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The Mojave Shadow

Prologue: The Fall

"Ahem... Is this recording? It is? Okay. This is Samuel Hurtzs of Vault 27. I-I don't know how to explain whats going on right now, but its not good. My girlfriend, Emma, and I have been planning that if -Or more so, WHEN- another of these violent scuffles happen again, that we'd have to find a way to get out of the Vault. We've managed to evade the fighting and got into the Overseer's office. Its here that I managed to hack his computer terminal and found out that we aren't the only ones that were escaping the vault. A few other people tried to but were captured at the Vault Door and killed a few months back. I also found some maps that show cities nearby and I have picked out what seems like a suitable place to hide out. If any of you wish to follow us go to these coordinates: X:18.95.10, Y:12.63.53. But if you are going to follow us, uh... This is kinda brutal to say, but make sure the Overseer is dead before you decide to follow us. We can't have any of the Overseer's cronies tailing us, not that they have the balls to follow us out of the Vault anyways. To whoever gets this Holotape, I wish you the best of luck. This is Samuel Hurtzs and if you're listening to this, know there is an entire world outside this cage, look for it and find your freedom."

I took the holotape out of my Pipboy and threw it out of the Overseer's broken Atrium window into the warring crowd. I looked at Emma, she had such terror in her eyes. She was nearly petrified. I placed my forehead gently against hers and whispered, "We have to get out of here, okay?" I desperately wanted her to say something. But I had no time for any kind of reply from her, I grabbed my crowbar I took from the maintenance office and hit the commands into the Overseer's terminal for the tunnel to the Vault Door to open. As it was opening, the door opened up and Overseer Dwight came in with his pistol aimed at me. He screamed at me, demanding to know what the hell I was doing. "There are too many people in this Vault Dwight! I know whats really going on with this 'Vault Protection' shit!" I yelled at him as I walked up to him, close enough that he put the gun down, and looked at him face to face. "This is no safe house! Its a FUCKING SCIENCE EXPERIMENT!" I yelled at him as loud as my voice could reach. He yelled in return, "I thought you of ALL people would understand Sam! You're a High School Chemistry Teacher! I hoped you'd think that this experiment would benefit us in some way!", I continued to yell at him, "NO! The Vaults were NEVER MEANT TO SAVE ANYONE! Thats just it! We were doomed from the moment our parents stepped into this God For-Fuck-saken Vault! We're OUT OF HERE!" By then, the tunnel entrance was open and Emma and I were about to step into the tunnel. Dwight stepped close enough for arms length and pointed the gun at my face. I slid the crowbar behind my back and held it tight. "I didn't want it to come to this Samuel Hurtzs!" His finger started to squeeze the trigger, "Neither did I, Dwight." I said calmly as I swung the crowbar from behind me with all the force I could. The crowbar made contact with his head, the sound of a wet crackle filled my ears, and the Overseer's body fell into the entrance with us as the tunnel entrance closed shut. There was a delayed reaction in the corpse's hand, it took a good 3 seconds for the hand to let go of the 10mm Pistol.

I threw the body off of me and picked up the weapon. I searched the body and found two more magazines for the pistol, they were full while the one already in the gun was missing 3 rounds. Simple math added up the total rounds I could use, "27... 27 bullets left. And I'm leaving Vault 27." I muttered to myself realizing the irony in the numbers I had calculated. I holstered the gun and turned to look at Emma, the terror in her eyes only escalated when she saw what I had just done. I held her close and told her to look away. Its was the only command she obeyed. I knew that there would be much more death to follow in our lives. I walked up to the Overseer's body and grabbed the crowbar that was still in his head. I gave it a swift pull and it lodged out of his head. Blood began pooling out of the fatal gaping wound.

"Its time to go, Emm." I whispered and held out my hand. She took my hand and lifted herself up. She continued to say nothing as we made our way to the Vault Door. I looked at my Pip-Boy to see what time it was, "9:42AM", displayed on the screen. "The sun would be out... I just hoped that our eyes will be able to adjust to the light." I muttered. We opened a manual door and got to where the Vault door was. It was a massive gear, just big and heavy enough for it to not budge out of place. I browsed around the the room looking for something that would open the massive door. "There." Emma said and pointed slightly to my right. We walked up to the locking mechanism. I held Emma's hand as I flipped off the safety switches and calibrated the energy needed to make the door open. After a few seconds of flipping switches and pressing buttons, a warning light lit up and began to spin. The last thing to do was pull the lever...

I put my hand on the lever, took a deep breath and felt Emma's hand tighten around mine. We both pulled down the lever. A siren screamed to life and a giant arm lowered itself down and screwed into the Vault door. An ear bleeding screech came from the door as it was being pulled out of place from the entrance. Emma and I covered our ears as quickly as we could, but even with our ears plugged it was still as loud as a bunch as Banshees. The door slid out of its resting place, rolled to the right and secured into place. I hesitated... We both hesitated. But there wasn't time to think if we really wanted this. I took the first step out of the Vault and Emma followed as well, we began walking down the tunnel that would lead us to our new lives.

This time the 'Light at the end of the tunnel' was real. It was getting brighter, I turned to Emma and told her to close her eyes for the moment. She then covered her eyes, and I helped her out of the tunnel. I however didn't close mine. Upon stepping out of the tunnel, I was nearly blinded, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust and then I saw what awaited us. There was... Nothing. Everything was destroyed. The city that was within walking distance was gone. Nothing left but some of the exteriors of the buildings. "Emm, I want you to open your eyes slowly. Okay?" I asked of her. When her eyes opened, she was devastated. She looked at me and pleaded to know why this was happening to us. "I'll tell you when we have time." She accepted that answer, "Just remember, whatever happens I'll be there with you. Okay?" She nodded and said quietly, "I love you." When she said that it made my heart skip, I told her that I loved her too. Thats when I knew we'd make a good life here, in this unforgiving world we would now live in...


Chapter One: Humble Beginnings based off of Luck

"Hey Stakes!" I heard someone yell out from another room. My friend Tanner had been using my nickname instead of my real name ever since we were kids. The nickname suited me well though, it always had. I turned and saw Tanner headed my way. "Whats up?" I asked as I continued to do routine maintenance on my weapons. "Your next caravan is leaving in 15 minutes dude. If you're going to lead this one, you have to leave now!" He told me as he walked into the room, "Shit. They're leaving early." I said aloud. It was a good thing I hadn't started to take apart my anti-materiel, it would have taken longer to put back together. I took the rifle, and pulled back the bolt. I looked down the chamber, making sure nothing was going to obstruct the barrel. I opened up one of the small ammo boxes I had in my room and took out 3 magazines of .50cal rounds, slid one of them into the gun and loaded the first round into the chamber. I swung it around and onto my back, I took my next gun, an R91, and loaded it. I grabbed a few mags for it as well. I was going to walk out the door when I realized that I has almost forgot my backpack. Tanner held it up for me as I turned to grab it, "Thanks man." I said courteously. Yeah, don't want to be out on the desert with no food, water, or stimpaks. "Alright Tanner, I'll see you later." I told him, he gave his goodbye as well. Before walking out of my house, I looked into the broken mirror by the front door, "You have seen better days." I told myself in the mirror. Then I looked at what I happened to be wearing. A Black Trench Coat, Cargo Pants with boots that reached and strapped up to my knees. The collar on the coat was popped up with the number 27 etched into the right side of it. Next to the mirror was the family's old Pipboy 3000. I strapped it onto me left wrist, it secured itself into place and hummed to life. "This will serve me well." I thought to myself.I gave a slight nod to myself and I walked out of the house.

I had been briefed about the caravan the previous day, this particular one was going all the way to the NCR, then that I'd get my next job there. It seemed like I wouldn't be home for awhile. I walked up to the trading post where the caravan was waiting. I approached the head of the caravan and asked if everyone was ready to go. They all said yes. "Good, 'cause its going to be a LONG trip." I muttered under my breath. "Alright everyone! Lets Move Out!" I yelled at the caravan. I also noticed that this was a bigger caravan than the ones I usually lead, "Must be some good shit they're trading..." We started walking south-bound towards The NCR Capital. "Dear God this will be a long walk," I told my self as I opened my backpack and took out a fresh pack of cigarettes. I popped it open, took one cig out, lit it, and took a long drag. I exhaled appreciatively and looked at the lit cigarette and smiled, "Its been too long my old friend." I said and chuckled as I continued with my smoke.

"Jace," My father said to me, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" I thought about it, though its not quite the question you'd expect a ten-year-old to have an answer for. "What do you do, dad?" I asked him curiously. He smiled, "I've been doing the same thing since your Great-Grandfather came to this settlement, we're Caravaners." I looked at him and asked, "What do they do?", he tried to simplify it as best as he could, "Caravaners take all kinds of things that people need to other places across the Mojave Wasteland to trade." He told me also that there were a lot of things to see, places to go, and stuff to fight. He told me other stories of my great-grandfather and how he started a successful 'Caravan Protection' company. Thats when I knew I was destined to be a caravan bodyguard whether I liked it or not.

When I was twelve, I learned of my uncanny good luck. I earned my nickname after I had won my first gamble against some Caravaners that had washed up into New Reno some odd years back. Tanner and I were walking to the trading stand to buy a couple of Nuka-Colas for ourselves when a group of traders called out for us. Being twelve we didn't know any better than to gamble with sleazy, New Vegas Scum Bags such as them. They wanted us to play a 'Friendly Game with them' that the had called 'Caravan'. We glanced at eachother, shrugged and agreed to play. The first round was to get the feel for the game. No Caps were bet, and I won the first game. The traders were impressed on how fast I picked up on the game. With the second game it was a 15 cap bet, and I had won it as well. The third and forth games I had lost what me and Tanner had gained. After that, one of the traders asked if I wanted to make the game 'More Interesting'. "Sure, but how?" I asked them, then one of the traders laid down an old, Anti-Materiel Rifle and all their caps. "You got anything worth that bet, kid?" the trader asked with a smirk. I looked at them then Tanner. "Yeah, I'll be right back." I turned to Tanner, "Dude, stay here and make sure they don't leave with our caps." I said. Tanner tried to stop me from making any bad choices, "Jace, c'mon we gained nothing from this stupid game, lets just get our Nuka-Cola and leave." I smiled, "Trust me on this." I said, then he nodded. I came back a few minutes later with my dad's .357 Revolver, fully loaded, and 57 more caps that I'd been saving for a rainy day. I laid them both down. "I bet the gun and all the caps I have." The traders smirked, "Thats the spirit kid, your thinking like a true trader." I heard them say. Then they turned away, with the deck of playing cards in their hands. This time it was one-on-one, me against the lead trader. They had messed with the deck and had dealt me bad cards. I could tell because some of the cards didn't belong with the same deck we were using, but I could compensate for it. The Lead Trader laid down his cards and had 3 pairs, I smirked and laid down a 'Flush', the other traders looked in awe as the lead trader went berserk. While he was busy Tanner and I grabbed our newly won caps and and our guns and ran off. "That was awesome, Jace! The stakes were high, but were still in your favor!" Tanner said to me as we got out third round of Nuka-Colas. I was still in awe of how I managed to pull something like that off. "From now on dude, you are 'Stakes- Caravan Master'!" We cheered and drank the whole night through...

I looked at the time on my Pipboy, '2:23AM' displayed on the screen. We had been walking, non-stop, since yesterday afternoon. Then I realized that I had finished my cigarette hours ago and had been chewing on the filter. I spat it out and turned around to face the caravan, "Everyone! We are stopping for the night. We'll rest for a few hours then we'll get going again." I yelled to the caravan, they all slumped down to the ground and quickly went to sleep. I wasn't able to have a luxury such as sleep, because I had to look over the caravan. An hour passed, nothing was going on except the occasional mole rat snooping around. Even then it was through the scope of my rifle that I saw them going around scavenging for food. I checked my Pipboy seeing if there were any local radio stations broadcasting. Nothing good, but I was getting a scrambled radio relay call waiting for a perimeter report. "Ah, whatever." I mumbled and shut off the station. "Probably nothing good anyways." I knew it would be awhile before we got moving again, so I laid down on the ground in front of the Caravan and tried to sleep.

Well, trying to sleep didn't work. I looked back at my Pipboy again what seemed like a few hours later, which it was. '7:13AM', "Alright, everyone wake up! We're moving out!" I announced to the caravan. Everyone sluggishly got back up and we continued south-bound. There were a few times where I had to stop the caravan, so they could rest, thus keeping the bitching to a minimum. I only had one pack of cigarettes to last me the trip, so I wouldn't waste them on selfish caravaners that were pissing me off. 'There isn't enough water.' 'Where are we going?' 'You have no fucking idea what you're doing, do you?' Those were some of the constant things I would hear behind my back, over and over. God damn if it weren't for my patience, I would've killed some of these fucking pricks. I eventually just ignored them unless they had a good reason to do so. I'm just glad that the other caravan guards were able to tune them out as well. After a couple of hours of walking, I realized that this has been the least active caravan trip I had lead. There was always something in the way, because the worst thing that happened to one of my caravans I lead was a raider attack. We were out numbered but they were severely out gunned. Most of them had baseball bats or tire irons. I kept the thought to myself though. I just wanted to get this job done, get paid and go home. Luckily, we were just about a couple hours away from the NCR border. I sighed and lit up another cig as one of the caravan guards came up to me. He looked about my age, a little shorter, and had some REALLY slept in hair. He had on some home made Leather Armor and held a Caravan Shotgun. I looked at him seriously, and he returned the look. I liked that. "This spot taken?" He asked. I shook my head, "By all means." He walked next to me. "Name's Reginald. Just call me 'Regi'." He held out his hand, I took his hand and shook it. "Name's Jace. My friends call me 'Stakes'.

There was a few minutes of silence between us as we were approaching NCR territory, it would still be a couple of hours before we got to the capital. "...So. 'Stakes', huh?" Regi asked as I selflessly passed him one of my cigarettes...


Chapter Two: Territorial Cross Roads

It took a good two days, but we managed to get to the NCR border without incident. Regi and I had just finished talking as we approached the guard outpost that over looked the NCR territory. Three of the guards came out of one of the many tents they had and one of them approached us, "I am Staff Sargent Ronald Mickey, Security Force of the New California Republic. State your business here." Being the head of the caravan, I stepped up. "I'm Jace Hurtzs, head of Caravan Trade at New Reno. We're here on a caravan route to the New California Republic Capital." I said aloud. The Sargent waved his hand forward and a squad came forth. "Have you ever been to the NCR, Mr. Hurtzs?" He asked, "No I have not, sir." I told him as he waved forward again, this time the squad was doing a sweep around the caravan. "Well, have you been informed of the NCR's progress against Caesar's Legion?" He asked, he seemed to be getting more persistent. "Again, no I have not, sir." I told him, trying to remain sincere. "Though I am familiar with the war between the NCR and Brotherhood of Steel." He gave a scornful look at me. "What was the head count when you left New Reno, Mr. Hurtzs?" I wasted no time answering his question, "37 total, sir. That is 6 Brahmin, 15 Guards and 16 traders." He nodded and yelled out, "Whats the count Corporal?" Then I heard from behind me, "Well, sir, there seems to be 39." The Sargent nodded again and looked at me, he held his hand up and made a fist. This signaled all the rest of the squadron to come out and make a search of all of us on the spot. They didn't rough us up, or take our belongings, they just inspected us extremely closely.

Being the head of the caravan, I was first. Before they started, I removed my weapons, my backpack, and my coat. So now the only thing they'd have to search was me, without making a fuss over what was on me. The officers started with my belongings, they dumped out my backpack inspecting everything that was in it, all the way down to my food. I rolled my eyes as the inspecting officer looked up at me, we both knew there was nothing on me or in my stuff. Either way he finished up quickly and messily shoved my stuff back into my pack. Sargent Mickey then said I was free to go and handed back my backpack. "Head directly east, you'll reach the capital in about a three hour walk." I put back on my coat and my pack. I looked at the two officers behind Mickey, they had taken my weapons when I wasn't looking. They handed back both my rifles. The one that handed back my R91 proceeded to tell me, "Thats a real piece of shit you got there." As I simply replied with a hardy, "Fuck you." And I started on my way.

I was about twenty minutes out of the range of the outpost when I went through my pack and saw that the guy that checked my stuff had crushed my pack of smokes. "That mother fucker." I said to myself, but I wasn't about to go ape shit about some crushed cigarettes. I sighed angrily and reached back in to my backpack and pulled out an old holotape. I had this old holotape since I was a kid. Apparently, before the bombs fell, record companies would put music onto tapes like these and can be used with almost any Pipboy. I slipped the tape into my Pipboy and the music started. The music was centuries old but it was fitting on how everyone in the American Wasteland lived in the present year of 2281. The type of music I was listening to was never a real number one genre, but it was popular to the people that believed in the end of the world as they knew it, they referred to it as 'Metal'. The band name was worn off the tape, so I was never sure what the band's name was. Either way it was really good stuff to listen to.

"We're going down In a spiral to the ground. No one no one's gonna save us now..."

I sang along with the lyrics as I continued to walk, alone.

About an hour later the tape finished. I put it away and checked to see if I could get a signal for the radio. This time I was getting a clear signal from a random frequency. "... Target is en route to the Danger Zone... Copy, continuing trace." This got my complete attention. I grabbed my anti-materiel rifle off of my back, knelt down and scanned the horizon through my scope. I cranked up my Pipboy's radio volume to maximum. There was a plateau to the north, and nothing else in any other direction. "Hold on... He's stopped." I heard over my Pipboy, I aimed up to the plateau, "He can't know we're here, there's no fucking way." I scanned the top of the cliff side for a few seconds, until I saw a glint from, what my guess was, a pair of binoculars. "I think he's got us." Another voice said, "No, just keep tracking he can't get us from here." I fired off a shot at the tracker. It took precisely three seconds for a response on the radio, "HE'S ON TO US! HE'S KILLED MY TRACKER! ABORTING RECON MISSION!"

