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Mahkra Fishpacking, Northeast Commonwealth

“Secure the entryway.”

“Yes sir.”

The sharp voice of the young Lieutenant cut through the stale air of the old fishpacking plant. His escort, two Enclave troopers in Advanced Combat Armor and a shock trooper in APA, carefully scanned the area as they entered. Forward recon had shown the factory to be abandoned: little to be found left here but rusted machinery and brittle fishbones. Yet this unassuming, and quite dilapidated building which still seemed to reek of fishguts and stale saltwater 200 years after such stenches should have long since dissipated, were where the coordinates they’d been sent had led. Sent by whoever, or whatever, was calling itself ‘The Institute’: the organization which Enclave High Command had formally attempted to contact and offer their terms of amnesty and annexation under their authority as the acting Government of the United States of America. A rare opportunity for anyone outside their citizenry, and an offer which was ultimately non-negotiable. A number of wayward Vaults had been given the same chance in the wake of The Enclave’s recent misfortunes: those that had refused had swiftly learned that the offer was merely a formality. While some had to be dragged kicking and screaming into their ranks, they’d all come eventually.

From what they’d heard, The Institute was nothing like the usual wasteland rabble that they’d had to contend with, and even more valuable than an unopened control vault in terms of technology and information. Its scientists were supposedly the brightest minds to be found in the post-war world, although there was some question as to whether or not they even existed. Many in The Enclave had assumed that the tales of boogeyman snatching people up in the dead of night in a flash of blue lightning were tales made up by the ignorant. The minds of wastelanders, addled as they were by radiation and degeneracy, were easily taken in by such fantasies. However, the reports were too widespread and too specific to easily ignore. And if rumours of The Institute had reached all the way to the Capital Wasteland then there must be at least a kernel of truth to them. It had certainly been true enough for The Brotherhood of Steel to have sent a large contingent of their forces to investigate at least. The Brotherhood had entered The Commonwealth with enough firepower to seize The Commonwealth and rule it as a fief of their own, however they’d found nothing but death as the end result of their quest. The tactical precision and totality of their forces annihilation implicated The Institute’s involvement in some way, although accounts did vary. Truthfully, High Command had its doubts that an ostensibly non-militaristic group would have the necessary strength to destroy such a strong Brotherhood force so completely, but if the scientists had indeed had a hand in The Brotherhood’s downfall, it was quite possible that they might be amenable to The Enclave’s offer considering their own past with the organization. The enemy of my enemy after all…..even if they had no intention of this being an equitable partnership. The Enclave didn’t make alliances….it absorbed those that were useful and, in their eyes, pure. Everyone else was an obstacle in their path to reclaim their nation from the filth that had stolen it from them.

Lieutenant Wayne had been tasked with a small force consisting of a single verti-assault squad to investigate the coordinates. The Enclave’s military presence on the East Coast had all but vanished, and so they’d been forced to hop from abandoned outpost to abandoned outpost in order to make the trip to The Commonwealth, scavenging what supplies they could along the way. Still, they prospect that The Institute might be willing to agree to their direct ultimatum was reason enough to make the trip. Their steady decline since the time of Richardson meant they were short of manpower and resources, and The Institute could very well serve as a latchkey to reclaiming their former glory.

The APA trooper stepped forward, scanning the darkness closely as they became to delve into the old fish plant. Lt. Wayne and the two grunts followed closely behind, their weapons drawn and at the ready.

“Lieutenant,” The APA trooper said suddenly, his voice distorted by the power helmet as he pointed towards a set of ancient packing equipment,

“Someone’s been here. Machinery looks like its been in operation recently.”

He was right. Recent repairs had clearly been made to the machinery: some of the parts appeared brand new and there was even fresh oil dripping from one of the panels. Something virtually impossible in a 200 year old factory that hadn’t been in use since before the bombs dropped.

“A sign we’re in the right place perhaps….” The Lieutenant replied, “Keep moving forward. Head down those stairs.”

A set of concrete descended to a lower part of the factory. The space directly at the foot of the stairs appeared to open up, but the darkness made it difficult to see what exactly was there. It appeared to be their only route forward however, and so the troopers advanced.

The lights from the shock trooper’s helmet illuminated the path as they moved foward, however as they grew close to the bottom. It became increasingly apparent that they were not the only source of light. The bottom of the stairs, they could now see, led to a large utility hallway, and halfway down it there appeared to be a single solitary room emanating a soft white glow.

Cautiously, the Enclave squad made their way towards it. When they stepped into the light of the doorway, a curious sight greeted them,

“Welcome.”

A solitary woman in a white uniform sat directly across from them, seated at a table surrounded by several chairs. The furniture was in stark contrast with the dilapidated surroundings they found themselves in, and looked as if it’d come from another world entirely. Bottles of water stamped with some sort of strange symbol were clustered to the side on a serving tray.

Lieutenant Wayne blinked several times and stared with mouth slightly agape, confused by the surreal situation he found himself in. He swiftly regained his composure however, and proceeded forward,

“Lieutenant Eli Wayne,” He said sharply, “I assume I have the pleasure of speaking to a representative of The Institute?”

“You do indeed. Please sit Lieutenant.”

Wayne took off his officers cap and sat down in one of the contoured chairs, he eyed one of the bottles of water suspiciously but did not reach for it.

“Refreshment?”

“No that won’t be necessary,” He replied shaking his head. In truth he was quite thirsty, but he’d no intention of taking anything offered to him by an unknown party.

“I’ll be blunt ma’am, we’ve already made our offer of amnesty and re-unification to the United States to your superiors and have yet to receive an official response to the terms. I can only assume that by sending us these coordinates you wished to meet with us to discuss the terms further. Perhaps to finalize the offer? High Command would be quite pleased if I was able to return to them with news of your acceptance.”

“Quit the opposite Lieutenant, I’ve been tasked by The Directorate to inform you of their absolute refusal. The Institute does not recognize The U.S. Government’s authority in any capacity, not the least of which regarding our sovereignty. Your claims are firmly denied.”

Wayne scrunched his face in displeasure,

“I see, so then you’ve led us here on a wild goose chase, intending nothing more than to mock us? Is that it? Or did you think that by informing us in person that somehow you were doing us an honor? Well I can assure you that is not the case. On the contrary, my superiors will consider it an insult and take that into account when deciding how best to proceed with our next course of action.”

“No, the SRB wished to meet with you for another reason. Your organization intrigues them, and they followed your progress in the D.C. region with great interest. However, information on The Enclave is scant. More data is required. You will all prove to be quite useful in that regard.”

Wayne stood up, and hovered his hand over his plasma pistol. The APA trooper and two guards next to him likewise appeared on edge, the shock trooper stepping forward with heavy footfalls towards the seated woman,

“I don’t appreciate your tone. Think about your next words very, very carefully. They could very well mean your life.”

“My life is inconsequential Lieutenant,” The woman replied, “If you wish to shoot me, I have no recourse to stop you. However, nothing will be solved by you doing so. The loss of a single Synth is hardly meaningful.”

“Synth? What in the hell are you talking about?”

The woman smiled warmly,

“You’ll know soon enough.”

The sounds of a dozen or more stealth fields disengaging filled the room, Coursers surrounded The Enclave forces and began opening fire. Countless flashes of blue light filled the hallway beyond, as Gen-1 and Gen-2 units came streaming in from the doorway. Lieutenant Wayne grabbed his plasma pistol and fired a bolt at the woman, striking her and sending the Synth sprawling to the ground as the hot plasma burned into her chest.

The APA trooper bashed Synths aside left and right with the easy and strength that his power armor afforded him. However, Gen-1’s latched onto him like insects swarming a piece of meat blocking and restricting his view and access to his weapon. One of the Coursers strode up and attached a device to the APA, and quickly activated it. An intense electrical pulse coursed throughout the power armor and the APA trooper yelled out in blind fury and pain before the systems of his suit began to fail catastrophically.

Lt. Wayne and the other two troopers had fallen back to another corner of the room. Blasting away at any Synths that attempted to go near them. However with the APA trooper down, the attention of the Synths now turned firmly to them, and the two combat troopers were swiftly cut down in a hail of blue laser fire. Lt. Wayne raised his plasma pistol to his head, and prepared to fire,

“God bless The Enclave.” He yelled out.

A blast of blue laser shot away his pistol and sent it careening against the wall. The Courser who fired the shot approached the Lieutenant, grabbed him and lifted him up with little effort.

“A9-45. Mission complete. Ready to relay back with subject of interest.”

“Idiots,” The Lieutenant said with stoic defiance, “Do you think the Remnants of the United States trains its officers to be cowards? You won't get anything out of me.”

“We won’t need to.” The Courser replied simply as a flash of blue light engulfed them.



Far Harbor, Maine


The foghorn blared yet again, and the horrifying battle cries of the ghoulish pirates resounded out through the bay. Far Harbor was wide awake now, the alarm had been raised and the Harbor Watch called to arms. Harbormen and women barricaded themselves behind makeshift walls clutching whatever weapons they might get hold of as the pirates streamed ashore, all of them drenched in the salty spray of the harbor night and some still garlanded by seaweed. It was a truly nightmarish sight, something straight out of the old monster movies from before the war. Radiation scorched faces twisted into devilish grins looked back at them from the the shore, eager for loot and plunder. The ghouls were armed and armored in piecemeal armor, bits and pieces of maritime equipment attached to them, not unlike the Trappers the Harborfolk were used to fighting, but these new terrors were something entirely different. Childhood ghost stories had been brought to life before their very eyes.

The pirates stormed ashore, pulling their boarding craft up and onto the harbor’s broken beaches and wading through icy waters. They brandished cutlasses that glowed green with radioactive sludge dripping like poison from the blades and makeshift laser muskets held tightly in their necrotic hands. They rushed towards the walls of the seaside town: the large bulwark the locals called “The Hull” and took up positions behind rocks, broken trees, and the debris of the old pre-war town. The men and women of the Harbor watch gripped their weapons and silently watched the ghouls, beads of sweat forming at their brows as they anticipated what sort of fierce fight for their lives they might be in for.

Through the mist, they could still see the silhouette of the glowing vessel which had been blaring the foghorn as it held its ominous position in the bay. It sat like a silent sentinel in the murky waters of the Atlantic, watching and waiting for its chance to strike. They could see it was an Old World military craft and all they could do was hope that those great guns yet visible on its foredeck had fallen silent long ago. Otherwise their sleepy town stood little chance at resisting such a barrage that those weapons of the past might bring down on them.

Rotted boots hit the sand on the shore as a ghoul dressed in a tattered black frock coat and tricorn hat came ashore. A heavy pipe pistol was holstered in a leather baldric strapped across his chest. The ghoul sauntered up towards the direction of the town, as if he was taking no more than a noon-day stroll, whilst weary eyes from beyond the Hull kept a keen eye on the mysterious figure. The dapper ghoul faced the defenders, and raised his hands upward like a conductor ready to direct a grand orchestral performance,

“People of Far Harbor,” he began in a loud dramatic tone, his deep graveled voice easily carried across the no-man’s land between the pirates and the entrenched townspeople, “You may all count yourselves fortunate, for you here now bear witness to the grand tattered fleet and its legendary admiral. He is The Heart Eater, The Terror of the Seas, Bane of The Commonwealth, Harbinger of the Great Glow, and Pirate-King of Ghouls: Lord Commodore Mordred Locke. Everyghoul you see before you is his loyal crew, bound to him until their bodies become dust. For none can escape the grip of the Heart Eater: serve him willingly or slave for him in the ranks of the ferals. It makes little difference. I myself am but a humble Captain in his mighty navy, yet I speak for him now to you all. Hear his words: lay down your arms: give up your gold, your trinkets, the pick of your fastests vessels, and as much liquor as we can carry….and none of you will be harmed. This we swear, and let no man take the Lord Commodore for an oathbreaker should a bargain be struck: know this as well however, should you refuse this offer: your town will burn, and you’ll all become feral chattel. ”

At these words, the ghoul captain gave a signal, and suddenly there was a clanking of chains as two feral ghouls with the tattered remains of fishing gear still clinging to their bodies rushed forward towards the hull. They screamed and thrashed with the stubs of recently severed arms as they tried to get at the smoothskin defenders before being flung to the ground as their heavy chains dragged them down. The ghoul captain drew his pistol and fired a shot at one of the ferals blowing through its head cleanly and leaving the remains of the poor wretch twitching.

“What say you?”

The defenders didn’t reply, instead looking to one another with apprehension. None of them thought they might be able to make such an agreement. Many wished instead to fight, or rather to go down fighting like true Harbormen and Harborwomen. The air was tense and the moment was ripe for someone, somewhere on that forsaken wall, to do something stupid. And yet a lone voice cried out up and over the murmurings. The voice of stalwart Captain Avery.

“The gate stays closed. You guarantee every man, women and child’s safety in Far Harbor?”

“Aye!” The ghoul captain replied, “None will be harmed. Agree to the terms, and there be no need for bloodshed.”

“Very well,” Avery said through gritted teeth, “Suppose we don’t have much choice.” She then turned to her fellow townsfolk atop the hull, “Give the scoundrels what they want.”



The flesh may be rotten and the heart may be cold, the decks maybe be rusted, and the powder be old, but a deckhand of Locke still love’s he gold! Har!


Setting off from the shore the landing boats of the ghoulish pirates were laden with chests full of whatever trinkets the townsfolk had stashed away (and more than a few barrels of Harbor swill). A bit less loot than they’d been expecting but a few of the townspeople claimed that some of their cargo from the docks was missing: it’d already been stolen by some bandits in the night. One of them had even shot the town weapons merchant. While the ghouls had feigned anger and even given one or townsfolk a good thrashing just to send home the message, they all knew who was responsible for that little bit of trickery. Yet there was no hard feelings, honor amongst thieves: take what you can and ask no forgiveness. Besides, they’d still made off well and good without hardly firing a shot.
“Back to the ships!” the ghoul captain commanded as he fired a celebratory shot in the air. Captain Avery and a few of the townsfolk stood by the docks, bound and gagged watching the necrotic crew making off with whatever hadn’t been nailed to the floor. They could, at least, count themselves lucky that they weren’t part of the cargo themselves: to go through whatever horrid process had turned those two fisherman ferals. They’d been spared that nightmare at least.

“Tell those Children of Atom smoothskins that the Heart Eater sends his warm regards!” The captain shouted back to the shore.

