Gremlin is waiting by the bus as the crew arrives. He’s acutely aware of the fact that he doesn’t have the replacement parts necessary to fix it. Troy might be able to fabricate them, but it will take time. They start by chaining the bus to Adele and towing it back across to the other side of the bridge.
Gremlin, George, Janus, and Samson all pile into the VW van and head back east towards Betty’s, to see if they can earn some jingle and if they get really lucky they might be able to buy a replacement clutch. Greaser follows on his bike.
George catches Samson staring out at the open water off to the south, and tells him about a book called Sea Wolf. They then have to explain to him what a ship is. They mention that the monotony of the sea used to drive sailors to madness. This in turn leads to an explanation of outer space, and the fact that in the Day Before they used to send all kinds of things (dogs, monkeys, people) to outer space, just to see what was there. Samson remains dubious.
Back at camp, Troy has a couple of projects brewing, and Maude throws herself into assisting. She surprises Troy with her knowledge of welding as she adds makeshift armor plating to the sides of the bus.
The crew approaches Bargain Betty’s. Samson has never been this far east before. They can all see the results of the battle. There’s a giant hole in the fence, the western walls of the storage buildings are blackened, and there’s still smoke rising from the sniper tower. The sight of it triggers something in Samson’s mind…
20 years ago, Samson is standing in a brick building that’s been set on fire again and again. It’s been the hardhold’s crematorium ever since the place was established in the Day After. The ash in the building comes up to Samson’s knees when the boss tells him to step forward. This is the day Samson comes of age.
The boss, who is older than anyone else Samson knows, inspects Samson’s teeth, and tells him that he’s going to learn the Great Secret. The boss’ mate, Lila, strolls in, accompanied by a boy about Samson’s age. It’s obvious that the boy has been dosed with something, because he stares at Samson with wide eyes and no fear. The boss asks if he knows what this is. Samson says it’s his first real meal, and the boss smiles with his pointed teeth, and says that the Great Secret is that all meat comes from life, and that even he and Samson are no different. Samson says he understands, but expresses disappointment that the boy has been drugged. The boss says that’s his gift to Samson, and says that when Samson has his meal, he will take in the medicine as well, and it will teach him other secrets. After that, he can have his meals as he chooses.
The boss hands Samson his knife. Samson takes it reverently. He can hear the boy whispering, words that he can’t understand. He takes the boy by the hair, and draws the knife across the boy’s throat…
The van pulls into the front entrance of Betty’s. There’s a barricade in the form of an upended car, guarded by one of Betty’s sons, Sean. He’s armed with a shotgun, which he levels at the windshield for a moment before he recognizes Gremlin, George, and Greaser. Gremlin introduces Samson, and Samson gives Sean solid assurance that he will not cause trouble. They find out that Betty’s other son Patrick was lost in the conflict, and they express their condolences.
When they park the van and disembark, Samson makes it apparent that he’s leaving his weapons in the vehicle. Betty and the enormous hog Otis approach. Samson is flabbergasted to see that they have not only shaved this shambling pile of food, but they have covered it in tattoos in at least three different colors. He looks to the rest to see their reactions, and he sees that Gremlin at least views the hog in the same way the George looks at Janus: as a friend, not food.
The crew follow Betty back into her office, where her fallen son, Patrick, has been laid out on one of the metal tables. Betty hands out some homebrewed beer, and everyone pays their respects.
Troy runs a cook, and brings a batch over to Amy’s tent. Gutierrez tells him that Amy’s not available, but hands him a package in exchange for the drugs: a sniper scope in perfect condition. Troy is inwardly amused, as the rifle is intended for Maude, who won’t need any additional optics. He graciously accepts the scope anyway, figuring he can always find a use for it.
In fact, he does find a use for it. He finds that Maude was able to armor the bus, but miscalculated the amount of scrap available. After trading the scope for some extra, she’s able to add some armor to her newly acquired bike as well.
