articles novelsshort stories nonfictionpoetry bio/newsletter upcoming events
 
 


Taking Chances

A Fairlight Tale by Paul M. Carhart


The night through the hole above him was freckled with stars and, in stark contrast to the evening's earlier events, it was calm.

Chance pulled himself up from the inside of the cavern. Beneath him, he could feel the rocks slip... hear the rustle of small stones as they tumbled away, ricocheting randomly into oblivion.

An oblivion he had not entered alone.

He winced as he dragged himself along the craggy surface. His hands were scraped and bloody and, from the warmth of the wetness on his forehead, he was certain there was a free-flowing gash there too, trickling blood down his face and matting his closely trimmed goatee. The cave dust that had been blinding him inside the cavern now caused the cut to sting.

He glanced back down the hole, half expecting his friend to climb up from below him. But he knew that wasn't going to happen.

Damned Enforcers, he thought to himself. Damn them all.

Slowly, he hoisted himself to his feet. He had just left one feeding frenzy. If he stuck around too long, he knew he would be the main course for another.

He pulled the laser pistol out of his belt and quickly checked the charge. Empty. He tossed it aside.

Only the witless are truly unarmed anyway.

Besides, the rendezvous point wasn't far off. With any luck, he figured he could get there with little trouble.

"Stop where you are!" a voice ordered.

So much for luck.

Chance froze, lifting his hands in order to assure the newcomer that he was not armed. He had heard only one voice but he had no idea how many there were. Enforcers rarely traveled alone.

Think ahead, Chance. Think ahead.

"Turn around slowly."

He suppressed a grin before turning his body around in a graceful arc. He cocked an eyebrow at the gray and blue clad Enforcer before him. So far, he could perceive only one of them. Glancing down at his chest, he spotted the red dot of his captor's laser site hovering over his jet-black jumpsuit.

"How can I help you, officer?" Chance knew as he asked such a mundane question that his battle-worn presence probably looked completely ridiculous to the soldier.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?"

Now Chance grinned, a perfectly timed reaction. "I heard shooting. I came to see what was going on."

There's no way they're going to believe me.

Another Enforcer trotted up to join the first. "Who is he?"

Yep. Never alone.

The first soldier shrugged and mumbled something.

Geniuses, Chance decided, absolute rocket scientists.

"Let's see some ID," the newcomer ordered.

"Would you like fries and a drink with that?" Chance asked as he reached into his back pocket.

"No remarks, mister. We could take you in for having a unique sneeze and call it creative piracy, you know."

Chance was well aware of the Enforcement Corps' liberal interpretations of the law, especially where the banning of creativity was concerned. In fact, it was the whole reason he had lost Marc in the caverns to begin with.

The first soldier fired off another question. "If you just came to see what the shooting was about, why are you so beat up and dirty?"

Chance lost no time. "I fell in," he replied, gesturing to the rough, nearly vertical cave he had just emerged from. "That first step is a doozy."

Neither Enforcer was amused. "The ID?"

Chance extended a thin wallet to his captors. The second soldier reached out to take it. Just before his fingers could close around it, however, Chance let it fall to the ground.

"Oops. Sorry guys," he said with a mock wince.

The two Enforcers glanced at each other. The second soldier stepped forward, in front of his partner, and bent down to pick up the wallet.

That was Chance's cue.

In a blink, Chance lifted his knee into the face of the crouching soldier. The impact elicited a crunch accompanied by a cry of anguish. As expected, the other trigger-happy Enforcer reacted without thinking, firing three shots into his injured comrade in his attempt to respond to the situation.

As the now dead Enforcer crumpled the rest of the way to the ground, Chance snatched the pistol from his belt. He rolled onto a bruised knee, winced, and fired two shots, one into each side of the remaining soldier's chest.

The second man fell to his knees, then folded onto the ground.

Considering the fact that these members of the Human Debris Club or their ilk had just done the same to his friend, Chance had a hard time feeling sorry for either of them as he watched the smoke twist off of their dead forms.

You won't get any apology from me.

Chance hobbled back up to his feet as he stuffed the pistol into his belt. He limped over to the two dead Enforcers and disarmed them, adding another pistol and two rifles to his personal arsenal. The new pistol joined the other one in his belt and he shouldered one of the rifles, preferring to keep one of them in his hands.

