The Agora Files – Part I – Online Edition – Chapter Twenty-Five

The silence doesn’t last long. Although something is still pulling at me in the pit of my stomach, I find myself comfortable with Eve once again. As we ride across the state of Wisconsin, we discuss a wide range of topics, starting by exchanging war stories of old runs, but going through a whole host of other things, even our childhoods.

“So, what about your parents?” she asks. “Don’t they care that you’re off running around the world for such a shady group as The Agora?”

“I’m sure they would,” I laugh. “If they had any clue.”

“Oh, you’re one of those latch key kids, huh?”

“What?”

“I mean, your parents have jobs which keep them away a lot, right?”

“Yeah, they do some sort of consulting for the country. I guess they go around to a lot of different places giving them ideas on how to put a brighter face on what we’re doing.”

“Ah, they’re those kind of consultants.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re the people who keep us from getting invaded.”

“Oh, I guess I really don’t know. That’s a good thing, right?”

“Depends on who you talk to.”

“Well, right now I’m talking to you.”

“Right. Well, I’d say they’re doing more harm than good.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you really not know what your parents do?”

“I guess not.”

“Well, things have been bad for a long time, you know, like really bad. I’m not just talking about all the privacy invasions and whatnot which started back after the September 11th stuff. I mean horrible things like executing people because they disagreed with what the country was doing, starting wars with everyone that stood in their way.  Ever since they dropped the bomb to end World War II, they’ve just never stopped acting like they were in a war and never stopped being afraid of who might attack us next.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Because of this fear that everyone was out to harm them, the government decided to take over everything, every business, every service, everything. In some ways, this was good. We started seeing the costs on things like fuel go down because they were no longer operating for profit. But, in other ways, things really got worse.”

“Okay…I’m not sure I see where you’re going with this.”

“Well, you know all of the things the rebellion is trying to do, get food and supplies out to folks, trying to get people out of these horrible working conditions, and overall just trying to free people from the lives which are forced on them?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Our international relations have become nothing but a series of threats and lies.  And that’s on a good day. It’s frightening, really. Tons of countries became concerned about the direction our country was headed. We were starting to get to the point where we’d point weapons at anyone who said anything negative about how things were run.”

“Still not quite getting the point.”

“So, this caused a big uproar. Suddenly groups like the United Nations were talking about invading the U.S., deciding to overthrow the government and try to bring us back to a more peaceful way of life. That’s where people like your parents come in. If I’m right, they’re the folks who are in charge of controlling all information leaving our country. They keep groups like the U.N. off our backs. They’re the reason no one seems to care about saving us from ourselves any longer.”

“Oh,” I say as realization dawns. “So, they’re kind of like the exact thing your rebellion is fighting against.”

“In a way.”

“So, my parents and your parents really wouldn’t get along too well, would they?”

“Probably not.”

“How does all that work, anyway?”

“What?”

“The thing with your parents. I mean, do you get to see them often?”

“Almost not at all,” she says sadly. “Before I started running, they were really working on getting out of the rebellion, on settling down so we could all live a quiet life together.”

“But you decided that wasn’t your thing?”

“Right. And since they’re in hiding, I have to be really careful about visiting them. The SPs keep a pretty close eye on me a lot of the time, trying to catch me slipping up and giving them an idea of where the retired folks hide out.”

“Oh,” I say quietly. “I guess that makes things difficult.”

“In some ways, yes. In other ways it’s been a blessing. I’m pretty sure there have been more than a number of times where they’ve allowed me to get past them just because they thought I might be heading off to see my folks.”

“Still had to have been pretty hard being by yourself like that. I mean, my parents were gone a lot too, but at least I had The Geek.”

“Oh, yeah. I had been meaning to ask. His name’s not really The Geek, right?”

“No,” I laugh. “Billy. He hates it when I call him that though.”

“Billy’s a great name,” she smiles.

The Geek chirps in my headphones, so I slip them over my ears.

“Hey now, who said you could start giving away my secrets?” he asks.

“Hi Billy,” Eve says cheerily.

“Hi Eve. Just got up from a nap without any alarms getting set off over here. Something felt off. How are things going?”

“Haven’t seen anything to be concerned about,” I answer.

“Good. Looks like you’re almost to Lake Michigan. I’ve put the directions into your GPS. Head for a dock on Lakeview Dr. The ferry is waiting for you there. They should’ve taken off about half an hour ago, but I convinced him to wait. All the same, you had better hurry.”

