Expedition Equipment Exporters Parking Lot
Wednesday, February 22, 2051
After finally escaping the nightmare of bureaucratic inefficiency that is The Six, the Lazarus team drove straight on into the night towards their goal, the Expedition Equipment Exporters warehouse store right on the border with the Badlands. They drove up around 2 AM, after the main store had closed but the ever-present market stalls of the nomads who are ExEEx’s primary customers were still up and bustling, and would continue to be so well into the night. The team, tired from the long drive, reclined in their seats (which, unfortunately, weren’t as comfortable as those in a more modern and up-do-date Amur. Still, most of the team were able to get a decent amount of sleep.
It is now the next morning, and Eris, who slept in a luxurious sleeping bag between the Amur and the trailer with the bikes in it, has just wrapped her knuckles upon the Amur’s driver’s side window. A few harmless shards of glass fall off, evidence of one of the big truck’s new bullet-holes.
Mac’s weary eyes crack open wider than they had been as he opens the door, grumbling and stretching, attempting to work out kinks in his muscles. “Ugh.. hopefully you got some good rest, Eris – I couldn’t sleep a wink with the seat and Pitbull’s snoring. This place better have some coffee.”
Wormwood, who is a light sleeper, has been restless most of the night and finally gave up on sleep an hour ago. Now we wanders across the parking lot carrying two foamed plastic trays. “Breakfast!” he calls, “Mondo Combos all round, and Coffee!”
“My savior. Wormwood, I hereby restore you to your original moniker.” Mac reaches for the coffee, clutching at it like a drowning man grabbing for a lifevest, seeking to replenish his vital fluids. Pacoy sighs and stretches, heading out for a cup of coffee that was mostly stale and burnt, and something warm, greasy and semi-edible this place will be passing off for breakfast. Pitbull grumbles something unintelligible as he takes his food and coffee, unflinchingly stepping out of the way of Mac’s ravenous feeding frenzy.
Wormwood takes a hard look at his comrade, “Woah, Mac. You want I should just hook up an IV for that?”
Hot caffeine in his stomach, no matter the quality, improves Pacoy’s attitude greatly.
Eris looks down at Worm’s trays, shrugging. “I’ll grab something from the Bazaar; never cared for the processed stuff.” Wormwood grins, “Mac can have yours too then, Eris. I think I saw a stall with a roadkill stew in the market, smelled pretty good actually.”
Pitbull looks up at that, perking up a little. “Depends, what’d it smell like?”
“If only – it wouldn’t taste nearly as good.” Mac sets the drained cup on the roof of the Amur. “So we get to spend a bunch of money today then, yeah? This must be how Anita feels when she goes out shopping…” He quickly lifts the coffee destined for Eris before she has a chance to object, leaning against the car to finish it as quickly as the first.
Smiling as Eris walks away, Pacoy inclines his head towards as he asks the group “What does she think she’ll be eating out here that wasn’t processed? Surely no critter you’d ever see advertised on a menu!” Wormwood climbs up into the SUV and swings his legs out the door as he turns to look at Mac, “What time does this place open, then?"
Mac flicks open his pocketwatch, staring at the dial, then looking at the crowd of people headed into the store. “I imagine this hock shop’d open right about now, Worm, if I had to guess. What’s it like being able to do that? I’d have trouble finding a seat where my feet didn’t touch the ground – have had the same problem ever since grade school.”
Pitbull unwraps his burger, and shifts it in his hand. “If it were possum stew, don’t touch that. Those shits carry rabies. Would steer clear of the cat stir-fry too, not due to rabies, but because most’ve them don’t cook it right. Had the runs ’til I hit So-Cal after that.” Pitbull lifts the bun to his burger and grimaces. “And I hate onions.” He growls with distaste as he hamfistedly picks them out.
Wormwood scowls at Mac and stops swinging his feet, “Do you get weather reports for up there?” He hops down again, “Let’s go see if they’re open.” “Lets. I bet all that dosh is burning a hole in Eris’ pocket.” Mac bundles up his food wrappers into the empty cups and makes motions about going to the store.
Eris rejoins the Lazarus group as they make their way towards the big store’s entrance. As they begin to head in, vehicles – calling them ‘cars’ would be a bit of a stretch – begin to pull into the parking lot around them, coming in from the Badlands entrance. The run-down, cobbled-together pieces of moving salvage keep coming in a single never-ending wave; dune buggies, half-trucks, several large RVs. After a few moments, it becomes clear that it’s an entire nomad pack.
