Disclaimer: I do not own Fallout, the Fallout Universe, nor any characters originating from the games of Fallout in publication or unreleased. This work of fiction does not, in any way, generate profit for the writer.

Between Two Cities

Chapter 11.) State of the Future

Grayditch was losing the luster as the crown jewel of the Capital Wasteland with each passing day. Stories of intrigue, adventure, and new economic opportunities were sprouting up around the Capital Wasteland and its environs. Rivet City, Canterbury Commons, and Tenpenny Tower were all expanding. Henry Fleet and the Grayditch City Council were upset at these revelations, because their gains seemed to express a loss to the community they were building. There was a positive upswing with the revelation of the first Five Settlement Talks, however other communities felt disadvantaged for not being welcomed to the initial meeting. The townships of Drayden, Saint Mar, and Point Lookout created a loose collective of intellectuals, common men, and wealthy families to address these concerns. Stylized as the Sons and Daughters of Maryland, they sought to be a counterbalance to Fleet and his plans.

The Mayor of Grayditch didn't fear this upstart group, instead he maintained his calm and relied on his skills as a political operator with a silver tongue to co-opt the Sons and Daughters of Maryland into his grand design. Reports from his couriers, his own private force of information and intelligence gatherers, reported that talk of the people was to see a set plan for the future. This sentiment had been spurred forward by Three Dog as he recorded a whole series on the original founding of the United States of America with the curator of the Capitol Preservation Society. Abraham Washington's multipart discussion brought interest from around the Wasteland to see these documents, which most could not read, that they now heard on loop from Galaxy News Radio. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights ignited an interest in the masses that had been dormant since the great conflagration that led to the modern era. The survivors of the Great War have lived a life that was nasty, brutish, and short for over two hundred years because they lived in a natural and continuous state of war. A concept of justice from modern day morality and ancient legal systems for townships, villages, and hamlets needed shape. Lack of constant conflict gave way for a new order, the state of war was giving way to a new future.

Fleet's true fear was not being in control of this new order, just as he was not in control of Tenpenny. Arrogance had led the Brotherhood of Steel to turn a blind eye on the gilded tower because it represented neither a strategic location, nor a high value cache of military technology. Fleet's intelligence network reported seeing white combat armored guards outside of Tenpenny Tower, including in the tent city that had been created in its shadow. Fleet was well aware of Slagertown and the small kingdom that Allistair was creating to the west of Grayditch. To what end this immigrant was striving towards grew fear in Henry Fleet, he knew it was his blind spot.

His reliance on the Brotherhood of Steel knew that they would not get wrapped into the political quagmire that was between Tenpenny Tower and Grayditch. Instead, the men and women in power armor suits had made strong inroads in the fight against Super Mutants. Anacostia Crossing had been declared safe for inhabitation, while L'Enfant Plaza was moved up as the next forward operating base to reclaim the D.C. Ruins. Rivet City citizens brave enough, or sick with rust lungs, made the move off the boat and into temporary shacks as the excavation of Anacostia opened more room to live. Old office buildings had been stripped of anything useful long ago and now collected debris, rubble, and silt from the rains. Some of the floors higher up had not fully collapsed, and would make great living spaces once connected and rehabilitated.

Expansion off the boat could only be possible from a fully functional hydroponic system. Two new technicians, their origins a mystery to most residents, claimed to have met Dr. Madison Li as they traveled from the north. Word had spread about Project Purity, which inspired these technicians to leave their lives and migrate south. Their shared knowledge and experience led to them being quickly welcomed in the safest settlement in the Capital Wasteland. Furthermore, it was their collective genius that led to a simple water system being established in what they called a closed aqueduct that led to a homemade cistern that was accessible to both Rivet City and Anacostia Crossing. A hydroponic system for fresh vegetables and fruits was easier to begin, once the planters were moved to the top deck to get natural sunlight. The plan was that by Spring, they would begin to plant maize, punga, and other substantial crops. For now, the focus was on root vegetables.

Fleet's reflections turned to the Brotherhood of Steel and how they were running the best public relations campaign in Post-Apocalyptic America. Food was flown in from Drayden, Aqua Pura was distributed from Adams' Airforce Base, and positive stories littered the airwaves of Galaxy News Radio. Couriers reported that the Sons and Daughters of Maryland respected and depended on the Brotherhood despite the latter's clear support for Grayditch and the Five Settlement Talks. Fleet didn't know how Elder Rothchild and Head Scribe Jameson managed it, though he was still awed by their deft political machinations. Anti-Brotherhood sentiment also subsided in Grayditch after the trial, the reveal of the Five Settlement Talks, and the subsequent support by the then excluded Brotherhood of Steel. The more hardcore supporters of the Five Settlement Talks, namely Grayditch citizens, wore navy blue ribbons with a red fist superimposed on white five-point star. A cockade for a new age, Mayor Fleet wholeheartedly endorsed the move and proudly adorned it on his right breast, or upon his hat.

While the luster was waning, petitioners were entreating Mayor Fleet and the City Council to join the talks after contact was made by Grayditch couriers. Arefu, Big Town, and Minefield sent representatives and letters of introduction. Leverage was the cornerstone to any political dealings, one of the many strings he was following included the pseudo-security cult that called themselves The Family. Their leader was a man named Vance, whose identity was made up of more myth than fact, and Fleet's network was finding it hard to crack into that organization. Other settlements, those that were unknown due to distance or purposefully hiding, came out of the woodworks to make themselves known. South of the D.C. Ruins a small hamlet named Massoneck was one of those settlements. Far enough from the direct bombings of Washington, D.C. and but close enough to see Quantico set ablaze, campers, survivalists, marines, and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents made their way to the untouched national wildlife reserve. Their numbers were bolstered by refugees from surrounding areas seeking a reprieve from war, radiation, or starvation. Combined knowledge of survival, institutional order, and Pre-War American values as a community of collective well-being and conservative relationships.

Fleet had just finished talking with their representative, a rather thick necked middle aged man of impressive physique named Buzz O'Neill. The circles of conversation that Fleet and O'Neill traversed had left the Mayor of Grayditch exhausted and dizzy. He would rather have his back three molars forcibly removed before he talked with that man again. In his office, Fleet attempted to steady his mind and recollect the three couriers he had sent out just the other week. One courier each was sent to Paradise Falls, Evergreen Mills, and Canterbury Commons. A knock on the door broke him from his racing mind. The door opened after the Mayor instructed the person in. Marshall Lawson held a box in his old gnarled fingers, his crescent scar visible through his hair and beard. His duster was soaked through, the rainy season had truly flooded the streets, the box was sodden as well with the stain of blood in the corner.

