The Wonderful Machine -- by Steven P. Warr A short story 6,466 words The quest of all humankind is equality. What if everyone were truly equal? Howard Stanton is one of those people everyone ignores. At least most people ignore him. He is boring. Not because he doesnít know what he is talking about, but because he knows more about almost everything than all but a few people in the universe. He knows he is vastly more intelligent than almost everyone. He also knows he bores everyone. Itís his secret pleasure. But, paradoxically, he knows what heís on to now is greater than any discovery in the history of mankind. It will revolutionize the world. A few years ago Dean Kamen had intrigued people by keeping secret his own, self proclaimed, discovery of the century; a discovery that would revolutionize daily life. Sadly, that turned out to be only a personal means of transportation that was too expensive for the common man. After the Segway quickly became only an obscure curiosity for a few rich collectors, Howard realized few would take the bait if he announced a similar great discovery. Of course he could never have announced such a breakthrough. Not having the comfort of Kamenís independent wealth, he had been forced to sign non-disclosure and crippling agreements that would make any discovery by him remain the property of his employer, the vast empire of Xeron Corporation. In addition, any discovery made by him within seven years of his employment at Xeron would also automatically be the property of the conglomerate. This climate of indentured servitude was only one of the capitalist weapons that simply forced the rich to get richer. Not a day went by when Howard regretted the youthful enthusiasm that led him to gleefully sign those agreements, beginning less than three months after the ink had dried. He willingly signed them for a myriad of excellent reasons, not the least of which was the need to eat and to own a powerful-sleek Maserati MC12 sports car. Unlike superstar athletes, who have greenbacks, or the promise of them, thrust at them from the day they enter a university some even before, superstar academics generally learn their worth only after they have been swept into the maw of the corporate giants. Most enjoy their work such that they would happily work forever as long as theyíve been given a lab and state of the art equipment. And in doing so, they would become conditioned to feeling inferior after bosses and colleagues alike denigrate brilliant breakthrough after brilliant breakthrough. Now, after two years of the same, Howard had come to understand the reasons for such lack of support. The colleagues felt competitive pressure and were defending their territory with a debilitating not invented here attitude. The bosses were generally not smart enough to understand the innovation and were reluctant to support anything they didnít get. Howard, however, had never relented in his Quixote-like effort to explain his latest project. The difference now was, rather than being easier to understand, he purposely laced his lecture with obscure technical jargon, even with words he-himself had invented, and the discussion was like a drink with sleeping pills powdered in. He prided himself in knowing when each of his listeners zoned out. It was almost an audible click within him. It was after his audience had universally reached that point that Howard became comprehensible. He was at that point now. The Christmas wassail had even slowed him down enough that, had his audience not been collectively drummed into their current state of deep slumber, they would have clearly understood him and may have gotten a slight handle on the absolute profundity into which Stanton had lapsed. Some, however, could not ignore Howard, but wished with every tooth and hangnail that they could. Felice Marbury could not. She was one of these. Science editor for the Downing Aires Gazette, Felice well understood the importance of accurate reporting on anything new in technology. Firmly wedged in the heart of Silicon Valley, new microprocessors and solid state memory took on the stature of an editorial written by a graying hack in a plaid sport coat expounding on Manny Rodriguez and the Red Sox chances in Boston. Instead of flipping immediately to the sports page, readers here were more likely to begin with the business section. Howard and his colleagues working in research for electronic giant Xeron Corporation at the Downing Aires Research Center (DARC) facility were her home run hitters and closers. "Computerized axial tomography scan machines," Howard droned, "theyíre a CAT scan machine to you know nothings use more powerful zetafotul radiation instead of X-rays. Itís a more powerful form of electromagnetic energy, similar to that produced by fissionable material when excited that would make an infinitely exact model at the atomic level. Of course, atoms are so small that light will not reflect from them; therefore, there must be another way of observing them so that they can be copied. However, the scanning tunneling microscope, again to the lay, an exciting acronym, STM, adapted properly would do a fine job. If this atomic structure were stored in some electronic medium, a hard drive maybe, it could then be reproduced exactly as the original." "The difficulty of course in accomplishing the reproduction is the atomic manipulation. These structures are so small as to require something as small to manipulate them. I have created trigoflytes that are similar to nanites and have the capability to adjust even subatomic particles into position if they are properly programmed." "Of course, zetafotul radiation is so intense that it immediately disrupts the atomic structure of the original, vaporizing it completely, but once the pattern is saved it can be infinitely replicated into exact copies of the original. Thatís of anything." Felice did not hold three doctorates in electrical, chemical and biological engineering that Howard did, but she was not just a reporter, she was also a competent electrical engineer, and she immediately recognized what Stanton was saying was significant. She also knew that it