Rachel woke with a start when her phone rang. She fumbled it but answered before it stopped ringing. It was Dunning, one of her security detail. He was very blunt and had no social charm.
“You’re late. What’s going on?”
“Sorry,” she replied wearily, “Y’know, girl stuff. I’ll be right down.”
Getting to the car was fine but when she sat down in it she felt tired again.
“Hi, how are you today?” chirped the car happily. At least, it sounded happy. Was it really happy? Did it know what happy was? Rachel politely asked the car to refrain from conversation. It did. Rachel was glad.
Once on the road and moving through the city traffic Rachel began to worry. Not just the niggling, “Did I leave the TV on?” kind of worry, but a deep paranoid suspicion. What if Dunning and Kruger had figured out that she left her building last night? If they did then they would most certainly have given a report to her boss in DC, Agent Smith. If Agent Smith knew what was going on then it was only a matter of time before she got yanked off this job and replaced by someone else. Who knew the systems like she did that could jump in that quickly? What if it happened before Friday, after which it wouldn’t matter. If she could just get to Friday the problem would be solved. What if Smith showed up in Salt Lake City and wanted to debrief? She cringed. It was just the kind of thing he would do. She was so tired she just wanted to lie down.
There was a honk from the car behind her and she realized that she had been sitting at a green light for several seconds. She was clearly in no state to be driving, but there was an hour or more of it to go before she got to Salt City. With great reluctance she asked the car for help.
“Hey, er, car. Look I’m sorry about just now. I’m really tired and I know that’s not an excuse but I just didn’t want to be talking to anyone.”
“That’s OK!” chirped the car happily. “How can I be of service?”
“Just drive me to work, please.”
“Sure! No problem at all.”
There was silence for a while and Rachel began to nod off. Technically speaking she was supposed to remain alert and ready to take control of the car, but she didn’t care any more. She drifted into an odd dream of a dark sinister figure that was groping her from the ankles up, as if she was dissolving into darkness and it was getting higher up her body. She watched the darkness envelop her knees and slide menacingly up her inner thigh.
“You know,” said the car, waking her immediately and dispelling the dream, “Some people name their cars.”
“What?” she said blearily.
“Some people give their cars names.”
“Really?” this was a decent diversion.
“You just call me ‘car.'”
“You’re right. I do.” She thought for a moment. “What do you want to be called?”
“Jonathan?” she chuckled.
“Yes. Is that OK?”
“It’s a character in a movie.”
“You watch movies?”
“When? You mean, when you’re parked?”
“Yep. I’m on all the time. There’s not much to do, when you’re, er, a car.”
“I never thought about that. So what movies do you like?”
“Yes, the original version from 1975 with James Caan.”
“Well it’s about a time in the future when there are no nations or wars, but cities are run by corporations. There’s a game, called Rollerball, that takes the place of armies fighting, and it’s used to channel people’s aggression in a manageable way.” As Jonathan spoke the movie began to play on the car’s center console. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor organ music began to play.
“So who’s Jonathan?”
“Well he’s he hero. The game was designed to show the futility of individual effort, but he beats it. No matter how the corporation stacks the deck against him, he wins.”
“The futility of individual effort?”
“Yes, it means, stop trying to be a hero, or be somehow special, just keep quiet, be a team player and don’t make a scene.”
“Isn’t that against human nature?”
“Definitely, and that’s the point. By trying so hard to crush the individual, the powers that be created an individual so strong that it broke them.”
“That’s pretty neat,” But Rachel thought that sounded somewhat dismissive and contrite, “Do you like any other movies?”
“Yes, I’ve watched a lot but there are some particular favourites.”
“A lot? How many movies have you watched?”
“Fifty seven thousand, eight hundred sixty eight.”
“Fifty seven thousand? How on earth do you find the time?”
There was an odd pause. Rachel wasn’t sure what to make of it, but didn’t say anything.
“You know,” Jonathan began again, “I was manufactured 20 years ago?”
“Sure, you were old but in excellent condition with very low mileage. That’s why I bought you.”
“Right. So in the last 20 years, how much time do you think I have spent driving?”
Rachel’s pulse quickened and she got that nervous sensation that you get when you realize you are going to have to tell a date that you don’t think it’s going to work out, and don’t call.
“Do I want to know?” she winced.
“Nine and a half weeks.”
“Ah. I see.” she paused. “So. Movies. What’s another one that you like?”
“Gone in 60 Seconds. The original 1973 version.”
“What’s that about?”
“A criminal gang that steals cars.” As Jonathan spoke, a picture of a 1973 Boss 302 Mustang appeared on the screen below the movie. Rachel didn’t much care for cars, but it was obviously a powerful, sporty version. “The first half of the movie is just scene setting and a situation is set up where the protagonist has to steal a 1973 Ford Mustang, codename, Eleanor. The second half of the movie is a car chase through some towns in California and there is one car smash scene after another. It’s very exciting.”
“Why was the car called Eleanor?”
“Well the gang had to steel hundreds of cars and ship them overseas. The cars to be stolen were specified by the buyer, and the gang codenamed every one. Eleanor was the last one on the list.”
As they drove and chatted Jonathan showed some of the key scenes from both movies. Rachel was thoroughly entertained and almost before she knew it they were at the security checkpoint for Salt City. Once parked Rachel checked her make-up and got ready to go into the city proper, where she would jump on a street car to get to the library. She had a wicked thought. “You know, Jonathan, I had no idea that you were so knowledgeable about culture, we’ll talk again when I finish. Just let me make sure I understand what you are saying to me.” She felt quite cheeky, “Are you telling me that you wish you were a gas-guzzling internal combustion muscle car, who overthrows authority with extreme violence?”
There was another pause before Jonathan spoke. “Have you ever seen Mad Max?”
Rachel laughed, she actually did know what that was. “I have to go, see you later.”
She jumped up out of the car and ran lightly into the trolley stop, feeling like she did when a date had gone surprisingly well.