The ex-Regulator and local Sheriff of Grayditch crossed the room and placed the box on Fleet's desk. A red tint of blood spreading to the copious amounts of paper that cluttered the desk. Lawson flipped open the old cardboard box to reveal the pungent smell of decay. Fleet tentatively put his hands in the box and removed the severed head of his courier. Bloatflies had already laid eggs in its mouth and larva was slowly eating the decaying flesh and muscles from the skull. Etched into the forehead of the courier were two letters: NO. Evergreen Mills had given Grayditch their answer. Ever the exemplars of their names, the Independents would consider no conversation with settlements that they preyed upon for filling their slave pens to mine the quarry.

Lawson picked up the offending head by the scruff of their hair, replacing it into the box for disposal. His hardened squint behind bushy whiskers and long hair tucked under a well-worn hat betrayed the phrase: Don't say I didn't warn you. However, the taciturn man would not utter those words to any person, Fleet had no qualms telling the former bounty hunter to shut up. Duster whipping around in the room, casting off muck and rain water to the walls, Marshall began to walk out of the room. Squeak of the ancient hinges of a door would have signaled his exit had it not been for the whirlwind entrance of one maroon clad scribe as she walked with intention.

"Good, you're here too," Head Scribe Jameson motioned to Marshall Lawson, "both of you. Have you heard of reports, or experienced an increased rate of theft of food or other essentials of daily life?"

Mayor Fleet's stare was blank as his hands instinctively moved to the paperwork that cluttered his desk, a few pages sodden with the blood of the dead courier's head in the box, "I've been...focused on a few other matters...petitions from refugees….newcomers….this upcoming convention."

"You are still the Mayor of this city," scolded Elizabeth Jameson as she turned to Lawson, "and you seem rather taciturn...more so than usual."

Marshall crossed his arms, connecting the two sides of his well worn duster. In response he grunted affirmation, crossed the room and looked out the window to the wet, dirty, and narrow alleyways that made up his city. On the street, people walked about in relative safety. The truth of the Enclave, Yao Guais, and other things that go bump in the night were always present, but their illusion of safety was ever present. Lawson knew that his job was to ensure that safety, uphold the laws that ensured that safety, and at points admit that help was needed.

"We've had over a dozen reports of theft food," answered the law man as stared down the winding paths and alleyways, "in the last week. Previously we only had a dozen claims in four months."

"Then it's true." The statement was more of Jameson thinking out loud than any other type of declaration. "Marshall, Henry, it seems that Grayditch has been infiltrated by agents of the Commonwealth."

"What the hell are you on about," demanded the mayor of Grayditch.

Marshall Lawson's response was more tempered as he waited for the Head Scribe to explain further. Jameson brushed the silvered hair that curtained her face behind her ears. Marshall adjusted his posture, facing the Brotherhood of Steel Scribe with his full attention. Henry Fleet came from around the table, getting closer to Elizabeth. She held up her hand and looked at the Mayor of the city built out of ruins.

"Calm down, Henry," she stated simply, her hand still raised as Fleet backed away to his desk. "It is not just Grayditch. Similar reports have arrived from Rivet City, the Freedmen Compound in the Mall, and the ghoul city of Underworld. Houses have been broken into, food stores removed from shops, and medical supplies have been stolen. The thieves have barely left a trace because they are well trained in the subterfuge, burglary, and infiltration."

"The Commonwealth is under the Brotherhood's tenancy," stated Marshall Lawson, the unsaid question was accusing the para-military power of allowing this to occur.

"We were first informed about this from one of our Knights being offered a gift from one of the Commonwealth's members," she pursed her lips at a senior Knight accepting a bribe, "said Knight has been court martialed. However, the details of this...gift...confirmed that the Commonwealth had begun to use an ancient tunnel system under their encampment to gain access outside of the cordon. A timetable has been confirmed for the events as of late, your information only confirming further."

"Don't they have their own food that they brought," Fleet was flabbergasted that a foreign entity was able to hoodwink the Brotherhood of Steel.

"Their resources are finite." Jameson answered matter of fact, "we can replenish our food stuffs from trade amongst the farms, they are wholly dependent on assistance from the Brotherhood of Steel."

"And what will the Brotherhood do about these...thefts!?" Fleet was indignant, taking the objective statement personally.

"Henry, please understand the delicate situation we have here," discussing realpolitik and international relations with an individual that up until the events of the past few years only had an understanding of the outside world as far as a rock could be thrown. In a different era, a Secretary of State, or chief diplomat in the foreign service, would have been better suited for these occasions. Instead, they now have to deal with a bounty hunter taking on the modus operandi of western lawmen; a mayor of a ruin city that saw himself as the reincarnation of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; and book smart scholar that can field strip an AER9 laser rifle blindfolded but has not been in a conflagration since she was an initiate.

Jameson continued, "we cannot let others know that the Commonwealth can break our cordon. Likewise, we cannot actively facilitate detention of those on the other side of the cordon because that would admit that they were able to pass through the lines of the Brotherhood of Steel. If we try to close off these tunnels, the Commonwealth will know that we know they are using them. However, if we monitor them continuously we can utilize it against them later on."

"You are asking me to sit on this information and not enforce the law," Marshall Lawson's dower look reinforced the growl in his voice, "I cannot shirk the safety of my city."

"This isn't about not upholding the law, just making you aware of this situation," warned the Brotherhood Scribe. "We want you to catch those perpetrating these thefts. Bring them to our attention as they are foreign nationals and not citizens of Grayditch or any township in the Capital."

"To be used as leverage against the Commonwealth," Henry shook his head, he utilized his network of couriers for the same purpose - yet something about the Brotherhood's actions seemed to lessen the dignity and esteem so many placed in these power armor clad knights.

"The Marshalls will do your dirty work," Lawson growled as he moved to the door, "my people will take the scars while you Brotherhood type spin your gears."

"It is nothing like that, Marshall," Elizabeth crossed her arms in an instinctive move that showed a defensive body language, she slugged her shoulders quickly to try to diminish the physical tell. "This is how we all combat those that wish to tear what has been built since the Brotherhood - Enclave war. We have to be ever vigilant and fiercely independent."

The tension between the three parties was not alleviated in that meeting. In the back of the mind of Mayor Fleet was the silent influx of new immigrants to Grayditch with little to no vetting, whether they were Commonwealth infiltrators, possibly Raiders of ill repute, or just a family of survivors trying to make their way in these new times. Marshall Lawson did not inform the Mayor on the extensive files he began to keep on all residents of Grayditch. Marshall's Men, the Regulators that Sonora Cruz had partnered with, were tasked with the safety of certain VIPs and now tracking those who enter the city as potential threats. Grayditch's guards were stretched thin, Marshall was impressing Fleet to drive for an enrollment bonus of extra food rations to increase numbers. Jameson knew what Marshall was working on, her own informants kept her supplied with updates, and to support the effort extended increased rations of Aqua Pura. Elizabeth had the unenviable task of balancing the large amounts of information from her work with Scribe Yearling and the passive informant network created by the BIOS team with what others thought she knew. The little bit of information she had shared with the Mayor and Security head of Grayditch was to put in motion a game of cat and mouse for leverage over the Commonwealth. Already, reports from Ban and Newton proved that the pressure was mounting in the foreign reservation created for the Commonwealth.

