“… in the end THE MACHINES will win”
“God it’s hot,” she mutters as she enters the one-way lane, swatting away several flies that shouldn’t still be lingering this late in the Autumn. “Piss off, u little shits. And HIM! He doesn’t appreciate me. He’d be nothing if it wasn’t for me…”
She slows her pace and looks down at her well-worn, faux leather, open-toed shoes. The surface is uneven on the roughly hewed, blue-stone back alleyway. Discarded orange caps litter the shadows, along with used dingers and crumpled Macca’s drink cups. Fortunately, though, she can’t see any guns. So she picks up the pace a little.
Looking up, she freezes in mid-stride: “What the fffffff….”
It’s only about 3 metres in front of her, hovering at head high, staring straight at her. A big, black, remote drone. A nightmarish shade of black; as black as the heart of a dumped lover. Small red lights shine like sinister eyes. Two long, lethal looking needles protrude from pods on each side. A note hangs underneath: “PUT YOUR BAG/WALLET/MOBILE ON THE GROUND. NOW!”
The message is repeated in Vietnamese, Mandarin and what looks like Somali.
Perspiration in trickling down the middle of her back; her chest feels so tight she struggles to breathe; her head feels ridiculously light. She stands dead still, then darts a glance over her right shoulder. Blocking any retreat back down the lane are 2 smaller drones, both colored black with a red line down the centre, each also sporting a long needle.
“Oh double fuck.”
Then…. BANG! Seemingly out of nowhere swoops a huge, white blur that smacks into the black drone, sending it spinning into the side of an old, red brick wall lining the lane. Shattered but not entirely stuffed, the black drone limps up and over the fence, making a low whining noise and with bits hanging off. Its 2 smaller companions shoot off in opposite directions.
She looks at her “saviour”; her “hero”; her “Knight in Shining Armour”. It’s a huge, white, remote drone, bulked up on the sides with some sort of extra padding; its souped up motor emits a low, warm, steady timbre that gives a sense of security and comfort. It slowly tilts forward, as if politely nodding to her, then steadily lifts up and flies back towards the old apartment towers facing Fractal Beach.
She runs up to him, bends slightly over to catch her breath, and points behind her: “You’re not gonna believe what just happened to me!” She stops to gulp in air and cough out last night’s “bong residual”…
“Shhh,” he snaps at her, while fidgeting, “Here he comes.”
A nondescript looking bloke in a ubiquitous hoodie, ubiquitous cammo shorts and ubiquitous trendy runners, emerges from the Senior Citizens Kinetic Investments Network Terminals. Known locally as the SCKINT, the refurbished, once-historic building proudly displays its Mission Statement over the entrance: “This joint initiative of the Four Big Banks and the Coalition Government, helps our retirees and superannuants put their savings into a flexible, pivotable, dynamic, and pro-active speculative environment that promotes finanacial growth with security.* (*General advice only and this may not suit your individual needs. See the Product Disclosure Statement)”
It’s full of poker machines.
The bloke saunters along the footpath, looking left and right.
“Hey Snuffles, what’s the craic?”
They do the ritual reverse handshake-hug-backslap.
“Hey Joey,” says Snuffles quietly and, swiping at the air, adds: “Who invited these fucking flies. Summer’s over, haven’t they downloaded the update.”
Snuffles then nods in the direction of Joey’s companion, who’s engrossed in mer mobile.
“This is just the missus,” responds Joey.
She waves with her right hand, “Hi, I’m Epiphany. Everyone calls me E.”
Snuffles: “Cool. Joe and E … Joey. Easy.”
Joey: “Yeah, hey Snuffles have u got anything? I’m hangin’ for something. It’s been ages…”
Snuffles shrugs, “All dried up. Nothin’s comin’ in, but whippets. Just got me own. Got some weed tho, good shit, kicks arse, best goin’ around.”
Downcast, Joey looks glumly at his feet and tries to smother a short cough: “That’s cool but, man, what I’d give for a good buzz right now.” He glances up again at his erstwhile “benefactor”, still hopeful…
Snuffles knows he’s now got him on the hook, and puts on a fake grimace: “OK, look, (he sighs) I can give u some of me own. But it cost me a heap to get, so…”
Joey brightens up: “Yeah yeah, no worries. I got 5 Green from the job I just finished…”
Snuffles initiates the farewell ritual reverse handshake-hug-backslap and Joey slips the roll of notes into Snuffles’ pocket. Snuffles: “Visit Ros. Behind the panel door of the fire hydrant in the wall next to the Tea Palace backpackers, in 20 minutes. Take care, dude. Good to meet ya, E.”
Epiphany, now inspecting this morning’s paint job on her righthand fingernails, looks up: “Likewise dude, cheers.”
Joey: “Man, u rock!”
As Snuffles disappears up a one-way lane, E elbows Joey to get his attention. Joey, busy texting on his mobile, barely notices: “Yeah, what?”
