(This book is available as a epub here)
The woman’s body collided with metal.
Ryard Vancing hit the emergency break. The vehicle keened like a wild beast against the somber, windswept concrete of the vast thoroughfare. Ryard’s breath caught in his throat. Mind racing. He looked at the cracked windshield and then through it to the woman who lay immobile on the pavement before him.
CAV-ways were off-bounds to civilians. No one should have been there. He wondered how she had bypassed the security system. The drones should have picked her up on their scanners. He noticed the other vehicles slowing to a gelid creep. Some, already halted.
The woman sat up slowly and stared around at the lev-hans and mag-rays on the adjacent roadways.
His eyes widened with astonishment. He tried the handle of the door but it wouldn’t move. Once the system had went offline it had locked. He cursed and looked back to the road.
No pain registered on the woman’s face, even as blood dripped thickly from her torn and twisted body. Her left arm angled grotesquely. Snapped at the bone, and it jutting ugly and gravel-white through her elbow. She looked at her exposed insides opaquely and rose to her feet, balance uneven on the transport guideway, and gripped the hood of his lev-han.
Their eyes met.
He froze, unable, in the momentary pendulum between fear and bewilderment, to muster control over his vocal chords. Her eyes were dichromatic. One emerald green. One pale blue, as moonlight through sea ice. Her blood, similarly colored.
“Hemocyanin? Or something very much like it…”
He retracted the main windshield, and as soon as he did, she spoke, leaning heavily against the frame for support.
“I apologize for inconveniencing you. Would it be possible for you to assist me?”
“How are you standing? Your legs must be fractured.”
“There are fractures. I can stand. Does it run?”
He looked around unapprehending until she caressed the hood of the car with her unbroken right arm. She seemed fascinated by the large, sleek vehicle.
“I should call the ambulance. I need to get you to a hospital.”
“Hospital… no. No hospital.”
He paused again, indecisive.
“Lady, what is wrong with you? You’ll bleed out. You’ll die.”
“The former, yes. The latter, no.”
He shook his head. Trying the doors once more he found them amenable to his manipulations and opened the right passenger portal.
“Get in. The system is online again. If you stay out there, you’ll be crushed.”
She nodded and dragged herself to the passenger-side door and paused at the threshold, looking intently at the fearful solitary passenger and gently set herself down into the vehicle.
“Does it hurt?”
She looked at him and nodded.
“As flaming glass. Cutting up. Inside.”
“I’ll take you to the hospital.”
“Lady, I need to get you to the hospital.”
She said nothing, staring at him without emotion, without any discernable change in expression, and then turned and began opening the door of the lev-han.
“Alright, alright! No hospital. No hospital. You can just sit there and bleed on my chair instead.”
“I’m sorry to trouble you.”
He sighed heavily.
“I nearly killed you, I’m the one that should be apologizing. Where should I take you?”
“This is an autonomous transportation vehicle.”
“Then it was the vehicle that nearly killed me, not you. What was your previous destination?”
“Northern agricenter. Just beyond the city limits. I was delivering fertilizer.”
“That will suffice.”
He re-engaged the automatic system and leaned back with a heavy sigh, “I don’t know what happened. This kind of system failure has never happened before.”
As the vehicle drove deeper into the vast, sprawling city, Ryard shoved his seat back and turned to the woman.
“I’ve rudimentary medical training. I’m going to look at your wounds. Alright?”
“Alright.” she responded flatly, grabbing her broken arm, twisting it and popping it free of her socket with a wet snick. She held up the ruined left limb, her movements slow. Her expression placid.
After his shock subsided, Ryard sighed with relief and gently took the arm of the thing that looked like a woman and peered inside the joint; what had passed for blood had coagulated and now looked like blue jelly under the dim amber light of the lev-han cabinet.
“You’re not human.”
“What are you?”
“You sound concerned.”
“Are you a machine?”
A expression of confusion colored her face, “No more or less than you.”
“I’m not a machine.”
“‘A designed structure that uses power to apply forces and control movements to achieve intended actions.’ Would that not describe both of us? We’re but made of different material.”
“No one designed me.”
“We were all designed by something.”
She winced and shook her head, leaning towards the dash, relaxing again as azure liquid began leaking down the corner of her right eye.
Ryard grimaced and looked slowly away from the thing’s unblinking gaze.
“I bleed real blood.” He replied sharply, vainly suppressing his rising indignation.
“Yet, it will not coagulate so neatly as mine,” she responded, looking toward her arm as she removed a medical patch from a pocket of her thin black jacket and pressed it to the spot where she had removed her arm, affixing it atop the wound. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the seat as the liquid running down her face pooled upon her chest, “And so one might ask, in a non-personal evaluation, why ‘real blood’ should be prized over an optimized counterpart?”
Ryard shook his head and set the woman’s arm down inside the buffer container between the front passenger seats and stared out the window, watching the sky vanish behind the high, austere architecture of the city. After several minutes of silence he spoke up.
“Why were you walking around the CAV-way?”
He kept looking out the window, waiting for a reply. When none came he turned to look at the thing that resembled a woman.
Her eyes were closed.
She wasn’t moving.
He brought up the manual control panel and overrode the sped limitations, eyes to the road ahead.