“Okay, Billy,” Eve says again, wanting to get as much use out of his name as possible, I guess.

She speeds up and we are at the dock in no time and immediately waved aboard the ferry. We park the SUV in the deck below. I jump out and begin refueling; figuring now is as good of a time as any. Not long after I complete this task, we are greeted by an old man wearing a blue jumpsuit.

“Hey.  You Cyrus?” the man asks.

“Guess that depends on who’s asking,” I say, trying to play it cool.

“The Geek said you’d probably say something like that. Look, you’re going to want to stay below decks for the trip. Some Street Patrols climbed aboard just before you two did, curious why we hadn’t taken off yet. I’ve got a spot downstairs in the engine room which should be safe for you.”

“Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”

“Not a problem. The Geek’s been helping me stay afloat for years, gotta do what I can for the kid. Anyways, welcome to the S.S. Badger. Sorry I can’t give you a better tour.”

We are escorted down a couple flights of stairs and into a loud room reeking of burnt oil. The old man says something to us I can’t quite make out before he leaves. I look at Eve.  She’s got her ears covered.

“How long do you think we’re stuck down here?” I yell.

“What?” I think is what Eve yelled back.

We find a spot to sit behind a table, figuring if the SPs decide to come down here, we’d best not be out in the open.

We stay in our hiding place, unable to talk to each other, for quite some time. I’m not sure how wide Lake Michigan is, but it seems to me like it shouldn’t take nearly as long to get across. I had assumed a half hour at most. A quick glance at my GPS unit tells me it’s been over an hour and a half.

It wouldn’t be so bad except it’s impossible to sleep in this dungeon of noise. If I could at least get a couple hours of sleep I’d be happy. Instead I’m stuck sitting, staring at Eve as we try to communicate. Okay, well, I guess it’s not entirely horrible.

Another hour and a half passes before the old man finally reappears. He directs us out of the engine room and my hearing doesn’t get any better. The loud noise of the engine room disappears and all I can hear is a high pitched squeal, everything else is muffled. It is easier to communicate, but just barely.

“What took so long?” I hear myself unintentionally yelling. I can’t help it, I can’t hear anything.

“No need to be so loud, son. And I don’t know what you mean by taking so long. Trip usually takes about 4 hours; we made it in a little over 3 today. I had the captain rush the ride for you.”

“What?” Eve yells.

“Nothing,” I yell back.

The old man becomes agitated with us and directs us back to our car. We wave our goodbyes and drive off. I look above deck and I can just make out the uniforms of a couple Street Patrols.

I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure they saw us. I’d be willing to guess a couple kids driving off in an SP SUV would set off some alarms.

I try to direct Eve’s attention to them, but it’s very difficult to do so quietly when neither of us can hear. It turns out I don’t have to try too hard. A couple miles down the road and we’re already being tailed by a government vehicle, lights flashing.

“The SPs,” I yell to Eve.

“Duh,” she yells back.

I slip on my headphones to try talking to The Geek. My ability to hear is slightly better, but I still can’t make out what he’s saying.

“Geek, hearing’s all screwed up,” I yell.

I hear him yelling back and just barely make out, “Don’t stop!”

Eve and I look at each other again.  She nods to me and presses down on the gas pedal. Although we’re driving the same vehicle, they still manage to catch up to us and pull to our side as we drive.

The man in the passenger seat rolls down his window and yells something at us. Still unable to hear, Eve shrugs at him and gestures to her ear while shaking her head.

“Can you hear me now?” I just barely make out The Geek saying.

“Yeah,” I yell.

“No need to yell, I’m not the one who’s deaf. I’ve got the volume up as loud as it can go.”

“What’s the deal with the SPs?” I try not to yell, but it’s difficult to do since I can’t hear myself.

“They’re alone. Just a fluke they found you. They were checking in on the ferry’s late departure.”

“Any clue what they’re trying to tell us?”

“Sounds like they’re asking you to pull over.”

“Okay, so, we don’t, right?”

“Don’t stop for anything, just keep going.”

“Won’t they start shooting or something?”

“I doubt these guys even have guns on them. They’re mostly for show, to keep the ferries running on time and whatever. All the upper level SPs have gone south, since that’s where everyone thinks you are and everyone wants to be the one who brings you two in.”

“Okay, so, where are we headed?”

“Canada.”

“Really? How will that help?”

“You’ll be given asylum and be out of the SPs jurisdiction. It’ll be safe. Once you get across the border, we can work out the next steps.”

