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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

One Page Wonders XIII - Meat Ain't Obsolete

Flash fiction is a love of mine, and so are geeky tropes and pulp-style stories of every variety. Sometimes it's the characters that spur the writing. Other times it's atmosphere, concept, magic system, or a twist. One Page Wonders blogs started as a writing exercise. Now they're digestible, one-shot stories you can read on the bus or while sneaking 5 minutes at work!

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“Do you know how a roboticist is like a butcher?”

I scowl at Cheese and say, “They both smoke.”

The robot turns its 2420p face toward me, its lenses irising shut some. It’s irritated. “That is not the joke. Normally you allow me to deliver the punchline as we walk home together. Now you blurt guesses, as though impatient. Nettled. Are you nettled, Brett?”

Nodding once, I peer back over one shoulder at my shop—The SteakHolder’s—where it’s crammed between mid-2080s bodegas along a dim-lit street. South Hestia Ten. We turn left at the corner onto West Ares Nine and I squint up into the multi-colored lights.

Traffic lights. Street lights. Buildingside ads the size of houses back home in the northwoods. Colored A.R. guidelines snake along ahead of most people, showing them where their destination is even as they Zoom and play games and stream live on every model of smart HUD known to man. While they walk. Can’t waste a second of their precious time not grinding out as much as they can get.

I let my eyes wander among the brilliant displays on each buildingside, double-checking my jeans pockets while I walk.

A roboticists’ ad for partners like Cheese. Yes, I’ve got my wallet.

A.R. display for smart HUDs. Yes, I’ve got my keys.

Famous streamers’ faces on buildings. Eight inch Santoku knife I always carry’s there.

Cheese’s voice seems to glide through the busy night on its own frequency. “Is this in regards to the wagyu beef that person lifted during the lunch rush?”

I round on the robot and almost collide with a growing indie actress, who walks around me thanks to her HUD’s arrow anticipating me. She doesn’t even cuss me out like New Yorkers were said to do in granny’s day. “Yes, damn. It ain’t fun getting robbed.”

“Burgled, or shoplifted would be more fitting terms,” Cheese says.

“Shut your face hole when you’re talking to me like that.”

“I do not have face holes. My face is an A.R. screen and projector—”

“Wagyu might be grown from stem cells, but it’s the best of the best. You know how rare it is for a man—not a machine, a man—to reach the point I’m at in my profession? And I got robbed. Like some gas station employee from granny’s years.”

“If you opted to purchase a HUD, Brett, you could easily detect thieves and—”

“I don’t need a HUD,” I say, crossing South Hestia Twelve into another urban canyon of psychedelic ads. “Maw didn’t need one. I don’t either.”

“Do you know what would help you feel better?” Cheese asks.

“A smoke. Which I ran out of.”

“No,” the robot says, pointing his left arm—the thawing arm—up toward the intersection of South Hestia Fourteen and West Ares Nine. “Catching the thief and recovering the beef.”

Expecting a homeless person or a meth head, I hesitate at what Cheese is pointing at. A woman. Her cotton-candy-colored clothes and piercings scream ‘drama-creating streamer’ even to a curmudgeon like me. She isn’t keeping the wagyu she stole in its wrappings; she’s manhandling it and talking on a live HUD stream with hundreds of people walking past who could knock the meat out of her hand.

“That is a nine hundred dollar steak,” I snarl.

Cheese steps toward the woman, pointing with his left arm. “The thief is Angel Haynes, seeker of attention and streamer of Meals, Steals and Feels. Her audience enjoys her cooking with stolen food and the intrigue of where she steals it from and how. Most of her victims do not know they have been burgled, and if they do, she cutes or talks her way out of it live on-stream.”

“She baited me into following her so she could film the confrontation for her channel.” I consider getting out the Santoku knife. “Oh, she’ll know she’s been burgled back.”

“Excellent vocabulary growth, Brett, but I suggest not getting aggressive. You are fortunate you can rely on a partner like me, with HUD capabilities and the arm you invested in. We must get closer.”

I bend both knees, making myself of a height with the crowd in general, and we trudge up the street toward Angel. She peers our direction once or twice, but does not pause her stream to get a clearer look. With the buildingside kaleidoscopes of lights and the New Yorkers cramming the pavement, she cannot see us.

We get within twenty feet of her.

“Aim for the steak,” I say.

Cheese nods once, takes aim at the steak on top of its wrapper in her open hand.

The robot’s thawing arm erupts with microwaves covering a precise distance, kept contained by A.R. projectors in its fingers.

Before Angel and her streamers’ eyes, the wagyu cooks over ten seconds. She’s so into talking during her HUD stream she only notices the heat at the end and yanks her hand back, dropping the steak.

I slide past Angel and catch it in one hand, turning my back to her and striding on toward South Hestia Sixteen. She screeches and tries to follow me and Cheese, but the robot pushes her back with his right arm. The non-thawing arm.

Raising the medium-well steak in one hand, I look over a shoulder at her and take a bite as we pass out of her stream’s vision and into the crowd on South Hestia Sixteen.

A roboticist charges past, their trademark partner for sale strapped to their back in folded mode.

Cheese catches up once I’ve crossed traffic and says, “Are you still nettled?”

“Nmm I’m nmmt,” I say, swallowing about three hundred dollars. I ready another bite.

The robot says, “Now do you know how a roboticist is like a butcher?” They both cleave their wares. You see, it is a contronym. A word—”

“Yes, I get it Cheese. Damn lucky you’ve got a good thawing arm.”

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