Bright Morning Star


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Scene Title Bright Morning Star
Synopsis The convoy crosses the Appalachian Mountains on the first leg of their cross-country voyage.
Date July 3, 2021

There’s no rays of sunlight to indicate morning, not even a brightening of the horizon. It is so early in the morning as to be obscene. But Tay insisted on getting as early a start as possible to the journey because, quote: “We get stuck in the Appalachians at night, we’re as good as dead.

It seems as good a reason as any to wake up before dawn.

In spite of the obscene hour, a small group of disbelievers has gathered in boats just off the shore of the Delphi Floatilla to witness the unthinkable, a convoy of land vehicles bound beyond the mountains into the mainland. An expedition of this nature has not ever been attempted as far as Delphic recollection goes, and yet there’s more than a half-dozen vehicles, engines firing, cutting ruts through muddy earth to do just that.

At the front of them the humvee operating under the callsign Scout leads the way across firm but wet ground toward the broken and buckled remnants of a freeway. Dilapidated green signage indicates it was, at one time, Interstate-76, cutting east to west across Pennsylvania. It’s a rocky start as each vehicle jostles and bounces across the demolished road that eventually sinks into the sea, but the further away one gets from the coast, the more drivable the road becomes. The potholes and frost heaves of turbulent weather patterns nevertheless make for an unsteady start to the journey.

“You serve?” Tay asks after several minutes of silence, looking over at Ryans in the passenger seat. “Not to pry,” he adds, “you just got the look of a man who did service. You know, before the flood.”

The old man riding shotgun had been content with silence, but doesn’t seem put out by the question. “Good eye,” compliments Captain Ryans in a quiet rumble, his attention still turned out to the passing greenery. “Navy. Took after my dad and joined the Teams.”

Ben finally turns a thoughtful gaze towards Tay, asking, “You?"

While “Agent Castle” has been rather quiet much of the time, spending time getting supplies together— actually making soaps for the trip? — they do have a question at Tay’s instance that getting stuck in the mountains will kill them, “In case we do get trapped at night later on, mind telling us what exactly it is that will kill us?”

They know quite a bit about danger, but it’s always better to know if the Castle could protect them if the worst case happens.

“We like to be prepared for the worst these days.” Especially since they had not been prepared for this particular wrench in the gears. A blue-eyed glance is made toward the back of the caravan, a quick mental measure to try to figure out the distance from front to back.

“Maybe we should have ridden in the middle…” they murmur under their breath to themselves.

Chess may raise a brow at the war talk between the two men, given she is a veteran herself, but not of a war either man has ever heard of. She keeps any comments to herself on that note, but shakes her head at Castle wanting the details on what might kill them.

“It’s too early to talk about what might kill us,” she says sleepily, her hands curled around a thermos of weak coffee, the scent of which permeates through the interior of the HummVee. It definitely smells better than it tastes, but as is the case in all of this water world, beggars can’t be choosers.

While her friend might think it's too early to talk about the myriad of things that might kill them, LeRoux doesn't seem to agree. "Wolves, bears, scavs," she lists, counting them up on her fingers as she goes, "the cold? Hunger? Infighting when we're all forced to huddle together for a minute longer?" Lots of things, she figures. Considering how their convoy began, perhaps that last one especially.

Tay glances up at LeRoux in the cracked rear-view mirror for a moment, then back to Ryans. “Fourth Marine division, second battalion.” He says confidently. “Served two tours in Iraq before we got pulled out.” His brows knit together, attention returns to the road. “Got out, did some private contracting work. World ended. Here we are.”

There’s a visible tension in Tay as he drives, a reason why he insisted on being the lead vehicle. It’s a bundle of PTSD experiences that Ryans is all-too familiar with. Different cocktails, but all served from the same bottle. Ryans has been around long enough to recognize the paranoia, the anger, the depression. He doesn’t need to be Huruma to feel it.

It’s for similar reasons Chess wanted to ride in the front in “Scout” – she was a scout, in her own war experiences, though she doesn’t offer those up for the two veterans. She was definitely not fighting in a known infantry group of a sanctioned, United States armed force, and she isn’t sure how well that fact would fly.

Castle’s thoughts about riding in the middle draw her gaze that way, and she looks out the window, at the trail of vehicles she can see in the side mirror. “And miss all this excitement?” she says wryly, but with a smile for them. “There’s definitely room on the bus, but we’d miss you up here.”

Ben listens with interest, head bobbing in understanding. “Korea and Vietnam…” He offers in return as is proper when talking to a fellow soldier. “Tail end of one and the whole of the other.” Ryans lets that sink in a little, riding out a couple of good bumps in the road. It’s also hard to miss the discussion in the back.

Eventually, Ben continues, “I ended up in the OSI when I got out, eventually DoEA… Pissed off some higher ups and landed as warden of one of their black sites.” There is no real emotion when he talks about it, he doesn’t allow it. However, it is obvious he was gleaning over a lot.

“Didn’t mind though, I ended up in the right place at the end of the world.” Fingers tighten around the ‘oh shit’ bar, as Captain Ryans touches on some of his own trauma. “Warden turned into Captain when we found the first Cerberus, and before the big battle with the Sentinel, the Cerberus was mainly manned by that black site’s detainees.” It wasn’t something a lot of people knew, but a fact he was privately proud of.

“Sounds like you had a good crew.” Tay says thoughtfully, watching the road ahead. He looks into the back seat through the rear-view mirror, briefly watching Chess and Castle’s exchange, then returns his attention to Ryans. “No disrespect but, why’s an old sea captain coming inland?”

There are many reasons he is going, but those he holds to his chest. Instead Ryans goes for a half truth, “Let's say I owe Lowe a debt, besides… the Pelagos needs her to come back alive.”

Those last words from Ryans get a wry and pessimistic huff from Nathalie. "Come back? Might as well wish for a pony, too," she says with a depth of cynicism that she seems far too young for. But then again, is anyone young here, in this world? Her attention turns out the window, her chin propped up in her hand. The view outside might not be the epitome of beauty and wonder, but Nat hasn't seen anything like it since before the flood. Anything that isn't metal walls and the press of the infinite ocean is worth looking at, in her opinion.

Chess may have been thinking the same thing, but she was planning to keep it to herself. She winces a little, looking out the window again, feeling the weight of the knowledge she carries.

“Hope springs eternal,” she says wryly. “But you know, if anyone can beat the odds, it’d be Marlowe. There’s no telling that woman she can’t do something she sets her mind to.” This version of Marlowe has impressed Chess just as much as the stories she’s heard of the woman in her own world.

She nods to Ryans’ reflection in the mirror. “You too, of course.”

“Ain’t a lot of hope springing past these mountains,” Tay says with a shake of his head. “This trip’s gonna disabuse a lot of you about what the world’s like. Things back east,” he says with a gesture over his shoulder, indicating the coast, “they’re hard but they ain’t like this. One person’s not gonna change that.”

It isn’t defeatism that colors Tay’s comments, but bitterness. It’s the voice of someone who tried and failed to make a difference, and now resents ever trying at all.

“Maybe Alaska’s different,” Tay says with a shrug. “Maybe it’s all gumdrops and rainbows there.”

The short bark of laughter at Tay’s last comment is tinged with the same flat bitterness. Ryans has been there many times and feels the sting every moment of his existence. However, if you don't laugh sometimes… even bitterly and without humor… you might lose your mind to it.

Besides, Tay doesn't truly know the horrors the Hounds faced over the years. Or even an old man like Ben. The dying screams of people, even children, burning to death in cages still wakes him at night.

“I am not discounting that there is some messed up shit over there, but whatever we find, we’ll deal with it,” Ryans says after a moment. It is a simple and matter of fact solution. “It’s all we can hope do.” Hope is all they really had.

Chess’ eyes narrow a little in the rearview mirror. “I didn’t mean that one person was going to magically fix everything, Epstein,” she says a little flatly. “And I’m not a little girl who thinks the world – this one or any other – is perfect. Trust me; I know what happens out in the world when there’s no longer a civilization binding it together. We’ll get through because we have to, not because we have fairy dust and unicorn shit on our side.”

She glances over at Castle and Nathalie. “Wake me if I need to shoot anything,” she mutters, turning to stare out at the slim view the barred windows give her of the world, before she closes her eyes.

Tay rolls his shoulders, looking over at Nathalie in the rear view mirror, then to the road ahead. His grip on the wheel tightens, then loosens, and he flexes his jaw. The rest of the ride would be a little quieter, at least from him.

Two Hours Later

Remnants of I-76
Ruins of Pennsylvania

5:08 am

Two hours in and the snow has started to let up. There’s still flurries from time to time, but nothing serious. It’s been a quiet morning, one Hart has spent mostly in the passenger seat with her feet propped up on the dashboard and a little journal in her lap. But eventually she sets the journal aside, gives a quick glance to Elliot in the driver’s seat, and swivels the passenger seat to face backwards as she ambles into the rear of the truck.

Hart navigates around where Squeaks is sitting, excitedly fishing a cassette tape out of her back pocket as she does. “It’s too quiet,” Hart says as she stretches to reach up to the top of the broadcast equipment where a tape deck has been added. She slots the tape into the dusty old deck, and presses it in with a pop and a click.

«Convoy,» Hart’s voice comes over all the radios while she keeps her hand on the mic, «this is DJ Hartbreak, and you’re listening to Convoy Radio. Because there’s nothing else in range.»

Hart smiles, impishly, and presses play on the deck.

«This is Journey, with Faithfully.»

Elliot has driven in silence since being given the wheel. The snow is hypnotic, but focusing on driving safely through it keeps his mind from drifting to things that make him feel completely helpless. The sudden music pulls him from the hole that he puts unwanted thoughts into. Ah, he thinks, great.

When Hart emerges from the front, Gracie lifts her eyes from the book she’s been reading — DUNE, because it was the biggest volume she could get her hands on, and this is going to be a long trip — and watches her set about her impromptu DJ gig.

The lopsided teardrop of her mouth pulls into a smirk when the blonde starts to announce the opening track of their excursion. “Hartbreak?” She held off until after she was off the air before voicing her thoughts. Amusement warms her tone in stark contrast to the snow outside, but no teasing follows. “Nice.”

The book is set aside. The less time she spends reading it, the more of it there will be to read when it’s the only thing there is to do. “This puppy have an auxiliary hookup?” Gracie pantomimes plugging in a cord. “Like a headphone jack?” She clicks her tongue off the roof of her mouth when that phantom cord is connected.

Squeaks had been doing a snooze since the hour of leaving came unfathomably early. Folding herself into a comfortable way once claiming a seat, it wasn't too hard to get settled in for the long haul. But when Hart scoots by, the teen's head lifts and tilts so she can watch with all the curiosity she can muster.

After maybe three seconds, a yawn cracks her jaw and then a stretch forces arms and legs out in front and overhead. Squeaks folds over herself again as muscles relax to normal, but her attention seems sharper, more aware. "Why Hartbreak?" She wonders out loud as the music gets playing.

