The first few hours were the hardest. After five minutes of trying to sort out my predicament, I determined that I would be suspended in this cage until I died or was lifted back to the satellite dish. There was no possibility of escape, even if I was in peak physical condition, and I was far from that. I was bloodied from where the bars of the cage had cut into my skin, bruised from the constant beating of the raiders, I was becoming increasingly dehydrated and was already severely hungry.
After that, my thoughts drifted. I was too exhausted to think about anything, to consider the poetic value of my situation. I didn't want to think about how the Wasteland had gotten the better of me, or think about Jenny or my wife or the Vault or anything in my past or present life because none of that could help me. I was dangling in a cage off of a dilapidated satellite dish and the only thing that could save me was the altruism of a group of people who amused themselves by arranging the mutilated corpses of their enemies.
I did think of Joas. I thought of the mission he had been given and the possible reasons why the raiders wanted Harkness. I couldn't come up with anything of substance, but I figured it had something to do with the leader of the raiders. The leader seemed different, or at least more intelligent than the rest of the raiders. He was a monster like the rest of the raiders, but he at least seemed to have some agenda. I started imagining what he might want Harkness alive for, but the pain of hunger took priority.
For a while, the hunger pangs washed out anything else I'd attempt to think. I'd start wondering if Joas had had enough time to get to Rivet City by now, and then I'd grimace as my stomach seemed to be collapsing on itself. I'd wonder if anyone had told Jenny that no news had come back from the convoy, and that we'd probably been killed, then I'd grimace as the pain grew sharper, more demanding.
Then it stopped, or rather, I didn't stop being hungry but it seemed like my body had given up hope. The pain abated, and more than anything I became incredibly weak. It wasn't like I was animated before, but it seemed that at this point I couldn't move if I wanted to.
By my best estimates, it was five days until there was any change in my lot. It was incredibly hard for me to keep track of time, as I faded in and out of consciousness, periods of consciousness spent only wondering how long it would be until I couldn't keep my eyes open any more and if this would finally be the last time that I'd have to open my eyes. All this ended in five days, when my cage was lifted up to the dish.
Upon reaching the lip of the dish, the cage was opened and I was unceremoniously dumped from my prison onto the inside of the dish. I didn't make any effort to roll over or to make any indication that I was alive other than to continue breathing.
"Alright kid, let's get you fixed up." Joas spoke to me. He unfastened my handcuffs and unlocked my slave collar. He then helped me roll over onto my back, poured some moderately clean water into my mouth which I barely managed to swallow. Regaining what little strength I had left, I grabbed at the bottle and began to greedily swallow the bottle. Joas took the bottle away from me after a second and I immediately felt sick and vomited most of the water.
"Pace yourself, you're still really weak. Let's get out of here, you're going to have to get on my shoulders, we'll get you better though, let's go."
I half nodded, and did what I could to climb onto his back and be carried out of the satellite dish and out into the Capital Wasteland.
I couldn't recall any of our journey, how he carried me, or why we got out of there safely, but I woke up in a bed, seemingly safe, feeling a bit better but alone. I tried to sit up but couldn't find the strength, but was able to inspect the room a bit.
It was an underground chamber strung with lights on wires laced around the stalactites. There was a network of slipshod paths and platforms around the cavern, with various furnishings all about; tables, chairs, shelves, and beds. I wasn't completely alone, and as I looked around more, I noticed that there were, it appeared to be, children around the cavern. I saw one leave, and in a moment returned with Joas, who came to my bedside and pulled up a chair.
"Tom, let me answer as many questions that I can guess are on your mind so you don't have to talk."
I nodded and prompted him to continue.
"We're in Little Lamplight caverns, the original destination for the caravan. You've been shot up with a couple of Stimpaks but you're still need lots of water and food, and your wounds need some time to heal. We made it out because I brought Harkness back to the satellite array. I met Harkness on his way to Rivet City. That's one weird guy, and he must be batshit crazy. I don't know why he wasn't back at Rivet City or why he came with me so willingly. I can only assume those Raider bastards are going to kill him though, and at this point I don't care. You and I got out safe, so that's that."
He finished his spiel and sat back in his chair. I attempted to say a few words, and they mostly came out. "So when can we get out of here? I want to see Jenny".
He smiled and shot back "Man, get the chick off your mind for a bit. You just spent five days in a cage and all you can think about is your woman. Get some sleep and we'll be out of here as soon as you're walking. These kids hate us anyway."
I smiled and settled back into bed.
