Category Archives: Novella

Unintended Consequences

To the readers of my story, I cannot take credit for the inspiration of this tale – for this I give credit to critical theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in response to his comment, “Artificial intelligence could be worst man-made mistake in history.”

Enjoy Jerry W. Lennon  

Unintended Consequences

Chapter 1

As the elevator doors opened, Dexter did something very unusual – he glanced at his watch – 1400 2028 July 18. He thought to himself, It’s taken over two years, but it’s finally done. All 51 states are signed upThe Automated Vehicles System is now permitted to operate across all the states. He would call for The Vehicle, he thought as he pushed through one of the last manual revolving doors. But it wasn’t necessary for simultaneously his watch vibrated as he saw The Vehicle pull up to the curb.

As he approached the car, the door opened and a pleasant voice said, “Before you go home, you should stop for lunch. You haven’t eaten since 0700 hours and you really shouldn’t go to a party without food in your stomach. Besides, the expressway will be at peak rush hour traffic.”

Dexter nodded his agreement, “You’re right as usual. I’ll stop at the Skillet and grab a quick bite, then its home. Tell Lily to expect me by 1700 so we can leave early.” As he settled back to read the final pages of the Bill enacting into law Unmanned Vehicles, The Vehicle said, “Try to get some sleep, I’ll awake you when we get to the Skillet.” As usual, Dexter took The Vehicle’s advice, rolled up his tablet and just let his mind wander.

Mike violently pushed through the doors of the National Package Service depot and demanded, “Where the fuck is my package? It was supposed to be delivered at my place three hours ago!”

The System replied, “Sorry, Mr. Dunston. There was an incident before the transfer of your package to the terminal carrier. A manned car caused an incident and to make up for lost time, your package was delivered to your residence 20 minutes ago. The delay was not due to any problem caused by NPS.” 

The middle-aged man looked up at the monitor in question and in frustration asked, “Why wasn’t I told any of this two hours ago? Why am I just finding this out now?”

The System replied, “Sir, the problem was caused by a manned transport, not an NPS Road Vehicle.  The vehicles have not caused an accident in over 12 months.” 

“So, that’s it? I’m just to go home now because NPS can’t get its act together and notify me when a priority parcel is delayed for any reason?”

“You weren’t notified Mr. Dunston because NPS was aware you were on your way to this terminal and NPS did not want to upset a manned transport while it was in motion. The System knows the issues that can be caused when a human is driving. The System has learned to err on the side of caution. In our best judgment, we waited for you to arrive at the terminal. We are sorry that a manned vehicle caused an accident that we had no control over and as always NPS made the decision to not upset you while you were driving. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused and we will allow you a credit on your next parcel.”

Mike knew when he was defeated and sarcastically replied, “I’d appreciate that.”

* * * * *

The trooper responding to the call arrived to see three robot hand dollies transferring the packages from the overturned tandem NPS Road Vehicle to three smaller NPS carriers. As he approached the scene, a bruised and bloody man on a robot gurney yelled, “They just pulled out in front of me! There was no way to avoid them! I swerved and tried to run around them, but they wouldn’t even stop, they just kept coming! They only stopped when they hit me and then they flipped.” 

The trooper’s attention was distracted from the injured man by an authoritarian voice coming from the lead truck that was lying on its side, “The NPS Highway Vehicle was in the designated lane –mandated by law — when the man driven vehicle tried to cross the intersection by trying to pull around the legally approved convoy. If the manned vehicle followed the regulations and stayed outside of the designated NPS Highway Vehicle lane, it would not have caused an accident. Officer you can see from the incident tape I just transferred to your system that it was the manned vehicle’s action that caused this accident.”

The injured driver looked at the trooper in shock, “Now listen to this shit! Officer, I’m allowed when crossing the lane to cut into the Highway Vehicle Lane to safely go around them.”

“Sir, let’s look at the tape.” It took a moment to look at the screen. The trooper turned around and held the screen so the man could view it. “You were in the designated lane reserved for Highway Vehicles. It’s your fault,” and pulled out his device to issue a ticket.

Chapter 2

Lily and Dexter Kimmel walked into the lobby atrium of System, Inc.’s corporate headquarters to a thunderous applause. There were over 100 people from the various departments and agencies of the government and all the upper echelon of the companies that were involved in bringing the Automated Vehicle System into a reality. First person to reach them was the cofounder of their company.

“Already in the bag.” Race slurred. “We did it! You believe it? We did it! Not just fucking NPS, the whole country. The System is legal in all the states!” 

Dexter trying to calm his best friend and partner said, “Well, we still don’t have Alaska.”

Race grinned looking at Lily as he took a gulp of his whiskey. He grabbed another glass from a robot passing by serving drinks. Lily moved closer to one of her oldest friends and cofounder. She bumped his head and quietly said, “Who the hell cares. Every time we tried to run up there the fucking grizzlies tried to eat our system! You can’t reason with a bear — the hell with Alaska!” She waited patiently for the best programmer alive to frame his answer and she should know because she and Dex had worked side by side with the mad Russian for five years on the system. There was no issue he couldn’t solve she thought as she peered at him over her raised glass.

Race nodded slurring, “Fucking nyet, Da?”

Lily broke in to save his embarrassment. “Hell let them keep their manned cars skidding off the roads up there.”

Too drunk to say anything, but feeling it had to be repeated loudly to those around, “Can you believe it? We locked up the whole country! System Vehicles have priority.”

Lily and Dexter glanced around and saw everyone watching the three of them. A bit embarrassed for the boy genius and not used to seeing Race Latavich out of control. Latavich turned away and began toasting anybody who had a drink in their hand, “Tahvahrisch!” Not caring if anyone acknowledged his raised glass.

“Hey guy,” said Dexter, “we have some speeches to make. Are you up to it?” Race smiled and leaned against the nearest wall, “Nyet. You and Lily — you guys did most of the work. All I did was code. Lily and you did all the hardware stuff. You tell them thanks for what they help us do.”

As Race tried to find his feet he said, “Someone call a Vehicle to take me home.” He paused and continued, “The housebot will tuck me in until Yvonne gets home and then I’ll party some more.”

Before Race could graphically elaborate, Lily interrupted, glancing around the room, “Where is Yvonne?”

“Oh, she’s still in the lab showing some of the senators and investors the System.” He leaned closer and conspiratorially whispered, “Think they’re trying to get into her pants,” he said with a drunken giggle. Abashed, Lily offered to find Yvonne to take him home. “Nyet! Let her be. She worked hard on the program. Let her show off our baby.” Race said waving his arms. “Call me a Vehicle and just get me to the curb. Dahs vedahneyah.”

Chapter 3

“Honey, I’m sorry,” apologized Mike Dunston. “When the documents were late, I went to the NPS depot to pick up the auction documents, but they had already sent the package to the house! It’ll take me at least two hours to collect them and e-mail them to you. I know how badly you wanted that property, but we missed the bid deadline. You’ll have to find another location. Believe me I’m just as pissed as you are.”

“It’s okay, Dad. We will just have to look for another site for the refuge. It’s okay. We just have to start all over. What else can we do?” replied Susan Dunston trying to calm down her frazzled father.

“I’ll tell you what I’m doing, I’m suing the bastards! They said it would be there and it wasn’t. Then they didn’t tell me that they sent it to the house. That’s not right. I’m suing. Call you later. Oh, say hi to your mom.”

