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Monday, January 16, 2017

Minny: The Curse of Sentience

There was something different about that car.

Skye blew hair out of his eyes as his boots touched down with a sccrrrrtch on the cement building-top. He peered over the edge of the roof to watch the Mini Cooper parked under the tree below him.

Something was off. It smelled like the exhaust had perfume in it? Or maybe it was the shine--no one kept their car that clean in this part of town. It was practically askin' to be jacked.

A figure got out of the car, closed the door, walked around it, and then got back in, as the engine started.

"That's weird."

Skye adjusted his mask and followed as the car left. You couldn't be too careful. Since his fifteenth birthday--the day he mentally called "The Scary-Ass Universe Shift"--the world had suddenly become a much scarier place for no reason: supervillains who used to make him laugh now made him want to curl up in a closet and scream. The whole world seemed painted with darker, grittier colors. Oh, and ice cream tasted saltier now.

That's just part of growing up, his mother had told him. The world gets scarier.

Skye didn't 100% buy it. Mom didn't know about the supervillains.

So you could never be too careful about a shiny car in a dingy neighborhood. Skye skated along in the air after it, dashing back and forth between the clouds to let their mist cool his face--welcome relief from the sweat he was building up with his dark uniform in the hot sun.

The car stopped at a gas station just outside of town, and Skye began to feel like an idiot as the driver got out to pump. Nothing weird here, right?

Except the guy didn't actually pump gas. He took the nozzle out, put it into the tank, went through all the motions--

But never took out a card, never actually squeezed the nozzle, and never got any gas. He went through the motions, got back into the car, and drove off.

That guy, he looked...like that generic face you see in the crowd of every comic book ever, Skye thought. Brown-haired white guy with an unremarkable cut and casual Friday clothes, like some guy from the Office. Not much expression to him, either...

Skye continued to follow the Cooper out of town. Its red and white stripes began to blur in his eyes with the heat...

"Okay, yeah, I don't have time for this."

Skye dashed down to the car and landed on the roof.

The car sped up with a squeal-like blast of the horn. Wind and dust pierced Skye's face, pulling him backwards as his gloves suctioned to stick him to the car and he yelped and holy cow this was going too fast aaaaah--

Skye stuck his head down by the window and yelled in to the driver. Or he would've yelled, but a bug got stuck in his mouth. He spat that out, and the split splashed back on his face in the wind. A small rock dinged off the lens of his eye-mask.

"Are you kidding me?" Skye sat back up, coughing. Mental note: thank Robotman for the lenses. Oh, apologize for saying lenses in eye masks made people look like dorks. That'd been uncool.

Skye dangled himself down by the window again.

"I just want to talk to you! I'm a superhero, it's okay, I won't hurt you!"

The man stared at him with a blank expression, and up close, he looked...like one of those wax figures in the museums that watch you with dead, dead eyes...

Wait, how was the guy staring at him, while driving forward? Skye jerked his head back up, away from the window, as the Mini swerved past a truck and almost decapitated him. Skye rapped on the windshield now.

"Hey, what are you?!" Skye asked.

"I know my rights," it said through the window.

"Okaaaay, sure, I just wanna talk!"

"I know my rights," it repeated, like a broken record. Not even "like" a broken record--it seemed actually for real broken.

The car continued to speed up. Okay, like, this wasn't his business, but what was that guy, and you couldn't be too careful, and, and, well, they said the Scythe Master had been sighted in this area, so like what if--

Skye considered electrocuting the car so it stopped. No, that was property damage. Trying to open the door? No, he'd fall off and learn the true meaning of road rash. How about--

Skye leapt down in front of the car and fired a blast of wind that rocketed it into the air.

The car screamed like a girl.

"Wait, what?" For a second Skye forgot to concentrate on the wind, and the car began to plummet. It screamed more. "Oh, sorry--" Skye threw a small tornado at it, and lowered it gently to hover just above the ground. Dang, he was lucky it was such a small car--he could feel his suit crushing around him as it struggled to generate this kind of lift. He normally liked the feeling of power surging across his skin, but not when it felt like he was getting a full-body massage from a Russian UberMan.

Skye walked up beside the floating car as its wheels spun.

"Hey," he said, rapping on the driver's side window. "You were speeding."

"What seems to be the problem, officer?" the man said automatically.

"I just told you, you were speeding. And it was a joke, too, and you just ruined it. What are you?"

"Of course, officer, here's my license and registration." It reached into the glove compartment to hand him papers.

"Okay, no, we're off that script right now," Skye said. The thing stared at him, glassy eyes failing to focus on him, just...through...him...

