End of the track. The tunnel ends here in a dead end. How dead, you ask? Well, there's an actual human skull set into the wall here, toothless and blind and yellow. A fine portent if I've ever seen one. <<if $grabbed_pitchfork eq true>>Let's get [[digging|6-bury]].<<else>>I need an appropriate tool if I'm gonna dig a hole, though. Didn't I pass a pickaxe a little while ago?<<endif>>\n\nThe tracks retreat [[behind me|6-deeper2]], back toward the shaft.
Ancient mine cart tracks thread their way through the cave. <<if $grabbed_pitchfork eq false>>There's a long-unused [[pickaxe|6-pitchfork]] lying on the side of the tracks. <<endif>> The tunnel continues to the [[right|6-deeper3]]. Or I could [[retrace my steps|6-deeper]].
<<evening>>"You didn't trust me," you accuse, a little petulant.\n\n"My momma always told me never to trust a bandita," Diode smiles, "especially one that's good in the sack. Anyway, you found your way [[out of the desert|6-1]] sooner or later, I know that."
You slowly pull your raygun from your holster and toss it onto the ground in front of you. She points her own pistol and pulls the trigger, and then your trusty raygun is just circuits steaming on the ground. She points the gun at you again.\n\n"And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How'd you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]
<<evening>><<set $lied = true>>Di slides two fingers into your mouth, silencing you. You look up at her, your cheeks burning a little.\n\n"I thought I told you not to lie to me, bandita," she says. "We both know you left that tent with the cred-chips. Let's [[try that again|2-tent]]."
Here the desert is white, covered in a blanket that looks like snow but sparkles even brighter. Here and there spires of clear, sharp crystal stab out of the white carpet. The tallest of them is higher than your head. To the [[north|4-wnw]] the spires grow smaller. To the [[east|4-w]], the white sand turns black. To the [[south|4-wsw]], the crystal spires are replaced with more metallic shapes. And to the [[west|4-river]] runs a green river, north to south.
The [[porta-tent|7-tent]] sits here in the sunset, a big cerulean rhombus. [[Whore Palace|7-ride]], your trusty steed, waits patiently to take you away from all this.
<<set $grabbed_box = true>>Ah, yes, come to momma. Inside this metal box are a hundred small, hard cred-chips, tight-packed, a thousand credits on each of them. Silent as a wish, I slide the box out from under the poncho and tuck it into my satchel.\n\n[[Now what?|2-tent]]
<<set $grabbed_canteen = true>>I grab my canteen, which I thoughtfully had Di fill during a brief break in the revelry, adding it to the pile in my arms.\n\n[[What else?|2-tent]]
I raise the pickaxe and start a-digging. Whew, this is tiring. But soon I've cleared out a nice, cozy spot for [[my baby|6-buried]].
"Fuck off," you croak, your voice like a rattle.\n\nThen you lay back and watch the stars, the two of you, in silence.
<<silently>>\n<<set $grabbed_canteen = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_box = false>>\n<<set $lied = false>>\n\n<<set $grabbed_tools = false>>\n\n<<set $grabbed_shovel = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_wrench = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_remote = false>>\n<<set $opened_droid = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_torch = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_rope = false>>\n<<set $tied_rope = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_pitchfork = false>>\n<<set $hiding_spot = "none">>\n\n<<set $grabbed_clothes = false>>\n<<set $grabbed_raygun = false>>\n\n<<endsilently>><<display "Style Changer">><html><img src="title.png"></html>\n<html><span class="warning">A game by <a href="http://www.auntiepixelante.com/">anna anthropy</a> featuring code by <a href="http://www.lifeinneon.com/">Lydia Neon</a>.<br>\nThis game contains scenes which are violent and sexual.</span></html>\n[[Shall I tell you a tale?|0-1]]
<<set $grabbed_pitchfork = true>>I grab the pickaxe. Synth-wood handle, but a real metal pick, not that plasteel stuff. Heavy. Feels good in my hand.\n\n<<display '6-deeper2'>>
Antennae stick up from the sand, bent and broken, metal bodies broken and strewn like smashed TVs. This is some kind of robot graveyard, and it's hard to tell how much of the skin covering each fragment is rust and how much is sand. To the [[north|4-ww]] the desert turns crystal white. To the [[east|4-sw]], the debris are replaced by enormous cactuses. And to the [[south and west|4-river]], a green river curves.
<<midday>><<if $grabbed_torch eq false>>It's an old mine, cut into the side of a hill. A power crystal mine, probably. But it looks like it went dry long ago; that explains why everyone cleared out of this area. There are boards over the entrance - synth-wood, probably - but most of them are missing and even my chubby butt could probably [[squeeze inside|6-darkness]] pretty easily.<<else>>An old mine cut into the side of a hill. I could [[squeeze|6-mine]] back inside.<<endif>> Next to the entrance, an overturned minecart spins a rusty wheel in the air uselessly.\n\nA neglected road leads back south to the [[crossroads|6-crossroads]].
The ground at Whore Palace's hooves is smoothed and polished like a tortoise shell, like this slope of ground has borne the travel of many treads. In has a little bit of a sheen in the early morning light. To the [[east|4-n]] the terrain gets rougher. To the [[west|4-wnw]] I can see little specks glitter on the ground. To the [[south|4-w]] is weird black sand, and [[north|4-river]] of me runs a green river.
