The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stardust: Towne, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Faint red light streamed through barred windows, giving little illumination to Katrina’s future. How life moved so fast. This morning, she was a teacher preparing lessons, and by afternoon, she found herself sitting in a dim cell. She briefly wondered what her kids, her students thought when she did not appear. Another teacher likely substituted for her, at least until a replacement was found. In The State, even suspicion of contact with non-sapiens was enough to black list one for life. If she was lucky, the Knights would release her and she could move. Hopefully the mark would not follow Katrina to her new home.

If she was unlucky– she knew enough about what occurred inside the political offices, ‘temples of justice’ as they were officially named, to worry. Like everyone else in Shownastadt, she was mannered enough not to ask questions, nor would she speak with any friends or neighbors. The informant was a simple part of life. After all, how would The State know where trouble be if nobody informed them. Katrina was starting to wish she had not.

The Knights found their two dead comrades, exactly where Katrina told them. They, however, found no trace of dwarves; only several cases ejected from a submachine gun. The cases matched one bullet extracted from a fallen Knight. She was with the murderers, and that did not bode well for her. Few who entered the political office ever left. Being innocent gave her enough confidence to believe she would be one of the few, but so what. Her name was already tainted and her life in Shownastadt ruined, she doubted the university would permit her return. At least they had yet to label her a ‘sympathizer’. Anyone with that tag could pretty much forget about living in The State. Or living period.

“I just had to go in early today,” Katrina muttered into her hands. She cradled her face in both hands, starring down at the dark cement floor. Curse those dwarves, and curse the whole dwarven mafia. Those thugs took away in minutes what took her years to obtain. Now, all she had to do was wait– which gave her plenty of time to reflect. Katrina gave the Knights her own testimony about what happened, but they continued to question her for three hours. For the most part, they asked the same question over and over, to each question she gave the same reply. Their questions were satisfied, for the moment. She hoped they would not return and ask those same questions. She loathed repeating herself– an ironic pet peeve for a teacher.

How many hours passed since then, who could tell. By the sunlight filtering into her room, she knew it was still the same day. She could hear the gears of the daily clock tick away on the outside of the world. The sound of autos passing and children playing. Some of those were her children, her students. She invested the better part of a calender year educating the youth of Shownastadt. Calender year, that was a popular question; why was an astronomical year twenty days and a calender year three hundred sixty?. She asked that same question when starting school, some twenty calender years ago.

The question remained, would anyone ask her that question again– or would she spend the next twenty years sitting in celled boredom. Twenty local years would be bad enough, but there was no way she would survive that many on the calender. What would she do then? Sadly, Katrina knew she would have to wait until release to worry about the afterwards.

Andreas flashed his flashlight from sign to sign. Along with labeling every intersection, The State had a thing for symmetry. Dwarves loved it, though would never admit The State ever produced a single good idea. The fact the streets heading east-to-west were numbered made navigation all the more easier. According to his map, the local political office sat somewhere on sixth street. He could not remember the exact intersection, but thought Baxter Avenue sounded about right.

He pressed onwards, following the rumbling of water. The constant stream of waste water reminded him so much of a fresh mountain stream and its constant babbling. It would almost be nice, except for the noxious fumes. Did The State even treat its waste, or just dump it into the river? Seeing how the undesirables were pinned into slums, it must be the latter. One might ask why they simply did not let them leave The State, but how can that happen when The State wants to control the world.

His walk in the semi-dark was far from tranquil. The babbling of brooks was one thing, but the relentless chirping of atls was quite another. Outside, the little birds were fine, inside– their voices echoed down the tunnels, filling it with a shrill squeak. Atls scampered around, eluding Andreas’s feet at the last possible second. He took his time, and tried not to step on the little buggers. The teacher was still alive, that much was certain. The only good thing about red tape, was it moved like a turtle through molasses.

When he finally came to the ladder clearly marked ‘Office of The Party’, Andreas checked his ‘957 once again. Ten rounds, all ready to fire in a moment’s notice. He always carried a few extra clips in his jacket. Always prepared, yet he hoped not to use them. He took a final look around the underground. He would not be coming back this way. Only a few exits, and after having the audacity to raid their office, the Knights would certainly be hot on his heels.

