Lost Hills Bunker

2161-05-01 03:34 PM

It was only a small lie, all things considered, but he decided that it had grown into something large, obstructive and rather ridiculous.

So he felt indebted to Tabitha, Tycho and Ian. So he felt unworthy of them accompanying him to the Watershed, especially considering how that ended. So he parted ways with them. So he still left the vault and decided not to meet up with them. He felt indebted to them, though the more he considered it, the more and more was he inclined to believe that the three had made him feel weak and pitiful by comparison, always needing help and guidance.

They told him that was okay, that they didn't mind helping. Hell, all things considered he realized that what he had with those people was a pretty damn strong friendship. He probably could've just travelled back to the Hub and hooked up with them again after leaving the vault again.

But no, he didn't want to be that weak, needy person any more. Maybe because he thought himself to be better than he actually was because he was the one to bring back the water chip to the vault; not that he could take all credit for that – not even half of it, really. Maybe for a moment he felt like he was the most skilled and reliable person in the entire vault dweller trio. He didn't want to feel weak and needy and like a leech again, so he lied. As if no longer with them would turn him into someone else, someone strong.

He lied to Sophia and Steven about how he parted with his comrades. Then he hid away in the slums of the Hub during their two visits there like he was an outlaw, all because he couldn't face them, and himself. And while there was some weight to the argument that Matt didn't want to be a drag to his surviving comrades any more, a better man would've come up to them regardless and offered to help them, not set out on some stupid anti-mutant quest. Maybe they wouldn't have even thought any less about him. Maybe he could've given them back at least a part of what he owed. But no, he hid away because he felt weak and ashamed. It was rather pitiful, really.

Bill told him he'd figure out how to approach them again and not to worry. Indeed, the Knight even told him that considering the sort of people the wastlanders are, they probably wouldn't even blink if he just walked up to them, said hi, and acted like nothing happened. But he was still restless all through the night, conjuring up scenarios of how the meeting could go one after another. When Rhombus summoned him that afternoon and told him they were heading topside to meet his friends – who were already here – he felt nervous and apprehensive. He still had no idea how to handle this and just prayed that it would turn out that he was being paranoid and this was all not a big deal. Wastelanders, he kept telling himself, they are wastelanders and they don't really care.

He stepped out of the bunker behind Rhombus and took in the mercenaries gathered before them. Four he did not recognise – the ginger one, the one with the curly hair, the big, bald one, and the woman who looked like she couldn't even hold a gun right – though he could've sworn he'd seen them before somewhere. Keri was there, and she narrowed her eyes and smirked when she saw Matthew. Tycho had a warm yet somehow muted smile on his face when he saw the vault dweller, though Matt's heart skipped when he saw the burns on the man's face and his lack of desert ranger apparel. Finally, there was Tabitha, who looked at him impassively, her expression schooled and her eyes sharp. Matthew sighed inwardly. Looks like at least one of his friends would have a problem with him, and it's the one he really didn't want to have trouble with. He cast Steven and Sophia brief glances to make sure they were okay and that was when Rhombus spoke up, summing up the situation and presenting his offer.

"Initiate Coyle here has confirmed to us that the super mutants are not born but mutated by infecting vault dwellers with a pre-war virus called the F.E.V.," the man stated. "We have strong evidence that this virus is being stored in Mariposa military base and we are organizing an attack on that location. However, it was decided that we should probably request outside help. We have a large supply of conventional firearms that we are willing to offer as compensation for you and we're looking to strike a deal here."

Silence fell between the mercenaries and Matt and Rhombus.

"Super mutants... are mutated vault dwellers?" Sophia finally asked, confused.

"Not exactly," Matthew spoke up, his voice almost breaking as all eyes fell upon him. He looked at Sophia and replied solely to her. "Vault dwellers are the mutants' preferred targets, though they're not against dipping regular wastelanders in the virus. They refer to the vault dwellers as 'pure' and 'untainted', which probably refers to the fact that their DNA is not mutated like that of the surface dwellers. It is possible that this either makes the transition to a super mutant smoother or that the mutant created from a vault dweller is... well, stronger."

It wasn't exactly his area of expertise but it was close enough, and it gave Matthew some comfort to be talking about this.

"So what you're asking is," the ginger-haired man started, looking at the two men distrustfully, "for us to accompany you to where these mutants are made? Into their very home? The nine of us?"

"With three Paladins, a Knight and Initiate Coyle here, yes," Rhombus confirmed.

"This is crazy," the man retorted bluntly and addressed Tabitha. "This is crazy, right? We're not doing this."

Tabitha looked back at the man and then at Rhombus, then Matthew, looking torn. The merc noticed the hesitation and bristled. Tabitha looked at Keri expectantly and the man turned his attention to her as well.

"Keri?" he prompted. "Come on, this is suicide, and it's not like we desperately need more firearms."

"Besides," the unfamiliar woman with a visibly aching bandages shoulder added, "our task is to finish this caravan drive. We ought to be headed for Necropolis, not off to some godforsaken ruin to face off those monstrosities. Also – my shoulder. And my overdue medical treatment."

"Necropolis has been destroyed," Matthew informed them bluntly. "I was just there. All of the ghouls are either dead or they ran away. Super mutants have taken control of the settlement. Them and the Children of the Cathedral."

"The Children?" the curly-haired man exclaimed, incredulous. "Are you actually saying that the Children, in league with the super mutants, destroyed Necropolis?"

"Yes," Matthew remained calm.

Most of the folks gathered before him just looked at him in shock, not quite able to digest the news so quickly. A few moments later, Tabitha threw Keri an expectant look. Matthew understood that the woman wanted Demetre's daughter to be in control of this situation in order to help her slip into her eventual role more easily, but it sort of drove him crazy not knowing what she was thinking.

"There's Children in the Hub, and Junktown as well," Keri finally replied. "And the mutants are on the move. They'd already started circling around the Hub some time ago, and the Hub is ripe for the taking – weak from all the infighting. If they make their move on us now, we'll be defenceless. Hell, even if the fucking Jackals make a move on we'll be pretty fucked. So I say we make a pre-emptive strike."

Tabitha's lip twitched and she almost smiled for a second there, but managed to hold it back and look at the two men before her impassively. Matthew didn't miss it though.

"Seriously?" the ginger-haired man cursed, outraged. "We're doing this?" the he looked at Tabitha, "you're alright with this?"

Tabitha looked at Keri and then back at him.

"She's right, you know."

"I'm not forcing anyone to tag along," Keri stated. "You don't want in, you say so and you're not in."

"Not in," the unfamiliar woman said immediately. The ginger man's gaze darted between Keri and Tabitha, then to the bulky man.

