Credence Foundation
Author:Marco Guarda

Chapter Twenty



Firrell didn’t say anything when Trumaine had called, telling him that, far from being aboard the Neptune, he was still on the planet, at the City prison. He groaned when he heard about the reason Trumaine wasn’t on Aquaria. And he almost fell off his chair when he was told that the case, far from being solved, was more intricate than ever.

It had taken Trumaine some time to explain to his captain what he had discovered and why Firrell would never find Faith’s motivation for killing Jarva—she didn’t have any. She didn’t kill him, someone else did, someone who had a row with Jarva about the illegal use of Credence’s powers—that someone was Benedict.

But Trumaine couldn’t just arrest him; Benedict could still count on the help of another telepath—his own crawler, and nobody except him knew who it was.

They needed to lay a snare for him, and the only way to catch a telepath was using another telepath. That was the idea that had struck Trumaine in the prison, that’s why they needed to let Faith go. Trumaine would bring her in the chamber and have her search the minds of all believers, until she would find Benedict’s crawler.

Firrell had thought it over for a whole minute, then he had exhaled in a long whistle. In the end, he had agreed that the plan might even work.

It took him almost three hours to go to the Civic Court and convince the judge who had sent Faith behind bars that he should release her instead. The judge didn’t object, but he was very clear about one point: if they were wrong, their heads would roll. If Faith ran, Firrell could say good-bye to his promising career in the police and Trumaine won’t need his spanking new Aquarian citizenship, because he’d be in jail in her place.

Were they going to take up the risks along with the challenge? Fair enough. Faith had been released on parole ten minutes later. She was under Trumaine’s direct responsibility now, if she ran—they had been warned.

Trumaine had been delivered his old unmarked car just outside the prison. Firrell had been so kind to include the detective’s taser as well. Probably he wouldn’t use it—it was more a precaution. Trumaine strapped the gun holster around his shoulder, put on his jacket, then slid the taser inside the holster and waited by the car for Faith.

At long last, she had walked out from the crystal building that was the civic prison, taking a long, deep breath. Even if she wasn’t free yet, being outside was doing her a lot of good already. She felt happy; her smile and her good mood were slowly returning. She glanced at Trumaine and knew at once what worried him. Even if she could find all the answers to her questions just focusing on his thoughts, she was still shaken by the row they had had at her home. She was afraid she could upset him again, so she resorted to using real words instead of her powers. Even if words were a slower, old-fashioned means of communication, they were still quite a reliable way to express one’s feelings.

“You think we’re gonna catch him?” she asked.

“We better. If we don’t, you’ll get back to your neat, glass cubicle and I’ll be the force’s laughingstock for the rest of my life.”

“Why on earth did you have to care? You had your citizenship. Everybody else was happy with what you had found out: the Federals, the Transport Security Administration, your captain. So ... why?”

Trumaine walked around the car, then looked up at Faith and opened his mouth, about to answer her, when he realized by the smug smile that had curled Faith’s lips that he didn’t really need to—she already knew. He shook his head and groaned, feeling as stupid as one can be.

“Get in,” he told her.

The car sped along the seaside freeway, dangerously weaving in and out of the traffic, hailed by a barrage of honking coming from the angry drivers it passed.

Trumaine was driving back to Credence as fast as possible. His brain was still whirring, trying to put into place as many pieces as he could of the big puzzle that was the Jarva case, before he confronted Benedict.

There was a reason, he thought, if the TSA had stopped delivering the feed to Credence; it was the fear of losing more spaceships like the Hibiscus. But why did the ship go astray? Trumaine wondered. He had asked the same question to Benedict and he had told him that the parasite feed created by the crawler might have caused a ripple that had set the ship off course. Seemingly, Benedict had no reason to lie about that and it might as well as be what had really happened.

Benedict’s crawler was responsible for the loss of the Hibiscus; if he was still in Credence—and there was no reason to think he wasn’t—there was still the chance that what had happened to the Hibiscus could happen again, to another ship.

Trumaine knew he was taking big risks not telling the TSA what he knew, but if he told them, Benedict would be alerted and would tell his crawler to run.

The quicker Trumaine was, the less the chance the crawler could read his mind—or Faith’s—and know all about them at once and, again, run.

He slammed his palm into the horn button and held it there as he overtook a couple of slower vehicles, whose drivers saw fit to greet him in the same way.

Faith, not used to this kind of driving, grabbed hold onto the passenger handle, at the same time trying to cover both ears with her one free hand. From time to time, she would dare shift her eyes to the road and realize with a sickened groan that the danger was far from being over.

“Do you think he’s still at Credence?” she asked with a croaking voice.

“Where else? Hiding among Credence’s believers is the perfect cover for him.”

“What if he isn’t there?”

“We’ll wait for him, he will come back.”

“What’s your plan?”

Trumaine looked at her for a moment and grinned.

“You are my plan. From now on, you will be my eyes and my ears, I can’t find the crawler without you. That’s why I need you to expand your mind and be alert—we must find him. Search everybody’s mind for any clue; see if they have memories of Jarva’s bunker, of the murder, of the murderer. We shall need to keep it quiet; if Benedict realizes we’re back at Credence, he might tell the crawler and he’ll flee.”

Suddenly, a distant, mounting noise came from behind the car—it was the deafening and disturbing growl of a powerful engine that was anything but electrical—but neither of them paid it any attention at the moment.

Faith looked pensive. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, expanding her mind.

“Are you already on it? Do you feel anything?” Trumaine asked her, at the same time steering wildly to pass a pickup truck loaded with what looked like oil drums.

Faith, who looked paler with each swerve, kept her eyes shut, trying to focus.

“It’s called yoga ... I’m trying to compress my diaphragm ...” she said in a whisper, looking green.

“That helps you focus on the crawler?”

“It helps me not to vomit ... but it ain’t working ...”

Trumaine snorted. He drove straight for a while, then, again, the unmistakable roar of what could only be an obsolete internal combustion engine shook the car. This time, it felt very close. The growl droned on, saturating the air, making their eardrums throb. All the same, they didn’t pay it any heed. Only when a truck’s horn blasted hard right behind the car did they jump in their seats.

Faith jerked upright, her sickness forgotten, trying to see through the back window.

“OH MY GOD!” she shouted.

“What!?”

Trumaine glanced at the rearview mirror and saw it ...

It was the biggest vehicle Trumaine had ever seen in his life—a monster vehicle. It was an ancient, heavy, massive and cumbersome eighteen-wheeler semi-trailer truck, under whose hood spun an inline six-cylinder, direct-injection, turbocharged sixteen-liter engine capable of producing up to six hundred horsepower.

Whatever that meant, seeing it mercilessly crunch the road under its twin tires, felt oddly overwhelming.

Internal combustion engine vehicles had been withdrawn from the roads about a century before. The few still roaming the streets could be counted on the fingers of one hand, needed a special authorization to travel and were mainly used for antique shows or advertising scopes.

That monster looked like a horizontal building some deranged mind had provided with wheels and must weigh as much. It was more than two-hundred years old and it had probably been stolen from some automotive museum. In fact, that thing should be decaying, its parts broken, engulfed in rust and dust. Hardly capable of starting up, it shouldn’t possibly move.

Unfortunately, both the earsplitting bellow of the monster engine and the steady column of smoke the overhead chimneys spit out said otherwise; it was well alive and kicking ass badly. Some nut had spent endless hours to put that dinosaur, remnant of the old industrial era, back into shape. With infinite care, he had disassembled it into its smallest bits. He had carefully researched and replaced the broken parts and the parts that were useless because they had worn out.

He had put it all together again, welding and assembling, tightening the bolts with the required torque force, registering pulleys and belts, replacing the obsolete rubber tires with new, durable ones made of synthetic polymers, polishing their chrome wheel caps. Until, one day, it had roared to life as once before, like a daredevil giant.

Someone had stolen that masterpiece of forgotten nut-and-bolt craftsmanship and had put it on its turf again.

Why? was the question that rose in Trumaine’s head; he didn’t have to wait any longer to know the answer.

The horn of the semi blasted away, careening down the freeway, ramming his way into the traffic, slamming aside the other vehicles as if they were bottle caps, sending them cartwheeling into each other and into the Jersey barrier.

When the monster got rid of them, it veered again on the road, speeding on, headed for Trumaine’s car ...

It swallowed the road like a starved shark looking for anything it could set his jaws into to quench its hunger.

A fearful Faith looked up at Trumaine and spoke for both. “That thing is after us!” she squealed.

Trumaine sped into the next lane, but it was crowded with commuters, so he had to slow down once again.

“Who is it? Is it him?”

“I don’t know!” protested Faith.

“Search his mind! Find who he is!”

Faith closed her eyes, trying to concentrate, when the car lurched forward and they with it—the eighteen-wheeler had reached them. Its three-foot-high front fender shone nastily, looking like a giant mallet as it hit the car with a crunching noise, shoving it into the back of the next vehicle—a van.

