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Shattered Steel Part 1: Gravestone (Fallout Roleplay)

The Good Doctor

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October, 2284

A train passed overhead. Its iron wheels rumbled over the tracks with a noise to rival thunder, delivering tremors that violently shook every light fixture in the warehouse below.
Duane stood at the open window and watched the monstrosity pass them by. Loud as the beast was, it only moved a few miles per hour. They would be stuck listening to its racket for another twenty minutes, at least. Least it drowns out that fuckin' radio.
A desperate man had to be able to count his blessings.

Duane flicked his cigarette butt out the window and stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his coat to hide that they were still trembling. Even now two of the smugglers were watching him like hawks, while the third still struggled to shove the dead woman's body into a wooden crate. The big one with the shaved head said something to him, but the words were lost beneath the roaring of the train. Duane swallowed and cleared his throat. "What'd you say?"

"I asked if you were ready to finish what we started." The man seemed strangely relaxed, his fingers drumming against the knife handle protruding from his belt. All his life, Duane had thought himself a hard man, a real badass from the streets of Junker Town who knew all the answers. What a damned idiot he had been. These people were killers. Real killers. The sort who could shove a blade into a woman's heart in one moment and kick back to a tune by the Ink Spots in the next. He was in over his head.

Regardless, as Duane's brother liked to say, "When shit gets bad, don't stop to smell it." He was in the thick of this now, and the only way out was to see it through. "Yeah," he told the bald man, making sure to speak loudly enough to make himself heard. "I'm ready when you are."

"We been ready," said the skinny girl with the red hair, "It's your slowpoke ass that ran to the fuckin' window." She glanced at her partner. "Look at this guy. He's chokin'. I reckon he ain't never seen someone killed."

"I'm fine," Duane assured them. "It's like I said, I just needed a smoke."

"This ain't a freakin' church. You can smoke inside."

"Right." Duane nodded his head. "Well I also wanted some fresh air."

"Course ya did. Come on now." The smugglers led him over to the stack of crates, each one ranging from the size of a briefcase to just large enough to contain a bent up human corpse. "Big Max had his eyes on you for four months," the girl said. "The folks you've been dealin' with these last two were his people's people. Now you get to deal with his people directly."

"Not Max himself?" Duane frowned. "I was told-"

"You were told that Max would sell you guns," the bald man said. He patted one of the crates. "Well here they are. What's it matter if he ain't here to hand them over?"

"I guess... well, I suppose I'd just thought we'd be building somethin' of a partnership. I've got more cash. My boys and me are making it steady across the river. We want this to be an ongoing thing."

"And it will be," the man promised. "Maybe someday you'll get to meet the big man, himself. Until then, you deal with us."

"I doubt it, though," the woman said. "Chem peddlers ain't our usual market. And with this haul, you'n yours'll probably be running Junker Town by the end of the month. Won't have any need of us when the competition's been muscled out."

"There's always competition." Those were the first words that Duane had said with genuine confidence all morning. As long as there were junkies, there would be people fighting over who got to sell them their high. "And, well..." Damnit man... You've done it now. Here goes nothing. "There's the Brotherhood of Steel."
He saw it at once, the sudden change in the room's atmosphere. The smugglers shot each other a look, and for a moment the only sound in the warehouse came from the train up above. Duane didn't want them to mistake his meaning, so he quickly continued, "Word is they're bringing in an army. We may all want something to protect ourselves with before long."

"You got beef with the Brotherhood?" the woman asked. Her tone of voice had changed drastically, as if every word was now a bullet being loaded. His answer to this question could very well be the difference between life or death.

"Nah," Duane said, trying not to let his nervousness show. "But maybe I know some folks who do."

The woman smiled. "Maybe we know some folks who do too."

Holy shit! Duane could hardly believe this was happening. Is she for real?! The look on her face certainly said so. What in the fuckin'- SHIT! 
Every criminal in Wellstone knew the name 'Big Max', and every man, woman, and child knew that the Brotherhood's imminent arrival was a response to rebel cells cropping up in the city. But Duane might've been one of the only people stupid enough to theorize that they were one and the same. And now the woman's grin said all that needed to be said.
"I-" he stammered, and then quickly composed himself. "I'd like to meet Big Max."

"What's that?" The third smuggler, the one with the dead woman, had to holler over the train. It was a wonder he could even tell they were talking. "You say somethin' about Big Max?"

"Shut up, Walter," the bald man barked. "And keep an eye on the doors. Shit just got serious. Anyone else comes in, do 'em like the last one."

"Aye-aye, Boss."

"Want me to tell him," the bald man said, turning his head to the girl, "or you?"

"Tell me what?" Duane's heart was pounding. This had already gotten far beyond the simple operation he'd hoped for. He was on new ground now. He was dealing with rebels.

The redhead shrugged and sat back in her chair. "Alright, Mr. William, here's the truth. This man next to me with the stupid grin, is Big Max."

"He-" Duane lifted a finger, and then immediately dropped it again. "You-"

"That's right," the bald man said, his 'stupid grin' spreading from ear to ear. "In the flesh. Now don't let it change things between us. Alright? Talk to me like you've been. I want to know about these 'folks' who 'may' have beef with the Brotherhood of Steel."

Don't stop to smell the shit, Duane. Duane took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and proceeded to feed the rebels lie after bullshit lie, just as he had been doing all morning. Just as Wellstone Security had told him to. The plan had always been for him to gain the smugglers' trust until he could meet their leader, and then get a reward for his ID. Now though, Duane's little leap of faith based on a stupid-ass theory was going to make him a fuckin' hero! He just needed to play it cool. This was the last day he would have to be 'William'.
"That's it," Duane finally said after a solid five minutes of spewing garbage. "That's what the Brotherhood's cost my 'friends'. And that's why I want a partnership. Guns will be needed. And not for rival chem dealers."

"Huh," Big Max had listened attentively the entire time, never saying a word except to ask Duane to clarify on little details as he spoke. "You know, you're a terrible fuckin' liar."

All at once, Duane felt his chest close around his heart like a clenching fist. "What? No, I ain't lying!"

" 'Course you are. You've got like five tells. And you contradicted yourself twice in all that shit you just tried to sling at us. It obviously wasn't as well rehearsed as the crap about you dealing chems."

"Hell, the chem stuff might even be true," said the redhead. And she was right, of course. He had only started working with the city less than a year ago.

"We got a rat, Gil?" the one called Walter called from across the room, still having to shout to be heard.

"Looks that way," she answered. "Either way, can't take chances with him now."


"I swear you've got it wrong!" Duane pleaded. "What contradictions are you even talking about?! I can-"

"Look, you blew it, okay? He's all yours 'Max'." Gil said, stepping back. Big Max drew his knife.

"Fuckin' wait!" Duane shouted, wishing that the train wasn't passing. No one outside would be able to hear him scream for help. "I swear, whatever you think, it's not-" The bald man took a step in his direction. "Oh screw this!"
Duane drew his pistol then, and saw the alarm in each of the rebels' eyes right before he pulled the trigger.

Gil's own hidden gun flashed out next, and before Duane fully understood what had happened, he was on the ground, staring up at the trembling light fixtures with a hole in his chest and the sound of a train in his ears. That sound eventually passed, and was replaced by swearing rebels and a faint tune by the Ink Spots.

By the time the song ended, the man who'd called himself 'Big Max' was dead, and Duane Freeman would soon be joining him. Walter and Gil were gone, and the only voice left in the room belonged to Wellstone's most popular radio host, Ronald Layder.

"How ya doing, Wellstone? It's twelve-o-clock and you know that means it's time for me to share some old world wisdom with the bunch of you -and trust me- this one's good. But first, some news: ... I'm sure by now all of you listeners know that in light of recent attacks in the Industrial and Market districts, the Brotherhood of Steel is sending troops to occupy our fair city. Well it turns out that these guys work even faster than we thought 'cause they're gonna be here tomorrow. Yep, you heard me right. The BoS is about to be in town. Is this good? Bad? Only time will tell.... Me personally, I just hope that the killing comes to an end... and that brings me back to that old world wisdom I promised you folks. It's an old quote I managed to dig up that I think everyone should perk their ears for. So Wellstone, Brotherhood, Rebels at large, y'all listen up 'cause it's a doozy. Before you go to war, you should know that war, well, war never changes.

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The Paladin Lord


It was a glorious day for the Brotherhood. And, by extension, Alan Ogawa. Hundreds of knights, paladins, and scribes marched behind him in straight lines. The knights held their weapons firmly across their chests. The motors in the paladins’ power armor whirred with every step. They’d marched a quick five miles to arrive in Wellstone by midday, keeping a good pace and disciplined formation the entire time. Even the scribes managed to keep up, though they were beginning to drift out of formation as they tired. Alan motioned to them with a nod, and one of the senior scribes barked out an order to maintain formation, and they quickly straightened out.

The force the Elders sent from Chicago had a long journey. From Chicago to Davenport on the 88, and then Interstate 80 to Des Moines and Interstate 35 to Wellstone. They made the journey on foot, only the older and weaker scribes riding the flatbed transport trucks that followed. A few tanks and infantry fighting vehicles trailed behind them. Alan himself had walked with his men, but as they traveled into the city, he stood from the front hatch of the infantry fighting vehicle that was leading the army into Wellstone.

They marched down the highway and into the Northstone District. It was a middle class neighborhood, Alan knew, with most of its houses and buildings built since the Brotherhood took control. That was before he was born, and since then Wellstone had become a place of peace and prosperity. Alan surveyed the district from his vantage point atop the IFV. The quaint houses and shops of the district stretched out, some of them painted in lively colors, most with small yards or gardens. It looked the part of an artisan’s district.

His transport moved towards the Missouri River. The central tower of the suspension bridge came into view, a thin needle when seen from a distance. The bridge looked no worse for wear, considering the decades and war it had seen. The engineers had certainly done excellent work keeping it in such a good shape.  Alan knew they’d have even more chances to improve Wellstone besides maintaining its bridges. He had plans for the city, ones that would show the strength and security the Brotherhood offered, in ways the rebels could never match.

The noon sun reflected in the lazy waters below the bridge as the army crossed into Wellstone proper. The old part of town. They marched through the heart of the Steel District, with the smoke rising from the factories to their east. It was clearly a poorer place than the Northstone District, but the people here were stout and welcoming. A few cheered at the arrivals. The citizens here knew better than anyone why the Brotherhood army was here, and when Alan drove through the intersection where the rebel bomb had blown up a weapons shipments, he could still see the blood of those injured; two knights, along with a husband and wife one their way to lunch. None would die, but one knight would lose her leg, and the other his fingers.

Alan left it behind and continued on, his expression softening at the warm reception, despite the scene of the attack he left behind. He had expected to be welcomed, but it still made him glad to hear the cheers for himself. The army had turned west now, and marched through the heart of the Market District. It was the busiest by far, but the roads were cleared for the army’s arrival. A few impatient brahmin carts tried to squeeze around the edges, but for the most part people stopped and waited.

Alan couldn’t see where the second rebel bomb went off, but he could see its target. Rising from the heart of the city was the Brotherhood Lookout Tower. It was thick and solid, a series of steel blocks, successively smaller, stacked one atop the other. Private apartments filled the lower floors, and a lookout station inhabited the upper floors. From there they could monitor the city for any emergency. The bomb had gone off at its base, and done some light damage to the first three floors. Two scribes and three knights leaving their shift were killed. But more than even those deaths, that attack was a message. And Alan was commanding the Brotherhood’s response.

The army seemed to pick up their pace as the entered the Gold District, for they all could see the walls of the Brotherhood headquarters towering over the large, elegant houses of the upper class neighborhood. Even more than the Steel District, the citizens here cheered for the arriving soldiers. The carriages stopped and the well-dressed denizens leaned out to wave their hats at the soldiers. Here the houses were older, as this was the upper class district of the old Gravestone. Now it and the Emerald Gardens housed the city’s richest citizens, but all the oldest Wellstone families lived here.

Alan exited his vehicle, taking off his black beret and running a hand through his hair. He had to look the part of Paladin Lord, as well as act it. The commander in charge of the Brotherhood headquarters met him in front of the main gate and saluted. He was a solidly built man, a hair taller than Alan but not quite as muscular. A trimmed blonde beard covered his cheeks and hid a few scars. “The command is yours, Paladin Lord Ogawa.”

Alan saluted back. “Thank you, Commander Kelman. Have the western forces arrived?”

“Yes sir. They arrived yesterday.”

“And their numbers?”

“Fewer than expected, sir. Only groups from Junction and Bunker Delta have arrived.”

“And are the quarters ready for me and my troops?”

“Yes sir. Your office is ready as well.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

Alan spent a moment taking in the fortress. Its central tower, and the tower of the West River checkpoint provided views of both rivers, and of the western part of the city. A strong defensive position if there ever was one. He entered the fortress at the head of his men, on foot. They filled the central courtyard, where all the off duty Brotherhood soldiers already stationed in Wellstone were assembled. The new arrivals filled in alongside, and when they were all in position, Alan addressed them.

“Knights, Paladins, Scribes, today is a monumental day. We were honored with the duty of saving this town from rebels and terrorists. We begin that mission today. From here on out, each and every one of you has a duty to our fallen comrades to avenge them. You must do your part, follow your orders, and follow in the footsteps of Barnaky and our Elders. Together, we will root out these rebels, and make Wellstone safe, once and for all,” Alan saluted, and in unison thousands of heels snapped together and saluted back. “You are dismissed. Your squad commanders will relay to you your orders.”

A well-oiled suit of power armor, each limb of the Brotherhood moved smoothly and effortlessly. The soldiers disbanded into their squads, and immediately began fulfilling their orders. Two squads stood by, their commanders awaiting Alan’s departure. Alan approached them and asked, “Knight Commanders, are your squads ready?”

Both said, simultaneously, “Yes sir.”

“Good. Follow me.”

Alan left the remaining soldiers to carry out their initial orders, while Alan and the two squads guarding him set out the way they came. One squad on either side of his transport, they drove through the Gold District, into the Market District, and then turned south on Broadway. A less imposing sight than the full army, but the citizens still waved and sporadically cheered. They turned east on to 12th Street. A few merchant stands stood just off the streets, selling mostly small items and cheap food. Alan’s gaze lingered on The Rose Garden brothel for a few moments before they drove past. Closer to the brothel stores occupied the buildings, clearly trying to use the brothel’s traffic to their own advantage.

A few apartment buildings stood between the brothel and the lookout tower. They parked beneath the northern side, where the scorch marks of the mini nuke reached up to the fourth story. The windows that had been added into the metal sides were blown out, most covered with tarps or pieces of scrap. There was a crater, half in the street and half in the sidewalk. And the metal siding of the first floor showed a dent where the building was closest to the crater. There was no blood at this site, as the radiation scrubbers had cleaned that off as well.

Whoever had done this had access to powerful munitions, as the Brotherhood made a point to seize all mini nukes they found. Alan’s first priority would be to find whoever carried out this attack, and whoever attacked the shipment in the Steel District. He suspected it was the same group, but he hadn’t gotten any reports confirming that yet. The perpetrators would be found and brought to justice. He would make an example of them and show the rebels just how powerful an enemy they had.

The IFV drove to the corner of the street and turned south. They passed by a brick hotel, ten or so stories, with a white metal sign on its roof that said “Reside Here.” Lighter stone framed the windows. Closer to ground level, above the western and, what Alan could tell was the main entrance, it said “Clara’s Casino & Cabaret.” Alan wondered how many of his men wasted their time there. At least with a brothel the visitors there would get their money’s worth, and not lose it all on rigged games.

Soon, they reached their destination, easily marked by the numerous shotgun wielding city guards stationed outside the north entrance. Alan once again straightened his hair, and this time smoothed out the wrinkles of his olive and black jumpsuit, and made sure his plasma defender sidearm was secured in its holster on his hip. He considered wearing his sunglasses, but a few clouds overhead blocked out the sun.

He exited, flanked by two knights from each squad. What was now the Mayor’s Hall was once an auditorium. It was an imposing stone building, with solid walls and few windows. It was a monument to the government of a strong and resolute city, even if those inside where weak and ineffectual politicians. Thankfully, the leadership of the city would truly be in Brotherhood hands now, instead of a proxy mayor. Who somehow managed to let rebels rise in Wellstone, although Commander Kelman certainly shared the blame in that.

Standing beside the entrance was a thin man with a handsome face, his skin a light brown, darker than Alan’s tan color. He wore a grey overcoat and had a matching fedora, which he was holding in his hand. His black hair was lighter than Alan’s, and swept up in a pompadour style compared to Alan’s more carefully groomed style. And whereas Alan now wore a frown, this man smiled warmly.

Alan stopped and saluted, as did the other soldiers. “Inquisitor Welles.”

Sterling Welles saluted back and said, “At ease, Paladin Lord Ogawa. I hope your journey was as pleasant as mine. Though the train was certainly more comfortable than your march.”

“It was fine, sir.” Alan was no longer saluting, but he was not at ease. He never was around Welles. They entered the building and continued talking.

“That’s good to hear. I’m happy you’ve finally arrived. We have much to do.” Sterling’s smile broadened. “You’ll be glad to know I’ve already found a lead.”  

Alan was not glad, and his frown deepened. “What did you find?”

They stopped short of the entrance to the council chambers, and the guards moved out from earshot with a wave from the Inquisitor. “I’ve narrowed down the Market bomb’s suppliers to two black market dealers. One here, the other in South Union. We will soon know where they got the bomb, and not long after who the perpetrators were.”

“You work as quickly as ever. Congratulations,” Alan said.

“Oh, don’t worry. There’s still plenty for you to do.” He waved dismissively at the door. “They’re all waiting inside. Except for Rose. I had her put in the mayor’s office. You can meet with her once you’re done.”

“Have you met with her?” Alan asked.

“No, I have people for that. It’s best if I’m not seen, after all.”


“Well, good luck, Paladin Lord. I’ve got some more hunting to do.”

“Good luck to you as well, Inquisitor.” When Sterling was gone, Alan cursed to himself. He knew the Inquisitor would have a head start, but he wasn’t anticipating him narrowing down the bomb’s origin so quickly. At this rate, he’d uncover the rebels before Alan had a chance to even unpack.

As much as Alan was looking forward to marching on Gateway City and ridding the Belt of the mutants once and for all, what he really wanted was to find the rebels. The mutants were naturally despicable, but the traitors who fought against the Brotherhood were even worse. There was no excuse for killing humans to help mutants. And rooting out traitors was the surest way of becoming an Inquisitor. Its what his mother had done, and what Welles had done too. And what Alan wanted to do more than anything.

Alan breathed deeply and cleared his throat. Finding the rebels would come, in time. He still had things to do before he could start that, after all. He then entered the chamber. The mayor, the eight city councilors, and the chief of police were seated and waiting, but all rose when they saw Alan. Some of the councilors thought about saluting, but ultimately none did. Alan didn’t bother to sit but motioned for them to do so.

“I am Paladin Lord Ogawa. You all know why I’m here. From now on, the Brotherhood will be instituting martial law, and your services will no longer be needed.”

He waited for any outbursts, and was pleasantly surprised when no one did. Good, they know their place.

The mayor, Phil Prassel, a skinny man with wispy hair and a thin goatee, turned slightly red. “I apologize if we’ve disappointed the Brotherhood. We never anticipated attacks like that. No one did.”

“This is not a judgment on your leadership. It is simply the will of the Elders that we take control of Wellstone. This will streamline our implementation of any rules and restrictions.”

A large-bodied and short woman, who Alan knew ran most of the bicycle repair and refurbishing shops, asked, “And what are those rules and restrictions?”

“Whatever we desire. Initially, a mandatory curfew and replacing the guards with our soldiers at the checkpoints. What we decide to do afterwards you will learn with the rest of the citizens.” Alan glanced at the police chief, whose jaw was clinched tight. He knew she wouldn’t like that her guards were being removed, but he would deal with that later.

The councilors fidgeted in their chairs. Though they were getting this information before anyone else, the implication was clear that they would be out of the loop going forward. The mayor offered a half-hearted smile and said, “Thank you for letting us know.”

“You’re welcome. Now, you may go and clean out your offices. Have the guards assist you if need be. My men can take their place.”

The councilors dispersed, leaving Alan with the mayor and the chief of police. Alan asked the mayor, “May I use your office? I would like to practice my speech, if possible.”

The mayor nodded, looking like a bobblehead in the process. “Of course, Paladin Lord. I can show you the way.”

“No need. Thank you. I will meet with you both before the speech.”

Alan didn’t know where the office was, but he also didn’t want the mayor bothering him any more than necessary. He found it quickly enough, up a set of stairs and located right above the east entrance. He stationed a guard on either side of the door and entered.

Inside was a rather well decorated office. On the left wall hung a large painting of a man in power armor, heroically standing on a cliff holding up the Brotherhood's flag in the left hand and a laser pistol in the right. Against the right wall was a large bookcase filled with books, binders holding documents and various decorative trinkets. In the middle of the room was a large, somewhat ornate desk with a couple of small cushioned armchairs in front of it. Behind the desk was a larger cushioned armchair that must've been the mayor's chair. In that chair sat a very pretty woman that Alan assumed was Rose. She wore very formal attire that looked like a black suit, just more feminine. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail behind her head and she looked at him with a friendly little smile. 

"Welcome." she said. Her voice was formal yet friendly, and was oddly pleasant to listen to. "Please, have a seat." she motioned to one of the chairs in front of the desk. 

Alan sat, his back straight in his usual rigid way, and asked, "I assume you were informed about the dissolution of the government?"

"Yes. And I was also informed that today was a good day to do some last minute 'lobbying'." She paused for a second. "I'm not that used to talking to the Brotherhood in person." she said a little apologetically. "I assume this must be important if it can't be conveyed by message."

Alan nodded. "It is. You've helped us in the past. I wanted to ensure that your assistance will continue. To root out the rebels we will need all the information you can give us." Alan said, "I don't expect you to do this for free. Know that with the Brotherhood in charge, we can offer you more than the councilors ever could."

"Well you see, for my girls to be able to gather information, we'll have to ensure that the right people visit them. Only way to ensure that there's no other place to visit than my Garden. While you have been so kind to overlook my... business practices regarding the inner city, there's still a couple of filthy brothels standing in Forgotten Homes. I'm sure they're violating some kind of health regulation. But so far they've been avoiding legal repercussions with help from criminal gangs."

"Consider it done," Alan said. "After this, your arrangement with us will continue as it has in the past. If we need something specific, we'll let you know. And if there's something pressing that you need, I will see that it gets done."

"Thank you. Though just remember that this will require absolute discretion on your part. Don't target the brothels. Just clear out the gangs, bring law and order to the district and let the legal system has its course. Of course, I may have some requests on the details that will influence that course.

“Also, as my previous contacts already know, I do hope you understand that any information I share may have only been leaked at my brothel. Something the criminals may realize when you make a move against them. And well, we can't have them share that revelation with anyone. My business, and our cooperation relies on it appearing neutral."

"We will be discrete. All gangs, and any businesses they use as fronts for their criminal enterprises, will be targeted. Not just the ones that run the brothels. They won't be able to connect us together, and if they do, we can have them sent to Paradise instead of the Wellstone prison. Our top priority is finding the rebels, and anyone who stands in the way of that is directly helping them and will be considered a rebel themselves."

Rose smiled. "Perfect. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?"

"Yes. We will be instituting a midnight to five a.m. curfew and tightening the checkpoints into the city. I don't know if that will affect your business but I wanted to inform you nonetheless."

"It may. Though I may also be able to charge more for people staying in the brothel to avoid breaking the curfew."

"Good." Alan stood and offered his hand. "Thank you for your help, Miss Goldwyn."

"If you are able to uphold your end, I should be the one to thank you." she said as she shook his hand. Not a very firm but still steady handshake. "And if you ever find yourself in my Garden, I may arrange for a discount on my girls and boys."

"I will be sure to remember that," Alan said with a gracious smile.

"Good. Now if you excuse me," she said as she got up from the mayor's chair. "It has just come to my attention that the city's government has been dismissed. Not much 'lobbying' I can do here. So I better take my leave."

"Of course." Alan opened the door for her. "Have a nice day."

"Thanks. It's good to see there are still gentlemen in the world. Goodbye." she said with a small wave of her fingers as she walked out of the room. She then walked down the corridor with firm steps and without looking back. 

Alan suppressed a laugh at seeing one of the guard’s eyes locked on Rose as she walked away. Though, he had to admit, she was a pretty woman. Still, he was much too busy to be distracted right now. He cleared his throat and the guards snapped back to attention, and they followed him as he walked the opposite direction of Rose, back to the council chambers.

The skinny mayor was there waiting for him, seated alongside the police chief, Christine Harrington. She was a tall woman with short red hair, wearing a black ballistic chestplate, gauntlets, and greaves.  Her combat helmet and holstered 10 mm pistol were sitting on the table in front of her. She seemed anxious, or at least impatient, judging by way she drummed her fingers on the table. Alan sat down across from them.  

“Welcome back, Paladin Lord Ogawa,” Mayor Prassel said. Chief Harrington remained silent.

Alan said, “I want to thank you both for the work you’ve done for this city and the Brotherhood. Again, the decision to take over is not a reflection on you. But the Brotherhood is simply better equipped and better able to root out the rebels.”

“What does this mean for me and my officers?” Chief Harrington asked.

“As I understand it, you’re focus has mostly been on criminal gangs. I would like you to continue putting pressure on them, and if possible increase your efforts into stopping them,” Alan said.

She was surprised and her fingers stopped drumming. “Oh. I mean, yes sir, we can and will do that.”

Alan’s brow furrowed. “Were you expecting something else?”

“No. No sir.”

“Good. In particular, I would like you to focus your efforts on cleaning up the Forgotten Homes district. Take down the criminal gangs, and any businesses that support them there. I want to send a message that lawlessness will not to be tolerated in Wellstone any longer.”

Mayor Prassel had a pained expression on his face at that remark. Though Alan was trying to keep the blame off their shoulders as a matter of courtesy, he did blame them for allowing the rebels to take root in Wellstone. Though their failure gave him a chance for great success.

Alan continued, “Mayor Prassel, you can remain here as a civilian liaison. You will have no power to take actions yourself, but given the city council is no longer here to receive citizen questions and propositions, you will field them for the Brotherhood and file daily reports to us. We will take any actions we then deem necessary.”

The Mayor did his bobblehead nod once again and said, “Thank you, Paladin Lord. I will be more than glad to help, in any way I can.”

“That’s good to hear.” Alan stood and shook both their hands, and noted how limp and weak the Mayor’s was. He had little faith the man could succeed even in this new, lesser role. “I have a speech to give, so if you will excuse me.”

“Thank you again,” Prassel said, while Chief Harrington simply nodded.

Alan left the room and the building. His transport was waiting for him, and set off as soon as he entered. They headed to the far southeast corner of the Market District, where the Wellstone radio station was. Once they drove out of the tall buildings of downtown, Alan could see the dull grey transmission tower. The red and white paint had long since faded. Alan put that on his mental list of improvements to be made. Paint would help keep the metal from rusting, and it wouldn’t take long to paint the tower. He even suspected he could get the scribes to engineer a Mr. Handy to do so, in which case it wouldn’t even require he assign any men to it.

Another Brotherhood squad was waiting for them, this one consisting of both knights and scribes. Alan exited the vehicle and was met by the squad commander. He asked, “Did the scribes prepare everything?”

“Yes sir,” the commander said. “We made an announcement as soon as we arrived that you would be making a speech. And they went over the equipment to ensure there are no problems.”

“Good. Thank you to you and your men.”

The broadcasting room was prepared, and the DJ presumably gone to his office. After running through the system with the scribes, Alan sat down and gave the read signal. An engineer that worked at the place counted down and then Alan was live to every radio in Wellstone.

“Citizens of Wellstone. I am Paladin Lord Alan Ogawa, commander of the Brotherhood army that arrived today in Wellstone. It is my duty to inform you that from this moment on the Brotherhood of Steel is instituting martial law in this city. There is a rot here that must be removed for the safety and betterment of mankind. Rebel factions have infiltrated and permeated throughout Wellstone. By undermining the Brotherhood, which keeps you and all of its other citizens safe, they are a threat to the continued existence of humanity itself. We cannot suffer these rebels to linger any longer.

“And so the Brotherhood has come to enforce order, safety, and security. From this moment on, there will be a strict midnight to five a.m. curfew. Anyone caught out past that time will be arrested and tried. The checkpoints at all major city entrances will be manned by Brotherhood soldiers, with random inspections done at the discretion of Brotherhood knights. Anyone thought to have a connection with the rebels will be arrested and interrogated. Anyone caught assisting the rebels will be sent to Paradise, for those that assist the rebels are rebels, in the eyes of the Brotherhood.

“Until such time as the rebels are rooted out, the Brotherhood will be in full command of Wellstone. The city council members and the mayor have stepped aside to allow us to secure Wellstone’s future. Mayor Prassel will serve as a liaison, so all business the city council addressed he will now receive and pass on to the Brotherhood.

“The Brotherhood demands full cooperation from its citizens. I urge you to watch closely and listen well for any rebel activity. The safety of this city, the safety of the Brotherhood, and the safety of mankind depends on the discovery and elimination of all rebel cells. These measures, and any measures we deem necessary, will be instituted until such time as the rebels are destroyed.

“Do not be afraid. The Brotherhood of Steel is here to help, and we will not rest until all true citizens of Wellstone are safe to live in peace. We are the technological saviors of mankind, and we will save this city.


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The Renegade

The man on the wanted poster was young and handsome. His dark brown hair was buzzed short. His strong, clean-shaven jawline framed a mouth that was made for giving orders. Most prominent were the criminal's eyes. They stared back at the world with a determination so fierce that even an outsider could look into them and know that they belonged to a man who meant business, a man who should be respected and feared.

That man hardly resembled the one in the mirror that the wanted poster was pinned next to. The dark, shaggy mop on his head was going gray. His jaw was hidden behind a scruffy mess of a beard, which framed a mouth that seemed stuck in its frown. The only great similarity between the two belonged in their eyes. Droopy and surrounded by lines, the older man's eyes seemed more tired than fierce, but they bore a very similar sort of determination to those of the younger. 

Thirty years later, Gregory Thatch was still a man to be respected and feared. Perhaps that respect came from far fewer now than it did back then. And perhaps that fear was no longer at the front of his enemies' minds. But that would all change soon enough. The Brotherhood of Steel was finally here in force, and it was time for the old renegade to remind them of their crimes.

"Greg," his brother's voice came from down the hall, but soon the larger man rounded the corner into Gregory's room. "Greg, big rally's started downtown. Lota people hoping the Brotherhood will notice them waving their flags."

Gregory motioned to the radio on his desk. It was playing some old folk tune right now, but only minutes ago it had announced the very news that Tristan was now bringing him. "I've heard. Let them wave their flags. We'll wave our own soon."

"How many do you want?"

Gregory smiled, though he knew there was not a trace of glee in it. "Three should be a good start. Bring Felix too, just in case. I'll meet you at six."

"You got it, Boss. What're you gonna do 'til then?"

Gregory looked back at the old man in the mirror and signed. "Reckon I'll grab a drink."

"Alright. Be careful."

"Always am." Gregory waited for his brother's footsteps to return topside, and then he started to get dressed. He would be doing a lot of walking today, so he went with his old combat boots along with jeans, a green flannel shirt, and a gray coat. He then grabbed his belt and knife, his pistol, and lastly a knit cap to keep his ears warm. Once he was ready, Gregory turned off the radio, checked the time on his Pip-Boy, and proceeded upstairs. 
The 'Thatch residence' was an interesting home. It had once been an old world church, though only half the back wall had remained standing when he discovered it. What drew Gregory to the spot was its basement, or rather, its bunker. The place's previous owner had apparently lacked the faith of its congregation, because he constructed a sizable bomb shelter beneath its plank floors. The terminal logs he had left behind were proof that it had served quite well as a place to hide from bombs. Gregory figured that it would be a decent place to hide from the Brotherhood as well.
Unfortunately, for all its merits as a place of escape, the church lacked any means of sustenance. That was why Gregory had most of his decidedly less notorious family living within Wellstone proper, each doing their part to keep the family going and the mission alive. That's where they all were now. Aly, Eli, Josey, and his wife Haley were all probably at the rally, snapping pictures of anyone noteworthy who shows up. Being inside the city seemed like the cushier job right now. That would change. A lot of things would change. Until then, the outside would be where most of their work got done.

We'll bring Aly along next time, Gregory decided. It's time she got a feel for these things.

He reflected on that while walking down the empty ruin of a street. The Brotherhood called this area their territory, same as all the rest, but it was still very much a wasteland. There wasn't a prewar building within a mile that stood wholly intact, and even after all this time, plant life struggled to grow. Not like Wellstone. No, the great shining jewel of the Belt dominated the nearby horizon as a monument to all the accomplishments of the Brotherhood. Sure, nukes had fallen, and sure, most of the buildings had been lost, but the last century had seen the ruins of Kansas City restored into a new world city the likes of which could not be found elsewhere in the Midwest. It even had trains now!

Wish I had a damned train, thought the aging man as he hiked his way over to Linwood. It was the nearest place that could be considered 'civilization', even if the Hospitallers who ran it enjoyed dead bodies more than any decent person should. Still, it was friendly territory, and it had a bar: Coco's Saloon. Gregory didn't know who the hell Coco was, but these days the joint was run by a rotten-fleshed ornery old bastard named Tibet. The ghoul seemed surprised that day when he saw Gregory walk through his door.

"Well I'll be damned. I was betting that you'd have skipped town." Tibet approached the counter with a whisky in hand. "You have heard the news, right?"

" 'Course I have." Eyeing the bottle, Gregory shook his head. "Nothing so strong today... And what about you? I figured you'd have Shelly running the place while your ugly ass hides out in the basement."

The ghoul snorted as he shelved the whisky and grabbed a dark beer instead. "My ugly ass should be fine for a few more days. Besides, it ain't us muties they're looking for this time. It's the folks like you and those creeps in the hospital that've got 'em all riled up."

"It's crazy fucks with bombs in the city that got them riled up."

Tibet cracked the cap and slid the bottle across the counter. "So that wasn't you?"

"I wish it were as easy to hurt the Brotherhood as those idiots seem to think." Gregory took the beer and paused, "Wouldn't be such an uphill battle." He drank to his own wish.

"Well I hope you get up that thing soon, regardless of how steep. 'Cause the people 'round here are good enough that they'll keep their mouths closed about a ghoul serving liquor, and for some crazy reason they'll keep quiet about you too. But one of these days some drunk asshole will come staggering in here from the Arenas and start blabbing. That's why I'm leaving soon, and you should think twice about returning to the neighborhood. Mark my words, they'll be swarming the place in a week."

"So what, you gonna make out for the Lost Lands. Tib, you're a tough bastard, but that-"

"Beats the hell out of getting worked to death up in Paradise," Tibet interrupted. "Besides, I've got a plan. You heard of a place called Columbia?"

Gregory's brow darkened. "Yeah, I've heard of it. Tell me you ain't saying what I think you're saying."

"Five years, Thatch! That's all it is these days. Five years working some shit job and then they'll make me a citizen. That's their promise!"

"A promise from slavers."

"A promise that only works because they keep it!" It was obvious from his tone that Tibet had put a lot of thought into this. "It won't be like here, where I'm stuck hiding at the corner of everything. The Columbians don't care if you're a ghoul. You work hard, and eventually, you're in. Full benefits."

"They'll work you to death before you can enjoy them," Gregory said. "And none of it's gonna matter when the Brotherhood heads east towards Gateway City and stomps out you and your slaver friends on the way. I'd bet money it won't take them five years to get on that."

The ghoul smirked. "Weren't you planning on doing something about them?"

"Matter of fact, I am. But I can't do it without help." Gregory held up the bottle. "This is how you do your part. Stay a little longer; hide in the basement if you have to; but for God sakes, don't go selling yourself into slavery. The Brotherhood'll give you that much closer to home."

"Heh," Tibet just shook his head. "Might be I'll stay after all. Least long enough to see how the wind blows. So how about it, Thatch? You never come just to drink booze and give crappy advice."

"I'm looking for someone who's good with computers."

"Ain't one of your kids good with that kinda shit?"

"Yeah, he is. But I need someone who's really good. Can you find them for me?"

