Good morning to all you beautiful, wonderful people on the interwebs, and happy Monday! And yes, it’s still early enough to be happy. The full strength of Monday has yet to rear its ugly head…
Anyway, I’m just gonna get right to it. I’ve been sharing some of my older work recently on my downloads page, and figured it was time to share something a bit more polished, and something from a project I’m much more proud of. This was my first big undertaking as a writer, and though it’s still a work in progress, I hope to be able to complete it this year. I began working on this title back in 2012, and as you’ll quickly find out, its a dark sci-fi, political thriller. I hope you all enjoy following along on Mister Ripley’s adventure, as much as I have enjoyed creating it.
This first chapter is also available as a downloadable PDF here, and please, feel free to comment and share your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think!
So without further ado, I present to you…
He gazed out at the city from his small dormitory window, thinking to himself that with the overcast skies and dense fog, everything outside seemed to be cloaked in black and white, reminiscent of the public service films he’d been required to see from an early age. Ironically enough, he thought, that’s probably how they wanted it to appear; because, as dreary and depressing as it was, it kept the masses focused on their chores. Except for him. He had called in sick this morning, which wasn’t a complete lie. The combination of his tedious work, the cramped cubicle that comprised his personal work space, the drones he called his co-workers steadily drudging about at their tasks, and his supervisor, who was more of a slave than any of them, had actually made him physically ill over the years. He wasn’t sure if his aches were from the stress of being overworked (which more often than not, was accompanied by a less than compensatory salary), the artificial air being pumped into their buildings, or maybe the mold that he believed was festering in the gray carpet in the office building. Whatever the case, he couldn’t find the desire to crawl out of bed, just to go back to that place this morning. Corporate Amerika would just have to survive without him for one day.
Instead, he gathered a few things from a small table by his front door: an old digital recorder that had once belonged to his father, a small notebook, and an ink pen, and shoved them into his brown leather attaché case. He reached back to a brass coat-rack in the corner, grabbed his jacket, threw it on, and stepped out of his room into the hallway. He locked his door and quickly made his way down the hall towards the lift. As he walked through the narrow hallway staring at the maroon carpet on the floor, he heard a shrill voice call out from just a few feet behind him, “Mister Ripley…” He instantly froze in his tracks, several different scenarios now playing out in his mind – Did they know he wasn’t really sick this time? Had they found out what he’d been working on over the past few weeks? Or was it possible that they’d known all along? Slowly, he took a deep breath as he turned around, half-expecting a club to his face, but instead saw the young red-headed woman trotting down the hall in his direction.
“Miss Weston,” he said acknowledging his neighbor, greeting her with a nod and smile, and wondering to himself. Had she been watching me… knowing I was home, just waiting for me to leave?
She caught up with him, and smiled, “I was just going to ask you to hold the lift for me…” she said, “I misplaced my card key earlier while I was cleaning my apartment.”
Surprised, he simply replied, “Oh…” then turned back to the lift, as he reached into his pocket. Pulling out a small white card, he held it close to the pad near the door of the lift until it beeped, then listened as the buzzing sound indicated that the lift was on its way up to his floor. He turned back to the woman standing just behind him, admiring the contrast between her bright red hair, and milky white skin as she was watching a flock of birds outside a nearby window. There was a faint chime as the lift arrived, and her gaze shifted back to her neighbor, who was now uncomfortably trying to pretend that he hadn’t been staring at her.
Looking back towards the lift doors as they slid open, his eyes fell upon a young guard in a crisp, blue uniform and beret, blocking them from stepping inside. He glared at the woman, then looked over the man in front of him. “Display only shows one…” he said sharply.
Ripley pointed over his shoulder to the girl, and spoke first, “She’d just misplaced her card. I…” He stopped mid-sentence and gulped nervously, as another thought ran through his paranoid mind: What if they thought he was trying to help her?
