Here’s the first 1500 words as suggested by Lester Dent. It’s more like 1600 words, but that’s better than draft one’s 3000 words. So where did the last 1000 go? I tried to cut things down word-by-word (superfluous “that”s, “she said”s that were explained by the text), but even I’m not that purple.
Those of you who have read the plot outline for this section (if you haven’t: good! Please do it afterward! It’s here when you’re ready.) will notice some things missing. I struggled to find a way to have my “hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words” which is a key part of Dent’s 1500 words. But I took Spider Robinson to heart and decided that the physical conflict was just padding, even if Dent wanted it there. I think it’s stronger without it.
That said, I will have to find a way to squeeze the plotpoints from that fight into the next 1500 words.1 Once I’ve done that, I’ll post the original text, and you can tell me if you agree.
Liz was flipping through case requests when the contact bauble bounced across her eyes. Yates had the attention of the feedcams, talking through the finer points of their last case with their premium subscribers. The cams buzzed around her like fruit flies around a brown banana. Her eyes flicked from one to the other. Liz could tell she wanted to swat them away and get on with some real work.
Too bad for her, Liz thought. She doesn’t like it, she can quit. Then she sighed and ran a hand through her hair. They were both frustrated. It had been easy case after easy case: safe, simple. Boring. And their ratings were taking the hit.
The bauble was still slipping in and out of her vision. It was from some mid-level manager in King Corp Media Division. Technically her superior, but the stream wasn’t so pooched that they’d send this suit to shove her around.
Liz caught Yates’s eye and grinned at her. All she got in return was a quirk of the lip and a raised eyebrow so quick only hardcore fans would notice. But it was enough.
The bauble still bounced.
“Fine, fine,” Liz said, grabbing it. Grace Morrison’s sleek head popped into view. Liz left it there–just Morrison’s floating face, drawn and pale. Liz had no desire to stretch it. Her mesh could’ve done it, of course. Top-of-the-line, plugged into her spine just last week, she could have pulled the bauble until it was just like she was sitting in Morrison’s grey-walled cubicle herself. But why would she?
“Liz,” Morrison said by way of greeting. “You’re looking for a new case?”
“Well, see, I have–had–this intern. Yesica.” Morrison swallowed, looked away. Liz propped her feet on her desk and waited. “She’s been murdered.”
Liz started to check, but Morrison beat her to it: “it’s not in the news. It’s… it was pretty gruesome.”
“Oh?” Liz asked, sitting straighter. “Why not call the cops?”
“We did. Of course we did. When she didn’t come in to work. But they’re treating it as,” she paused, looking away again. “Self-inflicted. They’re investigating the psychological causes now. There was a college boy who died the same way. The cops think Yesica was a copycat.”
“But you don’t?”
“I don’t know. She seemed happy enough. Her family thought, since we’re colleagues…” Liz kept her face straight, even though the idea of this spreadsheet jockey as her colleague was a hoot. “Her family doesn’t think she’d have done it. They asked me to contact you.”
Liz headed for the washroom–or, at least, the room viewers thought was the washroom. It was a tiny apartment unto itself, and the feedcams would never follow them there. She could feel Yates’s eyes on her back as she shut the door. “It was in the gossip feeds last week,” she said. “The other case, the college boy. The one who tore out his guts with his own hands, right?”
Apparently it was possible for Morrison to get paler. “Yeah,” she managed.
“We can’t do it. Too horrifying, too disrespectful. There’s no way.”
“But the college boy’s pictures have already leaked to the clickbait sites.”
“What hasn’t? Will King News cover your girl’s death?”
Morrison shook her shiny head.
“Then neither will we. Bad for ratings, bad for my job.”
“But you have to!”
“You gonna pull rank?”
Morrison opened her mouth, then closed it again. “No.”
“Listen,” Liz said. “I’m sorry. Really. But we can’t.”
“You’ve seen this?” Yates asked the next morning. Liz sipped her over brewed coffee–Black Turtle brand, who paid her enough she would drink literal shit–and waited. Yates didn’t have a mesh installed, swore she never would. Instead, she wore an old-school gloves-and-glasses rig, which meant waiting while she bounced ‘this’ over.
It was a tabloid piece with a content warning slapped over it. Liz looked, then wished she hadn’t. It showed Morrison’s girl, Yesica, and all angles of her gory demise. Liz shoved away the media and asked her system to read the words out to her.
Yesica died exactly the way the college boy, Rolf, had: by having her insides put on her outside. Using, apparently, her own hands. Just like Morrison said. But the tabloid piece said nothing about suicide. It hinted at some deeper conspiracy instead.
