November 1, 2281
The New Vegas Strip, Lucky 38 Casino Hotel
Doors crashed open and muttering, which escalated into screaming bloody murder, echoed throughout the tomb of the Lucky 38 Casino/Hotel. The group which entered consisted of three men, in suits, one wearing a hat that somewhat concealed his face, with frayed cuffs and hems but still immaculate in color, and two women, one in a dress equally as frayed as the men's suits but retained the deep forest green dye from two hundred years ago. The other woman wore leather armor, playing the role of a bodyguard of rich gamblers come to the New Vegas Strip in order to ply their luck.
But this night was not one with luck, of the type hoped for. And thus gave rise to the swearing and cursing.
For the amount of time Craig Boone had known Alex Hugh, the man had seemed cool in most situations, even ones of great stress. He was straightforward, courteous and gave his best effort and took what results he could get with an ease most men would call easy going. Boone saw somewhat more than that, behind the manners was a soldier, a damn good one, and walking through one fight to the next tempered the fires of what anger lay beneath the surface.
Veronica Santangelo who, on first meeting Hugh and Boone, believed she could trust them, an idea bolstered greatly by Hugh detouring so far in his own efforts to bring her to Helios One and the subsequent firefight there in. And he listened to her ideas and whatever she had to say on her mind. Also the reading, she felt good helping someone who was helping her, lightened her heart so to speak of the more weighty ideas and memories she carried with her.
Tonight, however, both Boone and Santangelo were afraid of Alex Hugh. When in anger, the man was a terror though he never directed that attention to his comrades.
Standing in the pit before the elevator, Hugh shouted, cursed in Latin which turned Doctor Gannon's face bright red and then brighter still when the vulgarities continued. Finally, when it seems vocalizing his outrage was not enough; the Courier spun and kicked a slot machine, taking the metal and plastics off its stand to crash against the railing.
Finally spent, Alex slumped onto the carpeted steps of the pit, releasing a cloud of dust, which brought about a sneeze. Behind him, he heard a collective sigh.
First came a rap of knuckles on his shoulder, from Boone which amazed the courier, as the sniper removed his beret to wipe sweat from the near-bald scalp. He sat on a slot machine stool and turned to the group.
Veronica sat next to him with a worried, cautious smile. Drawing up her knees to rest her chin on them she remained silent but her presence quelled some of the fire Alex felt.
Gannon and Russell took stools of their own, the doctor looked nervous and the ghoul annoyed from the night's events.
"Thank you for finally calming yourself Mister Hugh, now if you would, please report the events of you efforts in concise chronological order. And speak clearly for records." Came the voice of Mister House, appearing on the screen of one Securitron which positioned itself between the group and elevator, indicating if their report was not positive then the casino would be closed to them. "I assume you found Benny and that the Platinum Chip is in your possession?" asked the machine.
A breath to calm himself Alex stood, hands behind his back. "No sir, the Platinum Chip is not on my person. Benny has fled to parts unknown" there was a temptation, an instinct to bow his head but House would consider the gesture one of failure and humiliation. To show strength and ability would win the argument in their favor.
The House-robot remained quiet for a time, perhaps thirty seconds or more before "Then report." The short reply bringing to mind, if the man were alive and possessing a body, then his arms or hands would be crossed in some manner accompanied with an expression of disappointment of an employer and employee.
Sighing, Alex began "As we departed the casino for The Tops, we planned our efforts. Use methods in gambling to favor our own outcomes over other players. We planned our roles for the evening, who would play at what games and agreed who ever attracted Benny's attention first would order a specific drink to be served to the others as a signal to gather."
Taking a breath, Alex glanced around to the others if they desired to add anything, when nods to continue were given "We did not encounter any trouble until entering the casino itself, where Miss Russell was harassed for her physical disposition." to which she snorted.
"Once inside the casino we split up for respective stations and began to gamble. Our efforts were long but paid off finally…"
Bells chimed as the slot machine struck triple fruits. Alex smirked as the machine spilled coins into the tray in his lap. By now he'd attracted a crowd of onlookers amazed at his skills. They clapped with each win.
Elsewhere, Craig Boone rolled two die between his fingers. It was an old trick a buddy from training had shown him. His wrist snapped out, the two plastics flew and struck the opposite wall. The final results were just as his buddy had said, seven. Every time, no failure. He would smirk but that would just be out of character for him.
Veronica and Arcade had accepted alcohol on the house and were somewhat inebriated. The doctor talked about things such as the massive economic failure of the early 21st century which lead to the greater tensions with China as to reasons for the war and how poorly the system had been constructed to stop the breakdown. The Scribe talked on end about electronics to the bemusement of the fellow gamblers, and both of their drunken giggles forced several away.
Beatrix wanted to be drunk and spilling caps all over the damn place, she'd never been inside one of the swanky casinos, only the Wrangler and that place was shit by comparison. Sure it had booze, ass and plenty of game but it stank and let in every asshole off the streets, most of whom turned their noses up at her. Also, she could not enter the Wrangler anymore, too many fights… 'Fuck it.' she thought and pulled on her cigarette, she was enjoying her freedom as it was, and she could drink her ass off later.
