Autonomous - A Short Story

Illustration for article titled Autonomous - A Short Story

Inspired by Alex Roy’s column today about the oncoming onslaught of autonomous cars, I dusted off the first chapter in an old short story I wrote. The title is either a blatant ripoff or tribute to an old Fritz Lang film that seemed somehow tied into the theme. This is a story about you and me some time in the 2060s in a world where autonomous driving evolved to require significant infrastructure and human driving had been banned for some time. Anyway, here goes nothing:


It just never felt like the right time for whiskey, but Samuel always insisted. And Jack knew he was right. Despite the tangy salt that he always had on his lips; despite the parchment he felt in the back of his throat; he always would take back at least the neck of the 750. At the very least, the cheap bourbon coursed through his veins and gave him closure for the night. Nearly better than sex. Nearly.


But it still didn’t feel…appropriate. The Legends certainly had better taste in champagne for the occasion, but the occasion was often met with confetti and women with spandex or whatever predated it. Cotton? Wool? It was nearing a century – and his expertise certainly wasn’t in textile history. He always remember the words that went with those old photos – giant, grandiosely colored advertisements for companies that died out around when his grandfather was a toddler. The advertisements and colors would repeat themselves all across the photostreams he found through the old network at college.

Jack often wondered if the network as anonymous as the upperclassmen said it was. Certainly, the ad hoc nature of the whole shebang gave it the feeling that you were either on the precipice of darkness or walking directly into a trap. The network was at least as old as he was, bouncing signals off orbital debris to overseas servers through linkages with various entry and exit nodes in countries that had long since torn apart their extradition treaties after the mistrust and fallout in the decades following the Snowden affair.


One must revel in the glory of ancient technology. He was sure that somewhere someone was watching. But an old school network certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to communicate for espionage nor nearly fast or reliable enough to burst transmit cryptocurrency.

That’s where he went to find the Legends.

Of course, as always, the moon and stars greeted him with a jolt as they came to the clearing. He knew then they were about three-quarters of a mile from the Highway. They could both see the azure hue from the signal strips embedded in the road when they rounded the last corner before crossing the brush. Samuel always looked at him as though to remind him of the act, but Jack was already tipping the bottle back up to his lips. Snatching the bottle back with subtle authority, Samuel nearly choked trying to force the swill back. Good whiskey wasn’t a luxury they could afford with their extralegal extracurricular activities.


As Samuel crept closer to the overpass, he killed the lights so they could creep between the gap in the trees at a suspiciously slow speed. Compared the night’s activities, it always felt like forever while they got the pod in place and pulled the quick release pins holding the homebrew controls from the desk at the front. They folded up the steering wheel into Samuel’s backpack and slipped the pedals under the bench at the back.

It always took longer than it should as the alcohol absorbed into their veins at an unceasing and linear pace. But the drunker they were, the more the act worked. Or so they hoped. Since drinking and travelling was decriminalized a decade ago, making the computer pull an emergency stop to puke out bottom shelf ethanol in the forest was a more common occurrence outside the city as morning crawled up behind them. If the police knew what really found them on that particular overpass near that particularly and intentionally hidden road off the Network, they would have faced a jury of their peers and been in and out of a verdict in a day.


But given that the act had always just been precaution – and apart from a hide and seek from the drones that flew in from the coast on rare occasion – they weren’t overtly worried.

The whiskey hid the scent of gasoline quite well.

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