A/N: Thanks to those who reviewed and favourited! It's really appreciated.

Once again, reviews are very welcome, especially if there's constructive criticism in them. I don't feel like this chapter was as good as it could have been, and I'm having trouble keeping them in character. Anyway, onwards.

Chapter Two - Jet Song

Butch had expected his first steps into the Capital Wasteland to be the greatest moment of his life. Or at least... the greatest moment of his life so far. Hell, it had to be more awesome than what he was leaving behind, right?

But he had, in no way, been prepared for the blinding light that burned his eyes as he kicked open the flimsy wooden door that separated the tunnel from the outside world. Of course, he'd seen glimpses of it through the door. But never had he seen so much light in his life. Even just turning on the lights too fast in the vaults had hurt. This was a whole new world of burning pain.

He would tell people later that he had stepped out into the Wasteland 'all confident and impressive like, just like a Tunnel Snake ought to'. But in reality, he shrieked like a girl and retreated back into the tunnel, hands shielding his eyes. He sat down closer to the Vault door, thankful that he had snuck out of the Vault while the others were busy. Had they heard that incredibly wussy scream, they never would have let him forget it.

It took a long time for him to get used to the light, and that took an hour during which the process of opening the door, screaming and running away again was repeated over and over. Eventually, his eyes adjusted somewhat, although they still hurt like a bitch.

And then he ran back inside again because of the sky. Those old pre-war books, those old movies... None of them had really prepared him for the real thing. For the first time in his entire life, he didn't have a roof over his head. And it didn't feel right. It felt like he was just gonna drop off the ground and into that endless sea of blue nothingness. Something that big should just not be able to exist...

Butch ended up sitting in the corner of the tunnel again, curled up and cowering somewhat. As he did so, he noticed he was sitting on a sign that said "We're dying, assholes!" Just a little bit further away was a couple of skeletons. Butch shivered nervously, and immediately gave himself a mental slap in the face.

"Man up, Butch," he whispered quietly. "Not afraid of some big, blue, empty space. Because Tunnel Snakes rule, and they ain't afraid of no sky."

Butch tugged the collar of his jacket up, making sure he looked presentable, before opening the wooden door again. He'd failed twice already. But third time was the charm. His mother used to say that all the time. When she was sober, anyway.

Could she manage on her own? Who was going to make sure she got back to her room when she was drunk off vodka? Butch stood there for a few moments, thinking about it, before shaking his head. She could manage. She'd managed during the three months of rebellion, hadn't she? She could survive without him. Butch told himself to stop thinking about it. He didn't need second thoughts.

He really couldn't have imagined the Capital Wasteland. Compared to the tiny little vault... It was enormous. It stretched on forever. Like the sky. It was so much to take in. Even though he'd known there was a world out there... and that there had once been a world out there like the ones in the pre-war books and movies he'd seen... including that movie that was still, even now, sitting in his Pip-Boy... Even though he'd known about it, he couldn't have imagined what he saw.

Butch climbed down the rocky slope slowly, looking around with interest. It was pretty dusty... And he could already feel the heat from the sun bearing down on him. But that was no skin off his back.

Before he'd left, Butch had checked out the files the Overseer had on his computer about the wasteland. He knew there was a town called Megaton, and he could see the location on his Pipboy. But no need to head right there. He wanted to poke around, check what was going on. And that little cluster of houses looked like a great place to start. He knew the others, Amata and that, would go straight to Megaton for information. But he was gonna step off the beaten track. That was the Tunnel Snake way, yeah.

Hell, maybe he wouldn't go to Megaton at all. At least not yet. If it was a major settlement, that meant Lee might be there. And he didn't want to run into her until he had some more experience under his belt. Until he could prove her wrong about not surviving in the wastes. Although... he might have to visit Megaton. The light was fucking painful, and maybe there he could purchase some shades to stop his eyes from stinging. But first. That cluster of houses.

After clambering down the hill, Butch found that the cluster of houses was just ruins. Most of the houses were just bare bones, just the basic structure. The walls had collapsed long ago. Butch dug around in the rubble for a bit, but he didn't find anything useful. Just a tin full of bottle caps. Why would anyone collect bottle caps in a tin? He tossed the can back on top of the rubble pile before looking around some more.

Near the end of the row of houses, he saw a large sign that said 'Springvale Elementary School.' That meant he had to be in Springvale. He glanced down at his Pipboy. Sure enough, the map was marked with that in the exact spot he was standing. Neat. Butch didn't feel like wandering around a school, though. He'd never enjoyed school in the vault. So he started strolling back.

He hadn't noticed, too distracted by the sign, but now he saw that one of the houses was still standing. It had a working door and everything. Tattered and dirty, sure, but it was more plausible that someone actually lived there. He walked to the door, knocked three times. There was no answer. ...Was there no-one home? Or did no-one live there in the first place? Who would want to live in a ruined town like this, anyway? Maybe there was something in there Butch could grab.

He pushed the door open, and came face-to-face with a gun barrel.

