Story: Ain't That a Kick in the Head (all chapters)

Authors: Blood_Covered_Pheonix

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Chapter 1

[Author's notes: I actually proof read this, I\'m really proud of myself for that.]

          Purple miasma swirled with intermittent bright spots. Eyes began to sting, lungs burned. Ten seconds left. Legs pushed harder, thighs burned. The purple parted, leaving only a red haze. Christine doubled over, coughing harshly. Her throat burned as she pulled air into her lungs. It wasn’t clean air like the Mohave but it felt better than the poisonous mist known as The Cloud. She coughed one last time before straightening. With a final glance back at the bloated Cloud she set her gaze forward.

          Around her, two-story buildings created a maze of collapsed structures and cobblestone paths. She took another breath, straining her eyes for shapes against the background of red. Nothing stirred into jerky movements. She sighed with relief. No Ghost people yet.

          Christine passed a hand over her scarred bald head, a habit that often left bloody or grimy hand prints atop her dome. She set out down the alley, eyes peeled and senses on high alert. Something was wrong; the very aura of the Villa screamed it. The colony of Ghost people had come alive in search of something. Hundreds of them stumbled about the Villa in a hyper aroused state, attacking everything that moved near them, even holograms. It put her on edge; the creepy inhabitants of the Sierra Madre hadn’t been this stirred up since the Gala Event nearly five years ago.

          Whatever it was, it had to be big. Over the years, she had dealt with small disturbances, a person or small group occasionally fell for the allure of the Sierra Madre and ended up in the middle of one of Elijah’s old traps. These occurrences had always elicited a small hunting party, never full colony resurgence. Though if it was that big, she should have noticed it as well but she hadn’t noticed anything strange beyond the reaction of the Ghosts. That worried her. The worst part of it seemed to be that the Ghosts were completely scrambled. She had learned that they were simple creatures, basically like ants. They slept below the city and came up for food. They were efficient when it came to hunting, organized. They located the target, eliminated it and then ate. Now though, they were lost. It was as though they had suddenly gone blind. All of them stumbled aimlessly in a search for food they couldn’t sense.

          Christine rubbed her head again, some deep part of her freezing over with fear. She had come to the end of the alley and found an open intersection crawling with Ghosts. She knew in this state the Ghosts would only perceive her if she walked a foot in front of them, but it was still unnerving to walk among so many. She picked her way through the intersection slowly, coming to the entrance of a small street and ducked into it. She watched the jittery movements of the confused Ghosts for a few minutes. They gasped to one another, perturbed by the sudden sensory blindness. Their dark, heavy clothes rustled with each jerky malformed step they took. Some even had bear trap fists that they activated with each step.

          The mute had been watching this behavior all day, finding it more disturbing as she went on. She’d spent the entire day scouring the Villa for the disturbance. It was growing late now. It felt that way at least. The Madre had no sun, just a constant red haze that made telling time practically impossible.  She’d searched most of the traps that people turned up in, checked all the buildings in those areas. That had turned up nothing so she had embarked on a linear search of the entire Villa. She was now around ten hours, she estimated, into that endeavor and the farthest from the Sierra Madre Casino she’d been in years. This section was also the last left to check for her disturbance.

          She looked up at the street sign above her head. It was rusted and worn, but she could still see the symbols on it. She couldn’t read it, however. She cursed the Think Tank as she had thousands of times. Of all that had befallen her since beginning her quest to execute Elijah, the Think Tank making a flashlight out of her head had been the worst. Dr. Klein had called it ‘alexia’. She called it annoying, frustrating, and unfair. With old anger burning her gut, Christine started walking down the street. Without warning, sounds of a scuffle broke out of an alley toward her. She looked down the alley to find the bloated Cloud swirling tauntingly at her. The sound of a bear trap fist crunching closed on the haft of a spear gave her pause before she ran head long into the Cloud, holding her breath.

          Christine broke through on the other side to find one of the small Villa streets filled with Ghosts. They stumbled about, jerking and fidgeting around a central figure. A Seeker stood almost in the center of the street, a few short feet from a fountain. It punched at something lost in the sea of red haze and dark cloth; occasionally it let out an ear piercing screech instead of the usual raspy gasps. The sound was terrible, something that projected beyond the auditory level and made the eyes water. This brought the Ghosts surrounding it to swipe angrily at its prey for a few seconds before returning to hopeless confusion. She smiled grimly, she’d found her problem.

          Immediately, Christine started climbing a pile of rubble next to her hoping to get a look at the Seeker’s elusive foe. She got high enough to discover a figure in a duster fighting off the Seeker with a knife spear. The mute began mapping out routes to rescue the Seeker’s opponent. She hopped onto one of the slightly inclined tile sections of the building and ran along it until she launched herself off of the building toward the fountain. Christine rocketed at the fountain, locking her hands around the slippery water spout.

          The Ghosts around her came to a sudden stop, the wheezing from behind their gas masks coming to a quick end. Their jittery heads halting. Almost as one collective movement, their heads danced to the fountain. Water poured over her, chilling her to the bone but Christine didn’t move, didn’t breathe. Her arms cramped and thighs burned but her lungs felt like they were going to explode.

          A terrible shrill scream shocked Christine into taking a gasping breath. The entire street was once again alive with the jittering of confused Ghost people. She allowed herself a few quick breaths before climbing carefully down the fountain spout and standing into the well. She scanned for the duster again, finding the brown leather easily among the dark swirling bodies. The girl, for upon closer inspection she could see the curvy extra bits of flesh that marked femininity, was looking down seemingly having killed the Seeker. She lingered over the body for a second before turning to find a path through the Ghosts. The girl set off toward an alley going deeper into Villa, past the police station.

          Christine watched for a few more breaths, noticing something strange about her gait. She favored her left leg always stepping forward with it. Her right leg drug behind, causing her to stop every few steps to rest. A cripple, she realized with incredulity. A cripple in a brown duster had come and somehow put an entire colony of Ghost people into frenzy. Movement in Christine’s peripheral left drew her attention. A glance told her it was the Seeker from before. The girl must have left its limbs intact. The Seeker was trembling its way to the girl, much faster than her limping was carrying her away. The mute looked for a path to the crippled girl, but found the stumbling Ghosts blocking all potential paths. The Seeker was gaining quickly. Making noise would only bring attention to her, not the threat. Her voice was too unused to carry far enough. The Seeker jerked close enough to strike. Three seconds.

