Max honked his horn just as Renni raced out the door and down the stairs leading from the dorms. She paused a moment and gasped. Surrounding the campus were hundreds of people in buses, cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, even on bicycles and on foot. They flooded the streets, honking and shouting. Evacuation. Their city’s turn had come, one of the last.
She tightened her grip on the last crate, the one holding her family photos and keepsakes. Everything she had come from, everything she had been, could be found in the crate. She looked at it, looked at the participation ribbon laying across the top of one of the albums. She hadn’t placed at the meet. But she’d gone and done her best.
Maximus honked again, startling her. She adjusted her load and practically flew down the last few steps to his car before tossing the crate into the last available spot in the trunk. She slid into the front seat, nodding as she did so to the four freshmen scrunched into the backseat behind her. She recognized the library kid in the middle, a large pile of books teetering on his lap. He grinned at her sheepishly.
Max touched her shoulder and she turned to look into his concerned eyes. Over the last few months they’d spent most of their time together. The entire time the Mongerers had hovered in the skies, no commercial flight had risen off any runway. Trains and cars were the only mode of transportation. With the outbreak of crime after the Mongerer’s arrival, traveling became dangerous. Neither Max nor Renni had seen their families since the day the ships had arrived. Three times they tried to get off campus. Three times the roads had been closed or the rail-lines shut down. In some areas Doomsdayers had torn up the tracks.
Renni cringed at the sheer number of people flooding out of the campus. Three schools: a university, a college, and a community college, shared the same space, the same buildings, sometimes even the same classrooms. Thousands of students lived on or near the campus. Thousands of students, teachers, and faculty had been virtually trapped in the city, unable to get to their families. Some tried to keep things as normal as possible. Some teachers even tried to keep classes going. Attempted normalcy did not last long.
Time passed with charged opinions, debates, and rallies. Students talked, argued, met over, discussed, and fought over their ideas of first the Mongerers and then the Harbingers. Renni remembered the day the military came to the campus. They brought supplies and calmed the masses. They also incited the wrath of the campus’ few Doomsdayers.
Their car crept along the slow river of traffic. One bicyclist wove his way around the cars, his helmet askew. He darted between their car and the truck in front of them. Max honked his horn, frustrated. Renni placed a hand on his. “He’s just scared, Max,” she said. “He wants to get out of here just as bad as we do.”
“Yeah, I know.” He slammed the palm of his hand against the steering wheel as the cyclist, unfazed by the near accident, continued his mad dash through traffic. “I could’ve hit him, Renni.”
“It would’ve been his fault,” one of the guys in the back seat piped up. “Would’ve served him right anyways. Inconsiderate little….”
Max turned in his seat and glared at the kid, a hefty freshman sitting by the window with a smug look on his face. “You wanna join him out there?” Max growled. Renni stared at her friend, never seeing him so angry before. She leaned over and gently took his chin in her hand, turning his face until he stared into her eyes. She spoke no words, tears welling but not falling, a slight tilt of her lips as she tried to think of a way to make things better. “I could’ve hit him, Renni,” he repeated, whispering.
“But you didn’t.” She looked back at the smug kid. He was probably four years younger than her and yet she thought of him as a kid. “Look, this is going to be stressful. Max did us all a favor taking us in his car. Otherwise you four and I would be out there, hoofing it the fifteen miles to the transport. Either that or scrunched in one of the busses unable to take any personal possessions because of the room. He sacrificed a lot to save you a lot of trouble. So I recommend keeping your comments to yourself for the time being. Once we’re on board, say whatever the hell you want. Until then, shut up.”
The smug kid glared at her, a comment on the verge of his lips. But one look into the rearview mirror and he shut his mouth, his eyes glaring daggers. Max inched the car forward, his eyes and attention riveted upon the vehicles around him.