Vivienne ran her hand over the smooth paint work of her new car. There was something special about it, something that she had found in no other car. It was a custom that dated back to the late eighties, the car originally being made during the seventies, over fifty years ago. It was a Ford XB coupe, an old V8. The styling had been changed a little, but it still had the class of the original. Styling that showed some imagination, rather than the decade of box shaped cars that followed.
Vivienne had found it lying in the back corner of a large country wrecking yard. The body damage was slight and most parts had been left on it. The differences in styling had saved panels being ripped off to keep other cars of the same era going. Of course the monster power plant had been taken. The interior had faded and cracked through years of sitting in the sun, as had the paintwork. The original customizer had put a lot of effort into rust-proofing the car so the red cancer had barely touched it.
Now, several months and many dollars later, it was a glistening testimony to the way they used to make cars. Some concessions had been made to modern technology. Light armor panelling had been worked in behind the sheet metal and new bullet proof windows had been formed. The fully balanced and blueprinted engine was the latest in switched fuel injected/supercharged technology. The weapons and targeting equipment had never been factory fitted on this model car either, considering its age.
Vivienne climbed into the driver's seat and shut the door. A single touch of the start button and the on-board computer primed and started the engine. She fastened her seat-belt before taking hold of what convention identified as the steering wheel. Gear selection and weapon controls were all handled from the steering wheel. There were safety interlocks on the weapons. A touch on one of the switches brought up the weapon status.
Dropping the car into low gear, Vivienne drove slowly away. She waved out the side window to her mother, Madeline, or Peach as everyone called her. Peach was nursing her new daughter, Alicia. Brian, Peach's husband and Moko their adopted daughter were there also. Viv waved again before pushing her right foot to the floor, easing up only to toggle up to the next gear.
Vivienne had decided the time had come to visit her adoptive parents. It was several years since she had seen them last, and she left them without letting them know she was going. It wasn't that they had not been good to her. It seemed they had tried to buy her love, but that had not worked. Vivienne had eventually become one of the local gang of car enthusiasts, using her father's money to ensure she had the fastest car in the area. This led to her undoing: Straight stretch of road. Two hundred plus miles per hour. Truck pulls out. Try to take corner. Hit tree. Wake up in hospital half dead.
Once again her father's wallet had come to the rescue. New cybernetic legs and various internal organs where the damage had been too extensive. A good portion of her spine had been replaced. Critical areas had also been armored during the rebuild. All of the cybernetics had been covered with real flesh, giving an appearance that was as good as the real thing. A self healing system had been installed as well, resulting in the rapid healing of any flesh injury or cut.
Vivienne was a lot quieter now. Recovery had been slow and it took her a long time to regain confidence. About two years after the crash, she had met Peach. Peach was an unusual girl, looking a lot younger than she was. She also was a cyborg. She and Vivienne had got on well from the start and spent the next four years cruising around outback Australia together. A series of events had led them to an amazing discovery. Vivienne was Peach's daughter!
Vivienne's adoptive parents lived in a suburb of Sydney which meant heading up the Hume from Melbourne. If she didn't worry about the speed limit, she should be able to make her destination by evening. The small Victorian Police marking on the rear bumper would give her some immunity. She was not a member of the police force but an extreme sacrifice on her part had left them in her debt.
After finally getting clear of the city centre, the uncongested country highway stretched out in front of her. The Hume was still a major truck route, so it was largely devoid of the kind of trouble making scum that collected around the less popular routes. Though undoubtedly some hot head would take offence at being overtaken and would seek to prove his manhood by challenging. That was where the vulcan came in.
Viv checked the current fuel economy on the car's computer. It was good having the switched supercharger. It meant that you could go a lot further on a tank of fuel than with a full-time supercharger like her last car had. Of course economy had not even come into consideration with her original street racer. That thing had run a full race-bred engine that she had managed to disguise from the authorities. She usually referred to that car as "that thing" as she had no particularly fond memories of it now.
