Paul was more surprised by what he saw at the air field than by the appearance of Kate or the initial call that led to him going outside. A small rocket was sitting on the runway, standing almost as tall as the control tower. The tapered tip flowed into a tube shaped body, with a rounded bump in the middle and fins reaching down to the tarmac. Paul could see small structures surrounding the rocket that looked like everything it would need to actually fly. Thick tubes ran from the ship to the different structures, but he could only guess what they were for. Short buildings, that looked like quick military constructions, were in between where Paul stood and the rocket. When he and the little girl reached the edge of the field, six large men in gear that matched the girl’s, surrounded them.
One of the guards picked up the girl and started to walk away. She fought and struggled to get out of his arms. Two more flanked Paul and picked him up as well, though he didn’t have as much energy to fight it. He was almost relieved to not have to stand any longer. Paul and the girl were carried to one of the structures on the runway. It was a warm open room with medical equipment and two people who looked like field medics.
The girl was handed to one of the medics. They stripped the cold gear off of her and checked her over with every tool and machine they had. Paul was dumped onto a stretcher then four of the six guards left with his and the girl’s bags. Paul was sweating in the warm room. It felt oppressive, though the medics were bundled up and the two remaining guards seemed fine in their cold gear. Paul unzipped his coat and struggled to sit up. His lungs burned and he started to feel his feet. He wasn’t looking forward to them warming up.
He strained to see the girl. She was squirming as the medics took blood and injected her with several syringes. When they were satisfied that she was healthy and uninjured they tried to put fresh white cold gear on her. Paul stood up awkwardly and tried to go over to the girl to comfort her. One of the guards pushed him back down and stood between Paul and the girl.
“She’s my responsibility,” Paul coughed. They stared at him expressionless under their masks. “I can help,” he told the medics. Paul wasn’t ready to let the girl out of his sight. He wanted to make sure she was safe before he left. “I can get her ready,” he said. She listens to me.”
The medics looked at each other and the one struggling with the girl nodded. “Fine,” he said. “Let him come over.”
Paul hobbled over and took the coat from the frustrated man. “It’s alright,” he said to the girl. “You have to get your coat and hat on. Remember how cold it is outside?” The girl nodded and let Paul bundle her back up. When she was fully covered the medic moved to take her but she clung to Paul and screamed.
“I’ll take her,” Paul said.
“I’m supposed to bring the girl out when she’s ready,” the man said.
“I can carry her,” Paul said. “She won’t put up a fuss.” The medic looked concerned, but Paul thought more for his orders than the girl. “What difference does it make if I carry her out? It’s better than her screaming and fighting you the whole way.”
The medic relented and led Paul back to the runway.
The rocket loomed above them. Paul had heard that some people had been evacuated off of Earth, but rumours were common underground – especially ones of escape. Even as large as the rocket was, it seemed too small to Paul. He remembered other rumours of space stations, moon bases and even huge ships taking people to other worlds. He marvelled at the ship as they moved closer to it.
A group of people were waiting at the base of the rocket. Guards stood around a man dressed in a multicoloured coat and hat. Wind whipped violently across the field and the girl gripped tighter. The guards parted and let them approach the man then closed around them again.
“Who the hell is this?” the man spat.
“He brought the girl, she wouldn’t go without him,” the medic said.
“So you’re telling me you can’t do your job?” Paul tensed up at the man’s anger. He was feeling more uncomfortable with his orders to deliver the girl to him. “You,” the man continued, pointing at Paul. “Give her to me, and let’s get this thing going – it’s unholy out here.” He snapped at a guard who ran to one of the buildings to pass on the message.
“No,” Paul said.
The man turned his full attention to Paul. His features were tight, but fury leaked from the lines of his face. Paul tried to stand tall and hide his fear. “Listen to me you nothing. Give me my daughter now or I’ll have you shot and tear her from your dead arms,” he screamed over the sound of the rocket coming to life. It emitted a low thrumming that quickly grew as they primed for ignition. The girl was passive in Paul’s arms, but she gripped his coat tightly. He didn’t think he was willing to die over keeping a girl from her father, especially if it would mean escape for her, but he couldn’t hand her over to the man. Paul stood defiantly and waited for someone else to make the decision.
One of the guards dropped and the echo of something momentarily surpassed the sound of the rocket then faded.
The rest of the guards were in a panic. The shot took them by surprise and they didn’t react well to it. To Paul it looked like each of them tried to perform a different drill and failed.
The angry man fell and part of what was his head was splattered on the medic’s face. Paul crouched over the girl and watched as the rest of them fell one by one. They were unable to pinpoint the shots over the sound of the rocket and within thirty seconds, Paul and the girl were the only ones left alive on the runway.
The engines continued to hum with no one left to initiate the next sequence. Paul picked up the girl and stood, not sure what to do next. He had expected to have been left to get back on his own with what supplies he still had. He didn’t plan on having the girl to take back with him.
Paul took the girl back to the medical building and scoured the rest of the runway for whatever he could find. He made sure to go back to where the girl’s father had been and get his and the girl’s bags back. After searching the other bodies he picked up the girl, checked his map and started to head back in the direction they came from.
Paul spotted the figure in the distance when they had reached the edge of the airfield. The rifle sticking up above her head gave away that it was Kate. Paul stopped and let her catch up.
“Hey there sweeties,” she said. The girl recognized her and reached out. Kate took her from Paul and spun her around making silly faces.
“Thanks,” Paul said.
“I should be thanking you,” Kate replied. “He let you walk right in there. It was sloppy of him, made him an easy target.”
“Was he her father?”
“Yeah, but not a good one.”
“He was the president.” Paul said.
“Recognized him eh? Yeah, he was going to leave us all here to freeze.”
“That can’t be the only reason you did it.”
“Naw, he had tons to answer for.” She paused, but continued when Paul didn’t say anything. “What are you going to do now?”
“Go back I guess. Not a lot of options.”
“You could come back with me,” She said. “It’s a bit more rustic than what you’re used to in that cave, but it’s warm.” She handed the girl back to him.
Paul watched her turn and walk away across the frozen field. She stopped and motioned for him to catch up.