"Reese! Get on the bike!" Hilary bellowed.
He didn't have to be told twice. He leapt on the back, and Hilary popped the clutch the moment he landed. The bike jolted forward, making the jump from 0 to 40 kph in less than two seconds. Hilary did a u-turn in place and pointed the grav bike directly back towards Haven.
"Hilary! The cliff!" Reese yelled in alarm. "You can't go off the cliff at this speed!"
"We don't have much of a choice, do we?" she shot back.
On the way up, the bluffs were simply a very steep hill. But going down, they might as well have been a sheer drop, especially considering the fact that their speed would launch them off the top of the hill into thin air like a skeet launcher instead of cradling them down to earth like a ramp. Hilary seemed to ignore these facts, however, and gunned the engine to accelerate them all the way to the edge. Reese could do little else but grasp her more tightly around the waist.
The next thing he knew they were plummeting. Apart from the disconcerting sound of wind rushing upwards, there was the high pitched whine of the grav-lifts straining against nothing to keep the bike afloat. The icy surface of the lake rushed towards towards them at an alarming speed. Reese closed his eyes and braced for an impact.
The grav lifts found purchase while they were still falling, and to their credit did much to soften the blow. Even so, the bike hit the ice with a crash, sending orange sparks skittering off across the lake. The engine sputtered from shocking strike and died. Their forward momentum did not abate in the slightest, however, and the bike skipped across the lake like a flat stone as the grav lifts strained to restart. Reese thought of nothing other than gripping the bucking vehicle with all his might, and somehow managed to stay on. Hilary managed not only to avoid being thrown off, but also kept the bike on course and prevented it from slipping into a deadly sideways roll.
Soon, the engine coughed its way to a recovery and the grav lifts once again kicked in, raising the bike to a comfortable meter-high cruising altitude. Hilary put the bike in a higher gear and floored the accelerator, hoping to make it to the outskirts of Haven before the storm did.
"Jackal! Jackal, do you copy? Jackal, this is HQ, come in!"
"Phone's for you, junior," Hilary said tensely.
"HQ, this is Jackal. This is really not a good time," Reese answered.
"Is everything alright? Report in."
"Everything is just breezy," he huffed. "You may be interested to know that the cause of that seismic crack is a crashed Fed drone. It split a hole in the ice with the force of the impact that would have easily registered on the quake sensors, especially considering that we have some right in this area."
"You were specifically ordered not to ascend the bluff!"
"Yeah, me and Hilary are seeing the wisdom in that command right about now."
"Where are you?"
"On the lake. We've got about three hundred meters on this storm front, then we're toast."
"How far is Haven?"
"Looks like a kilometer to the outskirts from here."
"You're cutting it close."
"Really? I had no idea!" Reese said, eyeing the approaching storm.
"There's still a chance you may survive."
"I really don't like the wording of that one."
"Listen closely. There's a bunker along the west side of the lake where we keep repair supplies for the remote sensors. It's about half a kilometer out of town. There's not much room, but it should keep you alive until we're able to a salvage mission."
"Salvage? I don't like the wording of that one either."
"The bunker is hard to spot, so you'll have to adjust your course to follow the west beach of the lake. The entry code on the door is 98723."
"98723. Got it."
"Good luck, Jackal."
"Over and out," Reese said, signing off. "You hear that, Hilary?"
"Every word," she replied, angling the bike towards the left.
"There!" he said, spotting a square outcropping of snow. "The bunker!"
"I see it," she replied. "All we've got to do is—"
Her words were cut short when a ball of ice the size of a cantaloupe hit her in the head. Hilary slumped forward over the handlebars, and the bike swerved erratically. Suddenly several more smashed into the ground around them, and one busted itself open on Hilary's knee. He was lucky to avoid a similar fate.
"Hilary!" Reese yelled. But she did not respond. He leaned over her from behind and managed to stabilize the bike. It certainly didn't help that the wind buffeted them so strongly that steering was nearly impossible. With great effort he pointed them back in the direction of the bunker, only to find that Hilary's foot was stuck on the accelerator pedal. He steered with one hand while trying in vain to pull and prod her foot loose. If her foot was stuck to the pedal, he couldn't carry her into the bunker, much less get her off a bike that refused to decelerate. After a solid kick to her ankle, though, he managed to knock it free.
But the bike refused to slow down. A chunk of broken sleet was holding the accelerator down, and had jammed itself into the depression between the pedal and the seat from the force of its impact. The hail falling around him was only increasing in size density. The lethal storm had caught up with them, and if they didn't get inside soon, they never would.
Reese gave up on stopping the bike. The bunker door was barely thirty meters distant. He wrapped his arms around Hilary's waist, waited until the last second, and pitched off. The bike didn't stop, but rather careened into the bunker wall and exploded into several smaller pieces. He did a painful barrel roll across the frozen ground with Hilary in his arms, coming to a stop just in front of the bunker door. He climbed to his knees to find the keypad on the door and entered the access code with freezing, numb fingers. The door slid open and he stumbled inside, pulling Hilary in after him. The door closed behind them just as a giant piece of hail smashed against it, shattering into a thousand pieces. Reese rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, exhausted.
"Well, that was close," he panted. "From now on, I drive."
A recent FDC study found that driving while talking on an omniphone quadruples your chances of being torn to shreds in a freak hailstorm.