"Wow, my luck never seems to fail me." I thought to myself. I decided that I wasn't going to stick around much longer, so I started running toward the NCR Capital. After twenty straight minutes of all out sprinting, I stopped to down a full bottle of fresh water. Though technically 'Fresh' isn't the word I'd describe the water I drank. The water was distributed through out the wasteland, but the way they 'Purified' it wasn't quite the best way to do it. All it included was just boiling the water to rid it of germs, but it didn't purge the water of the radiation that seemed to be embedded into it. Either way, I needed to be re-hydrated somehow.

Apparently I had really hauled ass, because I was at the border of Capital within the another thirty minutes. Night had set in when I saw that there was another outpost, this time they were going to tell me where and who to report to for my next job. Though this time, an officer came up to me wearing something I had never seen before. The outer layer was an old western duster-like coat, with the collar popped up. The under layer looked like a form of metal armor. It was cut in ways so that the officer can move around with ease while maintaining full body protection. The helmet was a real piece of work. The helmet was fit with a full covering gas mask-like device. The first thing I saw when I looked up at the officers face were two deep glowing red eyes from the mask. He stopped about three feet away from me, and asked, "You 'Hutrzs'? I tried to maintain my composure, I looked at him and said, "Yes." He turned and waved me forward, "Good. Come with me please." I didn't waste anytime following his order. I was too distracted by the man's armor to even notice the twenty-five foot, reinforced fence that was in front of me. The fence was mainly made of metal plates that seemed to fit in perfectly with one another. The NCR officer yelled out to the fence, "Package retrieved, open the gate."

The sound of gears turning were heard as the gate slid open. I walked past the gates still following the NCR officer, "If you'll follow the signs you'll see the Caravan Trading Outpost in the bazaar of the city." I nodded to him politely, he nodded back and I was on my way. The NCR capital was lively, everyone enjoying the night while it was still young. There was a few people making a ruckus but the security quieted them down to a dull roar, I walked down streets keeping my eyes away from the locals and only on the signs that would lead me to where I needed to be. I would have asked the security which way the bazaar was, but they didn't seem the right people to ask about that. So I just did my best to find my own way.

After about fifteen minutes of mindless wandering, I managed to find the bazaar. There was an assortment of different caravans and merchants selling a bit of everything, I decided that I'll have to come back here after I had talked to the head of the trading outpost. I kept walking until I found the place. I walked through the door, but it seemed that no one was at the front desk. "Hello?" I called out loud. A woman came around from the back and greeted me, "Hello, sir. How my I help you?" I looked at her, he brown hair was put up in a ponytail, and she was wearing a Merc Adventurer Outfit, which seemed pretty fitting to me. "Yes. I'm hear to confirm the completion of my caravan delivery." She looked up at me and said, "Oh, you most be Mr. Hurtzs, yes?" I nodded, word travels fast I thought to myself. "If you'll follow me..." I walked to the back room with her, in the room there was another NCR officer and the head of the trading post sitting at a round table. One of them stood and greeted me politely, the head of the trading post introduced himself first, "Mr. Hurtzs, I am Andrew Thorn." He held out his hand and I gave a firm shake, "And this is-" The officer stood up and finished the introduction, "Lieutenant Avery Jones." I shook his hand as well. "Well, shall we get down to business?" Thorn half stated, half asked. I continued to stand until Thorn spoke up, "Please have a seat!" I sat down and said, "Thank you." It was good to sit down, since I had ran about the last third of the way here. "So, about the caravan you lead, you did a good job bringing them here in one piece." Thorn said and continued, "I was surprised to hear that it got here with out any incident." He seemed to be talking as if I knew what they were delivering, so I spoke up. "Yeah, many of my caravans get to where they need to go with out any problems, but sir, I don't know what my caravan was delivering that had you worried."

There was silence between the two of them. "Well," The Lieutenant spoke up, "What you delivered was a rather important component to some 'Weapons research' we're conducting near New Vegas." Thorn spoke next, "And to ensure you stay silent," He placed a stack of NCR cash and a bag on the table, "You get a pay raise of two thousand and five hundred NCR dollars and seven hundred and fifty caps." I was shocked, I guess the component really was worth the walk here. "The caps will pay for a bed for the next two nights along with all food, and drinks that you'd want." Thorn said as he passed me my hard earned cash and caps. "You will report back to this office in two days, but so you know you'll be providing protection for your next caravan and you won't be alone." I stood up and thanked them both, "Actually, we should be thanking you, what you delivered could really turn around the war between us and Caesar's Legion." The Lieutenant told me, "So for now, enjoy your free time here in New California Republic." I smiled and said, "I will do so." Then I walked out of the office into the city bazaar...

Chapter Three: The Calm

I walked out of the Caravan Trading office with new found confidence. I looked as the stack of NCR cash I had earned and flipped through it. To me it sounded like a fresh deck of cards being shuffled, the cash was that crisp. I put my cash in my inner coat pocket, I knew I'd need it for later. Across the merchant stands I spotted a saloon, I had felt that I deserved a drink. I walked in through the swinging door and saw that this particular bar was a bit calm. People were sitting, enjoying their drinks and playing card games. I took a seat at the bar, the bartender walked up, "Name your poison." He said to me, I looked up and said, "Shot of whiskey, and keep them coming." He smirked, "Feeling lucky today?" He asked. I chuckled when he asked that, 'Lucky' I thought to myself. I smiled and replied, "Yeah, a bit.", as he poured me the shot. I knocked back the shot, "Whew!" I said aloud. I was surprised to taste how well the drink had aged. "Just be careful, the drink at this age will knock you on your ass." The bartender warned me. "Thats what I had planned." I replied to him, he poured me another shot.

There was a squeak from the door as someone else walked in. I turned to look, and saw a familiar face from my recent caravan trip. "Regi!" I said aloud, he turned and greeted me as well with his British accent. "Stakes. Small world, eh?" I smiled, "I guess it is. So where are you going for your next route?" I asked as he sat down next to me. "I actually have a couple of days before my next job." He said, "I was told to report back to the Caravan Trading Outpost after that." I looked at him half skeptical. "Did you happen to be hired by two guys named 'Thorn' and 'Jones'?" I asked Regi. He paused, "Yeah I did. I'm guessing they hired you too?" I nodded then said, "Doesn't seem very coincidental, does it? What did they tell you?" I asked. Regi told me the exact same thing that Thorn and Jones said, all to the point where they said we wouldn't be alone on our next job. Odd, I thought to myself as I threw back my next shot. "So where are you staying for the next couple of days?" I asked Regi. "Actually I picked a place on the way here to the bar, its called the 'Promise Inn'." I wasn't going to say, 'That sounds Promising', I wasn't in the mood for puns. After a short pause I said, "Well, I'm ready to hit the sack. I've been walking for almost three days and I'm beat." "I feel ya." Regi replied. I laid down eight caps for the drinks, then we got up and headed for the door when two other people walked in.

The first guy was easily two-hundred and thirty pounds of muscle and six inches taller than my six foot stature. It was obvious that the guy had been drinking at another bar before stumbling into this one. His skin was as dark brown as the shriveled trees in the wastes. He was wearing a plain but dirty white t-shirt, baggy pants, and a pair of steel tipped boots. He looked like an off duty NCR officer, I wasn't sure though. The second guy was clearly sober, I guess he wasn't much of a drinker, if at all. He was about five foot ten, wearing a wanderer outfit with the hood over his head, probably to keep anonymous. One hand was in his pocket and the other was constantly hovering over his laser pistol. "Bit of an odd couple, huh?" Regi said as the smaller guy walked past him. "Seems like th big guy is having a good time." I said right as his shoulder brushed against mine. I was just about to reach for the door knob when I felt a hand grab my shoulder and whip me around to face who did it. Predictably enough, it was the big guy. "Watch where the fuck you're goin'!" He yelled at me. I didn't say anything, I turned around to head out the door, when he whipped around to face him again. "You think you're too good to say anything to me?" I continued to say nothing, instead I gave him an ancient arcane gesture they used back before the war. I believe it was the 'Stick it' sign, if I remembered correctly. "Aw damn it man, now you've done it." I heard the smaller guy say out loud. Before I got a chance to look at the big guy again, I was on the ground with a bloody lip.

As I was getting myself up, I was pulled up and was eye to eye with the big guy. He looked down at my coat and I guess caught a glimpse of the number 27 on my collar. "Whats a little pussy like you doin' out of your Vault?" He said in a scornful, mocking tone. I quickly grew angry with how he asked the question. "I'm not from a Vault, my great grandfather and great grandmother were." I told him, "And don't ever talk like that about my ancestry, or I'll shove your buddy so far up your ass, you'll have to bend over backwards to ask him for directions." I reached down into my pocket just to feel if I had anything I could use to defend myself for when he'd hit me again. Sure enough, by chance, I had a pair of brass knuckles. My first thought was, 'How hell did those get there?', but either way I slid them on my fist in my pocket. After my last comment the big guy let me go... For a second. "You son of a bitch." He muttered, as his fist reeled back for another strike. I quickly threw my right fist at him, dead center between the eyes. There was a metallic thump, then he fell to the floor, swearing and clutching his now bloodied nose. "I believe we're even now." Thats all I said before walking out the door, Regi followed also. After a few paces, I turned to Regi and said, "I think these are yours." I handed him the brass knuckles. We both chuckled, "How'd you know?", He asked. "I didn't." I answered. "So where's this inn?" I asked Regi. He lead the way and I followed.

We got to the inn, and the first thing I noticed is that it only smelled like stale booze and fresh poon. I felt that that wasn't the best smell to fall asleep to, but I knew beggars couldn't be choosers. The lady at the counter was exceptionally good looking, wearing only a nighty and -as far as I could tell- no underwear. "Hello, boys. How may I help you?" She asked in a rather sensual and welcoming voice. Regi smirked at her and said, "Yes, my friend and I would like two rooms." The lady smiled and said, "Do you both wish to have escorts?" Regi got really excited at this point, but looked at me first. I was clearly too tired for cheap and filthy sex, and he saw it in my eyes. "Just me, miss." He answered. "Aww," She said, "And I was sure some of my girls would have been really interested in your friend, too." She smiled at me, and just to humor her, I cracked a smile back at her. We paid for our rooms, and of course Regi paid extra for the girl of his choosing. The woman lead us to our rooms, along the way many of the escorts were eyeing me. I guess I was just selling myself short when I said I didn't want their 'services'. Either way, I was too damn tired. We reached Regi's room first, then he and his escort went in. My room was a few doors down, I opened my door and walked in. "If you're feeling lonely during the night, I'm sure I can get one of my 'Better' girls to give you a special offer." She said with a promiscuous grin. I returned the smile, "I might have to hold you to that offer, miss" I told her. "Nighty-Night sugar." She said then closed the door.

The room seemed mostly clean, 'Seemed' being the operative word. The room was dimly lit, containing only an old worn mattress and a night stand. I took off my coat and my Pipboy put them on the nightstand. I set my backpack on the front of the bed, laid down and used the pack as a pillow. As soon as my head hit the 'Make Shift' pillow, I was out for the night.

Prologue: The Rise

It had been 3 days since Emma and I had left the vault. We stayed at our rendezvous point, hoping that others would come. The holotape I left in the vault was found by a few people, and in return they brought more with them. In total there were 34 people that arrived, including us. The people that came also brought weapons, food, water and other supplies that we would need to use sparingly. Some of the other people wondered what to do next, of course I had no idea, I was making it up as I went. Everyone sat around the bonfire we had made and we discussed what to do now. Some said we should stay at the ruins of the city were it had a relatively safe structure. Others said we should try to force ourselves back into the vault. "It'll be a cold day in hell before that happens." Someone said aloud, "No one is safe in those vaults, we all know that." I said in response. "No Shit! Everyone was fighting for what was left! There was nothing left." The guy next to me said. I bumped up my voice a couple of octaves. "So what are we going to do? Anyone have any ideas?"

Everyone went silent and only stared at me. "Sam, you brought these people here. You have to bring them to their lives they deserve." Emma said looking up at me. I had never felt so conflicted in my life, I wasn't sure if I could help bring these people to safety, let alone lead them to it. Frustrated, I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed angrily. "Okay, think. What are the odds of someone surviving a nuclear holocaust?" I mumbled to myself. "Before the war there was just over 8 billion people in 2077. The power of one nuke, can kill twenty-two thousand people within the blast radius. One nuke for every 22,000 people, X-amount of nukes launched in a matter of 2 hours..." Some gave me strange looks, as if I were either a genius or fucking insane, so I continued the math in my head as I paced back and forth. I finally came to the conclusion of the estimated survivors, but I knew no one would understand the math. I forced to tell them my thoughts, "I'm not sure if there are survivors in this hellish wasteland." Everyone lowered their heads in disappointment, I tried to brighten it up by saying, "Hey I could be wrong! Perhaps people have made it through the war. Look at us, we did!" Most of them looked back up. "Now, c'mon. We should start trying to find some more adequate shelter. We'll start in the morning."

The time between what I said and the next morning, might as well have been a lifetime. I couldn't sleep at all that night, Emma lied next to me, sleeping peacefully. Looking at her, she was happy to follow me wherever I would go. Her loyalty was refreshing to me. This thought reinvigorated me to start planning for the next day and so on. I wasn't sure what everyone else had packed, but I looked into my pack again to take inventory. 10 Stimpaks, 5 instant meal provisions, and 6 bottles of water. Plus my improvised weapon -my crowbar- and the 10mm pistol with the scarce number of rounds. I figured I'd take into account of the rest of the supplies when everyone wakes up.

After a few moments of utter silence, I heard a blood curdling scream come from the scattered group. Instinctively I grabbed both my gun and crowbar and ran towards the noise. Emma awoke to the noise as well, she staggered up to run after me. "Sam! Wait for me!" She yelled at me. I reeled around, took her hand and kept running. The screaming continued even after we got there. A woman was being attacked by a hideous looking creature. The creature was knee high and furless. Whatever it was, it was dragging her away by her foot. The men around her were trying to beat the animal off of her when I ran up, and with all my strength, swung the crowbar at its head. The animal squealed in pain as it slumped lifeless to the ground. The poor woman was almost traumatized by the experience, she wasn't hurt but her leg was scratched up a bit. I looked back at the dead animal, "what the hell was it?" was among the first questions. "Looks like some kind of mole or some really fuckin' huge rat." Someone exclaimed. "My God, these are worse than radroaches." This is when I knew we had to start moving. I knew the effects of radioactive mutation in animals and bugs. For all they knew, this was a one-time-deal. "Everyone! I think we should start moving, there might be more of these things out there." I announced. Everyone agreed and they started packing their things. "But first, is there anyone who brought any kind of weapons with them?"

About twelve people raised their hands, they came up to me with 3 R91's, 2 'single shot' shotguns and 7 more 10mm pistols. "This is good," I said, "Now, who here can shoot?" I asked the others. All but one raised their hands. The one who didn't was armed with one of the R91's. "Why did you bring a gun if you can't shoot?", I asked him. "I-I knew that someone would be more efficient with it than me." He said nervously, "I understand, as least you prepared to an extent. But for now," I handed him my crowbar and he handed over the R91, "You'll need something to protect yourself with, as well as the others." He agreed to the terms. I looked at the old assault rifle and pulled out the magazine. The mag was full, so I slid it back into the gun and cocked it. "Damn it." One of the bullets jammed between the bolt and the ejector. I pulled it back again a couple of times and the first bullet chambered, finally. 'Shit." I thought to myself, 'This gun would have cost him his life.' I slung the gun onto my back, giving me a second weapon other than the 10mm pistol on my hip. "Okay everyone! Lets get moving." I called out, "Where will we go?" Someone yelled out. "Well we were in a small city block for a few days, so I figure if we head further west, we'll find some other place to stay." I replied, "Why west?" The same person questioned. "There is a city about twenty miles west from out vaults location. We've already walked four miles from the vault, if we start walking now we can make it to the city by morning." So we all headed westward with no argument.

Three hours passed at the slowest logical pace possible, and day light started to shine. We had found a road about one and a half hours into the walk and I had spotted a building nearby. Possibly a pre-war gas station. "Alright people, stay here and I'll look for some help." I readied my rifle and slowly opened the door to the building. I walked in and the door slowly closed behind me, "Hello?" I said softly. No answer. So I called a little louder, "Hello?" This time there was a noise, like some wet footsteps. The steps were coming from the back room, so I approached it with caution. I leveled my rifle and opened the door. I looked inside and saw someone. Their breathing was raspy and heavy. The person was completely naked and unhealthily bony. It seemed as though they were burned at the stake, their skin appeared almost leather like. I quietly called for them a couple of times, but they didn't turn around. Eventually I got annoyed and whistled at them. When they turned around, I was petrified. The person's face was burned all to hell, their eyes were foggy beyond color recognition. They stared at me for what seemed like forever. Then they let out a loud, gurgley screech and ran toward me. Before I knew it, it tackled me to the ground wailing at my face. Instinctively I kicked it off of me and grabbed my rifle. It was quick to regain its grounding and ran at me again. So, I took my rifle and smacked it in the face, knocking it down. Before it could get up again, I ran up to it, my rifle pointing down at its face. I fired a burst into its head and it died where it fell before hand.

I was hyperventilating, then I felt something trickling down the side of me face. I was bleeding, the thing had cut the top right side of my forehead. Some of the group ran into the building to see if I was alright. Emma ran up to me crying, I dropped my gun and held her tight. "I'm alright." I tried to reassure her, "No you're not." She sobbed, "Your hurt." I felt the cut, and it stung like crazy. "Is there anyone who can stitch a cut?" I asked the group that was inside. Some shrugged, others shook their head, then someone said they'd get someone who does. I sat down and rested my back against the cash register counter. Emma squeezed my hand tight, as did I. Someone came in after a few minutes, "Someone needed some medical assistance?" They said. "Yeah, down here." I said as I waved him down to where I was. He got started immediately, after about the third stitch, he started making small talk. "So, what made you leave the vault?" He asked. I chuckled, "What made you leave? OW! Fuck." I said, "Sorry. I guess what made me leave, was finding a holotape in the vault lobby, and-" I interrupted, " So, you found my tape, huh?" I asked and smiled. "So you must be Samuel, yes?" I nodded, "What do I call you, Doc?" I asked. "My name is Shaune, Anthony Shaune." I offered my hand, he took it and shook. "Nice to meet you, Anthony." I said. "Like wise, Sam." He smiled. "Well, your all done. And this may be stupid to say since you're leading us, but try not to strain the stitches or they'll come loose." He said as he started for the door. "In that case, do you have something that will keep it together?" I asked. He tossed me a roll of medical tape and I caught it in mid air. "Thanks, Doc." He waved and then left. I took the tape and put a double layer over the stitched wound, then stood back up.

