The following story was initially meant as a birthday story for my agent, Andy... But it sort of took on a life of its own, then it got a bit dark, and a bit long, so I thought I'd put it here rather then on his Facebook page where people might accidentally see it.
Anywho... Here we go... This story is 'Mirror'
He winced at the grinding noise from the gearbox as he changed down into second. The engine note changing pitch as the tires fought for grip on the loose, rocky surface.
“Mirror, this is three-eleven, checking in.”
“Roger three-eleven,” the tinny voice from the radio was almost lost in the static that seemed to always haunt this stretch of road, “We see you at the base of the South Escarpment, anything to report?”
“Looks like there’s been a rock fall, lotta loose shale on the road. Might put me behind by a few minutes, wouldn’t want you getting worried about me and sending out the dogs or anything.”
“Negative three-eleven, we don’t worry about anything, you know that. Though for your information and safety, the dogs are already out.”
He spat a word that his Mother would have beaten him senseless for using, “Has there been a breach?”
“Seal broke during the last delivery, four confirmed losses and another two had to be annulled in the bay. They’re still hosing it down. Six dogs released, three have enabled stealth.”
“They’ve picked up the trail then.”
“Watch yourself, they weren’t coming towards you, but between the stealth and static - they sometimes drop off the grid.”
“Thanks Mirror, that’s brightened my Birthday no end. Three-eleven out.”
He peered out of the window into the fog, in this weather it would be almost impossible to spot the escaped animals until he was close enough to run over them, which he was legally bound to do. It wouldn’t be much easier to see the dogs, even the light coming from their sensors would probably be masked in the mist. The image on the dashboard scanner flickered and then cleared, for a second he thought he saw a blip amongst the fleeting interference. He knew that hitting it wouldn’t help, but he did it anyway; regretting it instantly as the pain shot up his wrist to his elbow. “You’re getting old Andy.” He mumbled to himself as he flexed his fingers, “I'm glad this is the last run.”
The truck continued to climb towards the lip of the escarpment, the ride getting rougher as he got closer to what he assumed was the source of the rock-fall. His whole cab lurched as one of the front wheels dropped into a pothole and the ever-present noise from the cargo compartment behind doubled in volume. He banged on the panel behind him, the pain once more shooting up his arm. “Son of a…” he yelled. He was still yelling a stream of obscenities, when he crested the rise and the tire pressure alarm sounded.
The truck juddered to a halt in a cloud of gravel as he hit the brakes and he sat with his head in his hands until the strident alarm annoyed him enough that he muted it. A check of the screens told him that the front offside tire was punctured beyond the capacity of the self-inflating system to fix.
“Mirror, this is three-eleven, I have lost a wheel – Going to have to replace it manually. Any update on the dogs?”
“All dogs are now in stealth mode, it’s only a matter of time. Last track puts them over one click to the North. Do you require assistance?”
“Negative Mirror. Shouldn’t take me more than a few minutes,” he looked at his still tingling arm, “No problems here. Just let me know if there’s any update.”
He jumped down from the cab, the chill from the fog immediately dampening the sleeves of his fatigue jacket. Moving towards the rear of the cargo bay, he punched his access code into the arm that held the 2 meter high spare wheel and, as he watched, the wheel made its way forward, along the siderails of the truck, until it reached the cab. Whereupon words started to flash on the keypad’s tiny screen. Andy sighed, then looked around as he heard a rock clatter to the ground behind him. Convincing himself that it was just a remnant from the rock-fall he shook his head and looked closely at the warning. ‘Automatic hub release disabled. Please disconnect manually’
“Really?” he shouted at no-one in particular as he set to work with the contents of his emergency toolbox. He removed the hub cover and started to loosen the nuts holding the hub. He had released seven of the twelve when the radio burst into life. The message was more interference than words. “three-elev…. Dog… three hun… Not respon…”
The wrench fell from his numb hand as a sheen of sweat instantly appeared on his forehead. “Mirror? Mirror! Goddammit Mirror – Call the dogs off!” but the rest of the message, if there was one, was completely lost in the cloud of static. He picked up the tool and feverishly started to work on the remaining five nuts, praying for the fog to clear.
Another rock fell. This time it was not from behind him, not from the way he had come, but instead it came from the North, from the direction of the Mirror… From the direction of the dogs. He finished loosening the last nut with his fingers. As it dropped to the ground, the indicators on the spare wheel went green and the auto-jack started to slowly raise the truck into the air. “C’mon you bitch.” The compressor laboured as it rose, and he lovingly stroked the truck’s smooth paintwork, willing it to move more quickly. A ram pushed the old wheel off, letting him see the huge jagged rip in the thick rubber for the first time. The arm moved the new wheel into position and stopped. Once more displaying a flashing warning on its screen. ‘Manually replace twelve wheel nuts.’ it said. He stared at it, dumbfounded, before dropping to his knees to try and find the discarded fasteners amongst the gravel. He was replacing the third one when he heard it.
His entire body froze, except for the hand holding the wrench. He had definitely heard movement. The toneless silence of the fog had caused his ears to become so sensitive that he could even hear the thick beat of his own laboured pulse. “Hello!” he called, without turning his head, still looking at the screen, “I am Animal Delivery Technician three-eleven. Inbound, full, cold, tired and scared. Check with the Mirror.” The display changed to ‘Manually replace nine wheel nuts.’ And the noise of movement came again. He rested his head against the wheel and took several deep breaths before turning around.
She was about nine years old, covered in dust, with two clean streaks on her face where she’d been crying. Her breathing was as ragged as his was, and probably for the same reasons.
“Please, can you help me… My Daddy said to run… He pointed this way,” She looked over her shoulder, “I ran… He said he’d be right behind me… I’m cold.” She took a step towards the truck, still frightened, but with the beginnings of a relieved smile on her lips.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “there’s nothing I can do. You’ve already…” He took a step backwards, maintaining eye contact whilst reaching for the Taser clipped to his belt.
Her eyes widened. “Please Mister, please help me. I want my Daddy…”
She didn’t even notice the dog before it grabbed her. The electrical charge in its jaws knocking her unconscious before she had time to scream. It was probably for the best, she’d suffered enough. The dog stared directly at him, the little girl dangling limply in its jaws, he raised his hands - moving them as far away from his Taser as possible. There was a pause as it scanned him to confirm his identity, then it gave a derogatory sniff as it turned its two tonne bulk towards the Mirror and padded back into the fog.
He replaced the remaining nuts in record time and boarded the truck, leaving the destroyed tire where it lay. Reaching for the starter, he paused, then slouched back into the seat and started to sob. The Earth was dying, some would say that it was already dead. It wasn’t so bad when the oil ran out, giant solar mirrors were built around the planet, collecting limitless free energy from the Sun. It was a boom time almost, the population skyrocketed. Nobody realised that we were running short of other key resources though. We lost Sodium first, then Molybdenum, Silicon and Vanadium. Suddenly there were millions of consumers with nothing to consume.
It was then that they passed the worldwide ‘One out, one in’ law, where children could only be born if a member of their family died, zero population growth. They just fined the parents that had the ‘unauthorised’ children. Until they realised that the human body contained trace amounts of every element we needed, and that those elements could be released simply by feeding a living body into the lightstream of a solar collector. They just took the 'surplus' children at first, but it wasn’t long before they took the parents too… Entire families sometimes. It depended completely on how much space you had left in the collection truck.
The cries from the cargo compartment were getting louder, and he knew that he’d made the right decision to hand in his notice.