Part One: Southbound
“We’re going to have to ditch your car.”
“What?” The car swerves as Jenny turns her head to glare at him. Neither of them has had much sleep, and Jenny refuses to let CB take a turn behind the wheel. She’s obviously exhausted, and the stress from last night’s violence combined with their current situation is starting to seriously fray her nerves.
CB sighs. “Sorry, Jenny. You have a very nice car, and having nice things makes you a target in Farraday City.”
“We’re already a target,” Jenny says. “I mean, we are, right? We’re being chased by bad guys, so what’s new?”
“Well,” CB says, “those guys aren’t interested in stealing your car. And the crime families in Farraday City probably aren’t, either… but there are lots of lower-level outfits who will be, and they won’t necessarily wait till you get out before they try to take it.”
“So, what, there’s no honor among thieves? Didn’t our guys call it first? I thought criminals didn’t step on each other’s territories.”
CB shrugs. “Depends on the criminal. Some are very polite.”
Jenny laughs. Then she looks at him nervously. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Depends on the criminal. Overmind is always unfailingly polite, even when he’s trying to kill you. Scrapper Jack would actually stop fighting for a minute in order to get out of the way of rescue services, or drive the fight away from whatever building they wanted to get to.”
Jenny shakes her head. “That doesn’t sound like a villain to me.”
“He also crippled his arch-nemesis by crushing his spine.”
“…OK, that sounds pretty bad,” Jenny says.
“It was for Mach,” CB agrees. “He was a dick, but he did the job. Jack had a legitimate beef with him, but it went way too far.”
Jenny looks outraged. “’Jack?’ You’re on a first name basis with villains? And he had ‘legitimate beef?’ What, are you defending him?”
CB sighs. “It’s complicated, Jenny. I used to work with the guy.”
“You used to work with Mach?”
“No,” CB says, “not Mach.”
“Then what are you—” Jenny stops and reddens. “Oh. Scrapper Jack.”
“Yeah. For about a year we were on the same crew. I liked him. We were friends. Mach screwed him over, big time, and payback was hell. But it was over the line. Scary how well planned it was, too.”
“What happened?” Jenny asks.
“Well,” CB says, “Jack used to work in a—no. Not right now, look, Jenny, we have to ditch your car.”
“I’ll risk Farraday City,” Jenny says. “If someone steals it, well, that’s better than just throwing it away.”
CB rolls his eyes. “We’re not going to throw it away, we’re going to park it and walk away from it. Well, we’re going to take a bus. Go the rest of the way by Greyhound. We’ll get a chance to sleep, a little, though sleeping on a bus isn’t really comfortable…”
“But I love this car.” Jenny’s voice is small and plaintive. CB thinks she might actually burst into tears. “It’s the first new car I’ve ever owned. Ever.”
“My heart is breaking.” Sarcasm drips from his voice. “Look, Jenny, forget Farraday City for a second. The people who are chasing us—or who will be chasing us, if they’re not chasing us now—know exactly what car you drive. Make, model, color, License Plate, VIN, and probably a bunch of things I’m not familiar with. That car belongs to you, and if one of their people spots it they’ll assume you’re there with it. So we can’t take it with us. We’re trying not to get ourselves killed, and the fact that we’re headed toward the murder capital of the United States in order to improve our chances of staying alive should tell you exactly how screwed we are right now.”
Jenny hisses through her teeth in frustration. “Fine. Look, I know, CB, okay? I’m sorry. I’m just… tired. And a little scared. OK, more than a little…”
“You’re the one who wanted to come along,” CB points out. “I told you to stay home.”
“Yeah,” Jenny says, “you did. Stop throwing that in my face. I want to help, and what’s more important, I’m pretty sure I actually can. But I’m allowed to be scared!”
Jenny glares at him. CB opens his mouth, ready to retort, then lets it go.
“Yeah,” he says. “OK. I’m sorry too. Just… trust that I’m trying to keep us alive, OK? I’m not saying ditch the car because I want to make you miserable.”
“You’re not going to insist that I obey you unquestioningly, are you?”
CB laughs. “Mindless obedience is not a family trait.”
Jenny grins ruefully. “Was mom a pain in the ass when you first met?”
“Sure,” CB says. “I used to call her Lois.”
“But Alex was just as bad,” CB says. “He was almost court-martialed before he became Liberty. For mutiny, no less.”