As long as they had autos waiting in their garage, escape would be easy. Andreas climbed up to the porthole and gave it a push. Like everything else, it was unlocked. Struck him as foolish, since the underground connected to fenced off slums. If anyone in the world wanted to hit the Knights, it would be those separated by them. Pushing the hatch completely open, he poked his head up into a dimly lit basement. It was no dungeon, that much was certain. By the look of so many crates and shelves, Andreas would call it storage.

Emerging from the dank pit, Andreas stretched out his limbs. If getting in was any indicator, this jailbreak should be a snap. It was almost disappointing. Back in Tropico, or anywhere for that matter, such a prominent building would have, at the very least, a rudimentary security system. It might even be something as simple as a string with a bunch of bells attached. Lack of security did not leave Andreas feeling all that secure. He drew his weapon and started to slink through the basement. Easy as it was, he was not about to let anyone get the drop on him now.

Katrina shot straight up, her light doze broken by sharp cracks down the hall. Gun shots. Realization made her heart pound in fear. Who did the Knights shoot? A prisoner? She heard no ruckus, no crashes of resistance or escape. Sudden panic swelled within her. Where they shooting prisoners in their cells? Was she on the list? This could not be happening. No, this must be a bad dream, and she would wake any time now.

She could not believe this was happening. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Even if she could escape, then what? The Knights would find her. They always find their quarry. Two more gunshots rang out, each different from the other. Two gunmen. She had no hope against one– No, she must not panic. If she is to die today, she must do so with dignity. It was what one expected of The People. Only scared rabbits and frightened atls ran at the sound of doom.

She straightened up in her seat. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths. Sometimes, just breathing helped her relax. She did that often when she attended academy as a student. Failure of any key exam would mean the end of her dreams. She was scared then, and fought to keep calm. The sound of footsteps replaced that of shots. Yes, they were close. They? Strange, she only picked up one distinct trail. Finally, as they drew close enough to her cell, the feet stopped.

Then– then nothing. After a few seconds, Katrina opened her eyes, She stayed rigid, not daring to allow her body a chance to shake. Instead of a Knight, she saw a very different brand of killer. A man dressed as fine as any businessman stood before her cage. In one hand, a smoking sidearm. Obviously that was one of the weapons she heard. In the other hand, a key and its ring, twirling around his pointer finger. His stance was far from dignified; it was downright cocky. “Well, you going to sit there all day?”

“You!” she hissed. Instantly recognizing the man as the one from this morning.

Andreas grinned. “Great to see you too.”

Katrina fumed. “You! It’s you who should be in here, not me. It’s your fault I’m here!”

“Uh huh,” Andreas said, nodding. It was his fault, but he nodded more for humor than anything else. While he listened to Katrina’s hisses, Andreas produced the cell’s key from a ring he appropriated from on of the guards. With a flick of the wrist, Andreas unlocked the cell, and swung open the door. “If you’re done complaining–“

Katrina looked at the open portal, and back at Andreas. She hesitated, for she certainly did not trust this man. First he used her, now he was releasing her? Just what was his motive. “I suppose you expect me to show you my gratitude? For me to throw myself into the arms of my savior?”

Andreas snorted, a very dwarven habit for a sapien. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

To this, Katrina could only gasp in indignation. “First you imprison me, now you insult me!”

Andreas sighed. “Look lady, I came back because I felt responsible about what happened. Now if you’d prefer to sit in the cell and wait on the mercy of your Knights, fine. But– after they find three of their fellows dead, I don’t think they’ll be all that merciful. Come with me if you want to live.”

Katrina clenched her fist and teeth. The whole situation reeked, worse than the slums. It sounded as if she was given a choice, but in reality she had none. They was no promise he would not kill her. After all, many criminal elements were keen to eliminate witnesses. Somehow, Katrina doubted that would happen. If he wanted her dead– well, he held the pistol and she was effectively cornered. “Very well,” she said with an air of resignation. She probably had no future in Shownastadt anyway, not now.

“Then shake a leg,” Andreas said, gesturing out of the cell and down the hall.

Katrina still felt a shudder of revulsion as she entered the Knight’s garage. She stepped over two fallen Knights, and blood covered the soles of her shoes. She walked very carefully through the puddles, not daring to splash any on her green and white skirt. She always dressed her finest for work, and started to regret not tossing on an old blouse and faded denim. Too late for that. She knew returning to her apartment was out of the question. That was the first place they would look.

