Friday, December 21, 2007

"Debt" Part 4 of 4

Freddy, their Met Police contact, turned out to be both their police contact and the right underworld contact. The bar was so smoky the patrons were never sure if they were with their friends or just high-backed chairs with some listening ability.

Hank focussed on his drink. He didn't want to let it sink in that he had gotten involved with Sneezly. If there was one thing you wanted to avoid, it was getting on Sneezly's radar, because once you were on it, the only way to get under it was to go six feet down. And now he was at odds with Sneezly, it wasn't as if his Debt wasn’t a problem enough.
The broad and her case were bringing all sorts of trouble Hank's way, the fact that he had predicted just this situation was as comforting watching a firing squad slowly load their weapons.

Across the table, Freddy wiggled .

"I don't know what that is, I don't know why she would want it."

"She?" Hank gave an evil eye to the blur across the table.

"I didn't say she, I meant, you know, he, she, doesn't matter."

The raisin shaped head jittered as it talked. He looked around, as if waiting for someone to end the meeting suddenly, possibly by the use of small arms fire.

Hank took out his sizeable if questionably functional gun and thumped it on the table.

"You know, Freddy, I'm not a usually violent man."

"He has only killed or maimed 23% of his contacts in the past quarter," offered Greg.

"See? I'm not usually. But when a trusted friend and confidante -- such as yourself -- starts lying to me, then tries to cover it up...” Hank paused, ”Well."

"23%." repeated Greg. Hank wasn't quite sure if Greg knew how menacing he could be with statistics.

Freddy, or the shadow that was Freddy, stopped, as if considering which dangerous and probably lethal option to take. It was an agonized silence.

"Alright, alright. A lady, she was wrapped up, she came by and offered me triple what you guys usually do. She went in. Honest, I had no idea what she was after."

"What did she sound like? What did she look like?"

"I don't know, it was all via text to my Desktop. She didn't say anything. She smelled like violets though."

Hank's mobile transmit went off. He checked the display, it was Him. Hank answered it, his voice went low, and his eyes stuck to the ground.

"We gotta go Greg."

"Just when things were getting interesting? We are walking away from our lead in this case just because you received an unsettling phone call? Honestly, this is a bellwether of where your career is heading."

"It was from Him, who I owe the debt to."

"The Debt?"

Hank nodded as if any sudden movements might set off a heretofore unseen bomb.

************


They walked out of the bar and into a large robot that smelled of expensive oil. It grabbed both Hank and Greg and walked into waiting ship. The ship lurched as it shot into the skyway.

It was dark. A speaker somewhere above crackled on.

"It seems, Mr. Pirelli, that we have a friend in common. Say hello to, oh I suppose you call her Jane or some similarly dreadful name."

"Hello." the voice was sultry, and almost too close; it sounded like silk being drawn under duress, too tight.

"You okay Jane?"

"I'm fine, for now."

"You had the pendant all along didn't you?"

"I... I did."

"Then--"

"I had to have someone distract other people who might have been interested in it. I’m kind of important."

"Right." Hank tried not to breathe in her smell too deep, warm violets. He put his brain to thinking of some sensible plan that didn't involve him screaming and possibly fainting. He grimaced. Trying to save yourself from almost certain death and looking cool was nearly impossible.

The lights came on, and Sneezly Simpernel strolled into the cargo bay. The floor rumbled, the ship was going an appreciable speed down the skyway. He had come to gloat, thought Hank. Sneezly held the Perma-Ice pendant on his fingers, playing with it.

"So.." he began.

Jane's hands flashed and out flew throwing knives, long thin and silver. They skewered his hand, he screamed, the pendant fell to the floor. In a fluid motion she dove, caught it in the air and rolled to a crouch. She looked back at Hank then up, her eyes widening.

The very large robot with the expensive smelling oil whirred to life. Greg in the confusion had already made his way to the back of the larger robot. When turned on, he lept up onto it's back, snapped a few tools from his wrist, removed the robot's head panel, and rewired a good portion of it before it could take single step forward.

"Old robots are old and tired, it's true. But we learn a fair bit along the way. Lady, and gentleman, shall we depart?"

Sneezly had activated a not so silent alarm, and suddenly the sound of running boots echoed down the hall. He screamed, drew a long sleek gun and leveled it at Jane as she ran towards Hank. Without thinking about the possibilities of a terribly disfiguring misfire, Hank drew and shot. The weapon made a sound like crashing metal. Sneezly dropped to the ground, from fear and shock. A sizable hole was in the opposite wall, quite far from anywhere Sneezly might have been.