I sighed, "Okay, lets get moving." I said to Emma, I picked up my gun and put it back on my back. I took Emma's hand and we both went out to face the group and continue onward. Some of the others asked me what had happened, so I told them the truth. I fluffed up the story by saying that what had happened can guarantee that there were survivors among us.

We continued down the road for another hour, then I saw something on the horizon. I wasn't sure if I was delirious from the heat of the wasteland, or if I was seeing a column of smoke in front of, what seemed like... A city. 'A CITY?' I wondered with excitement. Everyone started noticing the smoke in the distance, and were all ecstatic. We all started for the structure at a brisk walk, and about twenty minutes later, we were ever so closer to paradise, we then ran to the gate. "NEW RENO" The sign was a welcoming sight. We all stopped before the gate and the guards in front approached us. "Whats your business here?" They demanded. Being the unanimous leader, I spoke up. "We just want shelter, we recently left our vault, so we seek refuge." I said as sincerely as I could. One of the guards came up face to face sneering at me. "You should have gone back to that vault of your's. A city like this will skin you alive." "Well, I'm sure this place is better than the hell we once called home." The guard laughed, "Alright, you think this place will be better than your vault? Then be our guests, welcome to 'New Reno'. Open the gates!" As the gate opened, Emma took my hand. "You did it, Sam. You brought these people to a new life." She said as we looked into each other's eyes. I was never so happy in my life, and I knew this was the life that was waiting for us. Emma and I kissed, "Are you ready, Emm?" I whispered, "Yes, Sam. I'm behind you all the way." We took or first steps into the city, 'So it begins...' Was the only thought in my mind after that...

Chapter Four: The Stirring

I had slept as hard as a rock that night. Not even the constant noises of the other people down the hall could wake me. Man, I never slept so well before. Then I heard a loud pounding on my door, which ironically woke me instantly. I forgot where I was for a moment and grabbed my R91. Then I looked around and remembered the night before, my mouth was still sore from the punch in the face. I got up and opened the door and saw Regi. "Rise and shine, sweety-cakes." He said with a huge grin. "What time is it?" I asked with a yawn, "About a quarter 'til nine." He said as I grabbed my Pipboy and strapped it onto me wrist. It hummed back to life and looked at the time to be sure, '8:48AM'. 'Close enough.' I thought. I had slept for almost eleven hours and I figure it was time to start the day. Besides I had some hard earned cash to spend, I wanted to see if I could find some new toys to play with. "Alright, so whats the plan for today, Regi?" I asked, "Well I don't know about you, but I'd like to spend more caps here." He said with a chuckle. "Fair enough," I said, "I'll be getting supplies for our route tomorrow, and see what I can get for myself." I put on my coat, put my weapons and my pack on my back. I walked past Regi, when he said, "Get some milk while your gone." in a mocking tone. I simply flipped him off as I walked away, and to his enjoyment he chuckled.

As I walked down the hallway to the stairs, heads turned and eyes looked of the escorts that were in my vicinity. I pretended not to see them, but subconsciously I wasn't ignoring them. All of them were easy on the eyes, giving me very reassuring smirks. 'Maybe Regi had the right idea to spend caps here.' I thought to myself. I got back down to the first floor and I heard from the front desk, "How did you sleep, sugar?" The inn keeper asked. I turned around to reply to her, "I haven't slept that well in a few months, miss." I said with a smile. "I can guarantee a better night's sleep, if you wish." She said as she walked up to me, "The name is Cryss, by the way." I thought about it for about one thrid of half a second, "Well, Cryss, I think I might take that guarantee tonight. The name's Jace." Cryss smirked and drew circles on my chest, "Mmm, I can't wait. I'll be here when you get back." She told me then kissed my cheek. I smiled and walked out the door.

I walked down to the bazaar to see what I could get for the route the next day. I got the essentials: Food, water, and stimpaks. I was getting a few packs of cigarettes when I caught a glimpse of two NCR Rangers. Their weapons seemed to have been heavily modified, but not with run of the mill attachments: assault rifle scopes, drum magazines, and extended barrels. The thing about their weapons that I noticed the most was that the guns had tribunal rune designs along the frames. I paid for my cigs and approached them. I tried to be discreet about how I asked where they got their modifications. Eventually, they caught on and told me, "Alright, since you seem to know a thing or two about weapons and seem to know how to keep your mouth shut. There is a guy 'Not' at the other end of the market, who 'Doesn't' know his was way around guns." They gave me some written directions on where to go. I followed the instructions, it took about thirty minutes to walk to the other end of the city. I wasn't sure if I was at the right place, because the directions lead me to a derelict pre-war gas station. The building was on the brink of collapsing at any day. In the back was a scrap yard full of destroyed cars. I walked into the building but no one was inside. I heard clinging of some tools so I walked to the back and saw someone working on an old car that seemed to look in better condition than any other car I've seen. On the side of the car was an emblem with the words 'Corvega Atomic V8'. I got closer to the car when I heard behind me, "Hey! Back away from the car." I turned around and saw someone, he was a heavily built guy, bigger than the guy I got into the fight with at the bar the previous night, also wider in girth. He had three distinctive scars across his face, my guess would be a baby deathclaw attacked him. He had a 9mm pointed at me, "Hey! Whoa!" I said as I waved my hands if front of me slightly. "Who are you and what do you want?" He asked in an intimidating tone. "I was told to come here for the 'Good' gun mods." I said as I lowered my hands. The guy nodded and holstered his gun. "Whoever they were, they were right." He looked at me and held out his hand to shake, "Name's Drew. Welcome to 'Drew's Final Resort'." He said. I walked up to him and shook his hand. "Stakes." I replied simply. He walked past me to the back of the car and was fiddling with something on it, "So, what can I interest you in 'Stakes'?" He asked. "I'm not quiet sure yet. What can you do to an anti-materiel rifle and an old R91?" I asked. "Well lets just see." He said. He walked to the back of the garage and stopped at a six foot cabinet. "Follow me." He simply stated and opened the cabinet. Behind the doors was a staircase that lead down to a secret basement.

I followed him downward. In the basement was a stockpile of weapons covering the walls, stacked boxes of ammunition that seemed untouched. The weapons seemed to be assorted by type, mods given, and designs etched on them. "Damn dude." I said. "What would the NCR have to say about this if they find this?" He went up to one of the crafting tables. "They don't, I work for them. Though I'm still a bit hush-hush to the public." He said. "So how'd you get those scars." I asked. He grinned, apparently I took all the way back to where, and when, he was attacked. "I was just getting back from scavving the last of a police armory. I was about three miles from the border of the city when I ran into a mother deathclaw and three of her pups. The mother instantly found me as a threat to her pups and ran at me full speed." He continued, "I used the light machine gun I scavved and unloaded on the mother, draining all the ammo I worked so hard in to getting. The mother went down as hard as she was coming at me. The pups then decided to take me down with them. My gun was drained, so I used a modified power fist I made myself, and a ballistic fist I found in the armory. The youngest pup was the first to go down, I beat its ass to death with the power fist and finished it off with a hit from the ballistic fist, blowing a quarter of its head off. The second pup, I ran at it instead, as fast as I could go, I slid under between its legs and jabbed both weapons into its gut. Blew that motherfucker right in two. The oldest pup was right behind the one I had just killed. It picked me up and slammed me into the ground, which bent the barrels of the ballistic fist, making it useless. I ripped it off my hand, and I rolled onto my back. The pup leaped onto me and slashed my face up, giving me these little beauties." He said and outlined his scars. "I punched the bastard in the face as hard as I could with the power fist, breaking its jaw, making it limp to one side. It yelped in pain, as I tackled down the fucker returned the favor of what it did to my face, by removing his. I punched its face until I didn't know what I was punching anymore." He finished his story with a grin. I was in awe, his story seemed to over the top to believe. But then again, what wasn't in the American Wasteland these days?

The smile almost left, though still visible. He looked back at me and said, "Well, lets see your weapons." I handed over the R91 first. He looked at the gun in amazement. He grinned and said, "I haven't seen one of these in a while." I took the guy for a rather stoic and silent type, but when he saw my rifle, I guess he changed his attitude for the moment. "Let me know when you see something you like." He said. I nodded and walked around looking at the walls of impressive weaponry. I looked at the rifles and looked down at the table under them. There was a framed picture. 'Wow, I didn't know there were any working cameras.' I thought to myself. The picture had Drew with a girl, she had jet black hair, a sculpted face and a warming smile. Drew seemed to know what I was looking at without looking so himself. "Her name is Eva, my sister." He said, "She went to New Vegas to make it big," He sighed, "That was over five years ago. She up and left without saying a word, only left me and my mom a note saying so." He said as he opened a bottle of buffout and downed a mouthful of the pills, "Shit, man. Take it easy with that." I warned him. He tried playing it off with an obvious lie. "This wasn't nearly as much than when I started on this shit." He said with a chuckle, but the dead smile quickly faded and he went back to business. "So, you see anything?" Drew asked. I looked back at the table next to the photo. There were scopes that would come in handy with my anti-material rifle. I took one of them and looked through it. It was a night vision scope meant for a varmint rifle but the internal component was removed and put into a variable zoom version for an A-M rifle. I tossed it to him and asked, "How much?" Though I had to remember I was on a budget, I was nearly out of caps, but I haven't spent any of my NCR cash. "One thousand NCR dollars." He said flat out, I decided to try to haggle, "Seven hundred." I said, and it kept going.

"Eight-Fifty." He countered. I kept going, "Seven-Seventy-Five.", "Eight hundred. Final offer." Drew said. I nodded, "Deal, but I'm not done yet." I said. "Alright, what else do you want?" He asked. I asked him what he could do to my R91. "Well, since this is in decent condition, I can do a number of things to it." He offered. "I want everything that done to it." I said, Drew girnned widely. "This'll cost ya big." He warned me. "I'll deal with it." I said, "How long will it take?" He told me it will take a couple of hours. "Alright, I'll be back by then." I said and left the building.

I took my time getting back to the inn. Cryss wasn't behind the counter when I got there, one of her other girls was, a small redhead girl. She was wearing a similar nighty to what Cyrss wore, but different in color. "Ooh, so you're the one all the girls are interested in?" She said and smiled, I almost wanted to pretend not to have the faintest clue what she was talking about, "No-...Yeah." I said. "Cryss said she'd be back in a moment and told me to tell you that when you got here." She said as she walked in circles around me. "I'm so jealous, she gets you all to herself. I can do better than she ever will." I began thinking that Regi was a genius for picking this place, though he was about to get the lower end of the deal. I gave her a wink and walked into the... for lack of a better word, 'Lobby'. I saw Regi sitting in a chair with with his escort in his lap. They were both talking about their night together, then the girl caught my eye for the moment, 'Wait...' I thought to myself, Regi's escort looked familiar, because I recently saw her, but not here. I back tracked in my mind all the faces I saw today...

I walked up to the two of them and nodded to Regi. "Excuse me, miss." I said to the girl. "Sorry, only one client at a time, honey." She said without hesitation. "I wasn't going to ask that." I said with a smile, "I was going to ask a couple of things, is your name Eva?" She looked surprised, "How did you know?" She asked, and I answered the question with another, "Do you have a brother named 'Drew'?" She stood up, "How do you know him?" She asked with a worried look. "I know where he is and I can take you to him." I offered. She seemed even more worried, asking if he was okay or if anything had happened to him. I tried to get her to calm down, "Eva, you brother is fine, but I'm guessing he has a problem with buffout. My thought is if he sees you again, you might be able to turn him around." She forced herself to calm down by taking a deep breath. "Can you take me to him, please?" She said almost begging. "Of course I will." I told her, "But what about this place? What should I tell Cryss when she finds out you're gone?" I asked. "Tell her the truth, she'll understand." Eva said. "Okay, but first you might want to change clothes. I don't think your brother will like the fact that you were an escort much less look like one." She looked down at he clothes... Or almost lack there of. "You're right." She said, then she walked away to change. Regi looked at me, "What did you do that for?" He asked with a disappointed tone and look. "Shut up, man. You'll be able to find another one for the night." I told him without looking him in the eye. "Yeah, but not like her. She does this thing when she moans and-" He started but I cut it short, "NOPE! Don't wanna hear it!"

Eva came back after a few minutes wearing a clean casual dress, and a rucksack on her back. She was also wearing rectangular eyeglasses, which seemed to bring out her face more. "C'mon, Regi. Lets get this family back together." I said to him, "Lets go Eva, time to see your brother." I said to her. She nodded and we started our walk. Looking ar Regi as we walked through the market, he seemed saddened and downtrodden. "C'mon man, you can't fall in love with an escort." I told him. "Stakes, she told me about her brother. How she wanted to look for him once she scrounged up the caps for it. I told her, I'd help her find him and that that once I did... She said she'd let me be with her." He said, then he asked, "Do you know how many women I've had, but felt nothing, metaphorically? Emotionally?" I nodded my head. "Hell, I've lost count on how many. I've been doing caravan routes since I was fourteen. Heh. Too many." He said. "I can't just let go of a girl that actually lets me feel some kind of emotion." I agreed, I knew how it felt to an extent. I would have settled down with a girl, the only problem is that I'd almost never be home. With all my caravan routes, I get about one girl per settlement. So, that leaves me with about thirteen, fourteen-ish girlfriends. If one thing good comes from all of those girls, is that I wouldn't care about them cheating on me, 'cause they know that they can't replace me in bed. A smirk covered my face. "What? You makin' fun of me Stakes?" Regi said in a pissed tone. "Nah, man. Just remembering stuff."

About half way to Drew's station, Regi was beginning to hang back behind me to be near Eva. I took a moment to look at them, they were holding hands. I sighed softly as we approached Drew's place. We stopped at the door and I told Eva that I'd go to get him, I opened the door and walked into the garage. Drew's legs were hanging out from under the car. There were sounds of power tool and the jingle of metal against metal. "Hey Drew!" I called out for him. There was a thud against the car, "OW! God Motherfucking Sonuvabitch." He yelled out as he slid out from under the car. "Ah, Stakes. Your gun is ready. Just follow me back down-" I interrupted him, "Uh, just a quick thing Drew. There is someone outside that you'd might like to see." I told him. He snorted and said, "This oughta be good." He followed me out of the building. We got outside and Drew saw Eva. She ran up to him a hugged him tight. "H-How? Who found you?" Drew asked her. I answered for her, "He did." I said and pointed to Regi. Regi looked up, "No, I didn't." He whispered to me. "Hey, you picked her. So, technically you did." I said. Drew held out his hand to Regi, it took a few seconds but he shook Drew's hand. Drew rewarded us by making the cost of my modified gun fade away. And he rewarded Regi by letting him choose a weapon off of his wall in the basement.

As Regi was looking at the shotguns, Drew gave me the specs of my modified R91. "Alright here's the deal, I replaced the frame with a carbon polymer, and the wood handling with metal rough-grip plating. I removed the stock and put on a sniper scope on the top, you also have a suppressor integrated to the barrel. The rate of fire is reduced due to a stretched spring, but it allows you to hit harder and more accurately. It will literally let you perforate lethally and silently." I marveled at the gun, "What do you call it?" I asked him, "Its based off of a gun I once saw a few years back. I call it the 'Bodkin'." I thought about the name for a moment, "Like the stiletto?" Drew smiled, "You know your weapons. At least there is one other person in this world that knows such things." Regi found a shotgun he liked and asked Drew what made it special. "Its a modified hunting shotgun, but I replaced the feeder tube with a drum magazine that feeds into the gun were you'd usually have to place in one shot at a time. The drum is integrated to the gun so you feed the shells into it instead of the gun. In the end of the barrel is a choke, allowing less spread from the ammo." Regi smiled and nodded. "By the way, you guys. First magazine is on me." Drew said, so I grabbed a magazine of 5.56 rounds, put it in my Bodkin and loaded it. Regi grabbed twenty 12 gauge rounds and loaded his gun.

I looked at the time. "8:15PM". It was getting late and we had to be at the Caravan Trading Outpost first thing in the morning, "We should get going Regi." I said and showed him what time it was. He looked at me then Eva, they both didn't want to leave each other. Regi turned away and began walking. "Regi!" Eva called out from inside the building. She ran up to him and kissed him deeply. "Come back safe." She whispered. "I will." He replied. We were off after that.

I looked at Regi as we where about half way back to the inn. He looked happier than he looked a few hours ago. Fifteen more minutes later, we got back to the inn. This time no one was at the counter, but either way we had our keys to our rooms. "I'm going to sleep, we have a big day tomorrow." Regi said. I nodded to him and kept walking to my room. I noticed that there wasn't any of the girls in the halls or the rooms, it was just quiet. Even the patrons were gone. 'Huh, weird.' I thought to myself as I reached my room. I opened the door and was immediatly pulled into the room. I looked around and... "Glad you could make it, Jace. We were worried that we'd have to start without you." Cryss said as I looked around the room. "I got my best girls, including myself, to help you get a better night's sleep tonight." The room had about fourteen of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, including Cryss and the little redhead girl I met earlier. "C'mon girls let make him more comfortable." She said... Then they all jumped me...

