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Chapter Four

Got a mile or so outside the Outpost before I decided to stop for a bit of a think. The way they treated that poor fella from the Hi-Po station still got up my nose. I knowed for a fact he was unarmed and couldn't have walked on that ankle, let alone fought. Shootin' him "evading arrest", even after a prison break, just ticked me off somethin' fierce.

Anyway, the day waren't gettin' any younger, so's I stepped off about a hundred yards and found me a man-size cactus for a target. Took me all of sixteen rounds to have that old .223 shooting dead center. 'Bout that time Eddie popped up a message on my Pip-Boy screen and let off a bit of cheerful music to boot. Looked over where he indicated to see a couple of radscorps heading up on me; one round each took care of 'em. Then I saw the one the size of a four-door Corvega headin' over the hilltop and bit back somethin' that would've had The Granny washin' out my mouth with lye soap back home. That 'un took another eight rounds to stop; another five feet and he'd 've had me dead-to-rights. Not too proud to say that if Eddie hadn't got in the last couple of shots when I had to reload, I'd have been in a bad way. Took a few to strip out the poison sacs to take back to Mrs. Nash at Primm, for some more of that lovely casserole of hers.

Lot of traffic stopped on the road to and from the Outpost, maybe by the EMP at the time of the Big Oops, or more likely by the drivers being blinded by the flashes, no way to tell now. Poked through the remains of the vehicles as I went; found me a truckful of old bikes that nobody'd even picked through, judgin' by the lack of tracks in the dust. Clambered back into the back checkin' 'em out, but didn't find a one with the isotope pack in place. Dang things wouldn't run without the isotope pack to heat water for the steam plant, so I climbed out again. Made myself a note of the big Ural-Davison with the sidecar, though, just in case. It's a big desert, and who knows what I'd find later, after all. Matter of fact, back in Goodsprings...hmm.

Didn't take long to take care of the ants, between me and Eddie, then I high-tailed it back up the road. Didn't stop at Primm, though, kept going, made it back to Goodsprings about eight at night. Had a couple of ideas I wanted to check out. Walked into the Goodsprings saloon, hailed Miss Trudy behind the bar. "How's things, Miss Trudy?"

"Jeth! Didn't expect to see you back this way for a while. What brings you back?"

I bought a drink, whiskey and water; the water in Goodsprings was the better part of the drink, actually. "Well, had a couple of things I needed to check out. First off, anybody own those old bikes out front?"

"Those old things? Nah. Sometimes the kids try to get 'em running, but nobody 'round here really knows how they work. What would you want with those old clunkers?"

I give her a grin. "Had one back home that we used a lot, they're really not that hard to work if you know how. Wondered if I could check 'em out, see if I could get one runnin'."

"No objection here. What else did you need?"

"Well, I wondered about that old Securitron rollin' around-"

All the warmth went out of her voice there as she cut me off. "That creepy damn 'bot? Calls itself Victor, always skulking around. The Goddamn thing is always peeking in windows and following me home at night. The Hell would you want with that...thing?"

"Well, Primm down the road needs a lawman, their Sheriff got shot by the Powder Gangers, and I thought I'd see if I could reprogram it, er, him; that's what they're supposed to do, after all. Any idea where I could find him?"

"This time of night, *it's* usually up at the graveyard, staring off at New Vegas, Heaven knows why."

Heaven mayn't, I reckoned, but I probably did, and had a bad feeling about it besides; line-of-sight radio's a lot more reliable these days than ionospheric skip, what with all the particulates still in the upper atmosphere. I thanked Miss Trudy, and headed out and up the hill.

It was the dark of the Moon, and a nice walk in the cool of the night, up the hill to the graveyard under the Goodsprings water tower. Nicely taken care of, neat, some grave goods on a couple of mounds of newly-turned earth, line of new unmarked graves that probably held the remains of the Powder Gangers, then a glint caught my eye. Old grave, settled in on itself like it'd been there a *long* time, with an actual stone rather than a wooden cross. Somebody a *long* time ago had put a snowglobe on the grave. I knelt down and brushed the dust off the marker, feller by the name of Cliff Secord. "Mr. Secord, you mind much if I took this? Got a powerful need for cash, and I doubt you've got any much use for it." A gentle warm breeze chose that moment to blow up out of nowhere, and I knew I had my answer; picked it up and put it in my pack. Stood up and turned around, saw an old permalantern that had been blocked by a mound of earth, and just beyond it, the blocky shape of a Securitron. I took a sightline on it; yup, lined right up with the big tower visible on the horizon and one manipulator clamped on the grounding line for the water tower, probably using it as an antenna to boost his signal.

