Sunday, December 18, 2011

//Log Date: 2281-11-04 20:41//

<<UserID:Webb>> Jess always used to say there was an art to breaking bad news to people gently, a way to broach the subject carefully enough so that the person getting the news would be able to comprehend it and process it without being overwhelmed by it.
She also used to say I was terrible at it, and that it was a good thing I was a combat medic and not some sort of “bedside manner” doctor.
Good lord, but that woman knew me perfectly.
After I recovered from the shock of seeing the rockets -- honest to God rockets, that the ghouls are planning on riding off to their promised land -- Bright pulled me politely aside and asked if I might be willing to work with Haversam to finish the last minute preparations off the landing pad, as actually being closer to the rockets would probably give any non-ghoul lethal doses of radiation.
I took the opportunity to broach the subject of Haversam with Bright, asking exactly what the situation was there. Bright explained sadly that the man had somehow gotten convinced that working on his vault’s reactor had dosed him sufficiently with radiation to ghoulify him, and he’d fallen in with Bright’s flock, resisting all of their efforts to convince him of his humanity. Eventually, they stopped trying, and his technical expertise had proved so helpful that Bright actually said they felt lucky they’d had him.
When I asked what they had planned to do with Haversam when the rest of them loaded up into their radioactive rockets, Bright had the good grace to look somewhat ashamed. He admitted that there was no possible way they could take him with them, given the radiation in the rockets, and the only remaining plan was to ensure that he stayed behind. 
I asked Bright if he realized that ostracizing the only member of their group capable of getting their rockets in the air seemed like a perfect recipe for sabotage, and he again admitted that it was a problem they had no idea how to address. He stared at me sadly for a moment, then asked if I might be willing to talk some sense into Haversam, break the news to him gently so he’d still be able to help with the launch but not harm himself trying to enter the irradiated areas. I confessed I’d had some leanings in that direction already, but reminded Bright that I was trained as a medic, not a psychiatrist. He thanked me graciously and climbed down into the launch chamber to join his flock in suiting up for their journey and preparing the rockets.
I’ve never been one to linger at pulling a bandage off a wound, so I marched over to where Haversam was checking some gauges on the observation deck and cornered him, shoving Boone’s shaving mirror in his face. I made him take a good long look at himself, grabbing his jowly cheeks and twisting him back towards the mirror every time he tried to turn away and talking him through the fact that being bald and pimply does not make one a ghoul.
Eventually, radiation-free light dawned, and his eyes widened. He snatched the mirror out of my hand and started to scream, hurling the mirror into a corner where it shattered, earning a particularly disgruntled “hmmph” from Boone. When the scream died out, Haversam slid down to the floor, sobbing and yanking at the his last remaining wisps of hair. I stepped back uncertainly, waiting for him to calm down.
See? Jess was right. No bedside manner.
Eventually, Haversam dragged the sleeves of his labcoat across his watery eyes, gave a wracking sob, and stood to stare down at the ghouls toiling around the rockets. There was so much hatred in his face when he turned back to me that I reached for my revolver, but he jabbed a shaking finger in the direction of the ghouls and, in a phlegmy voice, he raged at how they had used him, lead him along, and how he was going to fix them for how they’d treated him.
Sure, I’d gotten him to accept his humanity, but pushing him into homicidal anger may have been a bit TOO much humanity.
Haversam was going on about sabotage, the methods he’d use to make sure the rockets crashed and took the ghouls up with them. I let him continue ranting, but when he turned back to the gauges and actually started adjusting the settings there, I stepped in the way and grabbed his arms by the wrists. 
While he tried to pull away, I held on tightly and told him that Bright and the flock honestly did appreciate him -- they just didn’t know how to convince him he was anything other than a ghoul in the face of his dedicated delusion, and they’d eventually given up in favor of letting him be happy with who he thought he was.
He calmed down slowly and turned back towards the ghouls, looking more lost than angry now. I tentatively let go, and he slumped against the console behind him. He asked me... or maybe just himself... what he was supposed to do now? I told him he could finish his work. The ghouls already respect him -- if he gets them where they want to go, they’ll make him a saint in their goofy religion, whether he’s a ghoul or not. 
He looked at me, considering, and then asked where he was supposed to go after they left him behind. I told him about Novac, and pointed out that the town had plenty of prospectors and merchants but no one with the actual know-how to fix up any of that pre-war tech or keep it running.
He considered, and I held my breath. It seemed like being accepted and needed was Haversam’s biggest drive, and, in the end, it won out, because he agreed -- he’d send Bright’s flock on their way, then come back to Novac to give it a try.
