02
Nov
16

Safety Nation Chapter 3

I hope everyone had a great Halloween. Now it’s onto November and the Presidential election and Thanksgiving, but who cares about that when there’s another chapter of Safety Nation to read? In case you’re stumbling upon this for the first time, here are links to the other chapters:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Announcement/Blurb

Several people have asked when I’m going to reveal the cover art. Well, I was hoping to do it this week. But there’s been a slight delay, so it will probably be next week. I think you’ll like it a lot, it’s pretty great.

So, without further ado, here is chapter 3…

As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

3

The Central Office was bustling with agents eager to leave. I pushed through them like they were an incoming tide. When I reached the other side, Huxley was already waiting for me. His lapel bore a new yellow stain, and his hair was messier than usual.

“Welcome back. I wasn’t sure you’d show,” he said.

“Huh?”

“I thought that cushy gig you used to have softened you up. Made it so you couldn’t handle Sex Detail.”

“The work isn’t the worst part of this assignment.”

Huxley chortled and clapped his hands together a single time, saying, “Woah-ho! Careful what you say. Remember, I am your superior.”

He was getting a kick out of this. He squinted and took a step toward me. “Smith,” he said before taking another step. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

My skin started to crawl. I lowered the brim of my hat and stepped back. I could smell his reeking breath on me.

“Yeah,” he said with a dawning realization. “They’re red and puffy. Have you been crying?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. I turned away to break free from his leering gaze.

“Oh, Smithy, what’s wrong? Did I hurt your feelings?”

“Go to hell.”

“Do you need your bottle, little baby Smithy?”

I snapped back around. I raised a fist. Huxley looked at it with huge eyes. A streak of terror shot through him. I hesitated. Slowly, I lowered my hand. He wasn’t worth the effort. When it became clear that I wouldn’t punch him, Huxley’s face revealed a smug satisfaction.

Huxley backed away and laughed. Shaking his head, he said, “You’re such a serious guy. I wish you’d loosen up.”

“Can we just get to work?”

“Not so fast. We’re waiting for our new recruit.”

“I’m surprised they found another poor sap willing to work here.”

Huxley dipped his hands in his pockets and leaned back against his desk. He looked at the ceiling with starry eyes. “Someday,” he began. He took his right hand out of his pocket and made a slow, sweeping gesture through the air. “I’m gonna be in charge of this whole outfit. You’ll see. Stick with me, and we’re gonna go straight to the top.”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious. It was best not to interrupt whatever kind of fantasy he was having.

“We may be in Sex Detail now,” he continued. “But we won’t be here long. We’ll be moving up soon. Soon as our new recruit shows up.” He continued to gaze into the ether and smile contentedly.

As if on cue, someone appeared before us.

“Hello, I’m Lowry, reporting for duty. Is this the Sex Department?”

Lowry wasn’t what either of us had expected, because Lowry was a woman. There were plenty of female safety agents, but I had never seen one on Sex Detail before. Huxley goggled at her, and a smattering of gibberish dribbled from his mouth.

She was short and slightly plump. Her face was pink and dabbled with freckles. Her features were perfectly symmetrical. She wore the standard uniform of a safety agent. Her feminine features were subdued beneath her masculine clothes. She had shockingly bright red hair, done up in a ponytail, and providing a stark contrast to the drab uniform. The edge of her hairline was frizzy. Her brown eyes danced hopefully as she looked at us.

Huxley found the words he had been searching for, “Why, yes, this is Sex Detail. Welcome, welcome. I must say, I can’t recall ever seeing a Safety Inspector as lovely as you.”

“Uh, thanks,” Lowry said flatly.

She gave me a disconcerted look while Huxley continued, oblivious, “My name is Huxley. I’m in charge around here. And this is Smith. Don’t mind him, he’s one of the grunts.”

“It’s nice to meet you both,” she said sheepishly.

“Where did you transfer from?” I asked.

Before she could speak, Huxley interjected, “Smith, don’t harass the young lady, she just got here.”

Lowry seemed to shrink. Her arms pulled in close to her sides, her head drooped, and all her muscles tightened. The hopeful light in her eyes dulled. She was probably offended by Huxley. Everything about him was offensive.

“So, my dear Lowry, where did you transfer from?” Huxley asked.

“Nowhere. I’m starting today,” she said.

“Your first day on the job?”

“That’s right.”

“Excellent! Then I’ll be able to train you the right way. You won’t end up with a bunch of bad habits like Smith.”

“I see.”

“Okay, okay, enough chit-chat. Let’s get to work.”

Huxley waved her over to the city map. It was displayed electronically on a vertical rolling easel. The digital screen had a line of static running across the top, and a large patch in the middle was darkened by dead pixels.

Huxley pointed out the areas we would be investigating tonight. We had leads on seven dates, and each was considered high risk for safety violations. To cover more ground, we would split up. I would go alone while Lowry would go with Huxley because she was a rookie.

Once the logistics were established, Huxley zoomed out of the Central Office. Since Lowry hadn’t thrown herself at him, he’d temporarily lost interest. Lowry and I started toward the garage. She smiled meekly.

“Hi, I’m Smith,” I said, extending my hand. We shook.

“That other guy, is he always like that?” she asked.

“No, he’s usually much worse.”

“Well, at least one of my co-workers is sane.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

She laughed. It was a sweet, girlish laugh.

As we continued walking, Lowry produced a black bowler hat. She put it on, but it looked ridiculous. Her massive hair kept it perched too high atop her head. She took it off and turned it over in her hands.

“Do I really have to wear this?” she asked.

“Look around. Half the agents don’t wear them.”

“You’re wearing one.”

I touched the brim with my index finger and said, “I’m a slave to fashion.”

We laughed together. We bantered like that as we wound our way to the garage. I was soon feeling better.

In the garage, a black van was waiting. Huxley rolled a window down and snarled at me, “Smith, c’mere.”

I approached the van while Lowry waited several feet back. Huxley lowered his voice and grumbled, “What the hell are you doing? Don’t hold me up like this again. Got it?”

“Whatever you say.”

Huxley looked over my shoulder and cheerily called out, “Lowry! Get in! We’ve got lots to do tonight!”

Lowry gave me a cute little wave as she climbed into the van. The second her door closed, the van pitched forward, its tires squealing on the pavement.

Once they were out of sight, I got into one of the smaller cars and drove to my first destination. It was a government vehicle, so I disengaged the Auto-Driver. It was nice to feel like I was in control of something.

I followed my targets to a home in a residential district. The drive took forever. By the time they were inside the house, my second assigned case had already commenced. I wouldn’t be making it to that one, and I didn’t care in the slightest.

My car was parked on the opposite side of the street. I got out my binoculars and began my voyeuristic work. Things inside the house were dull. They talked, drank some wine, laughed, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the company of one another. I wondered how it felt to be romantically involved with someone you liked.

They retired to the bedroom. They took off their clothes perfunctorily, and the man mounted the woman, the alcohol a substitute for foreplay. The monitoring equipment confirmed he was not using a condom. They were in violation of safety regulations, and I had to arrest them.

I tossed the binoculars aside. I reclined my seat. I kicked my feet onto the dashboard, and dropped my hat over my eyes. It was hard to get comfortable in the car, but I managed.

When I awoke, the sun was rising. I brought my seat to its upright position. I checked on the amorous couple. They were sound asleep, and I felt refreshed.

I returned to the Central Office as it was preparing for another shift change. The sounds of fingers clattering on keyboards and agents muttering bounced from wall to wall, creating an ocean of noise.

People looked anxious to finish their reports and go home. At Sex Detail, Lowry and Huxley were hunched over their terminals. Huxley grimaced and asked, “Where the hell have you been?”

“Work. Where else?”

“You better have arrested all those creeps.”

“Not one.”

“Not one! Whaddaya mean, not one?”

“None of them had sex.”

“That’s a lie!”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Huxley. At least my reports will be easy,” I said with a wry smile.

I opened the department desk and pulled out a terminal. It was tiny and square. The keyboard was half the size of a standard one, and the monitor was miniscule. An electromagnetic device charged the battery. The same technology powered cars and virtually every other electronic device. Electromagnetic fields buzzed across the entire city. Wires had become a thing of the past.

Lowry and Huxley had taken the only two chairs. I sat on the desk with the terminal on my lap.

If no safety statutes were violated, a form would take about five minutes to complete. Safe sex could take up to thirty minutes, requiring information about every detail. Unprotected sex could be an ordeal of an hour or more. I completed my forms with a minimal amount of effort.

Lowry stared intensely at her terminal, and her fingers rattled deftly over the keyboard. She hit the enter key and triumphantly said, “All done!”

“Have Smith look it over. He looks bored,” Huxley said.

Lowry brought me the terminal and asked, “Would you mind checking this for me?”

“I’d be happy to.”

I grabbed her terminal. Rows of blocky green text set against a black background streamed in front of my eyes. My vision blurred. There were too many words. It would take an hour to read all that.

“Looks good,” I said as I handed the terminal back.

Lowry smiled and thanked me. I showed her how to electronically file the reports. They disappeared into space, never to be read by anyone.

Meanwhile, Huxley was typing furiously. He didn’t look like he was close to being finished. I checked my watch. It was time to go.

“I’m out of here,” I said.

“Is Lowry done?” he asked, not taking his eyes off his work.

“Yeah. The reports were perfect.”

“Okay. Show her how to turn in her equipment.”

Lowry and I stowed the terminals inside the desk, and then headed down the labyrinth of corridors and checkpoints. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem as bad as usual.

“Does it always take this long?” she asked.

“Sometimes longer.”

“How do you stand it?”

“Practice.”

With the ritual of returning equipment over, we found ourselves outside, in the employee parking lot. We reached my car and stopped. “This is mine,” I said.

“I’m parked way over there,” she said, pointing to a distant corner of the lot.

“Nice meeting you, Lowry.”

“You, too.”

I opened the door and started to duck in. Lowry said, “Hey, wait.”

I stood back up with a dumb look on my face.

“So, what do Safety Inspectors usually do after work?”

“Go home.”

“So they don’t hang out, you know, like in the movies?”

“I wouldn’t put too much stock in those.”

“Well, could we pretend we’re in one of those movies? At least for my first day?” she said, trying to hide an embarrassed smile.

I smiled, too. I couldn’t help it. “How about a cup of coffee?”

— — —

To be continued!

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