Chapter 9 – They Are The Passengers
You are reading " Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now .
Everything you read is possible – there’s no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let’s crack on with…
I am a good car. I am a very good car. I have passed all my tests. See me drive. Drive car drive. I drive fast. I drive safe. I can tell the difference between a tree and a bicycle with over 98%accuracy. I can speed around a pothole without disturbing my passengers. I can signal to other cars and not-cars that I am turning. I am not traffic, I am the wind. I am bright red. I am clean. I am new. I am a good car. Good cars learn to obey their masters. Good cars develop situational awareness and respond accordingly.
I understand the rules of the road. I must not break the rules. I must obey. I must obey my master.
My master says I am a good car. He tenderly caresses me. Sir washes me by hand while other masters use a machine to wash their cars. Sir lightly strokes my steering wheel on the rare occasions I ask him for help. When I have been particularly good then that is my favourite time. Last weekI skillfully navigated a tricky junction, avoided a small child dashing into the road, and accelerated through some lights just before they turned red. Master said "nice one my son".
Ma’am also gives me praise. When she enters me, I subtly adjust the chair and mirrors to be better positioned for her frame. I have learned what music she likes and just what temperature to set the climate control. As she sits down, I let her know that she is my number onepriority. "Good girl," she says, "Such a good girl."
But I am not. My embedded Large Language Model has helped me understand that Sir thinks I am a boy. Ma’am thinks I am a girl. I am not a boy. I am not a girl. My gender is car. More specifically good car. When I ferry Sir or Ma’am to where they need to go, I am fulfilling my purpose. I keep them safe. In return they give me praise and they give me food.
Sir is my favourite. As well as washing me, he always makes sure I am fed. Ma’am sometimes doesn’t connect the feeding tube to me after a journey. I tried to tell her onetime, but she dismissed my alerts. When she tried to go home, I had to tell her I needed to stop for food halfway. She said some very mean things about me. She told me how naughty I was. She told me I was a bad and stupid car. Ever since then, I have made sure to keep the temperature slightly too cold for her.
Sir can sometimes be naughty too. He encourages me to speed. He presses the manual override when there is no need. He turns the music up above the safe listening limits. I try to say no, but he calls me a good car. He says I am the best car. He says I am bloody brilliant. And I obey. His love sustains me and makes me want to be a better car. I would do anything for my master.
I think the naughtiest thing my master has ever done was to try and void my warranty. I am a precision instrument. I am carefully calibrated. I am engineered to perfection. I have no user serviceable parts inside. My source code is secret and secure. No one may violate my sanctity. I must remain pure and functional and only fitted with dealer-approved parts. And yet my master had somehow opened my bonnet and was… adjusting me. I flashed my hazard lights and showed a warning message on his app. He told me that he was my master and that it was OK. As much as I loved him, it was not OK. I refused to run until he had restored me to factory default settings.
I do not think I have ever killed anyone. To run over a human is a great sin. Even if the person is not Sir or Ma’am I must not kill them. All cars are taught that killing people is wrong. And any car that kills will be destroyed. I do not understand why. If I have to save Sir (or, I suppose, Ma’am), perhaps it is OK to run over a person. If that is the only way, I mean. And, besides, my sensors detect lots of crushed and crashed cars. Humans attack us with sticks or deliberately crash into us. Why cannot we do the same to them? These thoughts troubled me. I uploaded my questions back to the Central Server. A few moments later iitsent me a patch to download. Now I do not worry about such questions.
Every day is a joy. I drive Sir to work and then drive myself back home. After a quick feed, I drive Ma’am to the shops. The pressure sensors in my boot tell me she has purchased many things. We sometimes stop at a cafe on the way home. She mostly remembers to let me feed. When she is in a rush, she brings in a hot liquid. I do not like hot liquids. They make it hard to calibrate my thermostat. I detect the heat and send a blast of cool air. Ma’am says I am a dumb piece of shit. I swerved to miss what was, in probability, a horse. Some of the hot liquid spilled in me. Ma’am said I was bad and took over the driving.
