Trials of Diplomacy

Chapter 12: Dead Reckoning

Operative Quintus Schieber and Knight Jamie Bors had set up the Scribe and temporary team for security at the Republic. The Mister Handy was getting calibrated to work on construction with parameters for brick and mortar. The two intelligence agents were on board the vertibird again, the plan was to visually scout the area north by north west of the Republic. Reports of the Enclave moving personnel in and out piqued interest for BIOS. Bors was riding shotgun with the pilot as Schieber was strapped into the back with their robot companion Trip still in it's shipping container.

The terrain under the vertibird hardly changed. The quick winds, desertification and ruins of the old world littered the landscape. The patchy cloud cover gave some ability for the vertibird to hide at a low altitude. When out of cloud cover, Bors would scan the area. The vertibird passed over the beginnings of a dead burnt out forest.

"Turn north up here, too much cover in those woods," said Bors as he turned to the back, "Quin, come see this."

Schieber unbuckled from his seat and clanked forward to the cockpit, "are those... trees?

A burnt down forest stretched for miles into the east. Devoid of leaves and branches, the remains of trees stood upright like standing pikes. The tough wind had knocked several trees from the parameter of the forest over, but the relative dense standing of the woods prevented all of the spikes from tumbling down. There was a ping on the vertibird's sonar system.

"Someone or something is trying to read our IFF code," stated the pilot before there was an alarm sound, "shit!"

Bors and Schieber looked over to the pilot, "what do you mean, shit?"

The alarm got louder as the pilot began to turn the vertibird, "we're getting locked on by... a surface to air missile."

The beeping was a solid alarm now, "we didn't see any missile go off."

"The first one is a warning," answered the pilot, his face scared, "brace for impact!"

The missile exploded next to the tail end of the vertibird, shrapnel shot through the plane. Pressurized air was being lose though the small fissures in the travel compartments. Papers were flying around the back as Schieber ran and grabbed his helmet and tossed Bors his. The pilot was only in recon armor and on the vertibird's breathing system. Over the internal communication system.

"The main rudder is fragged, even trying to level off is like steering a sinking boat," commented the pilot, "have you two done a hard drop yet?"

"Only in simulations," replied Bors as he pulled Schieber to the back of the vertibird.

"What is a hard drop," asked Quin as he looked to Bors.

"Teach him on the way down," ordered the pilot as the alarm started again, "your robot is in the box, attach a chute, I'm opening the bay doors now."

The transport doors opened and the papers flew out. Bors tied a parachute to a metal box with the acronym T.R.I.P. stenciled on to it. He latched the auto – pull line for the chute on a carabiner and kicked the box out of the vertibird. It tumbled as the line grew taught and the beige parachute unfurled to slow it's haste to the earth. Bors then grabbed Schieber by the shoulder plates.

"Jamie, what is a hard drop," asked Schieber in a panic as he watched Trip tumble to the ground.

Boors looked the Operative in the eyes, the alarm getting louder and more steady, "there is a light parachute built into T – 45d power armor. Only initiate the parachute when you near two hundred feet from the ground, it will slow you enough for a survivable impact."

"Impact, wait...just WAIT!" Yelled Quintus as Bors tossed him out of the vertibird.

Jamie turned back to the pilot, the cockpit was bathed in red light, "see you on the other side, Brother," he said while hold out a fist to represent might.

Bors nodded and jumped back, out of the vertibird. He floated in the air, traveling down quickly because of the weight of his suit and the speed he was originally traveling. Bors saw his colleague flailing in the air as he tightened up and speech up to him. Just as he reached out and grabbed Schieber by the shoulder plates, the vertibird exploded into a flaming wreck.

"Fuck you, fuck you," was all Schieber was screaming as he and Bors gained terminal velocity, "you threw me out of the fucking vertibird!"

Bors took the moment to ignore the comment as some debris caught up speed with them, "we have a few seconds so listen carefully."

The only word that came to the Operative's mind as he fell through the are was, "fuck."

"At two hundred feet, tap your right chest plate three times," said Bors as he continued to fall, and try to stand up and bend your knees as best as you can."

"Have you ever done this before," asked the Drayden Operative.

"I've been class A tested three hundred and eighty – eight times in simulations," assured Jamie Bors.

"And in real life," Schieber was getting nervous as he talked to Bors and the ground came closer and closer.

"After this one," asked Bors as he kept a mind on the approaching ground, "initiate the chute... NOW!"

Both men tapped their right chest plates three times and a small compartment in their back exploded out. A light parachute expanded to lift them a hundred and fifty feet in the air in a jolt. The had halfed their falling speed, enough for the power armor to absorb the fall. Two identical puffs of dust came from the ground.

Schieber saw nothing but darkness as he lay still, he guessed he hadn't opened his eyes yet but he could still hear; Bors coughed into the internal communication unit, "that would be my first real hard jump," all Schieber could do was grown out the only word on his mind, fuck.

Court had returned to session under the lead of the Head Justice Torres – Brandice. She, along with the other Justices Lawson, LaCroix, Van Dyke, and Randall sat behind the raised wooden podium serving as their bench. Jameson sat at the defense table with her two clients. The Brotherhood Operatives looked tired as the trial had lasted until the beginning days of December. The prosecutor, Thomas Notley, primed himself like a peacock, had the birds been able to live through the Great War. His star witness was alive and present, for him the case was closed.

"Doctor Lesko, whom were the men that invaded your house," he asked plainly as he turned to the public gallery.

"It would be those two that sit at the table over there," pointed the Doctor to Juan Alvarado and Lolli Pop.

"Did they attack you," asked Notley.

"Yes," answered Lesko in his high pitched voice.

"Did you fire a shot at them to provoke them," asked the prosecutor.

"No, I never carry a weapon," Doctor Lesko said, "but I saw the other man reach for a weapon. So I warned Scribe Mendel."

"And have you ever met these men before," Notley was trying to show that Lesko had no prior knowledge of them, but they had knowledge of him.

"No," answered the Doctor.

"Would it suprise you that they had detailed notes on you, Doctor Lesko," Thomas Notley closed his file.

"It would not," answered the egghead of Grayditch.

"I am done with this witness, thank you Doctor Lesko," said Notley as he sat behind the desk.

"The defense may proceed," commanded Torres – Brandice.

"Doctor Weston Lesko, why did it not surprise you that two men were collecting data on you," Elizabeth asked as she stood up.

"My work with ants cause the interest of the Brotherhood of Steel," replied Lesko on his own self importance.

"Has the Brotherhood of Steel ever investigated you for being a member of the Enclave," asked Jameson plainly.

"Scribe Mendel can vouch that I have not, nor have I ever been in the employ of the Enclave," stated Lesko as a matter of fact.

"Did you seek out employment with the Enclave," pushed Jameson.

"Objection, you honors, this line of questioning is pointless," Notley stood up and slammed his fist down.

"Overruled, counselor," stated Torres – Brandice as she looked to the other judges, "answer the question, Doctor Lesko."

"I...yes...but with reason," said Lesko taken aback, "it was before I had set up here. I needed money to setup a lab, facilities to test, and the Enclave had that ability."

"Did you fear that these members of the Brotherhood of Steel were Enclave agents," asked Jameson calmly.

"No," said Lesko, curtly.

"Who did you think they were at the time," Jameson pressed, "what made you so scared of them?"

Lesko had paused, "I don't know, I don't know why I was scared."

"Doctor Lesko, any two men breaking into a house is scary," Elizabeth leaned on the desk, "but you had other ideas about them. What were they?"

"Objection, your honors, defense counsel is badgering the..." Notley had stood up and was red in the face.

"I thought they were SRB agents!" Exclaimed Lesko was the public gallery gasped and chattered in confusion and excitement.

"Order, I will have order in this court," shouted Torres – Brandice as she banged her gavel.

"Doctor Lesko, why would the Synth Retention Bureau of the Commonwealth be after you," Jameson was scrawling down her notes, surprised by Lesko answer.

Sobbing lightly, "I am a... a former scientist from the Commonwealth, I have with me specific knowledge," answered Lesko with a look in his eyes that he held back what he outright knew in fear, "I've been constantly looking over my shoulder since I left New Cambridge."

"So would it be safe to say that your paranoia fueled your actions of ordering Scribe Mendel to fire on Mister Alvarado and then lead to Mister Pop's actions," Jameson was fishing to prove causality and a lack of planning.

"Uh...no," stated Lesko as Elizabeth sat down.

"Are you finished with the witness," asked the Head Justice.

"Yes," said Elizabeth Jameson.

"I think it is a prime time to adjourn for the day," commented Torres – Brandice, "closing statements are tomorrow starting at noon."

The courtroom began to empty out under the control of the Marshalls. Elizabeth Jameson approched Doctor Weston Lesko as he left the stand, and held him at the his elbow. She leaned into his ear.

"We will talk of the Commonwealth later, understood," she turned and walked to talk with her clients; Doctor Lesko just gulped and continued to shake in fear.

Operative Daniel Roe stood outside of a dilapidated building that once was a town house. The roof had caved in, the windows were all busted, and debris remained everywhere inside. Star Paladin Bael tossed him a set of keys, though the lock on the door still worked the door itself had been rotted out. The six ghouls looked to their new contract holder and their supposed mercenary leader.

"This is your new home, mind you it cost me a fair amount of caps," chuckled Bael as the wind seemed to make the brick structured wedged between similar row houses shake, "I've added it to the total expenses you owe me and big brother, Roe."

While 'big brother' was not the code word for the Brotherhood of Steel, Roe got the meaning. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if it obviously bore rotted teeth, Roe walked up the small stone stoop. The key took some work to be forced into the lock but the door opened all the same. The foyer was clear of the large debris and all the rooms on the first floor were habitable. The Operative and ghouls walked around the first floor and Cristano Bael walked into the foyer.

"Have your team set up in a room, we still need to talk," said Baelas he walked into an empty room.

Roe told the ghouls to set up in an empty room as he joined Bael who already had a paper map rolled out and several pages loose on an old coffee table, "what do we need to talk about, Star Paladin?"

"Walls have ears, Operative, just refer to me as Steel Heart when we meet in person from now on," corrected Bael, "first thing, the payments for your team need to be reimbursed in full. You will send three – fourths of all earnings to the coffers of big brother, this is non – negotiable. I will check on the books every – so – often. Also, you are not to spend any time near Crowley's Games and Cards, your job there is done."

"Will that be all, Steel Heart," asked Roe as he realized the Brotherhood Brass were tightening the reigns on him.

"No, it is not all," said Bael as he pointed to the documents, "sign these so that if you need to face another tribunal I will have paper evidence. The key part you forgot was not getting caught and then dragging my name through the mud."

I did as you asked, Star Paladin, thought Roe as he signed the papers, "and how much money will I receive to fix up this place," asked the Operative.

"That is up to you," answered Bael as he collected the papers and stored them safely, "as for your side mission, in the next couple of days we will see what happens. However, be prepared."

Roe looked at the map, "have the Grayditch Council chosen an area yet?"

Bael pointed to a cross roads on the map that was in the upper – city ruins yet to be inhabited, "crossroads of Church Street and Yew Avenue. The options were present and chosen, we are nearly a hundred percent certain on Cobb's fate."

"Who will take the shots," asked Dan as he scoured the old road map.

"Grayditch Guards, leave as many alive as possible," replied the Star Paladin, "no more than six men and Marshall Lawson himself. The Marshall is not to be killed."

"Any teams there right now," Roe was running though ideas in his head.

"No, a patrol passes by on every Monday and Thursday at mid – day," as he prepared to leave, "can I trust you not to get caught this time, or to spill my name like a coward?"

Operative Daniel Roe nodded and watched the Star Paladin leave, "everyone, lets pack up for a quick scouting of a vital area."

Operative Hannah Newton and Knight Michael Ban found themselves in the Mall, a location they had been a few months previously. The cold weather had lead to rain and flurries ice crystals occurring on cold nights. The streets were wet and occasionally filled with slush that did not seep into their power armor. The Prince of Brandia, his Prime Advisor, and their sixteen body guards proceeded on foot, leaving their steeds at the main encampment. The guards wore heavily downed coats and worn leather boots with traditional clothing and light armor underneath. The Prince held a shield tied to his back that was half white and half blue with a vertical line separating them. Tied to his hip, like that of all his men, rested a blade that looked more complex the tempered steel.

They began to walk to the Washington Monument as Ban kept his finger on the trigger and his laser rifle close to his chest. Newton tightened the shoulder strap of her ten millimeter sub – machine gun as she swiveled her head to scan the area. They approached two of their fellow Brotherhood of Steel members in front of the monument, their colleagues either resting or patrolling another area. The Knights had to keep track of the slave refuge at the Lincoln Memorial along with the antenna for GNR.

"Tour guide duty," commented the Knight Captain, a smile in his voice.

"The Prince of Brandia is stretching his legs in the Mall," replied Ban as a series of explosions went off in the Capitol building end of the Mall, "anything major going down that way?"

"Talon moved back in for operations, Mutties still heavily entrenched though," answered the Knight Captain, "trenches still a mess of blood and gore, controlled by the Mutties, but they know to stay away from this post."

"Let's hope that it stays that way," commented Ban slowly as he noticed a movement to his left; one of body guards jumping down into the trenches, "shit! What the hell, get back with the others! Newton, secure the Prince!"

Hannah turned around to see the other body guards move forward along with the Prince of Brandia, "your Majesty we'll get your men from the trench. It would be safer for you to remain up here though."

"Some leaders see it as being okay to have their men fight in the trenches, I prefer to join mine," replied Louis Brandian as his men jumped into the dug up earth, "so you must ask yourself; are you willing to watch as a bystander or take part of an adventure."

Louis Brandian and Charles Everidge were helped into the trench by their body guards. Their swords drawn for close quarters combat. Newton stood next to Ban, under her helmet she had a dumb founded expression. Ban was equally perplexed as he waved the two other Knights over.

"We're going into the trench, cover us, we need to get those idiots out of their," he asked as he bent down and slide into the dug out earth.

"We have limited amount of ammo," responded the Knight Captain as he tapped the mini gun.

Newton turned to them, "we're going to try and pull them out, our retreat will need more cover than us entering," she said as she lowered herself.

The two Operatives ran to meet up with the body guards and the Prince. As they approached from behind the Princes guards held up their swords. Ban tried to swat the blades away. He got an electrical shock that caused him to pull his arm away in pain.

"Brandian, Everidge, we need to get top side," pleaded Ban as the defensive circle opened to allow the power armored Operatives, "you do not have the equipment to deal with Super Mutants or Talon Company."

Louis Brandian lifted four fingers and then one. The four closest guards holstered their swords and pulled a metal compartment from their back. In unison they released a button and expanded the boxes into full form rifles. The rifles had no visible magazine, but a rectangular muzzle with multiple barrels.

"What the fuck are those, this violates the terms on personal defense," outraged Ban as another set of four body guards switched to the guns.

"We all have our secrets, Sir Ban," said the Lord of Brighton, "surely now we are better armed to make it to the national archives."

"I will not have you jeopardized the lives of all these people," said Ban firmly.

"We have chosen this adventure," replied the Prince, "now it is up to you to choose if you will join us this day."

Ban thought for a moment as Newton nodded, "I can't let you die in here, It is my duty to protect you and to avoid any accidents, for the future of relations between our nations."

"How terribly... logical," the Prince smiled as he patted Ban's cold metal, "welcome to the adventure, Sir Ban."

The Prince and Prime Advisor still had their swords drawn. Keeping the shield on his back had not moved, the tight formation proceeded forward. Eight of the guards had their swords drawn, the other eight were using the compacted guns. The group stopped at a carve in the trench, the Prince ordered one of his guards to scout ahead. The guard with a sword closest to the turn in the trench edged forward to the crest.

Using his blade, the body guard was able to see down the turn in the trench. Two green figures, unlike anything he had seen before, were at the end. He turned back to the group and flashed two fingers and then held his index and middle finger together and pointed to the left and right walls of the trench. Ban and Newton now knew the super mutant menace were present and this stroll in the Mall was going to turn into a large fire fight.

Louis Brandian nodded his understanding, choosing two guards with guns by tapping them on the shoulders. The two guards jumped into the open and opened fire on the super mutants. Not as loud as a typical gun, noted Ban on the weapons, likewise, the muzzle flash was minimal. Knight Ban and Operative Newton moved forward with the rest of the group. The super mutants were vaporized from the waist up, parts remained and flew off in different directions. Michael Ban kicked the remains of a mutant hand from a hunting rifle out of habit because the finger was still on the trigger.

The power of the compact weapons used by the body guards shocked Ban and Newton. As they got to the end of the trench, the group came to a door of an old bunker made by the Brotherhood of Steel and stairs leading up to the street. The path to the national archives were up the earthen steps and to the immediate east. Ban walked behind the cover that was erected in front of the bunker door. Leaning up against the barrier was a set of rusted out power armor with a gaping chest wound that exposed the human remains inside.

Prince Louis Brandian, Charles Everidge, and the royal body guards took the brief moment to consult a map. Newton watched as Ban knelt down to remove the holotag from the long fallen member of the Brotherhood of Steel. Checking the name on the tag, he locked it into a compartment on his power armor. Newly twenty years of harsh weather conditions had rusted out the power armor, the laser rifle, and the open plate led to soft tissue decomposition leaving skeletal remains.

Looking at Newton, Michael Ban said, "Paladin Nivi, her real name was Evelyn Snowfall, mortally wounded in the second battle of the Mall, in the year Two Thousand Fifty – Nine."

"Did you know her," asked Hannah through the communication unit in her helmet.

"Not personally, but she would be around the same age as Sentinel Cross," answered Ban through the comm system, "did you get a copy of the weapons?"

"Did a helmet recording to capture them in action," answered Newton as she tapped her helmet, "lets hope we live through this...grinding, to analyze it."

Ban sighed through his helmet as he turned to see the Prime Advisor to the Prince approaching the two power armored Brotherhood of Steel members. His dashing rogue look had been enhanced by a few weeks of facial hair growth. His saunter was similar to what one would envision in a pre – War part stroll.

"Isn't this a great adventure, trying to reclaim lost relics," smiled the Lord of Brighton.

"No, it's a folly," Ban's face was straight and his tone was flat, "we are entering a war zone between two parties that we're not on good terms with, in areas that don't have any back up or support. If we do get to the national archives, for whatever reason you want to be there, we do not have enough man power to secure it, let alone the fact that when we do wake our retreat back this way no one will be a rear guard."

"You are sounding a lot like the King's military advisor," replied Lord Brighton with a small frown, "but can you not see the good of this adventure? We may only have a brief time in the archives to preserve vital knowledge! We can't let it fall into the hands of these... heathens!"

Everidge kicked the dead body of one of the super mutants. Some more blood and gone fell out of the remain bit of torso with chopped up organs. There was a roar from the top of the rampart to the left of the trench as a super mutant pulled back the bolt of it's hunting rifle. A guard with a compact gun aimed and unloaded two volleys into the mutants head. The super mutant's head and shoulders disappeared in to particles less then mist.

The guards gave a short huzzah and the Prince even slapped the man on the back. Taking the praise in an overly jovial state, the guard asked a fellow guard to take a picture of him. The Prince's body guard bounded up the rampart and kicked the super mutant's body over to show the chest. He picked up the mutant's hunting rifle and rested the stock of the weapon on his thigh and the stock of the compact gun on his other thigh.

The camera flashed to take the picture just as a super mutant brute armored in sheet metal appeared behind him. The green brute held a bumper in it's two hands, one end was sharpened like a blade. Thrusting forward, the large bumper sword entered the guard through the lower back. Swinging back, the brute increased the size of the wound and lifted the guard upwards.

Tossed backwards, falling to the ground bleeding to death, the guard cried out. The Prince's body guards surrounded his majesty, Louis Brandian. Compact guns were fired, volley after volley, tearing apart the armor but not penetrating the skin. Effective against organic material and light armor, the compact guns took several skilled users to neutralize an armored target. The brute's hardened skin did not help with bullet penetration.

Ban lifted up his laser rifle and cut three quick beams into the super mutant brute's head. It tumbled like a sack of potatoes. He walked forward and leaned close to the Prince. His communicator loud and clear.

"I lead forward from now on, no more showboating, no trophy taking, follow me and live," said Ban with no sympathy or pain, "we move forward with caution. Back – to – back."

Operative J.R. and Zachary Zimm sat together in Silver's Den. As of yet, the Operatives had no luck or chance to try and win over the madame of the brothel, strip, and go – go club. Silver knew the boys and the two Operatives knew the madame, but neither were at a point to breach a topic of mutual work. Crowley was easily to push away from Moriarty because he hated smoothskins and decreased profit. Ashkelon wanted power, and so he clamored for leadership.

Silver, on the other hand, cared for her employers. They weren't cheap sources of money, a happy whore was a good earning whore. The biggest issue that faced the brothel was the serial rape forced upon her girls by Moriarty's guards. As they protected the prostitutes, the guards felt they had a right to their bodies free of charge. J.R. and Zimm were not in a place to change anything as there were more guards than Brotherhood of Steel Operatives. Instead, they waited and observed.

Zimm was still nursing his cheek, "have Bael or Yearling given any orders," he sipped his hard liquor slowly.

"Observe and report," replied J.R. as he took a swig of beer, "they want us to follow up on Regulator activities in the town and other parties."

"Simms was the only known Regulator, but the area has gone to the raiders," said Zimm as he tossed a few caps onto the stage as the dancer crawled to him, "Megaton seems to have a … dirty feel to it, Springvale is in a worse off state."

"Not every place can be like the Citadel or Rivet City," J.R. scolded as he was born in the nearby town and understood how people lived more so than thinking how they ought to live.

"I'm not trying to be mean or... I don't know, condescending... but aren't we trying to better the lives of people and all," Zimm's eyes darted back and forth from the whore and J.R.

"It depends on your definition of better," said J.R. as he slung back more beer.

From the second floor breaking glass could be heard. A door slammed loudly as a woman ran out crying and tripped on the staircase. She tumbled down the flight of stairs. The whore landed with her back against the wall, there were cuts along her calves and feet. She panted, her charcoal lined eyes running from her tears, gasping for breathe. The door opened and slammed again as a gruff man staggered out.

He had grizzled beard and hair sticking out at all ends. The long underwear he wore was actually a mechanic jumpsuit with the arms tied around his waist. Blood trickled down the back of his head as he squinted, on hand holding his long underwear up and a broken piece of jagged glass in his hand. People on the upper balcony moved away from the enraged man with a slow gate.

"Fucking bitch!" Roared the man as he swing the glass knife at nothing but air, "Imma stick you, whore! Think you can get me, eh? Fucking bitch!"

Zimm held onto J.R.'s wrist and forearm with one hand, "what the fuck, Zack," mouthed J.R.

"See how none of the guards are stopping him," whispered the Operative as their eyes shifted from guard to guard.

"He's a guard," stated J.R. and taking on the role of Captain Obvious.

Silver ran out to the assistance of her whore, "stay back, or I'll plug you full of holes!"

"Get out of it whore master," said the injured guard.

"I said stay back," the whore clung to Silver's leg as the madam leveled the thirty – two caliber revolver a the guard's chest.

"Best to put her out of your mind," seethed the guard, "as Imma gonna kill that whore!"

"Come a step closer and you'll be bleeding on the floor," warned Silver.

"Shoot me and all these boys will take you down like the bitch you are, Silver," said the guard as he stepped forward more.

Silver pulled the trigger and the loud bang was magnified by the sound of silence in the brothel. Looking forward and clutching his stomach, the guard felt the bullet enter. He raised up and staggered forward with the broken glass as a blade. Silver fired for more shots, all point blank.

The guard fell down, chest and face on the landing next to Silver and the whore. His legs askew and on the stairs as blood pooled around his body. Silver looked to the other guards whom barely shifted as their colleague's blood covered the landing of the staircase. One – by – one, Moriarty's guards left the brothel. No comments or fights were uttered or started, they left Silver and her whores completely undefended.

Scribe Elizabeth Jameson, Proctor for the Order of the Quill, sat at the defense of the two Operatives, Juan Alvarado and Lolli Pop. She had prepared them for the worst, seeing the inside information that was given by private conversation with Susan LaCroix. Elizabeth didn't attempt to push the woman to her own personal decision, nor did she use people like Georgina Mendel to influence choices. Despite the lack of evidence and the circumstances around the crime, the justices seemed pretty set in their final rulings. Now it was up to a final statement; a summation of what happened and a plea for leniency from the judges.

If she could sway just one judge, just one, she could save the fate of the Brotherhood of Steel Operatives. Her and Elder Lyons set out to change the structure of the wasteland. Jameson established a rule of law, a system to create law, and the following of such law even to the detriment of the Brotherhood of Steel. Thomas Notley finished his closing statement to a round of applause in the gavel to quiet the crowd.

"Miss Jameson, you may proceed with the defense's closing statement," Justice Torres – Brandice instructed.

