Midnight found Marta skulking
behind the hedges surrounding the Uzbek Embassy just a few blocks from Dupont
Circle. Hunkering down, she
skinned herself out of her fashionable little black dress, revealing a somewhat
less fashionable little black unitard.
Flexing her wrist, she activated an impossibly thin, yet surprisingly
strong monofilament grappling line, squirting it up and over a third floor
“Same shit, different day”,
As much as she may have
resented it, Marta couldn’t really think of her current situation as
unusual. The agency she worked for
and the people who issued her orders rarely took her comfort and well being
into their thought process. Truth
be told, they seemed to delight in placing her in the most precarious
circumstances thinkable. Then
again, they compensated her quite well.
Quite well, indeed.
She began scaling the wall,
silent as silk and nearly invisible on this moonless night. She had almost reached the balcony when
the barrel of a Tec-10 machine pistol appeared over the railing, followed
quickly by a rather homely face, a face even a mother might refuse to
claim. Before she had a chance to
consider retreating, the window below her whispered open, revealing another
weapon wielded by the upstairs man’s photo double.
“Oh, c’mon”, she thought,
With a smile
that didn’t quite reach his eyes, the man above her asked, “Have you lost your way returning from the powder room, Ms. Ingraham?”
Marta released her grip,
allowing herself to dangle in her harness with her back to the masonry wall and
hollered, “Hey, Big Brains!”
There was no immediate answer
and the two surprised goons stared off into the distance.
Marta hollered again,
“Yo! Genius Boy, can we talk?”
“To whom are you bellowing,
Ms. Ingraham?” the upstairs goon inquired.
“Oh, just pipe down for a
sec. This doesn’t concern you,”
she replied. Then, she hollered
into space once more, “Hey, Writer-Boy.
Could you spare a moment for your heroine?”
Time stopped for a moment,
all action temporarily suspended.
Marta and the goons were perfectly still, their breaths held; the very breeze took a perceptible
Marta freed herself from the
moment, just long enough to say, “Yeah, you! The one tapping away on your keyboard.”
After a strained moment, The
Author typed, “You’re really not supposed to interact with me like that”.
“Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?”, Marta
“It’s just not done,” The
Author typed. “I write stuff and
you do it. That’s how this is
supposed to work.”
“Well, that’s pretty much
what I wanted to talk to you about”, Marta said. “Some of the stuff you’ve got me doing is just fucking
stupid and I’m getting tired of it.”
“We are not having this
discussion”, The Author pounded onto his keyboard. “You’re a fictional character. By definition, you DO the stuff I write for you and if I
DON’T write it, you DON’T do it.
Like complaining about what I’ve written. That’s very high up on the list of stuff you don’t do!”
“Really? How’s that theory working for you right
now, Mr. Edison?”
The world stood still again
for a few heartbeats.
The Author typed, “O.K.,
let’s just pretend this is really happening for a moment. What, specifically is your problem?”
“Well…This!”, she said gesturing
at her current predicament. “Why
am I hanging on this Goddamn wall with the Frankenstein Twins pointing guns at
“It’s an action sequence,” he typed. “If you just strolled into the Ambassador’s office and
picked up a copy of his evil plan, conveniently left for you in the middle of his otherwise bare desk, with a big red label saying “Ambassador’s Evil Plan”,
that wouldn’t be very exciting, now would it? Who’s gonna pay for that book, much less shell out for movie rights?”
“I’m not asking for easy, pal”, Marta snapped, “But feasible has a certain
appeal. Just how were you
intending to get me past the Potato-Head brothers up here?”
“I hadn’t actually worked
that one out yet” The Author entered.
“I thought I’d knock off for the day; have a nice dinner. Then, I was gonna sleep on it and pick
up here in the morning.”
“Oh sure!. I hang on a fucking wall with guns
pointed at me while you get your beauty rest. Do you have any idea how bad this harness is chafing right
now? And then, when you’re nice
and rested, you’ll probably go out to Starbucks, ‘cause, God Forbid, you should brew your own pot of coffee in the
morning! And don’t think you’re
fooling anyone when you smear ¾ of a stick of butter on your low-fat, organic,
multi-grain bran muffin. That
shit’s still putting 12,000 calories on that lardass of yours. Have you ever walked further than your refrigerator or you
“Hey, I don’t always…”, The
Author started writing, but Marta was on a roll.
“Then, you’ll just pop into
the dry cleaner to pick up that hideous brown jacket you think is so cool. Guess what? It’s not!” Marta plowed on. “And if that’s not bad enough, you’ll rationalize that you
should check out a matinee ‘cause it’s cheaper and you’ll find some excuse to
convince yourself it’s ‘research’ and then you’ll call that useless friend of
yours, Roland, and you guys will start swilling beers at 3 in the afternoon and
once you get started, you won’t stop and then 2 bars later it’s going to be
11:00pm and you’re going to be a quarter-past-half-in-the-bag and that girl
with the green eyes and the jet-black pixie cut is not going home with you even if you do somehow manage to
string six words together without slurring them!”
Marta allowed that to sink in
for a moment and then continued more quietly, “Then, you’re going to remember
some completely idealized version of her and I’m going to get a totally new ass…the fourth one you’ve
written for me, if memory serves.”
“And that’s not even the
worst of it”, Marta went on, revving up the heat again, “By the time you get around to opening
this file again, I’m going to have been fucking hanging on this fucking wall
for at least three fucking days!”
Goon number one had been
observing Marta throughout her tirade, still having no idea who she was talking to. “No need for you to hang
out indefinitely. I’d be delighted
to shoot you right now if it's convenient”, he said.