Chapter Five: After The Storm, I'm Battered, but not Broken

I woke in the middle of the night to check what time it was. I reached for my Pip-Boy and strapped it back on my wrist. "5:32AM" displayed on the screen, I looked over and saw Cryss lying next to me asleep... As well as thirteen other girls all over the room. I got up and put on my clothes. I had to go across the room to get my backpack and weapons, but to do so I had to gently step over and around the other girls. I named them off in my head as I walked past them, 'Ashlyn, Jan, Lani, Xen...' I got to the other end of the room and slung my weapons onto my back then I started for the door, 'Hannah, Clue, Lilly, Kelly...'. I got to the door then I felt a pair of arms wrap around my neck and cover my eyes. "Guess who?" She said with a charming voice. "Tori?" I asked, "Good, you do remember my name." she said. I finally knew the little red head girl's name. I turned to meet her eyes. "Why do you have to go?" She begged me, "We both have to make a living somehow, right?" I asked her. She frowned slightly, "I guess. Why cant I go with you?" She asked. "'Cause, you're safe here. You have a place to live. You have food and water and you get paid a ridiculous amount daily." I told her, "Plus its dangerous out there. You're better off with this kind of life, even if you have to fuck scum bags all the damn time."

She smiled, "You're no scum bag." she said as she looked into my eyes. "I do my best not to be." I told her as I brushed her blood red hair out of her eyes. "Tell Cyrss and the girls I'll be back soon." I told her. "What about me? Don't I get a good-bye?" She asked me in a disappointed voice. I wrapped my arms around her tight, "Of course you do..." I moved closer to her and she roughly kissed me. "I'll be back soon." I told her, "We'll all miss you." She said with a smile, "We'll have to do this again when you get back." She said. Its a good thing she's not the jealous type, or else she wouldn't have suggested it. "Tell all the girls I love them!" I joked, "We love you too, Jace." She joked along with me.

I walked down the hall to Regi's room. I knocked firmly. He opened the door, his already slept-in hair looked even worse. "Stakes? Fuckin' Christ, man. What time is it?" He said angrily. "Dude, we have to go now. Its a REALLY long walk to the Mojave Outpost. We have to get past The Divide and thats going to be a fucking bitch to cross!" This statement only made Regi more pissed off. He grunted and slammed the door, a few minutes later he came out fully dressed... And clearly hungover. I stared at him. "What?" Regi asked. I turned and walked away and said nothing.

We made our way to the Caravan Trading Outpost. Regi was trying to sober himself up with a family remedy of his, a mixture of a stimpak and box of sugar bombs. I had no idea what he was trying to do with the concoction, I wasn't looking. Within a few minutes, Regi's head was on straight and was thinking properly. We got to the outpost and we reported to Thorn and Jones. It was just me and Regi, "Sir, didn't you say that we wouldn't be alone on this one?" I asked Thorn. "That is correct. The others should be here in a bit, have a seat while you wait, please." So we both sat. A few minutes passed slowly, so I opened up a fresh pack of cigarettes and lit one up. I exhaled heavily, "You alright, Stakes?" Regi asked. "I just have a bad feeling that this day will go down hill from here." I told him. "Why do you think that?" He asked right as two other people walked into the room, it was the two guys we met at the bar two nights ago. We looked at them with displeasure, "Thats why, Regi." I said to him. The big guy was in full uniform, albeit very dirty. He seemed like he was on the border of insubordination, he just had the aura around him that said so. The second guy was wearing the same thing as the last time we ran into them, a dirty worn hoodie and torn pants. They were both well armed, the smaller guy had a AER9 Laser Rifle with a scope and focus optics on it. The big guy had a service rifle with an extended magazine. I wanted to aim my Bodkin at the big guy, but I abandoned the idea. I just sat there and continued with my smoke. Thorn and Jones arrived shortly after the others, then it was time to be briefed of the job.

"Alright," Jones started. "The item you will be delivering is a Arc Projector Manifold." He laid down a hollow, palm-sized disk on the table. The manifold looked crudily put together, wires covered it and were exposed. Every eighth of the disk had a diode on it, presumably to counteract tesla flow. "This component is vital to our version of a Tesla weapon, we got our hands on a Brotherhood of Steel Tesla Cannon back when they tried to take a power plant near Vegas a few years back." The big guy shook his head in disappointment when Jones mentioned the Brotherhood. "You will all be delivering the package to the Mojave Outpost, near the end of NCR territory." Jones said, "Sargent Josheua Rane." He said as he looked at the big guy, "Don't fuck this one up, or it will mean your ass." Josheua stood and saluted, "Sir. Yes, Sir." He said calmly as Jones returned the salute. "You all know you're duty. Get to it." He scanned all of us and walked out of the room.

Joshua took the manifold and uncaringly stuffed it into his pack. No one said anything, so I spoke up, "Well I guess we should get going." I stood up and started for the door when Joshua obstructed my path. We looked eye to eye, and he said, "Just so you know, I am a ranking officer for the NCR. I could have had you killed by my friends for assaulting an officer." He said in a falsely intimidating tone. "When you need to address me, you better call me 'Sir'. I ain't your friend, I ain't your 'lesser'. You better not fuck this up for me, you got it?" He demanded. I looked at him seriously and with a sneer I said, "Yes, Sir." Joshua straightened up and smirked, "Alright lets get going, Its a two day walk to the Outpost. Hope you brought snacks." He said. Then we were off. We headed out of the eastern most entrance out toward the Big Empty.

I stuck by Regi, 'cause I sure as hell wasn't going to be next to Joshua. The smaller guy was quiet, the only question we could get him to answer was 'what is your name?'. "Name's Ty." He said in a gurgley raspy voice, as he took off his hood, turned out Ty was a ghoul. He stuck next to Joshua, but they continued to say nothing to us or each other. Regi and I on the other hand, swapped stories for hours. We knew how to keep ourselves busy, we've lead our share of caravans and were use to the almost non-stop walking. I glanced over at Joshua a few times, his service rifle was always at the ready. I guess they beat that order into your head when you are part of the NCR military. Night had set in. As we took a break I opened up a box of Fancy Lads snack cakes and ate one of them in one bite. I laid my out my trench coat as a tarp and I put down my anti-materiel rifle. I took my new scope and inspected it to see of anything was wrong with it. I removed the old scope from it and latched on the night vision scope onto it. I looked through it to test it, there was a bright green hue to everything within eight hundred meter range. Satisfied, I took the other snack cake and ate it whole. I put back on my coat and put my rifle back on my back. The group was silent, everyone seemed to be lost in thought. I eased back against a rock and lit up a cigarette. I took a drag and began reveling through some old memories...

"Jace!" I head from behind me. I was just walking back to my house from a days work as a merchant crier. Being sixteen my dad didn't want me going out on caravan routes yet. I turned around and saw my girlfriend, Kat. "Whats up, babe?" I asked her. Her thick brown hair hung over her eyes as she walked up to me. "You getting back from work?" She asked. I smiled and said, "Yes." She offered to have me over and included the fact that her dad wasn't going to be home for the next few days, "Lead the way, beautiful" I said and we were off. Kat was a fourteen year old, hot headed girl. She was always rebeling against her father. Her father on the other hand was very protective of her, she was the only family he had after his wife died due to child birth complications. This only made me want to stay with her, because if there was a day her dad wasn't there, I would be. I held her hand as she lead me to her house. She had one of the remaining standing houses in New Reno, mine was among them as well. My house had been in my family since my great-grandfather started the Caravan Protection Company about two years after escaping Vault 27 with my great-grandmother back in 2156. We got to her house, no one was there but us. We had never had a chance to be alone like this, so we took it.

A few hours had passed and we had shared our 'moment'. She was asleep next to me, I sat up and heard the front door creak. Kat woke up. "Oh shit! I think its my dad!" I was in shock, "What happened to 'He's gone for the next few days'?" I asked as I frantically tried to put on my clothes. The door to her room opened up and her dad stood in the doorway... With a hunting shotgun in hand. "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!" He screamed. I grabbed my clothes and ran toward him, with all my might I shoved him aside and sprinted out the door. I was running down the street in only my underwear then I heard shots fire behind me. I felt a shot hit my left calf. I stumbled but didn't dare to fall to the ground. I ran as fast as my injured leg would let me. I got to my house in time to get through the door and lock it. A few seconds later Kat's dad was banging on my door. "Imma fucking KILL YOU Jace!" He said, I was on the ground in my living room laughing... With my family's old 10mm pistol in hand. I looked at me leg and there was only a welt where I got shot. He was using bean bag rounds. I sighed in relief, "Thank God." I muttered...

I finished my smoke and exhaled the last of it. That was the last I saw of Kat, I went on my first caravan route the next day. When I got back, I saw her house was empty. They just up and left. That was over five years ago. Daylight was breaking through. Josheua woke us up a few hours later by yelling at us, "Wake up, trash! We're moving." He said. Regi and I got up sluggishly. We started moving around seven in the morning. A couple of hours passed when we all saw something in the distance, there seemed to be an old gas station and a quick shop across from one another. There was something in the middle of the road between the two buildings. We got closer and saw it was a Viper raider corpse, we all gathered around it and tried to determine what to do next. "We should keep moving," Regi said, "They could be waiting for us here." Ty and I agreed, but Josheua wasn't keen about the idea. 'How typical.' I thought. He wanted to fight them, see how many there were. I readied my Bodkin, Regi got out his shotgun, Ty got out his laser rifle, and Joshua had his service rifle out already.

Sure enough a few seconds later, raiders emerged from both the buildings. I began counting how many raiders. one, four, and finally seven. "Well looky what we have here boys," one of the raiders said. "It seems the NCR spread itself a bit too damn thin. Drop all your shit and we might let you go." The raider said. "Fuck no." Joshua said, and it was the fist time I agreed with him. "Alright boys, they wanna play tough. Lets take them down a notch." He said as the rest of the raiders loaded and aimed their weapons at us. We aimed ours in return, we were out numbered and possibly out gunned. The weapons they had were only cowboy repeaters and varmint rifles, so I guess 'Out Gunned' wasn't the accurate term for this situation. I took the few seconds we had before they attacked to calculate the odds of downing the raiders as fast as possible. I muttered so that Regi, Ty, and Joshua could only hear me. "Josh, the two facing you, aim for each of their right legs." I told him, "What the fuck will that do?" He asked, "Just do it, Ty, the two facing you, one has a repeater, the other has a tire iron, hit the gunner in the left arm, the tire iron guy, kill him however you choose." I told him, he simply grunted. "Regi, take the one on the right, I got the guy on the left." He asked, "What about the center guy?" I grinned, "I got him." I said.

My heart beat three times, and we all fired our shots. Joshua's shots blasted both his target's right knee caps. Ty hit the target gunner's left arm and disentegrated it, and took down the second one with a shot to the chest. Regi blasted his target with his shotgun turning the raider's insides into meat. I hit my target with my Bodkin, taking out his eye. I turned to the center raider and smacked him in the face with my gun and knocked him down. I went up and gave him two to the head. "Shit Stakes!" Regi exclaimed as Josh and Ty finished off the wounded raiders. "How the hell did you figure out how to take them down so fast?" I held up my left wrist, "My Pip-Boy." I said. "It calculates the targets chances of survival if hit in certain areas. Its called the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System." I finished. "Damn, vault dwellers are fuckin' paranoid to have something like that." Regi said. I nodded in agreement.

We took a few minutes to reorient ourselves before traveling again. I went into the quick store cautiously, I had my Bodkin leveled. The quick store was completely abandoned. Regi followed in after me with his shotgun in hand. I checked behind the cash register... then looked in the register. There was a small bag with about thirty caps in it, I took them and put them in my pack. 'Hey Stakes, think fast!" Regi said as he tossed me a bottle. I caught it in mid-air and looked at it. The bottle was clear and showed the contents inside. It was an orange glowing liquid, I turned the bottle and read the lable: Nuka-Cola Victory. "Fitting name for what just happened, huh?" Regi asked. "Heh, yeah. How many are there?" I asked him. "Theres a whole crate of them!" He said. "I guess theres no harm in having one then?" I half stated. I twisted off the cap and put it in my pack with the others. I took a swig of the drink, the taste was a refreshing orange citrus flavor, despite being over two-hundred years past the experation date. I chugged the rest of the drink then threw the empty glass behind me. I went up to the crate where Regi was and took five other bottles and put them in my pack. "How much do you think a merchant will pay for these?" I rhetorically asked Regi, he shrugged. we looked through the rest of the store and found a load of food and purified water. Without thinking I tossd out the water that was in my pack and replaced it with the pure water, it was too good to pass up. I also took some of the food since it was sitting in an open fire pit. There was an assortment of meats cooking, ranging from coyote to bighorner. I found some old paperbags and I wrapped up some of the cooked meat and put them in my pack as well. My pack was getting full, as well as getting pretty heavy. I finished up with my loot then looked at Regi. He was stuffing his face with a well-cooked bighorner steak. Couldn't blame him, it smelled delicious. Regi finished up and we left the store. "Where the fuck were you two?" Was the first thing we heard from Joshua. I rolled my eyes, "We were taking an oppurtunity." Regi said. Joshua grunted in disapproval, "Fucking wastelanders, trying to make a quick cap." He muttered under his breath as he walked past us.

We started walking again, this time in silence. The silence was long, it had lasted a couple of hours. I then reached into my pack and pulled out my old record holotape. I slid it into my Pip-Boy and the music started up...

"Nothing hurts my world, Just effects the ones around me, When sin's deep in my blood, You'll be the one to fall!"

"It'll be a great day in hell when music like this is made again." Regi said and smiled. I nodded in agreement, though predictably enough Joshua didn't approve. "What is this shit?" He barked at us. "Hey, this 'shit' is the Old World's history." I said to him. "This is the music that is on the pages of history that happen to be stuck together." Regi said and chuckled. "I remember this kind of music, don't remember the band's name though." Ty spoke up for the first time. We all looked at Ty, including Joshua. "I remember being in my room as a kid listening to this music for hours. Even though the band had been gone for thirty-fourty-odd years before that, I still loved this stuff." Ty grinned slightly as nostalgia filled him. "How old are you?" Joshua asked rudely. "Older than all you fuckers put together." Ty replied just as rudely at him. Regi and I chuckled. Joshua grunted and we kept walking. The tape continued, but every so often there was static and what sounded like additional voices. After the tape finished, I turned on the radio to my Pip-Boy to see if it was getting the same interference. I messed with the channels until I got a clear signal. There was some chatter, it sounded like a military radio call. "Targets have reached the ambush point, requesting permission to terminate." I was just about to warn everyone when I them heard, "Request granted. Take them out."

A shimmering figure flowed in front of Joshua and smacked him to the ground. The figure regain opacity... And more appeared, surrounding us. There were five of them, four in armor and one in an officer's uniform. The armor was menacing, it was bigger and bulkier than the NCR's Veteran Armor. The helmet appeared to be insectoid like, like the head of a mantis. They all carried plasma weapons, the officer held a plasma pistol down at Joshua. The officer spoke up, "By orders of Congress, and for the future of the United States of America, you will be destroyed, unless you unconditionally surrender." Joshua was getting up only to be pushed to the ground again. "Will you drop your weapons and comply?" We all dropped out weapons in unison. Joshua only scowled. He pulled out of his boot knife and stabbed the officer in his right thigh. "JOSHUA! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!" I screamed at him, "TAKE THEM OUT!" He screamed back. In a matter of three seconds, Ty pulled out two kives and threw one to me. I was already running toward the soldier to my left, I caught the knife as it flew at me. The soldier pulled off one shot and hit my left bicep. I thrusted the knife upward under his helmet, through his trachea and up into his epiglottis. Regi threw his target's head to the ground and shoved his shotgun's barrel into the back of the soldier's neck and fired. The man's head exploded in a red bloody pulp, there was a delayed reaction in the corpse, the plasma rifle fired off and hit Regi in the shin. Ty had incredible aim and perception, he threw his knife at his target, it wedged into the soldier's neck. Just as the knife reached the guy's neck, he fired off three shots. Two of them hit Ty in the chest and stomach. Joshua got up and tackled the last guy to the ground. He ripped off the soldier's helmet off and stabbed him in the face repeatedly. The officer got up and fired at Joshua's back. The plasma bolt hit his backpack but didn't injure him. I ran up to the officer and tried to wrench the pistol out of his hand. He panicked and fired a few shots. A stray bolt hit my right thigh, but I didn't dare to let of of the guy. I kneed him in the stomach with my good leg with all the might I could muster. He doubled to the ground and I grabbed the plasma pistol as he dropped it. I kicked his face upward and he fell backward to his back. I walked up and emptied the gun into his face. After the third shot, his head melted away into a pile of green goo. The other soldiers fell as they bled to death.

"Is everyone alright?" I courtiously asked. "The fuck do you think Stakes?" Regi asked as he clutched leg and waved his hand in a sweeping motion. "How can you just shrug off the plasma burns?" He asked. "I'll feel it in a bit." I reassured him. I opened up my pack and tossed Regi and Ty one stimpak a piece. I took two out and stabbed them into my leg and shoulder. Joshua got up and looked through his pack, "Son of a WHORE!" He screamed, "Whats the problem now, fuck-face?" I yelled as I began to feel the pain. "We are in some deep shit!" He said. "'Deep shit'?" I asked, "What happened just now, WASN'T 'Deep Shit'?" I yelled at him. Joshua pulled out something from his pack and tossed it to me. I caught it open handed and saw that it was the Arc Projector Manifold... It was destroyed. The plasma bolt that hit Joshua's back must have hit the damn thing. One third of the disk was melted away. "God-Motherfucking-DAMN IT!" I yelled and tossed the thing back at Joshua. He threw it back into his pack. "We'll get moving in a few hours." I said. There was a few mins of silence, I took that time to smoke a cig. As I did, I took on of the dead soldier's helmets and looked at it, as if I were going to find out what I was going to do now...

Chapter Six: Paying my debt to Society

We all took our time getting back to the NCR Capital City. Considering that we had to limp all the way back there. It took even more time than we when first made the trip out there. I had used the last of my stimpaks, the plasma bolt had done more damage than I assumed. Ty got the worst of it, being hit in the stomach and chest. He said he was having a hard time breathing and that he couldn't keep his food down for more than an hour. Every so often, we had to stop so Ty could vomit. Regi had to stop also, he complained that his leg was acting up. I tried my best to tough it out and not say anything. Joshua was the luckiest, he didnt get hit at all. The plasma bolt that hit him only burned his back a bit. The fucking Arc Projector Manifold saved him from a few back problems.

