Sergio sat behind the wheel of their small, compact car, driving and still driving. They had been driving for days, hours at a time. He was starting to get bored of the entire thing. Ever since their encounter with Invergence at the hospital, neither he nor his wife felt like staying in the same place for too long. That unearthly monster somehow had a way of tracking them, and so they kept on the move.
Shortly after that incident, they stopped by a pawn shop to pick up a few weapons. They bought a small handgun that might not be enough to take down something as big as that monster, but it would help slow it down. Of course, maybe they would get lucky and shoot it in the head. They also bought a machete and various other defensive devices, all in the hope that they might provide some measure of protection if and when they fought that monster again.
And Sergio was pretty sure they would. It was only a matter of time before it caught up to them.
In the meantime, they drove all over the state of Nevada. They had been doing this for a few weeks now. They figured that, if they refused to travel in a straight line, and drove in circles instead, they might confuse their pursuers. But Sergio was getting very tired of driving through nothing but desert for hours.
Little Alice was doing just fine since her brief brush with RSV. The meds the doctor had prescribed had done the trick, and she was now babbling happily in the back seat. Kat occasionally checked in on the girl, and they had to make frequent stops at gas stations and rest stops. But neither of the parents cared about any inconvenience the girl brought. They were grateful for the chance to stop and stretch their legs. Besides, seeing that smiling face was enough for them to forget any of their trials.
As Sergio drove, his wife spoke for the first time since their last stop.
“You can baptize Alice.” She said.
Sergio almost stopped the car. “What?” was all he could say.
“If you really want it so bad, you can let her be baptized. I won’t stand in the way.”
“I thought you didn’t like the idea of her being associated with any one church.”
“I don’t,” she looked like she was having the same debate inside her own head. “But I realize that, it’s just a name on a record. It won’t change the way you or I decide to raise her. Ultimately, we’re in charge of that.”
Sergio started to feel excited. He had wanted this for a while, especially given the danger Alice was in. He had respected Kat’s insistence that they not baptize the girl, but it took a lot of his willpower. He truly believed that mankind had souls, and those souls needed saving as much as the body needed physical care. Baptism was the answer, and even though Kat didn’t believe in Catholicism, Sergio was convinced that something needed to happen. And for him, that meant baptism.
Kat spoke again. “Can we just…get it over with quickly? I’d really like to get this whole debate behind us.”
Sergio nodded. “The sooner the better. We’re almost back to Las Vegas. I’ll ask around in the morning.”
It was almost night time, so baptizing Alice before the end of the day was probably out of the question. The next day was Friday, and Sergio hoped that there would be someone willing to baptize their daughter on short notice.
A few moments later, and they found a hotel outside of Vegas. Sergio checked them in and they found their room. They usually preferred the type of hotel or motel where the doors opened directly into the parking lot. This allowed them to make a quick getaway when needed. But they couldn’t find one quickly tonight, so they stuck with the more traditional hotel layout.
While Kat went to the bathroom and showered, Sergio helped prepare Alice for bed, changing her into her more comfortable outfits. Alice was in a good mood tonight, and made all sorts of babbling sounds.
“Da!” she said, while Sergio zipped up her onesie. Sergio froze. Had she just…
“Da,” she said again.
Sergio held her up to his face, elated. “You just said ‘da.’ She just said ‘da!’ Kat!”
He was so excited he didn’t know what to do except yell his wife’s name. “Kat!”
The running water had stopped and Kat poked her head out of the door, a white towel wrapped around her hair.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Alice just said ‘da!’ As in me, dad!”
“You sure it wasn’t just random babbling.”
“No, she said it twice.”
As if on cue, Alice decided to say it a third time. “Da!”
“Oh my!” Kat exited the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her. “She really is saying something.”
“I know!” Sergio was having a hard time containing himself.
Alice, who seemed quite pleased with the reaction she was getting from her parents, continued to make babbling sounds, often scattered with her word for ‘dad.’
It was a special moment for both of them. It seemed, for a time, like they could forget all of the troubles around them. Just getting the chance to see Alice grow was enough. They were content.
Until they heard the buzzing outside their window.
