Dudley watched the road. They only had a few miles before they could drop off his cargo. Making it to the highway had been a stroke of luck as far as he was concerned.
Once the cargo was delivered, the attacks should stop on his truck. If they didn't, it meant the cargo wasn't the priority at all. It was the truck, or him, or Joel.
The truck was the same as any other transport hauler. It floated on jets across any terrain. It had a ton of weapons to keep things safe. It had an automated server to help defend the cargo, and keep him on the right track. It was a great machine to have in the Dream Lands, but it wasn't unique.
Unique was Festus's demon house. That thing should not be able to travel at all, but it floated on a cloud of misery, throwing lightning at anyone in its way.
That left him, or Joel.
He had run into a lot of hijackers over the years. He couldn't remember all their names. Most had wound up as debris on the side of the road. He hadn't thought the survivors would pursue a grudge.
He expected the opposite really.
Hijackers wanted cargo to sell, or to use for themselves depending on what it was. There was room for greed, but not for revenge. The business meant you kept trying to make scores without indulging any pettiness against a driver who slipped through the cracks.
That left Joel. How many enemies could a blind dreamer rack up in the Dream Lands. He would have to have been active for years to create as many enemies as they had already seen. It was possible, but was it probable?
“We have someone coming up fast, Dudley,” said Joel from the back of the truck. “Sounds like some kind of jet motor.”
Dudley checked his scanners. The blind dreamer was right. Something was burning up the road behind him. He asked the jets to go to full power.
It might be a speed demon, but why take the chance? They had already faced off against some roughnecks. This could be more of the same.
“That thing is loud, Dudley,” said Joel. “I can barely hear myself think.”
Dudley ordered the guns to start tracking. He wanted to open up a salvo if he had to. There was still a chance this was friendly like the rest of the traffic on the Highway.
He didn't really believe that. A speed demon just happening to roll down the road right after all the trouble he had already been through just seemed like more of the same. He would have to do something about it if he wanted to keep moving.
Where was his exit? He was so close to leaving the Highway and chasing down to the delivery address, he could smell it.
The speed demon roared into view. It came down the fast lane. Flames followed it as the driver kept on the accelerator.
Dudley signaled his weapons arrays to keep tracking the other driver. He didn't want to get into a point blank gun battle with a faster car.
The fast car closed on the rear of the truck. Dudley wondered if he should go ahead with the weapons discharge. What if he was wrong? He didn't like lighting up someone for no reason.
He noticed the car didn't have a driver. Was it driving itself? Was it just rolling along out of inertia? Driverless vehicles happened on the road. Mostly it was the work of one predator, or another.
“Someone is on the truck, Dudley,” said Joel. “I can hear him banging around up there.”
“Crap,” said Dudley. He switched to cameras on the roof of his truck. “I can't see him.”
“Let me see what I can do,” said Joel. He exited the bubble he was riding in and climbed on the roof of the trailer. The wind whipped around him as he listened for his opponent.
Dudley saw the blind dreamer staggering down the truck roof. Where was the driver?
The car started unloading blasts against the cab. Dudley returned fire with everything he had. The car went up in a column of fire, turning into a demon and flying away through the dark sky.
That'll teach you to think about who you're trying to hijack.
He switched his attention back to his passengers. Joel was battling something up there. He couldn't tell what. He wasn't going to leave his cab to find out. Let the guy try to get in if he wanted, but the driver wasn't going to make it easy for him.
Too many drivers had opened up their cabs at the wrong time and been dumped on the side of the road. He didn't want to join their ranks.
Dudley watched as Joel was thrown from the rig. He groaned. There was nothing he could do about that. The dreamer would have to take care of himself until it was safe to turn around and pick him up.
A face of a mummified human appeared in the door plate next to Dudley. He shrank back in his seat. The face had teeth that were long like a wolf's, and yellow eyes.
Vampire, decided the driver. Too bad I don't have sun guns to get him off the truck.
Dudley wasn't giving him permission to enter. That would be tantamount to suicide as far as he was concerned.
The vampire yanked on the door. The metal didn't yield. He wasn't strong enough to get in. That was good.
Dudley wondered why the automatics weren't dealing with this guy. Then he realized they couldn't see him. He was air temperature and invisible to optics. The machinery didn't know he was out there.