We got back to the eastern gate of the NCR Capital, then one of the veterans saw how beaten to shit we were. "What the fuck happened to you guys?" He asked with slight concern. None of us had any patience to be asked questions, "Just let us in, please? We kinda need medical attention." I said sternly. He agreed and told the other guards to open the gates. "Josh, I think we should go see Lieutenant Jones while Regi and Ty go to the doctor." I told him. Joshua simply nodded and grunted in agreement. "Regi, we'll meet you two there. We have to break the news to the El Tee." Regi nodded as well and helped Ty, who was really struggling with his breathing, get to his feet and they headed off in another direction. I followed Joshua to the NCR Military offices. When we entered through the doors all eyes turn to us. There was a pause, no one said anything until the receptionist spoke up, "What happened to you two?" The receptionist asked with a stupid look on her face. I was starting to get annoyed by that question. "We need to see Lieutenant Jones." Joshua said. She simply pointed in the direction of his office. We staggered down the hallway, until we got his door. We tried to straighten ourselves up then entered the office. The Lieutenant looked up from his computer terminal. He looked at Joshua, then me, then back to Joshua, he knew not to ask the question he was thinking of asking. "Sir, we have some bad news." Joshua said. "Do I dare ask what the news is?" Jones asked. Joshua tossed the manifold on Jones' desk. Jones picked it up and looked at it for a few seconds. "What. The. Fuck. Happened?" Jones demanded. I laid down the helmet of one of the troopers on his desk. "This can't be." Jones said as he picked up the helmet. "Why? Who were they?" I asked him. "The Enclave." He answered. "That's bullshit, the Enclave were destroyed by a tribal almost forty years ago." Joshua said. "Or so we thought." Jones said. There was a pause between all of us. "Get to the doctor, you two look like shit. Dismissed." Jones said. Joshua saluted then we turned and exited the building.

We got to the doctor's office and someone came from one of the backroom to greet us. She wore a lab coat and her brown hair was in a bun, but it was unsettling when she came out with blood on her hands. "You the other two that Mr. Aldren warned us about?" The doctor asked. "Who?" I asked, "Aldren. Regi Aldren?" She asked in return. "Oh, yes... I guess... Do you sterilize after each procedure?" I asked nervously. She looked down at her hands, "Oh, yes. I'll be back." She turned and walked to the backrooms again. The most awkward twenty seconds passed, then she came back with clean hands. "If you'll both follow me to the back, please." We both walked to the same room that Regi amd Ty were. Ty was given a shot to help regain his breathing and Regi's plasma burn was patched up and sterilized thoroughly. "Please, sit down." The doctor said, "I will be back momentarily." So we both sat. A few minutes later, the doctor came back and told me remove my clothes. I sighed, but did it anyways. I leaned my weapons against the wall and laid my clothes on the table. I sat on top of the table, but winced when I lifted myself up with my left arm. The plasma burn opened up and bled a bit. The doctor took a syringe and held it up. "Try to relax." She said as she injected me with morphine. She put the syringe back onto a tray she brought back with her, then took a scalpel and began to scrape away the burnt, dead skin. If it weren't for the morphine, I'd be in an unimaginable amount of pain. After scraping off the burnt sections of my arm and my leg, she soaked them in anti-biotics and wrapped them in a couple of layers of bandages. All Joshua got was a layer of burn ointment, while the rest of us were fucked up on pain killers, not that I was complaining. I knew wouldn't be going anywhere for a bit, so I decided to sleep off my pain killer trip.

I noticed that only two hours passed when I woke up. I got up off the bed I fell asleep on and noticed I was fully clothed. I guess I dressed myself before I fell asleep. Regi and Ty were just getting up as well. We walked out into the front room of the doctor's office, there was an NCR higher-up waitng for us. He was talking to Joshua, and Joshua seemed a bit more pissed than usual. "Jace Hurtzs?" The officer asked. I hesitated, "Yes." I said. "I'm Colonel Alyas, I want to see you, Joshua Rane, Regi Aldren, and Ty in my office in thirty minutes." He said then turned and walked out without saying another word. I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration and looked back at Regi. "This has 'Shit-Storm' written all over it, Stakes." He said, "I agree." I simply stated. I sighed, "C'mon guys, lets get the 'Shit-Storm' over with." I said, then we all walked out of the doctor's office and followed Joshua.

We all went back to the NCR Military offices. The same receptionist pointed us in Colonel Alyas's office. We all stood next to eachother in front of Alyas. He looked up from his computer terminal. "Well, gentlemen." Alyas said, "What happened?" We weren't sure if that was a rhetorical question, so neither of us answered. "It was simple, you were all to take the manifold to a specified location. Instead, you all come back with it destroyed?" He said keeping a calm face, but clearly furious. Alyas looked down at his desk where the manifold and the Enclave trooper helmet were. He picked up the manifold and held it up to us. "Do any of you know how much time, money and research was put into this piece of shit?" He said, "A whole fucking heap!" He yelled and slammed it on the desk. "And then I hear that the four of you took down five Enclave troopers who had clearly superior firepower?" Alyas said with disbelief. He sighed, "I can't tell if that is impossible, or you guys are the kind of people we need in the NCR." He paused, "Sargent Rane." Alyas said, then Joshua looked up. "You are hereby demoted to the rank Private." He said. Joshua sighed deeply. "As for the rest of you three..." He started. We all stiffened. "Jace 'Stakes' Hurtzs, Reginald Aldren, and Ty. You are all hereby fully indoctrinated into the NCR." I closed my eyes and sucked it up, I never thought this would happen. Regi seemed unphased by it. I don't think Ty really cared either. "You will be in the NCR until you have all paid off your debt to society." He said then stood up, "And the way you will be paying your debt is up to me." Alyas said, "And I've got it all figured out. Follow me, men." He said as he passed up, then we followed him out of the building.

Alyas walked ahead of us, but made sure we were following him. Regi came up to me, "What do think he's going to make us do? Scrub the latrine until its clean enough for him to eat off of it?" He joked. I shook my head, "I don't think we're getting off that easy, Regi." I told him. We followed him into a warehouse. There were a few scientists working on several different things. Behind them were four sets of mannequins with armor on them. They were almost identical as the ones the veterans wore, except these ones were black in color, the metal chest plate was replaced with a different material, I couldn't tell what though. One of the soldiers by the scientists looked up and saw Alyas. "Colonel Alyas, Sir." He said calmly and saluted. "At ease, Corporal. Is Professor Masen available?" He asked. "Yes, Sir. This way." We followed the soldier to, who I assumed to be, Masen. "What can I do for you today, Colonel?" He asked without looking up from his project. "I have some 'test subjects' for your project." Alyas told him. Masen looked up at him, "Are you sure? The armor sets were just completed this morning. We have yet to have them properly tested." He tried to explain, "Well lets hope that the armor lives up to your expectations, Professor." Alyas said. Masen sighed, "Alright, but I will have to give them the full tutorial before they put it on." He said. "Take your time, Professor." Alyas told him. Masen scowled, it was obvious that Masen didn't have enough time, and that Alyas' comment was in spite of the situation. "Gentlemen, follow me." Masen said. We did so, and he stopped in front of the four armor sets. "What you see before you is our Prototype H3RM35 Compact Power Armor Version One." He said. I heard Regi whisper behind me, "What a mouthful." Masen continued, "You can call it 'Hermes P.A.' for short. This armor is a hybrid between the Brotherhood of Steel power armor and the pre-war stealth armor used by the Chinese during the Reclaimation of Alaska. We managed to find a way to bypass the need for power armor training so that anyone could use it without any problems. The armor is as hardened as the typical power armor, but is half of the original weight. As for the 'Stealth Armor' side of it, the Chinese stealth armor was fitted with a device that enables the wearer to become relatively transparent, but not invisible. We integrated the device to the armor, so when you crouch, it will activate the device and you will be transparent as long as you maintain the posture and move slowly." He finished up. "Any questions?" Masen asked.

There were two questions from Regi and I. My question was, "Are these properly tested?" While Regi's question interupted mine with, "Can we try them on?" Masen answered both questions, beginning with Regi's. "You will put them on now, and no they haven't been tested yet, you will be the testers." Then I spoke up, "How will we test them?" Masen wasn't sure, then Alyas said, "You will be taking them on your first task on paying your debt to the NCR." We paused, "So what? This armor is as expendable as us?" Regi asked. "You are. But the armor isn't, you are simply giving it a test run. If it is deemed reliable, it will go into full production over a span of ten to fifteen years. If there is anything you think that should be added to the armor, let us know." I looked up at Alyas, "I'd like one thing added to my armor." I said. "What would that be, Mr. Hurtzs?" He asked. "I want the number twenty-seven on the end of the right-side of the collar." I said. Regi grinned, while Joshua sighed and shook his head. "Done." Was all Alyas said. "Well gentlemen, lets get the armor on." Masen said.


We all had to undress for the armor, otherwise it wouldn't fit properly. The first piece of the armor to go on was the leggings. It was simple enough since it was basically just a pair of armored pants. After that, came the boots which were a snug fit. Next was the chest piece, which folded up and over our head to reach our backs. It was harnessed together with a series of buckles and locks. Last was the helmet, it still looked as intimidating as when I first saw the armor almost a week ago. I slipped it on and then one of the scientists came up and flipped a small switch on the side of the mask. It provided a nightvision mode for the goggles. "Standard issue." The scientist said, then switched them off. As we finished putting on the armor, Alyas came up to us. "Since you are all now a part of the NCR, you are now also being volunteered for the NCR's classified military company, dubbed 'Shadow Company'." He said. "Ooh, aren't you fucking original." Regi mocked Alyas under his breath. "But, one of you will have to lead this newly established company. Who will it be?" Alyas asked. I just happened to be in the front of the group when Regi and Ty shoved me forward. "I guess I will, sir." I said as I took off my helmet. "Good," Alyas said. "You are now ranking officer, Sargent Hurtzs." Joshua's face was in rage and confusion. He began to argue the Colonel's decision. Alyas turned to him, "You know why I gave HIM the promotion. Now I won't have to deal with your incompentence and insubordination anymore." He said with irritation at Joshua. "You will all get your first task in the morning. Goodbye." He turned and was about to walk away when he said, "And if any of you try to leave the city, you will be found and reeducated. You four aren't the only ones in this company. They may not use the same sophisticated armor that you have, but they do have sharp eyes." Alyas said then walked out.Regi and I looked at each other, Regi just shrugged. "What do we do now?" Regi asked. "I know what I'm going to do." I said with a cynical grin. I walked up to Joshua as he was sitting on a few armor footlockers. "The fuck you want?" He said angrily. "Just so you know, I am a ranking officer for the NCR. When you need to address me, you better call me 'Sir'. I ain't your friend, I ain't your 'lesser'. You got that?" I told him. Joshua's face flared with anger from my play of words. Regi laughed behind me. "We will meet at the Colonel's office at seven A.M. sharp." I announced to the group with my newly acquired authority. I turned to Joshua and added, "And thats an order." He just sneered at me. He finished with "Understood... Sir."

I put my helmet back on, turned and nodded to Regi. He nodded back, we both knew what we were going to do for the rest of the day. So, we headed off the base grounds to the bazaar, specifically toward Drew's place. "Think he'll mistake us for veterans?" Regi asked along the way. I shrugged, but said, "Most likely." After a few minutes we were at Drew's place, the distance was significantly shorter from the base to there, rather than the inn we stayed at four days before hand. We headed right in and into the garage. The Corvega seemed to be in the same state as I had last seen it. Maybe Drew hit a snag with it. Eva was at a crafting table facing the other way when she heard us walk in. She turned and looked at us. "Drew, some veterans are here." She angled her voice downward at the bottom of the car. There was a loud thud, followed by, "OW! Gawd-mutha-fuggin' damn it." He slid out from under the car. "Veterans. Whew." He whistled and wiped his hands with a very dirty and oily cloth. "What can I do for you gentlemen?" Regi and I looked at each other. "Actually I'm here to drop off my friend. As for us," I refered to me and Drew. "I came to compliment on your work." I finished as Regi and I off our helmets. Eva's eyes lit up as she saw Regi, she ran up and hugged him tightly. Drew was shocked and confused. "Wha- How the hell this happen?" He asked. "Do you want the long story, or the short?" I asked. "Uh, short?" Drew said. "Its community service." I told him. He paused, "Okay, the long version." So, Drew and I sat down in his armory and I told him everything that happened. Drew chuckled when I mentioned the Arc Projector Manifold. "What, do you know what the thing was?" I asked him. "Huh, 'Know about it'? I designed it." He said and sighed. Drew got up and pulled out a blueprint of the device. "I only designed it, I never got to see it." He said. "The NCR paid me a shit load to make a layout and to keep it quiet. It was being made on the base, but they wouldn't let me make sure that it was being made exactly as I designed it to be."

I paused for a moment, trying to think of another subject. "Any progress on the car?" I asked. "I'm having a small problem with it. I'm trying to get the parts for an engine design, and thats where most of my money is going into. I have a design where I can use micro-fusion cells as fuel, since making gasoline is a bit out of my price range." I nodded in agreement. After a couple hours of conversation and complimenting on my Bodkin's performance, I was ready to leave. Regi said he'd rather stay at Drew's place for the night. "Just remember, you're under my command Regi. Be there by seven o'clock." I told him. "Yes, mum." He mocked with a smile. I headed back to the Promise Inn. When I walked in, Cryss looked up. "Ooh, what a little soldier boy like you doing here?" She asked with a smile. "Well, I hear this is the best place for a fun night." I told her, trying to keep my voice from being recognized. "Who told you that?" She asked. "Some guy, looked about six feet tall, matted down hair. And it seemed that every girl here wanted him." I said as I took off my helmet and looked at Cryss. "Jace!" She said out loud and hugged me tight. Then from the back halls, another girl called out, "Did somebody say 'Jace'? Girls! Jace is back!" She yelled out. In a few seconds the front room was filled with all the girls I was with the last time I was here, including Tori. She was fighing to get to the front of the group to me. They were all touching my new armor and all trying to speak at one time to get me to answer questions. I got them all to calm down, even if it was one at a time. So I told them what had happened to me. Though I fluffed up the story a bit to make it seem like I was suffering more than I really was. I smirked at all the sympathy I was getting. "Well, I believe you deserve the best room here." Cryss said as she grabbed a key. The girls and I followed her upstairs to some double doors, she unlocked them. The room was four times bigger than the one I was in the last time I was here, and much more decorated and clean. "Are there any girls you'd like to keep you company?" Cryss asked. I thought about it for a bit. There were a very good selection of girls I could choose from, plus I knew all their names. "Just one." I said, the rest of the girls leaned forward hoping to be chosen. I looked down at the girl in front of me. "Tori, would you like to stay with me for a bit?" I asked her. She smiled and nodded, the rest of the girls seemed disappointed. "Don't worry girls," I said. "You'll all get your turn." They all left with a little bit of hope. I sat down and set Tori on my lap, and we talked about what to do next. Literally and metaphorically...

Prologue: Beginning Anew

Emma was screaming in pain. "Just a little bit more, Emm." I told her as she gripped my hand like a vice. She wanted to stop, for it to be over. "Sam, I can't do this." She said as tears poured down her face. "Yes you can! Remember my first words I said to you when we left the Vault; Whatever happens I'll be there with you." I said to her. She nodded and continued. A few minutes later the doctor said, "Its a boy!" The doctor cleaned off our newborn son, wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to Emma. I knelt down to her height and looked at our baby. "He looks like his mother." I said with a smile. "Do we agree with the name?" Emma asked me smiling. I grinned and nodded, "Isaac Dean Hurtzs." I said.

It had been three years since we had left the Vault. Me, Emma, and rest that escaped took refuge at a nearby city called 'New Reno'. At first, we had no idea how the outside world worked. In the Vault, everyone had to pull the same amount of weight, there wasn't any type of currency or trading, and nobody went hungry. This was hard to adjust to, beginning anew. Emma and I had nothing to our names, we had to trade some of our valuables in order to eat for a few days. We knew that we couldn't sell everything we own, it was all we had. Eventually, we had to find a way to make money. Jobs were easy enough to find, many of the jobs were criers for the local casinos or shops. After a few days of this kind of work, we finally got paid after being there for three days. The currency system was crude but simple, everyone used bottle caps from nuka-cola and sunset sarsparilla. I was both confused and angry when Emma and I first got paid for our jobs and got these useless pieces of old world trash. It was simple enough to catch on onto how to invest these 'caps'. It was like pre-war money, you couldn't just 'throw it away'.

Emma and I were homeless for almost eight months. Most of the time, we didn't have the caps to spare for food, so I saved up some some extra every now and then to make sure that Emma had something to eat even if it meant that I didn't have anything over a few days. She always felt guilty that I wasn't eating, but I was more concerned about her than me. Eventually, we heard about these people that trade with others throughout the wasteland. "Caravans." The folks called them. And that's when I knew that that's where Emma and I would be able to make a living off of. I talked with the Caravan manager of New Reno, he said that caravan route were dangerous and aren't meant for people like us vault dwellers. I insisted to him that Emma and I join the protection crew. He caved in and told us that we started the next day. He supplied us both with uniforms, but they were nothing but dirty white tee shirts and worn cargo pants. He also gave small backpacks, for whatever we find through the wastes. After a month of traversing a small portion of the Mojave with Emma, we started getting paid in advance and in higher quantities. When people were planning to take their caravans out, they began to specifically ask for us. The whole time we were on routes with different caravans, nothing happened. Most caravans, they say, are often attacked and barely anyone survive from those raids. As for our caravans, they were always safe. After a full year of guiding caravans with Emma, we had enough caps to open up our own caravan protection agency and bought one of the rundown houses in the city, that was two years ago.

