What are the odds?!
So we made it past Little Big City, with a quick stop off for the night before continuing down the two lane blacktop towards Las Salvas. The single stripe of black that stretched through the desert and the desolate beauty and strange blinks of towns was astounding and ultimately amazing. It was also cool that I downloaded all the Fallout music before a trip so it added to the post-apocalypse feel. Really it was pretty cool. Before anyone asks, beyond the fact that a friend of mine teaches at the local university there and, regrettably, was unable to see us as we passed through, I really don’t have much to say about the place. There are nice parts, I’m sure. There are bad parts, I’m doubly sure. And then there is the Grand Special Hotel. It can go to hell. For a non smoking hotel that tries it’s best to be the great shining beacon for gamblers and luxury seekers, there sure was a lot of cheap pot floating through the halls and seeping under the doors. And it was one of the nicer hotels in the area that we could figure.
Oh, well. Like I said, less said the better.
Las Salvas on the other hand is a thing of unbridled illusory glory. Lights shine in the night that can be seen far into the desert, well past the unnamed army base that may or may not have been the site or a first contact situation sometime in the fifties, and far beyond the scariest clown motel in America. Honestly, at night it looks like a glowing oasis with stripes of brilliant light towers that stretch beyond the stars.
[Edit: I have been asked by several people, particularly HonestWords231, about whether the light pillar that shines off the top of the Karnak hotel is in actuality, a beacon. So let me say this for the record, I have no idea if any of the following true: it’s a teleport beam to ancient and threatening galactic empires, a Dragonesti sign to “stay away from this planet,” the light of an entrapped angel who is trying to signal the divine, a bex plot, a tether for Captain Mongo’s living ship, a slip tunnel to Lord Quantum’s Avalon, or a great and glorious plot by the illuminati to control mankind. I really have no clue. Though I do have to ask one question: Where do you people get this stuff?]
Anyway, the lights and glamour of the city is something of a guilty pleasure, at least the tourist stuff. There is more to life in the Carnal City, or so one friend I met said. He used to work at Mythical Donuts on Pandora Street, a frequent spot for police officers and strippers both coming off shift and in need of a pick me up. According to him, he would never set foot in this town again, believing it to be his death to do so. I can tell you, yes there is more poverty here than a town built on glamour can sustain. I think it helps economy, if you believe some people here from. I don’t tend to talk to those people.
We stopped at the Excelsior hotel, a nice place whose glory days lay sometime in the 80’s or 90’s but it showed no signs of slowing. Most of the décor, attempting to give the feel of a far future, science fiction inspired but as neutral copyright as humanly possible while still giving references to zap guns and tricorders, felt like a strange and wondrous space station, if somewhat dated. The huge view screens, that showed what was once excellent CGI for the day now felt almost comical to anyone but the fanatical faithful, hovered overhead as grey and industrially clean walls surrounded us. The carpets however were surprisingly soft on the feet if somewhat hypnotic. Ads for various attractions based off licenced properties hung between the gleaming gambling machines and coffee dispensers made to look like old school replicators. One could ride a Federation Shuttle, fly a starship against the Dragonesti Invasion, have a lightsaber duel with friends or even enter the tournament advertized for sometime in November, or a dozen of other simulations, attractions, or distractions pulled right out of Fandom. I for one was a fan of the Zocalo, a Babylon 5 inspired bar. They also have a Cantina, Quark’s, and Emperor Ming’s Palace. I’m still surprised the never tried to hold a comic/sci-fi convention here. It would certainly be more successful hotel for a few weekends a year.
The crowd of devoted gamblers and pleasure seekers that lined up in front of us for registration was evidence of that. Books of attractions in hand, some stood practicing dice throws, gossiping to loved ones about the various attractions of the hotel and neighboring casinos. A few people asked for tickets to Highlight and Murphy, one of the “limited engagement only” shows featuring comedy and magic that play several times a day in the lower mezzanine. Considering it wasn’t even advertised in our brochure, it must be something for ‘those in the know.’ But all of them, down to the kids, looked like experienced Excelsior goers. I wish the hotel luck. It was nice, cheap, and I still won $60 on a Dungeons and Dragons themed slot machine. Paid for the room and dinner. Well, almost. Food is expensive here.
We got our rooms and relaxed. The view outside, even from the 18th floor gave us a nice view of the street and several other hotels, not many as we were near the end of the Strip but some. I even managed to convince Kay to come out walking for a while.
Las Salvas, beyond the glitz and glamour that would make several layers of Faery blink and ask them to turn it down, is still a great place to get a drink or a bite to eat and people watch. The vast masses, all looking to get away, either from what they left or the situation that keeps them here, can give hours of entertainment. Watching people flock to attractions and cheap drinks in expensive glasses, It’s just a hoot. Or it is until you find yourself swaying to the piper’s song and have to change your routine to keep the enchantment at bay for a while. Frozen yogurt helps with that, I found out.
