Of all the places the courier had dragged him through, Arcade thought this – lurking outside a toilet stall, fending off paint-peeling glares of the be-skirted ferals the Tops considered “classy lady-types” – was easily the most uncomfortable. He peeked through a crack in the stall to see his test subject and nominal boss still staring dubiously at the portable analyzing device he’d given her. Compared to the equipment he’d left behind at the Follower’s fort, it was woefully inadequate, but it would give them a reading of oestrogen levels accurate enough for government work.
“The sampler attachment is extended,” Arcade hissed through the crack. “Right there, yes, you’re touching it right now. Just, er, add a small amount of urine.”
“You want me to pee on your precious irreplaceable tool, the one I’m not even allowed to look at cross-eyed?”
Patsy flicked the sampler attachment hard enough to almost make Arcade regret letting her handle the urine collection herself. Almost. “That’s not a toy.”
“Everything’s a toy if you play with it right,” she insisted.
“Would you cease stalling and get it over with?”
The bathroom door opened with a squeak. Arcade refused to turn around, relieved when his presence earned nothing more than a surprised “hmph!” and a slammed door. Two stalls down, a good-time gal moaned and ejected an impressive quantity of what smelled like vodka and agave nectar into the bowl.
Arcade found himself emphatically not regretting the long evenings wasted poring over pre-war books when he could have been out “having fun.” He wondered if the woman was one of the Mormon Fort’s regulars, drying out for a few days at a time before running back to the bar.
“Okay…it beeped. Is beeping a good thing?”
“Yes, that means it’s finished analyzing your hormone levels…already. Hmmm. Here, let me – ugh! Can’t you ladies aim? Rinse that off before you hand it to me.”
She rolled her eyes and ran his analyzer under the cold tap. The reveller, looking no older than 16 underneath her heavy make-up, hauled herself upright along the swinging door and staggered toward the door. Arcade tried to intervene.
“You really look like you could use some help. There’s a group in Freeside…”
The girl belched and weaved around him. “Get t’fuck.”
“They could loan you a grammar textbook, for starters,” Arcade muttered after her.
“Here, fancy-britches, fresh and clean and only slightly radioactive.”
Arcade snatched the wet device from her and read the result. His heart sank. “Positive. You’re pregnant.”
She blanched, face ashen underneath the deep tan and windburn, and gripped the basin behind her.
“Well,” she breathed, sounding like Arcade had punched her. “I guess I didn’t really need a machine to tell me that.”
A partially shaved gorilla with a bad bleach-job and a worse suit cautiously poked his head in the bathroom and zeroed in on Arcade. “Scram, creep. We been getting complaints about you perving out the girls in here.”
“I beg your pardon!” Arcade crossed his arms and straightened his back, but couldn’t manage to loom over the shorter man.
“He’s with me, Bing.”
The anthropoid showed his gums in a broad but very nervous smile. Most of the Mojave residents who’d previously encountered the courier sported that “great to see you, shame you can’t stay…right?” expression, but the Chairmens’ anxiety lately flashed more wattage than their uniform jaunty grins.
“Hey-o, there’s the girl, there’s the girl. You, now you, buddy, hey? Holdin’ the lady’s hair back for her, that kinda chivalry’s a-okay here at the Tops. Let me have the pleasure of buying a round of atomic cocktails for the special girl and her classy but purely platonic if he knows what’s good for him gentleman friend!”
Patsy let herself be carried along on the big man’s hysterical enthusiasm and beached herself against the Aces bar. Arcade accepted a tall glass festooned with prickly pear wedges and a little umbrella and cautiously settled on a wobbly stool next to her.
“That to your liking, babe, good good, now you just call you old pal Bing if you need any little thing bye!”
“Well,” Patsy said again, then, “Antsy little man, ain’t he?”
Arcade meant to reply with something comforting. Instead, what came out was: “Please tell me you’ve had unprotected sexual intercourse with a man other than that murderer in the last few months.”
“Does the robot count?”
Arcade rubbed his eyes. “No.”
“How about Cass?”
