What If? Quick Take: 2021 Genesis G90 Coupe
Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth
The message was from an obvious spam account, and Ted almost deleted it without thinking, but the quick snippet of text shown beneath was enough to make him pause his thumb in the process:
i think your father is ali…
Knowing he shouldn’t read it, knowing it would only bring the acid misery from seven years ago back into his stomach, Ted could not help himself. The sender was “bargain4you6969”, no followers, no one following. So whoever it was didn’t want to be questioned, or dragged into anything past the simple contact. The message was short, almost illiterate.
i think your father is alive i saw him on a road outside slabs dont kno what he was doing anyway good luck
Ted’s first thought was: It’s the trolls, again. More than seven years ago, when Ted was barely a teenager, his father had gotten into an argument with a pair of men at a gas station. It was never clear to Ted what the argument had been about; he’d been sitting in the back seat of Dad’s Genesis, playing a space-launch simulation game on his phone, when he’d heard the screaming and looked up in time to see his father put a micarta-handled Ben Tendick tanto knife up through the jaw of an angry-looking man in his early twenties. The man’s friend was already on the ground, an ugly ragged flap hanging open where his Adam’s-apple should have been. A moment later, the long driver’s door had popped open and his father had tumbled in, blood on his face and a wild look in his eyes.
“Teddy,” he said, “your dad just made a bit of a mistake. Let’s get you home.” The five-liter V-8 fired up and they were moving fast towards their house, switching lanes in a fashion that made the tread of the tires sing but not squeal, his father driving in a way that Ted recognized as everything short of running from the cops. When they reached home, Dad unlocked the front door, ushered Ted through, quick-walked back to the mud room where Ted heard the sound of a garage door coming up. Then he was back in Ted’s face, his breath hot as he leaned down. “Listen, I want you to know something. I love you, and I will always believe in you, no matter what. Believe in yourself, and hear my voice and my faith when you have none of your own.” His father kissed him on the forehead, something Ted did not recall ever happening before. Then he was gone and Ted could hear his father’s Kawasaki revving away from the driveway.
There had been a manhunt of sorts. The media had picked up on it because his dad was kinda close to being someone, he had written a bunch of things that people had read and remembered. But it came to a halt thirteen days later when a cellphone video shot by a Chinese tourist caught his father climbing the fence of the Golden Gate Bridge and jumping off. His body was never recovered, and the police said that was par for the course, that of the sixteen hundred or so suicides there in the past eighty years the majority had washed out to sea.
In the years since, all the people who had been too cowardly to attack his father when he was alive had come after Ted. He was “doxxed” anywhere he and his stepmother went. Someone always figured out each new school he was attending, at which point all his classmates would get an emailed zipfile full of everything bad about him and his family. It would lead to fights and Ted would have to move again. In the end, he’d finished school via an online provider and had gone to work at a machine shop owned by someone who had known his dad from a while ago. He and his stepmother lived off a country road in a rented house, under her maiden name. Ted made friends, met a girl, lived a life that didn’t interact with the Internet too much.
This message had come to his old Instagram account from years ago; Ted had only opened it because he’d been looking for a photo he’d put up of a bicycle from way back. The date on the message was almost three months gone. When Ted clicked the name of the sender, it said the account was disabled. It had to be a troll, just another coward on Twitter. Had to be.
But what if it wasn’t?
Forty-nine out of fifty bridge jumpers died; Ted knew the statistic by heart. But his father wasn’t most people. He was physically durable and he knew what it was to be in pain. Both of his legs were bolted together from previous injuries. And he was a strong swimmer who didn’t get cold easily. The rest of the message seemed vaguely plausible as well. “The slab” had to be Slab City in California. The place Chris McCandless had gone before dying. His father had talked about it. Had even gotten into some kind of online argument with the fellow who wrote Into The Wild once; Dad had sat in the family room afterwards, holding a glass of Ketel One, rehashing the “scrap” with obvious delight.
“Nobody wants to argue with me,” he’d chuckled. “I’ll make them swallow their tongue.”
So it was possible that his father had lived through the jump and had made his way down through California to Slab City. Not likely, but possible. So Ted waited until dinner then told his stepmother that he was going to drive out to ride with some old mountain bike friends. “I’ll take Dad’s old car, it hasn’t run in a while.” His stepmother furrowed her brow and formed what Ted thought of as her I don’t like the sound of this face.
