Driver A Story by Hossie

Driver Part 2 | Part 3

Chapter 1

"Better pull off at the next exit."
Cerise snorted and shifted as the transport topped the crest of the hill and began to pull easier on the down slope. Annoyed, I glanced over at the right-hand co-driver's section.
"Look, I know you have lots of hours left before your logbook runs out, but I don't. You know the law requires that I be awake while you drive."
She twitched an ear at me. "Not MY fauwt!"
"Okay, okay, yeah, it's not your fault that Sam got drunk last night and wound up in jail. But the law only allows me four hours' driving time plus eight supervising without an eight-hour rest period. And with Sam gone,I can't crawl in the sleeper and let him supervise you."
Cerise tossed her head and mumbled something I couldn't quite hear, but it was plain that she chafed under the restraints the law imposed on her. The license medallion hanging from the chain around her neck flashed reflections of instrument lights on the windshield as it bounced with the motion of the truck. Her ears moved, indicating that her visual attention was constantly shifting to cover road, mirrors, video monitors, and instruments.
I felt a flash of resentment. She was a good driver, I supposed, and pleasant enough if a little distant. But her kind would replace me one of these days simply because she could watch a wider angle at once than humans --and she could stay awake twenty hours out of each day without suffering a loss of concentration. Only a strong union lobby kept the rules in place which required that enhanced bios be supervised by humans. One of these days those regulations would be gone and, with them, the last human truck drivers.
As the lights of Joplin's westernmost exit showed on the horizon, Cerise began to slow the truck. In response to the shifting of her weight against the change in velocity, the specially-shaped seat which balanced her comfortably on her hindquarters inflated, gripping her tighter. A flip of her nose at the large control levers above the windshield activated the turn signals as one forefoot moved the large trackball "steering wheel" while the other carefully applied brakes. She bit down on the clutch/shifter control attached to her driving bridle and smoothly pulled onto the off-ramp.
"Let's hit the HydroStop."
"Why not?" I asked, although I knew why.
"They're two cents a mole cheaper on hydrogen than the others."
She was right."Bios must remain in specially-designated areas," it said, in large, well-lighted letters.
"So? I thought you didn't like humans, anyway."
"I wike you!"
That surprised me.Although we'd partnered for three years ever since she'd been granted her license, I never thought we got along particularly well--just cordial, if that. If only it hadn't been for that last ticket....
But I'd done it.The economics of trucking demanded that a driver, a human one at least, run as hard and as constantly as the law allowed (and then some) if he wanted to make a living and pay the ever-spiraling costs of fuel, insurance, and safety equipment. That life had already cost me three marriages, any possibility of trusting another woman with my heart, and all traces of closeness with my children--but trucking was my life; the only thing I wanted to do was see new country, or old country I hadn't visited for a while. It was extremely stupid of me to leave the secondary logbook poking out from under the console where it could be seen. The weigh-station inspector spotted it and demanded an immediate download of my digital records before I'd had the chance to run the illegal modification program, the one that let me match them with the phonied-up paper logbook old-style regulations still required.
The judge offered me one opportunity to stay on the road: accept a position with Bio-Resources in their pilot bio-morph driver program. Bios had been on the road for about ten years by then, but only as ride-alongs.Cerise was one of the first designed to drive.
