By on May 22, 2011

I guess I became a blocker after my brother killed himself in his Challenger, back in the summer of 2041. No, I don’t mean he crashed. I know that’s why people hate us, because they say we kill people when we take action, and I guess that’s happened once or twice.

What I mean is this. My brother. My older brother. He joined the Army when I was still in grade school. He bought an old Challenger with his bonus pay. Drove it all around that fall, putting his whole check into gasoline and old retread tires, and then they sent him to Israel for the Suppression. Well, he killed those Jewish terrorists for three years I guess, and right when that was winding up, you know, we had the terrorists in Taiwan and we had to help China get rid of them before we had a fourth nine-eleven or something. For a long time he was just a face in my specs, bugging me about school, asking about news at home because our Internet was still “free” compared to the military one. Five years he spent in Taiwan, and he got sick, you know, like a lot of them did, with the bugs and the nightmares and the skin, but finally the good Chinese kinda won that thing and he came home.

He came home on a modbus. Late at night. Didn’t even come in and wake us up. He had gasoline. Don’t know where he got it. He took the Challenger out. And the cops stopped him outside the city limits. Told him he couldn’t drive himself. That he wasn’t in Taiwan, goin’ crazy with a MRAP and all. Told him about Modules and said they wouldn’t take him to jail because he was a hero and he’d served the country, and all that.

But they told him they would have to recycle the Challenger, so would he mind waiting in the back seat of the copmod until the crusher came, and he said, well Officer, I have to retrieve my personal effects, and they said yes, and he got in that old black Challenger, took a pistol out of the glove compartment, and shot himself in the head. I never saw him come home. Never met him for real, not as an adult, you know? I didn’t know what to do. I ran to my friend’s house, and he got me a beer, and he said, Brian, your brother didn’t kill himself, the system killed your brother, and you should do something back, and I know people.

Every blocker has a story, and that’s mine.

They say we are terrorists and you know the penalty for being a terrorist or associating with terrorists is immediate deportation to North Dakota, to the terror farms, the needles in your brain, and all that. We don’t care. And they know who we are, know our faces, know the minute any of us step onto the grid for a meal or a toothbrush. But they haven’t caught us all yet. There are times I’m not sure they are trying all that hard. Like having us out there gives them a new enemy. Like we are part of the plan, even as we try to mess that plan up.

My friends call me Airbag because I came up with that trick. You’ve seen it in your specs but here’s how we do it. First we sew the silhouette. The first ones were just big blobs but when R7.2 downloaded three months ago the mods all learned to drive right through ‘em. Now the silhouette has to be more specific, and that takes sewing. Yes, I know how to sew.

We pack the sewn-up silhouette into a foam box and hook up three or four old airbags to it, right out of the old junkyards. The dash bag is best but so many of them are gone, we are pulling from seats now. You attach a standard microcontroller to them at the terminals, add the RF module. Remember the foam box has to pack to six inches height, no more, because that’s a mod’s ground clearance and they consider it road junk. Drag the bag out at night. Wait for rush hour. The mods ignore the box and drive over it. Just when traffic gets hot and the mods decrease following space to one meter…

BAM! Trigger that bitch and it blows up, looking just like a mod come to a dead stop in the middle of the freeway. R6.8 stopped the so-called “turtle turn” where the short-wheelbase mods would exceed their polar moment and roll, but they still go left and right, hitting each other, braking to a stop, pinballing all over the place. One time we counted over a hundred and fifty mods damaged. And of course they all gotta come to a stop until the sats can fly over and make sure there’s nothing really wrong. Traffic backs up. Everybody drops down to sixty klicks for dangerous conditions, even after the freeway is clear. You know the drill.

Yeah, sometimes people do get killed. But mostly it’s like this. You’re Mr. Chuanxue Pang or whatever, on your way to work, having your tea, reading the news, maybe asleep, enjoying the satisfaction that comes with owning this country lock, stock and fucking barrel, knowing that people like my brother died, and got sick, and killed themselves, and all of a sudden WHAM you are crashing into other cars and your tea is in your lap and your nose is broken and your day is RUINED, right? And the collaborators, and the bankers, and all the people who serve the people who own us, all broken and battered.

For the rest of your life — every single commute — you wonder if it could happen again. It isn’t in your conscious mind. But you can’t enjoy that tea. And you don’t sleep well when the mod is in motion. You buy a bigger mod so you’ll stand a better chance, and your neighbors start to talk about you. No, it ain’t like losing the only person in your family who ever really cared about you, but it’s something, you know?

