Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing Wednesday: The Bad Guy


Every once in awhile I come up with an idea for a story that I know is completely unmarketable, yet I have to write it up anyway.

I wrote THE ADJUSTER a couple of years ago when a friend of mine was working on a similar story over at the old TIBU website. He went a completely different way with his so I grabbed his idea of having all citizens having carbon rations. I thought of how I could make the ultimate Bad Guy using his idea.

As I wrote this story I realized it was completely unmarketable as any editor would look at it as a story that just preached of the dangers of Global Warming something I’m sure they have seen a lot of over the past 30 years. Unfortunately I couldn’t build my bad guy without him being preachy, so I figured I’d just tuck this story away and use this bad guy in a novel I’ve got outlined.

I figured since this story is unmarketable I’d share it here.

*****

The Adjuster
By Darrell B. Nelson

Maria walked down the street wearing a large hat to keep the sun off, the thinnest tank top she owned, and short-shorts. A year ago she would have been to embarrassed to leave the house in clothing this skimpy, but a lot had changed in the past year. Last year she would drive her car with the air conditioner cranked to avoid the heat.

The heat made her feet swell up and each step was painful. Amazingly for all the shoes she had in her closet, before she got rid of most of them, she didn’t have a single pair of sandals. All her shoes made her feet hurt when the temperature got above 90.

She had mixed feelings about going the remaining 5 blocks back to her apartment, she would be able to put her feet up which would be nice, but the apartment wouldn’t be much cooler than the street.

She made a decision, she headed into the nearest store. She would use their air conditioning to cool herself down before walking the remaining 5 blocks to her apartment.

As she walked through the door she basked in the cool breeze coming from the store’s air conditioner. She took a deep breath and noticed the welcoming, familiar odor. It was the smell of leather and suede. She looked around in horror, she had accidentally entered the worst place on Earth, she was in a shoe store.

“I’m a stronger person now.” She told herself not wanting to face the heat on the street, “I can look without buying.”

She pretended to look at the shoes that last year she would have picked up without a second thought and was proud of herself that she was able to resist trying any of them on. She had almost cooled down to the point where she could brave the heat and head back home. Then a pair of boots grabbed her attention and she could only stare at them. They were the loveliest pair of boots she had ever seen.

“Those will look lovely on you.” The clerk noticed her staring at the boots.

“I’m just looking.” She replied.

“OK, but while you’re here why don’t you try them on?” The clerk asked, taking them off the shelf. “Just sitting on the shelve doesn’t do them justice, as they were designed to be worn by a beautiful girl like yourself.”

“No.” She said, even though she wanted to try them on, see how they looked on her in the mirror and do a test walk just like she did in her old life, last year.

“I was really just coming in here to get out of the heat.” She broke down, for the past year she never let it show the struggle she was going through. She always remembered her daddy’s advise, “Never show weakness.” But here in the place she used to go for comfort her defenses broke down.

“If it’s the heat that bothers you, you’ll love this new material that these boots use for liner.” The clerk told her, “Not only does it conform perfectly to your feet the first time you wear them, they have a special heat regulating property that will transfer the heat away from your feet so they will always be cool.”

“I,I… I’m on Carbon Credit probation.” Maria was almost in tears, she hadn’t told even her closest friends about how she had overspent her carbons, but for some reason blurted it out to a complete stranger.

“I am so sorry,” The clerk said, “It’s not that uncommon though.”

“It’s not?” For the past year Maria had lived in silence about her terrible secret, afraid everyone would judge her for not being a responsible citizen of the planet.

“No, I have a friend that runs a tree planting company, he is always taking on clients that are on carbon probation or close to running out.” The clerk smiled at her, “He’s helped lots of people in your shoes, so to speak.”

“You can earn carbons for planting trees?” Maria asked, “I thought only large corporations could do that.”

“Oh my god.” The clerk gasped, “You tried to live through carbon probation by saving? How did you even manage? I mean I’m pretty tight with my credits but I still have to buy a day or two a month tree planting or working at the algae farms. I can’t imagine living on half that.”

“Two-Thirds.” Maria corrected him, “At my appeal it was raised to Two-Thirds the normal allowance.”

“Still, I’d never be able to do that.” The clerk admitted. “You must have phenomenal will-power.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Maria opened up to the first person ever about her ordeal, “I had been cutting back for awhile, going around only using lights when absolutely necessary, limiting myself to one hour of media a day. But what killed me was the air conditioner in my apartment.

