Pivots of Time
Author: Mike Barlow

Chapter 1
That First Night

Lauren exited the college gates, bearing right, crossing the main road as she made her way home. The windy autumn evening, while not hot or muggy, was pleasantly warm with the lingering heat of summer. The sun was unmistakeably on its way downwards towards the horizon, though an hour or so of daylight would be coaxed from it yet. The roads were quiet, quieter than usual for such an evening, though Lauren paid that no mind. She was inwardly-focused, her thoughts wrapped up in other affairs.

            A short while ago, barely a month past, a boy transferred onto Lauren’s course in Psychology from another college. Now that was nothing unusual, and she had overheard him telling another student that his parents had recently moved to the area for work. Nor had his behaviour been unusual – he had settled into the class well and made several friends. Not once since he joined had he spoken to Lauren – she did not resent this, nor really notice it – it was a large group of students, and not everybody knew everybody else. Lauren had only found out his name on the previous day, having never spoken to him and rarely to his friends. And then on this day, for no reason that Lauren could fathom, he had taken a seat beside her, and had spent the day attempting to engage in deep conversation with her.

            Lauren was baffled by this behaviour. Was he attracted to her? Possible that he had been too nervous to speak to her before, but why choose today to start, and why such odd conversation? For his method of conversation left Lauren feeling like she had been interrogated. He wanted to know where she lived, who she lived with, what times she and they are in the house – never asking these questions directly, of course, but finding some innocent sounding excuse for needing the information. Besides, the lack of confidence theory did not seem to fit – he had seemed to Lauren to be strange, obsessive, and overbearing, but definitely not unconfident.

            Lost in her thoughts and theories – maybe he was a case study for the psychology exam? – Lauren barely noticed the strange car parked across the road from her house. Its blacked-out windows made inspection impossible anyhow. Thinking vaguely that she was sure blacked-out windows were illegal in cars these days, she stepped inside the house, locking the door behind her. 

1.15am

After reading this figure from the centre of his dashboard, Alex felt inclined to fidget. The street was still quiet, still deserted. Nothing moved, not so much as a cat or a wandering fox. Alex found himself wondering if maybe this time he had a head-start. If They had found out at the same time, as was usually the case, he was sure They would have moved by now. Maybe They did not know who she was yet. Maybe They were waiting for the following night, to catch him off-guard – foolish even for Them, They must know that he would continue his vigil indefinitely, or someone would if not him. Or maybe…

            Alex sat bolt upright as a thought occurred to him. Maybe They wanted him to think all this, so he would not notice as They crept in now and did their job….

            Fishing out his motion-detector from below the passenger seat, Alex aimed it at the front door of the house.

            Nothing.

            The ground floor windows.

            Nothing.

            The front garden.

            Nothing.

            Relieved, Alex leant back into his seat. As he did so, a speck of moonlight glinted off a shiny object at first floor level. Alex grabbed the motion-detector again.

            Movement. They were on the first floor level – outside.

            Swearing as silently as he could, Alex took the pistol from his dashboard and climbed out of the car. As he crept around the car to take a look, he heard a voice whisper, “Do it.”

            The upper floor windows shattered, and thumps announced that They had got inside. A partial scream was cut off with a dull thud.

            Praying that Lauren’s room was not at the front of the house, and swearing at full volume now, Alex sprinted across the road and the front garden, a well-placed kick breaking the door from its hinges and allowing him entry. Turning right to bound up the stairs, he was immediately confronted with the first attacker. The man, while clearly expecting resistance, was not expecting Alex, and as he swung with the crowbar that had presumably smashed the windows, Alex planted a straight kick on his kneecap, before finishing him with a single shot. Leaping over the body to the top of the stairs, he spotted another intruder on his left, and quickly took him down with a second shot. Looking around for clues, he heard a whimper from the rear of the house, and headed for the source.

            Upon entering the room, he was met with the sight of Lauren, her back to a wall, cowering before the man before her, holding as he was what looked like to Alex to be a semi-automatic rifle. As Alex entered, the man hit Lauren with the butt of the weapon, and she slumped. Alex announced his presence by pressing his pistol to the rear of the man’s skull, and audibly cocking the weapon.

            “Drop it.” He ordered. The man sighed, and threw the rifle away.

            “Only three of you?” Alex demanded.

            “Only one of you?” The man replied, his accent unrecognisable.

            “Are there any more of you coming?” Alex asked again, “Answer me!”

            The man began to laugh, a chilling sound that ended with a crack as he sagged to the ground, his breathing slowing to a stop within a few short seconds.

            Alex shook his head. He, too, had a suicide capsule fitted into his mouth, behind his canine. He, too, was ready to crack it open and embrace death rather than tell the enemy anything, but he needed information desperately. Without it, the safest thing to do was leave. Gathering Lauren into his arms, he headed for his vehicle. 

Lauren groaned as she clawed her way out of the darkness that had taken hold of her mind. She was instantly aware of a throbbing pain in her head, which intensified as she attempted movement.

