Title: Jessica (part 2 of ?)

Author: Clu Osborne

Date: July 12, 2002

Disclaimer:

This story is a work of fiction of my own writing. Some of the descriptions and dialogue are not mine, especially early on in the story. They are from the movie "Screamers." It is the property of the companies, the cast, and crew who made this movie.

Summary:

After Jessica "dies" Joe makes a decision, risking his life. What happens next is different from how it originally ended in the movie. This story leads Commander Joseph Hendrickson and Jessica Hansen on a journey of love, hope, fear, justice, and peace.

Author's Notes:

I realize that the first part of this story was written almost two years ago. In that time, I've been busying in school, and suffering from writer's block. However, I'm going to continue yet again.

While there's no sex or graphic violence yet, I have changed the rating to R in preparation that and descriptions of surgery and other less dignified things that are part of life. These two are in love, so sex will be part of that. Nothing wild or crazy I promise.

I enjoy science fiction, both on paper and on the screen, both small and large. I enjoyed "Screamers" but the ending didn't sit well with me. Joe had lost so much, and had a chance to get some measure of happiness back, only to have it taken away from him at the end. In response to this, I wrote this story, as a sequel, to give Joe his happiness, and to allow all the people who died on Sirius 6B to be finally laid to rest.

And to give both the New Economic Block and Alliance a big kick in the butt for their stupid war and their betrayals.

Jessica

Part Two

1130 hrs EST

Jason knew that this wasn't going to be easy, but in his joy of learning that Joe was quite alive and well he had forgotten a few important details.

As Jason went out to the hover car, one of those details just hit him: both sides knew where they were.

"Oh Shit!" He muttered out loud.

Going over to the EEV, now covered by an infrared camo net he had brought along, he climbed up into the cockpit. In his joy that his godson was still alive he had forgotten about it, and several other important details. The couple had already been here for at least eight hours and it would be all the time needed to mount an operation. It may already be too late, but this wouldn't hurt, and every second counted. Opening some panels around the communications console, he ripped out some wiring, leaving no doubt that the transponder and radio were now totally disabled. Jason also found and pulled the flight data and audio/visual recorders, another important piece of evidence that they'd need. After stowing them in the hover car, he ran back into the house.

"Joe, oh god, I'm sorry. I just realized, we can't stay here," gasping between breaths, winded from running and adrenaline.

Joe was sitting on the futon with his forehead touching Jessica's when Jason burst in. A look of puzzlement crossed both their faces.

"Why? What's wrongshit!" Joe said, mentally kicking himself for not having more sense.

Joe was damned lucky that the NEB didn't spot the EEV and attempt to intercept it. How they had failed to do so mystified himeither it was dumb luck or they did know and were watching. NEB's intelligence was actually good, and it since it was likely they had a name, it would probably be only a matter of minutes before they're found.

Alliance was another problem. They knew for a fact that Joe was still alivethey'd have to be pretty stupid to think that the EEV would crash just as he was entering Earth's atmosphereand with his file it wouldn't take a genius to know where he might be inside NEB territory. If they were really desperate to shut him up, it wouldn't be long before they had unfriendly company; probably Alliance Special Ops out of North Dakota.

Still awake and aware, the same realization hit her. "Shit." Will it ever be over?

No one could be faulted for not thinking. Everyone was operating on stress and adrenaline now.

Among the other things that had slipped everyone's mind was radiation. The couple was exposed to radioactive fallout while on Sirius 6B, and though they weren't in immediate danger, they would both have to be decontaminated. Fortunately, the supplies that Jason had brought along included medications to counteract any symptoms that may crop up.

They'd have to move fast, and be out of here as quickly as possible. Priority one was getting Jessica prepped for transport. Priority two was getting to a safe house. Moving her had its risks, but staying here was far more dangerous. Once they were safe for, then the repairs on Jessica and their radiation treatments would begin.

