Josh, part 2

A look-ahead sample of a work in progress

Fractured States of America, or The Woman from the Prairie Bank

Leona’s second message came in as Josh was driving to Kansas City. He pulled it up on the heads-up display so that it showed in white text that overlapped the view of the truck in front of him.

Babe. I’m in the back of a truck on the way to Springfield, Mo. Come get me.

Springfield? What the hell?

Provisional cover of Fractured States of America

If she had let him know her change of destination before he left, he would have taken a different highway. Still, he wasn’t too far out of the way, yet.

The next message made him smile, and gave him a certain tingle, as well.

          Come get me and I’ll do that thing you like.

He tapped out the new destination on the nav. He watched the new route recalculate on the screen. Still more than an hour to the exit to US54.

The new nav program set, he settled back and watched the prairie go by for a few minutes. He watched the wheel move as the computer eased the car into the passing lane and thought about Leona doing the thing he liked.

He remembered the feeling of her silky skin, her curves. The way she groaned when he pulled her long blonde hair. Bleached, but still nice. Her nice, round ass. Such a welcome change from the skinny girls back home. And so enthusiastic about sex, too.

His eyes closed as he thought longer about the last time he had spent a day in bed with Leona. That thing he liked. To tell the truth, it was hard to narrow that down to one thing. He liked everything she did.

A sudden slowing made the fantasy-memory dissolve. Opening his eyes, he saw a mass of trucks ahead. The car braked, joining the other vehicles in the right lane . A siren sounded behind him and a robotic highway monitoring truck zipped by in the left lane, lights flashing. Seconds later, a paramedic truck followed, then another. After a minute, a state trooper’s SUV roared past.

Damn. How long is this accident going to take to clear?

But the highway jam  brought home a reality. While the laws stipulated that all vehicles on the Interstate highways have robotic controls, they also mandated that a human be behind the wheel, and alert, at all times. Even robots fail, sometimes. Glitches in the highway network that coordinated the traffic happened all the time. Vandals could knock out a telecom tower or node. Thieves often stole critical, expensive components. Not to mention terrorists and rebels who deliberately wrecked portions of the network for their own purposes.

When you combined one of those occurrences with a sleepy or distracted driver, then you got accidents.

That could have been me.

That train of thought reminded him of his real job. He turned to the bag in the back seat and brought out his government-issued scanner. Turning it on, his lifted it close to the windshield, although it was not necessary. Sure enough, it pinged within seconds. A rebel transponder, about a kilometre ahead.

A half-mile, he reminded himself. Americans still use miles. We’re the only country in the world that does.

It could be the cause of the accident ahead, but there was no way to be certain now. He should take care of it, b ut there were too many people around. He recorded it for his next report.

Eventually, he saw one of the paramedic trucks scream down the other side of the highway. A few minutes later, the trucks ahead of him started to move again. He put his hands on the wheel, but let the car drive itself slowly. Soon, he saw the accident: a hatchback wedged under the trailer of a big rig. How the hell does that even happen?

There was blood on the pavement. Paramedics loaded a gurney into the second ambulance. In front of the big truck, a state trooper talked with whom Josh presumed was the driver. Josh kept his hands on the steering wheel, but the trooper did not even glance at him.

The car accelerated then to highway speed. It wasn’t long before it moved into the lane for the exit to US-54. Fulton ahead, a sign read.

Watch for the new book!