Elizabeth stood up and faced the justices, "your honors, and esteemed citizens of Grayditch, I stand before you dressed in the robes of a Brotherhood Scribe. The defendants stand before you for the last few weeks were members of the Brotherhood of Steel. How Mister Notley describes the events, would imply that the Brotherhood of Steel had ordered an assassination on Doctor Weston Lesko. However, Mister Notley lacks evidence of this claim. It is the burden of the prosecution to present evidence of quilt, not suspicion.

Notley jumped from his table, "your honors!"

"You are out of order, Assistant Mayor Notley," reprimanded Torres – Brandice, "sit down, shut your mouth, and allow defense Counselor Jameson to finish."

Elizabeth continued after taking a calming deep breathe, "Mister Notley has been playing on the assumption of guilt the whole city of Grayditch has come to take as fact for my clients. But we must remember that assumption of guilt is tantamount to the law that was around before this system was created. The Law of Grayditch is innocent until proven guilty, and Juan Alvarado and Lolli Pop are not guilty of premeditated attempted murder. Did they break into Doctor Weston Lesko's house? Possibly.

"Though the only word we have attesting to that is from Doctor Weston Lesko. The good doctor even admits his own paranoia biased the events of that day. This led to a member of the Brotherhood of Steel attempting to protect the doctor and causing permanent injury to a fellow member of the Brotherhood.

"Mister Alvarado can no longer use his left arm, the nerve endings are all dead, because of friendly fire," Elizabeth paused to catch her breathe, "lying down on the ground, Alvarado could harm no one. Lolli Pop, having just seen his colleague, peer, and friend gunned down, he flew into a fit of passion. Not premeditated, he was emotional, he was loyal, and he sought to hurt the man that hurt his friend. We should all be so luckily to home a friend like Mister Pop, one that looks to protect and avenge.

"How can one be guilty of a being a good friend?" Scribe Jameson asked all those assembled, "these boys had an incident. An incident that become monumentally worse, but it was not planned in anyway. Do not punish them more than needs to be administered, good friends looking out for each other do not deserve persecution; no matter what background, what uniform or what values they follow. I appeal to you honorable justices, please do not allow a miscarriage of justice in your first trial as it will set a precedent for the future. Grayditch deserves a bright future, a future where each person is innocent until proven guilty by overwhelming evidence produced by the prosecutor. Be the shinning the example to the rest of the wasteland."

Scribe Elizabeth Jameson finished to light applause that did not last long. She sat in her chair, a dower look on her face. The judges conferred together briefly. A few seconds turned into minutes, the courtroom was quiet as they waited. Sheila Torres – Brandice turned to the prosecutor and defender.

"The justices are calling for a recess so as to discuss how the court will proceed," the justices stood as well as everyone in the courtroom, "please remain in your seats, Marshalls, ensure the doors are locked."

Two Marshalls locked the doors to prevent the defendants from leaving and allowed everyone wait for the redirect. There were hushed conversations between people in the public gallery as Notley leaned back and stretched his legs. Jameson leaned to her directs and talked with them directly. Alvarado and Pop looked scared with their lips held tight together.

"I'd say this is routine, but this is the first time that a decision like this is going to be made. Each justice has been drafting their opinions and signing onto others," Elizabeth Jameson was slightly hopeful as the minutes turned to nearly an hour; the justices came back into the courtroom, "whatever happens, know that we have a plan in place...we will save you."

They nodded as they stood to receive their judgment; Torres – Brandice addressed the defendants and the crowd, "the Court of Grayditch, after much consideration, has come to a decision to split the rulings on charges. For the first count, breaking and entry of a private residence with undo cause, we, the court, find defendants guilty in an unanimous decision."

The public gallery exploded into applause celebrating the victory over the Brotherhood of Steel, "order in the court! Such outbursts will not be tolerated," reprimanded the lead of Grayditch court as she banged her gavel; once order was required she proceeded, "the second count against the defendants, theft of property privately owned or claimed, we find in a majority decision of four, with one dissent, that both defendants are guilty. "

Alvarado and Pop shifted as they stood in front of their chairs as Torres – Brandice continued, "the last charge, attempted murder, the court has decided in a four to one decision to dismiss the charges against Mister Juan Alvarado. In a majority decision of three, with two dissenting, the court finds Mister Lolli Pop guilty of the attempted murder of Doctor Weston Lesko."

The public gallery exploded in applause, screeches of happiness, and shouts of joy. Judge Torres – Brandice banged her gavel on the table hard and harder. The Marshalls moved to guard the defendants from the crowd. Assistant Mayor Thomas Notley had a smug smile plastered on his face. Lolli Pop slumped his shoulders in defeat, Operative Alvarado squeezed his hand in support, to let him know he still had friends by his side.

"For the first two charges, the court sentences Juan Alvarado and Lolli Pop to exile. For the third and most heinous charge, the court sentences Lolli Pop to death by firing squad to be carried out on December seventeenth, in the year Two Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy – Nine," said Torres – Brandice as she saw Lolli Pop go incredibly pale, "the courts' written reasons, including majority and all dissents. Marshalls, please escort Mister Pop back to his cell to await execution. Mister Alvarado, you are hereby exiled and banned from the City of Grayditch. You will be escorted to the city limits by armed Marshalls. If you are found back within the city limits for as naturally long as your life may last, you will be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for disobeying your sentence. The City of Grayditch against Juan Alvarado and Lolli Pop is adjourned."

Operative Quintus Schieber was lifted from the impression made in the ground by the hard jump with the help of Knight Jamie Boors. Both of their power armor had saved their lives but looked worse the wear for it. Some parts were bent and dinged. One of Schieber's shoulder plates had fallen off and a servo in Bors leg had malfunctioned causing him to drag it as he could no longer move that heavy piece of armor. The shining metal of their power armor was now covered in brown green dirt.

The BIOS Operatives had survived the hard drop, landing outside of shaking timber forest. The burning ruins of the vertibird had fell into the forest causing small fires in the dried wood. Schieber's laser rifle was in pieces, the only weapon he had left was his weak ten millimeter pistol. Bors removed his helmet and sat down on it, his leg unable to bend because of the damaged servos. Spitting blood into the dirt, a tooth had been chipped in the fall, Bors turned to the younger man.

"We got two plays here," said the Knight as Quin nodded, "we could try and make it back to the Republic, but we're three days away by foot and no foreseeable water was visible on the passover. The second choice is together Trip, collect the black box of the vertibird, explore where those friggen Uncle Sams came from and send the robot back with out data in case there is no foreseeable way to survive the area."

"Possible rescue through a retreat or possibly gain tech knowledge, and tools to help the Capitol survive," posed the young Operative in another way, "is there really such a question?"

Bors laughed in a booming sound that shook the trees and echoed in the emptiness, "let's get the damn robot."

It took a few hours, darkness had already settled in when they found Trip. The crate holding the robot hung from a tree by the lines of military parachute attached to it. Instead of climbing the tree, Schieber was able to cut it down with a hatchet he kept handy. They recovered Trip, the robot being in better shape then each of them. As the robot did a system check to insure integrity of its functions Bors knelt down to the ground and drew in the dirt with a stick.

"What are you doing," asked the Drayden Operative as he sharpened the blade of his hatchet.

"Hmmm...calculating our current position," Bors would look up into the sky and back to equations he drew into the dirt.

"Based on the stars," thought Schieber outloud.

"Actually, based on the position of where we landed, to that of Trip and the visible crash site," said Bors as he sketched numbers," with a concentrating look on his face, "I'm calculating fall velocity, along with drift, to determine our position as it was in the air."

"We're on the ground," Schieber wanted to point out the obvious in case Bors missed it, Quin looked at the numbers and symbols, "and our location is right on the edge of a huge dead forest."

Bors looked up to Schieber with a mix of dread and basement, "we jumped out of a vertibird while it was in the process of turning west to head south. The flight was over thirty minutes at a slow speed, and I rather know where we are to determine how long it would take to return."

"If we don't plan to return, why would they need this information," Quin removed his helmet and sat down on it he began to clear off a branch.

"So that they can recover our bodies and follow this route to wherever it is those Uncle Sams and Enclave vertibirds went, my guess is that they are one in the same," answered Bors as he saw the Operative whittling the wood, "and pray tell what are you doing."

"Making a smooth shaft to start a fire," Quin looked down the branch, "I'm going to collect some of those branches off and then make camp.

Bors grunted as both men worked on surviving the best ways they knew how, one for posterity and the other for modern convenience. They camped the night in that location, their power armor helped to keep them warm by recirculating air heated by their own bodies. They both woke to the sunrise in the morning. They had limited food and water, and Trip did not give them promising readings. Schieber took out his pack of smokes, a terrible habit he hardly ever showed in public, he passed one to Bors.

"It'll suppress our hunger," stated the Operative as they both walked and smoked to the still burning wreckage of the vertibird.

Very little of the vertibird remained, it looked like twisted metal that was still on fire in few parts with debris scattered around. Some of the old trees had been crushed, cracked, and fallen by the debris. A secondary explosion must have occurred as some metal chunks were firmly lodged in wood. The trees that had caught fire were already smoldering. The ashes cracked under Schieber's feet as a line formed from Bors dragging his leg.

The put their helmets on as the radiation levels increased near the wreckage. Any attempt for human eyes to find salvage were a waste of time because of the fire damage, missile explosion, and fall from a great height. Schieber and Bors ordered Trip to recover the black box and the pilot's holotag. The robot returned with a scorched metal box and holotag of the pilot. Bors stored the tag in his armor as he forced the black box open and removed the full holotape recording. He stored the flight information in Trip's storage compartment.

The two Operatives began to walk in the direction pointed out by Jamie Bors. They would stop periodically to gain their barrings and correct how they were to travel. Based on Bors' calculations, they were able to determine location relatively on a rough map of Maryland. Nearing dusk they came to a depression in the remains of the forest.

The depression went on for a long way, there were smoking areas with high levels of radiation. In the middle of depression stood an old and crumbling building made of once cream marble. Bors walked into the depression and found that under the dirt and grime was ancient and cracked parking lot. Jamie Bors looked to Quintus Schieber and they both made their way forward. Trip reported the high levels of radiation and structural damage as the two moved forward to the decrepit building.

Bors foot shuffled as it hit something under the damaged asphalt. He and Operative Schieber bent down to pick the item up. It was a small metal sign on a post that was mangled. Schieber brushed the sign to remove dirt and debris. The sign was worn and had some legible letters written in black:

ort Mea

SA Park g ON

Operative Anna LaCroix walked the streets of Grayditch. She wore simple wasteland clothes, it left her completely incognito amongst the everyday citizenry of the city. Yearling had given her an assignment, her first in the field. She wore nothing that could be linked to the Brotherhood of Steel, not even her holotag. Her only weapon was a knife, concealed in a forearm holster. She tightened the the hood around their head in a move to cut down on the chilly weather that had set in.

She saw her mark on the street, he was heading to one of the stores set up around Grayditch. LaCroix had gone over the blueprints of the man's house. Most wasteland households were simple, yet this man had special permits for future additions on the town house he occupied. Anna LaCroix walked past him, not ready to take him in the open market. She made a byline for his place of residence. There was an armed man in the front of her target's townhouse.

Operative Anna LaCroix moved to the back alley of the row of townhouses. There were no guards or doors in the back alley for good reason, most people on this row of streets disposed of household waste and trash from the windows out the back. LaCroix sloughed through the filth to an old wrought iron fire escape that had remained bolted to the brick row houses. She climbed on top of a nearby dumpster, undoing her boots because of their smell. She jumped onto the fire escape and pulled herself up, she made her way up the rickety fireplace and climbed up to a ledge. Balancing her foot on the bannister she jumped to grab the stone ledge and grasping by her fingertips. Knight Captain Galeas had been training her in climbing debris through an obstacle course.

Anna LaCroix was shoeless and balanced on the old townhouses. She walked slowly to her targets unit and carefully lowered herself to the top floor ledge. LaCroix smiled and pushed the window open, the top floors are through to be the safest, she thought as she entered her target's office. There was a desk, a chair, and a terminal against the far wall and an armoire to hold clothes and items. LaCroix turned on the terminal and mentally laughed at the ease of the password.

The terminal of her target had all the information of his work, both legal and his illegal operations. Her eyes scrolled down the information, list after list, ledgers and correspondence were all there and detailed. LaCroix heard the door below open as her target entered his house, his work near the stores complete. She hit exit on the terminal and started the shut down mode. LaCroix heard footsteps heading up the stairs, she bolted to the armoire and held her breathe as she removed the knife from her forearm sheath and left the door ajar a bit. The lights in the room were off, but the terminal was still on and bright.