Probably ought to hide these Einsteins, he thought to himself.

Before another minute had passed, both Enforcers had been tossed over the rim of the passage he had previously emerged from... an unmarked grave for two unremarkable loyalists.

Serve oppression and pay for it, Chance rationalized. We reap what we sow.

Again, he turned his attention to the rendezvous point and headed in that direction. News of Marc's death would most certainly be all over the Enforcement Corps Net. If he arrived late, Chance figured he would probably be left for dead. If that happened, he would have to find his own way back to the resistance cell. He didn't particularly like that idea. There were enough obstacles for someone who wasn't injured. In his condition, he would stand out like an Easter egg on Christmas morning.

And there'll be plenty of uniformed maniacs getting in line to crack my shell, he figured.

Chance quickened his pace, hoping he would not miss his pick up.

"There he goes!" someone cried from behind him.

Damn! They're like bees! What? Am I dripping a trail of honey from my ass?

He was sprinting now... at least trying too. He was also limping and most likely leaving behind a trail of blood for his new assailants to follow.

I guess I'll just end up running myself into the ground so these clowns can finish me off.

Laser bolts erupted in the air around him but he didn't dare turn around for fear of catching one right in the face. He also didn't really want to know how many were on his tail... in case he might just decide to surrender.

No. I'm not going to make it that easy for them. I'm armed and I'm smarter than they are.

The rendezvous point was in the center of a park, a run-down relic of a site from the distant past that now served as a place for businessmen to meet for lunch during the day. Of course, no one in his or her right mind went there at night.

Now Chance was entering the park, the laser shots from behind him lighting his way like a strobe light.

"Where the hell are you, Nik?" he said through clenched teeth.

Another laser bolt shot past him... too close this time. He could feel the heat of the energy stinging his irritated and abraded skin.

Chance feinted to his right, then dove behind a bush to his left. Even as he touched the ground, he positioned himself so he was facing his assailants.

Behind the spinning web of encroaching laser bolts, Chance could see that, although he wasn't about to attempt to get a precise number, there were far too many Enforcers for him to fight off alone.

But he knew surrendering would serve no purpose. Besides, he had made a promise to Marc... a promise he intended to keep.

He took mental stock of his arsenal. Two rifles. Two pistols. At the rate his enemy was closing, he figured he would have little use for rifles within seconds.

With a grunt, he hurled the rifle he had been holding out into the middle of the charging soldiers. Quickly, he slid the other rifle from his shoulder. With a flip of his thumb, the rifle charged itself. Another flip activated the laser site.

"Say goodnight, guys," he whispered as he brought the rifle to bear.

The laser site not only put a red dot on its target, but it also utilized a powerful digital scope. Within a fraction of a second, Chance zeroed in on the power cell of the weapon he had thrown out onto the battlefield.

He squeezed off two shots, but the first one had done the job. The rifle exploded brilliantly, flinging Enforcers out in every direction. Chance knew that the force of the explosion would only kill the soldiers in immediate contact, but it might damage or blind others. His main reason for doing it was to create chaos.

From the looks of things, he had succeeded.

Chance brought the site in on the first confused Enforcer he could find and punched a hole through his neck. Then he moved on to the next one, picking targets as if he were at a shooting gallery. He didn't expect his diversion to last long, so he needed to take down as many as he could before they could regroup.

After drilling a hole through the next Enforcer's helmet, he moved on to another. He knew he wasn't as good a shot as Marc had been, but the laser site helped. He would be at a definite disadvantage once he was forced to move on to the pistols.

From behind him, he could hear the whine of a hover field fighting with the planet's natural gravity.

Was it Nik or was it enemy reinforcements?

Chance pressed his lips together in thought. He would have better odds heading toward the whine, he decided, than sticking it out with these clowns. The sheer numbers alone would eventually suffocate him.

He fired another three shots. By now, the remaining Enforcers had taken cover behind park benches, garbage disintegrators and other bushes. They were no longer such easy targets.

Chance shouldered the rifle and removed one of the pistols from his belt. Again, he fired a couple of random shots to let them know he was still there. The enemy returned fire. He waited another minute and fired again. He knew it would be pure happenstance if he actually managed to hit anyone now. Still, he fired once more. Then he darted out from the bush, heading straight back, so his enemy might not know that he had gone... at least not right away.

In the distance, a hover car listed on its coils, its running lights turned off so Chance wouldn't become a silhouette. Such a courtesy could only have been extended by Nik... and none too soon.

The laser fire began to pick up again. Chance figured that his pursuers had discovered his departure. The shots were coming closer. Soon, however, Chance would be in the hover car and Nik could spirit him away to safety.

With a hiss, the passenger side door slid up. Chance dove in head first and the door slid shut behind him.

The car rocked as shot after shot buffeted the vehicle.

Chance winced as he looked up at the grizzled old driver.

"Stiff them at cards again, old boy?" Nik asked.

"Very funny. Can we get out of here?"

The older man flipped a switch and pulled a lever while keeping one hand firmly on the steering yolk. Chance peered out the window. The car lifted up several feet above the soldiers outside. However, they were still firing at the vulnerable hover coils. If they made a direct hit, both he and Nik would join Marc in his fate.

"Nik, they're aiming at the coils."

"Quite so. Hold on."

"I HAVE been holding on!"

Another flip of a switch brought up the running lights to full intensity.

Chance grinned as the Enforcers below turned their heads and shielded their eyes.

Then, the soldiers were gone... replaced by the blurred buildings of the city at night.

Chance released a sigh before turning to his companion.

"Nik, they got Marc..."

"I know. He knew the risks better than anyone. You know that."

"It doesn't mean I can't mourn him though," Chance snapped.

"I agree. However, you might want to save your mourning until he is actually dead."

"What?" Chance lifted both eyebrows and forgot all about his cuts and bruises. A grin spread across his face.

"Yes. I've been monitoring the EC Net," Nik confirmed solemnly. "Seems they've captured him and are putting him on so-called public trial. The NewsNet predicts an execution by morning."

"We've got to..."

"We've got to what?" the older man interrupted. "Storm the impenetrable Government building and sweep him from the clutches of General Starrk? Maybe you ought to just keep on mourning and forget I said anything."

"We've got to do something!"

"Do we indeed?" Nik asked as he banked the car down a side street.

"He's one of us. We can't just let them kill him."

"He's also one of them... an Enforcer. Starrk will feel the need to show his men what it means to betray the Corps. They'll make an example of him."

"I can't give up without trying!"

"I'll give you that. You ARE trying."

"Be serious, Nik!"

"Chance, There will be no way in and certainly no way out. It's suicide and I can't believe that Marc would sanction it."

"Marc's not the leader. I am."

"Marc would be more concerned with his wife than his own safety. Perhaps there's a lesson there."

Chance gritted his teeth. He knew Nik was right. Marc had said as much on many occasions and Chance had promised Marc that he would take care of his wife if anything were ever to happen to him. Now it had, and it would seem that Chance was more concerned with chasing after Marc than fulfilling his promise.

Damn! I wish Marc had trusted me with his residence, he thought. We could be killing two birds with one stone right now.

But Chance knew that Marc had been protecting his wife from both the Enforcement Corps and the resistance... a fine line to walk when you're an officer for one side and an informant for the other. A finer line still when your wife is participating in the very same activities you are sworn to put a stop to.

Of course, Nik was still lecturing... "And as the leader of our cause, you should be more concerned with the overall security of the resistance than your own personal vendettas."

Again Nik was right. Chance hated it when Nik was right. However, no matter how he viewed the situation, there was no way Chance could justify letting his friend die if there was something he could do to prevent it.

"Nik, you know I have to try."

The old man let out a sigh and nodded his head. "I know. I figured as much." Chance grinned at the old man, who ignored him. "I've put together a few things for you. They're in the back seat."

Chance and Nik had only been together for a short time, but the older man had always seemed to have the uncanny ability to predict Chance's behavior... and even prepare for it, a trait that Chance had become increasingly grateful for.

In the back seat, Chance found a black cloth satchel, which he pulled up into his lap.

"The usual?" Chance asked as he rummaged through the pouch, pulling out a fully charged rifle cell and hefting it in his hand.

Nik nodded. "And some additional goodies. You might want to familiarize yourself with the contents before we reach our destination.

"I'm sure I'll get by. Where are we going?"

"We? This is your death wish, Daredevil."

Chance smiled sweetly. "I wouldn't dream of asking you to join me, Nik. I know that you don't like to get your hands dirty. Besides, you know what I mean: Where are you taking me?"

