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Null

"It's not a question of who is going to let me. It's a question of who is going to stop me."

326 views · last seen in Ceder Crest Ridge
a character in “Fallout: Red Texas”, as played by Zero Reaper

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Description


NULL


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[Alone]



BIRTH FACTS:

Full Name: Michael Walker (never used; very few living individuals are aware of it)

Nickname: Callsign 'Null'; occasionally uses the pseudonym 'John Brown'.

Gender: Male

Race: Pure Human

Ethnicity: Caucasian (and damned pale at that, due to spending so much time in his armour)

Eye Color: Blue

Hair Color: Dark



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[With Anna]



PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS:

Height: 6'5"; power armour adds another 4" onto his height.

Weight: 96kg

Body Type: Very strong, tall and muscular; his body is in extremely good physical condition, as he was trained from an abnormally young age.

Hair Style: A little longer than average, due to not having had access to a pair of decent scissors for a month. Perpetually messy.

Appearance: Cutting an imposing figure, Null is what could be considered the very epitome of a young Enclave soldier, the sort of man one could imagine would have looked excellent on a pre-war recruiting poster. Dark hair hangs around clouded blue eyes, his features cold and unforgiving, revealing nothing about the man beneath them. A muscular body, built from years of warfare, honed for killing; on the battlefield, every shot is placed, every slash is timed, every punch is thrown with perfect agility, muscles simply going through routines practiced for years. He has surprisingly few scars for a veteran, his power armour having protected against most; however, this simply masks the many fractures, damaged organs and other internal injuries his body has sustained over the years from hundreds of impact to his armour. This has begun to weaken him, as it does all Sigma operatives; after all, Sigma are considered to have a use-by date of 25, and he is getting dangerously close to that date...



THE OTHER THINGS:

Sexuality: In his words - "I have only ever loved one individual. She may be gone... but I have no need for any other."

Age: 24

Scars: Surprisingly few, given the years he has spent on the battlefield; his armour has usually proven sufficient to protect against enemy weaponry. His most distinctive scar is a long one across his chest from a Deathclaw, which cleaved through his armour plating with a single strike and punctured his lung. For that reason, he is generally unable to fight for extended periods of time; any extreme physical exertion drains him, and can lead to him passing out, particularly in hand-to-hand combat. Nonetheless, he has the condition sufficiently under control that he has been cleared to return to duty despite it.

Ink/Holes: None, save the emblem of the Sigma Institute tattoo on his upper left bicep. The Institute's emblem is largely identical to the Enclave seal, but with a stylised 'S' in the centre instead of an 'E'.

Attire: Typically wears a set of Reinforced Leather Armour; it offers competent protection, but is also light enough for him to move freely and common enough for him to avoid arousing suspicion.
When he deems it necessary, he wears advanced Special Forces-issue Tesla Shocktrooper Armour; he keeps its components stashed on the back of a four-legged robotic equipment dummy, which he pulled together out of robots and scrap metal in a junkyard outside Dallas.

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[Setting the sunset]



PERSONALITY:

THE GOOD:

A cold, consummate killer, but not a murderer - Null is very clear about this distinction.

Raised from a young age by the Sigma Institute to become a perfect soldier, he - like all his fellow graduates - has known little kindness in the world. While seemingly cold, hard and ruthless, he has a strong belief in the future of mankind, albeit one that he rarely speaks about. He is a genuine idealist; Anna proved to him, in his eyes, that there is some inherent worth in the human race.

He still feels the pain every day from Anna's death; every night, he relives that horrible day, watching her executed before his eyes. For a long time, he considered suicide; however, over time, the sadness turned to a cold hatred. He came to realise, over time, that there was no way the Enclave could justify her death; thusly, he chose to turn against them quietly, and until a week ago, was simply waiting for the right moment.

A deeply philosophical man, Null's morality is rather complex. He believes absolutely in his cause, and will do anything to reach it; however, this is as much a flaw as an advantage. Nonetheless, Anna taught him the value of human life, and to honour her memory, he saves those who he can, often pausing to help those in need, but never losing sight of his true objective.

The nature of that ultimate goal?

Nothing less than the total and permanent destruction of the Enclave.

AND THE BAD:

While Null might believe in the good of the human race, one can never forget that he is and remains a Sigma graduate, and everything that entails.

Those whom the Sigma Institute trains are chosen for optimal intelligence and physical ability at a young age, and are brought into the Institute to be trained and turned into the elite Sigma soldiers of the Enclave. Every trace of humanity is beaten out of them; they are indoctrinated, taught to believe absolutely in the ideals of the Enclave, to hate any who are not 'pure humans'. They know no other life but the battlefield, going on their first combat operation at twelve.

The remnants of dislike for Wastelanders remains in him, and he still has difficulty working alongside them; he still feels the remnants of derision within him, and he has, from time to time, been known to let disparaging comments regarding them slip from his lips unchecked. He doesn't know how to deal with people, never needing to deal with anyone except the Sigma Institute; Anna taught him the very basics, but he still knows little, and doesn't care.

Anna changed him; she taught him that Wastelanders were human, that there was value in life. But she did not change him enough, and after her death, he has become consumed once more by hatred - only now, directed at those who created him. He will do anything to reach that goal; it is ideological, not practical, and he cares not if the entire Wasteland would have to burn for the sake of his revenge. All he knows is that he will track down every last scrap of the Enclave as he journeys north, and that eventually, he will reach the irradiated snow, and crest the mountain he lost her upon, and see the Institute laid out before him.

And on that day, America, the last traces of the old world, would die, as so to pay for his stolen future.



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[To kill is to live; to hesitate is to die]



STATISTICS:

S.P.E.C.I.A.L.:
- 9 Strength
- 6 Perception
- 7 Endurance
- 2 Charisma
- 10 Intelligence
- 8 Agility
- 3 Luck

SKILLS:
Combat:
- Energy Weapons: He knew how to use a Laser Pistol before he could write his own name.
- Guns: His primary weapon is a .50 BMG machine gun, and it shows; he knows guns intimately, and can use many of them purely by feel.
- Melee: Described by some as an artist with a knife, he is exceptionally talented in knife fighting, graduating top of his class in close combat from the Sigma Institute. Also practices with a sword in his free time as a form of meditation.
- Explosives: Trained in dozens of different explosives, primarily for sabotage and demolition work.
- Unarmed: An expert hand-to-hand combatant, courtesy of hundreds of hours in the ring; he is taught the signature grappling-based combat style developed by the Institute's instructors for use between power armour-wearing combatants.
Active:
- Medicine: A trained combat surgeon, as with all Sigma graduates, although he has little regard for such pathetic things as 'anaesthetics'.
- Repair: Capable of repairing a full suit of Tesla Shocktrooper Armour, to say nothing of a mere robot or generator.
- Sneak: Knows how to stay hidden very well, which has served him amicably over the years.
Passive:
- Pilot: Capable of flying near-anything, be it a state-of-the-art Vertibird or a rocket put together out of jerry cans and scrap metal.
- Deception: While not charismatic by any means, he is a consummate liar through and through.

PERKS:
- Intense Training x5: +5 SPECIAL points
- Power Armour Training: Able to use all forms of power armour, an exceptionally rare and valuable piece of knowledge in the Wasteland; given enough time, also capable of teaching others to use power armour.
- Eye For Eye: As a Sigma graduate, he is indoctrinated to only fight harder when injured.
- Implant GRX: All Sigma institute graduates are given this Enclave-developed implant; leaching off naturally-produced adrenaline, it is able to be activated roughly once every 24 hours and gives a massive adrenaline hit, tripling reflex time.
- Mad Bomber: Possesses the knowledge and experience to make nearly anything blow up with the right tools.
- Terrifying Presence: His size, build and unflinching gaze are enough to terrify near-anyone into submission.
- Unstoppable Force: His enormous physical strength, combined with the added force of his powered armour and the speed of his strikes, allows him to pass or break an enemy's block almost instantaneously, whether in hand-to-hand or with melee weapons.
- Chem Resistant: Carries on his person a range of combat drugs. Extensive psychological conditioning and experience with using them means that he bears no risk of a crippling addiction to them; however, it also means that he is largely immune to weaker drugs, including standard Stimpaks.
- Hit The Deck: Having spent many years on the battlefield and having had many large explosions go off in dangerous proximity to him means that he knows how to relax his body when too close to an explosion, reducing the effect of the concussive shockwave.
- Toughness x3: The determination of a Sigma graduate, combined with the Institute's exceptionally strict selection regime, renders him significantly physically tougher than most humans beings.

BONUS SKILLS:
- Enclave Commander: An expert in planning and executing a wide range of military operations, from leading small-scale surgical strikes to coordinating entire theaters of war.
- Sigma Graduate: The will to survive is ingrained nearly from birth for the Sigma graduates. They will keep fighting until they are no longer capable of physically doing so, regardless of the pain they're subjected to.
- Ruthless Operator: Cold, pragmatic and detached after the death of the only person he's ever cared about in this world, he is capable of witnessing things that would drive others to madness, and nonetheless continue unperturbed - which is, perhaps, a kind of insanity in itself...



EQUIPMENT:
T-67x Tesla Shocktrooper Armour: A unique variant intended to be issued to the Enclave's 1st Airborne Legion, only a few prototypes of the Tesla Shocktrooper Armour existed before the fall of Adams Air Force Base, where the entire 1st Airborne Legion perished in battle against overwhelming Brotherhood forces. Developed at the Sigma Institute in Nova Scotia, it is a comprehensive update from the Tesla Armour used during the Capital Wasteland War, using lightened ceramics to reduce weight to allow for easier Vertibird transport and heavy-duty leg servos to act as shock absorbers during parachute drops, as well as being fitted with pouches for ammunition.
The characteristic Tesla system has been altered; it is now capable of dispersing the force from energy weapons fire with roughly 93% efficiency, as well as being able to overcharge most unshielded electrical systems for a variety of effects. However, to achieve these alterations, the Tesla system's power draw was increased by roughly 2000%; thus, it can only be activated for short bursts without overloading the armour's Ceramic Ultracapacitor, which results in the armour shutting down for an extended period of time, effectively trapping the pilot inside.
Frederica: A four-legged robot, constructed mostly out of scrap metal and a few rusted Protectrons. Completely unarmed, she is fitted with the TX-28 Microfusion Pack from a ruined suit of T-51b armour Null found in the junkyard, granting her a near-unlimited power supply. Her primary use is that she can carry close to a full ton of equipment, and she is incredibly sturdy, capable of taking .308 armour-piercing rounds and continue walking. She has always appeared as his loyal companion over the last month in the Wasteland, since his leaving of the Enclave.
Combat Drugs: Carries a range of combat drugs on his person, including Med-X, Buffout and Psycho, as do all Sigma graduates. In the event that they are wounded in combat, they are expected to simply inject one and keep moving; he is no different, although his supply has begun to run low.

WEAPONS & TOYS:
The Peace Keeper: A highly unusual .50 BMG machine gun, this weapon was custom-developed by the Enclave due to the relative commonality of the M2 and its .50-calibre ammunition in southern parts of the United States and the unreliability of energy weapons in sandy conditions. Typically feeding from 20-round belts of depleted-uranium .50 BMG shells, this handheld variant uses a large suppressor; while it does little to reduce the enormous noise of the weapon firing, it does serve to reduce the weapon's recoil and can help conceal the firer's position in the dark. Only capable of being used by power-armoured Enclave commandos due to its immense weight and recoil, its primary weakness is its sheer size; it is nigh-impossible to use in anything resembling close quarters, and it is highly inaccurate for extended bursts. Additionally, ammunition for it is generally quite expensive, and stealing it generally necessitates starting a fight with someone already carrying an M2, which is not a clever idea. Typically carried with his armour on Frederica's back.
952 Custom Carbine: His typical weapon when not wearing power armour, this weapon is a standard-issue US Air Force Assault Carbine rechambered for the 9mm round. Possessing a very high rate of fire, light weight and minimal recoil, this is an effective close-quarters weapon with notable stopping power, although it lacks the punch to deal with large beasts or heavily armoured foes. Purchased for a few hundred caps near the New Mexican border, it has served him well thus far, although its condition is beginning to deteriorate.
Sig-Sauer 12.7mm Pistol: A standard 12.7mm pistol, a moderately common weapon across Middle America. His Enclave-issue sidearm, it packs an extreme punch, enough to cause major damage to armoured foes and stop a Yao Guai dead in its tracks with a single magazine. However, its recoil is extreme, and it is very difficult to handle when not wearing power armour.
Trench Knife: A standard Sigma-issue combat knife, fitted with a 'knuckle duster' grip for better traction. Constantly sharp, he is exceptionally talented in its use.

OTHER:
Still keeps her dog tags around his neck, even to this day. He refuses to let them go, no matter what happens.



CHILDHOOD:

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[Day after day...]

ImageBorn to parents in Fort Eagle, the last Enclave military base remaining after the fall of Adams AFB, located to the north, in snowy Nova Scotia. His father was an engineer; his mother, a psychologist. That is all he knows, as that is what his file says. To his mind, he was born on June 2nd, 2305.

The day he was inducted into the Sigma Institute.

After the fall of Adams AFB, the Enclave no longer had the numbers to mount an effective war against the Brotherhood of Steel - that much was clear. They did not, nor would they within any practical timeframe, have enough people to wage war on the Wasteland. So instead, the Sigma Institute was founded.

The last members of Enclave High Command fled from Adams AFB to Nova Scotia, the location of Fort Eagle, the north-most outpost of the Enclave. Home to some six hundred people, it was a tiny facility, but housed the Sigma Institute - the Enclave's chief research organ. An elite squad, trained by Sigma, were sent to defend the Mobile Base Crawler as a last line of defence; while slain by the mysterious Lone Wanderer, they managed to defeat hundreds of Brotherhood soldiers, and proved the effectiveness of elite units.

Therefore, the remaining Enclave commanders directed the Sigma Institute to build a new army. Small, but skilled, well-trained and well-equipped enough that they could defeat the Brotherhood through guerrilla tactics, and thus allow the reclamation of America. To this end, a group of children between the ages of three and eight were pulled from the general population of Fort Eagle; kidnapped, they were trained ruthlessly for ten years, and at the end of it, emerged the finest soldiers the Wasteland had ever known.

Five years later, they did it again.

Null was part of the sixth generation of Sigma combatants. By this stage, Sigma forces had been deployed through the Wasteland; performing reconnaissance, destroying Brotherhood patrols before they could radio in to base, harassing supply caravans, anything they could to weaken the Brotherhood's grip on the eastern Wasteland, all the while remaining completely undetected. Null grew up hearing stories of the terrifying wastes, of the mad savages who inhabited them, who dared to believe that they represented the true, great and peaceful nation of America. Of the totalitarian, ruthless Brotherhood of Steel, who massacred anyone they came across.

He was subjected to the brutal training of the Institute, and accepted every second of it without question. He would go days without rest or sleep, or be deprived of food and water until he physically collapsed, or participate in live knife fights where you won or you died. He questioned none of it; just fought, again and again, quickly showing promise as a Sigma operative. After he took command of a group during an exercise in the winter and managed to achieve victory against a fully-armed previous-generation combat team by ingenious use of an avalanche, he was promoted to leader of his squad. He was quickly becoming a prospect for being given the role of Commander of the entire Sixth Sigma Legion when they graduated.

He was fifteen years old when everything changed.

It was a routine operation in the Capital Wasteland. He'd been going on live operations for three years by that point, and had proved exactly as effective in the field as he had in exercises. He and his squad were observing the Brotherhood forces in Old Olney from a nearby ridge when things went wrong.

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[Death incarnate]

Null had missed the shadowed entrance to a cave in his sweep of the area before they made camp, and learnt only a few short hours after dark that this cave was home to a family of Deathclaws. They approached silently on the camp; Null was lucky enough to be on watch, but by the time he saw them, it was too late. They pounced on the camp; he was hit by one, knocked backwards, sustaining a severe chest wound. When he got up, eyes bleary with pain, he realised that he stood on the edge of the ridge, trying to ward them away from the camp with belt after belt of .50 BMG ammunition, but they paid him no heed, simply tearing into his unit, their screams lighting up the night sky. Suddenly, he felt himself yanked backwards, off the edge of the ridge-

And found himself staring up into the blurred, thin-featured face of a young woman.

Who promptly hit him on the skull.

He awoke some hours later, underneath a radio mast on a distant hill. Still in his armour, he sat, quickly realising that his weapons were gone; he cursed himself for being so slack as to allow himself to be caught like that. Nonetheless, it was a relief to be alive, and he realised that his chest wound had been bandaged. That was when he saw the same young woman - barely more than a girl, he now realised - sitting about fifteen feet up on the skeleton of the radio mast, a smirk upon her features, a pair of dog tags around her neck and a sniper rifle cradled in her arms.

He tried to demand answers from her, to which she responded by pointing her sniper rifle at him and pointing out the obvious tactical disadvantage of his position. After a few long minutes, he relented, and she explained that she was Anna West, a hunter around those parts from a family in Arefu. Only fifteen years old, she was already a talented marksman, and she said that she had taken to hunting wild dogs and mole rats with her father's .308-calibre sniper rifle to keep her family fed.

Null - realising that there was now little value in lying - explained that he was from an Enclave base to the distant north, and that he would very much like to be allowed to return. Anna agreed to this, on one condition - that he let her go with him. With little other choice, he agreed; she knew the roads, knew the terrain, and would likely be a better hunter than he was, too. So she accompanied him north.

It was a long walk, taking the pair more than three months, and the two had quite some time to converse, at which point Null realised that he really did not like Anna. The Enclave had always taught him the traditional American values; women should be quiet, domesticated, obey their fathers and husbands and stay in the kitchen. As it stood, she was brave, headstrong, and had a tendency to shoot things even more than he did. She infuriated him; the only times he would speak were when he argued with her about which way to go. But over time, he began to respect her opinion; he began to understand that, even though she was nothing like what he was told a woman should be, she was strong, and competent, and useful. Over time, he began to warm up to her.

Eventually, as the weeks dragged on, she became the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend. He told her about life in the Institute, about the years of harsh training; it was only her shock at it that caused him to ever imagine that life could be different, thoughts that while he quashed quickly at first, he began to wonder about over time. He told her about what the Enclave said America could become, about the stories he'd been told of the good old days, when children had been able to play in the street and fathers would come home every night to a warm meal cooked by a loving wife. Stories of white picket fences and nuclear-powered cars and a world where everyone was safe, no matter where they went.

And in return, she told him stories of growing up in the Wastes. Of learning to hunt, taking pot-shots at mole rats from the Arefu overpass, of camping in the wastes with her father, of being handed packets of bubblegum by Brotherhood patrols and of Old Man Vance's heroic defence of Arefu from a band of Raiders. She showed him her dog tags; originally her father's, she explained, printed with his information on the other side and hers scratched in with a knife on the other side. It was in these months that Null began to question everything he'd been taught; he came to realise that maybe Wastelanders weren't so bad. Maybe the Sigma veterans had been mistaken, and not all Wastelanders were mindless savages.

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[How far has it been...?]

As they reached further north, the snow began to fall around them, and one night, Anna lay next to him to use the heat from his armour's Microfusion pack to keep warm. A few nights later, she explained to him the way body heat worked, and he removed his armour; she slept next to him again that night, the two keeping each other warm, her head upon his chest. The days went on and the nights grew colder, and soon, two sleeping bags changed into one, and clothes became fewer and fewer. One night, she explained to him the truth of why she'd wanted to go with him - her father had been an Enclave veteran, who'd surrendered to the Brotherhood at Raven Rock and who had been allowed to go free after interrogation, albeit stripped of his power armour and weaponry. After a few years of wandering, he married a young woman by the name of Lucy West in Arefu, and some years later, the two began having children.

Anna was the youngest, and was out checking on the Brahmin when the Raiders came.

Old Man Vance wasn't strong enough to hold them off this time, and as the screams grew louder, she ran; she grabbed her father's rifle from the safe in the ruined farmhouse next to the Brahmin pen, and she fled north, hearing the screams of her family every step of the way, sprinting all the way from Arefu to a radio mast north of Olney. She lay awake the whole night, unable to forget what she'd seen and heard, and was awake when the shooting and screaming started again. She crept along on a tiny ridge that jutted out from beneath the main one, poking her head up to see a power-armoured figure on the edge of the ridge, bleeding heavily, and had pulled him backwards to save him from a charging Deathclaw. He tumbled down the ridge, hitting the ground, appearing dead for all effects and purposes; she remained silent, creeping down the hill, bandaging him and managing to drag him up towards where she'd made camp at the radio mast.

It wasn't until morning that she recognised Null as an Enclave soldier.

She was headed north because her father had told her to find the Enclave if she needed help; that because part of her was still 'pure human', because he'd taught her what America stood for, they might take care of her. That's why she went with Null - to find what remained of the Enclave, and seek refuge there.

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[Just before that fateful night...]

As she finished her story, Null realised that he felt pain for her trials. Pain - not something he'd ever felt before, not towards even his most loyal squadmates in Sigma. He sympathised with her, felt for her, and wanted to protect her.

He realised that he'd been in love with her for a very long time.

So he kissed her, and she kissed back, and within a few short hours, they were lying together, panting, having just made love for the first time, operating off nothing more than raw emotion and impulse. That night, for the first time, she held him as he slept.

And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was happy.

The following morning, they covered more ground than expected, and at sunset, made it to peak of the mountain that overlooked Fort Eagle. For a moment, they stood, and talked; he realised then that he was actually, for once, looking forward, as though he could see a little bit of light in the world, as though there were a future worth fighting for. Quite suddenly, they were greeted by the distinctive chopping of Vertibird rotors, and from the Vertibird, a fully-armed Sigma squad stepped out, led by the commanding officer of the base, Colonel Smales.

The Colonel explained that he'd been watching Null since about 11am that morning, and that he had great admiration for the odds that Null had survived in making it back to Fort Eagle; after his speech finished, Anna stepped forward, and told of her identity as daughter of an Enclave soldier and her belief in the future of America.

Before Null could react, Colonel Smales spat out "Filthy half-breed," and put a 10mm round between her eyes.

As Null stood there in utter shock, jaw dropped beneath his helmet at the events that had just transpired, Smales declared Null an example to all Sigma graduates, taking the Sigma trainee's silence for compliance. He said that Null had showed exceptional ingenuity in manipulating the "disgusting Wastelander" into working for him. He thanked Null for allowing him to "purge the Wasteland of such vile creatures", and then proceeded back into the Vertibird and flew back to Fort Eagle without another word.

Null stood there for a very, very long time, gazing at her corpse in utter shock, unable to react. As dawn broke, he buried her, using only his armoured hands to dig at the hard ground; at the last moment, he removed one of his gloves, took her dog tags, and touched her face one last time, closing her glazed eyes, a silent goodbye to the only person he'd ever loved, the only person who had ever been able to make him feel... human.

Placing his glove back on, he shovelled the dirt and then snow back on top of her grave, and planted his Sigma-issue knife there, the closest thing to a gravestone she would ever get.

He turned, facing the rising sun, and walked forward towards Fort Eagle, her dog tags around his neck, stepping into the new day ahead of him. As he walked off that mountain, he made himself two promises.

That one day, he would reclaim that knife, and with it, he would kill Colonel Smales, for taking from him the only future he had ever wanted.

And that one day, he would destroy the corrupted Enclave, those who had abandoned the ideals America stood for in favour of a doctrine of hatred.

But most of all, he promised her one thing -

He would create the beautiful world he'd told her of.

Even if he had to burn this one to get there.

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[Freedom's price...]

NOWADAYS:

Nine years have passed since that fateful day.

He went back into training; everyone who knew him said that he had changed. Not changed in the form of having become more caring, or colder - but instead, become better. In training, when he fought, it was with more force than even the Sigma instructors had ever seen; strikes that should have caused permanent injury, to say nothing of disabling him, barely slowed him down. He nearly killed two instructors in a sparring match.

He was observed to spend every free moment poring over books of two kinds. The first were military histories - complete details of the battles of history, from the ancient world to the war with the Brotherhood in the Capital Wasteland some thirty years prior. Every detail, every strategy, was comprehensively examined; when questioned on it, he could recite the exact tactical manoeuvring required to defeat any given opponent. When time came for graduation, when he was eighteen years of age, he was placed as Lieutenant-Commander of the Sixth Sigma Legion, the second-highest position there was. His allies lauded him as one of the greatest fighters and tacticians the academy had ever produced.

He hated every moment of it.

He plotted the downfall of the Enclave, and it was for this that he read the second kind of books - philosophy texts. From Aristotle to Rand, from Descartes to Nietzsche, he examined every possible philosophical avenue, every school of thought on life, as so to be able to understand the why of it all, to understand why the Enclave had fallen so far and to produce for himself just laws for the new world he would create.

However, one day, he was on recon with a four-man unit in New Mexico when he took a Cazador sting to the side. Slipping through a gap between his armour plates, the venom coursed through him; after reaching safety, he collapsed, and was treated by his team. Accidentally, while stripping off his armour, they found her dog tags.

He wrote it off at the time as a memento of his 'victory', but knew that this would be included in their report, and that it might be the final thing needed to arouse Colonel Smales' suspicion. He wasted no time. The second he was on watch that night, he slit each and every one of their sleeping throats, their knowledge dying with them.

Now truly alone, he began the long trek north-east, stopping at a junkyard near the New Mexico border and putting together an improvised robot that he called 'Frederica' to carry his armour for when he needed it; he could not afford to arouse suspicion on his trip north. Stealing a set of Reinforced Leather Armour at the first town he found, he now walks along the Wasteland, a mysterious figure with a junkyard robot, on a mission that he refuses to speak of.

Little does he know what lies in wait...

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[All that's left is the future.]





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[Anna's sketch of him; among his few possessions.]

So begins...

Null's Story

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INK

Null



The blanket of night slowly crept in over the vast wasteland as the dark figure continued his solemn march across it.

Only the faintest puff of vapour escaped his lips when he exhaled, the heat of the sun quickly escaping as the last shadows receded, replaced by total darkness. While he seemed to carry himself confidently, feet low to the ground and swift, upon closer inspection, one could note the slight sag of his broad shoulders, the lids beginning to hang heavy over sharp ice-blue eyes, each step up the ridge more stolid than the last.

"Null..."


Her whisper jolted him back into consciousness, hands tightening upon his lightweight carbine, moving it from a casual hip carry to a tight, militaristic hold pressed against his shoulder. He had traveled for far too long without rest; thirty-six hours now, by his count. Darkness was swiftly coming to claim him; the ghosts of the past begun to circle within his mind like vultures.

He was considering resting atop the ridge when he saw the pair.

A man of around thirty, maybe a little less, carrying a seemingly-unconscious young woman over his shoulders; most likely a kidnapping of some form. He wore leather armour, a rifle carried low in his hands; he seemed tired, most likely from having carried the woman's form for so long. His location was perhaps a few hundred metres away, walking just below the top of the ridge; he was high enough to have a good view over the terrain, but not enough to be easily exposed.

Null's mind moved quickly. On one hand, his consciousness was slowly fading; from his projections, he had perhaps two or three hours until he required rest or risked an unacceptable loss of combat effectiveness. A fight now could prove dangerous. On the other hand, to allow a young woman like that to be kidnapped-

Anna would never have allowed it.

Null paused, turning to his mechanical companion, the four-legged mechanical beast of burden that trailed him everywhere he went. A few quick whispers went out - "Companion protocol - wait", nothing more, a simple order that it could follow well enough.

With a silent prayer, he quickly racked the bolt on his 9mm subcarbine, flicking off the safety; he was still far enough away from the man that he could not have been detected from those sounds alone. From here, it was a matter of speed and stealth.

He stayed low, just below the ridge, sprinting along near-silently, feet making barely any noise as they seemingly glided across the ground in movements they'd executed a thousand times before. He was struck how much easier this was in simple reinforced leather armour relative to attempting stealth in full power armour, even when the servos were set to operate silently. He hoped that he had made the correct choice; if this man had allies, then the additional firepower of the power armour and Peacekeeper could perhaps have been convenient.

No time now, however.

He sprinted the last few hundred feet along the bottom of the ridge, carbine gripped tightly in his hands, until he could hear the man's heavy footsteps easily; he was exhausted from the day's travel, no doubt.

The man's footsteps grew louder, until Null knew that he was almost alongside. Now for the difficult part. Still remaining as quiet as he could - based on the lack of interruption in his foe's footsteps, he had yet to be detected - he vaulted the ridge, carbine held in one hand, rolling over the ridge as he hit the other side, before snapping up his rifle; he stood perhaps fifteen feet behind the pair of wastelanders. His finger curled steadily around the trigger. When his voice spoke, it was dark, commanding, cold.

"Turn around. Slowly."

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Terrence almost lost his balance, the cold voice interrupting him mid-stride. 'By the Tribe! I must be getting old; first I help this girl, then her beast sneaks up on me.' Slowly raising his hands outwards, rather than straight up and pushing Bandit off his back, Terrence slowly turned his body towards the voice and nearly let out a sigh of relief before he remembered he was still at gun point. His rifle was still in his hand, but shooting it one handed in this stance would be next to impossible.

Even in the quickly fleeting twilight, it was obvious that this man was not the same creature from that possessed town. He carried himself differently, almost in the exact opposite way of a wild animal. This man was conditioned and trained, his positioning and voice showed that quite clearly.

"To professional to be a Raider. NCR? Brotherhood?" If one were perceptive enough, the faint sound of hope could be heard in Terrence's voice. 'More likely to take prisoners, that way.'

Terrence shivered as a slow breeze crept by, carrying the cold of night on it's breath. The days were hot in the waste, but the ground grew freezing under the stars. 'And then there is the creatures that hunt under watch of the moon.' They couldn't have been more than a few hundred yards from the shack, easily kept warm by the furnace inside. 'What were the odds that this damnable soldier would find us just as we were nearly to safety?'

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Null moved from his crouch to a standing position, the barrel of his rifle not wavering for a moment as he took a step back. The air was quickly growing frigid; the lightweight armour offered little protection from the cold. He would need to procure a cloak at some point.

The man was a tribal, from the looks of him; tan skin, a wiry build, with fierce eyes that seemed to search everything for a way out. Those eyes were odd; moving around fast, checking everything, slightly panicked, wild in their own way, yet at the same time, perfectly calm. Null had never seen a tribal this close before - he'd fought them hundreds of times, for certain, but had never focused on the eyes, only on their weapons and armour and build, as they stood at the wrong end of a .50 BMG round barrelling downrange.

It had always struck him how easily humans died. Seemed so impossible, next to the power-armoured Enclave; how a few bullets, and they fell to the ground, bleeding and screaming. One round from the Peacekeeper could tear a leather-armoured tribal apart, ending them and everything they had ever known in the space of an instant. The end of the road for them.

He still felt nothing towards their loss.

"Not here to kill you," he said, still staring down the sights of his carbine. Rather ironic, a part of him thought, given that he had a rifle levelled at the man, but such was the nature of this war. He nodded towards the girl, the barrel of his gun remaining set in stone as he did so.

"What are you doing with her?"

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To be frank, when Bandit awoke, she would be more than livid at herself for collapsing like she did. There was nothing weaker than passing out before a stranger. Of course, this was all assuming that she managed to live. Although she knew not what happened around her, inside Bandit's inner core felt safe. Perhaps content would be a more fitting word. Still, at least she wouldn't be some Deathclaw's meal tonight, or so she prayed.

With night just around the corner, Bandit gave her first sign of life. It was just a light stir -- a twitch, if you will. The timing could have been better, but the blond didn't realize her carrier was being held at gunpoint by an unusually handsome beau.



(Note to self, never have a character faint. It's boring doing nothing.)

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"Not here to kill you," said the soldier. The tribal almost smiled. 'That is what usually tends to happen, regardless.' Terrence listened for sounds other than from himself, Bandit, or this stranger. Nothing else was going to sneak up on him while they were stationary, or so he hoped.

"What are you doing with her?" The concern in the stranger's voice was odd, almost fake and yet sincere, as if he was asking on behalf of someone else who's opinion he valued highly. Choosing his words carefully, Terrence kept his voice low in fear of being heard by some beast hunting by moonlight.

"I found her and a… companion in a town south-east of here. Some people put demons in the water, and the demons went in the townsfolk. They attacked her and the other one but I was able to help her get out. She lost a lot of blood but we managed to stop the bleeding with healing powder. I was on my way to a shack my tribe uses as an outpost when you stopped us." As Terrence finished, he felt Bandit shift her weight. This was the first sign of consciousness she had shown since he had set out for the outpost. He felt a sense of relief wash over him; 'So few people survive such dehydration, thank the gods I had some water left.'

"She's waking up. Bandit, are you with us? Bandit?"

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The barrel of the rifle flickered slightly from the tribal to the girl to the tribal. Her awakening... if this was what he'd expected, he could retrieve answers from her, then presume to shoot the tribal or let them go on their way.

But if this was a trap...

No use thinking about that. He was a Sigma Graduate; he stood as one of the finest soldiers the Wasteland had ever produced. If they both tried to jump him, the first moments of the fight were simple; fire for the second or so it'd take to empty his magazine, then discard his rifle, draw his trench knife and cut down whichever one survived with that with a quick backhand stab to the stomach, then a slash to the throat. Over in the time it took to take a breath.

His mind ran through these motions instantly, automatically, a weapon honed from decades of experience; his greatest weapon was locked in his skull, and he was thankful for it. He had been taught from a very young age that the strength of the Sigma operatives was not their extraordinary physical abilities, nor the incredibly advanced state of their weapons and armour, but instead, their minds. They were taught every skill they could conceivably need to know, taught to command entire armies in battle if need be, capable of assembling complex battle plans in moments to counter every possible enemy action.

And it still wasn't enough to save her.

"Don't move; not yet. Lower her if need be. When she awakes, I shall take answers from her."

His grip tightened around the pistol grip of his carbine.

"And no, I will not lower my weapon. Not until the truth has been given beyond the slightest shadow of doubt."

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"Ehhh?" Her head bobbed back and forth as her body was placed on the ground. It felt so odd to be back on the earth. The fresh scent of topsoil entered her nose. It started to get her mind ticking. Of course, her ears had yet to open to the sounds around her. Still unaware of the two men in her vicinity, she rolled herself over so that she now took on the doggy-style bottom position. Arms spread out the width of her shoulders, she just shook her head.

"Mif er hm eh em?" The words were huffs of air and had no subsistence to them. She was trying to speak, but she was still lacking that ability for the time being.

Flitting her lashes, the daze that still choked her tried to subdue her into submission, but Bandit was stronger than that (or so she liked to believe). Teeth tearing into her lip, she hoped the jab of pain would awaken whatever sanity remained within her soul. Hand reaching up, it rubbed her forehead before kicking off the hat she still managed to wear.

"Holy hell, Dimitri, did you shove me down a set of stairs again?" Blue eyes opening, she took in the sea of dirt around her. She had yet to notice that she was surrounded by two men, and neither of them were Slasher. "You really need to be more careful with me. I might look sixteen, but I'm in no shape to get roughed up." Scooting so that her body folded over her legs, she squatted. Head turning up, she caught her first glimpse of the strangers. Stammering backwards, she crab crawled herself back up against a rock. Breathing picking up, her panting and panicking began. Just what was happening? Who were these men and where was Slasher? Eyes jumping from Terrence to Null, she let out a fleeting exhale. "Who the hell are you?"

Hand patting herself down, Bandit sent her dagger-like stare toward the two men. "Tch, do you know who you're dealing with?" Even if she didn't have her gear, Bandit would figure out a way to escape these men. Rising, her courage flooded back into her veins. Plopping her cowboy hat atop her mess of blond hair, she smirked. While one hand put on the hat, the other checked her pants for the small blade she kept hidden there. Sure enough, it was gone. Damn, she cursed to herself, these boys were thorough. Oh well, she could make do with her fists of flailing fury. Right?

Lips pouting, she crossed her arms over her chest. "Spill it. Whatcha want with me?" She was their prisoner and the fact that she was still alive meant she had something they wanted. Truthfully, she wasn't sure why anyone would capture her over Slasher. Slash had all the secrets locked away in his head. He knew about the ban of scientists who were trying to purify the water and create a vaccine for the radiated. She? Heh, Bandit knew a few things about a few groups, but not enough to be a problem. Or at least that's what she liked to assume.

"Well?" Foot tapping on the ground, the woman was trying to standoffish approach with the hopes that these wasterlanders might just find her lack of confidence proof that she was worth keeping alive. She also hoped all this staling would give her Slasher ample time to come crashing and thrashing over the rocks around them. She secretly hoped he would drink in their blood and put an end to their cryptic ways.

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"Don't move; not yet. Lower her if need be. When she awakes, I shall take answers from her." The soldier was cautious, almost to a fault. 'Probably not much of a drinking buddy, this one.' Bending his knees, Terrence slowly lowered Bandit to the ground. Avoiding any wicked edges on the rocks or debris, he stepped away from her slowly and returned kept his hands up. 'At least the girl is not behind me now. No way this armour would have stopped that bullet going all the way through and hitting her.'

"And no, I will not lower my weapon. Not until the truth has been given beyond the slightest shadow of doubt." 'Over cautious indeed.'

"To tell you the truth; this time of night, I'd rather you kept at the ready. Please tell me that… contraption is loaded." The young Numinu kept looking around, taking in the sights that moonlight allowed and the smells carried on the cold breeze. The wasteland was not savage in itself, but savage things still prowled the sands. 'Exhibit A, that thing from the town.'

"Ehhh? Mif er hm eh em?" Bandit writhed on the ground, like some child fighting the urge to return to sleep. If Terrence hadn't been more conditioned by the harshness of the Wasteland, he'd have been distracted by the primal urge to gape at her backside like a slack jawed fool.

"Holy hell, Dimitri, did you shove me down a set of stairs again? You really need to be more careful with me. I might look sixteen, but I'm in no shape to get roughed up." She turned to see Terrence and the stranger, panicking almost immediately and crab walking away, her eyes darted around searching for something that wasn't there. Finally taking in Terrence and the soldier, she sighed. Terrence himself merely looked at the soldier and shrugged his shoulders, almost asking 'Well what now, smart guy.'

"Tch, do you know who you're dealing with?" Terrence almost laughed at the wild determination in her eyes, a contrast to the sleeping form that had been drooling on his shoulder only moments ago. She appeared to be reaching for something on her back pocket but then came up empty, likely a knife or gun she had dropped when she had run to him back at the town. Terrence almost laughed again; 'never could keep my stuff held down at her age, either.'

"Spill it. Whatcha want with me? Well?" Terrence looked from Bandit to the soldier, then back again. 'Dimitri? That wouldn't be…'

"Dimitri would not happen to be the person you went into that town with, would it? The one opening the possessed with his bare hands, I mean." Looking around once more to check for animals stalking the trio, Terrence gestured to Bandit's hand and the empty water canteen that was tied around her wrist. She was dehydrated, and now she wasn't. 'Two and two make four.'

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"Loaded? Always," Null responded, but suddenly, his entire body tensed at a distinct sound.

A scream resounded in the distance.

Null showed no outward reaction, but his mind raced, dividing its processes between focusing on the situation in front of him and analysing the scream. Not low or broken enough to be a Ghoul - not animalistic enough to be a Deathclaw or Yao Guai. A man. It was human.

Not a roar of pain... more like a war cry. But not a war cry of hundreds charging into the fray. No sounds of battle, no further screams resounded; not conflict. Only one man, howling at the moon, a human without humanity. A monster.

A monster that, by all rights, appeared to be headed this way.

He turned his attention back to the situation at hand. They had to keep moving before that man got here - without his powered armour, a fight against three individuals simultaneously fell outside acceptable probability of victory. He could not afford this conflict now. Nonetheless, his first priority needed to be to ascertain the situation.

"Do you know who you're dealing with?"

The analysed the girl quickly. Young, slim, fit, and likely well-armed for combat; but nonetheless, physically, she was substantially smaller than he was, and it seemed likely that she lacked formalised military training. She appeared tenacious, but it was likely that her ferocity would cloud her judgement in combat.

"I am attempting to protect you," Null responded. "What he is doing with you - such is the reason for my presence."

Why was he even here? The thought flitted through his neurons for just a second. What did he think he was doing? He had no concern for her life. All this was - another chance to get him killed. Nothing more. Why did he take this risk? To honour her memory?

The dead knew nothing of honour.

But she wasn't dead. Not yet. Her soul still had yet to die.

Upon compulsion, he whispered to himself, "And until she's dead, I carry her..."

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"Oi, you boys are dense." Rolling her shoulders forward, Bandit allowed herself to take a breather. If these guys wanted to do something with her, they'd have done so by now. And with how much they talked, it hardly seemed like they were the enemy. At least, not right now.

Turning toward Terrence, Bandit had to head a blush on her face. Nervously, she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. One of her legs tucked behind her other and she bashfully turned her head aside. "That would be my Dimitri. Unorthodox, crazed, and cannibalistic in nature, but the only man who truly fights, lives, and breathes for me." When the scream filled the air, her eyes ran toward the mournful call. "I doubt he'll follow. He knows better. He's on a mission." Stepping forward, she playfully pushed Null's gun to the side some. "And if he does come this way, I'll tell him to spare you. For the most part, he doesn't just kill humans. He only kills those who pose a threat to my health." For a second, her hand rubbed her belly and all the emotion on her face drained away. Snapping back to her wits, she brushed her hand away and tipped her hat back some. God, she was just an open book before these men. If they were thinking of killing her, they might just do it now. She sounded so weak and vulnerable. Not to mention, it was pretty obvious she had her lover on her mind. Ugh, she kicked herself for even thinking about the baby she never had.

"So you're attempting to protect me from this guy?" Two fingers pointed at Terrence. "Pretty sure he's the fellow who saved my life." Coughing, she pattered herself down. Shit, Slasher had the canteen. She would get no water from her lack of a canteen. However, as her hand dug into her pocket, she pulled out what looked like a week old piece of mole rat jerky. Great, more dry stuff. But she still popped it into her mouth quickly, hoping it would magically call forth saliva due to the sudden sensation of eating. It helped, but not enough to quench her thirst. "Don't suppose we passed water." Lips cracked and chapped, the blond sighed. "I'm bone dry and Slash, erm Dimitri, has my canteen." The more she thought about it, the more she realized that her canteen was actually empty -- the one with Dimitri that is. Brows furrowing, she reached out her hand to touch a cooling rock. Within no time, this arid desert would become a frozen tundra. No snow or ice would fall, but the temperature would drop well into the colder temperatures.

Looking around, she saw the direction she and Terrence must have come from. Looking forward, she tilted her head to the side. "Overton City isn't too far from here. Maybe a two-day walk." Although Bandit was no expert when it came to traveling, the wanderer had spent a lot of time exploring the eastern side of Texas. And, in all her travels, she learned about the other pockets of human life. Overton City, although not the best of places, would at least have food, water, and shelter. Not to mention, humans and walls. "Or we can go back where we came from. We could investigate what happened to the people there." At this point, she was just grabbing straws and trying to pick the right one. She didn't know if these men would follow her. She wasn't even sure if they would let her go. But she figured she would at least be semi-useful. Usefulness tended to result in living.

"I'm so rude. I'm Jessica, but the wasteland likes to call me Bandit." Hand digging into her back ass pocket, she pulled out an old torn and tattered photograph. "And that's my Dimitri," she said tapping the photograph. Below her finger was a man clad in a white coat with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Beside him stood a laughing Jessica, in nothing but her short leather shorts and a simple tank-top.

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Images flashed before Null's mind as Bandit pushed his gun to the side.

"Not everything out here is trying to kill you, Null," she grinned, pushing down the barrel of his Peacekeeper as the Mole Rat sniffed at his power-armoured knee. "It's trying to be friendly, see?"

He remained tense, rifle held tightly, staring down its scope at the splotch-marked pale-skinned animal that seemed to snort a few times, before gazing up at him with watery eyes and turning, scurrying away into the bush.

"See? Not a threat in the slightest," she laughed. "This place is bad, sure, but it isn't the hell you might think it is. Some things are just curious, to see who you are. You're interesting to them. Different. New. They've never seen anything like you."

He turned to her, an odd thought entering his mind and a moment later, his voice. "Just as you are interesting to me, then."

She laughed, and beneath her hooded leather armour, he could swear that he saw the slightest pinkness entering her cheeks; he understood little of it, but that brought a tiny bit of warmth to within his chest. An oddly pleasant emotion that he could not comprehend.

He turned, staring out; the sun was slowly setting over the distant mountains, and the cold night would come soon. They needed to find shelter. But instead of moving off, he allowed himself a moment of contemplation, staring out into the distant sun.

"No, I have never encountered one such as you before."

"I guess I'll take that as a compliment," she said, stepping up beside him, gazing into the sunset. "Try to say something that isn't either related to combat or deeply profound sometime, though. You might enjoy it."

This time, it was his turn to laugh.

He ignored her comments about the boy, only understanding the basest concepts; he seemed to love her, and she him, and he appeared to be at least partially psychologically damaged, based on her discussion of his traits. A threat - a madman, perhaps. But he would die like the rest if it came to it. Which, also from her words, it would not.

"Attempting to ascertain the truth of that," Null replied, re-affirming his rifle's gaze upon the man but keeping one eye on the girl; his left arm tensed, ready to snap downwards and tear his knife from its sheath to plunge into her. He disliked being this close to her - close enough for her to kill.

"Nonetheless, we should shelter for the night. Continue to Overton tomorrow. Safety in numbers in these parts, after all; easier if there's someone to keep watch. The man who carried you claims he has shelter nearby." He exhaled heavily, before inhaling and holding his breath. He was about to put his faith in another - never a clever decision, but one of his only options at this stage. "Do you trust him?"

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"I am attempting to protect you," said the soldier. "What he is doing with you - such is the reason for my presence." Though the words were measured and strong, Terrence sensed a fleeting feeling of exasperation. 'Pretty young to be tired of it all, this one.'

"That would be my Dimitri. Unorthodox, crazed, and cannibalistic in nature, but the only man who truly fights, lives, and breathes for me." Almost like a thunderclap punctuating a dramatic moment in some old-world comic book, that beast's howl carried itself across the sands to both terrify and accuse. 'I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it, I knew it. This bitch is nuts.

"I doubt he'll follow. He knows better. He's on a mission. And if he does come this way, I'll tell him to spare you. For the most part, he doesn't just kill humans. He only kills those who pose a threat to my health." Bandit looked at the soldier when she said that, giving Terrence a sense of unease. 'Gain the trust of the stronger, turn him against the weaker? Stab the victorious in the back when he expects a crown, I would not imagine.' Terrence scanned the surroundings once more, paranoid at the thought of this… Dimitri somehow emulating the speed of the creatures that he reminded Terrence of.

"So you're attempting to protect me from this guy? Pretty sure he's the fellow who saved my life." Terrence kept his silence, throwing a look at the soldier that simply said 'I told you so.' As Bandit began to pat herself down, Terrence noticed that something was missing. 'The canteen!'

"Attempting to ascertain the truth of that," said the soldier. 'Far as I am concerned, you're a soldier who fled from duty and she is a conspirator with a feral cannibal. It should be me who does not trust either of you. A sour look accompanied the thought, the Numinu not having a care as to who saw it.

"Damn it all," he muttered under his breath. Maybe it fell off when I put her down? Scanning the ground, Terrence found the water tote lying in the dirt by his own foot. Cursing his own idiocy, he debated whether or not to stoop low and pick it up while still at gunpoint. After a few moments, he decided. 'If he was going to shoot, he would have done it already.' Slowly reaching low, he grabbed the strap in his empty hand and gingerly returned it to the bottle holder on the bag hanging on his shoulder. 'Empty, but not for long.'

"Don't suppose we passed water. I'm bone dry and Slash, erm Dimitri, has my canteen." 'Slash? A nickname? Well that certainly isn't foreboding.'

"Overton City isn't too far from here. Maybe a two-day walk. Or we can go back where we came from. We could investigate what happened to the people there." Terrence immediately began to feel unease at the thought of going back. The image of that creature plunging it's hands unto Terrence's stomach and reveling in the blood while Bandit cheered him on nearly caused him to vomit. He'd rather face the two-day walk to Overton without water than go back to that beast.

"I'm so rude. I'm Jessica, but the wasteland likes to call me Bandit. And that's my Dimitri." She help up some kind of photograph, a rarity since film was so hard to come by. The image only confirmed that Dimitri was indeed that thing from back in the village. Here, he almost seemed human alongside the smiling woman.

"Nonetheless, we should shelter for the night. Continue to Overton tomorrow. Safety in numbers in these parts, after all; easier if there's someone to keep watch. The man who carried you claims he has shelter nearby. Do you trust him?" 'This soldier seems as tired of these shenanigans as I am. Maybe he is not a robot after all… wait, did I just get volunteered for something.'

"I have got a gun pointed at me and this woman is friends with a man who tears into people for laughs. Seems like someone should be asking me that question." Exasperated and tired, Terrence relaxed his body and returned to a normal stance. 'Like hell I will die with my hands up.'

"Overton was next on my tour. I can add an extra gun to the group, I guess. Shack is just north of here… I think."

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It was so interesting to here these two men banter back and forth. It was almost refreshing. At least in the sense that she wasn't going to be alone. As much as she adored Slasher, his company wasn't always the best. When it came to charm and speech, he was certainly lacking those human traits. He was gruff, ruthless, and mean. Sure, she got used to his haughty tongue and rude quips. She blamed love on that one. Actually, she blamed the wasteland for that, for she couldn't help but wonder if things were different if she wouldn't have fallen for a man like Terrence. Or even Null. At least they had a drop of humanity in them still. Or so she believed.

When Terrence finally agreed to the terms (not like he could refuse, especially with a gun pointed at him), Bandit smiled. It was nice to see these two men getting along. And, for once, the two men weren't fighting over her. There was just something about being a woman in the wasteland that wasn't fun. Actually, she believed being a woman in general had its downsides. Granted, she was known for wolf-whistling at handsome faces from time to time. Of course, Slasher was never around to hear those sexual calls.

"Whelp, I guess it's settled. We'll head to your shack and set out tomorrow morning for Overton." Stepping closer to Terrence, she extended a hand. It just dangled there for a moment before her blue orbs glanced up at to meet his face. "Thank you stranger for your help. I'm sure I'd be dead if you hadn't intervened." Leaning inward without any warning, she planted a small peck on his cheek. It was her sign of thanks and it came across a little more personal than the proposed handshake. Not to mention, there was something to Terrence's Native American features that appealed to her. Perhaps it was his long, black hair? Or the way he carried himself? Heh, maybe it was because he was different from her. She, a spitting image of a blond haired, blue-eyed German, just couldn't put her finger on it yet. But if it got too cold at night, Bandit wouldn't hesitate curling up next to this guy.

With a wink, she redirected her attention to the soldier. "And of course I trust him. Who willingly offers up medicine, water, and aid to someone who runs around with a madman? Not to mention, I don't feel like I was raped, groped, or touched inappropriately. I'm afraid this guy is about as sincere and genuine as they come." The latter words she spoke might have come across a tad jeering, but it was for Terrence's own good. He did come across too good to be true.

Now that her eyes were trained on Null, Bandit gave him a once over. It was hard to really get a feel for the man while his armor. Based on the looks and size, though, Null appeared to be quite the man. The fact that he trudged around in that suit must have meant something (i.e. muscles up the wazoo!). 'I would need to see him without his clothes on to determine if I would tap him or not. Oh who am I kidding, he's hunky. Just look at that armor. And his posture. Ugh, and that voice. Swooning and wet. God, I'm a mess right now. Hope Slash doesn't come around. He could smell my desires from a mile away....' A blush came onto her cheeks and she quickly turned away. She had no time to start picturing these guys under her (she preferred top). And yet, she couldn't suppress the images that started to clutter her mind.

'Jeez, Jess, way to mentally cheat on your partner. You're just full of great ideas, aren't you? Clearly the lack of water and food is getting to me. Now I just need to stop thinking and start following.'

"Well, lead the way good sir!" Gathering up her gear, she trotted up behind Terrence.

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"Whelp, I guess it's settled. We'll head...." Bandit extended a hand, an old expression of respect and trust. 'Neither of those is really high on the list of adjectives I would use right now.' Ignoring the extended palm, Terrence instead stared intensely at Bandit's expression and studied it for any signs of ill intent. If there were any, the distrustful man could not discern them.

"Thank you stranger for your help. I'm sure...." As her face rushed forward for reasons unknown, Terrence instinctively pulled his head away from her encroaching lips. Terrence imagined the sickly smell of copper escaping her mouth, memories of the town massacre still fresh in his mind. His lips curled in a disgusted fashion, eyes betraying both immense worry and distrust. 'No no. No no no. No.'

"We do not know that. You might have been just fine without my help. Just please refrain from being in mortal danger again, please."

"And of course I trust him. Who willingly...." Bandit almost seemed to poke fun at Terrence for being 'sincere', something that had not occurred to him as being a large part of his personality at all. 'Pragmatic would be a more accurate word.' Scanning the surroundings once more, Terrence tried to formulate some kind of plan to ditch these two some time in the night that wouldn't immediately put them into danger.

"And to be completely fair, I would not have taken her anywhere if I knew she and said madman were friends. Soldier, you did not see the ungodly amount of blood and guts that guy was covered in. Really starting to regret leaving a note as well."

"Well, lead the way good sir!" Bandit checked herself over and grabbed something shiny from the ground. 'Must be the knife she dropped. Hope she decides not to stick me with it.' As she came to stand behind Terrence in some 'follow the leader' formation, the young Numinu shook his head.

"Stand beside me as we walk, not behind. My eyes are tired and you just happened to have the best power nap that shamanic medicine can provide; you can help make sure we do not run into anything in the front." 'Plus it will allow me to see if you pull something on me in my peripheral vision, madman's friend.' Shouldering his Paciencia and checking the looseness of his side arm, Terrence turned to the soldier and spoke.

"My name is Terrence, Son of Two Peoples. Hunter, Translator, Tribesman. If you want to use that thing, I suggest you wait for a Mirelurk to show up. Then we can have something other than the dry Molerat jerky stored at the outpost. Any objections to moving out, soldier?" 'Oh, I always wanted to say that.'

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"Whelp, I guess it's settled. We'll head...." Bandit extended a hand, an old expression of respect and trust. 'Neither of those is really high on the list of adjectives I would use right now.' Ignoring the extended palm, Terrence instead stared intensely at Bandit's expression and studied it for any signs of ill intent. If there were any, the distrustful man could not discern them.

"Thank you stranger for your help. I'm sure...." As her face rushed forward for reasons unknown, Terrence instinctively pulled his head away from her encroaching lips. Terrence imagined the sickly smell of copper escaping her mouth, memories of the town massacre still fresh in his mind. His lips curled in a disgusted fashion, eyes betraying both immense worry and distrust. 'No no. No no no. No.'

"We do not know that. You might have been just fine without my help. Just refrain from being in mortal danger again, please."

"And of course I trust him. Who willingly...." Bandit almost seemed to poke fun at Terrence for being 'sincere', something that had not occurred to him as being a large part of his personality at all. 'Pragmatic would be a more accurate word.' Scanning the surroundings once more, Terrence tried to formulate some kind of plan to ditch these two some time in the night that wouldn't immediately put them into danger.

"And to be completely fair, I would not have taken her anywhere if I knew she and said madman were friends. Soldier, you did not see the ungodly amount of blood and guts that guy was covered in. Really starting to regret leaving a note as well."

"Well, lead the way good sir!" Bandit checked herself over and grabbed something shiny from the ground. 'Must be the knife she dropped. Hope she decides not to stick me with it.' As she came to stand behind Terrence in some 'follow the leader' formation, the young Numinu shook his head.

"Stand beside me as we walk, not behind. My eyes are tired and you just happened to have the best power nap that shamanic medicine can provide; you can help make sure we do not run into anything in the front." 'Plus it will allow me to see if you pull something on me in my peripheral vision, madman's friend.' Shouldering his Paciencia and checking the looseness of his side arm, Terrence turned to the soldier and spoke.

"My name is Terrence, Son of Two Peoples. Hunter, Translator, Tribesman. If you want to use that thing, I suggest you wait for a Mirelurk to show up. Then we can have something other than the dry Molerat jerky stored at the outpost. Any objections to moving out, soldier?" 'Oh, I always wanted to say that.'

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Null



Null shook his head, walking slowly forward, the reinforced leather armour's lightweight steel shoulder plating clicking slightly as he began walking forward. He finally lowered his rifle, but still held it tight; pressed to his shoulder in a military carry, ready to be snapped up at any moment. He would take no chances.

So, these two were his new travelling companions. Not unexpected; not immensely so. He was used to operating in a group - had worked with his Sigma squad for years, watching them die and be replaced without the world seeming to take the slightest notice of their ceasing. And even more recently, in the two weeks since he had abandoned them - had it been two weeks? Already, he had decided not to bother counting the days - he had no need to.

The world kept turning, uncaring of the affairs of men - why should he care either?

But in the last two weeks, he had occasionally walked alongside traders and mercenaries on their routes; safety in numbers, as he'd said. Helped to have someone to watch guard. Never stayed with one group too long - their ways always parted. They had settlements to attend. He had only his solemn march north.

His march unto torment.

He clicked his fingers twice, and distantly heard the soft humming of Frederica's motors as the stolid automaton began its slow approach towards the group; at their glances, he gave a quick, reassuring nod. Fear not, he mouthed quietly.

As they began their walk along the high ridge, he deemed that it could well be time to explain himself. Not all of it - never all of it. The Enclave were the enemy around here. Obvious enough why - they had, after all, tried so many times to kill humanity for their own gains, to kill the 'subhuman' wastelands.

Subhuman? He had to stop himself from spitting in disgust at the thought. She had been far more human than any of them could ever have hoped to be. Far more perfect. His forgiven angel.

Lost to history now.

"Called Null, by those who once leashed me," he said. "True name... lost to history. Man I was, died before he even began. Null will suffice now."

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"Stand beside me as we walk, not behind," she mocked back. Obeying, she stepped to his side and actually forward a bit more. "Don't ya think if I wanted you dead, I would have knifed you in the back when you were toting me across the land?" Looking out the corner of her eye, she fought back a yawn. Boy was it getting late. Not only did she run for her life, but she was also carried away by some stranger only to be head at gunpoint by another stranger. If she knew was a western drama was, she would have known she was in one.

When Null offered up his name, Bandit tripped her hat up to look at his face. "Null? I hope that's a nickname. It sounds very," a cheesy ass grin was on her face, "null and void." Oh yes, she was cracking jokes and saying puns. If these men thought her crazy before, they could only imagine what she was like when she was fully recuperated. The whole 'leaving her behind with Slasher' thing was probably starting to look like the smarter option, too. Oh well, Terrence scooped her up and carried her off toward safety. Sometimes you grabbed up crazy ones along the way.

As the soldier's final words hit her ears, she found herself coming to a halt. Did he just say 'those who once leashed me.' Without moving her head, her blue orbs soaked his form in. 'Who the hell talks like that. And says someone leashed them. Strange. Very strange. Jess, keep a wary eye out on this one. Not sure you can trust a wild animal like him. Never know when he'll turn on you.

The more she thought about Null's words, the more she started to come to conclusions. Most were false, but it kept her mind awake, which was ideal when traveling at night. Without even realizing it, a word rolled off her tongue. "Those?" It just didn't make sense. Who referred to their parents as 'those?'

