My stars and garters but tempus can fugit.
I reproduce it here. It's long, I'll warn you, but I don't have time nor place to put it separately. I think it's worth reading. I think it's actually worth dragging back out and changing-polishing-retooling-rewriting it. Or so that little snake, that piebald bird is telling me.
The trucks rolled on into the night, one behind the other, four gunmetal behemouths traveling at bullet speed along the moon-cooled concrete.
I remember the first time I saw one of those giants. I was eleven, maybe twelve. They only run at night, when the roads are quiet and open, and I was drowsing off in the back seat of my parent's car, coming home from some forgotten cousin's birthday party. My parents had been fighting, as usual. I remember my father's quiet proud exclaimations, my mother's noncomittal noises. I pulled myself up on the back of their seat just in time to see what appeared to my muddled and dreaming brain to be an impossibly large, cyclopean snail shell, pulling a tremendously long millipede. Thus was the workings of my brain at the time.
As they roared silently past in the far-off other lane, I saw the huge banks of headlights, lighting up the roadway for what seemed miles. The huge black curve of their windshields, the swept sleekness of fronts and bodies, the hundred foot lengths of their trailers, and the deathly silence in which the caravan passed from my struggling view instilled in me a fear and awe that I think I shall never erase from my soul. My parents bickered quietly into the long dark night, while I lay shivering in the back seat, felled there by a raving fever that would not leave me.
The next time I saw one of those mostrous trucks was when I was sixteen. I had gotten a job as a labourer with a railyard in my Polis, Greater Bama. It was hard, brutally hard work, but I was young, and the pay at the time seemed a fortune. I was working a night shift, to make up for a buddy of mine, home sick. The work was the same, the faces different, and I lay into it like a man thirsty for destruction.
Late that evening, as the bloated boiling hole of the sun fell beneath the treeline, the truck rolled quietly into the yard, blowing grey jets of exhaust from hidden vents, it's convex black eye blindly sending out signals; radar, sonar, doppler, measuring, sensing, tasting the air and the dusk, sensing my apprehension and worship. It seemed to me that I stood there for an hour, like a wayward monk suddenly pinned in the gaze of his God, watching the man-sized tires crunching across the gravel-covered yard, seeing the incredible banked chrome wheels, seemingly a hundred or more of them down it's length, the carbon-fibre aero skirts hiding most of their black and silver bulk, but I could imagine their height, their Atlean strength. The foreman almost broke my shoulder blade he hit me so hard, and I ran off to help get the loader machines ready, poised to send the tons of precious food into the cavernous millipede trailer. It took the unseen pilot almost five minutes to get his machine aligned with the loading gates because the yard was so small, only several hundred yards across, littered with hulks of machines and bins, but the driver dealt with these limitations with grace and skill that I could only envy. He twisted, cajoled, smoothed, warped the semi-flexible trailer around the yard as though it were alive. Finally, the trailer's gaping emptiness was joined to the loading shaft, and the sexual connotations were lost to my adolescent mind, so engrossed was I in the machine's grandeuer and infinite beauty.
Its rounded cabin was painted a black-gunmetal, buffed to a silver sheen. A slow sweeping black windshield lay across fully half of the upper curve of the tractor, blending seamlessly with the body. The carbon coloured mirror body reflected back distorted images of the yard, our spindly man-bodies swarming around it's bulk like worker ants servicing their Queen. The instrument pods clustered in small groups around the tops and sides of the cabin swayed as though they were tentacles underwater, moving to currents and flows that only they could feel. To my overheated child's mind the pods and clusters met my gaze, and quickly, silently, smooth receptacles opened in the curved mirror smoothness, and each rounded lens or blunt probe softly slid back, snail-like pulling tentacles and protrusions, bumps and pods, into it's suddenly soft gargantuan body.
The driver unsealed the door. At first it was only a dimpled line in the smooth surface, but it quickly clamshelled open, slid up silently, a gull's black wing, an oval coffin lid. I caught just a glimpse inside then, saw the reverse face of the windshield, that long black mirror, liberally smattered with heads-up displays, camera views, and esoterica of the driver's profession. I think he saw me looking at his charge with my more-than-sexual need, and walked over.
