This is a short science fiction piece I wrote for my own amusement. I was exploring the possibility of expanding it into a novel, but can’t quite see the point as I’m not especially interested in genre fiction, more so in genuine speculative fiction. Still, I do rather like the character of Val Gism and reserve the right to resurrect him in future, pardon the alliteration…
Intrepid & Weathered
I set out for my regular run. It was a regime to which I stuck like clockwork. The buzzer went, I pulled on my shorts, warmed up with stretches and weights, took a few painkillers and left the house. I wasn’t about to be put off by the forecast of heavy thunderstorms. If anything, I thought it was sexy.
The horizon, jabbed by a thousand spheres and rectangles, shone with the silver light of storms. It was a bruised light, hiding a hairline fracture. Beside the glass-bricked canal, neon streaks from the underground transits urged me onwards. I worked up nicely, hot and loose, flushed with the soft-jarring pulse of rhythm. It was as I turned under the soaring ribbon road that the lightning began. One great snap, sharp and fizzling, then a hard rush of rain collapsing about me.
I ran on, thrilled and electric. Any prompting from elemental extremities always put me in a positive frame. On Alzaris I’d once run through a hailstorm that turned into a driving snow-shower, and with thighs tingling and cheeks aflame with sting, I’d come home sure I was a hero. This run was nothing on that one. There was no wind, and the rain fell straight and true. The air was warm and fecund – a good old summer drenching. I was bouncing from foot to foot, leaping high with each step, straight back and ears pinned, and that was exactly the way I looked when they caught me.
“Doctor Val Gism?” asked the Subcommander, with the emphasis on the Gism.
“Yes, that’s right,” I answered. “Just like it says on the card.”
“Did you find the towels satisfactory?”
“Yes, very fluffy. Still, I’m damp right through.”
“Do you not find the climate in here to your liking?”
“No, no, I guess it’s fine. I just don’t want to hang around here all night.”
“That would be counter-productive,” he said, smiling.
I still wasn’t sure what I was doing here. No one had said a word to me since they stuffed me in the transit. I figured it must be a case of mistaken identity, or something to do with tax – no one really understood how to fill in those forms. The man sitting opposite wasn’t exactly effusive. He’d only smiled at me once, and then in a way that suggested he would later retract it with interest. He had one of those chiseled faces; not unpleasant, but always tensed; the way my mother used to pout for photos, only, he wasn’t pouting. If anyone was going to pucker up in here, it was probably me.
“It appears, Doctor Gism, that you have an alarm clock which is set to go off at exactly 1800 every day and that at this time you depart to go running. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is correct.”
“We know it is correct. We also have footage of you leaving the house for said run.”
“Is there a problem with running? A new law?”
“No, the legislation covering physical exercise remains much as it was. Our concern is otherwise.” He leaned forward with his hands remaining firmly flat on the cold desk. “It would appear that you left the house before the rain had started.”
“Are we not supposed to run in the rain?”
“That is not the problem, though for the sake of your health you are advised to refrain from doing so. This case is more specific. Let me put it this way. There would be no problem if you had gone running in the rain, once it had started.”
“I don’t get it. Can you please just tell me what’s going on?”
The man sat back and smiled again. The more he smiled, the more I feared him.
“His Divine Grace is recruiting. His orders were to arrest anyone seen running happily through the inclemency. He seeks those who are intrepid, weathered and doughty.”
“Ah, well,” I said, puffing up my chest, “that’d be me.”
“Not quite, I’m afraid, Doctor Gism,” said the Subcommander. Since he hadn’t bothered to introduce himself, I did not know his name.
“We know for a fact that you left the house before the rain had started. Not after.”
“So you said, but what’s the problem?”
“The problem is, Doctor Gism, that His Holiness is only interested in those who left after the rain had started.”
“Well, now, come on. I mean, okay, why’s that?”
“His Holiness does not need to explain the specifics of his orders. I imagine, all the same, that to set out when it is raining shows greater strength of character.”
“Yes, but I knew it was going to rain, didn’t I? That didn’t bother me in the slightest.”
“It is not I who sets the conditions, Doctor Gism.”
“Fair enough, but the fact remains that I knew it was going to rain. You think I’m afraid of a little rain? Or even a lot of it? You think I’m scared of the lightning?”
