It was not the first time she'd taken a job from the government, nor would it be the last, but something about this time felt different.
For one, there were twice as many forms to fill out as usual, even more oaths of secrecy to take. Then, there was the fact that she had no idea what she was shipping, and the men who contacted her refused to tell over the phone. While government agents were hardly open books about their operations, she'd never been kept so out of the loop. Wendy did not like driving in the proverbial dark.
She hadn't been told a single thing until she'd driven out to a restaurant in the countryside of Georgia, where one Agent Fowler was waiting for her. They sat down to dinner together, the agent across from her, both of them tucked into the back corner of the room. Wendy sat with her back stiff, arms crossed, her red baseball cap on the seat beside her. Her pa taught her better than to wear her hat at the table, even if it was just a red countertop in a dirty Waffle House.
"I hope you understand what you're agreeing to, Ms. Martin," Fowler huffed, his usual crankiness shining through. He'd hired her once or twice before, and always seemed to work with an air of frustration about him. Working with politicians will do that to you. Wendy took a sip of her sweet tea before replying.
"Almost sounds like you don't want me to take it," Drawled the driver.
"Honestly, I'd rather not be in this position. You've got a good reputation, but this is 'need to know', -"
"And you'd rather I didn't need to know." She finished for him. Her hand reached for the tea but when she went to drink it, it was all ice. The woman glared at the glass as if it had insulted her as she spoke again. "But for one reason or another, you need a driver. If you need somethin' shipped, I can do it. I can get it there, and I can keep my lips sealed. But I wanna know what I'm takin'." Her glare turned toward the man. "I don't drive ignorant of my cargo."
"And I don't tell civilians classified government intel."
"This 'civilian' seems to be your only option, else you wouldn't be here, would you?" She smirked when his look darkened. "If you want my help, then I need to know."
Fowler remained silent for a moment, fingers twitching on the table, before he gave a heavy sigh and stood. He made a motion of his head for her to follow. Wendy stood, grabbed her hat, and removed her wallet from her pocket, plopping a bit more than enough on the table. Then, once she adjusted her hat to be perfectly straight over her forehead, she followed him out.
They left the cafe and got into his black, innocuous government issue car. The woman let her gaze run over it with the keen eye of a mechanic, before stepping into the passenger's seat. Wendy stretched out her legs, a content smile on her face. Fowler saw and gave a chuckle.
"Not used to all the room?"
"Not used to somebody else doin' the drivin'." She grinned at him. "And yeah, semis aren't big on room, least, not in the front."
The rest of the trip was quiet - Fowler's eyes twitched as he drove, shifting left and right constantly. Wendy noticed how tightly he held the wheel, how stiff his limbs were. Something had him on edge.
The destination they came to was a truck stop; Wendy snorted at the irony, at the sight of something she'd come to know well. This one was almost completely abandoned, but for one vehicle. It was a mess - a big semi without a hitch, covered in dirt and grime, and dented beyond belief. Her eyes scanned it with the sentiment of a worried mother.
The car came to a stop and Wendy leapt out, striding over to the beat up Peterbilt. Without a thought her hands traced the scars, the bruise-like dents that littered the machine. Giving a heavy sigh she let her hand fall.
"Someone's been cruel to you, poor thing." Her eyes traced the faint lines of a fancy paint job, beneath layers and layers of filth. She rubbed it with her sleeve, but only a bit came off. "Too bad; you were probably quite a looker in your day."
"I see you've found it already."
Fowler approached behind her, and she bristled, turning quickly. "Found what?"
Arms crossed, he nodded at the truck. "The cargo."
The woman blinked. "... the truck?"
Nodding, Fowler approached and handed her a key ring with just one key. "This 'truck' is what we need you to transport, quickly, quietly, and secretly; and I mean all of that." His look grew dim as watched her take the keys. "This vehicle is vital to our government, and some really nasty characters would love to take it out."
The key fell into her limp hand as she stared at the agent. "... we are still talkin' about the truck, right?"
Smirking, Fowler crossed his arms again. "I'm completely serious."
"There's nothing... in the truck? Important documents? Vital equipment?"
"Just the truck." His smirk fell as the man's expression darkened. "I'm very serious. If you take this job, you need to know there are some very bad guys after this thing, and if they get ahold of it, that's the end of everything - and I mean everything."
Wendy's fingers curled partially around the key as she blinked again. "... the truck?"
Fowler nodded. "The truck."
Turning, Wendy cocked an eyebrow at the beat up Peterbilt. "And the destination?"
She turned back. "You want me to take an empty, beat up rig to the middle of nowhere to save us all from some certain doom?" He said and did nothing, so she sighed and pocketed the key. "All right. I'll go with it. Long as I've got a job, I really don't care if the government believes a truck is our only hope." She shrugged. "Let me get my things, and I'll set out tonight."
"Not tonight, now." He stared her down, daring her to fight, but she just shrugged.
Fowler was waiting with his arms crossed when she came out of the hotel room with all her things: two duffel bags over either shoulder, and two rather large suitcases. Fowler's eyebrow raised.
She shrugged as she moved towards the trunk. "Don't get home much." That was all the explanation she gave as she hauled it into the back. As Fowler jumped into the driver's seat, she slammed the trunk and went around to the side, and they rushed back to the truck stop.
The truck was still there, of course, though Fowler almost looked relieved to see it. A curious look came to Wendy as she watched a few quick emotions flit over Fowler's face before he schooled his appearance. She pretended not to have noticed when he glanced her way, moving towards the trunk.
"So, what else should I know about these dangerous folk comin' after this truck n' me?" She grunted as she hefted her luggage out. "I mean... seems like you could afford to get some soldiers or somethin' to protect it... if its so important n' all."
"We could, but then we'd be alerting everyone as to the importance of the truck. Better to lie low, keep it discrete, and try to make it under the radar."
"Yeah... makes sense. But what if they do find me? What should I expect?"
Fowler stepped forward to open the side door for her; he had to struggle with it. Apparently it was caught pretty tight - but with a final tug it opened. Wendy set about adjusting her things as they spoke.
"Well... armed men, to be certain. There are some shady groups who'd love to get a hold of this thing. If that happens..."
As she finished loading her stuff (careful to keep the window clear so she could see), Wendy turned and lifted the edge of her long, flannel shirt. "Don't worry, Agent," She smirked at the shock in his eyes. "Armed men I can handle." She dropped the shirt and the weapon on her belt disappeared again.
He stared at her back as she moved to get into the driver's seat. "You got a permit for that?" A chuckle was his answer.
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to." Stepping up, she removed the key from her pocket and shut the door. "A woman on the road's gotta protect herself... whether or not she's got the money to register for it." That made him close his mouth, but the tight pull of his lips showed just how he felt about it.
Wendy's hand curled around the key tight, fingers caressing the metal like a lover would. A small smile came to her lips as she reached for the ignition, turning into a grin as she revved the engine and heard a thundering roar.
"Nice," She couldn't help the childish giggle that escaped her - despite how beat up it was, the truck seemed to be well built. Her eyes flitted to the dash and grew wide. "This is... quite the equipment for a truck. Cracked to shit, but very nice..." Her hand trailed the dashboard, running over computer screens, miscellaneous buttons, broken glass, until a cough brought her back to reality.
"If you're done gaping, you should get going. Now." The stress on the word was evident, and Wendy quickly remembered her job.
"Right, of course." She nodded to him, cracked a small smile, and went to roll up the window; his hand stopped her, made her look back up.
"Wendy... I know this is hard to take seriously, but I'm not kidding when I say this is very dangerous - especially for you. The success of this mission is vital; but the longer you're with this thing," He gestured to the truck. "The more your life is at stake. Do it quick." He glanced around, before meeting her eyes with a surprisingly dark, hard stare. "Trust me when I say you won't be able to fight what's coming after you."
After a moment of hesitation, Wendy gave a slight nod of her head. "I understand." The dark mood cleared when she smiled, all confidence and naivety, ready to face a danger she did could hardly imagine. "See you on the other side, Agent." Fowler backed up and watched her go, guilt heavy as bricks settling on him, dragging his shoulders down.
