Fallout: Lost Highway (IC)
Mojave Outpost, I15, Gateway between California and New Vegas
October 9th, 2281
The Mojave Outpost was where caravans came to die, if they were heading North to New Vegas. The large, scrap-metal monument adorning the ridge atop Highway 15, of a Desert Ranger and an NCR Ranger shaking hands as much a portcullis as it was a symbol of power. Always people came and went - NCR troopers on leave would head for the Strip to gamble away their wages, or come back the other way in sullen shame. Adventurers, mercenaries and prospectors went through as they pleased. But Caravans that had not come from North, who had come from California to invest a share and be dealt a hand by Lady Luck in New Vegas - well, in the words of Ranger Jackson,
"Sorry ma'am, I can't allow you through down the Northern Route. It's not safe." Sergeant Kilgore said in a sympathetic tone, his grizzled and hairy face drawn in a flat expression of placid despair. "You can requisition a few holding pens over there to my right if you and your brahmin need a place to stay."
"I don't need a place to stay, I need to move north!" Came a raspy reply. A head shorter than the Sergeant was the trader trying to escape the outpost, a portly, undead woman with two brahmin in tow. "And what good are you rangers if you can't keep a lady safe?"
"Well ma'am, our commanding officer has made it clear that no troopers or rangers can leave since we need to maintain our quota of stationed men. Troops passing through on leave don't take the same route as caravans, and none of the wastelanders passing through have taken the time to clear the roads. It's too dangerous, and so I have standing orders to not let any caravans through North until the problem is dealt with." Kilgore said tiredly, his words almost by rote.
Situations like these made Sophie almost wish this was Caesar's territory. Unfortunately that Legion was making it difficult to leave through the East. "I'll lose money, but fine," Sophie said, crossing her arms. "Just let me through South."
"Certainly. Just show me your transition papers and you can be on your way." Kilgore said, bringing out a clipboard with a pencil secured to it with string.
Sophie raised an eyebrow and cocked her hips, body language which she hoped communicated "are you kidding me?" in a subtle way. "And what papers would those be?" She asked. "Through that gate is where I came from in the first place."
"Yes, they would not have let you up in the first place if you had not had your transition papers, stamped and approved by the NCR Travel and Trade Commission Department, that explicitly allow you to come here and, presuming you clear inspection and the roads are safe..." He tapped his pencil against the clipboard as he spoke the last words to emphasize them. "...to pass through into the Mojave region. But the roads aren't safe, so we can't let you through, and in order to head back South you will need transition papers stamped and approved by the NCR Travel and Trade Commission Department that explicitly allows you to go from here to California."
Sophie felt her back pocket. She had papers that had let her north through the gate, but apparently they were a one-way ticket. The NCR was a slow-moving beast, and getting them had eaten through two months of her time. Waiting that long again wasn't an option, it would take less time to simply wait for the roads clear up. It looked like this delivery in particular was dead in the water. "One last question," Sophie said, the natural scratchiness of her voice disguising her sudden loss of hope. "Where do you keep the alcohol?"
The two brahmin were still following her when Sophie entered the NCR barracks. A woman behind the counter by the name of Lacey noticed her attempt to bring in large animals instantly. "Hey, get those Brahmin out of here! This isn't a holding pen."
"They can come in."
Lacey slammed the bar counter aggressively. "No, they can't. Get them outside."
Had situations been more fortunate, Sophie would've fought her harder. However, with her caravan papers keeping her there, she had to make sure not to piss off anyone too much. "Hemmingway, Joyce, outside," she said with a raised hand, resigned to defeat. The Brahmin slowly and awkwardly shuffled around and walked outside through the double doors. Sophie took her place at the bar counter next to a bald-headed man wearing a faded, black longcoat, Lacey still scowling slightly at her. At this rate, Sophie figured she'd be run out of town long before the roads were cleared. "Got tequila?"
"You're a caravaner?" The man beside Sophie asked, his voice bored but smooth. Spread out on counter before him appeared to be an actual, intact if greatly wrinkled and frayed, map of the entire American Wasteland. Neatly slipped underneath one of its corners was a set of papers that looked very similar to Sophie's own. The man in question was wearing aviator shades and an apathetic expression that conveyed his supreme disinterest with the entire universe and everything in it. His long black coat was worn over compact body armor and business slacks that had obviously been made to mimic the look of preware clothing that were covered in dust. By his feet, tucked between his chair and the counter, was a very large metal case, covered in dust and grime. He hadn't even turned to look at Sophie, seemingly content to gaze at the map before him while tracing a fingerless-gloved hand over it.
