I could tell Cass was finally feeling better. After a week on the run, her whole world being thrown into turmoil, she was beginning to adjust to the ‘new reality’.
Of course, she’s always been resilient. But I had no idea how resilient until this!
Now. Lots of news!
First, A Quiet Revolution is now available on AUDIOBOOK! Pick up your copy today with this button:
Second, Triumph’s Ashes is in PRE-ORDER! Find out how the Artemis War ended. (Yes, past tense; it’s my past, dammit!) Click this button to order:
Third, if you’re tired of waiting around for the Next Chapter, click on ANY IMAGE to purchase the book today. Or you can click this button to order:
That’s it from here! Enjoy the chapter!
Chapter 27: I Promise I Won’t Speed
The rest of that day’s journey was uneventful. Exit from the Empire was as easy, and informal, as entry, and their official entry into the United States was similarly routine. It took longer, using the smaller roadways, but they arrived in Pittsburgh well before sundown. Kendra splurged on a luxury suite at the Fairmont, a tall, glittering, glass-clad structure in the heart of the Golden Triangle.
Their room was spacious and comfortable, and equipped with the inevitable terminal. Cass was all for using it to do more digging into Derek’s fate, but Kendra vetoed that. ‘We’ve had a hellacious day; all I want to do is relax and forget about it.’
Cass saw the lie in her eyes and knew that Kendra had no intention of forgetting the highwaymen, but agreed that a quiet night would suit her as well. They took their supper in the hotel restaurant, two women seeking solace in good food, good wine, and good conversation. The night ended with Cass drifting off to sleep in Kendra’s arms.
She was right, of course. As soon as she was asleep, Kendra eased from the bed and attacked the terminal, searching for any ties from their near-fatal encounter to their presumed pursuers. Still, something nagged at her. Something didn’t add up, but she couldn’t quite figure out where. At midnight, knowing another long day’s drive lay ahead, she surrendered and climbed back into bed. Eventually, she slept.
‘Wake up, sleepyhead!’
‘Hunf?’ was Cass’s reply.
‘Come on, we’re burning daylight!’ Kendra hit her with a pillow.
‘Wha time’zit?’ The light through the windows was decidedly grey.
‘Four-thirty, come on! We’ve got a long, long way to go today, and if you’re really nice to me I might – I say might, no promises here! – let you drive the Veyron.’
Cass managed to sit upright. ‘You don’t expect me to drive as fast as you, do you?’
That elicited a laugh. ‘Honey, if you manage to hit two hundred I’ll eat – well, you can choose what I eat!’
Cass leered. ‘You’re on.’
Showering, dressing, packing, seemed to take no time at all, and by five they were on the road again. When the sun finally peeked over the eastern horizon, they were nearing Columbus.
‘Why are we headed west? I thought we were going to New Orleans.’
‘Long story or short?’
‘You said we have a long day ahead…’
‘Okay, long. This goes back to high school. You remember Allen?’
‘Allen. Allen,’ mused Cass. ‘Yates? Big guy? I mean, like, huge?’
‘Yeah, that’s him. Allen Yates. Remember, the coach of the football team tried every year to get him to play?’
‘And every year, Allen’d tell him – oh, how did he say it?’
‘’I’d rather die a thousand deaths than participate in a sport that contributes to intellectual stagnation.’ That’s him. Well, I had the biggest crush on him.’
‘You knew? I never told you, I never told anyone!’
‘You didn’t have to tell anyone. It was soooo obvious!’
‘Anyways,’ warned Kendra, ‘I never did anything about it, then we graduated, and I went to the Coast and he moved away too.’
They’d pulled into a filling station and the conversation paused. When they’d refilled, Kendra picked up the tale.
‘A few years later, I must have been twenty, twenty-one, I took a vacation. I’d been working non-stop and was just about burned out. Doesn’t matter how much you love doing something, you do it too long and you need a break.’
‘I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and was just sitting around the apartment for a day or so, when I thought of Allen. I was young, I was impulsive, I threw some clothes in a bag and took off. I thought I remembered hearing that he’d moved to Atlanta or somewhere else down South, so I headed there first. Don’t know what I was thinking; it’s not like there aren’t ten million people living there or anything, and I didn’t have a comm code, address, nothing. Like I said, young and impulsive. But not stupid. After a couple hours of wandering around places I thought he might have liked, I woke up, went to a public terminal, and paid to have a search done.’
