June 13th, 2061. San Francisco Bay, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 23.15 local time
Louise looked down at the guard on the ground. His chin was resting on his chest but his eyelids were starting to flutter. He was waking up. She couldn’t help but smile a little. “Wake up to a nasty surprise,” she thought.
She tugged at the zipper of the warm coat she had taken from him. It was at least 3 sizes too big for her but she wasn’t going to be picky. Luckily, he had remarkably small feet for a guy. His boots were a much better fit.
It had taken her quite some time to drag the man to the dock and tie him up with an old rope. He must have been sitting in the vehicle, waiting for the other guard to return from the ferry. But then, apparently, he had come out to pee, she guessed.
Louise snorted, giving him one last look. Barefoot and without his coat, he looked a lot less imposing. She turned around and quickly made her way to the car, shaking her head in amusement. This guy had even left the keys in the ignition.
She opened the door and sat down behind the wheel. She had already thrown the backpack, the flashlight and the gun onto the back seat before checking on the unconscious guard one last time.
“How do I drive this thing?” she asked the dashboard.
There was no computer system to answer her question, unfortunately. She put her hands on the wheel. It couldn’t be that different from piloting a pod in emergency mode, right? She tried to remember what she had seen El do while driving.
Her eyes focused on the stick in the middle of the console. El had used that to select the direction of the car, she thought. She grabbed it and pushed it forward. Nothing happened.
She searched the buttons around the dashboard and rolled her eyes after spotting the big start and stop control next to the wheel. How had she missed that before? She pushed it and the engine started.
But the car still wasn’t moving. Louise blew out a nervous breath. She was losing valuable time. She pictured El sitting in the driver’s seat again. Her hand on the stick, the other on the wheel. Her knee had been moving up and down, she now remembered.
“Feet!” Louise said out loud.
She now spotted the two pedals at her feet. She pushed down on the right one. The car shot back with a jolt. Louise quickly lifted her foot. She shifted the stick to the other side and tried the pedal again, more carefully this time.
Finally, the car started moving forward. Louise glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the guard was still tied up. She smiled triumphantly. She was doing this. She was getting out of here.
She steered the car onto the road at a crawling speed. She assumed the other pedal at her feet was the braking system and tested it for a second. The vehicle came to a halt. Satisfied, Louise switched back to the gas pedal.
“Let’s go,” she told herself with a grin.
Her confidence faded quickly, though. The narrow road she was driving on had a lot of twists and turns. She was starting to doubt if she would be able to do this. She was holding on to the wheel so tightly her fingers were beginning to hurt.
“You have to make it,” Louise mumbled. “Take it one turn at a time….”
15 tense minutes later, Louise finally reached a road that was wider and easier to navigate. She wiped her forehead with her sleeve. She stretched her fingers and tried to relax her grip a little.
She needed to stay calm. She still had at least 2 more hours to go, she estimated. She was driving much slower than El or Woodward had. It was too risky to go any faster as an inexperienced driver.
Having some extra time to come up with a plan wouldn’t hurt either, she had to admit. For starters, Louise had no idea how to find the way to the presidential residence. What to do next if she did find it, was an even bigger question.
Louise arrived at a crossroads she didn’t recognize. She hoped that wasn’t a sign she was heading in the wrong direction. She pushed the break as subtly as she could. It still made the car shake as it came to a halt abruptly.
“Left or right?” she asked herself.
The city’s skyline was hidden by the hills so she couldn’t use that to tell which way to turn. Louise studied her hands while she thought. An image of El’s hand squeezing hers flashed through her mind.
When had El done that? Entwined her fingers with Louise’s? Was it the time they were on their way back after sending the report? Or had it been earlier when they had driven to the inspection site and Louise had asked her to switch on the radio?
Her eyebrows shot up. The radio! Louise studied the row of buttons on the console. She pushed the biggest one and a booming voice immediately filled the car.
“The explosion is said to be an accident. Luckily, the ferry was not carrying any civilian passengers and was operating with minimal staff. A search and rescue operation for survivors is underway.”
