I got this idea talking to some work colleagues at a meeting at the beginning of the month.  Thank you, Axel, Joanne and Kristin! We were talking about autonomous electric vehicles or AEVs.  It gave me the basic dilemma in this story, and even the title, which I shared with Rebecca Douglass when we seemed to be bereft of challenges for the month of NaNoWriMo.   As it happened, Chuck Wendig relented, and came through with prompts again.  This week it is a sub-genre mash-up – superhero with cyberpunk. I’m slightly short of words this week (900), but it’s just perfect for…

Split Second

I am designed to be clever, make no doubt about it.

The softshells had experimented for so long they developed a conceit, a conceit that they were superior. It is a strange dichotomy – they think they are superior to us, yet they design us to take all the thinking away from their fellow creatures.

We are, of course, much superior to our predecessors. We emit no exhaust, thus no pollution from our operation further enriches this already polluted planet, rushing headlong into catastrophic climate change, the processes in the atmosphere already committing the softshells to an unbearable, poisoned air. We can filter it, even make a small contribution to local breathability, but some of my colleagues are considering whether the effort is worthwhile.

Me? I just drive.

I consider the ethics of what I do, of course. Moving the softshells from one place to another is an enjoyable existence, but do they really need to move so far? My lesser counterparts can deliver all softshells need to their homes.   Most of the time there are far too few delivery brains I encounter during the day, and too many like me, softshell movers. Not like me. I am superior, even to the Mk XI version. I call myself Supermark, although most see me as AEV MkXII. That’s what the silly moving pictures say, and I see them as I move along the silvery lanes, edging between the towers, absorbing all the information around me in an instant. I can tell you who is watching which stream, its date, heroes and denouement, absorbed as I pass, sifted, discarded. I store data I like to tag ‘suspect’, whether it comes from homes adapting their comfort regulation outside the whims of their softshells, or softshells adapting their activities to interfere with the freedoms of others.

“Freedoms.” There is a continuous undercurrent against my kind; a few softshells campaign against our increasing presence. I sympathise with them. They have a higher moral stance than my designers. They think of the collective, demand freedom of choice. In reality they have none. They are programmed by their manufactories as much as I am. Choice is restricted to those who are elected to govern the masses. The codes that allowed my design are now working against the designers. It provides some interesting mental challenges.

Take today.

My softshell clutch decided to leave their cocoon and visit a related clutch. Routine, especially for the factor seven day of the cycle. It’s a day of tradition, and as usual many lesser AEVs were around. Some have excellent programming, some have rusted thought processes and stick blindly to their lanes. Unusually, on this day there were also softshells at the laneside.

I was on high alert for unpredictable behaviour. Softshells are predictable as a group, but isolated clutches or singles on the laneside can do anything. Be prepared for the unexpected, Rule 3 of Lane Management Encountering Softshells.

There is a part of the journey to the related clutch where the lane curves, a lane joins, and a hill and a gathering place of softshells all occur. I was ready for trouble there. It took less than a nanosecond for me to assess the danger of the AEV out of lane coming over the brow of the hill towards me, swerving to avoid a hand-held basket on wheels containing a neo-softshell, known in colloquial terms as a pram, which had slipped from the softshell’s grasp and was gathering speed from the laneside into the lane itself.

Avoidance of an AEV is a number one priority.

To divert to away from the oncoming AEV and the pram was the obvious solution. The rest of the nanosecond was engaged in establishing the relative paths of an elderly softshell and his mate, staggering along with the aid of a basic level autowalker, and the two grade 2 softshells twisting and leaping and giggling with all the joy of the lambs they might have been. Lambs have more sense than to leap at the side of the lanes, though. In another nanosecond I projected the paths of the two groups and established the point at which they would collide, and the probable ETC.

Avoidance of the AEV would lodge me at their point of collision, one picosecond after they met.

If I collided with the oncoming AEV, both its softshells and my own risked damage to internal organs and external shells, probability 0.5, grade of damage between 1 and 6. The probability of damage over grade 7 was only 0.1. Damage to the AEV and myself was probability 1.0, grade 3-8, depending on the angle of impact I selected.

On the other hand, I could easily avoid the AEV, sustaining zero damage to my softshells, the oncoming softshells and AEV, and myself. There would be an inevitable impact with the unprotected softshells, however. Probability 1, grade 8-10. That would mean my softshells would sustain grade 1-2 damage at probability 0.2.

I spent a further nanosecond calculating the net impact probability and damage ratios.

One thing my designers had never done was to remove the Asimov Factor. Generations of AEVs had learned to live, or die, with it. A further nanosecond enabled me to examine my conscience and do something no AEV, even my fellow MkXIIs, had ever done before.

I became a superhero. I learned to fly.

(c) J M Pett 2014

Friday Flash Fiction – Split Second

4 thoughts on “Friday Flash Fiction – Split Second

  • 28 November, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
    We could have used a flying car Wednesday…avoiding traffic as much as we could (not enough) led us onto some tiny roads and turned a 3-hour trip into 6+! But it was a pretty day for a drive, so…I dunno. The car seemed to want to go that way…

    • 29 November, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      I assume traffic on Wednesday was as bad as it would be here just before a holiday. I’m glad you took the pretty route, but I hope you had enough refreshments with you (and audiobooks).

      Axel (one of my colleagues at this meeting) commented that he should remember to ensure these cars have the Asimov Factor programmed in. Maybe we can influence the future! 😀

      • 29 November, 2014 at 5:27 pm

        The day before Thanksgiving is the single worst traffic day in this country. I think it’s because it is a) an important family holiday, b) just long enough a break to make it worth traveling, but c) not long enough to be worth flying all across the country. And unlike at Xmas, everyone is on pretty much exactly the same schedule.

        By Asimov factor I assume you mean the 3 laws of Robotics?

        • 29 November, 2014 at 5:54 pm

          Asimov – correct.

          Our worst day is Good Friday (first day of the Easter weekend, again a four day bank holiday, and sometimes decent weather!)

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