Back at the crossroads. The signpost reads:\n\n<<display '6-signpost'>>
Ah, this tent. The kind that folds up into a purse for easy travel. Mass-produced, but this one's full of memories. Memories of a jerk who stuffed you in the ground over some cred-chips. Well, to be fair, an awful lot of cred-chips. It has a floor, which your possessions appreciate more than they do being covered in sand.\n\n<<display '7-contents'>>
"Robbo Rose Ranch" reads the synth-wood sign over the arch leading to the farm. This is a robot farm, alright. <<display '6-farm'>>
<<if $grabbed_remote eq true>><<if $grabbed_wrench eq true>>The robot's still going, sowing the dead fields with nothing. If I can figure out this remote controller, maybe I can [[give it a new job|6-reprogram]].<<else>>Playing with the buttons on the controller, I manage to get the robot to do a little dance. Alright! I wonder if there's anything more practical I can use this guy for.<<endif>><<else>><<if $opened_droid eq true>>This guy has a lid just like the one inside, but I'm not gonna try and open it while it's still moving. Guy's liable to run right over my toes. I need to find something to stop it moving with.<<else>><<if $grabbed_wrench eq true>>I could maybe fuck with this robot's insides using my wrench, but I'm not gonna touch it while it's still moving. Guy's liable to run right over my toes.<<else>>A fat little can with wheels, about as tall as my thigh. It's canvassing the dead brown rows of what was probably once fertile cropland, an inch at a time, left to right and up to down like an old electro-typewriter. Each time it stops, it tucks a little needle-like probiscus into the earth - inserting a seed, or it would if it had any. Probably it ran out years ago. This little guy has been tending this abandoned farm for a long time.<<endif>><<endif>><<endif>>\n\n[[What next?|6-farm]]
It's a graveyard, alright. One of the few human institutions that goes right on being what it is after there's no one left to maintain it. Most of the gravestones seemed to have been of the cheap wooden variety (well, synth-wood, more likely) and are uprooted or gone. There are a few survivors, though:\n\n<<display '6-gravestones'>>
<<if $hiding_spot eq "mine">><<display '8-liar'>><<else>>Nope, no cred-chips there.<<endif>>\n\n<<display '8-signpost'>>\n
A short bench built into the wall. It's covered in a shell of pure, oily black, a few pieces of scrap metal, and nothing else. Above it are some nails set in the wall, presumably for hanging things on, <<if $grabbed_wrench eq false>>but all that's left is [[a plasteel wrench|6-wrench]].<<else>>but I already nabbed the only thing that was left, the wrench.<<endif>>\n\n[[What next?|6-barn]]
<<if $hiding_spot eq "robotfarm">><<display '8-liar'>><<else>>Nope, no cred-chips there.<<endif>>\n\n<<display '8-signpost'>>
<<set $hiding_spot = "mine">>I bury the satchel there, beneath the skull. I don't know the circumstances that led to your interment here, my friend, but I bet you never expected to see this mine filled with wealth [[again|7-1]].
<<if $hiding_spot eq "graveyard">><<display '8-liar'>><<else>>Nope, no cred-chips there.<<endif>>\n\n<<display '8-signpost'>>
<<set $grabbed_remote = true>>I bend over and pick up the thing. It's almost like a honeycomb, its surface bristling with these little plastic buttons. Maybe this is the remote control to the droid outside. I wonder if it still works.\n\nWell, there's [[nothing else up here|6-barn]].
A small nook with reinforced walls. Looks like it could have been some kind of storage room, or the place where the miners played cards or something, to judge by the table and the chairs, which are ectoplasm-green in the light of my torch. It looks like there's some kind of light fixture, but it unsurprisingly runs on power crystals. <<if $grabbed_rope eq false>>There's a [[coil of rope|6-rope]] on the table, a headless green snake.<<endif>>\n\nA stooped passage behind me [[returns to the mines|6-mine]].
Haha, no. When they sing songs about you around campfires they're going to call you a lot of things, but "one-hundred percent honest" won't be one of them. The cred-chips aren't here. You hid them somewhere else.
Skip to which scene?\n\n[[Buried in the desert.|1-1]]\n[[Night of the theft.|2-1]]\n[[Sabotaging the horse.|3-1]]\n[[Morning ride.|4-1]]\n[[Lost and thirsty.|5-1]]\n[[Hiding the loot.|6-1]]\n[[Escaping the campsite.|7-1]]\n[[Returning to the crossroads.|8-1]]\n[[Falling into a trap.|9-1]]\n[[Showdown.|10-1]]
You laugh, your voice a strained croak. "Why the hell not."\n\nShe pushes herself up on broken arms, groaning under the strain, and manages to inch close enough so you can turn your head and find her mouth. She pushes her tongue inside, sucks on your lip, gives it a soft bite.\n\nDamn, you think. Girl can still kiss. And then the two of you lie back and watch the stars.
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<<midday>>After all that brown, imagine my surprise at seeing a slightly different brown. It's a [[signpost|6-signpost]] - leading away from it in are roads in all directions, faint but definitely there! It looks like no one's scratched this neck of the desert for a while.\n\nI do some quick estimation. Noon now, I left before dawn, I rode yea far, walked for friggin' years, give Di a few hours to wake up, a few hours to fix the horse (provided she has the tools). On horseback, it'll probably take her upwards of a god damn minute to find this place after she sniffs out where I ditched the canteen, and if that horse is working then Di is on it and heading my way right now.\n\nBy my math, that gives me not a lot of time to find a hiding place for the satchel and to put sufficient distance between it and myself before Di shows up.
The tent is mostly empty now, because half of your possessions are the clothes on Di's back. There's a [[futon|7-futon]], actually part of the tent that folds up with it. <<if $grabbed_clothes eq false>>You suppose you could [[rummage up some clothes|7-clothes]]. <<endif>><<if $grabbed_raygun eq false>>Your [[raygun|7-raygun]] is still here in the charger. <<endif>>That's it.\n\n[[Outside|7-camp]], Whore Palace is waiting silently.
