"Hey, Epsilon," said Zeta, tapping his shoulder. The two dropped back behind the other kids, walking at the rear of the tour group.
"You seen Chi?"
"Yeah. She was in the earlier tour group, so they're probably further ahead."
"Heh-heh," grinned Epsilon, elbowing him. "Better watch it, lady-killer, or Delta'll get mad!"
"What are you talking about, I've never killed anyone before, never mind a lady!"
"No, no, that's just a saying. I heard some of the scientists call you that, since all the girls like you."
Oh. Okay? But why would Delta get mad?"
"Dude, she's always looking at you"
"Wait a sec: where is Delta?"
Both of them looked around as the group turned a corner on the metal walkway. "
I don't see her," said Epsilon.
Zeta sucked his teeth. "Crap. She's skipping again. She must've left after the headcount. If she gets caught again, she'll be in loads of trouble. I'mma go find her. If the teacher asks about us, tell her I escorted her to the bathroom."
"Yeah, sure, mother-hen."
Zeta frowned at his friend as he slowly backed away. "Where do you keep getting all these weird sayings
?" He turned and quietly trotted off.
Delta had gotten more and more troublesome lately. She had always been quiet, shy, and gentle by nature, but ever since she had been separated into the covert ops training group when they were eight, she'd developed a cold, hard outer shell. He easily saw through it, of course, but he knew that ultimately that kind of mask would only do her harm.
Zeta began checking her usual spots. Despite the fact that she and many of the others had been trained extensively in espionage, Zeta could always find any of them, since they'd all known each other since birth. Delta had always preferred high spots where she could see what was going on. Walking out into the bright sunlight, Zeta shielded his eyes and looked around. The power plant was far removed from the rest of the complex, and the closest lookout point was a few miles away. The main base wasn't much further, and while Zeta definitely would rather have caught up with Chi, he knew that he needed to stop by and see if Delta was alright, chew her out a bit. He sighed and began trotting down the sandy road.
Sure enough, Delta was at the lookout tower, sitting under the camera near the top so she wouldn't be seen. He knew she must have seen him coming, but she didn't acknowledge him. Zeta skirted around the camera's viewing range, approached the tower from the rear, then circled around to climb the ladder. Before getting into the range of a lower mounted camera, he hopped to the side, sidling along on a narrow ledge until he reached some small handholds that Delta had made herself years ago. A minute later, he was standing next to the dejected young woman.
"Delta," Zeta sighed.
"Zeta," she said crisply.
Zeta sighed again, dropping down next to her. "What's bothering you?"
Delta spat out a dismissive sound. "Not like you care."
Genuinely hurt that she would think that, he frowned. "Of course I care. You think I'd run a few miles through the desert to see about you if I didn't care?"
Delta almost snapped at him, but held her tongue, not wanting to give away her feelings through an angry retort. She let out a frustrated sigh and stared off into the distance.
"So come on, talk to me."
She glared at him, then out at the desert. "
The guy I like likes another girl."
I'm sorry to hear that." Was that the correct thing to say? I'm no good with this sort of thing
Delta shrugged roughly. "He's liked her for years, even though I've liked him longer. Anyway, I just found something out about her that'll devastate him
and probably make him more likely to notice me
but it's possible for her to hide it and for him to never know. I don't know what to do
As Zeta was thinking of a suitable response, there was suddenly a blinding flash of light from the power plant, and an earthshaking explosion burst forth, sending sand flying across the desert. As the shockwave approached them, Zeta grabbed Delta and held her close against the wall, shielding her with his body. The tower swayed gently, the metal groaning, but after several seconds, the worst had passed and they were able to risk a look at the power plant.
In its place was a huge mushroom cloud.
The two teenagers stood staring at it in awe for endless moments, watching the billowing cloud rise into the air
and seeing some of it blow towards the compound. Moving around the tower to get a better look at the compound, they saw escape shuttles lifting into the air.
"Crap, they're evacuating!" cried Zeta. Snatching Delta by the wrist, he dragged her over to the ladder, yelling, "Come on, we gotta hurry!" He swung onto the ladder and began sliding down, holding on to the outer railing. Delta followed closely after him.
They ran fast and hard, pushing themselves harder than they ever had before as more and more ships rose into the sky, but when they reached the hangar, it was silent and empty. Delta looked around, speechless, but Zeta grabbed her wrist again and took her to the communications room. He got on the radio to try to contact one of the ships, but, "Coms are fried." Zeta grabbed Delta once more and dragged her up onto the nearest easily accessible roof. Looking up as the lowest ship just pulled into the clouds, Zeta didn't even bother trying to wave them down. Zeta sighed and ran his hand back across the red stubble on his head.
Delta finally dropped to the ground, silent tears running down her cheeks, body exhausted, and totally despondent. After several minutes of eerie silence, Delta spoke, her voice barely above a whisper.
They left us. I can't believe they left us. How
how could they just
"They didn't know where we were," Zeta answered calmly, towering over her. "According to any records they would have had, we were supposed to be on that field trip, and should have been in the plant when it exploded." Images of his friends and comrades that he'd just lostmost painfully Chicame unbidden to his mind, but he forced them away before he broke down in tears. "There's no way they could've known we both skipped it."
"We're gonna die, aren't we? Out here, all by ourselves. We're sixteen; we're only kids."
"Wrong," Zeta said, a hard edge creeping into his voice. "We're sixteen; we're adults. We were trained and educated since birth to be self-sufficient. Provided our resources weren't contaminated, we should be able to live out the rest of our natural lives here. There's more than enough fertile land to support us, and from the sounds of it, they left most of the animals behind." He paused, allowing Delta to listen. Her long ears picked up brays and baas and more. "Even if they hadn't, we can hunt down the indigenous life, and as I remember, you're quite skilled in the kitchen. The manufacturing plants are almost entirely automated, and we both know how to maintain them.
"We have abundant water, either through the river or from desalinization of the sea water. The backup power plant runs clean, using natural resources, and although it doesn't produce as much as the other plant did, it'll still be plenty since it's just the two of us here. As for anything we don't already know how to do, there's a huge library of information at our fingertips. In short, we can carry on. It may be hard work, but we've got nothing but time to perfect our skills. Now stand up, come with me, and let's get started." He offered her his hand.
Delta stared at it a second, then took it, and Zeta helped her to her feet.
"You ready?" he smiled.
Slowly, Delta returned it. "Sir, yes, sir."