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 balcony railing.
“Same shit, different day”, she thought.
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, “Typecast much?”
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 pause.
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 asked.
“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 me?”
“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 driveway?”
“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 behind.”
“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 tiempo?”
Spitting out her regulator, Marta said, “This is a little disappointing. What’s a druglord from a landlocked country doing with a Yacht? Hmmm?”
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, of course.
“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!
Been reading Redshirts?
You Bastard. :)
Actually, I've been thinking about something along these lines for a few months and I finally got around to writing it. If I write a tragic love story, please don't accuse me of reading Shakespeare. :)
I should have mentioned that I enjoyed your short story more than Redshirts. I don't think I've read anything written by you before, so this was a pleasant surprise.
I should also mention that I like your blog a lot more than John Scalzi's as well. Yours I look at daily, his about once a quarter.
Well see, here you're in a really exclusive neighborhood since I get about 1/200th of the traffic he gets.
I'm approaching 100,000 visits (all time since starting the blog in 2008) and he gets that in about 6 days of average traffic.
Nathan, I like. You've had me chuckling for the last couple of minutes. Not a good substitute for actually, you know, meeting you in CT, but you take what you can get.
That was pretty damned entertaining! The title pulled me in. I had no idea where you were going at first, I was engrossed the entire time. Action, suspense, humour, romance... all in such a short span. Great stuff.
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