Wendy was ignorant of his mental distress, feeling a healthy mix of excitement and concern as she set on the journey. Savannah, Georgia to Jasper, Nevada - about thirty hours non-stop, but she'd definitely have to stop at least twice. A three day journey with the strange, government truck.
Once she was on the road, heading out of town, Wendy felt some of the tension ooze out of her back, as she returned to that familiar routine. Her body naturally took control, instinct and long practice leading the way. In her head she plotted the route: I'll need the 404 W to head out of here... then on to Tennessee on 1-75...
The clock on the dashboard, cracked down the center but functional, read 4:03. That left perhaps five or six hours of driving, depending on how alert she was...
The street signs and lamp posts whizzed by, smaller cars ducking out of her way quick as possible. Half the fun of driving a big car - watching all the little cars panic. Wendy cracked a smile and tried to forget the nerves rising in her chest. For all her big talking to Fowler, the fear was starting to sink in... this was a very serious job, and she didn't even know why. Nor could she imagine what in the world was so important about this bedraggled piece of machinery, certainly a nice machine despite the damage yet nothing special so far as she could see.
City streets and city life began to pass as the countryside appeared, the long highways coming into view. A bit of relief choked out the fear; this was her place, as close to a home as she'd ever had, the only place she felt completely at peace and in control... America's highways.
Wendy felt calmer, more at ease, and patted the steering wheel with a sly smile. "Well, looks like its just you n' me now, big boy," A bit of her nerves rose again for a moment, and she squeezed the leather tight. "Don't worry. I'm not letting anybody get to ya; not if I can help it..." Steel entered her words and hardened her gaze, and if anyone had been there to see it, they probably would have believed her.
And so began the most exciting drive of Gwendolyn Martin's life.
"... this is a bit awkward."
The truck was quiet but for the dim rumble of the engine and the echo of wind against the windshield. Wendy glanced out over the road, half into the conversation, half not.
"I'm real used to talkin' to my truck, but you're a whole nother story. Never driven somethin' so important - not to mention somethin' so well made... you might look messed up, but sounds like what's under the hood is real nice." She chuckled as she passed an Audi, which had quickly veered out of her lane. "Guess I should start with the introduction; seems as good a place as any."
If any of the other drivers had seen the woman sitting in the dented truck, talking to herself, they probably would have completely cleared the road. As it was, Wendy had most of the right side of the road to herself, going down the long stretch of I-16 W.
"I'm Gwendolyn Martin... and if I had friends they'd call me Wendy." A half snort interrupted her. "I'd tell you to call me Wendy, but you're a truck. A very important, government truck, but an inanimate object nonetheless." For a moment she fell quiet, her sardonic stare fixed on the road. A few minutes went by this way, the same inane trees and surroundings passing by.
"I suppose you're wonderin' why I'm talkin' to ya. Or, you would be... anyway, let's chalk it up to long hours on the road and loneliness. You'd go crazy without anybody to talk to, all this time to yerself..." Another snort. "I'm already there, probably..."
Her eyes flitted up to the rear view mirror - they were a light auburn brown, to match her hair. Said hair was so short it was almost entirely hidden by her baseball cap, cut in a boyish fashion. Wendy returned her eyes to the road, giving a heavy sigh.
"How long till the uninvited guests arrive, I wonder?" Her throat felt thick as she said it, grip tightening on the wheel again. "I need to stop thinking dark. All right, time for some music."
With one hand on the wheel, she grabbed a duffel bag and pulled it close, unzipping it without taking her eyes off the road. Her hand dived in and dug around blindly, until she smiled and pulled out a CD case.
She unzipped it and picked a CD: Tim McGraw. Smiling, she pushed it into the player and sat back to let the music unfold. It didn't take long for the country twang to fill the cab.
He said I was in my early forties, with a lotta life before me...
Head bobbing with the sound, Wendy felt her anxiety floating away.
Jumping, Wendy's head snapped towards the radio, which had suddenly starting playing static. "What the hell?" She reached out and fiddled with the knobs, until the static abruptly stopped. For a moment nothing played, then came a new sound. Wendy stared incredulously as something new started. It wasn't country - it was electric guitar.
You've got the touch - you've got the power - after all is said and done -
"This is not on my CD!" Stunned and a bit peeved, Wendy started trying to change the channel to no avail. She tried making the CD play, tried turning down the volume - nothing. "The hell! What is this?" She hit the radio with her fist and nothing happened.
You've never walked, you've never run -
"The eighties and rock music, two things I hate molded into one." Grimacing, Wendy ejected her CD - the one button that did work - and went back to her CD case. "Fine, picky. Let's try this."
She had no idea why the music had changed or what had happened, but decided to try another CD anyway. Anything would be better than Stan Bush.
The song did stop when she put the new CD in; her music began to play, and a smile came to her lips.
Tire swings, summer dreams, honeysuckle on the breeze -
It lasted all of two seconds.
CHCKHCKH - She's got a smile that is seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories -
"Ugh, what do you have against country music, ya hunk of junk!" She punctuated her words with a swift kick to the base of the console - completely forgetting all the compliments she'd been paying the truck earlier. "Ya possessed punk!"
Once again she attacked the dashboard with all the fury of a deranged maniac, somehow managing to keep the truck mostly in the right lane. If all the little cars around her panicked and got out of the way anyway, that wasn't her problem. After a few minutes of struggling in vain to turn it off, she huffed and fell back into her seat.
"You are an evil machine."
Oh, oh oh oh, Sweet child o' mine -
"Maybe I should hand you over to whoever's after you, make the bad guys suffer this. I went through the eighties once already, and I've no desire to relive it."
Oh, oh oh oh -
"Yeah, I got it the first ten times!" Red in the face and frowning, Wendy turned her attention back to the road and tried to block out the horrendous sounds.
Yep - this truck was definitely something special.
It only got weirder from there.
Thankfully the rock music didn't last forever, and Wendy was actually glad when silence pervaded the air. She was still angry from earlier - and surprisingly, that was keeping the worry down, so she allowed herself to stew for a little while longer. Anything to keep her nerves strong.
Another hour passed that way, with the other cars on the road avoiding her, as usual. Except for, well... a few strange moments.
The first time was seemingly ordinary. She was heading down the same long stretch of road towards Tennessee, when something green came up in the corner of her vision. Turning her head, Wendy saw an a big green truck riding up on the side of the truck.
The strange thing was how close it was getting to her vehicle, especially given how much other drivers had been avoiding her large, damaged truck. In fact, it came impossibly close. Wendy could've sworn she saw the two almost brush each other, but then the truck vanished off the highway.
On its own, the moment meant nothing. But not an hour later, another incident occurred.
A tiny blue motorcycle came up on the truck, with a teenage boy as its driver. Usually anything small avoided her like the plague - especially something that small. But this one came very, very close to the Peterbilt, the boy turning his head towards it. She couldn't see his face because of the helmet, but she watched as the motorcycle grew closer, and then - the boy reached out and touched the mirror. Her eyes widened as he did it, flying to him; he glanced at her for just a moment, then dropped his hand, and off he went, disappearing into the mess of cars.
After those two, Wendy felt her nerves bristling, and began driving with more urgency. Clearly she wasn't as under the radar as she'd of liked to been - and someone knew where she was. Keeping her eyes peeled, Wendy opted to keep the music off, and focused on paying attention to everything around her. Still, she had no idea what was going on or how serious it was, but she took Fowler's warnings to heart. Someone was after this truck.
After a good six hours on the road, Wendy called it a night at a truck stop in Chattanooga, just on the other side of the Georgia - Tennessee border. She wasn't quite ready to sleep, but stiffness was starting to settle into her bones, and she'd be no good for tomorrow if she was exhausted and sore.
Stepping down out of the cab, Wendy stretched and glanced around. There weren't too many people at this place. After making sure the truck was locked - and giving another paranoid look around - she turned towards the store and stepped in.
The ding of the bell alerted the store to her presence; no one paid her any mind. Wendy glanced around to the fast food places, the tattoo parlor, the rows of snack foods. Deciding to eat a full meal instead of just potato chips, she got in line at the KFC. After purchasing dinner, she walked back out of the store and to the truck, stepping in and locking it behind her.
