JUNE 9th, 2061. Region 6 of the American desert, Arizona, North American Province, 01.15 local time.
The car was less noisy than Louise had expected, but she still felt disoriented without the reassuring hum and bleeps of a self-driving pod. The air inside the car was different too. As if the air conditioner couldn’t quite keep the desert out.
Louise’s bag was crammed between her feet. A case with gear was tucked between her and Hobbs on the back seat. The rest of their equipment was in the trunk. It was a tight fit, but they had been able to bring everything they needed.
Louise glanced sideways at Hobbs. He was still clenching his jaw and his eyes were dark with anger. His Adam’s apple moved every few seconds, as if he was trying to swallow his fury.
Louise had hoped he would calm down after a while. But they had been sitting here for two hours now and he had only gotten more upset. She understood why. She was also having a hard time staying calm.
Lucas was sitting behind the wheel, chatting with Woodward. They had been talking about the most trivial things. As if they didn’t have two global army officers sitting in the back seat. As if they didn’t have a care in the world. Another one of their charades, Louise thought.
“I just can’t believe he leaves at that point. It’s unrealistic. I don’t buy it,” Lucas said.
She was talking about a movie, apparently. Louise couldn’t help but wonder if this was a film available in rebel territory only. She certainly hadn’t heard of it.
Woodward crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair. “That’s just the type of guy he is.”
Every word the two rebels exchanged kept ringing in Louise’s ears for several seconds. This situation was just too awkward, too strange, too confusing. She felt like she was always two beats behind.
“Why are they doing this?” she wondered. “Why are they chatting non-stop?”
Hobbs shifted in his seat again. Louise widened her eyes at him, silently urging him to calm down. He glared back at her, incredulous.
“It’s almost like he has no self-respect, no personality,” Lucas continued, raising one hand to make her point. “He completely relies on the system to make decisions for him. Who does that? It’s stupid!”
Woodward chuckled. “Sure, he is stupid. But plenty of people are.”
“True enough,” Lucas agreed, glancing at Louise and Hobbs in the rear view mirror.
Hobbs inhaled deeply, breathing through his nose and sounding like a bull that was about to charge.
“Still comfy back there?” Lucas asked, addressing them for the first time in 2 hours.
Louise pressed her lips together. They weren’t comfortable at all and Lucas knew it. “We’re fine,” she finally replied.
Lucas’s eyes settled on Hobbs briefly before turning her attention to the road again. “So unfortunate your super sonic pod thing broke down.”
That did it for Hobbs. “We know you’re behind this!” he said. He shifted in his seat again, causing the case to bump into Louise. She pushed it back with her elbow.
Lucas smiled smugly. “Oh come on,” she said, “As if we could somehow screw up your superior technology.”
Louise dug her nails into the rough fabric of her uniform. Hobbs was starting to breathe faster, she noticed.
“Maybe it just couldn’t handle the desert?” Woodward suggested.
“It can handle anything,” Hobbs said icily. “You sabotaged it.”
Woodward chuckled. “With what?”
“One of your fucking scramblers!”
“Right,” Woodward laughed, “And why would we do that? So we can enjoy your company in here?”
Hobbs pushed the case back towards Louise so he could get closer to Woodward.
“You won’t get away with it, you know,” he said, sticking his head between the two front seats.
Woodward huffed and turned to face Hobbs. “Oh, really? What are you going to do about it?”
Hobbs tilted his head, all cocky now. “Lock her up. Lock you up. Destroy…”
Louise had been following the heated exchange in stunned surprise. “Enough,” she said loudly before Hobbs could go any further.
Woodward grabbed Hobbs by the collar. “Destroy what?”
Hobbs’s head was slowly turning a deep shade of crimson. “Let me go,” he whispered angrily.
Woodward tightened his grip. “Not so tough…”
“Rick, let him go,” Lucas said, interrupting him. She didn’t sound very concerned, though.
Woodward obeyed anyway. He looked at his hand in disgust and rubbed it off on his pants.
Louise met Hobbs’s furious eyes. She nodded at the window. “Sit back.” Hobbs rubbed his throat. “And stay quiet,” she mouthed.
When he finally did as he was told, Louise shook her head in annoyance. She pushed the gear back in his direction until she was comfortable again.
An odd chill running up her spine made her look up. She found Lucas staring at her in the rear view mirror.
Louise narrowed her eyes at her in suspicion. Lucas’s eyebrow quirked in response, an amused smile on her lips.
Louise didn’t smile back, of course, but she was tempted for a moment. “Yeah,” she thought, holding Lucas’s gaze. “Better keep these two men on a leash.”
