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24 - Run Straight Down

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THE RAIN CAME on when he turned east again, making for the Sprawl’s fringe ‘burbs and the blasted belt country of the industrial zones. It came down in a solid wall, blinding him until he found the switch for the wipers. Rudy hadn’t kept the blades in shape, so he slowed, the turbine’s whine lowering to a roar, and edged over the shoulder, the apron bag nosing past shredded husks of truck tires.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t see. The wiper blades are rotten.” He tapped the button for the lights, and four tight beams stabbed out from either side of the hover’s wedge of hood and lost themselves in the gray wall of the downpour. He shook his head.

“Why don’t we stop?”

“We’re too close to the Sprawl. They patrol all this. Copters. They’d scan the ID panel on the roof and see we’ve got Ohio plates and a weird chassis configuration. They might want to check us out. We don’t want that.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Keep to the shoulder until I can turn off, then get us under some cover, if I can…”

He held the hover steady and swung it around in place, the headlights flashing off the dayglow orange diagonals on an upright pole marking a service road. He made for the pole, the bulging lip of the apron bag bobbling over a thick rectangular crash guard of concrete. “This might do it,” he said as they slid past the pole. The service road was barely wide enough for them; branches and undergrowth scratched against the narrow side windows, scraping along the hover’s steel-plate flanks.

“Lights down there,” Angie said, straining forward in her harness to peer through the rain.

Turner made out a watery yellow glow and twin dark uprights. He laughed. “Gas station,” he said. “Left over from the old system, before they put the big road through.

Somebody must live there. Too bad we don’t run on gasoline

He eased the hover down the gravel slope; as he drew nearer, he saw that the yellow glow came from a pair of rectangular windows. He thought he saw a figure move in one of them. “Country,” he said. “These boys may not be too happy to see us.” He reached into the parka and slid the Smith & Wesson from its nylon holster, put it on the seat between his thighs. When they were five meters from the rusting gas pumps, he sat the hover down in a broad puddle and killed the turbines. The rain was still pissing down in windblown sheets, and he saw a figure in a flapping khaki poncho duck out of the front door of the station. He slid the side window open ten centimeters and raised his voice above the rain: “Sorry t’ bother you. We had to get off the road. Our wipers are trashed. Didn’t know you were down here The man’s hands, in the glow from the windows, were hidden beneath the plastic poncho, but it was obvious that he held something.

“Private property,” the man said, his lean face streaked with rain.

“Couldn’t stay on the road,” Turner called. “Sorry to bother you…

The man opened his mouth, began to gesture with the thing he held beneath the poncho, and his head exploded. It almost seemed to Turner that it happened before the red line of light scythed down and touched him, pencil-thick beam swinging casually, as though someone were playing with a flashlight. A blossom of red, beaten down by the rain, as the figure went to its knees and tumbled forward, a wire-stocked Savage 410 sliding from beneath the poncho.

Turner hadn’t been aware of moving, but he found that he’d stoked the turbines, swung the controls over to Angie, and clawed his way out of his harness. “I say go, run it through the station…” Then he was up, yanking at the lever that opened the roof hatch, the heavy revolver in his hand. The roar of the black Honda reached him as soon as the hatch slid back, a lowering shadow overhead, just visible through the driving rain. “Now!” He pulled the trigger be-fore she could kick them forward and through the wall of the old station, the recoil jarring his elbow numb against the roof of the hover. The bullet exploded somewhere overhead with a gratifying crack; Angie floored the hover and they plunged through the woodframe structure, with barely enough time for Turner to get his head and shoulders back down through the hatch. Something in the house exploded, probably a propane canister, and the hover skewed to the left.

Angie swung them back around as they crashed out through the far wall. “Where?” she yelled, above the turbine.

As if in answer, the black Honda came corkscrewing down, twenty meters in front of them, and threw up a silver sheet of rain. Turner grabbed the controls and they slid forward, the hover blasting up ten-meter fantails of ground water; they took the little combat copter square in its polycarbon canopy, its alloy fuselage crumpling like paper under the impact. Turner backed off and went in again, faster. This time the broken copter slammed into the trunks of two wet gray pines, lay there like some kind of long-winged fly.

“What happened?” Angie said, her hands to her face.

“What happened?”

Turner tore registration papers and dusty sunglasses from a compartment in the door beside him, found a flashlight, checked its batteries.

“What happened?” Angie said again, like a recording, “What happened?”

He scrambled back up through the hatch, the gun in one hand, the light in the other The rain had slackened. He jumped down onto the hover’s hood, and then over the bumpers and into ankle-deep puddles, splashing toward the bent black rotors of the Honda.

There was a reek of escaping jet fuel. The polycarbon canopy had cracked like an egg. He aimed the Smith & Wesson and thumbed the xenon flash twice, two silent pops of merciless light showing him blood and twisted limbs through the shattered plastic. He waited, then used the flashlight. Two of them. He came closer, holding the flashlight well away from his body, an old habit. Nothing moved. The smell of escaping fuel grew even stronger. Then he was tugging at the bent hatch. It opened. They both wore image-amp goggles. The round blank eye of the laser stared straight up into the night, and he reached down to touch the matted sheepskin collar of the dead man’s bomber jacket The blood that covered the man’s beard looked very dark, almost black in the flashlight’s beam. It was Oakey. He swung the beam left and saw that the other man, the pilot, was Japanese. He swung the beam back and found a flat black flask beside Oakey’s foot. He picked it up, stuffed it into one of the parka’s pockets, and dashed back to the hover In spite of the rain, orange flames were starting to lick up through the wreckage of the gas station. He scrambled up the hover’s bumper, across the hood, up again, and down through the hatch.

“What happened?” Angie said, as though he hadn’t left “What happened?”

He fell into his seat, not bothering with the harness, and revved the turbine. “That’s a Hosaka helicopter,” he said, swinging them around. “They must have been following us They had a laser. They waited until we were off the highway. Didn’t want to leave us out there for the cops to find When we pulled in here, they decided to go for us, but they must have figured that that poor fucker was with us. Or maybe they were just taking out a witness…”

“His head,” she said, her voice shaking, “his head -”

“That was the laser,” Turner said, steering back up the service road. The rain was thinning, nearly gone. “Steam The brain vaporizes and the skull blows…”

Angie doubled over and threw up. Turner steered with one hand, Oakey’s flask in the other. He pried the snap-fit lid open with his teeth and gulped back a mouthful of Oakey’s Wild Turkey.

As they reached the shoulder of the highway, the Honda’s fuel found the flames of the ruined station, and the twisted fireball showed Turner the mall again, the light of the parachute flares, the sky whiting out as the Jet streaked for the Sonora border.

Angie straightened up, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and began to shake.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” he said, driving east again. She said nothing, and he glanced sideways to see her rigid and upright in her seat, her eyes showing white in the faint glow of the instruments, her face blank. He’d seen her that way in Rudy’s bedroom, when Sally had called them in, and now that same flood of language, a soft fast rattle of something that might have been patois French. He had no recorder, no time, he had to drive.

“Hang on,” he said, as they accelerated, “you’ll be okay.” Sure she couldn’t hear him at all. Her teeth were chattering; he could hear it above the turbine. Stop, he thought, long enough to get something between her teeth, his wallet or a fold of cloth. Her hands were plucking spastically at the straps of the harness.

“There is a sick child in my house.” The hover nearly left the pavement, when he heard the voice come from her mouth, deep and slow and weirdly glutinous. “I hear the dice being tossed, for her bloody dress. Many are the hands who dig her grave tonight, and yours as well. Enemies pray for your death, hired man They pray until they sweat. Their prayers are a river of fever.” And then a sort of croaking that might have been laughter.

Turner risked a glance, saw a silver thread of drool descend from her rigid lips. The deep muscles of her face had contorted into a mask he didn’t know. “Who are you?”

“I am the Lord of Roads.”

“What do you want?”

“This child for my horse, that she may move among the towns of men. It is well that you drive east. Carry her to your city I shall ride her again. And Samedi rides with you, gunman. He is the wind you hold in your hands, but he is fickle, the Lord of Graveyards, no matter that you have served him well… He turned in time to see her slump sideways in the harness, her head lolling, mouth slack.


Radical Militant Library 0.5.5
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