“I grew up in my parents ultra-efficient home, it actually generated carbons every month. So when I moved out I didn’t even think about it. I signed a three-year lease on a pre-carbon law apartment. It was the cutest place, and money-wise it was a great deal. It was only after I moved in that I found out it was a carbon hog. The air conditioner alone used up most of my carbons.

“My daddy helped me out for awhile, he’d use his carbons to get me things I needed, but after helping me for 6 months straight he cut me off. He said I needed to learn how to live on my carbon rations. I tried, I really, really, tried but I couldn’t make them last the entire month and one month I over-spent, that got me put on probation.” Maria couldn’t help but start to cry in front of the complete stranger.

“How terrible for you,” The clerk sympathized, “And you never knew there were carbon jobs available for a price?”

“No, I just cut back more,” Maria fought back her tears, “When I was put on probation I stopped using my media center, I turned off the air conditioner and water heater. Turning off the water heater helped with not having air conditioning as even on hot days the 60 degree shower would cool me down.”

“I’ll bet.” The clerk agreed.

“I sold my car and used my bike to go down to the library and fell in love with books. But the real hard part was I had to avoid places like this as I could easily burn through a months worth of credits in a day. No offense.”

“None taken.” The clerk said, “I’m amazed at your spirit, I’ve met a lot of people struggling with the carbon rations that the Adjuster gives us. Yet I’ve never met anyone who was willing to sacrifice everything just to prove she could do it on her own.

“Everyone needs help now and again, I’m surprised you didn’t take on a roommate to help share the cost of the carbons.”

“I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t handle it.” Maria couldn’t hold back the tears any longer, “I didn’t want them to think I was a loser.”

“Nonsense, you’re not a loser.” The clerk handed her a tissue to dry her eyes, “Everyone needs help now and again. I’m going to call my friend right now and see if he can get you in.

“I don’t mean to be blunt, I know you have no carbons but do you have any cash? My friend charges $50 a day to work at tree planting.”

“Money is not a problem, carbons are.” Maria told him.

“Good news,” The clerk said when Maria got back from the bathroom where she dried her eyes, “My friend can get you in this weekend. You’ll earn 50 carbon credits for 8 hours work. If you do a good job he’ll keep you on.”

“I don’t know how to repay you.” Maria was overwhelmed by the kindness of the stranger.

“I think I know of something that will help both of us out.” The clerk smiled, “Remember those boots you were looking at?”

“They had a 250 carbon credit price tag, there is no way I could afford that.” Maria said.

“200 of that is just the material they use so that fat rich ladies can brag about how many carbons their husbands earn. I hate them, coming in here like they own the world.” The clerk spat out then got a said in a conspiratorial whisper , “I’ve got a knock-off pair that has the same lining, looks almost identical, but is 98% recyclable.

“They only cost 50 carbons and they are just as good as the name brand.” The clerk told her, “I’ve been saving them for just the right person, who has both the beauty to show them off properly and has the mental attitude to show them off like they deserve.”

“Only 50 carbons?” Maria quickly did some mental calculations. Her fugal ways had given her a savings of 60 carbons, and she had paid all her bills for the month. Having a 10-carbon cushion wasn’t something she was comfortable with but since the clerk was so nice and had given her a way to earn the credits back this weekend, she decided she would not use anything that that required carbons for the rest of the week. “I’d like to try them on first.”

Maria loved her new boots; the walk home felt more like a foot massage than a walk. Plus, she knew getting the coveted position tree planting would help her get back on her feet. She had a huge smile on her face the whole walk home as things were finally looking up for her. After her nine months of living hell she was finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Her smile turned to a look of horror as she entered her apartment and saw the broken window.

Her things were thrown everywhere; she knew she had been robbed. She didn’t care that the thief took her entertainment center, as she hadn’t used it in months. What horrified her was the thief had gone through her personal private items.

She was staring in horror at the contents of her underwear drawer thrown all over the floor when she noticed the ominous sound. The thief had turned on her Air Conditioner to be comfortable as he violated her things.

She looked around in horror; every light in the apartment was on. The thief wasn’t content just to steal her stuff and violate her property; he had to burn up her Carbon Credits like they were going out of style.

Before she could even make a move to turn anything off, all the power in the apartment died. She knew exactly what that meant. Her Carbon Credits were over the limit.

When the men from the Adjuster’s office came to pick her up they found her naked on the floor of her dark apartment. She was almost passed out from the cheap liquor that she had given $1,000 to a stranger for. In front of her were the remains of her new boots, that she had spent the night taking her anger out on.

