Thrilling Adventure Stories Presents: The Lepus in ‘Road Work’

Author Note: The characters and setting of this story is one that I’ve been working on for years, and whipped this one up mostly as a fun means of practicing their voices and interactions. I present it for your consideration, with a request for feedback, especially as to the characters themselves. 

 

Not far from the small town of Mineral Springs, Colorado, a side-road ran down to a little wilderness beside a mountain stream. Picnickers, hikers, and young couples often came down to this little spot in fine weather to enjoy the view, the clean air, and the music of the water as it ran over its stony bed.

On one cloudy morning in August, when the weather was too hot for most people to be out there, you nevertheless would have found, had you gone down that road, a battered old camping van and two teenage boys sitting out in the oppressive heat.

One of the two, a long-limbed, gawky boy with curly brown hair and somewhat quizzical face, sat on a folding lawn chair reading under the shade of a tree. His friend, a skinny, freckled youth of average height and with eyes so dark they appeared uniformly black, stood by the side of the stream, throwing rocks across it. The stream was good fifteen feet across, and what was more he was aiming for a tree that stood an extra twenty or thirty feet back from the river’s edge. Yet the hefty stones with which he practiced more often than not soared straight past the tree, or else struck it with a crack that proclaimed they had considerably more travel time in them had they not been stopped.

“I definitely prefer this kind of environment,” said Harry Davila without looking up from his book. “I think close contact with real substances is much healthier for people than constantly dealing with manmade ones. You know; real stone, real wood, unprocessed water, that sort of thing, as opposed to metal or plastic. I suspect that’s one of the reasons cities are so full of crazy people.”

“If you say so,” said Adam Richard, weighing another stone. He sent it hurtling across the stream, where it struck the tree with a resounding crack.

“Missed,” he muttered.

“You did? What are you aiming at?” Harry asked, looking up.

“That knot in the trunk; you see it?”

Harry leaned forward, squinting across the stream.

“No.”

“Oh. Well, I can, and I’m trying to hit it,” said Adam. “I got it on my first try, but I can’t get it again.”

“It’s usually that way,” said Harry, leaning back and returning to his book. “First time is just pure instinct, then you start overthinking it and miss.”

“Hm, that’s first time I’ve been accused of overthinking anything,” said Adam. He threw another stone, which missed the tree entirely. He made an oddly high-pitched sound of frustration, then scratched his mousy brown hair irritably.

“It’s so hot,” he said. “Think I can take the wig off? There’s no one around.”

“Di’ll flip if she comes back and sees you letting your ears fly free,” Harry reminded him.

That was too true to argue with. Their friend, Diana Watson, was the conscientious one of the trio. She was also the most irritable, and though that could be fun, Adam decided it wasn’t worth it in this case. She’d gone into town for supplies, insisting on going alone as the other two had a tendency to buy a lot of junk food, but she would be back soon.

“Oh, speak of the devil,” said Adam, his nose twitching. “Here she comes!”

He grinned and leapt about ten feet high and thirty-odd long, landed behind the camper, then repeated the feat several more times, soaring through the pines until he landed beside the main road, where Diana was puffing along with three heavy bags full of groceries and other necessities.

“Hi, there,” said Adam as he landed beside her. “Need a hand?”

Diana jumped slightly at his appearance.

“What are you doing?!” she snapped in a low voice, looking around. “You’re supposed to be keeping a low profile! What if someone saw you?”

“No one around but you,” said Adam, tapping his nose. “I can smell it.”

“Okay, but what if a car happened to be passing by, and…”

Adam tapped his ears, which were hidden under convincingly human facsimiles that were part of his wig.

“What’s the good of having all the powers of a rabbit if I let young ladies carry their own groceries?” he said, relieving her of the bags.

“And what’s the good if trying to stay hidden if you go jumping around a public road?” she answered.

Adam looked at her, smiling a little. Diana had untidy gold-red hair, heavily tanned skin, turquoise eyes behind square glasses, and was wearing dirty overalls, a work shirt, and a perpetual scowl. In his seventeen years of life and their recent travels across the country, he had yet to see anyone better worth looking at.

“You know,” he said. “If we really wanted to keep a low profile, we should have sent someone less likely to attract attention into town. You know, like Valerie Blake in a bikini.”

