Flashes From The Verse: Consortium

Flashes From The Verse: Consortium

The black fields of South Texas baked under the late summer sun.

A man named Fool watched jagged, deformed hands scroll by from the backseat of a hired car, the tint on the windows giving the solar collectors a gloomy feel, even as they sparkled like fractal stalks of pure obsidian. None of it had existed in Fool’s day. He’d gone on countless runs with his abuela to the massive cornfields in the surrounding counties to steal a trunkful of corn. Now all that farmland was gone, replaced by one of the largest solar power collectives in the country, stretching all the way from El Paso to just a few miles west of Tedford proper.


Welcome to Flashes from the Verse, a sampling of unedited, unrevised, and often out-of-context scratch writing that takes place in the Vinestead Universe. Somewhere in these interconnected ramblings is the next Vinestead novel, so keep your eyes peeled and enjoy!

All of this, Fool had learned from his driver, an older Indian man with dark brown skin and perfectly styled hair and beard of pure white. His name was Sijan, and he’d lived in South Texas all of his life. For the last few years, he’d been ferrying people back and forth between Tedford and El Paso in his luxury SUV, as he called it. Fool didn’t exactly consider Infiniti to be the height of luxury, but it was a far cry from the vomit-stained, pleather backseats of NYC taxi cabs.

“It’s taken them ten years to make it this far,” said Sijan, pointing to the window. His accent was pure Rio Grande Valley, nasally and high. “You’re going to see it come to an abrupt stop in just a minute. There!”

Sure enough, the endless black sea of solar collectors ended in a poorly anti-aliased line stretching to the horizon.

Fool felt the driver waiting for him to ask the question, so he did.

“Why here?”

Sijan smiled into the review mirror. “You’ll see, my friend.”

They were an hour into the drive, yet the air conditioner was still blasting away, struggling to keep the car at a crisp 68 degrees. The SUV’s information panel on the built-in dash palette showed the outside temperature just under 120 degrees.

“Is it always this hot?”

Sijan shook his head. “Gets worse every year. Something’s changing.”

“Yeah,” said Fool, looking to the window again. “Something’s changing alright.”

In fact, everything had changed—Joel Spencer had seen to that. He’d spent years playing fast and loose with the books at Watershed Investments, but it only took a day, less than twelve hours really, to lose everything. The federales took everything. They didn’t just wipe out the company; they wiped out everyone who worked there. By the time Fool arrived home from the office, there was already police tape on his apartment door and two uniformed NYPD officers standing guard in the hallway.

The SUV began to slow. Fool leaned his head toward center to look at the road ahead, which was empty and relatively straight.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“No problem. Just pulling over so I can drop you off. Unless you’d prefer to jump out?”

Fool leaned forward in his seat. Through the haze coming off the asphalt, he could just make out some kind of toll booth, complete with an articulated arm barring passage over the road.

“We’re not even to town yet,” said Fool.

“This is as close as I get to Tedford. Driving into the county is one thing, but I don’t go into the city. I’ve had some friends who never came out, no lie.”

“I…”

Sijan glanced at the rearview mirror and must have noticed the confusion on Fool’s face.

“Look,” he said, “you seem like a nice guy, but you’ve been away for a long time.” The SUV slowed to a stop on the side of the road. One tire slipped off the asphalt into the grass. “Have you ever heard of a niche city?”

Fool shook his head.

“They started overseas, mostly in China. When a company needs something made, like a component for your palette or something, they build a factory in the middle of nowhere and hire hundreds or thousands of workers. The workers come from all over and settle near the factory and before you know it, a city has sprung up around it. Everyone in that city works at the factory, so the company essentially owns everyone and every thing around it. Same thing here, except the town was already here, and Consortium just came in and bought everything up.”

“Consortium…” Fool was familiar with the company, having used them to order everything from pens and paper to vidscreens and immersion rigs. Though they were based in Chicago, Consortium had distribution centers all over the country, which meant their delivery times for 90% of their products was same or next day. Watershed Investments had put money into Consortium in 1999 when they IPO’d at $87 a share. Now they were trading at just over $4,000 a share, depending on what outlandish thing their billionaire CEO Rance [LAST NAME] did on any given day. Watershed’s roughly 60 million investment in Consortium was now the property of Uncle Sam.

“Nothing gets built in Shona County without Consortium’s say-so. And considering how much lobbying support they get from Oil and Gas companies, it’s no surprise they don’t want solar farms on their land.”

“It’s not their land,” said Fool.

Sijan chuckled. “It’s not our land either, friend.”

The door locks clicked.

“You’re really going to make me walk? In this heat?”

“It’s less than a quarter mile. I’m sorry. I can’t risk it. Legally, any of their gestapo security could seize my car and everything in it on some bullshit pretense. By the time my free lawyer got it sorted out, my family and I will have starved to death. No, I can’t do it.”

A palette hanging from the passenger seat came alive and showed the trip’s distance and cost. The option to pay by biochip was grayed out. It would have been available had Fool any bank accounts to link it to, or any money in those accounts for that matter.

Fool reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. What had once been full of crips hundreds now held a paltry collection of just four Wall Street food stamps.

The fare for $58.

“I’m sorry I can’t tip you more,” said Fool, handing over three bills. “This is literally my last twenty.”

Sijan examined the money for a moment. “You have people in Tedford?”

“Mi abuela. I haven’t seen her since I left. Rest of my family is gone.”

“Did you keep in touch?”