“It’s not fair!” She said over and over again as they gently escorted her out of her apartment, “I really, really tried.”

#

The Adjuster entered his office, he didn’t need to turn on any lights as the entire building was lit by carefully placed light-tubes, that directed the natural sunlight into key areas. He took a deep breath and enjoyed the fresh air that the plants on the living wall provided.

The entire building was a great feat of Eco-Engineering; everything was designed to work with the environment. Every piece of furniture, every scrap of carpet, even the paint on the walls were all made from recycled material, and were all planned to be recycled again.

The building was so efficient that it actually generated Carbon Credits, which were returned to the people. The entire department was asked to bear a larger burden than what was asked of the people.

He had just settled into his chair made of recycled material and began looking over the day’s work when his secretary buzzed him on the intercom. “The President is here to see you.”

“It’s election season again, isn’t it?” The Adjuster asked rhetorically, “Send him in, I’ve got a few minutes to spare.”

“I’ll cut right to the point,” The President told him after the formalities were out of the way, “You know who Franklin Abagnale is, right?”

“If I’m not mistaken, he’s now the third richest man in the country. He was the richest but the co-founders of Ecohappy Solutions beat him out two years ago. I’m not sure if some of the other Ecopreneurs have over taken him or not.”

“Um, yes his business his falling, but he still has a lot power,” The President said, “But I’m not here to talk about his business, I’m here because his daughter over extended her credits while on Carbon Credit Probation.”

“And you want me to pardon her?” The Adjuster asked.

“Yes, He is still a powerful man that can make life unpleasant for you.” The President said.

The Adjuster looked at the President with a thoughtful expression.

“I do know what he is going through, I’m a father myself.” He pointed to the picture of him holding his twin daughters that had been on his desk for the last 23 years. “When people come into this office they often ask me about that picture, why I would keep the picture of my daughters when they were newborns on my desk, even though they’ve grown up to be young ladies now, and my answer is always the same.

“The picture isn’t there just to celebrate their birth, it’s there to remind me of the exact moment when I devoted my life to saving the world.

“Every time I look at that picture it sends me back to the first time I held my fragile little babies in my arms. They looked up at me with an absolute trust that I would make a good life for them.

“When I looked down at them I vowed that I would turn back the damage that mankind had done to the planet after over 200 years of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere with reckless abandon. I couldn’t have them living in a devastated world where several times every decade millions of people starved to death from massive droughts as the weather systems tried to adjust to the new warmer temperatures. A world where even the richest countries spent a large portion of their wealth trying to keep their coastal cities from flooding as the sea levels rose. I needed to spare them the horror of watching the great cities of world being abandoned, as their governments couldn’t afford to build new levies.

“The thought of having these two innocent babies growing up in a world where disasters taking out entire cities were considered to be a positive impact on the economy, as people worked to clean up the devastation, was too much for me to bear.

“I watched the mass extinctions happen, as species were overcome by the quickly changing environment, the millions of dead fish washing to shore as the ocean turned more acidic, the sandstorms that would bury towns that had been agricultural centers. These were the horrors of my time; I vowed then and there that I will make damn sure that my daughters won’t have to see them first hand.”

“But you’ve done that now,” The President told him, “Over the past 15 years your program of carbon rationing has stopped the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we are actually reversing the damage.”

“That’s exactly why it’s more important than ever to continue the course we’ve set, it’s not enough to just stop the buildup we need to reverse the damage that has been done over the last 200 years.

“But one pardon won’t stop that.” The President said.

“But it will,” The Adjuster said, “If I let down my principals for just a second, the whole program will fall apart.

“23 years ago when I started my quest I became a bit of an engineer, I found out we could nearly stop the build up by using, the green technology of the time and with a research and development budget of just 3% of the federal budget we would be able to start reversing the trend by now.

“My findings were laughed at because the people in power were dependent on money made by dirty technology. People like Franklin.

“They underestimated my drive to make a better world for my twin daughters, I became a great computer programmer and, with some help, I devised the most accurate computer climate model so I could forecast the impacts that any changes would have on the planet.

“Again they scoffed at my ideas, and I realized that in order to fight the economic forces that conspired to destroy this planet, I would have to come up my own economic model. The old economic models were outdated as they dealt with the problem of scarcity, in an age of 3-D Printing when you merely have to send blueprints to a robotic factory to have an object made and edible algae farms supplying all the food humanity could ever need the only scarcity was that created by the artificial markets that the people like Franklin had set up.