The stress of moving so fast and trying to take everything into consideration was starting to give Jason a headache. He ignored it and pushed on; get them to safety, then worry about everything else.

Though his car wasn't equipped for medical transport, they'd have to improvise. Once again, Jason had kept moving her in mind and had brought along a body board that would fit inside his hover car. After securing her, the only thing to do then was to get her some clothing and set up another power supply (not necessarily in that order). The one that she was connected to was running off AC. A quick check revealed that the power supply was plugged into an uninterruptible power supply. The only other connection was to the desktop workstation. Since Jessica was online and her systems checked out ok, there was no need to keep her connected until she was in the car.

All that remained was to destroy any data on the workstation's storage drives and remove as much evidence of what happened in the house. Rather pointless considering that whoever shows up will know that someone was here recently, but the less information the enemy had the better. Besides, on the trip over, some very horrible thoughts had gone through Jason's head. If the wrong people knew and captured her, the things that they'd do He shuddered. Keep your mind on what you can do.

The plan formed, Jason quickly briefed them both on what was to happen. While Joe went and gathered his clothing and what was left of Jessica's, along with the med kit he used, Jason disconnected Jessica's data link, wiped the storage devices of its data and activity logs, programmed the network to automatically record any intrusions, then powered down and unplugged the workstation from the UPS before unplugging it from the wall. Being as careful as possible not to disturb the fragile connections, he taped the units together with several pieces of old-fashioned duct tape.

On the UPS' internal battery, they'd have fifteen minutes to move her to the car, which would be enough time to tie it into the car's electrical system. Joe came back in, the collected items in a trash bag. Jason took the bag, passing Joe a set of clothes.

"Get her dressed, she's on the UPS' battery right now. I'm going out to the hover car to get it ready then I'll help you get her onto the stretcher," grabbing his laptop bag on his way out.

"Got it" Joe said, and moved without delay.

In his hands were a white button down long-sleeved shirt, a soft pair of gray sweat pants, and a pair of wool socks. Keeping her covered with the blanket, he carefully put on the sweat pants, followed by the socks. He didn't bother with a bra or panties; there wasn't anything on hand that would fit, and she hadn't eaten or drank anything that would be fully digested to pose a problem yet. Removing the blanket, leaving her nude from the waist up, he lifted her upper body, taking care not to do any more harm. After slipping the shirt on and buttoning it, he covered her with the blanket.

"I'm afraid," she said.

She was still so scared of becoming what she hated: a killing machine. It was still a mystery to her why her attack programming didn't kick in; she had plenty of opportunities to kill Joe and take the EEV. Why didn't she?

During their hike to the EEV, she had contemplated it to no answer. She had a computer coupled to her neural net that analyzed and recorded information, giving her tactics, and taking over completely when it was time to perform her primary function. While thinking it through, she had found that she still had complete operational control over the computer, not vice versa like before

Doing her best to hide the wince and shudder, she let those horrible thoughts and memories run their course. While she had not taken a life per se, her body had, and undeniably she had blood on her hands. While her personality ran, the only person she did want to kill was that bastard Becker. If she knew then what she did now, she'd had blasted him into junk back in the bunker.

Whether it was a curse or a blessing, though she had killed during the first few weeks of her activation, she had only remembered it through the replays of the computer's performance files. When the computer determined that she was in a position to attack, her personality would shut down, and the computer completely took over. Even if she hadn't killed anyone, she could remember every act with perfect clarity.

Oh stop it! Please stop. She thought to herself, the computer obeying her commands by stopping the reading of its files.

"I know." He kissed her again with such care it seemed as if he was afraid she would break.

He was afraid too. Not of her turning into a killing machine, but of losing her again, of failing to put the men under his command to rest, of being caught. It was a lot to handle, and frankly he thought that it was almost over, but then he remembered that his former superiors would probably not let him go.

