*Sounds of a crackling fire and a guitar being played softly.*
<<UserID:Webb>> That’s nice. I haven’t heard a guitar played that well in years.
<<Unidentified Male>> Awful kind of ya to say.
<<UserID:Webb>> You’ve got a real talent, kid. You ever give up on trying to find that dad of yours, you oughta join a band.
<<Unidentified Male>> You find one lookin’ fer a six-string player, you be sure to point ‘em my way. Yer pal there don’t seem too taken with it.
<<UserID:Webb>> Who, Boone? Nah, that’s just a serviceman’s habit -- you get your sleep as soon as you can get it, whenever you can get it.
<<Unidentified Male>> Didn’t he say you used to be one of them bear soldiers too?
*Sound of a finger tapping against a tin cup.*
<<UserID:Webb>> I’m also a doctor. I prescribe myself a sizable dosage of caffeine. Chases off the dreams.
Still, it can only do so much. Been a hell of a day.
<<Unidentified Male>> Sounded like it.
<<UserID:Webb>> ‘Preciate your not shooting us when we came up on you.
<<Unidentified Male>> Likewise. Figured I didn’t have much chance of taking out two fellers loaded fer bear plus a robot anyhow. ‘Sides, nice ta have company. I weren’t gonna finish that whole bighorner roast anyway.
If’n ya want ta pay me back, tell me more about them ghouls you was talkin’ about before.
<<UserID:Webb>> Heh. You really ARE bored, aren’t you?
Fine. Never seen anything quite like it anyway.
We told you about what they were up to, yeah? With the rockets?
<<Unidentified Male>> Yep.
<<UserID:Webb>> Well, the parts we brought back did the trick. Their technician -- fellow named Haversam, pretty handy with a wrench and a soldering iron -- fixed up their controls and talked the ghouls through the installation.
The whole launch area was glowing with radiation, so non-ghouls like us and Haversam couldn’t get anywhere near it safely, but he called out instructions and so forth all night until things were fixed up and ready to go by dawn.
At that point, Haversam came and got us. The ghouls were in the process of herding the last of their pet ferals into the rockets and shutting the doors behind them. From the cockpit of the center rocket, I could see Bright, wearing one of those ridiculous fishbowl space helmets and giving us a thumbs-up. He and Haversam had exchanged some parting words before the final loading -- I’m not sure what was said, exactly, but Haversam seemed at peace with the whole situation now. Maybe it had just been “thank you”.
We went back up through the building, which had previously been crawling with ferals and was now blissfully empty, and followed Haversam through the flock’s former base of operations, out onto a platform overlooking the bowl-shaped valley. Across from us sat the dome-topped hill I’d seen when we’d first arrived at the test site. Haversam hit a few switches on a console there, and the dome rumbled to life, sliding back into itself like a giant metal eyelid opening over an empty socket.
After a few minutes of deafening clanking and rattling, the platform with the rockets appeared from up the chute that had been covered by the dome, and I realized that the subterranean area on which the ghouls had been fixing their ships was actually part of an enormous elevator. I pulled out my binoculars and glassed the rockets; within, I could see the ghouls suited up and waiting patiently, occasionally turning to settle the ferals writhing in the lower sections of the rockets. Bright, at the head seat in the central rocket, gave us a regal wave and a small bow of thanks.
<<Unidentified Male>> Wouldn’t like ta be trapped in one o’ them tin cans with those zombies rollin’ around under my ass, I can tell ya that.
<<UserID:Webb>> You and me both, kid. Still, those ferals seem meek as brahmin calves when the other ghouls are around them. Calming influence, I guess.
Anyway, I looked over what Haversam was setting up on the command console, and he and I played around with the launch coordinates a bit, skimming off some of the fat and, hopefully, giving the ghouls a smoother, safer ride on their “grand journey”. I thought ED-E might be of some help, too, but the eyeball seemed a bit preoccupied after being so chatty the night before.
<<Unidentified Male>> Yeah, you mentioned somethin’ about that.
<<UserID:Webb>> I’ll fill you in on it in a bit. Let me finish up this part about the ghouls first.
<<Unidentified Male>> It don’t make me no never mind, Doc. I got all night.
