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Sidling up next to his charcoal gray sedan, Lester took his wallet from his back pocket and extracted a Travel Permissions Card, or TPC. Then he opened the driver’s side door of the car, slid in behind the steering wheel, and closed the door again.

Embedded in the center of Lester’s dashboard—and a required feature of all cars on the road today—was something called a Driver’s Assistance Unit (DAU). The device consisted of a blank touchscreen measuring about eight inches vertically and ten inches horizontally, and, running parallel down the left side of the screen, featured a slit just long and wide enough to accommodate a Travel Permissions Card. Until the TPC was inserted into the DAU, Lester’s Special Dispensation Vehicle—or SDV, so named because the only way to obtain an automobile now was through Special Dispensation, awarded by the regional authority—wasn’t going anywhere.

Yawning, Lester inserted the TPC. The DAU swallowed it about halfway, after which the screen blinked into life, white letters set against a turquoise background. The text read—

ACTIVATING…PLEASE WAIT

and then:

GOOD EVENING, LESTER BAINES

Good evening to you, Mr. Computer, thought Lester as new text appeared below the salutation:

REGULAR TRAVEL OR EMERGENCY

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