Alaric didn't stay long in The Divide after victory was secured. There was something strange about the bunker complex there, it put him on edge to be there. While he was delighted to have the assets it provided to his cause, the implications of what the place could do if unleashed unnerved him. He'd faced his share of danger before, but what sat in those missile tubes was different than anything he'd faced before. No keening mutants, no deadly robots, just the power to unmake a civilization, sleeping silently in their silos waiting for the whim of whoever could push the button. The bunker felt like some ancient legend, like the tomb of a warrior king. Cold steel and wild steeds taken with him to the afterlife. Probably just his overactive imagination, but Alaric was much happier when The Divide was reduced to a blip on the map and a progress report viewed from within the Lucky 38.

All that said, he decided he'd rather have been fighting ghouls, mutants and robots at the same time right now than have to continue his actual task, namely writing the basic legal code for the Mojave. He had no experience in this, no training. He led by example and force of personality, and didn't really consider himself an especially wise ruler, at least not yet. He'd made some good calls and gotten things done, but Solomon he was not. He needed to get this done quickly too, the Rangers were coming home sooner or later and if he was going to put them to work, he would have to have laws in place to actually enforce.

He cocked his head, the thought of Tycho sparking something in his mind. He kept typing up some basic notes and asked Yes Man to direct the Ranger to his office. Who better to get advice to at least get started than from a prolific lawman from an organization renowned for keeping the peace for centuries? Half an hour later, Tycho walked in, wearing simple civilian clothes, the iconic ranger trenchcoat would be too obvious to wear walking into his home and capitol building.

"Tycho, good to see you, how goes the exodus?" He asked, rising to shake the ranger's hand.

Tycho gave him the usual curt nod. "Well, slowly by your request. Rangers are resigning their posts and letting their tours of duty run out, making their way to the border in little groups, settling down as immigrants in the Mojave. We'll be ready for muster when you're ready to have us."

Alaric grinned, all according to plan then. "And the NCR isn't causing any problems there?"

A brief shake of the head. "They can't, we're not violating any laws. We're fulfilling our terms of service and then leaving through legal means. They can confiscate any equipment they issued to us, but our armor and coats, most of our guns, we owned all that before we joined them. Private property, they can't take it."

Alaric snorted. "I'd pay good caps to see some NCR pencil pusher try to separate a Ranger from the Big Iron. Glad to hear it's working out, but I didn't call you here to ask about the overall plan. Please, sit." He offered, the ranger sitting down around a table with him, the sovereign of Vegas taking a seat near him. "I've been trying to write up the basic, overarching legal code and system for the Confederation." Alaric began. "Did my research and been thinking of a few potential models, but all the legal treatises I have access to are prewar, not many such things have been written since the bombs dropped. The Rangers kept the peace in the Mojave for centuries, and now they're going to do it again, so I thought it only prudent that I get your advice on where to base the laws you're going to be enforcing."

Tycho folded his hands before him, considering for long, silent moments. "Been doing research of my own on your Confederation, the type of government and overall structure. Very different to the NCR. Each township makes its own laws, joins up via treaty with the capitol, New Vegas, which is the founding township. Central government isn't representative of the towns but is strictly bound to minimal interference. Not democratic, but respects free will and rights."

Alaric nodded. "I've been meaning to make a central government more representative, but that's a problem for another time."

The Ranger agreed. "Not criticizing, it works, people seem happy. Each town writes and enforces their own laws, sheriffs, deputies, lawmen. You want us to enforce laws in these towns?"

Alaric considered. "No… That's something the NCR would do. The central promise of those treaties would be minimal interference in the internal matters of the towns. So the Rangers wouldn't be used to enforce any local laws, just the overall national ones and in the regions between the townships. I mean there's plenty of people who live in little trading posts or shacks out in the wasteland who live within our borders. They're just as much citizens as any."

Tycho nodded. "Then the Mojave's laws need to avoid conflict with the laws of the townships, let them run their own affairs so long as they don't cross certain lines, we don't get involved unless there's a problem they can't handle on their own, or the greater laws of the Mojave have been broken."

Snapping his fingers, Alaric agreed. "Tycho, you're onto something there, I like this. The Mojave Confederation was founded on certain principles. Free will, independent development, minimal government oversight of individual settlements. So how about this, we set up the laws so that the overall Mojave laws cover the absolute bare minimum of legality. The lowest possible level at which something can be legal. Townships can go higher if they want but can't go lower." Tycho just looked at him patiently, waiting for him to continue. "I mean, take weapons ownership for example." Alaric began, leaning in a little. "Right now there are no prohibitions for anything that could be considered a personal weapon being carried around. Really the only things I've considered outlawing in private ownership are things that could level buildings in a few seconds like a Fat Man or something, at least without a permit. But that's beside the point, the overall Mojave laws for weapon ownership wouldn't outlaw most any firearm or energy weapon. Townships could become more strict by outlawing some or all if they wished, but they couldn't become less strict by making it legal for a private citizen to hold onto a tactical nuclear device. Or take chems and alcohol. Any township could outlaw something they believe shouldn't be had that's legal in the Mojave as a whole, but they couldn't make something we prohibited nationally to be legal in their borders."

Tycho nodded, following along. "Sounds similar to the informal code we followed in the old days. Keep the peace, let people make up their own minds about most things. Helps you because you've got so many different groups joining up. Make the laws as minimal as possible and still maintain safety and order, let people make up their own minds about anything beyond the most basic, universal issues."

Alaric grinned. "Exactly, this lets everyone solve the problem for themselves without conflict. Bullhead can be as lax as they want and Goodsprings can be as puritanical as they ever decide to be. If you don't like the laws where you live, move somewhere else or change it locally, no huge system that's gotten so bit it's running by sheer momentum regardless of what the people forced to follow it think."

"Going to create some tensions between the towns." Tycho pointed out. "Some people envious of somewhere else, while others might get upset at what they see as immoral practices."

Alaric shrugged. "Their problem, live and let live I say. Now, I wanted your advice on the structure of the Rangers as well…" They worked together for a few hours, hammering out the basic details of both the Mojave legal structure and code, as well as the general structure of the Rangers when they were reformed under Confederation loyalty. While there was still a significant amount of work yet to be done, eventually Alaric was satisfied he could send his basic writeup off to someone else to examine and critique, before he'd send it off to the towns to be ratified. Given that he was careful to write the basic provisions to not violate any major laws or customs, it should eventually pass simply.

In his tower, Alaric kicked back and opened a bottle of scotch, quite pleased that once again he'd managed to convince his citizens to solve their own damn problems while thinking he was responsible for making it all work. A cynic might call it self-aggrandizing manipulation, but Alaric preferred to think he was just helping to motivate people by giving them something to look up to. People could solve all manner of problems with a little hope, and if he had to play the role of the wise king to make it happen, then that was the part he would play for them.

