The First 10 Pages


This week I challenged myself to start a new writing project. Below I’m offering the first 10 pages —  seven day’s worth of writing — for your consideration. Feel free to let me know what you think. It’s my first attempt at science fiction.

___

Six months embedded with the Old 300th Drop Regiment on Ukiah, Jonah Parker only worried about keeping his ass down and making deadline. Five minutes after arriving at Sacramento downport his chief concern was a good cup of coffee and making it to baggage drop before his claim stub expired.

He checked the stub. An hour left on it. Plenty of time to stop for coffee. Real coffee, not the caffeinated blackened water the grunts on Mont DeLillo drank. He squeezed onto a slidewalk heading toward one of three of the port’s malls and food courts.

The slidewalk dropped him at the edge of an octagonal court. Fast food joints lined the octagon’s rims. Travelers clumped at tables and booths, eating breakfast. Somewhere from one of the kiosks at the edge of the court, the aroma of brewing gourmet coffee poured into his nostrils. He switched on his vidcom and linked to his credcard balance. He could buy coffee and breakfast and still have enough left over for anything else he might need.

His com chirped as he made his way toward the coffee kiosk. He clicked Talk. “Parker.”

“Cass here.”

“What’s up?” He stopped, turned around after passing the coffee kiosk.

“Wanted to see if you could do something for me.”

At the kiosk, he queued up behind a purple-crested urvogel—a female by the looks of it. “What? No ‘Parker, I’m glad you’re alive?’”

“Right, right . . . Glad you’re alive, Parker.”

“Thanks.”

“Wanted to give you a heads up . . . an urvogel delegation is arriving Sacramento downport in about an hour. You’re there. So . . .”

“Can I snap some vid, get a few quotes?”

“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint, Parker.”

“No prob.” He clicked the vidcom off. Lucky for him the urvogel was still waiting for the barrista to froth the watery orange tactdyl tea they loved. He could find out from her at which port the delegation was arriving. “They seem a little slow today don’t they, Honorable One?” He had assumed the purple crest placed her in the diplomatic corps and addressed her properly.

The urvogel snaked an eye toward Jonah. “Your kind always seems so,” the bird clicked in perfect Anglic, for which Jonah was glad; his translator, along with everything else, was awaiting pick up.

He clicked a greeting in Urvogellian, though with a thick-tongued, awkward accent. The diplomat ignored him. No matter. He continued his formal greeting, clasping his hands together as if about to pray, and bowed at the bird.

With grace she accepted her cup of tea, paid the barrista, and looked at Jonah again, this time with a little less contempt.  She returned the bow. “No need to be so formal. Your kind, always trying to impress.” She shook her head, her crest bristling quizzically.

“You’re with the delegation, right?” he asked.

“Why would you say that?” She seemed angered, offended.

“Y-your crest . . .” Damn it. He hated when his voice cracked like that. “Anyway, no matter . . . I just thought you might . . .”

“Because of the crest?”

“I didn’t mean to offend.” Shouldered over her forewing was a large vidcom bag. Shit, she was media, too. What a dumb ass! Urvogellians had to rank at least purple-crest to serve offworld.

“Lighten up,” she said. “Quillip’akta’ur.” She extended her forewing to shake hands. “Yes, I am part of the diplomatic corp. Lower level. Public relations. Covering the delegation for the corp.”

“Jonah Parker.” He shook the delicate forewing.

“Parker? The writer?”

“Yes.” His face flushed. Four years in the business and he still felt awkward when someone recognized his work.

“They have you covering the delegation?” Her crest flattened, then rose again. “I thought you were still on Ukiah.”

“Guess you missed my last report.” He smiled. “But, yeah, my editor . . . she was supposed to pick me up half an hour ago . . .”

“You don’t have to say anything more.”

Editors were editors no matter the culture. Reporters were their servants. Jonah peered at the time on his com. “The delegation, they should be here soon. Where are they docking?”

Quillip’akta’ur eyed the hand-sized device Jonah held. “You’re shooting with that?”

“Guess I’ll have to.” He shrugged. “My stuff’s in baggage claim. And your people are always on time.”

The urvogel’s beak parted, a gesture indicating a smile. “We have enough time to get you better equipment. I have extra coms at our bureau.”

