Back in Tallahassee, Gremlin is about 13 when he’s hanging out in the Stands with his friend Katie, sharing a joint at about 10pm. Gremlin has not yet received his first car yet (so he’s still just James Jr), and Katie has a dirt bike that her brothers helped her get working. They have fooled around a bit from time to time, but have not yet gone all the way. Gremlin has a mind to rectify this.
He sees she has something on her mind and asks her. She blurts out that she doesn’t want babies. He confides in her that he doesn’t either. After she warns him not to tell his parents, she figures that they can keep each other’s secret. Gremlin reaches into his pocket, and realizes to his dismay the condom he was carrying around for this momentous occasion has gone missing.
Gremlin and Katie both know that there’s a supply of condoms in a lockbox in the town hall. In an age where repopulation is a growing concern, condoms are not given out as freely as in the Day Before. They resolve to break in and help themselves to a couple.
The break-in goes as planned. Katie’s able to get the front door open, and they sneak into the office upstairs. She’s just gotten the lockbox itself open when they’re discovered by the night watchman.
Gremlin earns himself three weeks painting the walls of the stadium for his trouble. He’s also not allowed to see Katie any more, except at public functions. They both move on. Years later, she gets hitched to some other guy, and does get pregnant, but it ends in a miscarriage. They don’t try again after that, and Gremlin can see that the light has gone out of her eyes, and she doesn’t ride the dirt bike anymore.
The mercenaries have all been paid and waste no time making themselves scarce. George wonders if any of the freed slaves are going to try to have kids. Troy says he was surprised that they didn’t all leave with the mercs. Maude says a lot of them aren’t merc material, and are somewhat useless. She makes no secret about the fact that she’s eager to get on the road; everything’s all packed up, and the dirt bike she’s commandeered has been strapped to the back of the VW van.
Samson, one of the ex-slaves from Leon’s camp, has been wandering around, trying to figure out what to do with himself. The very few remaining ex-slaves are making a very pointed effort to avoid him. The various mercenaries didn’t appeal to him, and Amy’s girls were right out. He comes to a decision, and walks directly up to the only group that doesn’t seem to conform to any of the others.
Gremlin, Greaser, Troy, George, and Maude are startled to see a big muscle-bound carrying a sledgehammer walk right into their camp. He introduces himself as Samson, and had apparently met George the night before.
A conversation ensues, and Samson ends up asking to join them. Gremlin confers with George and Troy. George says they interviewed him last night, and he didn’t seem to have any ill intent. This is good enough for Gremlin. He asks Samson if he can drive, Samson says he never had a need, but is willing to learn.
Troy goes to speak to Amy about the radio scramblers. He finds Gutierrez on guard duty in front of the tent, and she waves him in.
Inside the tent, he finds Amy and Dr. Kumar. He can see that Amy’s in an incredible amount of pain from the leg wound. She asks if he has anything stronger than weed, as she’s trying to lay off the morphine, as there are others that need it more than she does. He runs down a grocery list of what he’d need to cook up some angeldust.
They discuss the radio scramblers. She runs down the theory behind encryption, and points out that they’re not nearly as useful now that Captain has almost certainly changed the codes, but says that the components could be repurposed for all kinds of things.
Amy asks if Gremlin’s alright, Troy says he’s hard to read. Amy suggests that he stop in when he has a minute and they can go over the map and help him plot out a route to California. She tells him about Bridge City (which is what the crew is likely to hit next, and is run by a collective of fairly decent folks) and Pensacola (which spends more than half the time under water due to the tides, but has a floating market with a surprisingly good selection). She also mentions the Flats up north, which is a bit thin on settlements.
He broaches the subject of buying parts for a sniper rifle. He figures he can machine most of the parts, but not all. That’s a little more than she’s willing to part with, but lets him in on the fact that there’s an old bunker up north, and if he promises not to just strip the place clean, he can probably just pick up a rifle there, and he’d be welcome to it. Troy says it’s ultimately up to Gremlin.
He asks if they know anything about the Maelstrom. Amy brings one in of the younger girls named Pinky. He asks her if she ever sees anything that’s not there anymore. She says she used to, but it stopped when she joined up with Amy. She says she used to see other people’s memories or dreams. She talks about a girl that she met in Pensacola, helped her with her homework, and only she could see her. She talks about a guy that she was cooking for, and he was trying to pay with strange jingle, and threatened to get her fired.
When Amy mentions the possibility of developing attachments, he gets quite uncomfortable, and abruptly leaves the tent.
