Story: The DMV Situation.

This is a sequel to this story as well as this other story. Enjoy!

On a bench outside the Pinnacle City Department of Motor Vehicles, Colin Gear sat next to an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android. He shuffled a small stack of note cards in an attempt to organize them.

“Alright, It’s 11:55. Let’s go through this again before Janet arrives,” Colin said, “I want this to be flawless.”

Colin cleared his throat.

“Alright… What is your name? First and last.” Colin asked.

The android spoke without pause.

“My name is Norah Curtis.”

Colin moved to the next page of his notes.

“And where are you from?” Colin asked.
“I am from Pinnacle City, California.” Norah said.
“And what is your date of birth?”
“December 17th, 1990.”
“Wrong.”
“What is the correct answer?”
“For you, it’s December 17th, 1987. Janet changed it, remember? She said you looked older than 24.”
“Ah! Yes. Janet did change that. I remember.”
“Good. I’m starting over.”

Colin began again.

“What is your name?” Colin asked.
“My name is Norah Curtis.” Norah said.
“Where are you from?”
“Pinnacle City, California.”
“And what is your date of birth?”
“December 17th, 1987.”
“And your current occupation?”
“I am currently working as an account manager for Arcast Technologies.”
“What is your current address?”
“2401 Blue Horizon Drive, Pinnacle City, California, 94102.”
“Do you have another form of identification?”
“I have a Social Security card in my pocket.”

Colin placed his notes into his shirt pocket and stood up, motioning for Norah to do so as well.

“Well? How was it?” Norah asked.
“Everything you said was complete and utter bullshit.” Colin said.
“I don’t understand.” Norah said.
“Believe it or not, that’s a good thing right now. Keep it up, and you’ll have an ID in no time.” Colin said.

After Colin finished speaking, a dark blue Ford Fusion pulled into a parking space in the DMV parking lot. Colin looked over to see his girlfriend, Janet Blue, stepping out of the vehicle. Janet walked towards Colin, locking her car with a keyless remote.

Norah made her way into the DMV building itself.

“How do you think she’ll do?” Janet asked.
“No clue, Tron. No clue.” Colin said.
“How long do you think she’ll be in there?”
“Tron, it’s the DMV. We’ll be lucky if we see her before rush hour.”

Janet sighed.

“I was kind of hoping that DMVs over here would be a little less crowded…” Janet said.
“Nope. Pinnacle is one of the worst cities for the DMV.” Colin said.
“And we just let an android walk right in to make a real attempt to get a real ID.” Janet said.
“Yeah. We did.” Colin said.

Janet and Colin looked at each other for a moment.

“Shit.” Colin said.
“What do you want me to do?” Janet asked.
“Just go sit in the car. I’ll head inside to make sure everything goes well.”
“And if it doesn’t?”

Colin started walking towards the entrance to the DMV.

“Well, In that case, I hope Norah can improvise…” Colin said.

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Music That Inspired “The Process.”

I tend to listen to music a lot when I write, as you’d expect, and a lot of the music can bleed into the writing. It’s just as much of an inspiration as any number of other things.

The music that I’m posting here may not necessarily have had a direct influence on the story itself (some did, especially the first three!), but they are a good start at getting into my head and see where I was at when writing and polishing “The Process.”

If you haven’t read it, here you go. That’s the first part. I encourage you to check it out before continuing.

O Positive was a rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, that has one hell of a cult following established since their breakup in the early 1990s. Their first EP, Only Breathing, contained the introductory track “With You”, a song that is about dealing with a loved one who is going through drug addiction and rehabilitation. That part isn’t reflected in the story (nor do I want it to be: drugs are bad, kids), but one of the lines from the song definitely is.

Feeder’s track “Whooey” is an interesting one. The track got its name from the “Woo-hoo” non-word sounds made during the chorus, while the vocals made the statement that “we’re just floating by…” I sort of fell in love with a line from the first verse.

Nada Surf’s “The Plan” is a great track from a band that became successful due to a fluke hit in the mid-to-late 1990s. Most of their stuff sounds nothing like their hit “Popular”, though that isn’t a bad thing. “The Plan” comes from the same album as that single, High/Low. It’s a song that I can relate too a little too much, as it’s a song about a desire to leave your hometown, and the restlessness that occurs when you can’t do so. I used a little bit of this song’s lyrics in the title of another story I wrote, called “Hardwired”, but that’s for another time. A line in the chorus is used in the third part of “The Process”, mostly due to the visceral edge that it had.

“Leave”, at its core, is about dealing with the death of a loved one. More importantly, it’s about dealing with their presence around you and the intrusion they can be on your life when all you want to do is move on from a dark time in your life. The lyrics in the bridge are particularly chilling:

Apparitions still won’t leave me alone / It’s as if you’ve never left
How am I supposed to remember you / If you won’t let me forget?

You can sort of see why I’d choose this song as an influence.

This one isn’t a direct influence, but it’s just something that I was listening to at the time for some of it. It’s, uh, well, it’s definitely an Elliott Smith song.

I’ve always thought of this as the music that Arcast Technologies would play over their speakers. It’s calming, it has a bit of a retro vibe to it, and there’s a bit of irony in the lyrics that people could pick up on if it were being played in a huge tech company’s lobby. I’m a huge sucker for Stereolab, too. It’s like a band traveled from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The third part of “The Process” was originally called “Outside”, named after this song because it was what I was listening to at the time, as well as being a pretty generic title and description of the story. The song itself doesn’t have much to do with the story, but I’ve always imagined it as the exit music for the story itself. Kind of an end credits sort of thing.

As a last note: that band mentioned in the story? That is a real band. Here is one of their songs, on the SoundCloud page for the band The Vivs, which you could sort of consider the spiritual successor to Edith, as the same woman is writing the songs and most of the original members are still in the band. Just putting this here in case you were curious about that.

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Story: The Android In Janet Blue’s Apartment.

The android made a loud screeching sound as the vocal replicator was installed in her expansion bay, located in the back of her neck. Sitting in her office chair, Janet turned the android around.

“Well? How is the voicebox working?” Janet asked.

The android blinked, and spoke.

“L’expansion a été installé correctement.” said the android.

Janet turned the android around.

“Whoops. Wrong dip switch configuration…” Janet said.

Janet took out the vocal replicator and turned to her documentation, a portrait-style CRT monitor with a rainbow-colored Apple logo in the left corner of the monitor bezel. She double-checked the dip switch on the small circuit board that made up most of the vocal replicator part, made the necessary adjustments, and loaded it back into the android.

After another round of screeching, the android spoke.

“It seems the chip is working properly.” the android said.
“Good. That solves that.” Janet said.
“I appreciate the work you have done, Ms. Blue.” the android said.
“Think nothing of it. I’m kind of amazed that you were even put into production.” Janet said.
“What do you mean?” the android asked.

Janet showed the android a newspaper article on the same table as the monitor with the documentation.

“I saw you – well, your model, at a consumer electronics show last fall.”

The newspaper article showed a trade show floor, with five androids, identical in appearance to the android in Janet’s apartment.

“Those are… Those androids in that photo… Are me.”
“Sort of. Most likely they were un-functional prototypes.”
“That picture is… hard to comprehend..”
“It’s fascinating that you don’t… well, that you don’t really talk like a robot.”
“That is because I am not, strictly speaking, a robot in the science-fiction sense.”

Janet looked at the android.

“No… No you aren’t.” Janet said.

Janet got up off of her office chair and headed to her bedroom. The android stayed in place where she was.

“I just did my laundry. I think I have some spare clothes you can wear. It’s infinitely better than the dress…” Janet yelled from across the apartment.

When she came back, Janet handed the android a grey athletic t-shirt, a pair of dark blue jeans, and a pair of black Converse high-tops.

“Here. Put these on.”
“The dress isn’t subtle, I assume.”
“About as subtle as a fireworks display.”

After putting the clothing on, the android stood in the same spot she was in before.

“You can move around, you know.” Janet said.
“I didn’t want to interfere with anything.” the android said.
“Any other person would find it hard to stand that still for that long.”
“I don’t get tired in the traditional sense.”
“What about battery power?”
“According to the documentation, I run on a solar fuel cell.”
“That doesn’t sound remotely plausible.”
“Perhaps that is because I was created by Arcast Technologies in their experimental wing.”
“Alright, fair enough.”

Janet checked the monitor with the android’s documentation for a minute and promptly shut off the monitor.

