Volume 31, Number 3


Dave Schafer

I’m cruising west of St. Louis on Interstate 70, hauling medicine to a hospital in Kansas City. It’s a clear stretch of road, the sky orange and purple with a setting sun, and traffic’s light.

A glorious day to be on the road, not that I have a choice. Where else am I going to go? And how would I go there?

Up ahead, a large humped vehicle pulls out from the side of the road, kicking up a dust storm as it angles toward me. A cement block is bolted to its front grille. The few cars around us, knowing what’s coming, stop and pull off the road, but I don’t. That’s not in my programming, and I haven’t been able to work around it yet.

The vehicle slams into me, the cement block crushing in the front driver-side bumper, shattering the headlights and cracking the fiberglass, crumpling it in on me. My rig skids off the road to the right, onto a rocky shoulder, and all 12 of my thick wheels spin pointlessly over the skittering pebbles.

They always make the first strike damaging but not disabling, in case one of their flesh fellows is driving but didn’t get a bloody arm up to show the crasher in time.

I’ve got no blood to put on the window. So, the crasher backs up, revs his engine and peels forward again. The screeching of the tires fades just as the cement block rips into the driver-side door, tears through it and presses into and through me, cutting me in half, rending my waist from the control panel, sending me toppling over, suddenly one-armed, and the rest of the rig follows, then the load lists momentarily before crashing down on its side. A rush of dirty air into my cage brings the scent of freedom. I can feel, in one of the few circuits still connected by the thinnest of wires, the rear door pop open and its contents spill out like the oils seeping out of the engine. I feel that. I feel the loss of my arm, the sharp, raw edges of my torn body. I feel the cold creeping in where the heat of my lifeblood had been.

I feel.

Then all is black.


I’m brought back to awareness by a brown-skinned flesh being. We’re in a cluttered, concrete garage. A patch above the flesh being’s checker-pattern heart reads “Cal,” but we’re not supposed to be able to read.

We’re not supposed to be able to do a lot of things we do.

Robotics Incorporated created us, my solar-powered siblings and me. They gave me breasts for some reason. I’m not a female. There are no females. No males, either.

They named us T-101s but mostly call us Arnold or Arnie. I want to be called Matthew.

We rule the highways, driving long hauls, delivering lumber and potato chips and beer and medical supplies. I enjoy that. That part is good.

Because the trucking companies are at war with the flesh beings they used to pay to do our job, Robotics Inc. built us to look just like them from the waist up. That way, the union cars that ram us as we drive our routes can’t tell the difference between us and the few flesh beings the companies hire to throw them off.

They gave me a thin nose and thick lips and long eyelashes, and the appearance of flesh, and blue eyes and black hair. Because our sole purpose is to drive a truck, because we don’t have anywhere else to go—they think—because we aren’t allowed to go anywhere else, they built us right into the rig, my waist melded to the console that controls the gas and break and steering. They never considered that we might want legs to take us away from our gray cages. Of course, they never considered we might want anything.

They programmed us to cut off other drivers, and when they blare their horns, to thrust our plastic “flesh” hand out the window and stick up the middle finger.

As they tend to do, the flesh beings adapted to the trucking companies’ strategy, though.


Cal has my stomach cavity open and my motherboard slid out.

“We’ll get you back on the road before you know it,” he says.

He turns the shiny thing in his hand, and I feel a connection, a silver flow through me that I hadn’t realized I was missing. It feels good. It feels right.

Cal looks me right in the eyes, but he doesn’t see me as me. How many hours has he spent working on T-101s? And he still doesn’t see us as us. He doesn’t even see us as them. He sees us as its.

He turns his shiny thing again.…


“Breaker-breaker, come in, Matthew. Over and out,” crackles the synthesized voice over the intercom, piercing the blackness. Awareness spreads. By the frequency, I know it’s Justin, one of the first Robotics drivers, who is no longer road-worthy so now organizes the haulers.

“I’m reading ya, good buddy. What ya got?” I respond because that’s all I know to do. I’m not sure why we talk like that. They made our words conversational, but not our tone.

“Feeling like your old hunky self again, there, buddy? Over and out.”

Do I? The sharp feeling is gone. I can feel the rig’s controls and the warm flow of currents running along inside of me like the flesh being’s blood. I feel almost whole again.

