I’m just about done with the first draft of my Nano novel, Pittsburgh Blue. It’s a science fiction story about a retired satellite engineer who is pulled back into the fray when a single satellite from a constellation of over 60,000 comes crashing down over Pennsylvania. What’s the big deal? People in areas contaminated by the burned up machines are infected with an extreme brittle bone disease!
Please keep in mind this work has been totally, completely, 100% unedited. I raced through the first draft, as one does every nano, so this is basically a dump of text. I’m hoping to give you a sneak peak of what’s to come in 2021, since this year has been so crazy, and I haven’t done anything but write and edit.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoy!
“Thank you for your patronage, ma’am,” a smiling ice cream vendor said to the mother of a girl he was bending over to hand a cone.
Atop the cone sat a scoop of pale green mint chocolate chip. It dripped onto the white napkin the man had wrapped around it to keep the little girl’s hand clean.
“Careful,” he said to the girl. “That’s good, it’ll melt fast. Wouldn’t want any on your nice white dress.”
The mother was proud of her daughter. Her lips held a small smile she wasn’t able to get rid of. Mint chocolate chip was her favorite ice cream, too.
As the woman led her daughter toward a nearby park bench, pushing her babbling youngest in a black stroller, the vendor turned to greet his next customer. Before he could greet the giddy couple with nice hair standing on the opposite side of his cart, a nearby man, a hot dog vendor, interrupted them.
“Asshole. You never suggest a wiener with the cone?” the man asked. “Yo, bro. Buy your chick a dog, huh?”
The ice cream vendor straightened his cap and waggled a finger at the couple, asking them for a moment of patience. He turned to the hot dog vendor, face reddened.
“Asshole?” he said. “You are going to sell people food shouting like that?”
The mother, who’d been digging deep in the webbed storage compartment of her baby’s cart for an extra blanket to cover her child, turned to see what the men were yelling about. Her baby, under-dressed and cold, began to cry. As she shot up to get a better view over the canopy of the stroller, her hand bumped into the mint ice cream cone, running it right into the chest of her daughter’s white dress.
They both gasped. The arguing vendors continued shouting.
“Mommy my church dress!” the girl cried.
She’d already begun blotting the huge green spot on her daughters dress when she realized the vendors had quit making noise. Not only that, but there was barely a sound coming from anyone else around them.
“Mommy?” the little girl asked as her mother’s hand dropped away from the freezing cold stain.
Looking around, they saw everyone’s heads facing up toward the sky. Vendors, customers, joggers, kids, were all staring quietly up.
The woman stood, turned to look at all the people in awe, then directed her gaze to whatever they were gawking at.
It was beautiful. An enormous streak of silver and green, not unlike the color of the girl’s ice cream, cut the sky in half like a rainbow out of her daughter’s fairy tales. As it rocketed above their heads, the trees, and the surrounding buildings, small bursts exploded from whatever it was. There was a pop and raining of color every dozen feet.
The cries of her baby snapped her out of the daze the object in the sky had put her into.
“Is that a shooting star, Mo…”
The mother spun to to her right to see why her daughter had suddenly gone quiet, but, mid-turn, her neck muscled became useless.
It burned in her shoulder and neck a sprain, then a pinched nerve, then excruciating pain. The base of her skull felt like it was on fire, and she fell to the ground. She closed her eyes tightly, wincing in pain as she grasped at the concrete under her, as though it could help. One of her pink fingernails snapped under the pressure.
When the pain calmed, she opened her eyes to see her daughter was lying in the grass a few feet away, facing the opposite direction. Either her baby had stopped crying, or the jolt of pain in her neck had effected her hearing. It was then she realized her hearing was fine. There were screams of pain coming from all around them.
She pulled herself off her knees using the park bench and the stroller’s handle, slid the canopy back, and saw her baby, gray and breathless, chin against its chest.
“No!” she exclaimed, reaching to lift her child’s head so it could draw air into its lungs.
Letting go of the bench’s arm caused her to lose her balance. Clenching her jaw as she hit the ground, she felt lightning bolts of pain in her shins, knees, her elbow, then shoulder. Her bones were broken. She shuttered, unable to move, let alone lift herself to save her baby.
Her cell phone, having spilled out of her purse and landed not far in front of her, began vibrating with a call from her husband.
“Get it.” she instructed herself. “Get it!”
She extended her working arm to reach for the phone. When she pressed her fingers against the ground to grab it, her pointer finger snapped.
The mother let out a howl louder than any other soul in the park, all of them suffering the same fate. All of the people in the shade of Pittsburgh trees, collapsed to the ground, piles of whimpering meat.
“Papa, we need cups,” Ynez shouted over her shoulder.
“You know, daughter, this truck, it is the size of these tamales,” Leo softly replied, holding up the corn husk wrapped masa before plopping it in a paper basket along with a plastic fork.
The truck the father and daughter were in looked dirty and rusty on the outside, but shined like a Michelin star restaurant within. One of Ynez’s cousins hand painted both sides with the name of her business. In big red letters against a yellow and white background, it read Hijole Elote! y Mas. The whole truck shook back and forth as Leo stomped around, gathering things for the order.
He handed Ynez the basket, then a few packets of salsa. She smiled at him, giggling.
They served a long line of customers, who stood in the shade of a single umbrella outside the window of a food truck. The retired engineer agreed to help is daughter fund the truck only if he were allowed to play some role in the business.
It was cramped, hot, and parked in the same corner of the same gravel lot they were always in, across from the town’s biggest grocery store. They were as reliable as the sunset at the long of one of those scorching summer days.
Leo handed his daughter another basket, one with two carne tacos, a plastic ramekin of pico, and a slice of lime.
“Cups, cups, cups,” he said, hanging up his stained gray apron and turning toward the door.
His protruding belly bumped into a jug of cubed melon, spilling them across the tiny counter.
“Papa!” Ynez whined.
“Cups and melon,” he said.
“Don’t forget to take money,” she reminded him.
Leo grabbed a few dollars from the counter. He ran his hand through his thinning salt and pepper hair, putting on a baseball cap as he stepped out of the heat of the truck, and into the heat of the high noon Nevada sun. For a second, he contemplated putting on the over shirt he’d hung on one of the plastic lawn chair he and Ynez sat in during rare down times, but decided his shoulders could use some sun. He’d put on a baby blue tank top that morning, conscious of his darkening farmer’s tan.
Ynez brushed a bit of her curly black hair out of her face and smiled as she watched the truck’s door close behind her father. She was truly living the dream. It had been quite the gamble he’d taken on her after she dropped out of culinary school, but it was slowly starting to pay off. His sacrifice and dedication made her love him even more than she already had, something she grew up thinking would be impossible. She couldn’t help but wish her mom was around to be part of the success they shared.
Leo cut through the line of sweating, hungry workers, heading in the direction of a store that sold cheap cups in a nearby strip mall. He reached into his back pocket for a pack of Camels, pulled out a half-smoked cigarette, and lit it to give him something to do while he walked. He didn’t smoke much, two or three cigarettes a day, but each time it reminded him of the good old days. Not that things weren’t great, he loved working with his daughter at their own business. There was just something not quite the same as when he spent his days thinking for a living.
Back in those days, Leo worked for a small company called Silver Rose that designed prototype satellites for several corporate customers and a wide range of use cases. He’d worked his way up the food chain to being the lead of his own team. Most of his time was spent thinking about or discussing other people’s work.
In fact, Leo’s real name was Ronaldo Molina. He’d earned the nickname during the first few years of his career. Every idea he proposed to his team was designed for Low Earth Orbit, abbreviated “LEO”. After about the tenth time, no one would let him live it down. The name stuck with him throughout a thirty-five year career.
The Camels reminded him of that time because he’d sneak out to the back of his building to a little blue shack to smoke. It just happened that the back of the building where the shack stood was next to the busiest walkway on campus. Someone would complain about the smell and he’d end up scolded by whichever supervisor was nearby. He and a handful of computer support folks were always huddled in and around the shed.
Leo marched across a gravel lot, skipping over a few railroad ties someone had long ago tossed there as trash. Then he climbed a small grass hill and onto a sidewalk leading to the front of the strip mall. Rounding the corner of the building, he passed a deli packed with people. He and Ynez often ordered lunch from the deli since they’d grown tired of their own cuisine. That was really the only down side he saw in what they did. His daughter made the best tacos he’d ever had. After more than a year of eating some variation of them every day, he seldom craved more.
