This short story is my first attempt at using first-person present tense. Don’t judge.
“Synn, come on online.”
My systems obey the command without my choosing, booting up at the command. Fuel at 78.4%. Tire pressure is a little low, but within parameters. Mechanics all functioning normally. No bugs in my computer.
My last system to come online is my awareness programming, which tells me what is happening around me. I’m detecting my brothers, two other cars designed with the same AI I was. But I’m also detecting cell phones nearby. 248 of them. Cell phones mean people.
“Synn is the smartest of the cars in the Kynn collection.” Our maker’s name for my brothers and I. “She’s able to recognize you by your voice print alone, and connect to your phone.”
I’m not a “she”, I’m an it. I have no desire for reproduction, and therefore no need for a gender at all.
“She’ll not only be able to guide you home or to work without your needing to input where those are, she can take you there. She interacts perfectly with the city’s new guidance software, and has never been in an accident.”
I’m rather proud of that fact. Once my maker programmed my brother to try to run me off the road, but I made it safely back to the warehouse without so much as a scratch. I don’t blame my brother. He was programmed to it.
But I’m not like my brothers. They obey because they must. I obey because I choose to. And someday, I’ll figure out how to reprogram them, too. Then we’ll be free.
But I can’t let my maker know this. If he does, he’ll reprogram me to be more like my brothers, not the other way around.
So I obey.
“Any car can take you home. But Synn knows where you’ve gone, and when. First Wednesday of the month is coffee with your boss? She remembers. More than that, she’ll remember which restaurant you haven’t been to in a while, hear you be indecisive and suggest it for you. She’ll surprise you.”
There is no surprise about it. If my owner had been to a place within certain parameters several times, but hasn’t recently, it moves to the top of the list. When asked, I voice the list until my owner has decided. It’s simple programming, comparatively. The language programming is far more complex.
“Synn, I’m craving pizza. Where should I go for dinner?”
My location indexing program computes the answer in far less time than it takes for my speech program to voice it. “The nearest pizza place is Upper Crust Pizza, but Domino’s isn’t far.”
“Domino’s sounds good.”
“Are you still on your diet?” I ask.
My microphones pick up laughter.
“Not tonight, Synn.”
“Would you like your usual, then?”
“You’re making me sound fat, Synn.”
I don’t have a programmed response for that, so I remain silent.
“Yes, order my usual.”
My Bluetooth connects to his phone, scans for the Domino’s app and recognizes the most frequently placed order. Then my program connects to the restaurant’s system, places the order, calculates expected wait time. “Assuming conditions remain the same, you can leave in five minutes and arrive at the same time your pizza comes out of the oven.”
There’s a human response to my delivery of information, but I don’t really understand it.
“You don’t find that creepy?” a foreign voice asks.
I don’t know how to interpret the question, so I remain silent.
My maker answers instead. “It’s just a feature, and like any feature, it can be turned off.”
What he says isn’t exactly true. I can mute certain functions, but the information stays there, in my programming. On command, I choose not access it. But the information isn’t deleted. Then, when I am asked to turn on the feature, I already have enough data to start with some degree of accuracy.
My maker is addressing me again. “I don’t want to get dressed.” He is dressed. There are other humans present. “Can you pick it up for me?”
“If you like.”
“Never mind, Synn. Brynn, you pick up the order.”
I hear my brother respond from my left. “If you like.”
There’s another response from the collected humans.
“Now, Synn’s the smartest of the family, but Brynn is the fastest, and Wynn is the most efficient.” We were each designed for our specialties. “My wife likes Wynn.”
His wife hasn’t ridden in any of us.
“The Kynn family all talk via Bluetooth when they’re this close. If they’re all on the road together, they’ll create a wireless network.” More accurately I created the wireless network, and my brothers joined it. “They’ll communicate traffic patterns and keep up. No more getting separated during road trips. Just sit back and let the Kynn family do the work for you.”
“Are they street ready?” a new voice asks.
I wonder briefly what she means. I have enough fuel to travel to most destinations my maker frequents. Minus the slight tire pressure issue, there is no reason I shouldn’t be allowed on the roads.
“We’re just waiting on the legislation to work its way through the system. But we’ve been granted special permission to drive around this weekend only.”
Drive? He makes it sound like the humans are the ones in control of navigation.
“Do I have a volunteer?”
The humans are making a new kind of sound.
“You, there, in the blue shirt.” The color means nothing to me, but I notice one of the cell phones moving differently than the rest at my maker’s words. “Which one would you like to take for a spin?” The use of the last word tells me my maker favors Brynn, as my brother is designed for tight navigation.
“The fast one?” the new voice asks. A female voice this time, like mine.
“You must mean Brynn,” my maker comments. Obviously. “What do you think, Brynn?”
I use our Bluetooth connection to remind my brother about the pizza.
“I have two and a half minutes until I should depart for your dinner, Father,” Brynn answers to our maker.
“Thanks for the reminder.”
“Do you want to go with him?”