“It’s the only pun I could think of.” Hart says with a grimace. “All good radio DJ’s names are puns.” She says with confidence. Then, after a moment of silent staring wonders to herself. “Right?

It’s only in that moment of self doubt that Hart remembers she’d been asked a question, looking over to Gracie. “Oh uh, yeah there’s an AUX input over…” she sits down in the wheeled chair in front of the console and stretches across to point at a port hidden behind a thermos. “It’s a 6.35?” Hart says, tapping the hole. “But—” she fishes around in the breast pocket of her flannel shirt, retrieving an adapter. “I’ve got a 6.35 to 3.5 adapter that should work for most portable devices. Uh, assuming there’s any left with battery charge.”

“It’s a great DJ name,” Gracie insists. “Wordplay is the best convention for these things.” If anyone appreciates a good nickname, it’s her. She starts to sit up from her slouch as she is given the glimmer of hope that the hookup she’s looking for exists.

It exists and Hart has an adapter to make it work. “You,” she stresses with a broad grin, “are amazing.” Gracie leans over and grabs her canvas bag from where it sits next to her seat, rummaging through it for a moment. “So, guy I used to know, real brainiac — he used to build robots or some shit.”

Reaching all the way into the bottom, she finally retrieves her prize. It’s an iPod — one of the old, blocky ones, first or second generation, made even bulkier by a pack added to the lower half of the back. Digging her nail under a piece of metal, she pops out a hand crank. “I didn’t even have to trade favors for it. He just wanted to do mushrooms and dance.” She laughs and sets the bag back where it was. “I have so much music on this thing. Maybe I can take a turn at the DJ gig? But I’ll have to think of a good name.”

Glancing around the vehicle, Gracie opens it to the floor. “Any suggestions?”

“DJ Obnoxious Nicknames,” Wright offers. Elliot doesn’t pass it on. He toys with a play on one of her real or assumed names that could be fitting, but nothing comes to mind. Settling for looking thoughtful, he keeps his eyes on the road.

Squeaks bounces a look at Gracie when the older redhead starts going on about a guy she knew, but her own expression is etched with vague suspicion instead of her usual curiosity. Of course it's fleeting though, gone like it never was as soon as she looks away. "Did you ever hear my brother?" This question gets directed more at Hart, but neither Gracie or Elliot are actually excluded.

"On the radio," the teenager continues. It's an important aside, relevant to DJ names. Not that she knows how far the Tower broadcasts go or if Hart has ever been to the Pelago. "He's Lancelot. The Voice of the Tower." That last bit has Squeaks doing her best to imitate a radio DJ's announcing voice. Then, in her normal voice, "I don't…"

Shaking her head, Squeaks looks at Gracie and shrugs. "Maybe another name works better for you?" Or no play on words at all? She shrugs again and looks up to Elliot, even though he's driving so they don't crash, for help.

You know him?” Hart says, giving Squeaks a side-eye. “Yeah, I know Lancelot! We chat from time to time on the long-range radios, or—we did before I left.” She smiles a bit sheepishly. “Captain Daselles wouldn’t admit it, but he loves having a radio station out there now. It’s a miracle Lancelot’s able to keep it running.”

Hart squints then, looking past Squeaks to Gracie. “Where’d you even get one of those that wasn’t waterlogged? Man I—” she squints. “Yeah, sure, you can totally have a turn.” She glances at the device, then holds out her hand. “Can I check the tracklist?” She asks, brows raised. “It’ll only take a second, I want to deeply judge you by your musical tastes.”

“I had it with me when shit hit the fan,” Gracie explains with a shrug. She also curls her arm in toward herself, holding her obviously prized possession close to her chest. “Yeah,” she relents, getting up from her seat to stand next to Hart, passing the device off.

One of the occasional potholes they encounter rocks the vehicle from side to side while her musical tastes are being scrutinized, bringing Gracie to lay a hand on the other woman’s shoulder for stability. A laugh flutters nervously from her, and she maintains the contact perhaps a second longer than is necessary. Responding to Squeaks is just the thing she needs to gloss over the moment. “I remember Lancelot,” she confirms. “I don’t know if he has good taste, or if he’s just gotten lucky with his collection, but I’ve always liked his broadcasts.”

“Probably mostly lucky,” Squeaks decides with hardly any time for thinking about it. Lance probably has a good collection too. “A lot of the captains stop by there so he probably has had lots to trade for. But his dad is there too and I think he knows music more than Lance.” She doesn't actually know this as fact, but assumes.

Squeaks twists back around in her seat to look up at Hart and Gracie. “I didn't know he could talk to other people through the radio. I thought it just only sent out.”

“The broadcast antenna can only transmit, but he’s got a ham radio there that gets just enough range on a day where it isn’t storming to talk to the Pelago.” Hart explains, taking the iPod in hand as she does. Holding on to it, Hart’s eyes glaze over and her pupils widen. The screen on the iPod begins flickering and flashing as she moves through the menus and albums.

After a moment, Hart blinks away her ability and laughs with an awkward smile. “Oh man, I was really hoping you’d have I Can’t Live on there.” She says with a lopsided smile. “People say that’s album when Nirvana sold out, but I think post-rehab Kobain songwriting was really good.” She wrinkles her nose, handing the iPod back to Gracie.

“But you’ve got a pretty awesome selection, that aside,” Hart explains with a wink. “So, what do we put on next?”

Two Hours Later

Remnants of I-76
Ruins of Pennsylvania

7:12 am

A couple hours into the drive, two cars back from the lead, the windows on the ambulance nicknamed Doc roll down. Cat sticks her arm out the window, feeling the humid and warm air temperature, and furrows her brows.

“Y’know,” Cat says over the music on the radio, “part of me wonders if the Flood’s what screwed the world up, or the weather manipulators trying to stop it.” She takes both hands off the wheel, steering with her knee in order to tug off her thick fisherman’s sweater. “It was snowing this morning and now it’s gotta be at least seventy.”

Cat looks over at Robyn in the passenger seat, one brow kicked up. “I heard the group that sailed out to Japan had clear weather the whole time. Balmy even! Then, soon as they show up?” She snaps her fingers. “Stormfront shifts and we get sleet.” Shaking her head, Cat drums her hands on the steering wheel. “Wild.

“You know," Robyn starts, echoing Cat as she holds an arm out the window, clearly pleased by the turn of the weather, "I never even would've considered that. Probably didn't help." Her fingers tap on the door, a smile on her face as she turns away from the window to look at Cat. "Have you all ever had to deal with weather manipulators messing with stuff? We had someone mimicking one put New York through a catastrophic blizzard once."

She raises a hand up to the roof, as if indicating height. "Literally snow drifts taller than this ambulance, it was the absolute fucking worst." Talking to Cat is easy, even if she isn't the same Cat she remembers. Familiar faces and all that, but Cat in particular was someone she had always been friends with, and missed connecting with back home. It makes talking to her variant here beyond easy.

"I'm just glad to be out of the rain, either way," she remarks with a side-to-side wave of her hand. "Snow I can handle. Balmy, I hate it but I can handle it. Rain? God, rain is just so dreadful when it lasts more than a day or two."

Staring out the window, Nova watches the world speed by – well, speed is a strong word, but she’s never been on a cross country trip before, and it looks like she might be enjoying it. The sun flickers across her face through the trees and she turns to look up at the mirror reflecting back parts of Robyn’s and Cat’s faces.

“We have plenty of snow and plenty of rain in Anchor. Not so much balmy. Sometimes, though,” she says. “But I think it was mostly the flood that screwed up the world. Even if the atmokinetics made things worse, they wouldn’t have if they weren’t trying to stop the flood, ja?”

She peers up at the sun and her nose wrinkles like she might want to sneeze. “At least with rain and snow, you have water, always.” They do have Nadira, luckily, so they won’t have to worry much on that account.

Cat smiles crookedly at Nova. “You’re a heck of an optimist, y’know that?” She then looks over at Robyn. “I used to know the weather witch who works for Captain Sawyer back before she was a pirate, before the flood. Helena. Nice girl, shit parents. Her dad worked for the same firm I did when I was a paralegal.”

Drumming her hands on the steering wheel, Cat returns her eyes to the road. “Never knew she could mess with the weather before the flood. And we never really talked much after on account of working for someone who scares me more than deep water. She was the only exposure I had, I never knew any of the folks who messed up the climate and made the big storm, though.” Cat’s nose wrinkles. “Northeast, though? Fucking wild, right? Same area in two timelines hit by a massive superstorm? Wonder if they formed at the same time.”

Letting out a snorting laugh, Quinn holds one hand over her mouth in a vain attempt to stifle the sound. "So, Bill Dean's a piece of shit no matter where you are, then? I never had the misfortune of knowing him where I come from, but oh, did I hear stories." An amused sigh slips out from her and she relaxes in her seat. "Well, I guess that isn't fair. I need to be more careful about judging people with knowledge from my world. Bill Dean… he kinda deserves it, though."

There's clearly something more there, but Quinn is quick to move on to something else. "Our storm started at the end of '09, ran into spring of '10. It was rough. I got stuck in a hospital for a while. As soon as I got out, though, I ended up meeting someone that ended up becoming my fiancee, so it wasn't all bad."

Punctuated with a sad smile, she once more decides to change the topic, turning to look back at Nova. "I've never been to the Pacific Northwest, much less further up to Alaska. Furthest north I've been was Quebec, and back home in Ireland. How do things hold up there these days." Once again, she holds her arm out the window and smiles. "Obviously it won't usually be like this, but I'm wondering if I should've packed extra leggings and pajamas to go with all this snow and rain."

Nova isn’t entirely sure if Cat’s comment was meant sincerely or ironically, so she just smiles, turning to watch the world pass by at the speed of the ambulance. She listens to the two talk about people she knows in neither world, raising a brow at the mention of a fiancee, but doesn’t ask – it either ended badly, or Robyn’s left them behind in her own world, and neither seem like a cheerful subject change.

“A mix of cold and nice weather, not such drastic changes as this,” she says. “But I’ve never been here so I don’t know what’s normal. Sounds like this isn’t.” Nova’s yellow coat was pulled off once they hit the low 50s, and even the sweater she wears below is a little warm now as the sun’s warmth pours through the windows.

Colin whimpers and huddles on the smooth surface of the floor in back, near the gurney. Erin, whose feet the good boy is resting at, fishes some questionable meat jerky out of a sealed baggie in one of the pockets of her flannel overcoat, which has since been abandoned to be slung over a flip-top tote of some medical supplies, and feeds it to him. The little Aussie takes it tentatively out of her palm with tiny teeth, gives her absolute gooey eyes, and then tries to settle back in. Normally, he’d be delighted to stick his entire front half out of one of the windows, but as they are in an ambulance, this is not an option. She regards Nova, and then the reflected eyes from the two in the front cab, and wonders how on Earth to insert herself into the conversation. These three clearly have some sort of history, but she’s only ever met Quinn, on a search for a doppel. Instead, she rolls a battered pink Korg towards Colin and hopes he perks up a little bit.