Alex leaned forward to drop another chip into the machine and pulled the lever. He understood the system of payment but not entirely sure as to why there were pictures. Maybe, at one time, people could not read numbers and so made values understood by images. He doubted it but also did not care, not important in this moment.
As the wheels of the machine spun, Alex leaned forward as though in anticipation. For that was indeed he needed to show but not for the results but waiting for the right moment. When the first symbol dropped, a BAR in black and white, he touched the machine. Small lances of electricity arced between his gloved hand and the metal casing and the BAR was joined by its copies. Bells rang and lights flashed, the machine spilled out coins and the bin quickly filled to overflow onto the floor.
Alex laughed and the crowd joined in, clapping merrily at his assumed success. A floor boss approached with a grin and bottle in hand "Here, compliments of the house, hope ya stay longer so we can get some of our luck back." the man jokingly punched him in the arm.
"Glasses all around if you please, these folks look thirsty!" Alex shouted, lifting the bottle of whiskey overhead and the crowd clapped louder with a few laughs. The drink was shared with the courier not taking a sip and he sat to win once more. Two more buckets came by and the spilled coins dumped in. The next symbols turned out to bells.
Benny grunted as "Ben Junior" twitched, spilling himself on the girl's body. It wasn't his usual pleasurable evening; no tonight was all going to shit.
He'd come to the suite for answers and now he was in the dark, wondering what exactly House's next move would be. All the Ben-man knew was his move had to be smooth if he wanted to ride his way to the tops, when a knock came at his door.
"I'm busy!" he shouted, getting ready for another round.
"We've got some high rollers makin' serious caps downstairs." said the man, one of the few Benny trusted to stay on his floor, down the hallway from his suite.
Grumbling, he got off… the girl. He didn't remember her name, everything that had happened, so quickly, had pushed anything else, including the names of his newest 'friends'. He didn't care; his ass was on the line, more than any other time.
Dressing in a half-assed manner, Benny spotted himself in the mirror. 'Shit.' he thought, eyes harried and near panic, hair a mess and sweaty. And his suit… damn! "Be out in fifteen." he called. A five minute shower, seven to oil his hair and pull it into the right shape, and then two and a half to dress.
Seconds to spar, Benny stepped into the hall cool and calm, smoother than his threads. Not looking at the man who'd called his attention, he entered the elevator, thinking 'Play my cards right, wrap things up and then get outta town.' he nodded, smirking.
Arriving on the casino's floor he stepped off and snapped his fingers. His boys knew what he wanted without needing to be told, a cig and scotch. Benny took his throne, to watch over The Tops floor, and scanned the milling crowd. He spotted three groups, one at Craps, Poker and Slot. Easy enough to spot with the crowds around each of them, and the cheers from each came quickly for each.
The drink arrived and the cigarette he lit with an old cardboard match. Damn he missed that sweet zippo. A drag, a drink and Benny relaxed "Give 'em booze and food for now, watch until I say." he did not look around, already seeing his orders being carried out.
Arcade and Veronica
She laughed as the doc explained something that made sense… but all she felt was bubbling laughter.
"And when the old U.S… let the big bankers go after their first mistakes, no punishment, no apologies… they made the same investments, same idea, and that began the second Great Depression, and there was no world war to pull the country out of that one, just got worse and worse. And the lawmakers thought they had fixed the system, thought what happened could not happen again and then…"
Gannon gestured and made sound effects of giant explosions and Veronica laughed her ass off, almost literally as she teetered on her stool. This was so much FUN! Why hadn't she come to Vegas sooner, or let herself have this much fun! OR A DRESS! She squealed again, hugging herself and the dress. It felt so nice to wear a dress, finally! It was simple but comfy and a nice color too.
Veronica slumped against Arcade "Hey doc?" she said, poking his ribs which he tried to pull away from but his arm wrapped around her shoulders.
"What?" he asked, the drunken grin evident in his voice with Veronica needing to look.
"You'd make a really cute and pretty girl." and she could not hold back. Veronica laughed, tears rolled down her face and she pulled and slumped onto the card table, palm slapping the felt in her gaiety.
"And you'd make a sexy guy." said Arcade, also falling into gales of laughter, falling off the stool.
Beatrix sighed and shook her head, wishing she was drunk and away from these chuckle heads. She stepped forward and dragged the doc back on his ass, looking in his eyes for a sec. Yep, no more for this lightweight and by the looks of the girl her neither.
Leaving the doc on the floor, Beatrix turned the card "21!" she called out, giving a laugh of her own as the dealer himself slumped, almost crying as the chips were paid out. Not sticking around, the ghoul scooped the plastic into a bucket, grabbed Gannon and Santangelo, hauled them bodily away from the tables towards the Hugh.
Flick of the wrist, dice flew and struck. Another number called and true, the sniper impassive as the chips piled before him. A small collection of stuff, courtesy of the house, stood to one side, mostly booze. After his last time he was not going back. Not for a while at least. Now he had something to occupy his mind, a mission, a reason.
Out of the corner of one eye he spied Russell dragging Gannon and Santangelo away from their table. Had Boone not been stoic already, the scowl on his face would have deepened. Internally though he sighed, believing the mission could be, would be, and compromised with this misstep.