“What?” Jenny laughs incredulously. “You’re making that up. He was in the Army. You can’t mutiny in the Army, there’s no ship.”
“Honest to God, I don’t know what they call it in the Army but that’s what he did. He was a sergeant at the time. His Lieutenant, who he never described in flattering terms, received orders that he managed to completely mix up and he wound up giving every wrong order you could think of. So Alex went all Fletcher Christian, had his Lieutenant hog tied and gagged, and proceeded to do what their Captain actually wanted them to do. They won the day, Alex untied his superior officer who immediately placed him under arrest.”
“I’ve never heard this story,” Jenny says.
“How many war stories did Alex ever tell you?”
Jenny frowns thoughtfully.
“Yeah. He almost never talked about it, even to me. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t want the world to know about that point in his life. He thought that was it for him as a soldier.”
“Well what happened?”
“His Captain was smarter than his Lieutenant. He asked Alex what happened, Alex told him the truth, and the Captain believed him. Actually, according to Alex, the Captain sighed and said ‘it figures.’ A few days later a bunch of MPs showed up and carted Alex away. He thought he was going to the stockade, but they dumped him off at Project Paragon. The Captain pulled a few strings.”
“Wow,” Jenny says. “Sneaky Captain.”
“Military guys are like that. They talk a lot about discipline, and following the rules, but don’t let them fool you. They study tactics, and part of being a good tactician is knowing when to lie.”
Jenny is silent a moment. “I miss him,” she says finally.
“Yeah.” CB looks out his window and keeps his hands folded in his lap. He really wants a cigarette.
“Well, never mind that right now,” Jenny says briskly. “So we have to ditch my car. How do we find a bus station?”
CB points down the road. Off to the side they see a large green sign with the words FOOD – TRANSPORTATION displayed in reflective white text.
Jenny shakes her head. “Does that happen to you a lot?”
CB shrugs. “I don’t have anything to compare it to.”
They pull onto the exit ramp and merge onto a state highway.
“OK, question,” Jenny says. “How do we know the bad guys aren’t going to guess you’re going to Farraday City? That’s where you live, right? So won’t they be expecting you to go home?”
“I haven’t exactly told anyone,” CB says. “Not until recently. And your parents aren’t going to tell anyone willingly, and the bad guys aren’t going to torture them to find out.”
“That’s… good to know.” It hadn’t occurred to her that torture might be a possibility. “Why do you figure?”
“They’re famous,” CB says. “Your mom and your dad and your uncle are all public figures, and they’re getting a lot of attention these days. The bad guys don’t like attention. They’re allergic to it. And their very public raid on your father’s house blew up in their face quite spectacularly. So they’re not going to do anything that will attract attention.”
“Good,” Jenny says.
“You, on the other hand…” CB shrugs. “They probably figure you know too much at this point.”
“Great,” Jenny says. “Guess I’m stuck with you, then.”
They drive into the parking lot of a small, nondescript diner. CB climbs out, grateful for the chance to properly stretch his legs. “You go in and order some food,” CB says. “I’ll walk down to the bus station and get us some tickets.”
“Do we have money for both?” Jenny asks. “We only have about forty dollars left.”
“You take the money. Order me an omelet and some coffee. Take your stuff, we’re not coming back to the car.”
Jenny nods, grabs her cell phone and her laptop bag, then opens the trunk of her car. She pulls out two small bags.
“You brought clothes,” CB says. “I’m impressed, since you didn’t know we were going on a road trip.”
“I always keep a bag in my car. Sometimes I have to travel.” Jenny smacks her forehead. “Crap! I forgot about my job. I guess I’m probably going to get fired this week.”
“Probably,” CB says. “But if we survive this I’m pretty sure there are going to be a lot of people interested in hiring the woman who decrypted Liberty’s final message exposing a worldwide conspiracy against mankind.”
Jenny laughs. “Right. I’ll meet you in the diner.”
Twenty minutes later CB sits down at her table holding two tickets.
“How much did they cost?” Jenny asks. “I had the money…”
CB shrugs, and sits just as the waitress arrives with his coffee and omelet. “I had coupons.”
“Seriously. Greyhound had a promotion five, six years ago. The prize was prepaid tickets. They never expired. The lady at the booth was surprised to see them, but they were still good. All I had to do was choose a destination. I still have a few more.”
“How many times did you win this promotion?” Jenny asks.
“A few times,” CB admits. “I thought it would be useful someday.”