Wormwood checks his pistols, loosening them in their holsters and thinking At least I should look like I fit in, in this get-up. Pitbull munches on his burger as they walk, grimacing. Even though the onions are gone, the flavor remains. Fuck…
Eris stands there, watching the convoy for several moments, munching on the lizard-on-a-stick she bought from the Bazaar. Wormwood looks for flags, graffiti or other identifiers he can web-search, trying to identify the pack – it might be one of the more harmless ones, or trouble.
Mac stops after a moment, realizing he had gone on ahead, before turning to look over his shoulder. “Look at those plugs – never seen anything like it. Miracle they can keep those crates running!” Pacoy smiles to Mac, “Why do you think I’m picking up so much tape?” his grin fades as he considers Worm’s words, and casts a look back at the Amur.
Pitbull looks at the lizard Eris is eating, widening his eyes as he frowns. Christ. I hope she’s got good digestion. If they did that wrong, she may spend the rest of her life on a toilet… Mac picks up the pace, wanting to make sure the group gets inside before the Nomads do. Mac slows, following Pacoy’s eyes before sending a note to the team’s HUD: “Want me to hang back and watch the Amur, make sure they don’t try something?”
“I just activated a buzzbot,” Pacoy informs Mac, “But I wouldn’t argue against an extra presence there.”
Wormwood replies, “Might be better if Pits hung back – he’s more intimidating and far more likely to speak the way they’ll understand.”Pitbull notices the Nomad pack and frowns again. I hope these are the ‘wandering’ nomads, and not the ‘kill, burn, rape’ nomads… Pitbull nods at Wormwood’s words. “I know a little of them, some of the most well known one’s at least. Hopefully, they aren’t just biking barbarians.”
Aloud Wormie continues, “Let’s face it Mac, sometimes I’ve no idea what you’re saying either.” Mac cocks his head to the side. “Just chinning over here, Worm. No worries.” He pulls up at the door to the store, stopping to look at the group to see what the plan is, holding the door open for everyone while they decide on the course of action.
Wormie nudges Pits, “D’you want to head back to the car? Your rifle’s still in there, for one thing – so’s mine, come to that.” Pitbull nods at Wormwood again. "Good idea. I’d like them to be the “peace, love, ’n pot” nomads, but I’d hate to find out that they aren’t without legit firepower." Wormie sniffs, “I’m more worried about the ’Nads stealing them.”
Pitbull laughs at Wormwood’s words. “Yeah. That’d suck too. Lotta good locks do when a back window is busted.” Mac blinks. “I had… completely forgotten… see, this is what happens when I don’t bunk down properly.”
Pitbull sighs as he notices some relieving qualities on them. “Their likely a Coyote tribe. They won’t fuck with us if we don’t fuck with them.” “If that’s the case – and you’ve got that bot active, Pacoy? Then I don’t see the harm in all of us shopping – more manpower gets it done faster. I can always dash out if we need someone at the car.”
“Still best to get our valuables though. Like the animal they are named after, they won’t tangle with us, but they will scavange whatever they can.” Pitbull adds to his previous statement. “Either nail it down, or carry it, I’d say’d be our best course o’ action.” “The buzzbot won’t stop them, but it’ll give me a heads up, and I can activate the Harpy while we’re running back,” Pacoy points out, “Like I said: no emergency if no one wants to hang back, but it wouldn’t hurt much either – then again, it’s a van full of goodies and a broken window… so maybe it’s best if Pit does hang back.”
Pitbull starts walking back to the Amur, and considers the idea of having to switch out his APHEX ammo…
Eris shrugs to Pacoy. “I’ve got a few camera drones up myself. I’d think several cameras and a gun-total mobile turret should be enough to make them steer clear of us. Coyote’s aren’t usually eager to die – and this is technically Badlands territory. The SoCal police won’t care if we raise a dust-up here, though ExEEx has a policy of banning anyone who does anything like that from its property.” She indicates to the corners of the building, where several relatively large domes are attached to the bottom of the overhang.“…that’s good enough for me. We’re burning daylight, gents. Lets burn through that case dough as well, yeah?” Mac taps his foot against the open door. Wormie notes where Eris is pointing and raises an eyebrow. Well spotted, he thinks to himself. “Speaking of camera drones,” Pacoy sounds all business as he adresses Eris, “I was wondering how much of your focus will be on us… umm, camera wise? It’s just that I’d really rather avoid as much camera exposure as possible, so long as it doesn’t violate my contract.”
