Author: T. Thornton Gray
It’s called no man’s land. That space between the entry doors and the actual store. The sensor zone one must pass through to get in and out. I can see the drone docks overhead and the red blinking eyes of the Taser firing drones where they perch poised for action.
I’m a bit surprised not to see anyone shopping. A rare thing in a Z-Mart, even at a little after two A.M. I survey as much as I can see as I pluck a grimy basket from its rack and begin my shopping. I look for the eyes that always watch a person like me.
The only movement is from the suitcase-sized automated floor cleaner. I watch the Zamboni like machine with its strobing yellow light whirr and methodically work its way down the aisle.
The coolers hum in their florescent light as I peer into their glass-covered depths. Again, I stop to look around. Look for the evidence of another human soul. There is no one. I know from the days I used to work at Z-Mart that there was supposed to be an actual human employee on duty. Someone to monitor the systems. In a hundred thousand square foot facility there are never more than two people on any given shift. I also know that is not always the case.
I pull open the door and pull out a crisp dew-covered bottle of water. I peer into the clean clear liquid. I look for the sensors, as if I could see them. The microscopic sensors suspended in all liquids sold at Z-Mart. Added so that even if poured into another container it could be tracked at No Man’s Land and the drones dispatched if payment had not been made. I remember the protests over it. The violation of rights, the health concerns. But the FDA deemed it to be completely safe. The sensors would pass right through and be re-harvested at the water treatment plants.
My shopping complete I move to the check-out and run each purchase over the shimmering scanner. The process so much more secure since the outlawing of cash and cards. Now, everyone must have the commerce chip. Usually in the palm of one’s hand. Always in one’s body. I still laugh when I remember the news story. The one about the veteran of the Lithium wars. A multiple amputee who had it implanted in his ass cheek.
The total is displayed under the Please Pay sign.
I open my coat and withdraw the plastic bag. I pull back the bag careful not to get the blood on me. It’s mostly crusted now and the fingers of the severed hand are growing stiff. No matter, the chip still works. I collect my receipt and go.
I step into No Man’s Land and pause to look at the drones as their red lights wink at me. The doors slide open and lets me back into the night.
It’s probably time to find more funds.
Nicely wrought piece of brutal cyberpunk. Well done.