This story is especially for my dear friend Chris Chartrand who celebrated his birthday this week. Happy birth-day, Chris. You are living proof of the power of ‘one’. And it’s OK – no one goes ‘splat’ in this story…
Adalita stopped at the top of the stairwell huddled between two non-descript buildings and looked up at the words superimposed black against the pink sky.
Hades All Night Dry Cleaning
For the third night this week, the sign greeted her unlit.
“Oh great!” she sighed.
She rummaged in her back pack for the secrutiy card and descended into the gloom, feeling her way along the corridor at the bottom, the last of the light disappearing when she came around the bend her fingers tracing joins in the concrete blocks until the she came to the door.
On the third go the system acknowledged her and the over head light blinked on. She pressed the code into the pad and scanned her thumb. The door clicked open.
The lights came on in the narrow customer area, illuminating the automated rack of clothes.
She flicked the switch for the back area lights and pushed her way through the heavy grey dividing curtain.
The smell of burnt material hit her and Adalita raced through the work area looking for the fire, tripping over her boss as she goose-stepped her way between the pressing machines and racks of clothing.
She picked herself up and looked at him, prone, eyes open, staring unblinking up at the flickering fluoro tube above his head.
“Not again.” She heaved him over into the recovery position. “You owe me a raise for this, dude.”
Behind the high shirt collar a small door hid. After the first call out, three days ago, Raz decided it easier and cheaper for Adalita to know how to reset his system. After three years of almost loyal service, he trusted her.
Adalita flicked opened the door in his neck with her fingernail, pushed the reset button and reading from a note saved in her phone, punched in the correct sequence of ones and zeroes. After closing the door, she rolled him onto his back and busied herself with the opening procedures for the shop while his system rebooted. The creepy tones of Placebo drifted down through the speakers and the neon flickering to life at the street level as Adalita turned the sign on the door to open and flicked the lock.
“What’s this crap? Raz yelled.
“Break up music?”
“You broke up, why?”
“He was keeping secrets.”
“Isn’t that why you broke up before.”
Adalita stuck her head between the curtain and the partition wall. “No…first time I’ve broken up with Fabian.”
“Really? I can’t keep up. Especially since the emotional upgrade for break ups doesn’t seem compatible with my system and now these power problems…”
“How do you feel?” Adalita yanked him to his feet.
His cybernetic brain stared out through human eyes. At first the look gave Adalita the heebies but three years on, the machine meets human thing, didn’t bother her.
“Or whatever you dudes say.”
“… my diagnostic reports a power spike.”
Adalita unwrapped a piece of bubble gum and shoved it into her mouth. “Again. What were you doing? Trying another illegal upgrade?”
“Aren’t they the clothes you were wearing yesterday?”
“I don’t know, are they? The power spike’s deleted everything from my memory bank for the last 24 hours.”
“Don’t you, like, have a back up or something?”
“I back up after closing.”
“So the power spike was before then.”
“Was I OK when you left?”
Raz chewed at the gum and blew a bubble, thinking. “Nothing that springs to mind, but… hey! You’d better take your shirt off and I’ll iron it, while you sort out the till. They’ll be swarming down the stairwell to pick up their stuff. And I know how weird you get about creases and stuff in front of customers.”
Raz stripped the shirt from his lithe body and Adalita marvelled at how human he looked, right down to the simulated carotid artery in his neck and the spattering of chest hair. She imagined him out the front, shirtless counting coins and bills into the till. With a make over of his tragic fashion sense he might even be her type.
She canned the thought. There were two rules in her life –business separate from pleasure; no droids.
The industrial press slammed down on Raz’s shirt, one side and then the other, a sigh of steam in between. Hanging the warm shirt over the swivel chair in the office the music shifted from Placebo to The Doors.
“Hey!” Adalita called out from the office. “You said you didn’t have a preference for music.”
“I do tonight. No more break up music.” Raz stood in the door way, the look in his eyes giving Adalita a new type of heebies.
“And you’re working the presses tonight.”
“Like I come to work dressed like this to iron and clean clothes.” Dropping her hands to her hips, and tilting them slightly, lifted one side of the short ruffled skirt an inch higher. Raz could see the darker top of the fishnet stockings. He looked away quickly.
