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Tales From the Wastes

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Theirs was a nice little house. Nothing exceptional, but it was whole and clean. It even had running water. It might even have been cozy if Rose hadn't had to share it with her awful family. Because of them the place was more like a prison. She wasn't even allowed to leave the house without her mother's or father's permission. All while her brothers were allowed to run around town wherever they pleased. That was about to change, although not in the way Rose wanted. 

Rose stood in her room wearing an old white (or as white as it could be after decades of use) wedding dress. Her mother was besides her and helped make sure everything fit as good as it could. Though Rose couldn't quite fill up the breast cups and so her mother resorted to stuffing some cloth inside to make the dress fit as well as make her look curvier. 

"There. Don't you look wonderful?" Rose's mother exclaimed as she grabbed Rose's shoulders and forced her to look at herself in the mirror hanging on the wall, that had a small crack in the lower left corner but was otherwise clean and gave off an almost perfect reflection. 

Rose looked. The dress made her look rather beautiful and had a rather nice contrast to her long, raven black hair. But that beauty was tarnished by the depressed and miserable look she had on her face. No word came from her lips. Married off to a fat, ugly man more than twice her age just so her family could get some more of the loot the Liberators carried home. The only upside being that she'd at least move into a bigger, wealthier and emptier household. But that was far from enough to make up for the miserable life she had ahead of herself. 

When her mother didn't get the reaction she had wanted she forcefully turned Rose to face her before giving her a hard slap across the face. "You will not look like that when you walk down the altar. You will bring us shame if you do. You will smile when you see him."

Rose forced a small smile that at least seemed to make her mother somewhat content. Though she still held a stern look of disapproval while Rose was made to strip down and out of the dress. After which she put on her normal clothes, which was little more than a plain blue dress with short sleeves. Rose remained in the room with nothing to do but wait. All she had was her mind to escape into. Where she dreamed of traveling far away to places where people weren't so small minded and would see her as a person and not some pretty little thing to be sold and owned. 

Time passed and afternoon was drawing to a close when Rose heard a great ruckus from the center of town. It sounded like the Liberators had returned. And with a lot of loot judging the intensity of the cheers. When she had been little the return of the Liberators had been one of the few times she had nagged her mother to be let outside. To see them greet the townsfolk and distribute the loot, maybe even be given something small herself. Now she dreaded the thought of seeing the Liberators. Her soon to be husband was their leader and last time they had spoken he had tried to coerce her into giving him a blowjob. And with the Liberators as his loyal thugs she wouldn't be able to get near without one of them alerting the old sleazebag to her presence. 

Maybe I should just run away, Rose thought to herself. A thought she had had many times before but this time it somehow filled her with conviction. Maybe it was the impending wedding being the very next day or something else but Rose felt more and more sure that running away was what she wanted and what she should do. It wasn't such a bad idea. If they caught her she would get a rather thorough beating but they couldn't hurt her that bad as she must still remain pretty for her wedding and husband.

She would need some new clothes though as her current dress wasn't really fit for running around in the forest with. Luckily, as she quickly realized, only her mother was still in the house as the rest of her family was greeting the Liberators to get the loot they had sold her for. One of her brothers must have some clothes that would fit her. 

As quietly and quickly as she could, Rose sneaked into the hallway and to the room next to hers where three of her five brothers lived. She opened the drawer and saw a mess of clothes she hoped desperately she wouldn't spend too much time searching through. At least it wouldn't be hard to put things back in any kind of order that would prevent anyone from suspecting she had been there. After a few minutes of frantically trying on clothes she managed to pick out a pair of brown pants and a green shirt. Then it was just to stuff everything else back into the drawer and hurry back to her own room to hide the clothes under her bed. It went smoothly and her mother hadn't noticed a thing, and the rest of her family didn't start to come back till some time later. 

At the dinner table the rest of her family was in a buzz talking about the things they've gotten from the Liberators. Two of her older brothers were bragging how they were possibly going to be recruited into the raiding group and get a chance to find their own glory. None of them paid any thanks or even attention to her for being the cause of all the good things they've gotten. 

When her oldest brother took out and showed everyone a laser pistol he had gotten it piqued Rose's interest. She could use a gun in her escape. "Can I hold it?" she asked. 

"Fuck no!" he responded in a very derogatory tone. "This gun is mine and was given to me by the Liberators."

"They only gave it to you because of me."

"Shut up! Besides what would a woman like you use a gun for anyway?"


"Rose!" her mother sternly interjected. "Don't bother your brother. It's his gun."

After that Rose sulked quietly for the rest of the dinner. When night finally arrived Rose lay awake in her bed while pretending to sleep. When the dark lied heavily outside and the entire town had gone quiet Rose carefully got up. She watched her younger sister for about a minute to make sure she was asleep. The little brat would surely wake the entire neighborhood if she caught Rose trying to escape. Once Rose was sure enough everyone was sleeping well and deep she took out the clothes hidden under her bed and put them on and tied up her hair in a ponytail. Quietly she opened the door and sneaked out, carefully closing it behind her. As she came to the hallway she saw to her surprise and near overjoy that her stupid brick-head of older brother had left his gun just laying there on the dinner table. She put on her shoes, took the gun and left the house. 

