At the mention of a possible sniper, everyone in the salvage party has gotten under cover, and is waiting nervously. Up in the town, there’s the occasional crack of a rifle. Greaser reads the situation, and sees Toad and Fingers peeking over the top of the van, and along Toad’s arm there’s a series of long nasty gouges that are already starting to go bad. He scrambles across the battlefield, and while he can hear the sniper take another shot, it doesn’t land anywhere in his vicinity.
Fingers has the idea to blow up the remaining intact car to cause a distraction so they can get the hell out of there. Greaser says that’s not the gig, and berates him for being a coward. He asks Toad where he got the scratches. Toad says it ain’t no thing. Greaser says he wants to use half of Fingers’ idea, and use the explosion to get closer to the sniper, maybe take them out in the confusion. He starts issuing orders to deploy his guys, and heads back to bring Georgia up to speed. She wants to wait until the backup arrives with artillery, but acknowledges that if he can flush the sniper out it will definitely save resources. He advises to call for backup, but he’ll see what his guys can do in the meantime. He lays out the plan to his guys. He leaves Sam and Eric behind to guard Georgia’s truck, and everyone else mounts up.
Troy finds Kenzie out behind city hall, in a courtyard that might have been a park once upon a time. There’s a gazebo, a small crowd of townsfolk, and several children. Kenzie’s sitting at a table with a radio on it. Lakota and a couple of others are with him. There’s a tense moment when he gets a cold response from the crowd, but when Kenzie turns and sees him, he vouches for him and invites him to sit. They chat for a bit, and Troy brings up the computer equipment, saying that he doesn’t know how much longer he and his friends will be sticking around. Kenzie offers him a place in town. Troy politely declines. Kenzie is disappointed, but accepts Troy’s decision.
At the appointed time, the power comes on, and there’s a cry of celebration from everyone. A string of lights against one wall spells out “Happy New Year 2032.” Only a couple of the old timers understand what it means, everyone else is a bit confused.
Kenzie is frank about Gremlin’s predicament. He gives Troy some background on their previous contact with the Dust People. They’d had an outbreak about ten years previous, and it very nearly wiped them out. He also mentions an all-female mercenary chopper gang called Amy’s Girls, that Troy had heard of, but never met personally. Kenzie says that rumor has it some of them had been exposed, but powered through it and survived. He says you can recognize survivors (and potential carriers) by their red eyes.
Gremlin talks to Maude through the tent. She warns him that the hocus that wanted to buy George has reinforcements in pockets north of town, which will likely continue to be a problem. She asks if he knows anything about “Ada”. He’s never heard the name, so she lets it go. He tells her that he understands why the town is doing what it’s doing. He acknowledges that he did something stupid, and these are the consequence. He tells Maude that if he doesn’t make it, she can have the van, Troy can have the bus, and George still has a mission. If Greaser comes back from his current job, he should take George and help with the mission. However, if Greaser doesn’t come back, Maude should take George herself and make sure that Greaser’s guys don’t get them, as Gremlin doesn’t trust the gang without Greaser holding their leashes. Maude tells him that when they’ve left town, he should check the trunk of his car, as she’s left him a surprise.
Eric and Fingers tip the car over and stuff a rag into the gas tank and light it up. When the car goes up, the rest of the crew peels out and heads into Smith. Once they clear the retaining walls of the highway, they can see that around the bases of most of the buildings are gigantic mountains of sand, some almost completely covering some of the smaller buildings.
As they make their way in, the sound of the rifle shots are closer now, and they can hear various voices. The sniper doesn’t seem to be shooting at them, and Greaser suspects there are more Dust People in the area. He figures out that the safest way up to where they want to be is the long way around. He confers with his guys, and Toad points out that if they’re not the sniper’s target, there’s nothing to worry about, and they should just leave.
Troy finds Leo in the hotel. He has a couple of guys helping him set up what looks like a huge boiler. They’re carting out the remains of the reception desk, and there are a couple of 100 gallon steel drums. Leo begins explaining his plan (at about 60 miles an hour) to Troy for setting up a gasifier as a backup for the generator. Leo is obviously high, but the plan seems solid. He also has an idea to electrify the perimeter fence. Troy advises him about the reputation he’s garnered for himself, and that he will need to work on making himself indispensable.
Troy and Leo head up to the hospital to check out the computer equipment. Troy opens his brain to the Maelstrom, and Dr. Swimming Fish comes rushing down from upstairs. She’s in a complete panic, and warns him that the National Guard has commandeered the whole hospital, and if they catch him in there they’ll shoot him. A device strapped to her arm beeps, and she says she has to get back to the ER, and rushes off. Troy looks at Leo, and it’s apparent that he didn’t see any of this. They continue upward. On the second floor, Troy can see red strobe lights, and all along one wall are dozens and dozens of occupied body bags, stacked six high in some places. At the end of the hall are two of what look like Kenzie’s guards, wearing rumpled Day Before uniforms and carrying assault rifles. Off to the side he can see the operating rooms are an explosion of activity.
