Judith peered at the folded map, giving Joe warning of upcoming turns. She’d taken this route several times before. Paper maps were certainly clumsier than the computer in Daddy’s car. And paper didn’t calculate the fastest route either.
“We’ll take Highway 93, through Boulder City. That goes straight there.” Their next destination, Kingman, Arizona, would take them back in a southeasterly direction.
Loop 215 joined 515, and they were quickly back on track. She relaxed and set the map on a broad dashboard nearly as spacious as their kitchen table. The bright lights were behind them, but there was plenty of truck traffic keeping them company.
She blinked. What had that road sign said?
The passing lights showed Joe’s steady gaze ahead. He appeared more and more comfortable with the job of steering the behemoth. Judith knew her time to drive it would come soon enough. It was a far cry from her motorcycle, but if Joe could do it, so could she.
Up ahead, she saw another of the strange signs. She paid more attention this time.
She straightened in her seat. “Joe!”
She grabbed up the map and fumbled for the light. “Problem. Did you see that sign?”
“Something about trucks?”
“NO TRUCKS OR BUSES ON HOOVER DAM.”
The map told the story. “Joe, get over into the right lane, quickly.”
“What’s the deal?”
“I should have remembered. They closed Hoover Dam to truck traffic after the terrorist attacks. Highway 93 goes right over the dam, and they were afraid a truck bomb might break it. If Lake Mead were suddenly released, the flood would scour a path all the way to the Pacific, taking out more dams. Electric power and water for the western states would be disrupted for years.”
She traced the lines on the map. “Dad takes this route all the time, but not in a truck.”
“Is a RV a truck or a bus?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
He slowed the vehicle and changed lanes. Other trucks were doing the same. The truck behind them blinked its lights as a signal that he could move into place.
“It doesn’t matter. We can’t risk running into a roadblock or police inspection.”
Judith poured over the map. She pointed. “Instead of 93, we’ll take 95. There has to be another way to cross the Colorado River.”
“The interstates would have to support truck traffic, I’m sure. How far down is I-40?”
She looked at the map, estimating the distance. “Not too far... but look, there’s a crossing here, about sixty to seventy miles south. It’s much more direct than if we have to go down to 40.”
Another sign, with a yellow warning banner, caught their attention:
HOOVER DAM DETOUR
TRUCKS - BUSES
TRUCKS - BUSES
Joe took the turn, and headed south.
Judith looked back. “You need to come back here sometime and see Hoover Dam. I was looking forward to showing it to you.”
State highways, at least those with fewer lanes than the divided interstates, were less comfortable. On the interstate, Joe could just sit in the slow lane and set the cruise control at a safe, legal pace, and let the other vehicles pass him at their own speed. With a single lane, a string of cars and trucks began stacking up behind him, with only the craziest of them pulling around into the oncoming traffic to get by.
Joe pushed his speed up as much as he dared, but it still wasn’t enough, the string of headlights just sped up with him. Which was worse, getting a ticket for speeding or one for blocking the traffic?
Bob One appeared at his elbow. “Stop the RV.”
“Hang on.” Judith held out her arm. Bob One wrapped his around hers.
Joe did the best he could. It was midnight, and he had poor visibility. An RV wasn’t like a car that you could just swerve over onto the shoulder at a moment’s notice. He grit his teeth and slowed the massive vehicle, easing off the roadway as far as he dared. If he got the far tires bogged down in soft ground, there would be no way of getting it out, not without help. Joe didn’t know if the RV even had a jack. He left the engine running and the headlights on. Trucks passed by, each of them shaking the RV with the wind of their passage.
Just don’t hit us.
Bob One explained, “We’re in range of another talkie. It has to be the one at the Kingman base. I thought it was still a few more miles to go.”
Joe could sense the talkie, too, now that he mentioned it.
Judith pulled out her map. “Oh, my. Look here. By the road, we’re still too far, but the base is just on the other side of this mountain. Line of sight, we’re in range. We should shut it off, immediately.”
“No,” said Bob One. “It’s too late. They already know we’re near.”
“But if we leave it on, they can track us down.”
Bob One shook his head, not really looking at either of them. “Wait.” There was a sound of seatbelts being released. Bob Four got out of his seat.
Joe whispered at Judith. “Do you know what they’re doing?”
The Bobs looked distracted.
