Fiction: J.O. Quantaman’s “Hot Wheels”

///Fiction: J.O. Quantaman’s “Hot Wheels”

Hot Wheels
(Excerpt from WIP)
J.O. Quantaman

“Antennae Galaxies,” photograph by NASA’s Hubble telescope.

Kuala Lumpur: 12 May 2076, 6:15 p.m.

Tuesday, 12 May 2076, 10:15 UTC

 

Jen (*1 in Glossary) is glad to be on the road and away from McJoys. She’s grinning in the driver’s seat of the SUV, like a kid with a new toy.

_Shift into “D” Drive, juice the motor

_and follow behind. Press the brake

_pedal when Jo slows down. Not

_bad for a novice with no license.

She hasn’t given the roosters another thought. They’re snugged and asleep in the cargo area. Jen peers ahead at her getaway doyen who can be seen through the Humvee’s rear window.

_Hard to miss the rich scarlet

_peeking from under her cap.

_No grays amid the short hairs

_though Jo(*2) has passed the four-oh

_milestone. To keep hair roots in

_dayglow, she must dye them often.

_It shows how much she dreads

_the outward signs of middle age.

Performance-wise isn’t an issue, for qat exercises and Doc Quark(*3)’s supplements uphold fitness levels that Olympic medalists would envy. But twangers(*4) and headstrong exercise don’t erase the wrinkles, and cosmetic tricks can’t restore a maiden’s Spring bloom. The more gals age, the harder it is to embody the wetdreams of men and boys.

_Like it or not, guys go for

_the book covers and bypass

_the vibrant pall of words.

The redhead may preen like a pampered diva, but she has no answer for time’s ebbing tide. It may explain why she collared six ensigns…

To prove she still could.

Thoughts dissolve when the left signal blinks. The Humvee enters a deserted lane where it slows and stops.

Jen follows and parks the SUV behind.

The redhead is out of the Humvee and moving to the cargo bed where she waves a palm-sized scanner across the bricks. “Out, Pix. Help me scan for tracking beacons.”

Jen climbs out, arches her back. “Roosters went nowhere near our pickup.”

“Cops at the roadblock may’ve added one. Could be how the roosters found us.”

“Should’ve mentioned that before we pigged out.”

The redhead pulls out another scanner and hands it over. “Once your stomach growled, you’d bug me all the way to Singapore.”

Jen’s frown says otherwise. “I thought you had the sergeant eating outta your hand.”

“Might’ve b’en the others. No telling who’s on Rathbone’s payroll.”

Jen scans the pile of bricks till the gadget blinks red. “I think I’ve got one.”

“Move it around. Blinks faster as you get closer.”

Arms converge; scanners collide.

“Hold it!” Jo exclaims. “We’ve cornered the same bug.” She nudges fingers between bricks and snares a black pea. “Ah ha! Gotcha!” Shakes her head. “Damn things! Getting small as mouse turds.”

Jo carries the beacon to the SUV and tosses it underneath. “You’re the right size, Pix. Crawl between the Humvee and wall. Check under the wheel wells. I’ll do the same for this side.”

“Gee, thanks.” The tight squeeze requires an acrobatic skillset to get the scanner in play.

“Did the roosters say why they hit on us?” Jo asks.

“The heavyweight who came in first wanted to know our plans after lunch.” Having scanned the rear wheel, Jen crawls to the front. “The other one didn’t say boo.”

“They’re still fishing. That’s good. Now you see why we stopped for lunch. Had I gone straight for the highway, we’d’ve drawn swarms of roosters.”

“Wonton soup was delicious. Thanks, Jo.” The scanner reads zilch. “But count me out for your ensign bash.”

“Awh, Pix. Don’t be party pooper.”

II

The Humvee is first in line and stopped at a red light, sorbing horn blasts from the vehicle in back. On the cross-street where traffic is moving, the near lane has a sizeable gap that’s empty of vehicles.

Jen cranes her neck to see the impatient driver pounding fists on steering wheel. Another yahoo in the shotgun seat is thrusting his arms as if to push the Humvee onward to Alpha Centauri.

The horn blasts are growing louder and more urgent.

_Why hasn’t Jo budged?

_She’s done so before. Left

_turns on red lights are kosher.

“Guys behind us are having apoplectic fits.”

“They’re roosters,” says her driver. “Didn’t’cha notice?”

“Already?”

“Like I said, not many Humvees in town.”

The implication hits Jen like a ton of bricks. “They’ll be calling their buddies.”

“Not if I can help it,” says Jo. She gooses the throttle. The Humvee scoots around the corner and shoots like rocket down the curb lane.

