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Riemann ZetaZero Sum
By Nicholas B. Beeson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Nicholas B. Beeson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE FIRST RAYS OF a sudden desert dawn shatter the crisp, chill air of the pervasive night. As the sun heats up the arid road, a lone vehicle pushes on in much haste.
The driver travels with nothing but a few articles of clothing in the trunk and with orders for the new job, in a new city—to start anew.
The driver wishes for something to listen to other than the hum of the overworked engine. That would be a godsend. Absently, the driver tries the radio and still gets nothing but static.
The vehicle's computer system suddenly picks up a service station announcement and interrupts the mundane drone of the engine. "Stop and be refreshed at our station! Get coffee! Use the bathroom! Or just get out and stretch! This is the last station for the next three hundred miles, so you may wish to stop!"
The annoying musical accompaniment, sounding more like breaking glass than music, belies the truth of the announcement. Recognizing the accuracy of the distance, the driver slows down to stop.
Upon opening the door, the recorded voice that was used for the announcement declares, "Welcome to our store! Thank you for stopping here!"
Vision adjusting to the white fuzzy light in the store, the driver squints and focuses on the restroom, hesitating only to check out what the clerk is doing. The young man is barely into his early twenties; his hair is a blond mop of good length, and his clothing looks slept in. No more than a day, maybe two, notes the driver about the clothing, expertly judging the depth of the wrinkles and the number of food smears decorating the outfit. The clerk is making lines of cocaine on the glass part of the counter. Unimpressed, the driver continues on to the restrooms.
Opening the door to the restroom releases a vile stench that immediately stings the eyes and instantly makes anyone feel dirty. To call this a restroom would be a farce. Animals don't even leave a mess like this. With breath held, the driver moves quickly, closing the door to get out of the shit hole and away from this horrible room.
Eyes stinging, the driver hears the clerk call out, "Are you okay?" Tossing the driver some wet wipes, the clerk continues without much concern, "Here, clean up with these." Beyond the watery eyes, the driver notices that this young man is missing his left ring finger at its base.
"Sorry for the mess; the scrubbers aren't working," the clerk apologizes, as someone else behind the counter joins him.
A good six inches taller, this other male is a contradiction in style to the first clerk. The most notable thing about the new associate is his black hair, styled in a complicated and time-consuming way. Starting as short-trimmed hair at the point of his chin and moving up the left side of his face into his hairline, his hair then continues around the back and upper parts of his head and ends at the right upper area of the forehead. The other parts of his head are shaved clean, even his left eyebrow. This swirl of hair grows ever longer the closer it gets to his forehead. His clothing is similar to the other clerk's, minus the creases and the stains.
Probably the first time he has ever worn them, the driver guesses. The driver makes a move to the refrigerator cases to get something cold to drink. On the way to the counter, the driver reads "Rick"—just Rick—on the first clerk's shirt.
His second confirms this: "Rick, do you have something to hit this with?" He points to the nowhere-near-straight lines of cocaine on the glass.
Rick reaches into his shirt pocket, fumbles around trying to pull out a fake cash bill, and says, "Yeah, Jeff; hold on. I just roll this and we'll hit it ... heh, it's my way of shirking it to the old order."
The driver stands awaiting service and counts twelve lines of coke. Each one is about a foot long. Rick takes a line, and Jeff takes one, too. Only after indulging does Rick look up and ask as well as he can, "Is that all?"
"Would you like some?" asks Jeff.
Saying nothing, the driver pulls out an M.E. (monetary electronic) card and flashes a badge in response to the offer.
Rick asks nonchalantly, "You going in or coming out?"
Swiping the M.E. card and grabbing the drink with one fluid motion, the driver walks out.
"Must be going in," Jeff says to no one in particular, but he assumes Rick is paying attention. Rick, already in an altered state, is only able to manage a nod.
The driver gets back into the vehicle and starts it. There is a "Thank You!" announcement in the same recorded voice as the vehicle leaves the service station, heading for a destination beyond the horizon.
I know every generation over time thinks how the new generation is full of losers or is wasting away the gift of youth. Like Jeff and Rick back there, getting messed up at work, 'cause it doesn't matter what they do, working in the middle of nowhere. Just as I have no idea what it is like to be waiting for something else to do with my time. This new job has the possibility to be full of moments like that. Hopefully the lax laws of the City will not leave me bored—just looking into who has stolen the paperclips from the office. Ha-ha. Paperclips.