"Okay, pick one out that suits you."
Cerise immediately steered for an older, somewhat run-down truck stop that still sold some petroleum-based fuels.
"Bios Welcome," read the sign; I knew that could mean quite a wide range of acceptance, too, but maybe she had heard something I hadn't.
The outside didn't look much different from many truck stops. This one had the usual picketers carefully standing outside the property line:
"Bios Are Devil's Work"
"Bio-sex Is Perverted" and the old stand-by
"Down With Bios."
I grinned at Cerise. "They had to find something to do after the AIDS vaccine came along and it proved good against most cold and flu strains, too. People almost like homosexuals, now."
She made no comment, but stopped at the security gate.
A B-R i.d. card passed out the window gained us permission to enter the secured area; in exchange, I accepted the magnetic stopover ticket the gate person handed me.
Cerise pulled us into a fueling cubby, centering the big rig exactly in the stall. Although it rankled to admit it, the equinoid was a damned good driver.
I typed our location into the on-board computer system, fed the magnetic ticket through the scanner to verify the data, and the computer added the out-of-service time. The small satellite uplink relayed the information to company headquarters and printed out a fresh logbook page. Then I flipped the switches to begin the shutdown sequence. As the turbine whined down from its idle speed, Cerise deactivated her seat, which unbelted and retracted, leaving room for her to stand. She shook herself a couple of times to loosen up, then popped the door open and grabbed the joystick, sending the boarding ramp out to meet the raised walkway around the edges of the fueling pit. She pulled out a suitcase that I seldom saw removed, and trotted down the ramp with it in her teeth. She waited for me outside, the plug from her bridle cable dangling near her feet.
"Hold your horses." She snorted at that.
I completed the shutdown, disconnecting all power from the electrical mains. You don't want stray sparks anywhere near potential hydrogen leaks. I grabbed my smaller overnight case and shaving kit, and joined her outside. We watched through a window as attendants attached hoses to the noble-metal-sponge adsorption fuel tanks, then entered their monitoring booth. The doors closed on the fueling stall and CO2 flooded the lower chassis. Only then did the pumps start.
Cerise nudged me and swung her head toward the main building. I followed behind.
Once inside I could see that the place looked pretty good, considering its external appearance. I headed for the central cashier's station where I produced my credit card to rent a cubicle in the male dormitory. I noticed Cerise going toward the bio-mass recycling intake grid. I suppose it's just as hard for her to "hold it" as anybody else. That awoke my personal urges, and I headed for the human version.
When I emerged, I noticed her bag in a secure-stash area, but she was nowhere to be seen. The human attendant at the main desk told me my partner had gone to the showers with a rent-a-maid.
"Damn. Does she think we're made of money?"
He answered my question, rhetorical though it might have been.
"She used her personal credit account, not your company expense number. Besides, bios make union scale, right? What else do they spend it on, anyway?"
"Yeah, I suppose you're right. A shower sounds good to me, too, though.
How much?"
When I came out, dressed in fresh jeans and shirt, I saw that Cerise's luggage was no longer in the security cage. Supposing that she'd rented a stall of her own, I wandered the facilities, working out the few remaining kinks in my legs. I saw no sign of her and decided that I'd waited long enough for my supper.

