Sunday, January 31, 2010

the seventeenth letter, part 31

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"get off on fourteen." said leslie. "i'll tell you where to go from there. it's not far."
"i hope not."
"hey, it's not far."
"fine, fine, no problem, we're making good time."
"you agreed - "
"it's cool, there's nothing to argue about."
leslie shrugged and looked out the window. it was quiet , inside the van and outside.

country girl got off the main highway on fourteen, the next exit. they were immediately in a neighborhood with narrow and dimly lit streets. the buildings didn't look too shabby.

'two blocks," leslie said. "then pull over." she reached under her seat and pulled out jennifer broughton's coat and dress, wrapped in a single bundle.
country girl brought the van to a smooth stop. leslie jumped out with her bundle and ran half a block, then into an alley.

country girl opened the little partition behind her again. "just a brief stop, citizens. nothing to be concerned about. we are almost at our destination."

"thank you so much, " came a voice. "we all really really appreciate your concern."
a few trickles of uncertain laughter answered.
it sounds like the blond girl whose sib i tossed in the water, country girl thought. "you're welcome," she answered, and smiled to herself.

leslie went halfway down the alley to another narrower alley on her right. she was behind a row of buildings. there were lights on in all the buildings, but none were close to completely lit. she stopped at a dark flight of stairs and started cautiously up it, holding her bundle in front of her as a shield.

"who are you?" came a deep voice from above her. now leslie could make out two forms seated side by side on a step above her, one hulking, the other ragamuffin sized.

"i came to see knuckleball," leslie answered. "i've got something for him."
"i asked who you were."
"leslie. officer leslie. knuck knows me, i've dealt with him before."
"so you say."
"leslie," came a girl's voice from higher up the stairs. a pigtailed girl in an old fashioned dress stood up and skipped down a couple of steps.

"charlene, what's up?"
"we haven't seen you around much lately, leslie."
'they've had me partnered up with robots. but i got something good here. listen, i've got to run. tell knuck i'll be back later to talk price, ok? a couple of hours at the most."

"all right. give what you got to carnegie there. the big guy."
leslie moved up a couple of steps and saw that the hulking form was a golem or homemade robot. she tossed him the bundle.
"i made carnegie myself," said charlene. "what do you think of him?"
"he looks great, charlene. he looks like a keeper. i've got to go."
"see you.'

leslie ran down the stairs and out of the alley without looking back.

country girl drove in to the lot of the 1473rd. there was an empty space beside the front door and she backed into it. when she got down from the cab she could see lorna standing at the front desk. she saw lorna turn and signal to the benches behind her for someone to come out and help bring the prisoners in.

leslie came slowly back down the other side of the van. country girl opened the doors and leslie jumped up into the back.

"all right, folks, we are all getting out here.

there is absolutely no reason to rush. come out one at a time, the side on my left - this side - first. jump down if you can, if you need help, the officer here will help you." corporal amethyst and officer grogan had come outside and left the doors open behind them.

inside the van, tomboy was whispering to james, but loudly enough for some of the others to hear.

"what have we got to lose? i'm not saying we can help ourselves, but maybe we can get back at her."
most of the others stared straight ahead, but pippi nodded approval.
"all right," james said, "but wait until we are sure we see somebody over her."
tomboy's turn came, and then james right behind her.

they both jumped down without assistance from leslie. grogan pointed them toward the door. they entered the station. lorna glanced at them from behind the desk as they entered.

the prisoners were being seated on benches inside the door on the left. country girl and amethyst were taking the cuffs off them before they sat down.
tomboy glared at country girl as she stepped up to the next empty spot on the bench. country girl moved behind her to take her cuffs off.

"here you are," said country girl. she lowered her voice. "i just wanted to tell you, i didn't really throw your sib in the water. well. actually i did, but it's only about a foot deep there, so i saw him get up and walk away. he's probably home right now, drying himself off."

"probably? how about probably i don't believe you." the cuffs came off her wrists and tomboy began rubbing them and sat down.

"what's your name?"
"i like you, tom. you've got spirit. you know, if i wasn't already head over heels in love, you might be the girl for me."
"oh puke! that's great! you think you can just go around killing people and then dump out garbage like that?"
"garbage is right!" exclaimed the woman on the bench beside tomboy.

