"Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times."
An Iron Lady still stands in New York harbor, the original copper gleam of her skin now faded into a dull, greenish gray. In her hand she still holds a torch to the sky. Below her feet, weary and sorrowful men are cleaning the remnants of the battle. Among the wounded, Sven and Mina were kept on Liberty Island, the majority of the medics, Julia included, were called over from Ellis to directly tend to the wounded at the battle site. A rather depressed Mina laid on her bed while a tearful Eleanor still grieved over the news of her departed father. Julia sighed as she did her best to tend to both girls. Sven was still going to be a mess for a few days but now he was mostly drugged up while his whole back was swimming in medication, antiseptics and bandage. The pyromaniac insisted on helping in what way he could. To him fell a final, dismal task which he was only just recently told and he was brooding over it. It was one of the rare times that the man's more somber side could be seen. Meanwhile, Julia stood over Mina while still holding Eleanor.
"It's okay…we'll take care of both of you…until you both can get back on your feet." The young mother told both of them. Suddenly, with an alarmed squeak, Rat came bounding from the docks and rushed up to Mina, planting the wounded girl with plenty of wet rat kisses.
Off in the distance, Julia could hear her husband yelling with some of the higher ranking officers and, oddly enough, the archbishop.
"I can't believe this, our men fought and died to kill off these bastards and you want to give them equal treatment with our fallen?" a Ranger officer yelled at James. The marksman was indignant.
"If we're going to sacrifice a ship to ceremonially burn our fallen, we will do the same with the Lab 18 dead, not toss them into the waves like trash for the mirelurks! Find another ship, I don't care what you do, they will be treated equally!" James snarled. Francis simply stood with his arms crossed. He was curious as to what his employee was getting at. The archbishop tried to restore order.
"Tell me, my son, why you are insisting on this?" the priest asked calmly.
"Yes, tell us, traitor." The Ranger officer spat. James stared venomously at him.
"200 years ago, in a war no less, our ancestors decided that they knew better and that some other group of people were less than themselves. Because of their stupidity, our world went up in flames because of the arrogance of man who thought he could dictate who was worthy to be called an equal. If we do not remember this and act no differently, we will continue to destroy and kill ourselves. I don't agree with anything they did. I'm still angry at them too. But that doesn't change the fact that they were people too." James replied. Both the Ranger officer and another regulator immediately were at arms.
James backhanded both of them with his prosthetic, knocking them to the ground.
"They will be treated equally, even in death!" James screamed.
And that settled that.
In the end, two creaking and groaning freighters were loaded up with the bodies, one with the fallen coalition dead, the other with those from Lab 18. Respectfully laid in the proper ship was Lieutenant Scotti Toye and so many others. On the shore, the priest gave the final words of committal.
"In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God these people and commit their earthly remains to the deep. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless them and keep them, the Lord make His face to shine upon them and be gracious to them. The Lord lift up His countenance upon them and them peace."
The ships were cast off, the old and decrepit engines set to run on their own power as the others watched from the shore. The band of mourners a smaller group than those who had given their lives. Rolling across the waves, Carl's baritone voice carried a tune that came to his mind from his childhood, still not forgotten after all these years.
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see!"
The Liberators stood solemnly on the shore joined by their friends. Even agent Daniel Siaga and Athena stood aside quietly, close to their vertibird. Painfully with a pronounced limp, Sven walked off from the group and pulled a remote detonator from his coat. He watched on for a couple moments before hitting the button. Far off on the horizon, they watched the ships ignite in flames. There would be no explosion this time, just chemical fires to immolate the bodies.
"When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun! We've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun!" Carl sang before finishing the hymn. The group watched on for a couple moments before people starting walking off in groups. In the end, the Liberators along with Mina, Eleanor, Francis, Lex and the Iron Storm knights and finally Rat, turned to leave. They were surprised to see that Delta Sierra was still there off in the distance. However, the Enclave agent was slowly stepping into the vertibird, Athena already firing up the rotors. Delta Sierra gave them a full salute before disappearing into the aircraft.
"I wonder what that meant." Adam murmured. They were a bit surprised to hear Francis answer.
"A sign of respect. He may still hate you. He may still try to kill you. He will certainly most try to deceive you again if ordered. But he respects you." Francis replied before lighting a cigarette. The old man glanced up and noticed Lady Liberty still standing with that torch raised in her hand, held there after all these years.