He does, snapping playfully at his old friend. The motor of his butt - no tail, not on this boy - goes wild and he trots over to Nova, sits in front of her, and drops the decidedly moist toy onto her lap.

“Yeah I hear once we get over these mountains things get more predictable.” Cat says to the unusual weather. “Stormfront out in the water fucks everything up, and it changed the jet streams. I know before communications went dark at the… the beginning of the end?” Cat glances at Robyn. “There were news reports in late spring of snowstorms in Louisiana and days in Chicago above a hundred degrees.”

Cat leans forward, trying to stretch her back, working her shoulders up and down. She hunches over the steering wheel, squinting at the vehicle ahead. “All the cold air’s getting sucked down from the north pole, hot air up from the equator. Makes me wonder about storms, you know? When those kinds of extremes meet.”

Nova’s only too thrilled when the puppy decides to engage with her – she had already given him plenty of ear scritches and assured him he was the bestest boy in the whole entire world, of course, but has been on her best behavior to not pet him continuously.

The moist toy is a little less welcome, but she picks it up anyway. “There’s nowhere for me to throw it, puppy!” she says sadly, but she lets him take the other end of it, and gives it a wriggle to see if he’ll want to play tug of war. It’ll be a losing battle: the slimy thing has no traction for her fingers, in comparison to his sharp teeth.

When Colin's whimper rings out, Quinn is quick to turn around and lock eyes with the dog, eyes narrowed. She stares down the animal for a moment before looking up towards Erin. "I love your dog, Erin," she starts, raising an eyebrow in a manner that hopefully communicates that she's teasing, "but if Colin finds his way up here I'm sending you both to terrorise the bus."

She's always been more of a cat person

Settling back down into her seat, she turns her attention over to Cat. "Now you're getting out of my wheelhouse," she notes with an amused grin. "Meteorology? Nope. All music and firearms here." She chuckles despite that, shaking her head. "Still, that sounds… ominous. How long before the, uh. The event, did those storms start popping up?" As in, could there have been more going on then just, you know.

The nuclear bomb in Antarctica.

The best boy in the whole bus yaps playfully, overjoyed at Nova’s mere attempt at play, and then goes back to doing dog things, like sniffing at her shoes and pacing around and generally soliciting all feedback for his goodness all the time.

“You know, that would probably be fine, he’d sure like that, but I prefer to stay here. Scout’s honor, I’ll keep him occupied.” Erin holds up two fingers, scout-like, clearly having never been a scout in her life. “Cat, do you need someone else to take a turn? I am a moderately capable driver, I’ve been told. Even in the rain.” She pauses to consider Quinn’s question. “I know you weren’t asking me, but this does feel…a little bit like it did then. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but something is off. The air is heavier. Not like rain, but like…” metal?

Rubbing at one of her eyes with the heel of her palm, Cat meets Erin’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. “I should be good for a couple more hours, maybe we can shift on fours?” She glances to Robyn, then Nova. “We’re gonna be at this for a long while.”

“That said,” Cat tilts her head to the side, “the bad weather started after the nuke. Sea levels were rising, all the ice thrown into the oceans was creating rapid temperature shifts. This was all an attempt to make it better.” She says, gesturing overhead. “For all the fucking good it did.”

Nova sticks her tongue out at Robyn and murmurs in a soft voice to the dog, “How about we send her to terrorize the bus? She’s scarier! It’s true! It’s true!” while ruffling his ears. She grins at the rearview mirror though, to show she’s (mostly) teasing.

“I can drive, ja,” she says in regards to taking the shift changes. Her gaze finds Cat’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Kinda like a volcanic winter… only lasting a lot longer, I guess. Maybe because of the ‘weather witches’ as you call them, compounding the changes. Have you ever heard of the ‘Year Without a Summer?’ In 1816, temperatures dropped globally; Europe’s were the coldest in a 300-year period, all due, at least in theory, to a volcanic eruption in the East Indies.”

Her fingers reach for Colin’s ears to rub again as she talks; the captain of the Yeah, Buoy! is well versed in history, it seems, or at least in weather’s impact. “There are many events like this throughout history – where the impact of an eruption in one continent impacts life greatly around the world on a huge scale. A volcano erupts in Peru causing the coldest winter in hundreds of years in Russia, resulting in a terrible famine; an eruption in Southeast Asia leads to cold weather and the ‘Storm of the Century’ in the United States.”

Nova looks back out the window, dappled sunlight on her face. “Sort of crazy to think how a person, or just a few people, can make an even bigger impact than the earth itself.”

"Terrorize?" Quinn turns to look at Nova with an amused expression, one edge of her smile turned up mischievously. "You'd be putting me with Else. I hardly call that terror." There's a fond tone to her voice, and she can't help but laugh and shake her head.

But with that thought offered, she turns back to face front and settles back into her seat, listening to the various weather facts being offered about as her smile quickly turns into something more impassive. "Knowing what I know these days, I can't help but wonder about the cause of that, too," she offers in a low voice. The price of knowledge, truly.

With a heavy sigh, she slouches a bit in her seat and looks back up. "Switching on fours sounds like a good plan to me." She glances over to the vehicle's dash, looking for a clock that is intensely wrong in its telling of time. "I can always regale you both with horror stories if we're going to talk about how a few people can make such an intense impact."

She'd rather not, but it's something to talk about.

“I meant you’d be the terror,” Nova says with a grin. “And please let’s not. There are enough horror stories we’ve all lived through.” She reaches to pet the dog again. “Isn’t that right, Meneer Colin?”

Two Hours Later

What Was Once Hopewell Township
Ruins of Pennsylvania

9:22 am

Torrential rain comes down in sheets, hammering on the metal roof of the converted school bus nicknamed Frizzle. Silas Mackenzie has been driving for roughly six hours now and the weather has gone from snow, to summer heat, to cool autumn rain in that span of time. He can barely see the tail lights of Katie up ahead on the road, and the convoy’s speed has dropped down to fifteen miles per hour due to visibility and road disrepair. So far he hasn’t had to shift up out of first gear the entire drive.

Else Kjelstrom stretches out across one of the seats, head tilted back against the window, listening to the raindrops hammering on the roof. The bus is dark on the inside, made even more so by the overcast weather. Occasionally she glances at the woman sitting across the aisle from her, Natalie Gray, fabled captain of the ghost ship Starling. A shadow of sadness crosses Else’s eyes and she looks away, focusing on the ceiling once again.

Natalie, however, is not prone to sit quiet when there are children to entertain.

“So, what we’d do…” the old woman says, talking over the back of the seat in front of her to JR, “is let the ship drift. It was cheaper than burning fuel, and made certain that we stayed with the warm currents. The low pressure, you see, kept the air warm and the sea churning. We were pushed around the currents on the edge of storms, but always safe.”

She tells tales of her time aboard the Starling, intentionally adrift at sea, waiting for those seeking aid to come to her. She does not speak of the ship’s sinking, or what was lost to the sea with it.

Not everyone is interested in children’s stories, though. Glory sits in wordless silence near the back of the bus, knees pulled up to her chest and chin resting on the backs of her knees. She is listening to the droning sound of the rain, eyes half-lidded, but her thoughts are a world away.

For her part, Asi sits across one of the bench seats using her coat as a pillow and cushion, listening idly to the story without looking that way. She pulls the double-layer of sweater she wears back up to her wrists and she shifts through one of the only personal items she brought with her…

The lockbox from across the sea.

It's dark enough such that the eight-sided mirror does her practically no good, so she leaves it. Instead, she fishes out the sizeable hook-shaped necklace from the velvet bag inside the case. Her thumb traces over it, and her brow furrows. "Asi to 'home base'," she mutters, trying to pull Wright's attention. "By any chance do you know what the hell this is?"

She figures the answer is no, and moves straight into asking, "Or can you look it up?"

Monica is already restless. The bus, for all its heft, has very little in the way of space, especially space to roam around in. She's trying very hard not to pace up and down the aisle. So when Asi pulls out a hook-shaped necklace, it grabs her attention like a crow spotting something shiny. She plops into the seat in front of Asi and leans over the edge.

"That's Māori. I can't remember the name, but it's good luck." Her finger reaches out to tap against it. "We sailors latched on to anything that might give us some confidence. Myth or not." Perhaps especially on Mad Eve's boat. Considering.

At first JR had been rather morose being relegated to the ‘kiddie’ bus, but when Gray started talking about her adventures, the teenager found himself listening. He’s led a sheltered life until the attack, so he often was caught up in stories others told.

JR’s brows lift above widened eyes. “Seriously? Just drift?” The ship that wasn't sucked into the storm was amazing to him.

“Mom always said only the dumbest people got near the storms.” Shifting in his seat to rest his back on the cool metal of the bus wall, JR settles in for the conversation. “I didn’t. I thought they were brave. I even remember when I was little -” he starts like he isn’t still now. Sixteen was practically an adult after all… “I always pretended I was a captain brave enough to sail the storm. That I had an ability like Dad to steady the boat or even power to control it to take out pirates.” He wrinkles his nose at his childhood foolishness.

“I don’t think you pretended you were a brave captain,” Natalie opines with a raise of her brows, glancing out the window at the way the rain streaks on the glass in forking paths. She fixes JR with a firm look. “I think you are brave. What you’re pretending is just a calling you haven’t found yet.” Her attention drifts back to the window. “My boy Gabriel was like that. Full of stories of who he wanted to be, looking for an answer.”

Wright's attention is called away from staring at a wall by Asi's prompting. She takes a deep breath and focuses on the bizarre object through the other woman's perspective. "That's a weird mirror," she says, though she saw it once before when Asi packed away her code after the overclock. "I can run some searches, do you have any keyword suggestions? Octocatoprinick-nack?" She doesn't have the motivation to chuckle at her own joke.


Eve liked the rain but she always felt more heavy after flying in it even when she was practically weightless when doing so. The journey has been fun, fun because she hasn't had to think too much about the journey's end. Through one of the cracked windows the former terrorist seeps in from watching from the skies above them, the blood red mists shimmers at times as she curls in on herself and spreads and then contracts against the steel ceiling of the bus.

The aisle across from Glory is her goal and presses all of herself into the seat as the mist begins to take human form, Eve's form. The last bit being her hand which she drums along her arm in a lazy fashion. "Hmmm." Said softly before crimson eyes slide over the young woman who seemed lost in thought. "Beautiful day isn't it?"

She wanted to put on a British accent for that so bad.

Glory looks up at Eve, giving her a look like she’s not sure what to make of her. There’s a long, lingering stare given at the dark-haired woman, like Glory is waiting for something, but it never comes. Instead, she looks out the back window to the headlights of the vehicle behind them.

“It’s wet,” Glory says flatly. When she glances back to Eve, there’s something challenging in her eyes. “What’s beautiful about it?”

From her space in the bus, Stef has surrounded herself with supplies, using the stacks and crates as a protective barrier to keep most of the people on the bus physically separate from her. The space is dark, too dark honestly for someone to be reading the small book open in her lap. Perhaps those smoldering blue eyes are able to see better in the dark than a normal person’s?

Though anyone who watched her for very long might have noticed she wasn’t turning the pages very often.

