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[IC][ARC 1] There has to be something better
[IC][ARC 1] There has to be something better
#1
Her chest pulsed in time with her heart, every heartbeat ringing in her breasts..

Her breathing came deep and fast, panting for air.

Sweat soaked through her clothes, running from her rust-coloured hair in thick streaks down her face. 

Strong, muscled legs wrapped in tight lycra pumped her forward. A cheap, steel-framed bicycle loaded with pizza did its level best to hold her back.

Twenty minute delivery.

Twenty minutes or your money back. All at the expense of the rider. Restaurants loved it because it absolved of the cost of a missed delivery. 

The app took it directly out of the rider’s pocket. The company called it incentivisation -. gameification. The better you did, the more you made. The better you did, the harder the punishment when one missed delivery reset your bonus.

Of course, the app’s algorithm always worked to screw you over in the end. The better you did, the harder the runs it offered. From restaurants further away from your location, to destinations further from the restaurant, until eventually you failed and your bonus counter reset. 

And, of course, you paid for the customer’s meal - not the restaurant.

Meg worked like a machine, keeping herself ahead of the curve for well over ten hours from the office lunchtime all the way , fuelled by sugar-loaded energy drinks and supermarket sandwiches, 

Her cybernetic focus was absolute, keeping her moments ahead of the traffic, taking suicide slices up the inside of turning trucks and sliding between moving busses. 

Every vital statistic of her body read out in the back of her mind, heart-rate, respiration, oxygenation and glucose saturation. She could do it all night, if the takeaways didn’t close. Her body’d been built specifically to go all night. 

One more pickup popped up on her phone.

Texas Fried Chicken at the Crumlin Shopping Centre to Inchicore Square. Ready at the restaurant in 8 minutes. 10 minute travel time. 2 minutes slack. 

Easy Money.Meg tapped ‘accept’, before anyone else could beat her to it. 

Meg wheeled to a stop beneath a flickering sign, showing a cartoon image of a cowboy chicken wearing a Stetson hat and bowtie - the alone name promised something bigger, hotter and oilier than Kentucky.  The scent of luscious chicken gravy filled her nostrils and crawled down her throat. Against the cold night, the windows to the takeaway had steamed up opaque, the inside a blur of hard white lights and humanoid shadows..

A wall of vapourised grease assaulted her as she shouldered the door open. 

Silence answered her, save for the roar of the ventilation.

As expected, everyone looked up from their phones. Meg felt her mind become aware of them immediately. Male, elderly, frustrated and impatient. Already a possibility for engagement. Another male, younger, showing effects of stimulants. His eyes followed her arse. 

A third, stood at the counter, biting back on a deep and building anger. Meg looked at his face and saw the mask demanded by customer service beginning to crack.

Leaning with her hand on the glass windows surrounding the counter, getting as close as she possibly could to the innocent cashier,  was a young woman having a great time of things despite the picture of artificial fury on her over-tanned face and grease-black hair. The software in the back of Meg’s mind threw up a dozen complaints about her excessive makeup.

And the tacky black trousers, artificial leopardskin jacket, and Louis-vutton handbag. Obviously a knock-off - it was too well put together to be a real one. Glass beads decorated a metallic pink phone. A half-eaten leg of succulent chicken sat on top of a mangled cardboard box in front of her.

Of course, the woman pounced on the silence. 

“Are you even listenin’ to me?” Her voice rose to a shrill, high tone. “This chicken’s pink. Does that look…”

The man behind the counter fixed his gaze on Meg. Of course, he didn’t look her in the face. The chicken was pink the same way any chicken on the bone could be. It still steamed hot.

“Delivery 72941-A. Inchicore Square,” said Meg, holding up her phone, before placing it into her pocket. . 

“She can wait, you’re servin me!”

“I’ve a delivery to pick up,”

Meg consciously kept her voice even. 

“Well it’s my bleedin’ turn,”

Now she started to get annoyed. The carefully orchestrated plan to push an innocent service employee to point where they caved just to get you to fuck off had been spoiled. 

“I just have to…”

“I was here first!” the woman snapped. “ And you. I’m on the facebook. I’m streaming this. You’re going to make this right for me, or everyone will see it..”

