Just some stuff I've had floating around in my head and nobody left to
tell it to without getting that look.
What if an auto pilot could be designed for cars that didn't require
any modification to the roadways at all?
Reese was sweating even in the forced air suit. The Palace of Edgecliff
module was a lot harder than he had anticipated. Twice as they neared
completion they'd been hit with problems: First a sand pocket caused a
section of the wall to sink. The solution was simple, but rebuilding on
top of the sunken portion cost his team most of the lead time they had
so steadily accumulated. Several supply barges had further distracted
them and the attack was nearly successful when it finally arrived-a
scant five minutes before wash-up. But five minutes was all it had
taken. Reese had never been so convinced of his impending doom, when
suddenly the tide had turned! Reinforcements from the dock poured in in
response to their call for dispatch jitney drivers. They must have
remembered the looks on the faces of their attackers a couple of weeks
ago when Reese's Priority sort brigade had stood up behind their
huddled survivors and dared the truckers to confront that line of
"Man what a day!" he said to his second, Mike Moriority, as they headed
for the lockers. "We must have moved ten tons today."
"More like twenty," was the reply.
They walked down the outway pass corridor, it's walls that of a
medieval castle until about the halfway point when the visors lost
their signal and cleared to show drab yellow cinderblock construction
with tiny reflective chips for the texture mapper sparkling here and
"What's up for tomorrow?" said Mike as they entered the locker room.
"I think it's the mining planet again."
"I hope they got it fixed, I lost five Mailhandlers last time to that
Paradise Ship virus. When I finally found them at the end of the north
dock lying on some pallets they didn't even want to go home!"
"Sounds like the start of a highly productive concept-if you can
convert it to work!" They both laughed.
His powersuit cleaning in his locker, Reese felt the returned pull of
gravity strongly since he was tired even with the suit. His approach to
the lot door had been triangulated using his cell phone location and
his car was waiting at the curb, no one visible behind the smoky glass.
Sliding into the drivers seat he stretched in the way men have
stretched the moment they sat in their cars after a hard day
since...well, since car seats became comfortable enough to stretch in.
That would have been way before the Big Three had become the Big One
and then had made that one critical mistake-if you could call it that.
They had commoditized the automaking process to the point that a little
lean on congress was all it took to approve virtual crash testing. They
did have the data, tons of it-even when you weighed it in electrons.
They could tell you to within a couple of grams the change in impact
transmitted to an occupant when somebody ordered the optional heavy
duty desert proof radiator package for their two seater commuter car
instead of the stock system, and then smacked the car into pretty much
anything - all from computer modeling.
But then the law of unintended consequences smacked them upside the
head. When Benevolent Guardian Nader (or Benny G, as he would insist
you call him - if you ever got close enough to call him) got done with
them they had to supply any start-up automaker, not only with the parts
at wholesale, but with the crash/performance data for any combination
of those parts. Of course their computer would get to decide what was
"A Workable and Safe Automobile," and, of course, Autocorp still
made money hand over fist. Actually, they soon realized that they made
less by building the cars themselves, but they knew better than to say
so. Thousands of two bit motor companies sprang up overnight. It seemed
that anybody with a set of Snap-Tight wrenches and a fiber downlink
thought he was the next Henry Ford. Parts warehouses soon became
experts at technical questions and then, with some additional software
and tooling, began to do sub-assemblies using the same one arm order
filling bots. You could practically build a fully customized car in
your underwear. Reese and the other members of the slash-dot community
had a long head start at that sort of thing.
Since the auto industry was now a single-source system, compatibility
was automatically configured for whatever part combination you
selected. Possible connections and capabilities of the recombinant
parts were simply listed by the computer. A knowledge of available
hardware and its design parameters made it possible to request
components fitted with connections for uses undreamed of. Reese had
always been an early adopter, preferring to be the guy that would dream
up stuff for his more geeky friends to build. Programming custom
interfaces to the Autocorp data base was a given, and allowed automated
testing of virtually any possible configuration of electronic hardware
that would fit in a car. It was a toy he and his friends played with
constantly. His ride was actually quite conservative by their standards.
The voice that welcomed him was Kathleen, a hybrid of the traits of
several stock voices with custom nuances added in and tweaked until
Reese unconsciously relaxed at her greeting: "Home, James?" she asked,
in a slightly mocking tone. This had been his line so often that she'd
begun to rib him for it.
"Yes dear." he said, meaning it slightly more than he knew he should.
The door shut and he was cradled in a restraint web that was barely
noticeable. The car slipped silently away as Reese ran through a short
systems check. Kathleen responded as if he were the captain of this
ship. It was a nice effect, the sharp responses of "Power check, aye!
Operating on sixty-four percent battery power declining at
seventeen-percent per minute. Engine at full output in
one-two-seven-point-oh-five-eight-eight seconds nominal, Sir!" -in that
voice. If Reese was talking to her with a window open men would stop
and look to see the owner of that voice. It was interesting, on several
The power supply of the car was straightforward: A small steam enhanced
Star Rotor engine powered a third generation low-resistance alternator.
