Here's yet another "variant", which I thought of as a lead-in for "Gas and Go".

Week 13, day 2

By the time Tallahassee escaped LA, the Yukon XL SUV had suffered a substantial amount of damage, including a spiderwebbed windshield. As they drove north, they entered a harsher terrain of hills and cliffs, and the zombies thinned out. Now, Tal pulled onto a narrow turnoff, where a sign said: Hank's Offroad Autobody. "Where are we going?" Little Rock said.

"It's a place I heard of," Tal said, "where they do very special stuff with cars." He pulled to a stop. "Here we are. The best custom offroad vehicle shop in the country!"

Hank's garage was located on a decidedly inaccessible hilltop, as if to announce that those who could not or would not make their way there were unworthy of the shop's services. The only sign of zombie activity were the carcasses of a pack of zombies crushed by very large wheels. There builing consisted of a garage with berths for up to ten vehicles, an adjoining two-floor office, and a second building apparently filled with parts. Tal checked the office first, and found a note: Sorry for the mess, but I had to run. Bill, the parts you requested are in, but I wasn't able to call. Tom, sorry, but I couldn't fix the manifold blockage. Arnold, your order is complete. I'm driving it to the location we agreed upon. Anyone else, take whatever you need, but make sure you know what to do with it. *Hank.

Tal cracked his knuckles. "Time to see what we can do to make Bill's SUV better."

Replacing the windshield came first, and the rest of the window followed. The warehouse had a large cache of Yukon parts, including "bullet-proof" glass. Tal made the changes with skill and speed, and excitement. Little Rock happily joined in. Meanwhile, Columbus and Wichita inspected the interior.

The SUV's insides had already been massively modified, to the point that they no longer fit any factory specs. It had a 31-gallon tank and a hybrid engine that gave 20 miles to the gallon. The middle of three rows of seats had been subtracted, and the third had been moved forward to take its place. This left an enlarged hold that had been converted into a dining/sleeping area, complete with four fold-down rumble seats, a mini-fridge, a two-burner stove and a central space to set up either a folding table or an air mattress. The Caddy also had a state-of-the-art CD/DVD player, sound system and a satellite TV receiver. Columbus flipped through channels. Wichita was indifferent. "Seventh worst thing about Zombieland," she said, "all the TV shows are in Spanish."

"Best part," Columbus said, "meeting you." They kissed. Wichita broke it off with a giggle. He looked over his shoulder to see what was showing on the screen. He blushed, while Wichita looked intrigued.

Then the signal went out.

"Wait a minute," Little Rock said to Tal. "This is the wire for the onboard computer, so what's that?"

Next came the biggest job. Tal decided to put in new wheels with heavy-duty tires, but they were so much larger than the standard ones they could only be fitted after the vehicle received a suspension lift. Tal was more than willing to do both. He raised the SUV and went about replacing the suspension and then adding the new wheels, a process which took through the afternoon. At the end, they had added a foot to the vehicle's height.

They finished by massively fortifying the front, rear and top of the SUV. A tire carrier, sufficiently sturdy to give added protection, was added over the tailgate. The roof rack was replaced with a frame that both held more and gave serious rollover protection. They replaced the bumper with one that was heavier and incorporated a winch, and also added a brush guard, a heavily built frame that covered the grill and headlights, and supported three more lights on one of the heaviest bars. Tal welded even more metal on top of these additions, giving the SUV the overall look of a warthog into body piercing. A similar frame went over the windshield. The bars were slender, but very sturdy; Little Rock jumped up and down on them without effect. A mix of red and chrome was added to the vehicle's black paint job. Little Rock came up with spirals of red and black for the hubcaps. Tal painted a wide, red diagonal stripe on each side of the vehicle.

As night approached the new morning, Tal made one more finishing touch. The grill guard had fittings for two to three lights. Tal chose- indeed had been looking for a place to use- two enormous nine-inch lamps, advertised as "the next best ting to daylight". The frame protecting the windshield was topped by a light bar. He put them at either end like Mickey Mouse ears. "Testing... Three... Two... One..." The lights filled the dark garage with more light than there would have been in the daytime. The immediate result was a sleepy but anguished cry in the back. Columbus sat up on the air mattress in back, then fell back with his hands over his eyes. Beside him, Wichita raised her head like a soldier in a foxhole, then dropped back down at the sight of Little Rock's scowling gaze.

When Tal drove out the next morning, his passengers were stonily silent. Columbus looked anxious. Wichita looked withdrawn, and perhaps disappointed. Little Rock looked angry, and undecided about whether she was more angry with Columbus or her sister. But when she saw the looks they gave each other, she smiled maliciously.

It was Columbus who finally broke the silence: "Tallahassee... you did fill up on gas while we were there, right?"

"Columbus, this thing can go 600 miles on one tank of gas. Trust me, we don't need to fill up."

"Yeah, but did you check the fuel gauge?"

Tal looked with a humoring expression. He managed to smile while gritting his teeth.