The attraction this place held for Cerise was obvious: I'd never seen any stop that was more liberal in its treatment of biological constructs.Even the dining facilities were coed, so to speak. Booths and tables for humans and simians were mixed with open padded kennels for security bios, and there were even two booth-stall combinations with those peculiar seats the ponies use while driving. We'd met so few bio drivers, I had no idea there were enough for even the most modern of establishments to go to the trouble of making special arrangements for them. Sure, the company newsletter was always bragging about the success of the program, but I'd put that down to corporate puffery.
I shrugged my shoulders and went to one of them. A speaker activated: "This area is reserved for those needing the special accommodations."
"My partner's coming -- we're parked in fueling stall 3-B."
"Confirmed, one equine driver. Enjoy your meal, sir."
I scanned the menu, mentally checked my bank balance, then decided to splurge a bit. I keyed in an order for a real beefsteak with all the trimmings. Somehow, it didn't seem right to order horsemeat, and I was tiring of fish and poultry.
Just as I cut off the first bite and began to raise my fork, the soft "thud" of Cerise's rubber-soled overshoes caught my ear. I looked up and paused, stunned.
I had never seen her like this. Oh, she was a clean bio, and usually neatly turned out, but she'd always struck me as somewhat plain. The genetic modifications that were done to make her what she was had little visible effect; she looked like any other pony or small horse. Tonight was something very different. For one thing, she was dressed. In clothing. The sheer red garment offset her dappled chocolate-and-silver coat perfectly, and her fur gleamed in the light. Her hooves shone with clear polish, the white blaze on her head gleamed, and her blonde mane and tail were lightly oiled and well-combed. A belt of ruby-colored stones set in golden metal circled her girth, matching earrings dangled from neatly-trimmed ears, and she even wore a similar bracelet on her left fore-ankle.
She paused when she saw me looking, right forefoot cocked, knee poking out against the long, loose sleeve. Her eyes and ears remained focused on me as she turned her head a little to each side, striking a slow-motion pose.
I couldn't help myself.
I stood and walked to her side of the table and did a completely silly, useless thing:
I held her chair for her. True, it was powered just like the one in the truck and didn't need holding. But it must have been the right thing to do, because Cerise gave me a gracious nod with a slow blink as she settled against the angled cushion. She allowed me to stretch my foot out and awkwardly manipulate the pedal that moved her up to the table.
"Thank you, Kevin."
I stumbled back to my seat, unable to look away. "Are you wearing makeup?"
Cerise blinked again, slowly, then fluttered her eyelashes and lifted her lip in an equine grin.
She was. Her eyelashes were thickened with mascara and she was wearing -- lipstick?
"Uh, what would you like to eat tonight?"
She read the bio-menu list. "Number three wooks good."
"The red-clover salad with bean sprouts and oat-bran croutons, topped with a corn-oil dressing?" She nodded. Talking was a chore she avoided when possible.
I was surprised that she was saying as much as she already had.
She nodded. "Carrot cake, pwease."
"I'll buy tonight." I punched in her order. "Beer?" She nodded.
My food cooled as I simply stared at her until her order arrived. The stablehand/waiter wheeled in the large, shallow dish on a dining trolley and slid it off onto the lowered tableside in front of her, then added a large bowl of cold beer.
She began to munch her meal with delicate motions of lips, chewing each bite well, taking a sip or two of her beer. Eight or more hours off the truck would be plenty of time to get rid of the mild dose of alcohol in one serving, large though it was.
I remembered my own food, then, and began to eat. My extravagance was wasted. I barely tasted the steak, much less relished it.
Thoughts distracted me.
Why was she, after three years together, doing all this? Why was I reacting this way? Okay, Cerise was nice enough for a bio, but I was supposed to resent her. I thought I did, but I couldn't seem to remember just how or why right now. I thought a lot of things . . . uselessly.
In what seemed a few short minutes my plate was empty and Cerise was blotting her muzzle on the towel pad on one side of her place setting. She nodded toward the hard-candy peppermints in the dish on the wall-end of the table. I picked up two and unwrapped them, something she couldn't do for herself. I held one out and she daintily picked it out of my hand and munched it with relish.
[NOTE: Yeah, I know; "Who eats relish on their mints?" Everybody's a comedian...] I ate the other one.
"Wet's walk."
Still bemused, I reversed my seating actions for her as she slipped her medallion into a table slot and keyed in a nice tip for the help.


