You all thought I wouldn’t do it. I know you did, don’t deny it! But I did, and I’m only a day late.
What is this? This is chapter one of a novel I’m attempting to write by publishing a chapter (or two) a month. Here I’d normally tell you what the story is about, but it’s not all planned out yet. What an adventure, eh? I CAN tell you This Sceptred Isle will be about technology, protest politics, geeks, makers and Canadians (well, probably only one Canadian). This is my first attempt at creative writing, barring Transformers slashfic (Oh, Bumblebee! was my favourite), so I need feedback. I need it now, if not yesterday!
All this stuff is going to be collected in that little link above. See it? No? Clicky here for it. You can also download this as a fancy txt file.
For your delectation I present chapter one of my attempt at writing a novel. Settle down children for This Sceptred Isle…
Ward lay on an unfamiliar bed, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. His friends had told him plenty of different mind hacks to overcome the jet lag, but he’d decided to ignore them and sort it out the old fashioned way; sleeping and misery. It turned out he should have listened to them.
The travel alarm clock on his bedside table hovered the digits 20:04 in green above its little plastic shell, however Ward’s body still told him it was two in the afternoon. People were still walking the corridors of the hotel and the traffic noise outside the windows hadn’t clamed down any. Giving up on the idea of sleep, Ward decided he’d try going out for something to eat and wobbled the few steps to the bathroom. The bright fluorescents sputtered into life as soon as he set foot in the bathroom, Ward groaned loudly. He hadn’t seen how the lights knew he was in the room yet but figured there must be a small passive secreted somewhere. As soon as he found it he’d introduce it to a roll of duct tape.
Ward showered, dressed and walked out the door of his room. He’d taken four steps before he realised he’d left his keycard inside. He stopped, shut his eyes, raised his head and shouted incoherently to the universe in general.
He hadn’t had a very good day. The buses, taxis and flights from Moose Jaw to London had sapped the little goodwill he had remaining, even then he wasn’t even sure why he really needed to be at the Technology Industries UK conference. It was the same old sales corporate sales pitch but he’d been asked to go along ‘To take care of any questions the geeks might have’ about their new P2P enterprise documentation system, FogUP. Admittedly he’d sat in on the planning meetings when the software was still a gleam in a designer’s eye and seen the code through to its release, but he drew the line at actually having to sell the damn thing too. But that’s how MautiSoft worked, they liked to show how ‘joined up’ and ‘synergistic’ their business was. Ward had been working with them for six years and knew the difference between what impressed the suits and the people that had to implement their ‘ware and that’s the real reason they had asked him to be there. Assuaging the fears of the guy who actually had to sit down and plug FogUP into an already complex system.
Stephanie had been working at the Ibis for eight weeks and was still enjoying it. She’d been in the country a lot longer as it had taken her three months to prove her fitness to work. She’d had three physical exams, two written exams and a supervised skills audit, as well as having to write her abridged life history, which had been sent back to the US to be verified before being granted a long term visa. She was glad she’d stayed the course though; she’d recently been promoted to front desk duty during the late booking out hours and prided herself on progressing so fast. She had just finished checking out an elderly Spanish couple as a young, thin man walked up to the desk. He was wearing a thin coat for this time of year, jeans and a black t-shirt all topped off with a poodle perm.
“I’ve locked myself out of my room” he said in an almost familiar nasal whine.
“Sir, that’s not possible” said Stephanie in her most helpful voice
The young man’s expression visibly darkened. She felt a little sorry for him.
“Oh, I assure you it is. Card on bed, me outside.”
“Sir, our card keys are RFID enabled. If the card is still in the room the door will not lock. There should have been an alarm to notify you as you left your room.”
“Oh” said the man, shaking his head. “Sorry about that. Epic jetlag, you know.”
He paused and looked off into space for a second. After a beat he said “So my room is unlocked right now?”
“That’s right Sir. Would you like me to call an engineer to check the status of the alarm?”
The man’s eye’s widened, his jaw dropped then he turned and ran back to the stairwell. Stephanie stood blinking as the door to the stairs slowly closed itself. She felt a little bit bad for being so glib, but she hadn’t even had a chance to ask his room number. She should get a security guard to the room to make sure everything is OK. After a couple of seconds thought she turned to the computer, deftly typing on the key membrane she pulled up a list of unlocked rooms. 217, 130, 412, boy, people were cautious around here. She checked the room numbers against the EUID they’d booked the room under. 412 and 130 were both verified IDs for the EU, whereas the resident in 217 had a different looking code. It wasn’t one she recognised, but Stephanie was sure she new the man’s accent.
Stephanie touched the icon on her terminal’s screen for the Government ID Database. The screen filled with a sparse green and blue login prompt. She filled in her ID, her passphrase and pressed her thumb to the biometric reader spot on the keypad. A second later the login screen was replaced with another equally sparse one asking for an EUID or Foreign ID. She pasted the ID for room 217 into the field and pressed submit, the screen froze for a second or two and then brought up the personal records for a Wade Matthew Everett; Age – 26; Residence – Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada; Employer – MautiSoft; Previous Employer – People4Work.com; Marital Status – Single…
The list went on, but Stephanie could see that the photograph attached to the file was the same man who had just been at the front desk. His picture was getting close to expiry and his hair had changed a lot but it was clearly him. She closed the ID Database and picked SECURITY from the list of VoIP numbers at the side of her screen. She was sure nobody would have broken in, but being helpful cost nothing.
