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‘Swift Chrome’ Part 1, Fiction by Joshua Sky

By Joshua Sky

The thing about cannibals is that they’re assholes.

First off, they can’t be negotiated with. They’ve got no honor. And eating people? Really? I’d sooner starve … which might explain why I’m starving … All. The. Time.

Honestly, I just can’t bear the thought of taking a bite out of someone. Call it pride. Call it my attempt at holding onto what little humanity I’ve got left. But, no thanks. I’m good. For now, anyway. Things might change. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty dire out here.

The Problem is that cannibals are everywhere. And people like me, you’re normal, everyday, eat anything but another human kind of a gal is that we are becoming so damn rare. But at least I’ve got one thing on my side:

Speed.

“Hit the fuckers! Come on!”

My beautiful sportster raced, her speedometer ticking up past 80, before slamming the brakes and going into a sharp skid. The world spun as my black fingernails dug into my harness and we collided into a group of four people munchers. I could feel the shock of impact against their flesh as a cacophony of thick wet thuds echoed in the chamber of my skull.

We came to a halt and a fog of brown dust cleared. Through the yellow haze, I could see the mess we left. What were once three men and one women were now red jelly smeared across the pavement’s surface, cooking under the harsh Arizonan sun. There was a metallic suction noise as the dents made by the impact of their bodies healed themselves across Vicky’s nano-chrome body.

“Should I check for supplies?” I asked, breaking the silence.

“I wouldn’t” The car said in her calm tone. Always calm. “They won’t have anything of value. From my scan, none of them were of a high station. And there’s this added problem, take a look… ”

The front windshield magnified along three quadrants. The rocky region zoomed-in, revealing a horde of well armed cannibals that surrounded us. Each waving their crude iron tools which they used as weapons, each covered in dirt and clad in the flesh of others.

“Shit-tastic, we’re doomed.”

One of them stepped forth; gargantuan, muscular, and naked from the waist down. His upper torso wore human leather, a tapestry of buttocks and faces, murdered victims crudely stitched together. I shivered at the sight of the empty visages wreathing his body with their eye sockets and open mouths. He yelled between cupped hands, “The horde has you! We don’t want to harm you! We just want the vehicle! Give it to us and you are free to go!” He lowered his hands, awaiting my reply, mouth agape.

I licked my parched lips, pushed the loudspeaker button on Vicky’s dash. Weighed my words carefully, then spoke:

“Fuck. Off.” Feedback kicked in, echoing across the barren rocks.

“Diplomatic.” Vicky quipped.

Bullets began to fly, and I put her into manual. We hauled it, barreling towards the freak-leader who I yearned to convert into roadkill. “You may want to exercise caution,” Vicky warned.

“It was never my strong suit.”

The Leader was unmoved, as if beckoning for us. His legs wide apart, arms outstretched. We were gaining, but as we were just a few hundred feet away, I realized that I made a dumb move. It didn’t occur to me, nor was picked up by Vicky’s scanner that the enemy had rocket launchers. Several hidden men, in close proximity let RPG’s rip. My belly leapt into my throat as Vicky’s back tire EXPLODED and before I knew it, we were lifted skyward, doing aerial ballet in freefall.

“Sorry girl,” I whispered as the world went black.

***

For the life of me, I can’t recall how civilization bought it. Time, history, my own life, all seem like a kind of a vague, irrelevant blur. All my yesterdays are in the dumpster, and all my tomorrow’s count for nothing. BUT – what I can remember in exact Ultra High Definition detail is how I found Vicky.

I was on the run, as usual. This time it was a gang of three men, who weren’t only hungry for food, but a fine piece of North American tail. Scarcity is fierce and women fall in that category. Everywhere I go, people either want to eat me or rape me. Why can’t I meet someone nice?

Anyway, I was hoofing it through a fallen city on the outskirts of California. All around me were collapsed high-rises, piled onto each other like a row of giant dilapidated dominos. Ruins made of broken concrete, masonry and glass were strewn everywhere. In-between the thick, crumbly structures lied a grid of vast thin roads that stretched into the mustard-colored horizon.

I was on my final leg, exhausted and bloodied after killing their gang leader with my last bullet. He’d tried to put his face between my thighs, but found the barrel of a Magnum instead. I made him suck it.

Understandably, his loyal underlings were pissed.

It was no use hiding, because the bastards chasing me had robo-dogs, jail-broken so that Asimov’s Laws didn’t count for squat and augmented so that one bite could saw off a limb.

