Author : R. Michael Cook

Knuckles knocked against the truck window.

Mary leaned over and cranked the window down. Rain and the diesel engine nearly drowned out her voice. “Phil, buddy?”

“Yeah,” said Phil, leaning down to the window. His breath fogged up the glass as Mary unlocked the vehicle.

Opening the door, Phil squelched into the seat, water forming a puddle at his boots. The truck’s hinges creaked as the door closed. Water still trickled in through the truck’s rusted roof.

“Glad you made it,” said Mary, not meeting his eyes and ignoring the excess water. “The cops thick tonight?”

“Yeah,” said Phil, “but more on the other side of town. I was fine once I got over the tracks. How can you drive this carriage? And how the hell do you get the gas for it?”

“It runs on vegetable oil, dude,” said Mary, “and I run it because it’s a pre-comp model.”

“Pre-common sense model, you mean?” Asked Phil dryly.

Mary exhaled patiently. “It doesn’t have a computer in it. The cops can’t track me and I can grow my own gas.”

Mary began rummaging through a paper bag. She pulled out a small cluster of whole, shriveled leaves.

Phil eyed the tobacco. “Same price?”

“Same,” said Mary, “but if you try something new, I will give it to you for half.”

Phil hesitated. “How much is the new stuff?”


“What exactly is the new stuff?”

“It makes you see reality, man,” said Mary. “It screws the mind sensors and you can think whatever you want. It frees you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Phil. “How?”

“You know how it all works,” said Mary. “Everything we see is a construction to keep us safe. That’s the way it is. Everything is monitored. But don’t you ever want to be free? Freedom and safety don’t balance well.”

“They use those sensors to catch killers and psychopaths,” said Phil, annoyed with the conspiracy. “It is to keep us safe.”

“Don’t you want to live dangerously?”

“I’m buying illegal tobacco from you,” said Phil, running his hand over the stubble on his throat. “I am living dangerously.”

“The government allows every import and export,” said Mary, “the illegal and legal. They know you are buying and they know I’m selling. They don’t care about tobacco. They only jail you for show. If you take this, they can’t get at you anymore.”

“Have you taken it?” Asked Phil.

“Yeah,” said Mary, “and I came down from it all right. It’s better than sex, man. Pure freedom.”

“But if they control import, how did you get it?” Asked Phil, his wide eyes darting around nervously. “Won’t they know?”

“Naw, man,” said Mary, “I make it myself. It’s got my DNA too.

Phil stared, eyes wide. “And… you’re sure that it will block the mind sensors?”

“That’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t block them, it just feeds ‘em nonsense and they don’t know what to do. When it gets both our DNA it can’t read either of us. But don’t worry, it’s not enough of mine to be a threat to me, just enough to make you… not readable.”

“Alright,” said Phil, hesitantly, “I’ll take it.” He opened his wallet. “How do I, you know, take it?”

“Put it in your eye,” said Mary. She handed Phil his purchases.

Phil stuck the slip of paper underneath his eyelid and took a deep breath. “OK, thanks. Next month?”

“Deal,” said Mary. “Enjoy yourself.”

“Right,” said Phil. He stepped out into the rain and had his first free thought.


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