He was a short man, and the only thing I strongly remember about him was that he spoke not a single word to me the entire time. He invited me over to his machine with a gesture, and instantly I was standing there. He gently stroked the fenders, the cabin, the massive round black metal sheen. Oval dimples appeared in the carbon side, steps, and a long indention to slip my hand into, to pull myself up the twenty feet to the door, even now lifting open again, the invitation unmistakable.
As I touched the handhold I almost cried aloud. That carbon black gunmetal mirror body, seemingly so cold and impersonal, was warm, flesh warm, alive warm. I recoiled slightly, then, like a virgin's first frightened anxious discovery of openness and welcome pleasures. I took a deep breath, and my nostrils picked up the dust of the yard, the almost palpable warmth smell of the animal's side, my own primitive fear and sweat. But over it all, like incense across an open coffin, I smelled the smells of the cabin, electronic ozone and butter soft leather. Emboldened, I climbed.
I climbed the impossible height to the cabin, and stood there, precariously balanced on the top steps, too frightened to step into the interior. I think I shook as the wind blew across me, but the dust in the yard was still. Inside it seemed impossibly large, a massive cathedral, wrapped in ancient smells and echoing with the prayers of the long dead. The windscreen dominated my view, a limitless expanse, fully ten feet, curled around a chair that seemed more a throne than a driver's seat. The driver pushed me into the snug cab, leading me to a spot behind his chair. When he was sure I was stationary, he slid into the leather caress with an ease born of familiarity. His hands lovingly caressed the matte-glass panel in front of him, and the windscreen warmed to life. On the outside of the cabin, pods and sensors shyly extruded, and with a few gentle touches of his hands, the screen was filled with images. Dominant was the view out the front of the cabin, from a camera apparently a full thirty feet in the air. I could just see the top curve of the beast's hull from that view. Around that disturbing surreal picture was ranged smaller views; the sides of the truck, images from just a scant foot off the ground, scenes along the soft swollen black sides of the trailer, views inside the slowly filling cavern, over it's doors, more pictures and images than I could easily digest.
And information abounded in improbable patterns there, like gold on a priest's garments. So many readouts and numbers and images. Engine statistics for an engine that I couldn't even hear running, ambient temperatures, doppler radar images of the land in front of us, behind us, around us, the sky above us and the firm earth below, a tiny blinking dot that surely was us, the truck, the surrounding buildings, and an incredibly intricate map, like so many clustered green veins and arteries. Sounds and images and so very much data thrust at me from the wrapped screen, and the driver sat there, like a long dead king from an ancient forgotten land, watching the ebb and flow of his servants and courtiers, immoved my the grandeuer around him. A quiet chime sounded, and with a few gentle passes of his smooth fingertips, the cameras showed us both that the trailer was full, the mirror feeding us data, statistics, information, times of arrival and departure and infinite eratta. A touch on the glass panel sealed the trailer seamlessly.
I stood there, struck mute and lost. The driver looked up suddenly, and as if to give acknowledgement of his prescience, several bell-like chimes from his vehicle signaled the approach of two more of the land-trapped behemoths, each sinuously winding into the yard. The driver gave me one painfully searching glance. I was trapped for what seemed a frozen forever, anguishing for the rest of my life over this cusp. Stay, or go. Stay with this stranger in his machine of infinite strength and grace, or return to my life of toil and unfulfilled dreams. Ride the forever empty moonlit concrete byways, pass through the night like the ghost of a dream of a dead man, running errands for the gods of commerce and trade, or stay here, trapped like a rusting iron anchor in deep mire, unable to move past my drone's existence, to serve for all time the quiet proud queens as they moved in and out of my life, gravel like ground bones beneath their ranked tires.
I cried as I watched the gunmetal ship sail from the loading yard's bright lit harbour and out into the tractless night.