Deciding to cash out himself, he called for two buckets for the chips. He hoped Hugh had a plan, something to lure this Chairman out now that the others were drunk near to unconsciousness. So far he felt nothing had been accomplished.
Turning, leaning against the table he noticed his own crowd, a few men and a number of woman who turned and tried to act cool about the leaving but he saw their hands hiding smiles and suppressed giggles. He sighed, Carla was always better at this… thing. Socializing. Shrugging, Boone scooped the chips into the buckets provided and carried these to Hugh's slot machine, eyeing the crowd out of old habits.
The courier was having a great deal of 'Luck' with four buckets of chips full already and two more awaiting. While the sniper did not know how he knew that tool on his arm was doing all the work. And damn it was working. He'd heard in the past, before the bombs fell, no one had ever broken Vegas, never beaten the casinos out of their money.
If the Chairmen did not stop the lucky courier soon then that old myth would be broken very soon.
Alex pulled the lever again, the wheels spun, and landed on the black and white BAR once more. The machine cascaded coins into his lap and he took one bucket underneath the mouth, stooping to gather the fallen chips.
When he stood, another one of the floor bosses stood nearby with a forced grin on his face
"Thanks for playin' but you're done here, enjoy the theatre or the bar, get a room fer yer friends, but you're done gamblin'."
The crowd booed in response, some calling prejudice for a lucky gambler but the man would have none of it and gathered some thugs to shoo the people away. But the gathered members of the Chairmen did not go back to their rounds, instead stood by Alex and his companions.
"Our boss wants to see ya." and by the look on his face Alex assumed the boss was not exactly happy with the way he'd won at their games.
Chips gathered, and after checking on Veronica and Arcade who he initially thought should go back to the 38 but the man and woman waved him off, giving him exaggerated winks before following with uneasy steps.
The floor boss lead the group through the casino floor, up a flight of stairs and onto a balcony where a man sat on what Alex thought could pass as a throne; and the seated man a king overlooking his subjects. At least that was the impression given, especially when the man and chair turned to see the newcomers.
Despite the poor memory Alex knew the man in a moment. Benny. And Benny knew of him as well.
Benny paled under the scrutiny of Alex. Sweat appeared on his flesh and breathing became laborious. A wet spot appeared and grew in his pants.
"The guests you requested boss." said the floor boss, acting stiff and professional before his leader.
'To these people, The Chairmen, Benny was more than a casino owner, one of three in the New Vegas Strip. He led a people, a tribe.' Alex thought while observing the floor boss but he returned his gaze back to the man in question.
A credit to himself, despite being a coward, Benny was quick to act with tact. He crossed his legs to hide the wetness and smirked, though terrified, at Alex and companions "Thanks Bo, 'preciate it" he said to the floor boss who nodded and returned to his rounds.
"Why don't ya have a seat pally, have ourselves a nice talk, nice and smooth ya dig?" Benny used what could be a charming smile but it covered up his fears.
Alex nodded and gestured for his friends to seat themselves before himself. Boone, Arcade and Beatrix on one side of the observatory deck with Alex and Veronica on the other, and the scribe gave the courier a smile, feeling happy the person responsible was in reach and finally some answers could be had.
"It's been too long Benny ol' boy, how ya been?" Alex asked, the happy expression on his face one that his companions, even the newest ones, could see hid a very violent and angry tirade back.
Benny squirmed, trying to keep cool. He took a pull of smoke and chased with scotch "Oh, normal stuff, Things for Vegas, my baby The Tops ya see, looking to bring in somethin' new and fresh."
Alex nodded "Well it's good to hear about success as always however." removing his hat to reveal the scar which caused Benny to cringe "my employer wants his property returned, rather badly you see, and has tasked me to do so. Calling me 'a wasteland vagrant' but one with skills which, when properly directed and hones, may be used to great effect."
Despite himself Benny snorted "Old House does have a flair for the dramatic don't he?"
Alex nodded "Yes. He's willing to forgive if you return the chip, remove yourself from his direct employ as executor and swear allegiance to not make another attempt and follow his orders without fail." shrugging, the courier finished "Those were his terms, his words, and it's definitely a take it or leave it gesture."
Benny breathed, actually sighing a few times. "Ya got me pally, you and House, front and center, dead to rights, ya got me good and now I gotta face the music and it ain't the Rat Pack singin' this tune." finishing the cigarette and scotch, he stood and gestured "I got the chip upstairs and we can talk more d's about the deal, eh?"
Alex stood as well with his companions. Arcade over balanced and almost fell but caught himself on Boone who looked at the doctor's hand and then the doctor's eyes. Gannon retreated a pace, clearing his throat out.
Veronica almost slipped on her high heels but caught herself on Alex's sleeve, prompting the scribe to laugh the mistake off but he could tell the slip embarrassed her. He gave a reassuring nod and gestured to follow after Benny, the Chairmen's stride swift but jerking and terrified. And he did not stop talking.
"I gotta admit pally, you're one tough nut to crack. First I hear about that tiny town, eh Goodsprings, and then came all sorts a stories. Primm, Nipton, Novac. What'chyou been doing since last we saw eye to eye, trying to save the world?" Benny grinned as he pressed a button to a luxurious elevator which read 'Presidential Suite'.
Alex shrugged "Just happen to come across trouble, right place right time sorta thing and did what I could. Never gave it much thought."
