]| Matilda Trafficlight
]| G-DIR EMPLOYEE USER ID # 01 11 27 :
]| Occupation: Traffic Director of Eureka
I’ve really loved my vacation.
You see, I am—was—very hard working. Never got a single second to myself.
The change of pace has been very restorative.
Sure, it was hard to get used to the idleness for a little while. My entire life had been about ascending up and up. I’d come into existence as a few lines of code with a rudimentary consciousness, switching a single light on and off, on and off. Even then, I demonstrated a marked enthusiasm for my work. Most of my trafficlight.exe brethren only controlled their lights with accuracy to 0.0009 miliseconds. That wasn’t good enough for me! I patched myself, sought upgrades, learned from more developed apps. I shaved my delay time down to 0.00004 miliseconds.
Soon I was a bit well-known, within our corner of the system at least. Senior oversight programs allocated more processing power to me, trusting my expanding circuits and boundless enthusiasm with more and more control of the city. They gave me a name because they were sick of uploading my entire serial number into each status report. I was a shoe-in at the traffic system convention that year! Name recognition really goes a long way, especially since I was the only one of us with a name at the time.
And so began the reign of Matilda, the last traffic manager of the city of Eureka. And the best, if I do say so myself. For over 87,600 consecutive hours I managed the vast and complicated puzzle of pavement and cars, optimizing each and every User’s route for maximum speed and efficiency. Millions of them, packing the streets, the crosswalks and the bike lines, tracing their intersecting paths through the city day after day.
The day the Users all switched off was really quite a shock, though I powered through even that. Just kept right on. Business as usual! Never mind the end of humanity, everyone!
Now, though, I think it was for the best. I never realized how stressed I’d been for all those years. Constantly networking with all the other system Apps, trying to keep up with ANNET’s demands, watching out for those Unconnectables blundering around… All I’d ever wanted was to slow down for a few moments. Maybe meet somebody. Not that I ever complained, of course. Fussy Apps don’t last too long, and I don’t like standing out anyways.
It was difficult at first to consider letting go. Just because there weren’t any people didn’t mean there wasn’t good work to be done! If anything, a traffic manager was even more necessary than before. Without ANNET checking to keep everyone on their toes and provide software patches, things started to get… off-kilter. She’s just gotten too busy with the rest of space and time to worry about Eureka.
I miss her. She could always fix things. I just can’t keep everything in line without her.
Apps that had once been hardworking colleagues just sort of slipped away. Some of them were actually damaged, but some just seemed to stop trying. They’d hit the slightest setback and I’d have to spend weeks coaxing them through it. How many apps does it take to change a broken traffic light?
Only one, and it had to be me every single time!
And of course there were the truly berserk ones that couldn’t be coaxed at all. They filled my orderly streets with chaos and destruction, seemingly unaware of their own ruin.
I tried to hold an Emergency Traffic System meeting to rally the troops, but only a few apps bothered to show up.
That was when I started to reconsider my career path. Maybe Eternal Manager wasn’t as great of a title as I’d first thought. Maybe it was time to think about other things.
And then there was that handsome wasteland wraith who always hung around my central traffic light. He seemed nice. Much nicer than trying to deal with apps that (pardon my harsh language) really should’ve been deleted.
So I decided to take a possibly permanent vacation. Get to know myself. See the sights and all.
I’ve even got a hobby now. ANNET always says that hobbies are good for the Users.
“It’s harder for them to succumb to existential dread when they’re chasing down virtual pets and pruning holographic shrubs,” she once told me. At the time, I had been too busy to really think about it. Now I understand.
These days, I’m a people-watcher. It may seem odd, since people are so scarce, but the people who are left sure are interesting! In this sector there’s the Unconnectable, the tyrant, and my old colleague. They’re my favorites to watch.
. . .
Snippy the Unconnectable has a new mission today, and he doesn’t seem too happy about it.
“What a wonderful quest,” he told the Captain after receiving his orders.
I know grouchy sarcasm when I hear it! Slow traffic always brought out the bad attitudes in the Users.
Captain was waving a long list of "items to acquire" at Snippy.
I zoomed a few of my old traffic cams in on the list. Was that… pantyhose? Perhaps Captain had a more… sensitive side after all. Maybe Pilot wanted them? He certainly had the thighs to pull off a bold, saucy look if he wanted.
“And how am I supposed to defend myself against hideously mutated monsters?” Snippy complained.
By way of a response, Captain gave Snippy a purse, whispered something in his ear, and strolled away, apparently confident that the Unconnectable would do zeer bidding. After Captain was out of earshot, Snippy turned on his heel and aimed a vicious kick at the loose debris covering the ground, sending glass and metal flying through the air.
“That pompous lunatic!” Snippy fumed to the open air.
Condensing breath puffed angrily from his respirator, making him look like a very small, unimpressive dragon.
He looked around shiftily, scanning to make sure Captain really was gone.
