GEORGE BOUTON - HARD RAINS
I have always asked myself "What if?". Through my writing, I get the opportunity to share that question with everyone.
I have always been a fan of Science Fiction and stories of the human condition. My favorite authors (currently) are Robert Heinlien,Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and Cormac Mc Carthy.
Currently reading: The Martian (Andy Weir) and Seveneves ( Neal Stephenson)
I live on a quiet street in Naugatuck, CT with my wife Jamie, and our freakishly large cats.
The electric door chime sounded and the man behind the counter studied Leonard as he approached. Traveling further into obscurity of his own expectations of the experience, Leonard passed by bins of grimy tools and shelves lined with various electronics.The place smelled like years of cigarettes smoked down and extinguished,guitars hung in a rack surrounding a garish neon bar sign on the wall.Jewelry sat in the case behind which the stone faced clerk stood.
"Whatcha got?" The clerk said.
"Hi, I...I don't have anything, I need something."Leonard said.
He glanced down into the jewelry case then back up at the clerk.He took a paper from his pocket and unfolded it,handing it to the clerk.
The clerk read the paper, his lips moving before he let out a long low whistle and raised his eyebrows.
"That's not easy to get." The clerk said,and scratched his nose with a nicotine stained finger.
Leonard stood and watched the clerk lie to him. Although this wasn't his area of expertise, he could still read dishonesty in a person's face when he saw it.The clerk must have repeated this same line dozens of times.He waited for the clerk's performance to play through.
"I could probably get this." The clerk said,"It'll cost a thousand".
Leonard shrunk a little inside, then fished in his pocket and withdrew a wad of bills." I have four hundred here". He extended the currency toward the clerk.
The man stood for a few heartbeats, then took the cash from Leonard's hand. "Okay, I can't get a hold of this until tomorrow, come back tomorrow afternoon." Looking down, the clerk opened a drawer and placed the money and Leonard's note in it.
"You sure you know what you're doing with this?" The clerk asked as he looked up, but the door chime was sounding, Leonard was gone.
The next day began as every other had.Leonard still had slept poorly, still listened for the rain.Again there were windows to be washed, floors to be waxed,trash to be gathered. Leonard hurried through his tasks and left work early, taking a transport downtown.
The clerk was true to his word,handing Leonard a small paper box. Leonard looked inside the box,was satisfied with what he saw and left the store and the clerk behind.The sun had begun to set, and the street that Leonard took back to the transport stop had a more sinister look, revealing the malice hidden in broad daylight.Stores had closed for the night save for a bodega or two, and the quiet of the street was interrupted by the occasional car. Leonard arrived back at the Transport stop, a police siren wailed in the distance.
"Hey man..." Leonard heard, "Hey man, you got five dollars?"
Leonard turned his head and saw a man a few yards away, approaching him. The man was half cloaked in the shadows as he stopped a foot or two from him. Leonard held out his arms in a shrug " sorry man, I'm out of cash."
"What about a dollar?" The stranger said. "You gotta have a dollar. Everybody has a dollar, man." The stranger kept looking back and forth, his feet edging closer to Leonard.
Leonard shrugged again and began to repeat himself when he felt an impact from behind, and a bloom of pain radiate from the back of his head. His consciousness swam as he dropped to his hands and knees on the sidewalk.He had not noticed the stranger's friend approach and attack him from behind. Panic and adrenaline began to rise in him, but the two men beat it down with kicks and punches. Leonard fell to his side and the men began searching him.One man pulled the box from his coat pocket, and threw it aside. The other flipped through his wallet and threw it at Leonard's face.
"Shoulda had a dollar." One man said to Leonard,"Next time carry some money, faggot."
The other man kicked him once for emphasis and the pair quickly walked away, melting into the gloom.
Leonard paced the living room floor.Every time he took a breath his ribs screamed. He took long sips from his whiskey,making a conscious effort not no hurl the glass against the wall.