          Without hesitation Christine puller her laser pistol from the waistband of her pants. She drew a bead on the Seeker’s leg and pulled the trigger. The shot sped through the air and missed completely, the beam embedding in the cobblestone in front of the Seeker’s foot. She cursed internally, she’d known it was a long shot, ten feet in a mass of bodies, but to miss that badly was embarrassing. It had at least drawn the attention of the Seeker to her, and gotten the cripple to turn around. It had also brought the attention of all the Ghosts directly to her.

          The Ghosts all lurched toward her, coming to the edge of the fountain. Christine waded through the fountain and jumped into the crowd of thrashing Ghosts. She landed on a Hunter, making sure to destroy its shoulder before slamming her elbow into another’s face. She spun around, preparing to counter an attack, but found empty air. Confused, she found the nearest Ghost, discovering that it was still heading for the fountain. The mute looked around and found that all the Ghosts were heading there. Shaking off her dismay she headed for the girl in the duster, who had taken down the Seeker and ripped off its arm.

          Christine ran up on the girl, clapping her on the back. The girl’s head swiveled about in a defensive pose ready to attack. The face that greeted her eyes stunned her so much she didn’t even see the fist flying at her face until it connected painfully with her cheek. The bald woman rubbed her cheek while the girl narrowed her green eyes. Green eyes? She looked again. The face was so similar, a small nose, broad forehead, soft mouth and large expressive eyes distributed with a sloped gentle jawline and soft cheeks. The hair looked similar too, the shade and maybe rough style, but most of it was hidden under the bandanna and biker goggles she wore. The eyes were the wrong color, green instead of brown and the chin was a little more prominent.

          “Who the hell are you?” The voice was different too. Not level and low with a high end when emphasizing a word. Not the soft wounding gentle croon either. This was higher and husky. The voice of a seductress, though hushed with fear and exhaustion. A rough hand on her shoulder snapped Christine out of her reverie. The girl’s eyes were flashing with fear, hardening as she made a decision. She hefted the knife spear and asked menacingly. “What do you want?” Her voice dropped low, losing a little of the husky, smoky quality with a subtle edge of fear dropping in. The bald woman held up her hands, pointing at her throat. She shook her head and opened her mouth. “You can’t speak?” The girl asked, Christine nodded, pointing to a building at the end of the street that the Ghosts hadn’t broken into yet. “Why should I trust you?” Christine gestured to the mass of Ghosts currently destroying the fountain head. The girl glanced up at it then gestured to her deformed leg. “It’s pretty far. Isn’t there a closer one?” The mute shook her head, walking around to the cripple’s bad side. “No!” The girl hissed. “I don’t need held. I can walk just fine.” Christine felt the scars at the corners of her mouth twitch up and gestured for her to lead the way.

          Christine discovered that duster girl really could walk fine, when she was trying to impress. The effort of maintaining a fast walk had, however wasted her remaining energy reserves by the time the two of them had gotten into the building. It had once been a house, but now was an empty shell with half rotted beds. While the cripple struggled up the stairs to scout the upper floor for food and other aid, Christine checked the ground floor. She found some old processed food, Blamco Mac & Cheese and Pork N Beans in respectable quantity. The rest was just dilapidated furniture and peeled wallpaper.

          She ascended the stairs, finding the girl collapsed at the top, gasping for breath. She offered her a hand but the girl refused. “I don’t need help. I’m just tired.” Christine frowned, settling down next to her. She shook her head, clasping her hands together pleadingly, then setting a determined look on her face, raised a hand in the air and pointed to herself. The girl shook her head. “Yes I do. I need to show everyone that I’m not a weak little girl.”

          Christine shook her head. She set her face into a hard mask, flexing her muscles then made a face with a silly smile and crossed eyes. The girl sighed. “You don’t get it. It’s not to look tough.” Christine shook her head, drawing a circle around the girl and placing a hand around her ear. “My name?” Christine nodded surprise evident on her face. “Janice. Aren’t you used to people understanding you?” The mute shook her head. She spread her hands three quarters of the way apart; she flicked her wrist dismissively, put her hand above her head and straightened her posture, then pointed to herself. Janice nodded. “Why not just write things down?” Christine nodded, then held up a finger and mimed writing finishing with a shake of her head. “You can’t write.” The mute nodded and flipped through an imaginary book, then shook her head. “Or read?” She nodded again.

          Janice pushed herself into a sitting position, resting heavily on the wall. Christine offered her the can of Pork N Beans, which she gratefully accepted. The mute watched as she easily popped the top and produced a spoon from her duster. She allowed the brunette to devour half of the can before she tapped the floor to gain Janice’s attention. The girl looked up questioningly. Christine waived her hand toward the street. “Leave, where are we going?” The mute shook her head. She put her hand on her face like a gas mask and mimicked the movements of a Ghost person’s arms. “What about them?”

          Christine cursed internally, losing her voice the first time had been annoying but she had quickly adapted. Regaining her voice, well Vera’s voice, had been nice, at first. As the months wore on, however she couldn’t get used to the new voice. It became a nagging in the back of her mind, a stranger’s voice relaying her thoughts. After a year she stopped talking, Dean had been killed by the Courier so the only one that was still around was God. He wasn’t much for conversation anyway. He’d left a few months after her return to silence. He’d managed to tame Dog and set off through the gate. Three and a half years later she’d completely lost Vera’s voice and returned to miming. She took a breath and returned her focus to Janice.

          The girl was eyeing her and scarfing down the rest of the beans. Christine held up her left hand and waived it toward the street. “Yes, them.” Christine shuddered and mouthed howling. “Ghosts?” She nodded again. She held up her left hand and moved it left. “Left” The mute shook her head. “Left is the opposite of right. Wrong!” She mumbled before coming to the realization. The bald woman nodded. “The Ghosts are wrong?” The mute grimaced and held her hand horizontally level, rocking it from side to side. She pointed at Janice. “Oh, you want to know what I did to them.” Christine nodded.

