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When the handful of survivors climbed to the top of the hill and saw the river for the first time -- the last barrier between them and the rest of civilization, with a boat heading their way, they broke into whoops of delight.
“Over here!” Chuck shouted through his gas mask, waving both arms while his friends did the same. “We’re alive!” After a moment of shouts and vigorous waving, they heard the best sound any of them had heard in a long time: the double honk of a horn. The boat turned slightly, and headed straight for them.
The survivors tumbled down the hill with a gleeful disregard for stealth or safety. There were no techno-predators this close to the river, and they didn’t have to hide any more.
Lainey reached the dock first, tromping onto the wooden planks and jumping up and down. Kat and the guys joined her, waving again at the oncoming ship. They could almost make out the people onboard. At this point the identities, nationalities and other details didn’t matter -- they were people, and that was all that mattered.
The group had made it.
They sat down one by one to wait for the boat. It was a fast ship, but still a ways out, and they had a minute or two. For a moment, everything was silent except for the breeze off the water.
“Everything is gonna be so different,” Lainey said, staring at the distant city through the lenses of her mask.
“Real beds,” Kat agreed. “Toilets that flush!”
Lainey laughed. “Yes, that too,” she said. “But I meant in terms of us. What are we going to do there? All split up to find our families?” she looked over at the solemn row of goggled eyes that looked back. “I don’t want to lose touch.”
“We don’t have to lose touch,” Snap spoke up, his deep voice solemn from under his mask. “We can help each other find people we know.”
Chuck slapped the taller man on the back. “I’m not losing you guys just like that!” he said. “You’re too good of a shot, you’re too good at spotting useful crap, you’re optimistic enough for ten people, and you--” he faltered when he stared at Lainey. “You’re just an amazing person,” he added lamely.
“Team pact,” Kat suggested, putting one gloved hand in the air. “No going our separate ways until we’re all good and ready. Deal?”
“Deal!” The others raised their own hands in agreement.
Kat nodded in approval. “Good!” she said, putting her hand down. “At the very least, I want to see all of you bastards without these stupid masks on!”
There was laughter at that. Eric was the first to make the realization. “We’re at the river!” he said, scrabbling at the latch under his chin. “The air is good here!” He yanked the full-face shield off to take a deep breath of fresh air.
The others stared, then immediately followed.
Eric was pale with freckles; this wasn’t a surprise since his neck had always been bare. Kat was tan with tangled brown hair, and the tan spoke more of ancestry than sun exposure. Chuck had been hiding a full beard under his half-face mask and goggles. Lainey’s eyes were Asian, and her hair was bleached brown with black roots.
Snap was the last to remove his mask. It took the others a moment to notice that he was still wearing it, as involved as they were with exclaiming over each other’s appearances.
“Come on, Snap,” Kat encouraged. “You can’t look worse than me under that; I’ve got acne all along my strap lines!”
“Seriously dude,” Chuck said. “I’ve got to know if you are the big black mofo you sound like, or just one of those freaky white dudes with deep voices!”
Snap shook his head while his friends laughed, and he undid the catch behind his head. When he removed the mask, only the bottom portion came free. The goggles stayed, and when he pushed back the hood of his coat, it became obvious why.
All four of the others gaped with open mouths at the silver skin and sharp angles that their friend had been hiding. Snap said nothing, just adjusting a switch at the side of his head that made digital eyes appear on the lenses that were a part of his face.
“Ho-lee shitballs, man,” Chuck said.
“You’re a robot?” Lainey blurted. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Snap shrugged, turning those digital eyes down at the mask in his hands. “Didn’t know how you’d feel about it,” he said, his voice as deep as ever.
“This explains so much!” Kat exclaimed, her eyes wide. “You always seem to have food left, and any time I wake up at night, you’re already up!”
“There’s a reason I volunteered to carry the extra food stores,” the robot answered with a surprisingly human smile. “I always put my portions back.”
“Holy crap on a kangaroo,” Chuck said, gesturing uselessly. “Just-- What the hell! How did we not know this??”
“He did a very good job of keeping it a secret,” Lainey said, putting a hand on Snap’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable by hitting on you that first day.”
“You hit on him?” Chuck asked from the robot’s other side.
Lainey shrugged. “What can I say? His voice is hot. After he turned me down, I kinda figured he was gay.” She looked back at Snap. “Sorry, man.”
“No worries,” he said, smiling again. “It’s safe to say that none of you are my type.”
“Damn, no wonder my hand hurt that one time I gave you noogies!” Chuck exclaimed, remembering. He rapped knuckles on the bare metal head. “And here I thought you had some industrial helmet under that hood.”
Kat reached over to grip one of the hands that still held Snap’s mask. “No matter what,” she said firmly, “You are still part of Team Awesome. So none of that sad robot face! All right?”
The rest of the group chimed in, agreeing and patting him on the back.
Snap’s shy smile turned into an honest grin. He threw the gas mask over his shoulder, followed by the gloves covering his silver hands, and the scarf around his segmented neck.
By the time the boat reached the dock, all of Team Awesome was down to shirtsleeves, and they were having an impromptu dance party around the pile of protective clothing that they wouldn’t need anymore.