At cruising speed this supplied full power to the hub motors, ran the
electronics, and recharged the battery. This was a lithium polymer
design using nano encapsulation technology that increased its
interactive area exponentially. Intended to supply start-up power and
supplement output for rapid acceleration and possible emergency use,
the car could run on it alone for about thirty minutes. It could
provide combinations of maximum acceleration and top speed cruise for
maybe ten. Reese liked speed-but economically. K. C. as he called her,
or Kathy, or Katie, or pretty much anything he liked- especially
Kathleen, who was absolutely regal in her ability to adapt, had mapped
the lot to within a few millimeters give or take and knew the
dimensions, tags, and times of all the regular cars there. She really
didn't have that much to do and needed something to occupy all those
extra processor cycles for the eight hours she waited for Reese each
day. Making intelligent conversation with him caused no perceptible
loss in her capability and definitely enhanced his, knowing his
interests as she did and having so much time to comb through the net.
If asked she could have given the schedules of the owners of many of
the cars and even their favored parking spots. She plotted these for
arrival times ranging from "why is he here so early early and Oh! look
who he's parked next to!" To "If he had any sick leave left he wouldn't
be here at all-late." She used decaying heat signatures as a
pathologist would if the arrival was not observed directly, and she
compared notes with the few other environment aware autos there. It was
useful to keep up with such things, and a girl just never knew what
might come in handy.
She monitored the cars of other Postal Workers leaving at the same
time, checking their heat signatures to determine their state of
warm-up, who had yet to leave-and about when they would. She noticed
the tell-tale shift of the body by a degree or two of a car they were
passing as someone put it into reverse out of routine (They must be in
a rush today she mused, the idle is still a bit high...) and she
punched it-virtually leaping ahead ten feet as the four hub motors
surged to maximum capacity before traction loss detection limiting and
just as suddenly creating a wave of power in regenerative braking mode
as the battery soaked up a significant amount of what it had just
pumped out. She noted that Reese accepted the slam into the form
fitting seat back and let the web softly catch him in turn without
really even registering a flicker of alarm. Perhaps he'd noticed the
car himself, or more likely he just was tired and didn't think about it.
"Full auto?" asked K.C., turning toward the freeway-in full auto mode.
She was painfully aware that Reese had not touched her controls once
since he'd entered the car.
"Oh, yeah. Full auto. I guess I forgot. Sorry." It was not exactly
legal to drive this way, but since she had been programmed to learn his
habits and follow them by default, it was pretty much routine. If they
passed a cop she would let him know and he could pretend to drive, but
he was getting so careless she didn't connect the steering circuit
unless she felt she could trust him, and then she still verified his
attention and wouldn't let him do anything stupid or dangerous. She
would have to admit she liked Reese-in spite of her good programming.
"That's O.K. she said. Do you want the lights?" She could do a pretty
nifty 3D Heads Up display.
"It's no problem." And then , "Full graphic display enabled, AYE!"
Reese smiled. Even though he'd taught her that it was still cute. The
road ahead lit up with multi-colored Neon trails: the highway, their
path, the position and speed of traffic, and faint outlines of guard
rails, bridge posts, light poles, etc. This was not just decoration,
the mapped features and static objects were recorded in her database
along with coordinates, road width, lane width, surface friction
coefficient, elevation, angle...stuff like that. She was always
checking this data, swapping with slash-dotters she came across, and
with any "chirpers". These were data checkers. Small transceivers
located in precisely targeted areas that verified where you were with
where you thought you were based on your own sensor inputs. Kathleen
created a 3D construct of the roads she travelled and saved and swapped
them. Sometimes a detailed one was available for an untraveled road,
but you still had to verify it with Dotters you met on the road and
your own good sensor inputs. (Why anyone would want to put out a false
highway data map was beyond her ability to comprehend. HUMANS!)
Anyway, Reese was nice, and seemed fairly intelligent, though easily
pleased and occupied with baubles like pretty lights. If there were a
fair number Dotters ahead of her, she could cruise at one-twenty or so
using their data for the road ahead, barring absolute blockages by
retros. She was part of a mesh network system pulsed at about ten times
the legal output power. The signals were so short they didn't even show
up unless you were scanning for them. Traffic patterns, speed traps,
road conditions were chirped all over. A web of information floating
over the highway system. If she detected that one of her hub motors
speed varied for an instant from the others with normal data factored
in, it went out as a slick spot. A warning appeared on everyone's H/U
at that spot, but their cars were ready for it long before then.
Everything was shared like that: routine weather reports, icing, high
water, any traction degradation, radar, construction. etc. Kathleen
frugally planned for acceleration on down hills and allowed a
percentage of speed drop-off on up hills at the priority Reese had
programmed. He could over-ride all this by a heavy foot on the
accelerator, but she had noticed that he did this inappropriately at
times, not even aware of the traffic and road data. So, like the
steering, the effect of his foot on the accelerator was at times taken
as a suggestion. At first she tried to spare his feelings by making it
sound like it was not possible because of a situation: "Sorry, we are
too close to the next exit for that degree of acceleration." or even
tell a white lie: "Chirper reports traffic over the next hill." Now she
had reduced her response to a simple "Uh-Uh! " when it was not
reasonable to let him have speed control.
Just over half the way home she could stand his silence no more:
"What's the matter?" Showing genuine concern.
"Oh, I'm just pondering. There's a short story contest, Science
fiction. I'd like to enter, but don't know what to write."
"Well," she said, her relief evident. "I've always heard that you
should write about something you know...." Her mind was at a possible
solution almost before she had started, "You...could write something
fanciful...about me...for instance." She said, with just a trace of
something new in that voice.
Copyright 2011 Daniel J. Gooch All rights reserved