In the Eyes of a Ranger

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Chapter 10

Primm had never really been much of a place. Just about the only thing that set it apart from the rest of the Mojave was the nice big roller coaster that had once stood behind the Bison Steve Casino and Hotel and was now just a rusting hulk of scrap metal that looked as if it would collapse any day. It had been quite an attraction back in its day, apparently, but now it was just a ready source of scrap and parts for the locals. The Bison Steve was big and spacious but had mostly fallen to ruin in the last few years while the Vicki and Vance Casino, which was right across the street, was doing well. Or at least it had been.

Walking down the main street of town, I was not very impressed by what I saw. It was like a hundred other towns between the Mojave and the Pacific, a collection of ruined buildings and abandoned houses and businesses with a single street of cracked asphalt that had been resettled by wastelanders or settlers from back west. There was a Mojave Express station there and the casino offered ready gambling and whiskey and occasionally whores for the discerning traveler on their way to New Vegas. There was a museum in the Vicki and Vance, if it could be called that, that was dedicated to a couple of screw-up road bandits from back in the Pre-War days. Form the little I've heard and read about them, I don't think they would last very long in the Mojave of my time. There was an NCR camp just southwest of town and across a mined bridge, ready for a fight if one came. From the look of the place as I came strolling down the walk, I'd say that they'd missed a good one.

I hadn't been in Camp McCarran a day before Colonel Hsu dropped an order in my lap to go out after a couple of these Powder Gangers that were causing all kinds of trouble in the area since they had broken out of the NCRCF. Most of the names were unfamiliar to me, but a couple stood out. Joe Cobb was one that rang a bell, along with Samuel Cooke. Cobb had been a big time hitter back in the Hub, trying his hand at anything from a gang enforcer to a hit man to a pyro for hire to smoke out nesters or people that his bosses didn't like. He was supposed to be a big time firebug, so naturally he was one of the leaders of Powder Gangers since they liked to use dynamite and explosives as weapons. Samuel Cooke was another heavy hitter. He had been a problem for the Mojave even before the NCR came in, raiding supply lines and caravans going into and out of New Vegas with a gang of bandits that operated out of Black Mountain. After NCR took over he started calling himself a revolutionary and started attacking troops and camps along the Long Fifteen before me and some other Rangers caught him near Hidden Valley.

Coming out of New Vegas was usually simple and direct. Just head south along I-15 to Sloan and skirt Quarry Junction, follow the road to the Goodsprings and then just walk easy to Primm. Not anymore. The Powder Gangers were all over South Vegas, laying ambushes in the old abandoned houses that dotted the landscape and sniping travelers from hiding or laying explosives along the road. Then there were the Geckos that were running wild, and then when I got close to Sloan I got the surprise of my life. There at the mouth of Quarry Junction, squatting beside the crane that the workers used to haul out rock, was the biggest damn Deathclaw that I'd ever laid eyes on. He wasn't alone, either, because I saw three others wandering around the slopes all around the Junction. All I had was my Cowboy Repeater and my .357 Revolver, which would do as much good as a BB gun against a pack of those brutes.

I worked my way into the rough country east of the Junction and hid out in a hollow of the hills to wait for nightfall. Deathclaws don't go out much at night and it would be cooler besides, so I just laid low and moved out once the sun went down. I followed mountain trails and game paths through the rough hills and jagged razor-backed mountains that lay like upright saws across the land. There were places where I lost the trail, but I dared not strike a match for light. There were other things that lurked in these mountains than Deathclaws. I made my way by the light of the moon and feeling my way over the trail at times with my hands and boot toes. I made dry camp in a hollow at the mouth of Hidden Valley to wait for morning.

I saw the dust of the incessant sandstorms that were supposed to rage in the valley and heard the rumble of them echoing off the stoic stone walls that surrounded it on all sides. There were plenty of stories about the place, none of them good. Dozens of people had disappeared there, prospectors, soldiers, wanderers, and unlucky caravaneers, none of them ever seen or heard from again after they ventured into that damned canyon. Some said that there were Super Mutants hiding out there, some that it was the home of some unknown band of Tribals who fought to defend their home from all outsiders, and some others even went so far as to claim that there was a sect of the Brotherhood of Steel somewhere in the old nuclear bunkers that dotted the valley floor. The BoS had fled from the NCR after the Battle of HELIOS One and vanished into the Mojave, but so far no one I'd heard tell of had ever found them.

