“Joyride” by Amman Sabet
Marisol and I are about to make trouble.
She just texted me. Yo, I got it running! Imma pick you up.
I drop a pin on the graveyard at the end of my block ‘cause it’s perfecto for her to grab me there. Rows of ponderosa block the view from the street, and the marine layer creeps in low for cover. Cops wouldn’t see her landing lights.
She hits me back. There in 10. Be ready.
Sneaking out on a school night? Easymode in my mechanic’s coveralls. They’re baggy and rough-gray and I keep the sleeves rolled up to the certification patches. It ain’t girly, but girly’s never been my thing. Pockets and zippers hang slack on my frame, kind of like what fighter pilots wear. Like I’m about to go fast.
The old iron gate to the graveyard is chained shut, but the wooden fence is waist-high. The slats lean like kicked-in teeth so I run up them with a little hop at the end, making them squeak. The mist rolls thick over burial markers easily mistaken for rocks in the grass. Trying not to trip, I pick around the tall grass towards one of the taller headstones on the edge of the clearing and lean my butt against it; damp, but I don’t care. I scoot my bag around, fish out my phone again.
Here, I text Marisol.
Then, a little bong, and my phone blinks.
Fat insects swarm against the purple twilight. I hear it: a turbine on the horizon. Unable to tell which direction it’s coming from, I crane my neck and look down the road, but nothing. Still, the noise gets louder.
Then, at the edge of the field, the profile of an Egret sedan booms over the treetops. Marisol is approaching with the landing lights off. In fact, homegirl’s got all the lights off. All of them. The car’s thrusters blow smaller ponderosa saplings about, and I freak. That’s her stepdad’s new prototype Egret she stole! The moon and clouds reflect along its chassis and it fishtails overhead like it’s coasting on ice. Money as fuck, like a businessman’s towncar. Pop and I never worked on any vehicles like this back at the shop.
I wave my phone. Then I make hands like I’m white-knuckling a steering wheel and punch it up telling her to stabilize that shit, but the Egret yaws, side forward. Is she flying drunk? It blasts a stopping thrust like buf-buf-buf at the trees across the field. Pine needles hiss. Marisol’s round, dimpled face smiles down from the pilot-side window. She waves in slow-mo, like look what I got.
When she dips it low below the wind, I realize esa was just messing, acting all out of control, and I get all swarmy in my stomach. There’s one little bump-scrape against the top of a headstone and I suck my teeth and wince. Still good. Nothing major. A row of eyeballs—or pictures of eyeballs—open up all along the rim of the roof. They peer around, lock onto some graves, trees behind the car. One looks right at me, like güacha, I see you, fool. So I freeze, guessing the Egret has me factored in its telemetry. Girl must’ve punched in the autopilot. The eye that’s on me gets bigger as the Egret hovers close.
Marisol pops the door with a hiss and lifts. “I can’t land!” she yells over the wind.
Brushing her hair away from her face, she shifts her chair around with a crank and holds her hand out like get to da choppah. “Just jump!” she calls out. “I don’t know how to land. It doesn’t see a road.”
I heave my bag, she catches. The Egret tilts and corrects a meter off the ground, and I’m thinking this is one of those nights when we charge right at some trouble. I can just tell. I don’t really want trouble, but part of me kinda does ‘cause I’m down for my homegirl, so I tuck my hair behind my ears and book it and leap up off the top of a headstone.
From high up, my ‘hood looks dead. Roads dotted with streetlights snake around and intersect but the homes are all dark. I thought I’d see people watching TV, moving from room to room, turning lights on and off, but no.
It’s quiet in the Egret. The seats are real luxury leather, like you’d see in those oldschool gas-powered Bentleys from back in the day. The cabin lights are off except the electric readouts on the windshield—the point cloud overlaying the ground, airspeed, wind, altitude—all making our faces blue. My shelltops bump a brown bag clinking with ice-cold pistos on the floor. Like, this here’s a poster of what not to do when piloting a flying car.
The air pressure makes Marisol sound far away. She pokes my shoulder and I fake like I’m deaf ‘cause my ears haven’t equalized, so she lets go of the yoke. I momentarily freak as she reaches down, plucks a beer from the bag and shoves it cold against my teta. My ears pop.
If I put my mind on what her stepdad’s gonna do when he finds out she ganked his Egret…eesh! Like, I know he gets the employee discount, and that they’re well-off now, even by whitefolks standards, but antigrav costs some serious feria.
