The trip from Zak’s Slough Street loft to the cab waiting at the curb left him dryer than his earlier dash to the Grimrok building had. The torrent of rain had slowed to a drizzle, although heavy black clouds still hung over the city. In the early evening the lower edges of the dark mass took on an ugly dirty brown with the reflection of city lights. Strobes of lightning still flashed across the darkness and a steady rumble of thunder promised the foul weather would soon return. A kaleidoscope of colour danced across the wet pavement of the street, illuminated from neon signs on the buildings across the street. Zak opened the rear door of the cab and climbed in.
A blast of what was known as circuit music assailed him when he opened the door to the cab. He was pleased to find a Human driver behind the wheel. The taxi companies had begun replacing their cabbies with SHIAM units. The fact that the androids required no rest breaks and never considered strike action for better pay was just too appealing for these companies to pass up.
As he settled into the back seat, Zak got a better look at the cabbie in the dome light of the car. His first impression was that this Human driver was not as preferable as he had first thought. If bizarre was the flagship of youth, this kid sailed on it. His dirty brown hair hung in tight curls around the crown of his head, while the sides had been shaved smooth. Peach fuzz took the place of a beard, and he had been pierced and fitted with rings in just about every conceivable area of his face. He wore a bright purple shirt with a lemon yellow scarf loosely wrapped around his neck. Zak didn’t even pretend to understand current subculture fashion trends, but he knew enough to identify the kid as a circuit head. The kid was swaying in his seat to the ear-splitting rhythm of electro music that played on the cab’s comm unit, his head bobbing on his shoulders like some animated figurine. Without missing a head-bob, the kid looked into the rear view mirror and turned the comm down just enough for his shout to be heard.
“So dude...where to?”
“South side,” Zak answered. “Underworld.”
“Oh, hey man.” The kid turned the music down further, shaking his head emphatically. “I don’t go down into the Zone after dark. And I sure don’t go nowhere near Underworld!”
Everything south of Krune Street was known as the Zone by the locals. It was where the poor and the destitute were forced to settle. It was also where the predators of the city migrated. It was a dangerous place, especially after dark.
“You are a cab driver, aren’t you?”
“Hey man, I value my skin and any holes get put in it, I like it to be voluntary. Get somebody else to drive you.”
The kid turned and looked at Zak. He wore his fear of the Zone openly, but the dilated pupils of his eyes weren’t entirely from being frightened. Recreational drugs.
“You’re here, somebody else isn’t,” Zak said. He looked at the ID plate on the dashboard. It read Kam Shower and included an exceptionally bad photo of the kid. “Look, Kam, I’m not asking you to cruise the place. In and out...just drop me off. You take me there and I won’t mention to your boss that you’re getting stoned on the job.” He fished in his coat pocket and pulled out a credit voucher. “Here’s an extra fifty for the trouble.”
Kam reached for the voucher and Zak pulled it back. “Underworld?”
“Aw, man...I told ya I don’t want to go there.” He looked at the credit voucher Zak was holding out, his face twisted in indecision. Finally, the cash won out. He reached back and swiped the voucher out of Zak’s hand, clicked the meter on and the dome light went out as they pulled away from the curb. “What the frag. Ya only live once, right? But dude, anything happens and you pay my med expenses!”
“Take the high way,” Zak said. “I’m in a hurry. And keep the comm down to a gentle roar!”
“Whatever you say, man.”
With the pause in the storm, the ban against multi-level driving had been lifted for the time being. Kam pulled away from the curb, shifted the anti-grav into a higher setting and the cab made a smooth ascent to a height of two hundred meters above the street and levelled off. He turned south on River Side Drive. This was the main north-south artery of Sol Kappur, running parallel to the Serpent River. With the break in the weather and lift in the upper level ban, traffic was a steady stream of headlights on all levels. Residents, most likely attempting to shrug off claustrophobic anxiety from the bad weather, were heading out on the town tonight.