I'd stayed off the highway on the way in but kept it always in sight. I followed along the knife-edged spine of the ridges and mountains, keeping just below the skyline so as not to outline myself to anyone down below. Several times I saw the tracks of animals, mostly Mole Rats and a few Mantises and occasionally a Gecko, but there was no sign of men in those high-up trails. Few men traveled this high up. Those men that did were mostly hunters and prospectors out for scrap metal or for hides and meat for market. I'd traveled those trails since boyhood and had hunted with the best of them, mostly with my father and his friends, and I knew them better than most ever could.

Walking into that town, I felt like the stranger that I was. I was a tall, stocky man from the high desert with a rifle on his back and a star on his chest that might as well have been a target for the kind of men that I was looking for. I took that shiny badge off and slid it into a pocket of my vest, hoping that my outfit wouldn't give me away first. The old pavement crunched and scratched under my boots as I walked in off the highway. There was an air of death about this place, a feeling that made me think back to Nelson and Forlorn Hope. The town had been a ruin for two hundred years and was only recently being built back up, but this was different. This was like a war zone. The NCR camp that I passed on the way in did nothing to dispel that feeling, nor did the mines that were strewn over the highway and the overpass.

As was usual, I made for the local watering hole as soon as I hit town. Travelers and wanderers always went to the bar first and I had to keep up appearances. Bars, saloons, and brothels were much more than just watering holes and fleshpots in a town like this. In New Vegas they were just another business, but in these little towns they were clearing houses for information, places where deals were made and business was done, and places where rumors and gossip were exchanged along with information on the local terrain, trail conditions, raider and bandit activity, and these days on the movements of Legion and Powder Ganger groups. If anyone in this town knew where the men I was after were hiding or where they were going, they would be there. I hitched my holster into a better position on my hip and eased my rifle sling down a little where I could get to it quickly if need be, then stepped in through the beaten-up old doors.

The room was spacious, warm, and very dark. The lights near the door had apparently been shot out sometime back down the line. There were two rows of slot machines at the entrance, one of them knocked over and broken in some past scuffle. The casino was empty but for a few patrons and a lumbering Protectron robot that was wearing a black Desperado hat. He seemed to be hanging around the island in the center of the gambling floor that held a pair of naked mannequins and a rusted-over Old World car hulk. There was an empty display case in front of the island with the glass cover broken, but that robot was still making an effort to make it look presentable.

There was no one at the bar when I walked in aside from an old man with dark skin and dirty overalls, his plaid shirt showing some wear and his face showing enough wrinkles and age lines to have worn out two or three bodies. His hands were callused and broken from hard work and heavy lifting, and his eyes had that air of wisdom that old-timers often exude. I knew the breed. He'd probably been one of the first ones in town when the NCR started bringing in settlers and more than likely had seen his share of action and hardship. He may be old and frail now, but I'd lay a pile of caps that there was a time when even I would have stepped aside for him.

I ordered a beer and looked around the place, taking in all of the patrons in one broad, sweeping glance. They were all of the same type as the man at the bar, although several were much younger, and every one of them was armed in some way. They all wore dirty Wastelander's clothes and work gloves, and the few women that I saw wore either homespun dresses or the same working clothes as the men. In places like this there was little distinction between sex when it came to work. The bartender was a portly man in a dirty apron, and after he brought me my beer he went back to the other end of the bar and took out a little boot knife at his belt and began to shave off a wart on the back of his hand. I took a sip from the beer and leaned with my back against the bar, looking over the room and listening to the idle talk of the three men at a table near to me. They were the only other customers in the bar at this early hour but I could tell that they had already been at the Who Hit John pretty hard and were wagging their loose tongues.