Hank and Jane clambered on the large robot, and Greg drove. First he made it rip a good hole in the bay.

"This is the sort of robot that has thrusters, isn't it?" yelled Hank over the howl of the outside wind.

"I do hope so."

The large robot jumped out of the ship, and they free fell. The repeat of laser weapons roared behind them. Hank's eyes streamed tears from the ripping wind and he tried to focus on the worst problem. The fear from the shooting goons was replaced by the terror of dropping at terminal velocity at an Earth that could not be dodged. An explosion like TNT being detonated with a few hand-grenades went off. The robot had finally fired it's rockets. Hank and Jane held on and Greg maneuvered the robot to safety.

************

The Debt was being called. In a small dark oak paneled room with darker carpeting Hank waited. Greg waited with him, quiet, almost non-plussed. Hank had not gotten the money, or enough money. He hoped his death would be quick.

The Mayor, as he was known, walked in. He was a tall thin man, wore the same grey suit, and spoke quickly, cutting every word with the precision of a particularly high achieving surgeon.

"It's come to my attention that there is a Debt to be paid."

"Yes, Mayor."

"A very serious one, in fact."

"Ye--"

"Don't interrupt me." The Mayor motioned towards the door and in walked Jane.

"My daughter is the most important thing in my life, Mr. Pirelli. When I heard that she had been taken by Mr. Simpernel, there was no telling what destruction and wrath I was prepared to unleash upon the city. He's man who would like nothing better than find an excuse to kidnap my daughter, and excise some blood from me and my territories. Imagine, he said my daughter had stolen a pendant.”

Jane fluttered her eyes down. She was a delicate flower to her father. A victim in this whole ordeal, Hank kept quiet.

“ Something one of his men had been transporting when he had been, uh, liquidated. Naturally he needed an excuse to hold her hostage, to maintain face in front of the other Families.

"I was stuck, Mr. Pirelli. I couldn't challenge his honour. It was his word against mine. And I couldn't launch an all out rescue attempt, not without bringing the wrath of all the Families upon me. And then there you are, suddenly, saving her, delivering her to my doorstep.”

He gave a brief appraising look at Hank.

"In short, Mr. Pirelli, your Debt is paid."

"Debt" Part 3 of 4

Hank's office looked like it had gotten in a scrap with a small bulldozer; and had lost badly - several times. His only two chairs smashed to pieces, taken apart in a frenzy of overzealous discovery.

The air smelled of robot oil. The expensive kind you bought for large robots with impressive strength and limited morality subroutines. A robot that might have been able to leave a dent in a magtronic arcanium shelf.

Sneezly Simpernel leaned against the desk. His robot goon sat on the ground, great big robot head sized holes in the ceiling were clues as to why. Sneezly looked at Hank and Greg with large watery eyes. In another life, those eyes might have looked at you evenly while the owner of said eyes muttered irregular income declarations and forensic accounting. But this wasn't another life.

Hank took a slow breath. He had many ways to play this, but only one wouldn't get him killed immediately. He met Sneezly's gaze square, "Look here Mr. Simpernel, I've done nothing wrong, you can't just come up here and rough up my joint."

"On the contrary, Mr. Pirelli, you've done a grave injustice!" Sneezly looked him over, then slowly smoothed out his suit. It shimmered as only things that are sold by old finicky European men shimmered.

Greg took a step forward slightly in front of Hank. "My employer is in the wrong here, no need to vociferate so, Mr. Simpernel." Hank could hear the low thrum of Greg's main power unit spinning up.

Sneezly sneered. "I don’t need to do anything. Especially when your employer has been snooping around places he shouldn't, looking for things that don’t belong to him."

Hank spoke up, "I do what my client asks of me, Mr. Simpernel." He squeezed his left arm to his side, re-assuring himself that he still had his gun there. A sizeable piece of machinery that was dangerous only because since was so old, no one was quite sure what would happen if he fired it.

"Alright, you want to play it that way. That's fine. We've looked for it here, and, " he motioned to the robot, who crouch walked over to Hank, turned him upside-down and shook him. Change, his previously comforting gun, and a few embarrassing play cards dropped to the ground. "Now we are done. If we ever find out that you had it, we'll be back for a visit." Sneezly gave the half-smile of someone who didn't often smile, but had practiced a reasonable facsimile for the right occasion.