"I'll keep an eye out," the ghoul promised. "But it ain't every day some tech geek comes into town that ain't already friendly with the Brotherhood. No guarantees."

"Of course." Gregory finished his beer, laid down his money, and stood up. "I'll be back in a week."

"You're never back when you say you will be."

He grinned at that. "A predictable outlaw's doing a shit job."

Tibet snorted. "Get the hell outa here with your yippee ki-yay shit. Don't you have Brotherhood to kill or something?"

Gregory pulled back his sleeve and checked his Pip-Boy. Four forty-two. "You know, I probably do. Take it easy, Tib." He made for the door and turned back, "And I mean it. Don't go to Columbia." He left before the ghoul had a chance to respond. 
The walk took him over an hour, but the songs on the radio made it feel much quicker than that. At five fifty, Gregory found Tristan and Felix down by the Blue River, their three prisoners had been bound, gagged, and forced to their knees.

"We wanted to wait for you," Tristan said, once he arrived. "Just in case you had something special in mind."

Gregory took a look at the captives. All were men, two of them with tattoos to indicate tribal backgrounds. One of them was bleeding out of his empty eye socket and was clutching a wound on his wrist. The other two sported cuts all across their chests and backs. "Looks to me like you've already given them something special. You're positive they're Brotherhood?"

"Come on," Tristan said, "you know us better than that." He held up four holotags. "We killed the fourth. Also got their guns."

"Didn't really care if they were alive," Gregory admitted, drawing his knife. "I just need the tags and their scalps."

At that, the captives' eyes widened, and all at once they tried to scramble to their feet. Two of them lost their balance and fell to the ground. One actually succeeded, only for Tristan to aim a shotgun at the man's back and fire. The shot echoed over the river, dropping the man before he could take five steps. Tristan drew his own knife and calmly walked over to where he'd fallen.

Gregory turned back to the two men lying at his feet. They looked terrified, but had gone still in wake of the gunshot. "You're going to die," he told them. "It'll be quick. Painless. I don't know how much love you have for the Brotherhood of Steel, but understand that you'll do more good by helping me get rid of them than you ever did by serving in their army." 
He nodded to Felix, who drew his pistol and put a bullet in each of their heads, just low enough that it would not make a mess where he would be cutting. Taking note of that, Gregory knelt down and put his knife to work.


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Boone Patton
Just South of Wellstone

As Patton approached Wellstone he couldn’t help but notice how similar the destroyed buildings lining the horizon looked to the ones back in San Antone. It was the first time he’d thought of home since he had left 3 months earlier. The wasteland, and especially the raider infested lands to the South, had kept him from getting too sentimental, but the sight of ruined buildings and the almost overpowering scent of modern civilization, piss with a hint of shit, took him back to where it had all began. As he sank deeper into his thoughts Patton sat on the hood of an old, decaying Corvega. Reaching into his satchel he felt for the crumpled piece of paper that had brought him this far North. After spending a couple of seconds digging in his bag he found it and pulled it from the mess of stray bullets and bits of junk he’d picked up along the way. Straightening out the paper he looked over it once more, as he often did, reading the words out loud, “Wanted, Butch Cartwright. Reward: 5000 Stars. Dead or Alive.” Crumpling the paper back up and setting it back in his satchel, he stood to his feet and let out a yawn before continuing along I-35 North towards Wellstone.

As he got closer to the city he could see a makeshift wall made of wood and bits of scrap metal with a moderately sized gap in the center of the two sides. On the wall he could make out bits of graffiti saying things like “The MLA will rise again!’ and “**** the Brotherhood” here and there as well as a sign saying South Checkpoint: Crossroads District. Just as he passed the wall he heard the squeaking of a chair and a throat clear. “Hold on right there a moment, boy.” Said a gruff man of about 45 years with a black beard with spots of grey starting to appear. Approaching Patton, he spoke in an authoritative manner, “I’ll need you to hand over any firearms or energy weapons you may be carrying.”

“I ain’t no boy.” Patton muttered. Swishing the saliva back and forth in his lip with his tongue as a sign of annoyance, he asked, “I assume I’m gonna get ‘em back, right?”

“Yes, you will get you weapons back before you leave the city, now hand me that rifle and pull that revolver out of its holster and set it on the table there.” He pointed to an old, grimy, pre-war folding table with an old Robco terminal sat on top of it just buzzing away. “First time in Wellstone, youngster?”

“Yeah, first time. You want my knife as well or are we square?” He asked setting his revolver down on the table.

“Not quite. I need you to step over there by the terminal and enter some of your basic information.” The guard led the way to the terminal that was all but four steps away and pointed to the chair. After Patton had sat down the guard started to walk back toward the gate, grabbing a cigarette out his back pocket he turned his head and said, “It’s just to make sure we return these weapons back to the right owner. Once you get that page filled out let me know and I’ll get you a holotag to take with you.” Patton let out a sigh and went to filling out the sheet. He entered his name, race, weight, height, eye color, and hair color. Once he got done typing he turned his head and made eye contact with the guard.

“Hey, I’m finished.” 

“Alright, hop up and give me just a second to submit this form and get your holotag.” He said heading back over to Patton. Patton got up out of the chair and walked just a few steps away from the table peering into the city, all there was to see was a few people headed back to their homes from whatever job had occupied their day. After a couple of seconds the guard came up to him and handed him the holotag. “Keep this with you and when you go to head out of the city just give it to the guard on duty and they’ll have your weapons brought to you. Now, you have any questions before you go?”

“Just one for now, where’s the best bar in this district?” He asked, opening one of his empty bandolier pouches and dropping the tag in.

“Ah, for that you’ll want the Soupy Mutant. Just follow the road north until you find a marker pointing towards the Pennway District, it’s just passed that to the East. Have a great stay in Wellstone.” With that the guard turned back around, walked back to his chair and slouched down into it.

Patton began his trek to find the Soupy Mutant. He walked slowly taking in his surrounds, the ruined buildings, the run down shacks, the little junk stores, the faded old world newspapers blowing in the wind, the occasional holler of a mother calling to her children, it was all strangely peaceful. Patton was so lost in thought that after about 10 minutes or so he damn near smacked into the district marker, remembering what the guard had told him he looked to the east and sure enough there it was.

 The Soupy Mutant wasn’t exactly impressive at first glance, the building was little more than a wooden shack with a sign made of simple plywood with the name of the establishment painted on it in bright red with a picture of, what appeared to be, a super mutant up to its torso in a puddle. Walking through the doors, Patton saw only a few patrons, the bartender and a couple of working girls. The bar was dimly lit and the air was a bit stuffy. When he entered everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him. Ignoring the glances from a group of men playing a hand of poker nearby, Patton walked up to the bar and sat on the sturdiest looking stool in the joint. “Hey bartender, I’ll take a bottle of Nuka Cola and a shot of your best whiskey.” 

The bartender was a round and hairy man looking to be about in his late 40’s early 50’s. He turned to Patton and said, “That’ll be twenty-two pennies.” He grabbed a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey out from under the counter and walked over to the fridge and grabbed a fresh, ice cold Nuka Cola and brought the items back over to Patton. Setting the Nuka Cola and shot glass down, he opened the bottle of whiskey and asked “Anything else?”

“I’m not exactly sure what the hell a penny is, but I do have some gold so if you’d kindly tell me how much to give you that’d be appreciated.” Patton reached reached into his satchel and pulled out a pouch with nine gold coins in it.

“In that case just one coin will do. I’ll get you some pennies as change.” The man said in a gruff tone. Patton watched as the man poured his shot and walked back over to the register to start counting his change. He shot back the whiskey with ease and looked disappointingly into his shot glass for a couple moments before setting it down on the counter and turning to the man.

 “On second thought, just toss that whole fuckin' bottle over here to me.” The man let out a grunt and dropped a couple of pennies back into the drawer before closing it. He grabbed the freshly opened bottle and walked back over to Patton setting it down on the counter along with his change. Patton took the pennies off the counter and put them in his coin pouch before popping the cap of his Nuka Cola and tossing it in as well.

“I can throw that cap away for ya.”

“Nah, I like to keep ‘em. Don’t rightly know why, but I do. Maybe some fuckwit out there somewhere’ll think it’s money.” He said putting the pouch back in his satchel. He took a sip of the cola followed up by a large swig of the whiskey before he stood up and scanned the room. Spotting his target, he walked over to a lone chair in the far right corner of the bar. Setting his drinks on a small table next to the chair, he sat down on the chair yawning and shooting back another swig of whiskey.


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Tech Scribe
A bit after noon

The building was oddly silent as Garret slowly woke up. He didn't mind though as it has made it easier to sleep. He even considered to stay in bed and snooze for an hour or two. No one really cared about his work schedule as long as he did the work he was supposed to. But after a moment his stomach began to protest and demand breakfast. He tried to ignore it and go back to sleep but soon enough the hunger won out. 

Garret slowly opened his eyes. His bedroom was small with one simple, somewhat comfortable bed up against the left wall, along with a footlocker in steel at its feet. On the other side of the room was a small, simple, wooden desk with a networked computer sitting atop it and a simple wooden chair in front of it. There was only one window with a black curtain blocking out most of the sunlight. There were two doors in the room; one next to the desk leading to a tiny bathroom with a toilet and basin, the other towards Garret's feet led out to a corridor and the rest of the building. Some people might find Garret's small living quarters claustrophobic, but Garret found somewhat cozy. For him it was certainly better than having to sleep in a barrack with lots of people as the soldiers did. 

Slowly he got up from his bed and pulled back the curtain, slowly so his eyes could gradually get used to light. From the window he had a decent and rather pleasant view over the Missouri river. At least the parts that could be viewed in the distance above the fortress walls. His room being near the roof at northernmost side of the building in the northernmost building the fort. A bit secluded part of the fort but that made it easier to sleep at the weird hours he did. 

Garret got dressed in his grey Scribe robes and put on his glasses so he could finally make out the details of his view out the window. He left the laser pistol behind as he headed out of his room. 
Just outside beside his door lied his robot on the floor, half dormant (not to save energy but to keep it quiet when Garret was slept). It was an uncommon craftsman version of the Mr Handy model. The robot had come into his possession back in Chicago during his first year getting used to his new mechanical arm. And for some reason he had been able to keep the robot. Something he suspected may have been as a condolence for the accident. An idea Garret wasn't that fond of as he found it a bit patronizing. 

"Good morning sir," said Cody in a cheery voice with a slight Scottish accent (or at least that was what the voice file had said) as it woke up.

"Morning," Garret grunted lowly. He wasn't much a morning person. Which was part of the reason he liked to skip the actual morning all together. 

Cody followed Garret as he slowly made his way through the building towards the cafeteria. While one of the boons to living where he did was relative peace and quiet, the downside was that it was a far walk to the cafeteria and and the workshop. And just about anywhere else of note in the fort or the city. 

As Garret made his way through the building he noticed that it was oddly empty on people. While it was usually a bit empty at this time of the day, there was usually someone somewhere doing something. Though Garret didn't really mind the extra peace and quiet and told himself they were probably only out doing something about those attacks. If the fort had been in any real danger he'd have heard gunfire by now. 

The cafeteria was also completely empty. Which was even more odd since there was usually always someone manning the kitchen. Now Garret was certain that he was missing something. Though Garret didn't find it that surprising as the one to tell him if anything was happening was his Senior Scribe, a man named John and a last name Garret couldn't remember. He was a man that preferred to spend his time and authority to delegate and acquire R&R credits so he could spend more time at the brothel than the fort. It had been days since last Garret had even seen the man. Garret had even hacked his computer account and changed the password two weeks ago as a test, and the man had yet to notice.

But whatever important was happening it would have to wait till after breakfast. Garret walked into the kitchen, looked through the fridge and pantry till he found the ingredients to make some toast and tea. Then sat down to eat his breakfast in peace and quiet. Yet he was still a a bit curious to what was going on in the fort and that curiosity grew as the hunger faded from his stomach and mind. 

"Cody, connect to the network and to the tv," Garret ordered his robot. There was a large tv screen hanging up near the roof at broadside wall of the cafeteria. Usually only used for movie nights once or twice a week. 

"Yes, sir," replied Cody as he hurried towards one of the computers in the room and removed the network cable and plugged it into itself before then heading towards the tv and plugging itself into it and turning it on. At first there was no picture as was to be expected as Cody didn't know what to show. 

"Connect to turret R4," ordered Garret. The screen lit up and a picture over the northwestern street leading to the Gatehouse came into view. Which was rather empty and Garret realized he had mixed up the turrets. "R5. R3. R6," he said and Cody began to cycle through the turrets until Garret got a good view over the central courtyard where he could see everyone gathered in a neat formation. 
What the hell are they waiting for? Garret wondered to himself. As he noticed they were facing the main gate he began to wonder. "W2," he said. He knew that was one of the wall based turrets next to the main gate. This time he was right and got a view over the Gold District and the road leading up to the main gate. In the distance he could see Brotherhood forces walking up towards the fort, led by some vehicle with a guy in a beret standing up through the roof hatch. I'm guessing he's the new commander. 
"Zoom in that guy standing in the vehicle." Cody zoomed in though it made the resolution a bit poorer. He certainly looks a bit brutish. Hopefully he's not the one to think the hammer is the only tool. 
Cody kept the turret camera following the new commander as the vehicle stopped and the new commander walked out and then up towards the fort commander that Garret could only remember as Kem- or Kel-something. They talked for a bit though Garret couldn't quite hear about what. The turret mics had unreliable sound quality at the best of times and the wind didn't make it better. 

Eventually though the new commander walked towards the gate and into the fort. "R6," said Garret and the screen switched back to get a better view of the central courtyard. The new forces helped fill up the space and the new commander placed himself in front of all them. He then began to speak loudly but the unreliable sound made it difficult to listen. 
"Kni... Dins... Monument..." 

Garret however got really annoyed by the poor sound quality. "R5," he said and the screen switched to a turret that gave a slightly poorer view of the courtyard, but it was closer to the new commander and was thus more able to pick up his speech. 

"That mission today. From here on out, each and every one of you has a duty to our fallen comrades to avenge them. You must do your part, follow your orders, and follow in the footsteps of Barnaky and our Elders. Together, we will root out these rebels, and make Wellstone safe, once and for all.” Then the new commander saluted and the of the people in the courtyard gave a unison salutation back. “You are dismissed. Your squad commanders will relay to you your orders.”

Great. Well I better hurry to the workshop before the new guys try to nick my favorite tools. He hurried to finish up his breakfast and ordered Cody to put back all the cables to their original sockets. Then he dumped his cup and tray haphazardly in the kitchen sink before hurrying to the workshop. 


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Top floor of The Rose Garden

Rose sat in her office looked the entries over the last month's incomes and expenditure. She wore a light yellow dress in simple pre-war fashion with a long lofty skirt and sleeves reaching down to her elbows. Not the most flattering dress she had, but she liked to wear it because it was quite comfortable. Her office was large and sat on the top floor of the building with one wall dominated by a window looking out over the plaza outside and the Town Hall on the other side of it. The window was a one way mirror to make sure no one outside could look into her office. Mostly because Rose valued her privacy when holding the occasional meeting with a Brotherhood agent, but also because it would make sure no assassin could try to snipe her if she ever made a dangerous enemy. 

The rest of her office was rather empty save for the large desk she sat by in the middle of the room with her back turned to the window and facing towards the double doors going into the office. There was another door to Rose's left leading to her bedroom, and to her right there were a few half empty bookshelves along with a cushioned couch and armchair along with a small table in the far corner. Besides the double doors stood a clothes hanger holding a few coats in green, grey and blue and on the other side stood Rose's robotic bodyguard Lin (or L1N as it was written in huge letters on her chest) like a statue, ever vigilant in a way that no human could be, and also occasional clothes hanger as well. 

Rose looked over the numbers and transactions. Business looked to be going rather well as usual. Even with the final number landing on a minus, something that could be largely attributed to the medical clinic Rose had opened that month. She expected it to start paying for itself this month and start making a profit in about a year or two. A decent enough clinic that could serve the folk unwilling to wait for the Hospitallers to give them treatment. 

Closing the ledger she looked at the clock on the wall and realized she had to get going or else be late for her meeting with Clara. It was simple friendly meeting they had about once each month. They weren't exactly the best of friends but then again it was nice to have someone to talk to once in a while that understood how it is to run a business and handle so much wealth, while also not ending as the friend asking for a loans. And then again, Rose figured one could never have enough friends among the proper people in the city. 

Rose got up from the chair and looked at Lin for a second and made a simple hand gesture to signal Lin that she should now follow her. Rose picked her blue coat and headed out. She took the personell elevator (one the only three working and the other two where for clients as well) down to the ground floor where she headed out through a small side entrance for employees of the building. It was largely empty save a simple guard, a big, burly man in a black suit and sunglasses. Outside the staff only entrance was another assaultron standing guard.

Rose started walking down the street towards Clara's Casino & Cabaret at a brisk pace with Lin in tow. In the distance to the east along 12th Street she could make out the crater that the rebel bomb had left in the street and the dented and beaten up facade of the skyscraper next to it. Seeing it made her a little worried about her own brothel, but she then quickly pushed such thoughts out of her mind and continued on. 

Clara's was two blocks to the south and one block to the east. It was a pleasant day for a walk, the weather of early fall cool with a crisp but light breeze. Rose passed by shoppers who peeked in shop windows and guards who patrolled the mayor's hall grounds.

Clara's Cabaret and Casino was in the President Hotel, one of the older buildings still standing in Wellstone. It was a squat brown brick building of about 13 stories, with white stone framing around the first two and last two floors. The old sign atop the building, which once read "PRESIDENT" now said "RESIDE" and a new sign had been added beneath it to it read "RESIDE HERE". Given the number of rooms in the hotel, there were some who chose to live there more or less permanently, which Clara was happy to oblige. 

Entering underneath the metal awning that covered the doors, Rose took a quick look at the lobby. A gallery wrapped around the lobby, so those on the second floor could see into it. A chandelier had clearly once hung from the center of the ceiling but now a regular light hung in its place. Moving through the lobby brought Rose into what was formerly the ballroom. Now a stage stood on the far end, heavy curtains covered the windows, and the lighting was low and dim. Booths and tables were spread out around the room, while a bar sat on the wall across from the windows, near the doors that led to the kitchen. 

Being the middle of the day, the cabaret wasn't quite full, though there were a few groups lounging about, only half-listening to the pop song the young man on stage was singing. Clara sat in her usual place, in a booth on the left, beneath the window closest to stage. She wore a red dress that left her shoulders bare, so she wore a shawl as well. She was older than Rose, and dark where Rose was pale.

Clara spotted Rose and smiled and motioned for her to join. The music drowning out their conversation to any potential eavesdroppers, Clara said, "What'll you be drinking, honey?"

"Some tea, thank you," said Rose before taking off her coat and hanging it over one of Lin's arms and then taking the seat opposite of Clara. 

Clara motioned toward the bar and a thick-bearded man quickly came over. "Bring us some tea, if you would, Jesse." When the man left, Clara turned to Rose and said. "I heard you opened a new business. A clinic, I think it was."

"Yes. I noticed there wasn't a decent enough clinic on this side of town and I happened to get into contact with a couple of Hospitaller doctors looking for a good retirement plan, so I figured opening up a little clinic would be a good move," said Rose. 

"Well that was kind of you. With your backing I can see it doing a lot of good," Clara said. "Are you looking for any investors? I'm always looking for a good cause worth donating towards."

The clinic was not really going to be a charity, but Rose figured Clara would know that or she would have donated that money to the Hospitallers. "Well I could use a cheaper source for medicine. I've noticed prices tend to fluctuate and it makes it harder to keep the clinic affordable for decent folk."

"And that is a pity," Clara said. "I don't personally deal too much in that sort of thing, but I have an old friend that does. I'll see if he could help you out any. I'm sure I could smooth talk him into some fair prices."

"Thank you. I appreciate it," said Rose with a small friendly smile. 

"Oh it's my pleasure. If only we would all help decent people, like you do," Clara said, returning the friendly smile and giving Rose's hands a quick pat. Jesse returned with their tea, setting the cups down along with some sugar. "Thank you," Clara said, and then dropped in two cubes and stirred them in.

Rose herself mixed in three cubes into the tea before carefully taking a little sip. "Thanks. Though I'm sure you also help a lot of people if you like noble causes."

"I give some money to the orphanage in Forgotten Homes, and to the Hospitallers," Clara said. "And when I was on the council I pushed for more resources to go towards cleaning up the Forgotten Homes. But the mayor twiddled his thumbs and didn't move on that."

"Yeah, I think I remember you mentioning something about that. I can never imagine me sitting on the council."

"One term was enough for me, once I saw how little they really did, and that the mayor made the final call on just about everything," Clara said. "Though now even he doesn't have any say. I would've loved to see the look on his face when that Brotherhood officer came in and took over."

"I'm pretty sure he thought: 'Great, now I got an excuse to not have to work at all. I still get to keep my office and salary right?' " Rose did a lighthearted chuckle. 

"Sadly that's probably how it went," Clara said. "At least now, with the Brotherhood really in charge, this city might get cleaned up a bit."

"Let's hope they start with Forgotten Homes. That place could really need some cleanup." Rose hoped they would keep their word and make that place decent and safe. Enough so she could acquire the last piece of the city's prostitution market that stood between her and a monopoly. 

"I'm sure they will, if only because I imagine most of the rebels are hiding in the squalor and filth of that district," Clara said, her lip curling slightly in disgust. 

"Have you heard any nice news though?" Rose asked, hoping to change the subject to something lighter. 

"I heard Bush is shooting a new movie. I don't remember what this one'll be about, but that's something to look forward too," Clara said.

"Something with explosions probably." Rose laughed a little. "Probably just another sequel. What's he up in, two-three Blood and Steel?" 

"I think this one'll be the third," Clara said. "It's hard to say, I can't actually remember what happened in the previous two. Besides that ridiculous outfit that poor woman wore. I'd like to see any woman that can fight mutants in heels like she did."

"You mean Velvet? Some of my girls really adore her. Got them dreaming about becoming movie stars." 

"I can see why, she's as pretty as they come. But that director doesn't have a clue about what women really wear. He can make a hell of an explosion, though."

"And I guess that's what keeps his movies from being a failure. Good action and pretty ladies keeps people entertained." Rose remembered how she had one time hired out some of her girls to star as extras in one of his movies. They had certainly been nothing more than eye candy for some scene. 

"I do wonder how long it can last. But so long as the wasteland exists, I imagine people'll be looking for some way to escape it. His movies at least provide that," Clara said, taking another sip of her tea. 

"I think people will always be looking to escape the boredom of their daily lives. That's why we can remain in business." Rose sounded a little cheerful as she said the last sentence.

"Escape boredom? Hell, when they go to your place or come into mine, they forget there was ever a thing such as boredom!" Clara responded, equally cheery. 

Rose laughed softly. "Cheers to people being bored and having too much coin," she said and raised the tea cup half playfully. 

Clara clinked her cup to Rose's and chuckled. "And now with the Brotherhood arriving, we'll have even more customers. I imagine our rooms will be packed full just about every night."

"Let's hope so." Rose took a sip from her tea. "I've been thinking about buying big boat." 

"A boat? I never took you for the sailing type," Clara said, the look on her face amused and interested. "What'll you do with a boat?

"Just something I can use to travel out of the city with; without really having to give up the comforts of a home."

"I didn't realize you left the city that often. Do you have businesses elsewhere, or travel to escape the hustle and bustle of Wellstone?" 

"I've never really left the city since I arrived. Nor I have I ever been on a boat travelling the river," Rose said sincerely. "That's why I would like one to travel out of the city with. Just to get away from it all for a little while."

"It certainly sounds like a fun idea. I've heard the country up river is quite pretty. You could even travel up to Omaha, if you wanted," Clara said, her voice sounding a little wistful. "I wish I had traveled more, in my lifetime. Though I suppose it isn't too late."

"If I get a big enough boat I think I can take guests with me in the trip."

"Oh don't mind me. I wasn't trying to pressure you into bringing me along. You take those girls and guys of yours first and foremost. As hard as they work, they're the ones that deserve a trip up the river."

"I guess I can bring a few of the girls along for the trip. Though I still don't know how big of a boat I can get. I don't even know of any shipbuilders."

"I imagine there's a salvaged boat you could buy. Or maybe scoop up one of those casino barges that float the river. Take out a competitor of mine too." Clara chuckled lightly and took another sip of her tea. 

Rose chuckled a little as well. "That will probably be a possibility if it's the only good option I can find. But first you got to make money to spend money. I sure hope those Brotherhood folks are a horny bunch." And that they got some standards to not visit that filth in Forgotten Homes. Rose thought to herself. 

"After that long march, they'll be lining up around the block to get into your place," Clara said. "No, I think your problem will be keeping 'em coming around. If they stay in town long enough they'll fall for some local guy or gal, and then your services won't be required."

"I think a real problem will be if anyone falls in love with one of my girls. Don't want any delusional Romeo thinking he can run away with one of my employees."

"I'm sure if you introduce him to Lin here his head'll be cleared right up."

"If they have to meet Lin, they have already in way over their heads."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Based on the impression I got from their commander, they'll be kept on a tight leash."

"Let's hope so. And let's hope he values the contributions our businesses do for his men and this city," Rose said and took a sip of the now lukewarm tea. She remember that commander and figured he was a rather decent fellow. 

"He had better. Without our businesses this town wouldn't be near as interesting."

"It definitely would not." Rose looked to the singer on the stage. She found the song adequate but not really to her taste. "Got any new performances as of late?"

Clara sighed and a frown grew upon her lips. "No, I haven't. Worse than that, I had one of my singers leave. He headed up to Chicago. So now I'm searching for a replacement."

"That's too bad. Ever thought about putting a stage play?"

"I'll leave those to the theaters. People seem to enjoy singers the most anyway. They can listen without paying too much attention. Every time I've tried something else it's never lasted long."

"Ah, well. Can't succeed at everything."

"So long as my singers keep bringing people in for food and drinks, I'll be more than happy to keep things the same," Clara said. "If you hear of anyone looking for a singing job, point them my way, if you would."

"If I stumble across anyone good, I'll point them towards you."

"Thank you," Clara said. "Would you like some more tea?"

"No thank you." Rose checked her watch and saw that it was getting late. "How time flies. I think I should get back to my Garden."

"It's been a lovely time, as always," Clara said. She stood and hugged Rose, and said, "Until next time."

Rose gave her a light hug back before stepping towards Lin and taking her coat. "Take care now. Goodbye."

"Goodbye," replied Clara.


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The Sheriff


“Shit.” Lawrence was pinned down behind the husk of a car as the bullets pinged the metal behind him and the street around him.

“Do you see them?” Guillermo asked, holding his over-under shotgun close to his broad chest.

“They’re in the second story,” Lawrence said. “We’ll have to wait until they reload.”

“It doesn’t seem like that’ll happen any time soon,” Guillermo said. “They haven’t stopped shooting once.”

Lawrence knew he was right. They’d be pinned down and killed in this little town, about thirty miles south of the Brotherhood border, unless the raiders stopped to reload. “Do you see anyone over there?”

“No- wait, there’s Reyna. She’s with Abbey and James. Reyna’s got a grenade in her hand. She pointing at- she wants us to distract them. Está loca.”

Lawrence couldn’t lean around to see Reyna because of the space where the car’s door used to be, through which most of the bullets whizzed by. He leaned out the other way, though, around the end of the car. He could still see Roger’s lifeless body lying in the street, and Linda hunkered down behind a different car across the street. She looked a little shaken, and he didn’t blame her. Roger, though 27 years old to her 43, was her friend, and he’d been shot standing right next to her.

Thankfully, Maxine, Kim, and Ezekiel were far enough away that they’d been able to pull Pancho and Lefty away from the firefight. The group’s brahmhorn carried nearly all of the supplies on its back and in a cart, so if it went down they would have to leave most of their supplies behind.

Lawrence turned back toward Guillermo and said, “Get her to throw the grenade first. Then I’ll run toward Linda and she and I can work around behind them.”

“How do you expect me to tell her that?” Guillermo asked. He ran a hand through his thick black hair and said, “****. Where’s my hat?”

“Next to Roger,” Lawrence said. “Just give Reyna the thumbs up. You send both those slugs off toward them through the window and I’ll head toward Linda.”

Lawrence pulled out his long-barrel Colt Single Action Army and checked that it was loaded. He knew it was, but it helped to settle him down. He did the same with his Winchester repeater, as he remembered he’d shot earlier and hadn’t reloaded since, so he pulled a bullet from the sleeve on the stock of the gun and loaded it in. He took his white straw hat off and set it down where it wouldn’t get shot, and then used the black bandana tied around his neck to wipe the sweat from his muddy brown walrus mustache and crease lined face. He looked at Guillermo and asked, “Ready?”

Guillermo nodded, gave Reyna a thumbs up, then swiveled around and fired two quick shots off from his shotgun. Lawrence heard the raider bullets peppering the car with even more frequency now, but at Guillermo. Lawrence was already gone by the time the gun swiveled toward him. He made it to Linda just as Reyna’s grenade exploded, outside the building. The gun stopped shooting, long enough for Guillermo to sprint toward Reyna, Abbey, and James, but soon it started back up again.

Linda was alert now, the explosion snapping her from her daze. She scowled and said, “It’s about time you got here. We gonna sneak around behind them?”

“That’s the plan. You up for it?” Lawrence asked.

Linda stared at him with grey eyes that could cut glass. “**** you. Of course I’m up for it.” She checked her laser pistol and rifle, reloading the former with a fresh energy cell.

They were at a safe angle away from the raiders, so they got up and ran into the alley between two buildings Lawrence had his rifle at the ready as they went into the behind the buildings. Three raiders were standing there, discussing their own plan of action. Lawrence and Linda opened fire. Lawrence took out the closest one with his first shot, right between the gaps in the man’s metal armor. Linda fired of several shots, a few going wide, but more hit and knocked down the other two raiders. Lawrence finished off one that tried to grab for his gun.

After the high pitched, piercing shots of Linda’s laser rifle, Lawrence could hear more shooting coming from out in the street, from the rest of the group. He and Linda hurried to the back of the building the machine gun nest was in. The three dead raiders were lying by the door. Lawrence slung his rifle strap over his shoulder, drew his pistol, and entered.

It was dark inside, and smelled, It had all the trappings of a raider nest, with dingy mattresses on the floor, empty cans of food, garbage piled in a corner, and everything covered in a layer of grime. The machine gun fired, continuous still. Lawrence cleared the first floor, with Linda close behind, her laser pistol in hand. The found the staircase, and communicating with only a nod, moved up quickly. The gun drowned out all sounds of their footsteps, and the raiders manning it never saw them coming.

There were only two, one shooting, the other feeding the gun a continuous belt of ammo. Lawrence motioned, and he and Linda fired in sync, ending the shootout. Lawrence moved to the window and yelled, “It’s clear. Don’t shoot.”

He looked at the gun. It was something cobbled together, and the ammo all looked hand loaded. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it worked, as Roger’s dead body could attest to. Lawrence tinkered with it for a few moments until he found the firing pin, which he chucked across the street and into the weeds. Linda was fishing around through the raiders’ pockets and containers.

“Find anything?” Lawrence asked.

“Some ammo. What do you have, a .44?”

“No, .45. James uses .44. That it?”

“Some food. I don’t want to touch that though.”

“Me either. Let’s vamoose.”

Her voice wavered. “You go. I’ll be a minute.”

Lawrence looked at her a moment, but she just stared hard, so he ducked his head and left.

The rest of the group was waiting in the street, standing over Roger’s body. His back was pocked with several bullet holes, gaping wounds in his shirt and body. James rolled him over and closed his eyes. Guillermo handed Lawrence his hat, which he dusted off and put back on his head. He asked, “Where’s Abbey?”

“She went to get Maxine and them,” Reyna said.

Lawrence sank to the ground and sat. The others followed. There wasn’t anything else to do, and leaving Roger didn’t feel right.


The nine remaining members of the Yellow Rose Caravans Northern Exploratory Expedition gathered around the grave of Roger Grant. The freshly dug dirt was dark and clumped together in clods. They finished stacking the stones, covering up the dirt, and stepped away. They formed a circle around the grave, which sat beneath an oak tree whose leaves were turning orange and yellow. Dying, and ready to fall.

They all looked to Linda to say a few words. She put a stray strand of her brown hair behind her ear and sighed, her usually pink skin puffy and red. She was normally a private and cold person. Certainly a contrast to Roger’s youth, cockiness, and joking personality. And yet they’d signed on the expedition together, and were clearly close friends. Linda held her own wide-brimmed cowboy hat in hand, her face twisted into a grimace to hold back the tears. Lawrence almost reached out to offer a reassuring hand, but stopped short. He didn’t think she’d welcome it any.

She cleared her throat and said, “Roger was a friend. He always helped those that needed it, even if he couldn’t help but being a pain in the ass while he did. He had fun, as much as anyone can living in the wastes. He- he was a good man, a good shot, and a good soldier. It was his idea to come on this trip. Said he had enough of guarding against raiders, wanted to see the world. I just wish he’d gotten to see more than what he did.”

Guillermo, a handsome man of 52 with a chiseled jaw, unslung his guitar from his back and started to sing Vaya Con Dios. His baritone voice was low and smooth, and though the song was short, the caravan members couldn’t help but shed a few tears. Even though Lawrence thought Roger’s arrogance was grating, it was still sad to see someone so young, and someone he’d known for a good while now, die. The group hadn’t grown that close in the weeks they trained together in Texas before the trip, or in the weeks they’d traveled since then. But Roger’s death, so close to the safety of the Brotherhood lands, seemed to remind them how fragile life was. Lawrence didn’t need that reminder, but the point still hit home.

When Guillermo finished, Maxine O’Rourke, the 48 year old, eye patch wearing leader of the group, placed her black cowboy hat back over her red hair and said, “Let’s get going.”

They gathered up their belongings. Lawrence scooped up his combat armor chestplate and put it back on over the top of his faded blue long-sleeved shirt. He’d taken off the armor to help dig the grave and gather stones. He then put his old brown desert ranger duster back on over the chestplate. When the Lone Star Republic had made him a Ranger, they’d given him the old ranger combat armor set. Consolation for ordering him on all those missions alone, when most Rangers got partners. He put on his backpack and ran a leathery hand through his dull brown hair before he put his straw cowboy hat back on. The last thing he picked up was his Winchester repeater, which he checked to see was still loaded before he joined up with the others.

Lawrence walked over to Guillermo to help lead their brahmhorn back to the road. Since Guillermo was the quartermaster and cook, he had the job of looking after Pancho and Lefty, their pack animal on the trip. Lefty was the left head and Pancho the right. They were an old animal, but solid, steady, and they never tired. Lawrence approached from Lefty’s side and scratched behind its ears. It wasn’t as mean as Pancho was. He then took hold of the rope and helped Guillermo guide the loaded down animal and cart back to the road.

“That was a good song, back there,” Lawrence said.

Guillermo gave a small smile and said, “Muchos gracias, amigo. I thought it was a good one to sing at a funeral. I expect you to sing it at mine.”

In spite of the dour fog still hanging over the group, Lawrence chuckled. “Trust me, you don’t want that. Nobody will stay to the end if I start singing.”

“Once we find somewhere safe, I’m going to get you good and liquored up and we’ll give everyone a chance to hear your angelic voice for themselves, and let them decide,” Guillermo said. “Just like that that bar got to in Old Paso.”

“Only time we ever got run out of a bar that wasn’t from fighting,” Lawrence said.

“You two ready?” Maxine asked. She was ahead on the road talking to Kim Buchanan, the group’s scientist. They were consulting Kim’s Pip-boy, probably to check that this road was the right one. Kim was 29, smart as a whip, though she didn’t have much experience outside her vault in Austin. She wore a bucket hat over her long blonde hair.

“Yes ma’am,” Guillermo said. He and Lawrence led Pancho and Lefty down the road as the caravan set off.

They walked two abreast, to keep from getting too spread out. Maxine and Abbey Rustin walked together at the front. Abbey was a tall woman, with dark skin and darker hair she kept braided. She wore a faded brown serape over her green shirt, with a straw cowboy hat that had it’s sides curved pretty far up. Back in the Lone Star Republic, she was a prolific explorer, known for going all the way west to Two Sun, east to New Orleans, and south into Mexico. They only direction she hadn’t gone was north, so she signed up for the expedition. Now she was the guide, since she had the most experience making her way across the wastes. She was helped in that by Ojo, the group’s eyebot, who was a metal speck in the distance. Abbey carried a service rifle, while Maxine had a brush gun, both ready should more trouble arise.

