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Prefect Storm Cloud, known still by close friends as Decanus, sat down at the table. Across from him, standing on its tire, was the bulky form of a New Vegas Securitron. It had caused quite a stir when three Securitrons arrived in town. They were unlike any other robots, riding on a wheel with broad shoulders. Their television screens bore images of men in soldier’s helmets.
The Securitron before him had a different face on its television screen: a stern face, of a man styled in the way of men from before the war. It was the face of Robert House, the Sorceror Lord of New Vegas. Gabriel had said to call him the Chair Man. House could be abrasive and arrogant, but he also was rich, and he had assets which the Coalition desperately needed.
Decanus wore the bronze half mask that had been gifted to him by Legate Lanius, in those hazy days following the defense of what was then called the Salt Fens. Its name had changed when it became his Prefecture. That had been ten years ago, and the tenth anniversary of the pivotal day of that battlw was fast apptoaching.
“I was hoping to negotiate with the Emperor,” House said. “Not his tribal lackey.”
“And I was hoping to have negotiations finished before he arrived,” Decanus said. “That is to your advantage, Chair Man House. I speak with the Emperor’s full confidence and authority, and I am motivated to get you to agree, for the events of the next few days are sacred to us.”
“Fair enough, let us get underway. I will simply lay out my cards. Your Legion has restarted the Nuka Cola corporation in order to satisfy your new robot god…”
“…our living Constitution,” Decanus interjected. “Nuka Prime is the guarantor that the Res Publica is administered fairly. Mars is our god.”
“Of course. Mars. How silly of me,” House said dryly. “Demand is as high for this radioactive swill as it was before the bombs dropped, and the rumors of Nuka Cola being freshly produced -and by a mighty robot- have reached New California, ” House said. “These morons believe the robot is actually bottling the stuff…at any rate, there is demand not only in New Vegas, but in the NCR itself. There is an opportunity here, for both of us. I want a half million bottles at a cap and a half each. Paid in denarii, of course.”
“The value for a bottle of Nuka Cola is 20 caps,” Decanus replied. “A cap is needed to create one. A half cap per unit barely covers our production costs.”
“I would think with slave workers, your costs are low.”
“Slaves need to eat,” Decanus said, narrowing his eyes. “And we have a war to finance. Eight caps per unit.”
“I have costs of my own, to bring it across this wasteland and to New California. And I know that the Lich’s counteroffensive has been stopped, the Death Knight Avernus is dead, and Lanius is advancing again,” House replied. “The Liches are broken and retreating.”
“The problem is not winning in the field. Lanius has become adept at fighting them, and Avernus’ death has struck a great blow, but much remains. The problem is the Arcologies the Liches have infested. They are large structures, densely packed-“
“I know what Arcologies are, Prefect,” House replied. “Better than you do, I’d imagine.”
“Then you know how difficult they are to destroy,” Decanus said. “They are built to sustain a nuclear blast, firepower we can’t even come close to recreating, and they are loaded with ferals. Hundreds of thousands of them, in addition to their forces. To take an Arcology, we must secure the bottom floor, plant charges, and guard the charges…until detonation. The men who guard the charges know they guard them to their deaths. It took us eight years and thousands of lives to take one arcology, and there are seven more.”
“And you want robots to secure the base floors of these arcologies to spare your Legionaries. My robots,” House said. His picture bore the same imperious glare, but his words made his face seem to darken. “To solve your problem.”
“The Liches are a problem for everyone in the Wasteland. If they win, anyone who does not die will be tortured until they wish they were. New Vegas is the only polity in the region absent from this fight. The Coalition has the Brotherhood of Steel from both coasts, the Midwestern Enclave, the JarHeads of the North, even the NCR have dispatched rangers-“
“The NCR sent a nominal force. The Brotherhood are fools, and the Enclave have tried to eradicate life in the Wasteland themselves at least twice. The Legion bears most of the brunt, and you want me to take on some of the cost. I will not. Are we going to discuss my proposal for Nuka Cola, or not?”
“We are discussing it,” Decanus said, firmly. “You want Nuka Cola for your casinos, and to export into the NCR. We are prepared to fulfill the order, but we want troops, not caps.”
“Robots for Nuka Cola is hardly a fair trade.”
“Not just robots,” Decanus said. He took out the holotape that Gabriel had given him, and handed it to the Securitron frame. “These.”
House’s Securitron inserted the tape in its reader slot. There was a clicking sound, and the robot stood still. The face on the screen rotated vertically.
“Assaultrons?!” He shouted a moment later. “Is this a joke?”
“I would not dream of insulting you with a frivolous request, Chair Man. A half million bottles of Nuka Cola for 150 Assaultrons sounds like a bargain.”
“An astounding bargain, for you. Assaultrons for 5000 caps apiece? They are worth double that amount,” House said.
“You stand to make a considerable amount from the Nuka Cola distribution. And you would be aiding us against an iracisble foe.”
“Speak to me in facts and figures. I am unmoved by sentiment,” House said dismissively.
“Nonsense. All men are moved by sentiment,” Decanus countered. “You are a serious man, of serious sentiments. History is being written in the North. When they come to the page on the defeat of the Liches, there shall be a large picture of Legate Lanius. The page shall describe the battle of Sioux City, the harsh winter at the headless mountain, and the defeat of Avernus in glorious single combat. And where will Chair Man House’s name be? Against the greatest foe mankind has ever faced, the self-proclaimed best hope for Humanity shall be absent from the page. Is that what you want to be in the history books? While men erect statues to Legate Lanius across the Wasteland, do you think they will be talking about how you introduced Nuka Cola into Zion Valley?”
“Men are fools.”
“Are historians?” Decanus asked.
House said nothing. His picture flipped on the screen, and made him appear to be considering in anger.
“What is a man but his legacy, Chair Man House?” Decanus continued. “For 150 Assaultrons, you will be the hero of the assault on Juno Arcology. Ten thousand men will breathe a sigh of relief because your robots bore the attack. And we would want more for other Arcologies. Subsequent shipments could be even more favorable to you. And history…history will remember you fondly, as a friend to humanity.”
“It will take time to fabricate the units,” House said at last. “My factories are not configured to build Assaultrons.”
“It will take us time to fill the order for Nuka Cola as well,” Decanus said. “But we are well motivated to get started immediately. Lanius nears the Arcology.”
“I will have the factories shift to Assaultron production,” House said. “Do we have an agreement?”
“We do,” Decanus said.
“Good. Was there anything else?”
“It is customary in Legion territory to share a meal when negotiating. I would offer you refreshments, but I think that is unnecessary.”
“Quite. I shall log out of this unit to attend to other matters. It will remain here for when I need to contact you. Simply move it to some place out of the way. You know, I am…surprised by the Legion’s change in attitude,” House said. “I knew you possessed the large robot, but I computed only a twelve percent chance you would ask for robotic soldiers, and a two percent chance you would ask for Assaultrons.”
“Necessity rebirths us all,” Decanus said. “We have begun using stimpaks as well. What does not adapt will not survive,” He stared at the Securitron. “You will survive, Chair Man House.”
“The House always wins, Prefect. I shall contact you in forty-eight hours with an update.”
“I await your transmission,” Decanus said, but even as he did the robot fell, limp, its arms dangling down, as its two assistants stood passively.
Decanus let out a sigh. He wiped his brow, taking away the remnants of dried sweat from the day’s labors.
An Enclave Eyebot emerged from the shadows with a cheery beep.
“That went well,” Gabriel said in his language of beeps. It had taken far too long for Decanus to learn them, but he had, and he could understand the Eyebot without a pip boy.
Decanus looked at the depowered robot. It was possible the Sorceror was listening to them, even recording them. “He is as you said,” he replied, wary of this.
“He will honor his agreements. It is a cornerstone of his businessman ethic,” Gabriel said.
“That is all we need of him. Thank you for your help in this, old friend,” Decanus said.
“I live to serve, Decanus,” Gabriel replied. “Incidentally, the holotape has arrived. I have had it installed into the projector in your chambers.”
Decanus’ eyes lit up. “And DeeCee doesn’t know?”
“She does not,” Gabriel said.
“She’s wanted to see it for years. Tomorrow. Not tonight, but tomorrow,” Decanus said. He motioned to the Securtrons. “Take them to the warehouse. Have the quartermaster notify me if House wakes up.”
“Yes, Prefect,” Gabriel said. He beeped in a different language, and the Securitrons grasped up the defunct House Securitron and carried him behind the Eyebot.
Decanus walked out of the machine shop and into the courtyard. The high steel walls blocked the setting sun and cast darkness onto the cobblestone beneath his feet. He took a deep breath of the arid, yet fresh, air. A Coalition soldier in Power Armor patrolled past him nosily, gears and servos whirring. The soldier stopped to salute Decanus with a fist to his armored chest, the loud clank shaking free a cloud of dust. Decanus returned the salute, and the soldier continued on to the wall. The silhouettes of two more power armored troopers made their slow patrol there. Towers on the walls held snipers, and men with missile launchers. The winds blew with a loud wail, rattling the walls as a low whistle filled the air. He savored the air, warm and yet cooling at the same time.
It was evening, and people were beginning to emerge from the old Redoubt and enter the courtyard, many of them emerging into fresh air with sounds of satisfaction. Children raced out and away from their parents, running in the dim courtyard. The lights kicked in a minute later, bathing the cobblestone in light.
The Salt Fens had been rechristened to Virgil’s Stand, and the Emperor ordered it to be rebuilt in one of the first acts of his reign. Decanus wryly noted that saying the camp was rebuilt was like saying a machete was repaired by replacing the blade and the handle. It was a new settlement built on the ruins of the old.
Virgil’s Stand was much larger than the Salt Fens, extending out twice as long on every wall. It had close to twenty buildings instead of four. The chem lab and water plant had been all that had survived of the old fortress, and these had been knocked down and rebuilt once the rest of the camp was up, as their condition was so worn that they were a hazard.
In the center of the camp, at about the spot where Virgil had sacrificed himself and slain the Dunwich, was a statue to him. It stood twenty feet tall, and its eyes was level with the horizon beyond the high walls. The figure there stares westward with clenched teeth and narrows eyes, facing westward, the direction of the attack of the Liches. He held a pistol in his right hand and a detonator in his left, his thumb poised to press down on the plunger. To look at him one would have thought Virgil was a man without fear and with nerves of steel. That was good, Decanus firmly believed.
The old salt mines had been converted into a vast settlement where people could labor free from the tyranny of the desert heat. Now they were emerging, and the fires were roaring as meals were bring cooked. Among them were Doctor’s, Followers of the Apocalypse, many of them tiredly rubbing their eyes with careworn faces. The hospital underground housed the wounded from the Northern campaign. It was a gruesome place. A few wounded soldiers emerged as well, many wrapped in bandages and with eyes staring off into the horizon. What horrors they must have seen…
Decanus headed for the Prefect’s House, located in the proximate spot of the old barracks. It was tall, with a tower looking out over the surrounding desert for miles.
He entered, and his attendant Mnester, his scribe, bowed to him.
“Salve, Dominus, welcome home,” he said. “I trust things have gone well?”
“They have,” he said. “Where is the Lady of the House?”
“In the garden, Dominus,” he said. “Shall I fetch the children for dinner?”
“Not yet; I shall speak to my wife first,” he said.
He exited through the stone walkway and into the inner courtyard, an open area with lush plants which smelled of pollen and buzzed with insects. He saw DeeCee sitting on one of the long wooden chairs near the far wall and he smiled, removing his metal half-mask.
“EssCee,” she said, using her nickname for him, an abbreviation of Storm Cloud. She spoke in growls and trills, but after ten years Decanus understood them, and barely even heard them except as the voice of Vera Keyes. She clutched him and pulled him down onto her and into her embrace, kissing him on the lips. He could taste the sweetness of Nuka Cola on her breath. Normally she hated the stuff, but when she was pregnant she practically lived on it. It had been that way for the others, too.
“I have missed you today. How did it go?” She asked.
“House will send us the Assaultrons,” Decanus said, stroking her horn. She shut her eyes a moment to savor his touch. “We have just signed up to make a half million bottles of Nuka Cola.”
“I’ll break out the end table and get to work,” DeeCee said with a smirk.
