Sheppard and Amber with the unconscious Malcolm Buck still in tow, raced toward the direction they had heard the explosions and seen the plumes of smoke ascend skyward.
Ahead of them, beyond the next turn, they could see the burned-out shell of a truck still smouldering, its side riddled with bullets in the aftermath of a violent attack. The wreckage of vehicles and equipment seemed to be everywhere in a sudden downpour of twisted and blackened metal strewn about the road and forest. Some of the shrapnel hung, or was embedded in nearby trees.
Sheppard slowed the bike to a crawl and manoeuvred through the pylons of debris in the remnants, of what seemed to be, a road block now vacant of life. A few flaming brands still burned with the crackle of a brush fire, but outside of that there didn’t appear to be any one left manning the post.
He turned off the bike and he and Amber slowly climbed off. The smell of diesel permeated the air and puddles of oil and fuel seeped into various tributaries along their path. Sheppard pulled Grant’s gun from the satchel and held it out in front of him just in case. He had dialled back the setting from it’s medium position to a minimal one, in hopes that if he had to use it, it would only incapacitate and not kill. "Stay behind me Amber. Be cautious....What the hell happened here?"
Amber almost jumped with glee. "Rabbit. He did this."
Sheppard crouched down by a blackened impression that nearly took up the entire road. "Judging from some of the craters and the depth of the impact, I’d have to say the attack came from the air. There’s no way Rabbit is responsible for this."
"I’m telling you, this was Rabbit helping us. I don't know how he did, but I feel it."
Sheppard cocked his head to the side as if trying to decide how to respond to the absurdity of her comment. He rose to his feet and shook his head in disbelief. The two walked further, circumventing the crater and avoiding several puddles of fuel. They searched among the rubble looking for signs of life while Malcolm Buck slept soundly in the trailer behind the ATV. There didn't seem to be any casualties, just riddled metal, disabled machinery and a graveyard of empty shell casings crunching beneath their feet.
"Whatever it was,or whoever it was that did this, everyone else sure cut and run pretty quick." Sheppard noted the tire tacks that cut into the dirt heading north.
"See, just like Rabbit said. Stick to the roads and we'd be safe."
"OK Amber. I`m not going to debate you. I'll just thank our lucky stars we can get beyond this point. Come on, let's go."
The two turned back to the ATV as a cloud of dust kicked up from the direction they had just come from. A camouflaged jeep emerged from the cumulus and raced up. It skidded to a halt near the hulking silhouette of Malcolm Buck and the ATV. Two men in hazmat suits jumped from the vehicle brandishing machine guns. "Stay where you are! Don`t move!"
Amber and Sheppard stopped dead in the middle of the road. Sheppard whispered to Amber, "get behind me." She did as she was told and slid in behind Sheppard.
One of the men commanded. "You there! Drop your weapon!" He motioned at Grant's gun.
"OK! Don't shoot! There's a young girl here!" Sheppard used his thumb to crank the dial up to a maximum setting, then held his arms out in Jesus Christ pose as if to surrender the fire arm. "Amber, I want you to run for cover as soon as you can."
The soldier barked his order again, "Drop...your...weapon...NOW!"
"What? This old thing?" Sheppard squeezed the trigger and sent a blast into a nearby disabled army truck as Amber scurried to the protection of an armoured turret decapitated from the body of a tank. The blast from Grant's gun blew the hood of the truck right off in a shower of sparks and flame, sending a towering column of smoke into the heavens.
The two men looked in awe at the damage the weapon had just caused then turned to one another.
Sheppard pointed the weapon at the two men. "Still want me to drop it? I'm not afraid to die. I've been dead once already today."
Sheppard fired another shot into the road hitting a river of diesel between the ATV and the jeep. A wall of flame sprang up from the ground cutting the road in two.
Quickly the soldiers backed up and got into their vehicle, jamming it into reverse. They retreated back down the road the way they'd come, spitting gravel as they did.
Sheppard reached out his hand to Amber. "Come on we don`t have much time. They'll be back with reinforcements. I'd wager on it."
Sheppard and the girl ran to the ATV. He climbed aboard and pulled Amber up, setting her behind him.
He fired up the engine and pulled away heading for the other side of the road block, pulling past the various craters to open road once more. In the distance more explosions bellowed and Sheppard cranked the bike to a maximum speed while Malcolm Buck's body jumped in the trailer from every bump. Amber hung on to Sheppard for dear life. "Slow down!"
"We can't afford to," Sheppard yelled above the rush of air. "We have no...."
There was another series of explosions from somewhere off in the distance and a rumbling as if the earth were about to give way beneath their feet. Sheppard open the bike up full throttle and pressed on, his tattered shreds of shirt blowing in the wind. A tingling seemed to come right through his fingers from the handle bars of the bike and he was finding in increasingly difficult to keep control. His hands and feet felt numb and unresponsive. All about them the ground seemed to be shaking as from the tremor of an earthquake and the bike bounced as if riding over an uneven ripple of rock. Another blast wave hit. Trees began to topple over in front of them, crashing to the road with vehement force.
"What the hell is this now?!" Sheppard swerved to miss them, but the weight of the trailer and its cargo, made avoidance impossible. the ATV struck several branches and turned on its side sending the bodies of Sheppard, Amber and Malcolm Buck airborne into the ditch.
The world around them went black.