I hear the hiss first and it causes me to turn roundabout 180. A hiss is always bad out here. Damn lizards. They attack just about anything this time of day. I have my knife out. I don't see the tell tale dust trail. I listen and watch. I hear the whirr and whoosh of an Anti-Grav lift truck. I wait and sure enough there's a hiss. It's still not a good thing. I look up from my stalking and down the twisted dirt path until I see the artificial dust devil bringing up the rear of Jerry's supply truck.
Jerry's an okay dude for a city type. He occasionally drops us campers a few supplies. And, on days like today he tends to offer me rides. That hiss tells me he'll want just a bit more than to offer me a ride though. Trouble with those old pieces of CORE material they use for the Anti-Grav is that they are made from the scrap of the good stuff they use in outer space. This one is overheating more than usual and the sweat from the systems pipes is starting to flow down upon it. That means the coolant system has been overtaxed or compromised.
I put my knife away and stick my hands in my back pockets while I wait for Jerry to catch up.
Jerry takes runs over the mountain and into the next valley. While in the big city He picks up supplies that he knows are needed in the small city. He makes a moderate profit selling the stuff to the locals in WestBend City. WestBend is mostly a shanty town. They have a local government though. Otherwise Jerry would make more profit. He has to pay taxes to the city.
Jerry's Rio Express is close enough now that I can see the sun gleaming off the silver grill. I can also distinguish the steam from dust. Anti-Grav is more push then it is a float. That creates dust. Some people call it anti-pressure, I'm not all that sure about that. But it does seem to show up better down here where pressure is higher. If a piece of CORE were to push its way up high enough it would likely stop for lack of enough pressure to react upon. The whole system is an affectation of keeping the CORE crippled. They call it cripple mode. They hobble the CORE so it doesn't slip into JumpSpace. That produces the Anti-Pressure effect. Trouble is it causes the CORE to overheat the longer it stays in that condition. It can take a lot of heat before it reaches critical.
If it gets that far it's going to do one of two things. It might just blow. It might slip into JumpSpace. Either way it will likely take a good chunk of whatever is near it with it. Jerry's taking a chance with that thing but maybe he saw me here and figured he could get to me before he could turn back and try to reach the city.
Several meters away there's a clunk and the dust storm dies. It dies with a vengeance though and comes whipping up around the front until everything disappears and I get a face full of dirt. As the wall of sand abates I catch the shape of the truck gliding towards me. The CORE is still activated or he'd be nosediving into the rock and sand. I can hear the thistle cacti pinging against the underbelly as the truck ducks a bit before it settles.
Jerry's tanned left arm is hanging out of the window. His head peeks out and he says, "Hey Angie lady how bout a cool ride?"
I call back, "Sounds about ready to get real hot if you ask me."
Jerry's other hand slips out with a rolled up pouch full of tools. "Na. Not if you take a quick look see. I'll be out to help you in a sec." I run up and take the pouch. A face leans around Jerry's shoulder. Jerry doesn't usually take on strangers. I don't recognize the face. It's nothing local. Jerry ignores the company and says, "The tank is full in back if it needs recharging."
Looking over his shoulder I say, "You starting a bus service Jerry?"
Jerry waves his hand and says, "Tourist."
That makes me blurt out, "Tourism in WestBend City. That's... different. I guess."
The face has a hand and it's waving at me. I take a closer look. Last time I saw that face it was serenely attached to a table top. I almost duck for cover. Instead I just wave and say, "Oh, hey you woke up."
Putting the tools down and wiping my forehead I look at Jerry who's bending my way and has been mostly watching. Jerry hands me a towel so I figure that means I should probably check and see what parts I just dirtied up on my face. I look at him and say, "It probably has a slow leak. You might have to have someone check it back in the big city. I'm not sure anyone in WestBend City will be of much help. I can't seem to find it and the system took a good charge and its holding for now. So you should be good to go. If you had someone charge this recently you might be able to gauge by that to when it will need attention again. I wouldn't wait though."
Jerry nods. He looks over his shoulder at the gentleman standing watch near the front of the truck. He's been real polite about not interfering or helping. He looks kinda soft anyway. Those boots of his look more fancy ornamental than practical. Good thing he's heading for the little city. He isn't rough enough for the terrain here. I touch Jerry's shoulder and say, "How much you getting for being a tour guide."
Jerry's face almost goes red. He hesitates and then says, "Enough."
I say, "Well, I guess i can ride out on the sideboards."
Jerry shrugs and says, "I don't think he'll mind you crowding into the cab."
I spit onto the ground and say, "I don't expect so. I'll still ride outside."
Jerry cocks his head and says, "He's the one noticed you out here first." He grins a bit and says, "He thought maybe we should offer you a ride."
I lift my eyebrows and say, "I take it you hadn't mentioned you were about to turn back."
