“Little flower, don’t be afraid. Sweet flower, don’t run away
Little flower, don’t be scared to cry. Sweet flower, don’t let this be your final lullaby.
You play strong and brave, but you know you only run away
Sweet flower, little flower don’t let your heart wilt away…”
Chapter 1: Unwelcome Guests
“Black Hawk to team leader, do you read? Over” A voice crackled over the radio.
Team Leader clicked on his receiver on his headset “This is Team Leader, what is it Black Hawk? Over”
“Sir, we’ve been at this a while. Maybe its time we took a break? Over”
He shook his head then responded “Not sure if you noticed Black Hawk, but we’re in the middle of a freaking desert. The nearest village is five miles out. In other words, we ain’t stoppin till we’re done. Over”
“I understand, sir, but this cadet needs a bathroom break,” Replied Black Hawk
“Are you serious Craig?” Team Leader spat into his radio
“Er, sir, we are in enemy territory. Shouldn’t we stick to code names?”
“I would use your code name if you deserved it, Craig! Soldiers don’t pull over for potty breaks! You should have gone before we left.”
A bald headed well-toned man seated in the truck’s passenger seat rips off his head seat and turns to his fellow soldiers “Why are we even using these things? You two are not even three feet away from me!” He yelled over the roar of the truck’s sizable engine
Team Leader plucked the headset out of his teammate’s lap and pushed it into his chest, pointing to his ears. The man rolled his eyes and placed the headphones back over his head.
“Duststorm, its protocol out in the field that we are equipped with our headset at all times for optimal communication. Over” Team Leader puffed out his chest with authority
“Fine, Jerry,” Duststorm propped up his head and watched the dunes roll by outside.
“Duststorm, Team Leader! Code names! Over!” Barked Black Hawk/Craig
Duststorm turned in his seat and faced his friend seated behind him “Oh shut up, Craig! It’s not like anyone out there is listening anyway!” He huffed
He turned back and faced his squad leader “But I agree with Craig, Jerry. I need a break from this heat man.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his fatigues. “You would think, being the most advanced people out here, the guys in R&D could figure out how to fix the AC in this thing.”
“Jesus, Craig needs a pee break, its to hot outside for Frank,” Jerry moaned ”Thought I was leading soldiers into battle not a bunch of girls to a tea party.”
“Hey,” Frank shoved Jerry “I don’t appreciate that misogyny man. Besides, you’re calling us wimpy, but you’re the one that ‘called’ the best exosuit.”
“First of all, don’t shove me while I’m driving. Second, as team leader, if I go down, who will be there to instruct you guys?” Jerry protested
“Whatever man, just give me the binoculars so I can find us a place to take a leak.”
Jerry pointed at the glove compartment, and Frank extracted the equipment. He held up the binoculars to his face and allowed the internal computer to boot and scan the environment. The display found a sizeable nearby building filled with humans.
“Looks like there is a rest stop nearby. Maybe a mile, mile and a half, north.” Frank reported
“Oh thank God,” Craig crossed his legs in the back seat
Moments later the large beige patrol humvee with the insignia V87T308 written in white on the side pulled up in front of a dilapidated looking building. The shack seemed to be assembled from a mixture of scrap wood and metal sheets, and a sign hung above the door that read in neon lights ‘Lee’s Bar.’
Jerry parked the truck and looked to his fellow soldiers “Ok, I’m gonna go in and get a beer. One of you stay behind and watch the truck, and the other can go to the bathroom. Black Hawk has first watch.”
“M-Me? Why?” Craig whined
“Because you’re pissing me off the most.”
The driver’s side door swings open and a barrel-chested man wearing a thick looking chest piece and sunglasses steps out and eyes the building over. Frank, dressed in a similar uniform, circles the humvee and joins his squad leader “Keep your eyes pealed” Jerry whispers to Frank
Frank wipes the sweat off his bald head with a rag and mutters “Whatever you say” and brushes past him and into the bar.
“H-Hey! Hang on a sec!” Jerry follows close behind
As the men step through the front door, they’re greeted with a wave of loud chatter from the assembled patrons and a cloud of cigarette smoke. The smog was dense enough to cause the pair to burst into a coughing fit.
Jerry takes in the scenery. “Now, this *cough* is more like it! Right, Frank?” Inhaling deeply before falling into another round of deep-throated coughs.
“Y-Yeah,” Frank chokes out “I’m gonna go find a bathroom,” He pushes his way through the room and is quickly lost in the crowd.
Jerry scans the room and catches a glimpse of a gorgeous woman sitting at the bar by herself. He strides over to the bar and takes the stool next to her. The chair groans under the weight of his solid build.
A middle-aged looking man of Asian descent who sported a long stringy goatee and thick eyebrows approached the massive man.
“What’ll you have?” He asked while polishing a mug
“Anything cold?” Jerry asked
“Just beer, bottled.”
“I’ll take two. One for me and one for my friend here,” He gestured to the woman seated beside him.
The bartender flashed a knowing grin “Yeah,” he chuckled “You got it pal” and gathers two fresh beers for the pair.
Jerry slid the beer down to the woman. She snatched it without even giving it a glance.
“My-My, for little ol’ me?” The girl flourished the distinct accent of a southern belle. Her build was slender and seemed like she stood taller than most. She sported well worn knee-high leather boots and a dusty brown leather jacket over a black tank top. Her most distinguishing feature, her long dirty blonde hair, was tied back in a long braid and covered by a dust coated cowboy hat.
She propped up her head by one hand and in the other the cold beer. She swiveled her face towards the commander and flashed her vibrant hazel eyes at him. As he got a better look at her face he noticed, that though it was apparent she spent much of her time outside, her skin was flawless.
“Cheers” She lifted the bottle to her perfect lips and downed the entire thing. Jerry thought he was in love.
“What’s your name, little lady?” He asked her, head over heels.
“Laura. What’s yours?” She asked in a welcoming, seductive voice
“Well, I’m out here on a secret mission, so I can’t give away to much,” He gestured to the military patch on his arm. Being sure to flex his bicep while doing so.
“But my friends call me Jerry.”
“Ooo, since you told me, does that make us friends?” She smiled coyly
“I certainly hope we can be more than just friends, Laura.” He winked, and she giggled
“What’s with the cute pajamas, Jerry?” Laura gestured to his military fatigues
“Oh, these? My squad and I are running recon for Vault 87 a few miles south of here.”
“Recon huh? That sounds dangerous.” She fanned herself with her hand
Jerry chuckled “It can be, but don’t worry little lady,” He touched his knuckle to her chin playfully “strong soldiers like me and my boys are working hard to make sure sweet things like you can stay safe.”
“Yeah, about that,” Jerry heard the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking, “I think I can handle myself just fine,” Laura’s stated flatly. Her sweet accent vanishing suddenly.
Jerry looked down and saw that Laura had her long barreled revolver pointed directly at his crotch. The gun’s hammer pulled back.
He let out a hearty chuckle “Is this your idea of foreplay or something babe?” Jerry pulled out a beefy looking plasma pistol from its holster and laid it down on the bar facing Laura.
“Mine’s bigger” He snorted
“That’s a cute toy” She mocked “Funny thing about those plasma pistols,” She grabbed his beer and dumped it out on the pistol. Sparks flew, and smoke started billowing from the gun’s barrel. “They don’t like liquid too much.”
“What the fuck!” Jerry yelled, snatching his gun from the bar “You bitch! Do you know how much this thing costs?!”
She leaned in close “This is your one chance to shut up and get out of hell out of my bar before I tear you a new asshole.” She whispered venomously
“Bitch! How dare-”
Stuffing from the bar stool scattered everywhere as Laura’s bullet ran straight through the seat and buried itself into the wood panel flooring. Jerry fell back in his chair and onto the ground. The bar’s patrons went silent.
“Laura, for the love of God, take that shit outside would you?” the bartender asked, still polishing his glass
“You got it, Lee,” She stood up and grabbed Jerry by the collar of his armor and the waistband of his pants. Lifting him off the ground, she tossed him out the front door, over the patio, and face first into the sand outside.
Jerry rolled over and screamed “What the fuck! What the fuck are you?!” he cried
“Team Leader? What’s going on?” Craig shouted over the humming of the truck’s engine.
Laura casually strode towards the downed soldier. Her boots clicked on the floor beneath her.
“S-Stay away from me!”
She straddled Jerry and took out her custom made tomahawk. One side axe and the other a sharp pick.
“You know why we Dusties like to call y’ all Crabs?” She drew back her axe and struck his left shoulder. The pick wedged itself in the seam between the front panel and the back of his armor. With the flick of her wrist, the seam popped open. She repeated the process on the other side.
“We call you dumb-asses that because, once you peel back your stupid armor,” She pries off Jerry’s chest piece and throws it to the side “You are left with a squishy pink center.”
She stood up and hoisted the axe above her head.
“P-P-Please s-stop,” He held his hands in front of his face. Tears streamed from his eyes. His pants became visibly damp.
Laura lowered her axe “Really dude? Did you seriously just piss yourself?” she scoffed
“Hey! L-Leave him alone!” Craig shouted shakely
She turned her attention towards the humvee “What? Do you want some of what he got?”
He disappeared into the back of the vehicle for a moment and returned with a pulse assault rifle aimed at Laura. She shrugged “Alright, fine,” She kicked in the driver’s side door and ripped it off its hinges.
