Koz comes skidding out of the stairwell into the lobby and sprints for the revolving door, gasping for air. He forces it to turn faster, dashes down the steps and dives into Marie's car. He still has the suitcase in his hand.
She pulls out into moving traffic, earning several honks, and gets them moving before asking, "What the hell happened in there?"
"Haah. Okay. They tested the thing on the spot. It's a fake."
"You think I don't know that? You think I have any idea how the one we stole could be a fake?" Koz is imposing, wider and bulkier and more cowardly than Marie expected.
"And you brought the fake back down with you?"
"In case you didn't notice, the suitcase is handcuffed to my wrist and I haven't had five seconds to breathe! Zunder pulled a gun on me. See this bullet hole in my sleeve?"
"And are they coming after you?"
"That depends how much of the city Zunder thinks he owns," pants Koz. His name is short for something Eastern European which Marie can't spell or pronounce. Then the passenger's-side wing mirror explodes.
Marie floors it, swerving out one more lane, then cutting off innocent drivers and careening up the cloverleaf on-ramp.
"Koz, there's a final-generation notebook under your feet. Put it under my hand so I can thumb-unlock it. Okay, I want you to open the app that says 'Hatsumoto Skillsets' and put in a query for-- HEAD DOWN!"
CHOING! goes the next bullet, ricocheting off the car's frame. And then SKUNCH, another burying itself in the boot. In her two remaining mirrors Marie spots the muzzle flashes. A grunt on a motorcycle. No helmet, no protective gear. Only one, for now. Marie bellows "Hold the wheel!" and opens her door a crack. She leans out and returns fire. That much, high-velocity-differential marksmanship, her brain is already primed for. But there are other motorcyclists visible back at the slip-road entrance, flooding around the slower-moving traffic and infecting the highway.
"--a query for stunt driving. The fee will probably be upwards of five thousand USD for a short-term load. My handbag is also under your feet. My purse is in the handbag. The card you want is black and translucent and has no visible name on it. MOVE!"
They reach highway altitude and begin to merge into Lightriver 68, which wiggles through the city core and then arrows out towards Anderstad on a trajectory worthy of a traditional Roman Road, if they were built five stories above the ground. Marie grunts, curses and brakes as they hit traffic, switching gear awkwardly. The engine protests under the strain and for the slightest fraction of a second, a fraction too brief for Koz to notice but long enough for Marie's accelerated framerate to pick up quite clearly, a fatal red light lights up fatal red on the dashboard. But like that, it's gone.
"Okay! Fifty-one hundred. Wow, no auth step at all? It says it needs some hardware, a neural attachment. WHULP!"
A blatter of machine pistol fire. Marie sees it coming and jerks the wheel left and then right. A tactic that will work for the next ten seconds at most. The motorcyclists are starting to flank them. Civilian traffic is moving out of the way due to a lack of space.
"No time for a wired connector! We'll have to do it the ugly way. Select wireless and find me on the radar! Hurry, hurry! Haaaaah..."
Here it comes. A rush of bits to the head. For a moment the information streams past her like a water hose sprayed through her fingers, then she lets up on the instinctive resistance and is tossed and thrown with the flow, matching pace with it, surfing. Multidimensional vector space overlays add themselves to her field of vision, presenting the position and velocity of nearby vehicles and her own with respect to one another and the ground along with suggested possible routes forward. A slight course correction to the right to sideswipe a motorcyclist about to overtake on that side, and he's suddenly off-balance and hits roadway headfirst, plowing under the next car behind them while the cycle itself bounces safely into the central reservation. A glance left: Koz about to be shot in the face at close to point blank range by the third rider. Marie gives the wheel a severe yank back to the right and the whole side of the car lifts up and its undercarriage is what gets peppered with bullets. Still on two wheels, she drops down a gear and floors the accelerator again, propelling the delicately-balanced vehicle ahead down the narrow gap between two lanes of traffic, running the free wheels across the side of a truck before they drop back down to the road.
Koz is screaming. Elapsed time is five seconds. "Zunder's insane! He can't order open gunfire in civilian traffic!"