"Quite. We've recently purchased a building across the street from the Government Building. I'll drop you off on the roof. When you're ready for pick up, signal me with the transmitter embedded in your wrist chrono."

"The rendezvous point will be?"

"Pretty much wherever you signal from. I don't expect you to be able to get to a specific place. In fact, I don't expect to ever see you again. Funny thing about roadkill: It has a hard time moving around, much less signaling for pick up. Reconsider, Chance. Even Marc would agree that you are crazy to attempt this."

"Sorry, Nik. I have to do this. Another thing, and this is priority one: I need you to look up Marc's address. Hack into the Government systems if you have to. We're going to have to move quickly to protect his wife. Even if I succeed, both of them will be in danger from now on. We'll have to absorb them both into the resistance."

"I had already considered that. We're running a search right now. Chance, the cause needs you. Marc recognized this and put your safety above his on every occasion. Don't throw everything away on this fools errand. You'll just wind up with an empty sack."

"Will you stop with the begging and pleading? Don't worry. I always come back. Besides, I'd do the same for you."

Nik nodded, almost smiling, reminding Chance of the older man's usual jovial demeanor. There was nothing humorous about this night though and Nik let the smile slide back away.

"I know," Nik agreed. "However, your responsibilities should prevent your actions."

"Ah, come on, Nik. Admit it. You'd do the same for me, wouldn't you?"

Nik silently tilted his head at Chance as he brought the hover car to a stop in mid-air.

"We'll probably never know, will we?" Finally the older man's grin appeared in full. "Goodbye Chance," he said as the passenger chair opened up and dropped Chance onto the roof of a dilapidated building.

Within seconds, the hover car was gone.

Chance stood up and dusted himself off, shaking his head in astonishment.

Didn't see that coming... crazy old coot.

Across the street, the brilliantly lit edifice of the Government building stood against the night sky. Government activity seemed to be at an all time high as a parade of hover cars entered the main compound.

Maybe Nik was right. Maybe there was no way in.

That still didn't mean that Chance was going to give up on Marc.

Watching the traffic inch into the Government building compound below gave him an idea.

Chance was well aware that he would not be able to hide underneath a hover vehicle. The hover field would paralyze him completely. However, that wasn't what he had in mind...

Spinning on his heel, he slipped the satchel over his head and shoulder as he headed for the lift door. If the resistance owned the building as Nik had suggested, the lift should be coded the way everything else was.

Chance passed his hand over a dark window in the wall. The lift door opened and he stepped inside and punched the keypad for the third floor.

As the lift descended, Chance opened the satchel and removed a pair of gloves that he immediately donned. Perhaps his bruised and cut hands would not hurt so much with the added protection, he decided. He also removed a belt that had a larger-than-usual buckle and grenade slots along either side. He replaced his old belt with the new one and populated the slots with an assortment of weaponry.

Then he checked the charge on the rifle. It was up to full power again. Both of his pistols were still tucked into his belt. It was time for action and Chance was ready to make the best of the circumstances.

The lift stopped; the door opened. Chance stalked down the dark corridor, his rifle over one shoulder, his satchel over the other. He came all the way up to the front of the building and peered out of the window.

Outside, the traffic had come to a complete standstill. Civilian hover vehicles, although it was nearing one in the morning, were being stopped by Enforcement troops as well as being just plain caught up in military traffic.

Did Starrk expect a rescue attempt?

Chance held his breath, searching the traffic with his eyes. He was looking for something specific and it only took him five seconds to find it.

On the other side of the street, facing the entrance to the Government building's compound, was the Enforcer equivalent of a paddy wagon. It was tall, drifting slightly in the traffic on its hover coils like a small building in an earthquake.

Whether Marc was in the vehicle or not, Chance did not know. But even if the esteemed passenger was not his friend, the vehicle itself would still serve his purposes.

Chance removed the old-fashioned modular window. Then he reached into his satchel and pulled out a small, squarish pistol. He pushed a three-pronged harpoon into its barrel. Attached to the dart's head was a thin fiber cord.

He stepped back several feet to minimize the sound of the gun's report to the people outside before squeezing the trigger. The harpoon launched out into the night, the fiber cord spiraling out behind it like a comet's tail. It tore through the air with a whimpery whistle before lodging itself in the building just beyond the hover van.

