Chapter 1 of Cargo
As the sun climbs higher in the sky, casting its mellow rays upon the earth, the slumbering world around me stirs from its tranquil repose. Mere moments ago, it appeared as if time had frozen in the frigid darkness, holding its breath in suspended animation. But now, with the rich hues of sunlight, life reawakens, unfolding in a symphony of movement and vibrant energy.
The world seems at peace.
I start the day at the service station, its artificial cold lights a stark contrast to what the life-friendly sky outside offers. The sole customer, the only living thing, I order a medium vanilla cappuccino and cronut and wait for the tellerless POS to process my transaction. The dispenser opens and produces my cronut wrapped in alufoil. Another opening drops a can of coffee into the slot. I take both and walk to the exit.
As I approach my truck, I spot my first humans, two cajeros loading up the station’s dispenser delivery system. Like myself, they perform a type of labour that automation engineers haven’t yet figured out how to synthesise and carry out cheaply. Wages have stagnated for a decade, so people like me still had jobs, for now.
I sit in the truck and open the can of hot coffee only to discover it was choc-orange flavoured; those cajeros stuffed up, adding to my melancholy about my income. The long day ahead of me, with multiple stops to make across the city, also compounds my depression.
I acknowledge that I have to be careful on the road and stay alert at all times due to the fact I haven’t had my vision cybernetically altered, so I down the cappuccino. I punch my schedule into the truck’s computer and set off on my journey.
“Do you want me to avoid tollways?” asks Avacado, the truck’s computer.
“Yes, please,” I command, hoping to save money.
The first few deliveries go smoothly, but then we hit traffic and the delay threatens to last hours, I pledge to never again skimp on tolls.
“Is there any way out of this?’
It takes a few seconds for the AutoMIND to respond. “I understand that you’re expressing deep concerns about our current stagnation due to the collision between the FC334 MetroBus and a VG1 Phoenix. These are indeed significant events that require urgent attention and countermeasure. While I can acknowledge the gravity of this issue, it is not possible to enact such countermeasures until we arrive at the Rosefield Interchange.”
Despite the setback, I remain focused and determined to complete my deliveries on time, to earn my bonuses, which would compensate for my other losses.
“Would you be interested in the latest Waycaster updates?”
“Not at this time, Ava,” I say, deciding to spend the day with a clear head and avoid the typhoon in a teacup that is world current affairs.
After a long day wrangling with traffic and my depression, my greed takes control, fueled by unshakeable despair at the cost of living. I take on another job that just popped up on the scheduler. After I make my last delivery, I head back to the depot, exhausted but resolved to earn a little extra, regardless if it changed my life or not. It is either that or wallow in poor man’s misery.
The Enkron depot is swarming with drones vying for spots on the landing pads. Robotic trains loaded with delivery items zigzag across the arena, passing the cajero’s scrambling to do the work the non-human gizmos can’t accomplish.
All packages have no information printed on them, just the familiar spiral barcode stamped on each face. Enkron employees receive data and logistics information via their optical implants. No implants mean less efficient ways of doing things. Booking to pick up packages had to be scanned manually with handsets. Implants weren’t mandatory, but Enkron makes it difficult for those who refuse them. I just have to work harder, using a handheld scanner. Not too difficult a task, but a huge burden to those who’ve opted to insert cyberware surgically and neurojecting it with their brains.
I spot one of the delivery guys I know, his jet-black hair and subtle tattoos peeking out from under his sleeves, and his preference for wearing the company safety vest over a comfortable jumpsuit with various pockets to hold his delivery gadgets and tools, making him unmissable amongst the other uniformed cajeros.
Jonsa Coffey walks up to me, his abnormal height making it difficult to notice his cybernetic eyes gleaming with a soft neon-blue hue. His mood seems darker than mine.
“What’s with you?” I ask. “I thought you were going to hold out.”
The shame on his face betrays him. “Shit, man. My wife pressured me into it. She refuses to communicate with me using the old touchy pads.”
I raise my hands to show him I’m not upset. “All good. You’re entitled to a choice. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but…”
“It is what it is,” he adds, ending the topic the way he ends any other awkward conversation.
I understand, so I let it go. “What else is bothering you?”
“Things are not good,” he replies. “My efficiency is down the toilet. Got lost on all drop-offs. Every single one.”
I find this strange. His implants should help him receive bookings and navigate through the city. “You have implants now,” I say, trying not to sound sanctimonious over his decision to cave to the current fads.
“Today was different,” he says. “My eyes seem to be playing up as if I couldn’t get a clear signal. I received a booking to pick up a package from an unknown location, the details were just fuzzy.”
“Did you try rebooting the implant?”
Jonsa shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that,” he says, shrugging my ignorance off. “I decided to take the job anyway after the geotracker confirmed the location. I set out on my bike. It paid well and I thought I can do it old-style. As I rode through the city, I realized that I had no idea where I was going. The streets looked unfamiliar, and the address didn’t make any sense.” He pauses, deep in thought.
“Geotracker glitched, that’s all. It happens, doesn’t matter what technology you use.”
He looks at me gravely, “I resorted to using my touchy pad. The place doesn’t exist. No map on the entire internet can verify its existence. Suddenly, the implants turned off and when they came back online, I received a message warning me not to deliver the package.”
“Maybe they were hacked? It’s been known to happen.”
Jonso looks at me, confused. “Why would anybody hack into my eyes?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What did you end up doing?”
“I just quickly turned around and headed back here. I’m grateful that my implants are finally started working again. I need another score before I finish up today.”
“Are you serious? Your implants are playing up. You can’t go out there like that.”
Jonsa walks away, “Gotta make the money.”
“What was the location’s name?” I call out.
He turns, walking backwards, and says, “Cedarwood. Doesn’t exist.” He turns back and joins the other hurrying Enkron cajeros.
I proceed to the next dock, the cache of new knowledge swirling inside my head. Between Jonsa’s surrendering his body autonomy to cybernetic implants and the mysterious ghost suburb, I conclude that I have reached my quota of enlightenment. From now going forward am to spend the rest of the afternoon focused on earning an income.
Picking up the parcels at Loading Dock B proves to be quite the task, especially with the eleven largish wooden crates that await their retrieval. The Enkron dock buzzes with activity as unmanned forklifts manoeuvre in and out of the bustling warehouse, stacking crates high with uncanny precision.
The crates were adorned with labels displaying the sender’s name, an unfamiliar entity called the Serpent Island Foundation. The logo of a megalithic stone structure gave the crates a peculiar mystery and weight of curiosity and excitement. This sentiment is lost on the robot handlers as they gently loaded the timber packages carefully onto my awaiting truck, ensuring their safe handling and journey to their intended destination.
I check the location, noting the distance. A cool fifty-kilometre drive, straight west and deep into the desert wilderness meant it would be an arduous journey. Without implants, I would need to rely on my antiquated touchy pad logged onto the geotracker mapping system, and many of these platforms are facing service shutdown.
Once loaded, the yellow machines move on to the next job. A group of cajero’s caught my eye, loitering near the loading dock entrance. I notice that they are wearing sneakers and jeans under their Enkron Service jackets, a normal habit, but something seemed off.
As I climb into the cabin and power up the truck I can’t shake off the feeling that something isn’t right. I decide to take a closer look at the manifest before heading out. Upon inspection, I found no names listed on the delivery sheet, just an address, Villa 1, Raven Mountain.
Is it a real address? I consider, crosschecking it with my touchy pad. The location appears legitimate so I settle in for a long drive and a late day.
“Avacado, set a course for Raven Mountain.”
“To travel from Fontana City to Raven Mountain, there are a few possible routes depending on your preferred tollway?”
“No tolls, please.”
“Start by heading north on Salamander Highway. Follow the signs until you get onto the F1 Motorway. I will guide you from there toward Raven Mountain.”
The three cajero’s at the entrance grab my attention again. My suspicions grew stronger the more I study them and begin to wonder if this was some kind of illegal activity. I wait a few minutes to evaluate my paranoia, deciding to ignore the cajeros, who are most likely truck repair techs gathering out the rear for a break. My depression may be playing up, stirring up my paranoia, but my instincts were still sharp enough to recognize when something innocent was afoot.
I gently press down on the accelerator, urging the truck forward as it smoothly glides out of the Enkron dock and onto the bustling street. The outback delivery location is a long way from civilization, with lots of wealthy estates sprinkled along a known shady strip of state-owned parkland where it isn’t uncommon for suspicious characters to lurk.
I shake off any anxious feelings and focus on the delivery and what playlist I am going to listen to.