Finally emerging back into the hallway, Cort faltered at the amount of people waiting outside. Only half of them were pretending to be there for some other reason, reading posted notices or having mock conversations with each other. The rest were avidly staring at her. Backing up, she thumped solidly into Charon, who inclined his head down towards her and spoke soothingly. "Come on, Cort. You can do it. It's just the same scrubs you've been around all month. Let's go find Sarah and Li and we can get this shit over with."
"I just wish I knew what shit it was." Pushing herself into motion, she strode down the hallway, reaching out her hand. Dogmeat trotted up and placed his head into it a second later, letting her pull on his ears. Looking directly ahead and nowhere else, she rapidly made her way through A-Ring, heading for the Laboratory. I'll see Li and then decide what to do. If Sarah wants to talk to me, she can come find me. I don't give two shits about beating that pompous asshole's face in. Frowning, she moved slightly to the side, Charon coming up on her left at the unspoken request. "So tell me why you wouldn't let me kill that jerk earlier. He deserved it."
Charon leveled a bland stare at her and started flicking out the fingers on one hand as they walked along. "One, we have no weapons and weren't wearing armour. Two, we're currently living in the middle of the fucking Citadel, so killing a Paladin probably wouldn't be the swiftest move. Three, you probably couldn't have done it anyway, so why would I watch you flail around like a Yao Guai having a seizure trying? It was embarrassing." He dodged and grinned as she swatted at him, grabbing her briefly by the Pip-Boy to pull her off balance and into him. "Besides, you can always get him later, or I'll gladly do it for you." His face darkened, banishing his earlier levity. "I would have done it then if I could have. Half your damned face is turning purple, and so are your ribs."
"I'll get him. I'll fucking annihilate him. Bits. Into bits. All of everything into pretty, pretty bits." Cort looked oddly blank for a moment, then shook her head, coming back out of wherever she had just gone. "Do-do you have any idea what's going on? With the...the Purifier?"
"Enclave still has it, and it's still not working. Other than that, don't know, don't care. I was busy with more important things. I do know those bastards are all over the damn place, the shifts that rotated back into the Citadel a few days ago have been twitchy as fuck about it." Hearing the name of the group that had forced James into killing himself jarred her, and she stumbled going down the stairs, Charon hauling back on her belt before she could fall. "Careful! You're always too damn clumsy when you're tired. You've had a long day."
"What? No I haven't." Raising her Pip-Boy, she jabbed at a button. "It's not even two in the afternoon yet, silly." Rolling her eyes when he pointed towards the hand rail, she grabbed it and kept going at a more sedate pace. "Mother hen."
"Damn straight." Pushing through the doors at the bottom of the stairs, they strode into the cavernous room, grey metal walls gleaming in the dim light. Scribes were moving quietly everywhere, and there were echoes of keyboards being hit, slips of technical jargon rising in and out of the soft tapping. Dominating the center of the Lab was the massive Liberty Prime robot the Brotherhood had recovered when they had occupied the old Pentagon, surrounded and supported by a huge grid of scaffolding.
Cort looked at the silent, hulking figure, shining dully where spotlights had been set up to illuminate it. She had been expecting to derive some kind of excitement from seeing it again, thinking about it as they had come down to the Lab, and was vaguely upset when she didn't. Something like this should be driving me wild, and I don't even care. It just doesn't matter anymore. Nothing matters, it's all dead anyway. All dead, I'm all dead, all dust, and all I am is shadows, shadows. "Your shadow at morning striding behind you, your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust."
"What?" Jerking at the concerned, raspy voice that was suddenly next to her ear, she turned to face Charon and smiled.
"Sorry, where was I?"
"You said something about shadows and dust."
"No, I meant where was I really, I don't kn-" Seeing the suspicious look on his face, Cort abruptly snapped her mouth shut, realizing what she was trying to ask him. Quickly running over what she had said and recognizing it, she came up with a rapid excuse, unsure of why she said it but not wanting to worry him. "Sorry. Was thinking about uh, a poem and got side tracked. The line is from something called 'The Wasteland', appropriately enough." Forcing a yawn, she reached her hand out, mentally giving thanks when his face cleared and he took it, lacing his fingers through hers. "You're right, I am tired today."
Frowning, the ghoul looked over behind her. "It's about to get a lot more tiresome."
