Friday, November 5, 2010

Arnett Tanner Wants to Die: Sample Chapter

I'm going to post a sample chapter I wrote last night to give the Tanner character more depth. I only proofed it once so there may still be a few issues. It's about eleven and a half pages double spaced, so only get into it if you have that kind of time.

Arnett Tanner Wants to Die is a dystopian novel I have written, based on the premise that death has been abolished and outlawed in the United States by mandating that citizens regularly download their personalities onto federally owned"backup" servers. When someone's body suffers physical death, physicians merely download their personality into a new, young body.

Tanner, being of unusually high intelligence is bored with a life of never ending monotony and seeks to end his existence for good. All he has been able to accomplish though, is committing suicide four times only to be brought back each time, thus earning the ire of the Death Watch Agency.

The chapter is a flashback to Tanner's life. Because he has lived over two hundred years and through four incarnations of himself, I had to find a way to blend a general history of his life with specific moments of importance. The way I did that was to have him go through his life in a dream. The dream is like a series of powerpoint slides highlighting his life, and the important slides have videos where we see Tanner's interaction with people at those times.

Also, if you like it, tell your friends.  And if you like it and you're an agent or a publisher, contact me ASAP.

Chapter 4
The Past of Tanner

As it often did after he killed himself, Tanner's subconscious mind brought him flying through his youth, reliving the moments that had driven his deadly desires. It was merely a series of feelings and images at first, a general impression of what had happened that only Tanner could comprehend.

Arnett Tanner was discovered to be gifted from an early age. By the time he was barely into elementary school, he was reading at a college level. He didn't possess the life experience to understand some of the context, but he understood the words perfectly. He moved through his primary schooling rather rapidly, leaping grades at a time. If didn't matter what anyone threw at him as he found there wasn't a single thing in the academic world that he couldn't eventually master.

When he arrived at college as a baby faced fifteen year old, Tanner was already used to a world in which he needed to expend little effort to succeed. Thus he rarely attended classes and suffered poor grades despite an intellect that towered over his peers. Tanner was furious when the university wouldn't let him compress more classes into an already busy schedule so he could escape the tedious life of a college student in three years rather than four. Incensed, he completed his senior year with a perfect grade point average and saluted his graduating class, his former professors, and the school administration by giving them all the finger as he walked across the stage.

Tanner's first job found him working as a civil engineer in New York City. As a lowly cubicle-tethered peon he found himself intimately involved in several improvements to the city's public water and sewer systems. Working through various sets of plans was child's play for Tanner, as was using a multitude of different programs to design the replacement systems that would be installed beneath the city. The human element, however, was something Tanner never grasped. He could think his way out of any engineering problem that was presented to him, but he could not reason his way out of a difficult meeting with politicians, nor did he have any answers for city planning boards, regulation and enforcement officers, and environmental compliance groups.

Tanner's dream seemed to freeze one of the images and brought him back into a situation that he still remembered two centuries later.

"You do good work..." his boss was saying in his twelfth year during his annual performance review. "But the fact is, you just don't look excited enough. Take the added responsibilities you were handed for the city project last week. Given that you've been slow on work lately, I thought you'd be raring to go...but you just weren't."

On the outside Tanner showed the stoic look and calmness that had allowed him to prevail through many a crisis. Internally however, his brain was asking all sorts of questions that he probably shouldn't voice. "What the fuck? I'm getting passed up for promotion because I don't look excited enough? Is this man retarded? How is he allowed to lead several more intelligent people. Oh god, I'm trapped in a Dilbert cartoon."

Tanner merely nodded and hated himself for it. "With Chrisoph's retirement in a month, the title of project manager for the city job is up for grabs. Now, it's not any more pay, but whoever gets it will likely see a promotion to Managing Engineer in the near future. I've decided, and the shareholders agree, that Michelle should get that responsibility."

Tanner was shaken, though he knew he shouldn't have been surprised. Michelle had slightly more experience than he and had done all she could to torpedo his career from the moment he'd arrived. In his passiveness and desire to not ruffle any feathers, he had allowed her a measure of success. "So where does that leave me?"

Tanners boss turned to the other person in the room and for the first time, Tanner's mind had registered why someone from human resources was present. "I see," Tanner said, cutting his boss off before he had a chance to speak. He looked at his watch before standing up. "It's three thirty and I have no desire to be here anymore. I'll pack my things and leave." With his head held high, and a rare smile on his face Tanner led his escorts back to his desk where he made short work of cleaning his workspace.