The important part being the Me. Pay attention to her, not to the 33-S. 

“If I don’t make this, I don’t get paid you know,”

Wrong move. Meg saw the turn in the woman’s face-  the first real hot anger she’d shown, directed right at her. 

“You think having a job makes you better. Yeh look like a slut,”       

Simple analysis. Give as good as you get. 

“The only ride you’ll ever get is into battle,” Meg sneered. “Just give me the bleedin meal”

Her eyes turned to the man behind the counter, sweating in his red uniform. One hand offered her a brown paper bag. The moment Meg grasped it, she sensed movement - a rush of emotion charging right at her. 

Her fingers gripped the bag tight. She brought her free arm up to shield her face - a moment to late. A hard slap bit at her cheek, filling the air with a sharp crack. Cut synapses warned of broken skin, and a loss of blood pressure in a hundred capillaries

Her free hand grasped the hard bones of the woman’s foream. Her phone dropped, bouncing off the tiles with a crack and skidding into the corner against the wall.,

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, trying to pull back. 

“Back off!” Meg yelled. Her fingers clenched tight. The woman stared through her, surprised at the strength that she’d met. 

Meg felt energy rising inside her eyes, ready to burst out of her and fill the room with her anger. It’d be so easy just to put that pain in the neck to sleep right there on the tiles. One quick overload of every synapse and she’d be out for an hour.

With three people to tell the story. 

A real fear filled the air for one brief moment. Above, the fluorescent lights fizzed. 

“If yous two start fighting I’ll call the guards,” the man behind the till interrupted.

The woman shook her hand from Meg’s grip, feigning a huff-  as if she could’ve taken it further but was letting them all off. 

It was just an excuse to get out of it while saving face. You didn’t need cybersenses to figure that out. 

“And I can show them the chicken you’re serving me,” she added.

Meg glanced between the pair of them - the man behind the till with his hand on the landline phone waiting for the fight, and the woman still giving her sneering side glances

Without a word, Meg pulled her phone from her pocket and scanned the docket on the side of the brown paper bag. The App logged her as having received the package.

Nine minutes to delivery.

Meg cursed under her breath. Possible, but difficult. 

One quick argument would cost a full day’s bonus. 

Inside her flourescent yellow jacket, she felt her blood begin to boil.

“You’re bleeding there, love,” said the old me. He only had concern in mind and, for a moment, she thanked him for it.

Meg cold feel hot, thin blood trickle down her cheek, mingling with sweat and grease from the air. 

“Fuck’s sake,” she said  before shouldering the glass door open.

In the cold night air, she unzipped her jacket to the halfway point - just to let her chest breath and clear some of the sweat from her t-shirt. Meg cocooned the meal in a special pack strapped to the luggage rack of the bike.

No time to be frustrated. No time to kick and swear and swear blue murder to any who’d listen.   

Every second counted.

And she could count them to the millisecond. 

This would have to be quick. Or it would be very expensive. She didn’t bother to check the map - she knew the route well enough.  

Meg didn’t bother with the red light at cross-roads. The horn of a taxi blared a warning as she hammered through the beams of its headlights. Meg knew she had at least a few centimetres to spare - even if the driver hadn’t braked.

She powered up Herberton road towards the Canal, congratulating herself on the few seconds she saved. Another set of red lights passed in a flash, followed by a left turn across the front of a speeding bus onto Dolphin road.

Another ten seconds.

Her legs carried her at full speed, racing along the bank of the Grand Canal. Her mind focused like a laser on the road ahead. On the other bank, a silver tram raced ahead of her, accelerating towards Suir bridge and the station behind..

Meg saw a red BMW stopped on the bridge at the same instant as the tram driver. He had one moment to apply the brakes before they crashed together with a hollow bang - like a steel drum being crushed. The impact took the front clear off the car, sending the engine block spinning away in a cloud of steam . 

The tram skipped off the wreckage, riding up off its rails and down onto hard concrete, the front carriage slewing sideways as it squealed to a juddering halt. 

Meg arrived at the scene just in time to see the few passengers onboard pull themselves to their feet.

The wreckage blocked the bridge completely. 

Her jaw hung open at the sheer bloody unfairness of it all. 

“Fuck’s sake!”

