A cool, Griddish wind blew through Fredrick’s hair as he gripped the horn like extrusions that jutted from the head of his Vérkatros. Jillian wrapped her arms around his chest and pressed her shoulders against his back. He could hear her thin, raspy breath in his ear and feel its warm tickle. Just like when we were in San Francisco. He smiled for a moment, as images of bumpy, potholed roads and an old rattly Vespa flashed through his memory. He remembered Opal, the first time he saw her in that little alley that probably existed no longer. He remembered those words, about his life, about Jillian, and how little time they actually had together. He remembered Opal’s body, and how Rive cradled it as if she were cradling her own child. He felt his throat tighten and tears well up in his eyes.
“It’s all gone now,” he mumbled. Everything I’ve ever known has disappeared. Except Jillian. I have her, and maybe that’s all I need. He reached his hand towards her arm and stroked it. She tightened her grasp and pulled herself closer to him. Fredrick smiled gently, his body tingled, and he felt a momentary sense of lightness inside.
In front and to the right of him, on her own Vérkatros, sat Rive, her dark hair fluttering in the wind. Her back was straight, her posture regal, her nose and chin held high, her jaw clenched. Behind her, facing Fredrick and Jillian, sat Cythiria, her knees pulled close to her chest. She gazed with dark eyes at Fredrick then Jillian, then back again, observing, studying, as if trying to burn to memory every detail that she could collect while she could.
In the distance, the needle-like tower, the Slipshot silo stretched towards the dome, its smooth, featureless surface glimmering in the gentle Griddish light. Near its very tip, a portal, like an eye, cast its wide gaze over the whole of Griddish.
Along the grassy plains the two Vérkatrae hovered, until they arrived at the edge of the platform of the Slipshot silo. The Vérkatrae paused and Fredrick dismounted, jumping from the machine’s back and landing with an echoing thunk! on the metal tiled surface. He lifted his arms and caught Jillian, pulling her down and setting her next to him. Rive Amber also dismounted and Cythiria hopped off the rump of the Vérkatros like a small insect.
Fredrick glanced around. “This isn’t the Slipshot to Earth,” he said. The hills were different here, flatter, and the air was stale. The platform was devoid of Vérkatrae and Mechanics, with only a gentle breeze filling the otherwise empty space.
“Indeed,” said Rive.
“So why are we here?” Fredrick pressed.
Rive scoffed. “To give you a second chance at life....”