Two cars were running side by side just ahead. Viv could not tell if they were trying to race or not because their speed was comparatively slow. Neither car was of a type known for their power. Vivienne flashed her car's headlights at the car in front of her. It slowed a little, then pulled into the left lane to allow her to pass. She acknowledged the driver as she drove past. It was unlikely that either would challenge. Sub-compacts would not stand all that good a chance against her larger vehicle. The sub-compact switched back into right lane as Vivienne pulled away.
A couple more miles of straight road, then a gentle curve. Vivienne glanced at the handling monitor as she went around the curve without slowing. A couple of times it flickered from green to amber. If it hit red, it meant the car was at the absolute limit of its road holding ability and was in danger of coming unstuck. As the road straightened up again, she glanced across at the fuel gauge. It sat around quarter full. Viv was feeling hungry anyway, so she decided to pull in at the next service station.
A truck stop was the next service facility that she came across so she slowed, dropping down through the gears. The crackling of the exhaust amused her. People always looked up when they heard it. She pulled into the truck stop and parked the car so that she would be able to see it from the cafe. She tapped the kill switch as she stepped from the vehicle. The car was programmed to recognize her cybernetics so she needed no keys.
The guy behind the counter served her instantly. Others were still waiting for service so she flashed them a smile as she paid for her meal with cash rather than the phone number the guy had been hoping for. She sat at a window seat and watched the passing traffic as she chewed on her hamburger. The food tasted ok, not like the plastic food available at most fast food chains in the cities.
She could hear a faint grinding sound so she looked around to find its source. She eventually spotted a battered car crawling up the drive way and into the car park. After looking at it thoughtfully for a few moments, she recognized it as the same sub-compact she had passed earlier. Obviously it had become involved in a substantial fight. Vivienne cringed as it scraped into the parking spot next to hers. The driver gathered a few things from in it then walked into the cafe. Buying a can of soft drink from a machine, he came and sat at the table, opposite Vivienne.
Vivienne looked him up and down briefly. He was reasonably dressed in casual clothes. Basically, he did not look like a trouble maker or a con man.
"Are you looking for me?" Viv asked.
"Sort of. Actually I'm after your car." He replied. "My name is Cole. Nick Cole," he said dropping his licence in front of Vivienne as proof. "I'm a courier."
"And you drive that thing?" Vivienne laughed.
"In an attempt to remain inconspicuous, yes."
"Well, I think someone saw through your trick."
"Yes, but he wont tell anyone."
"What are you carrying, anyway, or won't you tell?"
"Let's just say it's some vital evidence for a case in Sydney. I spotted your bumper sticker and figured who could help better than an off-duty cop."
"Hate to disappoint you but I'm not a cop."
"Oh." he grunted then swung around as he heard a voice by the door.
"Cole. Say good-bye to the lady. You're coming with me." the rough looking character by the door growled.
Cole lifted his hands as he looked at the sawn off shotgun that was being pointed at him. He stood and slowly moved forward, blocking the man's view of Vivienne. He was playing his last card, hoping Vivienne would see what he was doing. She did. As Cole moved from in front of the ruffian she fired her pistol.
"Sorry about the mess, guys. The cops will pay handsomely for him." She said as she jumped up and followed Cole out the door.
"I wondered if you would come through." Cole stated.
"Here's your licence." Viv said as she passed it to him. "I recognized the thug from the wanted posters back at the station.".
"I thought you said you weren't a cop."
"I'm not. My mother and her husband are, though." she explained, "and I have the bad habit of getting involved."
"Are going to drive me to Sydney?"
"I don't want my car's new paint scratched."
"If the car gets wrecked I'll replace it."
"Do you have a time machine?"
"Oh never mind. Get in. You can start by paying for this tank of fuel."
"Would you consider letting me drive?"
"Would you prefer to walk?"
"Ok, ok. You fill the tank and I'll go pay for it."
Five minutes later they were on the road again. Cole looked the car's dash over pretty thoroughly, trying to find out what secrets the car held.
"I want to see what the car is capable of."
Vivienne toggled back a gear and pushed the accelerator to the floor. While being impressive this sort of power was quite common. Cole shook his head.
