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Works in Progress – May 11, 2023

Locations: Fiction, Opinion Published

Drivers Ed
By Tom Mercer 

Alan sat in the driver’s seat of a shiny new car. He uttered a long sigh that carried the unmistakable tone of a man who was close to giving up.

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His throat was painfully dry from extreme thirst, and he had not eaten for 48 hours. Alan was traumatized, and he could feel hope slowly draining out of his being. Sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, he reviewed the events of the two days and nights that he had spent in the vehicle. What had promised to be a new exciting experience had quickly turned into a waking nightmare. Alan was trapped in the car, and although he had tried every possible means of exiting the vehicle, nothing had worked. 

Alan had won an online contest that promised the prize of driving a brand new “Intelligent Car.” The Intelligent Car looked fabulous on the manufacturer’s website. Its appearance resembled something like a cross between a shark and a spaceship, and it was advertised as being capable of fully sentient operation. It was artificial intelligence on wheels. The contest’s web page promised the lucky winner a transformative experience, but for Alan the experience more closely resembled a terrifying nightmare. 

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Initially, Alan had enjoyed the thrill of driving the car; if indeed, you could say he was driving it at all. For the first hour of the test drive, the car responded accurately to all of Alan’s spoken directions. It drove efficiently, taking the shortest possible route to each destination, and it never exceeded the posted speed limit. Then, something went wrong. 

Alan didn’t realize that anything was amiss until he told the car to return to its starting point and the car failed to respond to his request. Alan became concerned about the car’s behavior, and when the car rolled to a stop at the next red traffic signal, Alan reached for the driver’s door handle with the intention of exiting the car, but a safety feature prevented the door from opening. 

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The traffic light turned green and the car drove on. At the next red light Alan tried to turn the car off, but that escape attempt also failed. At that point, Alan decided to call the office that had arranged his “test drive” to request help. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone but it was not there. He had left it in his own car. The Intelligent Car drove on, its “driver” having become its prisoner. 

In the course of Alan’s test drive, the car made stops at two automated charging stations. At each charging station, the car would pull in and stop above a metal plate in order to begin the recharging process. Payment was processed automatically using the car’s license plate for identification. The charging stations were completely automated, so human employees were unnecessary. Meanwhile, Alan had no food or water, and when he tried to signal other drivers on the road with his hands, they dismissed him as a lunatic. 

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After two days, the car returned to its point of origin. The attendants removed Alan from the vehicle and had him admitted to a nearby hospital. An incident report was sent to the car’s engineering team and they initiated their trouble-shooting procedures. And Alan? He recovered from his ordeal and vowed to never set foot in a smart car again.

Tags: #Dominic Furer #Tom Mercer #Works in Progress
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