|Photo credit: hotblack at Morguefile.com|
The cab smells like feet, dirty stinky, human feet. A rarity in this sterile world.
The driver gives me a glance from the rearview mirror. “Where. To. Miss-us?” he says. His Mac voice is good, but not that good.
“You’re human, aren’t you?” I say settling in against the cool vinyl.
“I. Am. Mach-ine. Miss-us. Where. To?” He moves in a stilted, disjointed manner, like the Macs do.
“Princes Street,” I say.
If I thought for one second he wasn’t human, I would’ve given my own best Mac voice. But, the stench in this cab gives him away and if he’s worried about being harvested, he shouldn’t. He’s too old.
Through the window of the moving car, dark gray tattered buildings rush by in a blur. Machines, or Macs, don’t need pretty things. But they like to dream of them. Only, they don’t have imagination. That’s what they use us for. Few of us are free anymore, and if we’re caught we’ll be harvested. Well, the young ones, the ones that can still produce dreams.
“Prin-ces. Stree-t. Miss-us,” the cabby says as the high pitch wail of metal on metal brakes screech through the air and the car stops.
The money crinkles as I push it through the payment box. But instead of getting out of the cab, I wait. I want him to say something, admit he’s human just like me. But acting the part of a Mac he sits straight ahead, as if he’s been turned off until his next pick up.
Through the window, I see the Macs I’m looking for. Leaning forward, I say, “Listen, I know you’re not one of them so why don’t you cut the shit and give me a break. I’ve got to meet some tweakers and there’s another twenty in it for you if you stay until I’m done.”
He continues to stare straight ahead, but I catch the twitch in his left eye and know that I stand a good chance of him hanging around.
“I’m Leo by the way,” I say watching the pupils of his eyes widen with surprise. “So you’ve heard of me? Guess you didn’t think I’d be a girl, eh?”
The metal is cold beneath my palm, like everything in the Macs’ world, as I open the door, settling into my Mac persona. “Re-mem-ber. Ex-tra. Twen-ty. For. You,” I say, slow and stilted. Damn, I hate Mac language.
In hard but quick disjointed movements I make my way to the three Macs standing in the shade of the park overgrowth. They turn to me, gears twitching beneath their silicone skin – there’s nothing freakier than a Mac strung out.
“You-rre. Laate,” one says.
“Shut. Up. And. Show. Me. The. Bills,” I say.
His hand slides into a coat pocket to reveal the corners of two hundred-dollar bills. Old, before the war currency, not used by the Macs, but still used in the underground human settlements. His gears click as he shoves the bills back.
Getting caught would be bad for us both. It would mean a trip to the harvester for me, and deactivation for him and his pals.
“Card-s. Pl-ease,” he says.
With a stiff glance over my shoulder, I check that the cab is still there. Huh, guess he’s not as gutless as he seemed. My elbow straightens and I hold out the palmed cards. Four tiny metallic disks, each filled with enough dreams to last these tweakers until next week.
The gears in the Macs’ hand shake as he takes them from me and I grab the bills. “Nice. To. Do. Bus-in-ness. With. You,” I say and turn back toward the cab.
I don’t look back, I don’t care; I just keep walking the Mac walk back to the car. They’ll be there next week, unless one of them gets caught dazed out on illegal dreams.
When I slide into the seat once more, the cabby says, “Where. To. Miss-us?”
“Pickens Lane, South Burg,” I say. “You know, this isn’t going to work if you don’t come clean, man. I can smell the life on you.”
His shoulders relax and I realize he’s been holding them tight against his neck since I first climbed in. “I don’t want to get caught,” he says. “I’ve got a little girl.”
“What’s your name?” I ask.
He stares at me through the mirror. “Dreyfus.”
“Well, Dreyfus. I have a feeling a cabby might be useful in my line of work. How would you like to make some bills on a more permanent basis?” I stuff one of the hundreds through the payment box.
“I can’t get caught,” he says, placing the car into gear. I can tell by the new beads of sweat on his brow he knows what I am, that I survived the harvesting and escaped the Machines.
“Stick with me and you won’t have to,” I whisper.
(c) 2010, MB
Don't forget to check out my fellow YAFFer's stories based on the same photo: