Derek glanced sideways into the sales office as he strolled by.
He smiled, then reminded himself that he didn’t really care. He wasn’t here to shop for a car–he was just taking a shortcut to The Jellyhop around the corner.
That was all.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt if he just took a quick look at the new inventory, since no one was around.
He stopped at the latest model from Centauri and ran his hands over the car’s smooth curves.
He walked around the car, noting the ripple in the paint job, which added a vibrant sense of living skin to the car’s exterior. His body ached for the curve of the full-contour seat, and his mind buzzed at the thought of coupling with the car’s interface.
A salesman popped up in front of Derek, out of nowhere. “Want to take her for a test drive?”
Derek turned away, his face hot.
“Yes.” The word flew out. What the hell, he’d just take it out for a minute.
He nodded to the salesman. “For a short drive. I’m just looking.”
The salesman tossed over the coded key strip. Derek caught it, then slid into the driver’s seat.
The car started with a purr, and the seat settled around his long body. He felt a tingling as the interactive ports embedded in his hairline allowed his mind to slide into contact with the Centauri.
Derek closed his eyes and opened himself to the mental caress of the machine. The touch of the car was light and cool, stroking his mind to an awareness it never possessed on its own.
The salesman climbed into the passenger seat. “Mind if I join you?” He fastened the safety harness without waiting for a reply.
Derek stared at the man, his breath coming quick through his nose.
The salesman looked around the car’s interior, taking no notice of Derek.
Derek shook his head and punched in the garage exit code. It was probably sales policy to go out with the customers. Nothing to get bent out of shape about.
Still, how could a man really consider the purchase of a car with a salesman intruding on his space?
Not that it made any difference to him, of course. He wasn’t shopping for a car.
The interface prompted him to finish the exit sequence, and he instructed it to turn the controls over to Derek when the Centauri was in free-lanes.
“Going manual, huh?” The salesman leaned close to peer at the screen. “Had much experience driving?”
“Yes, a fair bit.” Derek kept his tone conversational, but his stomach clenched at the man’s officious manner.
“Good. We have to really watch for that, you know. We get kids in who want to try out a car, pull all kinds of tricks, then smash the thing proper “˜cause they’ve never driven manual. Gets the insurance guys all bent out of shape.”
Derek just nodded, keeping his eyes firmly forward. Of course the man was just doing his job, but sharing a car like this on a virgin drive was like making love in public.
Perhaps if Derek kept his peace the man would follow his example.
The car had lifted out of its cradle and now coasted in a gentle curve toward the exit. Derek felt anticipation build, in spite of his passenger. Just another minute now and they’d be out on the free-lanes.
The iris opened, the car slipped through, and Derek feasted on the view of a thousand shimmering cars in a multitude of colors, with the deep blue of the Atlantic ocean as a backdrop.
The computer overlay showed him the nearest free-lanes and Derek chose one that would take them in a wide swing out over the ocean.
The car slipped through the traffic to his desired lane and matched pace with the other cars. When they were on a steady course it offered Derek the controls.
A rushing tingle coursed all the way to his toes as he fully meshed, at last, with the car’s computer.
He held the car to an even speed while he adjusted to the raw power of the engine, and steadied himself. When he felt ready he dropped the car into the lower levels of the free-lane, giving himself a closer view of the ocean. He could feel the wind ripple across the surface of the car, as if across his own skin. The smooth power of the car’s engine coursed through him.
As they continued around the loop Derek looked out at the beauty of the city, stretched along the coast like a steel dragon at rest.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” The salesman leaned across Derek to look. “Hey! They’ve got the pendant flying over the spires!” His breath brushed warm across Derek’s face, smelling of sauerkraut.
Bile rose in Derek’s throat. His entire body rejected the man’s intrusion, the insufferable invasion of his personal space.
He flipped the controls back to the car and punched in a course that would take them directly to the garage. He also requested music–an astro band that would prevent any further discussion.
When the car settled into its cradle once again he slipped out the coded key and put it in his pocket.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “Let’s get the legalities taken care of quickly, so I can get back in the air.”
The salesman gawked for half a second, then jumped out of the car and hurried into the sales office.
Derek shrugged his irritation away as he followed the salesman. He could afford a second payment, if he gave up a few luxuries. And, really, he had no choice. One couldn’t drive a car like the Centauri with a salesman in tow. It was indecent to try.
Suanne Warr lives in North Carolina, nestled between the mountains and the sea. She loves reading and keeping up her martial arts. She has several stories published or forthcoming in online magazines, and a story in Extraterrestrial Ruins, an anthology available at Amazon.com. Visit www.suannewarr.com for more information.