Even in the darkest of times, hope had still burned and in the end it won.
The next day, Delta Sierra long gone, the Liberators and most of the Brotherhood of Steel were still trying to clean up the mess on the island. At this point, the Brotherhood were trying to salvage and retro-engineer most of what Lab 18 had left. At some point or another, Mark and Cindy were ready to request their leave.
"Well, I think we've done all we can. Permission to get back on duty in the city?" Mark asked Francis. The regulator grandmaster simply nodded.
"Is this the part where I request for a replacement for Norad?" Mark added. Francis simply motioned towards the giant war machine behind them, patiently waiting for further orders on the beach.
"Seems like you already found your replacement. However, I'll keep an eye open." Francis replied. This time, Mark nodded.
"As obnoxious as he was, I'm going to miss that robot." Mark muttered before he and Cindy boarded the Phlegyas just as the machine stepped into the waves and made its way back to the mainland.
Meanwhile, at the docks where James, Julia, Sufia, Mina, Eleanor and Rat loaded up some final supplies onto the Half Moon. Noticing that Eleanor was still in a stupor, Julia came up to her.
"You know, you can stay with us as long as you need to. We know places that will be safe that will always need a doctor…also, feel free to visit us and your father. Adam is arranging for his body to be buried beside his cousin…outside our vault." Julia told the young girl.
"Thank you…but I think I'll be returning up north to the Commonwealth. I made a promise to my dad before he passed. If I ever got the chance I was going to return and take control of Lab 18; make sure stuff like this never happens again." Eleanor replied. James nodded, overhearing the whole thing.
"Redemption is always better than outright destruction." The man stated. Julia agreed on one condition.
"All right, but we're sending you up with a caravan escort. No arguments." Julia said.
"How about you, Mina? What are you planning?" James asked.
"Think I'll stay here awhile. You know if Francis might have a team that needs an extra hand?" Mina asked. James pointed at the old man.
"I'm sure he does but its best you ask him yourself on that matter."
"On that matter, I have a similar question, Mr. Vanderbraun." Sufia chimed in. James glanced at her.
"You can call me James." The medic replied.
"Yes. Anyway, do you think your boss will accept me as a regulator?" Sufia asked. James stared at her for one long hard moment.
"No offense, but when I first laid eyes on you, I was not sure how you survived so long out in the wastes. The first time I saw you pick up a gun, I was fairly certain the only thing you were dangerous to was yourself." James stated. Sufia's mouth parted in horror and disappointment at what she heard.
"But from what I saw yesterday…you have drive. You go with Mina and talk to Francis yourself. If you need an endorsement, you'll have mine." James finished. Sufia smiled and gently bowed.
"Thank you…friend. Both of you, for what you have done. For everything." Sufia sputtered before taking Mina's hand and walking her off towards Francis' direction. Julia meanwhile stepped up next to her husband and affectionately kissed him on the cheek.
"…So, you ever think about retiring lately?" Julia asked. James chuckled before staring out at the endless waves.
"Why? Do you think I should?" James asked. Julia herself hesitated.
"I want you to be safe. We have a son now and I want him to grow up with a father." Julia stated.
"And yet I sense that's not everything." James replied. Julia smiled.
"But I also believe that there is so many people out there who still need someone like you to save the day…I need you to still do that. Just so that it can be a little safer out there for all of us." Julia said. James nodded.
"I'll talk to Francis…see what my options are. I doubt I'll be turning in this duster anytime soon…but maybe there can be ways that I can spend more time at home." James said. After a moment, both of them dropped their gaze at their feet to see Rat contently napping in the sun. James scratched his chin for a moment.
"You think he'd make a good babysitter?" James asked. Julia shrugged.
"For someone who lacks opposable thumbs…we're still going to need help." Julia replied.
Over on the beach, Carl was throwing together a pile of the mostly shattered Lab 18 power armor parts he could find. If anything, he was certain that the Brotherhood wouldn't mind if just a few pieces went missing. There were plenty to choose from and he was pretty sure he and his fellow Liberators could make use with some of the equipment. Off to the side, he noticed Sven hobbling along, collecting parts for explosives.
"You okay there buddy? Shouldn't you be resting, anyway?" Carl asked.