The guard reached down to his belt, and pulled out a small hand-held scanner, as he demanded “…IDs ”. Ripley shifted his jacket from his right shoulder, then pulled down the collar of his shirt, exposing the bar code tattooed on the upper part of his chest. The guard held the scanner up, pressing a button as an infra-red beam scanned the tattoo. A few seconds later, the scanner beeped, followed by a mechanical voice, “RIPLEY-COMMA-NOAH.” The guard turned back to the young woman, who slipped down the corner of her blouse, displaying her id bar for the guard, as Ripley watched on intently. Just before scanning her tattoo, the guard glared back at Ripley, and nodded for him to enter the lift. Once inside, Ripley glanced back to the hallway. His eyes met his neighbor’s, then he jumped back, startled, as the guard’s hand smashed the lift panel, and the doors quickly slammed shut. The hum of the lift quickly drowning out the woman’s shriek coming from the other side of the metal doors.
The lift dropped promptly to the first floor, and the doors chimed again, as Ripley felt gravity force his stomach down to his knees. As the doors opened, he pulled the hood of his jacket up to partially conceal his face, then stepped out into the massive atrium. This central courtyard of Complex 19 housed their dormitories, and office building, and was a gateway to several small shops and other business nearby, as well as the regional Ascension Embassy building. Walking briskly in the pouring rain, across the wide cobblestones that marked the residential district, he made his way across the courtyard to a small diner.
Stepping inside, he shook dry, then pulled off his heavy jacket and found a seat near the back of the room. He’d found that the last three booths in this diner, conveniently located near the kitchen, were one of the only places within the city where one could come to stay comfortably warm. Climate control in the Complex was one feature that had been done away with long ago, in favor of preserving energy, and lowering the cost of supporting its inhabitants. Because of this, there were no longer seasons- no distinction between the summer, spring, autumn or winter that he remembered from his childhood. There were only two weather patterns that would even alert anyone to the changing conditions outside the Complex: bone-chilling cold, usually combined with a steady downpour of rain, or immense humidity, due to the moisture trapped in the atmosphere.
Ripley stared out the fogged window, and tried to remember back to his childhood, before the construction of the steel and concrete frame that now housed the fiberglass and Plexiglas panes covering the city. He thought about looking up into the bright, blue sky as a young boy, then recalled the stories he’d heard about a “substantial environmental fallout,” which prompted the massive structure overhead to be erected. He’d always wanted to walk to the edge, where the walls of the dome met the ground… to touch the panes keeping everyone secluded and sheltered from the outside world.
He snapped back to reality as a young woman nearby called out to him, “Sir, can I get you somethin’ to drink?”
Still in a daze, he shifted his gaze up at her and nodded, “Um, yes. Coffee, please… straight.” He glanced down, and realized that he was still clutching to his brown attaché case. Let’s not be obvious about it or anything, he thought to himself, as he shifted it from his lap onto the seat beside him. He reached across the aisle, pulling the daily paper from a small newspaper rack, and spread it out onto the table before him. Scanning through the headlines, and trying to drown out the baroque music that was blaring from an old-fashioned jukebox near the counter, he came across a small ad near the bottom of the inside page that caught his attention:
Upstanding citizens needed for Peace Brigade!
Your freedoms are at stake- protect yourself by taking a stand against those
that would cause you harm & seek to destroy your Government!
Become a Peace Guard today and help build a better tomorrow!
Again, the waitress broke his concentration, “Here you go, sir… anything else I can get for you?” Not even lifting his eyes from the paper, he waved for her to leave him, and picked up the small tin cup, inhaling the strong aroma as he took a sip. He huffed, thinking to himself, Hm… ‘Peace’ guards my ass. Bunch of arrogant pricks is what they really are, with just enough authority to be dangerous. Their job, as laid out by the regional Ambassador, was to root out and suppress dissension and uprisings before they even had the chance to unfold. However, in Ripley’s experiences, this usually led to some poor sap being needlessly arrested, or assaulted… or sometimes just disappearing altogether- all in the name of peace.
He pulled the small leather-bound notebook from his attaché case, and placed it onto the filthy table, then flipped the front cover open, as he held the newspaper up to shield himself from unwanted stares. His eyes quickly skimmed through the first few lines on the page, as he read to himself:
My name is Noah Ripley. I’m 43 years old. The following is a historical account, collected from recordings made by my father, Luca Ripley, over a period of about twenty years. To my knowledge, his recordings were all based on actual events that took place from around the time of my birth, up until his disappearance just after the Ascension Uprising.