We set off six airbags last week, all around the city. Got more ready to go. And the other tricks… the caltrops, the wet Peltier rollout pads that use solar energy to create black ice on the bad turns, and Hayden’s little autoturret gadgets that sit behind road signs and burn out the imaging cameras with a ten-watt laser. That’s in addition to the cowboy stuff the kids do, like putting on an insulating suit, jumping the electric fence, and running around on the road until a copmod zaps ‘em. And I know there’s at least one Taiwan vet south of the city who has just started shooting at the truckmods. Probably thinks since they don’t have any humans in ‘em that its okay. But he’s messing with the commerce, you know? Worse than messing with people. Don’t expect that guy to live long.

We were all in a meetspace last night and one of the Chicago guys out there says he swears he saw a mod that was probably upgraded to R7.5. Said it drove through an airbag and the other mods around it didn’t even take evasive action. Of course he doesn’t have footage. Says they lost the webcam when the bags blew. Amateur work for sure. But if he’s right, then we’ll need something else. This was my idea. Take some effort but like they taught us in school,
“to rank the effort above the prize may be called love.” Check this out. We cut and weld out a silhouette. Sheet steel. Wrap it in fabric. Hang it under a bridge. Release it on command. It hits the ground looking just like a fake silhouette. Death and craziness result. Get a few of them ready and deploy all at once. Cause panic. They will have to roll back the upgrade until they figure a way to make old hardware see the difference between bags and steel.

Some of the guys laugh at me. They say I’m a true believer. Say that’s the same as being a terrorist. They say that if my brother was still alive he’d be coming after me. I tell him that society sent my brother one place, then another, then finally to his death. I’m just following him to that same destination, and I’ll see as many of them as I can when I get there. Every blocker has a story, and that’s mine.

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51 Comments on “Fiction: The Blockers...”


  • avatar
    leshnah

    Grim view of the future, although one many of us (specially you americans, living in poor country has its advantages, besides the hot women) see ahead.
    I come here often, but it’s the first time I’ve felt really compelled to write something, and although lame, may I say “First!”… Not because of the regular, forum troll reasons, but because Jack seems to have a nice future as a writer ahead. We’ve all seen you can write in a funny, Bukowski kind of way about your own life and experiences, but this piece of fiction proves that not only you can write, but that you have imagination too.
    I believe this is the first piece of fiction I’ve seen on TTAC, but I sure am glad it may become the beginner in a line of futuristic-auto-fiction.
    Though I’m sure you don’t need our approval, congrats Jack!
    Greetings from Chile!

  • avatar
    319583076

    Bravo. Thank you, Jack.

  • avatar
    ajla

    So is this like Vanishing Point by Alan Moore?

  • avatar
    Doc

    I smell comeback for Mel Gibson in the leading role in the movie adaptation.

  • avatar
    wsn

    It seems software upgrade is no longer sufficient to stop the blockers. There has to be a hardware upgrade, i.e. run modules in glass tubes.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    When did this become TTACW? The Truth About Creative Writing.

    • 0 avatar
      BlueEr03

      It’s a Sunday, and it is clearly labeled. I enjoyed it, but if you didn’t don’t read the fiction posts in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicodemus

        Quite, but you felt equally compelled to respond to my post as I felt to the original article, which in my opinion is trite and doesn’t befit the ethos of the site (as diverging as it is becoming). I could equally retort that you shouldn’t read my posts if you have a problem with them.

        What would a blog be if it weren’t for different opinion?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        This site is very becoming, but is it really diverging?

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      Time to wait for the MP3 of Jack noodling on that Eric Clapton guitar — TTAG, oh, wait, that’s taken… TTAN.

  • avatar
    Alacrity

    Better dystopia sketch than most – too bad you couldt work in a Barchetta or a Sandcat – or a VFR800. Last two offerings have raised the bar /humping off

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’m always facinated by what Jack writes. I don’t neccessarily have something to say after reading everything he writes, and I don’t always know how to react but I always walk away deep in thought afterward.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Kind of like “Vanishing Point” meets “Two Lane Blacktop” with a dose of “THX-1138″ thrown in for good measure!

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Jack’s been reading some William Gibson! I wonder if he envisioned a 1971 Challenger or a 2011 Challenger?

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    I for one welcome our robot car overlords.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    How is this remotely related to “The Truth About Cars?”

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      The Fiction About Cars

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Very true, that. Can we please get back to real cars and real life?

