“You little scrote! You’ve set us up!” shouted Frank, and Big Merv glared at The Pan.
“Well? Is that what’s got into you? Have you been disloyal to me?” His voice had an ominous tone and The Pan realised, with horror, that he was close to believing Frank.
“No, no I promise,” he whimpered.
“If you have, we’re going to be paying a visit to the river later,” Big Merv continued, “It’ll be just like old times.”
“N-no,” stammered The Pan. “This isn’t about us. It’s something we stole.”
“Have you been keeping information from me?” asked Big Merv.
The engine of the black snurd revved and with his foot on the clutch The Pan revved the MK II back.
“Yes,” said The Pan distractedly before realising the gravity of his admission, “I mean no,” he corrected himself quickly, “not on purpose.” He turned to his boss who was glaring at him. The antennae were moving but only just, and they were standing up straight, which meant Big Merv was on the brink of blind rage. The Pan glanced down the street at the black snurd, which was still revving its engine aggressively and at the same time, sneaked a look behind at the ranks of police snurds blocking his retreat. This was not a good time for Big Merv to lose his rag, The Pan needed him to be able to listen, answer questions and more to the point think. Better make the explanation fast.
“Remember that stuff you gave me? The junk?”
“Yer,” said Merv, “we remember.”
“It might have belonged to Lord Vernon,” said The Pan. He said it quickly in order to lessen the impact.
“What?” bellowed Big Merv.
“Some Grongles came to the Parrot and they said it belonged to—”
“I heard you the first time, you twonk,” shouted Big Merv, “Why in Arnold’s name didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think it mattered,” lied The Pan who’d spent several wakeful nights wondering how on earth he could bring the subject up and had chickened out.
“You’re not here to think, I THINK, you drive. Anything, ANYTHING you hear, you tell me, right?”
“Yes,” squeaked The Pan. The snurd ahead of them revved its engine again and he glanced nervously about him, checking his escape options.
“Can you get us out of this?” asked Big Merv.
“I don’t know,” said The Pan. He could feel himself going white, he was shivering with fright, cold sweat running down the side of his face. A big part of his job was appearing to be in control, in this instance it was vital. It would be testing enough coping with the chase, let alone if the gang lost their confidence and he had to contend with any back seat driving. He smiled, with what he hoped was a devil-may-care demeanour, rather than the rictus grimace that would more truly reflect the way he felt. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
“You’d better,” said Big Merv, “an’ if you don’t, they won’t catch you alive because I’ll kill you myself. You get me?”
“Oh yes,” muttered The Pan, “I get you.”
He checked the MK II was still in gear and pressed the accelerator pedal as far down as it would go. As he did so, the driver of the black snurd in front of them did the same thing and they hurtled towards each other. The two snurds were on a collision course. The Pan moved the MK II left and the Interceptor moved right. He swung the MK II back to the right and the Interceptor moved left.
“What are you doing you great plank?” shouted Big Merv. “I said get us out, not take him out.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. Unfortunately, he’s trying to hit us.”
It was Lord Vernon against him, it had to be. It was a replay of that whole sidestepping incident again, only on wheels. He abandoned any effort to avoid contact, selected aviator mode and carried on accelerating. The Interceptor was yards away now but The Pan was going fast enough to take off. Both snurds left the ground at the same time. As The Pan saw the front of his opponent’s vehicle looming ahead, he moved the MK II sharply upwards and as the other snurd followed, he yanked the wheel downwards. The underside of the Interceptor filled the windscreen, blotting out the light, and there was a bump as it, too, moved lower and clipped the roof of Big Merv’s snurd. The MK II hit the ground with a massive crash and bounced into the air.
“Mind my suspension you pillock!” shouted Big Merv angrily as they accelerated upwards.
“If you don’t shut up the suspension’s going to be the least of your worries,” said The Pan, who was beginning to feel more in control, and therefore at liberty to be lippy, “this is going to be difficult enough.”
The police snurds didn’t follow, they were pursued solely by the black snurd and The Pan could only view this as a bad sign. It was the first piece of Grongolian technology he had seen which measured up to the MK II, more than measured up. The Pan couldn’t match the acceleration of the Interceptor and after ten minutes it was as close as ever. After fifteen minutes it tried to ram them and it was only by jinking sharply to the right that The Pan was able to avoid contact. Instead of passing them and cutting them off, it hung back waiting for an opportunity to repeat the manoeuvre. Big Merv was scared and reacted the only way he knew how, by hiding his fear behind a façade of anger. The Pan could forgive him that - nobody was perfect and on the few occasions it happened, he saw it as a bond, a tiny patch of common ground in the vast desert between them.
“I thought you could drive,” Big Merv growled.
“I can and you know it,” The Pan raised his hands and shrugged, “unfortunately, so can he.”
“Keep your hands on the wheel you great pranny!”
“Then, keep your hair on,” muttered The Pan, “you trust me to do this, remember?”
“Don’t get arsy with me you wimp, just get us out of this,” shouted Big Merv, “NOW!”
The Interceptor fired a snurd-to-snurd missile. The Pan wove in and out of lamp posts, buildings, chimneys and trees with the missile in hot pursuit until, finally, he managed to corner so sharply it continued onwards and exploded harmlessly against the side of a nearby office block. Having failed to obliterate its quarry the Interceptor reappeared and made another attempt to ram them. At last The Pan could see a way out, but it wasn’t one Big Merv was going to like.
“I think I can lose him,” he said, “but the MK II—”
“Just do it,” shouted Big Merv, “and for Arnold’s sake get a move on before you make me throw up, you spotty little Herbert. I have some pride, unlike you, so don’t make me humiliate myself in front of the boys here because if I do, YOU will be valeting this vehicle from top to bottom. Got it?”
“Merv,” began The Pan, wearily, oops too wearily, “sir,” he added quickly, “you know my aim here is to keep us alive, not to make you ill. Concentrate on looking straight ahead, or the view out of the window or something. If it’s that bad, there’s always a plastic bag in the glove compartment.”
Ahead of them was the financial district of Ning Dang Po, complete with skyscrapers. The Pan, hotly pursued by the Interceptor, skimmed over the parapet of the Quaarl Futures Building. He flew low over the roof garden full of resting traders in a selection of bizarre striped and coloured blazers, who scattered in all directions, flattening themselves to the green plastic lawn. As the MK II swooped over them and reached the parapet on the other side, The Pan yanked at the wheel. The bonnet dipped and the front bumper clipped the stonework with a loud thud. The impact flipped the MK II upside down and immediately, The Pan accelerated. As Big Merv’s snurd had somersaulted its back bumper had hit the bottom of the Interceptor and thrown it forward causing the driver to lose control for a few precious seconds. Not long, but enough time for The Pan to fly away as fast as he could. After a minute or two he realised he was still flying upside down.
He righted the MK II and descended swiftly into the nearby Goojan Quarter where the streets were narrow and the houses close enough together to mask a snurd from the air. By the time their mystery pursuer had regained control and turned round the MK II had disappeared from sight.
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