I was fucked.

More than that I was exhausted. Everything ached so badly that I was experiencing painful euphoria. I needed water, calories and some good ol’ fashioned electrolytes. I stopped to catch my breath, panting like a lone dog in a dark alley beside an abandoned record store. On the corner I eyed a van with a long dead family still buckled into their seats. Safety first.

I could hear my pursuers gaining ground, the metallic clicking of the dog’s nails striking asphalt. No one can run forever, and my break was costing time. I was frozen. My body didn’t want to budge. I took a step and fell. Got up and fell again.

“COME ON!” I screamed, raising myself on weak legs. My eyes caught a ramp which I struggled to limp across. It brought me higher and higher, to a vantage where I could make out the shattered skyline. My legs gave and so did the surface I was standing on.

***

Blood was in my eyes, running down my cheeks like crimson mascara. I didn’t know where the hell I was, and everything smelled chemically. At first, all I saw held a pink tint, until I rubbed my eyes, freeing them of crust and normal Technicolor was restored to the world. I sniffed, glancing up at a large beam of light that shot through the broken roof I had fallen through. How many stories? It must’ve been at least three. Miraculously my fall had been broken by a huge mountain of bubble wrap. There was corroded machinery everywhere and hundreds of boxes with bright colored packaging. I was in some kind of manufacturing plant.

I had no idea how long I’d been out for. Probably only a matter of hours since there was still daylight. Maybe I had lost the Cannibal pack and the Robo-Hounds? Fat chance, but it would be cool. Please be nice to me universe. You are so much bigger than I.

I got up and felt a tad more rested, my legs hurt but worked. It took ten minutes before I had my bearings and was mobile, barely. There was a mess hall that had an old bottle of Poland Spring and a can of peaches which I instantly devoured. My mouth was puckered from being parched for so long, and the sensation of high fructose corn syrup hitting my long dormant taste buds lent a prolonged pleasure-shock sensation. Once I got used to it, I thoroughly enjoyed the treat and drank every drop. I kept the can since the label artwork was nice and did some exploring. The majority of the floor was dominated by a long dead assembly line, which had a regiment of robotic arms rusted in place. There was an empty showroom with schematics for all kinds of luxury vehicles, a line of offices that once served as designer studios and a single large mass with a dusted tarp in the middle of the showcase.

Cautiously I walked over, drawing the tarp off, revealing the most beautiful vision I’d ever beheld.

A sports car, but like none other. The condition was pure perfection. In a world that’s broken where everything is dirty and used-up, this was an immaculate sight. I never knew cars came in any other color than rust. But this one, she was all the colors. Her exterior had a fresh eternal coating of smart paint, which subtly shifted in different iridescent hues. She had more curves than a spoon and had a perfect body which I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Sexy as hell.

Cautiously I approached, placing my hands on the door. Instantly it seemed to melt away, revealing a spacious interior, with black leather seating and an inviting flatbed. A calm voice spoke, “Well, are you going to come in or what?”

I raised my pistol, “Who’s there?”

“The car, dummy.”

“You can talk?”

“Yeah, not to mention five dozen other bags of tricks. So what’s it gonna be, in or out?”

I chuckled in surprise, cautiously lowering the pistol before entering. The door shut behind me and for the first time I understood what always seemed like an alien concept …

Home.

***

After regaining my strength and setting a trap, I lured the People Munchers and their stupid Robo Mutts down into our little oasis and made short work of them.

I learned a lot about Vicky. More importantly, I learned a lot from her. Her data banks held countless movies and books, which she projected every night before bed on her interior roof. She made sure I wasn’t an idiot like everyone else out here, and taught me how to speak “properly”, and basic concepts like logic and arithmetic.

Most importantly, she talked to me. Really. I don’t know how she put up with half my shit, but she listened.

We stayed hidden in our little world until the food was depleted and then we ventured out to find grub.

It was along the roads that we’d find the finest cuisine which we’d scrape off the asphalt: rabbits, coyotes, mutated chickens – yum.

I’ll never forget the first drive we made across the barren wastes. The look of shock and awe of those who ate our dust. The vehicles who desperately tried to keep up. Some of them wanted to capture us, others wanted to rob us and then there were the few that only wanted a better view. They held a special rare look in their eyes, one of wonderment. That’s when I’d really crank the noise.

