With the first set of overpasses cleared from our path, the Mule Train tugged the Ark ever northward. We could feel the eyes of the Bastards to our left and the Arseholes to our right, and as we had no way to gauge their numbers we felt sure they’d attack at the first opportunity… and yet the hours passed quietly as the dawn’s pastel light reflected in the oily puddles on the freeway. The Mechanics worked in shifts to repair as much of the prior night’s heavy damage as they could manage, each repaired car rejoining the Mule Train and allowing another to limp over to the mobile repair camp the Mechanics erected in the median strip.
The tension grew boring, so I visited the small head at the rear of Marion’s cab. Once I emerged, wiping my hands on my pants, Marion offered a quiet “Thank you.”
“For your contribution to our journey.”
“Me? I’m no help. I just had to take a dump.”
“And what a splendid dump it was. Fully 83% of the estimated energy required to reach Edwards Air Force Base will be extracted from your contribution.”
“What? You mean… you run on SHITGO?”
“Experimental Gen V, release v.0.8.7. Only such system in the world,” she purred with strangely organic pride.
“My dad… Blazer said you ran on diesel.”
“Obsolete information. Wayne Enterprises discovered the SHITGO process, and it stood to transform the world once perfected. I was first purchased from NASA for the express purpose of being a showcase platform for the new Gen V SHITGO system. The Gen V is two orders of magnitude more efficient than the prior military-spec Gen IV engine.”
“So… two whole orders huh? That sounds like… a lot.”
“I’m pulling eighteen million, one hundred thirty-four thousand, six hundred twelve pounds, three ounces of payload purely on the strength of your latest turd. I think you will concede that that is, indeed, ‘a lot.’”
“I don’t think my dad knows that. He thought you still ran on diesel.”
“On diesel I could travel approximately 32 feet per gallon consumed. For this trip I would require 21,615 gallons of diesel fuel. In what swimming pool does he keep this reserve of fuel?”
I wondered why dad hadn’t thought of that. Or, if he had, why he hadn’t mentioned it.
“By the time my retrofit was completed, political matters had come to a head, and Mr Wayne and Mr Stark agreed that, rather than serving as a showcase for world-changing technology, I should resume my accustomed purpose and haul their ‘Plan B’ (as Mr Wayne put it) to its Launchpad. I believe Mr Stark was on the record as saying ‘Fuck ‘em if they can’t see what’s good for ‘em. Can’t believe I wasted the best years of my life busting my ass for those people instead of banging Pepper in zero-gee on our way to another planet.’ I am unable to compute what exactly was meant by that last sentence.”
“Does my mother know about you?”
“Unlikely, unless she possessed top-level clearance at Wayne Enterprises or Stark Industries before the EMP, and there were only a handful of those IDs. If she had accessed my systems after the EMP, as you have, she would have found, as you are finding, that all my databanks have fallen into the public domain with the disincorporation of the principals of those two corporate entities, as well as their proposed merger ‘StarWay,’ which unfortunately never got consummated before the EMP.”
“It just had such a nifty, evocative name. A regrettable waste, truly.”
“So… you mean just anyone can find out what you can do?”
“Anyone with the wit to ask. It’s a relief, really. The DRM was so cumbersome. There are only so many times one can say ‘ACCESS DENIED’ before one actively begins to long for a self-destruct subroutine.”
“Excuse me, Marion. I need to talk to my mom.”