<<UserID:Webb>> What a day... I’m getting too old for all this walking. Jess, if you could see me, you’d hardly recognize me. I’m getting all stringy and wiry, like an old bighorner.
On the plus side, it’s been a few days since I’ve had one of those headaches, and the skin around Mitchell’s surgery site isn’t tender anymore, either. Looks like I made it through the head trauma with no lasting effects.
I think I’ll keep going with this journal, though, because... Well, just because. Kind of puts a button on the day, somehow.
The whole prison infiltration was something of an anticlimax, all things considered. Yes, I did end up killing someone -- not something I should be so comfortable dismissing as “anticlimactic”, I suppose -- but I had half convinced myself that they’d see through my disguise and the whole endeavor would devolve into a running gun battle and end with me bleeding out on the floor of some urine-stained cellblock.
Instead, the guards in the tower spotted me on my way in and just waved me towards the front gate. The guard at the front gate was a little bit more on the ball, however -- guess there weren’t many redheads with bushy beards in the general population. It’s more gray than red these days -- Jess was starting to call it “salt and paprika” before the end -- but still.
He asked me who the hell I was, and my answers were apparently not adequate to ease his suspicions, as he made some unkind assertions regarding my parentage and went for his sidearm. Fortunately, being the paranoid old crank I am, I had my service knife out and tucked up my sleeve and managed to jam it through his trachea before he cleared leather.
I got that far on my old training and instinct, but then my brain kicked in and I jumped forward, pressing myself against the doors and bracing myself for getting shot by the guard tower sentries. When no shots came, I realized that the door was actually out of the line of sight of the towers.
NCR design at its finest.
I pulled the knife back out of the guard’s throat, dragged him up against the building, and pulled the keychain off of his belt. After a moment or two of fumbling, I found the right key and let myself into the facility.
It turns out it was an extremely short search. Meyers was sitting in the lobby area immediately inside the front doors, still wearing his prison blues but with a broadbrimmed hat perched on his head. He stood out -- he looked like the only man there still doing time.
I pulled up a chair next to him, kept my eyes on the door, and quietly filled him in on who I was and why I was there. Meyers allowed that he was interested in the job but made no bones about the fact that he wouldn’t take it until he’d been officially pardoned.
He didn’t mince words about the fact that he was in here for taking the law into his own hands when the gears of bureaucracy ground a little too slowly, and he also was extremely up front about the fact that he might very well do it again.
Can’t ask for better than a man who will be honest about doing wrong, I suppose. Besides, at least he can’t be hacked, unlike Slim.
I sighed and asked him where one might get such a pardon, and he said the closest place would be the NCR checkpoint south on the Long 15, the one they call the Mojave Outpost. I knew it, I’d been through on my way east. Skeleton desk crew there, but Meyers was right -- there might be someone with a high enough paygrade to wrangle us a pardon.
I told him I’d see what I could do, but there was no way I was hoofing it all the way BACK up here afterwards -- he’d need to meet me in Primm. After some hemming and hawing about stepping out on his sentence, he agreed and said he’d get his few possessions together and head out later today, giving me a head start as two leaving separately would be of less notice to the sentries than one leaving alone.
I said that was fine, but he’d better be prepared for a bit of a panic whenever the guardshift on the front door changed. He raised an eyebrow but didn’t inquire further, so I headed back out the way I’d come and fought the urge to keep glancing at the towers until I was well away.
Between me and the Long 15, however, was another away camp filled with ‘Gangers. I didn’t want to push my luck any further, so I decided to skip stay away from the 15 for now and instead started following railroad tracks running south from the prison. On my map, they looked as though they’d lead me back into Primm, but that turned out not to be the case.
Goddamn electronic maps.
After a few hours, the tracks began cutting through some rocky hills, which definitely weren’t on the way back to the Long 15. I stopped at the remnants of a small service yard at around 1300 hours and took the opportunity to shuck off the ‘Ganger outfit I’d been wearing. It made me feel dirty just having it on, a grime that had nothing to do with the dust or dried blood coating the jacket, and I was confident I’d gotten outside the ‘Gangers’ radius of operation.
That done, I made a small scrap fire and warmed up some Cram for lunch. The stuff is foul but edible, even after all these decades. The miracle of pre-war preservatives and radiation never ceases to amaze. That reminds me, I should check my own rad levels tonight, maybe hook myself up to a Rad-Away drip before sleep if it’s getting up there.
Anyway, while having lunch, I noticed the skeleton of a pre-war radio tower on a rise to the west, so, after washing down the last of the Cram with a bottle of Sunset Sarsaparilla -- found another of those star caps, by the way -- and scattering the embers of my fire, I decided to climb the hill towards the tower and get the lay of the land from up there.
