Rebecca almost let her phone ring out. Not intentionally. Her head was spinning. She stood on the landing outside Steph's door, staring dumbly at the screen as the shrill ring filled the hollow space. Leah's name flashed back at her. If she told her friend she was a Controller, would she believe her? Under any other circumstances the discovery would be something amazing. But something told her informing Leah was not the best plan.
With a groan Rebecca answered right on the last ring. "Leah..."
"Rebecca what the hell is going on?!" the phone squawked at her. The line was overrun with static but it was obvious Leah was in a panic.
"Leah, it's okay. I'm fine."
Her friend wasn't listening. "Bec, I know I told you to go and see the cops - but what did you do?!"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you near a television?" Leah asked. "Turn it on."
"Okay, okay..." Rebecca pushed the door to the tiny unit open and went inside. "Do you have a television?" she asked Steph.
Rebecca didn't expect a yes, but Steph nodded. She drew back the curtain on the rear wall. Instead of ugly concrete it revealed a bank of screens and equipment bracketed to the wall. The unexpected tech took up all the available space.
Where had Steph found all this stuff? Rebecca didn’t have time to ask, because Leah was squawking at her again. "Yes, I've found one," she said in reply. "Which channel?" She took the remote Steph offered her.
"Seven, three, take your pick."
Rebecca switched on the television. The image of a media reporter and a police officer appeared on screen. Behind them was the police station Nick had taken her from. There were fireman and police officers running everywhere; the building itself was cordoned off and there was smoke coming out of a stack of air conditioning units at its side. She hadn’t realised how much damage Jason had done.
The police officer was speaking. "... the destruction caused was the work of two young individuals."
The onscreen image changed to one taken from the station's interior security cameras. Both Rebecca and Nick were shown.
"Maybe I should have taken those out..." Steph muttered.
“Nick and Rebecca Forsythe are considered highly dangerous and should not be approached. The System requests the citizens of the City to report any sightings. Shares will be given for any information that leads to their capture."
Rebecca stared at the screen, for once, lost for words. The last time she could remember shares being on offer in exchange for the assistance of citizens was nearly a year ago, after some scientist had disappeared. She'd done nothing like... well, whatever it was he was supposed to have done. When Rebecca thought about it she realised neither the media or the police had given much detail. They weren't giving any now either. What had Nick dragged her into?!
"Rebecca..." She’d almost forgotten Leah on the other end of the phone line. "I don't know what you and your brother have gotten yourselves into. But you need to turn yourself in!"
This couldn't be happening. There was now no doubt in Rebecca's mind she no longer had a job. And she was wanted by the police. She hadn't done anything!
"Bec," said Steph. "If they're after us you need to get off that phone."
"I... I'll need to think about it, Leah. I... I should go..."
“They can track your signal. This deep in the underCity it might take them some time but…”
"Rebecca," Jason growled. "Get off the phone."
"Bec, are you there? Please, you can't go. Just keep talking to me..."
Rebecca felt her heart skip a beat. "Leah, are you trying to keep me on the line?"
There was a brief pause, overlaid by static. "They only want to help, Bec."
"And help you get some bloody shares!" Rebecca cut the call. She stared at the screen for a moment, then snarled and tossed the phone across the room. It bounced off the door, startling Nick, and hit the floor with a clatter.
"That's the first intelligent thing I've seen you do," said Jason.
“You shut up!” She rounded on Jason, pointing a finger. “This is all your fault!"
Jason ignored the outburst. “So can they track that?” he asked Steph.
"Yes, but I don't think Rebecca was on long enough for them to get an exact location. They probably know we’re in the underCity but I doubt they can be more certain than that. We shouldn't stay long though." Steph sighed. "And this place was just starting to feel like home."
Jason pushed himself to his feet. "Well then, I'll get in contact with Conrad. We've got what we came for," he glanced briefly at Rebecca.
"Who," Nick muttered.
Jason began fiddling with a handheld computer to set up a connection with Conrad. Whoever he was. Steph and Nick pulled down some of Steph’s equipment from the wall.
"We should be able to take as much as you want, Steph. It'll fit in my car,” said Nick, his arms full with a massive screen.
"Oh no, wait," said Jason, looking up from his computer. "We can't take your car."
