Sixty seconds later Maxine had her rifle out and propped on the top of the perimeter wall. She turned the knob on the side of the scope, bringing Nathan’s retreating form into focus.
Down below Samuel Iverson turned the key in the pickup truck’s ignition. There came the rattle of the engine trying to start, but nothing more.
“Jackie!” he called out the window furiously.
“It’ll work, it’ll work,” the greasy mechanic said, fumbling under the hood. “Sometimes it just needs a little extra teasing.”
“We don’t have time for–“
“Try it now!”
Samuel turned the ignition and this time the engine sputtered to life. Two of the New Denver guards hopped into the back and Samuel drove out the gate of the city, and up to the city’s western wall. He idled there at the edge of the salt flats, waiting to see if Maxine would be able to make her shot.
“Alright,” Maxine squinted through the scope, “everybody be quiet now…”
The view she saw was anything but clear. At this range and with this heat there was a wide haze that smeared Nathan’s figure across the glass, making it appear as if his feet connected with the ground thirty feet to the left of his head.
Maxine held her breath, settling the crosshairs at the center of Nathan’s streaked figure, then slowly pulled the trigger.
Nathan jumped in surprise as the bullet whizzed through the air and impacted on the ground, just ahead of him and a bit to the left. Against all of his instincts, Nathan froze on the spot, hands extended for balance as he felt the earth through his feet, checking for the rumbling of a worm coming to investigate the gunshot. It took every ounce of self-control to hold steady when he was sure a second bullet was soon to follow, but the unseen adversary was more dangerous than the known one.
Back at the New Denver perimeter Maxine grunted in frustration.
“Anyone happen to see where that bullet went?”
No one spoke, but a few shrugged or shook their heads.
“I know the haze makes it hard, but anyone with binoculars, try to help me pick it out.”
She loaded locked the next bullet into the chamber, settled her cheek against the gun, and fired once more.
“There it is,” Maxine watched the haze-smeared plume of powder unfurling in her sights. “Correct for the haze…fifteen feet to the right and slightly down.”
Nathan kept his feet stationary, but furiously fumbled in his backpack, opening one of the secret compartments at its bottom.
“You idiots!” he whisper-hissed.
If they summoned the beast here, he would have no choice but to use his weapon immediately, and at this range he could not guarantee that the city would survive the fallout of doing so! Nathan’s shaking hands found what they were looking for and withdrew a circular, metallic device from the backpack. This was not the actual weapon, though, it was only a sonic beacon.
“We’ll try it,” he said as he placed it on the ground, “but if this doesn’t work, then you brought whatever else follows on your own heads!”
He flipped a switch, starting the device charging, then he turned and started to run.
The third bullet ricocheted right between his feet. The shooter was finally finding her mark!
“That one was low,” Maxine huffed as she locked the next bullet in the chamber. “Just barely, though.”
“He’s running again,” one of the nearby guards announced.
“Hmph, it’s too late for that now.”
Nathan juked to the left at just the right time and the next bullet pierced through the air where he had been a fraction of a second before.
“Ha!” Maxine scoffed. “He’s been timing me. Alright…” she let a few seconds slide by before readying her next shot. “Now when do you think I’m going to shoot?”
Down below, Samuel Iverson had had enough.
“Four shots…she’s not going to get him,” he decided. “Hold on tight!” And with that he slammed the gas pedal down and the vehicle roared out onto the salt.
Up above Maxine cried out in frustration. “I’LL GET HIM! I’LL GET HIM!” But the guards in the back of the truck just shrugged at her.
Out on the arid plains Nathan glanced over his shoulder at the sound of the engine roaring to life and saw the truck entering the field.
Full acceleration…third of a mile out…it’ll be here in thirty seconds… he thought to himself as he continued juking and spinning at random. In his hand he held the remote to activate the sonic beacon, but he needed to time it correctly.
“Come on, come on,” Maxine muttered, twitching the scope left and right with Nathan as he continued to move erratically forward. “Wait for it, wait for it…” She settled into a cadence where she was sure the scope was never pointing more than a foot or two from Nathan’s center of mass. Then she watched, waiting for the next juke. Once he did another one of those, his motion would be consistent for a second or two, and that would be all the time she needed.
Fourteen… Nathan counted in his head. Fifteen… He punched the button on the remote the sonic beacon he had left behind gave a tremendous soundwave that reverberated into the ground. Then Nathan half-spun to the left, but pulled out of it early, and sprinted striaght forward.
The bullet thudded dully into his shoulder and he slammed into the ground, sending up a cloud of salt. His arm was throbbing terribly…but…so was the ground.
“He’s down sir,” a guard in the back of the truck shouted up to the cab.
“He might not be dead!” Samuel called back.
“Maxine can finish him,” the other guard replied, pointing back to city. As he did so his face fell. From here he could barely make out the sight of the people standing on the Western wall, but they were just clear enough that he could tell they were all waving their arms, crossing and un-crossing them…like they were giving a warning. Only then did he notice that there was a rumbling under his feet aside from the humming of the truck’s engine.
“WORM!” he shrieked as the truck passed over the sonic beacon.
The entire ground exploded upwards fifty feet away. At first all one could see was the cloud of salt, but then, bursting out of its midst, a huge and terrible worm streaked through the air! Its exoskeleton was broad, segmented, and shiny, wrapping a long body that ended in a head that was fifteen feet wide, with huge, serrated mandibles. Long antenna extended from the top of the head and reached out through the air, feeling every tremor…even every heartbeat.