With each second that passed, he was getting more nervous.
As he made his last circuit around the ATV, Trip Tucker fought the urge to fidget. This was his plan, after all, and both his and T’Pol’s life were at stake. It wasn’t the first time he’d been responsible for someone else; the advanced command training he’d received had been intended to make him more comfortable with the notion of having another’s life in his hands, but this felt different somehow.
“I have finished,” T’Pol announced, her voice reassuringly calm. She stepped through the doorway leading to the kitchen of the shattered building they’d taken refuge in hours earlier, a crate balanced easily in her good hand. The soft clink of bottles bumping against one another was evidence of what she’d been doing for the last hour and a half, but Trip kept his eyes on his own task. Metal plates, scavenged from the ruins of other buildings and vehicles, had been secured over the most vulnerable spots on the tri-wheeled vehicle. This haphazard armor would slow the trike down more than he liked, but would hopefully provide some minor protection against the small arms fire of the guards most likely to be at the checkpoint. He had also rigged it so the armor could be cut free quickly once they were out of the city.
“That’s great,” Trip murmured softly, too distracted to really notice her comment. He tapped one of the metal plates and pulled on the leather cord holding it in place, again wondering if it would hold. When T’Pol cleared her throat in an obvious attempt to get his attention, Tucker glanced up from where he knelt alongside the ATV. The Vulcan stood silently next to the passenger door, still balancing the crate with one hand. With her injured arm immobilized by the sling he’d fashioned earlier, she needed his assistance in securing her package.
“Sorry,” he mumbled as he stood and reached for the crate. Almost at once, he recoiled at the stench drifting from the bottles. “Damn,” he groused while maneuvering the crate into place. “What the hell is this stuff?”
“Potassium nitrate,” the Vulcan replied smoothly, “phosphorous, and trace elements of calcium phosphide.” She stepped back to give him more room. “It is rudimentary,” T’Pol added, “but should serve accomplish the task.”
“They look like Molotov cocktails,” Trip mused. Satisfied the crate was reasonably secure, he began leveraging himself out of the ATV.
“An apt comparison,” T’Pol answered. She donned an almost proud expression, though Trip suspected she’d claim it was anything but if pressed about it. “The compound should combust when exposed to oxygen and resist efforts to extinguish it.”
“Greek fire,” Tucker identified with some surprise. “You made Greek fire.”
“Technically,” his companion retorted, “I made Vulcan fire. We were using it centuries before your Greeks first developed it.” She gave him a sidelong glance. “I am surprised you are familiar with it, however. There is little engineering use for such a compound.”
“My mom is a chemist,” Trip admitted. “And Malcolm might have mentioned it once or twice.” He frowned at the pile of books she’d stored in the ATV already cramped cargo compartment; alongside the fuel canisters he’d relocated to the inside of the vehicle, the books had been found in the bombed out home and T’Pol had quickly decided to keep them for intelligence purposes. “I’m not even gonna point out how much those’ll slow us down,” he remarked.
“Good,” T’Pol stated with a hint of smugness in her voice. There was no trace of it on her face when Trip gave her a sour look, but he knew he hadn’t imagined it.
“Ready?” he asked instead. She nodded and climbed into the passenger seat. With the crate of bottles at her feet, she would have ready access to them. Trip leaned in to help her secure the seat harness, ignoring the flicker of annoyance that flashed across her face; it was little more than a tightening of her eyes, but he had learned to read the subtle clues that revealed her mood. She offered no verbal complaint, however, which revealed to Tucker how much her gunshot wound was hurting.
Once more, Trip frowned at the rudimentary door plate he’d cobbled together for T’Pol’s protection. It was little more than a metal slat tied to the trike’s frame and he worried it wouldn’t work. When the Vulcan gave him what he perceived to be an impatient look, though, he decided they would have to risk it. He climbed into the driver’s seat and spent a few minutes tying his own door plate shut.
At his side, T’Pol was comparing the readouts on her scanner with a paper map of the city she’d acquired from somewhere, probably the garage they’d vacated hours earlier. Despite the danger they were voluntarily heading into, she looked completely at ease, as if this was just another scouting mission aboard Enterprise. Trip grabbed the two levers that served as steering for the trike so she wouldn’t see his hands shake.
“We should make for this exit point,” T’Pol announced, her fingers tracing a route along a brightly-colored line on the map of the city. “It is the closest to our current position and has a direct line to the northern highway out of the city.”
“That means the army outside the city will be watching it pretty closely,” Trip pointed out.
“Agreed,” she answered, “which is why we won’t remain on the main highway longer than necessary.” She pointed to several other different-colored lines on the map, all outside the actual city proper if he was interpreting the map’s symbols correctly. “There are numerous smaller junctions available.”
“And this thing is supposed to be an ATV,” Tucker admitted. He started the engine and inhaled deeply. His pulse began beating loudly in his ears and he swallowed the lump that appeared in his throat.
