Echo, Part 8

A hint of headlights flashed in the mirror but disappeared before he was certain that’s what he’d actually seen.  The car accelerated, though, so he figured that meant the FBI were closing.  “Do they know I’m here?”

“Not specifically.  Their networks received information that a car matching the description they were looking for was seen at the charging station.  They arrived there to find it empty so they have pressed forward at greater speed to try and catch up.  They don’t actually know it is you.  Also, they can’t see us at the moment.  We have disabled the vehicles tail lights and it is not yet light enough for them to see the car otherwise.”

“That won’t be true for much longer,” he said, his eyes on the brightening eastern horizon.

“That is correct.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We are trying to increase the distance between you and the pursuit vehicles.  The road ahead enters a more winding mountain stretch that will provide a bit more cover if we can get there before the sun rises much more.  It looks like the timing will work on that.   Then we are looking for a good place to exit the road until they pass.”

He frowned.  “Won’t I need to switch cars again?  This car will draw too much suspicion, since they have a make and model they are actively searching for.”

The system did not immediately respond and his frown deepened.  Was it machine?  Was it human?  Who was answering his questions?  The delay sure made it seem human.  A quick glance showed the headlights were even closer.  He still couldn’t see anything other than the lights, not even the slightest definition of the grill or hood behind the lights, so that meant they likely couldn’t see the car, his car, that they were gaining on.  Then again, there was no telling what kind of equipment the FBI had in their vehicles.  Maybe they could pick up his heat signature.  Maybe despite what the system claimed to know they actually didn’t know enough.

“Our analysis has agreed with you, unfortunately.  It will take us some time to coordinate a solution.  We can’t simply have you dump the car, especially this close to the house we have prepared for you.  Once the car is found, the FBI presence in the area will be too great.”

The road hit its first sharp climb and the highlights disappeared from the rearview mirror, obscured by the angle and the turn that wrapped the interstate around a hill.  It had come just in time.  Morning was coming and he could start to make out features beyond the blacktop.  Trees were taking on shape and the green of the needles and leaves were separating from the darkness.  The road turned again, the opposite direction, and the car followed the contour of the mountain.

He was starting to feel ill, with the twisting nature of the road and his eyes spending too much time watching the rearview mirror.  Sighing, he forced himself to watch the road out the windshield.  He placed his hands on the steering wheel so he felt more connected with the drive.  It was a trick he had learned early on with the self-driving cars.  Sometimes he needed to feel like he was driving, even if he wasn’t, to keep from getting sick.

“We advise that you continue to let us drive.”

“That’s fine.  I’m not trying to take control, just trying to keep from throwing up.”

“Understood.  We regret the speed with which we are forced to drive this road.  Hopefully we will find a suitable place to stop soon.”

He didn’t answer.  There was no need to and he didn’t trust that only words would come out if he opened his mouth again at that point.

The road dipped and climbed, twisted and turned.  The car he was in was low profile and did an admirable job hugging the road but the system was driving at a much higher rate of speed than he would have ever felt comfortable.  The road, the trees, became a blur.  The tires sang as they rounded corners.

When the voice started up again he jumped in his seat, startled out of his concentration to keep from being ill.

“We have a new plan.  Would you like to hear it?”

“Yes.”

“In a mile there is a four way stop.  We will turn off the interstate there and take the car into a small community that is tucked away on the eastern slopes.  We have located a connected home that is vacant at the moment and have overridden its garage settings so we can park there in hiding while we arrange a new car.  This will delay getting you the new credentials but we will have you stay in hiding in the garage until tonight when we will move you to swap vehicles again and then continue on your destination.  The identification materials should be there when you arrive.  We are sorry that you will have to go the rest of the day without your new name and without any food, water, or other necessities.”

The food and water he could do without.  He would need water eventually and some food would have helped calm his stomach but he would be fine for another day.  He was certainly going to need a bathroom before tomorrow but maybe they could figure out that part once they were parked safely in the garage.

“That’s fine.  Thank you.” He replied through clenched teeth.

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