<<UserID:Webb>> YOU might, but I’m getting tired. I’ll try to wrap it up.
When the calculations and pre-launch prep was done, the only thing left to do was throw the final switch. Haversam heaved a deep sigh, then gave the final launch command. The rocket engines growled to life, echoing back and forth across the valley and spitting huge clouds of smoke. At last, they leapt skyward, but the rightmost rocket clipped the edge of the dome as it launched.
I’m not sure if the dome hadn’t opened all the way, or if the rocket had just been misplaced on the platform, but, either way, it bucked out of control, fishtailing directly for our platform. Boone and I tossed ourselves to the floor, and ED-E bobbed far back into the cover of the facility, but Haversam just stood there, mouth gaping. I grabbed him and pulled him down, too -- as if lying prone was going to do us any good if a rocket full of explosive radioactive fuel crashed into us.
Still, the rocket managed to right itself, shooting straight up into the air about three yards from the side of the building and blackening the walls around us with its billowing smoke. I rolled over to peer after it and was just in time to see it angling back onto its programmed path, trailing slightly after its two siblings.
We stood up, brushing ourselves off, and Boone and I pretended not to notice Haversam wiping the tears out of his eyes as he stared at the empty launch platform.
Since we still had the travois we’d used to haul the fuel, we made use of it one last time and loaded up on every single bit of useful salvage left in the facility before heading back to Novac, taking our time and letting the overloaded ED-E set the pace back down the hills. Haversam was quiet, so I spent the time filling him in on the inhabitants of the town.
By the time we were back in sight of the dinosaur, he was in a slightly more talkative mood. Once we reached Briscoe’s shop and started offloading our cargo, he was already discussing what bits of salvage could be used to perk up the town’s well and sewage pipes, and what sort of wiring he’d need to optimize their generator.
Cliff Briscoe, the fellow who owns the store there -- and the motel now too, I suppose, after the... disappearance of the former owner -- bought almost everything we’d brought down, paying mostly in ammunition, primer powder, casings, and caps, along with some more preserved foodstuffs and the remainder of his medical supplies. The Strauss woman still had enough of a stock to see to the needs of the town -- provided she didn’t make anything worse while attempting to treat it -- but I promised Briscoe I’d stop back through again whenever I could to see if there were any ills she couldn’t handle.
When we’d finished our transaction, Briscoe headed over to the motel to help Haversam pick out a room for himself, and the two of them were animatedly discussing whether the town’s generator would have enough juice, after being fixed up, to run some perimeter lights to help with night-time guard duty.
Next, I paid a call on Manny Vargas, told him the good news about the ghouls, and let him know that payment was past due.
<<Unidentified Male>> This the feller who’d seen the man who shot ya?
<<UserID:Webb>> That’s the one. Boone made a point to be absent, instead stopping at the hotel to refill our water jugs and then heading to the gas station’s workshop to repack ammo casings.
Vargas looked relieved that the ghouls were gone, and he finally shared the information he’d been holding onto so stingily. Checkers and the Khans had come through the town about a week back, staying for a night and then heading out the next day for Boulder City.
I pushed him further, and he eventually admitted that he’d been a Great Khan himself, years back, but it didn’t last. Still, he had some lingering loyalty, and he’d let the Khans stay in his room, chatting with them a bit. Checkers apparently hadn’t slept, instead pacing restlessly outside all night. The Khans had said he’d been nervous ever since he’d stolen that package from his boss. Call me crazy, but I don’t think he was talking about me or Victor.
<<Unidentified Male>> Who?
<<UserID:Webb>> The... person who hired me originally. But, from what I can tell, he was working for Mr. House.
<<Unidentified Male>> Heard of HIM, sure enough. This Checkers has got some balls on him, messing with House.
<<UserID:Webb>> Won’t make much difference after I catch the little weasel and cut them off.
Also, I learned his name: Benny.
<<Unidentified Male>> “Benny”?
<<UserID:Webb>> Yeah. Little anticlimactic, isn’t it? At least it ought to help track him down, though. Might be able to catch him alone, too -- Vargas said Boulder City was where the Khans were supposed to get their payoff for the job, so they’d probably be parting ways there.
Anyway, with a name and a destination in hand, I gathered up Boone and we got back on the road, heading north up Route 95.
