“Roighta,” Carlos said as the new arrivals fanned out, “time to get you what you need. Laramie, get me a first aid kit!” The shirtless young man strode over, while Carlos sat Meg down on the hood of the police car. Laramie stood by, looking non-chalantly masculine as he lit up a cigarette. Meg noticed that the brand was “Laramie”.
Phil looked over his shoulder. “Hey... Hey, she's bit! She's gonna turn into one of them!”
“Don't be stupid,” Carlos said, firmly enough for the mechanic to fall silent. “I won't pretend it ain't bad, but we can take care of it, an' it's not too late...”
“You mean they found a cure?” Phil said anxiously. “What is it?”
“Penicillin! What'd'ya think?” He pulled out a bottle from the kit and poured it on, then a little more after further cleansing. Soon, he had Meg bandaged up. “George, this place is secure as it gets. Send the signal for the others to come forward. Give 'er a spare bottle.” The bald man handed over one of two refillable water bottles at his waist before returning to the van.
“Drink up, and come with me, long as you can,” Carlos told Meg. “You too, Phil. What'd you do here, anyway?”
“I was junior assistant, pretty much,” Phil said as they walked back to the garage. “Pete was in charge, but he left most of it to Art, and he left most of the real work to Dwayne, so he took it out on Dwayne and Jonny took it out on me. Right before, they were all riding me about was busy about this crazy back order... Somebody wanted a part for this completely obscure European thing...”
“Cry me a river,” said Carlos. “I had an order that was supposed to be in. Think you'd know if it's in?”
Phil shrugged. “Shipping and receiving's Art's job, mostly,” he said. “That's what I kept telling Jonny, he's the one who should be looking for that part...”
“Screw it,” Carlos growled. “Where's the records?”
Meg's memory was jogged. “There was a clipboard... Over there!” She pointed where it had fallen off the wall.
“So anyway, let me tell you about this order,” Phil said to Meg. “It's a transmission part, basically, 'cept it was kinda part of the steering too, 'cause the vehicle had front wheel drive. I didn't completely understand it myself, and they told me don't worry about it, just find the part. Only, the vehicle's, like, 30 years old, an' it turns out, the whole company went under more than 20 years ago. Obviously, whatever this piece o' crap is, it should have been junked years ago, but Jonny tells me, it's not our job to tell the customers what to do. So anyway, what we finally find out is that the only place in a thousand miles that has this part is in...”
“Moab??” Carlos roared explosively. He advanced on Phil, thrusting the clipboard in his face. “The part's in Moab??!!”
“Oh my god,” Phil said. “That's- it's- you're the guy with the Goliath?”
“Borgward Goliath Express 1100,” Carlos said. “And you're gonna get real familiar with it!”
The front parking lot was filling up. The strange van had pulled up behind the Beetle, and the police car was being driven off to one side to make room for more. A VW Thing pulled in, drawing a distinctly ghoulish trailer made from the front of a Beetle, followed by a Bus, a Rabbit pickup and a gray GMC van. Styling indicated that the Bus was at least five years older than the GMC, but the former was clearly in better shape by far. Pulling up the rear were a yellow Jeep Wagoneer with a geometric Indian-blanket pattern for trim and a vaguely whale-like white camper van.
Meg paused for a closer look at the van's smiley face, which bore the name “GOLIATH” in metal letters between the headlights and a semicircular plate with the legend “Express 1100” in a forlornly exciting lightning-bolt font. The lower body bulged outward, while the upper part tapered rather precipitously beneath the overhanging shell. The upper body was painted a peachy hue like desert sand, a middle section between the windshield and a line of trim over the headlights and grill was an earthy shade of yellow, and the lower part was a deep mustard gold.
“That's one weird roof extension,” Phil said, examining the orange shell that protruded over the upper body. “It almost looks like an upside-down boat.”
