Chapter Twenty One
"Not withstanding the land shall be desolate because of them that dwell therein, for the fruit of their doings."
- Micah 7:13. The Bible.
Monday 13th July 2294. 02.59 EST. Inner Baltimore: The Under-tunnel's. Chesapeake Bay.
Lancaster's legs were burning. Sweat dripped endlessly off of his brow, as the beast coming towards them moved ever closer. Chris couldn't see the creature, knew not its size or its look. Yet he could hear it and smell it. Deathclaw. An endless roar, one full of malevolence, hunger and indomitable fury, momentarily overwhelmed his senses. It was louder and more ferocious a noise then he'd ever heard from a creature such as that.
This is something else...
Sentinel Lancaster had killed many a Deathclaw, this one however felt different, almost wrong. He knew were to hit them, how to take them down. Yet not in these confined spaces and with its speed... their squad could run but forward, not back.
No room, we need to get out or we need to cripple it.
Either way, they'd ran upon Stanford's command. All of them. Even Brick who's weapons weight upon her laden back made the female the slowest of the group. Eugene was taking its toll, he knew the Ranger couldn't move at this speed indefinitely.
My armor's no use. Stealth will not stop it. It hunts through noise and smell as well as sight.
"How long!" He shouted laboriously, waiting for Stanford to reply. The ghoul was ahead, sprinting faster than all of them by a good few meters.
"Less a Mile! Half mile!" Came the answer. It was one he didn't wish to hear.
Brick'll never make it. Chris lamented.
He needed to do something, but what? His Sniper rifle lay in his suit's concealed backpack compartment and he still wore his duster disguise over it. Blackhawk too wouldn't take a beast down of that size without a deluge of hits. All would take time. Time they never had. Then a thought came.
Blow it. "Blow it! Andrews! Blow it up!" The Sentinel yelled, knowing full well the potential weight hanging upon his words.
"But...I can't... the tunnels!" Andrews replied in between each exhausted breath.
We're under the water but it'll hold, it should hold, it has too... no time to explain it...
"Frag Grenades! Use them! Do it!" Lancaster ordered, as a fiery pain shot through his muscles, chest and lungs. The same repulsive stench he'd sensed before was all about and around him now. A smell of rot and death... and radiation. It felt intense, almost overwhelming. Sentinel Lancaster's body willed him to vomit, yet his mind told him to run.
It's closer... It can smell living prey not near dead and destitute. It's on the hunt.
Chris turned his head slightly to look behind. Yet all he saw was the same luminescent shade of green which had radiated off the glowing ghoul he'd downed minutes before. Sickeningly, the rancid light illuminated the tunnels, turning the cracked and corroded partition wall tiles which surrounded him into a hauntingly familiar shade.
A feral. An irradiated Deathclaw. Just my luck.
He heard Andrews warn. A duo of explosions came mere seconds after, followed by an enraged yowl. Silence followed after a number of breaths. No footfall's hit the ground but for their own. Lancaster stopped and turned fully, the monstrosity was down...
But only for a moment.
"Oh. Fuck." He swore.
The beast had brought itself up again, with a sense of animalistic vengeance. It's movements this time however were sluggish as well as lumbering. Even so it was gaining ground. Thirty meters or near enough, where the Deathclaw stood now, eying them all like a predator did its hapless prey.
Not today... I'm no beasts prey.
It's saurian-like features were vile, made more so by the muscle, tissue and tendons that exuded a shade of inflamed harlequin. Over seventeen feet it appeared to stand. Much larger than any other Deathclaw he'd encountered before. A grotesque perversion of evolution.
"It's injured..." Mason panted, still out of breath. Brick was the one first to reply.
"Come on Rangers! Lets kill the bastard!"
Eugene fired up once more. Her whine again bringing noise to his ears. Her deathly dissonance was answered. Chris drew Blackhawk then fired away rapidly. Six shots hit their mark, all indiscriminately upon the beast.
"Nuka...out!" Andrews again warned.
No! No! Frags! I said Frags! He wanted to protest, yet no words came forth.
Lancaster quickly found himself cover, just in time, as an ethereal wave of cyan thundered maddeningly from were the Nuka-grenade had detonated. A throng of unnatural death throes followed, ending after less than a minute.
Chris brought himself to his feet then, ever with a sense of caution, and went to reload his Magnum as the others of his grouping too brought themselves up from their own coverings.
"Andrews? You dead man?" Mason asked with a tinge of humor.
"Urgh! That... that hit me like a Rivet hangover! Rough as rust and bolted to my fuckin bed. No Nuka's been that strong before Hammer! Shit! I nearly pissed me self!" Andrews replied, shaking dust and dirt from his face and scraggy dark raven hair. He was still on the concrete, no doubt from were the blast had sent him.
"Best ya get up Ranger." Stanford said commandingly. "Mister Lancaster, we'd best move. Now."
Chris heard the immediacy in his hoarse voice, the fear also.
"It's dead-" The Sentinel stopped, he'd heard something... a creak or groan perhaps. "-that noise?"
Then he knew...
Another creak followed as their run restarted once more, it too was then followed by an almighty crack. The sound of concrete and steel giving way. Then the sound of a trickle began.
Another almighty clamor, similar to the coming of thunder spiralled forth from the tunnel.
...a torrent, the echoes of splashing in the depths now behind them began, out-washing all other noise.
His leg muscles, already feeling the effects of past exhaustion, resisted his commands to carry on but they obeyed gradually. When he saw the dim starlight ahead Chris urged and pleaded for his body to go faster. It didn't.
Another hundred metres, maybe more.
"Move it!" Brick yelled over the thrashing waters, in an attempt to spur those in front of her on.
She was lagging behind still, at about fifteenth metres now, maybe more. Eugene was holding her momentum, bring it down to a mere jog.
"Drop it Brick!" Mason shouted. Yet no reply came, only the innumerable sound of waves and flood water rushing upon ruin.
Stanford reached land-side first, followed by Gallows. The murky depths which now lay to their rear levelled arbitrarily just before the tunnel's exit-way.
Andrews and Mason were behind him. There was no sighting or sign of Brick in the McHenry through-way or the gloomy irradiated waters of the Chesapeake which had just consumed it. The Rangers grief was obvious, their features stricken with both anger and sadness.
Another Ranger dead, because of me.
But before accusations could be thrown about, Bryce waved them onwards and beckoned them to look ahead. Through the black of night and to Old Baltimore itself.
"That your Brotherhoods handiwork?" The ghoul questioned angrily.
Lancaster peered into the distance, towards the Raven's heartland further eastward. Yet all he saw were flashes and fires. Burning white and red-hot, twinkling fiercely like the stars in the heavens above. Another flash sparked alight before his eyes, sending his vision eschew before he shook it off.
Explosions and it's our only way back. The tunnel's useless...
"No...I...I don't know..." was all he could manage, before with a heavy heart, he turned to the Rangers. Both had turned their backs from him, peering remorsefully towards the now flooded tunnel.
"There!" Andrews pointed, down the McHenry towards an ever encroaching set of ripples and wavelets. He aimed his forearmed flash-light in the general direction and it was then that his eyes fell upon a ghost.
No, a Brick. She's alive...
The Ranger duo applauded and cheered, roared and prayed. While he and Gallows just waited.
The figure continued, now walking as the Chesapeake thinned to mere feet and inches. Chris focused upon the individual. It was Brick, she bore no weapon however, no Eugene. Her arms were also bloodied and blistered, as was her neck and one side of her face. As she moved closer, the damage became more obvious. Skin was peeling in the places Brick's attire didn't cover, while her armor was corroded and aggressively notched with holes that showed all, including an endless amount violent marks and sicken rashes upon her bare body.
"Who has the RadAway? The Rad-X? Morphine?!" Bryce shouted forcefully. Then, again in a louder tone when no one answered.
"Don't just stand there! Get her NOW!"
The events and explosions westward were all but forgotten, as he and Mason rushed towards the clearly ailing Brick. They took her weight, as she continued to walk despite the damage to her person.
"Heh..." she rasped and wheezed.
"I guess... Brick's do float... heh heh-" a coughing fit followed, sending forth blood and phlegm in her spittle. "Now... who's idea... was... the fuckin' the Nuka-grenade?" the Ranger questioned, with what appeared to be a half grin on her face.