I patted him on the shoulder and was getting ready to turn away to pick through the various salvage lying around the observation deck when Haversam turned back to his console and mentioned in an offhand fashion that they just needed a few supplies to get the rockets on their way.
I swear to god, I half suspect he staged the whole meltdown just to put me in a position where I couldn’t say “no” to helping him out.
The rockets had plenty of fuel, thankfully, but they needed a special igniting agent formulated chiefly from a radioactive isotope to give them their initial lift. They also needed custom-built thruster control modules, or they’d crash immediately after takeoff -- just like that pre-war crash I’d read about on the terminals upstairs.
Like I said, I couldn’t very well say no, but now here I was heading back out into the wastes with a goddamn shopping list, AFTER I’d already fought my way through a mob of ferals, bargained with a schizophrenic invisible giant, and talked down a paranoid ghoul sniper. And all of this for the whereabouts of a mugger in a checkered coat? I must be the one who’s insane.
Take a note, eyeball: from now on, we’re just going to start beating information out of people and saving ourselves the trouble.
<<UserID:ED-E>> 0100111001101111011101000110010101100100
<<UserID:Boone>> Hmmph.
<<UserID:Webb>> I’m serious. You watch me.
Anyway, I didn’t have a clue where to start looking for the thruster modules, but that little tidbit about the isotope in the igniting agent made me remember something Cliff Briscoe had said offhandedly while we were playing Caravan a few evenings back, the night we had our little chupacabra incident.
<<UserID:Boone>> Chupawhat?
<<UserID:Webb>> Nothing. Ask No-Bark.
Briscoe was bemoaning the fact that, along with the huge stock of little toy dinosaurs, he also had a storage room packed full of small pre-war model rockets that he didn’t know what to do with. He didn’t feel comfortable selling them -- they were full of some sort of radioactive glowing liquid that had apparently made a bunch of kids sick before the war, leading to a recall of the rockets.
Putting two and two together, I figured it was a safe bet that the rockets had been REPCONN memorabilia, and who knows? If we were lucky, that liquid might even be radioactive to do the trick for Haversam.
Well, it turns out that I WAS lucky, which made a nice change. After leaving the launch chamber by means of a concealed ladder directly to the surface and taking an uneventful hike back down the hills to Novac, I asked Briscoe for a look at the rockets. He cheerfully obliged, and, as it turns out, they were actually full to the brim with the same damn igniting agent Haversam needed!
No wonder those poor kids had gotten sick. It was a wonder none of them had managed to blow themselves into orbit.
I told Briscoe I’d take the lot, and he damn near fell out of his chair. When he learned that they were going to be used to resolve the ghoul problem, he handed me the key and told me to take all that I needed.
When I’d unlocked the door to his storage closet and peeked inside, the PIP-Boy’s Geiger counter started crackling like machinegun fire. There were shelves upon shelves of small rockets lining the room, each a foot-long replica of the ships which Bright and his flock are currently loading for their “great journey”, and each glowing softly with their deadly cargo.
Faced with the question of how to transport a room-full of radioactive fluid that would be sure to have my body crawling with tumors should I simply shove it in my satchel and heave it over my back, I think I did what any reasonable person would have: let the robot carry it. We made a makeshift travois out of several lengths of pipe and a barrel and loaded it up with all the model rockets, strapping the travois to ED-E.
While cleaning out the room, I also spotted an odd-looking revolver on the shelves. It had been hidden behind the rockets, and, when I asked Briscoe about it, he said he’d bought it off a traveling merchants years ago, stashed it in the back room, then completely forgotten about it. 
I looked the gun over, and I’d never seen anything quite like it. It was clearly heavily modified from whatever it had originally been, maybe even cut down from a rifle, and it was chambered for .223 hunting rounds -- with a little filing, I’m sure it will take 5.56mm rounds too. 
Even more intriguing was the fact that it had a motorized, automated cylinder and pivot for smooth, faster reloading. I played with the action a few times and was hooked. I don’t currently have too many 5.56mm rounds, but they’re not terribly uncommon in the Mojave, from what I’ve seen, and the revolver seems to have a hell of a lot of kick to it.
Besides, that motorized cylinder is just so damn neat.
I traded the bits of salvage I’d brought back from REPCONN to Briscoe in exchange for that gun and walked out of his store to finish securing the travois, happy as a kid who’s just found a packet of Fancy Lad snack cakes.
As ED-E was moving fairly slowly with the extra baggage, we sent him straight back to the REPCONN site and headed north up the road from Novac. Briscoe hadn’t had any thruster control modules hidden away, but he did suggest we talk to a woman named Gibson who ran a salvage yard just a little ways up the road, and, according to him, she often had scavenged the REPCONN site itself back when she was younger.