            “Don’t move too much. I don’t want you falling unconscious again.”

            Lauren started at this voice, a voice she did not recognise. Attempting to shake off both the unconsciousness and the panic which had begun to well up inside her, she opened her eyes. She could tell she was in a car, and not far away from where she lived – she recognised the street they were on as only a few blocks away. As her consciousness fully returned, she sat up straighter in the seat, and turned to the man sitting beside her, in the driver’s seat.

            “Are you okay? He hit you pretty hard.” Alex said softly.

            “I’m….what happened?” Lauren asked, her voice still a little groggy despite her best efforts.

            “Do you remember anything?” Alex asked.

            “I remember…” Suddenly she recalled the sound of glass shattering, and people in her home. “We were…..burgled? What happened to my parents? Please say you know…”

            “As far as I know, they are alive. It would be pointless to harm them. If I were you, I would be more worried about yourself.” Lauren’s breathing quickened, and Alex realised what he had said, and what it must have sounded like. “No, I’m not threatening you.” He hurried on, “I am not going to hurt you in any way. But those men in your house….men like that will.”

            “What do you mean?” Lauren asked fearfully.

            “They came tonight for you, Lauren. Those men came to kill you.”

            “To kill…..me?” Lauren began to feel sick, but pushed on regardless, “Why would they want to kill me?”

            “I don’t have time to explain now. If I can get you somewhere safer, then I promise I will explain everything, but right now you need to agree to come with me. We can’t stay here much longer, those men are very dangerous and will stop at nothing to see you dead.”

            “Well if they are so dangerous, and if they want me dead so bad, why didn’t they kill me then?” Lauren spat out sarcastically.

            “Because I was there!” Alex replied in all seriousness. “I took care of them, and I got you out, but more will come. We need to get out of here, and you need to trust me, and agree to come with me.”

            “Agree with…I was unconscious! If you wanted to kidnap me or carry me off somewhere you had ample opportunity! Why did you wait for me to wake up, and why spin some ridiculous tale about them…targeting me?”

            “Because I am not trying to kidnap you.” Alex grated, “I’m trying to help you. I cannot help someone who does not wish to be helped. I cannot help you until you trust I am telling you the truth. Those men wanted you dead, there are more like them. Please Lauren. Accept that, and I can keep you safe.”

            Lauren shook her head slowly. “They can’t have come for me. They were burglars….they…they just wanted to rob us. The police are probably there right now, and I want to go and see if my parents are alright.” She finished in a rush, looking up at Alex as she did so.

            Alex sighed. “At least take this with you.” He handed her a small metallic cylinder. “Throw this on the ground, hard, and it will produce smoke. It may come in handy for you.” He offered it to her. When she recoiled, he added, “Please.” Reluctantly, Lauren took the device, slipping it into her coat pocket. She suddenly realised she had not been wearing a coat when the men broke in. She shivered.

            “Let me out now, please.” She commanded, trying to fill her voice with confidence, and gesturing at the door.

            “It’s not locked.” Alex replied. “Just…please be careful. And if you find that you need me after all…I won’t be far away.”

            Lauren fumbled for the catch and scrambled out of the car. As she jogged away, she turned and shouted, “I’ll report you to the police if you follow me! Stalking is a crime!” She turned away, wondering why she had said that – it had sounded more impressive before she shouted it, apparently. Forcing herself not to check if he was following, she began to run towards home.

              She fervently hoped that her parents were safe. She remembered now that the burglars had broken in at the front of the house, and so would have moved through her parent’s room first. They did have guns, she recalled, anxiety building up to a climax as she began to sprint faster, only to calm a little when she could not remember any shots actually being fired – at least until the man was in her bedroom, and they had come from the opposite direction to her parent’s room.

            As she rounded the end of her road and got a look at her house midway down the street, she calmed a little more. There were no police – that was a little odd, she supposed, but maybe her parents had not called them yet, or were doing so now. She ran towards her house, almost tripping a couple of times, so eager was she to see her parents, to know that they were safe. She turned to sprint down her driveway, noticing lights turned on in the living room. Her heart bursting with relief, she flung the door open, and positively flew into the living room. She got over the threshold, and stopped dead.

            “Well. Looks like our quarry has come to us.” The tall man in the centre of the room grinned, as he carefully replaced the knife he had been sharpening into a pouch suspended from his belt.

            Lauren stood frozen, staring at her parents, lying next to each other on the floor.

            “They’re alive.” The tall man continued, “We were just discussing how best to track you down. You have no idea how inconvenient it is for a target to escape the first attempt. And yet you came back. How kind to give us another go.” He laughed, a chilling, morbid laugh that contained no mirth.

            Lauren managed to coax her vocal cords into life. “You…came to kill…me?” she stammered.

            “Well of course we did. The Agency must really be slipping to not even be able to tell you that. And letting you come back here. Pathetic.” He sneered. “And now, little Pivot, its time to die.” With that, he drew a pistol from behind his back, and slowly, deliberately, cocked the weapon.