“Oh, do shut up!”, Marta
replied. Turning back off the
page, she said, “Could you at least write these guys out until we finish talking? I could
do without the distraction.”
The Author deleted a couple
of paragraphs and the two henchmen vanished. Marta was back on the ground with the grappling line coiled
in her wrist rocket. “OK, let’s
hear it”, he typed in the newly blank space.
Marta hesitated, knowing
she’d only get one shot at this.
When she’d marshaled her thoughts, she said, “Three pages ago, I was
dancing with that really cute Spaniard. I could tell he wanted to sneak me off
to some quiet spot. And,
Jeez! There was a perfectly good
grand staircase twenty feet away.
How’s that for cover to get me upstairs?”
“And you don’t think there
would have been any guards up there?”
“Of course there’d have been
guards. But you wanted action? I could have given great action…only
without needing to climb up this really dirty wall. I could swish my butt seductively; you know…for distraction. A few karate kicks. Maybe garrote a guy or two? Pick the lock on the Ambassador’s
office door. Do some hi-techy
magic to defeat his security system?
We’re talking action and suspense out the yin-yang. And by the way, if you take a couple of
seconds to check out the Uzbek Embassy on Google Streetview, you’ll notice that
there aren’t any hedges to skulk
“Let me get this straight”,
The Author wrote. “You don’t mind fights. You don’t mind killing. You don’t mind using sex. You just don’t like getting your
clothes mussed and you’re not fond of heights. Is that it”?
“I’m not sure I would have
phrased any of it that way, but sure, it’s a start.”
The Author had his software
do a few global word searches – delete this, add this, replace those – and
began typing furiously.
Midnight found Marta beneath
the keel of the Paraguayan druglord’s yacht. Her depleted air supply forced her to the surface before
she’d had a chance to carefully reconnoiter for any activity above.
Unfortunately, she’d surfaced just as one of the rather homely guards was having
a smoke break and enjoying the full moon.
Seeing her in the bright moonlight, the guard called over his equally
ugly cohort and issued a challenge, “Hola, Ms. Ingraham. Estás buscando un buen
Spitting out her regulator,
Marta said, “This is a little disappointing. What’s a druglord from a landlocked country doing with a
Midnight found Marta clinging
to a mountainside high up in the Nepalese Himalayas. At 26,000 ft., it wasn’t exactly Everest, but it wasn’t that
far off. The current temperature was 30º below zero, it was snowing heavily and
the wind gusts were off the charts.
While the batteries powering her climate controlled skin-suit had at
least another 10 hours of juice, her oxygen supply was down to minutes. At least she’d die relatively warm.
And the frustrating thing was
that a mere 6 microns of transparent PlasSteel separated her from the inside of
Dr. Del Toro’s secret experimental habitat. A habitat filled with light and breathable 68º air. Damn.
Marta activated her suit
communicator and spoke to The Author.
“Who am I supposed to be after this time?”, she asked. “At least there don’t seem to be any
ugly guys with machine guns right now.”
The Author typed, “You’re
here to rescue a previously unclassified life-form. Del Toro is conducting absolutely horrific experiments on it and your bosses are having a spasm
of altruism. Or some kinda shit
like that; I’ll figure it out later.
And who needs armed goons when I’ve got such a welcoming climate to
threaten you with?”
“Try to kill me with a
planet, will you? Two can play at
that game.” Marta closed her eyes
and imagined an access port three meters to her left. When she opened her eyes, the port was right where she’d
dreamed it up…with its indicator/navigation lights winking reassuringly.
Midnight, ship time, found
Marta haring off into space.
During an exterior ship inspection her suit thrusters had malfunctioned,
shooting her away from safety in the opposite direction of the ship’s travel, zipping off toward Tau Ceti.
“Bounder, Bounder, Bounder”, she hollered over her comms – which malfunctioned,
“OK, very funny”, Marta
said. “I’ll go back to the wall on
the Embassy if that’s what you really want.”
“I’ll have to get back to
you”, The Author typed. “My
phone’s ringing and I think it’s my boss.
Sit tight, OK?”
“Easy for you to say”, Marta thought. She watched her view of The Author’s office blink out as he
closed his laptop. No great loss;
the view had been receding at 87% of the speed of light anyway. “I think I really stepped into the deep
stuff this time”, she thought.
While Marta continued
hurtling off into space – space so distant and barren that it hardly made a
difference that it was fictional – The Author answered the phone on his desk.
“You do recall that I’ve got remote access to every computer
on the company network, right?”, his boss spat without preamble.
“Oh, yes”, The Author
replied. “I’m working on the cost
projections right now.”
“And I’m sure you can explain
why your computer hasn’t registered a single keystroke for the last 2
hours. If I dropped in on you
right now, would I find that laptop of yours out on your desk again?”
“No Ma'am”, he replied as he
hurriedly stowed the offending laptop in his bottom drawer, artfully hidden
under a stack of obsolete file folders. “I’ve just been trying to work my way
through a little problem. I
suppose I just got a little stuck”.
“Well get yourself un-stuck if you want to keep that cushy office of
yours. If you look out into the
bullpen, you’ll see a whole slew of cubicle-monkeys who’d just kill to trade places with you.”
“Yes, Ms. Ingraham”, he
responded and resigned himself to working late on his own time. So much for ducking out early for a
good dinner. And if Roland hooked
up with that green-eyed girl they kept seeing at O’Malley’s, there was going to
be a serious problem. The Author
had called dibs!