Cass noticed Kendra’s knuckles whiten as she clenched the steering wheel.
‘He was in some crappy hospital in what had to be the worst part of town, if it wasn’t the worst I don’t want to know what was, in any case he was in ICU. He was hooked up to so many machines, he looked like a spider sitting in a web, but no spider ever looked that bad. Cass, some redneck motherfuckers had taken baseball bats to him in a bar a week before, beat the shit out of him, broke every rib on his left side, punctured a lung, broke both legs and knees, shattered one arm – and his face! His face looked like a piece of rotten meat. And all because he was black and asked a stuck-up bitch if he could buy her a drink!’
She choked back a sob before continuing. ‘I stayed with him for three days, Cass, and he never woke up. I felt him dying, and I couldn’t do a fucking thing about it!’ Tears dripped from her eyes, but her voice never wavered. ‘He died with me holding his hand. I hope he knew I was there. I like to think he did. He was part of my ohana.’
Angrily, she wiped the tears away. ‘That’s why we’re headed west. I won’t go into the New Confederacy if I can help it. I’ve only been there twice, officially; both times were assassinations, and I have to admit, they brought me more pleasure than any other job I’ve done for OutLook.’
‘But it wasn’t -’
‘I know it wasn’t every person who killed Allen, but it’s the culture. It’s sick, and perverted, and I can’t forgive them for it. So even though it’ll take us an extra six hundred klicks, we’re going the long way around.’
The car was silent for a time as the scenery whisked by. At long last, Cass spoke.
‘Did they ever catch the people who did it?’
‘Oh, yeah, they even turned themselves in. ‘Drunk & Disorderly’, ten days.’ Kendra’s tone was bitter.
‘Ten days? That’s all?’
‘Remember what I said? ‘Officially’? I’ve made a few other trips, off the books.’
Kendra was harsh. ‘Six for six.’
Cass thought about this. ‘Good,’ she nodded.
By Indianapolis, the mood had lightened. ‘I think -’ began Cass, then stopped.
‘You think? That’s what got us in this mess,’ joked Kendra.
‘I think I want to try.’
‘Try what, sweet?’
Kendra’s head swiveled. ‘You sure about that?’
‘No. But this is probably the best chance I have, isn’t it?’
‘True. The road’s pretty well straight and flat from here to St. Louis.’
‘Then, let’s switch places.’
‘Next stop, you’ve got it. We need to refuel again.’
The station stop was soon upon them, and Cass settled herself into the driver’s seat while Kendra took care of the gas. The chair needed a little adjustment for her length, but she soon had it where she wanted and took the wheel. The controls looked intimidating.
‘You ready?’ said Kendra, settling in the passenger side.
‘Not really,’ admitted Cass. ‘I haven’t driven a gas-powered car in forever.’
‘It’s easy, even this beauty. Okay, down here’s the ignition.’ She pushed a button at the bottom of the center console and the engine began to growl again. ‘This is your gear shift.’ She put her hand on the stick, smack in the middle of the console. ‘You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to; the car will drive as an automatic.’
‘You shifted,’ Cass pointed out.
‘I’ve driven her before, you haven’t. But if you want to, all you have to do is tap the stick away from you to shift up to the next gear, or pull it towards you to downshift.’
‘What about this other dial?’
‘Far left, bottom. I can recognize the others – oil temperature, fuel state, speedometer, tachometer.’
‘I don’t know what you’d call that one. It measures how many horsepower you’re using.’
‘So, showing off.’
‘Basically. Don’t worry about anything else; I can handle the climate controls, radio, stuff like that. You just keep us on the road.’
‘I’ll try. Buckled in?’
‘With you driving? Damn skippy. I still remember you rolling your dad’s Ford going up the driveway.’
‘Hey, it was slippery, it was winter!’
The Veyron still in Neutral, Cass pressed lightly on the accelerator. The needles quivered, the growl rose, then subsided as she released it. ‘Here goes.’ She shifted into Drive and pulled away.
‘So far so good!’ she said when they’d cleared the station. Kendra just laughed.
‘A little more gas, honey. We have to be doing a hundred KPH by the time we merge.’
‘A hundred? Ought to be able to manage that…’ she muttered.
