The Brotherhood of Steel wasn't the easiest organization to sustain. In fact, it was quite the opposite: high tech requires equally high maintenance. The Brotherhood may have been descended from members of the United States military and some of the best military grade weapons left on Earth, but it didn't change the fact that they had a finite number of resources, and that number was rarely bolstered by salvage, or the discovery of hidden weapon caches.
As fate would have it, finding weapons and ammunition (not to mention food and water that didn't bleach your skin on contact) was becoming harder and harder, made only more so by the near perpetual warfare the Brotherhood found itself in. The eastern sect of the Brotherhood was locked in combat with the totalitarian remains of the US government, under the new pseudonym 'The Enclave' and the western sect still technically embroiled in a devastating war with the New California Republic.
And forget about exterminating the lumbering super mutants who roamed across the country. The Brotherhood had barely the resources to hold them back, much less take the fight to them.
The very lack of resources that had been plaguing the once-mighty paramilitary was what made Brotherhood Knight Matthew Ryan so ecstatic by his newest find, tucked under his left arm as he approached what appeared externally to be a rickety shack. The power-armored soldier flipped open the rusty aluminum panel beside the door, revealing the keypad beneath, and tapped the entry code. He was almost locked out with several mistypes, but succeeded after what felt like an eternity.
The outpost itself was a relatively unassuming structure, already partially hidden from sight by the local geography, and further aided by its isolation. It wasn't between any important towns or camps, and getting to it would mean a significant deviation from virtually any major road. Few tradesmen were willing to stray too far from the beaten path, and even raiders wouldn't travel where they didn't think there was anything to be taken.
Inside the relatively small interior of the outpost were his four teammates, the soldiers who staffed Brotherhood Outpost Sierra. As Ryan burst in, Knight Alexander Nevsky didn't even bother looking up from the longbarreled sniper rifle he was meticulously examining, cleaning, and adjusting. An Enclave vertibird could have crashed through the roof and it probably wouldn't have been able to interrupt the soft-spoken Soviet when he was so deep in concentration.
Knights Laura Paterson and Paul Carter, however, both looked up from their own activities in light of the abrupt entry. Paterson had been double-checking the contents of her field kit. She took great care in her role as team medic, never finding herself lacking in the supplies needed to treat virtually any battlefield injury.
Paul Carter, on the other hand, was oiling the rotating barrels of his CZ55 'Defender' Minigun. He and Laura routinely locked horns on and off duty, in large part due to Laura's role of patching bullet wounds and Carter's role of producing them at a rate of close to 8,000 per minute. Fittingly, the two were also physical opposites, Carter's hulking frame dwarfing Laura's average height even when she was in armor.
Despite their frequent arguing, Paladin Erik Briggs never sensed any genuine animosity between the two. He was in the process of leaving the bathroom, the only room in the outpost separate from their bunks and supplies. While Carter regarded Ryan's abrupt entry with annoyance, Laura with surprise, and Nevsky with complete indifference, Briggs was simply glad that the team rookie's sudden appearance had come after he'd already finished his trip to the latrine. As far as the paladin was concerned, there was no worse place to be in the even of an emergency than halfway through nature's calling.
"Guys!" Ryan half-shouted, half-gasped, trying (and failing) to keep his voice down, "You're not going to believe-"
"Jesus, calm down," Carter interrupted, "I've made less noise during door breeches than you did there."
Ryan cleared his throat, then continued,
"Sorry,I…I found something new when I was 'scaving."
"Define 'new,'" Paterson cut in, sealing her medkit as she did.
"That's the thing: I'm not entirely sure what it is. I've...never really seen anything like it," Ryan sheepishly admitted, removing his helmet with a pneumatic hiss and scratching his short hair.
"Uh huh," Laura raised an eyebrow, "So you found some porn, then?" Carter burst out laughing. Even Briggs didn't suppress a thin smile. Ryan began to turn red as he pulled up what looked like a sizable briefcase, putting it on the table they usually set their makeshift meals on.
