He took out his fold-up tablet, or flablet, and entered the exhibition address on the ticket stub: Odyssey Hall, 24 Paradox Close, Very Bad Ends. He pinched his fingers and zoomed the map out. The orange pulsating dot indicated he was 3 miles away from an industrial area with three petrochemical plants and disused dry docks.
He paid #3.50 for a ticket to Bunker’s End.
The train was filled with robots off to their assigned roles at the plant, freight and refuse areas. Advances in industrial law granted robots similar rights to humans. Depending on the capacity of their capacitors, they received time off to recharge.
A rusty WD35 sat on the seat next to him. This model did all the tasks no other bots dared do, such as leaping into molten pits of ore to test the temperature.
When Marley alighted at Bunker’s End, the droid was still following him.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” It spluttered. Its vocal tubes needed oiling.
“No. Why aren’t you heading to your shift?”
“I was fired.” Steam escaped its ear valves. The bipedal WD35 was a generalist droid, designed for odd jobs. “I’m too old they said. Burnt out.”
“Who said?” Marley shuffled along impatiently, slowing just enough to allow his dejected companion to follow. And dejected it was, its suction arms lolling by its sides.
“The factory forebot.” The WD35 raised one appendage to its head, as if it to stop it falling off.
Marley decided to ignore it. He quickened his pace.
“Wait sir. Let me do something for you.”
“I can’t see that there’s anything you could do, that I couldn’t do better.” Saying this gave Marley a strange sense of power, although he knew he was merely talking to a cluster of geriatric electric charges.
“I’ll polish your shoes, I’ll do a dance. Want a hotdog?” The WD35 flipped a hatch on its side and ignited a hotplate.
“You can polish my shoes.” Marley held one foot forward.
The WD35 limped over. A black gungy substance spurted from a nozzle above the robot’s right vacuum pump. Marley watched as his shoes and the pavement were coated in a sticky residue that soon solidified.
“This is not shoe polish! This is joint filler.”
“I apologise sir. Wrong nozzle.” The droid scratched its back and retrieved some spare parts, which it threw on the pavement.
“Forget it.” Marley shook his shoe and turned on his heel.
The droid followed him at a distance, stopping whenever Marley turned around.
Ahead was a low mesh steel gate. His map buzzed twice, indicating the place. The gate was twisted and bent in, easily allowing the passage of one person.
Marley slipped through, not elegantly enough to avoid catching his shirt on a protruding spoke. “Typical.” There was now a big tear under his arm, wending its way down his side with every further step. Soon he would be Tarzan of the concrete jungle.
The clash of steel plate on wire mesh could only be the sound of one thing. The robot was still following him. It had cut a wider hole in the fencing and crashed through.
Marley shrugged and surveyed the area. Three smoke chimneys to the left spewed forth a rainbow of pollutants.
Although the Earth was long since uninhabitable by anyone except the most elite dome dwellers, this had not stopped Cretans making the same mistake as their Earthling ancestors. Refined toxic gases that politicians assured everyone were not harming the atmosphere were slowly making the planet Crete very mad.
Train tracks spread out from the chimney stacks. If he guessed correctly, the waste and freight terminal connected with the main airport hubs.
He rounded the side of the warehouse. He expected to see a crowd of hipsters for the exhibition, because hipsters liked lining up.
There was a line. But it was a line of fewer than ten, with no hipsters. Marley didn’t know whether to be relieved or concerned.
What did concern him was the appearance of two burly security guards flanking a doorway. Marley always felt physically inadequate, especially in the company of males substantially larger than him.
Marley tagged himself onto the end of the queue, standing directly behind a tall man in black suit and shades. In front of him, an ex-hipster showed off designer ripped jeans and fake false gold teeth – actually real teeth painted with gold leaf to look false.
Although Chuck Marley’s stepmother used to take him to galleries when he was a boy, paintings and sculptures had never excited him. The people waiting in line didn’t look excited either. They shifted nervously, shuffling their feet and smoking electronic cigars.