Author’s Note: So, one of the things I am doing in reworking Even Better than Dreams is expanding the scenes I wrote with the techs. They were vague, without even names, and there was no characterization to them, not really. When I realized that the whole world of the book needed expanding, I started with Wade and Mayda, but the techs needed it as well.
And I kind of love Tolan now that I’ve met him. He’s a great character. Here is his first appearance in the book.
“If you’re yawning like that, you’ve been at this job for too long.”
Tolan laughed. Monitoring could be one of the most tedious jobs in the agency, and he’d been assigned here longer than any tech he knew. Others transferred out within weeks or months, unable to stand the task of watching others live their lives while their own were wasted. They did not want to log their hours doing nothing more than sitting in front of the screens, and they didn’t understand the importance of this work.
He’d missed the significance of it at first, but then he’d never expected to be a part of any of this. Government jobs were almost impossible to get, and he didn’t have the kind of connections they’d always told him he needed to get a position here. Yet here he was, the tech with the most time behind any of the monitors.
“When are you planning of tiring of that joke, Brun? I don’t have any intention of transferring, and I don’t expect them to promote me, either.”
“They arrange promotions all the time.”
Though Brun was not an unintelligent young man, he still carried some naivete with him that Tolan knew their supervisor would not let him keep much longer. Even Tolan would not be able to help him hold onto that quality. “Not for us. You know how hard it is to become a government employee. Most people have to have families going back to the original founding of the city to work here. I just consider myself fortunate that I am here.”
“You sound like one of the ones that got happy pills.”
Tolan had tired of that joke as well. No, that was not true. He’d never thought it was funny. “Just because I enjoy my work does not mean that I was ever drugged. I don’t know why everyone thinks that. There is a difference between satisfaction and delusion.”
“And the humming?”
“That’s just a bad habit of mine,” Tolan said, trying not to get embarrassed by it. Brun looked at him, and he tried not to wince. “I do not do it every time I am in front of the monitors. I don’t. That is a vicious rumor spread by Wregan, and you know it.”
Brun laughed. “I still don’t believe you.”
“Did you get the reports that Wregan wants done and are they on his desk?”
“No.” The word came out like it had been spoken by a child, not a grown man, and Brun hunched over in a pout as he walked away. Tolan looked down at his coffee and let out a breath. He couldn’t keep avoiding his screens, even if this was his least favorite time to monitor. He didn’t like when things got to the point of relocation. Those were the hardest images to see, and he knew the fatigue had betrayed his worry. He’d stayed late watching, hoping the paperwork would go through and the relocation would take place before someone died.
He closed his eyes, trying not to remember the images from the screens. The feeling of helplessness was far worse, and he knew why he was a watcher and not someone who interfered, but that did not make it any easier to accept when things ended in death.
He supposed that was the reason for his need to hum, to repeat that old song and calm himself when he did feel that pressing in on him. He was becoming paranoid. Failed relocations were rare. This would not end in another death.
“Tolan? Is it the form thirty-eight or ninety-five?”
Frowning, he turned to look at the other tech. Brun was not so new as to have forgotten the forms he needed. More than that, though, the question was absurd. “There is no form ninety-five. Or thirty-eight. All forms have at least four numbers for identification. You know that.”
“You didn’t hear me the first time I spoke, and I wasn’t sure if you were asleep or not,” Brun told him. “If I ask you about the forms, and you are asleep, you always tell me the right one. I’d let you sleep if you were. Sometimes I think you don’t sleep when you go home.”
“What other rumors has Wregan told you about me?”
“I don’t think I should repeat what Wregan says about you, and I also don’t need Wregan to tell me that you’re not like most of the techs around here.” Brun held out a cup of coffee, offering it to Tolan. He didn’t understand why the younger man thought his job included getting drinks for everyone—Wregan’s doing, he supposed; their supervisor never did anything for himself if he didn’t have to—but he didn’t need coffee.
Tolan shook his head, accepting the cup. He shouldn’t, but it did seem to make Brun feel useful, and Tolan wanted the other man to feel like he belonged. That was important. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t sleep when I go home. I do. And, just to dispel the other rumor that he must have told you—I don’t have any monitors in my apartment.”