By Douglas J. Ogurek
ON THE WAY TO BLOW UP ONE of his new buildings, Vance saw a motionless prairie wizard.
The other prairie wizards scrambled amid the vegetation. They wanted to earn tips from Vance and others in the GlidePorches that occasionally passed through the prairie. The strange wizard had the standard prairie wizard technologies: digital sphere, e-staff, modified fingers. But he just stood there.
Red splattered over the wizard’s chest. Still, he didn’t move. Wicks—his skin changed from platinum to silver—squawked and slammed his fist on a banana. “Flux it. That’s velock.” He’d filled a tip pod with mashed berries, then launched it from Vance’s GlidePorch. Wicks epitomized build-blast clientele, but since Vance had started a b-b branch, it had outperformed all other segments of Vance Construction.
Their GlidePorch switched tracks, and into view came the lake that separated the prairie from the demo site. Vance used the wall to zoom in. A large turtle sat on the tracks by the lake. Though the infrequent GlidePorches slowed as they passed through the prairie (hence the prairie wizards), they tended to run over turtles that lounged by the tracks. Especially near water.
Vance untinted one of his GlidePorch’s walls to reveal Wicks’ weapons selection, and the case that held the rocket launcher. Wicks didn’t notice. He took a cluster of grapes from the fruit tray and video chatted. “Keep it going, Lev. I got a grenade launcher. Buttons, Buttons, stop. Don’t talk till you send that. I got some flux guns too, Lev. Cloomph. I’m a Cog-o, and I’m free.” He clapped his hands, now bronze, and smashed the grapes.
Gemsy had begged Vance for skin cell upgrades for months. An exorbitant procedure, but if Vance got it for her, she’d likely extend their marriage contract.
The GlidePorch entered a grassy area that obstructed Vance’s view of the lake. The prairie wizard that they’d passed remained motionless. He wore the typical prairie wizard clothing. But the stillness. It contrasted with the constant movement of Chicago’s skyline, and with the other prairie wizards that hovered and lunged and gesticulated around him.
Vance’s GlidePorch had run over two turtles so far that year. What about other GlidePorches that passed through there? He often toyed with the idea of starting a campaign. Figure out a way to keep turtles off the tracks. Sensors or something. But running a construction company was enough. And he’d have to ask for donations.
Another prairie wizard’s e-staff charred several large oaks. Lighting shot from his fingers and felled three birds. Not real, but why did their special effects always involve destroying things? Wicks launched a tip pod at the wizard, then took a strawberry and looked at the rocket launcher case. “What’s going on in there?”
Vance played along. “Oh, that’s not really ... I didn’t mean to have that out. Sorry.”
Wicks held the strawberry between thumb and index finger. “I’m a Cog-o. You’re a Cog-o.”
“Now here’s a guy who’s a true Chicagoan.”
“This is Cog-o. We’re all free. Just tell me.” The cells that Wicks’ renowned cosmetic surgeon father no doubt implanted gave his artificial skin a green that matched the strawberry’s stem.
If Vance built up the rocket launcher within the case enough, he could just name his price. Then Gemsy could get her skin enhancements. “It’s not for this demo.”
“Keep it going. Let’s just see.” Wicks then reprimanded whomever this Buttons was. “Buttons, stop. I said just send it.”
“But that weapon in there,” said Vance. “It’s not in your contract.”
“I just want to—Buttons. I’m a Cog-o. I’m a Cog-o. Send it and send it now.” Wicks crushed the strawberry, and his skin turned sapphire.
How would Gemsy look with sapphire skin? Great, probably. During the last quarter, Gemsy the master flirter had helped Vance Construction boost Vance’s build-blast profits by twenty-six percent. And that despite most Chicagoans hating b-b.
Vance opened the case. The rocket launcher gleamed. He knew the chromatic green would impress Wicks.
“Flux.” Wicks’ skin mimicked the color. “That’s velock. That’s me.”
“It’s not in your contract, though. You can use any of these others.”
“I’ll pay for it. Pay extra. Let’s just get it going.”
“Here’s a guy who knows what he wants.” The lake came back into view, and the turtle—moss covered its shell—remained on the tracks. In two minutes, the GlidePorch would crush it. “Your father does skin cell enhancements?”
“He did mine. Look at mine. I’m a Cog-o. You want this? He’s the best in Cog-o.” Wicks’s skin flashed green and purple and orange. “You want this? I can get it. Let’s just get it going with that rocket launcher.”
“Not me, but my wife. She’s been asking. I thought maybe—”
“Dad, Dad ...” While Wicks negotiated with his father, the GlidePorch drew closer to the lake, and the turtle. Beyond the lake rose the building that Wicks would level. The arguments against build-blast were all the same: how can you build these facilities just to have some wealthy person destroy them? There are homeless people blah blah blah, but the empty facilities were built so quickly—two weeks with the robots—and with such cheap materials that they wouldn’t last a year under normal circumstances. And after demolition, ninety-five percent of the materials were recycled.
“Dad, just stop. Stop talking.” Wicks pushed a pear off the tray, then stomped on it. “It’s velock. It’s a rocket launcher. Cloomph. It’s me.”
The still prairie wizard was just a speck. All the other prairie wizards—they were either college kids, or recluses with too much time on their hands—did tricks, they all moved, and they all wanted cash. Except that one. What did he want?
“Get it going. I got it. He says he’ll chop his typical fee in half.” The turtle stretched its neck. It was a beautiful creature, with a large tail, and it wasn’t moving. “Hey, it’s a good deal: you’re a Cog-o. We’re both Cog-os, so he’ll cut the price in half.”
Vegetation blocked Vance’s view of the motionless wizard. He did see the cluster of trees that rose, shell-like, in that direction, and beyond them, Chicago’s ever-shifting skyline.
The turtle remained oblivious to the approaching threat. In thirty seconds, the GlidePorch would crush it.
Wicks upended the fruit tray. His skin resembled the skyline’s gray. “I’m a Cog-o. I’m a Cog-o.”
Just before the GlidePorch reached the turtle, Vance stopped it. He stepped out. “How about a donation instead?”
Douglas J. Ogurek is the communications manager of a Chicago-based architecture firm. His fiction has appeared in the “British Fantasy Society Journal,” “The Literary Review,” “Gone Lawn,” “Morpheus Tales,” and several anthologies.