<<UserID:Webb>> Have you ever had a day where, despite ending up utterly exhausted, you wound up back where you started, feeling like you made no progress whatsoever?
As expected, I didn’t get much in the way of sleep. By the time light was cresting the mountains to the west, just before seven hundred hours, I finally gave it up as a bad game and broke camp.
That reminds me: the rubberized mat I’ve been using as a base for my sleeping bag is cracked to the point where it’s pretty much useless. I’ll have to see if I can trade for a new one at the next barter town up the road... which would be that Novac place Beagle mentioned, I’m fairly sure. It’s amazing, out of all the detritus I turn up scavving, how few items of basic day-to-day convenience I find.
Speaking of which, I need a new toothbrush, too.
At least I had some appetite back. My self-disgust hasn’t lessened at all, but those pesky self-preservation instincts just won’t do the decent thing and leave me alone. Should have learned that lesson a decade ago, when I spent a year and a half trying to drown them in increasingly cheaper varieties of rotgut in Junktown and New Reno.
I fried up the last of the unsmoked gecko meat along with a couple eggs I’d found while gutting the female, ate quickly, then scrubbed my pans clean with sand and stashed my most of my gear -- except my revolver, some emergency medical supplies, and my canteen -- in one of the campers in the trailer park between the theater and Nipton. I wanted to check the rest of the town before getting back on the road. There might have been survivors hiding somewhere... and, if not, there definitely was salvage to be had. I wanted an empty bag so I could haul back everything and sort the wheat from the chaff.
Hey, carrion’s carrion, and even coyotes have to make a living. Maybe I can trade some of it for ammunition to pay back the Legion for Nipton.
In the end, it was a worthwhile morning. My first stop, the General Store, turned up something in the way of both options -- salvage AND a survivor. The exterior was charred but still standing, so I pushed through the doors. The dawn light slanting in through the windows revealed the wreck of a man curled into himself and propped up against the counter.
His legs, even across the room and covered by his clothes, had obviously been fractured multiple times. I was honestly stunned that he was conscious, or even alive -- that much trauma should have put anyone into shock or killed them outright. The angles in his legs were unnatural and far too numerous -- I shuddered to think of the thoroughness of the assault that had left him like this.
He was unarmed, but he still pulled himself into something approaching a defensive posture. At first, I just assumed he thought I was a Legionary coming back to finish him off, but he actually tensed MORE once he could see my face, and swore with creativity and conviction.
At this point, I realized that he was wearing an NCRCF jumpsuit. I suppose, since they had already sent a hit squad after me, that I shouldn’t be surprised that he might have recognized me, but I’m still finding any sort of infamy rather novel.
I told him to shut up about it, did a quick pat-down to make sure he definitely wasn’t armed -- a paraplegic can pull a trigger just as easily as a healthy person, and has the benefit of increased stability -- and then took a look at his legs.
He tried to pull away, honestly panicked -- and really, I know I don’t look my best when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep, but that seemed a bit ridiculous -- and I told him again to settle the *Expletive Deleted* down and tell me what happened while I looked him over.
He just stared after that, apparently in disbelief, and swore constantly under his breath while I slit the sides of his pants and grimaced at the ruins of his legs. He was beyond anything I could do for him. Maybe, after several orthopedic surgeries, extensive pinning, braces, and aggressive physical therapy, he might be able to walk again with the assistance of crutches or a walker.
As it was, he’d be needing a cart.
I filled him in on the news and told him there was nothing I could do for him. He blew out another long breath, swore again, and told me if I was really crazy enough to be trying to help him, I could get him high enough that he’d stop caring.
I looked at his legs again, back at his pain-lined face, and sighed. I had brought one of my last bottles of Med-X with me in my emergency supplies along with a syringe and a few stimpaks, and I filled the syringe to the hilt through the bottle’s rubber cap.
I put the bottle away, tapped the air bubbles out of the needle, then looked at the broken man significantly, holding it partly out towards him. I told him that the whole thing, enough to either ease his pain or end it permanently depending on how much he chose to use, was his if he’d fill me in on the town, the Legion, and what had happened.
It was less that he stopped swearing than than his swearing became more informative after that point, but he agreed, greedily accepting the syringe and beginning to tie off his arm with his belt with practiced ease.