You point Little Miss EMP at the horse and blast her. She does a hideous, stumbling dance and then topples over in a heap, her LED eyes blinking off.\n\n"FUCK YOU!" Di yells, punching you in the face with a sharp crack. She grabs Little Miss EMP out of your hand and then punches you again. "You lazy, greedy fuck! I planned the heist, I did all the fucking work, that's my goddamn money!"\n\nAnd she turns and blasts Whore Palace, who sparks and quietly turns off.\n\nYou shout...\n\n[["Fuck you, you fucking momma's girl! My momma always told me this, my momma said don't do that! I'm fucking sick of your momma! My momma was poor and I'm not gonna be!"|10-5]]\n[["Fuck you, you snoring piece of shit! Do you know the last time I got a real night's sleep? No?! Me neither, asshole! I deserve this money for putting up with you!"|10-5]]\n[["Fuck you for almost getting us killed! If I hadn't shot that guy, we wouldn't have made it out of there with that money in the first place! It's my money!"|10-5]]
With the barn doors open, which is how they were left, this is a big, spacious, airy, dusty shoebox. The ground floor is an open space with a dirt floor that must have been used to maintain the farm bots - there's a [[busted robot|6-brokendroid]] in the corner wearing a dust gown and a dirty old [[tool bench|6-toolbench]] against the far wall.\n\nA ladder climbs to an [[upper level|6-upstairs]] which seems to be the living area. And [[outside|6-farm]], I can still hear that robot, the last one still functioning, going about its work.
<<if $grabbed_tools eq false>>I still can't believe Di gave her horse such a boring name.\n\n<<display '3-horses'>><<else>>I point Little Miss EMP at Quicksilver's underbelly, the spot where her nav-chip should be, and press the button. There's a small white flash, totally silent, as the horse's hardware fritzes inside her. Her LED eyes blink for a few seconds and go dead cold.\n\nJust a temporary setback, of course, one that won't strand Di, only [[delay her|3-present]] a few hours.<<endif>>
<<if $grabbed_tools eq false>><<set $grabbed_tools = true>>I reach beneath Whore Palace and my tricky little fingers slide open a hidden panel in her belly. From inside my trusty horse I retreive my Little Miss EMP - it looks like a metal chapstick tube, with a fingernail-sized black panel on one end and a hot little button on the other.\n\n[[What now?|3-horses]]<<else>>I was always way better at naming things than Di.\n\n<<display '3-horses'>><<endif>>
<<if $grabbed_shovel eq false>>[[Hm.|6-graveyard]]<<else>>Should I [[dig this one up|6-dig]]? Or maybe [[a different one|6-graveyard]]?<<endif>>
<<set $grabbed_shovel = true>>I snatch up the old shovel and return [[to the graveyard|6-graveyard]].
The ground here is dotted with little specks that twinkle and glitter in the early sunlight, like a desert made of sugar. The larger ones are almost transparent, tiny pyramids winking in the light of the rising sun. To the [[south|4-ww]] the pyramids grow, encasing the desert in white. To the [[east|4-nw]] the ground turns smooth and polished. And to the [[north and west|4-river]] curves a cool green river.
<<if $tied_rope eq true>>A rope [[descends|6-bottom]] down the shaft.<<else>>A mine shaft stretches down past the reach of my torchlight. At the bottom, I bet, a flat plasteel hover-tray. Put a power crystal on it and it powers the tray, lifting it up the shaft and delivering itself to the top. <<if $grabbed_rope eq false>>At present, though, I can see no safe way down.<<else>>If I [[tie this rope|6-tie]] somewhere, maybe I can climb down.<<endif>><<endif>>\n\n[[Behind me|6-mine]] is the entryway to the mine.
A small synth-wood house resembling a cardboard box on the inside. An empty cardboard box, or very nearly. There's an oily desk that looks like it once survived a fire, but not by much. Nothing on it. Next to that, a pile of what used to be a bed. <<if $grabbed_shovel eq false>>And an old [[plasteel shovel|6-shovel]] leans against the far wall.<<else>> That's all.<<endif>>\n\nOutside, the [[graveyard|6-graveyard]] where this person, when she lived, toiled in service to the dead.
It looks different at dusk than at high noon, almost like an alien world, red sand beneath a yellow sky. The old [[signpost|8-signpost]] adds to it, this weird black silhouette marking the place where the four roads meet, never ending, but merging seamlessly into a shadow that races across the desert to meet the night as it comes.\n\nLet's see if you can get those chips before Diode does.
You thoughtfully close the hidden panel on Whore Palace's underbelly before you swing onto her metal back. Then you and your robot steed ride off into a desert streaked with red and blue by the sunset.\n\n<<if $grabbed_clothes eq false>>It's been a while since you've ridden nude. <<endif>>The vibration between your legs is conspiring with the fixation on Di occupying your mind. You can't help it; you experience the orgasm as a wave of campfire heat passing over your body, a hot flush that moves from your tummy to your toes. You let it pass through you, leaving steely resolution behind.\n\nYou take a shortcut and soon arrive at the [[crossroads|8-1]].
[[NORTH|6-n]] - MINE\n[[WEST|6-w]] - ROBOT FARM\n[[SOUTH|6-s]] - GRAVEYARD
You draw your raygun light-fast, aim and blast! The saloon doors disintegrate in a white burst of light - behind them, you can see a pair of empty boots standing in the doorway.\n\n<<display '9-caught'>>
The POP of the cap leaving my canteen is the most satisfying thing I've heard since Di grinned at me and said "we're rich." A chip in the bottle keeps the water cold - I throw my head back and gulp like I'm a prodigal fish who just rediscovered the stuff. I suck an oasis down my throat, life in the desert, goddamn miracle. I go maybe a bit overboard, because when I detach the canteen from my lips with a second POP and a satisfied "aaah," it's almost empty.\n\nBut that realization takes second place to the other one, which happens when I notice the [[tiny homing beacon|5-present]] at the bottom of the canteen.
