Setting and BackgroundEdit
This Roleplay is set in Texas' Permian Basin region in 2291. It is fairly contemporaneous to the events of Into the Great White North and To a Better Tomorrow. If a character is involved with one of those stories, they would have to leave the respective story prior to its completion and arrive in Texas later in the story, and they should have a very good reason to do so.
Times are dark, the land is still reeling from the Rain of Fire. The infant Republic of the Permian Basin requires constant victories and advances to keep up its momentum. With Caesar's Legion to the north, the Sand Hills Tribe to the south, and their friends too far to the east and west, the Republic is effectively surrounded and alone.
Times are dark, but Madame President has a destination and a plan: El Paso. If the Republic can secure a route to El Paso, the means for settlers from the western lands to come will bolster the Republic and hopefully make the land safe for civilization. The Legion would have to deal with crusading NCR Rangers and the Tribe would face stiffer resistance. While Ertha's thoughts and vision spread outward however, she has ignored an enemy: the enemy within. The leadership of Goldsmith and Lamesa have a bone to pick with the Salt Clan and the Rockers, they'd like nothing more than to see Ertha's efforts stall out. They wish the Republic well, and have every confidence it will recover and thrive without Salt Clan favoritism and nepotism muddying the water.
Times are dark, and nothing happens in isolation. Rumbling in the wings are strange rumors out of Tribe territory regarding the Two Gods, a Rocker Crusade to recover lost music, the fine people of Jack Rabbit Express wanting to assemble a series of expeditions, the arrival of mysterious agents representing various wasteland groups, and more.
Act I: Meet 'N GreetEdit
"We've all felt loss, it is one of the great universal truths of the human condition. Death, rejection, failure, each one of us has been touched by at least one of these misfortunes or a hundred others. Even the Saints above were no exception. The Great Orbison was wracked with great melancholy and grief as circumstance conspired to steal his happiness away bit by bit. If you've listened to the Rock, as I know you have, you know what he did about that.
We can all learn from the Great Orbison. Our tragedies can bring us closer to the Rock, pour all the blackness into song. The Rock is our connection to the Saints and the Divine. The Rock will lift you up as high as you want to go. Saints above, waves of radio, blessed are we. Thank you boys and girls, thank you and Saints bless."
Eric Wydell looked through the open door of the Jack Rabbit's Dos Amigos club house and out into the dusty Midessan street. The city was a lively place and this thoroughfare was no exception: children ran laughing merrily as they were chased by a scruffy dog, a one-eyed Mexican played an ancient tune on an heirloom guitar, Republic policemen were getting their canteens refilled by a passing water vendor, and some Sinkers were getting directions to a bar to get thrown out of. Wydell had been to dozens upon dozens of camps and flyspeck villages in his travels, many of them had probably been sacked by raiders or swallowed by the wastes since he had been there last, but Midessa had a sense of permanence. He closed the door and turned back to his guest, a well dressed man from the far side of town, Simon Salt. "Think you can get it done Wydell? This is the future of the Republic we're talking about."
Eric held his chin and nodded contemplatively "Well let's see. This is two, if not three separate expeditions. Sent out some of our more experienced hands to The Corpse and up north. Give me say, a few weeks to get the people and provisions together, and a couple of months to see everything through. Nothing about what we do is a sure bet, but I think it can be done."
Simon stood up and motioned to inform his bodyguards that he was done here before responding to Eric. "Alright then, we'll touch base in a few then. I've got to get back to the east side," Simon said with a tip of his hat. "Thank you Mr. Salt, give my regards to the family, and Madame President, should you see her."
The Old Airport gate was busy. Republic soldiers were checking out the steady stream of travelers and merchants, looking for wanted criminals, but otherwise letting everyone in. As entrants filed down the cracked tarmac of the ancient runways, they were greeted by vendors and guides all shouting to be heard, all with some service or product for sale.
There was an oppressive veil of body odor around the town, humid like a locker room. Members of Caear's Legion from the north rubbed shoulders with slavers from Juarez, their faces painted like skulls. Lines of slaves shuffled towards the pens, their eyes cast on the ground. Raiders and heartless mercenaries jeered at the cowed slaves as they watched the procession from the sides, drinking rotgut and chowing down on the spoils of their lifestyle. Their hosts, the wild-eyed fanatics of the Sand Hills Tribe did not mingle with them as they had a taste for other fare. From the zenith of the Temple of Transformation, High Shaman AMPAGABA looked down at the barely contained violence and madness and wondered when he might hear the will of the gods once more.
A sense of discomfort and insecurity, although common sensations for the veteran soldier, surrounded Jay Ramsey like vultures on a rotting corpse. Midessa. There were some people he didn't quite like and some people he hated deeply, the people of Midessa fell somewhere in between. Outskirt roughnecks and rugged backstabbers. This was probably his ninth visit to the Basin, and though he enjoyed the chance to escape from the devious Union politics and loved the wide west Texas ranges, he disliked it's towns and citizens. They may be good people, they may feed homeless children and save wounded puppies, but none of that can make up for their nonexistent help during the cruel and unspeakable era of oppression that plagued Austin for over a century. Although, he put those hatreds behind him upon entering the Republic's well-organized and well-kept settlements, it was best not to give off the wrong vibe to these people. Jay and his two fellow Union representatives slowly approached the Airport-turned-checkpoint into Midessa. A cleanly shaven man, probably around his early 30's or late 20's, stood in Jay's path. The man was a Republic soldier, a bigot-ish creature full of hubris and patriotism, fairly experienced with a rifle and not hesitate to use it. "What'cha business 'round here, stranger?" he spat, closely analyzing Jay's weathered clothing and the valuable .308 DKS-501 Sniper Rifle tightly strapped to his back.
"Embassy. From the Union, we're," Jay pointed back to his two patient companions, "here to have a nice little talk with Missus Worthy-Salt, got it?" Jay spoke with an equally aggressive tone as the soldier had done to him, things like this often humored the extinguished Defender. The soldier eyed Jay with distrust. It was a well known fact that, although they claimed to be close allies, the Republic and the Union both held a not-so-well hidden dislike for the other. The leaders and politicians of each acted friendly towards each other in public, but the truth was that hatred for the other was the only thing they had in common. The soldier tilted his head in thought, put his hand to his smooth chin, and bit his lip. "Stay right here," he exclaimed, "I'll be right back." With that he trotted off, presumptively going to get one of his officers to address the situation. "Fuckin' stooge," came a voice from behind Ramsey, "I always hate coming through here." Jay turned around to face Marcus Grettin, a longtime friend of Jay's and a man of considerable fame within Union ranks. Marcus and Jay had grown up together fighting Biosoldiers and dodging Enclave patrols, and both had become insurgents together at the ripe age of seventeen. Marcus was Jay's only remaining childhood friend that he still knew was alive and kicking, as was Jay for Marcus, so naturally the two always looked out for each other and stayed pretty close. Jay chuckled shortly and lightly hit his easily-angered friend on the shoulder, "Calm down man, we won't be spendin' long in here. We've just gotta inform Madam President about the expansion and see what she thinks." Marcus shrugged, "Whatever, I just know one of these bigots is gonna pick a fight, it happens every fuckin' time." Jay was just about to come back at him and shun him for saying that too loud, as that was usually how the fights start in the first place, but he was cut off by a familiar voice from the gate.
"Ah, Mr. Ramsey, I didn't expect to see you here until at least next spring. What brings you?" The voice belonged to a certain Clint Fletcher, the usual representative for the Republic's common trade ordeals with the Union. He wore a dusty suit with a dusty top hat, looking more like an eccentric carpetbagger than a Republic official. "I'm not here for you Fletcher, I'm on direct orders from Miles, take me to Ertha." Clint's opportunistic expression turned to concern and curiosity. He sighed, "Ok Mr. Ramsey, follow me, and keep your men in line."
Boot steps thudded behind Ramsey's little group. A silent man walked along to their rear, making no motion to pass them or fall any farther behind. Had the Austinites turned to look at him, they wouldn't have assumed much - another waster drifted in off the sandy desert spreads, a desperado or a hired gun looking for a job in town. But that wouldn't explain how everyone looked at him.
They stared at him with a mixture of fear, loathing and a vague trace of admiration. This man was obviously known for something, and something big. What it was, only the locals knew. The desperado kept on walking behind him, hobnailed boots leaving little permeated marks in his footsteps as he finally broke away from following the Austinites, heading for the bounty boards.
Powell Stantzmann reached one rough hand out to the bounty board, siphoning through the massive list of men, women and creatures that needed to be killed. Anything with any connection to the Sand Hills Tribe was pulled away from the pile, read thoroughly, memorized and pocketed. Eventually, he went to the bar where he could enquire as to their locations.
The bar went silent as the batwing doors creaked open and Powell stepped inside, the gunslinger's hobnailed boots clicking like a dog's claws over the floor. Once he reached the table, the manhunter placed the crinkled prints on the table. In a gruff, commanding voice, Powell said: "I want advice. Have you seen any of these faces and which way did they leave town from?"