Instantly, both parents recognized the sound. Kat dashed to the wall to put out the lights in their room, while Sergio creeped over to the window and looked through the curtains. In the dark he was able to make out several dark shapes moving across the navy-blue sky. Despite the dim light, he could make out their silhouette. He looked over at Kat, and nodded. It confirmed their suspicions. Those were Invergence drones.
A few moments later and the drones had moved on. Probably just on some sort of patrol.
“What do we do?” Kat asked.
“We leave tomorrow,” said Sergio. “The drones have an equal chance of catching us in daylight or at night, so it won’t make a difference when we leave. We’ll make one brief stop at the church and then get out of Las Vegas.”
Kat nodded in agreement, though she probably wanted to skip the church altogether. Despite her allowing Alice to be baptized, Sergio could tell that she still didn’t like the idea. And going out of their way to baptize her when there were drones about probably didn’t help things.
But she said nothing as they both slipped in bed. They were tired so they fell asleep easily, even despite their worries about Invergence. Both were used to sleeping under stress by now, and it wasn’t long before all three of them were fast asleep.
They arose at eight o’clock the next morning. Sergio grabbed all their things while Kat retrieved Alice from the small crib they had purchased. Silently, they moved everything out to the car. Sergio took one last moment to check themselves out of the hotel. While he was there, he asked about any Catholic churches nearby. The young man at the desk didn’t know anything, but allowed Sergio to use the computer to look it up. Soon, they were driving again. Thankfully, they had passed up the worse of rush-hour traffic, so they only had to wait fifteen minutes or so before they arrived at the church.
It was a flat building, with few adorning features. It didn’t look at all the way many other churches looked, tall with a lot of ornamentation. But this was the place, so they parked and got out. This time Sergio held Alice as they walked through the doors. It looked like the place had just opened.
Once inside, they both stood around waiting for someone to say hello. When no one came, they walked into the chapel. That was the first time they saw anyone. Apparently not too many people came here on a Friday morning.
In the chapel, a well-dressed man came to greet them.
“Welcome,” he said, “to our humble place of worship. My name is Father Chesterton. Is there anything I can help you with?”
Sergio could visibly see Kat trying not to roll her eyes. He tried to ignore that. “Um…yeah, we’re just passing through town, but we really wanted to make sure our baby girl was baptized before she gets any older.”
The man looked at Alice, then back at her parents. He seemed to be considering something in his mind. “You’re a long way from home?” he asked.
“Yes, and we won’t return for some time,” said Sergio.
“Well, it’s most irregular for us to just perform a baptism without some prior warning. Do you have godparents selected?”
“No, but you don’t have to have those, right?”
“No, no, you certainly don’t. Hmm. Give me a moment while I discuss this with one of my colleagues.”
“So you can do it?” Kat cut in.
“Well, yes, we don’t want your daughter’s soul endangered any longer. But there are a few things we should check on first. Procedural matters, you understand.”
Kat frowned in impatience. Sergio felt the same. He wanted Alice baptized, but even he admitted that they were in a terrible rush.
“I’ll be back soon, I promise,” the man said, and hurried off.
Kat sighed and sat down on a nearby bench. Sergio joined her, letting Alice sit between them. The girl waved her arms around with excitement at the new environment to sit in. If only Sergio could find such simple pleasures.
While Alice played around on the bench, Kat and Sergio were keeping their ears peeled for any hint of the drones they had heard the night before. That was why both instantly sprung to their feet at the same time. They distinctly heard the whine of an approaching drone, probably just one from the sound of it. It was coming closer and closer. At that exact moment, the priest returned.
“Now then,” he said, “everything seems to be in order. Why don’t we…”
“I’m afraid we have to go.” Kat said hastily. Sergio agreed. They would have to baptize Alice another time.
“But you only just got here, and I thought you wanted the safety of your daughter’s soul.”
“We can do that later,” Kat shot back.
“Please stay, I insist!”
“No can do.”
“No, you must stay!”
Sergio turned to look at him. We must stay? Kat was looking at the man as well. “Why are you so eager to keep us here?”
“You’re with Invergence aren’t you!” Sergio couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Look, I don’t know anything about them. All I know is they were willing to pay a lot of money if I saw a family matching your description. That’s all I know I swear.”
