Over the road

This is the day to day life of the character. She has lost her arm, and surrendered her dreams and this is how her life looks now. On board the frdight truck and a passenger.

present day

The kettle hissed, then it gargled, then it spluttered and choked and growled until a click snapped out loud and the wheezing subsided. Hot dew misted on the ceramic tiles. A beep punctured silent wake of ascending steam. A Pavlov chime. And sounded again. And then again.

Charlie poured herself coffee lifted the cup and inhaled the steam, then exhaled as she took a first cautious sip.

Charlie blew into her cup, and drank again.

Her greedy plants hijacked the morning sun, casting monstrous silhouettes on the wall.

She stood and listened to wind, and to the traffic, the hollow whoosh of cars passing, endlessly, like relentless waves on the beach at night. And then for a brief moment she almost smiled. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was no more that a nervous twitch, even so the twitch resembled a smile nevertheless.

"Hey! What time is it?" she asked aloud.

"It's 7:32" replied the room, with female demeanour and optimistic obedience.

"Alright then, I guess." she said.

Charlie turned about, and paused for a last look at the view and left, and a second after her departure the view vanished too. Where it was stood the brutal truth. Four blank walls, two meters wide three meters long. At it's far end a sleeper couch and a table, clipped upright against the wall.

From the kitchen Charlie walked through a short concertina passage into a connecting utility chamber. It contained a cupboard, on the left, and a plastic moulded-all-in-one wet room opposite it, she continued to a second short concertina that terminated in a trellis door of blackout canvas. She it split open to reveal a cockpit.

The windshield was frosted and marbled with rivers of rain. In the center was a large highback chair. She sat and swivelled to face forward. A sequence of hexagonal shapes quickly collapsed upon themself and the opaque windshield became transparent, sweeping from the center outward. A car flicked past in the hammerlane, while other vechiles, in the two middle lanes edged forward more slowly. In the snail-lane, immediately ahead of her was the backend of an 18 wheeler freight liner.

The pilot chair was exactly in the middle of the cockpit, with two flatscreen monitors on either side, protruding from the dashboard. On top of the dashboard, slightly left of the steering wheel, sat bright yellow plastic duck. It's neck was a spring, so the head bobbed over rough road. Speed-bumps made it look like it was laughing at some hysterical joke that the road had told. For the moment is was still. Behind the duck, in the valley between the glass window and the plastic dashboard lay a severed bionic arm.

It was raining in reality.

The sky was endlessly grey and in the distance it was inked with dark tentacles of heavy rain.

Charlie watched it throb a bright web of static electricity, that flashed laterally across the heads of heaven. A strobe of warning to the insubordinate world below, demanding that they prepare to be punished by a celestial flogging. And then without warning, the sky ripped open and whipped down mercilessly. A long white arc stabed into the earth, and lingered and thrashed, spiked and barbed and furious with beauty, but also tethered, a trick of mortal genius. The bolt was glued to a cluster of graphite electrodes, each one designed to siphon her brilliance into capacitors and transformers and relay her power into a loom of copper cables, knitted by a conspiracy of fiber optic threads to confine the white celestial wrath. Here she would be normalised and regulated and incarcerated in a cell of lithium-iron, and fed to insatiable arsenic infused screens licked by lustful thumbs, pocked and proded and pinched. Billions of little fingers would twist her into political verse and sex and gossip, and conceited voyeurism. Finally the gentrified lightnening would come to rest in a new cloud.

A false cloud of mortal making.

A cloud without a silver lining.

A cloud without a sky.

Charlie watched the marvel with sad awe. She watched it parallax against concrete shoulders until the lightening farm was left behind. The horizon was swept clear of it's black graphite columns. The monotony of the straight road and impatient cars, garish signs and perverted advertisements brought her back to the monotony of reality.

In the eternal fray of god and man, the deities where bound to loose, they underestimated evolution. Thor himself was now a slave to man. They trapped themselves in lore and books and statues of legend, to be observed, dissected at leisure, and finally understood until the magical power they once proclaimed became a white-paper in an article in a library for everyone to know. A god can only exist in a superstitious mind.

Charlie lifted her coffee to take another sip, only to find that the cup was empty. She had drank it all on autopilot, she looked at the bottom, and wondered how much of her life was missing because of autopilot. And then she remembered the lightening harvest and concluded that it was a fair trade.

She bit the porcelain handle, to hold the cup between her teeth, then leaned forward to pick up the prosthetic arm, tucked it under her armpit, released the cup into her free hand and returned to the kitchen.

She put the left arm on the counter, next to the sink, then undid the satin belt of the chic black Kimono dressing gown and hung it on the refrigerator door. It was quicker to wash the dishes half naked than to roll up her sleeves. She plugged the sink and cranked two generous squirts of water into the empty cup. On the spout of the faucet an LED blinked for attention. Five little dots. Four black and one green. The green dot changed to red and blinked rapidly, it did that thrice and stopped. Charlie acknowledged with a nod, her water tank was almost empty.

