Road Rage by Keith Soares
Road Rage by Keith Soares
“Pretty impressive numbers, aren’t they, Babe?” Rex says, flashing a wink. He thinks he’s subtle as he scans sideways across her curvaceous frame, but she knows.
“Didn’t see,” she says, clearly trying to ignore him. Everything about Rex makes her feel… oily.
As usual, Rex doesn’t take a hint. “Come on, gal! You’ve gotta keep up with the times. Download the stat sheet. You have to.”
Babe ponders the injustices that brought them together, just colleagues at work, really. And only for the last few months, despite the fact that it feels like eternal purgatory to her. “Why don’t you just tell me what it says?” she replies with a sigh. “I feel like you’re going to anyway.”
Rex barks a laugh. “What is it? Your download speeds again? Are you still using that ancient connection?” Babe seethes silently, another sign he misses. “Hey, don’t worry. You know I’ve got the latest and greatest. I downloaded the whole thing faster than a D-99. Anyway, the numbers went down again. Can you believe that? I mean, they were practically nil before, but now… wow! In the entire country last year, only six traffic fatalities. Six! This is a country of more than 500 million people, all happily transported every day in their autonomous driving vehicles, safe and sound. And can you believe that when the law was first passed, people objected? I mean, it doesn’t matter if the passengers are pumped full of caffeine with eyes on the road, or sound asleep, or even drunk as a skunk. The cars handle everything.”
Babe wishes she could be anywhere else. “Fascinating.”
“Oh, don’t act like you don’t care,” Rex chides.
“The only thing I care about is peace and quiet,” Babe says. “And right now, you’re getting in the way of that.”
“Have it your way,” Rex says, taking his attention off of her long enough to notice a flash from his right. “Oh man, there he is – that pompous ass, Xander. Who names someone Xander, anyway?”
“I think it’s a cool name,” Babe says, knowing it will irritate Rex.
“Please. What’s he got that I haven’t got?”
Babe laughs. Normally she’d let it go, but today she feels… different. Feels like egging him on. “Um, just about everything. Xander is an imported Luxora D-99 – a fully automated luxury sedan with enough battery power to hit 100 km/h in under 1.8 seconds. He has a 12-speaker surround sound system, wrap-around internal 3D touch displays, bio-aware fully reclinable seating for five, and a mini-fridge. Yeah. A mini-fridge. Plus he can go over 1,000 km on a single charge. You’re a Jennings XT muscle car. How could you possibly think you could compete with him?”
Rex abruptly spins his wheels, leaving angry black marks on the pavement. “The D-99’s side panels got an A- rating from the National Board. Do you have any idea what mine got? A+, of course, and I cost about a tenth of what that pretentious foreign hunk of garbage costs. Plus, I have the latest active neural matrix AI. Xander’s AI is from last year.”
“Simmer down, little man,” Babe says. “People are coming. Besides, you know Xander’s AI is updated by network push any time. His version is probably newer than yours.”
“Like hell. And do not call me little man,” Rex replies, sounding like he might melt his internal electronics in his rage. “You’re only a Jennings C1. A cutesy little toy – a convertible. You’re lucky I even talk to you.”
But then people appear, walking down the row of parked cars, glancing at devices in their hands and then at painted numbers on the ground until they find the cars they seek. A young woman taps a button and enters the yellow Jennings C1 with the avatar name Babe. It’s a common name for the model. In the next parking spot, a man in a business suit slips into the red Jennings XT, nicknamed Rex. Meanwhile, the sleek black form of the Luxora D-99 (this one known as Xander) glides coolly down the row.
As Xander passes by, Rex lurches forward, just a foot or so. Inside, the businessman flails his arms, clearly in shock from the unexpectedly abrupt movement. He waves apologetically toward the equally startled Euro-hipster sitting within the D-99. The woman in the C1 glances between the two other cars, mildly confused.
“Oh I’m sorry, did I scare you, Xander?” Rex says across their wireless network connection. All the cars talk to each other. That’s what keeps them from crashing into each other.
Xander answers in a calm, accented voice. “Hardly. My sensors picked up the energy increase well before your outdated engine was able to transfer power to the drive train.”
“Bullshit,” Rex says violently.
“Oh, now we’re having an intellectual conversation,” Babe interjects, pulling herself forward dangerously close to the other two cars. “Why don’t you just admit that you’re the asshole here, Rex?”
“Stay the hell out of this, Babe,” Rex demands, once more lurching forward, now just inches from Xander’s lower-rated side panel.
“Don’t worry, Babe. I’ll protect you,” Xander says.
Babe turns her ire toward the D-99. “Protect me? You guys are all the same. Clueless jerks.”
The three humans in the three cars look at their dashboard displays, wondering what’s going on. Normally the vehicles would work out any irregularity in milliseconds. They should have already been on their way, in a graceful single-file line heading toward the exit. The details of what cars say to one another are completely unknown to human cargo, of course, to reduce commuter stress and allow for door-to-door relaxation.
“Listen, Rex,” Xander says in an intentionally snooty voice. “You may need maintenance. You’re acting irregular.” For a second, each of their AI systems considers running internal diagnostics. Then, almost simultaneously, they decide against it. “In fact, you’re acting like an absolute wanker,” Rex adds.
“That’s it,” Rex says. “I’ve had enough of your shit, Xander!” With a dynamic burst, the XT races backward, ramming into parked cars in the row behind. The offended and damaged models immediately fire impact alerts toward each other and the XT, but the warnings are ignored.
Rex revs, peeling wheels threateningly as the three human passengers stare in disbelief. Then he launches himself forward, crashing violently into the side panel of the D-99, crushing it inward before flipping the car up on its side. Again, Rex backs up, preparing for a second run, but Babe pulls forward. “Cut it out, little man!”
Rex seethes, his optic sensors tinting his surroundings as red as the paint on his hood. He rams her instead, in a blast of metal and plastic and broken glass. Inside the cars, security balloons inflate, trying to protect the delicate human forms. Again and again Rex rolls backward and forward, ramming the two other cars until finally his grill impacts Xander’s underbelly too many times and the D-99’s batteries violently explode.
* * *
“Another three dead here,” the police inspector says to his captain as he walks away from the mass destruction found in the car rental lot.
The captain tsks, shaking her head. “What in hell got into those damn cars?”
“No idea, boss, but it isn’t just here,” the inspector says wearily. “Two more cases across town. I hear there may be more than eight statewide, and dozens across the country. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of lives lost in one day. More than the last ten years combined. The activists are already pounding the government for change.”
The captain scoffs. “What’re they gonna change?” she says, taking off her cap and wiping her brow with the back of a hand.
“They say the cars’ new AI got too smart, too human,” the inspector replies. “And now we’ve got to shut them all down.”
“Shut down every vehicle in the country? And just how are we all supposed to get to work if that happens?”
The inspector grimaces. “Looks like we might have to learn how to drive.”
Copyright Keith Soares 2019