30
Nov
16

Safety Nation Chapter 7

I went through the entire proof from the publisher. It looked great overall, but there was a minor issue with the cover, and I spotted a few typos here and there. I’ve hopefully corrected everything, and have ordered a second proof from the publisher. If that one looks good, then we’ll be able to set the release date for the book!

In case you have missed the chapters so far, here are links to them:

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3

Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Announcement/Blurb

Cover Art

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

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

7

We slid into the same booth as last time. The waitress was the same as before, too. Lowry ordered a big meal with her coffee. I had coffee only. Lowry blew on her steaming mug before taking a sip.

“How was I?” she asked.

“Amazing,” I said. The excitement from earlier was still pumping through my veins.

She returned a sly grin.

“I’ve never seen anything like that. You weren’t kidding when you said you were going all the way to the top.”

Lowry put her mug down. She folded her arms and rested them on the table. The lights above shimmered on her red hair, reminiscent of a halo. “Have you worked Healthcare Detail before?” she asked.

“No.”

“What do you think it will be like?”

I sipped my coffee. It was strong and bitter. “The same as every other department. We’ll waste taxpayer money to enforce a bunch of rules nobody wants or cares about,” I said.

“You don’t think the public wants the safety regulations?”

“Maybe they did when the First Government was founded. But not now. I can’t imagine anyone wants government perverts spying on them.”

“You really hate this job, don’t you?”

“I didn’t always hate it.”

Lowry sipped her coffee again. She turned to the window and looked outside. The world looked dark through the UV-filtered glass. Cars drifted by on the busy street. The city expanded as far as the eye could see. Everything was cast in drab shades of whites and tans and grays.

When Lowry’s food came, she devoured the meal. I couldn’t believe the appetite she had. I could eat like that once, but not anymore. Watching her reminded me how old I was.

“Hey, Smith,” Lowry said. “When did you ever like the job?”

“When I was eighteen, like you, just starting out.”

“What happened?”

I leaned back in the booth. The old faux leather crackled under my weight. “Three decades on the job happened,” I said.

The rest of the meal passed in silence. I drank two cups of coffee while Lowry finished eating. When the meal was over, we’d part ways, and I’d be back to my dismal life again. Lowry would go off and be young and have fun.

“Lowry, you want to do something else?”

“Like what?”

“Have you ever seen the Archives?”

“Just in the training manual.”

“What do you say?”

“Sure. Sounds fun.”

It didn’t take long to drive to the Archives. We entered the square hulk of a building, and found the same security guard as before. The rest of the atrium was as empty as ever.

The guard leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, with an open magazine draped across his chest. I grabbed his terminal and spun it around. I entered my name and serial number. The computer system cleared me, and I went on to the next step.

The process only allowed one agent through at a time. Lowry wouldn’t have clearance, so I’d have to cheat to get her in. The full body X-ray scanner was ready. We stepped in together. She pressed against my back, mimicking my position. The machine scanned us. The light blinked green.

“Come on,” I said, glad the deception had worked.

We walked through the other side of the atrium. Our shoes squeaked on the well-polished floor. I took her down to Sub-level Fourteen. She gawked in wonder at all the books.

“Smith, this is the history of . . .”

“Everything.”

“I had no idea there was so much.”

“And this is only one floor.”

“Do you have a favorite book?”

“A favorite subject. Architecture. Pre-First Government.”

“Architecture?” she said, cocking her head, and saying the word like it was foreign. “People wrote books on that?”

“I’ll show you.”

I opened a book and we sat at a table. I was already familiar with this one. It was a famous building. It had a boxy base, and then a steep rise to the top, ending at a huge antenna spire. Lowry read the caption aloud, “Empire State Building. Nineteen thirty one. Wow. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Of course you haven’t. No one has. Before the First Government, people could design buildings any way they wanted. The world looked totally different.”

Lowry shook her head in disbelief. She flipped through the book’s pages. The Louvre. The Tower of London. Torre Agbar. The Coliseum. And many more. The sheer diversity of structures was incredible. They looked like something out of science fiction. It was hard to believe they ever existed.

