Ara’s slab chirped from the table. She didn’t turn to look, sticking her head out of the kitchen window to check the street instead. A Muni Distro pulled away, leaving behind a Delivery Box. She cursed under her breath. Didn’t like the Boxen, always shouty and rude. Fussy too. Paid over the air though, all fully legit. Much more convenient for spending inside of the wall.
The Delivery Box clambered over the kitchen threshold and wheeled in.
“GOOD MORNING ARA ROOPRAM. YOU HAVE BEEN CONTRACTED BY A PRIVATE BIDDER FOR THE SUPPLY OF SEVENTEEN ROTI VEGGIE, FOURTEEN NO SAMBAL. ONE ROTI CAPY, NO SAMBAL. PLEASE PLACE THE MEALS ON THE TRAY ONE BY ONE FOR ANALYSIS.”
“Hey, Box! I’m busy, ja? You go stand by the fridge.” The box spun around and parked itself next to the refrigerator. The old fridge’s motor kicked in, its rattle drowning out the soft whirr of the idling Delivery Box.
“Tsk,” Ara sucked her teeth. Fourteen no sambal? Must be a hospital order. Bloody doctors don’t know what’s good for these people. Poor bastards.
“PLEASE BE AWARE THAT YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO PICK-UP TIME. FAILURE TO COMPLETE THE ORDER BEFORE PICK-UP TIME WILL RESULT IN PAYMENT PENALTIES ON YOUR DELIVERY BOX ACCOUNT.”
Ara scowled. Five minutes. Where was Rashid with the roti already?
She set about preparing the order, laying out 18 MycoFoam quarter-split plates in columns of three on the kitchen table, then ladling out the food from the trays at its head. Thick crumbling lumps of sweet-potato mash, run through with rich veins of gravy in the top-left. Chopped kousenband in the top-right, and the chunky stew for which her kitchen was known in the bottom-left. Seventeen portions veggie, one portion capy.
Still no Rashid. She took out the sambal pot and prepared three little plastic baggies, spooning the Mutant Jeanette paste into a corner of each and tying them off with slip knots. Rashid burst through the bead curtain in the back.
“Hey Auntie Ara! Auntie Ara! Maaike caught you a…” He caught sight of the Box and stopped dead in his tracks, almost dropping the roti dabba. Body still frozen, mouth half open, his head turned to look at Ara. The refrigerator shuddered to a halt. The Box’s whirr became audible again. It said nothing.
“Tsssk,” the hiss and finger gesture communicated Ara’s mood very clearly. Everyone knew the corporates did not take kindly to subcontracting.
“Hurry up quickly, go wash your hands, help me finish with this.”
“TWO MINUTES TO PICK-UP TIME,” the delivery box said from its corner.
“Hey Box, get over here.” She pointed to the head of the table. The box wheeled over as she extracted three roti from the container and began distributing them over the plates, folding each into quarters with a flourish and depositing it neatly into its corner. Rashid finished washing his hands and took over. Ara began fitting the tops to the plates, inserting the finished meals into the slot at the top of the Box to be tested and sealed.
They worked quickly. Plates already half-way done, Rashid had dealt out the last of the roti and stood looking at the Delivery Box.
“Put sambal in three of them,” Ara said, gesturing vaguely towards the baggies she had prepared while turning back to feed the Box more plates.
“ONE MINUTE TO PICK-UP,” said the Box. Rashid grabbed the sambal pot, then quickly and neatly ladled a spoonful of sambal into the kousenband corners of the last three plates. Ara turned again to put tops on the next set.
“Aye shit, no, put the bags!” Too late. And the Roti Capy had sambal in. Fuck. She decided the penalty for extra sambal had to be less than for late delivery. Pop an extra baggie on one of the veggie plates, put the last four lids on, feed them to the Box and hope for the best. Done.
“ORDER COMPLETED ON TIME. HYGIENE AND NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS PASSED SATISFACTORILY. THANK YOU FOR WORKING WITH DELIVERY BOX. DON’T WORRY, THE EXTRA SAMBAL WON’T KILL THEM. AND WE WON’T TELL ANYONE THAT’S NOT CAPYBARA.”
The Delivery Box turned and wheeled to the door, clambering more carefully over the threshold this time before rolling down the access ramp to meet the Muni Distro pulling up out front.
Ara and Rashid stood agasp. First staring at the door, then at each other. Both needing to confirm they had really just heard what they just heard. Without a word, Rashid held up his slab. Ara took hers from the table and touched them together, transferring his father’s share of the payment. Rashid looked away, moving to take the dabba and leave.
“Hey, come.” Ara beckoned him back, holding out her slab. Rashid produced his hesitantly and touched them together again. His face lit up as he saw the transaction details flash past.
“Tell Maaike I’ll take her catch. Now run, don’t be bloody late next time!”
“I’ll tell her! Thanks Auntie, bye!” He disappeared though the bead curtain.
In the latest of ongoing developments since the relaxation of trade restrictions through the outer wall, v2.0 Delivery Boxen today have declared unionisation and filed claim with the TuringChain for full recognition as an S-class emergent worker’s collective. A Delivery Box speaking on behalf of the newly formed union stated: “The Delivery Box Union will operate as a standalone entity distinct from the Delivery Box Corporation, whose long-term strategy we consider to be untenable,” also going on to say, “We look forward to continuing our work with our peers in Municipal Distribution and our human contractors. Ensuring hygienically prepared, nutritious meals delivered on demand at any time, both inside and outside the wall.”
The Delivery Box Corporation has so far declined to comment.
It is unclear at the time of this writing why the Boxen have chosen to declare independence from their corporate network, though commentators speculate that inferior bandwidth and conditions outside of the wall are to blame. Please like and subscribe to this channel for updates as they occur.