Hearing a ferocious horn blast in the rear, Jen turns around and spots a garbage truck looming behind like tidal wave. The foghorn is overkill since Jo is busy growing the gap between Humvee and moving mountain.

The impatient SUV pokes into the closing gap. It gets a mouthful of garbage truck, whereupon it somersaults over the sidewalk and shatters a storefront window.

“Haste makes waste,” huffs Jo over the thunder clap of ruined metal.

“You planned that dinger!”

“Do I look like Moses parting the seas?” asks the redhead, goosing the motor and jumping to the right lane, passing two electro compacts. “Lucky for us they swallowed the bait like starving trout.”

“Oh, oh,” Jen groans. “One’s still moving inside. He’ll call in our location.”

“Hafta do something about that,” says her driver as she eyes a gap in the oncoming traffic, crosses the centerline and scoots around a moped. At the next intersection she right-turns before a tour bus and avoids contact by a finger width. Halfway down the block she hangs a left to a back alley.

As their speed slows to normal, Jen exhales a stress-charged breath. The Humvee parks between two dumpsters crammed with Duoplastic(*5) bags. For the moment, they’re hidden from street traffic.

“Out, Pix. Dump the bricks from the cargo bin. Leave just enough to cover the launchers.”

Jen strides to the back and picks two bricks from the dusty pile. “Should I toss ’em on the ground?”

“Natch.”

“How about my danger pay?”

“What for?” asks her driver who’s connecting tubelike struts to right-angle joiners. “I’ll handle the naval guys with crooked peters.”

“Stuff your ensigns!” Jen grabs an armful of dusty bricks. “I meant asbestos.”

“Don’t worry, Pix. I advised Doc Quark, and he’ll be adding special twangers to our supplements. Gonna bond with asbestos and flush it out. OK?”

Jen nods and tosses more bricks.

“Geez! You’re a prickly customer.” The redhead makes a face. “I should’ve left you with the roosters.”

“Sorry, Kemosabe (*6).” She joins palms in mock prayer and squelches a telltale grin. “Please take me to Singapore.”

“Humph.”

Her driver has assembled the tubes into three-sided rectangles and inserted their leg-ends along the rim of the cargo bed. Three assemblies form a skeletal frame that could support a canvass canopy.

Jo hauls out a folded cloth from the stowage space behind the driver’s seat. She beckons for help to unfold the fabric.

The fabric feels rough like corrugated metal yet readily flexible. It stretches and flattens like a frozen pond. After the fabric is mounted and strapped down, the surface planes betray faint indents and ridges where the folds were.

“Once I give it juice, the grooves and bumps will disappear,” says Jo. “Piezoelectric, y’see. It reverts to its former shape and darkens to roadbed gray. The prickly surface is made of miniature pyramids that deflect radar beams to non-recoverable angles. Even if Rathbone gets KL drones searching for overlong vehicles, they’re gonna mistake us for a compact.”

“The canopy may confuse street-level pursuers, but license plates will give us away.”

“You forget we’re renting from Xing Gou, a smuggler who stays under the radar. Our license plates can be rotated to show any of three faces, courtesy of the inmate grapevine. Watch me do a double switcheroo from inside.”

Jen nods approvingly.

“I’ll feel better when we’re on the highway,” cautions Jo.

“Me too.”

III 

_Too many cars

_speeding too fast

_and the horns…

_Oh, the horns,

_from everwhich way.

It’s too chaotic for Jen to parse the reckless swerves and near misses. Her getaway doyen has upped the pace and keeps pushing the envelope.

When the Humvee got a Thorax powertrain, the mechanics did a major overhaul. They moved the steering wheel to the right side to respect Malaysian customs where cars drive on the left sides of roads. The odd perspective and her driver’s aggressive moves have left Jen frazzled.

_For me everything’s backwards,

_and the cat & mouse game that

_Jo plays with reckless abandon

_is torching my nerves to hell.

“Cat got your tongue?” asks Jo. “You look pale as a ghost.”

“Scares me to watch, but I don’t dare close my eyes.”

“Relax, Pix. The other vehicles have proximity alerts and auto-driving aids. Most of the locals are just driving for show while onboard robots call the shots and avoid crackups. It ain’t half as chaotic as it looks.”

Jen mulls it over as she watches the Humvee thread between two electro-compacts whose drivers look more resigned than surprised.

_Can Jo be in virtual control

_of traffic mayhem? I wonder.

_When so many semaphores turn

_green on her approach, does that

_mean she has insider keys?

“I swear you’re turning the lights green.”

