No Man's Land
By: Jim Bates

This ten-part SF series has to do with the impact of global warming on one family in the year 2220.

The story so far:

Episode 1 - At the Biodome
We meet Quinn an engineer at a wind farm and his son Matt on a field trip and learn about life in the year 2220.

Episode 2 - The Test
We meet Karen and learn about Quinn and Karen's life together.

Episode 3 - Millennium Microbial
We learn about Karen's job as a biochemist working on improving the world's food supply and meet Jen.

Episode 4 - The History Center
Quinn kidnaps Matt on a field trip and goes on the run.

Episode 5 - The Hideout
Karen visits Quinn and Matt at their hideout and makes a big decision.

Episode 6 - Preparations Are Made
Jen joins Quinn and Karen and Matt and they get ready to escape from the city.

Episode 7 - Fugitives
Quinn and Karen and Matt and Jen leave their hideout and make their way to edge of the city near the Food Storage Facility, one step closer to escaping the World Order Security Police who are looking for them.

Episode 8 - Escape
Quinn and Karen and Matt and Jen make it past the security forces safely only to be confronted with the wasteland known as No Man's Land.

Episode 9

By mid-afternoon, Quinn and Karen and Matt and Jen had traveled about five miles west from where they'd escaped through the fence surrounding the food storage warehouse at the edge of the city. They were now making their way across the bleak desert landscape known as No Man's Land. Quinn's canvas shoes kicked up dust as he walked. The rocky, sunbaked ground was tearing them up and they wouldn't last much longer. Then what would he do? He tried not to think about it and instead focused on the people under his care.

Matt, his five-year-old son had given in to exhaustion so Quinn was carrying him on his shoulders with one of his shirts draped over the boy's head for protection from the sun. A hot wind blew sand that bounced off the glass eye-shields of their gas masks. Up ahead, Quinn watched his wife Karen and her friend Jen. Their hunched over, shuffling gait, told the whole story: not only was their mood grim, they were also about at the end of their rope. And the mountains in the distance they were heading for weren't getting any closer.

To make matters worse, the dust was clogging the filters in everyone's gas masks making it hard to breathe.

"I hate these things! Let's get rid of them," Jen said, angerly starting to remove hers.

Karen put out a hand to stop her. "Look, I know they're uncomfortable, but let's leave them on until we get further away from the city. You never know what pollutants there are out here." She pointed behind her. "We've only come about five miles."

Jen stomped her foot throwing up a cloud of dust. "Fine!" Then she moderated her tone. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're right. I'm just tired. Let's at least rest and have some water." She pointed toward Matt. "He's being a real trooper, but I'm sure he could use a break."

"I'm okay," he said from his dad's shoulders. Then he started coughing. "I am a little thirsty, though."

"I think we could all use a break," Quinn said. "Let's sit over there in the shade of that boulder."

He set Matt down and took off the boy's gas mask and his own while Karen and Jen did the same. Then the three adults took off their back packs and sprawled out on the hard ground, utterly spent.

After resting a minute, Jen started to regain her energy. She sat up and looked around, "I can see why they call this place No Man's Land." Then she took a bottle of water from her pack and handed it to Karen. "It's the ugliest place I've ever seen."

"Yeah, even more so than the city," Karen said, unscrewing the cap and taking a drink. "It's hot, too." She gave the bottle to Matt who drank it all in about half a minute.

"Thanks, Mom," he gasped. "I guess I was pretty thirsty."

Jen handed a bottle to Quinn who took a sip and then and splashed a handful of water on his face to cool off. His hand came away filthy from the dust. He rubbed it on his pants leg and pointed behind them in the direction they'd come from. "At least we made it past the security guards."

"Yeah, but now what?" Jen asked. She pointed west toward the mountain range about fifteen miles away. "That's a long way to walk. Especially in these conditions."

"I know," Karen said, cradling Matt who was nodding off into an exhausted sleep even though it was the middle of the day. She turned to Quinn. "What do you think? Can we make it?"

"We've got to. We have no other choice."

He looked out over the brown, burnt out wasteland. Desolate was putting it mildly. He saw no living things. The desert was hostile and barren, covered in rocks and sand and gravel, with the only visual relief boulders like the one they were resting next to and the occasional hill and rock outcropping.

The land to the west slopped toward the foothills with the mountains rising tall behind them. Quinn was looking in that direction wondering if they had it in them to make the arduous journey when he spotted a plume of dust rising in the distance. Something was coming toward them. Karen saw it, too.

"Look," she pointed.

"What is it?" Jen stood up and shielded her eyes.

"I don't know," Quinn said, "But I have feeling it can't be good." He pointed to a nearby outcropping of rocks. "Let's climb up there just to be on the safe side."

"And hide," Karen added.

"Yeah. That, too," Quinn said, grimacing, trying unsuccessfully to cover his mounting apprehension.

They stood up and put their masks on. Matt was so tired Quinn had to carry him. Karen and Jen hurried ahead, scrambling over rocks and large boulders as they climbed to the top of the outcropping before realizing that Quinn needed help with Matt so they went back down to assist him. When they were all together they crouched down, breathing hard, about thirty feet above the floor of the desert.

Angerly Jen pulled off her mask. "I can barely breathe," she said, sucking in air.

Karen took off the filter assembly. "It's clogged with dust. Let me put a new one in for you." She reached into her pack, took out a clean filter and put it in before handing it back. "Here you go."

