Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Sunday Drivers (End)

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.”

“So, why?”

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.”

“But… I’m…”

“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.


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Sunday Drivers (Part 3)

I tell myself it’s just the bad Russian-English kicking in, and not to worry about it. But, the next morning I find myself staring at the lists of account numbers- what are these really? It’s like an itch in my brain that I can’t seem to scratch.

There is something familiar about these numbers, I noticed it the first time I started using them, but could never figure out what it was. I mean, it’s not like a string of numbers means anything, but there was something about them I couldn’t quite place.

I’d always pushed it away, but now…

The software doesn’t allow copy/paste, so I copied down a random number from the list into my phone’s search App and let it run. I get a couple thousand results- all kinds of numbers from social security to random pieces of code. This could be anything. So I decide on a different tack- I copy down a couple numbers and search for them as blocks with quotes around them so that they’ll be used as-is.

Still too many.

Then I have a bit of inspiration.

I only search for the first four digits of each of the numbers. Most identification numbers are broken into blocks with each group representing a different piece of information. These blocks tend to be in threes and fours, so that’s where I’ll look.

I get it on the first try, and I stare at the window.

Now I know why these numbers seemed somewhat familiar.

They’re partial VIN numbers- Vehicle Identification Numbers, just missing the first two number blocks.

My head swirls. These aren’t apartments, they’re vehicles.

Then it all clicks.

These are cars or trucks, and I’m topping off their fuel and maintenance accounts. That’s why the system lost contact with that unit, it got into an accident or something.

It’s somebody’s fleet of trucks or taxis or something.

But why did Eddy lie to me? If it was just a vehicle fleet- why the secrecy?

I call up the portal to the True Blue Insurance system and stick in the number and password of someone I know is still working there. We used to log in for each other all the time to cover for people who were late or snuck out- I know how to access the accounts of half the office. Management knew, but never cared much.

Works for me.

In a flash, I was into the system and accessing the state’s vehicle record database. Pretty soon, I’m looking at the vehicle records for each of these cars. And they are cars, not trucks- every one of them is different make or model, the only thing they all have in common is that they’re all driverless. That last part explains why they need to have their accounts tracked and topped up- there’s nobody behind the wheel.

But the truth is, now I’m even more confused.

I’d started to think this was a Cloud Car taxi service of some kind, but when I look at the ages and types of vehicles it doesn’t add up. There are crap cars and there are luxury cars worth more than my apartment building next to each other on the list- no taxi service has this kind of variety.


So I pick one, a Chevy Sonar, and call up it’s GPS location tracker- Interstate 90, three miles outside of Missoula, Montana. It’s two years old, licensed to a David Miller of 432 Main Street of Wichita, Kansas. Which is definitely not Montana, or Michigan, so why am I taking care of Mr. Miller’s car?

Then I see the odometer reading and I need to do a triple take.

657,492 miles.

What the hell? How does a 2 year old car have that much mileage on it? Is that even possible? Could that be a mistake?

I pick another- this one’s in Washington State, 1 year old, 347,573 miles on it.

Another- Florida, 3 years, 1,456,231 miles.

New York, 1 year, 298,742 miles.

California, 763,221 miles.

Louisiana, 89,000 miles.




These cars are all over the place- on highways and freeways scattered across the country, they’re all less than 4 years old, and they all have ridiculous amounts on their odometers. I’ve never seen numbers like this outside of taxis or transport trucks, and even those were lower than some of these cars. It was like they were being run on the highway 24-7.

But why? What were these cars transporting?

My mind immediately leaps to drugs.

It’s gotta be drugs.

I’m managing a fleet of drug delivery cars.

Oh crap.

I stare at the screen. Now what do I do? This is actually a pretty good job, and those are hard to come by these days. But drugs? If I’m an accessory, how many years? Is what I’m doing illegal? Of course it is, somehow. But I didn’t know… Maybe I could plead the fifth? Maybe if they get found out, it’ll be okay? Nobody knows I’m the one paying the bills, right?

Oh wait, my IP address will be logged somewhere.


I shut down my system and go take a walk.

A couple hours later with a full stomach and having thought it over, I decide I don’t know enough. Yeah, it could be drugs, but it could also be some other black or grey market merchandise like untaxed cigarettes or booze. Maybe they’re running a courier service. I just don’t know enough.

A smart man would call Eddy and quit, maybe tell him that I have a better job, thank him and get the hell out of town.

I’m still trying to salvage things, like the idiot I am.

So I decided to watch the GPS beacon of one of the cars and see where it went.

I figure maybe it’ll give me some clue what they’re up to.

One’s coming into Michigan, so I call it “Todd” and start watching it.

Three hours later, Todd is in Indiana. Never stopped, never left the highway.

Okay, so it’s traveling between states, not uncommon. I pick another one I call “Betsey” and follow it into my state.

Same deal. Betsey comes in on I75, loops up the peninsula and then comes back down on her merry way to Illinois. She stops once for some automated gas, I see the money charged to my accounts, but that’s it, and then she’s on her way. No other stops.

I pick another car. And another.

