by Michael Bollen
ISBN: 978 0556105 3 0
"A funny, charming, inventive comic novel. Michael Bollen?s warmth, sharp wit and eye for satirical detail reminded me of Douglas Adams. Quite possibly the best work of fiction since The Bible."
Stephen Merchant, The Office, Extras
Extract 4: Abi Drinks and Flies
Abi staggered down a dimly lit corridor, tapping clumsily at her lifePod as she went. She was nineteen years old, half a dress size too large and a few centimetres too short. Her tightly fitting dress was made from a thin, flexible, ever-changing screen. Mostly the garment sported anti-corporate slogans, and it currently advocated both smashing the system and a lengthy, overly-complicated method for the redistribution of unwanted concert tickets.
Abi?s small features were normally equally serious, her eyes meeting the world defiantly. But today she was less composed, her expression less self aware. Abi was drunk, too drunk to care what people thought of her, and certainly too drunk to be running for her life.
She emerged into a loading bay and gratefully fell inside the car she had just summoned. The vehicle climbed suddenly, leaving the ground, Abi?s stomach and her pursuers behind.
The flying cars promised by the corporations at the time of the Takeover didn?t live up to expectations. They looked exciting enough, like rounded coffins with windscreens and fins. They came in one, two and four seater versions, the passengers reclining almost to the point of recumbence. That was the public?s main objection: everyone was a passenger. The flying cars were fully automated; the occupant merely named a destination and climbed out at the journey?s end. There would be no sky races, no speeding, no dive-bombing traffic bots, no fun at all. The cars remained corporation property, so there were no personal touches, no fly faster stripes, no ?My other flying car?s a spaceship? bumper stickers. When they took into account the lack of traffic accidents, the reduced pollution and the empty streets, the public still felt cheated.
Abi was glad she didn?t have to fly the car herself, and had almost fallen asleep when the vehicle?s coarse male voice issued from her implanted speakers. ?Where to guv or love, I ain?t got all day.?
Abi slurred her address, adding ?Cabbie off.? She wasn?t in the mood for artificial chatter.
The car moved up a lane, and slipped into a gap between two identical vehicles. They automatically adjusted their velocities, maintaining a safe distance at all times. Just visible in the loading bay below, the two men who had been chasing Abi were climbing into a two seater car.
?Loverly weather we?ve been having recently,? said the car.
?Cabbie off,? said Abi.
?You?ll never guess who I had in the back of me the other day,? said the car, ignoring her. ?That Rob James, the head of Softcom.? This was no surprise. The cars were designed and built by Softcom, and had a habit of slipping in some propaganda now and then. ?I reckon he?s doing a bang up job, don?t you??
?No,? said Abi distantly. ?Shut up.?
?Maybe he?s even sorted out the weather, eh? Eh?? But Abi wasn?t taking the bait again. The journey continued in silence.
The car lurched violently to one side. Abi slid across the seat, her face pressed against a window. ?What was that?? she complained.
?Dunno,? said the car, righting itself. ?Turbulence? Soon get you home, petal / pal.?
Abi relaxed slightly. It was a temporary glitch, perhaps related to the faulty gender recognition software. In the event of a more serious problem, parachutes would be deployed and the lightweight vehicle would float safely to the ground. That happy thought was sending Abi to sleep as the car shook again.
?That wasn?t turbulence,? Abi cried, wide awake. ?It felt like...? But it couldn?t have been. It was impossible for the cars to collide with each other.
Crash! Abi looked round wildly. A car was following her, moving outside the usual flight path. Either it was under manual control or it was out of control completely. Abi cursed. This was no time to be drunk. She fumbled around in her bag, one eye on the rogue car, fingers eventually finding a packet of tablets. Blinking at the label she threw a couple of Alco-nulls down her neck.
Tiny microbes entered her bloodstream and rushed around, desperate for alcohol like teenagers down the park on a Saturday night. As they gobbled the intoxicating molecules, Abi slowly began to sober up.
?Cab, drop me here,? she said. The cabbie ignored her, continuing on its original route. Abi returned her attention to the car behind. The windows were blacked out, the passengers, if there were any, invisible. But that was a standard option. It looked like a normal car. Except it was surging forward, about to hit-
Abi smashed her head on the roof, and her teeth rattled around her skull. ?Car?? she cried. ?Talk to me you robot bastard!? There was no reply.
They had reached the centre of town, and were travelling through streets walled with curiously shaped buildings. Abi?s car wobbled, coming perilously close to some decorative spikes. Her pursuer came in for another attack.
The microbes in Abi?s bloodstream gathered alcohol, becoming slower and more clumsy. Her head cleared slightly, then thumped with pain as the car received another blow, throwing Abi around the cabin. With a rush she remembered the secret override code that would bring the car under manual control. Unfortunately she only remembered the code?s existence; the actual combination of letters and numbers was swimming hazily in front of her mind?s eye, blurred by booze.
The car brushed the side of a building, knocking off several animatronic gargoyles. Suddenly the cabbie started up again, its speech garbled and distorted by electronic fizzes and pops. ?Course, if you want my opinion tztz bloody hooligans tchzgsz if I ran the world-?
?Shut up shut up shut up!? screamed Abi. ?Fire the ?chutes goddammit! I?m gonna die here!?
?I mean, I?m not a robotist, but you can?t deny we are stealing people?s jobs...?
?Great cars Softcom! You?ve killed another human!? Abi shouted some random letters and numbers, hoping to stumble across the code. The vehicle began to dip and Abi?s pulse shot up, speeding the flow of microbes around her body. She closed her eyes and wished she?d lived a better life. A longer one would have been a good start.
The car accelerated and Abi was squashed down into her seat, a pressure that forced a scream from her lips. Then she realised she was shooting up, not down. The guidance systems had crashed early to avoid the rush, and the car rocketed higher, past the top of a conical building, past the top of its tree shaped neighbour, way above the normal flight lanes. Peering down, Abi saw the other car climbing after her.
?Come on, you could get a zizitchz jumbo jet through there,? said the cabbie. Abi?s vehicle levelled off and weaved crazily through the sky, the pursuing car gaining on it all the time.
?What?s the code?? shouted Abi to herself. ?Why did I drink so much?? But by now the microbes had eaten most of the alcohol in her blood. Metaphorically speaking, they were walking down the middle of her veins singing football songs. Abi was almost sober, and her mental image of the code was becoming clearer, almost readable?
The other car was directly beneath her, flying vertically upwards. It struck for the last time, tipping Abi?s vehicle into a downward spiral. The other car?s parachutes opened, and it drifted sedately towards the ground.
?Oh yeah, some guys get all the parachutes,? yelled Abi as she plummeted past her attacker. ?What?s the code??
?Bloody zixutchz sky hogs!? shouted the cabbie. ?Think you own the air??
The ground was rushing to meet her, like a deadly long lost relative. The microbes gulped the last few dregs of alcohol, and were ejected by Abi?s kidneys, the bouncers of the bloodstream. She was sober again. But which would hit her first, the ground or the code?
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