It seemed as likely a tip as any, and my luck continued to hold. When we found “Old Lady” Gibson -- her name for herself, not mine -- she was actually sitting outside her small workshop in a chair made from the “O” in the “REPCONN” sign on the facility. The scrapyard surrounding the workshop was filled with pieces of pre-war tech in all sizes and states of repair. It was also prowled by a pack of rangy dogs, but they settled down happily and greeted us with wagging tails when Gibson greeted us warmly, waving from her chair.
I liked her almost immediately. She’s been roaming around and scavving almost her entire life, finally settling down after her husband passed away several years back, and she clearly knows her pre-war tech, but she still had a friendly mien to her, which is something the wastes tend to grind out of people after so many years. 
She listened to the description of the modules attentively and then cheerfully said she thought she might have something matching that description left over from her old scavving runs to REPCONN -- and if she had it, she said with a chuckle, it was for sale.
Before going to search through her stock, she invited us inside out of the sun and actually gave Boone and me each a glass of prickly pear tea. She chatted with us while she searched, eventually unearthing three of the modules from beneath a skeletonized Corvega. We haggled over the price, eventually settling on two hundred and fifty caps for all three. I thanked her, she wished us well, and we set back off into the afternoon Mojave, arriving back at REPCONN just after sunset with our cargo.
ED-E had arrived before us, and the ghouls were already decanting the igniting agent into the rockets, seemingly thrilled to be basking in its glow. Haversam looked on from the observation patform with a melancholy intensity, but, when I presented him with the modules, he immediately went to work cleaning and fixing them up, getting them ready to be installed.
According to him and Bright, they’ll be ready to launch in the morning. Boone, ED-E, and I are camping down here in the hallway outside the observation room, just out of reach of the radiation spilling from the launch chamber, and settling in for the evening. 
I’m glad this nonsense is wrapping up. Once Bright and his flock are on their way, we can get the information from Vargas and get back on track. I’m guessing we’ll be headed somewhere north -- I’m just hoping to catch them before they make it back to New Vegas, if that’s where Checkers was headed. Who knows how I’ll ever find him if he made it to that rats’ nest?
Another reason it’ll be interesting to go north: Gipson mentioned there was some sort of pre-war solar power facility just a ways up the road from her scrapyard. A FUNCTIONAL facility, too, or at least nearly so -- it had apparently been a site of contention between NCR forces and the goddamn Brotherhood of Steel recently.
Supposedly, the Brotherhood had occupied the place and been working to get it online when the NCR came into the region. After a raging and prolonged battle, the NCR evicted the Brotherhood -- sent the bastards packing with their metal tails between their legs, it sounds like -- and took it over.
Unsurprisingly, of course, the NCR has apparently been there for the past five years now without making a damn bit of progress, at least as far as Gibson had heard.
Still, it sounds like a sight to see. Gibson said the place was called “HELIOS One”, and that it was off-limits t-
<<UserID:ED-E>> Subject E: diagnosis complete. Begin recording.
Eyeball? Is that coming out of you?
<<UserID:ED-E>> My name is Whitley. I’m a researcher at Adams Air Force Base. Until recently I was in charge of...
<<UserID:Boone>> What is it? What’s it doing? It can talk now?
<<UserID:Webb>> No. No, I think it’s some sort of pre-recorded log. Something must have triggered a playback.
<<UserID:ED-E>> ...model Eyebots. Eyebot Duraframe Subject E is both the prototype and last functional model in this test group. I was...
<<UserID:Webb>> Well, *Expletive Deleted* me. And here I thought this was going to be a boring evening of waiting around...
//Recording Ends//

Friday, November 25, 2011

//Log Date: 2281-11-04 13:02//

<<UserID:Webb>> It figures: spend all morning in a basement, and then end up spending your afternoon in a sub-basement. 
We’re headed with Bright and his people towards their “sacred site”... or maybe “sacred SIGHT”, I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it’s all very hush hush -- no one will tell us what it is before we get there. We’ve been walking through this underground corridor for what feels like ages, so I figured I’d go ahead and log the morning’s events in the meantime.
<<UserID:Boone>> Not a fan of silence, are you?
<<UserID:Webb>> Depends on who’s being silent.
<<UserID:Boone>> Hmmph.
<<UserID:Webb>> Whatever it is, it had better be worth it after this morning, that’s all I’m saying.
<<Unidentified Male>> Quit complaining, smoothskin. Sounds like everything went much better than it might have.
<<UserID:Webb>> Easy for you to say, Haversam. You weren’t the one running up and down flights of stairs all morning.