"Now, I wouldn't usually eat in the truck, but with everybody out to get you, I'm nervous bout leavin' you alone. Hope you don't mind." She dug into her chicken leg with gusto. "Mmm... pretty good. Not like ma's... but its food so I can't say nothin'. Though KFC is hardly southern cookin'..." After another bite, she set it aside and took a sip of her soda. "Ma knew how to do it. Never made it often, but when she did... mmm!" A soft smile, her coke pausing on its way to her lips. "One of the few things I remember about her." She fell silent, her drink still mid air, eyes unfocused and staring off into the distance; looking not at the scenery, but the past. "Died when I was a kid." More silence - then a chuckle, and she dove back into her food.
"I never used to get so personal, talkin' to my truck... somethin' about you makes me emotional, I suppose." Before she took another bite of the leg, Wendy glanced at it thoughtfully. "Well, you or the chicken."
The rest of dinner went by quietly, until she was wrapping it all up and tossing it into the trash outside the truck. She brushed her hands off and turned to head back, and that was when she noticed the figures.
A few men in black, around the edge of the building. It seemed like they were just standing around - but something felt off. Too dark to see them, but it looked like they were in masks... two more of similar appearance were inside the store, and some more by the exit out of the stop. Eyes narrowing, Wendy quickly turned her head and went back to the truck, trying to appear as normal as possible.
Once she was in and the door was shut, she took in a deep breath. "All right... not likin' the look of them." Glancing back out the window, Wendy's eyes widened when she realized the ones by the back had vanished. That settled it. "Somethin's off, and I'm not waitin' around to find out what." In a flash she had the truck cranked and was backing out. If the shadows nearby moved, she didn't notice, focusing on getting out as soon as possible. She zoomed out the stop and back onto the road.
It was about midnight when her eyelids really started feeling heavy.
Paranoia kept her from pulling into another stop - or really, any parking lot - so on she went, trying to put as much distance between herself and her pseudo attackers. The only problem with that plan was the need for sleep, which was becoming more and more dire as time went on. Darkness settled in deep, the lights of the truck breaking the shadows apart, thin lines of brightness in all-encompassing night.
"Okay..." Her words were interrupted by a long yawn. "Okaaay... this is turning out to be a long night." Normally she wouldn't push herself this way, but this was a special circumstance. Still... she wouldn't make it... much longer...
The truck veered a bit and hit the ridges on the side of the road - the shaking brought her back to life. "Dammit..." But sleep would not be averted so easily. She really needed to find a gas station or something, soon... "Why is it there's nothin' out here when I really need it?"
She drove on, keeping an eye out for someplace, anyplace, to get some shut eye... and last she remembered, she was still staring out over the dark road, white lights leading the way...
... and when she opened her eyes again, it was morning.
Shock woke her up better than any cup of coffee could, as her head snapped around, looking at the dashboard in utter amazement. "Wha - how - when?" The truck - the truck - was still driving - driving without her! "Did I..." Mouth open, she stared at the wheel, which was moving on its own. Without her help.
"But..." Then her head lifted to the sky, where the bright orange sunrise was making its way across the trees. "The whole night... I slept at the wheel and the truck drove... how the hell..." Her eyes dropped back to the wheel, hands moving to it slowly, unsurely. "How did..." Finally she took hold of the wheel again, feeling somewhat delirious and completely out of her element. "When Fowler said you were special, he really meant it, didn't he?" For the sake of her sanity, she decided to leave it at that.
Checking the computer screen on the dash, Wendy saw they were already on the I-57 N, in Illinois. "You really are somethin'..." For another good five minutes, she stared incredulously at the screen, as if thinking it would change at any moment. Then she sighed. "I need a break..."
So she drove (she could feel the truck giving control over to her, and it was creepy) to a gas station, parked and stepped out, needing a break from her country-hating, self-driving government truck. Hand brushing through her hair, she began to pace in front of it, eyes wide, lungs taking in air a little faster than usual. "This is... I can't believe..."
A few more minutes of pacing and nonsensical statements brought no clarity, so finally she strode into the station and bought something for breakfast; a cup of coffee and a packet of Salem cigarettes. She stepped back out towards the truck, but didn't get back in yet.
She paced with the coffee, quiet this time, brows furrowed with thought. "This is... freaky, to be honest." She stopped and faced the truck, trying to stare it down but failing because it did, in fact, have no eyes. "I appreciate what you did... just took me by surprise. Spose I should have realized a truck the government values highly would have some tricks up its sleeves." A half hearted chuckle, a pause - and then she took in a deep breath. "Well, time to get movin'. Show ain't over yet."
So she stepped back into truck, set the coffee into the cup holder, and pulled out the pack. Once the door was shut her attention went to the cigarettes.
"I've been quittin' I swear... but with stress like this I could use somethin' to take the edge off..." She removed the plastic, took out a cigarette, and then turned to the duffel. After a little fussing she found her lighter and gave a joyful laugh. Putting the cigarette to her lips, she set about lighting it.
Flick. Flick. WHOOSH.
Just as the light took and caught on the cigarette, the air conditioning in the truck started suddenly and strongly, blasting away the flame. Wendy jumped; she hadn't turned the truck on! Though, honestly, hardly anything could surprise her at this point, and she was a tad more upset about the cigarette.
Frowning, she turned away, putting her back between the lighter and the vents, and succeeded in lighting it a second time. Relief filled her at the first intake; carefully she turned in such a way as to protect the cigarette from the vents, in case the truck tried to mess around again. Grabbing the key, she cranked it - though if she really needed to, she didn't know - and then rolled the window down. Wendy began backing out as she put her elbow on the leather, the cigarette dangling out the window.
Stunned, Wendy's wide eyes turned to see the window had rolled up quickly and suddenly - chopping the lit end of her cigarette off.
"... I am seriously gonna hurt you."
They entered Missouri a little after lunch time, and at that point, Wendy was ready to abandon the truck. It had destroyed ten of her cigarettes in multiple, creative ways, which would have impressed her if not for how much she really wanted a cigarette at the moment. It got to the point that she eventually pulled into another gas station, stepped out of the truck, and walked five feet away. She made a big show of pulling out the pack, removing a cigarette and lighting it.
"There!" She stomped her foot, waving the cigarette at the truck. "Ha!" It took a minute for her to realize that quite a few people were staring at her. Color flushed to her face, but she didn't get rid of the cigarette. Instead, she stepped back to the truck, leaning on the grill as she took another drag.
After a moment of reflection she sighed. "Another twenty hours or so..." Her gaze turned to the sky. "No attacks yet. Somehow I doubt it'll stay that way." Finally, she flicked the cigarette away, and stepped back into the truck, unable to stop the grin coming to her face. "Least I finally got my cigarette."
She shouldn't have been surprised - shouldn't have been, but was - when the seat she sat on suddenly jumped beneath her, throwing her forward onto the wheel. It didn't hurt; she recognized it as a teasing retort, and her grin grew. That is, until her eyes went to the rear view mirror. Her grin immediately fell.
"Shit," Standing behind the truck were a few of the guys from the night before, looking much more conspicuous in the light of day. "Time to go, big guy." Without hesitation she cranked it and threw it into reverse, hauling ass out of the station. Immediately after she turned onto the road, four green cars leapt out of the wood work after her. Sports cars, she noticed with a sneer, gripping the wheel tighter. She could outdrive them.
Slamming her foot onto the pedal, Wendy turned on the speed, rushing over the limit and then some, taking the curve of the road at a dangerously fast pace. Her pursuers were undeterred, taking it just as fast, one of them coming up beside her. When she turned to glance at it, she saw guns.
Ducking down, she twisted the wheel and slammed into them hard, throwing them off the road just as the highway became visible. Wendy lifted her head again and soared onto I-435, heart pounding hard.
"Okay, shit's real now, - hope you can hold out through this," Glancing behind, she saw three of the sports cars veering onto the highway, shoving other cars out of their way, taking volatile control of the road. Sneering, Wendy turned her eyes back ahead. "Two can play this game."
