Eleven

By Chanelle Summer

- Chapter Eighteen -

Little Gas equals Big Trouble

An Unknown Location

Presumably on The Outside

Somewhere on the outskirts of Old L.A

The road traveled wasn't so much of a path to Hell as it was a blinded rush guided by pure adrenalin. An impulsive decision. An idea that seemed good at the time. There were no speed limits nor was there a compass to rationalize such an ambiguous destination. They were encased; stolen from reality. As the scars from the ending of the world blurred them away, Kira could do nothing more than grip onto the armrest at her side and hold on for dear life.

She swished the same oxygen around her mouth that she'd been holding there for too long. It escaped between her parched lips and she licked them sourly, pulling a face as she reluctantly inhaled again.

Splatters of Ethan's vomit remained in too many places. There was no radio. No oxygen. Not to mention, the aggressive terrain sent Conner's mustang jumping so violently that Kira was beyond certain she'd close to peed herself.

What the hell had she been thinking?

Oh God, she lifted her limp hand to her lips, willing away the sickly sour taste stalking up her throat.

"Please tell me you can see something," Kira tried not to whine, grunting as a rough bump sent her shouldering Kimberly beside her. She didn't have the will to apologize, but glanced her way all the same, before sinking back in her seat. "Just kill me now," she muttered to herself.

"I'm hungry," Kimberly reminded them for what seemed like the several hundredth time.

Kira shook her head for no particular reason, glancing out toward the window. "I don't know how you can even think of food with that disgusting foul smell."

From the passenger seat, Ethan's body remained pointed forward. "Do you really need to remind everyone every two seconds?"

She rolled her eyes tiredly, clenching at her bladder as the road sent the car shaking from side to side. "Okay, look, I really need to pee," she spoke up, leaning forward. Her hair tickled the side of Conner's ear. "I'm not joking."

"We can't stop again."

"I need to use the bathroom. If I don't, I will pee all over your car seat."

In the rear view mirror, Conner's stony expression twisted. "Go ahead; we already have vomit. Maybe if we're lucky enough and this ash cloud gets any darker, geek boy here might end up shitting himself in fright, too."

Ethan's head rolled around in annoyance, picking his body up from its previously slumped position. "Will you shut your trap Conner and work out where the hell you are driving us exactly?"

Conner shook his dirty blond hair, licking his lips overtly. A snicker. Kira almost groaned in anticipation of his typical sarcastic retaliation.

Instead he near laughed. "This is a fucking joke," he muttered, swerving the car bluntly to the right before quickly correcting its path. "Whose fucking genius idea was this?"

Kira didn't handle confrontation very well. It was something similar to a wall being layered all around her and yet she still couldn't hide away. Her chest was tightening. She didn't have time to register whatever anyone was carrying on about. Old habits had never died…Kira was still that little girl, running up to her room unable to deal with her father's chronic grief over her mother's loss.

Kira blinked and paused around the corner, the frosted glass in her hand trembling in her anxious little grip. She just didn't want to drop and spill it. No matter what, she didn't want to do that to her father.

The talking in the living room was still in gross continuation. To and fro, words spilled in the same drawn anger.

She was dreading interrupting it. "Daddy...I made you a glass of drink," she announced quietly, as she stepped out from behind the shield of the wall.

She just didn't want to spill it everywhere, but she couldn't help her frantic actions. Not when all she wanted to do was run away.

Glass on the table. The gesture utterly unnoticed in the shadows of his head in his hands.

The words snaked their way from his lips, in a two-way conversation with himself. He blamed himself. He hated himself. She was dead and had been for over four years and yet it was as though it had just happened the day before hand. His tears were still as fresh.

Kira backed away and fled, ignoring the watery juice that splashed at the back of her legs as she ran desperately in search of somewhere to hide.

"Just breathe," she whispered, breaking off the menacing memory with the humming of a wordless song. She didn't know the tune, but she sang it. The sounds of music had always been her own source of oxygen.

And like a child in the present, the girl beside her whispered nervously into her ear: "Where are we going?"

Kira's random droning was lost to her break in concentration. Realizing that the bickering up the front had not yet lost ammunition, Kira turned to look at Kimberly and tried to offer her something…anything.

"We're…just a little lost at the moment," she admitted quietly, squinting heavily as she realized she was losing her own battle with her bladder. "You don't have anything to worry about. Everything will be fine."

The sounds of rocks and carnage stirred against the outside shell of the car.

"Are you hurt?"

Kira squirmed. "No…I just need to pee really bad."

