Welcome back to Neeka’s Story (which is eventually going to need a better name) as I let the WordPress Discover Challenge writing prompt inspire me to move this story forward chapter by chapter each week.
Today’s prompt is Learning:
For this week’s challenge, share a story … about learning something new. What were you trying to accomplish? Was it a success or a flop? Has that knowledge stayed with you, or is it buried deep in your brain’s dusty attic?
Don’t limit yourself to experiences from brick-and-mortar classrooms — we learn in so many different environments and from so many different people, so an enlightening conversation with your grandmother is just as welcome as a recap of your adventures in the library stacks.
I decided to continue the story from exactly where we left off last time, in Neeka’s apartment, and while I’m veering a little away from the description above, the ork private investigator Asher O’Leary is trying to learn something from Neeka as he questions her about some code… just how successful he’s going to be, well, you’ll have to read to find out. It’s not a super long chapter (about 2,000 words), but it’s finished, and that’s all that matters!
Also, I completely admit that I stole some of the names I use here from one of my all-time favorite movies, the Angelina Jolie/Johnny Lee Miller flick Hackers — writing on the fly like this, it’s easier just to grab names from memory instead of agonizing over what to call each random NPC. If/when I do a rewrite of this whole story, I’ll probably change them.
One other quick note: this is an adult-themed setting, and while I’m not sure what kind of rating this story will have by the end of it, I’d say one scene in here is probably PG-13, just FYI. (I’ll always let you know if that rating goes up in advance.)
I put a full recap of the story and how the different pieces fit together in last chapter, including notes about scenes that have yet to be written, and yesterday’s Writing Thoughts was about using writing prompts to spur your creativity, just as I’m doing here, if you’d like to check that out too. I’ve also updated the main Neeka’s Story page. Anyway, enough talk — enjoy!
Tolo’s coding signature stood out among the rest of the elegant phrases, part of a code that was designed to infiltrate another racer’s UAV and disable it, a code that had crashed another person’s possibly most valuable possession… a code that suddenly made her second-place victory seem hollow, not to mention the rest of her evening a complete lie.
Neeka stood there, stunned for a moment, until Asher carefully took the vidscreen from her hands. “So,” he began gently, “When I ask you if that means anything to you, you’re not going to say something stupid like, ‘no,’ right?”
* * * * *
She blinked at him for a moment, but then quickly shook her head. “No,” she said, and then shrugged and laughed, but though it sounded forced even to her own ears, she pressed on. “I mean, I can tell you that it’s beautiful code; you’re not looking for an amateur here. But I’ve never seen it before. I might be able to give you some names, other pros who might know more, but…”
The big ork looked down at his screen again, then up at Neeka, and she had the distinct feeling he wasn’t buying it; he opened his mouth to continue his interrogation, but a sudden beeping from Neeka’s comlink interrupted him. “Oh, frak!” Neeka exclaimed, tapping the air in front of her where part of her virtual display had animated. “That’s my alarm — oh no, I’m so late!”
She whirled away from Asher and made her way to the back of the apartment, sliding between the shelving to stand at her clothes rack. “Hey, I’m really sorry,” she said over her shoulder, not thrilled at turning her back to her impromptu guest, but having no other choice. “I’ve got another race tonight, so I’ve gotta cut this short. I’ll get you those names though.” She flipped through her tops, trying to figure out what she could throw on to match her black work pants, and heard the ork shuffling his huge feet behind her.
“Look, Miss, I don’t think yer tellin’ me everything, and I ain’t heard of no race tonight,” he said testily, and then gave another deep cough, which startled Neeka into turning around again. Asher continued, seeming to shake off his aggressive manner with some effort. “So, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a few more questions…”
He wouldn’t be able to get through the opening in the shelving without bringing one or both sets down, Neeka thought, which might give her time to get out the window behind her and down the fire escape. However, he still had the gun in his holster, and that wouldn’t be stopped by her flimsy barrier if he decided to up his threat.
But despite his martial prowess in the hallway, she didn’t think Asher was really the violent type… and besides, she really didn’t know anything. Maybe she’d misread the signature, either today or last night, and anyway, she didn’t have much information about Tolo to give him if that was really what he wanted. Neeka sighed, glanced at the blinking virtual alarm that was about to go off again, and decided she needed a distraction.
She crossed her arms in front of her and grabbed the edges of her dark blue work shirt emblazoned with the Corp logo on the pocket and the white shirt underneath, then pulled it up over her head and dropped it on the floor beside her. Her eyes never left Asher’s, and the big ork’s mouth dropped open as she stood across the room, now just wearing skinny black slacks, boots, and a white bra. Even though he still held her eyes, she knew Asher could see everything in his peripheral vision.
Reaching behind herself, Neeka pulled her sparkly red top off the hanger, then gave it another moment before spinning back around and giving a slightly tense laugh. “Oh, shoot, sorry, I’m just in a hurry, I…”‘ She reached to her waist as if she were about to strip off her pants next. After hearing an orkish gulp followed by large shuffling feet, she pulled the red top over her head and fluffed out her hair, then quickly moved over to her workbench and shoved her UAV into the case it was sitting next to, happy to see the damp areas of the case had dried from the night before, but frowning as that churned up more mixed feelings about Tolo.
When she glanced back over at Asher through the shelves, he was facing the door, one large hand scratching the back of his neck in clear embarrassment. “Yah, it’s ah, fine, ah…” Asher sputtered, and with his back turned, he didn’t see Neeka’s grin as she grabbed a few more pieces off the desk and put them in the pockets of her case. “But what race?” Asher asked, and his head and shoulder turned slightly as if he wanted to face her again, but his whole body seemed to twitch and he resolutely kept himself facing the door.