Cort turned and swore, seeing what was heading their way. Feeling Charon trying to let go, she held tighter, needing the reassurance. Li, Sarah Lyons and Elder Lyons were coming towards her, along with a Scribe, dressed in a similar robe to Lyons' but faded scarlet. He was slight, balding, and with white hair. She scrabbled through her memory for a name, finding it a moment later. Rothchild, that's who he is. The Head Scribe. Just perfect. Li smiled warmly as she came up, and Cort felt slightly better.
"Cort, I'm happy to see you looking better. We were all so worried."
Smirking, she raised an eyebrow. "Even Daniel? I'm sure he was just totally torn up about me."
Li scowled and then waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "Let's not get bogged down by that, there's too much to do. I would like you to meet Elder Lyons and Scribe Rothchild. I've explained to them about the Purifier and the G.E.C.K., and after going through the Brotherhood's Archives, we've managed to locate a Vault that was issued with one." Nodding to Elder Lyons, she stepped back.
"My child, I cannot adequately express my grief at hearing of your father's passing. He was truly a great man, and a shining example to the Wastes." Rothchild moved up beside him, bowing slightly.
"I must also offer my condolences. The world has lost one of its few remaining visionaries."
She nodded at the unwanted platitudes and tried to look interested as Lyons explained what had happened after the incident at the Purifier. After seizing control of the Jefferson Memorial, the Enclave had fortified their position and then started setting up checkpoints on all the old major roads, out in the Wasteland and the downtown core. The Brotherhood was aware of their locations in the city itself, but had been spread so thin by the amount of Super Mutant activity, nothing had been done in regards to stopping them. Since the Enclave seemed to have no interest in engaging with their own outposts, Lyons had remained visibly neutral. Seeing Sarah twitch behind him, Cort got a mental picture of two Radscorpions circling around the same corpse, neither one attacking or getting the prize. Except the Enclave has their prize. It just didn't come with the batteries. Not included. She bit her cheek to keep from laughing wildly as she envisioned Autumn opening a Christmas toy and being disappointed that he couldn't make it work, and managed to force her attention back to Elder Lyons once she started to taste blood.
The Brotherhood knew of the positions in the Wasteland because of the traders and caravan merchants, who had reported on encounters with them when Durga had gone out to trade, looking for any unique tech they might have dug up. The Enclave hadn't been overtly hostile to them either, although more than one had said that the grey-suited officers had talked to them like they were mentally deficient, seeming surprised when they discovered they weren't. After that, they had rattled off some kind of rhetoric about supporting the resumption of a strong economy, provided them with pre-war money and encouraged its use, and according to the little Knight Captain, grilled them for intel. There was also mention of some kind of weird research stations, with cargo containers none of them had been permitted near. Since most of the information Durga received was second and even as far removed as fifth hand, she wasn't sure what was genuine and what wasn't. All the Brotherhood had decided on was that on the surface, the Enclave appeared to be trying to keep up the same appearances as they had with the Eyebots.
Lyons sighed and shook his head, worry lines creasing through the wrinkles of his face. "We of course know that they are looking to control everything under the pretense of restoring the country to what it once was, a laughable endeavour. Project Purity, if it can be made operational, is a large part of that, which is why Doctor Li has remained here under our protection. Thanks to the records her staff was able to uncover in our Archives, we now know the location of what is needed to make that possible, and can guide you on your quest. Since we are currently not in a position to retake the Memorial, we must ensure that the G.E.C.K. does not fall into the Enclave's hands. Rothchild, if you will?" He gestured to the Scribe, and Cort followed behind the group as they moved to a large orange panel glowing out of the far wall. Coming closer, she saw that it was a map of the entire Capital Wasteland, small markers and coordinates popping out as a magnifying disk set on the axis of two rails moved silently over it.
"As you see, we have records of every Vault built in the Capital Wasteland." Listening to Rothchild go on about the different locations, Cort bitterly wondered if any of these people realized that they had been effectively talking at her, and not to her. She hadn't made a peep after the quip about Daniel Agincourt. Again, I'm the errand girl for what everyone needs, slaved out to the march of someone else's drum. All because of that fucking Purifier. I should strangle every last one of them, then they'll shut up and it'll be quiet except for the sounds in my own head, my own- Cort blinked, feeling Charon squeezing her hand. She had his in a crush, gripping so hard she was hurting herself, and she forced her fingers to relax as Rothchild started talking about Vault 87.
"I'm afraid that finding your way into this particular Vault may prove to be rather difficult. From what we've been told by local travellers, there appears to be massive amounts of radiation around the recorded location of the entrance. There is however, another possibility. 87 is extremely close to an expansive cave system, Lamplight Caverns, and it is entirely possible that Vault-Tec took advantage of them during the initial construction. You may be able to gain access there." He fell silent then, and she realized everyone was waiting for her to respond, looking at her questioningly.
