On Wings of Chrome

Talia's Hydroponics Side-Quest
or, Talia and Odin Buy Pot for Humanity

Every day I think something else about this place. At first, it was me against this town, the kind of terrible place everyone that’s worth anything wants to leave. I never would have gotten stuck somewhere like this. Rick was from a town like this one. Further south. Hardly matters now, since he’s probably been toast for a month, or he’s an irradiated zombie or something. Does that happen? Anyway, it’s not worth thinking about him much, except when wiring gets me worked up, and then that’s really just a buzzkill. I should replace him, but what kind of pickup line works at the end of the world? I am not rebuilding civilization.

Then we settled in a little and it didn’t seem so bad. We dug out a nice place. Papa’s set up some sort of hospital and is keeping busy so I don’t have to see him much anymore. That’s good. We’re more alike than I knew, especially in our recycling habits. I like seeing he treats everyone with as little regard as he treated me. The mechanic is the only decent person here. Maybe the kid on the crew with the dog isn’t so bad, but he seems a little too eager to really be sociable. Too friendly. He has a target on his back, so it seems like it’d be easier not to get too attached. Maybe the pilot’s okay. He doesn’t fit in well. But we built a fence and I repainted the horrible helicopter. No one seems to be bothering me about my habit if I do it indoors, and that’s warmed me up a little.

But then I felt stifled. The town is too small and I don’t have my bike anymore. I saw the roads from the helicopter, and they’re not so bad, nothing I can’t manage. A car wouldn’t do it, sure, but I can pull off a little, detour, whatever. I know Papa won’t approve until I’ve got reason to, but I find one- I’ve got a botany chip in my bag, probably how Rick’s friend Zeke was setting up his little growhouse in our warehouse basement. I knew he wasn’t smart enough to be doing that on his own. Well, it’s a good thing I lifted it, then. I figure no one knows hydroponics like growers.

It turns out that Jeremy, who I should remember because he seemed decent enough, was the kid the other highschoolers bought from. No one wanted to sell to me, of course, but I managed to convince them I was buying for the redshirt and somehow that worked. Then I got Jeremy to tell me that he was buying from Mr. Saltzman, who gave me some long lecture about the dangers of buying from strange people with guns, laced with his suspicion that maybe I was one of them, but was convinced to give me directions to his supplier’s commune. That sounded just perfect- a two hour ride with hippies at the end.

I was talking to the mechanic about working out a deal to rent a bike for a while when Marcus- I should probably try harder to remember his name since he’s actually been pretty decent- dropped by for some part for something and suggested I take the dog. That thing never liked me, but after spending a 20 minutes saying some words into a mic while Marcus pressed buttons, it stopped looking like it wanted to eat me, so that wasn’t so bad. We wrangled up a bike with a sidecar and I talked Odin into sitting nicely. I suited up in my gear and started driving.

It was actually kind of fun, dodging wrecks and otherwise driving without any traffic. I made it until about halfway, when there was a woman standing by a car with the trunk popped. Pretty girl. Of course, I thought maybe it was a lure, I’ve heard long talks on how that works. Viv was always doing it, since she was still natural looking. But I stop because maybe she’s got a skill. Who knows. Of course, she pulls a shotgun on me and says if I give her my stuff, she won’t shoot me on the way out.

Good thing Marcus let me borrow Odin.

The metal dog was on her in a second and somehow I thought it would be- simple? Clean? That he’d just jump up and shoot her in the throat and that’d be it? I don’t know exactly what he did to her body, I didn’t really want to look that hard, but there was a lot more blood than I’ve ever seen all in one place. Then there were guys in the trees shooting at me, and I got one of them with papa’s old pistol and Odin’s made a bloody wreck of the other. First time I saw anyone die violently- I mean, OD is one thing but all this blood is another- was at that house with the computer stuff. But this was the first time I really had anything to do with it.

So I did what I do. I picked the car clean. I took their guns, the car parts, even the stereo. They’re nothing without their stuff. I knew this would happen eventually, if I hung around with papa’s shady friends. Really, this is his fault. I focus on cleaning the dog up- I know the hippies are not going to like seeing him dripping in it, and I manage to pull off and wire up for a little while. It doesn’t fix it, but it helps. Odin stands guard- I like to think that’s as thanks for the wash, but it’s probably just his programming.