Cactuses climb out of the ground like piles of grey-green tires, their tentacles waving in the early morning breeze. They're pretty, maybe, but I give them a wide berth. I know how dangerous cactuses can be. To the [[west|4-wsw]] sprout different, shapes, metallic-looking. To the [[east|4-s]] they shrivel to smaller grasses. To the [[north|4-w]] the sand turns black. And to my [[south|4-river]] runs a green river.
<<set $opened_droid = true>>I pry the thing open with a nasty squeal of metal. Inside is a big cavity. This thing is like an empty capsule. Presumably, this is the space where the seeds or the fertilizer or whatever would go. Maybe other things, if one had something she was trying to get rid of. This gives me an idea.\n\n[[What's next?|6-barn]]
An ancient, abandoned mining tunnel deep below the earth, its walls glowing in green-black light. Not scary at all. The tunnel twists to the [[left|6-deeper2]], or I could backtrack to the [[shaft|6-bottom]].
Four gravestones survive: <<display '6-gravestones'>>
Grass grows thin and wiry in bristly little clumps. A desert of little black pubes. Spindly, grasping shadows crawl from the base of each patch, long in the morning light. To the [[north|4-start]], the grasses withdraw their claim to the earth. To the [[west|4-sw]] they give way to larger plants: mammoth cactuses in silhouette. To the [[south|4-river]] a green river runs from west to east.
The sand is burnt black, more like charcoal than desert. It's oddly silent here, as I climb the ridge of a wide, circular depression in the earth. Not a place to stick around. To the [[north|4-nw]] the ground seems to become smooth. To the [[west|4-ww]], the sand turns white with sparkling spires. [[South|4-sw]] are protusions of a different kind: the silhouettes of big desert cactuses. And to the [[east|4-start]], the open desert.
<<silently>>\n<<set $StyleChanger = \nfunction()\n{\n macros['evening'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('evening.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ffff00";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['night'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('night.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#5454FC";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['dawn'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('dawn.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#7905DB";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['morning'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('morning.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ffff00";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['midday'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('midday.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ffff00";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['dark'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="none";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#808080";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['glow'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('glow.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#84F769";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['sunset'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('sunset.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ffff00";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['sunset'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('sunset.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#ffff00";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['dusk'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('dusk.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#F25C48";\n }\n \n }\n\n macros['twilight'] =\n {\n handler: function(){\n document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0].style.backgroundImage="url('twilight.png')";\n document.getElementById("passages").style.color="#808080";\n }\n \n }\n}>>\n<<print $StyleChanger()>>\n<<endsilently>>
The ground gets rockier as I approach the mountains, those old grey witches on the horizon, but my robot steed doesn't care. In the dawn light each small rock is haunted by a long shadow. To the [[west|4-nw]] the ground smoothes and browns. To the [[south|4-start]] the sands return. And to the [[north|4-river]] a green river bobs along from east to west.
<<night>>Even if I hadn't made plans for the evening, Di's snoring would keep me awake easy. She's checked out after our very successful grab and subsequent, equally successful celebration. I slip out of the futon, quietly collecting my clothes, my boots, my big-ass satchel - and of course my ten-gallon hat. Our rayguns are still in the dock, charging back up after a busy day. Best to leave mine; I'll be able to buy a new one after the night is through. I'll be able to buy ten.\n\n<<display '2-tent'>>
<<set $grabbed_torch = true>>I carefully get down on my knees and feel along the invisible floor. Soon enough, my hands make contact with a metal bin. Are there be any left...? Yes! At the bottom of the bin are a handful of cigar-shaped sticks. Insta-torches.\n\nI crack one open, and the broken tip begins to glow with a bright, greenish light. Now [[I can see|6-mine]] what I have to work with.
[[The Wild West. 2100 A.D.|1-1]]
<<set $grabbed_clothes = true>>All you manage to find are some ratty pants that fray to nothing around the knees and that dirty poncho that had been covering the box of cred-chips, now a sad pile on the floor. You put them on.\n\n[[What next?|7-contents]]
She sleeps with her ankles crossed and her back straight, head resting on her shoulder like she feel asleep reading a book or something. I never got how anyone could sleep like this, or in any position other than sprawled across the bed like you fell that way, but she is out for another few hours at least, I can assure you.\n\n[[What else?|2-tent]]
Di stands with her raygun trained on you and her hand on her crotch, rubbing her little bulge through her jeans. <<if $grabbed_clothes eq true>>"I wanna say it's seeing you squirm that's getting me hard, but if I'm being honest it's the thought of all that money, too."<<else>>"Look at you, all flushed. Did you come on the way here, riding that horse with the stupid name? You'd better have enjoyed it, cus it's gonna be your last."<<endif>>\n\nShe gives the trigger a little squeeze. Urgh. Nothing to do but [[go upstairs|9-walk3]].
I press buttons until I find the one that makes it stop. Now it's just sitting in the middle of the field, just an old tin can glinting in the sun. Its first break in years. Well, just a little one. With my wrench I can [[get it open|6-opendroid]].