************

Hank and Greg both sat on the ground, both looking at the same non-descript spot on the floor.

"So he doesn't have it then."

"And we certainly don't have it." offered Greg helpfully.

Hank wondered briefly how much it would cost to upgrade his logic chip. "So... someone else has it? Crap.”. He added a little too quickly, “Not because I'm scared of Mr. Simpernel." He glanced at Greg, who of course, didn't care either way if Hank was a blubbering coward, "Ok, I am, but that's not what’s really worrying me. What’s worrying me is need to solve this case for the money. I owe money."

"You mean you Owe Money."

"Well, yes. Yes, I suppose it's that serious." It was eerie how robots could capitalize speech, but you didn't get a few quadrillion transistors without having some advantage in voice synthesis, he supposed.

"And let's not forget the client. You seem to be deeply concerned with the outcome of our work when there is a client is of proper age who exhibits appropriate phenotypic fertility characteristics."

The transmit buzzed. Hank ignored Greg's comment.

"Hi." said Hank. Somewhere in the ceiling a few directional speakers and mics found him and initiated the call.

"You've found my trinket?" the voice steamed with something that made Hanks voice go furry.

"Uh."

"You've reached a roadblock?"

"Some nasty people are after it."

"Oh, did I forget to mention that?" she purred. Why did women always feel the need to purr when they were about to put Hank into more than likely fatal situations. Never mind that it worked every time.

"Yeah. A little." Hank hoped the complete shut down of his verbal capacities was interpreted as raw sexuality and manly reticence.

"Well, that's why I hired you. You were the man for the job, they said."

"They are always saying that."

"You _are_ the man for the job, aren't you?

Hank started wondering if he was.

"So, what would you suggest now, then, Miss... uh... I never did get your name."

"Jane, if you please."

"Right."

"I suggest you start hitting your underworld contacts, and get back on the trail. I paid you, and expect my money's worth."

"We aren't a cliche, Jane, we don't have 'underworld contacts', but I'll see what we can do." He signaled to the transmit to hang-up.

He turned to the robot.

"So Greg, which of our underworld contacts would know what's going on?"

"Debt" Part 2 of 4

The next day the info was on the Desktop, a red folder that glowed and rotated. Hank tapped it twice, the holo-display paused for a brief second then opened the folder and tiled the icons: video, documents, contract papers, audio clips. It was the usual stuff: snippets of dialogue, fuzzy videos of the object in question. It was all useful as a wiffle bat to a mafia enforcer. That was OK though, he knew a guy who worked the graveyeard at the Metro Police evidence locker.

Freddy was what the human race would have looked like if we had taken a hard left early in the evolutionary tree and evolved from an overly ambitious set of raisins. He was sunken and wrinkled, and had the air of not really caring about anything. He did everything like an afterthought, Hank could almost believe Freddy didn't love the ponies as much as he did.

Greg kept lookout by pretending take himself offline for internal diagnostics. In the older models, such as Greg, it was expected (particularly anything from Maverick Light Industries).

Hank snuck inside the evidence room, apprehension played across his face. The room smelled of old mothballs and something that had gone mildewy and stashed under a hollow ceiling panel and forgotten. The lighting from a flickering panel gave as much light as a dimming Timex.

He reached the shelf, and right where the object was supposed to be was an empty cardboard box. The pit of his stomach did a few spins. There was more than one group looking for this little trinket, and one of them had found it.

The object was -- from what Hank could figure out from the info -- a small necklace with a piece of Perma-Ice as the pendant. Water wasn't meant to be worn, in Hank's opinion, but if people wanted to sell ice that was cooled by generators in another dimension, who was he to stand in the way of capitalism.

He looked at the shelf closer. There was a sizeable dent in it. A sizeable dent in a shelf made of tempered magtronic arcanium. Whoever was here was big, heavy, and didn't particularly care about leaving behind a trail.

************

The Zyoraption Mark IV was a sleek little number when it had come out; now it was just a sad craft driven by mid-life crisis addled men who were low on cash and high on crises. For Hank, it was just something to get around that was slightly faster than the average. It streaked around the airway, Hank focused on his nav-screen.

"I say, where are we off to in such a rush?" said Greg.

"The office. I think I know who swiped the goods."

"You don't think..."

"Yes."

"But he's a gadabout town, a nothing. They say he only puts on airs of his more shadowy dealings."

"It's a double cover. He acts like he puts on airs, but at the heart of it all, he's a ruthless mob boss."

