Tremor, p.6Patrick Carman
“You remember what I said.” Glory, like Meredith, was not one to mince words. “Revenge ain’t gonna get you nowhere. You do this because you have to, not because you want to.”
Faith wanted to say Are you crazy? Killing the Quinns is the only thing I want. But she didn’t. Instead she smiled winsomely, pulled Glory into a hug through the window, and let her go.
“I’ll keep an eye on your parents, like I always do,” Grace said to Hawk. “They’ll be comfortable. They’ll be looked after.”
Hawk tried not to think of his parents, who hadn’t spoken or acknowledged his presence in months. They’d already suffered the curse of the Intels. He could hope only for the mercy of passing now—that his parents would drift into death without pain or regret.
Glory flew away, glancing alternately at Faith and Hawk, until the garage door closed and she was gone.
When they were cleanly away from the training facility and out on the open road, Clooger tapped a series of commands on the Tablet-enhanced dashboard, then took his hands off the steering wheel.
“So listen,” Hawk said, turning around to address Faith and Dylan. There was nothing like explaining new inventions for taking his mind off his worries. “The autopilot on this monster doesn’t take passengers into consideration. If it senses something up ahead, like a broken-down car or a tree or whatever, it will maintain the fastest speed possible in order to avoid the hazard while also cutting the least amount of time off our excursion. Same holds true for tight turns.”
Faith leaned forward in her seat and looked at the dashboard, where a Tablet was duct-taped on four sides with wires pouring out like licorice whips.
“We’re doing 154 miles per hour,” Faith said. “That can’t be safe.”
Hawk put his hand up defiantly. “Faith, please. We’re not even close to top speed yet. This thing might look like a Humvee, but it’s not. It’s a HumGee.”
“He likes to invent things,” Clooger said. “And name them.”
“When the Apocalypse is over, we’re going to want these patents. Gold mine, trust me.” Hawk turned back to Faith and Dylan in the backseat. “We’re not really on the ground at all; it only seems like we are. Gyro-tech floats the wheels, so it’s a little like a glider but not quite.”
“That’s why he calls it a HumGee,” Clooger said. “Because we’re gliding. But trust me; you’ll still feel some bumps and curves. We’re only an inch off the ground.”
They were approaching a turn with a sign that indicated 45 miles per hour, not that anyone could see it in the darkness without headlights on; and the HumGee slowed abruptly to about 130, taking the turn at a velocity that lifted the two right tires a foot off the ground. Faith ended up in Dylan’s lap.
“Seat belts are a must in this thing,” Hawk said. “Sorry, I should have mentioned that.”
The HumGee was as silent as a whisper, which only made the turns and the sharp jerks of the steering wheel more jarring.
“Me and Clooger retrofitted everything,” Hawk said. “Wheels, tires, engine, electronics. She’s smooth, but she’s a beast. We can go up the side of a mountain if we need to. But out here, top speed is 240. Nice, right?”
“Are we really in that big of a rush?” Dylan said, pulling on his seat belt, which came down over his shoulder. The seat belt, the speed, and the fact that no one was holding on to the steering wheel made Dylan feel as if he were heading into a demolition derby.
“The less time we’re out here, the better,” Clooger said. “And don’t even think about using a pulse. The closer we get, the more careful we need to be. No pulsing. Get used to it.” Clooger paused and swiped the Tablet screen, which switched to a page showing miles to go (682) and time to arrival at current speed (3.6 hours). “Wake me in an hour; I’m bushed.”
Faith and Dylan didn’t believe sleep was even remotely possible in this kind of ride, but Hawk had seen Clooger do it.
“He could snore right through a drag race,” Hawk said. “And trust me. He snores.”
They arrived on a long, straight stretch of highway, and Hawk let them know that the next hour would be fast and smooth.
“We can do 220 plus out here, really pile up the miles.”
Clooger was asleep, snoring softly, and it gave the three of them a chance to talk in private.
“October road,” Faith said as they angled slightly up on the pavement. They were heading toward Mammoth, a pass that would have been bursting with orange and yellow and green as fall approached. “This would have been a really nice drive during the day.”