“But, won’t they just be waiting for us when we try to get back into the country?” Eve asks.

“We’ll have to deal with that when the time comes. Whatever you do, you do not want to let these two catch you.”

“Okay, but, what about reinforcements? Won’t they be contacting their superiors or whatever?” I ask, still not sure how this is the best decision.

“You’re going to love this.” I can see the giant grin on The Geek’s face in my mind. “The techs who run the SP radio system owed me a favor.”

“What the heck do you do while I’m gone?”

“Everything,” he laughs. “Anyways, the SP radio system has been inexplicably shut down for the time being. It won’t last long, but hopefully it will be long enough.”

“So, what does that mean?” Eve asks.

“The goons behind you can’t do much to you without authorization from their higher ups, meaning the only option they have right now is to tail you until they hear differently.”

“How long have we got?”

“I tried pushing it to be as long as I could, but the techs said they can only promise two hours at the very longest. And that might even be a stretch. Of course, I’d guess you’ll still have a bit of time after the radios come back online, since I can’t believe any of the folks with power are going to allow a couple lower-level beat cops get the collar on you instead of themselves. They’ll stall things until they can get to your location.”

“Okay,” I begin, “so, how long till we get to the Canadian border?”

“I guess that depends on how much gas you’ve got.”

“Well, I put the last of the gas into the tank when we got on the ferry,” I say.

“The gauge says we’ve got a little less than half a tank,” Eve adds. “We’re looking at about 10 gallons.”

“Alright, it might be risky.  It’s very possible you’ll run out of gas before you reach the border, but if you push it, top speed the whole way, it should take you just a little over two hours. That should give you plenty of lee-way, if everything goes as planned.”

“Does it ever?” I ask.

“Let’s hope it does this time.”

Eve is already going at top speed, but I see her attempt to push the pedal even harder. Looking at the speedometer, we seem to be topping off at 75 miles per hour. Much faster than running, but I fear it won’t be enough. I look at the car behind us and see another has joined the chase while we were talking.

“I thought you said everyone else was busy,” I say.

“Their flashers must be attracting some local attention. Still lower level guys, so nothing to worry about yet.”

“Okay.” I feel uneasy. Even if their radio system is down, if everyone who sees the lights decides to join in on the chase, we’ll be way too noticeable way too quickly.

I sit back in my seat and rest my head against the headrest, exhaling deeply. I feel the pressure against my eardrums release and hearing returns, although only slightly. I look at Eve.

“I guess I should try to close my eyes for a bit,” I yell. “Could be a long night.”

Eve nods and I close my eyes. Sleep isn’t going to come easy, if at all, but resting my eyes should do me some good.

My mind swirls with possible strategies until all my thoughts seem to melt into one giant mesh of an image. I jerk up to the sound of sirens, realizing I had been sleeping. Goes to show how much I needed it. From the noise invading my airspace, I know my hearing has come back in full effect. I look and see we have gained a large following. I don’t care enough to count, but there’s at least ten cars right on our tail.

“Hey, Eve. Why don’t I take over and you try to rest for a bit.”

“Deal,” she says.

I grab the wheel and press my foot on the gas pedal. She climbs over the back of her seat and I slide over into her spot. Eve scrambles into the passenger seat.

“You’d think a high speed pursuit would be much more exciting,” she says.

“I’m feeling pretty riveted,” I say.

“Yeah, I could tell that from your snoring.”

“Hey!” I joke. “I don’t snore.”

“You could’ve fooled me.”

“Just close your eyes and see if you can get some rest, alright?”

“Don’t think I’m going to go down quite as easily as you did, slacker.”

“Whatever.”

Eve gets herself comfortable and I toss my headphones back on.

“Hey, Geek. How we looking?”

“As ugly as usual,” he laughs.

“Right, I’ll remember you said that when I get home.”

“Just make sure you get home and you can remember whatever you want.”

“Seriously, how are things looking?”

“No real change. My contacts within the SP tech department are silent. I’d guess they’re trying to keep from incriminating themselves, so I have no new news on that front, but, it looks like their system is still down.”

“Good. How far to the border?”

“Hey, I could sleep a whole lot better if you would quit jabbering on over there,” Eve scowls.

“Oh, sorry, don’t want to spoil the quiet surroundings,” I laugh.

“Why don’t you two just get married and get it over with already?” The Geek asks.

“In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been busy.”

“Yeah, sure. Excuses. Anyways, you’re only about an hour from the border, as long as you can keep up the pace you’ve got going. How are you looking on gas?”