Cort forced a smile onto her face and tried to sound cheerful. "Sure, I might be able to. I have the location already in my Pip-Boy. We can start out tomorrow."
Lyons beamed at her. "Excellent! I was hoping you would be willing to start so soon, where we cannot. With you assisting us, we can make your parents' dream a reality. I will inform Durga that she is permitted to trade with you, should you require anything for your journey. You may also inquire with Paladin Gunny if you are interested in receiving Power Armour training, the knowledge may be of use to you in the future." Clapping his hands together, he nodded to Cort and moved away, Rothchild bowing and following after a moment later. Turning to the other two women, she instantly regretted the movement. Li was looking at her with such a sappy expression of blind hope that Cort felt sick just looking at it.
"I knew we would be able to count on you. You're so much like your father." Her face turned suddenly serious. "Cort, back in the Purifer, James mentioned showing me a gift Charon had given you. What was he talking about? It could mean something extremely important for us."
"He gave me this." Cort lifted her right hand, showing Li the part of the Masterbrain Charon had presented to her as a bracelet. She had almost forgotten about the odd comment entirely, and watched as Li grasped and turned it, looking at the numbers.
"Four eights. There's no way it could be that simple."
"What?" Li shook her head and smiled in response to her puzzled expression, letting go of her.
"Don't worry about it for the moment. I'm not sure if it means anything yet anyway. Let me know if there's anything you need before you set out, I need to get back to work. There's going to be a lot to do shortly."
Watching her trot off, Cort reluctantly looked to the last person standing in front of them, giving Charon's hand another squeeze as she focused in on the woman. If anyone was disapproving of the way she was holding onto the ghoul, she hadn't noticed it, and presumed by now everyone was used to her being attached to him in some capacity. Well, that's something. Now if we can just get the rest of the assholes out there to do this I'll be on top of the flippin' world. If the Brotherhood can do it, why the hell not everyone else. "Hi, Sarah."
"Hey kid. Nice to see you up and around."
Cort plastered her smile back on, finding it a bit harder to do this time. It felt like she was having to pay attention to herself constantly, although holding onto Charon made it easier. It makes everything real. You've got him, he's real, he's there. He's not a lie like everything else is, so just hold on. "Nice to be up and around. Listen, I'm sorry about having a brawl in the middle of the Great Hall, but that Paladin had it coming."
The blonde grinned briefly. "Knight."
"Once Father heard what he had done to you, Jeffries was busted down the ranks. Thought you should know." This time Cort's smile was genuine.
"Freaking awesome. I bet he's pissed as hell."
"Oh you bet he is, and nobody will sympathize with him since they found out what happened."
"Good." Feeling suddenly overwhelmed, she slumped, tired with absolutely everything and wanting nothing more than to escape from it. "Listen Sarah, I really need to crash out. I know I just came around, but I feel like I've been awake for days."
"No problems kid. You need anything, ever, you find me or one of the Pride. You too, Charon." Tipping a lazy salute as the ghoul nodded, she moved off and out of the Lab. Cort stayed where she was for the moment, letting the quiet sounds of the room envelop her again. Charon broke through them after a few minutes had passed, looking decidedly morbid.
"You should get some rest starting now if we're heading that far out. It's going to be a fucking slog." He tugged on her hand and she allowed herself to be led back to their room, collapsing on the bed when they got there and curling up into a loose ball. Patting on it, she hugged Dogmeat to her when he jumped up and laid down.
"We're not going to Vault 87."
Charon blinked. Remembering her insanely dogged pursuit of her father, he had expected her to want to set out for the G.E.C.K. as soon as possible and hadn't bothered trying to dissuade her, seeing it as a pointless waste of energy. "What? Then why did you tell them that?"
"Tell them what? I never directly told them I would be doing anything for them, I only stated facts that they could assume whatever they wanted out of. Let them think I am, it'll keep them feeling all fuzzy and make them leave me the fuck alone. I never want to have anything to do with Project Purity again. It's taken everything from me. It took my home, it took who I was, it took away my father. For all I fucking know, it took away my Mom. If she had been in a real clinic, maybe I wouldn't have killed her. I won't let it take the rest of my life they way it took my parents."
