The Story

This rough draft was accidentally posted to the Virtual Selyn list in March of 1997. The comments which resulted inflicted permanent writer-damage on the defenseless author. Hey, but critiquing is critiquing eh? Here's the story in all its awful splendor. Read the critiques | Comment


THE MYSTERY
by Kaas Baichtal
March 1997

People brushed against Jogn Smiht all the time. After all the trains were packed and you got used to people sliding past you, especially if you were lucky enough to end up by the door.

That's why he didn't realize he'd been pickpocketed until he reached the Sime Center to make his monthly donation, and the assigned channel gave him a baffled stare. "Sir, you appear to have already given donation for this month."

"No I haven't!" he exclaimed, in surprise. "Check again!"

While the channel's Companion rolled his eyes in the background, the channel sighed and zlinned him again, making a big show of being very thorough. "No, I'm sorry sir, you seem to be low-field."

"But how could this have happened?" exclaimed Jogn, in dismay.

"You know better than I," said the channel. "I have no idea where you've been for the last month." She shrugged. "However, you appear to be perfectly healthy. Come back next month when you're high field."

Jogn barely heard her - he was too busy watching his life flash before his eyes. He depended utterly upon the money he received for donating, as he was otherwise unemployed. What was he going to do now? Well, there was only one answer for it, and that was to report the theft to the police.

The police station was as packed as the train, though one might hope any pickpockets present would be keeping their hands to themselves.

The two officers manning the desk were typical of the breed: rotund donut-lovers, with alert eyes that roved the seething lobby like lighthouses atop the craggy peaks of their faces. Jogn took a number and once again lamented his low-field state. In a mob like this, they'd pass over him forever in order to get rid of high-field Gens and Simes in need, number or no.

After a couple of hours wait, though, it was lunch time and the place emptied of Gens rather suddenly. His number was called and after the clerk ascertained he was there to report a theft, he was pointed over to a side door. "Officer Tetje will take your statement."

The hallway beyond was painted with a green paint, the peculiar shade of which seemed calculated to heighten the sensation of desperation in its viewers. Jogn wondered if they had an abnormal number of accidental kills within these particular walls, what with all the Simes gone hyperconscious to avoid seeing them and all the Gens struck with sudden pain and fear because they either closed their eyes and immediately tripped and fell, or kept their eyes open and had to see the paint.

The Sime officer who met him led him to a small office, and gestured at a chair in front of the desk. Jogn sat down in the chair and the Sime officer sat down opposite him. Jogn noticed the box of donuts on the filing cabinet nearby. He was glad this officer was not finding physiological differences a barrier to fitting in with his Gen coworkers. Any lingering appetite Jogn may have felt himself was thoroughly suppressed by the fact that the office was also painted green.

The Sime studied the selyn-holo on his ID card, then his nager. "This all current?"

"Yeah." He examined the officer's badge in turn. Officer Tetje, yep. So far the exchange of information had progressed well. Now for the tricky part.

Tetje copied the information onto the form, then handed the card back to him. "Nature of the complaint?"

"I was pickpocketed. On the train this morning."

"What'd they get," said the Sime officer, not looking up from where his pencil poised over the correct line on the form.

"My selyn."

Now Officer Tetje did look up, expression absolutely blank. "You mean you were attacked."

"No, pickpocketed," repeated Jogn. "I don't know who it was and I didn't feel it happen."

The police officer fixed him with a half-lidded stare that compressed years of weary patience into several poignant seconds. "Somebody stole your selyn and you felt nothing," he repeated, deadpan.

"Well how could I? I'm only a GN-3, I never feel selyn movement." He could fairly see a headache erupt in the Sime's temples. He could almost feel sorry for the guy. But the bottom line was, somebody had his selyn and he wanted it back! "Look, I really depend on the money I get from donating. I don't know what I'm going to do if I can't get it!"

After a moment, the police officer rubbed his eyes with two ventral tentacles and stared listlessly at the form he must have memorized long before.

"All right. When was the last time you saw... zlinned...." he paused, in irritation. "...THINK you had your selyn?"

"Well, I had a perfectly ordinary donation last month."

"Last month? That doesn't give us much to go on, mister Smiht. Can't you remember any time sooner?"

"How should I know? I can't zlin myself!"