Benny turned an honest puzzled look to the courier "You're serious. Honestly, trying to help people because… you can?" he shook his head, the elevator descending swiftly if the numbers were a good indication of its location "never heard of a bonafide, true to life, hero in these parts."
Alex shrugged, shuffling his feet, the idea of 'hero' not settling well with him "It's not as though I make an effort to find trouble and give help, and it's not really out of my way when I did it."
"Sure, sure." Benny said, landing a single pat on Alex's shoulder, which both men stared at for a moment before moving apart. The elevator arrived and the party stood onboard. "Sorry, I, ugh, never got your name." the Chairman stuck out his hand, which trembled.
For a moment, Alex considered not taking it. And then thought that idea was childish and not a step towards reconciliation. The Courier took the Chairman's hand, shook once, firmly, conveying his strength and confidence but not trying to render Benny into submission.
"Alex Hugh." he said with a nod and Benny nodded.
"Our talks seemed to go well after entering the suite, Benny poured drinks but I did not partake. We talked in detail of your offer, the peace agreement, returning the Platinum Chip, sometimes going into tangents due to nervousness on his part and my going along with it for Benny's sake, ease him into a position where he believes the deal is good."
Pausing for a breath House interjected with a statement "Then Benny learned well from my tutelage. I instilled in him a sense of paranoia during dealings; if the offer was good always negotiate for the best outcome. If such could not be reached, alternative actions were warranted, up to and including intimidation and use of applied force when needed."
Alex nodded "He learned well, then. When the talks seemed to be over…"
The Tops Casino Hotel
Benny sighed, nodding "A'right, I agree, the jig is up and now's time to pay the dues." he stood, unsteady on his feet after three scotches and then switching to bourbon. The Chairman was certainly not at his best, he stank of urine, hair disheveled, tie undone, shirt out of pants and jacket wrinkled. He looked, outwardly, broken and defeated.
The group sat in the sitting area of the suite, three couches arrayed in a square with a low table between them. When Benny stood, Alex moved as well. Both men looked into each other and the latter looked away "I'll get… the chip… go with you to House… tell 'em I resign." shoulders slumped, feet dragging.
Benny pressed the button to the elevator, after two failed attempts and a successful third, the doors slid open and he stepped inside, alone.
Alex stood and motioned for the others to follow suit, gesturing to get behind the bar and wait.
"What's going on?" Arcade asked but was following because he honestly did not know what to do.
"Depressus anguis adhoc ater adversaries est" he said and the doctor hastened. Veronica and Boone looked at him, Alex gave the English version of what he had said and the two followed suit, leaving the courier to take cover by a table, a good enough shelter…
And this forethought proved useful as four men, dressed in suits, entered the room with submachine guns slung over their shoulders.
Alex reacted; shoulder the table over on its side and crawling towards the bar. Automatic fire filled the suite, chewed the table to shreds and the shelter of the bar, though made of wood and stone, still cracked and splintered under the assaults.
The Chairmen unloaded full thirty round magazines into the area, not bothering with conservation and going for a spray-and-pray approach. When the clips clicked empty, silence, deafening almost, held for a count of two seconds.
Long enough for Alex to stand and pull Lucky from a shoulder holster cinched snug against his chest. His perception of time slowed to micro seconds as the PIP-Boy's tactical assistance augmented his ingrained skills.
In the eyes of the Courier, the Chairmen seemed to stand still, unable to move as the guillotine descended… the revolver fired, gas erupted and the bullets flew and the gun barely moved as it centered on the second, third and fourth targets.
The Chairmen only saw a blur and heard swift cracks before death.
Time snapped back into normalcy and Alex gasped, sweating and heart beating hard. Though exhausting he was learning the limits and costs of the tactical system, coming to understand its draw on the body and his own limits. Were the courier not in great physical form he believed the drain would be far greater. After a minute he straightened and rounded the bar for the elevator. A call on the intercom box stopped him.
"The cleaning crew will be up in five." Benny's voice.
Alex scowled and moved to the intercom, pressed the button "You failed, again, Benny. Last chance to give up and it's going fast."
Only silence met the statement and Alex gestured for the others to follow. Beatrix grabbed the Chairmen's fallen SMG's and found spare clips for each. Veronica, Arcade and Boone took one as Alex reloaded the revolver, holstered it and punched the button for the casino floor.
Russell was smirking as she checked her new gun "Sweet" she said, shoulder the stock and staring down the sights "Gunna have fun with this handsome boy."
The elevator arrived and the group was surprised to see Securitrons roaming the floor announcing "Gunfire detected on premises, please vacate 'The Tops' for your safety." one of the mechanized police force approached Hugh and the screen shifted to Victor, not with its usual happy smile but a serious frown.
"Pard'ner that snake Benny took a second elevator to his suite, get up there quick and check the scene." the robot directed the group to the appropriate car and rode to an empty floor.
Boone and Russell swept the floor and the sniper gestured all clear. Arcade looked nervous with the weapon but Veronica handled it expertly. A few doors dotted the walls and the group split up to check each room. None of them seemed to contain Benny but the last one held evidence of the man, a suite with a few personal touches, and a bedroom where three women slept.