No one answered. Grief had again returned to Andrews features ahead of them, while Irving appeared downcast and sorrowful.
"Lay her down there lads. Gallows, that aid kit of yours, bring it here." Stanford ordered gruffly.
They placed her as gently as they could, near to were Bryce awaited. Lancaster saw the ghoul's eyes then as if seeing for the first time. Empathy overflowed from them, pain too as well as sympathy for the Ranger's plight. His voice cracked, not because of his physical state but from emotion. The Sentinel could only watch, he'd never dealt with radiation burns of such severity before.
No, but Bryce has. He's seen it before, he's had the same happen to him.
"RadAway? Or Morphine?" Chris heard Stanford ask.
"Both... Morphine. It... hurts."
"I know. I know."
"I don't...want to..."
"Neither did I."
The ghoul injected her then, which brought a muted sigh from Brick's broken lips. She appeared almost peaceful.
"Now the RadAway. Someone hold this for me."
Lancaster stepped forward, holding it aloft for gravity to do its work. The chemical dripped slowly
downwards entering the female's vein near to where Stanford had placed one of the peripheral needles from Gallows' aid kit.
He knows what he's doing. Like my father. Lancaster realised.
"Keep it up until it's dry. She may die, she may not. If not she'll be different. The change has begun."
"It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
- François-Marie Arouet. Otherwise known as Voltaire.
Saturday 13th July 2294. 10.34 EST: Annesplace: Lockheart House.
"Why did you leave me? Abandon me? Your little princess! Your child!" She sobbed, her voice sounding childishly youthful.
Shadowed and solemn, the figure before her stood. It was one that appeared as the memory of her father. He spoke not. Only silence echoed from his lips. Giving no answers to his only daughter. And like his silence, his image disappeared, once more into a hidden mist, which then too, fell out of her vision.
She heard herself shout. No answer came in return.
All Victoria saw next was the husk of New York city, almost enclosed around her. Skeletal remains of the jewelled apple in America's crown. The bow of the Queen Catherine was were she stood. Her tiny feet mere inches from a twenty storey drop to the depths of Upper Bay and New York harbour.
And in the distance, a lone Sentinel guarding the way to the Old United States. Lady Liberty still standing in a surreal sense of tattered, forlorn glory. All those about her had perished or collapsed into dust and ruin. Liberté de dame and the damsel of New York. Waiting for a new era to return, for something or someone to mount a daring rescue from her lonely plight.
"It takes strength and conviction to stand up for what you believe in..."
The words echoed at last. Those of her fathers. It had come from behind her yet no one stood there.
Whirly birds flew by, full of men, women, armaments and materials. Heading over Manhattan to the North and beyond. Her eyes were streaming, tears turning her vision to but a blur. Her Papa was on one, her brother too. He'd said goodbye only a few hours before. Crying all the while since she waved away the flock of helicopters, twelve in all.
"He'll come back sweetheart. I would not worry."
That was Uncle Louis' voice. It seemed so sure, so right. In that after another hour she'd stop crying after he and Aunt Anne had repeated it enough times to the now all but orphaned nine-year old.
"Where did they go Uncle Lou?"
Another question unanswered. Only a guilt ridden stare looked back as he appeared before her.
"Did you know?" But that too went without reply, as Uncle Louis also faded into nothingness.
Her environs around her changed again, yet her feet still stood upon the Catherine, her home. Now however, they were smaller, as were her hands and fingers, dainty in comparison to moments before. Only one thing remained constant. Victoria's eyes remained ever blurred, her tears still fell and her heart continued to mourn.
Ahead of her, rowed columns of uniformed individuals stood in a state of pristine attention, all then saluting in synchronisation as a further group of people travelled between them. They carried aloft the body of her mother, wrapped neatly in sewn canvas and draped in the Jack. One of faded red, colourless white and washed navy.
Her Grandfather, father and her uncle were three of the pallbearers to hold her high. Slowly they marched, taking every step with equal precision and sorrow. Their destination was her, always to her.
Moments turned to minutes, and then to hours as she wept without consolation. It came however, for it had never left, she'd have only needed to look. Another hand held her own, bigger than hers, stronger too. Yet gentle and kind, comforting her even in their shared loss.