was not prudent for him to be going on about it in a semi-drunken state. It would be best to get him alone in a private interview. She tried to steer the conversation toward less controversial grounds. "I understand that nanites hold great promise for the future," she injected quickly, "in many fields including medical and structural in theory, but we are a long way from creating such sub-microscopic machines that do anything useful." Howard continued unabated. "Trigoflytes are already here and I can program them to do many useful functions. Their most important function, however, is to replicate themselves, so that there are enough of them to manipulate enough atoms, in the trillions, for even the smallest item you want to copy." Realizing that her attempt to cut him off was having the opposite effect on Howard, she decided the best course of action was to do nothing more. A quick glance at the group nearest to the doctor confirmed that to be the case. It was clear that no one else was paying him the slightest bit of attention. True to her editorial edict, she needed to get him into a comfort zone. He would make a story that would be of profound interest to her local readers and could be picked up by national magazines like Discover or Wired and she recognized that such an interview could propel her career. Not only that, she kind of liked Howard. He was self-centered in a cute kind of way and, though tending toward nerdy, he was not bad looking. That made it easy for her to make her next move. "That really sounds interesting," Doctor Stanton, she said, focusing her beautiful blue eyes directly on his. "Why donít we step out onto the patio and discuss it more?" Howard was startled for a moment. He was used to everyone totally ignoring him at times like these and here was a radiant, beautiful young woman staring at him with rapt attention. He, of course, knew who she was, but he looked at her more intently and confirmed she was a beauty: dark shoulder-length hair and eyes of the deepest blue he had ever seen. Right now her eyes were as large as dinner plates and for a few seconds the mouth was that generally in perpetual motion was stilled. After a moment he found his tongue again. "Uh. That would be okay, he managed to stammer." Out on the patio, she found it difficult to get him started talking again. It was a variation of the same problem. Howard had no trouble talking about the most complex of scientific subjects in front of a large group, especially when he knew no one was listening, but this beautiful woman now confronting him might as well have been asking him to detail the Oakland Athletics chances for winning the baseball World Series, a subject he knew nothing of, much less cared about. "Where are you originally from, Doctor?" she began, thinking perhaps that getting him to talk about something personal would loosen him up. When the only response from him was a blank stare, she altered course immediately. "My field is electronic engineering, and my idea of a great accomplishment is the first time an algorithm I have been sweating bullets over for weeks finally compiles and executes close to the way I had originally planned." She paused, and watched as the light in his eyes rekindled with interest, and she continued. "Part of my masterís thesis was complex code for predicting migration and population patterns for a closed marine ecosystem. I know others had done similar work with competent accuracy, but I was thrilled to find that mine was not only faster, but correlated much closer to historical data." With an excited titter, Stanton launched into a lengthy narrative about his own coding success, a complex program he had written to control the traffic patterns of his trigoflytes, such that there would be a minimum of time-devouring interference. "The secret," he continued, "was a combination of recursion and educated guesses sort of like the Quicksort algorithm, but a whole lot more enlightened, I might add. The speed of the algorithm, in fact, is wholly responsible for allowing this technology at all. Because of the inherent instability of any compound, be it liquid or solid, the target copy would fall apart as it is being created unless the natural forces of pressure, gravity, and even the natural movement of electrons are somehow negated. This is especially true of liquids. There is only one solution: creation so fast that these forces have minimal time to cause the destruction." "An object worth making a copy of, a breadbox for example, contains trillions of atoms, so mere speed on the order of todayís microprocessors would be wholly inadequate. While trigoflytes as a unit are much slower than these processors, working parallel with each other as individual units improves the overall speed by a factor of millions. With that happening, it is vital to coordinate their activities to minimize collisions and to reduce the friction inherent to so many particles moving at high speed in close conjunction with each other." They went on with the conversation for more than an hour. Although both of them obviously had a more than professional interest in one another, neither of them ventured close to anything personal until it was time to leave. Even then, it could have been construed as totally professional. "Doctor Stanton," Felice began, but Howard raised a finger tentatively and interrupted her. "Please call me Howard," he managed to blurt. His introversion completely flooded back, and he would have been unable to continue, except for her wide smile. "If you call me Felice," she said and, emboldened, he continued, but was still unable to convey his true feelings. "Can we meet again? Say over dinner somewhere to continue this discussion?" "Thatís what I was about to ask. Where would be a good place? Iím free Saturday." Howard finally took the plunge. "I know a really nice restaurant overlooking the ocean. Have you been to Bessingerís Overlook?" "No. Can you give me directions?" "Better yet, why donít I pick you up? About six?" Felice just smiled, gave a quick nod of her head and handed him a slip of paper on which she had hurriedly written her address and phone number.