Chapter 2

While this Pronto stop wasn't as fancy as the one I'd wanted at first, it did have a nice little park inside the security fence. We walked around, enjoying the cooler evening air. Cerise wiggled happily at the feel of grass under her feet. I almost expected her to grab a mouthful but she must have had enough inside. She stretched and looked longingly at the lawn.
"What's the matter?"
"My dress. I'd wove to roww in the grass."
"Want me to take it off for you?"
"No!" She started, backing away from me a step or two.
"What's the matter? You don't usually wear clothes, anyway!"
"This speshew. Trust me."
"Okay, if you say so. Want to go see what's at the other end of the park? Go check on the truck?"
Cerise shook her head. "Scratch showders?"
I stood beside her and rubbed her back through the light garment.
She swayed gently and her eyelids drooped. As her head began bobbing up and down,
I noticed her tail raising a bit under the full skirt. Rubbing her felt sort of . . . good? Friendly. . . ?
After a moment or two, she shook her head then stepped forward, pointing with her muzzle.
"Siddown here."
I sat on the park bench under the old-fashioned looking street lamp. She walked up, turned around facing me. Her gaze was intense. I felt oddly uncomfortable, but couldn't put my finger on the reason.
"Okay, what's all this about?"
Instead of replying, Cerise slowly reached forward and nuzzled my left cheek. I sat motionless, unsure of what was happening. When I didn't pull back, Cerise moved her mouth to my other cheek. I felt her lips moving in a gentle nibble. My heart began pounding in my chest as my mind whirled.
Then she withdrew and looked me hard in the eyes. I looked back with as neutral an expression as I could muster, not daring to move. Not even when she reached forward again, right for my mouth.
We kissed. I mean, she kissed me. And then I kissed her. Then we kissed each other. Time passed in an instant of eternity.
When we broke for breath, I gasped,
"Where--what . . . I mean--how did you learn to do that? It isn't a horse thing, is it?"
Cerise whickered in amusement. "I watch tewevision, too, dummy!"
"Uh, are you sure you got it right?"
"Wet's find out."
She reached forward again. This time, our tongues intertwined. Her breath and mouth were sweet with the tang of peppermint, her lips soft and mobile, teeth skillful as she nipped very carefully at my lips and tongue.
My hands came up to caress her jaw, tickle her throat, and trace the soft outline of furry ears. My head was forced backwards as she placed a forefoot on either side of me on the bench, then knelt down so her chest rested on my knees. I could reach her shoulders, stroke her legs through the filmy material of her outfit.
Finally, our mouths pulled apart. Her head went over my shoulder to press its underside against my back as I hugged her neck tightly in my arms.
We were both breathing hard. As our breath calmed and we relaxed, Cerise pulled her head away and put her forefeet back down on the ground. I was surprised to see what looked like a tear trickling down one large, dark cheek.
I was even more surprised to feel one running down my face.
"Oh, my God, what are--"
"Shhh! Don't talk. Wet's go back to room, wike nothing happened!
I somehow stumbled along; I think I must have disconnected my brain from my body and it simply followed the nearest moving object: Cerise. I doubt if I could have stood up, otherwise, at least for the first hundred meters.
By the time we regained the terminal building, I had regained some measure of composure. "Keys, please?" I asked the clerk.
"No." Cerise shook her head. "Just mine."
"Oh, yes," the attendant replied with a knowing look. "You rented the large stall with the attendant's quarters, didn't you?" He grinned. I realized I must have lipstick prints, big ones, all over my face. I felt like I was wearing luminous paint. I started to get angry and glared at the clerk, fists tightening.
"Hey, take it easy, buddy. It's okay. We see a lot of, y'know, it, in here. It can't be too bad, 'cause there's so many. Heck, I even try it myself now and then." He leered at Cerise. I wanted to punch him, but the security glass between us looked a lot tougher than my fist.
Cerise snorted. "Not even in yer dreams, buddy!"
I took the plastic key and followed my partner into the bio section of the bunkhouse. As soon as the door closed, she pressed me against the wall with her forehead, then reared and rested a trim fetlock on each shoulder. We kissed again and I felt myself slowly sliding to the floor. She lowered her head and rubbed her face against my chest, eyes closed. With a deep sigh, she raised her head, looked at me, and said, "Now the dress. . . ."


Chapter 3

When I awoke, I was convinced that my left arm was gone. Someone had replaced it with a high-voltage power lead. Sharp tingles and twinges traveled through my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked. Cerise's head and neck were lying on my arm. Although the bed of straw was soft, she was pretty heavy and must have been lying there for a long time.
Her eyes were closed and she was breathing slowly. Funny how I'd never before noticed how cute her fuzzy ears were, the way her forelock hung forward between them, the delicate curve of her muzzle, darker in color than her coat, interrupted by nostrils which would be grotesque on a human, but were perfect on her face.
Her odor filled my nose. I'd never really noticed that before, either. She usually used some sort of deodorant, but it hadn't outlasted our exertions of the night. I liked it: earthy, mild-but-musky; it evoked images of the simple country life. I inhaled, savoring the smell and the memories of the evening.
I was feeling things. Things which I had thought were dead and buried long ago. Things which hurt and felt wonderful all at the same time. I wasn't sure I liked them because somewhere in the background a nagging voice questioned me. I pushed it back for the moment.
I carefully reached my right hand across and touched her forehead. I traced a finger down over her right eyelid, which twitched just a bit at the touch. I caressed the curve of her jaw, then whispered, "Morning."
Cerise opened her eyes, rolled over, and stood. Her expression was wary as she looked down, awaiting a sign from me.
I spoke softly. "Hi, Cutie."
Cerise's expression melted in relief. She lowered her head and licked my chest.
"Hey, that tickles!"
She moved her head and tongue.
"Hey, that tickles worse! Oh, uh, no, don't stop, though."
She did.
"C'mon, wuvvuh-boy. Get packed, grab a bite, bwoe dis joint!"
"I know something better than breakfast." I grinned at her.
Her interrupted whicker was definitely a horselaugh. "Awright, but this time we stand up!"
I'd all but forgotten how good something like that was for working the sleep out of your system.