"Show a brave face to Papa, and to Grandpapa especially. He'd be wroth to see you cry when all of Britannia is to see us."
She turned, yet saw only a boy. A mere stranger to her eyes, but twelfth and already an adult in the Queen Catherine's sightless vision. Yet just as her father and uncle before, the stranger's image disappeared into darkness, as did her home.
It was then that she began to fall.
The sickly azure sea converged upon her, awaiting a further lost soul. And as the waves drew ever closer, the question she'd ever asked was answered.
A hush, a tone near silent, yet harmonic, beautiful and inextricably Papa's. Yet before she could discern the lyrics...
The waves hit.
Her body sprung up within an instant, scanning for hostility of any sort.
Yet Victoria saw none, only a dusted night-stand shaped much like the Hawaiian natives of old, alongside a pair of empty Nuka-cola bottles, upon a scarred steel trestle table. Both standing solemnly in their new-found emptiness. A quaintly immaculate bed cradled her bare rear whilst underneath a freshly cleansed blanket, hid her uncovered legs. She'd been dreaming.
"Bloody hell!" she shouted. It felt queer, all of it, she'd never had a dream of that nature before. Perhaps, it's the news of my father. Victoria thought almost fervently. Yet why that hymn, that song? She was sure her answer was there. Now however it was but a forgotten memory, silently taken from her very grasp.
"Victoria! Victoria! What's wrong?" A voice called. An innumerable amount of knocks to her locked door immediately followed. The incessant sound continued, until after finally gathering her bearings, she answered.
"I'm fine Will! Jesus! Are you trying to smash that bloody door down with your fists?"
The knocks finally stopped.
"I heard you scream is all Vic. Sure you're alright?" Her stalwart and infuriating Guardian asked, after giving his knuckles a rest.
"Better than you'll be if you keep bloody banging, I'm na... not fully dressed yet."
"And what time is it? Early?" Victoria asked, as she hastily began to garb herself appropriately.
"Early? It's near ten in the morning Vic." Will said, a series of wolfish laughs escaping him as he finished.
"Bugger. Seriously? How long have you been up?" she questioned, partway through clumsily pulling up under her undergarments.
"Since... early." Again, the same chuckle followed, an infectious laugh that had even her grinning despite him being on the opposite side of the door. Then the laughter stopped.
Will fell quiet, as he sometimes did to give her a semblance of privacy. Silence descended for mere minutes at that, as she tiredly fought her clothes in a battle that was finally won by herself. She'd be given a set of clothing similar to the commandos own. Boots and yellow striped breeches. As well as a Stetson hat and scarlet tunic. Unfortunately, her breeches were too large. That was easily sorted however, through the belt she'd been given. The same was true of the tunic, the sleeves enveloped her hands wholesale, making her look like a mere child in hand-me-downs. Victoria rolled up the sleeves to her elbows, it was the best she could do.
Her 9mm was now holstered in a dirty grey-tone holster upon her right-side, whilst her knife was back were it belonged, in its new boot home. Victoria, satisfied that everything was in order, unlocked her bedroom door.
"Best be quick Vic." Will stated, ending his mouths repose. "The ghouls come through."
She was quick to notice his own crimson attire, as well as the slight grin up her guardians features, in spite of the distaste in his words when mentioning Lockheart. But... wait... what?
"Come through? Come again?" She started. "He's... Malcolm's here?"
"Damn straight. Better get your ass down there and see for yourself."
Victoria never expected that the ghoul Lockheart would actually follow through with her command. But more importantly, Malcolm was here, he was safe. At least safer then he'd been previously. Before Vic knew it, she was racing down the stairs within moments, oblivious to the echoed words Will said behind her.
"Malcolm!" she shouted, "Malcolm!" and again for good measure.
Her fathers men were in the main room, talking quietly amongst themselves. They quickly acknowledged her however, when she rushing into view.
"Where's Malcolm?" Victoria asked at once.
Before any of the Commandos could reply her however, the croaky voice of Lockheart answered, seemingly in earnest.
"Cool your jets Princess. He's here. Just as ordered."
"Show me. Now." she commanded, sternly.