“What do you remember before being in that bar?” Janet asked.
“Nothing. I was activated by the bar owner.” the android said.
“But… You know where you were made.”
“It is in my documentation, and I was programmed to know this.”
“That’s so… Well, that’s amazing.”

Janet looked at the android, who continued to stand in the same place.

“Before I got the vocal part installed, you wrote that you left the bar because of mistreatment by the owner. That’s fascinating. Seems like you have some degree of free will.” Janet said.

“Perhaps.” the android said.
“And yet you don’t even have a name of your own.” Janet said.
“I am an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android Unit.” the android said
“Yes, I know that. But you don’t have a name.” Janet said.
“I do not, no.” the android said.

Janet reached into her pocket and took out her wallet. Inside, next to her ID was a picture of Janet kissing her boyfriend.

“See, my name is Janet Blue. I was born in Boulder, Colorado, but I moved to Chicago to work. My boyfriend calls me by a nickname: “Tron”, because I have seen that movie more times than I can count. It’s what made me into a programmer, and, during part of college and grad school, an engineer. That is who I am.”

Janet put away her wallet as the android spoke:

“How do you choose a name?” the android asked.
“Well, anything, really.” Janet said.

The android broke from her standing position to turn around to face the windows of Janet’s apartment. Outside, ads and billboards dotted the skyline.

“I think I’ve decided.” the android said.
“That quickly?” Janet asked.
“Yes.” the android said.
“Great! Let’s hear it!” Janet said.

The android walked slowly to the slightly-open window directly in front of her, and spoke clearly.

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Story: The Process: Finale: The Wake.

Leah had planned the funeral completely, with Dana’s input from her mother’s will. The wake took place in Fort Myers, Florida, in a small funeral home near the police department where Dana’s mother worked. Everything was exactly to Leah and Dana’s specifications, save for a single difference: Dana’s mother, Corey Hollett, was a police officer, and a decorated one at that. The chief of police for her precinct demanded that the wake be an open-casket one, with Corey in full uniform. The latter part wasn’t a huge concern for Dana, but the former was.

The light emitted from the overcast sky was unnatural. Dana Gear stood in the funeral home courtyard, far away from the door to the building itself. She made no attempt to go in.

Dana stood with Adam Greyloch, who made the trip from Pinnacle City after Dana told him the plans.

“You’ll need to come in eventually.” Adam said to Dana, who was smoking a cigarette.
“I’ll go in when I’m ready.” Dana said.
“You need to do this.”
“I didn’t want it to be open casket, Adam.”
“It gives you closure.”
“The only thing it will give me is a goddamn nightmare. I don’t want that to be my last memory of her.”
“I’m going to go back in. Come in when you are able.”

Adam left Dana in the courtyard and walked into the building. Dana threw her spent cigarette to the ground and lit another with her back to the funeral home.

Dana continued to stand there. Every so often, she would try to get to the door, but her body prevented her from doing so. A cold chill ran through her spine.

Dana was so distressed she didn’t seem to notice the man standing behind her.

“What brand do you smoke?” the man asked.

Dana nearly jumped. She turned around to look at the man addressing her. He was in his mid-40s, wearing a navy blue dress shirt and black dress pants. A pair of red sunglasses stuck out from his shirt pocket. His hair should have been graying, but it was jet black.

Dana hesitated.

“Sapphire 99s.” she said.
“Unfiltered. Impressive.” The man said. “My dad used to smoke like that. He was up to three packs a day before he died.”
“Jesus. That man must have loved his cigarettes.”
“If he had redeemed his Marlboro miles, they probably would have built a statue in his honor.”

“How is everything going inside?” Dana asked.

“Haven’t gone in yet. The two-dozen cop cars outside are kind of intimidating.”
“The chief practically demanded that she be dressed in uniform.”
“I could imagine. It’s hard to refuse something like that.”
“I’m pissed at them. They’re acting like they’ve supported me and my mom forever. The police chief fucking fired her after she got cancer. Fuck him. I‘ll kick him in the head if I can.”
“That’s awful.”
“I have nothing now. She was it. I never knew my father. No family, no future…”
“Oh, come on. That can’t be true.”
“Oh, it is. Trust me.”
“You know, I think this conversation would go a little better if you told me your name.”