In the back of her mind, time still ticked down. 

She checked her map. It insisted the bridge would be the fastest route. She swiped to the next. The blue line moved, sending her all the way to the end of Davitt road and with a double back up what the map called Tyrconnel road, but she'd know as the Naas Road.

An extra three minutes.

Two minutes overtime, would mean she worked the last hour for free. 

She knew one option the mappers didn’t.

A single lock carried the canal down below the bridge. The timber lock gates had duckboards on them, installed for the original keepers centuries beforehand, and maintained for the locals who used them a shortcut to avoid the traffic.

So long as you were willing to risk a short fall into black, deep water, or a long fall into shallow water with a solid bottom.

Meg wondered if anyone’d ever managed to carry a bicycle across them. She wondered if there’d be an award for being the first.

Halfway across, with inky water on one side, and jet-black darkness on the other, she began to wonder if it’d been a good idea. Only a few floating leaves hinted at the presence of water. 

Below there was nothing but void filled with the smell of stagnant water and old rubbish. 

The bike sat across her shoulders, crank pedals digging into her spine. Her hands held it tight through the forks and the rear wheel, keeping the weight even. Her legs carried her forward, one foot in front of the other. Timbers creaked under her weight.

One rotten plank shifted under her bootheel. Her body began to topple. She felt the weight of the bike shift on her shoulders, threatening to pull her into the darkness. A moment of terror raced up her throat, ricocheting throughout her frame.

An automatic shift of her hips caught the fall. 

A human would’ve gone swimming.

Adrenaline lingered in her veins long after her feet found hard ground. The crash had already begun to back traffic up along Suir Road and down the South Circular. Meg cut through the housing estates instead, racing the countdown on her phone along quiet concrete roads.

Stephen’s Road turned onto Goldenbridge Avenue, then up Connolly Avenue, into a near miss with a Dominoes delivery scooter on Bulfin road. Traffic waited to turn right onto Emmett road. Meg didn’t. She cut up the inside of a white van turning left, swapping across traffic to the far side of the road. 

Meg glanced at the clock between breaths. Just under half a kilometre in distance.  A minute fifty left to do it in. She promised herself to quit and cash-out for the night if she made it. 

All caution was thrown to the wind as she raced past the Black Lion and a rank of waiting taxis. 

A reckless right turn carried her onto Grattan crescent. Time counted inexorably. Neither slow, nor fast.

Her legs had begun to burn from the effort. Her throat had parched dry. Her chest chafed against the inside of her jacket. 

A left turn brough her into the housing estate with a minute remaining. The finish line loomed, keeping pace with the timer. 

Sixty seconds left. She thought she might make it with a second to spare.

How did the app handle such close shaves? 

Meg pushed harder, preferring not to find out. 

The timer pulsed red as the countdown accelerated towards zero. 

One more right turn brought her down a short road, then a left, then a nother right across a resident car park.

It saved her ten seconds over the predicted route that followed the actual street layout. 

One more final left turn gave her a moment to glance at the panicking timer - still reading double digits.

For the first time since the bridge, she thought she could make it. A moment later, she squealed to a halt outside the house. Two lamplights either side of the

It took a second for the app on the phone to verify her arrival with GPS satellites and the local Vodafone tower.

The timer flashed green with Three Seconds.left.

Safe. Delivered. 

One Box of Boneless Chicken, One tub of gravy, one large chips and a coke. All emerge from the pack on the back of her bike still steaming.

Confidently, she strolled up to the front door, and pushed the doorbell.

The door opened with frightening speed. Someone had been waiting.

Meg took less that a moment to regard him. Approximately the same age as she represented. Approximately the same height. Blue eyes. Short, unwashed hair. Unshaven stubble. A Metallica t-shirt, a pair of jeans and bare feet.

And he knew he’d trapped her. In that moment, she sensed his victory, before he even announced it.

One foot stepped back, expecting an attack. 

“You know you’re late?” he said.

She felt herself blink.

“What?”

How the fuck was that possible? When Meg’s own mind accounted for every second of the trip, and her phone agreed with her.

“I put the order through on my phone twenty five minutes ago,”

And there was the screenshot on the phone to prove it, with the overtime alarm to let him know he’d won his free meal. And, of course, that mattered. Because that saved a tenner on a box of chicken, didn’t it. 

