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He threw the holdall onto the passenger seat and climbed in. Once he’d closed the door, he felt significantly safer.

The car was impervious to bullets. Its motion detectors meant no one could sneak up on him. Any attempt to break in would be countered by 5,000 volts of direct current. And - in case that wasn't deterrent enough - a whiff of nerve gas would follow.

Danny pressed a button on the dashboard, rousing the car’s computer from its electronic slumber.

‘Good evening, Mr Jasinski,’ said the car. ‘I’m pleased to report that my batteries are fully charged. No one has interfered with me since you parked me here. There are no bugs and no bombs. No spy devices aimed at you. You are quite safe.’

Safe? That was a good one. Nobody was safe anymore. Certainly not in London with the British Defence Force blowing up tower blocks and Government snuff squads everywhere.

He looked at his wristwatch. The readings were alarming. His brain chemicals were seriously out of whack.

‘I’m headed for a psychotic episode,’ he complained to the car. ‘I’m on Fromoxodin. I shouldn’t be going off my head like this.’

Danny felt like crying. It was all so unfair. Why did life have to be this difficult?

Why couldn’t he have what Robert Morganfield had? Respectability, a corporation to command, a family to go home to?

The wristy recommended he take 300 milligrams of cambitol.

That didn’t sound right and he knew why. It was the bloody Government. Controlling his watch. Trying to push him over the edge by feeding him the wrong information.

‘I’m too smart for you cocksuckers,’ he mumbled, rummaging in his glove compartment. He pushed the holdall out of the way, then swept bottles and boxes of pills onto the passenger seat. Kept going until he’d emptied the compartment.

‘Now let’s see.’ He picked up and examined the medicines one by one. The uppers, the downers, the sedatives, the hypnotics, the hallucinogens, the analgesics, the bronchodilators and the metabolites, antiarrhythmics, CNS stimulants, anxiolytics and antiemetics.

Finally he found what he was looking for: a bottle of probitane. He wasn’t sure what the stuff did other than it was the opposite of whatever cambitol did.

After a brief struggle with the child-proof top, Danny had the bottle open. He poured 3 purple tabs into his hand and shoved them in his mouth. Chucking the bottle aside, he took out a miniature bottle of gin and washed the pills down his throat.

‘Let’s have the radio on,’ he said to the car. ‘I want to hear the news.’

‘… final preparations for their historic flight to Mars.’ It was Jan Cartwright again. Was that woman ever off the radio? ‘A spokesman for Magellan Spaceways said all systems are go and no delays are anticipated. The astronauts earlier had a private radio conversation with the President of the United States.’

‘Off!’ snapped Danny. ‘I don’t want to hear any more bloody lies. Give me some Mozart instead. His 40th symphony.’

A hideous sound in no way resembling music hissed, screeched and cackled from the car’s speakers. It was like every noise he hated thrown together: fingernails on a blackboard, someone hawking up phlegm, a dentist’s drill, descant recorders.



‘What the hell was that?’

‘Mozart’s 40th,’ said the car, sounding hurt and puzzled. ‘In G minor. Recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Charles Schrödinger.’

‘It sounded awful.’

‘That’s because you’re tripping.’

‘I know, I know. Just wait a few minutes for the probitane to kick in. I’m feeling better already.’ Danny took off his wristy and dropped it amongst the blue pills in the car’s ashtray. ‘You hear about that explosion? Just now. About twenty minutes ago. Took out a block of flats in Mayfair or Knightsbridge or Paddington or somewhere like that. I could have been there, you know. Shopping or drinking or looking up old friends. But I had business elsewhere, otherwise I’d be dead, torn apart and evaporated by Nazi terrorists who are covertly funded by the Secret World Government. Every terrorist organisation in the world – and I know this for a fact – is funded by the SWG. There’s all sorts of ways they control us: money, sex, drugs, subliminal advertising. But nothing works as well as terror. They give us an enemy – a thousand enemies – so we hide behind their skirt tails and beg them to save us. To lead us. To tell us what to do and how to think. And you know what’s seriously funny about it all? The SWG think they’re in control, that they’re pulling the strings. But they’re just puppets, being used like the rest of us.

‘I fell in love today. Do you know that, car? I fell in love with a woman who’s dead, who belongs to someone else, who has no mind of her own, no feelings of her own. She’s a slave, a robot - just like we’re all going to be unless someone does something and stands up to the oppressors, the Hidden Empire, the Secret Rulers.

‘Her name’s Colette. She looks like one of those women you see in 1950s magazine advertisements for washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Back in the days when the only thing people had to worry about was atom bombs and they didn’t really have to worry about them because the cold war was phoney. Another hoax designed to terrify people and keep them from questioning their governments.

‘Colette is French. Or she was. She has the sexiest accent I’ve ever heard and she purrs when she talks. I could imagine putting her in front of a blazing log fire and giving her a saucer of milk right before I get my dick out and give her the jack-hammering of her virtual life.