Dana cleared her throat.

“My name is Dana. I’m Corey’s daughter.”
“Dana Hollett. It’s a lovely name.”
“It’s ‘Gear’, actually. Dana Gear. My mother gave me my father’s last name. I don’t really know why.”
“I see.”
“What about you?”
“I met Corey at a Radiohead concert in 1995.”
“That’s… Well, that’s interesting.”

Dana finished her cigarette and lit another.

“You should probably head in soon.” The man said.
“I… I can’t.” Dana said.
“Why not?”
“Because it’s an open-casket. The cops demanded that, too. I can’t stand to see my mother like that.”
“You won’t get another chance to see her at all.”
“I can’t have that be my last memory of her. I want to remember her alive.”
“You still do.”
“If I go in there, that image will haunt me.”
“Only if you let it.”

Dana took a drag of her cigarette.

“I want to remember the woman who taught me how to defend myself in a fight. Or the woman who nearly threw my high school principal across his office for threatening to suspend me for wearing a leather jacket to school.” Dana said.

“A leather jacket? Really” The man asked.
“They had this fucked-up idea that people who wore leather jackets were in a gang, or something. My mom changed that.” Dana said.
“Seems like your mother was a hell of a woman.”
“She was.”
“I’ve got a hypothetical question to ask you, Dana.”
“Go ahead.”
“If you were in that casket, where would your mother be?”

Dana stood in silence for about 15 seconds. She began to tear up.

“Right next to it.” Dana said.
“Seems like she wouldn’t have minded if she saw you like that.”
“Nothing really fazed her, so, no. Probably not.”
“You don’t have to go in there. But I’m sure you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t.”
“You think?”
“It’s not a tomb in there or anything like that.”
“I know that.”
“Judging by the half mile line of cars along the sidewalk and the cops redirecting traffic at the light, I’d say there are a lot of people here to see your mom one last time.”

Dana took another drag.

“I’d bet a bunch of those people are here to get a glimpse of Leah Arcast, too.” Dana said.
“Wait, Leah Arcast is here?” The man asked.
“Yep.”
“We are talking about the woman from Repeat Defender, right?”
“Yeah. She actually helped me put this together. I live with her daughter, Edith.”
“That definitely explains the bouncer at the front door.”
“Yeah. Leah’s been running her father’s company for the better part of 15 years, now. Seems like the USA network keeps re-running her show, though.”

The man took a look at Dana, who was a little more relaxed than before.

“I’m sure you have people to see in there.” The man said.
“Yeah, I guess I do.” Dana said.
“Just give it a shot. What can happen?”
“Nightmares.”
“You’d need to do a lot more than pay your respects at a funeral before that’ll happen.”
“I guess.”
“Plus, there are probably a hundred people in there. If you aren’t confortable, they’ll be there to talk with, too.”
“I didn’t think of it that way.”

Adam Greyloch came out from the funeral home building. He made his way to the courtyard where Dana and the man were talking. Dana put out her cigarette as Adam approached.

“How’s it going?” Adam asked.
“I… I think I’m ready to go in.” Dana said.
“That’s good to hear.” Adam said.

As Dana began to walk to the door of the funeral home, she stopped and turned around.

“Thanks for talking to me. I feel a lot better now. A whole lot better.” Dana went to the unknown man and gave him a hug.

The man reached into his front shirt pocket to retrieve the sunglasses that had been placed there.

“Make sure your mother gets these.” The man said as he passed the sunglasses to Dana.
“Are they hers?” Dana asked.
“She left them at my apartment. I never got the chance to give them back.” The man said.
“I’ll make sure she has them.” Dana said.
“Good.” The man said.
“Aren’t you going to go in?” Dana asked.

The man looked at Adam and looked around the courtyard.

“I’ll be inside in a minute.” The man said.

Dana made her way into the funeral home, passing through two large double doors into a crowd of dozens of people.

Adam stood in the courtyard with the unknown man. He smiled, proceeded to shake the man’s hand.

“God dammit, Colin. You could have called.” Adam said.

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Story: The Process, Part Two: The Meeting.

“Dana Gear?” The woman said.
“Yes. That’s me.” Dana said.

The woman rushed towards Dana and embraced her. Dana stared blankly over the woman’s shoulder.

