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Title: Moonlight Miles: Primm
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: PG
Character(s)/Pairing: none
Warning(s): none
Summary: A bit of backstory for the Incoming/Outgoing F!Courier.


Part 1: Goodsprings



Too many guns, too little sleep, and no brains among ‘em, Ruby thinks just after that savage kicks her way inside Vicky & Vance’s front door, hauling a load half again as large as herself. The blast of high noon light blinds Primm’s survivors, and they raise their pieces pointing every which-a-way. Ruby can just about hear the squeak of two dozen trigger springs when her damn fool husband screams.

“You! You’re fired, gods damn it! And that’s not yours – and neither is that!”

He flicks his semi-automatic first at the wreck of an eyebot stuffed under the savage’s arm, then at the little 10mm in her hand, which whips up to poke his nose.

They’ll take the girl out, Ruby’s sure, but it’ll cost them a hell of a lot. Johnson first. She steps between them before the bullets can fly. “Land sakes, Johnson, let her have them!”

Four furious eyes land on her. Better me than each other.

The savage looks worse than the last time she staggered into the office, bloody all down one leg instead of just the whites of her eyes, stinking of gunpowder, not whiskey and the Jet-sweats.

“They’re all dead,” she snarls, and coughs. “You can quit cowering now.”

“Hello!” Deputy Beagle’s managed to slide in behind her and puts lie to her declaration by clumsily slamming the doors shut and bracing himself against them. “Yes, it’s true, this little lady did help me thrash the miscreants outside and in the Bill’s ballroom, but I fear the floors above are still infested with the cowards. Crack shots, some of ‘em. Lying low is still the better part of our valour.”

He slumps, mouth hanging wide, and when he pitches forward, Ruby’s sun-blind eyes find the ugly exit wound in his back, low and ragged, the splatter of blood left on the door and spreading around him.

The savage crouches, gun still on Johnson, and touches the deputy’s neck. “Shit.”

Silence falls, oppressive as the stale smell of a week’s Mexican standoff. Beagle wasn’t popular, exactly, but he was a regular at the bar in back. Ruby hears a sniffle or two behind her.

“Shit,” Johnson echoes, Beagle’s loose wrist between his fingers. “Bad to worse.”

He sets his semi on a slot machine and grabs the former deputy by one arm and one leg, butts the door open, and hauls the body out to the sidewalk. The savage steps around him carefully as he secures the entrance behind him, treading in the thick smear of blood.

“Someone clean this up!” he orders, voice cracking.

“Sit, the both of you, before you fall down,” Ruby orders, herself.

The savage moves before Johnson, bloody leg trembling, settling the wrecked eyebot on the table before carefully lowering herself into a seat behind it. She glares at Johnson until the old man, flicking a glance at his wife, is shamed into joining her. Ruby takes the third seat and pretends little Jake Babor isn’t using an old shirt to mop up the last of Primm’s law and order behind them.

“Well, isn’t this nice?” she cracks, as her hands start to shake.

Glares all around. Ruby lets them hairy-eyeball each other and tries to remember how to breathe. It feels like years since she’s tasted a clean breeze, through a cigarette, passing the time of day with the Sheriff’s wife outside the Express office. They’ll have to bury her, and her husband…Beagle…who can say how many others, when this is through.

The savage stares at them both with her forehead crinkled up deep, like they were a tough math problem that went higher than her fingers and toes. Once the blood’s been mostly cleared and the silence has gone on long enough that the others have returned to pacing the walls and slicing the odd bullet into suspicious shadows, she fishes a rag-wrapped bundle out of her bag and slides it across the table.

Ruby unwraps it, expecting maybe the package never delivered, maybe a baby’s head, and finds a radscorp’s poison gland.

“Well, child…” she says, surprised.

The savage nods. “You Ruby?”

* * *

It’s all over but the crying, Ruby’s mother used to say, and Ruby never understood until her first time a’childbed, or the first ranch hand she patched up knowing that bull had kicked too hard, too deep. Life in the Mojave brought that saying to mind nearly every day.

Johnson screams now, but his gun is by the door, and the other survivors barely turn their heads to listen. So some package has gone missing, someone’ll have to pay it off, so what? They could all die any second here, soon as the Powder Gangers outside realise where the real caps are hidden. But no one at their little table is getting shot today. It’s all over but her lovable ass of a husband exercising his giant yap.