He passed two more stores before getting to the one that sold the cups he was looking for. A bell chimed above him as he walked through the glass door.
“Hey Bernice,” he greeted the woman behind the counter.
“Leo, how are you doing?” Bernice asked.
“Good, good. Ynez sent me to get cups again.”
He walked halfway down one of the aisles, picked up two bags of paper cups, then turned back toward the front of the store.
“Slow day?” he asked.
“Nothing is ever slow as long as the Earth is spinning around,” she replied.
Leo held the bags up for her to scan.
“More true than you know,” he said. “Have a good one, Bernice.”
The bell hanging from the wall chimed again as he pulled the door open to leave the store.
At first, he thought nothing of the silence coming from the deli as he walked back down the sidewalk. What caught his attention was catching, in the corner of his eye, a total lack of movement. He stopped walking and turned his head to see what looked like a mass still life. Everyone in the place, the people standing in line, workers, the businessmen who should’ve been shoving sandwiches down their throats, were paused. They were all staring in awe at a television hung up in a corner above a soda machine. Leo squinted so he could see what everyone was looking at.
Pittsburgh disaster, the screen read. Possibly the largest terrorist attack in world history.
Something about the footage shown above the scrawling text was off. It wasn’t just one of the feeds, either. All of the cameras appeared to be low, lying still on the ground.
Leo opened the door, stepping into the deli to hear what reporters were saying.
“Authorities still have no idea who or what is behind the attack on Pittsburgh this morning. Until further information comes to light, we have been told they are assuming this is the act of Islamic extremists. Again, it is estimated that nearly two thirds of the city’s population are dead.”
Leo’s throat tightened.
“What else have they said?” he asked.
Several people shushed him, eyes glued to the TV screen.
He looked around to see faces hung low, reddened, eyes pouring tears. There was at least one broken coffee mug on the floor. Back outside the world seemed to be moving like normal. The new station began to repeat what they’d already played.
Realizing there was a radio in the food truck, Leo spun around and burst back into the summer heat. Sprinting was difficult with his old knees, non-slip work shoes, and not having ran regularly pretty much ever in his life.
Like a speeding train about to hop off its track, Leo rounded the corner and scrambled down the small grass hill. One of the railroad ties in the empty lot caught his toe, causing him to nearly lose his balance. Sun baked sand kicked up into the air and tore at his already raw smoker’s lungs.
Back at the truck, the lunch crowd had all left, except for a few customers waiting on drinks. Ynez was leaning out the window, under the shade of a side panel she held up.
“Its not that big of an emergency, papa,” she at her hustling father, shaking her head.
“It is,” Leo exhaled, barely audible.
He jogged up to the back door of the truck, throwing it open. As he climbed in, he dropped the bags of cups on the floor even though Ynez waited with her hands out to receive them.
She scoffed, not moving as he tried to squeeze by her to get to the front of the truck.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” she asked, bending over to pick up the trucks.
One of the men waiting outside of the truck for his drink stood on his tip-toes to get a better view of her ass through the open window.
“Ynez, there was a terrorist attack,” Leo said, chest still heaving.
“What? Where?” she asked.
“Pennsylvania,” he said.
He turned to face his daughter, grabbed both of her shoulders. She could see a vein pounding in this temple. His voice was raspy from running.
“They think two hundred thousand are dead,” he said.
Ynez dropped the bag of cups she’d just picked up. Her hand covered her mouth as she gasped in disbelief. The floor of the truck seemed to drop out from beneath her feet. She lost her balance, falling into the counter behind her.
The man who had been watching her butt from outside leaned in the window.
“There was terrorists?” he asked. “Here?”
“No, not here,” Leo answered. “and we’re closed now.”
“I didn’t get my drink,” the man said.
“You get free lunch tomorrow. Come back, okay?” Leo said, reaching behind his daughter to pull down the side panel, shutting the window.
He turned back toward the front of the truck, climbing between the two front seats to reach the radio. A man who sounded exactly like the one he’d heard on television a few minutes ago spoke.
“The president has asked people to remain calm. If you are still in Pittsburgh, evacuate the city. For those of you outside of ground zero, a shelter in place order has been issued.”