Racing ahead, Wendy glanced around for ideas, for options, and noticed how many civilians were on the roads with them. There weren't that many cars, and definitely not enough to hide a big semi. "We're gonna need a miracle to disappear into the crowd here."
RATTA-TATTA-TATTA! Wendy jumped at the sound of gun fire, reflexively ducking her head. "Shit, shit, shit!" Veering wildly left and right, she tried to avoid the fire; a mini van beside her hit its breaks to avoid being hit, and became an obstacle to one of the sports cars. It veered away, crashing into the road blocks in the center of the highway. "Two down, two to go,"
Jumping, Wendy grew alert when she realized something had jumped onto the truck's roof. Her hand went to her belt, before she glanced at the dash.
"Think you can do that driving trick again?" Tentatively she let go of the wheel - sure enough, it drove on its own just fine. Smirking, Wendy removed her pistol and rolled the window down, pushing her upper body out and up.
She saw the man kneeling on the roof before he saw her; grabbing the top, she pulled herself up, taking him by surprise quickly enough to smack him with the side of the gun. With a gurgling groan he fell from the truck, hitting the pavement at something close to eighty miles an hour. Wendy winced; she did not want to see the remains of him.
Her eyes flew to the magnet on the edge of the roof, tied to a thick chord - there were plently of them strewn about the Peterbilt's roof and rear wheels, as if they'd planned to lift it out of there... glancing up, Wendy saw a helicopter flying dangerously low. Not strong enough to lift the truck... but the large military plane flying in behind it was. The woman stood, lifted her weapon and took a moment to aim. A single blast shook the air, piercing the windshield of the helicopter. She had no idea if it had hit anyone inside at all... but if nothing else, it served as a dark warning. Done with that, she knelt down again and removed a knife from her pocket, setting about cutting the restraints.
The helicopter was still flying - apparently she hadn't hit anyone. It came lower and lower, to the left side of the truck, near her level. The driver glared through the tinted window, which rolled down to reveal a smirking man with a scarred face.
"You're a very determined woman aren't you?"
Her reply came out as something of a snarl. "I don't fail my employers."
"I can see that," The man chuckled mirthlessly, fingering the gun in his own hand - one much bigger than hers. Wendy wouldn't allow herself to be intimidated. "Too bad you've been employed by the wrong side. Surely you can see that."
Wendy glanced from the beat up truck to the fancy looking green cars to the helicopter. "No, don't think so. Sure you're lookin' at what I'm lookin' at?"
"Oh, I'm sure, ... Wendy." If she was surprised he knew her name, she didn't show it. He still smirked, and continued. "Gwendolyn Martin, high school drop out and convicted criminal, daughter of Ray Martin, high school drop out and convicted felon." At that she did flinch, only to glare darker a moment later.
"Done your research, good fer you. If you're done showin' off, I've got a job to finish."
"And I've got a proposition for you."
"Don't even start." She smirked, lifting her gun again. "Let me guess - join me, turn over the truck, I'll give you money and cars and everything your heart desires?"
He smirked back. "I was thinking more along the lines of releasing your father from prison."
That actually took her breath away for a minute, her arms faltering, gun arm falling a little low. "... what?"
"Exactly what I said." He took a moment to laugh ominously. "Completely legal, completely cleared of all charges. A free man. All you have to do is walk away."
For a long moment she remained completely still and silent, mind blown by the chance she was being offered. There was even a tiny second she thought she might take it - and then there was the painful moment when she knew she never would. Grimacing, she lifted her gun again.
"Go to hell," And fired, only missing because the helicopter pilot veered back suddenly. She didn't let it faze her, turning to the ropes once again she took out her knife again.
She began to rush, sweat pouring down her face as the green cars drew ever closer, the ominous gun rattlings growing louder. "I'm a sittin' duck out here..." Hardly able to breathe from it all, she kept going at the bindings, ignoring all else... until a green car pulled up on the truck's right side, in front of her. Eyes wide, she hoisted her gun - but there was no need.
Suddenly a yellow Camaro came out of nowhere and slammed into the green car, blowing it away, only to follow as it veered off course. Shocked, Wendy sat up and looked back. The other green car was having similar problems with a big truck. Deciding to leave it alone for the moment, Wendy went back to the bindings, removed them all, and then hopped back into the driver's seat.
"Miss me?" She grinned, feeling a strange exhilaration from it all. Putting on a bit more speed, Wendy and the truck left the others in the dust, vanishing into the mire of highway traffic.
A grin a mile wide came to her face as they zoomed off down the highway, leaving the battle long behind. Anxiety gave way to adrenaline and a high of happiness. "We did it! What a team we make, huh?" She patted the wheel fondly and turned her eyes back to the road, her breaths still coming in quick gasps. A quick glance to the map revealed they were on the I-29, briefly crossing into Iowa before taking the road out into Nebraska.
Still beaming from their victory, she almost didn't notice the red light that suddenly lit up on the screen. When she did see it, all the previous joy vanished into the black hole that was tightening her chest.
She stopped at the first truck stop she found.
A litany of curses escaped her as she leapt from her seat and ran round to the passenger's side. Quickly she grabbed a duffel bag, hefting it to the sidewalk. With a zip of the zipper, the tools within were revealed - then she stood and opened the hood.
Her movements faltered once her eyes fell on what was hidden beneath. "Holy mother of God..."
The engine housed under the hood was unlike any she'd ever seen - and one of the nicest pieces of equipment Wendy had ever laid eyes on. Something that one normally didn't see in a truck... but it was blown to bits, smoking and dented and in deep trouble.
"Dunno if my skills are up to this... but I gotta try," Rolling her sleeves up and adjusting her cap, Wendy knelt and went back to the bag. "Here goes nothing."
Nothing is certainly what went.
An hour of useless attempts later had Wendy kicking the air and throwing her tools to the ground in frustration. Nothing she did seemed to curb the problems this truck was facing - each little repair she made spawned two more issues. It gave pained groans and issued smoke from time to time; it was beyond her help.
Sweat, grime, and filth covered her and her clothes, head to toe - in an attempt to wipe sweat from her brow, Wendy covered her forehead in black gunk. Looking up, she glanced towards the far side of the truck stop, where she could see a car garage. Hope lit up in her hardened eyes.
Leaping to her feet, the woman rushed across the parking lot and into the garage, latching onto the first grease monkey she could find.
"Hey," The man she called to was bearded and bald, in his mid forties and a bit plump around the waist. "I gotta truck bout to run its last, I need a miracle worker."
Apparently things weren't too busy around the garage; he shrugged and brushed his hands together. "Bring me to 'er."
One good thing about the man - he seemed to know what he was doing, at least, knew better than she did. On the other hand -
"Well, I think I can patch 'er up, given a few hours. Poor girl's in horrid shape," He glanced over his shoulder to Wendy, who stood very close with her arms crossed. "The hell'd you do to her?"
"I ain't payin' ya to ask questions," She snapped, strangely irritated. Under her breath, she added, "And he ain't a 'girl'."
The mechanic shrugged and turned back to the truck. "Though, to be honest, it'd be cheaper to scrap the thing and get a new truck. Gonna cost a fortune to tune this baby up." He patted the front and Wendy felt her eye twitch as he turned to her. "I've got a guy I can call -"
But then she was pointing at him, finger an inch from his face. "No phone calls. No guys. I want him repaired as best you can by tomorrow." She snapped, dropping her arm.
The mechanic held his arms up in defeat. "All right, all right! If she's that important to ya -"
"He. He. This truck is a he."
"Right, o'course," She could see the man rolling his eyes as he turned back towards the garage. "Lemme get my tools."
Wendy watched with narrowed eyes as he stalked off, and then climbed into the truck. She was not letting the man work on it without her supervision. "Ignorant, back water fool - if my pa were here, he'd have you workin' perfect in no time..." She was still grumbling under her breath when the man got back.
He nodded to her through the windshield before disappearing behind the hood; Wendy had half a mind to get out and watch him work, make sure he didn't pull anything stupid... but exhaustion was setting in. Curled up in the driver's seat, Wendy hardly noticed her eyes closing before she fell asleep.
A tap on her window woke her up.
The man was outside, looking as dirty and grimy as she was. Wendy stepped out and moved to the front with him.