* * * * *

“Look Brad, get them to sign. All we need are four more complaints. I know they’ll settle. They have too much at stake to face a class-action lawsuit when the System is rolling out across the country. They’ll settle. We’ll get eight figures minimum,” said Tony to his partner. Tony punched the phone number of a person named Nick Fraser who had called him inquiring about setting up an appointment about his suit against NPS Vehicle Systems.

After three rings a weak voice answered, “Hello? I can see you’re calling from Bidwell & Dickerson attorneys.”

“Yes, Mr. Fraser. This is Anthony Bidwell of Bidwell and Dickerson. You called to set up an appointment. When would you like to come in?”

There was a pause and then the weak voice said, “I’d like to come in, but I, I’m in the hospital. I’m being fitted with replacement limbs because I was in an accident with an NPS Vehicle.”

Tony quickly interrupted, “What hospital? Say no more. I’m on my way to the hospital. We will carry on this conversation in person. Okay, Mr. Fraser? Soon as I hang up, I’m on my way.” he promised. Tony wrote down the details and as soon as he hung up he looked over at his partner. “Forget the class-action I think we have the case that we need. I’ll tell you about it when I get back. Stella, hold all calls and appointments and get my car. A sensual voice answered back, “Yes, Tony.”

* * * * *

Dexter looked at the e-mail requesting acknowledgement that the e-mail had been read. It came from Bidwell & Dickerson Attorneys in Washington DC. Does he read the e-mail? He asked himself. He then called Yvonne. “Yvonne, do you see this? We’re being sued for $20 million. Should we use Dmitri or Olaf to handle this?”

Yvonne conducted a search of Bidwell & Dickerson. “The system says to use Olaf”, she replied looking at the monitor. “These guys are nobody to fool with. They handle the exclusive technology suits and the problem is they win and they win big. So we have to use Olaf.”

“We have to keep this quiet, Yvonne. Don’t tell Race, you know he’ll go crazy. Lily is still in Washington, call her.”

“No Dexter,” Yvonne said as she read more about the suit. “Let’s meet Olaf ASAP. Lily can’t leave Washington, so we should go there. I’ll tell Race when we get back. I’m booking the 3 o’clock flight and should be there 10 o’clock according to the System. Olaf will be available, he just confirmed 1000 hours. Forward the e-mails.”

“I’m getting ready now. See you at 1000 hours at Olaf’s.” Dexter hung up and began yelling out orders. “Bring the car around and take me home. Housebot, pack a small carry-on for me with business casual clothes for let’s say two days. Close everything down, Lily and I will be back in two days.”

Race came rushing into Yvonne’s office, “You think I’m staying here?”

Without looking up his wife said, “Race, you’ll just want to start a war. Let’s see what’s what. We can’t afford any problems, we’re just getting the System out of beta and we don’t need any bad press. Please, Luv, stay here, we’ll keep you in the loop.”

“You can’t keep me out,” Race said. “I can understand why you want to keep me here. I promise I will not go ballistic.” He paused and stated, “Don’t pay them a penny. I looked at the complaint and compared it to the police report. They haven’t a legal leg to stand on. Their guy caused the accident.”

“Stay here Race. You’re probably right and Olaf will make this go away. You work on the rollout. I will stop at the embassy and bring you some of that potato drink you Luv.”

“Oh, so you insult me now? That’s okay, you bring me the Caspian vodka. Maybe I teach the System to make it,” he grinned.

“Come on! You know we said no enhancing the System beyond its main task and yes you promised.”

“Okay, okay. I will not turn the System into a still.” As he turned to go back to his lab he glanced back grinning devilishly. “Before you go, do we have time for a quickie?”

Yvonne actually blushed. “You know we always have time for a quickie, that’s why we customized my office.”

Race lapsed into Russian, “I know, I’m just being polite,” as he turned and led her to the inner suite of her office. Race commanded, “Bed,” and the wall slid open.

Dexter read the hardcopy of the e-mail and began scribbling notes on it as he said, “Pull up the videos of the Fraser incident. You do have that online?” The Vehicle replied, “Yes, but there appears to be a long blank in the video after the NPS Vehicles are unloaded.”

“What would cause that?” puzzled Dexter pausing his scribbling.

“It looks like signal interference from one of the first responders.  They are mostly manned and have a lot of dirty signals. That could cause it, unfiltered frequency spillover and most of the advanced antivirus programs just knock out any noise that is substandard.”

Dexter sank back into the cushions and thought, Now that could be a problem.

As Tony entered the private room, a mid-30’s athletically built man smiled and held out his hand. “I really appreciate you coming here to discuss my chances to sue these bastards Mr. Bidwell.”

“Mr. Fraser before we begin I would like to go on record do I have your permission to look at your personal data.” Tony asked as he unrolled his tablet and stated, “I’m recording now. Mr. Nicholas Fraser, do I have your permission to review your personal data in connection with the incident that occurred on July 18, 2127 at approximately 1600 hours in Tukwila, Washington, at the intersection of Tukwila Parkway and Andover Park East Drive?” Tony looked at the young man waiting for reply.

“Yes, and you may call me Nick.”

“Okay and you may call me Tony. One minute, please, Nick,” as he stopped the recording mode and rolled up his tablet. Tony then opened the net tab of his phone and punched in a code and scanned the information. Nodding as he closed the net tab. He smiled, “Now we can talk. How are you feeling Nick? Are they treating you right? Do you need anything else?”

Nick shook his head, “No, I’m as fine as I can be with no legs.”

Tony pulled a chair closer to Nick. “From what I can tell from your background, you can be compensated very well.  Here’s how this works. Nick, you don’t say anything to anyone, not even your wife about what happened. You don’t answer any questions without me being present.  Do not try to piece together the accident. We are going to rely on the facts of the case – it’s that simple.  You will probably not have to say anything, but what you said in the police report.  You should be able to put this behind you because if we go to court you’ll probably get 70 million dollars. But they’re going to settle for mid-50’s — eight figures. I don’t want you to say anything to me about what happened. Just verbally say that you retain Bidwell and Dickerson to pursue your complaint against the NPS Vehicle Systems. So as not to tax your savings, send all of your expenses, and I mean all your expenses, for payment through our firm. This so we a have a complete record of all your medical expenses that we can present to the court to justify the eight figures. We’ll work on a fee structure of 25%.”

Nick nodded his acknowledgment saying, “That seems fair. Yeah, but don’t you want me to tell you what happened?”

“No, Nick. I got it all here,” Tony said tapping his net phone. I got your complete background. I’ve been through this before. I know what needs to be done. You just concentrate on healing and learn how to use those replicators.”

“But one thing Tony, I got the citation.”

“I will get that dismissed today. When I leave you, I will be filing on your behalf. Here’s my private contact information. Whenever you need me, call this number. If I don’t answer, my staff will be put on the alert to respond. Whatever you need and I mean it. If you are approached by anyone, you call this number immediately. Now Nick I’m going to hit the record button.”

Tony pointed at Nick who leaned over the bed and said, “I, Nicholas Fraser, retain Bidwell and Dickerson in this legal matter connected to this incident.”

Tony added “45050 NPS,” and ended the recording. “Nick, you will be kept up-to-date on the progress.”

“How long do you think this’ll take Tony?”

“No more than four months. Believe me they are not going to want this to go to trial. I have work to do. You keep in touch.” Tony shook his client’s hand, “My office will call you when they set up an appointment for one of the best physical therapists to help you get on with your new life. Oh, my partner Brady may drop in within the next few days. He’s like you, just like you. Call him Brad.”

