Fortification Hill, 2281: on a clear Mojave morning, the sound of flames and scavengers reveal a scene of devastation. Caesar, the conqueror of eighty seven tribes and the self-proclaimed Son of Mars, was dead. He died not of illness or even subtle assassination; he probably wasn’t even the first one to die that morning. Nobody at the time knew who committed the act or how they were able to carry it out, but one thing was clear: this was the turning point of the war.
“You have to understand that on average, we get about… 5 to 6 reports per month at least of someone, probably a bounty hunter or something, who claimed to be making an attempt on Caesar’s life. And 9 out of 10 times, we never hear from them again, and when we do, it’s usually because one of our boys found their body. So as you can imagine, when some red faced recruit came in and told us that the Fort was wiped out, we all thought he was high on Jet or something.”— Commander Astor, Former commanding officer of Camp Searchlight
Early reports were sketchy, but for the next few hours, scouts from multiple ranger camps in the area all reported the same thing: there was smoke coming from the Fort, and they were not from campfires. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon did High Command receive the news, and it was later still when General Lee Oliver was informed personally. According to personal logs at the time:
Nobody dared to report to the brass because they feared getting their asses kicked for wasting time with obvious bullshit.
Though progress on the investigation was slow, rumours have already begun to spread:
“We all knew almost straight away that it wasn’t us, I mean such a high profile mission would require authorisation all the way from the President himself. Can you imagine the amount of paper work that would have involved? The war would’ve ended before they green lit something like that. And in any case we would’ve heard about it; maybe not the average trooper but certainly High Command.”— Bardon, Former Quartermaster at Hoover Dam
Even if High Command would believe that such a daring attempt on Caesar’s life have been staged, they were not willing to send people to verify it. It was likely, some reasoned, to be a trap made deliberately to lure the NCR troops away from Hoover Dam. But such a trick was not exactly difficult to see through and it didn’t seem to fit the Legion’s style. Nevertheless, the rumours were getting out of hand: both the troops and the citizens demanded an answer. Under pressure from higher authority back in California, Lee Oliver gave the order to send troops disguised as caravan traders into the Fort. For High Command it was the least costly plan should something go wrong, but for the soldiers who were chosen for such a mission, it was potential suicide.
“Most of us didn’t believe in it, so unsurprisingly there weren’t many volunteers. Eventually the higher ups had to pick individuals, and if I’m honest, I was praying they wouldn’t choose me.”— Lt Lawson, Formerly Private Lawson of Camp Golf. He was one of five troopers chosen for the task
Nearly three days after the initial reports were received, the small convoy, armed with only concealable weapons, set off on their mission. Their first stop was Cottonwood Cove, a major Legion outpost. From there, they were told; any traders would be checked for weapons before being taken by raft up the Colorado River and into the Fort. All the while they would be under heavy Legion scrutiny.
“I remember seeing the crosses from almost half a mile away through my binoculars, most of them had skeletons still pinned up. That was a common sight near Legion outposts and it really did a number on most of the younger recruits. It was basically a reminder that we were about to walk straight into Satan’s backyard.”— Lt Lawson
“As we got closer, though, things began to feel off. I remember checking my surroundings, particularly near rocky areas and usually you can bet a whole bag of caps that there would be one or two scouts hidden somewhere. They weren’t usually that good at hiding, especially for the less experienced ones, so if you had a good eye you could usually spot them. But on that day, I couldn’t see a single one.”— Kara Thompson, Formerly Private Thompson of Camp Golf, She was one of five troopers chosen for the task
“We eventually got closer to the entrance, and took cover behind the old pre-war sign. There was no Legionary in sight; no activity at all. I expected to be met by a scout or someone about ten minutes ago, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. But then Thompson took one look around our cover, which wasn’t a smart thing to do, she could’ve been shot, and said: ‘My God’. I dragged her behind cover and very carefully checked it out. To be honest, she took the words right out of my mouth.”— Lt Lawson
Cottonwood Cove, formally under the command of the legendary Aurelius of Phoenix, was completely wiped out. Almost fifty Legionaries lay dead, Aurelius among them, after what appeared to be intense fighting.
“We were not expecting that at all. And the first thing that popped into my head was: ‘this is the only way for anyone to go from the west side of the river to the Fort.’ And there was no other way, not without going through Hoover Dam, which was no man’s land. This outpost was not only destroyed, it was abandoned completely; three days after we heard about the Fort. There was only one explanation.”— Lt Lawson
Whoever it was that committed this act was very likely the same group who supposedly attacked the Fort. After being told to wait for another two days, High Command sent additional troops, rangers among them, to commence a full investigation into the reported incident at Fortification Hill. Suddenly, the prospect of the most daring assassination in recent history no longer seemed so impossible.
