1. My interpretation of the S.S. Tipton as a setting in this series remains as it did in Icarus: similar to the movie and based off a real-life vessel: the MS Norwegian Sun.
2. This story could potentially make no sense if you haven't read at least some of the previous stories, Origin and Icarus.
3. I am still using music to help with the feel and tone of the story (though it remains, of course, completely optional) and songs will be credited in the same format: a citation at the end of each chapter they are used.
Chapter 1: Solemn Sunrise
An overpowering smell of smoke hangs over the city of Austin, Texas like a putrid malaise. It pervades every corner and hiding place, and makes Cody Martin nearly gag as he awakens in the ruins of the burned-out house he and Zack took refuge in the night before. He slowly gets up off the hard wood floor and shakes off the ashes that have lightly blanketed him and his nearby sleeping brother. Cody looks at the ruined room around him and gets to his feet, awakening Zack.
"Ugh… what time is it?"
"I don't know."
Cody looks up through the void where a roof once stood. The sun has just started its ascent, and orange light glistens and refracts off the flurries of ash and smoke in the air. Off in the distance towards the center of the city stands the source of the particulates in the air: an imposingly tall skyscraper devoid of any windows and built of blue-tinted steel and concrete that stretches towards the heavens. However, the uppermost parts of the structure have been twisted, melted and mangled into a jagged mess that pulsates with the red glow of vast fires. The few clouds in the vicinity have begun to swirl around the structure's peak with an opening at the very center, like the eye of a hurricane.
"Oh god… Zack, look at the Citadel."
"Damn… was it that bad when we went to sleep?"
"No it wasn't."
Zack gets up off the floor and looks around.
"We probably should get moving."
"And go where exactly?"
Cody's question hangs in the air for a moment as Zack looks towards the burning Citadel, thinking.
"Where do you think anyone would be looking for us?"
"As much as I hate to say it… probably downtown."
"Then that's where we gotta go."
"How? We don't have a car."
"Let's go have a look around outside. Maybe we'll find something."
Zack leads the way out of what once was one of the house's bedrooms, down a partially-collapsed hallway and out the opening where the front door once stood. They emerge into the unkempt front yard and are greeted by an eerily silent neighborhood.
"Where is everyone…?"
"Probably evacuated if anything."
Zack spots a two-seater Yamaha motorcycle sitting on its side in the driveway of the house across the street.
"I think I found us a ride."
He walks across the street and sets it back upright. Cody looks around the empty area uneasily as Zack examines the motorcycle.
"It's got a radio, full tank of gas and the keys are in it."
Cody notices several pieces of luggage strewn about the driveway.
"Seems like someone was trying to pack in a hurry."
Zack turns the key and the motorcycle purrs to life. He hops on and motions to Cody.
"Without a helmet? No way!"
"Now's not the time to be picky bro."
Zack grabs Cody by the arm and drags him onto the bike's backseat.
"Do you even know where you're going?"
"Not a clue!"
Zack revs the bike, speeds out of the driveway and down the derelict street.
"I've got movement on the optical sensors. Rollingwood suburb. 3'o'clock. Twenty miles. Can anyone else confirm?"
"I've got it on my screen too."
"Definitive confirmation Mr. White. Thermal scanning shows a three heat sources, one much larger than the other. Vehicle and two occupants on the move."
"Hang on; I'm focusing in… got it. Motorcycle with two passengers heading towards the Mo-Pac expressway."
"Reports indicate that area has been fully evacuated for at least six hours."
"Clearly your reports are inaccurate my dear. Can we identify these people?"
"Not reliably. We're still mostly blind thanks to that spectacular explosion at the Citadel."
"Get Alex up here and keep a watch on them. Even if we don't have a positive ID yet, I think we know who these two are..."
Zack and Cody speed down an expressway with downtown Austin in their view straight ahead. The road is mostly clear, save for a few abandoned cars and a layer of ash that the bike kicks up in its wake.
"Hey Zack, switch on the radio."
"Just in case anyone's broadcasting."
"Uh, ok then…"
Zack switches the radio on and slows down slightly to make it easier to hear. Nothing except static comes out of the two small speakers on the dashboard.
Cody barely makes out a road sign as the zip past.
"There! That sign had a radio frequency on it: 590AM."
Zack dials in the numbers, and a broadcast comes over the radio loud and clear.
"This is an automated broadcast from KLBJ 590AM. An evacuation order has been issued for the following counties: Travis. Hays. Bastrop. Caldwell. Williamson. Burnet. Blanco. Gillespie. Kendall. Comal. Guadalupe. Lee. Llano. All residents in these counties are urged to evacuate immediately due to the destabilization of the Citadel structure in central Austin. Be advised that this evacuation is mandatory and military units will be going door-to-door to confirm compliance."
Zack mutes the radio and shakes his head.
"I get that the Citadel is in pieces… but why order a total evacuation? The thing is still standing fine."
"They must know something we don't."
Zack peels off to a right exit that says '1st Street/Cesar Chavez – Downtown'. As they slowly approach the densely-clustered skyscrapers of downtown, the sense of abandonment becomes even more oppressive. Newspapers and magazines blow through the streets, cars are abandoned where they were at the time of the explosion and traffic lights are all blinking red in tandem. Pieces of debris from the Citadel lay in craters on the road, increasing in number as the twins approach the structure itself. Several chunks are even embedded in nearby towers, and they have started small fires in their wake that are beginning to burn out of control.
"This is… unbelievable."
"I had no idea…"
Zack slows the bike down as they approach the plaza surrounding the base of the Citadel. The destruction here is surprisingly minimal, and the plaza is nearly intact with its gardens still blooming and fountains still running. Wind chimes in some of the oak trees in the plaza add a very eerie musical touch to the scene. The twins look up at the Citadel, which stretches more than a mile above them. The great red glow from the fires at the top reflects off the swirling clouds, giving the peak a very menacing appearance.
"What have we done Zack…?"
"What do you mean 'we'? This is Tipton's fault, not ours."
"But it was ours by proxy."
"Meaning we led to this indirectly."
"And what makes you say that?!"
Before Cody can answer, a cell phone begins ringing.
"Is that mine or yours?"
The twins begin to frantically dig through their pockets.
"Must be yours Codes."
Cody fumbles his cell phone out, and sure enough, it's ringing. The caller ID reads 'Judsen White'.
"About damn time you two showed up. I was starting to think you got lost or something."
"Moderate" - Movement I of Symphony No. 8 by David Maslanka