"Swinger?" he asked.

The bulky man looked back at him with a stunned look on his face.

"The mutants want to kill us. We should kill them first," the man stated and shrugged.

The merc closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his hand shaking a little.

"Right," he said quietly and opened his eyes. "Right. Let's get this over with."

"You sure?" Keri asked.

The man frowned and nodded.

"Do I dick around?"

Tabitha chuckled and almost said something. Keri just smiled and nodded back.

"Everyone else?" she asked.

Tabitha just shrugged in reply and then nodded slightly. Tycho and the curly-haired man gave her twin nods, self-assured and firm. Keri's eyes fell on Steven and Sophia and she chuckled.

"Right," she murmured, then turned to Rhombus and spoke up, "right. Let's talk numbers."

Lost Hills Bunker

2161-05-01 03:34 PM

The unfamiliar woman with the wounded shoulder, Morgan, put up a bit of a fight, refusing to sit with a thumb up her ass and a bullet in her shoulder outside of the bunker while the others 'go hiking'. Matt and Rhombus excused themselves for a moment and retreated further away to come up with some way Morgan could stay at the bunker without the others making much of a fuss. Tabitha, meanwhile, dragged Keri away from the others in an identical manner. Matthew saw that and sighed.

"The girl with the funny hair is the only child of the man who runs Crimson Caravans," he informed the Head Paladin. "And Tabitha over there is most likely trying to talk her out of coming with us. And she'll most likely succeed."

"Two people, then," Rhombus huffed. "The Elders will catch wind of the fact that I hired wastelanders quite soon. It'll be too late for them to do anything, but allowing two strangers to stay in the bunker... We have a small room to the side of Level One where we operate on wastelanders that come with the caravans if they arrive badly wounded and offer them a place to stay if they arrive during an attack, but I have no excuse to keep the both of them there while you march to Mariposa and back."

"You need a lie, then," Matthew shrugged. "Tyring to establish diplomatic relationships? Gathering intel on the Super Mutants? Keri's a pretty influential figure in the Hub and there's a number of reasons you can have her stay here for a while. Including her having taken part in a successful mutant hunt."

"We might be able to work something out. I'll consult Vree, we're on the same page about this," he said and then muttered, "for once."

The Head Paladin retreated into the elevator and disappeared, leaving Matthew alone in the company of his old friends and a couple of strangers. With Keri and Tabitha still talking quite animatedly it was Tycho who approached Matthew first.

"You've seen better days," Matthew greeted tightly, in what he hoped was a neutral tone. The ranger looked ragged and it was more than just the scars on his face, but also his pale skin and bloodshot eyes. "Good to see you're still alive, though," the ranger nodded and smiled just a little as they shook hands. "What happened?"

"Super mutants," the ranger replied just as neutrally. "Took over a small town outside of the Hub. Went in to drive them out and..."

"Did you succeed? In driving them out, I mean."

Tycho shuffled uncomfortably and looked out to the wasteland as if he was holding an unpleasant memory back from resurfacing.


Matthew looked the ranger up and down again, noticing his slightly shaking hands and knees and the look of queasiness on his face.

"They pumped you full of morphine afterwards?" he asked quietly. The ranger's gaze returned to him.


"Got the shakes? I think I could help a bit with that..."

"It's fine," Tycho shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. "I'm almost completely over it."

Matthew smiled.

"You were always strong-willed. The chem addiction never stood a chance."

Tycho smiled and nodded, appreciating the compliment, and his gaze drifted to the wasteland once again, looking slightly angry and regretful at the same time. The vault dweller wasn't sure if it was just the chems or if the ranger has been acting weirdly because of something else.

"Sorry I never came to see you after I left the vault again," Matthew somehow managed to squeeze out. Tycho's gaze returned to him slowly. "I know I said would but, but then we had this Mutant mission given to us by the overseer and really had to..." Matthew suddenly stopped talking and closed his eyes. No more lies. "Yeah, I actually don't have a good excuse for that," he admitted and looked at the ranger as if awaiting judgement.

Tycho looked away for a moment, shuffled on his feet and inhaled deeply – obvious signs of displeasure regarding the topic.

"I suppose I get it," he replied, still neutral. "You were never any good at accepting help. Or feeling like a third wheel," he took another deep breath, "and I think you know you've done some things you still have to make up for. In the Hub."

"Yeah, I know," Matt scratched the back of his head and directed his gaze downwards like a scolded child. "I intend to do something about it. I'm sorry."

"It's not me you have to say sorry to. Actually, I don't think you have to say sorry to anyone, especially hubbers, of all people," there was a hint of... contempt? disdain? in his voice that Matthew was surprised to hear. "It's really more about you."

Matthew remembered all the talks they'd had and understood where he was coming from. He looked up at the ranger and was about to say something but the older man's expression gave him pause: he was looking out towards the horizon, frowning. Matthew turned his head to look at the same direction but saw nothing but sand and more sand. Tycho noticed the movement and shifted uncomfortably.

"Yeah, uh... Yeah. Never mind all that stuff I said. Um..."

Of all the things he imagined one could see in the whole while world, Tycho the Nevada Desert Ranger being flustered was way too crazy to even be on that list, and that was the last bit of proof the vault dweller needed to conclude beyond any doubt that there was something wrong with the man.

"So... You're on a crusade against the mutants, huh?" Tycho asked, changing the subject rather unsmoothly. "A wonderful coincidence because so are we! Though I'm surprised you feel strongly enough about the cause to even come to the Brotherhood seeking help."

Matthew looked away from the man and towards the two vault dwellers, who were standing by the cart and trying to look bored while actually keeping an eye on everyone for any signs of danger.

"Yeah. Surprised me too," the younger man replied absent-mindedly.

"Not as much as it surprised us, I bet," he heard Tabitha's voice right beside him and turned his head shakily, swallowing. He didn't notice how she finished speaking with Keri and the two women came up to him and Tycho. Keri looked a bit tired and agitated while Tabitha just looked at him with a single eyebrow cocked, amused. "Brotherhood. Wow," she shrugged.

"Figured you'd be too busy," Matthew spat out quickly. "And it was way too dangerous. And it didn't really feel right asking after everything. And I sort of couldn't... invite more... more people in..." he tensed and his speech turned into mumbling as he understood he didn't have a solid excuse and he was about to lie again.

"We were busy mopping up the aftermath of your killing Daren and you still did ask us to do this in the end, just now," Tabitha pointed out, smiling devilishly. "Think you might've bitten off more than you can chew?"

His eyes drifted towards the two vault dwellers and he sighed.