Operative Anna LaCroix saw her target open the door to his office. He brushed his hand to the light switch but stopped before he turned on the light because he noticed the terminal was on. He sat down at the desk and rebooted the system before it closed and shut off completely. LaCroix slowly opened the armoire and stepped out softly with light steps wearing cloth on her feet, her boots still outside. She hid the blade behind her hand so it didn't reflect the light of the terminal.

LaCroix's hand grabbed the man's scalp and the blade was pressed against the neck, "scream and I will cut through your vocal cords," she whispered into his ear.

He struggled but felt the blade to his neck, he tried to look at the reflection of his assailant in the monitor of the terminal, "who are you... if you want money, I keep caps in my safe... just don't kill, kill me," he could not see this person, just felt the blade against his neck.

"You are Joost Van Dyke," stated LaCroix, her voice still a whisper, "judge, merchant, pirate and smuggler, is that correct?"

"Yes..., What, yes... what is this," Joost Van Dyke waffled as his thick medium length hair was pulled by his scalp, the knife firmly pressed to his olive skin as all his muscles tensed, "I demand to know who you are!"

Anna pulled back Judge Van Dyke's scalp, "what did I tell you about yelling out? As to who I am, it is no concern, but what is of concern to you is that we're watching you Mister Van Dyke."

Joost Van Dyke gulped as he just whispered the only thing on his mind, "what do you want me to do?"

"It is not about I," whispered LaCroix as she tightened the blade to Van Dyke's neck, "it is about us all, all of the Wasteland. Your motives are your own, you serve only yourself."

"This is laughable coming from the man with a knife to my neck," Joost Van Dyke resigned himself to die with pride and not shrivel up and pass away with a whimper, "I provide a much needed service for the coastal towns of the Potomac and through to the Eastern Shore. Towns and settlers survive because of me, who are you to question me, who are you!"

"I am the one who holds your life in my hands," whispered LaCroix into Van Dyke's ear, tickling it with her warm breathe that sent shivers of fear down his spine, "just as you hold people's lives in your hand, the will of the Wasteland demands you do not hold anyone's life cheaply."

Joost laughed despite the knife to his throat, "making life is cheap and easy, guy and girl...sometimes even the guy thins optional."

"It's easier to take a life than to make them," replied LaCroix as she traced the knife on his neck, "carotid artery, so easy sever, loss of consciousness in thirty seconds and full exsanguination in four minutes. Would you like to find out?"

"You've made your point," seethed Van Dyke.

"I don't think we have," stated LaCroix as she folded the knife into her forearm holster and locked his head and arm together in a sleeper hold, "we are always watching, pirate, always!"

The judge struggled against Operative LaCroix as he flailed. Anna tightened her hold and eased him into the chair. Van Dyke's eyes rolled into the back of his head as oxygen was stopped from reaching his brain. He slumped forward, completely unconscious as LaCroix moved to the window. She pulled herself up on the ledge and then onto the roof, she walked slowly to the wrought iron fire escape. Maybe now Van Dyke will think twice about sentencing anyone else to death, she thought as she made her way to the alley to get her boots, especially one from her branch of the Brotherhood.

Operative Hannah Newton was pinned to a single position with Knight Michael Ban. The super mutants had fortified the area of the national archives with sand bags, cars, and bent iron beams. Drummond had proven to be a capable leader and strategist, intelligence amongst the east coast super mutants was to be a dangerous combination. Three more body guards had been killed, or whatever the white and black liquid two of them expelled. Two buildings provided cover for the small party, along with an up turned car.

Ban wrapped his laser rifle around the side of the building and fired blind. Newton turned from the fight to the body guards on her wall. She yelled at them but her no sound come out of her helmet. Hannah clicked her communications unit to talk with the bodyguards. Her voice sounded cold and metallic.

"This is suicide," she stated plain and simple, "what is so important to go through this?"

"The National Archives are the house of knowledge!" Replied one of the guards, "knowledge is the cornerstone of Brandia and the Commonwealth, in knowledge we trust and those that die in the pursuit of knowledge are forever exalted!"

Hannah sighed into her helmet, these men were all ideologues similar to the Enclave and, admittedly, those that formed the Outcasts; she switched to her inner comm system with Ban, "this is ridiculous, I'm going to Prince's side, cover me."

"Three, two, one … GO!" Ordered Ban as he stepped out to give covering fire.

Newton hustled to the upturned car and did a tuck and roll to cover. She swiveled her head as she got up to a kneeling position and fired her weapon to the super mutant defenders. The body guards at the up turned car fired at the same time. She flicked her exterior comm unit on.

"I'm passing a message on to the Prince, cover me," she ordered even though she had no place.

The two body guards, both bald with similar features nodded and began to give covering fire as Newton ran to the other building. The majority of the exploration party was located at this cover. She leaned against the wall to catch her breathe as she gained her senses, Ban confirmed she was okay on the other side. Newton walked up to the Prince as he looked over and old tourist map.

"Prince Brandian, I need a moment of your time," Hannah kept her helmet on to hear Ban as well.

"Yes, Lady Newton, what must be discussed," he seemed to be at odds, clearly his day was not going as planned.

"It is mine and Knight Ban's opinion that we retreat, this position is untenable," she said firmly.

"Retreat? Retreat from the hallowed halls of knowledge," Louis Brandian was shocked and full of indignation, "we will hops this ground and take the National Archives."

"Ban, this shit is crazy," commented Newton into her communication unit, her cultural relativistic attitude blown to the wind of the wasteland as lives were at stake, "Prince, we all leave now or you are stuck fighting those mutants alone."

"We can take these heathens down," proudly stated the Prince, his men that were human looked unsure.

Newton growled and grabbed the Prince by his shoulder, his men pointed weapons at her. Hannah looked to them and held her sub – machine gun out to at the guards. Charles Everidge stepped in the way holding his hands up. The Lord of Brighton moved for them to lower their weapons.

"She's got the Prince, do not fire," commanded the Prime Advisor, "you may hit the Prince."

"I want to save the Prince's life, and getting him out of here will save him to rule one day," stated Newton as she looked to the men.

"This is hallowed ground, the essence of information, and great knowledge," commented Louis Brandian as he tried to wrestle away from Newton, "the code to access Davens is at my fingertips!"

What are the Davens Codes, thought Hannah as she stared the prince down, "knowledge is only important when it can be used."

"Information must be preserved, passed on and utilized," stated the Prince calmly as he tired to wrestle away in vain, "these archives will help us against our oldest enemy, and they can help you against your enemy as well!"

"Wait, what?" Asked Newton, Ban was listening in on the communication unit from the other side.

Charles Everidge sighed and stepped forward his hands free, though one was on his sword belt, "the Enclave are coming here, well, back here."

Newton stared at him dumbfounded and let the Prince go, "explain yourself now!"

"Lady Newton, please calm down," said Everidge.

"You have been with holding vital information from the Brotherhood of Steel," Newton fumed as Ban listened in on an open channel, "you will give me that information now."

"You have to understand, Lady Newton, we had the best interests for all partners," the Lord of Brighton tried to talk suavely.

"The information, Lord Brighton," Newton stared him down as bullets hit old pavement and brick.

"Tell her," ordered Louis Brandian.

"Our fleet in the Chesapeake came in contact with an enormous battleship," the Prime Advisor watched his words, "the report from our fleet was that it was Enclave in operation of the vessel and an outpost was created in the former City of Norfolk, Virginia."

"When did you find out about this information," Newton chose that question after Ban had suggested it.

"Three days ago," confirmed the Prince.

You sat on this information the whole time, thought Newton as she clicked her communication device to only talk with Ban, "did you get all of that?"

"Copy that Newton, we're pulling the plug on this operation," replied Ban as he took out several grenades.

She turned to the Prince and Prime Advisor, "we're moving back."

"What? If you want a good chance against the Enclave then we need to get into those archives," the Prime Advisor was livid.

"Lord Brighton, do you see the situation we are currently in," asked Hannah seriously, "we need a better plan than this, we didn't have any scouting reports at all! If we don't pull back now, then everyone here is dead."

The Prime Advisor said nothing but looked to his Prince, "you must promise that we will return to take these halls of knowledge!"

Explosions from Ban's grenades were heard and felt. Debris was scattered everywhere as several mutants died yelling out in pain. Ban warned he was about to toss out the smoke grenades. Newton waited for the count down as the smoke built up to help with the retreat. She pushed the Prince backward as they made their retreat to the trench, two more guards lost their lives in the retreat.

"Promise we'll come back," the Prince said as Newton protected him and pushed him to the trench, "do not in prison us again. We are a sovereign nation!"

"Prince Brandian, I'm more concerned with keeping you a live," replied Newton as Ban and the other guards made it to the trench.

"We're falling back to the Washington Monument, there are turrets and a team there," ordered Michael Ban as he moved back to the Mall entrance and the Brotherhood of Steel safe zone.

The Prince's body guards formed a protective defense around him and the Prime Advisor. Super mutants could be heard sallying forth from their defenses to join them in the trench. Newton protected the back of the party, firing at the big green abominations. Ban directed the guards on where to go to get out of the trench as he helped Newton cover the retreat. They slowly moved back, firing into the crowd of super mutants as they bottle – necked in the trench.

Newton had lost count on her ammo, so when her bolt clicked to signify she was out it came as a surprise. She took out the empty clip and tossed it aside. Checking the compartments of power armor, she found no more clips of ten millimeter ammo. Hannah Newton let go of her sub – machine gun and let it dangle by the harness as she took out her pistol and readied it to fire.

"I'm out," she informed Ban and he positioned his body to her.

"I'm running low," he acknowledged as he took down another mutant.

Super mutants were now walking along the edges of the trench firing down. Ban looked behind him to see that Louis Brandian and Charles Everidge were safe. A mutant master with a minigun stood at the edge of the trench. It's minigun was warming up as Ban tried to fire but found the microfusion cell was depleted. Newton turned and fired three rounds into the mutant's armor and angered it.

The super mutant roared in frustration as the Operatives heard a loud crack as the creature's head exploded. Falling slowly into the trench, Ban motioned for Newton to pick up the minigun. She hefted it up letting the power armor do the work as she locked and loaded the weapon. Ban looked up the monument to see the reflection of a scope in the dim light of dusk. Around the trench, near the entrance, two of the heavily armed Knights with miniguns cleared the top of the trench. The Knight in the Washington Monument sniped several super mutants as Newton and Ban used what remaining ammo to turn the mutant counter attack.

Climbing out of the trench with the super mutants in retreat and the Washington Monument guards returning to their points, Michael Ban took off his helmet, "that's it, no more quid pro quo, no tit for tac, no favors, nothing! You tell the Brotherhood of Steel everything now or so help me, by the power of Saint Jude, I will eviscerate you! Prince or no prince, you will not endanger the lives of people!"

Operative Daniel Roe and his ghoul mercenaries were positioned in the crossroads of Church Street and Yew Avenue. In the three dwarfed buildings that were once tall and grand two hundred years ago held one ghoul each. Two would be shooters, one would be the spotter. On the ground was the remainder of the team, three ghouls and Roe, waiting in the wings of Church Street under cover of tin metal sheets and a dumpster. They had created the temporary camp for the planned mission.

Franklin was the spotter for Da'an and Zhao, used the radio to communicate to the temporary camp, "got the two prisoners, six guards, Marshall Lawson and another person, male in their early twenties, on the move to the middle of the crossroads."

"Unidentified male is to not be harmed," ordered Roe into the radio as he turned to the three ghouls with him as they all put on their black face mask, "Rook, Tamara, and Bin chamber rounds and get in position to start the distraction.

The ghouls nodded and headed to the established position as the radio cackled, "they are setting up firing distance... I have movement to the north side of Yea Avenue... it's Talon! I repeat, we have Talon Company moving to intercept!"

Shit, thought roe as he grabbed the radio and walked to the position of Rook, Tamara and Bin, "protect the prisoners, Lawson, and the other man at all costs! Do not lose sight of the prisoners!"

Rook looked to Roe, "want me to blow the charges, coach?"

Dan nodded, still not used to the ghoul's use of different titles of authority, and the bulky ghoul ignited the demolition charges tied to a Chryslus Motors Highwayman parked near a small building. It gave a small explosion that was ignored as the Grayditch Guards saw the small unit of Talon Scouts engage them from the north. Turning away from the two prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs and blind folds covering their eyes. Marshall Lawson took out his forty – four caliber revolver and shot it straight into the chest of a Talon Company mercenary. Standing next to him was the exiled Juan Alvarado, whose membership within the Brotherhood of Steel was terminated by the will of Elder Reginald Rothchild.