"it's bad enough we get arrested for absolutely nothing but we have to listen to filthy garbage like this from the police that arrest us!" she shouted.
lorna was talking on the intercom behind the front desk and she looked up. "keep the noise down citizens, please! we don't want to have to keep you all cuffed!"

amethyst was bringing james in. "yes," she added to the people on the bench, "be calm, please! try to look on this a positive experience."
"runner!!" they heard leslie's voice from outside. amethyst left james with country girl and ran outside.

the young man who had been sitting between hurk and bettina was running across the parking lot into the darkness with grogan close behind him.

when amethyst arrived leslie took off after him too.

they quickly brought him down and brought him back between them, and into the station .

he didn't resist, and lorna didn't even look up, as they took him past the seated prisoners down to the far end of the bench.
"so what happens to him?" james asked country girl.
"nothing, except that he doesn't get his cuffs off. people, listen up . i'll give you the drill a little early.

you are in a police zone. there is nowhere for you to run to. if there was, would we be uncuffing you? think about it.

as the corporal said, try to make this as positive an experience as possible" - tom, james and susan, sitting just inside the door laughed and the woman beside tom glared.

"thank you," country girl concluded.

leslie went back outside. she whispered something to susan as she passed her. bettina was standing in the van waiting and leslie helped her down.

pippi was the last prisoner to be unloaded. grogan closed the doors of the van.

leslie brought pippi in and lorna looked up when she did.
"keep her cuffed," she told leslie. "it's the little ones that get away. studies prove it. "
"roger that, sarge, she's a troublemaker."
"then cuff her feet too, " lorna told leslie.

leslie took pippi to the far corner, beside the young man who had run away.

"thanks a lot," pippi told leslie.
"hey, if you don't want the cuffs, don't do the stuff."
"maybe you could just cuff her feet," country girl told leslie. she smiled at pippi.

"i don't need any help from you!" pippi shouted.
lorna looked up. "keep her quiet."
"come on, pippi," said country girl. "don't make us gag you too."
"i don't need any help from you," pippi repeated in a lower voice.
"what's the matter, you upset about the guy i threw in the water? i was just playing a little trick, to get you all to shut up." country girl went through her story again.

"i don't believe you. and maybe i' m just mad at being arrested, did that cross your mind?"
"suit yourself."

"what are you all mumbling about down there?" lorna asked. "cuff her hands, cuff her feet, and if she opens her mouth again, gag her. what's the problem?"
"yes sergeant." leslie answered. "come on," she told country girl. "let's get changed and get out of here."
she headed back down the row of prisoners. she whispered to susan as she passed, "sorry it didn't work out."

suddenly tomboy spoke up. "who is in charge here?" she asked loudly.
lorna looked up but didn't say anything.

"sergeant lorna is in charge," amethyst answered in a mild voice and pointed to her.
"i have a complaint to make," tomboy addressed lorna.
"citizen, we have no interest in your complaints," lorna replied. "you are a prisoner, please behave like one."
"it's about her," tom pointed to country girl.


the seventeenth letter, part 32

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the seventeenth letter, part 30

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"i think it's so exciting working here in the tower," snuffy told olivia.
at the moment they were the only two humans in the cafeteria. the lights had been turned down and a single robot was on duty behind the counter.

two other robots, including clancy, the duty sergeant, could be seen just outside the cafeteria door, looking out the front door into the night.

"but in some ways, it's so different from what i expected."
"how is that?" asked olivia politely. she took a sip of her coffee.

"well there is just so much detail work. i mean, i know the universe is big and we have a big responsibility, but i would have thought we could delegate more than we do - me and margot, i mean."
olivia thought for a moment. "you should delegate as little as possible. that's the secret. or a secret. "
"yes, that's what margot says."

"i don't suppose you sleep much," olivia said. "you wouldn't be here if you did."
"no." snuffy sipped her coffee.

"i guess that's one reason margot picked me for the job. diana de la rouchefacauld thought she could get the job but she sleeps like a hippopotamus. i think she could fall asleep in the middle of a badminton match."
"so much for her," olivia agreed.
snuffy lowered her voice. "i think the real reason i got the job is that i am totally dependent on margot - she knows i have no other contacts."
"well of course that's why - why do think i have my job or any of the assistants do?"
"yes - that is kind of what i thought. "
"but you wanted to hear someone say it."
"yes, i suppose i did." snuffy hesitated and took another sip of coffee. "you know, of all the things i can't talk about back in the neighborhood this might be number one. if people knew how easy we can get coffee!"

"well, we are supposed to be careful with it," olivia said.

"oh of course - " snuffy was a little flustered.
"but who is? not me."
snuffy smiled gratefully at olivia's response.
olivia continued. "we deserve some consideration for running the universe, don't you think?"
"absolutely." snuffy laughed out loud. the robot behind the counter looked up for a second. snuffy lowered her voice again.
"diana de la rouchefacauld and lorelei de lafayette were both pretty upset when i got the job. and before that we did a lot together - we were such - um - we were -"

"you are in the tower now," olivia laughed. "you can say the word friend."

snuffy flushed a little. "you must think what everybody thinks - that i'm just a silly schoolgirl."
"no," said olivia, looking right at snuffy, " that's not what i think at all. you see, here in the tower you are what you are. maybe yesterday you were a silly schoolgirl. maybe tomorrow you will have to go back to being a schoolgirl.

but right now, as we sit here on in the cafeteria of the tower drinking coffee, you are the assistant director of religious containment for the universe , and that - , " olivia shook her head - "especially the way things are going, is a pretty good thing to be."
"yes, of course. i didn't mean to sound like i was complaining."