Decanus smiled and let out a small laugh. “Might need a bit more than that,” he said. He felt at his deathclaw wife’s stomach, and grunted approvingly at the stout kick from inside. “She is feisty today.”
“She will be a warrior like her father. I just wish her first war was not against my bladder. Little deathclaw feet pushing down,” DeeCee said.
“It is worth it. I am glad you don’t lay eggs,” Decanus replied. “I would be fearful for them being stolen or broken.”
“Spoken like a true man. Dearly as I enjoy carrying children, at times like these I wish I got that part of Deathclaw physiology. I constantly feel like I need to pee.”
“That is not my daughter’s fault,” Decanus said with mock severity. “It’s all that Nuka Cola you drink.”
“Pregnant women get cravings, Prefect,” she said, smiling her long fangs.
“Yes, I know all about your cravings,” he said with a grin, rubbing at his shoulder where her claws had broken the skin two nights previous. She looked horrified for a moment, but he smiled and kissed her face. “I have a surprise for you.”
Her head tilted. “Oh?” She asked, blinking her captivating Amber eyes. “What?”
“It’s for tomorrow night, after the ceremony. Where are our puer and puella?” Decanus asked, stroking her horn.
“Up in the tower with Myra, watching for the Emperor to arrive,” DeeCee said. “He will probably arrive past midnight. We’ll have to wake the kids and get them dressed.”
“We’ll have warning,” Decanus said. “Myra is eager to see Claudius, then?” He asked slyly.
“She is glancing westward, watching for Pitch,” DeeCee said. “As you know she would be.”
Decanus gave her another kiss. “I think he shall have a proposal for her this time,” he said.
DeeCee’s eyes widened. “Why do you say that?”
“He made mention of asking the Emperor’s permission for a dispensation for a marriage in his last letter,” Decanus said. He held it up from his pocket.
“Oh I hope so. Myra has waited so patiently.”
Decanus nodded. “She has. But let us not speak of it to her until we know for certain what the Emperor says. I shall have Mnester call everyone to dinner.”
“I shall work on getting off of this bench,” she said, grimacing as she moved.
“How long have you been there?”
“Long enough to be ashamed that I haven’t moved yet,” DeeCee said, grimacing.
With difficulty Decanus pulled her to her feet, then called to Mnester. The servant sounded the bell for dinner as Decanus and DeeCee walked with arms around each other to the dining room. The children and Myra filed down the stairs and entered soon after, then stood behind their chairs.
Julius entered first. At ten he was the eldest, tallest, and broadest shouldered boy in the camp. He was as big and strong a boy as ever had been born in the Wasteland, and men thought he was a boy of fifteen by his size. He was named for DeeCee’s father, the scientist who had created her, though DeeCee often remarked (particularly when he exacerbated her, which was frequently) that they could not have been further apart in personality. He bore the same amber colored eyes as his mother, a hint of the strength within him.
Their daughter Helen was eight, and despite the fact that she was almost as large as her brother, her bookish and unassuming posture made her seem mousy and small. She was as kind as her brother was passionate, constantly carrying a book in her sharp but still dainty hands. Boys would lust for her one day, he knew, with a string feeling of dread.
Everyone lined up in the dining room at the long rectangular table, but remained standing. Dinner time always started as a formal, ritualized event, just as Decanus liked. The children fidgeted through it, and DeeCee did her best to humor Decanus’ wishes for order. Ultimately every night things would loosen, and the family would wind up laughing and eating in a most undignified fashion, but at first, the pretense always had to be observed.
Decanus walked Deecee to her seat at the far side, as she gently held her swollen belly. He then went to the head of the table, near the stone entryway to the garden. The others filed in behind their chairs. Decanus sat, then DeeCee, and then Myra and all the children.
“It smells delicious,” Decanus said, looking at the steaming bowls laid out before them
“Yao Guai stew,” DeeCee announced. “Myra cooked it.”
Decanus smiled. “Good. I shall ask for seconds,” he said, casting Myra a happy smile.
Myra bowed her head and smiled. She had changed her look to match that of a Legionary maiden, in that she was conservatively dressed, although she insisted on keeping her piercings. In ten years she had matured considerably. She had weaned herself off of drugs, and become the courtly lover of Pitch, to whom he wrote frequently. She had, in addition, become an outstanding cook.
Decanus looked over at his son, and frowned at the way he rested his hand below his eye. “Son, why do you hide your face?”
“Um…” Julius said, utterly witbout guile.
“Lower your hand,” Decanus said. “Let me see.”
The boy looked to his mother fearfully then dropped his hand, revealing a large red mark below the eye, consistent with a hit from a punch.
“Where did you get this, Julius?” He asked, reaching across the table and feeling at the boy’s face. The boy winced as Decanus touched the bruise.
“I was fighting,” the boy said.
“It was just a scrap, boss,” Myra said. “Boys do that.”
“Thank you, Myra. I had forgotten what boys do,” Decanus said dryly. “Who was it this time?”
“Stultus,” Julius said.
Helen giggled. Decanus shot her a look. “You mean Septimus?” He said, turning back to Julius.
“Septimus is your dearest friend. The two of you have played together since you were toddlers. And you know he hates it when you call him Stultus.”
“He said I was slow.”
“Slow how? In running, quickness of wit, or reaction?”
“Slow in running, because I came in second in the race to him today. But only because of that damned pit trap. So I called him Stultus. And he got mad, and pushed me. So I punched him.”
“You and Stultus…” Decanus caught himself and rolled his eyes. Across the table DeeCee hid her face behind her claw and let out an unhelpful giggle. “You and Septimus are dear friends. Make peace with him tomorrow. And do not antagonize him so.”
“But he called me-“
“The best way to not be called slow is to win the race,” Decanus said. “When you lose, you are slow. Accept the truth, and resolve to so better. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, Pater,” Julius said.
“Good boy,” Decanus said, kissing his son on the temple. “Eat before your stew cools.”
Julius lifted his spoon and began to slurp. Decanus followed suit. It was delicious, if gamey, but then that was Yao Guai meat. He thought back to the Yao Guai he had killed all those years ago, before he had met DeeCee. As he was lost in his thoughts, Helen had peeked open her book and was squinting as she read, mouthing words.