"Did the best I could, but I doubt it did much. It's a mess," Huffing, he put his hands on his waist. "It'll run... but it's not safe. I wouldn't recommend it."
She was hardly hearing him, her eyes running over the inner workings of the truck. "I'll keep that in mind,"
Nodding, he gestured for her to follow. "I'll run you up the bill,"
Cold sunk into her chest and her stomach fell into her feet. "Right..." Reluctantly she followed him into the garage, turning for a moment to look at the truck. The repairs had helped... but it would need much more than that. Hopefully the government's had something ready in Nevada.
Throat clenching, Wendy followed the man into his office. Five nerve wracking minutes later, the total was tallied - when her eyes fell on it, she did her best to keep a poker face. Inside, she was panicking.
Giving a nod, she stood. "Lemme get my bag..." He kept his eyes on her as she went, but he didn't say a word. Wendy tried not to hurry from the garage.
Once she was at the truck she shoved all her tools back into the bag and threw it into the passenger's side; then moved to the other duffel. Inside was a large plastic bag, containing a good bit of green - but not enough. Nowhere near enough.
"All my life's savin's, down to this..." She gripped the bag tight, her insides curling uncomfortably. "I..." Silence was all that came out. There were no words for the pain rising in her throat. "Shit..." Her head fell, resting against the seat.
Footsteps behind her made her raise her head. "Got the cash?"
A frown greeted him, but she raised the bag towards him. "I haven't counted it - though I imagine you'll enjoy doin' so."
He leveled her with a glare, but took the bag. "Strange way to carry cash."
"My savings. Not everybody got's a bank account." But by that time he was into counting, hardly listening to her. That was a boon - Wendy turned to the car, making a show of zipping the bag back up. Her hands shook just a bit, but with a deep breath she stilled them, steadying herself. She took slow hold of the edge of the seat.
Then, she pulled up, vaulting herself up into the car, before slamming the key into the ignition.
"HEY - !"
But she was already in reverse and rushing out, the side door still wide open; one of her suitcases balanced precariously before tumbling out. Too late now. Without looking back she rushed from the place, heart hammering in her chest as she sped down the highway.
"God..." Gripping the wheel as tightly as possible, Wendy felt herself sag into the chair; trying to ignore the burn of unshed tears in her eyes. "I've fucked this all up..." She didn't even notice the side door shutting itself.
She kept driving, gritting her teeth hard; then a hand rushed to her eyes and she rubbed the tears away, smearing the dirt on her face. "God, I'm filthy..." A dry sob escaped her throat and she quickly bit her lip to keep quiet.
They kept going, still going a bit above the speed limit, Wendy trying to reign her emotions in. "Ten years of work, gone like that..." Then she gave a sputter of sad laughter. "Guess you think I'm foolish, huh? If I was gonna cut and run, why not keep the cash?" She shrugged, glancing down. "I wanted to pay him. I want to be able to do things the legal way - and fuck if I don't end up on the underbelly of everything anyway..." She slammed her fists on the wheel. "Fuck!" She wasn't even driving anymore - the truck had taken over. Her anger began to fade and she slumped forward, fists uncurling. "I want to go clean. But it ain't easy... every time I try somethin' comes up to throw me off again."
She tried telling herself she was being completely overly emotional - responding too strongly to the situation at hand. But perhaps it wasn't just the current situation. Memories and images from long before, from previous desperate times and desperate measures, were also fueling her rage and her sorrow.
A tear managed to escape her eye, trailing down through the muck on her face, becoming tainted and dark.
Her eyes fell to the truck. "Sorry... to drag you into this. I have a bad habit of screwing up everything I touch."
With that she fell silent, putting her hands back on the wheel, letting off on the speed. She didn't think anyone was after her - and without her name or license plate, the mechanic had no way of setting the police on her, besides physical description. That probably wouldn't work well once she was out of state.
Lost within her own thoughts, Wendy hardly noticed the change that came over the truck. The seat she was in began to warm up - only once it was comfortingly warm enough to sooth her aching muscles did she notice it. Not only that, but it was almost like the leather was conforming to her body; like a friendly embrace.
A barking laugh escaped her. "A sentimental truck. Never would've guessed." The click of machinery surprised her, and she turned to the radio to see a CD being ejected. Frowning, she stared at it for a moment.
"You... want me to play somethin'?"
Of course, there was no answer. Wendy tentatively reached out and took the CD, then dug into her duffel for her CD's. "Glad I didn't lose this bag..." She mumbled. If there was a slight sniff as she spoke, she ignored it.
She picked a CD and shoved it in, leaning back and wiping her eyes one more time. The tears were drying up. The music began with sharp piano keys, slow and melancholy, followed by a man's alto.
You disappear with all your good intentions... and all I am is all I could not mention...
"Thriving Ivory. 'Flowers for a Ghost'." She lowered her eyes and let the music float around her, the piano keys and the somber echo. Then she gave a light chuckle. "What? Not gonna fight me for it?"
Like who will bring me flowers when it's over... and who will give me comfort when it's cold...
Apparently he wasn't, because the song kept going, the piano picking up, the pace quickening. As it kept on, she began to softly whisper the words under her breath, not quite brave enough to sing aloud.
"She took a plane to somewhere out in space," She murmured. Her eyes were hardly on the road, but between her and the truck, they kept on the straight and narrow. "To start a life and maybe change the world..."
See I never meant for you to have to crawl... no I never meant to let you go at all...
On went the song and she kept muttering the words, the road stretching on before them. The chorus passed again, the words rumbling in the speakers, until near the end of the song, the lines changed... and three words played over and over, a proclamation and a curse.
I'm only human... "I'm only human,"
I'm only human...
They were a good ways into Nebraska when Wendy finally decided to quit for the night, pulling over into a truck stop at about 1 o'clock in the morning. When she got out and stretched, she patted the roof of the truck.
"One more day, big guy..." Even as she said it, she wasn't sure how to feel about it. Torn between relief and a strange sense of regret. Shaking her head, she went around and grabbed one of her suitcases, hauling it into the stop with her. She desperately needed a shower.
She got clean and changed clothes, dressing in a white tee shirt and baggy blue jeans, her trademark red baseball cap returning to its place on her wet hair. The shower lifted her mood by miles. Next was dinner - she grabbed a sandwich at the diner and went back to her truck, suitcase trailing behind her. Her steps halted at the door when she saw what was beside her truck.
A group of men were surrounding her Peterbilt - fear jolted her chest for the briefest moment before she realized they were not, in fact, the men from earlier. They were just young punks looking for trouble. Frowning, she stepped out of the store and made quick steps for her truck.
At her appearance the boys turned towards her - three youths, a few years younger than her, each lighting up with lecherous grins at the sight of her. One of them had the audacity to lean against the truck, arms crossed.
"Don't tell me you're the owner of this thing." The boy chuckled, glancing at all the dents. "No wonder it's so screwed up. A woman truck driver? I didn't know they allowed that."
Fury rose in her chest but she shoved it down, hitting him with a hard glare. "Aren't you up past your bedtime?" She stepped around him towards the door, but when she reached for the handle, he put his hand on it.
"Come on, babe, don't be that way," The other two were coming up behind her, she noticed with a sneer. "We don't bite. Unless, y'know... you're into that."
"I'm not into anything concerning you or your prepubescent friends. Fuck off," Grabbing his wrist, she twisted it and threw it to the side, earning a yelp from the boy. But before she could grab the handle, the boys behind her grabbed her arms and pulled her back. "Let go of me, you fucking -"
Before she could finish her sentence, the door to the truck suddenly flew open, smashing into the first boy's face. His yelp this time was twice as loud; the two boys behind her were stunned and distracted, so she took the chance to wrench her arms free, elbowing one in the nose and the other in the gut. As they groaned and fell to the ground, she grabbed her suitcase and hauled ass into the truck. The door slammed shut as soon as she was safe.
"Thanks for that," To her surprise it didn't stop. The lights flared on and the truck roared to life, going in reverse by itself. Stunned eyes watched as it drove itself away; and as soon as she set the suitcase aside, the seat belt flew around her, clicking into place and tightening protectively. Wendy's mouth fell open. "Are you - ?"
