Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The cube of recycled plastic is labelled ‘Egg Mayonnaise’ and filled with a yellow paste. I don’t know what ‘Mayonnaise’ is, but egg’s one of the healthy stuffs listed on the Daily Reader’s ‘Top 20 Stuffs to Eat’.
Always liked the Reader; it doesn’t use long words and the articles always carry the Ministry of Information’s ‘Short is Good’ mark.
I try a bit while I wait. Sort of fizzy and sweet but a little bit gritty to stop it being boring. Good stuff, just like the Reader says.
I check the instruction label. Drat. Says you can’t dollop it into your mug-of-hot. It’s a red circle warn-off, too. This is the real deal. Mix it with hot stuffs and it could kill you.
“You want Cee or Tea?”
Her skin shines and her hair’s wet. Running a vending machine is hot work. But, it’s good money, and you’re paid to exercise. The treadmill she’s on keeps the machine eco-friendly as well as pushing any extra to the grid. She gets food credits for that, on top of the new pound-an-hour fair wage deal that Mug o’Hot are right to be proud of.
Clever idea, steady work and regular exercise at the same time. I have to spend a couple of hours a day on the public gym cross trainer to top up my food credits. Imagine being able to do it while you work!
“Cee, please.” I hand her my mug and wave my ID bracer over the POSpad.
She thanks me for reusing my mug and triple taps the terminal to make sure the system gives me a ‘Reuser’ discount.
Filling the mug, she nods toward my bracer.
That she thinks it could be the real thing is either good patter or my clothes are giving off the right image. Normally I’d take the nicety and pass by. But, I like the way her eyes sparkle, and lies at a start will never lead to a good end.
“I wish. Government issue set in my own tooling. Trying to start a sideline.”
Every non-elite needs a sideline: making coin or barter from handmade stuff is the only way to add a little luxury to your life.
She smiles at me. Egad. There’s only her and the rest of the world doesn’t matter.
“That’s real good. I could hang some in here. Get ‘em seen, maybe make some coin?”
“If it won’t make trouble for you.”
She gives a little shake of her head: “They say I’ve got to draw people in to make my quota. Friend who got me this job says to meet it but not go ten percent over, or they up the quota. So, a cut of a sideline would be good.” She looks straight at me: “Means you’ll come by more often, too.”
I can almost hear grandpa laughing. He always said this moment would come and laughed even harder when I said it never would and I didn’t see why it could matter.
“Why don’t we natter about details and things after you finish?”
She smiles at me again and I must find more ways to keep her doing that.
“Sounds good. I’m Valerie.”
I grin: “I’m Nick.”
The man behind me in the queue butts in: “I’m going to miss my train. You two lovebirds done?”
I feel myself blush and see Valerie colouring up. We’re both giggling as I step out of his way.
She mouths at me: “Three hours.”
I’ll skip the gym, make it up tomorrow.
Think I’ll qualify for ‘Regular Reuser’ very soon.