Jenny shakes her head. “You cheat.”
“I sure do. Eat up. Bus leaves in an hour.”
When they leave the diner they see a police car parked next to Jenny’s. A policeman stands behind Jenny’s car, staring at her license plate and talking into a handheld radio.
“And so it begins,” CB says. “Come on. Don’t pay any attention to the cop. Just follow me.”
They get to the bus right when the driver is starting to let people in. They make their way to the back and sit together, Jenny sitting next to the window, CB by the aisle. Waiting for the bus to leave is excruciating.
“I think I’m going to freak out,” Jenny says.
“This is the part I don’t like,” CB admits. “The cop already found your car. You’re nowhere to be found. There’s a bus station within walking distance. They’re not stupid. They’re going to guess we’ve taken the bus. They might try to stop it.”
“Can they do it?” Jenny asks.
“It depends. I’m working on a few assumptions at this point, and if any of them are wrong we’re probably screwed.”
“Great,” Jenny says. “Please, do go on.”
“Well…” CB glances past Jenny, out the window. “First, I’m assuming they’re still playing by the rules. They want to know where we are, but they don’t want to attract any attention, so they’re not going to take direct action, and they’re not going to pull any strings with law enforcement that will make people ask questions. This means they’ll go through normal channels to get things done, and they’re not going to open with ‘Jenny Forrest is a wanted fugitive, please apprehend.’ If I were them, I’d give the police a request to call in any car matching a certain description, and give them a partial license plate. That compartmentalizes everything nicely. And it buys us a little time, because the officer is going to wait for further instructions.”
“What’s your next assumption?” Jenny asks.
“That they’re going to need an order from a judge to stop the bus,” CB says.
Jenny winces. “I don’t think that’s the case.”
“I really hope it is,” CB says.
Jenny shakes her head. “I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know how it was in the 90s, but these days all law enforcement has to do is say ‘we think they might be terrorists’ and they can search pretty much anything they want.”
“Well God Bless America,” CB says. “Still, I don’t think they’re quite ready to pin us as criminals. Not just yet. I think they think they can get to you by playing the ‘concerned Federal Agency’ card. ‘Miss Forrest, we just want to make sure you’re OK, and we want to make sure the men who did this to your family, and to your great-grandfather, pay for all of it.’ That kind of thing.”
Jenny thinks it over. “That might have worked,” she admits.
“Sure it would have. Almost worked on me, ten years ago, and I’m a lot more paranoid than you are. Hopefully they’re still planning to do that, because it means they aren’t going to pull out all the stops to try and get us. They’ll probably try to figure out where we’re going, and meet us there.”
“Well that doesn’t help,” Jenny says. “They’ll learn that someone used a six-year-old coupon to get two free tickets to Farraday City. There’s no way they’ll believe that isn’t you.”
“Look at your ticket,” CB says.
Jenny pulls out her ticket and examines it closely. “Jackson, Mississippi?”
CB chuckles. “Farraday is on the route.”
Jenny grins back. “Why CB, one would almost think you’ve done this before.”
“Time to time…”
“Time to go!” The bus driver climbs into his seat, and pulls the doors closed. Jenny and CB breathe a sigh of relief as he starts the engine and pulls out onto the highway.
A few minutes later, CB starts to relax. “I think we’re good,” he says.
Jenny yawns. “All that terror really takes a lot out of you.”
“Get some sleep,” CB says. “It’s going to be a while.”
“OK,” Jenny says. She leans her head on his shoulder, and closes her eyes.
“Um…” CB looks down at her uneasily.
“Why Farraday City?” Jenny asks sleepily.
“I told you,” CB says. “I think it’s the last place they’ll think to look.”
“I don’t mean now,” Jenny says, “I mean when you first moved there. Why did you move there in the first place?”
“Oh…” CB hesitates. “I went to help an old girlfriend.”
“Who was she?” Jenny asks.
“An old girlfriend,” CB repeats.
Jenny sighs. “Fine. Tell me another time.” A few seconds later, she’s asleep.
He sinks down onto the bench a bit, trying to get more comfortable without knocking Jenny’s head off his shoulder. He’s only moderately successful, and sighs in irritation as he realizes he’s probably not going to get a lot of sleep. He reaches into his trenchcoat pocket, pulls out a cigarette, and puts it in his mouth. That’s when he sees the no smoking sign.
“God damn it.”