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25 August 2015 @ 07:44 am
_Project Dystopia_ part 12  

"It's my sick masculine sense of humor." He leaned and pulled a damp cloth from his bag. "Would you like to wipe your face?"

"With malice aforethought. Just you wait until we're someplace where professionalism can be safely put aside." She wiped her face, the steering wheel, the instrument panel, her hands . . . his face . . .

"Eww, you've gotten it all sticky." Ebsa snatched it quickly before she could think of somewhere else to put it. "Cheese and crackers while you drive?"

"Are you going to behave?"

"Yes ma'am. In fact I'll even behave nicely."

She glowered at him, but her mouth looking like it was fighting turn up at the corners. She eyed the road ahead and hit the throttle. "Fat. Lazy. Mellow . . . Nope. They're probably running two or three kilometers every morning, with Oak in a carrier on Ra'd's back."

Ebsa sighed. "I have neither run nor exercised all this week. I'm the one who ought to worry about fat and lazy."

"Well, you've always been mellow. So, you know, fat and lazy would be right at home."

He gave her a hurt look, but she had her eyes on the track, and smirk on her face. "Right. I'll start running every morning. Lift weights every afternoon. Katas every other day, alternating with target practice."

"Ata boy! That'll take care of all that spare time you've been complaining about."

"Funny how even at the Directorate School the view of the Action Teams is of violent bullies. How did we lose track of the Teams that are around to protect scientists in the field?"

"Public perception is that those are 'Explorer Teams' and sometimes they are. The teams get used for so many things . . . They specialize, but they also switch around."

"It might be time to lose the name." Ebsa shrugged. "And some of the Teamers are . . . all right. But a whole lot of the Teams are psychologically . . . irredeemable."

Paer sighed. "Yeah. No kidding. I wonder what Ajki is going to do . . . Did you catch the news this morning?"

"No. What did I miss?"

"Disco's stepped into the Granite Peak mess. And rumors are circulating that the President may ditch Ajki and put a hatchet man in to clean up External. Izzo's been mentioned."

Ebsa winced. "One! That's . . . a nasty turn of events. Maybe I should stop complaining about the giant spiders. Poisonous politics are worse by an order of magnitude."

"You've got that right."

Ebsa sighed, and this time he did drift off, waking when Paer slowed.

"Check the map, This is the right distance for the turn to almost directly west. But I'm not seeing any definite turns." Paer scowled as he spread the print out.

Ebsa stuck a finger on the turn. "It looks like a narrower stretch, branching off."

Paer slowed further and eyed the jagged ruins to the right. "I don't see anything that looks drivable, let alone bulldozed. It widens up ahead though."

Ebsa tapped at the panels. "The satellite is below the horizon, so I can't spot us relative to the turn." He squinted at the map. "I think I see your wide spot. Turn right as soon as you can, I think there's a kink north, then west."

"Oh . . . yes. It looks like a fallen bridge over a deep stream bed." She pulled up to the edge and stopped. "I'm going to take a look over." She grabbed a shotgun.

Ebsa followed her out, grabbing the 12 mm. Leaned over and studied the stream crossing.

The construction team had gone for expediency and speed, not proper construction. They'd shoved some large slabs of old concrete into the gulch. The slabs bridged the streambed, leaving enough space between randomly fallen slabs and chunks to probably allow the flow of water. And then gravel was packed on top.

It was still a pretty deep, steep, drop.

Ebsa eyed the lip of the drop. "Wanna bet we high center one side or the other?"

"With my driving skills? Have a little faith, Ebsa." Paer grinned and headed back inside. "Besides, we've got three axles. All I need to do is keep at least four wheels on the ground, right?"

"Right. And gun it at the bottom, so we have the momentum to carry us over a few belly scrapes at the top on the far side." Ebsa strapped in. Subduing a grin. And a desire to be the one driving. Paer's had enough experience to do this, so stop being bossy.

"Gun it at the bottom, eh?" Paer edged the crawler forward. The front wheels lost contact. They ground forward, the front hanging out . . . then the whole crawler tipped. The front wheels touched down as the crawler dived down the slope, picking up speed, the slight curve to the flat part was enough that the nose only scraped a bit before they were on the flat, and Paer floored it.

The nose grazed the upward slope as the front wheels found the ramp and they charged up the slope and didn't actually go airborn at the top, but with three axles, the front lost traction, then crashed down and the crawler bounced away from the stream.

"Holy One! I don't believe I did that!" Paer heaved a deep breath.

Ebsa laughed. "And very well done, and there's the road, such as it is."

It was only another hour to the crest of the low hills. And the steep drop down to the coastal plain.

They stopped for lunch, and a long hard look at the switchback road down the steep west slope.

"Crumb." Paer finished her sandwich. "Am I going to regret saying you could drive the last stretch?"

Ebsa lowered his binocs. "Well, I've never accidentally rolled a crawler. But some of those turns are going to be really tight."

"Well, a bulldozer and a ute pulling a trailer made it down, so we can too, right?"