Frowning, he considered correcting what she had said about her mother and then decided it wasn't the time, seeing how stony her face was. Finding her statements about Project Purity to be entirely accurate, he didn't give them a second thought. Cort herself was eminently adapted for surviving on the existing available water, and the ghoul was willing to ignore the moral issues of not completing the Purifier if trying to do so ended up killing her. It had already come chillingly close. I'm willing to blow the fucking thing sky high if it'll make her safer. Screw everyone else, they're made out so far. Sitting down on the floor next to the bed, he reached out and gently worked his fingers into her hair. "Well then, what are we going to do?"
Cort considered the question carefully, her expression relaxing somewhat at his caress. Part of her still wanted to stay buried somewhere, but the feeling had lessened drastically after making up her mind about not wanting to complete her parents' work. And that's what it was. Their work. I do my own work. "Everything we want to for a change. I want to explore just because, see what's out there. I started helping people on my own while I was out here too, and I'm going to keep doing it. Dad was right, the people out here are mine, and I'll take care of them. But I'll do it without that fucking mechanical albatross that's perched on the river."
Knowing her penchant for vendettas, he asked an extremely pertinent question, phrasing it to suss out how insane her potential plans would be. "And the Enclave? They seriously screwed you over, Cort. Personally, I definitely want to blow their heads off. Top of my fucking list."
"Ditto. Well a frontal assault is out, we both know that. We'll pick them off as we go, take them out one by one, guerrilla warfare. Eventually, they'll run out of bodies. Will they ever. We'll kill every last stinking one of them." And I'll make it slow, so slow. I'll make them feel every inch. They'll beg me for it. All of them will, everyone. She blinked, her head clearing as Charon rubbed behind her ear. "They won't be able to use the Purifier either. They have no idea what they need or where it's located. Nobody but me, you, and the people here know about the G.E.C.K. or where Vault 87 is, and there's no way anyone is ever getting back into the Vault-Tec Mainframe without me. Niels freakin' Bohr couldn't crack through the mess I made in those terminals."
"Good enough." Pushing himself back up, he moved over to their packs and started digging around for something to feed her, frowning. Once they left, he would have to kill something for them to eat. Since everything from their supply run was still in their packs when they left the Memorial, he had had more than enough food to keep all three of them going, but they were nearly out of it, not having had a chance to go out and scrounge up more. What was left were mainly packets of junk food, things he personally thought were crap in a bag. Shrugging, he took out what remained. Fuck it, I'll find her a Mirelurk tomorrow, it'll be a cinch this close to the river. That'd be better than anything, and she can stuff herself silly.
"Think I should take the time to learn how to use Power Armour?" Charon turned and crossed his arms, eyeing her critically as she weakly tugged on Dogmeat's ears.
"I'd say yes, but there's probably no way you could do it right now. It's been a month, Cort. I meant it earlier when I said you've had a long day; for what you're used to right now, it was. I kept you moving, but there wasn't much else I could do to keep you fit."
"So you're saying..."
"I'm saying you're pretty much a pale-assed, limp-wristed wuss at the moment. I think you'll have problems with just our normal armour."
"Hey! I beat the hell out of that asshole this morning."
"You scraped him up and got lucky because your aim isn't dependent on strength. If you had been in your normal physical condition and gone at him while that fucking pissed, you probably would have crushed his skull before I could've grabbed you."
Cort didn't find that particular idea to be disagreeable. The thought that she had lost part of her competitive edge was. "So, great. I'm back to being the pantywaist I was when I left the Vault, perfect."
Charon snorted derisively and rolled his eyes. "Hardly. Don't be a fucking idiot. You'll be fine after you get out again for a while, and like I said, you can aim. Now, where are we getting out to? Please not somewhere blisteringly stupid like you normally choose." Cort stuck her tongue out and he grinned.
Closing her eyes, she carefully considered the question. While she could remember everything about the Citadel from her time there, none of it felt familiar, and she dearly wanted something familiar. Needed it. Settling on the place where she had lived the longest since emerging from the Vault, she opened them back up. "Underworld. I want to go to Underworld. Then I want to go see Gob. I want to see people who don't want me to do anything for them for once, who just want to see me." She sighed. "I'll have to ask Gunny to teach me later. That'll be fun when I come back, explaining why I haven't been trotting out like a good little soldier to fix the fucking Purifier."
"Don't worry about it, I'll teach you, I know how to wear the shit. It'll take me longer, but I can do it. You'll hate it though, noisy as hell."
"How the heck do you know how to...oh. Them."