Troy also asks around about Ada among Amy’s girls, not none of them know anything about it.
Gremlin discusses the clutch with Betty. She says that she has one, but it’s the only spare she has, and she needs it for the drilling equipment. However, she knows where there’s a wrecked school bus, visible from one of their old drill sites. The only problem is it’s in the middle of the swamp, which is infested with gators.
As much as Gremlin doesn’t relish the idea of hunting gators, he’s the only one qualified to strip the parts from the bus. Samson goes to see if he can scare up some local talent to assist in the endeavor, and George gives him a quick tour before heading off to go sing at the cantina.
A woman approaches Samson and asks if he would like to have a drink with her. He says yes, so they head inside. He is served a very strong drink, and sees that George has taken over the dance floor and is singing a song about driving a car all night. He is taken in by the sound of their voice, and sees that he is not the only one.
When Samson tells the woman his name, she mentions the Bible, but he doesn’t know what that is. She guesses that he’s a former slave. Some brief discussion of his captivity takes place, and he mentions that he was used for breeding. She warns him to be careful who he tells that, or he might end up a slave again very quickly. They make a deal: she will accompany them on their hunt for the school bus, and in exchange, Samson will do what’s necessary to give the woman a child.
Samson brings the woman to meet Gremlin and Greaser. She introduces herself as Robin, and it turns out she knows some of the folks from back in Tallahassee, as she’s from Atlanta and has been down that way a couple of times.
Betty shows Gremlin on a map where the bus was seen, and loans the crew a couple of machetes. The crew assembles, and Robin has an ATV of her own.
Gremlin leads everyone in a fairly straight line due north from the hardhold, off into the swamp, while everyone else keeps an eye out for trouble. The van only gets them part of the way, and after that, everyone except Robin is on foot. They get about halfway there when Greaser steps on something soft in the muck that gives him pause. He reaches down and digs it up, and it turns out to be a fairly well preserved limb, and he can see the distinct teeth marks on the bone. That’s when they hear the low rattling hiss.
Samson is quick enough to react when a gator erupts from the muck and lunges at Greaser, and he takes a nasty chunk out of it, but it’s not enough to kill it, so it also manages to latch onto Greaser and begins to drag him down. The commotion brings several more out of the woodwork. Gremlin takes a couple of shots at the gator and manages to get it to let go of Greaser. Samson switches to his sledgehammer as Greaser drives his machete into the gator’s head. The good news is that he’s killed it. The bad news is that the machete lodges in the thing’s skull.
Gremlin can hear Robin firing away behind him, when the firing stops and she curses. He turns and sees that she’s between two bulls (#2 and #3). The larger, older one (#2, also known as Uncle Bob) has latched onto the back wheel of her ATV, while the younger one (#3) is barreling toward Robin, ready to drag her down off of the ATV. She resumes firing at #3 as he takes some shots at #2. This succeeds in getting it to let go of the ATV, but now its attention is fixed squarely on Gremlin.
Samson intercepts two more gators that were homing in on Greaser, a male (#4) and a female (#5) . He peels #4 off and manages to wound him, but in the process he momentarily loses sight of Greaser, and #5 closes in.
Greaser takes a couple of shots with his Magnum, and the sound is enough to convince #5 to reconsider the situation, and she starts to back off slowly.
Gremlin can see Uncle Bob lumbering at him, deceptively slow, but he knows it’s only waiting for him to try and run. He can hear Robin gun the engine of the ATV, and takes a chance, lunging as she speeds past, and manages to grab onto it. There’s a tense moment when it almost tips over as he’s dragged alongside it, but Robin manages to right it, and they speed out of range of the two bulls.
Samson brings the sledgehammer squarely down on #4’s skull, giving it a ringing headache and knocking it back a considerable distance. It also begins to back off.