Being jobless was frightening, but Tanner couldn't help but feel freed. He had never felt comfortable working there and he looked forward to develop better relationships elsewhere. As the conference room faded away and his mind pulled away from the scene, the next few images showed him how wrong he had been.

Tanner had repeated the same routine a half dozen times with the same result. His intelligence enabled him to do good work, but he was continually frustrated with the human element and would hit a glass ceiling after a certain number of years. Because he would reach a point where he couldn't advance his career, his experience would begin to surpass the level of difficulty in the work he was given and he would grow bored. After a while, Tanner's belief that the next job would be different began to die. He didn't fault himself, he was too intelligent to be the problem, but he couldn't wrap his mind around his failures. At every job, he was instantly the smartest employee, and yet he hit the same wall every time. As the jobs passed by, Tanner stopped attempting to overcome his frustration with hard work and instead lashed out at those around him. It led to a few moments in which even he had to admit, those companies were justified in letting him go.

Following his final experience as an engineer, in which he quit rather than suffer the indignity of being fired, Tanner had committed his first suicide. He had put a stungun he'd lethally modified up against the side of his head and pulled the trigger. His mind usually glossed over the actual suicides, even in his dreams. The events were too painful to relive.

Tanner's family had disowned him shortly after, not wanting to be associated with someone who had committed the cardinal crime of ending his own life. Tanner had been forced to laugh at the turn of events. No matter how long history kept churning and how far society progressed, there we're still things that would cause a family to kick one of its members to the curb.

He'd lived over a half century as a well paid engineer, so already money was becoming a non-issue for Tanner. With a fresh take on life and a distaste for engineering, he decided a career change was in order. Tanner went back to school to become a teacher, this time not holding himself back with uncharacteristically poor grades.

The ceremony in which he received his PhD had filled Tanner with fear. In his time as a student-teacher, he'd already begun to grow bored with the career and frustrated with the kids who couldn't compensate for a lack of ability with a proper effort. The Death Watch Agency, still in its early years, wouldn't allow Tanner before any children, lest they become negatively influenced by his undesirable past. The Agency did decide that university students, being of independent mind, were acceptable, and Tanner was given a job as a college professor in Water Resources and Fluid Mechanics.

In a year when Tanner should have been almost seventy-five, and when he looked no older than thirty-five, Tanner's subconscious zoomed in on his life once more.

"Jesus fucking Christ," a tall, thin, and surprisingly buxom brunette said as she rolled off Tanner attempting to fix her hopelessly disheveled hair.

"Actually it's just Tanner," he said sheepishly, pulling himself into a sitting position against the headboard.

"Oh, my mistake," she said with a grin. "Oh fuck..." Ignorant of her nudity, she rushed off the bed to scoop up the ungraded labs that had been knocked to the floor sometime during their tumble through Tanner's bed.

Tanner stared unabashedly at her uncovered behind as his dick attempted to rise to the occasion again. He didn't love his T.A., but he did enjoy her company more than any of the previous women he'd allowed into his life. She was very intelligent, though nowhere near a match for him, and was still prone to many of the illogical behaviors that bothered Tanner about the female gender. Still, their time together had been pleasant, many of their discussions stimulating, and the sex was fantastic.

She caught him staring and grinned at him before hastily pulling on a pair of jeans and one of Tanner's old T-shirts. "I better cover up so I don't feel like a complete perv for fucking my boss," she said in an attempt to conceal her genuine worry. Tanner frowned, but said nothing. Society was filled with so many stupid rules, and so many stupid people that were the justifications for such rules. So what if they were sharing both a professional relationship and an intimate one. They were both adults and should have been trusted to be able to compartmentalize. He had told her so the second they'd confessed feelings for one another. "The fact that you're fucking me does not mean your grad work will get a kinder eye," he had warned her, to which she had readily agreed. She wasn't looking for a handout, and he wasn't about to give one.

She graded the labs in silence for several moments, setting the finished ones gently in a pile at the end of the bed. After few minutes and a half dozen reports, she kicked them to the floor. "Shit, all of it." She tossed down her marker putting an ugly red streak across the current page. "Half these kids aren't trying, and the other half are too goddamned stupid."

Tanner sighed and put down the book he had been reading. "I know. The few that have promise make up for it with a piss-poor effort. Meanwhile every god damned day is the same. I teach the same material to the same students that don't care. They even sit in the same seats. There's the little brown noser, who would also love to see me naked, that is too stupid to engineer her way out of drowning in a two foot river, there's the brilliant kid that sits in the back that sleeps through half of my lectures, and the rest of them are too mediocre to care about. Even worse, next semester, there will be more classrooms that are exactly the same."

