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The elf was still doing almost twice the posted speed limit. Something nameless drove him on, refusing to allow him to slow down. His legs ached from being held in the same position for too long; his hands throbbed under the bike's increasingly buzzing handgrips. The needle of the tachometer stood at just below redline, and had not budged, except for occasional brief forays up into forbidden territory, for almost half an hour. He knew that wasn't the wisest thing to do, but he still imagined that his pursuers were not far behind. As long as he stayed ahead of them for just a bit longer, he could lose them. Once he reached 101, there were innumerable places that he could stop and lose himself. All he had to do was keep himself and the bike together for just a few more miles. It couldn't be far now.

Every fifteen minutes or so, he reached around with his left hand to touch the large briefcase lashed to the rear seat with three bungee cords; to reassure himself that it was still there. Next to the briefcase, the duffel bag that hung over his shoulder like a large courier sack was by far of secondary importance.

He could see a long way out here. Off on both sides, far in the distance, were the low dark forms of hills; up ahead, closer but still far away, was a collection of dim lights. He wondered what the lights were--were they farmhouses, or an encampment, or perhaps the small cluster of businesses he expected to find at the junction of 101? The signs weren't good out here, but the bike's odometer told him that he should be getting close. The gas gauge was also telling him that he was getting close, although to something different entirely. He figured that at this rate of speed, he might have fifty kilometers or so before running out both the bike's main gas tank and its tiny auxiliary tank. He debated whether he should stop at the junction or try to go a bit further, rationalizing that if anyone was following him and had seen him take this cutoff, they might be lying in wait for him at the logical place for him to stop. No, he decided, he'd best go on, despite the protestings of his hungry, aching, cold body and his overtaxed bike. It wasn't worth the risk. Taking a deep breath and doing his best to stretch out his muscles, he twisted the throttle and increased the bike's speed. It was running a bit rough now, he noticed, but nothing to worry about yet.

Ahead, the lights grew brighter, resolving themselves into multicolored signs. He wasn't close enough yet to read them, but their colors and vague shapes were all too familiar: a gas station and one of those abysmal chain restaurants that could be found along every road in North America, from the UCAS to the NAN lands. At least he knew now that he was fast approaching 101. Now all he'd need to do was--

Crash! Bang!

All at once, the bike lurched wildly to the right as a hideous clanking sound of metal on metal erupted simultaneously from the left side. He instinctively grabbed the clutch as something blew out through the plastic fairing in a cacophony of crunching and grinding, and then his left leg began to sting as hot liquid spewed out of the exposed engine and flew backward into the wind. Glancing down, unable to spare more than a quick look, his eyes widened as he saw the gaping hole in the bike's side, spraying hot oil rearward. It had not quite managed to seep through the heavy cloth of his jeans, but the heat was getting through just fine.

He cursed silently, yanking his leg back to the rear peg and fighting the bike. He allowed it to coast down the road, quiet now except for an occasional tortured engine noise. The flying oil quickly died down, aided partially by the decreasing speed and partially by the fact that the engine had seized up most of its moving parts by now. His decision had been made for him--he'd have to stop. In fact, he might have to stop for quite some time, until he could find alternative transportation. He simply did not have the time to wait here in the middle of nowhere and have the bike repaired with his assailants closing in on him. He hated to lose it, but it was, after all, just a machine. He could get another one if he needed one. Survival was by far the more important consideration.

Keeping the clutch pulled in, he was able to coast the bike to the point where he could now make out the text on the two signs. He'd been right: gas station and bad chain restaurant. He realized that coasting up on a wrecked bike would probably result in more questions than he wanted to answer (read that: any questions at all), so reluctantly he let the bike carry him off the road into a field of brush about half a kilometer from the pair of businesses. Working quickly and efficiently, he laid the bike down in the brush, unhooked the briefcase from the back seat, adjusted his duffel bag, and started off toward the lights. Almost as an afterthought, he fastened up his leather jacket and checked to make sure that his Browning Max-Power was still safely stowed in its custom holster under his arm.

He had gotten about halfway there before it occurred to him that he was still wearing his motorcycle helmet. Pulling it off, he fastened the strap and put his arm through it, unwilling to leave it with the bike. Like the jacket, it too was armored, and it might prove useful if his pursuers had in fact located him. If anyone asked where his bike was, he could always say that he had had an accident and left it a few kilometers away.

He just wished that he had a better idea of what he was going to do next.

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