Abbey wasn’t the group’s first guide. That was Henry, as he was the only person who had been to the Nation of the Middle Waters in northeastern Oklahoma and returned to Texas. But he’d taken some bad chems not a week after departure and died, and since then they’d been without their only guide with experience in Oklahoma. Now that they were in Missouri, though, it didn’t matter much.

Right behind Maxine and Abbey were Kim and Ezekiel Mathis. He was about the same age as Kim, his skin dark where hers was pale, and he had a thin mustache and goatee, though they weren’t quite connected. His coiled black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, which stuck out the back of his red baseball cap. In his backpack were most of the medical supplies, since he was the group’s doctor. He had a .45 auto pistol in his hip holster, while Kim had a plasma pistol in hers.

Lawrence and Guillermo, leading Pancho and Lefty, followed behind them. Bringing up the rear were Linda, Reyna Hernandez, and James Hudson. Reyna was 35 and stood a little over five feet tall. She had her short dark brown hair pulled back in a small bun and a bandana tied around her head. She wore reflective aviators, a black leather jacket, leather gauntlets and greaves. She had a few grenades attacked to her belt, along with a holstered 9 mm pistol and a 9 mm submachine gun she carried.

James Hudson was a former Concho tribesman. He was a tall, muscular, man with a reddish brown beard, his skin a slightly darker shade of the same color. He wore a bomber jacket with leather pauldrons and a bandolier stretched across his chest. He carried a M1 Garand rifle and was, at 38, four years younger than Lawrence. James was the second in command, and was good friends with Maxine as well. They had worked for Yellow Rose Caravans longer than any of the other members. Maxine was YRC’s owner’s right hand woman, and he’d trusted her to lead this exploratory expedition. 

They’d started off with twelve members, and were now down to nine after the deaths of Henry, Roger, and Otis Haynes, who had died in Oklahoma. He had been a career mercenary, who stepped on a mine while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. There wasn’t anything left of him to bury.

It was a quiet few hours of travel, leaving Lawrence to his own thoughts. There couldn’t be a worse fate for him, as being left to his own thoughts inevitably led to reliving the memories he’d never forget: the fall Horse Head, the town back in Texas he was entrusted with protecting as sheriff. The sight of three-dozen raiders storming into town, his deputies and the citizens falling around him, the smell of blood and dirt, the sound of the final bullet ringing out and his wife’s last breath. The memories were a flood, every sense drowned out the past. He staggered on down the road, not really cognizant of anything but the haunting past.

The one thing he did feel was the guilt. It clutched his heart in a tight grip, squeezing and squeezing, trying to make him feel the pain that all the citizens of Horse Head felt as he let them down and they died because of it. He found himself short of breath, the edges of his vision turning black. He could feel a cold sweat on his back, and a pit in his stomach. He thought he might fall, but he caught himself on Lefty and feigned like he was checking something on the cart. No one seemed to notice, their attention drawn to the edges of the road where any threats might appear. Lawrence took a deep breath to steady his trembling hand and went on walking.

His eyes met Guillermo’s, and he could see Guillermo knew what had happened. He’d seen it before, for years, back in Old Paso. After Lawrence hunted down and killed the raider responsible for attacking Horse Head, he made his way to Old Paso. Revenge didn’t absolve his guilt, so he turned to drinking to drown it. There were some good memories, including meeting and befriending Guillermo, but when they told stories of those times they inevitably left out the nights spent passed out in alleys, or unconscious from fights. It hadn’t been good for either of them, so in a rare sober moment they packed up their belongings and headed east into the Lone Star Republic proper.

During those times, Guillermo learned first hand of the memories that haunted Lawrence. He recognized the signs, but he didn’t say anything about them. Instead he asked, “What time is it?”

Lawrence looked at the sun setting to his left and guessed it was close to five. He pulled his pack around and dug through it, past his father’s books, to find his mother’s beat up old Pip-boy. It was one of the old handheld versions, but the wrist mounted ones. Lawrence unlocked it and ignored all the diary logs and checked the time. “Nearly five,” he said.

Lawrence smiled to himself as he put it away. Guillermo didn’t actually care about the time. But he knew how to distract Lawrence, even for a moment, and Lawrence appreciated it more than he could say.

After about fifteen more minutes of walking, Abbey and Maxine brought the column to a stop. Their chosen campsite was just off the road, in a glade of thin trees. They still had their leaves, but it was shades of yellow and not quite the full green of summer. A small creek ran nearby, which would mean stocking up on some more water, which was always a priority.

Maxine turned to the group and said, “Lawrence, you and James go with Kim to the creek to refill the barrels. The rest of us will set up camp.”

Guillermo untied a few containers from Pancho and Lefty’s back, which he, Reyna, Ezekiel, and Abbey carried towards the campsite. Lawrence took hold of the brahmhorn’s rope and steered it off road, once all the camp supplies were unpacked. A trail wound its way through the woods, just wide enough for them to fit. James fell in beside him and Kim behind. James held his gun out and Lawrence took it, while he fished out a can of chewing tobacco and put a wad behind his lip. He offered the can to Lawrence but he declined. He wasn’t a fan of the stuff. He gave James back his gun and they continued on.

“Hell of a thing, back there,” James said.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Kim said, his voice wavering a little. Lawrence knew this trip was probably her first experience with violence of any sort. By all accounts her vault was a utopia.

“We should’ve been more careful,” Lawrence said. “Scouted around the edges of the town first. Going straight in wasn’t a good idea.”

James’ gaze hardened when he looked at Lawrence. “That would’ve taken too long. You know same as I do that we don’t have time to waste, not with our food running low. We don’t really know how far this Wellstone is or even what these Brotherhood people are like.”

Lawrence ignored his glance and said, “I’d trade a few hungry days for Roger being alive.”

James’ jaw set hard at that. “That’s not what I meant.”

“It’s what you said, though.”

“If you’ve got a problem with how things went down, go talk to Maxine. If not, I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself.”


James spit out a dark brown glob of tobacco juice and that was the end of the conversation. Kim had grown quiet as well, but they reached the creek bed, so she went down to check the radiation levels. James went with her, while Lawrence tied off Pancho and Lefty, and then unloaded the empty water barrel.

“It clean?” he asked.

“One second…” Kim said, staring at the bright green screen of her Pip-boy 3000. “Yes, clean enough. I have a few tablets that can remove the rest. It’s less than a rad, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Not unless someone’s been ingesting other radiation this whole time. Don’t know why they’d do that, unless the food is contaminated. If that’s the case, we’re in for-“

Lawrence interrupted her with his arrival. Kim had a tendency to keep talking if she wasn’t interrupted. She was an out loud thinker. Lawrence and James filled up the barrel with the clear water and then hauled it back to the cart. It was a short distance, thankfully, as the full barrel was damn heavy.

When they made it back to camp, the rest of the group had set it all up. A tarp hung between a grouping of trees, with another on the ground for them to sleep on. Guillermo had the energy cell power stove out, already cooking up their meal.

“Was it clean?” Maxine asked.

“Yes ma’am,” James said. “We filled the barrel up.”

Lawrence tied Pancho and Lefty up near the tarps, where there was some grass for it to eat. He then took a seat on one of the trunks next to Guillermo.

“What’re we having?” he asked.

“Beans. We got some hard biscuits too. That’s about all we got.”

“Thought so,” Lawrence said. “You want to play some spades?”

“You know you don’t even have to ask,” Guillermo said with a smile. “You find us someone to beat. I’ve got to keep stirring these for now.”

Lawrence stood and walked around the camp. James and Maxine were both gone, taking their turns on guard duty, Ezekiel was cleaning his medical supplies beneath a tree, Kim was scrolling through her Pip-boy, Linda was smoking by herself, and Reyna and Abbey were talking. Lawrence knew what the answer would be, but he walked over to Linda anyway.

“You want to play some spades?” he asked.

She took a long drag on her cigarette. Lawrence looked at her feet and saw that she’d already smoked one, and was on her second. She said, “No.”

Lawrence nodded and left. He thought about asking Kim and Ezekiel, but they both seemed absorbed in their respective tasks. Plus, Reyna and Abbey were the most challenging pair to face. He walked up and asked, ”Y’all up for a game of spades?”

“Yeah, Lawdog, I wouldn’t mind beating you again,” Reyna said. Lawrence couldn’t help but smile at the stupid nickname she gave him. She had one for everyone, each a little dumber than the last. She knew it too, but she had fun with it and Lawrence didn’t mind.

“If my partner’s down, so am I,” Abbey said.

They all walked over to Guillermo, who’d pulled a few trunks together as a table and chairs. He had one of his decks of cards out. He had more than one, and prized them each. What he said was that you could never be bored with a deck of cards on hand. So far, on this trip, he was right. They’d played blackjack, hold’em poker, hearts, gin, and any number of other games. Though spades was Lawrence’s favorite.

The object of the game was for one pair of partners to get to five hundred points before the other team. Each player individually bids on the number of tricks they think they can take, and their bid is added together with their partners to determine their final bid. A bid of three and two means the duo has to catch five in total, out of 13 total tricks. Catching all five would give them fifty points. Catch fewer than that, and they go set, and get negative fifty points.

Lawrence looked at his hand and had the first bid. He had two aces, one of hearts and one of clubs, plus the queen of spades and four other spades. He bid four, thinking he could trump in with the queen and one other spade. Guillermo, though, bid nil, which meant he couldn’t catch a single trick. Lawrence would have to catch any tricks his partner might.

The first few tricks went smoothly, Lawrence covering his partner up and catching with the cards he bid on. But Reyna led with a low diamond, and Guillermo had to follow suit with a jack of diamonds. Lawrence didn’t have any bigger than that, but was saved when Abbey cursed and played a queen. She shrugged and said to Reyna, “That’s the only one I had.”

The rest of the hand went just as planned for Lawrence and Guillermo, the former catching five tricks and Guillermo getting his nil. The next few hands went back and forth, both sets of partners getting their bids, and by the time the food was ready, they were both sitting within fourty points of five hundred.

It was dark, so they turned on a couple lamps and everyone gathered around to eat. Lawrence and Reyna ate first and quickly, since they had the next watch. They’d have to continue their game later, or more likely, let it end in basically a tie. Neither duo minded that, as playing was the fun part.

After finishing their spicy beans and bland hardtack biscuits, Lawrence grabbed his repeater and Reyna her 9 mm smg and they set off into the night. Ojo the eye-bot patrolled one side of the camp, while Lawrence and Reyna patrolled the other. They walked in silence, about a hundred yards from the camp. Lawrence liked Reyna. She’d kept an upbeat attitude the whole trip, and could usually break the boredom with a joke or an amusing story. But the darkness and silence of the forest didn’t have room for lighthearted jokes and small talk, especially with the shootout still fresh on their minds.

“You miss it, any?” Reyna asked.

“Texas?” Lawrence asked. Reyna nodded. He said, “No, not especially. I was ready to leave when I joined the expedition. Even more ready when we finally did leave. What about you?”

“I miss it, at times. Made a lot of good memories there. And some bad.”

“Yeah, seems I mostly remember the bad times.”

“I know what it feels like,” Reyna said, her voice quiet, almost a whisper. “My wife Laura died too. She was a bit reckless. An armadillo buster. She liked it, but she met one that she couldn’t break. It bucked her off and paralyzed her. She didn’t want to live like that, so she asked the doctors and they ended it.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lawrence didn’t know what else to say. They kept walking. He finally asked, “How do you move past it?”

“I don’t think you do. You might find someone else you love, but that won’t fill the hole. You just have to accept that’s part of you now and live the best you can.”

“I guess you’re right,” Lawrence said, but he didn’t know how to go on living. He didn’t feel like he’d been living since his wife died. Not really living. Just going through the motions, like a little wind up toy that hadn’t stopped yet. But it felt inevitable he would, someday, and nothing would wind him up again.

After a few moments, Lawrence said, “I think I’m going to walk on alone. Think on what you said, a bit.” But that was a lie. He wouldn’t think on it. It didn’t make sense that he could keep on living with all he lost. He’d just be that windup toy until he caught a bullet like Roger. He wanted to be alone, even if he did like Reyna, and even if she was right. He couldn’t see a way of living like she suggested.

Reyna gave a small nod and walked on. Lawrence waited until she’d been gone for a few minutes before he started walking. It was better to guard this way anyhow, he told himself. Anything to justify pushing away the people who tried to help. Just like Guillermo. When they escaped Old Paso and their drunken vagrancy he joined up with the Yellow Rose Caravans. He knew Guillermo wouldn’t be much use as a guard, and that’s why he chose it. Guillermo took up bar singing, and they didn’t see each other much after that. Until Lawrence, as a way of apology, asked Guillermo to join the expedition. Still, part of him couldn’t stand to be close with people again. It felt like betrayal.

Lawrence was about an hour into his watch when he heard the voice. By now everyone should’ve been asleep, and Reyna would’ve been too far away to hear. Plus, she hadn’t talked to herself the entire trip that he’d heard. And as he got closer, he realized it who it was.

Maxine was crouched off towards the edge of the camp. She held something up to her mouth and was talking into it. Lawrence crept along, as quietly as he could, until he got close enough to hear. She was recording something, he figured.

“…lost Roger Grant today. Shoot out in a town, not far from this supposed Brotherhood border. We should reach those lands tomorrow. If the information about this Wellstone place is right, we’ll reach it in about four days. After we get supplies there, we’ll head east for St. Louis. There has to be a trace there, if not-“

She stopped talking, but Lawrence didn’t know why. He hadn’t made any noise. Then he realized it was because Ojo was coming around, and she’d heard the low murmur of the eyebot. Lawrence decided he better go now or he’d get caught, so he resumed his patrol before she started talking again. That left him to wonder, a trace of what would be found in St. Louis?


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Boone Patton
The Soupy Mutant.

He was walking along the path back to his family's ranch house just a little ways outside of San Antone. Having just turned sixteen years old his father decided he was old enough to make the trip for various goods the family needed. He was carrying a bag with some rope, a couple jugs of water and two boxes of .45 ammunition for his father’s old Colt. He was just a corner away from his house now and something wasn’t right. The air was stiff, hot, he looked up and could see a large column of smoke floating up into the sky. He dropped the supplies he was carrying as he took off in a dead sprint. Rounding the corner he saw them, a tribal raiding band from the Southern Brush. He was stopped dead in his tracks as the leader turned to face him. His ugly, rotting flesh flaking away from his mouth as he smiled and laughed that coarse, terrible, ghoul laugh….

Patton jumped awake knocking his tan straw cowboy hat off his head. He looked at the empty whiskey bottle in his hand and rubbed his hand across his forehead. He could feel the headache coming on and knew that drinking so much was a mistake. Just then he heard the grinding of a chair scooting back from a table split the silence of the room and realized that everyone was looking at him once again. “Oh, whats this? Is little mister cowboy waking up from his little nap?” The man addressing Boone was one of the patrons playing poker when he had walked in. The man was about 6’2” and around 29 years old with a shiny bald head and was wearing leather armor. He walked slowly over to Patton’s chair with a smirk on his face and leaned in, “Now who are you supposed to be little man? Texas Red? Ha..ahaha….. I think the cat got his tongue boys!” He turned face his friends still at the table, “What do you say we show this boy here a good ole’ Wellstone welcome.”

“Why don’t you and your fuckin’ buddies go jerk each other off somewhere else.” Patton said sitting up in his chair just a tad bit. He counted three in total and knew he could probably take them if he could power through this hangover he’d cooked up.

The man, now without the smirk turned back towards Patton, “Now, what was that boy? I don’t think you understand the situati-” Before he could finished his sentence the empty whiskey bottle came crashing down on his head. It cracked with the blow, but knocked the man out cold. Shoving the man off of him with his free hand, Patton could see the other two getting to their feet. He jumped up and in a quick movement chucked the bottle at the nearest man’s face. The man managed to dodge the bottle, but was obviously taken back by the speed of the attack.

Patton saw his opportunity and charged at the man drawing his combat knife from its sheath. He grabbed the man’s right arm and slammed it on the table. Following up with his knife, he stabbed clear through the man's hand and into the table. Leaving the knife stuck in his opponent he grabbed the man’s head and smashed it as hard as he could into the table’s corner. He turned ready to attack the last man,only to catch sight of his back as he fled from the bar. Sighing, Patton walked back over to the chair he was sat in earlier, careful not to step on the man passed out on the floor, and picked up his hat. Scratching his head and putting the hat back on he walked over to the bartender who was cowering behind the counter. Patton dug in his satchel for a second bringing up his coin pouch and grabbing two gold coins, setting them on the counter he said, “Sorry ‘bout that. You got any rooms here?”

The bartender stood up straight at the sight of the gold and said, “Uh, yes Sir. Just through that door there. Your room will be on the right. Stay as, uh, stay as long as you’d like.”

“Thank you.” With that Patton turned and walked back to the table. He grabbed his knife and yanked it up out of the table and the man’s hand, watching the guy crumple to the floor. Where the man’s hand had been impaled was an ace of diamonds, though the diamond in the center had been replaced by a puncture hole with a blood stain around it. Patton picked the card up and walked through the door to his new room.

The room was cramped with a small bed, a chair, and a nightstand with a radio on it. Patton sat in the chair and took off his hat. He took the card he had just acquired and placed it in the hat band on the front just off the left side. He then sat his hat on the bed and grabbed the strap of his satchel bringing it over his head and setting it down next to his hat. He kicked his feet up on the bed and leaned back in the chair, he reached over to the radio and turned it on just in time to hear the last part of some speech.

“Do not be afraid. The Brotherhood of Steel is here to help, and we will not rest until all true citizens of Wellstone are safe to live in peace. We are the technological saviors of mankind, and we will save this city.”

Patton had dozed off once again.


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The Wayward Scribe 

As the faint darkness descended in the room, slowly being consumed by red light,  a static singing voice echoed across the room, coming from the rather rough looking junk box, the shafts of light reflecting the large dust gathering up in the room.  

"I thought you died alone a long, long time ago." 

The man snuggled closer to his pillow. He was awake, but he pretended to himself that he wasn’t. He hated getting up from his warm, comfortable bed. He would very much rather let the vermilion embrace of twilight fill him once more, and the dreary rush of sleep sink him to the depths of his dreams. Whenever he was in his warm bed, he would much rather stay in it. It mattered not when. Inside the warm embrace of his blanket, the man didn’t have to worry about the struggles and tragedies of the real world. Things he was getting sick of. Besides, when he slept, he could avoid, both the physical, and mental pain. Same with while you dreamt. It was place where you could be anything, and do anything. Or even live in a part of time we’re your life didn’t suck. Ironically, the subconscious was a pretty good hiding spot. 

Alas, what made a dream, a dream, was the fact you needed to wake up from it. Right now, in his mournful thoughts he was dreaming. 

“Oh, not me! I never lost control!”

Fuck, now I sound like one of those emo teens.

At that revelation, the man opened his cold grey eyes, and yawned loudly, stretching. He quickly threw off his blanket, and got out of his bed. Kingsized, the man made sure to enjoy the finer things of apocalyptic life. The linens were made of surprisingly good (as in tattered) fabric, the stock of good  (former) radiated oak, and the mattress soft and comfortable. Costed him some hefty coin, but his sore back deserved some relief once in awhile. It's not like he was short on money, so there was no reason to be cheap.

If anything, he was moderately wealthy by wasteland standards.

Getting on the solid, wooden floor, the man began to stretch, first reaching up to the sky, and reaching back down to his toes, which began to ache in contact with the hardwood. With a yelp, he felt his back snap, as relief soon filled him.  

It was always good to do your morning stretches, his old ma used to say. Her words still echoed inside his mind, even after she had been stinking beneath the earth for a good thirty years. Good riddance to that bitch. 

Sheepishly, the tired man walked forward to the small vanity, and large mirror beside his bed. The glass itself was cracked, creating a distorted mirror image. Who was the stranger beyond the mirror? The man asked himself half jokingly. He gave into his childish desires, and analysed the person before him in the shattered mirror. Middle Aged. Grey hair mingled with brown. Not a bad face, besides the scars. Cold, boring grey eyes. Short, well done beard. Pretty well built. Quite handsome, I may add.  The man chuckled, as he grabbed a comb from the vanity, and began to tidy up his messy bed hair, humming the tune that went along with the song from his junkbox, the brown hair mingled with grey strands.  Gotta look presentable.

“You’re face, to face, with the Man Who Sold The World.” 

The song finished, and the junkbox began to screech a metallic sound, as it started to play another lament, “Can you see me now? You’re just a phantom of my past…” The man’s voice changed, as he started to sing along with the voice over the junkbox, conforming to the new song playing in the background.

He brushed aside his hair for a good two minutes, before he reached down and pulled out a small roll of floss, discarding the plastic comb, he opened up his mouth, and began to get in between the gums to remove plaque, and other parasites inside his mouth. Hygiene was pretty important. Especially in the times of the mother ******* beast. Plague and disease was sure to run rampant, in these comparatively poor conditions. 

He continued to list traits of the man who gazed at him, beyond the mirror, as he cleaned his teeth (toothpaste was too rare and expensive) Lovely singing voice. Wit of Loki. Genius of Da Vinci. Prosthetic right hand. The man lifted up his robotic hand, as his gaze fell from the mirror, to the interesting piece of machinery he wore. Red in color, it reflected a sheen, as black intermingled with the crimson color. It ended in a square hand, with five, crimson robotic fingers, the index finger, larger than the others. A carving, of a cartoon pig wearing an eyepatch sat in the middle, alongside several notched mark, made by a combat knife.

A kids drawing, alongside kill counts.

He pushed the string, in between his flesh hand and robotic one careful not to cause his gums to bleed, only stopping when he was sure he had gotten all the bad stuff. He put his ball of floss down, and moved to the other side of the room, towards a large drawer. He opened the top part, and removed a pair of grey fatigued combat pants, instantly putting them on. He went into another drawer, and pulled out a green tank top, once more, wasting no time to put it on, before retrieving a pair of black long socks, sitting down on his bed for a moment, to put them on.

Thought leaving those damn fanatics would allow me to dress better. Guess fucking not. 

The man went a few steps away, and to a big oak closest. He opened it, which revealed an assortment of clothing, armor, and weapons. First he grabbed a pair of iron dog tags from a small knob attached to to the back of the closet door. The mans far farsightedness made it damn near impossible to read without getting a splitting headache, but he did so anyway, reading the carved words, out loud, even though he was alone.

“John Edmonton. Serial Number 12349. Brotherhood of Steel, Iron Company. Semper Invicta.” John Edmontons voice was coarse, and rough. Not the voice you would expect from a from a former scribe, but its not like he could change his voice.  He wasn’t quite sure why he kept them, the dog tags. Perhaps as a reminder of the past. Or maybe it was just a mockery of what he left behind, and how much he had savored doing so. John had always liked messing with people's head, and he still imagined the face of his commanding officers when they found out what he had exactly done. 

John placed the dog tags, attached to a steel chain, around his neck like a necklace, as was customary before reaching in, and grabbing a large, kevlar vest. The black protective vest was reinforced by steel plating, which the ex-soldier had added himself. Sure it was primitive compared to Combat Armor, but was much, much cheaper to maintain. He had money, but not limitless amounts. And hell, it could still stop a bullets bite, and even the thrust of combat knife. The only people he knew around her whom had non conventional firepower was himself, and the Brotherhood garrison. Small arms fire would be stopped.  And you never knew if today was the day some psycho was going to try and shoot you up

John placed it over his tanktop, and did up the vest.  Before once more, putting his metallic hand inside the closest, the machinery buzzing as he moved it. 

On the right side of the closest, lay a normal looking combat knife, and a much bigger tactical machete, the two sitting right beside the other. Knowing how over excessive it would be (unless he was carving up his favorite meat), John grabbed the Combat Knife, alongside a leather belt, which he placed on his waist, before sticking the steel knife and attaching it onto the brown belt, right beside the leather gun holster that sat beside it His hands reached to the left side of the wooden closest, grasping the strange looking firearm that lay there. Using his prosthetic hand, he gripped the repeating rifles butt, bringing it forth, and raised it into the sky, letting the twilight sky shine down upon it.

It was a Mare's Leg, a custom; sawed-off Winchester Rifle. The gun was made from black iron, and its stock, American Walnut, glossy and polished.  The weapons barrel was cut down, but still allowed it to fire off long distances, and its relativity light weight made it easy to carry around and fire. It fired 45.Colt rounds (which he laced with poison). The Lever Action weapon combined the compact ability of a large pistol, with the speed of a rifle, perfect for his needs. He had received the beautiful weapon from his father, and had carried it ever since, even during the days when he was part of those tin knights. 

He flourished the gun with his metallic arm (which any good marksmen would say was inappropriate at best, utterly stupid at worst.) wielding it it one hand, before he pretended to reload the gun with the lever located just in front of the trigger. He pushed back, and let the gun fall closer to himself, so his robotic index finger now sat on the trigger. He pulled the trigger. Nothing happens but a clicking noise. Normally, for someone like John, when he did infact fire for real, the recoil could hurt his arm pretty bad, but that problem was non existence by the strength afforded to him by his red prosthetic, one of the very reasoned he had his real arm replaced, and replaced by robotics. 

Sacrilege to them. The fanatics knights.  Oh sure, they wouldn't bate an eye if a Paladin had his arm blown off by a super mutants rocket launcher, and shoved a robotic arm into the fleshy stump, but willing tearing off flesh, and replacing it with machinery would no doubt be taboo. Pure, untainted flesh was sacred. As was the purity of the human gene. Manipulating either would get a quick demotion at best, a bullet to the back of the head at worst. Narrow minded idiots. 

"Semper Invicta motherfucker." He said out loud, 

Snarling, John did one more quick draw with his gun, before putting into its leather holster, which was made from salamander hide. He reached one more time into the closest, retrieving a a box of 45. magnum, bullets, which he emptied into a pouch on his belt, and a grey cloth long coat. It was half way in between a pea coat, and a trench coat. Couldn't find an old air force styled bomber jacket in all the years he had been here (not on any trader anyway), so he had to make do with something more traditional. It looked almost exactly what an old school general would wear, like some he had seen from pre-war photos, or paintings.  He placed it over bullet proof vest, and began to button up the jacket, which hide his combat knife, Mare's Leg, and the vest itself. Right getting fully dressed, he made a move to close the wooden closest door with his red hand, but stopped himself. Forgetting a few things.  He reached in, to the back shelf, and grabbed a small pack of cigarettes.

The box itself depicted a sexy looking vault girl, wearing a skimpy vault tech suit, but the man paid no mind.  If this was being realistic, she should have looked like a crackwhore. He didn't really care for the lust vices of the old world. Hell, the box should have depicted a depressing looking man, with black, disgusting lungs, because that's what happens when you smoke these ****ty, but oh so glorious things. Tar filled, and unfiltered too. He placed the cigerattes inside his inner jacket pocket, and reached deeper, to retrieve something in the back. A white, circular object

A live grenade. Never knew when you were attacked by giant salamanders.

The grenade itself was pale as a ghost, the white paint long tarnished. Its pin was locked on tightly, and faded streaks of yellow paint emerged from the side. Red letters were painted on its front  "M 34 WP SMOKE", identifying it as a White Phosphorus grenade. Debating with himself for a good moment, the man put it back inside his closest. On second though, don't think i'll need this today. And with that, he closed the closest door. Behind him, playing on his junkbox, more music echoed.

A stab of pain suddenly assailed, and rocked John. Screaming a low growl, John fell to one knee and gripped his chest hard, immense sweat forming on his brow, and soaking the rest of his body. He gently touched his forehead, only to feel its wetness. The pain was sharp, and unending, like a wave crashing against the rocks. Coughing madly, onto the ground, blood spilled forth from his mouth. Rushing forward to the side of his bed, he opened up the vanity, grabbing a bright red syringe. He pressed the injector to his neck, the syringe already piercing him, and pressed the button at the end of it. A more direct pain emerged, which was suddenly consumed by sweet soothing relief a second later. He breathed in a sigh of fresh air, before getting up from the ground, the pain leaving his body.

The music echoed behind him

"The days that just keep on coming

The stain that they leave
I wish I could break this casket
But I'm left here to grieve
In a world of my own design

As I become more present now
I can't see through the pain
A hollow cut through my veins
(the shadows takes their toll)
And did you leave me anything?
You're the phantom of my past...
Do you expect me to last, this way?
(a scar and a phantom pain)"

He took a minute to listen to the music. Afterwords, his flesh hand reached for the silver spectacles on the vanity beside his bed, and placed the pair of glasses over his face. Quickly, he grabbed a pair of dress shoes, and put them on, taking only a few seconds to tie the laces, as he continued to hum a tune.  Before leaving the room, he gazed into the cracked mirror once more, the previous song echoing in his head, You're face, to face with the man who sold the world. A playful smile appeared on his lips, before he muttered his personal motto, 

"Abyssus abyssum invocat..."


Oh my fucking head...

Cancer was like the dark demons of the infenuem. Only made of science, instead of maccarbe magic. It invaded you're body, consumed it, tortured it, converted you're cells into whatever good inside was turned bad, it made it weak, physically and spiritually, until the host would loose all hope. The blackest of ailments.

Right now it was giving him the worst fucking headache in existence.

Not even in his serum could relieve the certain effects of this attack. At least his insides weren't exploding in pain.

He sat on a wooden stool, on his black oak bar, the only person there. The bar itself was very large, easily able to accommodate fifty or more people. It was usually quite busy, but not today it seemed. Only a few other people lingered around on tables, instead of the usual large gathering of folks the only bar in the community brought.  Dark whispers hung on the air, as rumors of Brotherhood soldiers looting towns, and terrorist attacks against armored patrols were getting more and more common. John ignored them, and paid them no heed. 

If they were true, which he somewhat doubted, he didn't really give a shit. The Brotherhood wasn't the type to go around sacking towns. Dont get him wrong, his opinion on them was only slightly better then a big group of organised raiders, but they didn't act like that. Didn't mean they couldn't be dicks while being orderly, and efficient.

For apparent paragons of humanity, they're no better then the fucking Nazis.

A voice brought him out of his contemplation. "'Look whose up. What awakened the bossman from his beauty sleep?" It was really late. At least six o clock. John had been..."working" very late last night, and ended up going to sleep at 7 o clock in the morning. 

The voice belonged to a pretty looking woman beyond the bar. She wasn't beautiful, or even striking, but her face was very easy to look at. Bright green eyes, and a tired brow, that didn't go well with her young skin,  Aveline Curio dropped a large bowl infront of John.  She had a really thick southern accent, and wore a pair of blue jeans, and a loose checker top. He didn't even think she was originally from these parts, came from Texas, or so had been told, before she had bought this joint.  "Isn't it customary to provide a paying customer a menu, Avy?" 

"I already know this is the only shit you eat, John. And besides, you aint a customer, you're my boss." 

John's gaze fell down to the large, ceramic bowl. A steaming bowl of ramen noodles. Inside the steamy broth, a mix of spices, including hot chilly powder, ghost peppers grounded, a thyme withered, and stewed. Alongside the noodles, large chunks of roasted salamander, the local menance, lingered, still blazing hot. A bright smile formed on his lips. The taste that made The Drunken Hospitller  famous never got fucking old. The lucky bastard had discovered the mother fucking Holy Grail in the ruins of the old world!  The smile extended forward, as he was about to partake in the holy liquid when...

...the ghost of Sir Galahad manifested inside the room, and cruelly drew his saber, robbing the washed up soldier his taste of the grail...

Or...in layman's turn, his bowl of glorified instant noodles was pushed to the side, and another bowl was summoned from the depths of hell. A bowl of vegetables. 

A snarl formed on John's face, as he turned around to face his foe. Aveline placed her hands to hips, and said, "Don't give me that face. Eat your fucking vegetables first, then you can have my secret soup." 

He slammed his robotic fist on the counter, "What sorcery is this?!" 

"It's called eating healthy, fuckwit. Until you're dead in five years, you'e going to have a proper diet! And don't even think of saying no!" 

John sulked, as he began to chew down on the lettuce. Thank god it was pretty fresh. He muttered grumpily as he ate the green leafs, "What do yo think I am, a bloody rabbit?!" 

Her eyes opened in confusion, "What's a rabbit?" 

He choked down more of the green stuff. The guy already exercised vigorously despite his condition, which was going to kill him sooner then latter. Why did he have to eat these stupid greens? He said, his mouth filled with lettuce, "A demon from ancient Babylon." 

"I aint even going to pretend what the fuck that is." A customer approached the bar, which drew her attention away as she began pouring a drink of whiskey for them. By the side of his dinner, was an opened bottle of Nuka Cola. Greedily, he grabbed the thing, and began to guzzle it down like a mad man. He polished at least seven a day. Pretty unhealthy, and this was coming from a person who refused to eat his greens commonly. They say when Cancer progressed, you loose you appetite, but in John's case, it was the exact opposite. He had never been more hungry.

Seeing that her attention was drawn, John smirked, bringing forth from his jacket pocket, a cigarette. Placing, as he called, the "deathstick" in his mouth, he lifted his robotic hand into the air. Putting his robotic, index finger between his fake finger, John snapped. Half of the thumb collapsed, revealing a jet, which extended a small flame coming from the broken robot finger. A built in lighter, of his own make. He brought the tiny flame towards his mouth, and lit the cigarette's tip, as second before breaking the finger back into proper place. Breathing in a mouthful of fumes, the ex soldier let the fumes stay in his mouth, before pushing them out with an exhale. 

Aveline reappeared, now wearing a cooking apron. She once again placed her hands to her hips, and yelled "What the fuck are you doing?" 

"What does it look like." He coolly responded, "Blackening my lugs, and filling them with shit." He breathed in another mouthful of smoke, blowing it out. 

She just swore angrily, and stormed off back into the kitchen, leaving John alone. Guilt stabbed inside him, as he frowned. He felt genuinely bad, Sorry for being a dick Avy. You shouldn't waste you'e effort on me. I'm a dead man walking.

He took another swing of his nuka cola bottle, taking the cigarette out of his mouth. He finished his bowl of greens, and began to slurp up a mouthful of noodles. The bartender angrily stormed back behind the counter, carrying a cigar of her own inside her mouth.  John always preferred Cigarettes, not about taste really. They were just damn cheaper.  Aveline pushed forward, leaning across the bar. Without a thought, he snapped his robotic hand, causing a the small flame to jet upwards, lighting the cigars tip, right before putting it back into place. Aveline joined him in smoking, 

John took his cigarette out of his mouth, as he took out a small, metal cylinder from his jacket. He opened the cylinder with a click, and deposited the cigarette inside, closing it, and saving the cigarette for latter, the smoke barely managing to escape right before he closed it. Going back to his meal, John began to devour more noodles like a starving man. 

"So, hear about the latest attack?" She quietly said, leaning across the bar. Quickly, underneath his spectacles, John's eyes darted to the clock atop the bar, which read "645 PM", which was indeed her break time. Aveline was very organised, if nothing else, thanks to that pip boy she wore on her hand. John preferred old fashioned terminals, and PDA's, but he fully appreciated the pip boy for its effectiveness. He didn't appreciate how much it costed her, though.

"I've heard about nothing but attacks all week. Which one?" He coolly said, stirring the noodles within his bowl 

"Big explosion." Aveline said, in response, "People have been talking about it all day." 

"Another fireworks festival unleashed on some poor ghouls by the Brotherhood?" He asked, with vague interest in his grey eyes.

The Bar Tender shook her head, "Not this time. I heard it was against the Brotherhood." She paused, "You think it could have been terrorists?" 

"By the Brotherhood, you mean "civvies right?" He said with dark sarcasm. He rolled his eyes, before saying, "Probably. Though "terrorist", and "freedom fighter" has always been blurred. Probably fuckheads part of some "militia" 

"So terrorists?" She asked,

"Yep." He simply said. "Bastards." 

By now, both of there voices were low whispers. Aveline frowned, as her pretty face twisted. "So those Ghouls cant retaliate for their kind being treated like slaves, and slaughtered by the Brotherhood?"