She looked at her stump. A flesh cylinder that tapered to a skin cap, with a baseball seam of pale scars. Between her bicep and tricep was a cluster of tattooed circles, each containing a symbol that signified an nerve junction. In each circle's center a surgical steel nipple sat upon the skin like a fashion accessory. She rolled a graphene lining, a thick black condom, up to her shoulder and wiggled it until the disc at its base buzzed.

On the bevel of the disc a white thread illuminated, it pulsed blue, and extinguished. The inanimate arm next to the sink below immediately flexed it's fingers, then curled each one independently and ended the status check with a thumbs up gesture. Charlie slid the arm over the edge of the sink, and offered the hand her coffee mug which it grasped gently.

You can wash a plate with one hand, but mugs are a nuisance.

With the help of the arm Charlie cleaned the mug, then poured it's water into a slender glass with a purple bracelet of dried red wine, from the night before. She gave the glass a good scrub with a sponge and poured the pink tainted water into a potted plant beside the sink.

Both the coffee mug and tall glass went into a drying rack, next to a solitary china plate, and a single set of cutlery. She collected the soggy sponge, from the sink, and hoisted it over a pot plant.

"Morning George" she said to a tiger-lilly, and gently clenched the sponge to dribble down over the leaves, polishing them like new shoes.

"There's only enough for you, but not for me", she told George.

George said nothing at all, but looked grateful.

"Wanna see something creepy?" she asked.

The leaves were nodding up and down.

Charlie turned the prosthetic arm around.

"Watch" she said, and the fake fingers flexed open, and clutched, and flexed and clutched, dragging the limb forward, each time. Charlie squealed and giggled.

"Can your arm do that?" she asked.

The leaves had stopped nodding.

She picked the arm up and attached it to the disk with a firm magnetic snap and locked into place with a metal click.

"Hey you ... whats new?" she asked.

The room began with a weather report followed by a summary of emails, missed calls and the agenda for the day, then recited the headlines from various news outlets, and while this was happening Charlie made her bed, folded it away and dressed herself in a vest, and got a dumbbell out the closet, and slipped into fingered running shoes. She unpacked unfolded an aluminium disk, who's surface with a dense lattice of ball-bearings, and shuffled that into the middle of the room. And the room was still preaching bad news and current affairs.

"Hey you ... stop", she said, and continued with "turn the mirror on".

The room obeyed. The lying wall blinked and a mirror appeared which covered the entire wall, and doubled the room's depth making it into a dance studio for one. Two sinks, two refrigerators, two treadmils ... a mirror doubles everything except itself and you. Charlie admired herself. The mirror was typical except for graphical islands of meta data, that rendered her vital signs, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, cardio-mileage etc. Everyone likes a mirror, it's removes you from your inside, it externalizes the self so you can weigh who you are in eye of beholders.

Charlie did mind what she saw, anymore. She raised her bionic arm and flexed her fingers. The only thing she detested about the mirror where the adverts, but she refused to pay the full subscription to have them removed. She registered her body with a "Virtuvian" pose: feet apart, arms out streched, a man in a circle, from the drawing of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Then she gave her reflection an affirmative nod, and started her routine with a guided yoga warm up, with verbal and visual posture correction. That was followed with strength training, press-ups, sit ups, jumping jacks and finished with cardiovascular. A virtual 8 mile run through Red River Gorge, Kentuchy. This was a "free" third party augmented addon that synced the treadmill and video output to the mirror. She ran in real time from the Nada tunnel, along the river, through the forested footpaths and all the way to the rock outcrop of the Sky Bridge. The scenry was breathtaking. Along the way anything that could be bought, was neatly labeled, described, priced and, of course, discounted.

The only thing that piqued her interest, for a moment, was a cycad, with a dense rosette of leaves on it's crown.

When she arrived at the famous stone bridge she had a recommended break, a cardio-cool-down, basically a calm walk through the forest path. Along the way she met a handsom young man, who had paused to admire the view. He was very charming and gave her a brief history of park, and he told her about the tragerdy of Clay City, and the parks prehistoric occupancy and offered her an opportunity of a lifetime, with a perpertual permit for overnight camping included in the price. Charlie cancelled the timeshare broker the moment that option became available.

Just before the exit to the park, a group of starving children from the Republic of Congo approached. A malnourished young girl carrying her infant sister. The baby had a disproportly large head, bottle flies crawled lazily around the her snot caked nose and the infants head lolled around, unsupported by neck muscle. The girl begged for food with an equally skeletal mother standing behind them, forelorn and bare foot, her exposed legs, scaled and her boney knees made her lower half look like it belonged to a different spieces, a flamingo perhaps, or a water crane.