“Unless there’s more to her than meets the naked eye, no.”
“Then it’s definitely Benny’s fault.” Patsy took Arcade’s drink, flicked off the decorations, and sank it in one gulp. The bartender handed him a new one, and Arcade felt it wisest to imitate his boss.
As he gagged, wondering how a drink could burn his throat that much without being made of paraffin and actually on fire, Arcade shuffled through their options. Trouble was, he had no idea what she’d consider an option. He hadn’t expected her to go wobbly in the knees when finally face to face with that bastard Benny, for instance, or to concoct a hair-brained scream to somehow fuck him to death while he and Veronica made small talk with the goons in the hallway over the moans and shattering bed frame. Arcade suspected Benny’s easy back-elevator escape hadn’t been quite the drunken carelessness Patsy claimed, either. For all he knew, a bullet to the cranium and a shallow grave was her people’s equivalent of flowers and bonbons.
His boss was born tribal, part of a semi-nomadic Salt Lake culture. That much was obvious from her rangy desert body and sandstorm features, the broad flat nose, narrow eyes, that partially shaved head. The bullet had wiped away most of her early memories, but what little she could tell him made him think they didn’t value history much anyway. And he’d gotten all of it out of her, artfully dodging her nosy questions with prying of his own.
Everything except her real name. “Patsy” was what Goodspring’s only barkeep had dubbed her, declaring that the minor tribal goddess of midnight roads was a good name for a courier who needed to stay out of sight for a while. Whatever name she’d found attached to her Mojave Express paystub in Primm had made her nose wrinkle, and even the Nashes called her “Pats” now.
Patsy had fallen into the courier business after her tribe scattered to the winds rather than stand against the oncoming Legion forces. It was a trade that had suited her itchy feet and native training in hunting, surviving, and hiding. She had a passel of siblings scattered in parts unknown, but had looked at him like a three-headed madmen when he suggested they track a few down to reconnect with her roots.
They were adults like her, after all. Did Arcade expect her to play hide-and-seek or peg-the-molerat? Tribes shattered and reformed with others at least every other generation, Patsy explained. It kept the inbreeding down.
So, she was likely to have a hard-headed attitude to reproduction, at least. He began tentatively, “You know, Pats…there are ways, to safely…you’re young and healthy. You’ll have plenty of time later, when you aren’t racing into battle hopped up on Psycho every few days…”
Patsy shook her head, absently chewing on a pear rind.
“Children come when they will,” she replied firmly, in a tone that made him think she was quoting a commandment. “They are to be accepted as a difficult blessing, like the desert downpour that destroys one’s camp while engendering flowers throughout the waste. So, no, that destruction is forbidden.”
“Unless it’s born wrong, of course,” Patsy continued. “Then, not destroying it is forbidden.”
Arcade waved down the bartender and took another drink, sipping at it this time while he digested that statement. A reasonable doctrine, perhaps, for people without geiger technology who often settled all unknowing in heavily radiated territory, but still…it gave him the willies.
At least it explained why Patsy was such a fascinating bundle of useful low-grade mutations, like the functional sixth toe on each foot that improved her balance, or the almost supernatural toughness of her bones, or the way she soaked up drugs without once suffering an addiction. That was at least half the reason Arcade stuck with her, making an intensive study of these mutations under the guise of her personal physician and sending copious notes back to the Followers’ research hub. The long-buried Enclave scientist in him stirred greedily, thinking of the knowledge to be gleaned from the growing offspring of two genetically gifted tribals…for all humanity, of course.
So he was able to sound downright cheerful when he asked “So where would you like to put our little Spartan’s crib up in the Lucky 38 suite, huh? Or should we all swing up by the Goodspring school first and stock up on toys?”
“Huh, Spartan?” she said thoughtfully. “That’s a nice name. No, too soon for that. Need a plan.”
“Heeeey, kitties! How’s my favourite percentage-gouging leech? Come for another pound of my flesh? Naw, I’m only joking, you know I love ya!”
