The kids soon got nervous with everyone hovering over them, watching them eat lunch in the clubhouse, until Jennifer and Kelly shooed the adults away. They returned to their own lunches, talking about what they had seen at the mall and out at the gate. The kids finished their sandwiches, and some multi-vitamins they scrounged from various houses, and they all looked noticeably better after a single decent meal. Kelly, Jennifer, and Tim offered to take them around the complex and find each one a suitable bicycle. After they left, Tina moved to stand between a whiteboard on an easel, taken from the clubhouse office, and a TV set.
“Let’s take a look at the video again,” Tina said, “then we’re going to start asking questions — not only about the trucks, but about everything — and we’re not going to worry about answers just now. Charles, let’s start the generator, so we can put this on the big screen for everyone to see.” He stepped outside, and Ben — Big Ben, now that there was a Little Ben — connected his camcorder to the flat screen and waited.
“What a relief,” Cody whispered to Sondra.
“Caitlin’s doing something else. She — I don’t know.”
Sondra stifled a laugh. “I’m sorry, Cody. It’s just so cute. You never had to fend off all the girls, have you?”
He shrugged, and gave her a lopsided grin. “I always figured the world would end first. I was right!” This time, Cody laughed with her, and it felt good. “I don’t want to hurt her, but I don’t know how to deal with her either. She’s like my sister’s age, and she was never like that.”
Charles stepped back inside before Sondra could answer. “Okay, Ben. Let’s see what there is to see.”
Ben pressed Play, then fast-forwarded through the mall footage to Cody lighting the torch. “The trucks show up on the video,” he said. “That’s not surprising, when you think about it — anything that creates or reflects light is going to be picked up by the sensor.”
“But they could still be an illusion, though,” Johnny Latimer said. “Like a mirage. That’s a reflection too, right?”
“Heck of a reflection,” Cody said. “It reflected my foot and a crowbar.”
“Yeah,” Ben said, pausing where Cody put the torch to the truck. “But it didn’t reflect — or deflect — the flame.” The intense white of Cody’s blowtorch nearly filled the screen, until the camcorder adjusted, then they could see it disappearing into the body of the truck. He fast-forwarded to where Cody threw the crowbar, then stepped the video frame by frame. “And… well, you can see it.” They all watched the crowbar disappear through the windshield, and Cody retrieving it and banging it on the side of the truck before dropping it through the bed.
“Seen enough?” Tina asked. Nobody objected. “All right, we’ll start asking questions.” Ben turned off the gadgetry while Charles went to cut off the generator.
“She’ll get over it,” Sondra whispered to Cody. “I had a crush on a high-school kid when I was eleven. By the time I was thirteen, I wondered what the big deal was.”
“Lucky him,” Cody whispered back. “And lucky me he didn’t sweep you away.” He grinned. “We need to come up with something to keep the kids occupied through the day, though. Maybe a school of sorts.”
“What would we teach them now?” Sondra said. “Reading, math… sure.”
“Science and technology. They’ll need to know how to rebuild. Even history, and I hated it. But they need to understand how things were.”
“Are we ready?” Tina said. “Who has a question?”
Cody sat up straight. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the pickups — or maybe it has everything to do with them. There’s five little kids to take care of now — how do we raise them? Are we gonna try to give them some kind of education?”
The others murmered encouragement. “That’s… probably the most important question anyone could have asked,” Charles said, back inside. “Of course, I was in education before the Truckalypse, so naturally I’d think that.” A few chuckles. “You know, it seems to be we also have three kids of high school age here. What are we going to do about completing their education?”
More laughter; Cody grinned. “I did okay with math and science. English, yeah, I just wasn’t that interested. But I don’t guess there’s gonna be much demand for video game designers in my lifetime!” The others laughed again. “I guess I — all of us, really — should be learning what we can about how to grow food and make useful stuff out of all the junk the drive-offs left behind.”
Charles wrote Continuing Education on the whiteboard. “And I guess that goes for all of us,” he said. “Okay, now that the really important question has been asked, what else do we want to know?”
“Where did the trucks come from?”
“Why did they come?”
“Why haven’t they tried to attack us or anything?”
“Can we get rid of them somehow?”
“How many people are left in the world? And how many do we need to keep the gene pool full?”
Trucks: origin, purpose, how to fight Number of survivors Gene pool concerns
“I know we’re not supposed to be answering questions,” Max said, “but I’ve heard that you need about 150 people to keep a gene pool viable. And that there were about 10,000 humans alive at the end of the last ice age, but I guess they were scattered around. So we need to find at least four or five more groups our size.”
Charles jotted >10,000? next to Number of survivors and need >150 next to Gene pool concerns. “Any more questions?”
“Yeah,” Johnny Latimer said. “How can we go about contacting other groups of survivors, and… intermingling, I guess?”
How to contact other groups
“Sooner or later, there will be new kids,” Sondra said. She rolled her eyes at the few snickers (word was already getting around). “As far as I know, nobody here has medical training beyond first aid. How do we learn what to do in the next year or so? For that matter, what do we do if someone gets injured?”
“Who’s going to raise these kids?” Sally McMinn said, standing up in the back. “Yeah, I know we’re all gonna have a hand in taking care of 'em. But who are they gonna live with?”
“That’s maybe the second most important question,” Tina said. “And unlike the others, we can’t leave it unanswered today. Let’s give this some thought.”