John's voice hardened, as he continued to eat his noodles, using the wooden chopsticks quite deftly, "I dont know how blowing up a dozen civvies count as a moral retaliation Avy." 

The Bartender crossed her arms, "So you're defending the Brotherhood? I thought you hated them." 

"I hate them." He said simply. Though his face betrayed no rage, his voice filled with fury. A silent, melancholic fury. He continued, taking another big gulp of his Nuka Cola bottle, " I hate how they treat mutants like animals. I hate their self righteous. I hate how their a perversion of everything they claim to be.  And yet I know their alternative. You've always lived in civilization, Avy. You don't know what's it in the cold dark of the wasteland." John closed his eyes, and left the sounds of the bar fill him, "The Brotherhood is a lesser evil. Trust me on that. Until something better springs up, we're stuck with them." He placed his hands on the bars oak counter, "We dont even know if these attacks are being instigated by ghoul supporters. The Brotherhood has many enemies, yes. Many resistance groups oppose them at the moment. But those groups ideologies are so fractured, and different, its impossible they all have the same agenda. Some of them might even hate mutants just as much as the Brotherhood. They are united against the Brotherhood at the moment." 

A cruel grin appeared on his lips, 

"But they'll turn on each other. That is the natural order of things. If the Brotherhood ever leaves the picture, they'll squabble until they exterminate one another. After all. War. War never changes. Even worse, they wont have a plan on how to govern things around these parts, and once more. Poof. Civilization is gone. Would have to pack up and go to NCR controlled lands." He snorted, "I'd rather die of cancer than fucking be taxed to death, so no thank you."  

He opened up his eyes, bringing up his robotic arm, and gazed upon it. The red metal. The black stripes. The sounds it made when he moved it Part of him was machine, yes. But he was still human. Just as human as a brotherhood paladin. Just as human as some Ghoul squatting in a a labor camp, or a super mutant being escorted to what's amounted to a glorified concentration camp The Brotherhood was certainly wrong about most things. But they provided security to a very large group of innocent people. The evil they did, was outweighed by the good he supposed.  Even if he had abandon them, there was no reason to oppose them. Not yet anyway.

John's gaze fell down to his bowl of noodles. Which was empty. Aveline, who had been silent for the last minute just snorted, "Suppose you want seconds..." 

John nodded, "Yes please, ma'em." 

Aveline started to mutter something underneath her breath, as she made her way to the kitchen, grabbing his bowl, ready to refill it. John, closed his eyes, and started to sing, 

"You're face. To face. With the Man Who Sold the World..." 


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The Sheriff


Lawrence was a light sleeper, and he usually only slept for five or so hours. He was the first one awake, besides Abbey and Linda, who had the last watch before daybreak. Lawrence wandered away from camp and relieved himself, then came back and started up the percolator coffee pot they had. As the water was brought to a boil, he thought about what Maxine was saying last night. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what might be in St. Louis. Though the trip never had a particular destination in mind, he never thought they’d go that far. He wondered if the plan was to go there all along, even though he had no idea why that would be the case.

The bubbling of the coffee stopped him from speculating too much more, so he poured three cups and took them to the edge of camp. He knew Abbey and Linda would appreciate the morning pick-me-up as they finished their watch.

He smelled his cup before taking a drink. Coffee reminded him of home. Not Horse Head, as that was too far away from the Gardens in east Texas that grew the only post-war coffee in the Republic. No, the coffee reminded him of Vault 38, where he spent his childhood. Though the coffee there was prepackaged and had a stale taste more often than not, he still remembered starting every morning off with a cup. Even the children, since the understaffing of the vault required that everyone worked to help maintain it. And the only way to get through a full day was to caffeinate heavily.

After a few moments both Abbey and Linda arrived, and he gave them their coffee.

“How nice,” Abbey said. She sipped hers, but recoiled quickly, her tongue lolling out of her mouth. “Fresh too. Nearly burned my taste buds off.”

“Thanks,” was all Linda had to say. She took her cup and sipped at it around the cigarette hanging from her lips. She didn’t stop at all, just grabbed the cup as she made her rounds and kept going.

Lawrence walked with Abbey a bit, so she wouldn’t shirk her guard duty. It was still before dawn, but the rest of the group would be up soon. Maxine liked to use every hour of light they had to travel. The birds were just waking up, their chirps calling out to each other from the spindly branches. The woods felt altogether different than when Lawrence was on duty last night, and he was glad for it. He liked that there was a little cheer in the air to start his day.

“You think we’ll reach these Brotherhood lands today?” he asked.

Abbey took a sip and ran a hand over her hair and down her black braid. She was a couple years younger than Lawrence, at 40. Her skin was a tawny brown and her face thin, with a few wrinkles forming around her mouth. “We should. Unless what those caravaners in Muskogee told us was dead wrong. But I’ve learned you can usually trust them.”

“I guess the real question is, do you believe them about what those lands are like?” Lawrence asked.

“I think I do believe them. Everywhere I’ve been was so different than the place I was before that. I don’t see why this Brotherhood of Steel couldn’t be as perfect as they said.”

“I don’t know that I do. It sounds too good to be true.”

“Even if it isn’t true, at least it’ll be interesting. Most people I’ve met don’t use the word utopia lightly.”

“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see,” Lawrence said.

“I’m excited to find out,” Abbey said with a small smile.

Lawrence nodded and said, “Yeah, I guess I am too.”

The eastern horizon was beginning to turn a dark blue, as the black of night faded away. Lawrence looked out at it and said, “I better be getting back to camp. People will be waking up soon and Maxine will be in a hurry.”

“I’ll come with you. Maxine will want to go over the route anyway.”

They got back to camp just as everyone was waking up. The only ones still asleep were Kim and Ezekiel. They were both curled up beneath their blankets, so Lawrence went ahead and poured them some coffee too and brought it over. He nudged them with his foot and gave them the cups once they’d sufficiently rubbed the sleep from their eyes. “Rise and shine,” he said.

Ezekiel sat up and yawned, his hands rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He ran a hand over his face to wipe away the last vestiges of sleep, and then he pulled his coiled hair back into a short ponytail and put his red baseball cap on. He muttered his thanks as he began gathering his things up. Kim was a bit slower, initially not moving but with further prodding she too woke up. She quickly took the cup of coffee and drank a few sips before she went about fixing her blonde hair. She still looked asleep when Lawrence left.

Guillermo was already brewing up another pot, and was warming up some biscuits to go along with their coffee and jerky. Though water was plentiful, their food supplies were getting on the meager side. Enough to make it to Wellstone, though, if the caravaners could be trusted like Abbey believed.

After the next pot of coffee finished brewing and everyone had a cup, Maxine gathered them all around and pulled out their map. It was an old pre-war one, covered with a plastic film that kept it looking pristine. She placed a finger south of the town of Butler and north of the town where Roger died, which had once been called Rich Hill. “This is where we are. The Brotherhood border is somewhere to the north of us. We don’t know exactly where. But I want to reach it today. So we’ll be pushing for twenty miles. Which means we need to be ready to leave before sunrise.”

There was some grumbling, but everyone stood and got to work. Guillermo handed out the breakfast to everyone, and Lawrence quickly ate his biscuits. He liberally dipped it in his coffee to soften it up, even though it didn’t help much. He pocketed his strips of beef jerky, figuring he could eat those on the road. Then he set off with a bucket to the river, where he filled it up and brought it back to top off the water barrel. When he got back the tarps were down and the trunks were being loaded on Pancho and Lefty’s back.

By the time the sliver of orange sun appeared on the horizon, the group was heading north, and Lawrence was tearing off bites of jerky.


It was about ten miles from their camp to the Brotherhood border. Ojo spotted it first, a series of signs that marked their arrival into the nation of the Brotherhood of Steel. But what the eyebot didn’t relay was that entering the lands wasn’t as relieving as they expected. When they passed by the signs, they were covered with graffiti and tribal markings. What once said You are now entering the lands of the Brotherhood of Steel now had FUCK YOU painted on top.

There were no dead soldiers or dead tribals, which was a relief, but Maxine ordered they keep their guard up as the second part of their trek that day began. Guillermo handed out a few more strips of beef jerky, and everyone filled their canteens, but they didn’t stop for lunch.

The land didn’t look any different than the so-called Lost Lands they’d just left, apparently given that name after the Brotherhood lost them. Or so the Middle Waters traders said. The lands the Brotherhood still had were unoccupied, as far as the Texans could tell. Kim said her Pip-boy was detecting some radio signals, but they heard only static when they tuned in. As they went on, they saw a few signs of civilization. Or, abandoned civilization. A few farm houses stood empty, their post-war walls falling in and nature retaking their fields with saplings and shrubs and grass. They saw a small brahmin herd amongst the trees, and a windmill off in the distance.

It was nearing night when Ojo sent back a report that brought the caravan to a halt. Kim looked at her Pip-boy, and then ran up to Maxine. She put up her hand and the caravan stopped. Kim, Abbey, and Maxine talked for a few moments, until Maxine addressed everyone. “There’s someone up ahead. Butchering a deer. He’s armed but doesn’t have any guns. We’ll try and go around him.”

Ezekiel immediately spoke up. “We should talk to him. If it’s just one man, and he doesn’t have any weapons, what harm could it do?”

Maxine said, “We don’t have time to stop and talk with the locals. Especially since he could be part of a group of raiders. We still haven’t seen any sign of this Brotherhood. For all we know we’re still in raider territory.”

“I think he’s right,” Abbey said. “He could tell us a little more about these lands, at least.”

James said, “Seems like an ambush to me. Baiting travelers in with fresh meat. I’ve seen it before.”

Reyna said, “Y’all are getting worked up over nothing. We more than outnumber him. Outgun him too. If we’re careful there shouldn’t be any danger.”

Linda coughed and said, “We should watch him. See what he’s doing before we decide anything.”

Ezekiel was adamant and his voice forceful. “We’re never going to know anything about where we are or how far Wellstone is or who the Brotherhood is if we’re afraid of every person we run across. We should at least try talking to him.”

Maxine’s hard-set jaw showed her displeasure. But she relented and said, “Fine. We’ll talk to him. Lawrence, you come up here with us. Kim, tell Ojo to start circling around him in a wide circle. Check for any other people nearby. And you and Ezekiel stay by the brahmhorn. Keep your eyes open in the back, James, I don’t want us walking into an ambush.”

The caravan moved out into the somewhat sparse forest, this time rearranged in case they encountered any threats. Lawrence thought it a bit ridiculous. One man without any guns hardly posed a threat to nine armed individuals. Still, Maxine was right about one thing. So far, they hadn’t seen hide or hair of the Brotherhood.

Soon enough they saw the man through the trees, standing behind a stag hanging by its hind legs from a branch. They approached quietly, weapons drawn but not pointed at him. To avoid sneaking up on him and scaring him, Maxine stopped the group and called out, “Hello. We don’t want to hurt you. Just to talk.” Then, where only Abbey and Lawrence at the front of the column could hear, she added, “This is fucking stupid.”

They saw part of his face poking out at the side behind the hanging stag. It wasn't enough to get a good look apart from that he had deep red hair tied behind his head. "Who are you?" the man called back. 

“Traders,” Maxine said, then after a slight pause added, “Explorers. We’re from far to the south. Outside the Belt.”

"Exploring for what?"

"Communities to trade with," Maxine said. "What about you? Who are you?"

"A travelling blacksmith and occasional mercenary," he said, still mostly hiding behind the dead deer. "If you are traders, what do you got to trade?"

"Horned lizard hides and mescal, mostly. The rest we already traded," Maxine said.

 "Got any gold, silver or fusion cells?" he asked. 

"We have some gold and silver. No fusion cells for trade." Maxine said. Lawrence could see she was getting restless, so he turned and looked at Guillermo to say something.

Guillermo stepped forward and said, "We'd pay you for some of that meat. Been a while since we had anything fresh."

Maxine shot Guillermo and Lawrence a venomous glance, but there was nothing to do now. She said, "We'd like to trade, if you would."

"I'm willing to trade," he said. "If you are willing to stop standing around like you are about to assault me."

"If we were going to assault you, you'd be dead already," Maxine said. "The fact you aren't should be evidence enough that we don't want to fight."

Lawrence turned around and saw Ezekiel and Guillermo taking off their holsters and putting them in the cart. Maxine looked exasperated now, but she didn't try and stop them. Lawrence put his rifle in the cart but kept his pistol and holster on his belt. Soon enough the caravan members were mostly unarmed. Linda, James, and Maxine remained further back with the cart while everyone else approached the man.

Lawrence asked, "We good now?"

"I guess so," he said and slowly walked out from behind the dead deer. He was a man in his mid to late twenties with red hair and beard. The beard was a little scruffy but otherwise clean, as was the rest of his face. He looked like a decent person overall. He wore dark beige clothing with what looked like some kind of scarf in the same color, along with what looked like some kind of ski goggles around the neck. He wore leather boots, gloves and belt of post-war make. He held a dagger in his right hand. The dagger along with the gloves were covered in fresh blood. What was most odd was the sword he carried on the left side at the belt. "I'm Richard Smith," he continued with a small friendly smile. "I'd shake your hands but I doubt any of you would like to right now."

"I reckon you're right about that," Lawrence said with a lopsided smile. "I'm Lawrence, by the way."

Guillermo smiled and introduced himself as well, and told Richard who Linda, James, and Maxine were, since they had stayed with the cart.

Ezekiel said, "I'm Ezekiel. If you've got any wounds that need looking at, let me know."

"But you can call him Doc," Reyna said. "Or Zeke. I haven't quite decided which I like more. I'm Reyna."

Kim asked, "Did you notice anything about the deer? Any mutations? What about its herd? Or was it alone?"

"Smarty Pants there is Kim," Reyna said.

Abbey took a step forward to get a closer look at the sword. "I'm Abbey. Interesting weapon you've got there. Are swords normal around here?"

"Nice to meet you," said Richard. "And to answer your questions; I got no wounds that needs attention. I saw the deer grazing the grass alone near the ruined town, and it looks quite healthy and 'normal' to me. And I haven't met anyone else carrying a sword like mine. Seen raiders carrying all kinds of weird improvised melee weapons though." Richard went back to carving up the deer. "Now how much gold and silver can you offer? I can give you the liver for free though."

Guillermo walked forward to inspect the carcass. As quartermaster, he was in charge of buying and rationing out their supplies. Lawrence knew, though, that Guillermo didn't know much of anything about butchering or meat cuts, but this was all part of a performance. Guillermo was nothing if not a performer.

Abbey knew this too, so she stepped forward and said, "We'd like the steak cuts from back here. We can fry that up pretty easily. And any lean cuts you have. We'll dry that out and make some pemmican. That'll keep better than anything else. We'll also need some fat too."

Guillermo feigned offense at Abbey stepping in, then turned to Richard and said, "How does one gold for all she just named sound?"

"Is that one gold bar then?" Richard said with a little chuckle. He then plucked out the liver and held it out to Guillermo. "You still want it?"

Guillermo backed up a few steps. "No thank you. And one gold coin, unless this meat will wipe the ugly from Lawrence's face." 

Lawrence punched Guillermo in the arm even as he laughed. Abbey said, with a bit of a wistful look in her eyes. "If we had more salt than we do and a few onions I'd take the liver. But you have to prepare that thing right, otherwise it'd be like eating raw radroach." 

"As you wish," said Richard and threw the liver behind himself towards the pile of entrails he had already removed. "This is a rather prime meat I would say. And enough to feed you for at least the coming week or two. If I got this to market I could certainly sell all of this for ten gold. Though I'll give you a fair deal and say five gold."

Guillermo noticeably kept his gaze off the pile of discarded entrails and organs. "It's a good thing we don't want it all, then. Just the cuts Abbey pointed out." 

Abbey added, "We couldn't eat the rest, or preserve it, before it spoiled. We're on a tight schedule and don't have time to smoke more."

"Tight schedule? I thought you said you were explorers. I didn't know explorers were in such a hurry to get anywhere. I thought you just wandered till you found something interesting," said Richard.

Reyna threw a thumb back towards Maxine, who was talking with James and Linda by the cart. "Tuerta over there doesn't like to make detours or stop except to sleep."

"It means one-eyed in Spanish," Lawrence said, seeing Richard's confusion. "We're explorers, but we're trying to find routes to places to trade with. We're headed to a city we were told about, called Wellstone. She wants to get there sooner rather than later. We've already been gone a couple months or so."

Lawrence knew that they might not be done traveling after finding Wellstone, now that he knew Maxine planned on going to St. Louis. Even if the others didn't know. Though Wellstone never was the stated end goal, he couldn't imagine why they would need to travel farther. If the Brotherhood lands were as described, they would have found two nations to trade with between them and the Nation of the Middle Waters. Better than he expected. There didn't seem to be any reason why they'd need to keep exploring.

"I know of the city," said Richard. "Was heading there myself but got a bit sidetracked. There's a small town called Harvil half a day's walk north from here. If you got some room on that wagon I figure we can sell the leftover meat to the local inn. Then share the profit equally."

"We'd have to ask Maxine. She's the boss around here," Lawrence said. "Why don't you finish butchering and we'll talk to her about it."

"Alright. But don't forget we're not quite done haggling about the meat you want."

Lawrence, Guillermo, Reyna, and Ezekiel walked over to Maxine, James and Linda. Abbey stayed behind with Richard to help him butcher the deer, while Kim stayed to inspect it and its stomach contents.

Maxine had her typical stern look on her face, and Lawrence could tell she didn't like that they'd stopped. She asked, "What do y'all want?"

"He wants to load up the meat on our cart and head to a village up the road. He says we can sell it and split the profits," Lawrence said.

"That's not going to happen," Maxine said. "We've wasted enough time stopping here. And we'll have to travel even further before we camp since there's a pile of guts over there. Who knows what that'll attract."

"You're kidding, right?" Ezekiel said, his brow furrowed. "He just wants to travel with us and help us make some money. Not to mention sell us the freshest meat we've had in weeks."

"No, I'm not kidding. We don't know him, much less this village he wants to lead us to. It's too risky and downright stupid," Maxine said.

James spit out a dark glob of tobacco juice. "I still think this is an ambush waiting to happen. Or he's a thief." 

"I doubt that. But we shouldn't bring him along. He'll only slow us down," Linda said.

"What's the matter with y'all?" Ezekiel asked. "He's knows the area and he's been nothing but friendly."

"I'd figure you'd be slower to trust people, after that business in Germantown," Linda said. She was referring to why Ezekiel joined the expedition. He'd been working as a doctor in Germantown, a place of casinos, bars, and brothels. Run by powerful bosses that owned those businesses. Ezekiel discovered one of them was cutting their drinks with dangerous chemicals and making some people sick. When he reported it, he was nearly killed, and had to flee north. And, eventually, flee the Republic. There was a price on his head in Texas. 

"I trust people fine. There were plenty of people there that agreed with me and helped me. It's the selfish and heartless ones I don't trust," Ezekiel said.

James stepped forward and said, "You've got a problem with us, Doc?"

Lawrence could see Ezekiel forming a fist, even though he didn't have a chance against the bigger and stronger James. Lawrence stepped between them and said, "Look, let's all calm down."

Maxine put a hand on James' shoulder and pulled him back. Ezekiel's fist relaxed. 

"Everyone is getting worked up over nothing," Reyna said. "Most of us think we should let him tag along. We'll keep and eye on him, and we still have Ojo to scout ahead. We'll be fine."

Guillermo said, "He’ll also knows more about the Brotherhood than we do, so we won’t be walking in blind. And we could do with fresh meat and some more money."

Maxine was quiet for a few moments, her hands crossed over her chest. "Fine. But y'all will be in charge of making sure he doesn't steal anything. Tell him to be ready to move out in fifteen minutes."

They walked back over to Richard and Abbey, who were mostly finished butchering the deer by now. Lawrence said, "You can come with us. But we want to leave soon, so we can get as close to this Harvil place and away from the guts before we camp for the night."

"Sure," said Richard with a shrug. "How about two gold for the meat?" he then continued like if there hadn't been any interruption in the bartering. 

Guillermo smiled and said, "I can do that, if you tell us all you know about these Brotherhood lands once we camp for the night."

"Sure, I can do that. Been talking to quite a few people on my travels. So I should know a thing or two you might find useful." 

Lawrence went and led Pancho and Lefty to the rest of the group. They moved some of their supplies around and packed the meat away in a trunk. Richard placed the hide and the antlers on the cart, then fetched his backpack and bow and quiver. Kim recalled Ojo and sent it ahead, and the group set off. 

It was nearing sundown, so they didn't travel far. They passed by the ruins of Archie, which looked like it'd been somewhat recently inhabited. Like the farms they saw to the south, though, it was now abandoned. Maxine stopped them on the north side of the river than ran north of Archie, and they made camp in the dark.

Lawrence, James, and Kim went through the refilling of the water barrels, while Guillermo started to cook their steaks. Abbey was in charge of drying the lean meat to grind up for the pemmican, which they would mix with some dried fruit, nuts, and fat to make a protein rich food source. Soon, they were all gathered around the cooking top and fire, with Maxine and James on watch outside the camp. They ate their steaks and biscuits, the best meal they'd had in over a month. Lawrence thought it might be the best meal he'd had in his whole life. Well worth two gold. 

After they finished eating, with the meat still drying over the fire, Abbey asked, "So, where are you from? Most people don't have weapons like that in the wastes."

"Far away," said Richard. "Somewhere northwest I think. Wandered quite aimlessly my first few years on the road though."

"Is there a lot of metalworking there?" Kim asked. She had her journal and was taking notes, like she'd done most of the trip on everything from water radiation to soil fertility to weather patterns.

"Why do you ask?" said Richard. 

"Your sword. Abbey mentioned it earlier and you said no one around had one like it. And it's clearly not an improvised weapon," Kim said. "I imagine wherever it was made had some blacksmithing capabilities. Access to ore and higher-level techniques and knowledge. I read a book once about metal working that said-"

"Kim," Ezekiel said.

In the firelight Lawrence could see her cheeks flush a little, but only because he was sitting next to her. She said, "Oh. Sorry."

"Well I will say that smithing runs in the family. But if you don't mind, I'm not that keen to talk about them or my homeland," said Richard with a slightly painful expression. 

"Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't realize..." Kim went back to writing in her journal. Lawrence thought he saw Ezekiel and Kim share a glance, but he couldn't tell from the shadows the fire cast. Whereas Richard's pain was evident in his voice and his expression.

"What about these lands?" Linda asked, motioning to the countryside around them. "We've heard this Brotherhood of Steel is powerful. That they have a tight control over everything, especially technology, and the people have all sorts of comforts because of it. Sounds too good to be true."

"From what I've gathered," said Richard with a visible ease at the change of topic. "Is that the Brotherhood of Steel is the technocratic overlords of these lands. They have a large and rather well equipped army, and every village, town and city within their lands answers to them."

"Overlords? So they don't choose their leaders?" Guillermo asked. 

"Towns seem to get to choose their local government," said Richard with a shrug. "How the leadership inside the Brotherhood works I have yet to figure out. Doubt they choose their leaders though as I heard the entire Brotherhood is ruled by an immortal leader named Barnaky. Word is he's been in charge for almost a hundred years."

"Don't folks know ghouls aren't immortal?" Lawrence asked. 

"I'm pretty sure he's not a ghoul," said Richard. "The Brotherhood hates any and all kinds of mutants with a passion. Most people I've talked to said Barnaky is hooked up to some kind of machine that keeps him alive. Though a few have also said there is no Barnaky and he's only an illusory figurehead conjured up by the Brotherhood's elite."

"Great, a whole nation of pendejos like the Alamo Cult," Reyna said. 

"A machine keeps him alive?" Ezekiel asked. "What level of technology does the Brotherhood have?"

"Pretty high from what I hear. Apparently they have robots, factories, trains, power armor and the like. Only seen seen a few of their robots though. I thought yours were one of theirs till I saw the letters on its side," said Richard. 

Guillermo let out a low whistle. Abbey said, "I've never been somewhere with that level of tech."

Kim asked, "How did they manage to obtain all that? The manpower, the coordination required. It's astounding. Imagine all the knowledge they must have."

Lawrence could feel the pit in his stomach. He was impressed like everyone else, but he couldn't help but linger on the mutant hate. He'd met a few ghouls in his lifetime and never could see why people had problems with them. A whole nation that hated them didn't sound too welcoming. But a thought struck him, and he asked, "What other kinds of mutants are there besides ghouls? Since they hate them all, apparently."

"There's the so called super mutants. Big, tough, green people that were created by... something," said Richard and did a small shrug.

"What the hell have we wandered into?" Linda said. She took out a cigarette and lit it, then got up and left towards the edge of the camp.

Everyone was quiet for a few moments after that. The branches in the fire cracked and the smoked swirled into the night sky. Pancho and Lefty gave a quiet moo, and a few birds chirped out in the trees. Ezekiel broke the silence and asked,  "What's Wellstone like? Assuming you've been."

"I haven't been there yet. Heard it's rather nice, for the most part. Though I've also heard there's been anti-Brotherhood rebels cropping up in the city and causing trouble," said Richard.

"Out of the wastes and into a war," Guillermo said. 

Maxine and James returned then, which meant it was Lawrence and Reyna's turn on watch. It was getting late anyway, so the fire was put out and everyone headed off to bed. As Lawrence made his rounds, he couldn't help but think the world was far stranger than he ever expected. 


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Late evening
Forgotten Homes

The twilight painted the night sky in beautiful colors as the sun withdrew for the day. Unfortunately for John he was too busy to really look or notice. All he cared about was picking this lock before the last of the light would make it nearly impossible to see what he was doing. At least the growing darkness also gave the added benefit of him also being hard to see. 
Just a little bit more, John thought as he could feel the last of the lock's gears slowly sliding into place. With a very satisfying click the lock yielded to his lockpick. John let out his breath that he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. With a careful turn of the handle and push the door slid open. Yet being of the shoddy quality that dominated the district of Forgotten Homes it of course had to creak and moan a bit despite the gentle opening. John chafed at the sound and stayed up for a second after the creaking had ended to listen for any footsteps from inside. He knew that the drug dealer that lived inside was gone, out on his evening rounds to sell. And John also knew the man lived alone, but guests was still something that did happen, even if John thought it unlikely for this fellow. 

With slow and careful steps John walked into what appeared to be the kitchen. He closed the door behind him, though not fully so it could get locked again. The kitchen was a mess. Half of was dirty from what John assumed was regular cooking and the other half was dirty from what John recognized as half a chem lab. It was too small and too under equipped to be a real drug lab so John figured it was only used by the drug dealer to dilute the chems before selling them. Not an uncommon practice in Forgotten Homes. 

Yet to John's luck the stash of chems was nowhere to be seen. As fast as he could without making too much of a sound he began to open cabinets and drawers, peeking into boxes and bags using a small flashlight. It was still light outside enough that poking a flashlight down a bag wouldn't make his presence stand out like a Brotherhood uniform in the Leather Jacks gang's street. But John had little luck and only found one little vial of Med-X that he stuffed into one of his pockets. 

Going deeper into the house he moved through and searched the living room, the bedroom and entrance hall. All rooms were in some kind of dirty or trashy mess. Which for John made it harder to search. All John found was another small, half full vial of Med-X next to the bed along with a used syringe. It didn't come as a surprise that the drug dealer liked to use his own substance. 

Eventually though after several minutes of searching John found a little metal box under a few dirty blankets in the man's wardrobe. It was the type of box with a lock, cheap old but sturdy enough. John only needed to lift it up to feel that there were something like vials inside the box. With his heart racing John brought the box back to the kitchen where there were still light enough to properly see. It didn't take more than half a minute before lock was picked and John opened the lid to reveal the jackpot. There must have been at least ten full vials of Med-X inside the metal box. John didn't stop to count and instead quickly stuffed all of the vials down his pockets as fast as he could. Then he returned the box to its original place and covered it up with the blankets. He left through the back door he had come in through and closed it properly. The drug dealer would notice he had been robbed soon enough and John would most likely be long gone before the dealer got home, but he still liked to mask his trails. 

With the pockets full of stolen chems John made his way out towards the now very dark street. The light of the few lampposts in the district that were working had yet to be turned on. John didn't really know why the district was receiving the electricity but he had once heard that a former district representative had managed to get it by saying it would help against the nightly criminal activity. Something John found rather funny as the light provided was too little that hiding in the dark was still rather easy but still enough that moving through and navigating the district became easier during the night. So the lampposts were actually helping the criminals more than hindering them. 

The rival drug dealers house was almost on the other side of the district. Walking in the dark made John wish they had been closer rivals, but even he knew that if people encroached on each others' turf too closely, one side would end up dead sooner rather than later. Eventually though he reached the house. The sky was already fully dark and the most unsavory people was beginning to walk the streets. The drug dealer, a shady man named Wilson, lived in a decent house. Only one storey, with a few holes in the roof, and a broken window covered up in planks. Only minor structural damages for an average house in Forgotten Homes. And it even had the benefit of running water and four hours of electricity per day. 

John walked up the front door, carefully watching over his shoulder in case someone would decide he was a prime target for a robbery. Quickly he knocked on the door, hoping Wilson would actually keep his word and be inside.

Several seconds passed, and then the door cracked open until a chain lock prevented it from going further ajar. The dim lighting on both sides made it impossible for John to make out the figure who eyed him through the crack, but soon the door closed, metal could be heard sliding against metal, and it opened again to reveal Wilson. The drug dealer was a skinny man, mustached, and with long brown hair that he normally kept under a cap, though not tonight. He was dressed in a gray hoody and baggy white pants that came down to his bare feet. Wilson eyed John for a minute, then peered out into the street and quickly motioned for him to come inside.

Just like the exterior, the interior of Wilson's house was decent by Forgotten Homes standards. Of course, John had only ever seen the entrance room, but it had a rough but clean-looking couch, two wooden chairs, a barely-stained wooden table, a radio that presumably worked, and even a couple framed pictures on the walls that contained faces that John did not recognize. Of course, there was plenty of junk strewn about around this stuff: empty bottles, open magazines, a few toys, and bits of gray powdery dust that John assumed wasn't salt.

After closing and relocking the door, Wilson stepped between John and his view of the room. "That was quick," he said in a slightly nasally voice. "Did ya get it?"

"I did. About a dozen vials of the stuff." John picked up one of them from his pockets and held it up at eye level. 

Wilson's face broke into a grin. "That's what I like to see. How many of those did ya get?"

"As I said; about a dozen vials." John walked over to the wooden table and began to put down all the vials he had stolen. They numbered twelve, including the half full one.

"You mean they're all Med-X?" John could see that the drug dealer was rather surprised at that. "That idiot didn't keep them all in one place, did he?"

"Pretty much. I remember one was in the kitchen. One by his bed. The rest was in a box with a cheap lock, hidden under a few blankets in his wardrobe."

Wilson laughed. "Seems to me we did the bastard a favor. Maybe he'll learn from this." He turned and grabbed a satchel off his couch and handed it to John. "There's a buck fifty in there. You brought more than I expected, so you'll have to come back for the rest tomorrow."

"Just one fifty? Come on, they're at least worth one buck each," said John.

"Hah, yeah in your dreams, pal. I ain't made of money, and if I was, I wouldn't give a buck a vial for some diluted Leather Jack shit. Even if it is Med-X. You'll get fifteen for each. I've got a hundred fifty now, and you'll get the other -what is that, thirty?- yeah, you'll get the other thirty tomorrow."

That was too little for John. He was late with his payment to his landlord and needed at least three bucks, preferably four. "You don't know if it's diluted yet. It might still be good stuff."

"It might be, but I ain't gonna pay you hospital prices on the low chance that it is." Wilson sighed. "Look man, dealin's my business, 'kay? And even I couldn't sell this shit for what you're asking. How about you take the one fifty and come back tomorrow? By then I'll have it tested. If it is seriously good stuff, I'll give you another hundred. If it's not, I'll still have that thirty I owe ya, plus another ten since you had to come back."

"How about you keep this one for free," John picked up the half full vial, "And if it's good, I'll bring back the other eleven for three bucks in total."

"That won't work either. I ain't gonna judge the batch meant for sellin' based on a dose meant for usin'. Don't nobody dilute their own shit." He scratched his head. "What say you leave me four vials and then come back tomorrow? If it's all good, you'll get your two fifty and not a penny more. I gotta make a living."

John began to count, using his fingers for a little help. "Wait, you just offered me two sixty if it was all good and I left it here."

"Did I?" The dealer's eyes narrowed; clearly he was trying to see if he was being bullshitted right now. Finally, he rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine. But only 'cause it probably ain't gonna be the good stuff anyway. Leave me four from the stash and come back with the rest tomorrow."

"Alright," said John, doing his best to not sound disappointed. He packed all except four vials down his pockets. "I'll be back tomorrow at noon."

"See ya then." Wilson opened the door and held it for John to walk through. The moment he was outside again, it slammed shut behind him, and the latch could be heard locking back up.

Fuck, John thought to himself as he began his journey home. He dearly hoped the landlord wouldn't decide to make any demands before tomorrow. And Wilson had always been good on his word before, though John couldn't shake the small, nagging suspicion he might decide to cheat him. Well if he cheats me, he better have some good locks, John thought. 
John's apartment was in the southwest part of Forgotten Homes, one of the few most decent places to live in the district. The apartment was something Chris had arranged for both of them and after Chris had been taken it had been hard to make ends meet. The tall apartment building wasn't that far from Wilson's house and soon enough John used one of the two keys he had to open the entrance door. From there he walked up the stairs to the second floor where his apartment was. 

The place was strangely quiet given how young the night was. Usually, more than one of the rooms was either loud with music to drown out the chem use, or with couples fighting over something stupid. Not tonight, though. Tonight, John's neighbors seemed to be on their best behavior. No doubt he had the Brotherhood's arrival to thank for that.
Unfortunately, that silence ended when he rounded the first corner on his left and found his landlord standing just outside his door, speaking in hushed tones with a man who John didn't recognize. The guy was skinny and pretty short, with blotchy pale skin, a thin, receding brown hairline, and a patchy goaty. His eyes darted past the aging landlord and met John's, and then quickly snapped back. After several more words were whispered between the two, the landlord nodded and turned to leave. He frowned at John as he walked past, but said nothing.

John was unsure about what to think of it all. But the man outside his door made him nervous, made him wonder if he had somehow someway pissed off the wrong people. "Who are you?" John asked carefully as he approached the skinny man, but stopping at more than an arm's length away. 

"My name's Walter," the man answered in a slightly dry voice. "I've got some things to tell you that I think you'll be interested in." He motioned at the door. "Can we go inside?"

"Uhm... Sure," said John with a badly hidden suspicion. He then slowly walked up to his apartment door, constantly eyeing Walter for any sudden movements as he unlocked and opened it. "Guests first," said John in as courteous manner he could muster as he stepped aside and motioned for Walter to step in first. Not out of any sense of courtesy but only because John wasn't so keen on turning his back to him. 

Walter, on the other hand, seemed plenty comfortable turning his back to John. He moseyed into the room, looking around as he did.

John then followed inside, closing the door, still without turning his back to Walter. The room itself wasn't anything fancy. It was a decent size room. A somewhat functional kitchen near the left wall. Two doors leading to the bedroom and the toilet respectively was to the left of the kitchen. In the middle was a simple dining table for four people but had only two wooden chairs. On the right side of the room was a long couch that John used to sleep on before Chris was taken. A bookshelf with various magazines, ranging from comics to adult ones, and trinkets Chris and John had collected over the years as keepsakes from their life of crime.

John appreciated being home, even if he wondered how long it may remain as such. That feeling was however dampened by the strange guest that now stood inside the apartment and looking around at John's belongings. John thought about saying something but hindered himself and instead decided to let this Walter talk first. 

"Nice place," the man started, "At least, for this part of town." He turned to face John. "That jerkoff outside said you're having trouble paying for it."

"Yeah, it's been a bit hard finding well paying jobs. But what's it to you?" said John. 

Walter shrugged. "To be honest, it ain't much. I'm here as something of a favor. See, I knew your brother Chris. He was a friend of mine. After what happened to him, well, I figured I'd drop by, see how things are going."

John was a little surprised that the man was a friend of his brother. Though John had to admit he hadn't really known any friends of Chris from the latest years. "As you already know now, not that well," said John with a dry tone.

"Yeah, well that's something I'm thinking we can change." Walter's face was hard to read, though he seemed sincere. "I don't know you, but Chris had plenty good to say. That's why I'm thinking you'd be a good candidate for some work I have available."

"What kind of work are we talking about?" asked John, both curious, eager and hesitant about what it might be. 

"Nothing too different from what you're doing now, I reckon." Walter smirked. "I've got some things that need to be moved in and out of the city, and I need someone who can help me move them without attracting attention."

"Will there be good money in it?" asked John. 

"Depends on your definition of good. It'll keep you living here, if that's what you want. Though if you stick with me long enough, I can promise it'll get better."

What do I got to lose? John wondered to himself. "Alright. I'm in," he said.

"That easy, huh? Great." Walter reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He put one in his own mouth and offered second to John as he said, "I hang out in Pennway, at a joint near the river called The Inglenook. That's where you can find me when you're ready to start."

John took the cigarette and looked at it. For him it was somewhat of a luxury only very few could really afford in Forgotten Homes. As such he had never even tried it. "Will you be there tomorrow?" asked John. 

"Yeah." There was clink and a scratch as Walter ignited his lighter and lit his smoke. "I should be there after dark." He held the lighter out for John.

John lit his cigarette on the lighter before putting it to his lips and inhaling a deep breath. The smoke filling his lungs felt strange and unpleasant, which caused him to cough. But wanting to maintain appearances he quickly suppressed the coughing and inhaled another smog of smoke from the cigarette. John figured that it must get better after he'd gotten used to it.

"Oh, and one more thing, if you show up and I ain't there, just ask for Flo. She'll help you out."

"Alright," said John, trying to sound normal as his lungs tried to get used to the smoke. "I'll try to come around tomorrow."

"Sounds like a plan." Walter held out his hand. "Looking forward to working with you, John."

John took and shook Walter's hand. "I hope I can say the same thing," said John with a little friendly smile. 

"Something tells me you will." With that, the man who'd been Chris's friend took his leave, closing the door behind him.

John waited a few second after he had left to lock the door. After which he went over to the window and opened it to air out the smoke in the room and the smoke he was breathing out. He looked over to where the Studios lie. There was another apartment building blocking most of the view from John's apartment. Then there was the wall that separated the Studios from Forgotten Homes. Bright light shone over the wall from the Studios. For John the wall represented the unjust oppression of the Brotherhood and the elite, meant to keep the common man in his place. The light was the dream of wealth, glamour and fame. A dream John still held, no matter how foolish it seemed.


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The Rose Garden

Rose stood by the balcony and looked down on the main hall where excited people from around the city were looking for someone to satisfy their urges. Her girls wore skimpy outfits of various kinds. Some laying in sensual poses on the decorative couches and a few performing hypnotizing dances to the clientele. Her guys wore almost less than the girls and were flexing their muscles or laying on the couches almost like their female counterparts. The customers were looking at them, distracted by all the flesh on display and their minds clouded by thoughts that would make it easy to part them from their money. 

Rose noted that there were a lot more Brotherhood soldiers than usual. And with more people making bids, the prices tended to go up. Something Rose was quite pleased with. Though the high concentration of unarmed soldiers also made her worry a bit that the place might become a target for rebels. But she highly doubted anyone could get past the door with anything more dangerous than a tiny switchblade hidden up his butt. 
Maybe I should get an x-ray scanner that can check people's bums, she thought to herself, wondering if the Brotherhood might have such a thing. 

Then she noticed a few folk were looking up at her where she stood. Not that surprising as she wore a very elegant, yet very tight, silvery silk dress with a cleavage almost reaching down her belly button. A perfect dress to show off the most pleasant parts of her beautiful physique. Rose liked the attention people gave her, even if she would never let any of them get near her. She liked to think of herself as the goddess of her Garden; a perfect creature everyone looked up to and desired, yet nobody could ever reach. 

Rose had of course received quite a few offers from folk for one night with her. Her answer had always been the same: the only price she had was a ring made of the purest gold with the largest diamond in the Belt. Something only one man had been able to provide, and qualified enough for her to accept. Sadly he had died before the wedding. 

Rose pushed those thoughts out of her mind as she turned away from the main hall. She couldn't distract the customers too much from her working girls. The room she was in was private and rather secluded high above the main hall, with only one door at the far end from the balcony. The room itself was rather decorated with expensive and delicately crafted furniture. Along the left wall was a long table with crystal glasses and carafes filled with expensive liquor. On the right wall was a bookcase filled with rare and unique books, trinkets and baubles that had survived the bombs in almost pristine condition. In middle of the room was a wooden table with the legs carved as vines covered in roses. The table was flanked by two expensive red couches. In the the couch on Rose's right sat Mary, her most expensive girl. She had long, shining, white hair and a body and face that were almost as beautiful as Rose herself. She wore a very skimpy, red silk dress that barely covered up enough skin to hide her private parts. Which meant she was working tonight. Something she rarely did as very few could afford her triple digit (in dollars) prices. 

"So who is it tonight?" asked Rose with a friendly tone as she sat down on the couch opposite of Rose. 

"Mister Lenoir, the younger," said Mary. "From the Emerald Garden. He's even bringing a wine bottle."

"It must be very special occasion for him to bring such a gift." Rose hoped there would be some wine left after the night. She wouldn't mind a glass, and she didn't want to open any of the five bottles she had stored unless it was for a really special occasion. 

"Guess he wants to prove he's better than his father."

"Ah, family drama can be quite... spectacular. Think you can make him spill some juicy family secrets." The rich folk that lived in the Emerald Garden were secretive and strange. But Rose had managed to gather some information about what they liked to do; masquerades, orgies and plowing close relatives seemed be the most popular amusements in there. 

Mary gave a mischievous smile. "I'll make him sing. They always do."

"Perfect," said Rose with a friendly smile. "And what do you think about getting a new dress?"

"I'd love that," said Mary with renewed cheerfulness. "A new silk dress. Green, with gold embroidery."

"I'll arrange it. Do some sketches on how you'd like it to look like and I'll make sure it's done." I should put out a bounty for some web then, Rose thought, thinking of maybe getting herself a couple of new dresses, and sell the rest. 

"I wonder what I should use a motif," Mary thought out loud. 

Rose was about to respond when she heard a knock on the door. "What is it?" she called out. 

"A courier came by with a letter for you. Addressed to Rose Goldwyn," said a male voice from behind the door.

Rose got up from the couch and opened the door. Behind it stood a tall, muscular man with short hair. He wore the mandatory black suit and sunglasses of the security staff. He handed over a envelope to Rose. "Thank you," she said with a friendly smile before closing the door. She wasn't expecting a message and figured it was simply from an admirer. Though it might also be from the Brotherhood or a possible business proposal, and she'd prefer to read it alone if that was the case. 

"Who's it from?" asked Mary curiously. 

"Probably some admirer. Maybe a business proposal," Rose answered simply. "Anyway, shouldn't you go prepare for your night with Mister Lenoir?" said Rose and gave Mary a look that it was time for her to leave. 

"Of course," said Mary and got up from the couch. She curtsied Rose before hurrying out through the door. 

Rose drew a small sigh as she sat down on the couch. She hoped it was nothing important as she didn't feel like thinking too much about work at the moment. Her name was written on the envelope in pitiful handwriting. Her name almost spelled wrong as her last name was spelled with two n:s but had the last one crossed out. Whoever had written this letter had skipped school it seemed. She opened the envelope and began to read with disinterested eyes. 

"Mr Rose Goldwynn

We have you're hore Ellise. If you dont want her returnd in peeses you must pay us tenn dolllars every week. Dont call the gard or we will have some fun with her. then send her back in peeses. 

Deliver the gold in a envelop to the trasch pipe in the TOWER Market. You got three days."

Reading the letter filled Rose with a mixture of mild disgust at whatever uneducated filth would write so abhorrently bad, along with a seething rage and a creeping worry. She knew Elise as one of her more loyal girls. A girl that made more money on the information she gathered than all the customers payed her. As such she knew a bit too much of the internal workings of Rose's business. If these thugs got her talking it would be very bad for her and her business. Not to mention that anyone, least of all such filth that can't even write, would dare attack her business and make demands. Rose would make sure they payed for it; slowly and painfully if possible. 

Rose then calmed herself down and began to think about the situation. She wondered if the Brotherhood could spare an Inquisitor or the like to deal with this quickly and quietly. But then she wondered if they even had Elise at all and if this was all just a ruse. Either way she couldn't waste any time and stormed out of the room.

"Find Elise and bring her to my office!" Rose ordered the guard outside the door. Lin that had been standing in a corner became active and followed Rose's brisk pace towards the staff elevator. Thoughts of revenge and plans of actions went through her mind as she impatiently waited for the elevator to reach the top floor. Once there she hurried into her office and to her desk to write a message to the Brotherhood, using her left hand to avoid her handwriting and cryptic enough terms that no one except those who knew directly about their relation would know what the message was about. 

Then she waited, hoping for Elise to soon walk in so Rose could breath out and burn the message. But as time went on no answer came. Minutes came and went and soon enough almost two hours had passed without anyone contacting her. Then she heard how the radio at the corner of her desk made a brief static noise before she heard a woman's voice: "We couldn't find Elise. What do you want us to do?" 

Rose waited for a second before pressing the button and speaking into the small microphone next to the radio. "Nothing," said Rose. She didn't want to spread worry and panic among her staff. "Inform me if Elise shows up." Rose paused for a second. "And check if anyone who was supposed to be working tonight hasn't showed up."

"Alright," said the voice on the other end.

This was not what Rose needed. She could afford to pay the continuous ransom with little problem. Hopefully that could buy her enough time for this mess to get fixed. 


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The Entrepreneur
Crossroads District -The Garage

Hey Wellstone. Ronald Layder here, hopefully not waking you from too good of a dream. Maybe you'll like this one from Johnny Mercer even better.

The morning was cool, quiet, and still thick with fog. Even with the surge of newly arrived soldiers in town, it seemed that Wellstone still had its way of stealing moments of peace. Or maybe this was just a breath, quickly being taken in preparation of something awful soon to happen. Whatever the cause of the quiet, that part seemed inevitable. Josey's father had told him as much.

"Someone's got to strike first," the old man had said the last time they'd spoken. It had been beside the train tracks just outside the city. "And hard. A first strike always should be hard. That's how you send a message to your enemies and everyone else." 
Well, it had gone something like that at least. And with some story from the war thrown in to boot. Josey couldn't remember the exact details, something about the Brotherhood's assault on a raider tribe that had aligned with the MLA. It had made sense at the time. So who's gonna act first? The Brotherhood? Dad? Some half-feral sewer ghoul with a bomb under his hat?

Josey's money was on his dad. There wouldn't have been much point to that conversation if Gregory had no intention of striking first. He just wished he knew more about what was going on. The Brotherhood were everywhere, and if the man's speech on the radio rang even half true, their leader meant business. But where did that leave their opponents? The 'rebels' of this city? That was the question that frustrated him. Josey suspected that those mysterious bombers were having a hay-day cooking up some new scheme to recklessly blow stuff up, and his father was no doubt up to something with Tristan and Felix... but for his part, Josey didn't have a clue what he was and wasn't allowed to do. Their enemy had literally moved into their neighborhood, and all he had done so far was smile and offer the family's services.

He looked around the old workshop now. They called it 'The Garage' like one of those Old World mechanic shops, though the biggest thing that had ever come in on wheels was a busted robot that some farmer had pulled in behind his brahmin. There were two parts to the building: the 'garage' that he stood in now, with its heaps of scrap metal, electronic parts, and tools all haphazardly swept to one side of the room or the other so that customers could approach the long counter at the back, and the upstairs housing unit that the siblings resided in with their mom.
When Josey had come up with the idea for this place, he had intended for it to act as a cover. But lately, it seemed like the old men were out doing all the work while his business funded them. Last time they'd spoken, Gregory and Tristan had just returned from the Lost Lands, where they had met with a raider gang for some deal or other. The rest of the Thatch family had not even known he had left the area.
Some rebels.

Josey was proud of his business of course, but with the Brotherhood here, he was getting antsy. He wished he could go out and actually do something. That was his job, wasn't it? What Gregory had spent years preparing him for? He'd made friends and contacts all throughout the city, learned who leans in what direction, and how far. What was it all for if not this?

Screw it, he decided. Josey went upstairs to grab his coat. On passing by his sister's room, he heard a movement through the cracked door. "Jos? Where ya goin'?"

He sighed. Aly had always been the lightest sleeper. He moved to the crack and whispered, "Just takin' a walk. Tell Ma and Eli to go ahead and open up without me."

A few moments passed without a reply. Josey was beginning to think that Aly had fallen back asleep, and then she softly answered, "'Kay." 

He doubted she would tell them. In fact, Josey would've bet money that his sister was snoring again by the time he made it back downstairs. But he didn't really care. Eli might've taken advantage of his absence to take the day off, but their mom certainly would not. They rarely needed his help running the place.

The streets of the Crossroad District were mostly empty. The people around here didn't rise as early as the folks up in the Steel District, though he did pass the occasional scavengers and market servants whose jobs demanded getting up at the crack of dawn. And of course, there were the patrolling Brotherhood soldiers that would be around day and night. Josey kept his head down and his eyes forward, giving a slight nod as he passed them by. The patrolmen only stared at him in turn. Pricks.
His walk took him up through his own neighborhood and into the Market District. Some of the buildings were just starting to turn on their lights, and Josey could make out tiny elevators moving up the skyscrapers to the west. Far ahead of him, a train whistle sounded, though the iron machine was too distant to see.
The Market District was huge, and by the time Josey had reached the northern side of it, the morning fog was clear and the Wellstone's peaceful slumber had ended. Lights flashed atop billboards, smoke rose from the factories to the east, locals and travelers roamed the streets, and traders loudly called out to passers-by.

"Freshly grown mutfruit! Guaranteed not to glow!"

"Genuine prewar money! You can still see the faces of the old world gods!"

"Are you scared'a 'manders? This ointment'll send 'em swimmin'!"

Outside of the larger shops, this district's merchants sold whatever they could get their hands on. For most of them, it was something different every day, but rarely was it anything truly new. Anyone who had lived in the city for long knew better than to bother with them. The more established shops were more reliable and less likely to sell you mole rat piss and call it water. For Josey, their hollering was practically white noise.
He reached the waterfront. It was alive with fishermen, dockhands, and warehouse workers. Amidst it all was a large wooden crab shack, painted white and with a big sign atop it that read: Salty Pincher. Come lunchtime, the restaurant would be busy as all get-out, but right now, getting in was easy enough. Josey made his way to the doors in the back, but was stopped by the serving woman, an attractive blonde who looked to be around his age. "You lookin' for a table in the back, Mister?"

"No ma'am, I'm here to see Saul."

She frowned, and though she tried to hide it, Josey could see the suspicion flicker in her expression. "Sorry, but Mr. Kinter don't come in 'til the afternoon."

"I know he lives downstairs." He sighed. What was the damn passphrase? "The uh, the yellow lamp is still on. No, someone left it plugged in... My name is Josiah, tell him that. But people call me Josey."

"Seriously?" She rolled her eyes. "How 'bout you grab a table? I'll take care of that problem right quick, then I'll bring you some breakfast."

Josey watched her leave, silently kicking himself. 'people call me Josey'? Fuckin' smooth. He shook his head and found a seat in the back, knowing that soon either Saul would come out to greet him, or one of the man's bruisers would. He prayed that it was the former. Saul Kinter's lackeys weren't hired for their brains.

A solid twenty minutes passed before Josey's prayers were answered. The middle aged business owner stepped into the dinning area wearing brown khakis and a collared navy shirt. His receding hair was swept over to the left side, and his girthy stomach stretched his clothes around the waist. The man peered around the room for a few seconds before he spotted Josey and came over to join him. When the man sat, Josey gave a courteous smile. Saul did not return it.
"What are you doing here, kid?" His voice was course and raspy.

Straight to it then? Fine. "I'm here for information."

"This ain't a library. I sell catfish here."

"Come on, Saul, there's no one here but us."

Saul's frown dropped to a scowl. "That attitude'll get you caught one day, kid." He shook his head and lowered his voice. "I use a passphrase for a reason, ya know. And you waltzing in and just fuckin' guessing at it is how you're gonna get me caught, too. Have you seen what's going on lately?"

"Of course I have. That's why I'm here. We haven't spoken in over a year, so I needed to find out where you stand now that they are here in force."

"Where do you think I stand? It's where I always stood. I've already got ears all over the dock. Is that why you're here? You want me to tell you what they've been hearin'?"

"It would be a good start," Josey admitted.

Saul regarded him, then said, "Gregory didn't send you, did he? You came here on your own."

Josey nodded. "He hasn't contacted me since the Brotherhood got here. I'm trying to-"

"Be proactive?" Saul snorted. "Here I've been, waiting for a plan from the father, and instead I get the son, trying to get one from me. Look kid, I'm all for working with your family. But until Daddy comes to see me himself, I'd rather not get too close. You ain't professional enough."

"Professional? This ain't a job Saul, it's a goal."

"It's a partnership. And I only work with people that are careful. Your father's one. You though, shit you can't even remember a passphrase."

"Can we drop it with the fuckin' passphrase?" Josey's fists clenched. "Gregory won't see you. There's no telling how long it'll be before he sees anyone. In the meantime, those of us in the city have got to start working together."

Saul crossed his arms. "Alright smart guy. Work together to do what?"

"Strike first," Josey said, quoting his father, "Striking first sends a message. People who hate the Brotherhood will be emboldened. People who support them will be frightened. The city needs to know that we're as serious as our enemies."

For the first time, Josey saw a Saul's frown twitch, just a bit. "On that we're in agreement. I just don't know how comfortable I am with the prospect of coordinating with you lot without the man in charge."

"Coordinating is the only way we stand a chance. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before the Brotherhood begins stomping us out and people lose hope." He let his expression soften, just a bit. "Look, I know you think I'm young and brash, but you're wrong. You don't grow up in my family without learning how to be careful. Give me a chance and I'll prove it to you."

The way Saul looked at him now, Josey could tell he was being measured. The older man finally relaxed. "Alright kid, one chance. What exactly do you want to know?"

"Everything," Josey pressed. "News you've picked up, plans you've set, and where your people are so I can contact you without crossing the whole city."

"I better not regret this." Saul proceeded to share much of the information his people had gathered. Apparently, one of the warehouses had been seized after a shooting, though whether it was rebels involved or just common criminals is unknown. The recent bombings were being investigated, of course, and apparently a black market dealer known for carrying explosives turned up dead just last night.

"Did you know him?" Josey inquired.

"No, not personally. But I know the kind of people he sold to. Lotsa folks down in South Union liked to buy from him because he had the kind of shit you can't normally get down there."

"Like mininukes."

"Yeah, like mininukes. 'Course, I never took the folks down there for rebels. Let alone the crazy kind, but what do I know? If you want to look into it yourself, find one of the wannabe gangsters living down there and get in touch with his boss."

I may just do that. Josey nodded. "And your people? Is there anyone I can meet with in the Crossroads?"

"No, but I've got a buddy at the south side of the Market, few blocks west of the radio station. I'll tell him to swing by that shop of yours once a week. Save you the trip."

"I appreciate it." He meant it, of course, but a part of Josey wondered if Saul wasn't just sending his own man to the Garage because he thought they were more likely to be discreet about it. But he was not exactly in a position to call out one of his only allies on this. "If that's it, there's just one more thing I'd like to ask you."

"Oh?" Saul's left eyebrow arched. "What is it?"

"If it comes down to it, how many people can fit on your boats?"

"About a dozen. Few more if they squeeze and sit still." He frowned. "But don't be expecting any rides for that many. I'll take a couple folks at a time if I need to, but if you really want my help, ask for food and rumors, maybe a strong arm or two, but not smuggling services. Got enough people around here willing to do that, you shouldn't need me."

"Alright." Josey rose from his seat, "Thank you Saul, I mean it. You won't regret this."

"I don't know about all that," the business owner grunted. "But I'll sleep easier, at least, knowing I'm on the right side." As Josey started for the door, Saul called out, "And if you see your dad, tell him to come find me."

Josey nodded and left the building, once again taking in the fishy smell of the dockside. He took his time in the market, enjoying a few musical shows near the docks before eventually making the long and uneventful trek back home. He bought a crunchy mutfruit along the way, and had it gnawed down to the core by the time he reached the Crossroads District. He was still licking the delicious, hopefully nonirradiated juices off of his fingers when he approached the shop. The sign was flipped to SORRY WE'RE CLOSED, oddly enough. It was still an hour until closing time, and that wasn't the sort of thing his mom or brother would forget. Josey fixed that and walked into the shop, where he came to an immediate stop. His family were not behind the countertop. In their place stood Felix: His father's enforcer.

"Josiah," the deep-voiced man rumbled. "It took you long enough. I've got a surprise from your father."

"Surprise..?" Josey's voice trailed off. He had not seen Felix in over a year. He was always off doing God knows what. He approached the counter slowly, only just now noticing the small metal briefcase that rested on it. "What's... going on?"

"We're about to get busy, that's what's going on." Felix clicked the latch on the briefcase and opened it, turning it so that Josey could get a good look. Inside it rested what looked like three bloody patches of skin with some hair, each one beside a holotag.

His first thought was Holy shit! but Josey made an effort to remain composed, and matter-of-factly stated "You've been killing Brotherhood soldiers."

"Just this one patrol, so far," the enforcer claimed. "They'll be reported missing by now. And they'll be the first of many."

"I'm all for killing these guys, Felix, but y'all wouldn't be doing... this without a reason."

"Correct." He closed the briefcase back up. "Your father has bigger things to worry about than taking out random soldiers one at a time. This is for your part of the plan."

Finally! As fucked up as this was, Josey was glad to know that they were on some kind of track. "What is it?"

"Have you been maintaining our contacts here in the city?"

"That's exactly why I was out just now."

"Good man. I need you to find the most committed of them, and use them to find the most bloodthirsty."

"You mean like the crazies with the bombs?"

"Exactly. Them, and worse. Believe me, there are plenty. I want you to make contact with them and show them what I've just shown you. Tell them that as of today, there is a bounty on the head of every Brotherhood soldier in the city. A buck for every holotape, double if you bring their scalp. The goal ain't to cripple them. It's to make them afraid. Make it so their patrols won't be so bold walking down these streets. They'll be alert, uneasy, and it'll show."

Josey stood there for a long time, his only thought being: He's gone nuts!  "That's... a great way to get ourselves killed. We can't tell that many people where to find us, and even if we did, we couldn't afford to pay them for going through with it."

"We've got that covered. A friend of your father's is willing to fund this. We need you to establish a way for these hunters to collect without it being traced back to the family. And of course, to get the word out there in the first place."

"I'm sure I can do that," Josey said, already thinking about the bombers down in South Union. "But then what? This is hardly a plan of action."

"Baby steps," Felix said. "Your dad, uncle, and I know what it's like to be in the Brotherhood's position here. We know what it would take to ruin it. First thing we've gotta do is make the ones at the bottom afraid every time they go outside. This'll accomplish that with minimal risk to us. I promise, when we have more for you, we'll come. Will that be a problem?"

"No," Josey answered, his eyes flickering back to the briefcase containing human scalps. "Not a problem at all."


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The Paladin Lord

Brotherhood of Steel Reports on Wellstone Settlements

 South Union

About the size of a Wellstone district, South Union functions much like Wellstone does. The one exception is it does not confiscate the guns of those who enter. It has an elected mayor and sheriff who run the town. The mayor is the foremost official, and deals with most of the governmental business. The sheriff is also elected, and then chooses their deputies to help keep the peace. Because the mayor and sheriff are thoroughly vetted by the Brotherhood prior to their election, they will cooperate with us on any matters. One detriment is that the relaxed weapons laws have led to a large gun smuggling industry in the town. However, its close proximity to Wellstone has kept the larger city safe, with most of the rabble who cling to their weapons opting to stay in South Union.

Artistry Rock

The Brotherhood officer dispatched to mediate between the ‘Artistes’ and the ‘Mashas’ resolved the conflict in favor of the citizens of Artistry Rock. In recognition of this, they have since done as the Brotherhood wishes and are close supporters of the Brotherhood. It is not a large settlement, focused mostly on the arts, culture, and literature. Most of the teachers in the areas around Wellstone come from here, as well as some of our scribes. The teachers follow Brotherhood suggested curriculum, ensuring our tenets and ideals are spread throughout the Belt. They also collect pre-war information, some of which has proved useful in the past in locating lost technology that must be safeguarded.

Rockmasha Turf

Calling themselves the ‘Mashas’ to mock their northern neighbors and express their desire to ‘mash’ them, the citizens of this subsistence community mostly keep to themselves. Farming, scavenging, and occasional trading are their main means of living. They are more withdrawn than most other communities and hold some suspicion towards outsiders. While not openly dissident, they protested the officer’s ruling and showed violent tendencies toward the ‘Artistes’ in the past. They do not seem likely to act unless provoked, however, and are content to keep to themselves. They should be watched closely so that they do not retaliate against the ‘Artistes.’

The Queendom of Space World

A matriarchal and feudal society based out of the pre-war amusement park northeast of Wellstone. The tribe arrived sometime after the Brotherhood forces liberated Wellstone. They’ve returned to working order the lights, robots, and animatronics at the park, drawing power themselves and not off the Brotherhood grid. The women rule, while men can hold some power, though most are serfs due to debts they owe the Ladies or others in the Wellstone area. They sometimes trade with Wellstone and the other communities but do not permit many visitors. They have not caused problems in the past and though their society is strange, they are mostly harmless. One area to watch is their robotics skills. It could prove useful in the future, or it could cause problems if they use those skills against the Brotherhood.

Alan turned off the terminal screen and leaned back in his chair. He had of course read the reports before, and many others on the factions in Wellstone and in the Belt. But it never hurt to refresh his memory, as he had spent half the morning doing. The final four factions he read up on were particularly interesting.

South Union’s gun laws presented a problem for Wellstone, although the leadership of South Union was as cooperative as Wellstone’s. Alan hoped the mayor and sheriff there would begin to crackdown on the smugglers now that the Wellstone guard was attempting to do the same. As for the Rockhill communities, their dispute was concerning. Artistry Rock was helpful in locating new technologies, and in furnishing teachers and some scribes, but the animosity towards the Brotherhood in Rockmasha Turf made it a likely home for rebels. And a breeding ground for them. The Queendom was the biggest unknown. They did not interact with the Brotherhood often, and were secretive enough that their motives were unknown. Though Alan suspected the Inquisitors would have more information on them than this report.

With the reports reread it was time for his day to truly start. He stood from his desk and stretched his back. The mid-morning sunlight sent faint rays into his office, painting everything in a dim yellow. Looking outside he could see the flags fluttering from a northern breeze, and he knew it would be a cool and crisp day. He pulled a black jacket over his olive and black jumpsuit and positioned his beret on his head. He checked the ammo on his plasma defender and placed it in his hip holster. It was his favorite weapon, a gift from his parents. He preferred it over a laser pistol because of its additional stopping power, and it functioned more smoothly than a regular plasma pistol.

Leaving his office and the building, he stepped out into the main yard of the Brotherhood’s headquarters. A few squads were drilling and doing some physical training. There was also a group of field scribes working out, in preparation of possible deployment. It always helped to have the scribes up to the fitness level of the knights, if possible. Alan watched them for a few moments, as they finished their pushups and began to run around the perimeter of the yard. They passed by the training course, which consisted of a few unused buildings that the squads used to train for urban firefights and clearing operations. Both would likely come in handy before the rebels were pacified.

Alan fell in behind the jogging scribes and followed them across the yard to the training course, where two officers were standing and watching the squad trains. A pavilion was set up, and cameras from inside the buildings transmitted to screens for the officers to watch. The two officers had their backs to Alan and didn’t see him until he arrived. He said, “Paladin Commander Wiley. Paladin Commander Kelman.”

Both officers turned to him and saluted, which Alan returned and then said, “At ease. How are they doing?”

Paladin Commander Kara Wiley turned her attention to the training course. She was about average height, with an athletic build, dark skin, her hair in a short bob style that reached just below her ears. She was wearing a jumpsuit similar to Alan’s, and was the second in command of the Brotherhood’s forces in Wellstone. “Fine, sir. Their communication is slow at times, but they’ve been careful and haven’t made any mistakes yet.”

“And what is your assessment, Paladin Commander Kelman?” Alan asked.

Kelman was the tallest of the three but seemed smallest from the way his shoulders hunched forward and his arms were crossed tightly across is chest. Alan knew his ego was still suffering at being demoted from commander of Wellstone’s Brotherhood forces to third in command. Kelman scratched at a white scar on his pale face, then ran a hand over his trimmed blonde beard and said, “I agree with Wiley. And I would like to see them check their flanks more frequently.”

Alan watched for a few moments. The practice mission was to clear out a few houses in search of a fugitive, encountering civilians and potential rebels in the process. The guns were loaded with paint rounds the scribes had created based on pre-war designs. It didn’t take long for Alan to see and agree with both commanders’ assessments. “They do still need some work. I’ll leave you two to it, then.”

“Yes sir,” Wiley said, while Kelman gave a nod.

Alan left, crossing the yard and heading toward the river wall on the north side. He reached the pier gate before long. The squads he’d ordered to meet him there was assembled and ready, with two boats fueled and waiting. Alan boarded with his escort, and the boats roared to life. He stood near the front of the boat and tried to hide the smile on his face. He couldn’t believe he was going to get to meet one of the great heroes of the Brotherhood of Steel, General Edmund Stillwell.

The wind and water were cool on his skin, cold even, as the boats turned about and headed south on the Kansas River. The walls of the Brotherhood’s fort towered over them to their left, while the remains of Kansas City stretched on to their right. In the distance, smoke from many Junker Town fires wound slowly toward the sky. They soon rounded the peninsula of the Brotherhood fort and were speeding down past the Gold District, where large riverfront homes crowded the bank. It was the Pennway District that was Alan’s destination, though, where smaller homes lined the riverside.

They pulled alongside the Pennway Pier and docked. Most of the berths were empty, and further up the river Alan could see the fishing boats floating on the lazy river, although the river’s green and brown hue made him skeptical they would pull in many edible fish. He wondered how long it would be before someone complained to the Brotherhood, through the Mayor-turned-liaison, about Junker Town’s pollution. Alan wanted to deal with it, but it wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Especially since most of the fishermen stuck to the upper and lower Missouri River, and avoided the waters around the settlements for that very reason.

Alan and his guard left the pier behind and headed down a new, post-war road that ran down the middle of the neighborhood that lined the waterfront. Just a block from the pier they stopped in front of simple metal house, medium sized compared to the others in the district. It was painted in a cream color, and seemed in good shape. Two hired guards stood on either side of the door. Alan approached it and they stepped aside. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves before he knocked.

A small voice yelled out, “Coming” and a few moments later an old woman opened the door. She had a pixie haircut, very short, and her hair was a steel grey. She quickly glanced at Alan and the soldiers behind him, smiled, and said, “Hello dear. You must be the new Brotherhood man in charge.”

“That I am. I’m Paladin Lord Alan Ogawa, but please, call me Alan. You must be Mrs. Stillwell,” Alan said.

“I am. A pleasure to meet you, Alan,” Donna said, and offered him a kind half-smile.

“A pleasure to meet you too,” Alan said, trying to keep his voice even. “Is General Stillwell here? I was hoping to talk to him.”

Donna nodded and said, “Right this way.”

She headed into the house, but before Alan followed, he motioned for the soldiers to stay behind. He then went into the house, which wasn’t large, as he had surmised from the outside. The front door was between the kitchen and the small dining room, which had a table for four people. The living room was past that, and a closed door was all Alan could see of what he suspected was a bedroom. He saw two other closed doors that, judging from the layout, he guessed were another bedroom and the bathroom.

Donna had walked straight through to the back door, which stood open. Alan exited onto a good-sized yard that ran right up to the river. A fence made of sheets of scrap metal separated it from the neighboring yards. A guard stood down near the water. General Stillwell on his hands and knees among rows of earth that had been tilled somewhat recently. He had a trowel in hand, as his wife moved to his side and said something to him. He stood with help from a cane lying in the dirt next to him and left the trowel behind. Donna helped him along to the two person outdoor table. Alan moved to the General’s side and took over for Donna, while she dusted the dirt from her hands and her husband’s pants. Alan and the General took a seat while Donna disappeared inside to get drinks for them.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt you,” Alan said.

“No no, you’re alright. I was just pulling some weeds. I like to keep my garden tidy even when nothing is planted. Keeps the soil rich,” General Stillwell said. He was old, in his late seventies Alan guessed, with a bald heard and a thick grey beard. His large belly butted up against the table even as he sat back all the way in his chair, and his eyes were a dull blue.

Still, Alan thought he looked the part of war hero, and his face broke into a smile. Alan said, “That’s good to hear. I’m Alan Ogawa, Paladin Lord and commander of the Brotherhood forces here.”

“Yes, I heard your speech yesterday,” General Stillwell said.

 “I must say, sir, it’s an honor to meet you. What you did during the war with the MLA is an inspiration to all of us here.”

The General nodded slightly and said, “I’m glad to hear it.”

Donna returned and set the glasses of water on the table and left. The General gulped down half of his while Alan ignored his and continued. “I was twelve when you won the Battle of Topeka. I remember everyone talking about how you had broken the MLA. And then Rocky Ford…I don’t know that we’ve had a more glorious moment. The resolve you showed in fighting on after the MLA murdered your children is truly remarkable.”

“That’s very kind of you to say, Paladin Lord Ogawa.”

“If I may ask, sir, why did you retire? You could be an Elder if you’d stayed. Was it politics?”

“No, nothing like that. I just…it was time for me to be with my wife. And then I got so used to civilian life I couldn’t see going back.” His face seemed to droop a little. Then he yelled out, “Donna. I thought you were brining us water?”

Alan was confused, as the General still had some water in his glass sitting in front of him. Donna peeked out from the doorway and said, “Honey, it’s right in front of you.”

General Stillwell looked down and frowned. “Oh. Right. Sorry, dear.”

“It’s fine,” she said. Then, clearly to Alan, she added, “He’s a bit forgetful these days, I’m afraid.”

Alan was sad to see old age reach such a revered figure, but it did seem inevitable, given how old he was. Alan asked him, “What was that day at Rocky Ford like?”

“That was so long ago. I was thankful the war was over, mostly,” Stillwell said. “I hope your fight will not be as drawn out as the war was.”

“That is my hope as well,” Alan said. He still had a smile on his face, especially now that he was thinking about what it must have felt like to defeat the MLA. Rocky Ford wasn’t the last battle of the war, but it was the one the Brotherhood remembered most. It angered Alan that some called it a massacre, and he never believed the talk about the executions of the survivors. And even if it was true, he felt the rebels would’ve been more than deserving. The MLA almost destroyed the Belt, and even now some areas were still lawless. And if anyone had reason to kill every MLA soldier he faced, it was General Stillwell. His two children had died fighting the MLA, and he deserved vengeance for that, Alan thought.

Alan took a sip of his water and then asked, “So, have you been enjoying your retirement?”

The General seemed to brighten up, and Alan suspected most of his visitors always asked about the war and not about what he liked to do now. Stillwell said, “Quite well. I thought I might get bored, being retired since I was, well, probably your age. But I’ve kept busy. Worked for a couple decades after I retired.”

“What do you like to do now? Gardening, I assume.”

“Yes, I do enjoy my garden. I read too, which takes me down to Artistry Rock every few weeks. They lend me books that I bring back here and read. And I like to go out with my wife. Clara’s mostly, because she treats us well and has live music. And I enjoy going to the Arenas when I can.”

“Live music? I might have to visit,” Alan said. “What types of books do you read?”

“I’ll read just about anything. Pre-war books are so interesting and I’m not picky.”

“I might have to visit them as well. Hopefully the Mashas didn’t give you any trouble while you were there.”

“No, no trouble. They stay south of the creek,” General Stillwell said. His brow furrowed. “I told you about my garden, didn’t I?”

“Yes sir, you did,” Alan said.

“Yes, right. Thought so.”

They sat there in silence for a few moments, as the General’s wandered precariously close to falling asleep. Alan stood and reached across the table and they shook hands. Alan said, “It was an honor to meet you, sir. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come around here again sometime.”

