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Chapter Seven

Well, reportin' back to the Outpost was kinda an anticlimax; Ranger Ghost was pretty upset to have her worst fears confirmed, but really, in the end there was nothin' anyone could do but send out a couple'o guys with shovels and a chaplain.

Anyways, Cass an' Eddie an' I headed on East from there, stopped in Nipton and rummaged through the place for a while; some might call it looting, but shoot, these folks didn't need the stuff no more, and we *did*. Finally found me some armor that I could adjust to fit, even. Must've been a powerful big feller livin' here at some point; some notes in the Mayor's office in the Town Hall on an old terminal mentioned "Big and Little Jim", brothers apparently, and I figgered I was now wearin' Big Jim's spare leathers. Those notes pretty well pissed me off, too; seems the Mayor had made a deal with the Legion to trap a bunch of Powder Gangers and NCR troops for an 8000 cap payoff, and the Legion rounded up the townsfolk too, when they showed up. All that murder for nothin' but money; leaves a bad taste in my mouth just thinkin' it. Found a bunch of ammo and food, and one house that was booby-trapped to Hell and back, got a bunch of good stuff outta that place.

Found one survivor in the General Store, the second-place "winner" in the Legion's damned lottery; another Powder Ganger, they'd smashed his kneecaps with sledgehammers and left him to crawl off and die. Tough little feller. We found him some clothes and a pair of crutches, warned him the NCR might be comin' in the next couple of days, told him to keep his head down. He looked at us like we was some kind o'crazy when I told him we weren't gonna turn him in or shoot him outright, long as he kep' his nose clean from now on. There was an apartment above the store with runnin' water, and quite a bit of food in the store itself; we moved him and the food upstairs, left him a rifle and some ammo. Figgered he'd be OK 'til the troops showed up. We loaded up the sidecar and our packs, and headed off West.

Two-and-a-half days later, tired, annoyed as Hell, and with some new holes in our gear and not a few new scars on us, we pulled up in the town of Novac. Now Novac is kinda a wide spot in the road, sorta like Goodsprings; a good almost-halfway point between the Outpost and Vegas. One of the claims to fame the town has is Dinky the Dinosaur, a five-story-tall green concrete lizard holdin', of all things, a three-story tall thermometer. I remember thinkin' to myself when we first saw it comin' over the horizon, "Oh, man, that's one *big* gecko."

Anyhow, we pulled up in front of the old motel just behind Dinky; I was pretty creaky, and Cass was downright beat. Small wonder...

**********

[Scene shifts to the inside of an old cave, or possibly a mine]

"I don't like these places, damn it." Cass whispered. "There's rats, and Raiders, and God only knows what else in these places."

"Pssht. Tough girl like you afraid of a few little rats."

"I ain't afraid," says she, patting her shotgun. "Just don't want to waste the ammo for nothing. I've heard tell there are some fuckin' huge rats down these holes."

"Rodents of Unusual Size? I don't believe they exist." Squeal. Blur, lunging at me and Cass. You know the drill. Cass ducked, I bashed it's brains out on the wall, then grinned big at Cass. "Okay, *now* I believe they exist. Challenge accepted."

**********

[scene fades back to the hotel in Novac] I spent the next hour or so cleanin' out that cave; come out of it with some more much-needed cash and supplies, and a sweet little varmint rifle, a lot better than the one I'd had. Composite stock, night-vision scope, silenced; still in 5.56, but you can't have everythin', right?

Gettin' to Novac had been a nasty experience, let me tell you. Legion slavers, Feral Ghouls, Raider gangs, the radioactive hellhole that used to be the town of Searchlight (Radscorpion the size of a six-seat *passenger plane*. I know because it was standing *next to one*, at the old airport. Enough said.) The one good memory I had of that trip came the second night, as we were settin' up camp. Cass was gettin' ready to start a campfire, and an old thought came roarin' up on me...

**********

[point of view of a small child, looking at a candle in an old-fashioned brass holder, swivels up to a tall, elegant, black-haired, porcelain-skinned woman in a black dress.]

"Again, young one."

"But that trick *never* works."

"This time, for sure."

[Point of view shifts back to candle. A small hand made into a fist comes into view, and the vision fades back to looking at Cass standing by a campfire, having just taken out a match]

I felt lucky, somehow. "Hang on a sec, Cass." I looked at my hand. "I want to try something I ain't done in a *long* time". I balled that hand into a fist, and knelt down by the tinder. I looked up at the Moon, so big and bright over our heads, smilin' down at me, like the silver sheen of Grandmama's face, assuring me once again, in a quiet whisper, *this time for sure*.