After a few hours, we spotted the odd, dish-shaped tower of the HELIOS One solar power station and the sea of mirrors that surround it.
<<Unidentified Male>> I seen that. Place looked like a military base.
<<UserID:Webb>> Yeah, it’s occupied by NCR troops. Probably worth a look at some point, but I’m already at least a week behind the fellow that shot me, and I didn’t fancy losing any more time to NCR red tape. As we walked past, I could see the mirrors slowly moving back and forth, trying to catch the sun, but they were all out of sync, whirling around aimlessly while troopers and guard dogs patrolled between them. The whole place looks to be a highly regimented mess -- just what you’d expect when the NCR is in charge.
<<Unidentified Male>> I ain’t had that much to do with them so far.
<<UserID:Webb>> Do yourself a favor and keep it that way.
Continuing north, we spotted what looked like an old windfarm off to the east, but ED-E’s sensors picked up a lot of movement, way too fast to be human, so we steered clear.
Farther on, there was a big dry lake right beside the road, but it was pockmarked with holes, and we spotted some of those huge ants like the ones near the Mojave Outpost, so we stuck to the road and gave them a wide birth too. Not enough eating on them to make them worth the hassle.
Not long after passing the dry lake, it was getting dark, and we spotted your campfire. There was only one of you, and I’ve never know many raiders to play guitar, so we came over to say howdy. That just about brings us up to speed.
<<Unidentified Male>> Well, much obliged for sharin’ your tale. Makes the night go by faster, that’s for sure. What about that robot of yours?
<<UserID:Webb>> Still something of a conundrum. Last night, something about hearing me describe HELIOS One triggered a playback from the person who had built him. Some engineer at a military base out on the west coast, near some city called Deesea.
<<Unidentified Male>> Military base? Couldn’t be NCR out that far east, could it?
<<UserID:Webb>> No, that’s the weirdest part. From what I could piece together from the limited playback, it sounded like he was talking about an Enclave base.
<<Unidentified Male>> Enclave?
<<UserID:Webb>> Before your time. Before mine, really. When I was just a kid, not even ten, there were stories about men in black power armor wiping out whole villages, either killing everyone or carting them off across the water to some base off the coast. I heard they called themselves the Enclave, some sort of holdover from before the war.
Supposedly, a tribal blew up their whole operation.
<<Unidentified Male>> A TRIBAL?
<<UserID:Webb>> I know. Must have been one hell of a spear throw, eh?
Must have been some truth to some parts of the story, though, because the NCR did recover quite a bit of tech from a training facility on shore, all stamped with a big “E”. That’s where they got most of their working vertibirds. I thought that had been the end of them, though -- hadn’t heard a whisper about them in forty years, not until that recording from ED-E, and the datestamp on that was only four years old.
<<Unidentified Male>> They must have had more than one base, maybe spread out over the country like them vaults?
<<UserID:Webb>> Must have. Supposedly he’d been sent across country to some place called Navarro. Not sure how he wound up in Primm -- the recording cut off before I could get any more out of it. I tried half the night last night to get him to play another part, but no luck. Seems he’s keeping his secrets to himself, for now.
Not sure how I feel about having Enclave tech floating around after me, really. Still... he’s a good little eyeball. Never gave me reason to mistrust him, and he’s certainly more than pulled his weight.
<<Unidentified Male>> Not afraid he’s gonna carry you off in the night?
<<UserID:Webb>> He’s had more than enough opportunity to do it up ‘til now, if he was going to. Besides, ever since that recording, he’s seemed so...
<<Unidentified Male>> Quiet?
<<UserID:Webb>> Yeah. And sad, somehow. Can’t just kick the little guy out when he’s feeling low. What about you, eyeball? You want to stick around with this old coot a little longer?
<<Unidentified Male>> What’d it say?
<<UserID:Webb>> I don’t know. I never know.
Still, it’s good to have him around, Enclave or no.
<<UserID:Webb>> Well, I’m beat. Thanks again for the fire, the food, and the company, kid. You gonna get some sleep?
<<Unidentified Male>> Might be I’ll stay up and play for a bit, yet.
<<UserID:Webb>> Knock yourself out. Hope my snoring doesn’t throw off your rhythm.