Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chapter 27: Shuddering

I still dream about Port Alice all the time. It's always a larger, more prosperous town in my dream than it ever was in real life. That's the point of the dream. I get it. But I can't stop having it.

Chapter 27: Shuddering

“We are in so much trouble,” Rafe remarked, conversationally. “Okay, new plan. Action group, distraction group. John? Send this. I don’t want anyone eavesdropping. You sending this?”
<Action group, distraction group>, John heard Amy say in his mind. “Yes.”
“Amy and Emily are the action group. No muscle, just extract Book. Get to him, teleport him out to the washout. We fight for reals when we’re all together. ‘Till then, we’re the distraction group. We gun, make boom boom. We run, everybody chase. No-one watches Book. Jason, you escort us on foot. Remember, we only need to knock the cars out. We don’t have to beat these guys, just get by them and lead the chase. We worry about shaking them later.”
<Got it, John. Get Book, get to the washout. Easy-peasy. There’s not many buildings down there with a roof, and we’ll know which in a second, once we’re right above the town. Probably be able to see action going down, too. Why so worried, John?>
<Why do you think?>
<I don’t know?>
John looked up at Rafe. “Unless we can get clear of them for a long spell, we need to get back to the Philadelphia gate, Rafe. It’ll take me a few minutes to come up with an alternative jump and you need me for the combat driving, anyway.”
“You’re looking a little flush, John. Something got  you excited?”
“It’s nothing.”
Jason interrupted. “Car! We gotta go!” He jumped out of the Cadillac, slamming the door behind him and jumped to the top of the rock. Well, that tore it. Jason was in sight. That was one distraction. It was time to make a bigger one. John started the Fairlane and threw it into gear, fanning the clutch to let the engine creep them forward out of hiding even as he ran up the revs. Over the engine, John could hear pistol shots overhead, aimed at Jason. That was fast reactions, even if pistol rounds were not going to do much to Jason’s tough hide. John had been worried that the goons in the SUVs might have assault rifles.  
Engine speed up, John popped the clutch, fishtailing on the road, turning into the swing. Rafe was shooting as they came round. The sound of chain gun empties dropping into the hopper was loud behind John, and the smell of gunpowder filled the cabin. John watched the front tires of the SUV blow out. The truck swerved off the soft, high shoulder of the road. As its flat, front wheel hit the boulder-lined floor of the canyon below, the machine began to teeter.
The gun that someone had been shooting out the window fell on the road. John almost expected to hear it clatter, but there was just too much going on. Behind to the left, Jason jumped, hitting the ground so quickly that Jason was running alongside the SUV before it rocked to the apex of its swing,  Planting his feet and speeding up, Jason took a second to shoulder-block the SUV. Jason caromed off, heading downroad towards the Hummer, the next vehicle in the convoy. Meanwhile, the SUV, already high the wheels that were down on the canyon surface, tipped and nrolled right over onto the boulder and brush strewn floor, two feet below the raised gravel road that John was now driving the Fairlane on towards the abandoned mining town.
The Fairlane was accelerating hard as it passed the first house. It was a good block from the main part of the town, with no other houses around it, set back from the road, with what looked like the bony skeleton of a garden around it. For that brief, insane second that a thought can take in a moment like this, John imagined children walking from the house to school. They would have walked out of the front door through that garden, when it still existed, and from the few flecks of paint that were left on the house, John knew that they would have looked back at a coat of yellow, with blue on the window sashes up front. Weird. Those were Jamie’s colours.
Two kids, John thought. A girl, and a boy, and they climbed the canyon walls with their friends after school, and looked down at their little town from the vantage point that Amy and Emily were moving towards. They brought the kids they wanted to go to the dance with, but that the boy was too shy to ask.
And then John thought again. He was envying kids that didn’t exist! But these kids that he imagined were so, so homey, with a sense of security that John could never have. They had a home! In the past that existed in  his mind, they had always had a home, and they loved it. He was such a sap, John thought to himself, as he swerved wide on the road to go round the Hummer, hard as that was when it was so insanely big.
<Dunno. I think it’s kind of sweet. Sure someone loved that house. You can see from the garden. There’s a loveseat on the back porch, too. Maybe the night of the school dance, the girl sat on it and waited for her sweetie?>
<Aren’t you supposed to be all like Ms. Telepaths-Have-Ethics and not listen in?> John asked.
<We’re up above the town now. You want me to send the overhead view to you, or don’t you? Besides, you’re broadcasting.> Amy replied.
<I am?>
<You’re worried about the school dance tomorrow.>
<Shut up and give me the view!> John couldn’t believe that he’d talked to Amy that way, but he was just so embarrassed.
“Rafe,” John said, “the other SUV is blocking the road behind the Hummer. The Hummer driver is trying to pull out, too.”
“Something’s wrong, but Amy can’t see what’s going on.”
 “Everyone who doesn’t want to play, is playing it right in my book,” Rafe clipped back
A ripple of dust appeared on the road well ahead of them, and began to move quickly back towards the Fairlane. “Someone is shooting at us, Rafe.”
