Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chapter 28: The Chase

Three days into my (hopefully three week) night manager rotation at work, and I'm already two days behind.

Chapter 28: The Chase
The front left tire hit another pothole. John reached out and pushed up on the tire with his telekinesis. It shuddered, the motion pushing back through the car to his body. As he let go of the tire, the car bolted under John, and he gripped the wheel to keep the Fairlane on track, steering into the gigantic moon looming over the desert evening. Lifting the wheels to cushion the suspension was a neat trick, but it didn’t work nearly as well with the unbalanced tire. Fortunately, they were only an hour from the Philadelphia gate and home, now. “Any sign?”
They’d brought the turret down for the run, so Rafaella was watching the road behind them through the rear window, twisted around in the crowded back seat. “Nothing yet. Ungh. Could you please stop pushing him into me, Jason?”
“I can’t help it!” Jason protested. “Zombie Booker lurches on me or on you whenever we go into a hole. John. You know, we’d have a lot more room if we put him in the trunk.”
John snuck a look into the mirror. Jason had his thumb to his nose and wiggled his fingers at him. “You try staying out of potholes on this road. Especially going 60.”
Emily spoke from the corner. “Booker’s not a zombie, and my sister would kill me if she heard that we put him in the trunk.”
“Which she wouldn’t,” Jason answered.
“Yeah, because you and secrets, zip.”  John didn’t have to take his eyes off the road to know that Amy was looking back at her brother and doing the ‘zip your lips’ thing.
“Hey, I couldn’t run a con if I couldn’t keep a secret.”
Amy would be rolling her eyes right now. “When have you ever run a con, Jas? Pranks don’t count.”
“Hey, if Jamie and Jameel hadn’t interrupted when I was scamming Liam…”
“Yeah. That doesn’t counts, either.” Emily said. “By the way, how come Liam’s Hummer showed up back at the ghost town?”
“It totally counts. I’m thinking that since Liam’s gang used to hang around with Agent Byrne, dude’s probably in the Hummer. The whole point of him pretending to be Jenny’s boyfriend was to get Uncle Kwan to make a move on him. So that’s a two-for-me.”
This time, John couldn’t even try to avoid the hole. It stretched right across the road, and he couldn’t lift four tires at once. The Cadillac’s ancient suspension took it, but not without another bump. From the back, Jason “oofed.”
“There,” Rafe said, with a little grunt of effort. “You hang with Zombie Book for a while, Mr. Totally-Taking-Credit-For-Your-Mom’s-Plan.”
Pretends? That was news to John. Though, for some reason, John felt better to be included in that secret than about a lot that he’d heard today. Like Trine’s explanations. “I don’t understand. Agent Byrne is an asshole. Wouldn’t he just slime out of the situation the moment he saw trouble coming down on him?”
“Beats the alternative,” Amy answered.
“Which is?”
“Dad, Mom. Mad as all hell.” John risked a glance at Amy as he caught motion out of the corner of his eye. She was waving a fist as she spoke in a threatening way.
“Still…” John didn’t think of Agent Byrne as the kind of guy who would worry about the Wongs when one of Takofanes’ lieutenants was after him.
“See, we’re not asking him to be a hero. We’re asking him not to tell random strangers that he was conned by a teenage girl. If he wants to slime out of things, he’s free to do it. After Uncle Stupid shows up.”
That was even more wacked. “Wait. Jenny was running a con?”
From behind, Jason replied. “Depths, dude. Depth of character. Mom is the best face ever, and Dad is the worst. Some of us take after Mom, some of us take after Dad.” Jason kicked his sister’s seat.
“Okay, so your Dad’s a straight shooter. I get that, but didn’t your Uncle Kwan do the whole Jade Empire thing on your him? Helped bring him up, trained him, set him up? How’d he, you know, live?”
“Honest isn’t the same thing as gullible,” Amy answered. “I hope. You’re not conning me, are you, Jas?”