          “Well to start with, the Ghosts have poor vision, but very sensitive hearing. Their hearing ends up affecting their sight.” She put down the empty can and produced a hand sized device from inside the duster. “I took an old transmitter that I use to relay intelligence and modified it to a lower frequency output. Basically, it transmits at an annoying frequency that turns their senses to fuzz. It seems like that one with the bear trap weapon from earlier actually perceives at that level, so it was able to find me because it wasn’t affected by the sound produced and used the transmitter like a homing beacon. Your laser pistol also works to create a distortion that cuts through the fuzz.” Christine picked up the transmitter and looked from Janice to it. “I didn’t build it, really. I found it in an old broadcasting station and modified it to get a broad spectrum transmission. I also slimmed it down some. It used to weigh twenty pounds. I rearranged some stuff and made it run off of a lower power source. It runs off of a fission battery.”

          Christine gingerly placed the device on the floor between them. She pointed to Janice’s bad leg. The girl sighed and began to stand. “It’s better if I just show you.” She offered in explanation. She shrugged off the duster, placing it down gently on the floor. Beneath it she wore the shirt of a pre-war business suit with the sleeves ripped off and a pair of black slacked. Both were terribly dirty. Janice began to lower the waistband of the slacks on the right side. The mute turned her face away as the girl’s pelvic bone came into view. “No, look.” She insisted. The bald woman glanced over, discovering the twisted form of the girl’s pelvis. The joint seemed half formed, causing the bone to stick out. Janice’s hip was nearly immobile. Christine motioned for her to pull her pants back up. “I shattered my hip back east, in D.C. Stumbled on a group of super mutants. I took them out with some frags, but not before one of them scored a good hit with a sledge hammer.” The girl struggled back down after donning her duster again. “I drug myself to underworld and the doc there patched me up. Well, he tried. As my hip healed it connected together too tightly and didn’t let my femur slide back in place.” The mute nodded, bringing her hand up to her throat scar.

          “What’s your name?” Janice questioned, placing her transmitter back in her pocket. The mute frowned for a few seconds before carefully tugging her holotag from under her fatigue shirt. She pulled the glowing metal over her head and offered it to Janice.

          Janice accepted the tag, squinting at the engraving on the worn surface. “Christine Royce.” She read aloud. “This is a Brotherhood of Steel tag.” She handed it back to Christine, watching as it disappeared below the lose fatigues. Christine passed the box of Blamco Mac & Cheese to Janice. She stood up and began to search the rest of the level. She found a book and a pencil. She returned to Janice and paged through the old book to find a clean page. While the girl cleaned up the Mac & Cheese she worked on drawing up a map of the Villa. It took a while so Janice ended up tromping around the house looking for salvageable junk.

          The mute finished the map and called Janice’s attention to from a desk. The cripple hopped over to her, but motioned for her to stand. Christine complied and held out the detailed map she’d produced from memory. Two locations were circled on it, their current location and Vera’s fountain. The mute passed her finger between the two of them and pointed to the circle farther into the Villa. She traced the rough path they would take to Vera’s fountain lightly. She drew a line between them and pointed to Janice, then Vera’s fountain. Janice nodded. “I’ll get there.” Christine nodded and dog eared the page the map was on. She closed the booked and handed it to the girl.

          Christine motioned toward the door, then pointed to Janice and put her thumb up. Janice nodded. The mute easily descended the stairs before coming to a stop at the base to wait for Janice. The brunette struggled down the steps, taking confident steps with her left foot but forcefully dragging her right down to the next step.

The mute watched her struggle with an appraising eye. She felt respect for the girl, finding her tenacity and pride to be refreshing. Years of life among the Ghosts had left her with a distant memory of true humans. All she saw of her own race were the cowardly, avaricious scavengers that washed up in the Villa. Most of them turned into sniveling messes at the sight of the Ghosts, curling into fetal balls in some dark alley to avoid the creepy cannibals. Janice was different, courageous and resourceful when faced with a challenge.

“Uh Christine?” The aforementioned girl panted, rubbing her bad hip. The mute’s head snapped up, her cheeks heating as she realized that she had been dwelling so heavily on the crippled girl. “Let’s go, eh. I don’t want to die when this thing collapses.” Janice suggested, looking up distrustfully. The mute nodded and opened the door. Janice followed her out, carefully shutting the door.

[End notes: Well I hope it turned out as well as it looked in my head.]

Chapter 2

[Author's notes: I thought I'd get this up before Sandy wipes out the power in PA.]

         Christine glanced at Janice, noticing the gap between them had widened. She subtly dropped her gait down to a leisurely half-step swagger. The cripple quickly closed the gap and came abreast her. They’d traveled through most of the region containing the police station and now neared the gate to the medical district. Now with the pace eased, Janice managed to gather her breath enough to talk.

       “How come you’re helping me?” She asked, taking a lumbering step. Christine passed her hand over her head in thought. She then pointed to herself, drew a five cornered shape in front of her body, and then pointed to Janice. She paused, shook her head and drew a wide circle around the girl then spread her arms and motioned to the whole landscape surrounding them. “You stay here to shield other people?” Christine shook her head and pressed her arms together in a standard block position. “To protect?” Christine nodded, and then pointed to Janice. She pointed to the ground below her.

      “Why am I here?” Christine nodded. “Kind of a long story, really. After I healed up here,” She touched her hip. “Willow sent me off in the direction of a close Brotherhood patrol. I tagged along with them of D.C to Rivet City. One of them, a Knight, told me I should head out west to New Vegas. He said he’d heard life was easier. A cripple could make it out there. I left Rivet with a caravan and I headed west. I kept hooking up with caravans, Enclave patrols, even bands of scavers. Eventually the dynamic changed, I wasn’t seeing dead cities and super mutants. It was open sprawling landscapes with Yau Gwai, mole rats, and radscorpions. There were still raiders, but they were rare and mostly outcast tribals. I started traveling with the Crimson Caravan and avoiding Caesar’s Legion. I came to Shady Sands before I New Vegas, which is a geographical mystery that deals mostly with the current mission of the caravan I was with. I liked the New California Republic, so I hitched a ride out to Camp Mccarron with a fresh deployment. Over the weeks I spent there, I got friendly with the officer types. Eventually they offered me a nice handful of caps to go take a look at a town casually. So I did, and then afterward they just kept sending me. I became an unofficial scout for the NCR. My leg made me seem too weak to be trouble and I certainly didn’t have any sort of formal training. My scouting was mostly urban; I never claimed to be a ranger. I check out the trading posts and settlements and hope to get a feel for hostilities and black markets. The job fit me well, new places filled with new people all the time. Reporting back was good too; staying in a bunk tent with a bunch of battle hardened bodies was a treat. I also hung out near the ranges and learned to shoot, shotguns and pistols mostly. The pay wasn’t bad either.” Janice stopped for a second when Christine motioned for silence, scanning the dark alley beside them. She motioned for them to move on. “I came around after all the unpleasantries at the Dam, so I never met with the Courier everyone talks about, I’ve been out here almost three years now. After my last trip into Vegas, I got orders from the Mohave Outpost to check out the grand opening broadcast. They were hoping that the Sierra Madre could be an alternative to Vegas for NCR soldiers.” She paused again for breath.

      “Waking up after the gas in the middle of this old world town filled with red haze was disconcerting. My first encounter with a Ghost wasn’t very impressive. I unloaded all my shells into him, and then beat him with my riot shotgun until his legs came off. I wondered through the town, finding hidey holes to sleep and observe from. It took two days to figure out how the Ghosts worked another two to modify the transmitter. Another five days for you to find me. Now I’m going home, right?” The question was weary, hopeful and wary simultaneously. Christine nodded. “How long is it going to take?” The mute frowned slightly, beginning to calculate. Normally it was a three hour journey, but at the snail’s pace they were traveling it would likely take a day. She moved her hand from East to West slowly. “A day?” She nodded.

      Janice rubbed her hip and came to a stop, turning away from Christine. “I can’t keep this up for much longer, I ain’t much of a fighter and I’ve been doing a lot of it. Could we get some sleep?” Christine heard the gentle edge of pleading in her voice. Nine days in a hell hole with barely any sleep would destroy anyone. Plus the Madre chips were mostly scavenged so the vending machines were useless. Exhausted and starving weren’t conditions that anyone could be expected to thrive in. She herself was tiring a bit, but fatigue no longer had meaning after her obsessed goose-chase so she had barely felt it. The bald woman signaled affirmative and led Janice down a side street, through a short stretch of Cloud and into a dead end alley with a glowing vending machine. She pulled a few counterfeit chips from her pocket and slotted them into the machine. She stepped back and allowed Janice to make a choice from the food listed. The girl got five boxes of Fancy Lad Snack cakes, turning to the bald woman, obviously pleased. The mute felt the corners of her mouth turn up, another striking similarity.

       Christine turned to the wrought iron gate that closed off the alley. It was chained closed with a rusty lock. She waived at the top of the gate and looked at Janice. The girl looked up, gauging the height of the gate. “I can do seven feet.” She confirmed. She grasped two of the bars tightly and placed her left foot on the bottom reinforcing beam. She began pulling herself up with her hands until her left foot hovered above the bottom beam. She got her foot up onto the next beam three feet up. Janice took a break, leaning heavily on the gate for a few seconds before grasping the spit-like tops of the bars. She released with her right hand, moving to grab her bad leg under the thigh. Face contorted into a mask of pain, she managed to force her leg over the top beam. Now straddling the gate, the cripple looked down at Christine, who was watching with an amused expression.

       “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to stare?” She called down breathlessly. The mute shrugged and rubbed the toe of her boot against the cobblestone street in a gesture that might have been bashful. Janice smiled and swung her left leg over the top of the gate, kicking her right off the bar. Janice jumped down twice to return to the path. She flashed a thumbs up to Christine before leaning heavily against the stone surrounding the gate, gasping. The bald woman scrambled over the gate in seconds and dropped down beside her.

          Janice turned to find a large building a few feet away. It was larger than most other buildings in the Villa and a little more decorative. Christine brushed past her and opened the door. Inside, the building resembled most others. It was full of rotting furniture, rubble from collapsed walls and skeletons. The mute spread her hands across the room, and then pointed to Janice. The cripple nodded and headed through the doorway closest to her. Christine found the stairs and ascended. A few minutes of inspection confirmed her initial assumption that the place was an old world whorehouse. Every room upstairs had a bed, and cabinet full of drugs along with dated contraceptives. All the beds were worthless, mattresses rotted through completely.

            The mute abandoned the top floor, returning to Janice. The cripple was checking the cupboards for more food in what seemed to be a kitchen. She found nothing but scotch. “Any luck with the bed?” The girl asked, coming to rest against the counter. Christine shook her head. “ I found a spot we could use. It’s a big closet thing with a whole bunch of silk sleepwear and thick carpet. It’s a little cramped though.” Christine shrugged and extended her hand passively. Janice took the invitation and lead through a crumbling door way to an officious looking room with a desk, computer, and filing cabinet. Next to the desk a door stood open. Inside, mounds of abandoned clothes rose up like soft towers among the dark, stained walls. Janice continued into the closet, followed by the bald woman. The space in the closet was about two arm lengths across. Christine’s breath caught, she looked up. The ceiling was barely an inch above her head, in her peripheral vision the walls crept closer. Her chest contracted painfully, her breath coming only in short erratic bursts. She doubled over, her head beginning to feel light. She took a stumbling step back out the way she had come. A pressure on her shoulder caught her attention. Christine turned to see Janice peering at her. “What’s wrong?” The mute blinked at her, looking to the walls. They had returned to their normal positions. She cast a weary glance around — her chest still tight— then straightened to walk with dignity out of the closet.

       She turned to find Janice eyeing her with concern from inside the closet. Christine frowned slightly. She pointed to herself and shook her head and half extended her arms, then mimed being unable to push farther out. “No small spaces?” The cripple asked. Christine nodded. “We’ll just sleep out there.” She bent and grabbed two brightly colored clothes out of the closet and tossed them out of the closet. Janice hopped out of the closet and used the wall to aid her in sitting.

      She pulled her snack cakes from her duster. Christine was beginning to wonder what else she had in there. The cripple ripped the box open and freed two cakes from their cellophane wrapper gleefully. A whole sponge cupcake disappeared into her mouth, her eyes closing as she savored the sweet taste of the food. The mute sat down across from her, watching her eat with a soft half smile. The other cake in the wrapper was consumed quickly, as were the other four in the box. As Janice ate she got more talkative. “Why are you here?” She questioned as she finished the second box. She held out the third box for Christine. “You have anything to drink?”

