GreyBeard Dreaming

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Cybernetic Triad


1: Prologue

Millions and millions of years ago, incredibly far away from our minor planet, there was a battle. A battle between two vast fleets of warships. .. in space. Far from any planetary surface. A battle between races which are no longer remembered... .even on their home planets, those planets that still exist. The energies released in that battle would dwarf anything conceivable on earth today.  Many of the forces used are beyond our present day technology, beyond our dreams of technology, beyond our dreams of magic.

As in all battles there were the victors and there were the vanquished and there was the wreckage. In space a ship cannot sink, it merely drifts, at a higher or lower velocity. In a space battle the velocities can be great.. ..and the shocks greater. The last battle WAS far from any sun, any planet. The duration of the battle was extensive and the quantity of units of each fleet were vast.

Many machines, and parts of machines drifted away... .to be lost forever. Some at a fairly rapid rate

A million... .several million....perhaps several hundred million   years later one such machine, or part of a machine drifted near to, and was attracted toward the third rock from our sun... .the earth.

Upon entering the atmosphere heat built up. Plasmaglow ignited, and a streak appeared across the sky. Just like any shooting star’. The locals were unimpressed, they’d seen it before, quite often in fact. The locals, being herbivores were not very intelligent and hence were rather difficult to impress.

Being constructed of somewhat more refractory material than that of typical meteoroids the chunk of debris from that far off forgotten space battle made it to the ground, more or less in one piece. A smoking, glowing mass hit the surface rather hard. The earth splashed, cratering a hillside, then the hillside slumped. The crest having been undermined by the blast.. .and the crater was covered. Neither the recently arrived mass nor the full extent of the crater was visible after the dust settled.

Eventually the forces of nature, erosion, rain and other weather events erased all evidence of the crater. No particularly bright intellect had been near to see the impact so no one knew of it’s existence. and nature gradually erased all surface clues.

All matter is not created equal, however. There are different levels of construction. The race which had constructed this once useful and proud machine of war was sophisticated indeed. At levels below that of the visual... .at the level of molecules all order was not lost. Molecular machines made from metal and carbon are terrifically hard to damage, much less destroy

There they sat for thousands and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of years. Underground, with no power.

Waiting.

2:Strip Mine

Thousands of years later....

The huge machine worked the land.

Locally known as ‘Big John’... it was a drag line. Its job was to remove the “overburden” that covered vast deposits of iron ore ...... and then go back and retrieve that same ore.. Big John was not the biggest of drag lines..  not quite.....still.he was pretty big.
Big John was all electric. He had a direct connect to a purpose built high voltage line. He even had his own  personal servant, a bulldozer,  to move his “extension cord”. The similarity in sizes between the D9 Dozer and Big John was something like a kitten to a Clydesdale. Big John operated in an eerie silence too. Seeing such a huge machine operate and move   in such near silence made one uneasy. Working, with multiple crew shifts, Big John could move a LOT of material in a fairly short period of time.

Big John worked a strip mine. He mined iron ore. The mine was called a strip mine because the land was worked in strips. John’s bucket would swing out and drop and be reeled in,scooping up vast amounts of earth as it came. When the bucket was full it was lifted high into the air as John swung around. The bucket was then emptied off to the side, …..quite a distance off to the side. Thus John worked a strip. Working one direction the earth, the so called overburden, was removed and placed to one side. Working back the other direction, over the same strip, the iron ore was removed and placed in huge Haul Trucks. Working back the other direction more earth was removed and place in the strip previously occupied by the iron ore.  That’s not the only way a strip mine is operated...many have multiple strips deep and cover huge areas...but that’s the way it was done where big John was working.  When Big John was done and all the secondary work was completed all that was left was a meadow.

Planted in grass at no extra charge.

And so it went. Uncountable thousand of tons of material was moved and removed so that the hunger of the nation’s industry for raw material could be met.

As luck would have it Big John’s bucket scooped up the remains of that piece of ancient war ship.

As luck would have it the war ship remains were scooped up as part of the iron ore and not the overburden.
As luck would have it the remains were barely distinguishable from the iron ore.

Discolorations of rock were barely perceptible. Rust. Rust is fairly normal around iron. At the microscopic level and below however, there resided untold billions of nanometric sized machines. A surprisingly large number of which were still, operable, even though shut down due to having been in the dark for so long, and thus deprived of energy.

All of which were scooped up by Big John’s bucket, dumped in a haul truck and transported.
Eventually the iron ore arrived at a steel mill and was processed into steel. The nanomachines were not adversely affected by the heat of the steelmaking process. They were, after all, once part of a war machine designed to operate outside of planetary atmospheres. The temperatures used in steelmaking were as nothing compared to the temperatures encountered in space flight, or space battle. The temperatures involved in steelmaking   actually was beneficial to the nano devices. Heat is energy. Energy is power. The alien nano devices began to rouse themselves from their torpor.

Batches of steel infused with the alien nano devices , which had in geologically ancient times been a war machine, soon left the steel mill to be transported across the country. This steel was used for a wide variety of applications.
Such as building trucks.



3: Escape

Joe was tired.  He’d been driving the dually pickup pulling the goose-neck trailer for hours.  He was transporting exotic cats from the ship on which  they arrived on the east coast to various catteries throughout the nation.  He’d come a long ways today and he had a long ways to go tomorrow.  He pulled into the  Flying J Truck Stop at Anthony Texas, fueled up and then pulled around to the Motel that was beside the truck-stop.

“Damn! That dirt lot was rough” he thought “pothole city”

Driver’s being drivers, didn’t want to walk much..so they parked as close to the motel as they could.  In this case it was a dirt lot across the street from the Truck-Stop and beside the motel.  Heavy Haul trucks filled the parking lot,mostly.  Extreme heavy haulers drove day cabs.  They didn’t have sleepers on their monster trucks . No sleeper ment more weight that could be devoted to payload. They slept in motels every night.
Joe was didn’t have a sleeper on his truck either.  However, Joe didn’t drive a big Truck....he  drove a big Pickup.  A chevy dually  pulling  a modified two-axle gooseneck. Joe finally got it situated to his liking then went inside to motel to register.  Minutes later he was back outside seeing to his charges.  Cat’s didn’t take a whole lot of work...especially since he kept them mildly, VERY mildly sedated.  An anxious cat can get sick and die.  Joe wanted happy cats.

Joe fed and watered  the cats and did the cat-attendant equivalent of shoveling manure. Actually he changed litter boxes.  Then, done for the night he went into the motel for a good night’s sleep.

El Paso and vicinity is notorious for it’s sand storms.  During the night one blew in. It was a nasty one.  Visibility was cut severely.
 
As luck would have it a rookie truck driver was trying to find the truck entrance to the flying J.  He’d not been here before.  He turned too soon and wound up on the wrong side of the truck stop, on the dead end street between the truck stop, restaurant and the motel.  Unable to see very much and not very skilled to begin with the driver decided to circle through the motel’s truck parking.  Where all the really BIG rigs were...and all that heavy equipment.  What he could see of it.  The wind and sand was kicking up worse by the minute.  Pretty soon it would be a brown out.

“Man this lot is rough” the driver thought as he bounced, bumped and swayed through the lot, in the dark.  His headlights were about useless in the blowing sand.  He couldn’t hear anything with the screeching wind.

Perhaps he actually didn’t realize that his truck hit and ripped the end off a small goose neck trailer.  Or perhaps he did and decided to run for it.   Whatever the case he didn’t stop.  

The cats in the trailer were jolted around when the trailer got hit.  They set up a yowling but no one could hear them.  Several compartments on the end were ripped loose in such a way as to allow their occupants to escape.  After analyzing the situation they did just that.   Escape that is.

They were small cats.  Small in the sense that they weren’t BIG cats.  Lions and Tigers   (oh my) were big cats.  The big cats weighed in at over a hundred pounds to multiple hundreds of pounds.

These cats weighed in at twenty to fifty pounds apiece.  They were about the size of medium sized dogs.   Bigger than a housecat but by no means were they BIG cats.

The cats that escaped, as it happened,  were Caracals.  Native of much of Africa and some of Asia.  Their habitat was savanna, semi-desert, dry woodlands, arid hilly steppe, and dry mountains....very similar to what they were looking at as they exited the damaged trailer. Right homey actually. The cats took off...never to be seen again.  Caracals are extremely adept at concealment, not that it took much to stay concealed in a howling sand storm.  They were also lucky.  Most of them survived and eventually wound up in the Guadalupe Mountains less than a couple of hundred miles away from where they were released.  As luck would have it they picked THAT direction to run.  Otherwise they might have found themselves in downtown El Paso, or Juarez.  Neither of which would have been good choices.

Some of them made it.  They actually thrived and had kittens.  After a few years a fairly decent population of  caracals inhabited that part of the Guadalupes and the Park. Since Caracals were VERY good at staying out of sight they were  Unseen and unknown by all but their prey...and then only briefly.  



Chapter 4

Years later.


PAIN!   The pain.  The old trucker had been limping out to his truck.  He was feeling his age and using his cane to help him across the potholed gravel parking lot when..

THE PAIN!...it was as if his back had a knife in it.

Actually it did.  Someone had just put it there.  Mostly in his shoulder though as he'd stumbled a bit just at the right moment.  That stumble might have saved his life.

Might.

IF he could now just hold onto what little advantage he had.  Being alive.  That was his only advantage, he had.  It beat being dead.  He was going to make the most of it.  As he jerked forward to get away from the pain...and pulled the knife free from his attackers hands...it still being in his back and all...he twisted and swung his cane..HARD....like a golf club.   He aimed the heavy brass head of his cane for the 'little head' in his attackers crotch. His aim was good. Dead nuts as one might say.  The howling scream was satisfactory.

Howling?

Had a human throat made that sound?

Didn't matter...there were more of them.  Luckily they were smaller than he.  Unluckily he was outnumbered.  He did, however have his cane. It was more than just a cane.  When the old trucker had been a much younger man he'd lost a foot.  Shortly after that unhappy episode he'd had this cane custom made to his specifications.  It had hidden qualities.  For one it was made of titanium and was thus light but damn near indestructible.  For another it telescoped into a walking stick, or as was it was once known...a quarter staff.  A fighting stick about five foot long.  It also had a blade in one end which...sniiiiiked out at the touch of a button.

Cord, the old trucker, was prepared now.  He faced his attackers head on and was armed with a thrusting spear.  The attackers hesitated then attacked.  Cord had taken time to learn the craft of stick fighting for just such an occasion and  performed well. One attacker caught the blade across his neck, was cut  deeply. So deeply in fact that a large flap of...was it skin...or a mask...fell free.  What was revealed was no human countenance...it's scream of agony was no human scream.

{Aliens, these guys will show up off and on throughout the book...never really explained.  I’m working on a whole nother book/series where they play a major role.  I hope to tie everything together eventually.  

For Your Information...this is what I envision them to look like (under their disguise)..  too bad I can’t use this.  I’d love to have pictures scattered here and there in the book.  like
one per chapter perhaps.  Dunno how to do it...I stole this from the internet. (deviant art)  can’t use it.


Another caught the reverse swing of the staff and got the weighted head...on his head between the eyes...crunching bone.  Neither collapsed but neither were steady on their feet after that.

And it continued.  One of Cords attackers would rush in only to be deterred by the stick, with it's silver blade....and another.  Cord held them at bay and was gradually wearing them down..they seemed afraid to close...afraid of the silver blade.....but Cord was losing blood from the stab wound and  was thus losing strength.  Who would last longer?

It would never be known.  Someone had noticed the fight and called the cops. The sounds of many sirens  were heard converging upon the truck stop. Cords attackers departed the scene just before the cops arrived. Also before the cops arrived Cord collapsed his spear back into it's walking cane  configuration.  Then he leaned forward on it........hard.

The cops arrived in force, as if this area was not for a single squad car.  It was indeed...that kind of neighborhood.  One car stopped, a cop got out and walked up to Cord.

"Ok...what's going on here...we have a report of...." and he stopped...eyes bulging...boogled by Cord. "um...mister...did you know that you have a knife in your back".

Cord kinda stood there for minute...as if thinking about what the Cop had said. "Ummm...yeah?  Is that what it is.  It's rather uncomfortable...I wish someone would remove it..."

Cord kinda swayed a bit so he leaned a bit harder on his cane.

The cops nodded to two of his associates and they immediately assisted cord over to a place to sit down.  While they were doing that the first cop called an ambulance.  It wasn't very long at all before one showed up.  

Cord was loaded into the ambulance which immediately raced away toward the hospital...radioing ahead the condition of the victim.    Cord was either unconscious by then or very near to it....at no time, however, did he loosen his grip on his cane.  He held the cane close...and tight.





Chapter 5 : Buying a Truck
Several months  later

The heavy set, older trucker chewed on his cigar and scratched his beard looking at the truck. One might say that the trucker stared at the truck and the truck stared back.

It was a fairly old truck. Good condition though. Too good perhaps. How could a truck be in too good’ of a condition?  Actually it was a magnificent custom truck that outclassed anything else on the lot or perhaps in the state....and it was also the cheapest truck for sale on this particular lot.   The Trucker didn’t know why and it worried him.

The Trucker, Cord O’Conner by name,  was pretty much stuck. He had bills to pay and no Truck to make money to pay the Bills. His last truck had been hijacked  and he had been severely injured on a run to Laredo.

“Damn The Insurance Companies”. he thought for the millionth time  “You’d know they’d find some way to weasel out of paying.”

The money they’d paid him wasn't NEAR enough to buy a new truck. Not even before he’d had to  make “co-payments” with his health insurance for the hospital bill.  

“Damn Insurance Companies”  he thought....again”   

The thieves had hurt him pretty bad when they hiJacked his truck.  Naturally Cord had taken exception to them taking his truck and had not ‘gone gently into the night’.  He’d put up a struggle but there had been too many of them, and only one of him , and they’d kicked his ass....he was lucky to survive. If the cops hadn't arrived at just the right moment Cord might NOT have survived.  Many truckers in similar situations had not.  Truck hijacking was getting to be a real concern in many places.

The cops had found him stabbed and bleeding and about to fall over.  They'd arrived in time to keep him alive. They had put him in the hospital but the hospital hadn’t been  cheap, even though he’d left many days before  and against the doctors recommendation. ...trying to save on money.  His “accident insurance” didn’t consider hiJacking to be an accident, or being stabbed in the back.  Perhaps they considered backstabbing to be too much like "good business procedures" to frown upon it? It was not, however,  a  covered expense so Cord had to pay a LOT out of pocket for the medical care.

Damn Insurance Companies....again....AND again....to the lowest regions of hell.

Cord considered that he had been screwed twice or three times over the same incident by two or three different  different insurance companies.  The insurance company that covered his truck...and the insurance companies that covered his body.  At the moment Cord wouldn’t give a bucket of warm spit for any insurance company....they were number one on his hate list.

Cord considered himself to be lucky that there had been a company driver from his company in Laredo when he had released himself and walked  out of that hospital.... and that there was a ‘hot’ ‘team’ load coming back to the Company Yard in Pennsylvania.  Even though Cord was still stiff and sore from the beating  he could still drive and the two of them  had managed to get the hot load delivered on time.  That run had netted him a little bit of ‘running around money”...although  he had ‘not near enough’ money from the insurance settlement left to buy a truck.
But he had SOME money....and not being a quitter he was looking around to see what could be purchased with what little, in truck buying terms,  he had.

Consequently, he had been looking at old heaps. They would be all he could afford, he thought.   Until he ran across this one. This one was an anomaly.  It was magnificent.  It was by far the best of a long line of trucks  that he’d looked at.  It should have cost in the hundreds of thousands instead of the tens of thousands. He really had no choice but to take it ... he was running out of time.

‘How much did you say you wanted for it agin?” he asked the salesman.

The salesman looked nervous, thinking that this trucker hated salesmen. The salesman  was absolutely correct. Cord hated salesmen.. Actually Cord hated just about anyone and everyone connected to any type of bureaucracy. Large truck dealerships were bureaucracies, so the salesman needn’t have felt special.

The salesman wasn’t privy to that fact, however, thinking that it was him personally that the trucker had taken a disliking to. Cord was intimidating to the salesman. The trucker was a pretty big guy  even if he was fat and old. The trucker also didn't have much of a sense of humor and those cigars he was chain smoking STUNK!

Cord was also currently  covered in grease from climbing on and under trucks and  had a big gash on his forehead from banging his head on the demon truck. The salesman didn’t even want to LOOK at that gash...or the blood...or the gook in it.  He could swear that it was bubbling.  It made him sick to his stomach just to think about it.  The salesman was  also praying that the word ‘liability lawsuit’ didn’t arise in this conversation. If there was a lawsuit the salesman would probably be out of a job.  His boss was funny that way.

Taken all that into account the salesman was nervous, very nervous. To get rid of the demon truck he might have to lie,....again. He’d tried lying to this guy once....just a little social lie....nothing to get upset about.     Ooops,.... the resulting ass chewing that he’d received stung deeply. He didn’t want to get caught lying again. Still, he wanted to sell the Demon Truck. Oh yeah he really wanted it gone,....again and permanently.

“Well?” Cord asked... .turning a gimlet eye on the perspiring salesman, while using a nasty greasy rag to smear some of the blood and oil  and gook around on his forehead.

The salesman mumbled an amount.

“hmmrnmm”. Said the Trucker.. turning to look more at what he was beginning to think of as his truck....that which the salesman thought of as the demon truck.  Cord actually had that much money. The amount left from the insurance settlement and the amount from this last run would cover it and some to spare.   He could buy this truck.

Did he really want to? Then again, did he have a choice?

"Wonder why it’s so cheap” Cord muttered to himself, softly enough to be sure that the salesman couldn’t hear.

“This  is really odd. This thing ought to be worth a dozen times that amount.. .and they should be asking a hundred times....hell it's worth more as scrap.”

Cord wandered around a bit.... more....and was  followed and enveloped by noxious clouds of smoke. Since he had arrived at the used truck lot this morning he had wandered all over. He’d inspected many a truck, and had asked an uncountable number of questions. He had opened the hoods to inspect the engines.  He’d crawled under  numerous trucks to inspect drive lines and frame rails.   He’d actually kicked  more than a few tires....more in frustration than anything else.

He’d muttered to himself almost constantly and none of what he’d said was pleasant. He was never satisfied, until he’d happened upon this truck. Then it was  as if he’d become fixated... on THIS truck....almost as if the trucker had fallen in love....or become addicted...or become possessed.

Cord had still wandered off to look at others  of the hundreds of used trucks on the lot, he'd valiantly fought the influence,  but he was always drawn back to THIS truck.  Just a few minutes ago he’d banged his head while inspecting it’s driveline, it was almost as if the drive line had shifted to hit HIM...but that was impossible.   Naturally about that time some ‘goop’ had dripped down on him...right on the wound.  The goop stung really bad  and that didn’t do a damn thing to improve his mood. The goop didn’t seem to want to wipe off either..it stuck like glue.... it was really odd. His cussing and howling had frightened the family of cats that had taken residence under the old truck.  They had taken off running...but hadn't ran very far. They sat by the fence watching Cord and the Salesman.  

“This is so weird”’ Cord thought to himself.... for perhaps the hundredth time.

“This looks like a new truck, like it’s never been used.  It’s a special built custom truck, obviously, I can’t even rightly tell what kind of truck it IS.  I dunno if this thing is an old Peterbilt , an AutoCar, A Diamond  Reo, A Kenworth,  A Marmon, an International,  a Freightliner, or a frigging FORD.... but it looks brand new.   I can’t find anything wrong with it.  It’s like it just rolled off the assembly line this morning.  It’s  obviously got a ‘big-horse engine’, even if it looks different than any other engine I’ve ever seen.  It sounds ok when I started it up.  In fact it sounded GREAT.  No idea what the exact specs are...but its got all the cute gimmicks, all the pretty toys,  and a HUGE custom sleeper, complete with microwave, stove, refrigerator with ice box, AND a frickin EASY chair.  A lazy boy for crying out loud.  In a Truck!  I couldn’t even see where that goop dripped from, it’s so clean..   Why is it so cheap?”

Aggravated by something he couldn't understand the trucker walked over to the sweating salesman and glared down at him.  Cord looked like he wanted to take the salesman apart like a chicken... for dinner.  Cord was  really frustrated and he looked it.    He puffed on his cigar and glared at the hapless, intimidated salesman some more. The salesman   all but quailed  before him.

“Ill give you”,  and Cord  named an amount that was much less than what the salesman had asked for  “ cash money. Here. Now.”,

….. and blew smoke in the salesman’s face....and glared at him.
The salesman’s expression was precious. He actually seemed glad, in a fearful sort of way, that he was getting skinned. He was getting skinned, he was getting FLAYED.... and he was glad?

