He’d begun to wonder.
A snowstorm was traversed that morning when he came over the pass, following the Interstate. Hurricane force winds. Icy temperatures. Snow without end, clotting light, forcing a squint into his tired eyes as he and the cats and dog peered ahead. No one slept. The animals had to be with him, of course; they were mostly silent constant shadows. Itty Bitty was on the console and Floofy Cat rode the right-hand chair. Almost Dog lolled his tongue from the left-hand seat. Britt had the center seat – when he sat. Mostly, he nursed coffee and stood or paced.
Steering by him and such controls weren’t required. Protected by its energy shied, the machine scythed along. Systems weren’t optimum but speed was low, fifty miles per hour. Plenty of energy remained in reserve and the cells hovered around ninety percent. Altitude was five hundred feet. The imaging system showed a city in the valley below but nothing over eleven stories. Still, uncomfortable, flying blind. He drank coffee and hovered around the drive deck, eyes skipping between the snow outside and the instruments, maps, radar, and GPS.
Weariness finally won. He told the vehicle to find a place to land. Pavement was found; he nixed that, asking for a meadow. One sufficiently large was tracked down. The machine settled itself twelve minutes later. Snow still fell. Wind remained an angry infant wailing. He deployed the security fencing. Despite twenty-degrees Fahrenheit temperature – minus two when the wind was considered – the little machines sailed out of their portals, and then created and erected the perimeter protection in fourteen minutes. The shield was expanded to include the ship and the area to the fencing.
The systems said the snow had ceased the next morning and the temperature was up to twenty-four. He spent a little energy warming the air outside the machine, melting the snow off the shield, letting in blue sky and sunlight. Growing more comfortable and relaxed, he spied on the town. No people were detected. Not much of anything showed up. There were stores. BiMart. Google said it was an employee-owned enterprise, part of a chain. Albertsons and Safeway. A Market of Choice. Rite Aid. Six miles away. He flipped a mental quarter and decided to take the five pack in for scavenging.
It was after coming back that he detected other people. Three women, according to the vehicle’s senses. Been three months since he’d had human contact, but he was in no hurry to meet anyone. Taking manual control of the vehicle, he confirmed the cloak was on and steered toward their reported location. Spying them, he settled the vehicle into a hover and watched.
Three women. Struggling. Indeterminant age in that ragged clothing. One seemed worse.
Why, though, were they out in this thick white? Snow climbed over their knees.
Desperate people, of course. Most survivors were desperate, hungry for the right food, thirsting for company, praying for help.
Britt tapped a finger on the center console and counted, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Didn’t know why he did that and when he caught himself, he willed, stop.
He figured the woman must be trying to reach the city. They were at least a few miles away.
A sigh breached his lips. The humane thing to do and all that. He guided the vehicle forward until he was just ten feet away. Then he uncloaked. Let them see him.
Took a double fist of seconds before one focused attention on the vehicle. Pushing back thick brown hair and light blue hood, she held them off her pale, wan face to take in his car. Turning on his vehicle’s ears, he heard her ask, “What’s that?” Then, when the others put attention on her, she pointed at the car.
He settled it onto the snow and popped the door. Stepping out, he called, “Hello. Need any help?”
© 2022 Michael Seidel