On Broken Roads

Chapter 1

The unrelenting sun beat down on the back of a red headed woman crouched on the road. She looked down at the body of the raider she'd just killed and shook her head. He might have been a handsome once, maybe even had the potential to be a good man, of course that was years of alcohol and chem addiction ago.

Rachel rummaged through the raider's pockets, and grimaced. The man was filthy, and while living in the wasteland got a person used to dirt Raiders were a special kind of dirty. She tried not to think about what was likely clinging to every fiber of the man's clothing as she pulled out a few .308 rounds, some Jet and a syringe of Med-X.

She pulled a knife from his boot but after a good look at it she tossed it aside, it was so rusted and chipped that it wasn't even worth trying to scrap it. She did find three grimy caps in the same boot and swiftly pocketed them.

Rachel stood, and placed her sunglasses back down onto her nose before hefting her pack up onto the shoulder not occupied by her sniper rifle. She looked up the road, it seemed deserted but so had it seemed before the raider attacked.

It struck her as odd the he had been alone, like the wild dogs that roamed the area, raiders hunted in packs. Rachel moved off to the side of the road, not wanting to be seen before she knew what it was that was seeing her. These where dangerous roads and being carless she knew would only get her killed.

She wanted a relatively secure bed to sleep in tonight and to unload the scrap she had managed to scavenge on her travels throughout the western wasteland. Thankfully when she reached the crest in the hill she was on she saw the dinosaur tower in the distance. The T-Rex looking out over the Mojave protected the settlement of Novac. Rachel had been there many times before. It was a pleasant little town, safe with the snipers nested in the mouth of the T-Rex statue. Novac was the closest thing to a home that she'd ever had.

It took two hours to get to the gate and with the sun setting over the horizon she was happy to find the gate open still. Soon it would be closed and lock for the night. Rachel saluted to the daytime sniper and he waved back, getting ready for his shift change.

She entered the motel office and met the wide smile of the friendly woman who ran the rental rooms.

"Rachel, dear, it's good to see you," She told her kindly. To be honest, the woman always seemed a little too kind for the rough existence mankind had suffered since the Great War, but then again maybe it was her own harsh life style that made her feel the way she did.

"It's good to see you too ma'am, can I get a room for the night?" Rachel asked and the woman nodded.

"Of course, your usual room is available, here's the key dear," She said, sliding a battered key across the counter as Rachel counted out her caps.

She went up the steps and unlocked her room; it was comfortably familiar inside. She set her pack down on her bed along with her rifle, then plopped herself down on the gun and stripped off her boots.

She locked the front door, cautious women didn't get caught with their ass in the breeze, and then headed for the bathroom. She turned the taps and was pleased to find the water running this time around. It wasn't always. The water was cold but after a week in the dessert that was just fine. Rachel stripped off her clothes, leaving them in the sink and stepped into the now full tub.

Using her hands and a scrap of cloth she used for cleaning she scrubbed off a weeks' worth of dust, sweat and blood. When she was done she used a threadbare towel to dry herself and she drained the tub. When the dirty water was gone she filled it back up and dumped her clothes into the new water.

While her laundry soaked she pulled on a faded pair of pants and a simple tank top. Then she sat on the bed and went to work on her armor. Working oil into the leather and polishing the metal, making sure it was in working order.

When she got her armor in the best condition she could she moved on to her weapons, cleaning both her rifle and her 9mm pistol. She sharpened her knife last, sighing. The last thing she did before crawling into bed was take her clothes from the tub, rinse them under the tap and hang them around the room to dry.

It was black in the room when Rachel opened her eyes but she wasn't surprised, she always woke two or three hours before dawn. She never seemed to be able to sleep more than absolutely necessary to keep her functional.

Stretching she got up, and pulled on the pants she'd dropped on the floor the night before. She rinsed her mouth out with a swig of purified water and swallowed it, not wanting to waste the water even though she was safely inside the settlement.

