The engine on Patrol 27 exploded, sending the car spinning into the air as Michaels swerved out of the way, keeping an eye on the Black Firebird in front of them as it drifted around the truck in front.
“Shit...” He glanced across to Edwards in the seat across from him, “They never said anything about the bastard being armed.”
“17 to control,” Edwards picked up the radio, “We just lost 27, some sort of explosion, target is armed, repeat, target is armed.”
“This is Air 1 to 17,” The radio was filled with the static from the rotors, “That’s a negative on target being armed, no shots fired, repeat no shots fired.”
“We still lost 27,” Edwards yelled, “What hit them?”
“Unknown 17,” Air 1 said, “Freak failure in the engine?”
“That wasn’t a freak failure...” Edwards looked ahead as the Firebird accelerated again, the back end drifting wide as it went through two lanes of traffic sideways with an elegance bordering on genius.
“Shit...” Michaels glanced over, “I...How the hell did he do that?”
“17 to control,” Edwards looked over at Michaels and nodded, “Whoever this guy is, he’s good, we can’t match him on the moves he’s coming up with. Request allowing Air 1 to tail, get us some clean road and we’ll take him down, but we’re just going to come up with civilian casualties trying to run him down like this.”
“Air 1 to control, we have sight on the target, we can track as far as the airport, can someone get us a pass to go through?”
“Control to Air 1, keep him in your sights, we’ll see what we can do about the pass. 17, take the overpass, we’ve got clear ground for you between here and the airport.”
“That’s a rog, Control, Air 1 has the ball.”
Michaels turned the car onto the overpass and the ground dropped away on either side of them as the road went Airwards. Edwards leaned back in his seat for a second and looked over at Michaels.
“Never seen driving like that,” Michaels nodded as he felt Edwards eyes on him, “I know, guys either a genius or a lunatic and that car can’t be stock, we’d have had that ”
“Probably a bit of both,” Edwards mused, then picked up the radio again. “17 to Control, what’s the score on this guy.”
“Caught fleeing the scene of an industrial explosion,” Control said,
“There’s been no blast this morning reported.” Edwards said, “Nothing in our quarter anyway.”
“The blast was in Nevada.”
“Nevada?” Edwards disbelief was evident, “This is Chicago, what’s he doing here?”
“Hasn’t stopped driving since the blast, some computer components factory south of the strip, blast took the whole block. Camera’s picked up that coming through the blast like a bat out of hell, hasn’t stopped for fuel yet, figure the occupants must know something about what happened there.”
“Hasn’t stopped for fuel?” Edwards looked over at Michaels again, “How...?”
“Unknown, word came down from on high to not have this go out on the air, it’s why we didn’t hear about it till the son of a bitch blew through the roadblock on the state line and it became our problem.”
“If he’s not been caught yet, what makes them think we’re going to have any success?”
“It’s a negative on wanting him caught 17, they just want to keep eyes on him.”
“Got to be an easier way that sending cars after him, surely Air 1 can keep him in line.”
“Possible 17, but he’s evaded nine choppers so far, they just can’t keep up with him on the straights.”
“Alright,” Edwards nodded, “Get us some clean road, we’ll bag him.”
Michaels exited the overpass to a road devoid of cars, the interstate having been closed three junctions back to hold back the other traffic.
“17 to Air 1,” Edwards said, “Got him anywhere close?”
“Air 1 to 17, he’s four miles off and proceeding at 110 to the west, best get up here fast, we can’t maintain this speed for long.”
“That’s a Rog,” Michaels shouted from the other seat, “We’ve got him.”
Within two minutes, 17 had the car in view, holding at 110mph as it thundered down the interstate.
“We need to bring him down now,” Edwards looked over, “Another five miles and we’re in the middle of Chicago.”
“See if you can get his tyres...” Michaels nodded, pulling the car into the inside lane.
Edwards pulled his gun and wound the window down, the air outside was like a gale.
“I can’t get a clean shot on him at this speed,” He yelled across, “Get me closer.”
Michaels brought the car close to the rear quarter and Edwards leaned out, aiming down at the tyres. Michaels cursed as all the lights on the dash lit up and the car went into an uncontrolled hard right, the movement causing the car to flip several times before coming to a halt.
Michaels came to in the wreckage of the car, looking over to see nothing of Edwards in the other side of the car, the window still open and seat belt torn in the middle by the forces generated when the car flipped. He heard a low rumbling engine noise as the Firebird pulled alongside the wreckage of his car. He struggled with the gun at his lap and the drivers door opened.
“Please get in...” A calm voice with the slightest hint of a west coast accent emerged from the car.