Chance jerked the cord tight before connecting it to another, shorter, three-pronged attachment. He placed the small device up against the wall and pressed the button in the middle of the prongs.

Immediately, the small object reeled in the cord, tightening it enough to play music on had he been so inclined to strum it. Then the prongs extended and embedded themselves into the building's wall, securing the cord.

Chance nodded as he pulled a small towel out of his satchel. He daubed his forehead twice before climbing into the window. Then he tossed the towel over the cord. Taking each side of the towel in each hand, he pushed himself out of the window and began his descent along the length of the fiber cord.

He looked down as he went, but could see no sign that he had yet been discovered by anyone below. In fact, the passengers in the vehicles seemed to be more concerned with the source of the traffic jam than his activities above them. Chance turned his attention to his target. The hover van was still precisely where it had been a few moments before.

There's one thing you can count on in life: Traffic is probably not going to move.

Chance knew the tricky part was still to come, however. He couldn't very well leap onto the top of the paddy wagon. The hover coils beneath the vehicle would surely make for an amiable enough landing, but would also rock the van like a boat in choppy water, most certainly alerting those inside to his presence. No, he would have to exercise a bit of finesse, which would give him a lot less room to play with.

He was now more than halfway to his destination. It was time to begin the slowing process, which was why he had used a towel to slide with and not something that would provide less resistance.

Chance tightened his grip on the towel, which succeeded in slowing him slightly. Smoke poured out of the cloth, a result of the increased friction. Now, as the heat began to envelop his hands, he found that he was thankful for his new gloves. Unfortunately, he was not slowing enough. At the rate he was going, he would shoot right past the van and smash right into the building on the other side.

He had a choice to make. He could panic or he could do something about it.

More pressure is required, he decided.

He bounced up and down on the cord, praying it wouldn't snap and drop him into the traffic. The increased pressure of the gravity seemed to do the trick. Chance came bounding to a stop just over the hover van. He extended his legs and smiled as his toes made contact with the top of the vehicle. Slowly, he lowered himself onto the hover van without even rippling the hover field beneath it.

Not bad, he decided.

Then he pressed a blue button on his wrist chrono. Above him, a small charge went off in each of the three-pronged ends of the fiber cord. The effects of the charges traveled the length of the cord, disintegrating it. He could barely feel the dust-like particles of ash as they floated down onto the traffic. Then he turned his attention back to Marc's predicament.

Of course, it would have been nice if the hover van did, in fact, have Marc in it. If that were so, Chance could just hijack the paddy wagon and be done with it. Upon further reflection, however, Chance realized that there was really no way that Marc could be the prisoner that might be sitting out in the middle of traffic... especially if Starrk was expecting a rescue attempt. Besides, Marc had been captured a good hour and a half before Chance had even been able to find an outlet from the caverns.

No, Marc was certainly well within the bowels of the building by now. If there even were a prisoner inside this paddy wagon, it would be someone else.

Did that person deserve the punishment he or she would receive?

Stop it!

Chance put that out of his mind. He had to focus. He had to purge such thoughts from his consciousness. He had made it this far. With or without Marc inside, this vehicle would still serve his purposes, if the traffic ever moved.

As if reading his mind, the hover van lurched forward. Chance flattened himself against the rooftop, hoping the van didn't take a fast corner and slide him off onto the fibercrete like bacon from a frying pan.

His concerns were unwarranted, however. The traffic was not moving very fast and riding the hover van to its eventual destination quickly became an exercise in patience for Chance.

Scenario after scenario of Marc's demise danced through Chance's head as he lay stretched across the hover van's roof... all of which ended in Chance arriving just as the enemy had executed his friend.

You're psyching yourself out, Chance. Get a hold of yourself.

Finally, the hover van stopped and Chance heard a voice.

"What're you doing out this late?"

"You know, the usual late night beat. Rounding up pirates."

The first man chuckled. "Yeah, these painters and musicians... what are they trying to prove? Well nobody you're gonna bring in tonight will top what the general's got going on."

"What's happening?"

"Don't you listen to the comm? They finally got the traitor."

"No kidding? Who was it?"

"Captain Fairlight. He's supposed to be executed in a few hours."

Silence followed.

