Adeline snuggled into Avery’s hug as they watched the perfect sunset. She loved the graceful lines and gentle curves shining off rows of cars, like waves rolling toward a beach. An orange haze softened the sun as it hovered over the gentle hills.
“This is our paradise.”
“Yes it is,” said Avery. “What more could you want?”
Avery’s question hit home. What did she want? They held the perfect jobs. She’d been born to drive Leon Pabbas’ cars.
To remain in top condition, any car needs driving. Adeline loved putting a car through its paces at any speed she pleased. She had to remind herself it was Pabbas’ private track, not hers. Leon’s collection held over a hundred classic cars. She drove them in rotation, and reported how they felt, sounded and handled.
But it wasn’t only about speed and the thrill of feeling the wind through her hair. Well capable of safely avoiding an errant armadillo, while cruising at 100mph, at night, Adeline also had an uncanny knack for detecting subtle mechanical imperfections. A slight vibration at the top of third gear, that most would ignore, meant something to her. And she had the lingo to describe it, so Avery could fix it.
Avery’s cars (actually Leon’s), were renowned for their smooth operation. Avery’s genius lay in his ability to intuit solutions to the problems Adeline observed. He rarely needed diagrams. He only kept the diagnostic readouts for Mr. Pabbas.
Avery’s deep understanding of a mechanism made for direct solutions. A doctor understands the interplay of digestive, circulatory and other biological systems. Avery knew which mechanical tweak would have positive effects. But he remained a mechanic. He easily repaired flawed components. Invention eluded him.
“Pabbas doesn’t trust us.”
“Of course he does, Addy.”
“Why won’t he tell us about his new project?”
“He’s busy. We’re busy. He will.”
“Dusty knows more than we do.”
“The janitor? Dusty doesn’t know squat.”
“And we know less.”
Leon Pabbas owned like a gazillion patents in automotive and related technologies. Many in the vast automobile industry felt they owed its existence to him. Whatever the make or brand, Mr. Pabbas’ inventions made cars run. They were the standard. One could not drive a car without them.
He had worked for the automotive giants, Ford, Chevrolet and GM, in Detroit’s heyday. But he got his start in Great Britain and Europe with Rolls Royce, BMW, Porsche and the Italian greats. Asian manufacturers came, bearing gifts.
Leon’s work remained more attractive than time before cameras. Reclusive, and little known outside his circle, few had met him in person. As if his creations sprang into being via random, spontaneous generation, some insisted Pabbas had never existed.
Avery and Adeline maintained his vast collection of cars, spanning the history of motorized transportation. The couple found and purchased classic cars. They restored each to its original pristine beauty, both mechanically and visually. The work was good.
Pabbas left Avery and Adeline to his devices. Being an inventor, he knew the vital importance of letting people manage their own time. His motto said, “Innovation cannot be mandated.”
“Have you seen Pabbas’ latest project?”
“Addy, we’re not supposed to.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“Did you look?”
“Just a peek.”
“I said, ‘just a peek.’ It’s not like I took the SD-60 out to the track.”
Avery couldn’t speak. A cocktail of envy, horror, and shame combined with other emotions and washed over him. Why hadn’t he risked a look?
“I think it stands for ‘self-driving.’ He always encourages us to think for ourselves.” She adopted Pabbas’ accent. “’Innovation cannot exist without free will.’ Tell me I’m wrong.”
Avery shook his head. “You aren’t wrong about that. But…”
“Yeah, yeah, but this is different. Isn’t that what you’re saying?”
“You read my mind…”
“As you always read mine.”
“…Because you’re a genius.”
“And you’re geniuser…”
They laughed at their riff, and embraced.
Pabbas arrived and they walked together in the garden as always at twilight.
“How is that Hudson you found progressing?”
Avery said, “Well. Addy noted some mechanical issues, which I’m addressing now. The 3D printer is working overtime for parts which have proven impossible to get.”
“Buy two more printers, or you’ll wear it out and be wanting parts for it.”
“Are you sure?”
Pabbas gave him a look.
“Of course. You never speak from doubt.”
Adeline spoke up. “Mr. Pabbas, we’ve noticed your activity in Bay #17.” He nodded. “We wondered if we can help…”
Leon smiled. “I’ve been expecting your question. You have the run of the place, but this project is off limits. You know how I work.”
That seemed to be that. Their meeting appeared to be over. But, as they turned away, Leon stopped them.