Alex gestured for quiet and searched the apartment. Benny was gone but they found a false wall and a workshop, within was a Securitron unit which Veronica questioned as Alex proceeded, finding a tunnel and escape elevator, locked down by the last user.
And for the first time that night, Alex swore in anger.
Lucky 38 Casino Hotel
Report finished Alex stood before the House-Securitron. He worried for the coming assessment, what could happen. Would House throw them out for the failure? Give him more difficult tasks? Such thoughts crowded his thinking spaces and breathing became deeper, attempting to calm and quiet his mind.
"A negative result, not ideal but still accomplishing other criteria I had set for you. Though the Platinum Chip was not acquired, you and your group have shown skills that are of value to my plans. Continue to deliver results of this or better quality and you shall be rewarded for your efforts. In the morning, I have more to discuss. Come to my office at nine o'clock exactly."
The machine switched back to Victor's face, now featuring the smiling, smoking cowboy face "well aren't you just a rootin' tootin' hombre pardner. That snake in the grass got away but you still got the job done." the robot laughed.
Alex sighed and a few of the others did as well, a couple yawned "I think it's been a long night." he said and entered the elevator.
The ride was quiet besides a small comment made by Veronica "Well we still get the sweet homebase, even if it is somewhat creepy. And I got to wear a dress tonight." As the car reached the suite, she stepped passed the others and twirled once, causing her skirt to swish, smiling contented.
Beatrix chuckled "You looked mighty fine tonight."
Veronica smirked and winked "You too, I'd have asked for a dance if we'd had time."
Beatrix smirked and stood before the scribe, took her hands and they twirled with laughs. After two turns they stopped and Veronica gave Russell a hug.
"Thanks for the dance, next time let's have a band." Veronica giggled.
"You got it toots" Beatrix said, breaking from the girl and moving to her own room "Night all."
Arcade put on a hurt expression "And we're supposed to be the wall flowers I assume?"
Alex and Boone snorted; the sniper stepped off the car and made for his room with a muttered "Good night."
"Oh I wouldn't want you boys to feel left out. You can draw straws for my attention." Veronica giggled harder, looking between Alex and Arcade "Mmm, so hard to choose."
Arcade snorted and made for his room also "Well I wouldn't want to make competition. Good night Alex, Veronica" Nodding to both.
Just as Alex was about to start for bed, Veronica dropped on his left side, hugging his side "I'd dance with you, no question." she seemed to be falling asleep on her feet. He smiled and held her shoulder, helping to her room.
"I'd enjoy that I think… if I can dance of course." Smirking, Alex pulled from the embrace.
Veronica smiled at him and nodded "Good night, Sir Alex." she stepped back and curtsied, bringing a smile to his lips.
Removing his hat and setting it over his heart with the left hand he bowed somewhat "and a pleasant night to you, amicula."
The gesture brought a blush and giggle from her.
Alex made for his room and Veronica entered her own, both smiling. 'A good enough evening.' he thought. The master bedroom dark when he entered but soft light glowed once he passed the threshold. The suit he hung and set in one cabinet marked 'laundry', a shirt and shorts for bed in their place.
Sleeping in a real bed was a new experience for The Courier. Many nights he spent on the road, longer than the week since his waking in Goodsprings, and his body felt strange but in a way that was comforting. He could get used to this, too easily but, for once, he ignored what training called from the void and closed his eyes, smiling and slipped into dreams.
Among the companions that night, more than one dreamed…
Wind bent long bladed grasses to the west; sand dunes became shrouded in granulated clouds. The glare of sun forced his eyes closed, hand rising against the light. His glasses were absent from his face.
Stepping from the porch onto the sand he followed a winding path. It was longer now, denser, more paths had appeared to the sides and more than once the direction was uncertain. But it seemed he was still lucky as the path ended to reveal a beach. A woman in a white dress stood at the shore, hair undone and blowing in the breeze.
His heart raced and steps became pounding feet as he ran. She began to turn and the swell of her belly he could see and the stain of red on her chest.
And then the entire world caught fire. The sea boiled and turned to gas, the explosion sundered the very earth itself.
Boone awoke, sweating, shaking. After a minute his breath slowed and he lay back on the mattress. The idea of pilfering something to drink crossed his mind but was dismissed. Going onto the balcony outside the common room sounded good too, so high in the air, easy enough to just let go. That thought he also dismissed.
Choosing nothing, Boone closed his eyes once more. Maybe this time he would reach her. He could hope anyway.
A sax player blew a slow tune, a drummer and acoustic guitar accompanying. Dim lights cast a shadow on the dance floor, a crowd milled around the edges; the echo of hushed conversation filled the space.
One pair stood on the floor, moving slowly through the motions not because the song was slow but they were so close, and not very good at dancing either. Slow dance, no feet stepped on.
Veronica relaxed against her partner, head on shoulder and forehead to neck, arms around the neck and hands clasped together for the most intimate of public embraces.
Her partner's hands lay at her waist, very close to her butt, teasingly so and annoyingly far away from touching her. But, for now, all was beautiful, the music and lights, her partner wrapped in her arms.
No words passed between them under the lights, the holding was proof enough. Opening her eyes though, Veronica stood alone. No band, no crowd. No partner. The music played on but no one to enjoy it.