Rachel pulled on her boots and opened her pack, digging in it until she found what she wanted. It was a gift wrapped in a rag to protect it on the road to Novac. She held it in the crook of her arm and grabbed her rifle on her way out the door, knowing where she'd find her closest friend.

The first time she'd stayed in Novac wasn't a pleasant memory. She'd been unlucky enough to get into a dust up with a cazador. The giant wasp had managed to embed it's stinger into her thigh before she managed to put enough lead into the insect to kill it. Bleeding freely and with the venom coursing threw her veins she stumbled towards the dinosaur in the distance, fueled only by the will to survive.

Rachel had collapsed not far from the gate and the night sniper had taken pity on her. He and a couple of locals had dragged her inside and after the local doctor had dosed her with anti venom Craig Boone had brought her home to be nursed back to the land of the living by his wife. Neither he nor Carla trusted the good doctor's skill beyond a simple injection.

Now she climbed the stairs on her way up the dinosaur's mouth, and grinned as she pushed through the metal door at the top.

"Guess what?" she said as the sniper turned to look at who had entered his nest, "I'm not dead yet,"

"Well look what the Mole Rat drug in, how are you kid," He asked, setting his rifle down and standing to give her a warm hug. Well, as close to warm as Boone got anyway. He wasn't a touchy-feely type of person.

"It's good to see you Boone," she told him softly, hugging him back quickly.

He stepped away and looked at her sympathetically, taking his seat and gesturing for her to take the other metal folding chair, "Been a long road?" he asked and she nodded.

"It's getting worse Boone, the Legion. I passed through whole towns, ones I used to stop and trade in, but they were just gone. Ashes, and if there were survivors they were too wounded for me to help. I- I put a bullet in more than one person nailed to a cross." She told him glaring out at the waste as she fought not to choke on the lump in her throat.

Boone put a hand on her should, "You did the right thing, and if you couldn't help them then I'm not sure many others out there could either,"

She nodded but didn't say anything; she knew more than the average person about healing but the blood stained memories of those people would haunt her nightmares for a longtime.

"Rachel," He started but she shook her head, changing the subject.

"I brought Carla a present," she told him, forcing her voice to be brighten as she handed over her package.

Boone unwrapped the cloth and grinned, looking down at the bottle of wine in his hands "Is this really from the Ultra Lux?"

"You know it, I couldn't come away from The Strip without a little piece of it for your lovely wife," She told him and he laughed.

Rachel knew Carla wasn't well liked in Novac, people thought she was a snob, but that wasn't true. She had just grown up on the strip, and while she loved Boone and understood that as a sniper he was one of Novac's best defenses, she still missed her home.

"She'll love it. You know, I'm thinking about moving there. Manny can guard the town and train others to do it too. They don't really need me. And the safety would be nice," He told her, looking out over the moonlit wasteland. Rachel eyed him, there was something in his voice. Something he wasn't saying.

"You used to think that you were the only thing keeping this place alive. Why the sudden change of heart?" She asked suspiciously,

He shrugged, but his mouth broke into a ridiculous grin as he said, "Things change, a boy grows into a man and starts thinking about the future,"

He was doing this on purpose, "Craig Boone what are you hiding?" She demanded, although she was starting to get the feeling that she knew.

"Carla would want our kids to grow up somewhere safe," he said, looking at Rachel out of the corner of his eye.

Rachel gasped, hand clapping over her mouth. "Carla's pregnant!"

His grin got even goofier if that was possible. It didn't look right on Boone. He looked insane but it was in a nice kinda way. "Yeah, I think I made the decision to move the second we knew for sure, and I'm glad you blew into town, because I wanted to ask you if you wanted to travel with us. I was going to ask Manny if you didn't show up, but somebody should stay to watch over things and he and Carla don't exactly get along."

"I would be honored, when do you want to leave?" She asked him,

"At the end of the week if you can stand sticking around for that long," he told her.

"Four days? I guess but you're lucky I love you guys," she told him, grinning.