RE: A Warm Welcome
The morning sunlight shone though the boarded-up front windows of the patrol station. I woke slowly, still cradling May’s copy of “The Road Back.” I was feeling better. The pain in my gut had subsided, and I was able to keep down a bit of instant coffee and a few bites of bread. Today shouldn’t be too strenuous; only a few hours to the Outpost. I just hope it’s not a waste of time.
That particular stretch of I-15 was uneventful, so I was able to keep a relaxed pace. My only company were a few young cazadores, whom I was able to take out at a distance with the hunting rifle.
The final stretch of road to the outpost required a sharp uphill climb. I had heard rumors that the Mojave Outpost was the last populated area along I-15. Anything south is too irradiated, or picked clean by the wildlife. Nobody really knew what lay south, only that anyone stupid enough to venture too far down the Long 15 never came back.
I took a swig of whiskey and began the climb. Cars littered the road, a myriad of rusted vehicles choking the path like forgotten children’s toys. Before the War, this must have been a way of escape, though clearly unsuccessful. Now it was nothing more than a choke point for useless old world technology.
Above me, the famous NCR statues loomed. Back home in Blair, an old NCR officer used to tell me stories about his glory days over a round of drinks. The statue, he used to say, symbolized the union between the New California Republic and the Desert Rangers of Nevada. The Rangers became part of the NCR, and the Mojave Outpost was built, more than a decade ago.
As I stared at the metal monstrosity above me, a sharp voice barked, snapping me out of the daze.
“State your business!”
A female trooper was perched on a rooftop, not 10 yards from where I stood, an unnecessary large sniper rifle trained on me. She had the look of someone who made a living blowing stranger’s heads off. I raised my hands and smiled nervously.
“Just a civilian.”
She looked up from the sight, but kept the rifle fixed on me.
“I asked your business.”
I smiled again, realized I looked ridiculous, and stopped.
“Just looking for a drink. And work, if you have it.”
“Are you armed?”
“Just a rifle and a sidearm.”
She lowered the rifle a bit. “Then keep them to yourself. Your caps are good at the bar. Try anything stupid, then be prepared to dig yourself a grave.”
“Yes ma’am.” I gave my best salute, to which she cracked a smile, and carried on toward the barracks.
Inside was a much more relaxed atmosphere than I had anticipated. A radio played from behind the bar, as soldiers and civilians drank and laughed. A few troopers played a hand of Caravan in one corner, and I thought briefly of joining later. I approached the bartender, an attractive brunette, and introduced myself.
“Most of the civies here are with the caravans,” she mentioned as she poured my drink. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”
“I’m just looking for work, maybe a place to stay the night.”
She set down a glass of beer in front of me. I handed her a few caps in return.
“I can set you up with a bunk for a few nights, for a fee, of course,” she said. “As for work, I would ask around the base. The soldiers often need letters delivered. That sort of thing.”
I thanked her, paid, and took my beer over to the Caravan game. From the looks of it, a fresh-faced trooper had made the mistake of challenging his lieutenant, and was paying dearly for it. A neat pile of caps was slowly growing in front of the officer, and the unfortunate trooper’s friends were laughing uncontrollably.
I chuckled. It was a good feeling. I’ll stay a few nights, inquire about a job. Maybe get some food in me, and sleep in a real bed tonight.