"At least you've got my intelligence, and stunning conversational skills to tide you over," she said brightly. In some deep part of Tanner's mind he knew she was fishing for a compliment, and in another, he knew how he should respond. The overwhelming majority, the parts that had been hollowed out with apathy took over though, and he responded in a dull monotone. "Yeah."

After several seconds, he noticed that she was staring at him somewhat angrily. "What?" he asked.

"Fuck you," she said, collecting the labs and shoving them into her backpack. He realized his error, and again cursed the craziness of the female gender. She was smart, and she knew it...even if she wasn't as smart as him. Perhaps deep down that fact made her insecure, and thus made her need to seek validation.

"Come on, you know..." he started, but he stopped himself.

"What?" she asked him, hoping he could find something that would make her stay.

"No, you're right," he said shortly. "I don't respect your intelligence. It's nothing personal," he shrugged and tried his best to look apologetic. He didn't feel apologetic, so he was relatively certain he failed.

She looked at him, her anger having turned to shock. "You're an asshole," she said, continuing to gather her things.

"I don't really respect anyone's," Tanner continued, for the first time voicing thoughts that he'd held for years. "People bore me, you were just ridiculing the students for how stupid and pathetic they are."

"So I'm stupid and pathetic?" she asked.

"Comparatively," Tanner said, and then he laughed. He knew it was mean, knew it was absurd that he'd have the audacity to say such a thing, especially to her face, but he said it anyway. It was the truth.

Gridning her teeth and eliciting a noise that Tanner could only describe as a growl, she reached into her bag and hurled the lab reports in his direction before storming out the door. Tanner merely watched the scene unfold before cleaning up her mess knowing that he'd seen the last of her. He would miss the sex, but that was such a simple pleasure.

It was a struggle to force the Dean of Engineering to come to terms with Tanner's departure. He was a well respected member of the faculty and one of the names on which the university had built its reputation. The phrase, "I'm fucking my T.A." entered into Tanner's head as an easy out, but that wouldn't be fair to the girl.

It was also a mistake, as Tanner soon found himself a bit of a pariah in the academic world. He also found that while teaching had become a chore and a never ending monotony, being unemployed was not the best way to satisfy such things. His lack of financial troubles continued as returns from research projects he'd sponsored or funded began to roll in.

After two years of trying and failing to find work that didn't make him scowl, Tanner took a long walk off of a short stool and hanged himself from the banister of his townhouse one evening. Only his SWO was there to see him wake up.

The third version of Tanner didn't fare any better than the previous two. After having flamed out of two different career paths, Tanner began jumping from job to job, trying to find something that would satisfy his desire to have his intelligence challenged and his mind entertained. Having been through two iterations of college studies already and not willing to sit through the boring four years of a third, Tanner used his wealth to purchase books on a variety of subjects.

The problem that Tanner quickly found, was that while he could match the intelligence of any graduate in any career field, he lacked the important slip of paper that confirmed this fact. Thus he often found his time wasting away as a meaningless intern or a woefully underworked entry level employee. He quickly passed the century mark, and unlike others that had reached his advanced age, grew more impatient as the years passed. He never lasted long enough in anything that he did to become more than a coffee maker and a gofer and his frustration deepened.

The sheer variety of the things that he attempted kept his suicidal thoughts at bay for a long time, as did the increased scrutiny of his SWO and the agency. One year he was an a mechanic, the next he was a photographer, then a carpenter, then an editor, then a statistician. The pace began to quicken as he tried desperately to find somewhere he fit.

Finally he found some success in the same area he always had. Tanner had been sleeping one evening when a soft and consistent series of thudding noises jarred him awake. Both annoyed and curious, he dressed and wandered into the hall in search of the disturbance. Tanner followed the increasing volume into the stairwell, and then up to the door that led onto the roof. Someone had evidently recently been atop the building as the automatic sliding door was opening and closing on a small stone that had gotten caught in the frame.

Tanner timed his next step and let himself out into the cold night air. The building was only two stories high, the tallest his SWO would let him inhabit even though all his windows were barred. He wandered over to the edge to look at the pavement below. A traditional fall wouldn't kill him, but Tanner mused that a well executed swan dive onto his head would probably be successful. Tanner walked a few feet back from the edge and turned around. It took several minutes for his mind to will his legs to move forward, but eventually he took a running leap off the roof. On his way down, Tanner couldn't help but wonder who would have the unfortunate experience of finding him the following morning.

"Good morning, idiot," Lars Hanson began, telling the newly reincarnated man before him exactly what was on his mind.

Tanner smiled faintly, still a bit foggy from the anesthesia. "Who pissed in your breakfast?" he asked.

