Precious Cargo



All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.

Precious Cargo is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003



Home Is Where The Heart Is

The North American General AC300AT is a large truck. Bigger in every dimension than the fashionable SUVs of the day, it is more of a medium duty tractor than a family vehicle. Joe's truck filled the bottom of their driveway. Eight and a half feet high over the dynamic brake resistor housings and blowers on the cab roof, the hood is five and a half feet above the road where it meets the windshield. The floor of the cab is four feet off the pavement. Almost twenty one feet long and a little over seven feet wide, the truck easily overshadows virtually all other privately owned vehicles on the road. All this utility and bulk come at a price, though, and not just in terms of acquisition cost. When operated under heavy load fuel consumption dwindles quickly, and when operated off road the maintenance costs, especially on the traction motors, rise accordingly.

The vehicle was designed as a medium duty truck, capable of carrying nine people and their gear comfortably, although Joe's truck has the optional "long haul" cab. This cab offers seating for five and amenities like an in cab refrigerator and microwave, a drink cooler in the center console, dual air conditioners, and two reclining six-way power back seats separated by a collapsible jump seat. When the jump seat is collapsed, the back seats can swivel freely to face each other or the rear of the vehicle. The long haul cab also includes such technological features as redundant cabin electrical systems, removable and washable cabin air filters, and equipment racks for auxiliary electronics such as audio-video entertainment components, navigation and communication electronics, and onboard computer systems.

Each of the four side entry doors has a storage locker underneath it with a hatch three feet wide by eighteen inches high. The double doors in back open wide to allow easy access to the rear storage area. The cab is quite spacious, and can be reconfigured for variations on the seating arrangements as the missions require. With the middle seats racked all the way forward there is an open space almost six feet wide by four and a half feet high by eight feet long available for cargo. Outside behind the back of the cab is a conventional fifth wheel hitch. The useful load is 7750 pounds with full fuel (200 gallons) and a crew of two 175 pound operators. Unladen curb weight of the truck in this configuration is almost 9000 pounds.

Originally designed as a tow vehicle, their particular AC300AT is rated for a hitch weight of 14,575 pounds on the fifth wheel, and can tow a trailer weighing up to 30,000 pounds. It can safely pull a trailer of up to forty five feet in length, although Joe never towed anything longer than thirty five feet with it.

The AC300AT is also a new technology test bed, one of only twelve hundred built for sale to civilians in the States. While it appears very similar to the other 300 series trucks North American General had built thousands of, these vehicles were a new concept, a new direction altogether. The AC300AT engines burn fossil fuels, in the case of the one Joe owns in a three hundred twenty five horsepower General Electric 6-A30 six cylinder diesel engine. But the traditional truck transmission and driveline are gone. At each corner of the vehicle is a relatively small traction motor with a wheel and tire mounted to it. Each traction motor is coupled to an AC generator driven by the diesel engine through a transmission. The traction motors can be reversed in function to act as generators, effectively becoming dynamic brakes with the generators discharging into a group of batteries and load resistors. Traditional disk brakes also exist at each wheel. The traction motor / wheel sets are fully independent of each other in terms of suspension and power. The AC300AT is a true four wheel drive vehicle, with a running ground clearance of 22 inches the full width and length of the undercarriage between traction motors.

There is a mass of computer technology involved in operating this vehicle. Operations software is optimized to give the vehicle the driving characteristics expected by operators who grew up in the latter twentieth century. There is a wealth of navigation, communication, and entertainment electronics available, from simple GPS moving map displays to more complex Intelligent Highway Systems equipment for automatic tracking, parameter reporting, satellite communications, and dispatch. Full mobile data terminal capability exists with 100 base T equivalent radio interface. On board audio and video entertainment systems rival the best available for the home environment.

No one would use something this large and heavy in extreme off road situations, and Joe hadn't, but he had traveled some of the more tame trails in Colorado and Arizona with it. He was forewarned by the dealer, however, to have his wad of cash close to paw if it ever got stuck and needed to be winched out by something. A semi wrecker would be required...

Washing this beast was a chore that required ladders and long handled brushes. And time. A good wash job took most of a morning, and routine maintenance sometimes took a weekend. But Joe and Annie loved this truck and the freedoms it allowed them, it made vacations a joy and helped them immeasurably in their persistent home improvement projects. The pleasure they derived from owning the beast more than offset it's purchase price, ongoing maintenance costs, and time invested in upkeep.

Joe put down his bucket as Annie walked out their front door. He was hot, sweaty, and shirtless after a three and a half hour wash job, which had come after spending the morning correcting the minor problems with the truck they had observed on their just completed trip. He whistled quietly in appreciation as his wife approached him. She was wearing denim cutoffs, flip- flops, and one of his old long-sleeve work shirts. The shirt had been rolled and tied to reveal her midriff, and the sleeves were rolled above the elbows. It revealed much, but not too much.

Each of Annie's paws held a large glass of iced tea. "All done?" She looked at their truck and smiled approvingly as she approached, nodding slightly as her tail slowly wagged from side to side in rhythm with her steps.