Her eyes flashed indignantly. Talking about her beauty was one of the surest ways to annoy Diana, so Adam made a point to do it every day.

“Oh, don’t start that!” she snapped. “And who’s Valerie Blake?”

“Uh, the actress?” said Adam. “The insanely gorgeous actress? She was huge in the fifties and sixties. At least in certain strategic areas.”

Shifting the bags to one hand, he traced an hourglass with the other.

“We gotta get you cultured,” he said as they turned down the side road.

“Says the boy talking about the breast size of a woman who must be in her sixties by now.”

“Hey, once a beauty, always a beauty, as you yourself will learn one day.”

Her scowl became more pronounced.

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” she said.

“Oh, don’t talk like that!” he said with faux concern. “Things may look bad now, but I’m sure we’ll all live to a ripe old age, whatever the Brotherhood or the government tries to do.”

“That’s not what I…” she threw up her hands in exasperation. “God, you are so immature!”

“Green as a bean,” Adam agreed. “Speaking of which, did you get beans?”

“Yes,” she said. “I got everything on the list, plus a few cans of beef soup for Harry and me.”

“You know, I kind of miss meat,” said Adam sadly. “It used to taste so good, and I used to have good taste. Though I suppose I still would if anyone cared to stew me up and serve me with red wine.”

Diana, as often happened, had to take a moment to untangle his stream of ideas. She was a certified genius when it came to mechanics, to the point that she had attended MIT by the time she was sixteen, but word play was outside of her range of expertise.

“You are disgusting,” she said, though Adam had seen the corner of her mouth twitch.

“Hey, Di,” said Harry without looking up as they approached the camper. “How was town?”

“Hot,” she said. “How was doing nothing?”

“Cool,” he answered. “And I wasn’t doing nothing; I was contemplating reality. I was saying to Adam that I think places like this, with constant contact with real substances like stone and wood and so forth is really much healthier for the human soul than when you’re surrounded by artificial substances like glass and metal.”

“I don’t think it makes a difference,” she said, flopping down into a lawn chair and gratefully accepting a glass of water from him. “Fundamentally, it’s all atoms anyway.”

“Ah, but that’s not the fundamental substance,” said Harry. “It’s the stone that is the reality…”

The usual debate between Harry – who read philosophy – and Diana – who was an engineering prodigy – was this time cut short when the phone in the camper rang.

“Oh, what does he want now?” Diana sighed.

The camper had been a gift (or what he called an ‘investment in word of mouth’) by their good friend, C. Honesty Martini; a travelling salesman who seemed to have more and more unusual connections than anyone in his job ought to. The camper phone was, as far as they knew, only linked to him.

“Hey, kids!” he said over the speaker. “How’re my three favorite customers?”

“We’re doing okay, Martini,” said Adam before either of his more cynical companions could answer. “What’s up?”

“You, uh, you don’t happen to be anywhere near Lamar, Colorado, do yah?”

Adam looked at Harry.

“About two hour’s drive,” he answered. “As if you didn’t know exactly where we were.”

“Oh, now that’s hurtful! Listen, I just got word from one of my buddies in WEFUA…”

“’Wefua?’” Diana repeated dubiously.

“The official government ‘We Fouled Up Agency,’” he answered.

“That’s not a real thing,” said Harry.

“Sure it is!” said Martini. “It’s just not the real acronym, but it is more accurate and, you know, technically none of us are supposed to know about it.”

“Where have we heard that before?” said Adam.

“Well, anyway, the point is that it seems a truck carrying a, uh, certain chemical got hijacked not so long ago, and last report is they’re probably heading in your direction on the way to Colorado Springs.”

The three friends looked at each other.

“What kind of chemical?” Diana asked.

“The ‘lots of people die’ kind,” said Martini. “What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the hijackers were your old friends the Brotherhood of Alecto. I think you know what they’ll do with it.”

Adam shuddered. The Brotherhood were a conspiracy of intellectual fanatics who believed that society was doomed to collapse and that the best thing they could do was hasten its fall. Them having poison gas and heading for Colorado Springs was a recipe for disaster; one that they could blame on the government, thereby not only killing a lot of people, but fostering unrest and dissent. Exactly the kind of thing they liked best.