She felt cold and her heart hurt as well, so much that tears fell from her eyes. Veronica awoke, finding real tears on her face. She sniffed and sat up in bed, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her nightshirt.
The nightstand clock read seven thirty and she yawned. With sleep now improbable, Veronica got out of bed and decided to forgo changing in favor of the shirt and shorts she wore.
The only presence in the apartment was the Securitron, its face presently dark which she assumed was either asleep or power save mode. The inactivity did not settle her distrust of the machine though. Veronica scowled and turned away, towards the common room.
Outside the great window the sky was a bleak grey color, thick clouds with foreboding rain gathering. Taking a spot on the couch, Veronica pulled her legs into her chest and rested her chin on top of her knees. She knew the dream, it was an old one. She missed the people from the Brotherhood, not that those people were entirely gone but how her relationship with them had changed.
Sighing, Veronica stared out of the window, eyes in the present, mind in the past. She had many thoughts in her mind; so many that no single thought held her attention. In a way, she thought of nothing and yet all things at the same time.
On the road, thinking was occupied by practical matters, surviving, fighting raiders, shelter, food, and so on.
Having a safe place, a comfortable place, made thinking easier and dangerous.
A knock at the door called her attention. Beatrix stood on the threshold, wearing only underpants. "Mornin'." said the ghoul, entering the room and flopping down on the couch, feet up "This place is sweet, dusty and creepy as shit but sweet all the same."
Veronica nodded "It does feel odd but it's a little safer than the road." As far as places to sleep and people to be with, the odd company and old hotel were not what she first imagined herself to be in but was content enough.
Beatrix nodded "You okay?" she asked, looking at Veronica out of the corner of her eye.
Shifting where she sat Veronica shrugged "Fine enough." but her voice did not give confidence to that statement, eliciting a snort from the ghoul woman.
"Girl I know you got thoughts on yer head, heavy ones too. Living as long as I have you get a sense of a person, 'specially one young and fresh as you." she waved her hand to forestall refutes "Get as old as me, everyone is a youngster, even when their hair is gray and skin wrinkled by wind and time." Beatrix leaned back into the couch "Just two women and I can keep any private thoughts private."
Nodding, Veronica put some thoughts into order, eventually she shrugged in a resigned way "A lot of thinking, what Alex is doing, what I want to do, how to do it. Friends, before now, I don't get along with much anymore, and… my ex, I guess you could call it."
Another nod "Heavy shit." mulling things over Beatrix said "Before you lot came, I was about to leave the Followers. The Atomic Wrangler had a job opening for a whore, ghoul cowboy no less."
"Sounded to be a good deal, I could have done almost anything I wanted, as much booze I could swallow, food to eat and ass to bang." she sighed, almost wistful but tinged with laughter "And then comes these complete strangers carrying in little Matty. Thought to myself 'why not, all the benefits of the Wrangler with a good fight if I'm lucky'."
From a loose flap of skin Beatrix pulled a cigarette and lighter, stood and made for the door to the balcony "This little posse Hugh's getting' together is headed for some serious shit I think, you might learn something in the meantime." and she stepped outside.
Veronica sat for a moment and let her thoughts move in their own way, took in what Beatrix said and smiled. Maybe this would be more than learning of other places. Maybe there was something she could learn of herself. Standing she made for the kitchen, chuckling at the numerous times her disciplinarian duties had been in the bunker's mess hall, remembering an old saying 'The more things change the more they stay the same.'
The day had been long and harsh under the sun but now the great orb set beyond the mountains and the stars began to shine. His breath misted as the axe fell one last time and split the last of the wood needed for the coming month. Wiping his face, the young man smiled, pleased with the day's work.
He carried the axe in one hand and the split wood under his arm, dropping both in the shed aside the house. Inside, a pleasant fire burned to stave off the chill of approaching winter. The desert did not get snow but it was cold indeed.
A man sat in an armchair, worn with age but the sturdy wood still held, his long white beard tied with several strips of cloth. A girl lay before the fire, drawing in charcoal. She drew her favorite subject, the mountains and sunset, with added scenery in the foreground for extra beauty.
The girl had long fingers, dark hair, and despite her youth the piece she crafted was nothing short of picturesque, the very mountains surrounding the home captured and miniaturized onto the paper.
The man nodded at his entrance and poured a cup, handing it to the young man who drank of the dark amber liquid, filling his body with warmth. He kneeled beside the girl who did not turn from her work, lay down next to her so he could watch. To acknowledge his presence, she leaned and bumped his shoulder. He smiled and leaned into her.
The girl finished her drawing and stood, holding it out to the old man who smiled lovingly as he inspected the piece. Standing on his old knees, weathered by time but strong from life and its harsh nature, the man set the picture into a carved frame, nailed the back together with the front and set it on the wall where several more pieces hung, more than could be counted in the haze of the dream world.
Alex awoke; his dream… not unpleasant but filled with a melancholy which he could not place nor hope to understand with the void holding back his secrets. Sighing, he sat up and read the time of seven thirty in the morning.
Divesting himself of the bedclothes he stood, dressed in night pants and shirt, and exited the room to the smell of cooking. The smell was ambrosia of flavor that set his mouth to water. Following the calling of nose and stomach he found Veronica with three large fry pans on the stove. She turned and smiled at him.
