He stared off into space. I curled my fingers into a fist and got ready to fight. A dozen men made little difference at this point, I wasn’t about to walk out of here with nothing but a string of pearls to show for all that.
“OH! Yes, right you are. I was testing you!” he lied through his rotting teeth. “You passed.” After further negotiation I wound up riding out of there with my bike, the pearls, four other necklaces and a stack of about 25,000 krona. I was at the end of my rope, about ready to kill him and it must’ve shown.
I’d also talked him into replacing the bike’s motor such that it now moves at a much quicker clip than before. The thrill diminished my lingering anger somewhat. I wonder if Dave and Dinesh are buddies? At this point it wouldn’t surprise me.
I spotted a few raised eyebrows as a I zipped past. Locals unaccustomed to seeing one of these things doing over 20 miles per hour. I stopped at a traffic light next to that bubble trike from the canal and once again gave it a long, hard stare. It really is the weirdest looking thing.
The petite Chinese man inside only stared back, as if to say “What do you mean, why am I driving a bubble trike? Why AREN’T you? Where’s YOUR bubble trike?” Which would be a fair question. It looked to be just about ideal for the local transport ecosystem.
This is what economic evolution decided was a good solution for this environment. Not substantially more powerful or complex than a typical ebike, but with just enough insulation from the often toxic atmosphere and harsh weather to make commuting tolerable during the winter, or during a gas storm.
There is nothing like vehicular machismo here. The American male’s romance with big, loud, fast automobiles is an absurdity and an alien notion in a country where the concept of “little cleverness” glorifies efficiency and shrewdness over wasteful chest thumping.
It gave me reason to reconsider what I really wanted out of my new life in China. Do I even really want a fancy apartment? Do I even want to be back on a motorcycle? Maybe this is an opportunity to downsize, instead of trying to transplant my old life into an environment it’s ill suited to.
But there would be no new life in China. The last day of Dad’s one week time limit came and went, at which point I knew he was in more trouble than he could get himself out of alone. I’d dreaded this the past few days, but held out hope that he’d be fine without me.
Because that apparently wasn’t the case, after fencing my cut of the haul and putting most of it into Seacoin so it wouldn’t raise any red flags in some government database that would connect it to the recent heist, I chartered a flight to South America.
The waste of money pained me, as I’d already paid the first month’s rent and now had to pay storage fees for the ebike as well. I was still thinking in poverty mode though, having not yet refactored my priorities to account for my recent steep increase in personal wealth.
The chartered flight seemed to be my only option. Every alternative I compared it to was either drastically more expensive or didn’t land usefully near to the coordinates Dad indicated. I could take an airliner for example but it would put me down at an airport nearly a thousand miles from where I needed to go.
The chartered flight was aboard a six seater VTOL, apparently the smallest craft capable of intercontinental flight. Otherwise I’d have just hailed another air taxi. I shudder to think of the fare however, given what I was charged last time for the brief flight from prison to Dad’s seastead, less than twenty miles offshore.
It was the best of a lot of bad options. I could afford it anyway, and it would save me from having to navigate a thousand miles of dense jungle. I claimed the last seat on the flight leaving the soonest, 9am the following day.
My last night in China for the indeterminate future. Felt weirdly cozy and nostalgic. I’d worked so hard just to put myself in this shitty little excuse for an apartment. It felt humble and lean, but homey. I had some small amount of pride in it.
In my dingy, frankensteinian mess of ebike too, though it bears little resemblance inside compared to when Dave first handed it over. Like me, in a constant state of change, improving its capabilities piecemeal as resources permit.
I pulled the blanket up to my neck, then bent my legs a little so my feet wouldn’t stick out the bottom. After switching the lights off and waiting for my neighbor to finish his usual noisy evening activities, I drifted off to sleep.
The aircraft looked like pure sex, perched on the helipad. No helicopter has landed on or taken off from it in nearly a century, so it’s a bit of a misnomer. One of those funny linguistic atavisms, like “gas pedal”, or “smoking jacket”.
The sleek, aerodynamic hull had four engines arranged like the props of a quadrotor. Ducted fans in this case, or so I thought until I peered up into one of them and saw nothing resembling blades. It was empty all the way through, nothing but a series of metal coils.
“You must be the last minute addition.” A muscular looking fellow in a grey peacoat and sunglasses gestured from the open hatch for me to board. Only once inside, my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, did I realize the severity of my mistake.
The other four passengers were full metals. I immediately recognized them as the enforcers who raided Dad’s seastead. I backed away, at first meaning to run for it. But Peacoat McShades pulled a gun on me, and took hold of my arm.
“Don’t make a scene. We pride ourselves on minimizing collateral damage. If I meant to kill you, you’d be dead already. Take a seat and hear me out. It’s not as though you have any other choice, unless you’re content to leave here in a body bag.”
I weighed my options. Then I sighed, took the only open seat and buckled myself in. He smiled at me, unnaturally calm given the situation. “Good, good. I’ll bet you’re confused and frightened. Not to worry, I’ll fill you in on the way.”
I asked where he meant to take me. “You have it backwards” he insisted. “It’s you that will take us where we wish to go. Straight to your father’s last known location.” My stomach sank. They must have been closely monitoring me since arrival.
There was never any realistic hope of eluding them. They’d only been waiting for Dad to contact me, then for me to charter the flight so they could get ahold of the coordinates and a hostage Dad would care about.
“This is about me, isn’t it?” I pled. “Why involve him? You only needed him to find me in the first place.” The peacoat wearing fellow gestured dismissively. “The media blew your little stunt out of proportion. Small potatoes, compared to what your old man’s been up to.”
What could they mean? So far as I knew, Dad spent the last six years selling organic produce to conshelfers. I’d never before seriously considered the possibility that Dad had his own criminal life that he kept hidden from me.
The tree doesn’t grow far from the apple, I suppose. The aircraft shuddered, hull resonating subtly as it lifted off the pad. It wasn’t like engine vibration, exactly, but the hum commonly emitted by high current electrical machinery.
The craft lurched beneath me as it began to accelerate on its way out to sea. My abductor and his six fullmetal thugs jostled about in their seats, the seatbelts straining against their considerable weight.
Soon we ascended above the cloud layer and there was nothing to be seen in all directions but ocean. It would’ve been pleasantly serene if not for the tense atmosphere. If not for the fact that I was leading Dad’s probable assassins straight to him.
There wasn’t any opening to make my move just yet, though. Not in such a confined space with four fullmetals. I’d be beaten into strawberry jam before I could so much as get my hands around their boss man’s neck.
Stay Tuned for Part 32!