Susie Sheehey had so much fun writing her installment of The Ultima Storm earlier in the Greater Fort Worth Writers’ Round Robin that she volunteered for another go. Hope you enjoy!
Packing up the remaining supplies doesn’t take long. The stench of blood pooled at the bottom of the ladder makes sure of that.
The kids are both skinny, but his arms and cheekbones are more visible than hers. Whatever she is to him— his sister or girlfriend— no doubt he’s given his ration of food to her as much as he can. Charity like that is rare in this world, especially now with Ultima plundering outside and sucking the remaining life out of Earth.
Zoe stands and holds my gaze. In thanks, fear, acceptance? I can’t read her emotions, but something tells me there’s more to her; a bigger purpose. And these two kids are now a part of that. She turns and helps Caleb with the rest of the supplies.
I pinch the bridge of my nose and fight off the guilt gripping my gut. I had considered leaving these kids behind along with Sera back at the launch pad. All those Hoarders and the rest of Zoe’s family were stuck at that old refinery. Thousands of other people would never stand a chance against these storms.
I can’t help everyone. I can barely save myself.
The boy holds the girl’s hand, rubbing his thumb along her knuckles, and all I can do is sigh. I reach into the saddlebag behind me and pull out two bags of dried apples and toss them in his lap. He glances up at me with a wary stare.
“There’s more if you’re still hungry,” I say.
“Thank you,” he mumbles back and offers a bag to the girl.
If all humanity is lost by the end of the day, at least I can say it didn’t start with me.
“What are your names?”
“Lucis,” he replies and shoves a few pieces into his mouth. “Amara’s family owned a farm several miles from here, but had to run when those gunmen raided their stockpile. We’ve been hiding here for a few days while they went to barter a way to the city, but…”
His voice trails off when Amara starts to cry again.
He doesn’t have to finish. If her parent’s hadn’t made it back by now, the storms probably killed them. It doesn’t matter now, anyway. The city was destroyed last week by lightning storms and then razed over by mobs. I can’t bear to say the words to them, though. She’d probably start sobbing. And I don’t have time.
“The shuttle launch is our only hope now,” I reply. “The pipes lead us to it and maybe her family has found a way there.” It’s the only thing I can say to ease her fears.
“See, Amara?” The boy smiles and rubs her arm. “Your parents are smart. They’ll be waiting for us there.”
For a second, I hope for it, too.
Zoe and Sera finish packing the saddlebags on the other bike, while Caleb fills the tank up with the remaining ethanol fuel. Sera can’t fit on the back of the bike, so she squeezes her swollen body in the sidecar. Zoe is forced to ride behind Caleb to keep the weight down on my motorcycle. When the dark beauty straddles the bike and wraps her arms around Caleb’s waist, Sera scowls.
I shake my head. Lucky bastard.
“Where’s the pipeline from here, kid?”
“East, about two miles.”
I turn the key on the motorcycle. It sputters to life and rumbles on the softer fuel of ethanol. Caleb springs his bike to life and I inch forward out of the barn. The cold wind slaps me in the face and it’s hard to breathe. But at least it had stopped hailing. For now. The wasted landscape before me twists my heart into overdrive. Getting through it on these bikes would be near impossible. But so was surviving on Earth as long as we have.
A flashing red light from my watch catches my attention. 10:00 to launch.
I long for the covered rover while chased by a dozen cyclones. Back when we still had over twenty hours.
“Keep your heads down,” I yell to the kids over the rumble of the bike and surge forward.
Two miles feels like fifty. The motorcycle dips and sways along the torn up ground, and we nearly tumble over a deep crevice. Amara screams into the cavernous space, echoing off the walls. But she clings to Lucis, who has a death grip on the sidecar. A falling rock slams into the back of Caleb’s bike and rips off one of the saddlebags, tumbling into the canyon below.
I clamp down on the accelerator and force us back onto stable ground. Another gust of wind almost topples the bike over and I struggle to keep it upright. A rock or tree branch hits me in the face, slicing into my cheek, but I push forward.
“Over there!” Lucis points to a hill fifty yards away. A storm drain the size of an electric car jutted out the side of it. I cower over the handles and in only minutes, we cross the remaining terrain and drive into it, Caleb close on my rear. The engines echo off the concrete walls and the sound is deafening. But the ride is smoother and faster.
“This connects with the pipeline,” Lucis screams beside me.
I grip the accelerator, ducking my head from the few hanging slabs of concrete. Everything around us grows colder the deeper we go. But fifty miles an hour on this antique bike wouldn’t get us there in ten hours. What I wouldn’t give for a transport at 100 miles an hour. Or even a tank of gasoline to reach eighty. We’d arrive with hours to spare.
Finally we reach the main pipeline, twice the size of the storm drain. I glance at my watch again: 9:00 left.
Two miles in an hour. “Shit.”
I have no other choice. Though I have no faith left, I pray. To anyone or anything that will listen. Please, give us a chance.
Less than a mile ahead, someone listened.
An empty transport tube, waiting like it was made especially for our little dilapidated group. When the bike stops I rush forward and climb inside. If praying worked once, twice couldn’t hurt.
I press the button. The lights switch on and the nuclear power block hums to life.
“Get in! Hurry!” Everyone loads the supplies, clearly aware of the time crunch. When the door slides shut, I glance back at Lucis who has hopeful eyes. “This ride is for you, kid.”
He smiles and straps himself into a harness beside Amara. Zoe takes the co-pilot’s seat and winks at me. It’s strange not to have Joe at the controls beside me, almost painful, but Zoe’s vibrant brown eyes warm my insides.
“Luck’s on our side,” Caleb calls out with a childish grin, rubbing Sera’s belly in the back seat.
“Don’t jinx it,” I reply and bury my optimism. Idealistic tendencies are not my forte.
Three hours later, Sera and Caleb are sleeping in the back as Amara and Caleb play a simple hand game. Aside from the gentle hum of the transport, their giggles are the only noise. Sounds I’ve forgotten over the years. Zoe glances back and smiles at them.
“They’re the future, Drake,” she whispers. “My mother told me of a prophecy once. New life would blossom as long as light and love were present.”
It’s hard to keep from rolling my eyes, but I’ll admit it’s a sweet sentiment. And I won’t dare take away another person’s prayers.
“You don’t believe me,” she says.
“Lucis and Amara,” she recites with a smile. “Latin for light and love.”
My mouth opens, but no words come out. If that’s a coincidence, I’ll take it.
A dim light grows brighter ahead of the transport and I slow the vehicle. By the time I recognize daylight, the transport careens into water, splashing against the window. We jolt forward and finally stop, with more water stretching ahead of us. And daylight.
I open the door and climb on top of the tube, where the pipeline crumbled away and reveals the source of the water.
The gulf flooded everything to the south, no doubt from the storms. I turn and fall to my knees.
In the distance, beyond ten miles of scorched earth, is the gleaming silver shuttle, lights flashing for pre-launch check.
Just beyond it is a black sky with swirling purple clouds.
Someone screams from inside the transport. “Drake!” Caleb yells. “Sera’s in labor!”