Snippet: “After you…”

*sigh*

I have no excuse.  I’d love to tell you about the pack of wild dingoes threatening the baby.  And the rabid gorilla.  There was definitely a rabid gorilla….

I’d love to tell you that, but let’s be honest here: I let the world and its frustrations come between me and the words for the last few weeks.  Yes, it happens.  It happens to everyone…

Err…wait…is this post turning into a damned ED commercial?!

Shit, if only there was a little blue pill for writing!

At any rate, even if none of the ideas I had for a post today were worth a damn, I still want to put up something.  So…a snippet, then.

I know, I know — my last post was a snippet, too.  I’m overdoing it. But I want to get something out, and I failed miserably at the flashfiction challenge I set for myself this morning.*

*I fail that more than you would think.  I only post here the “successes” in that personal challenge…and seldom talk about the times I fail to come up with something worthwhile.

So, below is the scene that directly follows the last one I posted.

Since it has been a while since I offered my standard caveats, here is the reprise for new(ish) readers: any post I list as a “snippet” is a first- or second-draft scene from my longform fiction work.  They are only lightly edited, and represent those initial thoughts and plans for the story that are subject to change for the final version.  Additionally, I do not write stories in any kind of order as far as plot or chronology, so errors and changes abound in these early versions…

Snippet: “After you…”

Light colors accented and complemented paneling of some dark, densely-grained wood.  The seats were comfortable and plush.  A pleasant heat gently blew from discreet little vents.  If this was how the Families kidnapped people, Connor thought, maybe he’d picked the wrong side after all.

The gurentai next to him — no, damn it!  He had to remember where he was.  At all times, he had to remember where he was.  The rvac next to him gave lie to that luxury.  Connor had no doubt whatsoever there was a weapon hidden under that expensive jacket.  Just as he had no doubt the man could quite effectively tear him apart without having to so much as touch it.

The other man, the one so creepily slender, sat across from Connor.  Appearances aside, it was readily apparent just who was in charge inside that vehicle.

Connor quirked an eyebrow and asked, his voice light and easy, “A trip to vacant fields, I take it?  Maybe a nice tour of the better recycling plants?”

A small shake of the man’s head, and a brief smile.  It looked like it hurt, that smile, but Connor was used to expressions like that.  So, it wasn’t a thing limited to just Dockside and the Station, after all.  Rich folks everywhere resented the poor and unwanted.  Another item confirmed on Connor’s all-too-long list of shit the universe was doing wrong.

“Relax, Mr. Spogelse,” the man said.  “My employer simply wants to meet you.  Someone he trusts has advocated for you, and he is curious.”

“Advocated for me?” Connor responded with a chuckle.  Not even the most ignorant takie in the universe could miss the cynical disdain in that laugh.  “No one advocates for someone like me, boss.  People pay me, or arrest me, or kill me.  That’s pretty much it.”

Another shake of the man’s head, but no reply.

A shrug and Connor turned to look out the window, the dark tinting doing little to impair his view of the outside world.  So much for a little light conversation.

Connor had learned a bit about the geography of the city over the past year.  He knew the prison was on the north edge of Redux’s capital.  He knew, also, that there was little to the north of that rundown neighborhood apart from rocks and trees and frozen tundra.  Out that window, however, Connor saw neither trees nor swampy, half-frozen boulder fields.

What he saw were buildings.  Buildings that were growing larger and more dense.  The road they followed was narrow, as were all the streets in a city where personal vehicles were rare, but the traffic around them was picking up nonetheless.  That traffic was mostly large vehicles, double or triple the size of the one in which he was riding.  Trucks, he guessed, delivering goods and materials.

His trip in that particular van was, if not expected, at least not terribly surprising.  And the rvac?  He was most definitely nothing unusual in Connor’s little corner of the universe.  But why, in the name of all that was holy, were they taking him into the city?  Who dumped a dead body inside city limits?

No matter how many stories Rahm and Brian had told him, no matter how many holos he’d watched, nor stories he’d read, Connor still had never had any real experience of space.  Even the elite of the Station lived with constraints on the area available to them, let alone a res-hold kid like Connor.  But this planet…this planet was very, very different.

Connor had been born on a planet, but his memories of life on Mars were dissipating smoke, the dimmest memories of a long-forgotten dream.  No, Redux-the-planet just didn’t seem quite real to Connor’s jaded Dockside senses.

Just how the hell could these people even function with all that empty space around them?  As the buildings grew larger and more elaborate — and more expensive, even to his architecturally ignorant eye — so too did the sense of space grow.

“This is where the local consumer goods are made,” the slender man explained.

Connor almost jumped at that voice.  The guy had kidnapped him off the street, and now he wanted to play tour guide?  What the hell?

“These are mainly the smaller, independent companies on Redux.  The large manufacturers, along with most of the refining and processing facilities, are in the Setdown neighborhood south of the city,” the man continued.

