NO ARRESTS IN 2039 • by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

The cab jockey gives me a look from the screen. “Sorry, pal” he says, but he doesn’t look sorry. Halfway between sod-all interest and vindictive amusement, more like.

“Cab’s detected puke,” he goes on, while I gurn pained injustice. It won’t help but I do it anyway, for the record. The cab loads its new route, chuntering and beeping as it plugs into the council network, and hands itself off from Virt-U-Cabz for the trip to the sin-bin. Jeez! How could a tikka masala and three lagers have tripped the vomit alarm?

We look at each other, me and the cabbie. He has to, until I’m signed off; I choose to, in case his face cracks, and there’s a hint of sympathy. There isn’t. He’s in Bangladesh; I’m in London. What does he care? I see his eyes flicking side to side, and a tiny light pulsing blue over his ear — bastard’s picking up a new punter before I’m even despatched! Odds on he’s punching for an LA school run; has to be fewer drunks than Hackney, at chucking out time.

“Good evening, Mr. Salomon.” It’s the local council’s automated pick-up service. “Your cab is fitted with sensors for your travelling comfort. Unfortunately, levels of personal emission consistent with gastric instability have been detected…”

“Crappy sensors need upgrading!” I yell at it, which really does bring on the bile, because these bloody things don’t do conversation. The screen flashes up the corporate message, Proud to have no antisocial behaviour in our City, and starts to scroll through a table of statistics.

Mr. Automaton drones on, “…to your local reception centre where you will be disembarked and assessed by our law enforcement and medical services. We appreciate your cooperation in assuring your safety.” The stats scroll along in pedantic harmony.

Four hundred and thirty arrests in 2035, two hundred in 2036…

I flash a pair of digits at the screen in celebration of my innocence.

Ninety-five arrests in 2037…

Ninety-five? Down from four-thirty in how many years? I’m starting to hazard percentages when the cab lurches, my stomach lurches, and we’re off; destination drunk-tank. Last trip I really was pole-axed, and I hardly noticed getting manhandled out of my cab, so they could plunge it into the scrubber. I noticed the medical probes though, down and up; and I sure as hell noticed the antidote they shoved in the up one. Well, at least I’m going to bugger up their gold-plated arrest statistics. I nearly crack a smile, but my face feels like I’ve worn it too long, and my eyes are itching the crap out of me. I drop them shut, and ease back into the seat for a few last moments of dignity, before the prescribed assault.

Something tickles me awake; something that’s in my nostrils, curling in, sneaking up behind my eyes and down into the back of my throat, scratching and choking. Fumes? From the air con? I hack up a real chest-splitter and lunge forwards; banging my face on the windscreen, and splattering it with lung snot. Ach!

Exploded upright and smacked alert, I peer into the gloom to see what’s what. And here we are; two sorry rows of encapsulated miscreants, judged guilty by jobs-worth vomit sniffers, and sentenced to procedural humiliation at the council’s leisure. Shit! Well, I’m not above bribery, so I make my credi-chip casually visible, and open hailing frequencies.

“Hey! Over here! You guys? Fellahs? Been a bit of a screw-up, any chance of a… ”

I stop. I’m seeing HazChem suits, and backpacks that look like breathing apparatus. I’m seeing pale faces in some of the other cabs. Unmoving faces. Oh God! Mouth open, eyes open, frozen-in-a-scream faces.

Fifteen arrests in 2038…

Suddenly I get it. Suddenly, I don’t want to be noticed. I creep my fingers towards the emergency button; but my hand knows better and slides away to hide inside my jacket, tucks into the damp pocket of cold sweat in my armpit. I ooze downwards in my seat, straining to hear something reassuring over the hammering thump of blood in my ears. A soft clunk on the chassis. A hiss. Not reassuring; very not reassuring. Stomach acid is etching cracks into my tongue; and nebulised compliance is starting to poke its fingers down my throat.

I watch as the overalled figures clunk a pipe onto the air con of the cab opposite. The occupant, a girl of about eighteen, wakes from her alcoholic doze and smiles. I’m watching as she weaves to a standing crouch, pulling the hem of her short red skirt towards her knees, and making ready to be helped out. I’m her witness when that doesn’t happen and she hovers there, too hammered to get antsy. I’m her twin when the gas goes in and her face contorts.

When she claws at her throat and then the windows.

When she hacks at the glass with the heel of her shoe.