The gun was held by a woman with silver hair. Aside from the hair colour, she looked quite young. However, when she spoke her voice sounded older and rougher.

"Who the hell are you?" She stepped forward, gun still pointing at him. She seemed very focused on him, to an almost insane degree. "Did Moriarty send you here? Dammit, that girl said she'd tell him I was dead."

"Whoa! Easy, lady!" Butch raised his hands defensively. "I don't know who Moriarty is. I thought this place had been abandoned, why didn't you answer the knock?"

"Look, kid. No-one just comes wandering here. I get one regular visitor, and she don't show up at this time of day. I hear a knock, I'm gonna assume bad news. ...Although, admittedly, if you were really bad news you probably wouldn't have bothered."

"I ain't bad news unless someone fucks with me, alright? Quit waving that gun in my face!" Butch may have had a switchblade... But switchblade versus pistol? Didn't have to be a genius to figure out where that would end.

The woman had tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. "...Turn around."

"What, so you can shoot me in the back?"

"Look, you don't turn around and I'll shoot you in the front. Whatcha got to lose?" She had a point. Butch turned around uneasily, so that the Tunnel Snake's sign was clear. "Turn back." He did so. "Just checking. I've seen the jacket before. Do all vaulties wear them? Is it some kind of fashion going around there?"

"No way. Only the most awesomest, badassest people wear them. They ain't for everyday vaulties... Wait." Butch narrowed his eyes. "You seen it before? That means you saw Lee, right?"

"Ah, so she didn't tell you I was here." The woman put away her gun. "Yeah, she showed up here a few months back, fresh out of the vault. Friend of hers?"

"Friends is a... strong word. But we get along. Sort of."

"Well, you haven't tried to attack me yet. So you're probably alright. But try any funny business and I'll plug you."

"Okay, jeez. Don't get so itchy. You got a name?"

"Silver. It's Silver."

"Name's Butch. Leader of the Tunnel Snakes."

"What is that, a raider gang? ...Nah, if it were a raider gang you wouldn't be standing around and talking. Probably would have dragged me off for rape and torture by now."

"...What? No! I ain't a fucking sicko!"

"Hm. You seemed surprised."

"There are actually... actually people like that out here?"

"Tons of them. Raiders care about one thing, and that's getting thrills and kicks. Whether it from drugs, sex or torture." Silver nodded her head in the direction of the school. "A few of them hang around the school. They don't annoy me. Probably don't know I'm here. They ain't exactly a smart lot. Stay away from there if you don't want to get gutted."

Butch gulped. "Okay."

So, there was already gangs out in the wasteland? And not the cool kind, by the sounds of things. Butch gazed around Silver's place, kind of curious to see what a wasteland house looked like. It was certainly a lot dirtier than the vaults. Most of the stuff lying around was covered in rust. On the table there was a bowl of some weird kind of stew, and a bunch of what looked like inhalers, like the ones Lee's dad had for asthmatic patients. Silver saw him looking.

"Don't even think about swiping the Jet."

"Jet? What's Jet?"

"You don't know that either? Jeez, you really are a fresh vaultie." Silver gestured at a chair. "Siddown." Butch figured he might as well. Silver sat opposite from him, picked up one of the inhalers. "This is Jet. It's a drug. The high you get off it is fantastic. Things move slower when you're high on it, so a lotta people use it during combat. But me? I just like to shoot up." A junkie... That probably explained the intense stare. Probably high right now. "You know, if you ain't never had Jet before I'll sell you one cheap. You're missing out there, kiddo."

Butch picked up one of the inhalers, examining it warily. Who knew what kind of stuff was in the wasteland's drugs... "What's it made out of?"

"Uh... I heard somewhere that the main ingredient is brahmin gas."

"What's a brahmin?"

"Big animals. Made of steak. Two heads."

"Made of steak? ...Like cows?"

"I don't know what that is, so I'm gonna say yes."

Butch looked down at the inhaler, then held it up. "So you're saying... you're basically breathing in two-headed cow farts? That reeks in so many ways."

Silver shrugged. "Once you're high, you won't care what's in it. Don't go judging me, kid. I ain't used to your 'holier-than-thou' vault lifestyle. Probably had much cleaner chems in there, right?"

"...Right, whatever." Butch didn't want to go explaining how the Vaults were actually pretty shit. Too many words, and he wasn't wasting them on a junkie. "Listen, you haven't seen Lee around recently, have you? Like... In the last week? Because I'm trying to avoid her for the moment."

Silver wrinkled her nose in thought, before picking up one of the inhalers and taking a huge whiff. "Urgh... That's the good stuff. But no, I haven't. Although it's funny that you'd say a week. Because there was a huge commotion around here. Don't know what it was. Assumed it was raiders at the time." Silver held the inhaler in her hand, and waved it around as she spoke. "Huge noise. Gunshots everywhere. And I heard barking. Coulda been raider mutts, coulda been your girl's mutt."

"She ain't my girl," Butch muttered.

