<<UserID:Webb>> With all the excitement these people face in the Mojave, I’m surprised there’s anyone still left living here.
It’s been another... interesting day. I slept like a log knowing ED-E was on guard duty, something that hasn’t happened in ages. Maybe I’m placing too much faith in the floating eyeball, but I suppose I’m allowed a mistake or two in favor of comfort in my old age, right?
I finished off the last of the coyote meat for breakfast, along with another bottle of water, and then started east again. It wasn’t long before I crossed the Long 15 again, but I hadn’t been this far north up the 15 and, from here, I could see signs of some sort of a settlement just up the road, so I decided to take a look. It turned out to be Sloan, the mining town Sunny Smiles had mentioned, and, as advertised, they were indeed having more than their fair share of trouble.
A man standing behind a ramshackle roadblock greeted me cautiously but politely, and introduced himself as “Chomps” Lewis. We exchanged pleasantries, and he filled me in on the town, whose main purpose until recently had been to run the limestone quarry to the northwest for the NCR, sending the stone east to Boulder City to be made into cement. That had all changed thanks to -- who else? -- the Powder Gangers, who had raided the quarry and taken all of the dynamite and other blasting equipment. While the miners sat idle, waiting for resupply from the NCR, a pack of deathclaws had settled into the quarry, and now no one was able to get into the quarry, or north up the road to New Vegas, without becoming deathclaw fodder.
It was Lewis and the other miners who had been putting up the deathclaw warning signs on the roads and trails around the area. Even with no munitions or equipment, they’re doing what they can to stop other people from wandering into danger, which is more than I can say for the NCR, who still haven’t shown up to lend Sloan a hand.
Just once, I’d like to be surprised by the NCR riding to the rescue, but it looks like it won’t be today.
I asked about directions to the NCR prison, and Lewis kindly pointed out the best way on the map, but he mentioned that the ‘Gangers had been spreading out and establishing away camps in the surrounding hills, so it might not be a bad idea to wait for the cover of darkness to push a little closer.
I wasn’t in any particular hurry to catch a convict’s bullet, so Lewis and I shot the breeze a bit more, talking politics and lamenting the NCR’s inaction. When it came out that I was a doctor, Lewis lit up and mentioned that they had a patient that could use some attention.
That’s my trade, of course, but I stopped short when Lewis said he’d take me straight to “Snuffles”. That wasn’t so unusual -- after all, the man telling me this had introduced himself as “Chomps” -- but then he pointed out an overweight molerat digging through scrap outside the barracks building.
I quickly pointed out that I was a doctor and not a veterinarian, but Lewis explained that Snuffles was something of a mascot to the camp, and everyone’s spirits, low already due to the lack of work, were sinking steadily watching the little thing struggle with her wounded leg. Apparently, she had actually been tamed and used to help them dig tunnels for blasting, but her left rear leg had received a pretty nasty gash from a baby deathclaw after they’d nested in the quarry.
Looking around at the glum faces, I sighed and agreed to give it a shot. We fed Snuffles some InstaMash I’d laced with Med-X, then waited until she fell asleep. The amount I used was calculated based on the milligrams per kilo ratio you use on humans, so I was flying by the seat of my scrubs here, but her breathing was steady and she seemed unresponsive to stimuli, so I figured it was as good as we were going to get.
Some of the miners moved her onto a tarp while I sterilized my hands and tools in the highest proof alcohol the miners could provide. Taking a look at the wound, I saw that the gash itself wasn’t terribly deep, but the whole area had become badly infected, so I actually need to begin by cutting out all of the necrotic tissue around the wound. Once I’d debrided deeply enough to reveal healthy, bleeding muscle, I did a row of interior sutures, then a loose outer row as well to allow any fluid to drain, then bandaged the area.
I told the miners they’d need to help her keep the leg clean and change the bandages daily, as there would definitely be some steady seepage for the first few days, but Snuffles should be right as rain in a few weeks.