“I made a new economic model that reflected this new world, the Economics of Abundance. In this new world the true cost of an object is not how much it costs to manufacture it, but how much it costs to throw it away. Like the Carbon Dioxide that is thrown away after energy is released from fossil fuels.

“I tied my economic model to my climate model and it showed me exactly how to save the Earth without involving the people who’s money was dependent on dirty technology.

“Finally, I became a politician. Again people like Franklin scoffed at me but this time I planned for that. I showed them how under the new economic models they were still in control of the money, what they didn’t realize was that money had become meaningless in the new economy. By the time Franklin and others like him realized what I had done, new green industries had sprung up to challenge their power.

“My new economic model guaranteed that this would be the most powerful force on the planet, as long as I did just one thing. I had to stay absolutely fair. Just like a force of nature doesn’t care who it affects, neither could I. Everyone had to bear the same responsibility, I made no distinction between the poorest individual or the daughter of the third richest man in the world, the punishment is the same for everyone.”

“But this time he is calling for your head.” The President told him, “Trust me Franklin Abagnale is not a man to be messed with. Especially as when his daughter is concerned.”

“Having Franklin Abagnale, or any of the old money cronies coming after my head is nothing new. Because of my being absolutely fair handling everyone, the new green technology companies have become dependent on my fairness. He can wage war on me and the green companies will wage war on him and it will come to nothing as far as I am concerned.” The Adjuster smiled, “You on the other hand might feel some of his wrath.”

The President just nodded.

“Here is what I can do to insulate you from him.” The Adjuster gave him a warm smile, “I’ve identified several key old industries which a 1% reduction can bring a huge payoff. If you can convince them to reduce their emissions by 1% and increase Research and Development budget in green innovation by 2% it would speed the Earth’s recovery dramatically.

“If those things are done I can increase the peoples Carbon Credit Rations by 2.5% just in time for the election.” The Adjuster promised, “The 2.5% adjustment is just enough to lift peoples spirits without drastically changing their patterns, The 1% reduction will more than offset this in the short run and increased budget in R&D will more than pay for that in the long run.

“Consider it done.” The President said. “I’ll tell Franklin you couldn’t be moved. Unfortunately, I’ll have to deflect most of his anger onto you.”

“I welcome his anger, and I assure you it will come to nothing. I’d like to say, I’m glad we could reach an agreement,” The Adjuster said, “And you’ve learned to never underestimate my drive to build a better world for my daughters.”

#

After the meeting with the President, the Adjuster could get back to his work. The first thing he did was look over the names of the people who had repeatedly abused their Carbon Credit Rations. He didn’t need to do this as he had never once pardoned a single person, but he felt he owed it to the people whose lives would be sacrificed to handle it himself and not just have the computer seal their fate.

He saw Franklin Abagnale’s daughter, Tracy, on the list and he was totally was unmoved. On the next line down he came across Maria’s name and for the first time since he set up the office his hand hesitated. He checked her citizens ID number to make sure it wasn’t a mistake as his hand involuntarily drifted over to the pardon button.

He thought to himself that he could do it just this one time. He could then cover it up and no one would know.

“No one but me.” He thought to himself as he dismissed the idea, “If I show weakness this one time, I’ll be more easily tempted the next, and the next. Then the whole system will break down and everything I’ve worked for will come to nothing.”

“Sweet Maria, I hope your sister can handle her credits better than you did.” The Adjuster said out loud even though he knew she couldn’t hear him.

The Adjuster didn’t shed one tear as he hit the button that sentenced his daughter to death.



By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts

6 comments:

Stephanie Barr said...

A bit dark for me. There is such a thing as going too far.

Project Savior said...

I guess some might find Filicide a bit dark (lol).
That's probably another reason why it's unmarketable. Even if the editors see passed the preachiness. But it is fun to create a bad guy that you can see his motivation for doing horrible things.

Stephanie Barr said...

Personally, I think that's the BEST kind of bad guy.

Stephanie Barr said...

Why did you pick the name Frank Abagnale?

Stephanie Barr said...

This story kind of reminds me of "Spoils of War" by Jennifer Roberson, perhaps my favorite short story OFF ALL TIME. I know it was in the anthology Sword and Sorceress V.

Talk about twisting the "villain" - well worth the trouble to find the story. Many libraries have the book.

Project Savior said...

I thought it a good name for someone that the authority, in this case The Adjuster, would despise.
The best villians in my opinion have ended up that way from following the old adage "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". The opposite works as well with the protagonist being the anti-hero, out for himself but ends up saving everyone.