Rochester NY USA

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Excerpt from my upcoming Sci-Fi novel SHIFTER

Chapter Twelve


A woman, hunched over the handlebars of her ramshackle motorcycle cruises along the boulevard. A bit back an Audi R9 with decorative carbon fiber side panels shimmer with iridescence as the street lights flick on. The large man in the passenger seat cracks his knuckles and cranes around his neck, making a deep popping sound.




I’m on my last delivery for the day when I first notice the shiny red sports car staying a careful three car lengths from my tail. I don’t know who the fuck these people are, but if they really think a sports car—and a clean one at that—could ever blend in around here then they’re nuts. Either that or they don’t care about being noticed.


That’s the option I’m most afraid of. I take a nonsensically circular route of quick left turns to confirm my fears, and yep, they’re definitely tailing me. I start making my way to busier streets, trusting in the safety of the crowd while I figure out my next move, noting that even the most crowded of areas here don’t have enough traffic to escape them by squeezing the bike through a lane where the car couldn’t follow.


Damn, it’s definitely not the same Private Military Contractors that my ‘employer’ used when they picked me up for our first meeting. I assume that if they wanted to talk again they’d be a little more subtle. These guys are clumsy, flashy, and easily spotted amateurs. I doubt it’s the same organization, maybe a competitor? Ok, this is bad.


I think it over, fight, flight, or hide. No way I’m gonna out run them on Goldie. I’d only ever gotten her up to 180kph on a freshly paved country road and I know for a fact that Audi would eat her for lunch in a straight-up race.


No way I’m going up against more goons who probably have guns. I had the element of surprise and home field advantage with the guys at Dynasty. Pixie’s no lightsaber, bullets are a real threat here. Need to stay far enough ahead that I’m out of range.


Hiding’s not a very good option either. Who knows how determined these guys are. I may be small, but I don’t want to spend the night tucked away in a dumpster - or the morgue.


I wish I had some allies out here, or a contact for my employer so I could call in the cavalry. I could go to that bar where we met, but I never really saw where it was. Best bet’s probably to get rid of this package and let someone else deal with these guys. I pat the bundle in the chest pocket of my coat. Still there. I count to myself - one, two, three - and I screech to a halt, flipping Goldie’s back wheel around in a neat 180. They definitely know I’m onto them now. I jam down the throttle and peel out in the opposite direction.


They’re only momentarily surprised but do an impressive spin out of their own. In my rearview mirror I see them charging down the double yellow line - closing the distance with every second. I wrench the handlebars to the right and rocket down an alley, splashing through a puddle of dumpster juice leaking out of a pile of garbage.


Covered in God awful slime, I can barely breathe. Coming out of the alley onto the next street, I narrowly miss getting T-boned by an old illegal Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The R9 is nowhere to be seen now and I head into the next length of alleyway.


Thinking I’m safe, I ease back and get back onto a normal road. Suddenly a bullet sizzles by my ear. Shit. I didn’t even see them - they must have circled the block, knowing where I’d pop up again. These fuckers are better than I gave them credit for and I’m getting desperate. What I wouldn’t give for a full-on Manhattan traffic jam, packed full of cars that only Goldie and I could squeeze through.


Come on, come on. Think. Where can I go that they can’t? Small spaces, tight corners… stairs? I’ve never pushed Goldie like that before. She was unstable enough as is, but I’ve got to try something. Stairs, stairs, where are there a ton of stairs? That’s when it hits me. There sure are a lot of stairs down to the subway. It’s looking like the crazy option is my only option.

As the car hums along menacingly at my backside and I can feel the heat of Goldie’s batteries starting to overload on my inner thighs, I bite down hard on my cheek. The pain quieting my fear and leaving only the facts. “Don’t hate me Goldie,” I breathe, eyeing the subway stop coming up on the next corner.


My tail is getting impatient, pressing closer and closer with every second. They lunge after my back tire, time and again, taunting me, but not taking me out. I swerve towards the stairway just as a crowd of passengers starts to emerge. Oh shit.


I nearly crash trying to avoid them but manage to regain control at the last moment. Bullets ricochet off the pavement next to me and I launch back into the street in the same direction I came from. I catch a fleeting glimpse of one of the goons through the open window of the sports car as I pass.


He’s heavy set, in a swanky purple silk shirt with sunglasses on - at night. I’m so close I can see the gaudy rings on the fingers of his hand gripping the chrome 1911 pistol. I fly by too fast for him to twist around to get off a clean shot.


He shouts something unintelligible after me, but my mind is already racing, trying to think of where the next subway entrance is. Soon they’re back on my tail. I chuck everything I can back at them to get keep them from running me down. Cargo racks, spare helmets, spray cans, I even throw my whole supply of glitter bombs back at them, but we’re going too fast to do any good.


I’m going flat out on the wrong side of the road, hugging the sidewalk and I wait until the very last moment to cut straight across the intersection towards the next entrance. The Audi brakes hard to avoid slamming into me - a weird reaction for someone trying to kill me, but either they value their fancy car more than this job or killing isn’t instinctual to these guys.

I lean hard and clench every muscle to stay on my bike as we skid at 90 degrees, my foot nearly getting crushed by the weight of the bike. I crank the throttle and she comes back up under me. The open mouth of the stairway looms large before me and we launch off into the dimly lit tunnel.


I’m on my last delivery for the day when I first notice the shiny red sports car staying a careful three car lengths from my tail. I don’t know who the fuck these people are, but if they really think a sports car—and a clean one at that—could ever blend in around here then they’re nuts. Either that or they don’t care about being noticed.


“What the fuck are you thinking?” bellows the station manager as a pair of gunshots ring out at street level. “Oh shit,” and he ducks behind the counter.