The Sime officer gritted his teeth and counted to eighteen (Jogn saw each finger and tentacle give a minute twitch, in order), then gave a restrained sigh.

"All right, how about this. Who are the Simes you know who have seen you most recently? We'll ask them a few questions, and find out whether you were high-field when they last saw you."

A gruelling forty five minutes later, there were six names on the list. Nobody Jogn knew particularly well, or who saw him very often. Jogn just didn't know that many Simes.

"We'll look into every lead," said the officer at last, "but I really doubt someone was able to take your selyn by simply bumping against you on the train. I mean... did you feel tentacles? Any lateral contact?"

"Er... no, but - what other explanation could there possibly be?"

"Well, the legitimate channels have been overworked lately. Maybe the Center channel took your selyn and then forgot she did it."

"Well that's hardly a reassuring thought!" exclaimed Jogn, peevishly. "How am I supposed to go in next month and try to relax with that on my mind?"

"The good news is, if it's that, we can find out pretty quickly. Any discrepancy in the amount of selyn collected, and the Tecton will be investigating it themselves. I can make a few phone calls and find that out. The other possibility is that your selyn disappeared before today."

"What?! How?" A horrible thought occurred to him. "Maybe someone broke into my house at night and stole my donation while I was sleeping!" he cried.

"Uh - anything is possible," said the officer, sounding more depressed by the moment, "but we won't know for sure until we've performed a full investigation."

Jogn Smiht left the station feeling rather unoptomistic, and took the train home. His roommate-situation for the month was situated at the edge of town, close to the border. It was a lovely neighborhood of steep, terraced hills and a largely Gen population. Exactly the kind of place he shouldn't have been able to afford even at half price. But his roommate-situation-of-the-month was also his girlfriend-of-the-month, and had only made him pay a third the cost. He fervently hoped that she would also be generous enough to forgive his rent being late, despite the fact his reputation had preceded him and she'd given him a stern warning.

Sadly, he was not to be so lucky. He reached his block to find a small crowd gathered to watch his girlfriend throwing things out their third-story window.

"What are you doing?!" he shrieked, seeing that their lovely, steeply terraced hill and largely Gen neighbors had already been festooned with the majority of his possessions.

"Where's my rent?" she demanded hotly.

"But - !"

"I knew it!" she crowed. "You don't have it, do you!"

"But it's not even the end of the day yet!" he cried desperately.

"It's the end of yesterday, and that's when rent was due!"

"Yesterday?!" he exclaimed, flabbergasted. "But I thought it was today!"

"I'm sick of your lousy excuses. You're out of here!" She heaved his prized bowling-ball out into the air, then slammed the window shut with a resounding thump. Jogn threw himself sideways and narrowly avoided being clipped on the head by the ball. Continuing his momentum, he proceeded to trip over his own feet and fall headlong into the street, where an approaching squad car had to screech to a halt to avoid hitting him.

A heavyset female Gen cop leaped out of the car and shouted, "Jeesus mister, are you all right?"

"Yesterday??" Jogn repeated weakly, not wanting to believe. Because if yesterday was rent day, then...

"Great jumping buckets of squid guts!" bellowed the cop, shocking Jogn out of his daze. He jerked his head up just in time to hear her scream, "Somebody's gotta stop that ball!"

About two hours later, Jogn Smiht found himself once again in the tiny, wretchedly green office sitting across from Officer Tetje and his box of donuts. The officer appeared to have aged five years since that morning. The donuts, however, still appeared reasonably fresh.

"Mister Smiht," said the Sime tiredly. He looked at the papers he had been given along with Jogn. His eyebrows rose theatrically. "Disturbing the peace... littering... destruction of public property... disruption of the ambient... and vagrancy???"

"I can explain," said Jogn desperately. "You see, my bowling ball was rolling down these stone terrace things - and then - crash! - and she was trying to catch it - I almost got hit by the patrol car - and I really thought rent wasn't due til today!" He clamped his eyelids shut, blocking out any sight of the particularly bilious color of the walls, and felt the panic slip away. His babbling stopped soon after.

"Well, I guess that pretty much covers it," said Tetje dryly, putting the papers aside. "Look, Mister Smiht. I ran a pretty thorough check on you this morning. You seem like an ordinary guy. A little down on your luck, maybe lacking direction in life, but basically an honest citizen."