None of the cars coming into the state stop, and if they do, it’s only for gas, and those are all different gas stations in different places. Those could be drop-off points. Somebody could be swapping the goods when they stop for gas, but…

I go back to Todd.

He’s in Ohio now. I start following his progress.

He continues to lazily buzz along the interstates, stopping only for gas as he makes his way around the country. Betsey is the same, she never seems to go anywhere, just drives. They’re not even taking any kind of direct routes to anywhere, they’re just driving, and it’s almost random where they go.

The more I think about it, the more puzzled I become. What are these cars doing? It’s like someone just told them to drive, and to keep on driving, and not to stop.

Who would do that? And why?

Watching Todd and Betsey becomes my new hobby, and I keep a window open with their progress in the background as I work. Watching them and looking for patterns as the days pass by. After a few weeks, the frustration builds up, I’m obsessed with them and trying to figure out what they’re doing, but I can’t seem to find any patterns.

Finally, I decided to take action.

Using the True Blue Insurance system, I designate a car coming into the state as “in need of a recall”. It’s a selective alert going out to just that car, and it will force the car to come into a dealership for maintenance. Since I chose a Toyota car, and there’s only one maintenance bay in the area, I know exactly where the car is going to go.


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Sunday Drivers (Part 2)

So here we go.

“Yeah,” I answered. “You know of anyplace that’s hiring?”

“Maybe. You still in Greektown? Can we meet?”

“Sure am. Sure can. Where?”

“Mama Sitta’s in thirty?”

“K. CYA there!”

I cleaned up a bit, pulled on a fresh shirt, and headed down to Mama Sitta’s. It was just two blocks away, and I found Eddy talking with the bouncer at the front door. He turned when he saw me coming, and gave me a big smile.

“John!” He says, and shoves his hand at me.

The skinny awkward kid who smoked too much pot in high school was now clean cut, with a designer shirt and shoes that probably cost as much as my month’s rent. He’s still Eddy, though, with that big nose and those small eyes.

We greet, he says goodbye to a bouncer he clearly knows personally, and then we go inside.

It’s Wednesday night, the restaurant has only a couple of people, and the bar side is empty. He takes a stool there like he owns the place, and summons the bartender with a wave. “Two Grosse Points,” he says, then looks at me. “You’re okay with Artisan beer, right?

“Sure,” I say. I don’t really give a crap, but this was a job interview situation so…

We chit-chat for a bit. Catch up on old times. The last time I saw him was during my second year at Michigan State. Then I get around to asking, “So you work here?”

He shakes his head. “Nah. My boss owns this place, so we come here a lot. He’s gotta steal his money back somehow, right?”

I bob my head in agreement, and then decide to go for it. “So, what kind of business are you in these days?”

He pauses to crack open a pink dyed pistachio, and then pops it into his mouth and smiles. “Property management.”

“Really?” This does sound promising, people still need a place to live.

“Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”


“My company’s got a contract to take care of a bunch of rental units, and we need a manager.”

“I dunno, man.” I said, “I’m not the most handy guy on the block.”

He laughs, “Nah. Not that kind of property manager. It’s for taking care of old people’s apartments. You don’t even have to meet ’em, you just pay the bills and see that they’re taken care of. It’s all done online.”

“Whoa,” I nod. “Yeah…Uh…That does sound interesting. How many units are we talking here?”

He shrugged. “A couple hundred.”

He saw the look in my eyes and laughs. “Like I said, you never meet ’em, just keep an eye on them.”

“Sounds like something somebody in Indonesia could do. Why are you hiring local?”

“Data Crossing Act,” he says, referring to an effort by the government to restrict online jobs being outsourced to overseas. “Plus, we want people we know and trust on this. When I saw you were looking for work, I thought it was great timing.”

“Last guy quit?”

He bobs his head. “Yeah, he caught a ride out of state. Didn’t want to be here anymore.”

I couldn’t blame him, Detroit was supposed to be having it’s zillionth renaissance, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

“So, you in?” He says, giving me a serious look.

“Yeah,” I said like an idiot, “Definitely.”

We had a few more beers and memories, and I wander home.

The next morning, my Keurig is buzzing out a cup of coffee when there’s a chime from my system and a Direct Message from Eddy pops up with an attachment. I follow the instructions, download the software, and let it run. Once it comes up, I take the day to read through the docs. After dealing with the software True Blue Insurance used, this was a piece of cake, which is a good thing, because the docs read like they were translated from Russian- badly.

Like Eddy said, the job is simple- I monitor the master accounts for a legion of seniors rental units. If the unit accounts are low on funds, I go to a series of designated accounts, take money and top the unit accounts up so the bills are paid and everyone is happy. Each unit has a number, and it’s all anonymous. I can’t even see where these units are, I assume they’re in Detroit, but they could be anywhere.

Finally, if there are any issues, I’m supposed to let Eddy know.

It’s stupid data grunt work, but they pay a bit above minimum and it doesn’t look like it will take more than a few hours a day. I can use the rest of the time to hunt for more work, or whatever.