“Awesome. But let’s not be too obvious about this,” she answered.
Plumes of smoke abruptly broke between the Fairlane and the town, turning into a wall with unbelievable speed as Rafe fired the Fairlane’s smoke mortars. A curtain of smoke now pointed John towards the Hummer, which he approached cautiously. It was just too wide! Above John, Rafe spoke as fast as she could to John. “Everyone, plan. Jason, first, as you pass the Hummer, take a second, see if you can drag the driver out. Second, twenty feet before the SUV, you stop, drop, and take us in hand when we run you over. We’ll be right behind. John, soon as we’re clear of the Hummer, I want you to gun it hard. We’re going to need speed. Amy, Emily, hit your target right after we hit Jason. If Book’s not there, pull out and go around again. Don’t blow your cover. You’ve got as many tries as it takes us to make the washout.”
Ahead of John, Jason ran by the Hummer, driver’s side. As he went by, his arm reached out, smashing through the window. A man-sized shape came fluttering out behind, banging bits not meant to be moving so fast against the side of the SUV as Jason dragged it in his wake. Clear, Jason gave a casual toss, and the mannequin-thing was in the air. John hoped that he wasn’t a man. That couldn’t be good for him, he thought, as he slewed around the Hummer, hitting the gas as soon as he was clear. The Fairlane’s tail slewed fat and strong the width of the road as John fed the power of the V-8 engine to the Cadillac’s weight. He felt the car respond, the leather seats pushing him forward. They were doing it!
Above him, Rafe whooped and fired the big gun instead of the coaxial chain. An incendiary shell burst just behind the SUV they were rushing towards. The back blast from the breech of the 105mm recoilless rifle lit them from behind so fiercely that even under the harsh desert afternoon Sun, there was a shadow cast on the road ahead. The two men who had been standing behind the SUV, guns drawn, threw themselves off the road to roll their flaming clothes on the canyon floor. Or were they men? One looked like he might be an orc, while the other seemed familiar. Was he one of the men who had been with Uncle Kwan in his dream on his first night in the Yurt? John thought so, but he was seeing him from such a different angle that it was hard to be sure.
Whatever, it was quite a distraction. Dead ahead, Jason stopped dead in the road, then dropped. John sped up further, aiming to put Jason between his wheels. They would need serious speed for this. His eyes locked on the black-tinted window of the SUV. Was the driver wondering what was about to happen? Probably not, because it was obvious enough. The Fairlane rushed over Jason, and John wrapped his telekinesis around the heavy machine. From below, he felt Jason’s kick to both the frame and to his field. The car flew free of the ground. It was Dukes of Hazard time!
They were airborne. Now would it be enough? John strained, wishing that he had Amy to help.
<Busy, dude. That’s some crazy stuff.>
And they were soaring over the roof of the SUV, John beginning to think about the landing now. Now he had one more thing to worry about.
<Got him. Oh, Book. Um, Tell Rafe that he looks bad, John. But we got him. And ….we’re out.  We’ll jump to the washout soon as you don’t need the view. What is it with you and the dance, anyway?>
The tires touched gravel, and for a second John wondered if they would take the strain, but he might as well not have worried. Mrs. Crudup didn’t spare the cash. He swerved the wheel, bringing the car back onto the road between the high, soft shoulders to either side. Above him, Rafe slewed, the chain gun roared, and discarded brass rattled in the hopper again.
John watched from above through Amy’s eyes. Metal and paint flew from the side of the SUV behind as the driver tried to pull it around to follow the Fairlane, then found the tires in an explosive burst. Once again, a black, featureless SUV stopped, damaged in its  most vulnerable location.
Meanwhile, John’s own eyes scanned the road ahead of him, eyes flicking to the mirrors, too. He was going a lot faster leaving than he had coming, and, he decided, he was still going to worry about the tires. Between the rocks and the potholes, there was only so much that they could take. Besides, the front wheels were shuddering again.
Behind them, John watched as Jason dived over the SUV. As soon as he touched ground, the twin accelerated after the Fairlane, overtaking with ease. Rafaella sat down behind John, and he heard the back door opening, adjusting his grip on the steering ever so slightly as he did so. A massive impact hit the car, and for a second John wondered if they’d been hit, before he realised that it was Jason. In a surge of motion, John’s friend came sliding over the headrest and into the front passenger seat. He smelled very, very sweaty.
<Welcome to my Hell. Prep to jump now.>
<Even if that weren’t telepathy, I wouldn’t have bought that, Amy.>
<Shut up. I don’t give a crap for stupid Jason!>
<Telepathy. Not for lying.>
Now if Amy could just get clear, John would feel a lot better. And, in his head, he felt a tickle in the part of his brain that kept track of teleportation. The girls were, he somehow knew, at the rendezvous ahead.
<We’re at the washout. Now hurry up. Booker’s bleeding!>
“Rafe? The girls are at the washout. They’ve got Booker. He looks bad, but at least he’s clear.”
“Rafaella? What do you love?” Jason asked.
“Stow it, Face-man. This plan hasn’t come together,” Rafe said. “John? Watch for an ambush.”