"Whatever. Point is... I woulda just thought it was raiders. But I went up there the next day to see if they'd left anything worth nabbing behind... There were puddles. That plasma goo that happens whenever she blasts someone with that fancy rifle she carries around. There ain't many who walk around with guns like that, you know."

"Why you telling me this? I just wanted to know if she was around Megaton."

"I'm getting to it..." Silver paused for a moment, like she was going to keep talking, then shook her head. "You know what? The radio can probably explain it better than me." Silver climbed to her feet, walked over to the radio and switched it on. There was a couple of minutes where neither of them talked, and the radio played some song that was slightly familiar to Butch. He was sure it'd been on one of the records back in the Vault.

"—They have things like the atom bomb. So I'll think I'll stay where I ahm... Civilisation, I'll stay right heeeeere."

Butch had no idea what he was supposed to be listening for. It was just pre-war music. As the song ended, however, a voice came on.

"Alright, children. We're back. This is Three Dog, aowwwwwwww! You're listening to Galaxy News Radio, the one free radio station in all the Capital Wasteland. Still fighting the Good Fight out here in Washington, D.C. And now, for the news..."

The man started rambling on about 'excessively violent weather' as well as about some group called the Brotherhood of Steel. Butch didn't really understand what he was going on about.

"What am I supposed to be listening for?" Butch asked. Silver raised a hand to make him shut up, nodded her head back at the radio.

"—And finally, we still got no word on Little Miss 101. Last seen running from the Brotherhood's Citadel, no-one ain't seen her since. 101, if you're out there... We're pretty damn worried about you. Give your old friend Three Dog a call, would you? And if anyone else has seen her, spread the word so we at least know something about where the Lone Wanderer has got to. And now, some music..."

Silver switched off the radio. Butch stared at it for a moment longer.

"Little Miss 101? You mean... he was talking about Lee? The hell would he be talking about her for?"

"Right, you don't know. Well, most people call your girl 'the Lone Wanderer.' Or, like Three Dog says, 'Little Miss 101.' Known as an all around do-gooder and badass, that girl. So the rumours go." Silver smiled slightly. "Wouldn't have picked her for it the first time she showed up here, that's for sure. Too tiny, too peppy."

"Lee? A badass?" Butch burst out laughing. "You're serious? That shrimp?"

"Hey, I ain't the one parading that around. Three Dog did that. Been worshiping her non-stop since she fixed up his satellite dish."

Butch managed to get his laughing under control before focusing on the other part. "So he hasn't seen Lee? Doesn't mean anything, does it?"

"Three Dog has people keeping an eye out for news, not much happens that he doesn't find out about. And she's pretty high-profile. Her vanishing entirely for a week from even Three Dog's radar? If she was just keeping a low profile, Three Dog just wouldn't be talking about her. The fact that he's actually admitted he has no idea where she is... That's bad news."

"And you think the... the barking and shooting you heard... you think that had something to do with it? This was exactly a week ago, yeah? That's the same day she left the Vaults."

Silver waved around her inhaler again. "I'd bet my whole supply of Jet on it. Something's going on. And it just might have had something to do with that little commotion."

Butch frowned, staring at the radio which was now playing some other cheerful pre-war song. If Lee was badass by the standards of a wasteland where everything was dangerous... Then what could have made her vanish like that? Butch wasn't really worried or anything... But it was still weird.

Then a thought occurred to him. If he could find her... Find her when no-one else could... Then that would prove he could navigate the wastelands. That would prove that he could survive out here, outside of the Vaults.

"I gotta find her."

Silver pushed her chair back, leaning on the back legs. "So... She is your girl, then?"

"No way. I just gotta prove that I can do this. Besides..." Butch shrugged. "If she is in trouble... Well, I owe her one. Tunnel Snakes pay off their debts."

"Good luck with that." Silver leant forward. "Look, kiddo. If you're that set on it, check Megaton first. She has a house there. If anyone knows where she is, they'd be there. Plus you can stock up on supplies and everything." Silver sighed, before getting up and rifling around in one of the cupboards. She dumped thirty bottle caps on the tables. "Take this."

"Bottle caps?"

"It's currency out here, kid. This ain't much, mostly enough to get a couple of meals. But it's a start. ...You ain't the only one who owes that kid. Just do me a favour, don't mention me up there. Moriarty finds out I'm here, he'll get someone to come down and slit my throat."

"No problem, never saw you." Butch swept the bottle caps into his bag. "Thanks a lot, Silver. You're pretty alright for a junkie."

Her mouth twisted into a wry smile. "Don't go thanking me until you live long enough to find your girl. Later, kid."


On the way towards Megaton, Butch stopped by the ruins he had searched and found the tin of caps he'd left there. Adding that to the total, he had about fifty caps, give or take. That had to be enough for some stuff to get started on. As he walked towards the lump of metal and rust that he assumed was Megaton, he saw some strange, burnt patches of ground. The burnt patches were in the shape of puddles. They must have been the marks left from the radioactive goo piles.

Butch knelt down, checked the ground around the patches. He didn't find anything, but then he checked behind one of the rocks nearby.

