Chapter 22

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Then Spring became Summer again and straight on into Autumn.

"Aiiee!"

Fiona hasn't laughed at a lot of things yet during my quest to bring her culture, but a cartoon man getting hit by a falling tree seems to be the way to tickle her funny bone.

"It will take time," Father later reminds me as I lament to him about my failure. He is driving. Fiona sleeps restlessly in the back. More often than not she forgets where she is and wakes up in a panic, thrashing and calling for her dog.

I sit in Charlotte's passenger seat and contemplate the desert stars, trying to remember a dream I had a few nights back.

"You thought fecal references were the funniest thing in the universe until you were eight," Father reminds me.

"Dad, Monty Python is full of shit. And she's not eight, she's around my age, I'd guess."

"But she's been isolated for years. She's still remembering how to speak, even. She's an id without a superego."

"Don't go all Lord of the Flies on me, Dad. She's not Mowgli raised by wolves."

"Tell that to the men she..."

"Do you really want to play the numbers game, Dad?" I interrupt. "You know you'll lose and you know that's not the point."

"What is the point, then, oh daughter of mine? I know you're trying to make one."

I used to like it when he said 'oh daughter of mine'. Now it feels different somehow. I stare out at the cacti rushing by in the dark, the faded yellow lines beneath us, and the twinkling lights in the distance. Lights which represent potential answers.

"She's me, Dad, if you hadn't raised me."

"It's not as simple as..."

A yawn from behind us serves as a startling interruption. Fiona stands in the doorway to the 'cockpit', rubbing her eyes.

"Looks like you're getting used to your surroundings," I observe.

"Hafta pee," she mumbles.

"Regan showed you where the toilet is," Father growls, returning his attention to the highway.

"Huh-uh." She shakes her head. Fiona's only fear in life appears to be trying to take a shit in a moving vehicle. We went through the fun of discovering that the same day we got Charlotte up and moving again.

"I'm not stopping," Father insists. "I can see Bastion from here."

"Hafta pee," she insists, locking eyes with me. Her expression suggests there may be more than just pee going on. I find myself shocked by her sudden modesty.

I thicken the admonishment in my voice. "Dad, let's be sensitive toward other people's lady parts, shall we?"

"Hey, I am always..." he chuckles, then shakes his head. "Fine. I'll pull over."

Charlotte comes to a stop, the headlights beaming at a bent-over sign so bullet-riddled and faded that its original purpose has been lost to time and target practice.

"I'll cover you," I tell Fiona, though it's only to make her feel safer. This stretch of highway is well-patrolled by Novamerican scouts.

Fiona leaves Charlotte, glaring at the unfamiliar desert flora as though they are sentinels protecting a mysterious foreign land. As I think it, I realize that, to her, the imaginative musing might not be far from the truth. As far as I know, Fiona knows nothing but the mountains of former Nevada.

"Ray-gun wash?" she asks, sending me a vulnerable, wide-eyed stare. I stare back from my spot on the grid-iron step to the worn-down asphalt where she shakes nervously, scared more by unseen desert bogeymen than any real threat that she would have no qualms about quelling with a bullet.

"Charlotte has a shower for washing," I tell her. "Oh. Watch. Yeah. I got you. Coyotes aren't gonna fuck with two tough bitches, Fiona. Just go pee so we can get to Bastion before daybreak."

"Oh, kay," she says, dropping her pants and squatting right in front of me, staring like Buck used to when he was taking a shit in the woods.

"Hahaha, Jesus," I mutter, looking away and feeling my cheeks burn. Embarrassed as I am, I remind myself that her only companion for most of her life was probably a dog. She's just peeing, I think. I scan the horizon diligently. Other than the lights of Bastion far in the distance, the desert at night is blissfully placid. My gaze wanders to the stars - the best thing about the desert at night.

"Do you know the constellations, Fiona?" When she gives me a blank expression, I point up.

"Stars peety," she replies. I hazard a guess that it will take a while before we can wax philosophical together.

"Ever wonder if there are other planets out there where the sentient species didn't fuck up royally?"

Fiona pulls up her pants and tilts her head at me, like a dog would. Maybe raised by wolves isn't so far off, I think. Might be a while before she can tell me who taught her to speak and read.

"Ray-gun peety too."

"Um, thanks," I say, blushing unexpectedly. The faraway glare of headlights makes me squint, and I lean my head back through the doorway of the RV. "Dad? We got a whole lotta Mardi Gras."

"I see 'em," he shouts from the cockpit. "No answer on the radio."

"Shift Spengler," I suggest, meaning let's head south off the road. "Fiona is gonna freak."

Hearing her name, Fiona points at the lights. "Ba-guys?"

"Not sure," I mutter, ushering her inside. She runs to the cockpit and stares out the windshield, agitated. "The radio silence isn't a good sign. Punch it, Dad."

"I'm not hauling Charlotte through that shit and tearing up her undercarriage," he says as he runs to the safe. He dials the combination with a practiced hand and hauls out the night vision goggles, bringing them up to his eyes.

"There's at least six cars in that convoy, Dad!" I insist. "If it's not a Novamerican patrol answering on their frequency..."

"Huh," he mutters.

"What?" I demand, dragging guns and kevlar vests out of the safe. Fiona watches me with interest.

"Not their jeeps," he says.

"Then who...?"

Father dials the CB to a different channel, pushes the button, and brings his mouth up to the speaker. "Convoy, this is Spider. Eyeballing you on the boulevard. Got your ears on?"

The radio crackles for a few seconds and I feel my heart speed up as I help Fiona don a vest.

"Copy, Spider," a female voice says, cutting through the buzz. "We got a 10-35 so sit tight."

Fiona stares at the radio like it's possessed. I look back at Father.

"Could be a trap."

"Worse than a trap," he replies. "It's Leslie."

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