Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 22 - Carrera Rapida

The next thing Mark noticed was that, in implementing his suggestion, Rowena of all people was steadying him. Everything around him was swimming, though his hyperventilation seemed to help. Done was right behind them, with a suitcase in hand. Mark couldn't remember when the mercenary had grabbed it.

Fresh, cool air outside. The breeze coming in from the Atlantic was Mark's second wind.

Rowena didn't miss the Hand half-track parked nearby, nor Oberleutnant Pantoja sitting on top, having a smoke without a care in the world. He snapped off a mock salute to her; she returned it, still unsure of his motivation but also unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Rowena got her first look at the Mercedes and felt some trepidation at the shot-out driver's window. It didn't help that she found herself in the driver's seat, with Mark beside her and Done in the back. The Enforcer handed her the keys; Rowena started the car, briefly allowed herself to feel the roar of the engine, then unlocked the parking brake. Whether by choice or by chance, she smoked the treads off the tires, launching the automobile from a spectacular burnout. The smoke cloud in the rear mirror faded as she took the first corner with a powerslide, then zoomed off in a straight line.

"Did we have to stop for the suitcase?" Mark asked; his face was a sneer, half from the stuff fighting through the painkillers and half from the painkillers themselves.
"Archer comm-package," Done replied, terse and in control. "Mustn't fall into enemy hands. Also, we can use this to call for help - as soon as we've got a satellite link..."

Having opened the case, Done briefly thanked R&D for the idiot-proof design. After a brief wireless handshake with Done's cochlear implant, the package confirmed his identity and dialed in.

"We should have someone on the line in..."

The half-track crashed onto the street behind them, shedding the interior decoration of a demolished house while straightening its course.

"Rowena, dear," Mark began - Rowena knew this meant trouble, what with the 'dear' - "could you please keep the car steady?"
"For what?"

Raising the half-forgotten AR-15, Mark yanked the bolt, ejecting the dud and re-cocking the rifle.

"Yeah, real smart," Done said, setting the package down on the seat beside him. "How the fuck" - BOOM!, the cannon went, and a car beside them shot up in a brilliant fireball amidst the tell-tale chatter of the half-track's 20mm - "how are you gonna shoot him from there?"
"That's a," Mark stammered, the streetlights before him swimming into a sea of stars. "That's a good point, John."
"Give me that" - BOOM! - "rifle. Rovy, you just keep her on the road."
"Can do," Rowena replied, shifting into fourth.
"Mark, I need you to put your seat" - BOOM! - "all the way back."

With a click, Mark found the controls and unlocked the seat, then shoved it as far back as possible. Done, by now briefly reconsidering his choice of career, turned around, put his back against Mark's seat and set his feet against the rear window. Retracting his left foot, he hammered the glass a few times, cracking the window and ruining its structural integrity. With a final push, the window took flight, enjoying a few brief seconds of liberation before being crushed beneath the half-track. Done watched the scene and couldn't help but think of it as a metaphor for South America.

Then he realised he was comparing a continent to a car part and trained his brain back on the reason for that little stunt.

BOOM! the cannon thundered once more, taking out a lamppost ahead; Rowena yanked the wheel to the side, barely avoiding a serious bump.

"What Mark said!" Done shouted; Rowena wondered how to keep the car steady against the evasive maneuvers necessary to dodge cannon fire and other cars. As if to top it all, Done's cochlear implant went off; apparently the package was done with the satellite uplink. He yanked the rifle upward, using the rear headrest as a sort of primitive bench, then tapped the sweet spot behind his ear.

"Bloody hell," Algernon's voice came. "If you leave a cell phone number, could you maybe pick up next time?"
"We're kinda in the middle of something," Done replied, scanning the half-track for any obvious weak points. The autocannon thundered again - BOOM! - and this time there was a glancing hit by proxy from the guide rail, spiderwebbing the passenger side windows.
"Where do you want the damn plane?"
"The what!?"
"The plane, Done! Big damn metal bird. We got it, we're launching now, where do you want it?"


"I'll call you back!" Done shouted, then steadied his aim and fired a few exploratory shots at the half-track. As expected, the bullets harmless pinged off the thick armored hull.
"I could stop at the hotel!" Rowena screamed over the rushing wind; Done sighed at the thought of his heavy gear.
"Keep it going!" he finally replied; Rowena served past a semi, leading it to jackknife behind her.

For a few seconds, there was silence behind them; Rowena even eased off the gas a bit and relaxed the painfully tight grip on the wheel. The sense of triumph was profound, if brief: the box car trailer exploded into a mass of twisted aluminum panels and crossbeams, then spat out the half-track, slightly worse for wear but still holding its speed. Mark got one look at it, leaned back into his seat and said what the whole car was thinking.

"We're screwed."


"Done! Done?" Algernon shouted, though he knew that it was neither necessary nor helpful. The connection was dead - not cut out, but closed, and hearing a running gun fight in the background didn't bolster his confidence. He grabbed a discarded headset from his position in the cockpit and switched the connection from stand-by to talk.

"Krueger? You there?"

Algernon's voicebox created a vibrating column of air in his throat, spawning a series of sound waves that resonated through his mouth before being picked up by the microphone and converted into electrical current. Intricate analog circuitry filtered the signal for ambient noise, producing an electronic representation of the fringewalker's voice. It passed through an ADC and piggybacked onto a data stream within the mainframe-sized central computer of the Antonov. A satellite modem beamed the data into space, passing through miles of air with only minor attenuation. Once there, a communications satellite bounced to data to another Archer asset: a low-observability airship serving as a communications relay for this part of the Southern Atlantic. After another go through that computer, the data was redirected, modulating a blue laser shining into the waves far below. Finally, Archangelsk - Admiral Orban's submarine - picked up the beam with a highly-sensitive photocell, reconstructed the digital data from the laser and used its own computer to render the stream back into sound.

