(c) 2000

Chapter Two


Jennifer Dunne

    Lynn glanced over at the wavering gun barrel pointed toward her. It carved a neat figure eight in the air, dipped alarmingly, then jerked upward to point at her head. The sight so fascinated her that her foot slid off the gas pedal, and the stolen BMW slid to a slow stop.

    She tore her gaze from the gun long enough to look at the man in the passenger seat. The excessively pale and sweating man in the passenger seat, his pallor accentuated by contrast with the black leather seat he was slumped against. If he passed out, he'd probably blow her head off. She was sure he wouldn't mean it, but that was slim consolation.

    "We need to get you to a hospital."

    "No!" The gun barrel spasmed wildly.

    "Okay! Okay! No hospitals," she agreed quickly, taking a deep breath when the gun seemed to stabilize. This whole night was rapidly turning into a surreal experience, and she had to keep reminding herself that the danger this man posed was very very real.

    "So you don't want to go to a hospital. Where do you want to go?"

    "Just drive. They're getting closer." His gaze -- and the gun barrel -- swung from side to side, covering the deserted garage.

    Deciding she didn't want to agitate him any further, Lynn wrestled with the unfamiliar manual shift and got the car moving again. She attempted to shift into second, popped the clutch, and jerked to a stop. The man's arm struck the dashboard, and the gun discharged, shooting a hole in the roof of the car, before it fell to the floor.

    "Are you trying to get us killed?" he yelled. "I could've blown your head off!"

    She wrapped her fingers around the leather steering wheel, idly wondering why people paid more for that option when the leather seam dug painfully into your fingers. Maybe she was clutching the wheel a bit tighter than the manufacturer expected. With a giddy sense of euphoria bordering on hysteria, she envisioned the warning labels to be attached to future leather steering wheels: Not for use while being kidnapped by a bleeding murderer with a gun.

    Forcing her fingers to relax, she said in her best lawyerly tone, "Technically, that would be getting me killed, not us. And that wasn't what I was trying to do. You're the one who stole a car with manual transmission. I'm a little rusty."

    The man muttered something under his breath that sounded a lot like, "Women drivers!"

    "If you don't like my driving, do it yourself!" she snapped.

    "I can't." The man seemed to deflate inside his cheap suit, as if his anger had been the only thing keeping him conscious. He looked wearily around the garage again, then stiffened, staring at the exit ramp. "Never mind. Drive. Drive!"

    She stepped gingerly on the accelerator, and the BMW crept slowly toward the exit ramp.

    "Not that way!" he shouted.

    The car bucked as her foot reflexively twitched. "Stop shouting at me! And we have to go that way. Unless you want to go up to the roof?"

    "No. They'll have air support. We'll have to go through them."

    She frowned, wondering if perhaps his black eye was indicative of a serious injury to the head. "There's nothing and no one there."

    Although, now that he mentioned it, there was something, like a heat haze rising from the pavement and distorting the air. She squinted, trying to get a better look.

    "Uh-hunh. Faster!"

    With his uninjured left leg, he stomped on the gas pedal, and incidentally, her foot.


    The car shot forward. She glanced down at the tachometer, its needle solidly in the red zone. In the instant her attention was diverted, the car struck something with a sickeningly wet thump. The windshield cracked in a starburst pattern in front of her passenger, more thumps followed, and the back of the car lifted as the right rear tire rolled over something twice the height of a speed bump.

    The coffee she'd swilled instead of lunch made a brief reappearance in the back of her throat.

    "Oh my god, my god, we ran over someone!" She hadn't seen what hit the windshield, but the sounds and sensations had been unmistakable. Lynn tried to lift her foot off the gas pedal, but the man continued to press down on it.

    "One down, at least three more out there," he said.

    She looked in the rearview mirror, but saw nothing on the garage floor. Whatever she'd hit must have been in good enough shape to get up and run away.

    A gun barked, echoing in the concrete garage, and the back window of the car exploded. Lynn floored the accelerator, headless of the engine's protesting whine. Scraping the bumper, she squealed around the tight corner down to the next level. The car roared across level three, left more of its bumper on the wall of the ramp, and sped through level two. She expected to hear another shot, but the garage was silent -- silent except for the whine of the BMW's engine, not designed for these speeds in first gear, and the protesting scrape of rubber against concrete.

    "Hold on," she warned. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her foot momentarily from the accelerator, and as soon as the rpm's slowed, shifted to second, then quickly to third. Pointing the car directly at the automated exit barrier, she gave it the gas.

