Chapter Twenty: Synesthesia
I can only wait for the final amnesia, the one that can erase an entire life. –Luis Bunuel
"Prayers," she croaks past a dry throat. "He asked for prayers."
"And you prayed in Latin?" He turns her around to face him, his hands gripping her arms painfully. The fury in his eyes makes her throat dry. It's a familiar look but it seems somehow wrong on him.
"It's what I cave-could-remember," she says, her heart pounding against her chest.
"You remembered it?" he says, his voice tinged at the edges with white-hot anger. She nods as his grip becomes tighter.
"Let go of me," she says dangerously, suppressing the urge to fight, to maim. He's your friend, she tells herself even as her hands clench and unclench into fists.
"Context clues, meathead," Raul says, stepping forward to intervene. "She said 'Ave Maria-"
"Stay out of this," Boone snaps. Cass and Veronica watch them warily, hands still holding their weapons in case the fight isn't over. The newly freed slaves clutch each other, unsure whether to stay or flee.
"Don't talk to him that way."
"Are you Legion?" he demands, shaking her. The question almost seems to cause him physical pain as he grounds it out again between clenched teeth. "Are you Legion?" Her heart pounds furiously against her chest at the question and her mouth becomes dry. Beads of sweat roll down her arms to her palms and she fights another urge-this time to run.
Call me Legion, for we are many-
"I'll keep you safe. I promise. Caesar will give you to me. Just come with me."
The fires consume everything in their path and devour her home like a gluttonous beast-
"This is a coin, as payment for the ferryman-"
"No!" she roars, pushing him from her. He stumbles back with a grunt. "I am not Legion!" They stare at each other from across the bloody wasteland dirt and her chest heaves with the effort of not attacking him. Her hands itch, her mind urging her to hurt, to kill. Boone stands with his arms crossed, jaw clenched and his eyes hard with anger and mistrust. She shakes her head.
"I do not serve Caesar," she says shakily past chaffed lips. Boone stares at her long and hard as though he is trying to see through a lie. Finally, he sighs, gripping the bridge of his nose.
"Fine," he says. "I believe you." She realizes her teeth are bared in a snarl and she composes herself, closing her lips over her teeth. She nods, crossing her arms to keep them from grabbing him.
"Good," she growls out.
"But know that I will not work for a dog of the Legion," he says, pointing his finger at her. "Just so we're clear as to where your loyalties lie."
"Crystal." Boone turns to walk off, the tense set of shoulders hard against the setting sun.
"And that's it?" Raul demands.
"Let it go, Raul," she says wearily. He shakes his head.
"No. No, I won't! Do you know what 'Ave Maria' even means, meathead?"
"Don't care," Boone growls out but Raul cuts him off.
"'Hail Mary. Hail Mary. Do you really think the Legion would honor a woman?"
"What do you want from me, old man?" Boone asks, his voice quiet and too weary to keep arguing.
"I think you owe her an apology," he says evenly. Boone opens his mouth but Lola shakes her head.
"No," she says, echoing the words of their earlier conversation. "You don't owe me noth-anything."
Silence is the group's only conversation the rest of the way to Primm.
"Hello, dear!" Ruby's voice greets Lola and her words are the first spoken in hours. Lola gives her a weak smile as the older woman pulls her into a hug.
"Hello, Ruby," she says. "I have some poison gleans-glands-for you." Ruby cups her cheeks fondly.
"You look exhausted, dear," she says. Her eyes drift over her shoulder to look at the rest of her group. "Oh! I see you've found some friends!" Veronica waves cheerfully and Ruby moves toward them, ushering them all inside. She and Raul strike up easy conversation. Cass nods to Johnson as he looks over some delivery orders and he gives her a slight nod in return. Lola pulls her pack off of her back and begins to unload the radscorpion poison glands she had collected. Boone, unable to stand the almost claustrophobic space crammed with people, excuses himself and goes outside.
Ruby excitedly gathers up the poison glands and begins to make her famous (or infamous, depending on who you asked) casserole.
"Would you like some, dear?" Ruby calls. Lola nods.
"Yes ma'am," she says.
"You eat that stuff?" Cass asks, eyeing Ruby bustling around the stove warily.
"It's good," she says. "You want any?" Cass gives her a dubious look.
"I'll stick to my whiskey, thanks." Lola shrugs.
"More for me," she says. Veronica catches the robot lying on the table out of the corner of her eye and squeaks in delight. She tugs on Raul's sleeve and points it out to the other ghoul. He smiles at her almost indulgently as she begins speaking in quick and complicated technical terms that Lola can't even begin to comprehend. Her hands are all over the place, gesturing every which way and Lola feels a smile creeping across her face at the other woman's enthusiasm.
"Go on and fix it if you're able," Johnson says. Veronica's resulting squeal is ear-splitting and she all but drags Raul over to the table to fix it. Lola has stopped being able to follow their conversation but still listens, picking words she understands out of the technical jargon and follows the tones their voices take. She closes her eyes, leaning her head back against the wall and eventually just lets the sounds roll through her brain. There's a familiar pain behind her eyelids, a building pressure, and she lets out a shaky breath. She opens her eyes to the single weak electric light bulb that hangs from the Nash's ceiling.
"I'm going to go outside," she says to no one in particular. Cass gives her a nod of acknowledgement and goes back to watching Raul and Veronica dismantle the robot and put it back together again. She sighs, rubbing her temples. Her head hurts and she tries to force the sensation away. She looks up at a slowly darkening sky and walks to the blown out building across the street from the Nash's. She makes her way up the stairs and to the blasted remains of a window. She sits down, legs dangling over the edge. A curse flies from her lips when she pats her pockets searching for cigarettes and realizes there are none to be found. She sighs, eyes rolling up to look at the sky.
"Perfect," she says to no one. So she's surprised when she gets an answer.
"Out of smokes?" a gruff voice asks.
"Yeah," she answers, leaning back on her hands. "You got any to space-spare?" Boone nods, crouching down to sit. He sits arms length from her, and has to lean over to hand her a cigarette. She brings it to her mouth and pats her pockets for a lighter. She pulls Benny's lighter from her pocket and lights the cigarette.
"Thanks," she says with it still between her lips. He nods and she hands him the lighter. She exhales, tracing the pattern of the smoke with her eyes. They sit together in an uneasy silence, smoking cigarettes and keeping their eyes toward the setting sun. Lola watches the cherry at the end of her cigarette get bigger and brighter against the backdrop of the setting sun. A voice so quiet she almost didn't hear it breaks the silence.
"Yeah," she answers and can hear the sigh of relief from her companion's lips. "My head is killing me, but yeah." He nods again, exhaling a puff of smoke. "You?"
"Fine," he says. "I'm fine. And I'm sorry. For earlier."
"No you're not," she says easily. The rage she had felt at his early actions has all but vanished, leaving weariness in its place. "You were ready to shoot me." Boone flinches. After a moment, he answers quietly,
"Yeah. I was. You know why."
"I know why," she says. "But not anything-everything." He stiffens and the cigarette dangles from his lips.
"No," he says. "You don't. Its better that way."
"Boone," she says, her voice echoing in her ears. "What happened to your wife? Really?"
"Drop it," he says.
"There has to be a reason you haven't gone over-after her," she insists. "Why you hate the Legion so much."
"She's dead," he says curtly.
"You can't know that. She could still be-" His hand reaches out and she winces, afraid he is going to slap her. But he simply places his fingers against her lips to silence her.
"Stop," he says and underlying his voice is a soft pleading. She nods, swallowing thickly. He takes on last drag of his cigarette before standing. He drops it to the ground and snuffs it out underneath his boot. He turns to leave but her voice makes him pause in his tracks.
"Boone," she says and suddenly she sounds very small. "Why didn't you shoot me back at the slave camp?" He sighs, hand reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"I believed you," he answers. "I believed the fear in your voice. The Legion terrifies you, don't they?" She swallows audibly and looks up toward the sky.
"Some words isn't-aren't-just words to me," she says softly. "Some have something else attached."
"'Ave Maria," she says and he grits his teeth. "Reminds me of honey mesquite. So much that I can smell it. And your name, Boone-I can hear gunshots in my ears whenever I hear it."
"And Legion?" he almost growls the word. "What does that bring to mind?"
