“Whoa, slow down,” said Sintra as she cooled her skid to a halt.
“What is it?” Mak flipped his skid sideways against the rail for a quick break, and sparks few into the air. He darted his head around to see if anyone was watching to see how cool he looked. There was no one there. Sintra smirked.
“Check that out.” She pointed to an orange and green glow at the far end of the tracks.
“What?” asked Mak.
“Next to the vender?”
“I’m talking about the vender.”
“Right,” said Mak. “I see it. Can we slide on now?”
“I want to check it out.” Sintra hit the fullbreak on her skid and it folded down into a foot long bar of metal, its resting form. She slipped it into the holder on her back with a practice motion and sprinted towards the edge of the tracks.
“Why?” asked Mak as he collapsed his skid and ran after her. “What’s up?”
“It’s new,” said Sintra.
“Oh. So? They installed a new vender. So what?”
“No, I mean it’s new.”
As they approached Mak saw what she meant. It was a non-standard vender. Whatever it spit out wasn’t what they were used to. Sintra had seen it and made it out at 75KMPH. The girl had damn keen eyes. As they approached he made out the shape the orange and green took as it became clear through the mist. The shape of a can.
“Oh hells no,” said Mak. “It isn’t…”
“A new energy drink!” said Sintra. “A new energy drink.”
“Girl, how’d you see that through all this?” he waved his hand through the mist. It was thick enough to leave trails.
Sintra tapped the carbon-glass lens of her eye enhancement with her fingernail. It made a plink sound. Mak shuddered. He wasn’t a lud or anything, but watching someone touch their eye, organic or inorganic, squiked him out a little.
“Yeah,” he said, “but still.”
“I haven’t seen a new energy drink in forever,” Sintra said. Her eyes were wide with excitement.
“You’ve got a problem,” said Mak. “You know that, right?”
“Oh totally,” said Sintra.
Mak shrugged. “Alright. As long as you know. What’s it called?”
Sintra stepped off the tracks and onto the ped platform to read the writing. It was small enough that even she couldn’t see it from anywhere but up close. Mak looked around. There was nothing that he could see except for the vender. No timetable signs, no tik booth, no flashy banner ads trying to sell the latest tooth-cleaning microbes. No people, either. In all his years skidding the rails he’d never seen a ped platform with no people. Dead at the dead of midnight in winter or in the middle of the Founder’s Day Parade. There was always someone. Was this even a ped platform? Were they even anywhere? With this much mist and no one around, it felt like a dream. A natural dream.
“Energy,” she said.
“What?” Mak shook out of his reverie.
“It’s called Energy.”
“The energy drink?”
“Yep,” said Sintra with a laugh. “Just energy.”
“Well that’s not very creative.”
“No one’s ever used it before,” said Sintra. “Maybe all the jazzy names were taken.” She was running her hands up and down the side of the vender like she was fondling it. It was weird, but it was Sintra. Mak barely noticed anymore.
“There sure have been a damn high number of energy drinks,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Sintra. “And I thought I’d tried every one out there. But I guess I missed one, because I don’t think this is new. Look.” She pointed to one edge of the machine.
“Damn,” said Mak. “What is that? Why does it look all weird like that?”
“I think it’s rust,” said Sintra.
“What, rust, like as in metal rust?”
“Like it’s made out of iron or something?”
Sintra eyed him approvingly. “Nice,” she said. “Yes, iron’s one of the metals that rusted. That’s means this is silly old or made with some silly weird manufacturing. But it’s not new, I don’t think. Rust takes awhile.”
Mak laughed. “Maybe it only takes coins or something. You might be out of luck.”
“Don’t be a doof,” said Sintra. “There’s an insert right here. Give me your card. You want one?”
“Yeah. You want one or not?”
“What’s wrong with your card?”
“My guardian froze it,” said Sintra. “After I burnt two month allotment on that turbo. I told you about that!”
“Oh,” said Mak as he pulled his card out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Right. That turbo was pretty chill, though.”
“Tight,” she agreed. “Worth it. I need the speed more than I need the cash.” She slipped the card into the insert. The front of the vender shifted to a white-blue background and the interface popped onto the screen. The light was so bright it spread into the thick mist and gave the whole platform a ghostly glow. Sintra turned back to him with a wide grin on her face. It made her look like an ultraviolet skeleton.
“Look at this,” she said, waving him over.
He walked up behind her and looked at the screen. The interface only showed one flavor: Energy. It had a floating number and a + and – you presumably had to touch to tell it how many drinks you wanted.
“Whoa,” he said. “Old school.”
“I know,” said Sintra. She sounded excited. Really excited. Mak knew she loved energy drinks, but damn. “Do you want one or not?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Why not?”