"Fine, take a look for yourself," he said, flipping open the case, "All it says is 'geck.' And frankly, I haven't got a damned idea what it means." Inside the case was a variety of electronics, apparently built into the plastic inside the case, and an unlit screen.
The others were sufficiently intrigued by now, standing from their cots and seats and circling the table. Briggs spun the case around to face him, reaching towards the small keypad beneath the screen.
Briggs jerked his hand back as the screen abruptly lit up, glowing a dull blue, a stark contrast to the moderately dark barracks. Briggs leaned forward again, reading the text that scrolled across the screen, noting that 'geck' was, in fact, an acronym. For what, he wasn't sure, even as he read aloud its function.
"'The G.E.C.K. will collapse all matter within its given radius...and recombine it to form a living, breathing, fertile virgin landscape...and allow life to begin anew.'"
"What the hell does that mean?" Carter finally broke the silence. Ryan rolled his eyes and shot back,
"I already said, I have no idea."
"G.E.C.K: Garden of Eden Creation Kit. Developed pre-war by Vault-Tec industries," Laura abruptly stated eyes focused on the machine. The others stated at her for a long moment before she blinked and muttered an explanation.
"I, uh, heard that when I was still in the Commonwealth." By now, even Nevsky had turned his attention away from his beloved rifle. Briggs wasn't sure if he should be glad that the sharpshooter was paying attention, or nervous that he'd judged the box to be more worthy of his time than his gun.
"Great, now we know what it's called, and what it's supposed to do," Carter interrupted, "But what does any of that even mean?" Ryan turned the G.E.C.K. towards himself, reading the text over again.
"It says we can activate it, or leave it be." The new team member looked up at the others, looking at each in turn. Carter shrugged.
"Go for it. What've we got to lose?" He reached forward, tapping 'enter' even as Laura and Briggs' eyes widened in what Ryan could only assume was fear. Fortunately, the device didn't explode, or kill them in any way, shape, or form. In fact, all it did was give them another screen.
"'Are you sure you want to activate it?'" Briggs read, letting out a sigh at the anti-climactic result of Carter's action.
"Christ, another confirmation?" Carter snorted, "Yes, we want to fucking activate it!"
Laura and Briggs had closed their eyes in relief at the lack of catastrophe, only for Carter to reach forward once more and press a single button. A blinding flash of blue light burst from the machine, consuming the Brotherhood Paladins in a micro-sun.
It all lasted only a moment, and when the light faded, a spherical area around where the device was had been burned away to nothing. The case lay on the floor in a glassy-smooth crater, as if all substance within a certain area had ceased to exist. Nearly half the room had been taken, including the whole team, and a chunk of the ceiling.
Now only remained where the G.E.C.K. had taken its unfortunate users. Where, or when, for that matter.
Dirge Haywood was long since used to being on the run. He'd lost track of the number of people who wanted him dead, and never stayed in the same place for more than a few days. Regulators and Talon mercenaries alike had died by his hands, and the hands of his two companions, Barret James and Jericho Cross.
Dirge had run across Jericho near the beginning of his stint in the DC area. The former Raider had settled down in a small town, but Dirge found quickly that his lust for adventure was still running strong. Fortunately, Jericho had believed that profit gained from traveling alongside Dirge would prove larger than any immediate profit from collecting his bounty
Barret, on the other hand, was an odd case. 'Pyromaniac' somehow didn't quite encompass the full extent of his love of fire. From his modified US Army issue flamethrower to the collection of homemade incendiary bombs that he carried, he was always ready to set something on fire.
Dirge had pulled Barret from a fire that had consumed a two-story house where a group of raiders had taken up camp. The right half of his face and his shoulder were horrifically burned, and he'd taken a few bullets, to boot. From the suffocating smell of cooked flesh and burning hair that coated the area, the raiders were already burnt to death.
