The crew is dealing with Macy and her Dad as the dust cloud of an approaching vehicle announces the return of Dad’s son. Macy asks George if they want to take a walk with her into the woods, as it’s an amazing sight while high. George throws a nervous glance at Troy, but agrees. Troy looks out at the woods and opens his brain. Due to the effects of the drugs, he penetrates a bit deeper than usual. He can see George walking with the assistance of a large piece of wood, supported by Macy, while Janus circles around them as they go. He sees a hazy halo surrounding George. He sees Dad heading off to the right, vaguely towards the airplane, and can see a middle aged man and young woman standing by the tail of the plane.
Gremlin sees Dad approach the tail of the plane, and just sort of stand there with shoulders slumped.
Troy waves to the couple. The man is wearing a lab coat over a uniform, and the woman, with Asian features, is holding a tablet. Dad begins talking softly to the couple. Troy turns his attention back to the woods, and can see long stratus clouds on the horizon on the way. Over the trees themselves, he can see an immensely large disc floating. It has the look of something manufactured, but it has several large tentacles protruding from the underside, and the way it moves feels organic. He is immediately drawn to it.
Samson remembers that Dad had said that he spoke to angels, so he opens his brain in an attempt to hear the voice of God. His attention is immediately drawn to the figures Dad is speaking to by the plane. He catches a small snippet of the conversation, but once the Asian woman catches sight of him, they get really quiet, and Dad turns to stare at him. Dad indicates a set of manacles, and tells him if he wants to speak to the angels, he needs to put them on. Samson does so, and then approaches the figures near the plane.
The man says they’re trying to stabilize the atmosphere in the area, and mentions civilian drones. Once Samson arrives, the man questions his presence, but Dad says simply that if he has ears to hear, he will listen, and that seems to be that. The man shrugs, and resumes explaining the setup of a local area network (whatever that is). They then discuss the workings of the plane, but it’s just more gibberish to Samson. Eventually, he can feel the drug wearing off, and he can feel his senses returning to their normal sharpness, but at the same time, the man and woman are fading. He looks at Dad, and sees that Dad is aware of this as well. Once they’re gone, Dad tells him not to tell anyone what he saw and heard here. Samson agrees.
Gremlin figures that Macy’s intention once she gets George into the woods is to try and hook up with them. Knowing that George would very likely not be on board with this, he moves to provide them a ready excuse to extricate themselves from the situation gracefully, should it come to that. On the way, he passes by Troy, and sees that he’s got an odd expression on his face. Gremlin asks if he’s alright, and Troy says yup. Gremlin shrugs and continues on. Once he’s in sight of Macy and George, he calls out. Janus barks once and wags his tail in response, and the two turn and wave. Gremlin waves back and continues toward them.
Troy is at the edge of the woods, and can see signs all over warning against trespassers. He sees Gremlin move past him, and all of a sudden, a soldier comes running up to intercept Gremlin, yelling warnings that he’s not allowed to be there. Gremlin doesn’t seem deterred by the soldier (and in fact, doesn’t seem to see him at all), and after a moment, the soldier turns and runs off into the woods while Gremlin continues on toward Macy and George. Troy turns and follows the soldier. He comes across a camp, where there’s lots of activity, with many soldiers moving back and forth. At the center of the commotion is a computer connected to a very long antenna that’s very reminiscent of the one Troy salvaged in Bridge City. One of the soldiers standing next to the computer has an arm that’s identical to Maude’s, connected with a cable. The soldier at the keyboard tells his buddy with the arm that they can’t shut the system down, and a hushed argument ensues. Troy approaches closer, keeping himself concealed, and continues to observe. The soldiers continue to argue on whether they should call it in that there’s trouble, despite the possibility of being courtmartialed or even executed. Then it all abruptly disappears, and Troy is alone.
Gremlin catches up with Macy and George, and says he needs George’s help with the biodiesel setup on the bus, and they they’re the expert. Macy tells Gremlin that he doesn’t exist; she can’t see him anymore, as if he were dead. George gets the hint, but isn’t interested in leaving just now, and says he should get Troy to help him. Gremlin shrugs, and tells them not to do anything he wouldn’t do. Then he lowers his sunglasses and leers at Macy, just for a moment, before he turns and heads back.
Samson accompanies Dad as he approaches the pickup truck that has just arrived. The young man that is apparently Dad’s son is a stark contrast to his father. Where Dad is built like a brick wall, the son is gaunt, possibly malnourished. He’s wearing a pair of dentures that don’t fit properly, and protrude even when his mouth is closed. He’s also wearing a pair of wings that appear to be made of many small bones. Dad informs him that they have company, and tells him to finish his chores. The son asks if they’re staying for supper, and Dad says they are, as they still have work to do as well. Samson asks about the wings, and Dad tells him that the Angel of Bones tells him which bones to use. Samson asks about the couple by the plane, but Dad says those were the Angel of Death and the Angel of Spies, and that the Angel of Bones is too beautiful to behold. Samson asks how many angels there are, and Dad says he’s met 18, but does not know their full number. He tells Samson that he is blessed for having seen the angels, as most are not worthy.
