New Short Story: Road Rage

Road Rage
by Milo James Fowler
Copyright © 2022 Milo James Fowler

Progress takes a variety of forms.

We heard promises for decades about a sci-fi future that never came, and we couldn't help feeling cheated. Some gave up on it. I might've been one of them.

But at long last and with great fanfare, they were finally here: anti-grav cars that rode on the air, bypassing street congestion, able to lift off and travel as the extinct crow used to fly. Convenience by way of modern innovation. Futuristic freedom like we'd never known before.

Until everybody with the means had to have one. Because the haves always get the latest gizmo. The have-nots get to watch them fly by.

Our skies became cluttered with aerocars careening about, airborne chaos until the government mandated specific rules. Then sky traffic started flowing with a well-organized fluidity, like flocks of pelicans used to move, gliding along routes delineated on each vehicle’s heads-up display.

The two-dimensional X and Y axes of terrestrial streets were transposed into the air, stacked so that layers of aerocars flew in the same direction, often a dozen vehicles high, separated by the requisite buffer: thirty meters of empty space in between. The third-dimensional Z axis was reserved for takeoff and landing in specifically marked zones where vehicles rose and dropped vertically, joining or leaving others in flight.

Very few hotshots wove in and out of lanes, switching stacks, cruising the Z axis to avoid the congestion of their current X or Y, scoping out a faster route. Anybody tried showing off their ace piloting skills, and Air Patrol materialized on the scene in an instant. Government vehicles covered in nanoantennae and microcameras were always waiting invisibly in the wings, just in case a flyer got a little twitchy, anxious to leave the rank and file. Hotshots would find themselves escorted to the roof of the nearest building with dire consequences. License revoked. Aerocar impounded. Ticket to be paid and court date to attend.

Nothing anybody in their right mind would want.

So when congestion struck on the morning commute, as it always did, and air traffic slowed to a standstill, gleaming aerocars spattered with acid drizzle, flyers found other ways to pass the time. Setting their vehicles on autopilot, many would log onto their Slates and get a jump on the day’s workload. Others would catch up on sleep. A few would switch their HUD to the entertainment feeds.

Not me.

Unlike the conformists surrounding my vehicle on all sides, I have no time to waste. I slept through my alarms and find myself now precariously close to missing a job interview. No trust fund, generous allowance, or wobbly credit score bought my aerocar. Without sufficient income, I run the risk of missing the monthly payments. Losing the title.

I'm no hotshot. My path will be a dangerous one, but illegal? Nope.

Air Patrol has no jurisdiction where I'm headed.

Nobody does.

I catch the next designated Z axis down to the unmonitored surface streets, activate my all-wheel drive after-market install—oversized, rugged tires smacking the cracked asphalt shaded by weeds a meter tall—and squeeze the steering grips with both hands. I floor the accelerator, lurching and jolting in my seat, crushing the rusted, derelict hulks of abandoned gas guzzlers and other ancient debris beneath me. Forward progress is slow but steady, and the best part? I have these streets all to myself.

As a rule, aerocars are designed to be sleek, gleaming, scratch-free. Privileged flyers like to keep them that way. So the upper castes make fine targets for the lower, who lean out of the top-floor windows in their dilapidated tenements to take crack shots with high-powered rifles at the underbellies of the lowest flying vehicles. The have-nots letting the haves know just how welcome they are. Venting pent-up rage at being born into a world of stark inequality.

But I have this covered with another after-market install, which I activated on my descent, well before I was within range of any well-armed shooters looking for pretty targets. The active protection system encases my vehicle like a suit of armor, glowing with a translucent, electric blue aura.

Will I get to my interview any faster than if I’d remained airborne? Hard to say. But at least I'm really moving now, the shields snapping and fizzling with every gunshot, disintegrating incoming rounds on impact. I scream like a madman, filling the cabin with obscenities, pounding the ceiling with a fist.

My tech actually works. I'm gonna make a fortune.

The guy I shot down with my makeshift grav-gun probably wished he had his own armor. It took months of hard work to get this aerocar up and running again, not to mention adding all the improvements. Full days and sleepless nights in my chop shop on the outskirts of the Ruins. Now the vehicle is one of a kind. Just a prototype, assuming my interview with NU-Line AirCarz goes well. I'll be able to pay off the original owner's loan, pin the pink slip to the water-stained wall of my studio apartment. Cover his hospital bills—anonymously.

My irascible neighbors on the surface will have to up their game if they want to take out other unwelcome visitors rolling through their backyards. I've got a feeling more than a few haves will want to take their chances on the ground once my modifications become standard options for every new aerocar manufactured.

Doesn't matter what your credit balance looks like. Humans are born with a yearning for freedom, even if it's dangerous. The government can make air travel as boring as driving used to be on those freeways now silent and clogged with obsolete wrecks, but they can't control the No-Go Zones they've given up patrolling.

So this is where we'll make our own future. Where the locals speak their rage with all manner of projectile weapons. Where visitors will cringe with excitement while the armor I designed keeps them safe.

Changing the trajectory of the life I was handed.

The best revenge.
All Content © 2009 - 2022 Milo James Fowler