As a result of the injuries, part of Barret's face was covered in scar tissue, and his right eye was permanently bloodshot. Not that it mattered. Both eyes were usually concealed behind his pair of soot-darkened googles. His right cheek had burned through, and he chose not to take a skin graft for the sake of intimidation.
He and Jericho had some difficulties at first, a good number of 'scarface' and 'baldy' shots going back and forth. But after a few gunfights, that forced cooperation, the two had come to respect one another, at least as coworkers.
The longest period that they had ever stayed in a single area was a few weeks, which was their present location. They'd recently been inducted into Paradise Falls, the haven for slavers in the DC region. The de facto leader Eulogy Jones had been generous enough to give them board in the general barracks.
A cruel irony of the Paradise Falls slavers was their twisted sense of equality. Anyone had the potential to claim their leadership, regardless of race, creed, or gender. The black Eulogy Jones was a testament to this fact, and several women who'd proven their mettle were given the same treatment as their male comrades.
Here, Dirge's narcotic addictions, Barret's hideous visage, and Jericho's advancing age said nothing while their actions spoke for them.
Jericho knocked his pint against that of the burly Ymir, both downing their drinks in a few gulps before slamming the glasses onto the bar. The assembled slavers cheered, raising their glasses and draining them in suit.
The bartender, a balding man named Frank, poured out a fresh round of drinks. It had been a great day for the brigands of Paradise Falls. The feeble defenses of the ramshackle settlement 'Big Town' had collapsed, and the victorious raiding party had collared most of the people there. A few of the prospective slaves went down fighting, but none of them had any real training, and there were almost no decent weapons among them as it was.
To top it all off, Leroy Walker had returned from his hunt, successfully eliminating the runaway slaves he'd been sent after. A few buyers had already come forward, especially for the reasonably young inhabitants of Big Town. And Paradise Falls had a strict policy when it came to upturns in business: if the caps are brought in, the liquor's brought out.
"A toast!" one slaver, Forty, raised his glass, "To living beyond mere survival!"
"To living!" the group chorused, clinking glasses together and downing drinks.
Jericho was at home in Paradise Falls. Plenty of drinks, plenty of guns, and all the pussy you could collar. He'd been bored out of his mind in Megaton: there was rarely anything to kill, and as it was, the shady barkeep Collin Moriarty was holding a rape charge over his head in case Jericho ever tried anything. The change in setting was a welcome one for the once-retired raider.
Barret and Dirge sat slightly away from the group, a half bottle of whiskey and a pair of glasses between them. While the slavers considered Barret's disfigurement as a badge of honor, his natural, sociopathic tendencies usually had him outside of the crowd.
Dirge, on the other hand, had induced his own social separation because of his abuse of various drugs. He always carried a variety of bottles, hypodermics, and inhalers, each but one of the plethora of narcotics that he'd grown dependent on. Dirge's sunken red eyes and the line of scars along the veins of his arms were testaments to his lifestyle.
Dirge's hand trembled slightly as he poured himself another shot. He rolled up his right sleeve, checking the multiple digital watches he had arrayed along his forearm. Each displayed the time since he'd last partaken of a certain drug, and dictated which he would need to cure the withdrawal symptoms.
He rummaged through one of the pouches that lined his belt, eventually drawing out a few square pills. He popped them into his mouth and washed them down with a swig directly from the bottle of ancient Jack Daniels.
"What the fuck, man?" Jericho abruptly clamped a hand one Dirge's shoulder, "You're sitting over here dropping chems when you should be helping yourself to the pen."
He nodded over to the slave pen, an area of the compound sealed off with chain-link fences. A few of the slavers were dragging women and girls off to the barracks, despite the latter's protests and screams.
"I'm fine," Dirge took a deep breath as he felt the drug take hold, "I've got what I need."
"Sure, man, you got what you need," Jericho shrugged, taking Dirge's shot glass and downing it himself, "But do you got what you want?" The raider grinned and slapped Dirge on the back before returning to the heart of the party.
