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Electric Cauldron

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Ellen’s P-Scooter whirred its mellow rhythm as she sped along State Street toward the northern edge of Lynnwood. The morning sun covered all of Los Angeles but seemed, to her, a bit brighter this morning. Her skull cap helmet glowed in bright neon colors to display directional and breaking signals as she weaved around and between the larger vehicles too bulky to quickly navigate the cracked and pot-holed asphalt. She was many minutes early to get to Papa’s shop. Quite a change of pace for her, but she’d woken early for a different reason. Then a change of heart ultimately changed her direction.

The turn onto Imperial Highway revealed open lanes, empty lots and loaded wrecking yards parallel to her beeline course ahead. This was her jam. A chance to open the throttle. To hear the plasma-injectors dump, freeflow, into the cylinders. She let out a whoop and a swear as the vehicle sped along, well over the speed limit. “THIS DAY IS NOT YOURS, L.A. GOONS!”

She waved quickly to the blur of people whom she knew as the Cortez family, where one or two were always in front of their tienda, then hit the brakes to start a controlled, right drift. Pavement gave way to thick gravel as the scooter gained purchase and shot up rock and dust in the front parking lot of Electric Carrot’s Repair Shop. Ellen drove down the narrow side alley between the shop and a razorwire-topped concrete wall. Her usual parking spot behind the building awaited. She killed the engine, kicked the stand and dismounted muttering to herself as she removed the helmet, “Another day, another con from money-grubbing jackals in Shit Burb.”

Removing the primer rod from the ignition, Ellen fumbled to find the shopdoor’s key. It was mixed in a jumble of bobbles attached to her overgrown keychain. “iQué reguero! Dees, you gotta straighten this shit soon.” Moments later she found the shop key with its integrated fob and entered it to the back door’s console to hear the latches unlock in response.

Inside, 21st century jazz played over modern speakers. A willowy, black man deftly used a solder pencil at a workbench. He was seated on a worn, fourpoint metal stool and his back curved like a gato enojado. Both the man’s hair and short, fluffed beard looked more salt than peppercorn; but, those colors shaded the curls into wild patterns that might fascinate any decent pencil artist. His blue-and-white-striped coveralls were remarkably clean for being as old as Ellen knew they were. Fake leather padding had been sewn over the knees and elbows, and a green patch just above the pen-filled left breast pocket displayed the name Carrot.

He looked up from the circuit board he was soldering, spinning his wide torso and gaunt hips toward Ellen as she entered. His narrow right eye went round and the left eyepatch displayed a yellow smiley-face in hologram yellow as he warmly greeted her, “Why, Ellenore Drew Demetrius Hanover. What gets you up and going this early in the day?”

Ellen licked her bronze-painted lips and shook her hair of copper-red and black twists out from the thin, metallic band which could constrain them no longer. She smiled with a dual row of brilliant teeth. Her beaming face with round cheeks, ochre skin and hazel eyes were the picture of 20-something vitality as she answered, “Why, Papa Carrot’s Repair Shop coffee of course!” In one, smooth series she nonchalantly dropped her bag and helmet behind the service office’s dutch door, grabbed a ceramic mug and leaned in to give the 60-year-old a loving kiss on his left cheek.

The shop had been in the family for four generations and in that time it had seen quite a few changes in the electronics it had serviced since the early twenty-first. In those years, the commissions were plasma screens and Clapton coils. Nowadays people in South L.A. were about plasma coils and holographic Clapton on screens. The place had posters and stickers from the last hundred years stuck to all the walls, doors and a few windows. Even the ceramic coffee mug, a relic from the mid-50s that later survived C-Day, recalled past times.

Ellen poured the coffee and reached for the jar of pseudocrose tablets, “Is that the Cortez’s vid display?”

Carrot hummed out an affirmative before clearing this throat to speak, “It is. Got a defect in the board. It’s one of those recalled models from ‘17 where the I/O got swapped and its ports were misplaced. Of course, Oscar isn’t interested in a new part. Just wants this one fixed.”

She took a sip from the steaming cup then responded, “He’s a frugal man, Señor Cortez. Two years ago people just had the company’s drones post-swap those from their homes. Why didn’t…”

“Ah ah ah…,” the older man interrupted then turned his head, “theirs not to reason…”

“... To reason why theirs but to do and die. Yes, Papa. I know you love to use that Tennyson quote everytime we discuss a customer’s reasoning for repair work instead of replacing things. We’re not charging into battle every time we get someone’s broken ‘puter or display.”

“No, but we are charging by the hour,” he smiled and they both burst into loud laughter.

Ellen checked her wrister, “Hmm. I should open up and hit the wire. You get in at your usual time, Papa? Any calls?”

Carrot had already returned attention to soldering the circuit and spoke while he worked, “Been here for the last two, didn’t hear anything but Coleman Jones and this morning’s news about the Expo and planned demonstrations.” He paused a little too long before asking his question, “I thought you were going to that today.”

She was preparing to wire her glasses to the store’s network but paused at Papa’s comment, “I wanted to go, and show how I felt about Z. It’s just… I don’t know. What’s schway isn’t as shiny as I thought it would’ve been. They say on the news how many were expected?”