Pitbull sifts through the Amur and finds his Reaper in the space that Mac stashed it in. He keeps his eyes and ears alert as he swaps out the APHEX ammo.
Eris turns a smile to Pacoy, flashing her pearly whites as her eyes turn a comforting shade of blue. “Oh, come now. Don’t tell me a man like you is camera shy!” She looks him up and down meaningfully.
“I know that half of your job is making a documentary on ‘Big Bad Edgerunners’ and how they operate, but does my face have to be in it? I’m even willing to compromise – I’m all for a little digital manipulation, mask or alter my face – you work for DreamCorp, it’d be a small favor, really.”
Wormwood looks around the cavernous store until he sees an assistant, then raises his voice, “Yo, choomba, we’re here for the Lazarus Group pick-up.” Mac looks sidelong at Wormwood. “And you have trouble parsing how I speak?”
Wormie grins, “No, I have trouble understanding you, nothing to do with parsnips. And I expect the folks here talk to Nomads all day every day.”Pitbull finishes assembling his Reaper after a minute, then leans back on the Amur, weapon in hand. He attempts to wear a “guard” expression on his face, but he knows it’s more like an “eat shit and die” expression.
Eris steps through the door and into the comfortable climate-controlled cavern that is ExEEx SoCal. She’s almost immediately turned to by the Xeek whose attention Wormwood had just got. The man, wearing a dark blue ExEEx ‘polo shirt’ uniform, speaks with a soft, refined accept – maybe a touch of British in there mixed with some New York or other East Coast upper-class sprawl. “Welcome back, Ms. Stansfield! What can I do for one of our loveliest customers today?”
Wormwood does a double take and wanders off to look for another Xeek.
Pitbull sparks up a cigarette, and leaves it hanging between his lips, his hands returning to their positions on his Reaper. He attempts to keep his eyes on the Coyote Nomads, without actually staring at them.
Mac keeps one eye on Eris and the Xeek, the other tracking Wormwood’s movement until he gets a headache, when he sighs, gives up and sends a HUD message to Pitbull. “Everything jakeloo out there? Hey, so I got a joke. There’s this boozehound that walks into a box, and he gets thrown out by the barman. This happens six times in one night, and on the seventh, right before the barman hucks him to the curb, the drunk stops him and asks, ‘How many bars do you own, anyway?’”
Eris puts a hand on Worm’s shoulder as he turns away.
Wormwood sends subvocally to the others in the team, “So how come Miss Eris Fancypants is such a well known customer here if she’s been working on the Edgerunners show like Veracity said?” Wormwood stops and glares. “I don’t like to be touched by strangers, Ms Stansfield."
She shrugs a little at Wormwood as she takes her hand away. “Berince, this is Wormwood; the others with us are the rest of the Lazarus Group. We put in an order for a few supplies before we head into the Badlands.”
Mac smiles at his own joke before directing a response at Wormwood and the team. “Oh, nonsense – you’ve been wanting to get your hands on her since you first goggled her. I doubt she’s known here because she’s a fan of rat-onna-stick. Seems old hat to her – maybe she’s done it before? Kind of disturbing to think of, that. Hate to think we’re the last pick in a bangtails race…”
Pitbull does his best to hold back his laughter, stopping his breathing and letting only a smirk get through as he sends a reply. "All good for now. They don’t seem to care yet. So a corpse walks into a bar and asks “Yo barkeep, can I get some water?” The bartender tells him " Oh sure! I’ve never seen a stiff drink before!"
Wormwood sketches a smile at the Xeek, and acts his best. “Pleased to meet you, any friend of Eris’s and all that. We’re really in a bit of a rush, you know – is our package ready for loading?”“Worm, I’m pretty sure her Edgerunner show has some kinda corporate marketing scheme tied in with this place, getting bulk rate gear for product placement and stuff like that.” Pacoy comms Wormwood.
Mac grins, letting out a short bark of laughter, sending Pitbull a congratulatory HUD message. “So there’s this hobo, and he says to his buddy, ‘Y’know, I got to quit smoking – it’s getting too dangerous.’ His pal’s nodding in agreement until he asks why. ‘Well, it’s been twice today that I bent over to pick up a cigarette butt and someone’s almost ran me over!’”“Two Texans walked into a bar,” Pacoy comms, joining the fun “You’d think the second one would have been smart enough to duck!”
