“My folks, we made a mess of this whole thing,” said Tobe. “But I have an idea. Just a glimmer of one, but an idea all the same.”

“A glimmer of an idea is more than most folks have, anymore,” said Caleb.

“Town’s about dead, Caleb. You can see what a state I’m in. Vince has got a cancer that’ll kill him inside of six months, Becky delivered another stillborn while you were out and is probably about to cash out as well. Haven’t heard from any of the outer farms in nearly a year. Writing’s on the wall: this time next year, there’ll be no one left.”

“No one but me,” said Caleb tapping gingerly at his augmented torso.

“You’ll last a bit longer, yeah, but you also didn’t see all the little cancers I took out while I was in there,” said Tobe. “This thing we’re trying here, that the other folks were trying back when the caravans were still coming through? Dying embers, my friend. And I’m in no fit state to fan the flames.”

Caleb looked at the old man, at his piles of junk, and at the various harvester drones scattered about the workshop. “You mean to follow those damn things, don’t you?” he said.

“Look, they are the only things I’ve seen that’re acting with vision and purpose. Someone’s behind them. And I think whatever it is may be just the fan these old embers need.”

“What if you’re wrong?” asked Caleb. “They might just be fixing to put us both down for good.”

“We’re both on death row, Caleb,” Tobe said with a grim smile. “All I’m asking is that you help me plan an escape. Might be worthless, sure, but at least we’ll be trying.”

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