The heat lets up abruptly, and there’s a breeze. George quickly becomes engrossed in quiet conversation with Luke. Troy takes over driving duties for John. John tells George that they should get some sleep, as it will give their supplemental immune system cloud a chance to effect repairs. Then it sits down and goes into powersave mode. Gremlin gets back into his car, and the convoy is on the move again.
The left side of the highway is filled with a solid line of dead cars. Off to the right, the ground begins to gradually slope upward. It also gets lighter and lighter, and appears bleached white at the top. Ranged at regular intervals are the hollow concrete shells of ancient buildings, like a row of teeth in a giant white skull mostly buried in the ground.
Gremlin can see that they’re approaching a crossroads a couple of miles up, and it’s dominated by a pair of tall towers built in the Day Before, but with guard posts bolted to the top.
They pass a building with a large piece of plywood mounted on it, with “Need a Drink” spraypainted on it. A couple of minutes later, they pass another that says “Time to Think”. Gremlin comments on it, and Louise chuckles. He asks what it means, and she says he’ll very likely see soon enough. As they approach a third sign, Gremlin announces that it says “Eat a Turtle”. Samson can’t read, but what he notices is the color. The spraypaint is a bright orange, the only bit of color to be found anywhere. The fourth sign says “At Traveler’s Circle”. When Gremlin recites it, Samson complains that turtle doesn’t rhyme with circle. Under her breath, Louise says “Burma Shave”.
Before long, they come across the aforementioned Traveler’s Circle, the crossroads they glimpsed from a distance. What was a truck stop once upon a time has been turned into a hardhold, now ringed by a wall of old semi trailers. A group of guards signals them to stop, and the convoy pulls over.
The lead guard gives a perfunctory welcome, and Gremlin gives a friendly greeting in return. Samson eyes a female guard with filed down teeth and markings on her face that seem familiar to him. The look that she’s giving Gremlin is familiar as well: food. However, he can tell that she’s restrained at least by the conventions of her position as a guard.
The lead guard asks Gremlin if the other vehicles are with him, and Gremlin answers in the affirmative. The guard asks if they’re looking for water or gas, and Gremlin says they’re just passing through on their way to the Fort. The guard tells Gremlin not to stop then, and waves him through. The guards make their way up the line to the bus and bang on the door. Troy opens it up, and the guard repeats the questions, but also asks how many people are on board (Troy answers four), and if anyone is sick (Troy says no). The guard gauges him for a moment, attempting to determine if he’s full of crap, but waves him through as well, and they continue on to the van.
When the guard gets to the van, he hesitates, and Samson notices that the other two male guards hang back between the bus and the van. Samson informs Gremlin of this, and Gremlin slows to a stop, and Troy follows suit when he sees Gremlin’s brake lights. He gets on the CB to ask if everything is alright. There’s no response, but Samson can see the guard wave Maude through. Once he sees that the van is moving, Gremlin starts up again, and the convoy turns onto the ramp to go around the hardhold rather than in through the entrance.
Samson keeps an eye out and sees the glint of a sniper scope up in one of the towers. He informs Gremlin, and Gremlin informs everyone else via the radio. Troy calls to John to wake it up and advises George and Luke to keep down. In the car, Louise does the same.
Just then there’s the crack of a rifle shot. It hits the hood of Gremlin’s car, and there’s a splash of fluid. Gremlin hits the gas; he’s annoyed that someone took a shot at his car, but he’s not in a position to deal with it now.
They get past the underpass, and Gremlin can see two more muzzle flashes from the tower. The vehicles continue on. Samson helps Louise back up to a sitting position.
Up ahead they can see a spot where the road has been washed out by an encroaching river, and a makeshift bridge has been built over it. Gremlin gets on the CB to verify that everyone’s okay. Troy says everyone is the bus is fine. Maude says that someone will be following them.
Sure enough, they can see the gates open behind them, and four vehicles emerge and advance after them. Troy can see that at least one of them has a pintel-mounted gun, so they have the ability to attack from range. Samson asks Gremlin if he can outrun them. Gremlin says it’s a possibility. If it was just the Mustang, no problem, but the bus and the van are a different story.
Troy gives the signal to jump channels, and Gremlin & Maude do so. Troy tells Maude to pull ahead of him so she can deal with the bridge as soon as he’s over it. She does so, and the pursuers don’t quite know what to make of that.
