An excerpt from
Future's Dark Past
Earth, February 21, 2355
Kristen Winters bent her knees and leaned back, clutching onto the sail’s horizontal boom rail with all her might. It grabbed more wind, lifting the rig higher into the sky. Red lightning arced all around the hoverboard as she bounced on the front edge of the raging storm. With her boots locked tight, she had little fear of falling off, though losing control and crashing was a whole different story.
A thousand feet below, her target sped along a dirt road. The bulky six-wheeled terrain tracker fought to stay in front of the tempest. Fortunately, the Dallas Life Pod came into view in the distance quicker than she had anticipated. The city’s half-mile-wide dome glowed white in the desert sea like a lighthouse of old.
That used to be home, she thought. Every day, her family had barely scraped by until she’d discovered a hidden bag of seeds. Her parents thought they’d found gold. They would use them to escape Dallas and start over in the Missouri Life Pod, but disaster struck. Her parents had died on the treacherous journey to their new lives.
Now, only death awaited her back in Missouri and possibly in her old hometown, but Dallas was the only place left within reach. Kansas, Chicago, even Oklahoma had all run out of water and gone dark. She wondered what life would have been like if they hadn’t ruined the planet’s surface. Well, she couldn’t change the past anyway.
A blast of air knocked her sideways, forcing her to muscle the board back around. She caught herself, then looked down. The terrain tracker seemed to hit a faster gear, racing for the protection of the city walls. Even so, the hurricane force storm gained on it. From her vantage point, she couldn’t tell if the vehicle would make it to safety or not.
Kristen’s envirosuit protected her from the elements, but the screeching alarm in her helmet let her know the oxygen tank bordered on empty. She pushed with her foot and the front of the board dipped. The momentum carried her downward like streaking across a giant rogue wave. She hurtled toward the terrain tracker, angling to intercept it before it entered the city. Wind buffeted her with intense fury. Her hand furthest from the mast slipped off the boom rail, but she managed to regain her grip before the sail could tear away.
At the bottom of the raging trough, she pulled up and ripped across the surface mere feet above the ground. The hoverboard’s magnetic inductors kicked in, keeping it aloft as she flew toward the terrain tracker. The rear of the vehicle grew rapidly in her visor screen. Kristen yanked in the sail in a futile effort to reduce her speed.
Her helmet computer blared in her ears, “Warning! Slow down!”
“Disengage the foot locks,” she ordered.
The computer replied, “That will cause you to crash.”
“I know, damn it! Do it now.”
The snaps released from her boots. She scrambled to the front of the board and leaped for the back of the terrain tracker. Slamming into it, she clawed at the handles as she slid down, her feet dragging the ground. With the side of her face mashed against the back door, she saw the sail hit alongside the dirt road and explode into pieces that rocketed out in every direction.
The vehicle continued at its breakneck pace, jolting across the wasteland. Desperate, she pulled her body upward and heaved herself on top of the metal behemoth, wedging between the cargo racks and antennas. Kristen hoped no one inside had noticed anything.
The storm engulfed them, blasting her with a deluge of sand and grit. The terrain tracker barreled through the city gate and slid to a halt. A cloud of dirt followed until the outer door closed behind them with a heavy thud. When the dust settled and the toxic gases had been vented out, the inner airlock opened. It drove into the compound, stopping just on the other side. Kristen’s visor retracted up into a thin line and she sucked in the fresh air as quietly as she could.
A stern voice came from below. “We know you’re up there. Come down, now, and we might let you live.”
* * * * *
“Where is he, bitch?”
Kristen cringed, anticipating the worst from her enraged interrogator. Once again, he viciously backhanded her; frothy red spit flew from her mouth. She froze in place, holding her breath to get control, then slumped back in the chair. Who in the hell is he talking about?
“You look just like him.”
“Who?” she stammered.
“Where are my damn seeds?” he yelled.
Now it made sense. Her long black hair, matted with sweat and blood, clung to her battered face in thick strands. She squinted sideways from her one good eye at the short, baldheaded man. His soaked T-shirt was a testament to the effort he’d put forth in persuading her to talk.
A painful smirk quivered on her lip. “Long gone.”
“You think it’s funny?” he snarled. “You’re going to be my bitch for the rest of your miserable life.”
He reached down and crushed her breast in a vice-like grip, emphasizing his point. She jerked up, her mouth forming a silent scream, but the shackles chaining her to the floor prevented her from stopping him.
The door to the interrogation room opened.
“Damn,” he swore and whirled around to face an older man with salt and pepper grey hair. The threadbare uniform he wore looked crisp and clean on his lean body.
Kristen wearily thought, what now?
He came closer and looked her up and down, meeting her defiant, one-eyed gaze. “Delerson,” he eventually said, “that won’t be necessary.”
“That ain’t your call, Hernandez.”
“Why don’t you just throw her out the airlock and be done with it?” he replied with a sarcastic bark. He scowled at the other man.
“Maybe I will,” Delerson hissed.
“We’ve fallen that far?” Hernandez asked, obviously dismayed. “Have you looked around lately?”
“What makes you think I want to add another food sucking hole to this Life Pod? There’s barely enough to go around as it is.”
“It’s time for a different tactic,” Hernandez said pointedly. “I’m taking over.”
Delerson thumped the other man’s chest with two fingers. “I’m in charge of security.”
Hernandez stood his ground, knocking his hand away. “I run the Pod.”
Delerson abruptly waved him off, heading toward the exit. “Bah. Have your little fun, but when I get back, she’s mine.”
Hernandez pulled up a chair in front of Kristen, reversing it so he could lean on the backrest. “You’re tough, no doubt about that. You lasted longer than the storm. What the hell does Delerson have against you?” Receiving no response, he withdrew a flask from his inner coat pocket and took a swig, then jiggled it in front of her.
Unable to see well out of her swollen left eye, she jerked at the motion. Kristen thought, what’s he doing? Turning her head slightly to get a better look, she peered at the flask, then up at his somber face. He shook it once more, and the offer proved too tempting; she nodded. Leaning forward, he dribbled water into her bloodied mouth.
“Swirl it around,” he said.
Choking on it, she sputtered, “You think I’m going to buy this make nice bullshit line?”
“Well, that depends on how much you want to live. I can help you, or we can bring back Delerson.”
Anger burned through her brain fog. “That guy’s an ass.”
“No doubt,” Hernandez guffawed. “I don’t like him, either. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to hold him off for long if you don’t give me something to work with. Let’s start with the basics. What’s your name?”
She cautiously answered, “Kristen.”
“Why exactly are you here?”
“Why else? I’m hungry.”
A dubious crease etched his brow. “Hmmm. Where are you from?”
She paused, knowing the questions were about to come fast and furious. “Please,” Kristen said, trying to slow him down until her mind could clear. “Can I have another drink?”
Hernandez held the flask out, pouring water into her mouth. She swallowed, and he tipped it again before pulling it back. Kristen swished the last gulp around, savoring every drop before downing it. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Once more, where are you from?”
“No. This is Dallas, and you’re not from here.”
Kristen shrugged and gingerly stretched her neck from side to side, taking her time. The cramped position she was forced to hold made her back feel like it might snap. “I was born here.”
“Impossible. There hasn’t been free trade amongst the Life Pods in over a hundred years.”
She didn’t want to re-live her past but knew her survival now depended on it. “My dad was Lucas Winters. Remember him?”
Hernandez’s mouth pursed as he mulled over her revelation. “Winters,” he repeated. “The guy who took his family out in a terrain tracker? We found it abandoned in a gorge. That was years ago.”
“I’m his daughter. The Missourians took me to their Life Pod.”