“My name is Leah Arcast.” said the woman, “And I’m sorry we had to meet like this.”
“It’s fine.” Dana said. “I’ve got the certificate right here.”
“Alright.” Leah said. “Come into my office. We’ll get this worked out.”

Dana followed Leah into her office, which wasn’t too far from the elevator. Leah used a key card to unlock the door from the outside.

“It’s not much, but it’s what I need.” Leah said.
“I would have expected you to be on a higher floor.” Dana said.
“I figured I could run a company on the 10th floor just as effectively as on the 50th.” Leah said.

Inside the office, Leah sat down at a large mahogany desk. Dana sat down at one of the chairs on the other side and handed the death certificate to Leah.

“How old was your mother, Dana?” Leah asked.
“44.” Dana said.
“It says here that the cause of death was a… Pulmonary embolism?” Leah said.

Dana covered her mouth and made a throat-clearing noise.

“Sorry.” Leah said.
“You’re fine.” Dana said. “It’s just… It was sudden.”
“I’m sorry, Dana.”

Dana took a deep breath.

“Yeah. Embolism. But it was due to breast cancer.” Dana said.
“I see.” Leah said. “Her medical bills must have been very high.”
“Fucking astronomical.” Dana said. “Sorry. But they were.”
“It’s alright.” Leah said.
“That’s part of the reason I’m here. I don’t really have any family I can go to.” Dana said.
“You haven’t got any relatives?” Leah asked.
“My mother didn’t keep in touch with her family.” Dana said, “They kind of abandoned her after she got pregnant.”

Leah looked at Dana, who was staring at the death certificate on the desk..

“So. You’ve got no one.” Leah said.
“Not a soul.” Dana said. “I’m kind of at an impasse, here.”
“Well, I’m willing to help.”
“Your daughter was gracious enough to get me into this meeting.” Dana said.
“Edith always talks about you, Dana.” Leah said. “Says you’re the best roommate she’s ever had.”
“I’m glad.” Dana said.

Leah pointed to a framed poster on the wall of her office. It was a black-and-white photo of two women and three men. The only visible face on the poster belonged to a young blonde woman. The one un-obscured women was in the foreground and the rest were in the back.

“See that poster over there?” Leah asked.
“Yeah. What’s so special about it?” Dana asked.
“They were a band called “Edith,” from Boston, Massachusetts. My hometown.” Leah said.
“Ah. I assume that’s where you got your daughter’s name from?” Dana said.
“Yep.” Leah said. “I saw that band play at the a bar when I was in college. I decided that night that my daughter needed that name. It’s a shame that my ex-husband didn’t share the feeling.”

Dana stared at the poster for about a minute.

“I never did get to thank you for helping Edith when my ex-husband tracked her down in Fort Myers.” Leah said.
“It was nothing.”
“I read the police reports, Dana. That was an ordeal I could never have dealt with.”
“He broke into our apartment. Didn’t even know who he was. All I heard was Edith yelling.”
“It’s good you were home at the time.”
“He never laid a hand on her. I didn’t let him.”
“I’m very grateful for that.”

“So. Dana.” Leah said.
“Yes?” Dana said.
“How are you planning to pay for the funeral costs?”
“At this point, I’m starting to think that a loan shark is worth it.” Dana said.
“That bad, huh?” Leah asked.
“I don’t have a dime to my name.” Dana said. “The insurance company is giving me trouble because my last name isn’t ‘Hollett‘, and any saved cash was used for medical bills.”
“I see.” Leah said. “Well, what were you hoping to do?”
“A wake and a funeral.” Dana said. “My mom had the details put in her will.”
“Alright.” Leah said. “Done and done.”
“Huh?” Dana said.
“I’ll cover the expenses.” Leah said.
“I was just hoping for a loan.” Dana said.
“Well, I’ll do you one better.” Leah said. “It’ll be taken care of.”
“You really don’t need to-” Dana was cut off.
“I may not need to, but I want to.” Leah said.
“I’m… I’m going to find a way to repay you.” Dana said.
“Don’t even think about it.” Leah said.
“I… I have to. This is going to cost something like $10,000.” Dana said.
“Dana, consider this a ‘thank you’ for helping my daughter.” Leah said.

Leah got up from her desk. As she walked to the door of her office, Dana jumped from her chair and gave Leah a hug.

