We eased up to the checkpoint, the only car we’d seen in either direction for many kilometers. The guard saw us coming from a distance, stepped from his booth and raised a hand for us to stop.
He circled the vehicle, a quick inspection, gun pointed nowhere in particular before approaching my window. I thumbed it down obediently, blackout glass humming into its recess with a thunk.
“What year is it?” he asked.
“2013,” I replied.
“Who is the President of the United States?”
“Not Mitt Romney?” He glanced around randomly, clearly bored.
“No. Should he be?”
The guard shrugged. “Not for me to say. Don’t give a shit about politics, it’s just part of the drill, y’know?”
I nodded. “Anything ahead we should be concerned about?”
“Probability gets denser a klick or so down the road. When you see the Fog keep your windows rolled up, you should be fine.” He glanced up at our car and back down with a grin. “Driving that thing? Shit, you’ll be more than fine. Armor’ll stop anything I’ve seen.”
“Good to know,” I grinned back. He slapped the roof of our car and waved us on.
As promised, we hit the Fog soon enough and I slowed our progress to a crawl. The environmental system sealed itself automatically with a sigh, and the soft blue interior lights came up to reassure us everything was functioning as expected.
Headlights, infrared, radar… none of it helped see into the Fog, for it wasn’t water vapor or smoke or any kind of particulate matter. In fact, theory was it took a sentient mind to see it, as most animals and insects just blundered through it as if blind to the phenomenon. Experiments with dogs, horses, chimps… those had implied they saw it too. Dunno if anyone’d tried a dolphin yet. The logistics of that—
I snapped back to myself, ordered my thoughts. Concentrated on driving again.
“Sie wurden wieder fragen,” my companion poked my shoulder to make sure I was paying attention. The Fog did that to a person, the infinite probabilities and branching caused neurons to misfire, so the Academians in Moscow had surmised, which made me wonder if—
“Joe!” This time he grabbed my arm painfully and shook. I was steering us off the road and into gravel, soft undersea-looking fronds waving before us like crops of wheat in ordered rows. Was that a windmill made from seashells ahead? I cranked the wheel hard over and gunned it, turbines revving, gravel spitting. We were back on the road.
Now we were probably going too fast for safety but I didn’t care.
“Zu schnell, zu schnell!” he pounded the dash in fury.
“Nicht mehr Deutsch, Adolf. My German sucks, and your Russian is worse. So let’s stick to English, bitte?”
“This infernal Fog,” he finally growled in the language he hated most. I imagined his tiny mustache twitching in irritation and smiled a bit.
“So let me drive fast then. If we get stuck here…”
He grunted assent, waved his hand imperiously. Drive however you like, you Russian bastard, I could almost hear his thoughts. The truth is, we needed each other. I was glad to have him along to keep me alert, and his driving skills sucked. Probably from being driven everywhere since—
“Joseph…” he grated from his side of the car.
I blinked, steered us back onto the concrete. It was going to be a long day.
We broke from the Fog finally, and things appeared mostly normal. The sky was a bit browner, and a whiff of the local atmosphere confirmed more pollution than we were used to. After a quick stop to piss and stretch our legs, we remounted our armored beast and made good time for the next checkpoint.
There were more vehicles than before, most of them tiny and efficient, many of them obviously electric. “Nipponese,” Adolf had snarled when he recognized the little foreign-made cars. Seeing anything that reminded him of the war infuriated him.
I wondered how easy it would be to find petrol for the turbines here, assuming we still had turbines any more. Ever since the Fog I’d noticed the engines running quieter, a distinctly electrical hum that hadn’t been there before. I kicked myself for not peeking under the bonnet during our pee-break.
We rolled up to the next checkpoint in a long line of cars.
This guard appeared Asian and was dressed in crisp military whites, including a white helmet, spats, and gloves. His firearm remained holstered as he approached, but I noticed he had backup: we were watched intently by more Asian officers in a booth fitted with bullet-proof glass.
He saluted and asked the first question: “Does the date September 11th have any special significance?”
That was a new one. I shot Adolf a glance and he shrugged.
“No,” I answered, sensing a trap. “Should it?”
“Who is the President of the United States of America?”
“Barack Obama,” I answered.
The guard took a step back and placed a hand on his side arm. “Please, exit the vehicle, both of you.”
I considered gunning it and crashing the gate, but Adolf’s hand on my elbow restrained me. “Nein,” he whispered. “We will have other opportunities.” He turned from me then and opened his door, stepping down. I shrugged and opened my door.
When the guard saw Adolf he froze. Even out of uniform, even with silver hair, the guard clearly recognized him. Govno! We are truly fucked!
But when the guard stood even straighter, shot out his right arm and shouted Heil Hitler! I knew things would be okay.