<<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: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: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.
<<UserID:Webb>> WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!
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...