“Someone bailed you out.” The policeman unlocked the holding cell and swung the door open.
The cop jerked a thumb at the exit. “Talk to the officer out front.”
“Um, thanks.” Faye wandered to the front of the station, where another officer typed something into his workstation and told her she could leave.
“Yeah, that’s all,” another voice boomed.
Faye did a double-take at the entrance. A huge man leaned against the wall, a mischievous smirk on his rosy, snow-bearded face. His ample belly bulged underneath a tailored, maroon-colored suit. Shiny black boots added a few inches to his already towering height.
“Nick?” Faye’s mouth dropped open.
“None other. Come on, Rudy’s waiting outside.”
Faye followed Nick outside and into the adjacent parking lot, where a large brown four-seater drone, propellers whining, awaited. A red emergency light winked on its hood.
“Have a seat,” Nick said, unlocking the vehicle and sweeping soda cans and wrapping paper off the front passenger seat with a brush of his huge arm.
“I can fly by myself,” Faye said, blinking.
Nick raised an eyebrow. “Really? In front of the police station?”
“Oh, right, never mind,” Faye mumbled, slipping into the copter and buckling in.
With surprising agility, Nick bounded around the front of the vehicle and hopped inside. “Let’s go, Rudy,” he called out as he settled into the driver’s seat. With a faint whir, the copter soared upward, seamlessly entering low-altitude traffic within moments.
“Okay, Nick,” Faye began, “how did you know…?”
“That you were caught trespassing? Again?” Nick laughed. “I got eyes in the sky everywhere, for my business. I need to monitor traffic patterns, delivery efficiency—”
“Then why didn’t you stop me?”
“Well, wouldn’t you have complained that I was interrupting your, um, work?”
Faye frowned. “Eh, probably.” She sighed. “Can you take me home?”
“Rudy?” Nick said.
“Acknowledged,” the copter replied, veering toward its new destination.
Nick spoke up again. “How are things, Faye?”
Faye snorted. “What do you think? I look and feel awful and I spent the night locked up with a bunch of drunk prostitutes.” She shook her head, stretching the wings hidden under her sweat-stained shirt. “This isn’t working anymore. I need a new direction.”
“Well, I know we—”
“No, not that!” Faye chuckled. “You know, sometimes I feel so out of place here. No one’s got time for the old myths, the traditions. Everything’s fast, fast, fast.” She spread her arms. “I mean, Nick, how did you do it?”
“What do you mean?”
“National holidays aren’t celebrated anymore, yet here you are, going strong. You can even afford your own machine that flies by itself—”
“Rudy’s a copter, Faye.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to wrap my head around these automatons.” Faye sounded out the syllables. “Anyhow, no one puts their own teeth underneath pillows anymore. And dentures, implants, crowns. They lack that… essence. I tried them all, you know.”
“That’s what you’ve been up to all this time?” Nick’s voice was quiet. “Hunting down teeth?”
“Well, yeah, it’s who I am! I’m literally going to fade without teeth—”
“You can’t just enter people’s homes uninvited. That’s not how this society works,” Nick said gently. “That’s why I… stopped.”
“And what? I realized that I had to harness technology to survive. Now I make and deliver anything, anywhere, anytime. It’s not magic. Well, not all of it.”
“You deliver…” Faye’s face lit up. “Wait, you started the Global Shoppe? That online—”
Nick let out a rumbling laugh.
“Wow, okay.” Faye considered the new information. “But I can’t just copy what you do. I don’t grow new teeth, I—”
“You can’t expect people to just believe anymore. Now it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately.’” Nick gestured outside the copter, at the neighborhoods zipping by far below. “You got to have something they want. If you do, they’ll come.”
“How would I know? You’re the tooth expert!” Nick cleared his throat. “Remember Quentin?”
“Quentin Love? That little brat with the bow and arrows?”
“Yeah. Have you heard of Love Handles? Quiltbond? One-V-One? Kindler? Plus Anyone?”
“Um… aren’t those dating websites?”
“They’re all his.”
“‘Love is everywhere you look,’” Nick quoted, scratching his beard. “Or something like that.”
Faye scoffed. “Even that guy…”
“Anyway, you’ll figure it out,” Nick said, as the copter descended and came to a rest at the top of a spiraling residential tower. “Here we are.”
Faye opened the door, but paused, her face flushing a little. “Hey, thanks. Do you want to, um, come inside for a bit?”
“No, I should get going. The missus is waiting.”
“Of course. How is she?”
“Fabulous. How do you think I got this big old gut?” Nick laughed.
“Okay.” Faye stepped out of the drone, then turned back. “Goodbye, Nick.”
Faye watched as Nick and Rudy took off and flew north, heading indoors after they were out of sight. Once inside her condo, she kicked off her dirty shoes and went to the kitchen for a glass of cold milk. Sipping the drink, Faye entered her study and settled in front of the computer. It seemed like everyone was using technology to reinvent themselves. Somehow, she would have to do the same.
Faye pulled up a search engine, typing in “tooth expert” on a whim. Numerous ads sprouted up for all sorts of dental products: veneers, implants, braces… But between the ads, there were also links talking about the people behind the services.
Faye shook her head. The answer was so obvious. She ran another search, pulling up the admissions webpage of a renowned dental school.
There would be a lot of training ahead of her. But when she was done, she wouldn’t have to go sneaking into people’s homes and dumpster diving for teeth anymore. They would be coming to her, willingly, just as Nick said.
Gordon Sun is a surgeon and clinical informaticist exploring the interstitial spaces within healthcare, science, and technology. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in If There’s Anyone Left, Daily Science Fiction, The Dread Machine, NewMyths.com, After Dinner Conversation, Please See Me, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, Constraint 280, and other publications.