CITY OF STEEL: A SECOND EXCERPT

It’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted anything on the Intellectual Plane and this blog is intellectual, philosophical and somewhat personal. Both work and work-related travel have taken up a lot of my time of late. My schedule being hectic, I figured the little time I’ve had available for writing should be spent polishing completed drafts, rather than spinning essays.

Editing a manuscript can be as lonely and daunting, as actually writing the story from scratch. It can be a touch-and go process and it’s not a task that should be performed while tired, or in the wake of a tough day at the office. Usually, in those events, I’m tempted to throw the entire manuscript into a fire and start over – a silly idea at best and self-indulgent. A bad day of editing after a gruelling day at the day-job can elicit emotions akin to grief: Anger, self-loathing, doubt and depression followed by acceptance that the only person capable of honing the manuscript is the person who wrote it.

For me, that acceptance includes the realization that the ordeal of the day-job opens up several motivating and double-sided philosophical questions: The most obvious being is it worth it?

Then there’s the other question at the core of literary motivation and one highlighted after a hard day at the office. Like when a client pisses you off, or when someone challenges your expertise, or alternatively, if you happen to royally screw up an assigned task and have to own that failure. The question is do I really want to spend the rest of my life slogging through the mire on tasks that don’t inspire the same passion as the literary craft? Is it possible the stories I write could open up new career doors? More importantly, is what I write of enough significance to outweigh the futility of what I work at for a living? Or of more brutal inquiry, am I wasting everyone’s time?

Stephen King wrote that writing is a support for life and not the other way around. In that regard alone, writing is worth doing. As for the self-doubt and depression, it’s important to remember that the writer’s perspective is radically different to that of the reader. Stephen King threw his break-out novel Carrie in the trash because he didn’t like it. His wife Tabitha fished it out of the garbage and asked him to finish the story.

I cannot equate my work with that of King – the man is a genius and his works are extraordinary – but I’m often amazed and baffled by what my readers react most positively to when it comes to both my fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I have no idea what my audience likes – and I’ve accepted that.

Therefore whenever I get the “editing blues” I take a nap and try to remember that writing isn’t about being liked. At a personal level, it’s about expression. At a philosophical level, it’s about holding a mirror up to the world. Whether the reader likes what they see or not is secondary to the purpose of the work.

On that note, I welcome any and all criticism of the following excerpt from my forthcoming novel City of Steel. A previous excerpt from the opening chapter can be found here on this website.

The following features a minor character whose brief role takes on greater significance as the rest of the story unfolds. This excerpt does not follow directly from the previous chapter published on this site. Anyone who wishes to read the full text will have to wait until its published! Hopefully, provided my day-job doesn’t interfere, that will be soon.

As always comments and/or hate-mail are welcome.

Warning: Some NFSW Content.

Many thanks and kind regards,
Chris O’Connell
August 3rd 2017

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CITY OF STEEL

BY CHRIS O’CONNELL

The plot: The year is 2201. After a series of wars and natural disasters, Central America is swallowed by the Pacific and the North American continent is cut off from the rest of the world. In the wake of these horrors an extreme fundamentalist religious sect, the Church of the New Light Reborn, gains followers and launches a crusade to purge the former United States of all other faiths. Their goal is New Philadelphia, the ten thousand foot tall sky-city whom they believe to be the New Jerusalem. After capturing the City of Steel, the New Light Reborn anxiously awaits the arrival of the Messiah.

But as the years pass with no sign of the Messiah’s return, revolution brews in the City of Steel. To stave off rebellion the city’s theocratic government embarks on a secret plan to purge its rivals.

Enter Hector Dadrian, a private investigator and former soldier haunted by his many war-crimes. When a widow hires Hector to investigate her late husband’s suspicious death Hector and his family are pitted against ruthless crime-lords, conniving merchants, mercenary armies and the theocratic government itself.

 

*

From the outside, the ReyesPharma Building didn’t look like much. Three hundred feet across and five storeys high, its square front had once been a vivid blue. Over the years rust had devoured most of the colour and mould had tattooed a patchwork of black streaks across its facing. The factory was surrounded by a high security wall with towers that overlooked all approaches to the building. Francisco always used a maintenance gate at the south side of the building. That day it was manned by two brown uniformed ReyesPharma Security Guards. The guards were quick tempered and as likely to beat up workers as intruders.