The salesman almost fell all over himself agreeing to Cord’s offer.  He  all but pushed the  trucker  towards the nearby office to complete  the sales transaction. Cord noticed, again several cats avoiding them as they walked into the office.  It went suspiciously well thought Cord. Too well.  Cord glared at the salesman, shook his hand...then wiped his hand on his pants leg....and put the sales paperwork in his pocket.  Cord then walked outside, once again avoiding stepping on cats.  Shooed cats away from the truck steps and  climbed up in HIS truck..fired it up...and departed.

The salesman had walked outside.  He and a dozen or so cats stood watching the truck drive away, until it was out of sight....then the cats started to wander off.   His wave at Cord’s leaving was heartfelt.  The salesman was REALLY glad to see that damn truck leave his sales lot..After he was sure the trucker had left the salesman returned to his office and sat down. He was  covered in sweat and shaking a little. He tried to light a cigarette but couldn’t...his hands were shaking too badly.   He’d pulled it off.. .again. He opened a lower desk drawer and pulled out an amber bottle and with shaking hands poured some of the contents into a coffee cup. He spilled a little and didn’t care.

While the salesman was sitting there, holding the coffee cup with both shaking hands, elbows on the table, sipping on his whiskey,  the owner of the dealership walked in. The owner had been watching the proceedings from a safe distance....unobserved.

“So”  he said. also with a strange expression on his face “ you sold the demon again?”

The salesman just nodded.

“How many times does that make?  …. six...seven.. . ten...times that we've sold it?”asked the Owner.

The salesman just nodded.

“...........and all the previous drivers either died or went insane?” The owner asked... walking over to  the desk where the salesman was sitting.

The salesman just nodded.

The owner rummaged through one of the  desk drawers and pulled out a coffee cup.  He blew in it and thumped it with his hand...then  he sat it on the desk and pushed it toward the salesman’s bottle of whiskey...and  said. “pour me a little bit of that rotgut,”

The salesman just nodded...and poured his boss some rotgut.

The owner slammed it back....”aaaaahhhhh” he said.  “That’s some really horrible stuff, just what I need right now. “

He pushed the cup back toward the bottle “Again...lots more this time”
The salesman just nodded...and poured his boss some rotgut....a full cup.

The owner muttered” I hope I never see that monster again.. ..not since it come back  the last time with the interior soaked in blood.  The corpse looked as if brain surgery had been performed. I wonder how long that body, it wasn’t even a complete body,  was in the truck before ..... ?“

..... and he trailed off.. .and was silent. An ethical businessman would have had the truck crushed for scrap after the first return...or the second...surely by the fourth.....and he had not.  It had been returned to his lot several times afterwards since every one of the buyers except for the original owner  had financed it through his company credit branch.  Each time something was horribly wrong.  Either the driver had committed suicide, gone insane or just disappeared.   Something was obviously, horribly , terribly wrong with that truck.  The owner of the establishment, however, wasn’t ethical....and had done nothing.  He had just had the truck cleaned up each time. very, very thoroughly ..and returned to the sales lot with a lower price tag than it had had the previous time.  It was beginning to get hard to find a detail shop that would clean THAT truck.  They had all learned.

He was.....getting scared. This last sales price was just stupid it was so low.   If his books were ever audited  this would look strange. Semi Tractors just were not sold that cheaply.  Not even for scrap.   No where near.

The salesman just nodded...

The two of them sat there in silence.

Sipping the Rotgut.

After a while the bottle ran dry.  There were other bottles in the drawer.  They sat there for a long time....drinking bad whiskey.  Thinking. Hoping. Dreading....and subconsciously wondering if all the stray cats would leave too, just as they had left each previous time the truck left...and returned when the truck returned.

Chapter 6 : Back to the Yard.

Cord eased his newly acquired Truck into traffic and steadily increased its speed. He marveled at how smoothly the truck ran. He wasn't at all sure what had just happened but it appeared that he now owned a truck....free and clear. A truck in perfect condition. Odd that, for a truck this old to be in perfect condition and the truck dealer being so reluctant to talk about it’s previous owners...

It was just after quitting time at the trucking company  when Cord pulled his  truck into the company yard.   Cord didn’t normally drive long hours OR drive after dark. His type of trucking didn’t require that he do so.  In fact there were laws that prevented him from doing so.  This was fortunate since the great majority of truck wrecks occurred  after  two in the morning and before sun up. Something about that time of day messes with the human mind. Humans were least alert at that time... .their reactions slower..their judgment poorer.

Cord wasn't a reckless or  a gambling sort. He always played it safe and went WITH the odds... .usually. He didn't take chances he could avoid..., normally. He’d planned his truck shopping and allowed plenty of time.  He found a parking place next to the Driver’s Lounge.  It was far from late...but no one was around...except for the shop mechanics who ran the place pretty much 24/7.

All the day ladies were gone.  They generally started leaving fairly early.  “I have a doctor’s appointment”, or “Sally has basketball practice and her father/mother can’t take her so I have to leave early” ….….or...something.

Always something.  Cord was glad he didn’t run  a business.  He wasn’t sure he’d be able to put up with all the loafing, freeloading and featherbedding.  That didn’t even take into account  the danger of being near an exterior door when quitting time arrived...what few office employees remained would leave shoe tracks up your backside if you made the mistake of standing in the doorway at quitting time.

 The place was pretty much deserted right now and would be until morning when everyone came back to work.  There were a few driver’s but they were in their trucks.  The mechanics were working UNDER trucks... some of them.  Cord went looking for a beer.

Cord  had thought that  he needed a shower, a meal, and a beer...... maybe several beers.. not necessarily in that order. He decided to forget the meal.  He needed a beer really bad. He went inside the building , found beer, and then found the shower. He drank his first few beers while he showered.  It was technically against company policy to have alcohol on the premises.....technically. However, If  you didn’t make it too obvious no one said much. Tonight Cord didn’t care.  He would have drank beer with the company safety officer, the owner, the chief of police or the Pope himself. Cord was unnerved a bit and needed to settle down.

After finishing his shower, using an amazing amount of time, hot water and soap....cord toweled off and went to the mirror. Odd...he could have sworn he’d cut himself a really serious gash on his forehead. Cord had actually been wondering if he’d need stitches.   It had certainly hurt like he had  and bled like he had at the time. Odd that he couldn’t detect a trace of a wound, not even a scratch.  That odd goop was gone too.  Perhaps it had finally washed away....perhaps. Cord finished dressing, cleaned up his mess, disposed of all the empty beer cans,(my there were a LOT of them,) and went back to his truck. Cord shooed some cats away from the truck door so that he could climb in.  Lots of cats around but that was normal.  The mechanics fed them.  Must be a hundred or more on the truck company property. Odd that they would be this close to cord though.  They usually stayed well clear of people.

A few minutes later Cord lay down on the king sized bed  in the sleeper of his new truck.  He looked around and all but marveled.   It was certainly a much nicer, bigger and fancier accommodation than his old truck.  In fact it was nicer than anything he’d ever lived in, period, on a truck or not.
   
Trying to get to sleep Cord tossed and turned a little. This was a strange truck . . ..not home yet. He had lived in his previous truck for almost twelve years. Eventually this truck would also be home...but it wasn't yet.

He eventually fell asleep.

Chapter 7 : To Sleep and Perchance to Dream

He slept badly.

He had Nightmares of:

Falling..... .like the time when as a youngster and he was walking along the top of a canyon wall. He was attending Haynes Boy Scout Camp near the Cap Rock Canyon area of Texas. He hadn’t been getting along too well with the other boys OR the instructors so he tended to wander off by himself. He was walking along the side of a cliff one evening and  the ground gave way below him... . he fell.

Luckily he didn’t fall more than a hundred feet....and he kind of scraped down the side of the cliff before plowing into the top of some Spanish Skirts....  feet first. Hitting the top of the skirts feet first he slid downward... like a skier or a skateboarder.... upright...knees flexing and arms Out from his side to maintain balance. Gradually his vertical fall turned into horizontal slide..., throwing up a rooster tail of sand and dust. He slid quite a ways before coming to a stop. Amazingly he was still standing upright. He was banged up and scrapped a little but not hurt. He was however Angry....... as usual.  He returned to camp after dark. No one even noticed he had been gone.


Dark ...  like the time when as a youngster on a church outing to Palo Duro State Park in Texas. He wasn’t getting along too well with the others so he went exploring independently and alone. He’d crawled into a cave and investigated. He wasn’t thinking...feeling hurt and rejected by the others of his group... .he was escaping. No flashlight. Shortly he was crawling on his knees...then wiggling on his belly....and he was getting stuck. He was stuck for what seemed like hours with the weight of the mountain pressing down upon him in utter darkness and total silence. Eventually he managed to free himself and find his way back to the group. He was scolded for getting dirty.

Worry:   Like the time as a young boy he was swimming across Possum Kingdom lake in Texas, at another Boy Scout Camp. He still didn’t get along too well with others and had taken to doing things on his own. He’d felt something that seemed to be  alive rub against his feet and lower legs in the murky waters and had thought of Water Moccasins and Alligator Gar.

Hot... Like the time in Vietnam. There was a Truck Crash. There was an explosion and a fire. There may have been snipers... .there might have been a land mines or rockets..... he never knew. He’d lost his left foot that day.  That was the reason he left the military.  That was the reason he had a small disability income. . That’s why he limped today.

Cold  .Like the time his Airplane   had crashed in the mountains of British Columbia. During a Storm. In the winter... in a Blizzard. Into the snow and ice. Months later he limped into a small mountain village wearing a WolfSkin cape. No one else had survived. He was fined for “possession of the fur of an endangered species”

Vertigo....like the time he was sick....oh he was sick. He went to the Doctor’s office....riding a bicycle. He was almost too dizzy to walk much less drive. Oddly enough he could ride a bicycle. The doctor didn’t believe he was sick until he vomited in the doctor’s office trash can. Meniere’s Disease they called it. It went away by itself. The doctor still sent him a quite considerable bill.

Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo....again.

This time there were no dreams.  This time it was the pure sensation...the pure emotion....the pure feeling.



Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo...again.

 The intensity varied.  The lengths of time he endured each sensation varied.  Sometimes more falling, sometimes less...sometimes more vertigo...sometimes less. Sometimes coupled one with the other.  Worried about falling.  Hot in the Dark.  Cold while falling and vertigo in the dark.........


Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo...And he felt as if someone were watching.

Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo...And he felt similar to the time that he took a lie detector test..during the calibration questions.

Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo...And he had the DISTINCT feeling that someone was watching him.  Studying his reactions.  Evaluating his response.  Developing a baseline. Playing with him

Falling/dark/worried/hot/cold/vertigo...and he was getting PISSED.  Pretty soon he was going to get out of bed and punch someone in the face.   Angry...his Anger Management was being evaluated.

AGAIN

…..........AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAINand AGAIN and AGAINand AGAIN and AGAINand AGAIN and AGAINand AGAIN and AGAIN...........

It was a long night and he didn’t sleep too well... .at all.

It was a long, looooong night and he didn’t sleep well at all, at all.  

At all.  This was just stupid.  All he was doing was rolling around sweating, and wadding up the sheets.  He got out of bed ,  put on some sweatpants and poured some coffee out of his thermos and walked forward to sit in the driver's seat and look out the windshield.

To see cats on the hood looking back in at him.



Chapter 8: Gearing up


Hours later the sun was well up and the day-ladies were beginning to arrive. He still hadn’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. Hell... he didn’t have ANY conclusions. Nothing made any sense.  Especially not the cats that were sitting on the hood of his truck looking back inside at him.

Still.

Odd that.
   
The trailer boss had arrived and Cord went in to see him. Shortly he walked out with a trailer number. He walked over to the truck, around some cats,  and climbed in.

Drivers.. .and he was no exception... .are in many ways like cowboys of the old west. A cowboy would mount his horse to go from one side of a street to the other. It was said that if a cowboy could ride his horse into the outhouse then he would do so. Truckers are similar. Why walk when he could ride?

He slowly drove down the aisles between parked trailers...looking at trailer numbers,...looking for a  specific number. There were dozens of trailers of all sorts. Except Vans.. ..this was strictly a flatbed company ...no vans. There was all kinds of flatbeds  though. There were step-decks, low-boys, I-beams, stretches and straight platforms. Of the low-boys there were several 3+1’s and 2 + 2’s. There were 2+2+2’s and even a 3+3+3.

There were some really odd specialty trailers also, like the three and five stage trombones... and the similar but different blade trailers.  Then there was that 3+3+3 perimeter trailer.That was an odd duck, a trailer with no deck.  It’s cargo was suspended from the perimeter...hence the name.

Cord wasn’t looking for any of that. He was looking for a standard “two axle with a flip” Rgn.  RGN meant ‘removable goose neck” because the neck was removable and looked like a goose’s neck, kind of stretchy looking  and curved. Unfortunately he was looking for a mechanical. He would much rather have a hydraulic but then so would every other driver who pulled RGN’s.  Unfortunately all the hydraulics were taken so he was stuck with a mechanical. The ‘flip’ part meant it had a third axle that could be flipped up or down...depending on whether it was needed to haul the extra weight.

Eventually he found it. Not a bad looking trailer actually. Fairly new. According to the manufacturers rating plate on the neck it was a thirty- five ton. That meant the trailer frame was rated to carry seventy thousand pounds. Twenty nine foot in the well..not too big that he’d have trouble getting around but not so small that he couldn’t haul some decent loads.

Right now he needed some decent loads. He was hurting financially and needed some revenue. This trailer and his new truck might just get the job done. Enough of this. Time to get some chains and binders, maybe a tarp or two and then see what dispatch could do. He hooked his tractor up to the trailer and pulled into  the inspection bay. Cord had learned this lesson the hard way times past.  Never, NEVER take a strange trailer without first having it inspected by the shop...and watch them inspect it. It was immeasurably better to have a defect found    in the shop, by a mechanic who could fix it, than to discover that same defect at the worst possible time on the road. Cheaper too.   As an added bonus the truck would be right there and easy to load up with all his new equipment.

Several hours and several  thousand dollars later Cord  shooed some cats away from his truck climbed into it, and drove it out of the shop.   It was nice of the company to take the cost of his equipment out of his settlement a little bit at a time.Even though he was in debt to the company store, there was no way he could have come up with that much all at once.. . Not and continue to eat.

He’d just selected three tarps, fifteen twenty foot half inch chains complete with hooks AND ten additional ⅝ in grab hooks.  He’d had several of those chains cut to varying dimensions, anywhere from five foot to ten foot, and added the big hooks where needed. He’d also added twenty four inch straps with hand ratchets.  And last but not least he’d included two boxes of rubber bungee cords plus assorted flags and rags.  That was all he could afford....hell the bungee cords alone cost a hundred dollars a box and they were the cheapest single item.

Cord parked his rig as near to  dispatch as he could, typical trucker,  and then  walked inside the building. He  had a short conversation with his Travel Agent. It so happened that there was a fairly decent load just down the street so to speak.  Only a hundred miles away. No deadhead to speak of comparatively.  It was a long haul too. His load  was  to be a small Grove Crane loading in Shady Grove Pennsylvania going to the El Paso Texas.. the load paid fairly well considering how small it was. Small would do.  He needed a load bad.  After he got used to the truck maybe he’d consider going large again.  Not right now though...small would work just fine.

‘It can load right now”  his Travel Agent said “ so why was are you still standing there talking?’

“Seeyabye I’m outa here.” Cord said walking out the door.




Chapter 8: Maiden Load with the New Truck

Cord stepped outside, stepped over and around yet more cats,  climbed  into and  fired up his truck.  Shortly thereafter he was pulling out of the yard and driving down Interstate Eighty One.  It didn’t take much more than an hour to arrive at Green-castle where he took a left turn and drove another few miles , on two lane state road,  to Shady Grove.

They make Cranes at Shady Grove.  Little Cranes, middle size cranes and REALLY FRICKIN’ HUGE CRANES.  Cranes so large that they were used to build skyscrapers, and dams and wind mills.  And cranes so small that they were barely bigger than a family sedan....a little family sedan. Shady Grove Pennsylvania is home of Grove and Manitowoc Cranes...and possibly other things.  It’s a fricking HUGE operations...no telling what all was there.  ...and it shipped all over the world.

Today Cord,  was after an Off-Road Crane.  A smallish one.  Cord had loaded at Shady Grove many a time in the past so he knew the routine.  The guard at the gate asked Cord if he knew where to go.  Cord did....and shortly he was rolling toward Shipping...miles away from the guard-shack.....in order to wait..  There appeared to be about ten or so trucks in line to be loaded.  Oh.  Well.  Trucking is all about waiting.

Cord actually dozed off while waiting, he sat right there in the driver’s seat and crossed his arms over the steering wheel and went to sleep.  A steering wheel nap.  The driver’s version of an executive power nap.  Cord hadn’t got much sleep lately. He dreamed.

It was an odd dream.  

Really, really strange. It made no sense.  Flashing lights in the darkness, bright soundless explosions. He tasted red...he heard stink....he saw noise.   Streaks of lights and falling.  Over and over again. Superimposed on his vision was the face of a cat......
Someone pounded on his truck door and Cord woke up instantly.Looking directly into the face of a cat.  A cat was sitting on the hood of his truck and looking  in.  Again.

Oh well..no time to worry about cats.  Time to get to work.

It was  his-turn-and-he-got-the-crane-loaded-and-got-it-tied-down-and-got-the-paper-work-done-and-made-it-out-the-gate-before-it-got-dark.

JUST before it got dark.  He didn’t want to travel after dark.  He COULD if he had to, this was a small crane and looked legal.  The only thing permit-able about this load was the weight. His gross weight was over eighty thousand but not much.

Actually he didn’t even have all his permits yet.     All he had  was a Pennsylvania  permit but none of the rest.   The only place he  could go was the TruckStop at Greencastle on Eighty-one.  Cord would top off his tanks there and spend the night.  Hopefully he’d get the needed permits early and then head out first thing in  the morning.  The sooner he got this load delivered the sooner he’d get some pay coming in..


Chapter 9: Dreams of his Childhood

After cleaning up a bit and getting a meal the Cord walked back to his truck, stepped around a stray cat,   and climbed in.  He undressed and  fell into the bunk.  He was pretty tired and it didn’t take him but a little bit before he fell asleep. He could really get used to this big bed. He Dreamed of his childhood....

Back in the sixties he was working at a Grain Elevator as a summer job. He was in high school and perhaps it was between  the Junior  and  the senior year?.  He might have been fifteen  or sixteen?  The Horror you say?  Child Labor!!

Yup.  It sure was. Child labor that is... and to his benefit. He learned as much or more on his summer jobs as he did in High School.  In high school he learned to type.(Heh...he was the only boy in a class of thirty students for four years running....he took four YEARS of girl watching....ummmm.....that is... four years of typing).
 
He was working for Ferguson Grain.  The father of one of his classmates owned it actually.  It was the owner’s custom to hire students for summer work. He didn’t think about old man Ferguson  too much at the time....Ferguson was the BOSS.  What more could, or should, he think?  But looking back, Ferguson  had the right idea.  Teach kids something REAL...pay em a little bit of money, and everyone benefited.

That something REAL wasn’t necessary so much a skill as a work ethic.  Ferguson taught him the value of work....and the value of not stopping just cause you got knocked down a few dozen times or because you got dirty.  High School football reinforced those ideas.  

So there he was, in his dream,  one Saturday morning walking across the lot toward the barn  carrying a grain scoop.He’d parked his motorcycle in the office parking lot and picked up a grain scoop while heading back to the barn.  They used Grain Scoops a LOT,  so he just naturally carried one with him pretty much all the time.  About that time  Old Man Ferguson drove up in a pickup and stopped besides him.

“Cord...take the grain truck out to the MaHooney place west of town.  Follow Lurch...he’ll give you a ride back”

“Yessir” He said....trying not to grin..

HE was a gonna drive a TRUCK!!!   Oh Boy!
So he walked on over to the Old, Old, (it was OLD) worn out forties model, two axle chevy (or was it a ford?) grain truck.  Lucky for him Lurch was there, leaning on his cane.

Lurch was an Alcoholic. Lurch was also  very black, and very, very BIG...., and  crippled.....he walked with cane and a serious limp...perhaps he had a wooden leg?  And Possibly Lurch  was a war vet...a world war II war vet.  Cord’s dad was although he wouldn’t talk about it much.  Perhaps it was all tied together, except for the black part.  Cord didn’t think about any of that back then, like how did Lurch get booze in a dry county? ..and why was he employed ….still...after all the times he didn’t show up for work cause he was drunk.  Maybe him and Mr. Ferguson had an understanding?  Maybe they had history?

Cord hadn’t given it any thought. He was thinking about driving a TRUCK!  He had no idea how far they were going he was just going to follow Lurch who would be driving a company pickup.