"Nah, back can heal on its own. I'll feel better knowing I have more explosives." Sven replied. Carl nodded before speaking again.
"Hey, are you all right? I noticed you haven't exactly been smiling and you seem a little more somber than usual. I mean, we all know you were a pyromaniac and all…I just hope that little – I can't believe I'm saying this – explosion back there didn't exactly kill your joy in life." Carl stated. Sven stared at him.
"…Of course I'm still a pyromaniac. My entire back hurts, of course I'm not exactly going to be smiling. What did you expec- ooh! Plasma grenade!" Sven stated excitedly, hurriedly rushing to snatch the wayward explosive. Carl rolled his eyes before chuckling. Maybe their pyromaniac was plenty screwed up in the head but at least he was still happy. Just wouldn't be the same without Slightly Psycho Sven.
Sitting on the ground just on the southernmost edge of the fortress, Adam sat contemplatively in the sand. He had felt the need to get away from it all. However, he was mostly surprised to see Alexandra walk up him.
"There you are. I was wondering where you had disappeared off to." Alexandra stated, sitting down next to him. She noticed that Adam had a small slip of paper in his hands. Apparently, it was the old photograph of himself, Lowell and Leslie.
"I'm sorry about what happened…to both of them." Alexandra stated.
"…I'll find a way to live. I'm really going to miss both of them." Adam admitted.
"Well, I'm sure they were both good people." Alexandra replied. Adam nodded.
"Yes…but I also know that I'm surrounded by good people here. Our mission is over. The Hudson has been mapped and the information is recorded. I've given Francis a full report and he said he'll be sending the regulators shortly…once we replenish the ranks. What I'm saying is that you're free to go. We won't be requisitioning the Half Moon anymore." Adam said.
"Very well…and for this one trip I won't charge for any of the expenses you and your men racked up." Alexandra smiled.
"Though…that doesn't mean I don't wish to see you again. Feel free to stop by the vault anytime." Adam said carefully.
"And feel free to give me a call if you ever need transportation on the river." Alexandra said.
"…So would you ever consider dating…well…me?" Adam asked. Alexandra smirked at him.
"Now don't kill me here." Adam muttered.
"Break my heart, and I'll break your bank account." Alexandra replied.
…One Year Later…
Mina walked alongside Mark and Cindy, sporting an old but familiar hat as well as some very familiar weapons. All told, she had been working alongside the two regulators for many months now. Francis found it only fitting to take over Norad's place. Granted, Phlegyas did a lot of the work but there were times precision was needed and that was where Mina came in.
"So you think Phlegyas will be all right patrolling the city by himself?" Cindy asked.
"He's a giant war machine. The scribes assured me that his programming is pretty sturdy. It's not like he hasn't followed my instructions before." Mark replied.
"True…and it's not like we're going to be able to lose him." Cindy said.
"That would most certainly be difficult." Mina chuckled.
"Well, there it is, the new headquarters." Mark announced, taking a pause to look the place over.
"Otherwise known as the Liberators' vault." Mina added.
"Yeah well, the old man never did get around to replacing the old cabin." Mark muttered.
Before, the Liberators were a bit apprehensive of the location of their vault being given away. After all, it would only make sense that the unscrupulous would try to take it away from them. The last idea they relished was the thought of being caught under siege with a gang outside and being stuck in a steel cave. However, with all the regulator traffic going into and out of the vault, those fears kind of died away. It was almost a matter now of wishing they had no visitors.
The group past not a few regulators before they even made it through the door. Many of the regulators were fresh recruits but at least their numbers were growing again, replacing the many they had lost at Liberty. However, they could smell Carl's cooking before they even made it to the main area. The large cook was booming something apparently to the new recruits, something about having them take down another mirelurk to hone their skills and make up for all the food that was being eaten. Otherwise, they found Francis sitting at what had become his new makeshift desk, complete with papers, his plasma rifle leaning by its side and a glass of anything that could have been alcohol or mildly clean water.
"We're here to stop by for a bit…and to collect on our bounties." Mark greeted the older regulator. Francis grunted before parceling out the proper amount of caps and then promptly tossing the fingers down a chute into the incinerator.
"So where's everyone else?" Mina asked. Francis raised an eyebrow at her.