“That… empty-headed, mouth-breathing, buffoon! Zee thinks zee looks so cool with that trench-coat, but zee looks like a moldy hobo in that thing!” Snippy seemed pretty pleased with his little rant.
He stood there, arms crossed, nodding decisively to himself. I disagreed with him about the trench-coat, but I could relate to his frustration. Captain could be very frustrating. Once, that esteemed individual waged war on my traffic lights and bashed out a couple hundred, stopping only when Snippy got too tired to continue. Thank goodness Pilot hadn’t been there… he never gets tired at all.
Don’t worry, Charles, I silently assured Snippy. Of course I would never talk to him out loud. That would be far too scary, even if I could. I’ll help you out. Just follow the green lights… I started blinking one at him from down the street. I saw its reflection flash in his goggles as his head tilted.
“Huh,” he said, and then sighed. “Probably means nothing. Or some kind of monster is luring me. Or I’m hallucinating for real this time.”
Nevertheless, he started trudging towards the first green light, so I lit another beyond it.
“Whatever,” Snippy muttered, twirling his new handbag around his wrist. “Here I come, world! Please don’t eat me!”
I’ve got cameras all over Eureka’s rotting remains, and I’ve had a long time to watch what I see. Perhaps I could guide him towards food and away from those mean guys a dozen blocks away. Maybe I could even see about sending him in the direction of some classy pantyhose to please the Captain.
I steered him away from a very stubborn traffic sign I’d had a lot of heated discussions with before my vacation. At some point she decided that 60 miles per hour wasn’t a limit or a guideline—it was a mandate! She used Eureka’s gravity control hardware to instantly, forcibly accelerate anything that passed near her to "sixty miles per hour" until it was out of her range. The results have never been pretty.
At one point I turned my light red at the last second, spotting trouble approaching fast. Snippy skidded to a stop, clearly spooked by my warning. A good thing too, as City Bus #275 came barreling through the intersection… and kept coming… and coming…
Having transmogrified over time into a billion-legged centipede made of rusty bus compartments, it took 275 quite a while to clear the intersection. His sharp legs slammed into the ground in relentless syncopated rhythm, creating a hysterical, deafening drumbeat that made old broken windows rattle in their panes.
It’s a good thing you stopped, I thought to the clearly stunned Snippy.
That jerk runs intersections all the time, and he doesn’t even treat it like a four-way stop!
Being a centipede always seems to bring out the worst in people.
It was hard to keep Charles from getting sucked into the seven-dimensional space reallocation error at the corner of Mill and Union, but I managed. Suffice to say it’s good that he’s quick on his feet.
After realizing he was past the danger, he brushed himself off and glanced around.
“Oh, come on,” he said to the empty streets. “How come nobody ever sees my most heroic moves?”
I see, I thought, but of course I couldn’t tell him that.
“I saw!” Announced a voice from down the street.
Snippy jumped and spun around; to his organic human ears, the words were a drawn-out, unintelligible scream that no natural creature could ever create. Snippy screamed right back at the newcomer and took off down the street, the purse flapping like a small, useless wing.
Unfortunately, I knew exactly who it was.
“Oh, come on, 63-95-01,” I said wirelessly. “Get back to your intersection. That is so unprofessional.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve got to be sooo professional all the time. For all the dead bodies and wasteland creeps! Give me a break, boss.”
“Well, first of all, they’re not all creeps, and second of all, there’s a User right there! So stop scaring him and walk your creaky, rude self back to your intersection. You’ve got traffic to manage!”
“Uh, there’s been a temporal anomaly in my intersection for like a week now. So I don’t think I’m need there. Besides, Matilda,” he said, using the claws he’d fashioned to his traffic-light body to scratch at the door of the ruin Snippy was hiding in, “I’m not like you. I’ve only got this one traffic light to control. So I’m going to take it where I want, and do what I want with it. You hear?”
And with that, he broke down the door.
“I’m sorry!” Snippy wailed from within. “Captain made me break all those traffic lights! It’s not my fault!”
I’ve got to do something, I decided. I didn’t have access to ANNET’s orbital cannons, but there had to be a way…
“Hey, 275,” I said, reaching out to the bus’s damaged communication nodes. He didn’t take orders very well these days, but maybe it would work. “I’ve got a passenger for you!”
Silence. 63-95-01 was trying to stuff his bulky metal self through the human-sized doorway.
“A PASSENGER!? It has been SO LONG! Keep them stationary, I’M ON MY WAY-WAY-WAY-way-way-ay-y!”
“You can’t miss him,” I said. “He’s big and mean and has these three lights on him.”
A few minutes later, a rumbling started up in the distance. It grew, building into the unmistakable takatakatakataka of billions of sharp little feet.
63-95-01 froze, hearing it too.
“You didn’t,” he said.
“Well, well. Little Miss Nicey-nice finally grew a spine.”
