.A Tale from the Mojave Wasteland.
by Neuromancer & bitter.
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Securing the scarf that protected her face from the sand that kicked up in the wind around her body as she laid on the ground, peering through a scope. Softly biting her tongue in concentration and closing one eyes, Luci held her breath and pulled the trigger. A man from 1500 meters away stiffened and then fell forwards into the small fire in front of him. A few of the other people in the small camp that Luci had been patiently watching for a few days started to emerge from their respective tents to inspect the commotion of the man falling dead. Luci then fired two more shots, watching them fall over as well. Another quick bag of change for a few heads, all in a days, well nights work for the Devil of the Wasteland, an earned nickname that she had received from some fellow soldiers that she had served with. She would bring in piles of bounties, whether on tribes, bandits, or even some locals that caused problems. She had no preference of who's head her bullets entered as long as there was a nice coin purse waiting for her.
Finally, Luci had exhaled the breath that she had been holding and she sat up, pulling up her rifle to assist her to her feet with a soft grunt in stiffened pain. She had not quite felt right since she arrived back on the outpost's doorstep beaten, battered, and broken. She felt like a small part of her physically and mentally had turned into a void or had been ripped from her, nothing fixed it. Not even one of the most advanced pieces of equipment to be seen in the Wasteland. A fully functioning mechanical arm, connected down to the nerves. She was thankful for that, being able to still go on with her life after some hard work and obsession of being good again. A lot of sleepless and angry nights, spiraling into a deep depression, and finding herself in the local Vegas strip that was on the Outpost's door step. The Vegas Strip was walled in and took years of time and dedication from the local military and 5 families that choose to rebuild and run the Strip as a large settlement to keep money flowing and vices alive. Luci was no stranger to the Strip, or the families that ran the Strip. She had often worked for them, even taking out some fellow soldiers that she had known before she went AWOL.
Luci made her way back down to her small, makeshift camp that was nestled into a cliff side. The sun was peeking its head over the horizon now and Luci's tired eyes stared off into the distance before she turned to tuck herself into her makeshift tent for the morning until the sun began to beat down onto the tent. Luci sat against a flat rock, crossing her arms over her chest in an attempt to sleep just a little bit before returning to gather her bounty on the bandits.
Once the sun became too much for Luci to handle, her eyes snapped open and she begun to collect her things and begin the trek across the empty desert to the Outpost. It was mildly uneventfully with the occasional raider trying to out snipe a military trained sniper, but ultimately getting popped in the head from a further, unknown distance once they lost sight of her.
The sun had already begun to set once Luci had made it back to the Outpost, stopping into the bounty office, where she was met with a concerned gaze and frown. She was not as well liked as she used to be, but still appreciated for doing the dirty work of the military. A small change purse was pushed towards Luci from the man in front of her with a soft sentence following suit, “you know, you will always a place here whenever you clean your attitude and life up.”
Luci stared at her old commander with a blank, glazed over stare before shaking her head. “I like my current position. Not tied down to be professional and I can come and go as I please with a mutual respect of not to be fucked with,” With that, Luci snatched her bag off of the table and made her way out of the dusty office and off the Outpost. She was heading to the Strip for an evening out. Being trapped in the desert for weeks at a time made a girl restless and in need of some kind of stimulation.
Making her way onto the Strip, Luci stopped into one of the few, nicer public showers. The families that owned and operated the Strip preferred that they people there be showered and cleaned. It was a safe haven for the people, who still had money some how. Luci slipped in, paying the fee and took a nice, hot shower. She relaxed for a brief moment before the ran her hands over her shoulders, feeling the slight bumps from past scars over her body. She shivered before hurrying with her shower. She got dressed quickly and once out in the heat, her hair begun to dry relatively fast that by the time she was in the middle of the Strip, her hair had almost completely dried.
A harsh puff of air left him in some approximation of a mirthless laugh. Followed by a slow controlled inhale as he mulled over his choice of words, watching the man in front of him squirm as the silence ticked by, before settling on the simple truth.
The legs of the chair scraped against the floor as he stood, not waiting for the man’s reaction, nor taking the time to push the chair back under the table, before he simply turned towards the door. The scrape of the second chair followed almost as soon as he stood, and a hand clamped over his forearm to stop him from leaving. The man, it seemed, was both desperate and foolish. Nikolaj took another slow breath, not wanting to pull more attention to them as there were already a few heads turning in their direction, before turning his torso just enough to level a glare at the taller man, not bothering with words as the man almost immediately realised his mistake and quickly stepped back out of range, gaze flitting to the knife Nikolaj kept strapped to his belt. As much as he was tempted to show the man just what happened to people who thought they could squeeze more work than they paid for out of him, it would be a waste of time, not to speak of the consequences. Instead he simply walked out. This time, the man let him.
They had spent less than a day and a half on the road together, wherein he had paid Nikolaj to protect him against bandits. Yet despite knowing he’d killed those bandits for money, the man somehow seemed genuinely alarmed by Nikolaj agreeing that he’d simply let him die if he did not get more money—As if he expected him to protect him out of the goodness of his heart. The thought had another huff of a laugh escape him. At least the guy had been smart enough to ask inside a bar instead of back out in the desert, he’d give him that.
As he exited the bar, the stifling heat he had yet to get used to slammed into him, and he walked with quick rhythmic steps towards the nearest spot of shade to get his bearings. He felt the tug on his brows as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket, the fingers of his right finding the necklace he had taken off of one of the bandits that had attacked them on the road. He would have to find some place to sell it, as well as some of the other things he’d stored in his pack, before there was any point in figuring out his next plan of action.
He huffed a breath, pulled his hands back out of his pockets, and made his way out of the shade, and down the street with the same rhythmic steps; counting the beats in his head to centre himself. Eyes ahead and scanning the area in his peripheral to find a bar with no people in it, where he could get a mediocre of silence. If he was going to deal with haggling vendors for his goods he was going to need a moment to breathe. For as much as he knew he could avoid them if he stopped picking stuff up off of corpses, it would be a waste of good resources.
Back when he had worked in a group, it had often been him who searched the bandits they took out for extra supplies, when they had been four splitting the cost and water and rations. Back then they had also been four to carry the extra supplies, back before they became three, and before the last two decided staying at a settlement was safer. Now it was just him, and he still searched the bandits for extra supplies, but had to be selective in his keepings. Now it was him who set up camp, him who had to broker deals with travellers, and him who took out camps and bounties. And while working together sure was faster, keeping all the money for himself was certainly worth it, and spared him having to hear the rest of the group talk about helping people as if they weren’t all in it for the money.
While it was not a bar, it wasn’t far until he found a bench, which was even better than a bar. Footsteps of people walking past a lot more silent than the hush of conversations. And so, with his pack securely between his feet, he sat down, crossed his arms, and leaned back. Brows knitting together as he scanned first the buildings, and then the people walking by. More out of habit than any actual interest. He doubted there would be trouble inside the settlement, much less one as secure as the Vegas Strip.
Luci quietly slinked down the Strip, moving between people who were walking a little slow for her taste. Most of the time, people were either drunk or fucked off their ass to be aware that other people were around. Luci preferred a clear mind most of the time, occasionally biding in vices on her off time or in between jobs. She shoved her hands in her the pockets of her black cargo pants, ruffling around with a couple of coins that she soon produced from her pocket to pay entrance into one of the smaller bars on the Strip. She nodded her head and slipped in. She liked to remain relatively lowkey and out of the way, people watching from the corner of the bar. She found most of her higher paying clients in some of the casinos and bars that littered the Strip. The nicer the building, the more money.
Luci opted for something a little quieter. She took her place at the very far end of the bar, where the exchanged her order and pulled a few pieces of old world money out. Giving the bartender a little bit more than what the tab would be and she nodded for him to keep the change. She was then presented a glass that was half full of whiskey and left to herself.
