Song of the Red-Legged Birds: Chapter 5: Tweakers and Flyers
Flying high again
Last week, in chapter 4 The origin of The Event was revealed
Chapter 5: Tweakers and Flyers
Takeda hurried downstairs from his apartment. He hated being late, but not as much as his boss, Ralph. He’d worked at Ralph’s Pizza since it was Sal’s Pizza.
When Ralph purchased the place, he considered keeping the name since Sal’s had been around for over a decade. But there were six other Sal’s Pizza places in Boston, so Ralph decided to stand out a little. Ralph’s Pizza fit the timeless neighborhood pizza place definition. Molded orange booths connected to faux wood grain tables bolted to the walls. They hovered above a stick-on tile floor, which revealed its many layers in cracked spots like the rings of a tree. The ambitious menu above the counter offered an improbable amount of items. One had to wonder if you could get half of them on any given day. Locals knew not to be adventurous and stick to the pizza, which was wicked pissa according to words carved into the corner booths tabletop.
Takeda flagged down a Flyer. He didn’t like to use public transportation to get to work, preferring to ride his bike. But he was late, again.
Flyers had been in use for at least thirty years and remained the only flying vehicle above the road. In the simplest terms, they’re a giant bus that hovers like a helicopter but moves like a train. Flyers had replaced the T, Boston’s subway system. They were born out of necessity when the shoddy construction of Boston’s Big Dig project failed. That failure caused a chain reaction that devastated the city for years. Lacking reliable public transportation, Boston was nearly crippled and financially on the brink of collapse.
The launch of the Flying Cars that director Kevin Smith had joked about so many years ago was enthusiastically received. The problem was that many rules needed to be established for their use. It would be some time before the public was allowed access to personal flying vehicles. The old movie The Fifth Element was referenced in Congress when discussing the complexity of air travel for ordinary citizens. It’s fraught with peril if you’re unfamiliar with the classic flick.
An enterprising young Mayor of Boston suggested that his town would be the testing grounds for the first airborne public transportation system. It would rejuvenate the city and be a chance to test the idea that roads in the sky could work. Ten years of testing and development went into the rules, protocols, and standards under which Flyers would operate. The maiden voyage lifted off on November 16th, 2087, with Mayor Dan Mayo as its sole passenger. It picked him up at his home and dropped him off at City Hall to a roaring crowd.
After swiping his phone, Takeda jumped onto the Flyer, having taken a moment to load his bicycle. The automated bike storage bot had reached out and grabbed it from his hands. The bot locked it to the frame and hauled it out of sight until it was absorbed into the roof. Facial scanning recognition enabled the bot to unload your bike the moment you got off of a Flyer. It took barely a second.
He needed his bike for pizza deliveries that went beyond a block or two, and that was most of them. Takeda would have ridden to Ralph’s every day had it not been for the difficulties in the terrain that resulted from the Big Dig’s collapse. According to politicians and talking heads on the news, it would take decades and trillions of dollars to repair the damage. Even so, most of the time, he attempted the challenging ride. The rough and partially destroyed roads made riding treacherous, but not as much as the crime.
More than once, a nutjob ran directly at him while he rode and attempted something like an open-field tackle–risking injury on the off chance that he had anything of value. He felt terrible for the people that lived this way. Things had turned awfully shitty in Boston, and most people who tried to assault him on any given day were hungry or trying to provide for their families. “Desperate times, desperate measures,” Holly had said to him once.
Of course, there were also the tweakers, out to finance their high anyway they could. Takeda thought he was so close to living a life out here, just like them, that he couldn’t be angry with what they might try to do to him when he rode past. In fact, he was a fantastic rider. Rarely was it even possible to catch him dashing along through the city’s rubble, alleys, filth, and detritus. A tweaker once hid in the shadows and threw a piece of pipe into his spokes as he flew by. That cost him his bike, wallet, phone, and even his sneakers. He woke up a bloody mess and walked back home, cursing and not feeling as much compassion as he usually did.
In a way, he wished he could live on a Flyer rather than in his apartment. They were beautiful inside, with comfortable leather seats, individual video screens which connected to your phone, and seatback snack delivery. Most also had a heated back and foot massage option. These comforts made public transportation something people wanted to do, rather than what they had to do on the dirty buses that ruled and polluted the city for many years.
Takeda relaxed, turned on a low-level massage for his aching back, a nagging reminder from the bike crash, and flipped on the screen. A soothing female voice spoke, “Hello, Takeda. Would you like to link to your mobile device and continue watching the news?”
“Yes, please,” he said. He’d forgotten that he was catching up on the news last night before drifting off to sleep. With his birthday event and all the commotion this morning, he hadn’t looked at his phone, something rare for him.
The Flyer took off, and he plugged in his headphones while his favorite tech news program, The Zombie Squad Daily, picked up mid-sentence. He pressed a button on the screen for a cup of black coffee; Flyers served good coffee, another enticement for passengers. It slid out from the seat back with barely a ripple on its surface. A patented innovation of the Flyers was its stabilization. One hardly noticed that it was in motion at all. That made ordering a hot cup of coffee much less dangerous than doing it on a conventional airplane. Somehow, the innovation of regular air travel had stalled. The amenities on planes had gotten even worse. People often planned trips involving several Flyer transfers to avoid a single airplane flight.
The Zombie Squad Daily host Tamara Fi was finishing up a story about the old social networking site Vainprop. It had undergone a resurgence in the last few years after a fall from its popularity in the late 2060s. The outdated platform slowly became incompatible with most modern devices. A group of enterprising young coders had pooled their resources to buy the aging core code for reasons as they stated without elaboration. Some had mused that it was to Make Vainprop Great Again, repurposing an infamous turn of phrase from long ago. Others thought it out of a sense of nostalgia. Indeed, Takeda had a soft spot for Vainprop. He grew up using the cheesy technology; kids his age thought it was cool not to use a mainstream site. And since it required a level of technical know-how to access Vainprop, most parents weren’t on it.
He gulped down his coffee as the Flyer slowed to a stop. As much as he loved the ride, it wasn’t that long of a trip downtown to Ralph’s, and he was late. He stuffed his phone and earbuds in the hoodie pocket and slid his feet out of the massager. The Flyer softly and expertly banked, then parked a foot off the ground a block from Ralphs. As he exited, the personal video attendant, or PVA, hovered before him. It thanked him for traveling with them today and let him know that his Flyer card balance would soon need to be refilled. He grabbed his bike, waiting for him at the offloading kiosk, and pedaled the last block to work.
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Next week in Chapter 6 “Chula Vista” It’s World War 4 with Takeda’s parents