His surprised curse turned into a scream as the reversing car spun in a half circle, shuttering slightly from the strain, and then sped higher into the mountains. He wanted to ask where they were going but wasn’t sure the system would answer and was busy trying to keep his stomach from purging what little was left in there, if anything was left at all. The trees and rocks lining the narrow road blurred as the car picked up speed and began maneuvering the turns at what seemed like impossible speeds.
He screamed again as the tires sang around a corner.
“Could you please calm down. Your yells are very distracting and we need our full concentration right now.”
It was another hint that perhaps a human was behind the controls of the system rather than the system itself but he was too shaken to ponder more than that.
He managed, “Sorry,” through clenched teeth and then decided it was best to close his eyes.
A moment later, realizing he was wrong, he forced his eyes open again. The inertia of the turns was worse when he couldn’t brace for them. Despite the unfolding terror visible through the windshield, seeing what was coming was better than experiencing it with eyes closed.
The trees thinned and the road topped out with an expansive view of the mountain range. He had just enough time to think it was beautiful before the car picked up even more speed and the road dropped back below treeline. Somehow, though, the drive downhill wasn’t as terrifying as the way up had been. That seemed counterintuitive but he was loathe to second guess it. Whatever physics were at play, he didn’t care. His stomach settled and his nerves calmed. Despite the increased pace, the drive became less stressful, less terrifying.
When he felt he was up for it, he hazarded a glance in the rearview mirror, expecting to see dark cars on their tail. The road kept twisting as it wound down the mountainside but he didn’t see anything. “Are they close?”
The system didn’t immediately respond and he frowned. He knew they were trying to get him quickly away but it was a simple yes or no question that they could have answered if they felt like it. They were choosing not to respond. And that wasn’t the first time he had asked something they had intentionally not replied to. It left him in a frustrating position. They were going above and beyond to keep him out of the hands of the federal agents, the thought police, who were after him for one reason or another but they weren’t being completely transparent on why they were helping him or everything they were doing to help. He didn’t want to be ungrateful or disrespectful. It was his life, his safety, his future on the line, though.
Sighing, he let it drop and went back to watching the mountain slide by his windows. Now that terror no longer gripped his heart, he could really appreciate the beauty of the landscape, from the folding layers of the mountains to the tiniest wildflowers growing beneath the towering trees. It was beautiful. That wasn’t surprising. He had always loved the mountains.
Eventually the car slowed and the system used its voice again. “We should have a safe distance now. Though, that will only be true until the chip in your head pings against another home unit. Your chip seems more inclined to do that than the others we kept out of federal hands. We aren’t sure why yours is different and wouldn’t be able to tell for certain without getting you into a lab anyway. So, unfortunately, we are going to have to destroy it.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t be hurt in the process. We still haven’t figured out the best way to do it but it should only take a small magnetic surge to scramble the chip.”
“Wouldn’t I run the risk of destroying the chip anytime I got near a magnet if it were that easy?”
A bit of the humor he had heard off and on returned to the voice when it answered, “It isn’t quite as simple as all that, we were just trying to alleviate your concerns about destroying something in your head.”
He wasn’t sure if he should be comforted by that or not. He decided to change the subject. “Where are we going?”
“Once again we must apologize for not having this all play out a bit easier for you. Honestly, we aren’t entirely sure yet. We need to find a place to destroy the chip and then find a new place for you to safely receive your new credentials before heading to the home we have set up. That alone could take some time. However, we are also trying to determine if destroying the chip will somehow make you stand out as well. The saturation of the system across society means that those who aren’t chipped are oddities and could raise suspicion. Before we destroy the chip in your head we need to make sure there will be no consequences of that nature.”
He was taken a back. It was alarming enough to know that the federal agents were tracking him because of the chip in his head randomly sending out a homing signal of sorts but to also have to worry about the absence of a chip also drawing attention to him… He closed his eyes again. His head began to swim and for the first time since they had started downhill he felt like he might throw up again.