The pacing wore down his anger, and his pain admonished him.The whiskey blended them together into a sickly ghost that clung to him.The thugs had only taken some of his dignity and he was grateful that the box hadn't piqued their interest.He collapsed to the sofa and turned on his viewer, eager to be distracted from it all. At the viewer's prompt Leonard spoke two words through a thick whiskey tongue. "Houseboat Pirates" he said, and set the challenge to himself: watch all episodes, or succumb to liquor, pain and exhaustion.
The next morning Leonard stepped off of the transport, and willed himself down the path that led into AM1013.The transformers humming like giant wasps,amplifying his hangover.He held his breath as he approached the security checkpoint,trying not to look like a victim of violence and drinking. He stepped on the platform and looked through the guard to the building beyond. The guard tapped three buttons on his console and an icon on the screen flashed red. The guard's eyes flicked up from his console to Leonard and he waved him forward to the area beside the checkpoint. He picked up a metal detector wand from within the control booth and Leonard jumped to life,fishing in his pockets and producing his Mp3 player. The guard turned a skeptical eye to Leonard.
"Forgot I had it with me." Leonard said, holding out the player.
The guard took it from him and turned it over in his hand.By now Leonard's co-workers were huffing and shuffling in the line behind him.The adrenaline which began to ramp up in Leonard's body had all but torn his hangover away.The guard's hesitation was a laser, melting away any pretense Leonard had built.In another moment Leonard would reveal what he was smuggling into the facility and be walked off to main security. This would be the final defeat, the double tap to be certain his life would fade into obscurity beneath a perfectly cloudless sky.
The guard smirked and handed the player back to Leonard. Stuffing it into his pocket, he made his way up the remainder of the path and through the entrance.
At lunch Leonard sat with Matt, and shared a long discourse around mouthfuls of food about "Houseboat Pirates".Leonard wasn't particularly hungry and he felt weak from the past twenty-four hours, but he recalled moments from the episodes bit by ridiculous bit.Characters and plot twists,theories and surprises, keeping pace with Matt's enthusiasm.Remembering the experience of watching the show in a painful drunken stupor last night made him feel fuzzy and lethargic, but for a little while it afforded him the ability to know the feeling of something authentic in such a flat existence as his.More so,for some reason Leonard felt it was necessary for Matt to know he was a genuine person, even if twelve hours before he didn't care if he ever had seen an episode of the show.Matt had always asked him if he had watched the show, and he faithfully found an excuse for him to hear, except for today. Leonard guessed that it was that finger poking his thoughts again, reminding him that people used to talk like this every day.
Leonard drew a squeegee across a pane of glass separating one area from another among the long counters of the control room. A drill was being conducted throughout the facility that day.The drill was a redundancy test, in the event that one facility was not able to communicate information to its transmitter field, another facility could pick up the last data transmissions from that facility and compensate.
A group of U.N. Inspectors looked approvingly upon the brisk work of the control room team, Leonard watched on as well. At the director's instruction, transmission was cut from the consoles and communications and the room was dropped into silence.An LED timer on the wall ticked off the seconds, and gradually certain console lights began to return to life.On one of the giant map monitor displays, an icon with the label AM1019 began to blink. The director's cell phone rang. He answered it, listened for a moment, and hung up. Looking to the U.N. Inspectors and then to the control room group, he announced confirmation of compensation by the Canadian facility, AM1019. A round of applause reverberated in the room,and consoles were booted back up amongst much hand shaking and pats on the back.Leonard watched the inspection group file out of the control room with a few others. He pressed the squeegee against the glass so hard that the pane began to creak and pop from the stress.
After the last of the U.N. Inspectors had left the building, after the administrators and station personnel boarded their transports, after the last report had been filed and the last program entered, Leonard walked the halls in the fading light of the day.
He took his time to make certain things were perfect. The way curtains hung in the conference room, the gleam of the clean floors, the meticulous arrangement of plaques in the reception area. He took his time tonight. It didn't really matter when he arrived home,most nights the only thing he was looking forward to was drinking himself into another blackness.He wanted to have everything pin straight tonight.
He turned a corner and walked down a long hall with his cart, entering a door marked Control Center.This was the time he relaxed and sat among the silent blinking lights and giant displays, and watched the various stations slip into standby mode as the rays of the sun diminished.