“For some of us, even at that late stage, we couldn’t shake the feeling that this might be a trap. I certainly felt it. But when we finally arrived at the gates of the Fort and saw the extent of the damage there, I felt… I can’t really describe it. A mix of relief and terror, if you can imagine that…”— Ranger Gomez
Like Cottonwood Cove, not a single Legionary escaped the Fort. There were no wounded soldiers, only the dead; some of which appeared to have been executed. Inside various tents and what few improvised buildings there were, the NCR troops found former slaves, most still dressed in the torn garments forced upon them by their now deceased masters. Some of these slaves were captured from the local area, but many more were transported from Arizona. Some of them were so weak they could barely speak. Among the slaves were a few captured NCR troops, some of whom were scheduled for execution on the very day of the massacre: they were lucky, they were saved.
“One of the women, who was clearly trying to organise the slaves, identified herself as Ranger Stella. I didn’t know her personally, but she certainly had that look of true grit on her face. She was the only one we could find who wasn’t… broken, if that makes any sense. She was captured from Station Charlie and has been forced to fight as a gladiator, and yet after all that she was still tough enough to try and help as many people as she could. Hell she even saluted us.”— Ranger Gomez
As an eye witness to the entire event, Stella gave a full account on exactly what took place on that fateful day, or at least everything she saw. Just after sun rise at approximately 7am, the Courier, along with his companions, arrived at the foot of the Fort. There they were disarmed and given access to the rest of the camp. According to Stella, the Courier himself was given permission to enter Caesar’s command tent, an honour usually reserved to only the highest ranking members of the Legion. There he stayed for an indeterminate amount of time. Then, as Stella put it in her testimony, all hell broke loose.
“We found several sites all around the tent where substantial explosions occurred, possibly C4. This was followed by the ignition of several incendiary devices near some of the other tents. There was heavy fighting and a large portion of the Legionaries station at the rest of the Fort was called in; we knew this judging by the sheer number of bodies we found. The assailants used no other tactics beyond the initial series of explosions, which was likely done to distract Caesar’s guards. But as far as the rest of the fire fight, it seemed like a mess.”— Ranger Gomez
“None of us could figure out how these guys managed to do this: I mean they were disarmed and as far as we could tell, they simply fought with whatever weapons they could conceal plus weapons taken from the dead Legionaries. Even a squad of highly experienced soldiers wearing full Power Armour couldn't pull that off. I suppose if we stayed longer and looked harder, we might have avoided a lot of what was to come, but we knew that there were other Legion camps out there, particularly the one under the Legate’s control. We had to pull out of there before they could send more troops.”— Kara Thompson
The exact details of the battle remained conflicted and confusing; some claimed that the Courier was escorted to a nearby pre-war weather station after his talk with Caesar. Others even claimed that the entire squad came in guns blazing, the meetings with Caesar himself never taking place. Ranger Stella herself was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. This made her account, according to the investigators, ‘unreliable’. Regardless of the details, the Courier’s involvement in the event was undeniable. A vital question now dominated the investigation: why did the Courier do this?
“In hindsight, none of us should’ve been surprised that he would do something like this. But at the time none of us could believe it; that kid was capable of a lot of things and did do a lot of things for the NCR, make no mistake, but he never took a move as game changing as this before. He was getting himself involved with some pretty hard core politics by doing that, and I for one was concerned: we never asked him to do this.”— Dennis Crocker, Former NCR ambassador to New Vegas
The fact that the Courier took such daring steps against the Legion was proof that he was upping his agenda. And it was his agenda that worried High Command. In addition, numerous accounts of the incident agreed that the Courier was given access to both the Fort and permission to speak to Caesar personally. On top of this, the Courier never reported in the incident at the Fort, nor did he report the destruction of Cottonwood Cove, which by this stage seemed almost certain to have been a product of his doing. Suddenly, whether out of respect or fear, the NCR High Command had no choice but to take this man and his squad seriously.
“There was some of the General’s staff who saw the Courier as a hindrance rather than an asset. Their argument was that as powerful as the Courier may be, he was still a loose cannon: he was not an official member of the NCR army, in fact we couldn’t even confirm if he was a citizen of the NCR in the first place. He never took an oath to serve the Republic and it was no secret that he has been in contact with numerous factions of the Mojave.”— Dennis Crocker
These other factions included the Boomers, Followers of the Apocalypse, the Great Khans, the Kings of Freeside, the Super mutants of Jacob’s Town and many others. There was even suspicion that he may have come in contact with the Mojave Chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel. The most worrying contact, however, was easily Mr House. Considering how the Courier was originally hired to deliver a package to House himself, their meeting seemed inevitable.