Tommy Torini had spotted her. He squeezed between them and gestured for the bartender to top up both their glasses. “We got a great show on tonight, a real ring-a-ding cavalcade of entertainment. I think you’re gonna love it. What am I saying, I know you will!”
“Need a plan,” Patsy repeated, dragging her finger over a crack in the bar.
“Ah, hell,” Tommy moaned, and turned a pleading eye on Arcade. It was a really lovely shade of deep brown, he saw, and the eyepatch added to the rakish affect… “Who pissed her off? Did one of the boys get handsy? Spit on her favourite frag grenade?”
“No, no,” Arcade replied soothingly. “It’s just…ah…her grandmother’s not well. Not taking her medication.”
That was certainly true…for a given value of “grandmother” which included the variables “giant,” “mutant,” and “not actually related.”
Tommy heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank god for that.”
“Say, why are you guys so nervous around us, anyway?” Arcade asked. “We can’t even, uh, hang around Benny’s apartment in a completely non-suspicious manner without every suit we see wetting himself.”
Tommy checked for eavesdroppers. “Some of them think she bumped him off, yeah, and spirited the body out somehow. But those of us in the know, we read that note the cat left before he split.”
He surreptitiously handed Arcade a well folded paper. It read:
You and the boys treat my girl to the tops until I get back. She can stay at my place if she likes, there’s caps in the safe if she wants something pretty.
Just be extra careful checking her for weapons – careful but respectful, you got it? Any mug who even thinks of laying a hand on those goodies is gonna wish they were Sticky, capiche?
Arcade was able to translate all of the arcane slang except, “Sticky?”
Tommy shrugged and lowered his voice. “One of the guys we ran with back in the desert days, a real big talker. Said some things about the old chief’s woman…well, no one believed a word, but the chief had his troublesome tongue and other waggly bits coated in nectar and dropped him down the El Dorado fire ant nest.”
That caught Patsy’s attention. She whistled appreciatively. “Sticky, with sticky nectar, huh? Your old chief was something of a wit.”
“Ah, you don’t have to worry about that old tribal justice,” Tommy hastened to assure her. “Benny’s a cool customer, and he treats his girls real nice. Uh, heh, not that there’s a lot of girls, heh. Just you, gorgeous.”
Patsy sipped her drink, not taking her eyes off Tommy.
“Er, not that they aren’t all after him, heh, catch that he is, yeah?”
She let him sweat.
“But, uh, none of them are so...irresistibly…erratic…”
Arcade took pity. “Tommy? Run. I’ll trip her if she goes for your jugular.”
The Aces manager disappeared as if he’d slapped on a Stealth Boy.
“You never let me have any fun,” Patsy snickered. “C’mon. We left Yes-Man locked up tight, yeah?”
“You’re the only one he’ll help now, thanks to Veronica’s partitioning skills.”
“Then let’s hit it.”
Patsy ran for the front door. The Tops’ head bouncer handed her weapons back with a wink, which she returned with a spark of her old manic glee. Arcade followed, panic rising up from his gullet. A determined Patsy had always led to yet another complicated and painful mission. He caught up to her just outside.
“Pats? Patsy? What are we doing? Is there a plan?”
“We’re going back to the Lucky 38 and getting the gang,” she grinned, and pumped her favourite new toy, a scoped anti-material rifle. “Then, we’re gonna pay Caesar a little social call.”
* * *
When their fearless leader returned with the medic in tow, Rex and ED-E were tearing up the Presidential suite in a fierce game of teeth-versus-laser, Lily was knitting a lumpy scarf using the two sharpened tibia of a Viper assassin for needles, and Raul was at it again with Veronica.
“I’m not telling you again, chica, go to the damn restaurants if Cram’s not good enough for you – it costs five times as much having all your meals delivered. And stay away from the mini-bar!”
“But the little bottles, they’re so cute!”
“Why do you even need to drink that,” Cass broke in, “when I’ve made us so much moonshine?”
“It leaves my teeth all furry.”
“Who cares? It gets you drunk twice as fast!”