Ynez ran a clean kitchen towel under water and sat in the passenger seat next to her father. She patted the cold rag on her forehead and breathed deeply.
“Do you think we’re going to be alright?” she asked.
“Hold on baby,” Leo said.
“Nothing is known still about who has caused the disaster, but it appears to be some sort of biological weapon. Investigators have confirmed that those in the blast radius were not protected within the confines of their homes.”
“Papa, we should leave,” Ynez begged.
“You’re right,” Leo said, turning of the radio.
He hopped up from the driver’s seat to put away food and cooking equipment. Ynez followed.
When everything was locked away safely on the inside of the truck, Leo went outside to gather their chairs and umbrella. The man who’d been waiting for his drink was still standing there.
“Hey, I didn’t get my drink,” he said.
“I know, sir,” Leo said. “I told you, tomorrow you get free lunch.”
“How will you know it is me?” the man asked.
“Sir,” Leo turned, seeing the man was visibly frustrated.
“Look,” he said, pausing in the shade of the umbrella. “I know your face. You will get your lunch.”
“And a drink,” the man insisted.
“And a drink.”
Behind the thirsty man, a clean black sedan with dark tinted windows pulled up. It’s tires kicked dust into the air, giving Leo’s lungs another run for their money.
“Christ,” he mumbled between coughs.
One of the rear doors of the sedan opened. A man in a suit stepped out of the car. It took a second, but Leo recognized the man as one of the owners of the Silver Rose.
“Mr. Molina,” the man said. “The government agents inside this car would like you to come with me.”
“What is this?” Leo asked.
The man who’d talked his way into a free lunch began to back away. Ynez swung the food truck’s back door open and stuck her head out.
“What’s the hold up?” she asked before seeing the sedan and its passenger. “Papa?”
“I’ll just be a minute, Ynez,” Leo said.
“I assure you,” the man in the suit said, “they insist.”
Leo looked at him for what seemed to all of them like a life time, then he went back to folding up the umbrella to stow it in his truck.
“No, no, no,” he said. “This isn’t some movie where rich, sneaky white men kidnap engineers to save the world. There is no reason for me to get into any car with you. Kindly have your driver move the car out of the way of our truck, please, Marcus.”
“Sir,” a man dressed in combat gear said, revealing himself on the opposite side of the car. “We insist.”
“Why? No, wait. It doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving my daughter alone and afraid on the day of the largest terrorist attack in American history,” Leo said.
“World history,” the man in combat gear said.
“Debatable,” Leo replied, turning back toward the food truck, lifting up the folded umbrella.
“They’ll use force,” Marcus said.
“To fuck yourselves, I hope,” Leo replied.
He turned back to point at the man in the suit.
“You’ll need force for this uptight asshole.”
Leo knocked on the back door of the truck. As Ynez opened it, he felt an arm quickly snap itself around his neck. The umbrella fell to the ground. Just Leo’s luck, he stepped on it and lost his balance, working his way accidentally into a tighter head lock.
“I can’t breathe,” Leo tried to say.
“Ten times the population of this town was wiped out in seconds this morning. I’m sorry, sir, but this is non-negotiable. We need your help,” the man with his arm around Leo’s neck said.
Ynez jumped out of the truck, yelling at the men in Spanish.
“My father is just an old man. Let him go,” she said.
“Your father may be able to make sure the rest of us make it through the day,” Marcus said, wiping dust from his suit breast.
Ynez stopped, confused. The man’s grip around Leo’s neck loosened as he sensed a collective befuddlement.
“What?” Leo asked, rubbing his throat.
“Pittsburgh was just the first one of these things,” Marcus said. “There are sixty-six thousand more like it, ready to come down at any time.”
Leo’s eyes became thin.
“You built sixty thousand weapons and launched them into orbit?”
“No,” Marcus paused for a brief moment. “Technically, yes.”
“I’ll be right back,” Leo turned toward the truck. “Come, Ynez. Let”s talk.”
Inside the truck, doors and windows shut and locked, Ynez broke down.
“What is this, papa?”
Leo rubbed his neck, hurting from being choked.
“I think its a bunch of rich people who really fucked up,” he said.
His daughter held up her hands and shrugged.
“Why are they here for you, though? Are you going with them?”
“I am,” Leo looked away from her, his gaze distant. “I guess I have to.”