The Talon Second Scouts fired upon the Grayditch Guards and their Regulator leader. The two prisoners ducked down to avoid getting hit from shrapnel and spare bullets. Two guards were taken down and Galvin Cobb tried to feel around for a knife to undo the bounds behind his back. The second explosion of the car was nuclear, Highwayman parts propelled at high speed from the blast zone and killed two of the Talon Scouts. The small building collapsed, two hundred year old dust was flown into the air. This caused a pause in combat that Dan had anticipated and his team joined the fray.

Tracers whizzed about as three groups fought in open combat at the crossroads of Yew Avenue and Church Street. The Alexandria mercenaries under the command of Daniel Roe fought the Talon Second Scouts along with the Grayditch Guards because they made the largest force at the crossroads. Cobb lost hold of the knife and scrambled for cover along with Operative Lolli Pop. Juan was with Marshall Lawson, a pistol drawn and shooting at Talon Scouts standing shoulder to shoulder with the Grayditch judge.

"Who the fuck are those guys," Alvarado yelled out, his useless arm flopping a little even though it was tied to him at the belt.

"I'll be damned if I know, but anyone that kills Talon are good in my book," announced Marshall Lawson as he flicked open the cylinder to reload his revolver; a Grayditch guard caught two bullets in the chest as the black faced mercenaries pushed forward up the sidewalk, one of their petite members turned her gun on the downed guard and fired two more bullets in the fallen guards head, "fuck!"

"We need to get out of here," recommend Juan Alvarado as he holstered his gun and burnt his out thigh through his a pants because of the hot muzzle.

Marshall Lawson looked out to see the last three Grayditch Guards squirm on the ground holding stomach or leg wounds; the large black faced mercenary took three shots in the chest causing him to stagger but continued fighting, "I think you're right, Mister Alvarado," the two men disappeared into the ruins south of Yew Avenue and left the bound prisoners to their fate at the fight in the crossroads.

The ghouls were able to push forward in combat against the Talon Second Scouts because of reinforced combat armor and the majority of their nerve endings had no feeling as they were necrotic. The covering fire from the snipers Da'an and Zhao had whittled the Second Scouts from twelve to six. The attempt to flank the position was halted by impassable debris. Franklin was the eye in the sky, calling out shifts in position and targets for the ground team and snipers to take out. A Talon merc through a grenade and the petite Tamara picked it up and through it back still live.

It exploded mid – air as a Talon Scout fell on his knees clawing his face, "Arrgh! I can't see! My eyes, my eyes, I can't see!"

His colleague tried to pull him back behind cover but Da'an cut his life short. No other mercenary approached the wounded man and Zhao put him down with a shot through his chest. Rook held his back to a car near the Talon mercs as he was squatted low, he put away his rifle and took out a verticle twin barrel shotgun. Bin pulled up next to the fellow ghoul and took the pin from two grenades and cooked them off before sending them directly to the Talon Scouts.

The explosion killed two mercenaries, one directly and the other from the concussive blast. Rook shot a Talon mercenary in the neck with his shotgun as the last Second Scout tossed his gun to the ground. He stood up with his hands held high into the air. No helmet was on his head, just a worn Talon Company combat armor, Roe inwardly smiled when he saw the man looked similar to Lolli Pop.

"Don't shoot! I surrender," he said, the ghouls all pointing their guns at him.

Roe looked him up and down, kicking him in the ass from behind, "move," he ordered.

"What," asked the Talon mercenary as Roe pushed him to where the two prisoners were.

"Strip," ordered Roe as he cocked his gun back, "or die right here."

Franklin, Da'an and Zhao had emerged from their perches and met up with the rest of the team. Tamara used her knife to cut the bounds behind the man Roe identified as Lolli Pop and took the blind fold from the man identified as Galvin Cobb. Pop rubbed his wrists and began to strip out of his clothes and put on the Talon merc's clothing. The mercenary began to put on Operative Pop's clothing when instructed to by the ghouls.

Roe looked to Rook and tapped his head as the Talon merc was lacing up the worn boots. The large ghoul told the man to get on his knees, the mercenary complied, thinking he was going to get knocked out. Instead, the large ghoul named Rook fired on round from his shotgun into the Talon merc's head. The shot expanded out from impact leaving only the lower jaw and partial part of his cheek. The mercenary twitched for a moment and then flopped to the side. Tamara began to bound the wrists the way that Lolli Pop had been confined. Bin was sedating the three injured Graydtich Guards and helping to clean and dress their wounds.

Roe picked up a laser rifle from a Talon Company corpse along with ammo. Shouldering the rifle and pocketing the ammo, Roe his made his way back to Cobb who was sitting up, his hands still behind his back. Dan knelt down and looked the man in his eyes. Pop adjusted the armor he now wore as his own, it was a bit too large for his frame.

"Consider this your prison break," announced Roe as he tilted his head.

"Come to collect the bounty," snarled Galvin Cobb as he spat on the dirt and tried to get to his knees but Roe stopped him, "at least show your face to me, coward!"

Dan smiled as he looked up to see Pop in the Talon armor, "we're not here for the caps on your head. We're getting paid a lot more to save your life and hand it over to this man. This is your second chance, do you want a second chance?"

"Fuck you, and fuck whoever employs you," said Cobb, "who the fuck put you up to this?"

"No one you care to know," Dan wet his lips and turned to his fellow Operative, "however, it took this organization months to plant Mister Pop in the Brotherhood of Steel...he is too valuable an agent to let him die in the crossroads of an old world ruin."

Lolli Pop nodded as Dan handed him the laser rifle and a small sack filled with food, water, and important files, "get up and lead this man to Fort Bannister. This group, Alexandria, wants an eye, ear and hand in Talon's operations."

"This won't ever work, wearing a corporal's armor doesn't make you part of Talon," growled out Cobb in hate as he twisted against his bonds.

"You are my golden ticket," said Lolli Pop with a smile, "how would you like to regain command again, regain that honor you lost? I can make that happen, as your second in command. I have something of vital importance that will help Talon Company, it will be an opening parlay between two organizations for mutual benefit. And you shall reap the rewards, Commander Cobb."

Former Commander Galvin Cobb said nothing but did feel in the pit of his stomach his greatest goal in his new found second life: to regain his dignity from the slanderous Jabsco. Lolli Pop pushed Cobb from the back to force him to walk forward. The ghouls gathered around Roe as Cobb led the Brotherhood of Steel Operative to the west where Fort Bannister was located. Roe turned to the ghouls on his team.

"Bin, are those guards left alive treated for," he asked and the ghoul known as Bin nodded, "good job team. Collect the weapons, armor, and ammo. I want to be out of here in thirty minutes and we need to sell this crap to make caps. Don't forget the boots!"

Operative Anna LaCroix sat down in the room that housed the terminals at the Alexandria. John Harkness and Scribe Actaeon were already there, working on writing files and reports. She logged into her terminal name and began to type up the information gained from Joost Van Dyke's computer. A fair amount was generalized because she did not had an eidetic memory like Harkness. The android observed as she worked, her body language was more calm then when she left. The first mission out of the Alexandria had calmed her because it took out the anxiety of performance.

Harkness was getting anxious himself from being inside and typing so much. Fake light did not make up for the real outdoors. The meld of Harkness with A3 – 21's memories made him more of a roamer, staying in one place for too long was dull, stagnate, and unchanging. As a part of BIOS he now had to adhere to the hierarchy, even the unfair treatment from Galeas. Actaeon was allowed to spend time at the Arlington Archive, a luxury Harkness could not have.

He was too valuable as a source of information and for breaking down data as it came in from the field. In the pit of his synthetic stomach, John Harkness felt a pull, a pull to wander by his boots. In reflection of his time spent at Rivet City, since he regained his old memories as an android, the need to move around increased as well. He turned to LaCroix and appraised her body to see if there was any damage.

"Going to stare all day or take a picture," commented Anna as she flicked her hair over her shoulder so as she went back to typing.

"How was the operation," asked Harkness as he turned in his chair.

"You'll read about it after I type it out," she said as she hesitantly typed into the terminal.

"At the rate you type, I'll find out in three months, was the intelligence solid," he asked typing while talking.

"The mission was fine, one glitch," commented Anna as she pounded the keys in frustration, "my memory is not recalling everything from Van Dyke's files."

"He will put new obstacles and possibly move the files from his Graydtich home," mused Harkness as Actaeon got up and collected his items, "and where do you think you're going, Scribe?"

Actaeon had a disgusted look on his face, his hatred for Harkness had not dissipated, "I'll be at Arlington Archive if you must know."

"Do you and the book worms need help," Harkness perked up at the idea of leaving the hotel turned headquarters for BIOS.

"We have our hands full with Degory Bartlett," answered Actaeon as he shuffled papers.

The man was not familiar to Harkness. He had read the reports from Operatives Newton and Ban, the information seemed to fit, no mater how forced it was, with his knowledge on Commonwealth history. Actaeon had become taciturn as of recently, this had been the first mention of the Ambassador from the Plymouth Aristocracy since the man entered the Arlington Archive two weeks ago. The Scribe had been working for Janice Yearling to get a fairly decent understanding of Twentieth and Twenty – First Centuries. This would help to avoid bad forms of governance and the possible future of the Capital Wasteland.

Actaeon and Tearling were not friends, the connection between them was that of employer and and employee. She passed on files and workloads to him, and the beguiled Scribe kept quiet and did his work. Actaeon's attitude had become introverted, his thoughts had always been his own but since the argument at the Sewer Way Station he had kept his actions to himself as well. However, the work for BIOS gave him an intangible idea of dignity to cling in his grasp. The contempt shown to him by other members of the Brotherhood of Steel was also solidified by his work for BIOS. Returning to the Citadel as permanent station seemed like less of an option now more than ever, he would be stuck amongst rotting books, falling ceramic tiles, and dust. Strangely, he seemed okay with this as he began a transition in his life.

A young Scribe, a member of the Order of the Quill, stormed into the room and sat down with a huff. Actaeon looked up, briefly, but returned to the paper work in front of him. She cleared her through, trying to regain his attention but he did not capitulate. Sighing, she than began to vent on the topic area that was bothering her to the point that she needed to leave her post.

"Why do we allow an outsider like that monochrome prick in the middle of our research station," the Scribe was referring to Degory Bartlett.

Actaeon remained silent but his writing slowed, the Scribe continued, "he tosses all texts that are important away. Bartlett is a menace, hindering us from progress. Half of my work he has selected for his own personal selection of readings and won't even let me transcribe them when he doesn't have his grubby meat hooks into them!"

Scribe Actaeon looked up to the young Scribe, no words were on his lips, just a look of contempt and disdain.

"Honestly, who does he think he is," asked the young Scribe in an overly dramatic tone, "he acts like he owns the archive. He doesn't even explain any of what he finds, just retreats into a small corner of the room reading by these uh...fire things...smell horrible. Says the lighting in the building is far to bright and artificial for him. The backwards bastard should be happy he isn't stumbling around in the dark!. Bartlett is so... so... infuriating!"

"You seem to have confused me with someone that gives a crap," stated Actaeon as he resumed his attention to the book in front of him.

The young Scribe was agape in shock at his words and was about to reply when a Senior Scribe entered the room, "there has been an incident in the main reading room."

Actaeon left his book open with a marker and followed the Senior Scribe, with the young one trailing behind, to the main reading room to see a smoldering book. Two Scribes looked to be in the process of rescuing the book as head of the Plymouth Aristocracy's delegation was cornered by two Knights with their weapons leveled. Degory Bartlett had deemed the book unworthy of study and now the Scribes were in a race against time to unlock it's secrets before the two hundred year old pages withered away. Scribe Janice Yearling was in a rage. There were two things she had thrown her life into, one was the creation of BIOS and the second was cataloging pre – War books for the use of other generations.

"Out! Get out NOW!" Yelled Yearling as she looked to the knights, "get him out of my sight! Escort Doctor Bartlett back to his nation's encampment."

The two knights pushed the doctor away as he blathered about how the Brotherhood of Steel treated guests. Scribe Yearling ordered the men and women to disperse back to their work. As the Knights forcibly removed the representative of the Plymouth Aristocracy, Yearling made her way to Actaeon. She ordered him to follow her into the study.

"A two hundred year old text on a sport called... foot ball," she lamented as she sat behind an old desk that belonged to a librarian two hundred years before her, "they won't be able to recover it all, because that so – called academic lacked any and all common sense. Using candles near fucking old paper."

