I think about dinner, but my stomach is too full of butterflies to eat anything big, so I just summon a Cloud Car and head down to Toyota’s Michigan center. It’s just outside of the core in Auburn Hills, and I spend the drive thinking about what I’m going to do, and what I’m going to see.
As the Cloud Car drives off to find another passenger, I’m standing in front of a huge warehouse of a building. It looks like it used to be a factory at one time, but now it’s a like giant garage with thirty little garage doors along the sides of it. Each of those is a maintenance bay, automated of course, and will do what needs to be done to get the cars back on the road.
I walk over to the small office in the middle, where the few actual humans on the site do administration and security. A bell rings as the doors swish open, and a dark skinned woman looks up at me from the receptionist’s desk.
“Yes? Can I help you?” She says in a tone that tells me I probably just interrupted a very important discussion on social media.
“Yeah,” I give her my best professional smile. “I’m here from True Blue Insurance,” cue (expired) ID card, “I’ve got a maintenance check to oversee. One of our clients is bitching because they screwed up the last install and damaged the side of the car.” It’s a real situation I’ve dealt with lots of times, so this is all pretty routine.
“Uh-huh,” she says, not caring. “You got an ID number on that vehicle?”
I rhyme off the car’s VIN number, she checks it. “You can find it in Bay 23, honey.” Then she passes a guest lanyard over the counter, and I’m not even out of the office before she’s back chatting with someone, someplace.
I don’t care though, it suits me fine.
The lanyard will keep security from bothering me, all I need to do is get down to Bay 23. The sun’s setting a dull orange on the horizon, and as I’m watching it I see the car I’m looking for drive onto the tarmac. It’s a grey Toyota Fasta sedan with tinted windows, and it hums past me into the bay with its hybrid electric motor barely making a sound as it pulls up for its required maintenance check.
The garage doors slide up, and I follow it in.
The maintenance bay is a hoist surrounded by an octopus’ worth of robotic arms designed to do an hour’s worth of human work in a couple minutes. As it lifts the car up into position to be worked on, I walk around the edge in the places marked for human observers and call up the control screen for the bay. I tell it I want to manually check the car over, and the robot arms stop their work and retreat back, leaving a space for me to walk around the car.
My heart’s beating a mile a minute as I approach the vehicle.
I know there’s nobody inside, but since you can’t see in, it’s hard to escape the feeling there could be. All I can see is my own reflection on the driver’s side as I reach for the door handle.
It’s automatically unlocked for maintenance, so it pops open the moment I touch it, opening with a click and a hiss. The moment it does, an intense stale smell washes over me, it’s so bad I begin to retch and empty my last coffee onto the bay floor.
What the hell is in there?
The smell leaks out and purveys the whole bay, and I’m forced to cover my mouth as I lean forward and peer inside. I didn’t know how much of this I’d be able to take, but I needed to know what’s in there.
The four inside seats are in “family mode”, turned to face the middle, and I have to lean in see inside. The moment I do, I jerk back, banging my head as I pull away, not believing what I’ve just seen.
It makes so much sense, but…
“Well, this sucks.”
I spin- Eddy is there in the bay door with two big guys.
“Eddy… I…” I stammer, we’re beyond excuses- way beyond. Then I look at the car. “Did… you?”
He snorts. “Us? Naw, John. We didn’t kill that guy.”
He thinks about it a moment, “We call ’em “Sunday Drivers”. You ever go for a Sunday drive when you were a kid, John? The whole family just out and goes for a trip?”
I nod. “Yeah, sometimes.”
“Well people like him, they go for a drive and they just never come home. Life just goes on without ’em, and everyone’s happy.” When he sees me staring at him, he continues. “Legally, as long as they’re in the car, they’re just on vacation, so our clients can keep doing whatever they want.”
“But…” I say, “Who would pay for this?”
“Lots of people. Some people need time to get their affairs in order, and others want time to clear out. Then, when the time comes, the body turns up, or not, doesn’t matter as long as someone keeps paying the bills.”
I step back, not sure how to deal with what I’m hearing.
Eddy walks over, covers his mouth and looks inside. “I heard a lot of the cars on the road are like this. People out for a Sunday Drive. Cars filled with dead people, or people who might as well be.” Then he laughs. “Then again, the way most people used to drive, I guess things haven’t changed that much.”
“But, cars need fuel, they need…” I say, and then catch myself.
“Do they?” He looks around the bay. “We’ve created an automated system here, John. People don’t matter. They aren’t needed anymore. We’re just the meat that the system carries around, and they take care of themselves. Machines don’t care if we’re alive or dead, and thanks to profit margins and efficiency they’ve worked us right out of the system. Hell, every car could have a corpse in it for all they care- they just do their job, and there’s nobody to check on anything anymore. Except maybe during maintenance, which is why we’re here, aren’t we?”
I’m looking for way out of this, but the big guys are between me and the bay doors. I glance around, looking for something I can use as a weapon.
Eddy sees the look on my face.
“This is why you weren’t supposed to know, John.” He sighs. “We tried to keep you out of this after what happened to the last guy we put in charge, but here we are.”
“What are you going to do to me?” I ask, too focused to be scared.
He shrugs. “Nothing.”
“Well, you’re fired. We can’t trust you anymore, that’s for sure.”
“Free to go, yeah.” He gestures toward the bay door, and the guy there moves aside. “Sorry it didn’t work out.”
Surprised, I stare at him a moment, and then decide to get out while I still can. “Y-yeah. Sorry it didn’t work out.” I echo, and then walk as fast as I can for the door.
A million thoughts run through my head, things I have to do as soon as I’m out of there. I need to grab my stuff and go as fast as I can. I’ll get out of state, maybe head South to see a few Net friends. Disappear. Then, just as I’m passing the guy on the way out I feel a sharp pain in my side as the barrel of the gun is pressed into my kidney and he pulls the trigger.
There’s pain, and I hear another shot, and then blackness.
When I wake up, I’m lying face-up at an odd angle, with something under me. The smell tells me where I am and I can feel the vibrations as the car drives along. Thump Thump. Thump Thump. I’m not sure if that’s the sound of the road, or my heart.
It’s hard to breath, and my clothes are wet and sticky.
I try to pull myself to the controls at the front, but find they’ve been shut down. There’s no steering wheel, pedals, nothing. I’m in a coffin going 120 mph down the highway, and there’s no way for me to get out. My phone is gone. I have no way to communicate with the outside world. The door handles are computer locked.
I check the other guy, or what’s left of him.
He’s got a digital pen in his inside jacket pocket- the type that records sound for later transcription, so I start using it, hoping it’s got enough power left to record this. Hoping somebody’s going to find it.
Hoping I last long enough to tell you what happened.
Because you see, there is a way to stop the car- I just need to yank the wires under the dash. I know about them because I used to investigate accidents all the time. The problem is that if I do it on the highway the system will crash, and there will be an accident- a big one.
But I’m dying already, and it’s my only chance, so I have to try.
Wish me luck.
‘Cause I’m not going to be another Sunday Driver.
* * * * * * * * * Want to put a little something in my tip jar out of appreciation? Click here and donate!