Another week, another interesting challenge form the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig! This week, we had to choose two story genres at random, and mix them together into a single story of subgenre-melty-goodness in 2000 words or less. As usual, I used the random number generator/recorder at Invisible Castle to keep myself honest, and came up with an 18 and a 2 – a Noir Dystopia. Shiny!
I came two words shy of the goal with the following piece, “What the Heart Seeks.” It was harder than I thought, inserting dystopian elements into a noir world. I ended up adding a touch of sci-fi to the mix, and shook it real hard. I hope the results tickle your tastebuds.
I knew she was trouble the moment she walked in the door. Her hair was long, loose, dark, falling over her shoulders like an avalanche of black curls. Her eyes, green as a piece of fine jade. Her lips, shockingly red and shockingly full. Her skin, lightly tanned, as if the sun had kissed her ever so gently. Her clothes so tight, I’d have sworn she was shaken up and poured into them. Every bit of her, head to toe, was a violation of the Morality Code. And frankly, I didn’t give a damn. I tossed out the garnish of taboo and drank her in like a drunk at an open bar.
I must have been staring too long, because her eyebrow raised, and she cocked a hand on one of those impossibly curvy hips. I went to speak, found my jaw was hanging slack, closed it. Rolled my head and shrugged.
“What’s it to you?” I said, trying to play disinterested, though I was sure I’d blown that hand already.
“I hear you’re a Seeker, Mr. Monroe. A good one.”
I put a toothpick into my mouth, gnawed on it. I wanted a cigarette, bad, but I was out of cards for them and though they were plentiful on the black market, getting caught sucking down on one without a ration stamp was more trouble than I wanted to get in. And no matter how tempting she looked, I didn’t know this dame. Best to play it safe.
“I have been known to find things, sure. For a price.”
“What kind of things?” she asked, sauntering closer.
“Things,” I shot back. I don’t like being interrogated.
“You ever find…people?”
I paused. My chewing stopped. I reached up and pulled the toothpick from my mouth, and spun it in my fingers. I knew what she was asking, and it could get me in a lot of trouble. Unlicensed use of meta-human abilities was punishable by…well, anything they damned well wanted to do. Still, there was something about her. I gave in.
“People are tough. Not like objects. They change too much, nothing solid to focus on. Besides, most the time, someone goes missing, it’s because they crossed the Greycoats.”
Outside, a shrill whistle sounded, followed by the sound of running, cries. Punctuated my point perfectly.
“Tough,” she said, almost a whisper as she leaned in real close, “but not impossible.”
I couldn’t help but get a whiff of her, of that sweet, unidentifiable but completely irresistible perfume. I can’t deny, it had an effect. Down below, I felt myself stir in ways both immoral and illegal. Damn…this dame was trouble. Why, oh why do I like trouble so much? Still, long as it had been, much as I may be driven by those illegal, animal desires…I don’t work for free.
“No. Not impossible, Miss…”
I paused. I hadn’t even thought to get her name. It’s like she pushed every single one of my buttons, just right. I felt a flush rise to my cheeks.
“Neris. Neris Molpe, Mr. Monroe,” she said, with a smile that could melt even the black heart of a stalwart Greycoat.
“Uh, you can call me Sam.”
“Alright…Sam. So…will you take the job?”
I almost said yes. Hell, if she had asked right then, I might of walked right up to a Grey Inquisitor and pissed on his boots. But there’s one thing that drives me more than even the most primal lust.
“First, there’s a matter of cost. Seeking’s risky business, and battin’ those eyes won’t pay the rent. Or the taxman. Or bribe the Inquisitors. I need to know what you’ve got to offer before I can say one way or the other.”
Her demeanor cooled slightly.
“Of course,” she said, and the chill from her lips could have frosted over glass. Oh well. So much for that fantasy. She reached into her bag, a nice, colorful thing that would have gotten her arrested in a less questionable part of town. Color incites passion, passion incited immorality. That’s what the loudspeakers said, anyway, wasn’t it? Her hand slid in, slid out, now carrying…
My jaw dropped. My heart pounded wildly beneath my wrinkled shirt and battered overcoat. I literally had to rub my eyes, to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. I even thought about pinching myself.
“Reproduction licenses, Mr. Monroe. Two of them.”
She may well have said she held the contents of the Imperial treasury in her hands. Reproduction was highly, strictly regulated. It could take a couple a dozen years or more to get a license for a single child. Many who got them found that years of chemical libido inhibition also killed their ability to have children, but by some strange lack of oversight, the licenses were open. They weren’t bound to a particular name or couple. They were transferable. And very, very pricey.
I licked my lips. Didn’t want to seem to eager but I really couldn’t deny that I was. I rubbed my jaw, felt the stubble that had grown there.
“Alright, Ms. Molpe…”
“Yeah. Alright Neris. You have yourself a Seeker.”
It’d been a long night. Miss Molpe…Neris…was hesitant on the details. Couldn’t blame her for that, though. These days, anyone could be a Greycoat. Even me.
We’d evaded three patrols so far, running through dark alleys and abandoned service tunnels, following the distinctive pull my mind felt towards the object of her desire. Every once in a while, the trail would start to dim, and I’d have to ask her for another detail to freshen the imprint. Like I’d said, humans are tough. Changing. Moods shift, and something that defined a person one moment might change the next.
