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Jun 20, 2019 3:01 AM
stevenchainsaw & imrainai in caravaneer
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"Yes."

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"All right, then. Twenty-five kilograms. Can you do that?"

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"If Cricket will sell me that much, yes. Otherwise - well, it might take a while."

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"It's good to be willing to do things that take a while. We'll be here. Around here, anyway."

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He nods. "All right. I'll be back with the insects in a few days if I can get them from Cricket and nothing else goes wrong on the way."

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Kukul nods.

It is probably too much to expect nothing to go wrong. It was sort of remarkable that nothing went wrong on the way here. This time, he'll see a group of three people from a long way off, before they abruptly change their trajectory to intercept him.

They're much too thin, and it's hard to tell whether they're men or women. One of them has what looks like a metal pipe.

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Well, that doesn't look promising, but on the other hand it could've been much worse.

He keeps walking, at the same steady sustainable pace he's been using all this time. It's important to be good at walking when you are an apprentice scout.

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The group gets gradually closer, and then the one with the pipe charges him.

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"Oh, don't do that," he says calmly.

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The person with the metal pipe is not really in a place to be dissuaded by this.

They swing at his head, with all the momentum they can manage.

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He sidesteps and turns; the pipe thunks harmlessly into his pack, and he catches it and twists, removing it from the stranger's grasp.

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The person who previously had a pipe appears to have the sudden horrifying realization that this is someone who knows what they're doing.

Their situation must be pretty desperate, though, because instead of running away they pull a knife from their belt and immediately try to stab him in the stomach.

The other two have knives, too, and are charging now. They'll be on him in a few more seconds.

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He could wish he didn't have to do this wearing a heavy backpack, but oh well.

This encounter is not worth spending one-quarter of his finite supply of bullets, but neither is it trivial enough that he can afford to continue being gentle. The person who was trying to hit him in the head with a pipe gets hit in the head with a pipe, with as much force and leverage as his strength and height can muster. This does not go well for the person's head. The closer of the two charging people gets kicked in the stomach before they enter stabbing range, and the last one meets the pipe again, to somewhat less decisive effect because he can't hit as hard or as precisely at the edge of his reach.

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The guy who got kicked promptly decides that he is not, actually, desperate enough to take on the person who just smashed his traveling companion's head in. He runs. The other person decides that they are definitely not desperate enough to take on the same guy alone and with a head injury, and so they run too, a moment later.

The person who brought the pipe to the fight lies dead at his feet.

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—and now Nick thinks that he would like to sit down.

Except that that is probably a bad idea under current conditions.

...it seems unlikely that the desperate individual who attacked him with a pipe will be carrying any useful items, but it's probably a good idea to check. In a world of scarcity he had better not pass up any resources that cross his path. That knife might come in handy as a spare, if nothing else.

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The dead person has a half-full plastic canteen and a few dollar bills. They also have clothing, in fairly good condition, including a pair of boots. If he's been paying attention, he'll have noticed that Cricket and a lot of people at the Lintu camp were wearing clothes that had been patched up and re-sewn several times, which suggests that new clothes aren't super easy to come by around here.

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He has certainly been paying attention to that.

He considers this situation for a few moments, and then he takes the dead person's clothes along with the rest. He can clean them at the next opportunity.

And then, much as he would really like to find somewhere quiet to sit and have feelings for a few hours, he hauls the dead person's body a short distance to a slightly more out-of-the-way location and then continues on his way.

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(Dead person turns out to be a girl, probably not much older than him. Hard to tell, though - she's pretty malnourished and pretty scarred up, even apart from the broken skull.)

Cricket is where he left him.

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This time he knows to knock!

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"Heyyo! You find your friend?"

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"No, but Kukul said that if I bring him twenty-five kilograms of insects he'll send someone with me to help look."

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"All right! Looks like you got rid of the last ones well enough. Same price as before, as many as you can pay for."

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He nods. "If you don't mind I think I'll stay the night in your neighbour's old place, and head back to Lintu in the morning with the insects."

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"Sure. Sure, make yourself comfortable. Comfortable as you can, anyway."

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He nods again. "Thanks."

And into the neighbour's place he goes, and—

 

 

Logically speaking there isn't anything wrong with what he did. He responded reasonably to the situation at hand. If he lets strangers with pipes kill him, or beat him up and take his stuff, or whatever else they planned, then he will not succeed in finding Olaf. And also he will be dead, or beaten up and deprived of his stuff, or whatever else. He used an appropriate amount of force given the constraints he was working under.

But the logical approach has no room in it for the way he felt when the pipe connected with the girl's skull. He is fairly sure that there is something very wrong with that feeling. Normal people do not feel like that about killing someone. If they did, there would be a lot more murder in the world. The sort of person who feels like that about killing someone probably does a lot of murder.

If he did everything right, though, what does it matter if he felt much too good about it?

But if he felt that good about it, how does he know he isn't just making excuses? How does he know he won't kill more people, when it's convenient or he can get away with it, and tell himself it was the reasonable thing to do?

Also, he begins to suspect that along with the twenty-five kilos of insects he is supposed to be acquiring implicit proof that he knows how to deal with desperate strangers wielding pipes, and he doesn't quite know how he feels about that but he is pretty sure he doesn't like it. If Kukul realized he didn't know about the people with pipes, Kukul could have warned him.

It occurs to him, in unexpectedly vivid terms, that he could kill Kukul. He decides that that is not a reasonable response to the situation at hand. And also there would be some serious practical obstacles to getting away with it. And also it would probably upset that Karakul girl, who seemed nice. Oh, and murder is wrong, or something.

 

He takes an unusually long time getting to sleep.

 

In the morning, he cleans the dead person's clothes as best he can and exchanges money for insects and repacks his bag around the new load and makes sure that the gun is accessible but not visible and heads north to Lintu.

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