b 78. Drink /b

The scorching sun was beating down like the harsh sting of a whip. The Mojave Wasteland was a cruel mistress, one that had claimed countless lives. On this miserable, 109 degree day in the expansive desert wasteland, a single figure was trudging through the blistering sands.

The end of the world had only been the beginning. A nuclear war devastated the world nearly a hundred years earlier, but humanity had survived. A new government had risen up in California, proclaiming themselves the 'New California Republic', flying a flag of a two-headed bear. The NCR had become a superpower, and was now moving into neighboring Nevada.

Nevada, however, was wild country and untamed. The one patch of civilization – the Las Vegas strip – was controlled by an army of robots, and the mysterious 'Mr. House' who oversaw the city. Now called New Vegas, it had not changed much from the Vegas of old. Gambling, drinking, prostitution and danger lurked on every street corner.

Not long ago, a young woman working as a Courier for the Mojave Express had been given a package to deliver to Mr. House. She was ambushed on the way, outside of a town called Goodsprings. Her troubles earned her a bullet to the head and a shallow grave.

Yet she did not die. She was saved, and now wandered the deserts around New Vegas, searching for the obnoxious man named Benny who had shot her. She had plans to make Benny pay – big time – when she finally reached the New Vegas Strip.

Trudging through the desert, she felt the burning sun above, and stopped when she caught sight of a house in the distance. It was an run down and lonely house. The ruins of other houses were nearby, but this was the first one she'd found that could provide temporary respite from the unforgiving Mojave sun.

Despite her hatred of the heat, she moved slowly. Her every step was methodical, and her hand remained at the edge of her belt, where a 9mm handgun was hanging from a holster. She knew well that the Viper raider gang had a holdout nearby, having already been forced to kill two Vipers earlier that day.

If she went barging into the run down house and found a gaggle of Vipers waiting for her, it would mean her death. As she neared the porch, she drew her gun and flatted her back against the wall. Her mouth was parched, and the sweat had only stopped pouring out of her because she was so close to dehydration.

She would rather have been dehydrated than dead. She had been shot once in the head, that was more than enough for her. There would be no handy robots nearby to save her this time. She took a deep breath, fingered the trigger of her pistol, and then jumped and kicked in the door.

She ended up in the middle of a run down living room. It was covered in dust, and the few books left on the shelf were burnt and ruined by the elements. More important, there was no sign of life. She moved and checked a bedroom in the same cautious style, and then the bathroom, and then the kitchen.

Soon, she had cleared the entire house. She was convinced that this house was empty, and she let out a sigh of relief, slowly moving back to the living room. She wanted so desperately to head to the bedroom and sleep for the next week... but first she had to secure the house.

Methodically, she pushed the old couch against the door, and then moved to the bedroom. She pushed an old shelf against the bedroom door. She hoped that if anyone did find this house, they would make enough noise breaking down the doors that she would hear them and awaken.

The Courier sat down on the edge of the bed and reached into her bag. There were a few bottles of dirty water in the bag, but she was hesitant to drink them. The dirty water was irradiated... as was most of the world, these days. It was hard to find clean, pure water, and the radioactive water always burnt her throat and stomach so bad.

Still... it would keep her alive, and stave off dehydration. She reached for the bottle, but stopped and instead drew her pistol once more when she heard movement in the closet. She had neglected to check the closet – a rookie mistake, and one she prided herself as too good to make.

The tall woman stood and moved, flattening herself against the wall beside the closet door. Her breathing was steady, but her heart was pumping fast. The lack of hydration and the sudden burst of adrenaline did not mix well.

She moved, using her left hand to wretch open the closet door and aiming the pistol with her right. She heard a loud scream, and luckily stopped herself from firing a round.

Huddled in the corner of the closet was a small girl, likely no older than eleven, who was cuddling a small teddy bear. She looked terrified and malnourished. The Courier stopped and lowered her gun – though she did not put it away. She knew some particularly sadistic raiders sometimes used children as bait to catch people off guard.

"Don't kill me!" The small girl squeaked.

"Come out of that closet. I won't hurt you." The Courier replied.

"I don't believe you!" The girl shouted, her face now stained with tears. The Courier's heart ached at the sight. She placed her gun away in the holster, and reached out and grabbed the girl.

"No! No! Stop!"

The Courier pulled the girl out of the closet, even as she kicked and fought. In one motion, she tossed the girl down onto the bed, so as not to hurt her. The Courier stood, her hands on her hips, and looked to the small girl.

It was the first chance she had to see the girl in the dim light of the room. She was very small, with flaming red hair and large blue eyes. The girl looked malnourished – not a surprising sight. A child this young, alone, could never survive in the Mojave Wasteland. If the mutant animals did not find her, the Vipers – or the something worse – would.

"I won't hurt you. My name is Nanami. What's your name?" The Courier spoke softly, keeping a distance from the girl.

The small girl sniffled a few times, and looked up. Nanami was a tall woman, with a long black ponytail. She was Asian, and quite slender and had glasses. She wore leather pants and a matching top – a horrible outfit for the heat, but it was armor and offered some protection from being attacked with a blunt object, or even from stabs.

"I-I-I'm Leslie." The girl finally announced, now looking down at her teddy bear.

"Leslie... where did you come from?" Nanami asked, in the gentlest voice she could muster with her lack of sleep and dehydration.

Leslie sniffled a few times. "I... my daddy was a Courier. He was taking a package... I went with him, because he doesn't like leaving me home alone... some mean men in weird clothes came, and they killed him! I... I hid... and found this house... and now I don't know what to do..."

Nanami gasped in horror. Her father had been a Courier... Nanami had found a fellow Courier near the Mojave Express office in Primm. That Courier had been murdered too – as had this girl's father. Nanami had only narrowly survived her own attempted murder. It could not be a coincidence.

It had to be Benny's doing.

Nanami looked down to the sad little girl and she frowned. Slowly, she sat down on the bed next to her and placed an arm around the girl. Though timid at first, Leslie slowly snuggled up to Nanami, her eyes still full of tears.

"I'll help you." Nanami promised. "There's an NCR Outpost not too far from here. I'll take you there. The NCR will help you."

Leslie sniffled again. "Thank you..."

Nanami closed her eyes and sighed. She still wanted some water, and she was low on food. Yet she knew what she was going to do even before she did it. She reached into her bag and pulled out the last of her food supply – some 'Fancy Lady Snack Cakes' – and handed the box to Leslie.

"Eat up, and then try to sleep. We'll leave as soon as the sun goes down. It's cooler at night, and we won't overheat."

[…]

Two and a half hours later, the sun had set behind the hills. Nighttime in the desert is a cold place, but one Nanami preferred to the scorch of the day. She gently shook Leslie awake, and then explained to the girl they had to leave now.

After splitting the last bottle of irradiated water, Nanami ushered the girl towards the door. She barricaded the bedroom door, and then the front door.

"Wait here while I make sure no one is outside." Nanami ordered Leslie, and the small girl obeyed, ducking down behind the sofa. Nanami stepped out and was immediately whipped in the face by the cool night air.

She looked around, peering out at every direction. She saw no sign of man nor beast, and then knocked on the door. After a moment, Leslie came walking out of the house, still clutching her teddy bear.

They walked as quickly as Nanami thought she could push the girl into going. The night was cold, and Leslie shivered. Yet Nanami knew that if they dawdled in the Mojave Wasteland... it would only end disastrously.

She could hear the howl of a coyote from the distance. That, however, was not Nanami's most pressing concern. Even when Leslie gasped in horror at the howl, Nanami wrote it off. She could deal with a coyote easily with just a few shots from her Varmint Rifle (which she carried in her bag, along with several other weapons).

No, there were two things that Nanami feared most in the Mojave Wasteland. One was the Deathclaw – the most vicious beast in the world. Luckily, she knew that Deathclaws preferred caves and quarries, and rarely ventured out in the middle of the desert.

The other was Radscorpions. Gigantic radioactive scorpions that were fast moving and vicious. Their claws could break bone, their stingers were highly toxic, and worst of all their bodies were hardened and resistant even to bullets. It took several shots to bring down a Radscorpion, and Nanami did not think she could kill one in time to keep it from stinging one of the two travelers.

As they trudged along, Leslie started to sniffle again. The girl was tired, hungry and likely even closer to dehydration than Nanami was. Against her better judgment, Nanami allowed them a brief rest, sitting on a large rock.

"N-Nanami...?" Leslie asked. "Can I ask you something?"

Nanami looked down to the girl and offered a warm smile. "Of course. Ask me whatever you like."

Leslie fidgeted with her teddy bear, not looking at the older woman. "Um... why are you helping me?"

Nanami just smiled for a moment. "Well... I've always helped people. For a long time now. It's something I like to do."

Leslie looked astonished by the answer, and she finally looked up to Nanami. "... There's not many people like that in the world. Daddy always said that most people didn't help anyone but themselves..."

A sad look came over Nanami's eyes. "Yeah... that's true... but there are still some people who care. You should be one of those people, Leslie. The world needs more people who care about others."

Leslie finally broke into a very small smile. "Y-Yeah... that's what daddy would say too..."

Before Nanami could speak another word, she heard a rustling and a hiss. She gasped and stood up, and with a sweep of her arm she pushed Leslie off the rock and down to the other side.

