“I see it,” Logan said before Ashley could say anything, and squeezed another burst of speed from their hatchback while Ashley continued to watch the headlights of that still-closing car.
The people after them knew that this was the only way they could have gone, Ashley thought, and used all the horses their engine afforded to get there. And that same scarcity of traffic that made the road seem so open when they first arrived on it also made it easy for the people chasing them to spot them here and come after them like this.
Feeling naked Ashley scanned the road ahead, looking for anything that might provide them with a bit of cover, and spotted a vehicle up ahead on the middle westbound lane. An eighteen-wheeler.
Logan moved into the westernmost lane then, and started to cut back on their speed so that by the time they were on the right side of the big rig, between the trailer and the guardrail, they were just keeping pace with it.
Ashley got it: he was hoping that the people chasing them would miss their dark little vehicle in the shadow of that big trailer, and think they’d lost it. That it had gone down some exit they hadn’t seen, or something. And that the car coming after them would respond accordingly, turning back to hunt for that exit, giving them a chance to escape.
Ashley looked back again, saw the car chasing them continuing to narrow the distance, getting so close that she could identify the car’s make as a Mercedes sedan, and discern a pair of dark shapes behind its windshield, one at the wheel, the other in the front seat next to them.
The Mercedes disappeared out of view, hidden by the length of the trailer, and Ashley held her breath, then there it was, up ahead of them, right in their lane and next to the cab of the big tractor so that the lane was blocked off—
Logan braked, hard, letting the big rig and the Mercedes keeping station with it shoot ahead so that with the trailer past they had room to maneuver leftward again, just as a succession of cross-shaped flashes lit up its side. Not like a semiautomatic with its trigger being squeezed again and again and again, but an automatic weapon spraying bullets at them, one of which smashed into the wing mirror on Ashley’s side—
The Mercedes was out of sight, the bulk of the shipping container now between them and their pursuer. The shooter in that car couldn’t fire his machine gun at them now, but he wasn’t about to let them go either. The Mercedes could go forward and get ahead of them, or go back and get on their tail.
Ashley didn’t have any idea which of those things the driver chasing them was going to do because from where she was sitting she couldn’t see the other car’s wheels below the container. Still she swept her gaze from one end of the big rig to the other with her finger on the trigger while the two drivers played tag around an eighteen-wheeler in the dark at seventy miles an hour, with even one bad move on the part of anybody liable to get all three vehicles wrecked—
There it was, the Mercedes behind them and gaining on them quickly and moving slightly leftward, driving the wrong way down those wide-open eastbound lanes to come alongside them, and then probably open up with that machine gun once more. Maybe shoot out their wheels to force them to a stop. Maybe just shoot them, since taking them alive didn’t seem to be a priority.
Logan nudged the hatchback ahead, meaning to get around the cab and back on the big rig’s right, again positioning them on the opposite side of the trailer from the Mercedes. Ashley held her breath, knowing how incredibly dangerous it was to cut in front of the juggernaut with bullets flying—when the big rig’s horn blared from right behind them like the honk that would end the world. Logan kept moving across the tractor-trailer’s path despite that, but the instant the path was clear the rig’s driver gunned his engine and shot ahead, getting himself clear of the game into which they’d pulled him.
Logan couldn’t use the big truck any more even if he wanted to, Ashley knew, and heard the engine roar all the louder as they accelerated again—and the machine gun opened up again. Ashley pressed her body down in her seat as flying missiles struck the seat’s back, and she thought this was the end, those were bullets tearing through the seat and into her body, but she didn’t feel anything. When she opened her eyes again she saw a spider web of cracks spreading through the windshield between herself and Logan from where one of the bullets struck it, and then peered back around her headrest. She saw that the hatchback’s rear window was almost completely shattered, just a few shards of glass left in the window frame.
Logan’s last burst of speed again widened the distance between the hatchback and the Mercedes, but once again the Mercedes used its superior acceleration to close the gap. Seeing the other car coming closer again, anticipating another hail of fire, Ashley twisted underneath her safety belt and brought her gun arm up to fire back through that broken window at the Mercedes. Once, twice, a third time.
At that distance her chances of hitting anything were poor, but the Mercedes’ occupants must still have seen the flashes of her weapon from inside the hatchback, and she saw the distance between their car and the Mercedes widen, the driver reflexively falling back in the face of her fire.