For the rest of the walk, she would chip in a less than classy joke or tease, but for the most part she was quiet. She yawned every now and again, too. When the eventually came upon the shack, the boys decided who would take first shift. Even though Bandit had a pretty decent nap, she was still the 'weakest' of them all as her injuries were still healing up. Null would nab first shift, Terrence second, and Bandit would wait for the sun to rise on the third shift. Until her turn, she hunkered up against the cold floor and curled into herself. Only once did she look up to acknowledge the men. A small smile of thanks when to Terrence and a wink to Null. Yes, Terrence just became friendzoned. Null, despite being the 'wary one to watch out for' was still in the clear for any adult shenanigans. It had to be that goddamn armor. Seriously, women just couldn't help but swoon over a man clad in such a garment. Panties wet and in a knot, she tucked her nose below her forearm before dosing off to sleep. Being a light sleeper, she would wake the second someone touched her or her ears picked up a threatening sound.

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Null



Null sat himself down as they reached the shack, clambering his way on top of the roof; Frederica stood down the bottom, motors humming as its microfusion reactor slowed into a sleep cycle, allowing it to conserve energy for the next trip. From the roof, he watched out across the entire vast Wasteland; night had fallen some time ago, and they now rested in near-total darkness. Were he in his armour, it would be a mere matter of switching on his helmet's night vision - as it stood, he had no such option.

So he sat, watching out over the vast Wasteland, listening carefully for any sounds that might indicate the slightest threat. His rifle resting in his lap, he inspected every aspect of the landscape; the fires and rising smoke of distant towns, the enormous man-made skeletons of the steel boneyard that was Austin, the rise and fall of gentle hills for miles around. Once, he mused, he could have found this place serene.

No longer.

The world seemed to slowly exhale as the moon clambered its way high into the sky; it was far larger than in pre-war images, he mused, occupying a good portion of the sky, lighting up the landscape a little more, allowing him to make out the faintest shadows of ruined trees surrounding the shack, to see the slight glinting of dew upon the tin roof of the shack. As he watched the world turn, his mind turned to his new companions.

Terrence was dangerous, no question of it. The 'son of two peoples' - a tribal, without question, and a well-armed one. He knew better than to underestimate tribals; while they rarely had the intelligence or equipment to pose a threat to more organised factions, their intimate knowledge of survival and terrain made them deadly opponents in their own right. They could not attack with any kind of notable force - but when they chose to defend their home, they were impossible to root out.

He thought back to the old days, when he had obeyed the Enclave so unquestioningly; marching through a Tribal camp, firing off laser discharges at his so-called 'enemy' as they tried to run. He'd killed every last one of them that day - men, women, sick, elderly, even the children. He felt nothing of it at the time.

But once he met her, he questioned it. How many of them had been like her? How many of them were capable of the same things she was, could say the same things, make him feel the same way? What did it make him, then, that he'd cut them all down? Did it mean he'd killed her?

No, that was a silly question. He had never murdered her. He had done far worse -

He had failed her.

Tearing his mind from such things, he contemplated Bandit. Young, energetic, idealistic; she had attempted to keep their spirits up on the long walk to this place; upon their arrival, she had given him a wink. He thought little of it - understood that humans executed strange gestures, and knew none of them. Cared for none of them. Whatever the case, he would move on soon enough.

Wouldn't he?

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"Stand beside me as we walk, not behind," Bandit parroted in a mocking tone, still obeying regardless. Terrence was growing more and more annoyed as things went on, the list of reasons to continue accompanying this woman when Null could be up to the task was dwindling.

"Don't ya think if I wanted you dead, I would...."

"The thought had occurred to me, yes. You were also unconscious and drooling on my shoulder so I felt somewhat safe regardless."

"Called Null, by those who once leashed me," he said. "True name... lost to history. Man I was...." Terrence was reminded of a shaman he had been a student of years ago. Null spoke almost like the medicine man, hiding truth behind symbolism and metaphor. Old memories of the puzzles those words had been and the hidden meanings he had become quite adept at discerning with both speed and accuracy.

"Null? I hope that's a nickname. It sounds very," Bandit paused, smiling like some child, "null and void." Terrence simply shook his head, already tired and now being attacked with bad jokes. 'I… was that supposed to be a joke? What are you, an accountant?'

Alarm bells rang in Terrence's mind as he heard heavy footsteps coming toward them, reading his rifle to prepare for combat. The silver skin of the cobbled together robotic mule confused him more than frightened; the odds of such a thing showing up with this stranger being more interesting than the robot itself. Lowering the rifle as this 'Frankentron' seemed to be non-hostile, Terrence couldn't help but be impressed. 'Walks pretty well for something that looks like the bottoms of two Protectrons welded together.'

+ + +

Walking the ridges of the hills towards the shack, Null's introduction was turned over and over in Terrence's mind. 'Those who once leashed me. Like he was owned or tagged by a group. He has the eyes and stance of a soldier, so a military background sounds right. True name lost to history sounds like he was brainwashed from a young age. That plus a military background does not bode well. Man I was, died before he even began pretty much confirms the idea of him starting young. So he was taken while young and put into military service. Poor guy was a child soldier. But if that is the case, why is he out in the middle of the wasteland? If he was on a mission and needed to be covert, why risk interaction? He does not seem the type to be on a vacation either… that just leaves him quiting, unlikely for child soldiers, or he jumped post. Cannot say I blame him, if I am correct anyway.'

Reaching the outpost, Terrence was fed-up with the bad jokes from Bandit and simply pointed at the door for her to go inside, bringing to mind a parent telling a child to go to it's room. Once inside she simply went to the first mattress she found and laid on it, smiling at Terrence and then giving Null a sly wink. 'I'm surrounded by mad people. Gods help me.'

Null clambering onto the roof and Bandit sleeping on the only mattress in the shack, Terrence weighed his choices carefully. Leave or stay? He had no allegiances with either of the two. He had taken Bandit away from her compatriot, true, but the man was obviously unstable at best. Null was a child soldier with all the mental baggage that entailed, just another man affected by the ruined world around him. Nothing was holding him here, Null didn't seem the type to shoot Terrence down for choosing to leave now that they had shelter. 'With all these excuses, why do I feel compelled to stay?'

Exasperated at his own indecisiveness, Terrence lifted his canteen from it's holster and bounced it in his hand. Resigned to stay, he gripped the strap and walked around the side of the shack. Reaching a hand pump well on the side, Terrence picked up a glass jar beside it and opened it. The water inside had partly evaporated and was low, but it was not for drinking. After opening a panel on the side of the pump and slowly pouring the water into the machine to prime it, Terrence began to pump the lever with both hands. After a half-minute the sound of gurgling came from the pipe, a sure sign that the contraption had not broken yet. Pumping a few more times, the water finally met open air.

First the glass jar was refilled, ready for the next thirsty traveler to use. Only then did Terrence fill his own canteen with the subterranean nectar. Drinking deeply from the canteen and refilling again, Terrence felt refreshed again for the first time in three days.

He dared not drink the water that was obviously contaminated, touched by the Children of Ruin. 'For what purpose did they do such a thing? An army? Did they think they could control the mad?' Pouring some of the water over his own head and shaking the excess from his hair, the Tribal rubbed the back of his neck and contemplated further. 'And what will that creature do now? He was already mad himself, how much could he do without this Bandit woman to keep him focused?' It was impossible for him to know.

As he opened the door of the shack, Terrence stopped mid step. Looking up, he called to Null.

"Null, the pump is working if you get thirsty. Try not to break it or the parts are yours to replace." With a sigh, Terrence entered the outpost and closed the door behind him.

It was a simple shack, wooden frame and tin siding making the walls and roof. A two stools and a small table took up one corner of the interior while a mattress occupied another. The bottom half of an oil drum, modified for keeping a fire inside, sat in the center. They had no wood to burn but summer was beginning in Texas; cold would not be insurmountable without flame. The floor was wooden slats, many of which broken or missing.

He made his way to the wall opposite the door, careful to not step in holes in the floor. Sitting against the wooden frame rather than the cold metal siding, Terrence made himself comforters. Unholstering his revolver and placing it beside himself, resting his rifle on his lap, and slipping his hat over his eyes was an afternoon routine he had practiced for years on his travels. The hat did little to keep the glare of the sun out of his eyes, but the loose weave allowed him to see out but denied onlookers the ability to see if his eyes were open or closed.

'What a day this was. First I accidentally kidnap a crazy woman from a madman and the saddest story in the wasteland calls me out on something I didn't know I was doing. Somewhere, a higher power is laughing at me.'

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undefined

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How the hell do I do this?

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...For that matter, how's any of this work?

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Null Let's see if this works...

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Hello?

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Hello?