SABERCORP

Tom:

The car turns onto a road with less traffic, and Johnny appears pleased. It’s listening to him again. Ahead, I see a low building with a large SaberCorp logo on the side. Cars are going in one end and coming out the other; it’s a high tech car wash that is an essential component of the Saber initiative.

Each Saber is independently powered, and the source of that power is its SolarZorb body, which is incredibly durable and efficient. It can generate power on overcast days and at night from overhead streetlights. As long as it’s kept clean.

Wash stations are located throughout the city, and each car is programmed to pass through two of them every day to provide redundancy if a station is, for whatever reason, not operating at maximum effectiveness.

Our car joins the steadily moving lineup for the station.

“The interior of the car is not waterproof,” Johnny says pointing to the hole in the dome. “Once the water jets get working, the car will report a systems failure and the whole line should come to a halt. That’s when we make our move.”

“Sure. How did you make that hole, anyways? I was always told the domes were unbreakable.”

He holds up his ring finger to show the band around it.

“It’s a sonic device. I wanted them sold everywhere as a safety precaution if the cars were ever in an accident. Nate wouldn’t have any of that. He said the cars would never be involved in an accident so there would be no need for such a thing.”

Our car drives slowly into the building, which is a blur of mechanical action. Articulated arms and hoses rush into position just ahead of us as overhead water jets are turned on. Through the spray, we can see several dozen cars ahead being meticulously soaked and scrubbed by an array of jets, spinning brushes and ultrasonic heads that, I’m told, employ cavitation to agitate dirt from hard-to-scrub places.

We both move away from the open window when the first hot spray pours through. The car fills with steam as we notice small arcs crossing the controls of the entertainment system. It only takes a few moments for smoke to begin seeping from the affected areas and trigger an alarm. The jets slow to a light spray as they turn off.

“Now.”

Johnny pulls himself through the hole but finds no grip on the wet car. He falls ungracefully to the floor. I follow and manage to retain my soap-soaked footing, only to have one of the swinging washer arms, returning to its station, hit me on the back of the head and send me down.

Johnny helps me up and we carefully slide our way through a shroud of steam and mist toward an exit door.

The rising sun, and the first feel of its morning heat, revives us some as we make our way along the busy street next to the car wash. Across from us is SaberCorp, but we can’t get there without using the elevated pedestrian crossover that’s just ahead.

We don’t get too far before the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. There is an immediate danger that I sense rather than see. A disturbance in the air behind us.

“Get down!” I yell.

I kick my feet out and drop to the sidewalk. It’s a narrow miss — a drone passes through the airspace recently vacated by my head.

It climbs about 50 feet to where another drone is circling above.

“I think they know who we are!”

“I thought they just monitored traffic.”

“Not exactly. They ensure traffic keeps moving. And it seems anything that could impede traffic is now considered a threat. Run!”

The missile-shaped automatons begin steep power dives.

Johnny and I are running flat out toward the crossover when we hear them cut through the air. We drop and roll. As we get back up, we notice the drones are not regrouping for another run. They climb to a higher elevation and begin to circle overhead.

“What do you think that means?”

“It means what I said before: Run!”

We enter a plaza that provides common access to the crossover and see two Sabers speeding toward us.

Johnny is out of breath but still manages to say, “Don’t stop.”

Reaching the crossover stairs, we think we’re safe for the moment, when one of the Sabers pulls ahead of the other and applies its brakes. It does this as it manually drops its trailing end, turning itself into a kind of launch ramp for the car behind. The following Saber rides up the back of the first car and becomes airborne, flying right at us.

We rush up the stairs and throw ourselves onto the walkway across the road, the aptly named Saber Way, when the flying car crashes just below us and destroys several integral supports. The crossover leans precariously as we drop to one side, almost falling into the speeding traffic below.

Johnny and I slowly crawl across the walkway toward SaberCorp Plaza on the other side, stopping each time another support snaps or the whole structure shudders and threatens to collapse: a fraying tightrope over a frenzied shark pond.

Suddenly, Johnny, who’s in the lead, stops moving. He’s seen something.

“Keep moving,” I yell, “we’re getting close.”

He points. “Look!” The two drones have returned. They’re taking a long run toward us, skimming over the road in tandem like torpedoes in an old war movie.

Neither of us say a thing. We scramble toward the opposite stairs as the drones collide with the crippled structure. Tumbling down the stairs, we land in the plaza as the impact and resulting explosions topple the walkway and cause a violent, fiery pileup on the road below.

Another set of drones have appeared, and we find ourselves running again, this time toward the SaberCorp building.

One of them narrowly misses, brushing against Johnny and knocking him off his feet. I stop short, missing an impact with the other, but one of its stubby wings catches on a piece of my jacket. As it lifts, I’m pulled up with it. Five. Ten. Fifteen feet. I struggle to rip my jacket free and then fall into a fountain below with an inelegant splash.