Fortunately, she had little in the way of personal possessions. Just clothes and a few books. What little money she made from teacher was now locked up in a bank. Not just any bank, but The State’s national bank. No branches existed outside of The State and its colonies. So what little she had, Katrina already lost. Today has been such a disaster.

The Knight’s garage looked a dim and grim as her former cell. Only a few vehicles sat in the garage. With war raging on so many fronts, petrol was at a premium. Not only did Katrina not have an auto, she did not even have a license to drive. The wheel turned the auto, and left peddle accelerated and the right decelerated– that was as far as her knowledge went. She watched Andreas, still not sure what to call him, ponder each of the autos.

There was little to ponder. Andreas walked up to the nearest auto. They were the ugly, blocky model ‘998. Only a two year old design, the Axis Motor Company produced over a million of them, all the same color; black. This six-seater was a monument to the cold efficiency of mass production. In order to pump out so many autos off the assembly line, they were forced to strictly standardize them. Andreas could swap parts between any two of the type.

He looked through the window at the spartan interior, and smiled. “This will do,” he said, straighten out a coat hanger he picked up in the cellar. This auto had its window rolled down, just cracked to let in a bit of fresher air. Andreas slid into that gap, and fished for the lock. Unlike civilian models, The Party made sure its vehicles came with locks. Nothing simple, just the type one pressed down with a thumb. It took only a minimum of work, and with an audible pop, the lock released itself.

Andreas flew open the door and gestured to Katrina. “After you.”

Katrina glared at him. She had not stopping glaring since she met the man. If not for him, she could just go on with her normal life. Now, because of the dwarven mafia, her future rang with uncertainty. She bent down and climbed into the car, sliding as far away from the driver’s side as possible. As soon as she tuckered herself in, Andreas followed.

“Halt!” a voice boomed from across the garage. Katrina looked back, spotting several knights spilling out of their office. Andreas did not. He jumped in, slammed the door behind him and jammed his finger into the AMC’s push-button ignition. As soon as the engine roared to life, Andreas popped it into drive and slammed his foot on the accelerator. Rubber burned, and the auto leapt into action, throwing Katrina back into her seat. The auto jumped up the ramp and out of the garage, followed by a hail of bullets.

“Catch that car!” Captain Plank barked at his immediate inferior.

A slender man, trimmed neatly in his gray uniform, stepped forward with two of his squires. “Yes sir!” Lieutenant Krill was not about to let these criminals escaped. He never lost a target, and was not about to start. What bothered him, was just how that gangster managed to break into Shownastadt’s office. Everyone wanted to break out, but never had he known of somebody insane enough to break in. Worse yet, this gangster had skill. He handed the man that; he slipped in undetected and killed three of his comrades. If the murders were not bad enough, the sheer gall burned Krill. Mad as he was, he did not let it show. To show ones feelings was quite a weakness.

A weakness his superior flaunted. How such an openly emotional man ever attained the rank of captain was beyond Krill. Somehow, Plank managed it. He was visibly livid, a very undignified position from which a Knight should command. Even his insistence of catching the car displayed his intentions. “You two, come with me,” Krill ordered the two nearest grunts. Both saluted and followed without complaint. Krill would prefer to simply eliminate the two escapees, and might just have to. The woman would be no trouble, but the man– somebody bold enough to invade the Knight’s space was not about to surrender on command.

Krill picked the nearest car. It was another AMC, identical to the one stolen. Same strengths and same faults. Krill knew the model well enough to give him an edge. It was no roadster, and could (downhill) top out at ninety kilometers per hour. That was on a straight stretch as well. No chance of topping forty in the city. Perhaps another auto would aid in the pursuit. Krill did not even have time to consider the option. He and his two assistants piled into the AMC and punched out after the escapees. If they made too much of a gap, Krill might not be able to close it.

His auto hit the ramp and jumped up out of the garage. It landed hard, tires squealing, sending a jolt through its riders. Krill gripped the wheel with one hand, and flipped on a siren with a second. The shrill scream of the Knight’s siren was more than enough to vacate the streets of other autos and pedestrians. The People were indeed well trained; when the Knights were out on patrol, it was always best to keep quiet and out of their way.