Dirge was left to mull over Jericho's words, no response coming from Barret. Was this lifestyle really what he wanted? Jericho almost definitely hadn't meant to call their lives into question, but it still brought disconcerting thoughts to Dirge's mind. Murdering on a whim, indulging any and all decadent desires, governed by his drug dependence. Was this a life to aspire to?
Fuck it, I'm trippin' balls here, Dirge finally decided. Any and all insight into life when under the influence was to be attributed to the drug in question. He did this damn reflection thing far more often than he'd like to. While others got to float on cloud nine, Dirge got the pleasure of unwanted psychoanalysis.
Wonderful. Just want I want from drugs.
Pronto, proprietor of the slaver's supply shop Lock and Load, and a usually light drinker, staggered up the steps of one of the guard posts, still holding a bottle of century old scotch by the neck.
He plopped down on the folding chair at the top, humming the theme to Gilligan's Island. He spent a lot of time with old holovids in his basement, seeing as he almost never went scavenging or on missions. It was primarily his role to keep the other slavers' weapons functioning. They brought back a cut of whatever they found in the field, and Pronto turned it into something useful.
For now, he just felt like getting some fresh air to try and clear his vision. Of course, it would probably be a better idea to simply stop drinking. But this simple logic wasn't about to occur to an already drunk man for the same reason that Dirge wouldn't listen to his own insight when high.
Pronto could have sworn that he saw movement on the sandbagged path leading up to the gates. Grouse and Vince were stuck with guard duty, much to their frustration, but they probably had fallen asleep by now.
Pronto was still overanalyzing the situation when a pair muffled coughs interrupted him. He slumped backwards on his chair, the bottle of scotch falling from his nerveless fingers.
A pair of neat holes were punched in his face, one through his right eye and the other through his forehead. Two thin lines of blood trickled down from the holes, but to anyone who might have looked on, he was just another passed out drunk.
Grouse and Vince were down below, having similar fates. A column of figures moved past, their black armor rendering them invisible in the late night. The point man's AR16 marksman carbine would have been hard enough to hear within the Falls even without the drunken carousing. But with the suppressor screwed onto its muzzle, the black ops team might as well have been humming at a rock concert.
One of the men tapped a finger to the side of his armored helmet, activating his commlink.
"Sentries are neutralized, colonel. Proceeding with mission."
"Good work, sergeant. Send me notice when you've taken the facility. Autumn out."
Sergeant Ulrich Kastner, leader of the 101st Airborne's strike team, closed the channel. Twelve men, ten of which were clad in the matte-black Enclave powered armor suits. Despite the heavy appearance, largely a product of the power supply and internal gyro that gave the suit its 'hunched' appearance even when upright, the men moved with complete silence. Even the yellow glow of the power plant's visible fan had been covered to prevent detection.
Eight troopers, Kastner included, carried the powerful P98 'Multiplas' plasma rifles, aptly named for their three-pronged barrels that gave them far superior stopping power than their P94 processors. Kastner, however, along with the three men at the head of the formation, kept their weapons slung, favoring their stealth-oriented carbines. Two more troopers, close to the rear, carried sidearms, with their devastatingly powerful (and devastatingly loud) 'Gatling' laser cannons safely hooked to the back-mounted charge pack.
The Gatling laser armed soldiers had to make special adaptations to their armor for the mission. To ensure that the high-powered support weapons functioned at maximum efficiency, they were equipped with the 'Tesla' variant of the basic powered armor, which allotted reactor power from standard but nonessential systems to the heavy weapons.
The result of this technological marvel, unfortunately, was a highly visible series of green power nodes, crackling with energy on the suits' shoulders. The somewhat jerry-rigged solution was to place leather hoods over each node, covering all but a glimmer of radioactive green just below the brown covers.
The final two troopers were tech officers from outside the company's normal shock troops. They wore officer's uniforms and soft caps, lightly reinforced against small arms fire. The two remained behind their better-equipped comrades.
The Enclave had decided to step up its presence in the capitol. The District of Columbia had once been the head of the United States government, and it seemed only fitting that the heir apparent of the federal government should reclaim its native land.
