Monday, November 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo '09, Chapter Twenty-Three: Ignorance is Bliss

The below is a section of the novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month. It isn't a stand-alone story, and it's probably not worth your time to read. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month so wordcount is valued above quality. This is a good thing, as it encourages people to actually finish a project. Nobody expects that the result will be ready for public consumption without heavy editing. If you want to read it for some reason you can view the whole thing in one place HERE although that's still totally unedited and terrible. You have been warned.

My name is Emily White, and while I won't be aware of this until the last second I'll be dead in less than twenty-four hours - like everyone else lately. I don't know the names of everyone that was inside the Laughing Squid when it was hit because the majority of them were from Phoenix or Las Vegas, but I know that Charlie was still inside, and Jane, and Pudge, and Todd. Maybe Francis. Jezebel and Eddie were left behind at the base, Slim and Mary are laying in a walk-in freezer. The bodies just seem to pile up these days. Tomorrow morning I'll be just another one of the casualties.

So it goes.

I heard the missile strike while I headed towards the park, but I had no idea what it was until we got back and saw the soldiers sweeping the area. Ten years ago - God, I'm old - I was staying with a bunch of my deadbeat friends and living off of ramen noodles and stolen prescription medicine. Nobody owned the house; everyone was staying there because they knew someone else who stayed there, and after enough people came and went it was clear that the original owners were long gone. Still, it was home. One day someone fell asleep with a lit cigarette or possibly just lit something on fire for no reason, and the house burned to the ground with at least one person inside. Seeing the Laughing Squid brought that moment back so vividly that it felt like I was there.

Darryl was next to me without warning and on reflex my fist snapped forward and connected with his nose. There was a familiar crunch and he fell backwards, vanishing halfway down and reappearing to my right. He had blood on his shirt and two black eyes, but he had cleaned his face up.
"Darryl! I'm so sorry." He shrugged and waved me away dismissively, and walked into the Laundromat a few doors down. We all followed without a word and headed into an employee only area at the back. Walter was walking on crystalline crutches, keeping his injured leg up.

The problem had always been one of communication. Everything was monitored, and encryption was a joke because even with unbreakable codes the government only needed to find a way to intercept it before encryption or after decoding. They always found a way. There was even some program that detected the use of code phrases in conversation with some degree of success - probably we could have found a way to trick that but nobody liked the idea of testing it. For two months the plan had just been for everyone to meet at the Laughing Squid and coordinate.

We all knew it was a bad plan. Dave talked about finding a better way and we all agreed but somehow didn't get around to it. The topic of conversation there in the back of the laundromat stuck to all the ideas that had never been implemented and avoided talking about the burning wreckage of the Squid. Most of the ideas had to be set up before a disaster, so we didn't get far. We each knew a few addresses, but as we compared notes we realized they were all locals and we all seemed to know the same ones. Worse, we couldn't avoid the long pauses where we carefully didn't mention knowing Eddie's address, or Jezebel's.

Rodriguez snorted. "You know what? I'm sick of this. It's not going to end, okay? Let's just admit that and say what needs to be said. We don't need to contact anyone; we just need to kill every god damned soldier in the city. Darryl has been marching around and stealing firing pins when he could have been shooting. I know, before we wanted to act like there was some chance of working things out and coming to a truce… but that's not happening now. Do it, Darryl. Just clean house."
Darryl was shaking his head, and rocking back and forth a little. He didn't look well.
"I can't," he said, "I can't do it. I've tried, I've pointed guns at them a hundred times, but…"

Darryl takes a deep breath, shaking, and then continues. "If I act, people die. If I don't act, people die. There has to be something I can do that just… fixes things."
Even Rodriguez was quiet, though I know he wanted to tell Darryl to grow up. There wasn't anyone there who didn't want to just make a wish and have everything be happy, but it was a fairy tale. I hated to be the one to burst the kid's bubble.
"Darryl… if you want to work on some plan that lets us do this without killing anyone, I respect that. I do. But those soldiers out there… they aren't on that plan. They're killing us. You have the opportunity to keep them from killing any more of our friends, and I'm begging you to take it. You can't fix anything if you're dead, understand?"

