JOULES 1  ·  JOULES 2  ·  JOULES 3  ·  JOULES 4  ·  JOULES 5
JOULES 6  ·  JOULES 7  ·  JOULES 8  ·  JOULES 9  ·  JOULES 10

chapter ten
Part Ten

“It's a Network container. Grand Design built. About ten years ago.” Jones reported in a clipped tone she used when her intuition was trying to warn her of danger.

“How does a local get that?” Finnegan was getting increasingly suspicious of this whole situation.

Jones brought up her display and read from it, “Last track on it has the unit arriving in Spokane, Washington eighteen months back. No movement since.” She paused and looked at the unit, it was weathered. “That's only a thousand or so klicks from here.”

Finnegan turned and moved back to Joules who quickly took her attention from Livingston and looked at the senior officer as though she were a school girl reporting to a very strict school principal, and then she fought the rest of that image before a flash of desire was noticed on her expression.

“Miss…” Finnegan paused and turned to Livingston who shrugged. Finn realized they'd failed to complete even the first step in an investigation, getting names.

Seeing the flash of disapproval Livingston offered what he had, “She's not on the registry.”

Finn nodded, slightly satisfied, “There's nothing odd about that.” He turned to Joules, “I'm sorry, Miss. What is your name?”

Joules looked at them. In a place where everyone probably knew everyone else their whole life that would seem to be an odd question, and she thought about challenging it from that perspective, but then she realized the image of this squad and that Carrier would probably intimidate any single traveler whether male or female and on that basis she responded with an identity she knew was off the registry, “Fawn Knutson.”

“Miss Knutson,” Finnegan continued without hesitation, “Where did you get that container?”

Joules looked at the container, El Bazaar must have covered his bases very well. He must've tied the container's registry to this area before giving it her, if he hadn't these people would be asking different questions.

“In a trade.” She said plainly. The mercenaries took her Starbus and left her the container. That was sort of a trade, if she hadn't traded her Starbus for the container she'd be flying the Starbus right now. It was technically true so if they were analyzing her bio-metrics right now she was sure she'd pass.

Finnegan's expression scrunched up. Not in disbelief but in confusion. That was a good sign. “Trade for what?”

She pointed east again, “My family's got a wheat farm. We do rye and other grains too. When they're ready we bring them into Platsburgh.” Joules made up that name but pointed wildly up the road hoping her conviction would sell it.

“We usually get new tools and stuff along with payment. Uncle Thomas saw the box and thought it would be handy.” She looked at Livingston with a childlike bump in energy, “It can fly. Higher than our barn!”

Finnegan looked at the container again. It's trail ended close enough to this spot to be plausible. There were no weapons on it, nothing suspicious save for it looking out of place in this barren wilderness.

Between watchful glances from the Squad Joules' eyes flashed with a different desire. The multi-purpose units they all had could answer a nagging question she had, but she shouldn't know that.

“You gotta map?” Joules said with a girlish energy as she mimed a large spread out piece of paper. “I'll show you.”

Livingston stepped forward first and held up his multi-unit display after keying the map grid up to it. He stood close to Joules while pointing out the marker indicating them, where they'd come from and where they were going.

Joules knew that the odds any map a local had seen would have the same orientation were nearly none decided to take the unit from Livingston while looking at it wide-eyed, and angle it off kilter.

“Okay,” she said after reorienting herself. A large part of the display was detailed and crisp, clearly showing her where this Squad had been and what they knew for sure. In the half tone part of the display, two thirds up, was a faint, flashing dot labeled 'Town 98074'.

To the right of their position was a branch road leading to another flashing dot labeled “Village 98076”. Heading in the opposite direction on this cross road was their destination, a grey zone labeled 'White Creek'.

According to the index key some fifteen kilometers back along the road was a firm dot labeled 'Cogan's Corner' and between 'Cogan's Corner' and their position were three other, smaller blue dots. Joules brought her finger up and risking exposing herself right there pointed to 'Village 98076' and said, “That's Platsburgh!”

Realizing he had someone who could fill in the blanks Livingston pointed to 'Town 98074', “What about this one?”

Joules decided embellishing 'Platsburgh' was far enough for her. “Don't know. It might where the stuff in Platsburgh comes from. My Uncle calls that Seattle!”

They chuckled. Livingston lowered the display with a deflated enthusiasm, “That's a fair bit further, I'm afraid.”