You reluctantly toss your raygun onto the ground in front of you, keeping your hands high over your head. She points her own pistol and pulls the trigger, and then your trusty raygun is just circuits steaming on the ground. She points her gun at you again.\n\n"And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How'd you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]
You bend your knees and then POUNCE through the swinging doors, landing with a painful whump on what turn out to be a pair of empty boots. Rubbing your head, you climb out of the saloon - to meet Diode, barefoot, with that smug grin on her face and a raygun trained on you. "Fancy meeting you here. <<if $grabbed_raygun eq true>>Our business for this evening won't require your gun. Drop it."\n\nDo you [[comply|9-dropgun2]], or do you [[refuse|9-refuse2]]?<<else>> "And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How'd you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]<<endif>>
[[NORTH|8-n]] - MINE\n[[WEST|8-w]] - ROBOT FARM\n[[SOUTH|8-s]] - GRAVEYARD\n[[EAST|9-1]] - TOWN
<<dusk>>The old ghost town is even spookier at dusk than it was the last time you were here - to stash those cred-chips. You can only hope that Diode believed your lie - that if she's come this way already, she's hunting for the chips where you said they'd be.\n\nYou slide down from Whore Palace's back. This place was never really much of a town, and it's even less so now. Just a single street lined with ramshackle synth-wood houses, ominous in the deepening darkness. In the middle of town, adding to the eeriness, is a wide, twelve-foot deep pit. They probably put prisoners down there, and who knows what the townspeople would do to them. You bet they peed on 'em.\n\nA classic ghost town. Population: you, and one hundred thousand credits. Better [[grab 'em|9-2]] while you can.
<<dawn>>Yess, here is what a bandita lives for. The wind in her face and the humming of her robot steed between her legs while metal legs carry her across the desert's bare brown back. This is the kind of freedom that draws a girl out of some tin can town and into no man's land. And here, in this satchel resting against my side, is another kind of freedom that comes more easily in the lawless parts.\n\nI am a bandit queen. All that the sun touches is mine, and the sun is peeking its pretty eye over the horizon to color in the land. To the [[north|4-n]] the ground gets rockier. Toward the [[west|4-w]], the sand turns black. To the [[south|4-s]] I can see clumps of grass sprout from the earth like patches of armpit hair. And somewhere to the east, Diode is sleeping like a baby.
As free as the wind rustling a girl's hair, I crash through the cold green river on the back of my robot steed, letting out a whoop as I do, a wild howl that fills the plains and announces my sovereignity of the country that awaits me beyond the river. Green foam flies up after us as we emerge, only to sizzle on the sand. We ride on into our new country, into our desert.\n\nWe ride for miles, we race like eagles. And though it's hard to tell from the featureless brown landscape, I can't help but gradually become aware that Whore Palace is slowing down. Does she need a rest? She's a robot! Then there's a loud spark and I duck like someone fired a pistol. But this isn't a shoot-out, it's a [[blow-out|4-blowout]].
You take a few steps toward the old buildings and then stop in your tracks. There, under the swinging doors of the old saloon, you make out two tall boots: bright red with little white rockets. Shit, Di beat you here! But she doesn't seem to have spotted you yet!\n\n<<if $grabbed_raygun eq true>>You could [[blast her|9-blast]]! <<endif>> You could jump and [[tackle her|9-tackle]]! Or you could [[sneak up|9-sneak]] and make sure it's really her. But you'd better do something!
You hesitate. She shrugs, aims and pulls the trigger, and then all that's left if your hand is the handle of a thing that used to be your raygun. You let it fall. Now her gun is back on you.\n\n"And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How did you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]
Whore Palace lowers her head and grabs the end of the rope in her metal chompers, lifting it off the ground.\n\n[["Now throw the other end to mommy!"|7-4]]
Minutes pass. You're not sure how many. Time is hard when you're buried to your neck in the desert. But finally your pricked ears pick out what they're listening for: the metal clop clop of robot hooves. If your arms weren't tied and underground, you'd pat yourself on the back. Story time was just the perfect length.\n\nOf course a little bit of water's not gonna junk your beautiful Whore Palace. She just needed a while to dry off and reboot.\n\n[["Good girl! Now grab that rope!"|7-3]]
<<sunset>>"So that's where my money is, eh?" asks Diode, standing. "Alright."\n\nYou turn your head as far as you can to watch her disappear into the porta-tent. "Now, if you're lying," she calls from inside, "and I'm not saying I don't believe you, babe, but propriety forces me to consider the possibility - well, in that case I'm going to have to examine whether I'm not adequately impressing upon you the gravity of this situation."\n\nShe reappears, tossing a coil of rope on the ground in front of you. The end has been fashioned into a noose. You gulp, while you still can.\n\nDi pulls on her boots, bright red with little white rockets on them. "Now you [[stay put|7-2]], sweetheart. I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb-bot's tail." She climbs onto Quicksilver, flashes you that smile you're growing to hate so much, and rides off in the direction of your cred-chips, leaving you in the ground.
You emerge from the earth like a worm, naked and squirming, red and scabbed with dirt. You lie panting as your faithful steed chomps through the ropes on your wrists and ankles, and you wait for the itching all over your body to go away, or at least to fade to a background sizzle.\n\nThen you get to your feet - not an easy task. It takes most veggies at least a week after harvest before they take their first steps. But now is the time for action, and action waits for no woman! <<display '7-camp'>>
She tosses the noose to you. You grab it with your teeth, thankful that in this enlightened age even a lawless bandit like yourself is guaranteed quality dental care.\n\n[["Nhh PHLL, Whrrr Prrss!"|7-5]]
Nope, I definitely do not spare that girl even one of my legendary backwards glances. Not even two.\n\n<<display '3-1'>>
ZAP! You pull Little Miss EMP out of your satchel and blast Di's raygun. It fritzes and goes dead in her hands.\n\nNo one moves for a moment.\n\nThen she screams "You FUCKING BITCH," tossing her useless pistol as she jumps for you. She hits you like a medicine ball crashing through a window, because that's exactly what happens. You smash through the window and tumble in each other's arms through a carnival of glass toward the [[ground|10-2]].
