Crossout

[STORIES] A house divided: Building bridges

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You can read the previous part here.

The huge room of the Founders factory canteen was almost empty – the first shift had already had lunch, and the second was still a long way off. Only the cooks were fussing over the huge pots and ovens, and there was a girl sitting at the iron table, far from the food distribution line. Any Founder would recognize these rough facial features and yellow colored short hair – Maja Lyndholm, the youngest of Eva’s children, was respected among her subordinates for her ingenuity, courage and strong-willed character. That’s why her current condition seemed even more surprising – the girl was moodily picking at her salad with a fork, surrounded by a lot of empty and half-empty beer mugs.

Her process was interrupted by a loud bass that thundered over her ear:

– Hey, little one! Didn’t expect to see you here!

Maja almost jumped on the bench in surprise, turned around and saw a massive belly wrapped in a boiler suit. The belly could probably compete in thickness and strength with the armor of a heavy vehicle. Having turned her gaze above to a thick black beard and cheerful eyes radiating with kindness, she smiled:

– Graham! You can’t sneak up on me like that! What are you doing here?

The man laughed in response:

– Yeah, I stomp like a bear! And you’re really thinking about something. I’m going back from Eva, I was visiting her just now. I thought I’d stop by, grab something to eat. I didn’t expect to meet you here, but I’m glad I did! Just a minute, I’ll go get some food and come back.

Maja, continuing to smile, waved her hand to Graham, suggesting that he shouldn’t deny himself anything.

– Come on, there’s plenty of room here, even for you.

The man went to the distribution line and returned with a tray set up with various meals, maneuvering between tables and benches in an amazingly deftly manner. Graham’s favorite tall and faceted glass that he brought with him was the crown jewel of this tray. Having sat in front of Maja, he sipped his beer and exhaled happily. Then he looked at the girl’s empty mugs, almost untouched food, and raised his eyebrows questioningly.

– What are you thinking about that you didn’t even notice me? Did someone die?

The smile on Maya’s face faded, she twitched and shoved a fork into the salad as if it was the throat of her enemy.

– Oh, I wish. Mother gave me a task – you wouldn’t wish it on your enemy. Do you know that the Ravagers captured the Dawn’s Children outpost at the Ashen Ring?

Graham nodded in response and, sending a huge spoon of mashed potatoes into his mouth, squinted thoughtfully. A rumble of dishes rang out from the kitchen, dramatically accompanying Maja’s words.

– So, the metals defeated the eggheads, and their defenses were not made out of paper. And the smart guys couldn’t think of anything better to do than to ask us for help in freeing their lost property. Like we got people to spare! Here mother also thought the same, but in her infinite wisdom decided that it was a good idea to make the scientists owe us.

Maja interrupted to sip a beer from the mug, and Graham, who had just chewed his steak, responded with an understanding look:

– Mercenaries, huh?

The girl nodded angrily:

– Yeah, mercenaries. And guess who did Eva task to gather the cannon fodder to throw at the Ravagers’ defenses? Me.

The man shrugged in response:

– What’s the problem, kid? You’ve led people into battle more than once. It’s a dangerous task, of course. But Eva made the right call — it’s better to lose someone else than our own people.

He received a heavy sigh in response.

– The problem is that I have no idea how to find these people! Yes, I fought. Yes, I led people into battle. But they were our people! Founders! They knew what they were doing and why they were doing it, they were willing to win and die for the good of the family! And now I have to somehow motivate a bunch of complete strangers whom I don’t know and who don’t know me, to go there and get killed by laser turrets!

At this point, the girl stopped and looked at his companion, who was chewing another steak, differently:

– Graham… You’re traveling all around the Valley. You’ve seen it all, you know everybody. Maybe you can give me some smart advice?

The man grinned into his mustache and, taking a pie instead of the teacher’s pointer, began to draw patterns in the air with it.

– No problem. Eva called me for a reason – I needed to read the general mood of the people in the Valley for her. And the people are scared. They’re afraid of the damned metals, the fierce ones. And this will be good for you when you start to recruit mercenaries. It’s not that tricky. Don’t minimize the threat, but don’t focus on it too. Rely on the fact that this is an opportunity to fight the Ravagers. This is not just a matter of the Founders and Dawn’s Children, but a mission vital for the entire Valley, a crusade against monsters for the sake of all mankind! And make sure to add more enthusiasm. Everyone likes to be a part of something bigger, not just thugs. And add a promise of very good payment to this enthusiasm. Everyone will find something for themselves, you can’t go wrong.

After finishing his speech, Graham stuffed the pointer pie into his mouth with a satisfied face. Maja’s face brightened and she smiled:

– Thank you so much! You make it sound very simple, and I was really nervous. It’s so great to have you here, uncle! How long will you stay with us?

The man shook his head:

– I stopped by to report to Eva, and soon I’ll leave again. I have a lot of things to do. By the way, I’ll look for volunteers for you on the way. I visit a lot of places anyway.

Maya rested her hand on her cheek:

— Again, thank you so much… Yeah, I’ll be going soon, too. After all, my mother assigned me a second task, even more urgent. Another faction offered us to cooperate…

After these words, she stopped talking. Graham looked at his companion with interest and gestured for her to continue, but she hesitated. For a few seconds there was an awkward silence, broken only by the clinking of dishes and the unintelligible arguments of the cooks in the kitchen as well as the creaking of the bench under Graham, who was fidgeting with curiosity. Finally, Maya leaned on the table toward him, and, in a conspiratorial low voice, asked:

– Do you remember Ivy XO?

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