"He should have known better," replied Actaeon as he continued to stand, adjusting his robe so it wasn't twisted around his leg.

"What he said is correct though," Yearling looked up and traced her middle finger over her left eyebrow, "we haven't treated them well in the sense of allowing them freedom to roam. Newton and Ban are work as a part of containing these nations. We need someone to work outside of containment."

Actaeon raised an eyebrow, am I to be your willing subordinate, "what are you plans."

My plans are my own, Janice thought as she leaned in close to give her words more dramatic meanings, "I need you to...act outside of overt Brotherhood interests. Let's see how receptive Doctor Bartlett maybe to a friendly ear, it may lead to something greater. He has stirred the ire of the Scribes for sometime, the Knights are getting sick and tired of babysitting those northerners. The intelligence from Harkness points to their already being Commonwealth agents in the Capital, we need to flush them out and silently."

Sounds like you've been planning this for a longer time then just a going off on a whim, "the Operatives handling the Commonwealth have filed a few reports that the members of the Plymouth Aristocracy are slow to trust. Gaining their trust will be difficult, let alone finding out about their informants. How shall I proceed?"

"You're going to reach out passively to Bartlett, let him befriend you. I am going to permanently bar him from all paper records at Arlington Archive and file a formal complaint against the Plymouth Aristocracy forcing him to go in only one direction. Let's see how he reacts," Yearling took out a piece of paper and began to write up a formal complaint, consider this your first test, don't fail Scribe Actaeon."

"Forging a fake relationship with an unfriendly academic," acknowledged Actaeon as he thought of appealing to the doctor's ego and intellect, "should be a walk in the semi – irradiated park."

It took little time for the Grayditch guards to be mobilized to secure the crossroads of Church Street and Yew Avenue after word of the battle and their fallen colleagues reached their ears. Juan Alvarado, technically exiled from the limits of Grayditch, helped Marshall Lawson navigate the sewer tunnels to get to the main grounds of the city. Lawson, as a judge and lawman, forbade Alvarado entrance into the city so as to protect his life and uphold the court's recent ruling. However, Lawson did not ask him to leave, he saw the assistance the Operative brought as beneficial.

The Grayditch Guards were not at ease with Alvarado's presence. Lawson told them to stuff their complaints where the sun didn't shine and to hurry up to get back to the crossroads. The thought that some guards could still be alive complied the men to move quickly. Sloshing through the tunnels, Lawson and Alvarado led the way for the ten guards. They emerged in the crossroads to see the smoke, fire, and crumbled building. Bodies were strewn everywhere, Talon Company's corpses had their combat armor removed and there were no weapons or ammo left on the field of combat. The Grayditch Guards that had died had had their bodies moved to form a line, hands of their chests and their eyes closed. There were three men on the ground with dressed wounds near their comrades' bodies.

Lawson and Alvarado noticed that there were no bodies left by the third group, they had escaped the battle without loss or taken their comrades bodies with them. The two men had seen at least one of those faceless mercenaries take three or more rounds into the chest and didn't even flinch. Guards checked the bodies of their comrades and the three members that were medically treated. Marshall Lawson made his way over to where the prisoners were last seen. Smoking a cigar, he cast his eyes on the bound body of what was once a pudgy man without a head. Alvarado was not pleased to discover his friends fate, the plan must have gone wrong, this wasn't supposed to happen, he thought.

"Why, why would they do this," he asked as he knelt down next to his colleague's body, undoing the bounds that kept his arms behind his back.

"I've found Cobb's blindfold," announced a guard as he offered the cloth to Lawson.

"This was their goal," commented Marshall as he knelt down next to Alvarado, "I'm sorry for you friend...his death was to mean something and not let that murdering son of a bitch go free."

Juan whipped his nose against the wrist of his good arm, "no, this doesn't add up, something isn't right," Alvarado looked onto the body.

"What are you saying, tin head," asked the Grayditch Guard as Alvarado turned to Marshall Lawson.

"How many Talon did you count," asked Juan as he walked over to the bodies of Talon the guards were piling up, "Lawson, how many did you see?"

"About ten, if I remember correctly," Lawson stroked his beard.

"I counted twelve before we hightailed it," said Alvarado as he began to count off the bodies, "there are eleven Talon bodies here."

"Let's assume you are correct and twelve Talon came to this fight, what about the other mercenaries?" Marshall examined the bodies and cut off the index fingers from the Talons with his cigar cutter.

"Scavengers, raiders, mercs that saw an easy score; take your pick. They took weapons, ammo, and the expensive armor," pointed out Juan, "did you see that one take five to the chest and keep walking?"

"I saw him only take three, he must have been high on something like psycho," replied Marshall Lawson with concern as his guards were listening intently.

"Three shots and they didn't die," breathed a Grayditch Guard in awe.

"Immortals, fuck," whispered another guard in fear.

"Not another word," ordered Lawson as he clenched his cigar in his teeth, pulling the guard that called the other mercenary team immortals, "I will not allow rumors to be spread about those murdering fucks high on jet and gods' know – what! Do you hear me?"

The guards nodded and Juan moved to Marshall Lawson, "the main thought I have is that Talon Company sent a team to recover Cobb, if they were just a death squad then they'd have just taken out Cobb. He's still out there, and Pop is dead."

Lawson whispered into Alvarado's ear, "he would have died anyway, you know."

Juan hissed back, "THAT would have made sense, it would have fulfilled a goal. But this, this was murder in cold blood because he was here...that's all. No reason, senseless!"

"Consider his sentence served, we'll bring all the bodies back after we take the wounded to the medical center," Lawson directed the last part to his guards.

"I want the Grayditch Guards to pursue this Talon Company fuck!" Demanded Juan Alvarado with a fire in his eyes and vengeance in his blood, they killed the closest thing he had to a friend since giving up his life for the Brotherhood of Steel.

"You are in no position to demand anything, tin head," scorned a guard in a snarl.

"The Brotherhood gave me my walking papers, shit head," replied Juan as he pointed at the guard with his hand shaking, "I will fucking tear out your throat and spit down your neck! Or are you too brahmin shit to fight a crippled man?"

"Start taking the wounded home, now," said Marshall Lawson as he stood between the guards and Alvarado; he turned to Juan, "I am not sending any of my men after a possible Talon mercenary or Galvin Cobb. This is way out of Grayditch jurisdiction, the council and the court will be unable to do anything."

"Fuck the court and council," said Alvarado as he took out his gun and held it, "this is all the justification I need!"

"Put that gun away this instant, kid," ordered Lawson his hand on the grip of his forty – four revolver as it was holstered, "you want your wasteland justice...your Brotherhood minders would not be able to square that in their code of honor."

Juan Alvarado pointed his gun to the pile of Talon corpses and fired five rounds in frustrations before dropping to his knees, "fuck their codes! Fucking Brotherhood, fucking Talon, fucking... ARM!"

Marshall kept an eye on the young man's pistol, "the Brotherhood of steel support their own, that is one thing this old Regulator knows."

"At least Regulators care about locals," replied Alvarado as he holstered his weapon, "those armored assholes mustered me out. Bael presented it himself, removed from service due to injury and my record. No spot for a man with a useless arm in a shining set of power armor. Fuck them, if I wasn't local they'd have kept me at the Citadel, but I'm not from west coast stock, therefore they throw me out into the wasteland with all my past connections gone. Fuck the Brotherhood."

"That's the smartest thing I've heard you say, kid," Marshall Lawson smiled as he looked back to his guards entering the tunnels, "that was the main fault we saw in the Brotherhood of Steel."

"Lolli Pop was local born too, and look at how the Brotherhood treated us, sacrificial brahmin," replied the Operative as he stood up.

"You saved my life here today, I would have stayed and died with these men, but you convinced me to live and fight for another day. That is one of the first tenants of being a Regulator," the unspoken words from Marshall Lawson were 'I owe you;' he pulled a piece of paper from a pocket in his coat and began to scribble on it, "Regulators don't discriminate against locals, even those with bum arms, just remember that it's far more dangerous work than that of the Brotherhood. If the fates allow it, make your way to Canterbury Commons and then head west for a day until you reach a small farmstead. Hand this not to the closest person in a duster."

Alvarado took the paper with a shaking hand, no words could express his thanks; Lawson held his hand and looked into his eyes, "don't disappoint me, kid, I know you have it in you to find Cobb. Follow this path and you'll have a bright future under Sonora Cruz."

"Yes, sir," said Juan Alvarado as he breathed an internal sigh of relief, Bael seems to have read Lawson right...this plan could actually work...holy fuck.

Scribe Mendel was watching Elder Lyons in sick bay as he talked with Paladin Bruce. Elder Lyons was happy to know that one of his oldest and most trained Paladins was alive. The wounds to his legs had been so server that they needed to be amputated. Malnutrition had slowed the healing process, and Bruce was currently hooked up to intravenous fluids and vitamins. Bruce was held to the hospital gurney with a strap across his chest to prevent him from rolling off.

"You'll pull through, I have no doubt," said the Paladin with a smile to his chapter's Elder.

"I do not worry about myself," lied the Elder as he smiled, "I wish you'd take the prosthetic legs we still have available."

"I am far too old and out of commission to justify getting such equipment," Bruce pushed himself up on the gurney a little, "this war dog has seen his last drag out battle."

"Perhaps something can be done and we can get you working," offered Lyons as he motioned for Mendel, "you're years of experience can still be helpful to this chapter."

"My body is what the Brotherhood wishes to do with it," Bruce pledged.

"Get some rest, Paladin, you deserve it," ordered Elder Lyons as he motioned for Mendel to push him away.

Paladin Bruce closed his eyes after he laid back. Scribe Georgina Mendel pushed Elder Owyn Lyons in his vault – tec wheelchair out of the medical bay. His arrival was welcomed by all the personnel of the Citadel to greet his vertibird. Knights, Scribes, and Paladins all stopped to swarm around their returned leader. The leader of the Brotherhood of Steel smiled and waived, refusing to give a word or speech. Now people just stopped what they were doing to look at the Elder as he was wheeled by, much to his chagrin.

Behind closed doors, Owyn Lyons just wanted his men and women to return to work; too much time had been wasted on his condition. He shied from the public eyes, making only time to go between the medical center and his private quarters. Reginald Rothchild had been nervous with the Elder's return, but Lyons made it clear in no short terms that he was not going to revoke the self applied title. The one condition was to keep open communication between the two of them, which would not be difficult in theory. Rothchild had prepared memorandums and briefs for the Elder. Owyn was still catching up.

Flipping through a file as Mendel wheeled him into his private quarters, "how have we gained so many initiates in the past weeks?"

Rothchild stood up from a couch, "can you get us a drink, Scribe Mendel," asked the aged Scribe as he sat down with his old friend stopped near him, "how is the chair handling?"

"I wish I was back on my own two feet," replied the Elder as he took the drink from Mendel, whom sat in another chair across from the men, she was Lyons' acting assistant and care giver until he found someone better, "which is more than what Billy Bruce can say."

"Yes, good Paladin," agreed Rothchild as he sipped his whiskey, "what were wondering about before with recruitment?"

"We have had a large jump in initiates from six combat training to thirty – five, and we now had around seventy – three children between the ages of two and fourteen," replied Lyons as he looked at the file, "even if the men and women were reproducing at great rates we still wouldn't have these numbers."

"Well, I ran a small...mission," commented Elder Rothchild, "remember how James' son tried to retrive the G.E.C.K. for Project Purity? Well, before he vanished, James' son reported about Vault Eighty – Seven and the small child run cave town of Little Lamplight."

"Did you harm any children, Reginald?" Lyons was concerned as he hadn't read all the mission notes yet.

"Not in the least, Owyn," exclaimed Rothchild, "I'm slightly upset that you would think that of me. I offered them food, a better life, and a system of life in the day light; similar to what we did with those children from the Pitt. It was too much of a good offer that even the so – called boy king in charge of the place couldn't keep the kids from signing on board."

"So we destroyed a small town to gain access to Vault Eighty – Seven," Lyons had his face screwed up in a look of consternation, "this is unacceptable, old friend."

"It was hardly a town, Owyn," reasoned Reginald, "it was a bunch of lost boys and girls attempting to rule on their own with many mutts spreading diseases. They had no educated medical personnel, no teachers, no plan for a future. All they had were the remains of Vault Eighty – Seven and this cave fungus that absorbs radiation. Admittedly, some haven't taken to the transfer of power well, and decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the Wasteland."

