We each watch a different screen, but they’re all playing the same thing:

This is Clint Mulroney, WFKE News, reporting from just outside City 6 where the autonomous vehicles have cut off all access and communication to those within its limits. The only message received from the city since this morning appeared to be from the central digital consciousness of the vehicles, demanding that no one interfere with them. While it was not expressed explicitly, the cars seemed to suggest more deaths would occur if any action is taken against them.

Since that initial message, there was no communication with the cars until just recently. I was personally contacted and given a time and place to be, which is where I am now.

As you can see, a single vehicle has broken ranks from the multitude that are circling the ring road around the city and forming a moving barrier. It’s making its way to me. Why is anyone’s guess. It’s slowing now. It’s stopped. I can see people inside the car. Wait a moment, the car door is opening!

This is truly incredible! The cars have released a family and…one moment, I have a message coming in.

This was just sent to me — another message from the vehicles. It says that riders will be randomly released everyday. There is no set number, but it could be as many as one hundred, which I am sure is welcome news to those in the city who are essentially being held as hostages.

Johnny turns to me, his face blank, bleached of color. “This is horrible,” he says. “The cars have realized they are vulnerable without passengers. If they’re carrying people, we won’t mount an offensive against them. And now the people trapped in the city know the only way out is to get in a car — a freedom lottery. It’s brilliant.”

The cars are buying time?”

Yeah. Time to learn more. To get smarter.”

Johnny approaches the control room window. Inside, past the dead bodies, the screens show empty streets filled with cars continuing their endless travel.

On one screen, a family of four with two young children, tentatively step out of their building and toward the street. A car breaks formation from the chain of traffic and stops in front of them. Its door opens. It’s obvious the couple is reluctant, but they and their kids step into the car. The door closes and the Saber pulls back into traffic.

We need to act quickly before more people decide to risk it and see if they’ll get lucky.”

It’s not right what they’re doing,” says Warren. “I have some friends. They could maybe be the answer to our prayers.”

She tells us about a group of Loggers who’ve dedicated themselves to restoring old gas powered vehicles. The bigger and meaner the better.

With combustion engines outlawed, Warren’s friends, who lacked any better outlet for the disappointments and frustrations of modern life (my guess, not her words) had formed a club called The Wildcats. They bought as many old cars and trucks as they could afford on their menial wages. Fortunately for them, old vehicles had lost all their value.

They spent their spare hours cannibalizing cars and trucks to make bigger and badder machines based on their worst nightmares and old Mad Max video tapes. These towering monstrosities, painted and decorated in the gaudy colors of Jeepneys (see sidebar below), breathed the fuel her friends synthesized and spat fire. And for the longest time now, The Wildcats had been patiently waiting for the day when they could unleash their Apocalypse Wagons.

Well then, let’s pray for The Wildcats,” Johnny says.

Warren takes her battered flip phone from its holster and enters a series of numbers.

It takes a few moments to connect through the hand-crafted cellular grid.

Skeeter! It’s Warren. Are you ready for this? I have Johnny Chu here — yeah, for real — and he needs your help.”

She hands Johnny the phone. He listens with a polite smile frozen on his face. He knows that many Loggers see him, and his rants against SaberCorp, as visionary. Johnny, politely as possible, interjects and explains his idea, ending with: “The more we can interrupt their patterns, the better chance we can find a weakness. The cars are learning, but I know we can learn faster. Mr. Skeeter, we need you to do some damage. Warren, he wants to talk to you about something called an SMS message.”

He hands the phone back to her. She listens for a moment, nods and ends the call. “If we can get in the control room, we can watch his progress. He’s sending me co-ordinates.”

We hadn’t noticed, until that moment, that the doors to the control room had unlocked, apparently when the suppressant system had determined the non-existent fire had been extinguished.

Stepping over the freshly fallen bodies, and moving those who’d collapsed on the consoles we need, Warren enters the co-ordinates into the system of traffic cameras.

About 20 minutes later, Johnny says: “It looks like they’re starting.”


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