One of the guards barks a warning to him that he’s in a restricted area, and to get down on the ground. Troy says that Kenzie sent him, and that he’s just following orders. This convinces the guards, and they let him through. Standing guard at the room beyond is another soldier in a crisp dress uniform. Inside the room is a large round table, around which are sitting several other soldiers, none of whom look to be in good condition. At the far end is Maude, who has her mechanical arm laid out, and she’s messing with it. She asks if he’s the tech, and says they have to get to the uplink, as her interface is malfunctioning. She says that a civilian took a shot at her, and ever since the jack hasn’t worked.
Troy casts a glance at Leo, who fails to react to anything that Troy sees around him. He heads over to the computer equipment, starts poking around, and finds a card that he believes will fit in his “coffee table”. He realizes that the problem with that is related to the problem with Maude’s arm; if he solves one, it may take care of the other. He’s found what he needs. As he heads to the door, Maude jumps up and asks where he’s from. He says he’s from Central. She asks if anyone’s heard from Ada, and the scene melts. Troy finds himself in the remains of the hospital’s 2nd floor with Leo.
Leo asks why Troy can’t stay, or if he has to leave, why he can’t come with him. Troy lets him down easy, and kisses him. That seems to settle the matter. As they’re exiting the hospital, Troy tells him that if he can, he’ll head back this way, and Leo had better be running the damn place by then.
Greaser’s guys are all of the opinion that they should just take off. He goes off on them again, and leaves them confused and bewildered as he turns off to go the long way around. Soon, he’s aware of Toad following along behind. They share a nod.
All of a sudden, there’s an explosion of sound, as there are dozens of voices screaming and calling for help. Some of them seem to be competing for attention. Greaser does his best to block them out.
He gets a bit further on, and the shouts die down, but when he looks around he notices that Toad is no longer by his side. He hears a woman’s voice from somewhere above him that says she’s not sick, and a light flicks on and off once. Off in the distance, the sniper fires again. Greaser dismounts and proceeds on foot. The woman’s voice continues, saying that she’s got a gun, and she can hold them off. As far as he can tell, she’s telling the truth, so he turns and heads back toward her. She warns him to stay out of the street. He climbs up to the top of a sand dune, making his way to an open window. He climbs in and finds himself in the remains of a small apartment. In the middle of the room sits an old woman with long grey hair, and on the floor in front of her is Toad, his throat torn open. There is no blood anywhere to be seen. He can see by the torn flesh of Toad’s arm that the woman is in the process of eating him. She looks up at Greaser, and they lock eyes. He steps forward to see if he can help Toad, and she jumps up and tackles him, pinning him down and taking a nasty bite out of him. He retaliates, impaling her on his machete, and she goes limp. On his way out, he takes one look back at Toad.
He hears the voices of his crew shouting up at him from down in the street. He scrambles back down to them and makes his way back to his bike. He realizes that the whole city is infested, and it’s too dangerous to proceed. They make their way back around and return to the site of the battle. By the time they return, a flatbed truck has arrived, with a huge mounted floodlight, bathing the entire area in white light, and a crew is connecting up the van to a tow truck.
Greaser gives his report to Georgia. His recommendation is to use the artillery to level the whole city. He takes her advice to take his people back to Alpha, and she’s going to stay to help guard the salvage team. He’s looking forward to getting some sleep.
The next morning, Greaser wakes up his crew before dawn, and they head out of town, having retrieved Toad’s bike from Smith. They have a ceremony at a spot around halfway between Alpha’s north gate and the rest stop outside Smith.
Gremlin’s fever gets worse as the night wears on, and he’s plagued by horrible nightmares. Eventually, his fever breaks, and he awakens in the early morning feeling extremely cold. He gets up and checks his face in the mirror, and sees that the whites of his eyes have turned completely red. He drinks all the water he has left in the tent, and heads out into the sunny morning.
The moment he exits the tent, Janus is on him in a shot. However, upon approaching him, the dog senses that something isn’t right, and immediately backs up and begins growling menacingly. George moves to calm him. They’re visibly disturbed by Gremlin’s eyes, but nevertheless happy to see him up and around. They drag him to the other tent where someone is busy making breakfast. Gremlin eats some scrambled eggs and drinks even more water while George pesters him with question after question. Troy shows up and is glad to see he’s on the mend.
Gremlin asks if everyone’s ready to go, as he has no desire to remain here any longer than he has to. Troy mentions that Greaser and his crew went on a salvage mission in the night, and he came back a bit scraped up. A guard says that he will radio for the Dr. to come and give him another exam. Gremlin says he would very much like to take a shower.
When Dr. Swimming Fish shows up, she asks Gremlin a few basic questions to gauge his cognitive function, and seems satisfied that he has indeed fought off the infection, and is therefore safe enough to be allowed back in town. He points at his eyes and asks if it’s permanent, and she confirms it. Troy says something about finding him some sunglasses. Everyone piles into the jeep to head back into town. George and Janus wait by the cars while Gremlin takes a much needed shower.
With the new salvage that was brought in during the night, Troy is able to barter with Sueña for the rest of the parts he needs to build a replacement for the mill he donated to the town.
Gremlin meets up with Greaser and gets his keys back. Greaser tells him he lost Toad. Everyone forms up and heads north out of town.# ontheroad