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Chapter Six

Well, Ms. Cassidy went to rummagin' through her pack, while I got the gecko steaks sizzlin' on a rock next to the fire. Just started to dig out the ingredients to make chicory coffee and she come up with a whiskey bottle in hand. Shoot, you'd think she'd just seen the Grail, the way her face lit up. Seen that look before on folk whose life revolves around their next drink, and who they'll have to knife to get it. She pulled the cork with her teeth, and spit it on the ground, and I decided to take matters into my own hands. "Well, now, that's *perfect*, says I, makin' a long arm and pluckin' the bottle out of her hands. "This'll do a treat." And I dumped about half of the fifth over the steaks. It flashed up, and I handed the half that was left back over to her.

Well, she looked like I'd just kicked a kitten. She looked at the bottle, then the fire, then at me, and pretty much screamed, "Th' Hell d'you *do* that for?!?!"

"Well, it'll make this-here gecko meat taste better, that's why. You weren't plannin' on gettin' drunk out here, were you?" She set back down, hard, and looked around and finally *saw* where she was; smack in the middle of one of the most inhospitable areas Man has ever tried to live in anywheres.

"Oh, Jeez," she moaned, and then stuck her face in her hands. I turned where I could look out across the hardpan for a bit, made a show of keepin' a watch until the sobbin' stopped. It ain't easy realizin' you've just tried committin' suicide by fifth without thinkin'. I turned back, picked up the bottle layin' in the sand and recorked it. No sense wastin' disinfectant after all. She looked up, haggard and with tear-tracks down her face, and started talkin' like I figgered she might need to. She talked for a couple of hours, about her past, her family, and especially her history with whiskey. Turns out Miss Rose of Sharon Cassidy and alcohol go *way* back, to just shortly after her Dad left her with nothin' but his name, an old crystal necklace, and an ailin' mother who passed shortly after. Even Eddie beeped and whistled sadly at the appropriate places. She finished up, dug a few more bottles outta her pack and handed 'em over to me for safekeepin'. I split my water ration with her in return, she was gonna wake up with the head from Hell, and it ain't like we could walk down to the corner drugstore for willowbark tea.

Dang it, looks like I picked up another pet project. The Granny and Grandmama did say most of my "gifts" came from the Clampett side, after all.

I asked her what she was a-plannin' on doing now anyways, if she'd like to head back to Cali, and she says, "Nope, nothing back there for me. And I ain't heading west into Legion territory either, just end up in one of their camps as a slave. Bad enough if I was old, or homely, but what they'd do with me...I'd rather eat my shotgun, thanks." She grimaced a little, said, "I never realized how *small* the world was getting these days."

Yup. Pet project. Darnit. "How's about comin' with me? I could use someone to watch my back. Plannin' on headin' up towards Novac, gotta see somebody there about a delivery."

She frowned a bit, "Let's set some ground rules. One, I ain't sleeping with you."

"Didn't expect you would. Savin' myself for marriage, anyhow." She give me an odd look at that. I ain't exactly a worldly man-about-town, but I do flirt a bit; however,
'til I find me someone The Granny and Grandmama will approve of, I ain't goin' no further. But that's Family matters, and she don't need to hear about it.

"Two. I get paid in caps, ammo, or rations; no NCR scrip. Legion currency's OK since it's either gold or silver and I can hammer it out flat and get caps for the weight of it...and because we'll have to kill Legion to get it. You start working for the Legion, though, I shoot your ass and run for the border."

"OK."

"And three: call me Cass. Not Rose, sure as fuck not Sharon, it's Cass."

I agreed to her terms, and she rolled up in her bedroll for the night. Figgered I'd stand watch until she detoxed a little more; desert'd take care of that for me, long as I poured enough water down 'er.

The next mornin', kicked sand over the fire and got ever'thing situated on the bike again, started out towards Nipton. Thick, black smoke was still risin' up over the horizon. I figgered it was about ten miles from the Outpost to Nipton, so I took it slow. No sense bargin' into trouble if'n you don't have to, right? Well, Eddie played his cheerful battle music again a bit less than halfway there, and I saw he'd marked a number of warm spots around a set of ruins about a hundred yards up the road. I pulled over (thanks again for electric motors, they hadn't spotted us yet) and got out the huntin' rifle. Yup, looked like Vipers again, probably remnants of the same gang that had been at the Hi-Po station. Well, even with this little baby rifle, a hundred yards ain't nothin', and we ended up a few dozen caps and some wore-out old guns richer.

Rolled up to Nipton fifteen or so minutes later; town was surrounded by scrub brush and old travel trailers, semi-truck trailers, anything the folk who lived there could make into a wall. Looks to me like all it did was keep 'em in when they needed to run.The whole place was quiet as a tomb, 'cept for one fellow in the blue shirt and canvas pants of a Powder Ganger, runnin' our way outta town. I slid to a stop, and he smiled a giddy smile at us, sayin', "Smell that air! Couldn't you just drink it like wine?"