Back on the deck of the glowing ship, a solitary figure watched as the boats sailed back. The figure himself was aglow with radiation: it seeped from every crevice of his body. He was an ancient glowing one that’d somehow still managed to hold his sanity: at least partially. A dead radgull lay strewn across his feet, the results of flying too close to the vast aura of radiation that surrounded him. He gently picked the carcass, the skin of the dead creature nearly burned under his touch, and he tossed it over the railing.

The Heart-Eater grinned and turned to his rotted crew,

“We sail south,” He said simply, as he walked backed to his cabin.
Thomas Milburn, Lucky 38 Penthouse Floor

Mr. House faintly chuckled behind the monitor. “If such a thing… ‘face-to-face’… was possible, I would have preferred it. A meeting of old-world minds such as this has more bearing on the world than the middling, short-minded ones below could possibly know. But this is the best I can do.”

“Ah, understood,” Thomas said simply, knowing his guess of House’s biological condition was likely on the mark. He decided not to pry further, not unless Robert wished to speak more himself, and gladly took the glass of champagne offered to him by Jane.

“Step out to the windows, Thomas, and take a look.” The lights of New Vegas, from the highest precipice, were exhilarating and blinding to behold from above. “This is what happened to me. I’ve stayed breathing through the centuries to create this.”

Thomas stepped up and took a sip of the champagne, savoring its taste as he observed the New Vegas strip from a vantage point few had ever seen.

“You might ask – what was the use of wiping the dust off what many consider to be a relic of old-world vice…but you were a bright contemporary of mine. I am sure that you’ll come to the same conclusion as I have. For you to have gone for centuries unnoticed—and I do mean completely unnoticed—shows a difference in stroke. I will be the first to admit that I am far less subtle. This city is the greatest forge of wealth that has ever existed in this new world.”

“Your means of longevity, unless my terminal eye is mistaken, is unbelievable. I will put aside my pride for but a moment and admit that it outclasses even mine. Whatever you are building for yourself…between this, between -teleportation- of all discoveries…it is impressive. It is on coincidentally perfect time that our worlds have discovered one another.” He chuckled. “And I see that you have brought someone else to my home, as well. An -Irish- woman, from the looks of it. My curiosities aside, I do hope that she is finding everything to her liking as well. You will be in possession of the most lavish accommodations in New Vegas during your stay, I can assure you.”

“I assure you we both are,” Thomas smiled, “It was nice to come here and travel back in time, if even for a little while. Despite my appearance, my means of survival has been no less traumatizing I assure you. I needed this. A final, quaint, reminiscence before those memories are lost forever. I know we may disagree on many things Robert, I know in the past we had our differences...I distinctly remember many a heated discussion cascading down the halls of engineering lab. But perhaps we can agree to work together once again...it would be a fine thing to have my old colleague back. Just like the old days...”

Thomas turned back to the monitor, swirling the glass around and allowing himself to let his thoughts flow freely,

“The Institute, our Institute Robert, has made strides in technological advancement that most could only dream about. My predecessors to the Directorship, including my own son, believed that the advancements we made put us above the surface world and those that inhabited it. They espoused the notion that The Institute should stay hidden away, and safeguard its secrets carefully like a locked treasure box. Initially I came believed that myself. From the moment I stepped out of that Vault, I hated the surface and the world it represented. All of my memories, and all of my loved ones cherished and held dear: long dead and gone, and the remnants of the world I used to know treated like nothing more than trash and the odd curiosity to line some vulture scavengers pockets. It disgusted me. More than that it enraged me. From that moment forward, I resolved to focus on The Institute and safeguard mankind’s future there, leaving the surface to rot in its own ignorance and filth. What need would I have to try and wallow through such degeneracy? Why should I care for those that disgraced the world I once knew? I was such a fool then….too in love with the past to see the way forward.”

“But then a curious thing happened. The Brotherhood’s assault on Boston made The Institute realize that we could not remain blind to the surface and the threats it posed. So as I extended our eyes and ears, to observe far more than just The Commonwealth and the surrounding area: I came to learn more and more about what was up there. Rumors of great nations and sprawling cities: places with civilization and technological advancements that held the spark of the old world.”

“And then I heard talk of your great conference” Thomas smiled, “Your survival alone was a surprise to me, and I knew that perhaps if anyone could help me to navigate this new horrifying world. It would be you. And so I sent those spies to observe, to see if you and others might have been able to rise above what I’d thought was a quagmire of stagnation, and I was not disappointed.”

Thomas took another sip of his champagne, and stared out the windows of the Lucky 38 towards the lights and sounds of the strip below, and the signs of industry flourishing in the Mojave. He took in a deep breath and exhaled, as if drinking in the distilled essence of a time long gone, but yet recreated exquisitely before him. He wished he could bottle it and preserve it, but he knew that would solve nothing. He’d just remain as he had been: lost in the past, a man out of time. Unable to move forward.

“And then I knew I’d made a mistake. The wasteland was not beyond saving. It hadn’t neglected the past…quite the contrary...it was trying desperately to hold on to it. Just as I was. Each group I saw did this in their own way of course. The NCR and Texas look to the country we once knew for their law and governance. Other groups hold to more archaic notions, like The Commonwealth or this ‘Caesar’s Legion’: trying to find meaning and worth in civilizations even older than our own. The Brotherhood, well they look to the past in other ways don’t they? Hoarding technology and believing themselves the arbiters of all...unwilling to let others do what needs to be done. Stifling progress because they fear what that entails. And you...you my dear friend, you and I suffer from the same condition. We look to the past with nostalgia, and try to surround ourselves with things that remind us of the men we used to be. Of the lives we used to have. But we must force ourselves to leave that past behind, to realize that it can dictate our future. We saw the world that came before, and more importantly, know its failures. We can lead the world to a new and brighter future, and eradicate the mistakes of the past forever.”

“Perhaps we can achieve that,” Thomas finished with a grin, “Forging a new world….a better one. That is what I plan to do my friend, that is what I believe my purpose has now become. And I’ll see it through. But The Institute, as it is now, can’t do it alone. I need allies in this world that might share our goals for a new tomorrow….and desire the destruction of those that would hold us back.”

“So I came to you, personally to ask you one question: will you help me Robert?” His eyes fell on the monitor, waiting for his old friends response.

The Institute, Lower Levels

The elevator door to the Institute’s newly constructed lower levels opened to a massive darkened storage room, the only lights visible were those closest to the elevator itself. Max Loken and Alan Binet stepped out, flanked by two Gen-2 synths and single female Gen-3 who bore a dead expression in her eyes.

The two scientists looked at one another and then at the Gen-3, eyeing it with some confusion,

“We’ve spent days running diagnostic after diagnostic, there’s nothing wrong with the unit,” Loken said with a sigh, “I just don’t understand what might have happened. We’ve gone line by line, looked at every scrap of code executed during the incident. None of it out of place. In fact, it doesn’t appear like she was even following the programmed procedure…”

“Maybe she wasn’t,” Dr. Binet replied as he stared at the female Gen-3, “I know you don’t want to hear it Max...but…”

“No I don’t. And neither does The Director.”

“I’ve had a number of talks with Father and actually allowed me to voice my concerns regarding the issue of Synth sentience. If more people…”

“Spare me,” Loken sighed, “Regardless I don’t want to hear about it now. Father wanted us to look for a source of malfunction, mechanical or software based. We haven’t been able to find one yet. And Phase 4 is rapidly approaching, we have no choice but to clear the Gen-3 line once we’ve put into place the new safeguards that The Directorate is enforcing.”