“Relax, Charles,” T’Pol instructed, once again using his given name. Trip didn’t know why it thrilled him to hear her call him something other than ‘mister’ or ‘commander’, but it did. He wondered if he could convince her to do it more often; after all, it was only a short step from Charles to Trip.
“Aye aye, ma’am,” he smiled.
As expected, the fighting had mostly died down throughout the city and thunder was rolling out of the darkening sky with frightening rapidity. The streets leading to T’Pol’s selected exit point were pockmarked with impact craters from artillery strikes and aerial bombs, forcing Trip to maneuver the trike around them. He kept their speed relatively low as they inched toward the target; when it came into sight, he studied it for a brief, extended second.
Constructed of brick or concrete or something similar, the fortifications had clearly been designed to keep someone out of the city, not in. Over two meters in height, it was little more than a thick wall planted squarely in the middle of the main thoroughfare leading out of the city and down the mesa’s incline. What looked like machine gun nests were at the top of the wall and there was even a place for a larger artillery piece. A conveniently-placed ramp led to the top of the fortification and looked to be used to ferry ammunition to the cannon. In its prime, it would have been impressive and might have even resembled some of the beach fortifications Trip had seen in old World War II movies, but the damage to it was so extensive he doubted it could keep a bored cow from entering. One entire side had nearly collapsed and the rest of the wall seemed to sag under the weight of that missing section. A smoking tracked vehicle that had probably once been a tank of some sort at one time partially blocked the collapsed section, but wasn’t large enough to do anything but slow someone down.
“Now!” T’Pol urged and Tucker obeyed without hesitation. He gunned the engine and the trike jumped forward eagerly. There was a flurry of motion as the locals walking the perimeter scrambled out of the way of the ATV, clearly caught by surprise. Without encountering the slightest of resistance, the trike shot through the gap in the wall and they raced down the road leading out of the city.
Mere seconds later, Trip could see a second fortification looming near the bottom of the mesa road and, beyond it, even more movement that was undoubtedly the attackers of the city. Unlike the previous one, this wall appeared to be more recent and rudimentary, a base camp that had grown up around the highway barricade. Tucker doubted it was more than sandbags, but his breath caught when dozens of armed figures rushed to man defensive positions. Alarms began to wail and the steady report of automatic weapons began echoing with the thunder. Dirt exploded around the trike and the vehicle rocked as slugs impacted against the crudely fashioned armor. Trip reacted instinctively and pulled back hard on the left steering lever, instantly causing the trike to fishtail into a slide.
T’Pol was acting even before he realized it, hurling one of her Molotov cocktails with impeccable aim. The spherical-shaped bottle smashed against the sandbag barrier and erupted in a bright orange-red flame. Shouts of surprise joined the gunfire, but Trip was too busy aiming the trike at the burning section to notice. At the last instant, he jerked the ATV into another skidding slide, radically changing their direction. This close to the barrier, the attackers couldn’t bring their weapons to bear without threatening their allies, and Trip took advantage of that as he raced toward a small gap in the wall he’d just noticed. Moving just under seventy kilometers per hour, the trike slammed into the crudely erected barrier.
A half-second later, they were airborne.
The impact of the ATV hitting the ground and rolling drove the air from Trip’s lungs, but he kept the accelerator mashed to the floor. With a loud crack, one of the metal plates was ripped free as the trike rolled across the ground and Tucker cursed loudly when one of T’Pol’s books smacked him in the back of his head. Another metal plate came free, and another, but they were suddenly upright once more. The wheels of the trike kicked up great gouts of dirt as they found purchase and the ATV surged forward, the sudden acceleration pushing Trip back in his seat.
Almost leisurely, T’Pol hurled another of her makeshift explosives, this time aiming it at a trio of parked military trikes. Fire engulfed the three off-road vehicles instantly and Trip slewed their trike around to give her a shot at anther group of parked ATVs. This time, she overshot and the triangular-shaped bottle smashed against the ground, exploding into fire almost instantly but accomplishing little beyond adding to the chaos.
Recognizing that they were running out of time, Trip angled the trike toward the highway leading away from the city and gunned the engine. With a squeal of rubber against pavement, the ATV darted forward just as T’Pol hurled a fourth Molotov cocktail at the group of vehicles she missed with the previous one. This time, her aim was true.
Risking a glance behind him, Trip cursed at sight of a pair of four-wheeled groundcars rapidly accelerating after them. He gave T’Pol a quick glance, noting instantly that she was down to her last makeshift explosive. She hefted it, gave their pursuers a look and then simply dropped the glass container onto the pavement beside the ATV.
A wall of fire seemed to erupt directly behind them as the trike raced down the highway and, when the two groundcars emerged through it, their tires were already ablaze. One of them slowed to a stop almost immediately followed soon after by the second one. Trip glanced back and smiled when he saw the crews of the vehicles trying to extinguish the flames rapidly engulfing their vehicles.
“We did it!” he exulted to a still calm-looking T’Pol. She raised an eyebrow, though Trip could see the flush of excitement in her eyes.
“Now we must focus on the difficult part,” she commented. “Evasion.”
As if in agreement, thunder rolled out of the sky.