<<Unidentified Male>> At least you have working tendons and ligaments. Do you have any idea how hard it is for us ghouls to--
<<UserID:Webb>> I keep telling you, Haversam. You’re not a ghoul. You didn’t lose your hair to radiation. Male pattern baldness is a perfectly ordinary--
<<Unidentified Male>> You smoothskins, you’re all bigots.
<<UserID:Webb>> ...Excuse me?
<<Unidentified Male>> So assured of your “normality”, your superiority, that you can’t even acknowledge when someone else is different.
<<UserID:Webb>> Riiiiight... Well, to avoid further offense, I’m just going to go back to talking to my PIP-Boy. Fair enough?
<<Unidentified Male>> Whatever.
<<UserID:Webb>> Boone, you have a shaving mirror?
<<UserID:Boone>> Why?
<<UserID:Webb>> Because you’ve barely got stubble and you don’t seem the alopecia sort.
<<UserID:Boone>> What?
<<UserID:Webb>> Never mind. If you’ve got one, fish it out when we stop. I want Haversam here to have a good look.
<<UserID:Boone>> Ah. Roger.
<<UserID:Webb>> Thanks.
Anyway, after waking up and breaking fast on another plateful of preservatives, the three of us headed for the basement, managing to sneak past the wayward feral members of Bright’s flock on the way. The sealed basement door opened to the keycard Bright gave me before we left, and it led us down ANOTHER flight of stairs.
Once we finally reached the bottom -- or what I thought at that point was the bottom, at any rate -- ED-E’s sensors were going crazy, picking up heat and movement all over the area, though we couldn’t see anything. Remembering how he had somehow scrambled the cloaking field on the brahmin-killing mutant, which had sent the blue-skinned goon into a roaring charge, I wanted to avoid a repeat of that here.
As such, Boone and ED-E waited in the small chamber at the foot of the stairs while I pulled the StealthBoy unit I’d found from my pack, fastened it around my right wrist, and flipped it on.
Immediately, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as an electric field washed over me. The world looked slightly out of focus and wavering, almost like I was staring through the heat shimmer above a fire. 
And, of course, I was invisible. I could make out vague movements when I waved my arms in front of my face, but that was about it. But I had no idea how much charge the StealthBoy had left, so I stopped trying out parlor tricks and eased open the door into the rest of the facility.
Navigating through that maze of corridors was surreal. I could tell there were mutants around -- I could hear their breathing and their footsteps and, every once in a while, catch the distortion of their stealth field out of the corner of my eye. But other than that, the place seemed completely deserted to all other senses. I think I probably took about three breaths the whole time I was down there.
At first, I must have gone the wrong way, as I found myself in something approaching a holding pen, or at least the best the mutants could do. There was no one there apart from a dead female ghoul, however, so I circled back and tried the other hallways.
Eventually, I found my way into a storage room with an uncloaked mutant, also bearing that odd indigo skin. As I entered, he sniffed the air, then glared in my direction and started to speak in that nearly-shouting tone that passes for conversational among mutants. 
I was sure he’d seen me, so I dove for cover behind a filing cabinet, but instead he was talking to someone named “Antler”. Peeking out from behind the cabinet, I realized that “Antler” was actually the bleached brahmin skull on the desk next to him. He was carrying on one half of a lively argument having something to do with a crate and shipping manifests, the other half of the conversation clearly being supplied internally by whatever psychosis had led him to name a skull.
Soon, however, he broke off mid-sentence and started looking around. Apparently, “Antler” had told him someone was in the room. Still, he looked more irritated than angry, and he wasn’t holding a weapon -- the closest thing I could see was some sort of blade made from the bumper of a pre-war car. The thing was taller than I am, but it was propped against a desk on the other side of the room. I decided to take my chances.
I propped up my repeater against the back of the cabinet, unbuttoned the clasp on my revolver holster, turned off the StealthBoy, tucked it back into my pocket, and stepped out into view with my hands raised, clearing my throat politely.
The first few seconds of the following exchange were somewhat tense, but I managed to get across that I’d been sent by the ghouls to see if any compromise or peace could be brokered, and the mutant seemed to see the sense in that. I introduced myself, and he did the same. He also insisted I introduce myself to Antler, which I did, though I felt a bit silly. Like my ma always said, though: sometimes you have to swallow your pride, or an insane blue giant will beat you to death with a car.
Well, no, she never said that. But she would have, if she’d ever met Antler.