“Almost done,” she called as she eyed her collapsible bike leaning against one of the shelving units on her side of the divide. “Do you read lowslang?” she asked him, pulling her case over her head and doing one last check that she had everything she needed. “There was an encoded flyer going around today, but if you don’t read it, you’d have missed it.” Moving quickly, she scooped up the cobike as she strode past the shelves and back into the living room area, and as she’d anticipated, Asher finally turned around when he heard her approach.
“I’m so, so late, and it’s out in the Styx, so here –” Neeka blinked on her virtual display and fired off a quick message one-handed to the EM address that she’d seen on Asher’s card. “Talk to Phreak, Razor and Blade, and maybe Nellie; one of them might know more about your mystery code. I just sent you their EMs.” She smiled at the big ork, who seemed slightly uncomfortable with how close Neeka suddenly was after what he’d seen, and tried to gently push him toward the door as she took another step toward it. “And I’ll keep an eye out for anything suspicious, I promise, and call you if I see anything.”
“Miss, I don’t want to make you late, but –”
“Good, so don’t. Let’s go,” Neeka said, putting a little more force behind her words. “You can walk me down if you want.” Her alarm went off again, more insistently this time, and she tapped it off again. “But you gotta keep up, and I’m not leaving you in my apartment!”
Asher finally moved, still not really meeting her eyes, but he stepped into the hallway and Neeka was able to set her locks before she started off toward the stairwell she’d come up only a short time earlier. For as much of a hurry she was in, only some of which was feigned for Asher’s benefit, she did unintentionally balk when she reached the top of the stairs, suddenly remembering what had started this whole mess.
The ork saw her hesitation and easily stepped in front of her, casing out the stairwell and even giving a deep sniff at the top landing. “‘S clear, Miss. Don’t worry, he’s gone.” Now Asher did look back at Neeka, and she gave him another smile.
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I know. Sorry, let’s go.” Neeka laughed again, wondering when she’d gotten soft and when she’d developed this ridiculous fake laugh, but followed Asher down the stairs, shifting her cobike to her other hand to grab the railing.
“Why d’ya think someone was following you?” Asher asked, tromping down the steps and taking up most of the stairwell. “And thanks for the names, I’ll check ’em out,” he continued, “but I’m really looking for any info you’ve got on the guy who took first place. Know ‘im?” Asher had waited until they were at a switchback in the stairs to ask that last question, just so he was facing her as they reached the small landing.
Neeka cursed inwardly when she felt her eyes involuntarily widen, enough that the P.I. must have noticed, but tried to brush it off. “No, I haven’t the foggiest why that guy came after me, unless it was like you said — he was probably a rapist and thought I was an easy target.” She knew she was rambling as they continued down the stairs, but couldn’t help herself. “There are a few pervs in this building, and more down the block — a couple people’ve been assaulted in the last few weeks, but of course CSec is no where to be found when we need them…”
“‘M not investigatin’ assaults, Miss,” Asher almost growled, but again he seemed to shake his head slightly and calm himself. At the next switchback he paused to look at Neeka and said, “First place. Couple people think they saw you leavin’ with him after he congratulated you last night.”
Neeka deliberately walked into the big ork, even though she’d had ample warning he was stopping in her path, but the physical touch did the trick and seemed to spur Asher back into movement down the stairs. She thought fast. “Well, we did walk out together, the crowd was dispersing and I was packed up,” she said, “but we parted company at the street — he went toward the far parking lot, I think. I had a bus to catch on the north side of the mall.”
They were almost at the bottom of the stairs, so Neeka touched Asher’s shoulder lightly again, blinking her virtual display on to quickly check the time. “Just like now! So get a move on, please?”
“Yeah, awright,” the ork grumbled, but he sped up a little and in no time they were walking through the lobby and out onto the street again. Neeka flipped her cobike open and in moments had a full-sized bicycle ready to ride away, but Asher gently set one large hand on the handlebar to stall her.
“Did you get EM, or his name, at least? Guy walks a girl out, ‘s usually to give her his EM.” Asher met Neeka’s eyes, and she was very impressed that, even this close, his gaze never flicked down to her chest, as she might have expected. “The race organizers said he was new, so they didn’t have much,” Asher continued. “I just wanna talk to ‘im, like I’m talkin’ to you.”
This time she was better able to control her reactions, and Neeka shook her head, pouring regret into the motion. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t. But,” she said, brightening again as she carefully pulled her handlebar away from Asher’s grip, “if I see that guy tonight, I’ll see if I can get it, okay? Now, I really gotta go.” With one last smile and touch on his shoulder, Neeka said, “And really, thank you. For what you did before. I owe you. Thanks.”
With that, Neeka stepped over the crossbar and pushed off the sidewalk, letting the cobike take her down the road and away from the pushy ork private investigator and quickly toward the west end of her neighborhood, where she could catch another bus to the Styx and to the race scheduled for just over an hour from now.
She couldn’t help glancing back over her shoulder, though, to see Asher O’Leary watching her pedal away. She didn’t think he’d be waiting for her when she returned later that night, but she resolved to be more vigilant on her approach and to listen to any instincts that might go off to give her early warning this time.
Continue this tale with the next chapter…
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.
Today’s dragon art is called Josh’s Dragon Tattoo by Canadian deviantartist Syka Desetoiles.
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