"I take it you mean the other Liberators? Busy. Sven and James are working on a getting a robobrain up and running." Francis explained.
"Whatever for?" Mina inquired.
"Julia can tell you. There she is right now." Francis pointed in the proper direction. They both looked over to see a smiling Julia decked in her scholarly robes. Most surprising however was that in each arm she held a newborn.
"They're only a couple weeks old. James and I were a bit surprised when we found out I was expecting. We had kind of given up hope about having children of our own." Julia said.
"What are their names?" Mina cooed, looking at both of them.
"I'd like you to meet Lowell and Evelyn Leslie Vanderbraun. It was Adam who gave James the idea about Lowell, James had always been set on Evelyn's name." Julia explained.
"What about Isaac?" Mina asked.
At that moment Rat came bounding up to Mina and gave a happy squeak as a greeting, before scrambling off briefly, only to return dragging a toddling Isaac, the child dead set on crawling the other direction. The group laughed, even Francis could not help but smile a bit.
"Rat has been Isaac's friend and babysitter…well, ever since the beginning in case you didn't notice. I think it's only fitting since the rodent was in fact that one that sniffed him out at Albany. Still, James thought it best that we're all going to need a little more help keeping an eye on all of them…especially with three of them now." Julia explained.
"And where's Adam?" Mina inquired.
"Out speaking with the captain." A familiar voice replied. Mina turned around and saw Sufia. She still had her head scarf on but now she too wore the olive green duster of a regulator. Mina glanced over at Francis.
"A little experiment that I thought about going on. Sufia has shown it was a good idea. She's a hired security on the Half Moon. Yes, she helps out Alexandra but she answers to me and helps keep the shipping lanes as well as the ports clear of any raiders or pirates. It's not an easy job but Sufia has shown herself capable of it." Francis explained. Sufia nodded.
"Thank you, sir." Sufia replied.
"Ah, so you mean they're on a date." Mina replied. At that moment both Sven and James walked in.
"More than a date. Adam asked me a month ago to go make something at the vault forge. He wanted me to make a ring. I'm pretty sure he's out there popping the question to her." James said. Mina giggled.
"So we have something to look forward to when he gets back, yes?" Mina asked.
"It better be a yes. Making that ring was not easy." James muttered.
"Did anyone hear from them yet?" Saffron asked excitedly, shuffling into the room. Apparently she was rather excited. Saffron had been running her own cargo routes when necessary on the Clermont but otherwise, especially with all the goods they had to haul, she usually teamed up with her sister on the river routes, both ships carrying all the cargo.
"No, but you're welcome to join us to dinner while we wait I suppose." Carl announced, walking in with large platters piled high with various dishes of mirelurks.
Dinner at the vault was a throwback to the group meals on the Half Moon a year earlier. Yes, Ibrahim, Lowell and Scotti were not there but the group had learned to honor their memories in the lives that they currently lived. Sufia and Saffron giggled as they reminisced over their shared stories on the river while Francis every now and then gave a short story on his adventures in New York. Carl was thoroughly enjoying his food while Sven took a break from his constant search on trying to find ways to blow things up. James and Julia kept their growing family under supervision while everyone could still tell the love they had for each other. Rat was busy stuffing his snout into a can of pork n beans as he sat next to Mina's leg.
And it was in the middle of all of that that Adam and Alexandra walked in.
"So James…I think I owe you an apology…" Adam started off. James as well as Carl and Sven were immediately at attention. This was not expected.
"I think I better apologize for the hard time I gave you about going through a wedding and all with Julia…because I'm about to do the same with Alexandra. You think you could talk to the priest for me? Alexandra said yes." Adam admitted sheepishly while Alexandra was actually smiling. James chuckled.
"Sure, I can talk to the priest. Congratulations." James replied and he was echoed by others. However, it was Mina who had to get everyone's attention by singling out Francis.
"Sir, do you remember a year ago when I said I intended to return back to the Capital Wasteland?" Mina asked. Francis nodded.
"After this payment I have enough to return. I'm going to have to request your leave. I'll transfer to the Capital Wasteland regulators over there but my time here is done." Mina announced. The group stared at her while Francis thought it over. You could practically see his gray mustache hairs shuffle.
"Very well. Keep the duster, you'll need it. I think it may even be starting to fit you." Francis muttered.
