“Stupid public transportation pod,” he grumbled, rubbing his head.
The falcon-wing door closed above him.
“Destination, Please, Edmond,” a female voice asked.
Edmond slung his pack into the empty seat.
“You know the destination.”
A red, inoperable message flashed on the window when he pressed the button.
“Destination, Please,” the female voice asked again.
He punched the empty front seat.
“The same destination it has always been!”
A sticky substance clung to his boots.
“Please book your ride through the BETO next time for faster, efficient service. The environment thanks you,” the female voice said.
I have no desire to merge with the Better Environment Thriving Oasis (BETO). I am fine with the natural world, Edmond thought, covering his nose with his sleeve.
“What is the stench in here?”
The public transportation pod left his house.
“I am sorry, but my sensors do not detect the smell. You will be arriving at your destination in 47 minutes.”
Edmond sighed, tapping his analog watch.
“You’ve been late three times. I can’t keep covering for you.”
Edmond zipped up his protective jacket while looking at a faded picture taped to his locker.
“I know, Fernand. The useless public transportation pod was late again.”
Edmond slams his locker.
“The line is down,” Fernand said, looking up at Edmond.
Edmond disconnected his breathing respirator from his helmet.
“You should buy an Evoke?”
Edmond inspected his respirator after sitting on a bench.
“Their electric cars cost too much.”
I don't see my kids on the other side of town. An Evoke would solve my problems, Edmond Thought.
A holographic display materialized in the locker room, showing their sector is clear of contaminants.
“The shift lead is going to fire you if you’re late again. Good luck finding a job outside the BETO,” Fernand said.
Edmond followed the crew through the airlock to the break room.
“How did you buy an Evoke? We earn the same pay.”
The vending machine robot scanned Fernand’s iris and handed him two sustenance drinks called Slurm.
“I entered the Beto because I was in your situation, but also for entertainment. If you know what I mean,” Fernand said.
Edmond looked in the direction Fernand was pointing.
“Wow! Is that Amanda you hang out with in the BETO? I have never seen her outside the factory floor. How does wasting time in the BETO help me buy an Evoke?”
Fernand handed the empty Slurm container to the sanitation robot and crossed his arms.
“She is my dream girl. Your social credit score is terrible because you spend all your time in the natural world. I don’t know why you like the natural world. You hate robots, and there are more robots in the natural world than people,” Fernand said.
Edmond finished his Slurm, curious if Amanda was real.
“What does my social credit score have to do with anything? I would have saved enough to buy an Evoke years ago if the government did not steal 65% of my wages. They also forbid investing because it’s too risky since I don’t have the education or income.”
Edmond crumpled the Slurm container and threw it on the floor.
Fernand glances at Amanda before responding.
“You idiot! The shift lead will see this on his environmental report and fine you for littering. That smirk will get you in trouble,” Fernand said.
Edmond reclines, props his boots on the table, and intertwines his fingers behind his head.
“You will have to pay the fine because you bought the Slurm that makes you squirm!”
Fernand hits the table.
“This is not funny,” Fernand said.
Edmond puts his boots on the floor and grabs his gloves.
“Another sales pitch on the virtues of the BETO. I bet you helped build the monstrosity. Probably why you yap about it so much,” Edmond said.
Fernand leans over the table, pointing his finger at Edmond.
“This is serious. We all have to do our part. The government tracks how long you spend in the natural world. The more time you spend outside the BETO, the more taxes you pay to protect the environment because of your carbon footprint.”
“I am rewarded for staying in the BETO that consumes massive amounts of energy, but taking a walk in the world, God created for humans damages the environment?”
Fernand looks nervously around the room.
“Mentioning God will severely impact your social credit score, especially at work. I will not report you this time,” Fernand said.
Edmond stands up, adjusting his protective jacket.
“I know you're only trying to help. My wife left me, and I never see my kids because they spend all their time in the BETO with their mom. Our break is over. Grab your kit.”
Edmond hands Fernand his protective helmet.
“You and I have been friends since you started here. I’ll lend you the money to purchase the Evoke. My cousin works at the Evoke dealer in town. She can help you get a deal.”
