“Hmph. Ask, then, and be out with it. I can’t stand formality for formality’s sake.” The hermit gulped greedily at one of his amphorae, coming away smelling strongly of alcohol and wet clay. “You don’t live my life if you like people’s nonsense.”

“I’ve been told that you know the secret, the truth, to what will hold back the Host,” said Trixie, as gravely as she could muster.

“What’s the Host?” said Bannister. Seeing Trixie’s shocked face, he laughed again. “Such surprise! How am I supposed to know what’s going on down there if no one comes to visit me–by my own request, I might add?”

“This was a mistake,” Trixie said, sadly. “I knew it was a long shot. But Cooperston is dying, and you’ll take a long shot if it’s your last chance and your last bullet.”

“Now, that’s more like it,” the hermit said. “Perhaps a bit cliche, but not a bad turn of phrase. Listen up, woman. This Host: they are a large force, well-armed, and strongly led?”

“Yes, yes they are,” said Trixie, excited. “They’re led by-”

“Tut-tut-tut,” said Bannister. “No details. Not necessary. This is an old problem, you see, one that was felt as keenly by our ancestors in squalor as it was before the collapse. How to protect the small from the large. Now: you can’t join with this Host? They are not amenable to negotiation?”

“They are murderers and slavers,” spat Trixie. “We’ve heard their terms and we’d rather die.”

“Well, then, you may get your wish,” laughed the hermit. “And this Cooperston, you’ve no hope of holding them at bay?”

“For a time, perhaps, but only for a time,” said Trixie.

Bannister hoisted his homemade liquor, following it with a meaty belch. “Well then,” he said. “You need another army. A power to match their own. Know of any?”

“Would I be here if I did?” Trixie said.

“Ha! Fair enough, fair enough. Now let me tell you something, woman. Before I decided to set myself on this path of solitude, I was quite the hoarder. Information, naturally, the only thing truly worth hoarding after the collapse. And I’m familiar with a force that just might be amenable to you. The Legion.”

“That old fairy tale?” Trixie snorted.

“Why yes,” said Bannister, both offended and grinning impishly. “You’ve heard of it too, the fully armed combat units kept in suspended animation beneath the Yucca Flats Complex, waiting for the computer order to reawaken them?”

“Well…”

“I thought not! To the unlearned, the Legion is just a once and future king, but once you’ve read the science behind it, it’s not so mythical at all. Soldiers enhanced mentally, physically, psychichally. Stored away for future need. And, I might add, very amenable to new members and fierce in its defense of its own. And I can recite chapter and verse from the relevent technical documents to back it up.”

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