A quiet afternoon. Boone sighed to himself, wishing they were back on the road. He perked up at the sight of Arcade’s quivery-lipped expression. A terrified Arcade always meant something gratifyingly violent was in the works.
“Patsy, Raul and Cass are ganging up on me!”
“No more mini-bar until you finish your moonshine,” their fearless leader ordered absently. Her uncharacteristic concentration raised Boone’s hopes another notch. “And put that dress back in the wardrobe. Go get your power armour from the 188 Trading Post, fast.”
“Power armour?” Boone raised an eyebrow.
Veronica coughed nervously. “Er, yes. I took it off a dead Paladin. It just happens to fit me. And have my name etched on the front, I mean, I etched it on, with a…pointy rock.”
“…they kicked me out.”
“You eat them out of vault and home, too?” Raul snorted.
“No, just used my brain, not that you would know what that’s like…”
“Patsy, use your brain,” Arcade pleaded. “This is a suicide mission!”
“We’re going. Run down to the Crimson Caravan and pick up all the stimpacks they’ve got. Boone, could you swing through McCarran and see if they’ve got any loose ammo they’re not using in any serious way? They’ll appreciate it later, I promise.”
Boone almost felt like smiling. He patted his favourite scoped rifle. Legionnaires were probably too much to hope for, since they’d only just destroyed the lakeside camp at Cottonwood – oh, and that had been a red-misty day, one he thought of lovingly every night as he drifted off on the floor next to Patsy’s bed – but muties or raiders would be almost as good, if there were enough of them.
Arcade pulled her to the far side of the room and whispered. Everyone else immediately fell silent and perked up their ears.
“Your child needs a father, okay. I can understand that. But we’ll pick out a better one than that slime Benny. Boone’s no good with numbers, you could probably seduce him tonight and he’d believe – ”
“No she couldn’t, and I can add just fine,” Boone protested. “What’s numbers and sex got to do with killing, anyway?”
“Ask those Omerta bastards,” Cass muttered. “If anyone can remember where we buried them, that is.”
“Father? No, Arcade, child needs a tribe. Other children. Elders. No two people can teach a little one everything it needs to survive.” Her voice lowered sympathetically. “Is that why you turned out like this? Only had two people to raise you?”
“Child?” Raul asked.
“Like ‘this’?” Arcade echoed stiffly.
“Unable to hit the broad end of a bighorn even if it’s giving you a lapdance,” Patsy clarified.
“Oh,” Arcade sniffed. “Just my mother, actually, but we were very close.”
Patsy took his hand, gently. “You poor thing.”
Arcade pulled out of her grasp. “And how is your plan supposed to produce an entire tribe, may I ask?”
Patsy shrugged. “Benny’s Chairmen will do. They’re still wasters under those clean suits.”
“Amen,” Veronica muttered, pulling a face.
“Child?” Raul repeated. “Boss, are you saying you’re gonna add a little middle management to our crew?”
Boone’s mood plunged back into bleakness, Carla’s (shocked, then slack) face shouldering aside happy images of scattered Legionnaires like broken dolls. Fearless leader was going to have a child, a family. A normal life. No more radioactive barrels raining down on Legion camps, no more quixotic missions…no more room for a busted up soldier, good for nothing but killing.
At least she looked happy about it.
He envied her so hard it curled up into hatred at the edges. Her, and Benny. Benny, whose legs Boone decided he’d have to break in twenty places when he finally oozed back onto the Strip, ensuring the man would stay to enjoy every second of his unbelievable lucky strike.
“Poor Pats,” Cass said. “It’s going to be months before you can have another drink.”
Lily put her knitting aside and covered her face in shame.
“Oh, sweetie pie, we raised you better than this. Well, don’t you worry,” she continued, unsheathing her sword. “Leo will make this boy do the right thing. You’ll still be a June bride…just not in white.”
“You can have it back in the bunker!” Veronica enthused. “The Brotherhood has the best doctors in the Mojave – ”
“Excuse me, whose fort were we in when I put all your ribs back in order after that incident with forty frag mines? The Followers can certainly handle a simple birth.”