“You really think?” John asked.
“That was way too easy. My Dad’s dead because he walked right into my uncle’s trap. He thought he’d already beat the bastard. My sword tutor said it again and again. There’s always a hand and a blade moving. You watch the other hand, or you die.”
“Crap.” Jason said.
“What?” Rafe asked.
“Uncle Kwan wants all of us. Well, he’s got Book. He’s got us. May and Jamie are still out there.”
“But we know that he’s going to try something, and that’s half the battle,” Rafe replied confidently.
Jason interrupted. “And he knows that we know.”
“Don’t build him up into some unbeatable boogerman, Jas.”
“Boogieman,” John corrected, and then blushed again. That was not helping, and, sure enough, Rafe and Jason ignored him.
“John once said,” Jason began, and John perked up. No matter what, it was always nice to be acknowledged. “That the only way you know that you’re falling for a real supervillain’s master plan is that you’re doing exactly what you want.”
“That was El Professore, actually.”
“Whatever. John, Jas, I see where you’re coming from, and I’m open to ideas, but until someone thinks of one, John drives, Jas is lookout. I’m guns, and we’re getting the hell out of Dodge. Amy, Emily, stay low. There’s no point in starting something at half strength.”
<Glad someone realises who the heavyweights on this team are.>
<Where’s all this cockiness coming from?>
<We got Book.>
<How’s his bleeding?>
<It’s uhm, I, it’s hard to tell. Please hurry up.>
The trip to the washout seemed to take a lot less time on the way out than the way in. John was glad. His shoulders were crawling. They were caught on the narrow road between the canyon wall and the gorge below, and every obstacle he put between the Fairlane and any pursuers could only make him feel better. He pulled up a few feet from the edge. Amy and Emily scrambled up onto the road from the washout, Booker Crudup, lying flat and still in mid-air, floated along behind.
Amy was at the passenger’s side door. “Get out,” she said to her brother.
“What?” He answered.
“I called shotgun,” she explained.
“For the drive out,” Jason reasoned.
“For the trip!” Amy reasoned back, in a tone that suggested that she might be about to start reasoning with her fists.
“Did we discuss this? I don’t think we discussed this.”
“Get! Or I’ll tell Mom about….”
“About what?” Jason asked as he scrambled over into the back seat.
“Wouldn’t you like to know what I’ve got.” Amy looked up and into John’s stare. Embarrassed, he turned away from Amy, still beautiful, if not even more so with dust caked to her fatigues with sweat, and looked hastily into the back. Emily and Rafe were cradling Booker Crudup while Rafe examined his head.
This was the first time that John had actually seen Booker in the flesh. He did not look like he did in the pictures. He was still a young Black man with an obvious resemblance to Mrs. Crudup, with his hair cut fashionably short in a flat-top style and good clothes in that casual corporate style. This time, it was an olive, outdoorsy hoodie jacket with the zipper two-thirds open to show a blue shirt of some shiny fabric. It was just that right now he was pale, and there was blood caked on his face, and a bloody wound on his scalp, to w hich Emily was pressing a piece of gauze from the first aid kit.
Beside him, John could sense Amy pulling herself into the seat. “Is he okay?” John asked, without looking back at Amy. By this time, he was feeling like he was some kind of lurky creep around her. He did far too much looking around her, not enough talking.
“Yeah. He’s fine,” Rafe answered, covering Emily’s hand with her own and gently moving it away so that John could see that the wound wasn’t bleeding any more. “It’s just a scalp wound. If it didn’t bleed worse than this, it’s no big deal.” She stuck the thumb of her other hand into Booker’s left eye and lifted up his eyelid. “He’s been drugged, is all. It’s like how …..Lord Veterani… did for that asshole tutor of mine and got me out of the Admiral’s barge.” Booker shuddered for a second, and then relaxed.
John raised his eyebrow at the long pause. He guessed that he must be trusted enough now to know the names of the people who were backing Rafaella back home. “Now you and Amy better get us going!”
John turned back to face forward, fired up the engine again, and pulled the Fairlane into the air. The second, or third time, it was like he’d been doing it forever. The car soared over the washout, and, together, John and Amy set it light and gently down on the other side. They were on the road to freedom. The boy and the girl in that house, John thought, weren’t stuck in that little mining town. They must have come this way all the time. They would have taken the truck to shop. They would have gone to senior high somewhere out where the roads were paved, maybe all the way down in Babylon. There would have been a bus, too, so that they could go visit their grandparents.
<There was a last day, too. One day, they went away. They drove down this road, and they never came back.>
John looked over at Amy. <Well, they couldn’t, could they? There’s nothing there now but ruins and scrub. They can’t ever go back.> Now it was John’s turn to shudder.
<They didn’t have to, John. It’s just a town.>
<It’s not just a town,> John thought back stubbornly. <It’s  home.>
<Not anymore. Everything that mattered to them, that made it home to them, came away with them. Memories. Their sweeties. What matters is, if you go by their houses down in the Babylon suburbs, they’re painted yellow and blue.>

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