Their aggressiveness stemmed from their consumption of stimuroids, drugs that allowed them to build-up and maintain their bulky physiques while simultaneously enabling them to stay awake for days on end. The side effects were paranoia, anger and violent mood swings. The main producer of the drug was Francisco’s employer ReyesPharma and Francisco reckoned that the company made tidy profits selling stimuroids to the mercenaries.

The guards gave his ID card a cursory glance and Francisco a contemptuous glare before letting him through the gate. At the time-clock he was greeted by Carlos Munoz, the janitor coming off shift. Francisco clenched his fists. Dark haired, dark bearded with rust-stained features Munoz was one of the fattest men Francisco knew and also one of the most enervating. It seemed that there was only one thing Munoz liked more than food and that was whining about other people’s time-keeping.

“Hey, cutting it fine with the clock, ese!” Munoz wheezed. Francisco brushed past him en route to the time-clock without bothering to reply. As he clocked in he asked “What floor was you on today?”

Munoz yanked his index finger out of his nose and wiped whatever he’d mined from his nostrils on the front of his overalls.

“Well ese? What floor?” Francisco demanded.

Munoz hawked and spat. “Four. Lots of red stuff up there. Weren’t you cleaning up there the other day?”

For a moment Francisco debated braining the fat puto. Instead he turned and made for the service elevator.

“See you tomorrow” he muttered. Munoz shrugged and waddled towards the maintenance entrance from where Francisco had arrived. It was the last time the two men would see each other alive.

*

As usual, Munoz had left the cleaning closet in disarray. Buckets and mops piled one atop the other and at haphazard angles. Half-empty jugs of solvents dumped in front of the storage shelves. It took Francisco two minutes to clear a path to the sink and another three to fill the mop bucket with water. He added a scraper and an astringent solution to his load and then wheeled the mop bucket up to the fourth floor.

When the elevator slid open he was greeted by a black and white sign that read “Research Section 2: Organic Chemistry”. He knew he should be working on the fifth floor that evening, but a sense of duty demanded that he find out what Munoz had been up to on the fourth floor. Once again Munoz hadn’t failed to disappoint. The fourth floor hallway was two hundred feet of colourless metal, smeared with rust from dozens of passing feet. On either side, steel doors led into laboratories. If Munoz had laboured on any part of the fourth floor, his efforts weren’t visible. The edges of door sills and frames were speckled with roan hued oxides. In addition to the rust, the floor was scuffed with shoe rubber and boot polish. Some inconsiderate pilingui cabron (probably Munoz) had spilt a container of soup. Flies were now crawling over that prize like rats. Francisco cursed Munoz and made a mental note to berate the fat fuck when he next saw the man.

Four hours of mopping produced a polished floor, gleaming doorframes and a back that ached like a motherfucker. During the ordeal he imagined various scenarios in which he confronted Munoz and beat the shit of him or set him up to be fired. He speculated that management would promote him for these efforts and that he would no longer have to mop floors.

Career and personal fantasies began merging. He recalled the incident with his wife’s sister Zara five months earlier and imagined having actual sex with the chica. He imagined being promoted to a desk job and ordering underlings around while under the desk and out of sight of his employees, Zara employed her considerable oral skills on his pito. It occurred to him that Maritza might know something about his brief encounter with her sister and that bothered him a little. It also kind of bothered him that he fantasized about a puta that had fucked and sucked off every chico in the corridor. But then, there was no denying that the woman did have serious skills!

He stretched his back and returned to the cleaning closet for fresh water and a new mop. Back on the fourth floor he tried the handle of the last door on the corridor. It swung open easily and he immediately froze. The room was typical of labs found elsewhere in the factory. A twenty by thirty foot rectangle, with numerous power outlets in the walls, three sinks and a square locker in the corner with a sign denoting Hazardous Materials. A glass partition ran across the rear half of the room, accessible by a heavy steel door, coated with a film of rust. Behind the glass, three lab techs, each dressed in airtight, rubber suits, helmets and face masks moved around the lab, pausing occasionally to look at slides under microscopes, or to remove test tubes from centrifuges.