In the dust was lying the jumpsuit that Amata had given Lee before she left. Butch wondered if she'd left it there on purpose or forgotten it. ...Or been forced to leave it behind.

Butch picked it up, slipped it into his bag before he kept walking.

When he finally reached Megaton, the first thing he saw was a robot. It looked less advanced than Andy. Butch was pretty good with robots, and he'd shut down Andy on occasion in the Vaults when he was trying to sneak around. That hunk of garbage wouldn't be a problem if it turned on him. It faced him with a rusty creaking noise.

"Welcome to Megaton. The bomb is perfectly safe. We promise," it said, raising its arm in some strange form of salute.

"Bomb? Do I even want to know? Ah, fuck it... Hey, you seen Lee at all?"

"Thirsty, partner? Try Moriarty's Saloon."

"Well, that'll be useful eventually, I guess... But that ain't what I asked."

"Hey!" a voice yelled from above. A man was standing on the railing above the town, holding a sniper rifle. "You going in or not? Stop talking to the deputy."

"That's the deputy? Man, this place is weird..." Butch walked past the deputy robot and entered Megaton for the first time.

It was so different from the Vaults. Butch had assumed that a settlement would be... you know, at least a little bit cleaner than the rest of the wastes. But everything looked just as rusty and decrepit as the rest of the wasteland. Butch knew he was gaping like an idiot, but he couldn't help himself.

Slowly, he walked down the slope that the entire town seemed to be built on. The entire town seemed to be built in a crater. Butch gazed around at the town. There were few buildings and many people. Definitely too many people for the tiny amount of houses. A large congregation of people was clustered in the middle of the town. As Butch walked towards the center, he passed by a group of people who were lounging around, seated around the large pipes that ran throughout the town. They were chomping on food. When Butch was close, he saw that they were chewing on roasted lizards. Gross...

He also passed what had to be a brahmin. It gave a half-hearted moo as he walked past. But by this time, Butch wasn't paying attention. He was too distracted now that he'd seen what the people were clustered around. There was an enormous nuke sitting in the crater, its tailfins pointing up into the air.

"Jesus Christ!" he yelped. "Who builds a town around a fucking bomb?"

"It's okay. It's deactivated," said a voice behind Butch. Butch turned around to face the one who'd spoken to him. And then he had to look downwards to make eye contact.

A kid was standing there, in a jacket many sizes too big for him. It was brown and brushed the ground, and had a sheriff's pin stuck to it. The kid was also wearing a cowboy hat and carrying around a battered old assault rifle. It looked a little like when, as kids, he, Paul and Wally would wear whatever scraps of strange clothing they could find and pretend they were somewhere else besides the Vault. Except the serious expression on the kid's face ruined any illusion that he was playing a game of make believe.

"You sure that bomb's deactivated?"

"I'm sure. My dad commissioned someone to do it. Erm, you're not from around here, are you? I mean..." The kid cleared his throat. "You try anything around here, stranger, and I'll fucking end you."

"You threatening me?"

"Only if you try something bad."

Butch got the feeling that the kid didn't want to be an asshole. Plus, he had to admire a kid who could stare a Tunnel Snake in the face and say something like that. Took guts. "You got a name, kid?"

"Harden. Harden Simms. I'm... I'm sort of the sheriff, here."

"You? You're, like, eight years old."

"I'm ten. And I wasn't always the sheriff. My dad got killed a few months ago. He was the sheriff then, and no-one wanted to be the sheriff after him. And dad wanted me to be one when I got older, so... I gotta be strong and protect the town like he wanted me to."

Butch sat down on one of the steps leading down to the bomb. "That's rough. No-one's helping you with it?"

"Everyone has enough problems to worry about. And no-one wants to go against Mister Moriarty."

"Moriarty." That name again. "The hell is he?"

"He runs the saloon. Dad didn't like me talking to him. Said he was a nasty man. He calls this place 'his town.' I don't really know why everyone's so scared of him, but no-one wants to be the one to oppose him. So I gotta do it... I think I'm doing it right. I hope I am."

Were all kids in the Wasteland like this? Butch had never respected a kid in his life, even when he was one. But this kid was so calm about the whole 'father-shot-and-having-to-take-over-his-job-as-sheriff' thing. Butch thought about how much he'd freaked out when there was even the chance of his mother dying. It wasn't like his mother had an important job that needed doing, but if she had he probably wouldn't have been able to handle it well. Maybe the Wasteland just made kids grow up too fast.

"Sounds like a douchebag."

"I think I heard Jericho say that once. Anyway. Why'd you show up? I mean..." Harden cleared his throat. "What business do you have in Megaton, stranger?"

"I'm looking for Lee. You know her?"

"Of course." Harden pointed at the bomb. "She's the one who deactivated the bomb. Dad paid her for it, gave her a house in town to stop it."

"Huh...What with her obsession with explosives, I'm surprised she didn't set the thing off just to see what a nuclear explosion looked like," Butch murmured. Harden tensed up at this, holding the assault rifle more tightly.

"I... wouldn't joke about that around here," he said slowly.