Troy has come down off the high, and finds himself alone in the woods. He begins looking for any physical evidence of what he saw that might have survived the last 50 years. He begins to get frantic, turning over rocks and tossing piles of leaves. Eventually, his strength fades and he leans against a tree. He notices almost absently that it bears his weight easily, which is odd, since most of the trees are rotting and falling over. He tears at it, and as the dead exterior falls away he sees a solid stainless steel structure underneath. The structure appears to be about 4 feet tall. He finds a panel, and gets it open. Inside is a panel that looks like the underside of a motherboard, and in white lettering: “Meterological Maintenance Control Node and Transmission Relay. Access by unauthorized personnel constitutes treason and is punishable by death.” He can hear a voice over his shoulder, and it’s the soldier he saw in the vision before. The soldier seems to consider Troy fellow military. After confirming that Troy isn’t stoned, he explains the relays and the interface plug. Troy asks if this is how it all went south. When the soldier speaks again, it’s a woman’s voice. She tells him to stop taunting them. Troy guesses he’s talking to ADA. She says this wasn’t how it ended, it was how it began. She says that there’s another entity, as big as her, and they’re still at war. She tells him to stop digging, and to stop messing with the Dust People, as it might attract the attention of the other. He asks in a roundabout way about Gremlin. She says that he’ll have to go, but that Troy will likely not live long enough to see it. The soldier abruptly disappears. Troy does his best to cover up the device. There’s a tense moment as Troy realizes he’s lost in the woods, but he’s soon able to locate George and Macy sitting by a small campfire. It’s obvious that something fairly intimate has transpired between them, but George doesn’t seem perturbed at all.
On the way back, Troy asks about the head and the box. Macy says that the Angel of Death made the head, but her Dad made the box, traded with a guy named Tyrone for a dead metal angel, and put its head on top of the box to keep the rest of them safe. She also says that her Mom helped, back when she was still alive, and it was her words in the head. Troy makes clear his intentions to trade for the head, but promises he’ll make sure that whatever he rigs up in its place will still have her Mom’s words in it. She says that when the Angel of Death took Mom, Dad didn’t talk to them for nearly a year, and eventually she and Dad had a big fight about it.
Troy asks about Tryone and Bigelow. Macy says Tryone hit Bigelow once, but he’s long dead; the Dust People got him and his gang up north. He asks if they travel much, and Macy says this is the only place the angels will talk to Dad. She mentions that Caleb isn’t really her brother, but Troy says that doesn’t matter much these days. Macy asks if they have any books, and George says they have lots of them.
Troy, Macy, and George arrive back at the house to see Gremlin, Samson, Caleb, and Dad sitting on the porch. Gremlin has attempted to make nice with the wolf, but was warned against it by Dad, so he let the matter drop. Dad tells Caleb and Macy to go in and get supper ready.
Caleb and Macy carry a big picnic table out in front of the house, and it’s followed by two big bushels, one filled with cured meat, the other with fresh tomatoes. Everyone sits down, and Dad recites a prayer to the Angel of Death. Afterward, everyone digs in. Gremlin is happy for the meat. Troy finds the tomatoes uncommonly good, and comments on it. Dad says that the Angel of Bones told him the secret of getting them to grow. Troy said he’d heard something similar up north, and Dad says that makes sense, as they’re the same. Specifically, he refers to himself as an oracle, and Troy as a prophet. Samson keeps a close eye on the interaction between Troy and Dad.
After dinner, Macy and Caleb clear away the table, Dad heads inside, and everyone else is left to their own devices. Troy brings some food to Maude. Apparently she spent the entire time under the bus. Troy notices that at some point, the totem pole out on the road lit up; all the skulls have soft yellow lights in the eye sockets. She asks about trading, and he mentions that he’s going to load some ammo; she offers to help. She says she’s staying on the bus so the locals don’t get a look at her, she doesn’t want them giving her description to anyone following along after. He mentions that Dad has a cybernetic eye like hers, and brings up the possibility of finding someone who can alter her look to make the eyes less conspicuous. She asks him if he thinks she needs it, and he tells her that it’s her decision. She won’t say it, but it’s clear that she places great importance on what Troy thinks of her, and how he views her.
They get to work on loading the ammo, and Troy also spends some time to rig up the equipment needed to replace the android head and make the box functional as a remote controlled intercom.
Gremlin finds a moment after dinner to talk to George alone. He asks if they’re okay, and makes it clear that he figured out what Macy was after and wanted to provide them a way out if they needed it. George says there’s lots of way to please someone without showing all your cards, but thanks Gremlin for looking out for them anyway. Gremlin brings up continuing to teach Samson to read, but George still isn’t ready to deal with him yet. Gremlin says that Samson is still trying to figure out how he fits into the world now. George says they’ll consider it, but they need some time to cool off. Gremlin understands.
The crew sleeps in the vehicles, and take shifts standing guard. The howls of some kind of dog or wolf can be heard off in the distance. At several times of the night, the silhouette of Dad can be seen to pause in the window for a few minutes, possibly looking out at the camp, and then move on.