Craig was sent tumbling back “W-Woah!” He shrieked
She reached in, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him hard onto the ground at her feet.
“Oh god! Oh god, please! I don’t want to die!” He pled
She held her boot to his chest “Patrols don’t usually have just two. Where is-” a green flash of light blasted Laura from behind, and sent her tumbling into the side of the truck.
She felt the distinctive hot chemical burn of a plasma bolt on the back of her neck. Her skin bubbled with searing pain.
“Son of a bitch!” She rubbed her neck “Damn that shit stings.”
“Step away from them you freak!” Frank shouted from the doorway. Pistol fixed on Laura.
“Now you did it shit head. Now I’m actually starting to get angry.” She growled
“H-Hey! Wait! How are you doing that?” Frank watched in horror as the damaged scar tissue on Laura’s neck started healing and reshaping before his eyes. “Are you even human?”
He stood paralyzed as Laura walked up to him, snatched the pistol from his trembling hand, and whipped him across the face with the back of it. Sending him to the ground.
She towered over him and made him watch as she snapped the barrel off the gun. Laura drew her own pistol and pointed it back at Jerry. “Apparently you’re the leader of the dumb-fuck brigade. Gather up your toys and little friends before I actually start trying.”
“Ok! Ok, just please stop!” Jerry stood up and sprinted for the humve. Frank didn’t take his eyes off Laura’s face as he crawled over to join his commander
Jerry shoved Craig into the back and pressed hard on the accelerator. Nothing happened.
He examined the dashboard and saw that the truck had somehow been shut off during the fight.
Frank jumped through the passenger side window and looked frantically at his boss. “What the hell are you doing? Gun it!”
Jerry cranked the ignition and heard the engine trying to turn over. “Shit! I’m trying! Why isn’t it working?” Jerry shouted
Laura cocked her revolver and pointed at the group of men through the hole where the car door belonged “You have five seconds to get out of my sight.”
“Dude! Come on!” Yelled Frank
“Can’t you see I’m trying? There’s got to be sand in the engine or something!”
“We’re going to die!” Craig shouted
With one last turn of the keys, the truck finally roared back to life
“Go-Go-Go!” Frank slammed on the dash.
Jerry threw the transmission into gear and flattened the accelerator. The humvee kicked up buckets of sand and rammed into the side of the bar. Snapping one of the beams on the porch.
“Reverse-Reverse!” Cried Frank, staring at Laura wide eyed
“Shit-Shit-Shit!” Jerry threw the truck into reverse and rocketed into the side of a nearby dune.
Laura, with a dead-pan expression, sauntered towards the men gun still trained on Jerry in the front seat.
Jerry, went pale as he saw death itself approaching him. With a final “Fuck!” he shifted the transmission one last time and sped away, narrowly missing Laura in his escape.
Soon nothing but a cloud of dust remained of the unwelcome visitors. The assembled crowd of on-lookers cheered before returning inside for another round.
Lee, who still hasn’t put down his glass, joined Laura outside to look over the carnage. “Hmm,” grumbling while examining the damage done to the side of his bar.
“What a joke,” Laura holstered her gun “Sorry about the mess, Lee.”
“You were holding back, getting soft or something?” He picked up the destroyed pistol off the ground
“They were just dumb boys playing soldier,” She wiped the sweat from her brow
Lee looked over the firearm “Why did you have to go and break all their shit? You know how much these things are worth to the right buyer?” He tossed the gun over his shoulder
“How about you buy me a beer as an apology?” Laura asked from the shade of the patio
“Me? Apologize to you?”
“Yeah, for letting sleazy ass crabs in your place who do nothing but bother your favorite customer.”
“How about I get you that free beer as soon as you pay off your freakin tab, sunshine?”
“Lord, Lee. I’m not made of money. You and I both know that’s not going to happen before the next apocalypse.”
Lee snorts “Should have figured as much,” He looked up at the sky and blocked the sun with his hand “It’s hot as hell out here, I’m going back inside,” He stopped in the doorway “You comin or what?”
“Na, I got a thing.”
Lee shrugs “Whatever” and went back inside.
Laura straightened herself out and walked around to the opposite side of the building.
“Hey beautiful” She ran her hand along the body of her custom made motorcycle. It took her months to assemble it from junk she found lying around the Pit. The parts were mismatched and most of the paint rusted away, but it was hers.
“Glad those boy’s didn’t scratch you” She kissed the gas tank and mounted her bike. The fat sand treading tires flexed under the new weight.
She took off her hat, placed it in the saddle bag, and jammed a helmet on her head. The beastly machine roared to life under her, and she lowered her visor.
After a few loud cries from the engine, she cranked the accelerator and sped off into the heart of the desert to meet an old friend.
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