Joe looked at her, and realized that he was very much in love. He didn't think it possible to love again after spending so many years fighting a hopeless war. Any hope he had of falling in love again had completely died when his ex-wife left him, no longer willing to stand by him.

Jason came back within a few minutes, a body board and neck collar in hand. A quick glance at his watch showed that at least ten minutes had passed.

"Miss, I'm going to place this collar around your neck, then we're going to roll you onto the body board. The collar is going to keep you from moving your headwhich is exactly what we want to keep from making any internal damage worse, ok?"

"Ok."

After placing the body board next to her on the futon, and the collar in place, they were ready to place her onto the stretcher.

"Joe, we're going to roll her toward us, slide the board into place, then roll her back onto the stretcher, clear?" Said in a no-nonsense tone.

"Check"

"Ok, on three. One. Two Three"

In unison, they carefully rolled her onto her side. As they held her in place, they both slid the stretcher under her, and then as carefully rolled her into position.

Once she was securely strapped to the body board, Jason addressed Jessica directly. "Ok, we are going to move you to the car now. Just relax and you'll be just fine. Joe, we're gonna take this easy."

With a quick check outside, they made their way swiftly over to the waiting car. After laying her, board and all, on the fully reclined bucket seat Joe belted her in and covered her with the same blanket while Jason plugged the UPS into one of the car's high-voltage accessory outlets. He also reconnected his portable workstation to monitor her in case of a problem, setting it up behind her in the back seat.

Joe sat in the back, belted in, while Jason took the front driver's seat. Jessica, whose head was now immobilized, focused her eyes on Joe, who smiled, stroking her hair as Jason put the car in gear and they left. She smiled back, though still scared.

This time, they'd go further north, into Canada, crossing the border near the city of Sault Ste. Marie. They'd drive on regular highways, in their case US 23, which still existed despite the use of hover cars. They'd be looking for anything in the air, and despite the hover car's ability to avoid detection, it was nearly noon and they could still be visually sighted. When they got close enough, he'd fly over the border into Canada then back onto the ground, and then take Highway 17 north.

Of course, he wasn't entirely choosing the destination out of a hat. He had a safe house in the Algoma District of Ontario about forty miles north of Sault Ste. Marie. Jason had purchased the house many years ago when he realized that, one day, he might have to disappear. He also quietly moved Joe's family belongings there in case the NEB decided to seize his Aunt's house. When he had bought the house, it was through another buyer, and he was dead certain that no one outside of his family or personal circle of friends knew he owned it. Provided they were all careful, they could hide there indefinitely. Just as well, since the repairs on Jessica will take several days, maybe two weeks, and they'd need a Doctor to perform the surgeries. After examining the schematics and software (at least what could be read), there was a level of complexity well beyond his understanding of medical science, and a Doctor would stand a better chance of succeeding.

This new Screamer was a complete departure from any machine or robot he had ever known. The diagnostics and schematics only scratched the proverbial surface. Jason got the impression that her body was more advanced than any cybernetic organism. How advanced, he wouldn't know until he scanned her with the quantum 3D imager so he could get a full assessment of the damage. But, just judging by the sophistication of what he saw alone, she was more like a synthetic human than a robot with living tissue.

She didn't have any metal, no titanium or other alloys. Her skeletal structure was some sort of composite-like material, its strength greater than any alloy or plastic, or bone. Just looking at her eyes, they appeared to be biological in origin, not cameras. Judging by the instrumentation alone, she has as many systems as the human body does, and modeled similarly. There were no servos, or copper wire, or anything that could be considered conventional in terms of contemporary technology. Everything was biological or a completely new form of technology.

That's when it hit him, what the last report meant: evolution. They're evolving into a more advanced form, beyond their original designs into something more advanced. But, is Jessica the prototype, or just off the assembly line? It's so ironic that this war had brought about something so extraordinary.