He seemed to glaze over, staring at the wall. His eyes were watery, on the verge of tears, and then he vanished with a sound of thunder.
"Was that… gunfire?"
We all ran outside and back to the street corner, and saw that all of the soldiers were on the ground. At the time, we wondered if it had happened all throughout the city. We pictured all of them being gone, cleared out in an instant. Of course, later we would find out it was nothing like that, that only a fraction of them were hit before Darryl couldn't take the pressure of the executions and ran off somewhere to hide.

It was a few hours later that the announcement went out calling for the curfew to be extended to a full lockdown, in light of the Lieutenant General being found in the park. Nobody was to leave their homes for any reason. This included all of Orange County as well as most of Los Angeles and San Diego counties and big chunks of San Bernardino and Riverside. It had mixed results - another riot, a lot of people sneaking out anyway, and slightly quieter streets. We tried to sneak around anyway, tried to contact the others and find Darryl. That had mixed results too. No Darryl, but word worked its way around to wait for a signal. Of some sort. In the meantime all the freaks that were able started to take out soldiers with a renewed fury. The soldiers took them out too. Most I didn’t know.

I spent those hours in a horrible little motel with Dave. I don't know how long I've had a crush on him, but a few times lately I've thought that I lost him and each time it somehow refined my feelings, purified them until I know I can't live without him. I don't know it yet, but that won't be a concern. I convinced him to join me in the bedroom and took his mind off of things for a bit, but the second it was over and we were laying there staring at the ceiling both of us went back to those thoughts.
"Emily?" he asked. I had been pretending to sleep, badly. I grunted an acknowledgement.
"I've been thinking about what Darryl said. How does this end? If we kill every single soldier in the city, then what? Do we think that the government will just fold over and let us go because they're afraid of us? We need to find something that's not just reacting back and forth. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, sweetheart, but I left my magic wand in my other pants."

There was a knock at the door before he could answer, and we both rolled out of bed and grabbed guns. I looked through the peephole after tossing up a shield and saw Darryl, dragging a large chest behind him. I opened the door and let him in, feeling self-conscious at the fact that I was in my underwear. I shouldn't have worried; he walked past me in a daze. "I'm sorry I couldn't shoot them all. I'm so sorry."
Dave put a hand on his shoulder while I looked around for the sweatpants that I had shoplifted earlier.
"It's not your fault. That was a really big job to drop on you. What… what's in the box?"
Darryl looked nervous. "It's stupid, I think I'm just getting paranoid or something, but I feel like someone wants to steal this. I have a better idea for it, though. Much better. I just need your help. I know a guy… I mean, a way. A plan. I know a way to actually do something and make some real progress. You just have to trust me. Oh, also there are government guys outside."

I bolted to the window and flattened myself against the wall so I could peek out. There, in the street, was an armored vehicle with four soldiers tied up outside it.
"I listened in and heard them talking," Darryl continued, "and they were guessing there was five of you. You have a few guys here in the same building?"
Dave nodded, walking over to join me at the window. "Yeah. Next room over, we've got Walter and Ike and some guy Ike vouched for. So they can find us now, even in Los Angeles?"
Darryl sat on the bed and stared at the chest he had dragged in. "I overheard enough. That's how they got the Squid, so I guess it's good news at least that nobody tipped them off. It sounds like it's only working with at least four or five people in one spot, so we need to travel in small groups. It doesn't matter, though. I have the plan now, we won't have to worry about them anymore."

And then Darryl told us his plan, the one that will start to go wrong almost as soon as we take the first step and will be well on its way to disaster when I die. There probably isn't a plan that ends better for us at this point, though. Best to just not think too much about it.