Castling, Part 1

MARCH 7, 2000

"Where are we going, daddy?" Alice had to yell over the noise; the top was down on the '84 Mustang, which was cruising at about 90 mph with "Land of Confusion" blasting from the stereo. The sun was setting on the horizon in front of them, and a swirling nest of purple and red streaks illuminated the dusk.

"New town," shouted Kilroy back. "New home. You know the routine." He was admittedly tired of going over the rules again with Alice about their constant moving. At nine years old, she had become quite a self-sufficient little girl, and she was more capable of carrying on a debate with him than ever. Kilroy's best option with her was usually to exercise the executive fiat of fatherhood, which would frustrate his daughter to no end.

"Yeah, I know," she replied, looking out of the window. The Genesis song ended, and the radio announcer came back with his usual chirpy optimism, rattling on about the victories of Gore and Bush in the presidential primaries. "This is boring," said Alice. "Can I turn off the radio?"

Kilroy obliged her, turning the volume knob all the way to the left until it clicked. "Look," he said, apologetically, "I know it's been tough these past three years, always on the run like this. I know you haven't had time to make many friends your own age. But you're very special, you know. You're not like other children. And some people, they want to take you away because of the way that you're special. I'm doing this because I don't want those people to hurt you."

"I know, daddy," said Alice. "I'm not mad at you."

Kilroy tousled her hair playfully, veering the car onto an exit ramp. "Let's stop for the night," he said, looking around for motel signs.

"If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that bad news invariably comes in the middle of the night."

"You've got that right, Ben," Kilroy whispered back to the television. He was watching a late-night rerun of a Deep Space Nine episode, unable to sleep in the musky hotel. In the bed next to him, Alice snoozed away into the night, peaceful as a dove.

The cellphone, a Nokia 640, vibrated on the dresser next to him. He picked it up and looked at the monochrome screen, then pressed the Navi key. "Carter," he said. "I told you not to call this number unless it was an—"

"—absolute emergency, I know," finished the British man on the other end of the conversation. "Well, it is. They've found you."

"What?" said Kilroy, a bit too loud, making Alice toss in her sleep. He rounded the corner towards the door, cupping his hand over the phone. "How could they know? I covered every possible trail."

"They're getting better," answered Carter. "Your technological prowess is formidable, to be sure, but the Foundation has access to certain resources. They're sending someone to your position now. You've got to get out of there immediately before he reaches you."

"Just the one Agent?" asked Kilroy. "That shouldn't be too hard."

"Not an Agent," said Carter. "This one is special. He's a new researcher, a doctor of some renown. I called you as soon as I got the information, and I'm not sure how much lead time he has. Do not underestimate him, and do not trifle with him."

Kilroy hung up the phone, shoving it into his back pocket. He grabbed his jacket, flicked on the lightswitch, and yanked the covers off of his sleeping daughter. "Showtime, Alice," he said firmly, "paddy wagon's on the way."

Alice inhaled sharply, blinking at the harsh lights. "Not again," she grumbled, shaking herself out of the slumber and sitting up along the side of the bed.

"Sorry, scout," said Kilroy, "you can sleep in the car. Thirty seconds, we're out of here. Jump to it."

They sprung into coordinated action, having done this a half dozen times already. The baggages were left packed save for the next day's outfit, and they'd already both bathed upon arrival. Thirty-five seconds later, Alice was dressed and carrying her backpack as her father helped her out of the motel window.

They scurried across the parking lot, ducking behind cars, until they reached a white Cadillac Seville far from their Mustang. Kilroy popped the driver's side lock easily, and Alice tumbled over the seat into the passenger side. Kilroy slumped into the driver's seat, nodding to Alice. "Do your magic, sweetie," he said.

Alice nodded back. The ignition of the car turned over slowly at first, then roared to life. Kilroy put the car in drive and punched it.

"Keep your head down," he said, "this might get—"

His words were cut off by gunfire. The back window of the Seville cracked from two bullet holes, the trajectories of which only barely missed Kilroy's head. "Son of a bitch," he yelled, keeping control of the car.

He was back on the highway in seconds. Alice was huddled beneath the windows, looking up at him, crying. "Daddy," she blubbered, unable to articulate anything else.

"I know, sweetie," he shouted back. They'd been in close calls before, but never this close; never gunfire close. "Just hold tight," he added. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. Not ever."

There was a screech of tires behind him. Kilroy glanced in the side mirror; a Ford Crown Victoria was gaining on them with dogged determination. "Magnificent bastard, is he?" muttered Kilroy. "Well, then, we'll just have to even the odds." Kilroy swerved over the median strip, directly into the oncoming lane, narrowly missing a collision with a tractor trailer before ending up on the shoulder.

The Crown Victoria gave chase, nonchalantly performing the same maneuver, but failing to make it to the shoulder; the driver remained in the oncoming lane on purpose, swerving in and out of headon traffic maniacally. Kilroy floored it along the shoulder, barely outrunning the mad driver as the Seville kicked up a cloud of stones behind him. "This fucker is crazier than I am," said Kilroy aloud. In an impulse, he banked the car hard right into the path of the Crown Victoria, tearing across two lanes and back over the median strip before the pursuer had a chance to compensate, and driving onto the oncoming cloverleaf.

Kilroy exhaled. "Jesus," he said, "that was—"

Three more shots came across the bow of the car, one grazing the hood, leaving a streak of metal where the paint layer had been. "Shit!" yelled Kilroy. "How the fuck did he—"

WHAM! The Crown Victoria rammed the side of the Seville, doing major cosmetic damage to both cars. Kilroy nearly veered into the guardrail from the impact, struggling to keep the vehicle on the road. He glanced up at the driver for the briefest instant as the car came at them again, and as the operative leveled a classic revolver at Kilroy he clearly saw his eyes: one green, one blue, one hazel…

Then, without warning, the Crown Victoria sailed ass-over-teakettle through the air, its entire automatic transmission jamming in mid-stroke, and it careened over the side of an overpass, tumbling as it landed in a cornfield.

Alice was panting heavily, her eyes wide as nickels. Kilroy looked to her, then looked back at the smoking wreckage trailing behind them. "You did that?" he asked, slightly surprised.

"I'm not going to let anyone hurt you, daddy," she replied. "Not ever."

Interlude: The Man with Oscilloscope Eyes
Continued in Part 2

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