I used to call this the Tuesday Discover Challenge… and since I moved the post to Wednesday, I guess I could have renamed it. But the whole point of doing this writing challenge every week is to move my new cyberpunk story forward, to get Neeka’s Story on to the page, so I thought I’d rename it in her honor instead.
Think of a chance encounter you’ve had with a person you didn’t know: it might also have taken place on a train, or some other form of transport, or on a bench at the park, or while walking down the street. The encounter with this stranger may have happened really fast, or was unexpectedly drawn out …. It could be a fond memory, or a bizarre moment, or a meeting that changed your life.
As always, I’m using this challenge as a springboard to write another scene in the Neeka Story, instead of using it for a personal blog post. But the story of how I met my best friend — two adult women dressed as Harry Potter characters randomly meeting in a near-empty bar on a weekday Halloween night, and the story goes on from there — is another ‘chance encounter’ story for another time. 🙂
This prompt brought me back to one of the earliest scenes I ever wrote for this story, about Neeka on the bus. I know everyone’s probably really interested to know what happens in the waterpark after my last cliffhanger, and believe me, I am too, but I’m not sure if you can describe Neeka and Tolo’s psudeo-date as a “chance encounter,” since they were both at that race for a reason.
But there were other characters on that bus with Neeka, and who knows? Maybe one of those brief encounters could be “a meeting that changed her life…” As I mentioned yesterday, despite not knowing where this story is going, a few things clicked into place for me when I worked out this scene. Most importantly, I think, is the way some of these disjointed scenes fit together.
As I’m writing this whole story on the fly without a clear end game in site yet, it’s clear that I will eventually have to go back and fix some things — for instance, I’m putting the bus scene after the adventures at the waterpark now, so Neeka should have been musing about her “date” while on that bus (and I hope it doesn’t lessen that waterpark chapter to come if I say that, big surprise, neither Neeka nor Tolo die and she goes to work the next day). I’ve changed the species of one of the characters on the bus too — but for more on that, you’ll have to read and see. 😉
All right, enough babbling, on to the main event. This chapter is about 2,500 words, the most fiction I’ve written in one sitting in quite some time, so I’m really excited. However, it is a first draft, so feedback and constructive criticism are always welcome. Enjoy!
Neeka walked down the sidewalk in the direction the bus had gone, heading toward the ramshackle apartment building where she kept a modest studio apartment — being a low-level Corp security monitor didn’t pay all that well, after all. She continued to scan around her as discretely as she could, trying to act casual but keeping herself on alert at the same time. Had she really heard another person get off the bus behind her? Some shadowy figure that had inexplicably become invisible while she was distracted thinking about any number of things, not least of which was the new race she’d discovered or whether Tolo would call her after their odd first “date” last night?
She shook her head a little and let out a sigh, blinking off her virtual display. No, that was ridiculous. Why on earth would anyone be following her, and besides, there was no stealth tech so good it turned someone five feet from a person utterly invisible. She would know, with how many tech emags she devoured every week while bored out of her mind at work. Neeka rolled her eyes at herself and picked up her pace a little. Getting off one stop early wasn’t that big of a deal, but now she’d have even less time at home to change, eat something, and grab her gear before catching another bus that would take her even further toward the outskirts of the Corpcity proper.
Racing two evenings in a row wasn’t unheard of, but she knew she’d be tired tomorrow. Hopefully Arlyn wouldn’t tease her too much about picking up the slack again. Her thoughts drifted from the race back to Tolo now, and she weighed her friend’s advice about waiting at least three days before getting desperate enough to call him, against the warring thoughts that maybe he hadn’t found the coded invite and wouldn’t be there tonight, but then again, that might be better for her, because then he couldn’t beat her again…
She was finally at her building and she smiled a thank you as another tenant held the door for her as they passed each other, he leaving, she arriving. She threw a halfhearted glance toward the perpetually broken elevator but automatically headed toward the open stairwell, beginning her daily trudge up the eight floors to her apartment.
The cement walls always threw back strange echoes as she climbed the steps, but today she paused at one point, wondering if the sounds behind her were just a bit different today? She was on a landing between the third and fourth floors, and she turned her back to the wall and opened the messenger bag that she carried, pretending to dig around in it for her keys while she flicked another glance behind her, blinking her virtual display back on. But there was absolutely nothing of note to see, either with her naked eye or her augmented vision, and she huffed in frustration.
Why was she so jumpy today? It had to be the lack of sleep, since she and Tolo had parted ways so late/early that she’d only been able to bus home part way, and had spent money she could’t really afford on a cab to get her the rest of the way.
