It was a bloodbath out in the streets, and Thomas could just barely keep his head above the crimson surface. One moment he was stuck in traffic, the same as usual, the next saw him driving for his life as the usually so dull Ampere vehicles had come for him like wolves that had cast away the clothes of sheep. His Chevelle was battered and dented in many places, but still nimble enough to stay ahead of the merciless pack.
“Just when I got this thing fixed,” he brooded.
At first he had thought this was the attack he had been expecting, but seeing the broken bodies thrown about amongst the trash littering the streets he had concluded that whoever was behind this wasn’t particularly choosy in his targets. He also found it hard to believe anyone with the resources to pull of something like this would particularly care about a former car salesman who could only influence things with his vote, which was something he had withheld for years now.
Too many cars rushed towards him from the street ahead, and he made a quick turn to the right at an intersection. He still had to avoid a few assailants, dodging them like a matador dodges an enraged bull, making life a matter of inches between horns and flesh.
When he had realized that the vehicles were going after anyone they spotted, his first thought had been to head for High Gear to pick up Naomi and the others. Ambushes, roadblocks and roving swarms of autos had necessitated a roundabout, evasive route, but finally he parked his car next to the tall wooden fence protecting the back end of the dealership.
He got out of the car, leaving the engine on idle, and went to peek around the corner. The sight made him grit his teeth. Bloodied vehicles were standing at spare intervals all over the street, seeming to have stopped at random spots. Some of them had people locked inside, most of whom having surrendered to their imprisonment, barely daring to move a muscle.
“Switched off or standing guard?” he pondered. The way the cars were arranged, in a pattern that allowed them to keep an eye on most of the street and the intersecting smaller alleys, made him think it was the latter. Going in via the main entrance was out of the question.
An ear-piercing sound of metal being torn and crushed made him instinctively pull back in the shadow. It was coming from behind the fence. The air reverberated with the din and thunder of heavy construction machinery so he didn’t worry about anyone—or anything—hearing him as he climbed on the roof of his car and jumped, getting a hold of the fence’s top. He pulled himself up to take a peek.
The dealership’s extravagant collection of cars had been reduced into a smoking junkyard. Autonomous excavators and bulldozers roamed the lot, quickly crushing the merchandize to metal waste and stacking the smoldering husks in piles. The main building at other end of the property seemed untouched but Hugh’s, Naomi’s and Jason’s cars all stood crushed in their named parking spots by the building.
He swung his leg on top of the fence and pulled himself up, side first, before quickly dropping down and taking cover behind some mangled cars. Doubled over, he made his way across the yard, moving from one cover to the next. The ground shook from the movements of the large vehicles, and he didn’t want to find out what would happen if they spotted him.
A bulldozer cleaned up the area, pushing all the ravaged vehicles into a mountain of broken metal, glass and tires by the side of the plot, leaving a bare field of sand between him and the building. He crouched, pressing his back to the last piece of cover before the vacated stretch of land. It was less than a hundred feet long, but with the murderous earthmovers overlooking it, getting to the other side was harder than crossing the Sahara Desert.
He knew enough about the heavy-duty vehicles not to try and sneak behind them; their field of vision spanned 360 degrees around them, with cameras higher up scanning further away while cameras at the sides and bottom kept eye on its immediate vicinity. Not to mention the cameras in the buckets of the excavators as well as the blades of the bulldozers.
A bulldozer crossed the field pushing wreckage ahead of into the large mound by the named parking spots where the entirety of their stock was quickly ending up, squashed and hammered. Surveying the yard from his hiding place, Thomas realized all the shelter available would be razed sooner rather than later, at which point he would not have long left on this Earth. There was but one avenue left open for him. He opened the trunk—the hatch was bent and broken by the recent mauling it had taken—of the brown Sedan he had been squatting by and climbed in, holding it closed since it refused to shut properly. Soon, the rumbling got louder and then the car jerked moving. The back of the car came crumbling in, so he had to press himself against the backs of the seats. The groaning metal pressed against his chest, his head, his stomach so he could not move, now squeezing his breath from him with its iron embrace. The world tilted and then shook with an immense metallic clattering
Just when he thought his head would burst if the pressure got any worse, they came to a stop, the rumbling growing more distant.
“Must have dumped me where I wanted. Not like that is going to do me any good.” He was entombed in a metal coffin, the twisted tail of the car holding him like a giant fist. His arms were bent against his chest like his legs were against his stomach, his back pinned to the seats. Soon, the bulldozer would return with the next batch of debris, burying him ever deeper.
“It’s not like I have any options here; either these seats will give or I will,” he judged grimly and began pushing with all his might using his arms and legs. The seat budged slightly against its lock but didn’t fold. The rumbling was getting louder again. He hammered the obstacle frantically with his back, with all the strength he could muster in that constricting space, still not getting through.
The rumble of the bulldozer had again become the only sound in the world. His muscles were filled with acid, his lungs burning for a deep breath he had been unable to draw for what felt like hours. Just then he felt the space behind his back open up, light beaming to the dark compartment. He managed to push his upper body inside the car before the bulldozer’s payload dropped, squashing the trunk further in so that, had he still been completely in it, the squeeze would have broken his ribs and skull.
He inhaled deeply, savoring the feeling, and waited for the machine to back off. The car’s door had been torn away at some point, and he slid down from the hunk, shielding his body from watchful eyes behind the jagged hill of steel and appraised his surroundings. A trail of blood led through the sliding doors. The vehicles of his coworkers were flattened, by the bulldozer, no doubt, but he didn’t see any human remains within them. Using the flowerpots and vines as cover he made it to the corner of the building unseen. As the front entrance was in the line of sight of the demolition vehicles, he climbed in via on open window on the other side of the building.