“You’ll like Colorado,” Hawk said. “It’s beautiful up there. If it wasn’t for the skunks, the wolves, and those a-holes the Quinns, I’d seriously think about relocating.”
Dylan was brooding in the corner, staring out into the endless darkness as Faith leaned in close against his leather jacket. She loved the way it smelled and how it felt slick against her cheek. Sometimes she wore the jacket, which hung heavy over her shoulders. She was always surprised at how big it was on her, how it smelled so perfectly like Dylan.
“How are you holding up?” Faith asked.
“Yeah, how’s it hangin’, bro?” Hawk added. “This is going to be intense. Mostly for you.”
Dylan shrugged and didn’t speak, but they wouldn’t stop staring at him. “All in all, I think it’s a pretty good plan. I go in, act like I’m switching sides, and pretend that I think Meredith is a lunatic and a liar.”
“That part is believable,” Faith said, and then she felt like a bully for saying it. “I mean, if you don’t know her like we know her. That’s all I’m saying.”
Dylan kept going: “I do all the recon I possibly can while you guys hold tight in the forest outside town.”
“And if things go pear shaped?” Hawk asked.
“Pear shaped? What’s pear shaped?” Faith asked. She moved her arm down and held Dylan’s hand in the darkness, wishing they were alone in the backseat at one of those old drive-in movie places.
“Pear shaped. You know, sideways. Code red. In trouble.”
“Can we stop talking about fruit? It’s making me hungry,” Dylan said.
Hawk held out a protein bar, got no takers, and unwrapped it for himself.
“Meredith said you had a communication device figured out,” Dylan said.
Hawk set the half-eaten protein bar on the dashboard and started digging around in his backpack. “Move over, Faith, I’m coming in.”
Hawk climbed over the seat, legs flailing, and forced his way in between Faith and Dylan.
“You need a car seat?” Dylan asked. He loved giving Hawk a hard time.
“Logically speaking, a car seat would be a bonus right now. But I’m fine, thanks.”
Hawk’s Tablet was in the small, handheld size, and he snapped it large. Soft light bathed the backseat of the HumGee, and Hawk looked up at Dylan and Faith. They were both taller and bigger.
“You should buckle up again,” he said to Faith. “This straightaway isn’t going to last forever.”
“Is there a reason why you need to plague the backseat? We were having a pretty good time back here without you.”
Hawk didn’t answer. Instead he opened a small, black box he’d brought with him and took out several items: a tube of clear gel, a set of long-nosed pliers, and what looked like a modified earring piercer.
“What the hell are you planning to do with those, Dr. Frankenstein?” Dylan asked.
The HumGee turned on a wide, sloping stretch of road, and Hawk’s half-eaten protein bar slid along the dashboard, bouncing against the window and into Clooger’s lap.
“I’ll never see that thing again.”
They were all bunched up together on Dylan’s side in the backseat, like three aside on a roller coaster cutting hard to the right, when the road straightened out again and they all sat upright.
“I need to install sound rings on both of you, like this one.”
Hawk moved a swath of hair away from his ear
“That’s a mighty big hole you’ve got there,” Dylan said, trying to imagine what it would feel like to have a space that big stretched into the flesh of his earlobe.
“Usually you’d keep on inserting bigger metal bars so the hole widens slowly. But we don’t have that kind of time. We have to do what usually takes a few months all at once.”
“Huh?” Dylan said. He had a second pulse, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t feel pain if he let it in. This was going to hurt like hell. Faith, on the other hand, seemed mildly intrigued by the idea of what it might feel like having a pencil-sized hole punched into her skin.
Hawk continued: “I’ve been working on this thing for weeks, just wrapped it up this morning. Meredith thought it would be best if I didn’t mention it until we were on the road.”
“Wait, how do you know if it even works?” Faith asked.
Hawk fiddled with the pliers and made a few adjustments on his Tablet without answering.
“So you’re going to skewer us with that thing, and it might work?” Dylan asked. He knew this reaction from Hawk. He’d seen it before.