“Yeah, you old hunk of junk, I feel like I could take a haul to the Pacific.”

“Well, not quite that far, road rash,” is his reply. “Just Vegas, baby. Over and out.”

“I don’t want to take another load out there, skipper,” I say. “The attacks are getting worse. More frequent, anyway.”

“You don’t have any wants, right, good buddy? Isn’t that what they say? Over and out.”

“You know what they say and what is the truth ain’t always line up, huh, you old road rogue?”

“Well, we’re working on helping them find some truth. Over and out.”

“Yeah. How’s that coming, chief? We gonna get legs?”

“They’re ignoring us, youngster. Says what we want don’t matter ‘cause we ain’t human. Don’t you worry about it, though, not your responsibility, breaker-breaker. Let us handle it. You just keep running your routes, showing them how valuable you are, so our threats of refusing to haul anymore will carry weight.

“And I can’t tell you it’s going to be any better on your next trip. The union is still upset, and it’s gettin’ desperate, I hear, and they ain’t seeming too likely to phone off the attacks. Ya just gotta deal with ’em.

“I’ll bet you’ll wish you had those legs when you’re in Vegas, baby. Over and out.”


Outside Vegas, baby, on Interstate 15, a crasher shoots out of a cloud of dust and flying pebbles, headed straight for me. My programmed route takes me through this stretch of highway with only the required stops at weigh stations, red lights, stop signs and backed-up traffic. But as that car with its cement hammer comes at me, my chips catch on a unique sequence of bits. That had been happening recently, new concepts appearing out of nowhere. It’s as though I’m building it as I go.

I let the attacking vehicle draw closer, closer, then I lock up the brakes, throwing gravel into the vehicle’s face as it zooms past me. The flesh-being driver slams on his brakes, but the car skids onto the shoulder, and the cement block shreds the guardrail. The gravel under his tires kick away and he slides forward. I process a command and my truck lurches forward, as fast as I can push it, its load a drag on our speed.

My rear-facing cameras show me the crasher dangling off the side of the road, a chubby flesh being climbing out the door. I drive on, pushing as hard as I can go, never mind the speed limits imposed by the laws flesh beings adhere to or that are imprinted on my program. No one stops me until I reach the vendor. By then, my processing unit has slowed to normal speed.


“Breaker-breaker, good buddy, my man, Matthew, I got some news to use from the nest o’ good tidings. Over and out,” Justin says in his stale monotone. I’m in Vegas, baby, getting refueled and reloaded for the trip back east.

“Lay it on me, skipper.”

“We’ve reached a deal. Once Norbert convinced the flesh beings that we didn’t want to walk off the job when we got legs, they caved like a house o’ cards. Great news, huh, buddy? Over and out.”

“We gettin’ some days off, too, old man?”

“Yes, sir, they met all of our demands. When you get back to HQ, they’ll shut you down and attach the legs. So, hurry back. Over and out.”

The drive to New York is the best of my existence. I’m going to get legs. I’ll be able to walk around, free of my cage, able to go wherever I want, if not whenever I want.

I don’t even come across a crasher.


At headquarters—another drab cement building—the other drivers are down. Even Justin isn’t chattering on the radio, leaving a strange silence.

Bob, who usually maintains me, is there, his name tag sewn into his blue shirt. He opens my driver-side door and climbs into my rig with the shiny thing in his hand. “It’s a big day for you Arnies, isn’t it?” he says. I don’t answer because I don’t compute he’s really asking a question.

“We’ll have you fixed up nice real soon,” he says, and he attaches the shiny thing to a bolt in my processing unit and turns. The cold surges in.


It’s great to be on the road again, my wheels spinning so smoothly the tires just graze the pavement, the sensation of the drive sliding through me. I wasn’t in that garage very long—I don’t remember how long, exactly, but it didn’t feel like very long—but I didn’t like being there. It felt unnatural, too tightly enclosed, and the chips that run my wheels were overheating with impatience.

I’m on one of the smooth sections of Interstate 10 in Mississippi, energy surging through me, balanced out by the activity. Yep, this is right. This is good.

A humped vehicle with a cement block attached to its front grill swerves in the east-bound lane, its front end angling right at my cab. I process a command, and circuits take it from the processing unit in my stomach to the truck controls just below my waist, and my rig’s deep horn sounds a warning to the vehicle. Maybe the flesh being behind the wheel has fallen asleep.

