Right now it seems like everyone is hard at work on Tales of Fort Thomas but me. There's still a long way to go before release day, so that means I need to keep you all interested until then. Besides, you've all been such great fans I'd be remiss if I didn't give you all something to whet your appetites.
This excerpt is from one of my favorite stories in the collection: "Terms and Conditions". I hope you enjoy it.
Terms and Conditions
“You’ve got to exercise a little restraint. Why is that so hard for you?” Alpha paced the floor in the Omega’s briefing room. He looked at the slick black tabletop in the center of the room where just twenty minutes prior, the holographic image of Hedy Walker, Bloomington’s new Chief of Police, stood voicing a laundry list of complaints about a certain Omega Captain.
On the other side of the table sat Fer, boots up on the arm of what used to be Nix’s chair, looking bored.
“It’s not hard. I exercise restraint all the time,” he said.
Alpha stopped pacing and stared at him. Outside, the trees rustled in the wind that had been ramping up all afternoon. “You called her officers...” he trailed off, recalling Chief Walker’s accusation. He didn’t want to repeat the words. Swearing always made him feel awkward— this was largely because he never got it right— but he had a point to prove, so he cleared his throat and continued. “You called her officers a gaggle of cock-for-brains fuckwits not even fit for latrine duty.”
Fer straightened up and nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “But what I wanted to say was they were a gaggle of cock-for-brains fuckwits not even fit to shovel their own shit for sandwiches. See? Restraint.”
Alpha opened his mouth to speak but found no words came out. Fer had, at long last, rendered him speechless. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose like he had a headache. “Why?” he finally managed. “Why are you like this?”
“Like what? Look, Chief Blackburn never had an issue with me. We worked together fine for the last three years. It’s not my fault his successor likes to clutch her pearls at a little salty language.”
“A little salty? No. The fries in the civilian mess are a little salty.” Alpha put his hands down on the tabletop and leaned toward him. “Your language is an unprofessional garbage heap of insults, inappropriate expletives, and derogatory slurs. The fact that it’s actually taken this long for someone to file a formal complaint against you, quite frankly, astounds me.”
“Me too,” Fer agreed. “I mustn’t have been trying hard enough.” He chuckled and uncrossed and recrossed his legs on Nix’s chair.
“Captain!” Alpha snapped, smacking the tabletop. “I don’t think you’re grasping the seriousness of this situation.”
Fer straightened up and took his feet from the chair leaving behind a set of dusty tread marks on the arm. The boss was mad now and if there was one thing he hated, it was being around Alpha when he was in a bad mood. Bad Mood Alpha would often try to express his frustration by swearing, and Fer wasn’t sure if he had it in him not to laugh at a sincerely angry but ultimately ineffective delivery of ‘God shit it!’ or ‘What the damn is wrong with you?’ “Okay, fine. Fine,” Fer conceded. “I’ll watch my language.”
Alpha sighed and sat down in the chair across from him; his anger seeming to have subsided. “I’d like to believe you, but, unfortunately, I can’t. You need to take serious steps to change your behavior.”
“Oh yeah? Like how?” Fer caught Alpha’s glare at the indignance in his voice, and he corrected himself with an exasperated sigh, “Like how, Sir?”
is software you can download that will help you censor your language and
enhance your professionalism.”
“Is that what you use?” Fer scoffed. Alpha raised a threatening eyebrow. “No? Oh, wait! I know! It’s Nix, isn’t it? I bet he uses shit like that and that’s why he was everybody’s favorite Captain.”
Alpha considered the words and nodded. “As a matter of fact, he did for a while when he first took on the role. You and I both know he can have a temper, and the software helped him maintain his professionalism when things pushed his buttons. Once he found his stride, he uninstalled it.”
Fer found himself wondering if he had been one of those button-pushers; he hoped he was. Oh, who was he kidding, he knew he was, and that made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Alpha tapped the tabletop, and it lit up. Between the two of them was the image of a file folder. Alpha reached up and tapped it. The folder opened and four smaller images appeared below it. They all looked like logos for various software developers. He reached out to the one for American Robotics and made a slight throwing motion with his hand like he was waving it in Fer’s direction. A second later, the icon popped up on Fer’s HUD. “That’s the info for the software he used. There are many programs like it; you can check them all out and choose one that suits you. But this is the one I recommend.”
Fer stood up, pursing his lips, and shaking his head. “Do I have to?”
Alpha straightened up, and even though he was shorter and smaller in build than Fer, his authority was always broadcast loud and clear. “Yes. That’s an order.”