The guy’s smug tone and bullshit attitude irritated Connor even more than his skin-tight suit and carefully pampered face.  Connor’s already strained temper snapped, and he let free all of the disdain and contempt that seethed within, “Can’t have the little guys mixing with the big boys, can we?  No, we wouldn’t that.  Some drunk executive might go and get all honest.  Couldn’t have the little guys finding out just how fucked they truly are.”

And then, at that, there came the clearest memory of Oz’s voice, “Uh, Spog, that little observation was maybe not the best idea at this particular moment.

On Oz, the almost androgynous, effete look had been natural, and had earned him a reputation as one of the most attractive baita in all of Dockside.  On the idiot across from Connor it seemed a ridiculous attempt to recapture all the youth and vibrancy so long lost to him.  It was surprising to Connor, then, when that ridiculousness turned suddenly to intimidation.  The man’s slight attempt at false civility fell away and his eyes turned into the pitiless, dead orbs of a shark.  A hungry shark.

The van suddenly seemed much colder…and far, far too small.

“Prison is not all that far away, Mr. Spogelse.  You would do well to remember that,” the man snapped.  His voice had not risen in the slightest.  It had, if anything, become even more quiet.    And that was worse.

Connor was unpleasantly reminded of someone from his past; reminded of a man he had watched cut the tongue from some poor bastard of a makeinu without the slightest change of expression.  The same man who had once, ironically enough, also kidnapped Connor.

Shit, the universe really did have a sense of humor.

“My employer has a great deal of patience, but it is not unlimited,” the man snapped.  “If you can live up to the expectations created for you, we will be friends.  If you cannot…”

No one needed to hear the end of that sentence, the meaning was all too clear.  Maybe the damned rvac wasn’t the most dangerous person in that van after all.

Connor’s attention went back to the window, where the industrial buildings were giving way to a stretch of green-and-brown country.  For some reason, Connor was just all kinds of interested in the countryside at that particular moment.

The city wasn’t all that big, in spite of its population.  Five million people could live in pretty tight quarters, if the high-rises Connor saw ahead were any guide.  Several miles away, he could see also the semi-permanent build-up of haze and fog that clung to the mountains cupping the small plain on which they had built Redux’s only real city.  Those mountains caught the moisture that blew in from the sea and combined it with the smoke and emissions of five million people living in just thirty square miles.

Farther south, just barely visible, that miasma was at its most dense.  And under that grey blanket?  The neighborhood called the Haze.  Redux’s worst slum.  Home to the poor and the forgotten, right alongside the gangs and thugs that were this planet’s answer to Dockside’s Families and gurentai.

The faded, dull colors of the countryside disappeared not gradually, but in a sharp transition that had Connor rubbing his eyes.  One minute there were shrubs and rocks and a few stunted trees, and an instant later?  Buildings.  Dark grey and crowding closely against the road.  The shortest was ten stories high, and most were considerably taller.

Every block brought buildings that were taller and taller, until the sky itself began to disappear. It didn’t take long for Connor to feel like he was again walking the narrow passages between Dockside’s towering stacks of cargo containers.

As the buildings grew in size, however, they grew also in extravagance.  Starting from stark functionality, each block brought improvements in esthetics and design, and evidence of ever-greater attention paid to the environment itself.  Plazas began to appear in front of those buildings.  Simple and stark at first, but growing quickly into elaborate displays of fountains and greenery that served only to highlight just how dour and oppressive were the towers that surrounded them.

Where the hell was the van taking him?  No Dockside Family would center operations in the buildings Connor saw.  Just like Connor himself, the Families did best when they were able to blend into the background noise.  Simple warehouses and rundown office blocks no one wanted to look at, that was where they did business.  No kumicho who wanted to last longer than a warm jug of milk would go anywhere near a fifty story high-rise.

Connor had no idea just how long they had been driving, nor how far into the blocks of high-rises they had come.  It was too alien, too different.  He couldn’t wrap his mind around a place like that.

The van slowed, rolled to a gentle stop.  The plaza Connor saw through the darkened window was the most elaborate he had seen so far.  In it were huge, heavy planters full of trees and shrubs that were almost aggressive in their greenness.  Several sculptures stood among those planters, geometric and confusing as hell.  The smallest of those sculptures was easily twice Connor’s height.

And people…there were people everywhere.  Lining up to buy food from carts scattered around the plaza’s periphery, or sitting on concrete benches as heavy and dark and oppressive as the buildings themselves.  By Dockside standards it was nowhere near crowded, but on a planet?  When they had all that space?

Connor had accepted his lot in prison.  He had tried very hard to adjust to his new life.  In that moment, however, staring out that window, never had he wanted more to go home.  Wherever the hell home was.

That horrible noise happened again, the sound of something badly misaligned, as the door slid open.

“After you, Mr. Spogelse,” the thin man said.

{Musical Note — this song has no link to the scene above, I linked it because, well, it’s a great freaking song. It is also why I love music — I mean, c’mon, this song was a huge hit that happens to be based on a thousand-year-old poem! Also, I posted a while ago a song from this particular live show, and I will reiterate now what I said then: this video/album resonates with me not just because I love the band, but also because I was actually at this particular concert (at Red Rocks in Denver)}

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