"Right this way. Campbell, Gagnon. With me." Desmond barked. "Chief, everyone else. You best get ready for our departure."
"We're leaving? So soon?" Her questions were quick, impulsive and rather naïve, in their own way.
Of course we're leaving. We can't bloody stay here.
Lockheart for his part, ignored her completely, as he shuffled off to a back-room. One she hadn't noticed before.
"Why's he in here? Why not the common room?" she queried cautiously.
It was Campbell who answered, both to her surprise and appreciation. "No room ma'am. And e...er... he wasn't that happy with us when Lockheart brought him in. He ah... only settled down when William showed his face."
"Settled down? Was he angry?"
"Yes ma'am. He... nearly broke Frontenac' jaw."
"Stupid kids got an eye black as midnight to show for it princess. Just in case you're wondering." Desmond chirped darkly. As he reached the door of Malcolm's room.
She was about to protest at that, yet Victoria heard her tongue. It was self-defence, but why would he attack them? It was something she'd have to find out.
"Wake up kid. We're leaving. Now." Lockheart uttered through the rot ridden door.
No answer came, not immediately at least. Victoria suddenly felt nervous. Her heart began pounding fervently. The door opened slowly. Creaking as every inch and centimetre moved by. It was the colour red she saw first and foremost. Bright scarlet to go with those about her own. Then her sight glanced upwards.
"Malcolm!" she cried aloud.
"Guilty as charged." he said, that ever-so present smirk upon his face clear to all. She wanted to hug him, there and then, yet she held fast. Instead, Victoria smiled in kind.
Yet her grin soon left, as she noticed a large dark bruise, surrounding his right eye. It appeared to be dreadfully painful but the Veteran Regulator seemed not to show it. Despite that, she suddenly felt her blood boil. Yet before Victoria uttered a word in anger, Malcolm moved forward, wrapping his arms around her in a warm yet momentary embrace. He then stepped back promptly, his vision now upon Lockheart, who stood silently to her right.
"Thought you were lying Lockheart." he uttered, with a hint of distaste. "Damn good job you weren't."
The ghoul simply grinned. Cracked skin, broken lips and all.
"Yeah, sure kid." The ghoul then strode past her. Beckoning them all to follow. She did so. Malcolm followed cautiously in toe.
"You've got some explaining to do miss." He whispered into her ear. Victoria nodded in agreement.
"In. Private." He iterated clearly. His words were cold and restrained much like his slow gait. Of course, bar herself and Will, everyone else was a strangers to the legendary regulator, yet even so it disturbed her.
"I will. I promise." she affirmed quietly.
The pair soon found themselves in the common room. The Royal commandos, Lockheart and William were waiting. Each of them, bar the ghoul, were similarly attired. Pack and laden bags were adorned upon the back of many of the grouping, Will included. It appeared they were set for departure.
"Listen and listen well." Lockheart started, as she and Malcolm approached him.
"Act stupid and you'll die, these cock deprived wenches outside want you three dead. Understand? Now this should be fuckin' easy. Don't make it hard."
"So what is the plan exactly?" She heard Will ask. Lockheart merely stared, then shook his head in a fit of, what looked like disgust.
"You have a brain Longshanks? Fuckin use it! We're walking out. You think I had you dress up for my amusement?"
Will's retort was both quick and ireful.
"Fuck you ghoul. Then what? So you'll have us walk back to White Cliffs?"
As of yet, the two hadn't come to blows, yet there was still time. The ghoul, by fortune however, merely laughed.
"First, why are we going there? We're going to Old Bill. Second, of course not. We'll be flying there."
"Flying where exactly Lockheart?" Victoria questioned. As she sent a steeled glare towards William. The reply came quickly, spoken before her own query was even finished. It was one word, that sent her heart racing again.
"Baltimore." And the Ravens. Why don't I go anywhere nice?
1. The waters in the north of the Chesapeake Bay around Baltimore are of course more irradiated than the Chesapeake close to Annapolis due to the relative proximity to the Potomac. The fact that a heavily irradiated Deathclaw and a high explosive radiation grenade had set off just beforehand is also the reason why Brick is not merely recovering from 'acidic' burns. There was a clear and marked spike in radiation from those two events.