<<UserID:Webb>> It’s funny how cyclical life seems, sometimes. I’m settling down to get some shut-eye in an NCR G.I. cot, surrounded by the smells and sounds of an NCR barracks that are so familiar, it could be twenty years ago.
Well, except I’m pretty sure my knees didn’t hurt this much twenty years ago.
I managed to make it up that *Expletive Deleted* hill without collapsing or resorting to trying to ride ED-E like a hover-brahmin...
<<UserID:Webb>> ...then drank about a gallon of water, and took a closer look at the statues. They’re welded together from rusting scraps of sheet metal, and, according to the sign at their base, they commemorate the merging of the NCR Rangers and the formerly independent Desert Rangers. I may have a harsh word or twenty for the NCR brass, but I’ll certainly admit that the rangers are tough customers who put themselves on the line repeatedly.
Still, you build a forty-foot tall statue to pat yourself on the back, and there’s no way you don’t come across like a bit of an ass.
A trooper whose shoulder chevrons marked him as a sergeant saw me gasping for breath beside the rusty colossi and walked over, introducing himself as Kilborn and asking in a friendly but professional manner what had brought me to the Outpost. I told him I was looking for the CO, telling him I needed to get some trading papers stamped -- find the biggest pile of paperwork in an NCR outpost, and you’ll find the one in charge -- and he pointed me towards the HQ but told me not to hold my breath.
When I asked why, he said that the CO had put a freeze on all trade traffic through the outpost due to a sharp increase in attacks on caravans. I thanked him for the tip and told him to cross his fingers for me, then threaded my way through the milling brahmin and disgruntled caravaners towards the gated NCR buildings.
Even if Kilborn hadn’t told me there was a trade stoppage in place, I could have told from the smell. You pen that many brahmin up in that small of a space, and you’ll need hip waders just to stroll across the street.
Rather than head directly into more brahmin droppings, I headed for the barracks rather than the headquarters, as Kilborn had mentioned there was a canteen in the barracks, and lord knew I could use a drink.
The barracks were dark, crowded, but markedly more fragrant. I’ll take the smell of even grain still alcohol over brahmin *Expletive Deleted* any day.
I found an empty stool next to a sullen-looking redhead pretty deep in her cups and flagged down the bartender, a harried woman with short hair named Lacey who has the charming disposition that only extended exposure to low-tipping troopers as your main customers can give a person.
While Lacey was collecting my caps and serving me a glass of water and a plate of stew, I asked her what was the word around the station. She grunted and said that, mostly, they were babysitting the caravaners that were stuck in the station, which got a disgusted laugh from the redhead. Lacey, ignoring the drunk, went on to say that, if I wanted to find out what was actually going on outside the brahmin pen, I should talk to either of the rangers currently stationed at the outpost. A ranger named Jackson is apparently in charge of the place at the moment, and then there was “that *Expletive Deleted*” -- her word, not mine -- Ghost, on lookout on the roof of the barracks.
She was clearly anxious to get back to her other customers, so I went ahead and tucked into my lunch. It wasn’t going to win any awards, but it’s also far from the worst I’ve had from a mess tent.
As I ate, I tried to strike up a conversation with the redhead. Usually, I’m not much for socializing, but it’s been a long few days on the road with no one other than convicts or smelly casino hermits to talk to, and ED-E’s beeps and squawks hardly fill the void.
<<UserID:Webb>> Okay, fine. Yes, I admit it: she’s also prettier than most of the folks I’ve been running across. And if a fellow isn’t going to take the time to speak to a good-looking drunk redhead, well, then what the hell ARE you going to take time for?
At first, we didn’t get far, but I bought us both a shot of whiskey from Lacey and after that she warmed up a bit, at least enough to tell me her name, which -- improbably enough -- is Rose of Sharon Cassidy, or just Cass for short. Like most of the other patrons, she’s stuck here thanks to the trade stoppage, but unlike most others, or at least so I’d hope, she doesn’t even have a caravan any more.
She’s recently gotten word that her caravan was attacked just south of New Vegas. All of her people were apparently killed, and her cargo burned rather than looted. Worst of all, she can’t even leave the outpost to survey the site because of the stoppage. Hence the drinking... well, at least, THIS drinking. I get the impression this woman isn’t exactly new to the hooch.
Her best guess is that it was Legion raiders, which makes sense to me. The focus was clearly on disrupting trade rather than theft, and that has Legion interests written all over it.