"Pretty much," Joe replied, somewhat distracted by her appearance.

"Did you fix all the little problems?" She passed him a glass of iced tea.

"Thanks," Joe smiled as he took the glass. He tipped his head back while raising the glass to his lips and drained about half the contents in a single pull. As he lowered the glass he held up the fingers of his other paw, ticking off items. "Right rear hatch, replaced broken hinge. Your vanity mirror, tightened electrical connections at the visor. Step lights on the right rear, bulbs replaced. Rear A/C system recharged after tightening connections at the condenser. Replaced the bulb in the refrigerator." He looked at her hopefully, wondering if he'd forgotten anything.

She unconsciously struck a pose, hip out, feet apart, unoccupied paw on her waist. It made the work shirt hug her curves tighter than it already had been. Joe's attention wavered yet again. "What about the wastegate?" she wanted to know.

How does she remember this stuff? Joe wondered pleasantly. The turbocharger's automatic wastegate had been giving odd indications all the way home. He loved having a wife who was smart and observant as well as drop dead gorgeous. Tilting his head back once again, he drained the rest of the iced tea from his glass. As he looked back at his wife she was sipping from her own, a slight frown on her face as she waited for his reply.

"The sensor was failing. It was hard to prove on the vehicle, but they only cost $150, so I replaced it." He gestured with his empty glass to the now lowered hood of the truck. "I love working on this thing. That forward tilting hood is a carbon composite, it only weighs seventy pounds and is easily removed. After removing it you just climb up on the motor and sit near your work, and away you go. It only took me thirty minutes to replace the sensor." He placed his empty glass on the steps of the truck. "I haven't seen that twitch or surge since installing the new one."

Annie smiled at that. She had been fearing a turbocharger overhaul or replacement with the associated price tag. She arched an eyebrow, still holding the pose. Joe was distracted, and she knew it. She was teasing him, but only just enough. "And the traction motors?" she asked, as if to challenge him.

"They tested OK this morning before the wash. I loaded them up to 100 amps each, no problems." He looked at her expectantly.

"You're a good husband and operator." Placing her own partially full glass next to his empty one, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist as she kissed him on the mouth. His arms went around her waist as he responded in kind.

After a few seconds she leaned back from him, resting her weight against his arms. Her eyes were slightly closed, a relaxed, almost dreamy look on her face. Joe smiled at her. "I should work on the truck more often, huh?"

She made a sound that was like a combination of a sigh and a moan. "I can think of other kinds of work you could be doing for me right now," she replied quietly, the dreamy look still there.

"Annie! It's mid afternoon," Joe exclaimed as he brushed a bit of hair from her face, still holding her with his other arm.

She turned slowly, and he dropped his paws. She reached down and took one of his paws and began to lead him towards the front door of their home.

"I know what time it is," she said, a note of hunger and impatience in her voice. "Lock up the truck."

Joe managed to fish his remote from his pocket and press the appropriate button just as Annie was leading him into the house. The truck's alarm system chirped a confirmation as the front door shut behind them.

###

"Should I worry about where the kids are?" Joe stared at the ceiling, paws clasped behind his head, slightly out of breath but smiling.

"Mmm?" Annie mumbled against him. She was laying beside him, eyes closed, head and one paw resting on his chest. She was not asleep, just very relaxed.

Joe tucked his chin and kissed the top of her head. His paw found her shoulder, and he caressed it slowly. As he spoke his paw drifted slowly down her side towards her waist. "I was wondering if I should worry about where the kids are."

His Angel opened her eyes. "They're over at Mike's. They wanted to take his stuff over there and spend the day with Jaclyn." She snuggled against him a bit.

"Jaclyn?"

"Mike's lady friend, remember? The one he told us about at dinner the other night?" She tilted her head back slightly to look up at him, their noses almost touching. The paw on his chest absently stroked his fur.

"Oh yeah," he said, recalling the family celebration at Chris' apartment in Durango. Annie lay her head back down on his chest.

They lay quietly together, their breathing returning to normal. Annie's eyes closed again, a slight smile turned up the corners of her mouth.

"Someone's downstairs, I can hear them moving around now and then." Joe protested.

Her eyes opened again, and she smiled as his hand found her bottom. "That's Mojave, silly. She's just exploring. Don't worry." Her paw slid across his chest and over his stomach.

He smiled. "Is this my reward for being such a good husband and operator?"

She rose up on an elbow and looked him in the eyes. "This is my reward," she said. She saw the question on his face. "For hanging on to you." She lowered her head to kiss him as her paw passed his waist.

"Are you ever satisfied?" he asked with mock frustration, moving his head slightly to get the question asked as her lips searched for his.

Her mouth found his and silenced him. By the time they parted they were both breathing heavily again. "No," she panted slightly, grinning hungrily, "and neither are you."

He took her in his arms and rolled with her. He looked down into her eyes, smiling gently.

"You know me too well, Angel."

She looked up at him through half closed eyes. "Stop talking and kiss me..."





To Chapter Twenty Eight: Back On Line.

Back to Stories Page

Back to Main Page