It’s easier, of course, if the person in question has some sort of unchanging feature; a significant scar, a great hairy blemish, a tattoo…well, a tattoo would work if they hadn’t been outlawed by Imperial edict. Even then, though, the way a person views their own attributes can sway how well they can be Sought. Where I might see an angry red scar, the bearer might see a proud badge of heroism. The devil is in the details, they say.
And the devil was poking me, hard. I fingered the stiletto hidden in the sleeve of my trench coat, then sighed.
“I need something more,” I said, sucking on my teeth as I tried to pinpoint the fleeting tug of my Seeking. Neris leaned against the alley wall, trying to catch her breath. I guess we’d been moving a bit faster than she was prepared to go; hard to say. When I start Seeking, I tend to loose myself in the pursuit. She held up a hand. I nodded.
After a moment, she closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. It was clear that she was trying to find just the right detail out, that wouldn’t expose too much information but give me enough to give her a lead. A tingle of paranoia crept up my spine like a spider up a drainpipe, but with a shiver, I dismissed it. Paranoia was the norm these days, ever since the emperor dissolved the senate and handed power directly to the Inquisitors. As much as I might distrust her, she surely distrusted me.
“Can we rest a moment more?” she asked, opening her astonishingly jade eyes and batting her lashes. Those things had to be a mile long. I grunted, gave a nod. But something was nagging me, and I had to ask.
“Who are we tracking, Neris? Boyfriend? Relative?”
Her cheeks flushed the color of a cheap wine.
“No…nothing like that. He’s just…someone who…has something of mine.”
She shrugged, looking away from my eyes. My jaw tightened, eyes narrowed.
And then she looked up at me again. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, gazed at me like she was drilling a hole in my soul and looking to strike gold. And damn if she didn’t.
“Please, Mr. Monroe…I can’t. I can’t talk about it more than that. Is it enough that he has something of mine? Can we work with that for now?”
I concentrated, felt the return of that familiar tug. Yes…that would work. I nodded, and we were off again, chasing the ghost of her little thief. Whoever he was.
We hunted most the night, when we finally came upon the end of the line. The tugging within me, the feeling I’d followed all night, released. Tension fled from me like water from a sieve. I felt my muscles loosen, relax.
“He’s here,” I told her, nodding towards the abandoned storage buildings across from us. “He’s inside one of them – sorry I can’t be more accurate, but this is as close as I can get with people.”
Neris nodded, and started to walk briskly towards the buildings, when that wave of paranoia hit me again. I reached out, stopped her.
“Wait. Something’s wrong.”
My eyes narrowed, searching, not Seeking. It was quiet. Too quiet. No sounds of whistles, no barking dogs. No signs that an Imperial patrol had been through here, no sign that they were coming. And where there are no signs of Imperials, there are almost always signs of crime. This place was clean. I pulled Neris back behind me, reached into my jacket, pulled my unlicensed revolver.
“It’s a trap,” I growled.
“I know,” she said, and I felt the cold, round touch of a barrel against the back of my neck. Every bit of me cringed. I’d been had. Hard.
“Your gun. Drop it.”
I considered, briefly, resisting. I’m no slouch when it comes to using a gat, and my impression thus far was that this dame wasn’t used to getting her hands dirty. Not this way at least. And then, the Greycoats came. A whole squad, swarming out from the storage buildings. I may have been able to take her, but my gun was at least a dozen rounds shy of taking the rest.
“Excellent work, Mrs. Molpe,” the lead Greycoat said. “We’ve been after this Seeker for some time now, but he has always proven too slippery a fish.”
Mrs. Molpe? Fuck me.
“Stop, Donovan,” she said, her voice cracking in what almost sounded like sorrow.
He slapped her, hard.
“That’s Captain Donovan, you dirty little Enticer.”
An Enticer? They sent an Enticer? It all began to make sense. The loose details, the feelings of paranoia, the way I set aside my usual distrust so easily. I looked at Donovan. Shit. He was the one I was Seeking the entire time.
I looked over my shoulder at the apparently married Neris Molpe, and sneered.
“Don’t,” she pleaded, “Don’t hate me, Sam. They have my husband. I didn’t have a choice.”
“Everyone has a choice, Neris.”
“Not true,” Donovan said pointing his gun at me menacingly, “You are out of them, Mr. Monroe.”
I smirked. Couldn’t help it. I had a choice.
I lunged, and as I did, pulled the stiletto from my coat sleeve. Donovan’s eyes widened; guess he’d never had anyone resist before. He tried to bring his gun to bear, but I was on him to quick. I buried my blade in his throat. He gurgled, gasped, fell backwards.
I felt the first shot that hit me, but I didn’t feel the rest. My body became suddenly heavy, and I slipped to the ground. I heard Neris scream, and a moment later, felt her arms wrap around me, cradling my head.
“Sam! Oh, Sam…I’m sorry Sam!” she said, sobs wracking her body. I tried to move, couldn’t. Hurt.
“S’ok, dame. I made my choice.”
Coldness swept over me. My sight began to fail. I looked at her, at those impossibly green eyes, and smiled. Imagine that. Me, in the arms of a beautiful dame, her eyes heavy with tears for a cagey old Seeker. I tried to laugh, coughed blood instead.
There were worse ways to go.