“How long we been working this dull ass job, Stony?” asks Briggs.
“’29?” says Stony. He is cracking open a container of mock Irish stew, which automatically heats the moment he scratches the grid on its side.“I’m so bored I could burn a hole in my arm just to see if it’s still living,” says Briggs.
“Well, nobody ever said parking is an exciting profession, but it pays the rent.”
“I’m just saying, there’s got to be more to life than this.”
Stony sits up. His screens brighten, signaling a parker coming in. The south end hatch opens to admit a green Subaru Raven, which gears down and hovers, waiting for directions.
“Will ya look at that?” Stony says, as he waves a hand over one screen to order a placement search. “I didn’t know they still made those.” A slot on level three is located and as soon as he hits directives, the Subaru whooshes to one of the upshafts.
“My neighbor has one,” says Briggs. “She’s a hundred and four and refuses to give it up. Says that year was the best model.”
“Well, I don’t know, they don’t climb too well.”
“How often do you need climbing?” says Briggs. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone off greenroads in my life, but then my life, as I said, is so dull it, it’d bore a Buddhist monk to death.”
“What about that woman you’re seeing?”
“Lily? She left Tuesday; got all huffed up over the fact I wouldn’t let her bring home one of those short-legged cats. I hate those weird little things. A cat is supposed to have cat legs, period the end.”
“Well, sorry, man. I’m not too sure I liked her anyway, not that it’s any of my business.”
“What didn’t you like about her?” Briggs looks a little like someone smacked him.
“I donno, she seemed insanely in love with herself, particularly her hair. I got that impression.”
Briggs’ screen flashes to life. “Firefly, south end.” He checks for placement, waves over the screen and says, “Let’s put ‘em on nine.” Another car appears at the same hatch. “Check that out, a Mokin! It’s signaling to pair with Firefly.” He sends them both to the same upshaft.
Briggs is suddenly silent.
“Yo,” says Stony.
“Something about that Mokin. Black, shaded windows…looks…you know, organized crime, government agent, whatever.”
“You’ve been watching too many kickass holos. It’s probably just two partners going to work at the same time.”
Briggs manages to maneuver two vehicles leaving before focusing back on the Mokin and Firefly. He magnifies the screen.
“We’re not supposed to do that,” Stony reminds him.
“Okay if checking for contraband.”
“Uh, that would be if the cops were here and asked you to do it,” Stony states firmly.
“Are you going to report me? And bullshit, how would the cops know to come here to check on contraband unless we saw something suspicious and called them?”
“Well, I don’t know,” says Stony, “I just know what the guide says.”
Briggs waves a disdainful hand as he observes the two vehicles. The Mokin door opens and a stunning woman steps out. She is tall with a cloud of black hair and wearing a maroon suit. The Firefly hatch opens and a short male gets out. It is hard to tell his ethnic background, possibly Indian or Mediterranean. He stands stiffly until the woman hands him a small envelope, which, after glancing about, he slips into a pocket.
“I highly doubt they are partners,” Briggs says as he ups the sound.
“You’re really not allowed to do that,” says Stony. Briggs ignores him.
“Destroy it ASAP,” says the woman. “Unless….” She doesn’t finish.
The man nods, gets back into the Firefly and signals for directions out. The woman stands there a moment, then climbs back into her Mokin and also signals.
“You see?” says Briggs as he transmits the information, sending both vehicles whizzing in different directions. “Something smells.”
Stony shakes his head. “Hell, if we watched or listened to every encounter in here, we’d go nuts. How about that weirdo comes in with the revved up saucer? Did you see the time he had on the alien head?”
Briggs shrugs. “He’s just a regular nut case doing regular nut case stuff. This is different.”
“Yeah? How regular was it the time he accosted those two women of advanced years?”
“Did you see them get upset? One of them kicked him in the balls. Have you seen him back since?”
Stony waves his hand. “Whatever,” he says, turning back to his screens.
The rest of the day is exceptionally busy, especially with a convention going on, meat growers from Alaska.
Next morning, Briggs face looks swollen. Stony gives him a stare.
“Spit it out,” says Briggs, somewhat nastily.
“Well, you look like you were bawling your eyes out.”
Briggs shrugs before he holds his face to a small panel on the wall for an iris read and his puter wall flashes on. He doesn’t answer Stony’s question, not for a couple of hours. There is more coming and going than they’ve seen since the robo-gear convention in March.
After things simmer down late morning, Briggs says, “She was back yesterday to pick up her stuff. Had some guy with her, I think he was only half bio the way he walked and the weird expression on his stiff face, but they seemed pretty cozy. He was letting her boss him around like she used to do with me.”
“What all did she take? Did she stick to just her stuff?
“Hell no, she tried to get the holovis, but I assure as hell vetoed that! Does she expect me to stare at the walls all night?”
Stony face changed. “Briggs! You’re gonna love this.” He points to one of his screens.
The Mokin is back, this time followed by a Hondel Falcon. Briggs forgets his pain and takes over. “Hope you don’t mind,” he says.