Since the shooting war had started four years ago, the Commonwealthconsisting of Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australiaalong with Japan, Switzerland, and most of Western Europe, had detached from the New Economic Block, while most of Asia, Russia, and the Middle East remained. Ironically, the United States was literally divided, like Berlin during the 20th century cold war. This time, the great wall was the Mississippi river. The NEB were represented in Washington D.C., with Alliance based in San Francisco. Some countries sided with the Alliancenamely Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, and Italywhile others remained neutral.

Despite their power, the NEB was actually more like a political party, with the board having powerful political influences in the various governments. The New Economic Block was founded back when the first colonies started, around 2050, when the realization that long-range government control would have been impossible (like the British rule of North America). Though based on Earth, their government influence extended to every colony.

The NEB was a conglomeration of all the colonies and Earth governments, and they had total control over space travel, exploration and colonization. While the corporate board didn't actually have the power to implement policy, they certainly had influence.

God, has it really been ten years? Jason thought to himself as he drove. While he was too old to be a soldier, he was far from uninvolved in the war. Jason was a spy, not a "sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of dead beautiful women like blown roses behind him," but a no-nonsense, imaginative, "do what needs to be done" one. To quote the same character, the "original" James Bond from the parody "Casino Royale," Jason was "occasionally devoted, sublimely disinterested." The obvious exception right now being the two people whose lives were now in his hands, and the turns that damned war had taken recently.

This whole mess began just over twenty years ago, when the fossil fuel supplies had finally been depleted. Though fusion had been discovered, and was widespread, it was impractical for anything but supplying electricity on a very large scale; anti-matter was still being developed, and was far from being small or safe enough to use in a space ship. With the growing demands for electricity and the requirements of space travel, fuel cells and fission wouldn't cut it either due to safety or supply problems. Then, Berynium was discovered: an element with the highest energy density in the history of man. Truly, it was the answer to the growing energy demands of space travel, space exploration, and colonization.

Despite the propaganda to the contrary, the energy crisis wasn't anywhere near as crippling as the 1973 gasoline shortage. For one thing, scientists and industry knew for a long time that the old supplies would eventually be depleted, and that alternatives would have to be developed. While space travel was becoming a necessity, Earth and the colonies were capable of being self sufficient. Fusion power plants, fuel cell powered vehicles, and extensive recycling programs had solved many ecological and economic problems. But, being motivated by corporate greed, which later turned into fear and desperation, the New Economic Block wouldn't take no for an answer when the mining strike began on Sirius.

Alliance was a union of sorts, made of up Scientists, Miners, and other people sympathetic to their cause. They were tired of the contracts that the NEB made them sign, and the threat of being forced to mine again with a gun to their heads. Originally, they were based on Sirius 6B, as the mining strike began there, but their word and beliefs spread quickly to Earth, and a home base was established in San Francisco.

It really wasn't the fault of Alliance at first; the corporate board of the NEB had started it when they turned a blind eye to the problems with mining the crap. For the first four years, people in the Alliance such as Greene were hard at work negotiating with the NEB, via the United Nations, to resolve the strike peaceably and solve the mining problems.

However, as the days dragged on into weeks, then months, and then years, with no solution in sight, and tensions mounting on both sides, something had to give. On May 1, 2074, by unanimous vote of the NEB corporate boarda true example of group think if Jason ever saw onenuclear and biological bombing raids hit the mining city on Sirius 6B from their military bases on Io. For two straight months, every horrible weapon of mass destruction, nuclear disc bombs, chain bombs, bacteria crystals, was dropped onto the cities. Between the nuclear winters and biological plagues, Sirius' ecosystem was devastated, tens of thousands of lives were lost, and decades of work colonizing the planet were gone.

That was the final straw for the Alliance, and with that came the immediate withdraw of all negotiation, an uproar in the Untied Nations, the fueling of a new cold war on Earth, and the waging of a shooting war on what was left of Sirius 6B. The hatred of the NEB had literally divided the Untied States, forming a new dividing border along the Mississippi river. If it weren't for people like Secretary Greene, and perhaps the spy network, World War III would have started not too long after. Though there were many sympathizers, the NEB had more troops, easily outnumbering Alliance soldiers on the battlefield. Then, five years later, word came of the new weapon system that was developed by Alliance, "The Autonomous Mobile Sword" or Screamer as they were dubbed.