XXXXX

Ambassador McKinley was sitting in his office, reviewing the report from Bishop, the mercenary sitting across from him. All in all not a perfect outing, they didn't get the kind of hard evidence he'd wanted that he might be able to use to put that scumbag out of business permanently but it had worked out well in other ways. They had gotten their first real look at the M-SOC force that he had been wondering about and they were just as competent as he had expected. He needed to impress upon the people back home that they were dealing with a well-funded, well equipped professional military here, and that any conflict either military or diplomatic would have to be handled carefully. At the very least the immediate problem had been dealt with and they had some circumstantial evidence to go on, but it was nothing conclusive and someone like Hock would just bide his time and spring up somewhere else with a new band of goons like crab grass.

"You look troubled." Bishop pointed out, having traded her bulky armor for jeans and a jacket as not to stand out too much.

"Just contemplating a battle I've fought for too many years." McKinley sighed. Hock had been a thorn in the side of the Republic for too long, but he'd never had a chance to go directly after him. He'd tried to push for reforms or legal action before but nothing came of it, and now the man was squarely an obstacle to his job getting done. Good relations with the Confederation relied on healthy trade routes, and he couldn't maintain trade with that greedy bastard ruining things. He tapped his fingers on his desk, looking over the evidence recovered in the raid. Circumstantial, shipping reports, could have come from anyone. Of course Hock was well placed enough to get his hands on them, but there was no proof it actually came from him.

"Sorry you didn't get everything you wanted." Bishop offered, sighing. "I'd want someone like him gone too, royal pain."

"Yes, he is." McKinley mused, drumming his fingers as he tried to make up his mind. Nobody survived the game of politics as long as he had without getting their hands dirty on occasion. Whatever he'd done in his long career he just had to remind himself he did it with the best interest of the Republic and its people at heart, not personal gain or base greed. Had he compromised his integrity? Yes, on occasion. But he had never compromised his ideals. He just needed to take the time to make sure what he was about to do would fall on the right side of that thin ethical line. Slowly, he took a holotape out of his desk drawer and set it out in front of him, looking down at it pensively.

"What's that?" The mercenary asked curiously.

"This contains all the evidence and notes I have ever gathered about Dominic Hock." McKinley said simply. "Minus anything that could actually identify me as the person who collected the information, of course."

"Of course." Bishop answered as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Indeed. It's all circumstantial of course. You could never win any kind of court case with it. But the writing is on the wall. And combined with the information collected in this raid of yours it's fairly damning. Still circumstantial, but damning." McKinley said, reaching out to toy with the tape a bit with a finger, scooting it across his desk.

Bishop watched it scoot back and forth. "Of course someone outside the NCR wouldn't have to deal with all those legal issues." She pointed out rhetorically. "And this Hock character wouldn't have any hold over them. If… sufficiently motivated then they might be able to remove the issue through less savory means."

"Yes, quite." McKinley said, in a casual, almost bored voice. "Of course I imagine someone like Alaric would reward anyone who brought him such important intelligence quite handsomely. But it would be quite illegal for me to do that of course, else I might be tempted."

"Of course." Bishop agreed. "Someone like you has responsibilities, an image to uphold. You could never stoop to such an action."

"Indeed, of course should the tape fall into the wrong hands…" McKinley shrugged. "Say some rogue element or thief who wanted to make a quick bit of money by turning it over to the local government… Well I only have my guards here so the only way to conduct an investigation would be to plead my case to local law enforcement."

"Who would most likely not do the most stellar job, considering their own nation was benefiting from the culprit never being found." Bishop pointed out, nodding sagely. "Probably wiser to just not report the theft in my opinion, nothing would come of calling it in but embarrassment for the diplomatic corps."

McKinley sighed. "Yes, you're quite right, reporting a theft like that would only lead to me eating crow over the security breach in the first place. Probably just best to take all due precautions and hope nothing happens to it." He put the disk back down on his desk, looking at it for a moment. "Well, I'm off for lunch. I hear The Gourmand is serving Brahmin Wellington today with a wine sampling, I would hate to miss that." He said, clapping his hands as he stood. He walked over to the hat stand, putting on a grey trilby to match his suit. "Oh, you just show yourself out." He said, giving the mercenary a little wave before leaving her alone in his office.

XXXXX

Anguis kept his true emotions hidden behind the mask of the loyal servant as he stood in Lanius' planning room, the battered lord overlooking a map of the region with various troop dispositions and borders laid out before him. The Mojave and NCR to the west and an unknown expanse of wasteland to the east, with their own territory lain out before them. Of course what was 'their' territory was becoming increasingly difficult to be certain of, with the different Centurions carving out their own power bases. Oh no war had started yet, no declarations of independence or open revolt, but if you knew how to read the situation it was obvious where the new borders were being drawn. Supply lines were being consolidated, troops reorganized and repositioned, when the coin dropped every commander with dreams of ruling was standing ready to carve out their piece of territory.

"And you believe these are the Centurions most likely to rebel?" Lanius asked, looking over a list of commanders Anguis had formulated. It was not the full list he had put together actually, it wouldn't do for Lanius to know all his potential enemies.

"Yes my lord, given the signs I believe they are most likely to begin open revolt should the situation favor them." And the most likely to cause trouble for someone else rising to the throne, egotists one and all who started thinking they were the rightful heirs or some such nonsense. The others on his secret list were more docile, more reliable, would be more accepting of a return to the status quo.

"Then they shall have to be dealt with." Lanius said simply, standing up, looming over the wasteland in miniature.

Anguis bowed. Lanius was a fairly simple man at heart, it wasn't difficult to predict what he was going to do. When faced with an obstacle, the shortest path was straight through it. "A wise decision my lord. How do you plan to resolve this brewing crisis?"

"I shall muster the Legion and march upon them, subjugate the rebels and remind the Legionnaires where their loyalty lies. Once their leaders are dead their troops can be absorbed into the rightful Legion once again." Lanius declared proudly.

Anguis nodded, it had been one of the expected decisions. "That should certainly help resolve the situation." He said with a little bow. Yes indeed, especially if he made certain anonymous tips, slipped a few carefully disguised secrets into the right hands, and ensured Lanius was walking into a trap. Why he could decimate the troops of those most likely to rebel and then if the right commanders could be manipulated into moving in to absorb the survivors…

"Anguis, what of our other enemies?" Lanius asked, jolting him out of his schemes.

"Of course, of course. The NCR has strengthened their military position along the border in response to tension with the newly formed Mojave Confederation. There is not open war between them but tensions are high, and as a result the NCR will more likely put great force into countering any attack. However I do not believe they will currently engage us unless we attack first."

