Monday, 9 December 2013

New Words: Excerpt From Draft 0.4.5

Hey, Internet. As promised, I’ve got an excerpt from the new draft. Below the cut, you’ll find the whole text of the new Chapter One. Just over seven pages of raw, rough-draft content that you might enjoy. This represents, in part, the new tone and direction of the novel. What’s present here is much more in keeping with the novel that I want to write, and—while it’s very rough in spots—I’m quite happy with it. It also has the benefit of covering in the same basic ground in eight pages what took the previous Chapter Three twelve pages, setting more material up, and establishing the characters and world more fully.

So, this is where I am. Happy, but sadly stalled out until the end of the week when the Fall semester is up and my students have stopped piling papers onto my desk. I’ll be back then with more!

 

-Sean

Chapter One

I stuck to the tunnels on my way to the meeting. That's a fine distinction in a place like Dawes City, where every structure and walkway is underground to one extent or another, but it exists. There are the corridors. The broadways. The places with names and enough space to stretch your arms above your head or ride a bicycle if you can requisition one. And then there are the other spaces. The tunnels. Cramped, first-generation corridors that got covered over in the expansion and turned into numbered service pathways. Only maintenance men go into the tunnels—or people who don't want to be seen.

A secret, late-night parlay with a UN official seemed to fit me into the second category well enough.

The call had come a half an hour before, at around oh-three-hundred. I had drunk myself to bed a couple of hours before, but not so badly that I didn't lay a hand on the phone by the third or fourth ring. The woman on the other end didn't wait for me to say anything. "Emory Dow," she said. Her voice had a firm musicality to it. A French-Canadian lilt, tempered with severity. I knew it from somewhere immediately, but it took me long enough to put a name with it that I almost missed what she said next:

"Colonial Administration requests your assistance with a sensitive matter. Be at OR-D-8 in forty-five minutes if you want the job. Regardless of your decision, your discretion is appreciated."

It didn't seem like the kind of offer you could turn down, which made me want to almost immediately. There was a lockdown on, though—the entire lunar colony had been shuttered against a debris cloud that was coming down the gravity well from the orbital factories. Communications were out, one guy had already been killed by a freak impact, and there were a couple hundred corporate station jockeys who had come in for shore-leave and ended up trapped dirtside with me and the rest of the tunnel-rats. In the end, I figured that I'd go further with steady work from Admin than I would when tempers started flaring and a drinking buddy showed up at my hatch looking for spare muscle.

So I had peeled myself out of my bunk, washed the taste of bourbon out of my mouth, and put myself together in what was left of my last black suit. When I sealed the apartment behind me I was still too asleep to be thinking about why the hell the head of UNPol Colonial Security was calling me at three in the morning, but I was plenty curious after a half an hour of walking. I probably wouldn't like it, whatever it was, but I kept telling myself that it was better than drinking my way into something stupid a day or two from then.

Part of me listened to that. The rest didn't. Either way, lunar gravity's weak enough that, whether you like it or not, it can be hard to slow down or stop when you get going. Inertia's funny like that.

*  *  *

I ran out of service tunnel at the edge of Outer Ring, Section-D, clambering up an access ladder and coming out into a broad, empty stretch of Armstrong Loop. The overhead lights were dimmed in deference to the colony trying to keep us on some semblance of a twenty-four hour day, so there was nobody in sight in either direction. A stencil on the nearest wall told me that I was at Hatch-3, just a couple of hundred feet or curving corridor from the meeting place.

Like most of the structures on the big ring, Section-D was mostly geared towards colony support and vital systems. Big, empty stretches of corridor marked by signage and periodic hatches that led to even bigger maintenance bays. It lacked the glamour and shine that the United Nations put on the Inner Ring, Gagarin Loop, but was still important enough to keep pressurized all of the time. At Hatch-7, I passed a couple of Environmental Systems guys that I knew as they worked at backing the bolts out of a wall panel. One looked at me like he was seeing a ghost and said, "Out roaming the halls at this hour, Dow? What would your mother think?"

I grinned and rubbed my eyes. "Probably tell me to go back to bed, Benny."

He laughed. "Smart lady. What are you doing out here, anyway?"

"Ah, come on. I—"

Benny's partner—I couldn't remember his name—laid in on the air-wrench then, letting it screech against one of the bolts until Benny slapped him on the back.

"Lay off that, will ya?" He turned back to me. "Come on, Dow. What's the job? You want a pod of coffee, you can have one while you tell us about it."

I smiled like I was considering it, even going so far as to reach down into the sack of coffee ampoules when Benny offered it. The insulated plastic bulb was warm to the touch, and I knew that what was inside would taste like swill but it was good enough to warm my fingers. When Benny had leaned back against the wall and was looking at me expectantly, I took a nip out of the bulb, forced myself to not grimace, and waved the man off. "Another time, Benny."

He goggled, then laughed, and when I was a few strides down the corridor he called after me, "You're a real piece of shit, Dow. You owe me a buck for—"

The rest of it was lost in the sound of the air-wrench. Running into Benny was an unexpected surprise. He would bitch around town about me for a few days until some fresh-fish on the Environmental Services crew took it to mean that there was a feud between me and the section. There'd be the threat of a fight, and then I'd buy everyone on the crew a drink and they would all owe me one. Circle of life. I took another sip off the coffee bulb. It wasn't really that bad.

