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A note from Warfox

I'm a little concerned about this one! I could easily do a whole separate book covering the timeline of this chapter, but in order to get this thing on track with where I need it, I honestly needed to push the timeline. I hope you like it! The next chapter will be the last in this arc of the story!

Edit- 11/29/2018: What I hope will be a final draft, barring any major story changes. Part of the 'Would Purge' of Nov 2018.

The blasted remains of Mexico were hostile in a lot of ways in AC 381, 2513. Much like the rest of the continent the landscape had been reduced to a nigh-perpetual dust bowl, with the majority of plant life having been wiped out by fire, disease, and choking clouds smothering the sunlight for centuries at a time. The late winter and early spring that the Phoenix Clan found itself setting out towards the Bavispe river, stopping by the city of Hermosillo on the way, they were finding that the heat and dryness of the climate were really setting in. California had been plenty warm towards the south, but they had much better access to rivers, water, and rain. The Sonora desert, much expanded in recent centuries, ended up being extremely hostile.

The dry, rolling hills were rather hazardous, especially with their generous coverings of slippery sand, with no rivers around to really tame the shapes of them. Even the occasional half-dead poisonous plants from the western side of the LSC and USA had seemingly dried up, leaving the landscape quite dead. Thankfully it was still early in the year, before the heat could really set in, and realistically it was probably cooler than it had been before the Cataclysm, but for two groups of people more accustomed than not to living in bunkers, and at this point in a relatively cozy caravan, it was like moving through a massive oven.

This prompted something of a change in the behavior of how they travelled. Before they arrived in the Sonoran desert, the people often walked alongside the long chain of tracked cars, sheltered under the shade of the upswung side walls of the various cars as they rolled along. They pretty much had to stay out of direct sunlight at all times unless they were heavily clothed to avoid various risks of unfiltered solar radiation, and frankly staying inside the cars was oftentimes too cramped, especially with the increasing number of children in the group. Once the heat had really started setting in, though, people had opted to bring those walls back down and spend a lot more time indoors.

This had the added benefit of allowing the moisture collectors installed in all the cars to recycle more of the water evaporated off of the occupants, which helped conserve their water overall. The primary downside of this, though, was that there were less eyes watching the surrounding terrain. A handful of people were operating the assorted cameras mounted atop about a third of the cars down the line, and squads of scouts patrolled the areas to either sides of the caravan in the LSC ATVs. Alpha One and Alpha Two, the nuclear-powered vehicles responsible for recharging the ATVs moved in parallel to the ‘engine’ car of the train, and oftentimes had one or two ATVs attached at their rears at any given time, to provide power.

Both Alpha One and Alpha Two had been linked up to the train by long cables, allowing them to supplement the power of the train of cars, allowing them to improve their speed from a casual stroll to a leisurely bike ride, seeing as people had stopped walking alongside their mobile city. This put a bit of extra strain on the two nuclear engines, but considering the amped up sunlight beating down on the solar panels on the roofs of the train cars it tended to even out pretty well. Conservation of their water and steady progression towards rivers were their most important goals, especially now that they’d added two farming cars over the past few years.

Clint Crenshaw’s efforts to expand the clan’s farming operation had been quite successful, the gathered soil and silt from the bottoms of rivers proving to be mostly workable. He had to be careful about what his subordinates planted in it as they mixed it with the rest of their workable soil and spread their earthworms to the new cars. With the LSC’s addition of new plants came a whole set of new challenges for the farmers to learn how to handle, but their successes outweighed their failures, and so far it was looking like their next harvest would be quite a bit larger than the previous year’s. There were also a number of new teenagers around that were allowed to help out and learn from the adults, so Clint could often be seen riding the high of getting to show people the joys of cultivating plant life and working in the soil.

Arrival at the ruins of Hermosillo had initially been something to celebrate after much of the spring being spent moving across the desert, but a few things started to become apparent once they got closer to the old city. There were the typical predictable ruins, old rusted out skeletons of buildings for the most part, with the rest either destroyed or buried in sand, but there were other things here as well. Standing out atop the sand, rather than buried under it and rusted away, seemed to be the remains of a small cluster of vehicles. From a distance they appeared to be heavily damaged, with large portions torn away and still others melted or dissolved.

