“How could this be happening?”
“As I said, it’s a field, not a shield.”
“But in the advertisements it looks like a shell of light around the guy’s house.”
“Yes, I’m aware of the commercials, Mr. Alderson.”
“The tree just disintegrates, doesn’t even touch the house.”
“I understand, Mr. Alderson.”
“That’s false advertising, you know!”
Jenise cupped the microphone in her fist so that he wouldn’t hear her sigh. “I understand you’re upset, Mr. Alderson, but the technology is functioning exactly how we would expect it to function in this scenario.”
“Are you saying you expect me to drown?”
Jenise gave her supervisor a pleading look. Carl just put up his palm and made a cranking motion with his hand, indicating that she should just keep talking to the man.
“Of course not, Mr. Alderson. The ambula-craft will be there shortly.”
“But the water’s up to my waist!”
“Just keep your windows rolled up and keep the key in the ignition, Mr. Alderson. The vehicle’s locator beacon will…”
“Should I re-engage auto-drive? That’s what got me into this mess in the first place, right?”
“Right, but… well, I’m afraid that auto-drive is not going to function very well from the bottom of the river, Mr. Alderson.”
“But it couldn’t hurt, right?”
Jenise cupped the mic again and whispered desperately to Carl, “What am I supposed to say to this idiot?”
“He’s probably in shock. Just tell him not to touch anything. We don’t want him accidentally turning off the force field.”
Jenise sighed again and forced herself to speak calmly, “Mr. Alderson. I think it’s important that you don’t touch anything. As long as the key is in the ignition, SafeField will slow the flow of water into your vehicle. So just try to relax and…”
“How could this happen?” Was he beginning to cry? The man’s voice became muffled, “Stupid auto-drive. Stupid force-fields…”
Jenise rolled her eyes and mumbled, “Stupid driver is more like it…”
Carl snatched up the phone, giving Jenise a piercing glare. “Hello, Mr. Alderson. My name is Carl. I’m the manager here at the SafeField call center. I understand you’ve had an accident.”
“Yeah,” he sniffled, “I already told the lady what happened.”
“Yes, I know. I just want to assure you that everything’s going to be fine. Our trackers show that the ambula-craft is only a few minutes away now. So just sit tight. Do you have some music you can listen to?”
“Music? Uh, yeah.” A moment’s pause and Jenise, who was still listening through her headset, could hear the chorus of “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac playing through the car’s sound system. The song had just finished, when they heard the man gasp and begin to shout. Then a loud clang and the line went dead. She and Carl looked at each other, puzzled.
Just then, Mark leaned through the door. “Hey, are you guys still on the phone with that idiot who drove off the bridge?”
“We just got cut off,” replied Carl.
“Come check out the news. They’re fishing him out.” The two followed Mark into the break room, where the wall-mounted screen showed an ambula-craft lifting a sleek luxury sedan from the Columbia River.
“This is the fifteenth such incident along this stretch of highway,” said the news lady. “The transportation department says they intend to run thorough diagnostics of all auto-drive sensors in this area. It looks like they’re about to put the car down. Our anchorman on the ground is David Cunning. How does it look, David?” The view snapped to a man in a blue jacket, the vehicle dangling from a magnetic wire a few yards behind him. He spoke, “Darlene, the vehicle appears to be in pristine condition, which is impressive considering it’s a forty foot fall to the surface of the water.”
“Ha ha!” Carl shouted, “That’s what I’m talking about!” He put up his hand for high-fives all around, “SafeField does it again!” then he begged the screen, “C’mon, say the name, just mention it!”
The anchorman continued, “The only explanation I can think of is that this vehicle was equipped with force-field technology, which kept it intact, even while crashing through the guardrail. Probably SafetyNet or some other brand.”
“Doh!” Now Carl covered his face as if his favorite team had just been scored on. Then, out of the car sloshed the bumbling Mr. Alderson. He looked up at the ambula-craft hovering nearby, and was immediately swarmed by EMTs. The anchorman jogged over for a statement.
“Sir, could you tell us what happened?”
“I was just coming home from work. I was trying to pass this old gas-powered truck when my wife called. The vizcom on my windshield blocked my view of the right lane. I over-corrected and the next thing I knew I was falling.”
“So it was the vizcom display that caused you to crash?”
“Yeah, but look at my clothes. My force field should have kept the water out of my car! It ruined my leg-massaging slacks.” And with that, the EMTs loaded him into the ambula-craft and Mr. Alderson was gone. A police officer nearby asked the reporter to step out of the way, while Mr. Alderson’s car set out to drive itself home.
Looking back at the camera, David Cunning said, “Well, there you have it, folks. What an age we live in. A man drives off a bridge and his biggest loss is his pants. I’m not sure what to—”
“Ow!” A shout came from off camera and the view jerked downward, focusing on the concrete.
“What happened, Jerry?” Cunning’s voice sounded surprised.
“Dang car ran over my foot!”
The drone of a luxury engine could be heard fading into the distance.
Jenise turned to Carl and said, “Well, you know what they say. Any publicity is good publicity.”
Carl rolled his eyes, but Mark was scratching his chin contemplatively. “How much do you think that guy paid for leg massaging pants?”
North Cady grew up in the Pacific Northwest (about an hour south of Seattle). Now married with one daughter, he lives in the Pacific Southwest (that’s southwest of the Pacific), conducting sociolinguistic research for Papua New Guinea’s Bible translation movement. Writing has been one of many creative outlets since childhood, and many of his works are an exploration of faith.