“Helen, put away the book. It is time to eat and speak with your family,” DeeCee said.
“Yes, mama,” she said, finishing her page. Her voice was clear as a bell. It was a mutation, DeeCee claimed, allowing their daughter to vocalize as both a deathclaw or a human.
“What are you reading, Cazadore?” Decanus asked.
The deathclaw girl shut her book, her blue eyes wide, and smiled at her father. “It’s a recipe book, Pater,” she said.
“Really?” Decanus asked, smirking. “Not a book on physics or calculus or something else to make your father feel a fool? You know, I know how to cook. I could show you.”
“I would like that, but I want to bake cookies,” she said. “There are several recipes I am researching.”
“Why this new interest, my Cazadore?” Decanus asked.
“To make friends. The girls…they say I am an abomination,” Helen said with a small laugh, though it wasn’t really very funny, and it was clear she didn’t think so, either.
Decanus looked at DeeCee, who looked so wounded he feared for the baby. His eye twitched and he felt rage rising. But there was little he could do. He could not crucify children for believing Legion doctrine.
“Who said that?!” Julius roared. “I’ll kick their brothers’ asses!”
“No, don’t, Jules!” Helen said. “An abomination hurts people. Makes things worse. If I let you beat people up, they’ll be afraid of me. If I make people cookies, I make things better. They’ll be happy with me. Thus, I can’t be an abomination, and they’ll realize that.”
“Well, it’s worth a shot,” Decanus said. He looked over at DeeCee who had tears welling in her eyes, but no longer of sadness.
“And if that doesn’t work, Jules, you can kick some asses…” Myra added, lifting a bubbling drink that Decanus told himself was Nuka Cola to her lips.
“Myra…” Decanus began with every intention to reprimand her, but then he considered it, and his darling, sweet girl. “Myra is right, I suppose.”
Dinner continued, and devolved into a discussion of the day’s events. Eventually everyone finished, and the children took their plates to the kitchen. Decanus stood, and sat in a chair near DeeCee, as he did customarily.
“Our daughter never fails to amaze me. Her sweetness…” Decanus said.
“She gets that from you,” DeeCee said. “You are the sweetest person I ever met.”
“That’s being unfair to Gabriel,” Decanus replied.
“Where is he, anyway?”
“You know him. He goes off on his own jaunts sometimes,” Decanus said with a handwave.
“True. Gabriel is the wisest man I ever knew. My father was the smartest. You are the sweetest.
Decanus bristled. “Impossible!” He scoffed. “I am a hard man, who has done things that-“
“Doesn’t matter. You are a cream puff. Look at how you blush when I say it!” She leaned in and pinched his unmarked cheek.
“I’ve done terrible things,” Decanus said, shaking his head.
“Not since you were a Prefect,” she replied. “Men say you are just.”
“Then I am most definitely not sweet,” he said, giving her a kiss.
After the washing, the family settled down for the night in the family room, and Gabriel arrived shortly. The Eyebot and Julius settled into games of Caravan, which Gabriel handily won, although he stated Julius was improving considerably. Decanus read dispatches with Mnester, occassionally interrupting Gabriel to get his assessment in various things. Myra, DeeCee, and Helen looked into baking cookies, then went to the kitchen to try a recipe. The house soon filled with a delicious and wonderful smell, and Decanus ate the most delicious, warm cookie he had ever tasted.
Finally all settled in for the night. Aware that his surprise for DeeCee was loaded into their projector, Decanus suggested that they go to bed, to be better rested for the Emperor’s imminent arrival. With a yawn, DeeCee agreed.
The call came about six hours later. “Dominus, The Emperor shall be here in the hour,” Mnester said, lightly opening the door to their chambers with a gentle knock.
The household was roused. It was early dawn, and the sun was rising. The camp’s guards wore their finest uniforms. Word had spread, and the entire camp turned out, in rows, to see the ruler of the Legion in his approach.
The children shifted uneasily in their best clothes. DeeCee looked stunning in her dress, her pregnancy only enhancing her femininity and virtue. She wore her special collar which converted her growls into Vera Keyes’ voice without the need of a Pip-boy. Gabriel floated alongside Decanus. He watched the opening gate with an odd nervousness. He knew the Emperor well, why did these audiences worry him so?
He saw the figure of the Emperor, flanked by his warriors. A man stepped forward with a long staff. He smashed it against the cobblestone, making a loud thumb which reverberated through the camp.
“His Imperial Majesty Claudius, the Legend, the Ruler of 89 Conquered Tribes and CEO of Nuka Cola!” The Imperial announcer barked.
The Emperor Claudius entered, his Praetorian guard alongside him in their power armor with energy weapons. It had been an update of Claudius’, justified on several grounds, to augment his soldiers. But then the Legion had changed considerably, accepted things Caesar would not have. Such was the world: adapt or die.
Decanus bowed low at the Emperor’s approach.
“Rise, Decanus,” Claudius said smiling. The two men embraced.
The Emperor exchanged kisses with DeeCee, touched her stomach, then acknowledged the children with kind words. He stopped to jape with Gabriel, who beeped back at him, to the Emperor’s delight. After a few words before the crowd, those assembled cheered on their Emperor, then began to disperse, and Decanus and the Emperor began to walk together alone.
“I have concluded negotiations with the Sorceror House,” Decanus said to him. “A half million units for 150 AssaultTrons.”
Claudius nodded. “Well done, Prefect, that will please Lanius. You have always been a better negotiator than you give yourself credit. I knew you would get us a good deal. Come, walk with me, old friend. Let us do another round along the walls, as we did those years ago.”
“These are not the same walls, Emperor.”
“No; no they are not,” he said smiling. “Those walls…to say they were worn by the end is an understatement.”
They walked arm in arm and ascended the steps, looking out on the wastes. The arm lock was symbolic, of course; a show of trust from the Emperor for a loyal servant, one which Decanus’ people would see and Claudius’ people would report to the many, many people in the Emperor’s court who watched for who was or wasn’t in his favor.
