<<UserID:Webb>> Virtue never pays off in the long run.
This morning, I got a reminder why it doesn’t pay to pick sides. The ‘Gangers must have caught wise to the fact that I was the one to kill their gate guard, because a small group of them were laying in wait for me when I left the hills heading towards Primm this morning.
As near as I can figure, they must have put two and two together after finding the body, and the tower sentries remembered the direction I had headed when leaving the NCRCF. I guess my trailblazing isn’t as subtle as I’d hoped, because they knew right where I was.
To give credit where it’s due, I think I owe the fact that I’m here to make this entry -- and not decorating the rocks east of Primm -- is thanks to ED-E.
Its sensors went off in time to allow it and me to scramble for cover, seconds before I heard a voice shout “This is for Cobb and Dawes, you son of a *Expletive Deleted*”, and a bundle of dynamite with a lit fuse came tumbling down the hillside towards us.
The boulder we were crouched behind proved up to the task of shielding us from the blast, however, and my new repeater rifle distinguished itself in the ensuing firefight with the three ‘Gangers hiding in the rocks above us. I’m not much of a shot, but, fortunately, neither were these three, and the peep sight is fairly idiot-proof.
Thanks to ED-E’s laser salvos, the ‘Gangers were forced to keep their heads down, and I was slowly able to pick them off one by one. Concerned that they may very well have had back-up on the way, I decided to forego my usual post-scuffle looting and left the ‘Gangers for the crows while I hastily got back on the path to Primm.
Approaching the town from the east, I found that Meyers had beaten me there, having taken a much more direct route past the ‘Ganger sentries and straight down the Long 15. He was warming himself by an oilcan fire in the still-deserted streets and greeted me with a nod. I told him I’d taken a bit of a detour, but I’d still be heading to the Mojave Outpost to grab that pardon. Meyers simply shrugged and allowed that he’d wait for me to get back. He didn’t say it, but I think he was just happy to be out in the free air.
Before leaving Primm, I stopped in to the Vikki & Vance again -- which, by the way, was really starting to smell overly ripe. Too many humans, not enough space... or opportunities for personal hygiene. They’re going to have to air the place out for a week once we finally convince these folks to head back to their homes.
Holding my breath, I refilled my water supply and filled Nash and Beagle in on my progress, then got back on the road. Good old Route 15 again, still headed south.
God, I hate this *Expletive Deleted* road.
About an hour out of town, I spotted a single-story structure on the west side of the road, just about the time that the unmistakable pop of distant gunfire began to reach my ears. We halted, and I pulled out my binoculars for a better look before getting closer. The building looked like a pre-war police patrol station, and there was a skirmish taking place between two distinct groups. One group was clearly more ‘Gangers -- those inmate uniforms are rather distinctive -- and the others were raiders of some type. Probably more Jackals, but, frankly, with raiders, I don’t really care about the flavor as long as they’re getting shot.
I settled myself comfortably on the tarmac, made a sandwich out of some smoked gecko meat and Ruby Nash’s hardtack biscuits, and enjoyed the show.
When the shooting had stopped and the dust had settled, I wiped my hands, got reluctantly back to my feet, and walked close enough to put a bullet in the surviving raiders as they were picking over the dead convicts. A dental inspection of the corpses confirmed my first guess: more Jackals, carrying more junk. The dead Powder Gangers had some salvageable explosives and ammunition, though, and the interior of the patrol station turned up a decent stash of caps, a few gun manuals and shooting magazines, and a minor infestation of mantises. The mantises were nothing a judiciously applied boot couldn’t cure, and I stuffed the books into my satchel for later reading.
Continuing south, the road began to cut through a dry lakebed with creatures scuttling around far out in the middle. At first, I had thought they were coyotes, but, on closer inspection through the binoculars, they turned out to be enormous, dog-sized ants, busily moving about on their own insectoid errands. Fortunately, they were far enough away and didn’t seem remotely interested in me.
Must be my sour disposition.
When the Long 15 intersected Highway 164, however, I ran into some significantly less self-involved creepy-crawlies in the form of a small cluster of radscorpions, skittering around the wreckage of a gas station. I lit and tossed a piece of my newly acquired dynamite into the midst of them, which proved highly effective. The scorpions that weren’t killed outright immediately retreated, and I was able to poke around the remains of the station without fear of being poisoned or hacked to pieces.
Under the cracked and wildly leaning sign post for the gas station, I found the body of another ghoul, dressed identically to the one I’d found in the hills near the railroad tracks northeast of Primm. Stranger and stranger. This one also was clutching a laser rifle though, unlike the last weapon, which had merely been dented and scuffed in the rockslide, this one -- and its owner -- had nearly been cut to pieces by the claws of the radscorpions.
I didn’t have the time or energy to bury the unfortunate fellow, so I made do by hauling him out of the elements and into the ruins of the station. I then spent a moment salvaging the undamaged parts of his rifle and using them to patch up the other laser rifle, swapping out dented casings for solid parts and replacing frayed wires. People pay more for weapons that don’t look like they’re apt to blow up the first time you fire them.
I tossed the unsalvageable bits into the corner as scrap, then took a quick look around the interior of the building, more out of habit than general interest. The years Jess and I spent scavving after being discharged from the service have left me fairly set in my ways... even with all that happened.
In this case, though, it was definitely worth the time. In the cash register on the counter, I found the drawer jammed full of caps -- always a sign that some has used the place as a home or base after the war, seeing as, to the best of my knowledge, no one used caps as currency before the bombs fell. A little more searching even told me who it had been.
I found a holotape with a journal entry from a man named Joseph B. Steyn, and let me be the first to say I hope I never sound as puffed up and arrogant on my entries as he did on this one. It wasn’t an encouraging story, either. Steyn is apparently mayor of a town called Nipton, which, according to my map, is about fifteen miles east of here on the 164.
The journal makes it clear that Steyn has cut a deal with forward scouts from Caesar’s Legion, selling out visiting NCR troopers and members of the Powder Gangers to them.
I don’t know a hell of a lot about the Legion, having never traveled into Arizona, but if you listen to the NCR propaganda they’re a bunch of depraved, slaving sodomites who want nothing less than the destruction of truth, justice, and mom’s mutfruit pie. I know the boys in brown held Hoover Dam against them four years ago, at a high cost in lives, but if you let the NCR’s military history make your decisions for you, there’s not going to be ANYONE left to trust. The Bear's never been one to shy away from a fight, and that's putting it mildly.
Naturally, I take anything spewing from the NCR think tank with an enormous grain of irradiated salt, but the details of this proposed deal Steyn made have left a bad feeling in my gut. I definitely didn’t think Legion troops had made it this far west, and, if Mojave residents are cutting bargains with them, that’s something to watch out for. I uploaded the holotape to the PIP-Boy’s memory, just in case I should need it later. If nothing else, it might be an interesting opportunity for... ahem... favorable trading, should I ever meet this Steyn.
Right now, I’ve put the gas station behind me, and I’m hiking up the long hill to the outpost. The road is absolutely packed with the burn-out wrecks of cars -- they must have been trying to flee California when the bombs fell. Enough of them have been pushed aside to leave a path wide enough for pack brahmin and caravans, but it’s still somewhat claustrophobic after the wide-open roads in the flat desert.
Besides, I’m always a little paranoid being this close to so many pre-war cars -- there’s always the possibility that one might still have a fission engine with some juice left in it, and one stray round in a firefight could set off a chain reaction that would scythe the whole hillside down to rubble and jagged metal.
As it is, though, I need to concentrate more on getting air into my lungs during this climb and less on waxing paranoid. Goddamn hills...