Author's Note: Sorry for the delay. I hate writer's block. Sad to say, but I'm stuck with a bad case of it. I'm half-way through Chapter 9 right now, though unfortunately it isn't turning out how I'd like. It's also much, much longer than I thought it would be, so I might have to trim it up a bit as well. I really don't want to cut it in half again, as that was what I had to do to Chapter 8. Thus, I decided to write up some intermissions which focus on the events happening to various side characters; hopefully this'll help my muse get off her lazy ass and give me some ideas on how to finish up the Lone Wanderer's battle of wits and brawn with the former Legionary, Gus.

Intermission 01: Vegas

Paladin Horner, despite the discomfort being caused by his injuries, couldn't help but gawk at the grand city before him. New Vegas, in all its glory, was stretched out in front of his eyes, giving the Paladin but a small glimpse at the neon limelight that would have been a common sight in Pre-War Las Vegas.

After being restrained at Doc Mitchel's clinic, Horner was carelessly tossed into a wagon being pushed by one of the Courier's robotic escorts. He was able to peek over the side of the wagon as he was being hauled away to see the poor doctor's body being tended to by several shocked members of the Goodsprings community. All of them looked to have been at a loss as to what to do, many flashing betrayed looks at their former beloved celebrity as she led the Securitrons out of town.

"Murderer!" shouted one young woman as the troupe rolled past.

The Courier ignored the insult, continuing through the town with a confident stride.

The trip north on the Long 15 was remarkably quiet. They encountered numerous travelers and merchant caravans leading goods-laden brahmin, but all gave wide berth to the young woman in the black suit and her cadre of robots. Horner was surprised at her endurance, as she led the way during the entire trip, not stopping once, not even to set up camp for the night. The Courier just tromped on towards the flashing glow of the city of New Vegas, which was visible in the distant horizon.

New Vegas itself was a sight to behold. Never in Horner's 25 years had he aver seen such a wonderous sight. Somehow, the location seemed eerily untouched by the bombs, with many of its buildings and facilities still standing. Not only that, but the city itself was powered, with almost every window they passed glowing from the soft luminescence of an electric light bulb. The contingent entered the city gates very early in the morning whilst the sun had hours yet to rise. Thus, Horner was treated to the bright neon lights emanating from the center of the city, a place he recalled being named the Strip. Before the strange troupe could get into the bright glow, they had to pass through Freeside, a somewhat run-down part of the city. The sight of the dirty, crowded streets was very familiar to Horner, as it reminded him of the various DC communities that had sprung up in the former capital's ruins after the Brotherhood cleared them of Super Mutants.

As the Courier led them through Freeside, a group of five young men dressed up in black leather jackets with almost identical hairdos strode up towards them. Their leader, a rough looking hoodlum wearing an arrogant smirk, was dressed in what looked like a Pre-War inmate's uniform. He waved to the Courier as his gang approached.

"Hey, baby. Long time no see," he spoke up, voice sounding in a weird inflection. He and his goons showed none of the fear that the other citizenry had towards the woman and her robotic minions. The man peeked into the wagon and gave a chuckle when he saw the banged-up and shackled Horner. "Well, look'a that." The weirdo returned his eyes to the Courier and gave her a lop-sided grin. "Baby, if you wanted a man, all ya had to do was ask. Me an the all the boys here would love ta be your main squeeze. You didn't have ta go out into the wastes and rough up this poor dope."

The Courier rolled her eyes, but gave the hood an amused smirk. "Very funny, Pacer. But this asshole's a fugitive. I'm bringin' him in for interrogation."

"Oho, I see," Pacer turned his slightly bloodshot eyes towards Horner and flashed him a mocking smile. "I'd hate to be you right now, buddy."

Horner just gave him a disgusted sneer.

After a few more minutes of small talk, Pacer and his goons eventually went on their way. "Don't forget, sweet thing. If you ever need help, me an' the Kings always got your back," he told the Courier before he left.

