Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Bad Traffic, Part Five


Bad Traffic is a short story of five chapters, posted over five week days -- by me, your simulated host in a box, Cheeseburger Brown.

This story takes place twenty minutes into the future.

And now, the final chapter of our tale:



5/5

Things went bad in Illinois.

The day was overcast. There wasn't a lot of glare. The freeway was thick but constant, moving with purpose. The horizon was tinged with the rustier grey of Chicago's roof of smog. They were passing through the outlying threads of the megalopolis.

State patrol cars herded the clots like sheep, quietening the fleeters. A long caterpillar of conservatives paraded behind "Papa Rock" Yves LeRoche's trailer, sheltered from the automotive spume by his constancy.

Lightning flashed in the north.

Yves couldn't figure out why he felt so groggy. He knuckled his eyes and frowned, pinched the bridge of his nose and bit the inside of his lip. It had been over an hour since he'd last dropped an upper, and he couldn't explain why it hadn't kicked in yet.

The Johnny Cash disc spun. Yves turned it up.

Alishaer, for his part, looked miserable. He was curled up in a ball against the passenger door, his face pressed into the glass, his eyes unfocused and dancing. His arms quivered and his teeth chattered but he was covered in an even glaze of perspiration.

"You want a blanket or something?" grunted Yves.

Alishaer shook his head without turning. Yves sneered and accelerated a bit, opening up a gulf with his tail. He found himself sceptical that Alishaer had endured much in the way of hardship getting to America if he was fragile enough to go to pieces over seeing a load of sex robots. Yves' contempt for the kid's inability to shake it off was starting to get to him.

"Why don't you take one of my sleepers?" prompted Yves. "It might take the edge off, right?"

"I do not think these pills work for me," said Alishaer hollowly.

"Bullsquat," sniffed Yves. "I don't know what kind of crud you've got in Turkey, but American pills do what they say they do. These aren't street drugs, Al -- these are from a pharmacy. Trust me."

Yves held out his pill organizer and pointed to the right compartment with his thumb while he kept his eyes on the road. Alishaer hesitated and then picked out a pill and swallowed it with a grimace.

"Besides," added Yves dangerously, "these robots don't hurt anybody. They don't go crazy or anything, if that's what you're worried about. I know that's what always happens in the movies. But they got top scientists making these things. They're safer than safe."

"I do not think of them as threatening," said Alishaer.

"You're thinking about what kind of a man would use such a thing, right? I'm not free to tell you specifics, but I happen to know some of the names of the guys who these things are going to. And, like I said, I can't name names but these are top guys. Important people, you know? People who don't have time to dick around with a relationship."

"I do not know what I think of such men."

"You get over the creeps," explained Yves. "I remember just about pissing myself one time when one of the techs at the load-up dialed in some code that made them all come at once -- pardon my language. You know what I mean? Like all moaning and screaming with their lady orgasms, right? Like a kitty concert. It was too funny."

Alishaer swallowed, running his shaking hands over one another. "But how do you know for sure?"

Yves knitted his brow. "What do you mean?"

"How do you know they are robots?"

"This again?" Yves snorted, rubbing his eyes. "Get over it, Al. I've seen those little dollies opened up for servicing -- there's nothing in there but plastic and metal doohickeys and wires and tubes. Believe you me." He chuckled and shook his head.

Suddenly Alishaer tensed. "Cinnamon!" he gasped.

Yves yawned, his eyes burning. "I just can't reckon why I'm so bagged," he muttered.

"Cinnamon!" repeated Alishaer, staring at the trucker intensely.

Yves frowned. "What?"

"I smell cinnamon," he said, grabbing at the silver medical bracelet around his slender wrist. "It is a sign: an attack! Your pills are bringing me an attack!"

Traffic was buckling ahead, deforming around a fender bender in the inside lane. Yves switched smoothly into the outside and geared down as his tired eyes flickered over the mirrors.

"Oh shit," he said. "You're gonna have a seizure, Al? Oh shit. Okay, just calm down, right?"

"I should not have taken another pill," moaned Alishaer.

"Another pill?" echoed Yves. "What are you talking about?"

"I took one of your pills, in the night, to help me sleep," gushed Alishaer, holding his head and breathing quickly. "It made me feel crazy, like my blood is electricity."