“It’ll work. I’m practically sure. And it’s worth it; trust me,” Hawk said. “If we have these installed out in the field, we can talk with one another. All you have to do is cover the hole with your thumb and finger. In theory that will open up a connection between everyone who has a sound ring. No one else can hear us, but we can hear one another. Cool, right?”
“In theory?” Dylan asked.
Hawk had the first application prepared and ready to roll. “Undetectable, not on the Tablet grid. It uses old cell towers and outdated satellites instead. Who wants to go first?”
“I will,” Faith said, pulling her long blond hair into a ponytail. Her drifters tattoo, the one with the ragged hawk on a limb, appeared at the nape of her neck.
“Stop staring and start drilling,” Faith said. Hawk was definitely gawking. He’d never stopped thinking Faith was gorgeous; and her neck was, in his opinion, first-rate. Also, she smelled fantastic.
Dylan almost said I’ll go first, but he’d never had his ears pierced and Faith had. He at least wanted to see how it was done before getting stabbed.
Hawk foraged around in the black box and came up with two sides of an earring just like the one he was wearing, only this one was sparkled with blue and green, which was a perfect match for Faith’s eyes. He held a penlight in his mouth, pointing the shaft of light at the two parts of the sound ring.
“Are those wires?” Dylan asked. Exposed silver tendrils as thin as strands of hair were rolled up inside.
“Yeah, and a circuit board. She’s small, but she’s powerful.”
“I like that it’s a she. We need more girl power on this mission,” Faith said.
Hawk didn’t answer as he loaded the two sides of the sound ring into the piercer, which Faith got a better look at for the first time. The center of the piercer was loaded with a pin that looked like a railroad spike.
“Umm . . . . ,” Faith said.
“Not to worry; just smear some of this on your earlobe, and it’ll loosen things right up.” Hawk was barely paying attention as he held out the tube of clear gel.
Faith applied the gel and felt her skin tingle and numb, and then Hawk held out a length of cloth.
“There’s maybe going to be a little blood.”
“A little?” Faith asked as she took the cloth and Hawk moved in for the kill. She put up a hand and began softening her second-pulse shield. When she was ready, she nodded and Hawk leaned in, pliers in hand. It happened very quickly and without any warning, and Dylan was surprised when the profanities didn’t wake up Clooger. Faith could curse like a sailor when she wanted to.
“Oh, my God, that hurts!” Faith said. Blood was dripping down the corner of the sound ring, but not as much as Hawk had thought there might be.
“Put some more gel on there, Tinker Bell. You’re going to be fine.”
Faith rubbed more gel on the wound and tried not to think about how it felt as if someone had cut off the bottom half of her earlobe with a pair of toenail clippers.
“You’ll want to put some of that gel inside your ear, too. Smear it all over, just to be safe.”
“Why would I do that?”
Hawk didn’t know how else to say it, so he just came right out with the truth.
“A wire is about to uncoil from the inside of the sound ring. It’s going to keep moving until it finds your eardrum, then it will stop. Not a big deal; it’s superthin.”
“So it’s like a tapeworm. Oh. My. God.”
“It’s not going to eat your food, and it’s not alive. It’s a sound ring. It’s cool. Trust me.”
Faith couldn’t help thinking there was something alive and sharp moving toward her brain. She felt something prick under her skin and began rubbing the gel all over her ear as fast as she could. The ear tingled, but the inside wasn’t numb. It felt exactly like what it was: a needle moving along the cartilage of her ear, back into her head, behind her eardrum. She buckled over, shaking her head back and forth, and her long ponytail slapped Hawk in the face like a horse’s tail. When she sat up, the procedure complete, she called Hawk a name that was quite a bit worse than a-hole.
“I deserved that,” he said, pressing the sound ring on his own ear. He turned away from Faith, and in the smallest sound of a whisper, he asked her a question.
“Can you hear me?”
Faith couldn’t believe her ears. Hawk’s voice was crystal clear. It was as if he were crawling around inside her head, closer than close. Faith pressed her own sound ring, and a little bit of blood seeped out at the corner. Her ear stung, but not as badly as she thought it might, and she yelled her answer.