Harry, however, was frowning.

“Martini, are you completely sure that’s what’s going on? I mean, you’re not going to accidentally send us to attack an Army convoy, are you?”

“Now, come on!” said Martini with a hurt tone in his voice. “Kid, has Martini ever been wrong yet?”

“We have no way of knowing that,” Harry answered.

“Well, the answer’s no,” said Martini, with a trace of irritation. “So, if you’re not too busy, please go relieve the Brotherhood of that death truck before it hurts anyone?”

“And the reason you’re not going to the government with this information is…” Harry asked.

“Working on it, but you know I am just a salesman from Brooklyn; I don’t exactly have the ear of the President, kid.”

“We’ll take care of it,” said Adam. “Let you know when we’re done…”

“Or when we’re dead,” Harry put in.

“Oh, come on, Harry!” Adam said. “I was just telling Di how she’d live to a ripe old age!”

“And how would we let him know if we were dead?” Diana asked.

“Oh, trust me; there are ways,” said Harry with an evil grin.

“You can tell us about it on the way,” said Adam. “Meanwhile, let’s suit up!”

 

The scenic overlook gave a glorious view of the highway as it snaked its way back and forth up the slopes of the Rockies on its way to Colorado Springs. The camper was parked near the top of the pass, and three friends stood peering down over the miles and miles of road below. Adam and Harry were looking through binoculars, but the helmet on Diana’s ‘Daedalus Project’ included a built-in zoom function.

“I see it,” she said. “There’s the truck, and three escort Humvees; one in front, two in back.”

Adam turned his binoculars in the direction she indicated.

“Got ‘em,” he said. “Probably some pretty decent firepower in there, though I don’t suppose the Brotherhood has the manpower the Army would have; it’s probably mostly for show.”

“If they don’t have the manpower, how did they hijack it?” Harry asked.

“I suppose we’ll find that out,” said Adam. “Though, I suppose before we start kicking and punching people, we should just make doubly sure Martini isn’t wrong this time.”

“I don’t see why,” said Harry “It’s not like the government can be much angrier at us after we blew up Fort Ovid.”

“Yeah, but I’d really rather not actually be what they accuse me of being,” Adam replied. He pulled his brown cowl over the top of his face and rotated his long, furry ears. If nothing else, it felt good to get them into the fresh air. He double-checked the blunt claws on his hands and feet and thumped the ground once or twice. His ‘costume consisted of the cowl that covered the top of his face and a simple brown jumpsuit that left his hands and feet bare so as to utilize his claws.

“The Lepus is ready,” he said. “How about you, Garuda?”

Diana stood erect. The Daedalus Project consisted of an integrated system of servo-powered gauntlets of a light, strong metal, gas-jet boots of the same, the face-concealing helmet, and, most striking of all, great metal wings that sprouted from the armored back and shoulders. Beneath it she wore a form-fitting outfit of crimson leather that left her midriff bare for ventilation. All of this had been her own design and creation, utilizing technology she herself had invented.

“Garuda ready,” she said.

Harry, who wore a simple mask, such as might be found in a masquerade ball back in the nineteenth century, double-checked his wrist-communicator, of which Martini had provided all three of them for one low, low price (“Guaranteed clear sound and impossible to hack”).

“Aristo ready,” he said.

“All right; let’s go be good guys!” said Lepus. He climbed onto Garuda’s back, holding tight to the handles. She fired the gas jets in her boots, launching them into the air, where her wings carried them aloft with powerful beats. The climbed higher and higher, almost to the cloud level before Garuda banked out and began soaring in the direction of the convoy.

“Drop me off on the truck,” he said. “I’m just gonna make sure…”

Garuda nodded and began her dive. They had practiced this maneuver many times. It probably would have been suicide for a normal man, but for the Lepus, with his muscles and reaction times Enhanced by rabbit DNA, it was perfectly safe, just a little tricky to time correctly.

Garuda dove on a straight path for the truck, her brilliant mind calculating the angle of interception almost without conscious thought. Then, just as they were about thirty feet overhead, she suddenly spread her wings and swept up in a steep arc. And just at the bottom of the arc, as they passed directly over the truck, the Lepus let go of her back, turned a summersault, and landed neatly on the roof of the cab.