Mac vocalizes to the group present in the store; “Can we pick up some eel juice and some snacks for the drive? Gotta have something to swap around the fires when we bunk down for the night.” He lets out a hearty laugh at Pacoy’s joke. “Nice one!”
Pitbull, trying to not turn tomato red from the effort of remaining poker-faced against fits of laughter, sends a gif of two cartoon characters bro-fisting to Mac as reply. "So a guy goes to the doctor and says ‘Doc, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this and I’ve decided that I should be castrated.’ The doctor looks at him, horrified. ‘Sir, I don’t think that’s right. I won’t approve of that kind of an operation!’ The man is not deterred. ‘Doc, it’s the right thing to do for my health. And if you don’t do it, I’ll just find a doc who will.’ The doctor eventually agrees and gives him the operation. Later during his recovery, he’s allowed to walk, bandaged and assisted accordingly, when he sees a guy with the same dressing and accessories. He goes up to the guy and goes. “Hey! You got the same op’ I did!” The man smiles at the guy and says, ‘Yeah. Figured that it was time to do the right thing and get my circumcision done, y’know?’ The other guy goes white as a ghost. ‘Oh shit! *That’s* what it’s called?"
Berince nods to Wormwood. “We had most of your supplies on-hand when the order came in; the rest have already arrived. Would you like them packaged for long-range transport, or for use on-the-go?” Wormwood smiles, “Excellent. We’ve a long way to go over several days, so loaded for long-range i’d say. Should we pull the car around somewhere?”
Mac screws his eyes shut, doing his best to not interrupt the business going on in front of him with gales of laughter, sending Pitbull a waving white flag. “That’s a fair cop – you win that round, Pitbull. People in here are staring I’ve been laughing so much.”
Berince nods. “Of course, sir.” He turns to a man in ExEEx dark-blue overalls. “Get the Lazarus package out here, boxed for trans-ship!”
“And I’ve looked like the biggest toughest tomato with a gun for this past couple of minutes. If you had another one, I would’ve thrown in the towel on it. Don’t want to break face around guys looking for weakness to exploit.” Pitbull H.U.D. texts back.
Wormwood nods his thanks at the store assistant as he texts to his team. “OK, so let me tell you the tale of Patricia Whack the bank teller. One day she hears a noise, looks up and there’s a frog at her counter. The frog says “I’m here about a loan”, so Patricia pulls out the form and begins to fill it out.
“Name?” “Kermit Jagger”
“Amount of Loan?” “Ten million dollars.”
Patricia looks at the frog. “That’s a lot of money. We usually ask for collateral on that amount.” The frog pulls out a small ivory carving of an elephant and sets it on the counter. Patricia looks at it and says ’I’ll need to speak to my manager." The frog nods, unconcerned.
Patricia goes into the manager’s office, flustered, and blurts out “Sir, there’s a frog out there wants ten million bucks and all he has as collateral is this dumb ornament. What is this thing, anyway?” She shakes the ivory elephant at the manager.
The manager looks her calmly up and down and says, “It’s a nik-nak, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man’s a Rolling Stone.”“So Pitbull, we got the package just about ready to get packed up – you guys want me to liberate some giggle juice from this joint? You, Pacoy? I’m buying.” Mac comms to the group. “Sounds like a plan, Mac” Pacoy answers.
Mac turns and stares blankly at Wormwood for a brief minute before bending double and slapping his knee, tears streaming down his face. Pitbull thinks about what he’s reading for a moment, then is caught off guard by a fit of laughter, caught between the humor of it and the painful realization that he had ruined his poker face.
Collecting himself, Mac speaks through a grin, “Right – bottle of whatever you’d like, Wormwood, for that. Think the bazaar might carry some interesting liquor? Once we get loaded up, lets hit that, then the road.”
Calmly, Wormwood walks over to Mac and pats him on the back, then heads for the door to await the delivery of the team’s supplies.
Once the shipment is out at the big SUV, Wormwood checks off each item as it is loaded – then looks towards the Bazaar. “Eris, is there a liquor stall in there that’s not totally toxic? Mac wants to refill his hip-flask.”
