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Life on the road is beautiful only on paper. Or when you have nothing to worry about. When you cross the Wasteland in an armoured car, the change of day and night outside the window is followed by the constant thoughts about the raider attack or about whether you have enough gasoline to make it to the next village. The gas stations can still be found, of course. But these are nothing more than monuments of the time. What was left there has already been pumped out, and the new stuff is not delivered to gas stations. And what if they don’t want to sell you anything in the next settlement?

Troy’s armoured car pulled up to what was once a gate after sunset. A familiar picture appeared before his eyes: destroyed houses, smashed containers, people working in complete silence. The experience gained last time forced him to turn off the engine and leave the cabin with his hands held high. The main thing was not to scare them.

After standing like that near the cabin for about a minute and realizing that no one was going to check him, he lowered his arms and headed towards the nearest group of people who were pulling the debris away from the brick building.

Without saying a word, he grabbed the nearest piece of brickwork and tossed it aside. They just threw a quick assessing glance at him, as if trying to figure out if he would overstrain or not. So, in complete silence, they worked for several more hours, until there was a booming metallic sound behind them. A jug of water, with several large cakes on its lid, one for each worker, signified the end of work and time for dinner.

He wasn’t surprised when he was patted on the shoulder and asked to sit and share the meal. Having settled down right on the ground, he began frantically to tear off pieces of tough dough baked on the walls of a special brazier. A bucket filled with water was passed in a circle between the workers. Troy was spoken to as soon as he took the first sip.

— Why are you here? - the voice belonged to a man in his fifties, sitting directly opposite Troy. He would have asked before, he just didn’t want to distract him from work.

— Gasoline, water, scrap for some minor repairs. - Troy didn’t look into the eyes of the speaker. Instead, he looked at the grains of sand at his feet, trying to assess the mood of those sitting next to him with peripheral vision.

— As you can see, our conditions are not very suitable for trading now. - Only the intonation said otherwise. In fact, he was asking, “How much are you willing to pay for this?”. Troy wouldn’t be surprised if they told him how many canisters they would give in exchange for his armoured car.

— I’m not going to trade with you. I think you will give it to me for free.

Those sitting nearby tensed. They pulled up their legs, preparing to rush at the insolent one with a single wave of the speaker’s hand.

— What makes you think that? Because he helped us throw a couple of bricks? That’s a weak... - there was a boiling rage in his voice, which indicated that he was more of a merchant than a diplomat, but his tirade was interrupted by Troy’s quiet phrase:

— Because I am going after Him. - the phrase sounded more pretentious than he had expected. Even some memories from childhood about fairy tales and gallant heroes surfaced. His neighbours are about to laugh and start making fun of the self-proclaimed hero. But here was silence. Everyone tried to digest what they heard. There was not a shadow of a smile on their faces. And no one had any doubts about whom they were talking about. Here, as in every ruined village, the same scenario has been repeated lately: night, stranger, lighthouse, ruins.

The gear lever kicked so hard that Troy could barely keep it in position. The left hand seemed to rotate the steering wheel chaotically, but in reality it was trying to drive the car between the boulders scattered around here. When you drive off the road in the Wasteland, even the terrain rises against you. There are stones, debris, pits, mines ahead of you, and behind you... You will not know what is behind you! Clouds of dust and sand obscure the entire view, and the only mirror on the right side shakes like the head of a toy dummy on the dashboard.

On the passenger seat, nailed to the shabby casing with stubs of wire, was a map, on which the destination was carefully circled, and a strange set of symbols was almost scratched right below it: VUE23NP240W. Whatever it means. Many roads led to this place, but Route 66 was the shortest. And to get on it, you had to cross a deserted area between several rocks.

Bullets crashed into the armor plates with a clang, crumpled and bounced to the sides. He didn’t know how many of them there were, but certainly not less than three. They periodically appeared in the dancing mirror and again disappeared somewhere behind, and there was no intention to look out the window and count them. Troy would be lying to himself by claiming he doesn’t know what’s going on. The raiders saw a lonely armoured car and decided to feast on spare parts and everything that they would find in the cabin. Especially if their findings can be installed on their cars — the rest can be cooked in the evening on a large brazier. But all that remained for our hero was to step on the gas pedal, steer as accurately as possible and not let the gear shift independently. And there, having already got out on the track, it will be possible to check who is faster.

Maybe it was the fact that he began to break away from his pursuer. Maybe it was the proximity of the asphalt section, and maybe it was inexperience that did not allow Troy to notice the fast-growing point in the front right. It definitely moved straight ahead and increased in size with every second. Metal plates in places of abrasions already began to glare in the sun. And now the angular outlines began to show. It was rumored that the raiders had special armoured vehicles designed in such a way as to pry on their opponent and turn his car over. To do this, they used all the materials at hand and placed splitters and blades on the vehicle’s nose. A few could tell about them in more detail, for meeting them in the Wasteland usually ended tragically.

Could Troy have dodged it if he had spotted the threat earlier? Well, maybe. But he saw it, when the bizarre mask of the driver was already seen through the gap in the armor plates of the rushing armoured car.

The hit struck exactly the back of the right side — the force threw the car into the air and turned at an angle to its axis. Troy hit his head on the door rail. His eyes immediately darkened, and his hands hung helplessly in the air, not even trying to grab onto something. The seat belt, the pride of this armoured car, was the only reason why the driver was still alive when the car, having made several turns, landed on its roof.

Everything floated in front of his eyes, his head was buzzing from the blow so that he couldn’t even raise his hands, which laid on the heated metal of the roof. A bright light made its way through the veil of gaze and the grill on the front window, and some movement was seen among the blinding rays.

— “Mei…” - Troy whispered.

But the veil receded, while consciousness returned to reality. The movement was nothing more than a raider approaching. And he stopped right near the armoured car. Do we really need to say, what kind of shoes he was wearing?

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Continued: part 3 >>