He didn’t waste a moment, but almost before he’d fully landed he caught the edge of the roof, swung himself onto the running board, and opened the passenger side door.

“Hi, there,” he said, leaning in and smiling at the driver, who was in army uniform. “This may sound like a strange question, but are you really with the U.S. Military?”

He had no sooner finished speaking than a long, black, hair-lined leg shot out from the man’s back and whacked him with the force of a sledgehammer. The Lepus yelled in surprise and just managed to hang onto the door, which swung outward with him clinging precariously to the edge.

“So, that’s a no, then,” he commented as he flung himself from the door to the hood just before two of the bio-mechanical spider legs reached out and tore it off.

“Lepus? What was that?” Garuda demanded. “What happened?”

“Martini’s never been wrong yet,” he answered dryly as all four of the driver’s telescoping spider legs reached out of the cab for him.

“Should you really be driving, Arachnus?” Lepus asked him conversationally as he ducked under one leg. “I mean,” he caught another and used it to swing himself over a third. “What’s you’re vision rating?” A complicated mid-air twist to avoid two at once. “Five–five–five–ten–ten?”

Arachnus’s five red eyes glared at him, but he said nothing, of course. He wasn’t a talker.

Dodging four biomechanical spider-legs, each one capable of shooting a sticky, web-like substance or impaling him straight through, was obviously a no-win scenario. Lepus sprang off the hood just as one of the legs sought to hit him with its webbing. The webbing only pinned one of the other legs to the hood, while the Lepus soared in a high arc and landed on the back of the tanker trailer itself.

Behind him, the men in the pursuing jeeps had not missed what was happening. The first jeep swerved left, and a man leaned out of the window, a rifle in hand, aiming at the Lepus.

Before he could open fire, Garuda swept down like a bolt of lightning, hit the road in front of the jeep, and swept out her wing. There was no time for the driver to even attempt to avoid it. As the jeep flew past her, the razor-sharp edge of her wing sliced into the side of the vehicle, tearing apart the tires and ripping into the undercarriage. The jeep, running suddenly on two bald tires, jerked violently left, flipped and rolled several times before crashing up against the guard rail on its side.

But even before it had begun its spin, Garuda had to fling up her wing to guard against the barrage of automatic rifle fire coming from the rear jeep as it zoomed past. She fired her gas jets, launching herself into the air, still shielding her vulnerable body with her metal wings as she turned a summersault over the cliff and out of sight, where she finally spread her wings and soared back into the air to rejoin the chase.

As she did so, Garuda saw that the men in the jeep had put away the rifle. Instead, one of them rose out of an opening in the roof carrying a belt-fed machine gun: a weapon that her wings had never had to block before, and which she doubted they would be up to. She banked hard as the man braced the bipod on the roof and opened fire.

Just as he did so, however, the Lepus suddenly landed on the roof of the jeep, caught the gun barrel and shoved it downward. As the weapon was no longer braced on his shoulder, the recoil jerked it violently back and into the man’s face. Lepus then snatched the machine gun out of his hand and chucked it onto the road in front of the jeep, which rocked as it ran over it.

Before the gunner had quite realized what had happened, the Lepus seized him by the back of his shirt, pulled him out of the jeep and tossed him onto the road. That would hurt him, but he figured the guy would survive, as they weren’t going too fast: only about forty miles an hour. This done, he hopped down the hole himself into the back seat. It was then he saw that there were two in the car; the driver and another man in the passenger seat. The latter was already drawing a pistol. As he brought it to bear, the Lepus kicked it upwards, sending the gun rebounding against the roof and probably shattering the man’s hand in the process.

“Back seat driving!” Lepus declared as he leaned forward, seized the driver’s head, and slammed it into the wheel, resulting in a quick honk of the horn and the car skidding and sliding back and forth as though trying to evade enemy fire.

“Ooh, what’s this do?” Lepus seized what he was pretty sure was the emergency break and pulled. A truly terrible sound resulted as the brakes ground against the wheels, probably doing considerable damage to both.

