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May 17, 2012 / Daniel

Fifty-Fifty

[1181 words, rated G]

“Fif-tay!” Phereton called into the crowd, looking for eye contact. “Got a Fifty-fifty over here! Fif-tay!”

All around him, bumping, shoving, gesturing, dozens of people, all in need, all looking for their match. Marketplaces in Caspaeia were found where they formed, usually in the side streets, concentrated on the corners of busier intersections.

Some people paired off and chatted, some made no conversation at all, but conducted business with blinking and gestures. Some making barely any contact at all, just subtle swaps of small items from palm to palm, and then disappearing again into the crowds.

“Fiddy, fiddy, fiddy, fiddy… Fif-tay!” Phereton tried again.

A girl waves at a fellow with a wheeled box. He stops and they talk. She waves gestures in front of his face, he points at the box. They gesture back and fourth. She shoves something small and folded into his hand, and he runs off. She looks around, takes the wheeled box.

Phereton yells at her, “Fifty? Up for a fifty-fifty over here?”

She pauses, scowls at him, continues into the crowd.

Phereton shrugs, “Fif-tayyyyy! Fifty, fifty, fifty…. Worth your time!”

A group of three enthusiastic people work the crowd in matching hats and shirts, “VOTE FOR HEUER!” They shove leaflets into hands, trying to solicit support for their candidate.

A young man makes his way through the crowd, watching everyone curiously, taking fliers from everyone handing them out.

“Fifty?”

The young make strolls over. “What was that? Fifty?”

“Fifty-fifty. You in?”

He shakes his head, shrugging.

“You got an account?” Phereton asks.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Right. I don’t. You key me in, I deposit what I got, we split the difference. Fifty-fifty.”

The young man looks around, looks Phereton up and down, looks at the piles of bagged stuff behind him. “And if this is all stolen? Tracks back to me?”

“That’s the gamble. The payoff will cover the fines. In or not?”

The young man walks over to the front panel of the bulk reclamation kisok, swipes his card, keys in his identification code.

“Hello, Thomos Biont, thank you for keeping our city clean with a DaNATech bulk reclamation kiosk. Please make your deposit into the side bin.” The bin door on the side of the large kiosk slides open.

“Alright, then.”

Phereton starts quickly handing bags and boxes to Thomos “Throw them in, throw them in..”

One after the other, the packages came quickly, and the kiosk began to fill. Once the bin was packed, Thomos tapped the screen and the bin closed. On the display, a periodic table appears, showing a tiny graph over each element. As the load processed, the graphs grew, updating the credited balances.

“C’mon kid, move it.” Phereton already had both arms full, obviously in a rush to get everything done.

“Okay, okay..” Thomos tapped the screen to open the bin and began filling it again.

Under the rubbish of boxes and bags, gleaming metal canisters with green glowing ends appeared. Phereton started handing them over, one at a time.

Thomos took the first of these and his eyes went wide.

“Go, go, go, we gotta finish up.”

About a dozen of these canisters went in before the bin was full again. Thomos tapped the screen, and the graphs updated. This time, the bottom rows of the table lit up, and the charts grew rapidly. “Mister.. what kind of trash is this?”

“The stale from waiting around kind. Let’s move it.”

The two continued to load the empty bins until everything was gone. Thomos gawked at the screen. “I’ve never seen numbers like this…”

“C’mon kid. Where’s my fifty.”

Thomos tapped a few commands on the screen which requested the machine spawn the credit onto a transfer card, which ejected from the machine.

Phereton pulled the slider on the back of the card and it glowed, showing the card balance. Satisfied, Phereton ran into the crowd and vanished.

A little bewildered by the departure, Thomos stood there and gazed into the pulsating creature that was the crowd. The sheer volume of credit equivalence now on his account was staggering.

He was snapped out of his fog by a sharp pain in his right shoulder, as he was grabbed and hurled face first against the kisok. A heaviness pressed across his shoulder blades, while a moist hotness poured across his ear.

“I want my cut too, Fiddy.”

“Urgnnn” was the only noise that Thomos could make.

The thug holding him down grabbed his loose arm by the wrist and hurled it against the control panel. “Punch up my cut or I’ll crush your ribcage.” He leaned and something in Thomos’ chest popped unnaturally.

Thomos punched at the screen, spawned another transfer card packed with half of his credit balance.

The thug dropped Thomos into a heap and took the card.

“URGNNN” was the only noise that the thug could make. His face, wrists, and knees all pinned against the concrete of the sidewalk by gleaming metal clamps.

The clamps were hinged and attached to the exoskeleton suit worn by the man standing over the thug, who had rushed in to break up the ruckus. From a leg strut on the suit, a long thin arm with a tiny clamp extended itself and plucked the transfer card from the thug’s pinned hand. The card was slid into the man’s shirt pocket, just below a patch that read “Caspaeia District Police”. The thin arm collapsed back into the suit.

“You are now on file. You will leave promptly and never return to this street.” The officer released the thug, who slowly clamored to his feet and stumbled away.

“Wow. Thanks. Wasn’t sure how to get away from him.”

“Fifty-fifty?”

“Yeah, last time I every do anything like that.”

“Not exactly legal either.”

Thomos looked at the officer; was that a threat?

“What kinds of things were you loading?”

“I really don’t know, but it all peaked really high at the bottom end of the table.”

“Very much not legal then. Punch back in then, let’s have a look.”

Thomos slid his card and keyed in, pulled up recent reports.

“Hmm” said the officer, looking at the readout “Yes. Whoever you were dealing with had a serious load of goods. I hate to say it, but you’re in a bit of a bind here, kid.”

Thomos sighed.

“Then again,” said the officer, “Sometimes these things …malfunction.” He punched through the menus and offloaded the remainder of Thomas’ credits onto a transfer card, which popped out of the kiosk. He pocketed that card along with the first one taken from the thug.

The officer swiped in with his own card and keyed in. After a few menu commands and gestures, the kiosk powered off entirely, then began to cycle on again.

“I’m afraid we can’t press any formal charges against you. There’s no record of your transactions today. Looks like you got off quite lucky.”

“…what?”

“You’ll have to create a new account though; yours got erased when the machine malfunctioned.”

“My balance? What about my cards?”

“Run along now. Dangerous around here.”

One Comment

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  1. Ann Ritter / May 21 2012 6:05 pm

    Ooooo, MAN! Not much demand for a good man in this story. I wonder if he will learn to be better at self-protection, or learn to be better at self-preservation (i.e. to become a bad person).

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