Or had she ever turned the pages at all?

“Doing all right, mate?” Called up to Silas, Nick’s East-End accent is so much stronger here than it was for those who knew the late Nick Ruskin of another world. Maybe just to make Eve jealous, who knows.

“I donno that I could drive this boat myself, been years since I’ve driven anything with wheels, but we can find you a shift change if we have to, I reckon,” he adds, as he turns the pages of his own book, looks down at it, and tosses it over his shoulder where it lands amongst all of Stef’s supplies. The book looks like some self-published autobiography of an Interpol agent, and given that Nick was only about twenty pages into it, it looks like his review is two thumbs down.

Silas has been quiet thus far; mostly he's just watching and listening. The road ahead, Katie's rearview lights barely visible through the driving rain, and the people behind through the rearview mirror.

Natalie telling tales of the Starling — which had, after all, been his home for awhile — to the children; Ruskin with his book (which he doesn't appear to be reading that much of), Stef lurking in the background with her own book (and if she can manage to read much at all back there in that booknest she's got set up, her eyes are better than his).

Asi brooding, Monica trying not to roam like a restless spirit; the sight of those two sees Silas's lips curl up into a faint smile. It's a long, dangerous trip they're embarking on, but Monica and Asi in cahoots makes him think of older times — the Forthright. And that, in turn, sees his smile take on a sadder edge as he recalls the crew who aren't here.

The Eve who… coalesces in one of the rear seats catches his attention for a moment, but it's not the right one to complete the set. Not fair, he admonishes himself — measuring the eerie red specter by the Eve he knew isn't fair, and he knows it… but so it goes.

And opposite Eve, lurking in the back of the bus, is someone else. Someone he doesn't know yet, but definitely aims to chat with.

"Not gonna say it's good luck, but I'm not gonna say it ain't, either," Silas remarks to Monica. "We did make it back, after all," he says, his grin audible in the sound of his voice.

Ruskin's question sees Silas shake his head. "Nah, I'm good for awhile yet. Might take you up on that in a few hours, though, we'll see. It's pretty easy driving so far, at least."

Monica being on top of Asi's question seemingly to herself takes her once-crewmate by surprise, shrinking back into her own seat like a startled cat for just a moment when Monica settles down in front of her. "Maori?" she repeats back, then looks down at the hook.

There's a leather cord tied around the eye of it, so there's that. Asi lets out a quiet 'huh' and decides she needs no further prompting than that to loop it around her head and decide to wear it openly next to the key to the lockbox. It more than replaces the weight of the keys she left behind in the Pelago, what with the metal hei-matau being nearly the size of her palm. "Good enough for me."

She looks down to the mirror in the box next and taps her ear to indicate she's talking to someone not there as well. "We found this, too. It was all buried at the home of an old friend. The mirror's old, but not too old—" Asi taps a nail on the steel edge of it, seeming certain. She turns it up and over onto its back before flipping it carefully face up again. "Not like another eight-sided mirror I know of."

"That's enough proof for me," Monica says, as far as the luck it must have taken to get Silas not just back here, but back here through time and space. "You know he takes a lot of looking after," she says in a loud aside to Asi.

She tilts her head to look at the mirror, not seeming to mind if she isn't exactly the one Asi is addressing. She can hear things, so she's part of the conversation. That's her rule. "Mirrors are spooky, right? Ghosts and whatnot. Unless they've got my reflection in them, of course."

"She knows," Silas says with a grin, his voice low warm, and amused as he glances back into the rearview, his eyes settling on Asi for a moment.

That she's taken up the big fishhook necklace sees Silas raise his eyebrows. "Hey, we match!" he calls, fishing out his own (much smaller) pendant, raising it to the mirror and chuckling.

There is a grimace at Natalie’s opinion, followed by a non committing shrug. “I guess…” JR murmurs. He plucks at a thread in the hoodie he’s wearing, looking a little haunted. “I spent so much time being kept away from danger, not sure what I want anymore. It’s one thing to pretend, it’s another to live it.” He sighs and looks back up at Natalie.

“What about your son?” JR asks. The question doesn’t end there, he hesitates for a moment and adds, “Did the Sentinel kill your son like they did my mom and sisters?” It’s an honest question, but it also explains why his father was risking bringing him. Keeping him close.

Natalie withdraws when JR mentions her son. For a moment there is a long, hollow stare focused down at her hands. Then, an expertly forced smile. “No,” she says with heartbreak so deftly hidden behind thin lips. “No, my Gabriel left the Pelago years ago… headed west to—look for his father.” There’s a crack in her facade, emotions JR might perceive as grief, but are more acidic like guilt. “He hasn’t come back yet.” The yet is so soft, so delicate, and so precious to her. She has to hope.

The mention of the Sentinel has Nick looking that way before he reaches into the backpack wedged between himself and the inner wall of the bus, pulling out another book since he’d hurled his last one away.

He shifts so he can recline sideways, one leg bent and the other stretched out along the ground. Lifting the book to read, he opens it, the spine cracking slightly – not from never having been opened, for it’s a well-worn book, but for weather damage that’s hardened the cardboard cover and the pages within. The book is the “peacock” cover version of Pride and Prejudice.

Hearing Silas call back to her, all Asi does is lift hers in return to remind him, "目が前に1!"

Because it'd be a shame if this trip ended early for the bus riders. She looks front out of the corner of her eyes, head only half-turning that way. "こちは危ないだろう2," she adds in a softer voice. No matter how slow they were going now, there was always a chance one moment not looking could change things dramatically.

"はい," Silas agrees, sounding not at all contrite… but he pulls his gaze away from the rearview and back to the view ahead — Katie's tail lights and the curtains of rain pouring down around them. For now, at least.

"Mmm squishy, cold, uncomfortable, yes." A lopsided grin paints itself on Eve's face, crimson eyes flicker.

"There is strength and beauty to be found even in the gloomiest of places. Sometimes even a surprise." Eyebrows lift as she tilts her head. "I'm Eve." She didn't think they had been properly introduced and the older woman felt interested by this woman. Maybe brooding types always drew the attention of imps like this one.

Glory looks at Eve in silence for a touch too long to feel right. Like she’s trying to figure out how to respond. “Yeah,” she finally says softly, “Eve.” Glory nods once, forcing a little smile. Unconsciously, she grabs the straps of her duffelbag with one hand. It sits on the floor of the bus at her seat. She doesn’t move it, just keeps a hold on the handles. Maybe it makes her more comfortable, like holding on to an anchor.

“It doesn’t rain a lot where I’m from…” Glory says, looking out the back windows of the bus, squinting at headlights. “Inland.” She appends quickly, but quietly. “South.” And no more detail than that. Then, to deviate from her own answers she asks Eve, “Why’re you going to Alaska?”

Wright's attention solidifies for a minute, coalescing from the fog of grief. "You were talking about the necklace, weren't you?" she asks Asi. "Sorry, kind of out of it right now. It might interest you to know that it's the symbol used by the Deveaux Society in my world, which is a philanthropic organization to support Expressives. Evos. Specials?"

"Anyway," she says, waving away the lingo, "I was researching them recently for a thing. The founder, Charles Deveaux, was involved in the Company — which apparently doesn't exist over there — but Kaito Nakamura was one of the company founders. It's currently run by Monica Dawson." She pulls up her phone and performs a quick search to lead them to the organization's website, logo and all.

Asi's mouth open and closes as she feels Wright's mood– how it contrasts so starkly with the mood in the cabin presently. "Mm," is all she says at first, uncertain how to proceed.

But then Wright goes on and Asi's expression visibly shifts from shutting up to be polite to one of intense interest and curiosity. Isn't all this fascinating, now? "Hey," she asides to Monica, reaching out with her other hand to bat her on the arm. Asi, she's talking to you already, you had her attention. "Get this." She raises her voice to call up to Silas again, despite what she'd said a moment prior. "お前も, Snickers!"

"The necklace?" she calls out, this part more for Silas' benefit. "It turns out it's a symbol of a society Nakamura-san helped found, over there. 確かに意味があるん3…" Asi can't help but grin wide in the way someone does when they have embarrassing dirt, tapping Monica's arm. She finds this terribly amusing for some reason. "It gets better though. Moni-chan here is in charge of it over there."

"誰か殺されたの分かんないけど4," she teases Monica, likely not in English for fear of ribbing or reprisal. It's all meant in the most highly-thought-of senses of humor.

"That's wild, isn't it?" she asks, for once not derisive of the alternate reality the Travelers hail from.

Else has been quiet for most of the trip, but slowly sits forward in her seat and lets her legs come into the aisle. She sits up straight, hooking one arm over the back of her seat, looking across to Asi and Monica. Her thin hood hangs mostly off her head, dirty blonde hair partly in her face. Else doesn’t say anything, or really do anything, she just looks at the two for a bit, then looks distracted or perhaps confused and slouches back down in her seat out of direct line of sight.

Noting that Glory had not given her name and the way she grabs for her bag makes Eve delighted, she loves to crack the tough ones. It was also worth focusing on her reaction to the dark haired woman. That wasn't an unusual response when first met with an Eve but this Eve got subconscious about being recognized in this world by people who might have known… Mad Eve.

Too much Eve. "Then you must love it here! You should bottle some of the rainwater and bring it home. Maybe a storm will follow." She does not say that with any hint of humor.

For a moment she looks nervous, almost as if she wants to word vomit how she didn't mean to body snatch the body of the beloved old woman but it was how the deck was stacked! Instead she has a stroke of genius, they hadn't ever come up with a cover story really. Looking one way then the other before leaning towards the younger woman,

"Would it sound crazy if I said I was from another world and needed something from this world?"

Yep that's reasonable enough and much easier to swallow then a body snatcher, "That thing is in Alaska! Why are you coming?"

Glory watches Eve with tension crinkling the corners of her eyes. She looks away, losing the game of chicken they’re playing. “You sounded crazy before you said that,” Glory notes with a raise of her brows. She looks down at her duffel bag, frowning. “I’m here because I’m a salvager, and I’m hoping to find some good spoils in the Anchor. Something to set myself up with.” Though her words lack conviction, or even interest. She just sounds tired.

Ben Jr starts to say something, but doesn't know what to say to Natalie. He was never comfortable with it when it came to his mom and sisters either.

What do you say to that? JR looks sad for her and apologetic for bringing it up. Awkwardly , he turns his attention to a point on the other side of the bus.

Monica can only laugh when Asi tries to get her attention, attention she certainly already has. The news that her alternative self is a boss doesn't come as a surprise to Monica and she fluffs her already quite fluffy hair as she lifts her chin in a show of pride. "And what's so weird about that? Seems natural to me. She's obviously a talented woman." She looks over, catching Else's gaze for a moment. Her head tilts quizzically, but she lets it go without prodding the woman beyond that. "Right, Silas? Seems natural to you, too, right?" Right???

Silas doesn't answer immediately. "I only met the other you briefly," he says slowly. "But she seemed…" he chuckles abruptly. "A lot like you, honestly. Definitely someone who could keep an even keel, no matter how rough the waters got. Although the, ah, guest I ended up bringin' her might've been a bit much," he chuckles regretfully.