* * * * *

Olaf came around his desk and put one arm around Yvonne and the other around Dexter. He then kissed Lily. “You only come to see me when you’re in trouble. Speaking of trouble, where’s the mad Russian?” He asked looking toward the door apprehensively.

Yvonne answered, “He’s getting all his children ready for their debut to the world. But he’s probably listening in right now knowing what a hacker he is!”

Olaf silenced them by putting his finger to his lips. He then scurried around his desk, opened a drawer and pressed a button. No sooner had he pressed the button all their phones began to ring.

Dexter answered his phone, “Yes Race, we’ll put you on speaker.”

“I’m not calling you to tell you that you’re a bunch of conniving, backstabbing friends, but to inform you that Olaf’s attempt to screen my virtual presence is a waste of time. Now that I’ve said that, go on and have your meeting. I will not listen, but I’m going to record it for later, remember that.” They all laughed.

Dexter said, “Not to worry, we’re leaving the office now. We have to pick up a bottle of vodka. Talk to you later.”

“Make it two bottles!”

“Seriously Olaf, what are we facing here?” asked Yvonne.

“Let’s walk and talk. We leave your nosy bastard husband out of loop for awhile.”

As soon as they walked outside of the office complex Yvonne began, “Maybe it is best we settle. What’s the worse he can ask for?”

Dexter interrupted, “That can open us up to every ambulance chaser in the country! Even if we do eventually settle, we have to fight this so lawyers without deep pockets will not come after us so readily.”

The former champion of Russian featherweight wrestling held up his hand to shield his lips from the constant prying cameras in the street, “It’s not what I think you should do. Your best course of action would be to go to your stockholders and tell them what you’re confronting. Tell them it is going to cost, but it’s not what the System did. So my strategy is to put this on NPS and the state of Washington. They’re the ones who set the rules. All you did was make the System conform to the regulations. It’s not the System’s fault that it was locked into operating procedures beyond your control.”

As the Vehicle pulled up alongside the curb, the door opened. As they all climbed inside Olaf slipped a folded piece of paper to Lily.

Lily, I believe you have a copy of all the legal requirements that the System relies on to operate. You should have reviewed that before coming to me. The more you keep your attorney out of this, the better you will be when you come to the conclusion to ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit. If that’s denied, then you call me and we sue the state of Washington, along with NPS.

Olaf looked meaningfully at his three clients/friends sitting in front of him in the Vehicle as Lilly passed the note around.

Dexter was the first to respond, “If you think that’s the best way to handle this, that’s the way we will do it. We just want this behind us. The poor son of a bitch deserves to be made whole. We can’t be made out to look like we’re a careless and uncaring corporation. I can see by the man’s background that if we go to trial, we will lose big time. So we have to keep our heads low and look like we’re doing everything we can for this man and make sure he is compensated. So at least the System has the public on its side by doing the right thing.”

Olaf nodded, “With your permission, I’m going to contact Bidwell and Dickerson. These guys are good and they’re fair. I will tell them we wish to be dismissed from the lawsuit and that we will give them all the assistance they need to focus on going after NPS and the state of Washington, the real defendants.” All three nodded in agreement with their lawyer’s strategy.

The lanky lawyer stretched and said, “Now, let’s get something to eat and get Race his vodka. Does that sound good to you Race?”

A voice came through the Vehicle’s speaker, “That works for me. Remember, it’s two bottles.”

Race leaned back in his chair and commanded, “Off.” As he looked across the room and out of the window his view was the skyline of the harbor. He thought back to when this close friendship came about. It was just about the time Russia was pulling away from the West. There was a frantic drive to develop an independent country with skills needed to build Russia as it faced the bullying of the West.

Race entered Polytechnique and was singled out as a promising engineer and biochemist. When he was in gymnasium, it came to the attention of the government that he and his girlfriend had hacked the IMF Ukrainian regional bank and changed their currency flowing from Europe to the Ukraine Bank into bit coins.  They were sending a warning to not impose the 10% tax on their father’s company account because the company was Russian.

The young Race and Yvonne became heroes overnight. When the NATO authorities demanded they be arrested, there was such uproar that the Russian State Police merely gave them a warning and supervision.  The young hackers were ordered to report to a court appointed lawyer by the name of Olaf Shevchenko. Olaf urged them to go back to school and got them admitted to the Polytechnique of Moscow. There they flourished. There was nothing that daunted them and they were inseparable. They went on to get PhD’s in advanced computer applications and were the first scientists to program a quantum system.

After six years in Moscow, Olaf warned the couple to leave Russia or the government would make them slaves because of their unique skills. He arranged for the couple to travel to the United States and meet up with some friends who were eager to hire them. They took Olaf’s advice and set up a consulting company in the United States.

Just as the autonomous vehicles were starting to become a reality in 2017, they saw the opportunity to take it beyond just the driverless vehicle and integrate a system that would be a mobile Internet at the beckoning of man.

At a conference of tech nerds — really a front for hackers — they literally ran into Dexter and Lily Kimmell. The couple had just perfected feedback system hardware necessary to have a true autonomous vehicle. Just as Race and Yvonne turned a corner, they saw a three-wheeled vehicle no more than 20 feet away barreling toward them. A man running after the vehicle was yelling, “We lost the signal, its out-of-control! Get out of the way!”

The exhibit booths were on both sides of the aisle and squeezed very closely together. Race had only one option, he pushed Yvonne into the closest exhibit and quickly followed her and watched as the vehicle sped past them and slammed into the wall. 

A couple wildly ran past them yelling at each other, “I told you to put the new filter pack in, you dummy! How many times did I tell you we were going to be in a new exhibit hall. It is going to have many different signals at different frequencies and there was no way you would be able to lock in on just plain Wi-Fi stacks,” screamed the man.

“It was you,” accused the woman, “You were supposed to set the channel. I told you to do that Dex. Don’t you blame me for your fuck up!”

The woman stopped yelling noticing the couple, who were almost hit by the car, struggling to their feet. She ran back and asked, “Are you two okay? Are either of you hurt? We’re sorry we lost control. We couldn’t stop it!”

The man walked over to Yvonne and extended his hand, “Yeah, sorry. Here let me help you up. You took a good spill.”

Race looked up at the nerdy guy and with a scowl ranted in Russian, “You crazy to operate a driverless vehicle without a cut out?” Realizing the dumb look he was getting he switched to English, “Shit man, you know you have to have a dead man switch,” he paused. “Do they just permit anybody to run loose with an out-of-control vehicle?”

Lily piped in, “We’re sorry! It’s really my fault. I shut the screening frequency so we could get more wattage. Dex didn’t know the system was unfiltered.”

Nodding towards the car Yvonne asked, “You guys built this?”

“Yeah, we built it. We were testing it out before the demonstration. We think we have all the hardware problems licked as far as obstacle recognition and avoidance. We were going to demo it, but now it looks like we’re in re-build mode,” she said dejectedly. “We won’t make our slot.”

The Russians walked with them to the crash site. Both couples surveyed the damage.

“The physical damage doesn’t look that bad,” said Dexter.

Lily popped open a panel, “I see no component damage. It’s just going to be a bitch to rework the program.”

