"You going north?"
"Maybe." The woman looked at Katya. "You need a ride?"
"If you wouldn't mind."
Jessie shrugged and got up. "I'm heading out now. You can keep me company."
Thanking the man for the juice, Katya followed Jessie out of the bar. The female trucker didn't say anything until they were in the cab of a sleek silver truck with a dash that looked more like something you might find in the cockpit of a small jet.
"Not smart what you're doing," Jessie said as they hit the highway. "Most of the boys, they're okay. But there's a few that think giving a ride means getting something in return."
"I know," Katya said, deciding for honesty. Something about Jessie said that for all her fresh-faced looks, she'd spot a lie a mile off. "But I didn't want to be caught on surveillance at the travel depots."
Jessie switched to automatic navigation after smoothing the truck into its specified lane. The steering wheel slid away as the truck's computronic software took over, accelerating the rig to a speed no human would ever be able to control. "You running from someone?" A concerned glance. "Someone been mistreating you, honey?"
Arms holding her close. A kiss to wish her sweet dreams. "No. But I have something I need to do." A demon she needed to face.
"Fair enough." Jessie kicked back, putting her feet on the dash. "So, you like jazz?"
"I'm going to - " Dev bit off the words, staring at a grinning Tiara. "You just let her walk out?"
"Hey, she stunned me," the woman said, affronted. "And wasn't I the one who tracked the car down to that diner even though she had the devil's luck and took the one with the malfunctioning tracker?"
Knives lanced Dev's stomach at the thought of who Katya might have ridden with, what they might have done to her. "Did Lucas call back?" The leopard alpha had gone to talk to the folks who owned the diner after Dev's attempts had met with stony silence.
His cell phone rang at that moment. Snapping it open, he looked at the caller ID. "Lucas, you got it?"
"She's on a rig heading north," the DarkRiver alpha told him. "With a driver named Jessie Amsel."
But that, Dev thought, didn't mean she wasn't dangerous. "I've got a contact in the truckers' union," Dev said. "I'll get her route."
"They left about four hours ago."
"Then I better start moving." Hanging up, he called his contact and five minutes later had a printout of Jessie Amsel's route. Eyes narrowing, he made another call. "Michel? I need a favor."
"You going to owe me, cousin." A smile he could almost hear. "What's up?"
Dev outlined what he needed. "Is it doable?"
"Against the rules, but I figure you'll pull my butt out of jail if I land in it."
"Don't thank me yet. Even if she doesn't switch rides beforehand, Traffic Comp tells me the roads are clear all the way to the border. If she hits Canada before I get to her, nothing I can do about it."
EARTHTWO COMMAND LOG: SUNSHINE STATION
18 August 2080: Official incident report: Ten members of the scientific team are currently recovering from exposure in the medical bay. It appears they lost their sense of direction in the dark on their way back from a survey mission.
None of the ten contacted base camp for help, and they do not appear to remember the hours they spent without shelter. All ten have been confined to the med bay until they can be fully evaluated.
"You got the papers to get over?" Jessie asked as she brought the truck to a stop three hours south of the Canadian border, the world still night-dark around them though it was early morning.
Katya shook her head. "No. I'll have to find a way to sneak through."
"That's not exactly easy. They've got Psy guards now, too - apparently there was a problem with people using telepathy to cloud human guards' minds."
That eliminated the very plan Katya had been counting on. "I don't suppose you know anyone who makes fake IDs."
"Do I look like the criminal type?"
"No, you look resourceful."
Jessie grinned. "What the hell. Come on."
Twenty minutes later, Katya had an identification card that was "good for one use only," according to the wizened little man who made it for her. "They'll get a bounce on it mebbe ten minutes after you scan it through, so make sure you high-tail it out of there fast."
Katya nodded and handed over most of the cash she'd taken from Tag. "Thanks."
"And if you get caught, you never saw me." Beady black eyes pinned her in place. "Understood?"
"Are you going over the border?" she asked Jessie once they were on their way again.
The other woman shook her head. "My delivery's to a facility about forty minutes shy of it. You can hitch a ride with another trucker from there - I'll make sure it's one of the good ones."
"Why are you helping me so much, Jessie?" Katya asked, running her fingers over and around the hard edges of the ID card. "I'm obviously someone in trouble, someone who could get you in trouble."
"You heard that thing about paying it forward?"
"Where you been living, in a cave?" Without waiting for an answer, Jessie quickly explained. "It's like this - if someone does something nice for you, you got to do something nice for another person down the road. It's meant to put good back into the world."