The town was dark and quiet. The only guards were on the far edges of town and they were only looking for people trying to get in. She wouldn't have any problem getting out of town. Though getting away from it once she was within the area the guards were watching would be another issue. As Rose watched the guards and their flashlights scour the area just outside of town she waited and tried to find an opening. She aimed to break out in the direction the Liberators almost always traveled. That seemed like a direction she could find some people. Hopefully decent people. Though Rose had a hard time imagining a people worse than her own. Except maybe cannibals.

Soon enough Rose spotted a pattern in the patrols, along with a pretty wide opening for her to escape by. Once she was sure that the moment had come she rushed from the town, across a small field of crops and into the forest. None had spotted her, or at least noticed her enough to raise an alarm. Her heart raced and her head felt a little dizzy from the realization she might actually be free. It was so unreal she half expected to wake up in the morning to realize it had all been a nice but futile dream. She didn't know where she ran but all she really cared about was that she ran as straight and far away as she could from the prison that was her home town. After several minutes she stopped running. She was exhausted and out of breath but she was still determined to continue and did so at a brisk pace. 

Near collapse from fatigue she continued even as the sun started to rise in the horizon. Soon thereafter she stumbled upon an old paved road with cracks and plants growing through them. She decided to follow it roughly in the direction she was heading. As the sun had arisen and the morning was turning to day Rose nearly dropped the gun because of how tired she was. Slowly she sat down on a rock near the road for some rest. She was far away enough that surely she could afford a little rest. Though it wouldn't be long now till her family noticed that she was gone and the Liberators would be sent out to look for her. 

Rose remained there on the rock for quite a while as she waited for her legs to regain enough strength to carry her far away. As she sat there she heard people coming towards her from down the road. At first she thought it was the Liberators that had caught up with her and hid behind a nearby tree. They shouldn't be anywhere near her yet. Then she vaguely remembered that sometimes people that are lost end up walking in circles without proper direction. Rose had made sure to keep the lights of the town at her back but that had only been possible for the first part of her trip. The possibility that she had turned around and been heading back home sent a shiver down her spine and made her feel so sick she wanted to puke. 

As these people approached she heard that among them was walking something a lot more mechanical. The Liberators had nothing that could make such noise and so she braved a small peek from behind the tree. These people weren't the Liberators. They were a strange lot that wore tight blue one piece clothes with yellow trims and were armed with guns that looked like bigger versions of the laser pistol she held. Among them walked mechanical humans and beasts that Rose vaguely remembered was called robots. 

Seeing the similarity between the gun in her hand the ones they were carrying she figured these people may have been the ones hit by the Liberators. Maybe they would help her escape from them. With some newfound and (as she was sure was) foolish courage she stepped out from behind the tree and onto the road, blocking the path of these strange travelers. 

"Hello!" shouted Rose in as friendly a manner as she could while giving them a wave with her empty hand and a wide smile. 

The group came to a quick halt and raised their guns. Those in front pointed them at her while the rest pointed them at the forest at their sides. "Who are you?" said a sturdy, middle aged woman with brown hair and tanned skin. 

"I'm Rose. I'm looking for a place to go." Rose tried her best to appear as endearing and innocent as possible. 

"Really? And where are you from?" The sturdy woman looked suspicious. 

"I'm... from a town not too far from here."

"What town is that?"

Rose hesitated for a second. "Liberation Point."

"Liberation Point ey?" This seemed to have piqued her interest and there was a glint of hatred in her eyes. "This wouldn't happen to be the home of those bastards that like to shout 'For liberty!' a lot?" 

"You mean the Liberators?" Rose was unsure if to feel hopeful or fearful. It seemed equally likely that they would shoot her as take her in. "Yes. I'm running away from them."


"I... I was to marry their leader. I didn't want to. So I ran away."

"Well ain't that just quaint." The woman chuckled. "Almost like a fairy tale. All that you need now is a handsome young man to elope with."

"Will you help me get away from them?"

"Maybe. Why don't you tell me where this town of yours is first? We'd like to pay them a small visit."

"You gonna kill them all?" Rose felt a little uneasy getting her entire family and town killed. Even though she hated them. 

"Only the ones that resist. The rest we'll enslave and put to work underground."

Suddenly Rose felt a lot better about selling out her town and family. They had been all too happy and content with selling her into a life slavery that it was only fair for her to return the favor. But if her parents had taught her anything with her marriage it was that she shouldn't sell anyone out for free, even though she really wanted to get back at them. "What will I get out of this?"

"We'll let you live and go free."

"That's it? I want more."

"Or we could beat it out of you." Rose raised her gun, her hand shaking, and pointed it at the woman. She only laughed. "You really think you can take us on?"

Rose pulled back the gun and pointed it at her own head. "Without me, you'll never find the town. Even if you do it's well guarded. But I can tell you all about the place and how to win."

The woman grew quiet and looked oddly annoyed for a second before letting out a chuckle. "You got guts girl. Fine. I'll cut you a fair deal. What do you want?"