“Be my guest,” says Stony.
Just as Briggs expected, the Mokin signals that it wants to park with the Falcon. Briggs sends the cars to 4 M7 in neighboring slots. A woman emerges from the Falcon and this time a man from the Mokin. The man looks like he could be a twin of the woman who stepped out last time, same black hair only this time pulled sleekly into a pony tail. The woman is small and very thin. The Mokin’s passenger passes the other a small box, which she slips into a side pocket. Then the two get back into their vehicles and the Falcon signals to leave.
Just then, another Mokin, this one smaller and shiny brown, appears at the East entrance. Stony reluctantly leaves Briggs screen to communicate with the newcomer. At the same time, the black Mokin signals that it wants to be with the brown one.
“What the hell?” says Briggs as he makes the arrangements. “I’m putting them both in SW C9. Better cameras there.”
Stony shakes his head.
Once the two vehicles are in position, Briggs glances around as if the Feds are descending, then turns up the magnifiers. He waves on another camera feature that cuts through shaded windows and into a car’s interior. No objections out of Stony; Briggs figures it’s because he feels sorry about the Lily business.
Briggs face is centimeters from the screen, though there is no need with the excellent magnification. He is waving his fingers about, madly making adjustments.
“Hey, I can’t see,” says Stony.
Briggs backs away. “Check it out.”
The Mokin’s front seat has slid back, giving the driver more room. Right before their eyes, the driver morphs into the woman they saw the first time. “She” pulls off the ponytail band and shakes out her mane, then scrambles to change clothing. They see a flash of a breast, apparently real, and soon she is zipping up her shirt. She leans into what is evidently a mirror, then looks at the vehicle parked next to her, which has been waiting with no movement of its driver.
“What the-” they both gasp.
Briggs closes in with interior sound. “This isn’t perfected yet,” he says, but they hear the “woman” grunt.
“Classy,” Stony says.
“Stony, she just changed sex!”
The Mokin signals the Falcon and both vehicles’ passenger doors slide open. Out of the Falcon steps a tall, silver haired man. The two meet between the cars and perform what has now become the expected exchange. This time the “woman” lays a hand on the man’s arm in what appears to be a friendly, slightly sexual gesture, but the man stiffly backs away.
“What are they saying?” whispers Stony.
“Not permitted, not desired,” says the man firmly, his voice quite high for the size of him.
“My apologies,” says the “woman.” “I misread the intent in your eyes.”
The man does not address this. “You are being watched,” he says.
Briggs and Stony automatically back away from the screen.
She says, “They are always watching, it is nothing. We let them believe that they see things, it keeps them occupied.”
“I wouldn’t be too confident on this matter,” says the man. “We intercepted a report going to Klate-nine-to. They are aware of your participation.”
This has an interesting effect upon the woman. For a moment, she seems to blur, then returns to herself, yet now the color of her hair has changed.
“Do you see that?” barks Stony. “What the hell?”
The man sees it too and backs away. His face, formerly impassive, now registers fear and he makes a beeline for his vehicle, but not before the now brown haired female pulls something from a pocket and shoots him. As he sinks to the pavement, she is back in her car, signaling for departure.
Briggs and Stony look at each other, their eyes wide with panic. If they let her go, what then? If they try to trap her here, what if she does the same to them?
“We gotta stay calm,” says Briggs. “We gotta think.” Meanwhile, her signaling grows agitated.
Stony remembers the Safe Room controls, which they have never actually used, though it is suggested in training that they test frequently. He fumbles at them madly and waves it on. They hear the hiss of seals and clank of bolts. While mouthing the word “police” to his partner, Briggs signals back to the Mokin while Stony hits the alarm.
Briggs transmits, “Problem with doors,” and the Mokin transmits back, “*&^%$#( idiots.” He hears curse words with which he is only slightly familiar and some not at all, but he knows good ones when he hears them. His heart thuds.
Stony meanwhile is on with the cops who tell him that two patrol cars are on their way.
But by the time they signal for entry, the shot man is no longer slumped on the pavement. He has vanished. Did he somehow crawl back into his car?
“What the-” mutters Briggs as he tries to get another camera on. The one on the other side of the brown Mokin seems to be damaged.
The cops signal their arrival. They have their own way of getting in. Soon a patrol car is hovering outside the office/saferoom. Stony sets the door to open.
Two cops are marched in by the “woman.” “Shut the door,” she commands. She has the officers in some kind of stiff-necked trance.
Briggs’ heart leaps to his mouth. “You idiots,” he wants to yell at the cops, but what’s the point? They’re both young and look scared shitless. They are probably all going to die now. Whatever this female is, she can’t be human and she’s already done something nasty to that man out there.
“You boys are going to-” she begins in a velvety voice, and is about to do to Stony whatever it is that she has done to the starry eyed cops, but he moves faster than Briggs ever imagined possible, being that he is normally a slow, lazy type guy. But now Stony whirls around, fiddles his fingers over a spot on one of his screens and the floor under the woman drops. She disappears in a flash before he fiddles some more and the hole in the floor closes up.
