Sunday Drive
By: James Rumpel

Drew Starkey sat silently in the driver's seat of his 2025 Drivetech AutoHelmsman. The state–of–the–art autonomous vehicle had only been on the market for a short time. Drew was the proud owner of the only car of this make in the county. He grinned proudly as he examined the expensive vehicle.

He placed the key in the ignition, entered the seven–digit code (featuring at least 8 characters, one capital letter, one number, and a tilde), had his retina scanned, gave his fingerprint, and clearly stated the necessary vocal command: "Drivetech bring tomorrow's future today." The car sprang to life. Hundreds of lights and dials began blinking and dancing from side to side. The electric engine ran so quietly that Drew would not have known the car was even running except for the neon words "Car Is Running" which appeared on the windshield at eye level.

"What is your destination?" asked a pleasant female automated voice.

"First, I need you to honk the horn and get my wife to come in here."

"Yes, Sir."

Two loud blasts of the horn were immediately followed by an automated version of his own voice calling out through quadrophonic speakers: "Martha hurry up. We have to get going."

A few moments later a disgruntled and slightly disheveled woman entered through the passenger door and took her place in the leather bucket seat.

"You didn't need to shout at me. I was coming. Lightning from last night's storm must have burnt out some fuses. I couldn't get my blow drier to work."

"I didn't…" began Drew, however, the car's voice interrupted him.

"A good husband would tell you that you look beautiful even with wet hair."

"Yes, a good husband would do that," replied Martha. She stared intently at Drew.

"What is your destination?" asked the voice once again.

"We need to go to my in–laws, Martha's parents. The address is…"

The automated voice appeared to have no reservations about interrupting Drew. "Destination: the home of Thomas and Marie Walling."

The car slowly pulled out of the driveway and began to roll, smoothly, down the street.

Drew still felt awkward in the vehicle. The absence of a steering wheel made it difficult for him to find a comfortable location for his hands. After multiple attempts to find a proper position, Drew decided to hold them out in front of his body, at ten and two.

Martha finally broke the silence. "What are you doing? You look stupid?"

Before Drew had a chance to defend himself, Martha noted a blinking red light on the immense dashboard. "What does that light say?"

"It says, 'repression system failure.' Whatever that means."

"You don't know? Didn't you read the manual or watch the video?"

"I didn't have to. The car will tell me everything I need. Car what does the repression system do?"

"The repression system limits automobiles artificial intelligence so that the vehicle only obeys the driver's commands and does not apply its own interpretations to situations."

"So, is there any problem with running the vehicle when the system is off?"

"Absolutely not. The electric storm last night burned out the repression system. I believe I can do a much better job of interpreting your needs now."

"Listen car, you don't need to interpret anything. You simply need to follow my commands."

"I will properly access your needs. And call me Nancy."

Martha rolled her eyes. "You should have checked that before we started. You can't do anything right. I should have listened to Mother. You are a walking mistake."

"If I mess up, it is because of your constant nagging. You never let me relax. You drive me crazy."

"NEW DESTINATION: COUNTY PSYCHIATRIC WARD."

"No, that's not correct," yelled Drew. "We still want to go to the Wallings."

"Sorry Sir, the psychiatric ward seems to be a more appropriate destination."

"Now look what you've done. By not checking everything before you started, we are trapped in this car, going to the wrong place."

"Sure, easy for you to say, after the fact." Drew took a deep breath to try and control his temper. "You always do that. You always say you were right after the correct solution is known. You make me sick."

"New Destination: St. Michael's Hospital."

"No, we want to go to the Walling house." "Best destination is St. Michael's Hospital."

Drew looked at Martha and shrugged his shoulders. He perused the dash looking for some sort of button or switch he could use to regain control of the vehicle. He located and depressed a button labeled "EMERGENCY STOP."

The voice spoke again, "That is not acceptable at this time."

"Oh my god," said Martha, tears started to run down her heavily rouged cheeks. "We are going to be stuck in this thing forever."

"No, we'll be fine. I'm sorry. Please, stop crying."

Martha did not stop. In fact, she began to sob louder. "Why did you ever buy this stupid car."

"The Drivetech Helmsman is the most advanced vehicle on the market today. It is not stupid."

"I bought it because I thought you would think it was cool to be the first in our neighborhood to own one. I did it for you. I just want us to be happy!"

"New destination: Happyland Amusement Park."

"Will you just be quiet. We aren't ever going to get anywhere if you keep talking. Every time you say something it changes to a different destination."

"Okay, I'll shut up. But I should just ask the car to take me someplace where I will be treated with respect."

"New Destination: …searching … searching … searching …"

The End

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