He had to manually tell the automatics to execute.
“Computer, clear the door of debris,” said Dudley.
Ball bearings and small laser beams cut through the air in front of the door. The vampire vanished from view. The shooting stopped after Dudley told it to stop. He hoped he had gotten rid of the menace.
Joel was probably dead. The dreamer would have been stuck to human norms and been ripped apart by the vampire. He should turn around and make sure when he was done with the cargo.
He wasn't going to stop now that he was close to dropping it off and being free of the pursuit. Once it was out of his hands, the addressee would be responsible for the cargo.
“Losing power,” the computer intelligence warned him.
“Tell me you're joking,” said Dudley. He was so close. He couldn't be stopped now.
The truck slid along the Highway as the jets cut off one by one. The massive weight shuddered to a stop. The screens went blank one by one. He sat in the dark, wondering what his next move should be.
He doubted any of the passing motorists were going to help him. And Joel was gone. He was alone and helpless.
He didn't have a lot of options. If he stayed in the cab, he couldn't fix whatever was wrong with the truck. If he went out, there might be something waiting on him to show his face. Either way, he was in trouble.
And without the screens, he couldn't tell if the vampire was still waiting for him.
Dudley sat in his chair and thought. He lit up a cigar as he pushed away from the door. He had a sidearm. He dug it out and checked it. He might need to shoot someone if he decided to open up and figure out what had shut the power down.
What was the vampire doing?
It would be hard to uncouple the trailer from the cab without power. It could be done if you were strong enough. And vampires were strong enough in his opinion.
If they could dig him out of the cab, then they could reinstate the power and drive the truck off. If they had the right tools for the job, it might be a snap. He knew a couple of guys with mechanical kits that could take a truck apart in a matter of minutes even if it was rolling toward a destination.
He didn't know exactly how much time that would take, but he knew it was possible.
Sitting in the dark meant he couldn't do anything to stop them.
He spotted a crack opening in the frame. Someone must be forcing the door open from the outside. He leveled the sidearm. They were taking his truck from him over his frozen dead hands.
The door wrenched out of the way. He pulled the trigger on the sidearm. He was blinded by the pulses of light seeking a target.
Something knocked the firearm from his grasp. He felt himself flying through the air. He hit the ground in an explosion of breath from the impact.
Dudley rolled to avoid any follow up. He didn't want something placing holes through his head. Something smashed into the side of his head. Everything went black for a second.
Sound pulled the driver out of his stupor. He looked up from where he laid on the ground. His truck started floating away. The cab was missing a door, and the driver looked like he was having problems, but he was pulling away with the cargo.
Dudley tried to get to his feet. His legs wouldn't support him. The shot to his head must have been worse than he thought.
The truck headed down the Highway to the next exit. There was no telling where it would go from there. He could only stare at his career going with it.
How was he going to explain this? He would be stuck on the back bench forever. No one would trust him to deliver a load after this. He might as well kill himself.
He tried to get to his feet again. He made it, but a wave of dizziness kept him from running down the highway after his truck. He hung his head in defeat.
“How are you doing, Dudley?,” asked Joel. The dreamer had some blood on his face and hands. He leaned on his staff, but seemed in better shape than the trucker.
“I think I am feeling the bottom drop out and I can't see any way up,” admitted the demon.
“Let's go for a walk, Dudley,” said Joel. “It'll help you clear your head.”
“You got blood on your face,” said Dudley. He pointed at the wound before he dropped his hand. A blind man can't see you point.
“It happens,” said Joel. “Let's go. They have stiff penalities against hitchhiking out here.”
“You hitched a ride with me,” said Dudley.
“I know,” said Joel. He started down the shoulder of the road. “And it was illegal. Let's go unless you want to explain to the locals how you lost your rig and was forced to walk to some place with a phone to call in.”
“Where are we going?,” asked Dudley. He tried walking. A wave of vertigo washed over him, but it lessened with every step. His mind sharpened as he followed the dreamer. “Where are we going?”
“We're going to get your truck back,” said Joel. He pointed his staff ahead of him. “And I am going to get some kind of satisfaction from it.”
“You know the truck's gone, right?,” asked Dudley.
“It left a trail I can follow,” said Joel. He continued walking. “Worry about what happens when we find it.”
“I can do that,” said Dudley.