Friday, March 20, 2015

Iced-Coffee Fillup

Like  I'm following a writing exercise suggestion and have got the above title from a random cocktail name generator.

Here's my story  (1,000 words: written in an hour)

Iced-Coffee Fillup

They called him that, partly because it was his favourite drink, partly because his name really was Philip, partly because few Jamaicans were working the Ice-fields, and the ‘casual racism’ line is drawn differently on an ice-run than in the literary salons, or among gang thugs in New York for that matter.
But mainly they called him that, because no-one wanted to be the one to say ‘killer’ and find out just how inhibited he was feeling.  In the company of the Freed, the careful tongued man is King.
He’d been hauling ice from near the north pole for three years now, never an accident, never a bonus. Good solid work, for basic pay, but it was reputable and it kept him from alcohol, which apart from being one of the terms of his parole, would if ingested have set off the alarm with his probation officer.  He was one of the first generation of Freed, and the sensors in his guts and his skin probably cost as much as ten years of his prison sentence would have: but he was out, and working, and consequently a certain amount of tax was being paid, and the State was going to get some of its ten years of cash back, and his bars were – mainly – in his head.
In his head, and in the subprocessing we now know goes on - as he-men, and ex-cops and gangers always knew – in the guts.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t get angry. He had the same likes and dislikes as before, and if his responses were a bit slower – the ice-trucks had their own cabinComm autopilots. He just had some enforced patience, in terms of chemicals being nanopill released in his bloodstream, and some knowledge, that he couldn’t hit a man (or a woman) without his skin recording the scene and playing it in real time on a screen in the probation station.  In fifteen years, the grafts and the tech would die, its bio-power sources self-limited, and then...then he’d have fifteen years of habits, of good behaviour (determined by the state).  He’d be bio-rehabilitated.  Free to go. Free to do what fifteen years of Good solid work would have left him good for.
I wasn’t sure what I felt about that (it wasn’t much use asking him what he felt, he felt what the sentence permitted him to feel). I’d known him before this, when ‘killer’ was more like his right name – when we’d run guns together to the ‘Karlin Kwee, and he’d been a touchy man, and a violent man – but I’d been a violent woman, and he’d suited me. These days I guessed, and it was a guess, that any BDSM he’d do would have to be strictly M. What a waste, he still had strong hands.
So any innovation can be hacked.  I had a patch would bring him back.  All I needed to do was get close enough to slam it onto enough of his skin (his bare back would probably be best), and then – well this would be the first test run. He might just run for his Probation Officer, he might remember me, he might faint. There was a small chance it might kill him. Very small.  I’d made sure of that – it was about the risk of being killed crossing a road in New York – not negligible, but something he’d never seemed to worry about, before.
I watched him, through a hack in the ice-truck’s cabinComm.  His brown eyes focused on the ice-pack, his movements stately, considered.  If you didn’t know, you’d say he had masterful self-control, dancer’s poise, a kind of grace.
After I watched him for a day. I went back to New York. They could try their deprogramming hack on another con. I didn’t know enough about what was in his head to know if I’d be doing him a favour or not, by taking him back. I remembered his hot breath on my neck, and his hands hard at my throat, but I remembered his hands striking me, when I wasn’t up for it, too. 
That wasn’t the reason though. I’d have taken my chances. I’d intended to rescue him, before I’d heard him sing.  Sing so sweet to himself in the cabin of the ice-truck, trundling its nigh automatic journey to and from the pole – running its solar powered ‘refreezer’ over the melting ice-cap, every mile of its trip. Good solid work – but oh that voice.
“My brother did’a tell me that a man go walk, a man go walk, a man go walk...”
A Mango Walk is an orchard, and the song is about what in my childhood in the UK when it was the UK, would have been called ‘scrumping apples,’ but Philip had always sung it as if it was about freedom.
A man go walk.
A man’s got to be free.
I remembered his boiling over at an imagined offense, at the glint of a too strong light in his eyes, at a word misspoke, at nothing, at a bird in flight.  Had he been free then? Not to choose whether to be angry. Not to choose to be at peace.
And I heard him sing that he was. Free of the habits of violence, free of the history of pain. Was I right or was I wrong?  I don’t know. I don’t know.
Guess I’ll have to wait another twelve years to know. If they don’t kill me first. If they don’t kill me first.
So that’s it.  The story of Iced Coffee Fillup, on the ice-truck run, under the Polar Stars, and of me – waiting to know – if the man who comes back will want me. Will be able to choose to want me.
Will he raise his hand to me then, when I tell him – I came and looked him in the eye, in his good solid workin’ days, and that I left him to them, just ‘cause he looked and sounded happy. 


Zaroastra said...

I like this, a truly original idea. The sort of thing I would expect to read in analog or F&SF. Have you considered expanding this to a short story size and submitting it?

Anonymous said...

It has shades of Clockwork Orange to it. Really pulled me different directions, but I love how the narrator decides to hold her initiative in deference to his happiness.

Site Owner said...

Glad you liked it Z, not really got time to take this one any further - as working on next novel, but I may come back to it.

Site Owner said...

Something I didn't get across in the 100 words, is that the ice-trucks are moving and refreezing ice in computer controlled patterns to fine tune Polar weather and restabilise the ice-caps. Its based on keeping the average temperature down and the albedo up, while being willing to sacrifice the 'coldest' spots to power the 'average'.