Just a few minutes to go and AM1013 would close its eyes for the evening. He sat at a console marked transmissions and put his feet up,staring at the screen. Even the sun had lost its meaning. Now it just stood as a giant alarm clock, turning on machines that had taken over its former purpose and squeezed it into neat little hourly frames. Leonard took his feet from the console and wiped away a small smudge of dirt they had left there. Reaching under the console, he reached for a connector port toward the very back of the station. His fingers found a small flat metal piece, and he pulled it free.His purchase from the pawn shop had been busy at work there, dutifully recording the passkey,and protocols of the redundancy test performed today. Leonard turned the tiny device over in his fingers and smiled. Glancing up at the large map screen, he plugged the hackbox into the main transmission console as the light for AM1013 began to fade from the screen.
Opening the screen for transmissions and typing the password, Leonard clicked his way through the GUI until he found the hubs for the program's facilities in the network.He hesitated. Leonard reached in his memories and grasped something colorful and bright. He was fifteen,he and his grandfather were raking leaves in the front yard. The air hurled itself around them, stripping leaves from the trees and made their task useless. They didn't really care, they laughed and flung leaves into the air with their rakes, stirring a dry peppery smell mixed with earth around them. The wind died down and they turned their faces to the sky to watch a flock of geese move south for the winter, passing in front of a faintly emerging moon. Lights from the neighbor's house some distance away had begun to turn on, small yellowish orange glows poking out of houses near the horizon. Leonard felt solid in the memory, he felt strong and free.
He slowly opened his eyes and selected a folder from the hackbox storage. Leonard copied and pasted the redundancy program into each of the hubs.Prompts appeared on the screen confirming his decision, and he clicked yes to them.Certain that the tests had been sent, he shut down the station and removed the hackbox, pitching it into a nearby waste basket. Leonard breathed shallow, waiting as he watched the giant map monitor.
One minute ticked off, then two, then five.
Leonard's heart beat faster and his fists clenched, The program hadn't taken.Perhaps they were right, he was no better in life than a farmer, just someone to make sure the papers were emptied out at the end of the day.He looked to the wastebasket and stood up to retrieve the drive, when he saw the giant screen change.
AIM2006 Mumbai, India....Offline
AIM3653 Shenzen, China......Offline
AIM1001 Perth, Australia......Offline
One by one, facility locations on the globe map began to blink out, to fall like leaves from the program tree.Leonard watched and wiped a hand over his face, his stare intent. Other facilities began to run their compensatory programs in an attempt to keep system cohesion. Russia reached out to Mumbai, Japan reached out to China, and New Zealand reached out to Australia, but the redundancy test soon reached them and knocked them out of the system. The redundancy test crept slowly westward across all of the facilities in the sun's rays, and gradually across twilight's path and into the facilities on standby. Within the span of a half an hour all of the facilities were fighting one another to compensate for going offline,then going offline themselves, then repeating the process. Leonard's chest swelled while witnessing this, his plunging of the earth into irrevocable chaos. He had released the genie from the bottle, and it was not going back.
"What the hell is going on!?" Someone said.
Leonard turned and saw a tech walking quickly into the control room, looking back and forth from Leonard to the screen. "For fuck's sake, the whole system.." The tech said, and flipped on the room's lights, shocking Leonard's eyes. The tech glanced around and hurried over to a console, and began tapping keys.
"Where is everyone else? shit, doesn't anybody else respond to comm alerts?" The tech said, studying the data scrolling chaotically across the console screen. Leonard was at a loss for words. He hadn't anticipated someone getting to the facility so soon. He stammered out a quick excuse.
"I...I was just doing my usual cleaning here, I don't really know."
Leonard felt a shock as he saw the tech turn and look at him. The tech didn't wear an expression of understanding or even query. The tech looked at Leonard with indictment, a hard realization that he stood in the same room with the man responsible for all of this. Leonard was rigid. He waited while he looked into the tech's stare, wondering if he should deny it, wondering if he could deny it.
"Stay right there." The tech stabbed a finger at Leonard, fumbling into his pocket and drawing out his cell phone,"Stay right there."
