“I don’t—” Another crack. The window made a sound like breaking stone. Kernels of clear plastic pelted Julian’s right side. His HUD flashed a bright red damage warning.
“I’m all right!” Julian said.
Something hit Julian’s back. Hard. He couldn’t swallow down the grunt of pain. Another warning flashed across his HUD. He ignored it and kept his eyes focused on the map. “Left again. One de— Half of the last turn.”
The driver’s eyebrows slashed downward, but the smile didn’t quite leave the man’s face.
They flew over the sand and the rover spent at least as much time in the air as it did on the ground, leaving Julian’s stomach behind each time it rose.
More debris clanged against them. The rear window cracked. It pelted his back. The debris overwhelmed the map with flashing red warning messages, but it didn’t matter. He was past the point of being helpful. If he’d let his teeth open, the only thing that would come out would be a scream.
The driver’s eyes never flicked away from the windshield, and his fingers never left the wheel. Not even to wipe away the blood rolling down his cheek.
Everything in Julian’s HUD lit up bright red, then it went dark. He looked down.
A rod of rusted metal was jutting through his side, just to the left of his belly button.
The pain hit him like it was waiting for him to notice it.
He ground his teeth together. The scream scorched his tongue. His arms shook. Sand streamed past his shoulders and into the rover. Julian pressed hard against the space of the window. It was the only way to keep himself from dropping forward into the seat with each bump. The pressure shoved the metal rod deeper, and spots of color danced across his vision.
The driver’s grip on the wheel was so tight that it made his knuckles white, but the guy was still smiling.
The roar of the storm was everywhere. It was filling up the world, and there was no room left for any other sounds.
The darkness was thick enough to feel. It pressed against Julian’s skin and sucked up the warmth. There was nothing but the dark, the scream, the pain, and the driver’s tight expression lit by the displays on the dashboard.
Laughter bubbled out of Julian. Holding on was the only thing he could do.
The rover hit a bump, and he flew. His head hit the roof. The world started spinning and flickering.
Julian bit the end of his tongue to keep the sounds locked inside. Another bump made him bite too hard, and his mouth filled with the metallic taste of his own blood.
His hand slipped, and he smacked the front window hard enough to make his vision flare red and then black. For a second, Julian was sure that he was going to pass out. He wanted to pass out.
Julian’s eyes cleared, and he got a look at the spot his rescuer chose to get them through the storm. It was a stretch of desert locked away inside a blacked-out Wall. The darkness of the storm had been bad, but the shadows that had pooled where they were now were something else. They were the thick, living kind that he’d only ever seen inside the mine.
The rover entered the space at an angle and the headlights caught on strange shapes and crumbled walls. It was impossible to see anything beyond the cones of light they cast in the heavy darkness, but Julian didn’t need to see to know where they were.
They were in Easton. The town his father destroyed.