This lady asked me what aisle she could find tinned pineapple in and I told the lady she might have to get a mech to show her and she rolled her eyes. People hate dealing with robots. When you work at DeliDiscount, you’re supposed to know where stuff is off by heart, but all I could think about was the prom. It was 129 minutes away (and 51 seconds, 50, 49). I wanted to ankle the suckyass job, anyway, I only did ten hours a week, and my allowance from Momshine and Dad paid tonnes more, but you had to be seen to work so no one could say you were a mechalover. Plus Chan was assistant manager of the bakery and I got to stare at his back muscles flexing as he lifted heavy trays out of the ovens. Chanvatey Prach: lead in the school production, head of marketing for the 40 Hour Famine fundraiser. Plays beach volleyball, football, everything. Six feet tall. He’s got Luddite tattoos and he dresses just gangsta enough to look dangerous but not get in trouble. Hot.
The Mopomatic was hovering beside my Wet Floor sign, putting pressure on me to work faster. Mopomatics aren’t cute like my Robopup or anything, they’re just one more mech that’s a way harder worker than me, according to my manager, who got a cyopsy on his lungs, so he’s a quarter mech (and also a quarter dickhead). The Mopomatic doesn’t sulk all day when it’s got its period, it doesn’t have itchy bra straps, it can search answers to customers’ questions if they’re not too bummed out to get help from a mech. The Mopomatic doesn’t forget its nametag so when old ladies want to find some yucky soup they ask your name and you tell them your name’s Eden and they say “Ooh, that’s a lovely name, dear, I have a granddaughter named Eden” and your manager tells you off later for too much chit-chat on work time, says he’s gonna give your job to a StockBot.
There was one thing, though, that the Mopomatic needed to be jealous of me: I was going to Prom in two hours. I was going to get crunk, sing karaoke, maybe ask Esther if I could borrow Chan to dance with, brush up against his abs. If I wanted to badly enough, I could make babies with Chan (and I did want to, pretty bad). Yeah mechs can live forever, but they WISH they were us.
As I counted down to the end of my shift, I put some bags of garbage from the produce section into a trolley and wheeled them through the plastic flaps out the back of the supermarket and through the filthy loading dock, where heaps of people used to unload the trucks before drones started delivering everything. There’s only a third of the workers that were here when I started two years ago, and a lot of those people have names that end in matic, if you get what I mean, like my manager for instance: we call him Dick-o-matic.
I wheeled my garbage over the cabbage leaves and concrete and out to the incinerator. The loading bay stank like Chan’s Nikes that I sniffed one time cause Maeve dared me to. I felt empty from all the prom stress. I’d eaten about one day’s worth of food in the whole past week and I was feeling the starvation pretty bad, like I probably wouldn’t even last through Prom if the excitement didn’t keep me wired.
Beside the chainlink fence was this long conveyor belt section where you loaded your garbage bags on then they got pulled in and the machine separated out any recyclable minerals and incinerated the remnant waste. Sometimes fleshies that have lost their jobs and live on the streets try to eat the bread that we throw out, but DeliDiscount’s policy is we can’t risk some homeless fleshy suing us if they get sick.
I was chucking the bags on when I noticed someone crouched underneath the conveyor belt.
‘I can see you, Adam. Having fun down there?’
Adam Turing: the skinny pauper from my class, the only one who didn’t have to diet to get his cheekbones and ribs to stick out. Adam was from all my schools, had all my same teachers. From my kindergarten, even. We used to put praying mantises and spiders in a jar together and make ‘em fight. We’d been at the same sports days and assemblies every year, since, God, like forever. I even think we had the same mech nanny carrying our dirty diapers out to the garbage when we were little. He’d always been there on a scholarship half because he’s such a brainbox and half because his family’s so poor – if you can call it a family. All he had was a dad. They used to live in Mahonyland when it was all a big subdivision, ‘til that big global credit thing made all the loser families sell their homes to the Mechastructure and go move into the projects. Adam’s dad was one of the last Fleshie taxi drivers, doing a job that had gone obsolete, like, decades ago.
‘I was just… tying my shoe,’ he said lamely, standing up straight amongst piles of garbage bags, eyeing up the dumpsters, looking for an exit.
