It’s late morning in the Floating Market near the ruins of Pensacola, FL. The sky is clear; it’s hot, but not oppressive.
Gremlin was going to play around with his tablet, but once George sees Samson looking over his bibles, they offer to help him learn to read, and Gremlin is happy to assist. George starts by having Gremlin hold up Samson’s English bible (NAS), as they read passages from it.
Samson is struck by the story of the Garden of Eden. He sees parallels between God & Adam and Leon & himself. They discuss the implications of the story; George tells Samson that one of their dads saw it as a test, and that humans actually passed, because they achieved sentience, and in so doing, they had to accept the responsibility that came with it. George comments that it’s odd that they gave robots a bible.
Troy is messing with John, and he notices a port on Gremlin’s tablet, and a corresponding port on the robot’s head. He borrows the tablet, and connects it to the robot using one of the cables he’d acquired for connecting his coffee table to Maude’s arm. Gremlin brings George over so they can see. The tablet boots up, and he sees a picture of Paris and some of her friends from the Day Before. He scrolls past messages prompting him to update this or that or whatever, and eventually there’s one that says it’s connecting to a peripheral. A screen comes up with some very threatening language, along with a stylized eagle insignia. Troy becomes aware of John looking at him. Troy asks it to help, and the robot repeats its name, rank, and serial number again.
Troy enters the serial number on the tablet, and it shows a very complex diagram of what Troy thinks is the robot’s mind. He taps on a couple of the nodes, opening up other windows with lots of numbers and what looks like strings of code. After some time poking around, he finds something labeled IFF Protocol. He knows what that means because Maude explained it to him back when they first met: Identify Friend or Foe. He finds the code is actually fairly well documented, and can read some of it. He follows a link to something labeled Optical Recognition. He engages it, and it goes through a routine to imprint himself as the robot’s new operator. It attempts to verify his identity by connecting to ADA, but is unable to get a connection.
Troy gives John new priorities, to protect him and his friends. He initiates the imprinting routine with Gremlin, Samson, and George as well. Something in John’s sensors causes it to decide that George is a young lady, and addresses them as such. George blushes, but neither confirms nor denies it. Troy also advises it of Maude, which George suggests he describe as an allied combatant. John asks what Maude’s affiliation is, and George replies with Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a joke, but John accepts the answer.
Troy arms John with the assault rifle Maude grabbed off from one of Captain’s spies. John asks where its partner is, and while Gremlin attempts to be circumspect, Troy tells John what happened bluntly. John has trouble assimilating the idea that the United States Government and the Department of Defense don’t exist anymore. Troy lays out Gremlin’s mission: head west through San Angelo, Texas, and onward to San Francisco.
John says that the mission would be more easily accomplished if he could access ADA. Troy says that ADA’s been compromised.
John asks if its squad mate was buried, and if anyone prayed for it. Troy says that it saved his life, after it was killed. He mentions the plague, and John says what it knows; the CDC was attempting to research it, but the Event prevented access to proper resources.
John asks about San Angelo, and Troy says it’s important to Maude. John informs him that the fort contains sensitive hardware, and expresses concern about a foreign national gaining access to it, even an allied one. John mentions a launch facility up north, and asks if it’s still operational, but Troy doesn’t know.
Troy asks if John knows the current date. John tells him that it’s Thursday September 9th, 2088.
Maude climbs onto the bus and is quite surprised to see John walking and talking. Troy explains what’s going on. She’s concerned that ADA might take control of it, but Troy says that John’s under orders to avoid all contact with ADA, and that he’s explained that ADA has been compromised. Maude asks for a minute alone, and Troy sends John into the back of the bus, where Gremlin is showing Samson the alphabet.
Maude warns Troy that if Captain gets wind of what they’re onto here, he’ll throw everything at them. She reiterates her concern regarding ADA, and Troy assures her that he’s got it under control.
Maude brings Troy up to speed on the supplies she’s picked up. She mentions that the ammo for Samson’s new SMG isn’t standard, so it will be difficult to find or make more. She advises to set up a reloading bench, either on the bus or the van. She curses the fact that she wasn’t able to get any intel from the spies before they died.
Troy says that John has a wealth of information.
John sees the bible, and says it’s its property. Gremlin says they borrowed it to teach Samson to read. Samson gives the bible back. A discussion of language ensues, and John runs down the languages it speaks and reads. It advises that any intelligence gathered must be turned over to the authorities (in the person of the Operator), or they will be guilty of treason, and the penalty is death.
Samson excuses himself and approaches Troy. He advises Troy to put John down as soon as possible, because it’s going to kill all of them at the first available opportunity. Maude says that Troy has convinced her. She offers to get Samson a drink.
After Samson and Maude leave, Troy heads to the back, where Gremlin and George are getting to know John. Troy tells John that martial law has ended, and that many civilians will be openly carrying weapons. John says that if martial law is no longer in effect, then it needs to report to the nearest command center to be decommissioned. Troy says he already decommissioned it, but John says that he reassigned it, and that’s not the same thing.
George says they’re on an undercover mission, and going after lawbreakers will attract too much attention and endanger the mission.