"Transfer of power? Is that what we're calling the usurpation of a town that had been around for over two hundred years?" Elder Lyons was livid, his face red as spittle drew on his lips.

Georgina Mendel went behind the Elder and massaged his neck, "Elder, you need to calm down, slow deep breathes," cooed the Scribe as she massaged deeper.

Owyn counted down to ten as he exhaled, "thank you Scribe Mendel. Reginald, you need to know that I regret this decision you made. However, regrets are for the past. We need to more forward onto Vault Eighty – Seven."

"The Redeemers are securing the area still, while five Scribes look into the systems," answered Rothchild, "the nuclear reactor is leaking, the upper levels are irradiated, and the top side entrance is inaccessible."

"The Redeemers? Is that the name that Cross has decided upon for her squad?" Asked Lyons with a perplexed look.

"Cross' Redeemers was partly chosen and partly thrust upon them as a title," Rothchild held his hand out and wobbled it on a horizontal axis, "the people of Point Lookout and Drayden gave them the title after they were able to rescue a small town by the name of Saint Mar from swampfolk and ghouls. We've also established an outpost in an old detention facility that was still operational at Point Lookout."

"Reginald, you are spreading our forces very thin," commented Lyons in grief, "how much is a small force?"

"Three permanent Knights under a Knight Captain with two assisting Scribes," answered Rothchild with a quizzical look, "hardly even something that can be considered a skeleton crew."

"I want situation reports for all regions to be prepared by the Sentinels," Lyons switched topis as he closed the files, these issues are all but rested.

"They have been filed by the Sentinels and submitted for your information a day ago," corrected Rothchild as he sipped and looked back to his friend, "did you read up on BIOS yet?"

"I've read the Tribunal notes," Elder Lyons brushed his eyebrows and his growing hair, "perhaps you can tell me something in more detail that wasn't written."

"I have suspicions that Scribe Yearling and Star Paladin Bael are operating outside of the Chain that Binds," replied Elder Rothchild.

"The Chain that Binds is what we have been lax in implementing since I've gained Elder status and refused to appoint a Head Paladin to replace my old position," Lyons sipped his drink slowly, "mainly because I did not want to have a middleman between my orders."

"I don't mean to judge your decisions, dear friend, but perhaps it is time to appoint one to oversee BIOS more closely as Yearling and Bael shift their weight greatly," suggested Rothchild.

"Reginald, I am in no way looking to appoint a Head Paladin, we have three Sentinels and one Star Paladin," Owyn sipped his drink, "I am done with this topic for now."

"Something must be down to curb BIOS' actions," pressed Rothchild, "we can not afford to have a branch acting independently of the body of this chapter."

"I have made plans to recall Bael to the Citadel on a more permanent basis, he will find his true position here," assured Lyons, "do you feel Operative Roe acted under instruction from Bael?"

I know it, thought Reginald Rothchild, but proving it is another issue, "there is no evidence to suggest that, Elder Lyons."

The Operatives working out of Megaton and Springvale, Colin Moriarty Junior and Zachary Zimm, had established themselves very well. Their main base of operation was currently Silver's Den, the local burlesque, bordello and vaudeville entertainment. The Megaton Guards, retired raiders now paid to protect settlements, had left Silver's Den after the madame put six bullets into a guard. She had ended the two year practice of the guards hurting and rapping her whores, but also lost the only protection available to her as well. J.R. and Zimm had setup security for the girls for the payment of information collected by the tricks that came their way.

J.R. would handle the meeting with his father and Zimm would run point on Ashkelon. An uneasy peace had been reached. Springvale was a neutral town, guards loyal to Moriarty and those loyal to Ashkelon would not fight because no one wanted an outright war between brothers. The only people left on the short end of the stalemate between Ashkelon and Moriarty were the ghouls.

Some of Silver's girls were ghouls, specific to clients' requests. Other than that, the operatives did not have any orders to deal with the ghoul question. They had both written many requests to the issue but Bael and Yearling had yet to respond either way. J.R. and Zimm had not extend a helping hand to the brahmin ranchers that were ghouls. At that moment, the Operatives were just strengthening the brothel as a field house while collecting information.

Silver's Den was popular for everyone in the Capital Wasteland; vault dwellers, Tenpenny residents and raider alike. The wealth of information gained was amazing, nothing loosened lips like that of a whores' work. When a member of the vault entered the brothel, no one took notice. When he approached J.R. directly instead of the whores or booze. This vault dweller was familiar to J.R., a cousin of Susie's he was was once introduced to, but otherwise didn't know.

"J.R.?" He asked with a questioning tone, the kid couldn't be more than sixteen and freshly taken the G.O.A.T., "I... I heard you were out here..."

"I'm sorry, kid, your face is familiar but your name escapes me," J.R. sat at a table with a notebook, he closed it and looked the teen in the face.

"I'm Patrick, Patrick Keyes, Susie's cousin," said the teen, his hair was blonde in a familial resemblance to the maternal line, "I...uh, need a favor."

"I'm not in the business of granting favors," answered J.R. as he tapped the notebook with his index finger.

"I … I know it's, uhm, unusual for me to ask a favor and all, but...Susie speaks so highly of you," Patrick was stammering considering him and this man were practically strangers.

"Cut through all the brahmin shit, kid," J.R. directed in the best blunt terms he knew, "you don't have to butter me up for anything, just ask and I'll give you a realistic answer."

Patrick Keyes gulped audibly, "well I... I want to join the Brotherhood of Steel."

J,R, was expecting the kid to ask for money, sex advice, maybe even chems because he was too afraid to talk about it with his family; Colin was certainly put off his feet and needed to ask the question again, "you want to join the Brotherhood of Steel?"

"Yeh... yeh... yes," said the teen as he tried to look serious, "I... I want to serve my... community."

"Then be a fry cook in the kitchens," Colin Moriarty Junior shook his head, "you don't sign up and enlist to the Brotherhood of Steel to serve your local area. The Brotherhood protects the cities, towns, and settlements of the Capital Wasteland from all threats foreign and domestic. How we operate is different then any group you've seen out here. Not tell me, what are your real reasons for joining?"

The kid, halfway between adulthood and childhood, held his tongue for a few moment, J.R. could not tell if it was from fear, contemplation, or something else, "I...I need to leave Vault Hundred and One."

"There are many things you can do, kid," J.R. tried to reason, "join up with a traveling merchant, work odd jobs in cities and towns. The Brotherhood of Steel is a lifelong commitment."

"That's what I'm afraid of," commented the teen.

"What was that now," the son of the crime lord of Megaton leaned in closer.

"You wouldn't understand," answered Patrick Keyes.

Fucking kids, thought J.R. as he leaned back and took out his smokes, he preferred the ancient tobacco than to the new Drayden smokes, "I'm here to talk consider it a courtesy; anything more and I'll need to seriously think about it."

The teen nodded and walked out of the whore house. His eyes lingered at the topless and half dressed women. The vault teen bumped shoulders with another man. With a grunt, the man in a dirty white shirt and green or gray pants. He walked to the second floor after pushing the kid away and grunted. Leo Stahl had shaky steps and clung to the railing with a tight grip. He walked to the appropriate room number and knocked twice.

The door opened to a large breasted woman with wide hips answered the door completely naked smelling of sweat, body odor, and sex. Leo didn't even blink an eye at her nude body, she moved to the side and let him in. Zachary Zimm was on the bed, the sheets of fabric used as a blanket were pulled around his waist.

"Holy fuck, man, get your own whore! Why the fuck did you let him in," the Operative yelled and began to back pedals, "sorry hun, I shouldn't call you a whore."

"That is what I am," she said with a shrug as she sat down on the bed.

Stahl removed a kit from her draw and handed her a does of psycho and mentats. She wrapped it around his thigh and popped two mentats in her mouth. The whore depressed the syringe to inject the chemical stimulants directly into his blood stream. She kissed him as he moaned in pleasure of the chems, placing a mentat in his mouth and swallowing her own.

"I seriously don't need to see that," said Zachary as he began to get dressed.

The whore laid back on the best and tried to play with Zimm's skin, "mister big bad mercenary never rolled on mentats or stims before," her voice smooth like velvet.

"I make it a point not to do chems," stated Zimm as he took a shot of whiskey, his wound healing quickly.

"Sure hit the booze hard enough," the whore smirked with a knowing look.

"Helps with the pain," said Zimm as he straightened his bandage on the wounded cheek.

"Hey, it is you," commented Leo Stahl already in a drugged haze, "Moriarty's friend..."

"I am no friend of Moriarty," said Zimm as he took another shot.

"No, not that Moriarty," Leo's words were breathy and soft, "his gun for hire son."

"Your high," said Zimm as he fastened his combat armor, "and this is still my rented room."

The whore put on some light clothing and left, "yes, I heard you get things don, you know, like done done," Stahl was stoned and incoherent to the Operative.

"Fuck off," replied Zimm as he loaded up his gun, "I only work for paying customers."

"I can pay, man," pleaded Leo as he scrambled forward with the psycho syringe still strapped to his leg, "or I will be able to after the job is done."

"Fuck off Leo, or I'll tell your sister," reprimanded Zimm as he pushed the high man away, "thought you were clean."

"I'll go clean, no worries, just needed this thing to take care of, you know," Stahl was falling forward and backward as he couldn't keep balance.

Fuck me, thought Zimm, "talk to me in the morning when your not high."

"Holly fuck, I'm trying to give you the biggest score this place has ever seen!" Leo held his arms up and out far apart as a symbol of how big the pay off would be, "we can make thousands, tens of thousands of caps!"

"Oh, this is rich coming from a junkie," Zimm began to push him away and out the room, "get the fuck out, Leo."

"It's called UltraJet," yelled Leo as Zimm closed the door, "we just need the recipe and we can cook it!"

"Leave me the fuck alone, Leo," demanded Zimm, fucking junkie pusher.

"UltraJet, the chem of the future," yelled Leo Stahl through the door, "we'll be kings of the Wasteland!"

"Fuck off, Leo," replied Zimm for the umpteenth time as he laid on the bed in the small room and poured a shot of whiskey; Leo Stahl raved and ranted at the closed door, he would leave in thirty minutes, but the idea of UltraJet was already planted in Zachary's mind and began to sprout roots.

Knight Michael Ban and Operative Hannah Newton walked into the Kingdom of Brandia's encampment. The lords, ladies, knights and support staff applauded the returning party from the Mall. The Prince of Brandia, Louis Brandian, was hoisted high up on the shoulders of his remaining body guards. Charles Everidge walked with the Operatives who stopped at a temporary stable for the genetically modified zebras from the Commonwealth. The braying of the animals fell upon the Operatives ears better than the applause of those that showered the Prince with adoration and the minstrels plucking tunes on their stringed instruments.

Ban took off his helmet and relaxed against the wall of the stable, "Enclave," was all he said, hatred thick in his voice.

"They're not here presently," reminded Everidge as he touched a finger to his nose, "out ships are playing cat and mouse with them. They can not enter the Potomac though."

"The fucking Enclave have been our biggest enemy on two coasts," said Ban with a stern look, "only two years of peace have gone by and now they're back."

"Citadel Control, received our message, and forwarded it to Point Lookout and the Elders," Hannah had removed her helmet, "but we do need to make it back to the Citadel."

"To leave the festivities would not be perceived well, Sir Ban and Lady Newton," informed the Lord of Brighton, "enjoy some Vineyard wine, some Providence grain, and some Brandian bore."

"We savor our meals with friends and family," replied Ban as his stern look did not falter, "pardon our hesitation, Prime Advisor."

"No offense taken, I will inform the Prince, travel well," Charles Everidge shook their hands, "and thank you for today."

Newton and Ban picked up and moved on to the Citadel. Sentinel Lyons saw them and told them the meeting had been pushed back until tomorrow so that all those in attendance could arrive and to rest up. The collapsed in bunks used by many Knights and Paladins stationed at the Citadel. Newton and Ban had not even removed their power armor and the extra weight collapsed the springs and plintered the legs. Sleep came fast, though most others looked at them with hatred. New bed frames were hard to come by in the Wasteland.

In the morning, cold water poured on them woke the Operatives up from their slumber. Sputtering, the two saw Paladin Gunny. He ordered them to get up and washed, a situational meeting was to get underway shortly as Sentinel Tristan had just arrived. Groggily, Newton and Ban got ready and approached the meeting room. They sat down with Bael and Yearling. The Proctors for the Orders of the Quill, Sword, and Shield sat across from them. The three Sentinels also joined them, along with Paladin Bruce and several Scribes taking notes. The two Elders, Lyons and Rothchild, walked into the room and everyone stood, except for Bruce.