‘Seriously? You can’t afford self-tying shoes? You won the Young Inventors Fair. Can’t you invent a better excuse? Ech.’
Adam was in Robotics Club at school, which was seriously uncool. Everyone said he was a mechalover. KT’s brother Kane smashed up the Robotics Club one winter lunchtime when we were all bored and we all filmed it on our Organisers and it was like sooooo lol.
‘Share something with me, Eden. You look famished. Here – these Danishes are wonderful.’
‘Thanks but I’m on a diet where I can’t eat garbage.’
‘You’re saying – ? Oh. Another jibe.’ He sighed and said, ‘Exeunt.’ He tried to disappear between two dumpsters but I spotted the bag between his legs.
‘You’re not supposed to take that stuff, even if it’s rubbish,’ I said, ‘I told you that last week. See?’ I knocked on the recycling machine. ‘Gotta let the machine take out the selenium and all that. The supermarket wouldn’t even break even if it didn’t sell metal to the Mechastructure. What if, like, me and Chan lose our jobs? I oughta snitch on you.’
‘And you’ve got mouldy bread crumbs in your little moustache! I gotta get a pxt of this.’ I activated my organiser and the hologram screen appeared in front of me. I snapped a photo, loosened my stress a little bit. ‘I’m totally gonna send this to everyone.’
Adam picked up his sack of tired bread and rock-hard cake and tried to climb some pallets and escape. I set off the alarm sound on my organiser.
‘OMIGAWD, dude. I already said you can’t take that stuff. You want me to get fired for not stopping you? ’
‘My dad doesn’t exactly manage to provide… look, Eden, c’mon, don’t you remember our project?’ His voice got squeakier the more desperate he got. ‘For Ethics class? Our Zero Waste model? When we rule it’ll be a capital offence to waste food and all that?’
‘Dude, this is the real world.’
Adam reluctantly put the bakery waste on the conveyor belt and backed off, putting one leg through a hole in the fence. He hovered, though.
‘This is nice, us two talking.’
I facepalmed. ‘I have to watch you leave so I know you’re not stealing selenium, dude.’
Adam’s eyes darted. ‘So d’you think we’ll get in? To the Treasure Island thing?’
Our school was in the running for this experiment where you get a chance at winning a sweet million bucks EACH if you last on a tropical island for 12 months with 12 friends, not that it was necessarily an island, or tropical. They hadn’t told us that part. We just guessed it would be a Survivor-type deal cause that’s what you saw on TV. No one was sure if it was, like, a behavioural thing or an economics thing, like starting a civilisation from scratch and studying how the money spreads. All we knew was the university was paying peeps a mil and if you went in, you weren’t allowed out for the whole year, no matter how antsy you got. 12 months on a beach, or in the jungle, or the Alps? It sounded like a paid holiday.
‘Do I think we’ll get in? God, no. Another school, probably. Besides, I’m starting to regret entering if you’re gonna be there.’ I picked a cabbage up off the gravel and shoved it at him. ‘Here. Take. Go. It’s hardly got any metal in it anyway.’
His lips started wiggling like he was gonna weep with joy and his eyes went all wide. ‘Just – just so you know, all varieties of brassica are actually loaded with iron, zinc, phosphorus– ’
‘SHUT UP, MAN. If people ask, say I was a dick to you. Go get dressed for prom, already.’
He clutched the cabbage against his heart. ‘I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. Sincerely, I– ’
‘QUIT STARING AT ME, ADAM. GOD YOU’RE CREEPY.’
‘You just look nice, in your uniform, that’s all,’ he went, and pulled his body through the fence and disappeared.
I got into the car and Momshine was like, ‘How was work, sweetie?’ and she tried to hand me a peanut butter and jam sandwich, yuck, talk about carb-bloat, and I epically laid into her as she hovered on the lip of the carpark, trying to pull out into traffic. She’d said she would fetch me in eight minutes. It had taken her 11.
‘IF YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE ME LATE FOR PROM, WHY DON’T YOU JUST MESSAGE ME AND ADMIT IT?’ I struggled to get my uniform vest off while battling my seatbelt.
