Hearts of Gold


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Scene Title Hearts of Gold
Synopsis Two Providence citizens go looking for resources and wax philosophical and otherwise.
Date January 2, 2018

Near Providence

“Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”

Finn Shepherd probably starts off many of his scavenging expeditions this way. Some people have heard the joke more than once, but for Max Rainier, it’s the first time. The younger of the two men had asked Max to come along in the little jeeplike Kawasaki Mule he’d recently found in another scavenging trip, emancipated from a garage and brought back to running condition by Finn’s loving hands. Since then, it’s been on quite a few jaunts through the tree-choked barrens to find anything and everything worth using that hasn’t already been found.

There are no roads where the two bounce and bump their way through the thick pine forests, close to the shore. Finn’s been working his way through a gridded map, to keep redundancy to a minimum. There may be nothing in this long stretch of forest, but it makes for plenty of time for conversation.

It gets the desired reaction — that is, it gets a reaction, and that reaction is amused, even if it’s a sort of half-laugh, half-groan. “Okay, Doc,” he says, shaking his head as he leans his elbow on the windowsill, looking out at the scenery that passes by. “We’ve already been all over Hell’s half-acre, so if we find anything good it’ll be a real miracle.” He seems at ease, despite the fact that he doesn’t know the younger man that well.

“How long you been out here?” he asks as they pass by tree after tree. Everything ends up looking the same after a while, but he doesn’t seem to be less interested in it even though it’s nothing he hasn’t seen two minutes ago.

“Oh, a few months now,” Finn says, making a face as he lurches the wheel of the Mule to the left to dodge a tree on the right, and then to the right to dodge a tree on the left. Really, he should probably slow down a bit, given that driving through the forest is like running an obstacle course. Still, somehow even when it seems impossible that he’ll dodge in time, somehow he does.

It makes for a harrowing ride.

“We were out on the west coast for a few years, but shit’s brought us this way. Mostly the need for something like civilization nearby. Need to trade sometimes. Fuel up. Get a drink that’s not likely to get you blind,” Finn says. “What about you, Rainy?”

“Rainy?” There’s a moment’s thought, before Max shrugs. “Guess I’ve heard worse.” As for the return question, he continues, “Couple years. Long enough to get some good things goin’, make it a home. Got no plans to leave.”

Some of those dodging of trees and other obstacles, though, have the effect of making Max slam his foot down on where the brake would be if he was in the driver’s seat — or if they were in one of those learner’s cars of yesteryear. Sadly, they are not. “You got somewhere else important to be, son?” he finally asks as he is caused to brace himself against the door so he doesn’t go flying out the side window. “Hot date?”

“Huh?” Finn turns to look, brows lifted at Max questioningly, clearly not connecting the question with the speed at which they’re flying through the forest like they’re Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi.

This of course takes his eyes off the path in front of them — or the lack of a path, as the case may be. A fallen log, nearly camouflaged by the landscape, seems to pop out of nowhere, giving Max little time to react and Finn, even less time, when he turns his head back to front to see the obstacle.

Turning left or right doesn’t seem to be an option, with trees on either side, but Finn spins the wheel to the left anyway. It looks like they’ll hit either of the two ubiquitous pines blocking that path, but instead somehow they slip right between them, the trunk of one on the right scraping against the metal of the Mule — luckily the branches aren’t too low-hanging so Max is spared being slapped in the face by pine needles.

Finn brings the vehicle to a stop, his face lighting up like he deliberately pulled off a trick of some sort. “That was awesome!” he declares, before looking at Max to get his take on the achievement, and also survey his fellow passenger for damage — sometimes his friends aren’t quite as lucky to escape unscathed.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” The only thing Max can really do at this point is pray for his life, and he doesn’t even really have time to do that. He finches back as his head jerks to the side, bracing for impact…

…that doesn’t come. His breath leaves him in a whoosh as he reaches up to pat himself, like he’s making sure that he’s all there. Luckily, he does seem to be. He turns his head slowly to face Finn, the expression on his face decidedly not a ‘that was awesome!’ expression. “Thought I was about to meet my maker,” he says with a shake of his head. “I may be ready, but it don’t mean I can’t wait a little longer, all right? There’s nowhere that’s so important to get to it can’t wait another couple minutes.”

