Cassie made sure the General remained unconscious as we began our trek back to the city. Unfortunately, we had only been able to drive for about an hour before traffic came to a dead stop, and remained that way ever since. I lost track of how long we’d been sitting there, but Jonah had fallen asleep and I kept glancing at the General, thinking I saw her stir.
“You sure she’s out cold?” I asked anxiously. “It looks like her fingers keep moving.”
“I was afraid of this,” Cassie muttered. “Her body’s starting to resist the drugs. Let me know the second she wakes up and I’ll knock her out again the old-fashioned way.”
“As long as she doesn’t get to me first,” I replied, pushing myself as far against the car door as I could. I remained on guard, watching for any sign of life in the General. Nearly another hour passed before anyone spoke again.
“Something’s wrong,” Cassie said all of a sudden, peering around us on high alert. I noticed it too a moment later - the cars next to us were empty. I looked ahead and behind us, only to see the same thing. I had a sinking feeling what it meant, and it wasn’t anything good.
“Do you think everyone just randomly decided to get out and abandon their cars,” I asked, “or…”
“Tempus,” Cassie finished the thought for me. She shook Jonah awake and exclaimed, “We’ve got a big problem!”
Jonah roused from his stupor and it barely took him five seconds to register what was happening. “Dammit!” he cursed. “How’d they find us?”
“No idea,” Cassie replied, pulling out her gun. “How should we play this?”
Jonah closed his eyes again. “It’s the Bobs. They’re gonna try to hit us from both sides, box us in,” he finally said, sounding out of breath. “We need to…” He trailed off as he slumped forward, passing out completely.
“This is just perfect,” Cassie growled. “He’s out cold, my leg’s busted up, and you’re...well, you’re all I’ve got, I guess.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I snarked.
“Do you still have that gun I gave you earlier?”
“Yeah. Right here,” I said, taking it out of my jacket.
“Great. We’re gonna have to get out, now. Stay low, try to get some cover behind one of these other cars, and as soon as you see a Bob, blast him,” she ordered.
“I’m not sure I can hit them,” I admitted. “My track record recently hasn’t been the best.”
“Well, you just have to keep them busy and focused on you,” she said. “Ready? Go!”
Cassie opened her door and rolled out, taking off for the side of the road. I lost sight of her as I crawled out from the backseat far less-gracefully, and slithered along the pavement towards a large van several cars ahead of us. I searched beneath the vehicles for any sign of the Bobs, but I didn’t see anything moving. It wasn’t until I heard a gunshot that they gave away their positions.
“It came from the east,” a Bob said, sounding uncomfortably close behind me. I carefully slid myself around, spotting a pair of legs just beyond the back wheel of the van. “They are trying to draw us away from the car. Ignore them.”
As he turned to move towards our car, I popped out from behind the van and opened fire. For once, I actually managed to hit my target on purpose - not that it did much good. After taking five bullets to the back and barely stumbling forward, Bob merely turned to face me with an angry glare.
“Maxwell Darby, you are becoming far more troublesome than you are worth,” he said. “Fortunately for you, the boss wants you to stay in one piece.”
He took a step forward, punching his hand into the hood of the van and shoving it aside, sending it crashing into the car behind it. I backed up, raising my gun to fire again, but I didn’t get the chance. A massive hand wrapped around my arm and yanked me backwards, tearing the weapon from my grip at the same time. It was Other Bob. Fortunately, he was distracted enough by a shot coming from the other side of the highway that slammed him in the shoulder, and I was able to slip out of his grasp, ducking beneath him as I ran in the opposite direction.
“Go,” Bob told Other Bob, “find whoever is shooting at us. End them quickly.”
Other Bob set off towards the edge of the road while Bob advanced on me. I wove in and out of the static cars, hoping to get enough of a buffer between us that I’d have time to think of a way to escape. I’d ducked down behind an SUV to catch my breath when I heard a car door open, followed by a series of rapid boot steps.
“Over here, lughead!” I peered over the SUV to see the General charging full speed at Bob, lowering her shoulder as she tackled him to the ground. Without missing a beat, she delivered half-a-dozen solid punches to his face before he was able to kick her off of him. She got back on her feet and squared up, but when she threw her next blow, Bob caught her fist, crushing it with his palm, and landed a brutal hit to her jaw. He then drew back his leg and swung his foot into her stomach, connecting hard enough to send her reeling back against a nearby vehicle.
