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Chapter Eleven

Welp, Harland and I headed back up to the upstairs to report the Nightkin were gone. Jason was purty happy to hear it, and we-all, 'ceptin' Mr. Gargles-gravel, who had somethin' to do up in the launch control center, headed back down to the basements to finish up prep for the launch. We headed into an area that the Nightkin didn't seem to have found; leastways ever'thing was still on the shelves and nothin' seemed to have been torn apart by servin'-plate-sized hands down here. We got to an operations center under the launch dome, all the others headed into the launch facility, but Jason stayed behind. "We are so close to the start of the Great Journey," says he, "but I would ask you for one further favor, Wanderer. Would you work with Chris to find the last few components we need to complete the repairs on the rockets?"

Well, I thinks to myself, if'n it'll get all y'all movin', sure. "Well, sure I can," is all I says, "but who's Chris?"

"Chris is the person who was manning the security board when you entered here," says he. "He has been instrumental in helping us prepare for the Great Journey. Without his expertise, we would still be struggling to repair and rebuild the rockets."

"Wait: he's the human who thinks he's a ghoul?"

"I doubt you received a good reaction if you tried to convince him he is human. We failed to convince him he was not one of us many times since he came to us, but then he proved his usefulness here, and we stopped trying. We came to feel he was sent by the Creator to help us complete the Journey."

"So y'all have kep' him around because he's helpful. Y'gonna take him along, then?"

"Alas, Wanderer, we would if we could, but we cannot. The radiation on the launch pad alone would kill Chris nearly instantly, let alone exposure to the radiation at out destination." He checked behind him in the window to the launch pad; the rest of his team had changed into bright red pressure suits with bubble helmets, and one of 'em - I think it was Harland - waved up to Jason. He turned back and said, "I must go. Please help Chris to help us, Wanderer. We are so close to our goal." 'Bout then Chris walked in, and Jason climbed down through an airlock door and sealed it behind him.

"Jason said y'all still needed some parts? What kind?"

"Well, we need the thrust control modules for the rockets; damn salvagers down the road at Novac probably stole 'em, along with everything else they stripped out of the facility. That, and we need a quantity of Isotope-239 igniting agent for the nuclear engines. What we've got here ate through the seals on the drums on the pad years ago, and it's contaminated now, can't use it in the engines."

I looked down on the pad and saw some barrels leakin' glowing green goo, and thought of somethin'. I dug around in my pack, pulled out the little rocket souvenir I bought from Cliff Briscoe. Yup, same glow, looked the same color to me. "Would this be the stuff?"

He grabbed the little toy rocket an' looked at the glow. "Who would have been stupid enough..." He unscrewed the fins from the back of the toy, and my Geiger immediately pegged. He closed it up again before we got too bad a dose, but I'd need some Rad-Away pretty quick...come't think of it, so would he. "That's the stuff, although why they used it for damn toys I don't know. You know where you can get more of these?" I 'lowed as I did. "Well, get moving, smoothskin! Quicker you get there and back, quicker we can start the Great Journey!"

Cass an' Eddie an' I skedaddled. Found an emergency exit just off the control room that led back up to the surface, and high-tailed it back down the road to Novac. Got back to town, bought the rest of the rocket toys from Cliff, and asked him where they kep' the parts from Repconn they were savin' for sale. He says most of the little stuff got broke down right there at the old gas station, but mebbe Old Lady Gibson up the road had some bigger stuff and components that hadn't been tore down yet.

Gibson Scrap was a neat little operation that had seen better days. Looked like it'd been an auto salvage yard at one time, but it hadn't been used for a while. Lotta happy, well-fed dogs wanderin' round there, and a silver-haired lady sittin' out front enjoyin' the sun. "How do," says I, with a grin on, "might you be able t'point me to Old Lady Gibson?"

"Well, ain't you a smoothie," says she. "That'd be me, son, how can I help you?" Well, we got to talkin', and sure enough, she had a batch of thrust control modules in stock. "Not much call for these, they're pretty specialized units. What're you gonna do with 'em, then?"

I looked over my shoulder and saw that I could see the launch complex dome from there. "Well, I can't rightly say, not my secret to tell, but I'll tell you what, you might want to talk to the folk in town and keep a watch on over thattaway," waved at the dome, "for a few hours." She looked over where I was pointin', and her eyes got wide. I could see she got it almost immediately. Sharp lady. "Really?" was all she said, kinda breathless. I nodded back. "Well, then, sonny, you probably best get goin', and I've gotta go share some good news with the rest of town."