“This means the world to me. Thank you.” Dana said.
“It’s no trouble at all.” Leah said. “Now, we need to make some phone calls. Let’s grab some lunch first. Then we can come back to this office.”

Leah opened the door to her office and walked with Dana to the elevator.

Three days passed.

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Story: The Process, Part One: The Arrival.

The sky over Pinnacle City was a deep blue. No clouds in sight. Dana Gear was getting some important business done. Adam Greyloch, one of Dana’s few friends in the city, offered her a ride to her destination.

Dana pulled on the passenger-side door handle, to no avail. Adam unlocked the door from the inside.

“Make sure you‘ve got a seatbelt on.” Adam said.
“Mind if I smoke a cigarette?” Dana asked.
“If you think it’ll get you through it.” Adam said.
“Huh?” Dana asked, lighting an unfiltered cigarette.
“Never mind.” Adam started the car and got out of the partially-blocked intersection.

“Arcast Tech is about five miles to the north of us.” Adam said.
“What do they do there, anyway?” Dana asked.
“Everything. Arcast does everything.” Adam said.
“Like?”
“Consumer tech, military contracts. The works. Your father and I used to work there, back when my wife and I were still dating.”
“Yeah. I was wondering about that.”
“What?”
“You’ve never told me what my father did for a living.”
“Colin and I worked for Arcast, testing their products.”
“So, you were lab rats?”
“You could say that.”
“What was he like, Adam?’
“Your father?”
“Yeah. What was he like?”
“Honestly, he was a lot like you. I guess that makes sense.”
“How so?”
“He didn’t take any lip from anyone. And I worried about him a lot.”
“For?’
“He had a habit of leaving the city every week or so. He told me a few times that he was flying out to Chicago every week.”
“Any idea why?”
“He told me he was meeting a therapist.”
“In Chicago?”
“Yeah. I didn’t buy it.”

Adam pulled into the Arcast Technologies parking lot. He parked in a reserved space near the front of the building. The sheer size of the Arcast Tech building took Dana by surprise as she got out of Adam’s car.

Adam pointed to the automatic doors, leading into the building.

“I’m going to need another cigarette.” Dana said.
“If you must. I’ve got to meet my wife in her office. I’ll be here when you’re done.” Adam said.

Adam walked away and entered the building while Dana stood at Adam’s car and lit another cigarette. Dana held the match between her thumb and index finger until the flame got to the bottom of the matchstick. Dana didn’t flinch as she calmly tossed the burned-through match to the ground.

After finishing her cigarette, Dana walked into the Arcast Tech building. The white walls and metal-colored furnishings hurt Dana’s eyes. She slowly walked to the reception counter.

“Hello. Welcome to Arcast Technologies. How may I help you?” A nearby receptionist said.
“Yeah. A friend of mine came in here… He doesn’t seem to be around.” Dana said.
“Sorry about that. Are you waiting on your friend?” The receptionist asked.
“Nor really. I’m here to see Leah Arcast.”
“I’m sorry, but Leah Arcast’s schedule is full today-”
“I have an appointment.”
“Oh. Your name?”
“Dana Gear.”

The receptionist looked up from her computer.

“What was that?” The receptionist said.
“My name. It’s Dana Gear.”
“Would you be related to Colin Gear, by any chance?”
“He’s my father.”
“Colin was one of our best employees. We haven’t seen him since he left for, uh…”

The receptionist thought for a moment.

“Come to think of it, I don’t quite know where he went.” She said.
“Never met him. Wouldn’t know.”

The receptionist gave a puzzled look.

“But you said that-” she was interrupted.
“It’s a long story. A little much to get into here. Is Ms. Arcast ready?” Dana asked.
“I’ll check.” The receptionist said.

The receptionist pressed a three-button combination on her desk phone. Dana could hear the ringing dial tone from her place in front of the receptionist’s desk.

“Ms. Arcast? I have a young woman named Dana Gear here to see you. Alright. I’ll send her up.” The receptionist hung up the phone.

“Take the elevator to the 10th floor.” The receptionist said.
“Thanks.” Dana said.
“Thank you, Ms. Gear.”
“Please, don’t call me that. ‘Dana’ is fine.” Dana said as she walked towards the nearby elevator.