Briggs had totally forgotten about the storeroom. The last time he went down there was maybe four years ago. It was only six feet high, empty except for out of date parts and, if he remembers right, damp and full of spiders.
“Wow,” he says to Stony.
The cops appear to be regaining control of their minds and bodies, staggering about in zombi-ish fashion. Finally one says, “What the hell was that?” He taps his wrist and signals headquarters.
“Is she secure down there, wherever she went?” asks the smaller cop.
Briggs shrugs. “Who knows? We don’t know her capabilities.
“Is there another way out down there?
“Unfortunately, yes,” says Stony. “She’d have to find it in the dark, though, and since she has no controls, would need to open it manually.”
They hear banging around down there. Stony points a shaky finger at Briggs’ screen. They see the black Mokin rise into the air and back out of its receptacle. Then it turns and makes a beeline for their office. Simultaneously, more cops show up at the South and North ends and Briggs goes to work clearing their paths. The two cops are frantically transmitting to their associates and all at once, the black Mokin is hit with a white hot blast and clatters to the garage floor, then slides into an innocent little Ford Eagle.
A swat team arrives in three vehicles, which buzz around outside the office like so many dragonflies. They surround the black and brown Mokins in foam that hardens into a rubber-like net. All that is left is what is down there in the storeroom, now dangerously silent. Briggs and Stony receive orders to shut down all public entrances into the garage.
A VIP cop car arrives and hovers. A voice booms from inside. “I am going in to secure the suspect. Everyone stay where you are. Where is the entry?”
Briggs gets on speaker and explains.
VIP car lowers to the pavement, its door slides open and out steps a short, nattily dressed man in his sixties. His face has the plastic look of someone who has had “work done.” He exudes authority.
While the SWAT cars hover, boss man disappears from view. Everyone holds his breath. He reemerges with the woman in tow. She is not cuffed, but nonchalantly walks beside him. The couple disappears into VIP car, which rises into the air without comment from within and zooms off.
Two SWAT cars attach the netted Mokins and tow them out. The remaining SWAT car signals Briggs and Stony that they are coming in. Two soldiers burst into the room and bark, “Show us your related recorded scenes.”
Stony rolls it back to Encounter One where the woman meets with the Firefly and contains it through the most recent encounter. A soldier steps forward, aims something at the wall and poof, the recording is gone.
“Hey!” says Briggs. “We have to account for-”
The other solder moves toward him with subtle threat. “I wouldn’t object if I were you.”
Briggs swallows and shuts up.
The doors whoosh shut behind the soldiers and their vehicle zooms out of the parking lot.
The remaining two cops, looking sheepish, lurk in the doorway. “You can open to the public now,” says one.
Briggs is indignant. “What the hell was all that? What was that…that person? It changed sex back and forth!”
The cops glance at each other and back to Briggs. “It’s probably on a need-to-know basis. Just return to your lives. If the company gives you trouble, tell them to ask for Officer Redfern and I will explain that we had an incident.”
After they leave, Briggs and Stony give each other disgusted looks.
“Something is very smelly here,” says Briggs. “Why did VIP go in that storeroom alone and without fear and why did man/woman come out placidly? Do they know each other? If so, why would Mr. Muck Muck know someone who engages in nefarious activities that smack of spy work and more creepy stuff I don’t even want to think about?”
“There are a lot of weird things going on that the average person can’t even imagine,” says Stony.
“Well, maybe we ought to tell somebody,” says Briggs. “Like the media, for instance?”
Brigg’s input buzzes. When he answers, a rough male voice booms through the room, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That woman you care about, Lily is her name? And Stony there – your mother and that dog you’re fond of. If you want them all to reach old age, you’ll shut up.”
Briggs is so terrified that he fears he might lose control of his bowels, which haven’t been in too good a shape since all this began. He backs into the monitors. “Uh, okay, yeah, I see your point.” Stony is too shocked to speak at all.
“Enjoy your week,” the voice says, then shuts off.
Briggs and Stony are silent for a few moments, then Briggs says, ‘Not that I care if they get Lily or not. Apparently, they’re not up to date on that situation.” He pauses a moment. “Well, maybe I do. Some.”
“You care,” says Stony.
They sigh heavily before sitting back down. At the south hatch hovers a shiny, red Jaguar Kite and at the north end, a Mazda Condor, this year’s model.
Briggs says, “I liked it better when it was dull as hell around here.”
“Me too,” says Stony.
“I never imagined myself saying that,” says Briggs.
Margaret Karmazin’s stories are published in literary and speculative fiction magazines including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, Speculative Edge, Another Realm and WiFiles. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine and Licking River Review were nominated for Pushcart awards, and her story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has stories included in Still Going Strong, Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Zero Gravity, Cover of Darkness, Daughters of Icarus, M-Brane Sci-Fi Quarterlies, and a YA novel, Replacing Fiona and children’s book, Flick-Flick & Dreamer, published by etreasurespublishing.com.