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December 29th, 2019
Lucilius leaned out the window into the hot stinging air, looking back at the brown storm as it pulsed with flashes of lightning, rising higher and higher into the stratosphere beyond his black paneled trailer that bumped along. He pressed the pedal more, hearing the electric whine as he turned back and studied the land ahead, the dry and arid ground crumbling and lifting to dust beneath the wheels of his steel truck. A tiny red light he’d mounted to the top of the busted flat monitor in the center of the dashboard began to blink. Lucilius stared at it.
“Fuck,” he muttered.
It was the only indication he had of a low battery, the other systems, the autopilot, the navigation, those had all gone offline long before the monitor stopped working. He’d wired up the tiny red light crudely as a last resort. He looked back through the cab window into the pickup’s vault to see that the plug from the trailer had come lose.
Quickly he took a length of wood from a slot he’d duct taped to the back of the driver’s seat and wedged the pedal down. He clipped safety lines to the steering wheel, fitted his goggles over his eyes and then began to climb out of the window of the speeding truck, grabbing crude handles he’d wielded to the angular steel skin of the truck. The speeding air cuffed his exposed wrists, ankles, and his neck with a hot sting. He maneuvered over the gear boxes bolted into the truck’s vault as the rig bumped up and down over the sandy land. The trailer in tow was a black capsule covered in mismatched solar panels. The storm had not yet blotted out the sun and he was still ahead of it. He grabbed the rattling plug and pushed it back into the outlet, linking the truck’s battery with the array of panels on the trailer. If he couldn’t stay ahead of the storm his speed would die and he’d be buried in minutes. He trained his goggles on the rising tumult of sand, toggling buttons on the side for a distance reading. It was still gaining.
Lucilius opened a gear box and pulled out a nearly exhausted roll of duct tape and wrapped the plug to keep it from coming loose again. Then he began the climb back to the driver’s window, clutching the welded handles as the truck sped along, jolting over the land.
The red light was still blinking when he looked back to see the far panels on his trailer begin to blur in the wall of sand as it began to overtake him.
* * *
Days later Lucilius saw a bright reflection in the distance. It took hardly an hour before the glare of light began to resolve and he could see a huge array of solar panels clustered in the shape of a dome. The array was haphazard, composed of all sorts of different panels. Thousands, that had been mounted to a rudimentary scaffolding. There on the outskirts he could see children peering out from between the panels.
He rolled up and parked his rig next to the black dome, the kids venturing out to look at his truck and trailer. Lucilius got out and the kids silently stared at him, whispering to one another, a few of them running back into the dome. Before he could follow the kids into the dome two men emerged to size up Lucilius. One of them indicated the two pistols he had mounted to the side of his thigh.
“Can’t bring that in here.”
Lucilius could tell what sort of people these were just by the children. He unclipped his rig belt with the two pistols and his knives.
“Here ya go,” he said as he handed them the mess of leather and tools and walked past them into the dome.
Inside was an entire community of people. The scaffolding had been reinforced with cement pillars, and quickly Lucilius found himself being ferried to one of the hovels by the children. Adults emerged from their shanties and eyed him before resting easy at the sight of the two men who’d taken his weapons following him.
As was customary among the peaceful, Lucilius and the leader of this group shared a meal, eating algae cakes that had been harvested on the coast.
And then they spoke.
“Lot of people you have here, this kind of exposure can be pretty dangerous.”
“We have agreements among the local wartribes.”
“That couldn’t have been easy.”
The man sighed. “No, it wasn’t.”
“I’ve had a few run-ins. Still lucky, I guess. What’d you offer them.”
“Different for each tribe.”
“I’ve promised the most powerful local chief that his tribe can come with us, and that’s done a lot to ensure our safety from the others.”
“Go with you where?”
“There’s a tanker on the coast that they are helping us guard and ready. We plan to sail south.”
Lucilius was confused. “You are going to sail a tanker? With all these people and a war clan?”
“Yes, once we have enough oil.”
“Oil?” Lucilius asked, looking at the man as though he were deranged.
The leader smiled and motioned Lucilius to stand with him. He opened a window in his shanty that looked down a rough corridor to the center of the dome. There, the old dipping neck of an oil well churned, nodding it’s rusty head to the ground and then back up high into the space within the dome.
“You’re using solar to power an oil well?”
The leader smiled. “Yes. Once we have enough, we’ll sail from this awful place and find a better one.”
For the briefest moment, Lucilius regretted that he never wore any rings. He launched that back of his hand and knocked the leader of these people off his feet, and walked out.
“Morons,” he muttered to himself.
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