When she deflates into her seat, a blue-lipped Cinderella in her coach of summary justice.

Suzanne Conboy-Hill is a health care specialist in learning disabilities currently researching in virtual worlds and capacity to consent. In her other worlds, she provides hotel services to several cats, a couple of dogs, and a large number of uninvited spiders.

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  • Oh dear! I would not want to live in this kind of 2039.:)
    I only wonder if the council considered risking loosing most of the population by 2045.
    And I suppose the council members don’t use these cabs.:)
    An interesting and well written story. Thank you!

  • Pingback: ‘No Arrests in 2039′: you might prefer to walk home … « Suzanne Conboy-Hill – finding fiction()

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Great! I loved this story and found the scenario complelty credible. Kind of Lucky Jim and Kafka only set in the future.

  • The second half of this story was excellent. Alas, the first half confused.

  • ajcap

    Great read. Amused in the beginning; startled and chilled by the ending. Very believable. Easy flow and easy to visualize. Five stars for surprising me.

  • JenM

    I had to think about this story for a little while before I I could trally understand it, but as is the case here, that can be the mark of a great story. Definitly well worth the red.

  • vondrakker

    Five +++ stars
    Thank you

  • By this time most of us are inured to stories of death, torture, and mechanical forced compliance and are rather blase about it. The writer of this story has found a way to take us one step further into horror – in 150 to 200 years the language spoken now and of all written literature will be incomprehensible and everything that has been struggled for in language junked. This may be an invitation from graphics blogs to take on former writers as beginners if they can gather themselves together, stop weeping, and self-tranquilize in order to face the future. This story is obviously written by a master of horror, an insightful genius in language who has used her abilites to follow the cultural progression, knows the score, and is bravely putting herself on the line to save us and sound the warning bell.

    Free, small dictionaries distorting definitions and derivations are already being downloaded. Man the bastions!

  • Sorry, but fantasy and sci-fi is not quite my scene as I find it difficult to understand all of the references to things which are not explained well enough for me to follow.

    I can see that the standard of writing is interesting and feisty, but I have difficulty with the storyline.

    thank you

  • Elle Marie Gray

    The work of Conboy-Hill is a recent discovery for me, thanks to EF. As an American, I do have to slow down and re-read sections of her work, as the British colloquialisms and location references catch me off-guard at times. But once those things are cleared up it’s smooth sailing, and I can enjoy the beautiful and evocative language she uses to describe the world she sets out to create.

    I liked the fact that the author used words that challenge: “gurn,” “chuntering,” and even “tikka masala” (which I guessed to be an Indian dish, but looked up to be sure.) Some of her phrasing may be natural in England, but I found it clever and fresh. The bar is set high to read this one, but well worth efforting my brain to receive the reward. Thank you for a great story.

  • S.E. Gaime

    I usually enjoy SF and fantasy (I’m an avid reader of the spec fic genre), but this moved way too fast for me. Almost like this whole thing is a dream.

  • Eva Palva

    I enjoyed this a lot. Well done.

  • It’s almost tomorrow here so I’m just dropping in to say thank you to everyone for reading this and for taking the time to comment. I’m ecstatic so many people ‘got it’, I’m sorry it wasn’t quite the thing for others, I’m gratified by your perseverence with my British-isms, and Roberta, I’ll have a pint of whatever you’re on – that’s by far the most wonderful review I’ve ever had!

  • Although I’m not a fan of sci-fi, this is one of those stories that transcends genre with literary writing and insight into the human condition. And it was entertaining!

    The twist is well-executed and leaves a sting and a satisfying, chilling conclusion. My face feels like I’ve worn it too long … indeed. *****

  • Pingback: You wait ages … « Suzanne Conboy-Hill – finding fiction()

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Wonderfully horrific ending. I felt shocked and scared for the character.

  • To add a post-script, this story was based on existing technology in virtual control of real world objects & driver-less cars. The technology is moving on – it seems we’re nearly there with the Google car and I’ve already seen evidence of virtual (remote) driving. A chauffeur you don’t have to pay? Works for me!

  • Minority Report for incipient stomach behaviour – fantastic!

  • Thanks, EMB 🙂

  • Pingback: Podcast EDF124: No Arrests in 2039 • by Suzanne Conboy-Hill • read by Folly Blaine | Every Day Fiction - The once a day flash fiction magazine.()