Alpha dismissed him for the evening, and Fer stalked all the way back to his apartment. An order, he sulked, hunkering down against the wind. Why did he have to make it an order?
Why? Because Alpha knew as well as he did, unless it was an order, he wouldn’t do jack shit. In the distance, he saw thunderheads billowing dark and angry and heard the far-off rumble of a storm. He picked up his pace not wanting to add insult to injury by getting caught in a downpour.
He got to his apartment building just as the first drops of rain hit the pavement. By the time he reached his door, rain was coming in sheets. Fer sank onto his sofa and called up the software icon on his HUD. The icon directed him to an online store to purchase and install the program.
“American Robotics’ Professional Language Enhancer,” he read the software description. “Makes real time corrections and improvement to problematic and inappropriate language and streamlines speech patterns for more professional blah, blah, blah. Fine. Whatever.”
He was just about to start the download when his eyes flicked over to where the install button should have been and saw a buy option instead. “Buy? Alright, alright. I got a few bucks.” He called up the price and his eyes bugged. “Six— six hundred fucking dollars?!” Lightning flashed outside followed by a crack of thunder. For a second, he felt like The Count from Sesame Street and almost gave in to the urge to follow it with the character’s trademark laugh. Almost. There were more pressing matters at hand, like what kind of asshole spent six hundred bucks on correction software. Then he remembered. “Oh wait, Nix is that kind of asshole.” He rolled his eyes and began a wide search for similar software making sure to add “free” to the results filter.
The search produced a list of over two hundred options. Fer went to the first result, an app called Clean Speech Now by Friendly Face Media. He’d never heard of Friendly Face Media and didn’t like to install software from companies with which he wasn’t familiar. But it had thousands of reviews and averaged out at four and a half stars— and it was free. The free was the big part. Besides, if he installed it and it turned out to suck, he could just as easily uninstall it and move on to the next one.
Fer gave a half blink and the software terms and conditions popped up. He blinked twice and scrolled through the info on his HUD all the way to the bottom, barely registering any of the document. It was all legal bullshit anyway, giving the program permission to make changes to his speech patterns and access his personal drives and processors; it was the same shit every time any synthetic downloaded new software. No one ever read the terms and conditions. Fer gave one final blink and the download started.
A progress bar appeared on his HUD; it looked like a sizable download. Fer checked the time and his schedule. It was 19:00, a good stopping point for his day. Just to be sure, he confirmed he had no commitments for the rest of the evening. He was all good. Satisfied with his lack of plans, Fer went to his room, stripped down to his skivvies, and climbed into bed, opting to sleep through the download and the storm outside.
Fer awoke to the sound of a text message coming in on his phone. Then another. And another. His systems snapped back online, and he saw the download was complete. Another text. He got up and crossed the room to the bookshelf where his phone lay on its charging pad.
Sunlight streamed through the cracks in his blinds, and he opened them, letting the morning light illuminate the room. He picked up the phone and saw a series of funny cat pictures Anjiko had text to him all in rapid succession. He was about to complain to the void about his scrapper’s obsession with cat memes, but decided getting them sent to his phone was much better than when she would send them to his HUD. There was nothing more annoying than being in the middle of a debriefing and suddenly seeing a cat wearing an orange peel on its head like a helmet.
Another text chimed on the screen. “Hot stuff, Anjiko, calm the fun down,” he muttered and went to grab some clean shorts from his dresser. He took all of two steps toward the bathroom when he stopped dead.
Hot stuff? That’s not what he wanted to say, but sure, fine. His new software was designed to curb his swearing, and that’s what it did. It was weird, but he was probably just getting used to it.
Another text alert sounded. “Jelly fudging doughnuts!” he snapped at the phone. “Will you please—” he stopped again and looked worried. “Jelly what?” He repeated the words and decided to do a little test. He thought hard about the word ‘fuck,’ opened his mouth, and “Fudge.” He shook his head. “Flip. Frik. Fark. Fonk.” He blinked a few times in rapid succession. “Fonk?” He furrowed his brows. “What kind of moronic smither-biscuit says fonk?” He paused and looked even more confused, “Smither-biscuit? Yeah, no. This isn’t gonna work.” He brought up the file on his HUD and went to uninstall it, except he couldn’t. The button to uninstall the software was grayed out and unable to be accessed.
Fer’s eyes darted all over his HUD, opening and reopening the program file. He hoped doing so would somehow make the uninstall option available to him. It did not. A sense of impending doom washed over him. He sat down on the edge of his bed; underwear still clutched in his hand. His eyes were wide and anxious as he stared at that horrible dead button. “Egad. I’m in trouble.”