♫ Everythin', everythin', everythin's gonna be alright this mornin' ♫
"All I'm saying is that we've listened to this for two straight hours."
Dietrich rolled his eyes for the third time. "Yah? And I had to sit through yer playlist across two state lines, Bridge. It's my turn."
♫ Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five ♫
"Yeah but the Pumpkins have a little variety." Bridge fumbled with the tuning knob. Dietrich quickly slapped his hand. The hand was retracted followed by a scoff. "Rude!"
♫ My mother said I was, gonna be the greatest man alive ♫
"Serious, Bridge. If'n you don't like Muddy Waters you can just get the hell out. I'm sick of yer belly-achin'."
"Don't make me pull rank, Diet-bitch."
"Cute. Pull rank all you like, I ain't changin' the channel."
«Guys! I've been listening to you two piss and moan over the radio ever since Kansas. I'm turning it off now.»
♫ But now I'm a man, way pa— ♫
Alexandra then cut-off XM radio privileges.
"Alex, that's not in the least bit fair." Dietrich fumbled with his phone in the cup holder. "Alex, turn it back on… Alex?"
Bridge folded his arms, closed his eyes, and slouched into his seat further. "Silent treatment."
Dietrich tossed his phone over the shoulder and into the back seat. From the rear view mirror he could see Merle enjoying the breeze from the open window. Their eyes met and he signed Dietrich a response.
Dietrich batted the rearview mirror into a cock-eyed position so he didn't have to look at him. But Merle remained visible in the reflection of the dash. "Whatever. Not even halfway there and I'm already fixin' to drive this car to the nearest river and drown all three of you." His mother's words coming out of his mouth.
"Three? Yourself included?" Bridge snorted. Dietrich only grumbled more under his breath. "… Hey, how come we didn't just fly to Site-17?"
"Flying means havin' to put in requests; means yer name is on the manifest; means paperwork. I was hired to avoid paperwork as much as possible. Half of spyin' is keepin' low to the ground, Bridge."
Bridge looked out the window. "… I guess that's true. I'm probably just antsy, but it would have been a little nicer to just get a two hour flight over with."
"Just shut the hell—."
Dietrich glanced at Merle's reflection. Then jerked his head back up to see a police checkpoint up ahead. Orange cones and squad cars funneled traffic on the road as they let other cars through slowly. Each one was being examined. He gently stopped behind the line of cars.
"What's wrong, Dietrich?"
"That ain't no everyday police checkpoint." Dietrich cut the steering wheel hard to make a turn to cut across to the other side of the highway.
Alexandra chirped over the speakers. «He's right, sir. Local dispatch has them responding to a fire.»
Dietrich pulled down on Bridge's collar just as the passenger side window glass shattered. The bullet raced by and put a hole in his empty headrest. For sure, someone was shooting at them from behind the trees. Dietrich floored the gas pedal almost through the car itself as they sped away in the opposite direction.
"D'you see the shooter, Bridge! Is it the same lady?!"
"It came from the woods! I don't fucking know!"
Automatic gunfire chased them down the lane as bullets ricocheted off the lightly armored roof and trunk. Fortunately for them, nothing standard issue armoring on Foundation motorpool vehicles couldn't handle. Dietrich looked at his driver side mirror just in time to see a .45 ACP round whiz through it.
"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!"
Bridge muffled a response while keeping his head between his knees. "This wouldn't happen if we were on a plane!"
"Bridge, Merle, shut up!"
"WHO THE FUCK IS MYRTLE?!"
«Guys, take the exit here into town. Get off the highway. We can lose them in more populated areas.»
The SUV squealed and nearly tipped as it made a 40mph drift onto a main road into town. Alexandra was nice enough to work ahead of them, switching the next four intersections to green simultaneously. «Green. Green. Green. And Green. All clear.»
"Outstanding, Alex! Now find us another way out." Bridge fumbled with an outdated road map in the glove box as Dietrich kept his eyes on the nearby buildings for more 'policemen'.
"ALEX!" Bridge frowned.
«Sorry, sir. Um… take this next Route. It's up on the—»
"I saw it. We need to ditch this car though." Dietrich gripped the wheel harder as he sped down the empty asphalt lane. «Three more miles and there's an old rail-yard. We can park in there.»
"Fuckin-A. Alex, call for a pickup too. Make it a Level-4 priority." Bridge folded the map back up and shoved it back into the glove box.
«Okie dokey. I'm online with Site-17 dispatch, we're in range for chopper E-VAC. Redirecting them now.» Alexandra chirped over the car speakers with a comforting and positive tone.