            Lauren’s hand closed on the cold, metal cylinder in her pocket.

            As the tall man raised the gun, still sneering, she threw it with all her strength onto the rug in front of him.

            Instantly, it burst, the room filling with smoke faster than she would have believed possible. Her hand over her mouth to stop herself inhaling it, she floundered out of the house and onto the road. Looking about wildly, she searched for a place to hide, or a place to run to.

            With a roar of combustion, and a screech of tyres, a familiar car shot down the road, blowing past her, performing a hand-brake turn, and pulling up next to her. Alex leaned out of the open window.

            “Ready to come with me now?” He asked her.

Still undecided, Lauren hesitated, just for a second.

            The tall man burst out of the smoke behind her, firing two shots, by chance missing her and striking the side of the car.

            “In, now!” Alex yelled, holding his own pistol out of the window and firing rapidly at the house. The tall man dived for cover behind the low garden wall, and a second attacker, just emerging from the smoke filling Lauren’s house, fell to the barrage.

            With a squeal, Lauren ran round the car and threw herself inside through the passenger door Alex had opened for her. As the third and fourth assassins ran out of the smoke, and the tall man straightened up from behind the wall, Alex gunned the engine.

            With a roar so loud it forced Lauren to cover her ears, the car exploded into motion, reaching 50 miles per hour before the end of the road, and not slowing down a hair to traverse the corner. The car continued to gain speed, reaching 70 mph before the main road junction, carrying Alex and Lauren away from danger at breakneck speeds. Lauren noticed the engine roar, still loud enough to deafen her if not for her hands on her ears, was coming from behind her – looking over her shoulder, she saw that the engine was in fact positioned where one would usually expect to find the rear seats. Suddenly realising Alex was talking, she removed her hands from her ears and tried to listen over that enormous thrum from the engine – no luck.  She shook her head, unwilling to shout loud enough to be heard over the monstrosity on the back seat. She sat back in her chair, wondering what would happen now, and whether those men really would leave her parents alone now….

            “I’m taking you to the closest Agency safe house,” Alex bellowed, “I’ll explain everything when we get there – don’t want to lose my voice.” He grinned at her.

            Lauren did not see the funny side. She thought that she would have a hard time seeing the funny side of anything right then. All in one night, she had been shot at, knocked out, nearly gassed, and almost in a car accident she thought ruefully as Alex narrowly avoided an oncoming vehicle, still travelling at more than twice the speed limit. 

            She tried to keep track of where they were going – why such information would ever prove useful to her, she did not know – but she began to feel woozy before long, her head beginning to throb where the brute had hit her earlier. Despite her efforts to keep focussed, she felt her concentration slipping, her eyes blurring, and her mind numbing. Shortly afterwards, she fell into a deep sleep, lying unconscious in Alex’s passenger seat.

            Alex looked over, noting that Lauren appeared to have fallen asleep. Frankly he was amazed anyone could sleep over the roar of that engine.

            He found himself thinking about her as he drove along. Was she now beginning to trust him, truly trust him? The fact that she was willing to fall asleep when alone in a car with him on the very night she had almost been murdered seemed to signify a certain level of trust. Or maybe he was just reading too much into it. Maybe she was still woozy from that blow to the head she received earlier. Maybe the stress and anxiety had caused her to pass out, though looking at her, Alex did not think she looked anxious or stressed – she slept peacefully, soundly. Maybe she was just really tired, Alex thought with a grin.

            He drove on, towards the safe house. He wondered how he should tell Lauren the truth – it was going to be a lot for her to take in, a lot for anyone. He began to practice, to rehearse how he would explain it all without drawing it out too much or making it confusing. He had still not finished his rehearsal when they arrived at the safe house.

            Taking a last look at the dashboard clock, (2.30am), he parked the car outside the unremarkable building situated alongside an abandoned factory, and climbed out. Locking the car, he proceeded to quickly scan the area, checking for traps or ambushes or unwanted civilians. Satisfied, he made his way back to the car, gently lifting Lauren’s sleeping form from the car, and carrying her inside the building. She stirred in his arms.

            “Where are we?” She mumbled, one hand holding her head – it was clearly still giving her pain.

            “This is a safe house.” Alex told her quietly, not wanting to speak too loud with her in this state. “We can rest here until morning, and then call for extraction. You’ll be completely safe before long.”

            Once inside, Alex secured the building a little – making sure no light escaped to the outside, making sure the car was not visible to passers-by. He also turned on one of the radiators, to heat the room slightly – after making sure the noise of central heating could not be heard from the road of course.

            With these checks completed, Alex entered the building to find Lauren sitting up, her back to the radiator, shivering a little. Alex grabbed a blanket from a cupboard in the corner, and wrapped it around her. She murmured her thanks.

            Alex sat down beside her, also leaning on the radiator. He looked at her – she hugged herself for warmth, her eyes downcast, staring into her lap.