Momshine stared out the windscreen. ‘You’re probably right. Sorry, Edie. Lot on my mind at the moment. The university’s offered your father a bit more work, so– ’
‘Oh, YOUR mind’s got a lot on? This is THE SINGLE MOST important night of my life. Can you just pull out? There’s a spot. They’re driverless cars, mum, they’re programmed to not hit you, Momshine. God.’
Momshine stopped before she’d even made it onto the right side of the road. She had overridden the auto-pilot and her driving was all jerky. I wanted the car’s A.I. to take over. Mechs do some stuff way better than people.
‘Your dad’s been faced with a bit of an ultimatum and I was hoping we could– ’
‘On the biggest night of my life, honestly, you spring this on me? RRRR.’
I strangled my seatbelt and clenched my teeth and she got us home in silence and as soon as the nose of the car touched the driveway, I barged past Dad and hit the stairs. Tonight would be heaven. I couldn’t afford to waste one second.
‘Good to see you, my angel,’ he said, lacing his fingers neatly in his lap, standing all meek and pleasing like a butler. ‘Hey, when you’re ready, I was hoping to rap with you about– ’
‘Seriously, Dad? Wow, your timing is freaking a-MAY-zing.’ I had my belt unbuckled before I’d even made it into my room. I slammed the door, tugged my pants down, lay on my back on the carpet and pulled the pants over my ankles, then pulled my work shirt over my head and took off my bra, too, and put my robe on. Robopup sensed I was home, switched on and marched over and gave me some sniffs but I paused her and pushed her back under my bed. You have to watch how many snuggles you give mech pups cause they’re programmed to get all attached to you if you let ’em.
Dad knocked on the door while I opened a gym bag and knocked into it all the stuff I’d need tonight as I got ready with the girls round at Maeve’s place. I could get there at 7.50 if Momshine didn’t drive like a retard, get Maeve’s mechmaid to put my hair extensions in by 8.25, maybe. The limo was arriving at Maeve’s place at 8.30, so the schedule would be tight. Jesus Christ my mum had botched a lot of things tonight. I packed my heels, my toothbrush, deodorant, tampons, pads just in case, water, hairbrush, makeup bag and morning after pill, just in case Chan broke up with Esther tonight for some reason and me and him hooked up. Losing my Big V to him would be even better than winning that million dollar experiment thing.
I took my prom dress out of the cupboard and draped it over my shoulder. Then I went into my ensuite bathroom and put foundation on and spray tan and just a little basic lipstick. I would get my real makeup done round at Maeve’s, cause her mechmaid can spray on the perfect amount of makeup that reacts with the lighting with, like, scientific precision. I came out of the bathroom and was about to cross the floor and grab my perfume when I realised I had an intruder. The intruder was wearing my prom dress.
‘MUM! GET OUT! Get OUT of my dress! What’s wrong with you?’
Mum looked down at her hands. ‘Getting out the wrinkles for you, honey. It just needs some body-heat. On the back? You haven’t noticed, but there are just a couple. You do your makeup, hon, wrinkles can be my –
‘TAKE IT OFF, MOMSHINE. GOD.’
‘I never went to the prom when I was your age, angel, I, well I was expecting. Expecting you.’
‘What do you want, an apology for me being born?’
I pulled Robopup out from under my bed and shoved her at Momshine. ‘You want my life, here. Her kinetic battery’s low. You have to take her walkies to charge her.’
‘I thought the two of us could go. Just the girls.’
‘HASHTAG: PSYCHO. Just drive me round to Maeve’s already.’
I put on a miniskirt and a long sleeved tee and strapped on some boots with heels, just to look okay when my girls saw me.
I exited, locked my bedroom door. Dad was standing right outside in the hall with his organiser screen hovering to the left of him. Dad’s a chirpy short guy and when he’s got work on, if the mechs haven’t told him to stay home for the semester, he’s second in charge of computer programming at the university. He’ll talk to anyone if they can endure the way he licks his nerdy moustache when he’s excited. He wanted to read me an email, right then and there. On the most important night in history.
‘Could I have suckier parents? Go AWAY already. You’re making me late.’
‘Edie, there’ve been a couple of developments today— Christ, it’s been a day— so I’m wondering if we can sit down and go over— ’
I took a deep breath, squeezed his shoulders and pressed my nose against his, gave him a kiss to distract him. ‘Tell me tomorrow.’