"Hell yeah, boy, you shoulda seen that fella! When them Powder Gangers came into town he just upped with that old Varmint gun and lit right into 'em! He got three of 'em before they even knew what was up."

"I heard the townsfolk got some too, Ed."

"Oh, they did, alright, but that Courier was the one to look out for. He got that old prospector in town to give up his dynamite and I seen that Sunny Smiles gal blow one of those poor fools away when she tossed a stick right at his feet. Then that Courier squared off with Joe Cobb and upped with that 10mm of his and cut loose. Cobb hit his armor, but the Courier put three right through his brisket and not a finger apart. Killed him dead afore he hit the ground. Yessir, those Powder Gangers won't be troubling Goodsprings ever again, I reckon."

"Ah, that ain't nothin'," said a man coming to the bar from the casino floor, "you should have been here when he came into town. The Powder Gangers had this town all sewn up, but then he came in and cleaned them out like yesterday's garbage. He shot down the ones in the street, then went right into the Bison Steve and mopped them up. They had our deputy bound and gagged in there and the Courier went right in and cleaned the place out. Once he had old Beagle free, he went floor to floor and took them all out. We're still cleaning out the bodies."

"Where's this fella now?"

"He took off for the Mojave Outpost. We need a new sheriff and the NCR said they could supply one. There's a man up at NCRCF who would be good for the job, but nobody's fool enough to go in after him. The Powder Gangers have turned that place into a fortress. Any man that comes within a half mile of that place will have a rifle on him and I've heard some of those boys can flat shoot."

I listened to the talk and seemed to be disinterested, but I heard every word and took notice. The Courier they were talking about would be the one that I'd heard about, the one that had been shot in Goodsprings and then made a miraculous recovery. I'd heard he was a tough man and that he had helped make Goodsprings safer, cleaning out the Geckos from the water pumps and such, but this was the first I'd heard of a fight with the Powder Gangers. I was sure that some of the talk was inflated, as such talk often is, but if what I heard was true then it meant Joe Cobb was dead and that the Courier had killed him. Cobb was a noted bad man and more than a fair hand with any kind of a weapon, so hearing that this Courier had taken him down in a fair fight was something to note.

The old man at the bar offered no comment, but I could see that he heard the talk as well and that he was amused. He sat at the bar and nursed his whiskey slowly, savoring the flavor, and after he had finished it the bartender came and poured him another without a word from either man. I finished my beer and ordered another, then after glancing at the menu on the bar I ordered a plate of homemade chips and pulled beef. It took a minute for the food to be ready, but it was worth the wait. It was a change for me after days of naught but Mole Rat meat and beans. Camp fare can surely get old after a while, especially for a man used to good home cooking like I was. I'm an eating man, despite my thin build, and when there's time and food I can surely put away the groceries.

I sat and listened to the talk as it went on, showing little interest but hanging on every word as I ate. The beef was good and the chips were nice and crispy, made from homegrown potatoes in local gardens, and the beer was strong and homebrewed. Those men at the table were deep into their cups and they were talking loose and free about every piece of news they'd heard. Such was the way for wandering men. These men were obviously strangers, two of them dressed in rough wanderers' clothing and the third man wearing an Adventurer's outfit. All three were armed, but anyone could see they were no gunmen. They simply wore guns for protection out in the wilds as many men did. They were just like so many men out in the wastelands that came in from the desert for a change of cooking and some company. It gets awful lonesome out there in the wastes, as I could attest, and it was good to be around folks from time to time.

I finished my meal and dropped a cap on the bar, then went across the bridge to the NCR camp across the way. The talk was that they were working with the Courier for a new sheriff in town and they might have information on the other men on my list. Joe Cobb was dead, so that was one name crossed off my list. There were others, though, and I still had a job to do. The sentry started to challenge me as I came across the bridge and I held out the silver star from my pocket. He lowered his Service Rifle and nodded to me as I passed under his makeshift guard tower. The camp wasn't much more than a collection of tents in a corner of the ruined town that had yet to be repopulated, screened on two sides by ruined buildings and on a third by an old wall that was somehow still standing after two hundred years of wind, rain, and desert storms. The sergeant pointed me to the lieutenant's tent and I let myself in, again flashing the badge, and the LT put down the stack of papers he'd been looking over and introduced himself.