            “Earlier, you asked me why they were trying to kill you.” He said softly. She straightened, barely perceivably. “I can tell you now, if you still want to know.” He paused, waiting for a response. After a moment, she nodded.

            Despite all his practice, Alex was still unsure where to start. “Imagine,” he began, “a time line, running throughout the whole of history, from the beginning of time to the end of time.” He paused for a moment. “It’s not a straight line though – imagine it like a zigzag – with many sudden, sharp changes of direction. When it changes direction like that, it means something happened at that moment in time to alter the projected path for the future – making the time line….um.....zigzag.” He finished, unable to think of a better word. “Following me so far?” Lauren nodded again.

            “Now, an ordinary person has little power to affect the time line – for example, if a man chose what to have for dinner out of two possibilities, that isn’t going to affect the overall flow of the time line. Huge decisions and actions can affect it, obviously – Hitler was one who affected it enormously. But, usually, most people can not affect it; it will simply drag them along with it. However, there are some people who are born with an ability to change the time line around themselves. Such people will affect the time line with every decision they make – for the most part, only in small ways. We call these people Pivots – because they are the points around which the entire time line can pivot. Pivots are very rare – only one in a million people possess the ability, and every Pivot, at some time in their lives, will face one ultimate decision. We call this the Pivotal Moment, and the result of that decision will affect the entire time line, affecting the lives of every other being on the planet. You are a Pivot Lauren – and some time in your future, you will make a decision that will, quite literally, change the world.”

            Lauren sat still, her mind racing. She was going to change the whole world? “What sort of decision is it going to be?” She asked.

            Alex shook his head. “Nobody knows. Nobody can know, except you, and not until the moment arrives. It could be anything – a huge, momentous decision, or the choice of which pair of shoes to wear.” He grinned.

            Lauren thought she understood, but realised he had left one thing out. “So, why are they trying to kill me?”

            Alex sobered a little. “Not many people know much about what I have just told you. But those that do, well, most believe that it is unjust. They believe that one individual should not be allowed to wield that much power, intentionally or not. They believe that allowing a Pivot to reach their Moment would bring disaster, and doom the world. Those men in your house belong to a group we call the Destroyers. We call them that because, to be honest, we don’t know what they call themselves – we have never captured one alive. They are an organisation dedicated to finding, and murdering, Pivots, to stop them from changing the time line. That’s why they were trying to kill you.”

            Lauren actually felt….better. Now she knew what she was up against, it made everything seem less terrifying. “How did they find me? How do they know who the…Pivots…are?”

            Alex took a small device from his pocket. It looked to Lauren like a Geiger-counter – it has a similar needle and scale mechanism on the front. Alex showed it to her. “This is called a Pivometer. Pivots, like yourself, emit a certain kind of radiation, which this,” he held up the device, “can pick up. We first detected readings from here a few weeks ago, but only discovered the source to be you this morning. The Destroyers would have found out at more-or-less the same time.”

            Something clicked in Lauren’s mind. “That’s why you spent the day interrogating me at college.”

            Alex nodded. “I had to find out where you lived and when you would be in – I knew the Destroyers would make a move tonight, and I had to be ready.”

            Lauren turned to look at him. “So, who are you? Why are you so keen to keep me alive?”

            “I work for an organisation called The Agency. The agency train Agents, like me, to defend and protect any Pivot we can find. We believe that Pivots, like everybody else, have a purpose to fulfil in their lives, and that if they are able to do as they should, we might end up changing the world we live in, hopefully for the better.”

            “ ‘Might’ change the world?” Lauren asked, “How many Pivots have actually got to their um….moment?”

            Alex looked at her levelly. “To be brutally honest…not one. So far, the Destroyers have always been too fast, too many, or too well-equipped. But don’t worry – tomorrow we can be airlifted out of here and taken back to Agency headquarters. Not even the Destroyers can get to you in there.”

            Lauren sat perplexed. “If the Destroyers are that strong, why send only one Agent? Why not send two, or a team?”

            “Well, firstly we don’t have that many Agents to spare – we are not as numerous as the Destroyers. Also, the way the Agency Overseer saw it, the more Agents there are with a Pivot, the more chance there is of betrayal. Still, one Agent is more than a match for a team of Destroyers. I have been in training for 17 years, since I was only two years old, and no Destroyer will touch you while I am around. I promise you that.”

            Alex fell silent. The two simply sat, leaning on the lukewarm radiator, as Lauren considered all that he had said. Soon, though, Alex stirred.

            “You should probably get some sleep. I’ll keep guard.”

            Lauren was initially inclined to resist, but she realised just how tired she was – her eyelids refused to stay open, her head swayed, and an attempt at standing caused her to fall over in a rather undignified manner. She lay down on the rough carpet, wrapping herself tightly in the blanket Alex had found for her, and shut her eyes. Just before she settled herself for sleep, however, she remembered something.

            “I never said thank you.”

