This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
* * *
The Breakers swarmed from the surrounding countryside, converging on the lorry that had, until recently, belonged to Rob. Some drove tractors, some four by fours and others trail bikes. Many were on quad bikes and a few even rode horses. Most of the vehicles pulled trailers, some empty and others packed with equipment.
For centuries shipwrecks around the coast of Britain had provided locals with additional income. While technically the goods belonged to any survivors of the ship, or to the ship’s owner or the owner of that section of coast, locals would often come out while a storm was still raging and strip everything valuable from the beach before anyone else could arrive.
Later, from the twentieth century onward, the concept of free goods which had ‘fallen off the back of a lorry’ was popular with some in Britain, whether the goods fell naturally or had needed something of a hand to tumble off.
Over the centuries some of those living on the coast found the pickings from shipwrecks so lucrative that it seemed a shame they didn’t occur more often. From that thought it was only a small step to decide to help make them happen. Those people became known as the Wreckers and on stormy nights they could be found lighting false signal fires or using lanterns to lure ships onto the rocks.
As the twenty-first century developed there were those who felt waiting for things to fall off the back of a lorry was also taking too long, and that it would be much easier if their illicit goods turned up at a convenient time and place. Spiritual successors to the Wreckers, these people referred to themselves as Breakers. While a Wrecker’s tools of choice would be signal fires and lanterns, the Breakers used mobile phone blockers, directly beamed satnav viruses and other high tech tools. One thing that was still low tech was the weather… only during thick, heavy storms could they be certain their target would be obscured from the ever watching satellites orbiting above.
Now the Breakers set to work on Rob’s lorry — breaking down the cab and the trailer, offloading the goods. Sophisticated robots sped up the job, dismantling where possible and cutting with powerful lasers where not. The Breakers took everything of value that was untraceable. Anything of no value, or which could be traced back to its source, went into a special pile. Later it would all be crushed and incinerated. Rob’s corpse was thrown onto that pile. Like the Wreckers before them, they wanted no survivors.
They worked in peace, certain they wouldn’t be disturbed. The road was blocked at both ends and scouts kept watch in case a hardy rambler wandered near. Any that did would be steered away with tales of dangerous footing or floods. If that failed then one more person would disappear without trace that day.
In less than half an hour the work was complete. Not a trace of Rob, his lorry or its load remained. He would be missed, of course, but not enough to endanger them. They chose their victims with care — always self employed, never locals. The big firms would move heaven and earth to find a disappearing truck and its load — mostly to ensure it didn’t happen again, working on the assumption their driver was involved. One man firms like Rob’s were a different matter, though. All trace of his truck had been shielded and removed since he’d left the main roads. False tracking information uploaded into the traffic network showed him driving near a bridge over a large river, then disappearing. Any efforts to find him would start fifty miles away from where he really ended up and never get close to the truth.
Now the Breakers reversed their earlier movement, scattering away from the unmarked spot where Rob had met his end. Within a few minutes nothing moved except the driving rain and windblown heather.
* * *
Steve stared through the driving rain, struggling to see the narrow road — far too narrow for his truck, that was for sure. Yet here he was, halfway up a mountain in the Lake District with no phone signal and his satnav having had a meltdown.
Suddenly he saw something other than the rain soaked road and desolate landscape. A local wearing dark waterproof working gear. The man waved at Steve, signalling him to stop. Steve obeyed with relief, ensuring the lorry’s brakes were going to hold it on the slope before doing anything else. He opened the cab door and stared at the local, a man in his fifties by the look of it.
Several shots rang out and Steve felt like a freezing spike had been driven into his heart. The local collapsed to the floor, gun tumbling from his dead hand. Steve stared for a few moments, his own gun held in a shaking fist. He hadn’t killed anyone for seventeen years, not since his army days, and even then he’d only killed one person up close. He’d killed two more from a distance that he was sure of, and possibly up to another seven or eight in gun battles where he’d never know if he or his squad mates fired the fatal shots.
Fighting off the shock he grabbed the cab door and dragged it closed. Just in time. Several bullets smashed off the armoured glass, leaving no marks. Several more hit the truck’s bodywork. Other than scratching the paint they too had no effect.
Training and instincts Steve hadn’t needed in well over a decade kicked in. He jammed the truck into gear and pulled away, careful to ease the power in slowly so the wheels didn’t skid. His load was particularly heavy… advanced robotics destined for a factory in Edinburgh. At the same time he hit the lock down button, causing numerous deadlocks to secure the doors and the engine. Nothing was getting into the cab without cutting its way in.
Several more shots pinged off the bodywork and glass. He caught movement to each side, lots of movement. Four wheel drives, real ones not the kind people bought for city driving, and several tractors. Quad bikes too. Whatever was going on had been planned like a military operation. Steve felt ice settle into his stomach. This wasn’t someone chancing their luck. He had no doubt that if couldn’t get clear then he was dead, and the odds weren’t looking good at all.
He’d known something was wrong even before meeting the local. When the satnav started sending him down back roads he’d had a bad feeling, but he couldn’t ignore the device. He’d made that mistake twice before and had always paid the price. Clients wanted proof you stuck to their conditions, whether it was the fastest route or something else, and the SatNav provided that proof. One of the times, on a fast delivery contract, he’d actually turned up earlier than if he’d stuck with the SatNav yet still got stung with a heavy penalty for deviating from its route.
So he’d followed the Satnav’s directions, but his concerns had grown. He’d visited the lake district several times as a kid and, while he didn’t know exactly where he was, the road didn’t look like the kind lorries could normally follow. Losing phone service had just been an annoyance and wasn’t surprising. With every new leap in technology the mobile firms focused on the cities and populated areas of the country, never quite reaching their promise of one hundred percent coverage before the next new thing arrived.
Losing the SatNav, though, had set alarm bells ringing. Suddenly the situation had felt an awful lot like some of his old missions. Driving through deserted and unknown territory with no idea where you were or who was out to get you. He’d learnt very early on not to trust any locals who just happened to be passing that way, ready to give advice. The drivers who didn’t learn that quickly ended up dead.
So when he saw the local walking in the rain and miles from anywhere his instincts started screaming. As he parked the truck he removed his completely illegal pistol from its secured hiding place before opening the door. He’d fired on instinct the moment he saw the man raising his gun. Something in the man’s eyes had triggered those instincts, a look Steve had seen before when someone was about to try and kill him. Those instincts had saved his life. Now he needed all of his experience to keep it.
Two quad bikes were closing in, one either side, able to move much faster than his lorry could. Both had a passenger on the back and they were armed with machine pistols. One opened fire from close range, aiming through the side window at Steve. Once again the armoured glass did its job. Steve grinned. They’d need something a damn sight bigger to pierce that glass.
Then both passengers turned their attention to the truck’s wheels. Steve had known it was only a matter of time till they did. Hell, he was surprised it had taken them so long. Clearly chasing down their quarry was a new experience, something Steve thought he could use to his advantage. They started with the cab’s tyres, each unloading a full clip. Steve had to laugh at their evident surprise when it had no effect. He’d known they wouldn’t. The tyres weren’t normal issue by any means, instead they were constructed from an advanced form of solid matter — he’d never bothered with the science behind it. It was the result that mattered, which was that the tyres would shake off potholes, nails, bullets and even moderate explosions.
They quickly changed tactic and tried shooting the trailer’s tyres, which unfortunately were the normal kind and quickly blew. Steve gave them ten out of ten for adaptability, but zero out of ten for mechanical aptitude. They’d shot the front tyres of the trailer. The only impact was that the trailer leant more heavily on the cab, otherwise they continued as before.
Spurred by the success they dropped back a little, blasting away at the trailer’s rear tyres. Now that did cause Steve problems. He quickly felt the back start to drift away. On the narrow road it would jam within seconds then flip over, taking the cab with it.
Steve pressed his hand against a seemingly blank area of dashboard. It instantly lit up, recognising his palm print, displaying many options no normal lorry ever had. He punched two red buttons in quick succession, followed by a green confirmation. Then he desperately wrestled the wheel to keep the cab under control as explosives blew the trailer clear.