There were a few people in the bar, a few singles at the opposite side of the bar, who had side eyed Luci when she entered and a group of dangerous looking men in the corner, all sitting at a table. Luci pressed the glass against her lips, taking a long sip before running her eyes over each individual before the man at the farthest end of the bar caught her eye.
“Aren't you the AWOL soldier?” the voice called to Luci and she sat straight up on her bar stool. The man opposite of the room from her stood up, making his way over to the woman. Luci had a sickly sweet smile on her face as she downed the rest of her drink. “How are you able to still walk around and take from the soldiers who fight for your protection and resources? My buddy had 6 guns drawn on him when he went AWOL,” he spat at her before actually spitting on the ground beneath her feet.
“Oh, don't I love when problems come to me,” Luci met the man face to face when she stood up, well not face to face. The man in front of her was quite a bit taller than her, standing at a towering 6 foot, 4 inches. Luci had no qualms fighting with bigger people, it looked better on her to increase the size and weight of her opponents. “Let me guess, you are from one of the Outposts way outside of the Mojave Desert and decided to come here to try your luck. And because there is an Outpost here, you could default back onto them if you lose everything here?” The man bit his lip at Luci's cruel words and in a haze of anger, he lurched forwards.
Luci ducked quickly, taking a tight hold of the man's waist and pushed him to the ground. She held the man down with her mechanical hand, tightening her grip on his shirt as she laid punch after punch. “Talk shit, get hit, soldier boy,” Luci stood up with a set of daggers staring down upon the man. “Get up,” Luci hissed, pulling the man up into a sitting position. The man scurried to get up, running off out the door.
Luci followed behind him with a large, sick smile on her face. “Hey! I thought we were having fun? I thought you had some friend to prove something for?” Luci was inches behind the man before snagging him by his collar. “Just so you know, cunt. I kept my life because I do the Outposts' dirty work. Things pretty little soldier boys are too much of a poon to actually do. I was probably one of the guns that had been drawn on your buddy,” Luci continued to pick and prod. She definitely was not one of the guns, but she enjoyed watching the man come to a stand still when she said it. Anything to get a reaction out of someone.
This time, it was going to be a hand to hand brawl out in broad day light, once they were free from the bar. People stopped and stared at the situation unfolding in front of them. Luci raised her fists once more, keeping them close to her face as the man pulled his fists up to match the woman in front of him. Luci was a professionally trained one on one fighters, the more personal the better for someone like Luci. She was small and compact, the best way to handle anyone bigger than her was to get them on the ground.
Luci dodged the first few punches before ducking once more, lurching forward to take him down in the same manner before. He was so predictable. “You shouldn't pick fights with strangers," Luci straddled the man, locking her thighs around his rib cage and squeezing just slightly. The man before huffed, trying to speak, but she gripped hard around him until she heard a few cracks. Her smile faded for a moment when he began squirming and actually fighting harder underneath her. She motioned for a few of the Outpost soldiers that ran protection for some of the families in the area to come to her. She pulled her mechanical arm back with a balled fist and slammed it into his face, ensuing that the man would cause no more issues.
Luci stood up, dusting herself off with a pout. The soldiers came by to play clean up before what looked to be the leader of the small group stopped Luci. “I would appreciate you not to involve soldiers that are no longer your companions to clean up your messes,” the man frowned and Luci scoffed.
“He picked a fight with me,” Luci plainly said, poking the man in the chest before turning on her heels to slink her back inside of the bar.
He watched the stumbling steps of drunk people as they made their way down the path, and the stumbling steps of a few who looked more than drunk. It was the kind of peace only afforded in settlements, or for those who did not care what could befell them—A peace Nikolaj could not understand. His gaze moved to one of the casinos, that one of the drunks left, following their movements all the way until they left his field of view, and then let his gaze return to the casino. It seemed as good a place as any, if not one of the better, to get work of the rougher variety. Bad losers wanting people hurt or people who felt too fancy get their hands dirty. He made a mental note that he’d have to walk the Strip up and down after he found a vendor to see if he could identify the fancier casinos and work his way down until one of them let him in.
With a deep breath, and a deepened frown as his knee let out a loud pop when he put weight on it, he grabbed his pack, and rose from the bench. It was time to keep moving. He shouldered the pack as he continued down the Strip, glancing at the building fronts in hopes of seeing some kind of vendor. He felt the tension in his temples increase as he realised the Strip did not seem like most settlements did, and perhaps he would have to keep the extra weight and take a job that took him by a trading post if they didn’t have any kind of vendor at the Outpost nearby.
As he got deeper onto the Strip he noticed a few soldiers standing guard here and there, and realised that perhaps the Strip was not as peaceful as it would seem with it’s big wall and pay-to-enter policies. The place was becoming more curious by the moment, thought irritating none the less. Subconsciously this had Nikolaj widen his stance and raise his chin, body language trying to indicate more authority than he had. Mostly to try and avoid being questioned, but also because of a noticeable shift the people and soldiers as he got further down the Strip.
It was the familiar kind of tittering and nudging that came over people who had witnessed something unseemly. Given the location it could just as well be a drunken couple having at it in an alley, but Nikolaj let his right arm still to hover near his belt knife, while continuing to walk as if nothing had changed. While not a camp full of bandits or raiders running down the streets, there was something about the shift that had him feel the familiar calm. Burning embers catching flame of comfort at the thought of fighting. Eyes flitting from soldiers, to buildings, to the people, scanning the area for both exits, cover, and most importantly whatever had caused the shift.
He spotted some soldiers making ways away with a man, and from the casualness of their walk, it was natural to conclude that the disturbance had either resolved itself, or the man had caused it all by his lonesome. Nikolaj studied the man, if he hadn’t been deadweight he would have written it off as the latter; the man having gotten too drunk and gotten himself kicked out. But something about the scruffiness of his clothes indicated a recent tumble that could have only happened within the Strip, lest the soldiers were exempt from the showers.
It had felt odd, shaving the several days worth of stubble with one of his sharper daggers with a proper mirror to look at. And the thought had him push down the urge to rub the back of his hand along his cheek as he’d gotten used to doing in order to check whether he got it all.
Shouldering his way past a small group of drunks who were still in the middle of the street—most likely from watching whatever brawl broke out—it proved to definitely have been a brawl, given the slight disturbance of the sand indicating someone or something had laid on the ground recently. Some soldiers still stood guard, and the only onlookers left seemed to be those too drunk to feel like moving, so whoever had caused it had most likely either left or was honourable enough to not start more. Still, Nikolaj decided to take post by one of the buildings, acting as though he was in need of shade while deciding his directions, shoulder pressed against the wall and arms crossing. He knew he couldn’t stay there long, and scanned the surrounding buildings for one to enter. Though the shade was nice none the less, and the thought of the slight cool of it made the decision easy.
Thus, he pushed himself back off the the wall, uncrossed his arms, and dug around in the pockets of his cargo trousers; at one point they’d been dark green, and still were on the inside, but the outer fabric had paled to a dull light green a few shades lighter than the shirt he was wearing from years of outdoor wear. Finding what he was looking for, he paid the entry fee and entered the bar. Sweeping his gaze over the patrons while moving towards the bartender; he spotted a group of men in the corner who looked to know what they were doing, a woman at the very far end of the bar with a mechanical arm which looked far from rudimentary even at a quick glance having a drink, and a few people on the other end of the bar, one of who’s gaze kept flitting towards the woman—too quick to merely be fascination as the arm on display, he noted.
”You got drinkable water here?” he asked, once he arrived at the bar, his normally gruff voice made worse by the dry desert air. And as much as he doubted the water in the bar would be any cooler than what was left in his canteen, it was worth being indoors and out of the sun proper. Once drink and coin was traded, he made his way towards a spot far enough away from the whole lot of them as he could while still keeping both the door and the woman in his peripheral.
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