Chance was seething. General Starrk had decided the course of a man's life just like that... Even before the trial, the sentence had been determined. It was enough to make Chance want to just stand up on the roof and empty his rifle into the both of them... but that wouldn't save Marc...

"Alright, you're cleared."

"Thanks."

The hover van again moved forward. Chance held his breath. There was no turning back now. He was within the compound. As the vehicle moved forward, Chance took in the spectacle of the Government building. Armed guards were interspersed along the perimeter of the building. Along the face, he could see security cameras and even small laser turrets. Soldiers going into the building were scanned both from their palm and their retina.

Chance had never seen so much security in one place. His stomach sank.

This is crazy. Nik was right! Even if I can find Marc... even if I can get to him... I'll never get out alive. Instead of one man dying, it'll be both of us.

He knew that Marc would not approve. In fact, he knew what Marc would want him to do.

The hover van pulled around into a parking structure. A low hum told Chance that the hover coils had shut down.

Both cab doors swished open. Then Chance could hear the boot falls of the driver and the passenger as they marched to the back of the van.

Still holding his breath, Chance slowly turned himself around to face the rear of the vehicle.

"Come on. Let's go," one of the Enforcers said.

Chance poked his head over the rooftop. A dark haired, dark skinned man was being prodded out of the vehicle by one of the soldier's guns. Chance's heart went out to the man, who had probably done nothing more than draw a picture with some crayons or hum a tune from his childhood.

He glanced left and then right. The parking structure seemed more or less deserted. Most of the soldiers would certainly be ordered to watch Marc's execution as an example of what happens to traitors.

Nik had been right all along, he realized. Marc didn't stand a chance against the forces gathered here and the odds for Chance to succeed in his mission weren't any better. Marc was going to die and there was nothing Chance could do about it.

This guy, on the other hand...

Chance clenched his jaw.

I'm sorry, Marc.

In one liquid motion, Chance bounded from the hover van's roof with his arms stretched out wide, taking both Enforcers around their necks and dragging them to the ground in a clatter of boots, helmets and weaponry.

The one that was furthest from the prisoner was the one Chance focused on. He punched him in the gut three times and then kneed him in the groin. The man curled up in a fetal position and just lay on his side, rocking back and forth.

Chance turned to face the other man, but he was also on the ground in a similar position. The prisoner smiled at him and Chance found that he was returning that smile. He also knew that he had started down a path that he could not return from. Marc's fate was now sealed. Escape now had to be his primary goal.

"Let's go," Chance said as he leaned over and palmed the driver's key card. Then he headed along the structure's parkway to the hover car wing. "You're my shadow," he ordered. The man nodded and kept up the pace.

They stopped at the first high-pursuit hover car they came across that had a roof-mounted laser turret. Chance tried the latch. It was unlocked.

Sometimes, you just luck out.

"Get inside, uh..." Chance found that he didn't know his new companion's name.

"Name's Franklin."

Chance nodded as they climbed inside. He inserted the key card. With any luck, the paddy wagon's key card and the patrol vehicle's key slot would match.

The hover car roared to life.

He grinned. So much for luck!

Immediately, he shunted power over to the turrets.

"No offense, but how do you plan on getting us out of here?" Franklin asked.

"Me? We're in this together."

"And you've got a plan, right?"

"No plans here, Franklin. I'm making this up as I go. But I'm open to suggestions, Partner." Chance smiled but Franklin didn't seem to have any ideas of his own. "Well, then it's time to get a little creative."

Franklin grinned back. "I like the way you think!"

Chance spun the car around and headed back toward the entrance gate. One of the guards held up his hand to stop them. Chance figured that no one was probably cleared to leave during such important proceedings. That was okay with Chance though. He didn't intend to get clearance.

"Ever fire a laser turret?" Chance asked calmly.

"Never."

"Put those crosshairs on that guy's chest and squeeze that trigger."

Franklin raised both eyebrows. "Are you serious?"

"Did you hear a punchline?"

"Crosshairs. Chest. Squeeze. Got it."

"Now, Franklin!"

The Enforcer with his hand out splattered in a million directions. The laser turrets were far more powerful than hand-held weapons. Chance steered the hover car right through the airborne carnage. As he passed the other soldiers gathering about, he swiped a handful of grenades from his belt and tossed them out the driver's side window. The car rocked and twisted in the wake of the explosions as he spun it out into the traffic beyond the compound.

