RENEGADE {C04S01} - Night Terror 1

If I had to list attributes that describe my personality, "impatient" wouldn't normally be among them. But this travel, which has really just started less than a half hour ago, is at the very least briefly making me reconsider. To say that we're making sluggish progress would be sugarcoating it, though, and in circumstances like these wanting to arrive at the destination more quickly shouldn't imply a flaw of character.   Tearing my concerned gaze from the slowly darkening blanket of clouds above us, it falls on the two tanks trundling along on the dirt road to the left of me. They return it curiously, expecting an answer to the question they just asked.   Up until this point, they've mostly been excluding me from their casual chatter. Or rather, they weren't actively trying to get me to involve myself, which I also wasn't attempting to do out of my own initiative. But that changed a few moments ago when they decided to get the present tanks better acquaintanced with each other. I had already picked up Morris' name, but the teal tank accompanying her has now also introduced himself as 'Artax'. It's my turn.   "My name is Zephyr," I say, not expecting anything else than the blank looks I get for it. Those change to unabashed stares as I add, "In most places, people know me as 'Scarecrow'."   "You are the Scarecrow?" Artax asks with clear bewilderment. He and Morris share a quick glance that gives away that their concerns about having me join their travel might have increased. But that doesn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that they both proceed to slow down from a crawl to a complete stop.   "It's no reason to linger," I remind them, in a slightly more taut tone than I probably would have used if I had gotten any sleep in the past nights and wasn't worried about my sleep being ruined in similar or even worse ways in the coming night as well.   To my relief, the travellers nod agreeingly and I slow down as far as my transmission lets me until they've caught up to me again.   Artax continues to scrutinize me without disclosing what exactly he's trying to determine with his staring. I notice that Morris, meanwhile, is gazing off into the distance ahead of us. And I can't help but immediately look the same way. Despite my best - and frantic - efforts to catch a glimpse of whatever might have caught her attention there on the murky horizon, I'm unable to spot anything out of the ordinary. In the span of the few split seconds that follow this disconcerting observation, Morris' sustained strained gazing rapidly dissolves whatever ease of mind I had left.   "What's over there?" I ask briskly.   The tank I am addressing with that question doesn't appear to feel addressed; the tank I wasn't talking to turns his turret around to curiously look the same way as well. That makes three of us staring at the horizon but still zero clarity about what we're supposed to see there.   It takes excruciatingly long until Morris finally enlightens us on what worry has crossed her mind.   "I'm just wondering, do you reckon we'll be able to reach Tow before nightfall?" she thinks out loud.   The realization that she was only watching the hidden sun's descent like I was earlier alleviates some of my tension. Unfortunately, the topic she's bringing up is, in essence, just another unidentified threat looming on the horizon.   Both tanks look at me inquiringly now.   "We won't," I say with an uneasy shrug.   "But didn't you say it's not far away?" Artax asks, very obviously troubled by this turn of events.   "My concept of driving distances," I reply as diplomatically as I can, "is largely based on the assumption of moving at least twice as fast as we've been doing."   At least, that seems reasonable enough of a defense to the travellers. Their frowns seem to be more of an expression of their dissatisfaction with the overall situation than my service. Especially Morris slumps visibly.   "Artie, this doesn't seem safe. I think,..." she murmurs to her companion, "I think we should look for shelter before it gets too dark."   Artax nods gravely.   "You're right. We'll just travel on in the morning." He turns to me next. "Would you mind taking a break for the night?"   For a brief moment, I consider just travelling on by myself, as I'm actually confident I would be able to reach the town within the hour if I hurried. However, I remember that it would defeat the whole purpose of the trip if I went to the town that I wasn't even going to in the first place while leaving behind the tanks that carry the fuel that I am actually after. And for an even briefer moment, I worry that they might sense in my hesitation to answer that I'm instead contemplating the very obvious solution to the dilemma presenting itself to me: Just taking that fuel from them by force and making off with it to a place where I'd have a much greater chance of making it through tonight without losing even more sleep.   Realistically, though, the pause most likely isn't nearly long enough for them to even notice it. Not even as it is slightly extended by me coming up with a less violent idea in the last moment.   "I'd prefer not to," I reply, "so if you're not opposed to the idea, I'll take my payment and my leave now."   The travellers come to a halt again, looking anything but thrilled about my answer. I halt too, this time, and mentally prepare for a less peaceful resolution just in case.   "Really?" Artax frowns, "We're not there, yet, though."   I know what he's trying to imply, and I'm still willing to make a compromise.   "It's half of the way. Half of the can is fine."   Morris chimes in.   "Well, I'm sorry. We don't have any fuel with us," she interjects, looking highly uncomfortable.   "...You lied to me about paying me?" I ask with raised optic ridges.   Artax throws a chiding glance at his companion, but doesn't sound very firm either as he replies to me.   "Technically, no. We were going to pay you, of course!"   Now, normally, I would write this situation off as a standard ripoff attempt, kill them, and move on with my life. However, taking into account that I was the one imposing my services on them and that I'm just not getting the impression that these two tanks in particular would be smart enough to pull off any scheme more complex than stretching the truth a little... I guess what we're looking at is really just more of an emergency lie rather than an act of malicious deception. Nevertheless, I need them to be very aware that they shouldn't even try to pull any shenanigans beyond that.   "Is your armor thick enough for you to be arguing semantics with me?" I ask them sternly. It's not that I have any actual intention of killing them anymore after it was revealed that they're not carrying any fuel with them that would be worth robbing them of. But for the purpose of leverage, they don't need to know that.   Morris makes a distressed sound, her gaze darting between me, Artax, and the falling dusk.   "We were going to compensate you once we arrive at Tow!" she hurries to clarify. "But can we have the lengthy discussions after we found shelter, maybe?"   "No," I reply matter-of-factly. But it's not as self-explanatory of an answer as it should be. I receive scandalized stares until I elaborate, "You won't find shelter here." With a sweeping gesture at our surroundings, I emphasize my next words. "In case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of an open field."   "What do you suggest instead, then?" Artax asks. Apparently he still hasn't gotten the broad hint, or just doesn't want to accept it as a fact.   "I suggest that you figure something out for yourself, because I'm leaving."   The travellers look on with helpless bewilderment as I actually kick my engine into gear and start driving off.   "Don't go!!" they yelp in unison. Morris goes on, "We'll pay whatever you want if you stay!"   "What for?" I ask, halting again and looking back.   "Just in case," Artax replies cryptically.   "Haven't you heard the news?" Morris adds.   I don't respond immediately, instead waiting for her to tell me what she thinks I should already know. As neither her nor I reveal the obvious, Artax takes it upon himself:   "There's an MBT out there!" he grouses.   "Allegedly," I reply deadpan.   "And he's-" Morris continues in a frightened tone, but I interrupt her.   "Killing people. Yes, I'm aware. We do that sometimes."   "Everyone's scared," Morris laments. "No one wants to be next."   Again, I take my time to answer. This time, the pause is definitely long enough to be noticeable. I'm not entirely sure if I'm ready to accept or admit yet that my issue with staying out here tonight instead of inside the nearest town might be uncomfortably similar to the issue these travellers - and, by extension, this entire region - are facing. In that moment, even the question whether these issues might actually be related in some way crosses my mind. Maybe even more intimately than I suspected. And that, even more so, makes it a possibility I somehow don't feel ready to entertain yet.   "Look," I rumble slowly, "I don't really want to get involved with any of this. No amount of fuel or money or scrap metal that you could offer me would be enough pay to even make me consider fighting another MBT." It's obvious that both travellers are about to protest, but they remain silent as I speak on. "But I'm getting the feeling that whatever is going on here, my participation isn't exactly a question of what I want to do. Or what anyone could convince me to do."   The optics that continue peering into me blankly after this admission hint at a need for me to spell the conclusion of my statement out a little more blatantly, and so I do: "I'll stay here with you tonight, just don't misconstrue it as something that I'm doing for your sake."   It still feels like the travellers aren't completely sure if they're supposed to breathe a sigh of relief yet. They keep staring at me silently and expectantly, until a final nudge from me, "So, do you have a spare tent for me, or what?" makes them relax visibly and nod cheerfully.

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