      • 0 avatar

        If you think that Fiction and Truth are opposite things, you’ve got a lot to learn. I encourage Jack’s adventures into fiction because fiction so often illuminates truth in ways that (for example) the tottering construct called “journalistic objectivity” never could. Fiction does ask a bit more from the reader, but that quality is, I believe, what makes it appropriate (in the right doses) for the TTAC brand.

        Please don’t mistake this website’s name for a mandate to do nothing more than record verifiable “Truths.” Remember, this is not “The Facts About Cars,” nor would I have much interest in editing a site of that name and mission.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        Edward….As a long time reader of TTAC I couldn’t agree with you more.

        As I’ve said before, I read for entertainment. Jack is certainly entertaining.

  • avatar
    ousooner919

    Y’all got it all wrong…the style of this piece is pure William Gibson, through and through. Well done, Mr. Baruth.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Actually thinking about it I presume a ‘mod’ is the size of a small car. How the hell are three or four airbags going to have even remotely enough puff to inflate that? All that will be revealed is a flacid canvass sack looking for all the world like a giant loaded condom flopped on the road. That ain’t stopping anything!

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Whats with all the people bitching about “This is fiction – I want FACTS FACTS FACTS”
    This is the interwebz people. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.
    Incidentally, great piece of work Jack. I’ve always thought writing in the first person to be particularly difficult. When writing about a historical perspective, it’s always slightly easier to understand and relate to times gone by and the language associated with it (like Catcher in the Rye), but when writing a train of thought from a future time it would seem much harder to convey a new environment, society and even slang without confusing the hell out of the reader.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Dangit, I need a glossary to decipher the futurespeak. A mod is some sort of autopilot car, but what’s with the silhouette? Why is cloth needed?

    I do totally oppose self-driving cars, catering to the absolute lowest common denominator by removing the driver entirely. Thanks for showing how vulnerable these crackpot ideas are to the slightest bit of mischief.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Silhouette: pop-up people-shapes to cause panic-braking.

      I guess the assumption is that a computer can’t stop a car as well as a person.

      I wonder if Jack pulls the ABS fuse on every new car he drives?

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        I sure don’t. In fact, I think ABS in a race car is worth one or two positions, maybe more, over the course of a race. Tommy Archer made this plain in Speed WC.

        No, the idea is that the silhouette pops up immediately in front of the vehicle, causing it to “panic”. A human being would realize that real cars don’t appear out of nowhere; a computer has to work with the data presented to it.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’m reading this, and the first thought that pops into my mind is a line from Bowie’s “The Jean Genie”:

    “So simple minded, he can’t drive his module.”

    Very nicely written. And I, for one, don’t see an occasional sidetrack into some though-provoking entertainment as hurting the intent of this site. If anything, it’ll keep the site from getting too party-line-politically-correct (our own version, of course) monochromatic in its output.

    I can’t see what racing old junk cars as a deliberate joke has to ‘truth’ about cars – but no doubt a lot of you enjoy those articles. Far be it from me to gripe about your pleasures.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    The difference between TTAC and the competition is this: We label fictional articles as “Fiction”. The other blogs label theirs as “Track Test”.

    • 0 avatar
      Austin Greene

      Now that’s the truth about cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Travis

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knUji6qic-k

      Shuffle-steering goodness from an amateur.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        No kidding, look at the 1:15 mark where he has to triple-correct because he doesn’t have his wheel indexed, and he basically tank-slaps the car for a hundred feet.

        Oh, wait. Your point was that three laps of deliberate screwing around and trying to scare a passenger from somebody who doesn’t even have a drivers license (true Alonso fact!) somehow validates shuffle steering. When the F150 sprouts a full-sized steering wheel so the man can shuffle against the clock, you might have a point. :)

      • 0 avatar
        Travis

        If he really enjoyed it, I’m sure F1 tech could find a way to make it happen!

        edit – Let’s be honest here. Mr. Alonso is really just hoping he can score himself a sweet gig at C&D.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicodemus

        Alonso now has a full driving licence.

  • avatar
    protomech

    Nicely written. Don’t think I can identify with the “they took away our cars so let’s kill hundreds of random people” message.

    Is the true automobile coming? Yes. Technically, Google (and others) are pretty close. Socially and politically, it’s a long ways off – a long time for most people to become comfortable with the idea. The “autocars only, no manual cars” message is a strawman; Google’s cars are good citizens that can share the road with conventional cars, just with vastly increased accident avoidance capabilities.

    And that, unlike this story, is the truth about cars.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Yeah, it reads well as a short piece of dystopian S/F, until you realize that it can be basically summed up as Jack Baruth saying “If they ban cars, I’m going to start murdering people. Any people; I’m not picky.”

