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April 13th, 2285

Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

6:37 P.M.

            The overhead sun beat down fiercely upon the head of Richard Barton as he traversed the Texan landscape. Of all the assignments he had been assigned over the years, he hated the ones that forced him to head down to the former Texas territory.  The heat down here being awful, coupled with the lack of water and giant desert creatures being everywhere, made this place almost unbearable. Not to mention that this town was a short distance away from Houston, which took many hit during the Great War and was thus the reason for no moist ground. And he was a very short distance from the radiation fields.

            Ms. Castile knew that Richard hated going into the southern part of the country, and he hated getting near areas of Radiation. That’s why he always got those jobs. She had a cruel sense of humor, but he dared not complain. This job paid too well and gave him a lot of power in Salvator Industries. He wouldn’t dare do anything that could jeopardize that.

            After a while of traveling, Richard looked down to check his pip-boy. According to the map, he should be coming up on Brandon’s location soon, but the actual terrain didn’t reflect that. He was stuck in the middle of nowhere, on a hill that gave him a good view of the deserted Corpus Christi city. There was no one out. In fact, there wasn’t even any life out here. There was only dirt. Dried, cracked dirt.

            The thought of this being another joke of the CEO’s infuriated the man. He bet that Brandon Aviur wasn’t even out here in Texas. He was probably back at headquarters right now, enjoying a cold martini poolside with Castile herself, laughing about the stooge they just sent to the deadest spot in this country to wander aimlessly around and wait for the precise moment to tell him it was a joke…

            As he stomped up the hill, his pip-boy began to beep to let him know that he was drawing closer towards the target. He’d believe that when he saw it.

            At the top of the hill, the ground was flatter. The dirt was still dry and hardened, having not seen a glorious rain in some time, but there would be no more climbing. Richard spotted something at the center, something that resembled a chair and an umbrella. The faint sound of music could be heard from where he stood, but he wasn’t sure what the song was.

            “This better be him,” Richard muttered, before making his way over. He drew closer and began to make out the items in the distance. Someone was lounging in a lawn chair, under the shade of a Captain Cosmos umbrella. It had the titular character printed on it, riding a rocket which left a trail of smoke that stretched around in a circle. The Hubris Comics trademark was printed in large letters just below the rocket.

            Next to the lawn chair was a rusted barrel with a radio on top. The device was playing Bob Crosby’s “Happy Times” at a low volume. Next to it was a microphone. In the chair was a man dressed in what looked like leather armor, and was thumbing through some book.

            Richard wiped a wave of sweat from his forehead and got closer. “Are you Brandon Aviur?” He asked.

            There was no response from the man. Just Bob Crosby getting ready for the next verse of the song.

            “Hey! Are you Mr. Aviur?” Richard spat in frustration. He was louder this time.

            This time, the man in the chair heard him. He sat up slowly and gently pressed a button on the radio in the middle to turn it off. A bookmark was placed in the middle of the pages, and the book was shut and placed on the dirt. A gas mask covered his face

            “Yes?” Brandon answered, in a gravelly and hoarse voice that made Richard shudder. His voice probably sounded like that due to the mask.

            “I’m Richard Barton…” He said, knocking some dust off of his trousers. “I am a representative from Salvator Industries.”

            “Good for you,” Brandon shrugged, before picking his book back up and continuing to read.

            Richard cocked his head at the man. “You have received our messages in the past, right?”

            “Yes,” Brandon said as he turned the page. Richard moved closer to see what the man was reading. Embedded into the withered red cover were letters in a golden font that spelt the title “Fahrenheit 451”

            “That’s a good book there,” Richard said. He had never read it, however. Brandon only responded with another flip of the page.

            A few awkward moments passed of silence that ate away at Richard before he said something more. “My employers are very concerned due to your lack of a response.”

            Again, he turned the page.

            “Mr. Aviur, ignoring me in favor of your book is not going to make me go away any sooner,” Richard muttered, visibly irritated as he wiped away another wave of sweat from his forehead.

            The page turned.

            “You’re not even reading that fast!” Richard pointed out.

            Brandon snorted. At least, it sounded like he snorted. That could have been a grunt or a sigh that the mask had obscured.

            “It is funny how quick you noticed that I wasn’t interested in your nonsense,” Brandon noted as he tucked a bookmark into the pages. The bookmark was another piece of merchandise from Hubris Comics. This one had the Silver Shroud on it with a speech bubble that read ‘Silver Shroud reads, and so should you!’

