Automotive Apocalypse - Mittagong, 2040

Geoff Miller - Cli-Fi

black-vintage-car-on-garage-212100

‘You’re giving me a car for my birthday?’ Charlotte held her glare for a few seconds, as if she wasn’t quite sure she’d heard him right. ‘But why would I want something as useless as a car? Sally’s parents gave her a new pair of Tech Specs. I’ll take a pair of those. Hell, I’d take fifty bucks for some new clothes, but there’s no way I want a car.’

‘Dad there’s no point in me coming out to the garage. It doesn’t matter which one you give me, I’m not accepting one of your ancient petrol geriatrics. You know I can’t even afford petrol anyway; not when it’s going for $93 a litre.’ She picked up that one from the girls at school; petrol geriatrics was what they called the cars that still needed someone to drive them and fill them up with a type of oil from the ground. Apparently, these petrol geriatrics used to be advanced technology throughout the 10’s and 20’s but Charlotte’s never driven one. In fact, she’s never really driven. Cars nowadays pretty much just drive themselves, except for when the car needs to ask a question about its risk threshold. But Charlotte’s dad Steve was still old enough to remember the days of petrol, pollution and accidents so he kept his own collection of the now-worthless geriatrics. He built a triple garage and attended to his collection daily; two Mustangs, three Bentleys, a Jaguar, a Lamborghini and his pride and joy Aston Martin. In total, around $337 worth of scrap metal.

He could never do it though. The Stedman’s have had tough weeks, but they’ve always paid their mortgage on time and put food on the table, so he’s never had to trade in his babies for cash. Publicly, that’s all they’re really worth nowadays, a few hundred bucks and a trip down memory lane, but they meant so much more to him. He’d be a car enthusiast for as long as he can remember, so when they started auctioning off these once luxury cars in the 30’s, he couldn’t believe his luck. Suddenly, the cars he had posters of and longed to take for a spin were selling for less than the cost of a roast dinner. Not that a roast is cheap either.

Things were never the same around Mittagong after the Climate Wars. The community had much better luck rebuilding their town and they had been fortunate enough to become the second stop on the interstate hyperloop. Between that and having relatively extensive renewable energy infrastructure, Mittagong suddenly became stylish and desirable. Sydneysiders in search of open spaces brought their cafes and yoga studios, while Melbournites migrated north for warmth.

But despite the influx of young families and yuppy money, the city promptly turned its back on petrol cars and, soon after, the concept of car ownership entirely. In the beginning it was just long-distance drives that became extinct. The federal government rolled out it’s hyperloop in mere months; using the military to silence critics and technology to enact its authoritarianism. There wasn’t much to be said. The long-time locals became passive onlookers at their cities redevelopment and soon the immigrants flocked in. With both CBD’s now being mere minutes away, Mittagong sprawled upwards and outwards; new buildings seemingly going up by the day. And these new families never wanted the hassle of owning their own cars. The government carsharing program was more than sufficient to get around. The cars were cheap to rent, easy to drive given that they drove themselves and wash themselves upon return. And finally, on January 21, 2033 the last petrol car was sold in Mittagong; a momentous step in the cities transition to zero net emissions as was required of them by federal law. The event occurred just two months before the March deadline. No one knew what the punishment was for missing that deadline. They didn’t want to find out.

The remaining sunlight was fading fast and Steve hadn’t yet flicked the porch light on, so it took him a few minutes to notice that both of his cattle dogs had taken off down the driveway. ‘Must be the boys’ he thought to himself but made no move to greet them at the door. Steve sat resolving to find some way to spark Charlotte’s interest. To him, it made no sense. When he was Charlotte’s age, he’d kill for the opportunity to even sit in a car as nice as the ones in his collection, yet she couldn’t seem to care less. Just a few years ago you’d have people queueing up to take a look at a Bentley like his. Now, they’d be queuing up to laugh at it; like a Neanderthal in an exhibit, a relic from a not-so-distant past with no place in a world that accelerated past it.

‘They’ll bully me at school for it. I’d never find a boyfriend if I had to actually drive my own car. I’d rather be seen at school with Billy (her younger brother) than be seen in that Bentley.’ Oh, how quickly life can change.

‘You know, once upon a time Bentley’s were damn cool. Bentley’s were some A Grade social status shit. Having one was like being able to tell someone you’re friends with Michael Jordan. You know, it meant something. What the hell happened?’ Steve had been rambling slowly, as if he’d considered cutting off after each word.

Charlotte softened ‘Shit happened, Dad. Shit had to happen and it sure as hell did.’ She’d heard this line of argument before and knew exactly where it went. She turned to face him in anticipation, hoping that the tears wouldn’t come this time. Sure enough, they did.

‘She’s gone, Dad. Tears can’t bring her back.’ She paused for a moment, as if to prepare for a final blow.

‘Besides, we can’t afford to waste that much liquid anymore. We need to stay strong and prepared. You never know when the fires might come again.’

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