Powell was immediately recognized by some barflies from Wink. Outside the prez, her dead husband, and the Ayatollah, he was probably the most recognized person to the Sinkers. Wink was around twenty four miles from Monahans, so the Sinkers were even more accustomed to attacks from the Sand Hills Tribe than Midessa. One of the Sinkers, an old man missing his two front teeth, top and bottom, pulled up a seat next to Powell and motioned to the manhunter to let him see the bounties. "Long 'aired crathies, mosst of 'em," he practically whistled between his missing teeth "Can't tell them frum no-one. One of 'em though, the blonde with the lazy eye? He makes capth leadin' Caesarth boyth to Monahans. Couldn't prove it till m'buddy Ted tried to killim," he flicked his own chest "Bulletproof."
"Your buddy Lawman Bryce here with an unusual bounty placed by the Church of Rock and Roll: Legend speaks of an old cowboy club in the ranch village of Girvin, sixty miles south of Midessa. There's said the last owner of the club had a safe fully of vinyl records: black gold. The Church is paying out a bounty of two hundred caps per working record and twenty-five cap per intact album cover which can be collected in Fort Holly. Good luck adventurers, Girvin's out past tribal country."'
Powell's face remained unchanged as the Sinker rifled through the papers one at a time, naming only one - a long-haired tribal with one lazy eye, his face roughly sketched as though it had to be thrown together picemeal from scattered descriptions. Powell listened intently to the old Sinker's description, and waited up until the end of his yarn to speak.
When he did speak, his hand moved before his mouth did. Powell took his massive Bowie knife from its place on his belt and stabbed it into the bar table between the Sinker's two fingers, the eleven-inch stainless steel blade reflecting the low light in the bar. Powell rotated towards the Sinker, his face twisted into a slight grin. "Don't need bullets to kill Tribesmen," he said in a low, threatening growl. He retrieved his knife and returned it to his belt, handed five caps to the old Sinker, and then spoke again. "I wanna know if you've seen him recently, and if you have - what direction was he from here?"
The old Sinker frowned for a moment, but couldn't keep a straight face, Sinkers were fond of such violent pranks. He popped the caps in a dog-earred purse he wore on a leather cord around his neck and thought over Powell's question. "He done come up to Ted's thpread on the thouth thide of Wink-Think, trying to buy water like he weren't no Thandy. Ted put a magnum load in his chest and Blondie done run off back toward Monahans, probably waitin' for some of Caesarth boyth to come by. Big area to look'n, weth of Midetha, thouth of the railroad, and eath of Wink."
In the Petroleum Building on the east side of town, Hoss Wells leaned against the marble wall and looked at his charge, Madame President. Wherever there was a Salt in charge, there was a Wells to look after them. His great grand-dad had served multiple generations of Ephrem's before some mutie tore him apart. His own dad had died along with the previous Ephrem. But he wasn't guarding the newest Ephrem, he was watching over this...this in-law. Still, duty was duty. "Missus Salt, what're these Austin bushwhackers meetin' you about?"
Ertha looked up from her paperwork and through her glasses. Hoss had always imagined that she could secretly stare lasers through them. "Mostly sharing progress reports: we tell them which way they're going, they do the same. They decline to join the Republic, we decline to give them free stuff. I do have something interesting in mind though, and for once I think I'll bring the idea to the Union before I go to the Councilors. If they're receptive I think it would be helpful towards bridging the gap between the Republic and the Union."
Powell had gotten what he needed. He wouldn't bother wasting any more time with this old Sinker. He pulled his knife from the bar table and returned it to his belt, nodding his thanks as he headed for the batwings again. Then, his hobnailed boots clicking on the paved street again, Powell was gone.
He had his direction. West of Midessa, south of the Memorial Rail, East of Wink. A big spread, if that was the entire thing he spoke of. Powell had a bit of walking ahead of him. He removed his old compass from the pocket of his duster and flicked open the dust-protective cover. The needle eventually settled on the direction that was "west", the direction he had been told to head. So Powell walked that way.
Jay Ramsey watched as Fletcher nervously glanced back at the three Union delegates following his trail, thinking to himself what thing of utter importance is happening- or has happened -that the company of Madam President would be required, a company that is reserved only for delicate political matters, among few other things. Not to mention Jay's presence, which signified that the message was one that belonged in trusted hands and trusted protection. The group of four, including one Republic soldier, hastily walked on the desert-surrounded roads and along the down-ridden shacks, trading posts, and bars that sided the main road. Fletcher was taking them to the Petroleum building on the other side of town, which was the location of the Republic's leader. The Union men received side-longed glares from just about everybody they passed, especially the adult men and soldiers. Although Jay shrugged off their stares without much consideration, his companion Marcus hated it. He was the type of man that couldn't stand too much attention, no matter where he is or who's around him, it's just one of his many phobias. Unfortunately for him, his other phobias include the fear of blades, open desert, and claustrophobia.
The group, after a couple silent minute's trek, had finally reached the base of their destination; the Petroleum building. Clint Fletcher turned to face the three-man Union envoy, "Ok fellas, Madam Pres. is right inside." Clint quickly eyed their weapons, "Just out of policy, no guns should'a be allowed inside," the Republic official watched as each of their expressions changed to aggravated, "...but, in your case, I'll let it slide. Just know that if any of our guards see anything fishy, they're gonna take action." Marcus chuckled and pushed past the gluttonous man, the other two representatives following suite, and made his way inside of the surprisingly clean and stable Petroleum building. As he strolled through the entrance doors, Jay walked up to the middle-aged female secretary that sat behind an ancient desk and coughed loudly to gain her dim attention, "We're here for Missus Salt, the Union requires her company." he said, catching the unattentive secretary by surprise. The secretary sat thinking for about half a second and then nodded, got up, and ran to get the President. The Union's presence was just far too uncommon this far into the town to be taken lightly.
A couple minutes later, three figures emerged from the left staircase: the secretary, a well-armed Republic bodyguard, and a harmless-looking elderly woman, probably around her late fifties or early sixties, in a dusted, yet cleaned, business suit. She wore thin-framed glasses and had her hair in a short, neat way. Jay smiled and removed his worn and weathered Fedora, revealing a fairly well maintained head of brown hair. With a slightly horse and misused voice, Jay spoke; "Ahh, Mrs. Salt, we would love have the opportunity to speak with you. I have an important message from Miles which has considerable importance for you and your people."
With a quick swig of strong whiskey and two relaxing hits of Jet, Peter Wellwalker, an eccentric and questionable prophet for the anarchic Gypsy Jokers, stepped onto the taboo Bazaar of the Bizarre walkways. To his left a slightly mutated slaver was selling off lanky and malnutrition teenage girls while some mentally off-set carpetbagger to his right bartered off some new-age drug, Moloko, to curious pedestrians. Peter, usually nicknamed Streetbeat Pete, or just Pete, nervously started his show. After a ritualistic mental countdown, Pete began to get the attention of passing walkers. "Hate the dull and conformist Republic? Hate the overzealous, motherfuckin' Union?" Pete stopped for a minute to hear the one or two cheers and curses, soaking in their hatred like a sponge over water, and then continued with a random jerk of moment that seemed to catch attention itself. "Tell me'h now, don't you fucking hate those selfish fuckin' pigs that wallow in the towns!? Those capitalist cunts that populate Midessa, Austin, Fort Holly; they don't know real life! We're living reality, us, the slavers and raiders and junkies and mutants, and those fucking pigs don't know a fuckin' percent of it!" By this time, Pete had gained quite a large crowd of mixed peoples, and he assumed it was about time to really start the show.
From behind the mentally-questionable Gypsy prophet, held still by two burly and bulky Jokers, a struggling and whimpering Republic farmer stood tied to a crudely-built crucifix was brought forward, his shirt off, revealing a recently painted anarchy symbol on the poor man's bare chest. In response to this, the crowd nearly tripled, public executions always being a popular event along the Bazaar. Pete intensely circled the defenseless captive, running his leathery fingertips along the very sharp and very deadly edge of a large skinning knife, his yellow teeth chattering and his hands shaking with adrenalin. His eyes were completely focused on his victim's, as if he were seeing into the soon-to-be dead man, watching as the poor man served his last precious seconds staring into the unclouded eyes of a madman. Remaining utterly centered on the dreading farmer, Pete spoke with a hint of madness; "Meet innocent little farmer Brown, a good-hearted family man and recently a father of two, husband to a loving wife, and owner of a newly built home." Pete smiled devilishly and tapped the gruesome skinning knife on the prisoner's open chest, "He's about to die." Pete jolted back and, with all of his force, jabbed the crude killing weapon deep into the farmer's chest. The man screamed in agony, Pete humorously mimicking him, and the crowd stirred almost violently. Pete let the blade stay jammed into the man's chest for a few seconds, the farmer now hastily praying to God for forgiveness and all that, which, in return, only made Pete start to laugh hysterically. He turned to the chaotic crowd and gripped the knife's hilt that proceeded from the farmer's midsection, "In the name of the Gypsy Jokers and the great Murdoc, let this soul be released!" And with that, Pete forcefully pushed the brutal blade down poor farmer Brown's torso, cutting open his wide ribcage and releasing his delicate insides. At this point the crowd went ballistic, the first row getting sprayed with blood along with Pete, who was now basically drenched. Being caught up with the primal killing, Pete reached into the gaping maw down the farmer's chest and pulled out a blood-soaked heart, spit on the organ, and then tossed it into the audience. In a manner of moments, the crowd of raiders and slavers and junkies and killers all chanted one name and one name only, the Gypsy Jokers.