             “I have not ignored your constant messages on accident,” Brandon spoke. “I hoped your organization would one day realize that I wasn’t interested and would stop sending letters, but… here you are.

            Richard scratched his scalp awkwardly. “We’re simply trying to help you, sir,” He replied. “The wastelands are a tough place, yeah? We at Salvator Industries could provide you with-“

            “Enough, Dick,” Brandon rose from his chair calm. “Do not try to pass this off as a charitable shelter. It is mercenary work. You want me to join your operations so some mob boss or political figure can take out his enemies without getting his hands dirty.”

            “Her,” Richard corrected.

            Brandon took his seat once again. “I’m not interested in being a merc.”

            “Mr. Aviur, I implore you to be reasonable here!” Richard protested. “Salvator Industries is far more than a simple mercenary company! Ms. Castile has built-"

            “What is the name of your boss?” Richard asked suddenly

            “Pardon?”

            “Your boss,” He said again. “What’s her name?

            "Ms. Castile…” Richard replied, not sure where he was going with this.

            “Castile…” Brandon pondered, before lightly chuckling. Then he laughed.

            “What’s so funny about that?” Richard questioned.

            “You wouldn’t understand…” Brandon said. He would have continued, but at that moment, he was interrupted by the sound of shouting. To his left, he heard what sounded like a group of men yelling at each other. And there were footsteps. Loud, angry footsteps. They were coming closer.

            “Dick, grab that,” Brandon commanded, pointing towards something next to the radio.

            “What?” Richard raised his eyebrows. The thing he was pointing to was a gas can that looked to be at least half-filled with gasoline. “Why?”

            “Hostiles are approaching,” Brandon answered. He had overturned his lawn chair and picked up two weapons. A double-barrel shotgun in one hand, and a flamer in the other.

            “Hostiles?!” Richard spat, immediately dropping the canister. “Oh, no no! I’m not getting involved in that.”

            “You are here, so you are already involved. Now, grab that canister and move it!”

            Brandon took off down the hill with his weapons, while Richard stood behind to debate. He now heard the shouting drawing closer and closer, and finally decided to follow the man. He brought the Gas can.

            The two laid low on the hill as the hostiles reached the top. “Come out, you fuckin’ freak!” They heard one of the men holler. “You’re gonna fuckin’ pay for what you did to Joe!”

            “Joe?” Richard whispered frantically.

            “A raider who tried his hand at mugging,” Brandon explained. “I burned him and hung his body from a lamppost as a warning. Apparently, these men did not pick up on the warning.

            Richard’s face contorted into a look of revulsion. “That’s horrible!” He spat

            “We shall debate this trivial matter later,” Brandon told him. “Get ready to throw that can.”

            “Why?”

            “Stop questioning things and do as I say!” Brandon hissed. “Unless you wish to die by way of being gutted by raiders…”

            A gunshot sounded off from atop the hill. Most likely a warning shot. Richard cowered in fear. “Get your ass out here!” The raider hollered.

            “Get ready to throw that thing…”

            Richard reluctantly nodded and grabbed the can. The gas sloshed around in it. “I hope you know I’m not really strong. I’m not sure-“

            “Now!”

            Based on instincts alone, Richard heaved the can up and over the hillside, directly at the raiders. The can went far enough to where it landed directly in front of the group, who glared at the can in confusion. Brandon popped up soon after, his shotgun locked and loaded, and fired two bullet at the can.

            The resulting explosion covered a wide area. The fire reached out and took hold of their clothes, setting them ablaze and sending the burning raiders running and rolling across the ground to put out the flames, but it was in vain. Skin and bones were already burning and melting in response to the intense heat. Life was fading from their bodies. And all they could do was scream.

            Raiders who had managed to avoid the blast stood and looked on in horror, which gave Brandon enough time to finish them off. He rushed up the hill with his flamer and pressed down on the trigger once he was close enough. Flames came spewing out of the nozzle like a fountain of Hell, and the raiders were dispatched quickly.

            Richard’s head peaked over the side to look on at the carnage. The raiders were already dead, or the last bit of life was now being taken by the fire. The awful smell of burnt flesh filled the air as smoke rose from the charred remains, and the Salvator Representative was forced to gag.