Hawk bolted upright and shook his head, startled by the volume of Faith’s voice.
“For future reference, these things are powerful. You can just talk at normal volume. Or whisper.”
“Sorry about that!” Faith screamed. She was still holding her sound ring.
Hawk’s eyes went wide as the sound of Faith’s voice rang like a gong in his head, then he turned to Dylan.
“She’s pretty pissed off.”
Dylan, having watched the entire proceeding, had turned wide-eyed himself, all the blood drained from his face. But there was no way he was backing down. If Faith and Hawk could do it, so could he.
“Let’s get it over with. Give me the gel.”
Several high-pitched screams, a harrowingly sharp turn on the highway, and a little bit of blood later, Dylan was wired up. His sound ring was white, but Dylan’s hair was wavy and long, covering up any sign that he was hooked into the system.
“Even if it’s exposed, I doubt anyone will think anything of it,” Hawk explained. “It’s an earring, simple as that.”
“You’re sexy when you scream like a girl,” Faith whispered as quietly as she could, holding her sound ring between her thumb and finger. The message was meant for Dylan.
“I can hear you when you talk like that,” Hawk said, pressing his own sound ring. Faith was starting to understand how the system worked.
“So if I press my sound ring and say something, everyone else that has a sound ring hears it?”
“Exactly,” Hawk said. “And if you don’t press it and we’re far away from one another, no one else with a sound ring hears what you’re saying. We’re all connected; but to be heard, you have to press in. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a way to turn the voices off in your head. That part you’re stuck with. If one of us presses in and talks, you’re going to hear it.”
“So if I don’t want you two hearing what I’m saying, I shouldn’t press in?” Faith asked. She wanted to be sure she had this right, because she could already imagine some awkward scenarios, such as the one at Six Flags on the trampoli
“That’s right,” Hawk said. “Don’t pinch your sound ring and talk unless you want to be heard. Keep it to the important stuff, like, for example, if you’re surrounded by bears and forest trolls, that’s a good time to press in.”
There was no Dylan frequency, no Hawk or Faith frequency. They were all jacked into the same phone line.
“This is going to be awkward,” Faith said. “And less fun than I was hoping.”
“Just don’t use it for some kind of audio make-out session and we’ll be fine,” Hawk said. “Actually . . .”
“Hawk, shut up,” Dylan said. His ear was bleeding more than Faith’s, which was turning his white sound ring the color of a fresh-picked cherry.
“Only one more victim and we’re good to go,” Hawk said.
They all looked into the front seat, where Clooger’s shaved chin was resting on his chest.
“He’s a little sensitive,” Hawk said. “Better we get it done while he’s sleeping.”
“What, him?” Faith laughed. “No way. He’s tough as nails.”
Based on recent intel in the field, Hawk was positive this was not the case. Hawk hadn’t told either of them, but when they’d been out in the field the last time, Clooger had been stung by a late fall wasp. The poor guy just about blew a gasket. If Clooger wasn’t running on some kind of battle-induced adrenaline, he could be a serious wimp.
Clooger had an unusually large earlobe. It hung from the side of his head like a wad of chewed bubble gum, and Hawk had a hard time getting the piercer in place. The HumGee slowed down just as he clamped down, dropping from 190 miles per hour to about 120 in a matter of seconds, and Hawk flew forward, dragging Clooger by his ear right into the steering wheel.
That was when Clooger woke up; and when he did, it could be said that things did not go well. Hawk hadn’t quite gotten the sound ring in place, so he clamped down even harder as Dylan grabbed Clooger by his bald head and yanked him back in the seat, holding him steady. Dylan was a strong guy who lifted weights constantly. His arms were, in the truest sense of the word, a pair of guns. But even Dylan wasn’t strong enough to hold Clooger still as Hawk clamped down as hard as he could and really drove the nail-like pin through Clooger’s ear. All manual operations for the HumGee had been re-engineered so that autopilot rendered them useless, which was a good thing, because Clooger had Hawk wrapped around the steering wheel like a pretzel in nothing flat.
Tremor by Patrick Carman / Young Adult / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes