Thursday, 14 June 2007

Life & Taxes - Part One


Life & Taxes is a story told in three episodes, posted serially by me, your confederate host, Cheeseburger Brown. Chapters: 1|2|3

Our story begins:



1/3

The day dawned lush. The night's rains rose into a mist over the glittering St. Laurent, roiling and thinning as the sun climbed. The sky turned from yellow to pewter to blue until the first gush of industry's morning fires obscured it. These were the first hours of spring in a new country.

A pall hung over the megalopolis downriver, black fumes eased away by the wind to carry the stink of burning cars tinged by hints of teargas. The protests had been wild, and they were not yet done. Helicopters buzzed over the smog-faded skyline, like insects over carrion.

Here, in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, the spirit was calmer. Though it was Monday many chose not to work. Even before breakfast Lac Saint-Francois was dotted with sailboats and skidoos. The water was cold but nothing could stop the people from taking a draft of the careless independence they had craved for so long.

Today, each did as he or she pleased.

There were musicians in the streets, and a giddy generosity moved contagiously through the cafes as the proprietors served free drinks tinted blue. No one was quite sure who started it. "Vive la republique!" crooned the patrons, grinning with stained lips.

Monsieur LeBlanc eased his car through the crowd, honking gently when necessary. The people were obliging, and stepped out of the way quickly. They slapped the sides of his freshly blue vehicle and hooted. It was the first time, as a tax collector, his reception had ever been so warm.

He pulled into the drive-through at Tim Horton's and frowned when he was presented with a cheerfully azure cup of coffee. "I think the cream's gone off," he said to the skinny Tamil girl through the window.

"No no, it's for the flag, Monsieur. Vive la republique!"

M. LeBlanc nodded vaguely. "Right, okay, fine. I'd also like a bagel."

Near the shore, beneath the beating shadows of a line of tall white wind turbines, wound an uneven road to a chain-link perimeter manned by a pink-haired student fixated on her telephone. A bilingual sign across the gate read McGILL UNIVERSITY WEST RESEARCH CAMPUS. The student looked up only briefly from her slouch in the bunker, thumbs dancing over the face of her telephone. "Yeah?" she mumbled by way of salutation.

"I'm Monsieur LeBlanc," said M. LeBlanc. "I've come for the assessment."

"Eat shit, you bastard!" cried the student.

"Pardon me?"

She looked up again, sheepish. "I'm sorry -- I'm fighting with my boyfriend." She returned her attention to the telephone for another moment, thumbing the screen madly. "So, what was that? Some kind of assessment?"

"Yes, of course -- a tax assessment. I'm here from Revenue Quebec. I'm expected."

"Are you expected?"

"...Yes."

"You lying sack of crap!"

M. LeBlanc cleared his throat.

"Sorry," she muttered again, glancing up from the screen. "Who are you supposed to be seeing?"

"Professor Drago Zoran."

"Building B," she said, hitting the control that released the gate. It whined and wobbled as it pulled back on worn tracks. Then she widened her eyes at her telephone, scowled in a ghastly way and screamed, "Pig!"

"Thanks," said M. LeBlanc, putting the blue car in gear and drawing away, tires catching briefly in a rut along the cracked asphalt.

The satellite campus was old, with rows of fat, leafy trees lining the terrible road. Clusters of students sat in the pools of shade, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, poring over books with wires trailing from their ears or pressing thumbs at their telephones as they shaded the tiny screens with the shadows of their heads. They laughed. They hadn't a care in the world.

M. LeBlanc rolled up his window.

He parked in front of Building B and hefted his briefcase out of the trunk. He stepped over and around kids lounging on the front steps, chattering in any number of languages about subjects entirely over M. LeBlanc's head. "No, you're confused again -- I'm saying the register's waveform collapses before the interference pattern is recorded. Did you even read my paper? Jesus!"

He pushed through the glass doors. The lobby smelled like disinfectant, like a hospital. A directory on the wall directed him to the second floor where he found a door labeled cryptically: DR. ZORAN'S ORPHANAGE FOR WAYWARD SENTIENTS. Beneath this was a hand-lettered sign reading THE DOCTOR IS... with three choices below: IN, OUT, and CRAZY.

The word CRAZY had been circled in magic marker.

"Right, okay," murmured M. LeBlanc to himself. "Fine."

Beyond the door was a cramped office with stacks of file-folders piled along the walls. Behind a lopsided desk with a stack of optical discs propping up one leg sat a handsome, brown-faced boy in a white labcoat, frowning at a computer display. He looked up and smiled brightly. "Monsieur LeBlanc?"