"You did when you took your little flight of fancy," the SWO countered.

"Where's my SWO?" Tanner asked.

"Right here."

"What about..." Tanner had to struggle to think of the man's name he hadn't bothered to learn. "Ted...?" he ventured.

"Mike," Lars corrected, "was given a better assignment, and stuck with you."

"Fantastic," Tanner said, surprised to find that he was actually partially sincere. Lars had taken an immediate disliking to Tanner. The suicide case, somewhat surprised by the hostility, therefore found it to be refreshing, and much preferable to the fake compassion of his previous SWO.

Tanner didn't know what originally caused Lars to be so combative, but over time, the larger man's attitude became to improve. He was much more adept than Tanner's pervious SWO, immediately identifying and removing several things that had already been rolling around in Tanner's head as possible methods for his next attempt.

In spite of his initial annoyance, Lars respected Tanner, treating him as an equal instead of a second class citizen. In turn, Tanner respected Lars, at least enough to feel a little bad when he started his newest career as a amateur gambler behind Lars's back.

He felt even worse a few short days later when Lars discovered what Tanner had been doing with his free time, an emotion that surprised him. Even more shocking was the fact that Lars had no objection to his patient's somewhat unscrupulous new life.

"You don't care?" Tanner asked.

"No, you're not harming yourself. Forcing other people to perhaps," Lars replied.


"Tell me, how much are you up?"

"Around eight hundred," Tanner answered.

"Yeah, they told me you were intelligent," Lars mused. "If that's what you want to do then fine, I won't stop you. Watch you yes, stop"

Tanner continued in his endeavors, pleased that he not only had Lars's respect, but also that the larger man was neither surprised, nor intimidated by the fact that Tanner was much smarter than he. It always seemed like his previous SWO had harbored feelings of jealousy.

Tanner had been drawn to gambling, because many viewed it as a perfect system. Despite the fact that people constantly questioned its moral implications, the business never seemed to do anything but thrive. And in spite of the existence of several intelligent individuals, it reaped stunning profits. The house always won. Once Tanner was finished admiring the racket, he decided that he should set about to defeat it.

He started with blackjack. It was one of the simplest games, and unlike craps or the roulette wheel, the odds of winning were pretty good, especially if you knew how to play. Tanner was able to quickly learn how to count cards and encourage the money to fall his way. Unfortunately this resulted in Lars having to help him out of tight spots in many northeastern casinos.

"For the last fucking time, you can't count cards," Lars said wearily.

"Why not, it's the only thing that makes the game any fun. Otherwise you're just sitting there tapping the felt like an idiot," Tanner countered.

"Because they don't like it, and it causes them to lose money."

"Well shit, let them make money off of the people too stupid to beat their system."

"Just go to bed, it's three in the morning," Lars said, pushing Tanner into his apartment.

Tanner turned to face Lars. "Thanks for not letting that big guy kick my ass," he said.

"Yeah well he wanted to kick mine too, he just wasn't sure if he could," Lars replied with a cocky grin before yawning. "Good night."

Tanner retired from blackjack and moved on to something more difficult. Poker wasn't much his game because he was so poor at reading people, but he knew the odds so well that he was able to achieve a small measure of success anyways. When he tired of that, he tried betting on athletic contests. He developed a system that, while not perfect, caused him to come out ahead most weeks. His experiences in other pursuits of chance began to mirror that with blackjack and he was quickly turned away by bookies and card players alike.

As his foray into the gambling world increased, so did his notoriety. Tanner began to become relatively well known in some of the more unsavory circles. With it came access to certain drugs he would otherwise never have been able to get his hands on. As his years as a gambler wound down, Tanner had been able to secure a small bag of potent pills.

After he spent a sixth straight May afternoon watching, and winning on a baseball game that he had no business knowing anything about, Tanner thought back to the pills still stashed in a safe hidden in his room. The tiny capsules had remained dormant for almost a year as Tanner hadn't wanted to lose some of the respect he'd gained from Lars. As the months had ticked off and Tanner's interests morphed from baseball, to football, to hockey, and back again, Tanner found himself in a familiar rut.

That day, doing the same thing he'd been doing for almost a week had pushed him over the edge. The monotony was back. It seemed that it would always return in one way or another. His friendship with Lars had carried him through the past several weeks. He didn't mind disappointing the man, not too much anyways, but hated that he might be a cause of strife for his friend. He'd already seen one SWO get axed. Tanner looked out the window to another partially cloudy mediocre May afternoon. He sighed, and then rose to walk towards his room. It was time again.

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