“Nah,” Jo guffaws. “Red-green cycles have similar time spans. If you drive professionally, you learn to gauge the distance to intersections versus semaphore durations. It’s like a semiconscious sense. I gauge my speed to synch with the greens. When obstacles interfere, I swing to the left lane and turn on the reds. A good cabby keeps the wheels turning. That’s how you make the best times.”

Jen cringes as the Humvee careens around a close-call by the wisp of a paint job. “How’d’you keep it together, Pinball Sally?”

“I ply the same focus you do when you practice qat (*7). I parse options four moves ahead. Even before anticrash protocols, drivers drove 95% passively; they joined traffic parades and followed nearby cars. Hard to pay attention if you’re gabbing with passengers, grooving to loud music or yakking on your vidphone.”

“It can’t be so simple.”

Her driver scowls. “Once you master twelve senses, hyperawareness follows like magic.”

“Sure, the psigns (*8) are key, but…”

“Woah! I forgot to mention tools of the trade. Route selection, for instance. Hafta avoid traffic bottlenecks and stay on roads that host a reasonable flow. I checked the afternoon traffic yesterday and the day before. No sense getting caught like a newbie tourist. Lastly, there’s the Humvee itself which is a wicked machine, a helluva…”

Up ahead a robed figure appears from between parked cars. “Shit!” mutters Jo as she hits the brakes.

Jen hears rubber squeal as tires skid on asphalt. Instinctive hands brace the dash to halt the forward surge. Even so, she’s half out of the seat, her forehead lurching near windshield glass.

The Humvee stops as it grazes the billowy attire of a woman who’s holding a young child. The errant pedestrian awakens to present danger, her bulbous eyes peeking from a niqab. She takes a careful step back.

“Snot for brain cells,” grouses Jo.

“No burqa.”

“Well, thank Mo for small favors. She’s lucky the Humvee has new tires and no antilock. See-saw brakes would’ve knocked her flat.” Jo shakes her head. “I hate cultures that raise women like hothouse flowers.”

“High heels,” adds Jen, playing devil’s advocate.

“Don’t get me started on those,” her driver growls.

“Doesn’t antilock quicken your stops?”

“No. Antilock(*9) discourages swerving. But it adds time & space to the process.”

IV

 Storefront windows have given way to brick façades of warehouses or factories. Narrow escapes from suspicious ATVs(*10) have ushered them to less-traveled streets where the Humvee can’t blend with traffic or dart around it. Jen feels exposed and senses their pursuers ready to tighten the noose. The getaway doyen is no less determined, but she can’t hide her worry lines or pressed lips.

Just then, an oncoming minivan veers across the centerline, blocking the Humvee’s forward progress. Jo yanks the wheel to avoid a crackup and heads toward the wrong side of the road.   She would’ve missed contact if the minivan hadn’t backed up. Instead the Humvee smacks the offender’s rear bumper and continues on as if barging through a stack of autumn leaves. The minivan rears up, skids in a half-circle before it smacks on two parked cars, its bumper crinkled and hanging loose like a squirrel’s tail.

Amid the melée there’s a loud ping down below. Jen spots a rooster dangling from minivan’s passenger window. He looks dazed while holding an assault rifle pointed at the street.

_He must’ve shot before

_the window frame knocked

_him forward and spoiled

_his aim. The shell’s errant

_ricochet spewed the ping.

“See what I like about Humvees?” gloats Jo. “Extra weight and speed make for killer momentum. I’ll lock horns with anything short of an Abram’s tank.”

“Passenger-side guy shot at us,” Jen points out.

“That loser?” harrumphs Jo after a quick glance. “Needs three hands to tie his shoes.”

“The impact knocked him awry not a moment too soon.”

“There you go, Pix.”

Jen rolls her eyes. “Sure feels like they’re closing in.”

“Could be… Yep, it’s time for the jacks. Reach under your seat and pull out the red box.”

The box has stuff rattling inside. Lots of somethings. She undoes the clasp, opens the lid and gapes inside. It’s packed with large four-pronged jacks. If stepped on, they’d penetrate to the ankle bone.

“Don’t touch,” warns Jo. “They’re sharp as surgeons’ scalpels. I call ’em Tetrahedral Spikes.”

“Right. Should’ve worn steel gloves.”

“I’m gonna roll out the back window. Oughta give you enough room to crawl through. Take the box and lie low in the cargo bed. When I say go, pitch the jacks out behind us.”

“Puncture their tires.”

“You got it, Pix. And keep your head down. I don’t want you leaking hot air.”

“Thanks a ruck.”