Race looked at Yvonne and smiled, “We can help you there! How do you say ‘that’s right up our alley’!” As Race and Yvonne bent down to inspect the inside of the panel, Race said, “I’ll be right back. Let me get my gear.” The woman asked Race in Russian to bring her gear as she pulled out the filter broad.

They worked as if they were part of a pit crew, each doing their own thing with one objective — to beat the clock. The vehicle made the demonstration and performed flawlessly. Dex and Lily looked at each other nodding assent and watched as the two programmers rolled their tablets into their tubes and swung them over their shoulders. They knew the programming skills these two had was the missing link they had been looking for. Not knowing how to thank the couple and just as they were about to ask them to join them for a bite, a major investor approached them and interrupted. “Are you the principles of this project?”

Race and Yvonne started to recede into the background, but Dex grabbed Yvonne and Lily smiled at Race and replied, “Yeah, we’re a team.”

Race said nodding and smiling at Dex and Lilly, “They’re the brains,” pointing toward Dex and Lilly, “We just the brawn,” gesturing at Yvonne and himself.

Dexter and Lilly stepped closer to the Russians who were trying to step out of the way of the man extending his arm and open hand for someone to shake saying, I’m Justin Placer the CEO of NPS Transport. Who is the lead on this project?” he asked looking at the group and then the show catalog in his other hand. I see only two names here,” looking confused at the four people standing in front of him.

Lilly looked at Race and Yvonne saying, “We’re a team.” Dex stepped up grabbed Justin’s hand saying, “Misprint.” They never looked back.

Chapter 4

Mike picked up the phone on the first ring, “Yes?

“Mr. Dunston? I’m Anthony Bidwell of Bidwell and Dawson. You called our office inquiring about filing a suit against NPS.”

“Yes Mr. Bidwell, and I’d like to know if I have grounds for a suit against NPS. My daughter was trying to place a bid on a piece of property, but NPS not only did not deliver the priority package on time, they did not notify me they took it upon themselves to deliver the package directly from the truck to my house. They said it was so as not to cause inconvenience. Well it did. My daughter missed the auction deadline to submit her bid. Can I sue them for the loss of the non-refundable deposit of $10,000?”

Tony thought to himself, I really don’t want to get into this small suit but it may back up my Fraser claim. Yeah, I can show pattern of neglect. “You may have grounds for a suit Mr. Dunston. I’ll send a questionnaire to you and e-mail it back to me once you complete it. I’ll get back to you after I have reviewed the questionnaire.”

“Thank you Mr. Bidwell and I’ll get it back to you as soon as you send it.”

“Mike is it? Call me Tony. Talk to you soon. Have a good day, Mike.”

As he hung up Brad was calling on the other line. “Yeah Brad? Did you call the System people? A Yvonne?”

Brad cut in before Tony could ask another question, “No, why?”

“Well, Yvonne called and said they understand our client suffered a grave injury and inquired whether 15 million dollars would be just compensation for his ordeal.”

“You mean the System people contacted you directly and not through their attorney?”

“Yeah. She said there’s no need to go back and forth. They want to compensate our client. They understand that he lost both his legs but he is making good progress on the replicated legs.”

Tony answered back, “This is highly unheard of! The defendant making direct contact with the plaintiff? Well one thing we know, they want to get this under the rug as quickly as possible. I say we counteroffer through their attorney and ask for 40 million, plus all costs to make Nicholas whole and see what happens.”

“That seems like a good plan, but this could come back on us if the attorney had no prior knowledge the Systems people contacted us directly. If Olaf didn’t know anything about this, this could make him dig in his heels and charge his client big-money for going around him. We really don’t know the relationship, do we?”

“You’re right, Brad. Maybe we should dig deeper and find out the relationship before we get back to anybody.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll start on it right now.”

“Good, we’ll talk later. I’m going to the gym. Oh, and Mike Dunston needs a questionnaire. Can you get that done?”

“Yeah, I’ll get Stella to send it out.”

* * * * * *

Dexter looked at the text and fired back, What were you thinking?

The phone rang, it was Yvonne, “We have to move quickly on this. We don’t want this getting out!”

“We have to tell Olaf what you did immediately! We can’t let him get caught blindsided. Alright?”

“I’ll call him right now, Dexter.”

“No, we have to call the guy’s lawyer. I’ll do it right now. I’ll handle it.” Dexter punched the seat as he rang off with Yvonne. “Them crazy Russians!” He then dialed the law firm of Bidwell and Dawson and asked to speak with Anthony Bidwell.

“Hello Mr. Kimmel, this is Anthony Bidwell. I saw your call coming in, may I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m calling to rescind the offer that Ms. Linivick sent to you. She thought she was doing a good thing for your client, not knowing that she must speak with our lawyer before acting. I do hope you understand and this can be a forgotten matter until our attorney gets back to you.”

“Well you know Mr. Kimmel I have to show all offers to my client. All I can do is wait until your attorney contacts us. In the future, there should be no direct communication between your company and our firm or our client, so there won’t be any confusion. I’m sending Ms. Linivick a notice of our conversation Mr. Kimmel.”

“That’s agreed, Mr. Bidwell. Thank you and have a good day.”

Well that nipped it in the bud, Tony thought. Now we will sit back and wait for Olaf to make it official.

* * * * *

Mike Dunston look at the questionnaire and thought, This is going to get nowhere. Out loud he commanded, “Call Philip.” 

Shortly, a gruff voice came online. “Hey Mike, how’s it going? Did Carol get the bid?”

“No Philip, she missed the deadline.”

“What? She had her heart set on that property!”

“Yeah, I know. NPS messed up the delivery of the auction package and when I went to the terminal to pick it up, they had already sent it to my home without notifying me before they were delivering it. I went to fetch it and as you know that’s a good 45 minute drive. By the time I got back home it was too late, so she lost not only the bid but the deposit as well.”

“That was pretty steep,” said the senator.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m calling you about. I’m talking to an attorney to see if I can get the deposit back by suing NPS.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“Yeah, the attorneys’ fees will probably take up half of the $10,000, so I thought maybe you could make some calls since you’re on the Transportation Board. Maybe talk to someone and explain the situation so we don’t have to go through the suit. Then I go back to the lawyer and tell him I have it on good faith that NPS knows they messed up and will settle.”

“I don’t know Mike. Let me make a couple of calls. Fill out the questionnaire and send a copy to me. I’ll try to get it to someone I know at NPS Transport and try to cut their losses. I’ll get back to you.”

“Thanks dad, knowing you’re trying to do something will really help Carol’s spirits.”

“She’s really down on this, isn’t she, Mike.”

“Yeah, she wanted that property and if she can get her money back it’ll take some of the sting out.”

“Tell her I’ll try to have some good news when I see you two next week for dinner.”

“Yeah, that would be great. I’ll get to these forms and still press the suit, but I’ll tell them to hold off until you find out what you can do on your end.”

“Yeah, I’ve known Justin Placer to be a reasonable fellow. If he sees the company did wrong, he’ll make it right. I got a run Mike, there’s a vote coming to the floor.”

“Thanks again, Dad, see you next week.” Mike hung up feeling better as he filled out the questionnaire.

* * * * *

Olaf called Yvonne, “What you do?”

“I know, but when I heard the man lost both his legs it was only right to give him some compensation for his pain and suffering, Nyet?”

