Monday, January 28, 2008

Nethologica - Prologue Part 1

Hm...I'm falling behind a bit as I failed to update last week. I'll have to update twice this week to make up for it. The reason for my tardiness is my unique gift to combine procrastination with perfectionism. I wanted to put up a short story this week, but couldn't get it the way I wanted it to be. And so, I tossed it.

As a sort of emergency, I'm posting the prologue for the novel that I'm working on: Nethologica. I'm not particularly happy with the prologue either, but I've decided that I'll forge on ahead first and simply write without looking back. I'll return to edit for quality and plot after I'm done everything. I've separated the prologue into two part, partially so that I'm guaranteed to make two posts this week and partially because it's pretty long. Enjoy!


A lone man stood on a half-lit block. He took a quick glance at his watch, barely registering the time, as he tried to determine whether it was safer to stand under the streetlamp or in the shadows. If something were to happen to him, it would be better to stand in the light, where things were more noticeable and help was more likely to come. On the other hand, being in plain sight might make him more of a target to opportunistic thieves, or worse, psychopaths.

Hovering over the boundary set by the lamps overhead, he paced back and forth like a stray dog; indecisive as to whether he wanted to follow a stranger home or continue his carefree, albeit uncertain, life.

Finally, he settled against a bricked wall sparingly illuminated by reflected lights. He checked his watch again, more carefully this time to ascertain the time to himself. No longer moving about, he started to feel the city air and pulled his jacket tighter around him before crossing his arms over his chest.

It is late in the evening for the man, but early in the morning for the people that was keeping him waiting. He managed a scant peek at his watch before his wall was illuminated by the headlights of a car. He looked up hopefully but the vehicle is small, a Personal Automatic Transporter. Most likely it was a night janitor, enjoying an enviable nap as the PAT took him home.

The man is also a night janitor. Normally at this time he would be resting comfortably, enjoying the soothing driving motions of his own PAT as it guided itself to his home. The transporter had become essential in the last decade. It allowed business folks to focus on other things as they moved about in the city. However, it was not a cheap investment. Those in the lower-middle class, looking to own one for aesthetic and conspicuous reasons, had to take on a second job in order to afford the lease. This meant that their treasured time-saver would end up costing them more time than it saved. It was the latest modern inconvenience, after virtual reality and the internet of the last millennium.

Luckily, night janitors did not have to take on a second job. The restaurant, whose exhaust-stained bricks provided the wall that the man was leaning on, paid the man very well for his cleaning services. However, tonight he was unable to sweep the floors. And in the day, the restaurant may not be allowed to open.

The building had suffered a sudden onset pest infestation, a discovery the night janitor had just made a few hours ago. He called for pest control and it is for them that he waits.

Another vehicle passed by, much too quickly to be the right people, even though the vehicle was the right size, roughly that of a delivery van. The night janitor checked his watch once more before sighing and averting his gaze upward, as if questioning some higher deity, though contemplating nothing in general. He tapped his shoes against the wall and sidewalk impatiently, shifting his foot from the back of the shoe to the front, and alternatively.

His heart was anxious for sleep. He was not tired, but was addicted to the other world that he visited in his dreams. It was a good thing that he had but one job, he would be able to sleep through the entire day, waking only when it was time to come to the restaurant again to clean. Since the start of his obsession, the janitor had only seen sunlight a few times, when he had to take time away from resting to restock food and other supplies. At that thought, the janitor reminded himself to make another day trip soon. Though sunlight had become foreign and blinding to him, he did not resent it. It brought warmth and, once he was able to open his eyes fully, it enabled vision that humans were not entitled to in the night. He would leave his house to enjoy the sun more often, if it were not for the overwhelming desire to remain asleep in his bed. His habit was beginning to border on the unhealthy side. Simply thinking about it caused the Pavlovian effect of salivation. He licked his lips contemptuously to exercise his slacken jaw.

Engrossed in his thoughts, the dim headlights of the pest control van nearly escaped the notice of the night janitor. It was an armor-plated, military-issued van, typical of pest control. The man in the front passenger seat rolled down his window to address the janitor.

“You the one that called for us?” he asked.

The janitor simply nodded. The crisp city air had frozen the saliva between his lips, effectively sealing his speech with the threat of tearing pain and chapped lips. Even if he could talk, his tongue was momentarily tongue tied as he spied the face of the van’s driver. A fierce and striking young woman looked back at him before turning off and exiting the vehicle. The janitor’s gaze followed her figure as she walked to the back of the van and opened the large double doors so that the rest of the pest control team could hop out.

They numbered six in total, there was only enough room in the back of the van for four people to sit among the weapons, baits, and traps. There was another woman besides the driver, noted the janitor, but she was not as striking as the other, who was now sternly giving out orders to the team. The man who first spoke to the janitor, presumably the leader, broke away from the group to gather more information from the janitor.

“You said on the phone that it was a large rat,” he said. His tone of voice made the question seem almost like an accusation.

“Y-yes,” stammered the janitor. The cold was reaching its peak, just before the Earth started to face the sun again. He rubbed his lips together tenderly as he watched the exterminators arm themselves.

They worked together well, passing body armor, rifles, and other equipment between each other in a practiced fashion. The janitor could hear the soft cracking of their helmet radios breaking the night silence before it faded, obscured by the head that now occupied the protective hat. They looked formidable in their gear, worthy of the descriptors they gave themselves in their ad.

The janitor uncrossed his arms to search his pockets for his keys, exposing his chest in time to feel the full effect of a chilly passing wind. His hands had begun shaking when he opened the back door to the restaurant. Not wanting to stay any longer than he had to, he told the leader that the door could be set to lock automatically, instructing him to leave the invoice on the prep table and to lock up after they were done.

The team captain nodded slowly, making a mental note for the janitor’s instructions. He shook hands with the janitor and watched him as he left. The captain then turned to face his team, they immediately stopped their conversation and looked back at him.

“Chief complaint is a large rat, but as usual we’ll clean up anything we find. Willow you take the direct route to the main entrance and take care of anything that comes your way. Andy and Sherry, you take the left corridor. Chris and Anjay, you cover the right.”

His team stood still for a moment to ascertain that he was finished before breaking apart sharply to execute his orders. The captain himself remained behind to watch the backdoor and to coordinate the operation. His earpiece buzzed as the teams reported in.

“This is Willow, I’m skipping the rooms as I head down but I’ll check the ones near the entrance.”

“Left side team here, we’ll cover your slack Willow. Sherry and I are in the first room right now.”

The captain allowed himself to tune out the radio slightly so that he could focus on filling out the invoice. The second in command, Willow, had constantly berated him on this bad habit. Pest control was a high-risk career, but years without any excitement had caused the captain to be complacent, taking shortcuts whenever he could justify it. A large rat was as standard as they came, only dangerous if you approached it unarmed or if you were cheap with your bullets. The captain noted that some of the food stocks in the kitchen had been rummaged through and assumed that the rat had already eaten its fill and was most likely trying to find a way back to its den in the sewers. This meant that Willow would encounter the pest first.

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