His lungs were hurting again, it was getting even worse. At this rate it'll be collapsing before he could even get to the vault.
The truth was… the reason for all of his overwhelming power, the reason why he had always been able to kill monsters so easily with just a small revolver… the reason for his immense skills – was simply because he had always been completely reckless.
Back when he began his training as a ranger in the NCR, almost every single NCR trooper noted Sol of his overwhelming talent. He passed all the tests with flying colors, both written exams and field work. He started his training when he was only sixteen years old and it only took him 10 years before he was promoted to the ranks of the rangers. As oppose to usual tradition that a trooper needed at least 20 years of experience before they could even think about joining the Desert Rangers.
But he never actually started any official missions as a ranger. He left the NCR on the same day he was promoted.
Still young and yet full of talent, he was seeking one thing and one thing only… power.
He developed a serum, crafted from all the knowledge he gained while he served the NCR. It was only when he left did he finally manage to perfect it. Similar to how you’d make a Slasher serum, only the process was a little different. He called it Kapz. He thought it’d be funny, and would be an easy way to avoid the authorities when referring to the drug (since this stuff was anything but legal). But then he realized that he had always traveled alone and this was the wasteland, there were no authorities.
This serum… was superior in every single way conceivable when compared to the Slasher. It boosted strength, agility and endurance and even one’s senses and perception of time. While at the same time increasing as little muscle bulk as possible.
It was perfect… save for two crucial side effects.
The first was that the chemicals within the serum caused a reaction within one’s brain. Although it will not actually harm the subject, it will temporarily change the color of the user’s iris into a sparkling red. Like a celestial burning star, strong and bright in the dark cosmos around.
The second side effect… although the serum had proven to leave no negative side effect on a healthy individual. A subject with developing cancerous cells however…
He ran the tests, he revised his symptoms and there was no other way around it. The Kapz while immense in power also exponentially multiplied the cancer cells within himself.
He was forced to synthesize some new medicines. The cigarettes – they were practically the only thing keeping his lungs from collapsing. And over the years he started to use Kapz less and less every day. It got so bad that at one point he was forced to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes and sleep off the pain. It still hurt in the morning.
“Are you okay?” Christine asked, “You’ve been coughing for awhile now, is everything alright?”
“Yeah, yeah…” Sol said through his hoarse voice, “come on, the Sierra Madre is not going to wait.”
“Well… I guess all that’s left is the Madre’s Vault,” Christine said, looking at the elevator before them, “Dean?”
“Yeah?” He said dryly.
“You said that my voice… was the key. So do I need to say a phrase… or something?”
“Yup…” he replied, “Elevator here’s made exclusive for the Executive Suites. Voice activated, speak the right phrase in the right tone of voice and it’s open sesame. Here’s the clue… it’s a part of a song, Miss Vera Keyes’ song.”
“Do you have the song?” She asked.
“I do,” Sol answered her, “I’ve got it here in my Pip-Boy. Snagged it off the terminal downstairs at the reception. It’s got all the soundtrack right here.”
“Purr-fect,” Dean rolled his tongue, “now you just need to piece together the right phrase from the song and the Madre will open its legs and then… we’re in business.”
“Goddamn,” Sol commented, “this Casino sure was built by a nutjob. I mean… all of this for her?”
“Love makes people do strange things,” Christine said, looking a bit sad, “it drives you crazy if you can’t… connect. If they loved each other and they were together… I suppose that’s all that really mattered in the end.”
The three of them stood there, feeling the tension of the Sierra Madre’s dark blood. They felt it, running through the walls was the sorrows of the dead. This was love’s sorrows, both Sinclair’s and Vera’s. How did it all come to this?
“Come on, guys,” Sol said, “let’s go.”
But Christine and Dean did not budge. Which made Sol confused. He looked at them in the eyes. They seemed a bit… tired, exhausted.
“Sol,” Christine said with the same sad tone, “I… I think that you should go down there… to face him alone.”
“The old fart,” Dean said, “if we all go down there… he’s just going to press the button on our little metal bow ties and blow our minds… literally. But if you go down there by yourself… there’s a chance that you could convince him that we somehow someway managed to find a way to deactivate our collars rendering his little schemes useless.”
Christine cut him off before he could object:
“It’s okay Sol, go… we’ll only slow you down.”
“Don’t worry,” Dean smiled wryly, “we’ll monitor you using the terminals up here.”
