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Purpose

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<< Chapter 13                                                                                            Chapter 15 >>

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.

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There Was a Firefight

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The trip to Henderson Veterinary was uneventful.  Andy pulled up in front of the vet’s office and killed the engine on the buggy.

“Aww, baby, tell me they didn’t hurt you,” Brian said as lept out to inspect their buggy for any damage.

Andy knelt at the front door and put his flashlight in his mouth.  He slid the key he found before they left into the lock and applied a slight pressure, trying to turn it.  Then he tapped the back of the key with his flashlight.  In less than a minute he had the bolt unlocked, and the door open.

“How’s she lookin’?” Andy called back to Brian.

“Ain’t a scratch on her.  I don’t think they fired a shot, dumb sons of bitches never even knew what hit ‘em.”

Brian grabbed an empty backpack out of the back of the dune buggy, pulled a small flashlight out of a pouch on his belt, and he and Brian entered the office.  “Don’t look like nobody’s been in here.  Let’s grab some shit and go.  I wanna get back and finish them fuckers off.”

The pair loaded up the bag, plus everything they could carry and headed out.  Andy reached the door open as Brian was coming up the hall.  Tiny specks of light lit up the floor through the holes in the shuttered blinds.  Brian split them with his fingers to see the headlights of a pair of trucks shining in the front of the building.

“Andy, no!” shouted Brian

Andy moved with incredible speed, diving behind a couch that was backed up to the outside wall.  Brian dove behind the reception desk and hoped none of them had high caliber rifles.

The second after the door moved, bullets flew.  The front windows shattered, spewing glass and debris all over the inside of the office.  The shades were torn down, allowing moonlight to filter into the room.  Andy and Brian lay curled up in the fetal position, butt and feet towards the incoming bullets, protecting their heads and core.  Both were well trained.

“Wait for them to come in,” Brian shout-whispered.  The hail of led stopped and Brian, quieter this time whispered, “You shot?”  Andy shook his head.

Brian un-holstered the pistol at his waist, and saw Andy do the same.  “Wait as long as you can,” said Andy.

Seconds later, the door screeched open, grinding glass shards into the linoleum floor.  Four men poured in the door.  Andy and Brian lay perfectly still.

“We got ‘em, boys!” yelled the first man.  The two friends heard a cheer from outside.

The four marauders split into pairs, one heading for Andy and the other for Brian.  Almost simultaneously, the marauders poked Brian and Andy with the barrels of their rifles.  Both men quickly rolled over and fired twice, killing all four marauders.

Andy stood up and looked at Brian before yelling in a perfect impression of the marauder, “Double tapped those motherfuckers.  Come on in boys, let’s clear this place out.”

Brian and Andy backed down the hall and waited.  The remaining men poured through the door into the moonlit lobby and were cut down where they stood.

Less than a minute later, the entire office was full of gun smoke.  The smell of blood and burned powder filled their noses.  Brian let out a low, “Fucccccccck you, bitches!”

Andy ran up and kicked one of the dead men.  “You don’t fuck with us!  We’ll lay you motherfucking sons of bitches dick in the motherfucking dirt!”

Outside, one remaining marauder ran off, jumped over a concrete wall into the back yard of one of the vacant houses and kept running.

Brian and Andy loaded the supplies into the buggy, along with everything valuable they could scavenge from the dead marauders.  One of them had a decent pair of boots, another had a leather jacket.  Andy started it up, while Brian headed towards the best looking of the two marauder trucks.

“Let’s go finish ‘em off.  Wonder if they left anyone back there?”

“Probably not.  But we gotta be careful anyway.  They surprised us once,” replied Brian.

“Grab the keys outta that other truck. We’ll come back for it later,” called Andy.

The marauder barn was, in fact, empty.  The two parked their vehicles and cleared the building before loading up a few useful items .  The marauders had food, water, a massive supply of ammunition, and the barn was a treasure trove of tools.

“We ain’t never gonna get all this shit back to Nykos.  It’s gonna take us a dozen trips.”

“Nyko came here for that track plow, right? To get all the sand off the tracks?  What if we use that to pull one of these boxcars?”

“We gotta get these meds to Nyko though.  We should drive home, then we can come back with some help to load it all up,” said Andy.

I like the way you think, brother-man,” replied Brain.

When they pulled into the garage it was nearly seven o’clock.  Charlotte came striding through the warehouse to meet them.  “Where have you been?  Andy, you were supposed to be on the door an hour ago.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” said Andy.  “We went to get Nyko some antibiotics, and ran into a little trouble.”

“We got a bunch of medicine though,” said Brian cheerfully.

“You should have let me know where you were going.  Not only were we short staffed, which I could have covered if I’d known, I was worried about you.”