Dr. Binet didn’t reply, but simply turned to the Gen-3, unwilling to argue further,

“A3-18, engage storage procedure”

A3 immediately began walking towards the darkness as Dr. Loken pressed a button on a nearby illuminated panel.

The lights in the storage room began to turn on one by one revealing rows upon rows of Gen-3s. Thousands of them lined up and backs straightened: packed together like crates of toy soldiers, each with the same deadened expression that A3 bore.

“We’ll have to get these suited up soon enough…”
Far Harbor, Maine

The frigid spray of the sea stung at their faces as the Harbormen heaved at their nets, laden with the day’s catch. The sun had already set and the night air beckoned them back to their warm beds and the piping hot bowl of vegetable soup their wives had no doubt been preparing. Just a few more traps to check and they’d be home safe and sound before the Harborwatch doused the lanterns.

“Oi that’s a beautiful lot of them ain’t it?”

“Plenty of big fat un’s here too Jon. None too irradiated. Should fetch a fine penny at market. Martha will be wanting me to bring a few back for her cookin’ of course.

“Best watch’er or she’ll take the whole pot! Har!”

The two harbormen laughed as the pulled in the final net, reeling in the last of their hard earned quarry. As they were pulling it in however, one of the men turned to the sea, a greenish glow emanating from below the murky waters caught his attention,

“What in hell’s fire is that?”

The two men turned, watching it grow larger and larger. Fear struck them and the strange taste of metal hit their lips. Something crested the water, a large dorsal fin appeared briefly before disappearing once more. The glow passed beneath their boat, and something rocked it so fiercely that they nearly lost their footing, while their net was torn right from their hands with such a force that it splintered the wood of the railing.

Suddenly the thing disappeared, as quickly as it had appeared. Leaving nothing but the ripples of the brackish water in its wake. Without a word, the two men looked at each other with terror in their eyes, each understanding that it was best if they returned to shore as quickly as they might.

Suddenly a great foghorn sounded out, and they turned to the sea. From beyond the mist the hellish horn sounded once again, this time a great green glow illuminated the shape of a massive ship it in its wake, bow to stern bristling with guns, shambling figures aboard. The sounds of a disjointed shanty seemed to travel through the night air, sung by the chorus of a hundred cracked throats. They could nearly feel the heat of radiation emanating from the ship, the unearthly glow seemed to pour from every crevice and porthole of the vessel. More ships appeared from the mist, no less well armed than the first, each engulfed in that sickly light.

The men had heard tell stories, legends their grandfathers had told them of such sights. Of a great decrepit fleet sailing the coast, crewed by the damned and the dying. Its appearance a signal of bad omen and the very waters it traveled upon ever after tainted by poison and mutation.

Horror gave way to paralysis, and the men felt unable to move, unable to turn their ship and sail back to the port that awaited them. Perhaps deep down, they knew that no such port would offer safe haven with such a monstrous enemy on the prowl, no escape could be found from the very reality that was their boyhood nightmares and ghost stories come to life before them.

So transfixed were they, that they didn’t notice the multitude of necrotic hands gripping the rails of their ship behind them, and pulling themselves aboard. Nor did their see, until too late, that the fleet was not merely passing by…...but waiting to meet those coming from the shore.
Legatus Aurelius of Phoenix - Onboard MWBOS Vertibird

"It looks like it's beginning", Wilson said calmly, "Lancer-Sergeant Kyle will take you where you wish to go, I am vectoring in another Vertibird with a squad of Knights to provide your Praetorians cover...I can also patch you through to your Headquarters if you wish."

Aurelius watched as his men battled below, the fighting quickly turning into a desperate brawl as the ambushed Legion forces did what they did best when faced against such a foe: counter-attack. A pain of guilt and shame struck him as he realized the deep error he’d unwittingly committed.

“No need,” Aurelius said finally, “My Centurions are already reacting. They need not wait for my command. I thank you for your forewarning Paladin-General.”

Aurelius then returned the receiver to the co-pilot and turned to the Lancer-Sergeant,

“Set the craft down at the nearest secure landing zone.”

“I don’t want to contradict you Legate but shouldn’t we…” Sergeant Kyle began to say.

Aurelius shot him a glare before turning his attention back to the battle below, it was clear he was not interested in the Sergeant’s rationale.

“I’ll find a spot immediately Legate.”

Vulpes Inculta

"I will build a second skull monolith with the legions SKULLS!"

Vulpes spurred his mount forward and charged, meeting the challenge that the Cult’s warlord offered to him. The two raced towards each other as the fighting around them raged fierce and bloody before finally colliding. Vulpes’s mount was knocked from under him as the sheer strength of the warlord was brought to bear against the beast’s neck, snapping it instantly. They tumbled to the ground, with the creature nearly pinning him against the street below. Vulpes could feel the hot stinking breath of the monstrous rat as he loomed overtop ready to devour what was left of him. With a swift lunge, Vulpes sent his blade plunging through the creature’s lower jaw and through the top of its head. Blood from the monster ran like a river, pouring over him: but he rolled away and lept to his feet, just in time to meet the gaze of the warlord.

"Should have just remained..."

A charging Praetorian fell to the warlord’s wicked blade, run through until the blade was slick with red crimson. The cultist then uttered another challenge to Vulpes

"I will carve out your heart with this very blade later on...Vulpes abandoned Son of Mars!"

“We shall see who is favored by his god and who is not, slave to the monolith.”

In one swift movement, Vulpes drew one of his throwing knifes and hurled it directly at Iron-Jaw’s head. Despite the surprise of the attack, the warlord was able to knock it aside with his blade just a hair’s breadth away from plunging into his skull. Vulpes dove toward the body of one of the fallen Praetorians and quickly picked up the spear that the legionary had once held. In lieu of his gladius, it would make an acceptable weapon. He twirled it skillfully in his hands feeling its balance and getting a feel for its length. He approached Iron-Jaw slowly who gave a disgustingly wide grin, eager for blood and battle.

Without a word Vulpes lunged at his exposed throat but his blow was knocked aside, a swift return kick sent Vulpes careening back and into a crouched position on the ground. Like a coiled snake he struck upwards, putting the full force of his body behind it. It was the cultist’s turn to be staggered back as he nearly struck his mark, catching Iron-Jaw off balance and allowing Vulpes an opening as he followed up with a blow from the steel-tipped butt of the spear. Iron-Jaw snarled and slashed at Vulpes in a rage, his blade inches from cutting into the neck of the Frumentarii. Vulpes jumped back and struck again, each quick attack he made probing for some weakness in the brute’s defenses.

Locked in combat, heedless of the slaughter around them the Son of Mars and the Servant of the Monolith continued their battle. Vulpes’ was the more agile of the two, his light armor and fighting style far more adapted to swift movements and quick attacks. Yet the warlord maintained his swift, brutal slashes with an endurance that would have seemed impossible for any other fighter of his stature. Victory for either rested on a single fatal mistake from the other.

Yet as the two fought, the battle around them began to slow. The Praetorians had taken the fight, and were finishing off the last of Iron-Jaw’s minions. One of the Praetorians ran a cultist through with his spear while the zealot lay helpless on the ground, blood pouring from his chest as the steel pierced his armor and then his heart. Seeing their victory at hand, a cry went up,

“Sons of Mars! Glory to Caesar!”

