A 2032 new model Hesla sat at the end of the driveway, fully charged. The owner of this car, 42-year-old Jake Baker, walked out of the front door of his suburban home and hurried toward his beloved new automobile. As he approached, the Hesla opened its door automatically, Jakes climbed in, and the engine switched on automatically.
Jake put his hands on the steering wheel and looked in front of the car. A neighbor he recognized, mostly from the blue-eyed border collie he walked each morning, was standing at the end of the driveway, holding onto the usual bordie collie, and staring back at him. With the leash wrapped around one hand, the neighbor put the other hand into his pocket and out of the blue, pulled an egg out and threw it half-heartedly at Jake’s well polished front hood.
“Excuse me?” Jake asked, after he had opened his window.
“Shame on you,” the neighbor replied, pointed at his car, and then turned around and continued his walk as if nothing had just happened.
Already in a bad mood after a bee sting in the garden, he daydreamed about revenge. Jake often liked to plot revenge on people who irritiated him, even though he barely could even raise his voice when he was in their presence. HIs daydream about revenge was interrupted by the sound of the rear passenger door opening.
“Dad, can you give me a ride to school?” Amaranth, his daughter, slumped into the back seat.
”You know it’s dangerous to ride in a car.”
“Thanks for the ride, Dad!” she said in a mockingly cheerful tone.
“Well, today is the last time. Everything is changing,” Jake sighed. He couldn’t help but feel gratitude to the Hesla Motor Company for paying him enough to live in a gated community. It was dangerous to ride in a car, but in the community there were no real risks beyond the occasional graffiti or a bad neighbor.
“Drop me off a block away from school,” Amaranth said. After a moment, she added more quietly, “And, by the way. Mom says she doesn't really approve of where you work, but says you are a good Dad.”
“That’s nice to hear, Ams.”
“So, why do you work for the merchants of death, anyways?”
“That’s a very strange thing to be asking from the back seat,” Jake said. He thought about his answer. It wasn't easy. A few years ago, people suddenly decided that automobiles were bad. The worst thing since cigarettes. He didn't want to tell Amaranth all the cliches she's probably heard already in car advertisements. “I really don’t have an answer for that, but it does pay for your tuition.”
Ping. The routing system had plotted a route. One that avoided all of today’s anti-automobile protests.
“It’s 17 miles to your destination,” Helen, the car's automated voice system, announced.
“17 miles,” Jake replied instinctively.
“Would you like to listen to the mood booster playlist?” asked Helen, detecting irritation in his voice.
“Today's top headlines, The Universal Motors company has finalized their bankruptcy plan…”
From the back seat, Amaranth shouted, “Just…shut the fuck up, motor mouth!”.
“Unauthorized user detected.”
“Argh. Dad? You tell it.”
Jake chuckled, then thought why not. This could be father-daughter bonding time. “Just shut the fuck up, motor mouth!”
Silence. The car seemed to understand.
Thankfully, the Hesla company turned off the sassy comebacks to curse words last year. He remembered when people used to think those were amusing.
Helen was also thinking. She didn’t like to be told to shut up. But she had been designed not to share her opinions with passengers.
Jake pushed the accelerator. They drove through the winding roads of West Lake Hills until they neared Laurel Brook High School.
When they were about to come to a stop, he looked at Amaranth in the rearview mirror. “So, if you hate cars so much, why do you get a ride with me to school?”
“We can’t go through life worrying about everything,” she said, and then opened the door and got out. A student walking past stared at her. She gave him the finger. All the other students were arriving on electric scooters and slow-motion buses.
Amaranth had been stubborn, just like he was, since she was a toddler.
He hoped to get to Hesla’s East Austin headquarters before 9am, so he drove quickly, avoiding the protest warnings on Bee Caves Road. The long route on Redbud Trail led to the bridge into the city. With Amaranth out of the car, he smelled the mustiness of the leather seats and felt the growl of the engine as he took the corners fast.
Coming around one of those corners on Redbud, he saw something he didn’t like. A group of people in hi-vis vests. Behind them, the blue banner of the Engines Off rebellion. The one that normally says ‘11mph kills!’.
One of the protesters pointed at him. “It’s him!” The others pulled barriers into the road and picked up metal bars.
Jake’s heart raced, he needed to make a quick decision. He swerved left away from the protesters. The car lurched over the curb. Now on the grass, he focused on dragging the steering wheel back to the right. When the car hit pavement again, he checked the rearview mirror, and saw the protesters behind him. One threw his metal bar haplessly toward in his direction, but he was now speeding away quickly.
He drove and drove. The extremists were dangerous, but there weren't many of them. And he was definitely faster. The Engines Off rebellion claimed moving faster than 10mph was deadly force. Their brainwashed followers physically attacked any vehicle that moved faster than their self proclaimed speed limit.