"Yes, them. Now come on, you need to eat something and go to sleep." Sitting back down next to the bed as Cort reluctantly sat up, Charon handed her the last cartons and tins of food until she had completely gorged herself and tipped back over. He hadn't mentioned it, but Cort was also visibly thinner. Keeping her adequately fed had been difficult even when she had started doing it herself, and she was at least twenty pounds lighter than she had been. It had been hard to tell in the shapeless Vault suit, but now that she was back in her regular clothing it was obvious, the t-shirt and pants practically hanging off of her. She had been thrashed out on every possible level, and it showed in every inch. "How about we spend a whole week there, huh? No rush to get anywhere now. We can scrag ferals and scavenge for caps, easy stuff." In response to his question, she started snoring, and he sighed. Pulling himself up, Charon motioned for Dogmeat to get down, removing Cort's boots as the dog obeyed. Taking off his own after snapping the light off, he curled up behind her and buried his face in her hair, willing himself to sleep along with her as he held her tightly. "Promise me you'll still be you when you wake up. Promise you'll be here."
The ghoul got half of his wish. Cort managed to sleep until somewhere around midnight before she woke up screaming, chased out of it by nightmares. "DADDY!" Jerking awake, Charon instantly vaulted out of the bed and crouched defensively in front of it as he hit the floor, eyes searching the gloom and arms aggressively spread out to face whatever was threatening her before rapidly turning back to his sobbing employer.
"What the hell, Cort?" Reaching over, he snapped her Pip-Boy light on and peered into her face as she wailed.
"I saw him die, I saw him die again and I couldn't stop it, oh God, why couldn't I stop it, why? I didn't even hug him that morning, why didn't I go hug him? I tried so hard...trying hard to stop it...what's happening to me?" She suddenly shook her head violently, heaving wretchedly as she cried and nearly throwing up as her lungs emptied with each expulsion of grief.
"Fuck." Moving back onto the bed, he pulled her into him and started stroking her hair, his other arm wrapped around her shoulders as she leaned against his chest. "You couldn't do either because it wasn't possible. There was too much shit stacked against you. It wasn't your fault." She didn't respond, only pressed herself in tighter, her face wavering between sadness and a flat, cold fury. Glancing at her as he shifted his arms to cradle her, he wasn't sure which he liked the look of less. After a long while, she settled down and he laid her back on the bed, apprehensively observing her until he noted her falling asleep again. Relieved, he pushed himself back into his own rest after waiting to make sure she was entirely under. Charon had the nagging feeling that he was going to need all he could get.
Cort slipped in and out of her restive slumber for hours as she felt things slip around within her. Somewhere, deep inside but not tucked far enough away to be hidden completely, there was a hole in the fabric of what she was, letting out something that she could be. It had been there since she had first left the Vault, tearing wider as she moved through her new life and was battered by it. Finding the dog and the ghoul had started to mend the wound; losing James had made it rupture irreparably, the trauma of the event almost managing to rip her mind entirely apart. Her earlier confession to Charon had been chillingly accurate, and her two companions and remembered friends were the only things keeping her from degenerating further, aside from her own tattered will. Anything agitating her before had a chance to cause her temper to flare out of control; if she was left unchecked, it now had the potential to drive her into an unstoppable maelstrom of violence.
She smiled, feeling a large body press against her own, the touch briefly bringing her out of where she was going. She smiled again after it had moved away, Charon rolling over in his sleep, and this time it was terrible. I'm in the dark, what I am is in the dark. Dark am I, yet lovely. In the dark, I have no name.
Cort had come back wrong.
So concludes the first chronicle of Cort, Charon and Dogmeat. Look for their continuing adventures in the second installment, "Into the Pitt, She Falls".
Wow, so here we are at the ending of Out of the Dust, She Rises. I want to thank every single one of you for reading, especially my reviewers! Those of you who have taken the time for multiple ones, and those of you who have reviewed for the first time just to tell me something, all of you, are totally freaking aces. Thanks to the silent ones too, I can see you on the traffic page!
My second installment(I am planning three in total) will be about this length or so, and as I can say this without giving any plot points away, much, much darker(I'll also be getting more risque with the language in some of the sex related chapters, since I'm more comfortable writing them now). And no, you won't go frootloopy waiting, the first chapter of 'Into the Pitt' is already up, or will be when catches up. ;) I planned ahead. If you missed it on the front page, remember you can find it by clicking on my name at the top of the page. Those of you who have faved this part or added it to your alerts, I would LOVE it if you would do the same for next one, I found it greatly encouraging.