Rock, Paper, Run

Yellowed leaves fell from a grey cloud-feather sky as Jared Meuller drove the mud-caked half-trackover the rough-trodden roads. The vehicle made good time, but in exchange for speed, they felt every jut of the earth since leaving the Dreamers territory three hours earlier. Saul had taken a particular liking to Jared, so it was easy for the others to convince him to sit in the front seat and fish out whatever information they felt the caravan driver was concealing. Eliza sat in the back of the HTT, between the window and her twin brother Floyd, and across from her was Lawrence, who had agreed to accompany them on their expedition.

As the HTT labored on at a steady clip, Eliza ignored the bounces, bumps, and tumbles by absorbing herself in the beauty of Wisconsin’s rolling emerald hills. She was on the lookout for wildlife and every one of her animal sightings was matched with a subtle point of her finger and a whispering of “Deer,” or “Falcon,” or whichever animal happened to have been captured by her eye. Floyd and Lawrence would look up from their heated game of rock, paper, scissors, happy to take a minute of pause from their war and join her in the peace that is nature. When the animal left their line of sight, the men returned to battle. Lawrence proved to be the better as Floyd’s trusty paper was cut time and time again.

With disappointment clear across his face, Floyd threw his hands down in defeat, and moved his attention to within his jacket and extracted the artifact. Lawrence watched closely as Floyd leafed through the worn pages to examine the diagrams, and briefly wondered if it was more difficult for the large man to read with only one eye.

It was obvious to Lawrence, and to anyone who saw the diagrams, that the words and pictures had a relation with steam technology, but the significance was lost on the twins, who had acquired the journal in the last moments of their dying fathers’ breath. Lawrence understood the basics of modern technology, especially which of it sold and which didn’t. He alone, between the four of them, understood the true potential of being on the receiving end of payment from the Lorekeepers for this raggedy old notebook.

“Mind if I take a look at that?” asked Lawrence.

The twins liked Lawrence’s confidence, both in his estimation of the value and also in his ability to sell. Not wanting to have the wool pulled over their eyes by the Lorekeepers, Floyd and Eliza agreed that if Lawrence acted as chief negotiator and haggled their way into a large profit, he would get a cut. Floyd and Eliza looked at each other and both shrugged an acceptance. “There’s no such thing as partial trust.” They said at the same time, mimicking the words of their father. Floyd handed Lawrence the journal.

“You’re convinced the Lorekeepers will buy it?” asked Floyd.

“Absolutely. Listen, I wouldn’t know the first thing about building one of these if I studied this book for ten years, but I do know that for people who can make sense of this,” he lifted the book, “will also make a load of credits. Expendable credits.”

The exhaust of the HTT caused Eliza to cough. As she went to shut the window she heard static from within the front cab. She motioned for the group to quiet down and they listened to white noise. After a moment, a raspy voice said, “HQ to Meuller, what’s your location?” Jared replied into the walkie-talkie, “Meuller to HQ, just left the FRV with four passengers. Prepare a meeting in Madison.”

After the transmission, Jared shut off the frequency and Saul continued his barrage of questions, “Where did you grow up?” “What’s your favorite book?” “What do you know about the way things used to be?” For the most part Jared’s replies came in the form of grunts.

Lawrence motioned to Eliza to shut the window. Once she did he said, “We’re being set up. You shouldn’t have shown him the diagrams, Floyd.”

“We wouldn’t have gotten on the transport for three credits if I hadn’t.”

“What makes you think we are being setup?” asked Eliza.

“That’s not normal procedure. ‘Prepare a meeting.’ Sounds to me more like, ‘Prepare an ambush.’ We have to find a way off this tank before something unfortunate happens.”

“How far are we from Madison?” asked Floyd.

“Ten miles, give or take,” said Lawrence. “That’s really not too bad of a hike.”

“Ten miles is nothing,” said Eliza.

Floyd nodded and then asked, “What about the boy?”

“He can keep up,” said Lawrence. “I’m interested to find out what he’s learned from our chauffeur.”

“I’m surprised he hasn’t been smacked yet,” said Eliza.

“Yeah, even I’m annoyed by all those questions…” said Floyd, who had taken a genuine liking of the lad.

“Any way about it,” said Lawrence, “we have to come up with a plan. Let’s get Jared to pull over.”

Eliza re-opened the window and with three solid thuds against the glass, Floyd caught Jared’s attention and yelled, “I gotta take a leak.”

Jared’s scowl reflected in the rear view mirror as he said, “Can’t it wait?”

“I have to go too,” said Eliza.

“Me too,” said Saul.

“We all do,” declared Lawrence.

“Ah Hell, so do I,” conceded Jared. “The next few miles will be extra bumpy anyway. Stretch your legs.” He looked Eliza in the eyes as he went on to say, “Sure you don’t wanna sit up front with me the rest of the way?”

“No, she doesn’t,” said Floyd.

“I can answer for myself Floyd. No, Jared. I don’t.”

Jared mumbled something unintelligible under his breath as he pulled the HTT off the main dirt path, into the grass, bordering the tree line. The five of them fanned out like a pin cushion for momentary privacy.

The group returned to the HTT well before Jared and were quick to act. Saul confirmed that Jared knew a thing or two about steam power. Their initial plan was to steal the vehicle, but the doors were locked, which also meant Jared still had the keys. Saul had left the passenger side window open and Floyd hoisted him through it far enough for the lad to grab the walkie-talkie.