The ensuing conversation was surprisingly enlightening. The mutant’s name was Davison, and he and all the other blue skins are a special sort of super mutant called “nightkin”, created especially for scouting, spying, and infiltration by someone called “the Master”. From what I could gather, this “Master” is the one behind the super mutant army that rampaged across California way back before the NCR was founded. Davison was some sort of officer in the Master’s army, and he and these nightkin have been drifting for the past century or so since the Master was killed in what sounds like an explosion.
Lucky for the rest of us, I suppose.
Apparently, Davison and the other nightkin all worship Antler now as some sort of replacement for this “Master”. 
*Lowers his voice.*
We’ve got Bright’s little church upstairs, and Antler’s zealots downstairs. This whole building is a magnet for religious loonies.
*Continues at regular volume.*
And since Antler is simply an extension of Davison’s psyche, he’s the one actually leading this bunch, so, as long as I could get him moving along, I figured the others would follow. 
It turns out what had brought them to REPCONN was the same bit of communication I’d found on the terminal yesterday: reports of a huge shipment of StealthBoys coming here. Though the nightkin were made for covert ops, they still apparently need StealthBoys for their cloaking fields.
“Need” may be putting it mildly, at that. Given Davison’s desperation when speaking about the ‘Boys, it sounds like they’ve developed something almost like a chemical dependence on the cloaking effect. All things considered, I’m glad I tucked the one I’d been wearing into my pocket. 
I wonder if that also has anything to do with the schizophrenia I’ve noticed in Davison and the brahmin-killer, or if that’s a side effect of all mutations. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence -- I haven’t met enough nightkin or regular mutants to make an educated guess.
Heh. “Regular mutants”. The wasteland’s a funny place sometimes. Whatever the case, it was enough to convince me to go easy on StealthBoy usage.
<<UserID:ED-E>> 010010010111001001110010011001010110110001100101
<<UserID:Webb>> Was that a crack about my mental health, eyeball? You better watch it, or I’m going to put that party hat back on and LEAVE it on you this time.
Anyway, if I could get the nightkin the StealthBoys, they’d leave peacefully. The problem was -- and there’s ALWAYS another problem -- the ‘Boys were supposedly in yet ANOTHER section of the basement, but guarded by a ghoul who had trapped the place from here to Dayglow with mines and tripwires, and was shooting at any mutants who tried to push their way past.
I told Davison -- and Antler, I suppose -- that I’d do what I could, and headed for the warehouse-styled chamber in which the ghoul had garrisoned himself. Sure enough, the place was trapped thoroughly, but I took my time, disarming some tripwires and avoiding others, and eventually repeatedly my little surrender game, walking out into the open, hands raised and appearing unarmed. 
I called out, identifying myself and saying that I was here on behalf of Bright to help clear up the “demon” issue, and a rugged-looking ghoul peeked over the railing high above me, staring down the barrel of a .308 rifle and puffing on a cigarette.
He remained silent at first, assessing me, so I slowly lowered my hands and gestured around at the surprisingly expansive room, telling him he’d set himself up one hell of a killzone for a religious type.
That actually got a bark of a laugh from him, and he raised the rifle a bit -- not setting it aside, but at least taking me out of the sights. He introduced himself as Harland and said he wasn’t a religious type -- he’d signed on with Bright for the caps and the female companionship.
Well, there’s one question about ghoul physiology answered that I don’t think anyone had ever wanted to ask.
I hurried him along before he could wax too poetic about the leathery charms of ghoul women, and he confided that he’d come down this way during the mutant attack, attempting to protect one “ghoulette” of whom he was especially fond when the Bright followers had scattered.
A lump in my gut, I asked him for her description, then sadly filled him in on the dead female ghoul I’d found in the holding area. He was silent for a long moment, then cursed and stood up, tossing his rifle aside carelessly. He paced about, muttering, then grabbed the rifle up from where it had fallen and told me I could come on up if I wanted to dig through the old shipping records up there with him -- he’d disable the rest of the traps.
I thanked him, then told him about Boone and ED-E, suggesting he join them and wait for me to come back, and we’d all go rejoin Bright and the others together. He agreed listlessly, heading off in that direction. 
When he’d gone, I climbed the stairs to the little nest he’d made for himself, trying not to think too deeply about the half-eaten radroaches I could see scattered about. A little poking about on the shipping terminals up there revealed that the crate of StealthBoys HAD arrived at this facility... only to be returned to its senders at RobCo the next day. Over two centuries ago.
I sighed and managed to spool up some paper to print out an invoice for the return, then brought the receipt to Davison to give him the bad news. He did not take it gracefully. For a second, I thought he was going to snap me in half, but “Antler” apparently put in a good word for me, because Davison visibly calmed himself, then stomped off to inform the nightkin that they were moving out to continue their search elsewhere.