As they rounded the grounds, Decanus looked at his old friend. Claudius had changed, or rather, he had aged. The virile man had grayed and wrinkled. His step was slower, the lines in his face a bit deeper, and his eyes a bit duller. Despite this the grin on his face and way he carried himself were as robust as ever, either a practiced act or a sign of his mental strength.
“We missed you last year,” Decanus said. “For the ceremony.”
“Yes…the famine took my full attention,” Claudius said. “We have caught the last of the saboteurs. He was lashed to a cross.”
“Lanius is well,” Claudius replied. “The Partner of my labours is covering himself in glory in the north. He has slain Avernus.”
“I heard, but he was wounded. Has he recovered?”
“Avernus nearly killed him, but he has. He told me he believes he has proven his worth. When I asked to who, he said to himself. An interesting thing to say, is it not? The Legion is strong.”
“And…how are you?” Decanus asked.
“I am tired, old friend. I miss the simplicity of life as the Legend, wandering from town to town. I did not know true fear and worry until I wore the purple.”
Decanus remembered the fateful moments in Lanius’ tent, when he was uncertain if his Contubernium would be crucified. The Will of Caesar was read, and it gave the Legion to Claudius, bidding Lanius to follow him. Lanius was furious, and Decanus thought he would have them all killed.
Claudius showed then why he was the Emperor. He spoke to Lanius with sternness and paternal wisdom, and convinced the man to partake in a scheme which Decanus had considered so absurd that he nearly laughed at it. It was the adoption of heirs, what Claudius said people called the Five Good Emperors had done for a Legion much like their own. It had been hard for Lanius to accept it, but he did. It had been just as hard for Decanus to accept it, as it would turn out.
“When you took the purple, you saved our lives. All of our lives, not just the Contubernium, but the Legion and perhaps everyone in the Wasteland. Without you, we would have perished in a Civil War,” Decanus said. “And the Wasteland would be lined with vines and suffering people.”
“The Liches did my work. Lanius was a changed man that day he relieved our siege, when he saw them and saw their vines. It took little prompting to tell him that the Blade of the East must go north to destroy the enemy of mankind. And in becoming the champion of mankind, he has championed its positive qualities. The war in the frozen north has cooled his blood. Tempered him, as I hoped it would. He has learned forebearance and mercy, or at least as much as the Blade of the East can ever know.”
“That is good,” Decanus replied.
Claudius walked on a moment. “Lanius draws near the Juno Arcology,” he said. “I have sent Galba north with thirty thousand troops to aid his father.”
Decanus’ back stiffened at the mention of his former friend, but he said nothing. He still felt the sear of the brand, and was reminded of the smell of his own cooked flesh every time he stared into a basin or bathed his children. Galba’s ‘father’ was Lanius, in that Lanius had adopted Galba at Claudius’ behest as Claudius had adopted Lanius. Claudius said it was securing the Dynasty, by setting up the order of succession. Decanus had disagreed, vociferously, but Claudius was Emperor.
“That is well. Lanius will need the troops,” Decanus said, stiffly.
“Can there never be a peace between you?” Claudius asked sadly, looking over slightly as he walked.
Decanus felt at his mask wordlessly, clenching his teeth behind it. The walkway under their feet clanked as they walked in silence.
“I suppose not,” Claudius said. He sighed. “We all had to make sacrifices,” he said slowly, forcefully, as he had done many times. “The only way to secure peace was to unite the pretenders without bloodshed. If I had let you pick up a machete and slay Centurion Still Lake in the arena as you had begged me, the Liches would be outside of Phoenix right now.”
“This lecture isn’t necessary,” Decanus said. “You convinced me, many years ago.”
“I convinced your mind, not your heart. In all important matters, the heart governs us. One day, I shall be gone, and Lanius too. When that happens, Galba will be the Emperor. And you will be the most powerful man in the Western half of our holdings. If there is no peace between you, the Legion will be torn asunder.”
“I do not trust him,” Decanus replied. “I only need to look in the mirror to see why.”
“I know,” Claudius said sadly. He took a deep breath. “I do not want us to fight these next few days, but I did not wish to discuss this over the radio or in a letter…”
“Adoption,” Claudius said, as though the word were a curse.
Decanus’ heart leapt. “My petition?” He asked eagerly.
“Yes. I must deny it, old friend. Understand it gives me no pleasure to do so.”
Decanus stopped. “Why? Pitch is as dear to me as my own Julius is, Claudius!”
“I know, I know,” Claudius said softly. “But he cannot be adopted by two men. My will is that he is to be adopted by Galba.”
Decanus reeled. “Galba?” He growled. His lips curled into a snarl. “This is treachery.”
“Be careful, Prefect,” Claudius said, and immediately all the strength and power of ten years previous was summoned up in him. The Emperor’s back straightened, and his gaze became piercing and strong. “Realize what I am saying. Pitch is the best soldier in the army, a living legend. He is one of the fiercest fighters in the north, the leader of the Praetorian guard of Lanius…at twenty two! He has commanded men as a Centurion. I mean for him to succeed Galba, and become the ruler of the Legion. Weigh that against your heart’s desire. I would make your son an Emperor, Decanus.”
Tears welled in Decanus’ eyes, which he brushed away angrily. “Pitch is dear to me, Claudius,” he said. He bowed his head. “Long have I desired to make him part of my house. But you are my Emperor.”
Claudius produced a scroll. “I have papers for you to adopt someone else.” Decanus took the scroll and opened it, blinking as he read the name.
“Myra…she is a part of our home, already,” Decanus said.
“But not formally. This would make you her father, and DeeCee her mother,” Claudius said.
“I…I always considered her…” he frowned. “I’m not sure what. DeeCee will be very pleased, I think. I wonder if Myra will.”
“She will be, for the purpose it serves. Pitch has petitoned to marry her. In this way, you will be Pitch’s Father-in-Law,” Claudius said. “You may still call him son, and there shall be a tie between your house and Galba’s. Though I shall change Pitch’s name, as Galba’s was changed. He shall be called Nerva.”
“He was one of the Five Good Emperors. The first of them. I intend that to be a sign that he is the first of a long line,” Claudius said. He took a deep breath, again. “There is more. Your daughter, Helen, shall be betrothed to Galba’s son, Quintus.”