His name, or “handle” maybe, was Boxcars -- in reference to dice or trains, I’m still not sure -- and he pretty well confirmed the story I’d gotten from Swanick and Dog Hat. The Mayor had come to the ‘Gangers with the plan to capture the NCR soldiers on leave in the town, and then they had been double-crossed by the Legion and everyone submitted to the lottery.
Boxcars had won second place, free to go as far as his broken legs could carry him.
He did mention one bit of new information, however -- some of the Legion’s captives were still alive. The group of Legionaries I’d seen with Dog Hat was apparently only part of the force that had initially invaded the town; Boxcars had seen the majority of the Legion force leading a string of captives off to the northeast.
I’ve heard the Legion takes slaves. Apparently, that’s another aspect of Caesar’s take on civilization.
I thanked him for the information, but he was preparing to dose himself and just waved me away. I turned and did a sweep of the store, not wanting to watch while he selected how much to give himself. My search turned up a decent amount of caps and some tradable sundries, but nothing remarkable.
I glanced at Boxcars one last time before I left. His eyes were glazed, his breathing slow and shallow, the pained lines on his face were gone, and the syringe was hanging loosely from his fingers.
I wouldn’t swear to it, but it looked empty from where I stood. I shut the door firmly behind me.
After leaving the store, I began poking through the residential buildings along the main street. The town hadn’t been a large one by pre-war standards, at least as far as I could tell, and most of the homes were single story, with a simple layout of a living area, a bedroom or two, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
They’re palatial by wasteland standards, though, and had been fairly well stocked by their residents before the Legion attack -- which must have come suddenly, as I found several meals on tables, either untouched or half eaten. These were flyblown and inedible -- or at least, I wasn’t so desperate as to try -- but plenty of the cupboards and cabinets still had preserved or sealed foodstuff, including enough water to replenish my stores. Not all of it was radiation-free, of course, but I was still relatively clean after my Rad-Away purge the day before yesterday, and, besides, a little glow is always better than dehydration.
Most of the houses were depressingly quiet and uneventful, but there were a few surprises nonetheless. Aren’t there always? One enterprising Nipton resident had apparently mounted a last-ditch defense in his home with the aid of a repaired Mr. Handy robot. Both he and the Mr. Handy had been smashed to pieces by the Legion, but not without taking two of them down.
I stripped the Mr. Handy for parts that might be useful should ED-E get himself into anymore scrapes.
<<UserID:Webb>> You’re mouthy today, aren’t you?
Anyway, after some further thought, I also stripped the two Legionaries of their uniforms and, between the two sets, managed to cobble together enough undamaged pieces of padding and protective gear that, if push ever came to shove, I’d probably be able to pass as a Legion recruit, at least from a distance. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d flown false colors to make it through a checkpoint safely. It’s already come in handy today, in fact. More on that in a second.
The biggest surprise came in the last house I checked, which contained another dead Legionary next to a makeshift crate that had been hastily assembled from welded bits of scrap metal. I couldn’t see inside, but I could hear something moving. Thinking of Boxcars’s stories of slaves being taken, I figured this might have been some poor sap left behind and yanked the cage open... leaving me completely unprepared for the three enormous bark scorpions trapped inside.
I yelped -- in a manly, courageous fashion, I’m sure...
<<UserID:Webb>> ...and scrambled backwards, dragging ED-E towards and through the door of the house and slamming it shut behind us.
I could hear the scorpions moving around inside, slamming into the walls, and one actually managed to smash a claw through the flimsy pressboard board. I backed up a good distance, drew my revolver, and prepared to open fire when they emerged, but, before the one attacking the door could force a big enough hole, an explosion blew out two windows and part of a wall of the house, taking bits of bark scorpion with it. The house must have been booby-trapped with mines in case the scorpions got free of the cage.
I’m still assuming the Legion caged them and left them there -- I can’t imagine why a trading town would corral scorpions -- but the whole thing is still a bit of a mystery. Maybe they’d been intending to feed some of the townspeople to them.
After what I’ve seen here, it wouldn’t surprise me.