Darn thing was in communication with someone in New Vegas. Well, that makes this a bit awkward, decided to see what I could find out anyways. I stepped around in range of his visual pickup; as I did, an animated cowboy face popped up on his screen, and he let go of the cable. "Well, howdy, pardner," he said in a cheery voice. "Nice to see you up and around. I'm Victor, how you doin'?"

"Howdy, Victor. I'm Jeth. Sorry to bother you, got a minute?"

"Well, shore, I'm finished up here for the night. What can I do ya fer?"

"Town down the road needs a new Sheriff; I was going to have you take the job, but I see now you can't do it. You've got business here."

"What gives you that ideer, pard?" He reached out for the cable again, and I knew a recording of this conversation was about to be sent to the 'bot's shadowy master.

"Well, the fact that you're using that cable as a makeshift packet radio antenna, for one thing. Don't worry none, I'll come up with another plan."

Victor's voice changed, then, and his animated face on the display screen froze. It became smooth, cultured; reminded me a bit of listening to Uncle Gomez' brain reminiscing before the vocoder on his tank broke, and we had to replace it with that old Teddy Roxpin doll. Not as cheerful, though; I got amused interest from it, nothing more. "What plan did you have in mind?"

"Well, I *was* going to reprogram this-here Securitron to take over the Sheriff's job in Primm, reinstate his law enforcement protocols, but since I see he's actually somebody else's property still, I won't. Who'm I talkin' to, anyway?"

A low chuckle. "Clever boy." I decided not to disabuse him of that notion. "You have no need of my name yet; look me up if you reach New Vegas, though, any of my Securitrons will know where to find me. As you've surmised, I do have use for Victor right where he is, so I'm afraid Plan A is right out; however, hmmm..." The 'bot's body shifted, and the directional antenna on top spun. "I am detecting a working Protectron's IFF signal from that vicinity; perhaps that would do?"

"Well, now, that just might turn the trick. Thankee kindly." I remembered seeing a Protectron in the Vikki and Vance, thought it was a display piece, but if it was working, it'd do.

"You're very welcome, my boy. Mind the hole behind you; I'd hate to have to have Victor pull you out of it again." With that, Victor's face animated again. "Whoo, always a rush when the Boss takes over. You get what you needed, pard?"

"I think so, Victor, thankee." I turned and surveyed the hole; I saw now it was an open grave; the mound of earth I'd seen before probably came out of it. I stepped over, nice and straight, a bit shallow, but I s'posed they'd been in a hurry when they were diggin' it; nice of 'em to bother, they could've just left me for the vultures, after all. I remembered Daisy Suit sayin' somethin' about lookin' me in the eyes as opposed to shootin' me in the back. I smelled expensive tobacco, and noticed a few cigarette butts lyin' about; not the two-hundred-year old leavin's most people got these days, but fresh stuff grown along the San Joaquin back home. Daisy Suit was kind of a class act, and had money, I realized. Picked 'em up and slipped 'em in a pocket, couldn't tell you why.

Walked back down to the saloon, looked at the three bikes there. Solid gelfoam-filled tires, not too badly dry-cracked, were a good sign; I wished they'd caught on for cars pre-War, but they just didn't have as nice a ride, so the old style were used on most cars, and after two hundred years, car tires were mostly dust. Too bad; I'd bet the old pickup crashed into the stop sign at the crossroads would still run just fine, if I could get tires on it. Only tires around these days were the ones for the big military trucks, though, same tech as the cycle tires. Darn things were almost impossible to kill...even with a chainsaw.

Rummaged around in my pack for the stuff I'd found at the old radio station; yup, there was a fission battery in there, slotted it in place and the light came on just fine. I popped the cover on the isotope pack and, just as I thought, the moderator rods had snapped closed when the water tank went dry. Geiger on my Pip-Boy went off, though, so there was still power. (Half-life of seventy-three hundred and forty years, there should be.) Walked down to the springs, grabbed a couple of buckets and started refillin' the reservoir; twenty gallons and ten trips back-and-forth later, it was full on the one bike that didn't have pinholes in the tank. (The one sittin' upright, go figger; the other two wouldn't be fit for nothin' but parts unless repaired, and I didn't have the tools or the time.) Popped the seat, pulled the little crank out of the toolkit, then cranked the moderator rods out of the isotope pack until I heard the "click" that they were back in place where they should be. Temperature gauge on the water reservoir and preheater started to come up, pretty as you please, and I knew this one'd get me where I wanted to go. I don't mind walkin', but I had me a feelin' I'd be doin' a mort more of it than I really wanted.


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April 2015


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