Straightening out his grin with effort, Finn’s moss-green eyes are wide when he looks at the man across from him. He looks like he might laugh at any moment, but finally he sighs and slumps back against the bench of the front seat.

“All right, all right, I’ll slow down,” he says, though he doesn’t drive forward again. “But it was perfectly safe. I promise. I wouldn’t put your life in danger, man.” He sits and stares at the trees in front of them. “I wish I had that sort of confidence in dying, myself. I don’t really expect to meet anyone, and if I do, it’s probably not who’s gonna be waiting for you.”

“It’s appreciated.” Max takes a couple deep breaths, letting them out slowly, and though maybe it’s a little bit exaggerated for effect, it’s not completely so. He takes advantage of the stopped vehicle to stretch an arm out the open window, pushing his legs as far as they’ll go as well, though he doesn’t go so far as to get out of the car and walk back.


He does, however, look over at Finn when the other man speaks, and he doesn’t interject, considering the statement even for another second or two after Finn’s stopped. “Just ‘cause you ain’t expecting it don’t mean it ain’t gonna happen,” he points out. “As for who’d meet you, we’re always our own worst judges — either too harsh, or not harsh enough. Maybe that’s why we ain’t the ones who’re supposed to do it.”

There’s an almost comical cant to Finn’s head as he stares at Max, considering what the man said. The younger man isn’t dumb, but he does have a tendency to look a bit dimwitted when grappling with philosophical and theological issues.

Or he just has resting dumb face. At least it’s fairly handsome.

“Huh,” he says. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. Still…” He looks up, makes a face, then glances back over at Max. “I don’t think I believe. I figure I should probably tell you that, so I don’t offend you on accident. I wish I did. I have a lot of respect for those that do. But I just haven’t seen too much evidence of him in my life, if you know what I mean, and some of the terrible things people do to one another — I can’t quite make sense of someone allowing that to happen. Free will or not.” He lifts his shoulders, before he starts the miniature jeep up again to carefully navigate it back into direction they had been traveling.

“And I don’t always think about what I say before I say it,” surprise, surprise, “so if I say something, you know, blasphemous or something — it’s really not meant to offend anybody. I figure you have to believe in order for it to be blasphemy, right?”

The laugh this gets from Max is spontaneous, and genuinely amused. “You ain’t gonna offend me,” he says, spreading his hands out in an all-encompassing gesture. “I’ve heard much worse than anything you could come out with, I bet. I’ve been wrong before, but you don’t strike me as the type to get anywhere near that. I don’t care what you believe in — it won’t stop me from walking my path, right? A man’s known by his works, not whether he shares the same faith as me.” He grins at Finn then, “So long as you don’t crash and kill me. Hard to forgive you if I’m dead.”

He settles back in the seat, glancing out the window again, though more absently than purposeful at the moment. He doesn’t expect to actually see anything useful right now, especially when they’ve stopped. “I’d work on that thinking before speaking, though. Always good to be mindful of others’ feelings, even if you don’t mean nothing by what you say. I still work on that, myself.” It’s stated as a fact, and the little addition at the end sounds sincere, too, which actually manages to keep it from sounding like a mini-sermon.

Finn drives slower — a concession to Max — as he listens, eyes scanning the trees ahead for anything that isn’t part of the forest itself. “I probably wouldn’t crash. And if I did, it wouldn’t be too bad,” he says with another amiable grin at his passenger. “You know I’m Evo, right?”

It’s not the preferred term, of course — but Finn’s also been living in the wild and uncivilized west since the war was won, only now returned to the east coast and still living outside of civilization’s borders, so to speak. “My vehicle’s probably the safest place you could be. That doesn’t mean bad shit can’t happen to you. Got hit by that EMP and crashed my bird out in Washington state. But it would’ve been worse if it wasn’t me flying. But that’s where I caught up with Eileen and Lang and them, a couple years later.”

“Uh huh,” Max replies with a nod, at whether he knows that Finn is evolved or not. He rests his elbow on the windowsill again, and this time he doesn’t need to jam his foot down on the imaginary brake nearly as much, so that’s nice. It means he can actually focus more on what Finn is saying. His eyebrows raise as the younger man explains, and he does look suitably impressed.

“So, you got supernatural luck?” he clarifies once his companion is through. “That’s mighty handy.”

When Max guess right, Finn bestows upon him a bright, sunny smile. “Something like that. They called it probability manipulation when they figured it out. Most of the time I don’t manipulate anything, though — it just happens. With some time and concentration I can do more, but that,” he juts his chin over his shoulder to indicate the trees they narrowly slid through, “that’s more of how it works on a regular basis. Keeps me alive more often than not, which is about as good of an ability I guess as anybody else’s.”

The land ahead curves, following the coastline, and it’s the end of the stretch they’re taking north, so he turns to follow the curve before turning south to head back in the direction they’ve come from, keeping to the grid plan he’s laid out.

“It helps to compensate for my lack of common sense, I figure,” he adds cheerfully, regarding his ability.

“Hm.” It’s clearly an interesting proposition for Max, and though there’s a little huff of amusement at the last words, he neither agrees nor disagrees, but is instead quiet while he considers.

“But it don’t necessarily extend to your passengers every time,” he says after a few seconds’ pause. “Or does it? You checked to see if I was all right before.” He points this out more like he’s trying to understand it than that he’s trying to call Finn out about anything. “You weren’t sure.” His expression is interested, still pondering the implications of being in the vicinity of someone who has ‘probability manipulation.’

At a normal rate of speed, Finn’s actually quite a capable driver, deftly moving the wheel of the little Kawasaki, though the uneven terrain makes for a bumpy ride that makes it seem like it’s moving faster than it really is. Finn tips his head as Max questions how the ability works.

“Well, it protect me, yeah. So usually, say in my helicopter, if something were going to make us crash, you’re probably better off than me than with someone else,” he explains. “But… it doesn’t extend to anyone else. So the things it does to protect me might have a negative impact on someone else, I guess. Not by any sort of universal law, I don’t think. I don’t think it’s like, I donno, that witches’ thing where if they do something bad it comes back on them tenfold or whatever? It’s not about any sort of karmic balance. I mean, unless it is. Maybe it is. I don’t think so.”

Finn has clearly never thought this deeply about it before, and it shows in the furrow that’s etching its way between his brows. “Say someone shot at us right now. If that bullet were going to hit me, I might, just at the right time, turn my head slightly, right? So that bullet misses me. But maybe it hits you instead.”

His frown deepens. “Maybe I’m the worst person to be next to. Shit.”

Max nods slowly as Finn thinks it through, and now his eyes are on the younger man and not the passince scenery. Apparently this discussion is more important than whatever they might find in the way of scavenged goods. “Uh huh,” he says again, both with his own understanding, and in response to Finn’s newfound thoughts about it. “So, it’s just like real luck. Could go either way.”

He shrugs again, as though making his peace with the possibility — probability? — of him getting hit by a bullet that is meant for Finn. “Whether you’re the best or worst person to be next to probably just depends on which way the coin falls. Like anyone. So I won’t let it worry me none.” And with that, he leaves it, satisfied at the conclusion that has been drawn.

“I guess that’s true,” Finn says, though it’s a few moments before that furrow between his brows fades again.

He glances Max’s way. “So you’re from the south? What brought you up this way? Can’t be the weather.” The day is cold, though there’s no snow, just warm enough that the gray clouds above head will produce rain, sleet or hail, instead of snow. He glances up, though the sky isn’t too ominous yet, the worst of the clouds still in the distance. “I mean, if that’s not too personal to ask.”

Max looks up then, too, and snorts, shaking his head. “Nope,” he says, “not the weather.” He settles back against the chair, reaching up to interlock his fingers behind his head. “I don’t mind. Came up after the war. Wasn’t much left of my town after that, or really even the state. But I ain’t a city man, so New York didn’t really appeal. No offense, there’re plenty of Yankees I like, but it ain’t for me. So, here I am. Some of my congregation came, too — some of ‘em are still in Providence, some moved on. Seemed a good place for me to make a fresh start, though. Making myself a vessel for honorable use and all, you know.” He grins at that, looking back at Finn. “Kinda like you.”

The furrow between Finn’s brows returns at the word ‘honorable,’ and he casts a glance out of the corner of his eyes in Max’s direction, like he might be trying to figure out if the man is somehow making fun of him.

