<<UserID:Webb>> Ah, old world pleasures...
*Clanking pipes and spurting, unsteady sounds of running water.*
A bath. An honest-to-God bath, with running water. Almost clean water, too.
Of course, it’s only room temperature without a fire to heat the water, and my sutures from the ghoul attack prevent me from going whole hog and just soaking in the tub, but at least I can get myself some semblance of clean and give all my clothes a good washing as well.
I’ll have to string up a drying line on the balcony outside.
<<UserID:Webb>> I told you already, I ran out of other places to hang my socks. I’ll get them off you as soon as they’re dry. Besides, your exhaust vents are speeding up the job.
Oh, mercy, just soaking my feet is a little bit of heaven after all this walking. I really ought to buy a brahmin.
Sooner rather than later, I need to get back out there and finish asking around town after Checkers, but I think I can take another few minutes to let things dry.
Not a bad day so far at all. I slept well enough last night in that shack, though it’s getting a bit chilly, and those corrugated steel walls did absolutely nothing to keep out the cold. I can’t believe it’s already November -- glad I grabbed those extra blankets in Nipton.
Just after sunrise, I woke up to hear gunshots coming from outside. I pulled on my boots, grabbed my repeater, and crept cautiously out into the dawn light. By the time I was outside, the gunshots had stopped. There was one brief, horrible scream from the south, then silence.
I couldn’t see much in that direction from the door of the shack, as there was a rise between me and whatever awful fate had just befallen the screamer, so I climbed the small hill very slowly and peered into the shallow valley below.
I could see railroad tracks running into what once must have been a tunnel before either the bombs or the centuries of neglect since then collapsed it. Around the mouth of the tunnel was a makeshift camp, with the scattered remnants of a fire still burning.
Industriously feasting on the camps former occupants -- they’d been armed, probably raiders given the lack of pack animals -- were three enormous geckos. Their scales were a startling golden color that would have been pretty if they hadn’t been actively tearing gobbets of flesh and strips of intestine out of their kills.
I lay flat on the ridge, lining up a shot with the repeater’s peep sight. I’ve never actually seen a live golden gecko before today, though I remember the head of one stuffed and mounted on the wall of a bar in Klamath. I understand their hides fetch a pile of caps, and probably for good reason -- they’re tough, attractive, and rare. The later quality comes from both the scarcity of the animals themselves AND how dangerous they are to hunt.
The damn things live on radiation, almost like ghouls, and, in addition to lovely skin, it also gives them a bite that’ll spike your rad levels quicker than a uranium enema.
Still, you don’t pass up a good drop like that one, so I pulled the trigger. The shot pinwheeled the gecko forward, catching it just behind the ear frills. The other two bolted away from their meals at the sound of the shot, scattering for cover. I fired at them as they ran, catching a second gecko in the leg and torso.
The third gecko turned towards the sound of the shots, racing uphill on its hind legs, jaws wide. I slammed more rounds into the repeater’s sideloading gate, sighted again at the charging gecko’s exposed belly, and fired again as it closed the distance up the hill. It stumbled, squealing in an almost birdlike manner, then fell.
When I was certain all three were dead, I reloaded again, tucked the repeater back into its sling, then went down the hill to haul the geckos back to the shack, where I set about skinning and butchering them -- a process made much easier thanks to the sharpness of my new meat cleaver.
My gut-shots had blown out the third gecko’s spine and lower back, leaving the hide tattered and useless, but the other two were mostly whole. I stretched them over some motorcycle wheel rims I found beside the shack, rubbed them down with turpentine and horsenettle, and got a fire going, propping them nearby to begin curing while I made some breakfast.
It all turned out rather well, if I do say so myself. I cubed some of the gecko meat, then used wheel spokes from the motorcycle to skewer the chunks along with some fruit that had been growing near the garden. I roasted up the skewers, popped open a bottle of Sunset Sarsaparilla I’d found in the shed, and tucked in.
That reminds me -- I actually couldn’t finish all of them, so I wrapped and saved them for later. Better finish them off this afternoon -- I can’t even imagine how ghastly it would be to have roast gecko meat sitting around forgotten in my pack for days.
After eating, I rolled up the semi-tanned hides, gathered the rest of my kit, and ED-E and I picked our way back down to the road. The ranger station looked far less imposing in the morning light, and the ranger on guard duty gave me only a cursory glance before nodding me on past and going back to surveying the road.
I suppose the stations are the NCR’s way of trying to make themselves felt even in the more remote parts of the Mojave. What’s the point in over-reaching your bounds if you can’t show off about it, right? Lord knows it’s not like they don’t have enough problems back home to contend with...