"Sam, Danny's got pneumonia. So he won't be able to take routes for a few weeks." I heard Anthony say as he entered the offices. "Is there anyone else who can take over his route?" I asked him. "No there isn't, and I'm about to head off for my next route. Looks like you'll be doing Danny's, Sam." Anthony said. I sighed and cursed my luck. I didn't want to go, my son was born three days ago, and I hated to leave Emma alone. I closed shop early that day, since all my employees were out on routes. When I got back to our house, Emma was in the living room chair, Isaac in her arms sleeping peacefully. I walked up to them, and Emma gave me a 'welcome back' kiss. "How was work?" She asked. "Well, its going to suck tomorrow." I told her. When she asked why, I told her about me having to leave home to take a route. "But sam! I need you here! WE need you here." She began to argue. "C'mon honey, it won't be that long. It'll take two days, one to get there, then one back. We've had to do seperate routes, remember?" I told Emma. "Yeah, that was a hellish few days. Men in the caravan and the town I was in, were hitting on me. And during that route I found out I was pregnant with Isaac." She sighed happily at the comment about Isaac. "Well, since I'm only one working now, I have to take care of you, Isaac and the business. After this route, I'll be home and then we'll keep going." I told her and smiled reassuringly. Emma sighed, "Okay, Sam. But so you know, you owe me for this. Also, I'm not leaving this house until you come back." She said and slugged my arm. "Fair enough. Since there is enough food and water to last that long." I chuckled.

The next day approached fast, though I wish it hadn't. I got up early, knowing that I wasn't going to be sleeping for awhile. I sluggishly got dressed, first thing was a white undershirt and black vest. And over that I put on a worn black leather jacket and tied my hankerchief around my neck. The next was a pair of cargo pants with several pocket, next was a pair of very sturdy steel tipped boots. Then finally was my old Pip-Boy 3000 from the Vault. I strapped it on and it hummed back to life after months of neglect. On the wall next to the bed was the old R91 I used against my first feral ghoul. I took it off the wall and slung it on my back under my backpack. I opened the drawer to my left and pulled out a folded piece of stationary, I wrote a note to Emma apologizing for leaving early and to be safe. I placed the note on my pillow. I went back to the drawer and pulled out the old 10mm pistol from the escape of our Vault. I was a very cautious man to begin with but I wanted to leave the gun in case ANYTHING happened. I put the gun back in the drawer and placed one full magazine next to it. The last thing that was in the drawer was a folded picture of Emma, Isaac and I the day when Isaac was born. The doctor was kind enough to take the picture and gave it to me the second it was developed. I looked at it for a few moments, then folded it back up and placed it into my inner pocket of my jacket. I closed the drawer and headed out.

I went back to my protection agency were the caravan was already there. The caravan was mid-sized, about fifteen people. It was probably just full of regular traders, selling food and other goods. "Where's Danny?" Someone asked. "He's sick, I'm his boss. So, I'll be covering for him." I told the caravan aloud. The caravan nodded in approval. "Okay, so where is this group headed?" I asked aloud, "Broken Hills!" Someone yelled out from the back, in a gurgly voice. I looked at the map on my Pip-Boy and slid a coordinates holodisk into it. A marker was placed Northeast of New Reno. "Alright, lets move out." I called out, and we started off.

As the hours passed every so often I would take the time to study the caravan. I noticed that they were all wearing masks and hats, or the like. Either they were all selfconscious of themselves or they were desperately trying to keep the heat away from them. I didn't bother trying to talk to them, the nicest response I got from them was, "What are you looking at?", in a very condescending tone whenever I looked at them. After a few hours of walking, we took a ten minute break to rehydrate ourselves. Some took off their masks and hats in order to take a drink. I looked at the closest person, turns out, this whole caravan was consisted of Ghouls. "You keep lookin' at me, Smoothskin. I know I'm irresistable, but c'mon. You never see a ghoul before?" The ghoul said as he took another swig of his water. I shook my head, "Only feral ghouls." I replied to him. "Well, if we find any on this trip, just make sure you know which is which, got it smoothy?" I nodded and went about my business. We started again after a few minutes. As we continued, I noticed that it was unusually hot this time of the year for the Mojave Wasteland. I guess we hit the 'hell' of the desert. After about six hours I was down to my last three bottles of water, out of my eight I started with. "Whatever." I thought to myself, I was sure that the town would have some water to buy once I got there. It was still about two hours away from from Broken Hills, so I tried asking the caravan what was there. "A city for ghouls. Though not as big as Necropolis. Peaceful enough to have humans there too, even if they do complain a lot about the smell."

I kept quiet for the remainder of the time until we reached Broken Hills. As we apporached the gates there were two huge, hulking, grotesque mostrosities standing guard. They were at least ten feet tall, if they stood up straight. Their muscle tone was that of a pre-war bear, healthy ones at that. Their skin was a sickly greyish-green and looked as though it was thick enough to stop a full metal jacket round in dead in its tracks. Both of them had their upper lips strapped upward by a strip of leather, giving them the look of a constant sneer. Their clothes looked as though they stripped parts of cars and other miscellaneous items and were strapped together. One of the mutants stepped up to me. They were a truly terrifying sight to behold. He could have easily crushed my head in the palm of his hand. Instead he spoke, "Mmm, human. What you here for?" He asked in a booming voice, he seemed to struggle with every word he spoke. "I-I'm here to drop off the caravan." I said with a ragged breath. The monster turned to the other to his left and pointed at me. "Connor, human here. What do?" He said. The other, dubbed Connor, approached. "What does this caravan provide, human?" He asked with proper grammar and strung the sentence together rather nicely, even if his voice was just as booming. "Uh, mainly food and water. Possibly other goods. I'm not sure." I said scared stiff. The monster - Connor, nodded. "Go to the caravan offices on the corner two streets down. Don't cause any trouble or-" Connor was inturupted by the other, "Or we crush your puny body to dust!" He said with a bellowing laugh. "And we advise you put your weapon away human, us mutants are always eager for a fight." Connor warned me and chuckled deeply.

I walked down the streets and for every twelve ghouls was one human, and with every five humans there was one of those monsters. 'Mutants?' I recalled the first two saying. The mutants lumbered about their business, but as I passed them, they would all look and stare. It was very unsettling. They looked as though they were going to torture me, their eyes seemed to glow with a deep hatred for me... or maybe, my kind. The walk down the two streets seemed like it elongated. I finally got to the caravan office, I walked through the door and saw the manager. He was also a ghoul, though nicely dressed. He had on an old grim-covered suit. The manager looked up from his desk. "Ah, good. Right on time." He said in the same gurgley voice as the rest of the ghouls. He stood up and walked to me. "I take it there weren't any problems getting here?" He asked... rather politely. "No, none at all, sir." I replied being just as polite. "Good, good. Name's Crow. I'd shake your hand but humans here tend to think that 'ghoulification is contagious'." He said, but I allowed to shake hands with him. "So, what -or who- are the two outside?" I asked cautiously. "Who? Mack and Connor? Oh, they keep the riff-raff out of Broken Hills. They -like the rest of them in town- call themselves 'Super Mutants'. They mutter stuff about 'Unification' or some shit like that. They don't take too kindly to you humans, though. I guess it had something to do with the Brotherhood. Don't really know." He told me. "Just keep your distance, and don't stare at them, some of them have a fit if you stare too long." I nodded. I just wanted to quickly grab some supplies and get the hell out of this town. I wanted to see my family.

As I was finishing getting my supplies, I turned looking down into my pack stuffing water and food in it. I took a few steps forward and bumped into something. I looked up and it was a 'someone', it was a super mutant. This one was a different color than the others, he was greyish-blue, but still as menacing as the others. He looked down at me into my eyes with fury. "Human! Watch where you going." He said as he shoved me aside with minimal effort. I got up and accidentally glanced over at the lumbering beast. "Stop staring at me!" He yelled. I looked away, but it was no use. He began to growl and he clenched his fists in anger. I quickly got up, picked up my pack and ran for it. I sprinted for the gates, but there were loud thumps gaining on me. I assumed that it was the mutant running for me, and that he was gaining on me fast. I grabbed my R91 incase he got 'too close', then I finally got fifteen feet away from the gate to the city when I was tackled to the ground. My face was in the dirt and my R91 flew ahead of me, ten feet away. I was hefted up by the mutant with one hand. I searched myself frantically for something to use against him. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my old switch blade I used for cutting up broc flower and xander root to make 'patch powder'. I flicked it open, and and swung myself forward to the mutant's face. I thrusted the knife into his left eye. He instantly dropped me and screamed in pain, I turned and grabbed my R91. I cocked the gun and fired two shots each into his kneecaps. He dropped to the ground and rolled onto his back, he screamed at me, "I KILL YOU, HUMAN! YOU DIE!" I screamed back at him as I ran up and fired the rest of the magazine into his face. His blood spattered on my clothes and face, I was breathing heavily. I ejected the spent mag and slid another into my gun. "Anyone got a problem with that?!" I screamed as everyone looked at me, ghouls, human and mutants alike. The mutants laughed as the ghouls and humans left. "You tough human! We like that!" one of the mutants yelled out. 'This place is fucking insanity.' I thought to myself. In the distance I can still hear them laughing. 'I wanna go home.' was my final thought as I continued back to New Reno...

Chapter Seven: Het Goddelijk Licht (The Divine Light)

I sat with Tori in my lap in one of the chairs that were in the new room. I told her what had happened, the job, the incident and the fight. "So, what are you going to do now?" Tori asked. I knew there were loads of things to do, but there was still the matter of what to do about my business in New Reno. I've been gone for almost three weeks, which was longer than most of my routes I usually take. "Well, I have to give some orders to my friend at my company back home. I have to let him know not to expect me back indefinitly. I guess this will be my new home for the time being." I told her. "Well, I'm sure I can get Cryss to make a deal for you to stay." Tori said and smiled. "I'd appriciate that." I said and returned the smile. My mind began to space out, I thought what had become of my business and I hoped it was going well as with all my friends within it. I knew Tanner would keep the company going without me, due to the fact that he is much more cautious than I am.

My thought was cut short when Tori eased back and rested her head on my chest, "Out of curiousity, why'd you pick me?" She asked. "And be honest." I answered without hesitation, "Honestly, 'cause you are fun, and rather kind hearted." She seemed to accept the answer. "Now I have a question, and I'll understand if you don't want answer, but what made you become an escort?" I asked with caution. She tensed up, I could feel it, even through the armor. "It wasn't always my choice," Tori started. "After my mom died, my dad became really abusive and became a psycho addict. When I turned fourteen he put me at The Promise Inn so he can get the caps for his future fixings. When I turned sixteen, I found out that he overdosed on another chem, called slasher. Apparently it was more powerful than regular psycho, and it was. It killed him after one try. I know you're thinking, 'Why stay here?' Well the reason why is because, like you mentioned before, I have a home and I get paid ridiculously well, 'even if I have to fuck scum bags all the damn time'." She ended her story with a sigh. "You seem like you are getting tired of this place." I told her. "I am." She said, "But where would I go? Where would I stay?" Tori asked rhetorically. I paused and thought for a moment, "When I pay off this debt, you can come back with me if you want. Though New Reno is a bit rowdier then NCR..." I said. Tori looked up at me. "You would do that? Why? You hardly know me." She said, I nodded, "True. But I know a good soul when I see it." I replied. We both went silent. After a moment, our eyes met and Tori had the look of greatfulness as if that were the first time she had been told that. She turned to face me and straddled my waist. "That means a lot, Jace. That was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you." She said as she slowly moved closer to my face. I placed my hands on her waist as we kissed deeply...

I awoke rather peacefully the coming morning. As I laid on the bed, I looked to my left and saw that Tori was sleeping peacefully. I got up and walked to the chair where my armor lay folded up neatly. I slipped on the pants, boots, the chest piece, and then the trench coat. I went through my backpack and pulled out a pen and two pieces of paper. I wrote a note for when Tori would wake up, saying that she was great the previous night, that I had fun with her and that I'd be back in a couple of days. I folded up the note and set it next to her. Then I began to write the next note;

Tanner-

Ran into a snag at the NCR Capital, and I have to stay there for the time being. You will be in charge of the company during this time. Keep in touch, let me know if you have any problems -Such as the Wrights trying to push dirty money again. I wish you my luck, Man.

-Stakes

I folded up the note and stuffed it in my pack. I strapped my weapons and my Pipboy back on, "6:17AM" displayed on the screen. I looked back at Tori as I approached the door, something wanted me to stop and stay with her, but I knew that I needed to get the payment over with. I sighed, slipped on my helmet and walked out the door. On the way to the base, I stopped at the local Mojave Express office to mail the letter. They said that it'd be dropped off sometime later this week. I nodded and walked on. I got to the base right as everyone else did. Regi looked refreshed, Joshua looked extremely hungover -I was guessing to be able to tolerate me being his commanding officer, and Ty seemed eager to go on the assignment. We all entered the base's office and started for Colonel Alyas' office. "You look better than the last job we started." I said to Regi. "Yeah, it was a great night. Even if Drew glared at me as if he were gonna kill me the whole time." He said and chuckled. "What about you, how was your night?" Regi asked. I shrugged, "I realized that I may have a few problems once I get home, but whatever." I told him as my voice trailed off. "Your mind seems somehwere else, Stakes." Regi noticed. "Yeah, I guess it is." I replied, Regi didn't ask what was wrong, even I didn't know. We entered Alyas' office and stood at attention, Joshua was better with it then us. We all saluted. Aylas looked up from his terminal and stood up. "At ease, men." We all lowered our hands. Alyas looked at us all, up and down. "Alright, men." He began and laid a field report document on the desk. We all looked down at it. "We have confirmed reports of NCR citizens either disappearing or found dead near the border of The Divide. An NCR outpost is at the border, they are undermanned and ill-equiped, so they haven't been able to find who or what is doing this. Our assumption is a man that calls himself 'Licht Zal', from what we concur is roughly translated dutch for 'The Light's Will'. We hear he's been the local religious figure at the outpost, and we don't know if he is directly responsible or not. Your objective is to confirm whether he is the problem or not, basically spy on him. The alternate objective is if you confirm he isn't the problem, you must find out who or what is. Licht Zal is our best bet right now. Any questions?" Alyas asked, no one spoke up. "Good. You know your job now, good luck men. Dismissed." Aylas returned to his desk and continued typing on his terminal.

As we left the building, Regi asked, "You ever been to The Divide?". I shook my head, "No, but I've heard some insane stories about it. What have you heard, Regi?" I asked in return. "Heard there are freak sand storms that can rip the meat right off your bones. People who survived stepping into it are either damned lucky or had a deathwish that gave them a reason to live." Regi said. I replied, "I heard the same story, except there are also earthquakes that create and destroy entire mountains in a matter of minutes. They call it 'The Edge of the World'." Ty had been listening and threw in his two cents. "I heard recently, there were two people that went into The Divide barring messages for one another and that they had fought beneath the Old World Flag. No one knows if either of them survived." Joshua snorted, "Load of bullshit. Thats like agreeing with the idiots that think that deathclaws evolved from lizards that were the size of our palms." He said. Everyone fell silent, "Josh," I spoke up. "I'm not sure if you got the memo, but they proved that years ago." I finished, Regi and Ty snickered. "Whose the idiot now?" I told him. He only growled and went silent again. We were almost to the enterance gate of the base when we heard someone call out, "Hey! You in the Veteran Armor!" We all turned and saw what looked like a new recruit. He ran up to us, "Colonel Alyas said if you need to restock on rations and ammo, you should follow me to the supply tent." I looked at everyone else, "Anyone need anything?" I asked. "Couldn't hurt to be over prepared, right?" Regi asked. Ty and Joshua nodded. "Alright, kid. Lead the way." So we follwed him. The tent was connected with two others, the center tent kept the weapons, while the other two kept the ammo and rations. All of us went in different directions. "Alyas also said that you'll have to pay for your supplies, he said it will subtract from your debt. Whatever that means..." The recruit said then left. I took this time to reorganize my backpack, I set it on the table, dumped it out and looked it over: Two bighorner steaks, six bottles of purified water, five bottles of Nuka-Cola Victory, three magazines of .50 caliber rounds for my AM Rifle, and four magazines of 5.56mm rounds for my Bodkin. "Yeah, I can stand to be better equipped." I said aloud. I went into the ammo tent and picked up two more mags of .50 cal and 5.56 rounds. Next was the rations tent, I grabbed about two pounds of brahmin and bighorner meat a piece, some more water, a carton of cigarettes and some fluid for my lighter. I finished up with my supplies and went up to the quarter master. He looked through my selection, "What currency will you be using?" He asked, "NCR Dollars." I replied. He used the terminal next to him to total up how much I owed. "That will be Seven-hundred and fifty dollars." He said, I reached into my coat pocket and brought out the stash I was paid with almost a week ago. I flipped through it and pulled out the necessary total and paid for it. "Thank you, Sir. I'll be sure Alyas subtracts it from your debt." He told me. I nodded and walked out of the tent. After a few minutes, everyone was ready to head out, and so we did.

We were about an hour out of the city, everyone was silent. Regi was walking next to me, he seemed to be itching with questions. "Maybe we should have asked Alyas what this 'Licht Zal' looked like." He said. "Well, he's the 'religious figure' of that outpost, we'll just ask. I mean, how big can an NCR outpost be? I doubt there will be a lot of people if they have to guard the path to The Divide." I replied. Regi simply nodded. I started fiddling with the radio channels on my Pip-Boy until I got something promising. "This is DJ 'Guardian', and this is 'Radio Not Forgotten' people. I'm getting kinda sick of reminind all of you, but I'll pound the name into your head if I have to!" The DJ laughed over the radio. He continued, "We have two news reports this hour. First, loads of people have reported, near the old California border, that they saw three rockets soar into the air. Two of which crashed into the Colorado river. Attempts to reach the said rockets were a complete failure, since they sank about ten minutes after NCR troopers rallied with the search teams. The only person with any reason to the rockets was some crazy old coot, saying that the rockets were piloted by ghouls. Wow, this is some wild wasteland isn't it?" The DJ chuckled, "Alright, second report: NCR had recovered the bodies of five Enclave troopers, three of them killed by knives to the throat. Huh, all of us thought the Enclave were dead after that oil rig blew up, right? We talked to a man that claimed to have participated in the fight, Regi Aldren, saying he thought that the 'Almighty Enclave were going to be a lot tougher than that.' Well, this song is for Regi where ever he and his friends who fought them are. This is 'Into the Storm'. DJ Guardian signing off." As the music started, we all turned to face Regi. "...What?" Regi asked. "When did you talk to them?" I asked. "Last night, they stopped me when they saw the armor and asked if I had any good stories." Regi said. "You fluff up the story any?" Joshua asked. "Not at all. Everything I told was the truth." He replied. Joshua nodded once and we continued onward.

