| The Network Revenant
There wasn't much left of the God Road that had, long ago, been U.S. Interstate 91. It stretched north in a jumble of cracked tarmac and broken median, winding its way through the verdant hills and occasional Scar with the gentle undulations of a dancer. Draped across the shoulders of the hills rather than the tops, curving around the peaks, it was visible from the air but not unless one thought to look for it.
I was counting on that.
"Topher, where the fuck are we going?" Chit's voice was tight with control. Pain, fear and anger pressed at that restraint, but his eyes moved outside the car, not looking at me, which meant that - so far - he hadn't decided I was crazy enough to be a threat. At least, not a threat high enough on the priority list that I should be dealt with as a hostile.
"North, Chit. Fucking north. Trust me."
"I trust you or I wouldn't be in this car, man." There was silence on the intercom for a few moments. Another few miles skittered past beneath our fans. The road was flat enough, up here north of the Troubles, that it might even have supported surface traffic, but I wasn't about to find out. The fans were a constant shriek, locked onto thrust mode, out of ground effect. Rear turbines were an omnipresent thunder. I could hear our fuel screaming away into the night behind us, energy in blazing flares of heat and sound. Chit could too, but he apparently had convinced himself I had a Plan.
I sure as fuck hoped I did. It wasn't really what you'd call well-formed. It was more a feeling. The kind of thing that, in those myriad moments you have when your life is normal and people aren't trying to kill you, you muse over to pass the time behind the wheel. Where would I go if...?
If was now. I-91 snaked away beneath us.
Coming around a blind chicane, maybe twenty feet above the surface, I saw the angled barrier of the overhead sign. Somehow by a miracle of overengineering one pylon was still up; the scaffolding was angled across the roadbed. Chit hadn't seen it. I twitched the yoke; software corrected, blipping the left-side fans and angling us over the obstacle with two or three meters to spare. The sudden tilt caused a slide out to the right, and I flicked the 'hat to correct; the Toyota shuddered back left and came back level, wobbling in its disrupting aerodynamics. Chit swore and clamped visibly tighter on the gun in his lap.
I tried not to look at it. I don't like guns. Until a few weeks ago, I'd never held one. Until a few days ago, I wouldn't have known what that one was; now all I knew was that it was big, illegal, and lethal as all hell, and I hoped he had enough control not to twitch off a burst inside the cabin.
"Top, not to get on your tits, man, but they're still back there."
"I know, Chit-" brief purple glare from the trees ahead and to the left, brightening to the orange of flame as we rushed past. They had heavy ordnance on their fucking flitters, naturally. Chit had his multifunction automatic talisman in his lap, and I...I had my obsessive H2Head mods and my racing license.
If I was lucky, I had one more thing, but the way the evening was going, my luck was shit. I'd made the 'net call, twenty minutes back over old New Hampshire. Nobody had answered, but I'd left a message anyway. I hadn't expected an answer, but I'd hoped for one.
Sixty-file miles to go, old-style. I risked a quick look back at the cams; two shapes behind us, silhouetted against the blue-to-orange twilight. Fuckers had anticollision strobes running, that's how confident they were. I snarled, once, but had no breath for it; flicked the Toyota through a left-right-left in order to keep us below tree level and took another glimpse. Our pursuers had fallen back a few more meters, remaining a good hundred meters above the treeline. They appeared content to let us run - after all, where could we go? A hundred miles more and there was the Old Can Border. I couldn't tell, but I was willing to bet they had friends there, silicon or meat.
I wasn't interested.
The Toyota bleeped at me, a familiar sound. The rallycomp was warning me that I had just over one hundred klicks of fuel left at current consumption rates. I might make it.
"Top, can I open a window?"
"I wouldn't, man-" -pause to hop a collapsed treeline - "-the slipstream wouldn't let you do much useful, and it might screw us up."
"You do have a plan, right?"
Savage grin at the glowing blue and red of the instrument cluster, sweat in my beard. "Trust me."
Silence. Then, "Fuck."
I stole a glance at Nav; another thirty-plus miles, fifty klicks? I could see the valley on the nav screen, topo showing the old Road dipping into the swale for three miles of low-down meander. Almost there.
"Car, phone tools."
*click* phone tools are online
"Dial Riis again."
dialing. signal acquired. line busy. retry?
Busy? All my life I'd never heard of Riis' line being busy. What the fuck. "No. Message. Send our sponder code."
done. terminating call.
"Top, this friend of yours had better have some major EM gear, or military-grade AA. Those flits are lawcraft level at least, and they have shielded fans. We're not gonna be able to pop 'em from beneath, and they're gonna see the EM sig of any fan motors up ahead, we're not gonna ambush 'em either."
"Trust me, Chit."
"Damn it, stop saying that."
Another purple flash, off to our left. I jerked the yoke in reflex, causing us to slide right and wobble; even with the carcomp muttering under its electronic breath and slapping my hands away to Fix The Problem we almost lost straightline and tumbled. A sudden shriek from the back firewall, spooling down just as quickly, told of the stresses on the gyros. "Fuckers, fuckers..." I was panting in both fear and nerves now. A clutch of lights slid past on the right; probably Peacham, if I wasn't horribly off-base in my nav. Houses full of people living their lives and wondering what the hell the three screaming flitters were doing over the God Road this time of evening. Probably assumed we were joyriders.
I could see the mountain on the right that showed the entrance to Riis' valley. There were lights strewn up its side, candyspun; a ski lift or three, with associated lodges and buildings, brighter than the constant small flickers of homestead and villages that had flashed beneath us since we'd crossed the Connecticut a hundred-plus miles back. God, Riis, be there.
I looked back. Two shapes, still. They'd turned off their running lights as we entered a more populated area; the Scar around Dartmouth had made them reckless. No witnesses. Now, though, they were dropping closer, trying to stay with us. They were still trying to run us out of fuel, though; they'd stopped shooting, probably not wanting to draw even more attention.
Three minutes. The valley entrance was a blaze of light, Riis' farmplex and storage domes lit with solar and windpower. I pulled the nose slightly to the right, off the God Road, and aimed the Toyota for the glare. Just like old times. Chit was mumbling something apprehensive; the Toyota was aimed between two of the larger ag domes and I wasn't climbing. I risked one quick look; they were still with us, but dropping up and back slightly, unsure if the farmplex was a threat or just an obstacle.
Brief glare of wide-spectrum scripplelight and white stylic domes and then we were through. I winced. Riis would probably tear a strip off me if my slipstream tore the domes, but I couldn't worry about that now. The valley was ahead of me, comfortably dark but familiar. I felt it settle into the muscles of my fingers and began the chanting rhythm, punching the Toyota into the turns-
"WHAT THE-unh-FUCK-" I hadn't had time to warn Chit. I hoped again he didn't lose the gun. The two shapes were still above and behind us, but dropping back. Almost there. Almost there. Almost-
I flicked the strobes to full and blinked the front laserlumes three times fast. I hadn't forgotten the timing. Just ahead of me, the line of abandoned grain silos rose impossibly fast, the third from the left collapsed in a heap of rusted metal. I twisted, stood the Toyota on its side, and felt it begin to drop as it slid through the gap, yanking it back flat before it could touch the ground; our pursuers broke higher in surprise as their radar and light showed them the danger-
-and there was a howling scream of a dragon dispossessed, a tail of chattering flame and anger, a blue flare of hydrocarbon thunder that rose from the pastures directly ahead of us in a storm of speed. Chit finally did drop the gun and yowled, something scatological in his shock, but I was whooping in my glee, pulling the Toyota into a sharp climbing turn-
The ancient P-51 Mustang bowled past us on a directly opposite heading, the flames of its exhausts swirling in its wake. I had a microsecond's glimpse of the yellow-and-scarlet helmet in the cockpit as it went past, then I was concentrating on getting the Toyota around in time-
But I'd missed it. By the time I did, there were two orange-and-black smudges in the sky, and the Mustang was climbing straight up for the heavens in a smirking roll through the wreckage of the flitters that it had killed.
"Welcome home, Top. Stop bringing pests with you." The antique aircraft fell off the top of the hammerhead and waggled its wings past me, blaring off towards the God Road to make sure there weren't any others.
"Thanks, Riis." My whisper was wrung dry. I slapped AUTO pads all over the dash and told the carcomp to put us down at the farmplex; my hands were shaking too hard to even hold the flitter level.
Chit didn't speak to me until after dinner.
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