    They crashed through the aluminum gate, the lightweight pipe sheering beneath the car's greater force. Torn metal edges scarred the side of the BMW as they passed through.

    "We're not exactly inconspicuous," she said, lurching into the ally behind the garage.

    "I know. But we can't stop now."

    She shuddered, remembering the feel of the car striking a body that she hadn't seen. She hadn't seen anything make the starburst impact cracks on the windshield, either. So had it run away after she hit it, or was it lying dead on the floor, and she just couldn't see it. The thoughts whirled in her head.

    "But we'll stop soon," she told him. "I feel a nice nervous breakdown coming on, and I'd really rather not have one in traffic."

    The man nodded. "That's how I felt when I found out about them, too. You'll get over it."

    Lynn watched darkened buildings and the occasional car slide by. Neon lights blinked. But it all seemed somehow distant and disconnected.

    "Take a left," the man told her.

    She mechanically followed his instructions, signaling a turn, breaking and cutting the wheel.

    "Here. Between the SUV's."

    After driving into the narrow parking spot shielded by the two large SUV's, she shut off the lights and the engine. As if surfacing from a deep underwater dive, she broke through into awareness, and realized she and the mystery man were parked in the train station parking lot. The bulky SUV's hid their car from casual observers, not that there were many of those at nearly ten o'clock at night.

    "What are we doing here?"

    "The car's too visible, you said it yourself. And they saw it. We need a new one."

    "Of course we do. Steal an automatic this time." What was stealing another car compared to leaving the scene of a hit and run accident? Maybe even vehicular manslaughter.

    "Are you okay?"

    She turned to look at the man beside her. Concern narrowed his eyes. Actually, the blackened eye was swollen mostly shut regardless of his feelings toward her, but his other eye narrowed in what she decided to term concern. It was a good look for him -- the concern, not the black eye. He was really very handsome when he wasn't pointing a gun at her.

    She took a deep breath, and steeled herself for the answer she didn't want to hear but needed to know.

    "What or who did I hit?"

    "A soldier, from a special research division of the armed forces. I'm guessing army, but I'm not one hundred per cent sure of that."

    "A soldier." A man. She ran over a human being. And fled the scene.

    Rationality suddenly forced its way through her shock.

    "If it was a man, why didn't I see him?"

    Her passenger ran his hand over his face, wincing when he touched his swollen eye. He suddenly seemed unbearably weary.


    "Come again?"

    "Nanotechnology. And fiber optics. Basically, he was wearing a suit that made him invisible."

    "That's impossible!"

    He frowned. Apparently he disliked being disagreed with. Or he was just having a really bad day, and had run out of patience. "You have a better explanation?"


    "From what I've seen of the suits, they're some sort of hardened battle armor, so you probably didn't kill him."

    She forced a smile. "Thank you." After a moment's hesitation, she asked, "When you kidnapped me, you said you were a murderer. How...?"

    "I'm a scientist. Nanotech and smart fabrics are my specialty. You've heard of the wired coat?"

    Lynn nodded. All the senior partners had one. The coat, which used infrared signals to pick up streaming audio and video from the internet and displayed them on a small screen in the cuff, was this year's hottest techie toy, obsoleting last year's cell phone jacket.

    "Your work?" she asked.

    "My work. I did the video display." He paused. "I was approached a few months ago by a man working for the government, although he was vague about the actual agency. He wanted me to work on their equally vague project. I refused."


    He swallowed. "Earlier today -- was it only today? It seems like a week or more -- I returned to my lab after dinner, and found it had been ransacked. I didn't see anyone, but someone jumped me from behind. We struggled, and upset some equipment. I was knocked out briefly, and came to with the lab in flames. I didn't see my assailant anywhere, so I got out. Just as I reached the door, I heard screaming. I looked back, and saw a disturbance in the flames. Then, the fire must have hit his suit's power pack, because the illusion faded. I saw clearly the figure of a man, in a hardened silver suit that completely covered his head, body, hands and feet. Flames engulfed him. There was nothing I could do."

    "I'm sorry." Lynn could think of nothing else to say.

    The man nodded, accepting her support. "I staggered into the hallway. I thought the smoke was playing tricks on me, making the hall seem to waver. Then the automatic sprinkler system kicked on. The other soldiers became visible. I ran. I found you. And here we are."

    "Here we are," she agreed. Turning away from the man and his fantastic story, she stared out the shattered glass of the driver's side window at the dark night around them. A night that could hide a whole platoon of invisible soldiers. "But where do we go from here?"

    Chapter 3 by Jeff Strand