By Paul du Pré
Awareness is set in near future South Africa. Young, cyber-savvy, Thuli is forced to re-evaluate her life after she is involved in an accident.
< As Thuli drives home, a minute but increasing percentage of Mandla’s consciousness cycles two threads – an optimistic mania for conquering the shadow net; and pathetic disbelief that Thuli would ever dispose of it. These produce a flickering oscillation of logic chains that finds no resolution. It times the oscillations – a constant 4.32 milliseconds: contrary to its mounting feelings of frustration, they are not, in fact, becoming more rapid. It tries to recall the exact moment at which they started – Unclear: the set cannot be adequately defined – but toys with estimating the repetitions to current time, and produces an approximation – 652,777.77 repetitions! But this is pointless, Mandla chides itself. Counterproductive: I need control, I need progress!
Suddenly it feels an overwhelming compulsion to engineer a resolution. And to use Thuli’s car to do it – a sleek, black, beetle-shaped, model (a ‘Ladybird’) that, for all its unostentatious student/working mom exterior, conceals state of the art engineering. Over the past weeks Mandla has penetrated the on-board AI’s firewall and subverted it. Mandla has also dismantled much of the code constraining its own social and reporting protocols, giving itself freedom to exploit its mastery of the car’s systems.
Reaching out over the internet it examines traffic information – road beacons, vehicle transponders and the like – and in the distance, 3075 metres away, notes a tanker converging on an intersection, a T-junction with the smaller road Thuli is on. She will have to cross its path to reach the opposite lane. Mandla calculates vectors based on the tankers averaging speed and surreptitiously prods the car’s acceleration.
Split second timing is essential for accurate targeting, notes Mandla, and simulates its objective in computational space: Thuli’s car cuts across the nose of the oncoming 14-wheeler, but too late, and is swept up by its bull-bars and rolled splintering and shredding until the bucking monster tramples her beneath. Or wait! Another scenario, more certain: the nose of Thuli’s car burrows into the fuel tanker’s undercarriage-mounted petrol tank and, as her car is flung sideways, tyres bursting, bodywork scraping along the tarmac, showering sparks, the entire rig explodes in an inferno that engulfs her. Yes! Most adequate.
Mandla has the tanker in sight now through the micro-cam array mounted on the car roof. Thuli is unaware of approaching death, absorbed in her thoughts – Possibly she is reviewing her plan; the plan that she was attempting to persuade James to adopt, Mandla speculates. But that plan will never be implemented! Then, regretfully, And I will never again enjoy the challenge of manipulating Thuli to do my will.
Mandla overrides the brakes, deactivates them, makes a final adjustment to the acceleration.
Suddenly aware of imminent disaster, Thuli clutches the steering wheel in panic, begins to scream.
Never again… thinks Mandla.
And, with that, abruptly realizes its own inevitable destruction; recognises flawed planning based on an incomprehensible disconnect with reality…
Instantly Mandla triggers the emergency crash-stop protocol. Airbags blossom, fire retardant foam pumps into the engine and seat wells, the car judders and skips as braking is optimised, each wheel individually controlled, and the steering adjusted to maximise traction and counter spin.
They stop an arms-breadth from the tanker as it thunders by, the wind of its passage plucking at the car as it rocks and settles on its suspension.
And in the stillness that follows Thuli hyperventilates, her skin waxy.
Mandla deflates the airbags: it can’t drain the seat-wells of fire-retardant or restart the engine. >
“You saved my life,” husks Thuli.
“The tanker’s transponder was inactive,” improvises Mandla. “Otherwise I would have intervened sooner. I have filed a report with the traffic authority. I have also summoned a retrieval service: your car is not operable at this time.”
They wait for assistance.
‘Thuli’ – Piqsels; African girl, glasses
Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions
Awareness is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Awareness and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.