And Marisol’s mom. God, I don’t know why she got with that fool. Like, maybe it’s ‘cause she wanted to marry white ‘cause she’s white too, even though Marisol got the Chicano blood from her real dad. And you know, it could be like a money thing, too. Like her mom married rich ‘cause she wanted Marisol to go to a good college someday and keep out the ‘hood. I’ve seen how her stepdad holds money over them all the time, like they should be grateful. Like they need to learn to appreciate money. No joke, that’s what that fool told Marisol when he bought us hot dogs that one time after soccer practice. That you’ve got to appreciate money.
I’ll tell you straight up, Marisol and I are appreciating the fuck out of his money right now. The skyways are more or less a legal thing in Califas now. Like, barely. But most folks don’t have enough to shell out for the privilege of flying over traffic like a baller.
“We’re stopping for McNaire,” Marisol hollers over the air pressure.
“McNaire. Claire McNaire.”
Marisol knows a few rich girls from school who go to different parties in the hills. I say this like I go to parties too, but I sorta “hang out” more than I go to parties. Like, you can catch me around Pizza Train by the station playing Lunar Lander, or watching TV in someone’s garage or something like that. Don’t get it twisted. I like parties. But if I get invited, it ain’t gonna be like no house party from some ‘80s movie. More like a backyard party en el barrio and those kids don’t get down with güeros.
Marisol cranes her neck to see if she can recognize any landmarks around the part of town we’re flying over. She homes in on a park where the houses are large and in charge, with pools and multiple cars. Something about that affluence frightens me. Like, I feel like we shouldn’t even be flying over these homes. Like they are already calling the cops. Every home’s got a silver-haired white dude narcing us out from his bedroom window, clutching his bathrobe and shaking an old-ass fist at the sky and giving coordinates to la jura over the phone and shit.
We dive-bomb the park and I freak.
I press hands and feet against the dash and scream “Oh fuck, ni madres! Slow down, cabrona!” but Marisol’s steering with that hellyeah look on her face. The metal swing sets and benches are getting close and I think about how they could probably rip right through the Egret and, dang, should the Earth really be at that angle? I feel like I’m gonna puke or fill my chones and I shut my eyes and tense my stomach and clutch the handle over the passenger-side window. Marisol yaws and rolls. Thrusters correct with a series of microblasts like pah-pah-pah. Then I open my eyes and we’re sliding around on a cushion of air, right over the baseball diamond.
“Hey, get in the back.”
“What? Why can’t I ride shottie?”
I peep this girl in the outfield wearing yoga pants, with long blonde hair under a velvet-black hoodie. She’s holding her phone to her face, glancing around all shifty like Luluninja. Marisol reaches over me to swing the door open, retracts my harness with a zippp.
“Come on, Luísa, make room. I can’t land this thing.”
Fine. I climb in back where it’s deep like a catcher’s mitt and the console ain’t so bright. The choom of antigrav coursing under the seat makes my butt tingle. This Claire girl climbs into shotgun and pulls the door down with a weak-ass yank. It closes itself the rest of the way as she combs and ties her blonde hair back, pulls the flight harness on.
“Oh my God. Mar, if we get caught we are so screwed,” she says with her fingers all splayed out, and then goes “Aah!” like she’s fake-surprised. Marisol bounces her back against her seat, biting her tongue, all excited.
Claire turns to me quickly and says “Hi,” and turns back.
Then she turns again as if thinking she should’ve made a friendlier introduction and says, “I’m Claire,” and holds her hand out.
I grab it in an overhand clasp and say, “Luísa,” as if to make a point that I don’t truck with all that girly stuff.
“Oh, right!” She points to me, looks at Marisol. “We’re both in Mr. Dema’s history class. Uh…Pizza Train!”
I’ve seen her. At school. Rolling with a different crew. I look in the rearview at Marisol, trying to read her grill, wondering how they know each other. I bet they get all chismosa together. Marisol’s different when she’s around other people. Like, what’s up with this “Mar” nonsense? I bet she probably explained to this Claire girl how like, oh, Luísa’s my queer Mexican friend who, uh, sometimes likes girls. And maybe she said it in a polite way like she owns her shit and I’m part of her diversified friend collection. Not like, oh here’s Luísa and we grew up together.