"Right, okay. Point is, you seen Lee around at all?"

"Hasn't been here in weeks."

"I heard she went missing, but... There's no chance she snuck in or something?"

"No. Stockholm would have seen her. Can't just sneak into Megaton. ...Her dog showed up, though."

"The mutt?"

"Yeah. Her dog never leaves her side. But he came bounding back barking like mad a few days ago. Kept trying to get people to follow him. No-one could, though, we were all too busy. In the end he just went to Moira's. He's been there since."

"Moira?" The name sounded familiar... Yeah, Lee had mentioned her in passing... something about her stitching a smiley face into her.

"Moira runs Craterside Supply. She's kinda weird, but she's a nice lady. Always working on weird projects, though. I think she was working on a survival guide of some kind lately. Dad said I was allowed to hang around her as long as I didn't get 'caught up in her experiments.' Once she nearly blew her house up. Dad told her she couldn't use explosives anymore after that."

"...Sounds like a fucking weirdo."

"She is." Harden pointed towards one of the buildings. "If you want to find Lee's dog, then he will be there. But I don't know where you can find Lee. No-one does."

"Alright. Thanks, kid."

"No problem. Don't cause any trouble, or I'll have to shoot you. ...And I'm not so great at aiming, yet."

Upon pushing open the door to Crater Supply, the first thing Butch saw was a mass of black fur hurtling towards him. Dogmeat immediately leapt on top of him and knocked him over.

"Ergh, get off ya mutt!" Butch yelled. Dogmeat ignored him, instead slobbering all over his face like Butch was his dearest friend and he hadn't seen him in many years. He seemed to have forgotten all distrust he'd had for Butch the first time they'd met. "Gross. Gross, gross, gross." Dogmeat finally jumped off him, and stood at the door wagging his tail. He barked loudly. "No, I'm not following you! I'm getting supplies first, you dumb mutt." Dogmeat whined, before lying down next to the door.

Brushing the dog fur off his jacket, Butch looked around the room. It was littered with random things that Butch couldn't understand why anyone would keep them around. He could see old vacuum cleaners and rusted lawnmower blades and all sorts of useless garbage. On one side of the room, there was a man in armour who was watching Butch suspiciously. Butch glared right back to show he wasn't intimidated. Then he looked towards the one other person in the room. She was holding a blowtorch, and was working on something at the bench on the other side of the room. Butch couldn't see her face because she was wearing a mask over it to protect her face from the flames, all he could see was red hair tied up. She turned off the blowtorch, placed it on the bench before turning towards him.

"Heeeey! You're from that Vault! Ooh, people just keep coming out of there, it's so exciting. And helpful. And you're wearing the same jacket as Lin."

"Who? ...You mean Lee, don't you?"

"Yeah, that's the one." The woman pulled her mask off, beaming cheerfully at him. She did have a sort of far-off look in her eyes, like she wasn't quite all there. "I would know the jacket anywhere, the design on the back was so inspiring."

"Really?" Butch felt a little flare of pride. No-one had actually said they liked the stitching before. Usually it was just 'why are you still wearing those ridiculous jackets?' "I made it, you know. I'm the leader of the Tunnel Snakes."

"Good for you!" Moira said, with not a trace of sarcasm. "I wanted to make a jacket like it. Didn't have a leather jacket, but I found the top half of some leather armour. Painted a cute little Mole Rat on the back. Looks pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. Hey, maybe I could start up a group, too. The Wasteland Rats! Or something, the name could use a little work..."

"Hey, you can't just copy us. Tunnel Snakes rule, they ain't gonna stand for any rats copying them, y'know?"

"...Can I be a Tunnel Snake?"

"I just met you! I don't know if you're badass enough." A voice in the back of his head reminded him that Freddie hadn't been too badass either. And that he himself was afraid of radroaches. He wondered if fear of radroaches was normal out in the wastes. "...You afraid of radroaches?"

"Sometimes I cook them. Tastes like old feet, but I like to experiment. Maybe one day I'll be able to make it taste good," Moira said cheerfully.

The voice in the back of Butch's head told Butch he was a coward. Butch ignored him. Because he was not a coward. And if he argued back, that would mean he was arguing with himself, and that was just crazy.

"Okay, look. That ain't the point here. I just came to find Lee's dog so he could lead me to Lee. And I need a weapon."

"A weapon? I got a lot of those!" Moira waved him over to a cabinet, which she opened while humming a short dramatic fanfare. It was filled with weapons, most of them battered in some way. "If there isn't something here to your liking, then I can sell you the Rock-It Launcher I just finished making."

"A rocket launcher?"

"No, no. A Rock. It. Launcher," Moira enunciated slowly. "It doesn't shoot rockets, but it shoots everything else. You could kill someone with a teddy bear if you wanted!"

"Sure you could. Sure," Butch muttered sarcastically.

"If you wanted, I could sell you the Rock-It Launcher and a bunch of forks, knives and spoons that you could use for ammo."

"Nah, I want something that'll actually kill things." Butch looked inside the cabinet curiously. "How much is this stuff, anyway?"

