I did it again.
I twisted Adam’s arm to let me put up two chapters today.
Neither of them are terribly long, but the best thing about having them together is it finishes the first part of the book!
YES! Finally, you get to move on to the SECOND book in this volume!
Well, after you finish the first book, that is.
Oh, yeah. The chapters. Well, I decided, after Cass’s little ‘I’m little Miss Leadfoot’ impersonation, it was time to show her who the real driver in the family was.
As always, if you want to skip past the “waiting for another chapter” thing you can click on any image to buy the book; you can get it in any format you want! Or just click the button below. Either works.
Chapter 28: So, You Think You Can Drive
Even though it was barely ten, Cass wanted to stop for lunch, but Kendra vetoed that. ‘If it’s still there – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be – then I’ve got a place you can’t miss. We can be there in an hour or so.’
‘I need something,’ whined Cass playfully.
‘Here, I got you this,’ said Kendra, tossing something at her.
Cass caught it and white powder exploded from her hand, enveloping her head in a cloud. ‘A powder doughnut. How kind of you.’
‘I know, I’m a sweetheart. You don’t want to miss this place. Trust me.’
‘I trust you, but it’s been a long time – and an even longer distance! – since the bagel in Pittsburgh.’
‘You want me to eat this in the car?’
‘On second thought, no.’
‘Good,’ said Cass, settling into the leather seat.
‘Brat,’ said Kendra, smiling nevertheless. She made a few adjustments before starting the Veyron, saying, ‘Next stop, Sikeston.’
‘You just watch the scenery for a while. You ever been to the capital?’
‘No, I haven’t.’
‘You’re not going to be there today, either. We’re going to pick up 355 and head south west around it. Any kind of luck, we’ll have avoided the worst of the traffic. We’ve certainly missed rush hour, at least.’
Their luck held, and traffic was light as they zipped around the loop road. As they neared the ramp to join 55 south outside of Festus, Cass asked Kendra, ‘Isn’t there something different about the Veyron?’
‘Different? Different how?’
‘I don’t know,’ admitted Cass. ‘She just feels changed, somehow. Tighter. Stiffer, maybe. You think I did something to her?’ She sounded worried.
‘I’m sure she’s fine,’ dismissed Kendra. ‘Hold tight, we’re coming up on the interchange.’ The wide, specially-designed tires gripped the pavement as Kendra accelerated smoothly up the curving ramp and onto the highway. The merge completed, she scooted over to the far left lane.
‘Ah, I know!’ said Cass.
‘Oh?’ said Kendra, still accelerating, passing 200 KPH.
‘She’s lower to the ground!’ exclaimed Cass with a note of triumph. ‘Why is she lower?’
‘That’s what happens.’
‘When you try to max her out.’
‘I thought you said you had to use a special key and do some additional checks and – oh.’ The penny dropped.
‘Give the lady a prize!’ They topped 300 KPH.
‘How fast are we trying to go?’ asked Cass, tugging the supplemental harness into place.
‘Well, way back when she was rated as being able to hit four hundred thirty-one KPH. I’ll be happy if we can hit four-twenty.’
‘Oh, gods preserve us!’
‘Look at that, four hundred. And we’re not using all our horsepower yet. Come on, baby, go, go, go!’
The engine was getting louder, practically roaring behind them, but it was still smooth and steady with no sense of strain as the big old car stretched her legs for the first time in decades.
‘Four-ten!’ exulted Kendra. Cass couldn’t help but being carried along with the excitement and peered over at the instrument panel.
Their acceleration was slowing noticeably as they neared the maximum the engine was rated to produce, but still the gauge kept climbing. They were flashing through a kilometer every eight and a half seconds now.
‘We’ve passed three police. Just thought I should mention that,’ warned Cass.
‘I made a call, pulled a couple strings. We’re cleared until we hit Cape Girardeau.’
‘And how far is that?’
‘At this speed?’ The speedometer topped four twenty. ‘About eight minutes. If we keep this up, which I don’t plan on doing.’
‘We’re still accelerating?’
‘We are,’ acknowledged Kendra. ‘Not sure how much more she has to give, though.’
Perryville whipped past. ‘I think that sign said that Cape Girardeau is twenty-five miles,’ observed Cass. ‘How much more can you push her?’
‘I think we’re nearly done,’ confessed Kendra. ‘We’re still climbing, but we’re barely at four twenty-four. And we’ve burned through almost half the tank.’
‘That’s plenty fast enough!’ pleaded Cass.
‘I agree. I’m just trying to get you to lunch,’ said Kendra with an impish grin. ‘I’ll slow down to three hundred; we’ll be sitting down to lunch in ten minutes. Maybe twelve.’
As the speedo registered their slowing, Cass exhaled loudly. ‘I’d like to get to lunch alive, please, Kendra.’
Chapter 29: On to New Orleans
‘Well?’ asked Kendra as they regained the highway after lunch.
‘What do you think?’
‘Think about what?’ answered Cass.
‘Lunch, you silly slitch!’ an exasperated Kendra exclaimed.
‘Oh, that. It was…adequate,’ teased Cass, burping quietly.
‘Adequate!? I drive you to the most singular restaurant I have ever eaten at, drive you at great personal risk I might add, and treat you to lunch – a lunch which you couldn’t seem to get enough of, especially the fresh, home-thrown rolls, by the way! – and all you have to say is ‘adequate’?’
