KenGreen Blog - Page 2
Some stories feel like exorcisms when I writing them. This ones pretty rough, in more ways than one,
By Ken Green
“Dirtsider,” Tabitha spat out with disgust, “On your ten.”
“Don’t call them that,” I chided her, “You’ll get in trouble.” Tabs was my best friend, but she had a serious hate-on for Terrans. Bad luck for her, it was an Earth week, and we were hostesses, so we had to be nice.
“You take him,” she said, “I’m not in the mood.”
I turned to my left and spotted him in the crowd. Sure enough, wearing a floral shirt and a confused expression, holding a map. Dirtsider. A big, corn-fed one, an American by the size of him, and all mine. I put a big, big smile on my face, shook out my crazy Irish curls, and strode toward him.
“Can I help you find something?” I asked him, and took a deep breath. Some Americans were good tippers, and everybody likes the twins. Yes, I’m shameless. Shame doesn’t pay the rent.
“I’m looking for sector ex ex eye?” he said uncertainly.
That’s when I knew I had him. You won’t get far in Nova Roma if you can’t read the numbers.
“That’s section twenty-three. We’re in twenty-one. You need to go two spokes spinward.” I told him.
“Spinward?” he asked, looking even more confused.
I gave him my best yeah-you-want-me smile. “I’d be happy to show you the way, if you’ll permit.” I said it clearly, so my subdermal was sure to catch it.
He smiled. “Yes, I guess you’d better.”
My subdermal pinged. “Contract accepted, the meter is running. Go get him, girl.” Rachel was on monitor duty, and she’s a nice person to have in your head.
“Well,” I told him, “The quickest way is by velo…” I gestured toward the velo path, where commuters pedaled on their way to wherever.
“What are those, bicycles?” he asked, “I need to get there alive, Sweetheart.”
Americans never say yes to the velos. That’s why I always ask.
“Well,” I frowned, “We can take the tube, but it’s awfully crowded this time of day…”
“Can we get a private cab?” he asked.
Bingo. “Follow me.” I said, smiling sweetly, as I led him to the cab stand. I made a completely unnecessary gesture, and a cab arrived. I took a good look at the cab number, so Rachel could read it off my retinal cam. We got in, and he accepted the charges.
My subdermal pinged. “Kickback confirmed, you hussy,” Rachel purred in my head.
It’s always a tense moment for me, getting in the cab. If a client wants off-menu services, the cab ride is usually where he’ll ask. I don’t go off menu. Sure, I’m from the under, but I’m not a gorram whore.
I glanced away from him and whispered, “What do you have, Rachel?”
“Not much,” she said, “Mike Dubinsky, arrived on the shuttle, up for the day on business. Works for Infotech. Must be casual day.”
Turning back to him, I took a moment to study his face. He hadn’t spent a decicredit on rejuve, that much was obvious. But under those wrinkles and the fat there was a hardness to him. His nose had been broken, more than once. I glanced at his hands. He had the scarred knuckles of a brawler.
“So,” I said, in my sweet, practiced voice, “Will you be staying with us for the Mars run?”
“No,” Mike said, “I’m just here for the day.”
“Well, that just won’t do,” I said with mock disapproval, “You can’t see Nova Roma in a day.”
“I’m not here to see the sights, sweetheart,” he said, “I’m here to kill a man.”
I have to confess, Terran humor often escapes me. So I did my best fake laugh.
“You’re going to kill somebody…,” I laughed, “That’s funny…”
“I’m glad you think so,” Mike said, “I doubt he will.” He reached into his pocket and handed me a folded sheet of paper.
“What is this?” I asked him.
“That’s the guy,” Mike said, “Open it up.”
I unfolded the paper. There was a photograph, a resume, the address we were going to…
“This isn’t funny, Mike. This is sick.” I punched the cab’s panic button. “Stop the cab!”
The cab began to slow down.
Mike sighed, “Executive override. Lock doors, resume course.”
The cab sped up.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked him.
“Look at the paper.” Mike said.
My subdermal pinged. “Do what he says, Colleen!” Rachel said, sounding scared.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“There’s guys from Corporate here.” Rachel said, “Scary guys. Just do what he says!”
“No,” I said, pushing the paper back to him, “I don’t want any part of this. I’m nobody, I’m nothing. I just took this job…”
“Don’t say that,” Mike commanded, “Don’t ever say that. And don’t ever believe it, either.”
“What?” I asked.
“Don’t say that you’re nothing. It’s not true. You’re a person. You have value. Every life has value.”
“Every life, Mike?” I held up the paper, “Even his?
“Yeah,” Mike said, “Even that dirtbag.”
“Then why are you going to kill him?”
“For the same reason you flirt with strangers and give them directions,” he said, “It’s my job. It’s how I pay my rent. We all have a place in this universe.”
“But, why…” I stammered.
“Look at the paper.” Mike said. “Look at him. Know him.”
“Because he has a life. And it’s going to end soon.”
“What did he do? Why does he have to die?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Mike said, “All I ever know is who and where. They never tell me why.”
We arrived at Infotech tower. As the cab slowed down, I got ready to bolt.
“Don’t even think about running,” Mike instructed me, “I’m faster than I look.”
Soon, his hand was on my elbow, and he was steering me through the lobby. I looked to the security guards, and they looked away. We had the elevator to ourselves.
“Please,” I pleaded, “Just let me go…”
“It won’t be much longer,” he said, his voice flat, “Just stay calm. You’re doing great.”
We arrived on the designated floor, and he steered me along a corridor. He pushed me into an office.
“Look at him.” Mike commanded.
I looked at the sad, pudgy midlevel manager whose resume I had memorized. He looked like he wanted to cry. I know I did.
“Okay,” Mike said, “Wait for me in the corridor. You don’t need to see the next part.”
I stepped out to the corridor. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I run? I leaned against the wall.
Through the wall came the muffled sounds of fists hitting flesh, of a body hitting walls. Again, and again. Meaty sounds, groans, and whimpers. Gasping sounds, and the celery sound of breaking bones. Sounds I thought I had left behind me, in the under. A final falling thump, then silence.
The door opened. Mike emerged, his fists bloody.
“No…” I backed away from him.
“Oh, crap. I’m sorry,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a Kleanwipe, and wiped his hands. He threw the Kleanwipe into the office and closed the door.
“Why?” I asked him, in the cab again.
“We’ve been through this,” he said, “I don’t know why. They just tell me where to go, and who to kill.”
“No,” I said, “Not that. Why bring me along? Why make me a witness?”
“Because, it’s like I said. Every life has value, even that boot scrape up there. But in the next few hours, a cleanup team is going to sanitize this office, another one will clear out his apartment, his accounts will be settled, and his credit lines closed.”
Mike looked out the window. “He had no family, nobody to will mourn him. It’ll be like he never existed. And that’s not right. He did exist, he had a life. Somebody should mourn him. Somebody should carry that memory. But it’s not going to be me. I’m not going to carry anybody else.”
The cab stopped.
“You can go now.” Mike said. The door opened and I ran like hell.