Liz couldn’t listen anymore. She stopped the readout, but the silence was thinner than the coffee so she thickened it with the first thing that came to mind. “The man, he tells you to gut yourself and you listen, you listen,” she recited.
Yates looked up, brow furrowed. “That’s Brown, isn’t it? The revolutionary poet?”
Liz knew what Yates was really asking. She shrugged. “People have been talking about it recently. That poem’s been sampled in some club song. And the line seemed relevant to… whatever this is.”
“What is this?” Yates asked.
“A tabloid story,” Liz said. “A tragedy. That’s all.”
Yates nodded, but Liz wasn’t surprised when she got a message: it’s our most requested case.
We can’t take it, Liz subvocalized back, lips barely moving. Right?
But throughout the day, Liz would look up the story and watch it spread. And when Yates sent her a message just as the sun was setting, Liz wasn’t surprised.
What fresh hell is this?
It was a rumour, started on some gossip channel and spread across the world: these were murders, committed with the intent of calling out King Corp, and that they would keep happening until L&Y agreed to take the case and publicize the cause.
Smells like shit to me, Liz replied.
And we’re stuck in it.
Liz stood, rolling out her shoulders and smiling at the cams. The she made her way to their private rooms and opened a call to Morrison.
“What the fuck did you do?”
Morrison took her call, looked her dead in the eyes, and lied. “Nothing.”
Liz breathed, trying to remind herself this would be good for ratings. Morrison’s chin trembled.
“We’ll take your case. But if anything goes wrong, it’s on you.”
The corpses had one thing in common (aside from the fatal misplacement of their internal organs), and Yates found it. She and Liz sat in their private office, the stream dead for the night. “Our girl, Yesica,” Yates said, “and this Rolf guy? They were in the same place two weeks ago.”
Liz had been slumped over, watching their viewer numbers. Now she sat straight. “Where?”
“That’s the weird part–”
“Finally, a weird part.”
“It’s visible on the map, a low building on the east end. Nothing about what it is, or even was. Lots of people coming in and out around the time Yesica and Rolf did. About the same time on the same day for the last few weeks.”
Liz grinned. A secretive building was exactly what the stream needed.
Yates shook her head. “Not enough to go on.”
“You sure? We’ve got two murdered people who the cops think are suicides. An old revolutionary poem describing it–”
“That’s a leap.”
Liz ignored her. “An old warehouse that someone worked hard to cover up, lots of people going in and out…”
“Where are you going with this?”
“Our stiffs were in some kind of anti-corporate sect, and now they’re martyrs for the cause.”
“That’s a huge leap.”
“Any better ideas?”
The viewer numbers taunted her. “Or we check out this warehouse and see what sort of revolutionaries we’re dealing with.”
The autocab got them to the squat cement building well before anyone would show up, at least according to Yates’s data. It parked in front of a boarded-over convenience store three lots down.
“Looks more like a bunker than a revolutionary HQ,” Yates muttered, looking at their destination. It had a front entrance and a loading dock and not a single window.
They waited as the sun set. The vivid colours only served to highlight how drab and rundown the place was.
The first person to arrive was a little man in a fashionable suit that was so new you could almost see the tags. He unlocked the building’s front door with an actual key in an old-fashioned padlock. He was preoccupied, didn’t even notice their car. Yates busied herself looking him up, but Liz just leaned her forehead against the window and watched. He opened the door and pocketed the padlock.
The next person to arrive was a big man with beefsteak muscles and a face to match.
Easily half an hour later came a group of young folks deposited by an expensive car–privately owned, custom paintjob.
“And they look more like college kids than revolutionaries.”
They lounged around out front, adjusting clothes and checking makeup. When the door opened, they tumbled in.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Liz replied.
More young people were arriving, their clothes and hair done up with a studied and careful disarray, their shabbiness marked as intentional by their fancy cars and impeccable makeup.
The sun set and the flow of people to the warehouse had slowed, so Liz and Yates stepped out of the car. If anyone in the building was watching the feed–and if they were guilty–they’d start running.
No one started running. Liz shrugged. “Back door?”
They snuck around the building to the corrugated steel back entrance. There was a heavy padlock hanging from a rusted hasp, but it wasn’t locked. It just hung glinting like the teeth of a bear trap. But the cams buzzed around like tiny albatrosses calling “ratings, ratings!”, so she set the lock aside and lifted the door. She expected squealing tracks and a gunshot and got nothing but silence. They slipped through the opening and stood in the darkened room, backs pressed against the door.
Yates snorted from beside her. She didn’t need to say ‘I told you so’, the snort said it all.
They weren’t in a secret meeting of revolutionaries: they were in a nightclub.
a problem for Future Amanda!↩