"Why not?!" Nick bristled. Then his shoulders sagged. "Oh. Damn. Look, I know its old but do you know how long it took me to..."
"They may have seen it outside the police station. And they're looking for you," Jason continued, unperturbed by the angst this was causing Nick. "It'd be a dead give away."
"Charlie owns a car," said Steph. "Well, he found it. It's a heap of junk but it'll drive."
"And he's just going to give it to us?"
Steph chewed her lip and looked at her feet. "He will if you offer him yours."
Nick groaned. "I don't suppose he's the one who tried to 'borrow' my tyres before? Well, I suppose he may as well have the whole thing!"
Rebecca followed the two out and down to Nick's car. After dumping her armful of equipment Steph went back up to see if she could procure Charlie's vehicle.
Nick patted the hood of his car one last time. Rebecca caught him looking at her. "You alright?" he asked.
Rebecca knew she was being unusually quiet. She drew in a breath. "I've just found out I'm a Controller. Cops are hunting me, so I don't have a job anymore. And now we're leaving the City? None of this seems real."
"Hey," Nick put an arm around her shoulder. "Don't stress. I'll be here with you."
Rebecca put her head in her hands. "This is really happening, isn't it?"
"Yeah," her brother admitted. "But think about it, would you really have been happy keeping on working that job? I mean, I know we haven't talked for a couple of months but I do remember you complaining you couldn't ask any real questions. You were going to get yourself in trouble..."
Rebecca lifted her head and let out a sigh. There was no point hiding it from him now. “I did get myself in trouble for asking too many questions. I was on my second warning.”
"There, you see? You'd either have lost your job, become unemployed - you would've loved that - or stay stuck there and be dead bored. Now you get to come down below. With me.” Nick grinned. “Sounds like a good deal to me.“
"Assuming ‘below’ exists."
Nick rolled his eyes. "You're not going to admit that until you actually see it, are you?"
Something coughed and spluttered. They turned to see Steph bringing a small, rusty hulk of a vehicle towards them and into the pool of artificial light outside her front door. She stopped just behind Nick's old car, bringing the tattier vehicle to a halt with a sick sounding clunk. It was so rusted it was impossible to tell what colour it had originally been and it’s body had a very noticeable lean.
"No..." Nick groaned as he saw it. "What is that even?!”
The door behind them slammed. Jason came out with the handheld computer tucked beneath his arm. Even he frowned at the rusted car. “That might get us out of the underCity but we're going to need something with anti-gravs to get to Conrad. I can't risk him coming anywhere near up top."
A grin slowly began to spread across Nick's face. "I've got an idea."
Jason eyed him warily. ”You do, do you?"
"At my work. We've got a vehicle there in for repairs. It's got anti-gravs."
"Does it have enough room for all of us? You realise we need to get almost right down into the Purge, right? It's not some toy?"
"It is definitely not a toy," Nick grinned. "It's a 2260 Pegasus. NIASteel body and..."
"Okay, okay,” Jason rolled his eyes. "As long as it does the job."
Rebecca felt a smile touch her lips. The Pegasus was Nick's dream car. He was losing his pride and joy but he'd quickly found a way to make up for it.
They all piled into Charlie's old car. The engine took a few tries to catch and the gears grated as Nick pulled off, but it was driving.
"This. Is. Ridiculous." Nick growled. The car jerked and he soon realised he needed to skip second gear entirely.
Despite the great shortfalls in their chosen vehicle's function they made it to Nick's work without any major issues. The worst they did was to annoy a few motorists. They saw some cop cars, perhaps more than usual, but none of these paid them any attention. It seemed the hunk of junk car was doing it's job.
Rebecca recognised the stretch of road that approached the mechanics where Nick worked. How long it had been since she'd last visited her brother? Three or four months, at least. There was no specific reason for it. Not on her end anyway. Perhaps she had just been caught up with her work. Nick hadn't contacted her either but the reason for that was now a little more obvious. She should have tried to hang out with him earlier. If she had she might have figured out what was going on. Perhaps he would have told her. And then they wouldn't be running from the cops and have lost their jobs. Maybe.
