Entertainingly Evil

Smart Money by Samuel Marzioli

Harold Lewis entered the liquor store, a decrepit old space that was as dusty and unkempt as it was gaudy. Seasonal decorations lined scuffed and holed walls, along with advertisements featuring alcohol and scantily clad girls in semi–erotic poses. Far from an oddity, it was indicative of the kind of slum the Mars colony had become over the past fifty years.

“Where’s your whiskey?” Harold said to the girl seated behind the front counter.

The girl didn’t look up. She furrowed her brows, causing a metal ball connected to a chain that linked her eyebrows to droop and rattle. She read a few more words from her reader, and then flicked a finger toward an old plastic palm tree set in the far off corner.

Harold strolled over. It wasn’t taste he was after, just any slosh that would burn his throat and dull his brain until it had all the sharpness of a polished steel ball. His eyes lingered on a sale sign, written in bold red letters. The brand was Irving Don Blankly, a swill peddler whose reputation made a descriptor like hideous sound too flattering. He took it anyway.

When he plunked down the bottle on the front counter, the girl slipped Harold a phony smile, threw a disgusted sneer at his choice and scanned the bottle’s barcode.

“Seven ninety–four,” she said.

He reached into his pocket and grabbed a crisp, new ten–dollar bill, its center portrait embossed, covering the advanced tech hidden beneath the surface of every bill of its kind. Smart Money, they called it, but Harold didn’t know why. He only knew what he had read in the daily news ticker: that it had become the sole legal tender for the entire Mars Colony; that it was supposed to uphold fiscal responsibility; and that it was the last resort of a failing economy on the road to utter ruin.

The instant the girl touched the bill, it turned bright red and she jerked her hand away.

A financial and mental health assessment has been requested,” said a tiny voice from the center portrait. Seconds later, it continued, “Purchase denied,” and its color shifted back to green.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said Harold, caught between bewilderment and the implications of what the bill said. The girl stared at Harold, uncertain on how to proceed.

This man is an alcoholic and has only fifty dollars in his bank account. Do not sell him this product.”

The girl shrugged and took up her reader. She settled back on her stool and began to read.

“Wait,” Harold said. “Take it!”

The girl shook her head.

“It’s my money. I can do what I want!”

“Not my problem,” she said.

Harold,” said the bill, “fiscal responsibility is every citizen’s priority now, and the only way to achieve it is by eliminating self–destructive and time–wasting behaviors.” It turned a dull shade of brown and the words, “This note is legal tender” were replaced by, “NON–NEGOTIABLE.”

The moment Harold saw the change, his face contorted with rage. “You turn back right now, or so help me…”

Purposeful damage, defacement, or destruction of legal currency is a crime subject to a fifty thousand dollar fine and up to a year imprisonment,” the bill said.

“Take it!” he pleaded with the girl.

“No way, man. I’m not getting in trouble for you or anyone.” To prove the point, she grabbed the bottle and placed it in a plastic container behind the counter.

“I don’t need this! Fuck you,” he said to the girl, “and fuck you too!” he said to the bill.

Please avoid unnecessarily foul language or I will be forced to report this disorderly conduct to the authorities.”

“Fuck! You!” He poked the bill, leaving an indention the size of his nail tip.

The bill immediately turned bright red again and let out an electronic beep. “A deputy is en route. Your threatening gesture has been deemed a potential risk to public safety. I must warn you, do not touch me again as I have initiated self–defense mode.”

Harold began to shake with fury. He stared at the bottle in the reshelf container, licked his lips, and then eyed the bill warily. He felt like a starving man locked in a cage, with no key and food just out of reach. Or rather, it was worse than that, because he did have a key if only he dared to touch it.

He pushed his face closer to the bill, dropping his shadow across its polymer surface, as if his proximity to the portrait was as intimidating as it would have been to a human. “Last chance.”

The bill remained red, silent and impassive.

“Ain’t worth it,” said the girl, peering over the top of her reader.

“Shut up!”

You’d better listen to her,” the bill said. “You’re only making things worse for yourself.”

Harold snatched the bill up with both hands. Before his brain received his intention to rip it in half, firing up the appropriate synapses to trigger muscle movements, the bill made a solitary beep. A jolt of electricity shot through Harold’s body, causing his muscles to shake and vibrate.

His eyes stared wide and round, a mixture of surprise and terror. He teetered for a moment and then toppled over with a resounding crash, his arms held out stiffly in front of him, still holding the bill.

The girl fell back, pressing her palms against the wall behind her, pushing on it as if she were trying to climb by the sheer force of friction.

“Shit,” she said, uncertain whether Harold was dead or merely stunned.

The bill reverted to non–negotiable brown. “Subject designated Harold Lewis has been pacified. Martha Foster, consider yourself held as a material witness until the authorities arrive.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.

On the contrary, fiscal responsibility is no joke,” it said and resumed its state of soundless hibernation.

Samuel Marzioli was born and raised, and that’s all you need to know about that. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Best of Apex Magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Shock Totem. For more information about his work, please visit his website at marzioli.blogspot.com. This story was previously published in Stupefying Stories Showcase #1.

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