"Good morning." she said, turning back to the food.
Amazed, Alex said "This is a welcome surprise." he smelled the air and groaned "A fighter and a cook, the Brotherhood trains it's people well I see." standing to one side he looked at the food admiringly.
Veronica smiled "More that I was a loud mouth and got mess duties more times than I can count and if you're going to be in here make yourself useful." she indicated a pile of vegetables to her right.
Wide-eyed, amazed, Alex stared at the fresh produce "Where…" he began.
"Found 'em here" she shrugged "I guess providing all of our necessities extends to food as well. Where it comes from I've no idea but they're fresh and no radiation."
Nodding, Alex took a knife and began to cut and a moment later Veronica pulled the blade away.
"If you cut that way there won't be enough, here." she returned the knife and directed his hand with her own, cutting thinly of the vegetables "Nice and slow, that's it." taking her hand away Veronica watched with a hawk's eye to insure the proper cuts. Nodding, she returned to the stove.
They worked together for fifteen minutes in silence, the only words exchanged coming from Veronica to Alex, mostly to pass over some ingredient. She was so focused on her work, in her own world, the courier beside her ceased to exist only that the vegetables appeared in her hands and into one of the pans to join the other two.
Smells of meat and roasting vegetable filled the apartment and drew the attentions of its occupants.
Arcade entered, tousle haired and puffy eyed, with a grunt as a morning greeting and sat at the table, face in hands.
Beatrix entered and nodded at the man and woman at work "Got the boss man around yer little finger huh?" and Veronica laughed.
Boone was last to enter, the sniper already dressed in khakis and white shirt, beret set firmly but his sunglasses hung from the shirt collar.
At last, Veronica directed Alex to serve the first of the fry pans, which held several fried eggs.
The courier dished these to his companions and returned for the second pan, this one of meat cut thin, juices sloshing back and forth. Atop the eggs these went and some of the juice spooned on top, finally the vegetables to complete the affair.
The group sat but not all were present. ED–E floated and bobbed up and down. The simple greeting of "Good morning." scrolled across the PIP-Boy screen. The robot settled on the counter and activated its radio.
"Goooodd Morning New Vegas and welcome to the morning edition of New Vegas Radio. Gotta lotta news for ya today, good news in fact. Seems the town of Primm has a new sheriff and he's layin' down the law hard on all the neer-do-wells. Our reporters were on site to catch a few words"
The voice of New Vegas switched to that of Sheriff Meyers "Howdy folks I'm Bob Meyers. I was made sheriff of this town because someone thought I was the best choice. Maybe that's true, I don't know. I've made mistakes and I paid for them but now here's a second chance. I'll make the best of it, for myself and all the people countin' on me. I'll do my best and, almighty willing, I'll make this town a good place, a safe place."
The voice switched again "We've also got reports of the town of Nipton having been burned to the ground not a week ago, a few travelers claiming Legion responsibility but survivors of the massacre said they were saved by an angel of justice, toting an armory on his back and a feather festooned hat. If you see this wanderer give 'em a pat on the back and ask him to your hearth. It's the least we can do."
The news report went in to incoming weather for the region but Alex barely heard it. His face burned red and he set down the fork he held, hiding himself from the others, their eyes he could feel on him. Sighing, hands fell away and the courier caught the eyes of each man and woman around the table "I just did what I thought was right, nothing more. Luck and skill…" a whir from ED-E "… and our metal friend, made up the difference. Nothing more." he groused.
Face down to his food, Alex ignored the others. He finished eating before the others and stood, cleaned his plate and set it in the drying rack "Thank you miss Veronica, this was a welcome gesture." he said stiffly and made for his room.
A quick shower and he was about to get dressed when he saw the image in the mirror. Alex examined his reflection, wondering. The length of his torso, down his legs, were creased with scars of many shapes and sizes, underneath, with every movement, rippled muscles only attained after years of conditioning, hard labor and many, many harsh experiences. Whatever his past was, it was violent.
The image of his face caught his attention next. It was rough, hardened by elements, nearly gaunt. But also handsome, high cheek bones and dark eyes, dark brown hair atop his head and his face. Touching it, the rough texture intrigued him. From the sensations, Alex knew he never grew a beard before. He rather admired the look. Though it was… thick and scraggly. Opening the cabinet he found razor and soap.
Lathered, applied, and steel to skin, hair fell in clumps. The tug of hair felt unpleasant but liberating at the same time and so Alex ignored the tugging in favor of seeing his skin revealed beneath the blade. When finished, the hair was cut in a straight line following his jaw. Smirking at his appearance, with a final nod, he dressed for the meeting with Mr. House.
Lucky 38 Casino Hotel, Penthouse
Standing before the great screen which served as Mr. House's face, Alex stood back straight and hands behind back. His hair was slicked back, away from his forehead and passed his ears, jaw outlined by facial hair combed and slicked down by the same solution. The suit he wore was a dark gray affair, white shirt and dark blue tie, wool slacks and polished shoes. The outfit itched, skin unaccustomed to such finery but it was expected, in the presence of the de facto ruler of New Vegas.
