The ancient Chinese curse goes like, “May you live in interesting times.”
As Jim walked out of the little market, a Precious Bag of scarce, hard-to-find items in his hand, he couldn’t help but think about the curse. He lived in interesting times, indeed. With a flu pandemic sweeping the world, it changed a lot of the way people did things. A simple run to the market was one of them.
He almost arrived at his car when a loud, gruff voice said, “Hey! Did you get the last one?”
Jim tightened his grip on the Precious Bag. He turned about casually, still moving towards his car. “What? The last bag of Fritos?” he lied. “Yeah, got it right here.”
The fellow approaching him stood about six-foot-six. His cutoff sleeves revealed a lean and tightly muscled frame. In his mind, Jim labeled him, the Workman. The man’s stained and dirtied work clothes looked baggy on him. They looked suspiciously like they were hiding something. Jim would know, of course. His own clothes did the same.
“You know what I mean,” said Workman.
“I really don’t,” said Jim, clicking his key fob. The Feducci Veltro chirped merrily and its massive, high-performance engine roared to life. “Maybe check in the store? I’ll bet they got more Fritos in the back.”
“Stop right there, son,” said Workman. “I ain’t askin’ you twice.”
Jim stopped reaching for the door, shifting the Precious Bag to his left hand. This was what it came down to. The central government had finally become what many people dreamed of, the very opposite of a Nanny State. Along with a weak federal government, laws had become rather liberal, meaning if disputes didn’t critically injure someone, then all was fair. The non-lethal weapons industry sort of, exploded, one might say.
Jim withdrew his taser and didn’t even bother threatening with it. He just fired.
Workman just scowled and yanked the little darts out of his concealed Encounter Suit. “I hope that ain’t yer best, son.”
Jim sighed. The man should’ve dropped into a fit of convulsions. Encounter Suits were proof against tasers. That’s what the baggy clothing hid.
Workman pulled his own taser and fired back. Jim was also unaffected, his own Encounter Suit working perfectly. It was time to lean on the old standards. He pulled out his bottle of pepper spray and fired, expertly hitting his target in the eyes. Workman howled, and the smell of spicy tacos filled the air.
Jim wasted no time. Pepper spray delayed, but it never stopped someone who was really pissed. He burned rubber as he shot through the parking lot. He couldn’t avoid passing Workman on his way. Of course, the jerk swung the only weapon that could defeat bullet-proof windows. The sharply-pointed, diamond-tipped hammer crashed through the passenger side window.
Jim shrugged off the shower of safety glass and kept going, roaring out of the lot and on to the small highway. He heaved a sigh, glad to get away from that mess. Even that respite was short-lived, though. As he zoomed down the winding road, he spotted a huge red pickup gaining on him.
He groaned. That had to be one of the new Super Diablos, a pickup with twice the horsepower of his own Italian sports car. He could outrun it on a straightaway, but never in these tight turns. That was all right. Jim had paid extra for an upgrade. With a press of a button, the Veltro rose up off the surface on repellers. Its wheels retracted as his car hovered above the superconducting discs in the road surface. With no tire friction, he shot ahead, jet turbines screaming.
Looking in the rear view mirror, Jim expected to see only a tiny dot in pursuit. But no, Workman had obviously paid extra too, and the Super Diablo stayed with him, hovering above the road. As bad as that was, it wasn’t the worst of it. Workman stuck a long, tubular device out the window.
Jim gritted his teeth, thinking he really should’ve gone with the Faraday cage upgrade.
He never felt a thing, but his car did. The EMP pulse wiped out his electronics. The engine, the turbines, everything, just died. He switched over to manual mode, allowing him to at least steer, but even then the Veltro crashed onto the roadway and skittered off of it hurtling into a field. As he struggled to control the bouncing car on its headlong rush towards a grove of banana trees, the worst happened.
The Precious Bag bounced up…and out of the broken window.
The emergency break helped a little. At least he came to a stop before crashing into a banana tree. Luckily, the doors opened in manual mode. Jim shoved open the door to retrieve his Precious Bag, but Workman was already there, triumphantly holding it up.
Jim shook his head. The flu sweeping the world only killed a small fraction, but no one wanted to risk exposure. Everyone planned on voluntarily sequestering themselves. People cleaned out whole grocery stores, hoarding supplies so they could stay at home. Even the simplest things became precious and rare.
Workman reached into the Precious Bag and pulled out the four-pack of toilet paper rolls. “I knew you had the last one, you asshole!”
Jim sighed as the fellow drove away. He climbed out of his $800,000 car while wearing his $75,000 Encounter Suit, and began to collect banana leaves.
He really hoped they wouldn’t make his butt too itchy.