The sun is setting over the Las Vegas Valley, and two figures make their way down the side of a desert highway, bindles slung over their shoulders.
Nova looks over to GBJ. “I miss the 28th floor.”
“Why?” GBJ asks, cocking an eyebrow, “we barely spent any time there. I honestly don’t remember a thing about it.”
“You’re right,” Nova nods, shuffling his bindle to light a cigarette, “I don’t know why I said that.”
“Did we run up some stairs at one point?” GBJ scratches his head with his free hand, “if that’s what you’re craving, I have to imagine the 27th or 29th floors would at worst be a hell of a silver medal.”
“I don’t know,” Nova shrugs, “never mind.”
“Bigger question,” GBJ says, looking around, “why are we walking out here? I mean, getting the boot from the 28th floor because we lost Survivor…only leaves us with the entire rest of the MGM Grand.”
“And we kind of…work there,” GBJ observes.
“And I think they wanted to give us another room,” he continues.
Nova and GBJ sit quietly in a dressing room backstage following ReVival 10, their elimination from PRIME’s inaugural Survivor tournament weighing heavy on the duo. The door opens and a hotel staffer cautiously enters, approaching Nova.
“Sir, we’ve reassigned your room,” he says, “you’ve been relocated to…”
“A farm upstate?” Nova growls.
“The 28th floor was just a promotion for Survivor,” the staffer winces, “but we’re not kicking you…”
“We get it!” Nova interrupts, “we can see ourselves out! Johnny, grab our wooden sticks and tattered polka-dot fabric for the bindles. I’ll get our stuff out of the locker.”
He spins back around to the staffer.
“I hope you sleep well tonight. I hear there’s an open suite on the 28th floor.”
Nova scratches his head. “I…I don’t remember why we’re walking out here. I don’t, Johnny. But it feels like we’re headed towards something, right?”
He looks up and sees a sign so neon-bright that aliens advocating for reasonable firearms restrictions can see it and recoil in horror from dimensions away.
BETTER GUNS AND GARDENS
The pair nod to each other and begin walking across the broad parking lot. GBJ looks down at skid marks over the asphalt, and shrugs. As they approach the entrance to the store, two clearly-rattled store clerks sprint out of the electric double-doors, each wielding a rifle. Nova and GBJ immediately begin backpedaling.
“I don’t know what the fuck is going on!” the man in camouflage overalls screams, “But just take it! Take the damn thing!”
“Please God, just leave us alone!” the young woman next to him shrieks, leveling her rifle at the hottest tag team to never wrestle an actual match.
“Jesus fuck!” Nova mutters, “what the hell are they talking about, Johnny?”
GBJ’s side glance as he also tries not to get shot makes the point. “Dude, I’m working with the same info you are.”
Suddenly their eyes catch a glint off a nearby object. They both turn…
…to see the most beautiful thing either of them have ever seen.
“Nova! Johnny!” The voice is calm and relaxing, but it still conveys a sense of urgency. “Both of you get inside me now!”
Introducing the 2072 Buick Encephalon, a luxury automated mobility unit equipped with the latest–and most customizable yet–next gen artificial intelligence programming.
The Encephalon is a fully self-driving machine that runs on hydrogen power with rechargeable electric backup. It is capable of 360 degree horizontal movement as well as emergency vertical propulsion of up to 30 feet.
An advanced grade sensor system and instantaneous braking up to 200 mph (320 kph) guarantee that the Encephalon is incapable of crashing into any object or being that it can’t immediately incinerate. Meanwhile, military grade, multilayered nano-carbonate graphene plating makes the exterior impenetrable to other vehicles, bullets, small craft (both air and marine), and meteorites*.
With Buick’s patented Smooth Ride Technology (SRT), personal inertia is reduced up to 65% compared to the average on vehicles in the mid-range ($150,000 – $180,000) price quadrant, ensuring that while the vehicle is moving–even at max speed–you’ll be still able to perform precise activities like applying eyeliner or performing neurological repathing surgery.
The interior habitating space makes the most of reconfigurable plating technology with modular design capability to make the most of its 160 feet of cubic space. Continuous interior windshield can be used as an entertainment center at voice command with a full privacy mode exterior and T-Sec wireless capabilities. For long rides, the plating technology can arrange into a comfortable bed. An Oxyvent V3.0 filtration system not only purifies external air up to 77% toxic saturation back to breathable levels, it can even dispense up to the legal amounts of anesthetic to help passengers induce sleep.
And the flagship feature of the Encephalon is, of course, the Drivemind AI run on UltraSentient Engine. It comes with so much flexibility in its interface avatar creation mode that there are more combinations of base personalities you can create than there are people alive on the planet today–thirty-three times over! Of course, if you prefer an existing personality and have a legally licensed dataprint template of either someone registered on the public Buick Marketplace or a notarized template from a private entity, there’s that too. How the avatar evolves, learns, and grows is purely up to your interactions with it…or should we say “them”?