Decanus balled his fist to keep himself from physically attacking his Emperor. “We should discuss this in private,” he rasped, shaking. He was aware the Praetorians were eyeing him. They were slowly unholstering their weapons.
“No, here suits me well,” Claudius said, looking about the wall. “I have spent a year listening to children starve beneath my window, Decanus. I am in no mood for a squabble over this. I am settling all affairs. I want to sleep at night in peace, without worry, and your feud with Lanius’ heir has kept me up more nights than you know.”
“You are my Emperor and my friend, Claudius, and I hold you in the greatest esteem. But right now, I am close to throwing you off this wall.”
Claudius laughed. “I would certainly never have a sleepless night then, would I? Thank the gods you have forebearance, Decanus. I deserve to be thrown off of walls for many things, but not for endeavoring to save a dear friend and his family from destruction.”
“Save? It would hasten my destruction! My daughter, in that man’s hands…it will be as if he has a knife at my throat,” Decanus said. “He would just need to send me a lock of her hair and I would open my veins to prevent her from coming to harm.”
“Yes, let’s keep that part between us. It is only if your daughter lives with him,” Claudius said with a smile. “Galba is away on campaign. His wife is ill. Young Quintus is sickly himself. He is unlikely to be a good soldier, but he is likely to be a good administrator. Take him here and foster him, and you shall have another guarantor against Galba moving against you.”
Decanus took a deep breath. He bowed his head again. “You are my Emperor, and I obey,” he said. “DeeCee will be upset.”
“Of course she will. She is a mother,” Claudius said. “Tell her I am sorry, but I love her and her husband, and her children. Every other scenario I run through my head, I see you and Galba coming to each other’s throats, and one of you dying.”
“Galba won’t agree to any of this,” Decanus said.
“He already has,” Claudius replied. He paused. “Although he raged at me when I told him you would foster his son, with the same arguments you gave me.”
“He thinks I would harm his son? Nonsense…”
“He sees you as the traitor, and he believes you broke faith with him,” Claudius said.
“A convenient way to misremember what happened. I did not claim to be the son of a god to grasp at power.”
“Do not be naive, Decanus. Caesar was no son of Mars. If he was, how did a man with a gunshot wound to the head kill him?” Claudius asked.
Decanus rolled his eyes. “The Courier is even more of a legend than you,” he said. “And it matters little. If Caesar was a cur, it is no excuse for Galba to be one. Galba was dishonest, irreligious, and disloyal…”
“He saw Lanius as a man who retreated at Hoover Dam in defiance of Caesar’s last orders. He saw the Legion unraveling and he made a move to try to save it. You do not have to agree with him, Decanus, but recognize that he is not Getorix or one of the Liches. He is a man, and there is some genuine care for the Legion in him.”
They watched as two Legionaries entered, wearing the dark blue cloaks of the Coalition, with their own escorts. Decanus and Claudius approached them with smiles and hails.
“Legate Castor and Centurion Pollux,” Decanus said warmly. “I am glad you made it back.”
“As are we!” Pollux replied, clasping Decanus’ hand. The two men made homages to the Emperor.
“An auspicious year,” Castor said, taking his hand after Pollux. “We did not wish to miss it.”
“You will spend the night, of course,” Decanus said.
“The night, only, and then we must make for the north,” Pollux said. “The north breathes a sigh of relief for the moment, but war will resume.”
“I wonder if I made the right decision, staying here,” Decanus said.
“You did,” Claudius said. “I would have you no other place than here.”
“Have no misgivings, old friend. You are missed, but knowing that Virgil’s Stand has you in charge of it…it makes us all feel secure, as if we have a place we could run back to, where the enemy cannot touch us,” Pollux said. “This is the high water mark of their empire. This is where it began to collapse. They will never take it, not while you defend it. That much is known.”
“That matters a great deal,” Castor said. “Legionaries speak of making it back here, to the salt mines, to taste good food and be warm.”
“Too warm,” Decanus japed.
“No one who has been north would ever call this too warm,” Castor said grimly. “The cold…and the Arcologies. Somehow they are even colder.”
Gabriel approached and beeped at them. Pollux laughed. “Well met, little Angel,” he said. “Still up for a game of Caravan?”
The Eyebot beeped cheerily. The heat began to get to them, and they walked to the Prefect’s house and stood upon the Portico, drinking nuka cola and other exotic drinks as they watched the camp labor for the day’s events. Tables were set up, food prepared, and various games set up. Lastly, carts were rolled beyond the gates from the salt mines, carts which caused men to become silent as they passed. These went out beyond the wall, tonwaiting pyres.
The sun was near its zenith when Pitch arrived. The boy had become a man, strong and tall, rough and rugged. He wore the purple cloak of a Praetorian, and the ceremonial Power Fist of the commander of the Praetorian Guard. Decanus might have rushed to him first, but Myra did, leaping into his arms as he twirled her and they kissed.
After much hugging and kissing with his beloved, Pitch approached Decanus and bowed.
“Ave, True to Claudius,” Pitch said.
“True to Claudius,” Decanus replied. He grabbed Pitch into a tight embrace and kissed his neck. “You can tell the Emperor that in a moment. Thank the gods you have returned to us.”
Pitch smiled. “I would stay forever if I could, but my time shall be brief,” he said. “Castor and Pollux are here, I see…”
“They are,” Decanus said, motioning to them on portico. They hailed and raised their drinks. “They arrived a few hours before you did.”
“And…has Sheila come?”
“Not yet,” Decanus said. “Perhaps not at at all.”
Pitch nodded. “Likely not. It is hard for her; the rest of us are Legion, she is not,” he said. “She was never the easiest person to get along with.”
“She was not,” Decanus agreed. “But she was one of us, and but for her we would have been overrun a hundred times.”
“Well, we have much catching up to do,” Pitch said. “I have much to tell you.”
“Indeed, and nothing would please me more, but you should go and be with Myra. If you are here for a short while, every second I deprive her of you is a crime. Go.”
The members of the Contubernium spoke and talked for a short while, but soon the time for the ceremony had come. The entirety of the camp stood before the statue of Virgil. The eight members of the Contubernium stood first, and then the crowd of others beyond them in a half circle. Soldiers of the Coalition in power armor and uniforms stood at attention along the walls. The Emperor’s Praetorians stood behind him in tight columns. Decanus stepped forth to speak.
