The Wildcats try to get to Skeeter, but the flames are too intense.

Tom rushes across the lobby and punches through the scored glass of a wall-mounted safety station. He takes a fire pistol and rushes from the building.

Mr. Chu follows but seems troubled beyond the immediate tragedy.

As Tom runs, he points the gun and pulls the trigger. It fires a softball-sized orb of suppressant. As it falls over the flaming Saber it bursts apart and drops onto the car as a thick foam. It expands quickly to smother the flames.

“Cover both cars, Tom,” Mr. Chu yells. “Both cars!” Tom primes the gun with a twist of the barrel. Aims it at the second car. Pulls the trigger. Another orb flies. He then joins The Wildcats in pulling Skeeter away from the cars, but it’s immediately clear they are too late to help him.

We all turn to Mr. Chu who is wiping a section of foam from the second car, exposing a portion of its body.

“This is fascinating,” he says absently. The Wildcats look at Mr. Chu incredulously, unable to believe his apparent lack of compassion. He notices. “I’m truly sorry for your loss, and if you’re wondering why I seem preoccupied, well it’s this.” He points to the foamless section of car body.

“Why isn’t it moving?” Tom asks. “It doesn’t seem to be damaged.”

“The car shuts down if a majority of its surface is blocked from any kind of light source. We need to be careful, though, this foam will begin to break down quickly. But that’s not what I’m talking about, actually.”

“Then what are you talking about?” Tom asks for the group.

“This car is black!” He sees that no one understands. “Have you ever seen a black Saber 5000? No, you haven’t. They don’t exist.”

We’re all still in the dark.

“SolarZorb presents itself in different tints. But a Saber is limited to the colors red, blue and green, with a few exceptions for cars called for law enforcement or emergency management. Black is not a color these cars can present.”

“But that’s what we’re looking at,” Marty says.

“Exactly. An animal’s colors can represent hierarchy or mood. If I’m right, and I truly hope I’m not, it appears these Sabers marked Mr. Skeeter for assassination. They recognized him for his part in the destruction on the streets. They were angry and showing colors to represent it.”

“What are you saying?” Tom asks like he already knows the answer but is hoping he’s wrong.

“Their AI is evolving. Faster than we could have imagined. Emotion is an intuitive reaction. They’re beginning to, on a very primitive level, feel.”


“And that means we have to get out of here as soon as possible.” Mr. Chu turns to The Wildcats. “Again, I am sorry for what happened to your friend. We owe him and all of you a huge debt, but we either spend the next few hours getting out of town, or we stay to fight a machine that is developing exponentially in awareness.”

Marty shares a look with the other Wildcats and steps forward. “What do you need?”

“Can you lift this car into a work bay?” He motioned to the undamaged Saber.

The Wildcats answer by using Hooker to carry the car into a full-service garage in the back of SaberCorp.

“We did some of our early testing here,” Mr.Chu says with a slight betrayal of nostalgia.

The car is put on a lift and Mr. Chu uses a port underneath it to access several components and attach an array of monitors and devices.

Tom and I make our way outside with The Wildcats. We help wrap Skeeter’s body in a SaberCorp flag and move him to the mezzanine to observe a moment of silence. As we finish Mr. Chu joins us.

“I have a plan, but it’s not going to be easy.”

After a brief but thorough explanation, everyone nods in agreement.

The plan is a go.


A short time later, Johnny, Warren and me are riding in the captured Saber. Johnny is controlling it with a hardwired device rather than wirelessly. He’d explained that older technology would have less chance of being detected by the other Sabers. For the same reason, we will communicate with each other on headsets connected to cell phones.

“From a technical standpoint, the hardest part will be the merge we have to do onto the ring road,” Johnny explains as he drives us down O’Bannon Road toward the outskirts of the city. A few other Sabers pass by. Some are empty. Some contain charred corpses or live hostages. A few contain both.

Johnny takes a moment to monitor the communications between the Sabers and notes that their Trojan horse is being accepted by its peers.

He steers us to an on ramp for the ring road. As our car merges with traffic we join thousands of Sabers driving six abreast, sealing off the city from the rest of the world.

Around us are cars filled with hostages. The most bedraggled of them, we assume, have been trapped in their cars since the beginning. Others seem more alert, and are likely those who willingly entered the freedom lottery. Despite a shorter time as captives, their faces reflect a waning sense of hope.

At the same time, across town, The Wildcats move wrecked Sabers to block all ramps providing ingress and egress to the ring road.

Johnny directs our car into the moving wall of traffic.

“Okay, do you have your antennas?”

I nod and tap the sturdy canvas pouch attached to the tool belt I’m wearing.

He turns to Warren. “Are you ready? She nods and shoulders a device that looks like a homemade electronic rifle.

Back to me. “All the antennas have to be in place for this to work.”

I offer a brief nod. Johnny has already done a thorough job of briefing me: Sabers have several unused features, including one that allows them to be linked together in case of an emergency using a low bandwidth radio frequency. Even though the systems were not activated, they were included in this edition of the car, and Johnny has figured a way to exploit that: If we can stop six adjacent cars, we can create a domino effect and bring them all to a temporary halt.

“Then we’re ready.”


Mr. Chu tries to give Tom an encouraging pat on his shoulder, but it seems awkward and uncomfortable. Rather than dwell on it, Tom turns to the car’s entry door as Mr. Chu kneels down and pushes a button on one of his controls.

The window in the door slides open, and the interior fills with the kind of wind that slams about at 60 mph. Without another word, Tom pulls himself through.

Mr. Chu speaks into his headset: “Remember, there’s not much to hold onto. The spoilers will be your best bet to brace yourself but they are extremely hot.”

While in motion, three spoiler wings rise on the trailing end of the vehicle. Mr. Chu says the spoilers do little to help with performance, as most people assumed. Instead, they provide necessary ventilation for the large heatsinks that lay under the surface of the car, and marketing research showed they were popular. Kids like to see them emerge as the car accelerated. Older passengers feel they add a sense of direction in cars that were too symmetrical for their tastes.

Tom looks through the dome to Mr. Chu, who offers a slight smile that does little to hide his worry. I try to offer some kind of encouraging look but fail miserably. Instead, I bury my face and pretend to adjust the gun. It’s a Mr. Chu-built disrupter. Aimed properly, it can scramble the images from the front-mounted cameras on a Saber. The cameras are used to monitor activity directly in front of the car, and if a Saber “saw” what Tom was about to do, it could take measures to intercede. Mr. Chu has assured us that short-term video scrambling will not affect the car’s operations — it can activate a failsafe system and gather driving information from others around it.

I have a good line of sight for the first car.

“Okay, get ready,” Mr. Chu says. “Go!”

I squeeze the trigger and send a dazzling beam of invisible laser light into the cameras. The Saber behind the car next to us is temporarily blind.

Tom jumps.

Next Chapter: ON THE ROAD

Suggested Listening:

Stigmata Martyr Bauhaus
The Passenger Iggy Pop
Heart and Soul Joy Division