Fully autonomous, highly adaptable, and deadly, they were the most frightening killing machines ever devised. Set deep under the mountains near Alamogordo, where the first Berynium isotope was discovered, a fully automated and self-sufficient production facility was built. Powered by a fusion reactor, fully equipped with labs, processing, fabrication and storage facilities, the production facility was run by a massive bank of the newest generation of hybrid neural/quantum mainframe computers. Faster, more sophisticated, and more intelligent than anything the world had ever seen, they oversaw the construction and deployment of the Type 1 units. Gathering information, both from active and inactive units and the remains of their targets and other scavenged materials, they revised and refined the basic design. The first practical result was the Type 1 Reptiles and Type 2 Soldiers. While the facility was fully automated, there were communications between the mainframes and Alliance. Primarily reports on its operating status.

Just before Greene was arrested and executed for treasonhe had been one of Jason's government contactshe had managed to send a classified report indicating some startling activity from the production facility. The facility had closed communications just after its report on the deployment, and subsequent failure, of the Type 2 Soldiers. The last report was deemed "unusual" as instead of the usual statistics and figures associated with manufacturing and updating the things, it simply stated one word: evolution.

At that point, Alliance shutdown all but a few communications channels on Sirius' sat network. They made no attempt to retrieve their remaining survivors, intending to leave them there to rot, or find some way to eliminate them. Before Secretary Greene could go public and stop their plans, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for treason and espionage.

Stupid, that's the word to describe this war, stupid. This was like Desert Storm or Vietnam, wars that were caused more by politics than beliefs, Joe thought, and now fears.

The United Nations had outlawed capital punishment over half a century ago. Which was one of the reasons why Joe and Chuck were so doubtful of Jefferson's news of Greene's execution; it was illegal. If either side won the war, certain people would be going to jail for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, if they kept fighting to a stalemate, no one would go to jail. Sirius 6B may have been a NEB colony, but biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction were outlawed over seventy years ago after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, which banned the production, possession, and use of such weapons. The fact that the NEB government had produced them, stored them, and later used them has made them war criminals, and the entire corporate board was liable for life imprisonment.

There wasn't much to see traveling up. The driver had driven this route countless times. He knew every curve, every landmark, and every bump in the road, which he felt despite the smooth ride his hover car gave him.

For Joe, it was home; a home he hadn't seen in over ten years. There were still patches of snow, (it could snow as late as April) but there was green. Trees, grass, clean water, animals, birds and insects far as the eye could see. Sirius 6B was like that before the war, truly paradise. Because of the raids it would take decades, maybe centuries, before its ecosystem would repair itself. Being back on Earth, he realized that the very same thing was going to happen on Triton IVmay have already happened. Another ravaged planet and more loss of life. For what? FOR WHAT? Fear. Those fucking cowards.

For Jessica, it was a new experience for her. Though she was laid down on the seat, she could see a clear blue sky above her, and the treetops passing overhead. Oh, how she wished she could reach out and touch them. She couldn't feel anything below her neck; her diagnostic routines confirmed it. It was unnerving not being able to move, or use her hands. She loved her hands, loved the textures, the sensations of hot and cold, smooth and rough, soft and hard. When Joe kissed her, she had focused on him, and it was such a calming effect. For right now, she was perfectly content right where she was, taking in what she could perceive.

However, there were some things everyone involved needed to know, and for a start

"What's your name? I've had the habit of forgetting to ask someone their name until I've known them for months, and I don't think Joe's introduced me either has he?"

Undoubtedly true since she had no idea who this man was.

"Jessica Hanson, Screamer." Said with a touch of humor and a trace of disgust.