"Whatever..." he mumbled and Tabitha's eyebrow shot up even higher at that. "I mean, I don't care. Not really."

Keri frowned and blinked a couple of times.

"Wait, I'm lost," she said. "What is it you don't really care about?"

Matthew's mind started racing; he knew his answer might set them off again, but then again he didn't really want to lie any more.

"I'm not invested in destroying the super mutants," he admitted. "I just... gain something else by doing that."

Three pairs of eyes looked at him questioningly while he once again looked away towards his comrades.

"I don't get it," Keri admitted, dead-pan.

Tabitha turned her head and followed Matthew's gaze, then turned back again, grinning like the devil.

"Oh my god!" Tabitha laughed. "Seriously?!"

Tycho, Keri and Matthew looked at the woman like she'd grown a third head.

"I get it," she chuckled, but somehow her gaze became sharper, just a little more biting. "I get it. Those two are from your vault, aren't they?" she asked, jerking her head towards Steven and Sophia.


Tabitha chuckled again, her look, boring into Matthew, conveying many feelings at once: amusement, respect, betrayal, hurt, confusion, anger... Matthew had no idea how his meeting Tabitha again would pan out before, and he still had no idea as it was panning out.

"They were in the Hub... twice..." the ranger pointed out, frowning.

"Yeah, I know," Matthew fidgeted uncomfortably. "And so was I. Like I said, didn't feel like... fuck, I honestly don't really know..."

Silence fell between them, the three wastelanders looking at Matthew expectantly while he struggled with a response that would make sense or at least properly indicate where he think they stood, but honestly...

"I mean it when I say 'I don't know'," he admitted.

Tabitha nodded slowly a couple of times.

"Okay... okay. You were always a little weird. Vaultie sentimentalities and all that," he waved her hand dismissively. "But seeing as how the three of you managed to locate the source of the mutants in the meanwhile, I can't really complain, now can I?"

"You can..." Matthew murmured.

"We have a big fucking battle ahead of us and I would prefer talking about that, really."

Matthew looked at her. She seemed to be quite upbeat and even amused at the moment but that sharp edge to her gaze belied that that wasn't the case.

"Yeah, uh... we should probably rejoin the others and talk about that," Matthew opined and the three wastelanders nodded and started towards the rest of the group. Three paces in, Matthew put a hand on Tabitha's shoulder and stopped her. She remained still while Keri and Tycho rejoined the rest of the group and then turned around quickly, looking at Matthew with borderline hostility. He fumbled for a second, concluding with finality that Tabitha was indeed extremely pissed off at him right now, but he really wanted some things to be made perfectly clear right now.

"I want you to tell me the truth," Matthew started, trying to look as serious and in control as possible. "I dragged you out to fight the Khans in Shady Sands and you almost bit my head off. Are we in the same situation right now?"

"No," Tabitha replied firmly.

"Good to know. Now, I know I said I would come back if I decided to leave the vault but I didn't. And you're pissed off at me, aren't you?"

"I don't know..." she replied with uncertainty and shuffled uncomfortably before taking in a deep breath and steadying herself. "I don't know," she repeated firmly, as if challenging Matthew to complain about it.

"And Sophia and Steven? You're not gonna flip at them, are you?"

Tabitha got a murderous glint her eyes for a moment before taking a deep breath and replying through gritted teeth.

"No. This one's all you."

Matthew nodded, looking back to the rest of the crew and trying to process the responses. He really wanted to just smack her upside the head and talk it out with her, but it seemed she was determined to hold her piece and simmer. He didn't know if he was more ashamed or frustrated about this.

"Okay," Matthew nodded and walked past her towards the crowd, trying to make sense of the conversation. Trying to understand where she was coming from and what she might do. Trying to put himself in her shoes so he could be able to predict if there was going to be any trouble. He realized he couldn't and he stopped in his tracks two paces ahead of her and turned around, frustration almost turning into anger.

"Just spit it out," he demanded, angrily enough to make Tabitha pause and take half a step back. "You're not the sort of person who gets pissed at people just because of a stupid broken promise! I know I fucked up, but we're so different I don't even have an idea which part of my colossal fuck-up you're actually pissed off about, so please just fucking talk to me!"

And now Matthew thought he was in an insane dream, because after seeing a flustered Tycho he was now treated to the sight of Tabitha Bleu looking hurt, even if just a few seconds. She collected herself quickly, though, and was smirking at him before the hurt look was even registered. Then she just walked by him, giving him a brief explanation, laced with amusement and sarcasm.

"It's not you, it's me," she said.

"You alright?" Matthew heard one of the people behind him ask Tabitha as the woman rejoined him, the ginger-haired one, probably.

"I stepped out to have a talk, not fight a mutant horde," he heard the woman reply pointedly.

Stood there rooted to the ground and confused for a couple more seconds before he managed shake himself off and rejoin the group. Sophia and Steven also joined the group as a conversation began, the former looking slightly apprehensive and the latter looking relieved, of all things.

"Right. Matthew, meet Charlie, Fresno, Swinger and Morgan. Guys, Matthew."

Of the four of them, only Fresno gave him a smile and a polite hello, the others just nodding their heads and looking impatient to get back to business.

"So how the fuck are we going to do this?" Charlie asked Keri.

Keri looked at Tabitha as if she would provide an answer while Tabitha looked at Keri in the same way. The two women looked down at their feet.

Charlie opened his mouth to say something but cut himself off, sighing and running a hand over his face.

"We now know where the mutants are made," Tycho pointed out. "We have a chance to end this. There isn't really anything to do but go in there and... give it our best," he finished weakly.

"Just us and a handful of Brotherhood guys?" Charlie pointed out. "Really? Can't we at least pull some more muscle from the Hub? Or, for that matter, how come is the fucking Brotherhood only sending a couple of their own on this?"

"My dad's planning to end the whole mess in the Hub one of these days," Keri pointed out. "He'll need all the men he can get."

"The military base isn't going anywhere, can't we just wait?"

"The Brotherhood's elders have made their choice," Matthew spoke up. "They know all that you know and have ordered a small group of paladins to scout the base. They're confident they can weather this whole thing in their bunker so they're not going on the offence. Head Paladin Rhombus believes they might tip off their hand on this mission, the Brotherhood aren't exactly good at being sneaky, but he can't argue with the elders. Those paladins are going there whether we like it or not, and most likely things are going to get way worse if they fail to get in and out quietly – which they probably will. This is our one shot."

"And I thought someone bringing this whole mess into the Brotherhood's attention would be good," Tabitha quipped bitingly. "Turns out it really screws us over."