At the same time, you never know what to find. Kay was looking for someplace cheap to eat on her phone while I played slots for a bit. Something to pass the time, and you never know if you are going to get lucky. Besides, in the end, it’s probably cheaper than the food and drinks. So my luck was up and down, not in the red but not breaking the bank by a long shot. But my luck in other directions changed.
I have to ask, how do people in the real world deal with fanfare and bugles? I spent too long in Ashland, where you have to ask questions like, “was that gunfire” to notice a 14 piece horn section enter and blow something designed to introduce Kings, Emperors, and Caesars. Not this time though.
Kay tapped my shoulder and pointed at the horn-blowers. Shirtless men, each and every one of them, all impressively sculpted and chiseled. They all wore gold pants that looked sprayed on and black bow ties. “Well, there something you don’t see every day.” She said smiling. Ah, let her look. I don’t mind. I also noticed the small black and gold flags each of the horns carries, tied like banners, though I didn’t get a good look at the heraldry. I was starting to wonder if this was some advertisement for an after hours show, something for the ladies or those who are inclined to such things. I kept wondering when the two college boys, also shirtless and ripped, walked in [sorry, pranced in] throwing rose petals in the air.
“I hope you are enjoying.” I said to Kay. I’m not sure she heard me. She just kept staring….and blushing. That is until the large man in the same sprayed on pants but with a sleeveless black velvet robe inlaid with intricate gold filigree strode into the middle of the scene. By his turban, I thought he was some sort of magician. Maybe this was the Highlight and Murphy show people were talking about, I thought.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Excelsior hotel!” He intoned like a vaudevillian host. “It is my privilege, nay, the honor, (Yes he actually said that) to present to you that amazing woman who will ensnare your glance and steal your soul. Consider yourselves fortunate to stand in the presence of Lady Luck herself and receive her blessing. So bow, great masses all, bow before her, the majesty of desire, the empress of avarice, The great and powerful golden goddess herself, please applaud for the one and only….”
He stood to one side as six beefcakes carried in a gold litter, enshrouded with gold and black curtains. The musclemen carried it like reverent priests hauling the Arc of the Covenant around. As it fully entered the lobby, they set it down, and bowed before it. The curtains shuttered and shook as the whole box vibrated. Horns blared, and men who needed singing lessons attempted to salute the occupant. I watched as did most of the room. Some still held dice and others put coins in slots, but they all paid attention to the show as the litter exploded. She emerged from the roof of the litter like regal Jiffy-pop from a burlesque show.
And so it was. The Quantum Queen.
She floated over the shreds of litter roof, slowly levitating with her arms outspread in ways usually reserved for celebrities emerging from eggs or talented dancers bursting from oversized novelty cakes. She practically radiated a 50’s pinup sexual vibe in addition to the quantum field she actually radiated. It was like Betty Page and Lucille Ball had a child with an undisclosed meta and gave her a regular late night music and comedy show.
“Hello Everyone!” she shouted, sorry, crooned. “It’s me, your one and only Queen.” I half expected her to burst into song. Instead, at a sweep of her hand, several dozen slot machines all hit a jackpot. The alarms and celebratory ringers clanged out in a claxon of jovial alarm. Hoots and hollers soon followed as the devoted and soon to be converted praised her generosity. With another sweep, dice rolled seven, even the ones in the pit bosses pockets. “I’ve come to fill your hearts with wonder, with magic, with love, but mostly me.”
I will never know how some people can playfully blush on cue like that.
She flew down to a guy in line who was wearing a cheap “I saw the Queen” baseball cap who stood at the roulette wheel, dumbstruck. She kissed the cap appreciatively, leaving a burned imprint of her lips. She squeezed the guys cheek and sighed. “Aw, aren’t you sweet. Thanks for coming.” She then pushed him back, launching herself into the air and him on his ass. She circled the chandeliers as her beefcakes sung or played instruments. I have no idea the song, but I pretty sure the melody was butchered from “Hello Dolly.”
“I wanted to welcome everyone to the Excelsior Hotel,” She floated on shimmer waves of yellow energy as she drifted, swimming in the air like a nerdy vision of Esther Williams. “A great place to lose millions having the time of your life.” She blew kisses and let everyone get a good look at her.
“Is this normal?” Kay asked watching the spectacle in all it’s cheesy glory. Any cheesier and we could dip stale bread in it and make a meal.
“I doubt it.” I replied as she flew past a glass case with some memorabilia from a 1950’s space opera. I think it was called “Queen of Earth.” Besides the bad zap guns and bubble headed space suits that had no abdomen protection whatsoever, she paused by the red dress, heavily beaded, and made to look like a femme fatale dress, high collared, armless, and lit up way past mid thigh. She cooed at it before zipping down to the collection of ruby rings Max Von Sydow wore in that old 80’s movie. After admiring the sparklies and other props while her horde serenaded her, the rest of the room slowly returning to their respective obsessions or duties, she addressed us again.
“I love you all so much, I thought, what a great day to greet you all while I robbed the place?” Throwing her arm out, she blasted a craps table in half. Chips flew everywhere, wood and metal splintered and Kay and I dove for cover. The dice ended up rolling right to me. A six, by the way. (of course i kept them) From what i could hear we were not the only people scrabbling as she blasted a cheap knockoff holoviewer from the wall. Gunshots erupted in the background. I’m guessing they were from the beefcakes as her gang of minions. How they concealed the weapons, I won’t even hazard a guess.
“Gentlemen.” She said in that playful voice, full of promise of later delights if certain people were good boys, yet commanding. “I believe you know what a girl likes? Go get it.”
They immediately spread out, breaking prop cases and stealing anything that looked valuable either as gems, metal, or collectors value. One came over towards us, breaking open a case with a replica of Leia’s dress from A New Hope. We took that as our cue to get the hell out of there. Quickly, without thinking, we made our way towards the elevators, I guess we figured we would barricade ourselves inside and await help. This was Las Salvas after all. No one screws with a casino, not even popular metahuman criminals that add to the tourist draw.
We hit the button and it did nothing. The elevators showed no power and no amount of prayer would get the doors open.
“In here!” Kay shouted as she looked around the corner. She kept the armored door of a Jackie Rockets restaurant. We shuffled in, under the door, another couple taking Kay’s advice and following us in before we let the door slam.
“Oh thank the gods.” The woman said. “Thanks for holding the door.”
Kay shook her hand, as if on automatic. “Don’t mention it, just keep quiet.” They both nodded. I checked outside through the inch thick protective glass of a display case protecting the restaurant’s mascot. The scene outside of smashing glass, rushing people, and a levitating pinup model made me wonder if this sort of thing could get any more Salvas. Sure, if they started piping in Dean Martin. I recoiled as a pile of multi colored chips flew against the window. Funny enough, just beyond the chaos, the Queen was trying on the various stolen outfits over her skin tight uniform. She seemed to favor a red scarf.
“What’s going on?” Kay asked, quietly.
“Chaos, robbery, and apparently a fashion show.” I said as I kept watch. “Most of the civilians have bugged out from the looks of things.”
“You mean like us?” The woman said again before turning to your counterpart. “Robert, what do you think? Can you do anything?”
He looked at her like she asked him for an ice cream to help her relax, right now. “What do you expect?” He said. “They don’t let you keep your piece on the floor. It’s in the luggage.”
She looked dejected, even pouted a bit. “Oh right. Sorry.”
“Even if I did, what could I do against her?” He continued, more to himself than anything else.
“Distract her while we all flee for safety?” She smiled sarcastically.
“Glad you think of everything.” He muttered. “Besides we are safe enough here.”
“I think he’s right.” I said. “It doesn’t look like they are going after the people, just the stuff.”
“This the Queen and all.” He said.
She shrugged. “I guess so. She doesn’t have a rep for killing. It’s not like we have to deal with someone like…”
“Hey!” I heard a gruff, roaring voice call out, cutting off her words. “What do you think you’re doing, Queenie?”
“Cadaver Dog…” She finished. “Crap.”
I looked up again, seeing the ashen face, sharp teeth, and glowing red eyes. His familiar hood hid nothing but added to his horror. I pulled my head back before he looked this way, but i caught a glimpse of the horde that followed him. “This is my score! Back off!”
“Yeah,” Kay suggested. “I think we should find better cover.” Each of us nodding, we hunched down and desperate made our way towards the kitchen. Regretfully, the freezer was locked and the back door failed to exist, leaving us stuck in the prep room among the smell freshly grilled meats and heat lamps. The Orange Caesar machine still worked though. Also, as Robert discovered, the staff had installed armor plating behind the counter, I guess just for this exact eventuality. This made me wonder how common was this in this city, in this casino. Satisfied that none of us was about to lose a limb, we each sat down on the less than clean floor, catching our breath.
“Hell of a vacation, eh, Emily?” Robert laughed. “Seen all the celebrities you want?”
She shrugged, smiling. “There is still Cirque du Soleil. I hear the Mystere show is good.”
“Zumanity is better.” I gasped, slowly easing my breath. “If we had a chance to stay longer, I would have taken the wife to it.”
“I’m guessing you are ‘the wife?’” Emily address Kay who smiled. “Same here.”
We all sat back and breathed not knowing what else to do. Emily and Robert cuddled together. Kay held my hand. I guess I had to break the moment more than anything else as the odd quiet descended. “Did you see that collection, though?” I asked, like a casual event.
“She has been trying to get me here for years.” Robert said. “Something about old movies and the decor. She tried to get us into a similar theme hotel when we went to Star Wars Celebration a few years ago.”
“It’s also Las Salvas.” She said from his chest. “There’s always an excuse for Las Salvas.
“And to think,” Robert continued. “We could be where right now?”
“I am not going to the Iowa Comic Con.” She pressed. “You know how much I hate that state. Besides, the Rell-Con is so much better, and air conditioned. And there is still Space City…”
“You too huh?” I said.
“What?” They asked. “Are you going to SSCC too?”
“Actually,” Kay said as she snagged a basket of tater tots from the heat lamp. “We are moving back to Space City.”
“Well, hon.” Emily smiled, “you couldn’t have picked two better people to be trapped in a Jimmy Rockets’ kitchen during a double raid with dangerous metahumans outside. We live in Space City.”
We talked for what seemed like hours, with the occasional thunder or explosion interrupting the flow. Turns out we had much in common; the girls had a passion for knitting and fabrics, the guys obsessed with comics, everyone of us gamers and sci-fi nuts. In the end, we traded information and ate just about everything already cooked. We even arranged to get drinks when we all got back into town. It’s nice knowing there are friends waiting for you wherever you are going.
Eventually the alarms went off and the screeching noise from the doors drew our attention. We huddled with our respective spouse and awaited whatever was tearing through the steel.
“Anyone alive in here?” A voice, not gravely or boisterous, but definitely masculine. Robert and I looked at each other and nodded. We both peeked our heads over the top of the counter in unison. One of the local Blackwatch, a tall blond man with eyes that glowed with soft blue light, held the door open and looked around.
He caught sight of us fast.
“You guys ok?”
“Yeah.” We said in unison, again. “What happened?”
“It’s clear now.” He said, waving us over to a small gathering of other survivors behind him. We all rose to our feet and followed the directions of the officer. (For those who don’t know, Blackwatch is the metahuman division of some local police departments. It sidesteps some of the traditional issues with metahumans wanting to protect and serve.) “We had a nice scuffle of several metahuman groups all over town.” He said as he waved us past the door and into the hallway. The group of several dozen made room for us.
“I guess Quantum Queen and Cadaver Dog?” I said.
“You don’t know the half of it.” He said. “Looks like half a dozen casinos were hit. Don’t quote me on this but this might be one of the largest heists in Las Salvas history.”
We all whistled, impressed.
“You guys didn’t happen to see if a guy in a kind of gold armor or suit with roman numerals on his head was involved?”
Everyone shook their head. Everyone but me that is. I just stared blankly.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, just a person of interest.” He clarified.
“Probably another one of those goons working for Lord Quantum or Chevron.”
“Lord Quantum was behind this?” I asked immediately.
“I didn’t say that sir.” He corrected. “This is a matter for the police and local metahuman groups.”
I nodded again.
“Thanks for your service.” Robert said to the officer who shook it in a peculiar way. “SSPD myself.”
“Huh,” the Blackgaurd laughed. “What are the odds huh? Did you see anything to report, Officer?”
Robert shook his head. “Mostly was keeping the wife safe but I’m available or any questions you might have.”
“Oh, don’t worry, we will probably process and question all of you here. Any bit of evidence we can get the better.”
We all nodded our heads.
“Anywho…” the officer continued, “We got to get you to your rooms. If everything turns out alright you should be good to go by tomorrow. We just ask that you stay there.”
We all nodded, said our goodbyes for now, and headed towards the elevator. The once glorious hotel would need some redecorating and, besides the broken safety glass, we saw several slot machines and gambling tables smashed. Mostly what hit me was the missing memorabilia. So much of it lost. It couldn’t be that valuable to collectors, could it? If so, then my autographed Stan Lee book and my collection of rare action figures were getting better protection when we set ourselves up again.
We all got to the first lift, trading numbers as we waited for the doors to open. Several other people also gathered around us, waiting to be taken to their room. Most stood in silence, each wondering what the other had witnessed but no one wanting to say anything. You know, typical elevator tension. The doors opened and we filed in. One or pairs got off as the doors opened at respective floors and again we said nothing.
Just before our floor, Robert and Emily got out and waved bye to us. We waved back, just before the doors closed, a woman behind us, a woman I barely noticed asked us to hold the elevator doors for her. I did so and she squeezed past us. She was a little woman with unkempt hair, huge glasses that seemed out of date by decades, and a mousey disposition. She also seemed skinny almost to the point of nerdish frailty. Normally I wouldn’t notice her at all, except as she went past us, i noticed the scarf she was wearing, a familiar red scarf that was favored by someone not that long ago… someone floating overhead while her goon smashed display cases.
“Huh, I thought to myself….” What are the odds?"