Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“It’s a pure stroke of genius that I was able to downsize the stabilizer assembly in time for the conference.” Stuart fiddled with his bowtie with his free hand while piloting the sedan with the other. “Does this look alright?”

His wife leaned forward and reached to straighten her husband’s tie as he cut her off. “Of course it’s alright, you need to make sure not to answer any technical questions tonight, I want complete control over the disclosure.”

It was her work that allowed them to pack the stabilizer assembly into one of the containers that took up most of the back seat. She bit her tongue and focused her attention instead on the passing trees just beyond the cone of their headlights.

“There’s going to be a lot more of this, they’re going to want me on the conference circuit, that’s for certain.” He adjusted the rearview mirror to fuss with his hair, gone awry with the mid-summer humidity. “Publication and talk shows, I’ll be gone a lot.”

Julia mused that even sharing a bed and most of their waking moments together, he was seldom entirely present.

“We should be able to push a minute or two on the battery charge, and longer if we get power to the backup, but we’re still not stable on the grid, are we?” He paused and looked right at her, was the man she’d once loved still in there somewhere? “You could have put a little more effort into that, a couple of minutes back isn’t nearly as dramatic as I was hoping for.”

No. That man was gone.

Stuart checked his phone again and read the few new congratulatory texts and emails.

“Stuart, please, pay attention.” Julia tensed in her seat as the car drifted over the centerline. He looked up and corrected, a pair of headlights sliding by punctuated by a long angry horn blast.

“Don’t backseat drive Julia, I am paying attention.” He put his phone upside down in the cupholder and fished for the charging cable to attach to it. “And don’t correct me during my speech tonight either, I hate it when you do that.”

Because you’re usually wrong when you’re talking about my part of the project, Julia thought to herself. She shook her head and looked from the road ahead to where he fumbled one handed with his phone.

“Here, let me do that, you drive.” She picked up the phone and he snatched it back.

“Leave that alone–” The glare of headlights caught the words in his throat, and he jerked back into his lane seconds before they both felt the tires lose their grip on the asphalt. The car began a slow rotation until the oncoming vehicle hammered them where their trunk encroached on its lane, spinning them violently in the opposite direction before stopping abruptly, the ragged end of an already damaged guardrail skewering the passenger door and Julia’s right side.

For a moment there was silence, Julia in complete shock as blood pooled in her lap.

“Jesus Christ, why didn’t you leave it alone?” Stuart was screaming at her, but the words seemed muffled in her ears.

She had a hazy awareness of him climbing in the back seat of the car, opening the cases and wiring up their demonstration equipment, and then in a flash of white light–

–he jerked back into the lane, then immediately over corrected, losing control and catching the passenger wheels on the gravel shoulder, putting the car into a long skid that he couldn’t correct before–

–he pulled back into the lane slowly, but the oncoming car had already swerved, losing control on the far shoulder and hitting them fender to fender head-on, sending them into a violent sideways slide before they hit–

–he hammered the brakes, the tires losing grip on the wet pavement putting the car into a slow-motion sliding turn until the–

“Stuart!” Julia screamed at him as he climbed into the back seat for the fifth or fiftieth time. He hesitated. “Stuart stop, please stop.”

“Julia, I almost got it last time, if I can–”

She cut him off for once. “Stuart, stop. You keep killing me, just let me die.”

She held his arm until she was sure the few minutes had passed, and then they both let go.

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