"Jason Osborne, human. I'd shake hands, but I'm driving."

"Just as well, I can't shake my head at the moment."

"That won't last, I promise. You may not be entirely human, but your systems are modeled after its biological counterparts very closely, and spinal injuries are easily repaired today. Don't worry about that, you'll be on your own two feet again."

"That's what I'm afraid of." She said, barely louder than a whisper.

Joe caught the meaning, and looked her in the eye.

"Listen, I know that you're afraid of what you might do, but I don't think that's going to happen. Otherwise, you would've left me for dead back on Sirius."

"But you don't understand, I have an attack computer. When I kill, it takes over completely and I blank out. Yes, I have full control over it now, but I'm not sure why, or even if it will last."

"If I thought that you were dangerous, I would've left you there on concrete floor and hauled ass off that hell hole. Even if you are, we'll find a way." With that, he kissed her with such tenderness and passion it put her fears to rest, if only for a while.

That certainly answered some of his questions about why she was here.

"I take it then that you were damaged fighting someone or something." Jason observed.

"Someone" she murmured. Yeah, you could say that. That someone being herself, a newer version of her undoubtedly sent by the facility to replace her when it became clear that she had broken her programming. In a way, it was relief because it saved her from having to explain to Joe her true nature; her twin's presence explained things more effectively than words ever could. She didn't exactly want to explain that. A few seconds later, she was saved from having to from Joe.

"It was another Screamer, her twin actually. Apparently, the powers that be knew that she wasn't going to kill me, so they sent another Jessica to take her place. She, the twin, tried to steal the EEV, but Jessica stopped her and fought her. Unfortunately, she got districted by the announcement of the EEV's countdown long enough for her twin to punch a hole right through her chest."

"Ouch. I also take it that this evil twin is gone now?"

"Yeah. She got blown apart by the EEV's pre-launch burn. It seems that she was too busy trying to stun me with her screaming to realize the danger she was in."

"Really?" Now that seemed odd, any intelligence would've stayed away from such a danger, unless

"Any idea why?" Jason asked, addressing them both.

"Probably a factory defect." Which came from Jessica.

That elicited a few chuckles out of the two men, though Jason took the implications seriously. Perhaps something having to do with wait, I don't even know the beginning of this story.

"I think before we get into this too much, you two should start by telling me what's been going on from the beginning."

The Upper Peninsula

The first one hundred and fifty miles were uneventful, not counting the conversation they had, which would make quite a horror story. He drove this route, which ran just over two hundred miles from his old hometown, Oscoda, to Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, several times in his life.

They were now at least fifty miles from the Canadian border. They'd have to cross the Mackinaw Bridge into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and then another fifty miles on Interstate 75which started in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and ended at the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Getting across wasn't a problem. The tollbooths were now fully automated and every modern vehicle was equipped with transponders and high-speed network links to facilitate paying for tolls, Passport ID, and provided updated weather and road conditions. The branches of the Michigan State Police and the Bridge Authority were still posted on the northern end of the bridge, but they seldom stopped vehicles, and traffic was very light (as most people now had hover cars and flew rather than drove). There were still heavy trucks that hauled goods, locals, the annual custom automobile cruises and foot walks.

Jessica was in awe, as her view was up toward the beige-painted support structures, watching the thick green steel cables extend upward toward the massive support tower, then down, and back up again to the second tower, then down. It just occurred to her that she had never been on a bridge beforelet alone one that wasn't in horrible disrepair. Her field of vision was still limited, as she was laid horizontally on the front passenger seat, and her neck was still immobilized by the collar, but the view upward through the sunroof and expansive windshield were generous.

Oh, how she wished to see the body of water they were crossing! The nuclear winters had frozen or dried up existing rivers and lakes. She had yet to see a lake, a river, or even a small stream. Something else had just occurred to her: smell. Jason was using the fresh-air vents and the air quality was noticeably different. What replaced the stink of contaminants and death was something fresh, and alive.