She hit the plus sign twice, and the number changed from 0 to 1 and then to 2. Next to the number of drinks another number appeared. $18.
“Cheap,” he said. “This is old.”
There was a whirring sound, and two cans appeared in the slot at the bottom of the vender. They both reached down and pulled them out. Mak looked down at his can. Sure enough, it just said “energy.” It was a weird design, too. There was a ring dangling off the end, rather than the usual pull tab.
“After you,” said Sintra.
Mak shrugged. There wasn’t an obvious way of opening it, so he put his finger in the ring and yanked. It tore the entire top off in a single moment, and the contents exploded outwards and splashed onto Sintra.
“Aaagh!” she cried as the liquid got into her hair, all over her shirt, and in her eyes.
“Nuts!” Mak yelled. He ran over to her. “Are you okay?”
She burst out laughing. “You idiot! What the hell did you do that for?”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, still laughing. “It doesn’t sting or anything.”
“Are your eyes okay? I mean, they’re not bugging out or anything?”
She shook her head. She blinked, and then prodded her shirt and her jacket and wherever else the stuff had landed. The shirt changed color and design. The jacket flipped from leather to wool and back to leather.
“All my tech seems to be working,” she said.
Mak sighed. That was a relief. It was all water-proof, of course, but who knew what else was in this stuff?
“You’re such an idiot,” she said.
“I said I was sorry!”
She shook her head and laughed again. “Let me show you how it’s done.” She pulled the ring, only more slowly than he had. Once again the entire top of the can came off, not just a hole for drinking. But it didn’t explode.
“Yeah, well, you had warning,” said Mak. She took a sip. “How is it?”
She took a small sip. Her face was neutral for a moment, then her eyes lit up. “It’s good! Try it! There’s still some in yours.”
He gulped down and enthusiastic mouthful.
“Bleg!” he spit it out. “This stuff is terrible. You actually like it?”
Sintra burst out laughing. “No, it’s nasty! I just knew I could get you to gulp it down like an orca.”
He scrunched his face at her. But fair was fair.
“Maybe it’s gone bad or something,” said Mak. “It’s gotta be really old.”
Sintra nodded. “I wonder how long this has been here. I doubt anyone ever drinks it. It’s amazing anyone pays to power the thing.”
“Maybe it’s cell powered,” said Mak.
“Holy shit, Mak,” said Sintra. “Why the hell would you say that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It would explain it, right? Just a few drops would power this thing for years.”
“Yeah, I guess. You think that’s really possible?”
“Why not? It could just be left over. None of the trains stop at this part of the tracks. I don’t even think this is a ped platform.”
Sintra nodded. “We never would have seen it if we hadn’t been skidding.”
“And without your freaky eyes. It wouldn’t just been a blip as they flew past.”
“But still,” she said. “Would somebody just leave a cell powered machine sitting around? Weren’t they all tagged and smashed after the uprising? That’s silly dangerous. I mean, what if it…” She trailed off.
He knew what she was going to say. What if it woke up.
“Yeah,” said Mak. “You’re probably right. They had to have gotten rid of them all.”
“Right,” said Sintra. “It’d be idiotic otherwise. There can’t be one left, just sitting here.”
Mak nodded, and looked over her shoulder at the machine.
“Holy hell!” Mak he screamed.
“What?” said Sintra. “What’s wrong?”
“Did you see that?”
“See what? Start making sense!”
“The screen!” he said, pointing to the vender. “It changed! It was different. Just for a second.”
“Yeah. It said…”
“What?” she said. “What did it say? Tell me, dammit!”
“You said…you said ‘there can’t be one left, just sitting there.’ And then the screen, it said…the purchase interface disappeared, and then it said…”
“Yes, there can. For now.”
Sintra’s eyes widened. Then her face went blank.
“Wait,” she said. “You don’t think…” She looked down at the can. She held it up to his face so he could see the single word printed on it in large, orange and green letters.
Sintra looked down at her shirt and her jacket. They were dry. There was no sign that the foul drink had every touched them. Like it had all been absorbed.
“This is ridiculous,” said Mak. “This is not, I mean, it can’t be…”
“Yeah,” said Sintra. “You’re probably right. They wouldn’t just leave it here.”
Mak laughed. “That would be damn stupid.”
“Yeah,” said Sintra, laughing. “That would be…oh god.”
“Oh my god,” she said, her voice thick with panic. “My shirt. It’s trying to…aaaaaaah!” She grabbed her shirt and pulled it over her head like it was trying to eat her.
“Ha ha ha,” said Mak. “That is hilarious.”
“I know,” said Sintra. “Now come on. Let’s get out of here.” They put the partially full cans down on the ground instead of the vender, and walked back into the mist of the tracks. Neither one of them looked back.