“Today marks the tenth anniversary of Virgil’s Stand. It is the name of this camp, but it is also the event which marked the first victory against The Enemy. Today we remember Virgil. He was a man of the west, a survivor. A man of great skill and courage, a man who befriended all. He was the only one of us that came by choice,” Decanus said. “The rest of us came by accident, or calamity. But he saw a woman taken, and chose to help her. He chose to remain here rather than try to escape. And he chose…” Decanus’ eyes drifted to DeeCee and the children, standing across from him, and his voice broke. “…he chose to give his life, so that others of us could live. I did not realize the depth of his sacrifice then, but I do now. Every day…every day I wake up, I realize his sacrifice…” he bowed his head.
DeeCee moved forward and clasped him into her arms as he struggled against breaking down. Claudius, sensing his struggle, stepped forward. He reached out and thoughtfully touched the statue.
“This was the noblest of us all,” The Emperor said quietly, though every soul heard him clear. “He only in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.'” He paused, and blinking his eyes rapidly as he scanned the crowd. “We are here to honor a man, a true man. His actions saved the world.”
“We shall mourn this brave man, and we shall burn the honored dead who echoed his sacrifice,” Claudius continued. “But when we return from the pyres, we shall celebrate, for they have sacrificed for us, and the best way to honor that sacrifice is to live.”
Music was played, solemn tunes, as the whole procession went beyond the camp, to where the wounded who had died were set up in great pyres. The pyres were ignited, and those wounded who had died were burned to send along to Elysium as the crowd watched quietly. All there could name at least one loved one that the war had claimed. Every eye was red with tears, and DeeCee trembled against the breast of Decanus as she remembered their friend.
The procession returned inside as the embers died down and the billowing smoke faded. All sat at the tables in the courtyard. Food and drink were distributed, and the mood brightened, as the Emperor had commanded. It was at that moment that Pitch and Myra, hand-in-hand, announced their engagement.
The mood became festive at the news. There were formalities with adoption which were discussed, and Decanus told DeeCee something of the Emperor’s plans for Helen. She was surprisingly less upset than he was.
“Yes, I fear this, Husband. But Helen will have to face the world, and meet a man someday,” DeeCee said. “At least she will do it here. And this Quintus is not Galba. Perhaps his ailment makes him gentle. Such a soul would be good for Helen, ideal even. Claudius is a friend, I trust him.”
The feasting gave way to revelry and games, and at the conclusion of them, Decanus invited the Contubernium to his home. There they spoke and laughed and told tales of their lives, as the children amused them all. He took Pitch aside and brought him to his basement, where he kept the treasures of his past. There was something he wished to give him.
“I do not mean to take you from your betrothed, but I have something for you,” Decanus said. He went to one of the busted file cabinets and opened it with a whine. He produced an object wrapped in a cloth. “Something I feel shouldn’t be lost. I paid prospectors to go and find it. Paid them handsomely. It took a long time.”
Pitch took the cloth and opened it. He stared at the object within with sad eyes.
“It’s your father’s gun,” Decanus said. “I had you bury it when we first met.”
“I remember,” Pitch said. He ran his fingers over the gun. “I will never forget, but it was not my father’s gun; it belonged to Nathan’s father. That was the day Nathan died.”
“Perhaps not. I have learned over the years that it is possible to reconcile who you were with who you are,” Decanus said. “You can be Nathan again.”
“Myra tells me that. But no, Nathan is dead,” Pitch replied. “He has to be. He had to be defiant to the end. He could never be a part of all this…” He wrapped the pistol with care, and handed it back. “Bury it.”
Decanus took the wrapped gun, feeling as if he held a portion of his own son’s soul. “All the same, I’ll hang on to this for you. It will be here for, if you change your mind,” Decanus said. “You may find one day that Nathan did more good than he supposed, and he made an awful Legion better than it had any right to be.”
“Time has mellowed you,” Pitch said. “I hope one day for that luxury, but in the north I cannot afford it.”
“Dominus,” Mnester said, descending the stairs and holding a radio in his hands. “Centurion Fenris wishes to speak with you.”
Decanus took the radio. “What is it, Fenris?” He asked.
“There is an NCR Ranger outside the gate, Prefect. She says she is here to see the statue of Virgil. She is refusing to surrender her guns. She says that she knows you.”
Decanus sighed. “Let her in,” he said.
“She came,” Pitch said. “I am surprised.”
“I will go and greet her,” Decanus replied.
Decanus walked into the chill night. He rubbed his shoulders. The desert got cold at night, and it was on nights like these he most recalled the long days of the siege. It was perhaps fitting this would be when he would see her again.
A masked figure knelt by the statue. She wore the riot armor of the NCR Rangers, a rifle holstered over her shoulder. Her face was masked. Two guards stood a short distance away from her, watching her intently. A wreath was at the feet of the statue, a curious one, made of metal, one which she must have placed.
“I am glad that you came,” Decanus said. He motioned, and the guards returned to their patrol.
The Ranger turned to face him, her goggles glinting in the courtyard light. “It is a poor likeness of him,” she said. “He was braver. Fiercer. Handsomer.”
“They would not believe it if we showed it as it was,” Decanus said. “They would say we exaggerated him. I heard you went north, to Oregon, to track the Great Khans.”
“You asked after me?” She said with surprise.
“Of course. You were in my Contubernium,” Decanus said.
“Surprisingly, Decanus, I appreciate that,” Sheila said. She looked down at the wreath she had placed, made curiously of crushed cans from a shop at the edge of the mojave. They were latticed as leaves, each one thoughtfully arranged to maximize their color. She gave it a last farewell touch. “Goodbye, Decanus. I am not sure when the next time I will come through shall be.”
“Don’t leave so soon. Stay the night,” Decanus said. “Rest. The others are here. DeeCee will be happy to see you. You are among friends, Sheila. “
She stopped as though in consideration. “We are not friends, Decanus,” she replied. “It saddens me that we are not, but I am a Ranger. I walk alone.”
“The offer will remain open, and I shall ask after you,” Decanus said.
She saluted, and walked off back through the gate.
