STOP! Be sure you're up to date on 18 Karat Run: A Courier's Tale! (Read up through Chapter 20!) And make sure you've read 18 Karat Run: Aces & Eights!
So it begins...The prologue is just wrapping up a few loose ends for the main story line. Graham is just around the corner! I meant to have this chapter posted a couple nights ago...but I just couldn't get it the way I wanted it. I rewrote this probably about three times in total since Monday. And I'm not talking about editing...I mean I completely scrapped it and started from scratch three different times before I was satisfied.
But here's the result! Hopefully, you all enjoy it.
Dark. Cold. Bland. Boring. These were just some of the words that came to Benny's mind, sitting in his cell on the Strip.
"So that was your grand scheme? Throw me off a cliff?"
Six grinned. "Something like that. I needed to get you out of the fort alive."
"You could have just asked Baldie to let me go…"
Boone shook his head. "The Legion doesn't release prisoners."
"Well, baby…" Benny clasped the bars in his hands. "Why'd you spring me? Just to throw me in this shit hole?"
"I won't lie…I had no intention of releasing you. I wanted blood."
"Then why have your boys waiting to pull me from the lake?"
"We weren't waiting on you," Boone confessed.
"I didn't like the idea of walking blindly into the arms of Caesar. Raul and Boone weren't down there for you…they were down there for me."
"You can only imagine my surprise when I jump into that lake to haul your sorry ass out," Boone told Benny flatly.
"So, what? You were going to jump off a cliff?"
"If things went south, yes. After Alerio killed your men and released me, I met with House. I'm no idiot. I knew that if you walked into the arms of Caesar, that it was the end of you anyway. But…you still had the chip…"
"So the old man sends you to get it…"
"Right. But I didn't think that Caesar would give it up so willingly. I assumed I'd be fighting my way out of the Fort."
Benny shook his head. "So you have your boys waiting to fish you out of the lake after you take the plunge…I'll be a sonuva…but you said you were going to do me in. What changed your mind?"
"Chalk it up to forgiveness."
"Baby, you're breaking my heart. I'm seriously going to start crying here. For real though…what ace do you have up your sleeve?"
Six smiled. "Hegelian Dialectics."
"Such a fragile thing, isn't it?"
Six twirled the chip between his fingers.
"Yet so…capacious. So very dear. Decades of hiring salvagers to search for this lost relic in the ruins of Sunnyvale…or, at least, that's what it was called back then."
"What exactly is this chip for?"
"Everything," House's voice grew more and more excited. "Place the chip in the terminal."
Six did as he was asked.
"This will upgrade the securitrons on the strip…I'm sure you're very familiar with them by now? What you don't know, however, is that the securitrons have been running on the Mark I operating systems. Their X-25 gatling laser, their 9mm crowd control submachine gun…both secondary weapons. The chip was to be delivered to me on October 23, 2077. Unfortunately, the bombs fell first…just twenty hours before the chip's delivery. Suffice to say…the chip was lost. So many resources poured into finding something so small…something that will change the fate of the Mojave…There. I have broadcasted the upgrade to every securitron within range of my transmitters. Unfortunately, I must ask you to return to Caesar's camp."
"Caesar asked me to kill you."
"Yes, I imagine he would. But you're going to do the smart thing. You're going to work for me."
"Because you and I…we are alike. Most people can only dream of being important. But we don't have to…we are."
"That's not much of an incentive."
"Incentive? I'm not going to offer you a monetary incentive…although there will be plenty of that. What I am offering you is a ground-floor opportunity in the most important enterprise on the planet – I'm offering you a future. Not only for you…but for the remnants of the human race."
"Exactly. Give me a decade, and I'll have humanity restored to its former glory. Two decades, and I'll reignite the high technology development sectors. Fifty years? I'll have people in orbit. In a century, colony ships will be headed for the stars in search of planets unpolluted by the folly of a failed generation."
"I still don't see what you're offering me?"
