The Grey Stranger
CHAPTER ONE - 1st Recon
"Hey!" I hollered, my hands cupped around my mouth as I strained my back and neck to look up at the man standing inside the mouth of a Dinosaur.
I could barely see the tip of his scoped rifle, but that was enough for me to know that someone was up there. It was dark and I could already begin to hear the howling of coyotes and geckos scurrying on the outskirts of the small town of Novac. This was a joke. A sick joke. I was the only edible thing for the starving abominations in the wasteland right now, it seemed, and this guy had the nerve to ignore me. Really? I mean, unless he's an old fart, there's no way he couldn't have heard me.
I took pride in my loud mouth.
"Hello? Hello! Come on, man, I know you're up there!" I shouted again.
I sighed and turned to look down at my dog. His glass-encased brain flickered with a soft, steady glow. He gave me a grin, or I'd like to think he did. It was a lonely world out in the Mojave Wasteland and I liked to think he could do a lot of things. I knew for a fact that he could understand me though, so that was good enough for me to make a good running start for new possibilities. A sand storm was arousing in the East which made me all the more restless and annoyed. Some big shot he had to be. He was probably snickering at my pathetic efforts while snacking on a candy bar. That lucky bastard.
"Come on," I waved for Rex, my robotic dog, to follow me. "This is ridiculous."
I wasn't going to waste anymore of my time calling out to a ghost sniper in the Dinosaur mouth. Wow. Just hearing myself recap that thought made me feel even more stupid. I opened the gate just behind the giant Dinosaur exhibit and found myself climbing up an old, rickety flight of wooden steps. I rattled the doorknob and opened the entrance door to what appeared to be the lobby of a gift shop. I stopped a foot away from the doorway and waited until I heard the door slam shut behind me. I rose an eyebrow and cut a glance at Rex. He looked just as surprised as I did.
"Mhmm... Very nifty, if you ask me," I commented while passed shelf after shelf of miniature versions of the Dinosaur we were in right now. Little toy rockets were also among the merchandise. I sliced a grin and reached around my back to take off my satchel. My dog barked at me as if he were scolding. "Shh! Come one, Rex, there's so many of them! It's not like they're going to notice!"
I stuffed one Dinosaur souvenir and one toy Rocket into my small duffel bag. It was light-weight and easy to handle. It held a lot of junk, but most of the time it just hangs flatly across the flat of my back around my neck and one shoulder. I zipped it up and gave Rex a look. One that said "BARK AGAIN AND I'M REPLACING YOUR BRAIN WITH MINE!" He seemed to back down after that. Who would want my brain? Any brain was better than my brain. I laughed at my thoughts. It kept me sane. Most of the time, that is.
I took another flight of stairs and opened another door. I smiled with victory and opened my mouth to greet the Dino man. Just as I extended my hand to let him know I was approaching, he spun around, rifle in hand and pointed at me. I instantly rose my hands in the air and dunked so that the scope wouldn't hit me square in the face.
"Damn. Don't sneak up on me like that," he exhaled. I scoffed and crossed my arms, drooping my eyes in annoyance, and leaning all of my weight on one hip.
"Oh, come on!" I retaliated, "I've been trying to get your attention for over two hours."
He took longer to answer than I had expected. The pause became so intensely awkward that I actually felt my feet backtracking out of the door towards the lobby. Rex's panting was the only sound omitting between the both of us. I scratched the back of my neck and his glare never subsided.
"...That was you..."
"YES! OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!" I threw my arms up onto the air and clasped them down on my face, caressing my heavy eyelids.
"What do you want?" he asked bluntly.
My eyes widened as I hunched my shoulders in disbelief. He was so blunt! He wasn't even the slightest bit apologetic for the miscommunication, if you could even call it that! I straightened up, took a deep breath, and returned his towering gaze, in attempt to lower my blood pressure...and possibly make some decent conversation out of this guy. I stood there, feeling my lips part to make way for the words to come, but they didn't. I racked my brain for even just a string of words, but my brain was completely empty.
"Well!" I laughed, "Now that I'm up here, I don't have the slightest clue..."
Again, that long, uncomfortable silence stiffened the atmosphere once again.
"...Pity," he said.
I sighed. It had been a long day and tomorrow didn't look promising either. "Yeah, you're tellin' me. Anyways, I guess I better leave. Someone had just said that there was a sniper's nest of here in the Dino mouth, so I was just...curious." I turned around to leave, swinging the door open with a heavy heart and disappointed feeling beginning to envelope me.
"Wait a minute." A keen smile spread my lips from ear to ear as I whirled around again, removing my sunglasses and dangling them to my side between two fingers.
"Yeah?" I asked, eagerly interested in what he wanted. Flipping out my sunglasses, I put them back on with a keen smile to look more...professional.
"You're not from around here."
I looked at him with a stupid expression; there's no doubt he noticed. "Uh...no. No I'm not from here."