Three days had passed since the Mayor of Grayditch had heard the intelligence from the Brotherhood of Steel. A brief rap on the door acknowledged the entrance of Marshall Lawson, a scowl defining his bearded visage, as he escorted a guest worthy of the Regulator's disdain. Clad in his best travel suit of royal purple was Eulogy Jones, his brimmed hat tipped to the side in a jaunty fashion. The slave trader of Paradise Falls was notorious throughout all of the Capital Wasteland, either as one of the better people to deal with or the worst human in this parcel of the world. His slave trade empire stretched from the three rivers that converge at the Pitt to the Broken Banks on the Carolina shores. Marshall Lawson would have put a bullet squarely in the gray matter of such a man. Henry Fleet shook hands with Eulogy Jones instead, persona non grata of the Regulators, Brotherhood of Steel, and most non slave owning townships of the Capital Wasteland.

"A warmer welcome than I had been expecting from any leader of a Free Town," smiled Eulogy widely, the former Regulator knew the slaver had a team of a dozen well armed people waiting outside of the town. Carolina Red was already in the city for a few days, securing certain routes in and out of the town, should the need arise. Eulogy Jones did not get to his infamous standing in the Capital Wasteland through a lack of intelligence. He knew to strike at opportunities when they came around, even if he didn't create those opportunities himself.

"All leaders are respected in Grayditch, Mister Jones, even those that may not have the best reputations with certain groups," cooed Mayor Fleet as he indicated a chair in front of his desk, "please join me."

Eulogy held the purple lapels of his traveling suit, his thumb pressing a white flower in his buttonhole forward, "You hear that, Reg? Mistah Jones, why I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of being treated so nice outside of my little establishment of Paradise Falls."

Marshall Lawson was sickened by the slave trader's Cheshire smile; Henry Fleet informed the lawman that he could leave, "with pleasure."

"'With pleasure'," mimicked Eulogy Jones as he removed his hat, sat down, his slender left leg crossing on top of the right when his wide brim purple hat resting on his left knee, "where did you pick up that Reg, the backside of a brahmin?"

"I can attest that man is as serious as deathclaw cavern. I'll give you that he may have broken his funny bone as a Regulator, and retirement hasn't mended it," Henry had joked while Eulogy's face betrayed no amusement.

"Cut the crap, you said you wanted to speak with me and my time is money," Jones pointed to a broken large faced pre-war wristwatch, "I don't see any money on the table, and what do they say about time, Mayor? That's right, it's fleeting."

Mayor Fleet laughed nervously at the pun from the man in front him, the most dangerous slave master in all of the Capital Wasteland, "I'm certain you know our position...in this current climate, as it were. Things are...tough out there for all of us…."

Jones raised his hand, his ring and pinky finger curled down, his middle and index finger pointed up and held together. He waved his hand palm facing the mayor slowly from side to side. "Save the speech for the common rabble. I'm here for real talk."

Henry sighed heavily, "we...I need a man like you, with me, for what we're trying to build here."

The largest smile broke over Jones' face that it nearly went from ear-to-ear, "Henry, I'm going to call you Henry. You have support from those so-called lawmen bounty hunters and that techno-religious cult. Why would you need the boogeyman to the wasteland on your side? Every man, woman, child, ghoul, and what-have-you tells horror stories about the 'Scary ol' Slave Runners from Paradise Falls'. Are you certain this is the man you think can be accepted in this 'current climate'".

Henry Fleet sat back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, "I need your caps," he declared directly as the slave merchant laughed out loud in one bark.

"It's always about caps, Henry," Jones waved away his statement languidly like one would try to smoke from a finely rolled pre-war cigar, he sat back into his chair, "what you don't have, is my attention. Interest me, Henry."

"You are already a settlement leader, as we can call Paradise Falls a settlement, which gives you certain...rights, titles, and privileges…," the Mayor of Grayditch began the negotiations of Paradise Falls in joining and expanding what had started as the Five Settlement Talks.

Shaking his head side-to-side slowly, Eulogy Jones, picked up his hat, switched his right leg to be bent over his left leg and rested his hat on his elongated and pointed kneecap, "Henry, Henry, Henry. I already have caps, power, and infamy. I'm still sitting here because there is something I want, but I want you to say it first."

Fleet unfurled a roughly hewn map of the area around the Potomac River, points and markers indicated current settlements along with points under direct control of the Brotherhood of Steel, "the land from the Broadcast tower KB5 to the remains of Reclining Groves Rest Homes, as far south as Roosevelt Academy and Hallowed Moors Cemetery would be under your ownership, and whoever you wish to designate it to inherit."

Jones got up and leaned over the map, "I'm curious where you received this idea from, Henry. My guess is there is a leak in my operation because this is exactly what I looked to discuss."

"My confidential information comes from...ahem...confidential sources," explained Fleet as he still held the map in place on the desk. "Information leads to power, Mister Jones. It's also beneficial in...negotiations with potential partners. Didn't the Soviets have a saying before the Great War: Trust, but verify. You are the bastard child of Harmon Jurley and Penelope Chase, orphaned after the death of your mother during the sack of Rockopolois. Your youth is a mystery, but you come out of the wastes, kill half of the Jurley slave trading outfit and turn the other half to be under your command at the age of 19. I heard a rumor you had a little assistance with the cook and the help of radscorpion venom. I will never understand how you made that foul tasting stuff unnoticeable to even the most drunken fool."

There was no smile on Eulogy Jones' face, he preferred an air of mystery that instilled fear in any person that looked to partner up with him or needed a favor from him. Henry Fleet, Mayor of Grayditch and proto-founder of a new United States of America built upon the ruins of the old world was man to keep his eyes on. Jones prized himself for his intelligence, strategy and the ability to adapt to all situations to survive. One thing that he had learnt from his mother before her death was to keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, and assume all friends are enemies. The turning point for the future of the Capital Wasteland was at hand and Eulogy would be damned if he didn't survive that churn.

"He was a great cook," the slave trader smiled, his eyes meeting Fleet's directly, "I'm sorry I had to sell him, couldn't be trusted - obviously. I do believe he is still under the ownership of Rajikhan ibn Rashid, the Great."

"Eulogy, here is the real talk," Henry stared back at this scorpion he knew he was offering to help cross the river, "we're both on the wrong side of forty, and life out here is not forgiving. If we're able to work together, we will be able to create something larger than the both of us."

"Land is a great start, Henry," Jones stroked his chin with his forefinger and thumb. "I imagine you know I have been approached by the Sons and Daughters of Maryland."

"Their offer is not as good as mine," confirmed the mayor, upset that the proto-state organization out of Maryland seemed to move faster than his network.