Vulpes gave a menacing smile as the remaining Praetorians began approaching the duo, weapons at the ready,

“It is over. Submit and face the cross, or die here and now. You have no other choice.”

Vegas - The Lucky 38 Hotel and Casino

“8:00pm on the dot,” Thomas casually said as he glanced at his wristwatch. He, along with Cait and the Coursers stood outside the doors of the Lucky 38. Right on cue, the doors began slowly opening up. Curious passersby stopped and stared, interested to see who might be getting an audience with the fabled Lord of The Strip: a rare honor by any standard.

“You weren’t kiddin’” Cait quipped as the sliding doors came to a final halt, and a securitron ushered them inside, “He’s punctual.”

“I’ve never known him not to be,” Thomas couldn’t help but give a grin, “He obsesses over precision to the point of madness sometimes. But it's that sort of insane attention to detail which made RobCo the industrial powerhouse it was in my time.”

Stepping inside the Lucky 38 was like traveling into a time capsule, or perhaps more accurately, a well preserved tomb. Everywhere were relics of a bygone age, and it looked as if the casino might very well have never left the world before behind. And perhaps in many ways: it hadn’t.

“Well howdy partners,” A friendly voice eliminated from beside the elevator. A securitron with the face of a cartoon cowboy greeted them, “Boss is waitin’ for ya upstairs Mr. Milburn. Hope you don’t mind, but he’s asked that you come on up alone. The rest of ya’ll can wait down here in the lobby. I’d be happy to fetch some refreshments for ya too!”

“That’ll be fine,” Thomas nodded to the two Coursers signaling for them to stand down before he turned to Cait, “I’ll be back shortly after Robert and I have caught up a bit…” He said, giving her a kiss.

“If anything happens, I’m blasting through these buckets of bolts.” Cait muttered under her breath.

“House is an old colleague: a different class of individual from a different time. He wouldn’t be so crass as to harm a guest and a friend. But in any case...I’ve come prepared,” He whispered the final words with a sly grin before stepping into the elevator and giving a wave while the doors closed.

“Penthouse Floor!” Came the announcement from the cowboy robot seconds later, the doors opened to reveal House’s spacious penthouse suite. A luxury that was pretty much exactly as he’d been expecting. Elegant: but simple. A securitron with a female face greeted him this time,

“Welcome to the Penthouse. Mr. House is right over there sugar. He’s waiting for you…”

“Thank you,” Thomas nodded. He was about to walk away when he realized something rather odd, and turned back to the robot, “Your name….it wouldn’t happen to be Jane would it?”

“Why of course it is sugar! How good of you to know!”

“Of course it is,” Thomas chuckled with a shake of his head, “Robert..still fanning old flames.”

He descended the stairs down to the bottom floor of the Penthouse, and to his surprise he found yet another large monitor much like the one in the El Dorado: once again House’s picture was displayed on screen. He could only assume this meant that, far from the screen being a long-distance method of communication, it was perhaps House’s only method.

“I’d hoped to meet you face to face this time Robert….but then I assume this must mean that the method of your survival past the war was not...ideal. If there ever can be such a thing in the first place. What happened to you Robert?”

Diamond City - The Mayor’s Office

“McDonough! Get out here! Lemme through! Ow, don’t touch me!”

Even without looking up from the stack of papers she was pretending to be busy working on, Geneva knew exactly who it was. Two hands slammed down on her desk, and Geneva gave a heavy sigh before looking up at Piper through her dainty reading glasses,

“Hello Piper, what is it this time?” Geneva sniffed the air around her and recoiled, “Christ Piper have you been drinking Bobrov’s moonshine again? Tsk tsk. You know Pip-pip, you’ll never get a good man to take care of you and that sister of yours if you keep acting like this…”

“Can it. I don’t need a lecture from a girl who’s only real job here is to be the Mayor’s pincushion.”

“Why you little…”

“Enough you two, Piper what is it?” The voice of Mayor McDonough came from the doorway of his office.

“I need to speak with you. NOW.” Piper said. She glared at the Mayor with such intensity that he didn’t need to ask what exactly she meant.

“The mayor is very busy Piper I think you should come back…”

“Its alright Geneva. Piper, come with me,” McDonough motioned for Piper to follow him. Piper lifted her hands from Geneva’s desk and entered the office, ignoring the sneer the angry secretary was giving her.

McDonough closed the doors to his office and turned to walk down the hallway to the private area: his own personal quarters. Piper followed suit, and once they were both behind yet another pair of closed doors. McDonough sat down and turned to her,

“Alright let’s hear it. Let it all out...”

“Your masters better damn well tell me what is going on. You tell them I know what they’ve been doing, but I want to know why. Get on whatever phone, send whatever signal, or shit send a homing pigeon….however the hell you communicate with them. I. want. to. know. And you tell him….you tell Thomas tell him he has to come down here himself and tell me. Got it? I want him to tell me in person, you understand? I want him to look me in the eyes and tell me….he has to tell me...”

Tears, unwelcome and unbidden, began to well up in Piper’s eyes. She couldn’t help it, even though she hated herself for acting like this.

“Tell you what? That he’s sorry? That’s not going to happen Piper, you know that’s not going to happen.”

“No,” She muttered angrily through her tears, “I don’t care about what he did to me. I don’t care what he did to Nick. Not anymore. That ship has sailed long ago,” Piper lowered her finger accusingly at the Mayor, “I want him to tell me what he’s doing with The Commonwealth. There’s rumours all around that The Institute is up to something. People have seen strange lights and there’s been sightings of white-clad synths all over The Commonwealth. Raider gangs are getting popped left and right. And you know the weirdest thing I heard? Nobody has seen or heard from The Gunners in weeks. I heard from a trader that used to work with them that he was over at their HQ recently. Its abandoned. What the hell are they up to?”

“Your guess is as good as mine Miss Piper,” McDonough grinned, “I would not worry. If The Institute is indeed behind these things, as you suggest, consider that perhaps they have a greater plan in mind for all The Commonwealth.”

“Bullshit,” Piper yelled, “Don’t give me that crap. One word: Goodneighbor. Huh? Have you forgotten Goodneighbor?” Piper reached over and grabbed the Mayor by his suit jacket, “I know what happened there. Thomas thinks he can lie to me and tell me everything is fine, but I know. He massacred the entire fucking town and replaced them with his toy soldiers. With...with YOU!” she pointed at McDonough, “He’s a monster. One I helped to create...if I had known then what I know now, I would have put a bullet in his head the moment he walked into my office with that sob story about his son.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions Piper, and don’t start talking crazy. Or have you forgotten that you still need him? Frankly Piper, without the Director you would have been marked for termination long ago. I’m surprised you’re still alive after the latest fiasco to be honest, the ghoul? You remember of course. The dapper gentleman that visited your office. You’re lucky that Father spoke up in your defense, and that the effects were mitigated.”

Piper lowered her gaze, sneering angrily “Don’t call him that. Don’t fucking call him that,” Piper clenched her fist, “He’s no one's ‘father’.”

“On the contrary...he is my Father,” McDonough said sternly, “And soon everyone will know him as such.”

Without another word, McDonough reached down into his side table and pulled forth a small pristine white box. It's only markings were a serial number designation printed on the cover,

“Now that you’ve got your usual soapboxing out of the way, let's return to the real reason you’ve come here Piper. Here, this is for you. Your sister’s next batch of medication. Compliments of Dr. Volkert.”