Sol wondered why he was feeling depressed about this and why he wanted to object and take them along with him.
She grabbed him by the shoulder and smiled just a bit. As if trying to cheer him up.
“Just… just promise me one thing, okay?”
“Huh? Oh… sure, anything for you.”
“If you find her, could you… could you please tell Ronnie that I’ve always loved her, and that is something that will never change.”
He finally managed to reach the vault, what a pain that was. There was even more security down here, speakers, emitters, holograms you name it. He couldn’t even walk over to the corner to take a piss without being bothered by a hologram walking by.
It was a big room the vault was. On the left was a bunch of scraps laying on top of some chemistry sets and a pile of screwdrivers, hammers and nails. In the back there was a terminal.
But what really caught his eyes were the things on his right. Gold.
Gold in bars. Solid and smooth, straight-edged golden bars with the 999.9 engraved onto the surface – 24 karats of pure beautiful gold.
Sol stood there stunned for a whole long minute. He had never seen gold before in entire whole life. He picked up one of the bars. It was heavy, but it was smooth, it was pure. He could feel it pouring into his veins from the palm of his hand.
He was not sure what it was about all of these gold bars… were they speaking to him? He wondered… Trapped in this vault for so long, the gold… they shone like stars and when he held it in his palms he could hear them calling… it was the same call the Sierra Madre had screamed across the wasteland to summon travelers to this Casino. He wasn’t holding the gold… the gold was holding him – his heart.
It would be so easy… to just take them. I mean, there’s nobody here to stop me, he thought to himself. Sinclair was dead and so was Vera. It would be so easy to take them… to take them… take them. Come on… what are you waiting for? Think of all the caps you can get from all of this. You’ll live like a king, no… you’ll BE a king. This… this is what it’s all about, this is the promise the Sierra Madre made to all travelers. To begin again, think of all the things you can do with all these gold bars.
But Sol shook his head and gave himself a huge slap across the face to wake himself up. It was only then did he realize that he didn’t need gold or caps. He never did, and never will.
“BEAUTIFUL, ISN’T IT?”
A loud boom exploded across the room as a computer screen popped out from right behind the terminal on the table. The Old man, Elijah. His face… old and filthy just like back at the fountain.
“You… you’re in the vault… finally… all this time. The Sierra Madre… mine. You must be careful, the computer systems are still very intricate. One wrong step and you’ll activate another security protocol.”
“So, you’ve finally done it after all this time, eh? Congratulation, your ma must be proud.” Sol said sarcastically, he learnt it from Raul.
“Don’t patronize me you simple fool,” Elijah said, “remember that I still have my finger on the trigger and I could blow your brain out any time I want.”
“Blow my brain out? Don’t make me laugh. Your pathetic little collar busted its fuse long ago,” Sol bluffed, hoping it would work, “the circuits overheated. We managed to figure out a way to disable it.”
“You’re lying,” Elijah denied in an instant, “my collars are designed perfectly. It’s flawless. There is no way in hell a simple fool like you could disable it.”
“Simple fool like me?” Sol laughed condescendingly, “I guess you don’t really know who you’re going up against, do you?”
“I know exactly who I’m up against… murderer!”
“What was that?”
“Do you think that I am stupid?” Elijah asked, “Do you really think that I could forget what happened five years ago? And did you honestly think that I don’t remember the face of the monster who murdered my chapter? My Brotherhood?”
Sol didn’t answer, Father Elijah yelled:
“I know it’s you, the one they call the Red Eye.”
“Then you know very well that I can’t be killed by normal means.”
“Yes… of course. You are… a tough one to crack. But… not impossible to crack. Heh, I was honestly surprised when I found you here of all places. I didn’t believe it at first, the security system took away your duster and left you with just a jumpsuit. You seemed… weak, scrawny, there was no way that this was the man who murdered half of a Brotherhood chapter. But now… here you are, in the heart of the Sierra Madre itself. I could’ve rigged the security system of this place to kill you… but alas, I need the things that lie within the heart of this Casino.”
“Well then, that’s unfortunate. Because I wonder… what is there really to stop me from taking all of these data for myself and destroy them as I walk out of here. I heard stories of you, Old man. You’re a techno-wiz. A nutjob with a fetish with technology. You want this place… for its technological marvel, am I right? Vending machines, holograms, speakers, and so on. I wonder why, though.”
