At the end of the first installment of this piece of Halloween fiction from Wendy Parker, the heroine, trucker LaRonda’s zombie codriver had taken over their haul through the non-oxygen-dependent zone … (Click here to read Part 1 in full.)
The truck rolled to a stop, having been sensor-tuned to obey checkpoint commands. Dash’s driver side window auto-rolled enough for a Half-Chip to snake its viewing camera up into the cab. LaRonda had hoped for anything but a Half-Chip at the checkpoint.
Once regarded as super-humans, the micro-chip implanted half-breeds were increasingly cranky with their decisions to be willing capture for the Enforcers, but had become far too enmeshed with the motherboard to realize it, or be able to do anything other than be angry about it. The once-prized position of power had become more of a slave labor job as Half-Chip technology progressed and programs were given precedence over biological thought process.
“Pull the vehicle into the catacomb.”
It wasn’t so much a request as an order, electronically transferred into her tablet and the truck’s auto-control. LaRonda quickly typed her response, “Oxygen-dependents on board are equipped with Enforcement-approved safety gear. Catacombs are not necessary.”
“Safety rebuttal denied. Pull the vehicle into the catacomb.”
With no further rebuttals allowed, auto-control did as it was ordered, and slowly moved the truck toward the catacombs. This was completely unfamiliar territory for LaRonda. She had never been pulled into the catacombs and wondered if her computer map had been updated to navigate the dark corridors. Dash certainly had no skill to do so. His left eye had popped out again and was hanging in the folds of his dirty t-shirt. She had no choice but to sit back and wait, and hope her tablet held the credentials she’d need to be allowed to leave.
They snaked along, gaining speed as the headlights illuminated only a sliver of space between black walls wide enough to pass. LaRonda was beginning to wonder just how far into the maze they would go when a little girl stepped out of oily darkness, directly in front of her truck.
Dash had no instinct to slam on brakes, mostly because he was a Zombie, but also because even non-oxygen-dependents knew auto-control-braking systems would take over when sensors noted an obstruction.
LaRonda, however, was one hundred percent human and had been trained back in the day before auto-control. She knew immediately her electronic sensors hadn’t picked up in time to stop before hitting the girl, and she also knew sensor failure was not an acceptable excuse for an accident. The Enforcers wouldn’t prosecute a sensor manufacturer because they owned the sensor manufacturers. They would seek to place her in an unsafe operator lottery, and her uncertified air hauling days would be over as soon as her number was drawn.
She slammed the emergency stop valve, but not soon enough. The little girl had disappeared, and the only logical place she could be was underneath the truck. LaRonda resisted the urge to jump out of the vehicle to offer assistance. She knew it would only complicate investigations and result in a violation of accident scene safety codes. She followed the rules and waited for instruction to come through on her tablet.
Seconds seemed like hours, and after three excruciating minutes with no response or electronic contact, LaRonda could no longer sit without taking action. She had to see if the little girl was OK. More than that, she had to see if it was actually a human child, because they were rare these days, and if she could save it, it would be worth the violations and prosecution she would certainly face.
“Dash, I’m getting out. Stay put. Don’t drive.”
She unstrapped herself from the bubble pit, and un-hooked her facial attachments while Dash drooled on himself. LaRonda wondered for the millionth time how things had gone so bad so quickly, as she prepared to break all the rules to possibly save a human life. She made one last attempt at Enforcement contact through her tablet, to no avail, and opened the passenger side door.
Overwhelming gloom and sharp, acrid air enveloped LaRonda as she carefully made her way to the front of the truck. Silence hung in thick slabs beyond her dim line of vision. There was no indication of life, human or otherwise. Her own nervous breath and heartbeat were all she could hear.
As she bent down to look underneath the steers, her focus was so completely concentrated on what she might see, she neglected to notice the Half-Chip that stepped out of the darkness beside her, and almost fainted when it spoke out loud.
“LaRonda Pettibone? Is that you?”
Read Part 3 via the following link: