Gremlin and Samson are at the front of the convoy, heading toward a hardhold supposedly called Bigelow that Elvis had scribbled on Gremlin’s atlas. They’re heading northwest on a 2 lane highway, and every once in a while they have to go around what’s left of a lot of dead cars along the way.
Samson suggests that if Gremlin wants to set up a trade route, he’s going to have to clear away all the wrecks. Gremlin agrees, and tells him about all the work that went into setting up the route north. Samson reads Gremlin, and can see that Gremlin is quite frightened at the prospect of being in charge of this group; he doesn’t like the idea of being responsible for the others’ safety, and that if he had his choice, he’d just as soon make the trip alone.
Gremlin can see the glint of metal in the distance. They are coming up on what appears to be a cairn of sorts, constructed out of scrap metal and other garbage. It’s mostly situated in the center of the highway, so it’s not blocking the road entirely, but they will have to slow down and maneuver around it. Troy can see a well worn dirt path running off of the highway that leads down to a farmhouse with obvious Day After patches. Maude gets on the radio and asks what they should do. Troy suggests that contrary to everyone’s normal instincts, they should go around it on the left, indicating the building off to the right.
Gremlin guns it, and begins to power through the turn, but encounters more debris on the other side of the road than he was expecting, so he’s forced to slow down to pick his way around. As they pass by, Samson gets a good look at the structure. It is indeed made of road garbage and scrap metal, but it’s all held together by long lengths of chains wrapped around and around, and welded together. Hanging off the chains are dozens of skulls from various animals, all decorated. Gremlin sees a sign that simply says “ART”, and points off toward the house. Samson says he doesn’t think it’s an ambush point. Gremlin agrees, but he decides against stopping to investigate.
“So the cop says ‘Magic Dildo my’ –” The end of George’s punchline is lost as they catch sight of the structure and immediately begin snapping pictures of it. They ask if they can stop. Troy slows down as they move past it. Maude gets on again and asks if everything’s okay. Troy considers stopping to see if they can possibly trade with the person or persons for the parts they need to repair the vehicles. After asking Gremlin’s permission, Samson gets on the radio and suggests they stop. Troy has the idea to continue on for a bit, and if they don’t get attacked on the way past, they can circle back to investigate.
They do not get shot at, so about a quarter mile down they do indeed turn around and double back. It’s slow going for Troy and the bus. On the way back, Troy can make out something moving along the trail from the house to the road. It’s not human or animal shaped, and it’s moving fairly regularly. Troy guesses it may be some sort of automated cart, but it appears to have a head perched on top. Samson opens his window and sticks a hand out.
As they get closer, Gremlin and Troy can see that it’s the exterior of an oven or washing machine, mounted on wheels of some kind, with a pair of stereo speakers mounted to it. The head on top looks human, and Gremlin realizes it looks exactly like John. Gremlin gets on the radio and tells Troy that it looks like his buddy. There’s a crackle of sound from the contraption, the head’s mouth opens, and a woman’s voice comes over the speakers. She asks if they come in peace, and Gremlin calls out that they do, and were wondering about the meaning of the sign. The woman says they’d better come in.
Gremlin gets out of the car, as does Samson. Gremlin approaches the bus, and tells Troy about the interaction with the woman. He suggests that John stay behind as he glances over at the box. Troy wakes up John, and tells him to stay on the bus and stand guard. Gremlin gets George situated in the wheelchair, and George suggests that they’re getting better, and maybe they should think about trading in the wheelchair for some crutches.
Troy notices that John has exited the bus, against his orders. He finds it regarding the identical face staring back at it. Troy asks it if everything’s okay. John says it’s experiencing a system malfunction, and until the glitch is cleared, it will be compromised. Everyone can see the clear expression of anguish on John’s face, as well as the other face. It suggests that a full reboot will likely take care of it, but it will be unable to provide security in the meantime. Troy asks if there’s anything he can do to help. John says he wouldn’t be able to understand. Troy notices that John’s attention keeps getting drawn to the head, which is still moving. Troy asks if it’s still conscious, and John confirms it. Troy nods, and gives it permission to go and power down. Gremlin is wheeling George past just at this moment, and George asks him to stop. They bring up the camera and take a picture of John reaching out to the head on the box.
Samson watches from the vehicles, and can see that Troy is empathizing with John, and that Troy recognizes that the android is in distress. As Troy looks in his direction, he takes his hand of the hammer.