"Well if Miles has something important to share I think I'd like to hear it. Let's see, the conference room on eleven is right comfortable."
Ertha walked towards the two working elevators and a Roughneck called them both. Ertha and Hoss got in one and the Union men were directed to the other. Inside the vaguely claustrophobic elevator car an elderly man with a faded, red bell-boy hat nodded agreeably at Ramsey and his friends. "Howdy gents. Up to eleven, hang on," he said and pressed the appropriate button. The elevator groaned, shook, and started hauling the group up. Despite the initial, discomforting noise and vibrations, the ride up was smooth and a battered speaker box played Republic Radio at low volume. Upon reaching the eleventh floor the Union delegates were escorted to a large room dominated by a long, sturdy table and flanked by red leather chairs. At the head of the table, Ertha was already waiting with Hoss standing behind her. Seated to her right was a plump, middle-aged woman with a stenotype. Four more roughnecks stood with their backs to the walls, keeping a wary eye on the guests.
"Take a seat gentlemen," Ertha said brightly as she pressed a button on a nearby wooden panel. About a minute and a half later a young man brought in cups of cool water and tin plates with watermelon slices for Ertha and the delegates. "Now then, what's the news?"
Jeremiah Claffey watched the public execution in the Bazaar of the Bizarre and winced. He had always preferred Monahans to Republic towns for its vivacity and the variety of its population. Due to its diverse nature, it was a good place to look for leads on bounties. However, the town did have its downsides, and this public execution was but one example. The town was diverse, but it was also a cesspool of violence and debauchery unrestrained by any sense of common decency or by the protection of any real law.
Jeremiah turned away and began to pick his way through the bazaar, examining the variety of wares before him. Everything that could be purchased was there. Vendors selling a variety of foods rubbed elbows with drug dealers, arms merchants propped up their stalls next to slaver's platforms, and the Sand Hills Tribe was all around. Tribal warriors, dressed in crude armors or simple garments and holding spears and knives, stood guard, watching over the commerce and debauchery in their capital.
Jeremiah successfully navigated his way through the Bazaar and came to his destination: the Million Barrel Museum. This massive structure was once a museum, but had been converted into an arena, where warriors fought and died for the amusement of the crowd. Jeremiah had fought there once, armed with only his tomahawk and knives, against a gladiator slave with a sledgehammer. The earnings from bets were quite good, considering what was at stake. Today, however, Jeremiah was not here to fight, but rather to get information. A caravan of Caesar's Legionnaires had come to Monahans recently to sell off slaves and take in the Sand Hills capital. They were well-traveled slavers, and they were bound to have some information on the location of Jeremiah's target.
Jeremiah entered the stands and took a seat next to a large Legionnaire. As they both watched the gladiator slaves below, Jeremiah remarked to the slaver, "Caesar's Legion, is it? I hear you fellows are well-traveled. I'm looking for someone rather important, and I'd be glad to reward anyone who could grant me some information on his whereabouts."
Jay sat as still as a stone, staring intently into the aging eyes of Ertha Worthy-Salt, setting an unspoken mood throughout the room with only his deep blue corneas. "I'll put it simply: we're starving." The Madam President tilted her head in confusion. Although it is not widely known outside of Austin, the city has fallen upon very hard times ever since their glorious revolution from the oppressive Enclave. It's a well known fact that the Enclave were tyrannical fascists, but, through all of the torture and killing, they did provide the enslaved Austinites with an ample amount of food and water, actually more than most other places in the wasteland. Of course, this was overlooked and outmatched by the extreme hubris and itch for freedom during the Uprising, so much that in the following months after their liberation Austin lost nearly one-third of it's initial population due to starvation and malnutrition.
"We know that you've come upon hard times, we all have, but this only means we have to do something about it." Jay started his proposal with limited enthusiasm, as he was not so accustomed to it himself, but he still spoke what he was sent to speak. "The traders and caravans rarely can pass through the dangerous gap between Central Texas and the Basin without being robbed, raided, or ransacked by either those Sand Hills freaks or the Gypsy Joker scum." It was at this point that Jay breathed deep and relaxed, stopping himself from really going off about the two raider clans with a wide arrange of vulgar vocabulary that really would be inappropriate in front of the Madam President. "If we don't take action or do something, slowly but surly those raiders are going to expand, and when then do, the Republic and the Union won't stand a chance." Jay quickly glanced back at Marcus and Alec Burton, the other Union delegate that accompanied Jay on this trek west. While Alec sat fairly still and relaxed, Marcus was in a constant state of differing emotions. Anger, sympathy, remorse, anger again, gratitude, all of it cycled through his head like broken clockwork. This was always how Marcus got when in any sort of pressing situation, whether it be the midst of battle or just an important conversation, it was whatever sort of mind-set he had developed when rummaging through dirty streets and rotting sewers.
Ertha sat in silence, deep within thought and calculation, working out whatever plans she had been brooding upon. Jay imagined that this issue was most likely interfering with whatever campaign or goal Ertha had in mind for her precious Republic. The ex-Brotherhood sniper knew all too well that the generosity of people now was nothing more than a false layer of words and assumptions, and the possibility of Missus Salt putting exponential effort into helping the starving Austinites was well beyond reasonable. People looked out for their own, and when just that was hard enough, helping others seems like nothing more than ridiculous fiction as opposed to the cruel and unheroic reality which surrounded the giant wasteland of a planet. Still, Jay knew he had to try, he was not going to deny a desperate request by a dying man.
Before the Legionnaire could respond the Million Barrel Arena suddenly grew hushed. A pair of Super Mutants carrying an ornate palanquin took it to the section reserved for the Two Gods, their highest shamans, and their guests. It wasn't possible to tell who, if anyone, was inside the palanquin. The gods were notoriously secretive and capricious: it would be within character of them to send an empty palanquin out, or to place a decoy within. Regardless of who or what was within, its presence signaled the coming highlight of the day's games. A group of three tribal warriors emerged on the arena floor, and a covered cage was brought out. The tarp over the cage was pulled off and the cage flung open. Bizarre, imported creatures shambled out and towards the warriors.
The Legionnaire turned to Jeremiah "Who'd that be? Maybe I saw 'em, maybe I sold 'em."
Doors close and doors open, Ertha thought to herself. This news about the state of Austin and its people caught her off guard. She hadn't been keeping track specifically, but it now occurred to her that the value of brass had gone down lately, which would have compounded Austin's troubles. "Charity," she began after a moment "Especially the kind necessary to save a city like Austin, to get it back on its feet, is completely beyond the Republic's capabilities. What I can do in the short term is pass this along to the Ayatollah. I'm sure if he puts out the word in his radio address, the Rockers can organize a drive for food.
I can also accept a limited number of immigrants. The Republic couldn't handle an influx of thousands right now, but a few hundred spread between Notrees, Wink, and Tahoka is feasible. Neither of those will solve the problem of course, but they'll help. Now as important as the topic is, let's table it for the moment. I need to share something with you, which I'll link back to your crisis. You're familiar with El Paso del Norte? The north side, Basstown intends to join the Republic. We've been in talks for months. Basic premise of the deal is we clean out Juarez and they pay the costs of the railroad extension from Wink to Basstown. Now I can't employ Austinites to build those tracks, everyone from the Council on down would be screaming for my blood. However, if the Union were to support our Republic forces in Juarez, I could use the resulting sentiment to gainfully employ the people of Austin for another project: extending the railroad to Austin.
Now, just to bring it all home this is my offer: the Union sends all the fighting men and women with city-fighting experience it can muster to help our boys take out Juarez. Afterward Austin will be admitted to the Republic whereupon hundreds of newly minted Republic citizens out of Austin will be gainfully employed to link the railroad to Austin. We feed our soldiers and laborers, and we'll send all salvaged food supplies in Juarez to Austin. It's the best I can do for you, but even if you decline I'll talk to the Ayatollah and authorize limited immigration."The vast Texas deserts were an unwelcome sight to Miguel. His fourth day of seperation was beginning to take its toll on him. "How am I going to find my way back?" Miguel asked himself. "Why are the fates so cruel to me? Why have they seperated me from the beloved River Lord?" He screamed, "And why have they placed me in this burning, sandy hell?". Dr. Fernando Miguel Guerro was ranting again about his unfortunate seperation from Poseidon. His supplies were low, and his chances of survival were slim. "The fates are so cruel. Let me pray, oh waters of fate, let me pray." Miguel muttered as the sun reached high noon. "Poseidon, Lord of the Waters, My Saviour, Let me find pace and shelter in this time of hardship. And may Kraken protect me. Amen." Miguel prayed, hoping his Lord would hear his humble request. Later, as the sun set on the horizon, Miguel found his answer: an abandoned dugout with some food and water left behind. "Poseidon be praised." He said. "This is where I shall camp tonight.