Piper took the box as if she was being handed a priceless artifact, and gingerly ran her finger along the serial number. The bite in her voice was gone, and a soft, even timid, tone now took hold,

“The same as before then?”

“Yes, twice a day with food. If her condition changes in any way, you’re to let me know immediately. I’ll inform the doctor.”

“Thank you,” Piper said, as she clutched the box to her chest. She stared down at her feet, unable to look the Mayor in the eye now.

“I assume we’ve once again come to terms then?”

“Yes,” Piper replied quietly as she shuffled out the door.

“Excellent. And please Piper, next time skip the usual trip to the Dugout Inn before you come barging into my office. Its unseemly, and people are starting to talk. Surely you can manage this transaction without needing to be intoxicated...”
Corvega Assembly Plant - Lexington, Mass. (The Commonwealth)

Gunners and Operators alike assembled in the town of Lexington, their approach having been hidden by the cover of night. Under The Institute’s watchful eye, the two groups were now undertaking their first major operation, and the lead up to it had not been without pitfalls. The Gunners had taken more persuading, but with their high command replaced by Synths and under direct control by SRB operatives, they’d fallen right into line. The Operators, despite being raiders, had taken much less convincing. With their complete control of Nuka Town now completely secured, Mags and William Black knew which side their bread was buttered on.

The time was fast approaching when SRB had further plans for the two groups, but for now they were acting as a sort of trial run. In typical fashion, The Institute never did anything half-cocked. Experimentation and validation were all necessary before taking any major decision. And so it was with Phase 4. The transformation of Operators and Gunners would serve as that boilerplate template. Something that could be expanded and transposed on others.

Leading The Operator contingent, William Black looked up at his scouts positioned on the Lexington overpass. A flashlight signal indicated they were all set, and William nodded to the Gunner commanding officer next to him: Captain Haverford.

“All set, now we just need to hear from the eggheads when to begin.”

Both William and Haverford turned back to look at the Gen-1 Synth standing behind them, the synth had been silently observing their actions ever since they’d set out.

“Well? We’re here.” William said expectantly.

“All operation parameters successfully met. Standby for instruction.”

“What’s that mean?” Haverford raised an eyebrow.

The synth ignored him and stepped forward, placing a small circular object on the ground and stepping away. Blue light emanated forth, and a hologram of a woman in an Institute labcoat appeared before them: Alana Secord, Director of SRB.

“Congratulations on getting to this point. I’ll admit I had my doubts that you’d be able to keep your organization as well as you did….I am happy to say I was wrong. However, the true test still lies ahead. You’re standing before the old pre-war Corvega Assembly Plant, now the site of a major raider stronghold in the region. You’re to take control of the plant immediately and exterminate anything you find inside. The Institute has been engaging in similar operations throughout The Commonwealth to seize industrial sites of particular interest. The attack you are about to launch will be conducted synchronously with an attack on Saugus Ironworks and The Poseidon Energy plant. As well as several other classified locations.”

“I suppose you’ll eventually tell us why?” Captain Haverford quipped.

“Because Father has ordered it, and so you’ll do it. That’s all you need to know. And Captain...listen, don’t talk,” Alana’s hologram glared back at him. The Gunner veteran shrunk back immediately, a stark fear looming in his eyes.

“Seize the facility and report in afterwards. That is all,” Alana said simply, “End program.”

The hologram immediately dissipated and the Synth walked up to retrieve the device once more. Once it had done so, it looked to William and Captain Haverford once gain, silently observing: preparing to judge their next moves carefully.

“We’ll stick to our original plan,” William said, “Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Go in swift and brutal, the less time they have to organize a defense, the better. My Operators will attack up the west ramp. I have snipers already in position on the overpass to give your men cover, once you’re in position. Send up a flare and that will be the signal for the attack.”

Haverford nodded, and motioned for his men to move up through the town towards the plant. William began to move off with the Operators in tow, but before he did Haverford stopped him with a shaking hand,

“I’m not sure what’s more terrifying,” He said in a low voice, looking towards the Gen-1 Synth, “The idea that they can replace you at any time, for any reason…...or that maybe they already have.”

Without another word, the Captain sorrowfully slunk off, leaving William alone with those haunting words echoing in his mind. Then another voice struck up that sent a chill down his spine.

“Serve Father loyally, and there is no need for fear.”

William turned sharply to find the Gen-1 synth staring at him, speaking in an uncanny tone of voice that seemed unusual even for those skeletal things.

“You are all so like children, and so Father shall lead you to a new world. The horrors of this one, will soon be at an end. And the mistakes that led to the Great War will never be repeated again. Will you join us in seeing that done?”

William slowly nodded, not taking his eyes off the robotic skeleton.

“Then do so.”

Without another word, William turned and rejoined his waiting Operators, his mind turning towards the battle ahead. Atop the town, a red flare shot skyward illuminating the dark town for a single brief moment. Gunshots sounded out soon afterwards.

“Let’s go,” William said swiftly. His Operators nodded, and followed him in.

Desmond Lockheart - The Free Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

“Amaaaaazing grace, how sweeeeet the sound that saaaaved a wretch like meeee!”

Desmond sat in the back of the swaying covered wagon as it bumped over the uneven dirt road, and plugged his ears at the sound of the singing caravaners. Obviously having none of their religious fervor. He’d been on the trail with them for nearly three days, and he was just about ready to arrange for them a personal meeting with their lord and savior,

“Mr. Lockheart,” One of the men sitting across from him in the cart spoke up, “Do you own a copy of scripture?”

“No.”

“Well I would think you would want to. An individual with your...affliction should no doubt turn to the Lord for guidance and salvation. Especially in these trying times.”

“Come again Jethro? What ‘affliction’? You mean being a ghoul? Your God sure as hell doesn’t care about that I guarantee it.”

An audible gasp emitted from the surrounding caravaners in the wagon.

“No need for such coarse language Mr. Lockheart. I have no issue with your kind myself, this caravan has traveled from here to New York and as far north as the Massachusetts Commonwealth, we’ve met all sorts of people in our wanderings. I’m merely suggesting that perhaps you’d find some measure of comfort in the good book. Here...take my travelers copy. Read if over a bit while you wait to get to your destination.”

Desmond took hold of the small well-worn copy of the Bible and flipped it over. ‘Printed in Philadelphia, Anno Domini 2285’ was imprinted on the black leather cover.

“If it’ll get you yahoos to shut up, fine I’ll take it,” He said gruffly, “Where in the...” He paused, suddenly aware that all the eyes of the caravaners were now on him, “....uhh...heck...are we?”

The Caravaneers all breathed a sigh of relief, “We’re not far outside of York. We’ll soon stop and let you off as we’ll be turning North to Harrisburg, but obviously you’ll want to keep going west...I pray for your safety Mr. Lockheart, I pray for the safety of anyone, even ghouls, who might travel to that land that God has forsaken.”

“I’ll ignore the ghoul comment for now, what do you know about the Cult’s territory?” Desmond asked.

At the word ‘cult’, a few members of the caravan lowered their heads and began mumbling prayers as if they were warding off evil spirits,

“Little enough. I know our armies are engaged in a heroic crusade to end that blight on this earth once and for all, and send their so-called ‘Prophet’ screaming back to the depths of the pit. Many of us have friends or family fighting on the front...it’s a horrid business Mr. Lockheart. A horrid business. But we must see it through to the end.”