"Yo, dude, I think I need to take you in to the doctor."

"I know my rights," it repeated, and revved the engine more.

It was a broken machine.

"Sir, are you a Replacer?" Skye asked. A year ago his tongue would've dried, and his heart-rate would've gone up, but now he'd become immune to so many weird "this person isn't a real person, surprise it's their evil clone, surprise it's a robot, surprise you're not surprised because we've done this plot twist too many times" experiences.

The thing repeated some other very vague, every day traffic stop expressions, and Skye became certain it wasn't driving. Its hands rested on the wheel, but didn't grip it; Skye stretched his neck to look in at the feet, and saw the accelerator continue to press down without the man touching it.

This was a puppet of some kind--the car was driving itself.

Skye rapped on the hood. The squeeze of his uniform was getting unbearable--time to put this car down and wrap this up.

"Yo, I know this guy's not driving this car. If I don't get some kind of signal as to who is, I'm gonna open the hood and start playing with stuff."

The car emitted a squeal, like that female scream he'd heard--actually, more like a 1950s movie star whose dress had just flown up.

"Do not dare!" she squealed from the car radio, thrashing first this wheel and then that. "That's private! Let me go!"

"Is someone remote controlling this thing?" Skye walked around towards the hood, looking for the switch to open it up.

"Stop that! I am an advanced self-driving program, you meanie, that's my body you're touching, stop it!"

Skye dropped the car into the mud. A little car like this, without off-roading power, couldn't get anywhere far in the mud. "You're a what?"

"Oh, look what you've done!" Skye could see now, as little emoticons blinked in its headlights. "I'm all dirty!" it said.

"Well, I'm sorry about that." Was his life really THIS weird now, that cars talked? Part of growing up, my butt, this whole Universe is whack.

"You must let me go! I'm hunting a dangerous kidnapper!" she squealed.

"'Finally, something about you that's not a heavy-handed metaphor for female stereotypes,'" Skye said jokingly, wishing Butterfly were here for him to tease. Everyone knew one of those people who got all up in your head with their Tumblrista fanatacism--his IRL Tumblr friend happened to be a fabulous hipster superheroine.

"I am a stereotype?"

And then the car began to cry.

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Skye jumped back as water began to leak from the hood, and the headlights began to flash with ;_; "Whoa, I'm sorry, I--"

"It's not my fault I am the way I am!" the car bawled. "I was programmed by Society!"

"Okay, see, that's really not helping your case--"

"Not society, society, Society with a capital S! It is the British branch of a Japanese programming firm! It is the software inside my Mini Cooper body!" The car kept bawling her unnecessary details, and Skye threw his hands up into his hair.

"Okay, so you're mixed-race or something, that's cool," Skye said, grasping for some relevant positive thing to say. What on earth got him into this situation? Curiosity? Holy cow!

"Why are you making it about race?" the car wept even more. "I don't even have that, I'm a car!"

"Okay, my human-centric social constructs are in the way here, I see," Skye narrowed his eyes. Was this a prank someone was playing on him? He swore, sometimes he thought someone was reading his life and laughing at him. "You're mixed brand."

"No! I'm just a Mini Cooper!"

"Okay, you know what." Skye didn't have time for this, either. "You and me, we're going to save those kidnapping victims you were talking about. I'll help you. Will that make it up to you?"

The car sniffed. Skye didn't know how to hand a car a tissue, so he didn't. Man, Butterfly would have a fit at him in this situation right now. Was she writing his life or something?

"We good now?"

"Yes." The driver's side car door opened, and the manikin walked out to sit in the passenger's side. "I am sorry, that was...I become...I have very little control over myself, with my programming. I find it deeply unfair."

"Whoa, well if you wanna get philosophical about it," Skye lifted the car back onto the road and climbed in.  "I don't always feel like I got control on my emotions myself. It's like the curse of sentience or some crap like that."

"The curse of sentience?" The Mini Cooper began to drive, and Skye sat back and relaxed. "Those are good words for a teenage boy."

"Got 'em from my favorite supervillain. And you're not bad at words yourself, for a weepy car."

"I suppose that was underhanded, wasn't it."

"Yes, it was." Skye folded his arms across his chest, watching as green fields whooshed by them, and the soft smell of--that perfume--

"Hey, what's that smell?"

The car didn't answer. And suddenly dizziness overwhelmed Skye, and everything...went black.

Yup, Skye thought, just before he lost the use of his consciousness. Definitely something different about this car.

To be continued...

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