       Christine felt her stomach churn at the sight. It had been hours since she’d eaten. She accepted the box with a grateful nod, handing over the small canteen she kept on a belt in the small of her back. The mute sat the box next to her, ready to begin relaying her story.

     She pointed to herself, then her eye; she held her hands in the air and clenched them, then drew a line from one side of her jaw, moving away from it incrementally as she moved across the line. She came to the climax at the point of her chin, and then sloped back in to her jaw on the other side. Janice nodded at her popping her fourteenth cupcake into her mouth. “Did you find him?” She asked around the sponge cake in her mouth. Christine drew her finger across her throat, almost tracing the scar there. The cripple nodded catching her drift. The mute read the question in her eyes.

      She rubbed her hand across her head, feeling the hard stubble that had begun to grow, she held up a finger, and then grabbed the box of Fancy Lad snack cakes. Her mind cycled through the story as she ripped open the package and devoured a cupcake. A second disappeared before she’d managed to order her thoughts. The mute put her hand infront of her, miming a walking finger, then added another. She put her hand between them, and then pointed from herself to the finger.

         He separated you from someone important.” Christine nodded. “Who?” The mute pointed to her chest, circling her heart. “Husband? Boyfriend?” The bald woman shook her head. “Girlfriend?” Christine nodded, eating a cupcake. She handed the box of Snack Cakes back to Janice. The cripple accepted them, but sat the box to the side with the last box. “Why didn’t you go back after he died?” The most gently scratched around the scar about her hear before pointing to it. She pointed to all of her scars in order, ending at her throat. She frowned deeply for a few seconds—it was a question she asked herself every morning and every night. Every time she passed the gate, the life she could have had rose unbidden to her mind. She chased it out with the same rationalization she was attempting to express. She pointed to herself and shook her head, pointing to an imaginary person then circled her heart again. “You’re not the one she loves?” Janice frowned. Christine nodded slowly, her own frown deepening. She pointed to the ground below them and closed her eyes theatrically. They cripple nodded, passing the bald woman a bundle of clothes.

         The mute carefully positioned the make shift pillow before laying down on her back. Janice moved the remaining two boxes of Fancy Lad Snack Cakes far above her head. She stood and pulled off her duster, carefully placing it above the Snack Cakes. Next she removed the knife spear from the back of her shirt and propped it up against the wall next to Christine. Last, she pulled off her bandanna and goggles. Janice carefully lowered herself into a sitting position, and then lay down on her stomach with the nightwear pillow under her head. Christine frowned slightly as she noticed the pose the cripple had adopted.

        The girl’s injured hip caused her leg to jut forward which put stress on her pelvis when lying prone. To compensate for this she had bent her left knee and brought it under her pelvis. The position relieved the pressure on her hip but added stress onto her knee. Resting like this would only slow them down tomorrow.

       She tapped Janice on the shoulder and put her hands to the side of the body then shifted them on top of her. She pointed to Janice. The cripple shook her head. “No way.” Christine sighed, but grabbed Janice’s shoulder. She dragged her across the floor and then on top of her own body with ease.

       Janice fixed her with a look of annoyance but dropped her head onto the mute’s shoulder without another word. Christine craned her head back, closing her eyes.


     Her dreams were always a reprieve from reality. In them she was a simple scribe scampering around the Hidden Valley Bunker with supply lists and requisition orders stuck in her brain. There were embellished recollections of the pranks Veronica and Melissa played on one another. There was also  a detailed depiction of the out of the way corners and storerooms that she and Veronica spent their off time together in. Usually they ended with the nights spent in the bunkroom they shared with eight other scribes. They usually ended with the hopeless attempts to remain quiet as Veronica sidled into her bed and lay atop her.


       Christine woke with the feeling of Veronica’s lips still lingering on her neck. She shifted her hips but found a weight on top of her. She opened her eyes slowly, brunette hair appearing. Her breath caught in her throat. Very carefully, she grasped the chin of the girl on her and turned her face toward her. Her heart leapt. It had all been a dream! She was still in the Bunker, with Veronica. Happiness swelled her chest and joy brought tears to her eyes.

        Unthinkingly, she pressed her lips to those of the girl beginning to awaken on top of her. They parted meekly, allowing her access to the mouth beyond before surging back against her in a fierce assault. Christine poured all the passion her nightmare had inspired into the kiss. The brunette responded with equal intensity. The kiss was demanding and rough at first, lip bruising, but quickly ebbed into something gentle and exploratory before both parties pulled back.

       Christine’s lips pulled back into a genuine smile as the girl on top of her hummed low in her throat. Her eyes began to open and the scribe found herself waiting with great anticipation to see those honey-brown eyes fixed on her. Eyes half-lidded the brunette, smiled at her, fully opening them.

       Her heart dropped. The eyes fixed on her were not warm and brown. They were green and accusatory. Christine felt her own anger stirring. Anger at Elijah, anger at the circle, anger at herself, anger with the general situation burned hot in her belly it was the same anger that motivated her to chase Elijah across the Mohave and into the Big MT. Before she could harness it, it melted into a different kind of anger. Impotent rage, the anger that did nothing, now lay in her abdomen. She raised her fist above Janice’s head, noting that the girl looked only confused now, and smashed it into the wall.     

       Normally a punch like hers would leave only a hole in the wall, but in the Villa the whole thing shattered. Bits of plaster and dry-wall rained on them causing Janice to roll off of her and slide back across the floor using her good leg. The mute however seemed unfazed by the destruction she had wrought. She simply stared up at the ceiling unil the hollow the anger left turned to sorrow.

        “FUCK!” She cursed aloud for the first time in years. Her voice did not express it well, resulting only an audible “CK”. Tears, hot and insistent burned in her eyes. She closed her lids against them but to no avail for they joined the dried tears of joy on her cheeks. A sob rose in her throat and escaped raw and choked.

          For the first time since the night she had left the Bunker, Christine cried. She sobbed as she recollected all she had lost or sacrificed since leaving her lover and wished for it all back. Her cries quickly became silent as her voice left her again, leaving only her tear drenched face and convulsing body as signs of her condition.