There was another surprise waiting for me at Hatch-8, in that it swung open as I approached and voided a handful of people out into the corridor. One of them I recognized—a gangly, long-haired kid in a UNPol jumpsuit named James Bowman. He was the Chief's personal assistant, and he had piled harried concern onto his usual look of gentle confusion. The others were a pair of guys with "tech specialist" written all over them, a strongly built blonde woman, and a young black guy in a cheap, off-the-rack suit that made me think of FBI agents and jurisdiction battles. Each of them carried duffel bags and computer cases, and they all moved with the awkward lurch of someone not yet accustomed to lunar gravity.

The guy in the suit stopped in the corridor for a long moment, the others staggering around him as Bowman tried to herd them all in the direction I had just come from, and stared at me. I met his eyes, but they were cold and appraising and keeping the gaze made my palms itch. Eventually, Bowman tapped the man on the shoulder and motioned him on. The man looked ready to rip Bowman's face off, but wandered down the hall without protest. When the man in the suit was gone, Bowman caught my eye and jerked his chin at the hatch.

I sipped the coffee as I watched the group pass, and then checked my watch. I was five minutes early.

*  *  *

OR-D 8 turned out to be a string of rover maintenance bays—individually partitioned garages and workshops that terminated in gigantic, windowless airlocks. At this hour, all but one of those cavernous spaces was dark and quiet, and it was occupied by the hulking metal and ceramic form of a long-distance all-terrain crawler. The hulking vehicle was Tonka Truck bulky and it dripped a slurry of lunar dust and cleaning agent into the floor grates beneath its wheels. As I got nearer, I could hear its hull ticking and popping as the metal readjusted to non-vacuum temperatures.

Security Chief Sydney Bessette stood in the shadow of the vehicle, dwarfed by it despite the best efforts of her upright, military posture. The Chief was a severe looking woman in her early forties—though the low local gravity cut about five years of it off of her face—with long, sharp features, canny green eyes, and shoulder length, ash-blonde hair that she had pulled back into a tight braid. She had about a head on me, even without spinal compression, but that was hardly surprising. I spend a lot of time looking up.

"You're early, Dow," she said as I approached. The same voice as on the phone—clipped, even, and heavy with Montreal accent.

"Probably not what you expected, I know." I finished the coffee bulb and flipped it the dozen or more feet to the nearest trash bin, waving her off. "My father was big on punctuality. 'Early is on-time, on-time is late, late is unacceptable.' That sort of shit, you know? It rubs off if you want it to or not."

She cocked a brow and her eyes lit up, which is probably the closest I'd ever seen her get to a smile. "I'm more surprised to learn that you had a father, Emory. My grandmother taught me that trolls sprang from the ground fully grown."

I smiled and rubbed my jaw—feeling the stubble and the old scar that reached down the left side of my neck. If I kept going, I'd be sticking my fingers into deep-set brown eyes and feeling a nose that had been broken a few times too many. I'm not the prettiest belle at the ball, but I thought troll was pushing it a little. I liked the image though, and I told her so. "It adds to my mythology. Emory Dow: Tunnel Troll of the Dawes Colony.

"But I know you didn't haul me out of bed this early to poke at me, Chief. What's the big thing you couldn't just tell me about over the phone?"

She hesitated, and that made me a little nervous. Chief Bessette and I traded barbs pretty well, but we didn't exactly spend a whole lot of quality time together. I had worked with her enough over the past few years to know when she was choosing her words carefully, though. It meant she was trying to be diplomatic, and that usually meant she was going to try and jerk me a round a little bit.

"You're aware of the lockdown, of course," she said eventually.

"Of course."

"It isn't what Administration is saying that it is."

"Yeah," I said, motioning to the freshly arrived rover. An orbital debris fall meant a full lockdown—no comms, no flights, no rovers. Nobody in or out until the skies were clear again. "Between this thing and the people I just saw Bowman with—the ones still finding their moon-legs—well, it doesn't take an engineering team to figure out that you and Cleave have been full of crap for the past twenty-four hours. Where did you have the lifter set them down? Out beyond the crater wall? One of the unmanned depots?"

She didn't wince or anything, but she didn't deny it and I thought I saw her clench her teeth when I mentioned the Colonial Administrator's name. Whatever this was, it had put even more pressure on their relationship than usual.

"You want to tell me about it?" I asked.

"The man you saw, and his staff—they are from the UN Security Secretary's office. His name is Kinneman, and you may meet him later if there is a reason. The lockdown is...partially fraudulent. It is a cover. A part of an emergency security protocol that has gone into effect."

"Jesus," I said, thinking again about all of the reasons why I had come to the meeting instead of staying in bed. The colony was stalled out at maximum occupancy with no place for anyone to go, and nothing for anyone to do but drink and get into trouble. "Why would you do that? What's going on here, Chief?"

"That's what I called you about," she said. "I need you to look at something for me."

"Look at what?"

Bessette shook her head. "I cannot tell you. Not up front."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "Can't? Or won't?"

She shrugged. "Won't. Whichever. I want you to see it fresh. I want to know if you see it the same way that I do." The Chief squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and when she opened them again she seemed very tired. "Or if you think that I am just losing my mind."

I blinked. A mysterious UN official, a whiff of conspiracy, and something like a display of human emotion from Sydney Bessette. It was probably trouble, I knew. Nothing about it felt right. But she had my attention.

"Lead the way," I said.

No comments:

Post a Comment