Sample Sunday

After I got musically inspired, I thought about my new story idea and realized I need to do a LOT of research if I want to do the story right.  So I’m getting started on that.  But in the meantime, I’m reverting to my original plan, which was to work on a follow-on to the story I wrote for last quarter’s Writers of the Future submission.

Last night I got just under 1150 words down: the most I’ve written in one sitting since the day of Vasili’s surgery, when I finished Masters in the family waiting room.  So it was a good start.

In the spirit of Sample Sunday, here is that first scene.  The story is as yet un-named.

The tavern was almost empty.  A few patrons sat at tables along the wall opposite the bar and two more were at the bar itself: a plump middle-aged man in dirty work coveralls at the near corner, and a slender woman with short-cut black hair at the far end.  The barkeep idly wiped down the taps halfway down the bar, and a lone waitress chatted with a patron at one of the tables.  Vidscreens behind the bar displayed the latest headlines and sports scores, but the volume was muted.  A tune from the middle of the pop charts played over the bar’s speakers, just loudly enough to make it difficult to hear a conversation from more than a few feet away.

He would have expected more business, considering it was hump day.  Just two more days til the weekend, after all.  But he was just as happy for a sparse crowd.  He hated having to search through a throng to find his mark.  As it was, a quick survey as he paused at the tavern’s entrance revealed this evening’s objective.  He smiled slightly and walked to the far end of the bar.

He paused as he reached the chair around the corner of the bar from the slender woman.  He cleared his throat, but the woman already noted his presence, favoring him with a slight frown and a quirked eyebrow.

“Is this seat taken?” he asked.

She shrugged and looked away, back to the closest vidscreen, where, from what he could tell from the closed-captioning, some talking head was pontificating about the effect the latest elections on Centauri would have on interstellar trade.  That made sense, he supposed.

As he sat down, he was struck by the woman’s appearance.  Ten year-long shifts as Captain on a starliner, plus the time to move up through the ranks to reach that station: she had to be in her early to mid 40s at least.  But he could have sworn she wasn’t a day over thirty.  Her bio said she was the product of marriage between a Japanese man and an English woman.  In his experience, women from southeast asia tended to age well, but even still he was impressed.

The barkeep sauntered over.

“What’ll it be?”

“Bud Light.”

As the barkeep moved back to the taps, he noticed the woman smirk ever so slightly before taking a sip of her drink.  He would have figured her for something more exotic from one of the colony worlds.  But, in fact, she was drinking a Seven and Seven, unless he missed his guess.  Hardly the height of sophistication itself, and not exactly a perch from which to scoff at his beer.

“You ever study ancient history?”

She glanced back at him and rolled her eyes.

“I’m not looking for company right now.”

“Sorry.  Don’t mean to impose.”

She sniffed and turned back to her newsvid.  A moment later the barkeep returned with his beer.  He accepted it with a smile of thanks and tapped the paypad on the bar.  His identichip interfaced with the pay system, applying his standard tip rate automatically.  The barkeep looked surprised, then pleased, and voiced his thanks before moving away.  Tipping well was often useful for opening doors, he’d found.

He sipped at his beer for a few minutes, watching the newsvid with only the vaguest of interest.  It was a moot discussion: whatever effects the election caused had already occurred more than four years ago.  Folks on Earth were only now hearing about it, of course.  But whatever changes they made in response would also be extremely time late in reaching Centauri ears.  So what was the point?  Glancing back at the woman again, he noted that she too looked a bit amused at the discussion.  Of course, she would know the futility of it more than most.

Time to try again.

“So I was reading the other day about an ancient Athenian ruler.  Guy named Pericles.”

She stiffened slightly when he mentioned the name, but quickly recovered, sipping her drink again without bothering to look at him.

“Is that right?”  She sounded annoyed.

“Very interesting man.”  He took another drink of his beer.  “He took over while Athens was rebuilding from the Persian wars.  He fostered the arts, built the Acropolis, endorsed Athenian expansionism.  During his reign, Athens became the greatest political force in the region.  But then, of course, he pressed too far.  Made Sparta nervous.  And so, the Peloponnesian War.   He didn’t live to see it, but eventually Athens fell beneath Sparta’s military might.”

“Great.  Look, I REALLY don’t want company, so…”

“I heard a story about another Pericles recently.”

She froze, her expression suddenly becoming wary.  He continued on.

“Starliner by that name comes in from the Gliese system, just like normal.  But there’s nearly a week’s delay in unloading the cargo.  The crew is sequestered.  Interviewed by government agents, they say.  All but the fourth shift are out within a week.  That shift’s sequestered for more than a month.  Six months later, Malcolm Ngubwe, the fourth shift’s Engineer, dies under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances?  Then that same shift’s pilot, one Carlton Hersch, and his wife Alison, the shift’s doctor, leave the starliner company for work planetside.”  He shrugged.  “Not so unusual, except he was in line for promotion to Captain.  Strange time for a career change, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.”  He leaned toward her, noting her expression shifting from wariness to nervousness, with a hint of pain as well.  “What happened out there to cause so much fuss, Captain Ishikawa?”

She swallowed, pulling away from him.

“Who are you?”

He tapped his thumb and forefinger and waited for a moment.  Then, when nothing happened, he sniffed in annoyance.  He’d figured she would have upgraded to the interactive database implant by now!  She’d been back long enough, and those implants made forgetting names a thing of the past.  He kept old-style holocards just in case, though.  Pulling one from his pocket, he slid it across the bar to her.  His credentials were plainly visible: Jeremy Reynolds, Investigative Reporter, Star News.

She picked it up, her eyes narrowing as she read it.  Then she stood, dropping the card onto the bar.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you, Mr. Reynolds.”

She turned to leave, but stopped as Jeremy grabbed her arm gently.

“There are rumors of a new strain of disease onboard.  The public has a right to know the truth, Captain.”

She hesitated, then pulled away from his grasp.

“Good night, Mr. Reynolds.”

With that, she walked away at a brisk pace.  She was out the door quickly, and never looked back.

Jeremy remained in his chair for several minutes more, finishing his beer and shrugging off the barkeep’s quip about him striking out.  There was definitely something there.  And he intended to find out what it was.

There you go.  I like to think it’s an intriguing start.  Obviously there’s a lot more to come.  Comments are always welcome.