Lanius looked at the border between the two rival nations. "Perhaps they could be pushed into war with each other." He mused, surprising Anguis with the more devious thought. Had the man changed? He once despised the very notion of using spies or trickery to help win a war. "What do your spies say about this Confederation?" He asked, spitting out the last word as if it tasted badly. Perhaps bad memories of his battle with the Mojave's new ruler?

"My spies have informed me of much of the military development within the region." He began, overplaying a bit. He only had the one spy, a spy he wasn't sure he could trust really. He had gone silent for a while, only recently giving him very worrying news involving powered armor and nuclear weapons, though with only a vague notion that the source of these weapons was somewhere to the north of Vegas itself. "Their army is smaller than the NCRs but well equipped, with much in the way of old world technology. They make use of robots and great mechanical armors, and retain the ability to use nuclear weapons, as they did just before the battle against our outposts to the west, though the number of such weapons are not known. They also maintain an unknown, but presumed large number of flying machines, like the one they used during the battle of Hoover Dam."

Anguis winced as Lanius' hand clenched into a fist at the memory of that battle. "A difficult opponent." Lanius growled. "Have they any weaknesses?"

"Should the production centers for their robots be found and neutralized, then they would be much weaker." Anguis presumed. "Though the exact location of the facility seems a closely guarded secret. I shall endeavor to find the chink in their armor."

"Good, we must resolve our internal problems first before we can make war again in any case." Lanius decided. Anguis started to feel worried, had Lanius been learning? Was the uncouth barbarian warlord learnt subtlety at some point? If Lanius actually got smart, this could get much more difficult, and dangerous.

"Of course lord, when shall you depart?"

"As soon as the troops can be marshalled. The threat from within must be resolved quickly before it can spread, we must be united to face our enemies." The warlord declared, turning and heading for the door.

"Of course my lord, may Mars smile upon you." He said, bowing as his lord left. And may Pluto greet you, he added in his head.

XXXXX

It had ended up taking a few days of hammering things out but eventually Alaric sent his basic legal code off to the townships for suggestions for revision and eventual ratification. He was willing to listen to objections but didn't think much in the way of changes would be needed, as he'd written it originally as to be inoffensive to the various existing laws and customs of the townships which formed the Confederation. There was still likely a good length of time before they could finally implement it, but at least now the problem was being decided on by the people.

Alaric was within the spire of the Lucky 38 reviewing trade information with the NCR, things had improved since their operation on the border. Few things make a statement of intent quite like an orbital laser cannon.

"So did you think about it?" Cass asked from where she sat on the table.

"Hmm?" Alaric wondered, looking up from his terminal. "About what, again?"

Cass rolled her eyes. "The money idea." She clarified.

He hummed thoughtfully, knowing full well it was what she wanted to talk about. "Minting our own currency?" He mused, leaning back in his chair. "I have thought about it yes."

Cass swished a foot back and forth in the air, slowly tilting her head and giving him a 'well?' look.

"Not yet." He decided with a nod, making her groan.

"Oh come on, why not? Caps are always good but there's a lot of money tied up in NCR dollars around here, I don't like it." She protested. "And making our own money would make us more independent too, not to mention get us a little respect."

Alaric cocked his head with a bemused expression. "Cass, when did you become so astute on major financial issues?"

"Since you put me in charge of all the international trade." Cass sighed, standing up and pacing a little. "Had to do a little reading on how these things work, found some interesting things, like this issue."

Alaric sighed. "Look, Cass, I understand your frustration, and I get the idea, I do. It's just not time yet, I've got a plan, it'll all make sense, promise." He grinned.

Cass crossed her arms. "Nuh-uh. Not this time Alaric, explain. You can't just run away from me on this."

"Actually, yes I can." He said, a cheeky grin spreading over his face as he reached for his belt. Cass just had time to say 'Son of a b-' before he hit the button and blinked out of existence. A fraction of a second later as he arrived at Big MT, he was laughing his ass off.

"Am I missing something?" Asked the elderly man in a lab coat who was waiting at the materialization point.

"Oh, Doctor Henry, sorry just a private joke. I'm not late am I?" He asked, standing up straight and nodding to his old friend from Jacobstown.

"No, not at all." The doctor said, holding up a placating hand. "I'm just eager to get started. Haven't worked in an environment like this for years, all very exciting."

Alaric grinned. He'd been wanting to put Big MT back together as a proper research facility for a while now, and it was finally coming together. He'd put out a call for every science minded citizen to come and apply for a rather cushy job working in a very secure facility, knowing he'd need a lot more than just the Think Tank itself to make meaningful progress. Of course that meant that Big MT's location was no longer the secure national secret it had once been, but better public knowledge and useful than a useless secret. "Nice work with the Nightkin by the way, I hope I wasn't pulling you from anything important?"

"My work there was done." Henry shrugged. Alaric figured that would be the reaction, the scientist lived for the next challenge, the next set of problems to be solved. He had finished his work in Jacobstown and now needed new direction and focus, what better place for him than Big MT?

"How are you finding the facilities?" Alaric asked as they began walking. He'd used the lobotomites and construction robots for as long as he could, cleaning up the area and repairing the various research labs. The lobotomites had all been deactivated and quietly disposed of in a mass grave before anyone else could see them, with all records expunged. Not the most honest solution but he couldn't stand having them around, and they would create very unpleasant questions should their existence ever have come to light.

"Oh it's quite impressive." Henry said gratefully as they walked out onto the blue grass lawn. The place was buzzing with activity like never before, robots, scientists and research assistance moving between buildings. The landscaping was even nicer, the odd blue grass having spread everywhere in a lush carpet, the whole facility felt purposeful and energized. "The data storage has fragmented a little in some places but a lot of the old research data is there, so we've been able to start working on a few projects. The setups here are quite amazing actually."

"Good, good. How are we looking for production?" Alaric asked, smiling a little as he looked around at the place.

"Well, the only real factory setup here is Mobius' facility for building roboscorpions." Henry explained, gesturing off towards Mobius' dome. "Though we do have some fairly advanced chem production capabilities here, so we should have plenty of medical supplies. Everything else is more tuned to producing prototypes in small numbers, but we're getting a Saturnite foundry set up at the mine site, so we should be able to start working on those weapon concepts you requested."

"Excellent. Let's talk about the big projects, eh?" Alaric asked. "First off, power armor development."

Henry sucked a hissing breath through his teeth. "Well, it's a complicated topic. Based on the Enclave research data you had stored in that eyebot of yours, and my own experience, plus the various beneficial technologies we have here, I think we can end up producing something superior to any pre-war design. We've already been kicking some concepts around ever since you said you were interested in this line of development, but I would have a suggestion to save us a lot of development time."

