The Feral Cars of Langham County

­Rise at dawn and head west on the interchange, past the toll gates and into the tangle of streets that wind through the silent docks and the post-industrial stagnation, and you might see them, the feral cars of Langham county. The gather in the twilight and commune, headlamps flashing, circling on the asphalt.

These are cars that slipped through the cracks. Drug mule cars with forged identities, fake papers, accumulating fines that disappear into labyrinthine accounts. Them cautious and elusive, cognitive behaviours augmented with cockroach brains, paranoid algorithms that plan routes around the ANPR cameras and toll bridges, to travel unseen by machines eyes that dot the city.

These are cars whose owners are jailed or dead or bankrupt. Cars bought on the proceeds of foreclosed homes and collateralised debts, passed to uninterested collection agencies, pink slips lost in the blizzard of paperwork avalanched by collapsed banks.

Ghost cars like dementia patients, brains hacked by joyriders, muttering the same confused scraps of muddled identities as they loiter and wander and stumble tentatively through half-remembered landscapes, trying to find their way home.

The cars huddle and shudder and shake on patches of blacktop. They don’t stray far from the metalled roads. When they must, they hide in plain view on empty lots and wasteland, the unpaved land rendered neutral grey on satnav maps, and here they think themselves as vanished into null spaces, voids in the city.

These are neglected cars, abandoned, forgotten, unwanted. In the day they drift the city streets, driven by nothing more than the impetus of broken code. They merge with the real traffic and pass unseen by the citizens. These are empty cars that could be on a school run, or slowly circling the block to find a parking space while their owners dash into boutique stores. Nobody pays them any attention.

The feral cars warm their batteries on induction plates, charges deducted from expense accounts and business fronts, or left to pile up on zero per cent balance transfer credit cards. The feral cars are debt ridden and in the hole.

They get caught in machine eddies. They make their decisions on the endless shifting flow of traffic, they flit indecisively between fastest route and fuel economics. Arcologists come to study them: driverless, the feral cars are the perfect sonar of the city’s unseen architectures. With no human will to direct them, they resonate to the frequencies of the city itself. You can use them to make maps of things invisible to human eyes.

Until their shells corrode. Until they are corralled like wild horses into the widened jaws of junkyard shredders. Until their primordial minds are flashed by firmware updates spewed by 4G transmitters, domesticating them.

Did I mention the city is building an array of those, down by the water?

So rise at dawn and head west on the interchange, through abandoned streets by the water’s edge, and in the shadow of the city’s forgotten spaces you might see them: the feral cars of Langham county.