I look down at the gauge. “Pretty low,” I say. “The needle’s got a little bit before it hits the E, but not much. Looks like maybe two or three bars. I can’t tell.”

“You’ll be cutting it close.”

“Should I slow down? That would conserve gas, right?”

“Not an option, Cy. You need to get to the border as fast as possible. The longer it takes to get there, the more likely you’ll be caught on the wrong side of the line.”

“Okay, so, fingers should be crossed?”

“Cross everything you’ve got. It’s going to be a tight one.”

The music turns on, Respect by Aretha Franklin. Not as fitting of a choice as many of The Geek’s selections on this run, but I jam to it all the same. More than once I find myself singing along, which brings a slap and a groan from Eve, who has managed to fall asleep. I find it amusing my singing is enough to wake her up, over the deafening sound of all the sirens.

Like Eve said, you’d think a high speed pursuit would be more exciting.

You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes. I’m really digging the oldies The Geek is choosing for me. It makes the drive feel a lot more like a joy ride instead of a ride for my life.

A notification lights up on the dashboard

“Geek,” I say. The music cuts out.

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“We’re officially down to fumes now, how far we got?”

“A little over 60 miles.”

“Didn’t you say you thought this thing got around twenty miles to the gallon?”

“Yeah, that’s the best guess.”

“So, um, that’s a bad thing, right?”

“I guess we just have to hope this baby’s been tuned up recently. And that you get the wind to your back.”

“Or else?”

“Or else you’re outta gas and outta luck.”

“Okay then. Let’s hope Grant took good care of this old girl.”

“Yeah, let’s do that. Honestly, if we’ve guessed well on the amount of gas already in the tank, you’ve been running at right around 20 miles a gallon so far. So, if you run out before the border, you’ll at least be really close. The indicators on these things light up mighty early.”

“Don’t think close is going to quite be good enough. Anything else I should know?”

“Well, umm. . . yeah, there is something.”

“Doesn’t sound good.”

“It’s not. The techs managed to get a message out to me a couple minutes ago. They say the issue’s been found and although they’re going to stall as best they can, you’ve got 45 minutes at best before those guys who are following you are able to get the okay to detain you.”

“So… go fast?”

“As fast as you can.”

My foot’s already pressed down as far as it can go. I look over my shoulder. There are dozens of cars behind us now. I’m surprised the SPs can’t see us from whatever satellites they’ve got up in the sky. There’s definitely enough light flashing behind us.

The trees give way to a city. Flint, Michigan. If there’s any place which would cause us to bring more attention to ourselves than we want, it would be to drive through here. Unfortunately, it looks like I don’t have much of a choice.

People exit buildings as we fly through the town. The lights and noise are causing quite a stir. I can only imagine how much the phone lines are lighting up with people trying to give information to anyone they can. I only hope that no one in the SP force is actually available to listen.

My comfort level with driving decreases greatly as I enter town. Now there are pedestrians coming out from every corner. The streets are free of cars, which is good, but everyone in the city wants to get as close of a look as possible at the police parade as it drives by. So close, in fact, they lose all concern for their own safety.

Numerous times I find myself swerving out of the way at the last moment when someone jumps into the street. I try my hardest not to slow down. Any second lost to speed is another second the SPs could gain on us.

Ahead of us, I see the local SPs here are ready to be a bit more proactive on stopping us and have set up a roadblock. I take a sharp left and enter an industrial district. Ahead of me is another road block.

I guess they aren’t worried about getting orders from above to stop us anymore. Probably have enough reason to pick us up for disturbing the peace alone. To the right of me I see what looks like a quarry. I pull hard on the wheel, running over a metal fence to enter the wide open space, kicking up gravel as I go.

Eve jolts awake at my rough driving and buckles her seatbelt.

“Getting interesting?”

“Meh, I don’t know,” I say as I sideswipe a truck, skidding through the rocky terrain.

“Where are we?”

“Flint.”

“Getting close?”

“Yeah, but the SPs here are doing a lot more in the way of trying to stop us than the others.”

“I can see that.” I’m unable to avoid a pile of rocks ahead of us and we hit it head on, sending us flying into the air. We land hard, sparks flying around us. “You seem to be getting a tad more comfortable with driving.”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

A glance over my shoulder shows we’ve lost a couple cars to the terrain. I see one flipped over, having failed in its attempt to perform the same jump we had. A giant grin crosses my face. This is just like the movies. I should be wearing sunglasses.