One other had been listening also. It was Peter Braxtonís job to listen. Just now Peter was reporting what he had heard to his boss. "This guy really believes he can copy anything, he was rattling on. The report was the longest string of words he had put together in about a month. I mean anything!" They sat in the huge boardroom of the top floor of the new, 100-plus-story mega high-rise in Detroit. Through the plate glass window could be seen a wonderful panorama of the city and Lake Huron in the distance. The money that had built it had been generated by over a century of automobile manufacturing. In the room with the boss and Braxton were representatives from the American, European and Asian auto and electronics industries. "Can this really be possible?" The diminutive Japanese speaker had a pained expression. This could be as bad or worse than the problems faced now by the entertainment industry. You all know how easy it is to get a bootleg copy of a music CD or a movie. "Indiscriminant copying could destroy us all. If someone wanted a new car, why not just copy one? All our creativity would go into the expensive process of making and testing prototypes, while someone else could just make a copy of it. The governments would never be able to enforce patent laws, even if they wanted to. We have to do something now!" Heads were nodding all around the room. "There is no way we can control this device if it is created," interjected the American boss. "We can only prevent it from being created at all. We must act now."
There was only one thing Howard Stanton loved more than numbers cars. Not ordinary cars, high-performance, powerful racing machines. The one thing that kind of made up for his slave-to-big-business status was his capacity to own such a dream car. Now he was in the midst of a dream that had recurred since childhood. But this was real! The stretch of California Highway One, between the DARC labs in Downing Aires and his modest home in the seaside community of Port Miguel, was a 23-mile Maserati MC12 paradise of hills and hairpin switchbacks coursing precariously on the edge of precipitous cliffs that fell away to the majestic Pacific Ocean. The view of deep green Douglas firs and gorse that contrasted with the white beach sand and the vast azure plain of the ocean was magnificent at any point along that drive, but Howard had little or no interest in its beauty. He had no other thoughts than that of the magnificent beast under his feet and the wondrous vertigo he felt while power sliding through another acute angle turn on the highway. He had no fear. Driving more than twice the speed limit most of the time, the danger never occurred to him. From time to time when he felt the outer rear wheel slip in the loose gravel of the shoulder of the road, he would feel something akin to mild trepidation, but it only served to heighten the experience, and he drove harder into the next curve. After such a run, when he had a chance to reflect on it, he would come to the natural conclusion that if the moment came that his beloved beast lost traction and tumbled in a long fall into the Pacific, it would be the best of all possible ways for his life to end. He was in a zone of total immersion. His only conscious thought was of the ribbon of blacktop that stretched out before him. Powering the Maserati down the two hundred meter straight section verging on 100 miles an hour, he anticipated the four S curves ahead with a kind of hunger. The yellow diamond caution sign was a haphazard squiggle beneath which 20 MPH screamed a warning. He always took those turns at more than twice that speed, and he felt he could get just a little more today. Just as the car reached the caution sign, from seemingly out of nowhere a black van was blocking the road, not leaving enough space between its rear bumper and the rail guarding the sheer drop off to the right for the Maserati. At the speed Stanton was going there was no time to stop, and he knew nothing would stop him from catapulting over the guardrail. There was only one possibility to save himself, and he took that as a matter of instinct. He veered sharply to the left to try to pass in front of the van. In the smoke of tires burning on the pavement he almost made it, but he was still going faster than 60 when the right fender crumpled against the bumper of the van and the car shot into the dense growth of trees and brush to the left. By some miracle there were no large trees and he managed to not only bring the car under control, but also actually steer it back onto the road a hundred meters below where the van had been. After taking stock of himself briefly, his first reaction was of intense anger. How could the idiot have been so stupid to back out on a busy highway without looking? His wonderful sports car was damaged! The anger that had been focused on the driver of the van was diffused when he got out and took a quick look back to where van had been. To his surprise, it was gone. His first thought was that the impact might have thrown it off the cliff. The anger-induced irrationality that the driver got what he deserved, morphed itself into grave concern for him. He got back into the sports car and drove quickly back to the site of the accident. With relief, he saw there was no damage to the guardrail. His emotions swung rapidly from his intensity of moments before to perplexity. Where had the van gone and why did it leave? Looking around the area for a few moments, he saw where the van had been prior to the