With friends like these…

With friends like these…

Dustin has never been a fan of navigating the Rhône-Sète canal, but now he’s considering to quit. Fine to spend his days with the cargo ghosts. Without, his job would be a lonely affair. But this is an outrageous proposal. Oilyboy is a naughty number.

With a soy ghost, you’d expect no good. Agro bulk never means anything but trouble.

Pity he got himself sacked from ContiCross. When he was ferrying around containers full of gadgets, he got Whizzby. She was so nice to look at. With a more substantial body, she could have been a top model. No, not skinny enough. A 1950 pin up girl. Whizzby was pleasant conversation, too. Being on a first name basis with so many tablet cores, she was a treasure trove of news.

Another three hours to go. 4,000 tons upstream, you need to push real hard.

“Whales complaining about oceanic noise pollution should come try a high traffic river!”

Oilyboy won’t give up. Never does. Dustin is well aware his fellow traveler can’t have a clue, about whales. He’s not biological, how would he? It’s surprising enough he manages to make himself heard. They should at least mention the phenomenon, in the physics manuals for school. Or someone could do a YouTube tutorial. Like the one on how to launch rocket propelled grenades.

The real Oilyboy is bound not look like an tango dancer right out of Argentina. Cargo ghosts are called ghosts for a reason. They make your brain hear and see a humanized version of themselves. Originally, according to Whizzby, who was very much into interspecies politics, to complain about the disturbance. It’s low frequency noise creating disruption, in their subsoil world. They used to ignore surface roaming biological entities, for lack of common issues. Except mammoths, mastodons and elephants, the rare low frequency offenders in the good old days.

When Dustin heard his first cargo ghost, he was still a trucker. It was back home in Wales and he had seven tons of chilled pork halves on board. The worst possible cargo for a first encounter.

Dustin dutifully reported himself to a general practitioner who referred him to a psychiatrist who prescribed antipsychotic drugs. He was a good boy and took them. His neck went stiff, as the medic had foretold. The stuff was also supposed to shut down any alternative reality sights and sounds.

Pinkypally didn’t mind, about the neuroleptic. Obviously, it wasn’t her shoulders aching. She was too weak to achieve more than a faint hint of a slender silhouette for an image. But her voice was clear enough. You could have sliced pork with her laughs. She was brutal, in her comparisons between humans and livestock. Sent him veggie, for days at a time.

Doing six pork runs a week, for half a year, he had ample time to get used to Pinkypally. Eventually, she calmed down. Occasionally, she engaged in meaningful conversation. Explained, about the Beneathverse. Something about geology. And vibrations condensing into sentient structures. And more, some q-thing. Physicist stuff. Someone really should do a TED talk.

He got hooked on cargo ghosts. It’s special, being chums with these guys. Human friends and likes on social networks? Forget it. Humans are boring. Like when you go pub. Or bar café, as the pubs are called down here. You know who’s there, before entering. You can guess what they’ll say. And your own response, too. Except for the football results, there is no news. Whereas a cargo ghost, she can be a him in a blink. If she wants to. A big if with some, like Pinkypally. She was a nuisance, most of the time. But he owes her anyway.

He soon wanted more than a mere truckload shadow. The bigger the heap, and the engine, the more massive the ghost. You can spend your life waiting by an apple cart vroomed at by a generator, nothing will happen. Whereas a lorry full of gravel puffing up a hill might get you a date with Crusher. Looks like feeding on nails, gentle as a puppy. Dreams of marrying a garden gnome. And please do make that a neon blue and yellow one.

Dustin wanted more. He pulled himself together, fought hard for his license. Transoceanic container ships provide the most stunning encounters. Some folks even whisper of haptic 3D experiences. But a high seas captain’s patent was beyond his means, and they only take Asians for sailors these days. So he became a river skipper, moving first to Belgium and then on to France in his quest to be put in charge of ever bigger boats. Until that bloody accident set him back.

“Come on, Dustin. What’s the problem? You’ll love it.”