Bob strode over to the General and picked her back up. He attempted to slam his fist into her head again, but she managed to duck out of the way, causing him to hit the car behind her, leaving a large dent in its side. I noticed the trunk of the car Bob had pushed the van into hanging open, spotting a crowbar inside. Making sure his attention was still on the General, I raced over and grabbed it. I caught the General’s eye and she nodded, so I chucked the crowbar as hard as I could in her direction. She dove towards it, picking it up and swinging the curved edge into Bob’s leg in one fluid motion. Bob tried to attack her, but she pulled the crowbar towards her while kicking up at his chest, toppling him backwards onto the asphalt.
Several more shots rang out from the side of the highway, followed by the sound of someone sprinting towards us. Bob, still sprawled out in the road, evidently heard it, too, and scurried around one of the nearby cars as a hail of bullets came flying out of nowhere, impacting the vehicle instead of him. He suddenly popped back out and threw a handful of shattered glass at his invisible assailant, causing the shards that got close to the unseen figure to disappear, allowing him to pinpoint their location.
Quickly tearing the crowbar out of his leg, Bob flung at the spot the glass disappeared, breaking Cassie’s concentration and forcing her to rematerialize. She put up her hands to protect herself, and Bob used the opportunity to get back up. He immediately went after her, knocking her gun aside and throwing her halfway across the highway. He then accosted the General again, who struggled to block his assault before finally taking a hit from a haymaker to the side of the face. Cassie recovered her pistol and fired at Bob’s head, but he moved at the last moment, so the bullet merely grazed him.
Bob hurled the General at Cassie, sending them both to the ground while I desperately searched for the gun Other Bob had taken from me and tossed aside. Both the General and Cassie had recovered and were engaging Bob at the same time, but he clearly had the advantage. When Cassie tried to shoot him again, he moved quickly towards her and held his hand out in front of him to shield his face, letting it take the impact from the bullet. With his other hand, he smacked the pistol away and stomped his foot down on her bad leg. The General came at him, but he grabbed her by the wrist, twisting her arm behind her, and then rammed his palm down on her elbow, shattering the joint.
I finally located my lost weapon and rushed over to get it. Despite their injuries, the other two were still fighting valiantly, but they wouldn’t last much longer. I was about to shoot at Bob again when I noticed the device attached to the side of his belt. It looked like a pager, but made of metal and more intricately designed, with wires and small lights on it, reminding me of the Time Bomb. I came to the conclusion that it must be the Phase Bubble Generator, and figured if I could knock it out, there might be enough frenetic activity from panicked drivers to cover our escape. Taking a deep breath, I raised the gun, pointing it at Bob’s hip, and pulled the trigger.
There was a familiar rush of heavy air all around me, and I couldn’t help but grin when I saw the surprised look on Bob’s face when he looked down to see what remained of his destroyed Phase Bubble Generator hanging off his belt. A number of shrill screams came from the surrounding vehicles, and several cars were frantically searching for space to pull away from the people who, from their perspective, had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the highway. Cassie had to roll out of the way of one that jolted forward, crashing into the car in front of it. Bob stared me down with a cold fury in his eyes, but he backed away from the scene, only turning around when he reached the side of the road.
“We should go,” I said, running over to help Cassie to her feet. I helped her limp back to our car and then went to find the General. She had attempted to follow Bob, but her injuries had caused her to double over in pain. “Come on,” I told her, assisting her as well. Because she was so much taller than me, it was more like she was using my body as a crutch, and it wasn’t easy getting her over to our vehicle.
“I’ll drive,” I said to Cassie, and she simply nodded in agreement before climbing into the backseat, wincing as she maneuvered her bad leg in first. The General followed after her, and I hopped into the driver’s seat. I pulled out into the shoulder, but there were already too many other cars trying to use it to escape the area, so I went farther off the road, into the grass that ran beside it, and took off.
“I didn’t see the other Bob when I chased the first one down,” the General noted. “What happened to him?”
