Chapter 28: Drive
Luther watched her sleep as he drove. Interstate 5 was definitely faster than the coastal routes.
A passing headlight illuminated her face.
She had been such a little princess there at the store. Shopping had boosted her spirits as much as the food had energized her body.
She was cute, too.
He sighed. I know, “Don’t get any ideas.”
But I’m a guy.
There was a reason he hadn’t wanted a girl friend in Crescent City. Keep your distance and keep your sanity.
This road trip was murder. He hadn’t been out of touching range for hours. And he did get ideas about touching.
But touching leads to kissing. And kissing leads very quickly to complications he couldn’t handle.
For her own safety, I have to send her back home, as quickly as possible.
I can’t do that if we get too close.
Cads and Dads. He’d read a sociobiology book once that claimed there were two natural lifestyles for human males; each designed to efficiently pass on a guy’s genes.
The Cad had sex with as many women as he could, spending seduction time and gifts to get access to them. Any children he sired were on their own.
The Dad concentrated on one mate, and spent his resources raising and protecting his progeny.
It was too simplistic to think you could classify every man as either-or, but Luther was sure there was some truth in it.
Dad was a Dad. He had turned out to be a thief, and that still hurt, but he had always been faithful to Mom.
Even as close as Matt Haskell had been to Katy Ferril, his secretary, there had never been any hint that they had crossed the lines.
And Luther knew, in his gut, that when he...if he found a mate, there would be no going back.
On the outskirts of Bakersfield, Luther pulled off the highway and into a gas station.
“I’m just getting gas. You can stay asleep.”
She blinked and stretched out her arms and legs, twisting like a cat, doing things to Luther that she could never imagine.
“It’s okay. I need to go inside anyway.”
He handed her a couple of bills. “Get me something to drink. Lots of caffeine.”
Pay-at-the-pump is great if you have a credit card that you dared to use. Luther had to make other arrangements to get a fill-up. Once they finished in the Los Angeles area, he’d get an anonymous pre-paid debit card. It made things so much easier.
Deena returned with a large sack. There were chips, candy, nuts, jerky and of course, the cold drinks.
“You’re going to have to watch your diet. You don’t have the nanobots to watch out for you anymore.”
She nodded. “It’s an experiment. I mean, in what condition did they leave my body anyway? Do I have the appetite of old fat Deena, or has it been adjusted to the new thin Deena’s needs?
“There was a scale inside. I’m going to be watching my weight very carefully. But just at first, I’m not on a diet. I’ll eat when I’m hungry, and see what happens.”
He paid the gas bill and made his own pit stop, and then they were back on the road.
Deena had her bare legs propped up on the dash, checking the long muscles with her fingers.
“You know, I could have done all of this without the nanobots. It would have taken years, but there’s nothing in my bone structure or heredity that forced me to be fat. It was all bad choices and bad training.
“By the time I was even aware of ‘fatness’, I was already down that road, with not a clue how to turn around.”
Luther patted his own stomach. “I’ve got my own extra padding.”
“You’re not fat.”
“Not much, but I’m hardly the lean athlete like Bill or Hank. I didn’t want to get into the competition—suppose I was actually good, and then what would I do?
“I’ve just been comfortable with where I’m at.”
Deena pointed, “That’s exactly what happened to me! I didn’t like being fat, but I was comfortable with it.
“Dieting, struggling hard to lose a single pound—it’s a lot of work for nothing more that a bookkeeping entry! I mean, I couldn’t see that lost pound. I couldn’t feel it. I still wore the same clothes.
“And nobody else could see it either. It just wasn’t worth it.”
Deena ran her hands down her torso and felt the legs’ firm muscle tone.
“It’s different now. If I gain a pound, I’ll know it! The thin people have all the advantages in dieting. When I was fat, I’d have to lose twenty or thirty pounds, with no feedback, before it did any good.
“It just isn’t fair. And I’m glad I’m on this side for once. I intend to stay this way!”
“Nanobots don’t have opinions,” he said when she asked what the invaders thought about their host.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re just machines. They’re not little people—not even little aliens. They couldn’t be.”
She didn’t interrupt, but her expression demanded more.
He liked to talk things out. “You said something about them changing from one kind to another. You said you were a factory, where they were made.
“Personalities don’t just happen instantly. They have to grow, over time. I just don’t think any factory, even a magical alien nanobot factory could produce personalities—people, not in just a few days. And if they did, what happens when they convert one kind to another?
“No, they’re just machines. Maybe even smart ones. But they are gadgets responding to their orders.”
Deena thought it over. “I can live with that. I don’t expect my flu virus to have a personality either, it’s just that these nanobots are doing some very smart things, and not just calculating eleven factorial either.”
Luther nodded, “I didn’t say they weren’t smart. They’d pretty much have to be.” He cocked his head to the side. “I think they’re an alien space probe.”
“Like the Mars rovers?”
“Right. It’s really hard to get a camera with a radio to another planet. Just think how much harder it’d be to get to another star. Warp drive and wormholes are all just fiction, for now. Sending a spaceship with live people is nearly impossible.