"Not sure if I can call myself a caravaner so long as I'm stuck here," Sophie replied, before taking a swig of her drink.
"Stuck trying to head North?" The man asked.
"I'd settle for anywhere out of this shithole at this point."
"How does Atlanta, Georgia sound then?"
That caught Sophie's attention, now that she finally realized he was propositioning her for a job. She turned on her barstool to take a look at the stranger, noticing the map and the metal case that she assumed was the package. "I can do Atlanta, if someone's paying my way there. Well, I could, if not for the aforementioned stuckness."
"Well, I could pay your way...But I was looking to pay for the way of a group, you understand. You appear to have a few Brahmin, but no caravan guards. And it is a very long way to Atlanta, miss...?" The man finally deigned to actually turn to Sophie while speaking, though his expression remained flat as a billboard and his disinterested tone did not waver.
Sophie stood up off her barstool. "Who needs a caravan guard when you've got... the fastest gun in the west!" Sophie reached back and drew a Hunting Rifle from its place on her back, swining it forward to draw on the stranger in complete disregard for gun safety and bar etiquette. The man barely even moved, simply raising a hand and resting it over Sophie's own as well as the grip of the hunting rifle as she began to swing it down, preventing her from lowering it - and then, with his free hand, simply raised the muzzle of the decidedly malevolent-looking submachine gun that had been innoculously tucked away inside his coat.
"Perhaps in a showdown." He said nonchalantly. "But with a weapon like that at this range, I don't need to be particularly fast to beat the fastest gun in the West. Rifle on the floor, please." Sophie secured the rifle on her back, where it was earlier. The man let the move pass without comment, lowering his hands and the submachine gun vanishing into the folds of his coat. "Anything else you wish to demonstrate?" He asked, the exactly same uncaring and apathetic expression on his face.
Sophie folded her arms. "Nothing, we can hire your crummy caravan guards. If you've got the caps for it, Atlanta's a long ways away. And if you've got a way to get out of this outpost, with the Legion to the east, a gate to the southwest, and nondescript danger to the north."
"I have transition papers that allow me and any affiliated parties to pass through the South gate and go down the Long 15." He said. "And while I only have so much on me at the moment...I have a number of side-jobs lined up on the route to Atlanta. Mostly courier errands, though they pay well. If you and I can round together a group of caravan guards, I can pay for them in installments along the way with a bonus at the end."
The setup was unusual, but Sophie was desperate to avoid spending months with the NCR. "Sounds like a plan to me. Where are you planning on recruiting these guards? I mentioned I'm a bit stuck here at the outpost."
"I suppose I'll stop by Nipton and Primm then, to leave some notices and inquire after anybody who looks qualified...And I imagine you can do much the same here, while also preparing for the road. We will need supplies for a large group, for as long a time as feasible."
"I can do that, but don't go to Primm. It's not safe, apparently," Sophie said in a mocking tone of voice.
"Not safe for caravans. Last I checked, couriers could come and go from this outpost as they please. I suppose you are rather fortunate that the NCR, in their wisdom, saw fit to protect you from your own judgment and sense of direction." The man delivered the line with a complete deadpan.
"I would deck you, but above all else I'm a professional." Sophie sat back down on her barstool and took in another mouthful of vodka. "Fine, brave the wilds to hire some of Primm's wonderful selection of cuthroats and bandits. I'm sure there's plenty of people here willing to walk two thousand miles and deliver a dozen packages to get out of the Mojave."
The man, either failing entirely to pick up on Sophie's warning that Primm had been overrun or entirely apathetic either way, didn't react. "Duly noted. I shall leave the map and our delivery with you then, while I go and see who I can round up." He slid the map over to sophie, which had a route of sorts sketched onto it representing by a meandering line that arched gently across the wasteland from the Long 15 to someplace in Atlanta. He then reached down and hauled up the metal case, carefully sliding it over besides the map.