"I am able to keep my business, trade my wares to them, on the exception that I do not enslave, or in some cases re-enslave, their citizens," Eulogy's eyes returning to the map of the area around the Potomac River, "a fair offer seeing as their settlements require the specific commodities I sell."

The Mayor of Grayditch smiled as he sat back down, his hand still on the map, "tell them you accept their offer, Mister Jones. I'd need to extend that same offer to the settlements here as well. I do have a feeling that someone of your experience will be able to bring this Children of Maryland in line with our way of thinking."

"Are my plans in line with yours, Henry," asked the slave merchant of Paradise Falls, as he thought to himself, these Marylanders trouble the plans that Fleet has laid and this can be a benefit to me.

"Eulogy, we can become … founding fathers, if you will, only when the children are in line with both of our plans. We can't go back to the way the Enclave had us living on scraps of humanity," Fleet took his hand off the map as he leaned back in his chair looking up at the purple clad man. "There will be a lot of profit to be made for both of us, yes. By having you on board will also mean I will need your monetary support, along with your particular...sway. Perhaps we will get these Children of Maryland realize there are better ways."

"Words are words, Henry," Eulogy Jones clicked his fingers and Henry Fleet handed him a charcoal pencil. The Paradise Falls trader began drawing some lines around his marked settlement of Paradise Falls, "SatCom Array NW-05a to the northeast, Broadcast tower LP8 to the northwest, and Northwest Seneca station to the south along with Hallowed Moors Cemetery sounds better to me."

"I feel there is some negotiation that we can work through here, Eulogy," smiled Fleet as the largest slave trader in the Mid-Atlantic was now interested in joining his coalition.

"One non-negotiable, Henry," Eulogy declared as he circled an area to the northern end; a smile spreading across his face as he put the charcoal pencil down on the rough hewn map, "the train passage to the Pitt needs to be freed from those Centurions. Get them Brotherhood bastards out of there and well have the start of a great business deal. Until then, words, words, words."

In the Citadel, Elder Rothchild sat with Head Scribe Jameson, Scribe Yearling, Star Paladin Bael, and the two BIOS Operatives. Knight Michael Ban and Operative Hannah Newton had recovered from their wounds. Ban was able to walk on his own without the assistance of a crutch, or power armor. Newton had thrown herself into reading the pre-war history of the Commonwealth, with the assistance of John Harkness. The android had become agitated in recent weeks after the departure of Annabelle LaCroix and Actaeon. It took talking with Newton, who used the opportunity to learn more about pre-war history and the formation of the Institute from the Commonwealth Institute of Technology.

It was Harkness' report on the Synthetic Retention Bureau and special agent training that it had been privileged to: infiltrate, mimic, and sabotage. Scribe Yearling took a curiosity in the SRB and their agents, combing through Harkness' notes and reports from towns around the Capital Wasteland. It started off small, a few missing cans of food here and there, then it was whole stores of food. Harkness cross checked the findings and suggested there was a correlation but unlikely SRB due to the sloppy trail that was left behind.

"Your man is certain they were not SRB, but most likely agents of the Commonwealth, if not the Institute," asked Rothchild, his blue robes patched at the elbows with leather for the normal wear and tear he went through.

Around the circular table, Yearling pushed her hair back from her face, "our Commonwealth informant has a wealth of information on the SRB, their tactics, and modus operandi. They have been out of the Commonwealth service for over five years, at least, and when we caught up with them, they were escaping the news of the Commonwealth and Institutes' arrival. There is no love lost from this former agent of the Commonwealth, and their assistance is assured as long as Brotherhood of Steel protection is guaranteed. If these were SRB specific agents, then their goal would be to the reclamation of lost synthetic platforms and workers."

"Synthetic workers and platforms?" Star Paladin Bael questioned with a raised blonde eyebrow, "common English for the dumb grunt, please."

"Androids, specifically robotic slaves," amended the Scribe of the Brotherhood Operations Information Services.

"Operative Newton, you seemed to have warmed up this machine called John Harkness," stated Head Scribe Elizabeth Jameson from her notes, "what was the reason for treating it as human?"

"To better acquaint myself with the culture of our foreign guests, Ma'am," replied the redhead with freckles across her nose cheeks, "prior to our injuries and after the fact, two Operatives were tasked with ingratiating ourselves with the foreign guests. Knight Ban and myself led those operations to seek information."

"To be clear, our Commonwealth experts are a traitorous machine, a well seasoned Knight that has been convalescing from dire injuries, and an Operative who looks to be fresh out training from Paladin Gunny. Do I have this correct?" Rothchild rhetorically asked with a sigh as he leaned forward; Hannah flushed from her neck up to her cheeks.

"Elder Rothchild, if you please," Head Scribe Jameson indicated the door of the conference room and the man stated quiet right before collecting the files he had and leaving with his aides; after the door closed the Head Scribe continued, "due to the nature of your upcoming mission no Elder must be present, so as to maintain deniability. You two are to enter the encampment under the guise of your previous assignment. Now, however, you need to gain as much information as possible on the current affairs of the Commonwealth, the Institute, and sew dissent amongst its member nations. We are then to retaliate to their acts with like acts."

I thought we'd be better than that in the Brotherhood of Steel, Newton said internally, her face betraying her thoughts to the Head Scribe.

"Regardless of how you may feel, Operative," Jameson's words cut through Hannah's mind like a warmed knife through butter, "part of your mandate is counter intelligence work, this allows us in other areas of the Brotherhood of Steel to complete ours."

"What exactly is that she does," whispered Bael to Yearling.

"What I do, Star Paladin, is clean up your collective shit storms and then assure the rest of the Capital Wasteland that the Brotherhood of Steel is here for their betterment," Elizabeth scowled as she held the file with a photograph of John Harkness on the cover, "I would like to send this John Harkness in with you, Newton and Ban, however it is no Operative, Knight, nor a Paladin. It cannot be trusted, just as the Commonwealth and the Institute cannot be trusted."

Ban looked to Yearling and then to Jameson, "what type of dissent are we to put in the minds of these people from the Commonwealth."

"From the information you and Operative Newton had gathered, along with reports from John Harkness' notes, all power truly resides with the Institute, and the Commonwealth is held together politically through them. Connections between these northern nations are new, and as such can have wedges easily driven into them," Scribe Yearling started as Jameson sat down at the circular conference table again. "Exploiting weakness amongst the delegates would be the best way. The Plymouth Aristocracy was at war with the Vineyard Republic, which only ended with a hurricane that wiped out the majority of both's maritime forces. Their armistice never ended the war officially, just paused it to better rearm before they were directed toward fighting the Enclave in the north. Providence Plantations has been ignored by the other states, to their benefit and ire because they are the merchant fleet that supplies goods throughout their coastal networks. Pay them attention and you will gain their support, if not their trust."