//ARRRGHH.//\n\nYou hit the ground hard, together, your groans almost as loud as the crunch of your bones breaking. Window glass rains down on you like a hail of knives. You shield your face with your arm, screaming as it suffers a thousand slices, but your body's already marked with a hundred tiny, burning cuts. Your legs feel really heavy, and it doesn't seem like you can move them. Oh shit oh shit.\n\nTo your left, you can hear Diode whimpering. You turn toward her, your body screaming in pain as you move. She's crawling toward her horse, her hair damp with blood, her clothes torn and cut, her limbs trembling uncontrollably.\n\n[["Where the FUCK ARE YOU GOING, ASSHOLE?!"|10-3]]
You jump on her, your dead legs dragging behind you, pushing her broken body to the ground. You both scream in agony.\n\n"Fuck you!" she yells, her voice raspy and raw. "Fuck you and all your stupid shit that I have to deal with! Fuck you and your lies! We would have SPLIT that fucking gold, why did you have to be such a bitch?!"\n\nShe jerks her elbow into you hard and you tumble off of her, your cut back sparkling with pain as it touches the ground.\n\n"Quicksilver!" she yells in a horrible, hoarse voice, and her robot steed comes obediently running towards you.\n\nYou scream...\n\n[["Fuck you and your stupid horse's stupid name!"|10-4]]\n[["Fuck you and the dumb fucking way you sleep!"|10-4]]\n[["Fuck you and your know-it-all fucking smile!"|10-4]]
<<set $grabbed_wrench = true>>I grab the wrench. This was probably used to open up robots so the owners could mess with their insides.\n\n[[What's next?|6-barn]]
You punch her, and you punch her again. Your every joint groaning in agony as you do it, but you do it anyway, her body meat under your knuckles.\n\n"God!" she yells, kicking you with her good leg, "FUCK!," smacking you with her fist. She hits you again and again. "You are the WORST LITTLE BULLSHIT QUEEN! You're fucking petty and you're fucking needy and you sound like a goddamn horse during sex! I fucking hate you!"\n\nYou yell...\n\n[["You're bossy and greedy and shitty and I FUCKING HATE YOU!!"|10-6]]\n[["You're bitchy and vulgar and stuck-up and I FUCKING HATE YOU!!"|10-6]]\n[["You're condescending and gross and awful and I FUCKING HATE YOU!!"|10-6]]
Now you're just screaming, screaming in her face, and she's screaming back, and you're punching each other and biting each other and rolling around with your broken burning bodies tumbling over and over and cursing and-\n\nSHIT\n\n[[FALLING|10-7]]
<<twilight>>You land on your backs with a sickening thud, your limbs sprawling like useless salamis. You can hear Di crying to your right, sobbing like a baby, but it hurts to turn your head. You just stare up at the sky from what must be the bottom of the pit in the center of town, your body a dull throb around you. It's getting dark, and the stars are starting to appear.\n\nYou just lie there a while. It hurts enough just to breathe. You notice that Di's tears have quieted, too, to a raspy inhale-exhale. Then you can hear her shifting around a little beside you, groaning as she does so. Then, a dry, brittle, choking sound. You realize that she's laughing.\n\n"Wanna make out?" she cackles.\n\nYou answer [[yes|10-yes]] or [[no|10-no]].
<<if $opened_droid eq false>>More like a garbage can than a robot now - and, dusting off the top, I discover it even has a lid. <<if $grabbed_wrench eq false>>It's bolted closed, though. Maybe with the right tool I could crack it open.<<else>>It's bolted closed, but I could probably [[bust it open|6-hollow]] with my wrench.<<endif>><<else>>Like an opened, empty can now. The interior's surprisingly roomy - I think my satchel would fit in this kind of robot easily. But this baby's not going anywhere. A moving target's a harder one, if you catch me.<<endif>>\n\n[[What next?|6-barn]]
A nap is tempting after your ordeal, but all that time in the ground has your limbs are itching for action. And a good thing, because now's the time for it - Di's racing toward the crossroads as we narrate.\n\nYou notice, though, that the bedsheets are in perfect order, rather than the complete disarray that you usually leave it in. Di was napping while you were in the ground, that rigid inhuman way that she sleeps, ankles crossed, arms folded in her lap, back straight. Dreaming that a money tree was sprouting out of you. You wonder if she jerked off.\n\n[[What next?|7-contents]]
Overlooking the open space of the barn floor, this is a neat little living area. Or it was at some point. Now the bed's a sagging heap, the seats of the chairs are twice as thick because of the soot, and the inside of the econo-fridge is probably black with mold. I'm not looking.\n\n<<if $grabbed_remote eq false>>There's a little [[black box|6-remote]] on the floor, covered in buttons and dust.\n\n<<endif>>A ladder leads [[back down to the floor|6-barn]].
You lick water off the cool vellum of her feet, you tongue the shallow pockets between her toes, you suck delicious moisture from the tips of her piglets. Your tongue, a moment ago dead and locked in the casket of your mouth, is fat with new life.\n\nDiode sits down cross-legged in front of you. "Now that your tongue's in working order again, let's have ourselves a talk about what happened to those cred-chips, huh?" She reaches out and scritches you behind the ear, like a dog, smiling one of her fucking smiles. You bristle at the sight of it.\n\n"Let's start the night of the heist. and [[don't lie to mommy|2-1]]."
<<dark>>Around the entrance is a bubble of daylight: beyond that the mine is pitch black. I could try [[feeling around|6-torch]] blind, I guess. Hopefully there are no radscorpions. Or I could head [[back outside|6-n]].
<<set $grabbed_rope = true>>I gather the rope from the table, smirking as I think of Di. And then I think of her for real, think about her racing across the desert on the back of her horse. I'd better get these creds hidden.\n\nBack [[to the mines|6-mine]].
There's a [[straight-up stone one|6-grave1]], thick and heavy like tombstones are supposed to be. Then, next to that, a [[plastic model|6-grave2]], shaped to look like the stone kind but noticably rounder and duller. There's [[one made of plasteel|6-grave3]] that just looks like someone stuck a dinner tray in the ground and [[a small metal marker|6-grave4]] fashioned into the vague shape of a flower, with a plaque attached.\n\nAt the edge of the graveyard, the [[undertaker's house|6-undertaker]]. North of here, a trail leads back to [[the crossroads|6-crossroads]].
