Sunday, September 30, 2012

[Fiction] The Reservation, Part Two

If you're behind, the first part of The Reservation is here

Carson examined the sleek back barrel of his Falstaff Arms M-31 Manstopper. He peered through the rangefinder and flicked through its settings idly. It chirruped happily as the sabots cycled in the barrel. After a moment he sighed and slipped the weapon back into the holster beneath his shoulder. It nestled snugly under his arm and reminded him, more so even than the badge in his coat pocket, of the power given to him by the City.

Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose and splattered against the replica oak desk. It was always hot outside the City – these yokels either didn't have proper air conditioning or didn't see the need for it. Even here, with a whole solar array on the roof and fans spinning overhead, they couldn't keep the damn thing in repair. Supposedly there were weather satellites up above controlling the whole affair. Why, then, couldn't they just make it temperate out all the time?

His reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone coming into the office. The door hissed open and the buzzer on his desk chuckled appreciatively, as though he couldn't see across the room. The sheriff's building was a simple prefab hut of exoplastic and chemsteel girders and little more than ten yards across so he didn't see the need for an alert system: there was no way he could miss a complainant.

Not that there were usually many of them. The locals really didn't like to be seen coming or going in the office, and that was fine by Carson. The less he saw of them the better, really. He hadn't yet been on the Syndic payroll back during the resistance, but he knew people who had.

Standing there in his doorway was the mechanic in the greasy overalls. John something-or-other. Carson stubbed out his cigar (those goddamn ecoleaves where disgusting anyway -- so much for the triumph of hydroponics) and leaned back in his chair. The damn thing groaned under him like it was ready to fall apart. "John," he said magnanimously. "What brings you in?" He feigned nonchalance, as though he had been in the middle of something important. The reality was he had little to do in the day-to-day and couldn't wait for the week-long leave he got once a month.

John shuffled uncomfortably in the center of the room. He was leaving grease stains on the floor. "It's about Mister Gutman," he said. "I need to lodge a complaint."

Carson rolled his eyes. These hicks all hated the Gutmans, probably because they were jealous of his connections. The Gutmans had some sense (though not much, since they lived here) and had started working with the Syndic. John must've noticed the expression on the sheriffs face because he held up his hands and said, "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't important, sheriff. Sam Stalton sent me."

He sat up at that. Sam Stalton might be one of these recidivists, but he had a head on his shoulders. A frown creased Carson's face. "Tell me," he said.


Sheriff Carson didn't have the kind of manpower for this. Once John had finished his story and the sheriff had grilled him six different ways he made an executive decision. "I'm going out there." John started to complain, but Carson cut him off. The sound of the Manstopper cycling its rounds was enough to enforce his point.

John made his way back to the diner, lingering along the roadside and watching as the sheriff's aircar grew smaller and smaller before it finally turned off towards the farm. Several trucks thundered by as he walked. He recognized each of the drivers: local folk. There was Sylvia in her giant red airtruck, which kicked up dust and grit as its compressors clinked and tinkled with sounds of heat. He could have a look at it, if she stopped in town any time soon. Next came Gus and Tom in rapid succession, both in their electric flatbeds. They were heading back to their farms.

Last of all was the white hydrogen coupe that John knew belonged to the Gutmans. It was coming in from the City so he went as fast as he could over to the diner after that. Sam was gone when he got inside and he called Edith for a cup of coffee and one of the soggy donuts that sat in vegetable oil for three days before they were served to anyone.

It didn't matter. Greg Gutman thrust himself into the diner moments later, his thick waist buckled with a wide belt displaying a prominent pressing of his own name. It had clearly been made for him in the City. Having worked with cars, tractors, engines, compressors, air filters, condensors, and cooling coils all his life he had a good eye for synthetic material. The snakeskin belt the buckle sat on was synthetic too, of course, but everyone knew that. It was good synth, but synth all the same.

It spoke to the place Greg Gutman had found himself in the world. He'd been a big-time cattle rancher, once upon a time when his hair was oily black instead of gray. He and Sam Stalton had seen some of the resistance together and it had been the Gutman money that had finally helped win the day. The people up in the bureaus and departments (John had a very hazy understanding of how things worked out towards the City) generally kow-towed to Greg Gutman. He had his share of toadies.

That was how he'd won the wind farm contract, though the Stalton place had more land and the wind was more regular and of greater strength out at Sylvia's. She didn't mind, though. She liked driving her route, though someday soon the trains would make it irrelevant. Cost a hell of a lot of electrodollars to power an air compressor engine and the Syndic had already built the tracks. Everything was always changing, even something so simple and basic as shipping.

Mister Gutman came right over to him. "John," he said. He spoke expansively, broadly, with his belly thrust out as though it were a third member of the conversation. His little goatee made his fat face seem even fatter, comically oversized chins a vast wasteland of unclothed flesh. "You didn't get around to fixing the GM yet, I hear from the Missus."

"Not yet, sir," John said, trying to maintain eye contact. Looking into Greg Gutman's eyes was like staring into a twin pair of watery quagmires. They were like quicksand. He looked away. "I haven't gotten a chance yet."

"That's alright, John my boy," said Gutman amicably. He clapped John on the back with a too-broad and too-firm palm. John aspirated some coffee but managed to reign in his coughing fit before it could put Mister Gutman off too much. "I was hoping to show it off to the Adjutant when he comes down this week. Shame to see Sheriff Carson go, but he needs his holidays I understand."

Oh no, thought John. Carson was going to be gone for a whole week come Wednesday. If the stories' out by then, what will I do? Mister Gutman was a powerful man. There's no telling what powerful men like him would do to hold on. The Adjutant wasn't a friend of John Harpers, either, no more than he was a friend of anyone in this town. He came around infrequently to cover Carson once every now and again and, though he was the official representative of the district to the Syndic, he seemed to care less for its people as Carson did and that was saying something.

Gutman held on tight to John's shoulder instead of lifting his hand. His grip was beginning to make John nervous. "Why don't I give you a lift up there?"

"Oh, no thanks," John stammered, dropping his doughnut. Crumbs of aspersucre fell from his fingers in a little shower.

"Now, now, it's self interest, really," Gutman charmed. "I just want you to have a look at the GM before you get too busy later in the day." Those big fat fingers massaged his shoulder, rolling across the muscle painfully.

There was no way John could say no without raising suspicion. Well, he figured, at least the sheriff would be there with him.

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