Kimberly blinked, her lips falling loose slightly as she studied her with big eyes. "Oh…"

"How's your head feel?" Kira decided to change the subject. "The cut looks…way better," she noted.

She watched the teenage girl reach up to touch the somewhat faded laceration on her forehead, her fingers skimming over it as though she were reading braille.

"I had hurt my head," Kimberly murmured, her voice treading off into some dreamy distance.

Kira crossed her arms over herself. "Do you remember it happening?" she asked her quietly.

The expression lines on Kimberly's face darkened as her eyes narrowed intently. "I don't know," she shook her head in slow motion. "I didn't think I would see Tommy again…"

"Yeah, well I wish your prince charming would show up right about now," Conner muttered, catching a glance with Kira via the review mirror. "Either way, this ash cloud or whatever the hell it is seems to be clearing up a little."

Kira pulled herself up in her seat, momentarily forgetting everything and anything else. "Can you see anything?"

"Maybe…" Ethan sounded distracted, his hands clasped around bits of paper and the tip of his nose pressed against the windscreen. "I swore I saw a building."

"All I can see is rubble," Conner followed up.

Kira sat forward, pressing her face against the window to her side. The glass kissed her face coldly, biting at the bone of her cheek as the car continued its unsteady pace over whatever path was shouldering them. Her eyelashes dusted the window; her lips pushed out another reluctant breath which ignited the glass in a fury of fog.

It blinded her view and her shoulders sunk slightly, until another's hand reached over and wiped the fresh condensation away, revealing the unfolding surroundings to them both.

Kira's eyes widened avidly. "I see buildings," she murmured to no one in particular. "Lots of them."

For a minute they all forgot about the vomit, motion sickness and overwhelming urge to urinate.

"Quick Ethan look at your maps and see if you can work out where we are," Conner ordered, his concentration drifting about, unfortunately taking the car all over the place with it.

Ethan's voice sounded like a big frown. "How am I supposed to tell from a few trashed buildings where we are by looking at a map?"

"You're the one who said you could guide us with your geek technology."

From the opening spaces between the ash fall, soft cotton clouds peeked through, captivating Kira's entranced gaze to the outside.

"No, I never said I could guide us once we got out here," Ethan corrected in the background. "I said I could get us through the SPD checkpoints."

The ending of Ethan's sentence caught Kira's misplaced focus and she straightened her body, leaning forward so her face poked out between the two boys. "Maybe we should pull over somewhere," she suggested quickly. "We don't know if it's even safe for us to be driving here."

"Well that wouldn't make much sense. I'd rather us keep driving then have to walk. That ash cloud doesn't look like it makes for very good breathing quality," Conner reasoned.

"At least you've stopped calling it snow," Ethan chided him sarcastically and Kira rolled her eyes at their pathetic to and fro.

Conner dropped his right hand to his knee, slapping it lightly. "So how exactly are we supposed to find these power rangers or whoever?"

Ethan twisted around in his seat. It launched his face too close to Kira's for her liking so she pulled back, crossing her arms back over her body as he eyed Kimberly expressively.

"Can you sense anything, Kim?" He asked her and Conner snickered quickly.

Kimberly looked to Kira as though searching for support and she shrugged indifferently. "Ignore Conner, it's a waste of time making fun of things when here we are, driving around lost like a bunch of idiots-."

"Oh no…"

Ethan looked over to Conner and Kira pulled a face toward the front mirror.

"Wha-."

"Fuck!" Conner's hands' slammed against the steering wheel as he whip-lashed his head forward in senseless despair before propelling his body back against his seat. "We're almost out of gas!" he gestured wildly.

Ethan's face was pure seriousness. "But what about your spare supply in the trunk?"

Conner pulled a face to himself, before he propped his elbow on the edge of the door and leaned his face into his lazy hand. "I forgot to fill up," his response was muffled.

Kira didn't know what to think or how to react.

Ethan's lips' puckered up but Kira could tell he wasn't game to test tense waters. "Sooo….guess that means Kira's idea of walking wasn't that stupid after all."

Conner sighed. "Yeah ha-ha," he conceded sarcastically, before his words ran off into illiterate mumbling.

Kira slumped back against her seat, her body perfectly frozen as Ethan started to talk again. "What if there's zombies out there?" he wondered out loud.

"Shouldn't we be more worried about…aliens?" Kira pointed out, scrunching up her nose. The sickening smell had not budged.

Conner's face was scanning in slow motion from left to right, right to left, over and over again. "They'd have to be some pretty desperate aliens to still be living in this hell hole," he murmured, before he honked the car horn without warning.

