The Divide was not a place many went willing. But it was there Josey Wales found himself. He stood on the over cliffs edge, looking down at the shatter landscape below him. Radiation storms crackled in the distance.
Another man sat on the edge. The man was large, tall and muscled, with dark, weathered skin, his black hair done back in braids. A breathing mask obscured half his aged face. He sat at a campsite on one of the cliff’s outcroppings. Josey joined him at the fire.
“Courier.” The man greeted him.
“Ulysses.” Josey replied in turn.
“Full circle, walked your road, now back again.” Ulysses remarked. He looked off the cliff’s edge. “Something else in you needing an answer?”
“Does the name Shrike mean anything to you?” Josey asked.
Ulysses shook his head. “If it did I doubt my counsel would matter much.”
“Why’d you say something like that?”
“Made the Divide my home for so long… what goes on in the Mojave does not reach me.”
“What you know is outdated.” Josey surmised.
“There’s truth to that.” Ulysses nodded. “What the Mojave is shaped by now is different from when I walked it.”
“This Shrike… she’s killed people close to me. Killed ‘em for no other reason than that.”
“’Cause she hates me. Has some sort of vendetta. And I ain’t got any idea why.”
“So you came to someone else who had a message of revenge for the Courier.” Ulysses finished. He sounded amused.
“Yeah that’s about it.” Josey laughed despite himself. “If anyone is an expert on wanting to kill me, it’s you.”
Ulysses stroked his chin, looking off into the Divide again, and Josey followed his eyes. They settled on the most scarred part of the landscape: the Courier’s Mile. A place Josey had accidently set off a nuclear missile.
“Message for you wasn’t motivated by revenge. Was a lesson in consequences. Of understanding that you left marks on the paths you took.”
“Do you think Shrike’s the same?”
Ulysses’ eyes tightened, a sign he was pursing his lips behind his mask. It had never struck Josey until now how old the former-Frumentarius was getting. His face, always weathered and darkened by the sun, was now wrinkled. His proud features had begun to sag. It made Josey himself feel old. Ulysses wasn’t his elder by much.
“Would I have answers if she was different?” Ulysses shook his head. “No. You see it. This Shrike… me… we’re alike.”
“She ain’t gonna listen to reason.” Josey said. “When you came after me you removed us both from the Mojave. Brought me here, away from everyone. Shrike don’t care about collateral. If something’s in her way she breaks it. More often than not she’s gone out of her way to kill.”
“Maybe I understand it wrong.” Ulysses said. “This predator… maybe her message is the same one you carried.”
“What the hell’s that mean?”
“Thought you’d know about vengeance by now, Courier. The Chairman. Caesar. The gods of the Big Empty. Elijah. Lanius. Oliver. Me. How many roads have you walked to kill what was at the end?”
“I ain’t anything like Shrike. I don’t kill to prove a point. I kill in defense or ‘cause someone’s wronged me. You ain’t seen the things she’s done.”
“But she’s seen your message to the Mojave. The beliefs you carried to Hoover Dam. She knows you.”
“That ain’t my problem.” Josey said, feeling frustrated. For all his wise, worldly talk, Ulysses hadn’t been much help. “My problem’s that I don’t know her.”
“Misunderstood my point.” Ulysses grumbled.
“And what’s your point?”
“That you do. Not her face or her name. Her history, something you share. History gives a meaning to everything. Believe her message wrong, senseless? The meaning is clear to her.” He gestured to the Divide. “Same as what happened here. Didn’t understand my message at first. Not until you listened.”
Josey was quiet as he tried to wrap his head around what Ulysses meant. He and Shrike shared a history, just like he and Ulysses had. Something Shrike was aware of that Josey wasn’t. Something that Josey had done to her. Ulysses had held contempt for Josey because Josey had destroyed his home, something Josey hadn’t even been aware of. Could he have done something similar to Shrike? Harmed her in so deeply and profoundly yet been unaware of it? He was murdering his friends. Hell, his family. That was what Mitchell and Dean had been to him. Maybe Sarah, once, at least she could’ve been.
What had Shrike said? Josey had asked what he’d done to her.
“Don’t ask me that.” Shrike had said. “You shouldn’t remind me you’re not even aware of what you did to me.”
