the ride

Some of the afternoon’s sticky heat still lingers in the cool evening air. This July’s been a scorcher for Dallas, but all the sprawling lawns inside the Special Defense Zone are perfectly green.

Alex peels down the shining white access road into the heart of the SDZ. Tall white buildings flash and hum by him as his blazing white auto-bike rides itself into the white lot of the Dallas Command Center. The Command Center’s stoic white sidings and pure white roof glow beneath the crisp pink sky. The white auto-bike hums itself to a halt, depressurizes its white wheels, puffs up Alex’s cozy white seat. Optimal comfort. Alex pulls his soft white gloves off the sleek white handlebars as a brilliant white figure bounds out from the Command Center.

“Ay Alli!” The handsome white uniform calls over to him. “Christ, you really did come all the way out to Dallas!”

“Of course!” Alex hops off his bike and hurries over to Carson. “What, you thought I’d lie to you about taking time off service?”

“I mean a ‘lil.” Carson chuckles, holds Alex close in his cozy bear hug. “Been years since training and you haven’t taken a break since!”

Alex grins up at Carson’s tough bronze face and soft brown eyes. “Has been a while, hasn’t it?”

“That fresh Platinum Nova?” Carson nods at his hair. “You dye your hair just for me?”

“Maybe,” Alex scoffs. “Just felt like dying it this morning.”

“Well, looks real good.”

“Thanks.” Alex lets slip a small giggle. “You’ve grown yours out! Suave little mullet.”

“Mhm.” Carson giggles too.

“Nice beard, too. Very crisp.”

“Well thank ya,” Carson smiles. “Gave ‘er a little trim this morning. Thought you might like that.” Carson whistles back at the white auto-bike parked out on the white tiles of Command Center ‘s front lot. “Wow, that yours? Ya’ll got some slick-ass new equipment up there in Hudson.”

“Mhm, new model they gave me for this trip.” Alex marches Carson over to his bike to give him a quick tour. “Faster satellite connections, new neural integrations, better safety and defense systems. And very comfy auto-adjusting seat pads.” Alex pats the back seat. His clean white uniform sparkles at Carson.

“That an invitation?” Carson chuckles. “We goin’ for a ride?”

“I didn’t come all the way down to Dallas just to show you my new bike,” Alex chuckles back at him. “Hop on.”

The auto-bike purrs up at them as they take their seats. It re-pressurizes its tires, reads their bodies, adjusts its seats to their weight, fires up all its systems with a soft hum.

“Shit, you can barely even hear ‘er start!” Carson laughs as he tucks his arms around Alex’s waist. “How much range you have on this thing?”

Alex tilts his head back at him with a cheeky grin. “Infinite range. Recharges by satellite as you ride.”

“Goddamn!” Carson gasps as the bike makes a smooth turn and starts to roll out of the white lot. “Hope we’re gettin’ ’em down here in Dallas soon.”

“You will,” Alex nods. “They’re having me test run it a few times first.”

The auto-bike hums back up the white access road, past the solar panel farms and sharp white drones and tall white missiles and electric white cannons of the air yards, up the white access road and out of the Special Defense Zone, where Aeschylus feeds a gentle reminder into their eyes:




The neon pink sunset blushes across the cool desert. Their twinkling white bike cruises itself off the access road, merges onto a black-tiled freeway. Speeding fleets of windowless black freight trucks and armored sedans all rocket up the long black road alongside them.

“Where you thinkin’ of taking us?” Carson shouts ahead. “We goin’ into the city?”

“Nah.” Alex shakes his head, looks back up into Carson’s eyes. “I wanna go to the spot you told me about. Beyond the city walls.”

You wanna go out into the wastes?” Carson raises an eyebrow. “Commander Alex Altair, legendary good-boy, wants to go party out in the wastes?”

“I already had Aeschylus approve it,” Alex smiles at him. “Had to pull some strings with Murphy. And Asaju. But you said you wanted to go, so I got it approved for us.”

“Hell ya, let’s do it!” Carson chuckles. He sinks his hands deeper into Alex’s waist as the auto-bike shuttles them along the black road. “I haven’t been out to a desert party since I started service either. Shit can get wild though. You know what you’re gettin’ us into, right?”

“I know.” Alex nods. “I’m getting us away from our command decks for a while. Far away.”