Lovely company this bitch carries, Horner thought angrily to himself.

"Those guys are with the Kings," the Courier told him off-handedly, more in the manner of a friend making idle conversation than what she truly was: some glorified hoodlum holding him against his will. "They run Freeside, with Mr. House's blessing, of course. I'm actually a member of their gang, you know. First girl to make the cut," she stated proudly with a grin. "I even wore one of their uniforms for a couple of days, but it just wasn't me."

Horner was a bit confused at the woman's behavior; for some reason, she was acting like a normal person. The bitch was even smiling at him, her eyes lacking the near-total malice they had when he first met her. She seemed totally at ease, as if just a few hours ago she didn't just murder the man who, from all the accounts that he had heard, had saved her life. She didn't even hesitate, pulling the trigger on the kind old doctor without mercy. What the hell was wrong with this bitch?

"I didn't ask," he spat as a retort to her attempt at conversation.

The Courier frowned for a moment before shrugging. Her demeanor changed once more, her previous friendliness vanishing behind a dark, angry look. "Fine, motherfucker," she snorted. "I was gonna give you a little break, but if you wanted to go straight to the torture, then shit, let's get right to it then."

The rest of the trip through the city was made in tense silence, a fact that suited Horner just fine. Frankly he felt that every word out of the Courier's mouth was either a lie or the rantings of a deranged madwoman. She could burn in hell as far as he was concerned, and if there was truly a God or any justice left in this world then he would personally be the one to send her to it.

The wagon stopped briefly upon reaching the checkpoint into the Strip. All around the center of the city was a massive wall of erected metal sheets and steel girders, welded and bolted together several feet thick into an all but impassable obstruction. It was topped with razor wire and high-powered searchlights were interspersed ever few dozen feet. What's more, it was all patrolled by what seemed like hundreds of those security robots. Horner paled at the sheer number of the things just standing around, manning the large walls that protected the neon glowing paradise within from the filth of the rest of the planet. They were quickly escorted through the main gates once the robots verified the Courier's identity, and upon passing the giant rusted metal portal did Horner feel himself transported 200 years back.

The Strip was... amazing. Pure and simply put, it was a sight to behold. The young paladin had never seen its like. Not even Rivet City, the wonder of the Capital Alliance, with its massive growth and prosperous rebuilding, with its newly installed electric grid and exterior street lamps, could hold up a candle to the wonder before him now.

Bright neon lights assaulted his eyes, the glow of reds, blues, greens, and other colors he had never seen before making him slightly dizzy to behold. Each flashed in dozens of patterns, allayed in hundreds of lights, each calling out to him and tempting him towards them. The casino buildings, intact and free of any imperfections, rose up majestically into the dark morning sky. The streets, completely clean of trash and rubble, the pavement unmarked by any cracks or debris. And the people. Dear God, the people. There were so many of them. They lined the wide, bright streets of the Strip, and they were all smiling and laughing, many most obviously inebriated. All wore their Sunday best, most of the Pre-War fashion free of grime and dirt. Even the less pristine dressed of the people here made the wealthiest of citizens from the Capital Alliance look like paupers.

Everyone looked so happy and carefree. It was an unnatural sight.

And of course, the ever-present security robots were to be seen everywhere, either standing in a corner looking imposing but unobtrusive in their blue armored hulls, or patrolling through the crowd of tourists looking for trouble makers. All the revelers seem to be ignoring them, pretty much treating the dangerous machines like lamp posts or fire hydrants. Horner idly wondered if any of these people actually knew what the damn things were capable of.

As the group was making its way through the crowd, one of the security bots approached. It saluted the Courier smartly before speaking.

"Ma'am," it stated in its electronic tone. "Mr. House requests your presence at the Lucky 38."

"Oh, of course," the Courier hustled away quickly without even glancing back at Horner. She headed straight towards the most prominent structure on the Strip, the large tower that the paladin had first spotted days and miles ago in the Wasteland. That eyesore seemed to be visible from everywhere in the Mojave as it stood straight up, jabbing high into the sky like a mighty sword, arrogantly proclaiming humanity's superiority to God and nature even after the end of the world.

Horner was somewhat surprised when the robot that had approached then turned to him. This time though, it had a different face on its viewscreen. Instead of the usual gruff looking soldier caricature peeking from the CRT monitor, the pic of a beautiful brunette woman with a lily in her hair stared back at him.

"Oh, you poor thing," the robot told him in a soothing female voice. "What has that awful woman done to you?"

"Uh... huh?" Horner muttered. He'd never been talked to by a girl robot before. Frankly, he never even knew there could be girl robots.

"I'm so sorry for what you had to go through, sugar," the robot continued, her artificial voice tinged with concern. "I assure you, Mr. House had no idea that his employee was up to such shenanigans! Oh dear... let's get you patched up quick, hopefully infection hasn't set in yet. I'm Jane, by the way. I'm sure we'll both be great friends."

"... what?" Horner's question remained unanswered as the security bots (plus Jane) rushed him through the Strip and towards who knows what. A small bit of hope flowered in him, that perhaps what the robot said was true and perhaps he would make it out of this alive. But then again, one of these same robots had killed Paladin Cody, so his opinion of the lot of them was rather low. Still, even if this was a trick, he could use it to his advantage. Even injured, he was a Paladin of the Brotherhood of Steel. These fools were taking him too lightly, and that was a mistake they would soon regret...

"You wanted to see me, sir?" The Courier stepped up to House's massive monitor, staring up at his glowing image with all but reverence shining in her eyes. She had taken a slight detour after getting off the elevator to the penthouse, rushing to the bathroom to wash her face first. She always wanted to look presentable in front of her employer; the savior of humanity deserved no less than her total respect, after all.

"Ah, Six, there you are," Mr. House spoke up, his refined voice sending shivers down her spine as it always did. "How did the operation I sent you to perform go?"

"Very well, sir," the Courier answered, "the primary target was neutralized with minimal damage to Securitron forces. I have also captured one of the enemy interlopers, though two or more may still be at large. I have the utmost confidence that I will soon capture or kill any those left, so you don't have to worry about anything on that front, boss."

"I see," Mr. House paused for a fraction of a second before continuing. This time his voice sounded rather stern. "Remind me. Did I or did I not instruct you that this was to only be a reconnaissance mission? I thought I was clear that you were not to engage the targets. That you were to only ascertain their identity and their usefulness to our goals."

"I... I found out that they were members of the Brotherhood of Steel, a branch from the East Coast. As you are most aware, sir, the Brotherhood has been a major thorn in your side, so I deemed it necessary to act swiftly. Whatever they were doing in Hidden Valley had to be stopped."

Mr. House was silent for two long seconds, an eternity for him, when he spoke again. "Very well. I shall defer to your judgement for that event. But... that still leaves the incident at Good Springs."

A tiny twitch appeared in corner of the Courier's lower right eye. If House noticed he gave no indication. "Sir?"

"I received a very tersely worded complaint via Victor from Good Springs' mayor. She and most of the settlement seem to be in quite an uproar regarding the incident in which you shot and killed the town doctor."

"He refused to hand the prisoner over, sir," the Courier simply stated.

"Was it truly necessary to kill him, though? I'm sure you could have found a more... non-lethal means of achieving your goal."

"I..." the young woman took a deep breath before looking up into the giant viewscreen. "I wanted to send a message, sir. Doc Mitchell was a good man, but his defiance set a dangerous presidence. Anyone who defies your will needs to be punished. If I had let him off easy, then others would have seen it as a weakness. They would have followed in his example, and gone against your will as well. As much as I... cared for Doc, I couldn't let his insult go. I had to stamp down this rebellion quickly, before it grew to something unmanageable."

