Beetle drove up the cracked pavement road as fast as the depleted solar car would go, and Subject Seven followed.
He’d seen flashes of Seven in the rearview, racing along the roadside behind him, ducking in and out of debris, cactus, and brush. He’d stunned it, that much he knew for sure. Zapped it good from six feet away with his taser, a killer shot by anyone’s standards, but it had recovered so quickly. It was then Beetle realized he never should have come alone, or this late in the day. Now, with no sun to charge the solar car and no juice in the batteries, he was a few minutes away from having to run. And that would be a problem.
He’d tracked the damn thing all afternoon. The crumbled city was a veritable labyrinth of places for it to hide. Every collapsed building hid dark basements and closets. Every alleyway had piles of brick and trash, perfect hiding spots for a being as disgusting and ruthless as the one he was tracking. Then he’d found the lair. Both terrified and excited, Beetle had waded through nests of saliva-drenched newspaper wads and balls of stringy brown hair. Mounds of ripped and shredded fabrics, dirty sweaters, blue jeans, kids’ blankets all culled from the abandoned storefronts and dragged into the basement of one of the collapsed buildings on Main Street. But Subject Seven wasn’t in the nest. Satellite technology was not what it used to be, and that could explain the error in Dr. Washington’s calculations, but he had a feeling, all while climbing through chunks of the abandoned town the thing called home, that it was setting him up.
The damn thing knew he was coming and set up a false trail. One he followed until it nearly took his head off.
It was smarter than they thought. And more brutal.
They’d jumped him in an alley, Subject Seven and Eight working in tandem. He hadn’t even considered that Eight could be a threat. He’d nearly had his skull separated from his body before he’d gotten the taser in his hands and zapped them both, laid them flat on their backs (he’d given Seven a swift kick, too, not that he would tell anyone). He’d grabbed Eight and ran.
Now he glanced in the back seat at the mound beneath the blanket. Eight was still there—unconscious and safe. If he brought Subject Eight back, he’d receive a hero’s welcome. Dr. Washington could continue her experiments and “set the world straight again,” as she put it. If he failed? He didn’t know who he was more afraid of, Dr. Washington or Subject Seven.
His foot pressed the acceleration pedal to the floor, but the car continued to creep slower and slower, lurching like a drunk toward home. He had minutes before the juice ran out. Minutes until he was stranded with Seven coming after him.
“Come on, you bastard,” he said through gritted teeth. He pressed his foot down until it hurt, but the car continued to slow.
“Oh God,” he breathed, his fingers trembling as he glanced into the rearview. Where was Seven?
The solar car was safety, a solid steel-alloy frame with giant all terrain tires. What would he do when it finally died? Roads were a joke, concrete broken into more pieces than a shattered plate. How in the hell did he think he’d get away on foot carrying the nearly seventy pound cargo behind him? He couldn’t leave Eight behind. Dr. Washington would banish him into the desert.
The taser should’ve laid Subject Seven out longer. He thought a zap that powerful might’ve killed the thing. That one error might mean the end of his life.
The car struck something and jarred to a stop. Beetle’s chest rammed into the steering wheel, shooting pain up his sternum. He heard a thump and felt something slam into his seat from behind. He hoped Eight was okay. Pressing the accelerator once more, wheels spun sluggishly, but the car stayed put. He was stuck.
“Sonovabitch!” he screamed, pounding the steering wheel until it hurt. Why wasn’t he paying attention to the road? Goddammit, he was not going to die. He was not!
Glancing out the car windows and seeing nothing but buttes and scraggly cactus, Beetle swung open the car door and ran to the stuck tire. The concrete had fallen away, tumbling into a broken pile on the bottom of a three foot crevice that cut jaggedly across the left side of the road. It had probably been created by those earthquakes they felt a few months ago. If he had seen it he probably could’ve dodged it, but he was too preoccupied with looking in the rearview. He leaned down beside the crack and examined his predicament. The tire dangled into the open space and the car was resting on its frame. If the batteries had any juice, he could gun it in reverse and probably get free, but the car had given up the ghost.
“Shit! Shit, shit, shit!” he yelled and then regretted it, swinging around to look for Seven. So far nothing. Dear Christman Jesus, he had to hurry.
God, how far was he from base? In the distance, he could see the dip in the road that led home. Why had Dr. Washington sent him alone? Why wasn’t the team watching on the satellite and sending help? Maybe they were watching and didn’t care. Maybe this was all part of Washington’s plan. To see what Subject Seven would do when provoked. Sweat pouring down, Beetles face, he decided to hell with the Subject Eight. To hell with Dr. Washington. He didn’t want to be torn to pieces and left on the pavement for birds to pick at his guts.
When he heard heavy breathing behind him, all the hairs stood up on the back of his neck.
He turned slowly.
From the periphery of his vision he saw the huge shape just before it clobbered him.
He fell hard. His head jarred against the pavement with a smack that radiated through his body. Blackness gathered.
When he came to, everything was blurry, fuzzy shapes in brown and yellow and green. He couldn’t remember… Subject Seven. He turned, but pain shot up into his head sharp enough for consciousness to fade. He blinked his eyes into focus.
Subject Seven was climbing in the solar car, tearing it apart in a frenzy. Beetle heard the creak of complaining metal as the car’s door was bent back.
“Ssstop,” Beetle slurred, fumbling. Where was the taser? His trembling hands crept down his sides, searching for pockets that seemed miles away. The pulsing pain at the back of his skull threatened to end him, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Dr. Washington’s greatest achievement. And her worst.
“Don’t take it,” he managed.
Subject Seven turned and pounced.
All air chuffed away as Seven slammed both feet into his chest. He gulped for oxygen, but there was none to be found. He opened his eyes to see Seven’s face above his, evaluating, calculating. There was no mercy in that gaze.
The last thing he felt was the blow to his skull.
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