After another long second, Lucas finally focused back on the road, still smiling.
“I think we better stop,” Lucas said, about an hour later. Louise had finally allowed herself to relax just a bit and now straightened up in surprise.
Woodward reached for a round dial in the middle of the console. A very basic map appeared on the small screen that was built into the car’s dashboard.
He pointed at something. “This is the highest point within a 10 mile radius,” he said. “There should be cover too.”
“Alright, let’s get there fast,” Lucas answered, increasing their speed.
Louise exchanged a look with Hobbs. He shrugged as if to say “You wanted me to shut up, remember?”
Louise focused on Lucas. “I don’t think we have time to stop,” she said.
Lucas shook her head. “It’s not a break. We need to get to safety.”
Louise looked through the windshield, then back at Lucas.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“I think there’s a rain storm ahead,” Lucas replied, glancing at the screen. “Rick, how old is this part of the map?”
Woodward turned the dial and pushed a few buttons. “2050,” he replied, grimacing.
“Shit,” Lucas muttered.
Louise leaned forward to get a better look at the map. “I don’t see any weather information,” she said.
Woodward answered this time. “El, I mean Eleanor, is just good at spotting these things.”
Lucas pushed the car to go even faster. Louise grabbed hold of the two front seats. “What things?”
“Look at the sky,” Lucas replied, pointing at something ahead of them.
Louise couldn’t see a thing beyond the light of the car’s headlights. “I can’t see anything.”
“No stars ahead,” Lucas added impatiently.
Louise frowned and tried to look up through the windshield.
“Just trust me, okay?” Lucas said.
Hobbs snorted. Louise ignored him. Her eyes drifted from Lucas to Woodward. There was something in their expressions that made her anxious. They seemed genuinely concerned.
“Where will you stop?” she asked, squinting at the dark horizon again.
Woodward tightened his seat belt. “The highest point around. We’ll tie up the car to some rocks so it doesn’t get washed away by the flooding.”
Louise’s ears felt hot all of a sudden. She did not like the sound of this. “Why can’t we just drive around the storm?”
Woodward raised both of his hands. “Like you said, no weather information. No idea how big this thing is.”
“Rick, tell me when I have to get off the road,” Lucas interrupted them, her voice tense.
He nodded. “1 more mile.”
Louise looked at the monitor again. “Did you just say this is an old map?”
“Yeah,” Woodward replied, “It’s the best we got.”
“This is total bullshit! It’s just another one of their ruses,” Hobbs yelled. The sky ahead of them lit up with lightning before he had even finished his sentence.
Louise’s eyes widened in shock. For the briefest moment, she had been able to see the enormous storm system ahead of them.
“Get off now! To the right!” Woodward said loudly.
“Hold on,” Lucas said and immediately swung the wheel, steering the car off the road.
Louise lost her grip and was jolted backwards. “Fuck,” she yelled when her head hit the car door window.
An instant throbbing made her reach for her eyebrow, even as the car kept flying up and down as it sped over the rough terrain. Louise stared down at the blood on her fingers.
“There it is!” Woodward yelled. It woke Louise up from her daze. She grabbed the door and held on.
The first small drops of rain were hitting the window, Louise noticed.
“You’re hurt,” Hobbs yelled over the din of the car.
Louise ignored him, squinting through the glass, desperate to see where they were.
Lucas finally slowed down the car, bringing it to a full stop and then switching into reverse to park it hastily between several large rocks.
It was eerily quiet now that they had stopped. Louise wiped some blood away to stop it from running into her left eye.
“I think we have 10 minutes before the storm gets here,” Lucas said, calmer now.
“You, help me tie this car up!” Woodward told Hobbs, getting out of his seatbelt.
Hobbs looked at Louise skeptically. But Louise waved at him. “Come on, we have to help,” she said and wiped away more blood with the sleeve of her uniform.
Woodward was already out of the door and running towards the trunk. Hobbs pulled at the door handle to get out too.
Louise turned to do the same, but Lucas stopped her. “Wait,” she said, “You’re hurt.”
Louise scoffed. “It’s not that bad. We need to get… “ More blood ran down her cheek. She licked it off of her lips.
“They can handle the car,” Lucas said as she undid her seat belt. “Stay put. I’m going to take care of that.”
“I’m fine,” Louise protested. No way she was letting Lucas touch her.
Lucas grabbed something from under her seat. “No, you’re bleeding badly.”
“As if you give a shit,” Louise sighed.
Lucas sat back up, waving a first aid kit in the air. “I don’t. But you’re ruining my car.”