I am allowed to take breaks periodically, you know…
In order to keep my brain fresh for copyediting someone else’s military sci-fi, I need to pause every now and then for a few minutes and read… something that isn’t military sci-fi but is connected somewhat to one such story in ways I never expected, way back when my clone and I first started deliberately interfering in the lives of these fictional people. 🙂
Anyway, I found this in my archives, a collection of story snippets labeled “rain,” and I have decided to share it with you, O Reader of my blog. It’s fragmentary but at least linear: the snippets are in the correct order, and they all occur in the same location, in close succession.
To start, let me set the scene…
Geoffrey in his apartment, early-autumn thunderstorm, late afternoon, knock at the door…
At first he thought is was the wind rattling the porch roof; that happened sometimes, especially during thunderstorms like this one. Then the sound came again, and this time it was more distinct, definitely a knock on the apartment door.
During his freshman year, he’d spent most of his free time — of which there’d been a lot more, when he didn’t have a job as well as classes — hanging out with his gaming buddies, some of them people he knew from high school, like Alan and Marianne, and some of them friends he met at university. Now, though… Since coming back, he had lost interest in gaming. Unless someone knew of a good Papers & Paychecks LARP (reference to a joke older than Geoffrey himself), but wasn’t that what passed for “real life” these days? Pizza and DVDs and pretending that this was all there was to the world?
“Hold on,” he said, standing to answer the door. He wanted to go into the other room and grab a weapon, but how could he explain that to his guests? Maybe the baseball bat — Alan would understand if Geoffrey still felt the need to reach for that makeshift home-defense object, in light of his bad experience a couple of years ago. But a sword? No, even Alan wouldn’t understand. And Marianne and Henry and what’s-her-name, Henry’s current girlfriend… Sure, everyone knew about that time Geoffrey and his housemate were attacked by hit men who were after a courier on his way to deliver something secret-important to Gerhardt Industries (and wasn’t it interesting that Geoffrey now had an internship with that very same company as a reward for his accidental assistance?), because that kind of gossip spreads like wildfire once it gets out, but they’d totally and absolutely freak if they saw him pick up a blade as long as his arm. Geoffrey didn’t want to be known as ‘that gamer who snapped and started thinking it was all real.’ Even if his definition of real no longer matched the one his friends used.
“Everything okay?” said Alan.
“Yeah, Geoffrey replied distractedly. He wasn’t expecting anyone else, the pizza had been delivered half an hour ago, and the apartment number was too clearly marked for this to be a case of someone looking for a neighbor and knocking on his door by mistake. He told himself it was nothing to worry about. If anyone intended to seek revenge for his part in helping Jon — and Drake — surely they’d have done something before now, wouldn’t they? Besides, even mundane hit men don’t knock.
“You look like a drowned rat,” said Geoffrey.
“It’s raining,” Jason pointed out.
“When did you get back?” Geoffrey asked.
“Earlier today. Saw what happened to my house. Went looking for you. Asked around campus. You’re halfway famous, you know: the university student who spent two years in witness protection because he ran afoul of the Mob.” Jason shook his head. “Whose brilliant idea was that, anyway?”
“Gerhardt’s. He thought people would believe it as a cover story, since it’s just strange enough without, y’know…”
“Being the truth?” Jason finished.
“Something like that.”
“I guess it helps that Jon really is a courier, then. For verisimilitude.”
“Is he doing okay?”
“Well enough, considering. Plans to stay home for a while, try to live a normal life — whatever the hell that means.”
Geoffrey smiled ruefully. “I know what you mean. Since coming back… I can’t look at anything the same way as before. It’s only been three months, and I keep telling myself that I just haven’t had enough time to readjust, but we were on another planet — in another universe! My worldview has been well and truly shaken. How can you be so damn… calm?”
“Dude, this is way bigger than growing up on a farm with no electricity and then moving to a major city. This is…” Geoffrey made a sweeping motion with his arms. “Gerhardt wants to talk about it sometimes, too. I don’t tell him about what happened after he left — Drake would say it’s none of his business, no matter how he helped us — but he still geeks out about being in space, however briefly. Kinda embarrassing to see from a guy his age.”
“He’s only in his fifties.”
“Sorry, but I still consider that at least late middle age — for a member of my own species, anyway. Which reminds me: Gerhardt told me something foreign — his word — showed up in those blood samples that got confiscated. Something not-human, he said. Jon’s, obviously. Not that he has anything to worry about now, if he’s not planning to come back here.” Jason relaxed visibly when Geoffrey said that; he’d appointed himself Jon’s protector from the very start, so of course he’d be particularly concerned if anyone else knew their friend’s secret. “Anyway, Gerhardt called in a few favors, pulled some strings, whatever, and arranged for certain files to go missing. No record of all that, and very little chance that anyone will remember the details enough to make a fuss.”
[Author’s note to self: Clearly, there are no depths of irony to which I will not stoop.]
“Must be nice,” Jason said, “having a billionaire owe you favors.”
“He owes Drake a favor, not me.”
“You don’t think paying for your education and giving you a job when you graduate –?”
“Drake’s idea. Probably to let me keep an eye on Gerhardt without being obvious about it, knowing Drake.” Geoffrey shook his head. “See how it all comes back as soon as I’m around someone I don’t have to lie to about where I was for those two years?”
“Two years here.”
“You only get to count the time you experience, you know.”
“You want to explain to everyone why I’m not actually twenty-one now? Yeah, didn’t think so. ‘Sides, you don’t make the rules — you’re just a normal human like me, caught up in events beyond your comprehension.”
“Uh-huh. Just keep telling yourself that. I can comprehend a lot.”
“You know what really sucks?” Geoffrey said. “I got shot, and I don’t even have a scar to show for it.”
“‘Pain is fleeting, glory is eternal, chicks dig scars’? An old bullet wound wouldn’t fit with the cover story. Think about that. People start asking questions, and the whole thing falls apart.”
“I don’t think they’d care, really. I don’t discuss it, of course — bad experience, rather forget about it, blah, blah, blah.”
“Geoffrey Meeks, Interstellar Man of Mystery.”
“Hardly,” he said, and sighed. “I’m better off being a nobody, though. Not worth bothering with, just the sidekick, no need to kill or interrogate me, I know nothing. Well, okay, I know where Jon lives –“
“You’ve been there. You don’t know how to get there. Big difference.”
“Someone could pry that information out of my cold, dead brain…”
“You read too much science fiction.”
“Says the man who just spent half a year on another planet — in another universe.”
Jason declined to comment.
“You miss it already.”
“Don’t you? I was scared the whole time, but…”
“Maybe I had a bit of an advantage there, what with ‘reading too much sci-fi’ and all.” Geoffrey grinned. “At least the idea of alternate universes was familiar to me.”
[Author’s note to self: Irony. Stooping… And, um, symbolism, too. Yeah. Like that.]
[After this, the only bit I can share is a last snippet of dialogue.]
“The thing about Drake and secrets is, either he doesn’t care, or he probably already knows.”
This is all backstory, mind you, so it may never get included in a novel. I wrote it because I needed to get it out of my head. Hopefully it’s story-ish enough to make a point of some kind about how editors are not all failed authors who wouldn’t know creativity if it shot them with a dart gun.