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Null Infinity - Chapter 6

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After a half hour the man turned off the road onto a smaller, dirt road. Harry got worried.

“Excuse me, is this the way to town?” asked Harry.

“No, I'm going to my ranch first, I have things I've got to get done today. You guys can fix you something to eat while I work. We'll go to town tomorrow.”

Harry didn't object, they needed food and there wasn't anything else he could do.

Another twenty minutes passed quietly while the man maneuvered over an ever worsening road, they pulled up to a small wooden house needing paint and several larger buildings also in need of paint.

“Okay folks, here we are,” he said, stopping the old truck.

They all went inside and the man opened shutters on the windows to illuminate the interior. There were a few old chairs, a sink in the corner with a pump handle, an iron stove, and another room off the first.

“The bathroom is outside in the back if you need it,” said the man. “Let me fire up the stove and I'll fix some bacon and bread.”

Harry was at a loss as to what to do and Lauren was in shock.

Harry finally said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, no, just sit down and rest, you probably are feeling exhausted. There should be some water in the jug if you want to pour some for yourself and the young lady,” said the man.

Harry got the water for Lauren and himself and took a drink. It was warm and had a strong mineral taste but otherwise seemed okay. Lauren only sipped hers even though she was extremely thirsty.

“By the way,” said the man, “I'm Marshall Lawer, just call me Marsh.”

“I'm Harry Stimson and this is Lauren Cauley. Have you lived here very long Marsh?”

“Five years Harry, I used to live in town but moved out here to get away from people. Enjoyed it until the military showed up a couple of months ago.”

“What do you mean Marsh?” asked Harry.

“The military started poking around my land. They're doing some kind of secret experiments I think and they're worried I'll find out. So they keep their eyes on me.”

Harry was alarmed, maybe the military was watching now. Marsh seemed to sense Harry's uneasiness.

“Don't worry,” he said. “They've been through today. They patrol with those drones everyday at the same time. Dumb to be so predictable but they're military, you know?”

Marsh put the bacon and toasted bread on the small table.

“Sorry, I know it's not much but I wasn't expecting company,” he said.

“It's fine,” said Harry, picking up a piece of bacon and tasting.

It was very salty, otherwise not too bad. Lauren did the same and made a face but kept eating.

“You'll have to drink some extra water cause it's so salty. I don't have refrigeration so I have to use salt as a preservative,” said Marsh.

He went into the back room and came back with a rifle.

“Okay, I'm going to do some work, I should be back before dark. Make yourself comfortable,” he said as he went through the door.

Harry looked at Lauren.

“Okay,” he said, “this is getting strange.”

“Yeah, I'm not even sure we're still in the same country,” she said.

“You want some more to eat?” he asked.

“Just a piece of bread,” she said.

Harry passed her the plate the bread was on and she took a piece. She began to absentmindedly munch on it. They both were deep in thought trying to process what had happened.

Harry had drifted off to sleep when he was awakened by gun shots. Looking over toward Lauren he could see she was also waking.

“What was that?” he asked, standing up and moving towards the door.

“I don't know,” she said.

They heard it again, three sharp shots and then some yelling. Harry hurried outside.

There about a hundred yards away was Marsh holding his rifle over his head and jumping up and down and shouting. Harry didn't understand until he heard the sound high above. He looked up to see a plane trailing smoke. Except it wasn't a full sized plane, it looked like a big model plane. Then Harry realized it was a drone. Marsh had shot a military drone.

The drone was still high but descending as it circled above Marsh's head. Then the drone pitched over and began diving straight to where Marsh was standing. Marsh had quit dancing up and down now.

Shortly he had started running but the drone was almost on top of him. Harry saw the vehicle hit the ground just in front of a sprinting Marsh, he couldn't have avoided it and it didn't matter because there was an explosion and Harry lost sight of the man.

By the time the smoke had cleared Harry saw no sign of Marsh. He turned and ran back inside.

“Marsh has been killed,” said Harry. “We better get out of here.”

“What?” said Lauren.

“Marsh has been killed by a military drone and we need to get out of here, I'm sure they will be here soon. Let's go.”

“Okay,” said Lauren jumping up but heading in the wrong direction.

“What are you doing?” asked Harry.

“I'm getting the keys to the truck,” she said.

Lauren had watched Marsh put the keys down next to the sink when he was preparing the food, Harry hadn't noticed.

Lauren grabbed the keys and caught up with Harry as they ran to the truck outside.

