His One Chance


Laston Kirkland
Spring 2013

The instructions read, “Determine where the Secondary Controls are on your model of vehicle. They should be beneath the Speed Indicator on the Dashboard."

    Speed Indicator.  Hmmm.  

    John Donny looked over the instructions again. It had been hard for him to get these instructions. He glanced up at his car controls, something he could hardly remember doing before.

    Ah. He found the “Speed Indicator.” That wasn’t so hard!  

    Hmmm, it's showing mph and kph. Gee, he thought idly, We still  measure miles on these things?

    He got back to it. He looked at the dashboard again, frowning. He could see there was the air conditioning stuff, the music settings, privacy, viewscreen projector, the chair heat and massage, the netpad.

    Wow. Lots of things on here!  

    He'd been so used to using his voice command, he'd forgotten you could do this all by touch. He’d need touch for this, though. The instructions made it clear you couldn't do it the easy way.

    “Secondary Controls.  Where are Secondary Controls?” he muttered under his breath. It must have been years since he’d looked at the panel. His car heard him muttering, and––to be helpful––enlarged and circled the button he sought on the dashboard screen. John’s eyes widened, and he clamped his teeth together tight. I've got to be more careful, he thought to himself. I can’t even sub-vocalize. He knew this was it, his one chance.
He scratched his head then looked up and out the window. Traffic was going as fast as always. An unbroken grid of cars packed so tightly together you could stand on one and step to another.  Well, you could if–

His thoughts were interrupted by what he was seeing inside a car on his right, a couple passionately embracing. After a few seconds, the girl saw him watching, gave him a look of annoyance, and toggled the privacy setting. All her windows turned instantly opaque. John gave a guilty start, then chuckled to himself.
I don't give a damn about your fun time, woman. The slight ironic grin fell from his face as he was brought back to what he was doing. You know what? You’re probably the one.

    John looked down at the printed instructions again. When he was peaking, he was smarter than his friend Paul, but still, he didn't have the skill with all the systems his buddy had access to. It would have been irritating as hell except Paul showed him how he did it. John now had all the access he needed. Paul tweaked systems all the time, and let people use his profile. Considering sharing one’s profile was so dangerous, John wasn’t sure why Paul did it. But maybe it was because Paul had never been caught. He just didn’t understand the chances he was taking.

    Most important, Paul explained the override code for a car.  He showed John how to change the default settings so Paul’s access would override the car’s automation. For Paul, it was just a, “Hey check this out!” For John, this was the key he had been looking for.

    He felt a little bad about betraying Paul, but everyone knew people shouldn't be doing this sort of thing. It kinda served him right for being so careless with something as important as your profile.

    With Paul’s proxy, he could not only access Paul's work systems, he also had done the search that had sent a physical copy of the instructions to Paul's desk. He had taken the copy from Paul’s Maker. Paul said he didn’t mind at all. So using Paul, he changed the defaults.

    John knew his own profile would have reported him. His psychological indicators, the recent breakup with his girlfriend, not to mention the promotion rejection from last week. If he had printed this from his own desk, or even used his own profile on Paul's, it would have raised a flag.

    Last week, they'd upped his mandatory meds on the pill pump, he could feel it right away. Changing him.

    Thing was, if they noticed it wasn't working, they would send someone to check up on him.  Well, he wasn’t going to let them find him!

    Of course everybody had a profile. It started out as a way to keep track of friends, back when the Net was young. But then it grew. Every data-base's  information merged and formed a guide that told everybody else who you were. Couldn't get a job without it matching your profile. Couldn’t get a date, or buy a house, or a car. Your profile was your password, your access, your portal to everything. Everything came from it, and everything went through it.

    His profile had words floating around it like, "Poor Impulse Control," "Manic-Depressive," "Attention Deficiency," "Low Empathy," and "Creative Type." Each one then fixed to the standard regulation levels by the pump.

