Alina had prebooked the ride using a burner autochain ID.
The app in her AR glasses showed the car icon crawling along
the winding forest road. In a few minutes, it would reach the
sharp right turn where the road met the lake. The turn was
marked by a road sign she had carefully defaced the previous
day, with tiny dabs of white paint. Nearly invisible to a human,
they nevertheless fooled image recognition nets into classifying
the sign as a tree.
Glass-thin ice cracked under her booted feet. The cold weight
in her belly grew colder.
Suddenly, she had an urge to call Sini, just to hear her voice.
There was still time. Tapani would be taking her to the kindergarten right now. She hadn’t seen her daughter for almost two
weeks, not since she had started hunting the car.
Alina removed her woolly mittens and took out her phone.
As she swiped the screen, the band of pale skin on her ring finger
grinned at her. The absence of her wedblock ring banished all
She put the phone away. No matter what, the car was going
Alina pulled the ski mask over her face and broke into a jog.
She was warm when she got to her observation spot behind a
large pine near the turn. She opened the app that controlled
the jammer in her backpack, held it ready in her field of vision.
The car’s headlights flickered in the deep shadows of the trees.
Then its sleek low form glided into view.
Time slowed. The pine smelled wet and rich. Alina was a
vitrovegan, but some ancient reflex made her mouth water. This
had to be what hunters felt like when the prey approached.
The car decelerated at the turn. Alina knew how it saw
the world: lidar point clouds, Io T sensor oracle feeds, chain
IDs—with algorithms predicting where everything was going
to be seconds, minutes, days from now. The past, the present,
and the future in a glance. Her simple traffic-sign exploit felt
ridiculous. The car was never going to fall for it. She had not
even thought about where she would ask the car to take her if
the scheme failed ...
The car missed the turn. It plowed straight into the lake with
a crash of breaking ice. Alina blinked at the jammer app. The
device in her backpack killed the sparse local network.
She ran toward the car. It was a Mercedes, 2020s model,
meant to evoke luxury: silvery sheen, sculpted contours. The
front of the car was in the black water, but the back wheels spun
madly on the shore. Snow, ice, and gravel flew into the air. The
engine keened like a wounded animal.
To Alina’s horror, the car started moving slowly backward.
She dropped her backpack, ran, put her shoulder against
the back of the car, pushed hard. Something tore, and pain shot
through her left thigh.
For a second, she slid backward in the snow. Then her boots
found purchase. The car was surprisingly light; you didn’t have
to armor things that never crashed. Ignoring her screaming leg,
Alina pushed the car into the lake.
When it was fully in the black water, its engine died. But its
headlights stayed on. It bobbed up and down in the water, floating. The lidar nub on the roof kept spinning.
It was still alive.
Alina dropped to her knees. Black dots swam in her eyes. As
if through the car’s four-dimensional vision, the past unfolded
before her: the hunt, the day she saw the car for the first time.
It was on Tapani’s first day at the games company, and Sini
was making them late.
She banged her heels on the floor. Alina sighed. She had gotten up early to pack the toys, the pram, and the spare clothes for
the day in the city. Tapani had slept through it all. Now he stood
in the hallway in an AR daze, a blank look on his bearded face. He
Alina set the trap for the car at her father’s
summerhouse. ¶ When it was time, she pulled on her Nokia rubber boots, slung the backpack
over her shoulder, and went outside. The Lapland morning was monochrome: slushy snow,
dark saw-edged pines, gray lake. The fresh air was a relief. She had never been able to sleep
in the mildew-smelling house, not even as a child. ¶ She had never planned to come back.
But it was perfect for the trap. A patchy network that would force the car AI to run locally.
No witnesses. No IoT devices auctioning sensor data for tokens. Although, years ago, her
father had stuck a yellow “You Are Being Recorded” sticker in a window as a joke. That was
so perfectly like him: all surface, no substance.