"I want one of your robots to follow me and obey me. And I want a wagon full of stuff you loot from my town. Stuff of my choice."

The amused look vanished from the woman. "I can give you a wagon with stuff. But a robot..."

"Gotta have something to protect me out here. Otherwise I may as well just pull the trigger here and get it over with."

The woman looked deep in thought and remained silent for a long moment. "Fine. But on one condition: you will tell everyone you meet on your journey that the Columbians uphold a deal once struck. Deal?"

Rose slowly lowered her gun. "Deal."

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
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Power corrupts, absolute power... is a whole lot of fun!

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  • 2 months later...

The sounds of screaming and discharging plasma echoed down the steel halls, and the metallically pungent scent of ozone filled the air in spite of the functioning ventilation system. The SimuSun lights, usually dim at this hour, flickered and flared, while the more powerful emergency lights painted every room with a rotating red hue. By now, most of those rooms were vacant, their usual occupants either dead or trying to flee, but there was one, a cozy residence modeled after the dwellings of the old world, in which two people appeared calm in spite of everything.

"He got me good," groaned the woman. Her jumpsuit was stained with blood, and the puddle beneath her was expanding by the second. "I don't think a stimpak's gonna cut it."

"It's not a stimpak," the man answered. His hands were steady as he lowered the syringe to her arm and administered the potent chems, but a crack in his voice betrayed the despair and anger that were building up inside him. "It's for the pain."

Under normal circumstances, it may have been possible to save her. The doctors had treated worse things than gunshot wounds. But even if those doctors were still alive, a surgery would be impossible, for as the blaring intercoms continually reminded them, their end was drawing near.

WARNING! Complete Reactor MELTDOWN! FIVE minutes and THIRTY seconds to evacuate.

"We know!" the woman sputtered at the ceiling. She wasn't really angry, or even particularly sad. She and her husband had lived good lives, raised a pair of good boys, and had the good judgement to send them away with their uncle months ago. She would die holding hands with the man she loved, with no regrets besides the fact that she'd slumped to the floor directly below this annoying damned speaker!

The man was surprised to see his wife smiling. Her brown hair had fallen out of its bun and was matted with sweat. Little droplets of blood dotted her cheeks. Her skin was deathly pale, and her blue eyes seemed strained just to stay open. But that sweet, beautiful smile made up for all of it, and made the fury in him dissipate like gas into the air. And then, to the surprise of them both, he actually laughed.

"You know, this-" He motioned at her wounds, "it got me so mad... It's only just now occurring to me that I'm dead too." Unaffected by the blood, he slumped down beside her, allowing his wife to rest her head on his shoulder. "Like I was gonna just walk on out of here, kill those fuckers myself, and have to live alone as a grumpy old man." He laughed again. "That's actually what I was thinking."

"My husband, the cowboy." She kissed his bearded cheek. "At least you got to be a grumpy old man every now and then."

"Hey, I'm not old!" Now, he was actually grinning, something only she was able to make him do. "And if I'm quick, maybe I can still catch up to them, give 'em the what-for, and make it back to you in time for the fireworks, like a real cowboy."

"I bet you could do it, too." The shooting was still going on, though it was distant now. Before long, it would be impossible to tell if the battle was still raging or not. "But then I'd have to sit here all alone. How about you leave them to Frank and the others, just this once?"

"Just this once." He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave the most tender squeeze he could manage. The Med-X must have been working, because she did not seem to be in as much pain as before, but as he looked into her eyes, he could see them starting to drift. She was struggling to stay with him. "But you've gotta stay awake, alright? Stay with me and we can finish this ride together."

WARNING! Complete Reactor MELTDOWN! THREE minutes to evacuate.

"I'm with you." She forced her eyes open. It was physically one of the most difficult things she'd done in years. Since the birth of her second child. "The boys," she muttered. "They're gonna get to live out there."

She said 'get to', he realized. Not 'have to'. He knew that his wife had a greater appreciation for the open skies and wide expanses of the American wasteland than he did, but only in her final minutes did she let slip the extent. The outside world scared the hell out of him, but at that moment he was glad that she could find some hope in it. "That's right. No more fake lights and musty air. They'll grow up strong out there, stronger than us. And they'll be safe, too. Your brother and the others, they'll take good care of 'em."

"They'll see the sun every day," she said dreamily.

"Yeah, that too."

WARNING! Complete Reactor MELTDOWN! ONE minute and THIRTY seconds to evacuate.

The man let out a sigh. "It's kinda funny, going out like this. Isn't it? Like we're finally catching up with the rest of the world. Do you think there will be a mushroom cloud?"

She didn't answer.

"Baby?" As the man shifted, his wife's head fell into his lap. His chest tightened. "Aly?"

It was no use. She was gone. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it, then held it tightly as the countdown reached one minute, then thirty seconds, then counted one-by-one down from ten.

Three. Two. One.