Got back to the complex lickety-split, back in the way we come out, and back down to the launch facility. Give the rocket toys and thrust controllers to Chris, and he popped the controllers in a testing rig, got green lights on all of 'em, enough for one and a backup for all three rockets, and enough igniting agent and some to spare. He set 'em in a little cargo lift down to the pad like they were the Grail, closed it and sent it down. Several of the ghouls took 'em and headed into each of the rockets; took no time at all for 'em to come back out, grinnin' to beat the band, and give a big thumbs-up to the rest of the crew. Some of 'em started herdin' ferals into one of the rockets. I could see Jason was also in a pressure suit now; he called his command crew over facin' the window soon's they got the last of the ferals loaded. A click showed the intercom box on the wall had turned on, and Jason began speakin'. Pretty standard stuff, thanked ever'body for their hard work an' dedication, but then he dropped the bombshell on Chris.

"..but we also owe a vote of thanks to two humans, without whom we would not be here today. One, a wanderer of the wastes, saved us from the invisible demons plaguing us; and the other, our own Chris, having been sent to us by the Creator as the instrument of our deliverance. Chris, know that we will be eternally grateful for your assistance and service, will always remember and revere your memory, as the Saint of the Great Journey." With that, they folded their hands an' bowed their heads for a moment, then all rushed to board the rockets and button 'em up.

Chris turned to me with tears in his eyes. "Did you *hear* that? All this time...they've been using me. My God; I'm too much of a monster to be around monsters."

"Now what makes you say a damn-fool thing like that?" says I. "He just said, they're gonna regard you as a Saint, Chris, almost their Saviour."

"But they're leaving me here...alone."

"Well, that's because they don't want to *murder* you just gettin' you on the rocket, man. You're gonna have to face it; you're *not* a ghoul, you're still human. Little bit of male pattern baldness, but no dry, flaking patches of skin, right? No loss of sensation in areas of skin, muscle stiffness, nausea, skin at the extremities droppin' off, that sort of thing?"

"Well...no."

"Tell you what, they's a whole *town* full of people over the hill who might appreciate your expertise and help, Chris. Why don't you go try livin' there for a while? Hell, you might be the person who helps them turn this place from a salvage operation back into a workin' rocket factory, help bring back some of the old world into the new, y'know? At the very least, helpin' folks out, helpin' each other to live a little longer, a little *better* each day, is it's own reward, ain't it?"

"I think..." he started, then he took a deep breath, and when he continued on he dropped the gravelly tone he'd been usin' to fit in with the ghouls, "I think I'll give it a try. What the Hell, I've never been a living Saint before, I might find some people I actually *like* for a change." He hands me a key, says, "Here. This is for the launch control center on the roof. I can't...I don't want to see it, just head up there and hit the button marked "Initiate Launch", will you? I'm going to get my things together and walk over to Novac."

Welp, I went upstairs, found the door to the launch control room. Not real impressive, one big console, one big window. Started looking around, found a set of papers with orbital calculations, started readin' 'em over...huh. Somebody'd added here where they shoulda subtracted. Corrected that on the tape, console was set up pretty much for "Rocketry for Dummies" anyways; judgin' by these calculations, that'll give em' better'n a ten percent margin for gettin' where they was going, 'stead of the bare minimum they were calculatin' with that fuel load. Too bad I didn't have an orbital ephemeris, I might even have been able to tell where they was agoin'. Bet I'd find one if I looked around later, though. Sent the updated trajectory to the thrust control modules in the rockets, took one last look around, and hit the "GO!" button. there was a low, long rumble as the dome over the launch complex retracted, then another as the gantry elevator brought the three rockets to the surface.

As the engines throttled up, a gush of white vapor flared out behind them, pretty as you please; it was all up to the robot brains of the rockets now. All of a sudden, the gantry locks disengaged, and with a tremendous roar, they was on their way. Thought for a sec we were gonna lose one when it lost thrust for a second and dropped off course, but the robobrain compensated and all three went soarin' off into the Southern sky, the settin' sun turned the trails behind them rosy-pink as they flew. I wished them clear skies and safe landin', just like I'd seen in the old holomovies we used to watch back home, and left the room as the dome started closing itself over the silo.

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April 2015

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