“Maybe,” Jason answered.
“So very, very cocky,” Emily muttered, barely heard over the sound of the engine.
“Hey, Emily, if you and Amy share the front seat, we’d be back to three in the back,” Jason said.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, John?” Amy asked. What was she talking about? John looked over. Amy was blushing. He blushed back, not quite sure why.
“Whatever, Jas,” Rafe said. “Walk this back for me, Amy. Uncle Kwan has a reason for what he’s doing. He’s got a list of people he needs to kill. It’s just that until, like, today, he didn’t know quite who they are until one thing or another.”
It occurred to John that Rafe sounded almost condescending as he said that last, like she was talking the slow kid. John glanced up at the rearview mirror, and his eyes glanced over the cosmetics mirror as he did so. How long had he had that spot of black paint on the tip of his nose?
Rafe continued. “Now he knows, so he moves. What I need to know now is, what’s the scenario?”
Amy drew in a long breath. They waited. At last she replied, “Slow and cruel. It’s not just who gets to inherit great-great-grandpa’s homestead. First, Uncle Kwan likes being mean to people, and that goes especially for Dad,. Second, he totally he hates Mom. And some of the older kids, too. Like Jamie and May.”
John asked, “Is that more ‘Don’t Tell John,’ stuff.”
John looked over at Amy. She caught his eyes as he replied. “Once. Jamie and May went to the future and screwed up Uncle Kwan’s biggest plan yet. That’s the fight where you were created with the Basilisk Orb. We weren’t supposed to tell you . . .”
“Because the Basilisk Orb is super-duper secret stuff,” John finished.
“Sort of. Actually, I gather that it was the 31st Century version of the Basilisk Orb, and you can’t actually do that much with it in the 21st Century.”
“Because time travel?”
“Because time travel. But we were really worried that Uncle would do something to May and Jamie, on account of their screwing up his big play with the Orb.”
“So, what? It’s like Megan getting into May’s shoes?”
Amy answered. “Don’t laugh. Megan lost May’s favourite pumps. She can’t hide behind cute forever.”
“People have favourite shoes?” John risked a glance over to show off a smile.
Amy punched John in the shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“Nope. Girl stuff.”
“Don’t be so dense. Guys? Guys?”
The backseat echoed its silence back. After a long second, Rafe said, “Eww. He’s drooling. Hey, Amy, maybe you’d like to sit with Booker?”
Amy continued.  “May worked the whole Columbus Day weekend for those shoes, and now she can’t wear her favourite jeans to the dance unless she finds where Megan put them.”
“She can’t?” John was starting to feel a little guilty about hiding the pumps in the first place. But it had been so funny when May saw Megan parading around in them in the first place. She'd even managed to wear them down the stairs, which apparently was a big deal.
“No. She can’t. And May wasted a sick day to go that dance. I guess we’ll stay home and watch “True Blood” together. Sisters!"
“What, you lost your shoes, too, Amy?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, John regretted them. After all, he was originally supposed to go to the dance with Sabine, and he had this awful feeling that Amy had known about that and not liked it one bit. John found that he really, really hated the idea that he'd made Amy feel bad.
“No.” A single word, but John could hear the anger in it. Where had that come from? It wasn’t John who’d been stopping her from going to the dance before.
“Oh, thank God,” Jason interrupted. “We’re being followed.”
“What?” John looked into the mirror. At the back of the long straight stretch, emerging from the desert haze over the ancient blacktop as it turned the “S” curve they’d gone around a minute before, he saw the Neilsen’s familiar blue-and-white SUV.
“Oh, crap,” Rafe shouted. “John! Hit the gas!”