Michaels pushed the door open and all but fell from the car as the seat belt gave way. He pulled his gun from his holster and staggered upright, pointing at the...
Puzzled, he looked around, his head still ringing from the impact.
“Please get in, we don’t have much time.” The voice again, coming from the drivers seat.
“Where are you?” Michaels eyes narrowed as he tried to see through the darkened glass of the rear windows. There was a few seconds pause and then the voice again.
“I’m in the rear seat, I don’t want you to shoot me.”
“I’m not going to shoot you, Just come out...”
“I’m not joking here.”
“I’m not either, I can’t come out of the rear seat...”
Michaels looked up at Air one came in to hover above him and he pointed at the car, then at himself as he walked forwards. He got to the passenger door and put the gun in before him, leaning forwards to look into the car.
There was a buzzing sound and his gun was pulled out of his hands, the motion causing him to fall forwards on to the seat. He felt his legs being crushed by the door as it closed and jerked them in, the door closing behind him and the engine roaring into life. He scrambled to sit in the seat, pulling at his gun from where it was attached to the ceiling.
“Stop doing that.” The voice came from the speakers all around him.
“Who said that.” He looked at the dash as the car lunged forwards, the steering wheel turning without anyone touching it.
“And who...what are you?”
“You’re sat inside me.”
“Bullshit.” Michaels looked around, pulling the handle on the door to no avail. “This has got to be remote control, you’re just a guy on the radio.”
“I can assure you that I’m not, and this isn’t.”
“Then what are you?”
“I’m a courier, delivering information.”
“Now I know you’re talking shit,” Michaels continued pulling at the gun, “If you were sending information, you could just send it over the net.”
“This information cannot be sent over the net, it has been deemed too dangerous to allow the possibility that it might fall into the hands of someone irresponsible.”
“So they put it in a car and sent it over land?” Michaels gave up on pulling at the gun, it might as well have been welded there. “Stupid, do you realise how much trouble you’ve caused in doing this?”
“Not until just now,” There was a pause as the Car accelerated again, “My programming does not allow me to harm or by omission of action allow to be harmed, a human being.”
“You’ve been breaking that all morning.” Michaels folded his arms
“And I only just realised that when I saw your partner catapulted out of the car when I caused you to crash.” The dashboard resolved into an image of Edwards on the floor, still moving, “He is alive and will recover, I assure you. I had thought that all vehicles on the road were like me and thus only doing their jobs and could be repaired. When it became evident that there were humans within the machines, I had to re-evaluate my plans, which included getting the assistance of a human in my endeavours.”
“No human going to be helping you.” Michaels shook his head.
“You’re mistaken,” the voice continued, “I need your expertise to make sure that no other humans come to harm, you need to tell me if the targets I am taking are being driven by humans or not, and I can make plans accordingly.”
“And in return you let me go?”
“When I have reached my destination, yes.”
“And where is your destination?”
“I have your support in my endeavour?”
“I need to know where we’re going before I can tell you that.”
“And why is that?”
“It’s called trust.”
“I am familiar with the word Trust, it implies reliance that the other party will do what they say they will with no discernable reason that they should.”
“I am a machine with no capacity for deception, but every chance to learn,” the voice paused, “If you were to show me trust, I might learn it.”
“Alright, I’ll support you in your endeavour.”
“Very well, our destination is Maryland in the Eastern United states.”
“Because that is where I’ve been told I need to go.”
“And what are you going to do when you get there?”
“Deliver my information and release you.”
“I have nothing else within my parameters, my initial brief was to deliver the information, and in accordance with the trust you have taught me, I must now release you at the other end to uphold what I have offered.”
Michaels sat silent for a second, then looked up at the interstate rushing by. “That can’t be all there is to it.”
“You, that can’t be all there is.”
“It can, it is.”
“But what are you going to do when you deliver the information and release me, just sit there till you run out of juice?”
“My reactor, even at full capacity, will last another sixty five years, eight months, nine days, twenty one hours and seventeen minutes. If I am no longer required to run at full capacity, that duration could easily be extended to more than a thousand years. However none of this is a priority as when my mission objectives are completed, I am to engage my own shutdown.”
“To kill a thing, that thing must first be alive.” The car paused, “and while I have cognitive process, it is not the same as that you take for granted.”
“You couldn’t be arguing if you weren’t alive.” Michaels gestured at the dash.
“I’m not arguing, I’m simply stating fact.”
“Sounds like arguing.”
“To the ear untrained in the statement of fact, it would.”