‘She’s dead, car. Gone. All she is now is a binary ghost. An illusion. The stuff of which dreams are made.’

Danny felt calm. He’d unburdened his soul. Confessed all to his father confessor with its electric motor, satnav, kick-arse hi-fi and unbeatable security.

‘I think I’ll go for a drive,’ he said, hitting the start button.

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ said the car as the engine began to purr. ‘I seriously advise against it.’

‘Don’t be such a wet gusset. What could possibly go wrong?’

Danny put the car in reverse and pulled out of the parking space. He drove up the ramp and on to the road, which was surprisingly clear, and was soon in the North Radial Underpass, hitting 80.

The steady hum of the engine and the rhythmic passing of the overhead lights soothed his nerves. Despite everything, he felt good about himself. Things hadn’t been going well of late, but he was certain he’d reached a turning point.

‘I met Robert Morganfield,’ he told the car. ‘The great Robert Morganfield.’

‘Tunnel exit in 2 miles. Do you have a destination in mind?’

‘Oxford. Take me via the scenic route. Through the countryside.’

‘Very well.’

‘We hit it off pretty well, I think. Me and Morganfield. Perhaps he’ll take me under his wing and give me a job at Sybernika. It’s about time I jacked in all this freelance stuff and got myself some security. Built up a pension pot. Bought a house or two.

‘If I get my foot in the door at Sybernika, I’ll make it even greater than it already is. Because I’ve got ideas, car. Ideas that could transform the world and possibly save humanity from itself.

‘Thing is, I can’t do it on my own. Not any more. I’ve gone as far as I can as a lone ranger; now it’s time to bring in others so I can pass on my knowledge.’

Feeling pleased with himself, he began to hum a snatch of Mozart’s 40th symphony. A few bars in, he realised he couldn’t remember the tune and lapsed into silence.

‘Tunnel exit in one mile,’ said the car. ‘Prepare to change lanes.’




Out in the countryside, Danny took to every tiny, twisty lane he could find, often in defiance of the satnav’s instructions. He wanted to find himself in some little village so far off the beaten track no one who hadn’t been born there would have heard of it.

Such a place wouldn’t be on any map. Nor in the memory of a satnav.

After driving aimlessly for the best part of an hour, he had a sense of déjà vu. The hill he was easing the car up looked disappointingly familiar. He thought he recognised some of the potholes picked out by his headlights: their positions, their shapes.

Perhaps he wasn’t as lost as he’d hoped.

‘Where are we?’ he asked the car.

‘Mottlesford Hill. Grid reference – ‘

‘Never mind the grid reference. Where does this road lead?’

‘To the top of Mottlesford Hill.’

‘And then where?’

‘Nowhere. As I tried telling you several minutes ago, you’re heading for a dead end. There is a picnic area where the road terminates. You can turn around there.’

Mottlesford Hill? He couldn’t place it. Perhaps he hadn’t been here before after all.

At the top of the hill, he parked the car and got out. Three wooden picnic tables stood in a row outside a small shack. Next to the shack was a car park with room for about twenty cars. It was empty.

Danny sat on the bonnet of the car and looked down at the Oxfordshire countryside. Below him, a river meandered along a valley it had carved out over millions of years. There were a few boats on it, mostly moored at the back of narrow gardens with long lawns leading to large houses.

When a gap in the clouds permitted the moon to peek through, he could see the jagged outlines of a huge construction site full of half-finished buildings. One of the new towns, Danny surmised, being hastily constructed to accommodate the many thousands who had lost their homes to rising sea levels.

He looked again at what he’d taken to be a sports stadium and realised the floodlights illuminated the perimeter of a refugee camp.

You poor bastards. Treated like hostile aliens in your own country. I bet you look out of the window a hundred times a day to see what progress is being made on that town.

He pictured anxious, broken parents putting on a brave face, telling their kids they’d soon have a brand new house and their privacy and dignity restored. Of course, they wouldn’t mention it could be years before they were allocated a house or that some of them might spend the rest of their childhood as virtual prisoners in what was beginning to resemble a gulag system.

Poor, poor bastards. Makes me realise how lucky I am. Truly, truly lucky.

He got back in the car.

Where to now? Perhaps he could find a country pub with low roof beams and a saucy barmaid with a pleasingly rustic accent. Grab a ploughman’s and a pint of real ale.

‘How far are we from Crickfield?’ he asked the car.

‘2.7 miles as the crow flies.’

‘And as the car drives?’

‘4.3 miles.’

‘OK. Let’s go.’




Back down the hill. On to a country lane. Danny had another go at listening to Mozart’s 40th. This time he heard melody and harmony.

He pushed the car up to 60mph. Raced past hedgerows and fences. Little cottages with thatched roofs. Farmhouses. Crossroads. Caravan parks. A stately home.

‘Reduce speed,’ said the car. ‘Turn right after 200 metres.’

