June 13th, 2061. San Francisco Bay, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 22.15 local time
Louise’s weight landed on her bad shoulder. She screamed in agony. She managed to hold on to the ferry’s railing despite the pain and started to climb down the ladder.
“Come back, you lunatic!” Hobbs shouted angrily, peering down over the side.
It was hard to hear him over the sound of the ferry and the water. Louise jumped off the ladder and into the lifeboat. It was anything but steady. Once she had regained her balance, she looked up. Hobbs was nowhere in sight.
Louise scrambled to one of the two wires that kept the lifeboat secured to the ferry. She hit the switch to release it. The bow immediately drifted to the side. That’s when everything went dark.
She guessed Hobbs was trying to pull the lifeboat back up. But he had pushed the wrong button and switched off the lights. All she needed was another second or two. She held on tightly while she hurried to the second wire.
Louise made it to the back of the boat just as the lights switched back on. Her hands were shaking and she fumbled with the release mechanism. It wasn’t budging. The engine above her head sprung to life.
Louise pushed down on the mechanism again, with both of her thumbs this time. She heard a loud click but nothing happened. The wire hadn’t disconnected. The back of the boat slowly started to move upward.
Louise grabbed the seat and kicked at the wire. Once. Twice. Half of the boat was out of the water by now, but only a few inches. She kicked one more time, as hard as she could.
The wire finally snapped loose and shot up in the air. Louise ducked and covered her head with her arms so she wouldn’t get hit when it came back down. She thought she could hear Hobbs’ angry screams but wasn’t sure.
After a few moments, she crawled to the boat’s engine and hit the power switch. Luckily, she got it right straight away. Louise looked up. She wanted to give Hobbs one more chance to climb down and escape.
But he was no longer there. She thought she knew why. He was running upstairs to get his gun, she guessed. She quickly grabbed the control lever and maneuvered the boat away from the ferry.
She tightened her grip on the lever and moved it forward. The lifeboat hopped up and down. The guard’s backpack almost toppled overboard. Louise steered the boat further away.
She increased her speed to get as far away from Hobbs as quickly as possible. He could be back outside by now, aiming the gun at her head. She was lucky the sky was filled with clouds or she’d be a sitting duck in the moonlight.
The first bullet whooshed by her ear just seconds later. Louise pulled the lever to the left violently. The second bullet hit the water several yards away. She straightened the boat again, pushing the engine to its limits.
Louise heard a bullet scrape the motor. Hobbs was not giving up yet. She needed a few more seconds before the darkness would give her cover, she estimated. She counted to keep calm. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …
Louise felt the explosion before she could hear it. A wall of air hit her in the back and propelled her onto the floor. There, she realized her ears were ringing. She covered them with both hands and pulled up her legs.
She lay there on the floor of the lifeboat for several long moments. It was still racing forward. She had no idea how far she had gotten away from the ferry. She was afraid a sea of fire might still catch up with her.
But it didn’t. After a few more seconds, Louise lowered her hands and scrambled up. She grabbed the lever again and made the boat slow down. Then, she turned around and looked back at the ferry.
Her jaw dropped. It had been blown up into two big pieces. Flames shot up as they sunk into the water. Smaller parts of the ferry were floating everywhere, burning too. One large chunk had landed in the water only about 50 yards away.
She had been lucky. And her spidey sense had been right. Louise rubbed her chest. “They blew up the ferry,” she mumbled to herself, stunned. No way Hobbs had survived. She too would have been dead if she hadn’t listened to her gut.
“Fuck,” she yelled. “Holy shit,” she added after a moment.
She ran a shaky hand through her hair. She was too shocked to feel anything. Louise wasn’t sad or shaken that Hobbs was dead, she realized. It was just so hard to believe the rebels would go this far. She was shivering.
Louise sat down and looked around. She needed to get out of here. The rebels had to be watching the ferry, making sure no one had survived. She needed to disappear. Where to, though?
The most logical thing was to try to make it to the border. She would be out of rebel territory. Maybe she could wait there. Someone would show up sooner or later if the base never heard back from Hobbs and Louise.
She reached for her back pocket and pulled out the guard’s badge. She ran her thumb over the cold metal of the Fireblue logo. “Choose courage,” she muttered. Killing people wasn’t courageous, she thought with a frown.
“El would never do this,” she blurted out.