The highway is up ahead, gravel gives way to asphalt. Looks like the Flint SPs hadn’t planned on us cutting through the quarry. I see no roadblocks as I exit. Fewer and fewer buildings are around us and within a couple minutes we’re back in the country, our entourage seemingly halved from what it was when we entered.

The drive quickly goes back to its former monotonous self. Cars continue to join the collective behind us.

“Well, that didn’t last long, huh?” Eve asks.

“Long enough,” I respond. “I don’t think I could have done that for much longer.”

Silence again. Feels awkward. I slip my headphones back over my ears. They had fallen down during the chase in town. It’s midway through Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp. Eve starts singing along.

“You know Mellencamp?” I ask.

“A bit,” she answers with a smile on her face. “My parents had a couple of old CDs we would listen to while growing up.”

“CDs?”

“Compact discs,” she says, assuming that would answer any questions.

“Compact discs?”

“Yeah, they are these little round things that hold music on them.”

“Sounds weird.”

“Whatever,” she shrugs. “I would listen to their CDs all the time when they were away. Made it almost feel like they were still around.”

“Cool, I guess.”

“Yeah, cool.”

The chorus begins again and I join Eve in singing. I imagine how odd we must look to the SPs behind us. Here we are being chased by an angry mob and we’re singing at the top of our lungs. I roll down my window and sing louder.

The dashboard starts dinging.

“What the heck is that?” I ask Eve. She leans over and looks at the dashboard.

“Looks like we’re out of gas,” she says with concern on her face.

“Shouldn’t we be, you know, stopping then?”

“You’d think so. You think they’ve got a reserve tank on this puppy too?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Geek?” I yell.

“I was just about to contact you,” The Geek answers quickly.

“Hey Billy,” Eve says. “What’s up?”

“The radio’s back up. The SPs are live once again.”

“That’s not good,” I say. Then, just to be certain, “Is it?”

“No, it’s not. Can’t be certain, but it’s very possible they’re going to get the go ahead to detain very soon.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means they will use all sorts of non-lethal force to stop you from getting to the border.”

“Well, non-lethal is good isn’t it?”

“It means you won’t die right away. They’re still looking to execute you.  They’d just prefer to do it on camera.”

“Okay, so, how far to the border?”

“Five miles.”

“Five miles,” Eve says, “that doesn’t sound too bad.” Just as she says that, we are flanked on both sides by cars. They both roll down their windows.

“Pull over!” the officer in the car on the left yells.

“What?” I ask, figuring I could try playing dumb to buy us some time.

“Pull over!” the one on the right yells. He pulls out a gun and aims it at us. Eve screams.

“Don’t worry,” The Geek yells. “There’s no chance they’ve been given the authority to kill. They’re just trying to scare you.” The man fires his gun. Eve and I both duck our heads as low as we can. I unintentionally swerve to the left, hitting the SP on that side. He’s sent into the ditch. A new vehicle pulls up to replace him.

“Pull over, now!” the officer who just joined us yells.

“What seems to be the problem, officer?” Eve asks coyly, leaning across me. The officer on the other side fires again, causing her to duck into my lap.

I hear a slight sputter from the engine of our vehicle.

“Does that mean what I think it means, Eve?”

“Yep. Looks like we really were out of gas,” she frowns.

Another gun shot. The SUV starts bouncing like crazy across the road. The jerk shot out our tire.

“Okay, Eve,” I say. “There’s only one option left.”

“That’s just what I was thinking.” She begins unbuckling her seat belt. On the right side, I see a set of train tracks have joined the side of the highway. They’re raised at least 5 feet above the road level.

“You actually might want to keep that on just a second longer,” I say. Eve looks questioningly at me, but quickly buckles herself back in. I pull hard to the right, sending the trigger happy cop into the ditch. He gets about halfway up the hill before stopping and flipping over. Serves him right. We hit the hill at full speed and head up the side. Eve clutches tightly onto my arm as we sail into the air.

We are weightless, soaring in slow motion through the sky. The first of the cars wasn’t able to react in time and I see them stopping on the road. Others follow our lead, flying into the air behind us.

We hit the ground. Hard. I feel the landing through my entire body. The seat belt is the only thing keeping me from bouncing out of my seat and through the windshield. With one wheel busted, the car stops immediately on the soft earth. Eve looks at me sternly.

“Never,” she says, “do that again!”

“No promises,” I smile. I unbuckle my belt and jump through the door. Eve follows my lead.

Go to Chapter Twenty-Six

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