I hurried back to the antechamber at the base of the stairs to get Boone and ED-E moving before a whole troop of nightkin started marching their way and was happy to see Harland there, sharing a silent cigarette with Boone and examining ED-E critically. The four of us hustled -- well, huffed and panted, in my case -- back upstairs and filled Bright in on the newly exorcised basement.
He and his ghouls were overjoyed, both at the news and at the return of Harland, who was greeted like some sort of crusader riding home after a successful campaign. I think the joyous hugs from the female members of Bright’s flock did wonders to ease the pain of his recent loss.
After that, Boone and I shared some lunch -- a can of beans roasted on a hotplate in Bright’s quarters -- while the ghouls packed up their supplies and gear and prepared to head down through the basement to the “sacred site”. They invited us to join them, and, call me crazy, but I’d put enough into this already not to see just what they’ve been so fired up about.
And that’s where we are now, traipsing down these endless corridors towards this “site”, whatever it is. I’m starting to get slightly higher radiation readings on the PIP-Boy’s counter, and there is a little bit of a glow coming from up ahead.
Yes, we’re finally reaching some sort of observation chamber, it looks like. Definitely higher rad levels. Here, Boone, take another Rad-X, just to be safe. Haversam, I don’t suppose I could talk you into--
<<Unidentified Male>> Don’t waste those on me, smoothskin. Radiation is like the warm sun for us ghouls.
<<UserID:Webb>> Can’t say I didn’t try. Down the hatch!
*Sounds of pills being shaken from a container, a cork being pulled, and swallowing.*
Ahh. Anyway, let’s take a look at this “sacred site”. What do you want to bet, after all this time, that it actually turns out just to be a big pool of radioactive waste after al -- HOLY JESUS, THEY HAVE SPACE ROCKETS!
//Recording Ends//

Monday, November 14, 2011

//Log Date: 2281-11-03 20:29//

<<UserID:Webb>> I read somewhere that politics make strange bedfellows. Well, we must have gotten involved in politics, because we are camped for the evening with some extremely strange folks.
Boone’s already out for the evening, so I should be able to get through this entry with minimal “hmmph”ing.
<<UserID:ED-E>> 010100000110110001100101011000010111001101100101
<<UserID:Webb>> That counts as a “hmmph”, eyeball. Keep it down.
The morning began just about the way we’d expected, picking off more ferals at range while we followed the access road the rest of the way in to the REPCONN test site. The closer we got, the more of them there were -- mostly just milling around aimlessly, as far as I could tell, at least until they caught wind of us. 
Or heard us. Or saw us. I have no idea how ferals sense the world around them. Some of them are so far gone that most of their face, eyes included, has rotted right off. Doesn’t stop them for making a beeline for your entrails, though.
By the time we reached the facility itself, we must have put down at least a dozen, with at least that number milling about the giant rocket statue in front of the REPCONN building.
They were far enough from us that we were able to do for them before they reached us, but it was a near thing with the last few. My hip still aches enough to make me never want to let one get within clawing range again.
Once ED-E confirmed that there was nothing else moving around outside the building, we were able to take stock of the site. The road, which had lead us through a shallow canyon, opened into a little valley, almost like a bowl scooped out of the rock. Right in the center is a pre-war metal sculpture of a REPCONN rocket -- which cleared up the purpose of this place in a hurry. REPCONN was an aerospace company, apparently focused on getting people up into the skies and into outer space. 
Amazing... those folks before the bombs were living in a goddamn paradise, and they were trying so hard to escape it. No wonder it all went to hell.
Behind the statue is a blocky drab building, mostly intact, hunkered down into the rock, with a few radio towers and an odd dome perched on the rim of the valley across from it. Still have no idea what the dome is, but we’ve spent the day getting all too acquainted with the building.
Finishing up our sweep of the exterior, we found a few dead ghouls among the ferals who were in significantly better shape -- well, before they died, at least. Functional, sentient ghouls, wearing those brown robes I’d seen a few times in the wastes. From the half-built makeshift barricades they were slumped over, it looked like they’d been trying to fortify the building.
The robed ghouls, along with some of the ferals that had predeceased our arrival, had been shot with automatic weaponry. The ghouls themselves were armed with energy weapons -- two carrying AER9 laser rifles and the other some sort of self-charging blaster pistol I’ve never seen before -- so the wounds clearly weren’t friendly fire. Definitely not the ferals, either.
The pistol was light and easy to carry, so I stuffed that into my pack and stacked the rifles by the statue to claim on our way back to Novac. The PIP-Boy’s counter was still reading just slightly over generic background radiation, but I dosed Boone and myself with Rad-X pills as a precaution anyway before we went inside the mangled front doors.