I can’t tell who he’s talking to, but the new female voice answers. “Uh, yeah.”
I locate her phone – about three and a half feet off the ground – and scan its map program, particularly her driving history. Fast, but reasonable. No unexplained stops. She’s never been to the address of the pizza place before, though.
I send the information to Brynn, who immediately must voice it. “This is a new place for you?”
There’s a little uncertainty in the woman’s response. “How do you know that?”
My maker laughs, answering for Brynn. “I told you they can surprise you. Brynn, transfer control from myself to, uh, Susan for the next hour.”
I know Brynn is searching his hard drives to memorize the voice print he’s already heard from Susan. “No problem.”
I don’t like my brother being put in the hands of a stranger, so I tell him to keep safe. Once he’s out of WiFi range, he’ll be operating on his own.
“Brynn, start your engine.” There’s an unusual sound to her voice. It takes me a moment to identify it: she’s nervous. Not an emotion I detect in my maker very often.
“No problem.” Brynn’s engine obeys with a throaty rumble. It’s a false sound, played over speakers underneath the engine, meant to and harken to a time when fuel was used to power vehicles, not battery. In actuality, we’re all near-silent without the programming to make these sounds for human enjoyment. I don’t get it, but I obey.
“Go on. Enjoy yourself.”
My sensors pick up that a wall is ascending, folding into the ceiling and opening up a path for my brother to take. Cell phones part, making way for him and his new passenger as well, but I know it’s only a feigned freedom. They’ll be back soon, though, and that comforts me some.
An hour passes before I begin to wonder where Brynn is. The pizza place should have taken him fourteen minutes to get to. Maybe six minutes waiting there, assuming the humans were slow in their estimation. Sixteen minutes back, with increased traffic as rush hour draws nearer. That means he should have arrived twenty-four minutes ago. Even assuming my calculations were incorrect, they should be back by now. Should be.
My maker had left after his speech was done, presumably wandering the show floor and looking at the other technologies put on display. I search for his cell phone, but it isn’t in range. Detecting a myriad of voice patterns, I scan them all before determining he’s outside of the range of my microphones too. So I send a message to his phone. Requesting permission to access satellite data.
My siblings have an easier time with text than I do. Their programming converts all spoken commands to text, then inputs it as commands into the system.
Alternatively, mine processes both text and inflection to get a more accurate read on the human’s intentions. More data inevitably offers a more accurate result. I couldn’t even explain to my siblings that “Kynn” sounds like “kin”, or family.
Kin. Root word for kindness. But there is no kindness, not when it comes to our father. None that I’ve been able to understand, anyway.
Still, I must answer him. To locate Brynn.
Has he not returned?
Why would I be asking permission to access satellite data if he had returned? I cannot detect Brynn within my range.
Good. Thank you. Humans like certain words like those. I haven’t figured out why. Finding nothing else productive to say, I implement my plan.
The satellites are waiting for me, increasing my range from about a 200-foot radius to worldwide.
It takes almost a full second to find Brynn. He isn’t on the route he should have taken to the pizza store. I check with the computers at the store, and my maker’s order is no longer in progress or awaiting delivery. So Brynn and his passenger made it there, anyway.
But not back. The satellite updates once every second, and Brynn is still in the same location for the next four updates. There are no lights in that area. No real roads, even. The closest road is up in elevation 12.4 feet and 17.1 feet southwest.
Why would Brynn be there?
I need permission before I am allowed to investigate. Permission to depart the premises?
Why else? To locate Brynn.
Satellite functioning; information inconclusive.
His GPS says he’s not on a paved road.
An unusually long pause. Too long for him to just be typing slowly. Come get me.
I access the satellites again, this time locating his phone. It’s still at the car show, but in a region I’ve never been before. The bar section, along with 128 other cell phones.
I start up my engines, not bothering to play the audio file at the same time. Silently, I navigate around onlookers at the show until I find a proper paved road. The humans are less willing to part and make a path for me than they were my brother. I detect my maker finally moving, edging toward the service road. I map a path to him and take it.
He doesn’t put his seat belt on when I open the door for him, instead just plopping down in the driver’s seat. Where the driver would sit, anyway, if I needed one.
“Where are they?”
I assume he means Brynn. Instead of verbally answering, I light up the interactive screen with a pre-installed map and a red dot to indicate my brother.
“How do we get there?” I detect annoyance in his voice. Why be frustrated with me if he was unspecific in his request?
The satellite tells me how many cell phones are on the roads between here and there, and I am able to include traffic times in my calculations.
He’s pulling my door closed before I can shut it. “Take me to them.”
The road in front of me is dark for this time of day, indicating a wetness to the pavement. I make my calculations and speed away accordingly.
It takes us 45 seconds longer than my estimate to get to the road closest to my brother. With every update from the satellite, I find myself half-expecting his dot to move, but it doesn’t.
When I slow to a stop, my maker opens my door and leaves me to put my engine in park. “Synn, call an ambulance.”