Though Steve was too busy to see it, the result was devastating. The trailer lifted several feet then crashed down. It was already slightly angled compared to the road. As the front left corner landed it dug into the verge, causing the whole trailer to whip around, back end sweeping in an arc over the land to the right of the road. The pair on the quad bike on that side stood no chance… they were smeared across the landscape. Several others involved in the chase were also pancaked by the swinging trailer. Then it tipped, rolling sideways up the road on one side and the landscape on the other. After six or seven rolls the structure gave way and huge chunks of machinery started to be scattered in all directions. A Land Rover following up the road came to a crunching halt with one massive machine embedded in its cabin, and passengers. Several other Breakers were struck by high velocity shrapnel as other pieces of machinery struck the ground at high speeds and disintegrated.
By the time Steve was able to glance in his mirrors most of the remaining Breakers had cleared the immediate carnage, but he saw enough to make him smile. They clearly weren’t going to give up, though, and he wasn’t surprised. If he escaped then the full force of the law would descend on the area. Knowing what had happened would give the police a good head start, as would the number of locals who would have suddenly disappeared as they were now smeared on the land behind him.
Now his pursuers would throw everything they had at him. The question was just what that would be. Had they ever imagined someone might escape their trap, and if so how serious was the firepower they’d readied for that time?
Steve still had some surprises up his sleeve, though, or the truck did anyway. It had been designed to take an awful lot of punishment. After mustering out of the army Steve had missed the excitement and ended up signing on with a mercenary outfit. Not just a mercenary outfit, the mercenary outfit. The one that handled the most difficult, and therefore expensive, jobs. Steve’s first mission had been a big one.
They needed an unknown, someone with no links to the mercenary company. The job was a simple delivery going in but carrying something very special on the way out — he wasn’t told what. Only two or three people in the organisation even knew of the mission, only one knew of Steve’s part in it. He was provided with a top of the range military truck with the latest equipment plus an initial destination in Morocco and a phone number to call when he got there. His handler would then give him the next set of instructions.
He reached Morocco without problems, parked, and used a pay phone to call the number. He’d barely got beyond saying hello when the line went dead. He tried calling again several times but the number was unobtainable. He decided to get lunch in a bar and try again after. He’d been told the mission wasn’t particularly time critical so there was no harm.
There was a TV on in the bar showing the news. Steve didn’t pay much attention till he heard them say London, then mentioned the name of the mercenary corporation. He felt a chill run down his spine as it became clear a massive bomb had been set off.
Over the next few hours he sat in the bar getting steadily more drunk, numbing himself to the images and to the thought that he’d been speaking to his handler the moment the man died. Steve didn’t even know his name. Other reports came in of simultaneous attacks in other cities, all aimed at the same corporation, and of killings targeting those known to work for it.
Despite knowing no one other than his handler had known of his link, Steve started to feel like a sitting duck. He drank up and staggered back to the truck, deadlocking it and sealing himself off from the world.
The next day it became painfully obvious someone with a serious grudge had gutted the corporation. The few survivors would be unlikely to surface from hiding for the rest of their lives. Steve realised he was out of a job, but with a high tech truck and a trailer load of cheap electronics goods. He scouted around and quickly offloaded the goods, trailer and all, and started the long journey back to the UK.
He heard far more about the attacks during that journey. Pretty soon he decided he’d had quite enough excitement and that life as a delivery driver would be far safer. Which it had been, till today. Now he thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t in a bog standard truck as he raced along the narrow road, watching as the pursuit drew closer.
He rounded a curve in the mountain and saw the sight he’d been expecting sooner or later — a road block to prevent him escaping. A large tractor and trailer were parked at right angles across the road. No truck could plough through without taking major damage, not even Steve’s. That was fine by him. The mountain rose to the right of the road but to the left the land was relatively flat. Certainly a tractor or range rover could cross it with care. He swung the wheel, sending the truck off the road. It should have been a suicidal move, instead the truck barely lost any speed. Sensors scanned the ground ahead and advanced suspension controlled each wheel independently to level out the bumps and bangs. The specialist tyres came into play once again, surviving treatment which would have shredded any other tyre.
Steve’s grin faded quickly as he saw one of the men at the roadblock place something on his shoulder. They’d got a bloody Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher! Steve hit the countermeasures button just as it launched. Small chunks of metal sprayed out from the truck in all directions. Enough hit the grenade to explode it short of the truck but the blast still sent the cab rocking.