I'm breathing fresh air! She said inside, awed that something so simple would smell so good and lively.

She let out a pleasurable sigh as Joe lovingly caressed her face, his fingertips tracing across her brow, the tip of her nose, her lips, her jaw line, and down her neck. That was another wish; that she'd be able to touch him, to explore his body with her hands. God, if he keeps this up for next few days, I'll Patience, she thought, steadying her self mentally. She was already thinking about all those places on his body that she was going to touch, and sensations that she'd experience. So far their affection toward each other was limited to kissing, cuddling and handholding, which was all that could be allowed. Lack of proper shelter and the threat of death had made more "intimate" activities impossible.

The final fifty-mile stretch to the International Bridge would go very quickly, just over a half hour, as they were now on Interstate 75. Once again, the proliferation of flying vehicles had made traffic very light. One of the advantages was that there was no speed limit anymore. One could move as fast as they dared, like on the historical Autobahn, with police surveillance now automated. Advanced as the surveillance was, there was little danger of being intercepted. The purpose of the surveillance was to keep those who traveled and various organizations aware of road conditions and any mishaps that could occur (which still occurred despite the use of various safety interlocks and computer assists as there were still those who preferred to drive on their own, and that brought the same problems of reckless driving, lack of skill, and distractions).

The countryside was mainly trees and large open fields that could be seen for many miles. There were hills, but nothing as rocky and desolate as Sirius. Though still snow covered in patches, the Upper Peninsula had the underlying sense of life (seen in the form of electric lights, an odd Deer, and few stray birds flying north).

It was Jason's favorite part of I-75, as it was mainly a series of flat, straight stretches of road, which could be traveled at speeds up to two-hundred miles an hour, with few patrols and light traffic (even eighty years ago when he attended college in Sault Ste. Marie).

Traveling in the air at over Mach one didn't compare to driving a high-performance sports car at over one hundred miles an hour. The feel of the road, the rush of the air around the body, and the sound of the ground rushing beneath him (something that couldn't be duplicated in the air) made it much more exhilarating. Frankly, he loved driving, and hated flying for a long time since he was prone to airsickness. Given the choice, he'd drive three thousand miles cross-country rather than fly the same distance. Once hover cars became available, he slowly warmed to flying, and loved it as much as driving.

His mind was moving almost as fast as his driving (or slow, they were traveling at only one hundred miles an hour). He was hastily compiling a mental list of essentials that the couple would need. Besides the obvious medical diagnostic and surgical supplies, the couple would also need new clothes, accessories, and other personal items. Plus, though he could easily order them in advance, that would've been too risky. Chances were that the enemy would be looking for such purchases, and placing an advance order for everything and just having it waiting for pickup would be too dangerous. Another complication was that he didn't have an inkling of their clothing sizes. He'd have to measure them both (easily accomplished with the 3D imaging scanner he had brought along) lest the things he bought were too loose or too tight.

Fortunately, money was not going to be a problem. Quite frankly, Jason had accumulated a fairly large fortune, which only grew, and he had placed small amounts of it into untraceable cash cards. Once they were secured, he'd go into town, buy what he needed, and dispose of the cash cards.

They were now eight miles away from Sault Ste. Marie. Instead of crossing the International Bridge, they took the Brimley exit, which was still largely farmland and largely quiet roads, which gave them easy access to the St. Mary's river. The crossing was simple: they'd drive to the road that ran alongside the river, and provided there was no one to see them, and cross the St. Mary's river into Ontario. Though Customs still maintained a presence at the International Bridge and ferry services, and there were patrols on the river and lakes by the Coast Guard, there was no detection grid (at least nothing that the hover car's stealth systems couldn't handle).

