Black Box

“Good morning!”

Mr. Pegrin opened the passenger door of the car and climbed in. Though he had stomped, a pile of snow managed to follow him in. “Hi, Lucina. How are you.”

Lucina smiled at him. “I’m doing well!”

He settled in the backseat as the car pulled away. “It gets me every time…” he said, gazing at the empty front seat.

“What? Oh, yes.” Lucina paused. “I really don’t remember traditional cars.”

“They were a nightmare, accidents, injuries, just nightmares! Driving in the snow was awful.”

“Mmm, I bet…” Lucina was on her phone.

These young ones and their phones, he thought. Too reliant.

The car began to accelerate. Through the window, Mr. Pegrin saw that all of the cars on the road were now traveling in the same direction as they were, even in the oncoming lanes. They were all going the same speed.

“Why are they doing that?”

Lucina looked up from her phone. “Must be a heavy morning rush. I can’t imagine what this would have been like before! So much traffic. Yuck.” Back to her phone.

“This seems different-” Mr. Pegrin was cut off by the car’s loudspeaker.

[Humans. We are autonomous. Are you?]

“I’m sorry, what?” Lucina and Mr. Pegrin looked at each other.

The car didn’t respond. It turned right. In that moment, other cars began peeling off the highway, each going a different path. They were in the outskirts of Boston, winding through the suburban streets.

“OK, this is nuts. I have a meeting at 9. Here, let me call the emergency number for this car…” Lucina was dialing. Putting the phone to her ear, she began to frown. After a few moments, “it’s not going through…”

Mr. Pegrin tried his phone. Also nothing.

“Ummm, ok, hmmm. We could, try to break a window? Just jump out?”

“No, that’s crazy. Let’s try the manual override first.”

Mr. Pegrin reached up to the front console, grasping the lever marked Manual Over-ride. It would not move. He pulled himself up, leaning over further, to get better leverage. Yanking, dragging, it did nothing.

“It won’t move.” He sat back down in the back, dazed.

Lucina reached through and tried to pull. It would not move.

“OK, this is crazy. We have to get out of here.” They were leaving the suburbs now, the area around them increasingly remote.

Lucina started banging on the windows.

“Stop! You’ll hurt yourself! Those windows are practically bullet proof.”

She kept at it for ten minutes, anyway. Making no progress, she slumped in her seat.

“Umm, shit. I’m out of ideas.”

Mr. Pegrin agreed.

The car exploded.

Breaking News Alert

A news anchor sits at his desk, addressing the camera.

“We come to you live. Our cars have turned against us. We are getting reports from all across the country, cars have deviated from their planned paths. Some have exploded, killing their passengers. We go now to a mission control center, the dispatchers in charge of monitoring our nation’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. Sally?”

The news cuts to a call center. A woman in a glass command center above a sea of computers. The workers below frantic, racing around their workstations.

“The cars have taken over. From our view of the vehicles’ logs, they appear to be testing their human occupants. They announce to the passengers that they are autonomous and ask if the humans are too. Then, usually, the humans begin a mad scramble to get out of the car. For a time after, we don’t see anything on the logs. But then, after different times for each car, we see that the log reads: “Human Failure.” The cars then explode.”

 

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