Fernand secures his helmet and plugs in the respirator.
“Do I have to meet her in the BETO virtual dealership?”
Edmond checks his friend’s equipment.
“Purchasing the Evoke in the BETO gives you a sizable discount, but they offer walk-in appointments for Luddites like you. I’ll drop you off at the dealership after work. With our employee discount, you might drive home a new Evoke today.”
Fernand checks Edmond's protective equipment, ignoring the tear in his jacket.
“That is a good point. We build the batteries for those things. I owe you, Fernand.”
Edmond’s antique mobile device chirped.
“Hi, Dad; we wanted to show our friends your new Evoke!”
Edmond balanced the old cell phone on the dash of the Evoke to view the holographic message of his kids soaring above his house.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“We are, Dad. BETO recess is the best-gotta go.”
He watched the hologram of his kids flying away before hanging up.
A red exclamation blinked on the Evoke display.
“Evoke, diagnose the problem,” Edmond said.
The center console began displaying the results of the internal diagnostics.
“We are sorry, Edmond. Your Evoke is offline. The iris scan could not identify you. The root cause is unknown. Would you like me to contact the dealer?”
Edmond rubbed his forehead.
“My Evoke is malfunctioning for the 3rd time this month! Yes, contact the dealer.”
The Evoke sensed his frustration.
“Hello, Edmond, this is the Evoke Service Center. We are downloading a code for the Evoke to drive itself to the dealer for a diagnostics scan. Will you be accompanying the Evoke, or shall we arrange other transportation for you?”
Maybe they can take me to work in one of their luxury flying Evokes if they can’t fix mine, he thought.
“I’ll visit the dealership with my Evoke,” Edmond said.
The Evoke dealership was a gleaming oasis in the blighted neighborhood.
“Welcome to Transportation for any Reality,” a female voice announced.
The doors closed behind Edmond. The fresco on the ceiling made him feel insignificant.
“Hello Edmond; my name is Burt, an Evoke integration specialist.”
The specialist approached Edmond with an odd smile and outstretched hand.
“Nice to meet you.” The tingling sensation in Edmond’s arm stopped when he let go of Burt’s hand.
Burt paused while interpreting Edmond’s mental and physical state from the handshake.
“I’ll show you to the waiting room while we diagnose your Evoke.”
Edmond followed the specialist, observing the synthbio mechanics servicing the vehicles.
“Impressive, is int it? Nanobots sent by code do most of the repairs, but the batteries require the old-fashioned garage,” Burt said.
Burt could sense Edmond’s elevated heart rate before he asked the question.
“Am I the only human here?” Edmond asked.
Burt paused, allowing Edmond to enter the waiting room.
“We have a minimum of three humans on site: a robotics specialist, a nano coder, and a medical doctor. Please Help yourself to our fast food buffet. We are one of the few places to have a license to serve this type of food.”
Why would a dealership need a doctor? Edmond thought.
The buffet options were better than the last time he had dined at the dealership and beyond his ability to purchase on his salary.
“We found the root cause of the error. Your Evoke is having difficulty integrating with your bio waves,” Burt said.
Edmond took another bite, wiping the hamburger juices from his face.
“What does all that mean? Can you fix it so I can get to work?”
Burt sat down across from Edmond.
“The Evoke monitors your health for safety. Sometimes it can’t obtain data from the driver.”
Edmond belched, interrupting Burt.
These monstrosities become emboldened with every upgrade. It sits down at the table like we are equals, Edmond thought.
“Get to the point,” Edmond said.
“Some people have a bio frequency the Evoke can’t detect.”
Burt offered a foil-wrapped hamburger to Edmond.
“Why is my frequency different?”
Burt senses agitation in Edmond.
“Some experts think praying alters the frequency.”
Edmond lowers his head, ignoring the hamburger.
“How can I get on the road? I can’t be late for the second shift.”
Burt averted his attention from Edmond's nervous behavior and sensed movement in the corridor before responding.
“A synthbio specialist will record your neural network for uploading to the vehicle.”
Burt stood up when he saw Edmond's pupils constrict.