“Don’t stay out there too long,” she replied. In a storage shed at the back of their property Ted pulled the cover off the big silver G90. They’d built it for just one year, and his father had been insistent on having it, although it was money that his stepmother said could go elsewhere. Dad had loved the car, had painstakingly rubbed it with Zaino, five coats at a time. There were no muddy feet permitted in the Genesis. No oily airsoft guns. And definitely no bicycles. Ted was counting on his stepmother not thinking too hard about this as he slid behind the wheel and fired it up.
The drive would be two days if he didn’t screw around. Pulling out onto the main road, the G90 frightened Ted with a thump-thump from the front end. But it was just flat-spotted tires and by the time he reached St. Louis the noise was gone. Ted’s smartphone, which was the size of his palm and relied on a holographic display for most information, didn’t like pairing with the Lexicon sound system, but after he went into the settings and checked “Legacy communications” it worked fine.
Finding gas would be a bit of a problem, with the rich people driving EVs and most poor people staying at home because they couldn’t afford this year’s booster shots, but Ted had a route planned and he got to Oklahoma City even sooner than he’d thought. He was up with the sun the following day. His phone was loaded with songs he remembered his father playing over and over again. A woman named Florence was singing in a vibrato that made his eyeballs shiver:
Leave all your love and your longing behind
You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive
A sign at the California border said: ELECTRIC AND APPROVED VEHICLES ONLY / BIGOTRY IS NOT WELCOME IN THE GOLDEN STATE! It seemed like something he could ignore but a few miles later, past Blythe, there was a mandatory detour that took him off the road into a massive holding lot. Ted was taken out of his car, his keys were confiscated, and he waited in a gymnasium-sized room for the better part of four hours before a guard called his name and led him to a cubicle where a person with blue hair and a bunch of piercings took his retina scan and fingerprints.
“Alright, Theodore… Need your phone, hand it over.” Which he did. They put it on top of a pad and Ted could see various photographs from the phone playing in their screen, reflected in the big round lenses of their glasses. “You’re not a California resident. Got your boosters?”
“Yes… uh,” Ted wasn’t sure what to call the person. “Yes. Series 19 through 26, this year, and I’m scheduled for 27 next week.”
“That’s not ideal. We’re on 28 here. Still, you hicks are gonna do your thing. Ever been radicalized?”
“Ever read or listened to: Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, Charlie Daniels, Arthur Schlesinger, Junior? Got a King James Bible? Do you know what the Federalist Papers are?”
“Uh.. no, no, no, no, no, and no.”
“Do you think…” and they peered over their glasses at Ted, “…Han shot first?”
“Just kidding. Why are you here? You gonna do a heckin’ terrorism against the People’s Republic? Gonna hurt our doggos, who are full citizens?”
“Oh, gosh, no. I’m looking for my father, uh…” His interrogator softened.
“Left you with your mom when you were born, did he? Ran off to be in a heavy metal band or work an oil rig?”
“Uh… yes.” The eyes in the glasses hesitated before tapping another couple of keys on their keyboard.
“Alright, then. You don’t seem like a fascist. Welcome to California. This paper entitles you to stay in the state for a period of time not to exceed 36 hours. This paper entitles you to ten gallons of gasoline or two hamburgers, at market rates. Your phone has been loaded with compliance ware. If you’re still here in hour 37, it will report you to nearby members of the People’s Anti-Bigotry Auxiliary, who will… well, you don’t want that to happen. Go find your father and smash him the way the patriarchy deserves to be smashed, everywhere.”
“Don’t thank me, that’s what people without privilege do for the people who have it, and based on a quick calculation here your privilege level is well above mine. Get outta here.” At a gas station sixty miles later, he redeemed his coupon and paid forty-eight dollars a gallon for gasoline. At home he earned just about twenty bucks an hour running a Haas CNC machine but he’d been saving. Still, he needed every gallon to get to Slab City and back, so there was no chance of a hamburger. The rack at the gas station offered CRICKET POCKETS! MADE WITH REAL CRICKETS, NOT THE FAKE ONES! Each one was twenty dollars, plus a five dollar deposit for the wrapper. He ate two, then pulled over to vomit them out before continuing.