“So you sold us out!” Kat was furious.
“Please, we don’t get a lot of money here, and the offer was quite generous.”
“Unbelievable.” Kat turned and stormed towards the exit. Sergio followed with Alice. The sound of the drone had grown much louder now. It was probably circling the building. Kat paused and pulled out a pistol they had bought earlier. She had brought that into the church?
Once outside, it didn’t take them long to find the drone. It was hovering just above the church, its dark tendrils hanging beneath it, and its single red eye combing the place. Kat raised her pistol and fired. The bullet sparked as it bounced off the drone’s armored shell. It whirled and faced Kat. She waved Sergio past, towards the car. Sergio didn’t need telling twice. He ran to the car and placed Alice in her seat. Then he ran around to the back of the car to get the machete they had bought earlier that month.
Kat fired again. The bullet also bounced off the drone. Its red eye started to glow, and then a beam of laser-light shot from it. The beam missed Kat by centimeters and set fire to a bush surrounding the church. Kat retreated to the only source of cover she had available: back into the building. She continued firing on the drone, but that did nothing except distract the machine. It lowered to eye-level in order to smash through the doors of the church and follow Kat. It remained focused on her, turning its back to Sergio and Alice.
Sergio then made either the dumbest or bravest decision of his life. He leapt on the back of the drone, carefully avoiding the spinning propellers that kept it aloft. It immediately sank but quickly compensated. Then, sensing what was happening, the drone swam from one side to the other, attempting to knock Sergio off. It nearly worked, but Sergio held on tightly. Then, lifting one arm, he jammed his machete into one of the propellers. A screech of metal and the drone spun on its one good propeller. Sergio flew off the machine. A moment later and it hit the ground, its one good propeller still trying to lift it up.
Dazed, Sergio blinked and found the machete, scuffed and bent slightly, lying next to him. He picked it up and ran to where the drone lay on its side. He found its big red eye and jammed the machete into it. Glass broke and it dug deep into the drone’s inner workings. Sergio twisted the embedded machete, and the drone stood still.
He was breathing deeply. He took a moment to collect himself, then glanced back at Kat. She was staring at him.
“I’ve never wanted you more than this moment,” she said.
Sergio grinned. “It’s going to have to wait.” They could hear the sound of more drones. The first one had almost certainly reported their position.
The priest entered the lobby where the drone lay.
“Oh my goodness!” He made the sign of the cross. “I…how?”
“Just stay out of our way,” Kat said and both she and Sergio ran back outside.
Alice was still babbling in the car, seemingly oblivious to what was happening. Before entering the car, Sergio turned in the direction of the buzzing. Two small shapes were slowly approaching.
Sergio rushed into the car and started it up. A few seconds later and they were driving as fast as they could away from the church.
Sergio didn’t look back, he focused only on driving forward. But it wasn’t long before Kat called to him.
“Sergio!” she yelled.
Sergio adjusted the mirror to look behind them. The two drones had veered away from the church and were now following them from a distance.
Sergio swore and increased their speed. He hoped to be able to outrun them on the highway. But try as they might, they couldn’t outrun the drones. The machines stayed a safe distance, easily keeping up with the speed of the car.
Kat looked at Sergio, and he met her gaze. Neither knew how they were going to get out of this one.
“They’re not trying to kill us.” Kat said, for all that was worth.
“They’re probably just tracking us, reporting our position back to Invergence.”
“Is there any place where they can’t follow us?”
“Not that I know of, we’re in the middle of a flat desert.”
But, suddenly, Sergio had an idea.
He made a quick u-turn, going back in the direction of the drones. They both hovered in the air, and let the car pass underneath them before following.
“What are you doing!” Kat yelled.
“I’m trying something crazy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have no idea, but we’ll see if it works.”
He stepped on the pedal, moving back down the highway until he found the right exit ramp. He had seen this place before when they first drove through Las Vegas.
Once he had made the exit, he quickly found a road leading east.
He drove very fast. Cars and trucks honked their horns as he shot past them, weaving in and out of traffic. Their car jostled and careened back and forth as they seemingly hit every conceivable bump in the road.
