Chapter 5 of Cargo
As the sun beat down on the desert, I found myself stranded in the middle of nowhere. The oppressive heat makes it difficult to think, and I know I have to act fast if I want to survive. As I trekked through the vast expanse of the desert, the post-morning sun beating down on me, I couldn’t help but wonder about the nearest settlement, seemingly hours away on foot. Every step felt like an eternity as the desolate landscape stretched out before me, its barrenness amplifying my solitude. Thoughts of civilization became a mirage in my mind, teasing me with the promise of respite and human connection. I yearn for the comfort of shelter, the shade it would provide, and the simple joys of cooling down.
With each laborious stride, my anticipation grows as I spot a settlement hovering on the horizon, a sanctuary amidst the relentless wilderness. But it is too far away, I could never make it under this sun. With no other options, I decide to return to the Cyberstar, the danger residing within it somehow fading against the threat of heat stroke and death. Quashing my primal fear, I resolve to take a chance and attempt to drive to a safer location.
As I approach the truck, I couldn’t help but wonder if the creature is still inside. Too afraid to check, I assume it is as I cautiously peer at the back of the truck. The doors are closed, and apart from the blood-soaked tailgate and earth underfoot, there is no other sign of anything out of the ordinary.
My hands slowly touched the locking mechanism and I slide the pin into place. Relieved, I climb into the driver’s seat, lock the door and turned on the power. The truck hums to life, and I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe I could make it out alive. All I have to do is drive to the next settlement and then run for my life.
I drive through the barren landscape towards the next town, choosing not to go back to the motel, betting everything my cargo was linked to those murders. My mind races as I listen for any noise from the back. The sun beat down relentlessly, and my throat was parched from dehydration, but I don’t dare turn on the air conditioner. I need to hear it, although I have no idea what to do if I do.
I keep driving forward.
An hour passes as I navigated through the winding terrain. Finally, just as the day reaches its apex, I see a glimmer of light in the distance. It was a small town – a beacon of hope in an otherwise desolate landscape. With renewed energy, I push on towards the town until finally reaching it, realising it is only a service station outpost.
Shit, I fume, there is nowhere to run to.
“We have arrived at the recharge station,” announces Avacado.
As luck would have it, the charging station is closed, the sign at the glass sliding door trolling me.
A sense of disappointment washes over me. The facility stood there, eerily deserted, its usual bustling atmosphere replaced by an eerie silence. The glass doors are locked, and the charging portals sit vacant, devoid of life. The surrounding area is marked by traces of abandonment; a few discarded wrappers dancing in the wind and a faded signage screen that hangs devoid of content. It is a stark reminder of the unforgiving nature of the desert, where even the most promising oases could fade away, leaving behind only a haunting emptiness.
“How far is the next town?” I whisper, not wanting to provoke the beast.
“Forty kilometres due East,” blared the AutoMIND, insensitive to the situation.
My hunger and thirst take over. I jump out of the truck and approach the window panel. looking inside, I see the empty shelves. I go to the side and search for a tap, hoping the water is still pumped to this place. There is a garage complex with three bays, one has its door half open.
I rush over and check.
It looks like the roller door was forced open.
I’m resistant to the idea of entering, not wanting to add burglary to my problems, but I’m facing an emergency and my brain agrees the threat is existential. I enter and seek out the lights and then the bathroom. Stepping inside, I am greeted by a cool, calming atmosphere that offers respite from the dry heat. The soft lighting and relative cleanliness envelop me, inviting me to take a moment for myself. I drink straight from the tap, the outside world fading away, replaced by a sense of tranquillity.
But the knowledge of the thing residing in the Cyberstar eventually returns to haunt me.
I head back to the centre bay and study the half-open roller door. The sun is about to set, and I feel my eyes droop and my head weighing on my neck. I had been in a state of fear for hours and am exhausted. Realizing that I couldn’t bear another moment inside the truck, I knew it was imperative to stop and rest overnight. The weariness in my bones demanded respite, and the cramped confines of the vehicle felt suffocating. The decision was clear—I needed a break from the road, a chance to stretch my legs, and an opportunity to rejuvenate myself before continuing the journey.
Contemplating my next move, I conclude calling the cops remains out of the question. What does remain is delivering the cargo. Failure would see my stats plummet and my job redundant. Getting another job without implants would prove difficult if not futile. I manually close the gap on the roller door and sit on the garage creeper to rest, eventually closing my eyes, ready for a night’s sleep.
