Enoa did not ‘slide on over’ to the driver’s seat. She stayed where she was, gripping the sides of her passenger seat. She tried to ignore the world, ignore Orson’s muttering and cursing, the crashing noises from somewhere behind her. She tried to ignore the distant sound of the rushing water and the gurgling around them.
“I know I just saw them.” Orson said more, but his next words were drowned out by whatever banging noise he caused. “There are only so many places they can be. How do things disappear on this boat?”
She managed to ignore just about everything until she saw the two lights, headed upstream, coming directly at them.
“Orson!” Enoa twisted around in her seatbelt. “Someone else is out on the water, and I think they’re here for us.”
“Boat or submarine?” Orson stopped rummaging through whatever he was digging at. Enoa looked back at the lights on the water.
“Submarine?” The Cloud family had stayed locally in part due to their skill on the waterways. Enoa knew without question that no submarine could traverse a river as shallow and wild as the Nimauk, but still, after the nonstop surrealism of her night, she looked back at the lights on the water. She could see no shape of the approaching craft, only illumination. “Submarines can’t travel up rivers.” Orson chuckled, a knowing sound. Enoa tried unsuccessfully to keep the laugh from irritating her.
“That’s probably just the Liberty Corps, then.” He returned to his rummaging. “Hey, I think they’re in this box. They should be right there.” After one last immense crash, during which Orson groaned and strained against something unseen, she heard his footsteps begin to return.
He was too late. The boats arrived, right on top of them. Their lights resolved into the shapes of small, sleek watercraft, big enough for several people. Enoa saw shapes aboard, Liberty Corps men, probably.
Orson settled back into his seat, just as the two boats passed them and disappeared from sight.
“They’re gonna try and board us.” Orson held out his hand toward her. “Hey, could you please hold these for a second?”
“Sure?” She reached out her open palms, hands together.
“Thanks.” Orson dropped two fist-sized metal pyramids into her hands. “Solar cells. They do most of the heavy lifting with powering this baby. I need to switch in some fully charged ones if I’m going to fly and operate the shields at the same time.”
With a hollow thud, something or several somethings slapped up against the Aesir’s hull. Next came a slight clicking noise, metal on metal, coming along the ship’s side, toward them.
“They’re not total morons.” Orson scratched his chin. “The shield is only triggered by fast moving stuff, projectiles. They’re trying to board us right away.” He reached beneath the dashboard and pulled on a long lever. “Listen to this. I’m going to do a little trick I learned when I was traveling with my old buddy, Wayne. I just have to re-configure the shield a little bit to mess with their magnet clamps.” He pulled the lever farther.
The men who had been crawling across their hull yelled. Several splashes sounded, as they fell into the water.
But as soon as they fell, a new unnervingly strange sound started, like someone was repeatedly striking a huge hollow drum. The sound grew in intensity, beating out again and again, behind them.
“They’re shooting the shield with a Gatling gun.” Orson turned his head toward the new noise. “Now, I really have to hurry. I figured we were mostly safe. They want to take you alive, so I assumed they wouldn’t use any major firepower against us.”
Orson left the controls a second time. He slid down in the seat until he was crouched beneath the dashboard. With effort, he pushed aside part of the dash, revealing a small compartment. Meanwhile, the sound of the Gatling gun had continued, beating the Aesir’s shields, pounding out the threatening hollow drum pulse again and again and again.
“I’ll ask for those batteries in one second.” Orson removed two pyramids, the ones already plugged into the ship’s flight control. Then he held his right arm backwards toward her. “Okay, I’ll take them now, thanks.” She deposited the charged cells in his hand.
“Alright, now watch this.” Orson plugged the new pyramids into the Aesir, closed the panel, and slid back up into his seat. “Time to punch it.”
Orson pulled the lever on the wall beside him. That time, the ship didn’t even leave the water. It immediately let out the descending whine. Then a small error appeared on the windshield, like a popup across a computer monitor.