"Well, the cheapest is the 10mm pistol. That's a hundred and ten caps."

"...I only got fifty. You telling me fifty caps doesn't by anything?"

"You can buy ammo, but I think that wouldn't be very useful without the gun. Unless you rigged up a really powerful slingshot..."

"No shit." Butch sighed, waved his hands irritably. "Fine. What's it take to earn caps in this town?"

"Uh. ...I know! You could help me with the Wasteland Survival Guide!"

"...The what?"

"Oh, it's a guide that's going to help people everywhere once I finish researching it. Laura was helping me! She was doing all the real dangerous stuff, because if I tried it I'd probably get my head blown off!" she said enthusiastically. "She was helping me research stuff... Last time I saw her, I gave her this stick of molerat repellent. I can't wait to hear how it's going! But that was over a month ago, she said she had to do some stuff first..."

"So, it's just stuff like testing out repellent?"

"Oh, no. I've already finished researching chapter one, we're in the middle of chapter two. I told her to check the Super-Duper Mart for food... There was a huge party of raiders there! She had to fight them all, apparently it was really violent..."

"Raiders were hanging around in a market?"

"And then I asked her to get irradiated for research. All she had to do was stand in the pool of water around the bomb for a few hours. She was half delirious when she came back, but a bit of my special mixture and she was just fine! ...Well, except for some mutation, but it was fine."

"She... What?"

"...And then I sent her to Minefield to research explosives, to disarm some mines and bring them back. And she did, although she stepped on one by accident and crippled her leg... But it was actually really convenient because for chapter two I needed to research injuries and crippled limbs!"

"...Have you been trying to get her killed?" Butch yelled.

"No, don't be silly! I can't have my research assistants dying again. All I learnt from the last time that happened is that super mutants like to eat them."

This woman was definitely too insane to ever become a Tunnel Snake.

"Okay, I ain't doing that crazy shit. I'd rather live."

"Oh, I wasn't going to send you to do that. You just came out of the Vault! I just wanted to ask you some questions about like in Vault 101. I already asked Lee, but it's nice to have a different perspective on the matter. If you answer the questions I'll give you the gun and some ammo."

"Er... I guess that works. Deal."

Moira's questions were dull, and Butch probably didn't do a very good job at answering them. Although he did inform Moira how crappy it was in the Vaults. He had to correct her on that, since Lee had apparently told her the Vaults were awesome. But once he had finished the questions and acquired the pistol, Butch left immediately. Dogmeat running ahead and barking happily, thrilled that someone was finally following him. Butch followed the mutt out of Megaton, back towards where those burnt patches of ground had been.

"Come on, sniff her out. Mutts can do that, right? Wolves can do that. I saw wolves sniff out someone in Grognak the Barbarian #9. And dogs are kinda like wolves, right?"

Dogmeat sniffed at one of the burnt patches, then started padding along the ground towards Springvale. Butch strolled after him, looking around at the wastes. Dogmeat moved at a fairly slow pace, following some kind of trail, until he got to the middle of Springvale, just a little bit away from Silver's house. Then he broke out into a run. Butch tore after him.

"Hey, wait up! Not so fast, come on!" Butch shouted, as the dog got further ahead. "Come on! ...You dumb mutt!" He slowed down as Dogmeat disappeared from view. Butch had followed him past Silver's house, now he was standing next to a much bigger building. Next to the school.

Wait. Wasn't this a raider hangout?

The sound of gunshots broke the silence.

Dammit, right on cue...

Butch dived behind the remains of a waist-high wall as more bullets went whizzing above his head. He heard malicious laughing and footsteps approaching. As he pulled out the gun Moira had given him, three people jumped over the wall, two of them pointing guns at him. Butch gulped at the sight of them.

Sure, he knew they were sort of like a gang. But he'd been expecting them to look... more like his sort of gang, you know? Like the gangs in his movie, like the Jets and Sharks. Even if they sounded a lot nastier. But they looked completely different from that. They looked like they had gone through a pile of trash, grabbed whatever they could get their hands on and thought 'hey, this would make a great outfit.' They had the strangest, most atrocious hairstyles Butch had ever seen, even during his three-year career of being a barber. Dyed all funny colours and shaved in weird places. They were coated in dirt, and they leered at him with stained teeth. The effect was rather... intimidating, to say the least.

Butch laughed nervously. "Uh, hi. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. I'll just be going back now, alright?"

A voice in the back of his head screamed that he was a Tunnel Snake, that he wasn't supposed to meekly apologise and run away with his tail between his legs. But the rest of his mind was going 'oh shit, they have guns and really big knives.' Butch tried to edge away, but two of the raiders lunged forward and grabbed his arms. The third one, a man with the half-head of hair he had died a vivid purple, twirled a knife and his grin stretched even wider.

"Ooh, don't get many vaulties wandering down here. Looks like it's a lucky day for us. Vaulties are so soft and delicate from that fucking fancy-style living. And you always scream the best."