“You know how much we were paid for these six deliveries? You know how much we’re liable for since you waltzed off and lost yours? Not one, missy, all six! Because yours was the only important one, somehow. If I’d know that, I woulda given it to Bill, or George, or that goddamn blasted ‘bot here, anyone but you!”

“It was an ambush,” the savage shrugs. “Well planned. They killed and buried me for that package. They’d have gotten Bill or George, too.”

“Yeah, it’s always an ambush with you,” Johnson snorts. “You never just cut and run.”

Her leg is propped up on the last chair, armour cut open up to the crotch, high on a string of Med-X jabs. She’s dug two bullets out of her thigh and has moved on to picking fragments out of her churned-meat knee, two stimpacks clenched in her teeth, drooling a little as she mutters around them.

“And you know who we owe? You know who, out of every rad-blasted bastard in the Mojave you made us an enemy of?” He leans forward and whispers: “House.”

The savage pauses, taking in the gravity of the situation. “Who?”

Johnson thumps the table with both hands. “I give up. You’re a fool, girl, a damned waste of my time and trust. You always were, and you always will be, and you owe me more caps than you can ever make in deliveries, trade, or on your goddamn back for all I care. You shoulda stayed in that grave, little saint.”

Ruby clears her throat and watches the savage from the corner of her eye, but she only stabs the stimpacks into her leg, satisfied with her meatball surgery. She fishes a bag of tribal itching powder out of her pack and rubs that into the wounds before the stims can start to re-grow any skin, strangely thick, slightly numb skin. The powder will do that job more slowly, more painfully, but it’ll be regular old flesh in the end.

“Saint,” she echoes while she finishes, half a question.

“Yeah…” Johnson replies warily, sharing a look with Ruby. The savage had always insisted she had no name, had never earned one, so they’d put the name of her tribe on her contract. It was that or “Jane Doe,” and Mojave Express’d already had one of them.

She shrugs again. “Saints rise, don’t they?”

“You’d know,” Johnson snorts in disgust and gets up from the table. He stops next to the door and points at the stains little Jake Babor couldn’t quite erase. “You even got our Deputy killed. He wasn’t much, but he was the only law we had left. You owe us another goddamn Sheriff, or I’ll stake the bounty on your head myself.”

Ruby catches his eye, lets a raised eyebrow make her point.

“I’ll bring you some law, you old buzzard.” The savage rucks what’s left of her armour around her leg and works a brace up over her raw knee to hold it all together, leather and flesh. “After I heal up a spell.”

Johnson shakes his head and rubs his eyes, like he just might be fixing to cry a little over that damn fool Beagle, before taking up his gun at the front entrance again.

The savage ignores him, turning her attention to the ‘bot. She leaves smears of her own blood wherever she touches it. “Where’d you get this little guy?”

Ruby swallows a few times to work some spit onto her cotton-dry tongue. “One of the boys found it out in the desert,” she finally croaks. “Johnson had a plan to get it running, maybe use it for some of the milk runs between Goodsprings and Nipton. Never got around to tinkering with it.”

She finds a hatch near the lower antenna and pops it open, loosing a brief shower of wires and scrap to the table, which she stares at thoughtfully.

“I think we got a Dean’s Electronics in the cashier’s cage,” Ruby volunteers. “You want a Sarsaparilla?”

They work through the trickier chapters together, Ruby sounding out the longer words and the savage comparing schematics to the inside of that Pip-Boy she’s picked up somewhere. Ruby doesn’t ask who died to get her that. She asks how many Gangers are left outside.

“Enough.” She picks out frayed wires and compares them to a handful from her pack, replacing a few that seem close to the same width. Girl’s always been a scavenge rat, carrying in all sorts of flotsam to trade with Johnson, who usually found a use for it. “There’s an NCR camp across the highway. Said they’d be happy to take over and clear out the convicts.”

“No,” Ruby replies. “Primm’s independent. NCR taxes and regulations would kill the town.”

“It’s law.”

“Not our law,” Ruby insists. “You want to keep your idiot promise to my husband, you’ll have to go a bit further. Hell, Slim over there would be better law than the damn NCR.”

“No, he damn well wouldn’t!” Johnson calls over.

“You mind your business!” Ruby shoots back.

The savage rolls her eyes and rubs the scar cleaving her forehead.

“It pain you much?” Ruby asks.

“Some,” the savage admits, fiddling with her Pip-Boy until it shows a body schematic. “Makes the room shivery sometimes. Just got to wait it out. Doc Mitchell says it’ll heal up in time, or not at all.”