Nick pulled into a small alleyway a few blocks down from the mechanic's shop. Mechanics didn’t earn many shares but Nick's work was still located in one of the more affluent areas of the City, due to the usual clientele. Their hunk of junk car may not have been the one the cops were looking for but in this part of the City the barely drivable vehicle more than stood out.
“And now we’re stealing a car…” Rebecca muttered, but no one seemed to pay her any mind. Not like she was the sole reason they’d come here or anything.
"I don't see any cops hanging around," Nick said. "But we're going to need to wait a little while; it might not be a good idea to try and get the car until they shut up shop."
"Works for me," said Jason. He'd lowered his voice, as if he thought his normal volume might risk discovery. "I'd rather leave when it's dark."
It took a few hours. Both Nick and Jason seemed to be equally wary about approaching the shop before it was safe. Eventually, just as the sun was nearing the horizon and the buildings all about had begun to cast long, low shadows, they made their move. Rebecca hesitated, but followed the others towards the shop. It wasn’t like she had much choice.
Nick pulled out his keys as they approached the front door and stopped to riffle through them as he found the right one.
"Hurry up," Jason snapped. He looked over his shoulder and tugged his coat closer about him.
"Relax, I work here remember?" Nick finally found the right key and opened the door. They all moved into the darkened mechanics shop. Nick activated the lights, keeping them to the lowest level, but this was still bright enough to reveal a line of about eight cars in various states of repair.
"I know we had a Pegasus yesterday; it should still be here."
"You're sure?" Jason pressed.
"Yes. Though I was fairly distracted wondering where you had wandered off to. Ah, here we go." Nick approached the vehicle on the far right, a grin growing on his face. Rebecca wasn't as into cars as Nick but she knew enough to know this was just what they needed. The Pegasus was an expensive model, just the type of thing Nick would be into but could never hope to afford. Anti-gravs, a powerful engine and the capabilities of the adaptive nano-technology meant it would also be useful in their escape. This particular one was a bright red, its sleek body shining under the lights without a speck of dust to be seen.
The top of the car was currently open and Nick leaned down into the cockpit."Yes!"
"What?" asked Jason.
Nick looked up and grinned. "It's not an auto!"
Rebecca thought of her own little yellow compact sitting back in her apartment’s garage. It too was manual; she'd known her brother would never forgive her if she bought an automatic. She'd never see that again either.
Jason was scowling at Nick. "Really? We just need to get out of here, not collect a boy toy for you to..."
Another voice broke over the top of him. "Hold it right there!" A man moved out of the shadows towards them. He was dark haired, though balding. The overhead lights illuminated the top of his head but the rest of him was all shadowy angles. Most importantly though he was training a shot gun on them.
"Jack,” Nick said. He moved away from the car and placed himself in front of the shot gun, effectively blocking Rebecca, Steph and Jason. "It's okay. It's just me... and a few friends. I forgot... a, a tool, I was just..."
Jack kept his gun up but he couldn't quite seem to keep it trained on Nick. Instead it pointed slightly down and to the side of him. "I saw the news," he said coldly. "You're a fugitive of the City. You and your sister."
"Yeah, but you don't understand!” Nick protested.
"You know how hard I worked to get you here? I trained you, Nick!" Jack spat. "Now the cops are going to be all over me asking if I'm involved in this!"
"It's not what it looks like..." Nick tried again.
"It looks like you're trying to pinch a car!"
"Well, I can't drive mine; they're looking for me!" Nick exploded. He'd balled his hands into fists, despite the threat of the gun.
"Someone worked hard for that car! And they're paying me to fix it and to not let you take it!"
"Jack,” Nick drew in a breath and raised his hands into the air. "You're right, you trained me and I always thought we were friends."
Jack eyed him warily.
Wonderful, they were going to get shot before they had even left. Suddenly the idea of leaving the City was beginning to grow in appeal. Being arrested, losing her job, her shares, being unemployed. Sure all that sucked but now she was going to get shot!
"No, we were friends," Jack was saying. He seemed to realise that he had allowed the gun to stray from its target. He cocked it and pointed it back on Nick, a grim expression creasing his lips. "Then you went and betrayed this City! Now stay where you are while I call the police."
Nick suddenly lunged for the man. He was fast. But Jack reacted faster and jerked the gun all the way up and the barrel caught Nick in his middle.
