NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 5 - Day 28


He hit the acceleration pedal and the carriage surged forward. He wished for a moment that carriages weren’t so wide; the mass made them accelerate slowly. It also gave them a lot of momentum though, and that was about to be really helpful as they approached the gate full of guards gesturing wildly for him to stop. The wheels clattered over the cobblestone, raising a racket that set his teeth on edge; they were going far too fast to stop anywhere near the gate. He was able to see the whites of the guards’ eyes as they cried out and scattered, and they were through.
Sunniva was white-faced beside him, eyes screwed shut, hanging on with her one good arm for dear life as the carriage bounced and jolted along the road the rough road. He risked a glance backward and his own eyes widened. Behind them were several more carriages rushing through the gate, and following them riders on horseback.
“I’m sorry, I have to maintain speed. They’re coming after us.”
The horses were the bigger threat right now. Their carriages didn’t have the advantage of a running start and would take several minutes to get up to speed. The horses had no such problem, but were also limited in how fast they could go. One wheel of the carriage jolted the whole carriage then, having bounced off a large bump in the road with a —CRACK— like a gunshot; he grimaced, but held the acceleration pedal down. “Keep it together, we need more distance … Just a little more, just a little more …”
He breathed a sigh of relief when the road took a turn downhill and they started picking up speed. Even better, the road smoothed somewhat; his hands were cramping from holding the steering wheel too tight for too long.
The road leveled out and he started breathing more normally. “I … I think we’re going to be okay now.” Sunniva opened her eyes at last, her own hand loosening from its death-grip on the carriage frame. He looked back again; he knew they were there, but too far back to see, for the moment at least. “I don’t know the top speed their carriages are capable of, but let’s hope it’s lower than ours.”
“Yes.” To say her voice sounded strained was an understatement.
“Sunniva … I—”
She looked at him without expression, but just then his communicator came to life with Tristram’s voice. The doctor sounded grave. “Archerd, are you there? Archerd, please answer if you can.”
“I’m here, Tristram,” he said.
“All thanks,” he said with relief. “Look, I don’t mean to press you, but have you learned anything yet? Your father … His condition is getting worse. Frankly, a lot worse. And it’s not just him. A lot more people have come down with this illness all over town; we haven’t seen a new case in a few days, my isolation ward appears to be helping contain the spread. But I’ve got over 30 people in here right now, and that’s not counting the 10 who have passed on. Please, tell me you have good news for me.”
“We do, Doctor. Sunniva got in and out of their medical research labs. She said she had an actual sample of the medication.”
“Here, give that to me,” she said.
“Doctor Maulden, Archerd’s right. I got in and I have a sample of the medication for you. They call it penicillin, and he referred to the illness as a sort of bug which I didn’t understand … Could it be some sort of insect?” Archerd looked over at that, but quickly back. They were still flying down the road at an amazing rate, the normally near-silent steam driven pistons churning audibly, and this stretch of road featured a prominent down-bank to a river below on one side, and a thick tangle of dense woods on the other.
“A bug … No, it’s a strange term but I’ve heard it before, usually referring to some sort of virus or bacterial infection. This penicillin must be a type of antibiosis agent.”
“Does this help you at all?”
“Maybe. You’ll have to get me that sample as fast as possible, but there may be something I can do in the meantime. It’s enough for some hope. Thanks to you both, you have been an invaluable help, but hurry as qui—” The whole carriage jerked as another wheel, this one on the other side, struck a bump Archerd hadn’t been able to see. They bounced on the bench with the force of the blow, and their possessions shifted in the back with a clatter. Sunniva cried out as her arm was jolted.
“What was that? Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she replied to the doctor through gritted teeth. “I was injured getting away. Shot in the arm.”
“All the more reason to get back here as fast as you can. I’ll need to look at that too.”
“Doctor, do all you can for Mr. Dolet. We’ll get there.”
“Good. I’ll see y—” Another —CRACK— followed by the sound of splintering wood as the large wheels of the carriage bounced once, twice, and one broke apart, pitching them around the bench. The communicator flew from Sunniva’s hand and vanished out of the carriage to the road; the broken side of the wheel came around again and the carriage lurched, still trying to speed on, pivoting around the wheel and slamming sideways into a tree growing up off the slope. Archerd slammed into the steering wheel, the breath knocked from his body; Sunniva tumbled into him, her weight throwing him halfway off the bench. With a creak, the carriage shifted downward, half clinging to the edge of the road, the other hanging over the drop, held only by the tree it had smashed into.
It took Archerd a minute to regain control of his body; Sunniva was frozen against him, afraid to move. In sudden panic, he gripped the wheel; one of the front wheels moved against the tree; in terrible, gut-wrenching slow motion, the carriage began to tip and fall.