But she and Ulysses were different. Ulysses held Josey responsible for destroying a whole community, a whole way of life. In Ulysses eyes, Josey had been a monster. But Shrike’s vendetta against Josey was personal. She believed Josey had hurt her—directly. That he had gone out of his way to do so. How could he have done that and not remember? He wasn’t that kind of person. Could it have been something in his past? Something before the bullet wound, something he couldn’t remember.
“No complete answers for you here, Courier.” Ulysses said, noticing Josey’s inner conflict. “Only more questions.”
“Questions I don't have the answer to either."
“History taught me the ones I have. No reason you can’t look into your own history, learn the same.
“There’s whole lot of my history I don’t remember.” Josey said.
“’Who are you that do not know your history?’” Ulysses quoted. “The question I had for the gods of the Big Empty. The question I had for you. The same one you had for me. Now one you should ask yourself.”
It was. If Shrike was his history, recent or ancient, then the answers to who she was lay in his own mind. “Then I have nothing more to say. I’ll be going.”
“The Divide belongs to history now.” Ulysses said, looking off as Josey stood. “Mojave awaits.”
The day after Josey's return from the Divide, a week after he had first heard the name Shrike, was arguably one of the worst of his life. And this was coming from someone how had been shot in the head and buried alive.
They gathered around the third corpse Shrike had left them. The words were carved this time not into the chest, but the stomach.
NORTH VEGAS SQUARE
“This is it.” Josey said. He found his revolver—his favored Ranger sequoia—in his hand. It was a worthless gesture. There was no one here he could shoot. “I ain’t letting her kill anyone else.”
He stormed out of Vault 21, Cass and Boone in tow. Arcade would stay behind to see the body was tended to. Josey struck a quick pace once outside and his two companions struggled to keep up with him.
“Josey!” Cass called. “Hey!”
Vault 21 was surrounded by a ring of Securitrons, NCR military police, and civilians. A murder (at least one not committed by Josey himself) was a rare thing on the Strip and always drew a large amount of attention. Josey strode into the crowd with Cass and Boone hot on his heels and singled out one person.
Michael Angelo. Sheldon Weintraub. Sarah’s brother. He was standing out in front of the crowd, as far forward as the Securitrons and police would allow. Josey pushed through the line of guards to Sheldon himself.
The artist looked up at Josey and then looked away with an unfocused gaze. His eyes were red-rimmed and his face blotchy. He looked summarily unwashed.
Josey pursed his lips and set a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Sheldon shrugged the hand off. He said nothing. Josey watched him bite the inside of his cheek.
“Whatever you’re feeling, know it ain’t your fault. Know it’s not fair. The person who did this? They did it ‘cause of me.”
Josey bent slightly to look Sheldon in the eye. “But they ain’t gonna hurt anyone else. I’m putting a stop to this.”
Sheldon didn’t react to Josey’s words.
“I’m gonna find ‘em and I’m gonna kill ‘em.” Josey promised. “And there ain’t nothing in heaven or hell that can stop me. You hear me Sheldon?”
Sheldon’s listless eyes cleared for one moment to lock onto Josey’s face. He understood.
“Good boy.” Josey clapped him on the shoulder and continued to push through the crowd. They mobbed him, shouting out his name, asking questions, voicing concerns, spitting insults, or showering praise.
“Josey who did this?”
“Were you and Sarah back together, Josey?”
“Hang in there, Josey!”
“Jose!” Cass caught up to him and grabbed his arm, spinning him around. Josey pulled free of her grasp.
“What is it?” He demanded. “We ain’t got time to waste, Cass.”
“We have all the time in the world, cowboy.” She countered. “Shrike’s waiting on you. The show don’t start until Josey Wales makes his appearance.”
“She’s gonna get what she wants.” Josey said as Boone arrived, coming to stand behind Cass. The sniper cautiously scanned the crowd, more expressing a nervous tic than searching for actual threats. “But she gonna have the same realization as a whole lot of folk before her: that I don’t come quietly and always fire first.”
“Do you fucking hear yourself?” Cass asked. “Quit the tough talk for a moment and get your head on straight. Shrike’s not like anybody you’ve come up against before.”
Jose turned from her and started off in the direction of the Lucky 38, having heard enough, but Cass wasn’t finished.