"Clever."

"Debt" Part 1 of 4

This is going to be a post of a short story I just finished for my critique group. It's a humourous sci-fi detective noir piece involving robots. Also, it gives me a few weeks where I don't have to think about what to post. Wheee!

I hope you enjoy it.




She walked in, more serious than a third heart attack with more curves than the back-streets of San Fran. She had a slink; a way of moving across the room that made every Tom, Dick and Harry eye her like their lives depended on it.

Hank knew she was no good, rotten, down to the core; but he also knew he hadn't had a paying client in three months and a Debt whose financer had gone from Breaking Knee-caps Mad to Dispose of Through A Woodchipper Wrathful; besides with legs like hers, discretion went out the window like last week's newspaper.

This was the problem of course. Every very major problem he'd had to shoot, beg, and drive very fast away from involved exactly this sort of dame.

Greg beeped awake. His dull green body clanged to attention. Hank could always see the shiny brass stamp on Greg's back when he sat up, "Maverick Light Industries, Inc.", it read, which was not entirely accurate.

In a voice that was what an American engineer thought a British person sounded like in the 18th century, Greg said, "Greetings! Pirelli's Private Detective Agency, no assignment too tawdry, no client too shady."

Hank cringed. He hoped she wasn't the sort of rotten to the core client who took airs.

She leveled a gaze at Hank -- looking past Greg like he was furniture -- and right then Hank knew he was the only man in the room, in the building, hell, in the city. It was him and this broad who could melt a city block with her gaze. Something in the back of his mind recognized the gaze, and deep in the basement of his brain, alarm bells were ringing. He shut them off.

Her voice came out lyrical, low, like she was used to talking to woozy men with suddenly sweaty hands and stammered speech. "I have a job that needs a man of your," she looked him over quickly, he tried not to black out, "discretion."

Hank bit on his lower lip hard, "I'm your man... We're your men, I mean."

She continued talking, he barely had enough time to get out of the way. Not that he'd want to...

"Dead bodies don’t scare you, do they Mr. Pirelli?"

"As long I didn't know them, or like ‘em."

"You don't know this person."

"We're not talking about hypothetical dead bodies then."

"No."

"It's not anything too illegal is it? We charge extra for that."

"The death is being investigated by the real cops, but there was something that the deceased had of mine. A trinket." She cast her eyes down, fiddled with her purse, then fluttered her eyelashes up at him, "But it's of enormous value to me, sentimental."

Ah, thought Hank, some ill-gotten gain that's worth a few million more than the client says, and has more problems than trying to collar a rabid bobcat in zero G. It could be nothing, but it never was.

The small pile of payment-due e-cards floated menacingly on his Desktop. They were friendly; how a firing squad captain might be before he gave you a poorly lit cigarette and asked you about last words. Rent, utilities, bills bills bills, and Greg was due for a power-core overhaul two years ago. And then there was the Debt. Hank was, in short, not a man who could be picky about his assignments, even ones that were so obviously meant to put him six feet under.

"We'll take it."

"I'll send a message to your Desktop."

With a last flickering glance at the room, she slinked out. Hank watched her leave.

"Hank. Are you certain that was a prudent move?"

"What's the worst that can happen?"

"You could be riddled with laser holes, specifically through your main fluid pump, and I'd be sent unceremoniously to a scrap yard."

"It's called a heart. And don't be ridiculous, they'd sell you back into service."

Greg sniffed, a buzzy noise that sounded like a malfunctioning voice amplifier. "Slavery, is what we call it Hank."

It was just a gut feeling, the danger, but it had happened so often before Hank knew it to be more of a certainty. Could he risk it? Necessity was the mother of Invention. It was also the slightly abusive foster mother of Putting Yourself In Harms Way and Acting Against Your Better Judgement.

Hank pushed the e-cards around his Desktop, they flickered and scattered noiselessly. They would not be ignored for much longer. And then there was the Debt that did not come with an e-card. It came with a craft-bomb that detonates just as you start your ship, or with a finger of a loved one in a small box. If Necessity was the Mother of so many things, Debt was the alcoholic step-dad with the taste for cheap scotch and way with Louisville sluggers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Family Letter 2007

Hey, all four of my blog readers out there!

I know you are wondering what sort of perks you can get by reloading this page every week. What exclusive content can be gleaned from this lowly blog that you just can't get from offering me some gin and a friendly punch in the arm? Well, gentle readers, this is what you get, an (anonymized) copy of the Niteowl Family Christmas Letter! All for your greedy little eyes!

