“Evening, O’Roe,” Samons says as Jack opens the door out of the gateroom and steps out into the main area of Angus’ Mojave test facility. “What can I get ready for you?”
“Whatever’s next in line,” Jack says noncommittally, then changes his mind. “No, one of the… ah… official vehicles.” While he’s decided it’s time to clear the backlog of vehicles that need to be test driven, tonight’s mood calls for something flashy. Something like the fleet of revamped “police cars” Angus commissioned. Solid steel, plenty of weight, lots under the hood, suspension, oh yes.
Under a nearly invisible sliver of moon, the salt flats gleam almost-white. There’s nobody out tonight but Jack and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He can feel the rough throb of the overpowered engine through his fingertips and heels as he cuts the lights and starts to accelerate, trusting his augmented senses to feed him enough information about the terrain.
As the speedometer needle nudges 120, he flicks the wheel to the left and downshifts hard, powersliding the car through a bootlegger’s turn that throws a cloud of salty dust behind him as he races up his own backtrail. He treats the moonshadows on the flats as a slalom course, running faster and harder until the engine protests and the car begins to fishtail, riding out the terminal spin and then beginning again. And again.
He runs the imaginary courses until he can feel the faint hiccups of low fuel in his acceleration, then heads back toward the base, smooth and slick now with only his running lights on until he’s a quarter-mile out. Flicking his headlights back on, he approaches the gate at a much more sedate pace. Samons is waiting for him just inside the gate, leaning against a black town car.
“Maybach 62. Angus is thinking of adding it to the fleet. Wanted you to give it a spin next time you were down. If you have time.”
He has nothing but time, he thinks, but just nods and leaves the door of the police car open so Samons can pull around to the refueling station.
The town car is astonishingly quiet inside, although Jack can still feel the deep rumble of its engine through the pedals. As he begins to put it through its paces almost mechanically, he notes it handles with a lower center of mass and heavier weight than he estimated. Armored, then. heavily. There’s space for a partition between the front and back seats, although Angus rarely makes use of one. Good acceleration, probably crap for fuel economy but what does Angus care, the town car follows the pattern in Jack’s mind easily and smoothly, racing itself through a maze of city streets that a Chicagoan in an airplane could identify easily in the puffs and shreds of dust hanging in the windless night.
Somewhere near what his half-dreaming mind insists is McCormick Place, Jack lets a drift turn into a spin turn into a slowly skidding stop and stall. It’s a tribute to the car that there’s barely a flicker of a jerk in the cabin as the engine dies under it. Sightless, Jack stares across the curved horizon of the steering wheel and dash, into the desert night where stars are slowly dying in the coming light of morning. Two hours ahead, the sun will be nearly over the horizon in Chicago, early commuters shivering under heatlamps at packed El and Metra stations. The Mojave air is nearly as chilly, but unlike in Chicago, the sun’s heat will banish cold and Samons will sleep through the day in a room with windows open to the wind of the desert.
The first time he came to the Mojave, Jack thinks, he ended up fighting giant ants. This time he has no such easy enemy. This time it’s just… time. Day turning into night turning into day. He can’t outrun it, and he can’t outrun himself or his thoughts, no matter how fast the car goes. All he can do is get a little ahead of it, but it always catches up in the end.
Giant ants. And Kyna. Angus swears, and Jack believes him, that he doesn’t know whether Kyna predicts or shapes the future. Either way, it’s not brought her much joy. She can’t control what… he loses his train of thought, picks it back up. She can’t. So she’s trying to control everything else. He’s more than familiar with the feeling. And she’s powerful enough, now, that she really can exert a good deal of control. She’s strong. Fast. Smart. Stubborn. But none of that is enough to get what she wants- her father back, her life back, her innocence back.
Understanding doesn’t make it simpler. Or easier. Kyna won’t let go, and while she won’t, he can barely be in the same room with her. It’s too much like his entire life, a powerful adult telling him what to do, what to be, no right to say no, and no power to back it up if he tries. He’s trapped in the same life he’s been trying to escape for years, except this time, damn it, he cares about who he is and what he’s doing, he’s built a life and a family and he’s still so damn powerless to even help himself….
He puts his forehead on the curve of the steering wheel and finally lets go, crying for Seamus, for Peg, for everything lost and found and lost again. Eventually, he sniffs, wipes his nose on his jacket sleeve, and turns the town car’s hood toward the base, returning home sedately. Samons is off-duty by then, and Robillard opens the gate and takes the keys Jack soundlessly hands him.
In the gateroom, Jack dips one hand into his pants pocket, wrapping numbed fingers around his key. Five paces take him two thousand miles and two hours into the future, and he steps out of the room into full morning daylight, ignoring curious glances as he jogs up the stairs to his apartment to change clothes. He’ll be late for work.