His gaze shifts to the back of the bus, regarding Eve and the newcomer; looks like Eve's latched on. Welp. Good luck bein' introverted, he thinks, amused. He suspects that that's something Eve and Mad Eve had had in common; if they see someone keeping to themselves, they try to draw them out.

Silas shakes his head, looking back to Asi and Monica, his grin widening. "So yeah. Sounds like the Nakamura Society's in good hands." It still boggles him a little that the 'network' is able to reach back across the timelines, but he's not going to question it. "What else can you tell us about 'em, Aces?"

"It's called the Deveaux society," Asi informs them both, thumbing the hei matau thoughtfully as she settles back in her seat. "Madame Wright informs me it's a philanthropic society, it provides support for Specials." With a vocalized hum, she supposes modestly, "A worthwhile cause indeed."

"Why thank you," Eve says, hand to chest as if Glory has given her the highest of compliments. Does she smile when the other woman turns her head in defeat? Absolutely! Does she hide that devilish grin once Glory is looking back at Eve?

Absolutely not!

Considering the woman's words with a finger to her chin and a tap or two, the dark haired woman leans in and whispers with the utmost seriousness, "Are you sure my dear?" Eve knows a thing or two about not believing in what you're saying or even the physical actions that you're doing. Maybe this woman here is having the same issues.

The chaotic spirit cannot help but feel drawn when someone seems lost in his midst.

Glory’s brows furrow and she looks at Eve for a long, pointed time. “Are you?” Is an extremely weird response, but one that Glory seems to not be joking about.

"…." Eve squints at Glory while holding her gaze for that long period of silence, what an interesting woman and she hasn't even said that much! Then she's thinking on the question, is Eve sure of what she's doing? "I can't be too sure of anything I guess, I'm not a seer anymore." Not that that should hold any relevance to this stranger but Glory's pushback has Eve contemplative. "Not in the traditional sense heh." What was she?

"You never said your name dearie." Tilting her head and squinting so much so that her vision is dark on the edges. Whatever Eve's looking for in Glory's eyes she doesn't find apparently because those crimson eyes flare open wide and she smiles her most innocent smile.

“Glory.” She replies, relaxing her grip on her duffelbag. Just Glory.

“Oi, I wondered sometimes what Mad Eve would be like in her younger years,” Nick says with a sigh, setting his book down on the seat back, using it as a placeholder for the moment. “The answer is exactly the bloody same.” It’s said with amusement and even a little bit of fondness, perhaps, but a roll of his eyes to the ceiling of the bus.

“Going to have to go on the sleeper car just to get any reading done,” he asides to Glory.

"Not exactly the bloody same," Monica says, smiling crookedly over at Nick, "her ass is amazing now."

"Thank you!" Eve shouts with a cackle.

“Facts,” Nick has to admit.

While he’s been quiet and feeling bad for making the old lady Gray sad, JR can’t help but hear the comments around him. It’s enough to get him to sit up a little more to peek over the back of the school bus seat at the now young Mad Eve.

Chewing his lip, JR considers just staying quiet, but really… he can’t help himself. “Mad E— er… Eve?” Ben Jr. shouts toward the back of the bus. Sitting up so she can see him, he hooks an arm over the back of the bus seat. “Hey… uh… you got any cool stories about the other world?” Inquiring minds and all.

Asi glances toward the back of the bus when JR poses his question. She won't voice anything toward it, but she indicates her interest by closing her lockbox back up carefully and tucking it inside her ruck so she can properly hear whatever tale's about to unfold.

A story!

Eve is overcome and vibrates with excitement, gesturing with her… well her whole body as she launches into a tale about a distant world filled with familiar faces and similar pains and triumphs as the people who live in this world.

She spins an epic tale of battles and losses. Of mistakes made by friends and even family. It is the story of PARIAH, the story of Peter and Gillian's love, of a group of misfits that found each other among the booms of war.

Mostly, Eve tries to hammer this notion into the people surrounding her: It was a story of preserving and hope.

Two Hours Later

Somewhere in the Appalachians

11:38 am

It’s been a cramped eight hours in Speedwagon without a stop. Levi Walker isn’t much of a conversationalist, he’s been much more content to keep an eye out the window, watching the scenery roll by. Once the rain ended about an hour ago the sky opened up to a bright and surprisingly warm summer day. While Levi rolled down the windows for fresh air, it wasn’t to keep things cool. It’s always cool around Levi, in a refreshing air-conditioned sense of the word.

Outside the truck, the untamed Appalachian Mountains ramble from one end of the horizon to the other. Tantalizing glimpses of smoke plumes in the far distance suggest habitation in the mountains, but Tay had urged no stops for the time being. The Appalachians are old, and the country roads that wind through them even older. He’s superstitious enough to not want to invite anything on them to the caravan.

Trees stretch out as far as the eye can see, though. Vast stretches of clean land and presumably arable soil. From a distance the mountains look like a place one could make their home, and it raises the question of why more people don’t settle the mainland. But from a distance, it’s often hard to see the finer details of danger.

Kendall is fully aware that one of the reasons Nadira also happened to pick the Speedwagon has to do with cornering him over how he's been acting lately. Walker not being very talkative suits him just fine since right now all Kendall wants to do is sulk.

However, his comments earlier were in earnest; he really does want to learn how to drive, and honestly it doesn't even look that difficult, especially since there's no longer any traffic laws. Or, for that matter, traffic, barring the other vehicles in the convoy. As a result, even as the silence stretches, Kendall is splitting his attention between staring outside the window at the passing scenery and watching how Walker drives.

While Kendall sulks and Levi is silent, Nadira is relaxed. While unhappy with how cramped it is, she has found that focusing on the scenery and the road is a good distraction. Also, she's found that seeking out to feel for water along the road is a good practice while they drive. The fresh air from the windows is even more refreshing than anything–she'd forgotten how nice it could be somewhere that wasn't simply surrounded by water. While she's not quite surrounded in her element here, she could still feel where the water nestled in places nearby. It was much more distinct feeling water out here than back in the Pelago.

Sighing softly, the silence has gotten to Levi. He slides his tongue across the back of her teeth, wringing the steering wheel with both hands. “Alright,” he says, shooting a look over at Kendall and Nadira. “I don’t know a lot of, uh, driving games?” He squints, them waves at the windshield. “It’s not like we’re gonna see a lot of license plates on cars, y’know?”

Wobbling his head from side to side, Levi looks at his two passengers with a squint. “Most embarrassing personal story.” He suddenly blurts out, then points at Nadira and Kendall. “Go.”

When it’s Walker that breaks the silence, Kendall jerks his attention out of his own thoughts and blinks at him. The strong silent type broke first? “Er, well it’s not like the US exists anymore, I don’t think I even remember all 50 states anymore.” And then he asks a question. “WHAT? No. No way.” Kendall looks over at Nadira in a slight panic, since she knows a few about Kendall as well. “How about…” he trails off as his mind blanks on ANYTHING else they could do instead so he just kind of stares fixedly out the front window.

“Don’t leave me hanging,” Walker says across to Nadira. “Somebody’s gotta play.”

"It is a harmless topic, Kendall, and it is at least some conversation to have while we are sitting here," Nadira leans back against the seat a bit, looking thoughtful. "Most embarrassing personal story…" She muses on the topic for a moment or two. "There was a time where I had to jump inside of a sarcophagus and then hide there and I ended up having to sleep in there for an entire night because there was no way to get out without being caught. So… I know what being a mummy is like?"

She shrugs her shoulders. "I suppose that was fairly embarrassing." She's not entirely sure she understands the 'game'.

“A sarcophagus?” Walker says with some incredulity. “You get any weird nicknames out of that, or is that one of those personally embarrassing things that nobody else knew about. You know,” he laughs, “until now?” Walker doesn’t push Kendall to participate, but hopes that he and Nadira playing along helps draw him out of his shell.

"That is not something I really shared, as I am certain I would never have heard the end of it from the people I was around," Nadira admits, then grins. "So now I suppose if anyone is to give me a nickname, it would be one of the two of you." She turns her attention towards Kendall, giving him a gentle nudge. "It does not have to be the most embarrassing story, just something fun to make conversation."

Kendall blinks over at Nadira when she does join in, he wasn't expecting her to even have embarrassing stories to tell. "I guess… when I was ten, I built a really tall bike ramp and thought it would be super cool to ride my bike off the roof onto it, except I never made it off the roof. I must've found a weak spot because my bike went right through it into the attic. I got stuck in the hole and had to yell for help. My dad was really mad."

Walker barks out a laugh, slapping the steering wheel with his palm. His smile is bright and cheerful, eyes lit up in amusement. “Okay, y’know what? That’s a pretty damn good one. And okay, okay… fair’s fair.” He says, briefly taking his hands off the wheel to make a gesture of concession. “Here’s what I got.”

“So, when I was a little kid my parents would always pick out my clothes for me.” He says with a small gesture of one hand at the wheel. “You know, sensible school clothes and stuff, right? Well, when I was ten they decided to let me pick some stuff out for myself. Figured it was a good growing up moment, let me feel a little mature. So you know… we went to the store, and I picked out a bunch of stuff I thought was cool.” He smiles, toothily, at the memory. “Now there was this one thing, this pair of pants? My dad absolutely was like are you really sure you want these? Oh, I was sure. I pitched a fit.

Walker laughs, wrinkling his nose in embarrassment. “So anyway, I show up to my first day of fifth grade with these just—these fucking just billowing like—” He gestures to his legs, making puffy hand motions. “Just absolutely fucking parachute pants. With this ugly fucking pattern all over them? I looked like a genie that fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. But I thought I was the coolest kid in school.”

He can’t stop laughing as he tells this story. “And you know nobody told me otherwise, right up until I earned the nickname Hammer and it fucking stuck with me for like—all the way through when I graduated High School. So… that’s mine,” he admits with a shake of his head. “The kid who was forever remembered for wearing bright red McHammer pants to school.”

“And y’know,” Walker grins, “makes me wish I thought to crash my bike through a roof instead.”

Two Hours Later

A Valley in the Appalachians

1:42 pm

Between two sweeping ridges of the Appalachian Mountains are once-fertile flatlands that were farms and little rural communities. There’s no sign of the farmland now, nor the farm houses. Trees have swallowed up everything on the sides of the road, and swallowed the road in some places, forcing the Convoy to drive partly on the shoulder to avoid deadfalls blocking the way, or on occasion stop entirely to cut and move trees.

The entire atmosphere of encroaching wilderness and verdant gloom has Jonathan Smith on edge. The whole journey has had him on edge.

“So the way I see it, Carbonite has to also freeze the brain, otherwise Han Solo would’ve been fully aware the entire time he was imprisoned by Jabba.”

And when Jonathan is nervous, he talks. He’s been talking, non-stop, for the last 10 hours. Though a warm breeze and gentle birdsong exists somewhere outside of the Tinderbox there is no sound of it inside the noisy cabin. Because it’s not just Jonathan talking, it’s Jonathan talking over the sound of the roaring engine, the rumble of the road, and the radio being on.