I feel like the appearance of our history as friends gets managed based on who she talks to. When people meet us together and it looks too much like we’re besties, she always sneaks it in somehow that she’s got other kinds of friends too, as if that new person might wonder if she also likes girls ‘cause we’re too close.
Look, I know Marisol is expanding her social horizons so I’m not gonna blow her spot up. Just as long as she don’t pretend not to know me ’cause I work a mechanic pit and not at some frozen yogurt shop like the fresas do for summer scratch. It’s different. And I guess she has to code how she acts to her other circles differently, but I think that shit’s cowardly, fitting friends into neat little collection boxes. And yeah, I guess it does make me despise her a little. Damn, I don’t know why I’m getting all fired up about this.
When we clear the ridge outside of town, Marisol hits autopilot and clanks her seat around towards the center of the cabin.
“Um, hellsyeah.” Claire’s down.
I wonder if Marisol is for real and if the Egret handles flying internationally, or if that’s even legal. Probably not. “What about the border?” I ask. “I ain’t got a passport.”
“We can just fly over wherever the wall’s not guarded.” She’s resolved.
“No, you don’t get it.” I pull my hair back under the moon roof to elucidate how my features are darker than theirs. “You blanquitas will be fine, but I’ll get my ass detained coming back in.”
“Um, but we’re flying,” Claire says flatly.
“Um, but how about when we land?”
Marisol groans. “Jesus, Luísa, will you relax? We aren’t touching down at the border control.”
I hate how she doesn’t think about these things. She doesn’t have to. She just waves her hand at my situation like any other trouble. Like stealing her stepdad’s prototype Egret—she’ll probably wave her hands at this too. So will Claire. And all the trouble they’re in will go away and I’ll have to hope that they remember to wave their hands for me too.
We coast along the arc of the sky and I can’t make out the things on the ground because it’s getting dark. There’s no road to shine headlights on, only the point cloud reflecting what the Egret sees. I guess Marisol and Claire are cool with this. They’re texting ‘cause of the altitude, and Marisol nudges the yoke every couple of seconds.
Then she pulls a face, swipes something on her phone, puts it away real quick. I guess it was her stepdad. He knows. I can tell Claire thinks the same ‘cause she gets all quiet. Trying to lighten the mood, she cracks a beer, passes one back to me and one to Marisol, who grins all timid, mouths, “one” to us with one finger out, as if that’s showing some good judgement. I’m guessing the legal limit is like zero drinks for three underage mensas flying a car. But I’m pretty sure the Egret’s doing most of the flying anyways.
Commercial flightpaths blip into view over San Diego in multiplying arcs. I can see the actual planes circling through the night sky, shining cones of faint light ahead of them. The word “recalculating” appears on the windshield, and a waypoint adds itself to our flight path: “US/Mexico Checkpoint.”
“Oh hells no. Dead that shit,” I say, pointing.
“I’ve got this,” Claire says. She puts her beer down, wrings her hands, and I’m hoping she wants to jam. But instead she flicks on the overhead, pulls a weird yellow wire from her hoodie, and clicks her phone into a port under the dash. “Okay, fly towards the beach, Mar.”
I shake the corners of both their seats from behind. “No, for reals, I ain’t feeling this. Let’s go back.”
Marisol comes clean. “The police already know.”
“Psh. Knew it.”
“No, we’re good,” Claire reassures, as if she’s been in on this more than I was from the get-go. Watching over her shoulder, she’s tapping some strange lines of multicolored script on her phone. By the way the blocks of text build on her screen, it seems like other people are entering code along with her. All with different screen names. Like they are all working on the same file or something. Claire taps “compile” and her phone cycles. “Detour_01” blips onto the windshield, out over the water west of San Diego, and the Egret recalculates the flightpath, ignoring the border requirement.
“Dang, McNaire,” I say under my hand, fathoming her skills. “How’d you pull—”
But the detour leads under the commercial flightpaths, so the Egret dives again. Fast. The suburbs rush up and the sprawl is a wall I’m scared we’ll hit. Hands pressed on the backs of their seats, I swallow back the sick as the point cloud shudders and crunches flat into a blob of blue dots. I can see the streets clearly now. Busses and cars stopped at streetlights. Hills with houses and telephone poles. The thrusters even out, and as we level off I wonder if I’m ever gonna get used to the ground wobbling below us like that.