He closed his eyes, but the end didn't come yet. Instead, the lights shut down. The machinery shut down. Even the air system had stopped running. The entire world was black and silent, and the only thing that existed to him was his wife's hand in his. But there was more, he knew. Many miles away were two young boys who had her hair and her eyes. He wasn't entirely sure what had happened here or why things had gone so badly so suddenly. His people had long dreamed of saving America. It had been a noble dream, born of a desire to create a better world. He wondered if his sons' dreams would be the same. Would Gregory and Tristan leave the world better than they found it?

These were his final thoughts. When the back-up containment measures ended, the uranium-powered nuclear reactor ruptured and Control Station ENCLAVE erupted into a mushroom cloud.

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  • 2 weeks later...

April - 03 - 2080
Not sure if this diary will ever make into a history book, but I feel a need to record what has and will happen for future generations. I also need something to help me process what has happened. It’s been a nightmare. But let’s start from the beginning. 

I’m Elizabeth Woodrow and it has been over two years since the bombs fell upon America. I was working as a secretary at a mining complex of Atomic Mining when it happened. Luckily we were far away from where the nukes landed and so made it out alright, at first. 

We huddled together here at the mining complex for the first few weeks waiting for... well anything. The government, the military, anyone, anything to tell us where we could go for a safe haven in the wasteland that had been America. But there was nothing. Food became scarce after six months and we had to send people out to scavenge. The people we met while scavenging were not friendly. Some pretended just to get close. We lost some good people. In response we started to shoot on sight ourselves. Now we’re always close to running out of ammo. At least the people we encounter have the same problem. I hear more often how the outsiders we spot carry baseball bats and such instead of guns. 

One upside though is that I met a nice guy named Ben and we got married after a year together. 


August - 27 - 2080
Our attempts at farming this summer has gone poorly. It looks like we’ll reap a half decent harvest for our labor but it might not be enough to get us through the winter. Our scouts have spotted another settlement some distance away and it looks like their harvest will be bountiful. They look civilized enough that we have decided to try to barter with them for the food. 


September - 05 - 2080
I hear the negotiations went poorly. The settlement did not want to share the food at all. Instead they seemed more interested in threatening us into give up what little we have. Selfish savages. Now everyone is on edge and fearing an attack, or an ambush should any of us venture out. 


March - 08 - 2081
We made it through the winter, but only barely. One good thing is that we’ve practically exterminated all the rats in the area. But if I never have to eat a rat again it’ll be too soon. 


September - 21 - 2081
The harvest this year proved more bountiful than the last. It’s all thanks to a guy named Richard that found a way to improve our farming in some fancy history books he found in one of the offices. He can be a bit annoying by how he goes on about those books. As long they continue to provide I won’t complain. 


March - 30 - 2082
Oh great joy! Ben and I have finally been able to have a child. We decided to name him William.


July - 03 - 2083
The world is becoming more and more savage. The people outside have started to form their own - for a lack of a better term - tribes. Each and everyone of them only care about themselves and damn anyone else. They raid, rape and pillage anyone they can and think has anything worthwhile. They came after us yesterday in the night. But with our new defenses we managed to drive them off. Seems like Richard and his history books proved useful once again. I just wish he could shut up about it once in a while. 


October - 17 - 2083
Daniel - my father-in-law - died from an infection. But he was an old man when all this began and I’m a bit surprised he managed to last this long. He’s been the man that has held us together since the start. Now it looks like his son and my husband Ben will take over as the leader of this community. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Ben may be my husband and a competent man but it feels like we’re taking a step towards monarchy with leadership passing on from father to son. 


May - 03 - 2084
With Richard and Ben having been good friends since before the fall Richard has been given a lot more influence in putting his history book ideas into practice. Apparently they’re planning to make suits of medieval armor to help us combat the savages from the outside. I think Richard is starting to take those history books a bit too seriously. And I wish Ben wouldn’t be so easily onboard with everything Richard suggests.


June - 01 - 2085
They’re planning a bloody WAR!!! Richard and Ben has deluded themselves that with these suits of armor and shields and whatnot that they will be able to take on every tribe within five miles. They’re mad! They say it’s a preemptive war to prevent the tribes from attacking us in the future. But this will only invite trouble and unite the tribes against us. 


June - 25 - 2085 
Ben and Richard and most of the other men have departed to subdue the tribes. All clad like clanking tin cans. If this doesn’t work out I’ll kill both of them. I’ll especially kill them if Ben dies and I’m left a single mother. 


August - 23 - 2085
Whatever plan Richard had it seems to have worked. We only lost two men and apparently every tribe now bows to us. To help make sure they continue with that they took a lot of hostages - mostly young children - from the tribes. My heart aches thinking of how low we’ve sunk to take children as hostages, but it seems like that’s the type of cruel world we now live in. 


March - 02 - 2086
Ben has decided to “invite” some people from the tribes we conquered and have them live outside our walls and work our fields for us. I’m not so sure about that but he insists it will help us keep a closer eye on them. 


March - 20 - 2086
We’ve put the conquered people to work. And I just realized we’ve effectively reintroduced slavery. Ben doesn’t want to see it that way though. He claims they are our “serfs” and we are their landlords. Just like how they did it in medieval Europe. He claims to have gotten this idea from reading those history books himself but I’m sure Richard is behind it somehow. 


June - 06 - 2086
I just had a big argument with Ben. We really are treating the “serfs” as slaves and working them half to death. They not only work our fields as farmers but also as carpenters and miners. We’re sending people into those dark tunnels with little more than lanterns and pickaxes! We make them build the wall we use to keep them out. I say this will only make them turn against us and eventually rebel. Ben keeps saying that they will only rise up if we give them the opportunity or have nothing to lose. Justifying his reasoning with those history books. Maybe he forgot about the revolution that founded the land we were born in. 


Februari - 17 - 2101
It’s been a while since I wrote in this. Things have been rather peaceful since last I wrote and I’ve been quite busy raising a family. Looking back gives quite the contrast to how things are now. Pretty much everyone has taken to the idea that we are an aristocratic nobility meant to rule the peasants outside. I guess I shouldn’t complain as Ben has become king and I’m now queen and my children’s future is secured.

The men and women that head the other families have become dukes and duchesses. Each one has taken on a sigil of their own. My family’s is a shield with a crown above it. The shield represents the protection we give to our people. The crown represents… Well I think it’s rather obvious. 

We are also to change our last names. Apparently Woodrow isn’t good enough for royalty. I swear this is getting sillier and sillier, but I’m tired of arguing. 


May - 07 - 2107
Sarah - one of the duchesses - has raised the point that if we are to only marry within our circle of nobility we’ll run into the problem of inbreeding very soon. While I don’t know anything about genetics I think she is right. We’ll have to let our children and grandchildren be able to marry with the peasantry. That will be a hard sell though. 


July - 16 - 2107
As expected people are afraid of letting peasants into our community. They think the peasants will open the gate and slit our throats in the night. I can’t say I blame them as I have similar fears. We will have to work out a way to persuade the peasants that we allow to move up the ladder to switch sides. 

In the meantime Sarah devised a plan to keep charts over our family lines to prevent inbreeding. I think it’s also a good idea since it’ll allow us to minimize the amount of peasants we’ll need to prevent inbreeding, which will hopefully make marrying peasants an easier sell. 


May - 01 - 2125
Ben has died - Long live the King - and I found this diary again. It’s a miracle any of us has managed to live this long. But for all the nightmares we’ve endured I feel it all turned out alright in the end. 

How we make our armors and weapons has become a closely guarded secret. One that passes from father to son. While I still have some reservations for why we do so it’s nice to see how the craft creates a bond between the generations. I wish the same could be said for me and my daughters. Having children of their own that are eligible for marriage they have started to look to those family charts for guidance. But they call them “blood charts” and think it’ll help them not only prevent inbreeding but also breed healthier grandchildren. It’s true that a few children have turned out deformed. Some of us old folk have said it’s because of possible lingering radiation from the bombs. To which they counter that radiation damage our DNA, which is what we pass on to our children. So I guess they’re right. I just get an uneasy feeling at the very idea of selective breeding.

Edited by Witchking of Angmar
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  • 1 year later...

In our naïveté, we thought that the monsters of the wasteland would be the greatest threat to our exodus. No. It was the hunger. It was the disease. It was the blisters on our feet once we'd worn through our boots. All our intel, our technology, our education, none of it prepared us for what the world really was.

Two more days, thought Major Thomas Dayton. Two more days and they can finally rest.

The news was traveling. Sanctuary. Refuge. Haven. These words and more like them were spreading through the encampment like wildfire. The City of Chicago was near, and beneath it... bunkers. Bunkers with filtered air free of radstorms, protective walls that no raiders could breech, proper beds maybe, or even medical supplies. None of the civilians had actually laid eyes on the great sun-reflecting towers just yet, but they weren't stupid. They had seen the maps and knew good and well how close they were to the relief that those towers promised.

Not everyone was happy with this. The dream of stopping in Chicago was an old one. It originated from rumors of a plan that had been discussed back in California. Discussed, dismissed, and never entertained again. The urgency of reaching the east coast was considered 'too great' to allow for such a delay. But a grim reality that the Enclave had been forced to face many times in recent years was that plans change. And although most of his fellow officers disagreed with him, Thomas believed that this change would be for the better... if he could convince them.

He shook his head, addressing all the officers standing around the command tent's map-covered long table. "Every one of your concerns are warranted." He pointed to a spot on one of the city maps, where a red line had been drawn. "But my scouting reports reveal no signs of Brotherhood occupation in the northern districts of the city. They have established bases here," He pointed to a red 'X', then two more. "here, and here. Patrols are consistent between them and in various regions south of the line, but the ruins are far larger than the regions they control. I believe that if we approach the city from the north, taking extra time to avoid the main roads, reaching the airport bunker undetected would be an easy task."

"And what about the locals?" asked a Lieutenant. "Word will spread of our arrival."

"The northern districts are more like the skeleton of a city. The scouts sighted a few scavengers, but no villages. And the airport stands away to the west." Thomas tapped a spot where a large 'E' had been drawn. "Even for a group our size, I believe that reaching it undetected is well within our capabilities."