“ – and maybe a cute wastelander baby would soften more isolationists than the promise of boring old underground farmland – ”
“This will be no cute baby,” Raul interjected. “You remember Benny, right? We might need to tie a gecko steak around the kid’s neck before Rex will play with him…sorry, boss.”
Patsy ignored the growing ruckus. “Boone?”
He grunted and pointedly began to break down his rifle.
“I have a confession. Remember how I told you Raul and I were away on a Jet bender in Primm last month?”
“Yeah. We weren’t. We went to Caesar’s camp.”
The extended ammo clip cracked in Boone’s hands.
“Caesar sent a messenger, that he had the platinum chip…and Benny…and that just this once, I could go into camp under truce and speak to him directly.”
“You went…into Caesar’s headquarters…without me.”
She was already pushing him out of the crew. He’d had one foot out the door all month and hadn’t even felt the chill.
“Recon, Boone! Sure, you and I could have gone out in a blaze of glory at the docks, and that would have been fun, but now that we know the layout and troop numbers, we can take out dozens more with us. Maybe even Caesar himself!”
His black mood began to lift. Caesar himself, staring into the scope of his rifle, like she had…that’d be an even better red-misty day to treasure, if only for the moments it took Caesar’s personal guard to overtake them.
“We’re all going back in, Boone, every goddamn one of us, and we’re leaving with the chip, Benny, and Caesar’s head on a plate.”
“Hallelujah,” Boone rumbled.
“Okay, probably not a plate. Messy. A leak-proof gelatine mould, maybe. Do we still have one of those kicking around? Never mind. You three, you’ve got your marching orders. Meet us at the river in two days. We’ll bring the guns. And Boone? Here.”
She handed him a heavy, wrapped weapon.
“You’re a miracle with that sniper rifle, but this is likely to get up close and personal fast. I thought you might like this, for inside Caesar’s tent.”
Boone unwrapped his present and forgot all about his sniper scope. Who would picture a monster’s face at a distance, when it could be chewed to ribbons a foot away?
“Yes,” he breathed, hefting the chainsaw high.
* * *
After a trip to the Gun Runners, Raul worked through the night until every weapon they owned was modded to hell and back. Patsy whistled when he finally revealed his handiwork.
“I can see why Tabitha fought so hard to keep your services. Amigo, you’re worth every dent her super-sledge left in my cranium. Speaking of which, is this…?”
“Si, the beast itself. Don’t touch those new spikes! They’re radscorpion stingers.”
Raul shrugged. “Just doing my part. Too bad I won’t get to see these in action.”
“Oh, you’re coming with. We’re all going.”
“But, boss,” Raul protested. “Look at me, at these blind eyes, these old bones! You really want me on the battlefield, with my trick back probably seizing up and forcing you to carry me the rest of the way?”
Patsy gripped his shoulders. “Raul, if your back goes out, I’ll leave you to die in the mud. That’s a promise.”
“Uh, thanks, boss.”
Patsy grinned. “I need you there. You and me are the only wastelanders to see this place without ending up on a cross. You gotta keep me pointed in the right direction. Anyway, don’t think I can’t see that pair of .44’s you’ve got tucked in your toolbox.”
“These?” Raul tried to force his leathery features into a picture of innocence. “They’re just scrap waiting to be broken down.”
Forgive me, Juanita, Fernanda. Papi would never scrap you.
“Come on, Raul, don’t you know what Caesar’s people do to ghouls? Don’t you want to make sure that never happens again?”
“What does he do?”
“Something really bad…probably. I’m sure of it. I’d hoped you’d know, being a ghoul, and all.”
Raul sighed. “I’d rather face the Legionnaires than any more of this conversation, boss.”
“Done,” Patsy declared.
Cass tapped her on the shoulder. “We are killing Benny this time, right? Right?”
* * *
Boone was already waiting when Arcade slipped carefully through the underbrush at the edge of the river. He offered Arcade a cigarette and reminded him to hide the ember with his body so no small glow would pierce the pre-dawn gloom. Boone looked as peaceful as he’d ever seen the man, scanning the opposite shore through his scope.