Was that a cop? I think a cruiser flashed its lights underneath us. I don’t know if it could’ve seen us, but I reach up anyway and flick off the overhead. Things are quiet for a moment while we stealth over the tiled rooftops. I’m starting to see how Marisol already had some ideas about what we’re doing, some need-to-know shit that I just got sucked into. Some game she’s already running. It’s always like that. We never agree on some trouble we’re gonna get into together, she just makes me think that’s the case and then I get chumped into some bigger shit that’s already happening. She never lets me in all the way, just enough to drag me along. Then, when it’s too late, she leans on the fact that I’m down for her. Thinking I’mma spit my mind, I open my mouth like I’m about to, but her eyes suddenly go wide. A big rotating red circle appears on the windshield with the word “connecting”.
A voice over the speakers. “Marisol?” The tinny creak of someone adjusting a flexible microphone vibrates my earholes. “Can she hear me? Marisol?”
“Is that your stepdad?” Clare whispers.
Marisol hushes us.
“She’s there,” her stepdad confirms to someone at his end. “We can see you. We’re tracking where you are, you spoiled little…Turn the remote pilot back on. Right. Now.”
I notice the camera in the rearview mirror blinking a little green light. Marisol is frozen with terror. I see it in her face, like she’s cornered. And something kicks off inside me. I don’t know why I do this next thing. Maybe it’s ‘cause I know how to, and that’s what makes it seem like a good idea. Maybe it’s ‘cause I know a bit about how Marisol feels about her stepdad, and how he is with her. And I think about how I feel about Marisol, and who she is below the surface when it’s just us two. I flick out my utility knife from my coveralls. Stabbing it into the top of the headrest behind me, I yank its serrated blade right, gaping a slash across the leather piping. Rrrrrip!
“Stop!” Marisol’s dad hollers.
But I’m already going to town, shanking up this fool’s back seat. I know what I’m looking for: an ECU that handles fleet tracking. I’ve seen them on cabs in the mechanic shop. See, every car has electronic control units, and they all do different things. Some do the important stuff like regulate transmission. Others manage doors and seats and stuff. A fleet tracking ECU would probably be in the trunk near the antenna, so I’m carving away at this mother, jamming the blade as deep and as fast as I can.
Marisol’s stepdad is all, “Who’s that? That girl in the back…Luísa? Is that Luísa?”
And something snaps in Marisol too. She screams “Shut the fuck up, Jerry!” and leans back and boots the rearview mirror off the windshield, sending it clattering among the empties on the floor.
I’m elbow-deep in the seat, ripping out foam like it’s Christmas, when my fingers bump up against something. I find it. Or I think I do. There’s a cluster of ECUs under a trunk panel. I can feel with my fingertips where the plugs go in, but I’m worried I’m gonna pull the wrong one and set the airbags off or something.
“It’s this one! The one with the logo.” Claire hands her phone back to me and she’s got up a schematic of a blue EOBD5-standard box with the vendor’s logo.
I’m like yo, what the eff…McNaire with the assist!
“You gotta pull the whole thing out,” she says. “It’s battery-powered, so we gotta toss it.”
Using her phone as a flashlight, I yank cables and my stomach hits my throat as the antigrav circulating through the Egret’s frame goes silent. My body lifts off the back seat in freefall.
Oops. Wrong one.
“I got it! I got it!” Marisol hollers.
But she don’t got it.
Claire reaches over, trying to help control the yoke, but it makes things worse. We bottom out, a violent scrape under the fuselage. Was that a highway sign? Sparks shower out and I slam off my seat, reaching for my knife, which is also tumbling in mid-air. The ground explodes up at us and the windshield blinks “collision.” All the eyeballs open along the chassis, mad-dogging the danger points and outlining them on the windshield. The antigrav is dead, but the thrusters still have power and they roto-orient, firing hard to keep us up, maneuvering away from the street, a cluster of traffic lights, a delivery truck. Feeling with my fingers, I manage to click the cable back in with my fingertip and choom! Antigrav ramifies the cabin, panels clattering.
Stabilized, hovering over traffic, control dampens back to Marisol’s yoke. Drivers and passengers rubberneck from under their windshields, squinting up against the Egret’s ground lights. I find my knife stuck in the seat cushion next to me.