Andreas let out a low growl within his throat. He already glanced in the side mirror, and spotted an identical auto behind him. This one flashed lights and produced a noise that could peel paint. He could not say he was surprised– after all, he did off a few Knights. Stories about the Knights label them as relentless as a pack of wolves running down a deer. With a grim smile, Andreas decided to see just how bad they wanted him. He waited until they closed in on him before making the next move.

With the other auto about ten meters behind, Andreas grabbed the wheel and spun it as hard as he could. The car leaned and its tires burned as it made a sharp turn to the left. He heard Katrina let out a yelp as her head smacked the passenger-side window. He used enough force to roll that ungainly Mule he drove in on this morning. The AMC stayed upright and continued along its new trajectory, a quiet residential street– that headed straight into the commercial heart of the town.

Behind him, the pursuers were not shook. Shaken perhaps, as they did skid into a stop sign while turning, toppling the monument of law and order. He could only imagine the dent in tailing auto, for to do any more would mean letting it right up along side him. That was not an option. For now, he could only hope on reaching the denser commercial district, and lose them in the chaos there.

Beside him, and slightly dazed, Katrina held on for life. One hand clenched the cheap cloth seat, another held onto a hold above the door. Both knuckles were white and her eyes wide. She braced herself as Andreas cut into another sharp turn. Any sharper and they would lose traction. She glanced over at the driver. She wanted to curse the man, for he appeared to be enjoying this death-defying drive. He took another corner, this time right down sixth street. It was close to downtown, and many warehouses lined the southside of Sixth.

Andreas eyed those same warehouses. Looks like an alley behind it. “What’s down that alley?”

Katrina took a second to realize she was spoken to. She glanced over, seeing warehouses speeding past. “More warehouses, a few vacant lots, and past that is Fifth Street.”

“That should do,” Andreas replied, a plan fermenting rapidly in his mind. Fifth street had some parking garages along with apartments. Beyond that was not Fourth Street, but rather Main. Close to the river, it was home to many businesses, but further east sat many single houses. In a ‘colony’ like this, where housing is limited, only the wealthy can afford to live in singles– or the well-to-do middle class. Yes, there should be a fast auto beyond this alley.

Andreas took another sharp turn, still hoping to cause his pursuer to wipe out. This time, his auto went from smooth pavement onto a dilapidated, single-lane road. He took the road, and hoped nobody was headed his way. Otherwise, it will make for one disappointing escape. The AMC bounced hard against potholes, enough to rattle Andreas’s teeth. Katrina hissed and snapped at each bump.

Andreas took a look in his mirror. He spotted the Knights overshoot the turn, but not crash. It would not take them long to get back on his trail– or at least this auto’s trail. His eyes began to glance around the interior. What he needed was a good bar, but had to settle with a long baton. Looks like something the Knights would use to beat an undesirable into submission. Or a pulp. Either way– Andreas took the baton and locked one end into the steering wheel. The opposite end, he pressed down on the accelerator. This auto must go straight and fast.

Katrina took notice at his actions. “What are you doing?” Driving fast down a narrow alley was not a time or place to be messing around.

“Making this auto go straight and true,” he replied. He gave the wheel a go jerk. Satisfied it was locked, he kicked open the driver-side door. The fact he kicked it open was shock enough, she could not believe he was gesturing for her to move closer. “Come on, this is our stop.”

“What!” Katrina shouted.

“We’re going to jump at that vacant lot,” Andreas explained, pointing at a ruined warehouse, its floor covered with orange Towneform weeds.

“What!” She repeated herself. “You’re insane, you know that. You’re going to get us killed.”

Andreas glared back at her. “Fine! Stay here, but I’m leaving.”

Katrina threw up her arms in disgust. Not so much that he was bailing, but the fact she had no choice but to follow. She unfastened her harness and crawled over to him. “This is crazy–“ Her words trailed off into a surprised yelp.

Andreas threw his right arm around her waist, and gave a mighty pull. He pushed off the seat with one leg and pulled their combined mass outwards with his other arm. The two flew through the air, arching straight into deserted lot. Katrina did not have enough time to register their flight. One moment she was sitting down, the next the ground rushed up to meet her. She slammed into the orange bed of ground-covering shrubs, knocking all the air from her lungs.