"Keep your head down and put all that junk away! I don't want loose items in here! But you're right, this is very ugly. It's a show of power. It means he's not scared of repercussions, from the people inside his own city-state or from Anderstad or any of his other neighbours. If he has political media control he could easily cast us as the dangerous criminals--"
"--which we are--"
"--I've never killed someone who wasn't trying to kill me, today or ever. The more frightening prospect is that he's allied himself with others of equal or greater power who can help him keep a lid on behaviour like this. A fellow crime lord in this city-state or Iklominin. Or maybe he has political connections now. Or more. You could let your imagination run away. Tight corner coming up."
Another wave of machine pistol fire peppers the crash barrier where they had been previously cruising. In Marie's head, a large and important fact is flashing on and off: this vehicle can't outrun a motorcycle. She steers with subtlety, calculating their ground speed solely from the engine noise frequency and never sparing a look at the speedometer. They take the long rising curve around the diamond-cross-sectioned Purataganutha skyscraper (street address: 235 Lightriver 68) on a glorious sideways slide, then they're aimed across the river at the nicer, flashier, taller, brighter-lit side of town.
"Bridge toll!" warns Marie. "No! Keep that window up! Don't shoot back at them unless I--" SMASH "--say so. Well, there go our aerodynamics. Bridge toll, Koz. You'll need to squirt the infrared code at the reader on our way through. We'll be going three times the speed limit so time it right. Ready?"
"Nearly. Nearly." Koz fumbles around and reaches across for Marie's infrared controller mounted on the dashboard.
"QUICKLY!" The bridge usually takes minutes to cross, plenty of time to fumble for change or alternative payment methods. But they have seconds. Marie lets up on the accelerator as they descend into the widening area where the road breaks out into about 20 lanes all targeting a different toll booth. They're in the far left lane. There are lines for most of the booths but she spots an opening way up on the far right and takes a millimetre-calculated swerve across the front of a dozen lanes of traffic towards it. BRATATATATASHSSSH! One final burst of gunfire punctures six holes in the windscreen, which shatters into tiny fragments, and a seventh hole in the IR gadget. Now they both have laps full of glass and the automated steel barriers are going to stay down.
Marie wrenches the wheel around and pulls out her gun again as they spin, firing discriminately through the empty space where the windshield used to be-- six bullets, six head shots. They screech to a near-halt and roll up to the booth backwards. Koz leans out and chucks a few coins in the receptacle.
The barrier flips open. KLUNK. Gear-shift. Marie fires them out of the booth in reverse, pulls a fast one-eighty and acceleration squelches Koz back into the bucket seat.
"I can't see," he shouts into the wind, eyes screwed up. "Maybe we should have stuck with reverse." Marie isn't faring much better, her eyes are already streaming.
"It's okay," she bellows in return. "Another half-mile and we're over the Anderstad border. Untouchable. Is that a helicopter behind us?"
Koz turns in his seat. "Okay, now we're screwed. That's a military helicopter," he reports. The chopper is a frighteningly heavily-armed model and sounds like a gnat dispatched from hell. Marie is biting her lip and can't afford to blink, let alone look up and verify what the man just said. He adds, with a note of terror, "It's the Jelemenger. The famous one. They call it the Bloody Bird."
"Okay, then watch this."
Something starts bleeping somewhere in the car. In her handbag or notebook. "What's bleeping?" asks Koz, now close to his wits' end.
"That's probably the thing which tells me when somebody has missile lock on me--"
"You have a thing which tells you when--"
"They're dead cheap if you have a legitimate need for one--"
PCHOOOOM goes the missile.
"YOU ARE NOW ENTERING ANDERSTAD" says the border marker. They cross the border a hundred yards ahead of the missile; that is, one second.
As the missile crosses after them, its engine and warhead both cut out. It drops to the road with a clang and rolls another few hundred yards before coming to rest.
Koz and Marie pull over. The Jelemenger hovers angrily at the city limits, then turns back. Their car is wrecked.