The commune is just what I expected. At the sound of the bike, one of the hippies comes out, in a tie-dye shirt and hand-knit yoga pants. His name is Jerry, which is easy enough to remember, and I manage to catch myself before I plug in to my newly-acquired car battery. He can tell I’m rattled, but he invites me in for a smoke. I have a little too much, probably because what I really want is more wire, but I manage to do what I really went up there for- to talk them into coming down to Concrete and setting up some of their hydroponic equipment. Jerry gives me a nice tour of their facilities, and I chime in with enough stuff off of Zeke’s botany chip that he likes me okay. I crash there that night, and the next day I help them load some of their stuff into their VW bus (of course) and escort them down to the town. The road is clear, and I pretend I didn’t have anything to do with the fresh dead bodies on the side of the road.

I return the bike and then bring Odin back to Marcus, which seems to make them both happier, if Odin can really do ‘happy’ anymore. I didn’t mean to, but I have to say, “You might- wanna give him a better wash. There wasn’t a lot I could do, but- we ran into some trouble. There was- a lot of blood. I’d rather not talk about it.”

As stifling as Concrete feels, I’m not sure I want to leave it again. Not alone, anyway.

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There's Nothing Like a Dam
In which our heroes take the high road.

As I pulled the truck up to the Jersey barriers blockading the dam, a searchlight blazed to life and trained on the cab. A voice from behind the searchlight exhorted us to stop where we were, and provide an accounting of our business. I rolled the window down to call out into the darkness.

“I’m Oly, part of a downed ambulance crew from Swedish American Medical Hospital. We’re willing to offer medical assistance as needed.”

The voice was silent for a beat, then retorted in a desultory tone, “Yeah, nice cover, ‘Bed, Bath, and Beyond.’ Better turn around and take your ‘Linens n’ Things’ ass elsewhere, fuckin’ Egyptian cotton ‘Pottery Barn’ bullshitters.”

I stammered for a moment, and the familiar sound of guns shifting impatiently suggested I take the path of least resistance. Flummoxed, I shifted the truck into reverse and began a 13-point turn, simultaneously ejecting our mechanical dog from the cab in the deep shadow of the backlit truck to reconnoiter. Taking pains to grind gears and swear creatively in the execution of this turnabout, I noted a figure swathed in the corona of the searchlight approaching from behind the barriers. The figure materialized at my window, affecting the bemused grimace favored by drill sergeants and schoolmarms. He signaled to me to slow my roll.

“Hold on here,” he grunted, “maybe we’re jumping the gun.” I noted with admiration that he resisted the lowest-common-denominator urge to render his observation into a pun by punctuating “jumping the gun” with a nod to his firearm. Here was a professional. I leaned my arm 2.0 out the window ostensibly to crane my ear in his direction, concomitantly putting my most eligible weapon between him and me. “Name’s Felix. You say you’re a medical team? Do you have a doctor?”

I indicated my copilot, the Doctor. “Yeah! This guy’s an ace doctor! Maybe you recognize him from TV spots?” Our interlocutor shrugged that he had not. I felt the Doc deflate slightly next to me, and made a mental note to address this affront to his self-esteem before it had a chance to fester. “Well, he’s a doctor, and this is Marcus, a technician.” Felix leaned closer to the window to peer at Marcus, who approximated a salute from his position of partial repose in the low-slung bunk. My comm crackled to life as the airborne portion of our cadre advised a range of measures from caution to murder.

Felix asked to see our badges, to ascertain our status as EMT’s. I strangled the first syllable of the iconic line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, replying instead in the basic affirmative. It sounded like this: “Badg…buh…Yeah.”