Most surprising off all, nothing felt broke. She could still wiggle her toes, a very good sign. As soon as she caught her breath, her first instinct was to stand and brush off the dust. She tried, but an arm still clutched her waist. “Stay down!” he said in a soft, yet authoritarian voice. Katrina did not move. She wondered, was he hurt? Surely he would want to get up immediately and escape this lot.

“Why–“ She asked, but her voice was cut off again. This time by the sound of a roaring engine and speeding auto. The Knight’s vehicle finally caught its bearings and was hot on the trial once again. Hot on the other auto’s trail anyway. Only after the sound began to fade did Andreas let up his grip. “You know, they’re going to notice the door open and no occupants.”

Andreas pushed her off him and sat up. He rubbed his shoulder, the one that slammed into the ground. Pain shot through it, but he could still rotate his arm. “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Andreas managed to work himself back to his feet. Dust covered his custom tailored suit. The dry-cleaning bill would look as ugly as his jacket did now. He looked down at Katrina, and offered her a hand.

She glared at him, and batted it away. She was more than capable of standing on her own. Bad enough she had to be rescued, but there was no way she would give him the satisfaction of seeing need from her. She looked down at her own clothes, all filthy but still in tact. She brushed off as much dust and bits of plant as possible. “You lunatic! What do you think jumping accomplishes?”

Andreas met her mean look with a smile, which only infuriated her deeper. “We can only hope that their orders were to follow the auto. The thing about you People, is that you’re obedient little boys and girls.”

Katrina fumed, now feeling a fool. “I should have just stayed put,” she muttered. Running was the worse possible action any ‘suspect’ could take. All it would do was imply, if not prove guilt. She knew she was innocent, but that is not how her peers would see it.

Andreas just shrugged and turned his back to her. “You want to go back, be my guest.”

Katrina turned to see him walking away. “Where do you think you’re going!”

Andreas looked back at her. “The moment that auto goes off-road, they’re going to realize we– or rather I gave them the slip; then they’ll backtrack. I plan to be long gone by then.” He continued on, not even trying to wait.

Katrina kicked the nearest rock. “I should have called in sick today.” Innocent or not, she was this mess now. The authorities were out to get her, the neighbors might turn her in. The only realist chance of escaping this rotten day alive was to follow the man who landed her there in the first place. She picked up her feet and hurried after her.

Andreas heard her hisses and took another glance back. “Couldn’t resist my charm, could you?”

Katrina stopped walking and started running. She overtook Andreas and blocked his advance. She thrust one mean finger into his chest. “Let’s get one thing straight; you got me into the mess, and you’re going to get me out it!”

Andreas frowned. “Look lady, the only getting I’m getting is out of the county. If you don’t like it, then we’ll part ways right here.”

“Leave The State?” she asked, not liking the option. “Then what!?”

“Like I said, I’m going home,” Andreas reminded her in a cold, flat tone. “As for you,” he shrugged. “Pick a stop and I’ll let you off. After that– you’re on your own.”

Katrina clenched a fist and shook it at him. Might sound like a choice, but he gave her none. What really burned her was the fact Andreas knew he was giving her no options. If she stayed in Shownastadt, she would end up back in a cell, or shot. If she went with him. Katrina let out an angry sigh. She knew not his intentions. He was in cahoots with the dwarven mafia. This man was nothing but a thug, a criminal. There was no telling what he might do to her.

One thing was clear; if she stayed she was certainly doomed. If she went with Andreas, she might not be doomed. When it came to surviving, a maybe was better than a definitely not. “Very well,” she was growing use to resignation, but was not about to give in to his way. “But don’t you expect any gratitude from me.”

Andreas rolled his eyes, then smirked. “Don’t worry, I expect nothing but grief from a woman.”

Katrina tried to snap back, but before the retort could form in her mind, Andreas was already walking. With the fast day of Towne quickly coming to an end, she better keep her pace. One thing was certain; she did not want to stay in shadows of any alley once night falls.

Krill kicked the spinning tires once again. “Turn this thing off!” he commanded his nearest underling. His quarry, a former auto, lay sideways in a ditch, not far from the Jaipur. Had it not hit the gutter, the vehicle would have speed right off into the water. If that happened, the Knights would be out an auto. It might be dented, scratched up, and nearly upside down, but it could be repaired.