It was over a hundred and ten degrees outside but the G90 kept things cool as he pulled through the entrance to Slab City. He didn’t see a single working car besides his. It frightened him, made him not want to leave the Genesis parked where people would surely strip it clean. But he had an idea. About half a mile past the gate, he stopped the car, stepped out, then squatted behind a pile of discarded plastic junk, waiting for someone to approach it. It didn’t take twenty minutes for a slim, bedraggled youth to walk up and start eyeballing the Genesis. The kid pulled a matte black box about the size of a cigarette packet out and pointed it at the G90’s driver’s door. For about thirty seconds both boy and coupe sat mute, and then Ted could hear the distinctive click of the frameless doors unlocking.
In a flash Ted was behind the kid and had him in a headlock; these cricket-fed people simply didn’t have Ted’s muscle mass. “Whatcha doing to my car?” he hissed.
“It… don’t belong here… was gonna take it to the Fixer… he likes to see this stuff… likes old cars, likes things that shouldn’t be here.”
“Tell you what,” Ted replied, not slacking the headlock, “why don’t we go see this ‘Fixer’ together?”
“He… ain’t gonna like that.”
“You might be surprised. Start walking in his direction.”
“What, you ain’t gonna drive me?”
“No filthy people in this car.” When Ted released him, the boy’s eyes held murder, but it was obvious how badly he was overmatched. Ted followed him down the main drag, his foot lightly on the brake, past the most astounding visuals: welded-up statues of dinosaurs festooned with old taillights that gave them furious red eyes, Christmas lights strung between trailers and decorated with the occasional animal skull, a concrete mountain painted in Day-Glo graffiti, children wrestling in the dust over pouches of cricket powder. The boy took a left and slouched past a dozen trailers before reaching what Ted recognized as an old Airstream Basecamp. It had been polished until it gleamed. A man sat under a makeshift awning there, wearing a Resistol straw hat but no shirt. He was surrounded by toolboxes, computer cases. There was a paperback copy of Iain Banks’ Excession in his hands, the green cover worn through. Ted brought the Genesis to a halt and stepped out.
There was little in the man’s face that Ted recognized as his father. Maybe his grandfather, whom he had only known as a tanned and shrunken fellow in the last stages of life. If Dad was Muad’Dib, Ted thought, this is The Preacher. It was the kind of obscure analogy that would please Dad but annoy everyone else. There was nothing but silence in the hot air, until his father spoke. But not to him; to the boy.
“Git.” Then, examining Ted with a critical eye, “Well, I wasn’t going to hide from you forever, was I? You’re too smart, and I’m too set in my ways to keep moving.” Ted realized that his father’s left leg was gone below the knee, replaced with a welded metal rod that ended in a Vans sneaker. His father saw the way Ted’s eyes traveled and smiled. “It was like this, Theodore. I was on the run. Didn’t want a third strike, you see. So I decided to jump off the bridge. It was easier than you might think. Didn’t hesitate at all. There comes a time when your own existence is so repugnant, so irritating, to you that it’s no trouble at all to end it.
“So I jumped, right? And as I fell towards that water, which looked black as night, I realized that things weren’t as hopeless as I’d thought when I’d stepped out into midair. All of my problems had… solutions! I could see them plain as day. In fact, there was only one problem that I couldn’t quite see how to solve, and that was…”
“That you had just jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge,” Ted replied.
“Exactly right, Theodore. Exactly right. And in the years afterwards, I realized that I had no problems at all. The money? I didn’t miss it. The career? I had no career, not like most people. The women? Well, women are everywhere. Even when you have just one leg. I was complete. Except for one thing. One problem, really. And now here you are. Problem solved.”
“Dad,” Ted replied, “I have to go back. I’m on, like, sufferance here. I have twenty-two hours left before the, uh, People’s Auxiliary finds me.” His father laughed — a short bark that betrayed years of desert heat and silence.
“You’ve been working on CNC mills. Oh, yes, I know. Been keeping an eye on you. Waiting for you to grow into… an asset. We could use you here. Don’t worry about your phone. Colton over there will take it up to Venice and dump it in the canals. I’m building something here. A little resistance of sorts. Under the radar. No grand ambitions other than to take what we need and keep what we have. Grow a little food that a man can eat with dignity. Read a few books that are on the banned list. Stick with me, we’ll have fun. Boy, I sure am glad to see you. And you know what else?” He pointed with a crooked finger past Ted to the Genesis, the unbroken line of roof and door, the heat shimmering off the hood.
“I’m glad to see my car.”