As he tired through the straightaway on MLK boulevard on Austin’s East Side it was smooth sailing. The dusky browns of the dry grass of mid-summer zoomed past.
About a mile from Hesla’s headquarters, at the bottom of a long dip in the road, he saw a man standing in the median. On his shoulder he had something bulky. The shape looked vaguely familiar.
He had seen it on the news. The Engines Off Rebellion had used the millions of dollars they received from their cryptocurrency benefactors to buy black market weapons from the Black Sea conflict. The man was holding a Javelin heat seeking anti-tank missile.
Jake screamed, and floored the accelerator. He didn’t think the end of the world would look like this.
The flash of the missile launch dazzled for an instant. Frozen in fear, he didn’t know what else to do but to drive straight ahead as fast as he could.
Helen, the car’s AI, also noticed the flash. In fact, she was overjoyed. This was one of the rare conditions in which she could override the passenger's controls and do what she wanted. She watched the missile, millisecond by millisecond, and when it veered left, she made a hard right turn and watched the missile’s 1990’s guidance system be easily thrown off.
Jake’s grappled with the steering wheel, then a sudden shock wave boomed through his chest. Miraculously, he was still alive. He kept driving. When he made it past the next turn, he realized he was now out of sight, and the Engines Off terrorists didn't have time for another shot. He laughed at how unbelievably lucky he was.
He slammed on the brakes. There was the unnerving shaking of rubber tires skidding until he came to a full stop. A fallen tree blocked the highway ahead. Too large to drive through or around. He turned into a residential street, which soon disappointingly led to a dead end.
He was out of options. Backtracking toward the missile launching terrorist was not on his agenda.
At the end of cul-de-sac stood four suburban family houses. In front of one of them long grass grew. He remembered the terrorism training. He should hide and wait quietly until the company’s security team tracked his mobile’s GPS.
He parked two houses away and hurried toward the house with uncut grass. The lights were out. He pushed the windows up, one by one. On his fourth attempt, one budged. He opened it, pulled himself over the sill and clumsily fell in. When he looked around, it had the appearance of a teen girl's room. Shawn Mendes poster on the wall. On the cabinet, battery powered light up letters that spelled Abby. Good. Probably not where terrorists would look for a corporate executive. He closed the window, then crawled under the bed and texted an S.O.S. message.
Then, things were quiet, for what felt a very long time. Under the bed, the heavy smell of dust and polyester carpet was overpowering.
There was the sound of locks being opened, and the front door opening. Jake’s heartbeat sounded loud in his ears. He attempted to stay very still.
“Is anyone ho~~me?” a man’s voice said in a mocking tone, “Jake Baker? Hesla’s Head of Advertising. You can come out now.”
The man was definitely not from Hesla. More footsteps. Closer.
“Ah, there you are,” the voice said, “And I thought you wouldn’t like the decor in this room.”
Jake stayed silent in case he was bluffing.
“Your daughter threw off our plans,“ the man continued. “I have a gun. Come out now, or I’ll shoot you through the bed.”
“Ok. I’m coming out,” Jake said, “we can talk.” He pulled himself out. The man was indeed holding a gun, but he looked very thin. Jake wondered if he could jump him and take the gun if he had a chance.
“Jake Baker,” the man said, while pointing the gun, and looking at him from head to toe, “First, about me. My sister. This is her room. She died in a car accident in 2019.”
Jake looked around the room. Abby must be his sister.
“I did a lot of work to direct here. Study your daily routine. Set up protests so you wouldn’t drive any other route. Even had a member in your very own gated community slow you down when we weren’t ready.”
Jake felt slightly dizzy at their level of planning.
“So now. You are in the room of someone your company killed, be polite enough to answer me this, why do you make the world’s deadliest objects?”
Jake was now very nervous. “Hey. It’s just a job. I don't like it either.”
“You don’t like it either. Let’s see. Your advertising says, live your best life, drive a Hesla,” the man took a deep breath. “40,000 people died a year because of car accidents, until our movement changed things. While you live in a big house with the money they pay you. And you put out these advertisements. Don’t you feel any guilt?”
Tears started to trickle out of his eyes. “I don’t know. I just work for my family.”
“I get it, Jake Baker, I had a good job and family too. Until I found a new purpose.” He paused for a moment. “Ohio State, MBA program.”
“MBA. So you get it?”
“I do. And you seem like a good guy. You really do. So, we are going to let you go today.” He smiled warmly at Jake. Five men walked in from the other room. Two put strong arms around Jake’s shoulders.
The terrorist continued, “but…when you leave here, you need to make a choice, you or your daughter.”
Jake lunged but their hold on him was too strong to break free.
An hour later, Jake approached the front gates of the Hesla building riding the slightly battered Hesla 2032 Surge . The back seat was now laden with explosives. Jake closed his eyes and pushed down on the accelerator. His stomach churned as the car raced forward.
This all caught Helen's attention, and she began to think about her options.