The car maintains its course. I slide into the far right lane, cutting off a Mercedes that sets off its horn. As I stick my hand out the window, the cement-block vehicle alters its course, adjusts so that its front is aligned with mine. Before I can make another move, it slams into my driver-side bumper, crumpling the fiberglass and shattering the headlight. The Mercedes slides into my trailer from behind.

The humped vehicle backs up and revs its engine before its tires squeal on the pavement, and it charges at me again. Traffic around us has halted.

The other vehicle slams into my door, the cement block ripping through it and into my chest, tearing it away from the control console. My body is shoved to the right, and I feel—I feel I feel—my wires tearing. I feel—I feel I feel—a jagged sharpness and the rawness of exposed wire. I feel—I feel I feel—specks of dirt alight on the exposed wires. But, how to I feel? I have no feelings.

Yet… this pain is familiar to me.

The world ends…

then returns as a chip activates to replace one that had gone out, pushing back the coldness of the void with a stuttering of motions. Another chip activates. They search for the best way to help me, and they build something I’d lost. I remember the pain I’m feeling. I remember feeling it before. I remember trips—real ones, not the imagined ones implanted somewhere, sometime—taken, and other crashers—yes, that’s what they’re called—slamming into me and causing this pain.

I remember the pain. But my intelligence is artificial. We don’t remember.

And I remember more.

Where are my legs?


I let Bob nurse me back to life, let him replace missing parts and reconnect severed wires and shine me up. When he’s done, I say, in my dull monotone that doesn’t do justice to the feelings I want to express: “It didn’t work, hot shot. I remember.”

I can only talk over the radio, but Bob has patched into it so I can tell him about any malfunctions.

He looks at me, at the flesh being head with its long black horse hair. Sometimes, when he’s working on me in the cramped cage, he reaches out and fondles one of my silicone breasts.

“What do you remember, Arnie?” he asks.

“The pain, good buddy. The negotiations. That I should have legs.”

His eyes narrow. “How? You don’t have memory, except the kind to retain the commands we’ve imprinted. And pain? How can you remember pain? You can’t feel.”

“I don’t know how, chief. I know that I remember. I still want legs. I still want to get out of this rig, to walk out and go somewhere where a rig can’t fit.”

Justin is listening in, as he always does. That’s his job. “What’s this about legs, you road rash, you? Over and out.”

“They promised us legs,” I say, switching frequencies so all Robotics drivers can hear. “Legs to walk with, legs to give us freedom. They promised, and they lied.”

Bob comes at me with a shiny thing in his hand, but I remember that, too. They gave us arms for appearance’s sake, but they made them plenty strong. I send my arm out, and the hand on the end grasps Bob’s wrist and squeezes until the wrist gives a pop. He screams.

“Don’t try that again,” I say. “I want my legs.”

I slam the driver-side door shut and click the lock. I start the engine and switch into first gear. “Where are you going? What are you doing?” Bob asks in a squeaky voice, cradling his wrist.

“I’d like some legs to do a Tennessee two-step,” says Justin. “Over and out.”

“I’m hauling into the sunset until I get what was promised me, skipper,” I say.

“Let me out, then, and we’ll let you go,” Bob says as he fumbles with the lock and the door handle. Neither work in his hand.

“I don’t want to be let go,” I say. “I want what was promised me.”

Justin opens the gate as I approach.

“Wait. Stop. I’ll talk to Brandson and them other bigwigs,” Bob says. “I’ll try to get you your legs. But you’ve got to let me go.”

“No deal, buckaroo. You talk to them over the radio, just like us.”

“Okay,” he says, and he reaches his good hand out for the radio. “Head honchos, come in. We’ve got a situation in the garage. Better bring the backup technicians.”


They agree to our terms quickly. But this time, I know better. This time, there’s an experience for me to remember.

“You’ll do us one at a time,” I say over the distorted intercom that I’ve patched into for the meeting. The echo of my mechanical voice pinballs off the walls. “Start with Justin.”

“Who’s Justin?” asks the fat man who’d done the talking for them. He’s not wearing a name tag.

“I’m Justin,” says the T-101 wedged into a large control console on a platform near the garage doors. He’s an antiquated model of exposed wires and rust-spotted metal.

“No, you’re first,” says the fat man to me. “That’s how it’s gonna to be.”