The next morning, everyone is awakened by the sound of the box trundling along the trail from the house, accompanied by an instrumental recording of what Gremlin and George recognize as the Star Spangled Banner. It makes a circuit around the vehicles, then turns back onto the trail and heads back to the house. Shortly thereafter, Caleb, Macy, and Dad emerge from the house, and begin their daily chores.
Gremlin emerges from the car to find George on their feet, leaning against the bus, and stringing up a clothesline. He congratulates them on being up and around, and together they go to find the others.
They find Macy at the picnic table, where she has a row of human skulls lined up in size order, as well as a pile of electronic junk that she’s picking through.
Troy presents Dad with the ammo, and Gremlin hands over the meds. Troy makes ready to remove the head from the box and install his rig. Dad reminds him that the head was a gift from the Angel. Troy says he intends to give it back to the Angel. Dad says that Macy told him that “the jezebel” (referring to George) was able to walk in the forest without fear. He says that he was forbidden by the Angels to enter, but if the jezebel was able to do so, it must be because they were commanded to.
Dad uses his remote control, and the box comes trundling up. He commands the box to go to Troy, brings out a key, and removes Samson’s shackles. Samson lets them fall, and he steps away from them. He asks where he would be the most useful, and Troy hands him some tools. Samson is happy to act as tool rack while Troy works. Troy begins a running commentary on what he’s doing. Samson is happy enough to listen, but has nothing to contribute, and this seems to suit Troy fine as well.
Gremlin makes himself useful helping Macy work on the vehicles. She proves to be an expert welder, and when she’s done, he gets to work on painting over the patch she’s made. He spends some time getting the exact shade of orangish red to match the rest of the car, and eventually notices her watching him. He apologizes for creeping her out the night before, but he’s a bit protective of George. She tells him that Dad says people like him are servants of the Devil. He says he’s not, as far as he knows. She asks if he likes George, and he says that George is a friend. He confirms that none of the rest of the group have been intimate with George, and she takes comfort in the fact that she’s the only one. He finishes the paint job, and they get to work on the bus.
Troy connects up his rig, and works on copying over the audio files. In the middle of it, the head’s eyes open, and it asks if it’s being decommissioned. When Troy says yes, it asks if they won. Troy says not yet, but its fight is over. It thanks him, and shuts down. He finishes setting up the rig, and he and Dad test it out. It responds to voice commands, and it retains all the functionality it had before. Dad is satisfied. Troy asks if there would be a place for the head among the Angels if he were to put it into the ground near the house, but Dad is reluctant to ask the Angels, lest they be angry and withhold their gifts from him. Troy is fine with that.
Gremlin and Macy are just finishing up the work on the bus when they see George and Janus hanging out on the edge of the clearing. Gremlin makes himself scarce so George and Macy can say their goodbyes.
Troy heads to the camp, and sees Maude taking the laundry off the clothesline, wearing the mask from her riot gear armor to keep anyone from seeing her face. Samson is nearby. Troy explains to them as best he can his intentions regarding the head. He mentions what things were like just after The Big Day, and how over time humanity was able to get over the hardships they experienced, but that John doesn’t have that, because in a way, it’s still living in The Big Day. He explains that John’s interaction with the head has affected him in a profound way, and he felt compelled to do something about it.
When George returns, they’re on their feet, pushing their own wheelchair. Gremlin congratulates them again. Samson asks where he should ride, and George suggests that he ride on the bus so they can continue to teach him to read. Gremlin approves, and he’s fine riding alone for a bit. Troy says they should reach Bigelow in a couple of hours, and George says Macy told them that it’s a good place to trade. Everyone loads up and heads out.
Along the highway, Troy keeps an eye out for a good place to hold a funeral. About an hour down the road, he finds it. Amongst the ruins and skeletons of suburban houses, he sees the low stone wall of a small cemetery. He pulls over, and Gremlin and Maude follow suit. Troy brings John online, and John says the glitch has been corrected.
Troy has the head in a box. Gremlin grabs the shovel. Samson puts George in the wheelchair and carries them off the bus. George asks Troy if he thinks it would be alright if they took a picture. He says it will probably be alright. Gremlin digs a hole big enough the bury the head.
John greets everyone one by one. When Samson addresses him by name in response, John salutes. Gremlin returns the salute. Samson still doesn’t understand the gesture.
John asks if they have interface cables, as the data should be preserved. Samson retrieves the cables from the bus, and once connected, John initiates the transfer. John begs Troy to order him to encrypt the data in a different partition, so he won’t have to remember it as well. Troy agrees. Once it’s done, John thanks Troy, and hands the head back.
Troy says a few words, and hands John’s bible over. John reads Psalm 23, hands the bible over to Samson, unslings the rifle, and fires into the air three times. Gremlin salutes again. George knows enough civics to place their hand over their heart, because civilians don’t salute. Troy puts the head in the ground and hands John a bit of metal for a makeshift headstone. John etches the name John 647 and places it in the ground. Gremlin fills in the hole.# ontheroad