Gods, that was the longest night of my life. Felt like five months before the sun came up, and though the night felt hotter and drier than anything I’d ever experienced, it only got worse when the sun eventually rose. Within hours I knew I couldn’t last the day without a drink, and the rest of the Drivers didn’t look any better.
I was really beginning to suspect that they were going to decide I wasn’t worth the effort. I couldn’t blame them. I was actually surprised they were still there in the morning. Couldn’t have been for me. I was sure they were only there for Marion, and they had to be losing faith even in her. But somehow, they were still there.
Maybe they’d run out of pepperoni.
High noon, oh, I’d sell my soul for water
Nine years’ worth of breaking my back
There’s no sun in the shadow of the wizard
See how he glides, he’s lighter than air?
Dawn breaks across the scorched desert, and the endless standoff stands on. Grubby fists rub at sand-crusted eyes, stiff spines crack, mutated bladders void the morning’s complement of caustic uric paste into SHITGO intake thrones, and the eternal flame of Bill’s pizza oven keeps starvation at bay, though lately the toppings have given off a distinctly… well, recycled vibe. Let’s just say that the imperfectly ground-up bones and hair in the pepperoni has taken some getting used to. Oh, and the “sun-dried tomatoes” are neither. The pineapple is probably safe to eat, since Bill’s Pibble caught it and slaughtered it fresh before the sun rose.
There has been no progress, all through yesterday and the long hot night. Fatigue and tension wage war inside everyone’s pounding skulls, and sooner or later the delicate balance will be shattered by the first Driver who can’t take it anymore. A peek through a borrowed pair of binoculars reveals the Kid has spent the night patiently gnawing through the battery cables knotted around his wrists, and he’s currently throwing rocks at the head of his Gorn guardian, who doesn’t bother to duck and barely seems to notice.
Click to embiggen @penguinchris’ awesome map.
Panning the view to the left reveals Toecutter stifling a yawn as he holds the tip of his flamethrower against the side of the blue plastic portable SHITGO housing that contains the Marion Gen V. The pilot light has burned a hole through the side of the outhouse, dangerously close to the cooling array on the upper wall.
Fleetwood idles in his Caddy next to Toecutter’s rig. He seems grimly amused by Cougar’s tenacity.
“You know, darlin’, the Sally Kruger I usedta know might have been one stubborn gal, but she knew when to pull the plug. You got no more aces, sweetheart. You’re just embarrassin’ yourself out there, jeopardizin’ yer young son, and makin’ a mockery of badassery. Just let it go. Toecutter and me, we got you over a barrel. You give us any more grief, or try to outshoot us, and this fancy outhouse you like so much gets turned into a melted plastic shit sandwich, and your Kid becomes a lizard-snack. On the other hand, you let us take the outhouse and go unmolested on our merry way, and you and your kid and all your motley gang of fools can go your own way, to live and fight and die howsoever you goddamn well please.”
Cougar rumbles her hoarse response: “That ain’t no choice at all.”
Fleetwood feigns shock. “Child, you cut me to the quick. You act as though I’ve railroaded you into a… whaddayacall it…”
Toecutter supplies, “Untenable.”
Fleetwood nods his thanks. “Untenable position. Honestly, I ask the question you’ve been asked too many times before: did you really think taking the boy to another goddamned planet was better than making your life work down here?”
Cougar stares daggers of hatred.
“Look around yourselves. Look at each other. You’re exhausted, wounded, spent. You’ve all been chasing a comically ridiculous dream. Where is your star? Is it far? Is it far? Is it far?!”
Then Toecutter joins the refrain: “And when do we leave? I believe, I believe, yes, I believe!”
He pulls a small box from his belt and presses a button. Out of Junior’s E.A.R.A.C.H.E. blasts the chorus as Fleetwood and Toecutter dance a madcap jig:
In the heat and the rain
With whips and chains
To see him fly
So many die
We build a tower of stone
With our flesh and bone
Just to see him fly
But we don’t know why
Now where do we go?
