After a fun night of horror and another day of work, I’m stuck. I started walking home, when at some point my feet stopped moving. It took a while for the rest of my body to get the message. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I wasn’t ready to just go through the motions of eventually making my way to bed, just to start another day, just like this one, just like the ones earlier this week and last. I decide to go to the nearby shopping center and hang out with the pigeons. Their cooing has a way of easing my existential dread. Besides, I’m sure they enjoy my company. They do, don’t they? Gosh I hope they do. Can you imagine going to this group of pigeons and they’re just like “Aw fuck, it’s her again.”
So I arrive at the shopping center, now oddly self-conscious about whether I’m bothering the pigeons by being there, and I have a seat on one of the benches. I stare at nothing, skyward. I listen to the pigeons coo. Tap tap tap, peck peck peck, I hear as they go about their business. It’s relaxing to just listen to them go about their day, foraging for food, hanging out and gossiping, enjoying the sunny weather. Every once in a while, fortunately only once this time, I hear some flustered distress. I’ve heard it enough to know what it is. It’s some puffed up self important dude pigeon strutting around trying to get attention from the lady pigeons. Truly, will we ever be free from men? I watch the clouds drift, wondering if there’s a better way to gain personal peace than by ignorance or complacency.
I hear some rattling and clanging in the distance. Something breaking. Startled yelling. I snap out of my daze, but I only turn my head in the direction of the noise. I have my fingers gingerly held over the lever in my brain that’s labeled “Fight Or Flight Response”. I hear a roaring, some screeching, a crumbling of cobblestones. My metaphorical hand grips the lever tightly now, shaking. That better not be what I think it is. I haven’t seen one of those since the incident. The shopping square has already gone quiet, deserted abruptly. I get up, slowly, as if moving too quickly would make me a target. Vroom VROOM vroom VVRoroROMmM OVM OROMOMVOO VRROOOMM!! I catch a glimpse of it and throw the lever so hard it breaks.
CAR!!!! CAR!!! IT’S a FUCKING CAR! WHAT is a car doing here oh god oh shit oh god oh shit I’m gonna die. I frantically look around and all the storefronts are closed shut. Yeah, I deserve to die, don’t I? For not paying attention and taking the noise seriously. Oh, this is going to be ugly. An electric blue compact sedan swerves into the shopping center and brakes hard. It floors it and moves one way and brakes to a halt. It floors it the other way and halts, then floors it again, full speed in my general direction. I am utterly failing to respond to this threat when the car is punched several feet over, causing it to careen away from me and into a street lamp. I look over and see a tall woman, built like a tank, breathing heavily. She’s equipped with steel knuckles, wearing semi-formal but somewhat sweaty attire: a crimson vest and tie, a white dress shirt, brown slacks, and short cropped white hair with a streak of crimson red. Oh hey, it’s Laura. She runs Percussive Maintenance.
“Gah!” I jump. The car is trying to pull itself out. “Get out of here, girl! What are you still doing here!?” Laura shouts. Ah, that’s a good point. I’m a legal liability right now for her, aren’t I? Dying from my own stupidity is one thing, but I don’t want to be an inconvenience. I should really get out of the way. I start stumbling away to the opposite corner of the shopping center while the car breaks loose. It peels out in circles, then drives all around the edges of the shopping center erratically a couple of times before breaking to a halt. It repeats what it did before when it got here, flooring it then breaking then flooring again back and forth, except this time in front of Laura. It looks like Laura is catching her breath, steadying herself for the next move. The car veers around and past Laura, accelerating then slowing down. I feel something bump my shoe. Oh yeah, I was supposed to get out of here. I look down. ...A tennis ball? I look ahead. The car is doing that thing again. This time... it’s looking at me? Flooring it and breaking back forth like it’s...oh, hopping? I pick up the ball. The car starts peeling out in circles. Laura runs towards me. “Didn’t I tell you to SCRAM!? You’re going to get yourself killed! This is a CAR we’re talking about!” she shouts.
I hold up a finger. “Wait,” I say. “I think I understand what’s going on.”
Laura reaches me. “Oh good! Did I finally get THROUGH TO YOU how DANGEROUS THIS IS!? Get out, already!” she yells, exasperated.
“One sec, I’m sorry,” I say, as I wave the ball back and forth. The car hops back and forth, following the ball. Laura looks back at the car, confused. “I think a virtual pet program infected this car,” I say, almost to myself.
“...I think you’re right,” Laura acknowledges. “Play with it for a bit. I’m going to sync my knuckles with the shutdown command for that program, but I need some time to set that up. When I say ‘fetch’, drop the ball in front of me.”
I toss the ball towards one of the edges of the shopping center, and the car chases after it. It spurts and swerves and spins around tapping the ball, eventually batting it back to me. I wave the ball back and forth to get the car’s attention once more when Laura shouts “Fetch!”, and right on cue I drop the ball in front of her, causing the car to speed towards her. She squats and takes one big right hook straight into the car’s hood, stopping it in it’s tracks. The engine shuts down and the headlights turn off. I pause, realize I was holding my breath, then release. I approach the car one halting step at a time. “...Are they alright?” I ask.
“I don’t really know what you mean by that,” Laura responds. “They’re programs. I can guess though, by your expression. Now that I’ve knocked out this car, I can extract the virtual pet program from it. I plan on checking to see if I can find data about it’s owner and see what else I can find out about how this happened. As for the car, I’ll be getting it towed.”
Laura straightens up and stares at me. She looks down, then up, and shakes her head softly. Her stern expression softens up and she chuckles as she looks away. Thank goodness. I’m not sure how much more of that intense gaze I could have withstood. She takes a business card out of her back pocket and hands it to me. “Thanks for the help. Doña Pantalla will want to have a word with you. Expect to hear from her soon.”
Oh cool, that’s not ominous at all.
“Anyway, unless you want to spend the next few hours here, I suggest you get home before the police get here. You don’t need to be here for that,” Laura adds.
I take her advice, say my goodbyes to both her and the car, and leave. I look at the card she gave me on the way home: A shiny silver logo of a busted CRT TV with a crooked smile with the name “Doña Pantalla” printed under it over a matte finish black background. No contact information. Hm.Next