Luc and Kristin stood at the bow of Andre’s boat, approaching the Nice harbor. Soft moonlight filtered through the clouds, giving the city an almost peaceful appearance. But they both knew better. The mainland, nearly the entire planet, was under the control of the Snakeheads. They had to be on their guard, most especially because they were certain that they were wanted by the ‘authorities’ for questioning, due to their somewhat hurried departure from Paris more than five months before.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Andre asked them.
“Yes.” Luc nodded, but he did not say anything more. It was better for all of them if as few people as possible were aware of where they were headed, or why.
“Good luck, my friends.” Andre said quietly, as they hid in the shadows of the deck. A yawning Snakehead hailed the boat from the dock, and demanded that a gangplank be lowered so that he could board.
“If you are going to wake me at this unreasonable hour, you might at least be ready for me!” he growled menacingly, waving his rifle in a threatening manner.
“I apologize, Sergeant.” Andre said in an ingratiating manner. “I did not mean to inconvenience you. But I was hoping to arrive here before the latest storm. It is predicted to hit within a few hours.”
The Snakehead grunted, apparently somewhat mollified by the boat captain’s fawning tone and the cup of hot coffee that was being pressed into his hand as he boarded. Andre led the soldier off to the hold.
The moment they had disappeared from view, two figures slipped silently over the side of the boat, lowering themselves to the dock with thick sailing ropes. Hidden in the darkness, they crept by the patrolling Snakehead guards, carefully scanning the area for their contact.
Kristin spotted the man first, tapping Luc silently on the shoulder and indicating the direction in which they needed to go. He was bent down, examining one of the wheels of his truck. Slowly, Luc and Kristin approached the man from behind. Luc coughed sharply once, then once more.
The man did not turn around, merely removed the red scarf he was wearing as a means of identification and tossed it into the back of his Spectran cargo vehicle. Luc and Kristin followed the scarf into the hold of the truck.
Once inside, they settled themselves in the corner, covering their bodies with a canvas tarp. Approximately thirty minutes later, the vehicle came to life, vibrating underneath them and moving away briefly, before coming to another stop.
“What do you have in there?” came a harsh voice from outside the truck.
“Self-sealing stembolts.” came another, this one from the driver’s cab. “They’re scheduled for delivery at the manufacturing plant in Saltzburg.”
This received a grunt in response, and there was a long pause.
“Your documents are in order,” the first voice said, “but I have to perform a visual check.”
“Of course.” replied the second voice.
Luc and Kristin held their breaths, staying as still as possible underneath the tarp as they heard the back door to the truck open.
“Looks like I’ll have to make a closer inspection.” said the first voice. “Although, I know you’ve got a schedule to keep. Perhaps I could ‘hurry it up’…”
The suggestion was not lost on the owner of the second voice, as the distinctive beep of a monetary transfer was heard.
“That’ll do.” said the first voice, and the back door of the cargo vehicle slammed shut. Kristin sighed with relief, sagging against Luc’s body underneath the tarp as the truck began moving again.
“No matter how many times we do this, I’ll never get used to it.” she whispered softly.
“It’s amazing how corrupt the Snakeheads are.” Luc noted. “The drivers never even have to offer a bribe. The Snakeheads always ask for one first.”
“Hopefully, that corruption will be their undoing.” Kristin replied. “A force as rotten and self-centered as the Snakeheads are has to be defeated, sooner or later.”
They passed the journey talking softly, playing a game of ‘what if’. Their version of this pastime involved guessing about Luc’s past. Despite searching any database they could find over the last few months, they had not been able to discover anything more about Luc’s history than they had learned from their work at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. One night Kristin had invented the ‘what if’ game by laughingly suggesting that Luc had been a hairdresser in his previous life. Luc had countered with the supposition that perhaps he had been a professional athlete, and the speculation had gone on from there. The game was usually silly, and without any basis in known fact at all, but Kristin could tell that it made Luc more accepting of his missing memories, when they engaged in this playful banter.
"I think you were a chef.” Kristin declared. “Chef Antoine de Luca! Your specialty was a California Spring Roll, filled with asparagus, Portobello mushrooms and sundried tomatoes, and topped with a creamy parmesan sauce. Presidents and celebrities would come from far and wide to taste your exquisite creations!”
“More likely, I was a waiter in the restaurant.” Luc replied, amused. “Doing my best not to spill wine onto anyone’s lap and remembering not to stick my thumb in the soup bowls.” Kristin laughed at the image of Luc as a harried waiter.