One of the raiders that was holding him still was a woman, her hair sticking up in two ridges. She stuck her tongue out, licked her lips slowly. "Quite a slab of meat, aren't ya? I bet we can have some fun with you. Like being tied down, big boy?"

"Hey, I... It was a mistake, I didn't mean to wander in here, I was just... Please let me go, come on!"

"Better drag him back inside. Maybe we should slash the ankles so he can't run off," the third one suggested. "Got fucking dibs on the first slice."

"No, no, no! Please, I won't tell anyone about this, just let me go!" Butch babbled.

"Ooh, he's gonna make some delicious sounds once we get to work," the woman crooned. The man with the knife grinned, twirled his knife in his hands again.

"You got that fucking right."

Oh god. Oh god, I'm gonna die. I've been out here less than a day and I'm gonna die. She was right, I don't have what it fucking takes... I'm gonna die, oh god, oh god...

As Butch's mind devolved into absolute panic, one of the raiders holding his arms suddenly let out a scream and fell over.

"The fuck?" the one with the knife yelled. Butch took advantage of the distraction to yank his other arm free and aim a kick at the man. Turns out that making armour from whatever one found lying around had a disadvantage. That being it wasn't too effectual in protecting the crotch.

As the raider hobbled back, Butch slugged him in the face, knocking him out cold, before jumping over the fence for cover again. The remaining raider had her gun out, and despite her friends being taken down quickly she was grinning.

"Ooh, someone's gonna pay for that. Wouldn't mind grabbing that nifty weapon for m'self." She started walking towards a set of rocks. Butch peered over the fence, wondering what she was walking towards. Then he noticed the body of the raider that had been holding him, and saw just what had killed him.

A bunch of forks had buried themselves in the side of his face and torso.

Butch looked towards the rocks, and he saw red hair and a tattered blue jumpsuit. Saw Moira crouching behind the rocks, trying to quickly shove more forks into the barrel of her Rock-It Launcher. But she wasn't reloading quick enough, and the raider was fast approaching her.

Butch glanced between the rocks and the raider before pulling out his gun. What better time to use it than when the raider was distracted? He aimed it carefully at the back of the raider's head...

...And he couldn't pull the trigger. He wanted to. He really did. That woman had tried to kill him, after all. But his finger froze. He couldn't pull the trigger. He just couldn't.

Dammit, man, you're a fucking Tunnel Snake! Fucking shoot her!

Butch couldn't. So he did the next best thing. Actually, it was a fucking stupid thing he did next, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

He threw his gun at the raider. What was he hoping for? Fuck, he didn't know. Maybe to knock her out. It didn't work. He didn't even hit her. The gun landed two feet to the left. It was enough to distract the raider, she turned around and raised an eyebrow.

"...Seriously? You seriously threw a loaded gun at me?" she muttered. "What are you, stupid?"

"No. I ain't stupid," Butch growled. "I'm not the one turning my back on people holding rocket launchers." Moira had finished reloading during the brief distraction, and so she straightened up and blasted another load of forks at the raider. It looked like a painful death... To be honest, it made Butch feel a little bit ill.

Moira didn't seem disturbed, however. She smiled brightly and patted her Rock-It Launcher.

"This thing sure does work good, huh?" she said cheerfully.

"Well, works better than I would have thought."

"Yep. Good thing you were standing really still, or I probably would have hit you the first time." Moira knelt down, started pulling the forks out of the dead raider and dropping them in her bag after giving them a quick wipe. As she did that, Butch heard a groan from behind him. The man with the knife that he'd punched in the face was slowly climbing to his feet. Quickly, Butch kicked the knife out of reach before hurrying backwards and picking up his gun again. He aimed it at the raider.

"Don't move. Or I'll shoot."

"Well, la-dee-dah. Have a gun in your head and suddenly you're all tough," the raider muttered bitterly. "Far cry from the begging."

"Shut up! I... I wasn't begging. I was... I was just making a distraction," Butch insisted, trying to save some shred of his dignity. Today had not been a manly day for the Butch-man. Moira ambled over, knelt down in front of him.

"Ooh, you got one sitting still. I've always tried to get them sitting still for interviews, but they always got angry and started shooting again. Bet you could ask this one all sorts of questions, though."

"Hah, you ain't getting shit outta me. Gonna kill me anyway, ain't you? So just go right ahead and fucking do it."

A barking noise came from the left and Dogmeat came padding back.

"There you are, you dumb mutt," Butch said. "The hell were you doing, leading me into a fucking raider camp?"

Dogmeat whined in a way that suggested he was sorry. Then he sat down, teeth bared at the raider. Butch looked back at the raider to see his eyes wide.

"Oh shit. That's her dog, ain't it?"

"You know her, too? Does this whole fucking world know Lee?" Butch muttered. "Fucking radio. You seen her or what?"

"I've seen a lot more of that bitch than I'd ever want to," the raider said shortly. "And you ain't getting shit outta me besides that."

"You know where she disappeared off to? I heard that she went missing around here. Was it you?"

"I told you. I. Ain't. Saying. Shit. Now hurry up and kill me, would you?"

"You tell me where the fuck she is and I won't kill you, alright?" After freezing up earlier, Butch wasn't even sure he could kill the raider if he wanted to. But Moira probably could if he froze up again. The raider squinted at him suspiciously, before shrugging.

"You probably lying, but shit. I got nothin' to lose, do I? Before you say anything, no. I don't know exactly where she is. You think we're that fucking stupid? To attack the motherfucking Lone Wanderer? We tried that once, you know. It's where I saw her fucking mutt." Dogmeat growled angrily at this remark. "Oh, boo hoo. Shove it, fleahound. Anyway, she came waltzing into our camp. Tiny little girl, looking weak and naïve... thought she'd be good for some fun." The raider looked up and leered briefly. "Wouldn't have minded taking some outta that pretty ass, you know what I mean?"

Butch felt a wave of revulsion at that, and smacked the man over the head with the gun.

"Ow, the fuck?"

"Say one more word like that and I fucking blow your head off!" Butch snapped.

"Jeez, alright. Just asking. Anyway, she fucking slaughtered us. Only reason I survived was because I hid once I saw we didn't stand a chance. That was ages ago now." The raider nodded. "Anyway, last time I saw her... Yeah, there was a fucking commotion around here. I figured it was some other raiders tresspassing on our territory, y'know, so I went up there to fucking tell them what's what and put some metal in their asses."

"Was it other raiders?"

"Nah, it wasn't no fucking raiders." The raider grinned widely. "Was fucking Talon Company. Huge bunch of them, don't think I ever seen so many in one place. 'Course, I only ever seen them in groups of four or five. Say there was about twelve, thirteen of them there. Went walking on by. One of them was carrying her. Dunno how the fuck they got that fucking bitch knocked out, but..."

"Talon Company? Ooh, that's not good," Moira said quietly. "They're not nice people."

"Fuck yeah, they're nasty. Why d'you think I was staying outta sight? So yeah, they went marching by. Dunno where they were going. Or why they'd nabbed her alive. Talon Company don't usually take people alive. And for that big a group to be after her... Must be quite a fucking bounty on her, know what I'm saying?"

"I don't have a clue what you're on about. That all you got to say?" Butch asked.

"All I know, douchebag. I can keep talking, but it's all gonna be grade-F bullshit. I told you what I know, you gonna let me go or what?"

Butch stared down at the raider for a few moments. This guy was a sick bastard, that was for sure. But he didn't want to reveal the fact that his trigger finger seemed to be frozen, so he nodded.

"Alright, get outta here. And don't fuck with the Tunnel Snakes again," Butch said, trying to sound more badass than he felt.

"Yeah, I'm fucking outta here. This place has gone to the motherfucking dogs since that bitch cleaned us out. Only just gotten our gang back to three again, and... guess you fucked that up." The raider turned around and fled, running back towards the school. Butch lowered the gun only when he was out of sight. Moira sighed.

"I should have brought my list of questions along. Could have done that research on raiders. So hard to get them to sit still for interviews, you know?"

"Yeah, I bet. ...So what the hell is Talon Company?" he asked Moira.

"Ooh, they're really nasty. They're groups of mercenaries that take all the nastiest jobs that no-one else will take." Moira scratched her chin, looking thoughtful. "I don't know where they gather for that, though."

"Great. Who's gonna know where they are?"

"I bet Three-Dog would know. He knows a lot. And that reminds me!" Moira slung her Rock-It Launcher over her back before continuing. "I wanted to ask you back there, but if you were going to Three-Dog for information... I wanted to know if I could come with. I'm hoping to tell him about my Wasteland Survival Guide, and maybe see if he'll broadcast my recipes. I bet they could help loads of people over the wasteland! No-one wants to eat radroach, but I know a lot of ways to make it taste not quite as bad!"

"...Wait, you want to come with me?"

"Yeah! Besides, I need my research assistant back. Do you know how hard it is to find good help that's willing to get injured and irradiated? It's very difficult."

Butch crossed his arms. "But... You're such a... weirdo."

"I get that so much. But you saw! My Rock-It Launcher works really good!"

"Tunnel Snakes don't need any help, alright? Because we rule."

You needed help with those raiders just now.

Shut up, brain, I'm trying to stay impressive!

"Do you know the way?" Moira asked.

Butch opened his mouth and then closed it again.

Well, fuck.

Moira took the silence as an affirmative and clapped her hands gleefully.

"Ooh, this is going to be so much fun. Traveling is always better in a group, isn't it just? We'll just hop back to Megaton so I can get some supplies and my mole rat jacket, and then we'll be off! This is going to be so awesome! It's been ages since I traveled, and I've never traveled with a vault dweller or a gang member before! I'm so excited!"

Okay, I guess I need a little help to get started in this place. ...But why did it have to be help from such a weirdo?

Butch sighed, trudged after Moira who was still babbling happily about how fun the trip was going to be. Dogmeat kept running around them, barking and prancing around.

Somehow, this hadn't been what Butch had envisioned as ideal traveling companions.