Epiphany: “As I was telling u, on my way to here and the SCKINT” – Joey interjects: “Fuck, you’re blowing too much on those pokies!” – she scowls, and continues: “I was in an alley when this fucking drone stopped in front of me. No shit. It had this kinda sign saying I had to give it my mobile and stuff -” Joey interjects again: “Haha most of the deadshits around here can’t read anyway.” – she goes on: “Yeah, well I got the best private school education that my parents’ could waste their money on. Anyway, this motherfucker of a drone, as black as midnight and with huge needles stickin’ out of it and shit, and it had 2 little ones backing it up and – ” Joey cuts her off: “OK, yeah, whatever. Next time ya droppin’ an E-bomb, save me some. Seriously, E, sometimes u are such a fucking E-tard retard.”
E gives him the bird but says nothing. Tagging along behind him as they head for Glum Street and the Tea Palace, she quietly starts posting on Facebook about her near-death experience…
The Editor of the Daily Hun, known affectionately and derisively as Junior, snarls as he peruses on his desktop screen the opposition The Rage’s online coverage:
“WHO IS THIS SUPER DRONE? The whole of Fractal City is abuzz about a mysterious, white remote drone that has been ‘cleaning up’ the streets, thwarting armed robberies, nabbing diners trying to do a restaurant ‘runner’, chasing down motorists doing fuel drive-offs, swooping on parking inspectors, standing guard outside the 7/Eleven across from the soon-to-shut Heathrow Hotel, and helping old ladies to cross the busy roads…”
Junior clenches his manicured fists and thumps them on his desk, almost upending his little plastic tray of sushi rolls for lunch. His rouge coloured cheeks are a tinge redder than normal; his beautiful blond curly hair, overdue for a colour treatment, is starting to show a hint of grey. “I bet it wasn’t this hard when Daddy was an Editor,” he moans quietly. “Daddy didn’t tell me it would be like this when he got me my first job.”
Junior pokes his head out of his office and politely asks his PA: “Where’s sCam, my Picture Editor? It’s almost noon.”
She looks up from her screen and smiles at Junior’s little beady eyes looking intently at her through his “Harry Potter” specs. He looks past her and scans the newsroom. It’s bathed in energy saving, warm, soothing fluorescent lighting but is disquietingly quiet; almost emptied by the latest round of MMedia journo redundancies except for the Tweeting university interns bragging about their growing lists of publicist contacts.
PA: “The Pic Editor went straight from home to the free breakfast with Emirates Airlines.”
Junior: “Fine, fine. What time will he be in?”
PA: “Well, he then has the free lunch with Red Bull Racing. From there he will go to the free afternoon cocktails with Sony Cameras, and he has the free dinner with the V8 Supercars people. But,” she clicks open a document on her desktop computer, “he has given me the roster of publicists to contact for today’s Front Page pics and website videos. OK, let me see. Today we have … Red Bull Air Race World Championship pics and video, or Emirates unveiling their new First Class Lounge, or some exciting Sony stills and video of V8 Supercars on the Gold Coast.
“Oh, and while I’ve got you, I have some messages here: Andrew Nut said you did a good job with your Front Page today and it was a good follow-up to his column but that you could have gone harder on the ‘homeless hoons’ angle. He will mention it when he Tweets Rupert tonight. Also, your wife said to remind you that she has the Fashion Editors’ VIP dinner at the Park Hyatt tonight at 7.30 and dress code is Pink Tie. Oh, and (PA lowers her voice) you-know-who keeps calling. I told her that u said -”
Junior cuts her off: “Yeah OK, fine,” and resumes his seat and the never ending stream of emails.
Joey is pissed off when SCKINT security yet again remind him he can’t wear his hoodie over his head when inside this esteemed establishment. “The aircon’s alway so frigging cold in this joint,’ Joey declares to anyone bothering to listen as, pulling the hood from off his head, he heads over to the bar, where E is talking to the bar manager. The never ending sounds of excitement ring out from the dozens and dozens and dozens of Seniors’ Investment Network “terminals” lining the walls.
“Hey Joey, I was just telling Herm here about how I came face-to-face with this ‘Super drone thing’ when it saved my life.” E holds up the ultra thin midweek copy of The Rage. The Front Page “Splash” is asking anyone and everyone to share any pics or video of Fractal’s ‘Mystery Super Drone’ by posting to The Rage’s website. It’s offering a prize for readers’ best pic/video: a year’s free subscription to The Rage print and online, plus a free dinner for 2 with a former Masterchef. *Conditions apply and dinner must be celiac approved.
