|I may lose sleep to get my word count in,|
but Tucker does not.
Now I'm kind of stalled on my plot and I can't help but wonder if I should have stuck with my original plan...
Either way, I'm pressing on! I'm pretty happy with what I've written so far, and I thought I'd share it with you guys in you're interested. Feedback is most definitely welcome!
This is my first chapter, and my working title for the manuscript is "Checking Out." I'm not quite sure how to box it up in a genre for you guys—I guess it's kind of an alternate universe, or at least a futuristic, science-fiction piece. But I'm honestly not sure where it's going. So I hate to limit myself to writing only sci-fi. I tend to lean toward horror, so it won't surprise me in the least if it starts to creep in that that direction.
Also, I'm kind of creating a whole new system of government in this piece—new titles, new rules, all of that. If anything trips you up, please let me know—I'm happy to clarify. But instead of preemptively explaining the vocabulary, I'd like to see if the context makes it clear.
He clutched the papers to his chest, bore them like a weight against his heart as he was ushered into the evaluation room. The soles of his worn shoes squeaked against the stark white floor, the hand that gripped his arm as he was led held tight and briefly Andrew Pearson felt like a prisoner.
"This way, Mr. Pearson."
The hand on his arm gave a firm squeeze and pulled him to the left, down a hall identical to every other Andrew had seen so far. They came to a stop and then the orderly let go of him, pressed his palm flat against the black sensor on the wall. Andrew waited as the orderly's palm was scanned. A green light appeared briefly, small but bright, in the corner of the black panel. There was a mechanical hiss, and a section of the wall gave way, sliding back and allowing them to enter the evaluation room.
Andrew went ahead of the orderly, stepping inside and quickly glancing around the room. It was plain, stark like the rest of the building, with a single table, two chairs. On the table sat another stack of papers, more substantial than the ones in Andrew's arms, several folders full of more papers, photos, and two glasses of water.
"Take a seat."
Andrew sat carefully, shifting his papers to his lap, then against his chest again, before finally setting them on the table, pushing them to the corner to keep them separate from the rest. He looked up at the orderly, starting to speak, clearing his throat after a shaky start.
"Where do I, ah, put these?" He indicated to his own papers.
"Right there is fine. The Reconciler will be with you shortly."
The door slid shut as the orderly left the room, and Andrew sat perfectly still, his eyes searching the room, the walls so white, so sterile that he scarce could make out where they met in corners. The room was silent, cold, and overbearing. Andrew drummed his fingers anxiously against the edge of the table as he waited. Minutes passed, and Andrew began to feel impatient, concerned that his paperwork was not in order. He reached for the stack, thumbed through it again. At the bottom of every page, his signature.
Then what could be taking them so long?
Andrew pushed the stack back to the corner and leaned back in his chair, heaving a sigh. He was ready. It was time. Surely they wouldn't refuse him.
Several more minutes passed and then the door slid back and for a brief moment there was no movement at all. Andrew held his breath as the Reconciler stepped in.
He was a large man, dressed in a muted gray robe, the linen clothes underneath the same stark white as the room, as the orderly's tunic and pants. The sleeves were wide, the heavy cloak wrapped around the man's waist and fastened with a round badge the size of Andrew's fist, made of the finest silver, bearing the insignia of The Auctoritas.
He took a seat across from Andrew, though he did not address him. Instead, he shifted the stack of file folders, moving them all to the side save for the bottom one, which he opened carefully.
Andrew could see a photo of himself. Under it, some of the paperwork he had come in for prior to today. Personal information, a questionnaire. He recognized his handwriting, a stern and bold black against the white page.
The Reconciler leafed through the pages, stopping midway.
"Mr. Pearson," he began. "I see that this is not the first time you have put in a request."
"That is correct," Andrew replied politely. It was, in fact, the third time.
"You were not approved before. Did they tell you why?"
"I did not meet the age requirement. And I had been recently promoted at the Institute."
"You are a guide, correct?"
"Yes, sir. Recently tenured." Andrew found no reason to lie. His position at the Institute was written there, somewhere amidst the pages.
The Reconciler quickly flipped several pages back, eyes skimmed its contents briefly. "You are very young to have been granted tenure. You must be an exemplary scholar."
Andrew nodded politely, though the expression on his face conveyed neither gratitude nor pride. "Thank you, sir."
The gray cloak rustled against the edge of the table as the Reconciler closed the file, slipping it back underneath the rest and turning his attention to the substantial stack of papers Andrew had brought in with him.
Andrew watched anxiously as he scanned the first page.