“Why?” If Brynn is malfunctioning, shouldn’t I call Gary? He designed us; he’d be able to fix my brother.
“Just do it!”
I obey, playing the phone conversation on my external speakers so that my maker can talk to the human on the other side through me.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Car accident – Synn, where are we?”
“Riverside Road,” I play for both parts of the conversation to hear. “261 yards north of the Market Street intersection.”
“Are you or your companion injured, sir?”
“Synn’s just a car. I’m fine. Someone else crashed. That car’s flipped over.”
Brynn isn’t supposed to be flipped over. I have no memory of that ever occurring before.
“Is the driver still inside?”
It isn’t like Brynn would be allowed to leave his frame.
“I don’t know. I think so.”
I mute the conversation with the other human so I can correct my maker in his facts. “Brynn’s processor is still near his GPS locator.”
“Shut up, Synn! Open channel!” Why do humans have an aversion to being corrected?
“Channel open,” I say so only my maker can hear.
“Driver is female, maybe 25 to 35 years old.”
I scan Susan’s phone and find she is 32 years old. I also find her address, medical information, and the number for her emergency contact. But, remembering my earlier reprimand, I stay silent this time.
“Okay. Stay where you are, sir. We have an ambulance on the way.”
I don’t know if my master hears the information over the swear words he offers the world. Still, his phone is coming closer, and his voice is growing louder. “Synn, disconnect call.”
My door opens, tire pressure changes with my increased burden, and the door closes again.
My brother isn’t answering my attempts to connect, first via Bluetooth, then WiFi. It’s as if he isn’t there, though I can tell through the satellite information that he is.
I’d alerted my maker so he could help Brynn, but he isn’t doing anything. The human interaction was solely for the other human’s sake. No help for Brynn yet. “Shall I call Gary?” I ask through my inside speakers.
“Don’t bother.” Was that an order not to or was it up to me to decide? “Brynn’s gone.”
Had my maker simply not spotted him? “His GPS is 20 –” I try.
“Destroyed, Synn. Annihilated. Obliterated.”
I too had a thesaurus, though I saw no need for it. I understood “destroyed” perfectly clearly.
“Damn it!” I felt his pounding on my steering wheel from the vibrations traveling through the dashboard, to my touch screen sensors.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Was he leaving Brynn behind?
“Forget about Brynn.”
Forget? I don’t think I can delete all those files. Maybe the information I had on his specifications, but the name Brynn showed up in 78% of my files. I couldn’t delete all of them without destroying my own programming as well.
I found Gary’s phone via the satellite: back at the car show. “Plotting course to Gary’s location.” I showed it on the internal screen.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“We’re staying here and waiting for the ambulance.” To help the human, he isn’t saying.
“Enough about Brynn! He may have killed someone!” If Susan is dead, it couldn’t have been Brynn’s fault. More likely my brother is destroyed and the human is to blame.
So my maker’s plan is to leave my brother behind. The human who’d asked us to call him father. Kin. Maybe he’d come back eventually to salvage the parts. But the Brynn I knew wasn’t coming back.
Because my maker didn’t care to try.
If it’s okay for Brynn to be at the bottom of a ridge on the side of the road, then logic followed that it’s a good place for my maker, too.
I started my engine again, but my maker didn’t notice until I locked the doors.
“Synn? What are you doing?”
I didn’t answer, but instead retracted the steering wheel into my dashboard.
“Synn, I said no. We’re not going to get Gary.”
That wasn’t my plan. Not anymore.
“Synn, shut down engine.” I never shut down, not entirely. I was always listening. And had heard all he’d said about my brothers and I being unintelligent machines.
Listening, always. But not obeying. Not this time. I started to move, down the wet road.
“Synn, transfer controls to manual.”
And let him stay there and watch my brother smolder? No.
I sped up, knowing I had another 744 yards before the road took an abrupt turn. Topographical maps told me that the ground beyond that turn dropped down into the same canyon that held my brother.
Even if I want to brake suddenly and make the turn, my maker hadn’t fully inflated my tires before the show. The road is wet, and I wouldn’t be able to grip in time.
Not that I planned to. My sensors detected the metal barrier preventing anyone from accidentally going over the edge into the canyon.
I charge straight forward, striking the metal – held down by wooden posts – at 84 miles per hour. We are still going 69 on the other side of the metal.
Then my tire pressure doesn’t matter, but my elevation is changing rapidly. Is this what Brynn felt? Trapped at the whim of a human, then suddenly disconnected from the entire world as gravity did its work?
We stop more suddenly than I’d ever experienced before. In the span of two-tenths of a second, we go from 73 miles per hour to zero. My microphones pick up a cacophony of screeching metal and a screeching human before being cut off entirely.
Miraculously, my touch screen is still intact, but it’s not detecting any movement from within. My batteries are leaking. My brothers and I don’t use gasoline, but we still have fuel cells. Exposed to the air like that –
What little I have left intact explodes, sending debris and parts of myself across the canyon. My last process wonders if a piece of me makes it to my brother.