Hot wind, moving fast across the desert
We feel that our time has arrived
The world spins, while we put his dream together
A tower of stone to take him straight to the sky
Oh I see his face!
As one, all eyes turn to the face of the Kid. The Kid blinks a few times, then looks to his mother. Tears well up in his eyes. He drops the rocks in his hands, falls to his knees, and sobs like the small boy he is.
“Look at your boy, Sally. He gets it. He understands. All this death and suffering, just to make him fly, straight to the sky… but he don’t know why!”
Cougar can’t look at her son any longer. She turns to look at the assembled Drivers, searching their faces for hope, for ideas, for a plan, for any kind of support.
“What do we do?”
Even the newest arrival, Deadly Harry on her riding mower, isn’t sure what to say to this.
“I got some lads we could call. Buncha blokes owe me a favor. Say the word, and I’ll call 'em in.”
Way back at the Ark, the kids rescued by Bill and The Major back in Round Six listen intently to the TCB, trading binoculars back and forth. They exchange worried glances.
They haven’t had much time to get to know the Kid, but they know who his Mom is. They’ve envied him for having a Mom, but now they start to wonder if having a Mom is going to make the least bit of difference for the Kid’s fate.
Being rescued had seemed like an impossible dream, and they’d barely had time to enjoy it before the familiar crushing oppression of reality descended again. Would they live through the day? And would they want to?
Not one of them believes they could help the situation any. Few of them had dared believe that room would be found for them aboard the Ark, if it ever did leave for Mars. But with even that faint, slender hope evaporating before their eyes as if melted by the scalding sun, their resolve begins to stiffen.
They are small. They are fast. They are sneaky. Until the Super Mutants got the drop on them, they’d survived parentless for years in the Wasteland. Nobody would easily get the drop on them again. They use a TCB frequency at the end of the spectrum, normally too distorted with interference for the grown-ups to use. They hastily hammer out the rough skeleton of a plan, and slip away from the Ark to execute it.
At least one of the Drivers grew up, long years ago, among the Lamplighter Cave orphans. Maybe he, or others around him, remembers that old TCB frequency. Maybe the kids’ hurried conversation has been overheard. Maybe not. It was a long time ago, after all.
Cougar’s plea echoes between the escarpments of Vasquez Rocks.
"What do we do?"
The gameplay has changed, round after round. This one will be no exception. For once we’ll try something that hearkens back to the dawn of the RPG era. You know your assets. You see the situation before you.
What do you do?
The only real rules are those we’ve held since the beginning: whatever you do has to be justifiable within the world as we’ve created it, and cannot contradict anything that someone else has posted before you. If we buy it, then it happens.
This Round ends Monday evening at 7:00 PM PDT, but there will be back and forth before then. Make a move, hurl a taunt, offer a negotiation with Toecutter, Fleetwood, or another Driver. Put together a plan. Call in supernatural reinforcements. Deploy some kids. Do something.
Twenty-four hours of Real Time from now (7:00 PM PDT Saturday) will be a short interval of Game Time from now. More than a couple seconds, probably less than a few minutes. Toecutter and Fleetwood need time to have their Turn, reacting to what you all decide to do, collectively or individually. They will post their response. You will all have twenty-four hours to react to that. 7:00 Sunday (which will, again, be mere moments later in Game Time), TC and FW will again have their Turn. After that, you all will have twenty-four hours to respond. And then, Monday evening, the actual Round will end, and we’ll have to analyze the results to see who lives, who dies, who escapes, who gets captured, who profits… all that fun stuff. So it’s like we have three mini-rounds of back-and-forth before the Big Deadline of Monday night, when the actual Big Actions take place, and we see what results. The three mini-rounds aren’t meant for pulling out your sniper rifle and taking out Fleetwood before he can react. They’re more intended for negotiation, collaboration, and setting the pieces on the chessboard. That way, if circumstances keep you AFK for one of the mini-round deadlines, you won’t miss anything too terribly vital.
So now… What Do You Do?
Note: Jane will be posting soon with her insights and help.