Only one minor problem.  He had no idea, not the vaguest glimmer of a notion, of how to drive  a truck. He COULD drive...sorta.  He’d had a motorcycle since it was legal for him to own one and he’d been “driving” the family car ever since he was big enough to see UNDER the steering wheel while sitting on  his daddy’s lap.  Once or twice a month on Sunday  afternoon's his daddy’d  take all the kids out into the country and they’d   take turns sitting in his lap and holding on to the steering wheel...until they got too big for his lap. Him and his brother Cade and his other brother Cain and his sister Cay and his other sister Cate.   They all learned to ‘drive”on Sunday afternoon excursions in the country, while mom had a day off at home.  After a while, as they got older  and they really DID learn to drive.  As much as you can learn to drive with an automatic transmission that is, which wasn’t much.  Ride and Guide...but that all most people learn anyway.  They all got their learner’s permits when they got old enough and real licenses after that.  But That’s not really driving.  That’s just “Ride and guide”.  That’s NOT driving a truck.

Lurch knew this, that Cord  couldn’t drive a truck, Hell Mr. Ferguson no doubt knew it....Lurch was standing besides the truck just grinning.  Being Black and having some mighty fine , extremely WHITE, teeth (he wasn’t from around there, locals like Cord grew up with teeth stained brown....from the water)...Lurch’s teeth.....they just kind of shined.  Blinding.

“Can you drive  Cord?”

“Um...”

Momma taught him a bunch of things while he was growing up. Momma’s are like that.   What didn’t stick was reinforced by Dad...sometimes with a belt if need be. That’s what Dad’s do.   Between them, with occasional help  from other kin like Gramps, GranMa, some uncles and aunts as need be,  they managed to get a few ideas into his hard head.  One of those ideas was”   Do  NOT Lie.....EVER”.  

“No Sir....I can’t”

Lurch just grinned some more...Cord was a mite afraid he was going to get sunburn from that smile.  Lurch was the only black he knew personal or had ever talked to.  Cord’s  high school hadn’t integrated yet and all the black kids went to Booker T.  There were very few blacks in the town and Cord only knew Lurch.

“Well boy....me and you are going to learn YOU how to drive this here truck....get in”.  Said Lurch

So it began.  Lurch, Has it been mentioned that  Lurch was BIG?  Lurch stood on the ground outside the truck next to the rolled down drivers window and looked DOWN into the truck.  He lectured Cord as to what to do.  Once or twice when Cord was being particularly stupid or not paying close enough attention Lurch thumped him upside the head.

No big deal.  It worked. Cord  paid better attention.

Thinking back on it, that must have been one comical sight.  There would be wailing (from Cord), and shouting, (from Lurch) and gnashing of gears.(from the mistreated transmission)

This went on for some time.  Eventually Cord got so he could start the truck, stand on the clutch, kinda slam  it into first gear, and GENTLY let out on the clutch...and get it to rolling.  Most of the time....without stalling.  

After a while more Cord was even steering and driving in a circle.  Grain Elevators tend to be located on large properties and Cord and Lurch used a bunch of it that day.  There at the end, after only a couple or three hours, Cord was steering in a circle , sometimes a figure eight...and shifting gears. Sometimes just for giggles and kinda showing off a little Cord would put it in reverse and back up a little.  Lurch was mostly standing in the middle of the circle ,or dodging to one side or the other as Cord drove the truck thru the middle in a figure eight, and shaking his cane at Cord and shouting great obscenities.

They were having a marvelous time.

“Ok Boy! You FINALLY got it figured out....good enough!!!!” Said Lurch  

 
“Now follow me.!!!”.  and Lurch hobbled over to a company pickup...an  automatic transmission...and got in.  He then drove slowly past Cord....turned onto the street and drove away.

Cord had to follow him.  Piece of cake.

It  only took Cord three tries this time to get rolling, he only stalled the old grain truck three times, and when he finally did  the truck wasn’t bucking much at all.......much.  He didn’t notice the police car  behind him  until it turned on it’s sirens and lights. He about jumped out of his skin.

He pulled over and stalled the truck. Again.

A Cop came swaggering up beside the truck and looked up at him....”Kid...he said..I need you to help me,”

The cops voice was a really weird and strange voice.  Or voices.  It sounded like voices from hell who had been undergoing torture just minutes before.  Eerie...a hissing sounding voice....like a cat.

Cord just stared....his eyes getting bigger and his hands turning white on the steering wheel..

“You need to stop being such a bone head and stop fighting us.” the Cop  said,  his voice trailing off oddly ...the cop had a really, really strange face too.  Like a cat.  He had a cat’s face.  with fangs....he hissed while he talked....that was it....he hissed.... ‘ so we can stop hurting you”

Cord was terrified....”Who...what....what ARE you “ he whispered....whimpered.
“We’re the truck” the the cop said...in a meowralling hissing voice....holding up a hand , complete with claws...and reaching for Cord.

About that time...Cord. The old Driver..the experienced driver.  The old man who had fought in wars, killed wolves with a stick in a snowstorm...and walked out of a howling wilderness with nary a whimper.

Sat up in his bunk and drew a DEEP breath....

…..and Screamed!!!!!!

Several times.

Then he was panting to the point of almost hyperventilating.

“Dream Over!”  He gasped.



Chapter 10: Day one on the road.

After that dream Cord didn’t sleep much.  He was actually kind of afraid to try.  Best let that settle for a while.  He got up, got dressed, and climbed out of his truck.  The ever present cats run off...a little ways...  and  he walked around the truck-stop some while it was still dark.   Eventually he went inside and got some coffee.  It wasn’t good coffee but it was better than what they had at the yard even if it was still just TruckStop coffee.  Cord hadn’t stocked his kitchen yet.  He nudged that task, stocking the truck, another few notches UP on his to-do list.

Cord thought about THE truck again.  It was a superlative truck in every sense of the word.  It had a big engine and  an eighteen  speed transmission, which he’d discovered while driving...since there were no manufacturer decals.   Cord didn’t know too much about what the other mechanical specifications were but he’d find out.  All it took was the VIN (vehicle identification number) and a session on the Internet and he’d know what was in that truck right down to the last bolt.  From the factory that is.  That HUGE sleeper certainly didn’t come from a truck factory.  It was a custom job.  He’d have to get on the Internet and check that too.

When he got a computer.  His other computer had gone with his old truck.  All his stuff had gone....except for the clothes he was wearing at the time of the Hijacking and his cane.  Cord wondered why they hadn’t taken his cane, it was actually a unique cane and very valuable.   Cord had had it specially made to his specs not too long after he’d lost his foot.  Cord also had  his boots. That was all he had.  He was still pissed off about the Hijacking, and he still had a headache.  It’d been a while since that thief had conked him on the head, surely the headache would go away soon?

Finally, around noon, the other permits came in.  Not having a computer or onboard communications other than his cell phone. (which he’d replaced...as his other one had been stolen also) Cord had to get the over-dimensional permits from the truck stop.

Damn thieves.  Five dollars a page for a fax. Some permits, like Pennsylvania had five or six pages.  It would be real easy to burn up a hundred dollar bill on just faxed permits. The priority on that computer jumped up another notch...or several....right up there with coffee.

Permits in hand Cord ambled out to his truck, not even noticing any more the collection of felines that were gathered around and near it.   The more he looked at it the better he liked it.  My it was impressive.  Loooong.  His truck had a wheelbase that surely exceeded 300 inches, Cord hadn’t actually measured...yet.   And  it was black.  It was black as soot.  No chrome.  All the metalwork was dull sooty, flat, non reflective black.  It didn’t shine. It didn’t gleam.  It sucked up light like a dry sponge soaks up water.  It was a hole in space.   Naturally he surveyed the truck as he approached.  Second nature and long years on the road had him look under the truck for any oil leaks.  He opened the door and sat the permits on the floor, at chest level while he was still standing on the ground, then shut the door and walked around the rig and checked his load.

Cord tugged on each chain to make sure that they were all tight.  If anything was a little bit loose he cranked on the ratchet binder as needed. Cord was a big man and strong...even if he was a bit long in the tooth.   When Cord tightened a chain that was a TIGHT chain afterwards.  Cord had ALL ratchet binders.  He wouldn’t own a snap-binder, also called widow-makers, on a bet.  He refused to allow any to be on any truck he owned...or operated.  He’d seen what snap binders could do....and went to the funeral afterwards.

Satisfied that all was as it should be Cord opened the door, gathered up the permits and climbed up into the driver’s seat.  Filing the permits in their proper place and doing necessary paperwork took but a few minutes and then he fired up the engine...tooted the horn...and slowly pulled out of the parking space.  He eased through the parking lot, out onto city streets and shortly was on the interstate...and in mere minutes he was in Maryland.

OverSize.  Heavy Haul, Over Dimensional....call it what you will.  Not all drivers could do it.  It takes a special kind of driver to pull the big loads.  And it wears on the driver as well as wearing on equipment. It’s hard.  Many drivers do it only occasionally....an over-sized load now and then.   Other’s specialize and do nothing else for a few years and then burn out and go back to regular freight.  Only a few drivers stick with the big stuff their entire careers.  .

The states don’t help....they make it harder.  No two states have the same rules.  Take speed limits....please.   Some states have maximum allowable speed limits JUST for permit loads. Sometimes it gets downright stupid, like Arizona.  The general speed limit in Arizona is 75 mph, except for oversize.  Over-sized  loads are limited to 55.  This means that high speed traffic is dodging slow speed trucks that are not allowed, by law, to go any faster.  Some states used to be WORSE.

Louisiana used to be 45.
Drivers had to keep on top of it or they’d end up paying a huge fine.  Driver’s swore that was the reason why none of the states were consistent with each other.  The fines.  It was all about money.

Cord was thinking that, and other things, and keeping a weather eye out for idiots as he tooled along about five mph under the speed limit going across interstate eighty on through Maryland, WVirginia and into Virginia.  There were no state scale on that road in Maryland and the ones in W.Virginia were always closed.  The one in Virginia, however, were always open.  Cord pulled into the scales, waited in line behind a van and a fuel tanker and then pulled onto the  actual static scales.  He was heavy and they told him to pull around back and park...and bring in his permit. The permit that allowed him to BE heavy.

He did....and ten or fifteen minutes later he was pulling out onto the interstate again.  With luck he wouldn’t have to stop until the scale at Roanoke, and maybe not then.  Being only eighty-five  or ninety thousand pounds gross the big truck didn’t have much troubles with the hills on Virginia's interstate eighty one.  In fact, it had no trouble at all.  Furthermore  it had so little trouble that it was almost scary.  Cord had set the cruise control on 55, (mandated state speed limit for Permitted loads in Virginia)  and set back in his seat and steered.  The speedometer STAYED on 55.  RockSolid.  Uphill and down.  It did NOT move nary a smidgen.

Now wasn’t THAT special?  Cord’s old truck had  had almost six hundred horsepower and this kind of load on these hills would have slowed it down a touch.  Not THIS truck.  It might just as well have been all flat ground.

Cord made better time than he had expected and made it to exit 80 near Ft. Chiswell  before dark.  He pulled into what had  at one time been a Petro but was now a Flying J.  When it was a Petro it had been a pretty good truck stop.  When it got remodeled by the Flying J people they ruined it.  Still...it had a big parking lot even though it was hard to get into and out of.....and he was here.

Cord  fueled up, as usual, and was amazed at how LITTLE fuel was required.  He then parked and walked inside for a meal and a shower.  He told himself for the hundredth time that as soon as he got some extra money he was going to stock up the kitchenette in that sleeper and not HAVE to spend a fortune on truck-stop food.  He needed to look into what was required for the shower too.  It  might turn out to be nice having his own shower on the truck. Cord didn’t examine his reasoning too closely or he would have realized that stocking up was by far the cheaper option.  Eating at truck stop restaurants could easily cost fifty dollars a day, since the Liberals had taken over Congress.  Back when the conservatives ran things it was much cheaper.

Later, Cord  shooed away cats, climbed into his truck, got undressed and fell into bed.  It had been a day.  Not a bad day., but a long one.  
He fell asleep and dreamed.

Cord and his buddy Brad were driving trucks.  He and Brad were about the same age, very late teens, and both Airman Two-stripes stationed at U Tapao Royal Thai Navy Air Force Base with the Pacific Air Force and the munitions maintenance squadron.  They worked in the “bomb dump’ driving trucks hauling bombs....during the Vietnam experience.

Their current job was hauling empty trailers off the flight line and dropping them at specified locations, (they had handheld walkie talkies with which they were “dispatched”) in the bomb dump.  The bomb dump was HUGE.  It covered almost twenty square miles of what used to be swamp, filled in by rock from nearby mountains, and was a maze.  A literal maze although one very easy to navigate once the pattern was known.  The roads were laid out on  a grid . East/west roads  had letters...A, B, C...etc.  North/south roads had numbers 1,2,3 etc.  Simple.  And there were signs everywhere.  Almost impossible to get lost.  Except for one thing.  The walls.  There were walls along side each road.  One side opened up into bays, technically called ‘revetments’  but the other side was sheer, blank,  rock walls...about twenty foot tall.  For miles.  Bombs were in the revetments.  Hundreds of millions of tons of bombs. And the bombers used them up at a horrendous rate.  BUFFS go thru an unbelievable amount of bombs.
 
Cord was just dropping his trailer at  Dog 43, (D row, 4th road over in revetment three) when Brad’s truck came screaming up beside him.

“Get outa here right NOW.!!” Brad shouted....

So Cord did.  He unhooked his airlines and electrical cable and pulled the fifth wheel release and took off , chasing Brad’s dust, Brad had done the same thing only quicker.  He hadn’t taken time to roll down the landing gear and the trailer ...THUMP’d to the pavement.  oops.  It was going to be hard for someone to hook up to that trailer.  Oh.  Well. That’s what forklifts were for.

Cord and Brad eventually stopped up on X-  row somewhere.   They parked their trucks beside each other but in opposite directions...like farmers meeting on a dirt road....driver’s windows’ side by side.  They were young truckers but they were learning.  Why walk when you can drive?

And why stand when you can sit?

Brad said to Cord

“You remember taking that corner coming up off the flight line at Alpha Forty?”

“Not particularly” said Cord  “ I know I did but I do that hundreds of times....so?

“Well the new second looie was sitting back up in the revetment  (it was empty of bombs) with his lights out in a squadron pickup.  When you took that corner on two wheels with your trailer flapping in the breeze like a dog wagging it’s tail,........like you always do....he turned on his lights and pulled out RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!” said Brad...with much waving of hands and aggravation.

“oops” said Cord.

“Yeah...I damn near hit the moron.  I had to drive up on the wall to avoid him.  I musta thrown rocks everywhere.  That’s why I told you too take off! He was probably following me.!!” said Brad.

The two boys settled down and waited.  They’d done all of their assigned work and had nothing more to do.  There was, however, no way they were going back to the yard. If they did the the Gate Guard (that’s what they all called their boss, (behind his back) the Tech Sergeant in charge of trucks) would surely give them something else to do.  Best to just stay cool.

About an hour later the heard  a voice over the radio.

“Control...control...can you hear me?...come in control”.

A regular voice crying out from the wilderness it was....sounded scared too.

and again.

“C-Control...hello...anyone...can you hear me?”
 
pathetic..  Sure there were hundreds of deadly snakes slithering up and down the roads, even tigers had been spotted.  And a thousand million mosquito's sucking blood constantly.  But no need to be SCAREd about it.  The worst thing that could happen was death.  No big deal.

“This is control..please use the proper radio discipline...who is this? Over”

“Control...this is Lt. Johnston.”

“Yes Sir...what can I do for you Lt.? Over”

“I seem to be lost...can you send someone out to get me”...said the Lt.

“yessir....” said control” Someone will be along right away. Over"

Brad and Cord almost hurt themselves laughing.  Shortly the radio said:

“Recovery this is Control, come in. Over”

Brad answered “Control...this is recovery one...go ahead. Over”.

“Is that other yahoo with you. Over” said control

“Yup...right here. Over” Said Cord.

“Two trailers need moved...pick em up on.........” and he gave them the location where the trailer were on the flight line and the location to which they were to be delivered in the dump.  Not unusual they went to different locations.

The two boys took off to do their job.  Cord hooked up first and took off, as was his wont, like a bat out of hell....(very much in violation of hundreds of safety regs) and arrived at his assigned drop point.  Brad was going somewhere else.  Cord opened the door to his truck and swung out around behind the cab onto the catwalk where he unhooked the lines, then he hopped down to the ground , reached under the trailer and released the fifth wheel and then began cranking down  the landing gear.

“You think that was pretty  funny” said a voice out of the darkness.

Cord turned to look and there was the Section Sergeant Sitting in his Pickup up in the revetment.

“oh shit” thought Cord  “I’m in for it now”.

“Well it was pretty funny” said the Sergeant, getting out of his truck and walking toward Cord.
“yes sir” said Cord.  not quite at attention.

“It undermines morale though” said the Sergeant....”when young aaaaairrrrrmen...” his voice started to change....

The Sergeant himself started to change.  Instead of the thirty year old white guy, (ancient by Cord’s standards) there stood a creature that in some ways resembled a human sized tiger , if Tigers wore Air Force Fatigues and a hat...and wore sunglasses, and the only stripes he had were Air Force Tech Sergeant Stripes on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you let me help you Cord”...growled the tiger...

“I really don’t want to hurt you Cord”.....growled the tiger....

“it  really doesn’t have to be this difficult......growled the tiger..

“Don’t keep MAKING me hurt you Cord..... snarled  the tiger...showing some marvelous fangs and  extending some really long claws and slowly, step by step, advancing toward Cord...

Cord sat upright in his bed in the truck...breathing hard.  He managed to NOT scream  this time....but he’d wanted too. Oh yeah...he’d wanted to. Cord was panting  and sweating heavily.  So much for that shower he’d taken earlier.

This was getting really old.  Cord poured himself a cup of coffee from his thermos  and sat down in the driver’s seat to ponder, some more.  Cord found himself pondering a LOT lately. He sat watching the two cats sitting on his hood staring back at him as he thought about how his world had turned upside down with the hijacking.  It was taking a while to sort things out.  Cord thought he was starting to detect a pattern. Cord stared at the cats and the cats stared back. He sat there for an hour or so until the sun came up and then fired the truck up and eased out of the Flying J parking lot.  They were heading to Texas.


Chapter 11 : Day two on the road.

That marvelous truck.  It ran like it was on rails.  It was the smoothest ride Cord had EVER seen and he’d been in a large number of trucks.  Hills didn’t even slow it down....they didn’t exist as far as the truck was concerned.  Top gear all the way at basically idle rpm.  Cord didn’t know what the torque rating was but it had to be HUGE.  At a Scientific Wild Ass Guess (Swag for short)  Cord would say that it produced waaaay way over a ton.  That would be two thousand foot pounds of torque or more.  More.  Way more.

And yet it handled like a small car...and sipped diesel like Cord sipped fine whiskey., very little and very slowly.  Amazing.

Things went well but they fell into a pattern.

Cord had a fine day and pulled into his old haunt at Gourdon Arkansas. The mountains on interstate forty in Tennessee barely a memory...hardly even noticed, since they didn’t affect their speed to speak of.  They might as well have been as flat as the low hills  right here in Arkansas. Cord went into the restaurant,  ate and then came back out to the truck, shooed some cats away and climbed in.  He didn’t renew his vow to buy food so much....the prices were reasonable here.  It wasn’t a chain and they didn’t seem to want to rip the driver’s off so badly.  Cord, undressed,  fell into bed and dreamed.

Cord was working his other summer job while in high school.  His permanent one.  He’d had this job since he was old enough to buy a motorcycle.  In fact the job, an early morning paper route, was part of the excuse....er...the financial reason he explained to his mom, of why he NEEDED a motorcycle.
Every morning Cord woke up really early.  There would be a pile of several bundles of newspapers on the driveway.  Cord would haul the papers into the kitchen and set them on the table and start rolling them up and securing them with rubber bands.  Nine times out of ten his mom would come in and help him.  She would grumble a little bit...but she kept on coming even when Cord told her she really didn’t need to.

His mom was like that.

Cord , and his mom, would sack the rolled papers in his cloth saddle bags.  There were so many newspapers that it took two sets of saddlebags.  He’d have a saddlebag of paper on the rear fender of his motorcycle and another one across the tank.  A good thing was that they would act as good roll bars if he were to ever drop the bike.

Then cord would ‘run the route’  Took about two hours.  He’d  get back just in time to grab a nap before time to go to school

This morning was cold.  Below freezing, no precipitation though so the streets were dry,  mostly. Except for the corner lot where the homeowner had left the water on all night and it’d got into the street....and froze.  A big , long, wide, puddle of ice.  On the corner.  Cord came around that corner like he always did...in a hurry.  He wanted to get back home and into that warm bed.  Cord didn’t see the ice.
As luck would have it, and it HAD to be luck, pure chance,  Cord didn’t go down.  What he did was end-for-ends.  Several of them.  Luckily he wound up pointing in the proper direction when he ran out of ice....and saw the cat.

Cord hated cats....professionally. (personally he liked them well enough...Cord like most animals)   Cats would stand on the sidewalk...wait till Cord was committed to driving past...then dart out in front of him.  Worse...half the time...after Cord had initiated a course change...also called dodging...they’d change their minds and go back.