“Why else? All to make this world a better place. I… I will wipe the slate clean. The Madre can give me that. Food, water, supplies. Even printing new currencies. The vending machine can do that, after all it’s just a computer system. It can be reprogrammed. I will get rid of all… impurities of the land. Starting with the New California Republic… and you!”
“You want to attack the NCR? All of them?” Sol asked, thinking it was absurd.
“No, not attack… like I said, wipe the slate clean. Make the Mojave like it was meant to be… undisturbed by man. I'll send the Cloud, the Holograms. Bring ruin in my hands until only I stand atop the HELIOS One tower again. I'll scour Hoover Dam with the Cloud, rain its walls with spears from the sun... with an army of Old World ghosts behind me, Holograms all. I'll kill them until it's only me, me alone... in a quiet world. In a world that's nothing like what happened at HELIOS One. Fire, blood, beneath the sun... a sun so close you could touch it… this time… this time for sure. I will have the power of the sun in the palms of my hands.”
“Um, knock, knock. Earth to Elijah,” Sol said, “last I checked, I’m still down here with all of these technologies… and you are up there. Hiding behind a computer screen like a coward.”
“It matters not,” Elijah claimed confidently, “after all, all it takes is a certain leverage… to get the cogs going.”
“What do you mean?”
“I see you’ve been travelling… a long way. And no doubt you’ve picked up a few… acquaintances along the way. It’d be a shame if… something were to happen to them.”
Sol widened his eyes almost on the verge of shouting in rage. But he quickly collected himself and calmed down. He tried to think this through and piece all the clues together.
“You’re… you’re bluffing,” Sol concluded, “I’ve already scoured the ruins of the Casino, inch by inch, too. You’re a very arrogant bastard, but you are not stupid. You know that the probability of breaking into the Sierra Madre would decrease tremendously if you were to not personally participate in helping with the heist. So it’s either that you’re so arrogant and stupid and that you won’t even bother helping your little ‘lab rats’ in the heist… or you’re simply trapped… in the Madre itself. That's why my Pip-Boy couldn't pick up your location, you were deep within this place. Frequencies were blocked through thick walls and security systems… you can’t get out… can you? And you’re only able to give orders through the fountain. There is no way in hell that you can physically make contact with any of my friends, nor can you make contact with any of the other subjects that Dog the Super Mutant kept dragging in. now tell me if I am wrong.”
The image on the screen wasn’t very clear, but Sol could clearly see that Elijah was gaping in shock of his deduction skills. In the end he had no choice but to give in.
“Alright, you got me…” Elijah said, “I… I was only able to briefly contact the prisoners the Mutant brought in. You said his name was Dog right? Huh… never knew that… fitting… anyway, it doesn’t matter. The point is that when I am trapped in this labyrinth… I simply do not have access or control over new prisoners and bodies from the Mojave wasteland that Dog brings in. And he keeps bringing them in, I never told him to stop following the orders. Now obviously he couldn’t bring all of them here to the Madre, so he left them at a little bunker near the Colorado River. Luckily I was able to make contact with them using my terminal. Although the images weren’t as clear as I wanted, it did its job. It's similar to how I was able to project my face back at the fountain, simple hologram technology. Heh, some of the prisoners even thought that I was physically there myself, like a ghost of sort. The lights in the bunker must have been a bit dark.”
“Hah,” Sol chuckled, “you really are a senile old fart who lost his mind long ago. You do know that one of the prisoners that Dog caught was Veronica Santangelo of the Brotherhood right? The girl who adored you so much that she pretty much saw you as a grandfather? Remember her?”
“Veronica… she... survived HELIOS. She would. Resourceful. I talked to her… she’s… grown up well.”
“And you were going to use her to blackmail me?” Sol laughed almost sinisterly, “You make me sick. All the more reason for me to take all the data from the vault and leave this place forever. Losing the Madre forever would not sit well with you I assume.”
Sol could hear Elijah growling through the computer screen in front of him:
“I should never have gone through with this without perfecting the collars. I'm coming down, forget the Sierra Madre security. I'll find you myself,” he said desperately, “I won’t let you get away with MY Casino. Just you wait.”
With that Elijah shut off his terminal and the computer screen blacked out. Sol was able to quickly download all the files off the terminal into a holodisk. All the data about the Sierra Madre, all its archives, its history. He then put the holodisk into his Pip-Boy then proceeded to delete everything from the same terminal.