The interrogator put a six pack of canned beans-and-rice and a gallon of water on the checkout counter. The warehouse was nearly empty, mostly operated by machines packing goods for shipping to other retailers and point-of-service delivery, but a couple locals wandered the shelves of reusable boxes, looking for something to buy. The shop’s robot maintenance workers sat around, waiting for a hydraulic valve to pop or a wire to short.
On a large TV in the break room, the BBC interview played. The ticker scrolled horrible news on the bottom of the screen: details about crashing stocks, American war mobilization, and nuclear holocaust survival tips. “Nuclear apocalypse…hmph. Kids stuff,” the interrogator puffed. She pulled a magazine chip from the grimy rack and tossed it onto the checkout. “Ready, computer.”
The computer scanned the checkout lane. “Your total comes to $57.41. I am sorry, but I am currently unable to connect to purchasing software at this time. Reconnecting.”
The interrogator’s head turned back to the TV. The sound from the set didn’t penetrate the glass walls, but she didn’t think it had to. The DOW had dropped several thousand points in the past hour, the dollar was weakening fast, and the British pound was surprisingly the strongest currency available.
The interrogator lifted a hand to the back of her neck. She scratched at something just above the hairline.
“I’m sorry,” the computer interrupted. “I am unable to connect to purchasing software at this time. I currently accept cash only.”
The interrogator picked up her goods. “When was the last time you saw cash?”
The computer didn’t understand. “Would you like to pay with cash? Ok. Please insert cash into slot.” The machine rumbled, ready to accept input.
The interrogator picked up the beans and water, leaving the magazine behind on the checkout counter She went toward the exit, goods in hand.
As she crossed the threshold out the door,, an elderly woman sitting on a ratty stool asked, “Are you going to pay for that?” She adjusted the way her fluorescent safety vest sat around her waist, loosened the band.
The interrogator stopped at the door, looked at the 6-pack of rice-and-beans in one hand, a gallon of distilled water in the other. She lifted her head, then looked to the person who’d stopped her. “What’s the point?”
“I mean, you can’t just steal that, ma’am-”
“Money’s going to be worthless in about three hours. Maybe less. Your identity’s probably already stolen, and the modern industrial complex is about to collapse. You’re stupid if you don’t just run back in there and take everything you can for yourself. Haven’t you seen the news?”
The woman nodded. “The chimera, you mean?”
“Well,” the lady said, “You still can’t just steal it. It doesn’t belong to you.”
The interrogator’s brows furrowed. She stood, loomed, over the older white lady and her curly gray hair. His lips trembled with anger. “I deserve what I want. Do you even know what I’ve done for this country? What I’ve sacrificed?”
The woman shook her head fearfully.
“Wrong. You do know what I’ve done, and you owe me more than you could have ever repaid. You just didn’t realize it was me who made it happen.” She dropped the case of beans onto a nearby table. “Let me put things right for you.”