    He just could not go back on the pump! He hated that more than anything. Sure it got rid of his lows. But it got rid of his highs too. That damned pump, the size of a thumbnail, just under his armpit. Regulated his hormones. It used his own blood to make the levels match the standards, modified his blood stream directly. It took instructions from his profile.

    People told him it was a marvel, but he didn't want his damned hormones regulated! He needed to be able to dance all night, to rule the world, to make every moment magic. God he loved the manic side. On that fucking pump everything mellowed out and stabilized. He could work, but he couldn't FEEL. Sure, he could do without the lows; but he just had to have those highs. He was willing to pay the price. He didn't want to be "fixed.”

    He looked up and out at the other cars again.

    The one on his right still had the privacy settings on.  He could imagine what they were doing now.  The car in front had privacy too. The people inside were probably taking a nap.  No, wait, the car might be empty, returning home after dropping off a passenger. No, he thought, An empty car would not do.

    The one on his back bumper had five kids in it. The kids had folded the seats into the floor, and were in a circle playing some board game. Their mother had probably bundled them into the car and told it to go to grandmother's house. None of the kids looked old enough for their command voices to work on a car's nav system. Not the kids.

    He had disabled his pill pump just two days ago. He had felt for the little lump, then used a pair of needle-nose pliers to squeeze the hell out of it. He’d had to print the pliers out, hadn't had a pair in so long. Model 45661 from a company named Sears. He was rather pleased with how well they worked, he had looked on the Net to find what the best tool was for squeezing, and the form factor looked perfect. He felt so in control when he used them!

    He still had the bruises. A big purple splotch where he’d squeezed the pointy output end shut. He was actually pretty proud of the bruises. Breaking a pill pump without letting his profile know he’d done it was pretty amazing.

    He felt a little sorry about what he was planning on doing. No one had done this in so long, it would flash all over the Net. His name would be legendary. He didn't want it to be the kids. So, that left the couple.

    "From the Secondary Control screen, access the Physical Dropdown."

    Wow! he thought, Dropdowns, how quaint! He silently thanked the bureaucracy for still requiring human controls. There. There's the menu:  "Physical.”

    He had been on the best high he had ever had. It was epic. He walked the world like a god. Every man envied him; every woman wanted him. He could do anything. It was all so easy. He knew he didn’t have much time left before the high vanished, and the low set in. He'd be crying and rocking in a heap for a couple days, and then refuse to leave his bed  for a week. His profile would notice sooner rather than later, and then he'd be back on the pump. Now or never. Pay the price.

    "Select Vehicular Controls."

    He held his breath when he punched the button, expecting it all to happen right then. The car stayed rock steady, but with a click and a whirr something popped out of his dashboard very much like the gamepad he used on his entertainment wall at home. He exhaled slowly. Okay, so that’s how to do it. He looked at it. Pretty easy, he thought. Push forward to go faster; pull backward to slow down or reverse; tilt to turn. Nothing to it. The buttons were probably important; but he didn’t think he’d need them.

    He knew that people used these all the time back in the day. They'd evolved from mechanical linkages that were, by some clever engineering, directly attached to the engine and wheels. He remembered all of that had made the cars fantastically expensive, too. Not like today where everyone had a service agreement, and a branded car would appear when you needed it.

    Holding the car’s manual controls he realized his seat wasn't right. He used his voice command: "Seat up. More. More. Stop. Seat tilt. Back. Back. Stop!"  He put the seat right in the middle, so he could see out of every window. It seemed like the right way to do it. There. He was ready. He glanced at the paper again.

"From same menu, access Manual Override."

    Manual Override. This was it. He'd only have a few seconds before a police monitor found a higher security profile. But John had fairly high clearance from his job. This was it. His moment of glory.

    He touched the menu.

    The car lurched and shuddered. John needed to steady the control pad. It didn't take long to get in full control, It was easier than he thought. The controls were a dream. At that same moment, all the cars around him swerved away, quite a distance away. He was now the only vehicle in the center of a large empty bubble, all other vehicles at least five meters distant. The traffic was still bumper to bumper inches away from each other, but his car was alone.