“An honor to meet you as well. And that would be nice. Thank you for stopping by,” General Stillwell said, snapping out of his daze.

Alan went back into the house, where Donna was in the kitchen. Alan asked, “How long has he been forgetting things?”

Donna sighed placed her hands on her hips. “The past few years. But recently it’s gotten worse.”

Alan placed a hand on her shoulder. “Please, don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything. The Brotherhood owes him a great deal and I would be more than happy to help.”

“That’s very kind of you. Thank you,” Donna said.

Alan smiled at her and left. As he exited the house he found an infantry fighting vehicle waiting for him. He frowned and asked one of the squad commanders, “Why is that here?”

“An Inquisitor, sir. He says it’s urgent,” the commander said.

Alan said, “I want you to set up a revolving guard on the General. I wouldn’t trust hired guards with his life., not with the rebels being more active. Someone might decide now is a good time to make a statement by killing him.”

The commander said, “Yes sir,” and saluted.

Alan walked to the IFV and entered to find Inquisitor Sterling Welles seated. He wore nondescript clothing, a pair of jeans, some old tennis shoes, a woolen plaid coat, and a flat cap, the brim of which was pulled low over his glasses. Alan knew he didn’t need to wear glasses, so the lenses were probably clear and not corrective. The cap matted down his hair, the glasses hid his eyes, and he hadn’t shaved this morning, giving him some stubble on his face. He looked quite different from the last time Alan saw him only yesterday, the coat even making him look a little thicker than he normally was. Being an Inquisitor meant blending in, at times.

One thing Sterling still wore was his subtle smile. Just the edge of his lips curled up slightly. It always seemed mocking to Alan, and it annoyed him more than it should have.

“Hello Alan. Was your visit with the General pleasant?” Sterling asked.

“It was,” Alan said. “What’s so urgent?”

“I found the black market dealer who sold the mininuke. It was a man in South Union, by the name of Larry Schantz. He owns a gun store called Larry’s. Very original, I know.”

Alan started to congratulate him, but stopped himself and asked, “Why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t you be in your power armor getting answers?”

Sterling shrugged. “Maybe. But I thought I’d let you arrest him and take the credit. It would give us a public victory instead of a private one.”

Alan felt like he was being patronized, but he had to admit he did want to be the one to pull this rebel out onto the street and show the citizens of Wellstone the Brotherhood was protecting them. “That’s kind of you. Let’s go get him, then.”

Sterling gave directions to the driver, the rest of the Brotherhood squad loaded up and was informed of the situation, and they set off. They went east into the Crossroads District and then south through the checkpoint into South Union. Larry’s was in the east part of South Union, and they soon arrived there.

Alan exited flanked by his squad and Sterling. Larry’s was a two-story brick building, pre-war, with several doors facing the street. All but the one at the corner of the building were boarded up. A homemade sign, surrounded with light bulbs, identified it as Larry’s. It was closed, though, and none of the lights were on, and a two sided “OPEN” and “CLOSED” sign hung on the door, flipped to “CLOSED.” The Brotherhood soldiers opened the door, which was unlocked, and stormed in. Alan and Sterling waited outside, letting them clear the building first.

Several minutes later the soldiers returned, and the squad commanders came out, neither looking very happy. “Sir,” one of them said, “we found him. He’s dead.”

Alan’s jaw tightened and he ground his teeth. “Is the building clear?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. I will inspect him myself. Set up a perimeter and radio back for to the HQ for a team of scribes to come and comb over this building.”

The commanders went off to follow his orders, while Alan and Sterling entered the gun shop. As soon as the soldiers were out of earshot, Alan wheeled around to Sterling and asked, “What the hell is this? Is this some kind of joke?”

A small smile still on his lips, Sterling seemed bemused by the question. “Oh yes, I just wanted to make a fool out of you. How did you guess?”

Alan could hear the sarcasm but it didn’t make him any less angry. “Yeah, I think you do. First you patronize me by letting me have this, but then even that was a set up? Now I’ll be walking out of here with a body instead of a captured rebel. Maybe what you wanted was public humiliation, not public victory.”

“Oh please, Alan, you can’t seriously believe I planned this.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve made a fool out of me.”

“Oh, this again? When will you move past that? I’ve already told you that’s not what happened.”

“Isn’t it, though? It wasn’t enough for you to become an Inquisitor, but you had to kill my chances in the process. What was it you told them? He didn’t know anything about it. He was totally in the dark everything. You made me sound oblivious and incompetent! How was that not what happened?”

“I was trying to protect you. You didn’t know anything about Commander Lamott being a traitor and you were in the dark. But you were also his second in command, and some people were suggesting maybe he had some help funneling those weapons out. I was just trying to help you.”

“Don’t lie to me. No one would ever seriously believe I would turn traitor. My mother is an Inquisitor for God’s sake. That excuse has never made any sense.”

Sterling crossed his arms and frowned. “Believe what you want.” He motioned to the store. “You can have this. I’ve got some smugglers to find anyway.”

Sterling left, and Alan was alone in the store. He was still angry and frustrated, but after a few moments he calmed down. This always happened when he was around Sterling. Eventually this same argument was dredged up and they would have it out.

He’d never wanted to be a soldier this long. It was always a pathway to becoming an Inquisitor. And that dream seemed dead, until he was given the Wellstone command. This might be his last chance at fulfilling his dream, and still Sterling couldn’t stand to let him have it. Alan hoped those smugglers would preoccupy him for weeks, so he could actually get to work finding the rebels.

He realized this likely wasn’t planned, but Sterling had a way of getting under his skin just be being around. Only Sterling could make him snap like this. At least now he would have the investigation to himself, with no opportunity for Sterling to steal the glory.

Alan pushed Sterling out of his mind and went to work. The inside of the store was simple enough, with the first floor divided into two square rooms. No, three rooms. There were no outside windows on the wall to Alan’s right, so there was likely a long, skinny room behind that wall.

The first room, which Alan was in, was divided in half by a counter that kept customers from going further into the store. A few newly upholstered chairs were arranged against the walls for customers to sit in, and a ceiling fan turned slowly, even though the lights were out. The room was dusty, but from what Alan could tell, that was its natural state and not a product of Larry’s death. He checked the front area for any footprints or objects the killer might’ve left behind, but he didn’t find anything of interest.

That surprised him, as he didn’t notice any security measures besides the locks on the door, and those had been unlocked when they arrived. No robots, no cameras, no traps or cleverly concealed countermeasures. Alan knew Wellstone and South Union were safe, especially for merchants, but the lack of security here was out of place. It drove home what Sterling had suspected. If Larry was a black market arms dealer, he wouldn’t need to worry about criminals. They wouldn’t bother him, and he’d keep selling to them. An arrangement that worked until it didn’t.

Alan moved behind the counter and looked at the guns hanging on pegs on the walls. Larry had numerous rifles and shotguns. They were all oiled and clean, much cleaner than the rest of the store. Even the knobs on the radio that sat on the counter were grimy. It was clear that Larry took very good care of his weapons, but was indifferent towards cleanliness in general. Below the counter were several pistols and a few grenades, but nothing illegal. Nothing here seemed to be disturbed, so Alan went through the door behind the counter and into the storage room.

Metal storage shelves reached from the floor to the ceiling, while a workbench took up the center of the room, flanked on either side with tool racks and boxes. The shelves were filled with guns and boxes of ammunition, but a cursory look revealed nothing illegal there either. Larry was lying in the back corner in a pool of his congealed blood. Alan approached him, careful to avoid disturbing the body or the puddle. Larry was a large man, round to a degree that left him almost without a protruding gut because it only matched the rest of him. An extinguished cigarette lay in the pool of blood, next to the strands of his greasy brown hair, which reached down to the base of his neck. His green eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling, and his mouth was agape, revealing brown and yellow teeth.

Larry was dressed better than Alan expected. The dead man wore new jeans, boots, and a plaid shirt, with the corner of a beanie barely visible beneath him as it stuck out of his back pants pocket. A 10mm pistol was in a shoulder holster was on his left, indicating Larry had been right handed. He wore no jewelry, and a quick pat revealed the only items on were a few loose cigarettes and matches.  

The exit wound on Larry’s chest indicated he’d been shot from behind, and at close range. The bullet was embedded in the brick wall Larry had been facing. A shelf stood in front of where Larry had stood, and the bullet hole in the brick was clearly visible. Alan peered in as closely as he could at the bullet stuck in the brick. He looked back to Larry’s chest wound, and guessed the caliber was small. The bullet wasn’t deep in the brick, even at this close range, and the exit wound wasn’t large either. The shot had simply been directly to Larry’s heart, and the smallest of calibers would have killed him.

Alan would need an analysis by the scribes to confirm, but his guess was the murderer’s gun was a silenced .22 caliber pistol. Easily concealable, quiet enough that it wouldn’t alert anyone, and with enough punch to do the trick.

Taking a step back from the wall and body, Alan looked around the room again. He positioned himself behind Larry, where the killer would have stood, and tried to run through what happened. The doors were unlocked, so either Larry knew the killer and let them in, or the murder had taken place during normal business hours. After killing Larry, the murderer would have turned the lights on the sign off and flipped the other sign around to “CLOSED,” so no one would find the body.

One thing that Alan didn’t understand was the position of the body. Larry had been facing the shelf, possibly getting something for the killer when he’d been shot, but that shelf in particular empty. So the killer may have told him to face the wall before they killed him. But Alan didn’t like that. It seemed too simple. He couldn’t figure it out, though, so he left the storage room and went into the third room on the lower floor. It was long and skinny, as Alan suspected. A staircase took up about a third of it. The rest of the room was for a bathroom and some shelves, none of which had anything helpful for Alan.

He turned and went up the stairs and onto the second floor. It was one big room, bedroom, kitchen, living room, and dining room all in one. It was unkempt, with clothes and discarded trash strewn about. The bed was unmade, the dishes were unwashed, but every appliance or article of clothing Alan saw was of nice make. The clothes were more expensive than what Alan expected a merchant to wear, and the couches and chairs looked nice as well. It indicated that Larry was definitely bringing in more money than his legal business could provide.

Unfortunately, the room uninteresting. The drawers and cabinets revealed nothing unexpected. No journal or holotape which Larry might have recorded his business dealings in. Alan went through the couch cushions and found nothing but a few loose pennies. Underneath the bed he found a duffel bag, but even that wasn’t helpful. It contained a pistol and rifle, some food and water, and some gold. Something Larry could quickly grab if he needed to escape. But nothing in there pointed to the rebels or Larry’s black market dealings.

In fact, after going through every room, Alan had discovered nothing illegal. No explosive, no weapon, not even some recreational chems or illegal modification. Though Sterling got on his nerves, he was nothing if not good at his job. If he thought Larry was a black market dealer, than Larry was. That meant that Larry had to have his weapons somewhere, and chances are they were here.

Walking back down the stairs, Alan realized where the inventory was hidden. He went back to the shelf Larry was facing and realized he was right. The shelf stood right in front of where the staircase was on the other side of the wall. Alan looked closely at each shelf until he found what he was looking for. About waist high was a little area not covered in dust, unlike the rest of the shelf. That was where Larry had gripped the shelf each time he pressed the hidden button on the underside of the shelf. Alan reached under and found it. When he pressed it, a compartment on the wall sprung open and revealed a keypad.

Alan tried to recall any significant numbers or words he’d seen in the house. He tried Larry’s name, but that didn’t work, as he assumed it wouldn’t. He glanced down at Larry, and it hit him. Engraved on the gun’s slide was the name Bulldog. Fitting, giving the stocky and powerful look of the 10mm. That translated to 2855364. Alan punched the numbers in and the shelf and the wall behind it swung open and revealed Larry’s cache.

The door revealed a small room hidden beneath the staircase in the next room. Tall enough for a man to stand and just wide enough to walk in, even if they were large like Larry. Thin tables ran along either side, holding all manner of illegal weapons. There were no mininukes, but there were pulse explosives, plasma explosives, chemical weapons, large explosives, laser rifles and pistols, plasma rifles and pistols, and over a dozen weapons modifications.

On the back wall was the most important object inside: a terminal. Alan went to it and opened it with the same passcode, thought this time he used the word Bulldog instead of its number equivalent. Within the terminal were logs of Larry’s business dealings, both legal and illegal. Dates, times, names, what was sold, Larry logged all of it carefully and meticulously. Alan was impressed by his recordkeeping, but was even more excited when he found a bill of sale for a mininuke, C-4 plastic explosives, a detonator, and a Fat Man launcher, just a few days before the attacks. Next to it was the name Taylor Simon.

Alan had all the pieces now. Taylor Simon had walked in during normal business hours and met with Larry, likely under the guise of needing to buy more illegal weapons. When Larry led Taylor into the back room, before he could access the secret room, Taylor shot him and then made the store appear closed. Taylor must not have known about the detailed logs Larry kept, otherwise he would have let Larry open the door so he could dispose of the terminal. But Taylor did need to tie up the loose end that was Larry, so he killed him to cover his tracks.

Alan left the store just as team of scribes arrived. They saluted and went about collecting everything that might prove useful to the investigation. Alan knew, though, he already had all he would need. With this one name, he would find the rebels and make them pay for attacking the Brotherhood. He climbed aboard the IFV and rode a way, his dream of ridding Wellstone of rebels, and becoming an Inquisitor, alive and well.  


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Lost Lands
Nomadic Reaver encampment


There was commotion throughout the camp, Slaves looked upon in misery within their squalor, Men of faded Reaver banding holding sentry amused by the site before them and the four elders ever tired prepared for judgement to be passed.

Presenting themselves before the encampment two Nomadic Reavers were 'escorting' a horrid sight, A ghoul bearing the crucified body of a man upon his back railway nails pinning arms together outstretched. While the ghoul bearing the man still drew breath his companion no longer remained in this word with his skull carved in.

The two Nomadic Reavers who brought such fate to the unlucky two were Sinbad of the Third Tribe leading the left and Zumurrud of the Third Tribe on the right, Belonging to the generation that named it's children from the ancient book of Arabian Nights preserved throughout the ages first in library later passed to the Nomadic Reavers by conquest of said tribe.

With light on their backs it was morning that day when the nomads being drawn by the prospect of abandoned Brotherhood caches of advanced technology they crossed into the unforgiving territory, Whipping slave and brahmin they made respectable grounds driving deep into the Lost Lands. Throughout their incursion the Nomadic Reavers made sure to keep eyes open and energy weapons at the ready, Using two man scouting parties to keep watchful eyes on the road ahead.

Of the four elders it was the General of Chieftains of which a pale imitation of the old movements General and Chief of Staff used experienced priests of Saint Di Ode in these parties, All went well for a time with only mindless beasts of the wasteland staying their path. However one of the seven parties came across two infidels spying against the Nomadic Reavers as they and their slaves went about establishing their temporary encampment.

Having ambushed the spying duo the man among them had his legs incinerated by two Wattz 2000 laser rifles when the man pulled weapon against the Nomadic Reavers, Even in surrender the ghoul met a hellish fate while the two priests bludgeoned the man to death with clubs.

Within the encampment proper it was decided the ghoul would be enslaved as the Nomadic Reavers had no way into caches of technology masked in radiation without the noble few who ventured out with religious fervor felled by the radiation, A ghouls the four elders claimed would redeem himself through holy gathering of technology. And so the warrior elite celebrated the acquisition of a tool to aid in recovery of the holy technology the three day long fast was ended, The Nomadic Reavers would enjoy feasts while even the slaves would be tossed half eaten strips of jerky and distilled water distributed.


Within one of the dozens of tents that held the warrior elite, The descendants of the first generation that fled from Brotherhood and machine the descendants ended their fast with plentiful meat and water. Sinbad as a priest of Saint Di Ode and Zumurrud as his acolyte feasted together in silence thankful to the Electric Father for bestowing such meals and the ability to heat them through machinery!

The two were well finished with the feast when their tent was disturbed by a fellow Nomadic Reaver.

"Hail eighth priest, I pray your fast ended with joyous feast? In any such case the priests holding sentry have been called to end their fast, Take upon thigh banding and hold vigilant guard so they to may enjoy an end to their fast."

"As we are called, Brother."

The two priests were nearly equipped with proper banding with weapons gathered when encampment without warning, Without demands stated nor threats beheld was beset upon.

Both Sinbad and Zumurrud were as was the rest of the Nomadic Reavers taken by complete surprise, They barely had themselves properly equipped with what was meant for sentry duty rushing out of the tent preparing for battle.

he first wave fell on them in silence. The giants, hulking blue masses shaped like men bound in muscle, materialized from the wastes like beings made of smoke. Whatever miraculous device granted them this ability was not for the Reavers to discover, for the silence that accompanied their arrival was brought to a swift end at the sound of automatic gunfire. It echoed out across the encampment, drowning out the screams of fear and rage. Sinbad saw with his own eyes the tents of the Elders going up in flames.

It took a moment to register the sight before him, From the shimmering mists the air was combusted as a stream of fire surely from the pits of Satansoft's domain embraced the ground hallowed as the four elders' tents. Amidst the chaos ensuing both Sinbad and Zumurrud found rushing to the aid of their leadership the most important prospect and thus adhering to the worsening battle the two with as much caution as could be in keeping out of the lines of fire while themselves returning fire arrived at the tents.

Seven fellow Reavers found in their hearts the calling to the four elders too, Of the nine before their elders' tents was Shahzaman the Blessed. Shahzaman the Third Tribe's greatest warrior-priest of Saint Di Ode had long led his priests with absolute piousness and dignity, Of all the Reavers he alone still bore the old colors while all others had but faded cloth, Of all the Reavers he alone bore greater banding. All the Reavers' warrior elite equipped themselves with energy weapons it was Shahzaman that guarded their most sacred weapon, The YK42B for it's holy power greater then that of mighty plasma held even the most pious priest unworthy to wield, Prior to Shahzaman's accent to lead the priesthood the weapon was an alter to the Electric Father.

Zumurrud along with seven of his fellow priests and acolytes made perimeter around the tent as Shahzaman and Sinbad burst through in haste to drag if need be their elders from the flames.

The two were greeted with the sight of their leaders seated in the tent's center, A look of absolute defiance was etched on each one's face. Sinbad and Shahzaman were bound by sacred doctrine to obey their four elders in all orders no matter how wicked or kind their words were absolute law, With but a motion of the hand both men were stayed were they stood denied from aiding their elders even as smoke and flame consumed the tent. Pleaded as they may the four refused to allow their rescue, Their forefathers never raised themselves from their seats when the encampment was attacked, If they were to meet their end the four would be stoic and ever too prideful for fleeing and so by doctrine of their own forefathers obeyed their leaders' wishes.

Leaving them to their own fate the two rallied the seven outside, Shahzaman set about to rally what remained of the Reavers to the southernmost section of the encampment which still lit up the sky with brilliant flashes of green and red. Here remained what was left of the warrior elite outside of the priests being led by Shahzaman in the mere two minutes since the initial attack.

Even as mighty as they may have been, standing together as they were, every warrior knew in his heart that this was not a battle, but a slaughter. Many times had they been on the other side of this, and it only ever went one way. Even as the Reavers tried to regroup, only one in every three managed to follow Shahzaman without getting cut down. The blue-skinned giants grew in number with every second, and their weaponry far exceeded the tribe's own. They were felled by the scores.

The rattling of a thousand rattlesnakes greeted Sinbad's ears when a Reaver not seven meters behind ever so valiantly attempting to regroup being torn apart, Sinbad would never see the man's final moments in agony crawling across the blood spattered clay dragging his entrails. Every second was another Reaver sent writhing into the afterlife, Of the seven that departed their beloved elder's tent all that remained of that party was Sinbad, Zumurrud, A priest of who's identity escaped Sinbad and the greatest of the priests.

What remained of the other Reavers were holding out in a semicircle of sandbags, Bearing heavy plasma weaponry of which was clear on they're salvation. Without those plasma weapons that holdout would be a sweltering pile of disorganized remains, Sinbad could barely count eighteen if he counted the wounded men with shrapnel embedded in their person. With a sudden smack up top the helmet to gain his attention Shahzaman hastily motioned for Sinbad and his acolyte to take up the southern sandbags to protect they're rear, It was with endless importance that what remained have a clear line of which to retreat and prevent a devastating flanking maneuver.

It was partially fortunate on Sinbad's behalf on his position in that he was far enough away from the sandbags facing towards they're innumerable foes, However it wasn't without danger as both his and Zumurrud were vulnerable should whatever foe breach the northern sandbags and without cover from such angles it would spell certain death. It was a desperate situation for the Reavers, There wasn't any way to funnel their attackers into kill zones and being pinned from all sides meant sticking ones head up without an ally's covering fire meant losing your head. All the worse that grenades and other lower yield explosives were detonating around the desperate Reavers.

In unison Sinbad and Zumurrud exchanged signals and rose above the sandbags for but a moment with weapons at the ready, In the chaos Sinbad had just out of the corner of his vision spotted movement outside the encampment and without second thought he unleashed four precise discharges of energy with Zumurrud discharging one. To his surprise when his discharges lighted up the area a glimpse was caught not of a shimmering giant but a raggedy man, Two of the four discharged lasers tore into his flesh rapidly melting his flesh with a rare and gory sight of laser bolts causing a horrific meltdown within a man. Sinbad didn't feel any guilt towards the slave, He'd have died anyways from the collar around his neck. Sinbad and Zumurrud irked slightly at the wasted ammunition took cover and prayed they would not be gifted grenades.

Everyone always hopes to their dearest gods that they will not be the unlucky few to have a grenade thrown at their feet, It took only a moment. An explosion burst about on Sinbad's rear no doubt killing or wounding his companions, Unfortunately he would not emerge unscathed as searing pain erupted within Sinbad. Pieces of shrapnel had pierced his relatively unprotected limbs, With his thighs and Buttocks taking the worst of it. Amidst the chaos of screams and weapon fire Zumurrud had no idea Sinbad was wounded having collapsed to the ground, Fighting through the stinging pain Sinbad was in the throws of rising when his acolyte having no idea of the priest's situation rose to put down some discharges on another flank.

Without Sinbad to provide covering fire Zumurrud had doomed himself, In the span of but a single second a high caliber round punched straight through his protected chest with such velocity it spun him to the ground with the impact knocking his helmet clean off much to Sinbad's horror. Zumurrud was sent writhing grasping at the hole in his chest, The wound Sinbad know was a fatal one having utterly ruptured his left lung. Shahzaman still alive saw his rear guard incapacitated knowing in his heart their enemies surely knew it too, His preparation for what he believed would happen is what saved the Reavers if not for a moment.

The shimmering outline of a giant leaped the sandbags that Sinbad was to protect, Shahzaman prepared as he was also bore fear for the first time in his life. Hastily pulling the trigger before the shimmering giant nearly invisible to his eyes instantly erupted brightening the night sky more then any other energy weapon and for a fleeting moment saw the giant's skin evaporate into flakes of ash as the skeletal structure followed suite, Dumping burning hot ash atop Sinbad and his dying acolyte.

The pain inflicted by the red hot flakes was brief but intense, and in his moments of agony, Sinbad gasped in the dirt while a second giant stepped over him. Unlike its disintegrated brother, this beast wore thick metal armor, which Shahzaman's continued laser fire burned into, but failed to destroy as effectively as the bare-skinned creature that had come before. Laying there as he did, Sinbad could not act quickly enough to stop the giant from closing the distance to the tribe's greatest warrior-priest and, with a single swipe of one massive arm, knocking the holy weapon from his hand. 

Shahzaman leapt back and went for his club, but the blue monster was too quick for him. It closed in once more and wrapped a single hand around his neck, lifting his feet off the ground. In its free hand, the giant gripped a long and sharp-looking blade, which it jammed under Shahzaman's left arm and ripped free like the cord on a generator. The beast then laughed and tossed his body aside. Next, Sinbad saw it lumber over to retrieve the priest's holy pulse rifle.

Suddenly, something tugged his arm, sending a jolt of pain through his body. Sinbad turned to see Zumurrud staring at him, his face flush with agony. The acolyte opened his mouth to say something, but instead he coughed up some blood and dragged himself to Sinbad's side. A quick look around revealed that nobody in the camp seemed to be fairing any better. The monsters were all about them now, numbering in the dozens.

Sinbad was shaking in his boots, His dearest friend, His acolyte was gripping tightly against the blood smeared hands even as the greatest of them all lay slain. It was too much and amidst Sinbad's racing mind eyes pacing back and forth behind his helmet to Zumurrud and the massacre in it's final stage, The only thing he could think to do was snatching his Wattz 2000 with his left and grip Zumurrud as if Satansoft were upon them. It was sinful beyond all redemption, His road was dead yet it was to be walked.

As Sinbad fled with his acolyte it took all of his sanity to bear the cries and yet still continue onward, Of all the horrors now behind him the ever decreasing screams at their back was drowned out for Sinbad by Zumurrud soft whimpering and the loosening hand. The burden became great when Sinbad was nearly holding the full brunt of his acolyte's weight, Only the ragged suffering of half breaths from Zumurrud kept Sinbad in motion. The acolyte trying and failing each time to grip with his bloody hands onto Sinbad.

With a great fear unbefitting even of a now disgraced priest it was the utter ceasing of all weapon discharges that marked utter defeat deep into Sinbad's mind, The Reavers truly now were lost to the whims of spirits and demons. Focusing solely on the path ahead the priest was almost oblivious to Zumurrud's ever increasing slack, When feeling as if his heart would explode from the exertion Sinbad finally felt the acolyte's limp form slip from his person crumpling lifelessly on the sunscorched clay.

Finding not the will to continue onward Sinbad collapsed before the dead acolyte, Finding not even tears of sorrow in this hour. He just stared in disbelief, Zumurrud was family to Sinbad. Long had they served with a faith that commended respect, To see the faithful in such a weak moment was truly a test on his faith. It was all Sinbad could reason with himself, Crawling to the body Sinbad took a position as if before an electric alter. With great reverence in albeit shell shocked hands Sinbad removed the holy scriptures first, Taking in his hands the sidearm gifted to Zumurrud by men greater then he and buried it in the ground, Next would be the supplies to sustain the faithful in a time of need, This would nourish the living and live on the mortal memory.

And so throughout the night Sinbad spoke of prayers before the acolyte's corpse, If the demons and spirits were meant to take the last of the faithful then for Sinbad it was not in his place to defy twice the gods. Praying for the lost souls and to his dearest of friends in between rituals of flagellation, Only with the rising of first light did Sinbad cease his mournful actions and rise with the sun.

His last acts for dearest Zumurrud was gifting unto him the well earned position of priest, In death he deserved nothing less then the denotation of full priesthood. Second only to his cremation at the whim of Sinbad's holy laser carbine. Sinbad was truly lost, Flagellation, Prayer none of this filed him with a holy righteousness. Neither would he allow Satonsoft the joy of breaking the lingering spirit of the Reavers, The body be broken but with Sinbad's refusal to willow a broken man would preserve it in the annals of the soul.

The ruins of an ancient road was not far from Zumurrud's resting ground, Calling forth the images of maps burned into his mind from years of study in the priesthood a single word emerged from his parting lips even as his legs propelled forward.



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The Sheriff


It was the coldest day yet when Lawrence and the rest of the caravan set off toward Harvil. A northern wind numbed their faces, and the morning coffee offered only temporary reprieve. Even when the sun rose, clouds blocked its rays from reaching them. Still, the weather was not unbearable, only a nuisance, after a few hours of walking they had warmed up, and the sun had finally come out. Only the wind remained to occasionally nip at their ears and noses.

Throughout the morning, though, Lawrence hardly noticed the wind and clouds. His mind was preoccupied with Maxine, James, and Linda, and why it was the group would be heading to St. Louis. When he’d finished his guard shift last night, instead of Abbey and Linda taking over, it had been James and Linda. Lawrence knew James had already had a shift that night, and when he brought it up, James dismissed it and said he couldn’t sleep anyway. After that they’d waited a couple hours before they woke up Maxine, and unknowingly woke up Lawrence as well.

It confirmed his suspicions that whatever Maxine was up to, James and Linda were in on. That itself was peculiar. Maxine and James were close friends and had worked together for years; it only made sense they be working together. But Linda hadn’t even been a part of Yellow Rose Caravans before the expedition, as Lawrence and Reyna had. She’d been a career soldier with the Lone Star Republic, stationed in Wichita with Roger. That was all Lawrence had gathered from her during their months training before leaving Texas and the months they’d travelled since. Why Maxine would trust Linda with this secret he didn’t know. But if Linda was in on it, that meant Roger was as well, before he died.

Lawrence guessed that Linda was hiding something, though he would have guessed that even before she joined Maxine and James in secret. She was private, carefully so. But she had definitely been a soldier, of that he was sure. The few things she said about her time in the army, and the way she carried herself, made that evident. But he didn’t know what her secret was or why Maxine trusted her. And that did seem secondary to what he’d heard last night.

Though they’d moved away from the camp, they didn’t expect anyone to be awake, so they didn’t go very far, and Lawrence overheard their conversation. He went through it again, replaying it in his mind as they walked the empty road toward Harvil.

He’d heard Maxine say, “When we get to Wellstone, I want the both of you to ask around. It’s a long shot but someone there might know something. If not, we’ll stick with the plan and head to St. Louis. We’ll see what we find and go from there.”

Linda then asked, “What about them?”

Maxine said, her voice rising slightly, “What about them? Where are they going to go, once we reach St. Louis? They can’t very well turn back at that point. We’ll need them to get through the Lost Lands again, and we have enough gold to double their pay, if we need to convince them.”

James asked, “Why don’t we just leave them in Wellstone and hire others? We can probably save some gold that way.”

Maxine said, “Where else are we going to find someone as smart as Kim, and with a Pip-boy? Or an explorer like Abbey? Or a shot like Lawrence? We need at least those three, and Ezekiel’s a good doctor even if he’s a pain in the ass. And Reyna’s sneaky enough and good with explosives, to she’ll be useful too. They’re already invested, and we don’t have the time to look for others.”

After that someone had snored a little too loudly for their comfort, and they went on talking in hushed whispers that Lawrence could hear but not quite make out. The tone of the conversation came through, though, and he knew Maxine was anxious in a way he’d never heard from her. Her previous prodding had always been laced with determination, but now Lawrence suspected that was hiding her true anxiety about moving forward, and quickly.

Though the information about searching for something around St. Louis was not new, their conversation did fill in some gaps. He now realized that this expedition was a ruse, and that the real plan had always been to go to St. Louis to find whatever it was Maxine, and likely Yellow Rose Caravans’ owner, were looking for. It seemed urgent, too. But whatever it was, it had to be kept secret, otherwise the expedition members wouldn’t have agreed to go.

All the thinking Lawrence had done last night and again while walking toward Harvil didn’t reveal anything new, but he couldn’t put it out of his head. They’d joined on to explore, or to escape, and now they were involved in some secret search. Lawrence wondered if he should confront Maxine, Linda, and James about it, tell the others, or keep it to himself. They couldn’t deny it, not after all he’d heard, and the others would believe him. But there wasn’t any reason to say anything now. Not while they were still depending on each other, and at the very least, not before he confirmed these Brotherhood lands were as safe as Richard and the Middle Waters traders said. He’d bring it up before they set out for St. Louis, though, that way everyone would know what they were getting into. By then, he might have figured out what was really going on and what Linda was hiding, and he could get the whole truth from them.

Lawrence was finally drawn out of his thoughts when Guillermo grabbed his shoulder and said, “Lawrence. Lawrence.”

Lawrence said, “Sorry. What were you saying?”

Guillermo adjusted his large straw cowboy hat and raised an eyebrow in concern but didn’t say anything about. “Richard here was curious about what it was like living in a vault?”

Lawrence started to ask if Richard had asked Kim, but he turned around and saw Kim was gesturing to her Pip-boy and discussing something excitedly with Ezekiel, who was smiling out from under his faded red baseball cap. Lawrence looked at Richard and said, "Sheltered and comfortable. Our vault was understaffed and too big for the number of people inside, so even from a young age we were put to work maintaining it. Still, we weren't in any danger, not really. My family left when I was about thirteen, and the wasteland was a rude awakening to say the least."

"Why didn't you simply populate the vault?" asked Richard.

"Taking in others wasn't an option. The vault was too isolated. My ancestors didn't reach it until a day or so after the bombs fell. Others arrived even later," Lawrence said. "Having more kids is obvious, and was then, but Vault-Tec prevented that. My parent's generation discovered the food, water, even the medicine was laced with a sterilizing chemical. Somehow the vault's computers identified who'd had children and made sure they didn't have any more. Not long after they found that out, nearly everyone left the vault. It was part of some twisted experiment, is what my parents told me."

"Why not shut down the computers instead of leaving?"

"The computer system had full control over the water filtration and pumping system, the soil fertilization, and reactor control. If we had shut the computers down, it would have left us without, well, just about everything. If someone had been better with computers, they might could have found a way around that control, but we were never able to."

"Ah, well. I guess that's a lesson to not rely too much on what you don't understand," said Richard with a shrug.

Lawrence nodded. He then heard some furious footsteps coming up behind him, and Kim walked up between Guillermo and Lawrence. Her voice rising in pitch with each word, leaving no room for breathing, she asked, "Where was this vault? Were the systems controlled by a single super-terminal or spread out among a series of them? Did it also have control over the robots, or were they programmed separately? What was the Overseers command terminal like?"

Lawrence looked at her with a half-cocked smile that dissipated some of her breathless excitement to the point where she was not so animated. He said, "The Chisos Mountains, in the old Big Bend National Park. I don't know about the computer systems, or the robots, or the Overseer's terminal. I was only thirteen at the time."

She was clearly bewildered by that and asked, "What does that mean? When I was thirteen I was well aware of how our terminals operated and the programming languages our robots ran on, and had overridden the Overseer's master control in the command center. He was sloppy and stupid, though."

"Most people aren’t like you were at that age," Ezekiel said from behind them.

"Oh," Kim said. Then, to Lawrence, "Well, think about it and I'll ask you later. It's very important I know. I have a thesis that with the proper equipment and details one could develop a program that could override the function of a vault, assuming of course they all operate using the same general systems and languages. A safe assumption, I think, considering they were all built by Vault-Tec. The trouble would be tapping into the frequency, likely heavily encrypted and protected, and then finding out..."

Her voice had slowly descended into a whisper as she subconsciously realized she was only talking to herself, and eventually it became a mumble and then just a very focused wrinkle forming between her eyebrows as she thought over whatever it was she was going on about.

Lawrence, Guillermo, and Richard chuckled, and then Abbey turned around from the front of the group. She asked Richard, "You said you were from the northwest. Have seen anything interesting, there or in your traveling?"

"Yes and no I suppose. Seen some strange animals and mutants," said Richard.

"Like what?" she asked.

"I've seen a few deathclaws. Even got up close to one once. Though that was by accident and not something I'd do again. Then there's the riverlurks that lives here in the Belt. Only really seen a couple at a distance. Though I have seen odd movements in the waters at times. So as a rule I never venture near any water I can't see the bottom of without my sword and dagger."

"Riverlurks? F*ck that," Reyna said, piping in from the back near Kim and Ezekiel. Her aviators glinted in the morning sun. "I left the coast for a reason. No one in their right mind should go near water deeper than a creek. You've got the right idea, Rich.”

"Do you have anything like deathclaws and riverlurks down south?" asked Richard.

Reyna said, "I don't know what these riverlurks look like, but there are some nasty things in the waters along the coast. Gar big enough to eat a person, beach crabs that'll tear your limbs off if you aren't careful." She shuddered and looked disturbed. "Growing up near the water sentences you to a lifetime of nightmares about the creatures there."

"And in the east, in the swamps, there are gators," Abbey said. "I saw one that took hold of a deathclaw, and, honest to God, drug it straight into the water. I don't want to think about how big it must've been."

"I saw a deathclaw once," Linda said. "It came wandering towards Wichita from the west. Roger was ordered to snipe it, from far enough away we could escape if it got pissed off. I was looking through my binoculars and saw the bullet hit, here." She motioned to the middle of her leather chestplate with her cigarette, causing it to spill ash on the road. "The thing never even flinched. Just turned and walked away like a brahmhorn getting bit on the ass by a fly."

Lawrence was glad he didn't have any stories like that. The deserts of West Texas didn't have beasts big enough to kill deathclaws, or even many of those. He'd never seen one, and had only ever heard scattered reports about them. The creatures out there would still kill you, sure as shit, but he'd take the roadraptors and horned lizards over gators and deathclaws.