"To what end?" Every head at the table turned towards the man who had spoken: Lieutenant General Augustus Autumn. "Major Dayton, I commend your thorough efforts to provide us with beds and a roof, but I have made it clear from the start that our mission is not to be slowed." He raised his left hand as if to ward off some imaginary protests, "Now, I know the possibility was raised some time ago about searching the city for supplies, but that was before we faced so many delays along the way. It was also before we were aware of the Brotherhood's presence."

"I assure you, Sir, my scouts are quite confident that their presence will be of no consequence. In two weeks of surveillance, we have zero reports of Brotherhood personnel passing within eight miles of the bunker's location. I can't stress enough how big the city is. As to what end, I say: rest." Thomas looked around, meeting the eyes of every man and woman in the room. There were twenty-four of them in total. Two were ordinary doctors, there with Autumn's permission on behalf of the civilians. One was 'Senator' Kennedy, appointed ambassador to any non-hostile locals they might come across, a stickler for Old World traditions, that one. The remaining twenty-one of their procession all held Army officer ranks, though only twelve were truly soldiers. The other nine were from Autumn's Chemical Corps, egghead spooks the likes of whom Thomas would've never been allowed to speak with back in California, despite outranking most.

"Rest," he continued, "and recovery... We in here are soldiers." He intentionally lumped in the eggheads with hope that stroking their egos might win some of them over to his side. "We are trained for long marches, tight rations, and harsh conditions, and even for us this journey has been hard. But this group is more than just us. There's the civilians to think about. Sixteen have died since we left California, twelve to disease, and four to exhaustion. Not to mention those who left us on their own."

"Deserters," Autumn grumbled, making no effort to hide his disdain.

Thomas knew better than to correct his superior in front of everyone, but those who'd left had been civilians, not soldiers. They weren't even capable of desertion. Typically, leaving the Enclave meant your life was forfeit, but until recently civilians didn't really even have the opportunity to leave as they weren't permitted to wander the mainland. As far as Thomas was concerned, if they wanted to take their chances in some wasteland village as opposed to continuing on with this 'great' migration, then that was their right. Hell, he hardly even blamed them.

He went on as if Autumn hadn't even spoken: "Medical supplies will be thinner for this next stretch, and with winter almost on us, I'm afraid we will lose even more between here and D.C. than we've lost so far. That is, if we don't stop in Chicago to give our sick and weak a chance to recover. The bunker is still intact. It is sealed and our codes still work. Even a few days off the road would help. A week would work wonders. It would give us time to scavenge, give the civilians proper rest, we could even test the lake fish for mutations. If they are clean, we might be able to repl-"

"NO eating the wildlife," Autumn snapped, his little band of Chemical Corpsmen nodding along like trained dogs. "I thought I'd been clear enough about this by now."

"Very well, Sir, but my other points still stand." Thomas stared at Autumn hard, knowing that he had his superior in a bind. "If we keep going, more will die. A lot more. And if we pass this up, more will leave. The civilians are well aware of how close we are to the city. They know about the bunkers. If we don't take them to one ourselves, some might just decide that they'll go looking for it on their own."

"Good riddance, then." One of the eggheads cleared his throat. Lieutenant Hewitt was the man's name. "With respect, Major, our directive comes from the President, himself. If a handful of traitors would rather run away than see his vision carried through, then I say let them go. Their ilk will be of no use in the new world."

To his left, just at the edge of his hearing, Thomas heard someone whisper, "Fucking nut."

He suppressed a smile. "That may be, but you're forgetting the Brotherhood. If any civilians leave us and make for the city on their own, then the chances of the local chapter discovering our presence rise significantly."

Autumn folded his arms. "So they would." He lifted a hand to his furrowed brow, rubbed it, then sighed. "Well, Major Dayton, I will not say that you have won me over, but it would appear that I am left with little choice. Either we delay our mission with a brief stay in this bunker of yours or I order you to position men around this camp with instructions to kill anyone seen sneaking off..."

"If you do that, Sir-"

"If I do that, then I imagine there will soon be soldiers deserting as well, yes Major, I'm aware." Lt. General Autumn took one look around the tent, meeting every man and woman's eyes as Thomas had. Most were in agreement. They needed to stop. "Well, normally this would be a time that I'd just pull rank and tell everyone to do their damn jobs, but seeing as how Major Dayton has somehow turned the camp against me, my hands are tied."

"Sir, I-"

"A joke, Major Dayton." Autumn suddenly sounded very tired. "It was only a joke. Make the arrangements. Give the order. You say this bunker is two days away, so I expect two nights from now to be sleeping on a feather bed." The officers chuckled and he waved a hand. "Everyone not involved in making that happen, you're dismissed."

The doctors, Senator, and Chemical Corpsmen all filed out of the tent, and Thomas spent the following hour briefing the remaining officers on his scouting reports in more detail, laying out the area they would be traveling, which roads were viable and which were not, and mapping out the route they would ultimately take and how they would go about taking it. When all was said and done, each officer set off to do their jobs, leaving Thomas alone in the command tent. At long last, he breathed a sigh of relief. 

Two more days. Two more days and we can finally rest.

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  • 1 month later...