“Why on earth would you wish to go there?” A female caravaner asked.

“I have my reasons. Lets just assume I need information and leave it at that. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop prying too.”

“Well whatever the case, go with God.”

The wagon suddenly came to a stop, and the driver called out, “Crossroads, you’ll wantin’ to be heading west now. Just keep following the road to York, from there...it's just a short hop to that black land of evil.”

“Finally…” Desmond muttered and he stood up to get out before Jethro grabbed his arm, “You’ll be wanting to take a look at that book I gave you. You’ll find the words of the Father inside.” He then smiled and released his grip.

Desmond cocked his head and continued out without another word, jumping down from the wagon and finding himself at a crossroads surrounded by grain fields. The caravan continued off down the dirt road north and while he didn’t want to give them much more thought, Jethro’s words had piqued Desmond’s curiosity. He opened reached down and pulled the traveler’s bible from his side pocket, and opened it up.

To his surprise he found the book was hollowed out, and a holotape was tucked neatly inside the pages,

“Son of a…”

Desmond reached down and grabbed the pip-boy he’d been carrying out of his satchel. It was a useful little piece of pre-war tech to have, but he didn’t like to wear it given the attention it tended to draw. He fashioned to his wrist and popped the holotape inside. A few seconds passed while the tape was decrypted before it began to play,

“Desmond. If we are tracking your progress correctly. You are nearly at the border of Cult controlled territory. Proceed with extreme caution. The reports we’ve had coming in from Indianapolis are troublesome and indicate the Cult to be far more organized and deadly than initially assumed. This could, perhaps, be worked to our advantage however. Your status as a ‘ghoul’ may serve you better when trying to remain inconspicuous in their territory. Report back to SRB as soon as you are able.”

“Troublesome, hmm. Coming from them..that’s just vague enough to be horrifying,” Desmond quipped, as he shouldered his pack, and continued on down the road.

Next stop. The Land of the Monolith.
Goz - Outskirts of the Dawi Camp

A malformed stunted shape stalked the edges of the Dwarf camp, peering down the cliff side towards the tents and great billowing furnaces of industry that stretched across the exterior of Eight Peaks. The wretched goblin's name was Goz, and he twitched at the sight of just how many stunties there were. Much more than his warboss, Dimzog Rootrot, had expected.

"Ooo Da Boss is gunna be mad 'bout dis. Dem gobos said there wuz only a small group of stunties. Look at all dem down there. Humies is wit dem too...deys gettin' battle ready. Gunna be a big fight! Lotta stunties need killin'. Gunna need more boyz for dat..."

Goz squinted his eyes and saw one of the Dwarfs leaving a particularly impressive looking tent at the center of the camp. His armor was emblazoned blue and gold with a great horned helm, and his beard long and white: showing his age and experience. Even a simple minded goblin like Goz could understand who this was, the leader of the Dwarven throng: Belegar Ironhammer.

"We kill em'!" Goz shouted, below he clasped a green hand over his mouth, not wanting to give away his position with such antics.

"Gotta git back to Da Boss. Gotta tell him Ironhammer is here." He muttered to himself.

Goz scrambled up from his perch and began making his way back across the rim of the mountainside towards the hole from which he'd snuck out of. It was a precarious bit of walking, and more than once he felt himself briefly lose his grip. But he trudged onward, snickering to himself about how the stunties were gunna get clobbered by Dimzog's crew. Surely the Big Boss would reward him for his efforts once they were all dead and their loot was free for the taking.

A rock suddenly struck him aside the head, and Goz yelped a brief screech of pain before losing his grip entirely and tumbling off the cliff and down towards the Dwarf camp. He seemed to hit just about every jagged rock he could have, and by the time he reached the bottom he was well and truly dead.

A snicker emanated from the cliffside, and a cloaked shape emerged. A sling was clutched in its paws,

"Green-thing say-speak nothing."

And with that the Eshin Night Runner turned and disappeared down the hole in a flash, eager to now make his own report.
Vulpes Inculta - Indianapolis

Chaos had erupted inside the fallen city, as the Cult’s warriors sprang their trap, assaulting Brotherhood and Legion troops alike in a mad bloody melee. It was like the earth itself had opened up and spit out beasts and men from the depths of hell. The Legion’s forces reacted immediately, and Centurions ordered their men into defensive formations as they’d been drilled and trained to do time and time again. Ambushes of this sort were not uncommon for The Legion to encounter: experienced as they were in fighting tribals and guerilla fighters in Utah and Colorado. But the Cult’s war beast abominations and horrific appearance unnerved even the hardened Veterans.

“Hold them!” A Centurion standing on a rooftop shouted above the din of battle as his Legionaries fought on bravely below. Blades against blades, chainsaws revving and tearing into flesh, gunshots ringing out and blood coating the concrete and rusted steel of the city. A molerat mount, riderless, and covered in spears like some kind of twisted porcupine road through the carnage before collapsing from exhaustion and blood loss. Despite the ferocity of the sudden attack and the horrors they faced, the Legion would give no ground. All would rather die than shame the standard of Caesar.

Vulpes Inculta road with the Praetorian Guard towards the battle, his gaze fixed ahead and his mind immediately turning to planning a counter-attack now that The Cult had revealed its plan. He should have seen this coming, Indianapolis had fallen too easily and it was hard to imagine how the Cult could have allowed such weak fighters to represent them on the field. Now the truth was made manifest: they’d saved their best warriors in reserve and only now committed them to a final assault. They could never hope to claim victory, but victory wasn’t their objective.

He suppressed a grin, he had to give them credit...it was a trap that he would have gladly sprung himself against The NCR. Perhaps it was not entirely as...imaginative as some of his past work...but no less deadly for that. The fact that they’d been able to conceal such abominations and such raw power for long enough to make them count...it all pointed to the Cult’s war leaders even in such a backwater part of their territory having far more strategic acumen than he or perhaps even The Brotherhood’s Inquisitors had been willing to consider.

The group of Praetorian horsemen were just about to regroup with the main column when out behind the rubble sprung a group of cult marauders. The horses reared up in startled protest and stamped impatiently at the sight before them. Each cultist was mounted on horrifically twisted and mutated molerat beasts, abominations that seemed to scream madness. Their riders, too, were no less gruesome with gore-riddled spikes and heavy armor and helmets. The lead rider, a massive ungainly brute, clenched his jaw in a malicious grin, and then he shouted,

"FRESH MEAT FOR THE SLAUGHTER! AT THEM!"

Vulpes steeled his nerve, sent up a silent prayer to Mars, and drew his gladius. The Praetorians immediately followed suit, their unsheathed blades singing with desire for blood and glory. He gripped the reigns of his horse and lowered his blade at the approaching foe,

“Take them head on. Break through..” He said calmly to the men around him, “LEGIO INVICTA!” He yelled finally and spurred his mount forward.

“LEGIO INVICTA!” Came the Praetorians reply. A war horn blared out proudly.

And they charged.

Time seemed to stand still as the two groups raced towards one another before finally they clashed, riders tangling amongst each other in bloody carnage. The Praetorians were the Legion’s elite: the best fighters hand-picked to guard Caesar. They fought just as well with blade, firearm, spear, and fist. Each man would give his all in this battle.