"I was hoping for more. Do you have nitrous?"
"No." Viv had a thing about nitrous. It had cost her legs - twice.
Cole clapped his hand to his forehead. What was the world coming to. He considered nitrous to be a vital part of any car.
"However..." Viv continued, "I do have this." She hit the supercharger select switch and floored the accelerator again. The rear tyres broke traction and the car swerved slightly sideways leaving thick clouds of white smoke before rapidly accelerating up to top speed. Vivienne glanced sideways at Cole as she wove between a couple of semi trailers. She was satisfied with his white face and blank stare.
"Happy now?" she asked as she switched back to fuel injection. Cole just ran his fingers through his hair and slowly shook his head.
"Anyway, what's your name, Lady?" he finally asked.
"Lady Vivienne Cornell, actually. Just call me Vivienne."
"I think I'm beginning to regret this." Cole muttered to himself. He had some vague memory of a much publicised car accident. "You're not a clone are you?"
"Hell no. Why do you ask?"
Cole sat in silence for the next quarter of an hour, occasionally glancing behind. He turned toward Vivienne, slightly worried.
"The black car coming up behind us rather fast. He's trouble. Some sod at the cafe must have told him that I hitched a lift with you."
"Bright orange cars are hard to hide aren't they." Vivienne mused. "If he passes, he doesn't know. If pulls in behind us, we'll have to get rid of him."
The black car pulled into the same lane as Vivienne's car without slowing. Vivienne enabled the supercharger and weapon systems.
"No one else around?" Vivienne queried as she looked in the rear view mirror.
"He's going to ram." Cole warned.
"That's what he thinks." Vivienne dropped a gear and pushed the accelerator to the floor. As the tyres broke traction, she swung on the wheel, away from the direction the car was sliding, causing it to go into a spin. She hit the fire button as the black car came into the sights. By this time, the driver in the black car was already panicking, trying to avoid what he thought to be a car that was out of control. The bullets caught him off guard. He dodged, running off the shoulder of the road, knocking a cats-eye post out of the ground. Vivienne straightened her car up and slowed a little so that she was behind the black car as it skidded back onto the road. Once again the orange car's vulcan started chewing at the black car's armour. Cole had his hands over his eyes. He didn't scare easily but this girl was too much.
"What are you trying to do, scare him to death?" he gasped.
"Yes, something like that." Vivienne accelerated again, baring down on the black car. It started twitching, becoming more unstable as the driver tried to escape the stream of shells. Ahead the road curved to the right so Vivienne cut across to the right lane and started to creep along side the black car. The handling indicator on Vivienne's dash went red.
"We are going too fast to take this curve." Cole almost screamed.
"So is he." Vivienne replied, suddenly slamming her foot on the brake. They watched as the black car left the road, ploughed through a sign post then rolled end for end a couple of times before coming to a stop on its roof.
"Aargh." Cole said.
"And all that without a scratch to my paintwork."
"Aargh. Female logic. The poor bastard didn't even get a chance to shoot."
"He can't have been much of a driver."
"Only the second best hit man that money can buy. The guys at home will never believe me when I tell them."
Cole sat in silence for the next few minutes, waiting for his adrenalin level to subside. When he finally felt capable of coherent speech he again turned to Vivienne.
"I'd like you to fill me in on a few details."
"There was this girl called Lady or something who used to race around Sydney. She vanished without a trace a few years ago. You wouldn't happen to be this Lady would you?
"And what if I was?"
"Oh brother!" Cole clapped his hand to his forehead. "The Lady is back! Stop the car. I think I'd rather walk."
"That would be great wouldn't it? I draw away all of the hit men while you travel in safety. No thanks. If they are going to shoot at my car, you can pay for the repairs. How many of these guys are chasing you anyway."
"We've disabled three between us so far, so I guess that means there are only a few hundred left."
"If this info is so important, how come you don't have a bit more of a guard?"
"A convoy was set up as decoy. I was meant to slip in to Sydney totally undetected in my inconspicuous sub-compact, but someone's squealed on me it seems."