Meanwhile, the man in the passenger seat, though with one hand shattered had yet one more with which to fight. With this he drew a large, wicked-looking knife and stabbed at the Lepus. But the latter’s rabbit-like senses had already detected the move before the weapon had even cleared the scabbard, and it was child’s play for him to catch the attack, turn it, and thrust the blade deep into the wiring under the steering column.

The driver, though dazed, still tried to slam his elbow in the Lepus’s face. Again, he easily caught the attack, dropped it, and punched the man in the side of the head, then reversed into an elbow for the passenger seat.

“You know, I don’t have a license, but I think you really should stop this car,” he said. Then, to make sure he got the message, Lepus braced himself on the two front seats, swung his legs up, and kicked the steering column with enough force to nearly dislodge it entirely. The jeep, now completely out of control and skidding on its brakes, slid straight in the guardrails, though not with enough force to go through them.

“Told you so,” said the Lepus, and leaving the two bruised and dazed men to the care of the airbags (only the passenger side had gone off properly, due to the bent steering column), he leapt straight up through the roof and, as he had expected from hearing her approach, caught the outstretched, gauntleted hands of Garuda.

“Two cars down,” he said as he swung up onto her back.

“But neither of them the one we need,” she said. “And I don’t think crashing it is the right strategy for something carrying thirty tons of poison gas.”

“No, I see your point,” said Lepus. “Aristo, any ideas?”

“Maybe,” came his voice over the wrist communicators “How strong is that tank?”

“Pretty strong if it’s carrying chemicals,” said Garuda.

“So, what happens if you just detach it from the truck?”

She considered.

“It’ll tip over for sure, but probably won’t break. Do you know how to uncouple a truck?”

“Doubt it,” Lepus answered.

“Well, there are a lot of safety procedures we’re going to have to ignore, but basically there’s a release lever under the trailer. Unhook it and pull it out, and tractor should be released; there are also a few wires between the cab and the trailer that you should remove first, because it’s going to be unstable enough as it is without them tugging it along.”

“Lever under the trailer,” said Lepus. “Got it.”

“I’ll keep Arachnus busy while you’re at it.”

“Just be careful; you know what he can do.”

“You be careful; you’re one trying to unhook a thirty-ton trailer while it’s in motion.”

She soared over the truck, and Lepus dropped behind the cab. He saw a pair of wires connecting the cab and the trailer. Garuda said to unhook them, so he grabbed them and just pulled. Hot air blew out of one of them, sparks flew from the other. He dropped them, leaving them to bounce against the ground dangerously close to the wheels. This done, he looked under the front of the trailer and saw what was probably the release lever, though in order to reach it he had to position himself almost completely under the trailer itself, not to mention that it seemed to have to be pulled to the side. Uncomfortably aware of the racing concrete mere feet from his face, the Lepus dug the claws of his left hand into the bottom of the truck bed and reached with his right to take hold of the lever.

It absolutely refused to budge. The pressure of the thirty-ton tank being pulled at forty miles an hour up the slope of a mountain made it absolutely immovable. He tugged repeatedly, but to no avail.

As soon as she had dropped off the Lepus, Garuda landed on the hood of the truck and swept her wing through the front of the cab, shattering the windshield and slicing through the frame. She would have sliced Arachnus’s head off had he not ducked, as she had expected him to do. He came up with one leg driving straight for her side. She blocked it, and a second shot a stream of web at her face, which her other wing caught. The acetylene torch in her gauntlet blazed to life and she sliced through the sticky substance before he could pull her off the truck.

Two more legs swept out, and Garuda fired her jets to fly above them, beat her wings to flip herself over and land on the roof of the cab, which, having had the frame severed, sagged under her weight.

Arachnus sent two legs up even as she landed, catching her under her wings and tossing her back into the air. She steadied herself with a heavy beat, but streams of web shot out from both legs, snagging the wings. She fired the torches in both gauntlets and burned through the web, then banked hard to avoid another shot.

Meanwhile, Arachnus’s lower two legs twisted around the cab and stabbed at the Lepus, who had just managed to make the lever budge slightly before he was forced to release it to roll out of the way of the leg that stabbed down into the truck bed. He caught the other as it thrust at it and used it to leverage himself up, then kicked the first, leaving the end limp and broken, but that wasn’t enough to stop it from whacking him straight up into the air, where Garuda caught him under the shoulders and flew him out of range of Arachnus.