Bridge sighed with relief. "Rank has its perks."
Dietrich didn't respond. He slowed down and eventually pulled into the rail-yard. It was a museum of rust and bird droppings mostly. He set the parking brake, and sat silent.
"Alex, what's the ETA on that pickup."
«Twenty two minutes, sir.»
"Don't call me sir." He shook his head, glancing over at Dietrich with a cold glance. Just enough time to interrogate someone.
"Now… want to tell me what the fuck is going on?"
Dietrich squinted his eyes. "I don't know what the fuck yer talking about. But yer tone is gonna get you cold-cocked."
"Uh huh. You knew those weren't cops. And you look over your shoulder every other minute like you're being followed. And you talk to yourself all the damn time." Bridge cracks his neck in irritation. "And who the shit is 'Merle'?"
Dietrich started to sweat and chuckled nervously. "I-I do none of them things."
«Yeah, you kinda do, sir.»
Dietrich quickly shut off his phone. "So what? You thinkin' I have somethin' to do with us gettin' shot at? I just saved yer life, asshole!"
Bridge backed up a bit, then glanced at his donut of a headrest. "Look I know something's… up, with you Dietrich."
Dietrich's eyes darted between Merle and Bridge. Bridge glanced in Merle's general direction, then back at Dietrich.
"S-stop." Dietrich stepped out of the car.
"Stop what? Tell me what's going on, Dietrich." Bridge followed.
"No!" It was MTF Mu-13 all over again. Merle surrounded him on all sides, no matter where he turned he was there in the rail-yard with them. Even when he closed his eyes, Merle stared back at him in the dark.
"Dietrich, take a breath and calm down."
"Stop it, Merle."
plcht. Dietrich fell to his knees and flopped forward, dropping his phone and car keys. That time, Bridge really had tasered him. Bridge let off a short burst of voltage and approached.
"Now that I have your attention. Who is this Merle?"
Dietrich caught his breath back and picked his face up off the dusty ground. "Bridge… I can't. They'd lock me up fer good. I-I can keep it together… I can… honest."
Bridge took a seat on a pile of railroad ties. "Maybe you think you don't need a psyche eval for whatever your condition is? Maybe you think that gives you some kind of advantage out here?"
Dietrich clenched his fist. "I ain't crazy, Bridge."
Bridge held up his hand to finish his point. "I don't care. I skimmed your file before we left. Six transfers in twelve months. I don't know what you're hiding, but you're abusing Foundation bureaucracy to keep low."
Dietrich shook his head, but it was apparent that Bridge hit the nail on the head.
"You keep it together while we do this, I'll put in another transfer for you to anywhere you want with full endorsement. You or Mister Hyde cross me… I'll hand you over to internal affairs and they can deal with you. Or I'll crush you myself. Savvy?"
"Yah." Dietrich took a knee and pulled the taser darts out of him. "What guarantee I have?"
Bridge picked up Dietrich's mobile phone. "You don't. Nobody ever does around here. But I could have shot you with an actual gun."
Dietrich chuckled and took his phone back. It was a sincere and awkward kind of laugh. "Alright. Deal."
They both shook hands in the rail-yard while Merle adamantly shook his head against it.
"Shut up, Merle."
Bridge smiled, looking in the wrong direction from Merle. "Yeah, shut up."
In the distance, the helicopters could be heard closing in. It wasn't but a few minutes before a red and blue news helicopter landed in the rail-yard with the words 'Sasakwa County Press' decaled on the side. Dietrich and Bridge backed up as the dust cloud enveloped them. A slavic-looking gentleman with tussled brown hair in a very expensive looking hunter green suit hopped out and hustled over to Dietrich and Bridge.
"Agent Lurk and Doctor Bridge?"
Bridge shouted over the helicopter. "That's us!"
"Show me yer ID!" Dietrich yelled.
The man gave him a perturbed look, then fumbled for his Foundation badge and tossed it to him. Dietrich nodded in satisfaction. "Aleksander Foxx, Agent… no offense! Assassins are tryin' to put us in the dirt!"
Foxx nodded and motioned for them to get into the helicopter. All three hustled inside, but not before Foxx pulled the pin of an incendiary grenade and tossed it into the open SUV. "Leave the car! We're taking off!"
The car erupted into black smoke and flames as the helicopter rose up over the hills in the direction of their final destination.
Foxx leaned in close to Dietrich and Bridge. "When we land, rooms will be set up for you. You will be debriefed in the morning. Clear?"
Both nodded. Dietrich then leaned back in his seat next to Merle. "We made it."