After the wheels stopped, his subordinate approached holding a baton in one hand. “Sir, I found hit locked on the steering wheel and accelerator.”

Krill sighed. He rubbed the tension from the bridge of his nose. The gangster managed to lock direction and speed, and obviously jumped somewhere. If he had more daylight, Krill would simply backtrack his drive. Towne’s ten hours of daylight was too little. For some reason, man could not biologically cram a whole day’s worth of activity into Towne’s twenty-hours.

His second underling returned from his extended scouting mission. “No sign of either fugitive, sir. Not even as much as a footprint.”

Krill scowled. Not at the Knight, but at himself. He must now radio in his failure. He took another look at the crashed vehicle. “Our mission is complete, we caught the auto,” he managed a smile with his words. Perhaps this was not a failure after all; he was ordered to follow that auto, and thus he did. “Very well, let’s report in and await further orders.”

Katrina moved cautiously, trying to avoid sight. She kept to the shadows and peered around corners. She was starting to feel like the main character in one of those cheesy spy movies, the type she watched while still in school. She and some friends would go watch them, mostly for the smooth secret agent. It was a fun afternoon from her youth. She probably would still be watching them, had The State not banned all foreign media. Say what they want about Unious Austriaus policies, but their Camera City sure had production value. They also had an awesome industrial might; if The State went to war with them, Katrina was not confident of victory.

“You look ridiculous,” Andreas told her as he strolled past her. He made no pretense to hide.

Katrina gawked at him, watching him as he walked right out on to Main. He stood on the sidewalk, bathed in the light of a lamp post. He was crazy. He was a wanted man, dead not alive, and he just strolls out into the open. She stayed between two buildings, a parking garage and a closed hardware store. They were at the edge of downtown, and still a few locals were out and about.

“They’re going to see you,” she called to him in a loud whisper.

Andreas chuckled. “That’s the idea.”

He was crazy, and arrogant. Katrina could not see how he stayed alive this long in the underworld. “Don’t you think a little caution is prudent?”

Andreas leaned up against the lamp and gave her a confident, near cocky smile. “If you idea of caution is slinking around like some want-to-be secret agent, then no.” Katrina straightened up from he sneak and put her hand on her hips. She shot him another cold stare. “Look, lady, if you sneak around then one of the informants out here is going to think you’re up to something. Try and walk casual-like. Just stroll down the street with confidence, and everything will be cool,” he spread his hands out, miming the smoothness of his logic.

Katrina stood up and tried her best to walk normal. Andreas watched her approach, hiding a smile. She had a nice sway to her step, even if her attitude was enough to freeze the atmosphere. She stood beside him, trying to force herself to stay cool. “Well, do you plan to walk across the border?”

Andreas shook his head. “No, I’m sure some wheels will present themselves.”

Katrina sighed. She should have known, he was planning to steal another auto. Good-for-nothing hoodlum, and she was stuck with him. “Car-jacking, oh that’s real causal-like.” She lay on the sarcasm thicker than molasses. “Why don’t you just rob the bank next?”

Andreas shot her his own glare. “Keep it down. We start fighting, somebody will notice.” He did not look at her as he spoke. Instead, he kept his eyes open on the houses across the street. Most of the driveways were empty. One of them was bound to house a shiny auto– hopefully not another AMC. He would be lucky to find an alternative to the slow and clunky auto. A smooth Tropican convertible would be nice, but he would settle even for a shoe-box shaped MK2. “And no, I don’t plan to take one right off the road. Why would I when I can take a parked one.”

Katrina frowned. This just was not happening. Any time now, she would wake up and realize it was all a dream. Then she would call in late for work. She was charged with sympathizing with dwarves, charged as an enemy of The People, and now was about to aid in stealing from a neighbor. She felt like crying. This was the worst day of her life. Still, she followed her only way out of this mess.

Andreas kept his eyes open, eyeing each driveway. Plenty of AMCs sat besides the houses. A few were more luxurious, but still the basic model. Andreas sought speed. He wanted out of town before the sun rises again. Despite his outward cool, anxiety did nip at his heels. He did not like the fact the Knights were out of sight. It was always better to see ones opponents. After all, it was the one he does not see that will get him.