It wasn’t the SUV that bugged John most, though, but rather the black speck in the air above it. Reluctantly, he took his eyes off the flying thing and looked to the road ahead as he eased down on the gas pedal. The Fairlane’s old engine was built for high speed highway cruising, but that had meant something totally different back in the 50s. The suspension was going to take a pounding, too. John eased out to straddle the single yellow line in the middle of the blacktop, where the road was mostly a little less worn. This would be a bad time to run into oncoming traffic for the first time this trip. Unless it was a Piper & Norton convoy. They could show up any time.
“Crap, crap, crap,” Rafe continued. “Thanks for making me match that movie, Emily.”
“That thing behind the Blue Wonder is a dragon!” Jason said, also shouting. Which was good, because the way the engine was complaining, John would never have heard him otherwise.
“Seriously? A dragon? Like, firebreathing and everything?” Could you even tell if a dragon could breathe fire at this distance, John wondered? In a video game, there’d probably be a fire special effect.
Jason picked up the thought. “Well, I can’t tell the colour, but even if I could, you couldn’t necessarily tell. Hopefully, it’s got something lame, like chlorine gas.”
“Do they have dragons with, like, sniper rifles?” Rafe asked. “Because, yeah. Speed up, John, if you can. Amy, you’re forward observer. Emily, you’re rear. Jason, you’re still ready for deployment, or are you just going to keep on complaining about having the window seat? I’m going to check the turret hydraulics. The moment we’re caught, we need to deploy all our weapons.”
“Should I start dropping mines and oil?” Amy asked.
“Only if you can lay them on the lip of the really big potholes. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a waste of ammo. If this does turn into a running game, we want to have weapons when the SUV catches up.”
“If?” John asked, talking louder to be heard over the engine.
“Remember May’s story about being ambushed in the free zone? How they tried to chase the bandits into a trap afterwards?”
Amy raised her sunscreen, hardly necessary as night crept over the desert, and deployed the binocular gunsight built into its reverse side. “So the real danger is an ambush ahead?”
“Probably just before the Philadelphia turnoff. It’s way meaner to drop the hammer when the people you’re chasing think that they’re home free.”
“That sounds like the old try-too-hard to me,” Emily pointed out. Why not just chase us down and kill us?” Emily had a quiet voice, so when she raised it enough to be heard over the engine, it sounded high and scared. As well it should. Dragons, Telantassar said, meant business.
Jason snorted. “Uncle I-hate-you-and-your-little-dog-too showed us the dragon. You show what you have up your sleeve for a reason. We’re scared and running faster, so that’s the reason. We’re running into trouble.”
Rafe was leaning over the front seats now, fiddling with the turret parts where they folded against the inside of the roof. He heard her question clearly. “John, can you do a dimension hop yet?”
Bitter, he answered. “No. I haven’t had time to compute it. I’ve been busy. Driving.”
“Yeah. Figured. Sorry. Just that I thought we were better off making time for the gate. Plus, I had a feeling we were being run. If we stop, Kwan will just drop something on us. Like a dragon.”
“In other words,” Jason said, “It’s not John’s fault that I’ve had Zombie boy here drooling on my shoulder for the last hour.”
“We are not going to put Booker in the trunk.” Emily protested. “It’s not nice.”
“Not nice is what your breath smells like after you’ve been unconscious from zombie drugs for 10 hours,” Jason observed. “If we can’t put him in the trunk, at least you can shift spots with Rafe and share it. Rafe can’t run the turret with Book flopping all over her feet, anyway.”
Amy moved in response, and John glanced over. Rummaging through her belt pouch, Amy pulled out a little travel toothbrush. “Here, Jason. Looks like I’m not going to need it today.” She glared over at John, their eyes meeting for a long second again, and a pit opened up in John’s stomach. Once she brushed her teeth, that  scent of green onions would be gone from her breath. He thought he would miss it, and that was a crazy thing to think, because he wanted to kiss her again. And that made him think again about Trine telling him that there was no room for him in the Mandaarian Enclave. He wondered if he should tell Amy, and that thought scared him more than the idea of Amy talking to him the way that Trine had.
Jason interrupted his chain of thought. “I’m not going to brush Book’s teeth!”
“So instead of doing something, you’re just going to complain? Take the brush. There’s toothpaste, too.”
“This is stupid. You know, if we’d just done what I said… there’s plenty of room in the trunk. Book wouldn’t have cared. He’s unconscious!”
Rafaella’s voice came from overhead. “Jason, would you like to ride in the trunk?”
“There’d be more room for me in the trunk than there is back here.”
“Never mind,” Amy said. “Let’s just let him run behind already. Then he won’t have to deal with Book’s breath, and we don’t have to put up with his B.O.”
“Hey! I just happen to be the only guy to do any real work back at the ghost town. It’s not like I can take an air bath or something.”
Abruptly, the gauge on the far left of the dashboard that connected with the time machine clicked over to ‘Brialic Connected.’ “Guys, guys… We have a hop solution.”
“To Earth?” Rafaella asked.
“Earth-731.” John corrected. “Yes.”
“On the way to the cabin, just past the turnoff to Nittany Road.”
“That’s quite the coincidence,” Amy pointed out.
“Not really,” John said. “Goblin Deep is one of the hardwired reference points. The transfer point is only five miles away from it on a straight line.”
“Wait a minute. We’re not going to end up hitting the pavement at 70 again, are we, John? Because we’d end up in a rollover for sure.”
“C’mon,” he protested. “It’d be fun! The seatbelts are doing anything right now.”
“Except keeping me from learning even more about Book than I have in the last half hour,” Jason pointed out.
“Afraid Book will go somewhere Theera hasn’t?” Amy asked.
“Well, Theera is prettier than Book.”
“Not that much prettier,” Rafe pointed out.
“Book is prettier than anyone in this car except Amy,” John said. And then he took a minute to feel very, very clumsy.
“You’re an idiot, John,” Jason helpfully pointed out.
“An idiot that can put us down on that road at 20mph ground speed,” John said.
“Then we have a plan,” Rafaella decided. “Do it, please, John.”
John geared down as he watched the needles get closer and closer to alignment as Amy adjusted the control knobs beside her on the dash. As soon as she managed to align them and they hit 20mph, they could receive the input and Amy would initiate the jump. John glanced at the driver’s side mirror. The SUV and dragon were at least two miles behind, he guessed. Yet they seemed to get much closer, much faster as he slowed down. Just my imagination, John thought to himself.
“Isn’t Takofanes playing it a little unimaginative?” he asked, as he aligned the pointers.
“Why do you ask, John?” Amy looked at him, and he resisted looking back. Between the gauges on the dashboard and the road, he really did need his attention focussed right now.
“Well, I mean, he’s Mr. Ancient Lich Lord and all. I get that he has dragons and werewolves and what have you to send to help Uncle Kwan out. My question is, where are the dark elves and Illithids and Otyughs and Beholders and Githyanki and those guys?”
“A lot of those are Hasbro intellectual property,” Jason pointed out. “He’d better have good lawyers before he tries to take over the world with mind flayers.”
“You guys are such nerds,” Rafe said.
“Oh, come on. We’re all nerds now,” Amy replied. “Look at you. You spent more time playing Morrowind than going to school last month.”
“That’s an exaggeration!”
Emily began, “Actually, counting your sick day last Friday….”
“I had to get ready for Skyrim!”
“Too bad this couldn’t wait a day, or we’d totally be prepared for those dragons,” Amy noted.
Jason snorted. “Ha! Uncle Kwan’s secret plan!”
“To have Book come over from Babylon on the last day before Skyrim was released?”
“He’s diabolically clever! Of course he is. I’m his nephew!”
“Great-great-nephew.” It was Amy’s turn to correct. “Also, ha!”
The speedometer hit 20mph. John took his right hand off the wheel and signalled to Amy, who closed the little knife switch beside her on the dashboard. The world was plunged into darkness.

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