“That didn’t work,” he commented, watching as the working legs sprayed their sticky webbing over the coupling, ensuring the release lever would be even more soundly stuck in place. “But at least I cut those wires you told me to.”

“That just means the trailer has no brakes now,” she answered.

“Oh, well, that seems short-sighted,” he said in a disappointed tone as he swung up onto her back. “You mean now we can’t either uncouple it or stop it?”

“It’s not my fault!” she snapped. “That just the way these things are built!”

“Hey, guys?” said Aristo. “Just so you know, at this rate you’ll be over Colorado Springs in about five minutes, so maybe stop them sooner rather than later?”

“Yeah, we’re working on that,” said Lepus. “Sort of a two steps forward, three steps back kind of thing…”

He paused, suddenly eying the front jeep, then the truck.

“Hold on,” he said. “I think I’ve got an idea. A good one this time!”

“I told you…”

“Garuda, you uncouple the trailer; you’ve got the torches, you can just melt the darn thing, right?”

“I guess, but what about…?”

“I’ll take care of itsy-bitsy, but first drop me off in the at front car.”

“I don’t get it,” she said, putting on speed to catch up to the jeep.

“You’ll see; just wait for the signal.”

With that, he rolled off of her back and dropped onto the jeep even as she called after him, “What signal?!”

He landed square on the roof, then, hearing the commotion inside, caught the luggage rack, swung himself out of the way of the bullets tearing through the roof, and kicked through the rear passenger window.

“Hi, don’t mind me,” he said as the man in the front seat aimed a pistol at him and he batted it aside, laying open the man’s hand with his claws. Another passenger had been dazed by his entrance and Lepus quickly elbowed him to ensure he stayed that way. “I’m just picking up something…”

He pulled himself over the back seat into the trunk, where several heavy steel boxes were waiting with ammo, weapons, and so on. He began to quickly rummage through these, ignoring the shouting and scrambling men in the front of the vehicle. Hearing the driver reach for his own pistol, Lepus chucked a box of 7.62 rounds at him, hitting him square in the forehead, and resumed his search.

“Eureka!” he exclaimed, finding what he sought. He pocketed it, pulled himself back through the rear seats and leaned into the front past the dazed driver.

“Here, I know a shortcut…” he said, grabbing the wheel and spinning it sharply to the right. The jeep swerved violently and drove straight for the ditch that ran along the highway. Before it could impact, Lepus kicked open the rear door and jumped out, leaving the Brotherhood men to plow unceremoniously off the road.

Lepus hit the ground running just as the truck barreled past him. Fort miles an hour was nothing to the Lepus; he matched the truck’s speed, then passed it, his long, clawed, powerful feet tearing across the asphalt. He jumped and caught the side of the hood, then swung himself on top of it to face the driver.

Arachnus was clearly furious; his lips were parted and his glistening black mandibles were deployed. He thrust a leg at the Lepus, who ducked, then jumped the next attack, caught the upper leg, and used it to swing himself into the cab.

“Pull over; we need to check your brake lights.”

Arachnus drove another leg directly at Lepus’s face, but this time Lepus caught it, bent it, and as the sticky web squirted from the end it stuck something to the dashboard: something Lepus had just produced from his pocket.

“Cry baby, cry,” he said, as he pulled the pin out of the tear gas grenade and pulled himself up onto the roof of the cab before leaping back onto the trailer. A second later, there was bang, and the entire cab was filled with choking white smoke.

Garuda, seeing this, swung low and landed on the truck bed before the trailer.

“That was the signal?” she asked as she bent down and started work on the coupling.

“Obviously,” Lepus answered.

“And it was really that hard to just say ‘wait till the gas grenade goes off’?”

“I consider alliteration appallingly unprofessional,” Lepus answered. “Look out!”

Arachnus had left the cab and now stood over it on his lower two spider-legs. His five eyes were milky and clouded, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing, but all that just made him more enraged. His two upper legs drove down at Garuda, and Lepus jumped at them, gathering them both in his arms and swinging them out to the side of the truck as if they were vines, pulling Arachnus around with him and nearly upsetting the cyborg’s balance.