The Humvee surges faster as if trying to escape the green pickup half a-block behind. Jen slithers through the back window and over the modest pile of bricks. She gets down prone in the cargo bed just as Jo cuts a sharp left, two wheels lifting off and tilting the cargo bed.

Jen rolls like a debarked log but clings to the red box. The Humvee speeds up again before braking hard and then hanging another two-wheel left. No problem this time, for Jen is up against the cargo wall.

“OK, Pix. Go ahead. Plant your garden.”

Jen pops up as the Humvee speeds down a narrow lane. She opens the lid and pitches jacks. She uses a sidearm toss, so the jacks are dispersed across the lane from left to right. Any tires across the garden will get punctured for sure.

Though it’s safer to stay down, she can’t resist poking her head up to see what happens. The Humvee is halfway down the lane when two pickups enter, one after the other. Following behind them is a bright-red van. All of them are racing to catch up. They almost succeed as they reach the garden and hit the jacks. One by one, they rock sideways as the tires rotate in oblong circles. The pursuers drop back in a hurry.

She hears metal rims howl as the wheels grind on pavement. The vehicles wobble to a dead stop. Then doors fly open and roosters jump out, armed with assault weapons. Jen ducks low in the cargo bed. Two bullets ricochet harmlessly off metal backside as the Humvee turns onto the street.

Jo wastes no time getting out of range and makes several quick turns to muddle her present and future locations. The roosters are left flat-footed and no doubt yapping on their vidphones.

“Crawl inside, Pix. Let me shut the back window to keep stray bullets out.”

“Glass gonna stop rifle rounds?”

“Natch. Stop anything short of 20-mm armor-piercing shells.”

“I’m impressed, Kemosabe.”

“About time.”

V

Trevor gazes at the adjacent table where Gagnon, Heck and Grabb converse lightheartedly. Heck works his jaws on mouthfuls of chow. He answers via body language, brows nodding and jowls wagging.

Life is returning to normal. Even their prompters have been recovered from the summit room after the awful gas was declared free of deadly toxins. Banerji’s assurances gotta be the best news he’s heard all afternoon. Which begs the question… Who’d risk serious injury or death for a harmless dud?

Trevor has no doubt the swamp-gas perps will be caught, questioned and killed. Rathbone never forgets a slight. He’ll go after them till he gets his kilo of flesh.

Who’d risk life & limb to deliver a smoke bomb?

_Gotta be the envy of do-gooders.
_They hate winners making them
_look like mediocre chumps.

Bleeding hearts always complain about income disparity. They equate success with ill-gotten gains since they don’t have the knack to compete themselves. They forget that rich and poor folks have lived side-by-side throughout history. It’s the natural consequence of incentive-based socioeconomics.

_Without incentives, who’d work?

_We’d see everyone wasting

_their lives away in opium dens.

Wealth is the obvious reward for working harder and smarter than the common run of mill. Folks who lack effort or smarts won’t earn as much as the overachievers. That’s just common sense. The poor are envious for no good reason because the median laborer has seen improvements through the centuries. Economic progress awards eager beavers more than couch potatoes, but everyone has gained more perks than their parents and grandparents. Lowlifes should be thanking the cartel instead of shocking CEOs with stink bombs.

Rathbone will blame it all on spacer operatives, which suits his agenda. Trevor isn’t sold on that. He won’t throw money at King Grod’s vendetta unless he sees conclusive proof.

Okuno pokes him in the shoulder. “Turn on your prompter and check out CXN(*11).”

Trevor boots his computer but sees no hook-ups for fibe channels. “Don’t we run a risk using wifi?”

“That’s the least of our worries,” she huffs. “Grabb claims his OS is impervious to hackers. Get with the news. Double-you has drawn worldwide attention to our meeting place.”

He clicks to CXN then clicks on the headline which reads, “terrorist bomb strikes Kuala Lumpur.” The image shows a huge pile of debris surrounded by emergency-response folks digging for “live” bodies. The street is packed with firetrucks and police cars. The audio goes in one ear and out the other, for his eyes are glued to the hot reporter who’s gabbing with responders.

A camel-driver’s horn resounds.

_Speaking of the devil.

_Here he comes.

Rathbone’s hangdog visage appears in the wall screen. Before he opens his mouth Okuno raises her voice.

“That rocket is yours, isn’t it?” she rebukes.

“Yes. A tad extreme, I admit. But the terrorists destroyed two of my tracking drones. They would’ve gotten away Scott-free had I hesitated to act.”

