Ash and Sun

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Adam Jennings, a recently suspended Agent of the Global Investigation Bureau returns to what should be an open and shut case, only to be dragged into a complex underbelly of a city he thought he knew, and is forced to tread a thin line between right and wrong as he uncovers what the truth really is.
First 10 Pages

Jens stumbled into his apartment. He was a sorry sight for an agent. Then again, he wouldn’t return to being Senior Agent Adam Jennings until morning, though morning could stand to hold its breath a little longer. Jens smeared a hand over his still gooey eyes, which was an unfortunate side effect from the Enzo. He was having trouble knowing if they were open or closed as he tripped over old food containers and a scattering of clothing across the floor.

It had been days since he’d been back to his apartment—he’d been on one final hurrah before his suspension would be over and he could return to work. His mind was starting its painful release from the previous hit of Enzo still in his system. What had been euphoria mere hours before was now a throbbing pulse in the center of his brain, which he knew from experience would soon feel like a nail hammering into his skull.

The highs were high, but the lows were most definitely low. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone on a bender like this, but it was certainly the longest.

In the past, he found the drug scratched an itch, but this had been a complete meltdown. He’d told himself he needed the relief; his mind had been thirsty for stimulus. But that ends tomorrow, well today, well in four hours.

He stumbled into his room, bumping into the side table and consequently saw the glare of the white clock resting on top of it that read “18,276 days 23 hours 16 minutes 24 sec” as it slowly flicked its way down to zero. Christ, I should sleep.

He silently praised himself for managing to make it to his room, where he kicked off his shoes and fell on top of his sheets just before passing out.


What began as an agonizing, monotonous buzzing turned into an explosion of sound erupting from all around the room.

“Good morning, Pittsburgh! It’s another beautiful day here in the nation’s capital . . .” The radio, which he reckoned he’d set before his escapades, was set to max volume.

“TURN OFF!” Jens cried out, but with no luck.

“As per your request, the radio will play out for a further fourteen minutes and thirty-six seconds,” said a frustratingly calm voice before it kicked back in at full volume.

“The National Weather Station is predicting intermittent periods of rain throughout the city with some light natural rains coming in from the west overnight. Check your area to discover specific rainfall projections,” said the overly enthusiastic voice.

“Can the volume be turned down, at least!” Jens said, squeezing the pillow against his ears, relieved when the volume seemed to lower a little.

As if to torment him further, the window shades began to lift automatically, revealing a blinding light which shone in harsh contrast to the darkness he’d been hiding in and burning Jens’ eyes.

“Clearly, it’s not raining yet, is it!” Jens said as he yanked the bedsheets up, cultivating a meager thin line of defence as he pulled them up over his head. An overwhelming shame arose for his inadequacy at being so ill-prepared for the morning.
Still just Adam Jennings, he thought as he sank deeper into his bed.

He wished he’d been excited or nervous, but he felt nothing more than relief from the overwhelming boredom of his life on leave.

That, and the searing pain still in his head, and the clamminess of his body, which dampened his sheets, despite the climate-controlled room. It was clear to him that he had not fully recovered from the previous night’s adventure.

At least he was in his bed, comfortable. The bed was a luxury he maintained, and not one that everyone did.

“Another day down, and here in the Pittsburgh area we say goodbye to thirteen hundred twenty-nine community members. A full list of names can be found on our data page, and from everyone here at 88.9 Capital Radio, we wish you a happy final day!”

Jens pulled down his covers and looked apprehensively at the second clock on his table: his death clock. It was pure white, issued by the state at the request of anyone who wanted one. The data was flashing across its face, 18,276 days 19 hours 33 minutes 36 seconds. He’d started with a full cycle, twenty-nine thousand two hundred, like everyone else, and one day those would dwindle to one, as was the case for thirteen hundred and twenty nine people in the city of Pittsburgh today.

He groaned and leaned back in his bed, staring at the ceiling fan spinning softly over the bed with a slight wobble, which despite the high volume of the radio, created a constant “whopping” sound. There was a time it had annoyed him, but now its steady wobble was a comfort.

If you’re not willing to fix something, then you just learn to live with it.

It was a lesson he wished he’d understood before. Before he’d noticed the malfunctioning fan, before being stuck on leave since day eighteen thousand four hundred and seventy-six.

Two hundred days of his life that he couldn’t get out and do his job. He was a senior agent with the GIB, Global Investigative Bureau, the agency that dealt with high-profile cases. He was good at it, too, and of late he had missed being good at something.

“Mayor Stone refused to comment on his upcoming election campaign, commenting that he and his team are focused on the upcoming bid to host the two hundredth anniversary of the Great Mitigation next summer, saying, ‘The people of this city will decide one way or another who they feel is best to lead them, but as I am leading this city now, I will do my best to bring this honour to the great city of Pittsburgh and to the Western Gale as a whole.’”

Easy to say when you’re likely not going to have any threatening opposition.

Maneuvering his legs to the side of the bed, he forced himself to slide from the warm mattress.

“Please play some music! I don’t need to know what’s happening in the world right now, at least not yet.” Jens said, his eyes closed as he stared aimlessly at the ceiling.

“The radio will continue to play for twelve minutes and forty-six seconds,” said the voice from speakers throughout the room, as a female singer sang out over a low, thrumming bassline that threatened to have Jens bobbing his head.