Anyway, a few miles past the station, I got my first glimpse of Novac in the form of a giant reptile clutching a thermometer. I initially thought it was a huge statue of a gecko, but, as I got closer, I realized it must be intended to look like one of those prehistoric monsters from a book I’d salvaged for Callie once -- dinosaurs.
A few minutes later, I saw the glint of a scope in the mouth of the dinosaur and realized there was a sniper up there, tracking my approach. I stopped, raised my hands to show they were empty, then pointed to my pack, hoping to convey “merchant”. After a beat, the sniper shifted, then waved me on. I waved back and continued into town.
Good idea, posting a sniper like that. These little trading communities are so vulnerable to raiders, and something like a sniper, picking off threats and sounding a warning early, will go a long way towards making sure that there are still people around with whom to trade when the caravans come through.
It seems that the dinosaur statue had been built as an advertisement for the town’s motel before the war. I chuckled to myself when I got close enough to see the motel’s sign, which had once spelled out “NO VACANCY” in neon tubing, had lost all but the first five letters.
Whatever the place was called before the bombs fell, it looks like good old entropy has rechristened it as “Novac”.
As it turned out, I had something of a welcoming committee waiting for me here, and not at all the sort I’d expected. When I reached the motel, I heard a familiar wheel squeaking, and who should roll out from behind the dinosaur’s leg to greet me but Victor, the Securitron who had dug me up in Goodsprings!
He put on the same old “howdy partner” act, feigning surprise at bumping into me and claiming that he’d just suddenly had the urge to head to New Vegas and had been stopping over at Novac on the way. Sure. Just like he “happened” to find me when those cazadores tried to eat me on the Goodsprings road. Not that I’m complaining about the rescue, mind you, but Ma Webb didn’t raise any fools.
He’s following me, that’s for certain. The only thing I can’t figure out is -- why? Is it House, who supposedly owns him? Something in his own programming? Or has someone else hijacked him for their own purposes? He seems helpful enough, but it still gets my hackles up.
Old Victor was looking a little the worse for his travels, though. Several new bullet holes pocked the metal of his frame, and a hairline crack seemed to be making its way across the bottom corner of his face screen.
I said as much and told him he should be looking out for himself instead of me. He told me that both of us should be careful out here, and, in response to my next question, said he hadn’t seen Checkers or any Khans in town, but admitted he hadn’t been here long.
Hoping to get him to lay the charade aside, I came right out and just asked him if he wanted to come along with me when I left. He declined, saying he needed to rest up here for a bit, but he hoped we’d cross paths again some time.
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t bet my caps against it.
After catching up with the cowboy clunker, I walked into the motel’s lobby and met the owner, a middle-aged woman by the name of Jeannie May Crawford. She seemed pleasant enough, if a bit nosy, but I got the idea that she wasn’t all that crazy about out-of-towners -- an odd trait for someone running a motel.
Still, she was happy enough to answer my questions. She didn’t remember anyone matching Checkers’ description, but she said I should check with the town guards, one of whom I’d already seen up in the dinosaur’s mouth. Apparently, there are two of them, and they alternate shifts. One of them might have seen something. I’ll be looking them up first thing after I dry off.
She went on to say that most of the town has been distracted by increasing feral ghoul attacks stemming from a facility off to the west, some sort of testing site that had been called REPCONN before the war. It apparently had been a popular site for prospectors before being taken over by ghouls.
Odd -- usually, they’re drawn to high radiation spots, and Crawford said the place had never been particularly afflicted by the glow. Maybe that’s changed, and the ghouls are moving in. She said they’d been attacking travellers, prospectors, and even some brahmin in town had been killed the past few nights. With all that going on, she had even less attention to spare than usual for outsiders.
Mentioning outsiders seemed to jog her memory, and she asked if I wanted a room -- a hundred caps and I was welcome to use one of the motel rooms as long as I wanted.
I hadn’t particularly planned on staying here for long, but her description of a room with running water certainly had some appeal, especially since I still hadn’t been able to really wash myself or my gear since my soak in those irradiated pools southwest of Primm, so I counted out the caps and she passed over a key, pointing me to the room.
As I walked up the steps and let myself into this room, she called after me, telling me that I should also stop into the shop in the dinosaur statue, where I could get a discount if I mentioned her name.
Certainly couldn’t hurt to unload the rest of my salvage from Nipton -- I’ll have to head there next, especially since it looks like I need to pass through the shop to reach the sniper’s nest in the mouth.
Okay, Webb, enough lolling about in the tub, no matter how good it feels. Everything ought to be dry by now. Let’s go see what a that sniper can tell me about Checkers.
Signing -- and drying -- off.