“Jeez Raz, what got into your circuits tonight.” She shifted the weight from one foot to another, exposing the top of her other thigh. “I’m just saying right from the top, it’s got nothing to do with me if we get raided and you lose your license for exposing me to inorganic poisons.”
“That’s the least of my worries.”
“Whatever!” Adalita shrugged her shoulders.
“Hey Adalita,” Raz said, stopping at the curtain. “Why’d you break up with Fabian again.”
Raz turned without a word, leaving Adalita to fume over the stink of chemical and her own sweat and him to search his memory banks for the piece of data which eluded him.
* * *
Five minutes before closing, the door chimed. Raz, old school, loved dumb stuff like the bell above the door. Adalita stood on the other side of the curtain hearing the tap-tap-tap of the cardboard pick-up docket on the counter top. She peeked out the curtain. A tall man in a well cut suit, and fedora pulled low, so the rim obscured his forehead and eyes stood on the other side of the bench. Just another dude picking up his clothes from the black market dry cleaner. It was like they all shared their best disguises out there in the corridor. Didn’t they realise they just looked… obvious?
It took thirty seconds for Raz to glare at her from his place by a circuit board of the cleaning booth, motioning her to shift her arse out the front. Adalita shrugged. She was glad it wasn’t her shop. The whole place seemed riddled with machines suffering energy issues. She was glad she was human.
She walked behind the counter and with a bored sigh, stuck out her hand to take the docket. The tapping stopped but he made no effort to pass it over.
“You’re not playing Placebo.” The voice, familiar, ran like warm honey through her body, coupled with the shrill warning of bees.
“It shits the boss.” An exploding gum bubble punctuated the sentence, pushing the odd feeling aside. She’d been sacked from her last job for speaking about the boss that way, that’s why she liked Raz so much. Droid didn’t get so hung up on stuff like humans did.
“I left something in the pocket of my jacket when I dropped it off earlier in the week.”
“That’s unfortunate, isn’t it?” She raised an eyebrow, but he kept his bowed. The tapping started again.
“I’ll need the docket, and a description of the missing item. And there’s a twenty dollar non-refundable surcharge.”
He handed over the docket, slid his hand into the breast pocket and produced a neat fold of bills, peeling a twenty off and handing it to her. Adalita stared at the hands, a memory clawing at the back of her head.
“Just a minute.”
She pushed through the curtain, looking at the number on the docket.
“Some dude’s lost his fish shaped key ring.”
“Fish shaped keyring?”
The Doors cut to Placebo.
Adalita looked confused, he’d never said he was looking for a fish shaped keyring. She flipped the docket. A biro drawing of a fish shaped keyring.
A key ring just like…
“Adalita!” yelled Raz springing to his feet.
“Fabian?” Her eyes flew open.
“You got it in one babe. Gosh we cut it fine this time,” he said, nonchalantly leaning against the partition wall.
Words flowed into her brain, downloading as though she had a hole at the top of her head for them to feed into.
Her mouth twitched.
Fish key ring.
Her eye lids twitched
“You-” she tried to say
Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she crumpled to the floor.
“I only reset her.”
“You can’t keep erasing her memory and jump starting your relationship.” Raz stood brandishing an electric screw driver. ” She’ll always find out you’re a droid.”
“So you know.”
“I suspected so I ran a deeper search tonight. Cross matched your name against my databases. You were here Monday night and Wednesday night. Three times this week. And I can’t hear a heart beat.”
“Stop messing with her head. Just let her break up with you for Ford’s sake. She doesn’t date droids.”
“Jealous, huh?” Fabian grunted. “I can see how you’re really her type.”
“Just leave her be. Or else.”
“I’ll report you for human violations.”
Raz launched himself across the room, connecting with the single stream of pure electricity of Fabian’s taser. The cybernetic-man convulsed in midair, smashing to the floor… eyes staring out at the flickering warning light on the side of the cleaning booth.
The taser singed the pocket lining of Fabian’s jacket as he moved quickly about the shop, switching lights and music off, setting the security system for a two minute grace period. before kneeling down and picking Adalita up. In the dark, with the door clicking shut behind them, he whispered, his lips brushing her warm ear, “Let’s go home and make up, babe.”
This week’s story is inspired by the [Fiction] Friday Challenge #183 for November 26th, 2010: Set your story in a dry cleaners.