Night settled in and we all decided to stop and rest for a bit. We stopped on the side of a road where I scrapped a tire off of an old car and used it as a fire pit. Also during that time, I also scrounged up some jalapeno peppers, honey mesquite pod, and pinyon nuts. I diced them all up as I slapped a pound of bighorner meat on the open flames. The scent was absolutally intoxicating, even more so when I took the diced ingredients and spread it on the meat. Regi was resting as I cooked, I wasn't sure if he was aware that I was cooking. But he looked up when he smelled the food. "Whoa, that smells awesome." He said, he got up and sat at the fire and watched as I prepared it. "Theres enough for all of us." I reassued him. Joshua came back, unsucessful with his scavving. He looked me with disbelief, "Where did you learn to make that?" He asked. "Old family recipe." I replied. I picked up a slice of it with my knife and handed it to Regi. He took the first bite, "Aww damn, Stakes." Was all Regi managed to say. Joshua and Ty both got their slices and ate. Ty's reaction was almost the same as Regi's, while Joshua's was still his bitter self as susal. I reached into my backpack and grabbed a Nuka Cola Victory. Regi did the same, I didn't notice that he took some while we were on our last job. We both sat quietly with our food and drinks. "So, do we keep moving after we eat?" Ty asked. "Naw, we'll get there in the morning. Get some rest, we may need it." I told him. We all fell silent again a few minutes after. Everyone was asleep within that time, while I took a bit to have a smoke. Afterwards as I drifted to sleep, I thought of home...

"Hit me." I told the dealer. "You sure, kid? You have twenty." The dealer warned me, "Okay then," I put one finger down on my cards, "Double Down." I said. The crowd around me thought I was being too cocky, but my luck, my luck never fails me. The dealer looked at me with dread, his eyes flared with anger. He dealt me the next card, an Ace of Clubs. The dealer tried to maintain his posture as he said with a blind fury, "Twenty-One." The crowd behind me stood in awe, they all applauded. Someone was shoving through the crowd and tapped my shoulder. "You're outta here, kid." The guy said. I asked why, "Kid, this is the Twenty-Second hand where you bet max... and WON! You better cash-in and get the fuck out before my boss decides to use you for Jet testing!" I smirked, they were appaled that a fourteen year old kid won this much in so little time. I was already kicked out of the other casinos, this was the last one, the Desperado. I scooped up my chips and dumped them into the my bag. I went to the cashier, "So they finally booting you out?" She asked. "Had to some time," I replied. "In caps, please." I answered her question without her asking. She ran them through the chip counting machine, "That comes to a total of nine-thousand seven hundr- WHAT?!?!" She yelled out as she looked back at her terminal with the calculated total. She ran my chips through the machine again and came up with the same total. "Son of a bitch." She muttered under her breath. "Get the fuck out of here, kid." She said as she laid my bag of caps down. "Its been a pleasure doing business with the Mordinos." I said with a huge grin as I took my caps and walked out of the casino...

I woke up once I felt the sun's brightness hit my eyes over the hills. I sat up and looked at the time on my Pip-Boy, "5:45AM". I looked behind me, Regi, Joshua, and Ty were out of it. "Alright, boys! Lets get moving!" I said aloud as I nudged each of them once with my foot. Regi and Ty got up immediatly, josh just laid there. "Josh..." I said and nudged him again with me foot. So, I called a little louder, "Josh!" Still nothing. I reeled my foot back and swiftly kicked him square in the ribs on his right. "OW! You're a fuckin' asshole!" Joshua yelled out. "I'm sorry, once more?" I said. "You're a fuckin' asshole, Sir!" He yelled at me. "Thats more like it! Now get up, we're moving!" I said as I started forward with Regi and Ty. As we walked the sun beat down on us like a ton of bricks. The only form of shade we had was our helmets, but it didn't help much. After about six hours of walking, I felt we were close, so I looked at the map on my Pip-Boy. We just had to get over the next hill and the outpost would be in sight. "Alright, guys. We're there." I told them, "First, we should split up, look for any hints of where to find the guy. Try not to attract attention, if you feel you are compromised, engage the cloaking device and sneak away. Once you have a lead, contact all of us through the radio." I told them. We got to the top of the hill and saw that the outpost was a small town. We approached the town, the sign read 'Divide's End'. "Huh, seems appropriate." Regi muttered. At the entrance stood a single NCR Patrol officer, he looked as if he hadn't slept or had a moment's peace in days. "Veterans? Huh, whats brought you guys here?" He asked. "Colonel Alyas sent us to make sure everything is as it should be." I told him. "Should be? It should be that we have more people helping here. There are only eight officers here, some people are thinking of revolting." The officer said, "Why? Whats going on?" I asked. "There is this guy, he's trying to make people band together and make this town independent from NCR. Calls himself 'Licht Zal'." He told us. "Do you know what he looks like? Where he is?" I asked. "No, even though its a small town, he's very elusive. When me and the rest of the officers think we're close he's always gone, like he never existed." Regi and I looked at each other, even with our helmets on, we seemed to understand what the other was thinking. "Well, soldier. Thank you for your time, we'll only be here to make sure everything is fine and we'll be on our way." I told him. He nodded and we walked into the town. "Okay, everyone, pick a direction and disperse. Report every ten minutes." I said over the radio. We all went seperate ways. "We don't need any civilian casualties. Though if they attack, you defend yourself." Was the last thing I told them.

I walked alone down the streets for a good twenty minutes, everyone reported twice with nothing at their sectors. I looked around, this place seemed almost desolate, barely anyone was around. There was an old beggar that was following my everywhere. Eventually I got fed up with him, threw him to the ground and pointed my Bodkin at him. "Interfere again, and you'll regret it." He nodded in fear, so I picked him up by his ragged collar and threw him in an opposite direction. I rounded a corner and decided to try the cloaking device. I crouched and watched as my hand became transparent. I stood there, watching the corner. The beggar came back looking for me, this time with a switchblade in hand. I followed him as quietly as I could. He stopped infront of an ally, so I slowly stood up and wrapped my arms around the guy without touching him. As I was regaining opacity, I clamped my right hand hand over his mouth, and wrapped my left arm around his neck. The beggar paniced and tried to stab through my armor with the jagged, dull blade as I dragged him into the ally to interrogate him. I slammed his face into the wall, wrenched the knife out of his hand and threw it into the garbage somewhere. "You look like a reasonably smart man. I want information." I barked at him. "Where is Licht Zal hiding?!" I yelled at him, his eyes were filled with terror as he stared into my visor with his face against the wall. "'The Light's Will' will save me from you, wretched beast. I have walked the path of the Divine, the light will protect me. You, along with the rest of your dogs, will perish under the storming sands-" I didn't have time to listen to him preach, I slammed his face into the wall again. I heard a crackle, I pulled his face back and saw that I had broken his nose, his face was covered in his own blood. "Feel like speaking as if you're in the twenty-third century, yet?" I told him. "The Divide, he hides in The Divide." The beggar said. "When will he be back?" I asked him. "He comes back every few days, but he'll be back in a matter of minutes." He said. "Where is the path that leads to The Divide?" I demanded. The beggar slumped to the floor. "There is a cave entrance on the eastern side of town, it leads straight into The Divide." He said as I took my anti-materiel rifle. "Now, you're going to stay quiet while I find out what I need." I told him as I gripped the butt of the gun and slammed it into his forehead. He fell to the floor where he sat, unconscious. I spoke into my radio, "Guys, I found a lead. What did you find?" I asked them all. Joshua didn't find anything, Regi and Ty found two of Licht Zal's safehouses. "The guy seems to be a Jet addict." Ty said, "Found loads of used Jet everywhere here." Regi spoke next, "I found the same thing, except he's been making his own Jet. I found a terminal that had his recipe. He's been using rotten cazador eggs mixed with nightstalker venom... Hold on, theres something else." He said. "His journal said that he's been tricking people into going into 'The Divine Light', which I'm guessing, is The Divide. And every few days, he goes to retrieve the bodies of those who 'don't make it'. Needless to say, he's nothing but a common thug and murderer." Regi said.

"I found that he'll be back from another trip to The Divide in a few minutes. Go to the eastern side of town, there is a cave entrance there, stay cloaked and stay distant. I'll snipe him from atop of the building closest to the cave." Everyone accepted the plan. We all met across the town at an old play ground. "Okay, we might not have much time left. I'll be heading up to that building," I pointed behind me. "Stay near the guy if anything happens." They all nodded and walked off to pick a safe secluded spot to cloak. I climbed up a ladder of the three story building, and settled myself. I scanned the cave with my rifle, after a few minutes, about thirty-some-odd people appeared and huddled around the cave entrance. "I'm at the entrance." Regi said over the radio. "Okay, someone is coming out." I looked at the cave, a man was walking out with a body in his arms. My guess that it was Licht Zal. His hair was in the style of a mohawk, and his clothes were almost non-exsistant, he only had a pair of briefs on. How he managed to go into The Divide and come out without any harm done to him, was beyond me. He began to speak, "This poor soul was not deemed worthy of being washed with The Divine Light. But this soul will find a better place in the After World. "I'm taking the shot." I said over the radio. I aimed my scope at the center of mass, but then something happened. As I fired, I was thrown back and I landed on my back. My rifle flew out of my hands and twirled a couple of times then landed in front of me. I looked at the barrel fo the rifle, it was bent to a forty-five degree angle, the bullet was wedged in the muzzle break. The shot was still heard by everyone, all the people turned to look at my direction. "Fuck! REGI! TAKE HIM OUT!" I yelled into the radio. Regi stared running to Licht Zal. Regi regained opacity when he was half way to him. Then someone yelled out "Behind you!" Licht Zal turned around just soon enough for Regi to jam his shotgun into the guy's gut and pull the trigger. Licht Zal was thrown back by the force of the gun, blowing his insides away and destroying his spine. He was dead even before hitting the ground. "Mission accomplished, guys. NOW LET'S RUN!" I yelled into the radio. I slung my -now broken- rifle onto my back and I ran from rooftop to rooftop. "Find a place to cloak and we'll meet at the hill where we first saw the town."

The town was in panic, the citizens weren't sure what to do, if anything. I eventually got to the front gate of the town. The officer that was guarding the gate when we first arrived was gone. Probably ran for it when the getting was good. I kept running for the quarter mile where the hill was. I stopped and dropped to my knees, I reached into my backpack andgrabbed a bottle of water. I downed it only taking a breath after I had finished the bottle. I turned and fell backward, laying, sprawled out, on the hot sand. I took off my helmet, and reached into my pack again. I took out a cig, lit it and took an extra long drag. I exhaled slowly but heavily. "...Fuck." I said, even if no were there to hear it. I lie there staring at the sky unaware of how much time, if any, passed. "Stakes!" I heard Regi yell in the distance. I got up and saw Regi, Joshua and Ty decloaked, and were walking with him. I waved in their direction. We all took a second to rest. I passed Regi one of my smokes, "Very generous of you." He said with a grin. I finished mine and slid my helmet back on. "Okay, guys. Whew... Lets get back to base." I said still catching my breath. We all headed back to NCR territory...

Chapter Eight: Where it Hits Home

As we walked up to the gate of the NCR Capital, I brought up my rifle and looked at the barrel again. The bullet was sticking out a bit, and I tried pulling it out and digging it out with my knife. But I knew that the whole barrel would need replacing. We stopped at the gate until the guard gave the 'okay' to have it open. "Welcome back, soldiers." The guard told us. "Good to be back." Replied Regi. As we walked into the city, Regi suggested that we all get drinks. I figure I might as well before going to Drew's to see if he could fix my gun.

We headed to the saloon where we were last time. Regi and I sat at the bar, while Ty and Joshua sat in one of the booths. We took off our helmets, Regi's hair was matted down, giving him the need of a new hair do. He simply shuffled his hair and it went back to normal. I didn't need to do such a thing since my hair was kept always at one inch. I looked to my left, there were two customers. They looked like they were having a drink off. The first guy looked to be about in his mid-thirties, a few grey hairs sprouting through his dominant black hair, he wore a grey one piece jumpsuit. The other guy looked as though he were homeless, but young. Figured he was an alcoholic. I watched them as Regi and I ordered our drinks, two whiskeys. The two having the contest were moving up the ladder of stronger drinks with every shot they knocked back. The guy next to me seemed unphased despite all the drinks he had, while the other guy was getting a little shifty. "Hey, Barry!" He said to the bartender. Barry looked up, "Jake Juice." The guy said with a cynical grin. "Aww, damn it Snake Eyes. This is the fifth guy this week." Snake Eyes laughed. "I just want to see if this one will make it." The bartender poured a shot of a clear liquid. "If you can shoot this back without passing out, I'll give you five-hundred dollars. I shit you not." Snake Eyes said, he reached into his pocket and fanned out five one-hundred dollar bills. The guy seemed reinvigorated. He took the glass and in three motions he; One: Knocked back the shot. Two: Face planted onto the bar at almost break-neck speed, and Three: Fell backwards hitting his head on the floor.

Snake Eyes was laughing hysterically right as the guy hit the ground. My eyes went wide, "Holy shit." Regi said as he watched the guy lie motionless on the floor. "Fuuuck, Snake Eyes. Its your fault that these guys never want to drink again." Barry said. "Its your fault that you have that shit for them to drink." He said as his laughter slowly faded. "Whew, its been fun. I gotta go." He got up and laid the cash down for all the shots, paying for the unconscious guy's tab as well. I looked down and saw a small list of places planned on going all through today. I got a glimpse of his next stop, 'Drew's Final Resort'. Snake Eyes grabbed the list, even though I had all the info I needed. Down by his feet, he picked up a metal briefcase labled 'supplies' next to the handle. I turned away as he walked out of the saloon.

"Regi, I have a bad feeling about that guy." I told him. "What do you mean? Guy seemed to just want to have a few drinks." Regi replied. "Yeah, but the list that was on the counter said he was going to Drew's place for whatever reason. Lets just check it out, to be sure everything is good, yeah?" I asked him. "Sure." Regi said uncertainly. I went up to Joshua and Ty, Joshua nudging the unconscious guy's head with his boot. "Regi and I are going to check out something, meet us back at the base, but don't talk to Alyas yet." I told them. Ty nodded and Joshua waved me away. I turned to Regi, "Lets go." We put on our helmets and followed Snake Eyes as night drew in. We hid among other NCR security guards, though they didn't question why we did. Snake Eyes seemed relaxed with whatever he planned on delivering to Drew, maybe this was just a goose chase. I eased up and and relaxed. "I guess I was wrong." I muttered to Regi. "Well, we might as well go to get your gun fixed since we're headed there, right?" He replied.

We watched as Snake Eyes entered Drew's garage, then we went in a few seconds later. We looked around, no one was there. I figured that they went into the basement, so Regi and I headed downstairs. We got to the bottom and saw him and Drew talking. They used a handshake, most likely something between the two of them. Drew saw us and gave us a wave. Regi and I laid down our helmets and weapons on a table across the basement, then we went to the other side and gave the pistols on the wall a gander.

"So you still on Insta-Juice?" I heard Snake Eyes ask Drew. I was sure he was refering to buffout. I continued to listen as I looked through the guns, "Yeah, still got a bit of a sweet tooth for it." Drew confessed with a chuckle. "Well, I recently came across an abandoned raider camp and found this..." He said as he opened up the briefcase on the table. It had two boxes full of buffout. I glanced at the exchange, Drew's eyes widened in amazement as he picked up a bottle, opened it up and poured five of the pills into his hand. "Well, shit. How much you want for them?" He said with anticipation. "I'll cut you a deal, since we've know each other for so long. Five-hundred NCR dollars... and two boxes of ten-mil rounds." Snake Eyes offered. Drew looked slightly puzzled, by the look of it, Snake Eyes didn't have a 10mm-anything, but Drew wasn't going to turn down a bargain like this. He turned around and reached down under the table and pulled up a bottle of cold beer and a safety deposit box. He popped the pills and washed them down with a chug of the beer and then rummaged through the deposit box counting his cash for the transaction. Snake Eyes on the other hand, he took one of the boxes of 10mm rounds on the table and took out a single round, examining it closely. As he did, Snake Eyes looked down at a modded 10mm pistol on the table. "Got a pretty little set up you got here. Looks like you're doing alright." He said as he picked up the 10mm and loaded the round into the chamber. The small metallic CLACK was enough to get Drew's attention. "And little Eva, all grown up..." He pointed the gun at Drew as he turned to face him. Snake Eyes chuckled, "I could sell all this and live like a fucking king forever! As for little Eva over there, lets just say I'll go through with it this time." A raging fire erupted from Drew, "You motherfucker, Jordan. If you're going to do it, you better kill me dead. And do it right the first time." He said with an inferno burning in his eyes. I turned to watch this happen in seconds; Drew launched himself over the table and tackle Snake Eyes to the opposing wall. With his right arm, Drew pinned Snake Eyes against the wall. And with his left tried to wrench the pistol out of Snake Eyes hand. The gun went off, there was a scream, and Eva fell to the ground, wounded at the left shoulder. Regi turned right as he heard the shot and turned to see Eva fall. In unison, Regi and Drew screamed, "YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" Drew reached around him, brought out a sawed-off shotgun and shoved both barrels into Snake Eyes' mouth. Regi grabbed the first pistol he saw, a 12.7mm, cocked it and ran up to Snake Eyes cork-screwing the gun into the top left of his forehead. Out of instict, I too grabbed a pistol, a custom revolver, shoving the barrel into Snake Eyes forehead. I pulled back the hammer of the revolver, it gave a metallic hum, and two green light lit up on the left side. There was three seconds of silence. "Drew, Regi. Get Eva to the doctor, I'll take care of Jordan." They both hesitated, they lowered their weapons and went to Eva's aid. "You don't even know me and you're going to kill me?!" He yelled at me. "I don't have to know you to know that you're scum." I said calmly. "Now get out." Snake Eyes replied by spitting in my face. I wiped off the muccus from my face. "Bad move." I kneed him in the stomach, and as he fell, I flipped over the revolver and slammed the grip into the left side of his. He spit up a stream of blood. "Drew, I hope you won't miss this guy." I said without turning to him. "He's planned this before, but never went through with it 'til now. He can burn in Hell." He told me as he picked up Eva with little effort. I reached into my back pocket and pulled up a stimpak, I handed it to Regi as they passed me and went upstairs. "Lets have a little talk, Jordan." I said as I gripped the back of his collar of his jumpsuit and dragged him up the stairs.