Arcade felt like strangling him, if he wasn’t so sure any sudden movements would make him puke up his morning instamash.
Clomp. Clomp. Clomp.
Boone wolf-whistled as a vision in power armour kicked several cacti aside and settled heavily beside them.
The tin can produced a dispirited, “Fuck you.”
“Well, I’m so glad I took the effort to sneak here,” Arcade harped, glad for the distraction from his nerves.
“This is as far from a dress as you can get,” the tin can whined. “You guys know any fine lady Securitrons I could sidle up to, maybe?”
“I hear ED-E’s available,” Arcade smirked.
“Speak of the devil. The others must be close now.”
“I could hear your chatter fifty yards away,” a nearby shadow growled, before standing and resolving into a familiar figure. “Every bastard over there’s probably got relationship advice for you, Veronica, just as soon as they’ve pounded us all into dust.”
“Sorry, Pats.” Boone ducked his head. “These two are a bad influence on me. You should send them home – more Legionnaires for you and me that way.”
Lily materialised out of the gloom, followed less stealthily by a battle-ready (ie, completely soused) Cass and Raul, who fairly bristled with guns. Rex sat tensely at Patsy’s heel, already growling.
“Oh, there’ll be plenty for both of us, partner. Now listen up, you mugs, because we’ve only got time to go through this once…and Arcade, I’d better not see anything more deadly than stimpacks in your hand. I’d rather not patch up any more plasma holes in this armor…or my damned skin.”
“Your faith in me is heartening, General.”
Patsy drew a few lines in the sand. “Okay, this is the camp. It’s got three – ”
“What’s that?” Cass asked.
“That’s a pebble.”
“Oh. I thought it might represent one of us.”
Patsy sighed and smudged out the lines with her toe. “Just follow me. You’re going to secure our rear.”
“Hah! Too late for that.”
“Veronica and Lily? You’re the first wave. Boone and I will cover you and try to clear out a path ahead. Arcade, you stay in the middle. You’re going to be a very popular boy.”
Arcade nodded, checking his medkit for the thousandth time. Several doses of Psycho recently confiscated from a Fiend stronghold lay on top. “If anyone would like to indulge, just this once I’ll forgo the standard lecture.”
Arcade winced as Patsy jammed the needle in her neck, but kept his promise. He hoped a superhuman placental barrier was one of her many mutations.
“Raul, you stick with Arcade. Your sole objective is to keep our medic in one piece.”
“I got your back, doc. Say, can I have…”
Arcade handed over another dose of Psycho.
“Boys? Your jobs are to play loud music that gives away our position, and scamper about underfoot, respectively.”
“Great! Now, everybody grab a few toys, and Boone, you got that extra ammo? I want to see lots of energy, and remember – we’re going into the mouth of Hell to spit on the devil himself. Let’s have fun out there!”
“We’re all going to die,” Arcade muttered. He could make out figures guarding the gate now, and they were each at least fifteen feet tall. “Ah…what the hell.”
He plucked out another wicked-looking syringe and hesitated, then jabbed it in his neck. If he survived this, the Followers would appreciate a first-person account of Psycho use.
It felt…first it burned, but the sensation that whooshed through his extremities was cold. He wouldn’t have thought it’d be cold, like each nerve was calmly getting to its little nerve feet and stretching its little nerve limbs. Even his stomach felt less like a touchy projectile cannon, more a coiled spring.
He’d been frightened by those tiny Legionnaires? Hah.
“Arcade, got the Rad-X?”
“LET’S DO THIS THING!”
“Shit! New battle plan, guys – just keep up with Arcade!”
* * *
“Does it always go so quickly?” Arcade asked, bracing his trembling body against the inner gate.
“Always,” Boone replied, peeking through a crack. “But you’ll remember every second like it was an hour.”
Arcade could imagine. Already it seemed impossible so much blood had splattered the sand in so little time. It’d begun with Patsy snapping, “Behind us, dammit,” after Arcade’s first punch had failed to floor one of the outer guards.
