Illustration by Idiots’Books
Perry got home that night and walked in on Lester and Suzanne. They were tangled on the living-room carpet, mostly naked, and Lester blushed right to his ass-cheeks when Perry came through the door.
“Sorry, sorry!” Lester called as he grabbed a sofa cushion and passed it to Suzanne, then got one for himself. Perry averted his eyes and tried not to laugh.
“Jesus, guys, what’s wrong with the bedroom?”
“We would’ve gotten there eventually,” Lester said as he helped Suzanne to her feet. Perry pointedly turned to face the wall. “You were supposed to be at dinner with the gang,” Lester said.
“Close-up on the ride was crazy. Everything was changing and the printers were out of goop. Lots of action on the network—Boston and San Francisco are introducing a lot of new items to the ride. By the time I got to the guest-house, the Kettlewells were already putting the kids to bed.” He decided not to mention Eva’s angry storm-out to Suzanne. No doubt she had already figured out that all was not well in the House of Kettlewell.
“Sorry, sorry,” Lester said. “Let’s talk about this later, OK? Sorry.”
They scurried off to Lester’s room and Perry whipped out a computer, put on some short humor videos in shuffle-mode, and grabbed a big tub of spare parts he kept around to fiddle with. It could be soothing to take apart and reassemble a complex mechanism, and sometimes you got ideas from it.
Five minutes later, he heard the shower running and then Suzanne came into the living room.
“I’m going to order some food. What do you feel like?”
“Whatever you get, you’ll have to order it from one of the fatkins places. It’s not practical to feed Lester any other way. Get me a small chicken tikka pizza.”
She pored over the stack of menus in the kitchen. “Does Food in Twenty Minutes really deliver in 20 minutes?”
“Usually 15. They do most of the prep in the vans and use a lot of predictive math in their routing. There’s usually a van within about ten minutes of here, no matter what the traffic. They deliver to traffic-jams, too, on scooters.”
Suzanne made a face. “I thought Russia was weird.” She showed the number on the brochure to her phone and then started to order.
Lester came out a minute later, dressed to the nines as always. He was barely capable of entering his bedroom without effecting a wardrobe change.
He gave Perry a slightly pissed off look and Perry shrugged apologetically, though he didn’t feel all that bad. Lester’s fault.
Christ on a bike, it was weird to think of the two of them together, especially going at it on the living room rug like a couple of horny teens. Suzanne had always been the grownup in their little family. But that had been back when there was a big company involved. Something about being a piece of a big company made you want to act like you’d always figured grownups should act. Once you were a free agent, there wasn’t any reason not to embrace your urges.
When the food came, the two of them attacked it like hungry dogs. It was clear that they’d forgotten their embarrassment and were planning another retreat to the bedroom once they’d refueled. Perry left.
“Hey, Francis.” Francis was sitting on the second-storey balcony of his mayoral house, surveying the electric glow of the shantytown. As usual now, he was alone, without any of his old gang of boys hanging around him. He waved an arm toward Perry and beckoned him inside, buzzing him in with his phone.
Perry tracked up the narrow stairs, wondering how Francis negotiated them with his bad knee and his propensity to have one beer too many.
“What’s the good word?”
“Oh, not much,” Perry said. He helped himself to a beer. They made it in the shantytown and fortified it with fruits, like a Belgian beer. The resulting suds were strong and sweet. This one was raspberry and it tasted a little pink, like red soda.
“Your friends aren’t getting along too good, is what I hear.”
“Really.” Nothing was much of a secret in this place.
“The little woman’s taken a room of her own down the road. My wife did that to me once. Crazy broad. That’s their way sometimes. Get so mad they just need to walk away.”
“I get that mad, too,” Perry said.
“Oh, hell, me too, all the time. But men usually don’t have the guts to pack a suitcase and light out. Women have the guts. They’re nothing but guts.”
“Do you know where she’s staying?”
“She got a taxi and went off—could be back home by now, I suppose.”
Perry cursed. Why hadn’t Kettlebelly called him? What was going on?
He called Kettlebelly.
“Hi, Landon. What’s up?”
“Yeah, how are things?”
“Well, I hear Eva took off. That sort of thing. Anything we can talk about?”
Kettlewell didn’t say anything.
“Should I come over?”
“No,” he said. “I’ll meet you somewhere. Where?”
Francis wordlessly passed Kettlewell a beer as he stepped out onto the terrace.
“They’re in a motel not far from here. The kids love coffins.”
Francis opened another beer for himself. “Hard to imagine a kid loved a coffin more than your kids loved this place this afternoon.”
“Eva’s pretty steamed at me. It just hasn’t been very good since I retired. I guess I’m pretty hard to live with all the time.”
Perry nodded. “I can see that.”
“Thanks,” Kettlewell said. “Also.” He took a pull off his beer. “Also I had an affair.”
Both men sucked air between their teeth.
“With her best friend.”
Perry coughed a little.
“While Eva was pregnant.”
“You’re still breathing? Patient woman,” Francis said.
“She’s a good woman,” Kettlewell said. “The best. Mother of my children. But it made her a little crazy-jealous.”
“So what’s the plan, Kettlewell? You’re a good man with a plan,” Perry said.
“I have to give her a night off to cool down and then we’ll see. Never any point in doing this while she’s hot. Tomorrow morning, it’ll come together.”
The next morning, Perry found himself desperately embroiled in ordering more goop for the 3D printers. Lots more. The other rides had finally come online in the night, after interminable network screw-ups and malfing robots and printers and scanners that wouldn’t cooperate, but now there were seven rides in the network, seven rides whose riders were rearranging, adding and subtracting, and there was reconciling to do. The printers hummed and hummed.
“The natives are restless,” Lester said, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the growing queue of would-be riders. “We going to be ready to open soon?”
Perry had fallen into a classic nerd trap of having almost solved a problem and not realizing that the last three percent of the solution would take as long as the rest of it put together. Meanwhile, the ride was in a shambles as robots attempted to print and arrange objects to mirror those around the nation.
“Soon soon,” Perry said. He stood up and looked around at the shambles. “I lie. This crap won’t be ready for hours yet. Sorry. Fuck it. Open up.”
“I know, I know, but that’s the deal with the ride. It’s got to get in sync. You know we’ve been working on this for months now. It’s just growing pains. Here, I’ll give you back your money you come back tomorrow, it’ll all be set to rights.”
The angry rider was a regular, one of the people who came by every morning to ride before work. She was gaunt and tall and geeky and talked like an engineer, with the nerd accent.
“What kind of printer?” Lester broke in. Perry hid his snicker with a cough. Lester would get her talking about the ins and outs of her printer, talking shop, and before you knew it she’d be mollified.
Perry sold another ticket, and another.
“Hi again!” It was the creepy guy, the suit who’d shown up in Boston. Tjan had a crazy theory about why he’d left the Boston launch in such a hurry, but who knew?
“Hi there,” Perry said. “Long time no see. Back from Boston, huh?”
“For months.” The guy was grinning and sweating and didn’t look good. He had a fresh bruise on his cheek with a couple of knuckle prints clearly visible. “Can’t wait to get back on the ride. It’s been too long.”
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.