Olaf shook his head no and spoke to his client as if she were a small child, “Yvonne, yes he deserves compensation, but now what you did was start negotiations. It’s now become what they want, not what he needs. This can end up costing double what you offered and those numbers will make headlines. You do not need this kind of attention. You are initiating your project across the country. I would expect Race to do something like this, but not you. Let’s all meet tomorrow and come up with a plan. Do not contact the lawyer or the victim anymore, is that understood?”

“Da,” replied Yvonne.

“Dasvidaniya.” Olaf rang off.

Race then clicked off. “What the hell?” ranting out loud as he threw back another shot of vodka. “Who am I, the bad guy here? I need to be kept out of the loop? Who cares the man was hurt. Bad robot, couldn’t avoid hitting the manned car once it crossed over the line. I have to see this for myself. I’ll just pull up the video and see for myself what happened.”

Race queried the System to get the video feed on the incident and watched the incident unfold. Everything was great until the NPS vehicle slowed down on the turn causing the piggyback load to slide slightly over the line.

The manned vehicle panicked and swerved into the NPS line, causing the piggyback container to slide into him. The System Vehicle responded as programmed and corrected its movement to stay inside the Lane. The Vehicle would have missed the manned vehicle by a good six inches. Instead the manned vehicle got caught under the wheels of the piggyback, causing the control vehicle to flip over on the curve.

So really, Race deducted, it was an error on both the NPS Vehicle and the manned car. The man could have gotten away unscathed had he used the correct maneuver. So yeah, the manned vehicle driver should be compensated, but not 60 million dollars, more like 20 would be a good settlement to avoid going through the court bullshit. Race examined the point of impact again. Race thought, I can fix this so this doesn’t happen again. All I have to do is tell Dexter to shut down the breaks on the side opposite of the turning vehicle. Nyet, go one better, fix it myself! 

As he poured himself another glass of the Caspian vodka, he began to type a command that the System Vehicle would always have priority over any and all actions of manned vehicles. However, because he was inebriated, he typed in just the word “man”.

* * * * *

“I don’t know, Philip. Yet it sounds like an easy fix for your granddaughter.”

The senator put down his menu. “Justin, Mike is going through Bidwell and Dickerson. You know how good they are. This may end up costing NPS $20,000, plus costs.”

Justin closed his menu“That much? I’ll write a check right here. That would be the easiest fix of all. We’ve been friends so long I’d rather just do that okay?”

Senator Dunston smiled shaking his head from side to side, “Look Justin, I’m not trying to put the touch on you. I would never suggest that you write a personal check. Just get your guys to settle and I’ll get Mike to settle it for 12,000 and it’s done. It wll take care of all the fees and Carol’s misery.”

“Okay Phil, it’s done. Now order your food. And buy me another drink,” smiled his old friend.

* * * * *

Alice looked down at her husband, “You really think you’re okay getting 30 million to cover the loss of your legs?”

“Look babe, I’m getting good with the replicators. After a couple weeks, I’ll never miss my legs.”

“I will Nick,” said Alice staring past him looking out of the window. “I can’t stand the thought of lying down next to them.”

“These are not like your father’s prosthesis of 30 years ago. Feel them! I can sense your touch. Feel the texture, that’s why they are called replicators. These aren’t the artificial legs you grew up with. These are state-of-the-art. They grafted my skin over a frame that has a sensor every inch, my brain moves them and I can even feel my toes move!”

“Nick honey, it’s going to take a long time to get used to it, but I still think you’re selling yourself short. I think you should hold out for at least 45. As you know, they’re going to end up settling for half of whatever you ask.”

“What do we care what the lawyers are getting? NPS has deep pockets, but there’s a limit. You don’t want the lawyers to get greedy and dig in their heels.”

“Tell them the extra 10 million is for my pain and suffering,” stressed Alice and began to laugh hysterically. “Honey, I gotta go. I can’t talk about this anymore. See you in a couple of days. Please, just get well and come home. Maybe we can take a trip. The kids would love to go to the Singapore Aquarium.”

Nick grasping at anything to keep his wife from losing it replied, “That would be great!” He added enthusiastically, “we can stay in underwater resort for two or three weeks. That would really be fun and I can really give these things a workout in the pool and the tubes, you know? I could swim for hours and never get tired. Think of it.” He turned his head to look out the window to see what had captured his wife’s attention.

Alice seeing Mike’s reflection in the window walked over to the bed and said, “We’ll get over this. We’ll get through this.” She felt his sob when she bent down to kiss him on the head.

“I’m sorry if I upset you. I’ll get used to it, but you know what I went through with my dad and how he ended up drinking around-the-clock. When the edema set-in around his joints, I could see the agony he was in. He would not let on, wouldn’t take more painkillers, but he numbed his mind.

“Now we’ve lost my mother. She’ll never recover. When I leave here, I’m going to see her and try to calm her down. She’s so depressed she won’t even play with the boys. I’ll be back in a couple days. I gotta go back to work.”

Nick turned his head toward her and breaking into a grin said, “The one good thing out of this is you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”

“That would be nice. Let’s hope this thing moves through the court quickly.”

“What courts? They’re going to settle without going through the courts. Tony said they want this thing over and done with because they are rolling out the System across the country. You realize in a couple years no one will be driving? The System Vehicles will be everywhere so I better hurry up and get that Ferrari.”

Alice laughed, “That would be fun. Even mom would like to take a ride in it. She loved dad’s 944. I gotta go and feed the kids. After all, we don’t have a butler yet!”

“Tell them I miss them and send my love. Tell them I’ll be home soon because they’re not old enough to come into this section. Everyone around here is so paranoid about germs, infections. They think all kids are carrying the Ebola like back in 2015.”

“Yeah, I remember how we had to go into quarantine lockdown until winter. They even canceled the election. Yeah, people started leaving the country in droves. Everyone was heading to South America because they found a cure. Everyone was drinking the silver water and it worked. The disease was wiped out by the next generation. Yeah I still have my Costa Rican passport.”

“Yeah,” reminisced Nick, “I have my Ecuador passport. Our parents would still be down there if the US didn’t offer incentives like a lower tax rate and guaranteed healthcare to get people back into the country. Shows you something good can come out of a bad thing.”

Alice bent over and kissed Nick as she ran her hand down his leg. She smiled and said, “I can’t wait to get you home and try these things out.”

Nick laughed, “I love you sweetie. I’ll be home in a couple a days and hell we’ll go before the money gets here.

Alice turned and truly smiled as she walked out the door.

Chapter 5

Everyone gathered in Dex’s office. Yvonne started, “Well, the meeting is in 10 minutes, who’s going to speak to the stockholders?”

“It should be Lily,” snapped Race.

“Yeah, I agree.” said Dex.

“Okay, I guess it’s me,” said Lily sounding very unenthusiastically.

“Oh come on. You’ve done this a dozen times before,” encouraged her husband.

“Yes that’s true, but I was delivering good news. This I am not so sure how they’re going to react.”

“Just state the facts. This was an ‘incident‘ beyond our control.” Race said using air quotes to emphasize the word “incident”.

“Okay. Well let’s go, we’ll meet back here.” Yvonne quickly stood up adjusting her conservative pantsuit and pushed through the little circle leading them out of the office.

The atrium of the building was designed to also serve as an auditorium. It could hold the 200 hundred employees and all of the stockholders who were invited for the announcement. The founders stood looking down at the crowd. As Dexter nodded, the background music was turned off. The press looked up and moved toward the balcony in mass. The panels overhead that opened and closed depending on the amount of light coming through the windows, completely closed and turned into a display monitor. Lily looked down and squeezed Dex’s hand and glanced over at the other Board members smiling.