I got a round of cheers, which aren’t exactly legal tender, and then an offer of lunch at their mess hall, which is the next best thing. Over lunch, the cook, a young woman named Jas Wilkins, asked me what the tastiest thing I’d ever eaten was. Eyeing my plate dubiously but not wanting to be impolitic, I told her it was home cooking. She agreed and said she’d been wanting to make a deathclaw egg omelette. I asked where in the world she’d gotten an idea like that and got a shock: she’s the great-grandniece of Rose -- from Modoc, where Jess and I settled after she got pregnant.
We chatted about Modoc for awhile. Jas must have left town just before we bought that farm, but we had plenty of memories to share, some even decent ones. I told her I’d bring her a deathclaw egg for old time’s sake if, by some miracle, I ever came across one without getting disemboweled.
Coming out of the mess hall, I was distracted by the horrific clanking and backfiring of the “town’s” -- and I use that term loosely -- generator, which looked like it had been put together by a blind super mutant using his feet. I pulled a wrench and some tape from my kit and tidied up the connections and piping. Lewis was so grateful he paid me two hundred NCR dollars. PAPER dollars.
Hmmph. Well, at least it’s handier for trips to the latrine than bottlecaps.
I still had a few hours to kill before sundown, so I decided to do a bit of exploring. To the east of Sloan, I found a small valley, almost completely fenced in, but with big enough breaks in the fencing that I was able to slip in. When I spotted the bunkers in the valley, I had visions of mounds of pre-war salvage, but the whole area had been pretty well picked over already.
The first two bunkers were almost completely collapsed, but I did find some heavy ordnance poking through the rubble in the second one. Extremely heavy, in fact -- there were two micro-nukes, foot-long tactical nuclear bombs. The PIP-Boy’s geiger counter didn’t spike, so the seals were still intact. I packed up the nukes and headed to the third, which almost ended my scavving career permanently. Only ED-E’s warning music made me pull up short, just before I walked under a cluster of grenades, hanging from a line looped down to a tripwire about three inches in front of my foot when I stopped.
After my heartbeat slowed back down to something approaching normal, I carefully unhooked the grenades and released the tripwire, then -- even MORE carefully -- searched the rest of the bunker, but it seemed like the grenades were the only surprise in store. The place had been made into a temporary shelter by someone, but, whoever they were, they weren’t here now. I left quickly before they came home with more grenades.
The last bunker was a bit cleaner and in better shape than the other three, but that also meant that I wasn’t able to work my way through the blast doors. Make a note, Webb: head back here if you ever learn any tricks about unsealing military grade blast doors. There’s bound to be a bonanza down there.
I left the fenced valley and headed back towards Sloan, but I hadn’t counted on how close the path I’d chosen would take me to the quarry. The wind was from the west -- fortunate, in retrospect, as I was downwind from most of them -- and blowing stone dust from the quarry into my face, and I didn’t spot the single deathclaw darting towards us until it was almost too late.
It was wounded and limping, but the thing was still so damn fast that my shotgun fire and ED-E’s laser blasts didn’t kill it until it was actually in mid-pounce. The twenty gauge took it in the throat by nothing more than blind luck, and it flew passed me and slammed into the road like a sack of incredibly vicious meat.
Looking at it more closely, I realized the deathclaw that had come within a foot of killing me probably hadn’t even been full grown. That deathclaw we’d run into outside of Redding had been much larger, and it took the whole squad to put the thing down. We’d been sweeping the hills outside of town, and there was a deathclaw hiding in a culvert.
Jess was the one who got the kill shot, of course -- the rest of us firing away with our service rifles only seemed to slow the thing down long enough for Jess to put a .308 round through its eye, and even then it kept on coming for what seemed like yards before finally keeling over. If this one had been that big or fast, I’d be dead.
Hands shaking, I slammed another shell into the shotgun, closed the break action, and tried to catch my breath. With visions of a quarry full of adult deathclaws descending on me, I opted for the better part of valor and raced back to Sloan as fast as I could. No way was I going to go anywhere near the quarry again, at least without packing some heavier fire-power... like a launching apparatus for those micro-nukes, for example.
I made it back to Sloan in one piece, at any rate. I’m going to hit Jas up for some supper, then head for the NCRCF as soon as it gets dark. Oddly enough, I’m nowhere near as worried about it as I was this morning. I suppose, compared to deathclaws, ‘Gangers lose something in terms of intimidation.