Jogn grimaced. There was nothing illegal about being born and raised to the freewheeling life of the unemployed GN-3, but a lower-class citizen was a lower-class citizen. It would take someone like a cop to have any real sympathy for him, and lots of cops also felt sympathy for hookers, hobos and juvenile delinquents.

"Now these kinds of complaints aren't something we like to hear about people," continued the Sime officer, "but since you've never had anything on your record before today, I'd be willing to forget about all of this if you can promise me you'll try to straighten up and fly right. Okay?"

"Sure, officer," said Jogn, relieved he had gotten off those crazy charges, and trying to feel penitent so it would show up in his nager. "And I really would have paid my rent, except for my selyn being missing, and... and it turns out the rent was due yesterday, which caught me by surprise."

Tetje frowned. "Well the first of the month... that's pretty common."

"Well my donation day is on the first too. That's why it's always so hard to make ends meet."

"But if your donation day was yesterday, then why were you - oh. You thought today was the first?" There was pity in the officer's eyes. Jogn squirmed, making Tetje squirm too.

"I guess so. I dunno what happened, unless I somehow made my donation yesterday and forgot all about it." He didn't think that was too likely, and Tetje shook his head also.

"No, I checked with Tecton recordkeeping, and they show you as having not made a donation this month at all."

Jogn shrugged helplessly, wishing he could start the day over again, or maybe his whole life.

"Well, you're free to go. Do you have a place to stay tonight?"

"Oh yes," said Jogn, struggling to bring some pep into his voice and nager so the Sime wouldn't decide to help him out by giving him a free night in jail. "I'll be all right. Thanks for all your help, officer!"

He left quickly, and caught the train once again, this time headed for his regular haunt which was another Gen neighborhood but a much worse one.

With a heavy sigh, Jogn Smiht stepped off the train and trudged the short distance to the familiar facade of the Sotted Sow. This was a Gen bar, though its patrons regularly joked that only a Sime in hard need would have taste buds dead enough to enjoy the beer. He pushed in the door, and was enveloped in the usual dimness, warm stench, claustrophobia, and the slurred greetings from his friends.

"Hey, Jogn!" exclaimed Mel. "What the hell are you doin' back here, now that you're a rich man?"

"Yeah what's the matter," chimed in Danye, "Didn't your, heh heh heh, Donation go according to plan?"

Obviously they thought they were terribly funny, although in his present state of mind Jogn could hardly see why.

"Yeah yeah, whatever," he said, waving them off. Much as he needed friends right now, he needed a beer even more. It had definitely been one of those days.

Slumping onto a stool at the bar, he pulled out his purse, prepared to scrape together the last of his credit to this purpose.

Whoa!! He did a double-take, and thrust his eyes closer to his open purse, as if further inspection would reveal its contents to have changed. No; by every visual test he knew, he had about three times as much cash on him as he had ever seen in his life.

Shen, he thought in desperate disbelief as he snapped the purse closed and jammed it back into his pocket. I must have missed an episode! His frantic mind fumbled through his most recent memories, and he found there did seem to be blank spot that began with sitting down on this very stool only a day or two before.

Trouble was, he couldn't remember whether it was one day or two.

"Did I lose a day?" he exclaimed out loud, wonderingly.

During this unguarded moment, the obnoxious Mel pushed his way over to Jogn's side, trailed by his sidekicks. "So how did it go with the lovely Boteeka?" asked Mel lewdly, twirling his hips with an adroitness that made the rest of his greasy, unshaved self seem all the more revolting.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," said Jogn, who was beginning to suspect he wasn't going to like the explanation, either.

"Oh, you liar, you," snickered Mel. "You just don't want to admit you got down and dirty with her afterward."

"After what?" asked Jogn, impatiently. "And who in the world are you talking about?"

"You know, that rogue channel disguised as a Sime prostitute, who said she'd take your donation for five times what the Center would," explained Danye helpfully.

"Uh?!" cried Jogn, aghast. But it all made a horrible sort of sense.

"You don't remember any of this?" broke in Kip, amazed. "Well you were pretty drunk after all."

"Maybe she was one of those Distect channels trolling for loose Gens, like I read about in the newspapers," suggested Danye, who actually meant tabloids.