It was late in the Fall when we arrived at O'Hare. The walls of the bunker were concrete and steel, hidden away behind a 20-ton blast door and situated 1,500 feet below an Old World airport. Reaching it required a trek through a sea of jagged metal strewn between colossal mounds of scorpion-infested rubble. The lighting inside was artificial. The air was stale. The water had a faintly metallic taste to it. It immediately felt like home.

Mess Hall A of O'Hare Bunker was illuminated by SimuSun technology. The lights were dim for the morning, casting an artificial dawn glow over walls decorated with Old World posters and Star Spangled Banners. Such iconography was present all throughout the facility, no doubt intended by those who came before as some sort of reminder of the world above back when it still existed.

Taking his seat alone at the central officer table, Major Thomas Dayton thought about the work that had gone into building this place, the secrecy that had been necessary to do so away from the eyes of the public. They were 1,500 feet beneath the Earth's surface. How much had the contractors been paid for their silence? How did nobody notice all the digging? Was the Old World really so loud, so busy, that the construction of something like this could have gone unnoticed? 

Back on the Oil Rig, it was taught in every classroom that they came from a nation of uncountable millions. That all a man could ever want was within his grasp if he only had the will to reach for it. Food, water, comfort, privacy, even entertainment were all so abundant that to lack in any was considered poverty. 'The American Dream' they called it.
The American Dream. Now truly a dream.

Thomas sighed. If nostalgia was a drug, then the Enclave were addicts. If they were to have any hope of lasting another generation, they would need to kick that addiction, to focus on the present instead of clinging desperately to a past long behind them. Some, he feared, would never be able. Already, Lt. General Autumn and his lackeys were asking for estimates on how soon the civilians would be ready to move out again. They could not appreciate the clean air and water, or the stockpile food that could last them years, or the fact that this was the safest and most comfortable their people had been since the loss of home. Their hearts were set on the east and Eden.

"Major Dayton." 

Thomas snapped out of his contemplations and looked up to meet the eyes of Scout Captain Bryan Lee. From the man's dust-stained recon suit and black shadow of a beard, it was clear he had only just returned from the Wasteland that morning.

"Good morning, Captain." He motioned to the empty chair across from him. "Have a seat. Unless you want to go and get some breakfast first."

"Thank you, Sir," Lee sat down. "But if it's all the same, I'd like to eat with the girls this morning."

"Of course." Captain Lee's job was to coordinate and sometimes lead the Enclave scout teams from the field. He and his men had been operating in and around Chicago for just over two weeks, long before the rest of them even reached the city. He would very likely be out in the rubble again before the day was over. Breakfast with his wife and children was the least Thomas could give him. "Have you seen them yet?"

"Not yet. I came straight to you."

A good man, this one. Thomas made a point to remember that loyalty. He would need people like Captain Lee soon enough. "Well then, I don't want to keep you from them any longer than I must. What have you got to report?"

Lee reached into the metal case on his belt, produced a holotape, and slid it across the table to Thomas. "My full report is on here, but you'll want to hear this now..."
The Captain lowered his voice. "We've been watching the Brotherhood of Steel as ordered. They have boats on the lake that we can't follow, and land traffic suggests trade and heavy presence in the south and west. There are more of them than we initially figured. A lot more. The only reason we didn't pick up on this sooner is because the bulk of their number seems to be spread away from the city. Based on supply and troop movements, they seem to be engaged in some larger conflict elsewhere. They're openly recruiting locals."

"The Brotherhood of Steel recruiting locals? Are they that desperate?"

"I don't think desperation is the word I'd use. It looks like the opposite. There are a lot of things about this group that differ from those in California. The recruitment, their behavior, even their garb in some cases. They work alongside the locals, but clearly stand above them. The relationship almost seems feudal."

The Brotherhood going native. It was a concept Thomas would've never thought possible for the secretive tech-hording zealots, and he found it concerning. No doubt some of the others would be dismissive of the information. 'Tribals with laser rifles are still tribals', they would say. But Thomas had a bad feeling in his gut. It was allegedly a tribal who blew up Control Station ENCLAVE and left them all without a home. The people of the wasteland were primitive, but their hardiness could not be understated.

"We need a better idea of their numbers and organization. Everything we can learn."

"Some of the local communities are big enough that infiltration should be easy. I'd want more intel before attempting to put someone in the Brotherhood, though."

"So would I. Otherwise, learn what you can from the locals without drawing suspicion. You say the Brotherhood's numbers are large. Do you think you could capture one of them discreetly?"

Captain Lee nodded. "They move about in groups, but most are not equipped with power armor. Taking one should be easy enough."

"Good. We'll have to interrogate them. Find out what the hell they're doing here, how strong they are, who it is they're fighting, and if we should be worried."
It would be an act of aggression, Thomas knew. But only if the Brotherhood discovered them. "Make it look like an attack by locals. Raiders, or perhaps this group they're at war with. Ballistics only. No energy weapons. Take as many alive as you can, but otherwise there can be no survivors."

Thomas was not proud of the order. It painted them squarely as the villains, and the result could be war. But he also knew that they could not remain hidden down here forever, and if their presence was discovered, they would need every advantage available, information most of all. Have I delivered my people into the lair of a dragon?