Matthew sighed.

"I've been to the Hub. I know how bad things are. You might not like to hear this, but you all know this is true: this is as good as it's going to get. I know calling things FUBAR is an understatement, but right now, we're probably not going to get a better shot at taking out the mutants."

The others chewed this over silently.

"Fuck me sideways," Charlie swore impotently as he ran his hand through his face again. Matthew just put into words the things that everybody here knew but didn't want to admit, so they all just kept staring at various directions solemnly. Everybody except one.

"None of you actually thought this would be easy, did you?" Steven asked, looking at each and every one of them in turn. "Some of us will probably die, hell, maybe all of us will, and not even every one of us is really that invested in fighting the mutants," his gaze finally settled on Tabitha, "but we have this one shot and we have to take it or leave it."

"Which one of you would be content to just walk away right now?" Tycho asked. "And throw this whole business to the side? Let things play out the way they play out?"

Tabitha chuckled.

"I've got a grudge and I ain't lettin' go!"

Charlie sighed and looked around him.

"Fuck you all," he said quietly, his voice tired and without much fight. A faint smile crossed his lips.

"We should do this," Swinger opined quietly, nodding, and looked at Charlie for approval, the other man smiling back at him and perking up – an act for the benefit of the bulkier man, Matthew realized and made a mental note of it.

"I think Lee here summed it up very accurately for us," Fresno opined, smiling.

"Fine, then," Keri nodded approvingly and crossed her hands on her chest. "Kill one for me," she told Tabitha the same way she'd tell her to go fuck herself. The other woman just rolled her eyes and looked at Matthew.

"You really have a knack for making trouble, don't you?" She looked away. "I guess we're doing this."

A low murmur started among the people and a conversation regarding the immediate logistics, like where to leave the brahmin and Morgan with Keri. Matthew looked at the people gathered here one by one. Sophia caught his stare and smiled, nodding and giving a thumbs up, though she looked somewhat ragged these days. Steven, half of his face bandaged – something he'll have to ask about later – just gave him a stiff nod. The Swinger dude looked spaced out while Fresno just followed the conversation with a warm smile. Morgan was actually sitting in her seat in front of the wagon reading a book like she was alone out here. Tycho looked like the same old Tycho, though maybe a more tired and muted version of himself.

He realized he was gone away for quite a while and things happened, things he'll have to catch up on, and the guilt he felt for having abandoned his friends was like a worm inside his stomach, eating him from within. He thought that nothing that might have happened if he'd rejoined his friends immediately after leaving the vault again could've been as bad as right now, feeling guilt-ridden, disconnected, and uncomfortable in his own skin. He looked at Tabitha who was talking with the same matter-of-fact attitude she always had when talking business. He looked at that Charlie guy observe the conversation with a look of contentment mixed with apathy. He noticed him getting in a few words and how comfortable he was around Matthew's hopefully-not-former friends and how comfortable they were with him.

He'd decided, back in the Hub, that he would try and live his life for others. He always reasoned it was a bit of a cop-out, because his thoughts about his own life were so messy it was easier to just look for a reason to go on somewhere outside rather than inside. But now he understood it wasn't exactly true. Maybe the reason why this modus operandi actually stuck, to the point where he mentally shrugged off that shotgun blast to the chest, was that it actually was an 'inner' reason. Having been alone basically all his life, mostly by choice no less, he'd learnt up here in the surface world just how much he could care about people and just how much his thinking was influenced by the way he thought the others thought of him. Yes, he would have to compensate for his previous fuck-ups somehow, for the choices he'd made while looking for something to actually hold on to in life, but unlike all the previous times, he was now facing hardship on his path and he wasn't about to back out.

He smiled a little, realising that. He tried to be a lot of things, a lot of different people, but he had a feeling this would stick. He felt like he found his way. And he reckoned that the fact he just realized it at one of the hardest moments was proof that this time it was for real.

The Wasteland

2161-05-04 11:22 AM

The following morning they said goodbye to Keri and Morgan, who were allowed to stay in the bunker as 'War-time Advisors' and set off to the north-west through the enormous sand plain, the sun painting it almost bone-white and the dark mountains to the west slowly sinking into the horizon.

The night before Rhombus took Matthew to their storage room and actually gave, or 'issued', as the man put it, him a new weapon and a set of armour. The armour was standard-issue Brotherhood combat armour, the same type of green polymer armour they found in the Glow, but this suit was heavier and had more metallic parts. Matthew found it more constricting than his previous set, but it was reportedly superior, so he decided to keep his old suit on and gave the new one to Sophia, who gave hers to Steven. Rhombus called the weapon he gave Matt 'H&K CAWS'. It was a curious-looking gun that the Head Paladin swore was the best Matt could wish for in close quarters. It was made of black polymers that didn't reflect the light and the finish was red. It fired 12 gauge shotgun shells and had an automatic mode, allowing him to fire five shots per second. The paladin informed him it wasn't the fastest an automatic shotgun could fire: the weapon was bull-up which slowed it down by placing the chamber behind the trigger, but it made it more compact and easier to control. The gun looked like a souped-up, modern version of a sawed-off with a large chamber, but its barrel was actually just a little bit shorter than the other shotguns'. The vault dweller tucked it into his backpack, relying on his sniper rifle in the open of the wasteland.

Three of the four Brotherhood members marched ahead of their column, with Darrel, the appointed leader of the mission, actually trailing behind in the back. Matthew felt his eyes upon him many times, though he could never confirm it due to the helmet. The plain looked dead during daytime, but it came alive at night, scorpions, rats and giant iguanas coming out of their holes as the temperature dropped. They'd set up camp in a seemingly random spot on the monotonous plane and kept watch two at a time, even while nobody was asleep yet, waiting around the fire for dinner to warm up. They were disturbed twice and both times the vault dweller noticed Darrel continuing to sit completely still, unmoving, taking in every detail of how the wastelanders handled the small threats while his troopers sat uneasily doing nothing.

Another paladin who came along was Weathers, the hearty woman full of good humour that Matthew knew from his previous foray with the Brotherhood. She and Bill sat by side by the fire trading stories and jokes, trying to get the wastelanders to join in the fun.

That proved to be a useless endeavour.

Weathers recounted her humorous battle against the super mutant. She laughed open-heartedly and Bill laughed along with her. Chauncey, the other Brotherhood paladin, chuckled shyly and averted his eyes from the others. Darrel and Charlie rolled their eyes and smiled on the opposite sides of the fire. Swinger, Steven and Tabitha remained impassive while Tycho, Elliott and Sophia offered polite smiles. Matt gritted his teeth.