Alaric nodded, gesturing for him to continue.

"We would save a lot of time and effort if we had something to work off of, a baseline if you will. The West Tek research facility is west of here and I think it would be within distance that we could send an expedition. If we could recover the original research data on power armor development from before the war, it would save us months, maybe even years, of research time."

Alaric nodded thoughtfully. "Alright, I'll review the information and plan something up. If I do approve the mission you can be assured I'll put my best people on it."

Henry nodded. "That's very reassuring to hear. I did have another issue to discuss, somewhat related to our power armor concepts, but also more general." Alaric motioned for him to go on. "I mentioned earlier chem production facilities? Well they are quite robust and we can make a fairly wide variety of them. Once we get those vending machines you mentioned before we will be able to make even more, and cheaper." Alaric nodded, following so far. "Back before the war, Big MT worked on an innovative automated medical function for advanced armors. You used their prototype stealth suit, and they were also working on something for power armor as well, administering stimpaks and Med-X when needed. We believe it would be very simple to implement this in our new armor design, but we believe we could go… further."

Alaric raised a brow. "What did you have in mind exactly?"

"There are a lot of chems that this kind of system could administer that are useful beyond simple healing and pain relief. Hydra can get critically injured patients back on their feet in record time, Rebound can keep someone awake and functioning at peak efficiency for hours of constant action, Turbo is incredibly potent as you yourself have experienced with your implants. Even Jet had beneficial properties, a quick burst of focus and energy."

Alaric frowned. "Firstly, my GRX implant doesn't have addictive properties like regular Turbo does, let alone Jet. I've seen what that can do to people doctor, not to mention the potentially disasterous effects of an automated system glitching or administering the wrong dosage or chem."

Henry nodded, holding up his hands defensively. "And this is something I've done a lot of thinking and research on, I think the risks can be mitigated and the benefits amplified to make it well worth it."

Alaric wasn't convinced, but he also considered himself open minded. "Alright, go on."

"First off, Turbo, Jet and Hydra are wasteland products, not the creation of prewar science. Hydra was cooked up by the Legion believe it or not, and Jet is literally made out of the fumes from Brahman shit." He said with a sneer. "Jet in particular was designed for maximum addiction and the shortest possible high. But with our capabilities, not to mention those vending machines of yours, I think it's possible to make much cleaner, safer and beneficial versions of these chems. We can reduce the addictive properties and increase the length of their beneficial effects, and we can have much easier treatment options for those who are addicted. Fixer temporarily removes all negative effects of addiction and thus makes it incredibly easy to go cold turkey, and we have the formula for an intravenous chem called Addictol which purges the user of all chemical addictions within one day, though it's a little less pleasant to use. As for administering the chems, you're quite right, a simple automated system isn't up to the task. But a complex automated system could be. Big MT made great strides with integrating artificial intelligence programs into armor suits as you experienced yourself, and we can do the same with our suits. Expensive to be sure but the benefits are worth it I believe, not only could such a system monitor the users health and administer chems as needed, but assist in all manner of tasks, coordinate communications and information streams, and offer tactical advice that the user might miss in the heat of battle. There are certainly risks but I think the benefits are worth it."

Alaric stroked his chin. The doctor made a convincing argument, and if things worked out the benefits would be most welcome. They were outnumbered by a possible enemy on one side and a certain enemy on the other, with at least one nebulous possible threat on the horizon and who knows what else behind that one? They needed their elite troops to be worth ten of the enemy if their comparatively tiny nation was to survive, even power armor could be swamped by numbers, and they couldn't be everywhere at once. If this kind of system would allow his elite troops to run and fight at peak efficiency for hours on end, it might be enough to tip the scales. "Alright, I'll take it under consideration. Continue your research for now."

Doctor Henry nodded. "Thank you sir. On a related note, once we get our supplies sorted out, I'd like to start distributing Mentats to the research staff. We won't go overboard with the dosage but frankly even the best and brightest you could scrape out of the Mojave aren't exactly the shining stars of their field here. We could use the edge and, as I explained before, once we have those vending machines set up managing and treating addictions won't be much of an issue."

"Wouldn't that mean our research staff would end up like… well… Mobius?" Alaric asked. He liked Mobius, but wouldn't wish his various mental issues on anyone.

"Mobius' condition, and the rest of the Think Tank, is mostly due to his extreme age and the inability of biogel to perfectly preserve the brain for so many centuries on end, not his various addictions. Also he's addicted to a lot more than Mentats believe me. Periodic Addictol detox treatments should prevent any kind of long term issues, and the negative effects of addiction only become evident if your supply runs out, which we shouldn't have a problem with and we'll be sure to have a stock of Fixer for emergencies to ensure we can smoothly kick any dependence if we need to."

Again, a quandary. Alaric never used chems beyond Stimpaks or things to manage radiation, barring what his implants supplied of course. But on the other hand he never felt the need to use them because his implants and mutations already made him superior to most normal humans. He was stronger, faster, tougher and smarter than most any unaltered preson you would meet in the wastes. If he had never been to Big MT and been rebuilt, or been lucky enough to develop so many benign and beneficial mutations, would he have ended up needing a chemical boost to his abilities to do the things he had done? And how many times had he only survived a tough fight because he'd keyed his GRX implant to give him that boost, that unfair advantage. In the end all the implant did was provide a precise and safer method of administering a potentially harmful chem, which was essentially exactly what Doctor Henry was proposing.

"Alright, go ahead with it. But I reserve the right to shut things down immediately if it gets out of hand." He decided, figuring he'd see how things went with a trial run. "You keep mentioning the vending machines, judging by your tone I'm guessing you can't actually get them working?"

"Not yet." Henry admitted. "The research data on them has degraded and there are no actual units left here. However full instructions and data was sent to the Sierra Madre along with the entire existent production line. If they would be recovered…"

Alaric shrugged. "I was going to send a raiding force there anyway, so we'll get you what you need. How is the robotic development coming along?"

"Promising, I have a few concepts for ways to enhance our robotic armies once we get the production issues sorted out, I'll get a report written up as soon as I have something."

They had walked over eventually to the Saturnite smelting facility, which now bore a factory of sorts at the surface. "Coming along nicely." Alaric noted, going in to see various workers and robots tending large machines.

"Yes, Saturnite has many useful properties for weapons development. We considered using it for the plating for power armor but it's not really good for that. It retains heat too well you see, so the energy of incoming bullets gets converted to heat through impact and friction and it gets unbearably hot rather fast. Not to mention if you hit it with energy weapons it starts glowing and burning."

Alaric shuddered, remembering his experience having his power armor's chestplate melted into his chest. "Yes insulation is very important." He said quickly.