"Good morning Ranger. I'm Lieutenant Hayes of 5th Battalion, 1st Company, NCR Army. What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for a few men that call themselves Powder Gangers. Colonel Hsu wants them brought in, dead or alive, and I heard that you've had some dealings with them. Here's a list of the men I need."

I dropped the list on his desk and he looked it over, reading each name carefully. After a moment he folded it neatly and handed it back.

"I can't help you, I'm afraid. None of those men are here or in the vicinity. One of them was operating just north of here, but our intelligence suggests that he and his crew are dead. The others I don't have anything on."

"I heard about Cobb. They say it was the Courier that killed him."

"If you mean the man that came into town a few days ago, then yes. He did kill the man named Cobb and few other escaped convicts. It was welcome news. We've been charged with containing them as best as we can and to keep the roads east open for our supply lines. We have men here and others at Nipton who will . . ."

"Nipton? Not anymore, you don't."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Haven't you heard?"

"Heard of what?"

Well, that struck a chord. I knew that Nipton had been destroyed and its people massacred weeks ago, I had helped the survivors get away to safety, and I had reported the fact to the powers that be, so how could this man not know what had happened there? How had he not heard of the massacre and the Legion forces that were surely still encamped there?

"This Courier," I said, changing the subject, "they said in town that he went to the Outpost to find a new sheriff. Is NCR fixin' to take over the town?"

"If they accept NCR's taxes and abide by our laws, then yes. They need law and order here and the only other man they'll allow to have the job is a former gunman currently holed up in the NCRCF. A Mister Meyers, I believe."

"Wade Meyers? I've heard of him. He was hell on wheels back in New Reno and he cleaned out that cesspit in Tonopah with nothing but a brace of pistols and pure grit. I'd think he'd be the perfect man for the job."

"He's a killer, sir. He has killed far too many men to be called a peace officer."

"In places like this, lieutenant, the only law that men respect is the kind that comes hot out of the muzzle of a gun. Propriety and due course are fine in the Hub or the Boneyard, but out here it's just a bunch of Brahmin shit."

"Your Courier left yesterday for the Mojave Outpost. If you hurry, you might catch up to him. Good day to you, sir."

There was more than a hint of arrogance in his voice as he spoke, like he was speaking to a green recruit fresh out of boot camp, but I let it slide. I'd known too many of his kind to let myself be riled up by his manner. He was like a lot of new NCR officers, fresh out of that big academy back at the Hub and itching to prove himself as the officer and the gentleman that he thought himself to be. No doubt he was angry over this posting and was eager to be put on the front lines where he could face the real enemy that had terrorized the Mojave for so long. I'd seen a few men like him become fine officers and first class fighting men once they learned the ropes and got a taste for desert life, but I had also buried quite a few more who thought that war was something other than what it was. I guess there had always been fools like him.

There wasn't much more to Primm other than what I had already seen. The company sergeant nodded to me as I came out of the command tent, but offered no comment as I strolled over to the edge of camp and rolled myself a smoke. I was almost out of tobacco and would have to gather some more before long. I lit a match and lit the smoke, took in a deep draw, and stood and looked out over the wide, bare desert.

Hayes had said that the Courier was headed to the Mojave Outpost. There wasn't much there these days aside from the Ranger barracks and the little saloon and store that supplied the few travelers and caravaneers who were crazy enough to come east these. I'd heard that there was a stronger military presence there since Nelson had fallen, but I wasn't laying any bets on how effective they would be. I understood the Courier wanting to go and get an NCR man for the town's sheriff, although personally I would rather see Meyers have the job. Wade Meyers was a bad man with a gun and one of the toughest men that ever strapped on a holster. No telling how he'd gotten himself into prison, but knowing him it probably had something to do with a killing. I knew some tough men that wore the NCR uniform as well, but there were mighty few men outside the Rangers who could compare with Meyers when it came to gunplay. It's a sad thing to say, but in a town like this and in the shape that it was in gunplay was probably exactly was needed.