In that moment she knew - it didn’t matter what evidence she had  the company would side with the customer when it came down to it. It’d give her the money - then in a week’s time once the despite, yank it clear from her account, just when it’d all been forgotten about.

Customers generated revenue. Riders could be replaced with another sucker. 

The utter unfairness of it stabbed. 

It’d been setup.

She sensed it. From his scent. From his body language.

It would only end one way.

Even if there hadn’t been an accident on a bridge, she’d always have arrived late by a minute according to his phone.

“You fucked with that?”

“No…”

And that was a lie. What’d he know? He’d set the whole thing up - some sort of system exploit, or bug, something to steal both a meal, a delivery fee, and a whole day’s worth of bonus stacks. 

For one brief instant, she wanted to strangle him. To pour every frustration through her fingertips and crushed the life out of his throat. As someone once said, she had detailed files on human anatomy. 

His eyes gave her another option  Of course they weren’t focused on her face. They weren’t even focused on the meal in her hand. 

Her body gave her another option.

Emotional mapping assured her it had the best chance of success. Take control of the situation. Create the appropriate emotional feedback loop and follow through to a quick, satisfactory climax.

Her body assured her it would be easy. 

Something inside her baulked at the idea. It died quickly, replaced by the certainty that this was what she had been designed to do. This would be easy.

Another voice, found a far more compelling argument. It seemed like far too much of a reward. Meg had her own, better idea. If he didn’t want to play by the rules of the game, why should she?

With one breath, her mind slipped back into the core of her body. For a moment she marvelled at the sensation - more like being the pilot of a person, than being a person proper. 

Something else took over, an intermediary translating her ideas and goals into the actions necessary to achieve them.  She felt her posture shift, just enough to emphasise some of her more physical talents.

A long, deep breath raised her breasts, stretching her jacket..

“Maybe something I can do, that’s worth more than the price of a meal?”

Her voice gained a lustful timbre that promised him his every carnal desire. Her left hand reached out, soft-skined fingers brushing against pebble-dash stubble.

A little gasp escaped his lips.

“Let me show you how much this means to me.” Her tongue moistened her own thickening lips.

His true feelings warred with the ones she sought to implant. Against the full force of tuned phermones and subvocal processing, they didn’t have a chance.

His left hand reached forward, resting heavily on her shoulder. His mouth hinged half-open, mind struggling to find the words inside the lustful fog. 

With him in the perfect position, Meg pushed.The full force of everything she was, and was capable of, penetrated deep into his mind, right through to the most primitive lizard brain, lighting up every single nerve at once. .

In a heartbeat, his synapses overloaded.

A pleasured shiver rose through his body, escaping as a trembling whimper from his lips. His eyes rolled thoughtlessly up into the back of their sockets. His legs collapsed under him, dropping his body into Meg’s waiting arms. 

His weight pushed her light frame back a step before she could compensate.

“Cute,” she smirked, feeling a little thrill of satisfaction roll through her body. 

She carried his limp form to his living room at the back of his house, setting him into what looked like a comfortable position on the couch. She set his dinner on the table in front of him - helping herself to a piece of hot chicken and a handful of chips, before dropping some crumbs over his dozing frame.

The last thing she did was leave herself a glowing five star review from his phone, and close out the delivery. 

She figured he’d wake up in an hour to a half-eaten meal, wonder what the hell happened, and then hopefully either drop it - or have so little evidence that nobody would care to listen.

Closing his door behind her, Meg zipped her jacket up - suddenly getting the impression that the neighbours might’ve gotten the wrong impression.

A giddy sense of power lingered in the aftermath - a sense of a small little victory to rise above the drudgery of the day.

Her phone offered her one last delivery run, promising another stack up on the bonus tree. 

Meg logged off for the night instead.



-------


Pt-1.

The route existed in 2016. The locks now have handrails on the and are the easy shortcut to get to a nearby tram station. Texas Fried Chicken existed until January of this year - it was the last holdout tenant in the Crumlin Shopping Centre. - and was clean and tasty,. but hadn't been renovated since it was opened in the early 90's. Whether it was better than the Kentucky Version is unrecoreded.

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.
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