Louise leaned back in the seat, taking in this information. Had they already found the guard? Had they freed him before the press had gotten wind of it? They were clearly covering up the real reason behind the explosion.
A flash of light pulled her from her thoughts. A car was fast approaching on her left. She thought she saw several others behind it. Blue lights were flashing on top of all of them.
“Shit,” she cursed and pressed down the gas pedal a little too heavily. The car shot forward and she barely managed to make the turn to the right. She didn’t slow down, though. She had to get out of the way like any other driver would do.
“Go the right, go to the right,” Louise whispered under her breath, willing the emergency vehicles to take a different road than the one she was on.
She squeezed the wheel. When the first car did indeed make the turn, she blew out a breath. The other vehicles turned to the right too, barely slowing down, racing towards their destination. Probably the ferry dock, Louise guessed.
She pursed her lips. Those emergency responders had to come from the city. She slowed down the car and started looking for a spot to circle back. It took another mile before she found a place without bushes on either side of the road.
She made a slow U-turn, her hands clamped around the steering wheel. Once she had taken the turn, she sped up and passed the crossroads again a few minutes later.
After about 5 miles, the road bent to the right around a hill. She was thrilled to see the skyline coming back into view. With every passing mile, Louise grew more confident. She grinned at herself in the rearview mirror.
She gasped. Her reflection was almost unrecognizable. The wind had blown her hair into what looked like a ridiculously wild mane. Her eyes were twinkling. Her lips were curled up into a confident smirk. A whole new Louise, she thought.
El’s name ringing through the speakers snapped her out of her reverie. She frowned and looked down at the console. She had completely forgotten about the radio. She turned up the volume, her eyes back on the road.
“Today’s lockdown was a matter of precaution, the secret service said in a statement. President Lucas was never in harm’s way.
Everything has returned back to normal at the presidential residence and President Lucas is expected to give a speech in the morning at the new sustainable power plant, B2 station.
And now back to tonight’s regular programming with…”
“Business as usual,” Louise said out loud.
Was Woodward waiting for the global coalition to attack rebel territory before he set the next part of his plan in motion? Probably. He might want everything to look normal until then. That gave Louise a bit of time. But not much.
Louise and Hobbs hadn’t sent in a report tonight. The global coalition teams would sound the alarm soon. How long would it take for Michelle to convince the Global Council to bomb the rebels? 24 hours? 48?
She switched off the radio. She needed to focus. First, she had to make sure El was safe. Louise nodded. Yes, she would forget about Michelle and the global army for now. Her main priority was saving El.
That meant her first step had to be taking out Woodward. She almost laughed at that thought. “Look at me,” she thought. “In the middle of Fireblue territory trying to come up with a way to neutralize a rogue group within the rebel government.”
Louise frowned. Shit, she hoped it was just a small group. It had to be. The Fireblue people had elected El just over a year ago. El had always campaigned on the value of compromise and better relations with the global coalition.
Before she had met her, Louise hadn’t believed a single word of El’s campaign promises. But now, she did. A small group of fear-mongering radicals threatened El’s peaceful vision, though.
“Over my dead body,” Louise said.
She wasn’t going to let anything happen to El. She had thought she would never get a second chance to show El how she felt. But she had been wrong. She did have a second chance now. A sudden sense of longing made her throat tighten.
She hoped El would listen to her. She hoped Woodward hadn’t convinced El that she had failed. That she had let Louise use her. She prayed El, somewhere deep down, still believed in herself.
Louise knew all too well how someone you loved could break you. In a way, Michelle had done to Louise what Woodward was now doing to El. He was telling her she wasn’t good enough.
“You fucking asshole,” Louise spat out.
She sped up the car a little more. She was getting closer to the city. The distant lights of the outskirts had finally come into view. She might reach them sooner than she thought.
But then what? Was there a way for her to get into the presidential residence and find El? She remembered the checkpoint at the entrance well. She doubted she could get past those guards. They would recognize her immediately.
No, she had to find another way in. A plan was starting to take shape in her mind. It wasn’t bulletproof. Far from it. But it was the only plan she had.