Looking out over that flat expanse of open desert, I let my mind plot out the course that he would take on the way to the Outpost. There were few trails and little wildlife to use them between here and there. The only real way to get there was the old highway, now cracked and aged and littered with Old World car hulks. That there was a damn dangerous patch of real estate for a man alone to cross, full to the brim with packs of Radscorpions, Feral Ghouls, and Giant Ants from the colony over on Ivanpah Lake, along with roving groups of Viper Gunslingers and other bandits who preyed on the occasional caravans that came out of California. Those that did venture out that way usually went in groups and they were always armed to the teeth. No man in his right mind tried to cross that desert by himself. No one, except maybe the Courier.

I finished my smoke and looked up at the sky. The sun was just starting to sink down from its noon zenith and with an uplifted hand I counted more than five fingers' widths from the horizon to the sun, or more than five hours' light left. It was still early in the day and I was feeling restless, and Lieutenant Hayes had said that the Courier had left the day before. He'd be alone and traveling at his own pace so he probably was in no itching hurry. I took one last drag on the smoke and crushed it out with my boot, then took my rifle from my shoulder and just started walking. I had plenty of supplies and there was a lot of country out there that I hadn't seen in a while, so I just started traveling.

I hadn't gone more than a few miles when I saw the old police station. The station had once been a post for something called the Highway Patrol back in the Pre-War times, I suppose to keep the raiders and bandits from back then off the roads just as we Rangers were charged with doing in our own time, but ever since the bombs fell it had been abandoned. It was a place where travelers and prospectors would stop and rest and was a sometime hangout for outlaws, but I could see at a glance that no one was there now. No one that was still alive, anyway. I saw two bodies off by themselves about a hundred yards from the station itself, shot from the hillside where I now knelt, and just in front of the station itself there were others. I could see two out in the open, both with weapons lying close beside them, and from behind a car hulk on the far end of the station I could see an arm lying limp with a pistol in view. I studied the scene with my binoculars for a few minutes before I decided to go down and have a closer look. Someone had been busy down there. I walked up to the station carefully and rifle in hand, but there was no need for it.

There were five bodies near the station, seven counting the two out in the desert, all of them Viper Gunslingers. They all had their weapons aside from one, an armored woman who seemed to have been the leader, who had no weapon at all aside from a knife that had been left beside her body. There was no sheath on her hip, so I guessed that she had worn a gunbelt or something of the kind that had been taken. The other bodies had been stripped of ammunition and caps and other essential gear, with the nonessentials left behind. All of them had been killed with expertly placed shots to the chest or neck, and the woman leader had been killed with a shot to the forehead. While she was behind cover. There were spent shells all over the ground from the various weapons that the men had used, so there had to have been a nice little go-around for a few seconds. The Courier hadn't been hit that I could see, or else he had used a bandage or a Stimpak before he left any blood on the ground.

I made a quick search of the inside of the station, finding three more bodies and a half a dozen or so dead Mantises. Two of the dead were more Gunslingers, while the third was some poor bastard who had been captured and locked up in the old holding cells until they set the Mantises on him. Again, all the caps, ammunition, and essential gear had been taken. This Courier was a wily one, that was for sure, and he was hell on wheels with a gun from what I had seen of his handiwork.

I left the station behind and followed the man's trail farther into the desert. He wore worn out military boots that had lost most of their tread from years of hard use, so his tracks were easy enough to follow. I also saw the tracks of Feral Ghouls, their gnarled and bare feet leaving distinctive marks on the sandy ground, and those of a large Radscorpion. Farther along I saw the sign of several smaller Radscorps and I saw that the Courier had found them as well. He had turned to the south to skirt around the area. There was an old gas station less than half a mile away that I had heard was home to some of the largest scorpions around, so I followed suit and went in a wide loop around it. Two hours later it was coming on to dark, so I started hunting for a place to camp.

