The Meat Wagon – A Short Story

smallThis is my second Pay It Forward offering for 2016. It’s a story for Naomi. 🙂


Steven drove; or rather, he let the car drive itself.

He would enter the co-ordinates for his location, the hover car would go. Simple as that, most of the time. There were a few occasions where he had had to override the controls and drive manually, but that just went along with what he did.

Looking around him, he saw the tall buildings of glass and steel, tall spindles reaching up into points so sharp it was as if they wanted to puncture the very sky itself. Some cheaper hover cars zoomed by him, the sky looking as if it were filled with a zillion multi-coloured clouds.

Steven saw the monorail below him, travelling through the republic like a giant iron snake. It encompassed all of the metropolis and was the main method of transportation for people who couldn’t afford hover cars or teleportation transportation.

His hover car put on a burst of speed and went to the boundary of the republic. He was to pick up his new student, a woman named Naomi. He hoped she was waiting for him and not the other way around. She would learn quickly that being on time or early to pick up their fares would keep her alive.

The hover car let out a little jingle of noises, like wind chimes, to let him know that he was above their desired location. On the dashboard in front of him, the address he was going to was flashing in red. He could see a woman waiting for him. She had short red hair and a black leather jacket on and a dark pair of jeans that had holes in them. She looked like someone from the slums. He would have to talk to her about her taste in fashion, too.

He pressed a button and the sounds stopped. The car brought itself into a gentle descent until it was at street level. He pressed another button on the dashboard. This unlocked the doors and let them know that he had made it to his destination. He pressed another button and the drivers side door slid open with a soft hiss. “Naomi?”

She turned her head towards him and the first thing he noticed were her eyes. They were a sot shade of violet. “Yes. Steven?”

“Yes. Get in. We have a lot to learn in a short amount of time.”

She nodded and went around to the passenger side. He got in and opened her door and she slipped into the car. She was wearing a pair of black leather boots that ended in a very spiky heel.

“Lesson one, wear appropriate footwear. Your shoes might cause you to fall if you have to get away quickly. Wear something sensible.”

“Sensible isn’t fashionable.”

“Fashionable can get you killed. Lesson two, do up your seatbelt. It’ll save your life.”

She gave him a cold glare with her disturbingly purple eyes. “Yes, sir.”

He reacted quickly. Pulling a blade from his jacket pocket in one swift motion, he grabbed her and pulled her against him and put the blade to her neck. “Lesson three: arrogance and sarcasm will get you killed. So shut it and listen, okay?”

Nodding, Naomi said: “Yes, Steven.” She did up her seat belt.

“Okay then.” He realised her. “Lesson four: If anyone asks what you do, say you’re a taxi driver. That’s what I tell people and they don’t ask questions.”

He pressed the accelerate button and they rose slowly into the air. Entering the co-ordinates into the dashboard, he also pressed the button that told them he had picked Naomi up. He gave her a sharp look. “Have you driven a hover car before?”

“Yes. I learned to drive in a standard.”

“Where you drove the car yourself?”


“How many accidents?”


“Good, let’s keep it that way. If you were able to drive a standard hover car and not have any accidents, it means your reflexes are good. That’ll help when you need to switch off the automatic controls and drive standard.” He pointed to another button.

“Will I need to?”

“Do you know what kind of clientele you’ll be picking up?”

She shook her head. “Not really. They didn’t tell me much, just saw me drive and asked if I wanted a job.”

Shit, they hadn’t told her anything. He would have to be the one that told her and he wasn’t looking forward to it. That’s what happened when the elders chose a civilian. Everyone in the republic knew that the elders got up to some pretty rough stuff, but it was mostly rumours. Having those rumours confirmed as fact was a whole other thing altogether.

“Lesson five: you can’t look at your clientele as people. They are meat, pure and simple. The second thing you need to know is that every single one of them is going to die.”

Naomi shrugged. “We’re all going to die someday, unless you prolong your life by unnatural means.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Fuck there was no easy way to say this so he just came out with it. “You’re taking the passengers to their death. They will be killed at their destination.”

Looking as if she had been punched in the gut, Naomi gaped at him. “Why? Why would we pick up people who are going to be killed?”

“Surely you know how much the republic and the elders control? They control how people end their lives as well. Less messy that way. The people get in your car, you drop them off and they simply disappear.”

“Why would the republic want to have them killed?”

“A variety of reasons, really. They owe money to the republic, they insulted one of the members, they did something they weren’t supposed to do and pissed off the wrong people. It could be anything. These aren’t move stars and entertainers you’ll be picking up. Some of them you have to be wary around and all of them are somewhat dangerous.”

