wheels

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Escalon wasn't a ghost town, but it was well on the way to becoming one. Most of the buildings were abandoned, their windows broken and roofs slowly collapsing inward. The boundary of civilization, defined from the centre out by the presence of a d-mat booth, was highly impermeable, and beyond it lay little but darkness. There were streetlights in ones or twos, which the ATAC avoided. Even at night everything looked desert brown. The ATAC moved unnoticed through that brownness, to its destination.

Gemma: "Okay, people, listen. The plan is to split up and regroup at the old Oakdale airport, the nearest designated for hobbyists."

Clair: "What kind of hobbyists?"

Gemma: "Aircraft pilots.

Jesse: "Where to from Oakdale?"

Gemma: "Let's just get there, first. Our primary objective is to survive that long." (sound of ATAC slowing) "No lights until we're all inside. We're not Faradayed here, so no unnecessary calls. Ori, bring the ATAC around the front and get it under cover." (sound of rear door opening)

I was intrigued by the reference to aircraft, but knew better than to distract Clair while she was busy. Also, I was not the only one looking for her and the ATAC. A single careless transmission could give them away.

Inside the main hall were a dozen sleek electrobikes not dissimilar to the one Dylan Linwood had driven to college that morning, except these were more rugged and had larger, spokeless wheels. They resembled ink-stained quicksilver cheetahs, frozen in mid-stretch. Cashile climbed over them, checking their systems one by one.

"Fully charged and ready to go," he declared. Gemma organized a schedule of departures, so the group would be staggered: Ray first, then Ori and Arabelle. The dreadlocked woman and Cashile would come next, followed by Jesse and Clair, over Jesse's objections, with Gemma last of all.

Ray mounted his electrobike and throttled it into motion. Without a word, he steered it to the front doors and juddered down the stairs. He had no lights on, and was presumably driving by infrared HUD as Ori had.

He disappeared into the night. The motor noise rose and fell, and then the town was silent again.

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