And inside... well, outside was a mess, but inside was a charnel house. Dead ferals, robed ghouls, and more of those blue super-mutants were everywhere, and the interior of the building was wrecked, but not in that comfortably familiar ruined-when-the-bombs-fell way. 
The injuries on the bodies began to paint a picture. The robed ghouls and the ferals had all been killed by conventional ammunition or blunt trauma, consistent with the miniguns and concrete mauls the mutants were carrying, and the dead mutants had been exclusively seared with laser or plasma fire. 
The super mutants must have forced their way in through the main doors, fighting through the robed ghouls, but there was no sign of either group still living on the first floor -- the whole place was eerily quite, at least at first.
Old habits die hard, and I started scavving for salvage while Boone began sorting out the weapons. I was sorting through a promisingly full toolbox when the building’s intercom system crackled to life, nearly giving me an infarction.
The rough, gravely voice barked at us to identify ourselves. I did so, naming Boone and ED-E as well, and told the speaker that we were here on behalf of Novac. I tactfully neglected to mention the looting.
Mr. Intercom muttered something about “smoothskins” -- a ghoul epithet for unradiated folks that I’ve had tossed my way in the past -- and told us that we should hurry to the building’s east staircase, unless we wanted “the demons” to get us.
Boone raised an eyebrow at the mention of “demons”, and I shrugged, kicking a super-mutant corpse by way of my best bet. Out loud, I asked Mr. Intercom to identify himself, but he just responded that if we wanted to wait around for the demons to come kill us, that was our choice, and then broke the connection.
We made our way in the direction he’d indicated, picking through the rooms as we went. I found a powered terminal and managed to bypass its security programming with the aid of the PIP-Boy, hoping for a map of the facility. Instead, I got a bit of background on REPCONN -- definitely focused on space exploration, the company had been bought out by RobCo before the war. 
I’m a little surprised they didn’t start calling the rockets “REP-Boys”. RobCo definitely has an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach to naming their products.
Apparently, it had all ended in disaster, with a rushed production schedule that left a handful of employees dead in explosions. There was also a memo that a crateful of those StealthBoy cloaking units had been erroneously delivered to this facility. I’ll have to keep my eyes skinned -- having a satchelful of StealthBoys would make life in the Mojave much easier.
Another room had a collapsed ceiling, which enabled us to clamber up to the second floor. A good thing, too -- the staircase Mr. Intercom had mentioned was built out over an open space storage area, the ground floor of which was full of shambling ferals. Coming into the staircase from the second floor, we were able to creep past and over them without drawing any attention, climbing the stairs to a sealed door.
When we hit the intercom button, the man who opened the door was decidedly un-ghoulified, a rather average-looking balding sort, running a little to fat, who identified himself as Chris Haversam. 
When Boone delicately broached the issue of him not being a ghoul by blurting out “He’s human!”, Haversam just shook his head, muttered something else about smoothskins, and refused to answer any further questions, instead telling us to follow him, after which he sealed the door behind us and then headed off down the hallway, not looking to see if we were following.
Haversam, thankfully, seemed to be the only one with unresolved transradiation issues. Everyone else in this sealed section of the building was fully ghoulified, and all were wearing the brown robes. Most were looking through various diagrams or sorting electronics at workbenches, and they looked at us with something halfway between curiosity and suspicion as we walked by.
Haversam lead us up another staircase to a smaller office, and things suddenly began to come clear. Haversam cleared his throat and left us with a little bow to the occupant of the room, a man wearing a neatly maintained pre-war suit and lighting up the office with a sickly green luminescence.
He turned, and I braced myself for a Geiger counter cacophony that never came. He was one of the hyper-radiated ghouls that folks call “glowing ones”, but I’ve never heard of one that isn’t feral... or putting out enough rads to microwave an iguana-kebab.
This one was neither. His face, while bearing all the standard gauntness and leathery skin common to ghouls, was remarkably unburnt or decayed, and his voice, when he greeted us, lacked the usual gravel and instead had an odd reverb to it, as if coming through speakers.
His name is Jason Bright -- he claims it always has been, even before the bombs -- and he and his followers are here to prepare for a “great journey” to seek their holy land and escape the persecution ghouls face in the wastes.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s convinced that Boone, ED-E, and I are here as a form of divine aid in their time of need. In ED-E’s case, I suppose it’s a real case of “machina ex deo”.
Not bad, eh?
<<UserID:ED-E>> 010100000110110001100101011000010111001101100101
<<UserID:Webb>> Philistine.