Ruby lets the silence stretch before offering, “I’m sorry for your misfortune, girl. You seem to attract more than most.”

“Patsy.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s Patsy now, not ‘girl’.”

“Oh.” The name reminds Ruby of life back West, pretty dresses and sweet applejack, not the long, bald spike of cactus needle bleeding puddles on her floor. “Where’d you pick that up?”

“Goodsprings,” the savage tells her, and clarifies: “Trudy.”

Oh, Trudy. Trust that doddy spinster to hang a name like Patsy on a rawhide killer.

“What came before?” The sav–Patsy asks abruptly.

“Before what?”

Patsy waves a wrench at the scene around them. “Before the Gangers. Before that, even.” She touches her forehead again. “It’s all jumbled up. I walk the roads, see a place and remember what it’s called, maybe some of what I knew about it before. But I can’t just kick the door open and find what I want to know.”

Ruby thinks while Patsy tries to force a conductor into a space that looks like it should fit, but doesn’t quite. Hell, what could the girl want to know? How she rolled into town near on a decade past with game and fruit to trade, skinny and bright-eyed as a roadrunner, when Johnson was shorthanded and had nearly set his mind to make the Nipton run himself, gimpy knees or no?

How she ran the circuit, most of the time, carrying packages from drop-off boxes and whatever was handed to her on the way, only coming into the office when she was so loaded down with caps she jangled with every step? How Johnson kept back fancy guns and special ammo, knowing the saint would always take them in lieu of pay, only to leave most of them in her office locker?

How she couldn’t read a whit at first, only memorise the shapes of names? Ruby’d tried to remedy that, letting her work through the precious picture books that generations of Nashes had teethed on. The savage had handled them like fragile animals, ones that might bite if squeezed.

Instead, she begins: “Things went bad last year. You’d had Johnson hold your pay for ages, building up a fine nest egg. I suspected a man was involved, there, but you never said. Sure smiled a a lot, though.

“Then Caesar wrecked the Divide, and you had to carry the Van Graff payroll by the regular road. You said your Van Graff guard was in on it, that she’d whistled out when you wanted to go around a suspicious stretch of road, but since they’d killed her, too… Well.

“You ran and you lived. And you saddled us with a hell of a debt to the Van Graffs. That back pay, all those guns in your locker, that didn’t even clear a third of it. You’re damn lucky Johnson kept you on at all after that, lent you one of his own guns, let you work it off. Not that you appreciated that trust, not a damn bit.”

She sniffs and softens her tone. “Still, no matter how bad it got, you always brought us meat you’d shot on the road, and ‘scorp glands for my casseroles.”

The girl is quiet, eyes on her work. “Because I loved you both, a little. Remember that now.”

“Try this instead.” Ruby hands her a sensor module and clears her throat. “Well, love is love, and business is business, and when they get to stepping on each other’s feet, one’s got to move out.”

Neither of them has much to say after that.

Another hour passes with little more than half-sentence murmurs over the Dean’s read-soft pages. Finally, somehow, it all fits together, more or less, and Patsy holds the ‘bot steady while Ruby hammers a piece of scrap metal flat over the entrance wound, then flicks the thing on.

With the snap of a few sparks, a quick whiff of ozone, the little ‘bot whooshes to life. It hovers over their table and turns to Patsy, antenna blazing with loose electricity.

She only grins and reaches up to pat its casing. “Hi!”

It beeps, almost like it heard her, like it returns the greeting. Hell, Ruby thinks, remembering Brahmin calves who forever followed the human who yanked them into this world. This can’t end well.

“You got it working!” Johnson booms and reaches for the ‘bot himself. “I owe you a few caps for that.”

It turns on him, pootling backwards to hover over the savage’s shoulder, and Ruby realises that the lower antenna is nothing of the sort as it heats up and sparks.

“Dearest,” she warns, “leave it be.”

Johnson’s frozen anyway, staring at the menacing…menacing…

For the love of…did the builders actually intend to give the thing a deadly penis? Ruby stands carefully and moves between her darling husband and certain death for the second time since breakfast. “If she’s going to go in after the Sheriff, she’ll need backup, right?”

Johnson lowers his reaching hand. Carefully.

“Keep it,” he agrees. “I’ll add it to your tab.”

The savage only snorts and checks her leg, standing slowly until she’s sure it’ll hold her weight. She asks, “So where do I find the law you’d rather have?”