“Talking heads guessed several thousand,” he said as a bolt of light sparked from the workbench area. “I’m glad you didn’t go, but I also understand your disappointment, Dees.” He raised the circuit board to the light and examined it before placing it into a clear pouch, sealing it with pressure and setting it down.

He grabbed the half-full mug nearby, then turned to Ellen. “There are two things that I’ve come to learn about the people who want to rise to high ranks in both politics and companies: They all want to be the boss. But, none of them can ever become so unless people, citizens like you and me, abdicate our self-determination to them.”

Of course, Ellen had heard this before, but the words seemed harsher today than on most others. “I know, Papa. I do.”

Carrot stood, taking a deep draw off the cold coffee while he walked over to the pot. He filled his own mug before striding over to Ellen. He poured until the darkness reached the top of Ellen’s cup, then plopped a tablet of sweetener in, “Your father would be proud to see the woman you’ve grown into being, Dees. You don’t have to bash headlong and strong to show you’ve got good shoulders supporting what’s in there.”

She looked up to him as her full mug steamed. Her smile was met with one old, natural eye of brown and a newer eyepatch displaying a golden wink, “Well, your son would be proud that you learned to make better coffee than he ever did.” They shared a good giggle before separating and prepared to open. “Let’s get the day going. Your turn for lunch, and it’s Hercules’s Burgers today! Best burgers in H-Park since...”

“...since looooong before YOU were born,” he finished as they laughed aloud at mimicking the famous advertisement’s catchphrase.

Hours passed without incident as the morning became midday. Dees called ahead to order lunch and Carrot took his usual stroll around Carnation Circle before returning with the burgers and fries. He ate only half of his order but promised to eat the rest, “When I get hungry again this evening.” Ellen knew this was his way of saving it for her as a late night snack like he always did.

Dusk came and after a day of repairing a handful of consumer appliances, personal navigation drones and mobile helocams, Ellen closed shop and prepared to leave. Carrot’s habit while he worked was to have the vid-display hovering on his workbench all day, showing the KTLA news cycle at low volume while the jazz played over the commentary. “You shouldn’t waste your senses and power on something not being watched, Papa,” she mock-scolded him.

He picked up on the inference and replied in an adolescent tone, “Next you’ll be telling me if I watch too much screen I’ll lose an eye!” He moved a hand to his left eye. “OH SNAP! My eye!” They shared another laugh, and then Ellen saw the screen and went slack jawed.

“Papa! Look! The news…” They hadn’t spent further energy on discussing Measure Z since the conversation that morning, but there it was scrolling along the bottom of the display.

“BREAKING NEWS: Trager Security Responding to Demonstrators with Non-Lethal Measures - Dozens Injured, Some Feared Dead - Convention Center Riots - Thousands Involved,” and it repeated. They watched together as the drone-based feeds offered views both close and distant of people clashing with security robots, including combatants brandishing bats and bottles while running at corporate security personnel. Carrot brought up a circular zoom on an area near the front entrance to the Alpha Convention Center that showed how fires were being suppressed or combated by hovercars and helodrones flying over them.

It was live bedlam, shown in augmented reality. “Papa. Our city… is burning.”

They watched a while without speaking. When Carrot spoke it was in a brooding baritone, “This town hasn’t seen rioting on this scale since my great grandfather’s time back in the 20th. Even on and after C-Day, desperate as that was here in Lynnwood, we didn’t see looters and violence toward each other like this.”

The old man took a deep breath. He found a smile hidden behind his frown and puffed out a chortle, “Of course, we also didn’t have LAPD come up in here,” Carrot raised his arms to the ceiling in a hallelujah pose, “like they were ‘The Saviors of Huntington Park!’ Heh. Badges were so scattered from the mayhem of the disasters that they came crawling to our neighborhood organizers in broken squad cars just to get water and supplies. They were so reliant on getting what they needed for the day-to-day straight from the precinct’s storerooms.”

Dees, still showing shock, looked to Carrot, “What did they do? The Organizers. They give the cops their supplies? Just like that?” and she snapped her fingers while narrowing her eyes in disgust.

He looked to Ellen, “Yes. They did,” he said softly. “Some supplies, but not too much. Empathy, smarts and facts win out over selfishness, ignorance and feelings. Everytime, Ellen.”

She hesitated before speaking, then said, “That philosophy didn’t spare your eye, Papa.”

He didn’t move his head, but frowned enough so that Carrot looked more dour than stern, “You’re right. Not following that creed cost me my peeper.” His mouth’s left corner upturned, “And by sticking to it since the… Well, it gave me a kind of sight that’s proven to be better than any I’d ever known before.”

She felt the tears wet her cheeks even before Dees realized she was crying. “I miss them, Papa.”

He gently took her into his arms and felt her tears collect through the fabric of his coveralls. “I miss my Boy and your Mom too, Sweetheart.”

Ellen’s hands balled into fists behind Carrot as she hugged him. She turned her head to see the news display once again. Her frustrations took to boil, “FUCK MEASURE Z!”

He looked to the display as well and quirked half a smile, “Fuck Measure Z indeed, Sweetheart.” Carrot’s eyepatch displayed a glowing middle finger, like a neon seal of approval.