Leonard felt a fire of panic rising in his limbs and he ran into the tech, slamming his body against him and into the console. The tech was thin but strong, and he absorbed most of the impact and locked an arm around Leonard's head.
"Stop!" the tech said,"Fucking stop it!"
Leonard struggled to get his head free from the tech's grasp, and slammed the tech's body into the console again. His ribs began their chorus of pain in his chest again, and he winced as he and the tech tumbled across the console.Leonard swung a free arm and caught the tech in the stomach and then in the crotch, finally weakening the man enough to release his arm from around his head. The tech fell to the ground and Leonard kicked him several times with the same impunity as his aggressors the evening before.He stood there panting, watching the man lay still on the floor.He ferreted through the tech's pockets and took his keys, then shattered the man's phone against the wall.
Leonard took long,painful strides across the control room floor, and paused at the doorway looking back at the giant screen before he left. The screen looked like a Christmas decoration. a multitude of lights flashed on and off, temperature readings on the screen spiked and dropped wildly. Leonard smiled and moved from the door, and down the hall.
When he felt he had driven the tech's car a safe enough distance away, he finally exhaled. He had done it. He didn't know what to think of the tech that surprised him.Surely the tech knew him,and he would tell whomever else had arrived about what Leonard had done.
Leonard abandoned the tech's vehicle next to a corroded brick building in the industrial district. His thoughts were frenetic, and pain swam in his body like a prickly black eel.He traveled street to street in silence, making himself small and unobtrusive as he moved.If he ran into trouble now he would not be able to defend himself effectively. He finally reached a populated transport station and fought his imagination as he waited nearby. There were security cameras in the facility, Were they searching for him at this moment? He pictured the tech choking out his description to the police while being lifted into an ambulance.
His eyes kept moving to the sky, searching for any sign of a change. Above him the stars were bright, and the sun had just begun its ascension somewhere far off to the east.The transport arrived and when people began to step aboard, Leonard followed suit and sat down. He listened to the information channel but it told nothing of what had happened.Downtown turned to city turned to suburb, and he stepped with trepidation off of the transport and on to his street.
The sun had properly begun rising now, its light reaching cleanly across the quiet lawns and houses of his neighborhood. With every step Leonard took came the expectation that this quiet, clean morning would be burned down by the sound of sirens and shouting police. He reached his door and paused, all remained quiet.If consequences were to come, he certainly found no indication of it here. He found a small measure of solace being home, and he took off his jacket and lowered himself to the sofa. His muscles could finally relax and there was some protest from his body as he did so,but gradually the pain ebbed into soreness provided he was still.
He turned on his viewer and watched for news of the facilities. Again nothing had been reported, and again his mind turned to questions.Leonard no longer felt that finger poking his memories, but instead he felt a phantom hand taking his, pulling him deep into a slow, soft slumber.
Some hours later, Leonard was slow to wake. His eyes began to focus and he heard the chatter of the viewer he had fallen asleep to. His body was stiff but sound, and hurt less as he sat up and ran his hands over his face. He stood up and walked to the kitchen, turning on the faucet to prepare some tea. The faucet hissed as the water ran into the pot, he filled it and turned the tap off. He brought the pot to the stove and turned it on. He glanced out the window and his eyes grew wide.
The branches of the tree outside his window whipped back and forth,the wind swinging the boughs violently. He stood and watched the tree in disbelief as his ears heard the wind gusting hard against the house, hissing and whistling through the windows and cracks. Leonard turned and made his way to the front door and threw it open, rushing outside, eyes to the sky. Malevolence curled above in the clouds, and the wind shoved him, throwing stinging bits of debris against his skin.Leonard fell to his knees, and then to his back and marveled at the scene surrounding him, the microcosm of the earth boiling around him.
In the distance a dog barked.The wind carried bits of panicked voices to his ears, and transports raced back and forth down his street.He thought somewhere in the distance he heard a siren. For the first time in forever he felt it. He felt the first hard fat raindrops of the violent storm to come. He felt a slam of thunder that shook his bones,and promised to tear the world apart.
And Leonard laughed.
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