Troy opens his brain in the process of attempting to convince John, and sees spiderwebs coming from the corners of George’s mouth.
John says that the longer lawlessness is allowed to continue to exist, the more difficult it will be to re-establish the rule of law after the war is over. It asks Troy to relate to it the current condition of the Continuity of Government protocol, but he can’t. George says they might be able to. At their request, Gremlin retrieves a big heavy book from their trunk: The Citizen’s Guide to the Government of the United States of America. He looks up COG in the index, and finds the page reference. They find a long list of positions, and Troy picks Head of the Department of Transportation. This seems to satisfy John for the moment. It advises against discussing mission details in the presence of civilians, but asks him to give all information necessary for the completion of its mission. It asks for orders, and Troy tells it to establish a perimeter, but be mindful that civilians will be going about armed, and that martial law is suspended.
Troy also goes back to his rundown of the plague, and explains the difference between infected and carriers. He also warns that infected are going to attempt to draw in unsuspecting victims by calling for help. John scans Gremlin and builds a profile for carriers, and says that if it can be provided a live infected specimen, it can build a profile for them that it can apply in all future encounters with the dust people.
John asks if Gremlin presents a danger to the rest of the personnel, and Troy says that Gremlin is aware of his condition and has taken precautions. John says he can’t detect Troy’s “supplemental immune system cloud”, and is concerned that Gremlin’s infection may have compromised it, and may do the same to George’s cloud, which it can detect (it also offhandedly mentions that George should recover from their current condition in three days). Gremlin asks what a supplemental immune system is, and John explains that every US citizen that was registered with the Department of Vital Statistics would have had a supplemental immune system implanted at birth. Troy explains that neither he nor Gremlin had one implanted.
Troy leaves John with Gremlin and George while he goes shopping.
Samson and Maude are having a drink in town. Maude is still concerned about the robot, but she trusts that Troy knows what he’s doing. She wonders if Captain knew about the robots, as she’d never seen one before.
Samson asks about Captain. Maude reluctantly explains the situation in the simplest terms possible. A discussion of slavery ensues. Samson has dedicated himself to ending it wherever he finds it. He’s also made a choice to stay with the group. At first, it was because he didn’t think he could make it on his own. Maude says that’s why she didn’t like him, at first she thought he was nothing but a liability. Then again, she thought the same about George.
Samson expresses concern that the risks Troy takes are going to hurt the rest of them. Maude goes to bat for Troy, and says that he’s done things that Samson can’t even imagine. She even goes as far as to say that he singlehandedly won the battle at the bridge. This provokes a reaction from Samson, who calls Troy arrogant. Maude abruptly leaves.
Troy is wandering around the market looking for the components needed to set up an ammo reloading station. He has a set of machining tools, and his drug lab equipment is good for measuring and weighing stuff, so he’s mainly looking for a die press and stuff he can use for the molds. Fortunately, the Floating Market has everything he needs, and he finds a former bait shop that’s been converted into a gunsmith’s shop, and he’s able to buy what he needs, just like that. While he’s negotiating a price, he can hear a crank siren like Alpha had to warn about dust storms. When he looks out the window, he sees that the tide has come in, and the building is surrounded by water, so he’s not going anywhere for a while. Fortunately, the shopkeeper and his family are pleasant company. Pops shares a joint with Troy, and says he got it from Doc Holiday, who comes in from Spanish Fort every once in a while.
Pops mentions the “freaks”, and Troy asks if he means the dust people. Pops says that they don’t have too much trouble from them (likely due to the water), and says the real problem are the mutants. Troy remembers Jebediah, and says he’s run into them as well. Pops says they come from out west, and they’re fierce swimmers.
Pops asks Troy where he’s headed, and he says that they’re looking to get to California, if they can. Pops warns about radiation, and explains about how the ocean currents carry crap from all over the world and gather it up into the Gulf, and every once in a while a mountain of it floats in, which makes the water even more poisonous than it already is, and makes more work for them as they have to try and break up the debris and haul it away.
Pops makes some tea, and they pass the time until someone comes along and knocks on the door to let them know that the waves have died down enough that they can start ferrying people around. Troy asks about what to expect from Spanish Fort, and Pops says they’re locked up tight, but they’re honest folks. He also mentions Harry’s Steel, which is a dangerous place, and after that I10 goes underwater completely, so they’ll have to go north. Troy takes a ride back over to the vehicles. He resolves to look up Doc Holiday when they get to the fort.
Gremlin and George spend some time getting to know John. Eventually George takes a nap, leaving Gremlin alone with John.
Gremlin asks John about what emotions it feels, and it says it feels anger, hate, love, sadness, and joy. Gremlin asks if it’s angry at them, and it says it is, but it’s also angry at itself. It’s also sad at what’s happened to the country. Gremlin can sympathize.
Gremlin asks if it’s capable of forgiveness. It says it’s not, due to its programming, in order to not make it vulnerable to influence from hostile elements. Gremlin says he’s sorry for what happened to it. It says that he has no need to apologize. He is an American citizen, and it is its duty to protect him. Gremlin says he hopes to be worthy of it.
[George has a Compel on Troy.]# ontheroad