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The police vehicle behind him flashed red and blue lights and Thomas pulled over with a deep sigh. He launched the driver’s license app on his phone and winded the window open, placing his hands on the steering wheel. A drone with stamps marking it as belonging to the city police floated by the door.

“Place your hands where I can see them,” it ordered loudly over the hum of its propeller.

“I know the drill,” he dismissed tersely.

Obeying its orders with disinterest he got out, removed his jacket and placed his hands on the hood of the vehicle. Only then did an armored vehicle appear from around the corner and creep closer, stopping by the side of his yellow Ford Pinto. The door by its side slid open and an officer stepped out, featureless in his face-covering helmet and heavy overalls.

“My license is on top of the car. No, I am not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yes, I was going at 40 miles an hour,” he recounted flatly.

“Only speak when spoken to,” the officer barked but grabbed the phone.

Great, it’s one of the tyrannical sociopath types,” he thought. The slightest perceived resistance or insult could land him a night in one detention center or another.

“Why did you ignore the hails by the automated patrol unit?”

“I did not receive them. As you can see, officer, I have no smartglasses and the car has nothing in the way of onboard computers.”

“Mr. Walker,” he said, obviously reading off some database projected on his one-way mirror visor,” I see this is not the first time you’ve been pulled over. Far from it.”

“Yes, the police force has taken quite the interest in me.”

“If you didn’t selfishly put others in danger by driving one of these things, we would not have to do so. So don’t complain that we keep people like you in check.”

You’re the real heroes,” he brooded, focusing on making no sudden movements and keeping his face neutral as not to give the facial reading software of the drone that was buzzing in his face any signs of aggression, at which point he could forget about the detention center and hope he could get his own room at the emergency department.

“Says here you don’t qualify for basic income. Still paying the penalties of some crime or another?”

“No, officer. I opted out of the payment due to the surveillance that was required.”

“Got something to hide?”

“I consider that bit of privacy to be more valuable than the monthly pittance the state would exchange for it.”

“I’ll never understand you privacy-freaks. If you’re a good person then why not show that to everyone by displaying your life for others to judge?”

“You’d be surprised at the ways those things can turn against you, officer.”

“Whatever. This car is not in the register. Did it infringe on your privacy to make the necessary paperwork?”

“My car was damaged recently so I borrowed this one from a dealership. If you look inside, you’ll see the paperwork.”

“Sir,” the officer emphasized.

“Yes?”

“You’ll see the paperwork, sir:”

He ground his teeth but quickly relaxed his jaw, remembering the watchful eye hovering nearby. Few people stared at him as they passed on foot, a yellow light on the rim of their smartglasses indicating they were filming as the overzealous lawman demeaned him.

Why indeed would anyone object to being watched constantly? Truly a mystery.”

He drew a deep breath. “The papers are in the car, sir.”

The man bent down and grabbed the papers, giving them a cursory glance. Then it was time to walk on a line on the road and touching his nose with eyes closed, followed by a quick rummaging through of the car.

“Everything seems to be in order,” he granted reluctantly. “Consider investing in a more modern car with up-to-date wireless systems so an officer does not have to waste their time whenever you go driving. If I have to do this again, I’m charging you with criminal negligence.”

“Heard that one before, sir,” he muttered under his breath.

“Watch your tone if you don’t want to—“, he cut his outburst short and turned his head a bit to the side, apparently listening to something. He spun around abruptly and strode to his vehicle.

“You got lucky this time. Something more important has come up.” He slammed the heavy door shut and the vehicle took off.

The drone circled him a few times as if to say ‘you are being watched’ before it resumed patrolling the streets from the bird’s eye view.

He stared at the rear lights of the receding police carrier until it turned a corner. Situations like these made him think how much easier it would be just to give in and do what everyone else was doing. In a way, the cop had been right since his daily life really involved nothing that would cause him direct trouble, nothing that an outside observer would find interesting. Just put on a happy face, nod along with what the public opinion happened to favor that week and suddenly society would welcome you into the fold, handing over things one needed to break their backs for in times past. All there was stopping him was the sickly feeling in his stomach and his silly, outdated principles. And yet giving up those principles proved insurmountable day after day. So, he carried on, like a beast in captivity that is brough all the food it could ever want readily on a platter yet does not find it in itself to feed.

He was about to get back inside his car when a roar of a gasoline engine, a Cobra V8 by the sound, caught his attention. He raised his eyes over the roof of his car to see a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 barreling down an alley between two buildings, knocking over trash cans and heading straight for him. It exited the alley and managed to avoid crashing into his car, passing it by the front bumper. He had dodged towards the back of his car when another vehicle missed him by a hair’s breadth, causing him to jump back behind the middle of the parked vehicle. And more came, a sudden outpour of colorful vehicles divided in two streams by the obstacle in their way, the leased Pinto he was taking cover behind. Iconic muscle cars raced side by side with juiced up custom jobs as well as vehicles with bright colors and bobbing frills and novelties stuck to the sides like they had mixed up a car parade with a street race.

His alarm subsided as he marveled at the competition—he knew a rally when he saw one—breaking up the monotony of the city’s clockwork streets. He caught glimpses of the drivers and their passengers, the looks on their faces varying between exhilaration, determination and focus and in the few seconds it took the fleet to pass he had seen the most emotion since he left the racetracks with their thousands of spectators behind. The surging onslaught billowed his hair and clothes with fumes of exhaust and victory, and the ground under his feet trembled.

Order followed chaos in the form of polices forces snapping at the heels of the unruly avalanche. A swarm of police drones similar to the one which had bugged him darted through the air buzzing like angered wasps while automated pursuit vehicles drew ever closer to the members bringing up the rear.

The motley band charged the street going the wrong way, weaving between the incoming traffic, the people in the self-driving cars hardly noticing anything out of the ordinary, immersed as they were in their virtual worlds. The automated vehicles further back made controlled stops but for the ones surprised by the rush could not slow down in time. The vehicles were too tightly packed on both sides so avoiding collision was inevitable. The intelligence behind the robot vehicles apparently came to the same conclusion as one of its carriages swerved to the left crashing head-on with a brick wall of an apartment building, sacrificing one of its own to create a gap in the front of traffic. The vehicles used the space that had been opened up to narrowly avoid impacting with one another.

And just as suddenly as they had appeared they disappeared from sight, barreling into another alleyway unconcerned of the screeches of metal on metal as they had to bunch up for the cramped passage to allow them. Their pursuers split up, the drones and some cars following in their wake while a detachment continued around the building, trying to get ahead. The transport that had paused for the storm to pass started ahead and the traffic returned to normal like nothing had taken place, the only sign of the unusual event the totaled car that was crumpled against the wall, dead and leaking battery fluid. Two ambulances appeared by the site, blocking his line of sight.

Good to see those modern safety mechanisms at work; it would definitely cheer my final moments to know I’m being sacrificed because some computer figured it would be better to forfeit one pawn instead of losing several. He gave the borrowed car a gentle tap on the roof before getting in.

Sorry, officer. But I’m in no hurry to change.”

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Lowhale

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