Harry got in the driver's side and Lauren the other, she handed him the keys. He had the truck started shortly and they were flying down the rough, narrow road. The automatic restraints had engaged but

Lauren was holding on as the truck was almost bucking like a rodeo bull from one hole to the next.

“Harry, you'll wreck,” she said.

“Don't worry, the smart drive is engaged, it should keep us on the road,” said Harry.

Just as he said that the truck swerved sideways in a skid that the AI had a difficult time correcting. But the truck righted itself and Harry kept the accelerator pressed.

“This old thing is running pretty good,” he said. “Like Marsh was keeping it in top condition for a run like this.”

“Maybe he was,” said Lauren, having to raise her voice above the road noise.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Maybe he was transporting something illegal,” she said.

“Oh,” Harry said. “That would explain some things.”

Just then the end of the road appeared, Harry jerked the wheel to make the turn onto the county road. The vehicle lifted one side before setting down and skidding across the county road and off. Harry kept the accelerator down and steered for the roadway. The vehicle responded, they made the road and kept going. Harry knew then that it was as Lauren had said, the truck was definitely setup to make some fast runs.

“Harry,” said Lauren, “you're not a bad driver but I never want to ride with you again.”

“I don't blame you,” he said, as they picked up speed hurrying down the road in a northeasterly direction.

It took about fifteen minutes and the road they were traveling ended. Harry was caught off guard and slammed on the brakes, the truck skidded sideways and ended up perfectly astride the new road in the proper lane. Harry looked at Lauren and grinned before accelerating away.

The new road was also dirt but better maintained.

“We're heading west,” he said.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Don't know yet,” he said.

It was after dark when they approached a brightly lit area. Harry pulled the truck into a place called Landers Pizza.

“Maybe we can get some information and something to eat,” he said.

Inside the restaurant they took a seat and ordered. Harry casually asked the waitress how far they were from Albuquerque.

“I'm not too sure,” she said, “maybe two hundred miles.”

Harry looked at Lauren with raised eyebrows.

“What about the nearest airport?”

“Gallup, it's about forty miles east of here.”

“Where can you fly to?” asked Lauren.

“I'm not sure,” she said, turning around she yelled to the man behind the counter.

“Joseph, you know where you can fly to from Gallup?”

“Phoenix,” he said.

“Yeah, he should know,” said the waitress, he's always flying somewhere.”

“Thank you,” said Harry.

The waitress left.

“Well, if we have enough money we could fly into Phoenix,” said Harry. “But I doubt we'll have enough money to get from there back to Atlanta.”

“I'll call my dad, he can send us some money,” said Lauren.

“You told them what you were doing?” asked Harry, confused.

“No, but I guess I'll have to now.”

The waitress brought the drinks. Someone started a song, it was new country.

“It's terrible what happened to Mr. Lawer,” said Lauren, taking a sip of her drink.

“Yeah, I've never seen anyone die before,” said Harry.

“I wonder if he has any relatives?” said Lauren.

“I don't know, I guess we could try to find out when we get back,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said.

They were quiet for a while watching two couples dance to the music.

“Landers Pizza seems to be not only a pizza place but also a date place,” said Harry.

“Yeah, must be the place to go in Landers New Mexico,” said Lauren.

“You want to dance?” said Harry.

“You know how to dance?” asked Lauren.

“A little,” he said. “I was the practice dummy for my big sister.”

Lauren looked as if she were going to say yes.

“Maybe some other time Harry, after the past couple of days I think I just want to sit here and pig out on pizza.”

“I understand,” he said.

The waitress brought the pizza. The two began devouring it. Harry was sitting facing the door, suddenly he ducked his head.

“What's wrong Harry?” asked Lauren.

“Don't turn around but three soldiers just walked in,” he said.

The soldiers looked around and then the one in front started straight for the pair.

“Too late, we've been spotted,” said Harry.

The soldier walked up and said, “I'm Lieutenant Hampton, are you Harry Stimson?”

“Yeah,” said Harry.

“If you and Ms. Cauley will come with us please.”

“What if we refuse?” said Lauren.

“Miss we are authorized to use whatever means necessary to bring you with us,” said the soldier.

“Okay,” said Harry, “we'll come with you, peacefully.”

“Excellent decision, sir,” said the soldier.

Harry and Lauren got up and followed the Lieutenant Hampton outside with the other soldiers following.

They walked up to a black van and one of the soldiers opened the door for Harry and Lauren to get in. He followed them and shut the door. The other two then got in the front of the van and started to drive.

“Another black van,” whispered Harry to Lauren.