Rebecca felt her heart leap into her throat. "Nick!" she shouted, as Jack's finger closed on the trigger.
The gun clicked uselessly.
Both men stared at the gun and then Nick slapped the barrel away from his middle. Jack pulled it towards him and gave it a shake, as if that might fix it.
Rebecca glanced beside her. Jason had one gloved hand raised slightly and he was concentrating on the gun. There was no way it would fire.
Nick recovered and snatched the now useless weapon off of his employer. "Get on the ground, Jack," he barked, though his voice held a slight tremor. "We're taking the car." He held the shot gun in front of himself but pointed it at floor. He had no intention of using it, only in scaring Jack into letting them leave. Rebecca let out a sigh of relief. Whatever he’d got them involved him, he wasn’t a killer.
Jack knelt down on the floor and put his hands on his head. "I'm still going to call the police," he said through clenched teeth.
Jason stepped past Rebecca and up to Nick. Before her brother could react, Jason deftly snatched the gun from his grip. "No you're not.” He pointed it down at Jack in one swift movement.
"Hey!" Nick shoved Jason hard. The crack of the weapon echoed around the shop. It sent a spray of energy pellets splattering up the wall, barely a meter to the left of Jack.
The mechanic broke into a cold sweat. He’d lost any inclination to voice his disapproval of Nick's or anyone else's actions.
Rebecca’s heart was in her throat.
Nick snatched the gun back. "You're not killing him!"
"He's going to call the cops," Jason said, almost calmly. "I've come this far and I'm not going to let him ruin it."
Nick glared at Jason hard. Then stepped over to Jack. He hesitated briefly before drawing back the gun and smashing the butt into the man's head. Jack slipped to the floor, unconscious.
"He's not calling the cops now, is he? Let's go."
Jason grabbed Nick's arm, bringing him to a halt. "You listen to me. Whilst we're in this City I'm going to let you do things your way, but..."
"Really? Because you've been taking my advice on everything thus far."
"Let's get one thing straight," Jason growled. He gripped Nick tighter, and though Nick tugged he couldn't break free. "As soon as we're out of here, you're going to play by my rules. Or you're dead."
Rebecca was shaking. But she still found herself saying: "Jason, if you want me to come with you you're going to have to let go of my brother.”
Jason turned his steely gaze on her. Had she just gone too far? She had been arguing with this guy and telling him he was insane from the moment she'd met him. Had that been wise, when he was the sort of person to shoot a man without hesitation?
But Jason only stared at her for a moment. Then he let go of Nick's wrist. "That wasn't a threat. It was a warning. Come on, let's go."
Nick rubbed at his wrist as he moved towards the Pegasus. But by the time he'd pulled open the driver's door and climbed inside, he was smiling again. Rebecca helped Steph load the few bits of computer equipment she had salvaged into the backseat and climbed in with her.
"Enough room for everyone, huh?" Steph muttered to herself as she squashed up against the far side of the vehicle.
Nick wasted no time. As soon as everyone was in he started the engine. It let out a beefy roar and Rebecca could feel it vibrating behind her back, like there was some beast in there waiting to rip its way out.
They tore out of the mechanic's shop and up the road.
"Settle down," said Jason. He gripped his door handle a little too tightly. "We don't want to draw attention."
"Do you want to get out of here fast, or not?" said Nick. "I mean, it’s your call; you are the one in charge."
Nick took them down winding streets, working his way down from the upper regions of the City towards the outer cross bridges. In a vehicle with anti-gravs he could have used the higher air lanes. These were marked out with flashing lights that wound their way between the buildings. These would have been far faster, and the Pegasus would have chewed up the distance in minutes, but Rebecca suspected her brother avoided these to remain off the cop’s radar.
Rebecca gazed up through the Pegasus' open top and wondered if she would ever see those air lanes again. Beyond the blinking lights and the buildings the sky was beginning to grow dark, the orange red glow of sunset sinking down lower and lower towards the City's edge.
"Damn," Nick said suddenly.
Rebecca snapped her gaze downwards. What had upset Nick? The whoop of a siren sounded. A cop car slipped in behind them, quickly followed by a second.
"Should've killed your friend," Jason muttered.