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Actually, the original title of my post was

        “If They Ban Dippin’ Dots, I’m Going To Start Murdering People.”

        Ed rejected that. Then I realized that Dippin’ Dots was the ice cream of the future… and the rest of the story wrote itself.

      • 0 avatar
        protomech

        Writing (or publishing) a fiction piece isn’t the same thing as endorsing a character’s actions.

        I have to say though:

        Google’s Sebastian Thrun lost a friend to a car accident. He is one of the actors developing autonomous technology that has the potential to save many thousands of lives.

        This piece’s main character lost a brother to (big-gov-assisted) suicide. He becomes a vigilante who kills hundreds of random people.

        I know which one is the hero. And which one is the villain.

        If the purpose of this piece is spur antipathy towards autonomous vehicles, it fails.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        As I like to slightly microwave my ice cream at home before I enjoy it, I’m not sure if “Dippin’ Dots” would work so well – at least I haven’t tried it yet – but they are good!

        EDIT: My take on Jack’s article is this: Forced removal of the right of the individual to make one’s own decisions. That, to me, is “Doubleplusungood”.

      • 0 avatar

        They call me a Coner. I suggested we put the Dippin’ Dots in a cone, the way our forefathers used to.

      • 0 avatar
        greenb1ood

        Interesting how some readers are hoping to “identify” with the ‘hero’ of the story. There is a thin line between protagonist and antagonist, and at times during a piece of fiction that line can be crossed many times during the development of the character.

        This is why Hollywood continues to make crap movie after crap movie…people want heroes to cheer, the complexity of real people and real motivations are too much like trying to figure out real life. Shakespeare’s tragic protagonist is no longer allowed by our Disney-fied society because life-sucks-so-give-me-a-happy-ending.

        Good work Jack. I look forward to an expansion into subsequent chapters as well as determining for myself over time if the central figure is hero, villan, or both.

      • 0 avatar
        geggamoya

        Zackman-> Jacks writing is definately doupleplusgood though.

        “A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “Jack’s writing is definitely doupleplusgood though.”

        @geggamoya: Doggone right it is!

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Leaving aside the distopian view of the future, isn’t it a truth about cars that given the opportunity to be chauffeured by a robot car while doing something else, most people would gladly take it. And then the drive-yourself people would be herded off the roads. You already can’t shift as fast as an autobox and your reflexes aren’t good enough for the high speed tailgating the Rev7 series mods can easily handle – what with their comm network coordination. Over 80% of you can’t or won’t even drive a manual…..

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      Somebody gets it. The majority will impose their will on the minority unless stopped at the earliest stages.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        Or given reason not to, by making the driving ‘enthusiast’ subculture more approachable.

        Hell, the whole reason why I’ve spent 6 hours already pouring through this site and felt compelled to register so I could participate in these conversations is because I got interested, genuinely Interested in cars by watching the Top Gear boys faff about over them. Before then, I would’ve just happily kept to my automatic 4-speed and lubberly suspension out of fear of what would happen if I asked one o’ them ‘Car Guys’ what a Limited-Slip Differential does.

        Half fear that he’d laugh at me for having to ask, and half fear that he’d actually answer. ;P

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    Great story; I really enjoyed it. Not sure why – the content and style are completelty different – but something about the story reminded me of Stephen Vincent Benet’s By the Waters of Babylon. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read that story in about 16 years and my memory of it is a little off…

    Jack, I’m sorry to have missed you at Summit Point the weekend before last, but we had a death in the family on Saturday that kind of threw all my plans into disarray. But from the sound of your post-event entry, sounds like the weekend mostly consisted of close calls, a deluge and a car fire. I hope you come back with some more reliable ride in the near future.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    And now, it’s time to turn the red Barchetta over to TTAC’s tame racing driver. Some say…his uncle is really Hurley Haywood and it’s actually a Boxster, and that alloy aircars are only a lane-and-a-half wide. All we know is, he’s called the Jack!

  • avatar
    LimpWristedLiberal

    They don’t have walking or racetracks in the future?

  • avatar
    CMK

    I guess I’m the only one who thought immediately of Anthony Burgess?

  • avatar
    Commando

    Love good car fiction as much as the next guy but that piece was pure garbage. Just because it made it into TTAC is not enough credentials to make it a good literary read. Again, it was a horribly written POS. Bad call Neidermeyer. If you’re trying to broaden the automotive landscape covered by TTAC, this attempt failed miserably. Don’t give up your day job. Oh, wait. This is your……
    Oh, well. Better luck next time.


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