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When Cass 'n' Eddie an' I got back to Novac that night, shoo-eee! Ain't seen a party the like since Grammy Wills finally married her boyfriend and girlfriend, and that's been a *powerful* long time ago. Chris had got to town and told folks what was goin' on, and he'd been welcomed with open arms. Manny told me that the feller I'd been trackin' had been planning on settlin' up with the Khans at Boulder City, just up I-95 a ways, so we settled in to help the townfolk celebrate a bit; we'd head out in the mornin'.

Next mornin', Cass and I loaded up the bike; Cliff Briscoe'd comped us the room, told us it was ours anytime we come back to town for what we'd done to help them. Of all folks, Chris and No-Bark were over at the old gas station, jabberin' high-speed engineer-speak at one another, and waved as we went by. Kinda shuddered at seein' Jeannie May for the last time, but NCR law said they had to leave her up for three days as a "warning" to anybody who'd follow her example. Took off up I-95 again; it was still pretty intact, made a good track to follow. We got to the crossing of I-95 and I-93, found a little trading post there, stopped for a meal and a drink. They called it the 188 Trading Post, for reasons that should be obvious. While we're eatin', I see a pretty, young, dark-haired girl givin' us the side-eye all casual-like, and I nodded at her just to be polite. She kinda blushed and looked away, but later, while Cass was off powderin' her nose and I was cleanin' up our dishes, she come up to me and struck up a conversation.

"You look like you've traveled a long way on hard roads, any chance you might be willing to let another tag along?" Well, turns out her name was Veronica (although she said she'd answer to "Ronnie") Santangelo, and she was wantin' to play tourist. No, let me correct myself, there; she had a *need* of some kind to play tourist, and didn't want to do it alone. Well, that was just smart, and I still had a seat on the bike, so I 'lowed as how it was possible. 'Bout then Cass come up and joined us, and I introduced them t'one another. Boy, let me tell you, it was like droppin' a couple o'cats in a gunnysack there for a minute while they sized one another up, but then they both seemed to reach some kinda unspoken accord and relaxed a bit. Cass wanted to know what she was out a-lookin' for, an' Ronnie said she didn't get along with her family much and was out lookin' for...well, she didn't rightly know, some way of findin' common ground with them. Didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time, but I weren't inclined to pry. We got Ronnie's pack settled and all on the bike an' headed down the road to Boulder City, or at least the spot where Boulder City *used* to be. Seems the last time the Legion and the NCR had locked horns a few years back, in 2277, the NCR Rangers had suckered them into chasin' them off Hoover Dam and out through Boulder City - an' the NCR had turned the *entire* town into a huge boobytrap, with enough explosives to choke Leviathan. Picture a *conventional* explosion, non-nuclear, big enough to have it's own mushroom cloud. A couple of kilotons, at least. They'd cleaned up some, and a tavern on the outskirts was intact enough that someone'd fixed it up and reopened, and the NCR had put a commemorative obelisk out front with the names of their war dead on it. They'd walled off the ruins of the old town proper, turned it into a memorial/gravesite of sorts, since they didn't have the manpower or heavy equipment to actually move the rubble and find all the dead.

Place still, to my nose, smelled of the dead, four years later.

Welp, according to Manny, the Khans were supposed to be paid off and meetin' up with a larger group to travel back t'their home in Red Rock Canyon here, so I figgered I'd nose around and see if I could pick up th' trail of Mr. Daisy Suit. What I wasn't expectin' was to run into an NCR platoon, armed t'the teeth, waitin' outside the gate to the gravesite. Seems the Khans had got themselves trapped in there, managed to take a couple of NCR troopers hostage to keep the rest of the platoon off their necks, and they had a pretty fair Mexican standoff goin'. Talked t'the leader, a Lieutenant Monroe, an' between us, we come up with the idea that since I was a mostly-neutral party in this little shindig (ha!) he'd let me go in there an' talk to 'em, seein' as how he just wanted his men back, not to go in guns a'blazin' an' get folks killed on both sides.

Well, I ambled in, casual-like; place was a mess of shattered masonry and tumble-down ruins ever'where. one mostly-intact building right in the center where the Khans were holed up. I saw a couple on top of the sheared-off second story tracking me with rifles, an' made sure t'keep my hands away from my own guns as I walked up. "Whatta ya want?" one of 'em called down t'me.

"To talk about gettin' all y'all out of here 'thout gettin' anyone dead," I says.

Well, they sent one down to take me in to talk to their head honcho, man by the name of Jessup; lo an' behold, one of the two who'd been doin' the dirty work for Daisy Suit. He looked at me like he was seein' a ghost for the first time; thought he was a-gonna wet himself. Guess it ain't ever' day they see a dead man walk up grinnin' th' Davy grin. Well, I couldn't pass up an openin' like that, started grilling him afore he could get his nerve back. Seems Daisy Suit, feller actually named Benny, had deserted them here, "coincidentally" just before the NCR patrol had showed up, an' before he'd paid them what he owed too. They weren't much happy with him; th' only thing Benny left them was a fancy silver heart-shaped lighter, which Jessup tossed to me when he found out I was trackin' Benny and the package, not them. "Shove this up his ass when you catch up to him," was how he put it. They'd been stuck here for three days, they were runnin' low on food, water, and hope. I managed to convince Jessup that the only way out was to let the hostages go, an' that the EL-tee outside had agreed to let 'em go if they did.