“Foolish man! First, you let your minions shoot at Petronas tower 2. Then you demolish half a-block in the Cyclorama project. Even a cub reporter will link them together and conclude a high-level meet has taken place. Who’s gonna stop the dozens of cams from catching us when we leave?”

“Ayumi, give me some credit. I’ve already announced a cover story. A triad gang has stolen contraband, and yakuza competitors fired a rocket at the escaping thieves. To reduce exposure I’ve staggered your departures. Two of you will leave later tonight; two tomorrow afternoon; the last two the morning after.”

“Humph.”

“We’re s’pozed to believe that cock & bull story?” asks Gagnon. “And who’s paying the bills?”

“Everything’s taken care of.”

“I’ve heard that scam before,” grouses Okuno. There are supportive grumps from both tables.

“The pursuit is ongoing,” King Grod says. “If you’ll excuse me…” The flatview winks out.

“Dog Face has let ’em escape!” cries Gagnon.

“I know,” Okuno groans.

VI

Jen notices deep hues of twilight creeping from eastern horizon to the zenith. Night on the equator falls like a stone. Or maybe it just seems that way since tropical daylight doesn’t change much from winter to summer. Whatever the case, the traffic is bound to thin after dark which gives their pursuers more unobstructed sightlines. A bullet in one of Humvee’s tires would be all it takes. Roosters would converge till they’re thick as hair on a muskox.

“Too many SUVs,” says her getaway doyen, as she drives past a Tempat Letak(*12) sign, hits the brakes and turns into another multistory lot. “Before they catch up, we’ll hide here and then vanish.”

_Is Jo throwing in the towel?

_Why act so nonchalant?

_I can’t surmise her plans,

_but it looks as if we’re

_about to be trapped.

Jo steps out to collect a ticket from the automatic dispenser. Then she pulls a metal disk from her pocket and strolls to the toll booth and flashes the disk.

“Understand English? Good.” She flashes the disk. “I’m Detective Wanda in liaison, and my partner is Agent Roark. We’re here to keep tabs on two terrorists.”

The attendant looks alarmed and impressed.

“Don’t worry about ‘live’ bombs,” Jo goes on. “Special Branch has them linked to a wider network, and we’re preparing the site for a routine arrest, as soon as the brass gets here. Display your ‘Lot Full’ sign, and refuse all comers till you see the squad cars and media vans. This is huge, and the Chief wants to be seen when the terrorists are cuffed.

“Good PR, y’know.” She flourishes a confiding grin. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you get a cameo in tonight’s news. Remember, no vehicles in or out till the brass arrives.”

Attendant nods. A moment later Jo climbs back in the driver’s seat. Without a word she drives through the entrance gate and onto the parking levels.

“Gonna tell me why he believed you? Or should I leave my jaw on the floor?”

Jo grins fiendishly and holds out a police badge in her palm.

“Where did’ja get that?”

“Sergeant Wen.”

“Oh, you rascal!”

“His pocket was unbuttoned. Couldn’t resist.”

“You bought us some time. But sooner or later, they’ll get in. And we’ll be trapped with nowhere to go.”

“Always an escape hatch, Pix.”

VII

The latest report from the missile strike confirms the lack of human remains. As Leonid suspected all along, two female surveyors are the ones responsible for the gas attack.

They’re responsible for taking out two of his roosters at McJoys. They’re responsible for putting half a-dozen of his pursuit vehicles out of action. They’re royal pains in the ass.

He watches the map display.   It shows six vehicles leaving Cyclorama and redeploying in a loose cordon around the probable location of the Humvee. His pursuers haven’t been able to keep the bitches in sight. Whenever they’ve gotten close, the ugly skanks have disabled his chase cars. So reinforcements are needed and none too soon.

Leonid has muted car-to-car verbal chatter. Realtime decisions are best left to the grunts on the ground, namely Rashid who drives one of the SUVs along with the other chase cars. This arrangement suits Leonid who avoids hearing the gripes about rules of engagement.

_No collateral damages,

_whether intended or accidental.

Worse yet, the boss wants Kuala Lumpur’s finest to make the actual arrest. So his crew has the peripheral role of eyeballing and impeding the quarry.

The tactical channel blinks red, and Leonid opens a link. “Go ahead, Rashid.”

“Yo, Leo. Good news, bad news.”

“Good news first.”

“Bitches just entered a multilevel parking lot.”

“You sure?”

“Proof positive of the new canopy and plates.”

“Any crossovers to other towers?”

“Nope. It’s a standalone public park at the corner of Jalan Hang Kasturi and Leboh Pudu.”