Bill walked ahead of Matt and would turn around to say something as often as he could to keep the silent march from becoming unbearable, but the barren plains had little in the way of conversation pieces. Swinger and Charlie, both marching directly behind the paladins, would have short conversations from time to time, but they were few and Matthew couldn't hear anything anyway.

On the second evening Matthew went for an especially long piss in the wasteland, trying to clear his head and think of a way to somehow ease the tension in the group, for some reason thinking it was up to him, when he noticed Charlie following him into the night.

He stopped and waited for the merc to catch up.

"I get the feeling you hate this as much as I do," the ginger-haired man stated without preamble. Matthew nodded. "Tabitha's had a stick up her ass ever since she found out you actually left the vault – which was in Shady Sands, by the way – Tycho hasn't been the same since he almost died failing to rescue some civilians from super mutants and then brutally murdered one of the Crimson mercs, Sophia's been depressed ever since she saw how powerless she was after Steven almost killed himself – gleefully – when we were attacked by a centaur, and I'm stuck with Swinger whose brother died in said attack and who cannot function on his own. And I'm not very happy about that. So."

A thousand questions swam through the vault dweller's head in the space of a second. He opened his mouth but couldn't really find anything to say. Finally, he chuckled and shook his head slowly.

"You think I can do anything about that?"

Charlie shrugged.

"I don't know. But this group is divided. Groups like that die easily. Someone should do something."

"I'm as problem-ridden as the rest of them. Don't know if I could help."

The merc looked out into the night for a few long moments, then back to the vault dweller.

"You know Tycho and Tabitha well. And you know Steven and Sophia. And you know the Brotherhood guys better than any of us."

"So, I connect people," he frowned, "but I still don't see how that makes me capable of fixing this."

"Maybe it doesn't," Charlie shrugged, "but I reckon you have the best shot."

He considered this.

"Thanks. For letting me know."

The ginger man nodded and looked out into the wasteland.

"It might not look like it, but I usually hate complaining about things," he chuckled. "that's how fucked up it is. Anyway, I thought you need to know."

His head swam with questions as they marched along the next day, seemingly in the same spot they were marching through yesterday now that the mountains to the west were beyond the horizon. He should let Tabitha cool off and talk to her later. Maybe. He was still unsure about what to do with what she said. He needed to talk to Tycho. He needed to talk to Steven and Sophia- no, scratch that, he needed to speak to Sophia about both her and Steven. He needed to crawl into a cave somewhere, curl up and fall asleep hoping the shitstorm just passes over.

He sighed quite loudly and a few minutes later ended up beside Sophia, leading her gently away from the rest of the group, the woman biting her lower lip and looking around worriedly.

"Who talked?" she asked, guardedly.

"Charlie, actually."


They walked slowly until they were behind and to the left of the column.

"Is there anything I can do?" Matt finally asked, his voice sounding small. Sophia shook her head slowly, looking away. "I want to help. And I'm here to help. But you have to give me something to work with."

She sighed, still not looking at him.

"I know," she said. "It's hard."

"I know."

They walked along in silence. He spoke up a while later.

"Charlie says that Steven almost killed himself, quote on quote, 'gleefully'."

She sighed again.

"He pretends he doesn't care," she said, "but I think he does. I don't think anyone can not care as much as he pretends to. I think he cares a lot. And I think he pretends not to all for himself. Like as long as he's in that mindset he can carry on as normal."

"I think he's seen some bad shit."

"Yeah, I think so too."

"He won't talk about it, though."

"He'd probably have a breakdown," she considered it for a moment and then added, "we're kind of the same, huh?"


"Nobody likes to feel weak. Not in this world," she regarded the wasteland with a distasteful look.

"This thing we're doing, fighting the mutants. Do you need it?"

She considered it.

"Yes. I do."

"Do you think he needs it?"


"I thought so too."

"Do you need it?"

He considered the question.

"I don't know."

She bit her lower lip and smiled a sad smile to the wasteland.

"Thank you."

He nodded.

"I'm here to help."

"Thank you."

They walked along for a long while, enjoying each other's company in silence.

"My grandparents always said I should think for myself more," she finally said. "My other grandparents said I should try to fit in more. I think they'd all say the same about this if they were here."

"What do you want to do?"

"I want to do something. I want to amount to something. Help someone. Make a difference. But sometimes I think that I'm just foolish and should try and carry on like others do. Look only after myself and stay alive. But I can't. Not for long."

"I get it."

"You do," she sounded doubtful but he really did.

"Yeah. And I don't want anyone to die in that old military base."

She looked at him, the same sad smile still on her face.

"Do you think you can do anything about that?"

"No," he admitted. "Do you think you can actually leave your own permanent mark on the world?"

She looked away and didn't answer for a while.

"We're kind of the same, huh?" she chuckled.

"Vault dwellers," he smiled. "Children."

"How do you carry on?" she asked and looked at him expectantly. He thought about it for a few moments.

"I guess I just try really hard and run really fast and think only about the one thing I'm running towards and hope everything will be alright if I put in enough effort."

"Is that why you got yourself shot in the Glow?"

"I didn't aim to."

"But is it?"


"Does it work?"

"I'm not sure yet. I think it does. I don't know."

"And Tabitha? You lied about that, didn't you?"

"Yeah. Don't know why."

One of the giant komodos, scales the colour of the sand, was napping in the desert and got woken by the conversation and started towards them. Sophia reached for the plasma pistol at her hip holster but somehow Matthew drew his rifle faster. He ducked, aimed and shot and the bullet hit it in the head. The column stopped and some drew their weapons, and they all approached the scene.

"Fuck yeah, lizard!" Bill was grinning at the kill. "Fuck rations and rat! We're eating lizard tonight!"

Charlie cracked a smile while Bill drew his knife and looked at one of he identical figures in Power Armour.

"Permission to secure some edible food, sir?"

The figure in power armour bristled and chuckled.

"Take ten, everyone!" Darrel commanded but the entire party kept on standing where they stood, only in a slightly more relaxed manner.

Charlie and Bill moved to the dead komodo with their knives.

"Have you ever even gutted one?" Charlie smirked.

"No. Have you?"

Charlie's smirk fell and he rolled his eyes.

"No. You can't really find them anywhere but in this god-forsaken stretch of the wastes, and far out north or east, I hear."

"Oregon's swarming with them," Tabitha opined, unintentionally cutting in quite abruptly and making heads turn at the recently unusually quiet woman.

"Will you teach us, oh great trapper?" Charlie asked, mocking a bow.

She chuckled and rolled her eyes.