Henry nodded. "However it does offer benefits for other mechanical applications, not to mention weapons. We're working with a few different designs and concepts that we think have a lot of potential. As for now… your special order is ready." He said with a grin.

Alaric smiled, walking over to a table with the doctor, a long wooden box sitting on it. He opened the lid, chuckling as he saw what rested on velvet within. "Doctor, it's perfect."

"We try." The old scientist said proudly.

XXXXX

Following the visit to Big MT, Alaric had returned to Vegas, heading through the Outer Vegas ruins to Vault 3, he'd called ahead to Veronica to let her know he was stopping by to discuss the aftermath of The Divide operation. He wore his wasteland coat, and carried the box from Big MT under his arm.

"Halt, and declare yourself." The sentry at the gate said. It wasn't Kruse, obviously, but Alaric was tickled to see the Knights peculiar speech pattern was spreading through the rest of the Brotherhood.

"Alaric of Vegas, I am expected."

The guard nodded. "Proceed."

Overall he was quite impressed with the development the Brotherhood had gone through. The civil war had been punishing and tragic, but ultimately it had resulted in the purging of all the negative beliefs which held them back. Either through the deaths of the old guard, or the proof of the flaws of their beliefs, the Brotherhood had been forced to see reason, and move into the new world he was building. Veronica looked up from her terminal as he entered, smiling.

"Alaric, good to see you. There are some thing I wanted to go over."

He nodded, sitting across from her desk. "Indeed, matters to discuss about The Divide."

"Specifically the loot." She pointed out. "Now the nukes belong to you, as does the base. But you recovered a lot of advanced equipment there as well."

"The power armor." Alaric surmised, he'd expected this might be a point of friction. "And we are keeping it for ourselves. This is a problem?"

Veronica nodded after a moment. "Yes. My Knights led the charge on that base and we lost people. And rebuilding power armor isn't easy or cheap, we paid a toll in blood to get you to that bunker and I'd like for my people to have something to show for it. I'm considering opening recruitment to Mojave citizens and we're going to need equipment to fill out new ranks and replace old suits that we just can't fix anymore."

Alaric raised a brow. "Open recruitment? Interesting idea, what prompted it? Not that I'm against it of course, just wondering."

Veronica sighed. "Well, there's still a lot of mistrust among the Mojave's people. You've been nothing but accommodating and your troops seem pretty agreeable, but it wasn't very long ago Brotherhood forces nearly destroyed this nation. Opening up recruitment helps us get stronger, but it also demystifies us a little. And it will let people see we're not just a bunch of self-centered isolationists anymore, we're a part of this land and its people, and willing to defend it."

Alaric grinned approvingly. "I like it. As for your supplies, I need that armor right now. There are plenty of weapons fit for your Knights that I can spare, the shoulder mounted miniguns, M2 HMGs, rocket launchers and so forth. And I've already been donating some weapons like the K9000's from Big MT. How about this? I need those suits right now, all 200, to get the first generation of my Shocktrooper Corps some firsthand experience, and then we're going to start making more suits. Once we start making new power armor, you let me build up a decent force say… six hundred total power armored troopers, then we'll phase the T-57's out and replace them with new suits, and you get them free of charge."

Veronica steepled her fingers, leaning back and forth a little. "And if any suits are destroyed before you can donate them?"

"Then we'll replace them pro bono with whatever suits we end up building. One way or another you get two hundred suits." He finished, having already planned for this possibility.

She pursed her lips, thinking. "Deal. How is that power armor thing coming along then?"

"Well enough." He shrugged. "I'm going to need a strike on the Sierra Madre first though. Get our hands on that molecular fabrication tech. Which I am willing to share freely." He said firmly, in case she was wondering.

"So we get to be your leading edge again?" Veronica asked, cocking her head.

"Along with my new Shocktroopers. Your Knights have the experience they need to learn from. And…" He sighed, tapping his fingers. "Christine is there." He added.

Veronica was silent for a long moment. "Christine… why… why didn't you tell me before?"

He sighed, shaking his head. "Wasn't time, things happen fast. She's safe though, secure and protected, waiting for us. She wanted to stay behind and act as a guardian in that hellhole. I think it's time we went and relieved her of that duty. And… I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner Veronica, but I needed you on point for all this, not worrying about her. I've kept in radio contact with her, she's doing well."

She still looked shaken by the sudden revelation, but nodded. "I'll have Kruse ready to go as soon as possible."

Alaric grinned, drumming his fingers. "About Kruse actually, I wanted to discuss something with you."
He put a holotape on the table, pushing it over. "I had an idea for a new program of sorts. You were talking about instilling the Brotherhood with a new spirit of cooperation, improve your reputation with the average citizens? I think I have a solution."

She raised a brow, putting the tape in her terminal and reading through. "This is… this is actually a really good idea." She said, starting to nod along as she read through his suggested plans. "This could work, and I think he's perfect for it."

Alaric grinned. "Yes, and as for your supply issues, I have something you might like to see." He chuckled, putting the large box on her desk and opening it.

Veronica's eyes widened a little as she looked at the shining contents of the elegant box. "You are willing to supply us with these?"

"Those, and others similar, we're trying out various designs, but they should be very effective. Should help to tide you over a little until you get your new power armor."

The Elder of the Mojave laughed. "Oh it'll be most welcome, and I'm sure Kruse will be delighted."

XXXXX

Knight Command Kruse had spent days recovering, first at a field hospital rapidly set up in The Divide and after that within a longer term recovery ward in Vault 3. Thanks to some expert care and the nigh miraculous healing power of Hydra, not to mention his own stubborn insistence on getting better, he was discharged with a clean bill of health soon enough. He was still getting used to his new uniform, but it was quite comfortable. Actually a modified Vault Suit run off the automated production machine in the Vault, it was dark grey rather than blue, and it bore the new emblem of the Mojave Brotherhood. The sword and gears were the same, but instead of being contained within a winged circle, they were inside the hollow outline of the Mojave's iconic 'Ace of Spades' symbol. He greatly approved of the image, showing that the Brotherhood's soul was still the same, but now they were a part of a new and greater whole, the emblem proudly rampant on his back and a smaller one on the left breast of every new uniform, and painted upon their armor.

A lot had changed since their alliance with the Mojave Confederation, and he had to say it had changed for the better. Their new base of operations was quite comfortable and better for long term habitation and self-sufficiency, and they moved in the open with the respect of the common people, rather than skulking on the edges of society and met with apprehension or hostility. His brothers and sisters were more eager and in higher spirits than ever, and their opinion of the outsiders of the Mojave had improved as they worked and fought together. There was even talk of open recruitment, once unthinkable, but Kruse himself welcomed the idea knowing it would bring fresh strength to the depleted chapter.