I flicked my thumb over the top of my fist, and whispered, "Presto."

And there was fire.

**********

[Back to present, in front of the hotel]

I tell you, I hadn't quit grinnin' in better'n a day when that trick finally *worked* for the first time. Hadn't tried it since I was eight, after all. Mebbe Grammy Wills was right when she said anybody could learn it, and a lot more besides.

Anywho, parked the bike in the fenced courtyard of the hotel, and, as usual, it started drawin' a crowd almost immediately. I kinda raised my voice a bit, asked, "Who'm I s'posed to talk to 'bout gettin' a room?" Tall feller who'd come out the door in the side of the dinosaur (there was a room or somethin' in there? This I *had* to see.) shouts over, "Talk to Jeannie May, in the office," and points. Well, I left Cass and Eddie with the bike and the goods, walked back out the gate towards the office door. I caught a blocky greyish-blue shape outta the corner a' my eye, and turned to see a Securitron outside the gate, and lo and behold, it swiveled over to me and I saw Victor's face on its screen. Now I knowed I'd left him in Goodsprings five days back, and there was no way he could'a got here faster than me, so I had a sneakin' suspicion, confirmed by two things: one, there was an old radio relay tower across the highway, and lookin' at the horizon, I could just see the top of that tower in New Vegas.

Somebody had themselves a robotic spy network. I stepped over to talk to Victor-2, as I'd dubbed him in my head. "Well, howdy, pardner," he says, still all friendly like. "Butter my butt and call me a biscuit, if'n you ain't a sight for sore eyes!"

"Nice to see a friendly face, Victor. So what's the story with this place?"

"Novac? Nice enough place, but between you and me, when I rolled into town, my skin started to itch. Watch yourself."

Well, I figgered that was as straight a warnin' as I was gonna get, so I went into the office and rented a room. Jeannie May was a chatty lady, nice enough, told me about just about ever'body in town; trouble at the McBride's Brahmin ranch, ghouls takin' over the old Repconn rocket factory west of town (salvagin' from the factory being the main industry in town, this was a real problem,) and the pregnant wife of one of the town's three guards/snipers havin' mysteriously vanished in the middle of the night some time back. (Jeannie May said she thought Carla'd just run off back to the bright lights of New Vegas. Nobody's that dumb out here, especially a pregnant woman with no weapons, money, or supplies.) Hmm. Sounds like Victor may've been right.

Comin' out the office door, bumped into an elderly grey-haired man. "Who sent you? I ain't talking. They tried to get me to talk before, but I didn't say nothing, and I don't aim to now, by gum." Got to talkin' with him, found out he was called "No-bark Noonan". "'Cause they know I ain't just barking here. What I say's got bite, 'cause it's the truth."

He had all sorts of insights on what was going on around town, mentioned seein' strange, shadowy men around the hotel and in the office the night the sniper's wife vanished. Talkin' 'bout the McBrides problems at their farm, "Well, says No-bark, we got us a chupacabra with an automatic weapon! And that's when they get real quiet, 'cause now they see the predicament we're in. I come face-to-face with the chupacabra himself one night; had two heads, and fangs down to the ground. Best I could tell, anyways, since when he come up to me he was invisible. Had hisself a blunderbuss that would rotate and shoot bullets real fast out of a backpack." Hmm. Sounds like a Nightkin with a Stealth Boy and a minigun to me, but I didn't say nothin'. And then, he proceeded to give me some of the best advice I ever heard in my life.

"I don't trust a man that doesn't have something strange going on about him, cause that means he's hiding it from you. If a man's wearing his pants on his head or says his words backwards from time to time, you know it's all laid out there for you. But if he's friendly to strangers and keeps his home spick-and-span, more often than not it means he's done something even his own ma couldn't forgive."

Well, I tell you, I sure figgered there was some pokin' around to be done in that town, but for right now, I needed a meal and a bed, so I headed over to help Cass get the bike locked up and unloaded. Got ever'thing into the room, spent a couple hours swappin' out parts to fix up the various weapons we'd accumulated on the way while we et dinner (they sell a lot better if they work, y'know), and Cass and I crashed out on the bed, with Eddie guardin' the door. We'd see what was what in town the next day.

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