accident. The low gorse had the obvious tire tracks of the van perpendicular to the road. It was an unusual way for anyone to park when there was a wide enough shoulder for parking parallel to the road, and it was the only place where the van would be hidden from any point on the straightaway. Why park hidden? Just then a loud engine noise interrupted his contemplation and when he looked up toward the direction he had been traveling before the accident he saw the van (or one identical to it) racing toward him at high speed. His first thought was okay they are coming back to trade insurance cards, but the fact the van had not stayed at the scene troubled him. What was that about? That trepidation saved his life. When he saw the van was not slowing down to stop, his immediate reaction was to run into the forest to the left. He did not stop to wonder why anyone would want to harm him; he just ran. The van followed. Though there were not many big trees, the van was slowed after its initial charge into the woods. Stantonís greater agility in the woods enabled him to avoid the on-rushing van and his fear turned briefly to elation and satisfaction when he saw the van grind to a halt against a particularly large tree. The driver of the van began gunning the engine forward and reverse trying to free the vehicle, and Howard stopped for a moment fascinated by the groaning, smoking tires. Then the thought hit fully home. This guy was trying to kill me! Howard abruptly turned and bolted toward the road and the safety of his car just as the noise of the struggling van stopped. Though curious still about what had happened, he did not allow himself to stop running. To his rear a tremendous bang accentuated his fear and sheer panic forced his feet to move faster than he thought was humanly possible. It was insanity; He is shooting at me! The thought had his mind racing in circles. Suddenly he found himself flat on his face still in the forest no more than fifty feet from his Maserati. How had he gotten there? A warm trickle of liquid down the side of his face jolted him, especially when brief exploration with his finger revealed the liquid to be blood. My blood! He still could scarcely believe it. Howard was disoriented such that he lay there stupified, looking at the scarlet stain on his fingers. He fervently hoped this has to be a dream. But when the bloodstain failed to disappear and he didnít find himself in his bed, he had to accept the reality of the situation. It made no sense! There was great urgency in his mind to get up and rush toward the car, but his legs and feet would not obey. He lay there in shock for more than ten minutes, expecting at any moment to be shot dead. When it did not happen, and the shock began to dissipate, he again wondered if he had been imagining it. Feeling his head again, the pain and fresh blood on his hand served to emphasize that it was not. Cautiously, as the panic disappeared completely, he rose to a crouch and looked carefully in the direction where he knew the black van to be. At first he did not see anything but trees. The van was in the deep shade and hard to fix. No more than ten feet from him lay a sprawled figure dressed in black with a wicked looking pistol loosely held in his outstretched hand. He was unconscious or dead. The panic welled up again and the only thing he could do was to turn and run toward the car. Not knowing where he was going, Howard drove aimlessly for a long time. Badly shaken, he tried to make sense of it. Someone had purposely and deliberately tried to kill him! His safe, comfortable world of only minutes before was now totally shattered. It was impossible for his rationally trained mind to wrap itself around it. Someone had tried to kill him! It was impossible to imagine it was a case of mistaken identity; there were few Maseratis like his in Silicon Valley. But why? He had threatened no one. He was not involved in anything remotely illegal. He was simply a scientist who sometimes drove too fast, going about the business of making discoveries that would change the world. Could it be there were people who felt threatened by that change? Who? Who could be threatened? As quick as he was to see scientific solutions, he just could not rationalize this totally alien concept. His initial reaction to the situation, anger that anyone could so thoroughly disrupt his nice safe world, gradually resolved itself into cold fear. Where could he turn? The police? Would they believe him? His car was quite banged up, but would they believe the act was purposeful on the part of the driver of the black van? Deep down he knew it was, and the forces behind it were so tenacious that they would continue to dog him until he was dead. He could not go home. They would be there waiting for him. Go to the labs? Could he have so angered one of his colleagues that he was driven to this act? He was not the easiest person in the world to get along with, and he had a short fuse when dealing with fools. (Not a few of who were colleagues). A brief thought of his real home flickered by, but then that too disappeared into the gloom. His mother and father in Reading, Pennsylvania would have welcomed him. They were still the only two humans with whom he could be open and honest. He loved them unequivocally. As soon as the thought approached, he flicked it away with a shudder as if it had suddenly been transformed into a poisonous spider. Just to think it, his tortured mind imagined, would cause the two people he cared so much about to suffer