"Meanwhile everyone wants to shoot at my new car."
"Pull in at the next stop for a reload. We'll need it."
Vivienne looked at her watch. They were making better time than she had hoped. The fuel gauge was approaching the empty mark again and she had used some more of the ammo to silence a teenager with an ego problem. The only problem was that Cole's antagonists had combined to form a gang and they were slowly gaining on Vivienne's car at the moment. She counted a dozen bikers. A heavy black cruiser lurked behind them. A couple of bullets thudded into Vivienne's car.
"Time to cover your eyes, Cole. We have company." Vivienne dropped a couple of mines. The bikers dodged but the black cruiser didn't see them in time. It slowed and pulled off the road, it's front quarter spewing flame. The bikes caught up to Vivienne's car and closed around it, a couple of the bikers firing occasional bursts from hand held SMG's.
"They seem to be eager to take you alive, Cole. Why would that be? If your so called evidence turns out to be nothing of the sort, I'll be after your hide too. But first, lets lose these bikers." Vivienne said as she planted both feet on the brake pedal. The car shook as the two bikes behind hit the rear armor. She hit the supercharger switch and cut across the dividing strip and into the oncoming traffic. The bikers followed her.
"What are you doing?" Cole gulped.
"More fun this way." Vivienne said as two cars swerved to avoid her, one broadsiding a careless biker.
Two semi-trailers were approaching them, one in each lane. They were flashing their lights and sounding their horns. Vivienne aimed her car straight between them. Some of the bikers peeled off the side of the road while three of them stayed behind Vivienne. Just as she was going into the gap between the trucks Vivienne slammed on the brakes. Two bikers tried to dodge, falling under the trucks. The third ran in to the back of the XB.
"Scratch five." Vivienne said as the rider flew over the car onto the road ahead.
"So, apart from the mine dropper does this car have any rear weapons?" Cole ventured.
"Yes, the brakes."
"I was afraid you'd say that."
Vivienne swerved the car back across the divider strip and onto the correct side of the road again, firing a couple of bursts at another biker. The remaining bikers soon closed in around the XB again. Viv looked down at the dash when an alarm sounded. The fuel gauge was showing nearly empty.
"Damn supercharger." Viv muttered.
"Fuel stop ahead if you can lose these bikers."
"No probs. Watch."
Viv tapped the brakes. The bikers behind her, now becoming familiar with the tactic pulled into the left lane. Still braking lightly, Viv swerved into the other lane right where the bikers were, knocking several off their bikes. She braked a little harder and turned into the service station. The remaining bikers didn't stop.
Vivienne walked around the car inspecting the damage. The drivers side armor had taken a beating and a crack had developed in the side window. The rear damage was extensive but about half of the armor was still intact. The weapons were ok.
"All reloaded and refuelled, Lady." the service station hand said. "Nice car. Pity about the damage. How long you had it?"
"Cole, pay the man."
Vivienne ducked as the side window shattered. The black cruiser tried to pass again and she blocked its way.
"How much further to your destination? We aren't going to be able to hold out much longer." Viv asked.
"Just a couple of miles."
The XB shuddered as it clipped the front of the cruiser.
"Damn. Who is this guy anyway."
"You know how you got the second best hit man earlier?"
"Well this guy is better than him."
"Oh great. I've lost sight of the biker. Can you see him?"
"He's behind the cruiser."
Vivienne dropped her last two mines in a desperate attempt to lose the
black cruiser. It pulled to one side to avoid them, allowing the biker
past. An alarm sounded from Vivienne's dash and she glanced across at the
warning indicator. The supercharger had overheated. The car's computer
had automatically transferred back to fuel injection. A roar outside the
shattered window caught Vivienne's attention. She turned just in time to
see the biker point his shotgun through the window. The blast caught Vivienne
in the chest. The XB went sideways as the black cruiser rammed the rear.
Cole tried to reach across to the steering wheel, but his safety harness
restrained him. He swore as the XB began to roll.