“Maybe aliens, light-years away, detected us, just like we are discovering new planets around other stars. They want to know about us, but can’t afford the enormous cost and centuries-long travel times needed to get here in person.”
Deena nodded. “They send a space probe.”
“Right. But even a simple camera and a radio transmitter powerful enough to talk that distance would be a huge thing, very massive. Making a big thing go fast enough would be very expensive.
“But if they had nanotechnology, they could just send some very smart nanobots. The whole probe might be something small enough to hold in one hand—something so lightweight that they could shoot it out of a big gun or a linear accelerator.
“Once it gets to our solar system, it finds the right planet and, somehow, gets to the surface.”
Deena could visualize it. She nodded, “Then it grows its own radio transmitter.”
“Right. I wonder about your grove of redwoods. If you think of them as a forest of radio towers, it doesn’t sound so strange.
“They could also infect some of the animals that pass through the forest. Elk and deer and rabbits and high-school students.”
Deena fingered her chin. “And then they figure out how human bodies work and start to repair me. That doesn’t sound like an information gathering system does it? Shouldn’t they just gather data and leave everything undisturbed?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “I’m just guessing. Maybe host bodies are considered differently.”
“So they fix me up, and broadcast data about us back to Alpha Centari or wherever?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they aren’t even interested in humans. Perhaps the only logical things to investigate are the trees, or the ocean. We’re dealing with aliens here. Their motives might just be that—alien.”
“Motives! I thought we decided they were machines?”
“Machines that take their orders from aliens. The true aliens are probably still at home, light-years away. But the nanobots had to get their orders somewhere.
“The nanobots do the magic, but the aliens set the agenda.”
Deena asked, “So why make me heal faster, why make me lose weight, run faster, calculate instantly? Why make me blonde?”
“All good questions,” he intoned wisely. Then he shook his head. “Some make sense, some don’t.”
“None of it makes sense.” Deena said, disgustedly, reaching for a can of peanuts. She opened it up and offered some.
He grabbed a handful.
“Sure it does. Maybe infecting animals isn’t to gather information. Maybe it’s transportation. A single nanobot could drift on the wind, but I’ll bet they have to live in colonies. Otherwise, why collect in droplets when leaving the redwood, or when they left you.
“A colony of nanobots would have to ride a host to get anywhere. You were transportation, so they fixed you up, supercharged your engine, trimmed the weight, and then gave you the urge to travel south.”
“Then when I got there, they bailed out and left me.” She reached into the sack. “Want a coke? I’m thirsty.”
She brushed the salt off her fingers and dug into the sack. A passing light as they drove down the highway showed her frown.
“I guess I can’t complain too much. They paid their toll. I just wish I understood it better.”
“If they stayed longer, maybe you would have. They were leaking.”
“Information leakage. They made connections to your brain—probably just to make you hunt for the zinc and other trace elements they needed, and then to give you itchy feet and to head south. Sometimes they took over completely and you had your sleepwalking episodes.
“But much more came through. I see no reason at all for them to let you listen to the radio, or to make the instant calculations, or let you question them about telepathy.
“I’ll bet they’re just machines following orders. When they crossed a few wires, they accidentally let you give them some orders, too.”
He took her hand in his. “How much of this drive to convert you into a Bryony Sawyer clone was their doing, and how much of it was just leakage from your own subconscious desires?”
By the time they took IH-405 into the San Fernando Valley, Deena had dropped off to sleep again. Sunrise was only an hour or so away, so Luther pushed hard to get through to Malibu before the morning L.A. traffic started in earnest.
Time to stop worrying about aliens and pay attention to the true monsters. How can I hunt for Katy without coming up on Benedict’s radar?
A Corvette swung into his lane and on past. By the time he had reacted, the lead-footed driver was already speeding away.
“Luther?” Deena woke and sat up straight.
“City traffic. It’s okay.”
She nodded. “I was dreaming.”
“We’ve still a ways to go. Go back to sleep.”
“No. Luther, I just remembered something. Right before they left me, there was a big surge of heat. All the radio bugs were being converted into something different. Something that would live underground.”
“You mentioned that. What did they intend to do?”
She shrugged. “It’s just ... I think they had something to do with water.”
“Water? We were next to that lake.”
Luther filed the information away. A part of him clamored to analyze this latest fact, but he couldn’t spare the time.
He nodded to the road sign. “We’re in hostile territory now. If you remember anything more, make a note of it, but I need to keep my mind on the hunt for Katy.
“The Benedict people probably have pictures of me, maybe my car and by now, pictures of you, too. I know only one or two of them by sight. We’re at a big disadvantage.”
“You have a plan?”
“Maybe. Just what I said before. Check her house, then call the police.”
He gave a big sigh. “What I wouldn’t give to find her safe at home!”
“What are the chances of that?”
“Slim, very slim. Thompson had seen her. He was chasing her when she called. I think she either made it to the police, or Benedict’s people have her, or....”
“Or she’s dead already.”