"Is that a rocket launcher?" I asked nervously.
In the confined space of the van, it looked like a shoulder mounted cannon. I pressed my cheekbone hard against the driver's side door because my head was too close to where he was aiming.
"Combination of things," he said. "Controlled pulse cannon, virus insertion tool, software cancer in a tube. You name it, it does it."
"Okay. But what does all that mean?"
"No time for that, time to dial. But don't worry, we're not going to blow anyone up."
With the big-tube contraption balanced on his shoulder, he used his free hand to hand me a piece of stiff paper with a number written on it. I looked up to ask him what the number was for and noticed him attaching two co-axial cables from his unit to the roof of the van.
"What do I do with this?" I said, holding up the card.
"We don't want government jerk-offs to track our location with all their expensive toys, so you call that number first and listen for three beeps. When you hear that, you dial the lab's number. Then you power down the phone, throw it in here and close the lid."
Mark slid an open briefcase toward me with the toe of his shoe.
"Is it lead lined or something?" I asked.
"Something like that. Now do it. Longer you wait, the better prepared they get."
I hesitated for a second, then did what he said. Got the three beeps then dialed the lab number. Asked for the head scientist. His voice seemed odd. He was too happy. Right up until I told him to bring the alien artifacts and meet me at the restaurant Mark and I had picked out.
"Now," I said.
"I might need... hold on."
It was the word he almost said. I could imagine five or six men and women dressed in government issued hush-hush suits hovering over him.
"No, actually I'm good to leave right now," he said. "It will be good to see you again."
The little bastard was rebelling against the machine. We'd never met. We'd talked on line and over the phone, but never met. I'd UPS'd the artifacts to him so no one could ever place me at the lab. Just in case. And now, here was my very own scientist trying to warn me off.
After I'd punched the END button, threw the phone in the briefcase and told Mark about what the scientist said.
"They'll put his head in a microwave oven and set it to explode for that," he said.
"Get ready to drive when I say go. Be smooth about it. Don't draw attention to us. Don't act like Harrison Ford in the Fugitive. Just drive down Farmington Road til we hit I-96 and head East til we get to I-75 then head south.
"What are you going to do with that cannon thing?"
"I'm going to lock onto their communications system and follow it up the food chain. First agent I can sight, I aim, pull and we're connected to their network. Agent calls into their superior, our software goes with that call and monitors the superior's call to his superior. The calls will be quick and go straight up the line about this one. So we stay with them. We record each conversation so we get a better idea of what's going on and so you can hear it for yourself. It's good to know what the enemy's thinking.."
"Is that possible?" I asked.
He grinned and rubbed the back of one hand across the stubble on his chin.
"They'll be loud and clear through this blue-tooth," he said, pointing to his ear. "And lookey here- I'd say you've got some uninvited guests."
I saw the helicopter coming over the top of an office complex. There were men attached to the runners.
"Ready, aim, communicate," Mark said. "Now get gone, brother. Drive like we're on the way to the bowling alley."
"Are they coming for me?" I said. "This is insane."
"Shut up and drive. Their black sedans will be here in three or four minutes and when they find out we gaslighted them they'll be closing down traffic. We want to be in Toledo, Ohio by then."
I was officially on the run. Emily was dead and the government had the alien artifacts. There went my story. Nothing left but to hide out in the hills and pray they never found me. I couldn't believe it was happening to me.
Mark disengaged himself from his electronic cannon and hung it on a hook that stuck out from the side of the van. He sat down in the passenger side front seat and buckled up.
Six black cars passed us before we got to I-96. I felt physically ill. I wanted to pull over, get out of the van and throw up on the side of the road.
"So far so good," he said. "Where's that Bible with the picture of the alien?"
That picture was the only thing I had left. In today's world, pictures were so easy to fake, it was useless as evidence. Without evidence, I didn't stand a chance of getting my life back.
"Under my seat," I said. I'll get it."
I found it and handed it over to him without taking my eyes off the road. I couldn't afford a traffic accident. I couldn't afford to make any mistakes at all anymore. I was a federal fugitive.
"It's a Polaroid," he said. "Haven't seen one of these instant pictures in a long time."
"Does it look real?"
"Anybody can fake anything anymore. Short answer is who the hell knows. We'll run it through the lab and see what we can see. It's this sheet of paper with writing on the back that's more interesting to me just now."
"What sheet of paper?" I asked.
"The one with your name on it," he said.
"Give it to me," I said.
"Keep your eyes on the road, ace. We have to get out of this state before they find us. You should hear what they're saying about you."
He was pointing to his bluetooth.
"What?" I asked.
"Not now. Later you can hear it for yourself. But just so you know, you're lucky you don't have a wife and kids."
"Because they'd be feeding them to the pigs by now."
Behind me, I heard the big Rottweiler get comfortable for the long drive ahead.