Cole shook his head in an attempt to clear it. The XB had landed on its wheels. He looked around to see what had become of the assailants. Behind, the black cruiser had hit a tree and caught fire. The biker was up ahead. He was coming back to investigate the wrecked XB. Cole drew his machine pistol and leaned across Vivienne's body, waiting for the biker.
The biker slowly rolled up to the XB, still holding his shotgun. As soon as Cole could get a clear shot, he let loose with the machine pistol.
"So the last one falls." he said as he collected his satchel from where it had been thrown. He climbed out through the XB's windscreen opening and jumped down beside the fallen motorcycle. He pushed the body of the biker aside and righted the bike. It looked intact enough to ride. One last look at Lady. She deserved that at least. He hadn't wanted her to die. Cole leaned in through the window and pushed her hair from in front of her face. He felt her warm breath on his hand as he did so. Alive? After that wound? He felt for a pulse. He found it without much trouble.
Suddenly Cole's priorities had changed. There should be no trouble from hit men for a while and the court case wasn't for a week yet. He released Vivienne's safety harness. Grabbing hold of the door with both hands, he tried to open it. After a couple of attempts, it gave way with a grating creak. He pulled Vivienne from the wreck and carried her to the bike. Seating himself, he pulled Vivienne side saddle across the fuel tank.
Cole started the bike, and slowly drove away from the carnage. The next stop:- one of the major hospitals. If Viv was to have any chance, he thought.
Arriving at one of the hospitals, Cole drove straight up the wheelchair ramp and into the lobby, ignoring the complaints from nearby nurses. He yelled for some attention. A doctor and a couple of orderlies approached. The doctor caught sight of Vivienne's wound.
"We can't perform miracles, you know."
"Just shut up and help her. I don't know how but she's still alive."
The doctor signaled to the orderlies. "Get her into theatre, NOW."
The next two hours dragged by slowly. Cole was still sitting on the motorcycle in the lobby. He had refused any help for his minor injuries. So far he had heard no news on Viv and at the moment that was all he was interested in.
Someone called his name and he looked up to see the doctor approaching. He was amazed at how hard it was to read the doctor's face. The guy had a lot of practice at keeping it from showing emotion, Cole surmised.
"Pretty amazing woman you have there, Mr Cole."
"She's ok then?"
"When can I see her?"
"Come back in the morning. She's sleeping. You look like you could do with a night's sleep yourself."
"She'll be fine. Trust me. And get that motorbike out of here."
Cole delivered the satchel to the court-house. All it contained was a solitary disk with enough information on it to put one of the country's crime bosses behind bars for good. The disk was not a copy. It had been seized during a raid on a Melbourne house several months ago. Many attempts had been made by the crime boss to recover it. Now it was over for him.
The job was over for Cole too. The pay was excellent, more than enough to replace his car and the exotic vehicle that Lady had been driving. After arranging a salvage team to collect the wrecked XB, he sacked down in the court-house barracks. He was so tired that he didn't wake until mid morning. He bathed and dressed in some neater clothes before riding around to the hospital.
Parking the bike outside this time, he walked inside and up to the enquiries desk.
"I'm here to see Lady Vivienne Cornell."
"Just a moment." the nurse on duty replied and started searching through her records. Somebody else queued behind Cole, but he didn't bother to look, that was until they grabbed him around the waist.
"Are you going to buy me a new car?" a female voice asked. Cole turned to face Vivienne. She was smiling up at him. She was wearing a dress with a low neck line. Cole could see the wound to her chest had completely healed. No scaring was evident, either. Cole tapped her on the chest.
"You had a dirty great hole here. Where'd it go?"
"How? You have only been in overnight. Most people would still be on the critical list. They haven't activated a clone of you have they?"
"No. It's the same me. As to how, it's my secret."
"Come on. Tell me."
"Later, perhaps. But meanwhile, since you've managed to destroy my car, how would you like drive me around to my folk's place."
"I think I'd like that."
This fictional work is the product of my imagination. Any similarities to anything at all is purely coincedental.
Copyright 1997 by Ken Stone
I can be contacted at <sasami AT blaze.net.au>
or at my Web site Annedroid.