None of this was the source of Francisco’s terror. Guarding the secured lab were two soldiers in full battle armour. Their uniforms were grey with a thin band of red running from the shoulders to the hems of their uniform tunics. Full faced combat helmets complete with blast shields covered their heads and faces. An insignia emblazoned at their shoulders, on their helmets and over their hearts showed a simple, five pointed star. The uniforms designated the men as members of the elite Iron Star Military Company — one of the Reverend Father’s private armies.

Francisco lowered his gaze and mumbled apologies as he backed out of the room. The two Iron Stars lowered their rifles. One of the troopers touched a gloved finger to the side of his helmet and with a low whirring noise, the helmet’s blast shield lifted to expose a cold impassive face pockmarked with scars. The trooper’s eyes glowed with the feral light of a habitual stimuroid user. “Where you going?” the trooper demanded.

Francisco cleared his throat. “Uh…I was going to clean…but I’ll…I’m going now.”

The Iron Star frowned and gestured around the room. “Why? There’s work to be here done, no?”

His colleague raised his own blast shield and arched an eyebrow. Francisco licked his lips. The Iron Star was right. There was rust and mildew on the floors. Not as much work to clean as was the hallway, but easily half an hour’s worth of effort.

“Yes sir!” he stammered.

The Iron Star grinned and Francisco was so surprised he flinched. “Well come on in ese!” the trooper exclaimed. “We don’t bite!”

“Yeah don’t worry homes!” the second Iron Star said. “Just stay away from this door, huh?”

Francisco nodded and set to work. An uncomfortable silence filled the room broken only by the swish and slap of the wet mop on steel floor. Then the first trooper chuckled and said to his comrade “I can’t wait until end of watch chico! Gonna get me some sweet loving!”

“I dinna know your mama was dating again!”

This elicited a coarse laugh from the other trooper. “I meant Esmeralda, esé! I’ma totally gonna hit that shit!”

“Does her husband know?”

“No, but then neither does she!”

This last comment prompted a conversation about the first trooper’s upcoming tryst that comprised a brief debate about Esmeralda’s personality followed by a more in-depth and longer discussion about the ample nature of her breasts and posterior. When the trooper began describing how he intended to insert his person into the unsuspecting Esmeralda, Francisco had to stifle a laugh.

The conversation would have continued unabated if not for the loud clang of something heavy crashing against the door of the isolation lab. In the time it took Francisco to look up from his mopping, the two Iron Stars had lowered their blast shields and spun around with rifles aimed towards the noise.

What greeted them was an eerie cloud of thick white smoke that boiled from the isolation lab’s floor and swirled against the observation window. The heavy steel door – the lab’s only exit – shook as something heavy crashed against it. Then wisps of acrid white smoke seeped out from around door frame. Francisco heard a loud hiss and stared as thick tendrils of smoke reached for the boots of the two Iron Stars. The troopers leapt back in alarm.

The first guard’s voice was tinny inside his helmet. “The fuck is this?”

With a tortured screech, the steel door fell outwards and collapsed at their feet. In the doorway was one of the lab technicians, though he was barely recognizable as human. His once white hazmat suit was charred brown and his helmet and goggles appeared to have melted to his face. His respirator was gone and the exposed skin of his mouth and chin was a blue-black mass of corruption. The lab tech stood in the doorway for moment and convulsed. His mouth fell open and blood and a clear yellow fluid poured from the opening, drenching his blackened uniform.

The Iron Stars were frozen in place their rifles at the ready and unsure of the enemy they faced. The dying technician’s head rolled backwards and he crumpled in the doorway. As his body hit the floor, it made a loud, wet squelching sound on impact. The Iron Stars began to scream.

To his horror, Francisco realised the two troopers were screaming, not in fear but in pain. White smoke began to seep from under their helmets. One by one they fell to their knees their bodies wracked with convulsions. Too late it occurred to him that he should have run away as soon as he had seen the corrosive smoke billowing from the glass enclosed lab. But by the time that thought pierced the veil of fear shrouding his ability to reason, his body was seized by tremors and he too fell to his knees.

Francisco’s last thoughts before his body convulsed so hard, his neck broke and his lungs dissolved was of the prostitute Zara, his wife Maritza and his soon to be fatherless children…

And then there was nothing but silent, irrevocable darkness.

(City of Steel Copyright Chris O’Connell 2008. Reproduction of this work and any characters therein is prohibited. The right of the author has been asserted.)

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