“I am not merging my mind with the Evoke to become a wheeled cyborg. I want a full refund if you can’t fix my Evoke.”
A clicking sound from the corridor outside the waiting room caught Edmond’s attention.
“Hello, Edmond; my name is Dr. Tiber.”
Burt slumped in the chair. Its humanoid form was lifeless after the doctor touched it while walking toward Edmond. Dr. Tiber took a sip of Edmond's soda, leaving a lipstick smudge on the straw.
“Forgive Burt. His interaction logic is not perfect yet. We would not upload your consciousness into the Evoke. That would be unethical without your consent.”
Edmond admired her legs in high heels before thoughts of work dashed his fantasy.
“I’m going to be late. Call a public pod for me.”
The Doctor placed her hands on Edmond's shoulders.
“There is nothing wrong with the Evoke. The problem is in here,” she said, tapping on his forehead.
“Relax, Edmond, all this tension after a meal is not good for your digestion.”
Edmond was putty in her hands as she massaged his shoulders.
“I will place electrodes the size of a grain of rice under your skin here she said, massaging four points on his bald head. These electrodes will record your bio frequency so we can tune your Evoke. The procedure is painless. You can still make it to the factory. The electrodes will dissolve after two weeks with no follow-up at the dealership.”
Edmond grabbed Dr. Tiber’s wrist.
“Enough, doctor. Drop me off at the factory with one of your flying Evokes and credit the money back to my account.”
Edmond strode towards the closed door.
“Do you want to risk being fired from your job because of the unreliable public pods? Think of the freedom you will have to see your kids whenever you want.”
How does she know about my kids? He thought.
The doctor tapped Burt on the back of the neck, activating the synthbio.
“We cover the procedure under warranty, and I’ll have the finance department deduct 50 dollars from your monthly payment for the inconvenience.
Edmond opened the door.
“Make it 100 dollars, and you have a deal.”
“The procedure was a success,” Burt said, closing the Evoke hood.
The red start button on the console pulsated like a heartbeat.
“Why is my vision blurry?” Edmond asked.
“The vehicle has finished calibrating with your biorhythms, so your vision will return to normal,” Burt said.
Edmond realized he was sitting in his Evoke.
“Where is Dr. Tiber?” Edmond asked.
Burt adjusted his BETO visor.
“She is prepping for our next appointment. Press the start button and drive onto the test track for a safety check. The Evoke is configured with a basic setting until you become comfortable with the added sensory input. Eventually, you will control the vehicle with only your thoughts”
Edmond noticed his analog watch was missing.
“What time is it? I have to get to work.”
“You have plenty of time before your shift begins at the factory,” Press the start button.
A surge of electricity dispersed through his body, culminating in the center of his brain when he pressed the button. He felt like his consciousness splashed into a pool of warm salt water.
“Burt, this is amazing. I can feel the tire pressure for each wheel. I have immediate recall of the miles and battery range when I think of a destination.”
Edmond breathed in the smell of the new car. Better than the public pods, he thought.
He rummaged through the gift basket in the passenger seat and was disappointed it only had fruit.
I’ll give the basket to the homeless. There is a tent city a block from the factory, he thought.
When he turned the corner, the tent city was gone. Also, no potholes, graffiti, or the condemned building.
Maybe the city approved the factory expansion and cleared everyone out of the area.
An incoming message flashed on the Evoke windshield.
“Where is my phone?” He frantically checked his pockets and the center console. Great, it’s at the dealership with my watch.
Hi Dad, nice ride. We didn’t think we’d see you here. Want to race? His kids asked, pulling alongside his Evoke in their early model Tesla.
A sickening feeling welled up inside as he watched his two kids, not old enough to drive, accelerate down the road.
“Containment team to base. Successful upload from sector B.”
“Excellent containment team. Good Work. Your 4:30 appointment is on schedule.”
“We will be ready,” the doctor said.
Two more to go, and the gated community in the hills of the natural world is all mine, she thought.
“Doctor Tiber, Fernand is requesting to speak with you. He has not received his bounty,” Burt said.
“He has not met the factory quota. Let him fret a few more days,” the doctor said.
Thank You for Reading,
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