“She’s meaner than you are. Stronger, tougher. This isn’t the same fight for you as it is for her.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Think about everything we’ve heard about her, Jose. She’s doesn’t have anything to lose, someone who just lives day-to-day without plans for the future. She’s a survivor.”
“What and I’m not?” Josey asked, starting to feel like Cass’ attacks were becoming personal.
“Not anymore. This place has changed you.”
Jose decided to ignore her for the rest of the walk back to the Lucky 38. When they got inside the casino lobby he tried to get into the elevator and leave them behind on the first floor but Cass forced her way into the box with him.
“I know why you and Sarah split.”
“I ain’t looking to get into this now.” Josey said, pinching his shellion.
“Fine.” Cass snapped. “But don’t come whining to me when you want to ‘talk’ about it.”
They stood silently in the elevator as the ancient cables gradually carried it up the floors. Midnight, the Stars and You played softly in the background. Josey awkwardly thumbed with the collar of his duster.
“I’m sorry about Sarah.” Cass offered.
“You never liked her.”
“I can still be sorry, you ass. She was important to you.”
“Yeah, once.” Josey agreed. “Ain’t been that way for a long time.” Josey didn’t know how Shrike had known or why she’d bothered. Josey had cared about Sarah, but she hadn’t been special to him in a long time. Didn’t make it hurt any less, though. Especially when he was responsible.
“That’s life, Blondie. Sometimes it hurts.”
“I ain’t one for moping, but I seem to get handed more than my fair share of pain.”
“He says as he rides an elevator to the top of his ivory tower. Most people’s biggest problem is not shitting in their own drinking water. You’ve got an army of robots and a city. What you deal with is gonna reflect that.”
“Don’t mean I gotta like it.”
The elevator doors dinged open on the Penthouse floor. Raul was there to greet them.
“Boss!” The ghoul grinned widely and tipped his sombrero to them. “You’re back! The smiley face want’s a word.”
“No problem, boss. And hey, sorry about the girl. You only have to say the word and we’ll head out to get this ‘Shrike.’”
Josey offered him a strained smile and headed to Yes Man’s monitor.
“Yes Man?” Jose questioned, causing the monitor to come online.
“Jose!” Yes Man cheered. “How’s it going?”
“Ain’t too good, Yes Man. What’ve you go for me?”
“Oh boy something you’ll be so happy to hear. I figured out how to keep Shrike from getting back in here!”
Josey blinked. “That is good news.”
“I know, right? Like when I went offline to update myself the first time after Hoover Dam, I have discovered that by doing the same thing I can modify myself however I want!”
“That’s great, Yes Man. When can ya do it?”
“Now, if you wanted.”
A plan came together in Josey’s mind. As Yes Man updated himself, he would go after Shrike. Win or lose, Vegas was safe. If Josey didn’t get Shrike himself, her next attempt to enter the tower would end in her demise as the Securitrons and Josey’s companions closed in on her. It was far from foolproof but it was the best he could come up with on short notice and he liked it.
“Do it.” Josey instructed.
“Ooo-wee!” Yes Man whooped. “Here I go!” The screen winked out.
“What’re you gonna do, Josey?” Cass asked. He turned towards her.
“Gonna face my past. Shrike’s vendetta ends today.”
In the Presidential Suite of the Lucky 38 Josey geared up.
He cracked open one of the secure weapon crates he had, disarming the safety locks, and removing his equipment from inside. It was gear he hadn’t carried in a long time, he hadn’t needed to. But it was time for one last ride.
The Elite Riot Gear was composed of different plates of light, flexible, but extremely durable armor, a combination of Kevlar and ceramic plates. The duster he wore had been designed to accommodate the armor. He fitted on the military green pauldrons, locked in the chest plate with its neck-covering protrusion. Strapped on the knee pads and fastened his vambraces into place.
The headpiece came out last, it was a helmet and mask combination, completely enclosing the wearer’s head. It was a feat of military engineering—bulletproof, night vision, rebreather, and radio antenna. He held it in his hands, looking into the red visor. This was a part of him he’d put behind. Courier Six. The Wild Card, always with a trick up his sleeve. The joker in a deck of 52 other fair cards. Had survived a bullet to the head then hunted down and killed anyone who had ever crossed him. He had never been truer to himself than when he’d worn this armor. And it had scared him, the kind of person he’d been. How many people had he killed? Hundreds, possibly thousands. A time when a day wasn’t complete if he hadn’t gotten into a gunfight. This was who Shrike had forced him to become again. And yet, it was likely that this person had created Shrike.