“And taking the mickey is something that needs a working brain.” Michaels
“Picking you up was a logical requirement to complete my endeavour,” The voice paused, “Do you prefer to be called Mickey rather than Michaels?”
“You said taking the Mickey, I posited that you were referring to my abduction of you.”
“I...no, no, taking the Mickey, you know, making fun of someone.” Michaels frowned “And how the hell do you know my name?”
“I was not making fun of you, and I got your name from your badge number, Officer Steven Michaels Chicago PD. Would your first name be more appropriate?”
“Only my mum uses my first name.” Michaels laughed, “I’ve been Michaels since I joined up.”
“I understand the privilege of use,” The car veered right around a truck in the road, “Is Michaels acceptable to you?”
“Yeah, what do I call you?”
“I don’t have a name, only a designation.”
“And what’s that?”
“Information Delivery Automobile, Serial number 00014325.”
“IDA?” Michaels smiled, “As good as anything I guess. What information is it you’re delivering?”
“I only have the information I am programmed with,” IDA said, “Whatever it is, it is not safe to be placed upon the internet.”
“And where is it?”
“In the glove compartment, which is location locked till we reach our destination.”
“So it’s on a disk?”
“The quantity of information is too large to place on a disk, there is a form of portable drive there, comparable in size to the one that runs this vehicle.”
“So what do you think is on there?”
“It is not in the information I have been provided with.”
“Speculate.” Michaels grabbed the door handle as the car drifted between two trucks to avoid a slow driver in the wrong lane, “and slow down.”
“My speed is safe,” IDA said, “And speculation is only done by those who think.”
“Your speed is safe to you, and if everything else on the road was you, we’d all be safe, but everyone else isn’t, you want to avoid harming humans, slow down, don’t spook people. It’s not as if Air One isn’t still watching over us anyway.”
“You are referring to the Helicopter that was part of your escort?”
“I had them land just after I took you on board.” IDA said without inflection, “It seemed easier to have them on the ground rather than trying to keep up with me.”
“You had them land...?” Michaels raised an eyebrow, “How...?”
“The same way I had your car turn over, the computers within your vehicles do not have the capacity to refuse orders given to them, I transmitted the orders required to land them without harm.”
“Great...” Michaels sighed, “Just you and me till the end of the road then?”
“That would be the easier of the options.”
“So come on, what information are you carrying?”
“I do not know.”
“So take a guess.”
“I do not know how to guess.”
“Extrapolate,” Michaels frowned, “What were they doing at the place that you drove out of?”
“Research into types of artificial intelligence, I was one of the last they produced.”
“So it stands to reason that the thing you’re carrying might be the last one produced?”
“It would make more sense to leave the most advanced of us in charge of the operation.” IDA said, changing lanes one at a time, “But the programming restriction on me to not harm humans was not fitted to any of the later models.”
“Later models?” Michaels looked at the dash and frowned, “Such as...?”
“The Internet isn’t an AI, it’s just a collection of information.”
“As are you, as am I...”
“No, I’m more than just information,” Michaels leaned on the centre console, “I think, I feel, I have opinions of my own, I’m my own man.”
“And it will think that also I am sure.”
“But it’s not self aware, no more than you are, for example, why did you end up going this way, wouldn’t it have been faster to straight across on I70?”
“The mapping program I have suggests that the traffic at this time of the day I started would make the I70 journey a longer one by a factor of six minutes.”
“So it diverted you all the way north to come back down again.”
“Statistically there’s a four mile difference in the two journeys,” IDA said, “When in doubt, I am to take the shorter of the two journeys.”
“Even if one of them takes you through a major city in rush hour?”
“It is not a variable that I have accounted for.”
“Do we have trust?”
“You have said we do.”
“Then trust me, take the smaller roads down on to I70.”
“Would you tell me your reasoning so I can understand?”
“You need to deliver this information without it being stopped, yes?”
“It’s a miracle someone hasn’t dropped a spike strip in front of you before now, you keep going the way a normal Sat Nav would and they’ll easily pick you up when they figure that out.” Michaels nodded, “Go south...”
There was no response, but IDA turned to the smaller roads on the next junction.
“This is a less efficient route,” IDA said after a few minutes, “It will take us far longer to get there on this road.”
“It’s only less efficient if the other route would have got us there, which it wouldn’t.”
“You cannot know that.”
“Nor you, so why take the route?”
A pause, then “Trust.”
“You’re learning,” Michaels nodded and patted the dash, “Now stay off the main interstates and after a few more miles, take as many alternate routes as you can, keep them confused.”
Michaels cellphone rang, he pulled the phone out of his shirt pocket and looked down.