“Don’t know about honorable,” he says finally. “But I like to be useful and I like being out in the fresh air, not all blocked in by buildings and asphalt and concrete. I like to be able to see the sky.”

He drives in silence for a moment, before adding, “Vessel’s kind of a gross word.” Apparently he won’t be asking to be made a vessel of anyone’s peace.

If he is making fun of Finn, it’s not easy to tell. Max certainly doesn’t seem to be, that’s for sure, and he laughs at the last observation. “Is vessel gonna start bein’ the new ‘moist’ now?” he asks. “There were a couple kids in the youth group tormentin’ each other with that about ten years back. Guess I’m too old to understand all that. Even ten years ago.”

He squints at the scenery, before letting out a little sigh. “Never thought I’d be wishing for some old holed out factory or somethin’ instead of this kinda view. Times change.”

“Ugh, moist! That is the worst, too,” Finn exclaims, but the overexaggeration of his expression and a tiny uptick of one corner of his mouth suggest he might be teasing. With Finn, it’s a 50-50 game at all times — at least for everyone but himself.

“Yeah? I don’t miss that. You see any action in the war?” he asks Max, his eyes slanting that way for a moment, before looking back to the path in front of him. If there were a speed limit, he would be obeying it — which says something of his respect for his new friend.

Whether Finn is joking or not, Max does laugh. “Yep, just like that. They'd probably be about your age now, too.” He's relaxed a little bit in the seat, perhaps because of his companion’s new adherence to reasonable safety precautions, and he does seem appreciative.

He turns to look at Finn at the question then, though, and nods. “A fair bit,” he says. “You wouldn't think a preacher’d be in the thick of things, but we ended up being a Ferrymen stop. Lots of Evolved came through the church for a safe place to hide for a bit, so we had to do what we had to do, you know?” His voice is still the same, even though his expression has sobered somewhat. “That was a real test of faith. The kind of thing that'll shake you. It does tell what people are really like, though. If you ain't had a chance to prove what you're gonna stand for, you don't really know what you're gonna do when the time comes.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Finn says, with a nod, and he doesn’t even seem to be joking. “It was good of you,” he adds, with a nod to his passenger, “to help them, when you could’ve easily just turned away or even fought against them. So, thanks, I guess.”

He offers a wry smile. “I wasn’t so altruistic. Shocking, I know. Mostly flew people around, one spot to another, more than a few flights to Canada. But not without payment, at least most of the time. If I believed in karma — which I don’t, or a lot of shitty people wouldn’t be where they’re at — I’d say that’s why I crashed. But it was the EMP, not karma.” Just to be clear.

“That's right.” Max takes Finn’s words at face value, because of course he's not joking. It's the truth. “You ain't need to thank me. We gotta carry each other's burdens.” He looks out at the trees passing again, as though they're just on a joyride now, and not actually performing a task.

His smile widens, though, as Finn goes on, and though he's still looking out, he still gives the impression that he's listening. When Finn is through, he looks back, studying him for a moment or two before he replies. “So you're kinda like Han Solo, huh? I remember goin’ to see that movie in the drive in with my big brother. Smuggler with a heart of gold. There's worse things to be.”

Finn’s eyes widen a little with the comparison to Han Solo, his smile brightening a moment later. But then he tips his head, brows furrowing together in a comical way as he shakes his head.

“What’s a drive-in?”

He waits just long enough to make it seem like he isn’t joking, before he nods up ahead. “Look’s like there’s a little cabin up ahead. You been through that one? Might be something salvageable.”

Finn’s question has Max’s eyes widening, and he stares at the younger man in what is very close to horror. He looks to be about to say something, but then Finn’s expression shifts to make it clear he’s joking, and Max snorts, shaking his head. “I’m gonna get your good eye, son,” he says, reaching over to clap Finn on the shoulder. He says it with a laugh, though, and nods at the suggestion of the cabin. “Sure. Let’s go.”

“But both my eyes are good!” Finn protests, looking at Max with worry, though it’s hard to tell if it’s feigned or not. Still, Finn grins as he pulls the Mule to a stop near the cabin, reaching into the back where he’s stowed his rifle — just in case there’s someone in here who takes exception to their being here.

“Let’s see what we can find.”

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