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We were getting close to the ritzy house on a hill, dwelling place of rich aliens who didn’t know the first thing about house-training their dogs, when I saw the flying city. I was the first to spot it, since I was neither driving nor bored with the view yet, so I was spending the whole ride staring at the surprisingly Earth-like countryside. The rolling hills were lovely, the livestock were sheeplike from a distance, and the plantlife was gorgeous.
But the massive flying thing that drifted over the hills was a bit of a surprise.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing. I expected a calm answer, and the local equivalent of a rich person’s hot air balloon or extra-ritzy flying mansion.
Instead I got panic.
The two locals in the front seat turned their heads and jumped like they’d seen an errupting volcano. They started jabbering in alarm, and the driver instantly sped up to dangerous speeds.
“What’s it doing here? The route is miles away!”
“Is it going to crash? It looks tilted. It better not crash!”
“It would wipe out the entire valley! Oh cracks, oh cracks, it better not crash.”
I held on to the side of the open-top car, hoping we didn’t crash. “What is it?” I repeated.
The answers I got were scattered and distracted, but I got the impression that this was a flying city and home to a different species of sentients, who all preferred to live far above the ground. Their cities followed set paths, and had for generations. And the valley was not part of this one’s path.
“I don’t think it’s headed for the ground,” I said dubiously, watching the approaching city get larger. “It’s definitely coming this way, though.”
“Oh cracks, drive faster!”
“Already at top speed!”
“Don’t kill us!” I added. The driver didn’t answer, and I let her focus on the winding road. The passenger was digging in his bag for a communicator. I didn’t know who to notify, so I left mine where it was and just watched instead.
The thing was huge. I hadn’t realized at first just how big it was; there was no good way to get a sense of scale from it. But as it got closer, the thing took up most of the sky. I flashed back to my time at a poorly-run spaceport back home. This felt frighteningly like a spaceship was about to land on our heads.
But it didn’t. It got awfully close, eclipsing the sun and filling the air with a humming of engines, but it stayed up.
The driver swore and turned on the headlights, her armored shoulders hunched and tense. It was above us for a long time.
Then it passed, and the sunlight returned.
Followed by a rain of debris.
“Heads up!” I shouted as I saw the first dark shapes headed for us. “Put up the top, quick!”
The driver was busy with a hairpin turn, but the passenger knew where the button was. He looked up, saw what I meant, and slammed a fist into it. An energy-guzzling force field dome snapped into place above us.
I flinched as dark chunks slammed into it like bullets.
“What is all this?” I yelled, covering my head instinctively.
“Garbage!” the passenger told me, doing the same. “That’s part of why they’re restricted to set paths!” He said more, but it was hard for me to hear. I hadn’t known that force fields could make these kinds of bangs when hit at high speeds. And then there were the impacts on the rest of the car, which left serious dents.
We lost a headlight. The driver swerved toward the edge of the road, but didn’t lose control. I almost crapped my pants. Knees together, I held onto the door handle for dear life.
Then the rain passed, and the driver slowed down. She braked quickly when she saw how much of a mess the road ahead of us was. This part had already been dropped on. Potholes, twisted bits of metal, and unidentifiable splats pockmarked the ground.
At the passenger’s suggestion, the driver pulled over and stopped. She put her head down and breathed for a while. The passenger spoke into the communicator that he’d forgotten about, and I stared after the flying city.
Things were still falling from it. Only now did I see the plume of smoke rising from one side. I pointed this out, and the passenger told whoever was on the phone.
After a few moments, the driver pulled herself together and got us back on the road. She took it slowly.
I had a feeling that the people in the ritzy house would have something more important than puppy puddles to discuss now.