The_Good_Doctor

Shattered Steel Part 1: Gravestone (Fallout Roleplay)

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."

"Damn."

"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.

"Shit!"
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.”

“Right.”

“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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Posted (edited)

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. To a man who should be respected and feared.

That man looked nothing like 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 men 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 ours tomorrow."

"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 and grinned. "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 descent. 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, man," Felix said, "you know us better than that." He held up four holotags. "We killed the fourth since you only wanted three. 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 point a shotgun at the man's back and fire. The shot echoed out over the river, dropping the man before he could take ten 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.

Edited by The_Good_Doctor
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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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Posted (edited)

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. 

Edited by Witchking_of_Angmar
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Posted (edited)

Madame
Afternoon
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.

Edited by Witchking_of_Angmar
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Posted (edited)

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.”

“Alright.”

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?

Edited by BTCollins8
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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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Posted (edited)

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!”

****, 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 ******* 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 ******* 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 ******* 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, there no better then the ******* 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 ******* old. The lucky bastard had discovered the mother ******* 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 you're ******* 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 **** 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 **** 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 then ******* 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..." 

Edited by bigbossbalrog
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The Sheriff

 

Lawrence was a light sleeper, and he usually only slept for five or so hours. 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 **** 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 ******* 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. 

Edited by BTCollins8
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Thief
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.

"Ha, 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.

****, 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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