Well, I figgered the poor feller was nuts. "D'you just come from Nipton, then?"

"Yeahhhh, man, I won the fuckin' lottery!"

Now I knowed he was loco. "What lottery?"

"The only one that counts, man! Yahoo! I'm alive! I'm alive!" He commenced to skipping down the road, no pack, no gun, probably on his way to certain death by gi-ant or radscorpion, but happy as a clam. Cass and I just looked at each other, and just then Eddie played his theme song again. I checked the Pip-Boy screen and saw a few movin' heat sources comin' out the big building in the center of town. I got off the bike and pulled the service rifle outta the sidecar. Said to Cass, "I'm gonna take Eddie and check out what's goin' on up there. If I'm not back in ten minutes, you skedaddle." She started to puff up, and I said, "Look, one of us has to survive to report back to the outpost, and if'n I don't make it, at least you'll be able to get some back into their good graces by reportin' the fact, to Lacey and Family if nothin' else."

I didn't wait for her answer, just whipped around the corner of the general store, and started stalkin' up the center of the street. Saw a few fellers in silly-lookin' leather armor, one with an old-style motorcycle helmet, few others with some kind of leather helmets, and one feller wearin' sunglasses and a coyote pelt with the head still attached for a hat. Mister Dog Hat motioned for his men to hold their fire, and stepped out t'speak with me. As I'm comin' up the street, I notice some disembodied heads propped up on things, and six fellers, still alive, who'd been crucified. Now, there's a couple of ways to crucify a man, but these fellers had chosen to do it the way that takes longest to die; they'd nailed their feet to the old telephone poles they were using for uprights. Can take days to die like that, from exhaustion and thirst.

This wasn't just an execution, I realized; they was torturin' these poor souls. Now, they's parts of my Family that enjoy such a thing now and again, I'll admit, but only friendly-like, y'know? These bastids was serious. Mister Dog Hat come up to me and says, "Don't worry, I won't have you lashed to a cross, like the rest of these degenerates." He sounded like a used-Brahmin salesman I knew back in Sunnydale; I always washed my hands after he shook mine. Man was slimy. "It's useful you happened by," continued Dog Hat.

"How so?" says I.

"I want you to witness the fate of the town of Nipton. Memorize every detail. And then, when you move on, I want you to spread the word of the lesson that Kai-zar's Legion taught here."

"You mean Caesar?" says I.

"It's pronounced kai-zar, you dissolute moron."

"Shore, just like I says, cee-zur." Now, Grandmama made sure we all had a good grounding in classical Latin and Greek; some of the Family records are written in 'em, after all, and some of the Family have...other reasons for needin' to know 'em. I was just doin' it to get his goat. "So, now, what 'lesson' did all y'all teach these poor folk?"

Well, he started rantin' about the town bein' "a town of whores" and how the folks there set out to provide a good time for everyone who come in and how that was a bad thing by his lights. Then he started describin' how he'd ambushed the town, and then he puffed out his scrawny chest and started crowin' about how he and his men had taken everybody in town hostage (all fifteen of 'em, from what I could count; seven heavily armored and armed men, versus fifteen, maybe twenty-five townies not expectin' nothing more than a Saturday night hoedown...big men, all right,) and basically started a lottery to see who-all was a-gonna die and how.

I says to him, "I'd call y'all a monster, but that'd insult some monsters I know right gravely, mister."

He says, "If you object, attack us, and soon you will have no further objections."

'Bout that time, the red haze started creepin' in my vision, and I grinned real big and says, "Challenge accepted." Then I reached out and kicked old Dog Hat right in the knee. Heard the patella shatter and his right leg bent backwards, then I roared "Fill yore hands, you sons-of-bitches!" and started in with that old 9mm grease gun I'd got from Doc Mitchell in one hand and my service rifle in the other.

When my vision finally cleared, they was a couple of piles of ash, some fellers with lotsa bullet holes in spots their armor didn't cover, and Mister Dog Hat whimperin' and tryin' to crawl off down the road. Well, I whacked him 'cross the back of the head, knocked him out cold, and dragged him over to one of the crosses. Weren't no chance for the poor bastids who were up on 'em, they was too far gone, so I give 'em what mercy I could and cut 'em down. Then, I stripped Mister Dog Hat nekkid and hauled him up on one of the crosses. He woke up right quick when I drove that spike through the arch of both feet. Then I took his knife and commenced' to carvin'. Classical Latin was written with all straight lines at one time, y'know, and it didn't take long to carve the Family motto on his chest. Left a pile of Legionaries at his feet, with his damn dog hat on top of 'em, and limped back to where Cass was waitin' with the cycle. I had one king Hell of a report for the folks at the Outpost.
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