I tossed him against the dumpster behind the garage. "Was it worth it?" I asked him as I checked to make sure the gun was actually loaded. The gun had a motorized cylinder and crane for quicker shooting and reloading than a typical revolver. The gun was full, so I pressed the ejection lever again and it closed on its own. "Getting high on Rocket, and trying to rob my best friend with the added intention to rape his sister, only to be killed at the hands of an NCR Spook?" Snake Eyes said as he came to his senses. "No. No, it wasn't." I nodded. "Glad we figured it out." I said as I put the pistol to his head and fired.

I holstered the revolver and dumped Snake Eyes' corpse in the dumpster, then went into Drew's garage for anything flamable and some flame accellerant. I didn't find anything in the garage so I went down into the basement. I went through a large crate, in it was an abundnace of low-grade napalm used for flamers. I grabbed all that I could carry, as well as the briefcase that Snake Eyes came with, and went back outside. I reached into the pockets of the jumpsuit making sure there wasn't anything worth while on it. "Nothing." I muttered. I then grabbed the first canister of napalm and doused the body with it. After the sixth canister, I figured it was enough. So, I lit up one of my cigs, I took a few puffs and flicked it into the dumpster. The napalm quickly ignited, and burned is if the gates of Hell were in it. I knelt down and opened the briefcase, and looked through it. There was a 'Do It Yourself' manual on how to make 'Slasher', 'Rocket', and something called 'Blood Shield'. At the bottom were two stacks of NCR dollars, both held together with pre-war money clips. I flipped through them both and counted them up. "Fucking hell." I muttered as I counted a total of five-thousand dollars. This was too good to pass up, so I slid them both into my back pockets. The last thing in there was a holotape. I slipped it into my Pip-Boy. Nothing played, but it showed a point of interest on my map, in the squater side of the city. I kept the tape for whenever I decided to go there. I tossed the 'DIY' manual in the fire. I didn't care if I got a huge pay-off from some druglord if I handed it to them. I hated what drugs such as 'Jet' and 'Psycho' did to 'once great' people. As for the rest of the contents, I threw them into the fire as well, nothing of particular value. I tossed the briefcase in a random direction once everything in it was cleaned out.

I sighed heavily as I walked back to the front of the garage and sat on a broken and tipped over Nuka Cola machine. I lit another cig, with the intention of NOT wasting this one, and relaxed to enjoy the rest if it. I switched on the radio on my Pip-Boy and listened to the station that I found as we left for our previous job. "Alright people, you're listening to 'Radio Not Forgotten'. This is DJ Guardian, and you know, I've heard some crazy stories throughout my radio career. Like the group that killed five Enclave troopers a couple days ago. So here's another story that goes into that category; For a while now there was a false prophet telling people to go into The Divide, and stare into 'The Divine Light', up until two days ago. Turns out the prophet was killed by a group of 'Vengeful spirits' under the control of a 'demon' that the former followers call 'The Mojave Shadow'. Crazy shit." I laughed a little and continued to listen. "Well," The DJ chuckled. "Who -or whatever- they are, they're okay in my book. This song goes out to them, where ever they are. This is DJ Guardian, signing off." More of the 'forgotten' pre-war music started up as Regi, Drew and Eva were back.

"Stakes!" Regi called out. I gave him a simple wave. "Eva alright?" I asked. She answered for herself, "I'm okay. The stimpak was enough after the bullet came out." I looked at her shoulder, it was cleanly wrapped in a couple layers of bandages. I nodded, accepting the answer. "By the way Jace, Cryss says the girls miss you." Eva said. I chuckled in amusement. "Hey, uh, Stakes." Regi said, "Whats cooking?" I looked up, simply raising my eyebrow at him. After a second, Regi said, "Nevermind." I blew out the last of my smoke and flicked it. Drew, still a bit stressed, went into the garage, we followed.

Back down in the basement, Drew took the rest of the beer he never finished and downed it. "You want better stuff? 'Cause Regi and I know a good saloon." I offered. Drew chuckled, "Nah, thats all I needed right now." He said with a sigh. "So, Drew. One last thing before Regi and I go. About this gun..." I said as I laid down the revolver on the table. "That Gun?" He asked and pointed. "Yeah, how much you want for it?" I said. "Well, since you cleaned my mess for me, I'll give you a discount." Drew said and pondered a price. "One thousand."

"Sounds fair, but what can you do about this?" I asked as I laid down my anti-materiel rifle. Drew picked it up with one hand, having no trouble doing so either. "Shit. This hurts looking at it." He said as he looked at the barrel. "How did a .50cal bullet manage to get wedged in the muzzle break?" Drew asked rhetorically. He tried and tugged to see if he could bend back the barrel, failing in the process. Drew laid down the rifle and walked to my left. He stopped at a cabinet and opened it. The left half had five marksman carbines, the right, four anti-materiel rifles. He picked one up and laid it down. "I assume you only want to replace just the barrel and not get a new one?" Drew asked. I nodded, "Yeah, I'm never letting go of this gun. It was my first gun I ever got." I told him. "Alright, also what I can do is reinforce the barrel, to make sure that this," He pointed to the bent barrel, "won't happen again." I nodded and grinned. "Alright, how long will it take?" I asked. "Give me twenty-four hours at the least. I'll have to craft some hardened plates and weld them to it." Drew told me. I nodded then flipped through my newly 'acquired' cash and laid down the necessary amount for the revolver. "So, Regi. You staying here?" I asked him. Regi seemed still a bit stressed from what happened a couple hours ago, he only nodded without looking up. "Alright, I'll tell Alyas you got sick. Hopefully he'll buy it." I told Regi. "... Jace," Regi finally said as I turned to him. "Thanks for helping." I smiled. "Was no problem at all." I told him, "I'm sure you'll find a way to make us even, someday." I said. I put on my helemt, gave them a small wave, turned and left.

I began walking back to the base alone. During that time I began to observe the residents of the capital. If anyone else were to look at the city, they wouldn't have even known that the NCR were fighting Caesar's Legion for the Hoover Dam. Still though, the building were in shambles, barely holding up as they were. I must have taken a wrong turn, as I got lost and ended up at what seemed like a plaza. At the center was a statue, about fifteen feet high. As I approached it, I noticed that the figure was a vault Dweller. I stopped in front of it, and examined it. The figure was male with neatly combed black hair, and a manly chin. The number '13' was visible on the right side of his collar. He looked as a model vault dweller should. I looked down and read the Plaque;

"In memory of The Vault Dweller: Slayer of The Master. Savior of Shady Sands. Had it not have been for him, the New California Republic would have never been. -May 10, 2162"

I looked back up and stepped a few paces back. I had heard of The Vault Dweller as a child. I heard that he had never died, he only disappeared. I thought of him as just another legend that was easily boasted. But this statue was the evidence I needed to be sure that the stories were true. I looked back up at the statue once more and gave an appreciative nod, then I was on my way again.

I made it back to base without further distractions, and headed straight to Alyas' office. Joshua and Ty waited outside the Colonel's office, "The fuck have you been?" Josh said angerly. "Fuck you, Josh. I don't answer to you." I replied. "C'mon, lets get this over with." I told them as I walked into Alyas' office. We all saluted, Josh being better at it while Ty and I were still getting use to it. "Where is Mr. Aldren?" The Colonel asked. "He's running an errand under my orders." I lied to him. "Hmm. Very well. Lets begin the debriefing." Alyas said. "Yes, Sir." I said. "We confirmed that Licht Zal was behind the civilian casualties. As it turns out, he was hallucinating on homemade Jet made from rotten cazador eggs and laced with nightstalker Blood. And I think the followers were too. Regi found his personal terminal, revealing that he tricks people to go into The Divide and die. He then retrieves the bodies afterwards and takes their belongings. He was just another typical murderer. And as a precaution, we took him out." I told Alyas. The colonel nodded, "I heard a rather interesting report about what happened, I just needed you to clarify this." Alyas paused. "So. You're 'The Mojave Shadow'?" I gave a slight nod, despite my confusion. "Witnesses say that the killers responsible were just that, 'Shadows'." Alyas said and paused again. "Well, I have to say, this is likely one of the most cleanest and fastest jobs done by the NCR. I take it that the armor had no problems at all?" He said. "None at all, Sir." I replied. "Good. We will contact you when we have another assignment. Dismissed." Alyas said. We saluted and walked out.

I took my helemt off as I passed the base bounderies, and slipped on my old sunglasses. I bought the glasses from a crazy junk merchant found it perculiar that these glasses were in such great condition. From the looks of them, they seems as though they were crafted and privately customized, even if they were over two hundred years old. I shook my head and looked down at my Pipboy "12:00pm". I figured it had been later. I sighed lightly and headed into the market.

I was looking for a junk merchant for some paint, cloth and thread. I remember telling Alyas that I wanted some things added to my armor, but he never got around to it, so I figured I'd do it myself. I found a place about five mintues later called 'Callahan's Junk Pile'. As I walked in I noticed that the 'Junk' was rather neatly organized, set on shelves, almost completely symmetrical. I was too distracted by the junk to notice that someone came out from the back. "Well, hello! Welcome to Callahan's Junk Pile. We have the best of crap and the worst of luxury!" The person yelled out, which caught me by surprise and made me jump. "Shit!" I yelped. I took a breath, "Whew. Yeah. Uh, do you have some white cloth, thread, paint and a rigger brush?" I asked. "Well, thats quite a list there. Into arts and crafts?" He asked in return. "Family tradition." I lied.

I waited as the merchant to get my order together. After a few minutes he came back with a small brahmin hide bag with everything in it. "Alright, since this was a simple order, that'll be seventy-five caps." The merchant said. "I dunno," I began to say. "I think I could find a better deal for such simple junk, you know?" He frowned a little. "Listen here, friend. The only other way you'll find junk like this is if you rip off a tailor, and there ain't many of those here." The merchant said. "You saying I should find one?" I asked with a grin. We met eye to eye, after a moment he grined back and chuckled. "I see where you're playing at. Alright fifty caps." As I laid down the caps another person came in, I thanked the merchant, but as I turned to walk to the door, I ran into the other person. She fell back onto her butt. "Sorry, miss." I said as I offered my hand to help her up. She had long and think brown hair. Her bangs covered her eyes partially. She took my hand and I pulled her up. I assumed by her height -and rather shy posture- she was younger than me. "Thank you, sir." She said and she brushed her hair from her eyes. I glanced at them, then back to them. 'Those emerald eyes. I know them.' I thought to myself as I took off my sunglasses. I paused, "Kat?" I asked. Her mouth hung open and asked, "...Jace?"

Chapter Nine: A Dawn since past

It had been five years since Kat and I last saw each other. We walked to the saloon after she had bought the things she needed from the merchant. We both sat in a private booth, "Drink at all?" I asked, refering to liquor. "No, Sunset Sarsparilla for me please." Kat said with a smile. I made the order with the bartender and I brought back two bottles of the sarsparilla to our booth. I twisted off the cap to her bottle and slid it to her. I had so many questions, but where to begin. "When did you join the NCR?" Kat asked first. "Wasn't my choice, actually. I needed to deliver something to an NCR outpost near the border, and the package was destroyed. Then they told me that I have to work for them until I pay off the debt." I explained as I twisted off the cap to my bottle and took a swig. "How much is the debt?" She asked. "They didn't say, I'll have to ask the client." I told her.

This time was my turn to ask questions. "So... What happened after that day?" I asked. She knew what I was talking about. She looked down and sighed sadly. "My dad thought I would have been pregnant. He was so mad at you. I was just as mad at him for taking me away from you. He told me to pack my things, only saying 'We have to go'." She looked back up at me. Her emerald eyes glistened with fought back tears. "I fought with him the whole trip to Redding. I screamed, I cried. I wanted to force him to take me back. I told him countless times that I hated him. I only brought the picture I had of you and me when we first met. Then recently, my dad decided to move to the NCR Capital for... Whatever reason. I didn't know why nor did I give a shit. We passed through New Reno on our way here three weeks ago. I tried your house first, then Tanner's. He said you had just left for a job the day before. I almost lost hope that I'd ever see you again." Kat said as she slowly grapsed my hand, her hand tightening little by little. Truth was, I never thought I'd see her again either. At this point, I was ecstatic that I was indoctrinated into the NCR. My hand tightned around hers. Her hand tightened as well.

"What happened to you after that day?" She asked. I took a deep breath and exhaled. "The next day, I went on my first caravan route. I had been gone for three days, by myself. Each hour, I ached to go home, to see you again. Then when I got home, you were gone. Two years later, both my mom and dad died. They got sick during a job, never found out what they died of. Then I took over the business, it became one of the best caravans in the Mojave. Tanner and I run it now. Well, he is now, since I'm here for however long." I told her as I fiddled with my drink in one hand and held Kat's hand with the other. "I'm so sorry, Jace. Joseph and May were always nice to us. It made me glad that they approved of us being together then." She said. I sighed and said, "Yeah." After that, there was a full minute of silence between us. Kat kept her eyes fixed on mine, I wasn't sure what to do. Her eyes were yearning for a dawn since past. I nodded my head to the side, signaling 'Lets get out of here'. Kat nodded to me with a smile in agreement. I got up and offered my hand, she accepted it. I laid down fourteen caps for the drinks then we left the saloon.

I put back on my sunglasses, the sun flared overhead. I let Kat lead the way, I've never seen her smile this way, even before we were seperated. "What do you think your dad will say?" I asked. Kat scoffed at the thought. "I doubt he'll be any happier than the only time he caught us alone." She said. "Rrright, I can still feel the shot." I said as I tried to repress that memory. After a few minutes, Kat lead me to an old apartment building. I wasn't paying attention that we had gone a completely different direction, the brothel I stayed at was in the squatter side of the capital. The NCR clearly tried to keep the building standing, reinforcing the exterior with concrete and the interior with steel girders. The building's interior however, was actually decently clean. We stopped at, what I presumed to be, her apartment. She opened up the door and we both took a step. I stopped, I had almost forgotten my manners. "Ladies first." I said as I presented one hand and guided Kat with the other. I paused at the door, "Come in, Jace." she said as I waited for permission. "Thank you." I replied as I walked in, removed my glasses and placed them in my coat pocket.

The room was that of any other pre-war shelter; wall paper peeling, carpet almost non existent. Felt just like home, and I wouldn't have had it anyother way. Kat looked back at me as I looked around. "Please sit, Jace." She said smiling. I thanked her again and sat on one end of the old couch, Kat sat on the other. "I see that you are still as respectful as ever." She said with a smile. "What can I say? Its a curse." I jokes in response. There was a moment of silence.

"So..." Kat started.

"so..." I said as I reached for a smoke. I stopped and scratched the idea. She'd probably think its unsettling or unhealthy.

Out of my peripheral vision, I noticed her gentle stare. The look in her eyes showed revived happiness and a hint of doubt, as if I weren't real. I felt the same as she did, I just had a better ability of masking it. Kat scooted closer, I felt my heart jump. She kept getting closer, I could feel my willpower draining. I had accepted a long time ago that Kat was gone. It was a well healed wound and here she was, tangible, in every sense of the word. I could sense her, I could see her. I could feel as she climbed onto me and laid me back. I could smell her sweet hair as it brushed against my face. Before I realized what was going on, Kat was face to face with me, her eyes in tears. I brushed the tears away, then I saw her lips move. Did she say something? My heart was racing too fast for me to comprehend sound. Whatever she said, I must have said it in return because she smiled. Three inches from each other faces still felt like three-hundred miles. Kat slid her hands under my armored gloves and pulled them off. She then took my hand and placed them on her lower waist then wrapped her arms around my neck.

She relaxed herself and eased onto me. Our eyes closed and I felt a touch of her soft lips on mine. I returned the kiss, she began to kiss deeper and I did so in return. My heart was in my throat, ponding like a drum. This was the first time I felt this in years. Countless times I tried to feel the same way with other women when I was on routes. They only curbed my lust, but nothing more. This was the only girl... Only woman I wanted. Kat let go of my neck, she sat up and removed the dirty tank-top she had been wearing, I looked her up and down. Thin waist, fit stomach, and genuine breasts. I was glad her face remained the same. Very full, adorable baby-face, that of an angel. "What do you think, Jace?" Kat asked. "You've really... 'Matured', Kat." I complimented her with a smile. She giggled, "Always were a joker with me." Kat said as she laid back down on me. We started kissing again when she took my hand, guided it upward and placed it upon her breast. As all guys would, I grinned as I continued to kiss her. Her breasts were warm, soft, and firm, just as I remembered them. The only difference was that they were a full cup and a half larger. Bit of a difference over five years. I began to massage them one at a time. Kat would stop every few seconds and react by inhaling deeply, but quietly and exhale the same way. "I missed the way you did this, Jace." Kat whispered in between almost silent moans and breaths. She stood up off of me, took my hands and pulled me up. "This way." Kat said and walked me to her room. She pushed me onto her bed, sitting up. "Jace, will you take the armor off?" Kat almost pleaded. I unhooked, unshackled, and unlocked everything and set it on her nightstand. "Shall we get reacquainted?" I asked her. Kat nodded and then we both lied down...