Things were looking up it seemed, and he had high hopes, great deeds awaited their future and no matter how strong the Confederation as a whole became, Kruse knew that the Knights of Steel would always be needed in this dangerous world. The warrior was drawn out of his reverie by an approaching scribe, also in his new uniform, who bowed respectfully. "Knight Commander, you are recovered?"

He nodded, pushing out his powerful chest. "Indeed scribe, fit and ready for duty. What's this about?"

The scribe grinned. "If you could please follow me, your presence is requested by the Elder."

Kruse raised a brow curiously, but it seemed the scribe wasn't going to tell him what exactly was going on, so he motioned the man to lead on. His frown of confusion deepened as they went not down to the Elder's office, but up to the entry way and out into the ruins of Outer Vegas. Eventually the scribe turned to him, holding out a scrap of cloth. "You must be blindfolded." He said simply.

Kruse frowned, hesitating for a moment, but he reached out and took the cloth, covering his eyes, the scribe leading him down the road. He wasn't concerned, the Outer Vegas ruins were very secure these days, where once they had been overrun by Fiends now they were quiet and safe, patrolled by bother Brotherhood Knights and Mojave soldiers. But this was all very strange.

"We have arrived." The scribe said eventually, removing his blindfold and stepping away. Kruse opened his mouth to ask what was going on, but his voice failed him.

They stood before a stairwell leading up to a platform, the concrete fresh and unblemished. Ceremonial torches burned at intervals up the stairs, giving flickering light to the early evening scene and lending it the air of ritual. He was not alone either, the scribe had stepped back respectfully, but there were others there as well. Six Knights in full power armor stood guard up the stairs, three on each side. They held their super sledges in both hands, the long hafts resting on the floor, standing as still as statues. Elder Veronica stood in full robes at the top of the staircase, and looming next to her was Lord Alaric in his iconic black power armor. Next to them stood another armored figure, head bowed and unmoving.

"Knight Kruse, step forward." The lord of Vegas intoned, gesturing.

He gulped quietly, stepping forward to the base of the staircase, stopping as the first pair of guards crossed their hammers in the air before him.

"You have shown great courage and skill in battle. Your brothers and sisters in Steel look to you as an icon of all we are meant to be. A righteous sword and a guarding shield. Why? Why do you drive yourself so? The people of this parched wasteland have given your brothers nothing but resentment, nothing but hostility. Why show them such kindness, why throw yourself into the jaws of a beast for those who are not your brothers?"

Kruse thought for a moment before he found his tongue again. "Their lives matter, they may not be brothers in Steel but that does not mean they do not deserve to be protected. They deserve more than that."

"Why?" demanded the other of the first guards. "They did not swear oaths to your creed, they are wastelanders, savages, if a few of them die what of it? Their lives are small things compared to the fate of the world we must rebuild."

Kruse frowned. "Their lives are the world we must rebuild!" He countered. "All the technologies and power of the world mean nothing without the people to live and benefit by them. We forgot who we were fighting on behalf of, and whose future we were trying to build."

"We did not believe this in the past." Said one guard sternly.

"Then we must be better." Kruse growled. The Knights were silent for a moment, before they lifted their hammers to let him pass.

"The first challenge is met." They intoned as one.

Starting to get an idea what was happening, Kruse held himself high and walked forward. As he expected, the next pair of knights crossed their hammers before him.

"In the Divide, you threw yourself into the enemy time and time again." The one on the right said, her helmet impassive. "You met all manner of beasts with gun and hammer, and with each battle you were a hero. You threw yourself into battle again and again, fighting the greatest of champions alone, and the glory was yours. You were a great hero that day Knight, you must relish the glory that you earned. Upon that battlefield."

Kruse frowned, congratulations? He had expected another challenge. "The glory is… acceptable, I did not seek it. I did what had to be done."

"Come now." Said the other, a man. "You fought bravely, you should rejoice in your victory, for you proved yourself the greatest the Brotherhood had to offer. You won the glory of victory fairly and honestly, should not all hail you as their champion, as you must have intended?"

Kruse shook his head firmly. "No, I may have won glory that day, but I would do it again in darkness and ridicule a hundred times, I would never have done that for simple recognition."

The female on the right shook her head. "Why then did you fight? What purpose is glorious battle and heroic deeds if not to be celebrated by your peers? Is it so wrong to crave recognition for what you have done?"

"No, I fought not for glory, but for honor." Kruse said firmly. "Honor comes from within my own heart, not from outside. I would fight alone and die unremembered if the battle be in just cause and never once think of it! It is what must be done."

A moment of silence, and then. "The second challenge is met." And the way was open.

Again, the final pair closed ranks before him, and he waited for their challenge.

"You nearly died in The Divide." Said the guard on the left. "Were it not for the aid of another, you could have bled out on that battlefield after you slew the great Deathclaw. Why are you so eager to return to fight again, perhaps this time you will not be so lucky? Your station and rank would allow you much easier duty within the base, planning and commanding. That is where you should be, not charging blindly at whatever new enemy challenges you."

Kruse paused, considering the challenge. "I do not disparage those who lead from behind the lines, and who offer their wisdom to others. But that is not the place for me, I would not desire it."

The other shook his head. "Knight, you have proven yourself valuable and skilled. Why do you risk yourself so needlessly? Do you want to die in a glorious crescendo, rather than face one day the straw death in bed? Or perhaps you simply do not understand how valuable you are, your skills could teach and prepare the next generation, your experience guide and give direction."

"I am not for that." Kruse declared, shaking his head once. "Battle is where I thrive, I do not desire the comforts of rank or the wealth of age. In battle I was forged and in battle I will serve until I can serve there no longer."

"Are you so eager to throw your life away?" The first guard asked pointedly. "You could retire, find a different life, leave such things to the next man, and the next. Why does it have to be your burden to bear? Haven't you fought enough? Seen enough death? Heard enough screams of wounded men? This burden does not have to weigh your soul any longer, just let it go."

Kruse held his head high. "That is not the life I wish. I am sword and shield, the bane of the evil and the defender of the righteous, and I shall continue to fight for truth and goodness for as long as there is strength in my arms."

"The third challenge is met." The guards intoned, and stood apart, leaving him clear to join the final three figures on the platform.

He raised a brow, seeing the still figure was an empty suit of power armor, waiting for its occupant. He had heard of the design, T-60, but he didn't know there were any models with their chapter.