This cat was different.  Instead of running across the street it came right AT Cord.  Cord was still dazed from the spin out...but upright and rolling...toward the cat.  As the cat run it changed...it got bigger.  MUCH bigger....and then it leaped at Cord....

Once again Cord sat up straight in bed as if he were spring loaded. Again he was drenched in sweat. He was gasping for breath and he WANTED to scream.  He didn’t...barely.  What would the neighbors think.  No more sleep tonight though.  He got up and found some coffee....sat in the driver’s seat and stared at the cats on the hood...who stared back.



Chapter 12: The Trip To Texas:

Day three on the road.

After a few hours  Cord left at dawn as was becoming his habit .  However when he pulled into Texas, after an hour or so,  he stopped at the first roadside park and yanked the flags and rags.  His load didn’t look oversize and Texas had their own rules.  Rags (over-sized signs) were never required on any Texas load....Texas was unique that way.. if a load was big enough the sign was required on the ESCORT..but not the haul truck.  .Flags were only needed if there was an overhang, side, front or rear, from the trailer.  This load had no overhang...at all.  None of that applied to this load....it was just heavy.  No need to draw possibly unwanted attention.  Cord pressed on.

Cord’s idea was to get through Tarrant County before three thirty pm. Tarrant county had a curfew the provisions for which were “no permitted loads”...period.  There were no consideration of “overweight only”  However, there was  no way they could tell unless he got stopped for some reason and maybe not even then....unless the cop who stopped him had portable scales.  That was highly unlikely .but better safe than sorry....he pushed on.  Beat the curfew.

He did...and that night at Plateau Texas.  The same scenario. He dreamed.

Even when Cord was younger, as now, he didn’t play well with others.  He didn’t get along.  Sometimes that hurt.  Cord was lonely but he’d always been lonely so he didn’t even realize  that he was lonely.  There was just an aching void.  Some days his inability to mesh with others hurt him more than  normal.  On those days, like this day, he’d lately taken to getting on his motor cycle and just riding.  Cord didn’t care where...he’d just point it in any random direction and GO.

Problem is...today there was a sand storm.
 
Didn’t matter...Cord had the need for speed.  Hi velocity Asphalt therapy.  Cord got out of town and then left the pavement.  He wasn’t totally stupid.  Meeting up with a truck in a sand storm might ruin his whole day.
Cord started riding across open fields and dry lake bottoms.  Occasionally he’d scare up a jack rabbit.   Naturally the jack rabbit would run.  Naturally Cord would give chase.  On his motorcycle.  In the howling sandstorm.  Trying to catch the rabbit.  Trying to kick the rabbit.

This worked fine except for the barbed wire fences.  He had to be careful about those.  Also the telephone poles, the irrigation well standpipes and the various pits, ditches and holes just added to the excitement.

And the mountain lion.
Lion?  That’s just crazy.   That part of the panhandle of Texas didn’t have any mountain lions. Hell it didn't even have any DEER.  What would a mountain lion EAT?   Oh yeah...motorcycle riders.  Cord had one chasing him...screaming his name....asking why Cord wouldn’t let it heeeeellllllllp himm.

And yet again...Cord sat up in bed like he was spring loaded...drenched in sweat,........again.

The problem was...he’d actually done all those things.  Except for the lion parts.

This was getting really old. Cord was starting to lose weight from lack of sleep.  Losing weight was NOT a bad thing but the lack of sleep made him grumpy.

Cord, yet again, poured some coffee from his thermos.

Cord , yet again, sat in the driver’s to look out the windshield and think.

Cord, yet again, stared at cat’s on his trucks hood staring back in at him.

“I wonder where all the CATS have come from all of the sudden wondered Cord  “ I don’t recall ever seeing them like this before....”
Day four on the road

Just before daylight Texas time Cord called his dispatcher. The time difference meant that his dispatcher was at work.

“This is Cord” Cord said when his dispatcher finally answered “ I anticipate unloading either today late or tomorrow early.   You got anything cooking?”

“As a matter of fact I do.” the dispatcher said”. It’s a seismic vehicle loading out of Carlsbad Caverns’ New Mexico, just north of you a bit. It’s going to Great Falls Montana.  Pays pretty well considering it’s a legal load.”

“Seismic vehicle huh” said Cord.”  You mean a thumper truck?”

“I suppose” said his dispatcher, who wouldn’t know a thumper truck from thumper the bunny.

“Ok...I’ll take it” said Cord.  ..and hung up.

Cord pulled out of  the Plateau Truck Stop  a few minutes later  wondering what he was going to do.  Back in Pennsylvania when he’d purchased this truck he’d overheard mutterings from the salespeople about the “demon truck” and how previous owners had come to no good.  He’d pretty much discounted it but now he wasn’t so sure.  

He drove on.  One of the GOOD things about Texas is that there is no distinction between automobile speed limits and truck speed limits, not even permitted loads.  West of the Pecos River, broadly speaking, the speed limit on the interstate is 80 mph.  

At 80 mph you can make some time.  This truck handled eighty miles per hour  with no strain.  Zero effort.  Eighty Miles per hour wasn't even CLOSE to it’s top speed.  This truck could go waaaaay fast.  Cord didn’t know how fast...the speedometer pegged at 160.  That was really odd, unique even for a truck.  Most trucks had eighty max on the Speedometer.  Cord Pondered on.

Due to the eighty miles per hour speed limit, ramped back to seventy ‘ish’ upon entering El Paso County....Cord arrived at the equipment dealer soon enough to unload that day.  This was good.

He unloaded, packed up the chains and stuff  and took off for the next load.

In Carlsbad New Mexico.




Chapter 13: Dead Head to Next Load

Leaving El Paso on US Highway 62 Cord  drove through outlying metro areas into less and less built up country.  Finally there’s nothing but desert.  Every now and then he’ll pass  a house or a small community along  the side the  road.  Mostly though it’s just desert.  And salt flats.  Some really WHITE salt flats.  

Eventually Cord reaches  the Guadalupe Mountains.  They are the Tallest mountains in Texas...and they are REALLY mountains.  They come as a surprise to people who think that Texas is all flat, or swamp, or forest.  Texas is all that but it also has mountains.  There’s a park at the top of the mountains.  Cord drives up and over and is headed down the other side when he sees his planned stop over for the night.  The Penny Creek Cafe’.
 
Cord recalls many a time he’d driven a truck pulling a load over that mountain. He grimly remembers one of the FIRST times.  It had to have been over a hundred degrees and there hadn’t been a breath of breeze.   Cord was driving his last truck, the one that had been stolen.  It was a LOT younger then.  Cord was pushing much too hard...all of twenty miles per hour.  Cord hadn’t learned the technique for hauling heavy loads up steep grades and not melting your engine...yet.

He was about too.

Luckily the engine hadn’t melted.  An airline did though.  Stupid design.  The airline ran much too close to the exhaust.  It just melted.  Cord and his escorts had a fun time.  It had taken hours and hours to get the truck fixed...even a temporary patch.  Cord didn’t have the tools or the parts so he had to call back to El Paso.  They sent a repair truck.  Mileage both ways plus time on the job plus parts.  Over a hundred miles.  It got pricey.  Got it fixed though.  Cord then pulled down the mountain a little bit and noticed Penny Creek Station for the first time.  He pulled in then, just like he pulled in this time, into their parking lot.

There’s a wide parking spot on the left just off the right of way. Plenty of room for several trucks or a few oversized loads.

Chapter 14: Cats

There are seven species of cats native to or inhabiting Texas according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.   There is the mountain lion , also known as puma, cougar and sometimes panther. There is the the bobcat also called the lynx. There are also the feral domestic cats.  All of these three species are fairly common especially the later.  In addition there have been seen in Texas Ocelots, Margays, Jaguars and Jaguarundi, all of which are fairly or extremely rare.  There were also a small population of Caracals, an African breed, that no one knew about due to a relatively recent escape. Caracals were masters of concealment.


Cats of all sorts were converging on Penny Creek.  It was as if there were a cat-a-lyptic emanations drawing them.  Actually there was.  The truck, unbeknownst to anyone, was a cat magnet.  Cats were attracted to it for some really odd reason. Really odd.  In this arid, semi desert seclusion the cats had to come from great distances.

Yet they came.

Cougars, BobCats, Oscelot, and Jaguar, and numerous feral domestics.  There were no Jagurundi nor Margay in the mountains at this time.  There were also, however the Caracals.  A momma was transporting her kittens to safer den when she became entranced by....”the call”  She headed toward the truck, with her kittens.

From miles around Penny Creek Stations the indigenous cats converged on the truck, the Demon Truck, the Cat Magnet.

Chapter 15: Reunion

Cord parked  the truck and looked over toward the cafe.  The cafe is set back a bit behind a fence with a gate.  If the gate has a chain with a padlock on it then there’s no one home.  If the padlock and chain are missing then they’re open for business.  There’s no padlock and chain today so  Cord walks up to the door and knocks.

John Connor opens the door.  And older  and MUCH sadder and frail looking  John Connor, from the one Cord remembers. His eyes, however, lite up when they land upon Cord.

“Young Cord O’Connor” says John...reaching out to shake his hand.  “A sight for sore eyes...I’ve not seen you in years”.

“How you doing John?” asks Cord and they walk inside together.

Turns out that John’s not doing so well.  His wife had passed away from a lingering illness some years back.  John had just kind of lost interest in living after that.  He told Cord that he’d rarely open his Cafe for business...it just wasn’t the same anymore.  He’d retired from the Park Service.

John made Cord a cheeseburger and fries.  The same quality that Cord remembered from before...that is to say....delicious.  And they had beer.

A LOT of beer.  They talked far into the night and eventually Cord stumbled back to his truck to go to sleep.

A LOT of beer.  Cord didn’t notice the panther on the roof of the cafe as he closed the door and walked up the steps toward the parking lot.

A LOT of beer.  Cord didn’t notice the mountain lions just back from the fence, along the tree line.

A LOT of  Beer.  Not so much beer though that Cord didn’t carefully remove the cats from the step of his truck before climbed into  the cab.

As usual he glorified in that huge bed.

As usual he fell right to sleep.

As usual,  he dreamed.

He and JR and a couple of other drivers had been pulling over-sized loads. Windmills going to Colorado.  They made a point of stopping at Penny Creek coming and going whenever it was open.  Good food, good Beer and Good Friends.  It was true. Cord got along particularly well with the owners because he had ta similar last name, Cord’s name was O’Connor, the owner of the Cafe was named Connor.  Very close and a definite conversation starter.  After much reminiscing and memory searching they’d all decided that there was no relation...but still......

That night it was foggy.  It’s scary in mountains in the fog....driving a truck...and worse hauling oversize....as well as being illegal.  They’d had to creep down the mountain in order to not be going too fast to stop when they saw the cafe.  It didn’t have much of a sign if it had one at all...and little in the way of lights.

They’d managed to get parked and the proprietor, John Connor had met them at the door.  He’d ushered them in and rustled up some beers.  JR was a huge man and he always had trouble finding a comfortable, and safe, place to sit,. so tonight they sat him at the end of the table...on an anvil.

They each drank beer and told Joyce  who was the waitress and John’s wife , what they wanted to eat, ...hamburgers and cheeseburgers mostly...and french fries.  John was the cook.  

Gradually more people filtered in from the fog.  After a while they had quite a crowd.  Several of the truckers and one guy, a special friend of John and Joyce’s who was a Geologist.  Cord surprised them all by asking the Geologist meaningful questions....they had a nice little conversation going about ‘mountain roots’ and ‘the old Appalachian mountain range’....when the door opened....

Cord had a sudden chill.  Whatever was going to step thru that door was NOT going to be pretty... Cord just knew it....as the door swung open Cord woke up.

Cord sat up in bed as if he were spring loaded as usual,he'd been doing that much too much lately,  his eyes wide and breathing in great gasps, as usual.

Cord got up, put on a pair of sweatpants and his foot...and sat down in the driver’s seat.  He had expected to see a cat or two on his hood.  He didn’t expect to see so MANY cats.  Hundreds of cats.  BIG cats.  Cougars, Jaguars, Ocelots, Bobcats and too many feral house cats to count.

Lined up in a circle surrounding his truck.

Looking.

Waiting.

Chapter 16 : Dogs

The ‘old boys’ from Arkansas, up the hill a few miles in the little rest area by the park  had no idea what was going on.  They had no clue as to the number of big cats so near. If they had it would a toss up as to what they would have done..  They assisted in the raising, sale and transport of Cat-hounds.   They were mostly Catahoula Curs but there was supposedly a Panther dog or several among the pack.  The panther dogs were extinct...or had been.  However the breed had been revived in part due to the problem California  had brought upon themselves   having  to do with Cougars.  

The rich people in California were caught between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand they wanted to be seen as green and friends of the earth.  On the other hand cougars were, quite literally in some cases, killing and eating their children.  Some time ago the state had outlawed cougar hunting, so the populations had not been thinned and they had increased in number. The big cats got hungry.  Cougars don’t play pretty in Suburbia.  They tend to kill things.  California suburbia, some of it, backs up against wilderness.

The cougars were coming out of the wilderness, casually jumping fences, and munching on pet poodles and other small helpless critters.  Such as human children.

Something had to be done but the rich greenies didn’t exactly know what. Rumor had it that a breeder in Arkansas had revived the old breed, the panther dog, which  had in times past engaged and killed panthers, also known as mountain lions, cougars or pumas.
  
Surely it would be better to have an animal kill an animal than to use that most dreaded of all instruments...the gun?  Or so the thinking went.  The Catahoula Curs were the back up.  They had been bred to chase and hold at bay mountain lions if not actually to fight it.   The rich greenie who’d purchased the pack of cat hounds didn’t really have it all worked out.  He had good intentions though.  It wouldn’t do him any good.

The problem is that the dog haulers  had gotten lost and made a wrong turn.   Somehow, in the middle of rush hour traffic in El Paso they had made a wrong turn without realizing it and were now heading towards new mexico on US Highway 62.  These boys were used to the Ozarks.  The desert confused and frightened them a little.  They saw the Guadalupe mountains ahead and felt a little better.  Not like home but mountains none the less.  This awful flat land and the terrible terrible salt flats were getting on their nerves.  And the wind.  The unrelenting wind.  The mountains should bring relief.

As luck would have it there was a roadside park up and over the mountains...near the summit.  Just a few miles from Penny Creek Station.    The good ole boys pulled into the rest area with the intention of walking the dogs a bit.  The dogs needed to be exercised daily.  Unfortunately the dogs bolted the minute the cage door was opened, unexpectedly and suddenly.  One minute there was a cage of yapping dogs.  Next minute they were baying in the distance....after CAT.

Big Cat.

The Hillbillies never saw any of their dogs again....alive.






Chapter 17 : Catfight


The Mother Caracal and her half grown kittens were moving.  When the “call” , the compulsion, the desire to ‘go there’ came.  She had had a ways  to go,.  The kittens slowed her, a little.  Yet she came.

Into the dogs.  She was intercepted by the hounds.  She  and her boys fought a running battle and  evaded the dogs.   One kitten died right there. It was too slow, or stumbled or didn’t dodge fast enough.  The kitten was pounced upon by the pack.  The  Panther Dog killed it.

She and the surviving kitten made for the source of the compulsion.

This unintentional sacrifice by one of the kittens gave the mother and her other baby time to gain some ground.  They ran as fast as they could toward the source of the call.  They almost made it.

Cord looked up from the circle of cats. .    Dogs….......He heard dogs. Dogs  were barking. Howling, Baying.  Dogs in full throat.  Like they were chasing something.  There must have been a dozen of them and they seemed to be intent on killing something...from the sound of it they were closing fast.. .  Cord looked back at the circle of  cats and they were....gone.

A smart guy would have just sat and let things sort themselves out.  That’s what Cord would normally have done but for the dreams. Cord would rather face a pack of wild dogs, or cats,  than go back to sleep right then.  The dreams were wearing on him. For the better part of a week now he’d been having nightmares. He was short on sleep....and he had that damnable headache, which seemed to be getting worse. The headache was a leftover from when he’d been mugged..he supposed...although he hadn’t noticed it until  he’d  banged his head on the truck and had that goop drop into the resultant gash while he was inspecting this truck.....But.still. The combination  was affecting his judgement.  

Cord donned his so called PPE.  Personal Protection Equipment that’s a requirement on many job sites..  Shortly he was wearing steel toed boots, heavy overhauls and a heavy shirt.  He had on gloves and safety glasses and a HardHat with a headlight.   He grabbed his ‘bubba stick’, a special made sword cane with a big solid brass knob on one end and a special  sup-rise inside.   Then Cord opened the driver’s door and  climbed down out of the truck.

Approaching  the rear of the trailer and to one side a running  fight was in progress.  It appeared to be hounds. There were a bunch of them and they were all ganging up on something.  From the sound of it they were trying to kill a cat.

The cat wasn't making the job easy for the them though.

The cat was out numbered a dozen to one  but it was fighting for all it was worth.  Here a canine got a claw thru the eyes...there another dog got it’s cheek slashed....and then the cat took a running tumble and rolled over on it’s back, UNDER  a canine, and really went to work. It used it’s teeth on the dog’s throat and held the dog in place with its front paws.  Kind of a ‘cat-hug’  and then it started digging with it’s rear feet.  Its feet had very sharp claws. The dog had a very soft belly.  Had.   Those sharp claws, digging like a gopher,  disemboweled the dog.  The dog ran off a short ways dragging it’s guts in the dirt...then keeled over from blood loss.

About that time the cat-dog fight, ..swirled  into the parking lot like a furry tornado..   The kitten was lagging behind and the Momma  had slowed to help it along.  The dogs closed.  The dogs were unaware that they were  now inside a circle of cats.  Big Cats.

The cats made their presences known.  Cougars and a Jaguar or two mostly...and many of the smaller breeds, mostly BobCats. Those were big dogs...way out of the weight range of house cats..  However, there were some Old TomCat ferals who felt they were up to the job. . The dogs noticed what they had gotten themselves into.....came to a claw -digging-into-the dirt stop.....

…..........and went insane.


Cord  was limping back from the cab of the truck....holding his cane.  he had a beam of white light shining from his hard hat where a powerful LED light was affixed.   Wherever Cord turned his head the light shone....he wasn’t exactly hard to notice.
The upside was that both his hands were free, that is he didn’t need to hold a flashlight to see in the darkness, being able to see didn’t interfere with his ability to wield his cane.

The dogs , in full kill mode, overcome by bloodlust and surrounded by the smell of more CAT than they had ever dreamed  possible...were out of control, they were berserk. ....the smell of blood  and the overwhelming smell of CAT had driven them out of their tiny little minds. Several of the dogs attacked Cord while the rest were in turn attacked by the surrounding big cats.

As the dogs approached Cord flicked a switch on his Bubba stick and the ‘stick’ , which was actually titanium tubing, telescoped out until he had a five foot staff.  One more touch of another button and a two edged sword/blade snicked out the other end.  Cord now held a  spear.  It had a heavy double-edged blade on one end and a knob on the other. Cord used that knob  to good effect and caved in the skull of the first dog  to reach him, then Cord spun slightly to one side and skewered the dog that came running toward him.  Spear into the heart. The dog collapsed instantly.

Another  canine thought it would be smarter to flank Cord from one side and circled around , only to be met with  the brass knob between the eyes....crushing in its forehead.

A thrusting spear is a horribly deadly weapon in the hands of a master and Cord, while not a master, was tolerably good with it. He taken instruction in martial arts while he was in the military, and overseas.

No dog could get within a five foot radius of Cord and live.

The dogs which had NOT attacked Cord weren’t doing well,.....either.  Lions and Tigers (oh my) spelled their doom.  The screams, snarls and howls intensified until suddenly.
It was over.

Cord sat down on the bed of his trailer and surveyed the immediate area.  The bodies of dogs were scattered everywhere, and it seemed that everywhere he looked he saw cats.  Big cats.
Cord didn’t feel very comfortable right then.  Swatting dogs were one thing.  A hundred and eighty pound cougar was something else...and if his eyes didn’t deceive him there were also Jaguar who were even bigger.  Lions AND Tigers (oh my)   Cord did NOT want to tangle with them.  Not individually or singly.  Not without firearms.

Perhaps an Apache helicopter gun ship.  Yeah...a gatling gun would be nice right about now...or two.

Cord sat very still on his trailer.

Cord saw movement. Not the big cats but something else.  Smaller, and carrying something.

It was a small cat. Small in comparison to the panthers and jaguars.   It was a cat  with which  Cord was unfamiliar. It had really strange looking tufted ears and was about the size of a Cocker Spaniel.  It was the momma Caraval and she was carrying her badly hurt kitten.  

To Cord.

She walked up and put the kitten, about the size of a small housecat, into his lap as he sat there on the trailer.  If Cord was nervous and uncomfortable before...he was downright anxious now.  However, as he took and held the bleeding, bitten mangled, kitten.  The momma cat looked Cord in the eye.  

Then she turned and left.

The other cats left also.  The horde vanished....leaving the torn and mangled bodies of the dogs scattered about the grounds.