            He smiled. “You don’t have to.”

            Alex sat down in the corner of the room, a position from which he could see the entire interior of the building. He was sure there would be no trouble tonight: an Agency safe house was one of the most secure places in the country. He settled back to keep watch. No harm would come to her tonight. He had promised.  

Lauren found herself unable to sleep. The rough carpet and the horrific events of the night were no help, though it was the general stuffiness that was the least inducive to rest. Despite the unpleasant coolness that had pervaded the room on their arrival, the room had now become stifling. Eventually, Lauren stopped fighting it. Sitting up, she turned to Alex, still unmoved in the corner.

            “I need some air. Is it safe to go outside?”

            Alex looked at her. She did look a little flushed. “Yeah of course. I’d better come with you though.”

            Nodding her assent, Lauren got to her feet. She had to admit the lie down had helped – she didn’t stagger or fall this time. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders to protect from the inevitably cold night air, she headed for the door. Alex opened it for her, and followed her out into the darkness.

            The cool, fresh air made Lauren feel instantly better. Breathing deeply, she studied the stars overhead, strangely pensive considering the situation. Alex stood beside her, his eyes roaming over the terrain – Lauren wondered if he would ever drop his guard, or become tired and let something slip through. Watching his eyes, she somehow doubted it.

            Alex stood still, watching Lauren breathe in the night air, and stretch her arms. Realising that he had not scanned the perimeter for at least 8 seconds, he looked around.

            Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a brief flash of movement.

            Trying not to react, not to let the watcher know he had been discovered, Alex managed to isolate the point of the movement – looking closely, while pretending to still be scanning the area, he could just see the silhouette of a man crouched, cradling something in his arms.

            He quickly ran through several escape routes in his head – they could run left around the building, back to the car, or crouch behind the bushes nearby, and use the cover to head for the car – but just as quickly dismissed them as too predictable, and too dangerous – the crouching man would fire what Alex was sure was some sort of rifle.

            Before he made any decisions, Lauren shivered. “Can we go back inside now?”

            Pouncing on this opportunity, Alex replied, “Good idea, its getting cold out here.” Trying not to seem hurried, Alex shepherded Lauren back inside the safe house – safe no longer, he thought to himself.

            As soon as they were both inside, Alex closed the door, making sure the windows were covered also. He then turned to Lauren. “They found us.” He said simply.

            The blood drained out of Lauren’s face. “How?”

            “I don’t know. But we need to leave, now.” Lauren nodded. “Grab anything you need, then we’ll climb out the back windows and get to the car.”

            Lauren turned to grab her coat, the only possession she had, then paused. “Won’t they have….slashed the tyres or anything?”

            The corner of Alex’s mouth turned up with a small smile “They would’ve tried.” He replied.

            Lauren let that go, taking her coat from the floor. Alex jogged over to the window, peering out, checking the route. Lauren turned to follow.

            As she did so, a glint of metal caught her eye. Turning to look, she saw it had come from a small metal tin on the table beside her. It was, in all ways, an unremarkable artefact – though, for some reason Lauren could not herself comprehend, it held immense significance to her at that moment.

            Alex turned away from the window briefly. “Come on, lets go.” He said.

            Lauren heard him as if from a great distance. She stood, fascinated, and compelled, by the tin, its dull and boring exterior captivating her in a way she could not explain.

            “Lauren!” Alex hissed from the window, “We have to go, now!”

            Lauren snapped out of her daze. Shaking it off, she nevertheless picked up the tin and placed it in her chest pocket before following Alex to the window.

            Alex held the window open. “There’s nobody around this side.” He whispered. “I’ll be right behind you, ok?”

            Lauren nodded, and climbed out the window, once again emerging into the chilly autumn night. Looking around nervously, she felt better when Alex dropped onto the grass beside her. He looked around for a moment, before whispering, “Right. Follow me, and stay low.”

            He moved off at a crouching run, heading around a small group of trees, and over to his car. Lauren followed, not quite feeling like an idiot as she ran while crouched low to the grass. Next to the car lay two men – both had their faces contorted in pain, and both lay still.

            Alex motioned for her to get in – opening the doors as quietly as they could, they clambered into the car. With the doors safely closed, Lauren turned to Alex.

            “What happened to them?” she whispered, gesturing at the two men on the grass.

            “Defence mechanism.” Alex replied, “If anyone comes within half a metre of the car without this key,” he held up the car key to show her, “without this key being within 2 metres of the car, they receive forty-thousand volts. Stops them slashing the tyres anyway.” Alex grinned, while Lauren retched and tried to keep her dinner down.

            Alex inserted the key into the ignition. Lauren settled her stomach long enough to say, “Won’t they hear you start it?”

            Alex turned to her, “It has an electric engine at the front – for silent running. We’ll use that.”

            As he finished speaking, lights suddenly shone out of the darkness, illuminating the car and its occupants. A voice shouted, “They’re over here!” and another, “Don’t let them get away!”