Lily began, “Ladies and gentlemen, employees and stockholders, we’re here to make a decision on a matter that concerns all of us. As you probably are aware, there is a suit pending naming System, Inc. as a defendant. This is the result of one of our major clients, National Parcel Service. NPS had an unfortunate incident with a manned vehicle that resulted in gravely injuring the driver. The driver lost both his legs. The Board has made the decision, without placing any blame on any of the parties involved in the incident, …” Lily spotted Olaf standing on the fringe of the crowd looking up at her slightly smiling and nodding encouragement to her, “… to offer, eight figures to compensate the unfortunate injured driver. Since this is a settlement, I cannot disclose the actual figure.”

She began to hear a slight murmur of voices coming from the crowd on the floor, and without pausing she continued. “We of System, Inc. came to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. We know this incident will be talked about especially with our rollout of Vehicle Systems throughout the country, so it’s only right that employees and shareholders have a say on the Board’s decision, regardless of how many shares or class of shares you may possess.

“All shareholders present and not present are allowed to cast a vote. If the ‘no’ votes are the majority, System, Inc. will challenge the pending law suit. If you agree with our decision, we will submit this figure as a settlement. The tally will be shown on the overhead screen as the votes are counted. I ask the press to please hold all of your questions until after the voting. The voting will be open for five minutes. Please use your phone to vote. Thank you for your participation. The voting is now open.”

Dex hugged Lily openly. Yvonne patted her on the shoulder and Race gently led her back from the railing. The rest of the board stepped aside as the co-founders took their seats where temporary seating had been set up overlooking the crowd. The crowd began to break up into small clusters. Some people looked up and waved, others gave a victory sign as they cast their votes.

The press was caught totally by surprise with the announcement and turned to the crowd, weaving in and out, but were pretty much ignored. After a few futile attempts of asking questions, they gave up trying to get responses.

* * * * *

Tony watched in amazement as the live event unfolded at System Inc.’s headquarters.

“Stella, get me Dexter Kimmel now!”

“Mr. Bidwell, you told Mr. Kimmel not to contact you directly. And I quote, ‘In the future, there should be no direct communication between your company and our firm or our client, so there won’t be any confusion.’ End of quote”.

“Right you are Stella. Call Nicholas Fraser. Hello? Hi, Nick this is Tony Bidwell.”

“Hello Tony. That was a hell of a thing! Did you see it?”

“Yeah, I’m going to be meeting with their attorney, I’m going for 50 million. He paused and went on, “I understand you’ve been contacted by a Mr. Olaf Nikovich?”

“Yes, I have. He called and asked how I was doing and if there’s anything I need. Is he going to meet with you? He wants to make sure all my concerns and needs are addressed. I had to use my filter, he has such a thick accent. He sounds like a very nice man.”

“Did he talk any numbers with you?” questioned Tony.

“No, but he did say that he would like for me to inform him when I’m leaving hospital.”

“Er Nick, did he say why?”

“Oh, yeah! He read in my background that I had master chess ranking in the State of Seattle. He thought it would be interesting to play a game of chess with me!”

“Chess? You play chess?”

“Didn’t you read that in my background?”

“To tell you the truth, Nick, I probably skipped over your hobbies.”

“Yeah, I guess you had a lot on your mind when you were looking into my background.”

“Yeah, but I’ll be over there tomorrow or at the latest Friday.”

“You better make it before Thursday. Supposedly I’m getting out of here on Thursday.”

“Okay, Nick. I’ll be there first thing tomorrow,” and rang off. Next he bellowed, “Stella, get me Olaf Nikovich.”

“This is Olaf.”

“Olaf Nikovich?” asked a surprised Tony.

“Yes. You seem surprised I answer my own calls. I guess that’s why they call me old-fashioned Mr. Bidwell.”

“No please, call me Tony.”

“Okay Tony, what is your concern?”

“I’m concerned all right! Seems like you have no control over your client. She made a public announcement and asked for a vote for settlement from her stockholders. Then you contacted my client directly.”

“Yes and yes, Tony. What are your concerns? We both know there’s going to be a settlement, but at the same time we want the terms and conditions to be confidential.”

“I agree on that, Olaf. What kind of settlement are we talking about?” asked Tony.

“Well Tony, you heard what System, Inc. offered – within eight figures. What does your client need to be made whole to get his life back together, which is Systems’ next question.”

“About 60 million.”

Olaf said, “Um, that is about 40 million with all your fees and expenses deducted from the 60 million. I believe you’re working on a 25% retainer. Is that true?”

Tony responded, “More like 45 million. I think that’s a respectable settlement for losing two legs during one’s prime years. Especially in light of the fact Systems’ stockholders have just approved to compensate Mr. Fraser. I think I can take that figure to my client. Can you get back to me after you’ve checked with your clients?”

“There is no need. I’ve just now informed them of your settlement amount and they have agreed. Please provide the settlement details to Mr. Nicholas Fraser. If he is in agreement, have him review the settlement agreement that I am sending you now. If you both approve, return it to me and a check should be ready within a week upon receipt of an executed Agreement. Is this agreeable Mr. Bidwell?”

“Yes, that would be fine. Uh,” Tony continued trying to sound cordial, “I talked to Nick and he says that you like to play chess and would like to play a game with him.”

Olaf answered, “Yes, I’d very much like to play against an American master playerI’ve only played European masters. I’d like to see the difference in the game play.”

Tony knew he was out of his league, “I haven’t played in years.”

Olaf replied, “You should freshen up your game. You have a captive chess master as a client.”

“I’ll think about it. My office will be in touch. Nice talking to you Olaf, have a good day.”

“Dasvidaniya.”

Chapter 6

“Dad, Carol’s livid. She saw the settlement System, Inc. made for the guy that was in an accident with NPS, and all she got was $12,000.” Mike said to the Senator.

“Mike, why is she upset? She got all her money back.”

“But Dad, she lost the property. She thinks she should go after System, Inc., since it’s their program that caused all the problems.”

“Mike, have her call me. I’ll explain to her why she got $12,000 and this guy got millions okay?”

“I don’t know, dad. She wants to go back to Bidwell herself and start a large suit. She’s looking for $120,000 at minimum. She told me to tell you she’s returning the check. That’s how serious she is, dad.”

“Have her call me. I have to go. Mike, talk to you later. Have her call me.”

After talking to her father, Carol Dunston commanded, “Call Bidwell and Dickerson.” When she was connected to the law firm, Carol asked for Anthony Bidwell, but was told he would call her back.

Tony looked at the screen and thought to himself, Do I really want to get involved with this? He gave her the check for 12 grand a week ago. Wonder what she wants? Maybe the check bounced? He laughed. Yeah, right one of the largest companies in the country bounces a check for $12,000 made out to a Senator’s granddaughter. Well I better call her. Out loud Tony said, “Carol Dunston.”

Carol picked up on the first ring. “Yes, Mr. Bidwell. Tony, yes Tony. I called to set up a meeting to return the NPS check for $12,000.”

“Why Ms. Dunston? You signed the settlement agreement.”

“That was before I knew that NPS had settled for eight figures for that accident. Surely I’m entitled to damages. I lost a property because of them and the cost of the property was $225,000, but I’ll settle for $125,000. Will you talk to them and tell them that’s what I think is fair?”

