An hour later, and Aldrich was out on the road in his ARMA armored car. The same one he had taken from the leader of the Odinsons nomad gang that felt like an eternity ago. He had briefly wondered back then how the Odinsons could have afforded such a nice car, but now he realized: they made a hefty profit flipping and modifying Z's false CID templates.
Aldrich looked out his window, seeing nothing but endless stretches of dry wasteland. It was hard to think about how anything could even survive here, out in these swathes of barren, rust colored earth that had nothing green growing in them.
But still, life found a way.
Whether underground, around rare oases of blue and green, or inside cliff faces, life adapted and continued.
"You sure you don't want me to drive? This highway ain't maintained right, specially not around these parts," said Diamondback, Clint's right hand man. "And you've been behind the wheel for ten hours now."
? ?? ??-?? ???. ??? "No. I like the feeling of driving. Plus, I don't really feel tired," said Aldrich.
"I've been meaning to ask, and I don't mean offense, but think this is a good idea? Taking a road trip now of all times?" said Diamondback. The man sat with straight posture even after ten consecutive hours of slogging through a road trip with mind numbingly boring scenery.
Unlike Clint, Diamondback was stiff. Stern. It showed in his permanent ramrod straight posture. In the rigid tone of his voice. In the deep furrows in his forehead - marks of stress that Clint definitely did not have.
It did make sense. Someone had to balance out Clint's brand of crazy, otherwise any group he led would probably die early deaths. Glorious early deaths, granted, but still deaths.
"It's a valid question. The situation's tense with the Dark Six, and here I am on a road trip with…with my family," said Aldrich as he glanced at the rearview mirror. Valera was in the backseat with the Chrysalis in her lap. They were both sleeping.
Or rather, choosing to sleep to alleviate the boredom of the road trip.
It was a little uncomfortable referring to them as wife and child and family, especially considering how young Aldrich was, but he figured the more he said it, the easier it would get.
"Considering the fact that you manage most of the Spearhorn tribe's decisions, you'd want the best for them. And the fact that Clint's yoked your whole group to me on what seems like an impulse must make you worried.
It's probably why you decided to take the job to be my bodyguard. You get to double up and see how I am as a person too."
"And so? Does anything justify this trip?" said Diamondback.
Despite Diamondback being a physically built specimen of a man with intimidating split pupiled blue eyes, his voice never oozed any hint of hostility.
And there was plenty to back any hostility if Diamondback was willing to put it out. Aldrich wore a pair of shades now that had built in AC scanning, and Diamondback had a reading of 6800.
The bar for entry to be an A- ranked hero, for reference, was generally set around an AC count of 5000.
In fact, if pure AC count was the only metric of strength considered, Diamondback was the highest among the Spearhorns. Even Clint hovered around 5000, but it seemed his numbers could violently fluctuate upwards over time.
"A child's happiness," replied Aldrich. "Do I have to say more than that?"
"…If that's enough for you, then sure. But what about for the rest of us?" said Diamondback.
"What else is there to do? The point is to lay low until the hearing's over, especially with the Dark Six threat looming over us all. Plus, I have some errands to run," said Aldrich.
Before making this trip, Aldrich had worked with Z to try and unlock Elaine's personal server. Surprisingly, the password that Aldrich and Elaine shared over their Blackwater projects did not work.
That left Aldrich with no way to access it. Not even V could break into it, leaving her confused as to how a non-techno like Elaine, a Dud no less, could create cyber defenses so tight.
According to Elaine's spirit, whatever she left behind had been for her adoptive father Randall. Aldrich figured then that he knew how to access the server.
Aldrich had gotten V to track Randall down after hearing from nomad sources that the nomad commune that Randall had been a part of had moved back into a city.
That city was where Aldrich was headed now. A tier 3 city called Redrock a solid half day's worth of driving down one of the intercontinental highways that connected the U.S. together.
"I hope these errands are worth the trouble, specially' with the risk involved," said Diamondback.
"If you came here to complain, then you should've had someone else be our guard," said Aldrich.
Diamondback shook his head. "I don't trust nobody for a mission of this caliber aside from myself. There could be enemies anywhere. You're not out of the clear, you understand that, don't you?
This false identity, this 'Bruce Vane' persona, is on the Dark Six's radar. From my intel, it's what you used to bait the Dark Six into the Red Circle for Casimir's suicidal stunt.
There isn't a bounty on you yet cause nobody even knows whether you were real or some boogeyman Casimir made up. But once they realize, you better bet your ass that you'll also have a fat bounty over your head.
Why didn't you just make a new one? Z could have done that for you. And for your wife and daughter too."
"…Wife," murmured Valera with a smile in her sleep.
"…Father," Chrysa whispered, also in her sleep, also with a smile.
"They're in danger too," said Diamondback.
Aldrich almost smiled. "I wouldn't worry about them. Especially not my wife.
In any case, I've decided to keep this identity because I have no intention of being buddy buddy with the Dark Six.
I'm sure Clint could sense it. I want them gone. I want what's theirs to be mine.
And I want them to know who did it. I want them to have a name they can fear."
"…Maybe you do have a crazy streak in you as well." Diamondback glanced at Aldrich with concern. "Probably why Clint took such a big liking to you. Off his rocker just like his old man." He sighed. "But it is true.
Clint wants the Dark Six burned to the ground. That's the least he can pay them back for after they took his pa, wife, and daughter from him.
And I'll back Clint in that journey with my life. Which means I'm in this wild ride with you as well."
"The more the merrier, right?" Aldrich grew quiet as he started to stop his car. Along the highway, there were two police cars built heavy and sturdy to rove along the harsh wasteland terrain.
Their bright red and blue lights were on, indicating for the car to stop.
"Something don't feel right. Road checks ought to be maintained by Panop drones out in remote road like this," said Diamondback. "Though it's not absolutely impossible for cops to be out this far either."
"I'll make a stop. Let's see what they have to say," said Aldrich.