“But it begs the question, you know?” Jonathan continues, glancing ahead at the Speedwagon’s distance. “Was he conscious? He never mentions it.”

Spades may in fact regret agreeing to come in this cramped ride after being asked, quite challengingly, if he was or not. He arguably has the most legroom of them all here, being seated on the edge of the sleeping platform behind the truck's seats and leaning forward, but that's nowhere near to being enough space to handle Jonathan's– Jonathaning, apparently. Throughout all of this, he's attempted to remain polite, posture open and leaning in to be a part of what's happening on the road. This long into the journey, though…

"I don't know," Ace suddenly interjects, not interested in hearing both sides of this argument without someone getting a word in edgewise. "If you went through something like that and recalled it, would you talk about it afterward?"

At least make this an interesting character study, he thinks to himself. His eyes shift after to Marlowe in a silent echo of the question, but nothing further. He's still not sure if there's other hidden language that won't set her off.

It was Marlowe's decision to be the ridealong with her Syndicate second-in-command. It isn't, however, her fault their shadow sitting on the sleeping bunk might have his regrets. In a way, she did warn him.

"You have to consider the circumstances that carbonite could either be considered a mode of transportation, or a punishment. Or both. But depending on perspective I'm 95 percent certain Solo was aware of his imprisonment the whole time. Jabba's a sick motherfucker. Glad he got choked to death." In her lap sits a flat triangular shaped tool with a handle on the end wrapped in thick burlap - a handsaw. For cutting branches from the trees they've moved aside. Marlowe's hand slides fingertips in an idle, slow circle around the canvas.

"Talking about it is how you work things out, come to terms," the woman opines evenly, her eyes steady on the road ahead to avoid looking at either of her vehicle companions. "It's lonely to suffer alone."

Jonathan looks across the seat to Ace, nodding thoughtfully to his response. Then he glances at Marlowe before returning his eyes to the road. “Did—” He starts to ask something, then hesitates as he tries to come up with the answer himself, can’t, and asks anyway. “Did Jabba specify Carbonite? Or was that strictly Vader? Or Fett?” He looks between the two. “Honestly it’s been years since I’ve seen Empire.”

Pursing his lips, Jonathan only spends a moment thinking. The question, largely, is rhetorical. “I think Spades has a good point, though. I guess Han Solo’s not really a talk about your feelings kind of guy. And I think part of that’s coming from casting Burt Reynolds which—” he raises a hand in defense of his opinion, “I know everybody loves Burt, but I think he kind of brought a little bit of that too-tough-to-cry kind of machismo to the role. I dunno if he was supposed to come across that way on paper.”

"And the person playing the role absolutely makes a difference in the portrayal," Ace agrees, distracted now from the subtle tenor behind Marlowe's opinion. No, there's something of better interest to him on the table now. "Did you ever see live theatre, back in the day?" This is a rhetorical, judging by how he charges on. "You could see the same exact play in any number of houses, and– depending on who played a given character– see precisely that many different stories play out."

"One hundred percent in agreement that the way a role reads on paper and the way it comes to life can vary dramatically. Everyone breathes life into their role in a different way; different moods, different motivations and methods of expressing them…"

He's rambling. His hands close and open before him in self-consciousness before he leans into it and puts confidence back in his posture once more, asserting plainly, "It's fascinating, honestly."

Marlowe narrows her forward gaze, the hesitation coming up to cast doubt on her own memories of the film. "I think it was Vader's choice for the carbonite," she says with a light, repetitive tap of her finger on the covered saw blade. "Makes even more sense, then, that once he's brought out of it in Revenge of the Jedi, he might be disoriented, but has his wits enough that he's ready to kick everybody's ass who did him dirty." But to speak of the final film of the trilogy, she sighs softly, filled with a sentiment not often reserved for any person. "I miss Boba," Marlowe laments of the now ex-parrot companion whose namesake comes from the aforementioned flight-capable bounty hunter, once ago a gift from Monica brought back on day after one of the Forthright's many travels.

Ace's rambling on about live theatre serves as a good distraction from the regrets, though, and Marlowe shakes her head slowly. "I never did get a chance to see anything on Broadway or off," considers the woman. "But I do agree, I don't think anybody else besides Toshiro Mifune could have played Kenobi. Just the perfect marriage of gravitas and a sense of authenticity to the bushido of lightsabers." Marlowe turns her gaze from the road and on to Ace, her eyes doing a short head-to-toe scan of him on the bunk. "You like musicals? What was the most memorable one you saw?" she asks, tone genuinely curious.

Spades blanches visibly for a moment, leaning slightly back from the conversation in a telegraph of hold on a moment. He diplomatically points out, "I said theatre, not musicals, but…" He still gives it his best shot, staring off into the distance to give it a solid think. His eyes dance back and forth over various, invisible options.

"There are a number of good ones out there," he concedes, thumb rubbing against his palm while he ponders the question even still. "I once saw a particularly moving rendition of Chicago done in the city itself. And… I wouldn't call it necessarily good, but memorable?" Ace even dares a look in Marlowe's direction, asking her very seriously, "Did you ever hear of the production called Avenue Q?"

"If you haven't, I'm not sure it can be explained," he says with the same gravitas and a touch of regret. "Not in a way that doesn't sound absolutely fucking ridiculous."

“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” Jonathan says raising one hand in the air. “Did we just transition from talking about Star Wars to musicals?

There’s a moment where he stares at the other two passengers in silence.

I think we just became friends,” Jonathan says with a shit-eating grin, as if he and Marlowe weren’t already thick as thieves. “But hear me out, what if we did, like… just a little acapella. Cell Block Tango? Oh—When You’re Good to Momma?” His brows shoot up across his forehead. “We could harmonize!

Ace pales. "What did I just say about…" he trails off, whispering the entire thing.

Her eyes back on the road, the Syndicate leader's tongue clicks in a light tut of Jonathan's proposal as if to dismiss the notion. But in reality, it's to encourage it. More so, of the one who started the topic change to begin with. "I'm not familiar with those songs," Marlowe considers aloud, a slow grin spreading with a sidelong glance to Jonathan. Conspiracy forming. She turns in her seat again to gaze quite expectantly at Ace, eyebrow arching in a queen's silent command to a court bard.

"How's the tango start?" He only had himself to blame.

Two Hours Later

Somewhere in the Appalachians

3:53 pm

It’s been twelve hours of non-stop driving at a pace, sometimes, slow enough to get out and walk alongside the vehicle. In the Wildcat, Edward has kept the radio off to respect those who have wanted to sleep in peace. He sits hunched in the driver’s seat, drumming idly on the steering wheel, watching the clear sky slowly gathering with clouds. It’s become remarkably hot up in the mountains, and he has both of the front windows and the rear hatch window open, creating a warm cross-breeze and the white-noise of road sounds.

Outside the Wildcat, the Appalachian Mountains have never looked so formidable and imposing. The winding road cutting up through the mountains is barely wide enough for the Wildcat to fit through, and the wider vehicles ahead in the convoy are snapping branches along the way, leaving an enormous trail of deadfall in their wake. But there’s worse things in the woods than trees.

Noticing something tangled in the driver’s side mirror, Edward reaches out and dislodges it, only to find that it’s not just a bird’s nest or a tangle of vines. It’s an effigy, a humanoid doll made from sticks and nettles, bound in twine, acting as an enclosure for bird bones and feathers. Edward pales on seeing the effigy, unsure what to even do with it.

"So… we're going to burn that, right?" It's been a little bit since Zee took the opportunity to climb up into the front seat, watching the mountains pass with an excitement she hasn't had about her since they left the Pelago. "Oh wait. Closed environment."

She laughs nervously, leaning forward and just the slightest bit over so she can see it a bit better. "Spooky," she says softly. "Let's definitely not stop any time soon." A visible shiver runs down her, replacing back into the seat as she stares ahead. Slouching down a bit in her seat, she lets a smile return back to her face.

Fingers drum idly against the seat. "Lets, uh. Let's leave it. Quiiiickly." She turns to look back over at him, head canted to the side. "Not that I think it's dangerous, but it is kinda gross."

“What is it?” As if Richard - just behind the front seats - had sensed something was wrong he leans forward, arms resting on the backs of those seats. He’s scanning the road past the windshield at first, trying to see what’s the concern, but then his gaze shifts back to what Edward’s holding.

He pales too, not unlike his godfather.

“Jesus,” he exclaims, one hand shifting to instinctively do the positions of the cross, “That’s some hoodoo bullshit, toss it back out the window. We don’t need that kind of bad luck.”

Edward’s about to, then panics. “Wait—what if it’s bad luck to throw it out?” He blurts out, worriedly glancing back at Richard. “What if that means we’ll lose a passenger. I’m not familiar with non-maritime superstitions.”

Both of Zee's hands go up defensively, Edward's little bit of panic starting to spread. "I don't know!" she protests, looking over towards Richard for help. "Just get rid of iiiiit!" For a moment, she considers reaching over and snatching it away so she can do it herself, but she decides it better to not try and reach all the way across the vehicle and the driver.

Also, it's gross.

“You’d need to still have it for it to be a curse! It isn’t here on purpose, you just pulled it off a tree,” Richard exclaims, gesturing to the window urgently, “Get rid of it! We’re not stealing some primitive screwhead’s creepy tree fetish!”

The bunks are in passing use, and at the moment Huruma is cramped up in an attempt to catch some sleep. Nervousness from the people in the convoy is an easy way to be up at all hours. But now she's up, becoming privy to whatever is happening in the front.

"You shouldn't have touched it." Huruma's low voice is as sudden as she is, approaching while they all marvel and moan over the smallest of folkcraft; she settles her gaze on Edward, edged with concern. One hand moves to grip the back of the driver's seat, and she leans in, brows raised above the sharp angles of her face. "Now it is your best friend. Or else."

"Yaaaaaaay," Zee says quietly, voice full of tense sarcasm. "A new dash ornament…" Clearly, she's not enthused about this prospect.

For her part, Destiny has been sitting just behind the seats, glancing up and in the direction of each speaker in turn, but with her back to the whole spectacle. At least until Huruma takes notice. Perking up, she watches the empath stride up to join Richard in his worry…

And promptly mess with them.

The small blonde snorts into the back of her hand, audible despite her good intentions. So, she lifts herself up from her rear-facing seat and shoulders her way between Huruma and Richard gently. “What did you find?” she asks, all the while squeezing through the gap between the front two seats, coming to sit over the large console, a leg out to either side of it.

BEST FRIEND!?” Edward absolutely jerks around and looks back at Huruma and takes his eyes off the road for a second. When he feels the Wildcat start to pull to the right he looks back and straightens the vehicle out.

Grimacing at his shout, Edward looks down at the effigy in his lap. “What do you mean, best friend?” He looks at Huruma in the rear view mirror. “How long have you even been in here?” His superstition and concern is palpable. On noticing Destiny, however, he tries to put on a brave face./

“I—It’s nothing. Some—some nice hill folk—hill people left a uh,” Edward glances down at the bundle of sticks and feathers. “They just—left a doll. In a tree. That I hit. With the mirror.”

Hurum– “ Richard’s scolding is broken off mid-word as Edward swerves and the shadowman’s head promptly conks off the roof of the vehicle from his upraised position and he falls out of the way, rubbing a hand over his scalp.

Huruma Dunsimi, why are you like this in every reality,” he laments half-exasperated and half-amused, trying not to grin to himself even as he winces from the bump on his head.

You can’t just ask somebody why they’re in this reality, Richard!” Destiny hisses under her breath. “Well!” she begins in a louder voice, brighter in tone. “You should probably give it to me for safekeeping. You’re driving, after all.” From her place on the center storage console, she’s sitting up higher than Edward, so she gets a little bit of satisfaction in tipping her chin down to look at him. “You know, both hands on the wheel?”

"It's haunted." The comment comes from Zee without even a moment of hesitation, though Des can probably see the reflection of a familiar mischievous grin, the hint of a well known teasing tone. "You shouldn't touch it, Des. Edward's already doomed." Yep, she's running with Huruma on this one. She had managed to keep from jumping when the other woman appeared, but she's quick to look over at Richard.

"I think she's perfect, Richard," she adds after a moment, sticking her tongue out at him as she continues to grin. "Seriously though," she says with a half turn back. "When the heck did you come to The Wildcat, Huruma?"

As expected, Huruma looks very proud of herself, mouth twisted in a smirk first for Edward's quivering reaction.

"How long I have been here does not matter. You are asking the wrong question." One hand reaching out to pat Zee on the shoulder and she gives one more smirk to Edward, she then turns her gaze to Richard; it is narrowed somewhat for his use of a name she can't wholly recognize. Instead, for his remark on her enduring nature, Huruma's smile flashes white back at him. "So I have heard."

"Not haunted. A thought manifested. Whether one good or one bad- - I could not say." Huruma refrains from any more spooking of the driver, instead sitting back. She does keep an eye in the rear view mirror, however. "Consider it fateful that it chose our truck to bash into."

Edward looks down at the creepy thing, making an ever-suffering frown before fishing it out from his lap and lobbing it over his shoulder to Destiny. “Take it!” He yelps. “Just—just keep that thing out of the cabin and—” he meets her eyes in the rear-view mirror, “—so help me god if you hide that doll in my bed Destiny Mas Price I will turn this entire convoy around!”

Wow.” Destiny is shocked. “Did you just use my—” She huffs out a breath that ruffles a lock of her blonde hair. “Pretty sure Tay will go ballistic if you do that, anyway.” Holding up the doll to inspect, she frowns thoughtfully.

Macabreme,” she pronounces it to be. “You know, macabre macrame?” The big grin Des beams says she thinks she’s clever. For a sailor, she doesn’t seem to be nearly as superstitious as one might expect.

Letting out a whine, Zee makes no attempt to hide the fact that she is scooting away from Destiny in order to put space between her and this… doll, totem, hoodoo, whatever it is. For as much as she's seemed a bit more together today, clearly something about this freaks her out almost as much as it does Edward.

"Merde," she whispers, looking up at Destiny, and then to Edward. "We're actually keeping it, then?" Which means she's already making mental plans to make sure it gets left behind when they stop for the night.

Richard just leans against the wall of the Wildcat, laughing silently at the entire situation, one hand scrubbing over his face as he lets the argument about whether they’re keeping the terrible fetish doll or not. It’s half genuine, half stress-relief laughter, although probably of all of them Huruma is the only one who can tell the difference.

Two Hours Later

I-76 Overpass at the Raystown-Juanita River
Western Foothills of the Appalachians

6:03 pm

After fourteen hours on the road without a stop, the convoy has finally parked along the length of road just beyond the freeway bridge that crosses the Raystown-Juanita River. The vehicles are silent, doors locked, casting long shadows across cracked asphalt.

Down the embankment off the freeway, in a wide clearing of tall grass and sparse trees, tents are set up around a crackling campfire. The small river babbles nearby, and several of the caravan’s passengers are taking this opportunity to wash up and stretch their legs. It’s clean water—fresh water—but only thanks to Nadira.

Seated around the campfire, Tay turns a few skinned rabbits around on wooden spits. “Good shootin’,” he says with a look over to Chess, a bow and arrows leaning up against the log she uses as a seat. “Fresh meat like this,” Tay says, watching the rabbits cook, “ain’t gonna be an every-day occurrence once we get on the other side of these mountains.”

Also seated by the campfire, Natalie watches the flames crackle, dancing in her eyes. “How bad is it, west of here?” She asks, her voice as fragile sounding as she looks.

Tay raises his brows, shaking his head. “Bad. Lotta cities, lotta poison in the air, the ground, the water. Fuel, sewage, power plant runoff, it’s everywhere. Most of its barren, but the closer to Chicago we get the more dangerous it’s gonna be. S’why I wanted to make sure we stop here. These mountains?” He gestures around with his knife, “This is as good as it’s gonna get for as far west as I’ve seen.”

"Do we have any equipment for that?" The voice is Robyn Quinn's, but to the astute listener - or someone with life sense- there's something a bit off about her voice as she steps up next to where Tay sits, "or should we all be gettin' real good at holdin' our breath?" It probably doesn't help that there's almost a faint glow to her, like the kind a still humming TV might have after just being turned off. "Also I'm goin' t'keep watch. I'll let y'know if I see anything." The only occasionally previously heard Irish accent is also a rather strange choice, as are the plumes of faint light coming from her when she speaks.

And without waiting for Tay to respond, she just… walks off.

"Or, well, I'll let you know." Again, Robyn Quinn's voice, but once more next to Tay as she walks up to the campfire, and eyebrow raised as she looks down at him. Hands slip into the pockets of her jeans, and she slides down to the ground to sit amongst the campfire. "How far west have you made it? I'm curious what we have, uh. Intel for? Recon on? Whatever the proper term is."

Hands fold into her lap as she closes her eyes, and when she opens them again, she's mostly just staring vacantly ahead, though with a liminal ring of light at the edge of her iris. "Do we know anything about what it's like after Chicago? Or is that uncharted territory?"

“Nova knows a bit near our destination,” Tay says, testing the tenderness of the rabbit meat with the tip of his knife. “Gracie says she’s been inland too,” he says with a gesture of the knife in the redhead’s direction. “I wouldn’t call that comprehensive.”

Zee, on the other hand sits in the dirt a bit away from the fire, finally glad to be out of the vehicles for the time being. The company is actually rather nice, but it just gets too stuffy after so long. Watching Quinn over at the fire she wrinkles her nose as she watches the other Quinn - a third one of them now, they're multiplying - wander off a bit away from the group.

"Did anyone ever say how many days of this we're expecting?" is asked to no one in particular, head hanging back as she looks up at the sky. "I'd like to talk to whoever booked this itinerary."

“The estimate’s twenty days,” Tay answers. “Probably closer to twenty five. Thirty if we hit bad weather.”

Kendall is a lot more subdued after the car ride, and it's anyone's guess what kind of conversations took place there. He helped set up the tents, but once the majority of them were up, he brought out one of those fancy looking camping chairs, setting it up near the campfire and seating himself in it. The rabbits are eyed dubiously at the explanation, and he tilts his head with a frown. "So… are those safe? Or are they also radioactive?" If the interior of the world is as unsafe as he says…

Zee is spotted, then Robyn, then that other Robyn, and it's the third one he decides to glare at. She's not even a real person, so it's not like he's being rude to anyone that matters. Besides, she was a bitch first.

While everyone is talking, JR seems to be racked out after a long day of listening to Natalie Gray and other folks stories and other goings ons on the bus. Curled on his side, his head is pillowed on his hoodie that he’s shoved under his head and his long legs are curled up close to his stomach. He almost looks younger than his sixteen years.

His father’s long jacket is draped over him. Ryans having snuck it there when he left to look over the Scout and other vehicles. For all that he seems distant, there is no doubt his father loves him.

With a nod, Chess acknowledges both the compliment and the warning regarding food coming from Tay. Kendall’s question draws a small smile.

“They are, but so are you. Everyone’s a little radioactive,” she says. “Bananas, lima beans, Brazil nuts, potatoes, carrots… have more than you’d think, even without having power plant run-off to worry about.”

Once upon a time, Chess had planned to be a scientist. Once in a while it shows.

“But the fact he’s eating it is about as good as a recommendation as you’d get, I wager,” she adds, taking a swig from her water bottle.

Tay looks up at Chess, then at Kendall, beckoning the young man closer with his hunting knife. “You’d be able to tell by watching it before you hunt it, like Chess did.” He explains, tapping the cooking meat with the knife. “An animal sick enough to make you sick? Chances are it’s gonna be behaving weird, might have patchy fur. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a good start.” He explains.

“But here,” Tay says, gesturing in a slow circle with the tip of the knife pointed up, “we’re fine. Water ain’t great, but the game’s ok. Further west? I wouldn’t risk it.”

Asi does not give two flying shits about the look Spades is giving her for lying sprawled on her back by the fireside so she can maximize the warmth she's getting from it and minimally blocking its spread to others. When she feels his eyes on her, she narrows hers on him in return with a vaguely smug look.

He'd do it, too, if he could get away with it. The way he looks away first after the silent challenge tells her she's right.

She turns her eyes up toward the stars after that, the ghost of her smirk fading as she considers the color of the sky as it lengthens shadows all sound them. One hand comes up from her side, clasping itself around the totems hanging from her neck, hook and key both rubbed for good luck by her thumb while the rest of both items stay closed in her fist.

Silas sits further back on the ground, on the boundary of firelight and shadow; in his black coat, in the flickering light, he looks eerie. He also seems much less animated than he'd been while driving the bus, although part of that may be driving a school bus through four whole ass seasons of weather over the course of fourteen hours.

Despite the long day on the road, Marlowe hadn't had enough of the vehicles once they stopped to pitch up camp. Along with any willing (or even unwilling) volunteers, she's not satisfied until the motorpool has been inspected and inventoried properly, as it was with the shipping business docked at Lowe's, so it is here. Wheels are checked. Engines, examined. It would not do for them to suffer a problem this early on that could put the convoy at risk.

Once the evening's work is done, though, the Syndicate leader is no longer demanding anything more from anybody else by way of the physical. "You're going to make a girl hungry, Chess," says Marlowe as she comes up to the fireside carrying a folded, flat rectangular shape with a twisting jute twine handle wrapped in the same cloth. Undoing the snap, Marlowe ceremoniously unfolds the travel size tatami mat and lays it on the ground with a flump of displaced air beside Asi's head. "Ojamashimasu," Marlowe says to the woman, dropping down on to the mat. Notably, there's space for others to sit, one a piece of the trifold mat, more if people squeezed in. Also notably, Marlowe doesn't invite anybody to do so yet.