"what's this?" olivia looked over at the door. "what's going on out there?"

"pull over," country girl told leslie after they passed the racetrack. "i'll take over from here."
"all right." leslie didn't argue and immediately glided to a stop. "remember, we have to stop at my sib's to drop off the stuff i picked up."

"how could i forget? not a problem."

country girl started to get out of the cab, then opened the little partition to the back of the van. "nothing to worry about, folks, we're just changing drivers." no one answered.

"they are awfully quiet." said leslie.
"we're fine,' came a voice. "no problems or concerns."

"good," country girl answered. she looked at leslie and shrugged, then got out of the van.

annabelle was on her way back to the conference room with her drink when she felt charlotte walking behind her.
"yes?" annabelle forced herself to turn around.
"i'm sorry i was a little abrupt with you. on second thought it might not be a bad idea if you interviewed miss laura.

got it and her out of the way."
"of course." annabelle kept her voice steady.
jeanne heard their voices and came out into the corridor.
"can i make a suggestion?" charlotte smiled at annabelle.

"please do," jeanne answered for her. she glanced back at laura, sitting just inside the door of the waiting room.
"why not just let her go?" asked charlotte. "nobody cares about this stuff any more. she told me she was looking for a job. why not just find her one and forget about her? ha, ha, ha!" she looked at annabelle. "do you know of any jobs she could get?
"the doughnut shop across the street had a sign up last week." said annabelle.

"but i think i saw a new person behind the counter yesterday." she thought for a few seconds. "there is a drinks and sandwich shop near my apartment that is always getting new people - maybe i could ask there."

"the doughnut shop across the street - that would be perfect," said charlotte. "ha,ha,ha!"
"if i can," annabelle answered. "i'll ask."
"get right on it."

"this is all very well, charlotte," said jeanne, "but i think we'll ask her a few questions just for the record. i take it you changed your mind about interviewing her yourself?"
"yes, something else has come up. just let me know what you finally do." she turned and went back to her own office again.

jeanne looked at annabelle. "we will interview her together. get a pad of paper and a recorder."
"and get her a job? was she serious?'

"let's do the interview first let's get it over with."

sergeant clancy held the door to the cafeteria open and jerry entered with an inert human form slung over his shoulder. barras and bates were right behind him. they looked a little embarrassed.

olivia and snuffy and the robot behind the counter watched as they all crossed the cafeteria toward the far corner.

"excuse me for a minute," olivia said to snuffy. "i'll be right back." she got up and followed bates and barras behind jerry.
"is that who i think it is?" she asked bates when jerry let his burden down in a chair behind a corner table.

"if you thought it was captain dave deadman, yes it is."
barras explained his views on hospitality.

olivia listened expressionlessly. "well, if he was your guest..." she looked captain dave over. "hard to believe he's still around. i would have said he was a good candidate for the first shipment ever to jupiter."

"well, you see him before you," bates answered. "maybe someone is protecting him."

"that seems awfully unlikely." warming to her theme, olivia continued. "if he's never been picked up, maybe the whole system needs to be reconsidered."

"all right, you've made your point."
"just joshing, old bean. no need to be so sensitive."
"if you'll excuse us now," said bates, "we have to get upstairs."
"been out for a while?"
"we delegate authority. we just came in to check on things."
"no comment." olivia stood aside to let bates pass.

"when he wakes up," barras told clancy. "just have him sent on his way. do not answer any questions he might have, not even where he is or who he is."
"right sir. should i get him a coffee - when he wakes up?'

"why not? we may as well drain the cup of hospitality to the last drop."
"very good sir."
barras nodded to olivia and he and jerry followed bates out of the cafeteria to the elevators. clancy made sure captain dave was secure in his seat, and returned to the front door.

olivia returned to her seat.
"what was that all about?" snuffy asked.

"nothing much. just a ghost - a very minor ghost - from the distant past."

"maybe we should be getting back upstairs too."

"those two looked like they've been out all night. we can sit here a little longer."
snuffy took another sip of coffee. "have you known mr bates long?"
"i knew him a long time ago. i knew him when he had two arms. now we see each other again, in here. it's a small universe."

"you probably think i'm terribly nosy. but i'm just naturally an inquisitive person."
"that's good. it's what we're here for. we aren't here to mind our own business. we're here to mind everybody else's business."

the seventeenth letter, part 31