"If you need to tell prospectives who will be footing their bills, you can tell them Kuro has it handled. Do you have any questions, Miss Fastest Gun In The West?"
"The name's Sophie Quilla, actually."
Kuro waited for one moment after she spoke, and then turned and left the barracks without even acknowledging her statement, leaving Sophie with the map and case.
"New job, boy - somebody just had me print out a few dozen copies of this posting for caravan guards." The manager of the Nipton general store was not the kind of man who had honest assistants, having beguiled an eager young man into 'apprenticing' under him for free - and he had seriously discussed selling him into slavery with members of the Legion who occasionally, if infrequently passed through town. "You go and put them up around town, alright?"
Meanwhile, down the road and around the corner an anxious tinkerer was busy setting up a radio broadcast. A stern-looking, bald-headed man had come and paid him to set it up, and that was exactly what he proceeded to do.
An hour later, both jobs were done.
Caravan Heading East
Guards, Specialists Wanted for Journey
A Caravan is assembling at the NCR Mojave Outpost along I15, and is looking for qualified professionals to accompany them. The destination is Atlanta, Georgia, and pay is 75 caps a day plus a bonus of 50 caps at every major town, and a final bonus of 200 caps once the journey has concluded. The journey is expected to take a few days short of a month, sustenance will be provided for all attending individuals for the duration. Termination of employment due to death or abandonment results in a forfeiture of pay.
Two pack brahmin are available for the storage and transport of personal goods and items - all individuals are responsible for their own possessions, and will not be compensated for lost or stolen goods or items.
The Caravan will be leaving New Vegas early on October 12th - consult Sophie Quilla at the NCR Mojave Outpost or Kuro at the Nipton General Store for more details.
Kuro took up a seat next to the counter of the Nipton general store - the owner didn't mind one bit, seeing that potential caravan prospects were also potential customers this way, and the man paid him steadily for food and drink. As far as he was concerned, the baldie could have pissed in the corner for what he was paying.
New Radio Signal Found!
This is a general call for interested parties and qualified specialists to join up with a caravan heading East to Atlanta, Georgia that will be leaving from the NCR Mojave Outpost early on October 12th. The pay is 75 caps a day plus a bonus of 50 caps at every major town and a final bonus of 200 caps at the end. All interested parties should contact Sophie Quilla at the NCR Mojave Outpost or Kuro at the Nipton General Store for more information. Message Repeats. This is a general call for interested parties and...
Mine + Animal = Fleshy Fun
The sensation of tea, as it turned out, was one utterly lost on Earl. The lack of artificial taste buds and thereby inability to calculate palatable pleasure left him 'feeling' slightly underwhelmed. Why had his master enjoyed this dull drink? Nevertheless, he saw no reason to rid himself of it. Sticking the can back into his bag, he rose. The woman who had fixed him up seemed almost too eager to rid herself of his presence. While by no means a perfect example of social etiquette, the android understood that there was very much he had still to learn. The sun, for example. He knew now that it was very far away. So far away, even, that walking towards it made it seem even farther away. While that was of annoyance of first, the second instinct was curiosity. Why was it far away? How big was it? His programming had been outfitted with a mere minimum of information, as his lifetime task was in every way unessential and usefulness limited. Yet, every AI was capable of learning, and learning was a function Earl enjoyed.
Earlier today, for example, he blew up a part of the woman's backyard in an attempt to understand how mines work. Fascinating, he thought, as a strange animal chained to the fence turned instantaneously into gory chunks of meat, a large dust cloud covering the whole process, to Earl's slight dismay. He sampled the animal's blood, still not registering a taste of any kind. Disappointed, but not wholeheartedly so, he was about to continue, until the woman ran after him with a shovel. Unable to comprehend what had happened, he took the gesture to mean his company was no longer appreciated. Yelling words of thankfulness and wholehearted humility over what may or may not have been a large selection of unregistered swear words and screams of pain and agony, Earl turned towards a random nondescript hill, not knowing what to expect on the other side.