A pair of the soldiers approached the unmanned gate, priming a pair of satchel charges as they did so. The front doors weren't terribly well armored, and the M183 charges contained some twenty pounds of C4. They were designed to take down heavy emplacements, not the rickety doors of Paradise Falls.
The team fell back quite some distance; far enough away to be out of the blast radius, but close enough to get back inside when the doors were gone. The two demolitionists primed their detonators, then depressed the activation studs in practiced unison.
The detonation would have registered on a Richter Scale in Maryland, had there been one to detect it. People all around the Capitol Wasteland felt what seemed to be rolling thunder in the distance, then went back to their lives.
The residents of Paradise Falls, on the other hand, were jerked from their drunken merriment far more violently than any of the slavers would have wanted.
Several were close enough to the gates to be caught in the massive blast. The closest men were killed by the blast or the immediate shockwave. Slightly further away, shrapnel took lives as metal shards tore unsuspecting slavers apart.
The remaining men, including those at the bar, were in shock for a few crucial moments. This was more than enough time for the Enclave infiltration team to get within the confines of the improvised fortress, coming into view for the first time.
"Shit! Brotherhood!" Jericho shouted, making a grab for his assault rifle. The slavers had a habit of leaving their weapons in a nearby storage locker, just in case they got sufficiently drunk to pull weapons on each other.
Jericho's mistaken assessment was understandable, given the circumstances. First and foremost, he was drunk off his ass, and the team was obscured by smoke. But, possibly more subtly, the presence of powered armor-clad infantry was almost an entirely Brotherhood exclusive feature. It required both the complicated training to use and, more importantly, the actual possession of powered armor, which close to no one outside the Brotherhood had.
A volley of plasma bolts cut down a handful of slavers as the others flipped over chairs and tables as crude forms of cover. Jericho grabbed his aging Chinese made Type 56 assault rifle, holding it by the stock with one hand as he tossed a pair of rifles to two waiting men beside him.
The Type 56 was based off the original Soviet AK-47 model, renown as one of the sturdiest assault rifles, or even firearm in general, ever made. It could fire after being submerged in water, mud, or dust, and required little to no maintenance to sustain its performance.
Jericho had long since become accustomed to the relatively strong kick of the rifle, and the alcohol in his system only further dulled the sensation. The booze was a double-edged sword, however, as the bulk of the rounds missed their targets. Those that did hit, however, glanced off the composite metal plates of the powered armor. It would take many more bullets, and much greater accuracy, if the slavers were to take down any of their attackers.
Jericho ducked behind a flipped table, dropping out the clip and finally fitting in a second.
Ymir was one of the few men in the group to keep his weapon on hand during drinking sessions. Of course, his weapon was the massive 'Super Sledge' warhammer slung across his back, rather than a firearm. That wasn't to say that it was any less deadly than a gun, especially in Ymir's hands.
The Scandinavian warrior laughed heartily as a stray red laser charred his thick steel armor as it glanced off. It may have been heavy, clumsy, and slow, but it offered the best protection of any armor in the Wasteland short of powered armor. Ymir reached back a gauntleted hand, grabbing hold of his hulking warhammer, hefting it and charging into the hail of gunfire.
Ymir always had a policy of charging into the wolves' den when it came to battle, and it was usually up to his son to back him up. Jotun (a name which the son hated) was armed and equipped almost identically to his father, save for using a crudely armored helmet to protect his dirty-blonde hair covered head.
Jotun swore at the sight of his father's foolhardy manuver, and took the chance to slip on his helmet and unlimber his own warhammer. A power-armored soldier, firing his plasma unlimbered Gatling cannon, moved past the young man's position, providing the opportunity to enter battle that Jotun needed.
The first horizontal swing of the hammer crashed into the Enclave soldier's chest plate like a ton of bricks, partially caving in the cuirass and cracking several ribs. The soldier was thrown off his feet and onto his back, dazed and blinded by the blow. Jotun grunted as he lifted the 'sledge over his head and brought it crashing down on the man's head. Even with the enclosed helmet, the trooper didn't have a chance.