"Thank you, sir." Mina replied. It was at that moment that she felt Rat paw at her pant leg. The rodent actually let out a sorrowful whine. The Liberators were a bit shocked. Rat had certainly squeaked and chattered irritably before but this was the first time they heard him actually whine.
"I'll miss you too, Rat. I promise if I'm ever back in the area I'll look you guys up." Mina told them all while stroking the rodent's head.
"Well, before you all leave, I think you'll want to see this. Remember back at Liberty before the battle? Did you notice a scribe going around with a camera?" Julia asked. Everyone shook their heads to the negative.
"Scribe Lex understood something very important was happening and he wanted to have it documented. Well, here are the copies of pictures that were made." Julia explained, showing them the black and white photographs. The group immediately started hunting through them. They found a picture of Mark, Cindy and Norad in the foreground while only the Phlegyas' legs could be seen. A later picture showed the towering war machine in all its imposing power. There was a picture of Delta Sierra and Athena by the vertibird, followed by Francis and Scribe Lex talking. There was another of Paladin Hail and the Iron Storm troopers standing at attention. Then there was a picture of Adam and Lowell sharing a drink followed by yet another picture of the original four Liberators, their L insignias at their sleeves as they stared at the camera. Perhaps the best picture was the last, a group photo of all of them, Francis, Saffron, Sufia and Alexandra, the Liberators, Lowell and Scotti, Eleanor and Mina carrying Rat in her arms, Mark, Cindy and Norad as well Paladins Rufus, Fernando and the Iron Storm troopers.
Clothed in a white lab coat, Eleanor Morgan stood vindicated as she stepped through the hallway. It had taken the better part of a year but her original projects had been completed. Her initial reforms to Lab 18 were accomplished, their more militant branches shut down while further research was made in inoculations, bionic prosthetics and medications. However, there was one task that had eluded her for so long until know. In fact, she was cradling it in her hands.
The last live but contained sample of Virus 8191; otherwise known as the Red Plague or The New York Scourge.
Eleanor turned the vial into a cryogenic freezer deep within Lab 18's storage and archive. This was what she hoped would be a one way trip for the virus. No more experiments would be done with the virus and the biological weapons branch of Lab 18 had been shutdown.
She remembers the promise she made to her father a year ago and today that promise is finally finished.
She misses him deeply and remembers him every day.
Somewhere in a location that is best left classified with equipment that requires a high clearance from his superiors, a certain Enclave agent stalks through his environment. Another day, another mission. He can't talk about the details of this one, the same way he could not tell you about the last one either. Sometimes he can be seen. Sometimes he is simply just a trick of the eye. No matter what, he is invisible and is only seen when he wants to be. Most would still coin him ruthless but he still likes to think of himself as a pragmatist, doing his best for what remains of the former American government. However, he notices that every now and then, he lets an enemy or two go. It's not like they really needed to die.
He credits a certain group of regulators for this new change in his behavior.
Late at nights, when his friends are asleep and the children have been put to bed, an aging Regulator grandmaster takes his last sip of water before closing the books and filing the caps away. It has been many hard years of work, many decades of perseverance, chasing a dream he was certain he would never see take embodiment with his own eyes. Still, he kept on because he believed the dream was worth keeping alive.
And in the space of only two years, he found a promising group of individuals who not only shared his dream. They were making it come true. Sometimes the old man finds himself actually feeling excitement in his ancient bones. Perhaps…just maybe…he'll live to see the dream come true.
He considers the Liberators an answered prayer.
Author's Note: Well, that marks the end of another Duster story. I'd like to thank all those who reviewed and gave their input and encouragement. Special thanks especially to Forfie, AlphaOmega92, Agent 94, SundayWinterchild and many others.
I would also like to thank my co-author on this, EasyCompany506. Congrats on your first finished story. It has been a pleasure working with you and your valued input.
Questions, comments, critiques and concerns can always be PMed or left on a review.
Having come to the end of the story, there was one episode I feel some of the readers may be wanting an explanation on, the deaths of the Liberators. I was rather surprised at the apparent trauma it caused among the audience though I suppose I should be flattered at how valued the Liberators are. However, that was the point of the exercise. It seems that the Liberators had risen to legendary status both within the story and on the website. I needed a reminder that they were still mortal.
Of course, I'm not quite through with them yet.