"We're still in the City, Jason. My rules, remember? So shut up and hold on." The Pegasus surged forward.
Nick had always wanted to race cars. But he wasn't a Controller. The high end races were always in machines built to be controlled. They used machines that almost seemed to meld to the mind of the driver, giving split second reactions at blistering speeds. As a mechanic with no Controller ability her brother had no hope of competing, or in getting his hands on the massive share payouts the racers enjoyed. But now he tore through the City streets, deftly taking corners at high speed and quickly leaving the cop cars behind him. It looked like he had finally found an outlet for his passions.
Jason tossed a glove into the backseat at Rebecca. She picked it up gingerly. "For the cops?" she asked warily. After seeing what Jason had tried with Nick's boss she wasn’t sure she wanted to be taking orders from the man. "I hope you don't expect me to hurt these guys?" A wreck at the speeds they were reaching would not bode well.
"Do what you please.” Jason rolled his eyes and turned his attention outside of the vehicle.
Another cop car joined the chase; this one pulled out in front of them and tried to cut them off. Nick stomped on the brakes, narrowly avoiding running into its rear. But seconds later the police vehicle veered off. It sideswiped a wall and rolled onto its roof, skidding a few meters before coming to rest. Rebecca winced as Nick tore past the wreck and left it behind them. She didn't want to get caught anymore than Jason did. And she didn’t want to trash cop cars either. But maybe if she could take them out before Jason got to them she could do so with less damage to their occupants.
Rebecca slipped on the glove and the material melded to her hand. She reached out with her mind and closed her eyes. And found this was going to be a lot harder than she'd first thought.
Taking out Valerie's Peacekeeper had not exactly been a snap. But it had been one vehicle, one machine in close proximity, right on their tail. Now there were not only a number of police cars tailing them, but other traffic too. They were among the buildings, not down in the tunnels.
Instead, Rebecca came up against something like a wall of white noise. Like static buzzing in her head. She couldn’t make out what was what and it made her dizzy. She opened her eyes and tried to get her bearings.
Four cop cars had attempted to chase them now. Three Nick had managed to leave behind and one Jason had smashed. Three more pulled out of a side street ahead of them. Nick pumped more power to the anti-gravs and sailed clear over their heads, barely avoiding a head on collision. The three cop cars slewed around and gave chase. These were more powerful than their predecessors and had anti-gravs. And perhaps more skilled drivers, called in specifically for this chase, because they were just managing to keep up with Nick's manoeuvres.
Come on, she had to concentrate! Rebecca focused on the Control again, this time with her eyes open so she could actually see where things were. There was so much information, signals flying into her brain, and it made her eyes water. She scowled in frustration, focused on the nearest car, and lashed out at it.
The police vehicle's engine whined. The front end reared up skywards. Its backend surged ahead in a backflip that launched it into the air. It did a complete three-sixty, engine still whining, and smashed nose first into the road barely meters behind them. It didn't explode; just crumpled and fell over to its side.
One of the other cop cars had to brake hard to avoid smashing into it, instead nosing harmlessly up onto the sidewalk. It too was out of the chase.
Rebecca stared until the crumpled wreck disappeared behind them and then she slowly turned back around. She hadn't meant to cause that much damage!
Jason was watching her. "Now you're getting the hang of it." He turned his attention back on the lone police car that was still following them, focused with a rage in his eyes that was clearly visible. There was a crash and the screech of tortured metal behind them. Rebecca didn't bother to turn around to see what he'd done.
"I don't think they can catch us, Jason!" said Steph. "It's not the same up here, the cops, they don't know what they're doing..." Jason completely ignored her, so she turned to Rebecca.
"I didn't do that on purpose!" Rebecca told her.
Nick threw the Pegasus around a final turn and they tore down towards the north side cross bridge. At it's very centre was a mass of blinking blue and red lights. A few larger police cruisers hovered above the road block.
Nick only pressed harder on the accelerator. He wasn't planning on stopping.
"Nick..." Rebecca said, "I don't think they plan on moving. They're not going to let us across that bridge!" So much for leaving the City. Once again, the decision was out of her hands.
"We're not going across the bridge," said Jason.
"Well, how are we supposed to get out of the City?!"
"We're going to go through the Purge."