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Jul 29, 2020 07:36AM
Below is short synopsis of my new novel, End Man. I've pasted the first four pages beneath the synopsis. I'm looking for readers/reviewers. If the premise interests you, please personal message me.
Afflicted with dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, 26-year-old Raphael Lennon must live out his life in the one square mile that surrounds his Los Angeles home. Fortunately, the area provides everything an artistically sensitive person needs, including a job at Norval, an oddball company that tracks and markets the online remains of the deceased. Raphael's specialty is unearthing "possums," people faking their deaths. His new assignment is Jason Klaes, an allegedly dead physicist who is perhaps creating afterlives for the Internet-era deceased based on their social media content. Raphael must break out of his phobic prison to solve the Klaes Case and thwart his company's entry into a chilling spin-off of its product.
Los Angeles, 203–
Death was a good place to hide. Ninety-nine percent of the reported dead stayed dead, but occasionally someone played possum. At the Norval Department of Marketing Necrology, Raphael’s job was to find his possum’s pulse—sometimes faint, oh, so very faint.
Raphael glanced away from Jason Klaes’s obituary, having read it for the fifth time. Each read more frustrating than the one before. The details he needed just weren’t there. But Maglio, the big boss, didn’t want excuses. Nail Klaes.
On the ultra high-def screens protruding from the department’s wall, a plain woman in a plain smock ironed a sheet. Vapor rose from the sleek device in her hand. She drew the iron back and forth with a dreamy smile, unchanged as she set it upright, adjusted the linen and then continued her labor in an endless loop. This mindfulness video with its soothing predictability was meant to relax, but it made Raphael uneasy. He could not say why.
The PA system screeched, then—
“Stage Three Event. Repeat. Stage Three Event. Category: Mass shooting. Location: Durham, North Carolina. Estimated deaths: One hundred. Override status. All Necrology Department employees return to their desks.”
On the screens, the ironing woman faded to black. Zigzag color patterns filled the screens, resolving into police cars and ambulances, lights flashing on the exterior of a university quadrangle. Students streamed from the doorways of a white stone building and ran across the quad. Blanched faces filled the screen, then vanished. Trailing those fleeing, the injured—many bleeding—stumbled, limped, and crawled toward the police line.
A weight fell on Raphael’s shoulder. He glanced up at Mike Dreemont, his supervisor, a thickset man with a heavy jaw and wide mouth.
“You know the routine, Team Leader,” said Dreemont. “Take as many as you want from Air Fatalities, Lodging, Foodborne, and Drownings. Let me know if you need more.” Releasing Raphael’s shoulder, Dreemont raised his arms in the air, stretched and yawned. He glanced at Raphael. “But, when you’re done—”
“Yeah, Mike. Back to Klaes.”
Dreemont yawned again. “Oh, better check on your new End Man first. It’s her first mass casualty event, so I gave her a head’s up. She didn’t take it well.”
Raphael found Jensy seated and bent over her desk. Her long black hair hung forward, parting over the pale-green frames of her thick, black glasses, but otherwise masking her face. She had tucked her hands between her legs, and her headphones lay on her stippled keyboard. Her slender white cane leaned against the desk.
“It’s all right, Jensy.”
She lifted her head an inch. “All right? All those people dead. All right?”
“No, I meant—” What did he mean?
He lowered his hand, but stopped short of touching her. He glanced at the monitors above which the Norval logo—a thick N with stubby wings like Nike of Samothrace—glowed. The name of his division appeared in neat silver letters followed by its charge: “To Preserve and Protect the Online Remains of the Dead.”
At face value, the mission statement evoked decomposing flesh, hardier bone, and stalwart grave keepers, but its actual meaning was less noble. It meant hoarding every bit of personal data the deceased left behind and restricting it to Norval Portals. To those online portals came loved ones and scandalmongers, biographers and extortionists, seekers of juicy details and the merely curious—consumers all, valuable targets of the advertisers Norval solicited.
In a soft voice Raphael said to Jensy, “I started at Norval on the day a tanker carrying chlorine gas ruptured within fifty yards of a county fair. Four hundred people . . .”
“Four hundred? How awful.”
“Yes, so many. Dreemont gave us new End Men ten minutes to get our act together and then compile. He was like all business—emotionless. I ran right into his office. ‘Mike, their bodies aren’t even cold yet. You’re talking about them like meat.’ He smiled and said, ‘Not meat, kid. Data. They’re dead, but not less valuable. That’s our business. Get moving.’ Man, I wanted to hit him. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I went back to my desk, back to my work.”
She faced him, her dark smudged glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose. Her sightless eyes glistened. “Those people are just data? College students. Teachers.” Jensy lowered her head and pushed her glasses back into place. “All those people, all at once.”
“We do sad work, Jensy. You can’t let it get to you.” He searched for something profound, but came up with a cliché. “You can’t take it personally.” Not only a cliché, but one he wasn’t sure he believed.
She raised her head again and seemed to peer into his eyes. “You can let it go?”
“It took time.”
“Yes.” She pushed her fists at the corners of her eyes. “Time.”
“It sounds cold, Jensy, but that’s necrology.”
She nodded, pushed back her hair and wiped her cheeks. “I must look awful.”
He instructed her to continue with the task he’d assigned her the day before: culling the Natural Blanks—the dead who had been too old or too young for an online presence—from the Weekly Nevada Traffic Crash Fatalities List. “Have you found many yet?”
“A four-year-old boy, a female infant, and two 109-year-old women. Twins.”
As Stage Three Team Leader, Raphael spent the morning managing the preliminary event research, gliding from End Man to End Man—the name, derived from the pronunciation of its acronym, NDMN—advising, encouraging, and channeling their efforts to acquire and confirm the names of the dead.
By 1 p.m., the names of seventy-eight dead students and eleven faculty members had made the list, plus the shooter. Now began the meticulous assembly of online remains and the delicate negotiations for portal rights. Raphael’s team leader responsibilities were over. From the PA came a few bars of an ancient song, one of dozens such comprising Norval’s looped background music, the favorite tunes of its septuagenarian CEO.
“Fun, fun, fun . . .”
Fun? No. But—
Come next month, he would have spent five years as an End Man, the last three as a possum specialist, outing those faking their deaths. Considering his spatial limitations, it wasn’t an awful job. The pay was decent and playing detective could be a rush, even if his dark alleys, tough thugs, and femme fatales remained confined to his computer.
Still, there were moments when the work they did—
Let it go.
Jul 29, 2020 12:13PM
It's interesting. I'd be intrigued to keep reading. There's something of a dystopian Gibson feel to it.
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