"Is that all, Sir?"

"It is." Thomas nodded, more to himself than to the Captain. "I'll go over your full report today. Report to me in my office at 04:00 tomorrow morning for a briefing. Then you'll be heading back topside to see it done. In the meantime, Captain, go be with your family."

After Captain Lee was gone, Thomas finished his breakfast and then headed down a level to his office to listen to the holotape in full. As usual, Lee was thorough in his report, detailing Brotherhood numbers, movement patterns, and troop compositions to the best of his abilities, as well as their uncharacteristically intimate relationship with the local communities that went so far as the sharing of their tech. This last part fascinated Thomas the most, for it directly violated the laws of the Brotherhood's codex as he understood it. These people bore the flag of the Brotherhood of Steel, but otherwise they seemed quite different from their isolationist counterparts the Enclave had fought against on the West Coast. Was this a rogue faction? Did they even know of the Enclave's existence?
The final thought gave him pause. If they weren't dealing with the same faction that they'd fought out west, then perhaps they didn't have to be enemies at all.

He was thinking about the possible implications of this when the scent of fresh coffee filled his nostrils. He turned to the open doorway. "Is there a spy hanging around my office?"
A giggle came from outside, then his daughter Amelia rounded into the room with a steaming mug in her little hands. Thomas sat back in his chair and smiled. "That smells good. I hope you brought enough to share."

The child giggled again, then approached his desk and offered it up. Thomas accepted gratefully, took a sip. "Ahh, that's good, Darling. Did you make it yourself?"

"Uh-huh." She nodded with each syllable. 

He held the mug out to her. "Want some?"

She stuck out her tongue. "Yiiick."

Thomas feigned surprise. "You don't like coffee?"

"Nuh-uh," she said, this time shaking her head.

"Well in that case I guess I'll just have to drink all of it. How lucky for me."

She peered over at the dark screen on his terminal, then at the papers on his desk. "Are you working?"

"I am. Top secret Army work."

"How long til you're done?"

He sighed, realizing where this was going. "A few hours. When I'm done here, I've got a meeting with some other officers."

"I wanted to watch a movie."

"We can tonight. Until then, why don't you go play with Darlene?"

"She's still sick. Mrs. Brown won't let her leave her room."

He almost suggested Augustus Autumn's son, but that boy was as strange as his father. "How about the Thatch boys?"

"They only want to do boy stuff. And Tristan's always hitting me!"

"Is he now?" 

"He hits everyone."

"Mm." Normally, Thomas would have written this off as kids playing, but this wasn't the first time he'd heard of those boys being violent. "I'll have a talk with their uncle."

Amelia's eyes went wide. "No no! I don't want him to get in trouble!"

"If he hit you-"

"It wasn't hard!" Her voice softened. "I feel sorry for him. For both of them."

Thomas smiled sadlyEveryone had lost someone when the oil rig exploded. But as far as he was aware, the Thatch boys were the only children in Navarro who'd lost both of their parents that day. Daniel and Alice. Good folks. The boy's uncle had adopted them, but he was a scout like Captain Lee, and spent more time wading through dirt and rubble than fretting over children.
It was a sad story, to be sure, but with so much death followed by the hard migration east, many of their number were too caught up in their own woes to spare much mind for a couple of boys going through a hard time. Who is taking care of them now? he wondered. Surely they're not living alone...

Meeting his daughter's eyes, Thomas couldn't help feeling a sense of pride. If only everyone had this child's the compassion. "I'm so proud of you, Darling." He set down the coffee mug and pulled her in for a hug. "Don't worry. You didn't get Tristan in trouble. Those boys have had a rough go of it, and sometimes that causes children to act out... Adults too, even. But if he keeps on like he is, then he might end up hurting someone, or even himself. I'll see what I can do to help him, okay?"

"You promise he won't be in trouble?"

"I promise." He pinched her nose. "Now tell me, what chapter are you on in your book?"


"Alright, tell you what, you go back to your room and get to chapter... hmm... let's say chapter fifteen. If you can do that before I make back, we'll watch whatever movie you want, and I'll see if I can get us some of those Fancy Lad snack cakes. Sound like a deal?"

Amelia's eyes lit up at the mention of treats. Such things had been few and far between over the last year. "Oh yes!"

"Great. But you'd better hurry. I plan on telling Autumn's eggheads not to say anything stupid this time around. That should cut the meeting's length down by half."

She spun around so fast that her elbow nearly knocked over his coffee cup, then took off back toward their quarters. Thomas allowed the smile on his face to linger a few seconds after she left. He'd needed that little visit. Funny how a child's sympathy did more to make him reflect on things than the cold and empty words of a dozen adults ever could.

It was in that moment Thomas knew he needed to change his plans. Maybe they could capture a Brotherhood soldier unnoticed, maybe they couldn't. It wasn't worth risking war. We have lost enough. It's time for things to change. 

Autumn wouldn't be happy. They couldn't move without more intel, and getting it without abductions was going to take a lot longer. Better get comfortable, then, he thought. I like it here anyway.

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