The semi rammed the unmarked car a third time.

This time Trumaine saw an opening on the left and flung himself into it, overtaking the van. The car bolted onward, momentarily escaping the chasing truck, but the doomed van had no room to maneuver.

The truck ran into it and sent it spinning out of control; the van crashed into the Jersey barrier and ricocheted back on the road, under the truck’s massive tires that crunched it mercilessly.

The semi jerked and shivered as it ran over the heap of metal and plastic that was the van, setting to chase once again in a cloud of dust and debris.

About nothing remained of the van—only its crumpled safety cell. It cracked open, letting out a sickened and bewildered old man. He attempted twice at getting on his feet, but his legs were so shaky he slumped disconsolately to the tarmac.

Trumaine kept his eyes on the road, forcing himself not to look back at the chasing truck.

“SO!?” he asked.

Faith had been holding her fingers to her temples, her eyes closed, trying hard to find out who was at the wheel of the semi, but her head kept bobbing around with the lurching and drifting car, so she opened her eyes again.

“I can’t focus this way—LOOK OUT!”

Trumaine jerked the wheel, avoiding the colliding side of the truck, which had gained on them, coming alongside them.

“Son of a bitch!” he protested.

Trumaine zigzagged through the traffic, putting more cars between him and the eighteen-wheeler, but the overwhelming semi pushed in, sweeping off the other vehicles, forcing Trumaine’s unmarked car closer to the Jersey barrier ... The concrete wall approached fast, looking like a coarse-grained ribbon of sandpaper that would soon scratch them to dust.

The semi and the electric car careened on, side by side, at an impacting angle with the barrier. Trumaine stepped on the gas, but he knew already he was never going to outrun the endless semi.

“He’s going to kill us!” squeaked Faith from her seat at seeing the barrier march steadily toward them, closing their escape route.

Only inches remained on either side of the car, before it hit something: to the right was the scraping concrete, to the left the crunching wall of synthetic rubber that was the tires of the truck.

A bewildered Trumaine looked left and right, then jammed on the brakes, locking the tires—they shrieked and moaned in protest, barely stopping the lighter vehicle before the massive semi did.

The truck sped on like a bullet, passing Trumaine’s car, impacting the concrete wall like a freight train—it soared up like whirling surf, almost climbing over the barrier, then crashed back into the road.

Trumaine and Faith watched on, gasping, driving around the devastating wreck that was the tractor of the eighteen-wheeler ...

Then, unbelievably, the motionless semi sputtered to life once again.

Its fenders twisted, its windshield cracked, losing bolts at every inch it made, the upbent tractor scraped along the Jersey barrier like a beached shark, until its front wheels gripped the asphalt. With a hideous moan, a jolt and a shiver of metal, again the truck set to chase.

Trumaine, realizing with dread the nightmare was starting all over again, sped toward the middle of the road, drifting dangerously into the opposite lane, where the traffic seemed to have diluted a bit now.

An oncoming bus forced Trumaine back into his side of the road, allowing the whining semi to reduce the gap.

Trumaine turned to a scared Faith, trying to reassure her.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “That prehistoric junk can’t beat electric technology. We’ll smoke him like that—you’ll see.”

Once the bus was gone, again Trumaine flung himself into the opposite lane. As he stepped on the gas—it was an electronic speed variator, of course—the car’s electrical engine whirred to a reassuring howl, thrusting the vehicle onward.

A grin replaced the scowl on Trumaine’s face as the semi begun to lose ground and shrink behind them.

“See? I told you—”

He didn’t even finish saying that when the car suddenly lost speed. A disbelieving Trumaine glanced at a blinking message on the dashboard saying: BATTERY FAILURE - REPLACE BATTERY.

Wide-eyed, he looked at a scorned Faith, then back at the dashboard, then back at her—it wasn’t his fault!

“Damn car!” he swore, slamming his fists on the wheel.

Trumaine glanced at the rearview mirror, where the semi had begun to enlarge once more; it blew its horn in defiance as it got closer and closer, until—to Trumaine’s dismay—it was again bumper-to-bumper with the car. Would he ever get rid of that thing? he wondered. He watched helplessly as the eighteen-wheeler thrust on, ramming the back of the car.

“Christ!”

“Look out!” yelled Faith, pointing her finger at another truck that had turned up on the opposite lane.

In his cabin, the drowsy trucker came to suddenly at seeing Trumaine’s car and, further on, the wrecked semi widely in his lane. He desperately hung to his horn and brakes and started to pray.