* * *
Mr. Coll slowed the carriage down to a stop, the city guard next to him gesturing for the other carriage to do the same.
“There’s an awful lot of debris here. Get your men to check the area.” Broken, splintered wood and what looked like part of a carriage wheel were scattered on the road, and turning his eye to the sides of the road, he noted one trunk that looked as if it had been hit badly very recently. “There, have them check over there.”
He climbed down as the guard was having his men sweep the roadway. He’d never seen a carriage as fast as the one they’d been chasing, but that might not have turned out to be the advantage they’d counted on. These roads were awfully rough. Looked like they’d shattered a wheel. He smiled. Maybe finding them wouldn’t be so difficult after all.
“Sir,” the guard captain called from the road’s edge, “looks like they’re down at the bottom of this drop. They went off completely and landed in the river.”
“Is there any sign of the driver or passenger?”
“We’ll have to go down and check, and that’ll take time. It’s an awful long way down, an’ dangerous.”
“Get to it then.”
He turned back to the road, sweeping the opposite side with an idle gaze when a glint caught his eye. Crossing to it, he found a small wooden and brass box covered with knobs and switches. It was badly broken.
Coll represented the physics labs; he recognized the device’s importance. It must have fallen off the carriage when they lost their wheel. He was no expert on devices, however. He’d have to turn it over to someone who could examine it and determine exactly what it did.
He returned to the broken tree and waited for a report from the guards climbing down the side, turning the device over and over in his hands. Interesting … very interesting.
* * *
Archerd and Sunniva staggered through the woods next to the river one pain-filled step after the next. He tried not to breathe too hard; they’d been tossed around inside the carriage until the canvas ripped on the way down and they’d spilled out into the water. His chest was on fire; he had counted 3 broken ribs, and the rest of his body felt like one large bruise. All but his leg; he’d wrenched it. He could walk, but he was slow.
Sunniva was no better. Her arm was in bad shape after the fall. The bullet wound wasn’t too terrible; the pistol used to shoot her hadn’t been very powerful and the coat draped over her arm had offered some minimal protection. It was certainly very painful, but Archerd was sure it would heal well before too long. During the tumble down the hill though, she’d gashed the same arm, a long tear along her forearm that went deeper than he liked to see up towards the elbow. More distressingly, she’d knocked her head upon landing, and Archerd wasn’t sure how bad it was.
The worst of it was they’d managed to lose both communicators. Sunniva’s had flown out of her hand up on the road, that much she remembered. Archerd’s must have been lost on the way down, but he had no idea where it had ended up. Most likely it was down at the bottom of the river.
No, he thought. The worst of it is the cold. Even in the sun, they were cold. They’d salvaged warm clothing from the wreckage of the carriage, but both they and the clothing had been dumped in the river and were soaked through. They didn’t dare stop to try and dry off or warm up; they didn’t know how long it would be until their pursuers found the carriage, but they knew they’d better be long gone when it happened.
So they traveled with little more than the clothes on their backs, and, thankfully, the sample Sunniva carried. It had somehow survived the fall, probably because it had gotten tangled up in her clothing, which had kept it from falling loose and offered it some padding against the landing as well.
They kept to the far side of the river. Archerd would have much preferred to avoid having to cross it, but the ground on the other side was still far too steep.
It took several hours for them to reach a point where the land on the other side of the river was traversable, by which time the sun was high in the sky and they’d finally started to dry and warm up a bit. Sunniva was starting to come around a bit too, seeming much more alert.
“Come on, looks like we can cross over once we find a place shallow enough. I don’t know about you but I think I’d prefer to avoid another swim today.”
“No argument on that.” He looked at her in concern; he wished he could contact Tristram. He knew blows to the head were tricky things, but aside from what he’d learned in his combat training, he knew nothing else about them. The full extent of what he’d learned with the staff and his fists was how to avoid getting hit in the head, not what to do when it happened.
He had to settle for keeping her moving, which they had to do anyway. They followed the river for another hour before finding a shallow point they could cross barefoot. The water was so cold Archerd was surprised it hadn’t started freezing over.
“Well, we’re back on the right side now … But do we follow the river back and regain the road, or try to cut across?”
The shock of the cold water must’ve done her some good. “I hate to lose any time, especially if things are getting bad for your father, but if we get lost or hurt on the way back we won’t be of much help to anyone, including ourselves.”
He looked at the river, pulling his socks and boots back on. “Alright then. Backtrack it is.”
Once they were both set, they retraced their steps on the opposite side of the river. “Once we’re back up on the road, I’ll be able to increase our pace. There are places we can save some time on foot.”

Continue to NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 5 - Day 29