#

The vidcom Jonah’s new friend lent him was made for thinner fingers, so it was clumsy in his hands, but it would produce better shots than his personal com. He stood alongside Quillip’akta’ur in the throng of reporters and remote drones covering the delegation’s arrival. He hated this impersonal approach. Every story from the delegation’s appearance, including his, would sound the same. A change-up in the lead. A slightly different camera angle. But the same story. Even the major outlets would have the same sound bites.

If he hadn’t been available for this event, Cass would have sent a remote drone. He was available, and cheaper than the drone.

A silvery dot flickered above the docking port. Two smaller dots appeared on either side of the larger one. A crackling boom came across the sky. The narrow river of media pushed closer to the velvet rope barrier keeping them away from the landing zone where the shuttle would arrive. Jonah shoved aside an out of shape disheveled slug to let Quill into the front row. It was the least he could do. She clicked her thanks as the dots in the sky took shape.

The shuttle was elegant, an urvogellian design: sleek and slender in the front, a bulb in the back, small wings to the side, a shape much like the species that created it. Upturned thrusters allowed the craft to hover while landing skids were lowered.

Jonah turned his vidcom away from the shuttle to the swiftly departing fighter escort. Another reminder of the war on Ukiah. The war—probably the reason an urvogellian delegation was coming to Bergstrom. The urvogellians wanted to withdraw more than 5,000 personnel from Ukiah, which placed the war more and more into Bergstromian, and therefore Terran, hands.

Jonah couldn’t blame the urvogellians. Seven years of fighting and the alliance was nowhere near stanching Ukiahan terrorism in the republic. Several thousand urvogellian males had lost their lives in the fighting.

#

His story uploaded and filed, Jonah left the urvogellian bureau after a cup of tactyl tea with Quill. With his claim stub expiring in ten minutes, he rushed to baggage claim, making his way through several labyrinthine concourses, passing gate after gate until he found a bank of elevators. He took an elevator to the port’s lowest level. An expired stub would mean loss of every vidcom and notepad, every pen and pencil he had taken with him to Ukiah—at least for two months while port authority and planetary security riffled through it, making sure he wasn’t Ukiahian intelligence or that his pencils weren’t bombs. If he didn’t make it to the claim desk, it would certainly mean loss of his last story detailing the allied retreat from the ruins of Mont DeLillo. He stared at the fading claim code on the poker-chip sized plastic card. Three minutes.

He pushed his way out of the elevator with one minute left and thrust the wafer at a counter clerk. The clerk eyed the stub indifferently, took Jonah’s ID and press pass, told Jonah he’d have to wait for clearance because the stub had expired, and disappeared into an office.

As Jonah waited, Cass rang him up.

“Great story,” she said. “A couple of questions, though . . .”

“OK?” He rolled his eyes. A couple of questions from Cass could take hours. Then again, he probably had hours since he had to wait for his bags.

“The delegates really were science corps?”

“Yes. They were blue-crested. And I confirmed it with Quill . . . uh, the urvogellian who lent me her equipment.”

“And all female?”

“As far as I could tell. You know how hard it is to tell with them before mating season when the tail plumage comes out.” He shifted in his chair. “And I confirmed that with Quill, too.”

“Odd. Very odd.”

“What?”

“I would have thought it was diplomatic. Not scientific.”

“It’s true. Apparently they’re scheduled to go to Ghi in a few days. Don’t know what for. Couldn’t get much during the grip and grin. Even Quill wasn’t sure.”

“Hmmm. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. Anyway . . . you think you could grab a taxi? My car’s being worked on. We’ll reimburse you when you get to the office.”

“Um . . . as long as you can reimburse me today.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

She clicked off before he could say anything else.

#

“Only one bag?” Eugenides asked his mark . . . um . . . fare.

His fare nodded warily and slid into the tear-shaped, puke-green car. Eugenides loved the downport fares. They rarely said crap about his prices. They just wanted to get to their hotel or meeting, or whatever brought them to Bergstrom. This guy, though—well, some extra customer service skills might help. Security must’ve harassed him.  No doubt set off by the week’s beard growth, the dingy t-shirt, the blue doo rag hanging sweatily against his head. Maybe a scammer like himself. Perhaps someone caught at his scam and kicked from the port by security.