Jotun swung the hammer into the next soldier, still soaked in blood and gray matter from the last man. He pushed past another, finding himself beside his father, both swinging their mighty hammers again and again.
But even with their modern equipment, they still lived in a world ruled by guns. A rolling ball of plasma burned a hole in Ymir's chest, sending him falling to the ground like a felled tree. Jotun didn't even have time to mourn his father's death as a barrage of Gatling fire from the remaining heavy trooper engulfed him, the superheated lasers cutting through his armor and flesh beneath.
Jericho ejected his third empty magazine. At this rate, he would run dry before they could push back the attackers. He put in his last full mag, taking a deep breath and popping backup from behind the table.
A carbine round entered through his left eye, punching through the back of his skull in a spray of gray matter. Jericho dropped without a word, his prized rifle still clenched in his dead grip.
Sergeant Kastner watched the slaver collapse down the scope of his scoped rifle, then moved to the next one.
The Wastelander sported a disfigured face and a nasty flamethrower. One of Kastner's men was consumed in flames as the slaver let lose a stream of napalm, his armor turning white-hot in seconds and burning the man alive within it. Kastner took aim, but realized there was no need as his commlink chirped in his ear.
"Echo-two-three on site. Safeties off, and raining fire."
A stream of high-powered laser rounds cut the pyromaniac in half, igniting the flame pack in the process. The resulting detonation turned a second Enclave soldiers and several more slavers into screaming torches.
The VB-02 Vertibird hovered overhead, its nose-mounted Gatling laser firing below. Slavers were blown apart by the powerful weapon, even stronger than the man-portable variant. Kastner was down to seven men, but the battle was already in his favor, and with the air support, their victory was assured.
Dirge fumbled through his collection of narcotics, finally finding a liquid-filled inhaler. He exhaled quickly, then took a deep puff from the Jet inhaler. Almost immediately, his pupils dilated, and time seemed to slow down as the euphoric sensation set in.
Gunfire became muted, and slavers fell to the ground trailing blood all in slow motion, as if they were fighting under water. Under the drug, the entire scene seemed almost artistic, in a macabre sort of way. Dirge knew that the high wouldn't be for that long, but as it was, he was pretty confident that he would probably be dead by the time the Jet wore off.
He clicked back the hammer of his longbarreled .44 Magnum revolver, rising from his cover and starting to move even as he pulled the trigger. The first round punched through the thin, unarmored patch of an armored soldier's neck. The round ripped through the other side of his throat, leaving a golf ball sized hole in his windpipe.
Dirge fired again, the next round catching another soldier's shoulder plate, twisting his body with the force of the round but failing to penetrate. A soldier turned his plasma rifle on Dirge, firing off one of the glowing green blobs towards the newly sighted threats.
The plasma round caught Dirge's left arm in its burning embrace, crumbling it to ash from the bicep down. Fortunately, Dirge was still riding on the increased endurance of his earlier Buffout dose. He wouldn't realize the severity of his injuries until much, much later, by which point he expected to be long dead.
Another round leapt from the .44 barrel. This shot struck an exposed plasma grenade on the belt of the soldier he'd stunned a moment before, consuming the man in a veritable green sun that ensued.
But a volley of rifle fire was more than even the drugged Dirge could withstand. He couldn't feel the pain of the impacts, but found the damage too much to stay on his feet. He tried to lift his Magnum, only for his hand to dissolve into blood as Kastner put a burst into it. The revolver fell to the ground alongside several of Dirge's fingers. A single round more through his forehead was enough to end his life for good.
To be a woman in the Wasteland was hard enough. To be a woman among the slavers of Paradise Falls was even harder, because it required that you be more useful as a cohort than as an item to be sold.
Thus was the situation for Carolina Red for years. Her affinity for violence and sadism was strong even by raider standards, and her simple refusal to die left her walking away from situations where countless others did not.