He finally looked up, as a commotion outside drew his attention back to the window, which was now completely fogged up. He glanced around cautiously, as he closed the notebook, and shoved it back into his case. Curious, he reached up and smeared the moisture away from the bottom corner of the window with his shirt sleeve, then slouched down on the bench seat, peering out into the courtyard. He watched as a small group gathered just outside, in anticipation of a procession that was arriving from the Ascension Embassy. Great… he thought, What now?
Several of the other diner patrons were now making their way either to the windows for a better view, or out the front door into the crowded courtyard. From his warm bench seat in the back of the diner, Ripley could now see the first few vehicles of the convoy in the distance, rolling down the street towards the center of the Complex. Sitting up straight, he glanced around the diner, then raised the tin cup, and gulped down the last of his bitter coffee, before leaning back over to the window. By now the vehicles were pulling into the middle of the town square: two armored trucks, followed by a black sedan escort, and a white stretch limousine, all surrounded by a small army of heavily armed guards.
Several moments after coming to a stop, as the rain began to slack off, the rear doors of the limousine opened, and Ripley’s jaw nearly hit the table as he saw the two men that stepped out of the limo. The first, a tall man in a tight-fitting suit, with his gray hair pulled back into a pony-tail; the second, an older gentleman with a beard, wearing a long black coat and derby hat. Several of the armed officers that had escorted the vehicles in, now encircled the two men, leading them up to a raised platform in the square, where the bearded man stepped up to the podium, and removed his hat. Ripley was completely awestruck, and suddenly couldn’t remember if he’d ever even seen the Governor, or his Ambassador in person before. Of course, he recognized them both instantly, from the numerous pictures he’d seen in history books and magazines, and from interviews on the telescreen. But this was definitely the first time he’d ever been this close to them. Close enough, he thought, …to shoot ’em both. Before he even completed the thought, he jerked back from the window, his hand now covering his mouth, and eyes wide with fright, scanning the room to see if anyone around had heard him thinking out loud. He finally let out a long relieved sigh, and turned back to the window. Again he had to wipe away condensation as he peered back out.
The music he heard in the background cut out momentarily, and a familiar recording played through the speakers, “We interrupt this broadcast for a live message from your government…” The man at the podium tapped the microphone, and cleared his throat, feedback echoing from the jukebox inside the diner. Ripley waited patiently for the speech to begin, preparing himself for the excrement that was certain to flow from the mouths of the two politicians. Leaning close to the glass pane, Ripley focused on the Ambassador standing at the podium, as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Residents of Complex Nineteen…” the bearded man started, “your full attention, please.” The diner fell silent, and he watched as the crowd outside seemed to settle almost instantly. He thought to himself that he was probably the only one not completely entranced by the Ascension Group, then suddenly jumped as he felt a tug at the newspaper underneath his left hand. Snapping his head back, he nearly fell out of his seat when his eyes fell upon the young man seated across the table.
“Dammit Alex!” Ripley spouted, still trying to slow his heart rate as he shifted in the seat to face his friend. Quieting his voice, he continued, “When did you get here?”
The young man – who, from Ripley’s best guess, was in his early twenties – smirked as he replied. “Gotta calm down there old guy, gonna have a heart attack one of these days.” Alexander Eastburn and Ripley had crossed paths on several occasions, since they first met at the diner three months back. Though not the most intelligent person, Ripley trusted him, which was quite an accomplishment these days. His only concern – due mostly to the young man’s age – was that Alex was naive and impressionable. Ripley worried that the boy’s beliefs could be easily swayed.
“Any idea what this is all about?” Ripley asked his young friend.
“Not quite sure,” he started, “I’d heard whispers that there was some sort of assassination attempt.”
“You’re kidding?!” Ripley interrupted.
They could hear the Ambassador speaking through the jukebox speakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve called this conference today…”
Ripley leaned across the table, speaking quietly, “One of your friends?”
Alexander turned his head to the window momentarily, then back to the man seated across from him, “Not that I’m aware of. Cordell has been talking about attempting something like this for a while, but I just talked to him this morning. Didn’t seem like anything was out of the ordinary.”
“…Intel has uncovered leads to a number of individuals known to be associated with this rebel faction.” they heard, as the Ambassador continued. “Please understand that these actions will not be tolerated, and those responsible will be brought to swift justice.”
