So you think traffic is bad in this time?
Sister, let me tell you, you ain’t seen nothing!
After the various wars of dissolution, most of the former United States were cut off from the seemingly endless flow of federal money. Nowhere was there a greater impact than on the infrastructure, most notably the roads and bridges.
See, when the U.S. went away, the federal gas tax, which paid for the maintenance of the roads, also went away. This was a cause for celebration in many former states as their price per gallon dropped by a huge amount overnight.
The problem was they didn’t have a funding source to replace the gas tax, and the people were reluctant, as always, to impose a tax on themselves.
So the roads got worse.
In New York they decided to privatize some of the roads, which meant they sold off things like the New York Thruway to private companies. On the one hand it meant the road was maintained, even improved; on the other hand, there were no rules.
Cass had never been on the Thruway.
It was memorable.
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Chapter 25: Traveler’s Advisory in Effect
The sign read:
NOTICE: THE NEW YORK THRUWAY
IS A PRIVATELY-HELD ROAD
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
POLICE SUPPORT UNAVAILABLE
Have a nice day!
‘Lovely,’ commented Cass as they whisked past the sign at the entrance. ‘How much did we just pay for our toll?’
‘Fifty Cuomos,’ said Kendra. ‘About thirty Sonoran credits. Course, I didn’t have any credits, at least none I wanted to admit to, so I had to use five hundred United States dollars.’ She grimaced. ‘And we have to pay again in Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester.’ The grimace vanished, replaced by a mischievous grin. ‘Trust me, it’s worth it. Watch.’
Her heavy foot crushed the accelerator to the floor, her nimble fingers flicked through the gears, and Cass felt the old car respond. The needle flicked past a hundred KPH, then two hundred, three hundred, before slowing and steadying around three fifty. Despite their speed, the interior was comfortable, even cozy. While she couldn’t call the engine ‘purring’, it was less than the banshee howl Cass expected.
‘How can you keep track of the other cars?’ she asked in amazement.
‘I cheat,’ grinned Kendra. ‘Constant real-time position fix, scaled on a heads-up display, with lidar painting of the other vehicles on the road. Plus, I’m just damned good.’
Less than a half-hour later, they neared Utica. ‘Time for a fill-up,’ announced Kendra. ‘She’s fast and beautiful, but she has a thirst when she’s pushed this hard.’
‘How do the tires hold up to this?’
‘New technology? I don’t know, but I remember hearing that the original tires would need to be replaced after driving this fast.’
They pulled off into a service area. The robotic attendant directed them to an isolated pump, past the hydrogen and biodiesel pumps, and well away from the quick recharge stations.
‘Why are we over here?’
‘Gasoline engine. Petrochemical. Doesn’t mix well with electricity and sparks. Plus, I think it’s a holdover from the Green War in the Seventies – there’s a stigma, still, in owning one of these old oil-burners.’
In any case, the fueling was quick, if expensive and smelly, and they were soon back on the road.
‘Should we try for four hundred?’ asked Kendra with a wicked smile.
‘No, three fifty’s fast enough for me,’ managed Cass. ‘Not that I don’t trust your driving, dear, but I don’t think pushing a century-old car near its mechanical limits is a wise idea.’
‘I suppose not. So, ready for another run?’
‘Next stop, Syracuse!’
The second leg was much shorter, only fifteen minutes, but again they stopped for fuel. ‘Don’t dare run out between Syracuse and Rochester,’ Kendra said darkly. ‘Population really thins out between here and there. If I were a highwayman, that’s where I’d be waiting.’ After filling up, she pulled off to a quiet area.
‘You really think there are highwaymen? Preying on the traffic?’
‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,’ evaded Kendra. ‘Just in case, though, you ought to take this.’ She reached into her bag, pulled out a small pistol, handed it to Cass. ‘This is a Colt Shredder, the best small civilian flechette gun on the market today.’ The barrel ended with a wide mouth to allow the spinning centimeter-wide discs room to exit, while the handle was more rounded than a traditional projectile weapon to allow for the magazine.
‘Semi-automatic, will fire as quickly as you can pull the trigger. Lethal out to about twenty-five meters, but not very accurate past ten meters. If anything happens, thumb off the safety, here, and fire.’
Cass took it and examined its lethal lines. ‘Not much stopping power, is it?’
‘No, but you hit someone with it, they’ll know it. You expecting some old chemical-powered thunderer?’
‘No, I suppose I didn’t know what to expect.’ She tucked it into her bag. ‘Won’t I get in trouble for having this?’
‘Not in the Empire. That’s why I waited until now. You don’t need any kind of permit, or license, to carry here. In the People’s Republic? The application is a half-centimeter thick!’
‘So why did you have it?’
‘I filled out one of those miserable forms, then another for multiple carries, and a third for concealed carry. I wasn’t going to leave them behind, or you unprotected.’
‘What do you have? Can I ask?’
‘It’s a custom piece,’ Kendra said, pulling it from her bag. ‘Dual magazine, dual-barreled, dual-ammo. Four position safety – on, mag one, mag two, both.’
‘What does it fire? It doesn’t look like mine.’
‘It wouldn’t. The bottom barrel is a needler.’ The muzzle was barely two millimeters across. ‘High velocity darts. Right now, I have them loaded with explosive tips, but I can switch out to frags or armor-piercing.’
‘And the top?’ The top barrel was a few centimeters longer and had a wider opening.
‘Good lord. You don’t do things by halves, do you?’
Kendra shrugged. ‘Limited capacity. Each mag is only good for a half-dozen full-power shots, but at full power I can burn the glacis off a tank at fifty meters.’
‘And you think I need a gun? You’re a walking fusion bomb!’
‘I need someone to cover my back, remember?’
Cass just shook her head. ‘How about we just get back on the road?’