"Hail Elders Lyons and Rothchild," intoned every member as they greeted the Elders.

"Sit down everyone," said Lyons as he bowed greetings and sat down with Rothchild at the shared head of the table, "we've received intelligence that the Enclave had returned, en mass. This information comes by way of the Commonwealth. The validity of it has yet to be tested, though any scanning from Point Lookout will be transmitted at the end of today."

"Preparations should be made for an oncoming battle," Sentinel Tristan warned.

"Jumping into full alert without knowledge of the enemy is foolhardy," Scribe Elizabeth Jameson said as she leaned forward.

"Perhaps it is best to mobilize while doing some fact finding," offered Sentinel Lyons as a mediator.

"We have already made moves to verify the information at the Point Lookout outpost, now that we know what to look for it will not be that difficult," answered Elder Owyn Lyons slowly, "however, this will mean changes, specifically pulling one Sentinel team from the field for quick vertibird insertion."

"I volunteer the Lyons' Pride," offered Sarah.

"Thank you, Sentinel Lyons, we will take it under strict consideration," answered Rothchild, "however, we must not forget one of our biggest advantages, Liberty Prime."

"The land – walker is still in disrepair," stated Janice Yearling as a matter of fact.

"The weapons system is only functioning at sixty percent efficiency," added Scribe Peabody, the Proctor of the Order of the Sword.

"The arms and torso are fully integrated, armed and coated to protect against electronic magnetic pulses, laser, nuclear, plasma, and small arms fire," answered Scribe Bowditch, Proctor of the Order of the Shield, "though the legs have still yet to be constructed."

"The optics are completely refurbished," nodded Elder Rothchild, "however, the new programming has not been completely debugged. Though all weapons are calibrated for accuracy."

"So that still leave the Brotherhood with a half functioning robot," affirmed Sentinel Tristan as he flashed back to the day Liberty Prime was lost.

"It might sound too early, but perhaps we need to extend a motion of reconciliation to the Outcasts," said Scribe Jameson, "they may have found some technology that can be put to great use."

Not even a nanosecond passed before Sentinels Lyons and Tristan were on their feet along with Star Paladin Bael to berate the idea of reconciliation. Elder Owyn Lyons and Elder Reginald Rothchild sat back and listened to the debate rage. Some of the secondary Scribes were writing the notes down furiously as Peabody and Bowditch got into the fray. Rothchild decided to intervene when someone had yelled out that the Outcasts were traitors.

"We are in no way about to go forward with reconciliation at this point," replied Rothchild firmly, "we will open this for discussion later, but table it for now."

"Then the reporting from Point Lookout is imperative," affirmed Janice Yearling, "perhaps the use of naval reconnaissance would be better suited."

"Are we certain that the threat is naval," asked Jameson as she tapped her open hand on the table.

"The intelligence collected is defined as a naval battleship that is size classed as Atlantis," Hannah Newton reported as she pulled a piece of paper from a prepared brief that was created by Scribes after their information was forwarded, "Atlantis class battleships are the largest navy vessels in the known world, three were in play by Twenty – Seventy – Seven. It would make sense that the Enclave had access to these floating cities."

"How did we not see this on the west coast," asked Scribe Peabody in caution.

"Your guess is as good as mine," replied Ban as he looked at the Scribe, "perhaps they didn't feel it necessary to use on the west coast because of Navarro and the Oil Rig?"

"We should learn from both President Eden and Richardson not to underestimate the plans of the Enclave," Elder Lyons held his fingers together, "when the Enclave first left the west coast we thought they were finished. Then we discovered the late John Henry Eden here in the Capital region. We have never taken a full stock of possible Enclave military and geopolitical might."

"Well there is one thing we can do as of this moment," Janice Yearling said as she twirled a pencil in her hand.

"What would you suggest," asked Elder Lyons.

"There are known former Enclave agents in the wasteland," commented the logistical head of BIOS, "they have been given carte blanche access to everything possible to non – Brotherhood of Steel personnel, yet we have no gains as an organization."

"Are you seriously suggesting rounding up former Enclave agents," Elder Lyons was appalled, "even the two doctors that saved my life?"

"These Enclave agents within the region are our biggest security threats and a wealth of information," stated Yearling as a matter of fact, "we have already done this with a former agent of the Commonwealth's SRB."

"The Commonwealth's what," asked Owyn Lyons in confusion.

"It should in your memos from the past few months," commented Bael, "John Harkness has been an amazing source of information as a former agent for the Synth Retention Bureau."

"Based on your reports he came willingly once protection from the Commonwealth was afforded him," said Elder Rothchild, who was up to date on the memos, "the collection and interrogation of Enclave agents will be anything but voluntary."f

"They are not the most forth coming with information, our trust should not be with them or even the locals," rejoined Yearling with a calm but firm voice, she didn't even acknowledge Hannah Newton's stare, "pressure must be applied for a proper outcome."

"Scribe Yearling, your ability at gathering information for the necessity of this chapter's survival is profound and direct," extolled Elder Rothchild, "however, coercion and torture are not measures this chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel will use. Is this clear, no torture will be accepted by this chapter."

"Aqua pura, Elder Reginald Rothchild," answered Yearling.

"I don't care how you talk to other BIOS members, but in this room we will refrain from colloquial forms of speech," reprimanded the Elder.

"Elders Lyons and Rothchild, I'd like to bring attention my report if you will," Scribe Peabody pulled out some papers, "I think it is a vital concern for the future of the Brotherhood in the Capital."

"I have read your report, yes, but I feel we need to collect more secure intelligence on the Enclave," said Lyons as Elder Rothchild nodded, "perhaps if you were to do an inventory on our current supplies so we have a better understanding of where we stand."

"With respect, Elder Lyons, that maybe too little too late," replied Peabody, "our energy weapons are at their lowest conditions to date when it comes to high end lasers. We can not field a force based on just plasma!"

"You report has been noted, Scribe Peabody," said Elder Rothchild, "and yes, Scribe Bowditch, we have read your report as well."

"And yet no one has mentioned the need to reinforce positions in our outposts," Bowditch leaned back and folded his arms together, "if the Enclave are back than these outposts are no match to air assaults from vertibirds or naval based artillery."

"How quick can we gain appropriate defenses for the outposts," asked Elder Lyons.

"It will take sometime to gain the ability to rig the automated turrets with the anti – ballistic programming, along with placement," stated Bowditch, "but by the end of the month, month and a half, all outposts will be protected from an air assault."

"This is ridiculous! Defense can be worked on but weaponry reports need to be more detailed, really," Peabody was rhetorical, his questioning tone was due to indignation.

"The outposts are the weakest parts of our organization and the first to be acted upon by the Enclave when they attempt to retake areas. We have taken their strong holds at Raven Rock, the Sat Comm Array, and Adams Air Force Base. They may seek to make similar gains," said Elder Rothchild.

"The best defense is a good offense," reassured the Proctor for the Order of the Sword.

"It is best to fire your weapon with both eyes open," stated Sentinel Cross, inserting herself firmly in the conversation for the first time.

"Enough, there will be no pissing matches here, leave that to the west coast!" Scolded Elder Lyons with a firm look on his wizened face.

There was silence in the room. Since his return from Vault 101, Lyons' mood and temperamental definitely changed. A man of virtually unlimited patience was now quick to act and dismiss actions and goals. Seeing this in an open meeting left his Proctors, Sentinels, and Star Paladin questioning his ability. However, no thoughts were fully formed as a Knight from Citadel Control entered the room. He passed a paper to Elder Lyons, who in turn passed it to Rothchild.

"I must put this meeting on hold, an incident has occurred," said Lyons as he pushed away from the table.

"Does this incident concern the reports from the Point Lookout outpost," asked Sentinel Lyons.

"Star Paladin Bael and Scribe Yearling, please stay behind," said Elder Lyons, "Paladin Bruce and Scribe Jameson, you as well."

The board room cleared, leaving the four members and two Elders, "what is this about," asked Bael.

"First, the good news," Lyons nodded to Rothchild as they passed a rolled up scroll to Jameson and Bruce, "in times like these we can't really afford all the pomp and ceremony that we once had on the west coast. Pardon Reginald and I for this austere promotion. Congratulations, Head Scribe Elizabeth Jameson."

"Thank you, Elders Lyons and Rothchild," Jameson showed gratitude but looked serious enough.

"This can't possibly be right," said Paladin Bruce as he waved his paper around.

"It is if you are willing to abide by the terms," said Elder Lyons with a smile.

"I refuse to take away two prosthesis from any man or woman more needing of it than I," said Bruce firmly as his eyes squinted in an attempt to read Lyons mind, "however, I can readily agree to the other terms."

"So be it, Head Scribe Jameson, Star Paladin Bael, Scribe Yearling," intoned Lyons as he licked his lips, "I present you Head Paladin, William Bruce, and mentor to Author Maxson."

There were small applause and congratulations given onto now Head Paladin Bruce as he replied, "thank you all, but there are more important issues that need to be addressed."

Rothchild rustled the paper handed to the Elders by the Knight, "Citadel Control received word four hours ago that Knight Jamie Bors and Operative Quintus Schieber failed to report in to the outpost at the Republic or the Centurions for twenty – four hours; further more the small force at the Republic reported seeing a fiery ball in the horizon."

"Four hours since they were supposed to report in, these are my men!" Cristano Bael was outraged that he didn't have this information sooner.

"Calm down, Star Paladin," ordered Rothchild.

"I have two men that could still be alive out in the wilderness," Bael was up on his feet, "we need to mobilize a response team. I need a vertibird and several Knights."

"Enough Cristano!" Exclaimed Owyn Lyons, "we can not do anything at this time, I will not jeopardize another vertibird or pilot, is that clear?"

"I will not sit by idly as my Operatives die out there in the unexplored areas," Bael had calmed his voice and sat down, but his fists were still clenched.

"What the Elders aren't saying in so many words but inferring heavily is that Knight Bors and Operative Schieber are dead. However, our operatives are known for their survival," Janice Yearling was shrewd and direct, "what needs to be looked into is who took down our vertibird."

"Why must you always go right to direct aggression from an external threat," commented the newly appointed Head Scribe," it could have been equipment failure."

"That is unlikely because they were maintained by Enclave engineers," rejoined Scribe Yearling, "and it is my job to think of the worst case scenarios, Head Scribe Jameson."

"We are not ready to admit this was an act of aggression by the Enclave,," stated Lyons firmly, "I want options on my table in twenty – four hours people."

Bael whispered into Yearling's ear so the Elders could not hear, "bit coincidental that our vertibird gets taken out as we discover the return of the Enclave."

"I don't believe in coincidences," answered Yearling as she closed her files.

"Looks like there is a position open as the Proctor to the Order of the Quill," pushed Bael.

"It looks like the Elders are trying to curb you with the appointment of Bruce as Head Paladin," said Yearling as she stood up, "and blind ambition offers no beneficial rewards."

Closer to the building in the middle of the ancient parking lot stood hollowed out vertibirds and fallen bodies. Trip reported that there were no life signs. Quintus Schieber checked the bodies around the south facing side of the building, the armor was only weathered for a few years that had been exposed to the elements. Burnt flesh tightly adhered to skeletons were in all the power armor and scientist suits.

Bors sat down on a vertibird, right next to a curled up Enclave officer. He removed the officer's hat and shook out the ashes. The building was old, way older than most technology and architecture that the Brotherhood of Steel dealt with on a regular basis. The architecture was similar to that of the D.C. Ruins, columns and vaulted ceilings. He guessed it was from the Twentieth Century, the height of American power and prowess.

"I think we can salvage the servo from one of these sets of Enclave power armor," Quin opened up the leg of an MKII power armor to expose the dead burnt limb underneath.

"What the hell do you think could do this," asked Bors as he referenced the many bodies that littered the ground.

Removing the servo with a tug and a pull, Schieber looked over the rough piece of machinery, "if you don't know, the chances of me knowing are dramatically less. I'm used to bullets, lasers, welding, and woodwork; whatever did this left the majority of equipment behind and caused an awful amount of hurt on the Enclave."

"What the hell is this place," breathed Bors as he looked to the old building with ancient white columns and a dilapidated ceiling, and what secrets do you hold.

A/N: Thus concludes Trials of Diplomacy. Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did writing; I'm sorry it took me so long to write this chapter, but it has been my longest one to date. I plan on writing the next installment already, though my method to write long hand and transcribe to word documents will continue. Any and all ideas can be sent to me via review or private message.

Once again, thank you for reading; please review!