       After she had calmed some, but still lay surrounded by rubble with tears leaking onto her cheeks, Janice scuttled up to her and wrapped her arms around the bald woman tightly. Christine looked back with intent to swat her away but was shocked by the deep look of misery contained with those facets of jade. She turned and placed her arms around the crippled girl. They embraced for a long moment, sharing the misery with one another.


      Christine and Janice walked along the streets of the Villa in silence. Both were unwilling to speak of what had occurred between them but neither was able to keep it from her mind. The silence was eventually broken by a screech from inside Janice’s duster.

      The girl cursed and fumbled around in her duster. Christine’s ears pricked up as she heard the whooping gasps of the Ghosts. Janice pulled the transmitter from her pocket, unveiling the source of the noise. The cripple fussed with it for a few more agonizing seconds before the sound abruptly cut off.

     “Wha?” She questioned in her raw crackly voice as the Ghosts got closer, two of them fidgeting around a corner and into the street.

     “The transmitter isn’t working. Something must have burned out in it. The Ghosts know where we are!” Janice answered.

      “It!” Christine cursed, watching dozens of other Ghosts shamble into the streets.

“We can’t fight this many!” Janice allowed her panic to creep into her voice. Christine grabbed the girl’s arm, half leading — half dragging her farther down the streets and towards a mass of Ghosts. The cripple had learned not to question the former mute by now and just concentrated on staying upright as she was drug along at a speed far greater than she had achieved in years.

       Christine charged headlong into the growing swarm of Ghosts. As they passed, the Ghosts lashed out with knife spears and bear trap fists. The bald woman simply knocked them aside or caught the weapon and used it to remove a limb. They bounded the forward through the street and around corners. The Ghost’s numbers did not thin; in fact more seemed to be piling into their path. Behind them others simply turned and followed. Eventually, the numerous shot started hitting her and Janice.

            She summoned her mental map of the Villa and decided on a course of action. The scarred woman gave herself one last burst of speed to skid around a corner and throw open the door of a building there. While Janice closed the door, she turned the knocked the girl’s legs out from under her. Christine caught her companion and bounded up the stairs before placing her back on the ground and resumed dragging her through a large hole in the wall.

They ran through three houses before Christine allowed them to slow to a brisk walk. “Mit?” She croaked out breathlessly.

“Transmitter?” Janice questioned, receiving a nod. “My fix was temporary, I think one of my filters burned out, and so it let a different frequency out. This one attracted them.” Christine nodded, and then considered something.


“Not likely, I used up all of my scrap electronics the first time and I need a workbench.” The cripple came to a stop as they came through a door way into a room with an intact wall. Christine exaggerated rolling her eyes and continued through into the next apartment. This action knocked practically the entire wall down, creating an impressive pile of rubble. The mute motioned Janice to come through the opening she had made.

          The girl hobbled through the debris field into the next building, pausing to pat some of the drywall dust off of Christine. The scarred woman shook herself to remove most of the powder, but there were still yellow-brown deposits on her body. They forged on through the apartment to an actual door that led into a room that had once been a study. Now, one of the walls was knocked out, giving access to the slanted platform surrounding the building. Christine stuck her head out into the open air, doing a quick check of the surrounding buildings. The ground was a huge mass of agitated Ghosts. In front, of her was a crosswalk to another building. The bald woman motioned to her comrade to follow and stepped out onto unstable metal roofing material. She instinctively dropped into a crouch, for balance and to elude the Ghosts. Behind her Janice took the first noisy step onto the platform.

          The mute crossed the crosswalk quickly, waiting in a crouch for her companion to make it there as well. With each of Janice’s steps, the crowd below them seemed to become more aware of their presence. Seekers were looking at them while beginning to search for a route to them. None had figured the path out yet but the attempts were getting close.

          Christine glanced to the left, in her vision was only the swell of the building she stood on, but she knew that beyond it the gate to the Medical District stood waiting. The cripple ventured out onto the crosswalk, limping along as quickly as her leg would allow. Below, the Ghosts began to frenzy their distorted whooping blending into one eerie chorus of broken shouts.

          Janice pitched against Christine with her momentum. The mute straightened, keeping a wary eye on the growing horde, as she steadied her companion. She jerked her head to the left, setting course for the gate. Behind her the cripple hopped along raucously, attempting to keep up with the mute’s quickened pace. The sound of her boots denting the ridiculous continued to agitate the ghosts. This frenzy kept them jumping wildly at the walls of the buildings. The fervor of the Ghost’s search seemed to hinder the results, any other day, the Ghosts would have been upon her and Janice on the first leap. She chalked up the sudden lack of bearing to the after effects of her companions crippling transmitter.

          Janice shifted toward the wall as the building began to swell outward and the roof sloped a little lower. An enterprising hunter managed to scramble up between her and Christine. She fumbled to get her knife spear from the back of her trench coat long enough for the Ghost to lurch to its feet and launch a bear trap laden fist punch in her direction. The cripple ducked below a hit and sent a hard stab into the creature’s thigh. With a soft whoop the Ghost tumbled back over the edge. The girl turned a fierce grin on her bald companion, who had turned at the sound of the struggle. Christine offered her a lopsided smile and turned to continue on.

          The companions cleared the rounded section of the building and paused. A few yards ahead, on the ground level was the exit that would lead away from most of the Ghosts. The mute grabbed Janice’s forearm in a firm grip, then set off at a double step pace. The cripple was equally anxious to leave the hostile environment and allowed Christine to pull her along. A few seconds later, the girl stood staring at the top of a scarred head as Christine descended into the horde of Ghosts. The gasping figures pressed in around the bald woman as she turned to help Janice from the rooftop. The cripple landed on the wiggling forms of four Ghosts, and sprang to her feet. The mute opened the gate and ushered her into the Medical District.

Chapter 3

[Author's notes: This is it. Tell me how you like the end.]

         Janice groaned loudly, clutching at her bad hip. She dropped her weight against the adobe wall behind her and slid down to the ground. She began fiercely rubbing the aggravated joint until the spasm passed. Christine watched from the opposite side of the gate as she rocked back and forth. She coughed raggedly and croaked out. “Okay?”