"It is beautiful out here, even if there are dangers and more to come," Nadira says, moving from the direction of the river and towards the campfire. She scans for a place to sit as she speaks, though she doesn't quite settle yet. "I am not sure if the danger is more in raiders or in physical obstacles and dangers to overcome, however. I honestly find it easier to be more aware of the first–people, living things, for the most part need fresh water. It might be easier to figure out where raiders are if I feel a water source of some kind. I cannot imagine anyone risking being too far from something."

Crunching boots come down from the direction of the vehicles on the road above, and Cat descends from the supply truck with an acoustic guitar in hand. She holds it up much in the way Chess held up a bounty from hunting, like she’d tracked the elusive guitar across the savannahs and hunted it for its strings.

“Had a thought,” Cat says to the group as she makes her way over to the fire. “Well, Else had a thought.” She says, glancing back to the blonde following Cat down from the vehicles. “Best way t’make friends is to show you got something in common.” She says, sitting down cross-legged in the grass, and starts tuning the guitar.

“The uh, locals? I mean if they’re real.” Cat says while adjusting one of the strings. “They might not take kindly to us camping here. But maybe a little something familiar might help temper expectations if they hear it?” She continues tuning the guitar. “There’s an old folk hymn, my dad used to listen to it a bunch, he loved that kinda music. Actually comes from around here, too.”

Satisfied with her tuning, Cat plucks at a couple strings. “I figure, maybe it’s good luck to play an Appalachian folk song when we’re sitting in it.” She says with a hesitant smile. “It’s called Bright Morning Star.”

As Cat tuned the guitar a brief flash of red light can be seen behind Frizzle, moments later Eve is walking slowly on tiptoes from the back while puffing on a joint. Smoke trails behind her, mingling with the remnants of her crimson mist that fully rescinds into the long black trench coat she wears.

The spell of being lost in thought or a daydream is broken by steel strings and the icy breath of wind on her back.

Eve had been doing something lately. Hovering in place while shrouded in mists, whatever it was left her feeling the exhaustion in her bones, she should be sleeping but the lure of a song nestles deep in her heart and tugs her towards Cat, "Bright morning stars are rising," the rasp clips the note at the end and she smiles weakly at the woman she knew as a stoic lawyer. Feet drag on the ground and a wisp of dark hair falls into crimson eyes, "Is that the one?"

“Sure is,” Cat confirms with a bright smile.

The ground under Richard’s boots crunches softly as he walks over towards the campfire finally, coming to a pause near the light’s edge where it flickers over him, casts his shadow long and dancing across the side of the Wildcat. One hand comes up, scratching at his jaw as he looks over the crowd gathered– maybe gauging the mood, maybe looking for someone, or maybe just wondering where he’d be welcome to sit.

As the first few strings are plucked, though, he looks over with a faint smile towards Cat. God, how long had it been since he’d heard her play? A decade? Longer?

Gracie is still squeezing water out of her hair when she comes up from the river. She won’t pass up a chance to keep up on it while she can. It means she’s shivering a little when she comes back to join the larger group at camp, but she’s more than confident she’ll find somewhere to stay warm. “Word to the wise,” she murmurs low, “if you can catch it with your own two hands, you shouldn’t eat it.”

While it’s a response, however delayed, to Kendall’s concern, she doesn’t look to him directly when she delivers it. Instead, she meanders her way toward Richard, offering him a smile as she slows up to stand near him. Companionship offered wordlessly.

Kendall dismisses the fake Robyn and shifts his attention back to Tay, and when he's beckoned forward, he stands up and the camping chair vanishes. "I'm not much help with hunting though." He twirls his wrist and a big carving knife appears just as easily as the chair disappeared earlier. "However, I can help with the end result, if you need it." Good thing he's not squeamish. "Best of all, no need to wash it afterwards." Another flick, and it, too, vanishes from sight. "We're out of Delphi so it's fine, right?" He asks after a moment. Yeah, Kendall, too late there.

Monica walks up to Eve when she appears, and she takes the joint from her to partake of it herself as well. "Eve, if someone were to smoke you, you know when you're all red and cloudy, would you die or would they die?" Just something she's been wondering about. Whether it's from pure curiosity or from making backup plans for a fight, who can say. She passes the joint back then comes over to drop onto Marlowe's mat. Without being invited. But she obviously assumes a standing invitation.

"Maybe we should test this on an unsavory individual, hmm?" Eve snickers with mischief.

Nathalie, conversely, hasn't been seen near the fire. But rather, she's named herself as lookout and has been making a small patrol around the outer bounds of their campsite. Just in case anything does take offense at them parking here.

“I’ve heard that one,” Chess murmurs of the song – she’d been through Appalachia in another world, both before and after the war that didn’t happen in this one. Her eyes are on the fire, mesmerized a bit by its flickering flames as they lick at the darkness above them. She can’t help but remember the times before the end of the war when she and Miles had sat around a campfire not unlike this one, and she can’t help but think about the times after when she was alone.

She looks up, lifting a hand when she sees Richard looking around – there’s space by her if he wishes to sit there.

“Not, uh, a great song for me personally,” she says a little wryly. “Family drama and all.” That’s putting it lightly.

“Me neither!” Erin responds brightly, throwing Colin’s favorite toy in various directions to get the running out of him. “But it’s nice to have someone singing! It makes me feel better about myself!” And she proceeds to hum along with the melodic line, a little loud and a little off-key.

Marlowe spares a glance to Monica when the other woman comes to sit upon the mat unbidden. Stubbornly, she doesn't budge in her position, but she does lean back against the 'invader', not unlike a cat unapologetically reclaiming lap space and sharing a deep vibing bond. A faint smile crosses her lips. She doesn't join in the singing.

At some point, Silas joins in with the singing — his voice is low and rough, surprisingly quiet, but projected well enough to carry. He doesn't remember the words to this one perfectly — it's been awhile — but he can carry a tune well enough to match the melody where he's not sure of the words.

Kendall catches Gracie's words and nods, though frowns at the thought. Yeah, that's a good point, especially with Kendall having zero outdoors experience. He is a born and bred city rat to the core, whose main experience with nature was going to Central Park. He eyes the dead rabbits again and shrugs. "Well hopefully we'll be able to find something a bit bigger than those, especially if we end up far from water sources. In a pinch I bet Nadira could waterbend us out some fish, but we probably shouldn't." He looks over at Speedwagon and the supplies contained inside and hms, then when everyone starts singing he blinks, looking around. He doesn't know it, so he stays silent, opting to listen instead.

Since the convoy finally stopped for the night, Squeaks has been a rightly bundle of energy. She's visited the river, traipsed up and down the hill at least a half dozen times, and explored the surroundings as far away as she could still hear voices. All the while she's made little clicks and chirps — nothing that anyone else could hear or would likely notice. But to her, the makeup and layout of their campsite for the evening is thoroughly and nearly intimately known by the time she returns.

Following final lap around the campfire, mostly keeping behind everyone rather than trip over legs or step on hands, and Squeaks contents herself with finding a place of her own for the night. She picks a tree as Cat starts playing, one that's cast in firelight and not too tall, and hauls herself up onto some sturdy-ish branches. It takes some maneuvering, but as people start joining in to sing, the little redhead gets herself settled against the trunk, in the crook of a couple of branches.

Asi leans into Marlowe's side, her eyes still up on the skies above. "これ聞いたことない," she murmurs, head turning when she hears familiar voices pick up the tune. She hms and closes her eyes, listening to the thrum of Cat's guitar.

"Music was a good choice," she surmises, regardless of the song's topic. Maybe they could even put in requests after this one.

For his part, Ace remains quiet during the song. He shifts a look to Nathalie at the camp's edge, then comes to his feet to join her in keeping a lookout, far from the song.

Richard offers a smile over to Gracie as she steps over to him, offering softly and wryly, “I’ve never been good at fishing like a bear anyway.” He raises his chin up in an easy nod towards Chess as he sees her wave, then tilts his head that way with a silent query to Gracie - shall they sit?

Gracie follows his gaze, eyes falling on Chess for a moment and lingering. A small smile forms, but ultimately, she places a hand on Richard’s arm and nudges him. “Go on ahead.” Instead of joining him, she starts to swing her hips gently, her arms starting to sway along in time with Cat’s playing. She may not be much for singing with the group, but she can join in her own way.

Nadira rubs her arms, wandering her way over in Zee's direction. She sits down next to her, giving a little nudge with her shoulder. "You been doing okay?" She asks, her eyes on the fire and not on the woman herself. "I imagine being around this many people with less of a chance to be on your own can be a bit taxing."

"Nah!" Zee looks up and over Nadira and smiles wide, before looking over to Tay and offering a nod of thanks. "Nah," she repeats, looking back at Nadira. She fidgets for a moment, leaning back on the palms of her hands, fingers spread wide into the dirt. "I think I'll be fine? It's… hard, but I think I need to start… being around people more. People who weren't the kids at the House Above The Sea?"

She laughs, glancing over at Quinn, and then at the fire. "Lots of new things to get used to anyway. I should've known after the Ark that some of things things were going to come back around and I couldn't just… vanish into the vents anymore."

Finished tuning her guitar, Cat looks around at the people gathered by the campfire and begins slowly plucking at the strings. She stares into the fire, brows furrowed in thought as she plays. "Bright morning stars are rising…” She looks over at Eve, nodding to the rhythm to get her to join in since she knew the song. “Bright morning stars are rising…

All around the campfire, wayward souls from the eastern shores and far distant ones are gathered. Carrying their personal burdens, their doubts, and their fears with them as they prepare for the long journey ahead amidst the setting sun of the Appalachian mountains.

Bright morning stars are rising.
Day is a-breaking in my soul.

Down by the river, Glory washes her face in the purified water downstream from Nadira. She runs her hands through her hair, watching her dimming reflection in the water’s rippling surface, then looks up to the sound of the music. Her jaw tenses, eyes become distant, and it carries her off to a distant place in memory.

Oh, where are our dear fathers?
Oh, where are our dear fathers?
Oh, where are our dear fathers?
Day is a-breaking in my soul

On the edge of the woods, Else Kjelstrom looks through the darkening stand of trees into the deep shadows of dusk. Shoulders squared, she mouths along to the words of the song, tears glassing up her eyes. As one rolls down her cheek, her brows twitch. It is a mournful song, and yet still a song of hope.

Some have gone to heaven shouting
Some have gone to heaven shouting
Some have gone to heaven shouting
Day is a-breaking in my soul.

Far beyond those trees, on a forested ridge overlooking the freeway, a darkly-dressed woman straddling a motorcycle lowers a pair of binoculars. She narrows her eyes against the warm glow of the sun setting in the west, and passes the binoculars off to a scarred man holding a horse’s reins. “Convoy,” she says, an edge of disbelief in her voice.

Some are down in the valley praying
Some are down in the valley praying
Some are down in the valley praying
Day is a-breaking in my soul

“Never seen one that big,” the man by the horse says, staring down the binoculars. “Ton of cargo. They’re armed, though.” He lowers the binoculars and looks at her, handing them back. “What d’you wanna do?”

Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising

“We hit ‘em.” She says confidently. “We hit ‘em hard.

Day is a-breaking in my soul.


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