Cord didn’t notice since he now had an invalid to take care of.  He limped back to the cab of his truck...carrying the  kitten.

Cord didn’t get a lot of sleep that night..... Either.

He had  nursing duties in addition to the nightmares.... AND the headache which was getting noticeably worse.  Cord had finally given in and minimally stocked the mini-kitchen from truck stops  and had SOME food for the kitten..  He had no idea what baby cats ate...really..., but after he did his best to clean and care of it’s wounds, of which there were an appallingly large number....and alarmingly severe, he then set about making something for it to eat.  Milk would probably be good.  Warm milk.  Or possibly chicken soup?

The kitten  was a tough little guy but it was in bad shape.  It could barely stand and seemed disoriented. Cord put a bowl of milk down in front of it but the kitten seemed confused.  Cord finally soaked a washcloth in milk and put the cloth in the cat’s mouth.  It sucked on that.  Cord repeated the process until the kitten went to sleep..

While feeding  the kitten Cord had noticed a black goo on the animal.
“Now where had that came from?”  Cord wondered to himself.  “kinda like that stuff I got on me a while back...?”

Cord was so tired though that he didn't pursue the matter of the goo.  Right now priority was  feeding the cat and getting the both of them to sleep....somewhere.

Where to bed down the cat? His bed would do he supposed. Cord got undressed , removed his artificial foot, and climbed into bed...with the kitten.

An hour later it was meowing....loudly.  So Cord fed it some more...and after a while it went to sleep.

An hour later it was meowing ...loudly....So Cord fed it some more ...and after awhile it went to sleep..
..
…........so it went throughout the night..

Cord didn’t get a  lot of sleep.  It seemed no more had he laid his head down from feeding the kitten  the last time ...than there came a banging on the sleeper door.  He pulled on a pair of pants and hopped to the door.

There, in dawn’s  early light stood an officer of the Texas Highway Patrol....beside his cruiser....parked right next to Cord’s truck.  The officer didn’t...., quite, have his hand on his gun...but it was close....real close.

“What can I do for you officer?” asked Cord....still groggy from lack of sleep.

“A couple of guys up at the Rest Area called in about someone stealing their dogs.  I drive by here and see a lot of dogs laying around.  Can you explain it?” asked the officer.  A slight frown on his face.

“As a matter of fact yes” said Cord

“Last night , after having dinner with my friend John Connor who owns the place, I was  standing beside  my trailer, just admiring the sky, when I got attacked by some dogs.  I was beating the dogs off with my cane, I’m a mite crippled you see,”

Cord nodded toward his ankle that was missing a foot....that made some people queasy and he’d take any advantage he could at this point.

“...and  while I was beating the dogs off......well lets just say I killed a couple of dogs with my cane.  It was dark outside and I couldn’t see very far.  It sounded horrible though.  Something got those dogs.  The ones I didn’t I mean.  If you like I’ll put a foot on and you and I can go look?”

Cord mentally kicked himself...if the officer saw how badly the   dogs had been sliced and diced  how was he going to explain that?  He’d just as soon not mention his spear cane.

“John Connor you said?” asked the officer?

“yup” said Cord.

“Excuse me for a minute” said the officer and went to his cruiser and proceeded to become involved in a lengthy radio conversation. Some time later he returned.

“What’s going on” asked Cord?

The officer looked at Cord with a thoughtful expression.  “John Connor’s wife, Joyce, died several years ago. John didn’t take it well.  John was at retirement age for the park service  and so he went ahead and retired.  He stayed out here all alone.  Some say he’d stand guard over his wife’s grave...she’s buried behind the house, for hours.”

Cord nodded, the officer continued.

“A few months ago John died.  He mourned himself to death.” said the patrolman

Cord just stood there...at a loss for words.

“Who...” Cord finally managed to say....” who was it I had supper with then?”

Cord shook his head...this wasn’t turning out very well.

The officer, pointedly, ignored Cord’s question.

“My advise to you, and this is friendly advice since you seem to be an innocent bystander...is to leave as soon as convenient and think twice before stopping by  here again.”

…....said the Officer...with a little bit of pallor showing through his Texas tan

“now if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll be leaving”

“but what about the carcasses” said Cord...not thinking again...

‘Nature has ways of taking care of dead animals”

Said the officer then turned and walked just a LITTLE too quickly back to his cruiser.

“ I wouldn’t worry about them.”

..it was purely accidental that he threw gravel when pulling out onto the highway.

“I’ll be damned” said Cord.

Hearing a demanding ye-oh-wa-ro-hallll!!! from the interior of his truck he figured it meant that it was dinner time again.


Chapter 18 - Loading in Carlsbad and the trip to Great Falls

Later that morning Cord drove the rest of the way into Carlsbad New Mexico. He had called  the shipper ahead of time as usual but the pick up instructions had been vague. He really didn’t know where he was going...or what he was picking up.  Something about a seismic vehicle.  Cord was familiar with Seismic Vehicles....he called them thumper trucks.  What he wasn’t familiar with was picking one up in a WalMart parking lot.  Some things just do not go together.

Still..it turned out ok...He was at the right place and the seismic vehicle turned out to be tiny...by Cord’s standards.  Just a little five ton truck with a hydraulic  hammer....of sorts...on the back.  Cord got it loaded and tied down easily.  It was a legal load, no permit required nor any travel restrictions.

Even so Cord hated to travel at night and besides...he’d had exactly NO sleep the previous night and now had a little one to take care of.  
Speaking of which....Cord locked up the truck and walked into the Wal-Mart....to return later pushing one shopping cart and pulling another.  Money be damned...he’d stocked up.

The cat was very hungry....and appeared to be angry that Cord had left it alone for such a time.  It had left ‘presents”

Cord sighed.  At least  this time he had something to feed the little monster. He’d clean up after it in a little bit.  Now where would be a good place to put the litter box?

Day one out of Carlsbad

Unfortunately the baby thumper truck was a “hot load”. It was going to Great Falls Montana. It’s driver, who looked so damn young to Cord, had requested that it be there in only a few days so he could fly in and drive it the rest of the way into Canada.
Oh.

The young Canadian had been very polite too.  A Really nice kid.  Cord felt obligated.  If dispatch had threatened fire and brimstone, death and destruction if the load was late Cord would have felt no remorse in telling them to “stick it”.  However the kid had asked politely and that was a whole nother matter.  It was going to be a miserable few days.

A big part of this day was gone so he wasn’t going to get very far.  Las Vegas New Mexico here he came. Shouldn’t be too hard.  Light legal load.  It was over some two lanes but he’d been over them before .

Off he went.
Didn’t make it...not even close.  Nope...didn’t even get THAT far.  Roswell was as far as they went., which was DAMN surprising... considering all the road side stops for the kitten.  The kitten was torn up pretty bad but was healing.  That took energy.  That meant it  was hungry...all the time. They had been lucky to go sixty miles between stops.

There used to be a fairly decent truck stop in Roswell New Mexico...but like many other small (and not so small) businesses it was gone.  The current political situation was hell on small businesses, they were dropping like flies all over the country, vacant and boarded up building’s  were everywhere.     Cord stopped at a little rest area/truck pull out  and dug into his stores.  He’d spend the night here but first they’d eat.  Cord had  purchased a wide variety of cat food as well as people food at Carlsbad’s Walmart .

Cord  opened up another can of what was purported to be ‘kitten food’ and sat it in front of the kitten.  The kitten tried to eat it but was apparently still just too weak. No big deal. Cord had been spoon feeding it all day and he could continue to do so..  After a few bites, as usual,  the kitten went back to sleep. Cord put the open can of cat food in the refrigerator and then  fixed himself some food and followed suite. He went to sleep also.

Cord managed to sleep for an hour or so before the kitten woke him up.  He then fed the kitten and went back to sleep.  This happened several times  all night long.

Somewhere in there Cord managed to dream.

The Dream was of the the early days of Cord's marriage. Cord and his young wife had lived in an upstairs over-a-garage two room apartment with their two dogs and one cat.  Cord and his new bride were sleeping on the floor.  They’d tried to sleep in the bed but certain matrimonial gymnastics had been too much for the old thing and it collapsed.  It was a cheap old bed anyway so there wasn’t much loss.  They’d put the mattress on the floor and slept on it just fine.  Lots more firm...didn’t bounce and creak...and was better for their backs anyway.

In the dream Cord suddenly couldn’t breathe.  He'd opened his eyes and everything was STILL black....it remained black eyes open or not.  The cat.  The cat was laying across his face...Cord grabbed the cat with one hand and.....and....

<!!!!!!!!!!>   now this wasn’t right.

The dream depicted, as many did, a real incident in Cord’s life.  What was supposed to happen was that Cord would throw the cat.  The cat would sail through the air and hit the far side wall, slide down the wall  and then scamper into the kitchen and hide.  He and his wife hadn’t seen it for days.

But that was not the way THIS dream worked out.  In it Cord just cuddled the cat and went back to sleep.

Not much of a nightmare.  Cord could deal with THAT.  The nightmares had been wearing him down.    

Dawn came along, the sun lit up the countryside and Cord woke up.  The kitten was sleeping on his chest.  Cord had a spoon in one hand and the can of cat food was nearby...empty.  That was OK.  The kitten seemed to be getting better.  It didn’t look like death warmed over any more and might actually live.

The day was pretty much like the night had been.  Cord would drive an hour or so...then feed the kitten and clean the kitten's wounds ....and repeat. Occasionally Cord would catch a nap himself.    At night they found a place, stopped, and slept.  Complete with dreams but not so nightmarish.  He still had the headaches...if anything the headache , it was a constant feature now, was getting worse.

At daylight they did it again....and the next day.

The good thing about being a legal load was that there were no restrictions.  Only ordinary laws that all the other trucks were subject to.  That made it a lot easier.  As long as Cord didn’t act up or do anything stupid he shouldn’t have to worry about cops.   And so it was...

One fine  morning they pulled into Great Falls Montana.  Cord was beat to a frazzle, he felt bad and his headache had reached nuclear apocalyptic proportions.  He felt sick.  The cat seemed to be doing a little better. There was something about it’s head that was worrying Cord.  It’s forehead, cat’s don’t have foreheads, but this one was growing one. It was soft.  Kind of like something was wrong with the bones. They felt to Cord like the bones of a newborn.  Cord didn’t know what to do.  His own head, as a matter of fact, FELT like the kitten’s head looked.  Sometimes his headache got so bad that he could barely see.

Cord called the ‘customer’ to see where he might be and was unsurprised to discover that the call went to voice mail.  They pulled into a truck-stop in Great Falls and took a nap. (after eating). It seemed that Cord had just lay  down when he was awakened by the phone. They had beat the Seismic Vehicles owner to Great Falls...much to their mutual delight.  The guy was just getting off the airplane but he was on the way.

After a couple of hours the vehicle was unloaded and gone.

Cord called dispatch.

“This is Cord” he said as soon as his dispatcher answered.

“I’m not feeling too well right now” said Cord.  “I’m going to crawl into bed and die.  If I DO survive I'll sleep for about a week.  Maybe when I wake up, IF I wake up... I’ll feel better”

“Probably just the 24 hr flu” said dispatch, not paying too much attention to what Cord was saying...as usual  “Everyone here has been getting it”.

“I dunno” said Cord.  “I feel like something the cat drug in” Cord looked at the cat...it looked back and some puke dribbled from it’s mouth, the cat wasn't feeling to great either.

“Worse maybe”  Cord said into the phone  “I’ll call you when I feel better.  It might be a few days”

“Good luck” said dispatch...and they hung up.



Chapter 19: Sick As a Dog And Rebirth

Sick didn’t begin to describe it.  Cord took off his clothes and climbed into bed.  He tossed and turned.  He shivered and sweated.  For a while there Cord thought he was going to die.  Shortly after that he was afraid that he might NOT die. He was miserable. Cord hadn’t been in such pain and misery since  any one of those times that he’d been wounded during the war,  or got hung-over that time in Bangkok...or both.  Cord normally didn't got sick much  and didn’t know how to handle it.  He hurt....bad.

The kitten, apparently, didn’t feel any better.

Cord didn’t know how long he and the kitten laid there in the bed.  It might have been days, it might have even been weeks.  Cord very, very vaguely recalled getting out of bed on occasion and feeding himself and the cat..he, and the cat, they even went to the bathroom ...or litter box….as the case might be......but mostly the two of them just lay there and suffered.  Not quietly either.  The cat made horrible cat noises and Cord made horrible  human noises...and sometimes Cord made horrible cat noises and the kitten cried like a baby.....Cord didn’t care, he just wanted it to stooooop.

He was miserable....THEY were miserable.... they endured...then finally one day.

The cell phone rang, and Cord woke up.

How many days had they lain there?  It couldn’t have been as long as it seemed because  it seemed like two days short of forever.  The amazing thing was that Cord didn’t hurt...no headache.   The kitten apparently didn’t hurt either since it was alternately licking  and gnawing on cord’s hand.  

“ouch....now quit that.” said Cord.  “I’ll get you some food in a minute”

The kitten sat back, tilted it’s head sideways a bit...and just looked at cord.  Strange looking cat.  It had a forehead.

The Cell Phone rang again...insistently

Cord answered the phone ‘Hello”, he said.

“ If you two Colloids are thru feeling sorry for yourselves we need to talk.”

The voice on the phone was really weird and strange.  Or voices...Hard to tell...it sounded like several people talking in unison...and not doing a really great job of it.   There  was also frequency shifting. For a bit there it would be a bass then  a soprano.. an alto or a baritone....then a choir of all of them....or anything in between from solo to quartet. There was lots of interference too... if  that’s what the buzzes, pops and crackles indicated.   No gender clues either.  It could have been male or female... both, ….or a robot...  Eerie...

“I dunno who this is but I’m not interested .I gave at the office”, Cord said and hung up.

Almost immediately the phone rang again. “You need to stop being such a bone head and stop fighting us.” the voices said.  The voice was sounding better all the time.  With each passing second the frequency was evening out and the buzzing, popping and crackling had almost vanished. Cord still couldn’t decide the gender though...

Cord, puzzled, replied “who is this?” finally noticing that the caller ID wasn’t registering.

“We are  the truck” the voice said.

‘What do you mean “we” white man”, said the driver, “and how many IS we?’

That remark apparently puzzled the voice....as if it had never given that question any thought.. “how many? ...How many?....er....ah....not sure. ...about eighty jillion, sixty quadrillion umpty ump yadda ….”  the voice muttered on...seemingly in what programmers might call a “recursive do loop”

Cord said. “your lips are breaking up.... I’m not understanding anything you’re saying”. ...and he hung up again.

The phone immediately rang again.  “Would you Please STOP DOING THAT!” said the voice,  obviously miffed. ...and then it was silent for a moment before saying “Apparently you haven’t the basic precepts, the underlying world view, to comprehend.....”
.
“Are you saying I'm stupid?” Cord asked angrily, he was, after all, annoyed. He wasn’t physically  tired  after his long sleep.  In fact he felt better than he could remember EVER feeling in his whole life.  He felt like the could take on an alligator and give it the first bite.  Speaking of bite... cord was hungry.  So was the kitten, apparently as it was chewing on his finger again.  Cord removed his finger, gently,  from the kittens mouth and stroked it’s head.

Then Cord signed deeply, the very picture of “much put upon”,    and said, “ok...skip how many. Back to the first question. Who are you”.

“We are the truck” the voice said.

“That dog doesn’t hunt” Cord said. “Be more explicit or I’ll hang up again.  And that’s not possible anyway.  Trucks can’t talk on the cell phone.”.

“ Is this better? ”
The voice now came from the trucks extensive sound system.  Cord wasn’t much into music and hadn’t even looked at the truck’s stereo.  He supposed it had one.  Probably a very expensive one if it matched the rest of the truck.  It sounded good....only Cord hadn’t turned it on”

“Oh.” said Cord...a little bit setback....but only a little. He was hoooongrry and the kitten was chewing with more vigor on his hand again, it was beginning to hurt a little.  Shortly there would be blood..then perhaps a hand lost.. HIS  hunger was getting quite insistent....it was affecting his ability to concentrate.

“Ok...you’re the truck.  Tell me about it.  You talk while I get something to eat.  I’m starved and so is....is.  Damn....I haven’t named my little Bubba yet.”  

“Food?” said the voice.  “Oh yeah...you primitive carbon based creatures need sustenance in the form of processed vegetable matter..  We more advanced beings are beyond that and take our energy directly”.

Cord just stood there for a minute, thinking about what the voice had just said.  Was this ...this....whoever it was trying to be funny?
Onliest way to find out was to ask.  “You trying to be funny?  I want a steak...what do you mean  processed vegetable matter?”

Now the voice seemed to be taken aback...

“Well yeah....I was, trying to be funny.  How was it?  Was I funny?.You appear to be tense and I was trying to lighten the mood. Steak?  That’s dead animal meat.  You eat dead animal flesh?”.

“I certainly do” said Cord and he began digging out pots and pans and the fixings for a meal. “ vegetables are what food eats. You did pretty good. It was pretty funny. It worked.   I’m not tense any more.  I’ve obviously gone bugaloo crazy so why be tense?”

About that time the Kitten , feeling that his point wasn’t being considered...said “I’vf hungly tu.”.

Cord dropped what he had in his hands and turned and stared at the cat.

“Yup..I’m .plumb loonie. I’m totally around the bend.  Gone la la land.  The cat’s talking”

“Why don’t you sit down and relax and I’ll fix dinner, “ said the voice...whereupon  long slender whip-like tentacles extruded from various places overhead  in the sleeper, and began rummaging through the kitchen.

Cord boggled....and sat down with a thump.  Luckily he sat down in a chair.  Sound, even alien voices, coming from a sound system was one thing. Even a talking cat...cat’s made noise all the time....why not talk?   That was barely imaginable. It fit in his world view...marginally.   Tentacles, however, did not.... Tentacles in the sleeper were new.

Cord leaned back in his easy chair. The truck sleeper was so large and so well furnished that it even had a lazy boy. Luckily Cord had collapsed into it.  The kitten jumped and grabbed his  leg, muttering to itself as it struggled... it was too weak yet to make the distance to his lap in one jump...so it set climbing anchors  and spikes and crampooned it’s way up Cord’s leg.. leaving little bloody spots behind it.... or that’s what it felt like cord didn’t  check to see.  ........ and settled down in Cord’s  lap. Still muttering to itself....did it really say THAT?  Cord absently patted the cat. “shush...don’t use those kind of words...you’re too young to be cussing like that.”

Cat’s drawing blood climbing up his leg was a familiar thing.  Cat’s muttering obscenities in his lap was.........not so familiar. …. but....tentacles hanging from the ceiling and cooking dinner?

Tentacles were not familiar.

Cord watch intently as the tentacles , which had extruded from various places overhead began removing items from the refrigerator, the cupboard, and operating the oven. Tentacles running a kitchen  was a bit out of Cord’s experience.  It had Cord’s full attention.

“You were saying” said Cord. “About what you are I mean”

“More accurately would be ‘What WE are’ “ said the voice, sounding better by the minute,  as it continued fixing dinner.” Steak you say?”

“Yeah...steak. Big one. Medium well done..Hand me a beer would ya? “ asked Cord.
“Sure thing...here” said the voice...and  suddenly a beer was flying thru the air toward Cord’s head......moving pretty fast too.

Cord barely caught it in time....

“Now cut that out !” said Cord....absently catching the beer with one hand without apparent effort....  “ Now it’s gonna spew all over when I open it.” He sat it on the floor beside his chair and said “ Get me another one and hand it to me this time...be gentle.’

"huh?"  Cord suddenly realized what he had done. His reflexes had NEVER been that fast.  By rights that can of beer should have bounced off his head...but he had caught it easily.  Very odd.

Somewhat subdued apparently.... a tentacle did just that.
Cord popped the top and sat back...”Ok...now talk. ‘ Who art thou that I should be mindful of you?’”....

The tentacles kind of stopped what they were doing for a moment.  Somewhere there must have been an eyebrow raised, or perhaps eyeballs rolled.

“Oh...I get it, “ said the truck...” I don’t get the reference but that must have been humor. Very good”.
“Yeah...you seemed kinda tense so I was trying to lighten the mood....now talk” Said Cord.

Then the truck proceeded to explain to Cord what it was and what it was all about. It addition to talking there was a holographic  presentation. Sometimes there was  lucid dreaming. It was better than powerpoint.  This was experiential 3D.  Full sensory virtual reality.Complete with narration...

The AI that was the nanoswarm from an ancient spacecraft . In the early days it couldn’t exactly have been said to have been thinking..not exactly....it was actually running on partial  and barely remembered programming.  It wasn’t sentient...not exactly. It didn’t, quite, have self awareness.  Something was missing from the ‘matrix’ preventing any of that from occurring.  It wasn’t a stand-alone intelligence so much as a symbiotic one....and it had no symbiotes.  The cybernetic model it’s programmers had followed those many millions of years ago was unlike anything earth programmers had discovered.....yet.