Wade rushed up the carpeted stairs, funny how hotel corridors all smelt the same he thought. He arrived at the second floor panting, half through exhaustion, and half from the beating the dead tree novel in his coat pocket had given him. He heaved the fire door to the corridor open, narrowly missing an Asian man in an aggressively cut business suit and pink shirt. As he barrelled past Wade shouted an apology, but if the man replied he didn’t notice. All he could think of was his laptop. Yes it was turned off and encrypted, yes it was secured with a 150 character passphrase and biometrics and yes it was stuffed behind a pile of un-hung clothes at the back of the closet, but if that laptop was stolen he was here for a trade show with nothing to show. It would definitely cost him his job, and Wade decided it would probably end his career as a software engineer too. Word travelled fast through the professional net.
He overshot the door a little, still thinking about what to do if the laptop was missing, skidded to a halt and paced back to room 217 and tried the handle. Stupid! The door swung open and Wade surveyed the room for signs of a break in, nothing seemed out of place. Warily he entered the room and slid open the cheap closet, a few seconds of panicked rummaging produced a gloss black brick no bigger than a magazine. Wade clutched the laptop to his forehead, shut his eyes and breathed out deeply. Shortly he became aware that someone was knocking on his room’s door.
He could tell it was a security guard by the way the man stood, arms crossed, legs apart. His plain white shirt and black tie emphasised the guard’s huge build and proclaimed his function louder than any vest with SECURITY stamped across it ever could. Compared to Wade this man was a mountain.
“Hello?” said Wade. It was half question, half statement.
“Good evening Sir. We had a report from reception that there were concerns about the security of this room. I have been asked to check the accommodation and ensure there is no problem.” the guard had a thick London accent but appeared to be consciously suppressing it.
Wade, thinking back to the conversation with the clerk in the lobby, couldn’t remember telling her his room number. Still, having a security guard come by to check the room was a good idea. He made a mental note to thank the clerk later.
“Oh, well thanks, I guess” said Wade “There doesn’t seem to be anything missing.”
“You will have to provide me with some identification before I can let you continue.”
Something about the way he phrased the statement bugged Wade. Who was this man to prevent him going out, especially from his own room? What if this guy was some scammer trying to skim his ID? Wade glanced at the man’s belt and spotted his ID badge, he looked like bona fide hotel guard.
“I gave my ID at reception, haven’t you got my picture on file already?” he felt a little silly arguing with this guy, but we wasn’t going to hand over his credentials without a reason.
“I’m afraid the picture we have on file for the resident of this room does not match your appearance. UK law dictates that all identity photographs must be updated if a person’s appearance changes significantly. In these cases we have te ensure the identity of a resident with your EUID or visa in your case.”
Wade remembered the picture on his CanID; it was taken five years ago just before he’d started at MautiSoft and still wore his hair long. Long and greasy. It was amazing how a lack of income could affect your shampooing habits.
“I can see you’re trying to make sure everything is OK, but I don’t think I have to surrender my ID to you.”
The guards demeanour changed almost immediately. While he was polite but threatening before, his body language became hostile.
“I am a Police approved Warden, Sir” the guard spat the word out “and as such I am granted stop and search powers the same as any Police Officer. If you fail to verify your identity to me, I have the power to detain you until an Officer of the law arrives and places you into custody. At that time you will be fined and prosecuted if it is deemed necessary. Is that clear, Sir?”
The speech was rehearsed, they probably had little Miranda cards they handed out to these guys and this one was just waiting for a chance to use it. Wade wanted to list the stupidity on show, complain about the day he’d had and how he’d just gotten over being terrified that his laptop might have been stolen. Who was this trumped up doorman to come and tell him what to do?
“Sir, if you cannot verify your identity to me right now you will be detained.”
Wade sighed. He just wanted to get out of the hotel. He fished out a beaten leather wallet and found his Canadian ID card, along with his UK visa which translated the CanID into one the EUID systems could handle. He handed them over to the guard.
The guard scanned the card with a miniature handheld, and asked Wade for his password and thumbprint. With a perfunctory “Thank you, Sir” he headed off to the elevators. Wade closed the door, leant against it and shook his head. He felt weak, like he’d caved in under pressure. Like he’d been bullied into surrendering a tiny bit of his freedom. He found his card key on the bed, stuffed his laptop under his arm and left.
The girl who he’d spoken to before wasn’t on reception, so he left his laptop with a smiling, white shirted Indian guy manning the desk. Suppressing the urge to berate the man, he charged the cost of a safety deposit box to his Visa, making a mental note to claim it as an expense. Minutes later he was out, storming across cold, busy streets replaying his encounter with the security guard over and over.
It was more than a month until Christmas, but already lights had been strung across smaller streets and every shop or bar was playing the same Christmas songs. Wade didn’t mind so much, he hadn’t heard some of the songs before and the Christmas decorations brightened his mood, if only a little. He stopped for a strong Americano and an over priced sandwich at a coffee chain, tried to read some of the novel he was lugging around but found that he couldn’t concentrate on it. Still restless, but much calmer, he decided to go and find a way to trade his jetlag for a hangover.
The George and Dragon was little more than a corridor squeezed between an Italian restaurant and a solicitor’s. The bar was made of some old, age blackened wood, heavy with bronze fittings and ran the length of the narrow pub. Wade had ensconced himself at the seat furthest from the door, keeping himself apart from the clique of regulars, nursing a warm, flat, bitter ale that was a far cry from the ‘Crisp clean taste!’ of his usual drink. Just as he was about to give up on the pint and ask for a Coke instead the door to the pub opened, bringing with it a blast of bitter cold and a figure in a thick winter coat and military gas mask.
The newcomer strode over to the last unoccupied barstool and unceremoniously dumped herself onto it. She pushed the mask up from her face, where it sat pinned to a clutch of bleached dreadlocks.
“White wine please George.”
She turned to Wade, shooting him a brilliant white smile. Offering a strong, calloused hand she said “Hello, new friend.”
This Sceptred Isle
by Neil Holmes
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License
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