The truck was out of the stop before she could think of what to say. To be honest, her emotions were a mire of confusion, surprise, and genuine gratitude. Still in awe of the whole situation, and completely unsure of what to say, Wendy settled on awkwardly patting the wheel and saying "Thank you" once again. A strange blush came to her face.
Did the truck just protect her? No one had ever looked out for her like that, not even her pa. More often than not he'd drag her along into his problems, then leave her to fend for herself... Wendy began to drift into darker thoughts, almost not noticing when the radio flared to life.
The static finally caught her attention - and to her surprise, she heard sound bits coming out; they sounded awkward, like they'd been pieced together from different places.
Are - you - all - right?
For a minute she blinked in dumb fascination at the radio. "Uh - yeah, fine n' dandy." At this point nothing strange about the truck should have surprised her, but here it was, still showing new tricks. An awkward silence descended on them for a few minutes. Then, static again.
What - did - you - do?
Confused, she blinked at the machine. "Sorry, what'd ya mean?" There was another burst of static - then a recording of sound, taken from earlier. Wendy's eyes narrowed at the familiar voice of the scarred man.
Gwendolyn Martin, high school drop out and convicted criminal...
"Oh, that. Right." Her grip on the wheel tightened. "Should've known." Her eyes narrowed and she heaved a sigh. "You deserve to know, I s'pose." Still she hesitated, perhaps looking for the right place to start. With one last deep breath, she began.
"My pa was a truck driver - he was hardly ever around. For years it was just me and ma, till she died. After she was gone he came home and stayed for a while, until the day came when he told me to get in the truck and we left. Never saw home again."
"I spent the next few years with him, on the road, and at first it was like some grand adventure. Romantic and shit." She gave a scoff. "That didn't last long. Jobs were hard to get and pa wasn't easy to get on with. He caused trouble with employers, gave shit to the police, got us in trouble at every turn. Then came the illegal stuff."
"He was my pa, so I didn't turn on him... but I didn't feel right bout it. Some of the stuff we did... the stuff we delivered... haunts my nightmares. It was a livin', but a terrible one... but it was all either of us knew. And I didn't have any other chance. Pa screwed me over." A choked laugh escaped her, lacking any joy. "He took me outta school, isolated me from all the world... made it so I had to depend on him. Selfish bastard."
Wendy fell silent for a few minutes, trying to focus on the routine of driving. "I was seventeen. We'd done another job for a suspect employer... Pa had gone in to get our pay, told me to wait in the truck. But it was takin' so long... I had a bad feeling. Then... BAM. I rushed into the building to see what it was... and saw my pa with a gun, and our 'employer' bleeding on the floor. He wasn't dead... Pa never had good aim."
"He... looked up at me with dim eyes, the life floodin' outta him... and then Pa turned and saw me. Started yellin' bout not listenin' to him... I hardly heard him. All I could see was the man my father had shot. Once he finally stopped yellin' at me, he turned round to finish the job."
"I don't remember too much of the details... I know I started runnin' at him... leapt on my Pa, grabbed his hands. Shouted myself hoarse. I fought with him long enough for the police to arrive. Turned out the man he'd shot had been an undercover cop... the both of us were arrested."
"I got off easy - the innocent, underaged daughter led astray by her ass of a father. I was to serve community service, live with a foster family, and return to school." A sardonic chuckle; her eyes fell. Wendy hadn't noticed but she'd begun to absentmindedly stroke the wheel with her fingers. "That didn't last. I knew next to nothin' about schoolin'; felt like an idiot, stuck in that room, kids younger than me answerin' questions I couldn't. My 'family' treated me like a leper, as if I might turn on em any moment. I hated everythin' about it." Scowling, the woman clenched her hands around the wheel. "So I committed my first crime on my own - stole some money from my foster family, took the keys, and drove off with their car. Never looked back."
"Goes without sayin' that I had to do some things to get by that I'm not proud of - and once I started truckin', most of my deliveries were... questionable. I was well known for keeping quiet and not asking questions. Guess that's why Fowler picked me, huh?" Laughter again.
Sleepiness was starting to sink its claws into her, but Wendy fought it, trying to focus on her words. "I'm not a good person. But I promise I'm not gonna fail at this. I'm not gonna let you down." Weary both emotionally and physically, she dropped her hands from the wheel. "Can you take over for a while, big guy? I need a breather."
More sound bites echoed in the cab. You - re - safe - with - me - get - some - sleep.
She smiled. "Will do."
The last day of driving dawned slowly - Wendy woke up in the truck, her head resting on the wheel as if it were a pillow. A fog drifted over her brain, drowning her in confusion and questions before consciousness and memory brought it all back. Slowly she lifted her stiff neck, rubbing the back of it, groaning as she did. Only when her head was a bit off the wheel did something catch her eye.
On the wheel, in the center, was a red symbol; kind of like a face in geometric lines, almost cat like. Wendy stared at it, eyes narrowed, a finger tracing the edges.
"Mornin'," She finally said, attention drifting back to the car. "Let's see... where are we now?" The map revealed they were in Wyoming, getting closer, but still not quite there. Wendy wasn't really sure how she felt about that - relieved to be successful? Remorseful for it to be over? Frowning, she turned her eyes back to the road, putting her hands on the wheel.
And suddenly the road exploded.
A billowing cloud of smoke and flying debris burst into the air along with the echo of explosions; cars flipped front over back, burst into flame, as others still slid to a dangerous halt before the wall of fire. In a moment of clarity Wendy realized exactly what was going on, and took firm hold of the wheel.
Then she turned hard right, shoving the Chevy in the other lane out of the way, driving hard for the side of the road. The truck dutifully raced off the pavement into the trees, onto a dangerous decline that she never would have braved if not for the danger chasing them. Sure enough, she heard the roar of engines coming after them - a quick glance in the rear view revealed more green sports cars on their tails.
"Looks like we're not outta this yet," Gaze hardening, she turned back to the road, navigating treacherously shaky ground, littered with trees here and there. On they went, bursting through the brush, pursuers hot on their tails.
As soon as they came out of the trees, Wendy turned the wheel hard left, hitting the gas hard. They flew over the grass. In the side mirrors she spied the enemy rolling their windows down, men moving their weapons to aim and fire.
"Shit, let's get a move on!" As their gun fire echoed through the air, she shoved her foot down as far as it could go, and the truck sped faster. A thousand myriad thoughts assailed her - how to lose them, how to get back to the road, how to survive this - but she kept her cool and pulled her own gun out. But even as she did, more green cars pulled onto the stretch of grass, giving chase, and she could see a helicopter coming on them in the distance.
To make matters worse, the little red light on the dash began to go off again, signaling trouble under the hood. "Fuck, fuck it to hell!" Grimacing, Wendy gripped her gun tight and glanced back again. "Ain't lookin' good, big guy,"
Suddenly the radio cut on. Save - yourself.
"Shut the hell up," With a grunt, she unbuckled herself and turned around. "Drive for me, will ya?"
Wendy rolled the window down, and after another quick glance, leaned her upper body out. Arms stretched, gun cocked, she took aim, fired a few times, and was relieved to see they worked, somehow. She had no idea what part of the man she hit, but it made blood spew and his gun drop, so she counted it a victory.
She turned her attention to another man with a gun as the truck jostled her - that shot missed by a mile, and her gun was empty. Cursing, she dove back into the cab for her duffel bag.
The truck shook even worse as she reloaded. "You all right?" The red light taunted her and for the first time Wendy felt genuine fear that they might not make it. Then she steeled her nerve and cocked the gun.
Just as she was sitting up to take aim again, she saw a few new cars arrive - and actually grinned at the sight.
"You have some pretty cool friends," Wendy watched as the yellow Camaro and the big truck plowed through the sports cars. Leaving it in their hands, Wendy went back to driving. That was when the alarm started. "Shit!"
Smoke was coming from the hood again and all sorts of warning lights were popping up on the dash - panic began to fill the woman as she took hold of the wheel. They were going much too fast, and the smoke was clouding her vision - on the verge of terror, Wendy slammed her foot on the brake and turned the wheel hard left. A horrid screech filled the air and after minutes of sliding through grass and dirt, knocking small trees out of the way, they finally came to a halt within the trees.