The sound of crickets fill the air as the darkness brought on the desert chill. I drift off into a deep slumber, when, what seems like hours later, I am awoken by a loud noise outside. The grind of cars entering the outpost. I sit up and approach the metal door, listening to what sounds like a group of rowdy teenagers congregating outside. They were laughing and joking around until they begins pushing against the roller door, attempting to open it.
They must be back to rob the place, I conclude as I press against the steel to hold it down. There is no way I am going to lets these stupid people compromise me if the police get here. One of them starts banging on the metal, and the others slide their hands under and begin lifting. I have no idea what these Puckers would do if they found me in here.
Puckers are a subculture of cajeros who work in manual labour jobs in the desert megafactories, often involving dirty or physically demanding tasks and are known to engage in unauthorized or illegal activities, such as vandalizing property or just causing mischief. There is nothing much to do out here, so destroying public furniture, harassing motorists, and lighting massive bonfires is what they do when they are not working their twelve-hour shifts. I’ve heard reports they’d killed a tourist, a trio had recently been charged with murder. Puckers are not organised in any way like a gang, they just hang out in social groups.
Regardless, they are a threat.
“Oh” screeched one of the hoodlums, a male, “Look at this, someone’s inside, all scared and shivering.”
Trying to stay calm, I refrain from responding. That would be just asking for trouble. Give them a bone and these Pucker will never just leave you alone. The rural youth gangs have a sense of perceived difference or rivalry between rural and urban lifestyles. City cajeros often have access to better, loftier opportunities, resources, and modern amenities, and are envied by those cajeros living in rural areas with limited access to satisfying jobs and loving amenities.
“What’s the matter, afraid of a little fun?” says the Pucker as fists bang on the steel more vigorously.
I relent and say, “I am not looking for any trouble?”
A female yells, “That’s not how things work around here. You’re in our territory now, and we decide who gets into trouble.”
“I’ll leave if that’s what you want.”
The female voice says, menacingly, “Not so fast. You think you, an outsider, can just waltz in here and walk away without consequences?”
“I didn’t know this was your territory,” I tell them. “I’ll leave right now.”
“Too late for that. You’ve already seen too much. We can’t have you running to the cops or anyone else.
My heart sinks at the prospect of a group of hoodlum youths vying to make an example of me. Their taunts of menacing threats send shivers down my spine. Their laughter was a sinister symphony, echoing through the dimly lit garage as they wrestle with the roller door. I can feel my palms growing clammy and my breath becoming shallow as fear takes hold. The darkness seemed to magnify their malevolence, turning the once-busy automobile repair shop into a menacing playground for their wicked games. Every word they utter is like a dagger, striking at my vulnerability and leaving me feeling exposed and defenceless.
My heart pounds in my chest, torn between the urge to confront them and the instinct to retreat to the safety of the bathroom. In the face of their intimidation, I know that courage is my only ally, and I had to find the strength to stand my ground against these assholes.
Sure there’s still a tool or two lying around.
“What the matter, cityboy?” teases the other male, “Don’t you like fun and games?”
“We got a bonfire, happening soon,” says another.
Sounding amused, the original voice calls out, “You’re really making us beg now, huh? How pathetic.”
The intensity of the assault on the door increases as the situation intensifies. Fear grips my chest, and realize I am at the mercy of these menacing Puckers. Then, as they continue their menacing game, it dawns on me that the other, more serious menace could awaken. My instinct is to open the roller door, and warn these Puckers, get them inside for safety, regardless of how thin my empathy runs for these bored cajeros.
When a distant rumbling and clanging echoes its way into the concrete space of the garage, such ideas dash away in a millisecond. The youth’s voices stop abruptly at the sound of metal crashing. I hear them scatter, clapping against the concrete.
Moments pass and I hear the growling and thumping of some beast outside, out there with them, something big and dangerous. The creature lets out a deafening roar. Human voices scream as footsteps clatter in all directions, their voices hollering in terror as they run away from the creature.
I listen, terror-stricken, as the beast gallops after them, roaring, jaws snapping, bones crunching. The cries for help, and the shrieking, punctuate the ambience of the night, the crickets indifferent to the horrors unfolding.
I fall to the cold ground and wait, motionless, without moving a single muscle, and listen out, trying to ascertain where this carnage is taking place. The intervals between each scream grow longer, abruptly stopping at one last agonising howl. I stand in silent darkness, knees wobbling, not breathing. I know that I have just witnessed something unnatural – something that would stay with me for years to come.