Steve couldn’t remember if the truck could take a direct hit from an RPG, and wasn’t about to find out. The man was reloading already, but the truck had identified the source of the blast and had him bracketed. Steve hit another control and several miniature rockets shot out of their dispenser. The man, and those standing near him, simply ceased to exist. The tractor and trailer were sent flying.
Once past the wreckage Steve dragged the truck back onto the road. He should have a clear run ahead now, he just needed to worry about those behind. Checking his mirrors he saw several quad bikes and a land rover closing fast. He pressed another button and a deadly payload shot out in an arc behind the truck, covering the road and nearby land with hundreds of miniature mines. As his pursuers reached the mines the road vanished in a massive series of explosions. When it finally settled down Steve was able to see nothing was following. Slowing to a stop he studied the land further back, smiling as he saw a variety of vehicles heading away at speed. They’d given up, their only thought now would be to get away before the police arrived.
And that left Steve with a problem. The truck had been recording video throughout, he could send it off to the police at any time in a way that couldn’t be traced. And he had to. These people couldn’t be allowed to strike again.
Doing so would alert the police to his vehicle’s abilities, though. To say the modifications to his truck were illegal would be a serious understatement. Owning it was probably close on being a war crime, and driving it around the UK certainly wouldn’t go down well with the police. He was certain those who had laid the trap would have ensured his truck had disappeared from the tracking network somewhere totally different, which would work in his favour, and he was sure they wouldn’t have been videoing their own crimes. However, they might well be able to describe his truck well enough to cause him problems.
So Steve didn’t send in his report when he had phone signal again. He drove for another half hour through the pounding rain till he was sure no one had followed. When he found himself in section of road cutting between two cliffs he figured it was as good a place as any. Stopping the truck he activated another sequence of commands.
Within seconds the flame red livery had disappeared, replaced by a white and black pattern. The truck’s electronic identity was changed, and a specialised electronic virus uploaded to the national monitoring network convincing it his truck had been travelling the area for hours en-route to a pickup, though it would show he hadn’t strayed off the motorway. His own identity was flipped too, to an alternate he’d prepared in the aftermath of the mercenary corporation’s demise.
Then he travelled on until he reached a major road and finally a motorway. The virus synced his real and imaginary position and flushed itself from the network.
Satisfied he was now safe he uploaded the incriminating video not just to the police but to several major news networks. The Breakers’ days were numbered, and Steve could return to his ever so unexciting life. It was a shame about his cargo, he thought, but then he remembered how much he’d disliked the client. With a shrug and a grin he drove off through the rain.
* * *
So there is another parallel between the Wreckers and the Breakers. The Wreckers’ way of life was ended by technology. Better maps, radio and navigation buoys meant ships wouldn’t rely on lights from the shore. Rapid transport and communication links meant police and rescue services would arrive at any shipwreck that did happen before the locals could cart anything off. The Wreckers were already long gone before GPS systems came in, otherwise the new technology would have been the final nail in their coffin.
The Breakers, too, were undone by the advance of technology, but in a matter of minutes rather than decades. Their encounter with a truck loaded out with advanced warfare systems resulted in many being killed and the rest going on the run. In the modern, connected, world most were caught within a matter of hours. Several eluded capture for a few weeks by camping in the most inhospitable mountains, but eventually they too were hunted down. Many other locals were found to have been involved in processing the stolen goods or simply turning a blind eye for a wad of cash. All were prosecuted and served lengthy terms.
With the racket exposed the police found at least sixty cold cases where lorries and their drivers had disappeared without trace. While nothing could be proven it seemed certain most had been victims of the Breakers. The families of those drivers got if not peace then at least closure. A simple emergency alert system was manufactured and put into all vehicles, not just lorries. A system designed to emit such a high burst of energy that it couldn’t be blocked or shielded. Not only had the Breakers been stopped but now no similar schemes could ever work. Help could always be summoned, or at worst retribution in the form of the police.
No trace was ever found of the heroic driver who took on the Breakers and won. He quickly became a figure of legend. While many tales were told of his further exploits all were quickly shown to be faked. Somewhere out there must be a very smug trucker, knowing he put a stop to the vile Breakers and eluded the police.
All I can say is that I hope he’s a very calm man. Otherwise, one day, someone taking their road rage out on a lorry is going to get the shock of their life!