“If you had been my waiter, I would have left you a big tip.” she teased. “And if you had turned those big blue eyes in my direction, I would have left you my communications number, as well.”
“And I would have contacted you the minute I had arrived home!” Luc declared.
“Really? And what if it was late and I had already gone to bed?” Kristin pretended to pout.
“All the better for me to join you.” Luc grinned, kissing her playfully.
But his playfulness vanished as the cargo vehicle came to a stop. Kristin was always amazed at how quickly Luc could transform himself from the warm and loving person she knew, to the professional, hard-nosed, militaristic strategist she privately called ‘the Commander’. At Luc’s order, they held themselves still as they heard a voice coming from the driver’s area.
“Think I’ll stop for some lunch.”
Kristin waited silently with Luc, hearing a door open and close, and footsteps walk away. After a few minutes, he nodded at her.
“He’s early.” Luc noted quietly, looking at his watch. “More than a quarter hour. We made good time.”
Quickly, they got out from underneath the tarp, moving toward the rear of the cargo hold. Luc opened the door a crack, peering outside.
“We’re next to a high wall.” he reported. “All clear.” Kristin nodded, following him as he slipped outside, crouching low to the ground behind a row of parked cargo and transport vehicles.
Again they scanned the area, looking around for their next contact, and the identifying red garment he or she would be wearing. This time, it was Luc who spotted the man first, but just as Kristin was about to move, he held her back with an iron grip.
“Wait.” he ordered her.
Kristin had learned not to question Luc’s instincts, so she remained by his side, crouched down behind the row of trucks, watching and waiting.
Their location was a rest stop along the main highway. Individuals and truck drivers walked around the area, particularly in and out of the restaurant that was the main building in the service area. However, the man, who wore red gloves signifying him to be their next contact, was merely leaning against a wall.
It was too obvious.
Luc and Kristin had benefited from pre-arranged rides with many truck drivers since they had begin their covert activities against the Snakeheads, but those contacts had all given the appearance of being busy… doing something as they had waited for their pickups. Never had they boldly waited out in the open, as if they had nothing better to do, forcing their illicit passengers to approach them in full view.
“It’s a trap.” Luc muttered. “It’s too easy.”
Even as Luc said this, their ‘contact’ stepped forward, moving out from behind a parked car and coming into full view. Kristin drew in a sharp breath, while Luc squeezed her hand tightly.
The man with the red gloves was wearing a long overcoat, typical of what French drivers donned to protect themselves from the inclement Fall weather. But underneath that coat, the man was wearing green pants.
No one attempting to avoid patrols would be wearing green pants. It was much more likely that this was part of a Snakehead uniform.
“This way.” Luc mouthed, moving in the opposite direction, away from their ‘contact’. Kristin hurriedly followed.
The other side of the long row of trucks opened onto the individual vehicles parking lot. Long rows of cars stretched out before them, but these were at least seven meters away. There was a good chance that they might be spotted while moving between the line of trucks and the car parking lot. Luc quickly assessed the situation.
“We’ll take one of those.” he said, pointing to a line of motorcycles along the wall, next to the trucks.
“That one.” he indicated a bike mostly hidden by the large trucks, with two helmets hanging off of the back.
Kristin gulped nervously. She didn’t like this.
“I think I’ll be able to start it.” Luc told her. Ever since their first mission together, extracting prisoners from a Snakehead Penal Complex, Luc had spent his spare time learning how to start a vehicle without a key or passcode. On that first mission, they had needed to do so, and it had only been with the help of one of the prisoners they had been rescuing that they had managed to start the vehicle in which they had escaped. Ever since they had arrived in Corsica, Luc had been learning this skill, although he was still relatively clumsy at it.
“No, that’s not it…” mumbled Kristin. “I’m sure you can do it, but…” she paused. How could she explain something she couldn’t understand herself? All she knew was that the closer she got to that motorcycle, the larger the knot of fear inside of her stomach grew.
She was terrified of this machine.
Why, she didn’t know, but the thought of riding on this vehicle was nearly enough to send her screaming and running in the opposite direction. Motorcycles were so exposed… there weren’t even any seatbelts, for goodness’ sake! Kristin played nervously with her hands as Luc approached the bike. He examined the controls and reached down, fiddling with some wires.
“I’ve got it!” he grinned, looking up at her.