Then again, she was probably wishing she were dead following the 5.56 round she took to the stomach. She would bleed out, slowly and painfully. Pain wasn't nearly as enjoyable when it was happening to you.
She'd managed to claw her way across the dirt, bullets, lasers, and plasma bolts whizzing over her head, finally running a bloody hand over Forty's fallen rocket launcher. Forty himself lay alongside it, save for the upper half of his, which was scattered across the ground behind his body. But Red focused on his launcher. There was still a missile in the tube, good for one shot. After that, she'd be dead, whether by her wounds or by the retaliatory attack.
Red rolled over onto her back, pushing her back against a fencepost to prop herself up. She flipped out the targeter, looking through the scope and drawing a bead on the low-hovering VTOL. It was the biggest target available, and the best for ordinance of the launcher's magnitude.
The thump of the firing rocket, complete with the hiss of the ignition, was enough to alert the remaining soldiers. Even as assault rounds tore apart her body, Red had the satisfaction of watching the right engine of the VTOL disappear in gouts of flames and shrapnel, and died with a bloody smile on her face.
The Vertibird spun in the air, trying to stay airborne to no avail. Kastner had time to look up at the heavily damaged aircraft as it crashed down on the remnants of the team, engulfing them in a massive ball of flames as the fuel tank ignited, no time to curse their deaths by their own air support.
Within minutes, the only sound in the entire encampment was the sound of crackling flames, occasionally sharp cracks as discarded ammunition being cooked off. An Enclave soldier had opened up with his carbine on the slave pen, so even they were lying dead on the ground, unable to celebrate the deaths of their captors.
Paradise Falls was anything but paradise. The air was heavy with the smell of death, but no one was left to smell it. Eulogy Jones himself, once the head honcho of the entire region, was nothing more than another body in the courtyard.
It was a cruel twist of fate for an already cruel people. The Enclave had struck Paradise Falls in its greatest moment of triumph, making their downfall all the more tragic. Bigtown, too, was killed the moment the slave pens were hosed with 5.56mm assault rounds.
The blood of the slavers and the Enclave soaked into the earth, mingling in the soil. Such a concentration of death and chaos did not go unnoticed by forces not even of Earth. The blood rose again from the earth, forming a thick red mist that even the sharpest eyes could not pierce. It spread over the entire compound, erasing Paradise from the landscape in a sanguine fog.
Countless scavengers, traders, and others tried to find their way through the mist, knowing the value of the items that Paradise Falls left behind, but all would simply wander blindly for as long as it took to find their way out another side. They never once ran across the ruins of Paradise Falls, as if it had been literally consumed by the cloud.
Paradise Falls would become a legend, a veritable ghost story, chilling the hearts of countless travelers across the wasteland. No one knew what had happened to its occupants, and the Enclave listed the assault team as missing in action, presumed dead. There was no follow-up investigation. In essence, there was no one left with any connection to the Falls, or to the men who had died there that day.
In the Capitol Wasteland, the dead were gone. But elsewhere, the dead had the alarming tendency not to stay that way.
The first thing Dirge noticed was how soft the ground was. It was the hard-packed dirt of the wasteland, it was soft, green grass.
Wait, what? Dirge snapped out of the drug-induced stupor and pushed himself up, looking around at what was most certainly not Paradise Falls. This was…for lack of a better word, an actual paradise. Lush green grass, healthy trees, and both as far as he could see.
But Dirge had never believed he would go to the same place as heroes did. The Wasteland had a tendency to shake one's faith in a benevolent higher power, but Dirge always felt that death would sort the righteous from the wicked one way or another. And he knew firmly which side of the line he fell.
Regardless, that didn't answer where the hell he was.
Only then did he notice that there was a good amount of debris around him, including quite a few other dazed or still unconscious people. He saw Barret running a hand across his waist, bemused that he was no longer in two halves, while had over his untouched eye, as if confused that it could still see.
"…are we in heaven?" Someone finally posed the question that everyone else was thinking. The answer came from an unexpected source.