She continued up the stairs and was relieved when she finally made it as her ankle starting to throb a bit, a childhood injury acting up as it always did at the worst times. She turned the corner to pass through the open doorway to the hallway leading to her apartment instead of continuing up the stairs, but the sight before her brought her up short again.
About halfway down the hallway, standing right in front of her apartment door, was a big ork sporting quite a bit of cyberware. Like all of his kind, he was about seven feet tall, or would be if he stood up straight instead of hunching his massive shoulders. He was as broad as the doorway he stood before, wearing faded army fatigue pants and a white tee shirt under a worn leather vest. Short cropped hair gave way to a cyber plate taking up a large portion of his right temple. Looking at his profile, Neeka could also see his slightly pointed ear and the lower canine protruding from his mouth.
Neeka automatically blinked her virtual display on and noticed he was cybered beyond just his head, all of it looking like military grade gear, although quite a few years out of date. Suddenly the ork coughed, and the barking sound startled Neeka into moving forward down the hallway instead of standing there staring. She realized with a start that this was the same guy who had gotten on her bus, the merc-looking guy who had interrupted the conversations of the other bus patrons.
He’d beat her here, which meant he must have gotten off at Neeka’s regular stop. What was he doing at her apartment? She saw him look down at a scrap of paper in one of his big hands, then back at the plastic number tacked to her door, and he knocked again.
Neeka’s further scan showed that the guy was carrying not one, but two pistols, and probably had more embedded weapons she couldn’t sense, which quickly made up her mind. As the ork coughed again, a deep rattle that sounded like desert-lung to her, his head turned toward her and their eyes met.
She kept herself calm by sheer force of will, trying to adopt a bored expression as she continued forward down the hallway. He glanced back at the door and then back to her, a confused expression on his face, but Neeka made no move to slow down as she approached him. She planned to go to her neighbor’s apartment further down the hall; Mrs. Wu would invite her in with no questions once she caught sight of the guy in the hallway, Neeka was sure.
The big guy had apparently bought her attitude and now frowned down at the paper in his hand, and Neeka though she was clear. The hallway wasn’t that wide, but she hugged the other wall and was just past him, breathing a silent sigh of relief, and only three doors away from Mrs. Wu’s when a sudden crash scared the life out of her and she spun back around.
From the sound alone, at first she’d had the crazy thought that the ork had decided to break down her door, and she had no idea what she could do against an armed merc in that case. But the scene before her turned out to be even stranger than that.
The ork had turned his back on the doorway to Neeka’s apartment and now had both of his beefy arms grabbing ahold of… something… against the wall she had just brushed past. At first, Neeka couldn’t see anything, just an odd open space between the ork’s arms and the wall, but while he growled and struggled with whatever it was, a blob of shifting colors started flickering into existance, before the image started coalescing into a vaguely humanoid shape.
As Neeka stood stunned, the human shape came more into focus, and then suddenly she could see that the ork held a man against the wall, a smarmy-looking thug who was struggling hard to get away from the much larger man’s grasp.
“What the hell d’ya think yer doin’, asshat?” the ork growled as the thug beat his fists against his arms chest and tried to reach his face. The merc continued, hardly noticing the man’s struggles, even shifting his grip on the thug so that one hand held him against the wall by the arm and shoulder, freeing his other beefy paw to roughly search his captive. “Da’fuck makes ya invisible? And why’re ya followin’ th’ lady?”
Following? Invisible? Suddenly Neeka’s racing reflexes kicked in, and the words clicked in her head — so someone had followed her off the bus, she hadn’t imagined it!
“You a raper, eh?” the ork growled again at the man, then smacked him on his ear and gave him a little shake. “Ya gonna rape ‘er, eh? Naw, ya not.” He ripped a knife in a holster away from the man’s back, and then tossed it down the hallway, back towards the stairwell that Neeka… and this man, she realized… had come up. Only then did he look over at Neeka.
When she didn’t say anything, the ork grunted at her. “Know this punk, ma’am?” he said, trying to modulate his tone away from the menacing growl he was using on the thug, Neeka realized.
She looked at the struggling man again and then back to the ork, and shook her head. “No… no, I’ve never seen him before,” she said. Another quick scan revealed no new information about the thug. “You’re sure he was following me, though?” she asked, her mind trying to rationalize what was going on.
Suddenly the man, who’s struggles had been lessening in the wake of the ork’s much superior strength, set his feet behind him on the wall and thrust himself straight at the merc, who was looking at Neeka and not his captive. This off-balanced both of them, and let the thug gain some space away from the ork. He used this opportunity to squirm out of the merc’s grasp, and took off down the hallway towards the stairs, nearly tripping himself trying to reach down to grab the knife and holster as he passed it. He missed and left it on the carpet, reaching the stairwell in record time, Neeka thought.