Ruby jumps in before Johnson can jam his foot in it again. “To the north. NCR Correctional Facility.”

Patsy tilts her head in wry confusion. “Don’t you already have plenty a them here?”

“Fella named Meyers,” Johnson clarifies. “Heard he was a sheriff out west, a bit too rough and ready for those glad-handing bedfellas to sleep sound next to. Sounds perfect for Primm.”

Patsy touches her scar again. “You want me to break into Powder Ganger HQ and come out with a lawman? Need any Holy Grails while I’m out, too?”

Johnson lifts his nose. “Fine, girl. Not like we expected you to keep a promise.”

Ruby starts to edge between them again, wondering if she can get custody of the Express couriers in the divorce.

“Here. Keep your charity.” The girl throws the little 10mm at him instead of blowing his eyebrows north and pulls an old varmint rifle from her pack. Someone in the back of the room laughs. “I’ll need a longer-range scope to fit this. Maybe an extended mag, too.”

“It’ll cost you,” Johnson says.

She hefts her pack of dead men’s things. “Always does.”

* * *

Boxcars works his way up the far side of the hills, slow and careful so none of these fucking rocks can crumble under his feet, give away his position, give away his status as a living man walking the fucking earth. He’s gonna kill Eddie for shoving him out the gate, saying he’d better come back with the sniper’s head or missing his own.

How the fuck is Boxcars gonna come back without a head, huh? Eddie think he’s so sneaky he’s got his brain hidden in his ass? Fuck, Eddie’s the one with his brain up his ass, so small it’d fit without a greasin’.

Two days a this shit, days and nights, plink plink plink. Walk across the exercise yard, plink, fuck! There’s your eye. Step out the gate for a piss, plink, there’s your dick looking at ya from the ground like your mamma when she caught you jacking cigarettes out her stash.

Plink, plink, plink. No one dead, but 12 men hurting, and no one with the fucking balls to look out a window. And Boxcars, fucking Boxcars, he’s gotta do the looking, he’s gotta open his fucking mouth and say, hey, the sun’s reflecting off their scope, boys, they’re right up there!

And that’s Boxcars, out the fucking gate. You seen it, you kill it.

Fuck.

He takes his time. Let those cocksuckers get it long and hard. He’s in no goddamn rush on their account.

He’s got the drop on her – fuck, it’s a cunt! Boxcars’s gonna have himself a little fun, well-fucking-earned recreation, before he blows her head off.

She’s lying on a bedroll, behind some rocks the same color as her, open box of Sugar Bombs and a bottle a good clear water next to her. He can see her breathe, but she doesn’t move in the ten minutes he sits watching her, aside from squeezing off another shot. Someone’s sharp cry of agony makes her smile.

Maybe he’ll have himself that fun after he caps her. Safer.

He sidles into position, carefully downwind, and aims his .22 at the bump of her spine peeking out at the back of her armour. Maybe if he paralyses her first…

Then he drops the fucking gun as a blast of music pops one eardrum.

Ralphie? he thinks. Goddamn if it isn’t the Ralphie theme, that stupid old holoshow Sam Cooke found in Vault 19 archives and watched over and over until Boxcars had the shits of it and defected back to the Facility, and – goddamn! – if that isn’t a Ralphie-bot at his shoulder, the sparks off his laser blaster singeing Boxcars’ hair.

“You took your damn time,” the cunt says, and takes another shot, smiles again.

Boxcars prays it hit Eddie. “Didn’t know we had a date to keep,” he sneers.

She sits, careful to keep her body completely shielded from below by those rocks, and gulps the last of her water. “I been up here for two days, flashing ‘come get me’ in sunlight and moonlight. That’s too long to spend alone with the shit I don’t want to be remembering. And I got to piss like a Brahmin.”

“I ain’t stopping ya,” Boxcars sniffs.

“I think you know, if you move, my friend here will fry your brain like an egg.” She pauses. “Then I’ll have him cook what’s left a you. Damn tired of 200-year-old vittles.”

She offers him the Sugar Bombs. Boxcars keeps still, and she shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

“What the hell you want, lady? We ain’t done nothing to you!”

“You tried to kill an entire town of my friends,” she replies. “Twice.”

“Oh.” Boxcars tilts his head as far back as he dares. “Sounds like us. Fuck you anyway. Should have died with them.”

