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When We Meet

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"Good morning, Mr. Dallas." Korben's old beater of a cab already sounds tinny when it greets him. He rolls his eyes and gets it out of the dock as it keeps talking to him. Eventually, it tells him, "You have ten points left on your license."

He's hoping those points will last him a while, though he's not counting on it. Driving a cab can get boring, but there's enough other shit on his plate that he doesn't mind a little boring. The economy's gone to shit again, but Zorg is doing alright, and Korben is lucky they were hiring. They can't have looked too closely at his record, other than that he ended his military career highly decorated; the amount of reckless piloting he's done should be enough to turn off any employer. It didn't, and he has a place and a job, and his TV to keep him company. Korben's not going to complain, much.

While he's driving, he spots someone on a rooftop waving their hand wildly, and he's really only supposed to take fares the computer tells him to, but nothing's queued up right now so he slams the brakes midair and opens the passenger door. The passenger, a scrawny little wisp of a kid, clamors in awkwardly and slumps into the seat without a word, even after the door slides shut again.

"You going somewhere, or what?" Korben asks, bemused.

"What? Yeah. Uh. Someplace."

"That's real specific." Korben is rethinking his decision to pick this kid up, now. He's only fairly sure his passenger's a boy -- kids these days -- though it probably doesn't matter. "Do you have an address for that?"

"I think Manhattan," the kid says. Korben thinks he might be drunk. High. Something. He's the vaguest passenger Korben has had a while, and that's saying something since business is best right after the bars close. "Can you go to Manhattan?"

"I can, sure, if you're actually willing to pay."

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, uh. I've got money."

"Right. Great." Korben eases his taxi back into the rush of traffic, and starts heading the wrong way before looping back around. Usually, he tries to take the most direct route possible to his destination. He's always hated cabbies who make their trips artificially longer just to rack up a higher fare, but there still isn't anyone else for him to get and the kid's indecision is just frustrating enough.

Korben's driven all the way up to Astoria before the kid finally asks, "Is this the right way?"

"Of course it is," Korben says. "We're going north, aren't we?"

"Are we?" The kid falls silent for a while, then says, "I've got to throw up."

Korben slams on the brakes and opens the door again. "At least don't do it in the cab. I've got a perfect record of people not puking in the cab."

The kid throws up in the cab. Korben's grateful for the screen between them, because it means he's got a while before he has to smell it. The kid throws up yet again, then leans out the door and dry heaves, but the damage is already done. "Sorry."

"Aw, jeez, kid, really? You had to do that?"

"I couldn't help it!"

"Right, fine," Korben says. "Great. So do you want to clean that up, or are you going to pay me enough to have it done professionally?"

"I can clean it," the kid says. "I'll --" He interrupts himself to throw up yet again, though thankfully it's once again out the still-open door. The cab is hovering patiently high above the ground, and the kid leans a little further, looking down. "Oh, wow, we're really high."

"Yeah, we sure are," Korben says, turning around to stare. "Try not to fall, okay, kid? You still want to go to Manhattan, or what?"

The kid is clutching at his stomach, which looks oddly distended under his shirt."Manhattan's good. Times Square or something. There's lots of people there, right?"

"Sure are."

Then the kid's stomach moves. And meows.

"Oh, what now?" Korben asks. "No, I don't want to know."

"My dad was going to kill the cat," the kid tells him, miserably. "So I got really drunk, because I didn't want to think about it, but then I thought about it anyway, and I figured that, like, I could save it and take it someplace and find somebody to give it to, 'cuz I can't take it back home with me."

"You know, they have these places called animal shelters?"

"But they'd kill him, too, if nobody wanted him." The kid's eyes are watering now. "I'm sorry I threw up in your car. Can we just go?"

"Fine, fine, alright," Korben says, closing the door and putting the car back in drive once again. "And get that damn cat out of your shirt."

Once again, Korben is grateful for the screen separating him from the passenger, because the cat is a whirling dervish of fur and action in the backseat, and he doesn't want anything to do with it. Mostly.

"So what are you going to do with the cat when you get to Manhattan?"

"My exgirlfriend's dealer lives over there," the kid says.

"You're giving the cat to your ex's dealer."

"Uh-huh."

Korben sighs. He's pretty sure he's going soft in his old age. Maybe he's feeling a little sentimental. His apartment is lonely enough -- living alone after spending so long married to his wife hasn't exactly been ideal. He's not necessarily lonely, per se, and this is probably going to be a bad idea, but he still tells the kid, "No, you're not."

"I can't take him home with me!"

"That's great," Korben says. "Fine. I'm taking the cat. It's going to end up dead if I leave it with you."

"Oh. Oh! Really? You're sure?"

"I'm sure," Korben says. "So are we still going to Manhattan?"

"Yeah," the kid says. "Yeah, the guy has good weed."

"You really don't need to tell me about that," Korben says. "People can report you for that."

"Oh. Right. Sorry. He has good, uh. Weeds. In his garden."

"Right."