This prompted a wary response from the caravan who had twice now been assaulted by roaches in recent years. Jessica, now 59, peered upon the distant wreckage from her usual perch atop the engine car of the Phoenix Clan caravan. The whole group had stopped, with the walls of the cars opening up and people milling about to see what was going on. The scout vehicles were arranged in a semi-circle to keep them corralled and protected while decisions were made on how to proceed. “Alright, so, it looks an awful lot like another group of people was trying to travel through here recently and was attacked and overwhelmed by roaches. I don’t see any weapons, so it’s likely they were unarmed, maybe caught unawares.”

Vasille was standing tall atop his scout ATV, a combination of keen vision and AR lenses allowing him to see almost as well as Jessica. “Are there any bodies? I don’t see any bodies from here.” Jessica shook her head at his question, humming. “I can’t see any from here. I think we’ll have to approach to find out.” She set down the binoculars. “Alright, I think half of the scouts should protect the caravan in case there’s any roaches about, and the other half should go check out those other cars. What do you guys think?” She looked down to her son Hawthorne and Vasille, who had become individual leaders of the two halves of the scouts.

Thorne responded quickly while Vasille continued to think. “Sounds good to me. I’m frankly interested in what we can salvage from the vehicles myself, though I’d really rather not have to deal with any roaches. Half of us should be more than enough to handle four to six of them if we had to. I don’t think we’ll get surprised as easily as last time.”

Vasille nodded at that, looking out across the assembled scouts in their arced formation. “I agree, approach in a line formation, stay out of each others’ lines of fire, and shoot at anything that moves. Don’t assume there’s any people alive over there. It’s obvious they failed to defend themselves. Either there wasn’t enough of them, or the rest of them and their vehicles made a run for it.” He also muttered to himself a bit. “I wonder how many people are still out here…”

Thorne nodded back, raising a hand and shouting out to his scouts. “Alright, let’s go, move together in a line, keep your weapons ready. Don’t assume there’s any friendlies. Shoot first and ask questions later!” Jessica let out a soft groan. Her son had been watching an awful lot of old movies. At least there were no trees around for ‘Charlie’ to hide in. It was likely the only two trees left on the whole continent were back in the LSC bunker, though it was equally likely they’d died by now unattended.

A straight line of half a dozen scout vehicles moved out, each containing 3 of Thorne’s scouts: each vehicle had one driving and one manning the forward-facing mounted railguns, with the third providing added eyes with a pair of binoculars. Their ammunition and equipment had been supplemented by melting down the roaches they’d encountered the year before, with the engineers able to smoothly take the highly-pure iron spikes from their main bodies and forge the metal into steel. The new guns and arc rifles made from these materials were notably heavier than their older counterparts, but it was nice to use the roaches’ own flesh to defend against them at this point.

As they approached, they were able to get a much better look at what they were dealing with. Five vehicles remained, with the top halves of them having been mostly removed. From the way they were arranged, one of them had collided with the side of the lead vehicle and the others had stopped nearby. The remaining wrecks had upright plastic seats with some kind of foam covers jutting out of the chassis, with a great deal of weathering apparent due to past winters. Thorne hopped down to approach closer, trusting his teammates to watch his back if anything happened. The surrounding sand was already being covered, with the handful of hand-held weapons watching their backs.

Walking up, a few things started to become apparent to Thorne. The shells of these things had most certainly been melted or eaten away, and there were foreign objects in the bottoms of the vehicles where seated passengers put their feet. If he didn’t know better, they looked like chicken eggs made of some kind of weird brown flesh, though there were only a couple of them per car, and they’d already been burst open. He shouted back to the scouts. “Radio back, I think we’ve got eggs here! Clear the area and get Teitara and her people out here! I think wherever they went, they’re not here.” He looked around to be sure, but considering what he’d seen of the roaches there was little chance they were around.

There was still plenty of metal here for them to eat, after all. They must have gone after other prey. “Also tell Sherry that we have a lot of aluminum, steel, and some rubber out here. Looks like wherever they came from they decided to use tires instead of tracks. They could have seated up to twenty people here, and that’s about how many eggs there are.” He looked openly dismayed at what he was looking at. Was the Phoenix Clan just lucky? Was it just their sheer numbers and their weaponry that had kept them from whatever fate had befallen these people? How many hundreds or thousands of people had these roaches eaten? It was a totally upsetting concept, one that the 37 year old scout was not about to let befall his own people.

As the next several hours passed, Teitara confirmed many of Thorne’s suspicions, and took a bunch of samples of the slimy egg shells and the stained seats. She seemed a little upset at being unable to find any overt blood stains, but considering what they knew about the roaches it was unlikely they’d let any blood go unconsumed. They seemed much less interested in processed steel and aluminum than they did older, rusty steel, iron, and especially flesh and blood.