       “Yeah, just cramped up from running.” The cripple ground out, grabbing her leg and moving it around until a soft pop was heard. Janice sighed with relief and shifted to stand. She pulled herself up using the wall and turned to limp away from the gate.


       Compared to the Police District, the Medical District was deserted. They continued through the maze of crumbling building and dense Cloud for hours, encountering only half a dozen or so Ghosts. Finally the holographic image of Vera Keys appeared in the distance, Christine let her lips rise into a smile. She clapped Janice on the back, an action sudden enough to nearly send her tumbling head over heels. The cripple shot her angry look but remained quiet.


       Janice had fallen silent approximately six hours after they had slipped into the Medical District. Usually the journey from the gate to the fountain took her an hour at most, but her companion moved at a much slower pace and found many of her short cuts to be impassable. They’d been trekking through the Villa for ten hours now and the strain was affecting Janice’s mood.


       Christine smiled at her and pointed to the fountain excitedly. Janice shrugged and continued hobbling forward. The bald woman frowned at her and continued on with her.


        They arrived at the holographic projection nearly an hour later. Janice collapsed on the brim, dunking her head into the water. Christine let her relax for a few minutes before pointing out the gate.

       “That’s my way out, huh?” Janice asked tiredly, propping herself against the fountain and sitting with her legs fully extended. Christine nodded. “Got a place I can take a nap before I shove off?” The scarred woman gestured to the Madre high up on the hill.


       “Beds.” She stated in her crackly voice. Janice sighed and shook her head.


       “Too far.” Christine cast a glance around. The air was Cloud free and Ghosts avoided the hologram’s light, Janice could sleep here, but the Madre was much safer.


        The former mute crouched in front of her crippled companion and grabbed her chin. “Carry!” She insisted. Janice shook her off.


       “No!” She replied stubbornly. Christine trapped her face between two unyielding hands.


        “Not weak.” She assured her. “Tired.” Christine coughed and rubbed her throat. Janice averted her eyes and gave a slight nod.


         The bald woman released her companion’s head and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. She stood and waited for Janice to do the same. “Not weak!” She insisted again, feeling her voice begin to waiver as she noticed the watery look of the girl’s eyes.

       “Not weak.” The cripple mumbled, bowing her head. She allowed Christine to wrap an arm around her waist and duck under her right arm. Soon they were off, heading toward the waiting doors of the Sierra Madre. They traveled to the Madre in ten minutes, but it felt much longer due to Janice’s uncontrollable sobbing. Christine understood, she was tired and in pain, plus the added humiliation of being carried the final leg of her journey. She did her best to sooth her, running her hand along her back and occasionally mumbling raspy words of support to her until her voice gave out altogether, leaving her hacking. Christine shoved the doors to the Madre open and paused for a second.

       The lobby of the Sierra Madre was exactly as she had left it nearly two days ago. The doors to the elevator stood open, the dirty carpet and yellowed walls remained ugly but sturdy, the holograms stood ready to deal any game and the vending machines glowed warmly. Christine had patched up the holes that allowed the Ghosts and the Cloud to infiltrate the Casino shortly after the Courier left. She’d also fixed the lights so the whole bottom floor glowered brightly with the promise of life. This place had become her sanctuary, it was hers and hers alone, the fact that Elijah’s corpse was rotting in the vault below was only an added bonus.

       A sniffle to her left drew her attention away from the lobby. Janice had quieted her sobbing and was now attempting to clean her face, Christine smiled at her, and carefully pulled away, and making sure she was steady before stepping away and pointing to the elevator.


       Janice stumbled into the elevator and leaned heavily on the support bar. Christine followed her in, lips set into a tight line. The car wasn’t small but she still felt the vague effects of claustrophobia setting in. Normally she used the stairs and saved the elevator for emergencies, but it was a thirty second ride to the suites and it saved Janice from being carried up two flights of stairs. She pressed the button that corresponded to the suites and closed her eyes as the doors slid shut. The cart lurched into motion, drawn upwards on two hundred year old mechanisms with loud creaks, shrieks, and groans. The elevator stopped and opened its door on the floor of the suites.

       She’d done her best to fix the top floor as well. The piles of rubble on the floor had been recycled into building materials to repair holes in the floors and walls. She’d shut off the holograms that patrolled rooms and done her best to stockpile all the supplies in the safe in Vera’s room.


       Christine lead Janice through the halls, until they came to a suite close to Vera’s, all of the walls were intact or repaired and the bed was in decent condition. The cripple thanked her and headed over to the bed, collapsing wearily upon it. Christine turned to go to her own room, happy to return to her sanctuary, but Janice called her back. “We need to talk, about earlier. Tomorrow!” She commanded before closing her eyes.


       The mute returned to her room three doors down. It was similar to Janice’s, but a little larger with a desk. The east wall had crumbled, so there were boards lining it where most of her repairs had taken place. After being trapped in Vera’s room for so long, she could never sleep there, especially not with Vera still sitting in the corner. She sat down on the bed and began removing her boots, sighing as they slid off. Next she took her pants off and threw them on top her boots. The bald woman crawled into bed and allowed herself to dream once again.


       Christine woke with a bad taste in her mouth. She leaned over the side of the bed for her canteen. After she had drained the water from the small container, she stood and dressed.


       She left her room and headed to Vera’s suite. The suite was also exactly as she had left it. The auto-doc stood open, Vera still sat in the corner surrounded by Med-ex and the safe was locked up tight. She opened the safe with Vera’s key and pulled out three bottles of purified water. She used two to refill her canteen and set the third to the side. She grabbed a box of Sugar Bombs and shut the safe, relocking it before dropping the key back into her pocket.


        Christine headed to Janice’s room, water and sugar bombs in hand. She nudged the door open to find Janice on the ground with her transmitter in pieces around her. The cripple glanced up at her. “Figured I would rip the burnt out filter out so my transmitter works when I get out of here.” She explained. The bald woman held up the water and sugar bombs. Janice nodded. Christine sat down next to the door.


        She watched for a few moments while Janice switched between a piece of paper and a circuit board. The cripple found what she was looking for apparently and pulled the components from the board easily. “So who did you think I was?” She asked suddenly, her eyes flicking upward to watch her response.


       Christine scrunched up her face before circling her heart. Janice nodded.


