We never were able to get the Dune Whaler buggy going again, which is bad. What’s worse is that while they were messing with it Lucien collapsed. Well, he didn’t collapse so much as crumble. It was like when that scene in Saving Private Ryan when the lady finds out most of her sons are dead, all the strength just went out of him and he slid down to the ground. Things got so bad that we even injected him with some blue nanos even though we were relatively sure that it wouldn’t help. We were right, it didn’t do anything.
Without any other good options we crammed Lucien into the back non-seat of J-Lo Two (he said that being smashed back there felt better than being in the passenger seat which seems impossible but he was the one who was gutshot so whatever) and continued on our way. At first Paul and our two remaining companions tried to ride on the outside but no matter how slowly I went that was clearly not going to work so we were reduced to walking speed.
I won’t lie (about this, I will continue to lie about other things as is tradition) I gave some serious consideration to driving off and leaving them behind. I think Mar would have gone for it if we crammed Paul in the car with us too. It would have been uncomfortable but we could have done it with him and Martialla locked in a sick lover’s embrace in the passenger seat. And, heck, after we got Lucien back to Junktown in the care of whatever kind of doctor they have there (none) I could have even tried to go back for the two Lady Jesus ladies. I don’t know that I would have, but I could have.
It didn’t come to that. Before I could broach the subject of cruel abandonment with Martialla we spotted some wrecked vehicles in the distance, a couple of Whaler buggies and a standard apocalypse killmobile with the red fist symbol of the Invincible on the side. While Martialla and Paul and the Lady Jesus twins were Macgyvering together a workable machine I remarked to Lucien (after smacking him awake so that he could listen to me attentively) that this didn’t seem like a good sign. I directed his eyes to the scene outside the window and he managed to sit up long enough to take a peek.
“Could just be a scout” he gasped painfully after slumping back down.
“Maybe, but what I’m worried about more than the Invincible being here at all is the fact that we even found this wreckage. I’ve never seen good scrap left behind like this before. Unless everyone died in the fight, which it doesn’t look like they did, why was all this material left behind? Salvage is like the thing people love the most these days.”
He thought for a moment “That’s actually a really good point.”
“Actually? Why sound so surprised?” I frowned at him.
I could almost see his body struggling to extract the energy needed to make his brain work in real time “That could mean that the Invincible are moving fast, that whatever they’re doing they don’t have time to stop for reclamation.”
“Which means it’s probably not a scout right?”
He shook his head slowly “No, if that’s true it could mean they’re here in force and they’re on the move because they have objectives, timetables, plans.”
I sighed “Which probably means things have gone to shit back west right? I’m gone for a couple of weeks and the entire war falls apart? Do I have to do everything?”
Lucien insisted that we didn’t have enough information to know that for sure, but it didn’t take long to find the wreckage of more skirmishes. We even managed to make peaceful contact with some of the Prairie People (whom Martialla insists on calling Tuskens because she’s a dork). Turns out when they don’t have their murder-buggies to help them murder and run they’re much more friendly/desperate.
I couldn’t understand them even more than I can’t understand the way anyone else speaks now but Shwrym was able to communicate with them. As she translated to us (unless she’s lying) the reason the whalers of the high plains been extra jerks and attacking us (and everyone else presumably) is because the Invincible have shown up to the north in large numbers, driving them away from their traditional wooly rhino-buffalo-elk hunting grounds.
So then just when we got a second vehicle and were able to move at a good clip again we agreed to travel with a band of a couple dozen of plainspeople that had been kicked around by the Invincible. They bereft of vehicles so we had to slow down to walking speed again.
In return for our generosity a couple of them stitched up Lucien and applied some kind of bullshit patent medicine that hopefully won’t make him worse. Creeping along with them in their massive shaggy robe-coats lumbering all around us it was a real sense of déjà vu from when we did the same thing with the mole people on the road to Bosstown. Which is more or less what kicked off this whole “war” thing.
I looked out the window at Martialla who was marching alongside me rather than riding for some ungodly reason “Did we do this?”
She was keeping her eyes out, not sure if she was worried about the shaggies turning on us or the Invincible turning up or both “What do you mean?”
“Do you think Duke Eagle heard we were coming out here to look for his secret depot and we trigged an invasion?”
“Don’t give him too much credit Ela, how would he know that? We didn’t tell anyone.”
“We know he has spies in our camp and they seem to be able to communicate quickly somehow.”
She spared me an annoyed glance “Don’t make it sound mysterious, like they have mutant telepathic powers, they probably just have radios.”
“Have you seen one radio here Martialla? Because I haven’t. Point is, even if we didn’t say anything to anyone about it we flew off to the east where there’s not supposed to be anything anyone cares about. If he does have a factory or something hidden out here it would be a safe bet for him to think that we’re looking for it.”
She thought for a moment “Hmm, maybe. That’s actually a good point.”
“Actually? Why does everyone keep saying that?