I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, once I got back out on the road, and she shrugged noncommittally. She did mention that, if I was so fired up to do some caravan work, I should look into the only company still functioning in the New Vegas area, the Crimson Caravan. That’s the outfit Ringo from Goodsprings had been working for -- with two recommendations to look them up, now, I suppose they would be a definite stop once I finally found my way into Vegas and finished up this business with Checkers.
Wishing her the best, I ordered Cassidy another shot of whiskey and got back to my feet, blinking a bit as I emerged into the afternoon sun. I followed the makeshift ramp up to the roof of the barracks, past the pot-shaped ventilation fans, and found the ranger that Lacey had called Ghost.
The source of the nickname was immediately apparent -- the woman was an albino, with nearly translucent skin and pale yellow hair. Sensibly, she was covered head to toe with her ranger gear, complete with large sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat. She glanced at me dismissively and told me that the caravan waiting area was back on the ground.
I introduced myself and told her that I was here on business, but not trade business, and that I wasn’t opposed to picking up some extra work if it was on my way. She gave me another, longer look, clearly sizing me up again. She said that the troopers and rangers at the outpost were stuck there along with the caravaners, but there had been no word in from Nipton to the east. I grimaced and pulled out the holotape from Steyn, describing his deal with the Legion.
Once she’d read it over, it clearly did nothing to ease her concerns for the NCR troops that had been in the town. She asked me to check it out if I could, and I allowed I might be headed that way. She chuckled without humor and said she’d be sure to hold her breath, then went back to scanning the horizon.
I figured I’d put off wading into bureaucracy as long as possible, so I climbed back down off the roof and headed to the other building at the Outpost. Walking in, I was met by a surprisingly pleasant desk jockey major named Knight. He asked me to register with him -- protocol for everyone passing through the Outpost, apparently -- so I fished out my old dog-eared NCR ID and passed it to him.
He fed the info into his terminal, then blinked, then stared at me for a moment before finishing up his entry and passing the ID back, his manner noticeably cooler. I sighed and pocketed the ID.
I should expect this by now, I suppose, at least at military outposts. You see “dishonorable discharge” pop up on your screen, and that’s probably going to raise some flags.
Taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I filled him in on the situation in Primm, telling him how the best candidate for the sheriff position was finishing up the last few weeks of his sentence at the NCRCF and needed a pardon before he could fill the role.
Knight had serious concerns about putting a convict into the role of fending off other convicts, but I pointed out the fact that Meyers had willingly stayed behind to serve out his sentence rather than escape when so many of the others did. More importantly, Primm was a vital trade stop on the Long 15, and any law was better than no law.
Begrudgingly, Knight admitted I had a point, and he signed the pardon. I thanked him and turned to leave, but I was stopped by a man with a ranger outfit and a ridiculously huge handlebar mustache who was leaning against the doorframe. He introduced himself as Ranger Jackson, the de facto head of the Outpost and author of the trade stoppage, and said that he’d heard me asking about Primm.
We chatted for a minute, and it came out that Jackson was fed up with needing to keep the Outpost locked down and was glad to hear that at least someone was out there trying to sort out the Mojave. I told him I’d been hearing about the raider and Legion attacks, and he said it was even worse than that -- some of those giant ants I’d seen on the Ivanpah dry lake had apparently been getting more aggressive, and they’d been attacking caravans and eating the pack brahmin. He told me that, as I was headed that way anyway, he’d make it worth my while if I could thin out the ants closest to the road.
Seeing as I probably wouldn’t have much choice in the matter if they were actually as aggressive as he feared, I agreed. Jackson seemed pleased, and he said I was welcome to stay the night in the barracks if I liked before getting back on the road.
As it was already getting late and I don’t much like traveling at night when there’s a chance of tripping and falling into giant man-eating anthills, I took him up on it. I spent a bit of time at the small firing range behind the HQ brushing up on my firing drills with my new repeater, then did a bit of trading and medical checkups for the caravaners and outpost personnel in exchange for some caps -- they had no medic stationed here, and any outpost sees its share of accidents and disease.
Flush with trade, I stopped at the barracks bar again, bought some supper, some water, and another round of whiskey for Cassidy and myself, and now I’m just about ready to call it a night. I think I’ll put myself to sleep reading that Guns and Bullets catalogue I found at the patrol station.