Orange Blossom paralleled another river as it snaked and crawled across the dry land.
"Who are these guys?" Jesse asked Clair, as I was asking myself. "I mean, they're not connected to the PKs or we'd have drones after us by the dozens. They don't seem to be using satellites, but they can hack into d-mat and municipal comms somehow. Could they be criminals of some kind? Like the yakuza?"
"Maybe, but I don't see what that has to do with Improvement."
"Whoever they are, they're organized," he said, "they react fast, and they don't fuck around."
Orange Blossom became Sonora Road, which led into the tiny, abandoned hamlet of Knight's Ferry and another potentially unreliable bridge. A second time, they were lucky. On the far side of the river, Sonora Road turned to the left.
Jesse glanced behind him again, accelerated again.
"Eyes forward," she told him. "There's a turn-off coming up."
"I don't see one."
"It's on the map-right there."
"Here?" Jesse swung off the tarmac and onto a dirt track. The wheels slipped for an instant, then found traction. There was a road, but it was gravelly and rutted, barely there at all.
"Whoa," gasped Clair. The bike almost slipped over as they took the first corner. "The map said it was a road. Is this a road?"
"It'll have to be."
"Well, keep following it until it runs out. Then I'll tell you where to go."
"It runs out?"
"The map is not the territory, okay? Go easy. I've never done this before."
Jesse drove hard, trying to put distance between them and whatever he thought was behind them. It was rough going. What should have been a quick two-klick stretch became a nightmare of delays and setbacks. In Clair's map, I placed green dots radiating out from Oakdale to mark the progress of the airship decoys. Among them, one red dot headed south-west to Modesto, following the most likely route to the nearest alternate rendezvous point, Harry Sham Field. There was no red dot behind them because I couldn't detect their pursuer, and there was no way either of telling where the off-grid members of WHOLE had got to.
Clair and Jesse wound their way through a series of tight switchbacks and finally came to the end of the track.
"That way," she said, pointing north-east over Jesse's shoulder.
They jostled wordlessly across rough ground until they found the next course she had mapped out.
Tulloch Road cut overland from Route 108 to the base of an old reservoir that had once stretched across several kilometres of California's Central Valley. The road was paved, but it had become rough and fragmented over time, making travel difficult. Jesse frequently cursed and jerked the front wheels to avoid potholes and jagged cracks.
"There's a dam ahead," she said. "We're supposed to go east when we reach it and head from there to Jamestown. That would be the sensible thing to do."
"Nothing about this is sensible." Jesse sounded weary and impatient. "Are you sure we're not completely lost?"
"Are you sure we're being followed?"
"We are. I'm positive now."
"So quit griping. We need to do something about that, and fast."
"Let's call the others before the bad guys get close enough to jam us again. Tell them we're on track for Jamestown and our rendezvous at Columbia airfield, not the one we're supposed to be going to. We assume the bad guys are listening in, and then go north across the dam instead of east around it."
"I presume we can get across?"
"It looks okay by satellite. Once we're past the dam, we'll be back on better roads and making better time."
That was a slight exaggeration. They still had to get through a place called Copperopolis, eight kilometres to the north. But after that, it was paving all the way.
"All right," he said. "You make the call. It's your plan."
Clair took a deep breath.
"Halfway to Jamestown," she said over WHOLE's supposedly secure line. "On schedule for Columbia."
The airwaves crackled and clicked.
"Confirmed," came Gemma's voice. "I'm in Chinese Camp."
"On our way to Telegraph City," said Ray. "Got ambushed, so we're coming the long way around. Don't leave without us."
"Negative," said Gemma. "What about you, Theo and Cashile?"
Nothing came over the airwaves but crackle and hiss.
"Continue as discussed. Maintain radio silence."
Gemma clicked off.
"Do you think the bad guys fell for it?" asked Jesse, sounding worried. Perhaps about the plan, perhaps about Theo and Cashile.
"Depends on what they overheard-and if Gemma and the others were telling the truth. Their signals could be triangulated. If they lied about where they are, the bad guys will wonder if the rest is fake."
She thought for a moment, then said, "We have to muddy the waters a little more."
"You want to try another ambush?"
"Only if you're prepared to pull the trigger."
"Well, what, then?"
"I don't know. Give me a second."
Clair checked over her shoulder. Behind them, the road still looked clear.
"Let's assume we're being tracked by infra-red," she said, following my own reasoning. "That's why they're not using lights. For the moment, they're more interested in finding out where we're going, but at some point they're going to want to stop us. That's when it'll get dangerous. If we try to go to ground, we're giving them a golden opportunity to bring the schedule forward and finish us right here."
Jesse nodded. "There's no way we could hide. The motors on this thing are the brightest heat sources around. When Dad designed them, he didn't think we'd be using them for night-time getaways."
"So we have to ditch it," Clair said.
YOU ARE READING
113 (Twinmaker)Science Fiction
A post-scarcity world transformed by free, instantaneous travel should be paradise, but nothing is ever as it seems. When an ordinary girl uses Improvement, a meme promising a complete physical makeover by little more than wishing for it, she brings...