“We’re coming up on an exit,” Logan said. “Just a couple of miles.” Ashley glimpsed a sign up ahead, maybe another mention of that exit, but wasn’t able to read it before they whipped by. (It was dark, and they were going so fast, and the angle at which she was sitting made it that much more difficult—)
She did see that the Mercedes was closing with them again. Maybe its driver had seen the sign, too, and didn’t want to give them the chance to get away. And maybe her fire went so wild that the driver didn’t feel much hesitation about closing the distance again, especially with his friend packing a machine gun.
Ashley fired at the Mercedes another time. She hoped against hope that one of her electroshock rounds would disrupt the car’s electronics, or come so close to the driver that it would push him into some panicked or stupid move, or at least give them second thoughts about approaching the way they had, but they just kept on coming. That Mercedes might as well have been a tank for all the damage her rubber bullets were doing to it, and its passengers seemed to have caught on to the fact.
Ashley wished she’d spent more time on the shooting range, wished she had some real firepower. She wished she’d gone in for a higher-performance vehicle back in Baltimore. She wished—
“Seat belt, now,” Logan said, and Ashley turned away from the Mercedes and fastened her seat belt just as she saw the opening in the highway’s guardrail indicating the exit. The other side of the highway, Ashley saw.
Logan turned across the six lanes on a trajectory that, unbelievably, took them right into that exit just as a pickup truck shot out from between the trees growing right up to the rail. Logan swerved hard to avoid the truck, the driver of which screamed curses at them from behind his windshield as they shot past one another, while she heard the metal-on-metal scrape of the hatchback sideswiping the guard-rail, making sparks fly on Logan’s side of the vehicle.
But they were inside the exit, and the scraping noise stopped without their crashing through the rail, and their course soon carried them safely between the lines painted down the side road’s two lanes. On either side of that road Ashley found houses, smaller houses on smaller plots than they’d seen back in Montrose, with the rusted car parked on one lawn giving Ashley a sense of the shabbiness concealed by the darkness.
Two blocks on Logan turned right, then at the end of that block left again, the choices random as far as Ashley could tell, but they were still in one piece. The Mercedes kept on popping up behind them, but the quick turns, the disappearances from their line of sight, had kept the machine gunner in the Mercedes from taking another shot at them. And up ahead—
Up ahead was a train crossing. The detail would have seemed incidental if Ashley didn’t also notice that the barrier at the crossing was lowering its arm across their path and a locomotive was coming up from the south, a giant that made the eighteen-wheeler seem like a toy, towing a succession of train cars that extended as far as she could see.
Logan kept on driving at the same speed, like he didn’t see it, or like maybe he did, while that locomotive steadily closed, the train’s shriek and roar and metal-on-metal clatter getting louder, the thousands and thousands of tons of metal moving across their path increasingly palpable, increasingly real, and with them the thought of those thousands and thousands of tons of metal smashing into their little hatchback at full speed and—
The barrier was right in front of them, and then next to them, and then the barrier arm snapped off against their windshield as they rolled right over the track as the front of that locomotive (it seemed like a face, the face of a metal monster out of a nightmare) filled up the window on Ashley’s side and the sound of it so filled her head that she couldn’t hear her own thoughts, like that train was the whole of the universe and the universe was collapsing. Ashley’s body tensed reflexively against that End of Everything in a moment that seemed to last forever, and then there seemed an odd quiet and stillness, a nothingness, Ashley not seeing or hearing or thinking or feeling anything, as if—
But then she saw train car after train car after train car hurtling, and realized she was looking out their smashed back window. It seemed the stuff of a dream, at first, but then the rush of the cars grew palpable again as she made out the sound, as if her hearing was coming back after a bout of temporary deafness, and then the sound receded as they kept on going flat-out away from the train.
Instead there was the sound of laughing, her own laughing, like that train could never have hurt her, like it was just a bad dream and she’d been silly to be so afraid of it even though she knew better, the knowledge that they must have cleared the front of that train by inches, if that, swallowed up in exultation at having come through that alive and free and clear of the people who’d tried so hard to kill them, because whatever had happened to it the Mercedes wasn’t behind them anymore.