Wendy stepped out, coughing hard, only to hear the roar of rotor blades. With no way to run and no where to hide, Wendy planted her feet, lifted her gun, and waited. The blades were getting closer... and then passed overhead.
She knew too much of bad luck to believe they were really gone, and the crunch of branches beneath feet proved her right. Glaring into the brush, Wendy kept her gun up. "Come out where I can see you!" She shouted, gritting her teeth.
"You truly are a stubborn woman."
The voice came from the left; she snapped towards it, gun ready. "And you are a real pain in my ass." The man laughed as he stepped out from the shadows - the scarred man from before.
"I wouldn't have to be, if you didn't insist on standing in my way." A smirk came to his lips, distorting the marks on his face. "I wonder if you even understand what side you are taking. Do you know everything about that 'truck' you're defending?"
She gave a light shrug. "I'll admit, I don't know much. But I've already picked sides, and I'm no traitor. 'Sides, your face gives me the worse case of heeby-jeeby's."
The man burst into laughter, head thrown back. "Is that so? Perhaps I should enlighten you as to what side, exactly, you have taken." He began to pace, and as he did, so did Wendy, moving to put her body between the man and the truck. "On the one hand, you have us - Mech, the future of technology. The future of civilization. We are the illuminating beacon that will lead the world into the new era, the torch that will light the way." He paused, turning around to pace the other way. "On the other hand, you have that." With a lackadaisical hand he gestured to the truck. "A sentient robot that has no place in this world."
Then he turned, feet planted, and stared her down. "And you've chosen to side with it, the outsider, over all of humanity. Do you know what technology like that could be used for, in the right set of capable hands?" As he said this, he raised his hand, and slowly clenched his fists.
For a moment she simply stared him down, gun slightly lowered but still raised. "Y'know, you'd of made a great politician. You're really talented at tying in random facts and phrases in ways that make it sound as if you're doing the right thing, when really, you're just serving your own selfish needs. The way I see it, it's like this," She lowered her arms, gesturing with one hand, then the other. "On the one hand, there's you, an all around asshole. On the other, there's the truck, who's been nothin' but a gentlemen this whole time. To me, its easy to see who I should side with."
The man's eyes hardened, teeth clenching. "Very well." And then he had a gun raised in the blink of an eye.
The roar of an engine surprised them both - the truck reversed in double time, taking them both aback. Wendy did the one thing she could think to do: she leapt up and grabbed the hood. Scrambling to climb up higher, Wendy heard more than felt the truck suddenly take off. The movement sent her further up the front, until she was able to turn around and brace her hands and feet on the metal, gripping it as if her life depended on it.
"I hope you know what you're doing!" She screamed over the engine roar, eyes wide as they raced off across the grass, back towards the highway. The only thing she could hear was the blistering wind and the engine roar - and soon, smoke began to rise again. The truck wasn't doing well.
Then two of the sports cars whizzed in front of them, and the truck had to halt, spinning to the right. Wendy gripped for as long and as hard as she could, but eventually flew off, hitting the ground devastatingly hard. But in a flash she was on her feet, spinning around to rush to the vehicle.
The door opened for her and she leapt in, and then they were off again.
They sped between the two cars, back up the hill to the road, and Wendy had never been so relieved to see pavement. She expected to see the two sports cars flying up after them - instead, there was a billowing cloud of red smoke in her rear view. They had apparently been taken care of.
Still, all was not well. Some of the alarms had stopped but the truck was still in trouble, and this time, she didn't have a dime to her name to pay for repairs. Sighing, Wendy hit the pedal and whispered, "Just a bit further. We've gotta put some distance between us."
They drove a few more miles, then turned off into a fast food restaurant. Wendy leapt out and grabbed her tool bag, hoping she could mend something. They were so close, if they could just make it a little longer... With those thoughts in mind, she set about making repairs, ignoring her own pains and needs. There wasn't much she could do, but she did what she could, before collapsing in an exhausted heap in the driver's seat.
"Did what I could... it'll have to last to Jasper. We're so close." She went to turn the key and was hit with a sudden bout of dizziness, with a bit of nausea. One hand went to her head, the other to her stomach - her eyes widened. Why was her hand wet?
Dropping her gaze, Wendy realized suddenly that her white shirt was steadily turning red. "Well, fuck me," She whispered hoarsely; suddenly the truck flared to life, and began to reverse. She looked up. "And what're you doin'?"
The map vanished off the screen and was replaced with the red and white hospital symbol. "No!" Clutching the wound, Wendy gritted her teeth. That shout had hurt. "I don't have the money or insurance for anything - not to mention I'd get arrested. Hospitals ask personal questions, buddy."
You - are - injured.
"Yeah, but not badly. I can handle this." She reached over to her bags, searching around, before grimacing. "Shit! My first aid stuff was in the bag I lost."
I - will - take - you -
"No!" Wendy insisted still. "We gotta get to Jasper." She reached for the other suitcase, quickly removing a pair of jeans. "This'll do, for now." First, she lifted the shirt up to get a look. The wound was an inch long cut in her upper torso, and it was pretty deep, oozing blood over her pale skin. "Shit," Images of her fall from the front of the truck came to her. "Must of fell on a rock or somethin'..." She took the jeans and tied the legs around her waist. It was a bit awkward, but hopefully it would stem the flow.
With a sigh, she adjusted her position to be more comfortable, then gave a sardonic chuckle. "What a pair we make, huh? Both of us banged up, on the run, shit out of luck..." Another laugh; one of her hands gently traced the edges of the steering wheel. "Thank you, for not leavin' me behind back there."
The radio clicked on suddenly. Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down -
The laughter that burst from her this time was very real, though it sent spasms of pain through her chest. "Stop - stop - it hurts to laugh!" She fell silent, pressing one of her hands against the wound in an effort to stem the flow. Her other hand went to the wheel but it refused to allow her control. "I can still drive, you know," Even to her, her voice sounded raspy, weak. The radio clipped out one word: Rest.
For once she found herself too tired to argue.
The scenery became rockier, dustier, and more boring the closer they got to Nevada. Without anything to distract her besides the dull ache in her gut, and the slowly rising wooziness, she kept her eyes on the window and let thoughts wander into her head.
There were so many questions to ask, so many unsaid things, but Wendy was torn between quite a few dilemmas. Did she really want to know? Would she be allowed to know? And would it really matter if she had answers, since she'd never see the truck again after today? That thought made her wince, a pain worse than her physical torment squeezing her heart. She'd never been so disappointed by the end of a delivery.
In the end, her curiosity won out, and Wendy sat up, turning back to the wheel. "So... is what that guy said true? You're some kinda 'sentient robot'... or somethin'?"
There was quiet in the cab - then the static of the radio, and an answer. Yes.
A little burst of laughter - somewhat painful - escaped her. Wendy wiped the building sweat off her brow. "Gotta wonder why they'd make a truck into a super smart robot. Not that I'm complainin'. So you're some kinda government project... somethin' those guys want, and you've gotta get to Nevada, where I'm sure there's some kinda super secret military base, right?"
Something - like - that.
A half cocked smile came to her face. "Well... what happens then? You get locked up and kept secret for the rest of yer miserable existence?"
There was no more of an explanation than that, so Wendy decided to leave that alone. For another minute they simply drove, Wendy pressing the wound closed. They were very close to the end, close to safety... yet she couldn't help but feel almost... cheated.
"Have I thanked you yet? For everythin' you've done for me?" She asked out of the blue, trying to fill the silence.
I - should - be - thank - ing - you.
But she simply shook her head. "No, really." Her usually hard eyes softened an infinitesimal bit; her next words spoken so quietly they fell just shy of silence. "You have no idea what you've done for me."
Blurry vision - from tears or blood loss - came over her as she glanced down to her hand. It was trembling, and red; the jeans were soaked and it was dripping down her leg to the floor. "S - Sorry... I'm makin' a mess..."
The pedal moved on its own and suddenly, they were speeding down the highway, well above the posted limit. Wendy gave a dry chuckle.