“We’re sorry,” the pair intoned together.

“What did you get?”

“Andy found a book in the vet’s office.  It said gut wounds need some C –E – F antibiotics.” Brian spelled out the letters.  “We grabbed everything that started with C-E-F and everything that ended with ‘cillin.”

“Good job, boys.  Let’s go check on our patient.”

When they got up to Nyko’s room, he was awake.  Sweat beads dotted his forehead.  “Hey, Charlie, boys.” He said weakly.  “What happened?”

“Your intestine was ruptured.  I sewed you up.  You’ve been asleep for almost twelve hours.”  She laid her hand on his forehead, he was burning up.

“You have a fever, which tells me you have an infection.  The boys just raided a vet’s office and brought you a bunch of medicine.  I’m going to change out your IV now,” she said.  Brian and Andy were impressed by her authority.

“Thanks, Charlie,” Nyko said.  He smiled up at her.

“How’s the pain?” she asked.

“Feels like someone stabbed me in the gut.”

“Boss, me an’ Andy here wiped all them fuckers out.  We checked out that barn, it’s got everything we need.  We just needed to get these meds to you before we loaded it all up and cleared our way back here.”

“Nice work, fellas.  Thanks for getting me all fixed up.  I need to chat with Charlie now.  Can you go cover the saloon for a few minutes?”

“Sure thing, boss.”  Andy and Brian grinned from ear to ear as they left.

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Left Hand Men

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Brian and Andy sat in Andy’s room.  Andy was sitting on the edge of his bed, digging through a pile of duffle bags at his feet.  “I know it’s in here somewhere, dude.  I used it what, two weeks ago?”

“Why don’t you just keep it on your keychain,” asked Brian in his thick southern drawl.

“I dunno, man.  I guess ‘cause it used to be illegal.  Old habits or some shit,” replied Andy.

Andy continued digging.  He set an old bong and a tin on the bed and then tossed a couple of old tee shirts towards the foot of the bed.

Brian laughed.  “Dude! Is that a One Direction tee shirt?  Seriously? What the hell man.  I thought you were cool.”

“Fuck you.  I took a chick.  Look at the size of the shirt.”  Andy grabbed the shirt and held it up by the tag.  “Size small.”

“Hope you banged her.  Chick better put out after making you suffer through that shit.”

“Nope,” replied Andy.  “Not even a kiss.”

“Oh dude, that’s fucked.  That’s just fuckin’ wrong.  You’re gonna put out what, a buck fifty on a pair of tickets, plus another half-spot on dinner and a fuckin’ tee shirt.. So, what, two bills on the night and you didn’t even get a peck on the cheek?  At least she wasn’t a fatty.”

Andy stopped digging through the bag and looked at his best friend.  “Fuck you, dude.  She didn’t owe me anything.  We had a good time.  It was my choice to take her.”

Brian looked suitably ashamed.  “Sorry, dude.  Didn’t really think of it that way. I was just pickin on you.”

“It’s alright.  Just can’t stand that shit.  Like a chick owes us something.”

“Yeah.  You’re right.  I didn’t know you were in loooooooooooooooove with her.”

“Fucking finally,” Andy replied, holding up the item he was looking for.  A small set of strange looking keys.  Each had perfectly even rows of saw-teeth, and a rubber grommet around the base.  “And fuck you.  I wasn’t in love, we went on two dates.  She was a nice girl.”

Brian stood up.  “Let’s go.  We’re burning daylight.”

“Dude, it’s night.”

“You know what I mean, fucker.  Let’s move.”

The two men crossed the warehouse to a row of trucks.  “This totally qualifies as life-or-death, right?”

“I think so,” replied Andy, grinning.  “We taking the runner?”

“Fuck yeah, bitch!  Catch-a-Riiiiide!” replied Brian hopping into the driver’s seat of a menacing looking tube-framed dune buggy.  The front section was lined with plate aluminum, taken from the rail-house a couple miles up the tracks.  The rear had a steel cage draped with welded chain.  Neither would stop high caliber bullets, but for regular pistol rounds, it would stop most anything.

The rear deck cage surrounded an M134 minigun that Brian brought from his National Guard armory when he joined up with Nyko days after the apocalypse.  Mounted on a swivel post, the gun could fire in any direction.  An M249 Squad Automatic Weapon topped each front strut, locked in a forward position.  Each fired remotely from paddles behind the steering wheel, fed from ammo boxes under the hood.

The buggy was Andy and Brian’s baby, something they built from scratch out of scavenged parts.  It was the primary recon vehicle for Nyko’s train.  The pair hoped it was their ticket out of New Vegas.   For now, it was their ticket to a little payback, and hopefully some antibiotics for Nyko.