"Oh shit."

The windshield speckled with rain. Brake lights fluttered on and off up and down the line.

With a sinking sensation Yves pulled out his plastic pill organizer and blindly pushed every compartment open with his thumb. He glanced away from the road, looked up again, and then returned to staring at the array of pills -- mixed up, a random sampling of each kind inside every slot. "Everything's all mixed up!" he bellowed. "What the fuck did you do, Al?"

"My hands are shaking when I take it," moaned Alishaer.

"Oh shit, oh shit," said Yves, rubbing his eyes hard and biting his lip. He realized that not only had the epileptic Alishaer taken uppers, but he himself was sitting in a soup of downers. "Oh shit."

The world seemed to be moving in slow motion.

Alishaer stretched himself into a taut arc, his stomach thrust up off the seat, straining against the belt. His arms and legs pinwheeled and jerked violently, swatting through the air of the cabin viciously as his head reeled back, the veins on his neck pulsing.

Yves swung his view back to the road, his head feeling damp and heavy with an afterwave of ghosted motion. The outside lane ended due to construction. The flashing orange lights of the construction barrier were like spikes in his eyes, throbs of pain. He checked the mirrors for a hole into the next lane, swift as the current was.

He cried out in surprise as one of Alishaer's errant limbs struck him in the shoulder, his racing heart skipping a beat and making his chest feel cold.

Yves began switching lanes, easing the rig over. A red Honda roared up out of nowhere and took his hole. Yves rocked the truck back away from the lane and engaged the engine brakes, the booming complaint echoing across the freeway.

Alishaer cried out in agony, foam flying from his lips.

"Jesus Christ, Al! Are you gonna make it?" he yelled, attempting to manoeuvre the truck with hands that felt numb, arms that felt like lead weights.

A curtain of rain washed over the road. Yves tried to check his mirrors but his head spun when he jerked his eyes. He wanted to scream. His body felt far away. With detached interest he saw the fingers of Chicago's tallest buildings crest the grey horizon between the windshield wipers' sweeps, and thereby recognized that he had somehow turned the wipers on.

He risked a glance over at Alishaer. He had dropped into his seat, his limbs making only tiny flutters of movement. His eyes were open, and he appeared to have wet his pants.

"Are you alive, kid?" Yves tried to cry.

Alishaer looked at him listlessly.

"You had me scared, Al."

Alishaer was looked toward the road. Yves traced his gaze. The concrete abutment was almost at his nose. With a grunt he willed his clumsy arms to wrench the wheel left, flinging the rig blindly into the middle lane. He immediately heard the bang as a car collided with the trailer, felt the rebellious shudder touch him through the wheel. "Oh shit!" said Yves, struggling to keep control.

"I hate cinnamon," murmured Alishaer.

Yves struck a green van from behind. The impact swung the trailer out like a whip, sending a silver sedan spinning into the rails. Yves tried to anticipate the whip of inertia and counter-steer, but he could not get his body to obey. His hands slipped on the wheel, weak and full of pins and needles. His vision faded at the edges.

Frenchy got butterflies in his tummy.

The truck turned over. The wheels left the ground. The engine raced loudly, a plaintive groan. Some of the windows went out and Yves watched the rooster-tailed clouds of cubed glass sparkle through the cabin. Yves and Alishaer thumped around back and forth like ragdolls, held fast to their chairs.

They hit passenger side down and skidded across the pavement, pebbles from the road bouncing against their faces. Yves had just enough together to realize it was a good crash: the cabin was uncompressed, they hadn't jumped the median. They would live.

The rig ground to a halt, and in the moment of comparative silence that followed Yves detected the whine of strained metal that told him the trailer had not yet stopped moving. He saw it swing into view in front before it spun the cabin around, and then felt the crash as it was bisected by a speeding SUV skating sideways across the rain-slick asphalt.

Metal tore, tires screeched.

And the forms of four dozen nude women tumbled out of the eviscerated trailer with all the momentum of several tons of speeding truck. They struck the pavement and bounced, skittered, rolled. Yves waited to see them splinter apart into cogs and tubes and shattered circuit boards, and it took him a long moment to appreciate how this was not, in fact, what was happening.

Their screams were not at all like the kitty concert.