Claire lifts the door and hurls the fleet tracking unit out onto the median. I’m all fired up from the adrenaline and I feel like I’ve been played. I just can’t really say about what. I mean, how is Claire ‘gonna front like she knows her way around este carucha like I do?
“Yo, McNaire. You some kinda expert on flying cars?”
“Can I have my phone back?” She reaches, but I lean away.
“Hold up—” I’m scrolling. “Who are these people you’re texting? What’s a MoleFang? Is that you? Chale, Marisol. She’s sending pictures of the Egret to her friends.”
“Mar said it’s okay! Look.” Claire swipes her phone back. “See? It’s just a harmless game. MoleFang, that’s my handle. These others are on my team. I mean, yeah, we hack stuff, but it’s just for points and—”
Marisol holds a hand up. “Luísa, I asked her to come because she knows how to force the Egret to do things. Like ignore the border. Also, she’s my friend. Can’t a vouch be enough?”
“Psh. Always something I don’t know.”
“No, listen,” Marisol insists. “I found my dad, okay? My real dad. That’s why we’re heading to Mexico.” She’s jittery from almost crashing. I hear it in her voice. “He’s living in Ensenada. I just didn’t say right away ‘cause I’m still not sure if I’m ready to meet him. Like, what if he doesn’t remember me? Or what if he’s still mad from when mom ditched when she was pregnant?”
“Guys,” Claire tries to cut in, but Marisol keeps on, doing that rigid-hand karate-chop thing against her other palm when she yells.
“…And you always criticize me porque estaba siendo malinchista and I don’t act down enough for you. I need my best friend Luísa, but she’s got some stick up her butt about the border. Remember you promised you’d always have my back? Seems like you’d rather hang back and judge on everyone.”
“Can you two stop for a second? Look!” Claire points.
Down the highway, a line of police cruisers. They’re bombing at us along the shoulder, past the traffic. I see little red and blue flashing lights lift up and off from the roof of the one in front.
“Pinche moscóne. Yo, that’s a police drone.”
I’ve watched these drones before, chasing perps on episodes of PoPoLolz. It always ends in some tear-gassed dreadies stampeding and tripping on each other, or some fool getting darted up behind a dumpster. Five-oh gets military hand-me-downs. They want you to run where they can’t drive so they can fly their new toys after you.
“I think we can lose it.” Marisol’s jaw is clenching.
“It might have a limited range,” Claire suggests. “We could ditch it over the water.”
We look at each other with an are we really doing this look on our faces. Claire and Marisol clank their seats forward, buckle down. I fish around for my seatbelt thinking now we’re in some shit.
Marisol slams the throttle and the thrusters rotate backwards. The cabin shudders. My back and head press against my seat as the airspeed bars stack on the windshield. Behind, the drone closes on us, big as an albatross. Through the rear windshield I can see its turbines, the binocular camera protruding from the front, just like on the show. I know some pig is flying it from the cruiser with a visor on, so I flip a double bird back at them as we blast over a hill.
Gunning for Detour_01 out over the water, the topography scales below us from hills to flats. We bomb across Interstate 5. Then the 101. People on the beach point and dive for cover as we scream over a bonfire, a lifeguard tower, the surf. Sea spray flushes through the vents and I smell the brine. Behind us, the drone narrows the gap, seconds away. Red and blue flashing against the backs of our seats.
“Faster! Dale gas!”
“It won’t go faster!”
Claire clicks her phone in under the dashboard and says “Let me see if I can—”
A harpoon barb punches into the Egret’s trunk before we can gain any more speed. With the drone reeling the cable in tight, I’m thinking dang, that’s a done deal right there. But Marisol gets the bright idea to pull the air brake. Loca just reaches down and yanks the lever without warning. Metal panels crank open like sails from the back of the Egret, crashing against the wind as the thrusters rotate forward. Our heads all nod at the same time and my vision goes dim as we decelerate in seconds. Unable to stop or pull up because of the cable, the drone smashes pow into the back bumper. Metal on metal, clattering over the cabin. Fragments tumble around us, then down into the water. With a loud wropp, the break flaps snap off and kite back into the wind.
“Hoooleee…” Claire looks back over her headrest.
My eyes are splotchy from so much blood rushing to my head. We’re still up, coasting over the water about a mile out, but the Egret sounds jacked-up. Something’s rattling on the left side and a crack along the windshield is hissing air. The harpoon’s cable, knocking against the back, is slack enough for me to push the barb back through the hole it made.
