Author : James Riser
Tetsuo kept a collection of five hundred yen and one hundred yen coins that was worth a lot of money to an antique dealer. Instead, he used them on a noodle vending machine set against the wall of a hollow, ancient building near, what history said, was Akita Port in Northern Japan.
The machine’s once colorful advertisements were yellowed and decayed by firestorms and nuclear winters, but still worked. It still dropped a small plastic bowl and a wax coated clump of noodles when prompted by the only working button. After the the bowl dropped, a stream of hot water poured down. It usually overflowed the bowl, diluting the flavor, but Tetsuo didn’t mind. He never saw the person who refilled the machine. It couldn’t be a vending bot, because the machine had a key lock and bots used infrared sensors to gain access and refill vending machines. New Light Technologies made everything from vending bots to Lovedolls, but could never bothered to make a robot that could use an ancient key lock.
He walked up to the machine, feet crunching over glass and gravel. Tetsuo pulled his windbreaker tighter over his body. Black smoke clogged the sky. The newspapers said that most of world looked like this. A gray metal bench sat around the corner of the building. He sat with his father there and ate noodles in the years before his father succumbed to thyroid cancer; Tetsuo watched his throat, swollen with cancerous tumors rise and fall. They sat at the bench and hated the government and the robots with infrared fingertips.
He took his first girlfriend to the vending machine to eat noodles and was also sitting there when he received the live text, sent to the Port connected to his brain, informing him of the termination of their relationship; it came from a third party service specializing in break up texts. He shrugged and ate his watery noodles.
This day, his back ached with the feeling of the weight of heavy factory boxes and the hard plastic chairs in the employee break room. The manager overheard him complaining to a co-worker. When the job termination text came, he wanted to be sitting at the bench eating noodles.
He inserted two silver, one hundred yen coins. The bowl dropped, but the noodles didn’t. The machine shook and sputtered out a small amount of cold water. Tetsuo took the bowl out and tossed it to the ground and inserted some more coins. The machine shook and sputtered again, no bowl dropped. Broken.
He produced a handful of coins and sighed. He thought of the antique dealer. A car pulled up behind him. Tetsuo turned to see a battered Honda civic, sighing in the streets. Every few minutes, the car coughed and threatened to die. An old man slid out from the doorless driver side. He took a box from the back seat and dropped the box in front of the machine. It landed with a dry thud, disturbing the dust on the sidewalk.
The old man came up to Tetsuo’s shoulders, and his entire body was wrapped in a parka and puffy black pants. Only his worn, leather face was exposed.
“Broken?” he asked.
The man hit the machine and it shuttered.
The pair stood there for a handful of silent moments. The wind howled and white dust washed through the streets. Tetsuo produced more coins from his other pocket. He forced the small fortune into the Noodle man’s hard, wrinkled hands. “I have more at home. Just fix it please.”