Rapidly approaching the rock from the opposite direction was a giant, menacing Radscrorpion! The vicious mutated bug was snapping its claws, and its tail was drawn back and prepared to strike.

Nanami drew her pistol and fired several shots at the giant bug; but the bullets did nothing. She needed armor piercing rounds to cut through the radscorpion's extra hard carapace – and she did not have time to swap ammo now.

The Radscorpion was upon her! It snapped its claws, but Nanami was quite agile and she dodged them. The scorpion thrust its highly poisonous tail at Nanami! She jumped back, narrowly avoiding what would have been a deadly sting.

Leslie shrieked from the other side of the rock, watching as Nanami tussled with the scorpion.

The Radscorpion struck again – the tail flying towards Nanami's chest. However, this time Nanami did not dodge; instead she did something suicidal. Her hands darted out and she grabbed the stinger by the sides, stopping it just inches before it would have stabbed her in the heart.

She twisted her arms, twisting the stinger down and stabbing it into the Radscorpion's face! The creatures own toxins flowed into its brain, and killed the massive monster instantly. Nanami stumbled back, panting and amazed that her insane attack had actually worked.

"Nanami!" Leslie cried out, running towards the older Asian girl and crying as she threw her arms around Nanami's waist. "Are you alright? Please be alright!"

Nanami let out a soft sigh and patted Leslie on the top of her head, ruffling her red hair. "I'm fine, Leslie. Perfectly fine... but we should get moving."

[…]

The two walked all night. The hours ticked by slowly, and Leslie grew sleepy. Nanami felt bad forcing the exhausted child to continue walking through the desert sands, but she knew there was no shelter, and the only safety to be found was at the NCR Outpost.

As they continued on, past the wreckage of an ancient plane half-buried in the desert, Nanami heard movement. Over the years, her ears had become finely honed to the sound of other people and creatures moving around her. It was part of what kept her alive.

"... Leslie. When I tell you two, lay flat in the dirt and don't get up." Nanami whispered.

Leslie stiffened, now terrified once more. Still, the girl nodded in obedience. Nanami took a few more steps, and then shouted out. Leslie obeyed and hit the dirt, keeping her face down to the ground.

Nanami did not want her to witness what was about to happen. Just as Nanami had known, several figures came running out from behind the wreckage of the plane. Some from one side, some from the others. Nanami counted about twelve of them, and she swore. She was low on ammunition, having wasted most of it on the Radscorpion. Her Varmint Rifle was still in her bag, and she did not have time to switch for it.

Nanami drew her 9mm pistol and darted to the side as one of the figures yelled and opened fire. Nanami had so much experience in firefights she had learned to identify most weapons from the sound of their shots. She could tell two of the attackers – who she assumed were Vipers – were using 9mms and a third had a 10mm. What worried her most was the sound of a Trail Carbine.

She knew the rifle. A powerful gun that used 44 magnum ammunition and could kill someone with ease. The leather armor Nanami wore would offer zero protection against such a devastating gun, and she knew if she was nailed with that rifle it would be game over.

Nanami moved, using the darkness as an advantage. She rolled through the sands and came up behind one of the vipers. She threw her arm around his neck, pulling the man against her – and just in time. The other Vipers cared nothing of their comrade and opened fire. Several 9mm bullets slammed into Nanami's new meat shield, killing the viper. Nanami grabbed the 10mm from his hand, and raised it with her free hand.

She fired several shots, using the muzzle flash as her one source of light to identify the Vipers locations. She shot the first Viper three times in the chest, and took down the second with two shots to the upper body. A third Viper was felled with a shot to the neck, and a fourth went down when Nanami struck him three times in the arms and chest.

Yet Nanami's meat shield could not hold out. The Viper was ravaged by bullets, and Nanami let the body fall. She raised her own 9mm and fired it along with the 10mm she'd taken from her former shield.

Most of the Vipers were down, but as Nanami ducked, dipped, dived, dodged and ducked she felt a painful sting burn at the side of her abdomen. A bullet had grazed against her, and while only a flesh wound, it was incredibly painful.

Nanami winced in pain, dropped both of her guns and moved jumped up onto the plane wing protruding out of the sands. She hear shots ricochet off the plane as the Vipers shot at her. She reached the edge of the wing and jumped off, landing with both feet first onto the face of one of the vipers; killing him instantly.

She rolled off the recently-deceased Viper and then sprang up, sweeping her leg to trip another Viper – the one holding the Trail Carbine! She moved quickly to smash her elbow into his throat while he was down, ending his life. She stood up, and could hear another viper charging her with a knife in hand.