It takes me a few days to get up to speed, but once I have it down I’m sweeping through the list in no time. It flags any issues, so it’s not hard to find the accounts that need checking, and each day gets a bit faster. Pretty soon, I’m playing online Poker more than I’m working. I tell myself I’ll start looking for another job soon, but never seem to get around to it.

This goes on for a couple months, and then one day something happens- I get hauled out of bed one night by an emergency message from the system. Bleary eyed, I stare at the message window.

“Unit 556847932 has lost contact, please advise.”

I don’t know what to do. I call Eddy.

He’s high as a kite, but comes down hard when I tell him the message. When he’s done swearing, he says “Send me the number. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. Just…Everything else is okay, right?”


“Then don’t worry about it. You’re doing a good job, Johnny. The boss is happy.”

I smile. “Oh yeah? Cool.”

“Sure is. I gotta go. Let me know if you get any more messages, ‘kay?”

“No problem.”

Then he’s gone, and the place is dark again.

I go to bed, but as I’m trying to sleep a thought strikes me.

How the hell do you lose contact with an apartment unit?


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Sunday Drivers (Part 1)


This week on KFAT fiction, we have a visit to the Twilight Zone. In a not too distant future, an auto insurance investigator loses his job to the driverless car revolution, but when he’s offered a new job it might just turn out to be his last. Can he keep himself from becoming just another Sunday Driver?

Sunday Drivers

by Robyn Paterson

(Science Fiction, Near Future, Mature.)

Lots of kids have nightmares about being buried alive.

You wake up and you’re in a tight, dark enclosed space. The air inside is stale and hot and you can barely move. You scream. You make as much noise as possible, hoping that someone is going to hear you.

But nobody does, because nobody can.

I’m going to tell you the story of how I got buried alive at 120 mph.

It starts with 14 words.


Come see me in my office when you have the time.

Bill Class.”

Bill was my boss at Trueblue Auto Insurance, and his office was at the end of a nearly empty cubicle farm. I barely had time to read it when Hadley from security showed up next to my desk. He gave me an apologetic look, but I just nodded and grabbed my coat. I wasn’t going to make a fuss, there was no point. He was just doing his job, like I’d done mine.

Bill was as apologetic as he could be, but he too was just doing his job.

“It’s just the way things are, John,” he said. “Nobody’s buying cars anymore. Hell, why should they? They can just use those damn apps on their phones and some Cloud Car will show up and take them to wherever they want to go just like that.”

I got it. I knew.

Nobody buying cars meant nobody needing auto insurance.

It had been coming for years.

First a few driverless cars on the road, then once the Cloud Car services like Uber caught on and people realized they didn’t need to pay for insurance, or gas, or maintenance, the bottom fell out of the whole industry. Why pay for that crap when you could let someone else handle it?

Like an idiot, I thought there’d still be a need for insurance investigators- after all, people still had accidents, right?

But then the new legislation came in- no more human drivers. Things reached the point where there were so many driverless cars on the road that the only ones having accidents were humans. So they solved that too.

Now, there I was.

“Of course, there’ll be a severance package,” Bill continued. “You’re a good man, John. I hate to see you go, but you’ll bounce back, okay?”

I swallowed the bile in my throat and smiled. I shook his hand. Hadley escorted me from the building.

I wanted to torch the place, maybe it was good they stuck Hadley with me.

Instead I put out a location event alert on my G_Phone and invited everyone I knew to join me in getting drunk. Lots showed up. It wasn’t like they had jobs to worry about either.

America has 4.12 million miles of roads, it’s a country built around cars.

When you got 90% of the cars off the road, you got rid 90% of everything that went with them. Insurance. Car Loans. Auto Parts. Auto Plants. Parking Garages. Road Maintenance. Traffic Ticket fees. Gas and Oil Production. The DMV. City Parking Meters.

Driverless vehicles caused a huge pileup in a system built around people owning cars.

I was just another piece of hot, sticky roadkill.

Viva progress!

Still, the bills came, because everyone was trying to get what money they could. And pretty soon I was having to decide between paying for my glorious one-room apartment on Detroit’s lower east side, water, power, Internet, or phone bill. I could have one or two, but I couldn’t have them all.

I have to admit, I was thinking about saying screw it and just ignoring them all, but the idea of being homeless didn’t fill me with wonder.

The problem was, the last thing anyone was looking to hire was an insurance investigator- we were a dime a dozen, and someone had dumped a hell of a lot of dimes on the pavement. I could try other jobs, but those took training, and training cost money, and what was it that I didn’t have? Severance only went so far, and hell, I couldn’t even work at McDonald’s, those had gone totally automated ten years  before.

Every time I saw that cute anime-type face on the ordering screen asking me if I wanted fries with that, I wanted to punch her- hard.

So, one night I drunk posted to my G_book page:

“Bill Deathmatch! Rent vs. Power! Who will win? You decide! Vote below!”

The usual bunch of joke replies, and a few posts showing serious worry followed, but then I got a Direct Message from one of my old high school buddies.

The truth was, I’d even forgotten I’d added him to my friend’s list.

But there his name was on my message bar: Eddy Saint.

“Hey man. You needing some cash?”

I wish to god that I’d ignored that message.


But I didn’t.

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