“Dad had been in radio contact with them. We had a new batch of seeds with us—”
“And he thought he could buy his way into a better life.” Hernandez shook his head slightly. “Well, that explains a lot. Those were Delerson’s seeds and he lost a fortune on the black market when they disappeared. He’s somehow figured it out. No wonder he’s taking it out on you. He wants payback.”
Her head throbbed, processing the misery of the past few hours. “He wants my father, but he’s wasting his time because he’s dead.”
“Guess you’ll do in a pinch. Why’d you come back? Doesn’t seem like the brightest thing to do, under the circumstances.”
Kristen hesitated. “Life wasn’t worth living there.”
She shuddered as painful memories came flooding back. Can I tell him what happened to me? Why would he be different than any other man? But she had to say something. “Things aren’t any better in Missouri than they are here. In fact, they’re worse.”
“I’ve heard rumors,” he replied with a grimace. “How’d you get here?”
“Carbon coated sail and hoverboard.”
“What?” He rocked back, lifting two legs off the floor before slamming them down. “I’m going to have to call bullshit on that.”
She squirmed in her chair at his outburst, the chains rattling softly. “You’ll find what’s left of it a mile or so outside.”
“Even if that were true,” he said, “that’s suicidal.”
“Yeah, well . . . I caught a storm current and sailed to within a few miles of Dallas,” Kristen answered. “I saw the terrain tracker and took my chance.”
“You were alone?”
She simply nodded.
“That’s quite the story.”
“It’s what happened.” Kristen pinned him with a pleading look. “I had to get out, or—” Her voice broke for a second. “Now what? All I want is to eat.”
Hernandez’s expression softened. “You’re in deep weeds with Delerson, but I have an idea.”
“I’m strong; I work hard. I’d do almost anything for food.”
“I have a feeling you might not like what I’m about to offer.” He pulled an apple from his coat pocket and held it in front of her mouth.
Eagerly craning her neck, she banged it into her lip. Wincing, she slowed down and bit off a large chunk. “Mmmmm,” Kristen mumbled, her mouth full. Juice dribbled down her bruised chin.
“You can’t stay here,” he explained.
She swallowed the bite of apple with a throaty gulp. “There’s nowhere else. I can take care of myself.”
Hernandez laughed. “Yeah, I can see that, but not in your current condition. You look like you’re ninety pounds, sopping wet. You won’t last a day with Delerson, and you’re already halfway there.”
“I said I’ll do . . .” Kristen stopped and sighed. “Please. Please help me.”
Hernandez stood and put a hand to his ear, listening. “Right on time.” Then he looked down at her. “Careful what you ask for.”
He suddenly squatted and unlocked the chain securing her to the floor, then lifted her by an elbow to a standing position. “We have guests. Come on, let’s go.”
Kristen considered resisting, but they both jumped when the door flew open, banging against the wall.
“Stop right there.” Delerson sauntered in, sneering as he took in the scene. “I’m not done with her.” He strode forward, his arm outstretched to reach for Kristen. She shrank away as much as she could.
“No,” Hernandez said, stepping between them. “They’re here. We can’t wait.”
Delerson hesitated and a low, vibrating rumble, barely detectable at first, became apparent. He did a double take, disgusted. “Damn it. Those bastards have the worst timing.” He jabbed his finger at them. “We’ll deal with this later, but you will give her back to me.” He stomped off, slamming the door behind him.
Hernandez grabbed her arm and followed Delerson. Kristen pulled back with her chained hands. “Where are we going?”
“The Spacers are here.”
A shiver went up her spine. “So,” she said. “You’re the official doom greeter or what?”
“So, it’s time for you to catch a ride, that’s what.”
She stopped cold, the realization sinking in. “Wait. You’re giving me to them?”
He opened the door. “It’s a long shot, but at least you’ll have a shot. Or, would you prefer to wait around and take your chances with that asshole?”
Kristen grudgingly relented, shuffling her shackled feet as she followed him into the hall. “I’m guessing anything beats that.”
“Maybe. I’m not sure dying in space is any better than dying here. But I’ll let you be the judge.”