The 300D’s axle went just south of Tulsa. They crested the hill that took them through the gates of the troll road that ran between Tulsa and Oksee, and just as they passed through and rolled onto the smoother pavement, there was a thud and a grinding sound from underneath them, from the back of the car. Ivy sucked air through her teeth. It chattered ominously for a few seconds, then stopped. Shiloh glanced at Ivy, who said nothing and maintained her speed.
For the next several hours, the chattering repeated itself every twenty minutes or so. No one had anything to say about it. Ivy didn’t stop.
They stopped for fuel in Oksee, which wasn’t so much a city as it was a series of individual villages and farms that were sometimes close enough to share fruit trees. Shiloh remembered that Gallamore’s had commonly avoided Oksee, partly because the population was smallish and partly because it wasn’t the safest settlement.
She could feel Ivy’s tension, and tried not to hover while she was fueling the rig, but was quick to ask, “what is it?” when she came out from under the car again.
“Axle,” she replied tersely.
“But we can keep going, right?”
“Till the joint snaps and leaves us in the dirt.”
Shiloh assumed Ivy was being sarcastic. “How long? How far?”
She shook her head. “It broke a hundred miles ago. It’s just grinding itself to pieces. We’re better stopping here than being stranded here than out there.” She looked at the horizon, agitation etched on her face. The scar next to her right eye was more visible when she frowned. “Slightly.”
“Oksee doesn’t have a wall,” Holly said. She’d been listening.
“No, it doesn’t. It’s…I don’t know anyone here. There was a group of nomads I was hoping to meet here, but the vine says we’re a day behind them.”
“So what will we do?”
She looked past them, at the horizon. “It’s getting dark. We’ll make camp and I’ll see what there is to trade for in the morning. Tell Lord Diesel-Heart.”
By day, Oksee seemed indifferent to strangers. As night fell, Shiloh sensed the place taking an unhealthy interest in them. Ivy had been careful not to let anyone know that they were stranded, but news of a Sam Ward skirmish outside Tulsa not long after they had left put a dangerous color in the social air. There were rumors beginning to float that Sam Ward wasn’t really dead, and this had emboldened the scattered fragments that remained of the army that flew his banner.
“Sometimes, they don’t wear the bands,” Diesel-Heart told her. “No wraps, no sticky who they are. Till you’re already fucked.”
“That sounds bad.”
“It ain’t jam sandwiches,” he replied. “They come here, they gonna wish they hadn’t. Make ’em kiss the baby.”
She raised her eyebrow.
He lifted his club and tapped the doll’s face. “Kiss the baby. Let her decide. They kiss good, baby’s happy. Not good…” he quickly rotated his wrist and the weapon’s hammer side spun forward. Diesel-Heart smacked his palm and laughed.
Ivy seemed on edge, so Shiloh was too, in spite of their passenger’s violent charm. She had trusted Ivy’s instincts for about six months, and was beginning to feel like she was developing her own, too. They attached the tent to the car, and Shiloh slept close to the opening. She briefly considered sleeping in cat form, thinking she’d be able to hear and smell better, but discarded the idea. She’d tried in the past, and it just meant she got less sleep, and for what? A nose full of awful smells she couldn’t identify anyway.
The general clack and rustle of Oksee kept her up anyway. Shiloh tried to sleep, but it never got better than a doze. When a series of weak cries for help some distance off ended in a wet crunch and silence, it didn’t rouse Shiloh because she was already awake. The complete lack of outcry made her think of the appraising looks they had gotten when securing the 300D for the night.
She opened her eyes and saw Ivy and Diesel-Heart awake, and looking at something. “What?” she whispered.
“Big ole truck,” Diesel-Heart said. “Pointed right at us.”
“It drove up without lights,” Ivy added. “And it looks like one of the rigs from Singapore.”
That chased away any hope of sleep. “Here? How?”
“Stopped over beyond,” Diesel-Heart said. “We playing sleepy?”
Ivy nodded. “Wake Holly,” she said to Shiloh. “Tell her what’s happening, and you two stay with the tent.” She knew better than to waste time asking what Ivy was going to do, and did as she was told. Ivy and Diesel-Heart disappeared into the dark.