Kristin could only smile weakly, her knees trembling as she realized that she was truly going to have to ride this machine… no barriers… nothing between her and splattering herself all over the road at one hundred kilometers per hour…
“Are you all right?” Luc whispered, seeing her fear and squeezing her hand. She nodded in response, but the movement was jerky and wooden.
“It’s okay.” he told her reassuringly. “I can drive this. All you have to do is hold onto me. It will be safe. I’ll take care of you.”
“I know you will.” she said in a trembling voice. “I trust you.” She forced herself to reach for one of the helmets.
“That’s my girl.” Luc smiled gently, taking the other helmet and placing it onto his head.
Kristin stared, her mouth agape, and her nervousness at riding a motorcycle temporarily forgotten. The helmet Luc wore was round in shape, almost spherical, and was colored white. A clear plastic visor covered his face, and the way Luc looked in the headgear sent a shockwave through Kristin’s brain.
There was something so familiar about his appearance.
But she couldn’t put her finger on it. Still pondering this mystery, she placed her own helmet on her head, her fear vanishing completely with this new revelation.
“Looks good on you.” Luc smiled, before swinging his leg over the seat and mounting the motorcycle. Kristin mimicked his action, getting on behind him and wrapping her arms around his waist.
For a moment, all that mattered was the feel of Luc’s body in her arms, and the security it offered. Then the motor rumbled, and the machine vibrated beneath her, but before she could become overwhelmed by her fear, Luc had taken off.
They were supposed to be heading north, through Turin and toward Mont Blanc, but Luc turned in a southerly direction, moving back the way they had come. Kristin quickly realized that he was attempting to throw the Snakeheads off of their trail.
They drove for about twenty minutes, Kristin glancing back nervously the entire time, but there was no sign of pursuit. Luc took an exit onto a lonely country road, driving a few miles from the main highway and then turning again at an intersection to send them back in a northerly direction.
After another hour or so, he pulled off to the side of the road, bringing the motorcycle to a stop in a grove of trees.
He turned off the motor, and they sat in silence for a few moments. All they could hear was the sound of birds chirping in the trees, and their own nervous breathing.
“I think we lost them” Luc said quietly.
“Technically, I don’t think they were ever following us.” Kristin pointed out.
“True.” Luc said. “I’m guessing that they didn’t know exactly whom they were waiting for. They probably got a tip from an informant, and were hoping to find some rebel hitchhikers to interrogate. But we were early, and I don’t think they were paying attention to us when we left. Still, I think it’s a good idea to take the backroads the rest of the way to Chamonix.”
“If the second driver was compromised, then the Snakeheads probably knew that our next stop was to be Ivrea.” Kristin mused. “So it wouldn’t hurt to change out route, and go through France, instead of Italy…”
“I agree.” Luc nodded. “That sounds like a good plan. And perhaps we should travel by night, as well.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Kristin replied. “If we rest now, we can probably make it to Chamonix by morning, even with the extra time it will take to stay off the main thoroughfares.”
“Sounds good to me.” Luc said, dismounting. Kristin followed him, taking off her helmet and stepping off of the bike with a relieved sigh. It felt good to get away from the motorcycle. A nervous tension she hadn’t even been aware of began to ease from her shoulders.
“I didn’t realize that you were scared of motorcycles.” Luc observed, watching her carefully.
“I didn’t know myself.” Kristin shrugged. “But when you said we should take one, suddenly I felt like running as fast as I could in the opposite direction.”
“I’m glad you were able to overcome your fear.”
“I’d do anything for you, Luc. You know that.”
“Just as I would do anything for you.”
He stepped closer to her, pulling off his helmet and cupping her cheek in his hand. Slowly, he bent his head to hers, sending an electric thrill through her as their mouths met. They stood together for a moment, before pulling apart.
“Let’s move further back into the trees.” he suggested.
Kristin helped Luc walk the motorcycle back further into the woods, and into a thicket of bushes. Once this had been accomplished, she covered the bike with a few fallen tree branches, while Luc sat down beside her, pushing dry leaves together to create a makeshift bed for them.
“It’s not likely to be too comfy, but it will do, just this one time.” he smiled ruefully.
“I’m sure it’s comfier than the stone floor of that underground tunnel we took to Marseilles.” Kristin said practically. “It will be just fine, as long as I’m with you.”
They settled down on the leaves, Luc spooning Kristin from behind, wrapping his arms around her and cradling her against his chest as she drifted off to sleep.