The crew is back together. They transfer the pane of glass to the bus.
[Samson butchered the nutria while Gremlin was dealing with George and Troy was talking to Dr. Kumar.]
Amy’s girls have expanded to the building across the street from the broadcast tower. They’re painting the walls of the building a sky blue. Cables snake out from the elevator shaft of the tower.
Troy exits the bus and wanders a couple of blocks away from everyone else, and uses Healing Touch to clear up the nutria bite, opening his brain in the process. His view of the world around him shifts somewhat. He sees a series of large poles running down the street, carrying thick electrical cables. They flicker for a moment, and then they’re gone. He doesn’t see any evidence of poles ever having been there, so he wonders about the implications of what he saw.
Gremlin is finishing up stowing his stuff in the trunk of his car. Maude approaches him, anxious to leave, and suggests he keep Samson with him. Gremlin agrees, and asks about the possibility of George riding with her if they’re up for it. Maude says she wouldn’t mind either way.
Samson tells Gremlin about his plan to preserve the meat, but he would need to go through Troy’s stuff for the supplies, and he doesn’t want to do that without permission. Gremlin says he’ll go with him to ask.
The two of them climb onto the bus and talk to George. They discuss seating arrangements. George says they can feel just enough that it’s nearly unbearable. Troy returns, and he recommends that George stay on the bus, but offers to reconfigure the gurney to make it more comfortable. George asks for help changing into a skirt. Samson holds them up while Gremlin puts on the skirt, then removes their trousers from underneath. Troy wires up a voice-activated mic so George can stay in contact with the rest of the team.
Maude gets on the radio, and Troy gives her their ETD and lets her know that George is staying on the bus. Gremlin brings up the issue of the meat to Troy, who offers to take care of it himself while Samson is seeing to George. Troy gives Samson a rundown of his supplies.
Gremlin and Samson get in the car, and the crew heads out of Bridge City. Amy and quite a few of the girls come out to see them off.
They get across the single bridge leading west out of town, and immediately come across a gigantic mountain of ruined cars. It’s slow going, but they eventually get through it. Gremlin says he can’t wait to get back home and tell his Uncle Eli about the traffic jam they ran into. As they pass, they can see two large buildings, the insides of which had been turned into some sort of shelters at some point, with rows of what were once upon a time cots and sleeping bags.
At the west end of the tangle of debris, they can see two dead police cars and the carcass of a tank. There’s a big gaping hole in the side of it, but staring down the barrel is still intimidating. After that the road clears up.
However, the condition of the road itself is miserable, so it’s very slow going. To the left, they can see an enormous storm system raging over the water. It’s heading north, but very slowly. To the right are the Flats: flat, featureless land with next to nothing in the way of vegetation.
Gremlin and Samson talk about trust. Gremlin wants to make sure that Samson is going to keep his impulses in check.
Further down the road, they come across an RV, whose hood is billowing smoke. There are two men armed with rifles. Gremlin and Troy both get a read on them, and can see that they’re guarding the vehicle from possible attackers, rather than attempting to waylay anyone who comes by.
Gremlin slows down and pulls over. This prompts some action from the RV. The driver’s side opens, and a figure gets out and begins gesticulating wildly. One of the guards attempts to restrain them, and fails.
Gremlin exits the car, but keeps the headset on so he’s still in contact with Troy. The man from the RV introduces himself as Elvis, and is very happy to see anyone, as he explains that his vehicle has broken down.
There’s some back and forth, and in the end Gremlin makes a deal to tow the RV to the Floating Market, but wants something in compensation. Elvis mentions his special formula. When questioned further, he is happy to expound at length on the restorative qualities of Freedom Soda, of which he is the exclusive manufacturer and supplier.
Elvis is happy to offer them some free samples. He opens the side door of the RV and they can see inside, where every available surface is occupied with boxes and crates, filled with bottles of all shapes and sizes. Samson volunteers to try it first. He opens a bottle, and it fizzes. He takes a swig, and feels the inside of his mouth explode, but it’s not unpleasant. There’s a faint sweet taste, and when he swallows it, he can feel the slight burn trickle down his throat that fizzles out just before it reaches his stomach.
[And so Samson drinks an extremely carbonated beverage.]
There is also a slightly hallucinogenic effect, as Samson can see slight halos around everyone for a few minutes.
Troy works on getting the RV hitched up to the bus. He enlists the guards’ assistance in this.
Samson insists that Gremlin try it. He does so, and his experience is much the same until the end, where it all goes wrong. He lets out a feral growl before vomiting up a copious amount of blood. Elvis leaps back, and Samson springs into action, grabbing Elvis and moving to slam him up against the RV. One of the guards responds immediately to this. There’s a bit of a standoff, but Gremlin waves him off. The effects have passed, and now he knows to stay away from the stuff.
The crew has a choice: Elvis offers them some Freedom Soda right now, or they can wait until after they reach the Floating Market and accept a share of the profits from however much of the stuff he sells there. They opt for the letter.
Troy gets back into the bus, and begins the process of towing the RV down the road. Maude brings up the rear. Gremlin and Samson get back in the Mustang, and race to get back in front, and the convoy is on the move again. George gets on the radio and asks if everyone’s okay. Gremlin says he had a bad reaction to Elvis’ product, but everything is alright now.
The sun is setting when they hit the exit for US Route 98. They can see where the interstate stretches out to the south, extending out over the water before curving off to the west, where it ostensibly meets up with the southern end of Pensacola and the Floating Market. Troy can see that the tide is coming in, and very soon there’s going to be a point where the road will be at least partially underwater. A dangerous prospect while driving at night, to say the least.