“What’s this?” Orson stretched forward to read it. Enoa couldn’t make out the words, but she assumed it was bad news. Orson groaned again. Then he took the steering wheel and directed the Aesir through a series of wild turns. The Gatling barrage pummeled the river in their wake.
“Things just got more interesting,” he said. “And I’m going to let you state your opinion, seeing as you’re the one they want to capture.”
“I’d really rather you just fixed this mess!” Enoa shouted over the thrumming percussive beat from the gun, still crashing into the water. She appreciated what Orson had done to protect her, but her gratitude would last only so long. She gripped the arms of her seat, her fingers digging into the fabric. She’d never been seasick, but the twisting maneuvers on the river gave her a nasty lightheaded sensation. Behind them, some of the items Orson had dislodged from the closet slid into the main cabin with a great crash. “Honestly, Captain, this current chase wouldn’t be an issue if your ship could do what you say it can. I’m a little worried the problem is worse than you’re letting on, and I’m starting to rethink my decisions. Again.”
“Fair, fair.” He nodded. “Alright. We’ve got two choices. Fight the men in the boat. Stop them. Hurt them, probably. Or I pull back on the road. The Aesir needs to reconfigure, and it can only do that from solid ground. That seems like the better choice, but look at this.”
Orson pressed a button built into the steering wheel. The ship’s headlights got brighter, much brighter, bright enough to illuminate the shoreline, some passing buildings, the railroad tracks, and the road out of town.
The road was filled with cars. A whole procession of vehicles, actually, jeeps and trucks and hummers, all following them, tracking them from the shore. Some fired upon them as they passed.
“Our friend, Man Bun, got his whole posse together.” Orson stretched his hands. “Yeah, that’s a bigger crew than I expected. Even if we take out the boats, those guys can still shoot us.” He took a deep breath. “I guess we’re going to participate in a big car chase.” He stretched his shoulders. “I’m really sorry. I’m usually way better at rescues.”
“That’s okay.” She didn’t know what else she could say. It wasn’t okay, really. None of it was okay. Nothing had been okay all night, but at least Orson apologized for it.
“It’s been a little while since I’ve been in a chase.” Orson got ahold of the steering wheel. “You’re local. Do you know anywhere convenient to slip out of the water?”
Enoa looked out at the darkened landscape. She hadn’t gone on the river at night since… She couldn’t remember when.
“There’s an old boat launch that the scouts had,” she said. “That’s still coming up. You should be able to slip out there.” Orson nodded and sidled the Aesir closer to the shore. Enoa saw a boat launch and a low riverbank, close to the water, but she didn’t have time to see if it was the scouting camp. Orson drove them out of the water at full speed.
The Aesir whined when its pilot forced the poor boat to switch immediately back into camper mode. But then the dashboard lights blinked green, and the massive RV trundled away from the water, much slower than it had gone as a boat. Enoa watched the headlights of the Liberty Corps draw closer and closer, up on the main road, within a hundred feet.
Orson drove through the break in the railing beside the edge of the road, skidding through mud and ice and rocks. He pulled the Aesir onto the road itself and gunned the craft up to some obscene velocity, fast enough that Enoa felt herself press back into her seat.
Orson slapped the solar cell dashboard compartment. Almost immediately, a giant message displayed across the windshield. It read, “Reconfiguration – 12%”.
The headlights showed nothing ahead in the road. The various fest-going travelers had either fled or found shelter for the night. Nothing barred their path. Orson had maneuvered the Aesir onto the road ahead of the Liberty Corps caravan.
But the massive procession of vehicles drove only a few car lengths behind them. The Liberty Corps guns blared out. The barrage on the shields was so much that another popup appeared in front of Orson, begging him to allocate more power to the defenses. Thankfully for Enoa, she could not read this. Orson simply ignored it.
A horrible wailing siren sounded inside the cabin. Enoa covered her ears. She sat down further in her seat. What had she gotten herself into? Orson looked at his sensors, saw the threat, and twisted the steering wheel to the left.