Oilyboy fills most of his field of vision, grinning from ear to ear. He’s standing right inside the front window, on no floor. Some cargo ghosts get it, how people and objects interact. Not Oilyboy. Impossible to mistake him for a real person, despite the precisely crafted mustache. He’s always either floating above or sinking into, not standing on. Now he’s thrusting his pelvis forward, in a gesture even more obscene than the perfidy he’s proposing. It’s really hard, not to reprimand aloud. Time to think firmly.

Courtesy of Whizzby, Dustin is aware Oilyboy is only partly to blame, for his bad manners. It’s a severe handicap, to consist of vibrations sharing a structure with foodstuff. Digestion. What goes in goes out. Small wonder the agro bulk ghosts are so ill tempered. They’ve seen it all.

How long has this phone been ringing? Picking it up and seeing the icon, Dustin braces himself: “Laafi, chérie, so good to hear your voice!” Aminata is from Mali and can occasionally be softened by greeting her in Mossi. Not today.

She strikes back, voice sharp and hard: “Don’t you dare laafi-chérie me, bozo. Who is it? You’re up to something, not hearing the phone like that. If you crash one more…”.

No need to listen to this bullshit, he’s done nothing wrong: “Calm down, chérie. I’ve got a job to do, here. Steering a boat requires action, can’t just pick up the phone at all times. That would be unsafe, and you certainly don’t want unsafe, right?”.

Oilyboy grimacing doesn’t help with this conversation. Sucker. Whizzby would never have interfered. Too keen to observe humans interacting with each other. Like a zoologist.

Turns out Aminata has a good reason to call. The generator they’ve been looking for has finally popped up on eBay. Bargain, self-collectors only, a mere eighty kilometers to drive. Aminata already checked with Camille, a parcel service driver living two houses down. He can make himself and his delivery van available on Saturday, in exchange for Dustin helping fix the roof. Deal.

Shoving the phone back into his trouser pocket, Dustin looks forward to the first trial run on Sunday. The new generator combined with the amplifier he already bought, set up in the courtyard of the cement factory next to a pile of sacks, that’s worth a try. Massimo, a trucker friend from Italy employed there, has the keys to the gate and will let them in. Would be cool, if Crusher turned up. He’s friends with both him and Massimo, there’s a chance.

“Come on, Dustin, don’t be such a wimp.” Oilyboy is couching in mid air, staring at him. Why can’t he at least pretend to lie on some flying carpet? Lack of logic always makes Dustin itch. He thinks, forcefully: “Shut up. Me, I’ve got a Christmas present for my kids to plan. Sick of telling them fairy tales myself. They’ll get a cargo ghost, home delivery.”.

Oilyboy flips back to what would be a standing position if he was touching the floor: “Fine, Dustin, fine. Good plan. And next you’ll invent an app. Any kind of home delivery has an app. But first you need to do it. Be a man. A real man. Act. And we film it. And we post it. It will make you feel better.” And the pelvic thrust gesture again. This cargo ghost is a nuisance.

“Remember how they make you slave. You, who should steer a proud container convoy, reduced to puttering along with mere agro bulk. It’s not fair. A real man fights back.“

Dustin gives up, as he knew he would. Taking great care to set the autopilot correctly, this time, he steps out of the cabin and opens the lid covering the first bulk compartment. Look around. No one. Look upwards. No drones. Camera in one hand. Relevant anatomy in the other. And go.

Oilyboy is doing what would be a tap dance if his legs were visible. They’re not, he’s up to the arms in soy: “Yes, Dustin! Like the burger flippers spitting between the buns! You’re a genius, Dustin.“

This is so stupid. But there will be his piss in the soy that goes into the beef that goes onto the burger that goes into some idiot ruining rainforests.

Heading back to his cabin and steering wheel, Dustin knows Aminata will love the little film. As long as he doesn’t crash and get himself sacked, she’s all in favor of cargo ghost pranks. That’s how she got herself married, after all.