Yeah, so we caught static with the cops, but whatevers. I mean, I’m stressing, but not that bad. When it’s a few young heinas in a car going off-script, the cops think more about saving us from our situation, ‘cause they get to be heroes. It’s not like we’re a bunch of vatos from around the way, ‘cause then they’d just blast. Look, I ain’t about to go ham in a school zone just to prove that there’s a double standard, but that’s what it is.
When we cross Detour_01, it’s just a blip along the southern border line, stretching from land to sea and over the Pacific horizon. It’s weird seeing an actual dotted line for the border, augmented over the water on the windshield. There’s nothing actually there. Just water. Not like the wall and border control. The Coast Guard ain’t even nowhere to be found.
Claire is texting her hacking buddies. Marisol is biting her lip. I know she has something on her mind, ‘cause of the way she’s steering, sitting all forward and away from the seat.
“Sorry I blew up at you.”
“That’s cool. No hay bronca.”
“Can I ask—when we get to my dad’s place, will you come with?”
“Wasn’t I going to? I thought that was your plan, or whatever.”
“I mean more like…I don’t think he speaks any English. That’s what my mom said—that he lives on the beach like a vagrant. Her words. And I don’t know exactly how homeless he is, but you’re the only one I speak Spanish with now since living with Jerry and you’re more fluent.” She’s dancing around what she wants to say. I wonder if Claire gets why she’d be shy about this. “Maybe…you could help translate? Just, like, if I have trouble saying something.”
“Yeah, no worries. I got you. Promise.”
I look out the water at the coast, thinking back on all the times when we’ve spoken Spanish together. Even when it was just a few words, Marisol always got what I was saying. When we were little we spoke Spanish all the time. I think her mom hated it, ‘cause she didn’t know if we were bagging on her. But then Marisol started using it less and less with me, and I thought it was just because she wanted to distance herself from being half-Chicana. I never thought that she was actually losing her Spanish. I used to make fun of her for being micla. Over time, she must have felt like it was more my thing than her thing. And now she’s asking for my help so she can talk to her dad? I feel a lump in my throat and I have to look away from her for a second.
The city of Ensenada stretches out ahead along the coast. The flag icon for the destination bounces up and down over a small beach neighborhood in the outskirts, insisting that’s the spot. I hear a little beeping sound, and I look over Marisol’s shoulder at the display. There are two readouts near the bottom left of the windshield, one which shows a battery, reads at twenty-three percent. The other shows an arrow pointing up, which reads as one percent and is blinking red.
“Isn’t that the antigrav?” Claire points at the dashboard.
“Is that what that is? I thought that said how high up we were.”
“I thought we had plenty. Did we get a leak?”
I look through the back window. Where the harpoon hit us, charged antigrav fluid is bleeding out of a ruptured cabin artery, misting in the wind, and falling upwards away from us.
“Yo, we need to land! It needs to see the road, right?”
“I think so? I don’t know! I told you I’ve never landed.”
The windshield shows the destination a minute out—that flag icon leaping up and down over a postage stamp of land, with switchbacks zigzagging sharply up from a beach. There’s a sign in Spanish with an arrow that says rent mopeds here.
“That’s your dad’s place?”
Mopeds are lined up in front of a rental and repairs shop. The logo on the shop signage reads, “Olvero”.
“This doesn’t make sense.”
“‘Cause that’s his name on the sign, but Mom always said he was a beach bum. Like a bum on the beach. Like living under a pier, or something. Was she lying this whole time?”
I wouldn’t have put it past Marisol’s mom—twisting the truth about her father to point her towards a particular life. As we circle to face the yard and the line of mopeds, the antigrav fades to a flushing sound. A strange gurgle passes through the cabin. Then it’s quiet. My stomach lifts against my diaphragm, like you feel on the last drop of a roller coaster.
“Collision” blinks on the windshield again, and the Egret’s thrusters all aim down, turbines spinning up fast, struggling and wobbling us as we plummet towards the parking lot. I hear the rush of wind through the crack in the window.
“Hold onto something! We’re about to—”
Virjilio Olvero stands half a head shorter than Marisol, darker by a shade. It’s clear she has some of his looks—the dimples in his cheeks are more like creases, but she also has his downturned eyes, angled eyebrows, and an aquiline nose that makes both their resting faces look serious and surprised. He pulls off his bucket hat, pats down his mustache, cups his hands against the window to peer in. When his eyes set on Marisol there’s maybe a flicker of recognition. Or was that just regular concern? I can’t see how his mind is working.