            Alex slapped a button on the dashboard. The monstrous engine behind them roared to life instantaneously, propelling Alex and Lauren with breakneck acceleration back out onto the road. Gunshots sounded behind them, but only one bullet appeared to strike its target – the screech of metal on metal announcing its arrival. In seconds, they were away.

            Lauren slouched into her seat. The one place she thought she was safe…

            “How do you think they found us?”

            Alex furrowed his brow in thought. “I guess, they must have noticed unusual activity around that building. A safe house can’t stay hidden forever – usually they are rotated so the Destroyers don’t have a chance to find them. They just got lucky this time, that’s all.”

            “So where now?”

            “Another safe-house – its all we can do. If we stay on the road, it’ll be virtually impossible for the extraction team to find us tomorrow morning, so we’ll just have to trust in the next safe house.”

            Lauren shook her head. “Why do we have to wait until morning for extraction? Why not call now?”

            “Because the Destroyers have infiltrated every level of society. They have people everywhere, in every job imaginable. If we call for extraction choppers, you can guarantee they will be in a position to call air support to blast us out of the sky. Their only weakness is their need to stay hidden and undercover, and in broad daylight, they are not nearly so brutal in their methods. They operate at night, and so we operate during the day.”

            Lauren accepted this with a nod. She knew she sounded critical of his methods, and she hoped he knew how grateful she was. She opened her mouth to tell him….

…..And woke up as Alex parked the car outside a small farmhouse, surrounded by fields and even a few cattle. She blinked the gum out of her eyes, and looked around. It was still dark, not yet brightening with the first light of dawn. The dashboard clock said 3.45am. Lauren pushed the door open, and stepped out, stumbling as she did so – the throbbing pain in her head had returned with a vengeance. As she stumbled, Alex darted over to catch her. Lifting her up, he shut the car door and carried her over to the farmhouse. Trying the door, only to discover it was locked, Alex withdrew a key from his pocket. He could barely see to fit the key into the lock in the darkness, and carrying Lauren was not helping. After dropping the key for a second time, he gave up, and kicked the door in.

            He stepped into the farmhouse, wedging the door shut behind him with a conveniently placed chair. Looking around, he saw the interior was structured as one large room – a bed along the far wall, a table with only 3 legs balanced in the middle of the room, and a small partitioned kitchen area to the left. The room itself was dark, and he could not see into every corner of the room, though a little moonlight shone in from outside. He carried Lauren over to the bed, and placed her down on it gingerly – he could see that she had already fallen asleep again. Blinking the tiredness out of his own eyes, he walked over to the room’s only window. Outside, he could see his car, parked where he left it, and a solitary cow behind a fence, as far away as he could see. He turned back to the room.

            Six men stood before him, two of them holding pistols, the others appearing to be unarmed. One of the men was pointing a pistol at him – another was looking at him, while aiming the pistol to his right, at the bed where Lauren lay.

            Alex moved like lightning, pivoting on his left foot to avoid the first man’s shot. He could almost feel the breeze as it blew past him. Drawing his own pistol, he fired, the shot puncturing the man’s chest – he went down hard, his weapon bouncing out of his hand away into the dark corner of the room. Before Alex could adjust his aim, the second man was there, delivering a roundhouse kick that knocked away his gun. Using the momentum of the kick to spin around, Alex planted a kick to the man’s left kneecap – it shattered, the man falling to the floor and screaming with agony.

            The large man at the other side of the room raised his gun, aiming for Alex. Lauren, awakened by the struggle, fell off the bed and staggered towards the back door of the house – the large man, noticing her move, pointed the gun at her instead.

            “Don’t move!” he shouted, with a deep, guttural voice. Lauren stopped still, hands on her head – not from submission, but in an attempt to strangle the throbbing pain, now building to a crescendo inside her head.

            With the large man occupied, the remaining two moved in on Alex. The foremost one swung at his face – easily ducking under the blow, Alex drove his shoulder up into the man’s ribcage. It shattered, and the man offered no resistance as Alex shoved him off onto the floor. The other man employed more caution – he moved in slowly, keeping his footing sure and his guard up. Alex feigned a left blow, then a right, before swinging with all his might from the left. The man, expecting a feint, was unprepared, and the blow connected – his nose broken and bloody, he sank to his knees. Alex finished him off with a kick to the forehead.

            Spinning to face the only remaining opponent, the large man threatening Lauren, Alex found he was paying no attention to him. Apparently confident his comrades could take Alex down, he kept his concentration on keeping Lauren where she was. Crossing the gap between them in a second, Alex grabbed the gun, attempting to wrestle it from him.

            The man casually threw Alex off with his other hand. Springing to his feet, Alex rushed back – only to find himself held by the throat. The man sneered at him, lifting Alex clear off the floor by his neck. As Alex struggled to breathe, the man threw him backward – Alex flew the length of the room, smashing through the partition around the kitchen and hitting the cupboards. He collapsed onto the glass strewn floor.