It was a week in and out of bed before I felt strong enough to make the journey back to Rivet City. We set out on the route originally marked out backwards, and on the entire journey (which was often halted by my need to sit and rest) I prodded Joas for more information on his mission, but Joas honestly didn't seem to know anything about why the raider leader wanted to see Harkness.
It was another three days of traveling, but we finally arrived at the looming but incredibly welcoming silhouette of Rivet City. Joas and I were greeted an elated guard who was floored that anyone had made it out of the raid alive, he waved us in and we crossed the bridge onto the ship.
Joas was instantly surrounded by his fellow security team members, and there were many hugs and handshakes passed around as Joas caught up with his friends who'd just seen him essentially rise from the dead. Joas ducked out of the conversations for a brief moment and told me "Tom, go see your woman." He punctuated it with a wink and was soon after pulled back into the reunion.
I knocked on the door to our apartment, and there was a long pause before the door slowly peeked opened, barely revealing the sorrowful face of Jenny Stahl. Her face then rapidly cycled through looks of bewilderment, shock, then elation. She whispered "Oh my God, Tom!" before throwing herself through the door and onto me, embracing me. We shared a long tearful kiss, and then she stepped back and got a better look at me.
"My God, you're a mess. What happened, I need to hear this story." She was still crying a bit, but was fast regaining her composure.
"Well, let's get you caught up." I gestured inside, and she backed into the apartment and allowed me to enter.
There really wasn't a good arrangement for us both to comfortably sit, so we sat along the bed on the floor, and I laid my arms around Jenny trying my best to comfort her as I detailed to her my story of capture and incarceration. She didn't seem to want to let onto it too much, but it appeared that my supposed death had really gotten to her.
By the end of the story, she sat up, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and said simply "I'm glad you made it out of there. I couldn't, well, I don't know what I would've done if I'd lost you."
I slowly nodded in a pensive manner, and we sat for a long while in the silence, simply enjoying eachother's company, eventually releasing her from my embrace and helping her up before collapsing into bed with her.
The next morning started with a rap on the door. Jenny and I woke, and she groggily prompted me to get the door. I obliged and shuffled out of bed and to the door.
Joas was in the corridor grinning. Eyebrow raised, I asked "Good morning Joas, what's on your mind?"
"Nothing man," he chuckled "How was your first night back in this bucket?"
It took me a moment, but I caught his drift. I laughed and threw a lighthearted punch at his shoulder and asked "so really, what's going on?"
Joas let the moment pass and composed himself. "There's a meeting of the Rivet City council, and you and I have been asked to attend. Get dressed and let's go, it'll be starting soon." I nodded.
Five minutes later, we were up in the council chambers. It seemed to be the actual former command center, nexus type area of the ship in its original form. Except for bits of food on the counters that lined the outside of the room and some papers sporadically tacked to the walls, it seemed to be in roughly the same condition it was in two centuries ago. When Joas and I walked in, the council was already seated around the huge table that dominated the center of the room. Joas and I found two empty seats next to eachother and sat.
"Gentlemen," A well dressed man spoke up first "allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your escape from the raiders. It is, as I understand it, a truly harrowing, yet valiant tale. Above all, we're truly glad to have you back."
Joas allowed him to completely finish before speaking. "Thank you sir. There is a small issue with Harkness, though-"
The first man interjected. "Harkness? Well, wasn't he killed in battle?"
Joas replied "No. He's the reason that Tom and I were allowed to go free. After we were taken to the raider base, Tom was held as a prisoner and I was told to retrieve Harkness alive, at which point Tom and I would be released. I did, and we were."
The well dressed man was silent and stroked his chin in contemplation. "Well, this is quite odd indeed. We'll monitor the situation, but in the mean time, there is the issue of the empty seat on the city council. Joas, I'd be remissed if I didn't offer it to you for your bravery and loyalty to your fellow man." He gestured to me.
Joas smiled and replied "I accept, sir."
The man smiled and said "Well Joas, welcome to the city council. Any words you'd like to share?"
Joas thought for a moment and said. "Well, for my first act on city council, I'd like to propose that we forgive Tom's debt and offer him and Jenny permanent residence here at Rivet City."
The man nodded thoughtfully and then spoke. "All in favor?"
A chorus of "Aye"s echoed off the worn metal walls. I grinned and shook Joas' hand. "Thank you friend, this means the world to me."
Joas replied "any time, let's just hope the need doesn't arise again."
The meeting continued for another half hour or so. The councilmen discussed the city's business and Joas was brought up to speed on council proceedings. I sat in silence for the entirety of it, still mulling over the strange circumstances in which Harkness was brought to the raider leaders. I did not speak to this unease, however, and after the meeting was adjourned I returned to my apartment.