"I'm offering you a place in history. I'm offering you immortality! And…of course…all the perks that go with being the right hand in my autocracy."
"So you want to rule as a tyrant?"
"A tyrant? No, tyrants abuse their power. I would rule as chief executive. If you want to see the fate of democracies…look out the window."
"And what's to stop you from abusing your power?"
"My judgment, of course. I have no interest in abusing others, just as I have no interest in dictating what people do in their private time. I am no God, and I do not intend to pretend to be so. I would see mankind progress unimpeded."
Six laughed under his breath. "If I go back to see Caesar with you still alive…he'll likely have me strung up."
"Yes…I suppose you're right. I'm not going to lie to you, it will be dangerous. But the weather station there…it is vital to our plans. We have a lot to accomplish, you and I."
"You want me to kill Caesar?"
"Absolutely not! He's of much use to us. Providing a distraction for the NCR. Do not harm a single hair on his head."
Six chuckled. "I don't think I could find one. What's in the weather station?"
"Oh…" House began, furtively, "I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise. We'll talk more when you return." Ellipses replaced the onscreen figure. Then the connection timed out.
Six trekked back to the elevator. He boarded it and pressed the key assigned to his suite. The elevator opened with an electronic beep.
He wandered into the game room. Christine and Veronica were enveloped in a game of chess.
"You two seen Cass?"
"She left a little while ago. Had a bag with her…she seemed pretty upset." Christine replied, briefly looking up from the board.
"Something happen between you two?"
"A lot happened…"
Veronica cast him a sympathetic smile. "You want to talk about it?"
"Nothing to talk about. She say where she was going?"
"Yeah…Novac. Something about picking up where she left off. You going to go after her?"
Six shook his head miserably. "No…I think she needs some space."
"I'm sorry…what are you going to do now?"
"Focus on House's efforts."
Six was seized upon his return to the Fort. His weapons were stripped from him and he was brought before Caesar.
"You impudent little shit. This will be the last time you disobey an order from me, do you understand?"
"I haven't had an opportunity to get to House. The man's got security…a lot of it. As I'm sure you've noticed. This is going to take time."
"I'm not fucking talking about House. I'm talking about that piece of shit you tossed over that cliff to his death…you can only imagine my surprise when reports come back from my Frumentarii that he's shown up on the strip in NCR custody."
"Are you frightened?" Caesar scowled. "You should be…tell me, what would you do in my position? You realize that you have to be made an example of, don't you?"
Six took a long breath.
Caesar stood from his iron throne and disappeared into his tent. Six could see – but could not hear – him conversing with Lucius. After a long, uncomfortable wait, Lucius emerged and clasped Six's shoulder. "On your feet, profligate."
Six stood. The aged man's grip was surprisingly stout. Lucius lead him into the tent.
"After much consideration, I have decided your fate."
Six remained silent.
"You remember my Legate? You met him…the one clad in golden armor?"
"Yes. He was not my first Legate. I'm sure you've heard the legends…the legends of the Burned Man, walking the wastes. Exacting his own brand of justice upon the world."
"I can't say that I have."
Caesar scowled. "His name is Joshua Graham. My Legion is forbidden to speak of him…for good reason. His failure at Hoover Dam was inexcusable. I had to set an example. To show my men that failure, even at the highest level, could not be tolerated." Caesar took a seat and looked up at Six. "Kneel before the mighty Caesar."
"On your knees, profligate," Lucius brought his forearm down on Six's neck. He fell to his knees.
"Do you know what I did to Graham?" Caesar narrowed his eyes. "I had him coated in pitch, lit on fire, and tossed into the Grand Canyon. What do you think about that?"
Six's mouth curled into a frown. "Sounds like a little overkill to me."
"Overkill?" Caesar nodded in agreement. "Yes. You would think so, wouldn't you? But no. The legends of the Burned Man are no ordinary legends. They're very much true. And Graham…he's very much alive. After his…punishment…I began to hear reports of sightings across the wastes. And, eventually, he made his way to New Canaan."
