Users of startup car service Uber got quite a shock from the company’s demand-based pricing on New Year’s Eve. The company implemented a New Year’s surcharge that stuck San Francisco-based Uber user Dan Darcy with a $63 bill for traveling 0.73 miles. (That’s a rate of $86.30 per mile.)
“Johnny, we have to get out of here.”
“I know honey, I know.”
Johnny continued to jam furiously on his phone. Red. He checked on Lainey. Less grime today. Mucked hair strung down both sides of her always surprisingly delicate face.
He tried to project confidence. He could make this work. They were going to be OK. But they really weren’t. Night was near, and with it came all the cold, violent, harsh things. Lainey was right. They had to get out of here.
The screen continued flashing multiples, but in red, signifying they were well above a level he could afford. The numbers changed every refresh, but always red.
In the outer affordability radiuses, there were hundreds of people waiting. But on their curving overpass, from which they could clearly see the tall, glass buildings, matte with years of unwashed filth, there were only a few other travelers. An older couple whose silence was one of loss, even as they peered together onto one screen, occasionally tapping the button and shivering. Next to them, a family of four had each member slamming their respective screens on a coordinated basis.
The stakes were high. If you did make it into the relative safety of New York City, the future was yours. You could sleep at night instead of standing guard. Days were productive. Sunshine washed shit away. Gold provided food.
But you had to get there.
Walking was the best way to get killed. If you could drive yourself, you would have already done it – assuming you could have made it through the bandit nests, and were able to pay your way through the tollbooths with the right mix of ID and money.
This left taking taxis. There weren’t many owner-operators left. Too complex and violent for that. Instead, a company called Uber had reinvented itself when the city gates had slammed shut. They standardized and took care of the entire NYC entry process for a hefty fee. Which, in the interest of fairness, was demand driven.
Of course, this meant it was only available to the rich, who found it a convenient means to commute from their enclaves. But every year, when the rich didn’t travel during the holidays, the rats came clambering out of the hives, frantically pushing their Uber button, fighting against dynamic skullfucking, hoping for a way out. It rarely worked out. But you had to try.
Johnny told himself, as he had done every preceding year, that if not this year, than next, he would get Lainey into New York City. He glanced at her burgeoning belly again. His will steeled. It had to be this year.
Screams interrupted his thoughts. He instinctively shielded her, placing himself between her and unseen danger. Ready for violence, again.
He relaxed when he saw it was one of the children. She had hit green. A car was on the way. Then it was there. Guns were leveled at the remaining travelers. Water bottles were handed to the lucky family. Excited murmuring. They trooped into the rusting black sedan. Then they were gone.
Lainey tried talking to the other couple, but it was too cold and windy to make much of it. Johnny continued working his phone. She crouched awkwardly and huddled against the side of the overpass, shielding her belly from the elements. Johnny curled up aside her as she fell asleep. Still, he hit the button. More hours trickled by. Red.
The sun disappeared over the landscape’s wreckage. Yellow gave way to violet to black. Johnny watched worriedly, and continued his battle against red. He absently brushed her hair. Red. Red. Red.
A sound. He saw shadowed creatures making their way up the overpass. No point in waking her or trying to run. Nowhere to go, especially in her condition. He felt the angry looking gun in his jacket pocket. Wished he had more ammunition. He turned to the older couple for help. No response. It looked like they didn’t have any protection anyway. Or, for that matter, life. He pulled the gun and aimed.
Suddenly, his phone flared in the darkness. Green. He stared incredulously. This was it. His life’s savings went one direction, and the map drew a little green marker coming closer and closer to him. He looked up again. His gun hand shook as dark shapes coalesced into seething humans.
Then the motor approached and guns fired above the violent mass. Lainey awoke with a start, and Johnny grabbed her arm, pushing her, ducking her, then him, into the back of the sedan. They collapsed into the seat as the car roared away.
Johnny turned. Watched the darkness encompass the forsaken couple. Gone. Lainey hugged him again, too tired and cold and hungry and scared to speak, strong enough to cry.
He faced forward. The lights, looming in the distance for so long, dead and calling, came alive as they drew nearer.
Part of my ongoing startup dystopia series. Read the previous installments, PlaceIQ here and Flavo.rs here.
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