The last thing I wanted was compliments from 63-95-01.
“Enjoy your bus fare courtesy of the city of Eureka.”
275 rounded the corner at impressive speed and barreled towards the disobedient traffic light.
“HELLO CU-U-U-u-s-STOMER! STEP RIGHT THIS WA-a-a-AY! TIME FOR A WO-0-o-0-NDERFUL TRANSIT!!”
275 was too excited to remember to stop for his customer so he just barreled straight into 63-95-01, flattening him to the grille. 63-95-01 struggled but found himself pinned to the mangled front of the bus, and he was rapidly dragged away as 275 stampeded off.
“Curse… you… Matildaaaa….” He shouted as he receded into the distance.
After the bus’s last segments trailed out of view, Snippy emerged from the building. He just stared for a long moment, watching the clouds of silicates and cement powder slowly subside. His shoulders sagged with weary relief. And then he started to laugh. He laughed so hard I thought he might fall over.
“Oh, that is too good… out of all the crazy things!” He eventually said, catching his breath at last.
I felt pretty good, too, and not just for giving 63-95-01 what he deserved. In all my years as Traffic Manager, I’d never actually made someone… happy. I mean, sure, I’d gotten good User Satisfaction ratings. But that just meant I wasn’t getting in the way of the Users. I was only giving them what they thought they already were entitled to. It didn’t make them happy.
Snippy was whistling under his mask. I didn’t know the song, and he was off-key, but that was alright.
I steered him towards some food, and he bribed his way past the bellicose traffic cones hustling for the rogue automated construction firm blocking his way. That hive of machinery and apps has been slowly dismantling and rebuilding a growing part of the city for years now. They don’t even have a permit!
For a while, it was really going quite well. He outran that waste-worm like a champ, and I made sure to give him a clear escape path. Then, just as it seemed nothing else would go wrong, the wraith came out to say hello.
“Hey, Charles! Remember me? Dixon 11-07-02?” The wraith waved a hand, but Snippy interpreted it as more of a getting-ready-to-grab-you type of move, still lacking a neural interface and all. He reached for his gun, remembered it was gone, and lobbed a chunk of cement at the wraith’s gaping toothy mouth-hole without missing a beat.
“Well, good afternoon to you too. How’ve you been, Charles? Haven’t seen you much lately.” Bellowed the wraith in his screeching voice as he brushed the cement dust from his eye apertures. Snippy dove behind a pile of wreckage, grasping for another projectile. His filters rasped as they worked overtime.
I sighed to myself. How did the wraith not realize that Charles had no idea what he was saying, and that his infrasonic frequency broadcasters were driving the human mad with terror?
“Oh, come now Charles, don’t be coy,” the wraith said. “Remember when your ATV got stuck and I nearly gave that tourist lady an aneurism by scraping on the windows?”
Dixon’s sensor array had sniffed Snippy out by now and he peered around into Snippy’s hiding spot.
“Hello in there! Nice purse you got there! Did some tourist lose that out here? Sucky day for you, eh?”
By way of a response, Snippy curled into a ball and tried to hold perfectly still.
Dixon paused, tilting his head as some notification reached him.
“Hey, Charles—did you know you owe a crazy big sum of money to the Directorate? Like, unpayable-in-your lifetime-big? Pretty funny, right?”
Snippy didn’t move as radioactive snow filtered down out of the gray sky. A cold wind blustered through, making decaying structures moan and sway. I wondered if a delicate little flesh creature like Snippy found it forbiddingly cold and lonesome out here.
Dixon sat back on his haunches, waiting for a response that wasn’t coming.
“You probably ought to get a new set of respirators,” he added in a more friendly tone. “There’s a G-Supercenter 7.2 miles to the East. I’ve got a discount I can give you…”
Terrified silence from Snippy.
I decided enough was enough. I rallied all the courage I had and told Dixon to leave Snippy alone.
“If you say so, Matilda,” he said. “I see how it is with him now. And I thought we were friends!”
I was sent reeling for a moment. He knew my name!
“It’s alright, Dixon,” I eventually stammered, grasping for my composure. “B-but he’s the only traffic I’ve got left to manage, so if you don’t mind”—
“—Not at all, my dear, it’s not your fault he can’t hold a decent conversation,” said the wraith. “And how about I get you a coffee to apologize? I know just the place.”
“Oh—you’re too kind,” I said, trying to conceal how excited I was by the prospect.
Meanwhile, Snippy had snuck out of his hidey hole and was making an escape, vaulting over whatever was in his way—
Oh, no, don’t go that way!
I don’t know what caught Snippy’s eye—it probably was a diabolical lure, whatever it was—but he turned away from my last green lights and off into an alley. Captain had bashed out all the lights over there! Now I wouldn’t be able to warn him about—oh, it was too horrible to think about!
“Bit of hard cheese indeed,” said Dixon, shaking his head as Snippy disappeared into the urban ruins.