The ork took off after him, and Neeka followed almost immediately, although she wasn’t sure what she would do if she reached either of them. But the man was faster than the bigger ork, and as they reached the doorway and watched the man disappear around the first bend in the recursive stairwell, the ork suddenly stumbled to a stop, a harsh coughing fit overtaking his huge frame.
Neeka didn’t want to follow the thug, whoever he was, down the stairs and possibly meet her would-be attacker by herself in an enclosed stairwell, so instead she stopped by the ork and leaned over him worriedly.
“Are you okay? Can I help? What can I do?” she asked frantically, as the merc bent over with one arm on the wall to support himself and deep coughs racked his body. With his other hand he was pawing at a pocket on the side of his army pants, and Neeka quickly reached in and found a pint-glass sized inhaler device that she shoved into his grasping fingers.
He looked up at her with thanks in his big, now watery eyes, and thrust the inhaler into his mouth between upthrust canines that were duller than Neeka had always thought ork teeth were, now that she saw them so up close. He breathed with the inhaler for a few minutes while Neeka politely looked back toward her apartment, where all of this had started.
She saw Mrs. Wu, a tiny elven great-grandmother, standing in her doorway looking very concerned, but after Neeka glanced back down the stairwell and confirmed that she didn’t hear the thug coming back, waved at Mrs. Wu, trying to convey that it was okay, things were fine, and she could go back in her apartment. The older woman shook her head in disapproval, probably at the company she found Neeka suddenly keeping, and then disappeared into her own apartment, the door giving a sharp click as she bolted it.
The ork had recovered somewhat, and was now looking down the stairwell himself to gauge if his quarry had escaped. Then he gave Neeka another look of thanks as he moved past her and back up the hallway, to retrieve the knife that the thug had left behind.
“Hey,” Neeka began, following him. “Thank you. Really, I don’t know– just, thanks,” she finished lamely, and the ork nodded his acknowledgement before going back to study the knife in his hands. It was a long blade, probably eight inches, but his huge hands made it look almost like a steak knife by comparison.
They reached Neeka’s doorway as the ork started examining the floor around where he’d scuffled with the thug, and Neeka stopped with him, unsure what to do next. “Uh… so, how’d you know he was following me, if he was — I mean, how was he invisible? I don’t understand. I’ve never heard of that kind of tech.”
“Smelled him,” he grunted at her again, apparently not finding anything of interest on the floor except the scrap of paper he’d dropped when the fight started. “You went past, smelt good. Then I smelt him, right after you, thought it was weird.” He looked up at her again, and then looked back at the door they were stopped in front of. “Hey,” he said, as if remembering his purpose for being in this hallway in the first place. “You know who lives here?
Neeka flushed, then looked at the door. “Ah… about that…” she began, then looked up at the ceiling. “So, question… why’re you here, anyway?” she hedged, but when she looked back at the ork, his eyes were slightly narrowed in thought. Apparently orks weren’t as slow as the stereotypes said, then…
“You live here?” he asked her, and then looked back at his paper.
“Um, well, yes,” she stammered.
“Why’d you walk past then?” he asked, not accusingly, just sounding confused.
As she pulled her keys out of her bag guiltily and stepped over to unlock the door, she gave him a sidelong glance. “Have you seen you?” she asked? He raised his large bushy eyebrows at her, and she continued hurriedly, “I mean, what I meant was, I had no idea why a merc would be at my door, and I got nervous, and I was already jumpy because I did think someone might be following me, so…”
“Why?” he asked, still confused. “Could you smell him too?”
Neeka gave him an incredulous look. “No, I — look, are you here to hurt me?” she finally asked, key in the lock, but not turned yet. She thought bluntness might work where indirect questioning wasn’t.
“Huh? No,” he said.
Neeka smiled as some of the tension she hadn’t realized she’d held since seeing this merc at her doorway fell away. “Good. So then, in that case, do you want to come talk inside, instead of standing in the hallway any longer?”
The ork nodded. “Yah, sure,” he said, so Neeka turned the key and let them both into her small apartment, hoping to get some answers before she had to leave again for the race she was definitely amped up to fly now.
Continue this tale in the next chapter, Neeka’s Story: Discover Challenge – Apologies…
This post is copyright © Jamie Lyn Weigt. All rights reserved. Please do not share without credit and a direct link back to this post and my site, writingdragonsblog.com.