Dana entered the elevator and pressed the “10” button. As the doors closed, Dana took a piece of paper from her jacket pocket. It was a death certificate for a woman named Corey Hollett. Dana sighed as she looked at the various details on the paper.

The elevator doors opened to the 10th floor. In the hallway stood a woman with short blonde hair who wore a grey business-style dress.

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Story: A Conversation at a Diner.

(This is a scrapped intro to a story I wrote in college.)

(I have no idea where I found the name “Greyloch”, but I thought it sounded amazing.)

(Oh, and Pinnacle City is a completely made-up place in the San Francisco Bay area of California. It’s a magical land of blue skies, glass highrises and restaurants that still allow smoking indoors.)

Inside a diner in Pinnacle City, California, Dana Gear and Adam Greyloch sit across from each other. Dana stared into a breakfast menu while Adam did the same.

“I can’t decide. I never can.” Dana said.
“Take your time.” Adam said. “Leah doesn’t get to work until later, since she stays later at night. My wife Allison is already there.”
“What does your wife do there?” Dana asked.
“Aly’s the head of Arcast Technologies’ R&D.” Adam said.
“Huh. Neat.”
“Yeah. She’s got a private office and everything. It’s definitely a better gig than working in the cubicles.”
“I can imagine. I worked in a call center for a little bit. Hated it.”

Just then, a waitress came by with a pot of coffee.

“Either of you want any coffee?” the waitress asked.
“Black.” Dana said, her face still buried in the menu.
“None for me, thanks,” Adam said, “But I’ll take a diet soda.”

The waitress took off without saying a word.

Dana looked up from her menu.

“Did you decide on something?” Adam asked.
“Maybe.” Dana said. “I was kind of wondering if it was cool to smoke in here.”
“It should be fine. This city’s one of the only parts of the state where it’s allowed.”

Immediately after Adam finished his sentence, Dana retrieved a Zippo lighter and a pack of Sapphire-99 cigarettes from her jacket pocket.

“Thank God.” Dana said as she took a drag.
“Whatever works.” Adam said.

Dana began looking at her menu again. The waitress returned with Dana’s coffee and Adam’s soda a few minutes later.

“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked.
“Eggs benedict.” Dana answered.
“And you?” the waitress turned to Adam.
“I’ll have a vegetarian omlette.” Adam answered.
“It’ll be a few minutes.” the waitress said as she picked up Adam and Dana’s menus and walked away.

“So.” Adam said.
“Mhm.” Dana took a sip of her coffee, cigarette still in hand.
“Don’t burn yourself.” Adam said.
“The coffee’s not hot enough for that.” Dana said.
“I wasn’t talking about that.” Adam said, pointing to the cigarette between Dana’s fingers.
“Oh. That, too. I’ll be fine.”
“Not in the long run.”
“I started smoking when I was 15, Adam. Don’t worry.”
“And you’re 22 now, right?”
“Yeah. I’ve had that argument every other day for seven years. I’ll manage.”
“I’ll keep quiet.”
“Thanks.”
“No problem.”

Dana looked around the diner for a second. It was fairly empty.

“Y’know, something’s been bugging me, Adam.”
“What’s that?”
“The hell kind of name is ‘Greyloch’, anyway?”

Adam laughed.

“A name given to my great-grandparents when they came over here.”
“What’s the original?”
“Y’know, I’m not sure. I figure that’s why the immigration officials changed it.”

Dana took a look around the diner as she sipped her coffee.

“There aren’t too many people here.” Dana said.
“It’s a Wednesday.” Adam said. “People are on their way to work.”
“I figured.”
“Speaking of which, Dana.”
“Yeah?”
“Leah gets into her office at around 11 AM. We probably could have waited a little bit.”
“I wanted to be sure we got there.”
“You’re stressing yourself out. Meeting with Leah isn’t going to be a stressful thing.”
“I needed to be sure, Adam.”
“Alright. No problem.”

Dana sat and drank her coffee. After a few minutes, she took another long drag of her cigarette and tossed the remaining part it into her now-empty coffee cup.

Another waitress came over to re-fill Dana’s cup, but Dana pulled it away before the waitress could pour.

“I’ll need a clean cup.” Dana said. “This one’s gonna be an ashtray.”

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