We made it to Seattle without so much as a road rage incident.
We did, however, see a burned-out car riddled with bullet-holes every two hundred k’s or so. It became a game I doubt the coach company had thought of when they installed the cameras on the coach’s exterior. Through the screens built into the backs of the chairs we could see out of every side of the coach. Some people were boring enough to use these screens for their intended purpose, watching movies, playing games and listening to music. Our game involved calling out whenever we saw a wreck, whoever called it first got a point. You had to be specific what you were calling out, it was either ‘car wreck’, ‘truck wreck’ or ‘motorcycle’. I still reckon ‘motorcycle’ should have been worth two points because they were harder to notice and four syllables long.
Kitty was surprisingly good at it. She could speak really quickly and clearly when she wanted to. Once I’d actually started talking before her but she got both words out before I could finish.
We passed another hint that something was definitely amiss when we crossed the Oregon border.
A chain-link fence complete with secured gate made the exact line between the states impossible to miss.
A pair of autoturrets on top of the gate tracked onto our motorcade. The guards behind the machine-gun turrets on the SUV’s aimed back at the gate guns. There didn’t seem to be any toll booth to stop at and the motorcade never made any indication of slowing down.
When we closed to less than a hundred metres a sensor must have liked what it saw. The heavy, armoured door dropped down into a slot in the road, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth lining its top edge. I figured the door teeth must double as road-spikes to catch unauthorised vehicles sneaking through.
Our game of ‘spot the wreck’ came to a screeching halt after that. Oregon was clean, green and wreck free. For the drive through Oregon, Kitty plugged into Atom for a chat, Tachi perused the coach’s music selection and I played Tetris on my Neupro.
When we reached Seattle we realised we’d forgotten to play the game again when we crossed the Washington border.
On getting to Seattle we had a day off to chill out, rest up and, my favourite, have a second shower in the space of a week. Then I blinked and it was the next day and time to go back to work.
But that was okay, because this whole adventure was about to end. We’d made it to Seattle, now all we had to do was meet with our handler and arrange a time and place to drop off Atom.
So we picked out a spot at a cafe in the Northgate Mall, which incidentally is in an area of the city that is officially called ‘University district’ because that’s where the university is. And I thought we didn’t fuck around with names where I come from.
[So who is this guy again?] Kitty asked.
Kitty sat directly opposite me and had ordered a tall soy latte with hazelnut syrup (they called it a Grande, because apparently coffee is French in the US). Rather than cyping we had Kitty’s deck sitting in the middle of our table and had plugged ourselves into it to speak privately. This way we couldn’t be eaves dropped on and produced no wireless signal to intercept.
[He’s our handler.] I replied.
[You can keep saying that all you want, it doesn’t actually explain anything.]
I sighed and Tachi tagged in. [He’s a professional middleman. Providing his mysterious employers with the anonymity they require to do business with the unwashed likes of my associate.]
I looked at Tachi. [Yeah cheers mate.]
Kitty turned to him. [Does he have a name or are we just going to keep calling him the handler?]
[In my head I like to call him ‘Mr. Johnson’.] I said. [Face to face I settle for ‘Jay’.]
While I turned my eyes back to our surroundings Tachi continued. [‘Jay’ has been our handler since this contract first began. It was he who first approached us to spy on Silicone Dreams and find out how their research regarding Atom was progressing and it was he who took our proposal to extract Atom from Kawada to his employers. When he came back we negotiated the terms of the contract through him and received our advance. We haven’t spoken with him since the day we extracted Atom.]
[And now we get to put this whole thing to bed.] I said, putting my hands together.
Kitty pursed her lips for a moment and her eyes softened. She took her gaze away from me.
Tachi put a reassuring hand on Kitty’s. [Sadly this will mean an end to your engagement, but fret not child, you’re still young, you’ll find another.]
Not used to having Tachi’s silky sarcasm directed her way Kitty blanched, she flicked her eyes back towards me. [What? Now you think there’s sexual tension between me and Dust?]
Tachi ‘hmmmed’ and cast me a knowing look. [My dear I was not referring to my suave companion. I was referring to the paramour in the bag at your feet.]
Kitty blinked. [Atom?]
Tachi put his palm to his sternum. [No? Then I am terribly sorry my dear. It’s just that the two of you have spent nearly every waking moment in each other’s company since we left Melbourne. Oh that is most disappointing, I was looking forward to the service.]
[I was looking forward to the reception.] I chipped in. I looked around us again for any sign of our handler.
Kitty smiled. [Only if you two invite me to yours.]
Tachi exaggerated a sigh. [I’m still waiting to be asked.] He cradled his face on his hands and fluttered his eyes at me.
I shrugged. [I’m still waiting for your dad’s permission. He doesn’t like me.]
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