"You're right. It's my fault." She ran a stop sign, gaining on the '87 Buick GNX. "Though not because I didn't buy you enough time. In my vision, I clearly missed the damper."
Zayne's voice softened considerably. "Look, how were you supposed to catch every single detail?"
"I'm the one with the visions, remember?" She eased off the gas slightly and took a sharp turn onto another residential street. "It's my job to log all the details. And if I had emphasized that the fireplace was empty, you would've been more careful."
Zayne clutched the handle above the passenger window as Alana neared seventy miles per hour. "You knew things were going to go south, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Before you went in. You said it felt like the calm before the storm."
Alana shrugged. "It just always feels like that, doesn't it? There— he's headed for the interstate."
Their target swerved onto the shoulder and flew past the stalled queue of evening commuters, clipping a few side mirrors before disappearing.
"I'd hate to be Mr. Ransom's insurance provider." Zayne reached into his windbreaker and pulled out his pager. "What's your plan when we catch up to him, anyway?"
Alana opened her mouth to answer, but she could tell Zayne was now fixated on his pager. "Alana? Why did Mr. Lear send me this address?"
She ignored the question and followed the path taken by Mr. Ransom— up the shoulder, around the idle cars, and onto the interstate.
"He wants us to abort the plan. But things changed when our target opened fire."
"Things 'changed'? Alana, we're not law enforcement. You could've been killed back there. 'I' could've been killed!" Once more Zayne produced his inhaler and sucked in the medication through a hasty breath. "Plus he's no good to us all freaked out like this!" He exhaled. "Scrambling isn't meant to make the target 'defensive . . .' it's meant to make them 'defenseless'."
"Well, we're past that point, aren't we? And anyway, we 'need' those blueprints!"
"I'm telling you he is no good to us in this state of mind. We're wasting our time!"
Alana swerved across a lane and onto the shoulder, narrowly missing a motorcyclist, who shouted over his shoulder at her. She put the van in Park and balled her hands into two fists, punching the steering wheel over and over until her fingers went numb. She reached back and pulled her black hair into a ponytail just to give her hands something else to do.
Once composed, Alana licked her lips and put the van back in gear. "Now what was that address Mr. Lear sent over?"
* * *
Across town, in the basement of an abandoned halfway house in a middle- class neighborhood, Philip Lear blinked his eyes open and sat up. He removed the receivers from his temples and set them on the table beside the bulky, first-generation Restorey. The scene from his memory tape lingered like the sting from a cut.
"I'll never understand why you, of all people, feel the need to use artificial recall." Irene Porter stood from her stool and brought Mr. Lear a glass of water. The basement was dimly lit and cramped; the square windows near the low ceiling admitted only a fraction of the diffused moonlight.
Mr. Lear ejected the memory tape and slipped it into its case. "I suppose it's a lot like returning to an old book. I don't 'have' to, but then, some books demand rereading."
"I'm gonna take your word for it."
Mr. Lear smiled and took a sip. "Once the Task is complete, you'll understand."
Irene nodded as if she agreed, even though he suspected she didn't. Mr. Lear shifted in his seat. "Alana? Zayne?"
"Almost here. Gemma's en route too."
"Good." He held his right hand in his lap, fingering the four- quarter mark with a contemplative gaze. Irene regarded the cognition wheel on her dark brown skin—a circular tattoo with three colored quadrants etched into her palm.
"You've never asked why my cognition wheel has four quadrants." Mr. Lear smiled at Irene.