Joey takes it in, with vague interest, and then looks at the barman: “Hey Herm.” Herm smiles at him and keeps wiping down the bar. He looks a little too cool and sophisticated for this place, thinks Joey. Hair dyed jet black and slicked back with gel, looking as if it’s been painted onto his skull; the black pencil thin moustache that’s so thin and perfect it might well have been drawn on; the tight hugging waistcoat; the neatly pressed, long sleeves with cufflinks that look practical but not audacious; the classy but unobtrusive gold earring; the sort of “hospitality professional” you’d expect to find shaking evening cocktails in the Perth Parmelia Hilton’s Millstrasse Bar.
“So… E, how much did you ‘do’ on the machines today?”
“Fuck off Joey, I’m ahead. I’ve got a system worked out. You watch, I’ll soon crack the jackpot and u can can get stuffed if u reckon I’ll give u any.”
Joey sighs audibly. “Yeah, E, whatever. I’m heading to the Club. Merries Bag will be there soon, and Snow said he’d pay back some of what he owes me tonight. You coming, or what?”
“Yeah, of course.” Turning back to the bar, she waves: “OK, thanks for the chat Herm – u are so full of good advice. Next time.”
Herm: “Take it easy on yourself, E.”
Walking out the door, Joey pulls his hoodie over his head and says to E, “That bloke Herm looks a bit weird, u know. Dresses too well, too perfect for this joint…”
Joey ambles down the “Badlands End” of the main strip. Locals are lining up to take selfies out the front of the already partly dismantled Heathrow Private Hotel. Even though the ink wouldn’t yet be dry on the contract of sale, the “guests” have mostly vacated the joint. “They didn’t waste time kicking them out,” thinks Joey. “It disgorged them quicker than a pissed Irish backpacker with a dodgy kebab. Hmmmm speaking of kebabs, I haven’t been back to Kokaine Kebabs for weeks. They might have something ‘new’ on the menu…”
Joey looks skyward. Remote drones, in all imaginable colour combos and bedecked with trendy fashion labels, are hovering and zipping about. “Annoying like fucking flies,” he mumbles.
Six identical drones slowing buzz by, barely clearing the street power lines. Each is trailing the same black sign emblazoned with shimmering silver writing:
PORT FRACTAL RUBS your supreme trans-exotic experience
“put your pleasure in our hands”
Joey strolls around the bend and looks out at the glorious magenta sunset over Fractal Bay. He will be at the SCKINT in a few minutes. E is sure to be there. “She had better still have some notes,” he hopes. “That prick Snow, 3 days in a row now and still nothing. Seriously, so much shit comes out of his mouth, I swear his bum must get jealous.”
Entering the SCKINT, Joey for once is glad to pull back his hoodie and endure the aircon cold. “Hehe,” he chuckles. “At least it freezes the arse off those frigging flies so they don’t come in.”
He nods “hi” to E, who is deep in conversation with the barmaid. Yeah, thinks Joey, it’s that odd but interesting barmaid tonight. The short cropped hair with two-tone colouring that’s not exactly unattractive. Eyes done but the face isn’t weighted down with make-up and looks a bit on the stern side but … “interesting” sure is the word, Joey thinks. The long fingernails are painted a deep, deep, ruby red. The push-up bra is justifying its price tag. Not a lot of cleavage, thinks Joey, but still…
He nods to her. “Hi, sorry what was the name again?”
E answers for her: “Joey, u remember Aphrodite. I was just explaining to her my new system on the machines. I’ve almost got them beat. But I dunno, I swear they are filming my method so they can rip me off. Anyway, let’s shoot out for a quick choof. You got skins?”
Outside in the darkening alley, the temparature is dropping. The street noises are changing in pitch and nature. Road traffic is making way for foot traffic. The remote drones have ceased swarming and, reluctantly, risen above the permitted daytime flight levels. Like the heavy trucks of years gone by, noise restrictions in built-up residential areas now apply to all remote flight craft.
“Look at them,” says Joey as E is rolling a short one, “up there now, but they still sound like a swarm of mozzies by a distant creek on a hot summer’s night.”
E: “Awww Joey, that’s almost poetic.”
Joey looks at her: “Fuck off. Hey, u know, that Aphrodite sure is a curious looking chick.”
E, handing over the dart: “Yeah, I noticed u checking her out like a starving magpie that’s spotted a worm.”
Joey takes a deep drag and exhales slowly: “Don’t be fucking stupid. Not my type. I just meant, she looks hot in an odd way.”
E raises one eyebrow: “Really? ‘Hot’, eh?”
Joey: “Ya idiot. Hey, do u reckon she’s related to that dude Herm? They kind of look similar. They are probably brother and sister. Keeping jobs in the family, and all that. You must know, u almost live in this place.”
E flicks the butt into a plastic, green-and-yellow, recycle wheelie bin with no lid, and heads back to the SCKINT entrance. “Joey, seriously, I wonder about u sometimes. You can be such a dumb shit. Do u really not know?”
Following her in, Joey: “Know what?”
E: “Think about it. Herm and Aphrodite. Hermaphrodite. It’s the same person, u dickhead…”