It was important to have a co-driver, even though at the present moment her pet cat Rufus was carelessly batting her most recent partner’s left eyeball around the bunk.
“Rufus! Give me that eye!!”
He was nonplussed. Her co-driver, not Rufus. Rufus gave up the eyeball easily for a cat treat trade-off.
Her new “friend” was almost as easily enticed with Enforcement-approved non-oxygen-dependent-species chow. Of course, Dash was also a Zombie, so that was kind of predictable.
“You know Dash, you should probably take better care of where you leave pertinent and juicy body parts when there’s a cat in the cab.”
A vacant, one-eyed stare and vaguely committal answer of “Uuuuuugh,” was all she got in return.
LaRonda laid her head back on the headrest, closed her eyes, and again counted the reasons why it was a good thing to have an exempt teammate, no matter the lengths one had to go to to get one. And this one wasn’t bad looking, as far as Zombies go. Enforcement chow kept them from decomposing any further, and she’d found Dash pretty fresh.
He was wandering aimlessly at the Last Stand Fuel Stop in the Peterbilt show truck graveyard. Thousands of once-shiny cadavers with eight-inch stacks, spread over hundreds of acres, provided ripe pickings for oxygen-dependent species brave enough to venture out of certified air long enough to render the Enforcers exempt from any responsibility for physical damages. Which basically meant they’d ignore your 10-34 for up to 24 hours after you were caught, but wouldn’t prosecute you for being there.
As long as a capture came willingly, it was fair game. No one was really around to monitor what you offered the capture to make it come willingly, or whether or not you ever made good on that particular little deal, but hey, there was a mandate, and it said, “willing capture is fair game.” You could also salvage all the custom grilles you could carry, because few who really cared about custom grilles were left. Hell, there were few left who even knew what a custom grille was.
LaRonda knew what a custom grille was. She not only remembered, she had one. Actually, she had several. They adorned the walls and ceiling of her auto-cab. It wasn’t that big of a deal anymore. It may have mattered years ago, before 80 percent of the trucks in the industry were rendered illegal by the government. Back when inhabitants of the graveyard she salvaged them from were still rolling … all they were good for now was obscuring the invasion cameras just enough to make prosecution difficult, but not enough to trigger an inspection.
Ha! She was even old enough to remember the government.
She re-focused her thoughts and refused to trail off any further into the realm of knowing she wasn’t that old at all, things just went real bad real quick, and no one really knew what to do but hang on the best they could. She knew she was one of the lucky ones. The raffle hadn’t gotten her yet. Neither had un-certified air, which still had to be dealt with and hauled away on a daily basis. Her expertise and willingness to forgo responsibility credits in that niche market was why she survived.
“Dash! Put your eye in and act right. You’re driving through Zone B – it’s a non-oxygen-necessary zone. I have to go into chamber. Drive.”
LaRonda surrendered auto-control to Dash, who grabbed the auto-wheel and affirmed his understanding with the same vaguely committal answer of, “Uuuuuuuggh.”
Non-oxygen-necessary zones cut fuel credit use by a third, but required a willing capture managed by an oxygen-dependent to guide them through the system. If you didn’t have a NOD, you were routed around, instead of through the un-certified air zones, regardless of your responsibility credit average.
She retired to the bunk with Rufus, who hid in the corner and hissed at her while she strapped tubes and nozzles on to her face to make herself legal for passing through Zone B. She ignored his spitting protest while zipping him into his ancillary-animal closet. There might not be anyone around to monitor what you do to captures, but there were damn sure those watching and waiting to snatch permit and raffle rights from anyone dumb enough to challenge mandates – even ancillary-animal codes.
LaRonda knew the non-oxygen-necessary zones were bullshit, she knew the expensive equipment she was forced to use as an oxygen-dependent species was bullshit. She played the game for points and the ability to move freely. Money in the actual dollar sense was an idea her parents had watched slip away. Things were way different when the goods stopped moving freely and the economy failed. Her reality was about basic needs and who had permits and fuel credits to trade for use of them. Moving was more important to her than what she moved or how much she got paid to do it. States, countries and borders were no longer recognized, the only alliance was to mandates and the machines that enforced them.
She climbed back into the front seat, all facial attachments complete, and dutifully strapped herself into the bubble pit. Dash continued to hold the auto-steer, even though the computer had long ago taken over control of routing. LaRonda knew check-points were close, and readied her tablet.