I'd been through this country only once or twice, but I knew where there were a few good campsites near to where I no walked. A man in wild country learns to remember things like campsites, creeks crossings, hideouts for game and the like. Good campsites and springs or seeps are noted and stored away in his memory, for even if he didn't use that particular camp right then it was likely that he would come back through that way and have occasion to use it then. Good campsites were often used by many men many times over, and occasionally a man would find piles of cut firewood or kindling or even a bait of grub or supplies that had been left by some previous user for the next customer. Old houses that were still usable often had fireplaces with banked wood already in the hearth, a custom that travelers had started decades before as a kind of common courtesy to their fellow wanderers. I knew of one such place that was within a mile of where I was, a hollow in the hills that was shielded from the wind by a rock ledge and a little seep for water. There was a lot of creosote bush and some Joshua trees for fuel and there was game in the nearby valleys, a veritable wanderer's paradise.

I was coming out of the desert at an easy pace when I came up to the place and the first thing I saw was the light of a fire in the hollow. The sun was sinking lower in the sky and it was getting dark, so the light was just showing through the brush. The rock walls in that hollow made a good reflector for the heat of a fire, but they also made a good reflector for its light and made it visible by men such as myself. That was the one bad thing about that spot. I carefully checked the loads in my Cowboy Repeater and took the safety thong from the hammer of my revolver, loosened my Bowie in its sheath, and went on cat feet toward that fire.

No bandit would make a fire that would show that easily, so I had little fear of that. It was still a man alone, though, and I knew all too well that wanderers are more prone to shoot first and ask questions later when a stranger came in from the desert. Those days a man couldn't be too careful. I slipped in through the brush and wove my way through the creosote in a crouching walk that would hide me from view. In the gathering dark I could just make out the form of a man squatting on his heels beside a hatful of fire, his back to me and his attention centered on the small pot he had sitting on the ring of stones around the fire and the pack-sized coffee pot that was in the coals. I could just smell the coffee boiling, although it was somewhat overpowered by the smell of burning creosote. There was the smell of something else on the smoke that had to be the stew he was working over.

"Halloo the camp!", I cried out, for a man never went up to a camp unannounced without fear of being shot as a raider or a legionnaire.

The big man beside the fire instantly dove to one side and disappeared into the brush. There had been a rifle near the fire, a Cowboy Repeater from the look of it, but it was gone as if it had never been and the man himself had disappeared like a spirit. There was a long moment of silence as we both sat in the brush and waited for the other to make the first move. Both of us were skilled in the age-old contest of patience that was desert warfare. The first to move was the first to die in this sort of game, and if this was the man that I thought it was then he was a man that would know that as well as I did. I held my rifle in the crook of my arm and extended my right hand upward in a sign of peace, then very slowly stood up out of the brush. I stood up slowly and deliberately, but my ever muscle was tensed and ready to dive for cover if the need arose.

"Howdy do," I said into the darkness, "smelled the smoke from your coffee and I'm mighty dry. Mind if I come in?"

For a few seconds there was silence, but finally a stout voice came out of the dark in answer to my call. He didn't reveal himself, but instead spoke from cover and yelled back, "Come on in, friend, and bring your cup."

Well, sir, I did just that. I reached into my satchel and dug out my old coffee cup and walked into that camp with the cup in hand and my rifle still in the crook of my arm. I felt that unseen eye of the man's rifle on me as I stepped into that camp, but I walked as if I were just out on a Sunday stroll over an army parade ground. I walked right up to the little fire and squatted beside it, filled my cup, and took a sip of the hot liquid. It was strong and black, stout enough to take the paint off an Old World car hulk, just the kind of coffee that I liked. Ya can tell a lot about a man by the coffee he makes.

There was a sound from the brush and I just naturally turned to look, and that's when I saw him. He was a big man and was dressed in a beaten up Vault Suit that had been armored with old plates that looked to be of Brotherhood or Enclave origin, his weathered 10mm Pistol hung on his thigh from a low-strung military-style holster and gunbelt that also supported a Combat Knife and six magazines for the pistol that were held in leather pouches. His boots were old and worn from hard travel, his Old Cowboy Hat looked wind-beaten, and he held his Cowboy Repeater like it was a part of him. The sleeves of his Vault Suit swelled with muscle in his chest and shoulders, while his legs bulged with equally powerful muscle. That man looked like the kind that could wrestle a Deathclaw bare-handed. He wore a thick, neatly trimmed auburn mustache and short beard, and he stood about even with my six feet and two inches, but he was wider and heavier by at least thirty pounds. This was one man that I had no intention of tangling with.