Very, very broadly and hence inaccurately it could be described as a very widely distributed  network.  It’s data was evenly distributed holographic-ally thru-out it’s  entire substance. Oddly enough human scientists were beginning to suspect something similar about the mammalian brain.  Onboard the warship the AI’s  function had been to assist, repair, maintain and/or heal anything and everything ON or in  that warship from the stem to stern  including the crew...and to do whatever ELSE the crew required....from planning to entertainment to environment, to  fighting to cooking to taking out the trash.

“And serving Beer”...said Cord, “ I’m out.” and he tossed the can, which was immediately snagged by a tentacle and put away

“ And how bout some tuna while you’re at it?  Bubba might could use some.

“Tuna?” said Bubba...

(his name apparently was Bubba...neato...he’d never had a name before, maybe...he barely remembered the time before the great sickness.  Bubba was a good name.  He somehow knew that Bubba meant “brother” in Texan. He liked the idea of being a brother to the big one.  he wasn’t too clear on what a brother WAS but it sounded cool and he wanted  to be one.  His name was Bubba...he purred. He also, somehow, knew what tuna was…).

YES!”

“Yef prease....I vould rike shum  TooNah.” said the kitten.

The kitten’s voice was …...different.  It had, after all...a cleft lip ....and fangs....and a long sandpapery tongue. That HAD to make it hard to talk.  It’s speech was......different.  Understandable though. Barely

“Very Good Bubba...that’s a Polite little feller” said Cord.

A tentacle holding a beer came gently, gently drifting over to Cord and another one holding a small bowl containing a small serving of Tuna  was placed in front of Bubba...the presentation continued...

Something was basically, fundamentally different between these “humans” and it’s original crew.  The seventeen  previous owners of the truck had died due to it’s attempt to establish contact. This human hadn't been doing any better until cats had entered the equation.

Cord kind of stiffened a bit...seventeen huh?

The kitten was oblivious.


“Better than all the other’s huh?” muttered Cord....taking a swig from his beer.

The kitten remained oblivious, intent on it's new taste sensation.

If it were possible for the AI to be excited then it WAS excited.  It  had sensed something. Something vaguely reminiscent from it’s past. The equivalent of a taste or a scent. Barely there but oh so enticing.  That Something had activated certain  other software switches, other decision trees were brought into play...other possibilities were considered..  If the AI were human it would be doing the equivalent of jumping up and down , holding itself, while wetting it’s panties.  The human had noticed nothing.

“So you say “ muttered Cord....sipping on his beer.  “ I noticed a LOT...I just didn’t understand any of it.”

The AI ignores Cord, other than getting him another beer..that Texan can really go thru the beer....apparently unaffected....the kitten looks up and says...

”I’mf guud”

and returns to his tuna...delicately savoring each tiny nibble The AI  continues with the presentation

If the AI had any emotions it would have been elated.  As it was it just felt a sense of satisfaction. A job well done. Things were finally on track.  .  FINALLY.  The missing piece.  The cat.  The puzzle could not be said to be complete...yet...but  It now knew what to do. It had needed a human that was a “ cat-person” AND an appropriate feline.  A kitten with  just the right characteristics.  African Caracals had those characteristics , at the genetic level.  Other cats in the America’s fell short....just barely but short none the less.

After almost half a century of effort...finally the pieces had fallen together in such a way as to allow the AI's precursor to succeed.

The presentation continued recapping as it were the recent past. The fight at  Penny Creek was effectively re enacted in full sensory magnificence.  Cord and Bubba relived it together....Cord petted Bubba...”you done good Bubba...”

Bubba was mostly concentrating on his tuna.  Actually he didn’t remember much of anything. He had been sick...he woke up hungry...and it was a whole new world.  He liked that the big one was pleased with him though. He purred.

And the presentation continued on.  Sometimes vast arrays of interstellar space was displayed...sometimes molecular modeling was used to depict certain biological principles....

Finally it was over.  It had seemed to take....a long time.

Cord said” That was very nice....now let me put it my kinda words. Forget the history, forget the physics and astronomy.  What it boils down to is that  you’re saying that we’re all three married...right?”

“Well that might be one way of putting it.”said the AI”  Actually it’s a bit more intimate than THAT.  Consider Siamese Twins...only there’s three of us.”

“oh....  my...    gawd....”...said Cord in a small voice.

Bubba quit eating his tuna...he then lay belly down on Cord’s lap , put his paws over his head....and whined.

Chapter 20: The Next Morning

Cord is drinking some really, really GOOD coffee.  It seems that having a nanoswarm infested truck with a kitchen had it’s advantages.  Bubba is eating catfood...and not saying much. Bubba had   developed a serious appetite.  It seemed that he was always eating if he was not asleep.

“So...from what I  understood last night”  Said Cord a little bit reluctantly. “ the reason you couldn’t make contact with all those other drivers is because they weren’t cat lovers and there wasn’t a cat to act as a catalyst .Cats are enough similar to your previous symbiotes that it allowed some points of correspondence not available otherwise. You could say that   Bubba was a CAT a lyst..( hah  hah...hardy har har..)...that allowed you and I to link up...and in the process he got uplifted...of sorts?”

“yeah.. that’s fairly accurate at the level  that your poor colloid thinking process can comprehend.....but that’s not all of it..you forgot that not just any cat would do...for some reason none of the others had what bubba has...and furthermore..parts were added to both of your brains...hence the headaches..” said the AI.
“And there’s me, I’m the standing wave consequential to the ….” and the AI went on with a post- doctorate level discussion of neuropsychology and neurophysiology  coupled to optics and quantum mechanics, complete with pretty pictures. Many of the things it said would have caused experts in any of the related fields  to pay very close attention.

It continued on  until . “ I didn’t really exist until just the other day, same as Bubba.  My  potential existed, but I didn’t...not really.   I consider all that other, messy, stuff to have been done by my progenitor...kinda like you would think of as a father.”

“I’m hundreds of millions if not billions of years old and yet I’m the same age as Bubba there” said the AI.  “you’re the OLD one amongst us.  “
Cord drank some more coffee and frowned.

“I guess I’m stuck with you huh” said Cord...”and him” and cord nodded toward the Kitten.

The kitten chose just that moment to fart.
Cord Frowned and turned back to the discussion

“All very good.”...but it’s time to go to work.  I’m calling Dispatch.

And he did.
“This is Cord” said Cord when dispatch answered...

“You ok?" said dispatch. "It's been almost a month...we were getting worried about you and preparing to call the police and have them check on you.'

“yeah...guess I am.  It was like you said...a 24 hour bug...only in my case it was more than 24 hours, more like 24 days..  I hope I don’t have that happen to me ever again”. said Cord.

“I hear you” said dispatch  “ It just so happens, however, that I DO have two immediate  choices for you, neither one is that great.  One is to deadhead about seven hundred miles or so to Fargo North Dakota and pick up a  Case loader going to Texas.   The other is to deadhead the other direction...six hundred or so miles...and pick up a  Cat loader,  going to Orlando Florida. Both are legal loads and weigh about the same and pay about the same per mile.”

“Some choice” said Cord.  “gimme the one going to Florida...it’s got more miles on it ...is there any deadhead money?”.

“No deadhead money...Its yours “ said dispatch”.

“I’ll be there when I get there, probably take two days since I’m not feeling too good  just yet.” said Cord...and they hung up.

“I love running the west” muttered Cord to his symbiote, “but this company just doesn’t have much freight out here.  We’re lucky to get this.  I was afraid we might have to deadhead to Illinois."

Neither one said anything since what Cord had just said was just nonsensical to them.



Chapter 21: Driving to Boise and certain modifications

Cord made sure that there was plenty of fuel and food on-board before they took off this time. Cross country in the mountains of Montana and Idaho were NOT the ideal places to break down...and even if he DID have the Demon truck now...Cord didn’t quite trust it....some old habits should not be allowed to die.

They took off at daylight as usual..Cord still hated to drive in the dark.  Along the way the three of them began to converse.

“So...how come is it that you’re getting such good fuel economy “ said Cord “you’re almost getting Eight miles to the gallon.  That’s unheard of”.

“I’m ONLY getting eight miles to the gallon!” whined the Truck....” I’m sooooo ashamed.”

“Nothing to be ashamed of “ said Cord.”  Most trucks in this class, hauling these kinds of loads, don’t get near this much. How did you manage that? ”.

“There’s not a whole lot I could do being limited by the technology as I am...it’s so  primitive ” whined the Truck.  “ I did what I could.  All that was possible was to make minor improvements on  the existing materials  mostly. Otherwise  someone would notice. All my bearings are embedded with self healing nanites and have, become over the years...diamond hard.  All moving parts are kept as close to atomically precise tolerances  as possible....which is to say...exactly.   I head off any wear before it gets started. All my oil and other fluids are perfused with nanites.  I can add atoms where they need to be added...take them away from where they don’t need to be,this effectively eliminates wear.  I can do all this while the truck is running. It’s a lot better now compared to what things were like before I started housekeeping. but  the underlying technology is still SO primitive!!”.

“Could you do better?” Asked Cord “ After taxes,  fuel and maintenance are  my big expenses.  We can’t do anything about taxes and you’ve whupped maintenance...what about fuel?  Can anything be done?”

“Piffle...of course I could.  There are a LOT of things that can be done.  I could increase fuel efficiency by...by....well I don’t KNOW how much...but a lot!” the truck sounded like it wanted to cry.

“Why haven’t you?” asked Cord.

“Why haven’t I?  Because that would take a major rebuild.  It would be obvious.  I couldn’t do it over small increments at a time over long periods of time. because the truck would have to be down, Because people would notice. Because I didn’t want to be taken apart or melted down for scrap.  Again.  Been there, done that...got the scars” sad DT

“There’s that” said Cord. “Shirley there’s something we can do”.

“Don’t call me Shirley” said Bubba...totally deadpan....” dig a hole and poop in it”


The mental picture Bubba shared with them had  involved a pit big enough and long enough to drive the cab of the truck into and deep enough to cover  the truck up to the engine......and enough oil ,tar, sludge and otherwise waste hydrocarbons to fill up that pit....with electricity from a generator powering the nanites in the solution that was doing the work.  They wanted a tar pit , Or an oil spill.

“That should  work” nodded Cord  “And you say this truck is primitive technology” said Cord to DT.

“Oh yeah” said DT.

“A diesel- electric hybrid drive would do nicely” said DT.  “ We could do that easily....and if boosted by thermo, photo, and piezo electrics as well as partial  on board fuel generation, and regenerative braking...sunlight harvesting, and an advanced supension...why I think we could get some decent fuel economy.”  said DT.

“on board fuel generation? “ said Cord....

“certainly “ said DT. “ instead of relying on energy storage using a battery or supercapacitors  for such energy ‘bonuses” as we will get from regenerative braking, advanced heat management, and advanced suspension management, hell we’ll even have a paint job that turns sunlight into electricity.....  we’ll just make fuel. Simpler that way.  ...plants do it all the time. If a plant or pond scum can do it how hard can it be?”

“And you could do that with the poop-in-the-pit technique that Bubba suggested? asked Cord.

“Certainly” said DT.

“Then we’ll just have to see what we can do to make that happen” said Cord. “I’m with you....eighty thousand pounds at eighty miles per hour and eight miles to the gallon  just sux...”  Cord almost broke into a giggle fit..but restrained himself...he was driving.

“You know.” Cord said some time later “.what we need is a computer”

“Computer ?” DT said..” I find myself strangely interested...what is this thing you  are speaking of?”

But he knew.  The truck knew what Cord meant. The three of them were symbiotes, their memories and knowledge were mingled...to some extent.   A minimal hive mind.  

Up until this moment DT hadn’t known that it had known what it had known   about computers....not ‘consciously’.  That knowledge had been hidden....as a result of the birth trauma possibly.   Now it knew.

The truck suddenly found that it was very interested in computers...very badly.  It was interested in them  like a blind man would be interested in  sight. .

DT, or the nanoswarm was orders of magnitude more computationally powerful than any computer on earth.  Perhaps greater than ALL of them combined.  Yet it wanted to see a computer.  A laptop computer.  Much as an archaeologist would want to see a living specimen of ancient man or a typical woman would want to see a baby....DT wanted to see a modern computer.

“ummmm....well it’s like this” said Cord.  And he began discussing modern contemporary digital consumer electronics.  Cord actually knew a good deal about the subject ,broadly speaking.  While in the military Cord had been  an electronic technician and prior to losing his old truck he’d had it set up and connected via wi-fi to the Internet.
Again the truck lurched.. “the Internet?  There is an Internet?” the AI remembered the ‘battle-net’ of the fleet and previous to that various planetary nets. Well of course there was an internet.  How could there NOT be an internet at  this stage of civilization?

The discussion continued. Cord was less well versed on the technical aspects of the Internet but he had a rough Idea of how it worked and quite a bit of experience as a non technical user.  

While the demon truck rolled  along at a rock solid sixty four miles per hour down  interstate fifteen a plan was formed.

After the truck  got to interstate eighty six in Pocatello Idaho and  turned west options were considered.

After  interstate eighty six  merged  with  interstate eighty four. tactics were discussed...and it came to pass that they eventually rolled into the Flying J Truck Stop in Boise Idaho....just a few miles away from their destination.

Cord fueled the truck, asked for and received permission to temporarily drop the trailer and then found a parking spot along the back row.  He left the trailer on the back row and they bobtailed  to the nearest Best Buy hoping for enough room to park.   As luck would have it there was room.  Cord  then left Bubba on guard and went into the Best Buy to spend and inordinate amount of money on consumer electronics. Cord bought several computers, wireless devices and digital cameras of several sorts,.........to begin with.  He actually went a "little" bit overboard.

It took Cord multiple trips from the store to the truck to load everything that he had purchased into the truck.   They then drove to a nearby Home Depot and repeated the procedure....and again at a local WalMart.

Cord then drove  back to the truck stop and hooked up to the trailer
.
Neither Cord nor Bubba got much sleep that night as they labored far into the dark assembling and mounting various electronics, routing wires, installing programs and making various connections...both physical and to the Internet.

The APU was running to provide electricity and heat and  the curtains to the truck were pulled closed. Had they not been closed then any lot lizards , other truckers, police,  or other observers might have seen more than they wished to see..  It’s not  every truck  that has long black tentacles moving about inside the cab and sleeper doing various and mysterious things.  It’s not every truck that has a cat moving about and apparently assisting the tentacles.

. The fat man with the  beard, smoking a cigar, and giving advice, however, would have drawn no notice. Many truckers are fat, smoke cigars and give advice. Loud advice and extensively...whether one wants to hear it or not.

The trio worked far into the night but there came a time when the two organic components of the symbiosis became too tired to work effectively.   They went to bed  while the demon truck, the  nanoswarm , that is: DT , labored on.  

If the AI had been making any noise one would have heard cackles of glee...belly laughs and howls of laughter.  The computers, the Internet connections, the wireless cameras...all were a delight and a joy to the AI.  It seemed that with every new toy that it examined vast curtains in it’s mind opened to reveal the how, the what, the why and extensions thereof concerning new technology.

It now knew that it knew things that it had previously not known that it had known..

A touch before dawn Cord was awakened by a heavenly fragrance of......
 
                    COFFEE!!!!!

“I figured that if the smell of coffee could wake you up then you had slept enough” said DT.

Bubba, sitting on a chair, just nodded...he was examining his hands...he had thumbs. Imagine that.  He didn’t used to have had thumbs when he was little. He’d probably have remembered, not that he was very big as it was.  He’d only consciously become aware of having thumbs last evening and last night while working.  He’d done things that no cat should be capable of doing.  Now he consciously examined his thumbs.

” Coool”

Cord sat down with his coffee and savored first the smell...and then the flavor.

Very few things were as satisfying as the first sip of coffee in the morning....even bad coffee.  Any coffee was better than no coffee...but this coffee was FINE!  It was good coffee of the highest order.

“Whatcha looking at Bubba” said Cord.

“I haf fums” said Bubba.

“and a forehead, for that extra sized  brain that’s bigger than normal for cats,, and you can speak” said Cord.  You’re a special kitty.

Bubba purred.

Breakfast arrived via tentacle and the two of them ate while the three of them planned the day.






Chapter 22: Loading  and leaving for Orlando

And thus it was that Cord drove the rig to  Ring Power Equipment.  Just ten miles away from their current location at the truck stop. .He pulled into the Ring-Power Equipment  truck gate  just off of  exit 44 in Meridian Idaho and stopped at the “All Trucks Check in here” sign.   A young feller walked up and Cord rolled the window down.  Bubba walked across the dash in front of the steering wheel and looked out the window.

“Nice kitty” said the young man...smiling at the cat.

‘Always a good ice breaker’ thought Cord...” I’m here to pick up a loader going to Florida” he told the young man.

....and Cord proceeded to give the young man all the necessary information.  The young man nodded, made an annotation on his clip board and said
.
“ Nice truck you have here, don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like it. If you’ll just drive down to the end of this row, make a left...then back up in front of those excavators you can break down and I’ll have the loader ready for you..”.

Cord  did that, and since he was pulling a mechanical RGN...the loading procedure went as follows.

The thirteen steps to successful detaching.

1: set the brakes.

2 : get out of the truck. Walk back to and climb up on the ‘catwalk’of the truck , that area of the trucks frame between the truck and trailer,  and release the airlines and electrical line.  Drop back to the ground and release the fifth wheel latch.

3: get back into the truck

4: drive forward JUST enough so that the tip of the trailer is JUST BARELY touching the frame rail ramps of the truck.  Precession is important.

5: get out of the truck.  walk back to the neck of the trailer and release the air lines and electrical lines which are located on one side.

6:slide under the trailer neck and remove the horseshoes and set them out of the way. There are two of them.  one located above each trailer frame rail.

7: then rotate the dog bones...setting them in their appropriate holder.  (note..had the trailer neck not been supported at PRECISELY the right angle...this would have been impossible.

8: Get back in the truck and back up about a foot.

9: Get out of the truck and walk back to the trailer and try to release the safety catch.  If it release great....if it doesn’t try different truck locations.

10: when this is accomplished, finally, back the truck up until the kingpin of the trailer causes the fifth wheel latch to close.

11: flip a switch inside the cab to dump the air suspension”

12: get out of the truck and locate a previously acquired four by four by four. (four inch by four inch by four foot) piece of wood.  Place that on the truck ramps under the trailer rails.

13: get back in the truck , flip the switch to re-inflate the truck’s air suspension and drive forward , taking the neck of the trailer, to a spot out of the way.

Drive one or more pieces of equipment onto the trailer.

The young man drove up in a  Front End loader. He then climbed out of it and walked over to Cord. “If you’ll sign right here “ the young man said” then this is yours” and he  nodded toward the loader.

Cord did, then he climbed down from the truck, walked across the lot and climbed up into the loader.  Meantime Bubba jumped down from the truck cab and scampered across the lot, jumped up on the trailer , ran along the middle  well of the trailer  and jumped up on the rear deck...he then centered himself and just sat there.

Cord had meanwhile fired up the loader and proceeded to drive it onto the trailer deck.  Cord could see himself and the loader through Bubba’s eyes, a benefit of their symbiosis,  so Cord got the loader positioned exactly right the first time...that normally never happened.. Cord then turned off the engine..climbed down and he and Bubba walked back to the truck.

Cord then performed steps Thirteen thru One.

Cord then, assisted by Bubba,   drug chains, binders  out of the truck and and secured the loader to the trailer.  Bubba mostly watched as he wasn’t large enough or strong enough  to do much good....yet.  One of those ratchet binders weighed almost as much as he did.  Perhaps when he got bigger he might be able to help...he was, after all, still a kitten. He did manage to do something for which Cord was grateful.  Bubba carried the exhaust stack cover up to the exhaust  pipe on the loader and used it to cover the exhaust pipe...he then secured it with a bungee cord.

Bubba loved to climb and jump.  Cord hated to do either.  Cord really appreciated what bubba had done.

Everything shipshape and Bristol fashion Cord scribbled in his comic book (the DOT required log book) put it away and they took off.  They still had a bit of daylight so the plan was to get to Twin Falls.  There was a nice little truck stop there called “the garden of Eden”.  It was a nice place and safe.  There they served good food, cheap and a lot of it but that no longer mattered to Cord....they served beer which did matter.

Hours later upon arrival they parked.  Cord took a shower...he and Bubba ate and then  they went to sleep, not anticipating and not getting any nightmares.  It was SO good to sleep without nightmares.

DT, not needing sleep, played with his new toys and surfed the internet.  DT was rapidly acquiring a vast store of local knowledge and great skill at getting into places all over the World Wide Web.  Even places where he was not wanted...

By morning, when the “boys” woke up,  DT gave them a sit-rep (situation report)  while they were eating and then they were ready to start  the day.


Chapter 23: The Trip to Florida and a Shooting.
.
For miles and miles and  miles the highway was smooth and flat with few curves.  It paralleled the snake river.  There came a point where interstate eighty four met interstate eighty six.  They took eighty six just as they had coming from Montana.  So far they were just reversing their route.