I took a moment to let the dust settle and drank a bottle of Sunset Sarsaparilla I’d turned up in one of the other houses while I calmed down, chuckling a bit when I saw it had another of those little stars in the cap. For someone who ISN’T hunting the damn things, I certainly seem to be finding more than my fair share of them.
We checked through the ruins of the house, but there wasn’t much left of use after the blast. Definitely looked like proximity mines. The only two buildings left to check were the town’s hotel and the town hall. As the hotel was smaller, I opted to knock that out of the way first.
Inside the hotel, it was... grim. This was apparently where they chose to dump the bodies of the NCR soldiers that had been killed during the round-up. I could give a molerat’s ass for the NCR in general these days, but these poor kids deserved better than to be dumped unceremoniously in an abandoned hotel to rot. I found sheets and blankets enough to cover them, arranged them as peacefully as I could -- rigor had come and gone, so at least it wasn’t a fight -- and took their dog tags. Like that fellow outside Primm, I’m sure they’ve got family somewhere who shouldn’t be kept wondering.
Nothing else of interest in the hotel besides one of the blankets that I kept for myself, so I moved on to the town hall. As I opened the door, lottery tickets drifted out from inside like dead leaves -- this must have been where they held the damn thing. Further inside, I quickly realized that this must have been used by Dog Hat and his Legionaries as their temporary HQ after they’d taken over, thanks in no small part to the assortment of their attack dogs they had left behind for some reason. I pulled on the pads and helmet I’d taken off the dead Legionaries, and the dogs seems content to leave us alone as I poked around.
I left the door propped open as well -- they may have belonged to the Legion, but no beasts deserve to starve to death trapped in a building.
The dogs weren’t the only welcome the Legion had left behind. The whole place was laced with more proximity mines. ED-E and I swept each room carefully, and I scraped the rust off my explosives training from the service enough to deactivate and collect the mines as we went. The effort was worthwhile -- plenty of food, water, clothing, and a treasure trove of ammunition in a gunsafe in the basement that gave up its secrets with a little gentle attention.
I wish I still had my old stethoscope, though -- Jess always said I saved more lives with the supplies I found picking locks with it than I ever did listening to heart beats and respiration.
One last item of interest in the office upstairs -- the rest of the journal of the town mayor, Steyn. The son of a *Expletive Deleted* was nothing more than a pimp from the Hub with delusions of grandeur. Though I wish they hadn’t been involved at all, I’m glad the Legion gave him what he deserved, rather than what he bargained for.
I dragged my haul back to the rest of my supplies in the camper south of town, sorted through everything, and then divided up the most useful and valuable pieces between ED-E and myself, giving each of us as much as we could comfortably carry. I’ve left some of the rest here to pick up on my way back through.
Yeah, I said “back through”. Idiot that I am, I decided to backtrack the entire fourteen miles to the Mojave Outpost to let them know what had happened to Nipton. As much as I hate bearing the word of the Legion, we can’t have caravaners running into an ambush. Even with the road recently cleared by us on the way east, it still took the better part of four hours to make the trip back.
I arrived at those ridiculous statues just before fifteen hundred hours. The sergeant, Kilborn, seemed surprised to see me again so soon, and I told him he’d better grab Ranger Ghost so they could listen to the news I had... which wasn’t good.
Ghost didn’t seem tremendously surprised, given the intel and suspicions she’d already had, but Kilborn was visibly shaken. Still, he assured me he’d warn anyone traveling east about possible Legion attacks, and both of them promised to alert their superiors about how far west the Legion was pushing.
I left them to discuss the details between themselves and unloaded a bit of my salvage on Lacey in the barracks in exchange for a late lunch and a stiff drink. No sign of that pretty redhead from the other day -- when I asked, Lacey raised an eyebrow and just said she was “sleeping it off”. Ah well. I didn’t have much time to waste at any rate; after finishing lunch and hitting the latrines, I got back on the road east, retracing my steps yet again.
I only reached Nipton again as dusk was starting to fall, so I’ve made camp in the same spot as last night.
Like I said earlier, it’s been a whole lot of walking to end up in the exact same place.
You need to drop the conscience, Webb. Sooner rather than later, it’s going to get you killed.
On the other hand, though... I don’t think I’ll have any trouble sleeping tonight.