The wost encounter was always the last encounter. Charlie could've terminated the program prematurely, she had before, but noticed that the next session would compensate, for the missing opportunities at the start of the program, and she would end up with head full of compond propoganda her entire run.

Charlie wondered what that last encounter would be, if she was a cisgender male. She wondered if men also starved, she had never seen a starving father, only woman and children. She wondered about that and then wondered what advertisements starving people they would be exposed to, and she wondered how much it would cost, per month, to have them cancelled, to delete human suffering from her life forever.

The run finished and the mirror wall restored itself with a congratulation message and some applause from an invisible audience. To either side of her reflection was more data, a summary of her calorie count, BMI, and serotonin, melatonin and endorphin averages. She didn't mind that so much, but it also graphed her declining ovarian egg reserve, a menstrual family planner, the current market rate for ovarian egg donation, and ... a banner listing "real", "virtual" and "virtually real" cycad, with a dense rosette of leaves on it's crown.

Charlie returned to the cockpit, the let screen showed an areal view of the highway, she zoomed into her truck, there was a thick solid white line connecting her truck to the vechile infront of hers. She tapped the icon of the leading truck. A pop-up appeared, she tapped again and the screen to her right changed, a static portrait appeared, of the driver with "Hansome" under his face. Dialing tones beeped, with herself as in a smaller square in the bottom corner.

The ringing continued until the static portrait of the called blanked and became a live video feed.

"Yo Chapel" said the man.

"Hey" replied Charlie, "you ridding through?"

"Yeah man, all the way. Sup?"

"I godda drop the kidds off and top-up at the next static-station, and stuff" she said, "also ... thought maybe I'd you'd like a real coffee, you know for all that slipstream you been providing?"

"Negatory little lady, I'm a company man, and so the boss, well the boss says what the boss wants, and the boss wants me ridding through ... but I do thank you for that there kind offer. Few and far between these days."

Charlie hated being called "little lady", but she loved the way he said it.

"Man Hansome, you better be saving for an office of your own", she said.

Hansome laughed and nodded.

"I'm working on it Chapel, I am doing that right there."

"Okay then. I better get my head out your ass. Thanks again for slipping me."

"Sure things"

Charlie reached over to the other screen and tapped the solid line between the two trucks, tapped "DETACH FROM CONVOY", and confirmed her action "YES I AM SURE".

"Did you get that?" she asked.

"Yup. We. Are. Getting ... Divorced", he chuckled.

Charlie laughed.

"Are you aiming at the anvil?" asked Hansome.

Charlie nodded and smiled eagerly.

"Put that hammer down and show me what you got little lady. I'll be holding my doors"

Hansome grinned and leaned off screen and returned waving a bottle of "SMART" water.

"Drink and Drive and Stay Alive" he said.

"Drink and Drive and Stay Alive" she repeated, and toasted the air with an empty hand and ended the call.

There was low beeping accompanied by stern female voice over.

"WARNING. You will detach is 12 seconds. WARNING. You will detach in 6 seconds. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. You have left the convoy. WARNING. Your vehicle has breeched the minimum safety distance. You are five meters from impact."

This warning continued on a loop.

The chevron tail plate of Hansome's truck flashed orange, red and white, through the haze of spray from the wet road. His rig slowly inched forward, little by little. As the gap between them grew, the warning voice updated the distance. At twenty meters the warnings stopped.

A few seconds later the hazard lights of his rig blinked three times, each for a full second. It was Hansome saying goodbye, the old fashioned way.

Charlie responded by blasting her horn. She had no way of knowing that the next time she saw Hansome's face, it would be crowned by a floral wreath, on an easel, beside a hermetically sealed coffin.

She sat up and pinched the road map, on the display, and rerouted to the next service station. On the main dashboard a clock with two sets of time, started to animate and her estimated arrival time dialled down to stop at 01:11.

When the leading vehicle was 30 meters away Charlie pulled herself closer to the steering wheel. She curled her fists around the wheel, feeling the surface slide beneath her palm. Then slowly pressed the accelerator pedal, all the way down to the floor. Charlie put "the hammer down".

The cabin filled with a deep electric whine. This sound came from below and emanated from everything. It got stuck in her solar plexus. It knotted her stomach. It filled her up with fear. The skin, on her real arm, crawled with excitement as electric dynamos spun up to full capacity. The truck was alive once again. She had woken it. Coerced it from it's mundane autopilot slumber. Charlie leaned back into the chair. And pressed her head into the head rest, to connect with it. Her fist tightened clenched the wheel. A tight grip, a stethoscope to feel down the steering column and into the engine and along the drive shaft. She wanted to feel it all. Her bones became the tuning fork to the power that accelerated eighty thousand tonnes of cargo. She wanted to be overwhelmed with permission to feel the fear. It turned her on. The wet world outside brightened as her eyes dilated. Charlie was suddenly an eleven year old girl again.