Jerry looks off to the side and says, "I was only just then thinking about it. Kinda glad to see you myself." He looks back to the front of the truck at his guest.
I glance that way and back and have a thought. I say, "How much extra did you tag him for to let me ride along."
Jerry doesn't answer. That's what I thought always the entrepreneur. I grin at him and say, "If I did ride up front with him you'd just want to charge him more anyway."
As Jerry moves back towards the cab I notice a slight limp in his gait. I say, "What you do to your leg there."
He waves a hand in the air and says, "Just twisted things up while loading the truck. It'll be alright after I work it out a bit."
Were moving along at a fair clip and it won't take long to get up into the mountain and out of these hills. Jerry's path will take us a bit away from where the canyon divide sets hidden behind some of the largest trees you'll find around here. That means I still have a way to go after he drops me off.
I'm hanging off of Jerry's side of the truck and was going to ignore Tom over there on the other side. But, Tom seems too eager to make chit chat. He leans into the windshield to see around Jerry and says, "Hi my names Dalton. Dalton Greymare. I don't believe I got your name last night."
I turn to let the wind hit my face. There is still a lot of whining and whuring going on and all sorts of dust kicking around behind us. These Diamond Reo's blend in nice what with all the natural dust devils that whip up along the plain below. Leaning back into the window a bit, to annoy Jerry mostly, I say, "Angie."
Jerry laughs, "Yep, just Angie."
I shake my head a bit. That's what most people think, just Angie. I remember the General had a last name for us. We girls. What was that? Something having to do with the prime male donor for our genetic workup. I have another thought though. I lean into the truck again and say, "Greymare that's a prominent name in current clone history."
Dalton nods and says, "Yep."
I'm thinking he's either just agreeing with me or he might know a bit of common history. Things stay quiet for a while and I finally blurt out. "Hamilton, That's my last name or at least the only one anyone ever tried to give me."
Dalton says, "That's another name with a lot of history."
Looking at him through slitted eyes I say, "Wouldn't know any of that."
He sits back quietly. So, I return to staring off in the distance. It won't be too long before I get off this ride anyway. Too soon we slow to a halt. I look back at our drifting brown tail. I hear Jerry say. "Just stopping to sight see."
I try to look past Jerry but he's half way out the window and in my way. So I shout, "Not much to see here unless you're partial to desolation. There's some nice trees and foliage up a bit further.' There's no answer so I turn and look across the sand and rock through the tumbleweeds. I'm almost tempted to get off and finish this on foot.
After a long wait Jerry says, "Well, you might just as well get in the cab now." He has leaned back in and the seat next to him is vacant. I step down and run around the front of the truck then I go half way to the rear. On the way back I shout, "What did you do with our guest?"
Jerry says, "He got off."
I say, "When?"
"Just now." Jerry looks out past me towards a large stand of dried weeds.
I wave my hands and say, "Why didn't you say something. I could've tripped him up and knocked him out. You could have delivered him to WestBend. Out here by himself something will kill him and eat him. At least in WestBend they won't eat him."
Jerry says, "He ran behind the bramble if you want to chase him. But, I'm not gonna stick around long."
I shout again, "Why did you do it? And, what anyway? He just decided this was a good spot to go hiking."
Jerry shakes his head, "Ha, he paid me earlier and said he was gonna be dropped of somewhere out here. Hell when we picked you up I figured he'd at least wait and get off with you. Course with you being miss cordial and all he must'ov figured that wouldn't work."
I nod and say,"Darn right it wouldn't." Looking outward I can't see anything moving. I say, "I'm not chasing after some mad man. Just remember when somebody misses him and tracks him out here I'm pointing them your way. No way I'm gonna put up with them harassing us once more for something we have nothing to do with."
Jerry says, "No Problem. I'm gonna pick him up here on the way back. I gave him the time and he said he'd be here."
As i climb into the cab I say, "And if he's not here."
Jerry shrugs, "I'll come up and visit with you and leave a note on the truck."
While I glare at Jerry he turns to start the truck. I say, "You didn't tell him how to get to our camp did you?"
Jerry puts us in gear and as we slide forward he shakes his head. "Na, I wouldn't do that. He'd be killed and eaten for sure then."
After that we ride in silence.
I slam the truck door and don't even say goodbye. I can't believe Jerry could be that rude. The trees afford enough shade for me and I take my time walking through the brush. We've been very careful not to wear down a traceable path. I walk back and forth weaving a new route over fallen trees and moss covered rocks. I'm quite a ways in before I hear the hiss. Jerry and his truck are gone so it's not them.
I stop to look around and I think about that foolish tourist. Maybe the boys can take a moment to hunt around for him. The lizards will still be active for a while. I pull my knife from my side and wrap my fist around it pointing the blade down.
This time it's me who hisses.
Copyright 2012 J.L. Dobias