She frowned. “No. Something is strange.”
Bob One took the talkie from the tray between the two front seats and walked it back to the bedroom in the rear of the RV. Bob Four and Fred joined him. They closed the connecting door.
Joe said, “I think we’ve just been shut out of the conversation.”
Judith looked worried and gestured, “Yes, I’m worried about all this. I should never have....” Suddenly, her ‘voice’ was shut off.
“I can’t understand you.”
She looked frightened. She moved her hands, but it meant nothing to him. He felt stupid. He pulled out a pen for her. She nodded and scribbled a note in her crisp clear lettering. “I think we need to pull the posters down.”
“You’re right.” He got up and removed one, while she did the other. The rear one, in the bedroom window, would have to wait until the aliens were done with their conference.
They sweated out a half-dozen more shakes from passing trucks before the door opened and Bob One came back, talkie in his hand. Fred Four followed.
Bob One pressed the keys and said, “We have to talk. Things have changed.”
Bob One was the spokesman. At least it seemed that way to Joe, since he had first joined their group. Bob Four was the one first to act, but Bob One seemed the more thoughtful.
“Joe, Judith, I know you began helping us to save the Sams, and you don’t like it that we’re attempting to escape. I’m sorry, but that’s what we’re going to do. If we don’t make it to safety in the next few days, all eleven of us, then there’s very little chance any of us will ever go home again. What we have to know, right now, is whether you’ll help us get free, or not?”
Joe could feel some undertones in the conversation. The aliens had plans for them, if they weren’t going to help. But he also knew he couldn’t hide anything, not with the talkie reading his intent as well as his words.
Judith attempted no evasion either. She waved her arm. “My first loyalty is to my people. I could never do anything to hurt anyone. My second loyalty is to you guys. I don’t want any harm to come to you either. That’s what the Trust is all about. I’m just not sure an escape is good for either of us.
“Look at what we’ve been doing since this started! We’re drugging people and stealing things. What will be accomplished if we do pull off these breakouts? How long can we tour the country in an RV? The ‘Roswell or Bust’ gag won’t work very long, not if the Trust starts scouring the country looking for anything that hints of aliens.”
“I understand your fears. I have some answers, but Joe, what do you think?”
“My mind hasn’t changed. I’m here to help Judith, but I’d be glad to help you guys, too. I can sense you think you can drop us off and go your own way, probably after applying a little rollback, but it’ll be both of us or neither of us. I promised her Dad I’d take care of Judith. And I think she’s right. If you don’t have a plan, then let’s do what we can to help the three Sams and then contact the Trust and work out a way to get you guys back into hiding. Maybe we could negotiate better conditions or something.”
Joe frowned at a new thought. “Unless, maybe people are ready for aliens in their midst? Are you ready for publicity tours and mobs of people? Believe me, you’ll be living in hotel rooms the rest of your lives if you do that, just like rock stars.”
Bob One said, “No, but we do have a plan. It would be much easier with your help. We visit the remaining three bases and collect all the survivors, then we signal for help.”
Judith asked, “Signal who?”
“We’ve always believed there was a chance that there is a ship covertly monitoring the planet. The Trust has assured us that there is none, but your confidence in your radar detectors may be misplaced.”
Joe frowned. “How big a chance?”
“We’ve thought about that for decades. Maybe one chance in five. It was more likely earlier, when you were popping off nuclear weapons on a regular basis, but you’ve not done much of that recently. It was those first nuclear explosions that brought our expedition in the first place.
“If you can’t help us, then yes, we’ll apply rollback and leave you in Kingman. Bob Four is confident that he can drive this vehicle.”
Just then, voices started back in the bedroom. Bob Four called, “Hey, Fred Four’s got the television working, even with the engine running!”
Joe didn’t like the idea of rollback, not for him. He’d earned these memories. He saw the same emotions on Judith’s face.
“Okay, if you signal and no one comes, what then? Would you come back to the Trust?”
Bob One said, “We’d have to. We’ve no delusions that we could make it here on this planet on our own. We’d have to recruit human helpers, and at least the Trust is a known player. Even with the current schism, better the human you know, than the one you don’t.”
Joe saw enough on Judith’s face. She was fighting the idea, but it was a losing fight. He decided to make it easier for her.
“Okay, anything is better than Bob Four driving a RV on the highway. We’ll stay and help.”