‘Offroad Utopia’ (science fiction flash fiction)

Around 10 years from now…

It was night, but I craved the dark. Colossal telescreens, billboards, and swarms of miniature ad-drones bleached the night with neon lights:

YOU NEED A VR BREAK – PULL OVER AND VISIT PORNOPLANET.COM

THE NEW AUDI Z330: For the drive of your life

Marco’s Pizza delivers while you drive – call 034 22 769 and a recon droid will be at your location in minutes

Budweiser Xero, the beer that’s always ice cold.

My pursuers, those pulsating red and blue lights, were far behind, but it wouldn’t take long for them to catch up. I hurtled through the electronic vista, lighting up the night. There was an endless wall of screens alongside the road, as I drove past, the screens tilted towards me and lit up, then followed my car until I was out of sight, at which point they deactivated and moved back into the default ‘wall’ position. Always light ahead, always dark behind.

Some of the screens towered above others – the bigger brands – and occasionally a luminous 3D projection bloomed high into the sky like a lasting firework. The screens are programmed to only light up when there are human-occupied vehicles within range, which meant that self-driving vehicles pummeled through utter darkness, making the highway a deathtrap to animals, and of course, the occasional unlucky runaway. I reached into the jagged mass of broken beer bottles, fast-food empties and sodden sheaths on the passenger side floor and found a lone bottle of sealed Budget-Bud. I cracked it open on the doorhandle and took a long swig, the froth erupted and doused my cargos.

In my rearview mirror the metro-centre was still visible: its vast dome gazing skyward like a cornea. Ahead the billboards surged to life, an incandescent horde battling it out for my gaze. I put on my aviators and sped up to 150, luckily there were only a small few hover-freighters on the road at this early hour – all self-driven. One billboard towered above the rest, it rose on an electric arm and arched over the highway, its screen too big to tilt like the others. It displayed a churning ocean of limbs, arms and legs jerking spasmodically like a mass of cadavers being wrenched back to life by a powerful electrical charge. At the epicentre a giant hand reached out from the fleshy depths, triumphantly holding a phone which was almost completely transparent, so thin it seemed invisible when viewed from the side, the lit screen hovered in the palm: The new iPhone Shard – cut through the crowd.

Further on another giant billboard lurched over the road, this one displayed Bacon’s screaming pope, only his throne had been tethered to the roof of a sleek, white Porsche, his pallium waved in his wake. I wrenched my gaze from the signs and slowed to 80, I was near. Soon I came upon the familiar cracked screen, my marker, which flickered gently. I slowed to an almost complete stop, turning sharply behind the broken sign, behind which was a small opening, and a track leading off-road. The gap was just wide enough for my jeep, and soon I was enveloped by night, my headlights revealing the luscious undergrowth. Off-roading was illegal, and most cars are now built with a tracking system which automatically disables the engine if you leave a main road, then sends out an especially speedy (and violent) division of the police. Unless you know how to bypass it. I followed the faint path through the woodland, the trees becoming ever more densely packed as the highway fell behind. Soon I slowed the car to a crawl and switched off the headlights…

***

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