Author : K. Pittman
Barrett’s neighbors, Ceely and HH, had straight papers, so they were the only ones who could give Barrett a ride.
“Where’re you headed,” they asked in unison, dressed as twins for this week’s theme party.
“SuperMall East,” Barrett said, unsmiling. “Got a job there.”
Ceely and HH shared a similar build and height but were physical opposites otherwise. Barrett surmised that the eerie synchronicity of movements and gestures displayed were worked out beforehand, but supported and sustained by some elaborate cocktail; something boosting mirror neuronal activity, cut with Ocytocin. Ceely and HH were really into Ocytocin this month.
“What’s wrong with your papers? Aren’t you cleared to travel?” asked in unison again, Ceely’s accent bending their sentences out of shape.
Barrett shrugged. “I missed a bill payment, and the Cred revoked my PubTrans permissions. I’m a flight risk or something.”
“Oh.” Their sadness and confusion was authentic. This was something they could never imagine happening. “SM-East isn’t on our route, but we’re picking up revelers past there. How long is the job?”
“Fourteen weeks. I can get a ride back.”
“Okay-okay!” they chirped; Barrett clenched his jaw a little. “We leave in sixty, will you be ready?”
The car was a new-model long-distance electric sedan, usually issued to small families. Barrett didn’t ask the twins who’d forged what to get what, minus kids or oldsters. He knew how these things worked.
Ceely entered their travel plan; when it cleared, the car started. The gang zone surrounding their gated blocks of flats was quiet today. Outside of the checkpoint, past robots bristling with exotic non-lethals, HH looked over at Ceely, who turned on and tuned the dash audio to a nostalgia band specializing in fin de siecle musics from previous centuries.
Barrett watched a landscape of scrub and ochre roll by through hooded lids.
SuperMall East was a massive, blunted jet plinth filling the horizon, splitting the sky. Terraced gardens, visible as they grew closer interchange by interchange, did nothing to cut the building’s brutal impression.
“People live here,” pronounced the twins in awe.
“Yeah,” grunted Barrett, shifting in his seat, “people spend their entire lives here. It’s a mega-city.”
HH broke character and looked at Barrett over her shoulder. “Are you moving here?”
“Hell, no.” Barrett smiled and reached into his bag, pulling out a vintage tie. ”It’s a job. I like where I live.”
“Cool,” said the twins. “You’re our favorite neighbor. We like your cat.”
Barrett’s smile widened. “My cat and I like you too.” The kit-cat had been a good purchase, inspiring genuine reactions in people. Barrett used it as a metric, since he felt very much like that near-extinct animal. As above, so below, he thought not for the first time.
They pulled into to a disembarkment lane that led to a shuttle terminal. “What will you do here?” they asked.
Barrett started putting on his tie. “Some shoe sales, some maintenance programming. I have seven days off, so I’ll try to go to the top, take some photos.”
“Will your cat be okay?”
“His food and stuff is automated.” Barrett grabbed his bag, adjusted his tie, and exited into blasts of hot, dry air. “Pet him for me when you see him, huh?”
“We’ll pet him extra.”
“Thanks. See you you gals in seven fortnights. Have fun!” Barrett waved the twins off, and walked towards the nearest shuttle, into the beginning of his sentence.