"Fire," she says, ashing her cigarette. The cherry falls off the end and floats to the ground, burning brightly on the way down. "All it brings to mind is fire."
"Ta-da!" Veronica says, grinning from ear to ear. The robot that had lay broken and abandoned on Johnson Nash's table floats above her head, chirping almost happily.
"It's a floating tin-can," Boone says. Veronica's face falls slightly at his words and Raul glares heatedly at him from behind her. Lola knocks into him with her shoulder.
"Don't be an asshole," she says. "It's wonderful, Veronica." Her grin comes back although not as big as it had been.
"You like him? His name is ED-E."
"Eddie?" she says, tilting her head. "Why'd you name it that?" Veronica points at a bent piece of metal that proudly proclaims 'Nevada: ED-E.'
"It's what used to be a 'license plate'," Veronica explains, complete with finger quotations. "They used to be on motor vehicles."
"Those big metal skeletal things?" Lola asks, circling around the robot. A sticker on the side labels the robot as 'an honor student at Roosevelt Academy'. The words don't mean anything to her. Veronica nods vigorously.
"What does it do?" Cass asks, eyeing it.
"All sorts of stuff," Veronica gushes. "It can float. And it can talk-play audio recordings and take video. Play the radio. And it has a laser!"
"It won't go psycho, will it?" Cass asks. "I'll cut it if it does." The robot-ED-E-makes what sounds like an unhappy chirping noise in response.
"It's fine. Fine," she stresses. The scribe holds up two fingers. "Scout's honor."
"It can come," Lola says. "We could use something that can shoot left- lasers."
They travel for days. The group makes their way across the wasteland, fighting fiends, cazadores and giant geckos.
"Did you know those things used to be small?" Raul says after one particularly heated battle with a pair of them that can breathe fire. He holds his fingers an inch apart and says, "This big."
"I don't believe you," Lola says, laughing and then wincing at the burn she'd acquired.
"I knew a man that big once," Cass says, taking a swig of whiskey. "And I'm not talking about how tall he was."
"Gross!" Veronica says with a laugh. ED-E chirps, floating around Veronica's head. Lola looks around as tall and ruined buildings begin to take shape around them. The color has faded from them but she can still make it out by the great expanses of chipped paint that cover the ruined buildings. Signs from a different time glitter underneath the sun off in the distance.
"Where are we?" she asks. "I don't tank-think-I've been here before."
"We're outside of Freeside," Boone answers, hand adjusting his beret in an almost defiant fashion. "The gate to the Strip is through the slums." Lola looks around as the make their way toward a flickering neon sign that proclaims 'Freeside' to anyone that happens to pass by. A man dressed in a leather jacket and an odd hairstyle scowls at them as they walk through the gate under it.
Rubble from nearly two centuries ago lies abandoned in the street as though no one had ever bothered to clean it. Dirty children run by them, all skin and bones with rags hanging off of them, chasing a giant rat. Lola pulls out her pistol and, out of pity, shoots the rat through the back of the head. Ravenous, the children descend upon it and begin ripping it apart.
"Thanks lady!" one of them says through a mouthful of blood.
"Doesn't seem very free," she says. "Seems awful."
"There are worst places to live," Cass says, shaking her head and fishing through her pack for some food rations. "You mind?" Lola and the rest of the group shake their heads and Cass goes to the children, handing out boxes of Pre-War food.
"There's something here. That place," Lola says. "The one Veronica mentioned?"
"Followers of the Apocalypse!" Veronica pipes up. She gestures to a sturdy, if worn, building to the left of them. "Their base of operations is right there at the Old Mormon Fort." Lola eyes the building critically, holstering her pistol and crossing her arms.
"They can help me?" Veronica nods enthusiastically.
"They're great! Come on, let's go meet them!" Lola looks at the Old Mormon Fort again apprehensively. Could they really help her? Her eyes drift over to Boone, who stands with his arms crossed and a stoic expression on his face. When he catches her gaze, he nods and forces a smile. It seems to pull his face into a grimace but she smiles back, appreciating the thought all the same. Inhaling deeply, she moves her eyes back to Veronica and nods.
There is only one way to find out.