"I've also heard from locals you should also stay clear of the caves in the area," said Richard. "Apparently there's creatures in there that no one can describe. Only ones that seem to venture into the caves is a tribe called the Zarks. They live somewhere southeast of here. And they're not that friendly from what I've heard."

"Well, I know where we won't be going," Reyna said.

Abbey turned around and had an exaggerated, pouting frown on her face. "Ah, come one Reyna. Exploring caves sounds like fun. I'm not sure I've ever been in a real cave."

"It's...something," James said from the very back of the caravan. Most everyone was surprised he chimed in, and they all looked at him as best they could while they walked. He spit out a dark glob of tobacco juice. "Near our southern border were some caves. My friends and I would sneak down there when we were kids, almost always getting lost for a few hours. I'm not sure I'll ever see anything like it again. Really does take your breath away."

"Don't try getting lost in the caves around here though. Or you'll be out of breath from running away from the monsters," said Richard jokingly.

Everyone laughed at that, save Maxine, who continued to lead the caravan in silence and solitude. After a few moments silence, Ezekiel said, "You mentioned rebels in Wellstone last night. What's that about?"

"I don't really know," said Richard with a shrug. "Only heard rumors on the road. Don't know why they're rebelling or what they want. All I know is there's some unhappy people in the city that has started attacking Brotherhood soldiers."

Lawrence watched Maxine to see what her reaction to that would be. He expected she would be disappointed, but he was too far away to make anything out. Abbey was closer, however, and Lawrence saw her shift her gaze to look hostilely, or maybe disapprovingly, at Maxine's back. Lawrence guessed Maxine probably scoffed at Richard's unhelpfulness, and Abbey didn't look kindly upon that. For his part, neither did Lawrence, since Richard had at least informed them of the rebels' existence, if not their cause. That was more information than they would have had without him.

"Are the rebels just in Wellstone, or in the Brotherhood lands in general?" Lawrence asked.

"From what I've heard they seem to only be causing trouble in the city," said Richard.

"A city," Guillermo said with an exaggerated sigh of relief. "And here I thought we'd be wandering the wastes forever. What's your business there, Richard?"

"A better life I suppose," he simply said, with a hint of weariness in his voice.

"Been wandering a while?" Lawrence asked.

"Been on the road for quite a few years by now," said Richard. He didn't make any suggestion he was going to elaborate on that.

"That's a hard life. Some time in the city will do you good. It'll do all of us good," Lawrence said.

The small talk continued as the caravan continued north along Interstate 49. Richard asked Kim what life inside her vault was like, to which she gave a long and winding answer that covered most of the technological and scientific aspects of vault life. They also talked about fusion cells, with Kim enlightening everyone save Linda with an explanation about how and why they functioned as they did. Lawrence wondered what prompted Richard to ask about it, but he realized he didn’t know much about how they worked either, and it was one of the more Kim’s more practical rambling explanations. He thought Richard’s question might be general curiosity, but he also remembered Richard asking about fusion cells in a trade when they’d first met him, and decided he must use them somehow.

Richard asked about their travels, and Abbey and Guillermo explained everything they had learned about the Nation of the Middle Waters. Since they had done most of the trading with the merchants who sold the group their supplies, they had learned the most about what the Nation was like.  They hadn’t stayed there long, though, or even entered the Nation itself, since travelers from the south weren’t permitted to enter. Apparently they had a history of raiders disguising themselves and passing by the border in order to steal before escaping back across. Instead they’d had to stay in Muskogee, a trading outpost south of the river that kept any potential raiders from sneaking in, while still allowing trade.

After a few hours, they neared Harvil, judging by the outlying farms and ranches that came into view, giving them their first real look at civilization in the Brotherhood’s lands. Around that time Richard asked Ezekiel for some advice about how to heal common wounds one might get while wandering the wastes, and Ezekiel laid out the best treatments and what to avoid. Lawrence chimed in as well, as he had some experience with both field techniques for treating wounds, though his knowledge wasn’t as extensive as the Doctor’s.

They soon came upon the outskirts of Harvil itself, which lay off the interstate to the eas. Atop the scrap walls of the town guards in mixed leather, hide, and metal armor stood and watched warily. Were it not for the blue Brotherhood of Steel grey and blue flag flying from the ramparts, Lawrence would have thought the place a raider fort. The cool reception they received as they neared the southern gate felt much the same.

"Hold!" yelled one of the guards at the gate leading into the town. He was a big man with some leather armor on his arms and legs, along with what looked like a thick piece of metal strapped to his chest. He had short, brown hair and weary look. "Who are you and what is your business?" he said in a way that suggested he often had to ask people that question.

Maxine answered, her voice softened from her usual commanding tone, "We're traders. Yellow Rose Caravans. We came in from the Nation of the Middle Waters."

The man gave them all an inspecting eye. "Staying or passing through?"

"Passing through. We won't be here for more than a couple hours, at most," she said, casting a quick glance behind her to make sure there was no protest from the others.

"Alright. Keep all your weapons holstered and don't cause any troubles. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir."

The guard ordered the gates open, revealing the town of Harvil, and the caravanners entered. The town was medium sized and roughly square shaped, centered around the old pre-war downtown area. The western gates gave them a good view of the town. The clock tower of the old courthouse lay at its center, where they could see a watchman looking out to the south. The outer edges of the town were mostly pre and post-war houses. A few empty lots had been turned into gardens or grazing area for chickens and brahmin. To the north, the town’s walls cut through a section of an old pre-war park, but now a whole herd of brahmin grazed there. Looking to the northeast, they could barely make out an aqueduct that brought water into town, though what the water source was they couldn’t tell. 

"Where to, Dick?" Reyna asked, a playful smile on her face. She'd settled on a nickname, then, and Lawrence hoped Richard knew it was an endearing gesture and not a mocking one. Though he guess Richard did, since he'd shown a good sense of humor so far. 

"Dick?" Richard looked a bit humored but mostly confused at the nickname.

"Yeah, you know, the nickname for people named Richard. Don't ask me where it's from, but I've heard it enough to know it's a thing," Reyna said.

"It comes from before the war, I think," Lawrence said.

"Huh," said Richard, looking slightly thoughtful. "I've never heard that before. I've mostly only heard that word used in regards to what's between my legs. So for I second there I thought you were insinuating something."

Everyone laughed, and Lawrence even saw Maxine crack a smile. Reyna grinned and said, "Nope, no insinuation. I prefer women, unfortunately for you."

Before they could get any further off track, Maxine, her smile now gone, said, "Alright enough of that. Let's get this deer sold so we can get on our way." Looking at Richard, she asked, "Do you know where a meat market or butcher's shop is? Or someplace to sell it?"

"All the best paying, and most expensive, shops are in the center of town. Don't remember seeing any butcher shop, but I do think the inn Happy-something will pay well for the meat," said Richard.

"Lead the way, then," Maxine said.

Richard did, taking the group down the relatively clean streets of Harvil, heading for the clock tower. They passed a few brahmin pulled carts, which had to make way for their larger animal and its loaded down cart. A few guards patrolled the streets, always keeping a close eye on the group as they passed, but they didn't run into any trouble. The citizens of Harvil went about their business on this cool fall day, in a town that Lawrence thought almost serene. It was peaceful and pleasant, even if the presence of the armed and armored guards meant they probably dealt with occasional raider attacks. It seemed a nice place to live, overall.

Richard led them past the clock tower to the east, where a three story brick building had a post-war lit up sign that said Happy's Inn. It looked nice enough, though Maxine seemed less sure. They stopped across the street from it, and Maxine asked Richard, "You know for a fact this place will give us more than wherever it is these citizens get their meat?"

"Nope. Haven't been all over town to know for sure. But I know the owner the will pay well enough. We can spread out and check for other places though, if you want," Richard replied.

Lawrence knew it was an easy choice for Maxine. Though getting the most money for their deer was important, she was in too much of a hurry to bother with searching all over town for somewhere else to sell it. "This'll do," she said. "Lawrence, you and Abbey help him with the deer. The rest of us will go resupply." She turned to the clock tower, which showed about fifteen after ten. "Meet us at the gate we came in through by eleven. Don't be late."

Lawrence and Abbey took hold of the deer and carried it around the back of the inn, while Richard went inside to find the owner. The back door soon opened and they were let inside by a quite large and round, middle-aged woman. She wore an odd set of clothing in white and brown. She had long, dull, brown hair braided into pigtails. Her expression was rather cheery as she looked at them and here eyes flared up as she saw the meat of the deer. "Lovely, lovely," she exclaimed. "Bring it in here. Put it on the large empty table."

Lawrence and Abbey shuffled into the room, the deer dangling between them as they carried it by its legs. They lifted it and set it down on the metal table in the center of the kitchen with a soft thud. After wiping their hands on their pants, they introduced themselves to the owner.

"I'm Abbey."

"And I'm Lawrence."

"I'm Wendy," said the large woman. "So how about I give you four bucks for all the trouble?"

"We were hoping for more along the lines of six bucks," said Richard.

"That's a bit much," said Wendy and made a pouty face. "How about four fifty?"

"I killed it yesterday. It's not going to get much fresher than this."

"Four seventy?"

Abbey gave a soft smile and said, "I'm not sure we could do less than five. It is as fresh as it comes, and unmutated too."

"Ah, fine. Wait a moment while I get the money." Wendy walked out of the room with surprising speed of a woman of her size. It didn't take long before she came back with five gold coins that she almost shoved into Richard's hand. "Well thank you for the meat," she said with a jolly smile. "And if you're looking for a place to stay we got the best beds in town. And our steak plank is also the best in town."

"We won't be staying the night," Lawrence said with a friendly smile. "Thank you though. Have a nice day."

She waved as they left out the back door. A few steps away from inn, Lawrence said, "We'll need to make change for that fifth gold coin, so we can divide it equally.”

"You got any high grade silver coins?" asked Richard.

"I don't. Let's find a merchant. They'll have some," Lawrence said.

They walked across the main town square, opposite the inn, where a few shops advertised their services. There was a repair shop, a tailor, a weapons store, and a miscellaneous shop. Lawrence picked the closest one, the repair shop, called Percy's Tinkerings, and walked in. A small, balding man with a soft body and squinty eyes stood behind a counter, wiping it down in repetitive, pointless circles. The shop was clean and clutter free, with the repaired trinkets sitting on shelves against the walls. The shop had clocks, hot plates, radios, terminals, lamps, just about any sort of pre-war instrument that might still be useful.

The soft man looked up from his clean countertop as the trio entered. His hand stopped wiping as he made out their weapons, but he put on as friendly a smile as he could muster and tried to hide his nervousness. "Wh-what can I do for you folks today?"

"You, uh," Lawrence gestured back to the door, then the name came to him, "Percy? We're looking for someone to make change for a this gold buck we have."

"Sure, sure, I can do that," Percy said. He fished beneath the counter for a moment, a practiced gesture, never taking his eyes off his customers. When his hand came back up he had an even number of silver coins, which he sat on the counter in front of him. Richard slid over the gold coin, then he and Lawrence took their halves of the silver, and Richard gave two of the gold bucks to Abbey, so their haul was now split evenly. Percy's eyes lingered on the relatively large amount of money being exchanged, and he asked, "There anything else I can do for y'all today? I've got any sort of mechanical device you could ever need, and if you need repairs, I can do that too."

"Got any functioning wrist watch?" asked Richard.

"Wrist watch? Yes, yes I do. One moment please." He waddled from around the counter and went to a glass case up against one wall. Pulling out a set of keys, he unlocked it and motioned with his hand towards the contents. There were several watches inside, from what Lawrence supposed were fancy versions in pre-war life, to more hardy looking version more suited to life in the wastes. Percy said, "Take your pick."

Richard picked up a simple and small watch with leather banding. He inspected it for a second before turning to Abbey and Lawrence, "If you don't want to wait around I can meet you up by the western gate."

Lawrence said, "Fine by me."

Abbey added, "Don't be late. Maxine'll leave you, I'm sure of that."

They left the store, Percy's voice excitedly explaining the differences in the watches as the door closed behind them. Lawrence looked to the clock tower and saw it was ten thirty-five. They started to the western gate, passing by Harvil citizens who looked curiously at the duster and serape clad travelers, though they didn't seem as alarmed by their weapons as Percy was.

They met up with the rest of the group, who were stopped on the side of the street and talking to some armored figures. For a brief instant, Lawrence thought they were city guards, but he quickly realized the better condition of their armor, and the painted on insignia, meant they were Brotherhood soldiers. They were talking to Maxine as Lawrence and Abbey joined the group. Lawrence noticed one was holding a plasma pistol, and after a few seconds realized it was Kim's

"-should warn you, guns aren't allowed there. You'll have to give 'em to the city guards or Brotherhood soldiers when you enter," one of the soldiers said. Lawrence guessed he was talking about Wellstone.

"Alright. Thanks for the warning," Maxine said.

Another soldier said, "Or y'all could stay in South Union. They allow guns. And it's right next to Wellstone."

"I'll remember that. Thank you," Maxine said.

"No problem," the first soldier, who Lawrence surmised was their leader, said. "We're sorry about her plasma pistol, but my superior would have my ass if they found out I let you keep it. Just hide that laser rifle and you should be able to keep it. I know how you caravans need the protection. My pa ran with one, back in the day."

"It's no trouble at all, sir," Maxine said. "Have a good day."

"Good day to y'all too," the soldier said, and they walked away. In all there were six of them, heavily armed and looking exactly like the military of a powerful army.

"So, no energy weapons then?" Lawrence asked.

Maxine said, "Uh huh. Too dangerous, is what they said. They let us keep Linda's, though. We'll just have to hide hers from now on. Since we're in their lands, though, we should be safe without them."

Kim asked, "Did y'all lose Richard?"

Lawrence looked at Ezekiel to see if he had any reaction to that, and just as he suspected, Ezekiel looked a little jealous. Lawrence hid a smile at that, though he suspected Kim's question was more innocuous than Ezekiel thought. Richard did ask her more questions than anyone else on the walk this morning, and Kim seemed more drawn to that than anything. She and Ezekiel had gotten along well the whole trip, and Lawrence doubted a blacksmith, who seemed smart but not quite in the way Kim and Ezekiel were, would come between them. At least, as friends, anyway.

"Nope," Abbey said. "We had to make some change for the gold we got for the deer. He was looking at spending his coin and told us he'd meet up with us. Here's our share."

She gave over the gold coins and Lawrence gave over the silver ones. He said, "It came out to two and a half bucks. Y'all get resupplied?"

Maxine nodded and said, "Let's get going. We're running behind now."

The Texans arrived at the western gate just as the clock tower behind them began to chime on the hour, indicating it was eleven. Richard was there waiting for them. Lawrence looked to see if he'd bought a watch but his sleeve covered his wrist, so he couldn't tell.

"And here I thought I was the one to be late," said Richard with a slight humorous tone and smile.

"We ran into a Brotherhood patrol," Maxine said. "They took Kim's plasma pistol and told us energy weapons are illegal here. Thanks for warning us."

"I walk around with bow and arrow. How was I supposed to know they don't like people walking around with energy weapons?"

"You sure were interested in fusion cells for someone who only uses a bow and arrow," James said.

"Come on," Ezekiel said, exasperated. "There's no need to do this, Maxine. Just because you're mad you've been wrong about him doesn't mean you need to blame him for this."

"Let's just go. We've still got a long walk ahead of us," Linda said. "It's not like Kim needs her pistol anyways. And I kept my guns, so we'll be fine."

Maxine cast one last venomous look at the group, not even Richard in particular, and then took her place at the head of the caravan, leading them back to the highway.

Once everyone was in their usual order, Lawrence turned to Richard and said, "Sorry about that."

"I'm kinda used to getting yelled at," he said with a shrug.

Lawrence nodded. He knew by now that Maxine was being such a hardass because of whatever was in St. Louis, and that she wanted to get there as quickly as possible. He just hoped it was worth it. "So, did you find a watch you liked?"

"I did. Decent price too. Thought I wouldn't find a new one till I reached the city."

"Which one did you get?"

"This one." Richard pulled up his sleeve just enough to show the watch. It looked almost like the one he had inspected when they had left him, only slightly larger and sturdier. Lawrence also noticed part of a faded cut scar sticking out from under the sleeve.

"It looks nice," Lawrence said. "That looks...less so. What happened? If you don't mind sharing, that is."

"What looks what?" Richard looked a bit confused as if he didn't realize what Lawrence was talking about.

"Sorry. I meant the scar on your arm. How'd you get it?"

"Oh. Made a slight misjudgment in where the blade was going to land. Nothing really special. Got a few such scars here and there."

"I have a couple myself." Lawrence turned his head and motioned to his cheek, where his scruffy beard mostly covered a thin, pale scar. "I got this one in a fight. Broken bottle. The other on my leg came from a roadraptor. Big bird, sunk it's talon into my leg." He reached into his shirt and pulled out a large, sickle shaped talon about eight inches long. He looked at it and smiled. "This came from one my wife killed. She liked to kid me about how she didn't let the one that attacked her draw blood."

"I would say most of mine came from fighting tribals. Their weapons are often rather crude; which means they don't cut as deep, nor do they leave any clean wounds that heal fast." Richard made a slightly pained expression. Though he didn't make any show of his scars, not even pulling up the sleeve to show the one on the arm.

Lawrence tucked the talon away and felt it pressed against his chest, and again smiled. The talon had the ability, strange as it seemed, to conjure up his warmest memories of Lorena, even though the thought of a roadraptor should have brought pain to mind.

He turned to Richard and said, "You seem a little young to have spent your life fighting tribals. It common, where you're from?"

"Nah. Where I'm from is a rather peaceful place. Well... I..." Richard's voice trailed off. "Next topic," he then simply said.

Lawrence was quiet for a few moments as the group walked on the interstate north to Wellstone. He heard birds and people at work on small farms, and even some laughter from a homestead not far away. The world here was peaceful, like the home Richard described. Though Lawrence knew he himself wasn't at peace, and he suspected Richard wasn't either.

He looked at Richard, his voice low so no one else could hear. "I'm not an explorer. And I don't especially care about the pay at the end of this. I came because my home...it got destroyed, along with everyone I loved. I guess I came on this trip hoping that when I went back I could have a clean slate. I would guess several of us on this trip are like that, people hoping this trip will change them, or their home will be changed by the time they get back. People looking for a new beginning. You one of them?"

"I guess so," Richard replied in an equally low voice. "I can't exactly go back to where I came from. Only path I see ahead of me is forward."

"I hope you find it. If Wellstone is all everyone says it is, I doubt you'll find a better place for a new beginning," Lawrence said.

The caravan marched north even after the sunset, reaching the ruins of Belton and camping on the north side of the town in the dark. Since they had seen no threats and had encountered another Brotherhood patrol during the afternoon, Maxine decided it was safe enough to travel at night, and to only post one guard during each shift. The added rest was welcome, though short, as they again set off early the next day for Wellstone.

As the countryside faded behind them, rubble and ruins stretched on ahead. There were still small farms and ranches lining the road, and windmills stood taller than the remains of the pre-war buildings, but the number of buildings spoke of how close they were to Wellstone. Grey concrete and red brick and white stone began to creep further in amongst the green plants that had overtaken the ruined suburbs and towns, and the number of people they saw living along the road and in towns in the distance increased as well.

The group took on an anxious mood, not quite nervous but not excited either. Lawrence thought everyone was finally ready to stop and rest for longer than a night, and to sleep in a bed instead of on the ground. Kim and Ezekiel both talked excitedly with Richard about how to tell if a drink has been drugged, or that you’ve been poisoned. Ezekiel had ample experience with identifying when drinks were tainted or laced with something, and gave some helpful hints about common smells or tastes, and what steps to take after discovering you’ve were poisoned. Abbey told of a story when some slavers in the east tried to drug her so they could capture and sell her, and how she thwarted them by eating mashed up pulp from a certain plant.

They finally saw Wellstone as the sun was setting and they were east of South Union, still on the highway. They’d been passing travelers and other caravans most of the day, but at the crossroads of the highway and the old 27th street that led into the heart of South Union, they found themselves alone for a few moments. They stopped and looked as the lights of Wellstone to the north came to life, lighting up the dusky, darkening sky with colorful neon and bright white and soft yellow, the tallest skyscraper looking like a lighthouse of the wastes.

Guillermo took the opportunity to grab his guitar from the wagon Pancho and Lefty pulled, and he took up to singing City Lights. He sang in his smooth baritone as they turned to the purple sky in the west, heading for the bright lights of South Union, not Wellstone.

“Maybe you can find some work for that voice of yours in the big city,” Reyna said, as the group neared South Union.

“And leave y’all? You’d all die from boredom within a day,” Guillermo said, still strumming a tune on his guitar as they walked into the night.

Maxine turned around and said, “Put that away, and hide Linda’s weapons while you’re at it. I don’t want to risk losing them to these guards or Brotherhood soldiers.”

Lawrence grabbed Linda’s weapons from underneath the tarp on the wagon and went about hiding them more carefully. The pistol he fit in their crate of beans, while the rifle was too large to fit in any crate or barrel in a way that wouldn’t arouse suspicion. He took a screwdriver to the stock and disconnected it, and put that inside the chestplate of a suit of horned lizard leather armor. The rest of the rifle he put at the bottom of the trunk that held their pots and pans. Unless the guards searched very thoroughly, they wouldn’t find any trace of the weapons.

The leather and metal clad guards didn’t search thoroughly, and after giving a few glances inside some of the trunks and crates, they waved the caravan through. Maxine asked them about somewhere to stay where they could keep their brahmhorn, and the guards told her about an inn on Holmes Street across from a gun store called Larry’s.

As the caravan moved toward this new destination, Lawrence turned to Richard and said, “Will you be staying with us, or finding your own place?”

"Unless they're out of beds I figure I'd stick with you people for the time being," said Richard.

"I'm glad to hear it," Lawrence said. "Any idea what your next move'll be?"

"Find a job. Hopefully a good one at that." Richard gave a half hearted chuckle.

"You going to try and find smithing work?"

"Hopefully. Don't know if I'll find any," said Richard.

"If you can make anything like that sword I bet you'll fine some work. Can't imagine there are too many here who can do that."

"Though I doubt people around here are looking for nice swords."

"They might be useful in Wellstone, since you can't have a gun there. Or maybe you make other things, like armor or...well, I guess I don't really know. But I'm sure someone here needs some smithing done."

"Either that or I'll have to find any other work."

"You could always be a mercenary. Or a bounty hunter," Lawrence suggested.

"I'd prefer not. I'm tired of bloodshed," said Richard with a weary voice and look.

They had walked away west along 27th street and turned north onto Holmes until now they reached the corner of 25th and Holmes. They inn was surrounded by a stone wall covered in ivy, with a series of two-story buildings rising from amongst the trees that stood with the area the wall encircled. The buildings were metal, but painted and styled to look like wood, and between them all was a penned in pasture where a few brahmin grazed. A sign out in front said the place was The Scholar’s Rest. Maxine indicated that the rest of them wait outside, while she and Guillermo went in to see about rooms. Richard joined them. A few moments later they came back out, and Lawrence noticed Richard and Guillermo had the slightest hint of sadness, or maybe disappointment, about them.

"Just my luck. One bed too few here. I'll guess I'll get going," said Richard.

Ezekiel said, "Thank you for all the help."

"If you decide you want to have some fun, you know where to find us," Reyna said and gave Richard a pat on the back.

"It was very interesting talking to you," Kim said.

Abbey, Guillermo, Linda, James, and even Maxine expressed their thanks, though some louder than others.

Lawrence said, "If you ever need anything while were here, we'll be happy to help. Good luck finding a job. Hope things work out for you."

Richard retrieved his belongings he had stored on their wagon. "Bye," he then said, giving them a wave as he began to walk towards the city.

As Richard left, the Texans entered the hotel. Maxine said, "We'll take tomorrow off. After that we'll meet up and discuss our next move. Don't do anything stupid. If you're going into Wellstone, leave your guns here. I don't want to bother with trying to get them back from the Brotherhood."

With that they began to unpack, bathed in the sounds and lights of the city. Though Lawrence was only concerned with having an actual bath, and sleeping in a bed for the first time in months.


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The Wayward Scribe

Lost Valor Bunker

“This ain't rock'n'roll, this is genocide.” The jukebox played it's static tune, a course mockery of the original song in it's place, as it coughed out the music. Its iron lungs we're rusted, and filled with dust, eroding the once pure sound.  A feeling that John could relate too.  John placed the unlit cigarette into his mouth, as he clenched his mouth in pain, causing both his robotic hand, and organic one to squeeze into a tight fist. The nerves we’re still connected, and the sensation known as Phantom Pain still lingered in the severed arm he once possessed. The sensation he felt in his invisible hand would never go away, the ex-scribe would have it for the remainder of the short time he lingered on the earth. The pain that was his alone. The fanatics, which they we’re no matter religious or not, in the Brotherhood would state it was was karma for willingly replacing his flesh for steel. 

Material or no material, an arm was an arm. It served the same purpose. Just much better. 
“As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent. You asked for the latest party. With your silicone hump and your ten inch stump. Dressed like a priest you was. Todd Browning's freak you was.”
Gulping nervously, the soldier swallowed long and hard. Even with his extreme skill in science, and the fact he’s done this countless times before, the ex-scribe got nervous every time. He had designed the robotic prosthetic to last, but even it needed maintenance from time to time. He had a couple spares, but they were awfully expensive to make, and took ages to make, time he didn’t posses.  The scientist placed the metal visor over his face, as he grabbed the metal blow torch with his flesh hand, and carefully aimed it we’re he wanted it, right in the middle of the crimson metal arm, which he had placed on the steel workbench. All right John, let’s do this...He squeezed the trigger with his fingers, causing a small jet of blue flame to appear. Without a second thought, John went to work repairing the damaged prosthetic, carefully sealing the damaged section. It took him little over five minutes. Being an expert in bionics, he could cut that time half, but you couldn’t be too careful with something as delicate at this.   
“Crawling down the alley on your hands and knee. I'm sure you're not protected, for it's plain to see. The diamond dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees. Hunt you to the ground they will, mannequins with kill appeal.”
After finishing, the scientist placed the blowtorch gently onto his workbench, alongside the rest of his collection. He lifted his crimson arm, and began to inspect it.  He was half tempted to light the cigarette nestled in his mouth, as a test drive, but quickly banished that idea from his thoughts. Only a fucking moron would smoke in a place that was filled with sensitive machinery. 
“Hope you ain’t going to light that, lad.” 

A thick, staticy irish accent filled the room, coming from the several speakers located in the circular room. The room itself was filled to the brim with machinery, tools, and discarded robotic parts. Scattered around were various books, all about engineering, and construction. Behind his large, reclining chair, a large, reinforced door, made from solid steel, sat. The concrete walls we’re plastered with schematics, and various blueprints, all of intricate, and complicated design. As much as he wanted to say he had pride as a scientist, he really didn’t. Plagiarism was so last century, and nobody gave a fuck.  Most of the advanced tech he put together, wasn’t of his own design, barring his highly sophisticated prosthetics. He had...borrowed them, from the Brotherhood, right before he his  “extended leave of absence”.  fuck citation.  A small clipboard, at the side, had, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” printed on it, in thick black marker.

John put it their as a reminder to his "company" not to bite the hand that feeds him. 

It wasn’t like they we’re doing him any favors. His “hobby” was horrendously expensive, though thankfully, a lot of people we’re too stupid to figure out how truly valuable they scrap they were selling was. If he needed something more rare, and specific, he could always hire some muscle to retrieve it for him. A good deal more expensive, sure, but what could you do? Having the technology on paper was one thing. It was another, to have the resources that allowed you to produce that same technology physically, especially now that he lacked the resources provided to him by the Brotherhood when he was a scribe. The damn paladins had only left John with money problems. 
Along with that annoying voice.
Smirking, John began to fidget with his repaired arm, making various gestures, and movements with it to test his reflexes. He gently took the small cigarette from his mouth, and placed it on the table, “Thought hadn’t crossed my mind, O'malley. I can assure you old friend." 

"Laddie, I'll trust a damn Englishman first before I trust ye.” 
“Yeah yeah.” John responded to the disembodied voice, as he waved his robotic hand. His voice lost it's playfulness, as he muttered, “Protocol 83. Diagnosis.” 
The voice answered, much more formal, and inline with an automaton “Project Inferno is still under file decompression. Another three months before complete optimization.”

"****..." John eye's closed. He knew his "pet" project was coming along slowly. Even after all the time and money he invested into procuring the material needed to make...the frame, and all the stupid coding for the movements, the thing still wouldn't be usable for a couple months. Oh well, he could wait. 

A small grin formed on John's face, as he muttered, "Resume normal function, code 001." 

The Irish accent resumed it's rant, “Yah fucking know you can just ask me how’s your stupid science project is going. I hate it when you fekking do that stupid sub-program in my system.” The staticy voice flared up in rage.

“What fun would that be?” John grinned, as he began to couch widely, "You're wise to distrust the redcoats, i'm half-British." He said, chuckling, struggling to bring down his cough. If his body couldn't fight off a simple cough without the use of medicine, things would become really bad.

The voice grunted in annoyance, "Laddie, there's a fekking reason I don't trust you. It, is, however, better working for you, then those tin knights!" 

At that, a dark frown formed on John's tired face. The ex-scribe scratched his beard, "The ones here aren't tin knights though. Barely any of them have access to power armor. Leather and metal, or so my research had shown. Bah, the average Brotherhood soldier is no better then a NCR foot trooper. That being said." John paused, as he got out of his chair, and opened the metal door that lead out of his workshop, "I doubt any of the resistance groups have it any better. The ones I know, anyway, would struggle to gather a full century of fighting men. Not anymore anyway." He said with a tinge of sadness, "Won't be long till the Brotherhood smokes them out, and once open warfare begins, it's over. While the Midwest Chapter lack the truly elite army other branches of the Brotherhood of Steel posses, they surely make up for it in sheer numbers. They could drown out any resistance with waves of soldiers. Not to mention they have a sizable mechanized division for support, which includes light APC's, Heavy Tanks, and death robots." John finished dryly, as he tested his hand out, making various gestures.

"Do they have a fleet?" The irish robot asked, 

"Nay. No attack choppers. To expensive to mantain. If they have any vertibirds, their probally reserved for special tasks, but no sizable fleet in an way. 

"At least we won't be seeing any crosses with the Brotherhood..." John's eyes flashed with fear. 

The Irish voice, caught it, asking, "You alright lad?" 

"It's nothing." Whatever John was thinking about, he pushed them to the back of his mind. "In any case, there's no one who can properly dispose of the Brotherhood right now. What the people got here, under Brotherhood control, is decent. It ain't perfect, but nothing in life is."

A chuckle rose from the speakers inside the room, as John made his way out of his small workshop, "You know an awful lot about the tin knights, despite being Mister Neutral."  John groaned. O'Mailey was an artificial intelligence he had...borrowed from the Brotherhood when he had his extended leave of absence. He had heavily modified him with help from research belonging to his former mentor to give him more of a personality, as John had always been flawed in the subject of AI's. The Brotherhood frowned upon sentient machines, but John thought it would be good company. 

He was wrong. 

"I don't take sides. Scientists should never take sides." The scribe said, angrily, as he shoved the door open, stepping inside into a large, circular room. Like the workshop, the walls we're made with fortified cement, and steel reinforcement.  It was very bar, baring a small desk to the side, with a chair, and a large set of speakers which hung from the top of the ceiling, right beside a circular lump of steel, that covered something. The most notable feature of the room was the various, steel doors that stood in the circular room. Labelled by paper signs.  He continued,  speaking in a dark tone, "Hiroshima. Nagasaki. The Gatling Gun. Countless examples. If scientists hadn't gotten invoked in mankind's wars, the Great War would have never happened." 

"You spend half your day creating new weapons-" 

"Exactly." He cut the AI off. sharply glaring at the ceiling, "Look how I turned out. The real heroes are the doctors, and medical scientist. People who do research on saving lives. Not dealers of death like myself." John bitterly thought.

The one John has just left was simply labelled as "Workshop". A second had, "Supplies", a third door, this time controlled by a small terminal adjacent to it had "Armory" written on it, another "Medical",  even more "Radio" and last but not least, "Lab". A total of six metal doors, besides the exit, which led by to his bar.  

Basically the result of thousands of dollars. John had, with the considerable funds he had amassed over the long years, built an underground bunker for his personal use.  Sure it was pretty crappy, but it served rather well as an underground sanctuary. 

Not only was he a loonie conspiracy theorist (Abby always told people never to get him started about the ghoul communists across the sea) many of John's...experiments borderline on...questionable ethics, which he'd really rather not explain to the community. He also had an arsenal of munitions down here that wouldn't be out of place in a fortified National Guard bunker, so storing that shit inside his bar was a real no go. This way was convenient for everyone. 

Sighing, John made his way to the room labelled "Radio", opening the door, revealing a small room, filled to the brim with machinery, wiring, and a large computer. A desk, and a chair sat comfortable right in front of the large gathering of radio equipment. Another considerable investment John had made, though it was less then his arsenal of weapons, because he mostly gathered the stuff himself. It was then a matter of having the know how to set up the equipment. His little "station" had an impressive range, and could listen in, on all non encrypted transmissions happening in a massive radius around Digggersville. It doubled as a communication center, if he ever needed to chat with someone over a long distance, he could use this room, to talk too, and transmit data.   A snarky laugh filled the room, "Trying to tap into the Brotherhoods communique now." 

"Brotherhood transmissions are all on encrypted back channels so no little birds outside of the Brotherhood can access the damn data. A Pip-Boy or radio would only pick up static if they managed to access those channels. " John quickly said, grabbing the large head set that sat beside the radio itself, putting them over his head, as he began to switch channels for something interesting to listen in too.  "They're not on the impressive level of the NCR, but they do have radio communications. Mostly short-range transmitters/transmitters. They use ham radios and have some very low-range communications technology in some of their helmets. In other words, even if I wanted too, it’s practically impossible unless I have a way to encrypt the data."  

The thick Irish accent laughed once more, "You're a walking encyclopedia on Brotherhood information, lad, has anyone told you that?"   

"I’m just stating my observations of them.” He admitted, humbly, as he listened to the white noise’s static. 

"You know..." O Mailey's voice continued, "Why don't you go to you're little lab, and do something productive? Instead of peeping in on random people..."

"Doing valuable work on Sunday's is considered a venial sin in some religions." 

"Thought you we're atheist, lad? 

The ex-scribes eyes opened, "Agnostic."  He paused, before muttering, with a grin "Pascals Wager." In the background, the staticy junk box sang, "I'll keep a friend serene (Will they come?) Oh baby, come unto me (Will they come?) Well, she's come, been and gone Come out of the garden, baby You'll catch your death in the fog Young girl, they call them the Diamond Dogs . Young girl, they call them the Diamond Dogs!" 

John began to sing along with the song. Maybe this week would be more interesting then the week before. He had a package due to day...


Speaking of, John's eyes, underneath his silvery spectacles, glanced at his electric watch. 5:00 PM. Swearing, the ex-scribe, got out of his chair, taking off the headset. He turned around, "O'Malley hold the fort down here, I have business to take care of."

"What am I to do until then?" The AI's voice asked, annoyed, 

"Run a probability simulation of the Brotherhood wiping out the various resistance groups around here. Use the information stored in your database." 

"Aye sir." The irish AI muttered bored out of its mind. 


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Boone Patton
The Soupy Mutant

Clink. Clink. Clink. 

Patton slouched in the chair in his room inside the Soupy Mutant. As he sat, he counted and dropped his remaining gold from Lone Star back into his coin pouch. Five fuckin gold. That won’t last me too much longer. Rising out of his chair, he put the coin pouch back into his satchel and slung it over his shoulder. He grabbed his tan cowboy hat and put in on top of his head as he walked out of his room. As he rounded the corner of the hall into the bar he scanned the room. Seeing no one else, but the bartender, he strode up to the counter and sat on one of the stools. Taking a deep breath and scratching his cheek he asked, “So why’s this place called the Soupy Mutant?”