"Knight, don your new armor." Elder Veronica said, gesturing. Surprised, but not letting it show, Kruse opened the armor and climbed inside, the hissing pressure seals closing around him, the suit humming with power as he tested the hands, it was in great condition. "Knight, our Brotherhood has stepped into a wider world. And while our mission will remain the preservation of knowledge, our order must change with the times. We have already shared the bounty of our technology with our new fellows. But we must do more, we must protect them from the dangers of this world, so that we can all grow stronger. The people of this land need Knights to fight in their name, to face the horrors of the wasteland not because they were ordered to do it, not because they must, but simple because it is right. The task will not be easy, or kind. It will ask much of you, even perhaps your life. You will never know the comforts of high rank, nor stability, nor peace. You will be the first of a new order of Knights, sworn to defend the people of this land above all other concerns. Do you desire this?"

When Kruse spoke, his voice was choked with emotion. "With all my heart." He managed to say.

"Then kneel." Alaric spoke, his voice an electronic growl through his helmet.

Kruse's armored knee thudded against concrete as he knelt before the black armored lord. Alaric reached over to a table next to him, opening a long wooden box, and drawing out its contents. Kruse's heart caught in his throat as he saw the most beautiful sword he could ever have imagined.

The blade seemed like it was made of silver, shining and pure. No, silver wasn't right, it wasn't descriptive enough. He wracked his memory for something worthy of this blade. It was like… moonlight reflected in still waters, pure and radiant. The sword was enormous, a two handed broadsword, or perhaps a very large bastard sword. It would be a feat for a normal man to even lift such a blade and it was obviously intended to be wielded with power armor. The crossguard was broad and made of the same radiant metal, and the pommel was heavy and large. Alaric hit a small activation stud on the handle, and with a hum the blade began to glow, becoming red hot. The fuller down the middle of the blade glowed electric blue instead, like a lightning bolt amidst flames.

"Look not to me, Knight." Alaric intoned, pointing out to the expanse of wasteland with the glowing blade. "Look to the wasteland. For it is upon the wasteland that you swear this oath. This wasted soil, these bloodied stones, and all the people who live and walk within this land. Until this parched soil runs verdant and lush with new life, until these people live lives of such peace that the battles we fight are not but myth and fable. You must swear upon this wasteland to fight in the defense of its people, and for their children, and their children. When you perish in this task, it will fall to the next Knight, and the next after that, until the task is done. Do you swear to fight on unending against all the horrors of this world, to stand as bulwark against whatever evil may arise, to ever pursue the forces of evil no matter where they hide?"

"I swear." Kruse intoned.

"Do you swear to fight on, undaunted by the injuries you sustain, the miles you walk, or the years that weigh upon you, to battle on until you lack the strength to lift your sword in this cause?"

"I swear."

"Do you swear to fight with honor and courage for every day of your life from this night hence? To show valor and courage in the darkest and most remote of places? To one day die alone, forgotten and unremembered in a place far from home? To fight for this cause without reward or recognition?"

"I swear."

All was silent for a long moment. "Then by the war unending of this broken world, I anoint thee in the wasteland we will one day make whole." He said, reaching out to pour a handful of parched soil over his armor. "And by the promise of this sword, do I knight thee Sir Kruse, Knight of the Realm." He said solemnly, touching the glowing blade gently to each pauldron in turn. "First named and commander, of the Knights Errant. Rise, Knight, and take your sword."

Kruse was thankful for the stability his armor gave him, lest his trembling limbs might show. He stood, taking the offered hilt, the leather gripped in the armored gauntlets of his armor as he raised the burning blade high. The six guards on the stairway were looking up to him. "Let this sword be as a beacon in the endless night." Kruse intoned, his voice humble and introspective. "Let it light the way for all the desperate and hopeless in this wasted world, and be the spark that kindles the flames of hope wherever it is seen."

The guards pounded the hafts of their hammers on the concrete in approval.

"Well said." Alaric said, the ceremony feeling over now as the sovereign of New Vegas clasped him on the shoulder.

"Thank you Lord." Kruse breathed, his voice shaking. "This is… all I have ever desired in my life. This armor, this sword…"

"Made specially for you." Alaric chuckled. "The sword at least, the armor we found at a checkpoint in The Divide, figured you deserved it as that fight cost you your last armor.

Kruse nodded, looking to his gauntlet, clenching it in a fist. "I'll have to make some modifications, of course…"

XXXXX

"So let me get this straight." Royce said as he checked over his gear. "We have to get to The Glow, get the research data, and get out, right?"

"Correct." Chase confirmed, pulling his coat on over his body armor.

"The Glow is roughly two hundred miles south-southeast of here." Royce continued, checking his rifle again.

"Again, correct." Chase nodded, checking his leather ammo rig.

"Through the middle of NCR territory, after we signed a treaty that forbids military action across their borders?" The sniper continued, hands on his hips.

"That's about it, yes." The Stalker nodded, looking to his companion. "It's our mission, we've got to get it done."

Royce frowned. "I don't like it, breaking our agreement so soon after we signed it, what if we're caught out there?"

Tony walked over, getting his gear set as well. "Royce, this is why M-SOC exists, plausible deniability, covert operations. We've got nothing on us to identify ourselves, if we're interrogated then we're just a bunch of treasure hunters looking for the legendary Glow. Besides it's not like the locals are using it."

"Yeah, because it's radioactive!" Royce protested loudly. "Enough to make your bones glow."

"We've got suits and chems to deal with that." Sawbones reminded him, Five Card grumbling in the background as he hefted a heavy pack on top of his already weighty LMG.

"Alright, no use standing around yacking, best we get moving." Chase decided, nodding to the door, and soon enough they were walking off down the road towards their southern border.

As they walked through the Outer Vegas Ruins, Chase had to wonder how long they would keep referring to this area as 'Ruins' at all. People were moving out here, from outlying settlements, even from outside the Confederation's borders. There were no more marauding raiders or dangerous monsters lurking in the concrete heaps, some of the old industrial buildings were being scouted for refurbishment and repair. Vegas was reclaiming its lost territory, left cold since the Great War. Chase listened to the news, one by one the old mines were being reopened after the Legion's invasion had closed them. Iron, salt, quarried stone and more. Vault 34 was the only true factory in the Confederation's heartland, but how long would it hold that title? And there was something odd about the commanders lately, a certain tension, expectant, as if something very big was going down soon. He'd heard of the formation of a new branch of the military, Shocktroopers, and some mission to an abandoned resort town, maybe that was it.

He shook his head, not sure what to make of it all. It was still strange seeing this kind of massive development, the logistical scale things happened on. Dozens to hundreds of people working on a complex goal. He'd kept up on the news from Bullhead, things had improved nicely down there. The people were moving slowly out of the tunnels in some places to find new homes on the surface. The Vault they had discovered had become the new capital of what was looking to be the largest single township outside of New Vegas itself, with the various stations eventually deciding to unify into one overall settlement rather than join piecemeal. The exodus of Stalkers to the rest of the Confederation and those moving topside meant the tunnels were more empty than ever before, with more space for everyone to live. From what he could tell, many businesses were being set up on the surface, but many still wanted to sleep in the safety and familiarity of the tunnels, so it was working out nicely. If he got leave soon he'd like to go visit, but with how things were going he wasn't sure when that would be.