“I was able to sneak up on him and take him out,” Cassie revealed. “I’m guessing his buddy dragged him off when he fled, though.”
“How’d they find us?” I wondered aloud.
“I believe I can shed some light on that matter,” a voice stated over the car’s speakers. It was Desmond’s voice. I stopped short and noticed in the rearview mirror that the trunk popped up when I did. “Don’t you just love satellite radio? I certainly do,” he said gleefully. “Technology these days is amazing. Like smartphones - they all have such high-definition cameras on them now that when people post videos they take online, professional news sources will actually use them. Imagine my surprise when eyewitness videos from some upstate rest stop showed up, and who should I see in the background but my old friends! And the cameras even caught the license plate number of the car they ran off in! You really should’ve stolen a vehicle that didn’t have LoJack - it was far too easy to track you down.”
“It’s just too bad your goons can never seem to do their job properly,” I stated. “How many times now have they failed to catch me?”
“Well, you don’t exactly fight fair, now do you?” Desmond replied. “Honestly - it’s not very sporting of you to keep bringing in new friends with such wonderful powers to help you out. But I suppose I shouldn’t talk, cause I don’t like to fight fair, either. So I didn’t.”
“What’re you talking about?” Cassie asked through clenched teeth, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to anger or pain.
“Once I located your getaway car, I started listening in on your secret conversations. I know, I know - so naughty of me! But I heard all about your little predicament, Maxy-boy. How the big, bad General dosed you with her dime store version of my virus, and how that boy you had in your trunk was the only one with the formula to whip you up a cure. So I took out an insurance policy, just in case you managed to beat the odds and thwart the Bobs once again.”
“Emerson!” I exclaimed. As I jumped out of the car to go confirm if my fears were true, I could hear Desmond cackling over the speakers behind me. Just as I expected, the trunk was empty. Emerson was gone. I hurried back into the driver’s seat and snarled, “What’d you do with him?”
“The Bobs aren’t the only ‘goons’ I have at my disposal, you know,” Desmond said. “While you all were too busy getting beaten to a pulp, one of my other operatives whisked him away. Far, far away, where you’ll never find him - unless you agree to turn yourself over to me.”
“Why would I do that? Either way, I’m pretty much dead, so I’d rather keep you from getting your hands on my power.”
“Turning yourself over to me is the only way you’ll ever get your cure,” he said tauntingly. “Sure, it’s a risk, but you do like to gamble, don’t you, Max?”
“Don’t trust him,” the General warned me. “If you turn yourself over, you’ll never get out again.”
“Is that Iris?” Desmond asked in wonder. “Surely it is! I’d recognize your voice anywhere!”
“Stuff it, Desmond,” she snapped.
“Just as witty as I remember,” he said with a laugh. “Well, Max, now you have quite the hefty decision to make - listen to me and turn yourself over, or listen to the person who caused the problem in the first place. The choice is yours. If you would like a chance to keep being alive, my people will be waiting for you in the city, on the corner of Twelfth Avenue and White Street. Be there by midnight. That should give you just enough time to make it there from where you’re at, so long as you don’t make any unnecessary stops along the way.”
“Forget about it, Max,” the General stated insistently. “There’s no way this will end well for you.”
“Well, since it’s my life on the line, I’ll be the one who decides whether I go or not,” I responded. “But first, we need a new ride.” I climbed out of the car, stepped out into the middle of the highway, and waved down an oncoming vehicle. When they stopped, I walked over to the driver’s side window, pulled my gun on them and asked, “Do you have LoJack?”
“Uh...no,” the flustered man replied.
“Great. Get out,” I demanded. I motioned Cassie over, and once she managed to get out of the car, she limped towards me.
“What do you think you’re doing,” she whispered in a concerned tone.
“I told you. We need a new car. Can’t have Desmond eavesdropping on our conversations. Here, just make this guy get out while I load Jonah in.”
Cassie held my weapon on the terrified driver as he got out of his vehicle, and I half-carried, half-dragged Jonah from one passenger seat to the other. The General followed suit, and once I was in the driver’s seat, I rapped on the door and shouted, “Come on! Get in!” Cassie complied, and we were back on the highway, speeding towards the city as I prepared to do the one thing I’d been trying to avoid this whole time.