And she did, hovering above both of their shoulders and explaining without pause how to cut this, remove that, and what parts were good for eating in what ways. Matt didn't even register a small smile slowly spreading on his face as he watched the scene. At some point she looked up and glanced at him for just a second, then looked back down and paused for a few seconds, deep in thought, before continuing. His smile fell.

The Wasteland

2161-05-06 08:22 PM

"We're wasting our time with this," Darrel opined. Tycho disregarded the man and kept looking at the distant figure through his binoculars. The figure was a woman in ratty brahmin-leather clothes, squatting in the sand and relieving herself next to the small derelict gas station in the distance.

"At least one person," Tycho reported mechanically. "Woman. Ratty clothes. No guns on her that I can see."

He put the binoculars down and looked at the gathered mercenaries and Brotherhood soldiers. They were all waiting impatiently, occasionally glancing towards the setting sun that painted the desert orange with more and more red mixed in with every passing minute, all thinking the same: nights in this part of the wasteland suck and can we please get on with securing a roof over our heads for the night. The ranger sympathised.

"If there are people inside, we can just throw them out," Darrel, the leader of the Brotherhood segment of their little outfit, stated.

"And hope they don't decide to return the favour when the night falls," Tabitha opined, the ranger knowing all too well exactly what she was suggesting.

"Maybe a lighter touch?" Elliott offered calmly. "Let's just see what sort of people they are and then we decide."

Tabitha looked him up and down with a frown.

The ranger cleared his throat.

"Let's approach them and see. There's gonna be time for killing them in cold blood after that, if the situation warrants it," he said a lot more coldly and with a lot more detachment than he ever had. Tabitha bore her eyes into his for a moment and then shrugged.

"Fine," she said, "the two of you can go on in."

"I truly hope we can solve this without bloodshed," Elliott said to Tycho when they were halfway to the gas station. The ranger looked ahead. The woman was done answering the call of nature and was already inside. He looked behind him. Those not in power armour were on the move, approaching the building from the sides in order to jump in and help them if things went south. He looked ahead again, to the gas station.

"Reckon they can see us comin'?"

Elliot glanced at him and smiled, then shrugged, and the ranger's question was answered ten meters from the door, when a very tall and wiry man poked his head outside. He wore a pair of ancient pre-war jeans, almost as many holes as fabric on them, and a grey sweater. A battered-looking hunting rifle was slung across his back. The man's face was dirty and otherwise nondescript, his long brown hair in a pony -tail.

"Hey there!" the man hailed and waved his hand in greeting, smiling warmly and shuffling on his feet. The two men stopped.

"Hey, friend," Elliott smiled back, "I'm Elliott and this is Tycho. We're looking for a place to stay for the night."

"Well head on in," the man's smile broadened. "Plenty of space for all of us."

The little gas station was like any other you could expect to find in the wasteland: the walls and ceilings cracked, all manner of rubbish strewn on the floor, and everything covered with a thick layer of dust which was all you could smell inside. The large front window was gone and the folks had a fire going near it, hidden from any curious critters outside behind one of the shelves.

"Settle down, settle down!" the man urged. "We were just about to get us some dinner!"

The two men nodded their thanks and sat down by the fire. There were only two other people here. The first was the Hispanic woman on his left, the one Tycho saw outside. Up close he noticed the wicked-looking cleaver strapped to her thigh. The other was an older-looking man in the same brahmin-skin getup, a small revolver holstered on his thigh.

"Name's Ethan," the tall smiling man introduced himself as he sat down between his comrades. "This is Sandy and Al. Would you like some dinner?"

Tycho looked at the meagre meal the folks were cooking, a few slices of meat on a spit over the fire, and shook his head and opened his bag and produced a some bread and cheese, noticing Elliott do the same.

"We have our own food, thank you," the man replied warmly. "We don't want to impose any more than we already have."

"Nonsense!" the man waved the idea away. "We're glad to have you! I swear I get sick and tired of having no one to talk to but these two."

The older man turned the spit on the fire, his brown eyes not losing sight of the meat for a second while the girl just watched the fire, shivering, as if it was all that mattered and the entire world could go fuck itself in the meantime.

"Where're you headed?" Tycho asked in what he hoped was a neutral tone.

"Southeast, to Junktown," the man replied. "Haven't been home for a long time, you see," he smiled.

"Junktown? You're awfully far from home."

The man shrugged, his smile not wavering.

"What can I say, I like to wander the wastes. We all do."

Tycho nodded.

"Where are you to travellin'?"

"West," the ranger replied. "Seeking fortune. Heard there was some pre-war base or something thataways. Figured we'd take a look."

The tall man, Ethan, rubbed his chin and the scratched his head with his shaky fingers, thinking.

"Never heard of it," he said, "which means odds are no other fortune seekers got there before you."

"You could come with us if you'd like," Elliott offered.

"Nah," Ethan waved him off, "not our style. We usually hunt and find work in the cities. We just came from Sunnytown. Ever been to Sunnytown?"

The two men shook their heads. Al turned the meat again.

"Good place," Ethan continued. "The people don't have much but they make do. Don't know how, but they just do. Know things about the wasteland I never even dreamed of. You can set one loose in these here sandy plains, and they'll somehow find food and water to survive for months. The folks know the wastes. I swear to god, I've never seen a bunch of healthier-looking people. Despite living in dirt and old old piles of brick, you know?"

"Sounds like one could learn a lot from them," Elliott opined.

"Aye, we tried," Ethan chuckled. "I had a gal tell me about gettin' water from a cactus. Didn't understand a word. Sounded like some magic mumbo-jumbo."

Al removed the spit from the fire and took the meat slices off with an old fork and divided them between three plates. Sandy seemed to have woken from her slumber and produced a half-loaf of cornbread from a bag and divided it between her companions.

"You're all three from Junktown?" Tycho asked.

"Sandy and I are. Al here's from Boneyard but he got fed up with them and left."


The man took his plate of meat and cornbread, his gaze never leaving his food, and answered in a low, gravelly voice.

"Trouble with the sheriff's daughter."

"Long story," Ethan waved it off again. "Say, wouldya like some o'this? Al might be a tactless grouch, but he could even make roaches taste amazing!"

"I don't want to impose..." Elliott started, but was cut off by the man.

"Nonesense! We've got a lot more o'that where it came from! We're just savin', you see. Al's cookin' sells well at any place! Go ahead, it's just a bite! I dare you to say it's not the best you ever eaten!"

Elliott flustered for a few seconds but took the offered piece of meat. He chewed it three times and then stopped, frowning. Then his eyes bulged and he continued chewing with three times the vigour.

"This is amazing," the man nodded in agreement.