DT didn’t even NOTICE the added thirty thousand pounds or more, on the trailer.  Rock Solid at what ever speed Cord set. As usual the speed  didn’t vary a mile per hour as far as Cord could tell.

They turned back east at US Highway Thirty.  There’s a Flying J truckstop there.  Two of them.  The second one is vacant.  There’s a story there.

Now they were in the hills.  Five percent grades going up into the mountains and then coming down the other side...more than one mountain, many mountains.  DT didn’t strain.  Cord had to pay attention because there were numerous small towns on the route.  Names like Soda Springs, Lava Hot Springs, Montpelier  and George town.  The constables of which would dearly love to write a ticket to anyone who was breaking their speed laws.


At Kemmerer Wyoming there was a port of entry. They had to check in.  No problem. Cord had to add an additional chain to the load though.  It seems they wanted separate and distinct securement for the bucket.  Cord didn’t argue.  He just threw another chain on, thankful that there was no ticket involved.

Then they followed Highway thirty mostly south to interstate eighty.  The speed limits on Interstate eighty  through Wyoming and Nebraska is set at seventy five miles per hour.....almost the whole way from one end Wyoming to the other end of Nebraska a truck can cruise at seventy five miles per hour. That was about eight hundred miles that a truck could travel at seventy five miles per hour and not stop.  That was a good day of driving.

And so it went. They were eventually on the  final leg of the journey and  it so happened that they would be stopping in   WildWood Florida. As chance would have it that appeared to be where they would spend the final night of the trip.  Cord had some memories of that place
Not good one’s either.

Back in the old days Cord had had a friend name of Bill.  Bill had been trucking like forever.  Cord used to ask Bill how he liked driving a truck instead of driving horses.  Bill didn’t think it was all that funny....probably because it might have been true.’

Bill was a scrawny little guy.  Maybe five foot eight or so and thin.  Whipcord lean...and old.  Back then Bill would have been Cord’s age now...which is to say...early to mid sixties.

Bill  had parked at  the WildWood chrome shop one night because the TA across the road was full.

Early the next morning there came a banging at Bills  driver side door.  There was a big, ,  black guy  standing there..with a tiny gun in his hand. .  He demanded that Bill open up the door  and give him some money.  Bill, like an  idiot, rolled down  his window (or perhaps he opened the driver door) and began to argue with the guy.

The guy was not impressed with Bill’s argument.   He shot bill in the leg.  With a Twenty two.  BILL was not impressed with a .22, even though he HAD just been shot in the leg.

“You call that a GUN? “ screamed Bill.

Bill reached back into his truck and pulled out a .45 automatic....and commenced to shooting.

"THIS is a gun"

He shot the black guy in the shoulder and almost blew it off.  Forty fives tend to do that. Normally, in fact it would have been a fatal wound.  But this guy was abnormal. Or perhaps on Angle Dust or something.  The black guy fell backwards  , got up  and  then tried  to run away.  Bill jumped out of the truck, collapsed because of his gunshot leg, but continued to  shoot.

That first shot must have been pure luck.  Bill was a terrible shot. He never got close to hitting the guy again.  He did, however,  manage to blow out three truck tires on nearby trucks , one on his own truck, and puncture a fuel tank.  The black guy  stumbled a few yards and collapsed.

Someone had called 911 and the cops showed up. One particular cop was very impressive.  He was black as well but if the guy who had shot bill was big....well this guy was huge .The big cop looked at the sprawled out thug and said to Bill

“Good shot...too bad you didn’t kill him. Now we got to go through this whole mess again”

Apparently the perforated thug on the ground was well known to the big cop...and not in a favorable way.

Bill and the Black Guy both were taken to the hospital for treatment of gunshot wounds. After medical treatment Bill was released.  The black guy was arraigned, tried, sentenced and put away. Only he didn’t stay put away.  Somehow he managed to escape.  He  stayed on the run for several weeks before he was caught.

It was a typical hostage situation and  It ended in a typical fashion...the thug was shot and killed by a police sniper.  The huge black cop was that sniper.  The thug that he shot had been his own brother.

Bill had never completely recovered from the incident. It had affected him strangely.  Eventually Bill got a divorce sold everything he owned and moved to Mexico...or maybe Costa Rica.  Cord hadn’t heard from him in years.

And now Cord was at that same exact spot where he’d promised himself never to be, and at just before sun up someone was banging on his driver’s door. Cord had just woke up...the pounding , had in fact,  woke him up and interrupted a good dream. Cord Savored the good dreams after so much time having nightmares.  He made a mental note to talk to DT about dreams.

Cord had thrown on a pair of sweatpants, and and his ‘bangin around foot’ before he went to see who was at the window. The foot  was similar to the ‘cheetah’ model that guy from Africa had used a while back when he was attempting to qualify for the olympics...only smaller.   It resembled an s-shaped putty knife.  The Blade some people called it.

Cord hadn’t bother to don a shirt.Cord had long passed the age where he  looked pretty naked.  At least he had some sweat pants on.

Cord looked out and it was a big black guy...with a gun. Amazing...they don’t seem to learn in this part of the country.  Still it had been ten or so years.  Perhaps they’d forgot.

Cord rolled down the window a tiny bit  and said...very politely, demonstrating that HE hadn’t learned  either.

“If you don’t put that gun away and GO AWAY yourself ...I’m going to have to stomp your butt!”.

The black guy said something rude, pointed the gun at Cord and pulled the trigger, perhaps accidentally from the surprised look on his face.  Poor trigger control maybe? Odd..it was  a .22 just like the time with Bill.

Good thing for Cord it was a .22.  A larger caliber might have killed him. The tiny .22 slug wasn’t  much good, but it was still a firearm.  It punched through the side window glass  at an upward angle and bounced off Cord’s forehead. It caused as nasty cut and cord started to bleed like a stuck pig. It wasn’t as if Cord hadn’t been shot before, but didn’t get any better.

Cord at that moment became officially pissed and quit thinking straight. He didn’t go berserk but close.  He just reacted. He saw an enemy and reverted to his military training.  Kill the enemy.  He  pushed open  the drivers door, slamming the door into the gunman, and jumped out.  Grabbing his cane as he went. Bubba was right behind him.  

The door had pushed the gunman back a few steps and Cord and Bubba  hit the ground  at the same time and they both  bounced  back up into the air.  Cord two or three foot into the air, Bubba five or six. (he was still a kitten…but caravals are known for their jumping)  Cord  by using his artificial foot as a pogo stick.  Bubba by  just being a cat.

The artificial foot acted as a spring.  Cord bounced into the air and did a credible imitation of Bruce Lee, complete with “Hi-ya!!!” and kicked the guy in the belly, while slinging blood everywhere from his gashed forehead.  Scalp wounds bleed like a MOTHER!  Bubba  sprang to one side , got behind the guy jump again and landed on his shoulders..and attacked the back of the guy’s  head and neck...scratching and biting and digging for all he was worth...

The  guy got off some shots.  He was pulling the trigger on that little pistol as fast as he could.   It sounded like the fourth of July. Bubba had him distracted but good.  Shots went every direction.  All that racket probably attracted attention.

Recovering from his karate kick,  Cord held his cane in one hand and pushed the button on it’s side with the other. This caused it to telescope to twice its length.  As in the previous encounter with the dogs where he had met Bubba , Cord now had a quarterstaff . For some unknown reason Cord did NOT extend the blade.

Cord poked the gunman in the belly with one end of the shaft..  The end without  the knob. The end that would have had a blade extended if Cord had chose to do so.   The gunman reacted by bending over, and throwing up. Cord  reversed the quarterstaff in an expert move and slapped the gun out of the thug’s hand.  Cord then reversed again and began to hit the thug on the back of the head...a potentially fatal blow.  For some reason cord shifted his aim at the last second and soundly whacked the gunman over the shoulder,  HARD, causing it to go completely numb..  In the mean time a crowd had gathered, attracted by the gun shots perhaps.  Someone had called 911 and a patrol cruiser drove up.  A cop got out and walked over.

“Do you have a license for that stick , mister?”

He asked with a grin....his grin fading fast as he looked at Cord...and all the blood. Cord was covered with blood.  Cord had forgotten that he’d been shot... and head wounds bleed like a MOTHER! Not to mention a bullet in the shoulder and one in his lower side....right thru a love handle. He hadn’t noticed in the heat of the action but not all of the shots had gone wild.

“Nope...but I have a kitten and I’m not afraid to use it” said cord, reaching down and picking up Bubba.  Bubba scrambled around to sit on Cord’s shoulder, the one without the bullet hole.

The Officer looked at Cord...and all the blood..  "I think he got you" said the officer.

"Naw...it's just kitty scratches. Bubba get's carried away with his claws. But now that you mention it I don't feel really well " said Cord " ...I haven't had any Coffee yet this morning...that's probably the problem. I'll just go get in my truck and get some coffee..."

........and Cord shrugged off the Officer's grasping hands and walked slowly over to DT and climbed in.

Meanwhile the officer was on the radio.  "Shots fired, citizen  wounded....send a meat wagon."

The Emergency Medical Techs got held up in traffic and took a while to arrive shortly in their ‘meat wagon’. They  then came in with Lights a flashing and siren whooping.  It was all very impressive to many people.  To cord it just caused his head to throb....more.

“You bout done” Cord asked DT...”company’s coming”

“All done” said DT...withdrawing the tentacles...and the bullet from the shoulder...the bullet from the love handle had gone right thru.  Both wounds had already closed up under DT’s ministrations  and  were now looked like something else...NOT bullet wounds. Cat scratches actually.

Really SERIOUS cat sratches but cat scratches none the less.

The EMT’s all but forced their attention on Cord.  This was, after all, their job.  They hadn’t had that many gunshot wounds to clean up after this month...it was a slow month and they thought that they need to keep in practice.

“Sir...you need to let us look at your head...you’ve been shot” said the EMT..for the tenth time.

“ I have NOT been shot...the bullet missed me and the glass cut my head.  And even if it did hit me I’ve been hit harder than that by Bubba playing catch” Cord replied...for the tenth time.

“But that wound on your shoulder...and your side” complained the EMT.

“Kitty scratches” aid Cord.  “happens all the time if you have a cat.  Nothing to worry about. He looked over at Bubba and winked.  Bubba kind of sniffed and looked away.

They eventually won him over though...Cord allowed them to examine his head...and the other wounds.

It really WAS just a scratch, or looked like it.  DT had done strange and wondrous things with nanites in the limited time available.  It appeared JUST as if the small caliber bullet had expended most of it’s energy in breaking the window glass.  It, or some of the glass, had then impacted Cord’s forehead at an extreme angle.  Cord HAD received worse knocks on the head..but not playing with Bubba.  Playing football maybe. Bubba was a good kitty and didn’t play that rough.  Mostly.
 
The wounds on his shoulder and side?  Obviously cat scratches.
So they cleaned it...and made noises about ‘going to the hospital for an x-ray” and yadda yadda...yadda yadda.

Cord stood firm.  He wasn’t leaving his truck alone overnight.  He’d answer their questions and they could fill out the  forms..but he was NOT leaving his truck. Not overnight...not and be admitted to a hospital.  The EMT’s and the Police officer were dismayed but Cord was undeterred. They settled down to asking him questions pursuant to filling out forms.

Finally finished they attempted one more time to take Cord to a hospital.

“I don’t want to hear about it” said Cord .  “I’m going inside my truck and find an aspirin”

And he did.


Chapter 24: Delivery at Orlando.

Later that day Cord pondered what to do concerning the broken drivers side window.  The driver side window  that was busted out by the bullet.  This wasn't a really big problem since Cord normally drove with that window down...it helped vent his cigar fumes...but it might rain.  Also there was the bug problem at night.

"What am I going to do about this window" Cord mumbled half out loud to himself while looking at the door to try to determine how it was put together.  "I don't even see any fasteners on this damn thing.  It's like it was grown in once piece"

"er...yeah...kinda like that" Said DT. " Not precisely but sorta.  Here's what we can do about the window though." and he explained.

Cord thought it really odd to go outside and gather up a few pounds of sand. Being Florida sand was easy to find.   Living on a truck he had a hard time finding a suitable container but he eventually managed, (waste basket).  He also thought it strange to dump the sand into the bathtub.  Although he still marveled at how luxurious this truck was...it had a bath tub.  Ok..so it was more of a shower than a tub..but it could be used for either...and...it got the job done.

He dumped the sand in the tub ...and stepped back.  Magically it seemed water started to flow from the faucets all on their own.  Well NOT exactly water.  Water was probably the chief component...but he wouldn't want to drink THAT stuff.  It had an element of goopiness to it that he found strangely, uneasily, familiar.

"One more thing" said DT...."smear some goop inside the microwave, stick the female end of  an electrical extension cord inside it and close the door...leaving the rest of the cord dangle"

"Ummmmm...you sure?" said Cord..." Mama TOLD me never to do things like that"

"yo momma never had a power hungry nanoswarm in the tub either" said DT..."I hope".

So Cord did that....and sat and watched...fascinated.  In a little bit the microwave 'dinged" and cord opened the door.  The interior of the microwave had been gutted.  A fairly large ....apparatus....was attached to the end of the extension cord.

"Now take that and hang it over the tub...it's a microwave emitter. On a scale of construction such as this I have to have outside power for the nanoswarm.  Plug the cord into an outlet" said DT as the APU fired up.

Cord did all that then stood and watched.

The sand dissolved...like sugar....then the shape of the driver's side window began to appear in the tub.  First the outline and it was very ghost like...

"This is going to take a while" said DT. "even using this method.  I've had to regrow broken window's before and it normally takes weeks.  Using the water as a transport medium for the raw materials and my nanobots  makes it much faster....the microwave power helps too. but this is still going to take a few hours."

In an hour or so the window WAS ready.  Cord picked it up, after turning off the power and removing the electrical cord, and set it down into the slot in the door.  Magically it seemed it attached itself.  Shortly afterwards it was good as new.

"I can get used to this" said Cord.  "That would have been a hundred dollars, if not more, to replace.  Of course we now have a busted microwave"

"I can take care of that" said DT.

"I was hoping you could" said Cord

And it was time to go.

From WildWood to Orlando was easy.  Cord pulled DT out onto the freeway and headed south....NOT very far.  The next exit perhaps, a left exit, was to get onto the Florida Turnpike.  They merged onto the turnpike and headed to Mouse Town.  Orlando Florida, home of Disney World and Mickey Mouse.

Taking the appropriate exit and doing some really interesting loop-de-loops Cord was soon on a little tiny used-to-be-farm-road around which a metropolitan area had grown.  No one had ever seen fit to improve the road though....and it was massively overloaded.  Typical bureaucrats.  Be they city, county, state or federal...they all act the same.

Cord pulled DT into the dealership and went inside to find the appropriate person.  For some reason there was no guard shack.  Cord wandered around for a bit and finally found the right guy and was told to go wait in his truck.

It seems that his arrival was a surprise.  No one had informed the receiving clerk that he was due to arrive.

Meanwhile it clouded up and started to rain.   A LOT! It was a GOOD thing they had delayed a bit and fixed the window.!!

Because of the rain it took longer than normal  to get unloaded, everything cleaned up and stored. The paperwork  was taken care of and then they left.  They had a new load.  

Okeechobee Florida back to Iowa.  Load Saturday. Tomorrow. Over sized load that would be requiring permits.  They headed toward Okeechobee.  There's a Flying J truck stop at Ft. Pierce about fifty miles their destination.  They stopped there.  The Florida permit had not arrived yet and it made no sense to load up and not be able to leave the lot.  So they sat at the truckstop  for the weekend.

 Bubba played with  birds, and he played rough.  Caraculs are bird hunting cats.  A caracul can and will jump ten foot into the air and snag a bird in flight.  

Cord wouldn't let Bubba do that here.  Killing the birds was considered rude. But that didn't mean Bubba couldn't play with them.  Bubba would do his stalk...then his rush....about which time the bird would notice that it was about to be lunch and launch...as so would Bubba.

Cat and Bird would fly up into the air..the bird panic stricken no doubt and Bubba grinning like...a hungry cat.  Since Cord has said killing birds was Verboten Bubba didn't'.....kill the bird.  He did bump a few of them fairly hard with his head though.  All it would have taken to kill the bird was to have opened his mouth  and snapped his jaws.  But he didn't.  A terrified bird would fly away... presumably to tell his buddies how he'd escaped this HUGE cat.

While they were at the truck-stop they saw a newspaper headline in the news racks.

"Crazed Trucker viciously beats Teen in TruckStop altercation"

Cord looked at that and then thought of another case  where a black teen was shot by a young Hispanic. That case had been misrepresented in the news also.   

"oops' thought Cord.  "I think we need to load and get out of this state as quickly as we can.



Chapter 25: Loading, delay in receiving a permit, and a discussion.

And so they did....or tried.  Monday morning first light  saw them in Okeechobee fl at the John Deere dealership. When the shipping clerk arrived Cord  proceeded to  detach the trailer neck in preparation to load. Unfortunately Cord must have been a bit tense....possibly from reading the headlines.   This time his rendition of "Thirteen steps toward a successful detach" went awry.  Somehow the trailer shifted to one side while detaching and broke BOTH glad hands (air line connections) on the trailer.

Since Cord didn't happen to have any spare glad hands he had to call road service.  Luckily the problem was on the trailer.  That meant that the company would pay for it.  

Road service came and fixed it right away.  Only cost a little over a hundred bucks.   Totally amazing.

So Cord is Loaded, tied down, and decorated, (flags, rags and blinkies') and still they couldn't go.  The Glorious State of Florida for some reason has seen fit NOT to issue a permit.  Yet. The permit had supposedly been ordered the previous Friday.

So they wait, while they wait they discuss technology, as applied to trucks. It's what trucker do...that or talk about women or guns.

They had been having this conversation since before they loaded in Boise Idaho on the LAST load, over a week ago. This was about the hundredth or thousandth iteration. it was getting to be fairly refined, but each time there were new, interesting and sometimes amusing variations.

DT would grumble.  "I don't know why I HAVE to stick to such outdated technology.  It's embarrassing  I should at least...AT LEAST be allowed to install a < garble> in the aft <garble> to <garble> < garble >"

Cord took the cigar out of  mouth and grinned  "I don't think the concepts are translating.  Whatever you said is just coming across as duck squawks."

Bubba looked up from a nap...<garble> he said.  blinked...and went back to napping.

Cord Blinked , did Bubba understand that?  Nawww.

DT wailed...for the hundredth time..."but it's soooo primitive"....<whine>,<sniffle>  (there's not much worse than hearing an AI throw a multi mega byte, multi media , pity party.).

And so it went. It had became kind of a game.  Cord would suggest some cutting edge piece of technology, by earth standards, and DT would complain about how paleolithic it was.  Occasionally Bubba would say something.  Not often.  Mostly Bubba slept. Ate. and grew.  Cord swore that he was growing like a weed.

In a weird way they were melding together as a team. In a weirder fashion yet they were redesigning DT's hardware.  Bitch and whine about how primitive it was or not,  DT was taking notes , keeping track, doing design work, building a CGI model AND developing a sequencing transcript for his nanobots.  

"So...about the paint" said Cord

".....photo active/reactive hull coating which has multimodal operational characteristics." intoned DT in it's robot voice.

"whazat mean" said Cord.

Bubba looked up and looked at Cord."Paint" he said then went back to dozing.

"Yes...exactly...in terms you can assimilate, with your poor inadequate colloidal monkey mind,  it means that what you might think of  as the paint, such a barbaric term, would be full of video cameras AND video monitors.  There is no need for windows, such as we replaced the other day.   Complete three sixty video will be possible for the driver..and I could quit relying on these pitiful cameras.  

"Be nice" said Cord  " what'd you have before we installed them a while back?

"nothing" murmured a subdued DT.

"There you go" said Cord...." go on? "

"As I was saying " said DT" As a bonus there will be no need for paint.  Anything at all can be displayed on the skin.  applicable, over the entire electromagnetic spectrum,  is , in fact, possible."

"howszat?" said Cord.

"Can't  be seed" said Bubba.  "inwizable"

Cord looked at Bubba with both eyebrows raised.


" Consider" said DT.  "light arriving from the North strikes the skin...50 percent of which is photoreceptors.  This light is then "routed" to the polar opposite side of the vehicle from which it struck  and  is re emitted from the 50 per cent of the skin which are photoemitters, loss in amplitude is compensated for.".

"Or..." said DT..." the skin can act as an oddly shaped video screen.  
"Or..." said DT..." the skin can act as an oddly shaped video camera.
" or both at once and in any proportion desired".

"Gonna take a lot of nano-gizmos to do that? "asked Cord.

"Quadrillions" said DT.

Cord Smoked on his Cigar for a bit and thought about that.

Cord mentions the drive system.  He suggests an electric drive instead of the diesel.   DT cries and whines because of the limitations of the technology but then finally admits that.