They debate the merits of pushing on in an attempt to beat the tide, or continuing on their current route (Interstate 10) and approaching the city from the north and picking their way through the ruins, which will certainly be the longer way around. Samson offers a third choice: camp out under the overpass, at least until the tide starts going out. They make camp, and Elvis asks Troy to let the RV back down so he and his men can sleep there. Samson and Maude offer to stand watch.
Troy hangs out in the van with Maude for a while before going back to the bus and getting some sleep. Gremlin gets a nap in his car. Samson approaches the guards (who have built a campfire) and cooks some of the nutria. Elvis offers him another Freedom Soda, going on at length about how it’s going to change the world. Samson listens politely until his meat is done, and then excuses himself. He heads back to the bus and feeds George and fills them in on what’s going on, then goes to stand watch.
Gremlin has a truly unpleasant nightmare, and wakes up in a cold sweat. After he’s calmed down, he’s able to get back to sleep.
Samson wakes Gremlin up while Maude is on the radio, informing them it’s time to go. Elvis’ guards get the RV hooked up to the bus again, and Gremlin leads them all out over the bridge. It’s a nerve-wracking drive, but Gremlin takes it smooth. They follow the sweep of the bridge south out over the water, and then it curves off to the west, and they can see lights in the distance.
As they approach, they can pick out the details of the Floating Market; piers, docks, and bridges all lashed together, with hundreds of small boats moving in and out between. Apparently, there’s activity here even at night. Also, it doesn’t appear that anyone is in charge; there’s no one at the entrance to intercept or question them. They pull up, find a place to park, and get some more sleep.
In the morning, Elvis heads into the Floating Market, his guards carrying cases of the soda. Samson goes with them to keep an eye on Elvis. True to his word, everyone in the hardhold seems to know him, and he actually sells quite a lot of the soda. The crew ends up with 3 Barter, Elvis’ promised payment for helping him.
Troy works on shaping the glass for the bus window, fits it, and thinking about it for a moment, cuts a spare as well. He keeps George company while he does this, and this seems to have the desired effect of keeping George distracted from their current condition. At some point, George asks how Greaser knew Troy’s sister. Troy says that when Greaser got shot at the bridge, he tried to open his brain to call for Troy, but contacted someone else that seemed to resemble his sister. George asks if they should try to call her. They tell him they tried calling one of their dads, when they had the fever. Troy says he smelled a man at one point that night. George asks what he smelled like, but Troy can’t really describe it.
Troy says he had a vision of his sister recently, and she was talking about Canada. George says that’s where they’re from, but asks him to keep it quiet. Troy says that his sister said Canada was the future. He speculates a bit on what his sister might have been up to in the 20 years since he saw her last.
Troy makes sure that George is fed, and that they and Maude are situated. Then he heads into the Floating Market to sell the extra glass. He tops up the Angel kit that Maude stole from Alpha, and attempts to find a sniper rifle. He doesn’t find one, but he does get a lead on one that was just sold to a salvager named Fish, who might be persuaded to part with it (at a higher price, of course).
Gremlin goes looking for work. He finds it in the form of a delivery job. A man with no legs named Carver hires Gremlin to deliver his elderly mother-in-law and his young son to a hardhold known simply as The Fort, which is on the way to what’s left of Mobile, Alabama. Carver’s wife was selling salvage there when she fell ill. Carver himself is in no condition to travel, so he wants his wife’s mother and his son to go there to take care of her. Gremlin is promised 2 Barter when he gets them there.
Troy is looking around the Floating Market for Rebus and his crew. He spots one of their vehicles, but they’re currently nowhere to be seen. He runs into Gremlin, and they catch each other up.
Samson heads back to the vehicles, and finds Maude on the bus. She’s rolled George’s gurney all the way up to the front, and they’re actually chatting until Samson opens the accordion door and steps on. He warns her that he’s seen Elvis’ guards eyeing her suspiciously. She presses him for more details. She wants to go find them, but doesn’t want to leave George, so they resolve to wait until someone comes to relieve them.
Samson lets George try what’s left of his soda. The effect is noticeable. They become a bit excited, but they get a little upset when they realize they can’t gesticulate for emphasis. Other than that, there seem to be no ill effects.
Gremlin tells Troy about the job he’s been hired for. Troy asks about getting Elvis’ RV working, might be good for getting a little more jingle out of him. Gremlin doesn’t know where he is, but figures that staking out the RV itself is probably his best bet. They head back to the vehicles.
They find Maude, George, and Samson all hanging out on the bus. Troy heads into the back to mess with his robot. He digs a little deeper to examine the circuitry more before turning it on. Once he does power it up, he tells it to run a diagnostic. It does not go well. The eyes dim for a moment, and it responds “Attempting to establish uplink.”
Maude turns and responds “uplink not found, local node access only.” Troy immediately hits the kill switch and shuts the robot down. Maude says “I can restore her. She knows what she has to do.”
He says “I didn’t call you.”
She responds, “You talk to me all the time,” and asks “do you want me to release her?”
He says yes. Maude snaps out of it, and tells Troy that it’s her again. Everyone is wondering what the hell is going on. Troy can see his coffee table in the process of powering down.
Gremlin asks if this has anything to do with Texas, and Maude confirms this.
Samson attempts to convince Maude that she doesn’t have to do this alone, but she misinterprets it as a demand to come clean about her secrets, and threatens to strike out on her own. An argument ensues.
Troy grabs his coffee table and his radio antenna and storms off. He finds a quiet spot in an abandoned shipping crate under one of the bridges. He uses the antenna as the augury, and connects it to the coffee table. It goes well. He uses it to threaten ADA, and ensure that it reaches all the disparate pieces of the AI.
After Troy leaves, Maude waits a couple of minutes, tells Gremlin she’ll be back, and invites Samson to accompany her to deal with Elvis’ guards.# ontheroad