Trumaine couldn’t take his eyes off the windshield, beyond which the trailer of the oncoming truck started to skid across the lane, sweeping the road, bearing down toward him.

Trumaine braked hard, returning to his side of the road, veering and crashing into the slowing cars that still crowded it.

With a howl of burned rubber, the oncoming trailer passed inches away from Trumaine’s car and kept going ...

Both the out-of-control trailer and the chasing eighteen-wheeler collided head-on in a huge burst of metal and plastic, scattering debris all over the many lanes of the highway.

For a few moments, all was quiet on the interstate.

The huge, twisted frameworks of both trucks rose from the floor of the freeway like the skeletons of two charred giants that had locked together in one last battle fatal to both.

The still smoldering pieces of both vehicles dotted the surrounding area, sending up billowing columns of smoke, looking like ominous burial fires.

The vehicles that had been spared from the crash stood in a circle around what remained of the trucks; their dumbfounded drivers and occupants looked on, both disbelieving and awed ...

Then, suddenly, the driver’s door of the capsized eighteen-wheeler tractor slammed open from within.

The homicidal driver, his face unseen, emerged from the tangle of iron and lowered himself to the ground. Dodging the smoldering debris, he slunk to an abandoned vehicle whose driver had run to safety, climbed in it and drove away with a squeal of tires.

Trumaine’s head was lying on the deflated fabric of an exploded airbag; he came round slowly, extricating himself from more airbags. He dove around them looking for Faith, until he found her—she too was buried in the silvery blanket formed by the flattened airbags that had gone off on her side of the car.

“You all right?”

Still shaking, Faith nodded her head.

Trumaine reached for his cellular phone, made sure it was still working, then chose GRANT FIRRELL from the address book and dialed.

“Grant?” he asked. “It’s Trumaine. Listen to me very carefully. I don’t know what you will have to go through to get this done, but you must do it—”

The guard in the booth gasped in amazement from below his bellhop cap at seeing Trumaine’s beaten-up and rattling car approach Credence’s gate. He lifted his cap and scratched the top of his head before he realized he ought to push the button that opened the gate instead.

Trumaine’s car lurched past, entering the parking lot, trying to reach a spot where it could finally rest its crumbling pieces.

Trumaine got out the car and jogged around it, helping Faith with her jammed door. With one last kick and a creepy screech it opened at last. As Faith climbed out from the car, Trumaine pointed at a second damaged car parked in the next row of vehicles.

It was the same car the killer driver had picked up after the crash of the eighteen-wheeler.

He was at Credence too.

They had lost the element of surprise, thought Trumaine. If the killer driver was Benedict’s crawler, their plan had been discovered already and Benedict knew everything about it.

Trumaine looked at Faith.

“There’s only one thing we can do now,” he said. “Get the crawler before Benedict summons Firrell, demanding an explanation about why you have been released; before he starts a formal inquiry with both the TSA and the Federal Authority against us. We have very little time left ...”

Trumaine took Faith’s hand and they bounded up the entrance steps to Credence.

Nobody stopped them until they arrived at the barrier in the gallery. Only the turnstile guard objected; he told them they had no authorization to get in the chamber and that he couldn’t let them through.

All Trumaine had to do was show him his taser. He didn’t have time for long explanations, he said. The guard was holding up a public officer from performing his duties and if he wasn’t going to step aside, Trumaine was going to stun him and it wouldn’t be nice.

At long last, the guard had yielded and had opened the maintenance door for them—the only thing he had succeeded in was to waste a lot of their precious time.

Once in the gallery, they rushed to a couple of free deckchairs.

“I hope you can focus your mind here,” said Trumaine. “If you can’t find me in the feed, we’re done for. Right?”

Faith nodded her head.

“There’s one last thing ...” she said.

“What?”

“This is the real feed we’re going to enter, you’ll be exposed to a lot more information. I hope you—”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Trumaine, curtly. “I’ll get used to it—let’s just go.”

As he lay down on the closest deckchair, the by now familiar one-eyed stem emerged from the chasm of the believers’ chamber, hooking the couch and lifting it. The transmitter embedded in the headrest started to blink and Trumaine fell in a trance in moments.

Faith watched him leave the gallery and float away into the chamber, then she sat and leaned back as well. A second, identical stem rose from the abyss of the chamber, coupled with Faith’s couch and carried her away, too.

As she went, the gallery guard stepped forward with a nasty grin. He pushed a button on his wrist radio, then brought it to his lips and spoke into it.

“Mr. Benedict? It’s Richards, sir, reporting from the gallery. Detective Trumaine has just entered the feed with Ms. Alveraz ...”