Even though they were both in prime shape, the thinner atmosphere made an uphill run through the wooded mountain slope an exhausting proposition. It was well after dark when they finally trudged down the mountain back to the barn where their bikes were parked.
"Wiz" Tommy breathed as they emerged from the woods. "Look at the stars."
Lance admired the night sky. Cloudless nights were rare in Seattle, the view took him back to the tribal lands in what had once been Colorado. "That's not right" he said. "We shouldn't be able to see so many." Even the Milky Way was dimly visible.
Looking west they both suddenly realized that most of Seattle was dark. "Oh, drek" Tommy said.
The city was gone. The bright glow of the thousands of buildings replaced by only a dim few. Light came from the Aztechnology Pyramid, parts of council island, a few corporate and government buildings here and there, and strangely enough parts of the long sealed Renraku Arcology. In the closer parts of the city the red and blue glow of emergency vehicles along with a few still running cars and a few small fires betrayed the chaos enveloping the rest of the city.
"We'd better get back" Tommy said. "Arthur's gonna need all the help he can get tonight."
Lance took out his cell phone, wondering why Arthur hadn't called them. No Service the display read. Just fragging terrific "Fuel check" he asked, looking at Tommy.
"I'm good" Tommy replied.
Lance checked his own fuel gage. Without power, gasoline pumps wouldn't be working. But he had enough to get back to Tacoma. He popped open the under seat storage container and removed the collapsible lance. "Weapons check?" he asked attaching the lance to the firm point on the front of the bike.
"Just a narco-jet pistol" Tommy admitted. "I wasn't expecting trouble."
"Okay. I've got my Ruger and a narco-jet, but only one spare clip for each." Lance pressed his thumb on the bike's ignition, powering it up. "Stay close, conserve your fuel. Keep your radio on, but don't use it unless necessary. Stay alert and let's just get home."
The ride down the mountain was no problem for them with the low light sunglasses they both wore. The glasses had enough power to last all night, and they always carried spare batteries.
The one car they passed on the windy mountain road honked and flashed it's brights at them as they passed it. Lance wasn't sure if the driver was trying to say "Outta my way drek-head" or "go back up, the power is out all over" But the car passed without further incident, so it didn't really matter.
The main roadway below was nearly impassable. The grid system was clearly down and cars locked into it for guidance had simply come to a stop. Tommy and Lance passed several accidents as they wove through the stalled cars. Most of the accidents looked pretty minor and no one appeared to be injured beyond minor cuts and bruises. That was until they came upon a crushed bicycle laying in a pool of blood at one of the crosswalks. The unfortunate bicyclist was no where in sight though, so they passed on, continuing on their snails pace through the blocked roadway.
"At this rate it'll be morning by the time we get back" Tommy said, frowning.
Lance looked ahead, the maze of stalled cars continued for as far as he could see. "You're right" he said. "We'd better get off the main roadways. The side streets should be clearer."
They wove their way to the next intersection and turned off. The side streets were indeed clearer. Predictably, they were also more dangerous. Away from the honking and cursing of stranded drivers, they could hear the muffled shouts in the distance, and the sound of breaking glass.
In the corporate residential neighborhoods around Cougar Mountain the chaos was mostly limited. Parents walked the streets calling to children who suddenly weren't reachable on cell phones, stranded motorists trudged home, a few people even stood in the street looking up at the stars.
"You know where we're going?" Tommy asked, breaking radio silence.
"Vaguely" Lance replied. "I don't know these side streets. We need a map."
They rode in silence a little longer. None of the suburbanites looked as if they'd be particularly helpful, most of them took one look at the two bikers and tried to disappear into the background.
Lance had just about given up on the idea of asking someone when he noticed a large crowd. Several families were gathered in the front yard of a house, settled around an old-style charcoal grill. Lance headed toward them, keeping his speed slow so as not to startle them.
As he and Tommy approached, the carefree conversation and laughter slowly came to a stop. Lance pulled his bike to the side of the street nearby and held his hands out to his sides to show he didn't have a weapon. "Excuse me" he said.
Mothers pulled their children closer to them, everyone stared at him. On man looked frowning at the useless cellular phone on his belt.
"We don't want any trouble." Lance said, hoping it would assure them. "My friend and I just need directions, or even better, a map."
They stared at him for a moment, not sure what to make of the street monster in their neighborhood. Lance decided to ask a specific question. "Do you know where we can buy a map?"
Finally one man pointed up the street. "There's a gas station two blocks up that sells maps" he said.
That's probably about as much as we can hope for here Lance thought. "Thanks" he said and pulled the bike away. The suburbanites seemed to give a collective sigh of relief as the two bikers drove off. Slowly the conversations resumed.
Lance found the gas station easily. Of course with the power down, the pumps didn't work and neither did the cred-checkers. The station was dark, an old-fashioned "closed" sign hung inside the door.
Wordlessly, Lance pulled back onto the roadway.
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