Franklin was still grinning.

Chance was well aware that most hover cars had a maximum pre-set altitude that they could attain. He was also quite aware that the military vehicles, and certain specially modified ones like the one Nik had been driving, had a much higher range.

With the flip of a few switches, Chance had them soaring high over the traffic jam.

Franklin seemed amazed. "How are we..."

"Privileges of rank, apparently. Look for a car we can swipe."

"Why? This one is so much better than the civilian models."

"Because we're being traced, that's why. This was merely a means of escape, not transportation."

"Oh." Franklin glanced around. Then, noting the rear view screen, he spoke up. "Uh, I don't know about cars we can swipe, but we've got two just like ours right behind us!"

Chance glanced at the screen for himself. Sure enough, they were being pursued.

"Franklin, the turrets?"

"There isn't a chest!"

"So it's bigger than the guy's chest! It's just an easier target, that's all!"

Franklin stared blankly at him.

Chance sighed. "Will you improvise a little? Crosshairs! Anywhere! Squeeze!"

"Got it! Crosshairs," Franklin said, as the targeting sensor chirped, "anywhere," there was an anxiety-pregnant moment, "SQUEEZE!" The guns gave birth to multiple laser bolts that ripped through the buildings to left of the pursuing hover cars.

Franklin faced Chance. "I missed!"

"KEEP SQUEEZING!"

"Oh. Right."

Again Franklin fired, this time, probably more by luck than by skill, he winged one of the assailants. The enemy vehicle spun to the side and wound up as a fireball on the side of the street.

That could just as easily be us, Chance thought. And it could very well already be Marc's wife. Damn! I should have lived up to my promise! I should have gone after her all along!

Chance brought up his wrist chrono. "Nik, are you there?"

"Quite. How did it go?"

Chance looked over at Franklin, who was spraying the entire city with destructive laser fire in an attempt to finish off the remaining Enforcer vehicle. "Not exactly as expected."

"Marc?"

"...Doesn't stand a chance. But his wife... Do you have an address yet?"

"We do. It is 21869 Shady Haven, a suburban community. I was just about to..."

"Get a team over there immediately, Nik. I mean now!"

"But your pick up..."

"Don't worry about me. I'm on the move. There's no time to waste! I'll meet you there."

"Chance, it's good to hear your..."

Chance flipped off the mini-comm in his wrist chrono and turned his attention to the matter at hand. Marc's trial and execution was apparently more important an event than he had originally thought. Of course the Corps would come for Marc's family if for no other reason than to use their testimony in the trial. Chance was well aware that Marc's wife secretly practiced the illegal activity of painting. It was the whole reason Marc had come to the resistance in the first place. She would be doomed if the Corps contacted her. He should have thought about that earlier and he had to get there before they did.

Why was I so damned selfish?

He kicked himself mentally. What had he been thinking? He should have known that Marc was doing everything he was doing — feeding the resistance top secret information, volunteering to go on raiding missions, recruiting new members — to protect his wife. Now, in his foolhardy attempt to rescue his friend, Chance had endangered everything Marc had held dear.

"Got him!" Franklin cried.

"About time," Chance commented. "Is there any city left back there?"

Franklin glanced back out behind them. "I don't think I... I mean I was careful not to..."

"We'll worry about that later," Chance said as brought the car back down to a more respectable level. Up ahead and along the right side of the road, a young woman was getting into her hover car.

"Do you see what I see, Franklin?"

"A pretty girl?"

"That too. But I'm talking about our new ride."

Chance flipped on the sirens and the red and green lights.

One thing I've learned: If you've got clout, you might as well use it.

The woman froze, putting her hands up in the air as the Enforcer hover car pulled up along side her.

A decent, law-abiding citizen, Chance marveled. He hadn't believed there were many of those left. Of course, as soon as she saw he wasn't EC, she would probably not be so cooperative.

And after all, that's what laser weapons are for.

Chance keyed the driver's side door, which obediently slid up. He poked his head over the top of the car, careful not to show her that he wasn't wearing an Enforcer uniform. "Ma'am, we'll need to confiscate your vehicle."

The woman's eyes widened as Franklin climbed out of the passenger door. "Don't hurt me," she pleaded.

"Do we look like people who would hurt anyone?" Franklin asked.

