There he goes making fun of my weight again. With a bit of luck, that will be the very last time.
I strain my ears, expecting to hear a small popping sound in the distance; therefore I jump convincingly when a powerful blast tears apart an entire corner of the warehouse. I hadn’t counted on them parking so close the depot.
The glass panelled anteroom we’re in provides me with a clear view of the pressure wave that races across the warehouse. It smacks against our glass enclosure, starring it into opaqueness.
Immediately, sirens, gunfire and flashing lights provide an accompaniment to the sounds of destruction. All the trailers near the source of the explosion are in flames, and men are shouting themselves hoarse requesting fire crews.
A second explosion, involving munitions or chemicals, is even larger. Some of the freight down there has an aversion to heat. Most of us have already hit the floor. I certainly have; protectively clamping my hands over both ears. Those foolish enough to get up are slapped to the ground again when the broken, laminated sheets blow in completely. The roof thrums with the concussion, adding its years of dust and pigeon shit to air already choked with rolling clouds of smoke.
The radio, still pressed to my ear, crackles. I must get rid of it. It damns me as the trigger man. Unexpectedly I hear a tiny voice from the grave.
It is Ernest; raging.
“Ya blew me lads up... how did...!? What the fuck...?! I’ll find both a ya! I’ll fucken kill ya with me bare fucken hands!”
I toss the radio into a bin. Can’t win them all. Ernest must have left the truck. The sadistic bastard probably wanted to appreciate the fireworks close up and got more than he bargained for.
The security escort men are well trained for exactly this type of emergency. They get up for a second time. Ours dusts himself off fastidiously, holding a pistol stiff-armed at his side.
“You and you, come with me. Right now!”
I’m side-tracked by gathering up the food I dropped. Then the burger machine ‘bings’ and I must juggle the collection of drink packs and snack bars to make room for the steaming food parcels retrieved from its dispenser.
The other drivers are already being ushered through the AAA doors, leaving us in last place. Either my lack of discipline or our butler’s competitiveness makes him very cross. He gets in my face.
“Do what I say, when I say it or I’ll snap your nose.”
His forced politeness is gone. I’m cuffed like an unruly child. Only he uses a large calibre hand gun instead the edge of his hand.
Mother is unsympathetic.
“That’s what you get for disobeying your betters.”
Bloody woman. She’ll take Satan’s side when we get to Hell, I just know it.
We are raced through the interrogation rooms, where our lives were supposed to have ended. Our prox-cards are swiped by a harried clerk who is rather keen to be elsewhere. With stiff fingers prodding our backs we are propelled into a smaller warehouse, built within the main structure.
Very large motors in gargantuan machinery are howling into life around us. We stop running and presume we are in front of our rig when the finger ceases its poking.
They want me to drive this gigantic metal mountain? Its insignia is as big as my head. ‘Stannick Special’. It doesn’t look very special. In fact it’s filthy, with paint missing, and dents and scratches all over it.
I stand in wonderment at its size and look for a way to ascend to the cab. I assure myself that a vast majority of people would be similarly ignorant. Hardly anyone can drive or operate machinery these days.
Ninety percent of privately owned vehicles were taxed or banned from the highways twenty years ago. What’s left of our transportation is largely robotically controlled; reserved for the privileged rich. ‘Traffic’ is nonexistent unless the crush buses are counted. And these monster rigs are relegated to motorways only, which, for the most part, are routed well away from housing sectors.
A good thing too. This big bugger would have to straddle two average car lanes. The wheels are taller than I am.
Our agent flips open a panel embedded in a bumper bar wide enough to sleep on, revealing a keypad. He punches in a code and ducks under the rig, waving for us to follow. I crouch but stay where I am. It’s probably tall enough to stand under there if you stoop, but I fail to grasp his reasoning.
Does he want me to check the oil?
Someone will have to hold my food, and I have trust issues.
A hydraulic whine precedes a short stairway unfolding underneath the truck.
“Oh, isn’t that clever.”