It was as he did this that the Lepus’s keen senses noticed two things. First that the steering wheel had been webbed into place. Second, that they were rapidly running out of road.

“Okay,” he said into his wrist communicator. “We’re heading for a hair-pin turn with no one at the wheel.”

“And no brakes either!” Garuda reminded him.

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” said Aristo in a resigned voice.

Before Lepus could respond or suggest a solution, Arachnus suddenly swung his legs back the opposite direction, and Lepus now found himself being flung through the air like a rock from a sling. He hit the road, rolled to his feet, and raced after the truck as fast as he could go, which was considerably faster than the truck, but not quite fast enough.

Arachnus drew both legs back, aiming at Garuda, who was furiously trying to cut the trailer free. In a moment he would either knock her off the truck, or stab her, or web her to the truck bed, any one of which would certainly result in the truck crashing and releasing the chemicals, not to mention probably kill her.

Without breaking stride, the Lepus swept a good-sized rock from the side of the road and without pausing to think or aim flung it at Arachnus. It hit him square in the face, knocking him backwards and out of sight.

Then, even as he caught up with the truck, the trailer suddenly came loose. It dropped forward onto the road, missing Garuda by feet, and sending up a shower of sparks and shattering asphalt as it skidded and turned. The Lepus sprang onto the roof, Garuda launched herself into the air, braced her feet against it and beat her wings as hard as she could, trying to slow it down, to steady it, but it was far too heavy for them to have much effect. It slowed, turned, and tipped onto its side with a crash.

Meanwhile, the truck continued to charge forward. They saw Arachnus, who had somehow managed to hold on, rising over the roof and the smoke, glaring back at them…then he seemed to realize his position and turned just in time to see himself and the truck crashed through the barrier and fly out off the cliff.

Garuda and the Lepus both let out sighs of relief as the found themselves finally standing still.

“We all safe and intact?” the Lepus asked.

Garuda scanned the tanker with her visor.

“Looks like it,” she said. “I’m not detecting any leakage.”

“That’s good to know, but I meant you.”

“Of course I’m alright,” she said with a slightly defensive air.

The Lepus smiled and turned to his communicator.

“Hey, Aristo? All clear here. Best call WEFUA and let them know their poison gas is waiting for them to pick it up.”

“I’ll try the State Troopers; they can pass the message along,” Aristo answered. “Everyone still have all their parts?”

The Lepus felt his ears.

“I do, and Garuda’s parts look as good as ever.”

“Excuse me?!”

“I meant your wings,” Lepus said.

“No, you didn’t,” said Aristo. “You guys heading back?”

“Probably best we keep an eye on it until the coppers arrive,” said Lepus. “You know, we did leave a lot of Brotherhood folk along the way, and it’d be embarrassing to do all that work and then just have them walk up and open it when our backs were turned.”

“Right. See you later,” said Aristo.

The Lepus and Garuda sat down together on top of the overturned tanker full of poison gas, resting their feet on what had been the top catwalk and enjoying the moment’s peace. Diana lifted her visor, her face shining with sweat, and Adam looked at her a moment, smiling.

“Not a bad day’s work,” he said. “Great job cutting this thing through, by the way.”

“Thanks,” she said. “And that was a good throw.”

“Wasn’t it?” he said. “I think I’ve got a gift: maybe I should try out for the Majors.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You’d have to not be a wanted fugitive for that,” she said.

“Yeah, I suppose,” he said. “Plus there’s a prejudice against rabbits.”

“What?”

“Goes way back,” he said. “See, in the nineteen twenties, the Yankees tried to field a jackrabbit as shortstop. Thing was, it always could catch the ball, but then it just sat there and chewed it. Of course, that wasn’t the reason they dropped it from the team; the real problem came when they signed Kyle “Carrottop” McGraph as Third Baseman. Turns out jackrabbits don’t quite get the ‘nickname’ thing.”

Diana’s serious façade suddenly collapsed in a fit of laughter.

“You are such an idiot!” she gasped, and her voice suddenly held a distinctly Texan twang.

Adam laughed along with her, less at his own joke than in enjoyment of seeing the way her smile illuminated her already beautiful face.

That completes my to do list, he thought. Beat the bad guys, and make Di laugh. That’s what I call a good day.

 

 

 

 

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