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Dammit I forgot my badge.

I forgot my badge last night because Taylor walked me to the gig, because we had to carry drums, because robotaxis won’t pick you up if you’ve got that much gear.

So we had Taylor’s badge to keep us from getting killed, so it wasn’t a problem. And after the gig we all came to his house to hang out, and I crashed here, but he woke up early to go to work so now it’s just me, at Taylor’s house, with no badge. And I have to get home to change for a job interview.

It’s technically illegal to be on the street without a badge, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m just trying not to die.

Could be worse, could’ve crashed at Alex’s house. Then I’d be all the way across town.


I look out the window and see robotaxis and PAVs (a.k.a. private autonomous vehicles, a.k.a. “cars for people rich enough to own cars”) zipping past. All twelve lanes are packed with bumper to bumper traffic going 80mph on this quiet side street, and I’ve gotta make it three blocks to get home.

cars going fast

The obvious answer is to call a robotaxi. Paying for such a short ride seems wasteful, but under the circumstances I could forgive myself the indulgence.

I just can’t afford it. I’m down to fractions of a credit in my account, and the payment for last night’s show won’t come through until the club owner wakes up and closes the books.

I could wait. Miss the interview. Chill out here, make some food, watch a stream, get Taylor to walk me home after his shift.

It’s better than dying, but only slightly. Miss the interview, file gets flagged, credits frozen. Have to check in to a vocational facility for four weeks before I’m eligible to have rights reinstated. Miss next Friday’s gig. No.

So I’ll go, because if I go, I have a nonzero chance of surviving. But if I stay here, I have a 100% chance of spending the next month in a facility.

Peek out the window again. I don’t know what I’m expecting to see - traffic never slows. It’s never quiet. There are occasional gaps where a badged citizen is making their way across or down the street, as the robotaxis and PAVs seamlessly merge away from the human hazard ahead, then swerve back once the human’s in their rearview. In fact …

I see it.

Not just a badged citizen, but an old lady moving slow. About four blocks from the front door, heading this way. This is as good a chance as I’ll get.

Looks like it’ll take her a few minutes to get here, so I open the freezer and grab a bottle of vodka. Take a swig for courage. It’s 8am.

I grab my bag. Leave the drums, obviously. Open the door and I can feel the wind from passing cars as they zoom by, just inches from the doorstep.

They can’t feel me, though. Because I forgot my badge.

I watch the old lady waddle toward me. Another fifteen feet or so and the cars re-entering the lane ahead of her will be past the front door - I’ll be able to step onto the street and probably not die.

It’s illegal to be on the street without a badge, but it’s seldom enforced. Because it is legal to hit an unbadged citizen.

It happens all the time. Undocumented immigrants, drunks, folks with mental problems. Suicides.

The robotaxis will avoid you if at all possible - they’ve got a quota to meet, and if your kidney happens to clog up their sensors there’s no human driver to take over. They have to stop and wait for a repair crew. Not worth the risk.

But the PAVs can do whatever they want. No badge, no rights. I’ve heard there’s literally a toggle switch in the dashboard to turn it on or off. Kill mode.

photo of driver touching car control panel

No legal consequences if they hit you. Damage their sensors and the owner can just take over and drive to the nearest service point, where they’ll have no trouble covering the cost of repairs. I mean, they own a fucking PAV, they’ve got money.

The old lady’s close now. Haven’t seen a car in her lane for at least thirty seconds. I step onto the street.

She hasn’t noticed me yet, and I don’t want to startle her, and it’s so noisy out here. Cars are quiet but when they’re moving so fast, and packed together so tightly, it’s a deafening hum.

I wave my arms at her and she finally sees me. I pantomime checking my pockets for a badge and make a sad face. Shrug.

She looks confused, takes a few steps back. No no no no, do not turn around!

I put my hands in the air and take a step backwards myself - risky move, but I need her to keep moving in the right direction.

Seems like it worked - she starts walking again. She’s watching me closely.

When she’s within earshot, I yell “I don’t have my badge!”

She looks disgusted. Probably thinks I’m an undocumented. But she keeps moving, waddles right past me.

I follow at what I hope is a “not trying to rob you” distance. After we’ve made it half a block or so, I jog a few steps to catch up with her.

“I don’t have my badge!” I try again. “Left it at home - I live just ahead!”

She still says nothing. Possibly she doesn’t speak English? Possibly she doesn’t believe me. Possibly she just doesn’t care. She keeps walking, though, and I stay by her side, and the cars swerve around us.

I’m just old enough to remember when the city was different. When you could walk on the side of the roads - in fact that’s what it was called, sidewalk. I have this crystal clear memory of being a little kid, holding my mom’s hand, on the sidewalk. We went to a corner store and I got a banana popsicle.

Thing is, not many people used the sidewalk, aside from folks too poor to buy a car. Them, and the bums sleeping in boxes.

But the robotaxis made it so nobody needed to own a car anymore, and the bums … at some point they just went away.

Plus, the whole point of sidewalk was to keep drivers from running into people - but sensors in the cars and badges in our pockets fixed that, way better than a few inches of concrete ever could. And we needed more roads.

Looks like it’s shaping up to be my lucky day. We’re half a block from my place, and the old lady keeps waddling along. I’ll run inside, get a shower, wash the club smell off me. Get dressed, grab my badge, and have plenty of time to stroll to this interview. Who knows, I might get the job. Earn some credits, start taking robotaxis to work. I might -


She stopped walking. She stopped, and now she’s fumbling in her bag for her keys. I look toward my place - it’s close, but not close enough. Cars going 80mph zip around us and merge back into our lane just fifteen feet ahead. I can see the shutters shake on the side of my building’s windows as they zoom by.

“Wait! Please! I just live up there,” I point at the building, then make prayer hands. “Can you just walk me home? I don’t have my badge.”

Seems like she’s heard me for the first time. She pauses, looks me up and down. Thank god she finally listened.

And then her eyes narrow. She presses the button on her key, and I hear the door unlatch. She’s going in.

Not much time to decide between a couple of terrible options. I could follow her in - get picked up by authorities for home invasion. Badgeless, reeking of last night’s gig.

Or I could run.

If I take off fast enough, and stay close enough to the edge of the road, the cars might buzz right past me. Or their proximity sensors might detect me and course correct just enough to avoid me. Or I might catch a gap in the traffic.

I give it no further thought. Home is just three buildings away. I sprint, hugging the side of the building to my right.

There are just two buildings to go when I feel the wind of the first robotaxis breeze by me. Sure enough, the lane is wide enough that a perfectly centered car misses me by a few inches.

One more building to go, before I get to my house. I reach into my pocket, pull out my key, press the button to unlatch the door. Almost there.

And then I hear it. Over the thick hum of high speed electric vehicles, I hear the thunder of an old fashioned gasoline engine. It’s faint at first but it gets louder, fast.

Turn around and all I see is a wide, flat, silver hood adorned with a metallic statue of a charging ram. It’s headed straight towards me. It takes up the whole lane. And the driver … is looking right at me. He’s smiling. And he’s not slowing down.

dodge hood ornament

I’m not gonna make it to my door. In desperation I try to leap out of the way, into the second lane. It’s a suicidal move, but if I luck out maybe a robotaxi’s proximity sensors will notice me and it’ll stop before I’m flattened.

But it doesn’t work. The Dodge is changing lanes. It’s swerving to the left, so I’ve effectively leapt into its path.

There will be no job interview, no spending the credits from last night’s show, no gig next Friday. There’s not even a screech of brakes.

    © 2024 Brian David Hall