“Whom the gods truly hate, they give what they always wanted,” Decanus said, under his breath. “Farewell, Sheila.”
He turned and walked back into his house, and to the revelers. The hours continued, and there was laughter and remembrances.
As the last of the guests left fkr their lodgings – and Myra and Pitch retired to her room- Decanus found himself wandering into the basement again, where he kept his old equipment. This is where his Yao Guai glove hung, and the broken machete, and the trenchcoat. A lifetime ago he had relied on these things to keep himself alive. Now they existed simply as mementos. On a small table near the busted file cabinet was his old Pip-boy.
He idly reached for the⅕ Pip-boy with a smile, remembering how it was once the only way he could speak to the person who now captivated his soul. He frowned as he saw it was lit green, and that a radio message was coming in. His blood ran cold. The channel was a name he had tried to forget, a name the Liches had chosen for him. With a lump in his throat, he turned on the frequency.
“Typhon…Typhon…Typhon…,” a voice intoned.
“…Getorix?” Decanus rasped.
“Typhon…Typhon…Typhon,” came the response.
“It cannot be Avernus…” he thought aloud.
“Who is this?” He asked.
“Typhon…Typhon…Typhon…” came the response. “
“This is obviously a recording,” Decanus said.
“It is not,” came the immediate reply. “We have not forgotten you, Decanus Storm. We have not forgotten your final name. You will serve Us. You shall be…Typhon…Typhon…Typhon…”
“I am not Typhon!” Decanus shouted. “I shall never be Typhon! My name is Storm Cloud. I am Rain Cloud, and I am Decanus Storm. I am all the things that I have done. And I shall be what I choose to be in the future. And you cannot stop that. You will never stop that.”
“What will never stop,” the voice intoned. “Is thespeaking of your final name. Here, in the frozen north, we shall endlessly repeat it, until you are one of us. Typhon…Typhon…Typho-“
Decanus smashed the Pip-boy on the ground, and furiously stomped on it with his boot. He looked down at the ruined Pip-boy, then at his shaking hands as his heart raced. He took a few deep breaths, and raced back upstairs, shutting the door behind him.
Decanus worked his way through his house, breezing past Mnester. He did his best to calm hinself, but when he reached his marital chambers, he was still unable to stop from shaking.
“EssCee, what’s wrong?!” DeeCee asked, frightened. “You’re pale as a sheet!”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. He forced a weal smile onto his face. He took her in his arms and hugged her with all his strength. He felt her powerful arms hug back, and felt the love and warmth of his wife. He was here, hundreds of miles from the Liches, with his armies and his guards. They could not touch him, or her, or the children. They were losing. He felt his heartbeat begin to slow. “Nothing is wrong,” he said, calmed. “Now it is time for your surprise.”
The chambers were two rooms – an antechamber, and a bedroom. In the antechamber there was a projector, several sofas and chairs, and walls covered with old movie posters. An old Protectron bellhop sat lifeless in one corner.
“I wonder what it could be…” DeeCee said, excitedly. Decanus labored at the projector and flicked it on, then they cuddled together on the old sofa in the center of the room.
“It took Gabriel and I a long time to find it,” Decanus said as the reel counted down. “But we found a collector in New California, a man who was a big fan of prewar films.”
The musical fanfare began, in that way prewar films always did. A group of covered wagons tottered across the screen from right to left to the sound of trumpets. A man on horseback rode out of the sun. Vera Keyes’ name appeared, followed by the title. It got exactly the reaction DeeCee wanted.
“WAGONS GO WEST! YOU FOUND WAGONS GO WEST!” DeeCee shouted excitedly. She bounced up and down, shaking the entire house. She gave him a giant kiss that knocked him over and onto his back and against the sofa arm. He could only laugh as she victoriously petted and kissed him. “It’s the only Vera Keyes movie I’ve never seen! I thought it was lost. Oh EssCee, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!”
They cuddled together, and DeeCee nestled her head into his chest. They began to watch the film. Decanus had unintentionally become quite well versed in these films, enough to where he could accurately gauge them relative to each other. This film, despite the herculean effort to get it, was formulaic and rough, and he knew there was a reason the studio hadn’t released it. Vera seemed addled, her delivery a bit off as though she were in a med-x fog. DeeCee however watched with rapt attention, her mouth slightly open and her amber eyes wide, soaking in every detail as if it were a lost scripture from the gods.
“That was wonderful,” she said at the bittersweet ending. She dabbed her eyes. “What a love story, but so sad! We must watch it again tomorrow.”
Decanus laughed. “I had assumed as much.”
“Now, Husband…” she said, standing. “It is time for bed.”
She disrobed. Even with her swollen belly- or perhaps, because of it – Decanus felt himself harden. Her breasts had swelled, and her large, circular belly contrasted with her toned form to make her erotic. “Get out of your clothes,” she commanded. She lay down on their bed.
“So tonight…am I predator, or prey?” Decanus asked, disrobing and getting in beside her. She was warm, and she loomed above him.
DeeCee reached over him, putting her body across his and rubbing her breasts in his face for a moment. He idly licked at them and she cooed. Her hands went to his wrists, and tightened around them. He struggled, and found his wife had immobilized him. She kissed him forcefully as she positioned her opening over his hardness.
“I just watched Vera Keyes lose the man she loved. You are going to pay for that,” she said.
“Me? I didn’t make him ride off into the sunset.”
“No, but you are a man. You men are always trying to be heroes, blathering on about governments and emperors and saving the world. I need to make sure the man I love doesn’t go anywhere,” she leaned in and growled “I am going to fuck you into unconsciousness, Husband.”
She leaned down and kissed him again, pushing her tongue deep into his throat and exploring the insides of his mouth while pressing her lips against his.
“Good,” Decanus said, panting, when the kiss broke. “I could use a nice, long rest. You know…we never did make it to Jacobstown.”
DeeCee smiled. “We made our own Jacobstown, right here,” she said. “Jacobstown is where you are, my love.”
“It is where you are,” he replied. He put a hand to her soft face, and traced a finger on her horns. “My fearsome wife. I love you.”
She leaned down and kissed him sweetly, one more time, before she ravaged him as a DeathClaw matriarch does to her mate.