ONE SECOND DELAY
by Michael D. Burnside
Not to be distributed without express permission from the author.
The bright orange needle behind the glass danced back and forth over a small field of yellow. Then it dipped lower and bounced above the red line a few times. Then it abruptly gave up and just fell into red.
The air car’s computer generated voice was calm, soothing even.
Which made it all the more irritating.
I had to get the hell out of the tube. If a car stalls in there, the automated crash avoidance systems of passing air cars should prevent a collision with the immobile vehicle.
It was that “should” which could get you smeared across a full kilometer of clear lexan plastic. Folks could walk under the travel tube, look up and wonder what the funny red smears were amid all the junk that had fallen to the bottom of the tube.
I stabbed at the control panel and was rewarded with the pleasant voice asking me if I’d like to exit. I bit down my instinct to yell “No, you piece of crap, but I haven’t got any choice do I?” The car didn’t understand those kinds of queries, so I just keyed the “yes.” button.
The car exited the tube abruptly, the sudden deceleration throwing me forward in my harness.
Nice. I was getting off at some backwater that hadn’t bothered to tune its exit compensators for a decade or two.
The list of destinations that scrolled on the monitor was bleak. Bleaker still considering the loss of speed meant there was less airflow which made my car’s overheating problem all the worse. I tapped the screen for the nearest public place which was listed as a family restaurant.
The car slowed and turned. Out the window I saw the name of my destination on a big glowing yellow sign.
The car set down.
I keyed my com mic and called in my problem. Andy was manning the troubleshooting desk. Me being me, we had gotten to know one another.
“Finally died on ya, huh? About time. That’s what you get for flying that piece of crap.”
“Thanks for the sympathy. Shut up and send me a service unit,” I snapped.
“Where are you? Jesus, could you break down farther off the grid? It’ll be about thirty minutes.”
“Great.” I keyed off the mic, rubbed my face with both hands, and then sat there for a minute.
Twenty-nine to go.
I decided I might as well get a drink. Even sitting in a place called Petunia’s was better than sitting in a dead air car for a half hour.
I unstrapped my harness, popped the door, and stepped out. My right foot scrapped across the pavement. The actuator wasn’t working right again. I dragged the foot forward, stumbled off to the side, and managed to get the car door closed again.
After I lost my real one, I had been promised I’d get a new foot. Well, I’d been promised a lot of things. I’m sure I made a sad sight as I limped to the front door of the restaurant. I opened the door and staggered in.
The interior of the restaurant was in painted in cheerful pastels. Fabric decorated with colorful flowers covered the chairs and the lights were bright. A happy tune was playing over the speaker system. Something that went “La la la” a lot.
Great. I was in hell.
A family of five that were clustered around a table all stopped eating to look up at me. One of the little ones gave me a big old “you weirdo” stare. A young teen couple glanced at me. The young man appeared to size me up and dismissed me as no threat, which I admit was a fair visual assessment.
I limped over to a booth and sat my ass down on some bright yellow daisies. A waitress came over to me and, somewhat hesitantly, asked what I wanted.
“Car broke down,” I replied. And then realized that didn’t really answer her question. “Um... I’ll just have a root beer.”
She looked at me quizzically.
“This seems like a family oriented establishment. Don’t you have root beer?”
“Sure,” she finally said. She wrote my order down on her little pad.
Five minutes later, I had a bottle of root beer in front of me.
I knew it was exactly five minutes because I have a retinal display. It’s a general GPS unit with a clock. It used to have a targeting reticule, but they took that out when they discharged me. So all I have floating in front of me anymore is my current location and a clock. So I knew I was in the middle of nowhere and I knew I had nineteen minutes left to wait before a repair unit arrived.
That's when the idiot walked in wearing a long coat.
Really? A long coat? For Christ sakes it was summer. The sun had just set but it was still like ninety outside. Why not just wear a sign that says “Hi. I’m here to rob this place.”
I took a drink of root beer.