Hammaker Lane is a ten-mile stretch of Route 12. Cut through the woods: two lanes, narrow. Dips and hills like a sine wave. She loved this ride as a kid — how the car leaped as it came over the humps, how the sun slashed between the trees on the way home after school. Her grandfather brought her here when she first got her learner’s permit. She brings her left hand to the steering wheel, toggles the drive switch from auto to manual. The car asks her:
Are you sure you want to disable the auto-drive app?
She clips her phone’s hands-free headset over her ears. “Henry Woolsey, please.”
Are you sure you want to disable —
“Right — Jesus —”
Are you sure you —
Auto-drive is disabled.
“Henry Woolsey, please.”
She slots her hands at the 10 and 2 positions. Just as he taught her.
“Good morning, Henry —”
“’Henry, today? What did I do wrong?”
“I’m calling on business,” she says, “so you’re Henry.”
“Is this a new thing?”
“It seems right to me.”
“Fair enough. You’re on the road, then?”
“Route 12. The Bumps.”
“Hammaker Lane.” Where Some Body might laugh, @Henry says, “Ha.” And then: “I remember hanging on for dear life.”
“I’m better at it now.”
“Are you calling about the Sherman argument? I had us booked to talk later in the afternoon.”
“We never made a decision about the lease.”
“Oh. Didn’t we?” he adds, brightly.
“If we want out, we have to give notice by tomorrow.”
“I don’t see any reason to make a change.”
She hits the pedal hard. The car surges forward into an incline. “The Firm could have twice the square footage in White Plains, for a third of the rent. It’s just so much money.”
“Jean Bean, if we leave Midtown now, it’s as good as admitting defeat.”
“You could put that savings into the Foundation.”
“Location matters, my dear.”
Sensors indicate oncoming traffic.
“Noted,” she tells the car. “It blows my mind, Grandpa, that of all people you would care so much where our offices are.”
“What can I say? I’m a traditionalist.”
A large vehicle is approaching.
“Noted.” She is coasting to the bottom of a trough. Accelerating, now, into the next rise.
INBOUND TRAFFIC HAS CROSSED THE CENTER LINE.
She sees it. A truck. She whips the wheel right: 10 and 2 to 3 and 7. The car plunges off into the trees.
SENSORS INDICATE DEPARTURE FROM PAVED SURFACE. INITIATING AUTO-DRIVE —
Her leg is pinned down over the pedal, pressing it to the floor. The car’s electric motor spins, whips mud into the air behind her.
Initiating auto-drive override.
The pedal goes limp. The motor stops spinning. She blacks out.
* * *
She is flying on her back, feet-first. Panes of frosted glass wipe away the sky. She hears a wham, and the frosted glass gives way to segments of dropped ceiling, flashing by like movie frames. She hears shoes slapping on floor tile. She hears shouts, words she should understand:
The goddam Copy Techs: where are they?
Scrubbed and standing by, in OR 2.
CLEAR OUT CLEAR OUT CLEAR OUT —
Her head lolls to her left.
We’re losing her. Hands clasp her cheeks, turning her head. A face hovers over her, framed by fingers. Talking, insisting. Stay with me, sweetheart. Just a little longer.
She closes her eyes.