Eyeballs Deep in Scarlet Emerald



The suspensor pad blew out at 120 kilometers per hour, a loud electric pop throwing sparks and shrapnel beneath the hover truck.

Mishka cursed as the vehicle dipped half a meter in an instant, pulling dangerously left. He shoved the control stick hard right to compensate, checking the view screen; two lanes left all clear.

He angled the damper control and guided the teetering hover truck left, decelerating the shaking vehicle cautiously. It sounded like gravel was bouncing between the road and the undercarriage. A quick glance showed other drivers reacting properly, banking right and decelerating. 

Mishka guided the truck to the safety lane, burning off speed with controlled steering until it settled in a jerking halt. He caught his breath, hearing the emergency prompt sending a message to his boss, Jonas, then the corporate auto logger. Passing vehicles rocked the hover truck in their wake.

Luckily it was a cool cloudless day.  Floral City had a lot of tourists in spring, and they always drove crazier during the heavy rains. He’d heard good news on the traffic reports and a great music set on Alternation Radio’s Club Zero podcast; The Slithering Whispers, Etherwave, a new discovery called the Particles, a synth pop ditty by the Docksies, Frank Drake’s classic “Beneath the Willows,” and the self-titled single from his favorite band, Wizards of the Apocalypse.  Light traffic and the song set had put him in an elated mood and quickened his blood, another saving grace when the blowout snapped him into action.

The gull wing door hissed open as Mishka stepped down from the slanting truck, an acrid ozone and burnt rubber cocktail assailing his nose.  He crouched down and scratched his goatee with a calloused hand, shaking his shaven head at the flared carbon scoring around the mushroom shaped suspensor pad bobbing centimeters above the asphalt. A litter of white fragments crunched under his boot, confirming suspicions of a blown ceramic charge coil. 

Mishka inspected the undercarriage, minding the yellow demarcation line of the suspensor field, following the glittering debris trail backward to the left rear suspensor, intact but slightly misaligned. He’d noticed it five weeks ago and reported it to no avail, surprised that pad didn’t blow today. That made three downed suspensors in two months. 

The hover truck was getting on in years, a battered white Class II Helvetican Eiger everyone else called the Beast, but despite her quirks, Mishka liked driving her. She had solid lines, and he fondly called her the Ogress or Helvetica in private. Jonas wanted to replace her with another Class IV Osterlander to round out his new fleet, why he wouldn’t fix her like he should. Unlike the other drivers, Mishka’s license was rated for any terrain she could go over, and he had the tools to fix the pad but wasn’t a licensed tech so insurance wouldn’t allow it. Helvetica needed new feet to run on or she was going to hurt somebody, maybe worse.

Mishka stepped into the truck, seeing a message prompt on the view screen:

Arrival time for Road Ranger approx. 90 min. No accident, so no points or demerits. But, three pads in two months…maybe you’re going too fast. -- Jonas.

Unbelievable. I’m okay, thanks for asking, you putz. Mishka took a deep breath, exhaling a slow exasperated sigh through his nose. Lucky traffic was good and he was only two exits from the shop. The proximity almost made it worse.

Ninety-three minutes later Mishka was going through diagnostics and inspection behind Megajoule Inc., making sure to note the bad rear suspensor yet again.  He backed Helvetica into her hover slip, guiding the magnetic pin toward the docking clamp until it centered the vehicle and locked with a stout clank. He always liked that sound.  It signaled the end of a good day’s work, dispelling the anxiety over the mess he’d been through. The Road Ranger confirmed that the rear pad needed replacing. Of course, Jonas wouldn’t give the go-ahead to have it done, the cheap bastard.  Mishka stepped onto the metal walkway and stretched his long limbs, smoothing his work shirt.

“Guess you had fun today, huh?”

Jonas stood above the docking platform, his small stooped frame mismatched with an intense face and energetic demeanor despite a full day’s work, what he called “a sense of urgency” when he drove his employees like slaves.

“Another pad blown. Doesn’t look good.”

His sharp green eyes insinuated the blame well enough to Mishka, who fought off several smart ass retorts that could get him fired right then and there.

“Jonas, you’ve seen the logs, and the Road Ranger agreed with me. You already know my thoughts, so let’s leave it at that.”

Mishka tried not to sound too brash, but the day’s events fought him tooth and nail. To his surprise Jonas merely turned into his office, saying, “Your annual review’s coming up, isn’t it?”

He never got an answer. Mishka reached into his utility pouch and stooped down to the left rear suspensor.

“Sorry to do this, girl, but it’s for your own good.”

A loud pop echoed across the docks, followed by a cloud of acrid smoke.  Mishka walked into the warehouse toward the chrono-log. Jonas burst out of his office.

“What the hell was that?”

Mishka looked at him calmly and pressed the chrono-log screen, clocking out with a satisfying beep.

“That’s what a suspensor coil sounds like when it blows. I guess the docking magnet overloaded it, what with it being bad. See you Monday.”

Jonas cocked his head as Mishka strode past him, cracking a broad smile on his face as he walked out. Had Jonas been in front of him he would have seen it. That and the green sensor light from the magnetic wrench glowing through the fabric of his front pocket.