Within a few days, Teitara were able to determine that it was likely the freshly hatched roaches had been laid in the cars, likely with the bodies of the people who were killed there, and the newborn roaches then consumed the bodies and as much of the cars as they could before they were compelled to move on for one reason or another. Sherry and her engineering crews were then allowed to scrap what remained of the vehicles except for the computers, which Cindy’s team handled for her. She couldn’t be bothered to deal with them herself, as she had been rather occupied with trying to get a thorough understanding of Megan Clark’s cyborg body.

The scavenging of the failed caravan proved much more fruitful than anything else they managed to find in Hermosillo, so they did not stay very long as they still had quite a way to go to the Bavispe river, and they wanted to get there by winter so the could have that water supply during that downtime. They had actually gotten a lot more use out of their old hydroelectric generators than they thought they would through the journey, with weeks of downtime at rivers being common as they put together their solutions to getting across those rivers. They were especially useful in the winters, as it allowed them to take a lot of strain off their other power supplies.

While they didn’t stay long enough to receive any return messages from T.I.A., the caravan did send regular status updates, reports on their findings, and samples of DNA from whatever they managed to find. It left T.I.A. actually rather busy trying to study everything she could about the evidence sent to her, as well as using their testimonials to try to figure out just how they’d come to the conclusions that they had. Her human friends had remained a constant source of interesting fodder for her to research on how humanity thinks and acts.

That winter, having arrived at the river and set up to stay there for the season, the Council of Thirteen gathered to receive yet another report from their allied AI. Unfortunately, she hadn’t really managed to determine anything that they hadn’t as a result of their own analysis, only really able to confirm that the DNA of the eggs matched that of the new kind of roaches they’d encountered the prior year. One interesting additional tidbit she was able to glean was that the vehicles they’d encountered bore similarities to designs formerly common to Arizona and New Mexico before the Cataclysm. This did seem to suggest that other bunker dwellers had detected the dangers of the oncoming climate, or had to leave out of some kind of desperation. It was a open question of just how many people there could be at this point though. There certainly wasn’t anyone coming up on their radios.

The next two years were relatively calm as the caravan made their way further and further south. They stayed on the western side of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, which left them primarily on the western coast of Mexico. This was quite the relief as they made it to the old ruins of Mazatlan, as the level of rainfall seemed to be ratcheting back up, as well as the appearance of more and more lakes. This region was vastly superior to the previous terrain and its smaller city ruins they’d seen along the way, and even the larger city of Culiacan, as it allowed them to rest more and recover from their long-range runs across open desert while they scavenged what they could.

It was remarkable how much the Phoenix Clan was starting to feel themselves getting worn down by the journey as nearly a full decade away from their original homes was starting to show its effects. People were wary of their surroundings at all times, worried that roaches might come and eat them or lay their eggs on their corpses. Fear had left the people feeling jumpy, and the heat made them tired. If their group hadn’t been so large, it was very likely they’d have been in more dire straits than they were. The end of 2515 found them based outside of Tepic, alongside the Rio Grande de Santiago river. It really was remarkable how few landmarks there were left outside of the larger cities, the sands of time having swallowed up any smaller villages or cities.

The caravan’s movement towards Guadalajara, on the way to Mexico City, was when it became apparent that they had been skirting enemy territory. Failed caravans became increasingly common, including beached boats that had been downstream on the Rio grande de Santiago. Every month or two they came across lost caravans, or encounter a small handful of roaches, though many of them seemed younger and less formidable than the older roaches they had encountered; the ones with fingers and a human eye. This variant had come to be called Smart Roaches, as whenever they encountered it tended to be a crude ambush, or sometimes what seemed to be an organized attack.

In one particularly effective incident in 2516, while the caravan was passing Mexico City, a line of six roaches had attacked in a snaking formation that kept them from lining up too much for the railguns, and allowed them to use the roaches towards the front as shields when they came in range of the LSC arc rifles. Shouts from the scouts rang out as a roach at the rear lifted and carried their spasming leaders forwards while multiple lances of electricity flowed through the front roach, only for the roach carrying it to absorb enough electricity to lose its footing as well. It was this attack that resulted in the destruction of one of Vasille’s ATVs as the enormous pair of bodies tumbled and smashed down into the vehicle, destroying the mounted railgun and smashing the light-weight car.