Andy jumped into the driver’s seat and fired up the buggy, the huge v8 engine roared to life.  He idled over to the door, hit a button on the dash and watched the door start to roll up.  “Fuck yeah, bitches, get some!” he called.  The red button on the dash really just pushed the controller to an automatic garage door opener mounted behind it.  But it felt cool.

“Dude, we gotta get some flames on this motherfucker.  Wonder who we can find that can paint.”

“I dunno.  Get your eyes on!.”

Both men pulled goggles from the tray in front of the shifter and strapped them to their heads.  Andy put the shifter in first, revved the engine, and left black skid marks halfway across the parking lot.  Brian hit the button to lower the rollup door as Andy slammed it into second and spun the tires again.  The speedometer read seventy miles per hour when they hit the sand headed for the marauder camp.

“How are we gonna do this?” shouted Brian over the noise of the engine.

“Jonas killed their leader.  He said there was maybe twenty of em left.  I say we go in, sweep the place with the minigun and haul ass, drive-by style.  Then we go get the stuff, and sweep ‘em again on our way back.”

“Sounds like a plan, brother-man!  Let’s fuck those suns-a-bitches up!”  Brian unbuckled his harness and crawled between the seats to the back deck, where he strapped into a harness there.

Andy topped a sand dune and launched the dune buggy a dozen feet into the air.  They both felt a thunk as the shocks bottomed out.  Brian felt his feet come up off the platform and scrambled to hold on, despite knowing the harness would keep him in the vehicle. A hundred and fifty feet later they landed softly headed down the far side.

“Yeeeeeeeeee Hawwwww,” screamed Brian at the top of his lungs.  “That shit was awesome!”

The engine roared, a deep, throaty rumble as they crossed the desert.  Andy slowed, bouncing up over the tracks at the back of the maintenance garage, around the side of the building out into the open area in the front.  Brian opened fire with the minigun, spewing thousands of rounds in seconds.  He strafed the gun, white-hot tracer fire streaking back and forth.  Men ran out of the barn and were cut down.

As Andy gunned the engine to pull away, Brian focused on the engine-bays of their vehicles, punching massive holes in the grills and fenders of all their vehicles.  And then they were gone, rocketing off down the street as fast as the powerful buggy would take them.

“Whoo! That’ll teach them fuckin’ sons of bitches to fuck with us!” Yelled Andy when they were a couple blocks away.

“Dude!” Screamed Brian, sliding back into the passenger seat.  “Did you fucking see that one motherfucker? Tracer round right to the face, his whole head glowed like a motherfucking jack’o’lantern!”

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Taylor

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<<Chapter 10                                                                                             Chapter 12 >>

Hell_on_rails_promo2Taylor met Charlie at the door to the shower room with two towels.  Charlie took the first one and wrapped her long, dark hair in it, piling the towel up on top of her head.  She took the second one and dried off, then wrapped it around her waist.  “Thanks, Tay.”

Taylor looked at her friend with soft eyes.  “You okay?  I don’t know how you stay so strong.  I’m falling to pieces.”

Continue reading Taylor

Surgery

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<<Chapter 8                                                                                                 Chapter 10>>

“Charlie!” Jonas shouted as he brought the truck squealing to a stop.  “The Boss is hurt!”

Andy and Brian ran over to the truck and gingerly laid Nyko down on the concrete.

“What happened,” asked Andy.

“Stabbed in the gut,” said Jonas.  “I blasted the fucker’s head off and drove here.”

Continue reading Surgery

Captain Juke

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<<Chapter 7                                                                                                    Chapter 9>>

Nyko and Jonas worked furiously to get the truck moving.  Once they had the air pressure lowered, Nyko drove, following the tracks, deep into the desert.  Within about thirty miles, the desert gave way to sandstone and rock.  The landscape was beautiful, if barren.  The occasional cactus was the only green in the reddish landscape.

Jonas found a rail map in the pocket of his door and unfolded it out over the dash.  “There’s a big canyon coming up in about a mile.  The tracks and the road parallel each other there.  I think that’s where we’ll find our maintenance garage.”

Continue reading Captain Juke

Charlotte

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<<Chapter 5                                                                                                    Chapter 7>>

Charlotte stood behind the bar, watching the patrons.  Fred Gurtz drained his beer, and set the empty glass down on the bar.  She stepped forward, reaching for the glass.  “Need another, hun?”  She knew he had half a dozen credits left in his pocket.

“Nah, I better quit.  The wife sent me to get some kind of protein, she don’t need ta know I was in here.  Sometimes a man just needs a beer and the sight of a pretty girl to keep him goin’, ya know?”

Continue reading Charlotte