"Would you believe it's molerat?"

"Molerat?" Elliot looked at Al, then Ethan, and then Al again. "No, I would not. You, sir, are one hell of a cook!"

All just nodded in response, continuing to eat mechanically.

"Did you encounter any mutants on the way here?" Elliott asked, smiling, all warmed up to the strangers. "Heard rumours that there's quite a lot out there."

"Ah, we did, once!" Ethan replied with the same enthusiasm as before despite the subject. "Sandy here has eagle eyes, she does, she spotted them on the horizon and we hit the ground right away!"

"The big ones? The super mutants?"

"Don't know what they're called, my friend, but she tells me that they were big, weren't they?"

Sandy continued eating, oblivious to the conversation.

"Weren't they?"the smiling man repeated. "Sandy!"

The woman jumped up and looked around, her meal almost falling out of her plate.


"I said we saw some pretty big mutants and we ducked right quick, didn't we?"

"Yeah. Very big," the woman replied, frowning, as if the man just did something insulting.

"Grouchy, isn't she?" Ethan smiled. "That's why I like the company of others."

"I see," Elliot replied and finished his own food, wiping his hands on the thighs of his armour. "Grouchy indeed. 'Scuse me for a moment. Gotta take a leak."

He stood up and walked out of the room.

"What about you?" the smiling man asked. "Aren't you afraid of the mutants?"

"Elliott there has a good set of eyes as well," he replied neutrally. "We've dodged them once. Kind of hopin' that place we're looking for isn't crawling with them. Did you see any back north?"

Ethan tilted his head sideways, thinking.

"Nope. Afraid we didn't see hide nor hair of those creatures there. What would they be doin' up there anyways? Nothing worthwhile up there."

"What about Sunnytown?"

"They'd see trouble comin' fifty miles away and be gone before they're forty-nine away," he chuckled. "They're that good."

The ranger nodded.

"Good. Good that someone knows how to survive in this world by using what they've got and what the dessert can give. Many people nowadays turn to raiding and stealing."

"Times are hard," he shrugged. "People make do with what skills they have."

"And if it's hurting others then it doesn't matter?"

Ethan chuckled.

"My friend, I don't reckon this land can feed the amount of people that're still around. When a man hasn't eaten in days, he doesn't ask what's good and what's bad, they just do what they know they can do and try and survive."

"Survival of the fittest."

"Or the most skilled. Sunnytown, that place is gonna be around forever because those people have mad skills at surviving in the wastes. Others aren't so lucky to know the stuff they do."

"It's sad I never even heard of it while the most well-known city in the..."

An automatic rifle shot behind them cut the ranger off. A bullet embedded itself in the wall behind Ethan, missing his head by centimetres. Tycho ducked his head instinctively, drawing his side-arm and pointing it at the door and saw Elliot standing there, his AK-112 shouldered, eye down the sights.

"Up, the three of you," the man demanded through gritted teeth. Tycho never heard him speak so venomously before. He stood up too and took a couple of steps towards the young merc.


"They're cannibals," he said through gritted teeth. "The meat they're eating – human, I know what it tastes like. And I know those shakes you got there."

Tycho looked back at the trio, standing with their arms up. Al didn't seem to care about the situation while Sandy was frowning, her stance betraying that she was ready to dart off at any moment. Ethan had his arms up as well and that incessant smile on his face was replaced by a mask of impassiveness and bitterness.

"We're not going to eat you," he said, making it sound like they were being ridiculous. "I told you, we've got enough food as it is. There's no need for this."

Despite his previously sunny disposition and his shaking hands the man looked the very embodiment of calm.

"I wasn't worried you were going to eat us because you wouldn't be able to kill us first," Elliott spat back, the other man shrugging as if he had a point. "It's just that I can't come across a bunch of filthy cannibals and let them live."

Ethan sighed.

"Ah, so you're one of the righteous types? Good for you."

"What you're doing is wrong," Tycho pointed out, knowing full well how lame it sounded before he was finished saying it. His gun, trained on the woman, slacked in his hand and he had to make himself snap out of it to raise it up to her again.

"Don't preach your righteous fucking sermon to us," Ethan rebutted coldly. "I bet you never had to starve, have you? You're a spoiled old man, right? A stuck up asshole who never had to work hard and had everything handed to him. Only people like you, with too much time on their hands and not enough worries, get retarded enough to use such a line."

"It's not about righteousness," Elliot countered. "We will kill you here and the people you would've killed if we hadn't will get to live. Maybe one or more of them will even contribute to society and make life just a little bit better for everyone else. You sure as hell won't so I'm willing to take that chance."

Tycho frowned. That made sense. He straightened up and fixed his posture, the weapon now trained on the cannibal woman with skill and obvious intent to kill.

"Any last words?" Elliott asked.

"Go fuck yourself."

Elliott opened fire, the 5.56 rounds embedding themselves in a crooked line across Ethan's stomach, the gas station wall, and Al's chest. Sandy ducked at the sound and tried to dash for cover. The ranger shot her a split second later, in the ribs standing sideways. She cried out and fell on the floor and without missing a beat the ranger took one step in her direction and shot her in the temple.

All his life, when he'd kill people like these before, he'd feel a rush of righteousness and optimism. This time he felt no such thing. He felt nothing apart from slight relief that comes after a firefight you survive, and a little bit of hope. He imagined the people they might have eaten but now won't get the chance to. There's hope in that.

"All clear!" Elliott yelled behind him. The ranger looked at the man, seething but doing his best to keep it in.

A second later a man in power armour walked in, and the rest of the group followed.

"Let's just clear the bodies and get settled," Darrel ordered somewhat grouchily, shouldering past the ranger, taking a cannibal under each of his arms and leaving.

"Why didn't you guys come in when you heard the first shot?" Tycho asked.

"He asked us not to," Tabitha replied, pointing her chin at Elliott, who was picking up his backpack from the floor. The man ignored the exchange and dropped his back in the corner of the station and started unrolling his sleeping bag. The ranger sighed. He rolled out his own sleeping bag next to the hallway to the bathrooms in the back and when he got back to the fire everyone was either sitting around it or finishing up with their own sleeping arrangements. Elliott passed a bottle of scotch to the power armoured figure to his right as the ranger sat down and the armoured figure took off their helmet, revealing themselves to be Weathers, who took a gulp of the scotch, winced, and passed it on.

"I gotta say, this booze really grows on you quick," she said, grinning.

"What do you drink in the bunker?" Matthew asked. "Spirit? Synthesized alcohol?"

"Water," she replied and rolled her eyes. "I had half a bottle of bourbon once, though. Found it on patrol. Drank the whole thing in minutes and kept swearing I'd never, ever drink again over and over for the next couple of hours and days."

"I didn't hear that," another person in power armour remarked in Darrel's voice.

The rest of the evening went by pretty much like all the others had, with conversation starting up and dying out quickly enough, only to be laborious started up again by the joined efforts and Matt and Bill, both of them looking that much more tired from it. The ranger thought it was nice to see the effort. As the first couple of people made their way to their sleeping bags Elliott stood up and went outside and Tycho followed a minute later. The younger man was leaning against the wall, smoking. The ranger took a cigarette from his own pack an approached him.

"Got a light?"

He got his cigarette lit and exhaled the smoke slowly, leaning on the wall beside the younger man.

"I liked what you said to those cannibals," he said. "About saving lives they would take." The man shrugged.

"It's the truth."

"I never looked at it like that. My dad always used to say cannibals were bad because they're bad."

"They are bad."

Tycho took another drag and exhaled. Having thought through the events of the evening he thought he finally understood what made the man do what he did.

"How do you know what human tastes like?" he asked.

Elliott flicked the ashes off the tip of his cigarette again and again and again.

"Was taken in by these strangers in the wasteland when my folks died," he replied. "I was little and the meat they cooked was sweet. I liked it until I learnt what it was. Thought of running away but I would've died. Tried not eating out of principle but couldn't hold out long," he took a long drag of his cigarette and continued, "never really hated them for it. I ate it too even though it was wrong because I was hungry, real hungry. It was years before I could move on on my own and I did. Never saw them again. Don't even hate them," he smiled.

"I think what I said was true but I didn't do it because of that," he continued. "I didn't think about all the people they'd kill when I decided to kill them. I just thought it was wrong and they deserved to die. And it was wrong because of all the people they'd kill."

The ranger frowned for a second, mulling the nonsensical sentences over, and then smiled when realization hit him.

"My dad never used to tell me why this or that was wrong," the ranger said. "He just said it was and I never questioned it."

"Wrong's what you determine to be wrong," Elliott nodded. "You think things over and then you pass judgement and label them. And when you have to make the decision you just use those terms like bookmarks. Quickly. Instinctively. Many folks know right from wrong as their parents taught them, but they don't understand. At least they don't hurt anyone that way, usually, so I don't complain."

The ranger shifted uncomfortably and took a drag of the cigarette and tossed the rest of it into the gathering darkness.

"Gonna head on back," he said, his words materialising as pale white smoke from his mouth. "Gotta get some rest. We're close now."

Elliott nodded and flicked his cigarette away and the two men returned to the gas station.

Mariposa Military Base

2161-05-06 10:41 PM

The super mutant Lieutenant frowned as he walked through the hallways of Mariposa yet again, the dirtiness and disarray of the place having seemingly increased since the last time he was here. There was another mutant mutant up ahead, giving instructions to a human in purple robes. The human left and the mutant looked up and straightened up and saluted.

"Lieutenant! Good to have you back."

"You too, Artemis," the mutant saluted back and put his hand on the mutant's shoulder, the other responding in kind. Artemis was larger than the other mutants, much stronger and smarter, and his armour, shining metal plates on his shoulders and chest, as well as his position as one of the Lieutenant's bodyguards and assistants, reflected that.

"I was just instructing the Children to get some of the programming errors in the maintenance Handys sorted out," he reported as they both continued down the hallway. "It seems that without your presence the other meta-humans grew restless, and this place became that much filthier."

"I hope you didn't have too much trouble without me."

"No, they're all good people here, but they love you and they don't like you being away. I heard the Necropolis mission was a success?"

The larger mutant chuckled.

"There was never a chance for success for this is not one of those endeavours. It was just a pointless little undertaking to appease that human wretch. Necropolis is useless to us. Then again, it seems it was more of a failure than it should've been."

"How so?"

"A human found their way in and out of the city. The other humans will know of this soon."

"Why does it matter? They didn't like us before and they won't like us now. And it's not like they will be able to mount a resistance we couldn't crush, even if they know we're on the move. It's just that depending on what they saw the Children might have a harder time but..." the mutant left the sentence dangling.

"No matter how confident we are of our power, being cautious never hurts. Our people bleed and die if enough force is applied and more of them might indeed bleed and die because of this."

The two mutants entered an elevator.

"Speaking of the Mr. Handy robots," the lieutenant continued, "I'll need you to make sure one of them has the Rhonda Hightower program downloaded and functional, and I'll want the robot presented to Tabitha. She'll be in one of the cells."

"A Mr. Handy? Didn't she have an eyebot?"

"Shot down in Necropolis. She took it quite hard, predictably."

The two mutants exited the elevator into the lower levels of the base, where the more important facilities were located and the more important people worked. It was decidedly cleaner.

"Sir, if I may..."

The larger mutant nodded.

"Why are we pampering Tabitha so much? She's stronger than most of her kin, but she's also more unstable. Is the investment worth it?"

They stopped in front of the Lieutenant's office.

"I remember when you emerged from the vats, Artemis. You were one of the first. You would kick and scream and smash things because the base was so untidy. And any humans you captured would be stripped of their clothes and their wasteland shelters kicked apart because the very sight of ragged cloth and dirty dwellings drove you beyond mad."

If the mutant felt uncomfortable he didn't show it.

"But I knew then that in time you would turn out to be someone special. And I was right! A few months later I took you in as my assistant and since then you've been single-handedly making sure everything runs smoothly in this base. You cleaned it up and kept it clean. You created homes and facilities for our kin. Most of our kind have a rocky beginning, but when you've seen as much as I've seen you learn to see meta-humans for what they can be. And despite her... difficulties... I believe Tabitha will be capable of great things in the future. When we take over this wasteland, she might even be placed as governor of a settlement or a few. She has the knack for it, and the drive. All we need to do is help her through these turbulent times."

The mutant sighed and nodded.

"I trust your wisdom, Lieutenant."

The mutant's lip's stretched a little in a mutant version of a smile and he patted his friend on the shoulder and opened the door to his office.

"You're perceptive. You see what I see though you don't know it yet. Trust me on this. Now, I'll be in my office, making preparations."

The mutant moved inside and sat down on a collection of cider blocks by a dining table for six that substituted as his working desk.

"Preparations, sir?"

"Yes. It might have been against our will, but we made a move. We set the ball rolling and we're not going to try and catch it. We will use the momentum and strike out, from Necropolis to the Hub, to Junktown and Shady Sands, to the Boneyard and then any place we wish," the mutant bared his teeth. "It has already started. Humanity will fall as Unity rises!"