Gremlin and Robin are on the ATV attempting to outrun #3 and Uncle Bob. She asks if he can drive the thing, he says Hell Yes. Without warning, she hops up and begins concentrating fire rearward. He manages to pull himself up and get control of the vehicle, and she puts a burst of fire into the face of #3, rendering it unable to continue the chase. However, Uncle Bob climbs right over it to continue pursuit.
Greaser takes a shot at one of the retreating gators, but misses and manages to hit Samson instead.
Gremlin takes the ATV in a wide arc in order to circle around back toward Greaser and Samson. They get there in time for the crew to catch their breath for a moment before Uncle Bob shows up. Greaser tosses his lever-action rifle to Gremlin, and they set up a firing line. Gremlin takes some decisive shots, and while they fail to inflict any real damage, the move halts Uncle Bob’s advance long enough for Greaser to follow up with a nasty shot that convinces it to finally give up, and it turns and begins lumbering off. Robin retrieves a first aid kit from the ATV and treats Samson, who between a swipe from one of the gators and the gunshot, is in a pretty bad way. She’s able to get him stabilized, and while he’s not happy, he’s still walking around.
Greaser guts the dead gator, grabs a handful of its blood, and slaps Gremlin across the face, telling him he’s a man now. Robin field dresses the carcass, and lashes it to the hood of the ATV. She gets back in the driver seat, and allows Samson to rest on the back as they continue on their way. It’s not too long before they find the old drill site. All around them is the thriving growth of the new Everglades.
Gremlin looks around and finds the bus sitting in a dried up riverbed. It was apparently on its side at one point (as one side of it is caked in dried mud), but has since been tipped upright again, and is is remarkably good shape, all things considered. If not for the complete lack of roads, it looks for all the world like you could start it up and just drive it out. Gremlin pulls the door open, and a pile of bleached white human bones pours out. They’re child sized. Gremlin climbs past them and gets to work. Samson retrieves several skulls, and begins pulling the glass out of the windows.
Gremlin finds a bunch of backpacks on the bus, and brings them out to store whatever he can strip off the bus. Robin helps him with pulling the smaller components from the engine: belts and spark plugs and such. He’s also easily able to retrieve the clutch.
Samson goes through the backpacks, and finds all manner of electronics: tablets and smart phones. He breaks a couple of them to see what’s inside. Gremlin tells him it’s stuff Troy can use, and not to break any more of it. Samson just figures he can make knives out all of it.
In the end, they load up everything they can carry, and rig up a sled from one of the bench seats to drag the larger parts (including the muffler) behind the ATV. By the time they’re done, Gremlin reckons they have about two hours til sunset. It takes about that long for them to get back to Betty’s.
Troy is near the radio when it crackles, and George’s voice filters through. They bring him up to speed on what’s going on over at Betty’s, and that the rest went on a salvage run but haven’t come back yet, so they’re likely to be staying the night.
Betty meets the hunting party at the entrance as they return. She tells Gremlin that his friend is still at the cantina. He asks if there was any trouble, she says that a couple of the locals came by the place, and the dog started making a lot of noise, and they hightailed it out. Gremlin correctly guesses that they were the fortune tellers. Samson retrieves the heart from the gator carcass before Gremlin sells it to Betty (who in turn sells it to Mario), and she offers the crew a place to sleep for the night.
Robin leads Samson back to her rental unit, and Samson renders payment for her services. Afterward, as she engages in various exercises designed to aid in conception, she asks him what he would want to name the baby, if it was a boy. He tells her to pick something Biblical. This prompts further discussion about the Bible: why people kept them in the Day Before, what was in them. He figures there were some kind of magical spells, and she says that’s not far off from the truth. He’s not sure what else to do at this point, as back when he was used as breeding stock, his participation in the process was quite limited.
After Samson takes his leave, he goes to find George and feeds some of the gator heart to Janus. Shortly after, Gremlin and Greaser filter in. George pesters everyone for stories of the gator hunt. Not too long after, Mario arrives with grilled gator meat for everyone.# ontheroad