The ground wavered far below as I uneasily stepped over the gap to the top of the building. The door slid shut behind me, and with a whoosh, the airbus rejoined the lanes of aerial traffic whizzing past. Rows of dormant aeromobiles lined the rooftop, and at the far end, a sign emblazoned with ‘Fergin’s Discount Transportation Sales & Services’ hovered in midair, affixed to the transparent, electrostatic walls of an office. Inside, a man sat with his feet thrown up on a desk, his back leaning against the wall. Only open air lay behind him, and it looked like he was sitting on the edge of oblivion.
I wove through the vehicles and knocked against the solidified air of the office wall. A low snore floated through the door.
“H-hello? I’m… here to buy an aeromobile.”
He jerked awake with a curse, sending a flood of papers to the floor as he yanked his feet off the desk. “Course you are, course you are, course you are,” he mumbled, jumping to his feet and shaking the dazed expression from his face. “And may I compliment you on your good taste.” He proudly patted a faded plaque. “100% sales rate. Satisfaction guaranteed when you fly off the lot.”
He popped a giant, pink square into his mouth and loudly gnawed on it as he joined me outside.
“This is a strange place for an aeromobile dealership,” I noted, inching away from the dizzying drop over the edge.
“Where else would I sell them? On the ground?!” He guffawed loudly. “Naw, you need to see the vehicle in its natural environment.”
With a deep sigh, he surveyed the open sky around us, filled with whizzing traffic and towering buildings, before steering me toward a vehicle near the end of the lot. I stopped halfway, eyeing a sleek red model. “What about this one?”
“Good eye, good eye, good eye,” he rattled, bobbing his head and gnawing viciously on his gum. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be a good fit for you.” His eyes flickered across the empty lot as he leaned closer, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Between you and me, you’re better off without this one. Gravity manipulator has a nasty habit of malfunctioning. Only upside is the fall would kill you before it turned you into a metal pancake. Now, this bad boy”—he slapped the walls of the gray, amorphous blob next to it—“can’t go wrong. State-of-the-art technology back in its day, and only a 2% chance of it hurtling you into the fourth dimension.”
He slowly shook his head, his eyes fixed on the sloping metal walls, his jaw still working furiously. “Not many of these left in this condition. Honestly, at this price, it’s a steal.”
“Did you say… the fourth dimension?”
He ignored me, dragging me across the lot to a black, boxy model. “Now, over here we have an interesting find. Only one owner. Foreign import, but it’s been refitted with all the standard safety features.”
He nudged one of the blank walls, and a panel popped out, sliding aside to reveal the interior. I peered inside at the deep seats and neon lighting lining the ceiling. “There aren’t any controls.”
“Ah, that’s the beauty of this model! It’s all powered through, um…”—chew, chew, chew—“synaptic energy. Instead of using the telepathic abilities of the native manufacturers, they put together a new system. You drive it”—he leaned closer, tapping a forefinger to his temple—“with your mind.”
The exterior was surprisingly free of scratches or burn marks from atmospheric re-entry. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I had a feeling this might be the one.
He bent over, digging through the vehicle. “Yup. It’s real simple. You just stick this”—he emerged holding a headpiece with a giant needle protruding from it—“into your brain, and voila!”
I gaped at the needle. “Th-through your skull?!”
He frowned at it, turning it over in his hands. “Ya know, I think it might have to go through your eye area. I’m sure it’s not so bad after the first time.” He extended the headpiece to me. “Wanna take it for a test drive?”
“I… think I’ll pass.”
“Suit yourself,” he mumbled through his gum, tossing the hardware back into the vehicle. “Can’t blame you. Don’t trust those foreign builders anyway with their non-auditory communication. It’s not natural…” He shook his head again, his jaw furiously chewing. “Not natural.”
I myself was from two planets over and beginning to regret this whole situation. “Well,” I clapped my hands together uselessly. “Thanks for your time. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. I’m going to sleep on it, and uh… I’ll let you know.”
He waved a dismissive hand in my direction. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you need.”
I glanced around, looking for an exit sign or an airbus pad. “How do I… get out of here?”
He gnashed on his gum, pointing past a line of vehicles, but his extended finger only led me to the edge of the building and a steep drop.
“There’s nothing here.”
“It’s there,” he called, lounging against the invisible walls of his office. “You just can’t see it.”
I scanned the open air, looking for any flicker of electricity or sign of a platform. “Could you show me?”
He stalked over and frowned at the air, hands on hips, jaw working furiously. “Well, look at that,” he sighed. “Looks like it’s out.”
“I’ll just wait for the next airbus then.”
“Sorry. No buses run here without special request.”
“Can I use your communication device then?”
“Eh,” he gnawed loudly on his gum. “’fraid that’s not working either.”
“Well, how do you get down?!” I snapped, reaching the end of my patience.
“I use my aeromobile.”
I stared at him, the reality of the situation dawning on me. “So, the only way I’m getting out of here is if I buy—“
He watched me expectantly. I wanted to argue, but I wanted to leave more. My shoulders sagged. “I guess… we’ll have to make a deal then.”
“Great!” He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll draw up the paperwork.”
My payment was exchanged for a worn activator device, and he carefully inspected the vehicle, muttering to himself and making haphazard marks on his clipboard before planting himself in front of me. “Would you say you were satisfied with today’s transaction?”
“Because if you’re not, I am morally obligated not to finalize the sale until you are.”
“Then… yes, I’m satisfied.”
He was watching me intently, his jaw tirelessly gnawing. “100% satisfied?”
“Yes,” I sighed.
He triumphantly placed the last check on his clipboard before saluting me with it and striding back to his office. It landed with a clatter on his desk before he threw his feet up after it. The panel slid closed behind me, and I eased off the roof, merging into the flow of traffic. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. It was only a 2% chance, and the fourth dimension was supposedly nice this time of year.
This story was inspired by a very unfortunate encounter I had with a, for lack of a better word, skeezy car salesman.
~ R. E. Rule
Published Jun 17, 2020
Updated Dec 11, 2020