There was rarely such a thing as abandoned food and water in the wastes of West Texas. As Miguel did his best to take shelter in the dugout, he failed to detect his observer. Whoever it was, they were content to watch and wait.
Jay Ramsey sighed. The shell of a man sat back in his poorly-built chair, setting his deep blue stare onto the decaying and ancient ceiling hanging above his unrighteous body, it somehow still standing after the man-made apocalypse, after the countless decades of misuse and erosion, after the collapse of civilization and tranquility; and it still held a purpose. In truth, Jay envied the inanimate structure, it did not have to worry about starvation or murderers, it did not have to worry at all, for it did not think, it simply existed. That, Jay thought, that was true peace, for as long as your conscious mind formulated ideas, emotions, and curiosity; you could never actually have peace of mind. The rugged Austinite quickly realized that he had, once again, drifted off into the universe of his mind, leaving the unforgiving and resentful reality behind. "Mr. Ramsey... are you okay?" came a petite voice, that of Ertha Worthy-Salt, a woman who Jay truly thought very little of. The ex-Defender resettled his glare towards the Madam President, giving the elderly woman his signature stare, one which he was quite known for. He didn't speak for an excess of about thirty seconds, watching in contempt as Missus Salt quickly fell into anxiety and nervousness. It was a very unsettling thing to have someone stare directly into your eyes, as if they could literally hear everything you thought and see everything you imagined. Jay saw it as a test, a way to judge people depending on how exactly they reacted to such a disturbing ordeal, and using that to start, or finish, a skirmish of thought-warfare. Seeing that his brief physiological test was over, Jay smiled sincerely and sat back in his seat. His expression quickly turned to seriousness.
"Listen," he started, responding to Ertha's previous suggestion, "we are not a fighting people anymore. The Enclave destroyed us Madam, even though we won back our city and praised victory, the Enclave still won the war. They reduced my people to malnutritioned, disease-ridden, mentally scarred deviants. Even after two decades, we still feel their wrath." Jay sighed, thinking considerably. "I can help you though, but you have to help us in return. I'll gather all of our good men, which isn't much, and help you with your war, but know that their blood is on your hands."
Goldsmith: Days Ago
Dr. Cotton Mathers Pryce could feel the ill will all around him. His entourage didn’t like being in the Republic’s Ghoul Town and the ghouls obviously didn’t like having them there. The Lamesan doctor looked at the faces of Errol Fife and Councilor Davies, both fantastically ugly, and imagined their anger causing their savaged faces to crackle and spit like bacon on the pan. They were in Fife’s office, which was inside the ghouls’ metal shop, an interior window actually looked out into the workspace where sparks dropped down from above and the sound of machinery could be heard through the walls. “The President will be meeting with Union representatives,” the doctor said “Sometime between next week and early Spring of next year. Scheduling anything across these kinds of distances is as much luck as anything. Either Miss Davies or I could request the minutes of that meeting in writing, but that would tip our hand to Ertha and her Salt backers. A friend of mine knows the stenographer intimately though, and will have no problem getting the minutes from her discretely.”
Fife’s razor thin lips stayed perfectly straight and expressionless but his milky eyes twinkled with wrath when the hated Salts were mentioned. Davies remained better composed, barely, as she responded “You ssseem remarkably well informed doctor. You information hasss alwaysss born out true in the passst, what then isss your prediction?”
Pryce looked up thoughtfully for a moment “Basstown’s desire to join the Republic is not exactly a secret. She might be going for extra credit, get Austin to join by providing too great an incentive for them to ignore. If she gets one or both of those cities to join without any significant backing from us, we’ll be enduring Salt rule as far down the future as I care to imagine.”
“Aussstin wont join easssily, they’re no more fond of Midesssa than we are. But I hesssitate to sssay itsss impossible. In any cassse, that all takesss time. We can come out ahead if we accomplish sssomething more important to the average Republic citizen. Decapitate the Sssand Hillsss tribe.”
“That would do it,” agreed the doctor with a wan smile on his face “There’s a standing bounty on their shamans, and their mysterious god figures, for all the good that’s done. They say Powell Stantzmann is back in the region. If we persuade him to discretely turn in the shamans or, fortune favor us, the two gods dead or alive; say for a greater than posted reward. We could turn that do our advantage, surely.”
A young farm hand approached Powell in the street. “Excuse me Mister Stantzmann? Could you spare a few minutes? My friends and I have been looking for you.”
Under any other circumstances, Powell would have blown the rancher off and kept right on going. He hated the frontier farmers. They always wanted him to go out and kill the Tribesmen ravaging his crops, killing his children, doing unspeakable things to his wife and making their existance a piece of rotting shit. And Powell had no problem with fixing it. The gunman enjoyed nothing more than seeing the spilt blood of a tribesman being gulped up by the thirsty, cracked ground. But it was, often, a waste of equipment. Why was it that Tribesmen took so long to be killed? Probably the drugs he'd seen secreted about the Tribesmens' person - mysterious vials of iredescent substances that seemed to want to eat the bottles they were stored in.
But Powell stopped, for some reason. His hobnailed boots stuck into the hardpan that Midessa was built on. The gunman turned towards the farmer, his bloodshot eyes peering like daggers out from beneath the brim of his black Stetson. "What do you want?" He grunted. "Speak your piece and move on; I have something to kill. You have thirty seconds before I move on anyways."
The farm hand swallowed hard and tried to get his point across as quickly and clearly as possible "Ah well, just wanted to tell you there's some folks in the old motor lodge in Goldsmith who will pay you the posted bounties and half that again if you bring the top shamans or the two gods to them, dead or alive, without letting anyone else know about it. Said something about a special bonus too, if you bring them alive. Also wanted to give you this to help you out."
He nervously held out a rigd square pouch of brahmin leather. Within was a small quantity of shotgun shells and premium Lamesan brahmin jerky.
Jeremiah's attention was drawn to the creatures in the central ring. He'd never seen anything quite like them: large tar-covered, burning men. They were featureless and mute, save for the steady crackling of the fires burning along their arms, legs, chest, and "head". The Twin Gods certainly knew how to please visitors. These creatures would definitely be a formidable force in the ring.
Jeremiah realized that the Legionnaire had responded, and he pulled himself back into the conversation.
"Doubt you've sold 'im, but you may have sold him. I would be happy if you'd at least heard a rumor of him. I'm looking for a large, powerfully-built man with a long coat and a distinctive hat. He carries a wicked Bowie knife, a shotgun, and a set of revolvers. The Sand Hills Tribe burnt down his village, and he's decided to respond by trying to exterminate the Sand Hills Tribe. My people call him 'The Demon'. "
The Legionnaire watched the fight as he looked into his thoughts for someone matching Jeremiah's description. He sniffed with displeasure then looked back towards the bounty hunter. "Haven't met the guy, but I've heard about that mad-on he's got for the tribals. Usually doesn't hit slave trains unless they've got tribe guides. Thing is, a lot of the slave trains have tribe guides, otherwise they're fair game for the competition," he said gesturing to a skull-faced denizen of Juarez, a Gypsy Joker, and a raider in turn. "Sometimes it gets pretty hard to find a guide, they usually hang around with small groups of warriors, waiting for slavers to show up. If the Demon hits too many guides, things get kind of ugly. I could tell you where one of the current guides is, show you on a map even: for fifty caps."
Powell grudgingly accepted the pouch of shells and jerkey, and added the shotgun shells to the bandolier he had slung across his chest. He looked the farmer straight in the eye, then, and put one hand on the grip of one of his revolvers. "I don't do alive," Powell grunted. Then the click of his hobnailed boots on the hardpan signalled the conversation was over.
Powell was losing the trail with every spare second he spent in Midessa. It was time to move.
Miguel spent the night in an uneasy sleep. Every noise would startle him. "In a place like this, the silence should be comforting. Noise is the last thing you want to hear in a wasteland." He told himself. He couldn't help feeling uneasy. An abandoned dugout was just plain suspicious. As morning approached, Miguel woke to the sound of footsteps. Reaching for his rifle, Miguel was prepared to shoot this potential threat. In the deserts, you never knew what would come at you. It could be a person, or it could be a big ugly gecko. As the footsteps drew closer, Miguel popped out of the dugout, shouting "Who goes there?"
"Over here," a voice rasped behind Miguel. It belonged to a ghoul in thick clothes and a wide-brimmed hat, on the collar of his jacket was a faded button that read Au+H2O. He calmly pointed a pair of sawed-off shotguns down at Miguel as he examined him. "I wouldn't try nothing. My partner Fifi's got a bead on ya."
The ghoul just gave Miguel an appraising eye for several moments before he spoke up again "Yer not a sandy, and that means you don't have to die in that hole. My name's B.C. Bob. You lost?"
The harsh and dry desert air greeted Jay Paris Ramsey like salt in his eyes as he stepped outside of the refurbished Petroleum Building. The activity on the dust-ridden Midessa road in which he stood was sporadic, at most. The occasional Republic soldier passed by, scanning for any trouble or oddities, closely observing the diverse lines of rugged bounty hunters and roughneck citizens. Jay squinted in response to the beaming Texan sun, instinctively noting what time of day it was according the cosmic position of the fiery ball that lit the Earth. That, among an uncountable number of meek abilities, had permitted the veteran sniper to survive his dystopian childhood along with his adventurous, yet dangerous, enlistment as both a Brotherhood Knight and an Outcast Defender. Now, though, his life has been reduced to inconclusive treks across the desolate Texas desert as a simple messenger and delegate. Sad, thought Jay, yet he would often remind himself that, although boredom never left his side, this life was a much better one that his previous -and youthful- life that he recklessly lived for decades before.
"Jay," started a voice, that of good friend and comrade Alec Burton, which broke Ramsey's extended train of thought. The ex-Defender looked back at his trusted friend, addressing him directly, "What is it Alec?" The notable Union engineer's face, although well hidden by his one-of-a-kind head-ware, was that of curiosity. "Well," he started, "I'm just not too right on about this whole deal." Jay and Marcus looked at their companion with interest. "It's just I don't think we should be fightin' a war we aren't a part of. I mean, you both know why we really came here, and we can't just forget bout' that and jump into some damn firefight." Jay considered Alec's words. He had a point, as their true objective wasn't actually to get Austin help. Miles, Jay, Marcus, Alec, the High Council, all of them knew very well that 'help' was a word that died with the Great War, and trying to resurrect it for this unoriginal situation was basically pointless. Their mission was one completely indifferent to the Union's goals or objectives, a task they set upon themselves for reasons unknown to anybody, excluding Jenn H. Ramsey, but themselves. They were in search of a certain individual, a man of high importance and a representative of an enigmatic force that, while unknown to everybody save a special few, played, and still plays, a crucial key part of Austin's history, most notably the bloody Uprising and Liberation that occupied Austin not but two decades ago.
"You're right Alec, I'll admit that, but our agent's whereabouts are still a mystery. And although I hate to say it, this war of the Republic's may prove resourceful for us. I have an unmistakable feeling that our Madam President shares some insight on our mutual friend." Jay finished, laying a hushed tone on the sentence, just in case any nosy wasters happened to be eavesdropping. His two co-adjutants nodded respectively. Although he didn't mention it, Jay had another unmistakable feeling that this war was something not to be taken lightly, and that other forces were in play here. Time will only tell.
Act II: Ready, Set, GoEdit
Fifi looked down the iron sight of her wrapped and beaten rifle, keeping Miguel and B.C. Bob in view. She poked her tongue through the gap left by her missing canine tooth and wondered just why B.C. hadn't unloaded on the guy. If not a Sandy, who else might haven poked their head into this simple trap, an escaped prisoner? She hoped B.C. wasn't feeling too sympathetic, his flights of fancy were a bit of a strain on an otherwise functional partnership between the smoothskin Fifi and the ghoulish B.C. Bob.
Outside the Petroleum Building's security cordon, at a nearby outdoor saloon and barbecue joint, a couple of tight-lipped, sunburned, Lamesan farm hands sat with a ghoul in faded overalls. They recognized the Austinites based on Dr. Pryce's description, however the hell he knew was a mystery. "Must be nice meetin' the prez in that 'lectric cooled tower of hers," the ghoul rasped loud enough for the Austinites to hear "Don't have to waste no time with the council or nothin'. Bet she were real helpful too. Then again maybe not, maybe all she had was an offer you couldn't not refuse. How'd that work out?"
I could tell you where one of the current guides is, show you on a map even: for fifty caps.
Jeremiah sighed. It always came down to this. He had the money, of course, but just barely. His last job had a two-hundred and fifty cap payoff, and he'd spent a large part of that getting his gear fixed. Merchants in the desert will bleed you dry if you're not careful.
Jeremiah rummaged around in his pockets, eventually coming up with the fifty caps. He had about forty-five more on his person. He passed them over to the Legionnaire. He knew that he would have to pay off anyone who helped, but, after seeing those creatures in the ring, he hoped that they would draw the Legionnaire's attention away from the thought of money. "That should do it, I think. You point me in the direction of the guide, and I'll be out of your hair. Perhaps, if this pays off, he won't be in your hair anymore."
Jeremiah failed to mention how the job would turn a nice profit, and how it would get him into the Two Gods' good graces. That would just complicate things. Greed was a driving force in the wasteland, and if this Legionnaire learned how valuable Powell was, he might get it in his head to go after him himself or take him from Jeremiah once the hard part was done.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Powell's hobnailed boots were striking out across the dead, dry dirt that surrounded Midessa, moving off towards the spread that the Sinker had indicated. The town of Midessa was already fading into the middle distance behind him, the wide spread of the Permian Basin's deserts expanding off into the horizon line. He'd been walking for a while now, the sun-bleached leather of his waterskin sloshing with its precious liquid cargo.
He'd been walking for around an hour when he came across a curious situation. A lone gunwoman was standing out in the desert, laying well out of the way of whatever she was aiming at, partially sheltered from the sun beneath a low, mutated mesquite bush. It was a clever hiding place - the thorns of the Mesquite bush would deter outsiders from approaching, while her protective poncho kept the pricks from stabbing her in the back and provided limited shade at the same time.
But not clever enough.
"Howdy, friend," The gunman said once he had gotten up close enough to the bush. Without thinking of the consequences, Powell's hand shot through a knot of mesquite branches and grabbed Fifi's poncho, hauling her straight up through the bush. When he pulled the sniper out of the bush, he realized that the leathery backside of his hand, along with his palm, had been scrathed and cut pretty damn well by the mesquite thorns, and a small trickle of blood was running from one of the cuts. Powell ignored the minor inconvenience as one hand went to his belt, wrapped around the hilt of his knife, pulled, and pressed the tip against Fifi's midriff, hard enough to begin to cut into the front of her clothes but light enough to not pierce skin. "Now put the rifle down." Powell's voice was rough, angry and commanding. He didn't have charisma, but hopefully the knife located just above her internal organs would help his demands get across.
"Okay then, I guess I'll just-" Miguel and B.C. Bob both turned at the sudden noise. "I think you're patner's in trouble, Bob." Miguel said, looking at the large gunman holding a huge-ass bowie knife to Fifi's chest. Miguel grabbed his rifle, and as he approached the gunman, he called out "Let her go, we don't want any trouble, hombre." The gunman spun, growling. Miguel lowered his rifle, and motioned for B.C. to do the same. "Whoever the hell this guy is, he don't play around." Miguel said, hoping that B.G. wouldn't try anything rash. The gunman's eyes were obscured by the shadow of his hat, making him appear demonic and terrifying. "Look, like I said, we don't want no trouble, jus' put the knife down and let's talk." Miguel said, trying to appeal to reason. I hope this works, Miguel thought as the gunman continued to stand his ground. Miguel hoped that whoever this guy is, he wouldn't send them on a one way ticket to the afterlife.
The slaver took the caps and dug inside his rough sack for an ancient road atlas. The faded atlas was covered in penciled in notes in the slaver's own, near indecipherable handwriting. He turned the page to a regional map of the Permian Basin and traced finger along a hand-drawn route. "Guy you're looking for's a weedy looking blond guy with a lazy eye. Goes by the name Sirocco Game. Sometimes travels alone, sometimes with a warrior or even a pack of them. He moves throughout the week,starting or ending either in Crane or south of Wink. If you were to head out today, and didn't mind slogging it for six hours, you'd probably find him in or around Penwell. If he keeps to his routine, he'll be heading southeast sometime tomorrow."
The slaver let Jeremiah look at the map for another minute or so before he put it away. "Penwell's right by the Republic, contested area, easy to get in trouble. Crane's independent: too far south for the Republic's guys. Townies there are a real pushover, the tribe would have probably snatched them all up by now if it wasn't where eastern slavers like to cool their heels on the way here."
Fifi froze in terror, unable to do anything but take tiny breaths and stare wide-eyed at the knife pointed at her. B.C. Bob just looked at Powell with a crooked frown. He recognized the man and couldn't fathom why he was being harassed. Perhaps Powell recognized B.C. Bob who was alternatively called Before-Christ Bob for his triple-digit age or Beaucoup Bob for his fondness for slinging out lots of ammunition. "What's your grief with me? You get tired of honest Sand Freak killing and decide to take out your fellow hunters?"
Powell didn't comment. He merely raised one eyebrow at B.C and, with his free hand, applied pressure with the knife. The blade pierced deeper into Fifi's abdomen, piercing skin and allowing blood to flow. That knife could slice the fortified flesh of the Tribe; a poorly-nourished waster like Fifi could be cut to ribbons with very little effort.
The waster grinned. "I wouldn't be tossing complaints," he grunted, "when I have the bargaining chips." His face grew grim again. "I suggest a trade, old one. My hostage for yours. Let the man go, I return your girl." He jiggled the handle of the knife, allowing a thin trickle of blood to run down the blade and drip onto the sand. "And I suggest you act quick, for I'm not known to be a patient man."
"What a magical world you must live in Powell, to just think you know what the hell is going on as soon as you show up. I don't have a hostage, and frankly if it really comes down to it, neither do you," B.C. said with a sneer "We were hoping to catch a Sandy coming down off his high, and when this long-haired waster falls asleep in our trap we had to see if it were him. If you two want to travel together, by all means have at it. Alternatively, you can stop spreading stupid everywhere and let me point him towards Wink."
Marcus scowled angrily at the eavesdropping suburbanites, himself being quite a stubborn man who did not entirely enjoy the concept of others snooping on his conversations. If not for his two companions restraint, Marcus would have been all over the back-country farmers faster than a hungry dog over fresh steak. Jay Ramsey gripped his easily-aggravated comrade's shoulder, forcefully calming him to a physically peaceful state of agitated tranquility. The former Outcast Defender quickly scanned the three auditors, immediately focusing most attention on the zombie-like ghoul to whom he had heard speak first. Jay's face was that of melancholy and blank, as so he would not give away any inferred information through facial expressions. "What's it to you, stranger?" he spoke, his voice matching his poker-faced visage.
Monahans Peter Wellwalker watched in a disturbing mix of fulfillment and joy as the recently murdered Republican corpse lay in a state of cold lifelessness atop a enigmatic alter, which, to most, could only bring one word to their lips: sacrifice. This was an oddity among the usual Gypsy Joker, as the concept of religiously-devote raiders belongs respectively to the deranged Sand Hills Tribe, but it was a sparsely known fact that within the numerous ranks of the Jokers resides an unspoken and insufficiently-populated cult whose dealings are that of taboo. Peter Wellwalker, coincidentally, happened to be a part of this cult, which was often known as the Tumarari. The ecclesiastical Joker smiled devilishly. It was not often that Pete was gifted with such a healthy specimen for sacrifice, and to his anathematized delight he had recently come upon a legitimate copy of the ancient and forbidden Ma'sholzh as well, one of the few rare books that surrounded the wicked Tumatari. Within its interdict texts were various rituals and obscure descriptions of things beyond that of human imagination. Of course, none of which that was prophesied by the devious nefarious cult has ever been proven to exist in any manner, but men such as Peter believed in such supernatural dealings as much as they did believe in the existence of the ground which they walk. Nonetheless, Pete went on with his gruesome sacrifice to the great and twisted Ot-yua, one of the many deities that the Tumatari devoutly worshiped.
Miguel wondered how his situation could get any worse. He was now apparently a hostage in the middle of a negotiation, and he didn't have a say in the matter. The large gunman was still threatening Fifi, and B.C. Bob was trying to calm him down, or something. Miguel shot slight looks of confusion everywhere. Miguel sat down on the ground and let his mind wander as the situation dragged on. after a few minutes, Fifi hit the ground and B.C. was saying something to the gunman, apparently named Powell. Miguel started to get up when the situation had appeared to cool down. "So, what're my options, amigos?" Miguel asked.
A sudden, clueless look crossed Powell's face. What was BC talking about? Cogs whined inside the gunman's head, then, finally: "Damnit."
The sound of steel hissing against leather accompanied Powell's knife sliding out of Fifi's abdomen, leaving a bloody incision where the blade had sunk into her flesh. Powell looked at the blood on the knife, then at the incision. It hadn't gone deep enough to be lethal, but it must still hurt. What had Powell just done? The blood dripped over his knuckles. Powell's other hand bled from the open rips the mesquite bush had slashed into him.
It was the Psycho again. The edge of the stimulant high was gone, leaving him with a strung-out, end of the line violent feeling. He had assumed...
Push those thoughts aside, don't you fucking get soft on yourself. Powell thought, pushing the thoughts of self-pity aside. "Tribesmen, eh?" The gunslinger grunted. "Then we might be able to work together."
"Not a chance Powell. With time and effort you can whip the green out of someone," Bob said gesturing to Fifi who was recovering from her trauma "Can't say the same about crazy. I'll do you the damn courtesy of staying out of your way and hope for the same from you. As for you long-hair, you can do what you please. I'm a-heading to Wink, you can follow."
One of the Lamesans next to the ghoul spoke up in response to the Austinite's question "Ain't much to us, just had some advice for ya: you can just about buy all the help you might need in the Republic. If'n you need a stack of caps, the Rockers out of Holly are paying big for some kind of treasure. You should look into it."
"Peter the Gypsy Joker. That meat was yours to do with, but why did you elect not to sell it," an Under-Shaman asked once the crowd had mostly dispersed.
"I think I'll stick with you guys." Miguel said, deciding that this Wink-place might jus keep him heading to New Orleans. "Now, if this is all for today, I'll be mighty surprised." Miguel continued, noting the climate of overall confusion and hostility. Miguel had a feeling that, either way, he would see this Powell again. As Miguel reached down to grab his rifle, he looked up at B.C. and said "Thanks, gringo, for your help." Miguel then let his mind wander again. As he did, he would constantly drift to thoughts of his wife and child. The two most important people in the world to him. He hoped that he would be reunited with them soon, his seperation from Poseidon and his followers beginning to cause mild anxiety, and nausea. "Maybe that's just the dehydration setting in." Miguel mumbled, still letting his mind wander aimlessly as he trekked through the desert.
"As it should be." Powell wiped the blade of his knife off on the sleeve of his duster, stepped past Fifi and B.C. Bob, and then headed onwards. He had lost valuable time messing around with those crazy wasters and needed to get back on the trail. His bounty - the tribesman with the lazy eye - was still running about on that ranch spread, getting farther away with every second. If the bounty hunter wanted to keep on the freshest trail possible, he would have to move quickly and not get distracted by nonsense anymore.
"Damn Yankee's got a little brown on him and he's calling me a gringo, that's rich," B.C. muttered to nobody in particular while he watched Fifi pick herself up "Get it together girl, we're moving out."
The bounty hunting duo walked across the dunes until it transitioned into parched, hardpacked earth and scrub. Eventually they could see yawning pits pockmarking the landscape. Distant sounds of metal tapping on stone and faint music heralded Wink Sink. "Won't be long now Long Hair, tilt your head and you can hear those mad bastard Sinkers working their claims. We're heading 'downtown,' which is where you and we are gonna part ways."
B.C. and Fifi navigated around the great big pits and to an ancient main street that was itself halfway swallowed by a great sinkhole. Downtown Wink wasn't terribly impressive: a bar, a flophouse, a general store, and a few homes rounded it out. What did stick out was an apparantly functioning train station, a fenced off campus like arrangment of buildings flying Republic flags, and an old post office tagged with a stylized jackrabbit logo. "Well Long Hair, best of luck to you. If'n you need some water you might try that bar o'er yonder, Roy's. Water Vendor's at the train station charge more, but I ain't never heard of anyone getting into any fights there."
With that, the bounty hunters unceremoniously left Fernando Miguel Guerro to his own devices.
Miguel wandered into the general store in Wink. The two bounty hunters had already been long when he walked in. "Can I help you?" the clerk said as Miguel stumbled up to him. "Yeah, sure," Miguel said, "Do you know where I can find some work?"
"As a matter o' fact, I do." the clerk replied. "There's some boys down in the south pits that are looking for some help haulin' salvage. N' if that'd be too tough fer ya, the Rabbits could always use a runner." He finished
"Who?" Mioguel asked.
"The Jack Rabbit Express. Ain't ya eever heard of 'em?" The clerk asked.
"No I haven't." Miguel answered, "What are theey, some kind of mail service?"
"Yep. All o' their work'll take ya east on the Rail, but the pays good. If I was you, though, I'd tak up with them boys from the pits first." The clerk said, turning back to the register.
"Thanks hombre." Miguel said, already taking up the clerk's advice and heading toward the south pits. He needed the extra caps for ammunition and water, maybe even a new gun.
Southern Wink-Sink Pits
As he approached the south pits, he could hear some of thee workers shouting out, yelling at ach other various obsenities and insults, all while toiling away to make ends meat. As he drew near a particularly larger-looking sink-hole, a worker standing by its edge called out. "Hey, Merc! Ya wantin' to do me a favor?"\
"That depends, hombre, are you the boys lookin' to haul that salvage?" Miguel called back.
"That's us. Don't worry, we'll pay you a fair share." the Worker said.
"Then I'm in. I need all the caps I can get right now." Miguel said as the boss pointed him to the pile of salvage.
"We haul in one hour. If'n ya hop in now, you can keep what ya find." the boss said.
Miguel spent the next hour hard at work, making sure he earned his keep. As haul time came around, Miguel loaded his work-pack with his salvage and helped to load the rest into the cart. "Well done boys, well done." The boss said. "Tonight, we dine like motherfucking royalty."
Roy's Bar, Downtown Wink-Sink
After hauling the salvage and getting his pay, Miguel went to the bar for a drink and to see about a room. "Sorry, bud," the Bartender said, "you're straight outta luck."
"Fuck it, just get me a beer." Miguel said. The pit-boys had already been through and left Miguel to his own devices. Miguel was thinking about where to go next when he remember what the clerk said.
"Those Rabbits could always use another courrier"
"Then that's what I'll do." Miguel said. With that, he turned to the door and started toward the Jack Rabbit Express office.
The inside of the post office was lit only by a single unobstructed window facing the street and was otherwise shady and slightly cool. The place was sparsely furnished and only three people seemed to be out in the front area: a pair of men quietly playing cards and an older woman dozing in an overstuffed chair. When Miguel walked in the men looked up. "Gail, company," one of them said. Gail opened her eyes, got up, and strolled aimiably to Miguel with an old hotel registry under one arm. She offered Miguel a pencil "Sign our guest book stranger? Whatcha need?"
Powell encountered no one else for over an hour. Then, in the distance, he saw a small group of people. They appeared to be a no-name caravan, low rent merchants without even a brahmin to haul their stuff: just a trio of porters and a pair of guards. Even at a distance Powell could see they weren't slavers (not slavers running slaves at any rate), of course that didn't mean they where what they appeared to be. If they saw Powell they gave no sign, moving at the same pace and in the same direction.
Miguel grabbed the pencil and registry, signed his name, and handed it back to Gail, saying "I'm looking for some work. The clerk at the general store said you guys had some."
Gail looked at the registry, then back at Miguel. She then moved over to the post counter where some packages were stacked.
"You heard right," she said, "We've got a couple packages that need ran a little ways east o' Wink."
"What's the pay?" Miguel asked.
"First things first, Mister." Gail said, "Have you ever worked with us before?"
"No, ma'am." Miguel answered, confused.
"Okay. Are you looking for freelance work, or something more permanent?" Gail continued.
Miguel thought on this one. He could always use the caps, but he didn't want to continue being seperated from his family and Poseidon. Miguel then came to the realization that if he was to ever get to New Orleans, he'd have to take up a stable source of income.
"I'll go with something more permanent." Miguel answered. Gail took another quick look at him, and thn went behind the counter to search for something.
"Trick question," Gail said with a friendly fist-bump on Miguel's shoulder "It's all freelance, but we only hire out to members. If you want to wear the patch you're going to have to see one of our clubhouse chapter heads. Lucky you, our founder Eric Wydell is in Midessa. If you want you can tag along with our newest member, he's actually going to Midessa on the evening train. He can probably answer any questions you have. Was there anything else sweetie?"
Powell unholstered the shotgun slung across his back, and checked both of the chambers. Satisfied at the fact that the gun was loaded, he slammed the shotgun's break shut again, and held it in a relaxed position, across his chest. He continued walking forward, matching pace with the caravan at first, then slowly speeding up.
After a while, he picked up speed a bit, and caught up with the little caravan. The gunman drew alongside, still holding his gun at rest, and delivered the perfunctory "howdy" to the man who appeared to be leading the caravaneers.
The Wasteland Jeremiah Claffey stood under the wreckage of a wrap-around porch and took a drink from a water skin at his hip. He had been hiking about five and a half hours, and he was only just now coming within sight of Penwell. He took a long draught from the skin and set it down again at his hip. Only a half-hour or so more to go.
Penwell Penwell was something different. Everywhere he looked, he saw "SPEED!"' Racers sat around or made their way to their stables where their rides waited, spectators rushed about trying to find good seats to watch the next race, thrill seekers did what they could to get as much enjoyment out of the hectic atmosphere as possible. Loud people hawked wares from stands, souvenir and memorabilia from the races and the drivers. There was a perpetual hurried air about the place, as if people had somewhere to go, something to do. It was thrilling, but it was also unnerving.
Jeremiah eventually found Sirocco Game in a seedy bar in a back alley in the town after a tip-off by a couple of beatniks who "just saw a race". Jeremiah stepped through the threshold and saw Sirocco at the bar. Jeremiah ambled back to where the guide was and sat down next to him.
"Greetings, brother. Are you Sirocco Game?" he asked, then continued. "I've heard of a tribal guide by that name, one who might need protection from the Demon."
"No, ma'am." Miguel said. He then turned and made his way to the train station, but not before stocking up on supplies at the general store.
After leaving the store with his provisions, Miguel continued on to the train station, asking about the evening train to Midessa.
"Train leaves in forty minutes." the booth operator said.
"How much for a ticket?" Miguel asked.
"From here to Midessa? That'll be 25 caps." the Operator said.
Miguel forked over his caps and headed towards the train. "This place has working trains. Amazing." Miguel said as he climbed aboard. Within seconds he spotted the rookie Gail was talking about. Miguel sat down next to him and said "You the guy from the Jack Rabbit Express?"
The Jack Rabbit looked up at Miguel. He was a Caucasian man in his thirties with blond hair, grey eyes, and high cheekbones. He seemed rather unweathered save for an unusual scar that started below his left temple and ended at the corner of his upper lip, there the lip was shriveled revealing a couple of teeth and his gumline; it looked like the scar was the result of close proximity to intense heat rather than direct exposure. He was dressed like a typical traveler except for the breastplate of a suit of combat armor under his jacket and the apparently broken PIPboy on his left arm. "Yes," he said with an accent Miguel couldn't quite place "My name's Featherstone. Dirk Featherstone."
He moved closer to the window to let Miguel share the mildly uncomfortable wooden bench.
"I am Game," the tribal said as he looked up at Jeremiah, his lazy eye rolling to the side "And I know you: the new-faced outsider, manhunter in service to the Gods. By your words I keen the Demon on my heels, this is right and good. I danced among the Sinkers to draw him there, to keep him from the true way and to draw him to a trap. The Gods offer much for the Demon, New-Face. If you were to join me when I meet my brethren to take the Demon back to AMPAGABA, you might share in our reward."
The caravaneer seemed unduly terrified, and not of Powell. "Huh-how," he began speaking when suddenly one of the guards in the back tipped his hat off, letting long black hair spill out. "POWEEELLL!"
Suddenly large bats burst forth from the backpacks of the guards and one of the porters and flew towards Powell and the merchant. Two of the porters attempted to scamper off and the merchant hit the dirt. The two guards and the remaining porter revealed themselves as Sand Hills warriors. Two of the warriors moved to flank Powell, counting on the cloud of bats to shield them from his shotguns; one wielded a serrated spear and the other had metal claws strapped to his right hand and a shredder glove on his left. The remaining warrior drew an SMG no doubt taken from the real guard he had replaced. He grabbed one of the fleeing porters to use as a shield and took aim.
"FuckingYELLOW BASTARDS!" Powell shouted as the bats burst from the guards' backpacks. The swarm went outwards as the gunman threw himself to the ground, hat hovering comically in the air for a second. He analyzed the formation and decided against hitting the bats specifically right now. They were a nuisance as of this instance - not of any major priority, but still important to deal with. Just now now. Likewise, the warriors behind them carried melee weapons; and only the spear was a risk from the distance he was at right now.
This left the SMG wielding guard, cowering behind a porter. Without remorse or hesitation, Powell lowered his shotgun and, with one hand, drew and fired one of his revolvers. He emptied all six chambers in the general direction of the SMG using warrior before putting his shotgun back in both hands.
"Well, nice to meet you, Mr. Featherstone." Miguel replied. As the train moved across the wasteland, Miguel let his mind drift along to thoughts of his family again. It was roughly an hour before the train stopped in Midessa and Miguel was free to ask Eric Wydell about joining the JRE. "So, what brings you to Texas?" Dirk asked Miguel as the train rode on.
"I was travelling with my friends and family. Poseidon, our leader, sent me and two other guys out on a scouting run. The other two were killed by wildlife. I got lost and wound up here." Miguel explained. "Hey, what can you tell me about the JRE?" Miguel asked.
The gun-wielding savage cackled maniacally, lifting the porter off his feet and stomping towards Powell as the stern gunman fired his revolver. The porter wailed pitifully as the first bullet bore through him but was mercifully silenced by the second. The bullets had to tear through the porter before they even had a chance to strike the tribesman, and so they practically stopped dead against his sub-dermal armor, leaving bruises. Hopped up on the latest chemicals designed by the Two Gods, the tribals were capable of great anaerobic effort and closed in on Powell faster than he might have anticipated (it would probably not be any consolation to learn that the great strain the drugs put on the warriors would sharply cut into their lifespan). The warrior with the hand weapons jumped onto Powell's back and used the shredder glove to get a good grip while trying to carve the gunman up with his claw while the spear-man used his spear to try and trip Powell face forward.
Republic Train #2
Featherstone looked out the window as Wink-Sink shrank into the distance. "Jack Rabbits tend to come in two varieties: those who think it's a cause, and those who think it's a job. The cause is mapping the wasteland and blazing trails, the job is playing courier or guide. Every member is an experienced traveler, even Gail back there used to run with caravans. A lot of the members are pro-Republic, but the group is supposedly not affiliated with it beyond certain contracts."
Dirk was silent for a few moments, perhaps listening to the clack-clack of the train bumping over ties or the murmur of other passengers. "About your group, friends and family you said. Are you nomads or something? Where'd you come from, where'd you want to go?"
Miguel looked out the window, aseeing the familiar desert landscape sweeping by. "Yeah, you could say that. Poseidon's been looking for a fabled paradise for the last twenty years or so. I'd tell you more about him, but I doubt you'd believe it." Miguel explained.
"As for where we came from, the group comes from all over. Me, I'm from Rivet City, back in the Capitol Wasteland. As far as a destination, Poseidon says his promised land is called Aquaculture." Miguel continued. "But currently we're on our way to New Orleans, or what's left of it."
The train rolled on across the desert. It would still be another 40 minutes before reaching Midessa.
Republic Train #2
Dirk nodded impassively, resisting his initial impulse to break Miguel's neck at the mention of Aquaculture. Violence wasn't really his forte, despite his great proficiency with it, and it apparently wouldn't do any good. This "Poseidon," wouldn't likely be affected by the loss of a wayward follower. "So you're after that supposed Enclave base in the gulf? Not my idea of a promised land exactly, but I imagine there would be something worthwhile there."
Barring further questions or prodding from Miguel, Dirk had nothing more to say. Content to wait out the rest of the trip in silence.
As the train rolled into the station, Miguel proceeded to follow Dirk to th Jack Rabbit's clubhouse. Miguel was silent as the two walked on through the town of Midessa. Crowded streets and marktplaces welcomed travelers with shouts of prices and why you should buy this and not that. Miguel felt a certain nostalgia. It reminded him of his days in the markets with Fraizure. That psycho always knew how to bargain. Soon they arrived at their destination. Dos Amigos, the JRE's main clubhouse, didn't necessarily stand out, except for the big jack rabbit logo. As the two walked in, Miguel heard someone shout. "Hey Boss-Nan, Dirk's here, and he brought a friend." Shortly afterward, Miguel's attention switched over to a well-travelled man wearing one of the Jack Rabbit patches. Miguel assumed this to be Eric Wydell, the Jack Rabbits founder.
The traveler, a Rocker by the name of Boss-Man looked towards the noise before his eyes settled on Miguel and Dirk. "Right on Schroeder, I see 'em. Welcome back Mr. Featherstone, who's your guest?"
"This is Miguel, formerly of 'Rivet City' in the 'Capital Wasteland.' He's looking to join our august company and so I've come to see Mr. Wydell.'"
Schroeder and Dirk looked expectantly at Boss-Man. The Rocker pursed his lips and shrugged towards the door behind him "He's out back with some of the jacks and bunnies, shootin' the shit. Go on out, grab a burger and appreciate the 'executive leverage.'"
The typically, stoically neutral Featherstone nearly cracked a grin at that and led Miguel out the door. Here there was a courtyard surrounded by a few buildings and a low wall. A tall, metal enclosure, once used for rodeos feature prominently in the center. There was also a leafless tree, underneath which a blazing grill occupied most of the haphazard shade offered by the tree. A stout, chubby man with a large grin and a spatula attended to the grill: flipping burgers and steaks, whilst a comely black woman looked on approvingly. A highly animated redheaded man was telling some story about some misadventure in a distant land, punctuating his story with desperate gasps for air, a lanky, long-haired rocker and a jarhead type with a blond ice-queen on his arm were laughing uproariously. A few other men and women were sprinkled around the courtyard, eating and socializing. Dirk led Miguel to a loud, clanking, white box emblazoned with a rabbit symbol and the words Executive Leverage, Miguel might have recognized it as a functioning fridge. A man in a gaudily decorated wheel chair wearing a bolo tie rolled up to Dirk and Miguel and opened the box. With a commanding, Chuck Heston drawl he intoned "Dirk, stranger. You gentlemen care for a beer?"
Dirk nodded before gently bumping Miguel with his elbow, letting him know that this man was Wydell.
"I could drink, amigo." Miguel said with a smirk. This Wydell guy seemed nice. After all, he hadn't shot at him, or threatened him witth a bowie knife. Miguel sat down after grabbing a beer and started to chat with Dirk and Wydell. They talked about life in the wastes and joked about their lives for the next half hour before the conversation moved toward's Miguel's intention to join the JRE.
"Yeah, I'm lookin' to join up with you guys." Miguel explained, after a few rounds of beer. "Mostly cause I need the pay, and a way to Louisiana." Miguel continued. He was made aware of some work that would take him that way. "That sounds right up my alley, Mr. Wydell." Miguel said, grinning again. The group continued to shoot the breeze until Wydell motioned for them to get down to business. Miguel sat silently as they discussed the details of his joining the Jack Rabbit Express, holding all of his questions until the end of the discussion.
The distinguished and transcendental eyes of Jay Ramsey glared blankly at the ghoulish farmer with a mixture of curiosity and disturbia. Why would these native townsmen, whom most likely did not fathom the presence of Austinites as enjoyable, even consider generously giving three Union delegates such advantageous information? Jay pondered this intently. A trap? Obviously. And yet, Jay considered the possibility of these men just being honest, reputable citizens who happened to come upon a stranger's trouble and selflessly offered some knowledge to help. Jay felt himself relapsing into to his previous outlook on life, a foolish, fictitious philosophy that promoted the idea that there is good in every human being, whether he be a raider or a cannibal, it does not matter; obedient righteousness was a virtue that all human beings possess. Of course, Jay has since abandoned this ignorant ideal, now resigning to a melancholy state of apathetic nihilism. And so, Jay waved off the farmer's advice as a unsuccessful, albeit clever, attempt at leading Jay and his companions into an ambush or something along those lines.
"I'll take that into consideration friend, thank you." The former Outcast tipped his hat to the suspected-deviants, attempted to note any facial expressions regarding frustration or anything of the like that would confirm his suspicions surrounding the Lamesan locals. To his surprise, their faces remained content and generally unassuming. Were these men actually innocent? Had Jay fallen prey to the progressive paranoia that once consumed his dear dear brother? A sturdy hand nudged the veteran sniper's armoured shoulder, quickly bringing him back to his senses and out of his repetitive daydreaming, a defect of his that has cursed the man for years, possibly since birth. Jay's group began to walk away, but Jay couldn't help but glance back towards the trio of curious farmers as they slowly disintegrated into the miscellaneous Midessian street crowd. Were they friends? Should he trust them? Questions buzzed around Jay's mind like bees in a hive. In the end, he decided it would be best to return to his simple nihilistic attitude: eh, doesn't matter. The three Austinites found themselves at the doorstep of the Jack Rabbit Express HQ. "Well man, what's the plan? Do we even know what we're doing here?" asked Marcus, having an oh-so-common frustrated tone in his voice. Jay continued to stare at the JRE structure in-front of them. Alec, noticed that Jay was daydreaming once again, decided to speak for him; "Well, Miles sent us here to try and get some help for Austin, but we all know that's not gonna happen. And as for our mutual friend, Midessa was a long stretch in our search. If he's anywhere, he's gonna be down by the border, festering with his own kind in that camp of theirs." He stopped for a second to think. At this moment, Jay joined in the conversation. "Listen, both of you, I have an idea," both Marcus and Alec listened, interested in what their superior had to say. "We're gonna split up. If our mutual friend is down south, then that's where you're going. We must find him, it's imperative that his information is relayed to the right sources. As for me, I will stay here and try to negotiate something with Madam President. Normally, I would rather be with you two in the wasteland, but unfortunately I am much more trusted and known with these Republican politicians and thus have a higher say in these matters." Jay Ramsey felt very subjected and logical, more reasonable and on-target than he's been for months. Maybe this trip out've Austin was just what he needed. Marcus and Alec seemed to accept this plan without complaint, and with a traditional farewell and 'good luck', the group parted.
Jay sighed as his only remaining allies walked into the distance. He was alone now, or was he? Jay smiled. He's had some unfinished business in Midessa for some time now, decades perhaps, but he knew all too well that it still lingered here, he could smell it. With an enthusiastic smile and a lack of general remorse, Jay Ramsey walked into the Jack Rabbit Express clubhouse.
"Being a Jack Rabbit isn't just about how many miles you've roamed, we need to be able to trust you with the parcels. Fifty years ago chances were you didn't know anybody who lived further than a hundred miles from you, if that. These days you got merchants and heads of state, to name a few, who have business with people on the ass end of creation. If mankind is going to move past barbarity, we need to know where the civilized folk live, to let them know they're not alone and make it possible to communicate and trade. So that's what we do," Wydell said "Find people and deliver the mail. Now if you just want to get to Louisiana as fast as possible, we could hook you up to play escort to a courier who's Houston-bound. From there you could hook up with a rafter and make for New Orleans. If you really want to join our number and make some caps, you could help out with something a little more regional."
Meanwhile inside the main building, Schroeder and Boss-Man greeted Jay as he walked in.
Miguel thought about the offer for a couple of minutes. I could use the caps, he thought. "I'll go with option number two." Miguel said. "After all, I'm not in that much of a hury." He noticed Wydell grin. "So, how bad is the local work? Are we talking some kind of caravan escort, or something a bit more dangerous?" Miguel asked, wanting a little insight on his new job opportunity. Wydell informed Miguel of a few local contracts. One in particular, a treasure hunt, caught Miguel's attention. "Well, Mr. Wydell, after some serious thought," Miguel said, "I believe I'll follow up on that treasure hunt you mentioned." Miguel sat back and enjoyed the next few minutes of relaxation before heading out for the job.