“Yeah, that is weird,” Carlos said. “It's a boat. Ah, and it's backwards, too.” Meg took a closer look, openly incredulous, but there could be no mistake. Even the oddities of its shape made sudden sense. It was a tub-like affair, with a scalloped bow and boxy stern that were not unlike a popsicle. The stepped sides that handily held tools and gear were gunwales and oarlocks, and a shelf-like projection that shaded the windshield was just right for a place to mount an engine.
“So what, somebody built a boat to fit on the roof?” Meg asked.
“Nay, the boat was probably built first, leastways the shell,” Carlos said as he stepped inside. “And it's not on the roof. F'r all intents and purposes, it is the roof.” It was easy to see what he meant. The inside had been reconfigured like a camper, with a counter and cabinets behind the cab and a three-seat dinette and couch set against the walls to the rear. The arrangement left an open passage where most of the original ceiling had been turned into an oversized sunroof. Benches on either side of the inverted boat were being used for overhead shelving and a bunk. Carlos opened a cabinet in the right rear corner and took out a well-worn and moderately stuffed binder. He sat down at a dinette seat whose back abutted the cabinet, and Phil sat across from him in a wider seat which faced sideways directly across from the left passenger door. Meg sat down at the far end of the couch, which was shaped to fill the space between the side doors and the left corner.
“I'm going to tell you a bit about myself, and the people with me,” Carlos said. “Then I'm going to tell you a story. As you might guess, I'm a geologist, and I'm from Australia. I also served two tours in your last war, an' you know how that turned out. After that, I got my doctorate, came over here, and got a job as a professor. When all this started, Dr. Carradine- that's George- and I were taking twenty-some students out on a field trip. I heard about it sooner than most, an' I knew quite a bit already. So, we rounded up some extra people and a bit more gear, quiet-like, an' made it a long trip.”
Meg curled up on the couch, idly listening as Carlos continued, “Our school's middlin', size-ways, but we make up for it a bit in reputation. We do mining and engineering, an' we do good work in applied research. Enough of the right people know it that sometimes, we get funding for a project that normally would be corporate or gov'ment. About ten years ago, we got one that was bigger than most. Not my department, literally, but the way I hear, it was major money, at least for a uni grant, and nobody really knew where it was coming from. The assignment was to test new automotive technologies in existing vehicles... technologies that could reduce the need for petroleum.
“However much money there was, wherever it came from, it sure didn't go into quality vehicles. Some were donated by students and faculty. The rest were all straight from the junkyards. There were four vehicles, that I know about, that succeeded and survived. There's Moby Ralph out there: It's an Ultra Van, a line of campers based on the Corvair. Good for 20 mpg, most fuel-efficient motorhome on the road till the bloody hippies killed it. The designers tried using the rear engine to heat the cabin, and the tech boys did one better and set it up for thermoelectric power generation. That pickup, we call it Thumper, came later, but it has the same modifications the team performed to make a 3-door diesel hatchback run off biofuel, which is kitchen grease. The original was Peter Rabbit; you'll see it, and others later.
“And, of course, we have this: Davey the Goliath. The mark was pretty big in Australia when it was a going concern; I buy one, and take it over here, right hand drive an' all. It's good for walkabouts, and I take it on field trips now an' then, till the engine gives out. Right about then the call goes out, and when I talk to the tech boys about my troubles, they get real interested. Something about troubles fitting their engine in vehicles of the right power an' weight class, whereas the Goliath's built for an engine that's wider than most. Problem solved. I give them my van, and they agree that if it takes, they'll give it back to me. 'Bout a year and a half goes by, suddenly there's a big uproar over the project, something to do with where the money came from, or the results, or both. Everything's shut down, sudden, an' more'n a few people get canned. I get a call from one of them, sayin' to come and pick up my van, an' bring a few friends.