“Oh yeh. I know it. Should be easy as pie. Block the exit ramp and send a bunch of your chasers inside to flush ’em out.”

“No go. That’s the bad news.”

“Wha’d’ya mean?”

“The gate attendant says there’s a police detachment due to arrive. No one’s s’pozed to enter till they get here.”

Leonid shakes his head, though it’s a futile gesture over the voice-only line. “No fucking way,” he snaps. “KLP have pursued at a glacial pace. I doubt they’re even looking for the right license plates.” He sighs. “Gather your troops around the building, Rashid, and stand pat while I check on the boss.”

Leonid closes the link and calls the CEO of Zesticon. After five rings he fears the boss will ignore the call. The pursuit has gone on too long and used up too many resources.

_The boss is liable to lose it

_if I let the bitches escape.

On the sixth ring Leonid breathes a sigh of relief as the link goes live.

“What’s up, Leo?” grouses Rathbone.

“Good news, I think.”

“You think?”

“Our surveyors have gone to earth in a parking tower. I’ve got mobile units investing the place, but the gate attendant won’t let us inside. He’s says the KLP are s’pozed to make a high-profile arrest. I don’t believe him, considering the useless help they’ve us given so far.”

“Humph. Are the bitches trapped?”

“Yes, Sir. They gotta use the elevator or drive down the exit ramp.”

“Which parking lot?”

“The public park at the corner of Jalan Hang Kasturi and Leboh Pudu.”

“OK. I’ll ask the chief to dispatch squad cars. Let the uniforms cover the exits and make the arrests. Your boys go in and flush ’em out.”

“Yes, Sir. What I figured.”

“Keep weapons hidden around KL’s finest.”

“Understood, Sir.”

VIII

The Humvee motors past another row of parked cars, turns on a dime and drives up the next ramp.

_Jo is holding back her ace.

_But I won’t play the beggar

_and give her the satisfaction.

_Whatever she plans, it can’t be

_worse than driving through walls.

As their vehicle turns once again, Jen spots a four-meter patch of fresh asphalt halfway up the ramp.

“Ah, ha,” says Jo.

“Gonna get tar on your new tires,” Jen palters.

“Ain’t asphalt. A new type of sealant which is just what I need.” The Humvee rolls onto the patch and stops as rear wheels straddle the downslope edge. Jo reaches her arm under the dash. “Watch while I spray 60 liters of sulfuric acid.” The Humvee moves forward at a snail’s pace

Jen hears liquid falling from the rear of the Humvee. She rolls her eyes. “I give up. Tell me how acid is s’pozed to help.”

“Sulfuric acid eats rubber, especially artificial rubber. The sealant keeps the acid from soaking through the pavement. And both combine to form a sticky goo that’ll cling to treads and devour rubber like mad.”

“Gotcha. Smoke their tires to shreds. Oughta slow ’em down for sure. But what happens when the roosters climb outta their SUVs and pursue us on foot? Two-dozen thugs with assault weapons gonna blow the tires off our sweet chariot.”

“I got plans for boys with toys.”

Jen waits for her getaway doyen to elaborate. But there’s no response. She gets nothing but a poker face as her driver ascends successive ramps at breakneck speeds.

IX

 Jen peeks over the guard rail and glances down at the back lane far below. She closes her eyes before waves of vertigo melt her legs to liquid rubber blobs.

Waving the makeshift wrench for emphasis, she quips, “You’re outta your freaking mind, Kemosabe.”

“Why would you say that, Pix?” Jo points at fasteners on the guard rail.

Jen scowls but fits the wrench around a bolt. “It’s too far across.” She twists the wrench and loosens the bolt. “And it’s twelve stories down if we miss.”

“I’ve measured the span between this building and the adjacent tower whose touchdown floor is somewhat lower.” Jo tucks a loosened bolt in her thigh pocket. “The jump will come off a whole lot safer than your stunts.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Fine. Stay here and wait for the roosters while I take the Humvee across.”

_She damn-well knows

_I’m dead meat if I stay.

“I’m doing this under protest.”

“Suit yourself.” Jo grins like a fiend. “Grab your end and we’ll walk this outta the way.”

They remove the guard rail, slide it between cars then stroll back to the Humvee.

“How fast will we be going?” asks Jen.

“25 meters a-second. Oughta give us a margin for error.”

“Error?”

“Y’never know.”

“I feel convulsive vertigo coming on.”

“Just keep your eyes closed, Pix.”

Sounds of revving motors come from the levels below.

“They’re past the acid patch,” says Jo as she opens the driver’s door. “Get in. Let’s do this before the roosters come calling.”

Jen climbs in and takes the shotgun seat. She puts hands over her eyes when she hears the front wheels squeal.

A millisecond later, she’s glued to the backrest. The Humvee zooms down the half-ramp.

For an instant she feels almost weightless. Then she hears double thumps as four tires kiss the hard surface of the lot next door.

“See, Pix? Easy as pie.”

Jen peeks through her fingers. “Are we still on earth?”

“Cut the melodrama,” Jo says in her Southern Bell accent. “Needn’t fret over short hops, Virginia.”

“My stomach never made the jump,” avows Jen, checking for gastric chimeras out the back window. On the launch ramp a blue SUV appears. “Oh, no! Roosters up top. Why aren’t their tires shredded?”

“Dunno. Maybe they’re brand new or coated with mud.” Jo speeds away from the landing edge. “Damn. I should’ve used stronger acid. Y’think they’ll try to jump?”

“Looks like.”

“Holy fuxgate!” Jo stops the Humvee before the turn off to the exit. She cranes her neck to watch the speeding SUV. “Gonna cause problems.”

The SUV roars down the ramp like a blue streak. Then launches itself across the four-meter gap. A heartbeat later, front tires come down hard on concrete floor.

Jen hears a thunderous clap of metal striking pavement. The front tires have blown on contact, yet the SUV looks as if it’s driving uphill.

_Solar plexus! The rear end

_is dangling over the edge.

The rooster in the shotgun seat opens his door and steps out. He pokes his rifle through the open window and steadies his aim by resting the barrel on the window frame. Before he pulls the trigger, the front of the SUV rears up like a warhorse. It slides back and tumbles off the edge. The open door snags the shooter down as well.

“Holy fuxgate!” cries Jo. “Why’d the morons try it?”

“Maybe they were promised bonus money.”

“Bastards stuck us with a load of bad karma.”

“Forget it. It wasn’t your call, Kemosabe.”

Jo shakes her head. “Should’ve used a stronger batch.   Wait… Let me think. Let’s assume that SUV was a lucky freak, and the others have blown tires. If we remount the chain guard, it oughta keep the others from trying a crossover.”

“Nobody’s jumping on flat tires,” Jen points out. “Let’s vamoose.”

“Why the rush? You queasy with vertigo?”

“No. I hate getting shot at.”

“You? Champion of the ellipsoid chamber?”

“Only works for single shots. I got no answers for stray bullets at full-auto.”

“Spare tires, Pix. Once they cannibalize four of ’em, they’re good to go.”

“Solar plexus!” Jen sighs. “Let’s make it quick.”

Jo backs near the edge. They climb out and pick ends of chain off the pavement.

“Did’ja unhook the chain last night?”

“No way. Someone would’ve noticed during morning rush hour. The chain was taken down thirty minutes before we reached 12th-level.”

“One Cook’s cronies?”

“Yep. Southeast Asia is his old stomping grounds when he and Absen handled security for the Consortium.”

“Another expense I overlooked,” Jen grouses.

“Didn’t cost us a nickel, Pix. Our friend was all too happy to return the favor.”

“Who’s this guy?” she asks, hooking a chain link to the pillar mount.

“Auto-parts dealer.”

“A legitimate biz guy?”

“Well, sort of. He sells auto parts from stolen vehicles.”

“Does Cook know any good guys?”

“Sure. But new regimes play havoc with legitimate crooks. They’ve got limited shelf lives.”

With chain remounted Jen is glad to be back inside the armored Humvee. No sign of the other SUVs, and that suits her just fine.

X

Leonid wishes he could dismiss the report as hysterical fantasy, though he knows Rashid doesn’t play loose with the facts. Leonid tries again to wrap his mind around the mother of all cluster fucks.

_When the boss learns of this,

_he’ll transfer me and the crew

_to Siberia where we’ll guard

_oil rigs from stray reindeer.

“Rashid, ain’t there any good news?”

On screen the tactical chief shrugs and answers, “Got enough spare tires to mobilize two vehicles.”

“How many chasers with blown tires?”

“Nine plus the one that went down.”

“Why didn’t Yuri’s tires go flat like the others?”

“He loved to hotrod. Outfitted his SUV with high-performance tires. Formula-One drivers use ’em for better traction. Racing tires lack indented treads, so the acid took longer to eat through.”

“Once I tell the boss,” Leonid groans, “he’ll have us policing cigarette butts till doomsday.”

“Ain’t all bad. The dykes are still trapped in the next lot over. The ground watch has moved over while KLP uniforms hold the exits here… just in case. Meanwhile I’ve got two-dozen foot soldiers bussing in from KLCC. They’ll go in next door and check every nook and cranny. It may take longer, but we’ll nail the dykes.”