Shit. Alexander thought aloud, then lowered his voice to a quiet whisper, “Don’t think they’re talkin’ about anyone from the Underground do ya?”
“They’re bluffing,” Ripley stated, “trying to see if anyone gets anxious, and turns themselves in.”
“I guess.” the young man continued, “Heard anything from Julian lately?”
Ripley shook his head, “Not since a couple weeks back when we arranged the pickup for today.”
They were suddenly distracted by a loud thud, as the Ambassador slammed his fist down on the podium, emphatically punctuating his previous sentence, while the crowd outside erupted into cheers. Motioning for the horde to quiet down, the Ambassador began again, “And now, without further ado, I am honored to humbly present your Governor, who has personally chosen to read the names of those individuals.”
Alex snapped his head back to Ripley, “Still think they’re bluffing?”
Ripley casually glanced back out the window as the tall, gray-haired leader of the Ascension Group stepped up to the podium, “They’re made-up names… I guarantee you.”
The two listened for a moment as the Governor cleared his throat, then leaned to speak into the microphone. “As Mister McCrea stated, the following individuals have been identified as members of an extremely dangerous insurgency, and as such, have been flagged as ‘High Risk’. These men and women are to be apprehended, and will face trial for their crimes. If anyone here has any knowledge as to the whereabouts of any of these people, we strongly urge you to report them immediately.” He paused for a moment as he lifted a small digital pad from underneath his cloak, then spoke again. “Before I read this list of names, I would like to remind you all, that WE are the ones who won your freedom! If not used appropriately, we’ll be more than happy to take it back from you.” His menacing eyes moved back down from the crowd to his digital pad, and he began spouting out several names.
“Any of those sound familiar?” Ripley asked his friend.
Just as Alex opened his mouth to reply, they both heard the last name on the Governor’s list clearly through the diner’s speakers, “...and Julian Murphy.”
Ripley’s eyes grew wide as he turned back to Alex, who was just as surprised. “We uh, we need to get outta here,” Ripley stammered out. His young friend nodded, and as they both started to pull themselves up from the booth, a shadow fell over their booth.
“Not so fast gentlemen…” they heard.
Panicking, Ripley and Alex gazed up at the elderly man standing beside their table. Alex slid over on the bench allowing the man to sit down, as he whispered, “What the hell are you doing here?! You know they’re looking for you right?”
The older gentleman, Julian, motioned for Alex to lower his voice, “Best place to hide is right in front of the damned fools. I was right out there in the front row until he started calling out names.”
Ripley leaned across the table, “What happened? Alex said he’d heard about some assassination plot.”
Julian began to speak, but noticed the waitress standing near the bar, and realized that she had been watching him closely since he stepped into the diner. “We should probably find somewhere else to talk…”
Julian and Alex both rose from their bench seat, and Ripley snatched up his brown attaché case before following them. The three men stepped out of the warm diner onto the sidewalk, and Ripley shivered as a chilling wind whipped over him, “Where to?”
“We can meet…” Alex started, as they were distracted by shouting from the crowd that filled the courtyard, where the Governor and Ambassador were now trying to make their way back down from the stage.
“Hang on…” Julian said, before they stepped around the corner of the small restaurant. He leaned against the building, and peeked his head around, looking into the main courtyard, as they heard several voices within the crowd cry out.
“Trust the Underground!”
Julian turned back to the others, “This is not going to end well…” Before he could finish, the sound of gunfire echoed off the concrete buildings and cobblestone walkways, causing the three men to duck down. A handful of warning shots popped off into the air, and the cobble stone street, before the armed guards who accompanied the two leaders had formed a wall in front of the stage, and opened fire into the crowd. A handful of guards surrounded the Governor and Ambassador, leading them around the side of the stage, back to their limousine.
The shots were followed by screams, as those still remaining in the courtyard were now running for cover. Julian leaned back around the corner of the building, and just as he spotted the mound of bloody bodies now filling the street, he heard shouting from behind him. “Over here!” Alex called to the older man, as he tucked into a waiting trolley-car.
As they piled into the trolley and pulled away from the square, they could hear the Ambassador’s message being replayed in a steady loop through the speakers mounted around the courtyard, nearly drowning out the screams: “These actions will not be tolerated… these actions will not be tolerated… these actions will not be tolerated.”