Reluctantly hoisting himself to his feet, he tossed the sheets unceremoniously back on the bed and moved sluggishly into the bathroom. The light adjusted smoothly from one room to the other, giving him what the designer deemed optimal light to see the black- and gray-tiled space.

When he first moved in, the tile had been clean and sparkly enough for his reflection to be seen on their surface. Now, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days later, individual tiles were almost indistinguishable. The grime caked around the edges of the sink and shower room, replacing his reflection with soapy mildew and old hairs he hoped were from his head.

Looking around the room, he cursed himself for not taking the time to clean it, the bitter truth being he hadn’t done anything else instead. At first, he imagined the suspension would do him some good, an opportunity to catch up on all the things he’d put off over the years. Things such as cleaning his apartment. In reality, he found himself languishing, unmotivated, and lacking any real ambition.

Without his work, he was even worse than before. At least before, he had a purpose. Now, all he had was a filthy apartment and the brutal awareness that the world continued without him.

Jens fiddled with the shower controls beside the sink, finally managing

to find the setting he liked. Not that it mattered. Maybe the shower had flourished in the past, but now, what came out could barely be described as a drizzle. Goddamned eco-showers.

They tended to underwhelm on the best of days, but with all the buildup, the spray was dismal.

Jens pulled off his underwear, tossing it on the largest of the laundry piles, stepped into the shower, and ducked his head under the meager drainage.

Cupping his hands, he managed a pathetic collection of falling water, employing the shallow pool to bathe his body. It was a fool’s task, but he needed to at least pretend to look presentable on his first day back. God knew there would be enough people in the agency who wished he had been sacked without the added ammunition of his turning up smelling like a bag of ripe fruit.

Soon he’d have access to the GIB shower rooms, with their reliable flow of water, but for now, the additional splashes would have to suffice. To his surprise, Jens managed to feel a modicum of cleanliness, having

found a rhythm of catch and release from the water sprinkling out. It didn’t hurt finding a dried sliver of body soap, which he managed to peel off the shelf. The wash was a meager triumph.

The shower shut down as he moved back to the sink, locating his bamboo toothbrush, which seemed to have all but decomposed, having likely been on its last rope seventy-five days ago, on the counter next to the final dusting of charcoal that remained in the jar beside it.

“Get a new toothbrush and charcoal,” Jens said as he began to brush his teeth, shaking his head at the list now piling up in his mind of everything else he needed: socks, food, juice. What the hell have I been doing for the last two hundred days?

Scanning the room and finding what he deemed to be the cleanest towel, he pulled it from the hook from behind the door. Giving it a quick whiff, he opted for the more natural air dry, using the towel instead to wipe down the mirror. The steam from the shower, accompanied with the towel, helped to clean most of the muck away, the towel sliding roughly over the section of cracked mirror left by his fist the last time he’d found himself staring at it.

It had been a moment of weakness fueled by anger and frustration at the man he’d been looking at then, and he hadn’t managed to bring himself back to the mirror since. Now, this time, as he examined himself, what was reflected was equally as difficult to look at, not for the same reasons.

Just shy of six foot three Jens had short brown hair and a manicured beard, and his body was thick and well cared for. But, looking at himself now, he could barely recognize who he saw. A straggly beard covered up his slightly rounded face to match his new belly, which had puffed out at some point over the seemingly endless string of Enzo-induced odysseys.

Looking at the mirror, wishing the guck would return, he felt more like a disappointment than he ever did during any of his probationary hearings. I wouldn’t stand a chance in a chase.

Jens had always been better at life when he was busy, though he wasn’t sure what kind of assignments he would be getting now. Maybe I won’t be busy?

Pulling out the cabinet drawer, Jens reached for a beard trimmer. Turning it on, he was shocked to find it fully charged, though with the forest currently thriving on his face, he shouldn’t have been very surprised.

Working the trimmer down his cheek, he watched the clumps of facial hair fall into the sink, with each pass of the blade slowly revealing a glimpse of the man he’d once been. The mass of thick hair fell away, leaving a stubble of course hair. With a splash of warm water, he was relieved to reveal a fresh, albeit tired, face. Little I can do there, he thought as his hands dragged slowly down his face, attempting to smooth the dark bags beneath his eyes.

The music in the room cut out, so he knew it had been around fifteen minutes. He’d have to abandon the idea of fixing his mop of hair, opting to slick it back with a comb, and finishing it off with what he hoped was the remains of gel. The final look was less than desirable, but it would do.

Nearly dry, Jens strode back into his room and rummaged through his drawer, impressed to find a set of pressed blue trousers, white shirt, and a blue blazer, the official GIB uniform.

Even in solitary confinement, some habits are hard to break.

He put them on and felt some pride for the first time since he’d woke up, even though he had to ignore the tightness of his uniform, and the pigsty around him.

Reaching into his bedside dresser, he pulled out a silver box the size of his fist. Sliding the clasp, he opened the box, showing a well-cared-for navy blue Zen watch resting on a white pillow. It had sat unused in the box since his suspension; he’d opted to use a secondhand basic model he’d bought, which he now carelessly tossed into the dresser. Today, like him, its full functions would be returned. He slipped the Zen watch over his wrist, the weight of it feeling good as it clicked into place.

He shot a glance back at the restless white clock ticking away and he felt revived, eighteen thousand two hundred and seventy-six, a new day