"Yes, and this is fascinating," Krueger's voice shot back through the headset, though even the poor quality reflected his boredom. "Why, just the other minute, someone asked me if I wanted coffee. I tell you, this submarine thing? It's a life on the edge."
"Krueger, listen. If I give you information on a transmission, can you track it?"
"What, from here?"
"With the plane. It's got some ELINT gear, right?"
"...well, I can try."

Thirty seconds for Algernon to pull up the cochlear implant specs from secure Archer servers. Ten seconds for Krueger to gasp.

And then he started hacking it.

"Vector," Algernon shouted, "get us airborne!"
"Can do, chief," Vector replied. He was an aviator-cum-fringewalker - one of those "blink and you'll miss him" guys, but that was arguably the entire point of Division Nihil.

The Antonov roared to life much like the biblical Leviathan as its jet engines spun up from idle to full thrust; slowly, she picked up momentum, a colossal creature of aluminum and kerosene thundering down the rollfield until Mother Earth released its grip. Even the retraction of the landing gear was awe-inspiring.

"Got it," Krueger radioed. "I'm patching it into the plane's navi. Do you need any other miracles while I'm at it?"

Algernon considered that.

"Actually, yes," he said. "I need a full inventory of everything on this plane."


"Last one," Mark said as he handed Done another magazine for the AR-15. Done barely acknowledged the gesture; he snatched it, reloaded the rifle and resumed firing at the Hand of Glory half-track behind them.
"They stopped firing," he said. "What's going on?"
"Traffic's easing up," Rowena replied, neatly avoiding a police blockade in the process of setting up. "Aw, shit. They're boxing us in."
"Where does the road go?"

Rowena briefly lowered the speed, freeing some of her attention for a general look at the situation. They were caught on an elevated expressway right smack at the coast of Rio, overlooking the city's large bay. Road to the North, city to the West, water to the East, death to the South - things were looking rather simple.

"Best guess? That bridge!"

Mark focused his eyes on "that bridge!", finding a large, narrow strip of elevated road crossing the bay. There was some sort of a commotion on the other side - no doubt more Hand of Glory troops ready to intercept them.

"That's a dead end," he murmured. Done snapped off another shot, winging the half-track's wheel - and inflicting no noticeable damage.
"Open to suggestions!" Done shouted.
"Dammit, we should try," Rowena said. "They want to play chicken, fine, I'm sure they don't care for the idea of getting hit by a hunk of metal at 200."

Mark furrowed a brow.

"Kilometers. Per hour."
"So, 120 miles."
"...yes," Rowena replied, somewhat confused.
"Look, I get metric, okay? I just need my intuition now. So, we're at 120, yes?"
"Well, 110, but we could be."
"How fast do you think you can go, absolute maximum?"
"On that bridge? Looks straight to me, no traffic - 150, maybe?"
"Oh, they'll be pissing their pants, alright," Mark said with a smile. "Question is, are they gonna move or are their vehicles gonna move?"

Rowena considered that for a moment, then grinned.

"At least it'll be a pretty fireball."


"I see 'em," Vector said; Algernon brought up the nose camera view on the screen of his seat and zoomed onto the car chase in progress.
"Silver sports car headed for the bridge, check," Algernon replied. "And they've got company. Area's crawling with Hand."
"Orders, chief?"

After the longest second in all of history, Algernon answered.

"Follow them. Low and slow."
"Wilco. Flaps to 20, sinking to 100 AGL. Nice knowin' ya, chief."
"Keep her steady, I'm in the cargo bay."

Algernon dumped the headset and scrambled off; the faint voice of Dr. Peter Krueger still crawled out from the headset.

"Um, Algernon, why is my plane in a dive? ... Algernon? Algernon? What are you doing? Algernon?!"



Done discarded the empty rifle and turned back around, letting his stomach catch up with the ride for the first time in minutes. The car swerved on the bridge; Rowena put the pedal to the medal and brought it up to top speed.

"Well, that does it. No more token counterattacking," Done said.
"I'm demoralized already," Mark said. "We should just stop and give up now, you know?"

Done shot him a glare.

"Too soon?" Mark offered; the mercenary just snorted in disgust and collapsed on the back seat.
"Um, guys?"
"We're dead," Mark began to sing. "Ohhh, weeeee aaaaaare dead, we're dead, we're stin-kin' dead! With no place left to ruuuu-uuun! We're dead, we're dead, we're fuc-kin' dead! It's been a lot of fuuu-uuun! Come on, people, you know how it goes!"
"Simmons can sing," Done said. "And that's the mental picture I leave this world with. Figures."
"Guys!" Rowena shouted.

She didn't need to. At this altitude, the Antonov's engines did a more than adequate job of announcing themselves.

"Holy fucking shit!" Mark said and sounded like he meant it. Before them, the Antonov hung in the air with all its strength; against the night sky, it looked like a UFO with its flaming jet exhaust and the bright illumination cast from the interior. Its rear cargo ramp lowered, revealing a single silhouette hooked into the safety rails. Done felt the buzzing in his head and activated his cochlear implant.

"Hold that speed," Algernon said, calm like a bomb.

No comments: