Just in time, Stephen March could save himself from a certain death by making a side jump. The flaming red glider drilled himself with his armored nose in the display window of ‘Redstone & Son’, a branch of a Western electronic company that had already got a firm foothold in the New World. One of the first trading companies which got hold of such an authorization after the Second Cold War. The reinforced windows of the electronics company weren’t strong enough for the kinetic forces of the runaway vehicle. The windowpane burst into uncountable little pieces. At the last moment, Stephen had seen the murderous vehicle, dashing towards him in the reflection of the display window. His quick reaction, an instinctive reflex of the moment – was it luck or just the result of his daily workout – had given him that little chance and saved his life.
Because most of the pieces of glass by the movement of the glider were shattered inside the shop space, March hadn’t caught severe incision wounds. His pants and vest were indeed ragged and stained because of falling and his left leg was a bit scuffed by the hard-handed contact with the concrete, but for the rest it was better than expected.
While he was recovering from the first shock, he heard a metallic scraping above the panic screams of the pedestrians, who were witness to the event. To his great surprise, he saw the red bolide move out of the destroyed display window and turning around towards him. Stephen frowned surprised. This killing machine was picking on him, this wasn’t a simple coincidence. His premonition shouted just one word at him: ‘Run!’
He took the first street on the right in fast traverse, almost slipping, he could just avoid a pedestrian who cried out with anger at him. A second later he heard a bump accompanied with a creepy scratching sound. Stephen looked back and he saw the unfortunate passerby smashed by the pursuing autobot and gliding from the wall in a bloody red pattern. He felt the anguish squashing his throat, the adrenaline made him still run faster. The Metro, he thought, I must get to the Metro. The runaway computer-car wouldn’t follow him there.
With two steps at a time, he walked up the stairs up that would bring him through some back roads to the main road and to the entrance of the underground train-net. Each time he reached the end of those back roads he heard the bloodthirsty vehicle approaching as though it was breathing on his neck. He ran even faster and it looked as if he had wings because of the fear who was pushing him further.
Finally, he arrived in the street where he could find the entrance of the Metro. He saw it as a saving mouth that would gulp him down. Still ten meters. He squeezed a last sprint with his last breath. With a tiger jump, he dived forwards the steps down and rolled painfully till to the bottom of the entrance, where he hoped to be safe for the maniac autobot.
Stephen felt exhausted. It was a miracle, but at first sight, he hadn’t broken a bone although everything was hurting. He crawled stumbling and leaning against a pillar till he stood up again. The red menacing monster stayed floating just a moment before the entrance to the Metro and then disappeared empty-handed out of sight. People looked at him with fear and walked with a great curve around him. In the reflection of a train window, he saw the reason. He looked just like a wreck.
In the toilet room of the underground, he tried to make his clothing a bit more decent and checked for the damage. All in all, it was better than he thought. All his muscles were stiff because of the heavy effort, but nothing felt broken. He was bleeding from a few little wounds on the elbows and hands. The abrasion on his leg wasn’t life-threatening, although it needed professional attention. Stephen would visit a doctor as fast as possible for a professional fix-up. He didn’t look anymore as the diplomat Stephen March, but more as a kind of a wanderer who, in his alcoholic intoxication, had walked a few times too many against the wall… or maybe had fallen on the stairs of the Metro.
His first idea was to tell it all to the police and lodge a complaint against unknown persons. But then he realized that he hadn’t seen a license number on his bloodthirsty stalker. In the New World, all gliders or autobots were numbered on the bottom, doors and ceiling of the vehicles. So anyone could see or find out from which city or region they were. Above all the windows were darkened, so he hadn’t seen any face of the conductor or other passengers. Odd! He would wait a moment to visit the police. His sixth sense told him that maybe he would do more harm than good.
After an hour in the ‘ER’ of the nearby hospital, he got the necessary iodine tincture, special adhesive plasters in which there was processed an antibiotic, gauze and – what was of the utmost importance – a very strong analgesic. His leg was, it’s true, not broken, but still touched worse than suspected. Stephen told the doctor on duty that he had made a miscalculation and had fallen down the stairs of the entrance of the Metro and had wounded himself. It was but half the truth, but it wasn’t a full lie either. It sounded very convincing the way Stephen told it, but this explanation avoided eventual nasty questions from the doctor or an obligatory visit to the police station. Stephen March hadn’t a high esteem of the Security Service, certainly not after the unsolved murder on his half-sister Suzy.
The idea to go for a turn and stop by and inform at Redstone & Son was rejected also. Maybe some witnesses could recognize him while the people of the police were investigating the place. What was the reason behind this unexpected attack on his person? This intrigued him very much. Why was he beleaguered, hunted like a wild animal, eventually almost killed? What was the meaning of all this, what was behind all this, had it any connection with the murder upon Suzy? All questions that haunted his head. He felt stressed-out and anxious and was constantly looking around him when he was searching the way back to home.
When he was back in his apartment, first of all he poured out half a glass of whiskey. He knew it wasn’t wise to mix medications with alcohol, but this was an exception to the rule. His hand shook slightly when he poured the golden fluid in the crystal glass. Stephen took a big gulp of his Chivas Regal. He directly felt that liquid warmed him up and that his stomach came at ease.
He let the last past hours go by in his line of reasoning. After the identification, he was gone walking in the shopping streets of Sanctuary with the personal things he had received from Mister Huang. A moment to control his personal feelings again after the psychological smack he had received in the mortuary. Then suddenly the red murder vehicle that popped up on him?
Stephen put the rest of his whiskey aside and looked at the countenance of the canary yellow plastic bag on the table with the personal belongings of his sister, which miraculously he had kept safe during all the troubles of the last hours. There was the usual stuff a woman possessed. First of all he put, with the necessary respect and a great piece of dismay, aside the ruptured and bloodstained clothes. Again an example of the lack of respect of the police service of the New World. In the bag there was also a ruptured purse, a broken lip gloss, a bunch of keys, a hairbrush which had suffered from the fall, a crushed packet of already opened paper handkerchiefs and a wallet with still some paper money in, a few photo’s, but all her credit cards were missing or withhold by the Security Service.
Absent-minded he was messing about in all the compartments of her wallet when he found a folded note between two photos. March recognized instantly the beautiful womanly handwriting of Suzy Chang. There was written only one word on it and a number: ‘Passage 6’. It meant nothing to him. That couldn’t be the note Chief Inspector Vastai was referring to. The particular note that pointed at him?
Considering, he weighted the bunch of keys with the four keys on it, on his hand. He recognized directly the blue rectangular key of an autobot. Number SW280387. Nothing pointed at that Passage 6. One of the other three keys had to be from Suzy’s apartment because the name was printed on the key-bar of the residence where she lived: ‘Pinewood House Asurai’. A cipher was etched on the tip of the bar: 837. He knew it referred to the eighth floor, apartment 37.
The other two keys were still a mystery to him. A mystery he would certainly solve. He refused to ask the police for what the keys be used for. Besides, if they were to some degree of importance, he wouldn’t have received them. Maybe he would take a walk to the Pinewood House Asurai.
Stephen changed himself and took, still lame from his fall the elevator to the underground garage where he, with a painful grimace on his face, took place in his personal autobot and said the address of the residence. The speech recognition program searched the right coordinates on its internal memory, started the almost soundless propulsion system and the vehicle shove automatically in the line of the before programmed route. Stephen tiredly leaned back in his seat and waited with closed eyes till he reached his destination.
copyright Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere