Nala ran the bore brush through the rifle one last time, then slid the bolt forward. " That should do it. This was probably made for a heavier weight petroleum based lubricant, but I think you should be OK, especially considering its manually operated."
"Thanks Miss," Roland replied "Of all the people here, I didn't peg you as the gun expert at first. Model for an ad agency maybe but..."
Jeff stopped stirring the pot and leaned over "Nice try, but the Brazilian girl is already taken. Notice the matching rings we're wearing?"
"I assure you, my intentions were honorable, its just the stereotype still exists that women aren't generally war historians."
"Speaking of honor." Mitch broke in "where are you from, and what are you doing?"
"Wait- we've been traveling for six days, and only now you ask me what I'm doing here?"
"When you're running for your life from things that shouldn't exist, little details like where's your home town kinda get lost in the shuffle. But now that we're out of the suburbs, I would like to know what you were doing wandering a city with just a world war two rifle."
Roland stood up and stretched. He was a bit taller than Mitch, but the other guy was definitely tougher. For someone who looked like one of those "buddy Jesus" posters, Mitch was a holly roller's nightmare.
"Not my choice of firearm by a long shot, but its what I was allowed to take. Our leaders don't want to start a social division with something like a death penalty - bad enough inside without liberal/conservative angst - and just sitting them in jail doing nothing is a waste. So exile is the usual punishment for anything where simply docking wages is not enough. To prevent it from becoming a de-facto death sentence, they give us some equipment - but its usually museum pieces or other crap people don't want."
"Stop. What was the crime?"
"Unlicensed rat-holing, combined with getting blackmailed."
"And in English?"
"There is only so much in the way of supplies and power generation capacity in a NEST structure, and as things break, it only gets worse. We've got a working currency system and regulation going, but well, there was graft and illegal practices even before everything went down the tubes."
"Um no. I never stole from any person. Any living person. And I maintain I'd never do that. I just scavenged without permission."
"I took things that were not mine, because there is a black market. But I'm not a criminal!" Jeff mocked
"That wasn't really the problem. Inginuity is well respeceted,
"And by inginuity, he means sticky fingers"
"Jeff, Knock that off!" Mitch grunted, "Though I still say, this seems a bit odd."
"NEST structures are designed to have large segments locked down - riot control, fire breaks, Ebola outbreak - whatever. But with entire floors sealed up and no exit, that means they contain just as many reanimates now, as when they were sealed. No idea how they don't decompose, starve, dehydrate or die after being stuck in a commercial block for five years, but that's how it is. Everywhere else, the environment or hunters take their toll, and groups disperse looking for prey. So you simply don't open certain doors, lest you run the risk of releasing them into safe areas.
Well, those locked down areas still contain good stuff, and are a lot easier to get to than raiding the surrounding area. But, the decision is - better the rats - NEST slang for our scavenger teams - be put in greater danger, then everyone be at risk. But some people want what is in there any way, and besides, everything that comes through normal channels is generally checked out, and then auctioned off, though government civic projects - power maintenance, the rats themselves, communications, get an inbuilt advantage - depending on the commodity, they get a five to twenty percent discount, or I should say, their bids are counted as worth more and uh... well, we've got a system anyway.
So I was just a work-a-day laborer, picking hydroponics, cleaning, babysitting, when one of my bosses makes the offer to get me some good electronics and a few off the grid batteries, I just need to slip through some vent shafts in a maintenance area. I'm not sure why I said yes, even at the time it seemed like a stupid risk, but it was an adventure that I never had as a retail clerk come janitor.
Luck, reflexes, untapped potential - I made it. And things we're good. But, it was a criminal act. And though she didn't state this at our first meeting, it was apparently a long term deal. So, I essentially got stuck running errands for these people, which began to cut into my legitimate work. Boring as that is, it seemed risky to have stuff without being able to explain it, and I didn't want to alienate my old bosses. I complained, and they decided it was better to sell me out than have me reveal their whole operation.
Somehow my counter arguments that they made me do it got ignored at the tribunal, though the fact that the judge was one of the people who received stuff I found might as been a factor. Out I go. Six hours later, I'm running from reanimates, you're running from reanimates, and we all run in the same direction."
Mitch looked to Nala. "Yeah, that is pretty much how we ran things," she replied "his story seems legit. You don't normally just pick a random person to go retrieve stuff, but everything else seems right."
"Its one hell of a sob story to be sure. I don't necessarily trust it, but at least he's not making up adventures whole cloth like that last one we met. If he's got useful skills, he can stay."
"Be ready to repeat yourself and answer some more questions when the others get back... Roland. But, for now, you can be one of us."