"This is all of it, correct?"
"I see here that you have only just completed it this Monday."
Andrew nodded. "Yes."
"There is typically a ten to fourteen day waiting period." The Reconciler started to push the papers to the side again.
"I know, I—I put in a request for consult sooner."
"Protocol must be followed, Mr. Pearson." The Reconciler met Andrew's eyes with a cool, detached expression.
"But I went through the appropriate channels," Andrew countered. He was beginning to feel frantic. "I was granted audience today. I—I have, right here, the correspondence." He fumbled in his pocket, groping for the printed sheet. He let out a sigh of relief as his fingers found it, pulling it out and handing it insistently to the Reconciler.
The sleeve of the thick gray robe grazed the top of the papers as the Reconciler accepted the page, examining it suspiciously. After a moment, which Andrew spent with his hands clasped anxiously in his lap, the Reconciler relented.
"Very well." He once more brought Andrew's papers before him, his face an unreadable mask of indifference as he scanned the pages quickly.
Andrew watched as the Reconciler looked through the folders, pulling one from the middle.
"You took a psychological evaluation several weeks ago, at the beginning of the process."
"Yes, that's correct." Andrew sat forward in his chair slightly.
His session with the psychologist had been taxing—a long, arduous process that left no corner of Andrew's psyche unexplored, no memory not brought out of the darkness. He had been subjected to several hours of questions, interpretations, ink blot tests. He answered dutifully, as honestly as he could. Though he had taken the evaluation twice before, he felt just as uncomfortable as he had the first time. He was often a private person, and felt uncomfortable sharing so much of himself.
But he was ready, surely that would show in his evaluation.
As the Reconciler reviewed the contents of the folder, Andrew felt his palms grow sweaty. He wiped them on his thighs, trying to keep from appearing too nervous. The Reconciler made a few marks on one particular page, looking thoughtful.
"I see here that you have no living relatives."
"No, sir. My parents died when I was young. My father had a heart attack, and my mother—she had cancer." Andrew's brows knitted together. It was so uncomfortable to say. Death was so rarely acknowledged.
"I see." The Reconciler made another note. "I don't know why that wasn't included in your paperwork."
"It is, sir. Here, in the documents I've brought today."
More papers were shuffled, and the Reconciler sat straighter in his chair.
"Mr. Pearson, I'm afraid you do not qualify. I cannot approve your request."
Andrew sat, momentarily stunned into silence. This couldn't be happening, not again.
"What? I don't understand. Everything is in order, I've done everything required of me. You can't just—"
The Reconciler stood, the expression on his face making clear that as far as he was concerned, their audience was over.
"Give it more time. Perhaps then you will be a viable candidate."
Andrew stood as well, his face still pale, his expression a study in surprise.
"If you will wait here, Mr. Pearson, the orderly will return to escort you out."
The Reconciler gathered up all of the paperwork and turned, his cloak flaring out behind him as he strode purposefully toward the door, his footfalls the only sound that Andrew could hear over the beating of his heart. The papers were placed in a small slot by the door, to be filed away with the rest of the denied requests.
Andrew clenched his fists. He was angry. Outraged. As the door slid open and Andrew found himself once again alone, he felt despair weigh heavy on his heart, sapping his energy almost instantly. He was tired of trying. Tired of going through weeks and weeks worth of evaluations, tests, forms, physicals and all for nothing. Every time, for nothing.
It all led up to more disappointment.
Andrew went quietly when the orderly returned, the two of them walking in silence. The orderly left him at the Expiry desk, waiting in line to sign out of the building.
The woman in front of him left and Andrew stepped forward, stating his name, pushing his identification across the counter to the receptionist. She scanned him out and passed back his I.D. and a paper to sign. Andrew scrawled his name unceremoniously, then left the same way the woman ahead of him had.
He emerged outside, shielding his eyes from the unexpected brightness of the sun, feeling inside his jacket for his sunglasses. As he slipped them on, he felt another pang of frustration. He began the walk home, playing the events over again in his mind. There must have been a question he answered wrong, some gesture, some thing that had made them deny him.
The cool breeze, the sun on his face did nothing to brighten his mood as he walked quickly homeward. He crossed the road and headed west, away from the Metropolis, toward the more modest neighborhood he lived in. Andrew fell in step with the rest of the citizens on the sidewalk. With his hands stuffed in his pockets, a look of disappointment on his face, he let his dissatisfaction build.
The process had failed him. Again.
No more, Andrew thought. He knew what he must do.
He would go to the bridge.