He set the helmet on his head, felt it lock into place, and he fastened it tight. One last ride.
He holstered his revolver inside his duster and from its spot above the bed he pulled his rifle—the Medicine Stick, as it was named for the Native American charm attached to the stock. He slung the strap over his head, across his back. He slung a few bandoliers of .45-70 Government Issue rounds across his chest. Stuck several revolver quick loaders with five rounds each into the pouches at his waist and arms. The gear he wore was not heavy, he’d always traveled light, but it felt so after so long without it.
“This is it.” He muttered, heading towards the elevator. One last ride.
The doors dinged open and the sight of Cass greeted him. She wore a suit of tan combat armor, one of the more highly advanced variants. It was trim and flexed and turned with her body, quickly responding to movement. It normally came with a visored helmet with a built in laser sight, but Cass wore her hat in its place. She held a light machine gun across her waist, belts of ammunition dangling from it.
Josey stared at her. “What are you doing?”
“You’re dumber than I give you credit for, Blondie, if you think I’m letting you head out there alone.”
“Ain’t gotta choice.” He tried to step around her but she got in his way.
“Like hell I don't.”
Josey bit down hard on his lip, trying not to let his anger get the best of him. “Shrike’s my fight.”
“That makes her mine too.”
Josey looked around, worried the rest of his companions were going to start appearing, declaring their loyalty and their determination to fight with him. As moving as that would be, it was absolutely the last thing he wanted.
Cass smirked. “Like old times, Jose.”
Josey didn’t point out that Boone had been the first to travel with him and that when he’d met Cass she’d threatened to hit him.
“But if you try to get out of here without me I’m going to make the biggest fucking stink you’ve ever seen. And the others’ll come running.”
Josey sighed. “Alright, fine.”
“See, there’s hope for you yet, Blondie.” Cass slapped the side of his helmet. “Now, we gonna go pound the shit out of this Shrike bitch or what?”
The pair entered the elevator and took it to the basement. There, they found Josey’s Corvega, started the vehicle up, and took off into the desert on one last ride.
Randall had never met a samurai. Weren’t none left, as far as Randall knew. Great Khans were fakers, Yakuza were gangsters. Shi were Chinese or something.
Was a shame. Randall would’ve liked to meet a samurai. Would’ve answered a whole fucking lot of his questions.
But he’d settle for the answers Shrike had and, in place of meeting a samurai, he’d get up to murdering the occupants of the Lucky 38.
He watched as the garage door lifted, the Courier and his girl drove out, and it shut behind them. He dropped down from his spot in support beams, where he’d been pressed against the garage ceiling, and drew his knives. The long, curved blades of the linoleum knives were wicked, nasty things. They were designed for flooring, but they cut people as easily as wood. The blade’s design was to allow for the sharpest, straightest cuts with minimal effort applied. Weren’t many around in a world where flooring had gone out of fashion two centuries ago. But they were a favorite tool of the Russian mafia, or so Shrike had told Randall, and she’d gotten the current set on her travels.
Didn’t matter much to Randall where they came from. They were good knives and that was enough.
He took the elevator the Courier had just come down up to the Penthouse floor of the Lucky 38. He grinned wide, in anticipation, twirling the knives in his hands.
The doors dinged open and Randall was greeted with the sight of a ghoul who dressed like a cowboy. He was sat at a table, drinking some kind of Mexican beer.
“Oh, hey boss,” The ghoul greeted Randall in croaked, accented English, looking in the direction of the elevator. His face fell as his eyes settled on the massive raider. "Oh mio dios."
Randall grinned. "Yes." He sauntered into the Penthouse and went to work.
Shrike watched a cloud of dust gather on the Mojave as one of the last working vehicles in the post-apocaylpse sped towards her. She flexed her right hand, opening and closing her glove.
She was Shrike. And it was time. Finally, she would get closure. All the people who had betrayed her, who had failed her. Everything she had lost. This would not make any of it worth it, would not ease the pain of her existence.
But it would prove that some amount of justice existed in this world, if only a little.
That would be enough for her.