"Wallace Gerard, you are exceeding the speed limit by fifty miles per hour.
The authorities have been alerted," said the car. Wallace "Big Wally" Gerard
stomped harder on the accelerator, hoping that if he got down hard enough the
car's chip-embedded voice might just start screaming.
Wally had left
Burbank after stealing his boss's Mercedes, but had ditched the thing after
an hour. The car had so many alarms and digitized personal warnings ("No
Smoking in the Vehicle." "Sit up straight; good posture means good
digestion." "Profanity is the last resort of a little mind.") that it was
driving him crazy. Wally stole a red El Camino in Rancho Cucamonga, hoping
that the weather-beaten antique would be free of the ubicomp smart systems
that plagued the rest of his life. No such luck. The car started squawking
the moment he popped the ignition and hotwired it, bypassing the ignition ID
In the building desert heat, taking hits off a ketamine inhalor,
Wally was sweating like a stripper pole-dancing in a Bikram yoga joint.
His jacket and tie started yakking at him, reminding him that they'd
need to go in for dry cleaning ASAP. Blasting the El Camino up I-15,
Wally tossed the tie out the window as a warning to the suit.
Barstow, Wally relaxed. The highway was open desert pretty much all the way
to Vegas. His cell phone started ringing. The stolen Mercedes had scanned
Wally's cell phone ID and relayed the info to his boss who was probably
dialing the cops on his other line. Wally tossed the phone out the window and
watched it in the rearview mirror as it flew to pieces on the
Wally took another long snort of the ketamine. A chip in the
tube warned him that he was exceeding the daily limit for the stuff and was
in imminent danger of an overdose. It then warned him not to mix
the medication with alcohol. Good suggestion, thought Wally,
remembering the pint of Sapphire gin lying on the passenger seat. Things were
going well, he thought, all things considered, as a police chopper
swung into view out the driver-side window. The El Camino warned him
again to slow down. Wally waved to the cops.
Wrestling out of his
sweat-soaked jacket, Wally tossed it out the window. Tailor-cut Hugo Boss.
He'd loved the thing when he'd bought it. Back then he was happier, and the
suit didn't try to push him around so much. None of his appliances did until
he became abusive, and then it was all over. Depression and chatty microwave
ovens didn't mix, he discovered. Neither does a swimming pool and a tv that
won't shut up about how much porn Wally had been watching now that Nikki had
left him. The drowning tv had shorted out most of the
neighborhood. Appliances all around the cul-de-sac began screaming as they
were booted off their networks. Wally unscrewed the white gas canister
from the barbecue, splashed it around the living room ("Caution. Do not
open gas canister indoors."), flicked a match and stole his neighbor's
SUV. He hadn't boosted a car since he was eighteen. It felt pretty good
to drive away in someone else's car, watching his ranch-style condo go
up in flames.
There were a couple more choppers tailing Wally down
I-15 now. He waved to his new buddies. Wally swore that the El Camino's chip
voice was shrieking at him to slow down and give himself up. The car's
brain would have cut the engines, if he hadn't already clipped most of
the self-defense system. He just couldn't find the damned power source
for the voice system.
His PDA was the next thing to go out the window.
It wouldn't shut up about some meeting he had with the board of directors.
The device told Wally that holding it out the window of a moving vehicle
could void its warranty. He let it go.
Next he popped open his boss's
brief case. Wally looked out at the choppers. Did they want him or the case?
What had his boss told them? Then he tossed a fistful of cash out the window,
all hundreds, maybe ten thousands dollars cash. What was his boss doing with
a case full of cash in his office? What was Wally doing loading it into the
boss's car and driving to Vegas? Wally knew in his heart of hearts that
he couldn't spend it. He couldn't even gamble with it. The ID
codes embedded in the bills would have given him away before he could
shout, "Hard eight!" at the craps table. Taking another fistful of cash,
he let the bills slip slowly between his fingers, out into the hard
desert wind. Maybe this was what he'd had in mind all along.
amplified voices were coming from the police choppers, but Wally couldn't
understand what they were saying over the blasting wind and the chattering
devices in the car. His David Eden alligator shoes were whining about needing
to be polished. The El Camino's state-required breathalyzer started barking
when it smelled gin in the car.
Wally wondered if he could make Vegas if
he kept his foot plastered to the floor. The idea of getting that far was
more appealing, though less likely with each passing second. His head
swimming form the heat and the Vitamin K, Wally leaned over and rolled down
the passenger side window. The cross-current caught the loose money in the
attache case and the bills blew around the inside of the car in a
mini-tornado. Wally giggled, half-blind, cutting the car hard to the right to
avoid a jack rabbit loping across the highway.
Airborne at 110 mph,
Wally heard the El Camino say, "We have left the mapped portion of the road."
As the old car began a lazy corkscrew in the air, Wally had a moment of
clarity and wondered if the smart appliances back in his charred house and
nattering away in the car had souls and, if so, was there a Bardo realm for
cell phones and microwave ovens? He hoped not. It would be nice to have a
little peace and quiet, he thought as the front bumper of the El Camino
caught the edge of a boulder, spinning the car end over end. It slammed into
the hard-packed desert floor, snapping both axles, popping all the glass and
crushing the passenger compartment flat.
When the police reached the
wreck a few minutes later, a trail of hundred dollar bills led from the
highway to where Wally's mangled body lay, still strapped into the driver's
seat. The El Camino was no longer shouting warnings, but purring a seductive
bass beat. Some local ad bot had taken over the car's onboard sound system.
The King was on a loop singing "Viva Las Vegas" over and over as Wally's
spirit left this world and passed into the light of the Bardo realm. It
wasn't peace and quiet, but it wasn't half bad.
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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.