<<UserID:Webb>> I read somewhere that politics make strange bedfellows. Well, we must have gotten involved in politics, because we are camped for the evening with some extremely strange folks.
Boone’s already out for the evening, so I should be able to get through this entry with minimal “hmmph”ing.
<<UserID:Webb>> That counts as a “hmmph”, eyeball. Keep it down.
The morning began just about the way we’d expected, picking off more ferals at range while we followed the access road the rest of the way in to the REPCONN test site. The closer we got, the more of them there were -- mostly just milling around aimlessly, as far as I could tell, at least until they caught wind of us.
Or heard us. Or saw us. I have no idea how ferals sense the world around them. Some of them are so far gone that most of their face, eyes included, has rotted right off. Doesn’t stop them for making a beeline for your entrails, though.
By the time we reached the facility itself, we must have put down at least a dozen, with at least that number milling about the giant rocket statue in front of the REPCONN building.
They were far enough from us that we were able to do for them before they reached us, but it was a near thing with the last few. My hip still aches enough to make me never want to let one get within clawing range again.
Once ED-E confirmed that there was nothing else moving around outside the building, we were able to take stock of the site. The road, which had lead us through a shallow canyon, opened into a little valley, almost like a bowl scooped out of the rock. Right in the center is a pre-war metal sculpture of a REPCONN rocket -- which cleared up the purpose of this place in a hurry. REPCONN was an aerospace company, apparently focused on getting people up into the skies and into outer space.
Amazing... those folks before the bombs were living in a goddamn paradise, and they were trying so hard to escape it. No wonder it all went to hell.
Behind the statue is a blocky drab building, mostly intact, hunkered down into the rock, with a few radio towers and an odd dome perched on the rim of the valley across from it. Still have no idea what the dome is, but we’ve spent the day getting all too acquainted with the building.
Finishing up our sweep of the exterior, we found a few dead ghouls among the ferals who were in significantly better shape -- well, before they died, at least. Functional, sentient ghouls, wearing those brown robes I’d seen a few times in the wastes. From the half-built makeshift barricades they were slumped over, it looked like they’d been trying to fortify the building.
The robed ghouls, along with some of the ferals that had predeceased our arrival, had been shot with automatic weaponry. The ghouls themselves were armed with energy weapons -- two carrying AER9 laser rifles and the other some sort of self-charging blaster pistol I’ve never seen before -- so the wounds clearly weren’t friendly fire. Definitely not the ferals, either.
The pistol was light and easy to carry, so I stuffed that into my pack and stacked the rifles by the statue to claim on our way back to Novac. The PIP-Boy’s counter was still reading just slightly over generic background radiation, but I dosed Boone and myself with Rad-X pills as a precaution anyway before we went inside the mangled front doors.
And inside... well, outside was a mess, but inside was a charnel house. Dead ferals, robed ghouls, and more of those blue super-mutants were everywhere, and the interior of the building was wrecked, but not in that comfortably familiar ruined-when-the-bombs-fell way.
The injuries on the bodies began to paint a picture. The robed ghouls and the ferals had all been killed by conventional ammunition or blunt trauma, consistent with the miniguns and concrete mauls the mutants were carrying, and the dead mutants had been exclusively seared with laser or plasma fire.
The super mutants must have forced their way in through the main doors, fighting through the robed ghouls, but there was no sign of either group still living on the first floor -- the whole place was eerily quite, at least at first.
Old habits die hard, and I started scavving for salvage while Boone began sorting out the weapons. I was sorting through a promisingly full toolbox when the building’s intercom system crackled to life, nearly giving me an infarction.
The rough, gravely voice barked at us to identify ourselves. I did so, naming Boone and ED-E as well, and told the speaker that we were here on behalf of Novac. I tactfully neglected to mention the looting.
Mr. Intercom muttered something about “smoothskins” -- a ghoul epithet for unradiated folks that I’ve had tossed my way in the past -- and told us that we should hurry to the building’s east staircase, unless we wanted “the demons” to get us.
Boone raised an eyebrow at the mention of “demons”, and I shrugged, kicking a super-mutant corpse by way of my best bet. Out loud, I asked Mr. Intercom to identify himself, but he just responded that if we wanted to wait around for the demons to come kill us, that was our choice, and then broke the connection.
We made our way in the direction he’d indicated, picking through the rooms as we went. I found a powered terminal and managed to bypass its security programming with the aid of the PIP-Boy, hoping for a map of the facility. Instead, I got a bit of background on REPCONN -- definitely focused on space exploration, the company had been bought out by RobCo before the war.
I’m a little surprised they didn’t start calling the rockets “REP-Boys”. RobCo definitely has an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach to naming their products.
Apparently, it had all ended in disaster, with a rushed production schedule that left a handful of employees dead in explosions. There was also a memo that a crateful of those StealthBoy cloaking units had been erroneously delivered to this facility. I’ll have to keep my eyes skinned -- having a satchelful of StealthBoys would make life in the Mojave much easier.
Another room had a collapsed ceiling, which enabled us to clamber up to the second floor. A good thing, too -- the staircase Mr. Intercom had mentioned was built out over an open space storage area, the ground floor of which was full of shambling ferals. Coming into the staircase from the second floor, we were able to creep past and over them without drawing any attention, climbing the stairs to a sealed door.
When we hit the intercom button, the man who opened the door was decidedly un-ghoulified, a rather average-looking balding sort, running a little to fat, who identified himself as Chris Haversam.
When Boone delicately broached the issue of him not being a ghoul by blurting out “He’s human!”, Haversam just shook his head, muttered something else about smoothskins, and refused to answer any further questions, instead telling us to follow him, after which he sealed the door behind us and then headed off down the hallway, not looking to see if we were following.