“You ever seen what one of them Brotherhood plasma weapons does to a mutant when it hits just right?” The old man said as he turned to face him. Being satisfied with the look Patton was giving him, he continued. “Well, when hit just right, the body will melt in the blink of an eye and pool up on the ground like a thick soup. That and legend has it that this little bar is built on top of one of the spots where the Brotherhood executed MLA prisoners.”

“Hmm. Interesting story.” Patton said nodding his head slowly. “You wouldn’t happen to know if the Brotherhood or someone else in this city offers mercenary work like bounties or anything, would you?”

“Your best bet would be to go down to one of the checkpoints and see.”

“‘Preciate it.” He said getting up off his stool. He walked over towards the door, stretched out his arms, and flung his head to either side popping his neck. Just before he walked out the door he turned his head back towards the bartender and said, “Hold on to that room for me, would ya?” The man simply nodded his head and went back to work. Satisfied with the man's answer Patton walked out of the Soupy Mutant and onto the street outside, bound for the South Checkpoint.


The walk to the checkpoint was uneventful. As he neared the checkpoint, Patton noticed that it was no longer guarded by a lone old man in leather armor, but four younger men in everything from leather armor to more protective combat armor, all bearing the same symbol. A large circle that housed 3 gears with wings wrapping around from the bottom and a sword cutting up through the middle. He had seen it painted on a couple road signs on his journey North, but had no idea what the symbol was or represented. When he got close one of the men noticed and walked towards him meeting him halfway. “What’s your business here, civilian?” He asked with a stern look.
“I was told to go to the checkpoints to ask about bounty jobs.” Patton said with a look that was a mix of concern and impatience. “If this ain’t the place, could ya point me in the right direction?”

The man eyed him up and down, turning he pointed to a board near the checkpoint gate and said, “Right there. Just grab whatever posters you like.” With that he turned toward the checkpoint gatehouse and walked away. Patton swished the saliva around in his lip with his tongue and walked towards the board and studied the wanted posters carefully, looking over the rewards, last sighted locations, and how the government of Wellstone wanted them delivered. When he made up his mind he grabbed three posters off the wall, folded them, and put them in his bag. He then turned to the North and started walking towards the Market District.


It was midday in the Market District when Patton arrived. The streets were crowded with people shopping for both luxury goods and essentials alike. There were people dressed nicely with snobbish looks on their faces as they went on about their business and people in little more than rags, haggling with merchants to get their goods for as little money as possible and evrything in between. After a minute, or so, of looking around Patton spotted what he was looking for, “Wellstone General Goods”.

The shop was relatively small, about the same size as the Soupy Mutant. When Patton walked in the door he was greeted by a small woman who looked to be about in her mid-30’s. “Welcome, welcome! What are you looking for young man?”

Patton looked her in eyes and asked, “Do you have any large burlap sacks?”

“I think we might have some. Give me just a second to look!” Before he could blink she had disappeared into the back of her shop. He could here her digging through whatever junk she had in the store and just as quick as she left, she reappeared in front of him holding the sack he was looking for. “Will this work?” 

Nodding his head he said, “Yes, ma’am. I..uh… also need a couple feet of rope.”

“Sure thing, just come up to the counter and I’ll get you all set!” She turned and lead him up to the store’s counter where she sat the sack and pulled a bundle of rope off the wall behind her and sat it on top of the sack. She looked back up at him and said, “That’ll be five pennies.”

Patton reached into his bag and pulled out his coin pouch. He pulled five pennies out of the bag and set them on the counter. After, he grabbed the bag and the rope and rolled them up and set them in his now almost full satchel bag. “Thanks.” He said, walking out of the store, turning to the South.


This time he got all the way to the gatehouse before the guards came out to greet him. The same man as before came up to him and said, “What do you want this time, civilian?”

Before Patton answered the man, he reached into one of his bandolier pockets and pulled out the holotag he’d gotten when he first arrived. “I’m here for my guns.” The guard took his holotag and put it into the terminal in the guardhouse. After a moment he whispered into the ear of one of the others and they walked into the building just west of the guardhouse. More time passed and they walked out again, holding his repeater and revolver. They walked back to guardhouse and sat his guns down on the table.

“Here you go, sir. Don’t forget to check them back in before you re-enter the city.” The guard said, handing Patton the holotag back. Patton approached the table and picked up his colt revolver. He loaded five rounds into the cylinder and slid it into its holster on his hip. Next he picked up his Winchester repeater and loaded nine rounds into it and slung it over his shoulder. It felt good to have his guns back. He took a deep breath and stepped through the gate at the South Checkpoint.


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Boone Patton
South of Wellstone

The old corvega he was sitting on was about as comfortable as it was when he first sat upon it days earlier, that is, not fuckin very. Time to get some work done. Patton rubbed his forehead and pulled one of the posters he had grabbed off the board out of his bag. He carefully unfolded the poster and read the contents out loud. “Wanted by the Brotherhood of Steel for smuggling, murder, and theft, Red Danny. Reward: 200 pennies. Dead or Alive. Last sighted around South Union. He is believed to have a hideout outside the city. Target is to be considered armed and dangerous.” 

Patton put the poster back in his bag and stood. South Union wasn’t far, about a 10 minute walk from the corvega on I-35. He walked south on the interstate before turning east of 25th Street into South Union. The guards here didn’t bother talking to him as he passed the gates and simply waved him on as if they had more important things to do. After he got passed the gate he turned North on Broadway and followed the road until he got to Pershing Road which he followed east until he reconnected to 25th street. The whole time he was scanning everyone he passed looking for anyone resembling the man on the poster.

As he passed the corner of 25th and Cherry Street he noticed a large man in leather armor with a dark bruise on his shiny bald head watching him intently from an alley. Patton pretended not to notice the man and continued on his way. Once he was out of the man's sight he crossed the street and turned around, heading back towards the alley. He rounded the corner of the building into the alley and walked straight up the man. Before he could say anything the man swung a right hook directly at his chin.  Patton barely managed to dodge the full force of the swing, only getting scraped by it. He backed up and brought hands up to guard his face. 

The man took another wide swing, leaving his side and face open to strikes. Patton took this opportunity to deliver two jabs to the man's kidneys, but was to slow on the pull back to dodge the elbow coming for his chest. Patton stumbled back coughing for air. The man decided to press his attack and tackled Patton, spilling his belongings all over the alley. They rolled around on the ground, both trying to end up on top. Eventually, Patton managed to hook the man’s right leg with his left and stretch it out to the side at an 85 degree angle. That stopped the rolling and allowed Patton to deliver a nasty headbutt to the man’s nose, breaking it and starting a river of blood. The man cried out in pain and Patton did it again, crushing the already broken bones even more. The man quit struggling after that and just sat there gasping for breath.

Patton pulled out his Colt Single Action Army and cocked the hammer. Pointing his revolver at the man, he stood up, wiping the blood off of his forehand with his bandana. Patton reached for his bag and pulled out the wanted poster. Opening it he looked at the man and said, “Do you know who this is and where can I find him?”

“Fuck off.” The man said, spitting blood out of his mouth.

“Wrong answer.” Patton leaned in and delivered a powerful hit on the man’s head-bruise with the handle of his revolver. “Now, do you know this man?”

“Fuck you.” the man muttered quietly. Patton took a deep breath and holstered his Colt. He pulled his foot up and slammed it back down on the man’s shin bone breaking it. The man winced in pain, but was to exhausted to scream out. Patton got down on one knee and leaned in close to the man’s face. 

“Since that wasn’t working we’re gonna play a little game. I’m gonna ask you a question and you’re gonna answer. But-but-but, my friend, if I don’t like what you have say... well... you’re gonna start losing parts.” Once the words left his mouth he pulled his combat knife from its sheath and cut a piece of leather from the man’s armor and stuffed it in his mouth. “This is for the two questions earlier.” In one swift movement, Patton cut the pinky off the man’s left hand.

The man squirmed and tears pooled in his eyes. When he calmed down, Patton removed the gag and held up the poster asking, “Do. You. Know. This. Man?” The man nodded his head. Patton sighed with relief. Next he asked, “How do you know him?” 

“He’s my boss.” The bald man replied with a shaky voice.

“And where can I find him?” Patton asked with a stern look.

“I don’t know, we always met at The Scholar’s Rest when he needed a job done. It’s just over there on Holmes Street.” The man said nervously, pointing his right index finger to the east.

“Good. Now that that’s over with we have a little issue to discuss. See, I won’t kill you because I don’t want anyone to see and get the wrong idea, but I can’t have you warnin’ good ‘ole Danny now can I? So, sorry. I guess.” Patton hit the man with the pommel of his knife, knocking him out. He then pulled the man’s tongue out of his mouth and cut it at the base making sure the man will never say another word. Next he took the pommel of his knife and broke the man’s other nine fingers. After he was done, he dragged the man behind a dumpster and propped him up against the wall. He would wake up in a couple hours crippled and mute. If there was one thing Patton had learned about this line of work, it would be that you can’t be too careful and he wasn’t about to take any chances.

After gathering up his belongings, Patton walked back to the edge of the alley and looked around to see if anyone had seen, or cared about what went down in the alleyway. The street was calm, with only a few people walking about and none were anywhere close enough to notice him. Satisfied, Patton stepped back onto 25th street and started walking east towards Holmes Street and The Scholar’s Rest.

Patton had expected The Scholar’s Rest to be just another Shitty little bar like the Mutant, but what he found was a series of painted metal buildings, surrounded by a stone wall with a penned in pasture in the center. He decided that he wouldn’t actually go into the hotel, but instead watch for anyone matching the description of Red Danny entering or leaving the building. Patton set up on a bench across the street next to Larry’s Gun Store, though the place looked deserted.

There he sat for hours, watching… waiting… He was about doze off when a caravan came past and turned towards the Rest. Huh, strange. I didn’t know there was brahmhorn this far north. After the caravan went into the hotel he saw what he was looking for. Two men, one older and dressed in normal day-to-day clothes and a younger man wearing leather armor. They entered the hotel and Patton decided he would wait for them to leave. About 30 minutes later they left the hotel. The older man was wearing a scowl on his face and Patton could just barely make out the words “that lazy good for nothing” and “come on Danny” as the two walked off south on Holmes Street.

Patton waited a minute for some good distance to build between them before he got up and trailed the pair. They walked down Holmes street until they reached 26th Street where they turned left and walked to Charlotte St. where they then headed north before reconnecting with 26th St. Patton was careful not to get noticed by the duo as they walked. When they got to their destination, the corner of 26th and Campbell, they did a quick look around and entered a warehouse on the east side of the street. 

Ten minutes after Patton crossed the street and circled around to the back of the building. Not long after, the younger man in leather armor came out the back door to the warehouse and began watching for anything suspicious. Patton pulled his red bandana over his face and stood. He crept slowly up against wall until he was close enough to the man to make his move. As quiet as he could he pulled his combat knife out of its sheath and tossed a rock down the alley. When the rock landed the guard turned to face where noise came from exposing his back to Patton. 

Patton quickly moved up behind him and covered his mouth with his hand as he thrust the knife into the guard's back. When the guard went limp in his arms, Patton laid him down softly on the ground. He then opened the back door carefully and slipped into the building. He found an empty office room where he could hide for the time being. Not long after, he could hear voices in the main room and listened carefully. “Did we really have send the kid out there?”

“Don’t question my orders. I did it for a reason!”

“Danny, the kid wasn’t a rat! We didn’t need to give him to the merc! We could’ve used him in this fight!”

“Shut up. Rick. Just shut up. There’s three of us and one of him. We can do it.”

Fuck… They know I’m here

“You think he’s got the kid yet?” 

“Undoubtedly, now shut up and get in position!”

Well, here goes fuckin nothing. Patton pulled out his colt and loaded the sixth round into the cylinder. He took off his satchel and laid his repeater down next to it before he stepped out of the room and into the main warehouse floor where, who he assumed was, Red Danny was standing. The were two others in the room as well, both wearing leather armor and wielding shotguns. Patton walked slowly forward and was greeted by Red Danny. “Welcome, hunter. Congratulations, you found me. That stupid bounty has caused me lots of trouble lately.” Danny took a deep breath. “Well… Let's get this over with. You’re outgunned and outnumbered so you might as well toss that nice pistol my way.” He said. He whistled and his guards raised their shotguns.

Oh fuck I hope this works. Patton slowly uncocked the hammer of his Colt and spun it around catching the barrel in his hand. He then looked Red Danny straight in the eyes and tossed his revolver to his feet. The first thing to make contact with the ground with was the handle, when it made contact with the floor, it made the revolver spin backwards at such force that when the hammer struck the ground it pushed the firing pin into the primer of the bullet in the cylinder and sent a round screaming up into the soft tissue of Red Danny’s chin. The bullet ripped through his tongue, went through his nasal cavity, into his brain, and finally burst out the top of his head. Red Danny crumpled to floor. Dead. His two guards were to shocked at first to end Patton right there.

Not a second later, patton rolled to the left, barely dodging a wave of buckshot as he pulled his knife from its sheath. He charged one of the guards and stuck his knife in his belly. The guard screamed and fell to the floor. The other guard had moved by now and was coming to hit him with the stock of his shotgun when Patton grabbed the fallen guards shotgun and put a load of buckshot into the approaching guards chest.

Patton was breathing heavily as he approached the dead guards body. Why didn’t this fucker just shoot me? He picked up the other shotgun and inspected it. A wave of relief passed over his body as he saw it. Jammed. That was too damn close. He dropped the shotgun and walked over to his colt and picked it up. He carefully looked over it to make sure it wasn’t damaged and then holstered it. He walked back over the guard who still had his knife stuck in his belly. He pulled the knife out and stabbed it into the man’s heart. 

Red Danny’s crumpled body was laying a couple feet away from the two guards. Patton approached, knelt down, and grabbed Danny’s hair. Pulling his head up, he took his knife and drew it across Danny’s neck, cutting the flesh, tendons, and sinew until he got to the spine. With a hard push he broke through the bone and separated Red Danny’s head from his body. With the head in hand, Patton walked back to the room where he left his stuff and pulled out the burlap sack. He set the head in the sack and tied it shut with the rope. He then attached the sack to his belt and slung his satchel and repeater over his shoulder.

The trip back to Wellstone was relatively painless. Patton walked north to the South Union Checkpoint, checked in his guns, showed the guards the bounty poster and the head, and then boarded a train to the Market District. From the train station it was just a short walk southeast to the main guard station. It was late at night and receptionist looked pretty annoyed when he walked in with a bloody head, but after verifying the bounty, and the head, she looked at him and asked, “Would you like your reward in pennies or something else?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea, ma’am. What can I get it in?”

“Well, sir, pennies are the smallest form of currency here in Wellstone. We also have nickels, dimes, and dollars. So what do you want?” 

“I guess give me dimes… yeah.” Patton said not really sure what that was. She pulled out the drawer of her desk and counted out four silver coins and handed them over to Patton. 

With that business complete, Patton headed out of the office and back to the Crossroads District, bound for the Soupy Mutant.


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The Entrepreneur
South Union

Rich, poor, Brotherhood, or rebel, if you grew up in Wellstone area, you grew up being told not to go wandering into South Union. Even the children in the Forgotten Homes were raised on this fact, because at least if you got into trouble in the Homes, you had a chance to run away from the people after you. It wasn't so easy down in the Union, where everyone was a gun-toting psychopath.

Of course, every kid in the city who lived long enough to become a dumb and rebellious teenager also found out that this was a load of bullshit the first time they went against their parents' orders. The civilized folks of Wellstone were terrified of South Union because they operated under a more "wasteland" style of rule, with legal firearms and an independent security force that was run by the community's sheriff, but apart from the occasional exploits of a criminal gang or three, it was every bit as peaceful as the city proper. At least that was what Josey had always assumed.

He had also assumed it was mostly neutral territory, that the bombers would be from one of the more notably disgruntled regions. And yet his best informant thought otherwise. And Saul was rarely wrong. The restauranteur had also mentioned that the black market dealer who had sold them the bombs was recently murdered. A quick stroll down the block confirmed as much. Josey kept his head low as he walked, but his eyes scanned the distant building as he passed by, trying to see past the armed Brotherhood soldiers that stood outside. Unfortunately, besides shadows in the windows, he couldn't see a thing, and Josey didn't dare try getting any closer. Not today, at least.

It doesn't matter, he told himself. You know what happened. He continued around the next bend, passing by rows of two and three story apartments and businesses haphazardly mixed in, eventually leaving the buildings behind entirely as he entered the old memorial park. Josey was not acquainted with the gangs of South Union, and certainly not the rebels, but even he knew that the largest faction down here were the Valiant, and that their boss lived in the prewar museum on the community's west end.

From the posters and photos, this place had once boasted a massive lighthouse called Liberty Tower, but that had fallen long ago, and its bricks had been put to use elsewhere. Though as he approached, Josey could still see the damaged spaces that the stones had created upon impact with the memorial floor.

Most of the museum itself was underground, but Josey started by heading to the building that still stood above it all. The area was fairly populated. Lots of little shops and postwar shacks had been built here over the years, most likely friends, family, and allies of the Valiant. The gangsters themselves were easy enough to identify. Despite most of their gear being up to par, they liked to show their colors in the form of Old World military jackets and uniforms that were looted from museum storage. Josey wasn't sure what war those soldiers had fought in, but it clearly wasn't the one that had ended the world, or even the one before that. The collared overcoats were varying degrees of drab brown and olive green, and were made of thick material. Most of the Valiants wore them open and loose, not bothering to stick to the previous owners' protocol.

As it so happened, one such man was standing outside the doorway of the building Josey meant to enter. He was a burly fellow with a shaved head, thick arms, and what looked like a .45 pistol buckled to his hip. The guy must have been bored, because his expression lit up when he noticed that someone new was approaching. "What do you want, Civie?"

"I ain't any more a civie than you," Josey answered, meeting the larger man's brown eyes. 

For a long moment, the gangster stared back at him, and then the man smirked. "Mouthy fucker. This is Valiant turf. You got business here?"

"Not yet" he said, "but I'd like to see if that can change. I'm from Wellstone. I want an audience with your boss."

"Yeah? You packing?"

"Just my pig sticker." He fished the little fold-out blade from his pocket handed it over for inspection, along with two nickels. "Careful, I saw a man drop one like it on his foot once. He bled pretty bad."

The gangster snorted and gave it back. "Yeah, I'll bet. Alright, go on in. You'll want to follow the hall and head downstairs. The General's office is in the middle of the building. Can't promise he'll talk to ya, though."

"If not, at least I'll finally be able to say that I went to a museum." Josey pushed through the door. If this place had once been a museum, it was hard to tell now. The walls were covered in a couple centuries' worth of graffiti and grime, the floor was slightly wet, and the whole place was covered in trash. Every detail was yet another reminder that the inhabitants were not the military men that they mimicked. 

He passed through the entrance, and into a larger exhibit hall. Most of the space in here had been repurposed, such as the green car with a white star on the hood had been hollowed out and stripped of its doors, wheels, and windows. The seats now faced inward, and were occupied by four Valiants who played cards on a little table. To Josey's left was a little lounge, where two more sat around listening to one of the arena games being broadcast on the radio. They looked up when he walked by, but only for a second. He thought this was odd at first, until he made it downstairs and discovered that the museum proper was massive, with a bar made out of a tank, several more lounges, a minefield-themed game room, a couple stores, and lots of men clad in green and brown. Curiously, Josey noticed that most of the women were in a single lounge, and wore dresses instead of uniforms. 

Josey straightened and continued on through the atrium, conscious of the eyes that followed him. This was a weird place, and he didn't really relish in the thought of spending more time here than necessary. Fortunately, the guy outside wasn't kidding when he said that the General's office was in the middle. There was literally a big walled off exhibit area in the center that had five big white stars painted across the door. Josey knocked, and received a curt and gruff "Not now."
He hesitated, and then knocked again. This time, the voice sounded angry, "Whoever's out there is gonna get shot if he ain't smart enough to walk away!"

Josey looked back, and saw that some of the Valiants were watching him with amusement. He turned back to the door and cleared his throat. "I'm here to talk about Larry."

Several seconds passed, and Josey could hear hushed voices speaking on the other side. Finally, there was a click in the door, and it swung open, revealing a General's office that almost looked completely pristine. There was a large wooden desk, complete with maps, charts, and old world pens. There were even more maps on the walls, as well as antique guns, the Old World flag, and a painting of some family having a picnic in some park. Nobody sat at the desk right now, but two men stood at a little coffee bar across the room from it, and a middle-aged woman held the door. All three stared at him for a moment, and then the one who was obviously in charge commanded, "Give us a moment, will ya?" 

The second man, a red-headed fellow with a thick mustache and the typical Valiant getup nodded and left the room, and the woman followed and shut the door. "What do you have to say about Larry?" the General asked. He was an older man, short but thick and muscled. He had a dark mustache but short gray hair combed over to the left. Despite his age, the man carried himself more like a soldier than anyone Josey had passed coming in here, and he dressed the part too, with his uniform neat and buttoned, his medals pinned in what Josey assumed to be the proper places. The man's stare reminded Josey of his own father. "Well?"

"I know he sold guns to you."

"He was a gun salesman." The General's frown tightened. "I hope you didn't interrupt me just to point this out."

"He also sold explosives. The same ones used in Wellstone recently."

"Boy, you better not be implying what it sounds like, because there ain't a soul within a mile that'll care if I put a bullet in your skull." His fingers tapped against the pistol hanging from his belt.

Josey's eyes followed the movement, but he kept his composure. "If you mean that I believe you had something to do with it, then no sir, I don't. But I understand that you and your men are important here in the Union. Nothing happens that you don't at least hear about."

The General's cold blue eyes stared straight into Josey's core, judging him, trying to decide whether or not he could be trusted. "And?"

"And it's my hope that you can help me find the people who bought the bombs."

"That's it? That's why you're here?" The General laughed, but besides the sound, nothing about the man's composure suggested that he was amused. "You got me to kick out a friend and my own wife just so you could ask me a favor? Who in the Sam hell are you, anyway?"

"Josiah Thatch," he answered. "I'm here on behalf of my father, Gregory Thatch."

The General's eyes flickered, and glared at Josey long and hard. "You're lying."

"You're right, I'm pretending to be a public enemy. It's a real hit with the ladies."
He saw the man's fingers twitch, stopping just short of balling into fists. The General was clearly not keen on being smarted off to, but as Josey had hoped, his father's reputation was enough to keep the gang boss from killing him over it. Feeling more confident now, he pressed his advantage. "With the Brotherhood here, big things will soon be happening, and the gangs of Wellstone would be wise to keep their heads down. Organized crime is only a step away from rebellion, after all."

"The Brotherhood won't will think we're rebels if I send them your head," the General said, though his tone was not as fierce as it had been before.

"You're right, but Gregory will know whose side you're on, then. And believe me, you don't want him for an enemy any more than you want the Brotherhood."

"That so?" The leader of the Valiants hesitated, and then said, "I didn't wake up this morning with the intention of getting sucked into a conflict that'll get my men killed, so I'll help you this once, but only on two conditions."

"Name them."

"First, Gregory owes me a favor. I don't know what or when, but he does. Second, when our business is concluded, you will leave my turf and never come back. I will not get marked for a sympathizer."

"Done." Josey held out his hand and the General shook it. "Now, what can you tell me about the bombers that Larry sold to?"

"Their leader's name is Taylor Simon." The General moved over to one of the maps on the wall. "Crazy bastard, with even crazier friends. They used to be part of a larger crew up in the city proper. Not sure which, but there was a falling out, and Simon wound up down here. Nut job even tried to get the Valiants on board with his plans. I turned him down of course, but if I'd known back then that those plans involved setting off bombs in the city, I would have killed him on the spot."

"If you hate him so much, why haven't you killed him since then?"

"Because it isn't worth the risk," said the General. "Nobody who's not a rebel wants to make a move with the Brotherhood hanging around. We don't want to give them a reason to look our way. Hence the second part of our agreement."

Josey nodded. "Fair enough. Can you tell me where he is, how I can meet him?"

"Yeah." The General beckoned him over, and then pointed to a spot on the map. It was on the eastern side of South Union. "There's a big Old World bookstore at the intersection of 24th and Charlotte, just between the hospital and the edge of town. It looks like trash from the outside, but my people have seen Simon and some of his associates both coming and going. I don't know if they bought the property, or if they even had to, but it's theirs now regardless."

"Thank you kindly. Is there anything else?"

"Yes, actually." The General turned away from the map and looked at Josey with all seriousness. "Remember what I said about Taylor Simon. He is crazy. You already know what he did in Wellstone, and I have reason to believe he's the one who killed Larry too. If your plan is to work with the man, well, don't expect him to be your friend forever. Something tells me that your father's won't grant me that favor if you go and immediately get your head cut off by a psychopath."

"Don't worry about me," Josey answered. "I've dealt with people like Simon before."

And he had, or at least he was pretty sure he had. In the years between their desertion and today, the Thatch family had lived among raiders and fought beside mutants. Josey's own eighteenth birthday had been spent in the bar of a ghoul who kept his feral children chained up in the basement. But among all these dangerous and insane characters, the General made it seem as though Taylor Simon was somehow worse than any of them. And Josey would soon discover exactly why.


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The Thief 

"So, was it any good?" John asked Wilson. 

"It's all good to someone," the drug dealer responded, though his expression told John what was coming next. "But it's like I guessed, this ain't the good stuff. Them Leather Jacks did a good job watering it down."

"Well f*ck," said John. "Anyway, here's the rest." John began to empty his pockets on the remaining vials onto the table. Part of him still suspected Wilson was trying to cheat him, but he didn't suspect it strongly enough to try to call him out on it. 

"And here's the sum I promised," Wilson answered, scooping the vials into a pile closer to himself with one arm as he dropped a pouch down with the other. "You can count 'em if ya want."

"I will," said John as he took up the pouch. Then began to empty it on the coins onto the table, counting them as he did. It didn't seem to add up at first, and a couple of pennies seemed to be missing. But then he recounted them once again and everything seemed to be in order. He scooped the coins back into the pouch and stuffed it down one of his more secure pockets. "See ya," said John and headed for the door. He wanted to get to the other side of town as soon as possible. 

"Yeah, bye." Wilson waited until he was outside, and then said, "I'll hit you up next time there's somethin' for ya." And then the door was closed, and John could hear the trademark sound of the drug dealer's numerous locks clicking into place.

And hopefully I'll be well off enough to turn you down. thought John, hoping this new thing he was heading towards was going be as promising as he hoped it to be. 

John quickly made his towards the Southeast Checkpoint. As he expected he was stopped by the guards that gave him a quick pat-down, asked a couple of basic questions of what he was doing before letting him on his way. Nothing unusual for someone travelling from Forgotten Homes to the Steel District. 

Once in the city proper he followed the Interstate 70 to the highway intersection where the Steel District, Market District, Crossroads District and The Studios all met. There he veered off and onto Interstate 670 and followed it along the border between the Market and Crossroads till he arrived in Pennway. He made it down to the docks and had to search a little bit before he eventually found The Inglenook. 

It was a two story building, fairly large, with brick walls, clean, curtained windows, and a neon sign that John figured would have been lit up at night. As far as shady clubs go, this one seemed nice enough, though the bouncer outside its front door appeared anything but. He was a squat redheaded man with wide hairy arms and a mean mug that was looking John's way.

John walked up to bouncer, trying to look, if not tough, then at least unaffected by the look the bouncer was giving him. Usually John's instinct was to run away from people like him. "Hello," said John, doing his best at sounding professional, though it ended up with him simply sounding a bit cocky. "I'm looking for Flo. Is she in?"

The bouncer glared at him like he'd just asked for the meaning of life. "No idea. Arms out."

"What?" said John at first in surprise. Then with an "Oh" he complied and put up his arms along his sides. He felt a bit like that man he had seen on old crosses on some buildings in Forgotten Homes. 

"You're good," said the bouncer after he patted up and down John's sides, checking for weapons and the like. "You can head on in."

John walked on inside the building. The inside was dimly lit and there weren't many people there. There was a section to the left with an empty stage and a stripper pole, high ceiling and overlooked by a balcony. To the right was the lounge area where some of the people were getting lap dances and behind the lounges further in was a bar where other customers were having some drinks. There was also a back area further into the building that looked rather nice. Too bad for John it was blocked off by a rail and another bouncer. The few women that were walking around made John's heart begin to race and he lost focus for a couple of seconds. Snapping himself out of it he steered his footsteps towards the bar where he approached the bartender. "I'm looking for Flo," he said, doing his best to play cool to hide his nervousness. 

"In the corner, sweetheart," she answered, nodding to a woman in white lingerie who sat stretched out on a couch at the edge of the lounge.

"Thanks," said John with a nod before walking over to the woman in the couch. She was certainly a pretty woman, and John found his mind wandering to inappropriate thoughts. Though he managed to snap himself out of it again just enough to keep his cool when he reached her. "You Flo?" he asked the woman. 

Her blonde eyebrow arced, and she flashed him a sly smile. "I might be..." Her eyes locked with John's never leaving, and in one movement, she slid off the couch and stood face-to-face with him, so close that he could make out a few freckles even in this dim lighting. The woman whispered. "A girl shouldn't tell her name to strangers. How about we go somewhere more private? Get to know each other. Maybe after that we can worry about names."

"S-sure," said John, his nervousness finally beginning to show itself in both his voice and on his face. His heart was now beating fiercely in his chest.

The woman must not have noticed, because her smile only extended. Taking John by the arm, she led him through the lounge, over to a doorway that he had missed before thanks to the dark red curtain that hung in front of it. They passed through, into a hallway with more curtains on the left and lots of doors to the right. The woman took him past them all and up a flight of steps at the back. They walked past another bar and the balcony he'd seen before. Surprisingly, there were even more people up here, though John paid them little mind as the woman smiled at him again and stopped in front of a white door. She put an arm around his neck and drew in close, breathing into his ear. "After you."

John felt a mixture of various excitements as he reached out to open the door. Though he had a small nagging feeling he was in over head in the back of his mind that he tried his best to ignore. Slowly he turned the handle and slowly pushed the door ajar and stepped inside. 

They were having a merry ol' time when John's gaze fell on them. The woman's back was on the bed, one hand gripping the sheets and the other in her own hair. The man was on top, sweating like a dog and moving just the same. They both looked up at the same time, and while the woman let out a shriek, the man, none other than Walter himself, shoved her aside and started grabbing up the sheets to cover himself. As John diverted his eyes, he found his 'escort' doubled over in laughter.

"God damn it!" John exclaimed, not being able to hide his embarrassment. "Is this your idea of a business meeting?"

"It ain't business if you don't get to conclude!" Walter said, angrily. John heard him start to dress. Beside him, the woman who might've been Flo was still in tears. "I told that laughing bitch," Walter went on, "to bring you upstairs, and find you a fuckin' table."

"Well I'll wait outside by a table then," said John. Then he quickly turned around and left the room. He looked over the tables and found an empty and secluded one in a corner where he sat down. he simply sat there staring out at the the rest of the room, trying to calm himself down and wrap his head around things. 

A few minutes later, Walter arrived, dressed in a white button-up shirt and slacks, with his hair combed back. He took a seat across from, daring him to laugh with his eyes. "That blonde bitch, brought you up here, you didn't offer her any money, did you?"

"No," said John and looked down into the table. His living conditions didn't and hadn't really allowed him to spend much or any money on such pleasures. Somehow being here in this well off part of town made him feel a bit ashamed of his wealth, or rather lack thereof. 

"Well that explains that." Walter shook his head. "You can trust a whore with secrets if she's a really good whore, but if she's so good, then you better believe she ain't gonna give you the goods for free." He sighed. "Pucker up, man. There's no harm done. Hell, you didn't even hit her, and that's good on you, 'cause I probably would've."

"She didn't cheat me on any money," John said simply as if that was an explanation. 

"Yeah, I get that. She never woulda done that 'cause she knows she'd be out on her ass if she got caught. Thing is, she led you on without asking for nothing. If a whore's doing something for free, don't trust it. In Blondie's case, she probably decided to get a laugh outa you the second you didn't break out the coin bag."

"Hmm," John mumbled. He didn't know what to feel or think about the situation. The only feeling he could identify was uncomfortable. "Anyway, I guess you didn't invite me to talk about whores?"

"No no, life ain't that perfect." Walter's face turned serious. "I invited you because your brother was a stand up guy and from what he said and my own intuition, I think you are too. So I'd like to do some work with you. Since you came, I take it you'd like that as well, am I right?"

"As long as the money is good and the risks resonable, I'm interested to hear what work you have in mind." John felt a lot more confident now that he was talking about business. 

"After talking to that shitbag landlord of yours, I can guarantee the money is better than anything you were making before," Walter promised. "The risks are the same, more or less. Be careful and you'll be fine. F*ck up, and be ready to run or fight, 'cause if you ain't, things can go bad fast. But you're used to that, right?"

"Yeah. The gangs in the Homes don't mess around if they catch you either."

"That's what I thought." Walter reached down into his pocket and produced a fat yellow battery, about the size of an empty toilet paper roll cut in half. "Do you know what this is?"

"It's a form of battery, micro-something. Some people use for their kitchen machines and the Brotherhood has them for their weapons."

"That's right. Handy little things, and the ones floating around local shops don't pack a big enough punch on their own for the Brotherhood to care if folks like you'n me use them to power our toasters. But thanks to a little tampering, this little dandy is overcharged. Illegal, but still not serious enough to really turn any heads. A whole crate, though..." Walter grinned, "that's the kind of thing they ain't too keen on. And that's what I want you to move for your first job."

"They aren't what you call... unstable and likely to blow me up, right?"

"Is it possible? Yeah, probably." Walter shrugged. "Not likely though. I've never heard of it it happening before, so I'd imagine as long as you don't go doing something stupid like slam them on a rock, you'll be just fine."

"Alright. I'm also guessing you have a route or at least the means of transport arranged. I don't exactly have any double bottomed boxes to hide them in."

"Luckily, I do have something for ya this time. But that ain't always the case. Sometimes we have to invent the routes ourselves. You ever been down in the sewers? We got a lot that run down there."

John couldn't help but look a little disgusted. "I haven't. Though I've heard it's no nice place to be. Easy to get lost in too."

"Yeah you're telling me." Walter looked like he had more to say on the matter, but then he blinked a couple times and shook his head. "It's no matter. You won't be in the sewers this time. We've got a little boat down at the docks with the goods already loaded and covered. Just need someone to run it up the river to a customer in the Industrial District. Easy job. I'd do it myself, but this way you can get your feet a little wet and prove yourself to some of the others."

"Just tell me what to look for and when to deliver it."

"Tonight. When the river traffic's down. You're gonna want to run down to it from here, then head south a couple blocks till you spot a little jetty with a wooden shack by it. The boat's tied up at the end. The motor works, but I'd suggest you save that for if you get seen, and just stick to the paddles otherwise. Takes longer, but it's a hell of a lot safer."

John nodded as he did his best to put everything Walter said to memory. "Who am I to deliver it to? Who am I to look for?"

"It's usually a man named Abraham. Least that's what he calls himself. The drop spot's at the north end of the district. He'll signal you with three lanterns when he sees your boat."

"Got it." John paused for a moment as he felt hesitant. "So how much will I..."

"If everything goes right, we'll make a good little sum. Your cut'll be three fifty." Walter grinned. "Not bad, eh?"

John's eyes widened and he looked quite shocked for a second before quickly regaining his composure as he reminded himself to remain cool. "Not bad at all. I'll see you tomorrow then." said John, trying his best to hide his excitement. 

"I hope you do," Walter replied with a smirk, having clearly noticed the reaction. "And when you get here, be sure to ask for Flo again. You'll be stopped before you can make it upstairs, otherwise."

"Alright. I'll be sure to remember that." John got up from the chair and extended his hand to Walter for a handshake.

"Oh, and next time remember to knock first, eh?" The veteran smuggler's tone was light, but his expression seemed serious. He shook John's hand. "Now go on, get outa here. You got work to do."

"Oh, I'll definitely remember," said John trying also to sound lighthearted to hide the slight awkwardness he felt for being reminded. "See ya," he then said before turning around and heading towards the stairs.

Once down he quickly looked around for Flo that he saw laying on the same couch she had when he first saw her. She gave him a playful smile and a wink but John only returned a frown. Once outside he steered his walk towards the River Market, figuring he might find some diversion and maybe do a little easy shoplifting while waiting for night.


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