“We had no idea what those two talked about, but they certainly had us worried. That was the thing with weapons: you always feel glad to have it yourself, but at the same time, you tried everything you could to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. And believe me, the Courier was one of the most powerful weapons we had.”— Dennis Crocker
Contacts with the Courier were reduced to a minimum: even at this stage, he did not take credit for Caesar’s death, at least not publically. Though the Capital were no doubt eager to further use him and his achievements as propaganda, General Lee Oliver and those serving below him were getting increasingly weary of this young man and his friend’s antics: they were starting to make High Command look ineffective. The opinions of the local population were also beginning to shift:
“When they saw the Courier’s image, they did not see the NCR. Instead, when they saw the NCR, they saw the Courier. He was becoming a legend among men, which in all fairness he deserved. But this was not what we wanted him to become.”— Dennis Crocker
The relationship between the two parties was beginning to sour, although neither side knew the true extent. As means of controlling the Courier, High Command decided that Colonel Cassandra Moore should become his new ‘commanding officer’, even though he was still technically a civilian contractor. As a former ranger and well respected NCR war hero, Moore did not have the patience and understanding the Courier had been used to receiving from the NCR.
“I personally thought that the appointment of Colonel Moore for this task was absolutely idiotic: those two did not mix well. Moore demanded her troops to be absolutely loyal to the Republic and obey any and all orders without question. That was pretty testing, even for other officers at the time, so you can imagine how well the Courier took it. The answer was not very.”— General Hsu, Former commanding officer of Camp McCarran
To make matters worse, the tasks Moore gave to the Courier were ethnically questionable at best. Having served in the NCR military since she was only 16, the Colonel was a battle hardened patriot and was well known for being ruthless to her enemies. Though the missions she gave to the Courier were top secret, their brutal nature was not unexpected.
“On more than one occasion, the Courier was tasked with ‘taking care of’ certain factions of the Mojave. I knew that she… suggested, at least, that the Courier use lethal force to subjugate the Kings. I also knew that he was tasked with investigating the Great Khans, which judging by the historical hostilities between the two factions probably meant their extermination as well. Those were just the cases that I was aware of at the time.”— Dennis Crocker
But in a fashion typical to the Courier, he achieved each mission with his own spin on the procedures: his close ties with the King meant that he negotiated peace between Freeside and the NCR without too many obstacles. Furthermore, he gained the trust of the Great Khans and turned them away from joining the Legion, finally asking them to leave the Mojave peacefully. Such acts earned him even more prestige among the average inhabitants of the New Vegas area. It seemed as if High Command’s plan had backfired.
“Moore, in particular, was frustrated with the situation. I even heard her say that she wanted to take the Courier down a couple of notches, which really said more about her own personality than anything else.”— Bardon, Former Quartermaster at Hoover Dam
Mind games: it became clear to most if not all who worked closely with both Moore and the Courier that a battle of will was being constantly fought between the two. But it was not to last. At some point after the Courier shut down what became known as ‘The Omerta Plot’, Moore commanded him to do the unthinkable: the assassination of Robert House.
“In many ways, you could argue that it was unavoidable: the man, if he could be called as such, was determined to keep New Vegas out of NCR hands. That, of course, was not in Kimble’s best interests. We had hoped, almost right after the signing of the New Vegas Treaty, in fact, that if the military could decisively crush the Legion and drive them out of the Mojave once and for all, then our position of political bargaining would be unmatched. There won’t be any opposition back home and House would have to give into our demands. Of course that depended on two factors: we had to first win the war, and we had to talk to House.”— Linda Holden, Former Secretary of President Kimbal
But neither of those factors was looking promising: the Legion, even without Caesar, was still being held together, albeit shakily, by the iron fist of Legate Lanius. As for House, there had been no meetings since the signing of the original treaty, officially or otherwise. With seemingly no alternative, Moore and other like-minded individuals at High Command turned towards aggressive negotiations.
“You have to understand how tough that was for [The Courier]. He was never that fond of House, we all knew that, but he nonetheless felt that House was entitled to something. After all, he was the one who saved New Vegas from the worst of the nuclear devastation in the first place. And in some ways, it was House’s package that brought all of us together.”— Arcade Gannon, Former researcher of the Followers of the Apocalypse, Current lead medical advisor of the West Coast Alliance
“I’ve never seen him so down, hell I’ve seen him on the edge of death more than once and he always held on. But this was sending him over the edge. I supposed up until that point, he assumed that he was working to make the whole annexation process as peacefully and as fairly as possible. But that clearly wasn’t happening anymore.”— Raul Tejada, The Ghost Vaquero
Disillusioned and tired of politics, Colonel Moore’s demands for tying up loose ends in the Mojave did little to reassure the Courier of his choice for employers, something that he would remember for weeks to come…