"It would be so ironic..." More dry laughter as she glanced back up to the road, dizziness making her vision worse. "If I died now..." The delirious woman did not explain herself; her eyelids were getting heavy but she refused to shut them just yet. "Have I... thanked you? For everything?"
SAVE. YOUR. STRENGTH.
Everything was a blur as they began to drive faster and faster... time became nonexistent as Wendy grimaced and put her hands back on the wound.
"Hope we're gettin' close... for your sake and mine..."
Then, through her dimmed sight, she saw something vaguely familiar and irritating: a long line of green cars, stretched out in front of them on the dirt road. The truck was the only other car there - they had long left the highway during Wendy's delirium, and were now faced with the end.
This time, there was truly no way out. The road was blocked by perhaps ten cars, all filled with black clad, armed men. Wendy's heart sunk, and she kicked the door with a half hearted curse.
"Got any ideas?" The driver gasped. To her surprise, the radio spurred to life.
Lift - your - legs. Confused, Wendy stared - the cars were getting closer. Quick! Up - onto - the - seat!
So she lifted her legs up to her chest, put her feet on the seat - and suddenly everything changed.
Darkness enveloped her, along with a cacophony of metallic sounds, all around; then she was flying up like an elevator, jolted higher and higher, the sounds growing deafening. The walls drew in close, too close, leaving hardly enough room to breathe, and the air was hot enough to take her breath away.
Panic and confusion made war inside her as Wendy tried to make sense of what the hell was going on. Suddenly the world had turned on its axis - on the verge of hyperventilating, Wendy pushed her arms out, searched for the walls, for anything to touch.
That was when everything started to move, to shift violently up and down, back and forth, like an amusement ride. Pain shot through her chest as her wound was jostled, fear pumping the blood in her veins twice as fast.
Groping for something, anything, to hold on to, Wendy stuck her hand into a cavity - and suddenly was filled with warmth and bathed in a soothing blue light. Quick as lightning she snapped her hand back, and felt the pain and dizziness finally overtake her; her eyes fell shut as she went unconscious in the dark...
Ironically, the first thing she saw when she woke was light - a painfully bright light. Wincing, Wendy lifted a hand to shade her eyes, surprised by how heavy her limbs felt, how lethargic she was... Where was she? As soon as she tried to sit up, pain assaulted her, before gentle hands pushed on her shoulders.
"Careful, you'll rip the stitches..." A soft voice coaxed. After a bit of blinking, Wendy found her vision clearing: a black haired woman in scrubs was leaning over her with a smile. "Feeling better?"
Slowly, Wendy nodded, rubbing her head. "Where am I?"
It all came rushing back, everything, all at once. "The truck?"
"Safe and sound, thanks to you," The woman beamed at her as if she'd descended from the heavens, an angel on high. Then the nurse leaned away, and Wendy almost expected to see the truck behind her, but instead Agent Fowler was seen approaching.
"Great job, Ms. Martin." He actually smiled. "Crisis averted - and the 'truck' is back where he belongs."
Bristling, Wendy sat up again, putting her legs over the edge of the bed. A firm frown came over her lips. "Where is he?"
But Fowler shook his head. "Just leave it; it'd be safer for you to forget this ever happened."
She was not at all surprised - expected it, really - but the light in her eyes still dimmed in disappointment, her lips forming a sardonic smirk. "Forget... right." She chuckled darkly, slowly moving to stand. The nurse didn't interfere, but she stayed very close.
Once she was standing, a file folder appeared in her face. Wendy gave a snort. "What? More paperwork?"
Fowler just shoved it towards her. "Your reward."
The look on her face said she'd completely forgotten she'd been hired - somewhere on the road, it had transformed from a job into something personal. Gingerly she took the folder, removing a small stack of papers from inside. Her eyes scanned it, widening as she flipped through - her mouth slowly dropped open more and more. When she finally spoke, her voice was weak, and it had nothing to do with the pain.
"You did the world a great service by protecting that truck," Fowler began. "I'm sure you realized its a lot more than it seems... more even than you know. This -" He gestured. "- is a token of our appreciation."
Stunned, she held the papers higher, fascinated by whatever they held. "But... how..."
"I'm not a special agent for nothing. Your record's crystal clear as of right now... and there's enough money in that bank account to get you back on your feet. Not to mention..." There was a jingle of metal as he lifted up a key ring. The light in Wendy's eyes brightened.
"Not as 'special' as the one you're leaving... but it'll do its job."
Wendy accepted the keys with an eager smile, still blown away.
"You... how can I..." Laughing, Wendy gripped the keys tight.
Fowler seemed to understand, crossing his arms with a smile. Even the nurse was beaming. "Not everybody gets a do over kid. Take care with yours."
When she looked up, Wendy's mouth pulled into a firm, determined line that still managed to be a smile. If there were tears in her eyes, no one pointed it out. "I will." He began to walk away, presumably to lead her out of the building, when Wendy called to him. "Fowler?" He glanced back. "Can you pass on a message for me?" At his nod, she continued. "Tell the truck... tell 'em, 'Thanks again', and... goodbye." He gave a quick nod; after a pause, her look hardened and she stomped over to him, poking a finger into his chest. "You better take good care of that truck!" The woman proclaimed angrily. "He's the only friend I got - if I hear a word of y'all experimentin' on him or otherwise bein' fowl..."
"I got it," Fowler held his arms up in surrender but there was a big grin on his face. Said grin seemed to make Wendy realize what she'd been saying - she flushed and dropped her hand.
"... and make sure he gets my message."
"Somehow," Fowler smirked. "I think he knows."
It still felt like a dream even when she saw the truck. The thing was a beaut - fresh paint shining in the noon sun. There wasn't a dent in it, no wear, no tear. Somehow that thought made her throat tighten. Behind her stood Fowler by the entrance to the secret base she'd never see again, where the truck was.
Nervously, anxiously, Wendy began to turn her head, but she stopped before her eyes could land on the door. She bit her lip and snapped her head back to the truck before her. Her steps were skittish - as if she thought it might suddenly come to life, move on its own, talk to her. It didn't.
Wendy sighed as she gripped the door handle. "Thanks again, Fowler." This time she did glance back to him - but focused on him alone. "If you ever need help with another matter like this one -"
"I'll know who to call." He nodded his head.
With nothing else to say, Wendy realized with a sinking heart there was no more putting it off. Her face was blank as she opened the door and stepped up. The leather was smooth and soft, the wheel firm beneath her hands. It wasn't the same... but it would work.
A turn of the key and it was on. "Sounds all right..." She said mostly to herself. "It'll have to do."
And so she put on the gas and turned out towards the road; finally the need was too great and she couldn't not look. When she glanced back, all she could see was rock. There was no clue that, within that outlandish rockface somewhere, was a base, where an amazing piece of machinery - an amazing friend - remained.
"See you round, big guy," Wendy smiled, even as her heart ached, and felt more hopeful than she had in a long time. So she put her foot on the gas, headed out onto the road to embrace a future she'd never thought she'd have.
It was a week later, in a truck stop in Arizona, when she got the idea. She was already on a job, taking a load off for the night when she passed the tattoo parlor. She'd never given thought to body art before - never had money for it. Now, she had a good bit in savings, and though she wasn't rich, she was feeling adventurous. Perhaps the recent life changing events she'd survived called for a commemorative mark...
An image from the past floated into her head: a red, geometric face, strange and alien, seen on a steering wheel. Wendy thought about it, trying to recall all the details. She didn't know what it was or why it had been on the truck... but the idea stuck with her.
"Well, why not?" She whispered, stepping into the parlor with a grin. When she left a while later, there was a fist sized bandage on the side of her left shoulder.
In a few months, once it was healed, she would start wearing sleeveless shirts to show it off. When people asked for explanations, she would claim "personal meaning", and smile to herself. It was a talisman, a reminder of what she could do, what she had done, and the only "person" in the world she'd ever opened herself up to.
Her thoughts wandered often to the sentient truck and the three days she'd spent in his company. She didn't know if he was still in Nevada... didn't know anything about him. But she hoped he was doing okay - because, thanks to him, she was, for the first time in her life.