While Gremlin goes to get the bus ready for a driving lesson, Greaser invites Samson to sit with his gang and socialize for a bit. A large jug of moonshine is passed around, and Samson makes sure he drinks exactly as much as everyone else, no more, no less.
Tweeter asks Greaser what’s next. Greaser says that they’re still going west, because that’s where Gremlin has business. Tweeter brings up concerns about Maude. Greaser says they’re square, and Tweeter lets the matter drop, but asks about Samson. Tweeter gives Samson the Lost & Found’s spiel, that Truth and Beauty are intertwined, and you can’t have one without the other.
Samson gets that Greaser’s main concern is that he’s not a whackjob, and that he’s not going to abscond with George, or violate them. Samson says the only Truth or Beauty he’s known has been inside himself. Dale says that Samson is not yet a man, as he doesn’t know himself yet, and Samson agrees. He says he’s spent most of his life living as a wolf; a hunter in the wild. He then says that for the last year, he’s been nothing more than cattle. He says that now he has no desire to be either one anymore.
Gremlin pulls up with the bus. After having a drink with the gang, he and Samson pile into the bus and drive back across the bridge into the deserted merc camp. Along the way, Gremlin lays out the deal with the crew: Gremlin’s condition, Maude’s baggage, Greaser’s management troubles, Troy’s bad attitude. He asks if Samson has anything in his past that’s likely to catch up with the group, and Samson says there isn’t. When he mentions that the combined forces killed Leon and set him free, Gremlin has to come clean and admit that he doesn’t know if Leon is dead for certain. Samson mentions Leon’s father, the old man in the wheelchair, and Gremlin can confirm that Amy let him go, since he seemed harmless. Samson vows to hunt the man to the ends of the earth and skin him alive. Gremlin decides not to stand in the way of that. He mentions that Leon promised him exquisite pain for an extended amount of time if it turns out that he was being deceived (which of course he was). Samson promises to keep that from happening.
Samson gives Gremlin some very general advice on what to expect as they head west. Gremlin gives Samson a driving lesson. It does not go well, and he ends up burning out the clutch. Bottom line, the bus isn’t going anywhere until it gets fixed.
Gremlin stays to babysit the bus and dissuade random looters while Samson hoofs it back over the bridge.
Troy had offloaded his coffee table from the bus before Gremlin takes off with Samson, so he spends several hours working on getting the cooling system set up before he attempts to actually turn it on, with some help from Amy’s camp in the form of a couple of portable generators. The box begins to hum very quietly, and there’s a soft blue light on the front. Troy connects the cable to Maude’s arm, and the other end to the box, and Maude goes completely silent. When he leans in close to check that she’s breathing (she is), he can see her eyes flickering slightly. He’s not sure how to safely disconnect the cable, or even if it’s necessary. Given the choice between powering down the box itself, or just letting her sit there until she’s done, he opts for the latter. He can see the fingers of her cyberarm rapidly tapping out a pattern for a few minutes before they go slack, and she stirs. He shuts down the box, and disconnects the cable. She says that a piece of something is living in the box, and she’s met it before. She says its name is Ada, a name that Troy has heard before. She also says that if Captain knew they had it, he’d be hunting a lot harder for them. She says that Ada asks why so much of it is missing, and says that she could only convince it to let her go if she promised to bring more parts.
Troy brings up the possibility of offering up the box to Captain to get him off their asses for good. Maude isn’t happy with the idea of giving Captain anything. As an alternative, he brings up the idea of shopping it to Amy. Maude isn’t against that idea, but speculates that ultimately they wouldn’t be able to do much with it.
She says that back in Virginia, Ada told her to go Texas, that if she met it there, it would make Maude whole.
There’s an awkward moment when Troy realizes what Maude is feeling: that she’s scared all the time, and everything she does is in service of covering this up. Troy wisely opts to not acknowledge this at all.
Samson arrives back at camp and tells Troy the bus stalled. He gets on the radio and Gremlin confirms that the clutch is burned out. Troy, Samson, and George get in Adele (with George driving) and head over the bridge to see what they can do to help. On the way, Troy fills George in on what happened with Maude and the coffee table. George is excited to hear that AIs are real. Troy lets slip about the room with the flashing lights, and George is visibly upset. Troy says they’ll talk about it later.
New player this session. Of course, we all knew that Samson was going to join the group, but we needed there to be more reason than a big ‘PC’ stamped on his forehead.# ontheroad