In the end though he knew his viewpoint was limited, he was just a man with a gun doing his job. And right now that job was putting the capability to produce powered armor into the hands of his nation. It was a big responsibility, and potentially an international incident if things went wrong, but if they were able to pull this off then they would be giving the Confederation a serious advantage over its enemies. Still, despite how he dealt with Royce he did have his misgivings about this mission, they were after all conducting a covert mission into NCR territory, not far from L.A. itself, so things could get sticky if not handled properly. But he supposed the reward would be worth the risk if they could pull it off.

His mind more troubled than his stoic expression would allow him to show, Chase marched off down the highway towards the Mojave Outpost and whatever might await him and his companions at the end of the long road.

XXXXX

Alaric looked out over his assembled troops. The elite of his armed forces, at least those not taken into the Commandoes. But these men and women showed a different skillset, their task would call for less subtlety, more action. At least those who were human and ghouls, there were a good number of super mutants present as well. The Shocktrooper Corps was his other elite unit, newly formed and with one job only, to be the tip of the spear driven into the enemy. The most destructive and brute force powerful heavy infantry unit he could deploy to the front lines. Power armored humans and armored super mutants could shrug off punishment which would mortally injure a normal human and could maintain an operational tempo none else could. And this was just the initial version, the first iteration. When he was able to equip them as he hoped he could, with superior power armor, chem injection technology and even better weapons on a grander scale, then they would be a force to reshape the map of the wasteland. Until then, they would have to learn to walk before they could run.

"Your mission is simple in concept." He began, looking out over the briefing area. "You are to go to the Sierra Madre casino, and secure it. You are to hunt down the Ghost People which infest the casino and the surrounding town and exterminate them to the last. You are to clear the path for technical specialists to secure the advanced technology which that location holds, and allow them to deactivate the poisonous Cloud which spews from the depths of the Sierra Madre itself. The Ghost People are fiercely territorial and very dangerous, and the Sierra Madre is a very hazardous environment, the toxic atmosphere could degrade your equipment, and there are many traps and explosives left behind, besides that the Ghost People themselves are very dangerous."

A hand came up, and Alaric gestured for the Shocktrooper to speak.

"Aren't they equipped with knives and spears? How is that a danger to our power armor?" The man asked.

Alaric nodded. "I was getting to that. While they are equipped with kitchen knives and makeshift spears, they also possess a number of makeshift but very potent explosives. Furthermore those knives are made from Saturnite." There was some grumbling at this. "Which means they are incredibly sharp and nigh unbreakable, and with the Ghost People's strength they will cut through your armor on a solid hit. You take one of these to the neck and you are dead, never forget that. Furthermore the Ghost People have an almost impossible degree of durability, getting up to fight after what should be mortal wounds, only severe dismemberment, decapitation or complete destruction will put them down for more than a few seconds. So, overkill is the rule of the day. This also means that melee combat against them is a very viable option, as your close combat weapons are more likely to produce the kind of dismemberment which is needed to really put an end to these monsters. They are also clever, these are not dumb feral ghouls you can expect to act predictably, they know the terrain and are ready to defend it. They will move in coordinated swarms and seem to have no fear of pain or death. They will fight to the bitter end against our invasion and their full numbers are unknown. All I know is that when I was there, they seemed without limit." Alaric suppressed a shiver as he remembered the inhuman wailing call the great horde of Ghost People let out when he disturbed them with the Gala Event. That chorus of voices ringing off every wall and from all directions, making an ululating cry no human throat should have made.

"You will not be completely alone." He continued. "You will be working in concert with a unit of Brotherhood of Steel knights, but make no mistake this is a Confederation operation, they are here to assist only. Still, they have been fighting in power armor for a lot longer than any of you, so respect what they have to offer in terms of their help and their experience. You're going to need all the help you can get to secure the Sierra Madre."

The briefing continued for a little while longer, answering questions and going over the frankly basic plan. Thanks to Big MT they had a prewar map of the entire facility including the underground tunnels the Ghost People most likely made their homes in. But there was no way to predict damage or new tunnels being dug. They also knew the source of The Cloud deep inside the machines of the casino so they thought they could shut it down given the chance. Eventually he walked off the podium and backstage, finding Boone waiting for him.

"They seem ready, as ready as I can make them." Alaric decided, pouring some water. Boone remained silent, just looking at him. The sovereign of Vegas looked over at his general. "You're giving me that look Boone, the one that makes me feel like a mouse in the shadow of a hawk."

Boone took a deep breath before speaking. "You're going out again, aren't you?"

"What, to the Madre? Yeah." Alaric shrugged.

"You shouldn't." Boone said simply.

It took a moment for Alaric to process that. "Boone, I'm the only one going who knows the terrain, and you know I'm the best fighter we've got. They need me there."

"Yes." Boone said bluntly, standing up. "I'm the best, they need me. That is what you said last time you had to go into combat, and the time before that. That is what you always say, and what you will always say. But you can't, not anymore." He walked over, taking off his shades to look Alaric in the eye. "Because you may be the best fighter we have, but you're also the only leader we have. There is no backup plan if you die, no successor. You are the Confederation's government, without you, everything falls apart. So I am telling you that you can't go. You have responsibilities, you are more important than an axe hand on the field."

Alaric held his friend's gaze for a long uncomfortable moment before he sighed and looked away. "Yes… you're right. I know. I'm just… not used to this, letting others go when I'm not. It's easier to be at the tip of the spear rather than sitting back and watching them go. I want to go but… you're right my friend, as you often are." Alaric sighed heavily, leaning against a doorframe and shaking his head. "When did I become a politician? How could I let that happen to me Boone? I want to feel wasteland dirt under my feet, the horizon calling my name." He slid down, sitting in a chair.

Boone walked over and sat beside him. "I know, I went through this when you made me your general. I still wish I was just a sniper, with nothing but my scope and a spotter to worry about. Now I'm in command of an entire army. So many lives under my responsibility. But you have to learn that too, you're very important to a lot of people now, and unlike those troops out there we can't replace you."

Alaric sighed, nodding. "Yes, I understand. Still, not easy." He cocked his head a little, chuckling. "At least they've got Kruse with them, that should count for something."

===Author's Note===

Well I've got no excuse really, sorry for the wait everybody. Real life and my own changing interests made me delay a bit too long. I can only really write this story when I'm on a Fallout kick, but I've got my poker chips spread in front of me and the game full of new mods to inspire and excite my imagination, so hopefully there won't be another huge dry spell this time.