Worse, the assembled scouts found themselves a little overwhelmed by the number of roaches, allowing one of the human scouts, Paul Lemdon, to get pulverized by a charging roach while everyone else managed to stun, subdue, or straight up explode the remaining roaches with supersonic rails, arcs of lightning, and carapace-shattering slugs. Paul’s wife Sally Lemdon and their three-year-old daughter Kat had thankfully not witnessed his passing, but their crying broke the collective hearts of the clan. Vasille, especially, blamed himself for this death, and had redoubled his efforts to train and work his scouts into something much more fitting of a military strike squad rather than militarized scouts. The fact that a steeled Sally volunteered to take Paul’s place motivated Vasille to protect them all the more to keep Kat from losing another parent.

This added alertness and training proved necessary, causing Thorne to follow suit with his squad, as the roaches seemed to smell blood in the water. They were killing a dozen of the things every two months, to the point that they were physically unable to actually scrap them all along with the ruins of caravans they kept coming across. The only respite they got from the increasing pressure from their now mortal foes was the cold of winter, where both groups seemed to fall still and stay away from each other.

That year saw the caravan using Mexico City as a route across the landmass, crossing away from the mountainous regions into Veracruz. They then travelled east to Tabasco’s Villahermosa and further east around the southern mountains to a number of rivers that flowed south into the Rio Usumacinta river. The region almost reminded them of being back home in Washington, considering the notable increase in precipitation, and the river would be their companion as they headed south towards the city of Guatemala in AC 385, 2517

Progress slowed quite a bit as they were forced south to San Salvador, the mountainous terrain severely restricting their mobility options as they headed through more smaller cities on the way to Managua, and San Jose. The humid climate and intense heat of the summer conspired to drain them further. By the time they arrived in Panama City, in AC 386, 2518, they’d been run pretty ragged, the collected peoples of the Phoenix Clan desperate for relief. The roaches had stopped appearing in their path, and had instead been bringing up the rear, forcing the caravan to move during the nights at times. It was becoming increasingly clear as Thorne and Vasille’s scouts watched their surroundings that the Smart Roaches were chasing them out of Central America, as though gathering their forces to try and destroy them.

After bypassing the remains of the old Panama canal by using the remains of old bridges and making their own atop their remains, they crossed officially into the landmass of South America. It was at this time that Elena Price could be found giggling quietly to herself, prompting  a 64 year old Jessica Crenshaw to inquire after her old friend’s amusement.

“What are you giggling about you old bat?” Jessica smirked at the much taller, ancient woman, whom was helping her check their maps one day. Elena shook her head and pointed down at the map, her finger landing on the first old country they were going to encounter. “Columbia. Probably named by the same sorts of people who named the river our old country was named after. I just thought it was funny that the people of the Liberated States of Columbia would end up in an old country named Columbia. It seems kind of appropriate after everything we’ve been through.” Jessica rolled her eyes and shot back at her, scoffing. “If we’d had the fortune of being born in this Columbia rather than the old one, it would have saved us a hell of a trip.”

Elena smiled and shrugged, kicking back a bit. “Well, we made it at least, right?” Jessica hummed softly, nodding. “We probably should head a little further south, maybe towards Bogota, but yeah, we should be able to survive the Ice Age here. Well, you will, my progeny will have to carry my load forwards.” Elena tsked softly, sitting up. “Your grandson may well outlast even me.” She seemed to be referencing the fact that the Council had insisted that Hawthorne marry and conceive a child with an Old One named Marie Vasquez. They had named their hybrid son Barry, after Hawthorne’s grandfather, and at this point he was two years old.

Jessica seemed amused at this idea, resting her old bones as she sat back down. She knew she probably should pass her role onto someone younger, but they were so close to being done travelling that she couldn’t help but want to see the task done. “Hah, he’s carrying the spirit of my father with him, so of course he’ll outlast you, by at least a millennia!” Elena sipped quietly at a drink, smiling against the glass. “I wonder if he’ll be handsome.” Jessica gasped in surprise, reaching out to slap the other woman on the arm. “Elena Marie Price, you stay away from my grandson!” They couldn’t help but laugh together. Jessica had already had to deal with her son marrying someone two-hundred years his senior, she didn’t want to think about what would happen if her grandson married someone four hundred years his senior! “I mean it! Stick to someone closer to your own age!”

Elena only smiled playfully, though she had no real intentions. She didn’t know if she’d ever marry, but now that it looked like they were home free, she had that future to consider.

Of course, that future was uncertain, as their scouts had confirmed that a very large number of Smart Roaches had been gathering in Panama, seemingly intent on coming after them.

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Warfox

Bio: Join us over at the Leaving Earth Discord! :p https://discord.gg/z9Zn863

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