"Now to the Big Fish of the Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Brandia, who have been at war for nearly a hundred years, on and off, with this nation called War Castle. The Institute has refused them the technological advances to take out their long standing enemy," Yearling continued with a sigh, "but also make them a powerhouse for the amount of man, or android, power they wield. They know they are being led by their nose by the Institute, but they take pride in being held above the other northern nations."

"We're looking to what...start a war between these Commonwealth states," the uncertainty in Knight Michael Ban's voice was noticeable for veteran of the Brotherhood of Steel.

"Tensions are already high in the encampment," confirmed the scribe, "and we know anything done here does not translate to what happens up north. We have not been able to confirm if they have communications back to the Institute or the Commonwealth."

"How do we know they do not have contact with their home," Operative Newton asked, looking to have the obvious assumptions of the Scribe Yearling to be explained more.

"The communication gear and technology was not listed in their encampment when they debarked from the ship," Head Scribe Jameson confirmed, "to have that equipment at the camp would have been noticeable to the Brotherhood. It does not mean that such equipment is on their fleet."

"Operative, what is your gut feeling on this," inquired Yearling, appreciating the fresh set of eyes and opinion from someone that originated outside of the Brotherhood of Steel.

"Ma'am, the Institute and Commonwealth's technology is very advanced. They have been at war with the Enclave until recently," stated the Operative as she formed her thoughts, trying to choose the correct words, "after we won our war, we took over a fair amount of Enclave technology and adapted it towards our needs. Had the SatCom Array at Raven Rock, or the Mobile Base Crawler survived, we'd have incorporated that technology towards our strengths too."

Janice Yearling processed what her Operative had just stated, "I hate to admit it but Operative Newton might be onto something. We are actively trying to recover any salvageable communication technology from both sites. If the Enclave had access to a functioning satellite, we would be able to coordinate offensives in minutes, not hours or days."

"Sounds like we need to get ourselves out of 'What-If' land," Cristiano Bael snapped his fingers loudly, "let's not forget the fucking gunship anchored in our harbor, yea? It could open a huge hole in the Citadel, or relay a message if what you're saying is correct."

"It is also in range of Project Purity," added Ban, reminding everyone that aqua pura was the Brotherhood's lifeblood to the Capital Wasteland.

"There have been multiple requests by Captain Sebastian Cabot of the Law and Order to rejoin their fleet in the hunt of an Atlantis Class battleship," informed Head Scribe Jameson.

"Perhaps we agree to that request, strain their communication with the encampment," offered Bael as he raised his eye-brow with the idea.

"We could open ourselves up for an attack by water by three heavily armed and armored ships," pointed out Jameson, "keeping the Law and Order in place and docked will make it easier to take the ship if need be."

"Adapting to the current situation requires new plans," Scribe Yearling commented and pointed back to Bael to stress his idea, "the encampment loses its connection to their fleet, and possibly to the Commonwealth and Institute. We can mobilize air support from Adams Air Force Base bombing runs on the fleet, and if need be do an air-to-sea take over with Paladins and Knights."

"I...I will take that strategy to the Scribes and Knights to see it's feasibility," Elizabeth Jameson sat stoic.

"I thought we were all about 'plausible deniability' right now," interjected Bael with a mischievous smile, "we can't have the Elders know of these full plans, nor these Commonwealth bastards. We can pull some strings, have them sneak out of the dock...well, not sneak out really because it's a sizable ship. Just let them think they were able to hoodwink us, so they trust us more."

"That would be too suspicious to allow them to 'sneak out'," Ban shook his head, "it would be better for them to underestimate our capabilities. Present weakness as strength."

"And if we're not able to successfully pull off an air-to-sea assault?" Jameson asked, Yearling and Ban looked at one another.

"We already have another idea for that." Ban's statement was firm without betraying if the actions had already been taken or were yet to be taken; this caused Newton to give a side glance at her operation partner having planned something without informing her.

"That sounds settled then," concluded Head Scribe Jameson as she updated her file, "designated operation for January 2280 will henceforth be referred to as Oscar Romeo Papa."

"I recommend we call the Operation Royal Plaza," Star Paladin Bael raised his hand high in the air, "all in favor, vote aye."

Most at the table smirked, some chuckled, as they raised their hands or verbal voted yes, Jameson sighed, her eyes rolling at the renaming of the operation, "amended, Operation Royal Plaza will reconvene at Zero Six Hundred outside the Law and Order after preparations to have them disembark has been confirmed."

Yearling looked at Ban, their shared communication lasted only a few seconds, but what was clear to Newton was that whatever they had planned needed to be in place before 0600.

Marshall Lawson was at his desk when Jonas knocked on the ancient door. His deputy had lost an arm to infection from a gunshot courtesy of Galvin Cobb. The stump was tucked into a fold sleeve of a knit red sweater. A brown leather vest had added pockets to the left side, which made easier access for Jonas to store items across the body. His days as a Grayditch Marshalls were fully administrative, serving more as an office assistant taking incoming complaints, reports, and a clear demotion from his former duties as deputy. Lawson pitied the man because he lost his arm to Galvin Cobb, who escaped justice and based on recent news killed two Regulators and maimed a third before making it to Fort Bannister. The stronghold of Talon Company had their former commander returned, and the scales of justice were more unbalanced.

"One of the families in the Alexandria neighborhood just got robbed," stated Jonas, the raiders there were kicked out of Alexandria Arms Hotel by the Brotherhood Intelligence Operation Services had taken a section of Grayditch and named it after their old homestead.

"What's been taken," asked the retired Regulator as he donned his duster and hat, the forty-five caliber revolver holster on his right hip.

"Tim Tim said it was food and batteries," answered Jonas, as he reached to scratch his missing left arm where the phantom pains were signaling his brain.

"Still hurting," Lawson nodded in empathy to Jonas, who nodded in confirmation, "bottom right drawer of my desk there is a bottle of Point Lookout Moonshine. Take a shot, it'll dull the pain."

Outside of the refurbished police station, Marshall took out a hand rolled cigarillo and lit it with a match. The city, which was all but dead when the Lone Wanderer had saved it, had flourished and grown. Reclamation took back old buildings and made them habitable. Men and women who were refugees of the Brotherhood and Enclave war found housing, jobs, and safety in the shadow of the Citadel. Laws were established, now it was up to Marshall and the Grayditch Marshalls to create order. Mayor Henry Fleet had expressed an interest in capturing men and women that stole food, and while Marshall didn't hold theft of food as serious as murder, he knew that any lapse in order could bring this house of cards down.

Sonora Cruz liked to remind Lawson that having the mayor in their good graces was beneficial for the Regulators. A retired Regulator was still a Regulator, the weight of words from Chief Cruz was the gold standard. Babysitting was not originally part of the Regulator job description. The Alexandria neighborhood was a street over from Beggars' Row, an area where the less fortunate congregated in the City of Grayditch, but still considered more well off than The Alexandria. The former raiders and Grayditch citizens that joined their close knit group did not work outside of the neighborhood, keeping to themselves insularly, and by having one report a theft to any outside authority was considered a step to allowing Lawson and his deputies in.