Now stop pestering me!
(jk! pester me! pester me!I need your attention! There are like, hundreds of millions of blogs out there, so thanks for browsing this one).





Another year has come and gone in the land of rain and ridiculous real estate prices, and the Smiths haven't changed too much.

Sometime around May or thereabouts, we moved from the wonderful and walkable West-City to the less walkable and sort of wonderful (but much more spacious) City East. We acquired a 3 bedroom townhouse through much hand-wringing and not a few close calls. We now have a stamp-sized backyard, a finely neglected garden, and an entire bedroom to ourselves.

Mary is working part-time at a long-term care facility, with Lola (grandma) Smith taking care of Jane on the days she works. Mary enjoys it, and has gotten offers for more hours at another facility, but reasons that if she's going to spend time with people that fart incessantly, can't quite clean themselves, and prefer bland food, those people might as well be her daughter.

Joe is still at the University as a Systems Analyst, and is eagerly anticipating his retirement in thirty odd years. His commute time has gone from the reasonable 30 minutes to the I Hope You Enjoy Reading 60 minutes. Luckily, Joe does enjoy reading, and tries to think of his commute as being driven to work in a very large taxi.

Jane has grown considerably. There are clothes that no longer fit, toys that are far too childish for her, and the whole idea of crawling is downright repugnant. She motors around with the brazen eagerness of someone who has never quite had a bad fall. She enjoys playing with pots and pans, measuring spoons, and pieces of paper, all the while ignoring her motion and pressure sensitive talking stuffed rabbit and various sundry toys (almost all which have not been recalled by China - as far as we know). When she's doing anything, she finds the activity much more enjoyable if she's babbling at full volume. We both suspect we might have suffered low-grade ear-drum trauma, but what's a little deafness in the 200-232khz range for your daughter?

Molly is still Molly. She sleeps, then when she needs a break from that, she finds another place to take a nap; upon being completely exhausted from that, she might wander to another place and grab a snooze. Between all this activity she tries to stay out of Jane's way, which is becoming harder and harder as Jane's foot speed reaches unsettling speeds. Molly has also gotten a fan in a little four year old boy four doors down who can apparently “talk about Molly all day” and treats every visit from her like she's a combination of the more talented Beatles, the Pope, and Santa.

Wishing you the very best of the season,
and every season, now that we think of it,

The Smith Family

Monday, December 10, 2007

People You Meet on Transit #2



The Uppity

There are a certain class of people who take transit who either believe that they are Too Good for Transit, or else that I'm Only Taking Transit As A Stopgap. Maybe their errari is in the shop, maybe their Jaguar car-pool is experiencing a rough patch, or maybe their job as a mortuary transcriptionist doesn't pay as much as they think. They've deigned to wallow with the masses, as it were, muck about in the public transportation system and bear it. Hey, they might have a fun story to tell at their next Thomas Pynchon Book Club meeting.

There are a few tell-tale signs of the Uppity Up. The first is that their clothes costs more than all the bus-riders clothes combined. The second is that they invariably take a seat, then decide that in order to block the great unwashed from sitting next to them and bathing them in body-odour and/or the overpowering vapours of cheap gin, they take up a whole 'nother seat with their bag.

Now, it might be that their bag contains some secret service document that, if released, would spell the end of the free world as we know it, and lead to a second epoch of civilization, one ruled by a small set of cliquey, hyper intelligent raccoons. It might be they are carrying with them the only known live specimen of the Black Plague. These are all reasonable reasons to take up two seats when you are not, in fact, attached to your Siamese twin.

Every other excuse makes you look like an Uppity Up.

It takes a certain sort of willful ignorance to sit at your seat, your immaculate Italian leather atttache case laying smugly beside you, while what looks to be hundreds of transit riders hang on for dear life, each eyeing the semi-empty seat with covetous eyes and pure anger in their hearts.

People being what people are, generally don't say anything, and just wait out their short and painful bus ride, all wondering how plausible their defense for justifiable homicide would be if they plunged their umbrella through the Uppity Up's heart one or thirty nine times. Sometimes someone speaks up, and asks the Uppity Up, if they could possibly move their attache case so that the incredibly decrepit lady with the 30 pounds of groceries and the advanced case of varicose veins might sit down. The Uppity Up, will feign surprise, as if their vision had not been entirely obscured by the fifty transit riders all standing.