One of the Corps vehicles had launched out some kind of harpoon. A hook carrying a long steel chain passed them on their right and buried itself in the road, a frightening, but harmless, near miss.
“Shields almost depleted.” A cool female voice spoke calmly down from speakers built into the Aesir’s ceiling. “It is inadvisable to leave the ship’s shields at such low power. Risks of low power include…” The drumming of the gunfire only continued.
“Ugh.” Orson pointed toward Enoa’s side of the dashboard. “Hey, do you see the blinking yellow button. I’m sorry about the sirens and noises. I thought I turned off the warning lady voice. If you hit that button she’ll stop talking.”
“Shields almost depleted.” The warning lady voice continued to speak.
“It’s not the sirens or the lady I’m worried about.” Enoa searched for the button anyway. She found the little yellow light, blinking in the sea of green. “I’m a lot more concerned about what’s causing them.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I can see that.” He laughed. She pressed the yellow button. The warning lady voice stopped talking. Once the sound stopped, Enoa couldn’t help but laugh with him.
The Liberty Corps pushed their vehicles to the limit. The sound of their many weapons was deafening. The roar of the collective engines was even louder. Orson swerved the Aesir this way and that, avoiding most of the gunfire. Somehow he managed to do this and still keep the massive vehicle barreling ahead at what felt like somewhere north of one hundred kilometers an hours, absurd speed, dangerous, ridiculous speed.
Time slowed and the screen showed the percentage climbing at a crawl. It halted at ninety-nine percent for almost three-dozen heartbeats. Enoa’s own pulse beat so fiercely in her chest she couldn’t help but count it. At least counting let her almost forget the death machines that bore down on them, firing enough lead to destroy a small city.
Orson pulled the lever, and Enoa felt the slamming sensation at her feet.
The Aesir rocketed away from the road, through the trees and hills, away from the Liberty Corps, leaving their jeeps and trucks and hummers and boats impotently behind. Orson laughed again, an unreasonably boisterous sound, given how close their escape had been.
“Should I do a little fly by so we can pop ‘em the bird?” Orson relaxed his hands. “Just a quick one. I think I might. I’m partial to…”
The proximity alarm wailed again, followed by a gradually intensifying beeping.
Orson wrenched the steering wheel to the side. Something soared past them, flying even higher into the night sky before exploding in a brilliant green lightshow.
“These guys are major players to have arms like that.” He spun two dials at the wall.
Every light in the Aesir shut off. They were left in total and complete darkness. Down below them, Enoa could see the huge mass of the gathered Liberty Corps procession. Their illumination practically rivaled the greater glow from the town beside it.
Before the militia had a chance to fire off their long-range guns a second time, Orson pulled his mask up onto his eyes. It must have allowed him to see because he flew the Aesir forward, still in darkness.
“Start thinking of places we might be able to land and hide.” Orson didn’t look away from the darkened landscape.
“Land?” Enoa had stopped thinking about anything after escape. Escape became her whole world, the ultimate release from all her fears. If they escaped, there would be no problems left.
Except that wasn’t true. All of her problems remained. For the second time, Enoa imagined the road outside Nimauk, other places, different places, safe places.
“Yeah. Those guys are worse than I thought, way worse. There’s something major going on in your town. I’m talking world scale level bad. This might break into the top twenty-five most dangerous situations I’ve been in, if I’m being totally honest.”
“What are we going to do?” No, she wouldn’t run away, not yet. These men, the Liberty Corps or the Sight-Stealers or whoever they were, they’d come to her town. They were endangering her people and her home. She would see to it they were stopped, somehow, once she’d halted the shaking in her hands.
Orson turned to look at her. She suspected he was smiling, but she couldn’t see the movement in the dark. “First I need to pay you for that little painting I grabbed. Hopefully it didn’t get too messed up riding around in my pocket. Then I guess we’ve got a mystery or a few to solve.”