01.07.2018 / Nineveh Editions / Noir-SciFi / Kindle/ 114pp
We don’t know exactly when Literature® takes place and we don’t know exactly where. All we know is that Philip Marlowe would fit right in.
We don’t get Marlowe though. We get Billy Stringer. And Billy is on nobody’s trail.
He’s the prey.
The day hasn’t begun very well for Billy. He just messed up his first big assignment, he’s definitely going to be late for work, his girlfriend won’t get back to him and, for reasons she has something to do with, he’s dressed like a clown.
Also, he’s pretty sure someone is going to kill him today. But then, that’s an occupational hazard, when you’re a terrorist.
He’s a bookworm too, which wouldn’t be a problem–or particularly interesting–except that in Billy’s world, fiction is banned. Reading it is what makes him an outlaw.
Why? Because people need to get to work.
It’s fight or flight time for Billy and he’s made his choice. But he has to see Jane, even if it’s for the last time–to explain it all to her, before she finds out what he has become. That means staying alive for a little while.
And the odds are against him.
“OK, folks, stay between the lines.”
Murphy was on the move again, speaking over his shoulder. They filed along behind him, Billy instinctively taking up the rear. He’d been too busy checking his tab every few minutes to listen very carefully to Murphy’s presentation. He took it out and looked at it again. No notifications. It had been four days since he’d had anything from her – the longest ever. The last two messages he hadhad were requests for him to stop contacting her. He pocketed it again and followed the others on a diagonal, toward one of the openings where some technicians gathered around their gear.
What was he doing here anyway? He could get into all kinds of trouble here. It wasn’t even his job – this was Reynolds’ turf. Billy covered sports for the Herald, but Reynolds was down with some bug and they’d been stuck. There were precisely no good reasons why Billy would put his hand up for this of all jobs, and plenty why he shouldn’t. But put his hand up he had. Vince had flipped. Anyway, here he was.
A loud hiss pulled him out of his thoughts – the others were looking towards the opening, where a vehicle, almost as wide and tall as the gap itself, was backing in. There were no windows and no sign of a cabin for a driver. Actually, Billy couldn’t tell whether he was looking at the front or the back – it looked like a solid cube of metal to him as it slid along a slick, shiny surface without the aid of wheels.
“The Litera-Truck®,” said Murphy. “Surfacing. These’ll be going out every twenty-four hours to keep the roads clean, freshly coated and legible. They’ll be extra busy today, for tomorrow’s launch.”
“Legible?” said one of the other journos, a tall woman who Billy had heard introduce herself as a staff writer from the Standard. He hadn’t caught her name. He thought he’d recognized her from somewhere but from the way she’d looked right through him back in the visitor room, presumably not. “The interface isn’t in-car?”
“Oh no,” said Murphy. “That’s been key for us. Placing it on-road is a big part of what makes this thing work. The safety systems all rely on it – a shared surface for both vehicular motion and operator interface. I think you’ll be impressed at what integration has done for maximum safe velocities.” His hands were on his hips. “No, you definitely need to get that to understand the approach. The road is the page.”
Billy snorted. He’d finally gotten round to tapping some notes into his pad.
“The road is the page,” he echoed. “The page is the road.” He grinned and looked up from his screen. Nobody else was smiling. He swallowed.
“I just meant…you know…that’s some heavy symbolism, isn’t it?”
Murphy was looking at him in a way he didn’t like one bit.
“I haven’t seen you here on any of the open days, Mr Stringer. I assume you’re filling in. I hope you have the chops for it. We are very keen to get our message out there and above all, to strike the right tone. It would be disappointing to see a discourse on symbolism in coverage of what may be the transport sector’s greatest paradigm shift in millennia. The transport sector, Mr Stringer.”
“No, of course not,” said Billy, feeling his skin flush. “I would never…I just meant, between us, you know—”
But Murphy had already turned away and disappeared around the corner of the Litera-Truck®. He reappeared on the other side of the wet-looking track and crouched at the end that faced the opening, drawing the visitors’ attention to a roller that ran along the base of the cube. Its surface had that same sheen to it.
“The Litera-Tyre®,” said Murphy. “This coats the surface.”
“Coats the surface with what?” asked the woman from the Standard.
“It’s proprietary, Ms Gutefee,” he said, “so you’ll understand that I won’t be answering that question. I can tell you a little about the R&D.”
He’d come back around to the journalists’ side of the vehicle.
“It took us a while, beginning with technologies that were bona fide antiques. We tried various methods based on electro wetting, for example. Interferometrics. A number of imaging techniques. Nematic displays and so on. We even tried plasma.”
An operative handed him a tab which he checked, signed and gave back.
“None of them could provide the fluidity we needed in conjunction with basic grip,” he continued. “Traction. Eventually we abandoned all of the above. What we’ve ended up with is completely new. I can tell you that titanium is an element but, crucially, this is biotech. Living material. You can print that, but make sure you stress its non-toxicity. Get her out of here, Jerry, and roll the car in.”
As the cube slipped back out through the gap in the wall, Billy looked around. None of the others would make eye contact with him, except the tall lady from the Standard who did for just a moment, to glare. He was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, especially all done up like this. The collar of his prom blazer itched.
Another vehicle backed into the hangar. It was easy to tell that this one came in backwards because it had a tail. A long, armored tail in articulated sections that tapered to a point and swept low over the road surface from one side of the track to the other. He’d never seen anything like it. Again there were no windows and no wheels. Even an aging jock like him knew not to look for co-axials or blades. Cognition drives didn’t do airborne. Not yet anyway – they were too erratic. The best comparison he could think of was a flattened armadillo.
“The Car-A-Pace®,” said Murphy who was suddenly, and unnervingly, behind him. “
Thank you for coming by to check out another extract post here on ATIB. Guillermo Stitch is a pseudonym and the author wants to maintain anonymity so no bio here. I thank you for taking the time to read this extract and support Literature®. It certainly seems like a fascinating and high stakes sci-fi romp and I will definitely be checking out the full release very soon. If this sounds like your cup of tea then I am sure Guillermo would like to hear it in the comments. Thanks again, see you again soon!