Vulpes knew his target. As the slaughter raged around him, he singled out the lead rider and raised his gladius in a challenge,

“Your dark god cannot help you,” He taunted, “I am a Son of Mars...and I am Legion. We will tear your monolith to the ground, and see your degenerate Prophet nailed to a cross...your end is coming. Sooner than you think.”

The Aces Theatre at the Tops Casino- The Vegas Strip

One scotch, one bourbon, one beer…

The soft jazzy tune drifted around the smoky atmosphere of the Aces Theatre. Thomas, seated in the booth with Cait, was sipping on a ice cold nuka cola orange: his favorite flavor. His arm wrapped tightly around the redhead in a display of affection he rarely showed in public around The Institute. The two Courser bodyguards, disguised as they were, looked like two well dressed button men standing to either side of the booth. Patrons of the Theatre assumed he was some sort of mob figure with his squeeze or perhaps a big-shot Nevada tycoon in cahoots with Mr. House. They were not...entirely wrong.

Cait refrained from any alcohol offered to her by the waiters. She was close to three years sober at this point, and never intended to touch the stuff again despite her earlier jokes. She knew she couldn’t risk falling back into her old ways. Thomas, who’d never been a big drinker in the first place, was more than happy to stick to cola when she was around as well. It suited him just fine: better in fact. So rather than be drunk, both of them just sat listening to the music and taking in the sights and sounds of the Theatre. Enjoying each other’s company in a rare moment of bliss.

Thomas would have to thank Robert later for giving him the chance to cut loose for a bit. It was certainly a nice change of pace from his usual busy schedule at The Institute. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings were the order of the day there. Not that he didn’t enjoy his work mind you, The Institute had become his life. He’d devote everything he could spare to it and its people. All he could hope was that Shaun would have approved of what he was doing, of the path he was treading for them. It was all he had left of him. He would see his final vision come to fruition.

“Is this what it was like?” Cait’s voice snapped him out of the hypnotic-like trance of relaxation the music and cozy atmosphere had him under, “You know….before.”

He looked down at her, wrapped as she was in his arms. He smiled,

“Yes. It was this and more. Not everything was good...plenty was wrong with the world before. But this...this is what was right.”

“I think I would have liked it then,” she replied as she nestled herself in deeper. She closed her eyes and continued listening to the music, nearly falling asleep.

“I think you would have too….”

Dr. Madison Lee - The Institute

“Have a good night Dr. Lee!” The cheery voice of Rosalind Ormand carried out the door of the Advanced Systems Division as it slid to a close. Dr. Lee took a deep breath and began her slow walk home through The Institute’s concourse and back up to her residence on the top floor of the atrium wing. Quiet hours had already begun, and artificial starlight shown through the domed ceiling of The Institute’s interior. To those born and raised in this underground paradise, the lights above were a calming presence, and something of great beauty. But to Madison, born and raised on the the surface, they couldn’t compare with the real thing even if she did find herself occasionally staring up as if she was looking at the infinite blackness that was the night sky. But like much of what was in The Institute, it was still artificial...and she hated it sometimes.

As she began walking up the stairs, she reflected on how things had changed since Shaun had died and his father had taken up his mantle: becoming leader of The Institute. New protocols, new directives...and now the implementation of the next step in whatever master plan the Milburn family had for The Institute and the world. It was being dubbed “Phase 4”, not without reason obviously given the last Phase, and despite her high rank within The Directorate her information about its objective and status was limited. But she knew enough to understand where it was eventually going...how many “Phases” it would take, what they would eventually all lead to. There was only one logical outcome...perhaps the world would be for the better….or perhaps they were wrong and they would replace one horror with another kind. She wasn’t sure.

At this point though, she didn’t care. After she’d confronted Director Thomas about everything….the FEV experiments undertaken by his son…..Dr. Virgil’s confinement....the new Phase 4 directives...the secret missives he’d been distributing to each of the Divisions…the work he’d ordered Advanced Systems to perform without her consent....well after everything he had almost seemed impressed with her deductive skills. She’d threatened to resign, threatened to return to the surface, find Sarah Lyons and give her everything she’d need to bring The Institute to its knees as one final act of revenge.

It was a hollow threat, and she hadn’t expected to survive it, at least not in the form she was...but Thomas had only smiled. Smiled in that gentle, oddly comforting way that he always did. And he offered her a deal.

A deal she couldn’t refuse.

She’d taken it. Taken it like she was selling her soul to the devil, and doing so with gusto. Thomas wasn’t stupid, and he played her like a fiddle. He knew exactly what she wanted...and how far she would go to attain it. He dangled it in front of her like a carrot...and she snapped at the bait. Now...Thomas had her in the palm of his hands: she would admit that fully, but she didn’t care.

Madison stopped at the door to her apartment and paused briefly. The retinal scan confirmed her identity and the doors slid open with a hiss.

“Welcome home Madison, how was your day honey?”

The warm voice greeted her with a rush of dopamine. Stronger than the strongest drug any chem-addict could concoct,

“It was good James, I had a great day in fact…” She nearly ran over to the counter where James was standing: he looked just as she’d remembered him to be. Just as perfect, just as radiant and brilliant. Now...he was hers.

“I’m glad….I tried to make you dinner, unfortunately I don’t think it turned out as well as I imagined it would. I was never a great cook, but you know that...”

“Its alright...I’ll enjoy it all the same…”

And she leaned in and kissed him, kissed him deeply. Finally feeling his lips on hers….no matter how many times she felt them, she couldn’t get over it. After all these years of wanting, needing, and going without...she would do it no more.

“Why don’t we sit down, and you can tell me all about your work. I’d love to hear about it.”

“I’d be glad to share,” She smiled, “I’m so happy you’re here again James….so happy.”

“I’m happy too Madison. Happy to be with you finally…..”

Yes….she now owed no loyalty but to the one who’d given her everything she’d wanted. Even if Phase 4 scared her….she’d see it through now. She had no choice. But then again….she never did really.
Indianapolis Town Square

“Sergeant Kyle…” Vulpes muttered to himself, “Of course...convenient for you to arrive here….” Dressed as he was in a Praetorians uniform with his helmet distorting his voice, he neither expected nor wished for the Sergeant to realize who he was, or that he’d interrogated him only some hours before. The Sergeant’s sudden appearance was...odd..but perhaps such coincidences could be explained by the work of Mars.

Before any conversation could continue, one of the vertibird co-pilots came running out of the aircraft, making a bee-line for them,

“Sergeant!” He shouted, “Its the Paladin-General! He’s ordering us to take off immediately! There’s some sort of situation! He’s asked that we take the Legate up with us for safety and that he get into contact with him immediately.”

The Legion troops all looked to Aurelius, waiting for his orders,

“Very well,” the Legate nodded, “I assume this must have something to do with the sudden appearance of the mutant. You two..” He pointed to two of the Praetorians, “With me. The rest of you,” His eyes fell on Vulpes, “Make haste back to the column and halt the advance. All legionaries are to hold their current positions until further orders are given. Am I understood?”

“Yes Legatus!”

Aurelius immediately followed Sergeant Kyle back to the vertibird and hopped aboard with two of the guards. In no time the vertibird was off the ground and hundreds of feet in the air. Aurelius watched as the horsemen below turned heel and began riding hard back through the city.

Once they were out of immediate danger, the co-pilot handed him the radio transceiver and Aurelius took it,

“This is Legate Aurelius,” He began, “What is the situation?”
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