Author : Glenn Blakeslee
I first saw the torso during my commute down the interhighway. It lay against the concrete median, looking so much like trash that at first I didn’t recognize it. The car was going fast enough that later I thought I’d imagined the outstretched arms and rather noble head, so I tagged the location and set a reminder to watch for it the next day.
When the reminder beeped the following morning I started recording video on the left side of the car. Traffic was heavy and I didn’t want to take the car off its automation, so I looked ahead down the median while glancing at the locator on the windshield display.
The torso was still there. It had traveled three meters from its location, either on its own or via the blast of air from passing cargo-haulers. The arms were still stretched out from the trunk, as if it was grasping, and I caught a glimpse of tangled dirty black hair.
Later I watched the video. The torso was female. Black hair fluttered, tangled, down past a beautifully sculpted face, the tip of its aquiline nose rubbed raw from the concrete, slim abraded shoulders still draped with remnants of a black blouse, synthetic breasts angled and squashed into the grooved median boundary. The torso ended near the lower back, where hydraulics and control lines snaked out onto grimy concrete. Slow-motion video replay showed its hands and fingers moving.
It looked like a high-level courtesan or attaché. I couldn’t imagine how it had gotten there, perhaps dropped from a pedestrian walkway a quarter-kilometer back. I couldn’t understand how maintenance vehicles hadn’t swept it up. I couldn’t believe it was still alive.
The third day I watched the locator for the torso’s location. I reached out and gripped the steering control with a half-kilometer to go, switched off automation, then disabled the cars chiming manual control alarm. I’d never driven at these speeds, so when I took control the car swerved across two lanes. In the next lane a huge cargo-hauler swerved to compensate, and as I pulled the control to slow I saw its operator, hands in the air, glaring at me through the perspex side-window. As my car slowed the hauler re-compensated, pushed into my lane, and nosed into the median.
The snake-line of cargo pods followed, whipping against the median and then out again. I yanked the control back, slowing further, my heart beating as the hauler again compensated, the connected pods jerked against the median and flailed out into the lane. Two end pods, wheels stuttering and screeching, tipped to the side, and the shock traversed the interlink and pushed the cab over on its side, grinding against the median.
I brought the car to a complete stop, a hundred meters from where the torso had last been. The hauler had come to a stop, too. A thick blue liquid spilled from its forward pods, and smoke rose in wisps from the cab. I unbuckled my restraint and rose on shaky legs from the car, ran down the lane as cars and haulers screamed past on the open lanes. The operator crawled from the overturned cab and systems squelched the fire, so I ran past, through where the blue goo pushed and flowed against the median, and I searched for the torso.
It wasn’t there. I might have miscalculated, or the blue plastic might have engulfed it, but all I saw were the deep scratches and grooves rising in the median —where the torso had clawed its way to freedom.