“Sorry.” Joules said, trying not to laugh as well. Despite being a gangly kid with soft features this Livingston was sort of cute.

Satisfied that Fawn Knutson wasn't a threat Finnegan turned and motioned the Squad to remount the Carrier. Joules wasn't impressed with the casual manner that she was being dismissed.

Livingston glanced at the container and then looked back at her, “Aren't you thirsty?”

Joules looked at him barely able to restrain the desire he offered. “A little bit. Why?”

Livingston reached back and pulled out a bladder of water. He tossed it at her as he turned and headed off.

She looked at the bladder. This was heaven sent. She hadn't risked drinking from the creek earlier because one never knew what was in those things. This would be refined liquid, complete with extra electrolytes. Exactly what her body needed.

Livingston stopped after a few paces when he remembered something and he turned rushing back. Joules almost bolted thinking he'd just figured out something and he was about to apprehend her.

Instead the Private pulled out another pack from a pocket and offered it to her, “Snacks.”

Joules jaw dropped, “Snacks?”

“Yeah,” Livingston said as he back-stepped toward the Carrier again, “munchies, edibles. Food.”

Joules knew exactly what he was talking about. She could see the logos on the label. He'd just given her a full Meal pack including Richmond Chocolate. Every taste bud in her mouth was spritzing in anticipation.

“Thank you.” She said warmly.

As the Carrier rose and moved off Joules smiled realizing the kid might have just saved her life. Not with the water and treats, which would greatly ease her journey, but in their ignorance and inability to properly identify her he'd shown her a detailed topographical map of the area and with it a faster route to rescue.

Joules rushed back to the container, reactivated it, turning it around to travel the way they'd come.

* * *

After restoring his weaponry Finnegan slipped into the Command alcove and took a moment to strip his field gear off. He took this time to file his report on the stop and thumbed 'submit' before moving up front to join Hreha at the controls.

Not one for small talk Hreha usually drove in silence, a reason Finnegan frequently joined her. Ten minutes of blissful silence later, on noticing Sergeant Sherona Jones standing in the door frame behind them Hreha nodded back in the direction they'd come from, “She didn't want a ride?”

Finnegan looked at her wondering why that would have occurred to Hreha. Jones voiced it, “Why would she?”

Corporal Valerie Hreha shrugged not understanding the logic of that. “This is a pretty remote location to be picky about who rescues you.” She offered.

The tone of that statement threw Finnegan and he decided to let it slide because it was adding to the rapidly forming head-ache he was getting. Sergeant Sherona Jones wasn't so generous, “What makes you think she needed rescue?”

Without taking her eyes off the controls as she wielded the ungainly craft down a steep slope and around a tight bend Hreha responded, “She was wearing last season's Phendo line. Not the sort of thing you wear for a field trip.”

Finnegan ordered full stop while Jones called up the images of 'Fawn Knutson' and compared her outfit through the limited information files they had for Phendo. She was surprised, and pretty annoyed that the Phendo catalogue was occupying space in their limited database.

Finnegan's expression soured quickly as he realized there was no mistaking it. Right down to the hot colour of the line it was exactly what 'Fawn' had been wearing.

He didn't know much about fashion but even he knew Phendo was an expensive line of clothes and not the sort of gear that some country hick in the middle of this frontier would get by trading wheat.

He looked back at Livingston sharply, “Where did she say she was going?”

Livingston came forward with his display and showed Hreha, who with the skill of a valet brought the Troop Carrier around and back the way they'd come.

They crossed the Interstate five minutes later and accelerated toward 'Village 98076' or 'Platsburgh' if the Cargo container riding Phendo wearing vixen they'd recently met wasn't lying.

Finnegan decided she was when they still hadn't found the slow moving container after ten minutes searching.

* * *

Joules opened up the grav thrusters and took the cargo container to its top speed of one hundred kilometers per hour. She only had five klicks to go and was pretty confident the power cells could muster than without running out of juice.

Livingston's display held the best news she'd seen in twenty-four hours, and that was the three placemarkers for the Network Communication Units that the Squad had planted since leaving Cogan's Corner.

Joules knew a by-pass code, another wonderful trick Gilmore had shown her, and that meant she'd be able to call for help, which was Step Two in her plan to get her Starbus back.

But she'd have to get to the Comm-Unit before that Network team came back for her because this time they wouldn't be asking questions.

* * *