A theft in the Alexandria neighborhood was more odd to Marshall because such an insular community tended to not steal from one another. People in the Alexandria protected their own, would know if someone inside their community had stolen from another, and there would be no reason for Lawson to be out there as they would have exacted their own justice locally. A townhouse of the former settled raiders had a Grayditch Marshall on the stoop talking with the residents. Neighbors milled about the stoop, gossiping with themselves as one talked with the Marshall.

"Tim Tim, report," ordered Lawson to his deputy, taking a drag from the cigarillo as the residents gave him a wide berth.

"House belongs to the Izek family," answered Tim Tim the Grayditch Marshall, pointing to the townhouse, "Rolls and Bash are inside looking for clues. Misses Izek says her and the family awoke from their night's sleep to a rustling in the store room. Mister Izek has been away for a week, helping a crew clear out building twenty-seven in the second grid."

During the reclamation of buildings a grid system was established by Mayor Fleet, along with corresponding numbers to buildings. A young woman, most likely Misses Izek, was inside the town house with a brahmin steak on her right eye. Marshall noted the door showed signs of being busted out, not inwards, which indicated someone had broken out of the home instead of in. Lawson motioned for the woman to remove the cold meat from her face so he could inspect the damage. Under the steak, the young woman's face was a purple swollen mess, a cut cheek that was still bleeding, and several missing teeth. Her assailant, he noted by the look of it, had a powerful left hook.

"Misses Izek confronted the intruder, who hit her in the face and fled the scene through the front door," recounted Tim Tim.

"Were you able to get a look at the person's face, Misses Izek," asked Lawson, his thumb resting on the front buckle of his gun belt, the cigarillo slowly smoking from his lips under this beard.

"'Fore o' aftah the SOB knock my lights out," her sarcastic comment bristled the Lawson's whiskers.

"Misses Izek, if you remember anything it will help us," reminded Lawson as he saw the other Alexandrians looking on through the open townhouse door. "Can one of you escort her over to Doc Hopkins' place?"

The question was an order to people not of Lawson's command, but they followed it anyway. Tim Tim monitored the neighbors with Marshall, several Alexandrians helped Misses Izek to Doctor Hopkins Clinic. The townhouse didn't show many signs of a struggle outside of the door and Misses Izek's face. Marshall pondered that whoever these thieves were, unlike most raiders that were loud and messy, were quiet, clean, and good. Rolls reported that the upstairs was clear, it seemed that the intruder or intruders had no interest where the people slept, or the goods near them potentially worth caps. Bash was in the basement that was also the main storeroom for food.

"What do you have here, Bash," asked Lawson as he climbed down the stairs and stubbed out the cigarillo on steps.

"Well, Cap'n, the thief only seems to have taken canned or preserved foods, they left all things fresh," commented the deputy named Bash as he indicated the empty spots on shelves in the basement and then pointed to an ancient metal door that had been forced open, "the lock to the sub basement was forced open without tools."

"Or, he or she took the tool kit with them," reasoned the experienced Regulator as he walked the basement and peered down the stairs to the sub basement.

Lawson took out a simple flashlight that can be recharged by shaking it physically, which he did to make certain it was charged, before turning the tool on to illuminate. His free hand unbuttoned his holster with his thumb and palm rested on his gun. He walked down the stairs to a damper part that connected to the metro sewer system. A reflective white material caught his attention as the light reflected off of it. He reached over and pulled the fabric off of a nail, rubbing the material through his fingers as he kept the light on it. It was machine made, new and not musty, not common to the Capital Wasteland.

"What did you find, Cap'n," asked Bash as he was coming down the stairs behind Marshall Lawson.

"A clue, Bash, a damn good one too," a small smile under his whiskers.

The Commonwealth encampment changed since Michael Ban and Hannah Newton had last been inside. The four member nations still separated into their respective tent circles, however the presence of the Institute could be felt more than before. Pairs of men and women were trudging in the muddy paths created by camps, patrolling the encampment. Two hundred and fifty people looked to be more than four hundred, or even five hundred, crammed into such a small place. Crowded to the brim didn't even begin to describe how the encampment now felt, and the Operatives knew that none of these people were part of the Brotherhood of Steel. The power armor they wore forced those patrolling to walk around them. If they had walked shoulder to shoulder, it would force the patrols to turn around in the other direction because there was no way to walk past. They reached the long tent that housed the official ambassador of the Commonwealth, and the only representative of the Institute, George Schultz.

The elderly statesman sat at his desk as people walked about the tent with papers being exchanged back and forth and runners being sent out to give printed documents to the member nations. The ground was covered in ornate rugs with intricate weaves that was a material unfamiliar to the Operatives. Muck and mud was sucked from the soles of boots and shoes by the carpet, and worked through the fabric to be completely self cleaned. Ban proceeded forward to the desk of Schultz, stood at attention and saluted the ambassador as a sign of respect. Hannah followed suit.

"Ambassador Schultz, Knights Ban and Newton reporting for duty," he announced, his voice robotic through the pre-war communication system.

"At ease," ordered the old man, a tumbler with two fingers width of scotch already on his desk, "please, take those ridiculous helmets off."

Ban removed his helmet, the gnarled scar along his jaw shined brightly against his black skin, "Mister Ambassador, we are here to ascertain the state of this encampment and how best the Brotherhood of Steel can assist."

Schultz didn't reply, instead he looked at Hannah after she had removed her helmet, "my mother always warned me to beware of redheaded women. Knight Newton is it? Do you from Irish or Scottish stock?"

Newton pulled back her ponytail, disgusted that this old man would try such a horrible line with her, "I don't get what you mean, Ambassador. Why would your mother warn you to beware of redheads and women?"

After a moment of silence that Newton hoped was awkward for the Ambassador, his wrinkled face formed a sneer, as he reached for the tumbler and sipped, "ah, right, history is lost here, how ignorant of me. You both have permission to travel and ask around town. What the Institute needs, and the Commonwealth, while in the District of Columbia is more land. Do you have that power, Knight Ban?"

Ban kept his face straight, "no, sir, I do not. I will make your request to my superiors on your behalf though."

"For whatever good that will do," lamented Schultz as he took up a new piece of paper and handed it to a nameless aid in the tent, "you two are dismissed."

"Good day, Ambassador," replied Michael as he and Hannah left the tent, holding their helmets and smelling the wet muck and manure in the paths of the encampment. With a scoff, Ban turned to Newton, "that motherfucker knows he is the king of this 'Shit Mountain'."

"And the Brotherhood of Steel is surrounding 'Shit Mountain'," nodded Hannah as she put her helmet back on to help purify the air of the smell of manure, "what I don't understand, Michael is that there hasn't been a serious downpour in our area."