unimaginable pain and death. Actually going there would be to invite an even worse reality. The thoughts brought him to the brink of despair. The aimless pounding of his hand on the steering wheel touched something real tucked into the steering wheel cover where he always kept important notes to himself. The phone number and address of Felice Marbury! The reporter was the only one who had afforded him respect and while he thought of her, he momentarily forgot his terror. Could he go to her? It took only the short conversation of the night before to convince him he could trust her. Would they think to find him with her? He had no dealings with her before the conversation and she had not published her story yet, so there was good chance no one would think to connect him with Felice. Should he call her? He punched the first five digits of the number into his cell phone before a sudden thought hit him. Maybe they can monitor cell conversations! He hit the clear button with a jab. It just then occurred to him that to call her would be to put her in as much danger as it would his parents. Should he go to her home? Was he simply being paranoid? It occurred to him again that he was simply overreacting and what he really needed to do was go home, get some rest, and call the insurance company in the morning. Yes that was it! The guy in the black van was just some deranged fool, who had probably killed himself by now. Maybe thatís why he was lying on the ground in the woods. He had accidentally shot himself. If I drive back there now, he will still be there, lying on the ground in a pool of blood. As convincing as it sounded, he knew deep down that it just wasnít true. The only way out he could see was to talk to someone about it. Felice? Maybe if I just go to her home and discuss it for a few minutes, she will convince me this is all a delusion and it will be over. In fifteen minutes he was within two blocks of her apartment building. Knowing it was probably a futile gesture, he parked there and waited for another twenty minutes or so, watching the street for any sign that he had been followed or was being watched. If it was something as sinister as he thought it was, he knew there was no way he could detect someone watching him, but he just felt more comfortable doing it anyway. After awhile he convinced himself to get out of the car, and he walked boldly (he thought) down a street that was perpendicular to the one her building was on. After three blocks, he convinced himself he wasnít being followed and he turned to the correct direction. When he was within a block of his destination, he stopped again and waited uncertainly for more than half an hour. Finally, when he could wait no longer, he entered her building and buzzed the intercom in the lobby. Face-to-face with her, the story came tumbling out of him so fast that she had to stop him often to make sense of it. When she had it all, she simply sat there, looking at him sympathetically. She knew immediately that, not only was he telling the truth, but she also had a general idea who was behind it. She was not so naÔve to think that someone or some group with billions of dollars at stake would stand aside while someone else removed those billions for the good of the species. She knew they would not consider it evil to eliminate someone who could jeopardize their livelihood reality - just business. Felice was quiet for a long time. Howard could see the emotions catapulting from rage, to unreckoning sorrow (Was that for him?) and finally a blaze of terrible fear. He had a sudden, overwhelming need to comfort her, but he was stopped by unreasoning doubt. He reached toward her arm with tentative palm and when he touched it all concerns fled and she fell sobbing into his arms. He held her for a long time until she composed herself. Finally she looked up at him and he could tell all the destructive emotions had disappeared, replaced by cool calculating intelligence. "We could go away and hide somewhere for a few years and maybe they would give up looking for us. They may even stop worrying about you developing your machine, since you'll no longer have the assets of Xeron corporation to help you." She said tentatively. He was was incredulous. Had she said "We could..."? But Felice's reaction and his race car attitude emboldened him. "And let them get away with that? That might save me temporarily, but they are rich folks, and I have no doubt sooner or later they will find me." She nodded reluctantly and lapsed into another long silence. "How far along are you in developing the means to copy things?" Felice asked hesitantly, knowing the totally off-the-wall concept of what she was about to suggest. "It has worked flawlessly for many inanimate objects and even some rabbits. Of course you might question the cost-effectiveness of the rabbits because it takes more than forty pedabytes of storage for one. The inanimate objects like toasters take less than a gig each." "Is it safe for animals?" "The original rabbit is, of course completely obliterated by the radiation thatís the way it works, but the copies are perfectly happy and are identical in every way to the original." Realizing where she was going, Howard jumped ahead a giant leap. I would need a larger CAT scan machine, but the other components could be thrown together pretty quickly with parts from any electronic store. It would take me maybe three days to construct. The trigoflytes can be reproduced as a natural extension of their programming. Where can I work?