Turns out I was way off to the east of the Long 15. I pulled out my binoculars and could just barely see those ridiculous ranger monuments at the Mojave Outpost far off to the southwest. At this rate, I’d probably be smart to stop by Primm again on my way there and top off my water supplies again. It was right on my way now, after all.
Starting to climb down the western side of the hill, I found what I first thought was a badly decayed body crumpled next to a rockslide, but, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a recently deceased ghoul, wearing some sort of brown cloth robe. The poor fellow had a goddamn laser rifle on him, no less. From what I could tell, he must have gotten caught in the rockslide while trying to reach the same radio tower from which I was descending.
The laser rifle was in pretty good shape, at any rate. Not my style -- never liked how hot the things get while firing -- but it probably would net me some caps back in Primm, if I hadn’t already cleared Nash out. I tied it onto ED-E and carefully resumed my way down the hill.
It was slow going on uneven footing until I finally found my way back to something approaching even ground... what might once have been a river bed running down the hills. It was around then that I noticed a plume of smoke rising to the south. Nearby, mostly white -- looked like a campfire, which is exactly what it turned out to be.
I told ED-E to hang back -- that hum its hover unit makes isn’t exactly subtle, especially when it gets echoing back and forth between the rocks -- and crept forward to the next overlook, where I saw the source of the smoke. Two men and one woman sat around a sloppily built fire, charring some meat and sorting through a pile of scrap. All three were dressed in stained leathers, their hair greasy, matted, and clinging to their heads and necks. I knew without looking closer that their teeth would be filed down to points, too.
Jackals. The dregs of the raider community, scavengers who pick off the weak, little better than their namesakes. The vast majority of my tour in the NCR was spent tracking down raider holdouts in California, and, while I was never fond of any of them, Jackals always especially disgusted me.
I glanced back towards the meat on the fire, and my stomach twisted. Jackals eat their kills.
I cursed myself for using up the last of my dynamite in that bomb the other evening, then waved ED-E up closer to me. I moved as far down the hillside as I could while staying mostly out of sight and drew my revolver, then picked a decent-sized rock and hefted it, waiting until the Jackals were all looking away.
I threw the rock high and far, then braced the revolver with both hands and pushed out, running forward as soon as the rock landed on the other side of the fire. The Jackals hopped up, snarling in the direction of the rock, and I opened fire on their exposed backs while running. My first two rounds went wide, but the third caught the woman in the lower back. ED-E’s laser lanced out at the same time I started shooting, and his blasts slammed into the leg and shoulder of one of the men.
Seeing his two companions fall, the third Jackal showed the sort of loyalty I’d expected, and turned tail and ran. ED-E burnt off the back of his head with another volley before he’d gone four steps.
Unfortunately, the other two were down but not out. The remaining man seemed unable to do much more than clutch at his burns, but the woman had rolled onto her stomach and was gamely trying to level a rifle and draw a bead on me.
I dropped into a firing crouch and emptied the rest of the cylinder at her, which finished the job. I let ED-E finish off the last one, reloaded my revolver, then went for a closer look at the campfire.
I get so tired of being right, sometimes. Roasting on the spit was a human thigh. A more thorough exploration of the area revealed a small shack built into a cave under the crag I’d climbed down, which had once housed a small family and was now being used as a larder by the Jackals... mostly to keep what was left of the family out of the sun. Damn shame.
I cleared out the shack and buried those poor folks as best I could in the rocky soil. The best I can tell, it was two couples living here. No kids, at least. Not sure I could have handled that.
I dragged the Jackals away into the hills and left them there for the coyotes and the geckoes. It’s better than they deserve.
It was getting dark by that point, so I’ve decided to stay the night in the shack here and push on to the Mojave Outpost tomorrow. I don’t have much of an appetite tonight, unsurprisingly, so I’m skipping dinner and seeing what I can do about the Jackals’ gear.
Most of it is garbage -- Jackals don’t take any better care of their weapons than they do of themselves -- but the woman’s rifle is actually worth salvaging. It’s chambered for .357 magnum rounds, like my revolver, and it has a lever action, which are notoriously hard to gum up, even for a Jackal. With a little tender loving care -- and enough duct tape -- I should be able to get it into something approaching working order. Maybe I can even find someone to trade me replacement parts for it.
I’ve got ED-E watching the outside again, and tonight I’ve left no room for mistakes.
<<UserID:Webb>> Right back at you, eyeball. Signing off.