“Not as much as I should have,” admitted Fool.

Sijan nodded. He handed back one of the twenties. “Then you’ll need to buy your grandmother some flowers.”

“Are you sure? Well, thanks. I appreciate it.”

“Now get out of my car before those goons walk down here and hassle me.” His smile filled the rearview mirror.

Fool put his money away, grabbed his small duffle bag from the seat next to him, and opened the door into the sweltering Texas heat. He’d lost his sunglasses somewhere between Nashville and Biloxi, which meant he could hardly see the toll booth or guard shack or whatever it was on the road until he was right on top of it. By then, he was sweating through both his shirt and sport jacket. His underwear stuck to his legs, making every step just a little more aggravating than the last.

At twenty feet, he was able to read the large blue sign extended from an evercrete island in the middle of the road.

You are entering Tedford, Texas, a wholly owned township of Consortium Enterprises, Inc. All cars subject to search. No thru traffic. All employees and residents are subject to—

A horn blared behind Fool, loud and deep enough to tickle the bones in his ear. He stepped further off the road automatically, and when he turned back, he saw an eighteen-wheeler barreling toward him. It sounded its horn again as it passed, cruising at full speed toward the roadblock where the traffic arm was already in its upright position. As the towering letters of CONSORTIUM on the side of the truck receded, the arm came back down lazily.

Fool continued walking, and when he was within spitting distance of the shack, a guard dressed in brown fatigues stepped out with a rifle held to his chest. His hat was pulled low over his eyes, and his tight-set jaw reminded Fool of the assholes on the subway who tried to stare other riders down in hopes of starting a fight.

“Hola,” called the guard. The bill of his hat came up to reveal black, wraparound sunglasses. “Que tal, hombre?”

Fool lifted his hand uncertainly. “Hi.”

The guard pointed back down the road and switched to English. “Was that Sijan?”

“Yeah, yeah it was.”

A smile broke on the man’s face. “Why does he do that? Did you feed you some story about us stealing his car?”

Fool wiped the sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand. “How’d you know?”

“He tells that to everyone he brings our way. All because one time we had to tow him for blocking a delivery lane. I looked it up. We had his car for less than two hours. Then he shows up at the lot screaming about how we’re taking food off his table and how his wife and kids are going to starve.” The guard shrugged. “I don’t know. We cost him what, a hundred bucks at the most? And that’s being generous. Meanwhile, he delayed a truck with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in it. He took food off that driver’s table that day.”

“Everybody’s got a side to their story, I guess,” said Fool. He looked past the guard toward the town. The asphalt he’d driven on from El Paso dissolved into smooth, light-gray evercrete, bordered on both sides by clean shoulders with rumble strips and low beds of flowers beyond that.

“What brings you to Tedford? I’m Gomez, by the way.” He tapped the nametag on his chest. “Juan-Mario Gomez.”

“I grew up here,” said Fool. He eyed Gomez, placed his age somewhere in the twenties. “Haven’t been back in a long time.”

“Family?”

“Mi Abuela, se llama Yessenia Trevino.”

“De veras? I know her.” He smiled again. “Lives over on Brazos street, right?”

Fool lifted his hand and crossed his fingers. “I’m hoping.”

Yessenia Adelita Catalina Trevino had lived at 312 Brazos Street in Tedford, Texas since long before Fool was born. He spent most of his childhood on her front porch, which by then was already sinking on the left side. So many nights he’d sat out there with his parents and extended family while the men got drunk and the woman argued and his abuela just rocked and rocked in her rusting patio furniture. Fool wasn’t keen on reliving those moments, especially with the heat, but he was interested in the second bedroom his abuela had. He hoped it was still full of old sewing equipment and nothing else.

Fool sighed. “How far are we from town?”

“Hijo le…” Gomez chuckled. “It’s a walk.” He peeked under the collar of his glove to check his sliver. “My relief is coming in fifteen minutes if you want to wait. I can give you a ride back to the armory. It’s right in the middle of town, and then you can take a scooter out to Brazos Street. They redid the road out there a few years ago so it’s safe to ride.”

“Huh…”

“Que paso?”

Fool grunted. “I don’t know. That driver made me walk in the heat but also cut me a break on the fare. You’re offering me a ride into town. I guess I just kinda missed this living up north for so long.”

“Where up north?”

“New York City.”

Gomez whistled. “That’s rough, hombre. I think you’re going to like it here though. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone helps everyone. We’re all part of one big Consortium family.”

Fool eyed the sign again.

All employees and residents are subject to the terms and conditions of the Consortium Master Township End User Licensing Agreement. Visitors staying longer than 48 hours must apply for a visitor pass.

“Do I need a pass or something?” asked Fool, pointing to the sign.

Gomez shook his head and waved the question away. “Don’t worry about that. Security works in pairs here. If they give you any shit, just tell the one with skin like ours who your abuela is. Consortium likes to think they run things here, but we still respect our elders.”

“Good to know.”

“But… if you are planning on staying for good, you should probably think about getting registered as a resident. You don’t have to carry an ID or anything; they just add it to your biochip signature. Cuts down on the hassle if they automatically know you’re supposed to be here.”

Fool checked his sliver. It was blank. His service had been cut off four days prior.

Gomez noticed, said, “Here, come inside and wait. I’ve got a little fan that does fuck-all, but the water is cold.”

“Thanks,” said Fool.

“Welcome home, brother,” said Gomez, stretching out his arm to lead the way.

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