Apart from the blood the interior was untouched, the smell of coffee greeting him as always. The lights were turned off, blinds drawn, the colorful lights of the pinball machine twinkling in the gloom. Some bloody fingerprints marked the light switch as well as the windowpanes. He followed the blood to Jack’s office.
Jack Hugh sat in his leather chair, deathly pale with dark veins showing through his skin, like marble.
“Thomas,” he groaned. “Pardon me if I don’t get up to greet you.” He indicated his left leg, where his pants were stained dark red. He had fastened his belt around his thigh, but blood still trickled down his leg into a dark pool that was forming under his chair.
“We’re going to have to get you some help,” he said, dropping to one knee by the injured man to be more on the level with him.
“I’ve tried calling. All I get is some bot telling me that the danger has passed and help is on the way. The danger is far from over, judging by the fact that the bulldozer that tried to mince me is still out there in the yard.” He spit out some reddish spittle. “I don’t trust that bit about the help either.”
Thomas grasped his wrist, noting in passing how cool its skin was. “Where are Naomi and Jason?”
“When all hell broke loose, I gave the boy the keys to the nearest car and told them to run for it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in any condition to join them. They got out, but I don’t know what became of them after that.”
“Come on, we’ll get you out.”
He tried to pull the man up by his arm, but he winced and indicated he should stop. He lifted his shirt, the skin of his stomach a dark purple.
“Internal bleeding, I’m guessing. No matter. A captain should go down with his ship,” he said, managing a grisly grin. “Good thing you happened by. There is something I want to bequeath you.”
He opened a drawer, pulling some things out and placing them on the desk.
“These are the keys to the Dodge Charger,” he said, pushing a keychain over. “I had Jason move it to the workshop for its biannual maintenance, so it should still be intact. My pride and joy, that thing.”
He pocketed the keys wordlessly. Next, he picked up the Desert Eagle, checking the magazine.
“Not sure how much help that is going to be against an enemy with an engine and oil instead of heart and blood, but you just might blow out their tires. Good thing the cops didn’t bother looking under all those stacks of paper, since finding a gun on the premises would have most likely been the final nail in the coffin of this place.”
Finally, he handed Thomas a cigar, placing another one on his own lips. Thomas handled the lighter. Soon a film of smoke wafted in the air. Hugh’s posture was slumping, his eyelids gradually lowering.
Setting his jaw, he mustered one last moment of sobriety: “If anyone can get through this, it’s you, Highway Star. Go, find Naomi and Jason. Show those upjumped calculators what it really means to drive.”
Thomas took a drag of his cigar, exhaling deliberately before stubbing it out in the ashtray.
He carefully spread the blinds with his fingers, surveying the situation outside. The yard had been cleared; the junked cars stacked into a protuberant mound planted between the main office building he was in and the workshop.
“Taking out our transport,” he thought. “Smart.”
Their task completed, the heavy vehicles had left. They were replaced by an average Ampere vehicle, standing guard in the middle of the emptied expanse.
He could use the same cover as he had when coming into the offices, but as the only entrance to the workshop was in the front, he would have to make a run for it. He tugged the gun under his belt by the small of his back and climbed out the same window he had used for his entrance. He made it to the opposite side of the steely crag easily enough, readying himself for the spurt.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he thought, and burst from his cover, sprinting for the entrance. From the corner of his eye he could see the car starting ahead as soon as he came out.
“Man, it has been a while,” he thought as his side began to sting. He didn’t waste time by decelerating but came to a dead stop by mashing against the door and pulled it open as it was unlocked. The car came for him like a pouncing tiger. He punched a button on the wall to open the garage door and lunged to his left as the feral apparatus came smashing through the wall, showering him with mortar and wooden splinters. The Charger was at the back, facing the exit, and the car braked to a stop between them, its left side to him. As such, it could not easily charge in the limited space. For a moment, the hunter and the hunted stood, evaluating each other. Inside the car the locked-in driver, a young man, pummeled the window, begging him for help. He grabbed a wrench from the many tools scattered about and threw it at the car window, but it bounced off harmlessly.
“It probably has allies coming, and I don’t”, he realized and pulled out the gun. The garage door behind him stopped, now fully open. The person imprisoned within dove down when he saw the gun being aimed at his moving cage. He fired, striking the hood of the car which backed up out of the garage, getting some distance between them to gather speed. He didn’t wait for it the second round of caged bullfighting but crossed the room and entered the meticulously waxed, black muscle car. He punched the key and it roared alive, like a lion that has smelled an intruder in its turf. His pursuer came for him again, hurtling through the spacious garage door. Fluidly handling the gear stick he put the car in reverse while forcefully spinning the wheel so his car pulled out from the attack’s reach like a bullfighter’s cape, and the foiled vehicle once again smashed to the wall. He kept up his momentum, reversing from the garage and pulling a 180 degree turn when space opened around him. His battered opponent came limping from the shack, some plaster from the back wall sticking to it. Soon it was just a spot in his rear-view mirror.
He flew from the dealership like a jailbird who has found his prison’s front door unlocked. The interlinked smartcars must have gotten word of trouble and they came for him from all directions.
“Too slow,” he thought as he floored the gas and let the Charger flex its long-rested muscles.