Haversam, thankfully, seemed to be the only one with unresolved transradiation issues. Everyone else in this sealed section of the building was fully ghoulified, and all were wearing the brown robes. Most were looking through various diagrams or sorting electronics at workbenches, and they looked at us with something halfway between curiosity and suspicion as we walked by.
Haversam lead us up another staircase to a smaller office, and things suddenly began to come clear. Haversam cleared his throat and left us with a little bow to the occupant of the room, a man wearing a neatly maintained pre-war suit and lighting up the office with a sickly green luminescence.
He turned, and I braced myself for a Geiger counter cacophony that never came. He was one of the hyper-radiated ghouls that folks call “glowing ones”, but I’ve never heard of one that isn’t feral... or putting out enough rads to microwave an iguana-kebab.
This one was neither. His face, while bearing all the standard gauntness and leathery skin common to ghouls, was remarkably unburnt or decayed, and his voice, when he greeted us, lacked the usual gravel and instead had an odd reverb to it, as if coming through speakers.
His name is Jason Bright -- he claims it always has been, even before the bombs -- and he and his followers are here to prepare for a “great journey” to seek their holy land and escape the persecution ghouls face in the wastes.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s convinced that Boone, ED-E, and I are here as a form of divine aid in their time of need. In ED-E’s case, I suppose it’s a real case of “machina ex deo”.
Not bad, eh?
Anyway, Bright elaborated that he and his followers had gathered here to pursue their journey, and, in doing so, they had shepherded all the ferals they could find along with them. Bright calls ferals “lost ones” and, while he acknowledges that they are beyond help, he and his group still hoped to contain them, keeping them safe and, by extension, keeping everyone else safe from them.
Everything had apparently been going well until invisible demons showed up and stormed the facility. Putting two and two together, Bright’s invisible demons are the stealthed blue mutants that have been cropping up all over the area. They forced their way in, killing a handful of Bright’s followers, and a running gun battle broke out inside, which resulted in the ghouls falling back to this sealed upper area and the mutants breaking off and heading into the facility’s basement, where they still are, attacking any ghouls who venture down there.
Bright couldn’t explain what drew the mutants or what was keeping them here, but he could explain the feral attacks on Novac. When they’d broken down the facility’s doors, the mutants inadvertently released all the ferals Bright had managed to sequester here.
Normally, Bright and his people would be fine to just leave the mutants in the basement, but the next step in their “Great Journey” is apparently directly through the areas currently being patrolled by the invisible mutants.
Bright said he and the others would gladly round up the ferals and take them along on the journey if I could somehow “exorcise the demons” from the facility’s basement.
I was tempted to just walk right back on down to Novac, confident that the ghouls and the mutants would eventually take care of each other, but there was just something about Bright’s earnestness... Besides, I can certainly understand that desire to seek a better place, and isn’t care in the hands of other ghouls a kinder fate for the ferals a kinder fate?
I keep saying it, Webb -- that goddamn conscience is going to get you killed.
Then again, would that such a bad thing? Not like there’s much keeping me around at this point, other than good, old-fashioned stubbornness.
I turned to Boone, who merely shrugged, and told Bright we’d see about that exorcism for him. Of course, if all those blue mutants are as crazy as the one who was killing the brahmin, I think I’ll be doing most of my exorcising with my repeater, but we’ll see.
Bright was thrilled at the news, thanking us graciously, and he offered us the use of his followers’ rooms and chambers. As it had already been a long day, and as I think I’d more than exceeded my quota for shooting hideously deformed lunatics, we decided to stay the night with Bright and his people.
Word spread quickly that we had agreed to help, and those suspicious glances were quickly replaced with friendly -- if rotten -- smiles and offers to share meals and supplies. We partook of their food, mostly pre-war packaged goods like YumYum eggs and Salisbury Steak that had been scavenged from the building’s cafeteria before the mutant attack.
As always, they taste more like preservatives than actual food, but they fill your belly well enough. We stuck to our own bottled water, however; a quick PIP-Boy scan of the ghouls’ water supplies revealed enough rads to give me contact nausea. Must give it an extra kick if you’re a ghoul, though.
After we ate, I spent a few hours looking over the ghouls who had been injured in the fight with the mutants. Many had gunshot wounds, some with the bullets still lodged within, others had broken bones from the mutants’ clubs, and all were model patients, as I have come to expect from ghouls.
The same condition that keeps them alive for so long also seems to deaden many of their nerves -- I didn’t even have to use Med-X while stitching up the wounds, and they would each just sit their, either calmly chatting or just silently watching as I worked, with no sign of discomfort or unease. If only everyone I tended to was so accommodating...
The other benefit of the condition is remarkably fast healing. I’d wager most of these folks will be good as new within a day or two. I’ve never put it to the test myself, but I’ve heard that you can even amputate and reattach a ghoul’s arm, with no ill effects in the long run if you get it sewed back on fast enough.
After my surgeries, my back was killing me, so I stretched it out by pacing around the ghouls’ quarters, picking through the supplies they weren’t currently using.
Among scrap and tidbits of various usefulness, I found, against all expectations, a box of brightly-colored conical hats, made of some sort of waxed paper, with little plastic ribbons coming out of the tops. I pulled one out and popped it on to ED-E’s shell at a jaunty angle.
Boone just grunted and wandered off to get some sleep, but I can only imagine how much Callie would have laughed to see it.
<<UserID:Webb>> I’ll take it off you in the morning, I promise. Tonight, though... just let me keep it there and remember my little girl giggling, okay?
<<UserID:Webb>> Thanks, eyeball.
Guess I better get some rack time myself. Settling down to sleep, surrounded by ghoul pilgrims and preparing to venture down into a basement full of invisible supermutants.
Well, as my pa would have said, it beats being bored.