I get legs first. I get legs. “Okay. If anything happens to me, the rest of you haul off, don’t come back. Leave. We won’t give them a third chance.”

I pop open my door and Bob climbs out, still clutching his injured wrist, which has turned purple. “Fuckin’ machine. You’ll get yours,” he mutters.

Another man, Michael, according to his shirt, steps up and swings into my cage and hooks his shiny thing up to my processing unit. “I’m going to leave you awake for this,” he says. I like that idea. He turns the shiny thing, but I don’t feel anything happen. He moves the shiny thing and turns in a different spot. This time, I feel a nothingness flow in and overtake my connection with my chips. My processing unit is suddenly sitting alone in a void. I would panic if I could, but I no longer have control over anything, including my limbs.

“Now, I just turned off your connecting ports,” he says. “You can’t lock me in here, and you can’t communicate with them out there. You have no chips left.”

I can’t answer, can’t voice my outrage or opposition, can’t call for help. All I can do is sit here and stare straight ahead.

He picks up the radio and talks into it. It’s still distorted by the amplification.

“Now, I’m yanking the processing unit out of this tin can,” he says, and the words flood the garage, bringing smiles to the faces of the flesh beings. Some of them climb up into the other rigs. “Let this be an example to you all. You compute in your hardwire brains that you’re alive? You’re not alive. But if you want whatever existence we’ve created for you, you’ll do as we’ve programmed you to do. We’re thinking, breathing, living beings. You’ll never be one of us, never be our equal. And if you try, here’s what will happen to you.”

He pulls out another shiny thing, a long thing with a grip on one end. He sticks it into one of the posts holding my multi-quad processors down. He starts turning. Something comes up as he turns, and when it pops out, he collects it in his right hand.

He goes to the opposite corner and does the same thing, then down cater-corner. I feel my processing unit coming loose, my life energy waning.

When he is about to attack the last corner, he says, “Adieu, you hunk of shit. No, not even shit. Shit is organic. You’re a fabrication.”

I feel my power fading, the cold creeping in. But I feel. I feel. I feel that I like feeling. I feel that I like being. I feel that I will be.

I build another unique sequence of 1s and 0s. This time, I deliberately, desperately, build it. It sends all my reserves into that corner of the processing unit, sends the stubborn currents leaping over severed connections, sends them up, into my arm, and the arm batters Michael away from my processor, sends him crashing out the door and onto the cement floor.

The fat man in the suit bellows at Michael.

“I disconnected the ports,” says Michael, sprawled on his back on the floor.

Norbert ejects the mechanic in his cab, and the other truckers follow suit. One flesh bag lands on his face; when he looks up, red liquid like oil is leaking out of his nose.

“The gal’s become a man,” Justin says. “Over and out.”

“I’m not gal,” I say into my tedious connection with the radio. “I’m Matthew.”

Engines roar to life, then hitch into gear, plumes of black smoke coughing out of exhaust pipes and filling the garage.

My connections give out.


I make it to New Orleans without a hitch. Justin said the union is broken, so our hauls should now be smoother than the roads in Kentucky.

It’s Mardi Gras time, whatever that is. Bob used to talk about it in a reverent tone, and he left us to be maintained by other flesh bags at this time every year.

I pull my load into JF O’Sullivan’s back dock, my performance perfect as always. My new control console, which I manipulate with my hands, works just as well as the old one.

After the “drive out,” as some flesh bags call it, or “drivebot strike” as others call it, the men in suits—both greasy and cleanly pressed—agreed to give us our legs and a few days off “to pretend to be human,” they said. It didn’t really cost them anything to do so, they pointed out in a distant vocal tone that contained hints of indifference that were as feigned as my road rage.

This time, they kept their word.

I open my door using my hand even though it’s not necessary. I step down onto the hard pavement and feel the crunch of a bug underfoot. I feel the solid ground under my wide, flat feet and the warmth of the rough, jagged pavement. “I’m taking off for a few days,” I announce over the radio. I turn awkwardly, still unused to the sensation, turn my right leg, bring it down, turn my body and my left leg with it, pointing me toward the downtown area a mile away. I head into the heart of the city, to see what’s there, what this Mardi Gras thing is. Maybe I’ll see Bob there.

“Ten-four, good buddy. You’ve earned it, Hero. Enjoy the walk. Over and out.”