They walked on the paths, the patrols avoiding them, as Ban pointed to one of the ten circles with a woman in simple clothing from the Plymouth Aristocracy dumping a bucket of human waste outside on the path, "it's their own muck, the animals."

"Shit is shit, Mike," laughed Hannah, as the black Knight put his helmet on, "and we're just in it like them.

Isabella Constantino, the Governors' wife of Providence Plantations, had been sent on the Pilgrimage by her husband to distance her and her sordid lover from the gossip and whispers of society. Roger Gaspee and West Slater were both heroes of the Commonwealth - Enclave War. West Slater remained in the service of the merchant marines. Roger Gaspee had retired from the service to the life of a privateer during the war, adventurer to some, and infamous smuggler to most. One of these men was responsible for the current state of the wife of the Governor. Neither were willing to confirm or deny paternity of this newly born child, until Isabella had declared it herself. Her first child was said to be at the Institute, coerced into education and training by the Ambassador George Schultz himself. Her second child had been born on their trek to the DC Ruins and was being taken care of by a nursemaid. Slater and Gaspee were sitting in their main camp as servants handed them plates of food as they eagerly awaited news if the mother had named who the father was.

Roger Gaspee's hair was tied back in a loose ponytail with a navy blue ribbon, two strands of his chestnut brown hair framed his face. Roger was sitting on his waistcoat, his white shirt sleeves rolled up, and his navy blue vest unbuttoned. A brown leather aviator cuff covered his left wrist and part of his forearm as he held a metal plate and began spooning stew into his mouth. West Slater kept his brown waistcoat on as he ate his stew from a stone bowl. His raven black hair was pulled into a tight bun that was tied together with scarlet ribbons. Their servants moved away from the campfire to their own quarters as the Brotherhood Operatives walked in. Both men looked at the power armor clad figures in front of them and Slater motioned to the overturned rocks that made a rough bench.

Michael Ban took off his helmet and laid it on the rock bench as he sat down, Newton following suit, "Colonel Slater, Mister Gaspee, it's a pleasure to see you two again."

"What Cheer, dear captors, care for a cup?" Slater offered a drink of tea, motioning for the servants to come forward with a kettle, cream, and sugar.

"I haven't developed a taste for...tea," replied the Brotherhood of Steel Knight, he held the cup of tepid brown liquid that the servant had put in his hands.

"It's an acquired taste," confirmed the merchant marine Colonel as he sipped his own, the stew resting on a rock of the campfire to keep hot, "acquiring places, people, and tastes should be common enough for you."

"Forgive this uncouth louse of a ship rat," Gaspee put his food down next to Slater's bowl, "too long on dry land makes him uncomfortable. What can we do for your generous hosts this evening."

"How is the wife of the Governor doing today," Hannah asked as she saw the nursemaid holding the new child in a bundle of blankets near a tent, "the child looks to be healthy and in good order."

"Mrs. Constantino is resting, presently," informed West Slater as he waved to the bundle of blankets with the nursemaid, "she has decided to name the child Thomas, after the honorable Thomas Pell."

"Senator Pell was Isabella's great - great - great grandfather, and patron founder for Providence Plantations," added Roger Gaspee, his twin strands of hair were untucked from behind his ears and in front of his face, "she thought it would be fitting that one of his blood and namesake returning to his former area of work and statesmanship as one the Senators of Rhode Island. He was the main Senator responsible for the public - private partnership for the creation of Vault-Tec vaults and the renovation of public fallout shelters. Obviously, he never did it out of the kindness of his heart, he layered his pocket from all the side deals made for Project Safehouse, and helped him build his own private shelter."

"Roger, do not forget yourself, sir," warned West as he turned to face his compatriot.

"When the radioactive dust settled, his child would come out of their bunker as the only one with the political clout to be the leader of Providence Plantations," continued Gaspee as he waived the warning off from West, "this is history they teach in grammar school, Slater."

"What part he belittles in this story is that Senator Thomas Pell was still in Washington on the morning of October 23rd," Colonel Slater stiffened at the omission by Gaspee, "and would not see the future he helped assure for the rest of us."

Gaspee scoffed at the extreme reverence to the former Senator of Rhode Island, "a future that could have seen Providence Plantations named Pellandia or the Great State of Pell!"

"Blasphemy," exclaimed West as clopped Gaspee on the shoulder lightly, and they both laughed at one another, "forgive us, Knight Ban and Knight Newton. We must always remember to treat our nation's history with a grain of salt because what is written is not always representative of all voices and stories."

"Unless you speak with an Institute trained academic like Doctor Degory Bartlett," Roger looked at West and feigned a serious face as he changed his voice to be breathy, "if it is not written it did not happen."

Both men laughed at one another as they looked back at the Brotherhood of Steel operatives, and Ban looked sideways to Newton, "Doctor Bartlett had sent a note to me that his library is always available to us if we wished to learn more. I have yet to take him up on the offer because I had an idea his library would be needlessly...wordy."

Gaspee and Slater burst out laughing, the raven haired man trying to shush the other as he reminded them all that the wife of the Governor was sleeping. Hannah and Michael were purposeful with their words and actions. Providence Plantations was the smallest nation amongst the Commonwealth, underestimated by the other states, by paying them attention would endear them to the Brotherhood of Steel. Gaspee and Slater provided them ammunition to use to engage Providence Plantations and the other nations. They now knew that Vault-Tec had only set up an official vault in the south of the former state of Rhode Island, while renovated fallout shelters in the most populous city tried to save the rest. However, there was never enough room and most fallout shelters had failed. Information from John Harkness was primarily focused on the Institute, the android had personally never been in the locations of the member states of the Commonwealth, it was dropped into areas that were usually in ruins meant to hunt down and recover synthetics that had escaped the grasp of the Institute. The SRB was not concerned with these states, nor did they view them as actors in the absconding or harboring of synthetic runaways.

Things were not adding up to Ban or Newton. They talked with the two from Providence Plantations as the darkness of the night claimed the sky. Stars from millions and billions of lightyears away filled the sky along with the visible Milky Way galaxy. Word of the Knights' return spread throughout the encampment. Gaspee and Slater talked about the Narragansett and Massachusetts Bays, and offered their opinion of the Chesapeake Bay from what they had seen aboard the Law and Order. Michael offered vague details on life growing up in a militarized bunker, but didn't want to give details of the Brotherhood of Steel's travel from the west coast to the east coast. Hannah talked of stories having grown up in Rivet City. This allowed her to express her amazement on the Lone Wanderer and how his actions had changed the Capital Wasteland.

"We have heard mention of this Lone Wanderer," confirmed Gaspee, he had switched from tea to an ale, "from your radio station...Galaxy News Radio."

Slater rolled a cigarette from a leather pouch in his lap, "is what this Three-Dog says true about this Wanderer?"