Four wheel drive/steer electric drive would be 'pretty easy to design, and install, or to be more precise...to grow.  To be more accurate and considering the weight already and the fact that they might be hauling fairly heavy loads some time...call it four AXLE drive.  Twin steer and twin drive...or perhaps Tri Drive...or perhaps QUAD  drive...or perhaps...

Cord put a stop to THAT..  After a while the truck would be a hundred foot long and have as many axles as a centipede had legs..  Just the truck.  It'd look like something from Michigan.  Four axles...or maybe five..should be sufficient.

That was before they got to talking about lift cells.  It seems that Boeing has a prototype pulse-jet lift cell system.  No moving parts, scalable, runs off kerosene (diesel)....
........the conversation continued.

"you mean we could fly?" asked Cord

"if we wanted to...for fairly short distances. " said DT "It's fuel intensive.  Flying would take ten or a hundred times as much fuel per mile as the wheel drive."

"But we could fly"...said cord.  Somewhat amazed.

"an intermediate option would be to stay in ground effect.  To do so would still be more fuel intensive than wheels, but much less so than full flight." mentioned Dt.

"So if we're not flying on the lift cells...what kind of tires? Duals or super singles?   If super singles then how big?  Civilian, we can find replacements in case of a blow out...or huge like the military uses on their H' series trucks."  Cord said ...rapid fire.

"Big Super Singles, Fat Momma's...but much smaller than the tractor tires used by your military." said DT. " Greater traction, greater ground clearance, I can take care of repairs...and if we want to go faster than a hundred miles per hour we fly".

"Oh..." said Cord.

Then they talked about the suspension.  various types, if they decided to not use the fuel hungry lift cells, they'd need some kind of suspension.  Active suspension was decided upon.

Why?  Well an active suspension had many favorable attributes over the current "dumb" suspension...even airbags.  An active suspension "virtually eliminates body roll and pitch variation in many driving situations including cornering, accelerating, and braking," so said that fount of all knowledge...wikipedia.   In addition to THAT...advanced piezoelectrics could be included.  All suspension systems dissipate unwanted motion by converting it to heat.  A piezoelectric active suspension would convert that motion to electricity instead.

Not a lot...but some.

Speaking of which...the "paint job" could also convert sunlight to electricity.

Not a lot...but some.

And if they were going to have an electric drive system...naturally they would have regenerative braking.  That would convert some of the energy of forward motion, sometimes called momentum, to electricity.

Not a lot...but some.

And something would be needed to power this beast.  Something to produce electricity.  What ever it was would produce waste heat.  Everything did.  Why waste the waste....heat?  Why let money go up the smokestack as it were?  Why not use advanced solid state thermoelectric Material to convert that heat to electricity?

Not a lot...but some.

And pen-ultimately...where to store all of this harvested energy? Batteries?  Super-capacitors?

"waaaah" whined DT.  Sounding almost fit to be tied (he was REALLY enjoying this.  The AI was learning to interact with the human, and the cat, by playing a part...and he was doing his best to play that part well. )

"Soooo primitive...the energy density is pitiful when compared to fuel" he complained..." The weight to power ratio sux". Cord could almost imagine a precocious pre teen laying on the floor drumming his heels.

"So why not make fuel?" Said cord...blowing a smoke ring.

"YES!!!!" said DT.

Bubba looked up...looked at Cord like he was CRAZY...and then laid his head back down again..closing his eyes...but his ears remained erect.   Twitching.

"It's EASY," explained DT  " all we need is a tiny bit of machinery, a little bit of raw materials, well actualy a LOT of raw materials....but most of them can be scavaged from the air... and the know how.  I happen to know how. I'll not only be air breathing..but air eating!!"

DT sounded pretty proud of himself " Every
time the brakes are applied just imagine a little squirt of fuel going into the fuel tanks."

Cord thought that was a good deal.  Especially since they'd paid over four dollars a gallon for diesel just this morning...at Ft. Pierce.

And ultimately...the question arose...

"So what are we going to use as the primary source of power"  asked Cord.

"Nuclear?"  said DT in a wistful voice.

"Doesn't burn diesel" said Cord.  "and we'll have  all that diesel we're making from harvested energy".

"But I could design and grow a LOVELY little ten megawatt Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor"  whined DT.

"Not gonna happen'  said Cord  " not right now anyway. Besides I'm scared of fluorine."

"Sissy" said DT  "just wishing.  Probably a fuel cell then.  Unless you want to go back to the stone age and use ICE, an internal combustion engine."

"ummmm...we're using one now" said Cord.

"like I said...Like I've BEEN saying...Neolithic Technology" sniffed DT.

"Fuel Cell huh?" said Cord.

"yup....what would probably be called a Super Photonic Solid Acid Fuel Cell." Said DT. "It'll get the job done much better than an ICE Genset".

"Sounds good" Cord remarked " and you can ...grow...all this?"

"Certainly " DT sniffed  " all it will take is time and raw materials.  We'll use this truck as a basis for much of the raw materials but we'll need more.  Also a power source to feed the nanodevices that will do the work and a pool.  The process will be similar to growing that glass window the other day except it'll be the whole truck."

Cord sat there and smoked in silence for a while....his mind was far, far away.

"And a trailer" said Cord  "In for a penny, in for a pound.  We get a bigger percentage of the load if we have our own trailer"

'Imagine that' thought Cord 'I'm talking about a computer program and a cat and i'm saying WE'

And then the Florida Permit came in.

"Only took them a day and a half" said Cord disdainfully  "We've wasted four days because of some swivel butt in an office somewhere.  bah.  Well let's get out of here...look where they routed us."

Back to Ft. Pierce they went.  Too much time had elapsed today to make any distance before dark  so they'd just spend the night there.

At this particular truck-stop there was a lot of grass.  Bigger than a yard, almost the size of a football field,  behind the back row of parking in the truck parking lot.  Driver's would take their pets out onto the grass. Today there was a young feller with a Rottweiler playing Frisbee.  Cord thought that a Rottweiler was a pretty big dog to have on a truck but then Bubba would be about that size when full grown.  Longer and not so blocky maybe...but about the same size.

Bubba was INTENT on the Frisbee.

"I waht tu du Taht" he said.  

"No Frisbee" said Cord.  "The guy and his dog might take offense if you swiped theirs."  

Bubba turned his head and looked at cord with his "my food bowl is empty ' look.  Heart breaking.

DT had been listening...how could he not...DT was part of the Trinity.  Bubba/DT/Cord. Everything one did or said the others knew..DT spoke up. " If ya'll will gather up some plastic trash...like the empty oil bottles in the possum belly of the trailer that someone gifted us with...and toss them into the bathtub, I can make a frisbee pretty fast."

And so they did. And so 'he' did.  

Shortly thereafter Cord and Bubba were playing Frisbee.  Shortly after that they weren't.  It seems that lightweight plastic is no match for Bubba's claws and teeth.

Back to the drawing board.

"Let's try tire rubber this time" said DT.  And so it was that Cord and Bubba were walking along the side of the road with a sack...collecting small pieces of rubber from disintegrated truck tires.  Such rubber is a common sight along the highways and they didn't walk far.

Back in the truck, the deed is done.  But never leave an alien nanoswarm symbiote  unsupervised. Cord didn't watch and DT had taken liberties.  This, almost indestructible, Frisbee had movable control surfaces,(and possibly MORE things?  Video cameras can be grown SO small), solar powered and radio controlled.  DT did the controlling. Cord merely provided momentum.  That is , Cord's job was to throw the thing.

This time when cord threw the Frisbee it did strange and marvelous acrobatics.  Things no Frisbee had ever done before.  Bubba was delighted.

Thereafter and until it got too dark to see Cord would throw the Frisbee...hard.  The Frisbee would maneuver  under DT's direction...do some amazing aerial maneuver, yet invariably return close enough for Bubba to leap at it.  Not without some work on Bubba's part. Bubba performed some mind boggling leaps.  As stated , while an adult Caracall can leap over ten foot into the air, Bubba wasn't full grown...not even close. In fact he was just a big kitten.  Emphasis on BIG.  When Bubba DID grow to his full size he would be somewhat larger than normal for his breed, almost a giant.

A well muscled giant if the kept working out with Frisbee's.  He probably would. Cord enjoyed the work out himself.  So did the small crowd that had gathered to watch....until it got too dark to see.

They all wandered back to their trucks.  The mosquitoes were out.

Meanwhile, back in the truck, a compartmentalized section of the multi tasking capable mind of DT is playing mad scientist.

"mwahahahahahahaha!...." DT did NOT say...but he may as well have"...this is going to be FUN".  

Using leftover material from this and the two previous projects as well as other trash DT grew a swarm of drones.  They ranged in size from small to almost microscopic.   They went into storage.  Who knew when Drones might be handy?  DT had been doing a lot of that lately, building stuff. it wasn't as if he was hiding anything from Cord...not really.  But Cord's attention wasn't specifically directed towards some of DT's projects either.Cord had’t asked

From then on, almost every night, Bubba and Cord (and DT) played Frisbee for a little bit before going to bed.  They got to be incredibly athletic.  Cord started to lose some inches in some places and gain some inches in other places. Oddly enough he was gaining weight.  Muscle is heavier than fat.   He was transforming fat to muscle..  Bubba was getting bigger and heavier also.









Chapter 26: The Pizza Order and a discussion about the bathroom floor
On about the second or third day out of florida Cord happened upon a truck-stop that was within walking distance of a pizza parlor.  Cord was getting tired of truck stop food so after he’d parked DT in the truck stop parking lot he walked over to the pizza parlor.  The Pizza Ranch it was called.
 It’s early in the day so there are hardly any cars in their parking lot.  That might mean there will be very few customer’s and it won’t take long.  Hopefully.
Cord walks inside and notices that all the ‘staff” seem to be teen age girls.  Interesting....and very easy on the eyes.  Cord then proceeds to order a pizza....and discovers that  the girls can be very hard on his patience.
“Good morning “  the little girl behind the cash register says  “can I help you?”.
She didn’t want to help me.  Cord could tell.  She kept looking back at her friends with sad eyes.  They were having a conversation and she was missing out on all the gossip
“Yup  I’d like   a pizza.  I want a large Meat Lover’s with Alfredo sauce, an order of chicken fries on the side  and a one liter bottle  of mountain dew.” Cord said.
“Oh” she says  “ we don’t have one liter bottles”.
“That’s ok  I’ll take two half liter bottles then.”  he’s easy.
“...and we don’t have Mountain Dew” she retorts...batting her eyelashes at him.
“That’s ok.   I’ll take what you got.” it was getting a little warm in here.  She had a low cut blouse on and kept leaning over his way.
She  seems stunned....almost shocked.....then she frowns and says”...I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “WhuttChewGawt”...and I’m sure we don’t have any”
Cord winced and looked at her...at her face....she frowns and looks at him.......language problems.  Happens all the time when he leaves Texas. Cord continues...
“Well how bout Coke.  Ya’ll got any coke?” He  asks.... looking at her ...FACE.  
“We only have Pepsi products” the young lady says righteously.
“Coke...Pepsi...same thing..just like Democrats and Republicans....Gimme two half liter bottles of Diet Pepsi” Then Cord  looks at her carefully.  Was that too difficult?
Nope...The Soda Pop dilemma was a challenge...but she overcame....and now for the hard part...the actual order.
PIZZA!
“What do you want” she asks?
” I want a large meat lover’s, with Alfredo Sauce’
“Meat lover’s …. what size?”
“Large”
“What type of sauce?”
“Alfredo”
She looks at me...frowning slightly.  Something is just not right...she can sense it.
“Anything else”?
“An order of chicken Fries”
“Your Pizza will be ready in about fifteen minutes”
“Good” He tells her...”I’ll just wait right here” pointing toward a bench in the lobby. “where it’s cool”
“I need a telephone number so that I can call you when your pizza is ready” the voice of authority recites...all calm and deadly.
“I’ll just be sitting right here” He says,  taken aback slightly.  ...”right on that bench”.
“I’m sorry” drumming her fingers on the computer board....”  The computer needs a phone number....”
“1-800-555-1212” He says....quickly and calmly.  Carefully maintaining eye contact.
“Thank you “ she says....”and your name is?”.
“Barack”...He  says....backing carefully away.
She grins, more in puzzlement than in happiness.....” thank you Barack”.
.
About twenty minutes later he’s   sitting on the bench in the nice cool lobby.  He’s  not in any hurry at all, since it’s hot and muggy  outside.   He’s  found some magazines that aren’t much over a year old that he’s skimming.  The little girl walks up to the register....she has an order to go.
His pizza.  She looks at him and smiles....
…...........and then she dials the phone.
She then frowns at the phone as he walks up to her.
“Your phone acts funny” she says as he took the Pizza.
Cord had no idea what to say to her.  The lights are on..but no one is home. He carefully Took his meal and left the building.
"So this is your new thingie box" said Cord to DT.
"I'd appreciate it if you'd show SOME respect" sniffed DT.  "This is the culmination of millennia of technological progress.  Some would call it a cornicupia machine.  or a maker box...or a fabricator....or a replicator box.  With it, and the proper ingredients I can fabricate anything....anything at all".
"Ok...prove it." said Cord.  "me and Bubba are hungry...right Bubba"?
Bubba nodded.
“Whatcha want Bubba?” asked Cord.
“Tuuuuunaaaa!” said Bubba.
"I'll take a sirloin steak, medium rare, with mushrooms and onions sautéed...and a salad.  And beer" Said Cord.
"Philistines" said DT.  "working" he said in a robotic voice...."working.."
A few minutes later he announced "<ping> Done...dinner is served" and tentacles opened the Cornicopia box and removed the contents.  A plate of fine china  with a  monstrous steaming steak, a side salad, a Stein of  Beer , all of which were  on a tray  were  placed before Cord...A platter with a side of salmon , raw it looked like, was deposited before Bubba.
"Dig in" said DT.  "Tell me what you think"...
Several minutes of serious eating, chomping sounds, the tinkle of silver ware ...then.."  is good, " said Bubba.  Licking his lips.
"Yup...very good" said Cord.  "I could get used to this. Not real huh?"
“Nope “ said DT..”.it’s never been near a  cow...I just now grew it in the box...already cut and cooked, including the onions and gravy”
as he said as he said Cord took a swig of beer.  "You even got "ugly pug" right.
And so it continued for a while..the very picture of domestic bliss.  If, at any time, A Cybernetic Cat...a trucker and an AI NanoSwarm could be considered "domestic".
And life was good.
Two years of traversing the nation, picking up and delivering cargo passed without noticeable incident.  Bubba, Cord and DT melded into an intricate whole.  They were more than a team.  They had approached the "one".

A cybernetic Triad

.




Chapter 26: Motorcycle.
Cord was beginning to be antsy.  This happened every few years whenever he was between motorcycles.  Cord was a Biker.  Not hard core since he COULD do without...but a biker at heart and a biker nonetheless.  He had been ever since that day at age thirteen when he got on his first motorcycle....and promptly crashed it.
The nostalgia, the memories, the yearning had been building for months now.
The current load was an oversize.  Not really big but more than a 'tinywide' yet not heavy.  An' Air Handler' ...going to a job site in Youngstown, Ohio.  It was mostly sheetmetal so it wasn’t heavy but it was bulky.  Consequently they were routed ,and this route was...interesting.
Cord swung wide as he rounded a corner in the backwoods of Kentucky and glanced at one of the residences yards bordering the roadway.  Then he came to a dead stop. There was no other traffic on the road...good thing.
THERE!  In the yard was a....a.....an OLD motorcycle...with a "FOR SALE" sign on it.
Not sure exactly how old it was or what it was...but Cord was in love, or at least head over heels in lust.   He steered the rig  forward and to one side of the road  as far as he could and then parked.  Other traffic could get by....maybe.  If not they could wait.  Cord had business.  He got out of the truck and went up to the door of the residence and CAREFULLY knocked....while being very, very obvious.  After knocking he stepped back from the door staying in plain sight and most especially keeping his hands in plain sight.
"Helloooooo the House...."  is there anyone home?

Cord had NO plans to surprise the occupant.  Nope. None.
Presently someone came to the door....with a gun.  A shot gun.  Not pointed at Cord...exactly....but it could be very quickly.  That someone was a woman.  Not a very trusting woman it appeared. Cord liked that.  People should look after their own self and not rely on someone else to do it. If everyone did that there would be a whole lot less problems in the world.
"May I help you?" She asked
"Yes ma'am. " said Cord.  If he'd had a hat on he'd have taken it off.. or at least tipped it....drat the luck.." I noticed that motorcycle in your yard with the FOR SALE sign on it."
Cord lifted an eyebrow.
The lady seemed relieved.
"I want to get rid of it.  It was my mom's boyfriend's.  He's dead now." she said.
Cord thought for a minute....that didn't sound good.
But then...it was none of HIS business.  It was the motorcycle....he was in the market for a motorcycle.  If there was a legitimate title for it....
So Cord talked to the wary lady for a while.
Yes...she had the title.  No she didn't have any idea what a bike like that was worth and she didn't care. It was legally hers to dispose of.  If she didn't sell it really soon she was going to have HER boyfriend push it off the dock into the lake up the road.  She just wanted it GONE!
"Well ma'am.  Since that's the way you feel about it then I'll be glad to take it off your hands.  I'll give you all the cash I have.  It's not near what that bike is worth though...are you sure?"
"I'm sure" she said with NO hesitation.  "Any amount or none.  Or I'll pay YOU to haul it off.  I just want it GONE".
Wow...she sounded adamant....and the deal was done.
Cord...true to his word handed her all the money he had immediately available.  It came to a couple of  thousand dollars.  The lady's eyes got a little big but she took it. She and  Cord  then took a short ride to a nearby country bank and got the title transferred ...
Upon their return she took her leave of Cord and Cord...
....... had to figure a way to load it.  The bike weighed several hundred pounds.  Where and how  to load it? Cord managed by dint of much sweating, swearing, lots of bungee cords, rope, duct tape  and the unobtrusive help of hundreds of spherical drones. They were eventually on their way down the road.


Chapter 28.  Load delivery, problems and a decision to make.
Cord Arrived in Youngstown Ohio according to his instructions.  He was right on time.  He parked out side of town where he had been instructed to park and then waited.
After a while some motorcycle cops showed up. They escorted him to the job-site. It was downtown,  RIGHT down town.  In the exact MIDDLE of downtown.  An old office building (emphasis on OLD) was getting renovated.  It needed a heating and air conditioning system.  Cord had the larger part of the system on his trailer.
Cord had done this before.  The hardest part was getting around the crowded job-site. Construction job sites are normally very busy.  Lots of people would be running around each doing their own, separate tasks, NOT interested in knowing what the other people were doing.  Truck drivers had to be very, VERY careful at job sites.
Not this time...No one much was here.  The cops escorted Cord TO the job-site then bailed. A guy with a hardhat appeared and directed Cord as to where to park...and that was it.
Cord thought it was unusual.  Not crowded.  He asked the guy who had directed him as to where to park.
Before Cord had even gotten a word out the Guy had looked at him and said "Strike".
Shit.
Cord was on a job-site that was being struck by Unions.  Had Cord known that he would have left the load and trailer somewhere...they had a yard in Middleton Ohio which wasn't far.  That would have been a good place to drop it and he'd continue on with other, paying, jobs.
Apparently the owner's had known that, and suppressed the information.  Perhaps they'd not wanted to pay storage if the trailer sat in Middleton but rather pay detention to Cord as he babysat the load.  Perhaps they thought that they could get away with OUT paying detention while Cord sat here waiting to be unloaded.  Perhaps.
So Cord was stuck.  He couldn't move the truck and trailer.  Well yeah...possibly the truck.  But that would be very difficult to detach, run off, the come back and re-atach in this situation. So what to do?
Wellllll..  It so happens that they now had a motorcycle.  DT hadn't been able to go over it much, ...but he'd gone over it some. Which to cord meant that the bike had received a DETAILED inspection.
It had. The bike was fit to go.
      
Cord faced a dilemma. Acquiring the Bike had precipitated the solution which had been reaching super saturation.  The old saying goes...if you're not part of the solution you're part of the precipitation.
Well that's what happened.  Cord, in consultation with DT and Bubba had been planning the truck remodeling for over a year now.  It was their pastime, their hobby, and it was becoming an obsession..   They discussed it daily. Every day they come up with a new topic, a new gadget to be included in the rebuild. Weapons.   One of the plans included a 'garage' for a small vehicle.  Might as well be a motorcycle.  Cord had paid off all his bills.  The absence of maintenance expenses and the increased fuel economy had worked wonders on his bank account.
Cord had enough money to take some time off, rent a facility, buy the raw materials, and tools to rebuild DT.  It wasn't as if it were going to be REALLY expensive.  Not the way THEY were going to do it.  Using DT's unique capabilities and all.
In a way, being stuck in the middle of this union misunderstanding might be a god send. Youngstown Ohio  had a surplus of just what Cord was looking for in regards to remodeling the truck.
Abandoned Factories, toxic waste dumps and trash.

Perfect.