"You're not exactly the authorities," she said as she nodded toward Chance. "Ask your beat-up, bloody friend. He looks like he's seen some action."

Chance nodded. "Point taken," he said as he came around the car. "The key?"

She handed it over to him, his gun still the prevailing equalizer in the negotiations. "The one for this car is in the slot," he said as he gestured to the Enforcer vehicle. "Go where you need to in it. You can pick yours up at 21869 Shady Haven. In the meantime," he smiled winningly, "have fun."

"But... You're not going to do anything to me?"

Chance chuckled. "Not tonight, sweetheart. I don't have enough time to get your number." He winked. "Besides, the other car's not so bad. Take it and go somewhere that serves free food to Enforcers. At least you'll get a dinner out of the deal."

"It goes higher than yours does too," Franklin added with a smirk and a wink. "You really should give it a spin."

Chance slid the key into the new car's slot and brought the main coils online. As soon as Franklin was strapped in, Chance hit the accelerator. In the rear view screen he could see the Enforcer hover car spin above the ground like a top and then shoot up into the sky.

Women... If she were a guy, she would have never parted with her car at the sight of a mere hand-held weapon.

Most civilian hover cars were equipped with a rudimentary map of the city. This model was no different. Chance brought the map up and input the address.

"Map the fastest route," Chance ordered the car's onboard computer. A red line traced a course through the city streets from where they currently were to Marc's residence.

Within only a few minutes, they had closed the distance. Chance pulled the hover car up onto the lawn but was out before it had come to a complete stop.

The place was on fire... or had been. Smoke rolled up like rain clouds from the upper windows.

His pistol was in his hand as he knocked over the front door and burst into the living room.

Everything was turned upside down and spread about. In the middle of the living room, Chance could see the origin of the fire.

Piled one upon the other were the burnt, skeletal remains of canvas frames. Her paintings had been burned. Whether she had done it herself or the Corps had done it was not clear to Chance.

"Mrs. Fairlight?" he called out. "Mancy?"

There was no answer.

"Mancy Fairlight?" he cried louder.

"She's not here." Nik's voice said from behind him. Chance wasn't sure when the old man had arrived. "You look pretty good for roadkill."

Chance nodded. "You were right, Nik. You're always right, it seems."

"Unfortunately, yes. Come on Chance. We haven't much time before we're discovered."

"Burn this place. I don't want them finding any clues."

"Look at the place, Chance. The Corps has already been here."

Chance turned around to face his friend. "Both Marc and his wife..."

"We don't know about Mancy. Perhaps she saw the NewsNet and escaped in time. We may never know..."

"I should have listened to you. How could I have been so foolish?"

"I'm tired of being right, Chance. In this case, and in many others, I wish very much that I could have been wrong. However, we can mourn those we have lost another time."

Chance stepped past his friend to the front door where he looked out at the two hover cars that floated there. "Franklin? What of him?"

"We've already moved him to our car. He'll be joining the resistance. He really has no other recourse now. He's a singer, you know?"

Chance hadn't known. "He sure isn't a gunner."

Nik stepped over to Chance and rested a bony hand on the larger man's shoulder. "You may not have been able to rescue Marc AND we may have let Mrs. Fairlight slip through our fingers today, but you still did good. You've rescued one more soul from the clutches of tyranny."

Chance nodded. "Maybe so, but I'm not any closer to fulfilling my promise to Marc and I've probably just given us one more man to die in the service of ‘the cause'."

"Perhaps. None of us knows what the future holds. All we can do is our best in the present... and perhaps remember the past."

Chance knew that Nik was right. He was a wise old cuss.

"And if young Franklin does die for the resistance, it will be his own choice," Nik added, "just as it was Marc's. That burden does not lie with you."

Chance nodded, still not sure if he could absolve himself of the deaths of so many people who had not come back, including his friend, Enforcer Captain Marc Fairlight and his innocent wife who's whereabouts he may never know.

Then he thought of how green Franklin was. "He'll be killed too, Nik."

"Perhaps. But, thanks to you, my friend, it won't happen today."

   
 


Chronology Note:

This story takes place between chapter one and chapter two of the first Fairlight novel, Chance for the Future and concurrent with events chronicled in the third Fairlight novel, Faith in the Past.

 


   
 
  © 2001 Paul M. Carhart, all rights reserved, all media.