        “Do you dream about her?” Christine nodded reluctantly. She pointed to Janice, then to herself. The cripple dropped her eyes down to the transmitter again, beginning to reassemble it.


       “Someone I loved a long time ago.” Christine frowned and pointed to Janice’s heart. “I don’t know maybe. I still think of him. I still miss him.” She finished putting together the transmitter and slipped it into her duster.


       Christine opened the box of sugar bombs and held them out to Janice. The cripple accepted the box and dug a handful out. She handed the box back and started picking the sugary atomic bombs into her mouth. Christine pulled a handful out as well, but shoveled the whole thing into her mouth. As she chewed she pointed to Janice’s heart again then pulled her hands out farther.


       “He got shot by a raider while escorting a caravan between towns. He managed to make it back to town before he died of blood loss.” She held out her hand for the water. Christine cracked it open and handed it to her. The cripple took a sip and handed it back. She finished her handful of Sugar Bombs and held her hand out again. Christine dipped her hand in and shoved another handful into her mouth and passed the cereal over to her companion. She took a large sip from the bottle of water.


       “What happened between you and the girl who doesn’t love you?” Janice asked around the sugary yellow mush in her mouth. Christine reclaimed the box and shook another mouthful into her mouth. She passed the water to Janice before beginning to relay her answer.


       She mimed the two walking fingers and the hand separating them again. One of the fingers chased the hand. Christine scrunched up her face. She pointed to herself then traced her outline in front of her, then started using her hands to reshape that outline. She pointed to the other finger, shook her head, and pointed to the phantom outline.


       “You didn’t even try to go back to her?” Janice questioned. Christine shook her head. “Why?”

       The bald woman pointed to her head, pointed to her finger, drew a heart and pointed herself. “You’re afraid of rejection.” Christine frowned. She cast a glance around the room. “This place doesn’t need you.” The bald woman nodded then pointed to Janice. The cripple scowled at her and snatched the box of Sugar Bombs from her. She proceeded to empty the remains of the box into her mouth. Christine finished the water and stood.

       Janice followed the motion and collected the rest of her belonging before following Christine to the elevator. They read down together and left the Madre. The journey down the hill was tense.


       When they reached Vera’s fountain, Christine touched Janice’s arm and mouthed an apology. Janice shook her head playfully. “No hard feelings.” Christine led Janice to the gate.


        The gate was a double door wrought iron gate. There was a chain wrapped around two of the poles to keep the gate from swinging open. Beyond it was a brick work open ceiling corridor that supposedly led back to the Mohave Wasteland.


       Janice turned to Christine. “Come with me.” She requested. “You’re so different from everyone else I’ve met. You deserve better than this hell hole.” Christine smiled sadly and shook her head. She knew what leaving would mean for her. Janice looked too much like Veronica; it would end only in uncounted moments of heartbreak.


       “The NCR and the Brotherhood have a peace treaty now you could go back to the Brotherhood and continue being a Knight.” Christine shook her head and gestured to the Villa around them. “You could protect a lot more people in the Mohave.” Christine shook her head a final time before raising her hands, she pointed to the gate and drew a five pointe shield in front of her, and she shook her head and gestured around herself. She pointed to herself and drew the shield, traced the outline of a person, then dropped her hands down to her sides. She screwed up her face and motioned for Janice to lean in close.


        “This place changes people, it tends to strip away greed and make them evaluate their priorities. Helping people in the Mohave is different. They just take, here in the Villa they give back too. I want to save people who have changed.” She whispered in her croaky voice.


       “Damn it Christine! I want you to come with me to be around you. I like you, and I want to work with you. I want you to kiss me again. Being with you makes me forget about all the stuff that makes me feel inadequate.”


       Christine took Janice’s chin between her thumb and forefinger and pressed a kiss to her forehead. A life with Janice was tempting, a new life with a new Veronica. She knew that it wouldn’t turn out that way, but she could dream. The bald woman wrapped her arms around the cripple and spun her around, shoving open the gate.


       She pulled Janice into a rough kiss. Janice responded by gripping her shoulders and pulling them closer together. Christine shoved her tongue between the cripple’s lips to find a tongue ready to halt her advance. They battled bitterly until Janice slipped into Christine’s mouth, quickly subjugating her tongue and exploring her mouth. The bald woman could feel hands roaming her sides and bottom. Internally, she sighed. Janice felt right, and working and living with her would be nice. She wasn’t Veronica though, despite her looks, and her heart would always belong to Ronnie. Circumstance would never matter. With a final surge back into her mouth she gave Janice a hard shove backward.


       The cripple stumbled back a few steps and fell on her ass. Christine quickly swung the gate inward, wrapping the chain around the last two poles. Janice regained her feet a moment later and limped over to the gate. She attempted to pull it open but Christine held it firmly shut. The bald woman’s tear ducts ached with hot tears as she did her best to hold them back.

       Janice continued fighting her for an eternity before she tired and let go, tears seeping from her eyes. “Let me stay with you at least!” She shrieked. Christine shook her head and managed to croak out around the growing lump of emotion in her throat.


       “You have a future out there. Don’t deserve this hell hole.” Janice sniffled and wiped her eyes.


       “You don’t either, we could still be together even in hell.”  Christine shook her head.


        “I’m going to be alone. You need to find someone.” Janice leaned her head forward to touch it to the bars. She remained that way for several minutes before standing. She turned away and hobbled off down the cobblestone path.


       Christine waited for Janice’s outline to disappear from the horizon before turning away from the gate. Tears blurred her vision as she trekked up to the Sierra Madre again. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was once again walking away from her only chance of happiness.



       Once in the Madre Christine made the journey to the suites and found herself heading for Vera’s room. She collapsed on Vera’s bed and allowed herself to cry for the second time since Janice had come into her life. At least, she thought bitterly, I’m not alone. She cast a side long glance at the skeleton in the corner.


        Days passed before Christine could bring herself to leave the Madre. Her greatest fear was that the sight of the gate would send her charging back to the Mohave. Even if Janice wasn’t Veronica and the daily realization of that fact would have killed her, she couldn’t stop thinking that it might have been worth it for those fleeting seconds bliss.


       When the time came that she could drag herself from the casino to patrol the Villa, she found herself wondering how much Med-ex it would take to dull the ache in her chest.

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