Upon crossing the rover, they'd take the nearest road to Highway 17, which led west into Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and then north on the same highway to the safe house. To reach 17 north, they'd have to go through the still busy business spur, but that was of no concern; the Canadian government wasn't looking for them. Even if they were informed, they'd still have a hard time spotting them with the car's color changing capabilities. Besides, they were going directly to the house, with no stops.

The business spur, still lined with businesses, service stations, shops, and restaurants, was still bustling with activity. Since it was about four in the afternoon, traffic was heavy. The weather was sunny and clear, and there were many pedestrians on the walking paths. That was a good thing since Jason preferred they were hidden in a crowd rather than alone on the street.

While things had changed, in the form of contemporary vehicles on the streets, and newer shops, the layout and landmarks remained largely unchanged. In Joe's eyes, it was comforting to see such activity. It was also disheartening to see it because he couldn't be a part of it.

I'll never be able to live my life. Even if he wasn't on the run, he had Jessica to consider. It would be too risky to live on Earth; she might get into a situation where she'd have to go to a hospital. He was getting ahead of himself. There'd be time for that later, if they lived through this.

They were onto Highway 17, Great Northern Road, within minutes. It was a curving road, much like what they've seen in Michigan. But, just as they cleared the city limits, it opened into hilly, almost mountainous, terrain, with a river running alongside the highway. There was the occasional long-haul semi truck, or local that passed them.

The safe house, which was secluded within a large private parcel of wooded land, was just about a half-hour drive away.

The Safe House

Upon leaving the main highway, they traveled up a seasonal access road. Had it not been for the hovercar's ability to hover above the road, the snow would have bogged them down, as the house was at least five miles down the still snow-covered gravel road.

The safe house itself was a two-story log home of contemporary design and construction. Its exterior used real wood logs, and its eastern side was almost entirely glass windows that overlooked a small lake that was large enough for swimming and fishing. An expansive deck extended beyond the east side, with an integrated wooden hot tub.

Its security and amenities were up to date, using modern biometric sensors, the latest computer technology, and, most importantly, all links to the outside were secured high-speed Sat Links. Though the city grid provided electricity, the house was equipped with a backup gas-turbine generator that could have easily provided for the house's needs. There were also modern waste handling and water processing equipment, making the house almost entirely self-sufficient, which equaled less paper work and kept a lower profile.

Inside, the home was tastefully furnished in comfortable furniture, either antiques or excellent replicas, with a dash of modern high-tech (entertainment and appliances) blended into the d├ęcor. The ground floor contained a den that could double as a guestroom, full bath with Jacuzzi, kitchen, and a large living room that overlooked the lake beyond. The second floor contained a Rec room, two bedrooms, bathroom, and a master bedroom with master bath. There was also a basement that contained a year's supply of food, untainted water, other consumables, and a full entertainment system for movies and music.

Given Jessica's condition, the den made the logical choice for their room. It was nicely sized, and cozy with a single desk a set of chairs, an integrated shelf unit along one wall, and a comfortable futon along the opposite wall.

The security systems let them inside without delay, and after settling her on the futon and securing the UPS/power supply, they moved her off the body board, and removed the collar from her neck.

"Oh, I need to give you guys these." Jason said, holding a pair of medication patches in his hand. "They're antiradiation meds, to counteract any symptoms of radiation exposure since you were both exposed to radioactive fallout for a while."

"Right" Said Joe, Grateful for his thoughtfulness.

"Just leave 'em on until the next morning. I've got the full treatment pack. Replace the patches once per day for a week and that should counteract any radiation that's in your bodies."

They'd both forgotten about the radiation as well. Joe took the offered patches without hesitation, affixing one to his upper arm, and applying the remaining one to Jessica's arm.

Exhausted from their long drive, Joe laid down on the futon and carefully settled Jessica in his arms.

Oh wow. Her senses were immediately invaded by the scent of his body, and the feel of his hands stroking her hair, and her hearing by the beating of his heart and he drifted off to sleep.

Knowing they'd be safe, she soon followed, deciding to give her systems a rest and conserve her energy.