"Halt! Who goes there?"
The kid can't be more than ten or twelve, the gauss rifle is almost as long as he is tall. Probably his first time outside the walls of whatever settlement he's been living in, and not too sure about how to handle that thing. Better play this real smooth - kids with guns are not a good combination. Lets treat him as mature and try a standard greeting.
"No worries my good man, I mean you no harm. In fact, I could probably do you an hour of good. I've got some things to trade you might find valuable."
He turns to face me, but doesn't change his stance - not good for shooting or making a run for it if I did want to hurt him. A lot of places see the first night in the zone as ritual mark of maturity - but they could've done a better job than this -
"Maybe, maybe not. Either way, you're not moving from that spot until my father gets back."
At least he is paranoid. Not a bad start, but you can't be too over wound in these places...
"Fair enough, I'll stay right here. Though might I suggest you move from that particular spot? Its not a good idea to stand so near the fire when protecting the camp. The light ruins your dark vision, and silhouettes you against the horizon. Frankly, you should have noticed my approach much sooner than you did."
"How do I know this isn't some kind of trick? Who are you to be giving me advice?"
"I can't see how anyone could profit from giving a boy bad advice, and it would certainly clash with my good intentions to do so. As to who I am, you can call me KC."
"Like that guy on the radio?"
Hobbes is being heard all the way out here? Must have upgraded - I'll need to find my way back there soon.
"Not like, I am the guy. Your talking to the metaphor, not the simile."
Don't hold it against him - he was only five when the even happened, he wasn't reading the classics.
"Its a joke. Never mind. I take it you've been traveling long?"
"No. If your KC, prove it."
"How might I ask? Its not like you can log into the sphere and do a background check. Anything you know about KC comes from the radio, and I could have heard the same transmissions and memorized them so its not like asking me about something I said on the air is going to prove anything."
He lowers the weapon. I've gotten through to him. But its only a start. I've got some work ahead of me. If this father of his will just give him a gun and then wander off, then its up to me to teach him about the zone. The boy's life should be on someone's conscious.
"Look, we have a society of trust here. I know its an odd thing. But perhaps there was something wrong with a society that allowed everyone to spot check each others' records on a moments notice. There certainly was enough else wrong five years ago. We all see it as some sort of golden age these days - and certifiably, having stable electricity, not having to grow your own food, and the occasional intercontinental zeppelin flight are nice. But that is really overlooking the rest of the age. Nano-Vac...
Even through the shadows I can see the kid's eyes glaze over. I do get overly poetic and off topic - all the pent up stuff from when I'm exploring alone and can't talk.
What's your name boy? And where's your father?"
"I'm Jim, and Dads... the trail food doesn't agree with him."
"Oh, we have all been there. Are you far from home, or is there a settlement nearby?"
"There's some farms up the road a couple of miles, but we're a bit farther than that - an old industrial park. Where are you from?"
Sounds like a good place to check out. Probably already traded the mirco-fac CAD disks for agricultural supplies, but they might have some spare parts of note.
"I've been every where man, I've been every... Yeah - its before your time, though I have been told I do a pretty good impression of Cash. I'm an explorer, I'm indexing customs of the zone."
"How can you have customs in the zone?"
"Take how I greeted you for instance. The first thing out of my mouth was an assurance it was situation normal. If it wasn't I would have mentioned "I saw raiders a day ago" or "Citizens up North" first. Skip pleasantries like hello and state concerns.Its how news passes around here. Then a time commitment. Not everyone is going to want a transient looking for five days work or be able to delay to trade an hour. Once again, we can't just telecommute this - we need to figure it now."
"Oh. You really put that much thought into just saying hello?"
"You really put that much thought into everything. The zone isn't too dangerous if you approach it in a safe way. Really kind of a nice place actually - you never know when you'll find a proverbial Comstock Lode or Willamette Valley for yourself - "
"What the hell are you doing with my boy!"
Ah the father. Big guy, waving around a pistol in a way that speaks of unfamiliarity. More likely to be shot by accident than... lets not push it.
"Trails clear ahead pal! I'm just here for an hour of trading and talking. A day or two of teaching the boy if you allow it. I can even be a guide if you tell me where you're heading."
"Drop your rifle."
"You know its unreasonable to ask me to disarm in the wild - at its strapped to my chest. But you can see my hand ins't near the trigger, and I haven't harmed the boy in this time."
"He seems nice dad - and he was the one on the radio."
"Jim what did I tell you about sitting by the fire while on guard duty?"
Better father than I thought.
"Its bad for your night vision. Mr. KC said that too."
One of those ineffable moments of the zone. High emotion. Danger. But unlike the beautiful ones, it passes quickly. The revolver's barrel shifts from me to the ground.
"I guess it will be alright. I'm Ben, you've already met Jim. Luke should be back soon - he was checking a trail, looks like something heavy passed through."
"Wasn't me Ben, I stay away from powered armor."
"Well, lets sit down and talk trade. You wouldn't have any stomach meds would you?"
Staring down two people with guns - easy. Now comes the fun part.