The sunset glows from bright pink to pitch red as the auto-bike launches down the speedway at a steady 150 mph. Warm wind softly blows up their shining white helmets and hot blue visors as they ride deeper into the outer limits of Dallas. The overhead lights of the freeway flicker and flash by as they pass off-ramp after off-ramp. The sky fades from burning red to cool orange.

“You’re listening to SDZ 99: The Zone,” the radio announces in its strongest, toughest voice. A loud, chugging guitar riff bursts into their brains. Rough synth pads and techno chords pulse into the track as their bright white auto-bike outruns all the passing fleets of self-driving trucks on the long black highway.

“You gettin’ back into this kind of music lately?” Carson hollers from behind. “Blastin’ campy old synth punk on your radio all the time?”

“No,” Alex laughs. “I’m not that much of a dork. Just checkin’ out your local channels.” Alex thinks of switching to a talk channel. An angry voice shouts into their heads:

“Now Davis Cole—that was Carson Cole’s daddy by the way, was a big infamous tech billionaire during the War—before he died, Davis Cole built that whole compound north of Dallas so the World Union could—”

“This is Jon Johnson’s show,” Carson chuckles. “He’s a local conspiracy guy. Rotten-ass grifter. Talks shit about us and everyone else at Global Command all the time, but he’s just trying to hawk his supplements and energy drinks. Real piece of work.”


“Let’s change the channel,” Alex rolls his eyes. “He’s a bit too loud for me.”

A smooth, steady beat bounces and ripples through their eyes. Gentle drums and snares slide into the track. A low bass pops and grooves in the background. The hot, jazzy rhythm swells as the wasteland sprawls out before them. Gun shops, liquor stores, and boarded up old houses fly by off the sides of the speedway as the auto-bike rockets them deeper into the outskirts of Dallas. The overhead lamps grow dim. The orange sunset fades into a hazy purple twilight. The bass and drums and beats all hum and sing as they ride further into the night.

“I like this one,” Carson calls ahead to Alex. He sinks his fingers deeper into Alex’s hips as the auto-bike picks up its speed to 200. “I’m on a bit of a funk kick these days.”

“Oh ya?” Alex grins. “What funk you been listening to?”

“Mostly local stuff. Dallas has a great funk revival scene, no AI-assisted shit, just people jammin’ out in the desert. Some of ’em even press their own vinyl out in the RV parks.”

“People are living out there?” Alex raises an eyebrow. “How do they survive in the desert like that?”

“Lots of ways,” Carson shrugs. “Solar rigs, water trains, desalination trucks. Aeroponics farms. Some of those little towns out there got it all figured out.”

“That where we’re going? One of those little towns?” Alex glances down at the GPS coordinates that Carson locked into the auto-bike. There’s nothing on the map there at all. No towns, no roads, no labels. Only the desert.

“Not quite. We’re goin’ a ways outside of one of those towns.” Carson hugs Alex close from behind.  “Tiny lil’ oasis party in the middle of nowhere. I promise you’ll like it.”

“Oh ya?” Alex gazes back at him with a smile. “How you so sure?”

Carson gazes back into Alex. “Cuz you hate bein’ holed up in your Command Deck so much. You’ll love the desert. I promise, Alli.”

Alex grins back at him. The twilight grows darker. The black of night slowly ascends from the horizon. The crumbling concrete blocks of old Dallas fade away behind them as the road ahead narrows. The overhead lights vanish. The ghostly space where the edge of the World Union meets the wasteland.

Night mode,” the auto-bike chimes into their heads. Headlights beam into the black road ahead of them. Their curved white seats fold deeper into the bike, gliding closer to the ground. Two white plasma cannons subtly click and arm themselves on either side of the bike. Swarms of white micro-drones brace for deployment, all hived away and hidden beneath the wheel wells. The soft hum of the engine cruises back down to a cautious 150 mph.

“You ready for the desert?” Carson asks. An old diesel truck crawls up the other side of the road. Eerie dead buildings speed by them in the dark. Unmarked bars and seedy tents and ruined mini-malls with barren parking lots. Aeschyus flashes a strange string of notices into their eyes:


> Seeking authorization to exit World Union Territory [CMDR Altair & CMDR Cole] . . . 

> Authorization granted

> Desyncing from Dallas_SDZ control node . . .

> Desync successful

> Syncing to satellite control node . . .

> WARNING: Sync to satellite failed!

> Control node error!