I think trouble finally caught up with us, but Sr. Olvero seems more concerned with getting us out of the wreck. He’s about to try to pry one of the doors open, but there’s a crack and a hiss and the door lifts open itself. He stumbles back out of the way, and then ducks a little to get a better view inside the cabin.
“Estamos bien, creo,” I cough. “Nadie está herido.” We’re fine. Nobody’s hurt.
I’m not sure, though. I check myself in case I missed some crazy bleeding wound like people who are in shock sometimes do. Marisol’s fine, but she’s ashamed ‘cause she’s in the pilot seat with a bag of empties on the floor.
Claire dislocated a finger pushing against the dashboard, and is trying to pull it straight. “Hola,” she says, and waves with her good hand. The three of us are covered in blue powder.
Just before we hit the ground, the cabin inflated with crash foam with a hiss-pop. For a few seconds we were encased in this cold, Styrofoam-like chrysalis that hardened around us. None of us could move or see the impact. We just felt a muted shudder through the foam, which dissolved seconds after we skidded to a stop. I smelled it in my nose, tasted it in my mouth. Acrid, like smoked radishes. Now my coveralls feel strange from the chemicals.
“Let me help you girls inside the shop,” Sr. Olvero offers.
We’re all a bit surprised he’s speaking English. I wonder what’s going through Marisol’s head as he gives her his hand and helps pull her from the pilot seat. My neck and lower back are sore, both from the crash and from sitting in the back for so long. Out in the yard, I pace a bit and stretch. Then I turn to look at the damage.
There’s a big gouge across the gravel from where we hit. It goes for a few feet and stops just after one of the racks where we clipped a few mopeds. I can see them on their sides, off in the weeds. We must have plowed right into them. The Egret’s just totaled, though. The windshield shows nothing. No display, or readout. A big spiderweb crack where something smashed against the roof made the glass white. The front left pod broke off somewhere. The connecting struts bent inwards, crumpling the hood. Back bumper is dented where drone smashed into us. Smaller pocks riddle the hood and side panels. Que desmadre.
I hear a wheeze. Marisol doubles over. “Holy Jesus, look at it!”
Claire shakes her head, smiling kind of awkwardly, but Marisol is laughing so hard she’s crying, wiping the tears on the corners of her sleeve.
“I told you! I told you I can’t land!”
Huddled around the cash register, we poke through the first-aid box from under the counter. Sr. Olvero comes in after taking stock of the wreck.
“Some of my bikes are banged up,” he says. “But I don’t see anything I can’t fix here in the shop.” Then, looking at Marisol, “I’m not going to call the police. But I need to know someone is coming to clear that wreck. So, whoever you need to call, go right ahead. You can use the back office.” He hands the shop’s phone to Marisol. When she takes it, he nods, as if to make sure she gets the message. “Office is down the hall, second door on the left.”
Marisol has this quiet, dead-faced look like she’s trying to read him. Obviously, she’s weirded out by a lot of things—that her mom hadn’t told her the truth, that her dad speaks English just fine and owns a scooter rental shop. So why hadn’t he ever tried to make contact? Or didn’t he know that she’s his daughter? Does this fool even know he’s someone’s dad? I can’t tell if he’s keeping a stone-cold poker face, or if it’s concern about the wreck. But why is he letting us off the hook? This is tense.
I touch Marisol’s arm as she passes towards the back office. “Yo, what do you want to do about your dad?”
“Uh, Jerry’s going to flip his shit.”
“No, I mean your dad,” I say through my teeth, nodding towards him with my eyebrows. “Are you going to tell him? Do you want me to say something?”
“No! No, don’t say anything.”
“I thought,” she says, and then lowers to an even quieter whisper. “I thought I was going to say what I came to say, but now maybe I just wanted to scope him out first. Just to, like, check the situation.”
I get a sense that homegirl lost her drive, which I kind of maybe understand. It’s like here he is. Here’s the guy. He’s your dad. So while Claire and Marisol are calling their folks in the back office, I find a moment with Sr. Olivero.
“Scooters huh,” I ask. “Business good? Been here long?”