Andreas continued his searching. Once his eyes fell onto a pleasing design, he could not help but smile. The vehicle sat well enough away from the house. Almost out in the open, almost begging for him to hop on and ride. “Perfect,” he clapped his hands together and approached his target.

Katrina followed his gaze, and scowled. She should have known he would pick a Steelhorse. These thugs all think alike. Steelhorse was both a company and a model. The motored bicycles, or motorcycles as they were often called, had outlaw written all over them. She was not even sure why such a decadent contraption is even allowed in The State. She did not see the appeal to chrome and leather, especially considering its rarity. Chrome was the reason The State invaded Alpina, thus sparking off a world war.

“Yes, this will work just fine,” Andreas ran his hand along the chrome frame of the bike. It was a wild horse, only made of steel. At one hundred forty kilometers an hour, they can leave any auto in the dust. He would run circles around any AMC.

Katrina nodded. “Uh-huh. And how do you plan on taking it?” She asked, while pointed at the key slot. Unlike many autos, these Steelhorses were all key-ignition.

Andreas shrugged. “Not a problem.” He reached into his pocket, fishing past a wallet, loose change, and tagging a trusty tool. He pulled out his utility knife and gave Katrina a smirk. She seen pocket knives, so what. A blade can not do anything about it. Unlike pocket knives, utility knives did more than cut. He ran his finger past the file, the wrench and landed on the screwdriver.

With small screwdriver in hand, he pried it beneath the ignition cap, and popped it on to the ground. Katrina stood, wide-mouthed as she watched him commit and obvious crime. All her life-experience told her to report him, to turn in the thief. Instincts won over responsibility. Her mind knew she should do the right thing, but her body wanted to live to see tomorrow.

Andreas continued working, switching tools. He took a blade to cut some of the wires from the ignition, and used pliers to pull bare copper free. Electrical ignitions were a wonderful invention. All he had to do was complete the circuit. Thus, he connected all the correct wires and the Steelhorse purred to life. Andreas hopped on the saddle and kicked free the stand. He easily pushed the bike backwards and out on to the street.

“Hop on,” Andreas told her, revving the engine with a flick of his wrists. Katrina had reservations, but the moment the lights turned on inside the house, she knew they best escape. She threw a leg over the bike and sat down behind Andreas. “Better hold on.”

She scowled again at him, ignoring his smirk. She never road a bike before, but hanging on was obvious. The only thing she could hold on to was Andreas. She threw her arms around his torso and locked her hands in front of him, very mindful of where she placed them. “Mind you hands,” he said with a laugh.

Katrina withdrew one hand behind his back, and punching him in the back. “Shut up and drive!”

Andreas laughed again as he turned the accelerator forward. The Steelhorse roared off into the night, leaving behind one very angry owner storming out of his house. Andreas did see one up side from gun control; bike owners could not shoot them while he unilaterally borrowed their wheels.

Krill stood at attention, taking Plank’s rants with stiff. His superior said nothing new, and nothing unexpected. He laid the blame of escape solely at Krill’s feet. The fact that Krill followed his orders to the letter only infuriated Plank further. Follow the word of orders and not the spirit. This was the way many subordinates covered their own failures, and one Krill loathed. He was not trying to dismiss his own failings, just trying to point out the letter of command.

Plank ceased his rage and sought to catch some breath. This whole episode was a disaster, an embarrassment. To let one raid his own office, he would be the laughing stock of the Knights. If this man escaped, how could Plank ever look himself in the mirror.

“Lieutenant,” Plank said after a moment’s pause. His demeanor calmed after he blew off so much steam. “I’m going to give you a simple order, a simple job; you are going to be in command of this office until my return.”

“Sir?” Krill replied, raising an eyebrow.

“You heard me!” He said sternly. “I am going to clean up this mess. I will find those two and drag them back. Until I return, you are in command. Understood?”

Krill saluted. “Yes sir.” Perhaps without Plank around, the office will be less stressful. Perhaps even slightly more efficient.

“One more thing,” Plank added. “Get our pursuit auto ready. I want to catch him before he crosses the border. The last thing we need to is antagonize Marasuania.”

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