He inspected my and Marcus’s ID cards; the Doctor shrugged meaningfully, which nonetheless seemed to satisfy Felix. “Alright, you boys can leave the truck here, and come inside.” We disembarked the semi containing our Artificial Invalid, to the sound of our cohort back in the ambulance shrilling about leaving Sun Tsu unattended. Marcus discreetly recalled the dog to sit and stay guard. We followed Felix toward the dam offices. He turned to address us once more, “I hope you don’t mind; I’ll have to ask that you let us hang on to your weapons.” I winced as my comm, the volume already at its lowest setting, clipped and squealed a garbled series of invectives from Marge.

“Sure,” I grimaced, compensating perhaps a little too loudly. I entrusted my SMG to a nameless associate of Felix; Marcus and the Doc followed suit with varying degrees of alacrity. I devised from the Doc’s placid countenance—in contrast to Marcus’ and my strained expressions, that at least one member of the team had disengaged his comm. Felix ushered the three of us into the spartan administrative warren of the Lower Baker River Dam. He offered us a place to sleep, a conference room cum dormitory complete with cots. I gently suggested that Marcus, prone to night terrors, would probably be better off in the bunk of the semi. I assumed this would placate the restless remote squad in the ambulance. Marcus shot me a look that was, in turns, dejected, conspiratorial, and resolute. Thatta boy. He saw which way the gears were spinning.

I asked Felix for a sandwich, to determine the resources of our new mandatory rest stop, and to make conversation. He asked, “How much do you know about what’s going on?” I told the entire truth, i.e. that I’d been on an ambulance when the bombs hit, and noted that the bombs seemed clustered over major cities and suburbs. He frowned at what was certainly old information, but he had to know he was fishing pretty sparse waters. Not many people knew anything about what was happening, with the possible exception of a mildly racist caricature stored in the back of a truck 20 yards away. He intimated, “I’m the chief engineer of this and the Upper Baker dams. The guys outside are utility workers, but they can form a civil guard”—I heard ‘militia’—“as well as anyone. We’ve had to chase off some opportunists, but mostly we just keep the dam pumping power to Concrete. Not sure if anyone further down the pipes is getting it, but ten to one that if they are getting it, they’d miss it if we let the fires die.” I was distracted while attempted to gather clues about the facility, but noted that it was my turn to speak, so I intoned an old proverb about hard work. Felix was nonplussed, and generously pretended he didn’t hear. He led me, nutritionally sated, and informationally tantalized, back to the room. As he closed the door, he bid us good night, and pointedly reminded us “Dams are complex instruments. Don’t wander around. Goodnight.”

The night passed without incident, from my perspective. In the morning, the susurration associated with a nearby dam was joined by the general din of breakfast occurring in a nearby room. I roused myself and the Doc, and wandered down the hall toward the smell of coffee. There was a brief and unsatisfying social exchange, the details of which I won’t record here. Engineers are very…efficient people, with little patience for jocularity.

Felix arrived, and invited my cohort to join him in an idling Subaru. He quipped that a stray dog made life interesting for his guards overnight, but that it seemed to have bonded with our third team member. Chagrined, I apologetically observed that sometimes you forget to mention all the equipment you bring with you. Marcus huffed from behind my left shoulder…another affront for which to make later penance. Felix shrugged, implying the omission was of no consequence, and I glanced over to see three guards making merry around the dog, who was yipping unnervingly and wagging its tail. We got into the Subaru, amid a new (probably well-founded) bout of objections from Marge. Before I switched off my comm, I heard her say something about having control over all their defenses. My heart briefly turned to ice before the soothing sounds of John Denver spewing from the radio and Felix’s uncharacteristically warm tour of the town of Concrete relaxed me once more.