            The man looked around at the bodies of his team mates. He turned to Alex, struggling to rise from the kitchen floor.

            “No more games!” he shouted, before turning back to Lauren. He aimed, and fired.

            The shot struck Lauren directly over her heart. The force of the blast knocked her back – hitting the wall behind her, she crumpled.

            Knowing it was too late, Alex grabbed a knife from the kitchen worktop and hurled it through the air. The knife pierced the man’s neck, just at the base – blood spurted from his mouth as his massive form fell to the floor.

            Silence fell across the room. Alex levered himself to his feet, staring all the time at Lauren’s limp body, still in a heap where she had fallen. He felt hollow. He had failed her.

            She coughed.

            Alex vaulted the remainder of the partition and almost dived across the room. He knelt down beside her, and lifted her head. She blinked, and opened her eyes. Sitting up, she open her mouth to speak.

            “That…..really hurt.” She grumbled.

            Alex was speechless. How had she….She ought to be….He spotted something on the floor in front of her. Reaching for it, he found it to be a bullet – the end flattened like it had hit a solid steel wall. He turned back to Lauren, still unable to speak, and held it up.

            Lauren reached into her chest pocket, and drew out a small metal tin. The top was dented, as if it by a bullet – Alex nodded in understanding. He finally remembered how to speak.

            “Where did you get that?” He asked her.

            She looked at it, and frowned. “From the other safe house – it was on the table.”

            “Why did you take it?”

            “I don’t know…I just…I can’t explain it. I just felt like I should take it.”

            Alex stood, his mind racing. Was it possible….?

            Lauren noticed, “What’s wrong?”

            Alex considered, then shook his head. “No, nothing.” It was only a thought after all, and she couldn’t……he shook it off.

            “We’re going to have to move again. Somehow, they knew we were coming here….we’ll have to be extra careful now.” Lauren stood, placing the tin down on the bed. “No, keep that.” Alex told her, “What worked once may work again.”

            Lauren grimaced, nonetheless placing the tin back into her chest pocket. She followed Alex out the door and back to the car, now thankfully devoid of electrified corpses. They got in, closing the doors behind them, and Alex slumped in the driver’s seat.

            “What’s wrong?” Lauren asked, though she felt she knew the answer.

            “I don’t know what to do!” Alex burst out. “They knew of the first safe house, they knew we were coming to this one, what’s to say they won’t know the next one we go to? Or the next? How often will we keep getting lucky?” Lauren touched the tin in her pocket, reassuring herself that it was still there. Alex shook his head. “There’s nowhere we can go. Nowhere is guaranteed safe anymore.”

            “So…what? We sit here and wait for them to find us again?”

            “No!” Alex said vehemently, “We’ll go…somewhere. Not a safe house though. Just….somewhere.” With that, he started the engine, and the car moved off.

For about an hour they drove. Lauren did not recognise where they were going. Nor apparently did Alex – he chose his directions at random, sometimes choosing whether to turn or not on a sudden whim. As he did this, he muttered to himself. “Gotta lose ‘em. Can’t do what they expect. Won’t expect this…” And so on. Despite the random changes of direction, and unplanned route, they still appeared to be heading further and further away from the urban areas. As they drove, the surroundings became more rural and empty, and Lauren found herself watching the horizon, waiting for the rays of sunlight that would end this night, and, she hoped, her predicament.

            Eventually, Alex announced his satisfaction. He turned the car off the road, onto a dirt track. Even this soon ended, as Alex took the car off-road. He stopped in a lightly wooded area – only a couple of trees and a sporadic patch of bushes filled the area around them. He switched off the engine, and flicked all the interior lights off.

            “And now we wait.” He whispered.

“What, we’re just going to wait here?” Lauren asked, not bothering to whisper – nobody was around, and they were in a car! Alex hurriedly shushed her.

            “We’re no where near any safe houses or other Agency locations.” He continued to whisper. “There’s no way they should be able to find us here.” He then glanced at the dashboard. “But just in case…” He flicked a switch, and what appeared to be a satellite navigation system folded up from the dashboard. Pressing another switch, the view changed – concentric circles, with a rotating line. To Lauren, it almost looked like….

            “Radar.” Alex echoed her thought. “Or, more accurately, motion-tracker. If anything moves within fifty metres of us, a red blip will appear on it. It will give us some warning.”

            Lauren shook her head. She could see almost that distance through the window, and there was no movement that she could see. After taking a look at the clock (5.00am) she lay back and closed her eyes.

            She found herself unable to sleep. Despite having more than an hour or so since Alex had snatched her out of the Destroyer’s hands – a lifetime ago now – she did not feel tired, nor restful. Sighing, she sneaked another glance at the clock, now reading 5.17am, before her gaze slid down to the motion-tracker.

            As she watched, red blips flooded the edges of the screen.

            “Alex!” She hissed. Alex sat bolt upright – clearly he had not been asleep. He stared at the motion-tracker, disbelief etched into his features.