Eugenides swiveled to look at the guy slumped in the back seat. Or maybe he just needed coffee. “Where to?”

The guy gave him an address. The Sacramento Free Press and Journal. An unusual destination. It wasn’t ideal, not a block away from the downtown cop shop. Eugenides shrugged. A fare’s a fare. He set the route on the GPS, turned on the meter, and the car hummed into motion.

As the car neared downtown, Eugenides rerouted the GPS to bypass the cop shop. The car hopped into a new lane, passed the monorail station and hovered in an empty spot in the Journal’s employee parking lot.

His fare unbuckled his seat belt and thanked Eugenides for the ride. Before hopping into traffic Eugenides was surprised to see the man walk into the Journal’s editorial office. If the guy really was a reporter, that could be bad for business.

He hovered at a traffic light, a little angry with himself. Perhaps he had pushed his scam too long. The light flickered green. He shrugged. On to something else, then. The green tear drop disappeared into the early rush hour traffic.

#

The office was at an unusual lull, a com chirping here and there, a handful of people gazing at monitors, snickering at the latest viral video. Cass was either fiddling with a column of text or answering e-mail, Jonah couldn’t tell.

“Hey Cass.” Jonah was at her desk before she saw him. “You get that cabbie’s operator’s number?”

She turned, glanced at him. “Parker. You’re back.”

“No thanks to you.”

“You should feel lucky that I was able to get your reimbursement today,” she said. She minimized the apps she had up. “You have your credcard?”

He handed her the card.

“And yeah,” she said, “that cab was stolen. Reported stolen by Ray’s about a month ago.” She stuck a slender data disk into the card’s port. “So you got taken.”

“Thought so.” He’d been scammed. A stolen taxi. Wonder how long that guy had been running fares at three times going rate?

The credcard beeped.

“Uh oh,” Cass said. “You have an alert on your account. It won’t let me upload the money.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“You’ve had a pretty crappy welcome home, huh? You’re bags impounded, you’re account hacked.” Cass smirked. “At least you were able to get that story for me.”

“Yeah. You know me. Always glad to serve.”

#

At his desk, he called Bridget. He shook his head as he waited for her to pick up. Why hadn’t he called her instead of getting in the taxi? The best answer: the familiar green tear-shaped car had drifted in front of him almost as if he willed it. The true answer: he didn’t think this woman he’d known for less than a week before he got the assignment on Ukiah would still be around. The call went to voicemail.

Her class began at six. It was five-thirty. She was probably nowhere near a com. Instead she was probably checking equipment, testing the old-fashioned wire hook ups on the epees and foils. Most had at one time shorted during bouts, causing the judges to naked-eye hits, causing long arguments over who hit whom. Some of her class could be real divas. They complained about everything, including the shoddy equipment. They were also the ones with enough money they could’ve donated equipment to the piste.

Jonah wasn’t a diva. Couldn’t have cared less whether his epee was plugged to frayed wires or scored points with a laser system. He just thought it was unique someone had opened a piste a block from the Journal. Outside of movies or martial arts competitions, fencing was almost unheard of. Well maybe on some backwater system on the Rim, they fought with swords. But no need in civilized space. Not when you could make pink mist of someone’s head from 1,000 meters away.

He skimmed his story, checking Cass’s edits. The video was shaky, as he’d expected, but the story was perfect. As perfect as a grip and grin story could be. Just enough information to get the conspiracy theorists riled up, at least from what he could tell of the comments. All of them had their ideas about why the urvogellians had sent a scientific delegation. All of them saw a government cover up, something to hide about the war.

“You’re still here?”

He peered up from his screen. “Just approving your edits.”

“Perfect as always.”

“Of course.” It was now twenty after six. Twenty minutes after his shift was over. He thumbed his com, wondering if he’d somehow missed Bridget’s call back.

“Didn’t I tell you to go home an hour ago?”

He shrugged. “Still don’t have a ride.”

“Then you have a couple of minutes?”

“Sure.”

Down the elevator, reporter and editor headed into the dingy break room and a wall of stale, burnt coffee.

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