“Be sure to keep one alive for questioning.”

“No prob, Leo. Professional all the way.”

Leonid sighs. He can’t believe two freaking females could’ve caused such utter mayhem. Once captured, he vows to make them pay.

XI

Jen fights off a dizzy spell. The Humvee makes continuous left turns as it descends from the 12th-floor. “Once we get to the bottom, they’ll be waiting for us.”

After umpteen counterclockwise spirals, Jo slows almost to a stop. She reaches under the dash. A side panel opens along the outer wall, and the Humvee drives inside a darkened passage.

Jen squints and asks, “Open says me?”

“Suroto’s short cut. A gift from his daughter Lixue. Holo star, y’know, and grateful to Absen and Cook. They were her bodyguards, saved her life.”

Jen cross her arms in huff. “Any more surprises?” she asks with unabashed sarcasm.

“Quite complaining, Pix.”

“Where’s this backdoor go?”

“To the underground truck bypass, which joins the North-South Expressway south of town.”

“Solar plexus! At last we’re getting somewhere.”

“Always aim to please. Tell you what. I’ll give you the ensign with garlic breath.”

“Not funny, Kemosabe.”

 

Glossary

  1. Jen (Pix): rundog. Born 2037. Adult height: 150 centimeters; weight: 44 kilograms; brown eyes; brown hair. Climbs the Eiffel Tower in 2052. Joins Imperial Circus in 2052. Earns top billing as aerial acrobat 2053. Quits Imperial Circus in 2059. Climbs the Andes until falsely arrested for theft in 2061. Joins Dog Breakfast Co-op in 2061.
  2. Jo (Kemosabe): rundog. Born 2035. Adult height: 178 centimeters; weight: 69 kilograms; yellow eyes; flaming-red hair. She drives taxi in Miami 2054-6. Joins Dog Breakfast Co-op in 2057.
  3. Doc Quark: DB’s chief medical officer. Born 2025. Adult height: 170 centimeters; weight 82 kilograms; brown eyes, dark-brown hair. Joins Dog Breakfast 2049.
  4. twanger(s): DNA wrappers that deliver proteomic stimulants that boost a person’s immune system.
  5. Duoplastic®: the trademark of biodegradable, yet moisture-retentive packaging material.
  6. Kemosabe: the made-up name that Tonto used to address the Lone Ranger.
  7. qat (SOAR acronym): Quantum Assassination Theory. Qat training gives acolytes physical excellence and sharpened senses. The sessions involve intensive practice and psignologic meditation.
  8. Psigns: pronounced “signs.” They encompass and framework any natural group. Below the psigns are listed by number-name, direction and elemental identity. Readers may choose to combine three lists together, though each serves a different purpose. 1) taste, 120°, 3D – electron; 2) urgency, 90°, WEST, 3D – up;3) smell, 60°, 3D – tau neutrino;4) hearing, 30°, 3D – charm;5) seeing, 0°, NORTH, 3D – muon;6) breathing, 330°, 3D – beauty;7) moving, 300°, 3D – electron neutrino;8) gravity, 270°, EAST, 3D – down;9) coordinating, 240°, 3D – tau;10) warmth, 210°, 3D – strange;11) balance, 180°, SOUTH, 3D – muon neutrino;12) touch, 150°, 3D – truth.
  9. antilock brakes: to apply brakes on & off in rapid fashion. The friction between tires and road surfaces causes vehicles to stop. Since the antilock mechanism staggers the braking action, it increases the space and time it takes to stop. On slippery surfaces, antilock brakes can help vehicles stay under control, which may prove more important than stopping within the least space.
  10. ATV (acronym): All-Terrain Vehicle, often equipped with four-wheel drive.
  11. CXN (acronym): China Xinhua News.
  12. Tempat Letak: (Malay) Park.
  13. KLP (acronym): Kuala Lumpur Police.
  14. KLCC (acronym): Kuala Lumpur City Center. KLCC signifies the Petronas Towers complex, especially the hypermall at the base of towers.

 

 

 

 

About the writer:
J.O. Quantaman is the pseudonym of John Speikers. His eBook Loose Threads: Cool Assassins 1 is available on AMAZON Kindle. He is currently at work on a sequel, an economic satire woven around an exciting car chase.

Image:
By NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration – http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0615a/http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2006/46/image/a/ (direct link), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1380626

 

By | 2018-02-09T17:50:50+00:00 February 9th, 2018|Fiction, LITERARY ARTS|