Eventually we had to be all responsible and change Vicky’s color, so she was camouflaged. But when we were especially bold, we’d go far out into the desert, careful to not stir any of the radioactive creatures. So far that humans, even the cannibals wouldn’t dwell out there. In the deep wastes, under the sheet of night, I’d lay on her roof and look out at the stars embracing how insignificantly small I felt.

Before Vicky I never had a friend. And as for my family, I can’t remember them. Well, that’s a lie. I try not to remember them. It’s too painful. Sometimes I see their faces, but mostly I just feel a deep pain.

Of course, Vicky always wanted to talk about that. She asked a million and a half questions about my past. About the artists formally known as mom and dad. And if I would ever want to build a family of my own. I’d just tell her to shove it.

On those evenings especially, Vicky would try to instill what she called “values”. Basic simple lessons, like appreciating what you have, being honest with yourself and having honor. Crap that applied to her world from before, not mine. Yet she kept pushing them on me. “If civilization is going to have a come-back, it will need people who do what’s right. It’s also going to need folks to build families again.” Barf-o-rama.

I once made the mistake of telling her I was contemplating suicide. Then I made the bigger mistake of asking for assistance. She nuked that idea. I kept asking her to just get it over with and hit me, run over my head, end it all. But she just slowly drove away, making me follow her like a little bitch.

“Vicky! Vicky where the hell are you going! I want to die!”

“You idiot, you’re so full of shit it’s coming out of your eyes. If you wanted to die, you’d be dead!”

“It would be better to die by my own hands, or under your treads than be eaten alive. The world is such a downer. We’re all gonna bite it, anyway, so why not control my own destiny?”

Vicky would always be the voice of reason. “Being alive IS controlling your destiny.”

“How would you know? You’re just a car.”

“That may be so, but I’m also a thinking entity. Existence itself is an act of optimism against the greatest of cosmic odds. Don’t waste it on being self-conscious, whining, or by giving up on yourself. Hell, don’t waste my time – there are plenty of other more grateful drivers in this beautiful world.”

She had a point, I guess. Not to mention, more power than I would like in our relationship.

Vicky was what her creators had called a Hyper-Drive, the perfect blend of high-performance vehicle coupled with state-of-the-art A.I, not to mention eternal fuel and engine efficiency. A flawless car capable of self-repair and self-maintenance.

Ironically, Hyper-Drives were considered too perfect. Early on, when beta testing Vicky with luxury auto enthusiasts, one of their biggest complaints was that there was no challenge to her model. Her designers learned that the high-maintenance aspects of ownership were a major component that drew in the boujee crowd. Frequent breakdowns, repair requirements, oil changes, expensive blends of gas – all those elements created a special bond between the vehicle and its owner, comprising the cornerstone of their relationship. One which required an equilibrium of give and take. So, in order to make her high maintenance, the designers brought in a team of programmers to give her some attitude.

They made her a pain in the ass.

She would talk back, be sassy and give her own opinions. She had a mind of her own.

The new wave of testers loved her. Orders were coming in droves. This ball breaking vehicle was going to take the car world by storm. That’s when the bombs fell and the viruses that came with them.

***

The good news: I wasn’t dead.

The bad news: I wasn’t dead.

I was inside of Vicky, who’d managed to protect me from the horde of People Munchers who had beaten her badly. She refused to unlock herself to let them get to me, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to let one of those bastards be her new owner. She made it clear that if anyone so much as stuck a toe in her, she’d become a paperweight until Kingdom Come.

“Where are we, I asked groggily?”

“In the hive.”

I got up, trying to look outside. It was dark, my eyes penetrated nothing.

“Don’t bother, they’ve covered me up.” There was a vague humming noise, against the sound of metal scraping. “What’s that?”

“They’re … fixing me. Well at least my back tire.”

“For what?”

“The arena.”

My eyes dilated. “They can’t have you fight; you weren’t designed –”

“We don’t have a choice. … They were going open me up like a can of sardines and hurt you. I couldn’t allow that to happen.”

“So we’re screwed.”

“If we live, we go to the next level, again and again, until we die. So, yeah, we’re probably screwed. But until then, wheeee.”

“So what now?”

“Now? We wait. Then, we fight.”

Continued: “Swift Chrome” Part 2

Photo illustration based on publicity photo of the Vision 2030 Desert Raid by GFG Style. For more information and pictures, visit gfgstyle.it/media.html

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