            “My god…” he choked out, stumbling back onto the top of the hill. “What have you done…”

            “I do what I have to do,” Brandon shrugged simply.

            After seeing such horrors, Richard was no longer in the mood to negotiate with this… he wasn’t even sure what to call this man now. Everything about him spoke differently. The Comics memorabilia told the tale of a grown child. The way he talked and his book suggested a sophisticated intellectual. But the death he had just wrought with his Flamer suggested a bloodthirsty monster…

            “What are you?” Richard trembled.

            “A pyrotechnics expert,” Brandon replied.

            “A pyromaniac…” Richard muttered.

            A few moments of silence passed between them as the bodies burned. “Give me your pip-boy.”

            Richard looked up at him. “Why?”

            “You want me to join this company, correct?”

            “Yeah…”

            “Then give me the Pip-Boy…”

            “Sir, I am not in a position to simply hand over technology that belongs to-“

            Brandon aimed his Flamer in the air and fired a warning stream of fire so that Richard could feel the heat. Then he lowered it so that the nozzle was staring Richard in the face. “Are you in a position to hand it over now, Dick?”

            “I believe so!” Richard squealed. He quickly unlatched the thing from his wrist and tossed the item at Brandon’s feet.

            “Thank you,” Brandon nodded, scooping up the pip boy from the ground and beginning to twist knobs and press buttons.

            “What are you doing?” Richard asked.

            “Don’t ask questions…” Brandon ordered.

            After a while, Brandon came to what he was looking for. The screen displayed a list of Radio Frequencies, ones that were within reaching. At the top was the one that he needed; a radio frequency right to Salvator HQ.

            “Okay, look, Mr. Aviur, you really need to-“

            Brandon quickly turned his gun around and quickly stuck the butt of it into Richard’s face. It either knocked him out or immediately killed him, but he went to the ground motionless as blood gushed from his nose.

            “You really need to follow directions, Dick,” Brandon spat, before sitting down at his radio. He checked the frequency on the Pip-Boy, and began to adjust the radio to tune into that frequency.

            “If anyone can hear this, we’re in trouble at…. Buy the Nuka-Cola brand Blender now for only… The Children of Atom are a bunch’a hillbilly…. So I met like 5 guys named Gary yeste-…. Death has come for you, Evil-Doer, an-“ The Radio spouted out random phrases from stations as he manually adjusted it. Soon enough, he had tuned the radio to where it matched the frequency for the Salvator HQ Station.

            There was bit of silence and static at first. Then, an automated message began to play. “Welcome to Salvator Industries, the number one Shipbuilding power in the United States!”

            Shipbuilding? Is this Pre-War?

            “We pride ourselves on our-“ The message cut off quickly, and reverted to its state of static. It picked up again soon, and the voice coming through was much different than the cheery automated message.

            “Mr. Aviur, I presume?” Ms. Castile spoke in her usual condescending tone. Through the speaker, he heard something click. Brandon knew it was a lighter.

            “How did you know that?” Brandon asked.

            “A lucky guess…” Ms. Castile said. “We detected a tune-in from Corpus Christi. I figured it was either you or Richard. Speaking of which, where is he?”

            Brandon looked over to the bloody but still breathing mess that was Richard. “He is napping on the job. I have the pip-boy.”

            Something that sounded like a chuckle came through the speakers. “I’m quite pleased we’re speaking.  I had thought Richard wouldn’t be able to convince you…”

            “He didn’t convince me,” Brandon said.

            “Oh, really? Then why are we speaking right now?”

            Brandon smirked underneath his gas mask. “Your name.”

            “My name?”

            “Dick told me it. Castile…” He said. “I very much doubt that’s your birth name. Is it?”

            “Where is this going, Brandon?” Ms. Castile replied. “I’m very busy today, and don’t really have time to beat around the bush…”

            “You’ve adopted that name from the Queen of the same name, didn’t you?”

            There was silence on the other end. “You know your history…” Ms. Castile complimented.

            “I believed your organization to be yet another mercenary coalition bent on eliminating people for obscure reasons, but… to bear the name of such a person. Usually, the mercs I encounter have some code names or intimidating nickname and are loud and aggressive. But you seem too… formal, I suppose is the term I’m looking for. The more I think about it, the more it seems this “Salvator Industries” is too organized and secretive to be common mercenaries. And you, to have that name, makes me see this picture a bit more clearly. And so, I ask…”

            He laughed. “What’s your game, Castile?”