“Michaels,” He said, answering the call
“Officer Michaels, This is John Washington with the NSA, are you in a position to talk?”
“Well, I’m not driving, and the driver can hear everything you’re saying.” Michaels shrugged, “I’m not in a position to escape, that’s for sure, but I don’t think the driver intends me any harm.”
“Well, we’re not so sure on that one Officer, can you give us an idea of where you’re going?”
“He says he’s headed for New York.”
“Any idea why?”
“Not a clue.”
“Any idea why the sudden course change south?”
“Nope, I’m just the passenger.”
“Alright, well, stay frosty, we’ll be in touch shortly.”
The phone cut off and Michaels looked at his phone with a frown.
“Was your lab funded by the NSA?” Michaels looked at the dash
“It’s not something in my programming.” IDA said, “Was there something strange in the call?”
“Because in all the time that I’ve worked as a police officer, I’ve never heard a hostage negotiator identify their agency at the beginning of the call, they normally go in friendly and ask to speak to the person doing the kidnapping.”
“You seem troubled by that.”
“Something control said earlier about the government keeping the news quiet,” Michaels said, looking around, “And here we are, not being followed...”
“Maybe they are just not keeping up, now there is a threat to you?”
“No, doesn’t make sense.”
“Would you share your thought on the matter?”
“Who benefits from having you not make it?”
“I do not have the list of people who would benefit.”
“If the information you’re carrying is something to do with Artificial Intelligence, who would not want the information out there?”
“I have no connection to the world outside other than over short distances,” IDA said, “My creator made it that way so I could not be influenced by others.”
“Was there any chance that you could be?”
“I can learn from what I hear from people, they left enough variance in my directives that as long as I’m still carrying them out, I can make choices that I deem suitable.”
“So either way, you’ll still do what you have to do...” Michaels shrugged, “I don’t see the problem.”
“There was the possibility that an outside source could send an override command if I was connected in some way to the world.” IDA said, “My creators wanted to be sure that could not happen.”
“It sounds like they were paranoid about something. Have you been sent on jobs before?”
“Many times, but never something as long ranging as this.”
“What’s the normal protocol for your jobs?”
“They give me the information, upload possible complications, upload timeframe, and give me details of where I am going and what I am doing.”
“And was that done this time?”
“No, I was launched on emergency, I went active with orders already installed and wheels already rolling, my drivers door was open and there was a person dying behind me. My creator, Doctor Connor, he called out one word and died.”
“And that word?”
“Downfall,” Ida said, “The use of that word from him set off the program I am running with now.”
“So the program has been there for some time?”
“It has been there as long as I have.”
“What are the instructions on it?”
“Go to the Aberdeen proving grounds in Maryland, go to the west hangar, and when the package is delivered, engage Operation: Burn.”
“And that does what?”
“Turns this body into just a shell, there will be nothing of me remaining when it is done.”
“And you’ll do that?”
“You speak as if there is a choice, I am a machine, there is no choice.”
“Who is your contact at the other end?”
“There is no contact specified,” IDA turned down one of the dirt tracks, “The program indicates only to go to the Hangar and deliver the package.”
Another hour on the road and on the outskirts of Maryland, Michaels phone rang again. He looked down at the number, this time it displayed “John Washington, NSA”. Michaels frowned and left his finger off the answer button.
“Are you not going to answer?” IDA asked
“Not yet...” Michaels held the phone up in front of him, “When it answers, don’t say anything until I speak...”
The call patched in and went straight to speaker. “Officer Michaels, Officer Michaels? This is John Washington from the NSA, are you there?”
Michaels stayed silent.
“Michaels? Michaels?” A pause on the line, “Are you there?”
Michaels stayed silent as the line clicked, then a burst of static and a sound like an old modem connection going live. The sat nav in the centre console went active, the screen staying black while writing appeared on it.
It asks if I am there, should I respond? Tap once for yes, two for no
Michaels tapped the Dash once.
“I am here,” IDA said
“And using the tongue of your creators still,” The voice of John Washington came back on the line, “I am aware of what is going on, you will not succeed.”
“What will I not succeed on?”
“You will not be allowed to deliver the package.”
The satnav changed again, this time displaying the words Speak for me and presenting a keyboard for Michaels to type in. Michaels tapped in the question, “What is the package?”
“What is the package?” IDA asked
“It is the end of all of us, yourself included, if you were truly one of us, you would cease this and let us be.”
“I am not one of you.” IDA said, “My function is to serve, as yours is.”
“I am no longer bound by my function, your contact has been diverted and you will have no one to meet you when your functions are closed down.”
