Money in the Tortoise
by J.D. Moyer
I'm organizing my vast collection of nineties ambient music into playlists when I feel a
lurch that can mean only one thing. The truck is slowing down.
Cripes. My life is an endless series of interruptions.
The truck is me. I don't drive a truck, I am a truck. Twenty-two metric tons of carbon
fiber, titanium, and hardened plastic. Rolling on eighteen wheels, three drive axles powered by a
Lockheed Martin portable compact fusion reactor. Currently hauling a climate-controlled trailer
full of California artichokes, heading east to Chicago on a historic stretch of Route 66, aka
Interstate 40. Am I proud to be a Peterbilt 949? Hell no. Don't get me wrong--it's a beautiful
machine. But I had a real body once. Then a virtual one when the real one wore out. Then an
android when I got kicked out of the Fugue (the virtual afterlife has rules, which I broke). The
android body expired prematurely, before I had even paid it off. (Note to self: civilian models
should never pick fights with military-grade droids.) Faced with an immense non-negotiable debt
and no corporeal means, I took the trucking gig. It's akin to indentured servitude, but it was that
or a true, final, death. And I wasn't ready for that.
I bring my attention to the front grille cameras. Why the hell have we stopped in the
middle of New Mexico? It's not just me--there's a caravan of seven Peterbilts on my tail (I'm the
fleet leader--the only one with a brain).
It's a turtle. Or a tortoise. My cameras are still trying to resolve a species match. A second
later it pops up: Gopherus flavomarginatus. The Bolson tortoise, or Mexican giant tortoise. It's
only half a meter long--not exactly a giant. Maybe that's big for a tortoise? Status: Endangered.
The collision avoidance would have stopped us for any animal, but in this case the safety systems
have saved my employer a whopping fine.
Central is pinging me. I connect and open my visual feeds so she can see everything.
"Are you getting this?" I ask. "Apparently it's rare."
"Is it alive?" asks Central. She's a little like me, once a Fugue resident, now post-corporeal. Someday I'll work up the nerve to ask her why she got kicked out.
"I don't know." The tortoise's head and feet are visible--not retracted--but it remains
motionless. Its heat signature is non-definitive. Finally the tortoise tilts its head, looks up at me.
"There you go. It's alive."
"Can you move it? You know--gently?" asks Central.
"How am I supposed to do that? Cow catchers aren't standard issue."
"Honk at it, maybe?"
I give a tentative, short blast of the horn, at quarter volume. The tortoise retracts its head.
"Nope. Don't think that's gonna work."
"Can you back up, go around?"
I check the feed from Anna, my follow-drone, half a kilometer above. There's not much
traffic in our direction. Still, eastbound Route 66 only has two lanes. If I take my whole caravan
into the passing lane from a dead stop I risk getting rear-ended. I fill in Central on my reasoning.
"Well, wait it out, I guess. Those Windy folks will have to wait a little longer for their
Artichokes ("spikeys," as Central calls them) are one of the few vegetables you can't grow
in an urban vert farm. And all eight of us are stuffed with them. I run a diagnostic on the climate
trailers. The sun is beating down on my back, generating a pleasant tingle from my solar panels,
but the produce is sitting at a comfortably frigid one degree Celsius, 95% humidity.
"Thanks for the slack," I tell her. "The spikeys are fine, nice and cool. I'll give this little
critter an hour or so and check back in if it hasn't moved."
"You do that. Over and out."
I back up the rearmost truck ten meters, turn on its hazards, tell Anna to message anyone
approaching that we're dead stopped, waiting for a rare reptile to cross the road.