We arrived at a greasy spoon, where we were welcomed by a plump server named Doreen. She showed us to a table, “Felix’s usual,” already laden with coffee, eggs, pancakes, toast, and hashbrowns, similarly “Felix’s usual.” Observing Doreen’s familiarity, I wondered momentarily about Felix’s sexual proclivities, but reminded myself I was once more in a small town, and everybody was probably fucking everybody and it didn’t matter a Tinker’s damn. I then bestowed my attention on a mountain of Belgian waffles before me, while a new figure, self-effacing but authoritative in a blue hoodie, addressed us between bites of eggs benedict. He was the duly-elected mayor of Concrete, and gave us a more nuts-and-bolts version of how the town worked to complement Felix’s earlier travelogue. We were, it seemed, the answer to a prayer. The previous medical professionals worthy of the name had been called away during the aftermath, and hadn’t returned. If we were willing to stay in town and help out wherever possible, our needs would be provided for, including food, shelter, companionship, and power for our truck. I’d earlier explained that the truck held a server farm containing volumes of data germane to life after nuclear holocausts, etc. As you can imagine, this was done while my comm was threatening to melt under the intensity of Marge’s ire. I’d explained that the truck was our early attempt at having something useful (knowledge is power, it’s great to learn, etc). The mayor, Judd, and our host, Felix, were both satisfied that we could hook up our truck if we were willing to contribute to the day-to-day happenings in the town. Already on the hook, but pretending reticence, I asked if we could try to contact the estranged portion of our ambulance crew, with whom we had parted ways over a dispute regarding “women’s issues.” (comm: “WHY YOU MOTHERFUCKER”)

With negotiations complete and our immediate and future needs addressed, we began the trek back to the dam. Marcus pantomimed a laborious attempt to contact our long lost brothers-in-arms, and instructed them to rejoin us.

End of log.

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End of the World

The AI was real. Is real. And we have him. It. It’s strange to think of a computer attaining consciousness, but I’ve talked with Sun Tzu and he’s a thinker. Turns out he was created to simulate nuclear war, and wouldn’t you know as soon as we find him, the world gets blown up.
I’m not used to so much silence. All my connections are dead and I keep wanting to post messages to my friends, but no ping is returned. The silence is unnerving.
I’ve been able to keep myself focused on saving the AI because even though we killed some people where they were hiding him, they showed up and tried to get him back. If everyone I know is dead because of this thing, there’s not way these assholes are getting their hands on it again.
Ollie is gone. I always thought he’d gone to far with his mods. The nuclear blast was too much for his systems and he became unresponsive as soon as the dust settled.
And on top of all the shit we’re dealing with, we now have to deal with the doctor’s addict kid and a few green members of Swedish Corp who were out of the blast zone when it happened.
My nerves are frayed and I’m barely holding on. Right now all I want to do is sleep and wake-up to a normal world.

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Repurposed Dream Journal of Oly Benson
HR made me keep this fucking thing.

I’ll scribble something down if I can find some paper. Scans below.

Oly’s Dream Journal

Love, Oly.

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The Doctors Rant
Why is world so hard?

“Why is world so hard? I grow up in old country and become doctor. Invent new drugs to cure disease. Learn how to stitch wounds, freeze bodies, and counteract chemical alterations in a moments notice. But does world care? No! World has it out for Petro! First, bus go Boom! Then we fake death. NOW WE KNEE DEEP IN NUCLEAR SHIT HOLE! I came to America to get away from Nuclear shit hole! Well… okay, I really came to America because money was better, but still, Nuclear shit hole. Now we discover AI, world is kaboom, and we have no televisions packages. My worthless, good for nothing, boy hunting daughter is most assuredly dead, I have no job, only money we stole, and am running out of pain killers. So I live on. Now what? Now. Now I kill people who did this. Greed. Greed is what did this. Greed killed my wife, my job, and now my daughter, now I kill greed.
I am the doctor, and I know where it hurts.”

-Doctor Petro Yazvenko

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Holed up in Index

So we finally figured out who was trying to kill us and why. And to be honest, I can’t really blame them for being freaked out about us knowing what we might have known cause it’s huge. True AI is kinda dumbfounding, but we might have a small piece of it right in front of us. And basically we’re doing what they were afraid we would do if we found out what they thought we knew. Or something.

So now we’re stuck in some cabin in the middle of nowhere in a place called Index. They have decent wireless reception, so it’s not like I’m without a connection to the real world, but really, trees aren’t my thing.
Two of the guys have gone off to do some kind of scouting thing. I don’t really feel like leaving my room here. It’s not like I won’t pull my share, but if they need me to search for something they can come find me.
All I know is, we have money, and I want to get to a mall and get some upgrades I’ve had on my mind for a while.

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