(Our story continues; this is part 3…)
Standing atop the ridge, he listened to the wind. The place had called his name even before he rode the bike up the trail. He sat on a small ledge near the windward side, bowed his head and closed his eyes. The song of the wind took him far, far away to another world.
There were a few improved roads out here in the open wilderness, and the average courier took them on a regular basis. Not Barry, AKA “the Bear.” He always sought new routes, parts of the countryside he had never seen before. In his mind was a detailed map of everywhere he’d been. Some of those remote places he want back to again because they spoke to him, calling his name even when he had no scheduled runs.
His official job title was “field courier,” but it could just as easily been “flunky.” Each courier team was ensconced in a small office next to the big cheese of whatever location they were assigned. It didn’t signal their importance, but the convenience they were for the big shots. It included all kinds of things that just had to be done right then and there and didn’t require too much expertise. They only thing they didn’t do was janitorial work; that was always dumped on the local hires.
But because the couriers had to know how to maintain their own machines, most of them were pretty handy with anything mechanical, and sometimes with electronics. Their bikes were hybrids, with big fuel cells pushing a small engine and generator system connected to a rather large and powerful electric motor. But the generator motors could also contribute to the drive at certain points when the rider needed more power and wasn’t worried about the noise. There was an onboard GPS and computer that helped calculate the optimal balance, plus it was aware of tactical requirements for relative silence, at times using the residual charge from the battery power alone.
Despite Barry’s dislike for paved roads, he still managed to get out and back faster than most of the other couriers. He had never quite risen into the ranks of professional motocross riding, in part because of his weight — over a hundred kilos — but also because he really loved the natural terrain and didn’t want to shred everything he saw. He had the instinctive reactions and skill to virtually fly across the deserts on the alternative routes he took, making excellent time on his jaunts. It was enough time advantage that he could stop and commune with the open terrain. For him it was alive and alluring, one of his best friends.
Yet that morning he wasted an hour of company time pulling the shreds of torn paper from a printer because the IT guy was busy. How in God’s name anyone needed paper printouts was beyond him. This organization was littered with electronic devices, where every last contractor had at least a cell phone, and most had tablets and laptops, along with the company issued desktop units for official operations even in the most remote field sites. He had learned to hate paper as the biggest waste of natural resources in the world. He wasn’t a tree-hugger. There was nothing wrong with humans making wise use of natural resources, but there was already too much paper in the world already.
So as he sat atop the windy ridge far from any other human presence, he literally apologized to nature for the waste. There was noting he could do, but he wanted nature to know he cared. He was utterly certain nature knew and forgave him, loving him in return. He wasn’t much on theology and religion, but he was pretty sure he knew something of God because nature kept revealing His personality. Any day without some time alone like this was a day he felt lonely and just a little lost.
He said goodbye and mounted the bike. It always seemed to him that he could feel the terrain ahead of him as he bounced the machine down the rocky surface of the hill without losing control. The other couriers thought he was insane, and some of them were just as serious about motocross. Part of the application process included competition scores and awards from sanctioned meets. Barry didn’t have much of that, but when they were tested on a course, he qualified easily.
Upon returning to base, when he had checked over the bike and stowed it in the garage with the others, he shed the riding gear and stuffed it into his locker in an anteroom off the garage. There were only two women who qualified as couriers, and one of them was sitting on a bench next to the door. While not as bulky as Barry, she was a tad chunky and rather tomboyish. She kept her dark hair cut quite short and usually dressed like one of the guys.
“Bear, I think I broke something,” she said with dejection, without looking up at him.
“Something on your bike?”
“Nah. My leg. I smacked into a rock ledge and it’s been hurting pretty bad. Tried to play it off but it’s swelling and — well, it hurts like never before.” She looked up at him and pulled up her pants leg to expose a pretty serious injury to her left shin. It looked really bad, all swollen and discolored.
“Oh wow! Do you need help getting to the clinic?” He was genuinely concerned, despite finding her pretty annoying most of the time. She had a thing for him, but refused to do anything that might have made herself more endearing. She was rather pushy and demanding, and never missed a chance to crow about matching the other couriers’ manly exploits. Worse, she used the same repulsive “flirting” with other men.
“Yeah.” She waited for him to approach.
He decided she wasn’t just making an excuse to get her hands on him. He sat down next to her injured leg and put her arm over his shoulder, then his arm around her lower back. When she had planted her right foot firmly, he stood them both up. It was clumsy, but he managed to get through the door and across the graveled parking area to the clinic.
“How do you put up with me, Bear?”
“The same as the rest of the human race,” he replied evenly.
They were at the clinic door, which he managed to open with his free hand. He helped her up onto the exam table just inside the door. A medical assistant came around from behind a desk and Barry pointed wordlessly at the woman’s leg, lifting his eyebrows with a wry smile. The tech slid up the pants leg.
“Looks broken. I’ll get the nurse.” The clinic was staffed by a nurse practitioner; a doctor rotated in three days per week and this wasn’t one of those days.
As Barry turned to leave, the gal thanked him and added, “Bet you get my run for tomorrow.”
He shrugged and walked out. He was careful to remain detached and noncommittal with her on every interaction.