Once you’ve created and named your personalized Buick Avatar, take advantage of their amazing capabilities including the sixteen-brontobyte, octo-core UltraSentient Engine. They’ll feel like an old friend in no time, and once you integrate your own dataprint**, the Drivemind recommendation engine can show you projected outcomes of any decision you input.
* Full-on meteors may cause some damage to chassis of vehicle.
** By uploading your dataprint to Buick digital properties, you retain ownership of your dataprint. You hereby acknowledge that Buick is not responsible, financially or otherwise, in the event that your dataprint is scraped, decrypted, or otherwise breached in a cyber attack once it’s uploaded to the Buick Marketplace. Buick charges nothing to list on the Marketplace, but Buick recovers a 5.00 percent fee on all standard Marketplace transactions
The Magic Buick is engulfed in flames by the side of the highway.
“We’re not inside,” Nova observes, turning to GBJ. “There’s that.”
Garbage Bag Johnny is quiet and Nova looks at him for a moment, both of their faces illuminated against the setting of the desert sun by the unexpected future-car bonfire.
“It was something special,” GBJ says, his eyes trained on the Magic Buick’s rapidly deteriorating husk.
His eyes glisten in the firelight.
“Yeah,” Nova says, eyes darting between his pal and the burning car in front of them as he lights a cigarette. “Sure. I certainly thought it was cool.”
“The features,” GBJ whispers, his eyes never leaving the fire.
“The features,” Nova agrees, taking a drag and exhaling smoke into the windy evening air.
GBJ shakes his head, at a loss for words.
“Listen,” Nova says, putting a hand on his partner’s shoulder, “it was never gonna last forever, but at least we made it, oh, I dunno…”
He looks back at the glaring neon sign still plainly within view.
BETTER GUNS AND GARDENS
“…gotta be three-quarters of a mile,” Nova says, squinting back towards the sprawling paved parking lot of the area’s most active firearm retailer.
GBJ wipes his eyes. “Where are our bindles?”
“We ditched them when we said we were never going back,” Nova replies.
The dulcet tones of a female’s voice echo over the internal sound system of the Magic Buick.
“Nova…Johnny…tell us where you want to go.”
“To the ends of the universe, Magic Buick!” GBJ shouts gleefully. “You tell us! Fuck all this!”
“Yay, yay-eeeeee!” Nova screams in approval. “We’re done here, son! Tag titles? Tag-team DEEZ NUTZ! Let’s explore space, motherfuckers!”
GBJ and Nova collapse into each, laughing in some kind of euphoric haze as lights and screens whirr around them. GBJ glances to the backseat, where they’ve stashed their bindles of personal belongings.
“Oh sorry, no room for YESTERDAY,” he shouts, and he and Nova slap bodacious double-fives as they reach for the bindles and then simultaneously toss them out of the driver’s and passenger’s side windows.
“Gonna wanna grab those on our way back,” Nova observes.
GBJ nods, giving a last long glance to what is now a sizzling melty mess of a vehicle in front of them.
“I’m no meteorologist,” Nova says, tugging at GBJ’s sleeve, “but I feel that thing is gonna explode at some point.”
GBJ nods again, but gets the point, and they begin walking back down the desert highway in the direction from whence they came.
They’re both thrown to the sandy skirt of the highway as the Magic Buick erupts in a miniature iridescent mushroom cloud.
GBJ rolls over, sand and grit caking his face as he squints at Nova pawing through the sand. Nova retrieves a pack of cigarettes and shakes them out with a sigh of relief. He lights one, then shuffles over to GBJ, offering an arm to help him up.
They begin walking down the side of the highway.
GBJ coughs and then begins to speak. “Nov, I don’t think…”
“Hold up, Johnny, your hair’s on fire,” Nova says, dusting off the side of GBJ’s scalp.
He gives it a solid look, taking another drag. “Okay. Go on.”
“Nov,” GBJ begins, “I don’t…”
“Nope,” Nova interrupts, “your hair is still on fire, bud, hang on…”
Nova spits in his hand and begins slapping the side of GBJ’s head with an open palm, several times, until GBJ drops to a knee. Nova examines his slightly smoky scalp, pawing around through the wilderness of Johnny’s wild locks, before nodding in satisfaction and hoisting him up.
“Yup, think we got it,” Nova nods.
“Nov,” GBJ coughs, “I don’t think we were supposed to be here.”
Nova stares at him, dirt and sand caked over his own face and beard.
He grins with his whole face and takes a drag of his cigarette.
“OF COURSE we weren’t supposed to be here! Look at us!”
They continue working their way up the highway. Nova throws an arm across GBJ’s chest and squints ahead. “Hey, I think those are our bindles!”
They gather them and walk past the entrance to Better Guns And Gardens. The same clerks storm back out of the store’s double-doors, again wielding firearms.