The merge was successful. At first Cass stayed glued in the far right lane, getting a feel for the Veyron’s handling, but she soon grew more confident, pulling to the center and passing slower-moving vehicles. They elicited their share of stares, though whether for the car or themselves they weren’t sure.
‘Cass, don’t forget, the speed limit here’s only seventy MPH.’
‘That’s what, about a hundred and ten KPH?’
‘About that. Always throws me, the U.S. holding on the old English system.’
‘So does the People’s Republic.’
‘My point. Backwards. Ignorant. Stubborn. But you’re doing one-forty.’
Cass glanced at the speedometer. ‘Why, so I am. Worried you might have to eat something?’ She began a gradual acceleration.
‘What – oh, you! No, I just don’t want to get pulled over by the local fuzz.’
‘Buzzkill. You’re not getting off so easily. What do most police forces use for their vehicles?’ The gentle acceleration continued, passing one-sixty.
‘Well, there’s the Tesla Intruder, pretty popular. And the Atmos, that’s big now too, especially here in the Midwest.’
‘Uh-huh. Two pure electrics. With crappy range and top speeds about what?’
‘Two hundred? Maybe a smidge more. But that’s not all they have, the feds patrol these roads too, and they roll in their HydrOx Renegades. Those have decent range and top speeds.’
‘Two fifty, at least.’
‘You’re right. Not bad at all.’ Cass snuck a glance at the speedo. ‘Still. I’m feeling lucky.’ With that she slammed her foot down on the gas and swerved into the far left lane. ‘They’d better move because I’m not slowing!’
‘Dammit, Cass! You’re not ready for this!’
‘You want to bet me again, love? Two fifty, going, going, gone!’
‘You don’t know what’s ahead!’
‘Oh, yes I do, remember? Lidar? Ten kilometers range, that’s not very long at these speeds but it’s enough for me to see! Geronimo!’ she whooped.
Kendra didn’t know what exactly had come over her wife, but she decided, for the moment, to just shut up and hold on.
‘Three hundred! And still more power coming! Damn, Ken, this car’s amazing!’
‘Don’t you want to slow down, just a little?’
‘I’ve slowed down all my life; for once, I’m going to let it all go hang!’ But she did ease up on the accelerator once they hit three-fifty.
The gas gauge was almost visibly dropping with each passing kilometer. Then again, they were covering great gulps of tarmac in no time at all, so Kendra held her peace, held her breath whenever they whooshed past other cars, and offered up silent prayers to every god and goddess she could think of.
‘Terre Haute coming up. Not bad. Fifteen minutes, Indianapolis to here.’
‘No,’ agreed Kendra, ‘Not bad at all. You thinking of slowing down any time soon, maybe? Sweetie? Please?’
‘Why, Kendra Marissa Cassidy, I do believe you’re scared!’
‘You’re out of your frakking mind, did you know that? Aiyana Foster-Briggs, slow down!’
‘Spoilsport.’ She allowed the engine’s growl to drop slightly, and the speedo dropped back down to three hundred. ‘Only until we’re in Illinois, then I want to see if I can top her out!’
‘You won’t be able to,’ said Kendra. ‘Not without this.’ She held up another key.
‘That’s the Top Speed key. You have to insert this in a different lock and go through a checklist to try to max her out. Without this, you’re limited to three seventy-five.’
Cass mocked a pout. ‘I suppose I can deal. Three seventy-five?’ The pout disappeared as Terre Haute, barely noticed, vanished behind them. ‘Then I guess I’ll have to settle for that.’
They were less than thirty kilometers from St. Louis, the most recent capital of the United States, when Kendra spoke again. ‘That’s it! Aiyana Foster-Briggs, I don’t know if you noticed, but that was the fourth – fourth – county Mountie you just left standing still!’
‘I like the sound of that – Aiyana Foster-Briggs.’ She stopped to smile, then said, ‘I guess it’s the end of my fun, then?’
‘I don’t think I can take any more,’ admitted Kendra. ‘And you’re not ready to handle her in the kind of traffic we’re going to encounter around the capital. So why don’t you just pull off at the next exit, before we get too much closer, and let me take over for a while?’
‘I think that’s a wonderful idea,’ said Cass, beginning to weave her way to the exit lane, shedding speed. ‘We need gas, too.’
‘You think?’ The needle was pegged near enough to Empty as to make no difference. ‘At least we’re not dry; I’d hate to look for assistance from one of the sheriffs you just humiliated.’