He had the most boring job in the city – for real – it ranked bottom in a Kingdom-wide satisfaction survey. Traffic control warden. There were only six of them, and they rotated in eight-hour shifts, two a shift; relinquishing their soft, warm seat and sweat-sticky headset to the next with a wordless, faceless expression.
An expression that didn’t change.
He could see through the ‘eyes’ of the drones and direct their movement through the headset and from the ‘comfort’ of the office. There were physical monitors too for when the heavy feeling on the eyes became too much, but for the most part, that faint blue glimmer of the screens was a pale facsimile of light on his skin and nothing more.
Two minutes into a shift and he became a dislocated entity, a city-bird without a roost.
A little longer and red triangles flashed in his periphery. An accident. Two traffic control drones were needed on the A5 road. He despatched them and connected to their cameras; autocars shifted in synchronicity around him, keeping their distance and speed in check. As he got nearer to the accident he began to overtake them as their speed decreased, and then stopped altogether. Up ahead, one autocar had overturned. The wheels hadn’t thought to stop turning.
A quick assessment: four lanes, so should be easy enough to set up temporary stop-go lights with the drones. He commanded drone 2 to hold its place just before the accident, while steering drone 1 to the other side. This was routine. As the drone passed the accident he checked that medical and clean-up were on their way. Tick. And tick. And noticed a pair of legs sprawled on the hardtop, the top-half buried beneath the car. One shoe missing. Painted toenails.
Another suicide. Sure the autocars failed sometimes and caused an accident, or just pulled themselves over in need of repair, but more and more lately his job had become to witness the death impulse. It wasn’t the autocars’ fault; they were programmed to cause the least amount of risk to life as possible in the event of a life-or-death situation. Swerving to avoid a pedestrian as she dived into the road was not an optimum decision at 70mph.
He stopped. Horns beeped and blared so he turned the volume down. He used the zoom function and the world contracted down to those green-painted toenails. The same ones he had painted a few nights ago, only now scuffed and chipped. And on the other foot, hanging loose, was an orange high-heeled shoe. No-one else he knew wore orange high-heeled shoes and had green-painted toenails.
Blood pooled from beneath the overturned autocar in an ever-increasing puddle.
Heart-pounding, he sent the drone high into the sky, as high as the limiters would allow, and looked down at the toys playing make-believe. It’s not real, he thought. None of this is real. And forgetting he had no legs, he jumped. He flapped the arms he did not have and spiralled forward, seeing road, seeing sky, seeing road, seeing sky, until the road was suddenly there and then wasn’t.
This flash fiction was inspired by the world of Neon Sands, the first in a trilogy currently accepting nominations on Kindle Scout. Like this world and want to read more? Please vote for Neon Sands on Kindle Scout and get a free copy!