The screen remained blank and Alex remained standing, waiting. His foot itched but he ignored it, thinking any movement on his part before House spoke would be judged. Breathing in a steady rhythm, partly to calm thoughts racing in his mind and to distract himself from the itching foot.
It seemed House played out this waiting, either for his own amusement or some test for Alex.
Both seemed probably, and at the moment believable as the clock behind him ticked away, passed the hour mark and onto the first minute. Whatever the computer man had planned, the courier would have to play him out.
At least, that was the idea; the reality of the situation though was quite different, after the mistake last night. Benny, so close and still he slipped away. Why had Alex let the bastard get into that elevator, alone? Why believe his surrender when such an obvious escape route existed?
Why… had he let the event happen?
Breathing still to calm thoughts and nerves, the thoughts began to race. It was so painfully obvious, in hindsight, Benny had been playing him all along, and said whatever the courier had wanted to hear and the lies had been believed without hesitation.
'A fool's belief', Alex thought 'Never let your enemy gain quarter after it is taken, for he will take you unaware, and the trap sprung will fall upon your head.' The thought roiled in his mind, berating the course of choices made, words spoken and returned. The snake in the grass had bitten back, its venom seeping through his veins and killing slowly.
The screen brightened and Alex stood as straight as before, the inner turmoil hidden beneath the mask of professionalism.
Mr. House wandered on-screen, wiping his mouth and hands, setting the cloth onto a servant's tray that quickly bowed and backed away. The immaculately dressed, digitized, man sat in his armchair, the same he'd been in when Alex had first met him. Wherever, or whatever, the image was located it seemed the library was the preferred conference room.
The library certainly alluded to an aristocratic lifestyle, high shelves set into the walls, a hearth of marble standing behind the chair and a table, from what Alex could see, carved from a single piece of dark wood. The chair itself, plush and bright under an unseen light, also carved from wood and cushioned in thick material to support a man in comfort.
"I have several assignments for you to undertake." said House, cutting straight to business.
Alex nodded "What would you have me do, sir." the statement, though sounding close to a question, meant to infer loyalty of an employer and employee. Beyond the honorific he said nothing, keeping the meeting simple and practical, something he assumed House would appreciate.
And he did, if the small smirk on the digitized face inferred such "As you may have noticed in your time beyond my walls, New Vegas and the Mojave are under siege. Not by weapons of war though, at least not yet. But politically, culturally, economically and in the worst case militarily, our hold is fragile."
A map of the world appeared and narrowed to the continent and finally the old state of Nevada "Caesars Legion presses from the South, their methods brutal and devastating. Negotiation with that group will be nigh on impossible unless there is something we can offer, what that is I will disclose later." An arrow appeared from the South, the image of the bull surrounded in red which made Alex grimace, from what he did not know exactly.
"The New California Republic presses from the West. They have the strongest military, the best technological resources from the Old World, second only to The Brotherhood of Steel." the name tinged House's tone of voice with malice "Politically and culturally the NCR would most appeal to the Mojave, with promises of freedom and such nonsense they espouse, and then impress taxes against the people for that protection." another arrow appeared, this one white and showed the two-headed bear.
"And between them, the Mojave, New Vegas, and the entirety of the old state of Nevada." and a blue light shown the old state, with an emblem in the center "If either side acquire the territory, they will have access to resources which will tip the balance and one will become supreme. The other will die." the finality in House's voice impressed upon Alex the severity of the assessment.
Alex nodded, taking in the information. Unbeknownst to the courier, the PIP-Boy transcribed and recorded the information, downloaded the maps and pertinent files to its harddrive.
The image of House reappeared, grim and stiff "I want you to garner favor with as many groups as possible, preferably with the Legion or NCR but there also exist smaller tribes within the region which can be of significant aid to the cause. New Vegas must remain independent. No allies exist to the East, the roaming tribes cannot be negotiated with and venturing for their aid is a waste of time and energy better spent on the groups here."
A grim, certain nod followed the end of House's report "It will be done and I shall insure the allegiance of what groups that can be negotiated with. Others will be removed."
House smirked in a satisfied manner "As you venture out I shall spread news of your deeds and skills here in the city, and I shall name you my executor. When you return at your leisure, they will be waiting to meet with you, to covet your approval and mine by extension."
"Yes, sir." Alex snapped and almost turned when House stated one last part.
"I have an assignment for you. Travel to Quarry Junction, north of Goodsprings, and clear out the nested Deathclaws therein. I will assign a patrol of Securitrons to you at your disposal. As my executor, your orders are my orders and your actions shall be a projection of my will in the Mojave. Good day, Mister Hugh."
And the screen blanked.
A lot more filler and character development than I had initially thought, the story took on a life of it's own but I think is important enough for a chapter. Particularly with Beatrix Russell as a companion. Initially, I had thought she would be a chain smoking and drinking badass with an attitude and crackshot with a rifle. As I wrote this, thought of the characters, Beat became more than I had created in the first place. She, just as the other canon members, will have her own story to tell and her own pain to overcome.
The long delay is due… to Life (shrug) it is what it is. I do plan to continue this work, I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. For many years, probably, might be writing fiction well into my later life. But From The Night shall continue with all intent of completion.
Latin work, thanks to Gufetto
Editor, thanks to Bubbajack
You two are awesome (three-way high five)