Kimberly jumped and Kira flinched, swallowing her embarrassment with a limp hand of comfort to the pink ranger's arm.

"That was a cat or some sort of big dog or some shit," Conner explained. "Maybe a sewer rat."

"I think it was a cat," Ethan agreed from beside him, before he hummed a little, "Hmmm it did have a really long tail."

Kira couldn't settle the cheeks of her butt to the seat. Her hands absentmindedly settled to the groove of her thighs, but it was just a God-awful reminder that she'd semi-peed herself moments earlier and she quickly brushed them away. She ignored the heavy stress that resonated from Conner's reflection up ahead and looked back out her window.

The murky haze had finally been broken by the clarity of a whole new world. Conner and Ethan both started half hooting and choking on their own shock horror; but it was Kira herself who blindly un-clicked her seat-belt and clumsily crouched on her seat as though to grasp the greatest view.

"People actually live here?" Kira exclaimed, her face stretching into an ugly exclamation, as buildings, however worn, started to pass them by at an increasing rate. "That's a car that went down there!"

Conner was licking his lips and Kira could hear it. "I don't understand why they've never mentioned anything to us about this – why wouldn't they tell us?"

Ethan made a strange sound. "Obviously it's a cover-up, just like I told you guys."

"A cover-up for wha-."

The car engine started to spit and as it lulled into a splutter, the whole vehicle rocked like a broken see-saw to a miserable stop. Conner pulled the hand brake on quickly and threw his face over his shoulder as soft puffs of dust mushroomed around them outside.

"End of the line," he announced, as he bit down sharp on his lip and Kira shared an anxious look with Kimberly.

"So…" Kira squinted. "What are we supposed to do? We can't stay here."

"Well…clearly I'm going to have to go and find some gas," Conner declared, nodding his head as though convincing himself.

"You can't just go alone," Ethan told him, as he busily checked the vents of the car for the twentieth time.

Conner pulled a face. "We can't just sit here in the middle of the road. My parents are going to fucking flip as it is. Who knows how long it's taken for us to get this far?"

Kira glanced down at her digital watch knowingly, the tiny little display deadened to black.

Ethan's mouth puckered up. "We don't even know what's out here-."

"You're the one who thought this would be such a great idea," Conner reminded him, rolling his eyes. "And in either case, I'm not sticking around."

Kira looked back out of the window. Through the settling dust, she could see three shadowed figures across the road. Old, haggard clothes hugged their backs and stringy hair kept their faces from her sight, but it was unmistakable.

Humans were indeed alive on The Outside.

"Look…" Kimberly motioned with a tiny voice and Conner and Ethan followed her outstretched hand to where Kira had been looking.

Conner released an intrepid breath. "I'm going to ask them where to fill up. Wait here; do not let anyone touch my car," he ordered them as he opened the door and hopped out, slamming it behind him.

Ethan fanned the airspace before him, before he yawned. "I don't get why he has to be such an idiot about everything. He's not proving how smart he is wandering out there alone; he's showing just how stupid he is."

Kira nodded in agreement as she practically snorted. "We should have kicked him out miles ago. It's a miracle we're still alive with his horrible driving."

They all watched their school mate approach the huddled humans in the close distance. His shoes stirred the dust and ash like strewn confetti, but everything else around them remained entirely unmoved. The strangers seemed to ignore him at first; Kira saw one of their heads turn just a bit, as though their ears pricked up.

The stranger's cheek continued to twist around, the flesh of their profile scaled like the fanning tail of a peacock.

"Oh my God," Kira rushed out, as her open hands grasped for the window at her side. "They're not-."

"Holy shit they're mutants!" Ethan exclaimed, as he simultaneously undid his seat-belt and messily clambered over to Conner's empty seat. "Conner!" he called out.

"Conner!" Kira joined in, banging her curled up fists against the glass. "Conner!"

The hammering of hands and calling out seemed to fall on deaf ears; the sound of an unmanned door opening and slamming shut did not.

Kira swung her head around but it was too late. Kimberly was already running in the opposite direction, before out of nowhere they watched her crumple to the ground.

-To Be Continued-

Coming up in Chapter Nineteen: The Devil you Know

"We should run…"

John blinked, closing and opening the blinds to his vision of the perplexed leader.

"Run?"

"We should run. Every last one of us. Break down the walls and advance on the outside in a flood of rebellion so strong in current, it might just give us the chance we need to survive, even just a little longer."

A/N – Bring on the silly season :-) Thanks for everyone's patience with my updates while I enter the final phase of renovating our house! ~Chanelle