“Oh, yeah, a few years. Things picked up since they put in the new boardwalk.”
“You know she’s your daughter, right?” I drop it all casual, like c’mon stop playing for a sec.
His face drains. For a second he looks annoyed. I think he’s going to try to front like he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. He looks at me, and then checks down the hallway to see that the other two are still in the office. “What am I supposed to say to that?”
Marisol and her dad barely talk to each other. Not after the phone call with Jerry (who was actually pretty chill about the whole thing). Not after a plane ride back and a whole bunch of Jerry’s money thrown at the situation. But I can tell while we’re there that there’s this strangeness between them. They sort of rotate around the same silence. He stands away the whole time, with Claire and me in between. He doesn’t even shake hands with her when we leave. Did we come all this way for nothing? It’s like, we fly all this way only to crash? And not just the Egret. All those years of Marisol daydreaming about what might be on the other end of all this—that also crashed. How hard do we need to knock on this fool’s door for my homegirl to get some answers? You really gonna turn your flesh and blood away like that?
My Pop, though. Dang! I catch hell from him when I get home. It’s one of those one-and-done kind of things. He’s more glad that nobody got hurt. He gets his temper out, but then he asks how we pulled it off later, all casual. “Que jalada,” he says when I tell him the whole story. “Quit pulling my leg, mija. You better never tell nothing to no police if what you say is for real.”
Claire’s parents, they don’t even know anything happened. They were away on a vacation. And I don’t get why Marisol’s mom and stepdad are quiet about the whole thing. I was sure there’d be a big meeting, some kind of parent summit, until about a week later, when two letters are sent.
The first letter is delivered by courier to Marisol’s stepdad’s office. Inside is a backup drive labeled “Egret Penetration Test Results” taped to the folds of a typewritten note.
Let’s call this “compensation” and declare the matter closed for everyone. I think you know why. Three underage girls making headlines? Not the best PR for a flying car company while the legalities of the skyways are being sorted out. Give the Egret pownage a look—I shared most of the zero-day vulnerabilities with you (but not all, haha!). Solid A+ for the safety features, though.
The second letter, addressed to Marisol, is postmarked from Ensenada. Some of it is written in English, some in Spanish. The words are all handwritten in scrawls on loose-leaf paper. Some lines are scribbled out, only to begin in another color, as if Sr. Olvero had stopped and given thought and then started again.
I help Marisol sort through some of the translation. It tells a story about a boy and a girl—kids in love, really. It’s a story about how her parents met on the beach during her mom’s summer trip to Mexico when she was a girl. They came from different backgrounds but it was clear how they felt about each other. Clear to their parents, too. Clear in how Sr. Olvero tells the story. They wanted to make it work, so they conspired to cause some trouble and run away together, to rebel against all the safety put around them by their community and loved ones. They wanted to pierce that safety to really know if they had it in themselves to make a stand on their own. And of course it didn’t work. They were too young. But they tried.
It’s an oldschool story. One that’s been told about countless teenage couples, but I think the letter turns Marisol’s head around about her mom. For me, something about that letter makes me think about being encased in all that crash foam, delivered from the sky in the body of the dying Egret. There were these things—these safety features—put around us to keep us from harm by design. And it doesn’t matter if they were built into the car, or built into our schools, or built into our home lives by our parents. We were spared the crash. It’s kind of absurd to think this way, but it’s like…that was our trouble to find. Marisol didn’t get to make up her own mind about who her father was growing up. We didn’t feel how hard we hit the ground when we landed. Maybe I want to know the world by the kind of crater I can make.
I think about these things when I’m working at my dad’s shop. Marisol may be grounded, but I hear it in her voice when we video chat about what we did. The highs, the dives, how crazy and alive.
At school, my phone bongs with an invite to a “party” in the hills. I look back where Claire is sitting in Mr. Dema’s history class and the devil’s in her grin. Mar said bring your toolset, she taps out. Little emojis of a toolbox and a car.
Oh, I’m definitely gonna bring it. Ride or die, we’re about to make some trouble. I feel swarmy in my stomach. I’m smiling like a fool.
|Amman Sabet is a writer and design strategist living in Los Angeles. He’s a Clarion ’17 alumnus, with several stories appearing in F&SF and recently in the anthology The New Voices of Science Fiction (Tachyon). He looks forward to finishing up his masters degree so he can return to writing more regularly.|