“You okay?”

I shoot him a look: no, not okay, but we need to keep moving.

The drones finish a high arc above and drop.

We run toward the front doors of SaberCorp. A female security guard is watching our progress. Despite everything that’s going on, I can tell she’s judging me and my business attire. She’s a Logger. Even from a distance, I call tell by her impossibly blonde hair, cut short, and the mods she’s made to her uniform. There’s just a few changes to make it more retro chic: Padded shoulders, yellow checked suspenders, pseudo Doc Martins and an old fashioned cell phone attached to her belt. And just because I’m not dressed like her, she doesn’t think I’m one of them.

Warren:

I recognize Mr. Chu. I’ve actually been on the lookout for him.

The guy with him, young, with an impossibly jet black SFW faux-hawk and a skinny windowpane suit, thinks he’s a Logger. His pocket protector seals the deal. It’s a status thing for wannabe office geeks, especially if it’s vintage and I’m guessing it is. It may be that I’m being too quick to judge. I tend to do that. I’ll re-consider if he doesn’t ask me about my name within a minute of meeting me.

“Warren!” Mr. Chu has seen me. “Warren, let us in!”

Behind them, drones are skimming the ground and closing in quickly.

Warren, let us in!”

I’m not supposed to let anyone in, Mr. Chu. Orders.”

But it’s me, Warren. You know me.”

I was told especially you. Not to let you in, sir.”

Warren, please, this is very important!”

Sorry, sir. Orders.”

<Mr. Chu is about to speak when his friend knocks him to ground.

Tom:

“Get down!”

The drones shatter the doors and knock them off their frames. The girl named Warren jumps clear as they blast through the lobby and drive themselves into the marble wall behind the security desk. It feels like an earthquake that vibrates through the entire lobby.

Johnny and I, covered in shards of safety glass, collect ourselves and study the damage.

‘What happened?”

“The glass likely threw them off. Even with the progress we’ve made, fake brains still have some problems processing reflections.”

“So, what now?”

“We find Nate.”

“To kill him?”

“No.” Johnny offers a weak smile. “Not right away.”

We enter the wrecked lobby and help the stunned girl to her feet.

“Warren, where is Mr. Johnson? Warren?

Warren:

Abruptly — too abruptly— the world comes into focus. I start to talk even before I know that I’m talking: “Everyone who’s left is in Traffic Control. They’ve been there since the start, trying to figure this out.”

Sirens begin to sound and lights begin to flash on the cantilevered mezzanine that hangs over the lobby.

Mr. Chu introduces his friend, and I’m asked “Isn’t that a boy’s name?” as we rush up the stairs. I quickly form an opinion about this Tom guy.

The mezzanine includes our Visitor Center where school groups can watch what’s happening in Control. There is a viewing area with seats and a media station with a dozen vid screens playing a variety of business and 24-hour news stations.

There’s also the main doors to Control, which Mr. Chu finds to be locked. That Tom guy and me follow him to the viewing area where he pulls open the curtain that covers the large sound-proof window to the control room.

We’re shocked to see Mr. Johnson pressed against the glass. He is panting like a dog. His eyes bulge with terror, but it’s clear he recognizes Mr. Chu. Behind him, underneath large vid screens that monitor traffic, men and women desperately try to escape the room through locked doors or they lie slumped over their work stations, already unconscious or dead.

“The cars AI has taken control of the building systems and activated the fire suppressant system,” Mr. Chu concludes. “The room is filling with a gas that will stop any fire. The problem is it’s not great for breathing — especially if administered in large amounts.”

I’m not sure why by Mr. Chu holds his hand up to the glass and motions for us to stand back. He touches the ring he’s wearing and braces for something that never happens. He looks to Mr. Johnson who’s typed something on his ComDev and is holding its display screen against the glass.

DiamondGlass V.2,” Mr. Chu reads aloud and then looks at Tom. “He knew I could break the original and improved it. Well, look what your perfection has got you Nate!”

Johnson’s breathing is deep and labored. His face is a horrible color, but he is still able to raise a hand and place it on the glass. Mr. Chu puts his over it as Johnson and he exchange looks of sorrow and understanding. A moment later, Mr. Johnson collapses.

We slump into the seats of the viewing area as the last of the control workers succumb, and we are silent for a moment. Numb.

As the alarm sirens begin to turn off, we can hear the news playing on the screens around us. Mr. Chu is the first to react. He walks over and begins to watch the newscast. It takes a moment for Tom and me to tune in to what’s being said. And once we do, we know it’s not good.

Next Chapter: PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS

Suggested Listening:

Run Away From Reality Oxymoron
Best Friend 7 Seconds