"My God," he said, bile rising in his suddenly constricted throat. "Jesus Christ my God -- they're women."

Alishaer nodded, lazily wiping a rivulet of blood from his temple. "I told you, Mr. Yves," he breathed raggedly; "some people will do anything for hope of better life."

15 comments:

Lukas said...

I confess I was expecting an army of sex crazed fembots to attack Chicago and storm a Cherry Nuk-Nuk concert, but you of course are going deeper than I was. Thanks for the great story.

Why do I always have the urge to say "Cheeseburger, Well done," when I'm sure its been said before?

Mark said...

Loved it. I haven't seen a good surprise ending in a long time.

My favorite "tic-tac" moment (that's my new name for them since "Night-Flight Mike,") was when the two characters "thumped around back and forth like ragdolls, held fast to their chairs." Nicely worded to give a vivid image.

Excellent story, CBB.

Simon said...

And here I was half expecting Al to be some sort of quiet terrorist. Shoulda known better.

The Twilight Zone meets The Stepford Wives. Nicely done, CBB.

Moksha Gren said...

Wow. Wonderful twist, CBB. I did not see that coming in the least.

I know you always say that you don't write races with a "point" in mind. And that may be true. But by throwing so many races and ethnicities into your stories, the assumptions of your readers become a much bigger part of the reading experience. And that adds an interesting depth to the story. Sometimes you play to stereotypes, and sometimes you go totally against them. In this case, you threw a huge curveball that oddly didn't seem forced.

In all, I very much enjoyed the piece. Once again, as with other stories in this universe you've created, it wasn't a particulalry happy tale. But it was a well-written and interesting one that I'll probably find myself thinking about for a while and from time to time in the future. Good job.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

The next tale is ready, and will begin posting on Thursday, September 28th (The Reaper's Coleslaw).

In the meantime I'm pounding on the story that's to come afterward, beginning Wednesday, October 4th, entitled Sandy is a Spider...a story which is proving somewhat of a challenge to me but I'm hoping my efforts will yield fruit by the end. Pray for free time for me, to slog through it.

Following that will (likely) be another short set in contemporary times, but one that should be of significant interest to fans of Simon of Space.

So -- now you know the schedule. Thanks for reading, and especially thanks for commenting.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

gl. said...

really? that's the end? it feels... abrupt. like it was all about the punchline.

i am to be praying for time for you, sir. looking forward to all your future wor(l)ds!

mark: tic-tac moment. heh. :)

Dædalux said...

Wow. Amazing how one final sentence can alter the meaning of everything you read before.

I confess I was expecting Al to be a robot too - not the other way around - but that was a fantastic story.

Thanks!

Balrog said...

And now the real meaning of the title becomes clear. The wreck I expected since nearly the first moment, but that wasn't the "Bad Traffic." The women were, and Yves, unknowingly, was the bad trafficker.

Stephen Hamilton said...

Cool story.

Compu73E said...

Excellent stuff, compelling to the last sentence, and some excellent terror-inducing crash-sequence writing. If there's one aspect of your work that I've noticed improving as I've burrowed through your various archives over the past 18 months, it's action - in the earlier stuff it felt a bit stiff, or maybe predictable. Here, we're just along for a ride we can't see the end of. Stacking this on top of Ninja Mike, and it's something you've nailed. Thanks again, and thanks for the links to the Hulver stories.

ilya said...

I knew you wouldn't let me down and make the Turkmeni guy a terrorist though you could certainly interpret the signs as pointing that way.

You are establishing your own universe, cool. Nice to see some characters from previous stories.

I just don't get one thing: how to reconcile the last line with the fact that Yves saw them opened up to reveal mechanisms?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Ilya,

The last thing the world needs is a story that reinforces the idea that all brown people are terrorists.

As for the show Yves was treated to, my rationale is that the corporation that hired him put some effort in arranging "demonstrations" that would make every member of their front-line staff a believer in the inhumanity of their products.

Like I mentioned earlier, I did initially have more backstory but ultimately cut it to keep the story lean and mean.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

UNBELIVEABLE.....

SMV

Sash said...

I knew something was not quite right with the "robots," but I didn't see this coming. Good job!

mandrill said...

marvellous.
been a bit busy the last couple of days so it took me a while to get around to reading the last chapter, but boy was it worth it.