I was turnin' to leave when I saw the little weasel who'd been in on bushwhackin' me, an' I think my voice dropped an octave and two hundred degrees Kelvin, as I said, "Son, I don't care what else of mine you've got in yer pockets right now, but you *will* Hand. Over. My. Rifle. NOW!" Even in th'dark I could see him blanch, and he couldn't'a passed over that gun faster if it'd been red-hot. Bet he was th' one who'd hit me from behind; he looked th' type. I'd seen him and Jessup diggin' that shallow grave in Goodsprings afore Benny'd shot me. Took my rifle back with joy in my heart; didn't think I'd ever see her again, an' I was right glad to see she was intact. Best present my godfather ever give me, for my twenny-first birthday, a sweet Remington 700, scoped an' synthetic-stocked, in .308 NATO. I called her Minerva, and in my hands she couldn't miss, or at least never had (touch wood), and I was powerful glad to see her again. Got my handloads back, too. I settled her sling over my shoulder in the old, familiar position, and walked out with th' hostages.

Got out t'th' gate, had a bit of a squabble with the Lieutenant; seems orders had come down from On High to take out the Khans instead of negotiate. The hostages, the General had decreed, were "expendable", which I could see rankled their actual C.O. somethin' *fierce*. Convinced Monroe that he needed to honor the bargain, an' waved the Khans on out. Got kinda tense there for a couple-three minutes as they left, but nobody got shot. As Jessup passed, I stopped him for a sec, slipped him a bag of a hunnert or so caps. "Buy some water at the 188. Ain't no use all y'all dyin' of thirst afore y'get home," I says, and let me tell you, I couldn't tell if he'd looked more poleaxed the first time he saw me that day, or just then.

Once they'd gone, the El-tee asked if'n I could run him down to the command post at Hoover Dam, so's he could report in-person that the Khans had "managed to escape apprehension" (says he with a grin). Asked the ladies to wait for me at the tavern, an' off we went. Truth be told, I was a touch worried about leavin' Cass there, but I figgered Ronnie'd keep a cool head on 'er.

Got down to th' Dam, just a short trip further on, and folks, let me tell you, that is one of those sights that makes you sit back in amazement that the hand of Man had built it. You jus' don't quite get how *big* it is until you are right there on top of it, and realize that not only is the lake it's holdin' back big enough that most of it's *over the horizon* from wherever you're lookin' at it, but there's a four-lane highway runnin' across the top of it. Lieutenant Monroe signed off on a chit for me to get some supplies there, since I'd done the Army a favor by courierin' him around, an' I stocked up on some water and dried food at the visitor center. While I was waitin' on the supply clerk, there in the old gift shop, to put together my requisition, I noticed another old souvenir snow globe in there. Paid ten caps for it, put it in the pack with the one I'd got in Goodsprings.

Got back to the tavern in Boulder City just about nightfall. I knew there was *some* kinda trouble when I saw the big feller layin' on the ground outside the bar. Walk in, an' what do I find? Bartender's jacked up the volume on the old jukebox, playin' "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, and Cass is up on one of the big, round tables, half-nekkid, dancin' for a group of NCR recruits a-hootin' and a-hollerin' and wavin' fistfuls of NCR scrip cash around, an' Ronnie's leanin' on the bar next to her and Cass's packs, wearin' a power fist of all things. Now kids, let me tell you, the power fist is, in my oh-so-larned-opinion, one of the *worst* ideas in melee weaponry we ever come up with. It's a powered gauntlet, with a pneumatic ram mounted on the back of it, and when you punch somethin' the ram goes off and smacks whatever yer punchin'. Good way to break yer knuckles or snap yer forearm in half if you're not trained for it, or wearin' powered armor with a forearm mount to *bolt* it to - an' Ronnie sure as shootin' weren't hidin' powered armor under that burlap dust cloak of hers. That feller layin' on the ground outside said she knew how, though. I leaned in and half-whispered, half-shouted at Ronnie, "Any trouble?"

"Only a little, when Cass figured out she'd left her money pouch in the sidecar," says Ronnie. Oops. "Nothing she and I couldn't handle, after the first moron got handsy. The boys have been paying for everything, and Cass has been sticking to straight Nuka-Cola," she added with a questioning look. Well, doggies. Looks like my worst fears didn't come to pass after all. "She's not bad," says Ronnie, "too skinny for my taste, but she moves well." I raised an eyebrow at Ronnie at that, and she grinned back at me. Well. Takes all kinds, an' it happened I agreed with her. "Where'd you learn t'use a power fist?" I asked.

She ducked her head a bit, and countered, "Ever heard of the Brotherhood of Steel?" I 'lowed as I had; paramilitary group, mostly inclined to collect Pre-War tech like energy weapons and power armor and keep us poor ignorant locals from shootin' ourselves in th' foot, collectively speaking, with it again. Not much of a threat unless you were between them and some shiny Old World tech they didn't already have, and I says so to Ronnie. Privately, I thought the Followers of the Apocalypse had the better idea on that, mind you; they spent their time doin' much th' same, recoverin' Old World tech, but they turned it around an' used it to help folks, instead of lockin' it away. Ronnie looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm a Brotherhood member. Procurement specialist; I make sure we get supplies, keep everyone fed. They're family...but they and I both think we're better off with me working out here. Seems *some* of the harder, *smaller* heads think that since we don't take recruits, that obligates those of us who can to procreate. Not a job I'm interested in. Will either of those statements cause us any trouble, traveling together?"

I says, "No trouble on my part; you mention this to Cass yet?" She says no, and I come back, "Might want to sound her out a bit 'fore you mention it to her; she's got a powerful temper on her, an' th' Brotherhood isn't well liked these days - but I'm sure you know that better'n I do." She nodded back at me, turned back to watch the troopers watchin' Cass, and I ordered two fingers of the local rotgut since th' bartender was givin' me th' evil eye. Looked like we was stayin' th' night, and off to New Vegas in th' mornin'.


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April 2015


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