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The next morning at daybreak, Jonas, Brain, and Andy loaded up in the Marauder’s truck to head out to the barn. They spent the day loading and hauling, and by nightfall were completely exhausted.
The maintenance shop was fully outfitted to repair any type of railroad car. Spare parts, specialty tools, and best of all, a massive tank of diesel fuel. The tank was, by Jonas’ estimation nearly full. The marauders were sitting on a gold mine, somewhere in the neighborhood of eight thousand gallons of fuel.
Jonas and Nyko had only gone a few miles on the train, but their initial estimations were that it would take about two gallons of fuel to move a mile. Jonas knew about two hidden diesel reserves he and Nyko had sourced, which totaled enough fuel to make the two-thousand mile circuit they had planned three times. This reserve would help them make it four more times.
That gave them enough fuel for a year of operation, Nyko would be thrilled.
The three men worked on the track-plow for the better part of two hours figuring out how it worked, how each of the mechanisms operated, and making sure it was all in good working order. In operation, it was a very simple machine.
A front plow, not unlike a snowplow, cleared the sand down to the tops of the rails. Just behind the sand-plow, a large broom-wheel spun very quickly to dig the sand out from between the rails, ejecting it out the side.
A secondary plow on either side at the mid-point of the locomotive pushed the sand eight feet on either side of the rails. As a test run, Jonas ran the plow up to the warehouse.
It functioned beautifully, leaving gleaming sand-polished rails in its wake. Jonas was giddy. He screwed a wooden crate inside the cab of the plow locomotive, lifting him high enough to see out the window at the flying waves of sand he pushed. The feeling of power was amazing, if felt like nothing could stop this massive machine.
Over the next several days, Jonas cleared the tracks all the way to the northern edge of the Canyon bridge. He liked the work. He learned that the faster he went the farther it pushed the sand, buying them more time between cleanings. On his last run, he had the stick forward running about forty-five miles per hour. Sand flew off the blades nearly twenty feet in either direction.
By the time the tracks were clear, Nyko was up on his feet. He was still only allowed light duty according to Dr. Charlotte as everyone had taken to calling her. No lifting or getting up and down, but he was able to supervise loading provisions on the train. If everything went well, this first trip would only be a couple of days down to Phoenix, then a couple of days back.
Nyko wanted to go meet with the Phoenix leadership before he started making official runs. Mostly, he wanted to know what supplies he could sell for the most profit. This was an expensive endeavor. Carrying passengers was one small revenue stream. Their drinking and eating in the bar car was another, but the real money was to be made hauling goods between the two cities. If he could establish and run the only trade routes between several cities, he’d be set.
As the departure date neared, Nyko felt Charlotte growing more and more distant. Finally, after she walked past him in the hallway without even looking at him, he put his hand on her shoulder and asked her to step into the office.
When they were alone in the office, Nyko crossed his arms and leaned against the door, holding it closed. “Spit it out, girl.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have work to do,” Charlie replied, making a slight move towards the door Nyko was blocking.
“Not until you tell me what your problem is.”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’ll deal with it.”
“We’ve been partners for a long time. I count on you more than anyone in the family. If something’s bothering you, I need to know about it.”
Charlie’s internal debate raged. Finally her stubbornness won out. “Nyko, I don’t want to talk about it.”
He had years of experience managing people in the shop, and was a naturally shrewd judge of character. “Okay. So, it’s me you’re upset with?”
She was always surprised by how easily Nyko could dig the truth out of her. The debate raged again. He’d get it out of her. She might as well tell him. “When you were injured, I stepped up and ran this place. I made the hard decisions. I sewed you up. I’m not a fucking nurse. I’m not a fucking manager. I don’t know all the things you know. I have no idea what I’m fucking doing here, I’m just making this shit up as I go, and what happens when I make the wrong call? What happens when I make the wrong decision, Nyko? When you leave, all these people will be counting on me. Depending on me for their lives and safety and security.”
Nyko nodded. “What could I possibly say to make you feel better, when I have all those same fears? I live in fear every day that one of you is going to get killed doing something for me. That marauders are going to show up at our door and overrun the place.”
“How do you handle it? How do you deal with all the pressure?”
“I don’t know,” said Nyko. “I guess because there is no other choice. This is life now. I try to make the best decisions I can with what I have. That’s the only way I can sleep at night.”
“And how can you leave all that on me?”
“Because you’re the only one that can do it. Because it has to be done. New Vegas is doomed, Charlie. There aren’t enough resources. They’re running out of canned food. There isn’t enough water to grow crops. There isn’t enough fertile dirt. Vegas was always a city ruled by technology. Without it, humans can’t survive here. But, do you know where we can survive? Southern Colorado. Kansas. The mid-west.”
“So you’re moving all of us east?”
“We can’t stay here. And I can’t move everyone and start an entirely new city with the resources I have. My only choice is to use what I have to earn what we’ll all need to survive.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can’t start a community with fifteen people, only four of whom are women. We can’t start a community without teachers and doctors and a hundred other vocations. We’re just a bunch of mechanics. I value the skills of every one of you. But we don’t have enough.”
Charlotte nodded as Nyko continued. “Also, I can’t take fifty or a hundred people out into the waste to make a place to live without the means to build a wall to protect us. We can’t go without the means to grow food, without the means to defend ourselves, and certainly without enough food to survive the first winter.”
Charlotte wondered when he’d made all these plans, and what else he hadn’t told her. “When were you planning on telling me all this?”
“When it was a real possibility. People need hope, Charlie. I need hope, a goal to strive towards.”
“So, what now,” she replied.
Nyko grinned. “Now you tell no one about this conversation. The goal is to get to Phoenix to prove that travel across the wasteland is possible, and to make it less frightening. If things work out in Phoenix, we’ll start offering pleasure cruises. We’ll get people used to the idea, and then we’ll take it a step further. All the while, buying and selling what we can, hauling freight between destinations, and stockpiling materials we’ll need when the time comes.”
“Do you ever not have a plan?”
Nyko smiled at her as she left the office, and then walked back into the warehouse. As he supervised the loading of the train, Nyko wondered if the pressure might be too much for her. She was only twenty four years old. She’d never managed anything until The Saloon.
The first trip was only scheduled to run three days out, and three days back. Jonas was bringing enough for three weeks. The rail truck, the scout buggy, and two dirt-bikes would get the whole crew back to The Saloon in the event of a breakdown. Nyko and Jonas had figured on triple-redundancy, and it was all coming together.
Tomorrow, the train departed. Nyko held his side as he limped back to his room, confident that everything was in good hands.