For Christ sakes mother we’re supposed to be seasoned truckers. Luckily the agent has more pressing issues.
“Get the fuck up there. Start it up. Pull out as soon as you can. Drive the route given to you. If you screw up I’ll kill you.”
Why do people always insist on tempting my fate; and then threaten to kill me?
Acting as though I’ve done it a thousand times, I swing under the bumper and bash my head into a big red emergency button. A whooping siren goes off, which is hardly an attention getter in the current chaotic environment. Our frazzled guard slaps the button again, stopping the siren. His eyes narrow to angry slits.
The imminent prospect of violence hurries me to the stairway. On the way I crash my forehead and my knee into yet more protrusions. I climb on wobbly legs past a massive, deep-treaded tyre, into a dark, oily cavern. The engine bay. Mother chuckles at my misfortunes nastily, swanning up behind me without needing to duck.
A light strip senses our presence and glows brightly, illuminating a catwalk. We continue on past cubic metres of indiscernible engine parts and follow the lights to another short ladder. We emerge through a trap door into the sleeping quarters. Mother slams shut the floor panel as I check out our new digs.
It’s spacious compared to what I’m used to. Two bunks, kitchenette and a tiny fold out bathroom. Oh this is nice; these cots are the body-form models with hypno-sleep assist. Most restful sleep you can get. People pay good money to use them in clinics. I could get eight hours rest in under an hour in one of these. Or a whole week’s worth in a single day.
“Ma. You’re driving. I need a lie down.”
“Get ya arse in that seat, boy. Your mate Dennings said t’was auto-drive. Juss turn it on and let it drive. Ya only in ere for mergencies, not that ya much good for them neither.”
Happy to live up to her low opinion of me I slouch into the low-ceilinged cab. It’s comparatively small but the central driving position is wired and plumbed with all driver comfort accessories. It even has a piss tube.
I throw my armful of squashed food into a large storage compartment and flop into the armchair-sized seat. There’s no steering wheel. I’m surrounded by an overly complicated dash containing rows of gauges, switches and lights. The only one currently illuminated is a worn dash sensor marked ‘retinal scan’.
What do I look into?
A headset HUD display hangs from roof mounting. Cool. I’ve used very crude versions of these in my youth. That was before video games were banned. Gingerly; expecting all sorts of alarms to go off, I place the headset on and flip down the slim visor. This action releases the genie from the bottle. I jump around in fright as lights brighten, flicker and pulse; gauges twitch; whines and heavy thumps occur with accelerating frequency.
The mounting fear is surpassed to terror when a cheery, computerised voice hails me, seemingly from inside my head.
“Hi... Samuel. Our route is plotted as... unavailable to driver - highest priority. You have emergency clearance with no speed or check-point restrictions. Currently you are... one minute behind schedule. Please select... Fast-Start.”
Christ. This is too much. What the hell is it talking about?
The laser tracking my eye movements does well to keep up as I madly scan every dial and switch on the wide wrap-around dash. Finally I realise the visor has already located the Fast-Start switch and waits on my command. Before I can reach for it my intention is picked up and the light turns green automatically.
I sit back with a grunt and ask the obvious question.
“Where’s the Auto-drive button.”
“Ahhh yeah. I confirm it.”
“Hey, Ma! I think this is going to be pretty easy.”
“With ya big dumb hands fiddling wiv evryfing? I doubt it.”
She’s already flat on her back, testing one of the body-form beds. That’s exactly what I’d had in mind.
I listen to a thousand electrical circuits switch and click. Fluids rush here and there under my feet, and a fast whine of a deep reduction drive starts something massive and heavy. The HUD shows me the rigs vital signs in a confusion of graphs, charts and rising numbers. Everything spikes red as motors stutter and grumble at the unconventional start up.
The turbine ignites with a bang and its low whine increases as it warms up. Vibrations climb then smooth out that makes the chassis tremble in sympathy with my nerves.
The Stannick wakes from its slumber.
And I am its master.