Braxton became gradually aware of light, but wasnít certain where he was, or what had happened to him. He lay where he was for many minutes before he recalled what had happened. After Stantonís car had gone the wrong way into the woods, he had been so surprised that he had momentarily lost reason and panicked. He fled north for at least two miles before he had regained his reason and turned around. When he had seen Stantonís sports car, he felt a flash of anger so deep that the nerd had avoided the collision and was now standing smugly in the middle of the road waving, that Braxton could not stop himself from aiming the black van at him and howled with rage when he had to chase him into the trees. Getting the vehicle stuck actually heightened the intensity of the emotion. How could that little toad have avoided him so easily? The heat of the moment caused him to continue to act irrationally. When his first shot had caused the fleeing man to abruptly fall, the elation was equally emotional as the rage of the moments before. Knowing he had accomplished his intent, he sprinted toward his victim. He had only taken two steps, however, when his foot caught a branch and he felt himself diving head first toward a tree. Now he sat up and looked toward the place where he had seen Stanton fall. Panic set in when he could not see the body.
Hiding was what Howard did however, at least for a week. His colleagues and bosses were at a loss when he just did not show up at the lab. Nobody could even speculate about what might have happened to him. He just disappeared. But the routine began to reassert itself, so when Howard strolled into the lab the following Monday as if nothing had happened, there was an immediate general uproar. He explained he was just tired so he had taken a short impromptu vacation. Although nonplussed about his arrogance, none of his supervisors could think of any way to discipline him. He had come up with most of the important discoveries produced in the past two years, working more than eighty hours a week. They couldnít fire him (he gave the lab its reason for existence) or even fine him he might just resign. The most anyone could think to do was to lecture him on his responsibilities and even that scared them, so nothing was done. They just went on as if nothing had happened at all. Except that Howard had changed. Instead of being the last one to leave that evening, he made a show of leaving at 2:00 PM. He walked out almost casually, stopping now and then at someoneís workstation to say goodbye. In the parking lot, he waited a full half hour before starting the Maserati and driving slowly out onto the street. The car had not been repaired, but Howard still thrilled at the powerful beat of its precision-tuned engine, even when still at near idle speed. He knew this would be the last time he would feel its wonderful heart and soul beneath him and he was ready for the run of a lifetime. He knew he would be chased and he intensely looked in the rear- view mirror for signs of his executioner with almost eager anticipation. As he passed side streets, his peripheral vision bored down them for signs as well. He continued his slow pace on the straightest route toward the last run of his life down Highway One.