"I can't believe I'd do something like that!" moaned Jogn. "How in the hell did she decide to pick on me anyway?" And how could he have been drunk enough to forget an entire day and night, and somehow not be hung-over? Or - unnerving thought! - could the rogue have healed him before setting him loose?

"You zlin like a special guy, Jognny-my-boy," leered Mel. "In addition to remarking on your obvious sexual charms, she said you're going to qualify next month as a GN-2."

Jogn planted his forehead painfully on the peanut-littered bar and tried to take deep breaths. It was far too late, of course, for a simple admission that his life was completely out of control to do him any good.

"Hey, don't take it so hard, bud. Now that you'll be GN-2, you can afford your own apartment! Who needs girlfriends anyway? Here, have a beer on me." Mel grabbed a nearby half-empty stein and slopped it onto the bar next to Jogn's head, then went off whistling, entourage en tow.

Jogn dragged himself up and drained the mug in one gulp, heedless of its origins and awful flatness, then walked out of the bar.

He walked directionlessly down the darkened sidewalk, with bits of broken peanut shell stuck to his face and absolutely no idea where he was headed. Wherever it was, before he got there, he got mugged, roughed up and his purse stolen by a gang of Gen thugs. Afterward he staggered to the nearest intersection and managed to flag down a passing cop.

At this hour, the station lobby was darkened and quiet. The nauseating green gauntlet of the hallway, however, was mercilessly well-lit. Jogn helplessly remembered the taste and feel of flat beer going down his throat and his stomach turned. The Sime cop who'd picked him up snarled in annoyance and dragged him the rest of the way to Officer Tetje's office.

Tetje's eyes widened as he saw who it was. "You again?! Can't you stay out of trouble for half a day?"

"I was mugged," Jogn said lamely. "They got everything."

Tetje sighed, waved the other officer away, and pulled a fresh report form from the basket. "Are you all right?"

"Oh yeah, I guess," said Jogn, watching the officer fill in the personal information lines by memory. As a rule, he thought, that was probably not a sign one's life was running smoothly.

"Can you describe what was stolen?"

"Uh... My Donor ID card, and a brown leather money-purse. I had...." He named the cash sum that had been present. Tetje nearly drove the pencil through the desktop.

"You had how much?!"

"I can explain," said Jogn hastily. Actually, he probably should have explained this before. But better late than never, or so his mother had always told him, usually as she was leaving to take the rent to the landlord-of-the-month.

"I found out where my selyn went. My friends tell me that while at the bar, I was approached by a rogue channel pretending to be a prostitute." At least Jogn hoped she was only pretending. In fact he firmly decided to put that thought away as something he did not have the resources to explore fully at this time.

"Really?" asked Tetje, suddenly interested. "Can you give us a good description?" He grabbed another form.

"Uh... well I suppose my friends could...I don't remember any of it," Jogn admitted, embarrassed. There was nothing worse than being embarrassed around a Sime, because they knew exactly how you felt. On the plus side, though, they didn't like the feeling any more than you did. "I wouldn't even have believed them except I looked in my purse and saw all the money. I must have been drunk out of my skull. I guess that's how I ended up being mixed up on which day it was."

"This does explain a lot," agreed Tetje, writing furiously.

"Let me get the names of your friends who were witnesses. First of all, when was this?"

"Well it would have been yesterday morning at 8am."

The cop paused and looked up at him in disbelief. "You were at the bar at 8am?!"

"Well, I usually have a couple of beers before heading in to donate," Jogn explained. "To get mellow, you know."

All things considered, Jogn thought, Officer Tetje was remarkably patient with him. The officer even offered to give Jogn a ride to the poorhouse on his way home.

"Look, Mr. Smiht," said the Sime gently, as he dropped Jogn off. "You're a nice guy. You have a lot of friends and I kind of like you myself. But you really have to get it together, you know?"

Jogn sighed. "I know. Thanks for all your help, officer Tetje."

He got out of the squad car and stood before the poorhouse gates, watching the taillights recede with a feeling of utter glumness. To think he had ended up in the poorhouse: that place intended as a one-month stopover for Gens in distress, but which was universally regarded as a revolving-door rut for those perpetually unable to get with the ambient. The Sime was right... he really did have to straighten out!

But when the car was gone, Jogn broke suddenly into a big grin. Things had to be better next month. For one thing, he'd be earning as a GN-2!

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