>I27[last_ride]

Focusing on the bike rumbling beneath me, the sound of heavy traffic was all around. I put out of my mind my newfound joblessness, the gun, and soon to be my homelessness. This focus thing was something I had to get used to.

Now, what I needed were tranqs.

But not for me this time.

I followed the offramp and from there took an opening into the next structure below. Hidden beneath an overpass, a jungle of rickety metal formed the tall canopy of an open market. Easily thirty feet above, the arch of my entrance hung with Christmas lights.

Inside, the drug bazaar was heavily guarded. As I rolled through I saw it. The open market, pills like candy in big glass boxes all around. Men clad in black stood with rifles hanging off the strap on every corner. A private security force.

Petering to a stop, I set my feet down, beginning to waddle my bike forward. The area wasn’t so crowded that I couldn’t ride between stalls.

Night had fallen some time ago. Overhead the red-hot engines of a police cruiser drifted forward through the tight interior of the high ceiling space, its sleek exterior skimming the haphazard light works above. Its figure left a shadow and wake of wind which warmed the cold slog. Blue and red flashes quickly faded with the hovercraft moving on, and the chill resettled.

I held my dismembered head tight. Jerry garbled some talk about coordinates, lost beneath the ambiance. With my other hand, I steered for where they had what I needed.

We parked.

The man with the goods was pale, his upper face masked by a glowing blue material. A cybernetic third eye shown dimly. He leaned by the edge of the wall where it met the hall, his shop filled with boxes and jars on shelves and counters behind him.

“Whatever it is,” he immediately spoke, cigarette on his lips, “cash will make it right, my friend. What can I do for you?”

I pulled out my card and pointed to the right box. “Sedatives. Probably like four.” I was going to wing it.

You could wing dosages, right?

“Is that it?”

My gaze settled on the small jar of pretty pink pills by his head and their bright video-paper label. A girl’s beaming face shined out on it, a fractal playing out to the label’s edge.

“One of those,” I said.

He slid my card.

A scowl quickly appeared on his face. “Not enough credits, friend.”

“Shit,” I swore. Fong had gotten to my account faster than I had expected. She couldn’t prosecute me, but the settling of theft was an automatic process. Video evidence, price estimation, automatic transaction. I was cleaned out. I could only hope I had a few dollars left. “How about just for the pink?”

Poor cat.

“Not a cent, kid.”

Think.

“Dammit…” My hand landed on my pocket and I could feel the square outline of several coins. Bits. Illegal, black-market currency. With these, I could afford them both. “Do you?” I raised an eyebrow at the seller, leaving him to infer the clear question.

“Cash, my friend, is cash.

//////////

In my tank were the last ounces of gas I had, given to me by Dag. Not a fraction of a credit to my name, now, this would be my last ride in sight. And I had been on it for hours, leading ultimately here.

Another sleepless night had fallen on the city.

I drove up onto the sidewalk, under the overhang of grey concrete above. Inset in the wall beside me was a wide, black metal door.

With a knock and short delay, it slid back.

A man in coveralls stained black by grease motioned me inside as I dismounted my bike. He checked the street once more before heaving the door shut again, running it down its rollers, slamming its stop and lock.

The garage’s small staff were working on bikes like mine.

The cat was sticking its head out my jacket. With my kickstand down I gave her one last look. More worn than I remembered.

Our conversation was brief. My haggling was aggressive and impatient. The cramped city garage was nowhere I wanted to linger.

I didn’t want to do this. I’d never had a right to hang onto it as long as I had, yet I would never have let the bike go if I could manage. But I couldn’t, now. I could afford no vanities with work to do. Sacrifice was apparently the mark of meaning.

Damn. 

The yellow body disappeared around the corner to the back of the shop as I watched. I had the bits in my pocket, but it was gone. My account was a pit now. I would be using physical cash exclusively.

Basically, I was a walking mark. I was homeless, jobless, carless. I was armed and unhinged.

But I had a head. And drugs. And I had a purpose. And a plan.

And now?

Now all I needed was an Uber. An untagged Uber with a human driver, willing to take bits, in an automated city, at this time of year, localized in my immediate area.

Yes.

I decided to get walking.

 

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