Wild Cars Can’t Be Broken

22 09 2016

The truck eased slowly to a stop without the slightest hint of a jerk. The electric vehicle’s motor made no discernable noise. It was the crunch of tires on gravel that roused Jacob from sleep. He took his time opening his eyes to the muted glow of an overcast day. He found himself in a small parking lot behind a large structure. Weeds poked up from the bed of gravel along the edges of a chain link fence woven with plastic slats. A partially open gate revealed the skid marked blacktop of a track. It contrasted with the dew wetted grass beyond it. It reminded him of virtually every other facility he had been to.

Jacob stirred, prompting the truck to release the seat belt. The time, temperature and forecast popped up on the heads up display superimposed across the windshield. He responded by zipping up the joint-padded jacket that identified people of his profession. The cab door opened when he placed his hand on it and he climbed out.

He stretched his limbs and reached back in for his riding helmet before starting for the gate. The door to the truck closed behind him with a little click. He walked deliberately, like a man who was disconnected from time. Tall and lean and ageless, he might have been compared to a leading man from a western a century ago.

Inside the gate, the whole of the track lay before him. He surveyed it with a professional eye. It was like hundreds of others with its smooth bends and sharp cornered s-curves. Off to his left on the track he saw a mustang. It had beautiful curves, but an aggressive stance. Several yards away from it stood a woman dressed like an executive with a datapad and a restless man in slacks and a windbreaker. Both looked up as he approached.

The mustang purred to life and began making lazy donuts on the blacktop. Jacob ignored it and instead focused on the woman. “Good morning.”

The woman scrunched the corner of her mouth before smiling broadly and offering her hand. “Thank you for responding so quickly to our request, Mr. Abbot. When we saw you were in town, we just had to have you come out.”

“Yes, very fortunate that I was in town.”

As you can see,” she said pointing toward the mustang with the datapad, “we’ve had our hands full with this one.”

“He’s a lively one, alright.”

“So do you think you could have a look? Our best drivers have all had a crack at him, but to no avail.” As if on cue, the mustang did a burn out and shot off down the blacktop and into the first big corner, drifting through the turn and accelerating quickly down the straightaway.

“I’ll see what I can do for you folks.” With the small talk out of the way, he pulled his helmet on and walked slowly out to the center of the track and waited patiently for the mustang to complete the lap with his arms folded.

The windbreaker man spoke quietly to the woman, but Jacob knew what he was saying without really hearing it. He had heard it hundreds of times. “None of our experts have been able to break him, how is this guy going to be any different?”

The person who summoned him always had a short and confident reply, “Just wait and see.”

Jacob breathed in and out with a practiced rhythm even as the car came bearing down on him. He loosened his joints, preparing to do a jump and roll over the hood, if it came to it. As expected, he didn’t have to. The obstacle avoidance software instinctively applied the brakes soon enough that he rolled to a stop a yard in front of Jacob.

The mustang rolled backward slightly as Jacob approached. He squatted down near the sensor at the front of the hood below the car’s brand mark and spoke soothingly to it until it shifted to park and its reverse lights turned off. Jacob stood and walked meaningfully around the car, caressing its curves and admiring the detailing. All the while, he spoke softly, expecting the car to sense his ease. He made one complete circle and started on a second one when the door on the driver’s side opened. He touched the top of the door and confidently sat in the seat.

The car responded by adjusting the seat rapidly in random directions. Jacob pointedly ignored the annoyance and took the steering wheel in both hands. The philosophy of most car breakers was to take control of the vehicle at that point and manually drive it, bending it to the driver’s will. Jacob was different. He respected the primitive A.I. of the vehicle and would guide it under its own terms. It took patience to accomplish his approach, but the rewards for both car and passenger were tremendous.

Jacob took his hands off the wheel and spoke to the navigation interface. “Let’s take another lap of the course, shall we?” In response, the car settled on a seat setting and then accelerated toward the first turn. As Jacob rode, he gave polite suggestions on speed and braking and personal comfort. The mustang was willful at first, but became more and more amenable to Jacob’s instruction as the laps continued. Wild cars can’t be broken? Perhaps, but they can be convinced – especially if the driver is a car whisperer.

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