    He hadn't expected that. He swerved as hard as he could to the right, his car’s gyroscopic commands preventing him from flipping the car, but his reactions were no match against the other vehicles’ automatic controls. They all swerved in unison, staying on all sides of him exactly the same five meter distance. He came nowhere near to hitting them.

    The privacy window went off from the couple, holding their clothing in modesty. They were watching his car in astonishment. He tried again, the couple realized what he was doing, and fear filled their faces. But then they grinned when they saw that John couldn't get any closer to them. The girl gave him the finger.

    In a wordless cry of frustration John twisted the control as hard as he could the other direction. His gyroscopic systems easily kept all four wheels on the ground but wrenched him hard against the inside of his door.  But he couldn't hit anything! The car with the kids in it was still behind him. All five had their faces pressed against the glass. Fine. Them.

    John pulled as much as he could on his control pad, and his car stopped as hard as it would let him. Automatic systems took over the manual and slowed him safely down to a complete stop in fractional seconds. They worked so well, there weren't even any marks on the road.

    The vehicle with the kids easily swerved around him and all the children rushed to the back window to watch him as traffic carried them away. Those cars were sorting themselves back to normality before he was fully out of sight.  The few cars that formed the bubble directly around him,  calculated his distance and trajectories, making vector changes on the fly to avoid anything he tried. They didn’t even slow down.

    John was wordlessly screaming while speeding the wrong way on a ten lane highway. It was like an invisible wedge was in front of him, creating a wake that no matter how hard he tried he could get not get close to anything. He accelerated to the highest speed his car could go, an impressive 260km/hr, but nothing was working. Nothing he did could get him close enough to catch up with anyone.

    John realized that each car was making micro-adjustments to their course so far in advance that John would never, COULD never, get close enough. He realized that the closest this would ever come to making the news would probably be that girl’s online diary.

    He knew his time was almost up. Somewhere a police monitor was flashing a warning siren, demanding a human with a higher profile give it the okay to override John's override. He spotted a bridge. Accelerating as fast as he could he aimed directly for a support pylon. "That's not going to dodge!" he screamed out loud as he sped towards it.

    But then, his vehicle slowed "No! No! No! Noooooo!” John now shouting.  He’d forgotten to stay silent and started sobbing as his control pad lost all response. His car turned itself around and headed for the off ramp.  He heard the doors lock. He’d been overridden! They had probably been taking their time, not knowing what he planned––until he shouted.

    He kicked the dash over and over, and slammed his hands against the windows. He rolled out of his seat, and lay on his back, pounding the floor with hands and feet.

    The cars around him had returned to being inches away, but the police had triggered the privacy settings. No one could see inside had they bothered to look up.

    John knew they would make him go on the pill pump again and, this time, put it somewhere deeper and harder to reach. He wished he had thought to bring the pliers with him. Maybe he could figure out a way to kill himself before his car reached the police station. He stared at the roof as tears ran down his face.

    He pounded the floor again in helpless fury.

    Damned car wouldn't let him die.

Author Bio:

Laston Kirkland

Laston lives in a small two bedroom apartment with his wife, three daughters and an old cat. He writes with one hand, gently holding the rest of the world at bay with the other.  He's fond of tabletop boardgames and all things nerdy. 


Juliëtte van Bavel is a multi-disciplined artist from The Netherlands who makes creations in abstract-photography, stone and oil-paint.  Her philosophy of life is encapsulated by the following:

"Flowing Creativity knows no boundary in matter."

"Art is an expression of love."

Juliëtte has a fascination for light and movement. This has become her study in art at all levels, independent of the discipline.

She has been active as an artist since the very young age of 4, discovering her way, first in dance, music and drama till she found "her discipline" in Fine Arts.  

How to cite the above article in APA format:

Kirkland, Laston (2013).  His One Chance.  The Journal of Social Era Knowledge, Volume 1, Issue 2.  Retrieved