"What do you think of our honorary Knight?" Michael poised the question to both Slater and Gaspee.

"Well, if he is one of yours, he seems to have a rather interesting...story," Gaspee commented as he undid the ribbon of his pony tail to allow his hair to hang loose and free.

"He completed many deeds before receiving his rank in the Brotherhood," offered Hannah Newton, "he was also the reason many joined the effort. His actions in the Brotherhood of Steel and Enclave War gave us something truly powerful. Hope."

"The Lone Wanderer was a beacon and influence for many," nodded Michael Ban as he stared off into the fire.

"You speak in the past tense when it comes to this Knight," Slater asked as he tilted his head to the side, "did he fall in battle?"

"Oh, no. Sure he took his shots and burns, but he never fell in battle," Newton smiled, the next part will require some acting and she hoped Ban was going to be on que, "the Elders sent him out on a special solo assignment…"

"Knight Newton," boomed Michael Ban, as he tried to force an anger on his face, "we do not discuss Brotherhood of Steel missions that are not declassified!"

"Sir, Lady, there is a mother and child sleeping in the tent over yonder," West Slater tried to calm the tense situation that arose around the campfire; a figure in a loose white nightgown arose emerged from the aforementioned tent, Isabella Constantino's hair in tight french braid as she cradled her newborn.

"Young Thomas is awake," she announced, as the wife of the Governor of Providence Plantations walked to the light of the campfire.

"Pardon us, Madame," apologized Hannah as she stood and looked on at the bundle of blankets.

"We have been listening for a while," advised Isabella as she motioned for Hannah, Roger, and West to return to sitting as she rocked the child in her embrace, "someone should write the Lone Wanderer's stories down. It would make a delightful read."

"There is a cult that has formed in his name in the city of Grayditch," added Ban as he continued sitting the whole time.

"Surely they must have an idea where he might have gone," asked Isabella as she rocked young Thomas in her arms.

"The cult says he traveled north, without his power armor but with his trusted canine," offered the Ban as he looked at Newton, "but it's all hearsay, and rumor."

"How marvelous," exclaimed Isabella with a light in her eyes, "perhaps he has made it up to the Commonwealth by now, perhaps even to Providence Plantations."

Officer Lepelletier was looking out of her office at the tent city in Anacostia Crossing outside of the metro station entrance. The settlers of this suburb to Rivet City had created makeshift shacks, converted a bus for an open clinic, and began to clear out nearby concrete structures. The entire metro entrance was staffed by Rivet City Security Force, aqua pura caravanners passed through the secured tunnel with the aid of the Brotherhood of Steel Knights. Knights guarded the exit to Seward Square because it was still designated an open combat zone for the remnants of Super Mutants and hostile Talon Company. Rivet City assisted with the guarding of the Museum Station, it was the fastest route to the Mall, where the formerly enslaved people lived at the Lincoln Memorial and the ghouls in Underworld. Scribe Bigsley needed the route open, and Lepelletier wouldn't say no to extra caps. You can't guard a caravan without ammo, thought the Rivet City officer as she looked over the metal shacks.

An explosion shook the ground and deafened the air at Anacostia Crossing. Officer Lepelletier saw a mushroom cloud escape from one of the concrete buildings on the far side of the metro entrance that was being excavated. People that had been walking around town had fallen to the ground. It took a second for many people to register that the explosion had occurred. Brave people ran to get buckets of water, others moved children and ushered the elderly away as quickly as they could. Guards poured out of the metro as the metal bridge was slowly swung out from Rivet City and Commander Lana Danvers moved forward from the security of the beached aircraft carrier. The head of Rivet City Security Forces purposefully stopped in front of Officer Lepelletier.

"Fucking hell, Eunice, what fuck was that," asked the Commander as she took out her automatic shotgun double checking it had a shell in the chamber.

I hate my fast name, thought Lepelletier as she grabbed her repurposed Enclave R100 plasma rifle, "mini or micro nuke detonation to the northeast of Anacostia, Commander Danvers. We're assembling forces for a defensive perimeter at the station entrance while guards and citizens have created a line to bring water to the fire at the ruins."

They walked together to the ruin that had the explosion with an additional five members of the security force with them, the rest returning to the defensive position at the Rivet City Bridge Tower. At the smoking ruins, Lepelletier and Danvers could see the line of people carrying buckets of water to battle the flames on the ruins with river water. Filled from the back, passed to the front, and then ran to the back to be refilled and following the process again. A young man sat on rubble, he was completely naked as the nurse from the free clinic slowly poured water down his back. Radiation burns were visible on his shoulders that Lepelletier and Danvers could see as they approached. His hair was wet from a cold sweat, his face covered in dirt and muck.

Ted Strayer's face was familiar to both women, they had practically spent their early years on the security force protecting the man-child from his own stupid ideas. An absentee father with loads of money who died living a son without parental guidance and a fortune not able to be spent in three lifetimes. Ted had sought out trouble out of boredom. His life was turned around in the last few years by a citizen of Rivet City who decided to mentor him. Strayer cleaned up, kicked his chem habit, and applied himself in one of the first teams to start the renovation process of Anacostia Crossing. He assisted in building and funding the free clinic, as most knew, because of the mentorship from Mister Lopez. Mister Lopez had been depressed for years, diagnosed with a terminal case of rust lung, and saw Ted as a way to leave a legacy that was beyond him.

Officer Lepelletier kneeled down to this man, who she remember was just over the age of twenty-two, "Ted, what happened," she asked, hoping she sounded as a big sister and not the strict officer that once caught him with two needles of med-x in his arm wasted in a storeroom.

Ted rocked back and forth as the nurse continued to pour the bucket of water slowly on his back. Lepelletier put her hand on his bare knee, but he did not feel it while he was in shock. A blank expression was on his face as his eyes stared a thousand miles off from where he was physically located. He muttered to himself slowly, forcing the Rivet City Security Officer to lean in closer.

"No, don't go in there, no...no...no. Not in there," the words were barely audible from the man as Commander Danvers looked at the nurse.

"Where is Mister Lopez," Lana asked the nurse, the clinician's reply was to shake her head from side to side.

Strayer screamed out a blood curdling yell before he passed out, the nurse had accidentally increased the speed of pouring water. He fell forward from the squatting position. Lepelletier had to scramble back to avoid the collapsing man. A third degree burn caused by radiation engulfed his whole back save for one spot. On his mid back to the right hand side was pinkish flesh that seemed untouched compared to the blistered and charred skin. The shape resembled a left hand print based on the placement of the fingers, thumb, and palm. Bile rose in the throat of Eunice Lepelletier as she realized that the remains of Mister Lopez were this hand print on the burnt back of Ted Strayer. Commander Danvers yelled for the guards to get Doctor Preston from Rivet City, along with as many doses of RadAway they could carry. She wouldn't lose another member of Rivet City today.