Echo, Part 11

“The car’s sensors are detecting that you are unwell.”

He gritted his teeth and forced a reply, “I’ll be okay.”

He expected the voice to respond immediately that the sensors likely weren’t wrong so he opened one eye just enough to scan the control panel and the road beyond, still passing at a dizzying speed, when no response was forthcoming.  He shut the eye again and focused on his breathing.  Perhaps the system wasn’t dialed in enough to know for sure how he was doing and so the powers behind the voice could only take his word for how he was doing.  At the moment, he didn’t really care.  He was still trying to keep from being sick and the ride was doing little to ease his stomach.

The road levelled off and still the car did not reduce speed.  The curvy mountain road, however, smoothed out to a long straight away.  He could feel the difference and hazarded another glance.  Hills still ranged on either side but the road itself was visible straight ahead for many miles.  His head was still reeling from the knowledge that the chip embedded on his brain was betraying his location to the federal agents but now that they were no longer fleeing on a curvy road his stomach unclenched some.

“You seem to be doing better now.”

It hadn’t been a question and he didn’t feel like acknowledging the statement.  Instead, he continued to focus on his breathing and let his thoughts drift to the problems that had just been heaped upon him.  Not only was he on the run from the FBI but they were able to trace his location based on the chip in his head pinging against main unit systems anytime he came close to one.  He would need to destroy the chip but to do so could be dangerous and he’d have to give away his location.  Additionally, the absence of the chip in his head, so universal now, might be enough to get him scrutinized going forward.  So, neither option was good.  He couldn’t assume the new life he’d been promised under an alias if the chip was going to betray him.  He couldn’t destroy the chip and try to live a normal life because he would stand out.  Perhaps there was another way?  Perhaps the powers behind his rescue would come up with a solution?

As if guessing why he had suddenly become ill, the voice said, “We are sorry to have not known about the pinging beforehand.  We are embarrassed.  It is a feature of our system that we should have be aware of.  We are still working on a solution.”

“Thank you.”

The voice continued, “Unfortunately, we do not want to compromise the safe house we have set up for you, so we are having to change plans again.”

“Where are we going now?”

“We are actually going to turn around and head back into the mountains.”

“What?  Why?”

“There are fewer home units by density up there and the canyons and peaks block the signals, in some place entirely.  It will be easier to hide you there while we figure out the right instructions to destroy the chip.”

He did not want to drive back up the curvy road.  His stomach had calmed but it wasn’t completely better.  However, what they said made sense.  If they headed into a system he would ping off almost every house they drove by.

“Okay, so why are we still driving away from the mountains.”

“We are going to head south for a little bit and then circle back around on a different road.  We don’t want to intentionally head towards the agents that are still behind you.”

He cursed softly.  He knew they were back there, somewhere, on the trail and yet he had forgotten about them in the mad flight all the same.  The threat of his chip had overshadowed the even more immediate threat of the agents that were already chasing him.  He felt foolish and as much as he wanted to chalk that up to a lack of good sleep, frayed nerves and the need for food, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that compared to the system, or the people behind the system, he was likely a fool.

“We are going to speed up now and take advantage of this straight away to ensure we are out of visual contact with the agents persuing you.  Don’t worry, though, we will keep the vehicle well within its range of handling safely for these conditions.  Do you have any pressing needs we can help with?  Your vitals seem to have returned to normal.”

“I’m okay, thank you.”

A small thrust of pressure indicated that the car had already begun to speed up.  He glanced at the speedometer and marveled as the number climbed well beyond the fastest he had had driven.  He also marveled, once again, at how willing he was to trust the system.  Even with all the safety measures built into vehicles, if they crashed he would almost certainly be killed.  And yet, he wasn’t worried at all.  Not even taking into account how well the system and car had taken the mountain roads at high speeds, he had grown accustomed to let the machines have control.

It was beautiful, the hills and peaks towering beyond them, with the road carving through the middle, scrub brush and flowers and tall grasses spreading across it all, except where the dark green trees rose towards the heavens higher up.  He enjoyed the view for a bit, having never ventured this far north before, and didn’t even bother checking the rearview mirror.  If the agents were still back there, worrying about what he couldn’t see wasn’t going to do him again.  And, if they had happened to somehow get close enough to be seen, then the system would tell him.

Sighing, out of exhaustion rather than frustration, he closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep.  An urgent need that he had forgotten about when they had fled from the mountains in the first place suddenly hit him.

“Um…”

The system said, “Yes.  We can see that you are no longer comfortable.  What do you need?”

“A bathroom.”

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