Dread settled in her stomach. The tips of her ears were tingling again. Her spidey sense was still talking to her. There was no way El had been involved in blowing up that ferry, it said.
“Shit, El might be in danger too,” Louise thought.
If Woodward was ruthless enough to stage a coup and blow up two members of the global army, who knew what he had in store for El? El would never see it coming. Woodward had kept his dark side hidden well.
Louise gritted her teeth. She knew where to go. She tucked the badge away and looked for the city’s skyline. She found it easily enough and maneuvered the boat in its general direction.
Louise tried to see what was waiting for her at the shore. The ferry dock had to be somewhere on the left. She couldn’t make out much. After a few minutes, though, she thought she saw two dim lights appear.
“A vehicle?” Louise thought.
She squinted. It would make sense if someone was waiting for the guard to return from the ferry, she realized after a moment. How else would the guy get back to the presidential residence?
Louise’s heart stopped. Had the rebels already seen her? No, no, it would be hard for anyone out there to see who was piloting this boat. She wasn’t even sure if they could see the boat at all.
That would be good. She would need to surprise them if she wanted to survive. Louise shifted the control lever to the right. She had to find a different spot to get to shore.
She didn’t know how much fuel the lifeboat had so she couldn’t take too much of a detour. Plus, if she arrived in the middle of nowhere, there would be no way for her to get to back to the city any time soon.
“If that’s a car, I’m going to have to steal it,” she decided.
Louise would try to reach land about 200 yards away from it. Far enough to hide in the dark, close enough to sneak up on whoever was waiting. She estimated it would take her another 15 minutes to get there.
She made herself as small as possible and increased the speed of the boat. She was on a mission now.
About 10 minutes later, Louise was close enough to see the shapes of the trees and bushes on the shore. She pushed the control lever of the engine back, slowing down, and steered a bit further to the left.
Not long after, she heard a scraping sound. The bottom of the boat was hitting rocks and the engine was starting to sputter. She switched it off. The sudden silence around her was almost surreal.
It took her ears a few seconds to adjust. Much to her relief, she only heard the water and the crickets. No shouting. No car engine. No rustling in the bushes. That wouldn’t last, though. Chances were the rebels had heard the engine.
Louise crouched and grabbed the backpack. She swung it over her shoulder. Every single one of her muscles screamed in protest. She clenched her jaw and tucked the flashlight in the waist of her pants. Finally, she picked up the gun.
Time to go. Louise carefully climbed over the side of the boat. The water was less cold than she had expected it to be. She aimed the gun at the shore and waded through the water slowly.
She ran to the trees and bushes as soon as she had made it out. Once hidden, she rested her back against a tree and took a moment to catch her breath. Her hands were trembling.
Louise considered her options. If there was a car waiting, she needed to reach it before anyone came looking for her. Or worse, before they left. That vehicle would be her only chance to get back to the city, to El, any time soon.
A nagging voice in the back of her mind asked: “How are you going to steal it?” She pushed it away. “You don’t know how to drive it,” the small voice tried again. Louise almost laughed at that because it was true. One step at a time, though.
She started moving through the bushes and trees. She stopped every 20 yards or so to make sure all was quiet around her. Once she was sure she was still alone, she started walking again.
The wet sneakers were scraping the skin off of her feet in several places but she pushed through the pain. The branches of the bushes had already cut up her arms in several spots but she didn’t care.
When she got to the edge of the clearing, Louise crouched behind a tree. She steadied her breathing and then slowly leaned to the side to take a look. Her spirits rose immediately.
There was indeed a car, its headlights illuminating the area. She scanned the immediate surroundings. Then the dock by the water. Louise didn’t see anyone anywhere. But someone had to be out there, she knew.
Sure enough, only a second later, she heard a man clear his throat on her left. She froze and tightened her grip on the gun. She hoped she wouldn’t have to use it but she would if she had to.
Slowly, Louise moved in the direction of the sound, staying low and trying not to make too much noise. It wasn’t easy with her sneakers sloshing and squeaking. Luckily, the crickets were making a ruckus tonight.
Louise spotted the guard after just a few moments. He was standing a few yards away, his back to her. It was darker in this area and it took her a while to realize what he was doing.
“Is he peeing?” she thought, her mouth opening in surprise. She almost giggled out loud because of her luck.
Louise didn’t hesitate. She jumped up and took four quick steps. He hurriedly zipped up and spun around. Their eyes locked for a millisecond before she hit him on the side of the head with the gun.