But he didn’t want to slow down. Not with Mozart in full flow. The car was running at a speed that matched the music’s tempo. He was part of the orchestra now, keeping up with the violins and the oboes and the percussion instruments. If he slowed now, he’d ruin everything. The music would fall apart and become the ever-fracturing cacophony he’d heard back in the hotel car park.

‘Reduce speed. Turn right after 100 metres.’

‘I’m going straight on,’ said Danny. ‘I’m not turning.’

‘You are approaching a 30 mph speed zone. Reduce speed.’

‘Will you shut up? I am not reducing speed. Not in the middle of Mozart’s 40th.’

A sign flashed by. It displayed the number 30 surrounded by a red circle.

‘You are breaking the speed limit,’ said the car as it hurtled past a sign that said Welcome to Chumley Wick.

With his heart pumping wildly, Danny pushed the accelerator all the way down. The buildings he passed were a blur. Quaint old buildings, many of them hundreds of years old. He passed a stone cross sitting on a small island in the middle of the road then took a tight corner with a screech of tires.

‘Slow down!’ The car sounded slightly hysterical. ‘You are breaking the law.’

Danny was starting to laugh when he saw the children in their blue school uniforms. About twenty of them were walking in pairs, crossing the road under the watchful eye of two women.

He slammed his foot on the brake pedal.

As the car suddenly slowed, momentum slammed his sternum against the steering wheel. Air fled from his lungs. Pain like lightning forked from his chest to his temples.

Thunder followed. It was the sound of metal meeting flesh.

A wave of blue uniform broke over the car’s bonnet and rolled up the windscreen. Something bounced along the roof.

Danny brought the car to a halt. A quick look in the rear view mirror provided a glimpse of four children lying on the road, limbs arranged at odd angles. Their schoolmates looked on in horror. Some were crying. Some screamed. The two women came running towards him, filling the air with hate-filled invectives.

‘This is not my fault,’ he declared, taking his foot off the brake and accelerating away. ‘Not my fault.’

‘I think,’ said the car with a calmness that belied the situation, ‘you had better let me drive.’

‘Yes,’ Danny agreed. ‘You should never have left me in charge in the first place.’

He was shivering now. It felt like millions of tiny icicles had penetrated his skin and were melting into his bloodstream. ‘Why didn’t you stop me? You’re supposed to prevent me breaking the speed limit. That’s what you’re programmed to do. This is your fault.’

He turned the heating up to max. The car left the idyllic village of Chumley Wick and accelerated to the maximum permitted speed of 60 miles per hour,

Danny realised Mozart was still playing. It was music he never wanted to hear again. ‘Kill the stereo,’ he commanded.

The car did as it was told then said, ‘Perhaps you should put your wristy back on and heed its advice.’

‘Yes.’ Danny nodded eagerly. ‘I need to medicate myself. That’s the problem, isn’t it? What caused the accident. A lack of medication which isn’t my fault. Not my fault at all.’

He grabbed the watch from the ashtray and slipped it over his wrist. Its sensors monitored his heart rate and body temperature. It sniffed his blood to determine its chemical content. After ten seconds, it bleeped to show it had a readout for him.

Danny read its recommendation. 400 mg of cambitol, 60 mg of methium and 1 tab of Fromoxodin.

He found the requisite meds and washed them down with the last of the miniatures from his hotel suite.

The car passed a refugee camp. Its razor-wired perimeter seemed to go on forever.

Again he felt a pang of pity for its reluctant inhabitants.

It’s me who should be locked up, not them.

‘We’ve got to go back,’ he said.

‘Back where?’ said the car.

‘Back to the scene of the accident. I’ve got to help those poor kids.’

‘You can’t help them.’

‘Then take me to the nearest police station. I want to hand myself in.’

‘Sure,’ said the car. ‘Nearest police station it is.’

Danny stopped shivering. His pulse returned to near-normal. He felt a pleasing tickle in his brain as the Fromoxodin began to take effect.

Closing his eyes, he wondered how many years he’d have to serve. Maybe a good lawyer could get him off. Because it wasn’t his fault. Because something must have malfunctioned in the car. Because he was on Fromoxodin and everyone knew that stuff made people do bad things, like ploughing into groups of schoolchildren.

‘We’re here,’ said the car.

Danny opened his eyes. The car had come to a halt.

Must have dozed off. It took him a few seconds to realise he was back in the hotel’s underground car park. ‘This isn’t a police station.’


‘I told you to take me to a police station.’

‘That is correct.’

‘Then why didn’t you?’

‘There was no need.’

‘I killed those children. I have to atone for it. I have to be punished.’

‘You didn’t kill anyone. For the past two hours, you’ve been sitting here hallucinating.’

‘You’re lying.’

‘You deliberately took the wrong medication. It’s a wonder you’re not a dribbling vegetable.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Fine. I’ll take you to a police station then.’

‘No. Let’s not do anything rash. I need to think this through.’

‘And I need a new owner,’ said the car. ‘You are seriously doing my head in.’

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