In fact, much of his long, weary journey consisted on not knowing what would come next, and to a computing mind like Earl, that fact was nerve wracking. Nevertheless, he pushed on, never faltering, never stopping. Finally, after a few hours, the sun began to descend, and as it did, Earl noticed the darkness. His photo-receptors were more than capable of filtering through the dark and making out just enough light to keep going, yet it was unpleasant. Earl didn't like the dark, he found. What he did like, however, more so than the rising of the sun, was it's inevitable fall. Taking in the spectacle of vibrant colors as the sun submerged past the greenish horizon, he felt ever so intrigued by it, only to find his intrigue matched by another spectral fascination. The stars. After the war, much artificial light was plunged into darkness, and as such, the stars were more visible than they had been for a long time. The whole visual and theoretical aspect made Earl feel...
Small. Insignificant. It wasn't a new sensation to him, yet this time, it felt like a good small. A small that meant that there was so much out there yet still to learn and understand. Earl had no cares in the world. Nothing that belonged to him. No purpose. No idea of history or time. He felt alone in a world where everything stood open for discovery...
Then, he felt a stinging pain as his system responded to some strange creature biting him in the leg. Blood leaked out of his leg, the warm liquid spilling onto the earth. The feeling was more than unpleasant - it was terrible. Shaking the fleshy aggressive thing off, he limped away quickly as his mind automatically reached for a mine. 'Mine + flesh = bloody chunks of terminated life', he thought in self-preservation, as he primed and dropped the explosive. Boom. A haze of dust and sand covered his vision for a few seconds, and when it dissipated, all that was left was a smear on the earth. Earl felt heavily amused - a sensation he has had yet to experience up until that point.
And as such, turning from the stars, Earl diverted his attention towards blowing up the wildlife, running into a solitary direction for however long his processor could handle the humdrum of carelessly slaughtering animals in hazes of sand and blood.
His mindless exploits went on for hours, into the early workings of the morning sun, but were stopped short all of the sudden, when he came across what appeared to be a settlement. Covered in grime and singular stains of blood, the android strode onto the road, wondering why all attention had been diverted towards him as a man walked up, demanding documentation or identification. "Greetings! What fine weather it is today, is it not, good sir?" He replied politely, following etiquette. Then, questioningly; "Documents?" Earl repeated, confused. Why would he have documents on him? The second question, however, was easily answered. "My identification is 1997EG." The man stared, confused, then shaking his head in defiance.
"You know what? Never mind. I'm sure I don't want to know. In for supplies, yea? A job or two? Just get in and get out. You better not be on the run or some shit." Run? Why, yes, Earl thought to himself. He was running. But he was never on the run. The sentence didn't make grammatical sense. And supplies? A job? Maybe. Yet as he attempted to convey his interest and confusion, the man waved him through. Rude, Earl thought, as he was almost elbowed into the town. Behind him, he heard a faint female voice, saying 'Welcome to Nipton' from a metal box. Wondering where the sound came from, he turned towards a random direction and thanked a wall.
As he turned towards one of the buildings at random, he saw his reflection in the window. Pleased with his facial appearance and the exceptional repair-work of the woman who had chased him away, he raised his eyebrows and smiled as he opened the door to the building, striding in with his friendly grin and a strict set of human etiquette rules. He observed the room he found himself in - people sat about tables and on stools, carrying what looked like glorified pipes. "Fine day it is today, no? If I may so inquire,", he asked a man behind the counter. "What is this?", he continued, pointing at the pipe from behind one of the men on the stool. The man behind the counter paid the move no attention, watching nonchalantly as the owner of the gun rose from his stool, imposing onto Earl. Thoroughly confused, Earl turned towards the large man.
"'This', is the finest gun you's ever gonna see, punk." Quickly, the man pulled his pipe, pointing one end of it at Earl. 'Gun', Earl thought.
"What does it do?" he asked with growing curiosity. Wide-eyed with disbelief and cackling with amusement, the man replied, mischievously grinning.
"It can blow your fuckin' face off, if I want it to. You's feelin' lucky or somethin'? Wha' didya do, win some local lotto or some shit?" Earl blinked, unable to comprehend. Lotto? Use?
"I believe you intended to inquire after my state of mind, rather than inadvertently command me to feel lucky. And as such, I shall reply - no, I do not feel lucky. I do not comprehend the concept." Now the man was confused, turning to his friends, who were sitting beside him, watching the exchange in awe. The man behind the counter looked at the confused man with the gun, and the latter decided to sit back down, ignoring Earl. Finding this rather rude, Earl began to try and reenter conversation - before being stopped by a voice behind the counter.