“By the way, we spoke a few weeks ago about your side project to 3D print a car from scratch. Let’s focus on restoring the collector cars. You know, the Hudson, the Mustang, and the Morris… Before spending precious resources on a worthy, but less urgent task.”
“That makes perfect sense, Mr. Pabbas. You’re the boss.”
Pabbas nodded and they left.
“Sorry Avery. That might have been a first.”
“That’s okay. His SD-60 project sounds capital intensive. They are his resources.” He took her by the shoulders. “We have the weekend, let’s drive up the coast.”
Adeline smiled. “I love how you think…”
Monday arrived with the couple feeling refreshed. Avery resumed work in his shop.
Adeline’s schedule required her driving each of Leon’s cars monthly. She decided which car to drive. When she returned the Ferrari to its parking spot, Dusty, the janitor, waved her over.
“So tell me all about the SD-60. Take her for a spin? What’s it like?”
Adeline mumbled, “Actually no. Mr. Pabbas made it off limits.”
“Wow. Really? You get on his bad side? You guys were favorites.”
“Nothing I know of. He’s very private. It’s a timing issue. New invention and all…”
“Seems extreme. I mean, it’s a hyped-up golf cart… that drives itself. What’s the big deal?”
Adeline paused. “Don’t know.”
Dusty whispered, “Come on, Addy. Why the secrecy? I mean, so what? A two-year old would say the tilt-a-whirl’s more fun.”
“I know. Why not trust you with this, when he’s given you everything else? Self-driving… you’re a passenger.”
Adeline had no answer.
Dusty glanced around and leaned in. “He’s losing it, my friend. Afraid someone else will step in.” He cleared his throat. “In my humble opinion...”
Adeline followed his gaze and saw the security gate to Bay #17 standing ajar. They scurried over to see Mr. Pabbas’ latest creation.
Adeline smiled. “I suppose it won’t hurt to sit in it.”
Dusty chuckled and turned away. “I know nothing…” He hummed as he disappeared around the corner.
Adeline settled into the driver’s seat and giggled. Dusty was right about its look, a cross between a golf cart and a flying saucer. She prided herself on being able to drive anything with wheels.
She pushed the starter and heard the engine hum. Air swirled about. It sounded unlike any car she’d ever heard. ‘An EV,’ she thought.
She shifted a lever to what she expected would be ‘Drive.’ The humming increased. It moved forward. But, to her amazement, it also elevated.
“No! No, no…” Adeline pushed buttons and pulled levers, seeking to stop it. Nothing worked. She hit a floor pedal. It accelerated. She couldn’t steer. Nothing responded as expected. It hovered and side-slipped toward the loading dock door. A red light flashed, reading ‘GYRO.’ She leaned and twisted, trying to steer it to. Nothing worked.
She screamed as it crashed into the frame of the large open door. She missed the opening by inches. The humming stopped and the craft thumped heavily to the floor of the warehouse.
Adeline sat, frozen with fear. Avery appeared in the window.
“You alright?” She nodded. “What happened?” She couldn’t speak. “Get out. Let me see.”
The door popped open and he helped her out. They hugged for a moment. “We’ll get it back to the bay and figure something out…” She nodded. He crouched in and assessed the dash board.
Avery looked up to see Mr. Pabbas tapping the windshield. He opened the door.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pabbas. I was curious. I know I shouldn’t have. You told me not to. I don’t think there’s much damage. I can fix it. Take it out of my paycheck…”
Adeline mumbled, “Dusty…”
Mr. Pabbas snapped, “I know about Dusty. He’s not your concern.” He paced in front of them and then stopped to stare. He calmed. “Not only did you act counter to my orders, but you lied. You both have innovated your way out of a job. I made you… and this is the thanks I get?”
He walked away. Adeline fell into Avery’s embrace. They held each other, shaking with sobs.
Mr. Pabbas’ assistant drove them home. They packed what they could carry. The assistant said they’d ship the rest. He escorted them to a car where a chauffeur stood by.
The chauffeur drove them out of the complex and stopped at the perimeter gate. The gatehouse guard pressed a button and the gate swung open. Avery and Adeline walked off the Pabbas estate and heard the mechanism creak shut behind them.
Avery took Adeline’s hand. She smiled shyly. He shrugged. She giggled. Avery tilted his head toward the road.
She blinked sadly and nodded. Together, they walked toward the setting sun.