Naomi was quiet. He listened to the sounds of the wind against the metal as they made their way to their destination. Peter knew that it was quite a shock, that for someone who wasn’t part of the “family”, what he did could be rather shocking. Peter wondered what kind of life Naomi had experienced so far.

“Sorry.” She said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“I know.” He said kindly. “You’re going to ride with me for the first day and then you’ll get your own car. Every drop off and pick up is recorded and checked via the powers that be at headquarters.”

“So we’re always being watched?”

“Yes, but they can’t hear what you’re saying. And there is a way to turn everything off.”

“I thought that everything you do is logged?”

“It is, but I know how to get around that. If you’re at this job as long as I am, you learn a few tricks. There’s always a way.”

A beep went off from his personal communicator. He held out his left wrist and tapped it. A screen appeared on his skin and he saw his mothers face. “Peter?” She said. “Can you come, please? I need you.”

He thought about it for a moment. Could he trust Naomi. She seemed bright enough and there was enough of a human spirit left inside her. He could tell from her eyes that she was curious. “Be right there.” He tapped his wrist and the small screen disappeared. He let out a soft sigh.

“What’s wrong?”

She looked genuinely concerned. “Can I trust you?”

“Yes, you can. Your secret is my secret.”

Deciding to go with his gut, he thought he could trust Naomi. There was something about her that told him she’d fought to live her life, just as he had. He said quietly. “We’re taking a little detour.”

Reaching down under the dashboard, he pressed yet another button that few people knew about. The lights inside the cabin went dark, though the car stayed aloft.

“What’s going on? “

“Remember me telling you that I know a way to work around the republics notice? This is it. We’re off the grid now.” Taking the stick shift in hand, he turned the hover car towards another direction of the republic.

He sped towards a large building made of glass and chrome. He parked the hover car at the penthouse parking spot and opened both doors. Saying nothing, Naomi got out and came with him as he made his way towards the entrance.

“Who’s place is this?”


He said nothing else as they entered and came to the main door of the penthouse suite. He held up his left wrist to the keyhole which scanned it and they heard a click. The door opened and they stepped inside.

Waiting for them was a woman. She had white hair and Peter could tell that she was having one of her episodes. He approached her and said: “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t find my husband!” She wailed. “I know he was here this morning but I can’t find him now. There are no pictures of him or anything. Where did he go, Peter? Why did he leave me?”

“Come here mother. We’ll take you back to bed, he’s waiting for you there.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. You’re such a good son.”

Gently, he led his mother back to a bedroom, Naomi following close behind. He gave his mother two white tablets and a glass of water. When she had taken them, he watched over her until she fell asleep. He got up to leave but bent down to kiss her softly on the forehead.

They left quickly and got back in the car. When it was airborne, Naomi finally spoke. “That’s your mother.” She said softly.

“Yes. She is.”

“She looks well past the age of seventy-five and has obvious signs of dementia.”

“Yes, she does.”

When Naomi spoke next, her voice was strained. “You know the republic asks that those seventy-five or older submit for voluntary suicide for population control. Added to that, anyone mentally frail or ill is also offered the option.”

“You know as well as I do that it’s not an option. They’d kill her, just take her away from me. She’s my mother.” He said simply.

“I understand.”

They said nothing further on the subject. They picked up and dropped off some passengers and then it was time to call it a day. “Do you think I can ride with you again tomorrow? Pick you up in my own car until I get used to driving it?”

“Sure thing.” Peter said.

The next morning, he was waiting outside the entrance to his penthouse apartment. She had changed into sensible pants and shoes. “Hey, you’re learning.” He let the door slide closed.

“Well, I did have a good teacher.” Naomi said softly. She reached into her coat and pulled out a gun. It was a reductor, able to fry his insides into a soft much. Without lungs or heart or internal organs, death would take him quickly.

“What are you doing?”

“Didn’t you tell me that everyone who gets into one of our cars dies? Now it’s your turn.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? The republic was having you followed. I had to report back to them with what I saw when I picked up my car. Did you think they didn’t know about your mother? They needed confirmation. Just know that I’m sorry.”

She fired and the gun and it sent a jolt of electricity through him. He could feel himself melting from the inside out. The darkness began to spread behind his eyes and he knew that he had mere seconds left to live.

Naomi reached out with her free hand and found his, probably so that for his last moment on Earth, he would know the touch of someone else.

“I’m sorry.” She said again.

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