Anyway, Bright elaborated that he and his followers had gathered here to pursue their journey, and, in doing so, they had shepherded all the ferals they could find along with them. Bright calls ferals “lost ones” and, while he acknowledges that they are beyond help, he and his group still hoped to contain them, keeping them safe and, by extension, keeping everyone else safe from them.
Everything had apparently been going well until invisible demons showed up and stormed the facility. Putting two and two together, Bright’s invisible demons are the stealthed blue mutants that have been cropping up all over the area. They forced their way in, killing a handful of Bright’s followers, and a running gun battle broke out inside, which resulted in the ghouls falling back to this sealed upper area and the mutants breaking off and heading into the facility’s basement, where they still are, attacking any ghouls who venture down there.
Bright couldn’t explain what drew the mutants or what was keeping them here, but he could explain the feral attacks on Novac. When they’d broken down the facility’s doors, the mutants inadvertently released all the ferals Bright had managed to sequester here.
Normally, Bright and his people would be fine to just leave the mutants in the basement, but the next step in their “Great Journey” is apparently directly through the areas currently being patrolled by the invisible mutants.
Bright said he and the others would gladly round up the ferals and take them along on the journey if I could somehow “exorcise the demons” from the facility’s basement.
I was tempted to just walk right back on down to Novac, confident that the ghouls and the mutants would eventually take care of each other, but there was just something about Bright’s earnestness... Besides, I can certainly understand that desire to seek a better place, and isn’t care in the hands of other ghouls a kinder fate for the ferals a kinder fate?
I keep saying it, Webb -- that goddamn conscience is going to get you killed.
Then again, would that such a bad thing? Not like there’s much keeping me around at this point, other than good, old-fashioned stubbornness. 
I turned to Boone, who merely shrugged, and told Bright we’d see about that exorcism for him. Of course, if all those blue mutants are as crazy as the one who was killing the brahmin, I think I’ll be doing most of my exorcising with my repeater, but we’ll see.
Bright was thrilled at the news, thanking us graciously, and he offered us the use of his followers’ rooms and chambers. As it had already been a long day, and as I think I’d more than exceeded my quota for shooting hideously deformed lunatics, we decided to stay the night with Bright and his people.
Word spread quickly that we had agreed to help, and those suspicious glances were quickly replaced with friendly -- if rotten -- smiles and offers to share meals and supplies. We partook of their food, mostly pre-war packaged goods like YumYum  eggs and Salisbury Steak that had been scavenged from the building’s cafeteria before the mutant attack.
As always, they taste more like preservatives than actual food, but they fill your belly well enough. We stuck to our own bottled water, however; a quick PIP-Boy scan of the ghouls’ water supplies revealed enough rads to give me contact nausea. Must give it an extra kick if you’re a ghoul, though.
After we ate, I spent a few hours looking over the ghouls who had been injured in the fight with the mutants. Many had gunshot wounds, some with the bullets still lodged within, others had broken bones from the mutants’ clubs, and all were model patients, as I have come to expect from ghouls.
The same condition that keeps them alive for so long also seems to deaden many of their nerves -- I didn’t even have to use Med-X while stitching up the wounds, and they would each just sit their, either calmly chatting or just silently watching as I worked, with no sign of discomfort or unease. If only everyone I tended to was so accommodating...
The other benefit of the condition is remarkably fast healing. I’d wager most of these folks will be good as new within a day or two. I’ve never put it to the test myself, but I’ve heard that you can even amputate and reattach a ghoul’s arm, with no ill effects in the long run if you get it sewed back on fast enough.
After my surgeries, my back was killing me, so I stretched it out by pacing around the ghouls’ quarters, picking through the supplies they weren’t currently using.
Among scrap and tidbits of various usefulness, I found, against all expectations, a box of brightly-colored conical hats, made of some sort of waxed paper, with little plastic ribbons coming out of the tops. I pulled one out and popped it on to ED-E’s shell at a jaunty angle.
Boone just grunted and wandered off to get some sleep, but I can only imagine how much Callie would have laughed to see it.
<<UserID:ED-E>> 010100000110110001100101011000010111001101100101
<<UserID:Webb>> I’ll take it off you in the morning, I promise. Tonight, though... just let me keep it there and remember my little girl giggling, okay?
<<UserID:ED-E>> 010000010110001101100011011001010111000001110100
<<UserID:Webb>> Thanks, eyeball.
Guess I better get some rack time myself. Settling down to sleep, surrounded by ghoul pilgrims and preparing to venture down into a basement full of invisible supermutants.
Well, as my pa would have said, it beats being bored.
Signing off.
//Recording Ends//