            “How? HOW!” he demanded of no-one in particular. “How can they have found us again! They can’t possibly have predicted that….” Stopping suddenly, he looked around the car, realisation dawning in his eyes. “The car….they’re tracking the car!” With that, he started the engine, the deafening roar strangely a source of comfort to Lauren now. Alex bounced the car back onto the road, shooting away from the Destroyer’s, towards safety.

            Lights dazzled him from behind as another vehicle gave pursuit.

            Swearing loudly, Alex gunned the engine – a rapid increase in volume from the engine resulted in a surge of speed, pressing him and Lauren back into their seats. Amazingly, the pursuing car stayed with them, managing a similar level of acceleration and keeping itself well positioned on Alex’s tailgate. 

            The road ended suddenly, branching off to either side. Alex hauled on the steering wheel – the car careened left, narrowly missing a signpost and sending the car at extreme speeds down an even narrower road. The other car went slightly wide, scraping the hedge that lined the road but just managing to stay on the road.

            Alex found the road he had turned onto was long, straight, and junction-less. The road was narrow – barely wider than his car, it left little room for manoeuvring. The pursuing car attempted to catch up to Alex – putting his foot down hard on the accelerator fixed that problem, while presenting another – now travelling in excess of 130 miles per hour, a slight mistake could mean death for him – and for Lauren.

            The following Destroyers seemed to realise this. Moving as far to the right of the road as was possible, a man leaned out the passenger window with a rifle in his hand – when he fired upon Alex’s car, Alex learned it was an automatic rifle. Dodging and weaving the best he could within the narrow confines of the road, he grabbed his own pistol from his belt.

            “Keep the car steady!” He shouted to Lauren, before leaning backwards out of his own window to return fire. The armed man from the other car withdrew just in time – a hail of bullets from Alex’s pistol showered the front of their vehicle, taking out the left headlight but otherwise proving little hindrance to them. Alex ducked back inside to reload, discovering as he did so that he had no spare clips – he was out of ammo. He took the steering wheel back from Lauren, noticing as he did so the whiteness of her face and the terror in her eyes. Deciding that taking a moment to reassure her was a luxury they could not afford right then, he resorted to flight – flooring the engine, he gripped the wheel and hoped that he could keep it together.

            Turning back, he saw his adversary beginning to fall behind – it was no match for the sheer muscle that this engine could provide. Grinning, he turned back to the road ahead.

            Another car shot towards him, going far too fast to be a civilian – more Destroyers, Alex concluded. Without thinking, he swerved to the right to avoid the collision. His car tore through a hedge, narrowly avoiding a low rocky wall, and promptly stalled. Spinning around, Alex saw as the two Destroyer vehicles collided head-on.

            The explosion rocked the car – Alex flew forward and hit his head on the wheel. He felt blackness encroaching, the darkness of unconsciousness – unable to fight it, he slumped in his seat.

Someone shouted his name.

He stirred.

Roaring disturbed him.

Again, someone shouted his name.

            Feeling like the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, he forced his eyes open. He was uncomfortably positioned in the passenger seat. The vibrations and the roar told him they were moving. He sat up, and shook off the blackness. He turned to Lauren, sitting in the driver’s seat.

            “Thank god you’re awake I didn’t know what to do I just drove away and I don’t think any are following us but you said they were tracking the car and I thought I should do something about it but I didn’t know what to do so I just kept driving and I don’t know if they are following us and…”

            She spoke rapidly, her words blending together into one long sound without so much as a single pause for punctuation. She was clearly panicking. Alex grabbed her arm.

            “Listen.” He said. She stopped talking, though she still seemed to breathing faster than usual – hoping she wasn’t hyperventilating, Alex hurried on. “Is there anyone behind us?”

            “I don’t know, I mean, I can’t see anyone.”

            Alex nodded. “Ok, pull over in this field.”

            Lauren did as he said, driving the car into the field and stopping it dead. She continued to grip the wheel, her knuckles the only thing whiter than her face. Alex patted her shoulder, then climbed out of the car.

            He wobbled a little on getting to his feet. He hit himself hard around the face. It seemed to help. Deciding not to do it again, he began to scour the car.

            Before long, he found it. Positioned in the rear-wheel arch, it was a small tracking device, presumably linked to a satellite for triangulation purposes. He crushed it under his heel, and threw it away, into the next field. He then walked around to the driver’s door.

            “Lauren?”

            She was still as he had left her, gripping the wheel, breathing heavily.

            “Lauren, you’re clearly in shock. I’m going to give you a sedative. Is that ok?”

            When she didn’t reply, Alex figured it was. Taking the syringe from the glove box, he injected it into her vein. As she began to slow her breathing and relax her death-grip on the wheel, Alex gathered her up out of the car, and carried her over to the passenger side. With her safely secured, he hopped into the driver’s seat. A safe house ought to be a good bet now. At 5.45am, it was close to dawn anyhow. He set off, the third and hopefully final safe house the destination.


 

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