Chapter 4

As I helped her pack her luggage, we couldn't resist touching, reaching for a quick smooch, rubbing together. We were as doopy as newlyweds.
I closed the clasps on her suitcase. Then the moment had come. The voice wouldn't be ignored any longer. I knew what I had to do, but dreaded it. I turned and looked at her.
"Why?" She blinked at me, slowly. I was half-afraid she'd ask what I meant -- and I already knew she was smarter than that. She was a lot smarter than I'd ever suspected. I doubted that her designers had any idea how smart she was.
Her head came up, ears flattened back in a defensive/attack posture, eyes widened until I could see a ring of white around the soft, brown irises. I cringed, involuntarily, wondering if I was about to be kicked to pieces.
Then she stepped back, lowered her head, and spoke so low I could hardly hear her.
"Because I wuv you, Kevin. That's aww."
She turned and hid her head in a corner, drooping downward toward the floor. I hated myself.
I felt like a complete jerk. Hell, I was a complete jerk! Hesitantly, I walked over to where she stood. Cerise made not a move. I put my hand on her back and her muscles quivered.
"I-- I'm sorry. Really. I didn't know. But I had to ask. I always thought you resented me and were just polite because of the job."
She stood like a statue.
"I think I love you, too. I mean, I don't know right now what I feel.It's been so sudden and I'm all confused. But I really think I love you."
Slowly, her head came up, still faced into the corner. Of course, I knew she could see me without turning her head, but the symbolism seemed quite plain to me.
Then she spoke. Slowly, carefully, forcing the words into perfect clarity.
"You think you love . . . an an-i-mal?"
Every muscle in her body was tense, as were mine.
"No." I stepped forward to stroke her graceful neck.
"No. I don't love an animal. I love a woman with four gorgeous legs instead of two. With beautiful brown eyes my soul can drown in; with cute, expressive ears. I love a blonde AND a brunette together. I love the best damned truck driver I've ever seen. I love an honest, hard-working person who is far more complex than I'd ever suspected. I love the sexiest horse I've ever seen. I love you!"
Her head drooped, then she turned it a moment. This time I was certain there were tears, but her ears stood straight up and pointed at me. Her tail began switching rapidly from side to side.
"You--wast night--were my first. I'm gwad you were 'cause I've wuvved you a wong time, Kevin, from the first weeks together on the road. But I couldn' show it, couldn' even hint at it -- not as wong as Sam was with us."
"Sam? Do you think he would have minded all that much?"
"He was company spy."
A spy."Why a spy? I mean, why Sam? And why have a spy along at all?"
"You reawwy don't know?"
She turned to face me again and I suddenly felt five times better because of it. I reached out and rubbed her cheek, tracing fingers down across her nostrils. She nibbled them for a second, then continued. "Cargoes we hawwing been speshew ones."
I was puzzled.
"Special? How? Furniture, machine tools, folded cardboard cartons, a little lumber ... what's special about that?"
"Oh, nothing. Just a few iddy-biddy spaces inside."
I paled. "We've been smuggling? What?"
Cerise nodded.
"Not drugs or gems or anyt'ing. Biomass."
Biomass. The stuff Cerise and other bios were made of. Genetically- altered materials, probably fertilized ova - zygotes - or even microbes of some kind. It took a complete turnover of the Supreme Court and several changes of federal administration, not to mention intensive public-relations efforts, before the fears of rampant disease or takeover by "homo superior" were dampened. Even so, genetic research was strictly regulated and, in some quarters, hated and feared. All bios had to be infertile so that, at least in theory, none would have family loyalty to their species.Each bio "born" was the result of direct human intervention.
"Contraband biomass. How did you find out?"
"We talk each other."
"The bios?"
"Are -- are you involved in it?"
She shook her head, hard. "No! Somebody at Bio-Resources, big. Wook, is this important right now?"
"No." I stepped forward and embraced her. She hugged me with her head and neck, rubbing a forehoof along my calf. We kissed again.
"We're missing breakfast."
She nodded.
I picked up her bags and we left the room.


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