‘Would you prefer ‘inadequate’?’ continued Cass. It wasn’t often she could get Kendra so worked up and she was determined to enjoy every second of it.
‘Hmph. See if I take you there again,’ she grumbled. ‘Oh, crap,’ she added, more seriously.
‘Inspection,’ Kendra said, slowing to the traffic.
‘Is there an echo? Yeah, a frak-loving inspection for contraband, weapons, drugs. You didn’t think we’d be allowed into the Border States without the Feds taking an interest, did you? They are all that stand between the Republic of Texas, the Connies, and the U.S.’
‘I hadn’t really considered it one way – my gun!’
‘That could be a problem if they get too diligent. If not – well, we can only try. Cass, press the ‘Auto’, left double arrow, and top Bugatti symbol at the same time.’
She did so, and heard a ‘click’ from behind her. ‘Take the gun out of my bag, and yours, and put them in the compartment that just unlocked.’
Twisting in her seat, Cass just managed to get the two weapons snugged down before the car slowed further. A large sign flashed, ‘Prepare for Border Patrol Inspection.’
‘Yes, Wilma. Ready. I think.’
‘Just let me do most of the talking.’
They approached the barrier. A half-dozen heavily armed guards stood watch over the sparse traffic as one approached the Veyron, openly admiring the lines. Kendra lowered the window.
‘Good afternoon officer,’ said Kendra as politely as she could manage.
‘Good afternoon, miss. Passports, please.’ His voice was gruff, but respectful.
Kendra handed them out and waited as he compared the pictures to the occupants. ‘Purpose of travel?’
‘Business,’ said Kendra.
‘Duration of trip?’
‘Two days, perhaps three.’
‘Ma’am, you are aware that while in the Border States, you will be entirely on your own? That the United States maintains no permanent presence in the states and cannot be responsible for your safety?’
The shortness of her answers seemed to throw him off his stride. ‘You’re sure?’
She smiled winningly. ‘We’re sure. I don’t intend to outfight anyone, but I can sure as hell outrun them!’
He nodded. ‘I can see that,’ he said, gesturing at the car. ‘Safe trip.’
‘Thank you,’ she smiled, and pulled back onto the roadway. Raising the window, she said, ‘That was easier than I hoped.’
‘What did he mean, can’t guarantee our safety?’
‘Remember the Thruway?’
‘Ye-es,’ said Cass, warily.
‘The Border States are like that, but worse.’
‘And we have to go there?’
‘It’s the perfect place for OutLook’s HQ,’ answered Kendra. ‘Close enough to three major powers with relatively easy access to all, while officially outside of any jurisdiction.’
‘Trust me. There won’t be any problems once we get there.’
‘It’s the ‘once we get there’ that makes me nervous.’
‘Well, one step at a time. Next stop, Little Rock.’
‘Because it’s one of the Enclaves and relatively safe, so we should be able to refuel without any issues. I wasn’t lying when I told him that I intended to outrun trouble, not outfight it.’
The Border States were the result of the 2078 war between the United States, New Confederacy, and the Republic of Texas over the fate of Arkansas and Louisiana. The Connies wanted them broken away from the United States, while Texas was perfectly happy with the status quo. The Louisiana legislature rejected secession in May of that year; in June, a Connie sympathizer parked a car with a pony nuke outside the State House and vaporized the venerable pile of granite and the assembled legislators.
Rioting erupted as the two sides elevated their conflict. In July National Guard forces had been supplemented by regular Army troops but were being steadily driven back by Connie Greybacks. It was then that Texas invaded from the west, pushing the Connies back.
The fighting continued through the summer, raging up and down the length of the two states. Citizens with any sense fled the region to the country of their choice. The battles grew nastier and nastier, all three sides adopting a scorched-earth policy as they were pushed back in their turn. September brought hurricanes and a slowdown in the combat operations, but in October the fighting ratcheted back up. By November, all three sides were tired of it.
A negotiated withdrawal of all forces was in place by the end of the year. Neutral ‘Enclaves’ were established at the sites of Little Rock, Shreveport, and Lafayette. Intended as safe zones for the doubly-decimated population to gather under the watchful eyes of all three nations, they were soon centers of lawlessness. In the vicious gang wars that ensued, most of the weaker criminals were eliminated, leaving each city nominally ‘at peace’. At the very least, few people were killed in broad daylight any longer. Most of the population lived in one of these Enclaves. The small percentage which didn’t tended to keep well away from the roads (and each other).
Driving along the road to Little Rock was a disturbing experience for Cass. To either side was a kilometer-wide cleared zone, ending abruptly at the renewed forest encroaching from both directions. Occasional houses, some in fair condition, others little more than charred wooden beams, broke the monotony.
‘Yeah. I feel it too. Never liked this road, but there’s no air access to the Border States, and I’m not leaving the Bugatti behind to take some fisherman’s trawler the slow way around.’
‘How long will this take?’
‘Well, Little Rock, about an hour. Going to take it pretty easy. If we keep the same pace, ninety minutes to Shreveport, then another ninety or so to Lafayette. After that, well, it gets slower, but we shouldn’t be more than six or seven hours. Really want to get to New Orleans before dark.’
‘You want me to drive any part of it?’
‘No, I don’t think so. Not much traffic, and the locals don’t usually try anything before dark. We’ll be to HQ before then.’
‘Good. I’m for a nap. Wake me later.’
Cass turned her head to the side and, with a smile on her lips, closed her eyes. Seven hours, and maybe she could start getting some answers. They were on their way, their little ohana.