He continued driving for several agonizing minutes. All the while, he wondered if they were going to make it. Had Invergence already started converging on their position? It had been months since they last saw Sergio’s doppleganger. Was he on his way as well? Sergio tried his best to push those thoughts out of his mind as he drove. A few moments later, and they were getting closer to his destination. He started to slow down, knowing that speeding here might draw unnecessary attention. In fact, he was relieved that no one had pulled him over yet. That was the last thing they needed, another brush with the cops.
A red laser hit the road in front of them, sending gravel flying everywhere. Sergio yelled and swerved the car to the right. The drones were firing at them now. It looked like they were no longer content to just watch where they were going. Another blast came close.
“Why are they firing at us now?” Kat asked.
“They probably figured out where I’m going.”
“And where are you going?”
“There’s an Air Force base up ahead. I saw it the last time we were here.”
Kat didn’t take long to understand. “Sergio, you’re brilliant!”
He didn’t have time to acknowledge her compliment. At that moment, a third laser blast came dangerously close to Sergio’s left arm as it sliced through the side mirror, which fell off behind them.
He made a left turn, heading north again once they were close to the air base. He would try to circle the area and hope that someone was watching the skies.
The drones continued to fire, and Sergio was forced to swerve multiple times, almost hitting another car on two occasions. He did his best to drive straight though. He didn’t want any of the local authorities on his tail. But at this point, with two drones on his back, firing dangerous lasers in a no-fly-zone, apprehension by the authorities was probably inevitable.
It took a few seconds before he realized that the drones were no longer firing at him. Two armored trucks had emerged, carrying some heavy firepower. Two men sat in the back of the trucks and were firing warning shots at the drones. The drones started firing back. Big mistake. A few moments later and the drones were scrap heaps on the ground.
Sergio quickly stared ahead at the road again. They needed to get out of here, fast. And they needed to ditch the car. Surveillance video would almost certainly give them away and they didn’t need another group searching for them. He made a quick left turn and headed back towards the highway. He made several more turns, to throw off anyone who might be following them.
Kat breathed a sigh of relief once they were far enough away. Sergio still didn’t feel like celebrating just yet.
Before they reached the highway, Sergio spotted a car-rental service. Perfect. He rounded the block and pulled over.
“Let’s take everything we can carry. We’re not going to have much time before someone finds the car.”
Kat nodded. She had clearly thought the same thing. They needed a new car. Thankfully, they had the resources for it.
They didn’t have too much to carry, having packed light ever since their first encounter with anti-Sergio. So it only took a few moments to stuff all of Alice’s baby things into a backpack, then Sergio carried the large carseat. They set off and rounded the corner where the rental service was located. It took a few minutes to negotiate, but they soon settled on a large gray truck, bigger than anything they had used before. But it had power and stamina, and after their last chase, Sergio needed something with horsepower.
They heard sirens just as they were getting into the new vehicle. And they were growing louder.
Sergio turned on the engine and sped away from the rental agency as fast as he dared, which wasn’t too fast. He didn’t want to attract attention. He thought he saw flashing lights approaching the place they had just left as they made a left turn, safely away from the authorities’ line-of-sight.
A few moments later and they were back on the highway, safely in a new vehicle, speeding north towards Utah. Now, Sergio let himself breathe. It felt good.
Alice, who had remained cheerful throughout the entire chase, now started to cry. Kat and Sergio looked at each other. Tensions lifted, and they both busted out laughing. They laughed until their sides hurt, while Alice wailed. Kat was still laughing when they paused at a gas station and got out to change the baby.
Despite it all, that had been an exciting experience. And the encouraging thing was they had survived it, based on nothing but their own ingenuity. It was a relief, almost, knowing that they stood a chance against Invergence, that they didn’t always had to stand on the sidelines, helpless to the situation, only saved because of someone else’s intervention. They had a chance.
With Alice properly changed and fed, they left the gas station behind and continued on towards the Nevada border. Kat put her head on Sergio’s shoulder as they drove. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
They didn’t see the tall, dark shape running in their direction a couple of miles behind.
Don’t stop there, read the next episode!