She kicked the stock of the Carbine, sending it up into the air and caught it. Nanami spun around just in time to blast the charging Viper in the face at point blank range. The powerful magnum round turned the Viper's head into something that resembled a smashed watermelon.

Nanami sighed as her glasses became dirtied with bits of brain splatter. Despite the eternal annoyance of trying to find Windex in the post-apocalyptic Vegas desert, she felt a sense of pride at having killed the entire Viper gang with only a superficial wound.

"Hey, bitch."

Annoyance bubbled up in Nanami once more, this time from the realization that she had missed one. Nanami spun around, aiming the Carbine; but she gasped at the sight.

A single Viper was left, this one wearing metal armor. His entire body, arms and legs were encased in worn – but hearty – metal. Even with the powerful magnum rounds of the Carbine, she could not simply shoot him and expect him to die. Normally, that would not be a problem.

However, this Viper – who was the leader of the pack – was holding Leslie with one arm, and pressing a large hunting knife against her throat with the other.

Nanami swore under her breath. She had wanted Leslie safe, but the girl had been caught up in the deadly dance anyway. She knew Vipers were not above killing children, and this man had just lost his entire gang to Nanami.

"You killed my whole crew! Now I think I'll kill you friend... fair is fair, right?" The Viper Leader grinned, revealing several yellow teeth. Leslie looked terrified as the knife dug into her throat.

Nanami aimed the Trail Carbine; but she could not get a shot at the man's unprotected face. It was too close to Leslie, and Nanami could not trust her aim with her glasses so dirty.

"Throw down your gun or the lil' bitch gets cut." The Viper Leader growled.

"Classy. Using a child as a shield." Nanami growled, but she obeyed. She slowly bent down and dropped the Trail Carbine. She stood back up, and kicked the gun away from her. It was an annoyance – she was now unarmed.

Mostly.

"Hey, I may be classless... but I'll be alive tomorrow. Gonna go see my favorite workin' girls at the Strip. Unless you want to make me feel good, babe." The Viper Leader grinned his yellow smirk.

Nanami was inot/i amused. "I'd sooner shag a Deathclaw."

The Viper Leader seemed infuriated at the response. "Have it your way, big bitch. Should I cut your friend now?"

Nanami had a plan, but she had to buy some time. "... Don't hurt the girl. If you want to kill someone, kill me. Or are you too weak to kill a woman and have to pick on children?"

The Viper Leader was not quite dumb enough to fall for the threat to his masculinity. He was still dumb, though.

"You want her to live? Get down on your knees and beg me, bitch." The Viper Leader hissed.

Nanami slowly lowered herself to her knees, and placed her hands behind her head for good measure. However, a small smirk crossed her face. "You know... just once I'd appreciate it if one of you guys could come up with something more original than 'bitch'. Maybe... something like... let the girl go or I will kill you, you molerat humping ghoul sucker."

The Viper's eyes flared with anger. Nanami moved in an instant as she saw the man distracted by his fury. She flicked her wrist, revealing a knife hidden up her sleeve, and she threw it straight and true into the right eye of the Viper Leader.

The Viper Leader died instantly, falling backwards and dropped Leslie. She hit the dirt and ended up covered in sand, and with a small scar on her chin from the knife... but otherwise unharmed.

"Na-Na-Mi!" The girl cried, running towards Nanami. The Courier scooped young Leslie up in her arms and embraced her.

"Shhh. Don't cry. You're safe now."

[…]

It took another thirty minutes to reach the NCR Outpost, beneath the massive statues of a Desert Ranger and an NCR Trooper shaking hands. Nanami had been to the outpost before, and was quickly ushered into the building.

Both Nanami and Leslie were treated for their wounds, and finally the two found one another again at the small bench between the Outpost and the supply building next door, which doubled as a bar.

"Nanami!" Leslie hugged the girl as she spotted her once more. "The NCR guys... I met one of them... some bigwig Captain! He said he wanted to adopt me and take me back to California with him!"

A smile crossed Nanami's face. This little girl had a home now; and California was much safer than Nevada; and living as the adopted child of an NCR Army Officer would be a good life.

"I'm so glad." Nanami hugged the girl back.

"Oh oh oh! I brought you this." Leslie handed Nanami a bottle of ice-cold, purified water. No radiation burn or aftertaste. "Since you shared your water with me back at the house..."

Nanami smiled once more. "Thank you."

She paused as she finally brought the water bottle up to her lips. Words her father once told her, long, long ago in a wasteland far, far away echoed in her mind.

"...I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely." Nanami remembered the words from her childhood.

"Huh?" Leslie seemed confused. Nanami just shook her head.

"It was my mother's favorite Bible passage... but that's a very long story." Nanami smirked a bit, remembering back to Vault 101...