Six's eyes lit up.
"You've heard of it? Good. When I heard reports of him surfacing in New Canaan, I sent my best assassins. They never returned. So I struck a deal with a band of tribals. And they salted the earth where once New Canaan stood. Yet, they did not return the head of Joshua Graham."
"Is this my punishment? You're going to talk me to dea…"
A swift blow to back of his head silenced him.
"No. You tracked Benny across the Mojave. Now I want you to do the same for me. Your punishment is this: You will be the one to bring me the head of Joshua Graham."
"And if I refuse?"
Caesar cast a look at Lucius – who, thereafter, exited the tent. When next he entered, he escorted a prisoner. A woman. Blonde. Familiar.
"Vulpes has informed me that you two are close."
Then Six recognized her. Frieda. The woman was bound and gagged. Her eyes full of fear.
"Do you think I would have entrusted you with killing House…let you have Benny, not to mention the chip, if I didn't also have a way of…motivating you?"
Six could hardly remember the woman…but something inside of him snapped. He immediately raised to his feet, only to come face to face with a brute of a man…the Legate. Lanius wrapped one massive hand around his throat and hoisted him into the air. Six could barely breathe.
Caesar was on his feet now. His eyes met Six's firmly. "This is the way this is going to play out. You're going to agree to my terms. You're going to travel to New Canaan. You're going to find Joshua Graham. And you're going to kill him. When you've done that…your trespass will be forgiven, and I will let her go. Know that I only extend this mercy once. The next time we meet…if you do not carry the head of Graham. I will end you."
"Good to see you."
"Jed," Six nodded. "You still looking for a business partner?"
"Straight to business then?" Jed grinned wide. "I like that. Please, have a seat."
Six sat down. Across from him, situated behind his desk, Jed trifled through some drawers. "That gal…what was her name?"
"That's the one. She won't be joining you today?"
"No, not today."
"That's a shame. She was easy on the eyes. She discussed the price with you?"
Six reached into his bag and dropped a gold bar onto the desk before him. The dull thud of metal on metal echoed throughout the room. Jed greedily took in his golden prize.
"Well," he laughed lightly under his breath. "That's certainly enough."
"When do we leave?"
"Yes. If I'm going to put this much resources into this company, I want to see it succeed."
"Of course. Well…" Jed paused. "We didn't intend to leave until tomorrow morning…but as our patron, I suppose you could make the final call."
"We'll leave as soon as my men get here."
"Yes. That won't be a problem, I trust?"
"I mean, after all. You did say this would make me a partner in the caravan."
Jed smiled. "Of course."
Six slid the gold bar across the table and wandered back outside. He gazed up into the evening sky. Before long, he saw them on the horizon. Two distinct figures, slowly making their way across the wastes. A man in a vault jumpsuit wandered out of the building, situating himself next to Six. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, drew one and lit it up. He offered one to Six. Six took it graciously.
"Need a light?"
Six leaned forward and the man lit up his cigarette. Six took a draw and coughed a bit.
"Don't smoke much, huh?"
"I'm a nervous smoker," Six admitted.
"You seemed a bit stressed out. Is it the trip? You're not afraid are you?"
Six shook his head.
"Good. Cause I don't want to have to carry another sorry mother fucker."
Six skeptically raised a brow. "And who are you?"
"You want to know who I am, bud? I'm 'Deadeye' Ricky."
Six laughed. "How'd you get that name?"
"Uh…how the fuck do you think? I shoot things in the eye! That's how good I am. Something or someone makes the mistake of crossing Ricky, I'll fucking deadeye him, her, or it. Why…once I got jumped by three deathjaws!"
"You mean deathclaws?"
"Did I say deathclaws? You fucking heard me. Deathjaws…they're like deathclaws, but with bigger teeth. Four of them…bam out of fucking nowhere."