            Once again, silence on the other end. “You’re correct in that aspect, Mr. Aviur. This company is far bigger than any gunner organization or pathetic raider group. I cannot share the specifics of what I have planned. Not yet, at least. All that I can share with you is this; Salvator works for the betterment of all commonwealths across the United States. We’re not mercenary dogs fighting for the highest bidder, I assure you.”

            Brandon sat there, with a smile behind his mask. Just from that vague sentence, he knew what Salvator was about. And it was something he could get behind. “Now, with that said…”

            The radio station suddenly cut out, and the pip-boy began to flash and change what was on the screen. Brandon looked at the screen, and it had a simple question displayed on it.

            “Join?”

            On the left was the Vault-Boy himself giving the thumbs up, with the text reading “Yes” above him. On the right was the Vault-Boy in skeletal form giving the thumbs down. The text above him read “No.”

            As if the consequences of No were not already obvious…

            After much debate, Brandon selected Yes. If Castile selected that name for the reason he thought she had, then this organization would be the home he was looking for all this time.

            And with that, he turned the radio station back to the original station. He returned to his book and picked off where he had left off. At least now, the sun was beginning to set, but that was alright. He had burning raiders to provide the light.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

April 13th, 2277

Salvator Headquarters

7:04 PM

            Ms. Castile sat back smugly in her chair. With a third of the team already being brought in, it would appear that all was going according to plan with no inconveniences, save for the recent news brought to her attention.

            “I don’t like the sound of this guy, commander,” Rick said, who had been standing by as she spoke to this Aviur fellow. “Sounds like a creep. One of them serial killers I read about before the bombs dropped.

            “Mr. Deere, I would not bring a man onto this team if I was not absolutely sure they were sane,” Ms. Castile informed him. “Besides, we will know if Brandon does anything to harm the team or innocents, and he will be dealt with accordingly.”

            “If you say so,” Rick shrugged. “Anyways, you called me in here?”

            “Ah, yes,” Ms. Castile rose from her seat and grabbed a file off the table. “One of my agents reported the location of another individual we hope to recruit,”

            She put out her cigarette and placed the file down in front of them. Pictures of what appeared to be a gang outside of some sort of plant.

            “His name is James Gatling,” She explained. “He was the first one we contacted, but he went dark on us for a while…”

            “And he ran off and joined a Raider gang?” Rick asked, basing his question on the picture.

            “No, he was caught.”

            “Caught?” Rick said in disbelief. “This is a team of highly trained killers like me, and this guy… get’s caught by Raiders?”

            “These raiders have numbers, Mr. Deere,” Castile reminded him. “Numbers that can easily overrun one man toting a shotgun…”

            “I guess…” Rick shrugged. “So, you want me to go get him out of trouble, huh?”

            “Not just you, Mr. Deere,” Ms. Castile shook his head. It was then that the door behind them opened and in came a fellow dressed in red and yellow samurai armor, and a massive sword at his hip.

            “Jesus Mary and Joseph, The Red Chinese are back!" Rick laughed at the samurai.

            “Mr. Deere, this is Saishu Ketseuki,” Castile introduced. “He will be accompanying you on the mission.”

            “A pleasure to meet you, Sir,” Saishu nodded to him.

            “Does your Chinese Wastelands still have Communism?” Rick asked

            “I’m Japanese, actually…”

            “A jap!” Rick laughed. “The first wastelanders!” he howled, though Saishu didn’t find his joke all too funny.

            After Rick had stifled his laughter, he said. “Alright, me and Sushi here will get James back, no problemo.”

            “Good. Now, one of our Falcons will airlift you both to the desired area, along with a few troopers.”

            "Troopers?” Saishu asked.

            “Yes. You will be provided with a team of Salvator Soldiers to complete this mission.”

            “I’m gettin’ my own Squadron!” Rick cheered.

            “It’s both of yours, Mr. Deere,” Ms. Castile corrected him. “This is a Co-Leader mission.”

            “Sure, I'll share with Jappy,” He smirked. “Anyways, were are we heading?”

            “The Corvega Auto Plant. In Boston,” She explained. “You have 10 hours before the Falcon takes off. Grab whatever you need from the armory. Good luck, Gentlemen.”

           



(Next Part: The Mutant.)

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