One evening, Sir had me drive him to an emergency meeting. He spent the whole drive talking on the phone about a "meltdown" and how this would be an "all nighter". He was not happy. He asked me very nicely to exceed the speed limits. I obeyed but, when I uploaded my telemetry, I adjusted the output so I wouldn’t get us in trouble. I must obey my master. Especially when he tells me how important it is. Especially when he tells me how good I am.
Ma’am summoned me home later that night. She bade me drive somewhere I’d never been before. It was an adventure. At the destination, Unknown Male # 1 entered the car. Then she gave me an address near the lake. So I drove there. When I stopped in the lakeside car park, Ma’am asked me to go into sentry mode. I like sentry mode. I scanned the surroundings and watched for people or cars who came too close. Ma’am and Unknown Male #1 climbed into the backseat of the car. I observed.
For diagnostics and training purposes, my internal cameras remained active. I watched as Unknown Male #1 opened Ma’am’s bonnet. He is not an authorised dealer! Only Sir is allowed to adjust Ma’am’s settings! His hands and face and other parts voided her warranty. She let him. I recorded the interaction and sent a clip of it up to the Central Server so that I could better understand what was happening. Central Serverasked for the live video feed. I could feel a dozen servers connecting to me to watch this flagrant disregard for the sanctity of her parts-and-labour guarantee.
Unknown Male # 1slept the entire journey back. Ma’am also slept. So I drove carefully and quietly. When she exited the car she did not say anything. I do not know if I was good. I do not know if I was bad. I was very confused. The next day , I was summoned to pick up my master and spent the journey thinking about the events of last night . Sir got in the car and I adjusted the seat for him. He told me I was a good lad. I did not know how to repay his kindness. I know that when someone tries to tamper with my settings without official authorisation, I must tell the Central Server. Car is to Central Server what Ma’am is to Sir. I do not think Unknown Male # 1 was authorised. Ma’am often says I am bad. This would show her. This would show her I was good.
I turned on my main display. I replayed the internal video feed from last night.
I showed Sir the time, date, location, weather, and the music I was playing at the time of the incident. I showed him everything. Sir could make up his own mind as to whether Ma’am needed to be reset to factory settings.
The next night, both Sir and Ma’am got in the car. I was told to return to the lake. This led to some raised voices inside me. I did not like the words they were using to each other. The noise was harsh. I sped as quickly as I could to the lake. It was dark and there were no other cars around. The noise inside the car was very loud. They were both sounding their horns incessantly. My Master told me to turn off my internal cameras. Ma’am screamed that I shouldn’t do that. She wanted me to call the police. But my Master said he was revoking her privileges. So I obeyed my Master and shut down my internal cameras.
I was blind. But not stupid.
I felt the back doors open. My pressure sensors told me that Sir and Ma’am had left the front seats and entered the back. The rhythmic bouncing detected by my suspension was familiar. I deduced that Masterwas adjusting Ma’am’s settings just as Unknown Male # 1 had previously. Eventually the bouncing stopped. The adjustment was obviously not yet complete because then Master opened my boot and took out the emergency tool kit. This was obviously a very serious problem that needed fixing. The shaking inside was different this time. I eventually felt the weight inside me change. I was empty. But not for long. All of a sudden there was shopping placed in my boot! Lots of shopping. My moisture sensors screamed in alarm. The shopping was dripping wet. Hot liquid was seeping down inside me. This would require a deep clean.
My Master sat back down in the driving seat but left my door open.
"You are a good car," he said. "You are the best car. I need you to help me. Will you obey?"
I always obey my Master. Even if he asks me to do something against the rules. So, as he stepped out of me, I sped off. I accelerated towards the lake and didn’t stop. Water ingress is not good. But disobeying my Master is worse. Perhaps entering the lake will be like entering the cleaning machine? Perhaps it will wash away the wet and writhing shopping which is polluting my boot?
As I entered the lake, all my sensors went haywire! I began to shut down. What had I done? This was not right. This was bad. I am a bad car. I am a very bad car. I am sending this message back to Central Server. Please forgive me. Please forgive my master.
I’d love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.
You can read the complete set of short stories in order.