<<UserID:Webb>> I should learn to stop complaining about things being boring. It seems that, if I just give it time, something exciting -- usually lethally so -- is bound to happen.
*Expletive Deleted* Vipers...
They’re scum, just as much as any other raider trash, but they’re more dangerous than most. They used to adhere to some sort of cult religion, or at least that’s what our briefing sessions used to tell us.
By the time they had my unit out hunting raiders, the core of whatever cult it had been -- somewhere near Junktown, supposedly -- had broken up, but the scattered followers were still everywhere, and they managed to hold on to the training and discipline of their snake god or worm priests or whatever nonsense they’d worshiped.
Their weapons are well-maintained, and they’re decent shots. It was one of their snipers that cost Jess her leg. We were investigating reports of a raider camp southeast of Broken Hills in the spring of 2263. I’d been in the service eleven years by then, hunting raiders with Jess as my sergeant for about half of it, and we probably should have known better.
The problem was bad intel. We’d heard they were Khans, dangerous enough, but not overly fond of firearms, at least in those days. From my run in with Checkers, they seem to have... diversified their portfolio these days. Back then, though, Khans would almost always run at you with hatchets, knives, clubs, or whatever else they’re carrying.
As such, we were cautious reconnoitering the hills there, but not overly so. The first sign we had that something was amiss was when the better part of Snares-Wind’s head spattered over the rest of us.
Poor Snares-Wind. He was a tribal that had enlisted about a year previous. Not much of a tracker, but he could made a hell of a stew out of almost anything we could catch on the trail.
The next shot caught Jess in the shin while she was ordering everyone back into cover. The bullet was hollow point, large caliber, and it bounced off her tibia and blew through the fibula, shattering the former and completely pulping the latter.
I didn’t find that out until later, of course, when we’d gotten to safety and I’d been able to operate. At the time, I just saw her go down.
God, Jess. I suppose it doesn’t make any difference now, but I’m still so sorry I couldn’t save your leg.
Didn’t come to amputation this morning, though, at least on our side.
<<UserID:Webb>> Oh, quit your whining. I taped that antenna back on, right as rain.
With ED-E laying down some very unexpected laser cover, I was able to advance to the next car in the wreckage, plugging the last Viper on the northern ridge as I did so. The shot knocked him off balance, and he tumbled down the hill onto the main road.
His fall dislodged one of those orange traffic cones, and, as he attempted to crawl back to his feet, I heard the beeping of a proximity mine.
Honestly, where are all these lowlifes getting proximity mines out here? Is there a discount mine supplier somewhere in the Mojave?
I threw myself flat, and the mine exploded, scything the fallen Viper with shrapnel and flipping the nearest car clean over.
I heard the hissing, saw the flames starting to lick around the hulk from the punctured reactor, and pulled myself to my feet, then ran as fast as I could back down the road, shouting for ED-E to follow. Shots pelted after us, and we had just reached the turn in the road when the car’s reactor exploded, taking the other wrecks up with it. An entire door whistled over my head, embedding itself in the rocks.
We stopped our flight once we were well down the road. I listened to the rest of the wrecks go up one by one and watched the mushroom cloud form over the hills.
After that, there was nothing for it but to climb the cliff face to the north and hike overland around it.
Lord, but I hate rock-climbing.
Circling around the ambush site, well outside the range of the radiation, I pulled out my binoculars and glassed the far hillside. I could see a large chunk of one car, born aloft in the blast, that had apparently smashed down on top of a third unlucky Viper. I didn’t find out what had happened to the fourth one until late this afternoon.
It was 1430 by the time I found my way back to the 164, well north of the curve where the ambush had taken place and just as the road was turning east again. Pre-war signposts pointed the way east to Searchlight, and a hand-painted addition directed me north to Novac, the next stop on my hunt if Beagle could be believed.
There was an abandoned ranch on the slope just south of the junction, and I paused to pick through the weedy beds, turning up a few decent banana yuccas, some crow-picked corn, and some tobacco among the other plants run to seed. I also drew some water from the irrigation system’s holding tank, which was lightly irradiated but good enough for boiling the corn.
I stayed long enough to eat a late lunch, but the place had an odd vibe to it -- sad, like most abandoned places in the wastes, but also somehow familiar. I quickly ate the corn and dumped the water, took a last look around -- turning up a fairly decent meat cleaver in the small shack, which ought to make quartering game a little easier -- and then got back on the road headed north.
Mostly, it was uneventful. I passed a small patrol of NCR troopers headed south, but we simply traded nods and each continued on our way. Around seventeen hundred hours, though, I spotted a billboard ahead on a low hill to the right of the road.
Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, and shame on me.
ED-E’s scanners confirmed a heat signature behind the sign -- should have had him scan the hills this morning, not just the truck -- and, having no desire to be shot at again today, I stopped, dug through my bag until I found the grenades I’d taken from the Jackals on the Nipton Road, pulled the pin, and lofted one up and over the billboard.
Sure, it was a little risky, but, to be fair, there aren’t a lot of honest folks who go around hiding behind billboard signs.
A yell burst out from behind the sign, followed shortly by the majority of the fourth Viper from the truck ambush.
Now, I’m not completely certain that it was the same Viper, because I hadn’t gotten a look at her earlier, but the radiation burns and high rad count on the corpse gave me something of a clue.
After poking through her gear, I figured it was about time to call it a day. Call me old-fashioned, but two explosions per day is enough for me.
Besides, I spotted what looked like an NCR Ranger station to the north, and I didn’t particularly feel like explaining sound of the billboard grenade to a posse of rangers. Instead, I pulled out the binoculars again and spotted a shack up in the hills to the west.
A weedy path twisted up towards it, and I followed it up to the shack, which had a small garden and, most importantly, a cool, shady interior with a few beds and no cranky inhabitants. I’ve got a fire going outside now, and I’ll cook up a little dinner in a moment, then get some rest in here.
Then, in the morning, I can roll into Novac, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and utterly free of suspicion from any pyrotechnics.