While the goods are being loaded, and Mac scouts for quality booze, Pacoy decides to continue the jokes, “So, a Marine walks into the motor-pool early Monday morning and inquires if his jeep was ready, the motor-pool attendant pauses and says ‘Remind me again which one you were.’ So the Marine says ‘I was the guy who was out late Friday night, and and my engine just died’. The attendant smiles as he recalls the visit ‘Oh, yes, you’re the fellow that blew the seal over the weekend!’ Angry, the Marine grabs the attendant by the collar an growls ‘Just fix the damn jeep and keep my personal life out of this, okay pal?’”
Wormwood snorts a laugh. Pitbull turns a darker shade of red as he really fights off the laughter, refusing to drop his vigil this time. But damned if that wasn’t a good’un…
It takes a long time to get the shipment loaded with Wormwood inspecting every item – each of the six big boxes the items were carefully packed into is popped open, taken out of their secure packaging one at a time, then the retail boxes are opened up to inspect the actual item before putting them back in the box, then on the floor where it can await the next item to be removed from the package and the whole process to repeat, and that doesn’t’ even include repackaging everything back into their boxes.
After ten minutes, Wormwood shouts “Woah, let’s not take all day. Eris, you know these people – should we trust they’ve got it right and everything is here?” Eris is sitting on the Amur’s hood, still chewing on her lizard-stick. “Of course. If they stiff us, they know their advertising’s going to take a hit.” Pitbull piques up, still playing sentry man, “Oversights happen, Wormie. I’d rather not die because we missed the essentials due to some slack jawed under-achiever in their ranks packed it all wrong.”
Wormwood nods, “Then pack it all back up, get it on the roof and let’s move out. Gimme the sheet so we know what’s in what box though.”
Meanwhile, Mac scouts the Bazaar for alcohol, finding several tent-shops each selling – well, claiming to sell – various types of alcohol. Several of them clearly have been here a while and have even put up elaborate stills in their backs, while others claim to make more ‘stunning’ liquors from out in the Badlands and transported back here. There’s even one claiming to sell “Rising Randy”, a form of brandy that’s supposed to stimulate the user’s pheremone production and that’s made by genetically engineered goats, whose milk-production glands have been altered to be biological fermentation stills.
Pitbull drops a H.U.D. text to Mac, as he scouts out the arms and ammo vendors. “If you find any good whiskey, get me a bottle. We’ll need it for this trip. You know, wound cleaner and stress reliever. I’ll pay ya back.” Mac makes a few quick deals and comes back to the Amur with a large bag full of bottles of various types of liquor. “Gentlemen, we have all the supplies we need. Worm, as promised, I got one for you.” He stows the bag in the back, then fetches the Rising Randy bottle and hands it over to Wormwood. “It was the closest thing to Randall they had in there. Shall we get going?”
Wormwood reads the label on his bottle and looks dubiously at Mac. “Really? I may have to save this for a special occasion.”
Mac narrows his eyes, internalizing some reserved thoughts. Special occasion? In retrospect, that might have been the worst idea I’ve had this year. What was I thinking? Increased pheremone production? Stalker? Dumber than a bag of hammers some times, I swear. He passes Pitbull a bottle of whiskey. “No drinking on the road, savvy?” He hauls himself into the Amur.
Pitbull eyes the bottle passed to him from Mac, smiling. A bit of whiskey. Some company in arms. And a long drive. It’s feeling like home all over again. That or Mexico. Easy to mix them up sometimes.
Eris settles into her seat, propping her feet against the chair back in front of her as the Amur begins to roll out. She glances at the Lazarus team, a smirk appearing on her face. "I knew this nomad once, working through his walkabout. It was the first time he’d been in the city. We were walking through the mall when he started getting agitated. I asked him what’s wrong, and he said “Where are the bushes?” I thought the kid was getting a little homesick, so I took him down to a shop I knew about that sells exotic plants, like cactus. I took him up to one and said, “Here you go. How do you like this one?” He looked up at me wide-eyed. “Really? You chose this one?” I nodded, and then he shrugged. He turned back to the cactus and stepped forwards, but after a moment he turned to me. “Can you leave me for a minute?” I nodded, thinking he was going to take some time to get back to nature. I walked to the front of the store and waited for a few minutes when I heard the most pained yell I ever did hear. I ran back into the store, and there he was, tightening his belt. I looked at him, and asked, “What’s wrong?” He just shrugged and said, “The ones we use back home aren’t usually so spikey. I hope you don’t mind, but I wiped with the bush instead.”