"I need someone I can trust," he tilted his head up, just slightly enough for me to see the edge of his brown eyes. "You're a stranger, that's a start."
I snickered, "You trust strangers?"
"I said it's a start," he growled. I immediately shut up and flattened my lips so he wouldn't see my mocking smile.
I cleared my throat, "Okay. What do you- what do you need?"
"I need you to find the person who sold my wife."
My eyes widened. I half expected him to ask me to find someone. Grudges through the Mojave were more common now days. But I wasn't expected him to end his little request with, 'sold my wife'. I suddenly felt bad for how I had mocked him. He needed someone outside of the town to help him and I had acted like a complete asshole. I rubbed the back of my neck, peeling off a thin layer of dirt in the process. I sighed. This mission was morbid. But he needed me and I felt like I owed him something.
"Okay," I gave him a tilted, apologetic smile, "What do you need me to do?"
"I know that one of these low lives in this town sold my wife to the Legion," I said. I could tell that it was painful for him to explain all of it, so I put my hands up to save him the hurt of continuing.
"I gotcha. I'll find who did it and bring him here so you can snipe him," I smiled. It was just a hunch. He looked at me for a long while before shrugging.
"Take this beret," he said while handing me his military hat, "Put it on as our signal that you've found the one."
I nodded and opened the door to leave.
"By the way," his deep voice startled me, "How did you know I was going to do that?"
I didn't bother to turn around. I only smiled a smile he would never know about. "Dude, you're in a giant dinosaur's mouth. It's almost like you took the job just so you could kill the bastard from up here."
I snapped myself out of the long-gone memory I'd kept with me all of these years. It was painful to look back on our adventures. How we met. How many times he saved my life. His last words...
I squeezed the beret in my hands; feeling the coarse red velvet bulge out between my fingers. I barely had a consciousness of where I was. A bar, no doubt; no ballsy drunks around though. Ah. I had found myself all the way back at Goodsprings' Prospector Saloon. There were only two lights dimly flickering on and off above the back and entrance door. the glowing jute box wasn't omitting any sound this late at night, save the old radio I had fixed for Trudy almost a lifetime ago. Before I was a ranger; but right about the same time that I was alone. A few shot glasses had been left out on the bar beside me and only a few dishes with remnants of food were left laying on the table booths.
I felt a throbbing sting of pain shoot down my spine causing me to hunch over the ar even more than I already was. Some wounds just don't heal as quickly as cuts and bruises do. Sighing I lifted my head from the palm of my propped-up hand and took another sip of the warm whiskey bottle. My sunglasses reflected my face and all the scars I had collected over the years. I was able to see just how awful I looked that windy night; eyes bloodshot and skin blistered from radiation. My clothes were beyond repair at this point; too many bullet holes and ripped seams to count.
Everyone knew what I had done, though. It wasn't a secret. How many lives I had saved... how many I didn't.
Still, above all my regretful thinking, I could hear Mr. New Vegas explicitly calling out the many names people had come to know me by and what had happened only two nights ago. My enduring name began to spread like a plague across the Mojave wasteland once again via Radio broadcasts. I sighed; feeling a warm, salty tear seep down the left side of my burnt cheek. I quickly wiped it away with the back side of my rough hand. Trudy entered the room from storage with a beer glass and rag in hand. I offered her a quick, forced out smile and a brief flick of my hand. I meant it as a wave, but looked away from her curious gaze just as soon.
"I may be old, but I'm not blind yet, sugar," she scolded with a warm-hearted grin. "What's eatin' you up?"
I rubbed the edge of my nose and looked up at her from behind my sandy hood. I contemplated on whether or not I should just keep my mouth shut for good measure. But the thoughts that haunted me were destroying my health from the inside out. Gulping down another shot of whiskey, I waited until the bitter sensation resided before hearing the sound of my own voice again. It was foreign to me.
"I don't suppose you've heard the radio lately, huh?" I asked her, my voice raspy with dryness. It was painful even to swallow.
"I looked at her, confused. "Well then you must know what happened to my fri-"
"-Yes. I know all about that." I scoffed. She had the nerve to pry.
"Now I know what you're thinking, but let me just tell you this right now before you step one foot back on Mojave land: you colored outside of the lines and created a masterpiece. Ain't nothin' wrong with being different. Lord knows we need it in this wasteland. You did what you had to do and no level of authority is above that."
"But because of me... he's..." I couldn't bring myself to say it. I hadn't even accepted it.
"Shut up and listen, Nyx. You beat yourself up over matters that you can't even control. You are not to blame for what happened to him. We know you're going to miss him, but what's done is done. Live for him, not through him."
I watched her leave the bar and return to the storage room. I just watched her with puzzlement until the hem of her skirt was completely out of view. I laughed softly under my breath as I was reminded of Boone again.
If Boone was with me right now, he'd be laughing too.