<<set $grabbed_raygun = true>>You un-click the raygun from its charging dock. The green stripe is all the way full - your pistol's fully charged and hot for a fight. Which is good, because that might just be what you have on your hands. Your holster's still here - you grab that too, so your raygun has somewhere to hang.\n\n[[What next?|7-contents]]
<<if $grabbed_canteen eq false>>I grab my canteen as I leave - I thoughtfully had Di fill it during a brief break in the revelry.\n<html><br></html>\n<<endif>>Do I [[give one last look back|2-yes]] at Di as I leave the tent? Or do I [[just leave|2-no]]?
<<glow>>The weird glow of my insta-torch paints the contours of this tunnel bright green. It's a narrow slope from the [[mine entrance|6-n]] behind me to a [[deep shaft|6-shaft]] in front. Plasteel pylons holding the whole thing up. \n\nTo my left there's some kind of reinforced [[side chamber|6-storage]].
There's a street of houses in front of you, brown-black in the setting sun - a [[blacksmith's|9-walk2]], an [[apothecary|9-walk2]], an [[old church|9-walk2]] - and there's a bitch with a raygun behind you. Well, no point in dragging this out. You'd better show her where the chips fell.
You push the door open. It stays that way. The whole place seems frozen in time, preserved beneath a coat of dust and cobwebs - save for a few faint footprints, invisible unless you know where to find them. They lead [[upstairs|9-walk3]].\n\nYou can feel [[Di|9-di]]'s eyes and raygun on your back, like a nervous itch.
It's almost like a carpeted staircase, this thick layer of dust that clings to your feet, painting your soles black. Each stair creaks beneath you like the wailing of some lost soul.\n\nAt the top of the stairs is a modest living chamber - more modest, now, thanks to the passage of time. You can make out the few remaning contents in the faint light from the window - there's a desk against the far wall, with a [[small box|9-box]] underneath it, a [[big steamer trunk|9-box]] against the other wall, an empty table and some plain, synth-wood chairs, and a [[round box|9-box]], maybe a hat-box, in the corner.\n\n"Alright, babe. Bring me my chips," orders Di.
Standing here like statues are Di's horse, [[Quicksilver|3-quicksilver]], and my own horse, [[Whore Palace|3-whorepalace]].
//Stupid.// I left the panel on Whore Palace's belly open when I retrieved Little Miss EMP. Now her circuitry's fried. I could kick myself. Or I could have Whore Palace kick me, if I hadn't just turned her into a useless tin can.\n\nI swing myself off of her. Where am I, anyway? Brown in all directions - not very useful. In my revelry, I'm not one hundred percent sure which way I've been riding. Well, if one direction is as good as any other, might as well [[get walking|5-1]].
"Alright, hands up, turn around, and no sudden moves." Pursing your lips, you raise your hands and turn slowly around. Diode is standing there, barefoot, with that smug grin on her face and a raygun trained on you. "Fancy meeting you here. <<if $grabbed_raygun eq true>>Our business for this evening won't require your gun. Drop it."\n\nDo you [[comply|9-dropgun]] or do you [[refuse|9-refuse]]?<<else>> "And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How'd you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]<<endif>>
A single squat, cylindrical [[droid|6-droid]] is patrolling a dead patch of land, its metal surface gleaming in the noon sun as it trundles about the farm.\n\nOverlooking the machine's thankless labor is a [[barn|6-barn]] - it's small for a barn, but even a small barn is pretty big. To the east a withered road leads back to the [[crossroads|6-crossroads]].
CLANG. Sure enough, there's a hover tray waiting at the bottom, piled with dirt and debris. This mine must have been emptied a long time ago.\n\nA set of mine cart tracks leads [[deeper into the mine|6-deeper]]. Or I guess I could [[climb back up|6-shaft]].
<<set $hiding_spot = "robotfarm">>I stuff my satchel and its contents inside the hollow droid. Perfect fit. Then I close it up and turn it back on.\n\nA little more fiddling with the controller and soon the little guy is trundling away from the farm, away from his old life, into the endless desert. I stand waving. Good luck, little robot! Take care of my money until we [[meet again|7-1]]!
You slide open the dusty old box for the second time. And there it is, just where you left it, your big-ass satchel, wondering where you've been.\n\n"Give momma what she came for, girl."\n\nYou [[reach into|10-1]] your satchel.
No. No, I definitely do not look back at her as I leave, not even a glance, not even for five whole seconds.\n\n<<display '3-1'>>
<<night>>The insides of the porta-tent are lit up ghost-blue by the moonlight through the open flap. [[Di's|2-diode]] asleep on the futon, her clothes black blobs scattered on the floor, like fat snails. <<if $grabbed_canteen eq false>> My [[canteen|2-canteen]] is sitting by my feet.<html> </html><<endif>><<if $grabbed_box eq false>> [[The box|2-box]] is over in the corner, covered by an old poncho. <<endif>> That about covers our shared possessions.\n\n<<if $grabbed_box eq true>>[[Outside|2-leave]], the desert quietly waits.<<else>><<if $lied eq false>>[[Outside|2-lie]], the desert quietly waits.<<else>>Outside, the desert quietly waits.<<endif>><<endif>>
<<set $tied_rope = true>>There's a metal eyehook over the shaft. Old, but looks sturdy enough to hold my weight. Doesn't it? Sure. I tie the rope tight, making a solid knot. If there's one thing a bandita knows how to do, it's tie a rope or two.\n\nWell, nothing left to do but [[climb down|6-bottom]].