I leaned forward to send the words right into his eyes.
“I went running with full knowledge of an impending thunderstorm, wearing just a tank top and running shorts to boot. Does that not show me to be cut from a tougher cloth?”
“You cannot make a sow’s ear from a silk purse, Doctor Gism, and his Divine Grace needs sows’ ears to hear the murmurings of his enemies.”
“Well I’m no silk purse, let me tell you!”
“It is not you who are the judge of that, Doctor Gism. His Divine Grace allows no room for flexibility. Do you think you know better than The Emerald Majesty?”
“Of course not. Can’t you see how I wish to offer my service?”
“His Divine Grace accepts no offerings of service. Nothing unsolicited will be tolerated. He has called you in and you have been found wanting. It is pointless seeking redress through us. You will be returned to your domicile now and you will never mention this to anyone again, if you value your life.”
“Listen, pal,” I began, but then I thought better of it. The last thing I wanted was to prolong this inconvenient encounter, despite these slurs against my manhood.
“Yes?” asked the Subcommander. The lines in his face were deep and dark. I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly had weathered him.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Just take me home.”
Two men stepped in and grabbed my upper arms. They lifted me out of my chair and set me on my feet. I’d put all thoughts of resistance from my mind and, despite the roughness of their handling, did not protest. Once I was upright their grip slackened and I was frog marched into the pale corridor. The blue light and plate glass lent the place a deceptive chic – it was more like a club, or a gallery; reminiscent of the famous Rigel Transmat. I stepped along nice and quiet with the hired meat. How did they get the job? Swimming through lava? I didn’t feel conversational enough to find out.
My thoughts turned inward. Despite what I’d said to the Subcommander, I had no interest whatsoever in working for The Emerald Majesty. It could only spell trouble; a career of fawning service, of life-threatening investigations and infiltrations, of the very worst sorts of obligations. Everyone with half a brain knew he was a lunatic. A distant, whimsical, officious, megalomaniac; he had modeled himself on the furthest extremes of ancient earth opulence; a surrealist re-interpretation of east-Asian high cultural oddity. Like so many despots, he had made himself so uniquely peculiar that his position and occupation of it were considered inviolable. Who else would have the patience or dedication to such outré and mindnumbing ritual? His was a cautionary tale for the rational, though no one who valued their life dared speak against him. If they’d offered me the job, I would have had no choice but to accept, and once I was in, there was no out. It would have been years before I was trusted enough to have a chance at escape. Having come to his notice at all was frightening enough. I could only hope they’d forget about me nice and quick. I was already considering my options for moving off-world.
They walked me down to the transit and shoved me in the back. I knew they were taking orders from the way they nodded every so often. They were wired right up and their gestures transmitted – one of the rare expressions you ever saw with these silent goons. Not that you saw them that often. People were pretty law-abiding in this place. Anything to avoid encounters like the one I was having.
Outside the rain was still coming down; I watched it skip and stream on the tinted Diamond Synthex till we lifted and hit speed. Outside became a whirr of grey and white and neon lights. The engine hum was warming in the seamlessly sealed enclosure. Soon I felt the tilt of deceleration and the towers of Cheong-kung Bridge came into view; overlord of my habitat. We dropped down quiet on the yelling street, right outside my domicile.
The doors unbonded, sighed, unzipped, and outside in the pouring rain stood my grey-clad captors. They let me come to them this time, but as soon as I was on the street they took me by the upper arms and walked me to my door. It opened to my nod they let go of me, making sure I went inside. The long, rainy-season day was closing down now, close to midnight; the buzz and rush of traffic not diminished by the hour.
I turned behind to scan outside and look into the face of the men. They gave away nothing in their silent ushering, though I thought I caught a hint of a nod. Then they came towards me, walking robotically steady. I backed into my home and they came in after me. In a moment they stood inside the door. It closed behind and then I saw them reaching for their guns. They were so quick that I had no time to be afraid, let alone to duck or dive. They caught me halfway through a motion, slammed their blasts across my side and back and sent me sprawling. I skidded right along the tiles and smack into the wall. Then I heard another blast and that was the end of that.
And that’s how they killed me the first time; right there in my own home. I guess they wanted someone else to clean up all the mess.