"You said three before."
"Did I? I meant four. I never said I was good with numbers, pal…the point is, I wasn't afraid. I was a storm of death! Shot every one of them in the fucking eye! Another time one of them Steel Brotherhood fucks pops up and tells me to hand over my weapon! What an asshole! So I hand it over. You know…to make him think I'm scared? But really I'm not. Ricky's not scared of anything. Before he knows what hit him…bam! I pop him with my eleven millimeter machinegun right through the eyeslit in his helmet!"
"…Sure you did, buddy."
"What? You looking for trouble, pal? Cause I have a whole lot of it. Right here…fucking Ricky don't take shit from no one!"
Six tilted his head and looked at the man.
"Why are you even here?"
"I go wherever the fuck I want, pal! The shit I do is so far over your head…it'd be a waste of my time to put it in words you could understand! See this!" He pointed to the pip-boy on his wrist. "This is my pit-boy! It makes me badass! More badass than I already am! I'm going to use this thing to get us to New Canaan!"
Six tapped his own. "I've got one too, kid."
"What? Oh! Of course you do! First thing I noticed about you. I'm so used to wearing mine, it's normal. Don't think…"
Six cut him off with a quick jab to the throat. Ricky gasped for air.
"Look…Ricky?...I really don't have the patience to mess with you. So here's what's going to happen. You're going to take off walking in any fucking direction you want. And you're not going to turn around. Because if you turn around, I'm going to put a bullet…" Six jammed his finger between Ricky's eyes. "Right here. And trust me, deadeye. I'm not going to miss. And I'm not going to hesitate. So you take your sorry ass and disappear…before I put you in the ground."
The man, still gasping for breath, quickly nodded. Six watched him as he disappeared in the distance. Passing the two figures on his way.
"What the hell are you wearing?" Six had to stifle his laughter.
"What, Boss? This is my vaquero outfit…it's all the rage, didn't you know?"
"He insisted we go by his shack so he could fetch some items."
Six shook his head. "And those?"
Raul turned over a worn black sawed off shotgun and an ivory gripped .44 magnum. "I call this one Rafaela," He said, looking at the shotgun. Then the magnum, "And this one Claudia."
"After your sisters?"
"Well…one of them after my sister. The other? That's a story for another time, Boss."
"And that rifle?"
The rifle in question was a hunting rifle. It was very well maintained, and tied around the stock was an unfamiliar flag.
"Don't need one, Boss. It's all about taking your time."
Six shrugged. Behind him, Jed and his team emerged from the building.
"These your men?"
Six responded with a quiet nod.
"Well…I suppose we better get a move on."
"Mother agreed to have him play your assassin…but I want your word that, regardless of whether or not he succeeds, my brother and sister will be avenged."
"When he is of no more use to me, I'll send his heart to Reno with a fucking ribbon tied around it."
Frieda smiled. "If there's nothing else, I'll be taking my leave."
Caesar waved his hand in dismissal.
Frieda stood to take her leave.
"You're sure this will work?" Caesar carefully studied the woman.
"If he's the same man he was before that prick shot him, he'll die before he lets anything happen to me."
"If? I'm not a gambling man, Frieda."
"If I may interrupt, my Lord," the calm voice of Vulpes interjected.
Caesar turned his attention to the man.
"My scouts report that he's been seen with a woman…Alerio assures me that he would go through great lengths to keep her from harm."
"And where is this woman now?"
"Novac, my Lord."
Caesar nodded in approval. "Send Canyon Runner to Novac. Tell him to get comfortable. When Six gets back…if he hasn't completed his task…we'll make him wish he had."
"As you command, my Lord."
Frieda's eyes shone with jealousy. "Who is this woman?"
Vulpes smiled. "Your family knows of her well…or, at the very least, her father. Rose of Sharon Cassidy."
And so begins Six's trip to Zion...
Next time: The long awaited arrival of my favorite character...Joshua Graham.