Subtle machinations: Gathering of the Tribes, pt. 10

“I’m concerned,” Holly said quietly when they stopped in Albuquerque for fuel. “I don’t like seeing Sino-Indian military here.”

“It’s not the first time,” Ivy replied, her eyes on the dweller who was hand-pumping fuel into the rig. “We ran into some before I found you. Twice, in fact. First after Shiloh was kidnapped, and again a month or so later. Some of them chased us and the Benzers did for them in the desert. The others made it as far as Little Rock. Don’t know what happened to them.” She thought about it a moment. “And they were with Sam Wards. I told you that, right?”

“You did. That’s even worse, Ivy.”

Her sister nodded.

Holly nodded. “I’m going to say something crazy now.”

“You’re always saying crazy things. It sounds less silly now that you’re losing your accent,” Ivy replied.

She gave Ivy a glare that was less stern than she wanted it to be. “I think we should go to this gathering. Instead of just dropping Diesel-Heart off. I think we should go. Warn people.”
“Warn them of what?”

Holly took a moment to think about it. “The prevailing wisdom, in Sino-India, is that North America needs to be ‘rescued’ by the Brother Nations eventually. They don’t say ‘conquered,’ because of the treaty with the colonies; they’re not allowed to commit acts of overt aggression, especially not in the name of expansion that might make Sino-India a threat. But that doesn’t stop them from creating allies. And Sam Ward’s Army was seen as a strong potential ally, as were some of the walled cities.”

“But Sam Ward’s dead,” Ivy said without much interest.

“Supposedly. I’ve heard through the vine that he isn’t.”

“So have it, but I don’t think it’s true.”

Holly nodded in agreement. “But all you’d have to do is say it was true, to breathe life into his army again.”

It was Ivy’s turn to be silent.

“That, and offer up lots of new weapons.” She looked at the rig. “And trucks.”

“And they still think we’re trying to stop them,” she said with a sigh. “So they’re going to keep turning up wherever we go, trying to hurt us.”

Holly smiled with a touch of bitterness. “Ironic, isn’t it?” She pushed away from the side of the rig and paced in a small circle, thinking. “If Vitter’s successor is sending military aid to Sam Ward’s Army, that’s very bad,” Holly said.

Ivy nodded. “If they start marching again, they won’t even need the walled cities. Not that they couldn’t just knock the walls down with bigger bombs, but the open towns like Oksee and St. Louis might go with them.”

“Would they?”

“After Indianapolis burned? Plenty of un-walled towns let the Sam Wards march through after that. People had families and farms to think of. Not many people willing to see their homes leveled just because of a principle.”

“And they’ll do more than that. They’ll offer electricity and gifts, I bet.”

“Like they did to the felids?”

“Very much like that. If we can get word to Queen Clarabow I’d say to warn them too. We warn the desert tribes, and the falconids, and anyone else who will be in danger. Spread the news. The vine isn’t going to carry this quickly enough.”

“That is crazy talk. You want to rub shoulders with desert warlords and spiders. You know how many times people like that have tried to kill people like me? Like us? I’m not sure why them being in danger from Sam Wards is a bad thing.”

“Because,” Holly said, “they scrape the people on the fringes off first. That includes scavs like us.”
Ivy sighed and grumbled a bit, fussing with the fuel nozzle as the tank topped off. She wasn’t looking forward to being surrounded by an oversized gathering of noisy strangers. “So you tell the desert tribes, and they know to watch for Sam Wards with fancy new weapons?”

“Something like that.”

“You know they’re just going to take those nice guns and use them on each other, right? And on other travelers.”

“But they’re not able to feed strength to our enemies then.”

Holly could practically feel Ivy’s side-eye as her sister capped the rig’s fuel tank. “Sounds like we end up getting shot at by big fancy guns either way.”

“We have to do something, Ivy.”

“I know we do. I didn’t say we shouldn’t do it. But we should think of ways to…refine this plan, on the way there.”

“We don’t have much time. The gathering of the desert tribes starts in two days.”