mess,” Marisol agreed. “Thousands of people effected, and the aid groups want onsite counseling. We’re all being called in.” She put her bowl in the sink and ran some water. “My flight leaves from Huánuco in two hours, and this has been ringing for you all morning.”

Dow looked back at her. She was holding a good sized and very old-fashioned looking tablet phone with a black, rubberized hard-shell. His work phone. He took it, let the device read his biometrics, and scrolled through the call history. Four missed since six twenty-three, all from the same number.

“It’s Seb,” he said. “There must be a job up for me.”

“Good.” Marisol ran her fingers along the black waves of her hair, and made a disgusted face at something inscrutable that she found there. She turned to leave the room—probably to find a brush—continuing to talk as she went. “I’ll be gone for several days, probably, and you know that you always do better if you have a task when I’m not around. A busy mind keeps itself from dark places, Emory.”

Dow wanted to respond, to tell her that their morning didn’t have to have a therapy session built into it, but he swallowed the urge down. He dialed the phone and pressed it to his ear.

Seb picked up on the first ring. “Em. Thank Christ.”

Sebastian Shaw had the kind of big, burly voice that you’d expect to get off of an Australian his size and disposition, but there was a note of strain in it that morning that Dow didn’t like. He owed Seb a lot. The man had gotten him his current post in the UN’s Specialist Contractor branch to start with, and had been serving as his handler for years.

“Sorry, mate. I was out on a run.”

Seb huffed. “And you don’t let your wife answer phones? I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure women are allowed to do that these days.”

Not that the black phone would have cared about gender equality. Bio-keyed military hardware was particular about its users. Dow almost explained, but Seb ought to know about it just as well as he did. Besides, he was just glad that the man wasn’t so keyed up that he couldn’t give him shit.

“What’s up?”

“There’s an A-Grade up and please tell me that you’ll bite.” Some of that strain was back in Seb’s voice. A little bit of nervousness. “I need a body on this, and you’re the closest unoccupied that I’ve got.”

A-Grade. Dow paused over that. UNSC’s terminology escaped him if he didn’t use it regularly, and with only working two or three gigs a year for them it often did. An A-Grade was a first class investigation or emergency, requiring an immediate Specialist presence in the field. He looked at the television again and wondered if it might not be related to the accident.

“Am I cleared for this?”

“Yeah,” Seb said. “Your record’s good enough for me to call you. Job’s yours if you want it, but it’s a traveler and the bird’s in the air already so I need to know now.”

Dow grimaced. He didn’t like the idea of leaving the house unoccupied on short notice, but he didn’t like the idea of being alone in it for several days, either. “All right,” he said, eventually, “you’ve got your body.”

The tension melted out of Seb’s voice again. “Great, Em, that’s great. I’m sending the plane your way now. Pick up is a private airfield on the road between you and Huánuco in forty-five minutes. Coordinates will be on your phone in a tic.”

“I’ll be there. Give me the details?”

Seb hesitated. Just for a moment. “It’s fuzzy on my end. Briefing in the air. There’ll be a man onboard.”

That didn’t sound right. It made Dow want to twitch. “Come on, now. You can’t give me anything?”

There was another pause. “Just the key-phrase that came across my desk with the request for a call-up: ‘Body up the well’.”

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