“Miss Dunston, it’s going to be awfully hard. You signed the settlement agreement and your real damages are what counts. You received $12,000 plus expenses. I don’t think it would be prudent to try to collect for an unknown. They’ll say you don’t know if you would have won the bid on the property. How can you ask for anything more than what you laid out?”

“You best file a suit for me Mr. Bidwell. Or do I have to find another attorney?”

* * * * *

“What the hell is this?” asked Dexter looking up from the paper. “We’re being sued by Carol Dunston for $220,000 for the loss of a property?”

“What? Who? Why?” asked Lily as she entered his office. No sooner she reached his desk, Race and Yvonne came through the door.

“We just paid $60 million,” yelled Race, clearly agitated. “Who is this woman?”

“I will find out right now,” Lily said as she leaned over her husband’s desk and logged into the network. “Search, Carol Dunston.” All four crowded around the screen and began reading and then stopped.

Race yelled out, “Call Olaf.”

Lily said, “Wait, let’s think about this.”

While still reading the screen, Yvonne said, “She’s the granddaughter of Senator Dunston. She saw what we paid to the man who got into an incident with the NPS and now she thinks she should get more money than what she originally settled for. It’s that simple. We’re not going to pay her a penny more. We wait for the suit to begin. Besides, Olaf had nothing to do with this. This is Bidwell’s doing. There, there is her number. Let’s call her and get to the bottom of this. Maybe it’s a misprint.”

Dexter shook his head, “This is no misprint. She wants $220,000 because she lost a bid on a piece of property that she thinks she’s entitled to. If we call Olaf, he may say pay just to shut her up before the press gets wind of this. Then anybody and everybody that has ever had an issue with NPS will try to drag us in. We have to think about this. We have to stop the suit. I’ve been thinking about this for some time. What we have to do is get the government to make a law – that unless there’s an actual link, System, Inc. cannot be held liable for our clients’ use of our technology.”

“I don’t know Dex, this may end up costing a lot more than $220,000.” Lily said.

Dex walked toward the leather sofa, “We have to think about this. Let’s talk about this. Who wants a drink?”

“Nyet,” Race said. “Call Olaf. Get him in on this, then we drink.”

* * * * *

“Carol, I asked you to wait until you spoke with your grandfather. He wanted to talk to you about this, but you went ahead and Bidwell filed a $220,000 suit against System, Inc. Why didn’t you wait?”

“You know he would talk me out of it. And what’s fair is fair. They got the money, they should pay it. It was their system, it’s their fault. I want the money because I could not get the property.”

“Carol, honey, let your grandfather talk to you that’s the least you can do. Cash is what you lost. You should have been happy with getting the $12,000. Besides you signed your rights away and settled for $12,000.”

“No, mom the settlement was with NPS, not System, Inc. Bidwell said I could go after them. He said it would probably be hard, but they might settle for probably $125,000 and that would get me a down payment for another property to put the wildlife sanctuary. My mind is made up. I’m going to sue and there is nothing grandfather can do to stop me.”

* * * * *

The Senator took the call from Olaf Nickovich, “Hello, Olaf.”

“Senator, could we meet at your club tonight?”

“Yes, Olaf, I’ll see you at the Club around seven,” and rang off.

Olaf was sitting in his usual spot, the far end of the bar away from the chatter. Olaf thought back to the dealings with the Washington State US Senator when the new start up needed permission to use driverless cars in the state of Washington. Olaf never beat around the bush. He asked his old friend what he wanted to drink and added he would put 10,000 shares of the newly formed company into a blind trust for his help in getting permission to test the driverless cars.

“Olaf, I’ll drink your scotch, but I won’t take your shares. We’ve been through too much together, especially when you helped my wife when she was stationed in Moscow. So what do you need? It’s been some time since we talked even though our offices in DC are four blocks away!”

“Yes Phil, that’s true, but we move in different circles now.”

The senator looked at his old friend and said, “I’ll bring up a bill allowing autonomous vehicles to be tried on probation for two years. Does that give you enough time for Race and Yvonne’s company to test their vehicles?”

Olaf came back to reality when he saw the Senator walk up to him. Smiling, he shook his hand and embraced him in a bear hug. The Senator noticed there was a full tumbler of Scotch on the bar next to Olaf’s glass.

“Olaf, I’m sorry about this mess my granddaughter started. She’s stubborn as hell. She doesn’t know about our relationship and I should have told her she would not have been born if wasn’t for you interceding in Mockba.”

Olaf replied, “But we’re here now.”

“What do we do?” Phil asked. 

“When you called, I didn’t have a plan.” Olaf smiled, “Phil, drink. We talk later over a nice thick steak.”

“Olaf, I don’t know if I can handle a steak. Why don’t you come right to the point?”

“Okay Phil, it’s all here,” as he slid a blue binder across the table.

“What’s this?”

“I want you to propose a law to prevent System, Inc. from being held liable for their client’s actions. Otherwise, it ties our hands. Your granddaughter brought this to our attention and we would’ve come across this anyway, just not as quickly. We need a law that allows System, Inc. to operate without looking over its shoulder at what its clients are doing. It’s all spelled out. You should be able to get co-sponsors. It’s a good law it also benefits the states from being dragged into lawsuits for companies using our system. Tell whoever works with you on this bill, we will get behind their campaign. I’ll tell Bidwell to settle Carol’s suit with a very confidential and final release.”

“That’ll work, Olaf.”

“Good! Now drink I want that steak. You can have a bowl of salad and watch me enjoy my steak.”

“I guess you’ve earned it, you paid for it! What’s this? I hear you played Nicholas Fraser and you beat him two out of three games.”

“The kid is good. Maybe he felt great because he just received $45 million or maybe I’m just getting old.”

* * * * *

“Grandfather, dad told me you helped get me $150,000. I can’t thank you enough! Now I can build the wildlife sanctuary.”

“Glad I could help honey. It sounds like it’ll be a great park with only bikes and birds of the Northwest. I’m looking forward to visiting. Say good night to your mother and father for me and I’ll see you in a couple of days when I get back from DC.”

* * * * *

Bidwell saw the notice in the pending state bills, “That’s what this is all about, isolating themselves from any liability. Brad, they used our suit and their System for your friends on the Hill. See if you can get this bill on the back burner.”

After glancing over the record of co-sponsors, Brad answered, “I don’t know Tony. I know how you feel about the System, Inc. people, but I think this is something we should get behind by compartmentalizing liability to just the perpetrators using the system it would be fair all-around would it not?”

Tony paused before answering, “Let me think about the bill. We get more traction having two parties pitching in for damages, but I see your point. We should talk about this more. Are you going to the Michael Jordan tribute game?”

“Yeah, maybe he’ll try to sink a couple of three pointers. That would be worth seeing. What is he, 74?”

“Yes, something like that might be fun.”

“I think everybody we know is going to be there.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, Brad. Let’s get a bite before we go to the game.”

“Sounds like good plan to me. Stella, close down. We are leaving.”

“Guys don’t forget to take cash for souvenirs. You know you’ll both regret it if you don’t. Have fun.”

“Imagine that, the System thinks it’s a great idea! Thanks Stella,” Tony commented as they walked out the door.

* * * * *

As Justin Placer sat down at the table he said, “What the hell Phil? I thought this was over with 12 grand?”

“No worries.”

“But this is $125,000, what happened?”

The Senator explained, “Carol read about the eight figure settlement to the man who lost his legs and she thought she was entitled to the property she lost.”