"I doubt it. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here."
The armored Enclave sergeant raised his assault carbine, accompanied by the clatter of other soldiers following suite and the whine of charging plasma weapons. Dirge saw the array of soldiers, all twelve of them, alive and well, as well as their VTOL, intact and undamaged, but mercifully landed.
The slavers readied their own guns, cocking and aiming a variety of weapons at their killers. Each side held their fire, held back only by the prospect of a second, more permanent death, but waiting for the one stray shot that would start another bloodbath.
"Whoa whoa whoa whoa!" Eulogy Jones pulled himself up, holding out open palms to either group, "Are you lot really that dense? We're here, in this damn sylvan glen, and you're all about to kill each other all over again?" He snapped his fingers, pointing to the Enclave officer.
"You, you're in charge, right? Stripes on your shoulder and all? What's your name?"
"Sergeant Ulrich Kastner, 101st airborne," the officer's mechanically filtered voice replied over the suit's speakers.
"Pleasure to meet you," Eulogy couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of their formal introduction, "I go by Eulogy Jones, but you can call me either. Now, sergeant, before we all get killed again, let me ask you: what were your orders?"
"Take control of the area designated 'Paradise Falls,' using as much force as deemed necessary to cleanse the area," Kastner replied without a moment's hesitation. A few scowls spread across the slaver ranks, but Eulogy knew he had a chance at salvaging the situation.
"Alright, then tell me, Sergeant Kastner, does this look like Paradise Falls?" Kastner was surprised. This slaver was clearly the brains of the operation. He'd gathered his bearings this soon after such an abrupt change in scenery, while even Kastner was preparing for another firefight.
"Hm. Fair enough. Consider my orders nonapplicable," Kastner, lowered his weapon, keeping his finger near the trigger, but gesturing for his men to do the same.
"That's a good boy," Eulogy smiled, waving off the slavers. They, too, lowered their weapons. Each side shifted uneasily, caught in an awkward silence as both sides assumed the other was about to speak. Eulogy rolled his eyes. Looks like he'd need to keep pushing things along.
"Look, I'll be the first to say that we all got off to a bad start," Eulogy addressed slavers and soldiers alike, "In fact, I think I can safely say that we got off to the worst start possible. But if death makes men equals, then we'd all best start acting like it, 'cause I'm sure that no one here knows what happens from here." A few men nodded hesitantly, others still glancing at their cohorts, uncertain. Eulogy continued, undaunted.
"Just to start off, what kind of gear do you have in your ship?" Eulogy looked over to Kastner. The sergeant glanced over to one of the demolitionists, nodding for him to proceed. The man flipped open a wrist-mounted computer, rattling off the VTOL's supply list.
"A few prefab roadblocks, couple terminals, comm tower, plenty of guns and ammo, and power supplies for the lot."
"Enough for a few weeks, but that's for our numbers."
"Good enough," Eulogy glanced back over to Kastner, "Sergeant, have your men set up camp here. If you've got camo, use it. We'll spread out from here and see if we can find anything resembling civilization."
Kastner was a fairly big man to begin with, and only bigger in his armor. He stepped up to Eulogy, holding up one finger as he slung his rifle with his free hand.
"Let's make one thing clear: you're not in charge here," Kastner said slowly, "You can send your men wherever you damn well please, but don't assume the same for mine. A ceasefire doesn't mean you get to jump into the chain of command. You need something from my men, or anything stamped as Enclave property, you go through me. Got it?"
"Of course, Sergeant," Eulogy slapped a hand on his armored shoulder, "Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Good. We'll have basecamp up in less than an hour. I'll see if I can't hail command on the comm channels." Eulogy chuckled, and Kastner cocked his helmeted head.
"Something funny, slaver?"
"You'll probably try it anyway, but I don't see much point in trying to contact your superiors," Eulogy smiled grimly, "Unless you ran across an unending forest on your way to the Falls, I doubt we're in DC anymore."