Closing the book, Lowry asked, “What else do they have here?”

“What do you want to see?”

“How about literature?”

The literature section was vast. I had perused it many times. It covered three entire sub-levels. Someone could spend a lifetime there and only get through a quarter of the books. Upon seeing row after row of books, Lowry was enraptured.

She slowly walked from one bookcase to the next. Her index finger traced behind her, touching the spines of the neatly arranged books. She left a trail, a single clean line that had wiped away a thick layer of dust.

She turned back to me and said, “I’ve always loved books like these. My grandmother had–” She stopped, choking on the words. She hesitated before going on. “My grandmother had a collection of books. She kept them under the floorboards of her house. The books were all ancient, but we’d read them together.”

“Your grandmother was into contraband, huh?”

“It wasn’t that. She just enjoyed them.”

Technically, books weren’t illegal. The vast majority published today were non-fiction accounts about the greatness of the First Government. Any literature prior to the First Government carried references to life before all the safety regulations. Obviously, this was considered unsafe and therefore illegal.

Lowry plucked a book from a shelf. Her eyes studied the first page, and her chest swelled.

“Do you have a favorite book?” I asked.

Still looking at the one in her hands, she said, “It seems like the one I’m reading at the time is my favorite.”

“Can I tell you my favorite book?” a voice said from behind.

Lowry’s book slipped out of her hands and hit the floor with a thump. I spun around and saw Orwell leaning against a bookcase. His hands were in his pockets. He had the same self-satisfied smile as last time.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“It’s a great book. It’s about the future, and how the government has total control. It’s really quite fascinating. I forget what it’s called, but it reminds me of you, Inspector Lowry.”

I took two steps back, and wrapped my arm around Lowry’s shoulders. She was visibly shaken. Orwell had overheard her statements about the contraband.

“I’m a fan of yours,” he said.

“A fan?” she asked.

“Oh, yes. I was very impressed by your performance last night. I’ve heard of a few different tactics for getting a promotion, but that one was original.”

“Tell us what you want or get out,” I said.

Orwell shifted back to his feet and took his hands out of his pockets. “It’s like I told you before, Inspector Smith, I want to work with the best. People who don’t play by the rules. People who are creative. People who are idealistic,” he said.

“Lowry’s move earlier was anything but idealistic. Clearly, we aren’t the type of people you’re looking for.”

“On the contrary, Inspector Lowry’s actions were most commendable. Was she not standing up for you, her partner? That’s idealistic.”

Lowry tensed, and I squeezed her tighter.

Orwell continued, “There was no way out of that situation. The corrupt bureaucracy protects scum like Huxley and Wyndham. She came up with a brilliant solution to circumvent that. Plus, I like her initiative.”

“For the last time, leave us alone,” I said.

Orwell sighed. He turned his palms up, like he was about the catch something. A tense moment passed. He let his arms fall casually to his sides. His smile remained.

“Very well. I’ll visit you again when you’ve had some time to think things over. Inspector Lowry, I just want you to know, that if you want to get to the top, working with me will get you there.”

He pivoted and walked away, leaving as silently as he had appeared.

Lowry kneeled and fumbled with the book. Jittering, she placed the book back into the empty slot on the shelf. “Wh-who was that guy?” she asked.

“His name’s Orwell. I met him a couple of weeks ago. He tried to recruit me for something, but he wouldn’t say what exactly. He’s definitely shady.”

She took a few deep breaths and her trembling subsided. “He overheard us. About the books. Do you think he’ll report me?”

“I doubt it. I don’t think he’s interested in that. He’s too grandiose for trivial things.”

“Okay,” she said with a wan smile. She looked down for a moment, then up at me again. Her countenance had changed. It was inquisitive now. “What do you think he meant when he said I’d get to the top by working with him?”

“He’s planning something. Whatever it is, we’d be best to steer clear.”

“Maybe he could be useful? Someone to work with. At least for a little while.”

“I’d be careful, Lowry.”

The fun of the Archives was over. I decided to leave. Lowry decided to stay. She perused the books, recapturing her earlier interest. When I returned home, I found nothing waiting for me except a mess.

— — —

To be continued!

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