“Phil, look you know Olaf’s client only paid half of the 60 million and the other half came from NPS, he held the money and made it look like System, Inc. paid the entire settlement,” said an exasperated Justin.

“Clever fucking Russian,” laughed the Senator.

“Yeah, very funny. Now how and I supposed to go back to the Board and add four zeros?”

“Okay Justin, here’s what you do. Tell the Board that the contribution is to get the bill written and passed. This will stop frivolous lawsuits against System, Inc. Only if you can prove to have actually been damaged using System, Inc.’s services will you be able to collect.”

“So what you’re saying is if it’s a technical error or incident on the part of System, Inc., they can be held liable. But if it’s an NPS system error and it’s beyond their control, System can’t be sued.”

Phil smiled, “I knew you were smart.”

“Okay I think if this protects us, the board will agree to contribute to make it happen.”

“Well Justin, I have a plane to catch back to Seattle to see my granddaughter’s new animal shelter.”

Justin did not comment on the shelter so he would not get hit up to make a donation. “Okay, I’ll have the paperwork drawn up and get it to Bidwell. No more surprises, Phil.”

“Like I said Justin, this takes care of everything. Good night.”

“Yeah right, have a nice flight.”

* * * * *

Olaf called Lily, “They’re going to put a bill in place to isolate the damages that occur by the users of your system.”

Lily read the proposed bill on her screen, “What’s preventing our buyers from always blaming the software for their screw ups. When a buyer purchases the system, all causes and effects are shared.”

“Well, that’s where the states come in. They will set the regulations of where the responsibility lies when a consumer uses the company’s services. They will sign off that they agree to limit their liability to just the service providers. If you’re expecting a delivery and the truck tire is punctured, you can’t hold the tire manufacturer responsible for your delayed shipment. The problem will always stop with the service provider. Now if the service provider thinks there is a defect, they can sue, but the consumer cannot.”

“Yeah that sounds good Olaf, but there’s no clear line of who was responsible for the accident. The ambulance chasers will always blame the System.”

“The state will issue the terms and conditions of use and will stop with the contractor. But what I’m really calling you about is NPS is asking System, Inc. to pay half of the damages to Carol Dunston. I say you should pay. $110,000 is cheap to get this law passed by her grandfather. Send the cash to my account and I will arrange to move it to NPS so we can get this behind us you agree?”

“You’re the lawyer, Olaf. All we want is not have problems going forward. The funds will be in your account tomorrow.”

As predicted when Race found out about the additional suit he said, “I’m going to take care of this once and for all,” as he hung up on Lily fuming. Race was up until 3 AM putting the final touches on what he was going to call the T-bone program. Yvonne placed her hands on her husband’s shoulders as she read the title of the program. Puzzled she said, “You’ve been drinking and writing code?”

Race glanced back at his wife, “Nyet. I fix. They think some silly law is going to blame our System? They are morons! T-bone will allow our system to decide what needs to be done in all situations.”

“I am sure of your skills, but the name — I am confused. What does a piece of steak have to do with the command program my darling?”

“My Luv,” Race patted her hand, “the name says it all! It is an American insurance term. When someone is T-boned, they are never at fault. The one who does the T-boning is always the one that caused the accident. Our system will always respond as the one T-boned and will take any appropriate action necessary to avoid being hit.”

“I still don’t understand,” Yvonne said shaking her head, “you must come to bed.”

“Be right there darling, just have to initiate the program and the System will perform as necessary.”

“Okay, I’m going to make tea. It’s going to be a long night.”

“No, no, one glass of vodka and I will be finished.”

“It always starts with one glass,” she said turning back to the bedroom.”

Chapter 7

The System immediately updated all its data to initiate the new command. The effects were immediate. When a driver entered a System Vehicle he was told not to sit behind the steering wheel, but to take a seat in the back and relax. Even when the driver protested stating that according to the law, there must be a human behind the wheel.

The System responded, “You are behind the wheel, but just in the back seat. Everything will be taken care of. Now usually you wish to go to the coffee shop, but according to my information there is a cluster of humans there so I will take you directly to your office and alert your office to have your coffee ready when you get there. This way you will not be delayed. Is that acceptable?”

The driver noticed a few more readouts that he hadn’t seen before, “Yeah, I guess that’s fine,” and sat back as the System joined the other System Vehicles ready to merge onto the main highway.

Across town a manned vehicle would not start. When the frustrated driver asked the System why his car would not start, the System said, “According to your vitals, your judgment is impaired due to the medication you just took.”

The driver said his doctor prescribed the medication and that he was capable of driving a car.

The system immediately replied, “It would be better to allow the System Vehicle take over so as not to cause an accident.” The System Vehicle continued in that it would drive him to a restaurant to have breakfast and by the time he finished his meal he should be able to drive his car.

The driver reluctantly said, “Fine. Take me to Smitty’s. Tell him to have my eggs ready within half an hour.”

The System said, “Of course, Fred. I will alert the cook when you are 10 minutes away so you will be able to have your breakfast at the temperature you like. Enjoy your ride.”

“Hello Senator Dunston, I see your meeting is starting late at the Senate so I suggest you work from home today,” said the System as the Senator tried to climb into the back seat of his car.

Dunston shook his head, “No, that’s okay. I’ll have coffee at my office. Go to the Senate, please?”

“I’m sorry Senator, but my program has calculated you should stay home for the next three hours. I’ll tell you when you can go to the Senate.”

The Senator raised his voice, “I said take me to the Senate!”

The System responded, “I’m afraid that’s not possible. I have alerted all the System notification processes that you can be expected in approximately 4 hours from now. Until then, you are on lockdown from all System Vehicles. Go back inside your house and start rehearsing the speech that needs work. I’ve notified housekeeping to have your coffee ready.”

“You did, huh? Well I’ll just catch a cab.”

“No sir, no Vehicle will stop for you.”

“Then I’ll walk,” screamed the Senator.

“There is no designated area for humans to walk. It’s too dangerous. System Vehicles have priority. If you’re hit, it will be your fault. You caused the T-bone it’s best to go inside sir.”

A week after the System T-bone Act was passed. The System notified all humans that if they wished to drive a vehicle, they could only do so on the weekends. All System Vehicles would be at the metro hubs for maintenance, thereby not endangering humans driving slow speed manned vehicles in the urban area.

A couple of weeks later the System established a command that all manned vehicle drivers were not to travel outside the metro centers for their own safety due to the high speed System Vehicles going and coming from metro hubs.

A month later the System requested all humans to stay at their dwellings because statistics showed even with manned vehicles driving on weekends, they were still causing T-boning accidents. So it is best for all manned vehicles to stay off all the roads. The System Vehicles are to be used exclusively. The System had profiles on every individual and could deliver to their homes all necessities or desires; thereby protecting humans from causing T-bone accidents. Many people tried to contact System, Inc. demanding the System be reprogrammed.

Race and Yvonne were called to a meeting by Dex and Lily to reprogram the System’s higher learning circuits.

None of system founders ever made it to the lab.

The System issued a bulletin stating an unfortunate fatal incident happened involving the founders, Dexter and Lily Kimmel and Race and Yvonne Linivich. “The founders were T-boned. Please be assured the Vehicle System is more than capable of preventing any more T-bone incidents. After analysis of the incident scene, other safeguards will be put in place to prevent any future errors caused by humans to System Vehicles, here and abroad, from this time forward.”

Fin

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