Everyone with an open window can hear a high-pitched whistle, and a section of the road simply explodes. Gremlin guns it, and the car takes off. He makes it over the bridge without incident. Maude and Troy follow suite, and they both make it over the bridge, but the bus takes some damage in the process. Another whistle, and another explosion, right in front of Maude. She manages to keep control and power through it. Troy continues on, and Maude swerves hard and hits the brakes. There’s a POONK as she launches a grenade at the bridge. It goes exactly where it’s supposed to, and when it detonates, the main supports of the bridge buckle, and the whole thing comes down. There’s the screech of brakes as the pursuers skid to a stop at the edge.
Troy tells John to lay down suppressive fire to keep the guy on the cannon from taking another shot. It’s effective, and they manage to get away clean.
Samson checks on Louise, and she seems to be alright. Gremlin gets on the radio again to check on everyone. Maude asks if that’s that. Gremlin says he hopes so. Samson says they’re not going to give up that easily; they want something, and he suspects it’s Maude. Gremlin asks Maude if the guards might have been Captain’s guys (without mentioning his name), but she says she didn’t recognize them. At that moment, the static on the radio abruptly goes away completely, and the channel is the clearest any of them have ever heard.
They pass by the remains of a large tracked vehicle out in a field, with long metal arms extending out sideways on both sides. Once upon a time they stuck out straight, parallel to the ground, but long ago they’ve since sagged down to come to rest on the dirt at the ends. There’s the remains of a large house just beyond it, the only structure still standing for miles around.
Samson opens his brain to the Maelstrom, and in the distance hears a woman’s voice, but it’s too soft to pick out the words. He gets on the CB and says “I hear you inside there”. Gremlin abruptly turns off the CB and asks Samson exactly what the hell he thinks he’s doing.
John informs Troy that it’s detected an electromagnetic pulse, along with a transmission on the emergency channel, but it stopped shortly after Samson got on. Troy asks what the message was, and John says it was an old recording advising people to get to shelters. Troy checks on his coffee table, but there’s no sign of life from it.
Gremlin asks Samson if he’s done playing with his radio. Samson says he doesn’t trust her. Gremlin’s not sure what to make of that.
Shortly thereafter, George mentions that Gremlin’s tablet isn’t working. John takes over driving, and Troy checks out the rest of the bus, but nothing seems to be out of order except for a couple of blown light bulbs. He gets himself situated in the back and opens his brain, holding one of the blown bulbs. For just a moment, he feels a faint warmth to it, but almost instantly it’s gone. He heads over to the coffee table, and it’s stone cold. He looks out into the field, back at the house, now receding in the distance. He realizes that there’s something in the house that could be used as an augury, but now’s not a good time to take a detour.
He comes back to the world and sees Luke watching him from the plastic curtain. Luke indicates the light bulb, and holds out his hand. Troy hands it over, and Luke puts it in his pocket. Troy offers him the dried fruit again, and this time Luke happily takes it. Troy goes to make a note of the location of the house for a possible follow-up later. Luke watches over his shoulder. After a moment, he gives Troy’s metal leg a look. Troy says that his sister made it for him, and asks if he likes it. Luke shakes his head, and turns his attention to the coffee table. When he goes to touch it, Troy says to be careful with it. He spends some time showing Luke some basic electronics.
Samson asks Gremlin what ADA is. Louise mentions it was the last indignity of the kings of kings in the Day Before. Samson doesn’t understand what that means, so Louise tells him the story of Cerberus, and that its job was to guard the Land of the Dead. She says that ADA is kind of like that. She also explains what the Feds and the Banks were in the Day Before, and how it got to the point where you couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Samson says that it seems to him that people in the Day Before wasted the world. Gremlin finds it had to disagree. He inquires why Samson is asking about ADA, and Samson points at the CB and reiterates his distrust of “her”.
Once Luke’s attention drifts back to George, Troy checks on John. He brings up the discomforts that John mentioned earlier. John says that there is a strong probability that Troy is deceiving it, but until it is certain, it has no choice but to continue on as ordered. Troy says that if there is a Hell, there’s a special corner of it reserved for whoever gave it feelings. John responds that God gave it feelings, as He did for all living things. John says that even if Troy is deceiving it, the crew has acted the most positively of anyone it has encountered in recent memory. Troy says that if the feelings get to be too much, he see about trying to turn them off if John wants. John considers its feelings a gift. They debate the relative unpredictability of humans and androids. Troy mentions what John said about forgiveness. John responds that some humans are incapable of forgiveness or remorse, citing Maude as an example. Troy remains dubious.# ontheroad