He’d fallen back reluctantly, allowing Raul to finish off the guard. “You gonna soften them all up for me, doc?”
All had been orderly for nearly a minute, Patsy and Boone making for the high ground and taking shots in turn, picking off the Legionnaires with the biggest guns first. Arcade had shivered as Patsy’s anti-material barrage cut cleanly through the bodies, not in horror but envy. Despite Patsy’s orders, he’d reached for his plasma pistol, sure he’d be able to hit his targets at least as well as her…
“Doc, to me!”
The first melee wave had struck, splitting around Lily and Veronica as individual soldiers, brave and highly trained as they were, made the tactically sound decision to strike the soft underbelly of the group instead. Arcade forgot about attacking, having his talented hands full just keeping them all relatively unperforated.
He and Raul had moved together in perfect, chemically enhanced sync, eight limbs controlled by the same octopus brain. Arcade ducked to jab a stimpack in Boone’s machete slash, and a split-second later Raul’s .44 was thundering overhead, into the Legion diving for Arcade’s unprotected neck. Raul jumped just before Arcade rolled under his feet with an ampoule of Jet to reach a gasping Patsy, the wind knocked out of her by a power fist. He’d lost track of the other four, being neither mechanic nor veterinarian, but assumed they’d caused any dismembered bodies he couldn’t account for.
Cass crept up behind them. “Did they hear us?”
“No,” Boone replied. “Complacent assholes. Their little pep rally in there would drown out an atomic blast. Has Lily let go of Patsy yet?”
“No, but the sobbing seems to be winding down, since Pats came to. And Lily’s promised to bake us all sweetrolls if we keep her ‘pumpkin’ from getting hurt again.”
She touched the lump forming on her jaw, one Arcade judged would bruise at least to her cheekbone if untreated. “Son of a bitch. At least I got him. Did you see me, Boone? I killed three Legionaires. Me!”
Boone nodded. “You should be proud. Think you can break that record on the way to Caesar?”
“I’ll damn well try.”
Arcade reached for her face. “You should really get a stimpack in that.”
Cass jerked back. “No, nonono. You’re not getting near me with anything pointy until you come down, fiend.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That trick with the empty syringes to the eye sockets had style,” Boone said. “Wish we brought a camera.”
Arcade sniffed. Raul had taken a bullet to the stomach, which had thankfully gone out intact through his back. Knowing ghouls’ sluggish medication metabolising rate (and fearing the mess that ghoul-borne peritonitis could become), Arcade had gone for broke and stabbed two handfuls of stimpacks into the entry and exit wounds. Just then, Lily picked up and tossed the Legionnaire attempting to saw through her tough hide. He landed on Arcade, almost cheek to cheek.
“Filthy ghoul-lover!” the soldier had screamed, raising his machete, and…
Well, the appropriate strategy was obvious, wasn’t it?
“Anyway, here they come – get ready for Stage 2 of Operation Get Our Fool Asses Killed.”
Arcade checked his medkit. They still had well over half the stimpacks he’d bought, and he hoped they’d be enough. The med-x and milder painkillers, the antiseptics and braces and bandages, they’d be put to use after…if Arcade was still there at the end of the battle. He toyed with one of the remaining Psycho syringes. Would he even be alive now without that extra focus, the steady-handed viciousness that was already fading?
It only made sense to top up his dose, he told himself and, tingling, stood aside for Veronica to kick in the heavy gate.
* * *
As a scribe, Veronica’s power armour was practically ceremonial, rarely used and far from broken in. Just walking was killing her knees, and every time she tried to shift her weight or feint to the side, she thought her feet were going to snap off. The armour’s servos gave her punches far more force, sure, but the soldiers she aimed at would be yards away by the time her fist made any progress toward them. She started following Lily’s lead and barrelled over as many red-clad bodies as possible while their bullets and blades clanged off her metal plates, and prayed her instructors in unarmed combat would never hear of it.
Just getting to Caesar’s tent was a nightmare to match any of her mother’s tales of battling the Enclave.
What they found inside was worse.