“What did we do to deserve this?!” tThe man in camouflage overalls mourns.
“ENOUGH ALREADY!!” the young girl shrieks as she levels her AR-15 in their direction.
Nova and GBJ hold their arms up and begin side-stepping their way across the asphalt.
“We-eeee do not know what you are talking about,” Nova says, glancing at GBJ for visual confirmation.
GBJ nods convincingly.
“We are bummed that the Magic Buick we drove away just blew up,” Nova acknowledges.
While still side-stepping with his arms raised, GBJ manages impressively to hide his face away.
For him, too soon.
“Well,” the man in camo-veralls says, “everything here was just fine, predictable, then a little over a month ago two of the older guys who had been camping out back – we don’t typically fuck with ‘em if they aren’t causing problems – disappeared. Then one of ‘em came back a couple of days ago and left whatever the FUCK that thing was, said ‘It’s for my friends.’”
He waves a shotgun at Nova and GBJ, trembling.
“We don’t deal with shit like this here! It’s fucking with everything! Game night! Taco Tuesday! Trivia!”
The other clerk elbows him in the ribs.
“And things that other people care about, too!” he shouts, nodding towards her.
“We’ll be moving along,” Nova says with a nod as he and GBJ shuffle harmlessly past a place they hope never to see again.
The desert sun continues to set. Time passes.
“This feels like a dream, Johnny.”
Nova lights a cigarette and looks over to GBJ. “You’re right that we weren’t supposed to be here,” he says, nodding. “We still aren’t, but we are. I don’t really remember anything about Survivor.”
“I actually don’t think that matters at this point,” GBJ replies.
Nova takes a long drag and exhales into the night sky. “I don’t either. We’ve got a match now.”
Johnny pulls a joint from his beard, lights it, and inhales deeply.
Every night since Nova and I got eliminated from Survivor, I dreamt of my own death. It wasn’t the same way in all of them, but I always ended up dying somehow. Waking life was more confusing. One moment, life was good. I’d just gone on a lovely date with one incredible woman and twenty-two potato toppings. I had a new tag team partner and an open road to one more shot to make an impact in the promotion. I remembered what it was like to have things like direction, though I’m sure most people wouldn’t call it that.
The next thing I knew, we were out of the running, just short of the finish line, and I had no idea how we’d ended up there. Pretty much all my memory was gone, no matter how hard I thought on it. Worse yet, the lady I’d been seeing had skipped town. All I had left was a lighter shaped like her.
This time, it wasn’t just me. Nova’s brain was wiped, too, so I knew I wasn’t crazy unless both of us were crazy, and that’d be, well, shit. It’d be crazy. Every moment I wondered how long it’d be before I forgot it. And each night, the cause of death in my dream became less vivid, less tenuous. Eventually, I figured, I’d start dreaming regular shit again.
Out of the Survivor competition, we had one last rope thrown to us. A tag team wrestling match. It would be our first tag team wrestling match, and if we lose, it could well be our last tag team wrestling match.
Without a real memory of the whole thing, it might be the perfect time to let bygones be bygones and get back on our own paths. We both knew, though, that we’d made it pretty far–perhaps did something brilliant out there, even if we didn’t know exactly what that was. Something told me it’d be a real shame if we didn’t go out there and fight like it was our last shot, even if we’d never wrestled together. I can’t say for certain if I’d have made it this far without having a teammate. Who knows what gutters I’d have gotten myself swept into.
“We’ve got a match,” GBJ confirms. “We’re going up against the Winds of Change.”
“Indeed we are, old sport,” Nova says soberly, eyes growing distant. “Indeed we are.”
GBJ stares at him. “Like–and don’t ask me how the fuck I know this–actually against the Winds of Change.”
“You wake up one day and you don’t recognize your reflection in the mirror,” Nova rasps, “to say nothing of the world around you – a mechanized, fluorescent, soulless self-checkout aisle – and then you realize…”
He turns to Johnny.
“…that you’re battling…the winds of change.”
“That’s not how you talk,” GBJ replies, “and I’m not speaking in metaphor, Nov. They’ve booked us against the Winds of Change, and if we win, we get a shot at the belts some other time.”
Nova blinks and his eyes regain focus.
“Oh right, Sid, Joe, that all checks out,” he nods. “Well, we have ourselves a situation that we’re gonna have to wrestle our way out of.”
“That’s how that works,” GBJ agrees. ”Hasn’t gone great for the two of us so far.”
“True,” Nova agrees, “but at the same time, we didn’t have each other.”
GBJ suddenly and violently coughs sand into Nova’s face. Johnny takes a moment to collect himself and then wipes some sandy saliva away from his face.
“Do you think we should come up with a name after all?” he says, brushing his sleeve across his beard.
Nova wipes sandy spit out of his eyes and smiles at his friend.
“Nah, I think we’re good.”