<<evening>>There's a sailor's story about how when the sun descends into the sea, it dissolves into pieces, filling the sky with stars. Well, this is a hustler's story, a story of the west, and when the sun touches the desert, all it does is dye the sand red like blood.\n\nIt starts to cool off, too. You're grateful for that, after the long day you've had.\n\nDiode emerges from the porta-tent, yawning and cracking open a canteen. She takes a long swig. "Evening, bandita." Then she comes over to you and plants her foot on the top of your head. Cool as you are, you [[do not freak out|1-2]] about this.
No, even though you have spent the last six hours buried up to your neck in the desert, feeling the sun breathe hot in your ear, even though you now have the weight of Di's body pressing down on your tender noggin, you do not freak out because you are Capital-T Tuff.\n\nThat's what being a bandita's about. Being Tuff.\n\nShe playfully shakes your head like she's an aunt ruffling your hair, then steps off you. She extends her bare brown foot to you, the one you had just been wearing as a hat, like a kind of peace offering. She turns the canteen over and lets the water run down her leg, over her foot.\n\nDo you [[lick it off|1-lick]] or do you [[refuse|1-refuse]]?
"Sorry, bandita, but you're just not a very convincing liar. <<if $hiding_spot eq "graveyard">>There //is// no headstone in that graveyard matching the name you gave me. But you were right, there weren't very many left to check. <<endif>><<if $hiding_spot eq "robotfarm">>The robot farm was nothing like you described. It's a farm where robots are //grown//, sweetheart. Or were, a long time ago. <<endif>><<if $hiding_spot eq "mine">>The mines were closed, alright, not by some wooden planks but by a //cave-in//. There was no way you got in there. <<endif>> This little ghost town was suspiciously absent from your tale. Pretty big omission if you asked me. And sure enough, not long after I arrive who should I see on the horizon but my favorite gal."\n\nShe gestures with her raygun, and you wince like she poked you. "Now, then. My credits. [[Lead the way|9-walk1]]."
Sure. Okay, buddy, how about you go spend six hours withering to a husk in the desert sun, then come talk to me about turning down good water.\n\n<<display '1-lick'>>
You creep up slowly towards the saloon doors<<if $grabbed_raygun eq true>>, your raygun in hand<<endif>>. You slowly, silently open one of the swinging doors - to see a pair of empty boots arranged in the doorway.\n\n<<display '9-caught'>>
The open desert, slowly waking up. To the [[north|4-n]] the desert gets rockier. Toward the [[west|4-w]], the sand turns black. To the [[south|4-s]], I can see clumps of grass sprout from the earth like patches of armpit hair. And somewhere to the east, Diode is still sleeping.
<<morning>>Now the sun is up, climbing toward its high-noon throne. The heat falls in carpets on the burnt brown land. I take off my hat and fan myself with it, sucking on my lips just to hear the sound. I can feel them cracking like the ground, tumbleweed rolling across my tongue.\n\nI reach for my side and pat my canteen, just to remind myself it's there. A full canteen suddenly doesn't feel as full as it used to. I'm sorely tempted to [[take a long, cool swig|5-canteen]] - a greenhorn impulse. I know I have to make it last. I should just [[keep walking|5-2]].
By this point it's not even walking, really, it's more like dragging. Anyone following me wouldn't find footsteps, they'd find two unbroken lines running parallel in the sand and think it was the treads of a very small tank. I can't even tell the difference between the ground and the sky anymore, it's all one brown smear.\n\nI'm a blister, a walking corpse, crusted and burnt, my tongue shriveled up like the tail of a dead rat. I let my fingers brush my canteen. I can feel the chill of the water inside. This is ridiculous. Fuck it, [[I'm drinking|5-canteen]].
The brown gets browner and the heat gets hotter; nothing else changes. Little devils are dancing on my tongue, grinding their thighs against each other and raking hot claws. I try and will myself to summon a mirage, some paradise of clay and fountains, home to mermaids with cool lips and small, nimble hands, but I stop when I reflexively give one of the mermaids Diode's face.\n\nNo mirages come after that, just brown and heat and dry. My thoughts wander back to plugging that canteen into my mouth and [[guzzling it down|5-canteen]]. Shit, girl, no, just look at the nothing and [[walk|5-3]].
<<evening>>"Delay me a few hours, provided I had the tools to fix it," Di interrupts. "You didn't know I had those tools, little miss."\n\n"Yeah, you had a few pieces of tech I wasn't expecting," you reply.\n\n"Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. So, you [[rode away from camp|4-1]]."
Outside the tent, I pull on my clothes, my boots, my hat, all the accoutrements of the bandita experience. Clip the canteen to my belt, sling the satchel over my shoulder, feel the reassuring weight of the metal box inside it.\n\nThe desert glows alien blue beneath the nearer of the two moons. Standing motionless beside the tent, their bright LED eyes the only sign they're awake, alert, and ready to ride, are our robot mustangs.\n\n<<display '3-horses'>>
You make no move, except for your fingers twitching, eager for your raygun. Di shrugs, then aims and fires: now your holster, along with the pistol that had been inside it, is a piece of black bacon on your hip.\n\n"And now, sweetheart, you're going to take me to my credits."\n\nBut instead you ask, [["How'd you get here so fast?"|9-explain]]
<<set $hiding_spot = "graveyard">>I push the shovel into the ground. It's not soft, but fortunately our friend's not buried very deep. I hit bones in just a few minutes. Not all of the bones, or even most of them, but enough to pretend to have a conversation with, I guess.\n\nI dump the satchel and its burden into the open grave. You may have died in poverty, sweetheart, but you're rich [[now|7-1]].
I pop open the lid on the droid's top. Inside is a big hollow cavity where, I suspect, it's expecting seeds to be. That life's behind you now, little robot! You've been called to a [[higher purpose|6-stuffdroid]].