There are three things to remember about Washerville.

The first is that the shadows between the pilars contain a lot of bits and bolts and junk so you have to watch your step.

The second thing to remember is that the shadows between the pillars contain a lot of people running about so you have to keep an eye out because half of the people are wearing scrap-metal armor over their coveralls and it makes it a bitch to run into them.

The third thing to remember about Washerville is that the blinking lights in the shadows beyond the doorframes are sometimes computer terminals and sometimes they're eyes.

After bumping into three people, slipping on a nut, and poking a blinking light that turned out to be the eye of an angry guy with metal teeth, I elect to stay in the car with Ramon where at the very least nothing bad can happen to me. In the greenish light that filters down through the top of the massive structure, i figure i can't do anything wrong. Aristede, well, he can stand outside the car and get pushed around.

That might not be the opinion of the rest of the city, though, because as soon as word gets out that there's literally a 1970 Hemi Barracuda sitting in the middle of the city, every tier above us, every car window, every repurposed roof, every perch made of axels, is full of a people who have had years to modify their bodies and nobdody to stop them. There's one guy standing above us who has a grill where his lower face was and exhaust pipes coming out of his neck. There's a woman in the shadow of a truck body who has electronic eyes in both sockets and on her hands. I turn to lok behind the car and someone has metal legs that are twice as long as mine and metal arms three times as long as mine. And so on.

The old fellow who emerges from the shadows, led by Klunk, is carried foward on metal spider legs.

"Intriguing," says the man. "They managed to mock up a Barracuda pretty well. My dear, you have been fooled, once again."

"You blind yourself," says Klunk. "You see only what you wish to see. Ramon, if you would open the hood, please?"

Ramon reaches down and pulls a lever at his feet. The trunk does not move.

"What are you waiting for?" says Klunk. "Open the hood."

"No can do," says Ramon.

Klunk grabs the hood and tries to lift it open. it will not budge. The car makes an unhappy sound and the headlights blink a few times.

"That settles it," says Klunk. "This must be the real deal. Do you remember, master Bolt, how we designed these cars?"

"We?" says Bolt. "You were not even a thought yet. You played no part in the creation of our greates pasterpieces."

"But do you remember why they left us?"

"Because we made a mistake," says A bearded old man perched on a car lift to the left. "It's one thing to make humans into machines, but to make machines wonder they escaped. These drivers must know the secret of these cars. How else could they fake the car's reaction so well?"

"It's not fake!" says Klunk. She pounds the hood of the car. The hood pops up and smacks her in the abdomen. Then it falls down again. Klunk is left gasping for breath on the ground, a foot away from the hood.

I get out of the car and help her up. Then I address the crowd. "Why do you not believe this is the real deal?"

Someone taps me on the shoulder. I whirl around and see my own reflection. Don't I look good today at least. I look up. There's a robotic head on top of this metal wall. The wall is a robot. I am somewhat perturbed.

"We cannot imagine the Barracudas would return to us," says the robot. "Not after all we did."

"Hey," says Ramon, leaning out the passenger window, "I'm the one driving this thing. I led the car here."

"Did you?" says the robot. "Or did the car lead you? If it is the real deal, you have probably been experiencing that have seemed like pure chance. How did you cme by the car?"

"Found it hiding in a junk pile," says Ramon. "Well, I mean. Hiding isn't the best term. It's not like the car's alive."

"I found mine hiding in a junk pile as well," says Aritede.

"Yours?" says Bolt. "You have aanother one? Where is it?"

"Sounds like they belive in this thing after all," I said to Klunk.

"I lost it," says Aristede.

Bolt stares blankly. The old man with a beard stares blankly. I can here the whirring of gears in the head of the robot behind us.

"It must have got nabbed with the rest of my vehicles," says Aristede.  "The Student Loan company came and tried to arrest me, and then -- "

I heard the sound of escaping steam behind me. PWSSSHHHH. I turned around. Much as a robots face is expressionless, the speet at which its eyes blinked indicated rapid thought.

Its eyes turned red. "You lost a holy relic of our people," says the robot, "to a Student Loan Company."

Aristede looked sheepish. "Well, when you put it that way -- "

"A student loan company now has command of one of the most powerful vehicles in the galaxy."

A murmur of angry muttering spread throughought the structure.

"Does that mean this one can -- "

"It's time to go," I say. I open the car door, grab Aristede, toss him inside, grab Klunk, toss her inside, slam the door, dive through the window of the passenger door, and say to Ramon, "Hit it."

Ramon puts the car in reverse and starts backing up. But there are people getting in his way. So he tries to go foward. People are gathing around the car.

"Aristede," I say to the back of the car, "Can you hit that wonderful green button again? The one that teleports us out of here?"

"I never ask you to do a full burn in atmo," says Aristede. "Teleporting this close to a star would be the same effect for the entire planet. Hang on." He took the seat cover off and looked over the buttons. "There ought to be one here that -- "

Klunk reaches over and presses a yellow button near the edge. A mighty wind arises and scatters our would-be assailants like leaves on the wind.

Ramon shoots the car forward, and we speed down the narrow street, the mighty wind scattering those who seek to impede us. A mercy for them, I suppose. Unfortunately for us the path we we're taking is not the same way we came in and the street is getting narrower. Ramon keep weaving the car between pillars, ramping us over small obstructions, but they're getting more numerous and it's becoming harder to shake off the pursuers. 

"Afterburners again?" says Ramon.

"The bit with the engine-fixing fluid was a stopgap measure," says Klunk, "and you'll wreck it if you try again. Let me see if I remember the buttons in the back here." She shoves Aristed off the seat, removes the cushions, and reaches for the controls. 

Aristede grabs her hands. "Excuse me," he says, "I'm the one in charge of the buttons back here."

"You don't know what you're doing with them!" says Klunk, wrenching her hand away and reaching for a large yellow button.

"I'm trying to figure it out at least!" says Aristed, grabbing her hand again. She reaches for another button and he grabs her other hand. 

"If you two don't get it together," I say, "We're going to have to do another burn in atmo."

Alas, what I see when I finally turn around is Klunk and Aristede wrestling over the top of the controls. Wrestling, then falling onto the buttons, and then -- 

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And then we are well outside washerville, the hood of the car is up, the engine is smoking, Klunk is outside trying to bang a fix together, and I'm sitting there shivering.

"I have the oddest sensation," says Aristede, "of being an arm for the past three minutes."

"I feel like I was a leg," says Ramon. "who was the butt?"

"I feel like I've been sat on," I say. "Was Klunk the head? Who was the head?"

Vehicles are kicking up dust as they make their way towards us from the city. Klunk slams the hood down and says, "Alright, that's as much as i can do. Hit the engine-fixing fluid button, Aristede, and let's get out of here. maybe we can affect repairs on a different planet."

We climb into the sky as the planet-bound mechanics below us scream obscenities.

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