Story and Illustration by: Chris Thompson
Sheila paused at the bottom of Henry’s apartment buildings stairs, kneeling slightly to remove a piece of broken hallway tile from her pricey Italian stiletto. Lifting her head slightly she quickly scanned the poorly lit parking lot before her. With a practiced calmness suggestive of previous training she closed her eyes and let the din of the city envelop her. Above the crush of screaming car alarms, jack hammering, and random honking Sheila heard the low hum of an autonomous advertising blimp announce its approach overhead.
Rising effortlessly she quickly crossed the distance to the idling black sedan waiting in Henry’s parking spot, her stiletto heels sending a staccato tone echoing into the night. As she slid into the comfortable softness of the sedans interior, the AdBlimp’s searchlights poured into the lot, flooding the evening with its rhythmic dance of multicolored lights.
Henry bought it. Sheila thought, seating herself in the inviting quiet of the sedan’s soundproofed rear. Momentarily lost in this thought, she gazed out the window as the AdBlimp drifted lazily overhead. Its many searchlights swung in great sweeping arcs, probing the darkness on its relentless search for consumers to assault with advertising.
“Let’s go.” she barked coldly to the sedans driver, turning her attention away from the window. With a swipe of her hand she activated the sedans rear electronics suite. Instantly the interior came to life, her biometrics spooling a myriad of subroutines throughout the vehicle. Bathed in the violet glow from the holo-displays surrounding her, Sheila removed a jade clip from a concealed pocket in her dress. With a practiced movement she twisted her long auburn hair into a bun and set it atop her head.
“Turn left at the 214” Sheila barked to the driver as the black sedan sped off. Her expression was stern and demanding. “After that merge onto the Luxe-Way. Once you get out of the city find the first entrance ramp and take the Skylane all the way to Los Angeles.”
“That’s going to be a pretty expensive trip ma’am.” The driver replied in a thick Eastern European accent. “The luxury highways are charging well over fifteen dollars a quarter mile now. Once we get up into the air and switch over from electrics we’re going to go burn through a lot of fuel getting to LA.”
“I don’t give a fuck Roman.” Sheila replied. “Just do your job and get me the hell out if this goddamn city. Let me worry about how I’m going to pay for it.”
I should have upgraded to a driverless car the last time I had the sedan in for repairs Sheila thought. These immigrant drivers The Company keeps sticking me with don’t know when to shut the hell up.
Turning her attention to the holo-display to her left, Sheila quickly updated her status and sent a burst report off to The Company for their goons to analyze. A whine of protest from the sedans V8 electric engine paired with a slight increase in gravity that Sheila felt in her chest, signaled the sedan was merging onto the Luxe-Way, the high-speed artery bisecting San Francisco on its way out to Oakland.
The elevated and private Luxe-Way’s were immaculately maintained and a perk of being a Company employee. A modicum of expensive cars littered its wide, expansive lanes, in stark contrast to the free public highways on either side below. The Pub-Ways were dark and rundown, plagued by a perpetual crush of traffic, honking horns and thundering bass that Sheila was grateful her association with The Company kept her off of. From her vantage point high above she had a sweeping view of the city.
The aging housing tracts thrown up along the highway were a blur of colored light as the sedan sped on faster and faster. As Sheila’s thoughts headed out of the city her eyes moved up to take in the towering skyscrapers that dominated the twilight sky. These behemoths of modern engineering had gone up swiftly once San Francisco removed it limits on building heights and the awesomeness of their elevation still captivated her.
A pleasant chime to Sheila’s left signaled the approaching entrance to the Skylane and her thoughts returned promptly to the mission at hand. Tricking Henry into a relationship with her had been the easy part. He wasn’t used to the advances of a confident woman like her and he certainly wasn’t the type of person to pass up an unusual liaison. She had found it a fascinating challenge finding a way through his unique personality that pushed him in the directions The Company wanted him to go.
“Are you sure you want to take the Skylane ma’am?” Roman’s voice interrupted, breaking her line of thought. “Not many folks using it these days.” He added.
“Goddamn you Roman!” Sheila cursed. “Just take the Skylane and keep your mouth shut the rest of the way home. I don’t care if we use up the last drop of gas in the tanks doing so.”
It was getting harder and harder to secure fuel these days and Roman’s concerns weren’t without merit. They were just misplaced in this occurrence. Sheila’s association with The Company granted her access to their strategic fuel reserves but she was still going to have to do a lot of explaining when she got back to LA.
It was a simple cost-benefit analysis in her mind. She was in a rush because The Company was in a rush. The Skylane was the fastest way back to LA so that’s what she would take.
Running on electric the entire drive back to LA was out of the question. It would have been a time consuming effort littered with frequent stops to recharge the sedan’s batteries along the way. Sheila had recently installed the latest in long-charge quantum batteries but it still wasn’t as quick as getting up into the air and running the turbines into the red the whole way back.
John had assigned a high priority to this mission, advancing the timeline by several months and shit like that cost money. Money that he and The Company certainly had to spend.