While Karen was helping Jen, Quinn was watching the approaching cloud of dust. "Karen, let me have your phone." She handed it over and Quinn switched on the binocular function before peering through it. "Geez, look at this." He handed the phone to her.

Karen looked and her heart jumped. "Oh, man."

"What is it?" Jen asked.

"Wild dogs," Karen said, giving the phone back to Quinn. "It looks like a pack of about ten of them."

Jen didn't hesitate. She looked around and picked up a fist sized rock, then started collecting more. "Damn it. We didn't come this far to get eaten by dogs. Let's get ready for them."

Karen and Matt jumped into action with Jen and started collecting rocks and stacking them into a pile.

Quinn kept an eye on the approaching pack. "They're moving fast. Yeah, I'd say there are about ten of them. At least. The leader is a big white one. Looks kind of like that wolf we saw in the biodome exhibit a few weeks ago." He looked at his son. "Remember?"

"Yeah, I do," Matt said excitedly. "That was fun."

It had been fun. In spite of eminent danger of the wild dogs, Quinn's mind suddenly went back to that school mandated outing with his son to the biodome, the day when this whole adventure had begun; the beginning of him wanting to spend more time with Matt. The next week he'd kidnapped Matt and gone on the run. Karen had joined them and they'd made a plan to escape the city. When Jen, a co-worker of Karen's, heard about the plan she had joined them. All any of them wanted was a better life than they'd had in the city. Quinn couldn't let a pack of wild dogs ruin that dream.

He watched them approaching and said, "They're getting closer. Closer."

Karen took the binoculars from him. "I can see them, Quinn." She pointed and he looked. They were only a quarter of a mile away.

Jen selected two rocks from the pile and held one in each hand. "I'm ready."

Quinn and Karen did the same.

"You stay behind us," Karen told Matt. Then, seeing the disappointment in his eyes at not being able to help, added, "You can hand us rocks, okay?"

He brightened, "Okay, Mommy."

Quinn watched the pack veer toward them. "They must have picked up our scent." He gripped his rocks tightly. "Get ready."

The dogs picked up speed. The hunt was on. The leader was silent but fast and he out distanced the others, his tongue lolling out the side of its jaws, lips pulled back revealing sharp canines. The rest of the pack crowded behind him and broke into insane howling.

The leader leaped from the desert floor to a large boulder at the base of the outcropping and began climbing toward them. The howling and fevered baying of the rest of the pack filled the air like deranged demons as they clawed over rocks right behind their leader, driven mad by hunger and the scent of their prey.

Jen leaped from her hiding place and screamed, "Let's get them!" She heaved her rock with all her might, then watched in utter surprise and amazement as it hit the leader in the middle of the forehead, cracking open his skull and dropping him in his tracks, killing him instantly.

The rest of the dogs appeared stunned as they gathered around him, sniffing at the dead corpse. Karen didn't hesitate. She hurled her rocks and took the ones Matt handed her and threw them and Jen did the same. So did Quinn. All three of them raining rocks down on the pack until they ran off, leaving their leader dead and broken.

"Yea!" Matt yelled, jumping up and down. "We won. We won."

Quinn grinned at Karen and Jen and they grinned back. Yes, they had.

To celebrate they all took off their gas-masks and Jen handed out water for them to drink as they watched the pack run off, continuing in the direction they'd been heading.

"Must be going for the storage facility," Jen said. "I'll bet to steal some food. They're probably starving."

"Speaking of…" Karen said, pointing at Jen's pack. "You're in charge of our supplies. How are we doing on food and water?"

Jen checked. "All we've got are energy bars; enough for a couple of days. Water is what we really need, especially to cross this desert." She looked to the west toward the mountains. Heat waves simmered off the sand. Dust devils danced across the foreboding landscape. The sun beat down unmercifully. "We'll have to conserve how much we drink and be judicious if we plan on making it." She turned to Quinn. "What do you think? Three or four days to get there?"

"Yeah, that'd be my guess." He looked at Karen. "What do you think?"

"I think we can do it, but if we're going to make it we're going to have to keep moving, but slowly. We don't want to get too worn out." With her eyes she indicated toward Matt. Quinn got her meaning. The journey was going to be hard on the little guy. All of them, actually.

Quinn slapped his hands together as if sealing the deal. "Okay, then," he said. "That's what we'll do. We've got to get across this desert and get away from this heat and into the mountains. Hopefully once we get there, we'll be able for find more food and water."

"What happens if we don't, Daddy," Matt asked.

"Karen hugged the little boy. "Don't' worry," she said. "We've made it this far. We can make it to the mountains." She looked at her husband. "Right, Quinn?"

"Sure," he said, getting up and helping Matt to his feet. "We've come too far to give up now."

Karen and Jen stood and joined them and they all clasped hands spontaneously in a show of solidarity.

Quinn and Karen and Matt gave Jen the rest of the water they decided to save for later and she packed the bottles away. Then they all secured their gas masks, carefully climbed down the outcropping and started off across the desert. They walked the rest of the day but the mountains never seemed to get any closer. That was okay. They'd beaten back the wild dogs. They'd escaped the security forces and made it out of the city. And, most importantly, they were alive. That was the main thing. Even though they all knew there would be more obstacles to overcome and more challenges to face in the near future, for right now, right then and there, they all felt the same way; they were invincible. They could survive anything.

To Be Concluded…

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