“I come, with Dr. Carradine, my grad student named Becky, a pipsqueak freshman who goes by Laramie, an' a friend of mine named Ted, who brings his lady friend Dianna. She's got 'is ring, but they don't really talk about where they're at, and quite a few people are keeping an eye on her waistline. We come out to a spot in the boonies that turns out to be a wrecking yard. There's at least fifty cars there, done out all kinds of ways. A lot of them look wrecked for real, but at least a dozen look more'n fit to run. The guy's waiting beside the Goliath, done up like this, and gives me the keys. Then he tells everyone else that they can take any car they like, and he will sign the title.
“Long story short, Dianna and Ted take Moby for a honeymoon lodge, Becky takes Peter, George picks a giant home-built motor home we call Monstro, and Laramie makes off with an old bus some crazy 'ippie turned into an RV. The next day, the guy's gone for good, completely drops off the map, and within a week, every vehicle in that yard is so much scrap. Within a year, more'n half the faculty involved aren't just out of the university, but no longer doing any significant work in their fields. We know that a few ended up dead. But there's a few left who give us help later.”
“Most of the stuff the guys did was conceptually advanced, but off-the-shelf as far as technology and materials. That's probably how they got away with handing so much of their stuff over to us; nothing the sponsors could claim as proprietary. It also allowed us to replicate a lot of their work with other vehicles, like Thumper. In fact, we built ourselves a little fleet of Rabbits, and customized a couple RVs. We couldn't always do it as well, though. Peter, for example, can burn propane. We junked a Rabbit trying to replicate it, but we did it with the diesel on a Dodge Travco we call Flipper. We put in an hybrid electric transmission, copy of something the tech boys put in Monstro. Only there were some problems we couldn't fix in the suspension, there when we got it from what we know now, but our hot rod job prob'ly made things worse. So, long story short, when it's rollin', the 'ole bloody thing goes up an' down like Flipper... But this, this is a whole other can o' worms.” He led Phil outside to the cab. Meg stretched out on the couch. At a firm push, an arm rest swung down, giving her room to stretch her legs.
The driver and passenger seats were a single piece, though the seat cushion was divided in two unequal parts. Carlos yanked back the larger cushion that covered the passenger seat and a central hump that split the cab. Beneath it was a cover for the engine compartment, clearly newer than the rest, with a hinge for convenient raising. Carlos opened it. Where the various parts of the engine would have been, there was something like an oversized film can, completely sealed against tampering or inspection.
Phil nodded. “I think I heard about something like this... It was supposed to be strictly theoretical. A rotary engine without moving parts, able to run on a range of fuels...”
Carlos nodded and chuckled. “Try anything remotely resemblin' fuel. Most of that binder is a record of testing what crazy crap this thing couldn't burn. Which wasn't much. Mileage isn't great, horsepower's downright weak... but it will run on most anything. Petrol. Diesel. Propane. Ethanol. Bloody alcoholic beverages.”
He slammed the hatch and jammed the cushion into place. “You call this thing a piecea crap, I won't argue. It means something to me, but I'd junk it in a second. But this engine is priceless. As long as it keeps running, I can make it anywhere. As long as the bloody transmission don't tear itself apart before we replace the one gear that's wearing out. And you're gonna do your bloody best to keep it from happenin'. Not because I'm gonna bust your arse if ya don't, but because there's things behind us that aren't gonna stay where we been. An' you don't wanna be there when it all catches up.”
“Hey doc!” Laramie called. “We searched the station, and we're ready to check out back. It looks like some nice stuff. I saw a couple Travcos...”
“We want 'em,” Carlos said. “At least one. We want it if we have to tow it away.”
Laramie smiled. “Can't resist two of something...”
Carlos grinned back. “If it's up to me, I get two of everything. Go check out the back. Take this guy with you. Stay business-like. Anyone who isn't part of the search is on duty for pumping gas. Check out that Dodge, too. If it can roll, it goes with us. And if people start running out of things to do, it's time to get ready to move on.”
Laramie turned aside, swung open the doors, and paused. The extended couch was blocking half the doorway. It was filled quite comfortably by Meg, who was sound asleep.
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