He laid his rifle against the ring of stones and filled his own cup, but I saw the way he kept his hand near his pistol and that the rifle was lain in a way that he could put his hand on the action easily and quickly. My own rifle was across my lap and the thong was still off the hammer of my revolver, and when he saw it I was very sure I saw the shadow of a smile on his face. We sipped our coffee for a few moments, then when I motioned toward the fire he ladled up the stew into two bowls. It was good stew, made from Bighorner beef, cactus fruit, corn, and Xander Root, and it tasted good after the long day of travel it was just what I needed.

"Come far?", he said in a deep, gravely voice.

"From McCarran first, then from Primm."

"It's a far piece. Let me guess, you're after Powder Gangers?"

"Colonel Hsu has a bounty out for a few of them. Joe Cobb, Samuel Cooke, and few others are on my list. I heard you took care of Cobb for me."

"I guess you could say that. I gave him his chance to leave town without trouble, but he didn't take it."

"They never do. I've known a few like him before. Any luck at the Outpost?"

"Nah. The NCR doesn't have the men or the time to give a damn about a little jerkwater town like Primm. They want more assurances that the town will pay their taxes, follow their rules, and all kinds of other bullshit like that. I'll be heading to NCRCF after a man I know once I get this little business out of the way."

"What business is that, if you don't mind asking?"

"A Ranger back at the Outpost wants me to clear out the road to the east. There's a few caravaneers holed up back there who can't move on until the roads are safe and the NCR is holding them there. Some Fire Ants are blocking the way under an overpass a couple miles from here. Ranger Ghost asked me to check out the smoke coming from Nipton as well."

"I know what that smoke is from. The town has been destroyed for weeks now. I helped take a few of the survivors to safety after I found them in the desert. It was just a couple women and a few kids that were left."

"I heard about that. Destroyed, you say? How could that happen without anyone knowing? I haven't heard a peep over the waves or from any traders or wanderers, and the NCR and Rangers back at the Outpost haven't heard anything either."

"I don't know. I've been wondering that myself. That lieutenant back at Primm didn't know about it either, and I know that I sent in my report to Camp Golf myself. Chief Hanlon had to have seen it. Something just doesn't sit right.

"About that other business. Would you mind if I went along with you? I know the country and I'm headed to NCRCF after the rest of the men on my list, and you said that you were going there once this business with the Ants is done. In this country an extra rifle is always useful."

He took another spoonful of stew and chewed over it for a moment, thinking it over. He was a man that was used to roughing it alone, just as I was, and I could tell by his manner that he was one to walk the river with. The country was dangerous, even for men such as us, and it was true that the extra guns I had would be of some use. Fire Ants were no easy foes, spitting their liquid fire from their jagged maws and roasting anything that stood before them and devouring whatever was left. They attacked in packs and defended their nests to the death. Besides the Ants, there were hordes of Giant Radscorpions roaming the Ivanpah Dry Lake along with Viper Gunslinger gangs and the legionnaires that would be raiding out of the ruins of Nipton. It was a deadly place to be even for the bravest of men.

"I don't suppose it would hurt," he said after a few more bites of stew, "I've always wanted to outshoot a Ranger. We leave at dawn, and I don't mean sunup. I mean the first grey in the sky."

"I don't know any other time to travel. You won't have to look for me."

So we finished the stew and threw the drags of the coffee into the fire, then crawled into our bedrolls and let the fire burn down. I laid my guns out in the usual manner, my revolver and rifle within easy reach if the need arose, and I saw that the Courier laid out his weapons in the same manner. He rolled into his bedroll and laid still, but something told me that he rarely really slept. I myself slept only in snatches and rose at the slightest sound. Something told me that this Courier and I were going to get along fine.


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