"Yes. I'm here about the assessment."

The brown boy stood up with surprising height and shook M. LeBlanc's pale, doughy hand. "Excellent. My name is Paramjit Pakaresh. I'm one of the professor's grad student slaves -- ha, ha -- and I'm at your disposal for as long as you need me. Where do you want to start?"

"I was under the impression I'd be meeting with the professor personally."

"Ah, well -- the professor is a very busy man, monsieur."

M. LeBlanc shifted his briefcase from one hand to the other. "Right, okay, fine. I have a number of questions, specifically with regard to the corporations you have based here in the lab. As I'm sure you can appreciate, Monsieur Pakaresh, the transition of taxation jurisdiction from Canada to the new republic requires a very thorough analysis, and we're having some difficulty ascertaining the nature of business these corporations operate."

Paramjit nodded. "Sure, sure. Would you like to meet them?"

"Pardon?"

"The corporations. We keep them in the cold lab."

M. LeBlanc blinked. "What's a cold lab?"

"It's a temperature and dust controlled environment where we house our computer arrays. It's just through here. You'll have to go through the de-static box and we'll lend you a labcoat and paper shoes. Tell me, monsieur, do you have a heart condition?"

"Er, no."

"Excellent. This way, please."


14 comments:

Mark said...

Nice start. Going to meet Zoran.

Follow the cracked asphalt road.

sheik yerbouti said...

Sentient corporations already? So the execs and incorporations have a common origin... fascinating!

I'm glad to see Paramjit again; it's nice to know that storyline didn't get cut short as well.

Really, after the name of the school was mentioned, I half expected Cyclops and Storm to greet LeBlanc at the door. Cute.

Thanks for jumping back on the horse; we missed you, even if you just came back to tease us with an introduction!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Mark,

Yup - we're off to meet the professor. He may even give a tin man a heart.

Dear Sheik,

The purpose of the corporate envelope will become clearer by the end of this story, to be sure.

Paramjit is indeed back, and let me take this opportunity to say that, in my most current commuting brainstorm, I've fleshed out what next happens to his good friend Mike and, depending on how smoothly the research phase goes, that story should be working its way down the pike to you very soon.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Dan said...

I got a tingle when I saw we were in Zoran's time. Another well sculpted beginning. Can someone tell me again where the burgerverse wiki is? I fear I am going to need it shortly.

THE Danimal

sheik yerbouti said...

Dan:

http://cheeseburgerbrown.pbwiki.com/

Google "cheeseburger brown wiki" (no quotes) and you'll never lose your way.

Also, yay Mike! Thank you for at least giving us closure (assuming he doesn't actually get sucked into a temporal vortex with Tim and Jeremiah).

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

When vanity Googling today I found this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_of_Space

It's cool that somebody's made an entry, but it contains some weird information (like the story summary).

Anybody feel like fixing it? I can't, lest the Wikipedia editors accuse me of spamming.

Oh wait -- there's also this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheeseburger_Brown

Cool! Anybody want to try to help satisfy the "verification" requirement?

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Mark said...

I dig the Wikipedia article on CBB, but I agree the story summary for Simon of Space seems a little off.

Teddy said...

Executives already! I wonder how many there are just yet? I'll wager a lot of money it's at least five by now...

TRH

al said...

I looked at the last Wiki article and read about the reliable reference requirement but I don't see anything about what I should do.

Teddy said...

Hey, new drawing up for this story...

Zoran has a Cane. Naturally. Increases the bad*ss factor. Unavoidable, really. And surrounded by server racks crunching Math with that light in the background...

Can you put up a real big version of that in the poster section of your store?

TRH

Simon said...

Well, I see that in Zoran's time it's finally going to be a shorter drive for the Newfies to get to Toronto.

*rim shot*

I, too, will go check out the wiki. The mild references to previous characters, while not necesssary to appreciate the current story, can be frustrating when you (read: I) feel an insatiable need to know all that's going on.

Awesome!

sheik yerbouti said...

Simon,

The wiki won't help much in its current form. Try reading The Reaper's Coleslaw for some background on Paramjit.

I noticed that on the CBB wikipedia article, the "Recurring Characters" didn't mention Sarah, Mike's fiance/wife and childhood crush (as revealed in the incident at The Barrington House). Looks like someone from the fan base has been updating the page, though.

Dan said...

I've tried to dress up the Wikipedia entry (pseudonym, and story summary). I think it's a little more accurate now.

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

I'm working on some new posters and T-shirts featuring the illustrations now. I'll let you know when they're ready to go.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown