Thursday, April 15, 2021

Black Money Matters by Antonio Salituro

“Honey, wouldn’t it be nice to have a human servant?” Barbara set her metallic voice on lovely wife mode.
“What? Did they not become extinct in 2100?” Dexter turned off the New New York Times’ front page projected from his eyes and scanned Barbara’s pink face.
“Apparently not.” Her immaculate teeth glinted in the sunlight.
After running a truth test, Dexter raised his thick black brows. “Who told you that?”
“Mrs. Bolt—” she tilted forward across the kitchen table, then whispered, “she told me a rocket ship coming from Earth landed yesterday—”
“You should stop talking to that substandard machine.” He turned the vidscreen back on. “She’s just an electrician.”
“Don’t be racist, please.” Barbara beamed at her husband, then she went on, “officially, it was a delivery of clothes for a peculiar shop—”
“Oh, great, human smugglers. Perhaps plotting the second Mars colonization?” He waved his hands in the air. “She should work as a storyteller rather than checking our circuits.”
Barbara grabbed his cold hand. “Oh, please, let’s go to have a look. This house is so boring. And you know I can’t resist rare things.”
Dexter rotated his grey eyes and exhaled. “Okay, we’ll go tonight, but I’m not spending any more than a thousand gallons of water.”
“Thanks, babe, I’ll cook the finest polystyrene balls for dinner.”

They buzzed up in the blue sky at 6 p.m.. Barbara led the way, flying at a supersonic speed over the rusty desert, along the M10 lane. Dexter followed like a dog, his mouth leaking at the thought of the post-shopping treat.
The clothes shop was smack-bang in the New New York city center. They grounded to a halt as they reached the main airway crossing, where hundreds of Martian hovercars slowed the traffic down. Barbara’s nostrils hoovered the vanilla fragrance released by the exhausts’ filters in the thin Mars air. Dexter’s fingers swiped over his vidscreen, searching information on the shop owner.
Moving as slow as one of those primitive vehicles they had seen in old movies about Earth, the couple arrived at the Vintage Mall, a 10,000-foot tall steel skyscraper. On the top floor of the building, a green-colored flashing sign read: “EXTINCTION REBELLION”.
As they opened the door, a Martian dwarf looked up from the till and said, “Sorry, we’re closing.”
Barbara stepped towards the counter. “Are you the owner of the shop?”
His oval, grey face wrinkled and reached out for something underneath the counter. “Yes, I’m.”
“Sir, we’ve come all the way from the Branson’s crater. I promise we’ll be quick.”
The shop owner sighed. “I’ve got a family, you know?”
“And I’ve got a thousand gallons of transparent gold to invest,” Dexter broke in.
The Martian’s red eyes gleamed. “Ok, feel free to have a look.”
Barbara smiled at the shopkeeper and started roaming around the aisles. Dexter stood in front of the counter, checking the live updates on the water price on his virtual screen.
The clothes shop looked like an Earth fashion museum. Barbara scrutinized the antique articles of clothing one by one. Mini-skirts, leather jackets, berets. Her eye fell on a price tag reading: “REAL CHINCHILLA FUR. LAST PIECE LEFT ON EARTH. 1,000 GALLONS”. Barbara closed her quivering eyes as her tactile sensors induced a warm tickling feeling on her skin. Though she had to deactivate her olfactory receptors after smelling the acrid stench of preservatives gave off by the animal fur.
When the shop owner saw Barbara coming back empty-handed said, “Nothing piqued your interest, Madam?”
“Hmm, Mr.—” She narrowed her blue electric eyes to look at his name tag.
“Mr. Musk, I was tempted by the chinchilla fur but I’m not after clothes…” Barbara winked at him.
“Oh, you should’ve told me right away.” He walked around the counter and started towards the stairs. “Please follow me.”
Barbara reached out for Dexter’s elbow and dragged him upstairs. Mr. Musk halted in front of a metal door with a “STAFF ONLY” sign on it. A miniature camera scanned his face and the door slid open. As a dim light switched on, their glassy eyes widened. Stasis pods stood on both sides of a long wide corridor.
“Please, take a pick.” Mr. Musk grinned at them and gestured towards the end of the corridor.
Barbara’s hands vibrated as she paced forward. She inspected each single specimen, twisting her square neck from left to right. Dexter tailed her wife and he shook his head at each price tag. 15,000 gallons, 20,000 gallons, 25,000 gallons. The younger the body, the higher the cost. Men more expensive than women.
“Your human collection is impressive.” Dexter turned to Mr. Musk, who stood by the door. “However, have you got anything fitting my budget?”
He started towards them, his three-fingered hand under his rubbery chin. “Human traffic is a costly business, you know.”
Mr. Musk walked past the couple and strode to the far end of the corridor. He paused in front of the very last hibernation chamber and waved his hand for the humanoid couple to come along.
“This is an authentic Afro-American, from North Carolina. He’s forty-six years old. It’d be twelve hundred gallons but can make it a thousand for you,” he said as they approached.
Barbara’s jaw clacked open as she marveled at the gigantic man. She peered at the name tag on the side which read: “GEORGE FLOYD. HIBERNATED IN 2020”.
Dexter moved closer; he tapped on his temple to adjust the magnifying lenses within his bionic eyes and examined the body’s black skin.
“So, what’s the scam?” He gazed at Mr. Musk.
“You know, black men were considered an inferior species back then.”
“Why?” Dexter’s eyes shone with curiosity.
Mr. Musk shrugged. “Just cause of the skin color.”
“That’s ridiculous. Anyway, money is all that matters—”
“As ridiculous as you were with Mrs. Bolt?” Barbara glared at her husband, who hanged his head down. Then, she held her hand out to Mr. Musk. “It’s a deal.”

© Antonio Salituro

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