Troy approaches George, and actually bends down so they’re eye level. George asks about John, showing him the picture they took. Troy acknowledges that George has a way with people, and asks them to keep an eye out for an opportunity to persuade the owner to part with at least the head. He attempts to explain what John is feeling, and Gremlin realizes for the first time that John and its kind were programmed to feel. He comes to the same conclusion that Troy did, that it was messed up. He asks if Troy can fix it, but Troy says it would take lots of time, and that John considers the feelings a gift from God. Gremlin guesses that John would not want Troy to attempt to fix it.
Troy heads back to talk to Maude and let her know that John will be rebooting. She agrees to keep watch, and rolls under the bus.
Gremlin, George, and Troy approach the farmhouse, and Gremlin knocks on the heavy wooden door. It opens, and there’s a young woman who introduces herself as Macy. She is extremely excited to see them, especially George. She tells them they should wait round back while her Dad finishes up his work inside, and then they can trade. The crew gets the definite sense that Macy and her Dad are almost certainly cannibals, but it seems that they are currently well supplied with meat, so their intentions seem to be on the up and up.
The crew heads back to the vehicles to grab whatever they have on hand to trade. Gremlin notices John sitting motionless on the bus and asks Troy about it. Troy says it’s rebooting. Troy takes some samples from his peyote plant, and transplants them to another pot.
Gremlin hears Janus barking and goes to investigate. He sees another canine figure loping towards Janus and George. He reads the situation, and it does not go well. His sudden movement to interpose himself between the half wolf/half dog and George causes it to break into a run. Gremlin calls out to Samson, who kicks the back door of the bus open to get to the scene as quickly as possible.
Troy attempts to pull George onto the bus as the wolf crashes into Gremlin, knocking him back onto the wheelchair, which in turn knocks the wheelchair back onto Troy, who slams his head hard.
Samson arrives on the scene. He hears a voice from below yell at him to jump, and he does so. There’s a chatter of autofire, and at least one round hits the animal, which gets its attention and draws it away from Gremlin. Samson takes the opportunity to take control of the situation, and pin it to the ground.
A large, heavily armed man approaches and tells Samson to get off his dog. Samson does so. Gremlin immediately raises his hands and says that they might have gotten off on the wrong foot. The man asks who shot his dog, and Gremlin says it was his friend Maude. There’s a tense moment, but the man accepts that there may have been a misunderstanding. Troy guesses that the man is Dad. Gremlin offers to treat the dog’s injuries, but Dad says none of them would know how to deal with it. He says they should come into the house if they’re coming. Gremlin asks if George is okay, and George is surprised, since he was the one that took a wolf in the chest. He asks if Janus would be okay staying on the bus, and George says no way. Dad says that George has to stay outside anyway, as they don’t smell right, and Maude has to stay by the vehicles, which suits her fine.
They head to the house, and Troy approaches Dad and introduces himself. It turns out Dad has heard of him. One of Amy’s girls came by a while back, and mentioned him. They killed her because they were low on food, and found out the hard way that she wasn’t good to eat. After they break the handshake and Troy continues on, Samson breezes past Dad without even acknowledging him.
On the way in, Troy can see what appears to be most of an airplane behind the house. Macy is on the porch, setting up a makeshift bong connected by a hose to a gas mask. Troy takes a draw on it, and offers her one of his own joints in return.
Gremlin tells Dad that they were hoping to trade with him, but after injuring the wolf, volunteers that they need to make it right. Dad agrees. Gremlin confirms with Troy that they can part with some meds, and Dad says that should make them right for the wolf. Additionally, Troy offers to produce .308 ammo for him in exchange for enough scrap metal to repair the vehicles.
Samson partakes from the bong, and his reaction elicits a round of laughter from Dad and Macy. Samson says that’s true art, and the laughter is replaced by a thoughtful nod from Dad. The gas mask is passed to Gremlin, but he politely declines, showing his eyes. Dad notices a cloud of dust a way off, and comments that his son is on his way back. By this time, both Macy and George have taken a hit from the bong.
Troy asks Dad if the art they make is for sale. Dad says everything has a price. Troy brings up the head. Dad says he has the rest of it inside, he’s waiting until he comes across another one. He says that the head is his security. Troy offers to rig up a replacement system if they’re willing to part with the head. Troy tells Dad about Alpha, and Johnny Twosmokes, and says he was told to pay the kindness forward. He gives Dad the peyote he harvested. Dad tells Macy to get it in the ground quickly. Troy reminds them that the story is almost as important as the thing itself. Macy asks what the kindness is, and he says that when he has an opportunity to take a life, he should instead spare it.# ontheroad