I am blind and stupid with SHADOWS. I am so blind and stupid that I am giving you a snippet of it tonight. Which I have subjected to a little judicious cropping. I don’t want you to be able to figure anything out.
This is near the end, and . . . mwa ha ha ha ha ha.
* * *
“How close are we going to be able to come?” said Jill conversationally a minute later, negotiating the main street, which was unusually empty—and there had been no soldiers on the corner of Jebali. We were the only car at the midtown stoplight, which never happens except in the middle of the night. Two cars passed in front of us—both of them loaded to the roof with suitcases and boxes. Leaving town. Heading north and west, which was where Mom and Ran would be going soon too. With a car full of suitcases and boxes.
The newsboard banners were empty. There were silverbugs everywhere I looked—clustered in dizzying little clumps on the overhead power lines, glinting on shopfront window sills and scattered apparently at random on the sidewalks. And ironically every one of the big metal anti-cobey boxes had a crown or swirl of silverbugs. So much for you, I thought at them. They didn’t reply. Two days ago I wouldn’t have expected them to. Today . . . today it was probably just the throb of the armydar making me spacey. I was almost getting used to the armydar. This couldn’t be good.
My stomach felt funny. I hope we didn’t drive over any silverbugs.
We went our solitary way across the intersection. “To wherever,” said Jill.
“I am not sure,” said Casimir at the same time I said, “Probably not very.”
Takahiro said, “Even if we could drive up to the front door, we don’t want to, do we? It’s not like we’re coming to the local lockup for official visiting hours.” . . .
“There’s that falling-down army base a few miles out of town in more or less this direction,” said Jill. “Out at the edge of the barrens. Goat Creek. Maybe it’s not as falling-down as it looks.”
“There have been rumors for years that it isn’t,” said Takahiro. “Even that it’s completely in use. They’re just not saying for what. I’ve always wondered why—and who—runs the sheep out there, you know? The perimeter fence is from when it was a firing range and special-ops training and stuff, but the fence is still there. And so are a lot of sheep. So like now I’m wondering if they’re using them—like we’re using our guys here.”* Mongo was doing one of his I-am-a-spineless-rubber-dog things and had twisted his own head around so he could lick Bella’s face as her head rested on his back. Of course there was a lot of face to Bella.
“Dad used to say that it was a conservation thing, the sheep,” I said. “Managing wild grassland or something.”
Takahiro snorted. “The only stuff that grows on the barrens is what can grow on the barrens. They don’t need sheep for that. And they had to import some kind of tough little feral sheep who could survive on what does grow there.”
Jill glanced in the rear view mirror at Takahiro. “The things you know.”
“I have the secret gizmohead insignia tattooed over my heart,” said Takahiro.
“Whatever,” I said. “This feels like the right direction.”
“Good,” said Casimir. “You feel it too.” . . .
The landscape changed as we got closer to the Old Barrens. The big lush trees put in by the town council disappeared and the tougher, scrubbier trees of the barrens appeared to take their place. The sourleaf grass that the sheep around the old army station had to live on began to show in clumps, especially in breaks in the paving. The farmland was all on the other side of town, toward Copperhill; this side there was only a polite strip of cultivated public land before the politeness began disintegrating into the barrens. At first there were warehouses and big ugly slabs of grey industrial something or other and then they disappeared too. Now we were in the barrens for real. There were occasional sand-pits and increasing stretches of scraggy, grey-green sourleaf grass, turning yellow for autumn, and looking kind of ominous in the twilight. We went click clack over the abandoned stretch of auxiliary railroad that had served the army base when Station had been a big town and the base had been open. Officially open.
Jill turned the local radio on. Even the usual burbling sounded subdued. There was still nothing to worry about, said the presenter, trying to sound chirpy and failing, but since the schools and many businesses had decided to close temporarily while the army finished securing the situation—
“Situation?” said Jill.
“Securing?” said Takahiro.
—much of the town had decided to take an unscheduled vacation.
“Vacation?” Jill, Takahiro and I all said together.
* * *
* There are six dogs and a thirty-pound Maine Coon cat in the back of—ahem—the Mammothmobile that Jill is driving. The six dogs are Bella, the wolfhound, a Mastiff named Elder Statesman because of the jowls, a greyhound named Athena, and, in Jill’s words, a dark-brown bear and a brindle utility vehicle. Plus Mongo.
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