There was more silence from her employer, as the mogul seemed to be thinking upon her words carefully. Finally, after a full minute of stillness, House spoke. "I see. Well, you certainly had your reasons, so in this case I shall defer to your judgement as well. Although, if you would be so kind as to do me a favor, Six," House sounded slightly exasperated while he spoke, "in future please try to be less... forceful in your dealings with the local population, hmm? I know such heavy handed methods have their place, but New Vegas is not like it was two years ago, when we were accosted from all sides by hostile forces. The time for destruction and violence is over. Now is the time to employ softer and more subtler approaches. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," the Courier said. She looked down upon the floor, her face noticeably filled with shame. "I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologize, Six," House said rather tersely. "Just do better next time."

"Yes, sir."

"You may go."

"Yes, sir." the young woman twisted stiffly upon her heel and walked away, heading up a flight of stairs and onto the second floor of the penthouse. She brushed past several Securitrons before reaching the elevator. None of the robots noticed the shaking of her hand as she reached up to press the button.

The Courier exited the Lucky 38 and swept through the throngs of people, many of whom parted and made way for her. Most, if not all of them, knew who she was and not to mess with her when she was in one of her moods.

She left the bright neon lights of the Strip and marched into the less populated areas of Freeside. This was where the less than savory elements of the city made their homes, where thugs and riffraff who were too foul or stupid to belong to any of the criminal gangs eventually wound up. It was also where the tired and desperate go, the area of the city where those with something to hide or run away from escape to.

The young woman wandered aimlessly through the dirty, cracked streets, her boots heavy and crunching various bits of trash under them. She entered a dark alley and continued to wander through them, seemingly marching in random directions through the shadowy and foul smelling passages.

"Hey, you!"

The Courier stopped, then turned her eyes in the direction of the shout. It came from a rather ragged looking boy, one two or three years younger than she was. He was thin, all but skin and bones, his hair ragged with eyes red and bloodshot. His arms were bare of the filthy rags he wore, and upon the skin she could see the numerous brown and purple prick marks from Med-X syringes.

"G-give me all your money, bitch," the boy said while he waved a rather battered looking Chinese pistol in her direction. "I'll shoot you dead, whore! So give m-me all your caps!"

The Courier didn't bother answering back. With a grace and swiftness few posses, she twisted her lithe body until her left leg shot back into a vicious kick, booted foot slamming into the boy's neck. There was a sickening crunch and soon he toppled to the ground like a broken puppet with its strings cut. The useless gun clattered onto the pavement before sliding under a rusty dumpster. The boy was obviously dead even before his body hit the ground, but this fact did not stop the Courier from continuing her attack. She quickly straddled his lifeless corpse and began mercilessly punching at his unmoving head. Over and over she rained down punch after punch, the powerful blows all but smashing in his lifeless features. Fists met flesh and skull with sickening crunches, blood squirting forth from in between the boy's lifeless eyeballs. With each jab and strike she grunted and snarled, pure and absolute fury burning in her hazel eyes. Several of the homeless wretches nearby heard the commotion and quickly fled.

Within fifteen minutes, the boy's skull was nothing but crushed bone and meaty paste. Yet still, the Courier continued to rain down punches at the mess. Tears began to leak from her furious eyes, and soon sobs replaced her vicious growls.

Eventually, the sun rose over the city of New Vegas. People woke up and went on their daily business, many of whom passed through the very alley that only a few hours before held the Courier and the unfortunate drug addict. Several people even passed his headless corpse. Of course, nothing was done. No one paid attention to another dead body in the street. Anyway, everyone knew that by dusk the body would have been picked clean, both by looters seeking the boy's belongings along with desperately hungry wastrels who had no choice but to eat whatever meat they could find. Eventually, nothing would remain of the nameless boy, nothing but the passing memory of the woman who had killed him. She might think of him from time to time, perhaps wondering who he was and what his story had been. But ultimately she would forget him completely, as his face would blur into the hundred other obscure faces whose lives met their end at her hands.

And then he would be nothing. Such was the way of the Wasteland.

Such was the way of New Vegas.