CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX (draft)

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CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

“What time is it?” I say a few minutes later, as we approach what looks to be a large intersection, and just might be Huntington Drive. The hurricane roar is almost directly behind us. “I don’t have anything with a clock app, and no phone.”

“I don’t either,” Zoe says. “No smart jewelry.”

“Doesn’t matter, just keep going!” Jared is looking around constantly at the sky full of drones that are stretched out in a mathematically perfect array, approaching us with a terrible inevitability. “There’s gotta be an end to this evil hot zone.”

“So we get out of the hot zone,” I mutter. “And then what? We’ll just be back where we started, only at a different spot in the 30-mile radius around the center of L.A..”

“I don’t know!” Jared yells at me angrily.

“We’ll have to go back in again.”

“So then, what? What do we do? These things will kill us!”

I think and think, until it hurts. “Okay, look. The Atlanteans didn’t put us down in an impossible scenario. At least I don’t think they did. If there really was no way to cross that hot zone safely, it wouldn’t be in the Semi-Finals.”

Zoe and Jared stare at me as I glance at them, just before plunging across and just barely above the intersection traffic. Then I move our boards along Oxford Drive, in the wake of a dozen other hoverboard riders. Just ahead of me is an expansive visitor parking area, and beyond it I see the front entrance of the Huntington Library, with the venerable buildings of the Gallery in the distant background.

“I think we need to land somewhere and hide, or otherwise bypass the drones.”

“We can’t just stop now!” Jared looks from me to Zoe, for support.

But I am frustrated, tired, dazed, and my wounded arm is now hurting like hell plus the circulation has been slowed down where the arm is tied, so it’s numb and awful, and I can barely use it to hang on. . . .

“I’ll find a way,” I mutter. “Give me a minute, I’ll find a place, a safe place to land, to hide, to—”

There’s an awful scream from behind us. It is followed by the sound of scorching fire that gets cut off immediately.

About a hundred feet down the street the first of the drones has reached the last of the hoverboard riders, those in the very back of us. I can’t help turning to look. . . .

A solitary hoverboard in the very back of our lineup floats forward, still moving under its original momentum, but without a rider. Whatever happened to that Candidate must have ended with the scream and the scorching. A single black drone moves directly over the empty board, then rises and returns to its array formation.

We all stare in horror, as another sleek black drone drops out of formation and descends thirty feet to hover right over a Candidate who’s now the last one of us in the back. He’s balancing on his hoverboard awkwardly, and going slower than everyone else. He looks up desperately, flailing his arms to stay upright, and then we see it happen. . . .

A bright beam of scalding white fire comes from the base of the drone. The boy is engulfed in bluish flames, his scream cut off in seconds, and his form disappearing into a pile of grey ashes that floats down and around the board.

Nothing is left behind, not even bones.

His board floats forward, unoccupied.

The process repeats. Drone rises and retreats, then another one targets the next person who is now last.

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