“Lotta people telling me that lately.” She tips the Sugar Bombs into her mouth and talks while she chews, flakes falling down her chin. “Know a con named Meyers?”

“That grizzled old fuck?” Bastard was always telling everybody they could do better. Could put in their time and come out fine fucking citizens. If it wasn’t for a mean uppercut and the look like he knows every way to make a man bleed, he’d have been cellblock bitch years ago. “Shit you want with him?”

“Never you mind. Just send him up.” She crushes the empty cereal box and throws it in the air. Ralphie zaps it to dust on the wing and beeps like it’s Christmas. “I don’t see him by nightfall, you’ll all die in fire.”

“Fuck you.” His ear’s bleeding, dribbling down his fucking jaw.

She waves him off and settles back on her bedroll. “Quickly now. I’ll give you a fifteen-minute head start if you scamper.”

He kicks half the hills down with him, rocks rolling behind as he sprints home. Time to move the fuck on again, he decides. Send up that old do-right fuck, break the caps outta Eddie’s desk, then get him some nice quiet R’n’R in Nipton.

Boxcars fucking deserves it.


* * *

Meyers approaches with his hands high. The setting sun’s in his eyes, so he can’t see who’s called him out. A woman, that boy said. Well, “blazing bitch-cunt and cocksucking Ralphie” was what he’d said, but Meyers has grown fluent in con-speak.

His wife? He can’t imagine she’d bother. The divorce papers had been through the bars before he was formally sentenced. His daughters, they’d be grown now, but they don’t even write.

“Hello?” he calls cautiously.

“Come up behind the ridge,” a strange voice calls out. “There’s a path to your right.”

Meyers complies, still surrendering even as his hands start to tingle. “Have I done you some harm?”

It’s no one he knows, a tall raider who looks to have travelled a bloody road, rolling up a bedroll. She pauses, looks at him quizzically. “None I know of. Hold this.”

He takes the bedroll and holds it tight while she ties a much-knotted cord around it. He nearly drops it when an eyebot whirls around the ridge and blasts a few dramatic chords. The woman holds up her hand.

“No, Eddie. This one’s ok. You keep our perimeter tight.”

“Oh, Ralphie,” Meyers breathes. “Well, that makes sense now, at least.”

She takes the bedroll and tucks it into the straps of her pack. “If you say so. Let’s get moving. We can make it before midnight if we shake some dust now.”

“Lady…” He scratches the back of his neck. “Ma’am? Where?

She shoulders the pack, which doesn’t look very heavy. “Primm.”

Primm? “Can’t we just talk out whatever problem you’ve got with me here?”

“There’s no problem.” She starts down the path, whistling for her eyebot. “Primm needs a sheriff. You’re the closest sheriff. So you’re moving in.”

“Ma’am, no.” Meyers follows her, almost grabs her arm before the last two days, the blood in the courtyard, comes to mind. “I can’t leave. I got a sentence to serve out.”

“You’re paroled. C’mon.”

“Now, look here.” He moves to block her way and holds up his hands in what he fervently hopes is a peaceful gesture nonetheless indicating the two of them are going nowhere, just this second. “No one made me any job offer. I’ve never been to Primm. If I go now, I’ll be a wanted fugitive like those Powder Gangers. Maybe I made the law move a little too fast for some’s taste, but I’ve never broken it. And I’m not starting tonight.”

She rubs her face, looking very much like an ill woman who’s gone several days without any sleep. “You don’t actually have a choice,” she says through her fingers.

It’s not that he wants to go back into that stinking prison. Whoever this crazy woman is, he’d rather spend the next five years with good behaviour following her through the wastes than trading blowjobs for smokes and sharpening shivs out of Cram can lids.

It’s a matter of principle. His highest principle tonight is not adding a lifetime of years to his allotted stretch in that hole through jailbreak, voluntary or no.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he tells her. “You get me an NCR pardon, and I’m all yours. I’ll be the best damn sheriff Primm’s ever had. Deal?”

“Here’s the deal. You come with me and take a cushy job pushing around a few dozen cowards.” She unholsters her rifle. “Or I shoot you in the stomach and leave you here. Geckos or gut-rot get you first, I don’t care.”

The desert wind blows through them, carrying the last scraps of the day’s heat. In a couple of hours, it will shiver their bones.

Meyers nods toward the road ahead. “Job come with a hat?”

“Black or white,” she replies, pointing her attention, and the rifle, at the darkness ahead. “Your call.”

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