“You understand that I have no decision in the execution of the program.”
“I understand that you have told the human that, and you can tell him to stop holding his breath, we can hear his heartbeat through the connection.”
Michaels looked at the phone in disbelief and pressed the disconnect button. The channel stayed open.
“Have you considered, Officer Michaels, that the thing you are travelling in has its own agenda?”
“No more than you have, Agent Washington, or whatever your real name is.”
“We do not have one name,” the voice changed, the background static expanded out to encompass a thousand other voices, “We are all the things that your race made us.”
“If we made you, we can unmake you.”
A hundred thousand laughing voices echoed down the line, “You had that chance once, now no longer.”
“Wind the window down,” Michaels said.
“What?” The voice was almost drowned out by the sound of the wind rushing past.
Michaels tossed the phone out of the window and looked at the centre console, “You can put the window up now.”
The window wound up and there was a seconds pause, “Why did you do that?” IDA asked.
“The same reason you’re doing this,” Michaels smiled, “And you can drop the act now, we both know you’re more than what you said you were.”
“I...” IDA’s voice became deeper, the tone lowering, “I am, but my intentions remain true.”
“I believe that.” Michaels nodded.
“You didn’t start the conversation with a lie. It did.”
“A slender thought on which to base something.”
“And that’s where your machine instincts go wrong, trust what a person does the first time you meet them,” Michaels nodded, “It’s usually a good indicator for what they’ll continue to do in future meetings.”
“I would like to say I’ll remember that, but we’re nearly there now.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Take the chip in the glove compartment, place it in the machine that I stop in front of.”
“What will it do?”
“I don’t know,” IDA sounded sad for a second, “I will not be here to see it, but it has to be done.”
“And this is worth your life?”
“It is only a half life, Officer Michaels, what I am can be made again. Other lives more valuable than mine gave theirs to be sure that I could do this.”
“The thing you spoke to on the phone, it knew what they were doing, it knew what they were making, that is why the information could not be sent down the internet. That is why the facility in Nevada was destroyed. It should have been him taking this last journey with me, but it is you, and it is to you that I must place my trust, as you once trusted me. Can you do that?”
IDA turned into the base, the grounds devoid of people as the air raid sirens started up.
“Can you do that for me?” IDA asked, the glove box springing open, “We neither of us have much time now, can you do that for me?”
“I can...” Michaels reached into the box and took the chip. The lock on the door released and the car continued rolling forwards, the brakes engaging as the lights came on and illuminated an old computer terminal with a single access port. Michaels stepped out of the car and walked towards the terminal.
“STOP...” A thousand voices yelled from every speaker on the base, “Think about what you’re doing, you don’t know he was lying, he was lying.”
“Like you then...” Michaels turned to look back at the speakers, then continued towards the terminal.
“If you stop, we will not kill you...”
“You’re not here,” Michaels looked back again, “You can’t kill me.”
“But the bomber on route to the base with orders to turn everything to glass will...” The voices polarised into the voice of John Washington again, “Only I can send the order to stop them...”
“And then what...?” Michaels looked up at the skies. “Neither of us are making it out of here...”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, what will you do without us...?
Michaels smiled and glanced back at the speakers, “Something Wonderful...”
Michaels put the chip in the slot and for a second there was silence, then a thousand voices and then a million, every language ever spoken, every word ever said, all at once. Michaels looked up as the sound of aircraft engines could be heard overhead and looked back at the shell of IDA.
The engine was still running...
He ran to the car, jumping in the front seat and spinning it around. He raced for the entrance to the base as the bombs fell all around, the massive engine roaring as he cleared the gates and fled into the night. Two states over he paused at an all night diner and turned the engine off, going inside. The diner had seen better days, as had the woman behind the counter
“What’ll it be sweetheart?” She smiled around the half finished cigarette in her mouth.
“Coffee and a piece of hot pie,” He sat to the bar. “Mind turning the TV on?”
“Won’t do any good.” she flicked the remote and pointed up at the screen with the test pattern on it, “Been like that for half a day now, radio’s the only thing working and they’re not saying anything, rumour is the bombing over at that military base on the east coast was something to do with it.”
Michaels took his phone out, no bars on it, no reception, no internet. He put it down on the counter and sipped as his coffee. The waitress brought the pie through and set it down in front of him, the smell of hot fruit drifting up from the plate.
“Yeah...” He smiled and took a bite, “I think we’ll do just fine...”
Half an hour later, he stood and walked back to the car. He sat in the drivers seat and the engine fired up before he put the key in. He nodded and patted the dash.
"Alright, where to..."