Felice started a little when the hands free cell phone speaker emitted Stantonís voice. He sounded elated and she began to believe he would be beginning the most exciting ride of his life. His last words to her had been, This is truly going to be worth it. "A new black Hummer, California tag AES135, he began. Heís going slow and hanging back, but I donít think itís the same guy as before. This one is black. Iíll try to get a better look at him before we leave town." Felice pushed the little microphone on the headset closer to her mouth, although she knew it would make no difference to the quality of her voice and said, "I donít see anyone here yet, but if itís a different guy, you can bet theyíve got a surprise set up for you." While she talked she entered the license number of the Hummer into the laptop to do an Internet search and by the time he grunted agreement, the result was displayed on the screen. She reported the find. Registered to a Hummer dealer in San Jose. Probably stolen, so thatís a dead end. Well, we expected that, he said in rejoinder. Howard confirmed the driver of the Hummer was black, and he gave Felice a detailed description of him, which she typed into a database. Nothing matched until she submitted three digital images of the man. Howard had a high quality camera with which he took the pictures and when they were submitted, four possible matches were returned. "Whoop! Iíll bet this is our guy. Raymond Lewis. Heís an ex convict in jail for armed robbery. Whoa! It was pretty bad. The guy he robbed was killed, but the murder was attributed to another robber with him and Lewis got a slap on the wrist. In fact he just got paroled last week with minimum time served." "Man! That car and the guy driving it should be easy to avoid." Stanton responded. "Iíve got to let him stay close and make it look like Iím trying hard to get away." It began to seem like this was indeed going to be fun! When the last of the buildings of the town had disappeared behind him, he accelerated the Maserati wildly toward the S curves down Highway One. He was pleased to see the Hummer keeping pace with him, a mere hundred feet behind. Continuing the wild speed he took the first curve faster than he had ever done before. It was exhilarating, but a glance at his mirror revealed the Hummer was out of sight so he let up with a curse. "Come on! Keep up you asshole! Youíre supposed to be a mindless, fearless killer. Act like it." he yelled in defiance while hammering the steering wheel with his left hand. The speaker on the hands free barked into life just as he was within a mile of the place where the road had been blocked before. "Theyíre at the same place they were before, only two of them! A black van and it looks like a half or three quarter-ton pickup. Iíve got the license numbers." Howard floored the accelerator and after disappearing around the first curve, he hit the brakes and let the pursuing Hummer catch up to him. It charged around the curve with such great speed that the driver had no chance of avoiding the Maserati, but Howard dodged easily out of his way to the shoulder. The Hummer came screaming past him, the driver almost losing control, but he managed keep it on the road. Howard accelerated the sports car again up behind and got so close that the front bumper actually lightly touched the Hummerís rear. The driver shot a startled look in the left side mirror. So close that the black manís features could plainly be seen, he actually yelled a taunt at him. "What kind of a loser hit man are you? Get the hell out of my way!" Howard backed up slightly and then roared past the Hummer, tires screaming, leaving a cloud of smoke in his wake. When he got to the straightaway at the end of which the two vehicles would be blocking the road ahead and he could see the yellow diamond of the 20 MPH sign in the distance, he continued his high speed to a point just before the blind curve. Slamming on his brakes he slid into a 180-degree turn and accelerated again in the opposite direction just as the Hummer came into sight. Heading straight for the Hummer, he veered right at the last second and again waved a taunt at the driver. Repeating his 180-degree power turn, he again accelerated toward the waiting roadblock. This time he did not stop until he could see the van and pickup truck. Tires squealing he skidded to a stop with yet another power turn. He waited for a few seconds and watched as two men came out of the woods running in seemingly slow motion. He appeared to be puzzled as he looked around at the two men, before he again accelerated away. He hadnít gotten more than 50 meters when he encountered the Hummer, and this time it was bearing down on him. Apparently the driver had found some courage. Howard again easily avoided him and screeched the Maserati into another U turn. He watched with satisfied amusement while the hummer ran down one of the two gunmen. He began to think he might actually survive this encounter. With grim determination he aimed the Maserati at the surviving gunman who fired his pistol directly at Howard before avoiding the charging car. Hit with gunfire twice, once in the left arm and once full in the chest, he felt himself beginning to black out, so knowing the confrontation was over he aimed the Maserati at the point where the bumpers of the pickup and van came together. The impact was terrific, but there was no fire.
Felice, watching from the bluff above, glanced at the photos Howard had sent her. She stifled her sudden surge of grief for the man she knew she could have grown to love and said, "At least we have pictures of all of these flunkies. Though itís not much to go on, we have a better chance than before, and the heat will be diminished, since theyíll assume you are dead." "I wish I had thought to replicate the car too," said Howard as he leaned toward her to get a better look at the pictures. ***************************************