The driver notices the emptiness of the road and accelerates. Passing low scrub and slowly waking desert creatures, the driver feels the hum of the vehicle becoming hypnotic. Outside the window, wisps of what look like dancing veils spin and twirl as the vehicle flashes by. The sun is high by now, but the cold of night is not yet willing to let go of the earth.
Check into new job.
Check into apartment.
Find closest node and set it up as primary. Hopefully there is access from my apartment building.
I hope I am not assigned a partner. That would only complicate things.
What will I do then? Still check into the new job and apartment—but setting up the closest node might not happen for a couple of days. That should be all right. The system should allow for a couple of days before I need to set it up. No more than a week.
After pressing on for some time, the vehicle notifies the driver of a radio station. Not too long after that, the city information guide comes on, asking, "Do you have a destination in mind?" The driver grabs the orders off the passenger seat and reads the name and address. The city guide then asks if the driver wishes for an autopilot or vocal and visual directions. The driver opts for the vocal and visual directions. The directions start when the driver reaches the City.
The City doesn't start with the small houses and low towers of old. The City just starts. The first two towers that the driver passes are the smallest anywhere in the City, only eighty-three stories above ground. The shapes and colors of this city's architecture are as varied as random spasms, from dark and brooding twisted knurls to expansive pastels and flamboyant neons. The variety is evidence of the City's collective creative minds.
As the buildings start, so does the traffic.
Traffic seems to be a problem that spans space and time. Which also happen to be the cause of traffic: space and time. This thought rolls around the driver's head while navigating in and out, up and down through the traffic.
The driver arrives at the intended destination, which happens to be near the center of the City. Taking the orders from the vehicle's audio directions, they enter the formidable building labeled Civil Central Command. The emptiness of the lobby greets the driver upon entering. There is nothing in this lobby. The floor is the only thing that isn't plain, with its large City crest inlaid in the middle. Contrary to perception, this space is extremely quiet, almost muffled. Even the greeter, the sole person in the lobby, is plain. Nothing about her seems exciting. The room and this woman seem to be in competition to be the most unremarkable. She suits the room.
As the driver moves across the lobby toward her, she moves forward in turn. They meet in the middle, on the City crest.
"Good day to you," she says with zest. From this central point the entire room can be observed. The odd part of this lobby is that there is nothing to break the blandness—no windows, doors, stairs, nothing—not even a place to sit.
"May I assist you on this fine day?" she asks. Her enthusiasm contradicts the blandness of her position.
The driver shows her the orders and points to the office listed on the top while continuing to scrutinize this environment.
Perusing the information, she says, "So, you are the one? I was told that you were to be arriving in another day or so."
Without waiting for a response, she motions for them to move to the back wall. Placing her hand on a seemingly random place on the wall, she activates lights behind the walls to shine through. At this point, the secrets cloaked by the plain room's drab façade are exposed.
Behind the walls, to the left and right of the door, are military grade weapons, all of them automated and trained on only the driver. She turns and looks up at the ceiling. The driver's eyes follow. The illusion of the flat ceiling is gone. In reality, the ceiling is a dome, with a man sitting in a turret controlling the weapons. Without either one saying a word to the other, the greeter and the turret operator exchange significant looks as part of security protocol. A doorway opens behind the greeter.
She hands back the orders and says kindly, "Take this to the end of the hall and make a left. Then go to the twenty-third floor. The second door on your right is where you need to go. Ben should be there to meet you. All right?"
She smiles and steps back, away from the door, allowing it to close between them. As the door locks back into place, the lobby returns to its plain, dull state. The driver watches her for a moment, as she still faces the door, smiling. She finally turns away from the door once the driver moves down the hall.
At the far end of the hall, people can be seen passing by. The driver makes a left at the end and finds that the hall goes on for some time. There are very few doors in the hall, and every so often someone enters the hall from these doors; all give some form of greeting to the driver. Making it to the lift, the driver gets on alone.
The smooth, quiet ride to the twenty-third floor seems to take no time at all. Exiting, the driver finds that there are only four doors in this hall. Walking in the second door, the driver expects to be met by Ben but finds no one. The room beyond the door is a small waiting room decorated in an old-fashioned Art Deco style. The driver muses that the decorator's intent was something from the twentieth century. The anteroom is lit with harsh fluorescent lighting; the floors are covered with bad carpeting, nondescript but ugly. The magazine rack has genuine antique magazines or possibly really good knockoffs; it is hard to tell with a cursory scan. The bell sitting on the counter completes the look.
A sharp ring of the bell accomplishes its job; a man comes flying out of the back room.