Desperately I look around, trying to find a way out and spot a stream of people rushing through the handicapped emergency exit. I plant both of my feet against the body of the turnstiles that Goldie’s wedged between and pull on her handlebars with all my might.

She comes free with a screech of tearing metal and I wheel the bike back, turning in a tight arc to aim towards the gate. I gun the engine and launch her through. Oh shit - escalators. I skid to an abrupt stop and peer down the seemingly endless stainless-steel channels spotting passengers huddled down below the railings, hiding from the sound of gunfire. “Gotta find a plan B,” I mutter, trying to out-think the problem, but my train of thought is broken by a shout from up by the stairs.


“Hey bitch. Where ya gonna go now?”


Fuck it, we’ll do it live. I pin the front brakes and crank the throttle, leaving a smoldering pile of rubber behind me. I fly off the top of the escalator, bending back Goldie’s radiator shroud as I slam through the narrow gap.


People dive over the railing separating the up and down sides of the escalator to avoid Goldie as we trundle down the steps. I bounce up and down on the seat, my teeth clanking together with every step as we accelerate down. I try to control my descent with the brakes, but they’re mostly toast at this point. I’m doing better at slowing down by steering into the walls of the escalator.


At last I’m down to the platform. I hear distant screams as the men chasing me enter the subway, guns drawn. A blast of wind hits me as an express train shoots by. I check the display and see that it’s five minutes before the next train. Shit. These guys weren’t going to give me one let alone five minutes.


“Oh princess,” the shout from above me stops me cold. They’re almost here. I did not just ride my baby down a fucking multi-story escalator just to get caught. Five minutes. Five minutes. Repair drones buzz on the tracks, working away with the train far off.


That’s it. I’ve got five minutes. I can get to the next station in that time. I grab Goldie by the handlebars and wheel her to the railing, wincing as I tip her off the ledge into the track four feet below. Ok, ok, I’ve got this.


I hop down from the platform and right Goldie, climbing on with clenched teeth and pointing her in the direction that the 5-minutes-away-train should be coming from, hoping the thugs’ll look for me in the opposite direction. With no time to lose before I’m in their sights I rev Goldie, whose purr is strained but miraculously still alive. I start my stopwatch on my old rubber Casio watch and take off down the tracks and into the darkened tunnels, hissing at the rats that skitter by and trying not to think about the incoming train.


I can barely see in the sporadic lighting of the tunnel, but the intermittent lights reveal graffiti that’s more and more extreme the deeper in I get. There’s an if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest like feel back here, where the trains whizz past so the tunnel’s a blur and subversive graffiti isn’t worth the city’s time to clean up. There’s no glossing over our Big Bad Brother down here, no propaganda or censor between the artists and their rage, hopelessness, and sorrow.


I glance down at my watch, just two minutes and change between me and the train - less given that I’m moving toward it, but I don’t want to think about how much less.


There’s the barest hint of light visible now, the earliest sign of a platform ahead. I take in a deep breath, almost there, almost there. A group of drones scuttles out of my way, as confused about what a motorcycle is doing down here as I am. I can finally see the platform ahead, but fuck, I can also hear the train. Shit shit shit.


I’ve already got Goldie roaring at her best, but still I push harder, begging and praying with all my might that I’ll somehow get to the platform before the train. With my jaw clenched and stomach in knots, I push forward, reaching the start of the platform just as the train’s lights appear around the corner. I come to a bumpy stop on the railroad ties and use the last of my strength to tip Goldie over and shove her under the platform’s ledge, hoping she’s tucked in enough and won’t get run over or cause a derailment God forbid.


The train’s slowing down now, only seconds from me as I jump up and hook my elbows on the platform, wrenching my shaky arms up and pulling ‘till I can roll myself onto the platform, face flat against the tile’s thick, decades-old grime, rush of wind from the incoming train ruffling up the back of my shirt. I have never been happier to have my face in filth.


I lay still for a long moment before pressing up to my hands and knees, ignoring the dumbstruck looks of the passengers as they step around me to enter the train. Once it heads on down the tracks towards the next station, I peer tentatively over the platform to see what’s become of Goldie.


I almost start to cry when I see her tucked safely away, unharmed but for the dents of our escalator plunge. I pay two surly teenagers ten bucks each to help me haul her up the service stairs, patting her lovingly on the tank once she’s back in my arms. “You, Goldie,” I say, checking her one more time for any damage I might have missed, “are a hole in one.”


✽✽✽


Sputtering and rattling, we roll up in front of a high-rise apartment tower. I lower the kickstand and heave myself off the bike. I meander towards the entrance, a totally exhausted wreck. I punch the buzzer for 7A and a sing-song voice answers.


“Hello, dear.”


“Delivery,” I reply


“I’ll be right down,” she calls.


A woman in a 50’s housecoat with this amazing beehive hairdo opens the door to greet me. She does nothing to hide the shock on her face at my appearance. And smell.

The right cuff of my jeans is shredded and I’m bleeding from my shin, which has a big welt about half-way up. The left strap of my backpack is torn off and dangling at my side. Half of my shirt is caked with black carbon dust, as is the same half of my face. My eyes are bloodshot and streaks of grime are running out of the sides of them. My helmet’s askew and left pigtail has mostly come out of the elastic, in a big poof of loose hair. And I smell like a dumpster.


“Oh my,” she remarks.


I look down and make an attempt to tuck in my shirt tail. All I can do is repeat - “Delivery.” As I hand her the parcel.


She takes it, pinched in her fingers like she’s holding a dead rat. I hold up the cracked screen of my smartphone for her to sign, but the job notification is blinking red.


Late delivery - no payment. Shit.

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