"What are you doing?" he rebukes the driver. "The bell is only for show; you can break it by hitting it that hard!"
This must be Ben, assumes the driver, at the same time doubting Ben's claims that the bell was abused.
Ben is a young man, about average height, with a solid look about him. He has brown hair and lightly tanned skin, but his eyes are something to behold—green, but more. Most eyes reflect light, but these seem to emit it. The green is so brilliant that the driver wonders if they have been altered.
Ben quickly recovers from his swift accusation. "I'm sorry about that. It's just that I have worked so hard to save up and get this," he says while holding the bell and carefully polishing off the fingerprints. Returning it to its rightful place on the counter, he finally declares, "I'm Ben; may I assist you?"
Silently, the driver hands him the orders, which Ben takes and starts to look over. Ben pauses, looks up, and is about to ask a question but decides against it. After reading the orders, he loads the information he needs into the mainframe.
"All right. Come with me, and we'll see the Cap," Ben says, leading the way to the back door.
The journey takes them down a couple of steps, into a pit area filled with a maze of desks, and then back up a couple of steps to a set of large double doors. The doors have the City crest on them but have no handles. The two stop a few paces away from the door. A second later the doors silently open inward.
Ben nods toward the entryway and points out matter-of-factly, "He's a nice guy; just don't piss him off."
Stepping forward into the office proper, the driver immediately starts cataloguing and making mental notes of its layout and contents. The office is a profound contrast to the last place the driver saw the City crest. This room has places to sit, a bookshelf with some antique books, two other doors in addition to the main door, a desk, and plants. Off to the right is a couch that has a small table in front of it and to the left is another bookshelf. It has six shelves and is about six feet long. Only the fourth shelf from the bottom has books on it; the other shelves have plants or personal things, such as awards and medals. The driver examines the plants, observing that two of the plants are native to desert environments: one is a desert rose in bloom, a white flower with a pinkish-red along the outside of each petal; and the other is a bird of paradise flower. There is also one polystichum fern and a bonsai plant. The final plant is unknown to the driver. It has smooth green leaves and a flower that crosses over itself. The flower to this unknown plant is red and looks like it is a fire sword. One of the other doors is to the right of the couch, and one is in the back left corner of the office. The desk is positioned in the center and toward the back. Standing behind it is a tall, silver-haired man.
"Come in," he says, his voice booming. His voice is not only deep, it's also a bit gravelly, which is unexpected from a man of his thin, fit stature. Using his hands as he speaks, he directs the driver to come toward the desk. The driver stops two paces behind a seat in front of the desk. As the driver approaches, the silver-haired man sits down and starts looking over a file from the copy that is now in the mainframe.
"I see here that you passed the driver test. You know that this is not a restricted city?" The Cap looks up only with his eyes at the driver, "You've never driven in anything like this before. Therefore, I've decided that you will have a partner, and I'm going to disregard this request for a solo assignment for the time being." The Cap leans back in his chair, running both his hands through his hair and locking his fingers behind his head. "I don't know if you requested that ... or if it was the Council trying to meddle." Cap says the last comment to himself. "Either way, I don't care; I'm turning it down."
The Cap pauses and looks the driver up and down to ascertain any reaction to his authority. He interprets the nearly imperceptible response as confusion. This is acceptable to the Cap, and so he starts his "new blood" speech by clearing his throat. It isn't a very long speech, not nearly long enough to cover all of the things that someone who just moved in should know, but it is enough for newcomers to get started working here. The oratory intends to instill a healthy level of respect in those working in the unrestricted city.
The Cap ends his briefing by asking if the driver has any questions. The driver shakes their head no, and the Cap then shows the driver out to where Ben is waiting. He instructs Ben to get the driver in-processed and set up with appropriate accommodations. Punctuating this order and expressing his confidence in Ben, the Cap pats Ben's arm just below the shoulder. Ben nods briskly in acknowledgment and begins the grueling task of in-processing.
The in-processing takes the better part of four hours. Bureaucracy's reliable contribution to the simplest of tasks, the driver thinks so often throughout the rest of the day that it becomes more of a mantra than an observation.
Finally, Ben gives the driver an address of a place to stay and says, "I don't understand it, but your orders have you staying on the low end of town. Most of the time I can change that, but I can't change yours. Sorry. Your partner will meet you at your place at 0800. Have a good night." By this time, the driver isn't paying much attention anymore, and they both wave good-bye as they head off in different directions to make their ways home.
Excerpted from Riemann Zeta by Nicholas B. Beeson Copyright © 2011 by Nicholas B. Beeson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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