Hospitals always smelt the same. Toby had spent many hours in the Vault Clinic with his father, to the extent that the pungent alkali smell of disinfectant had clung to his old vault clothes for weeks after leaving the Vault. Even Doc Church's pathetic little shack had had some of the same smell. The sickly smell of blood and the sharp stench of sweat mingled with the distinctive wiff of Abraxo and even a hint of ozone produced by a pair of Mister Handy orderlies that buzzed around the beds, dispensing unhelpful advice in their grating voices.
Toby shook himself slightly and gave his escort an apologetic smile.
The young Lieutenant gave him an odd look but did not press him. Toby did his best to conceal a twitch that was half nervous, half angry. Most of the staff treated him like one might the friend of a friend who is suffering from dementia, polite but worried and occasionally even condescending. Toby did not very much appreciate their distrustful glances and concerned looks but conceded that they had probably never seen someone from outside their community before. God knows, he had freaked out the first time he had left the safety of his own home. Simms had never really forgiven him for what happened to "Deputy Weld". Fearful that he was spacing out again and further damaging his already frail reputation of sanity as far as most Raven Rock personnel were concerned, he pulled himself back to Earth just in time for the Lieutenant to motion for him to enter a smallish room lit with cool blue lights.
The Colonel was seated behind a sturdy looking metal desk, piled high with papers. The only spot devoid of any sheets was the top of his personal terminal upon which was placed a Vault Boy Bobblehead of all things. As he stepped into the room, he felt a pair of eyes on his back and turned. Leaning against the wall next to the door was a sandy haired young man wearing the tan uniform of a commissioned officer. He did not look much older than Toby yet there was a confidence lurking behind his languid posture that made Toby immediately feel lacking.
Toby's escort straightened slightly. Toby shot her a glance but she continued to stare forward at her commander.
"Have the CASEVAC birds come in yet?"
"No sir. Major Williams said that they are due within the next half hour."
"Very well. You are dismissed."
The Lieutenant offered a crisp salute before turning on her heel and walking out. Once the door was closed, Autumn let out a faint sigh and placed a hand on his head, his fingers making small circles on his scalp. Toby felt suddenly aware of how old the man must be. Mid fifties at least...
"The Enclave suffered a major blow today."
Toby turned and saw that the sand-haired officer had left his place by the door and was walking to the Colonel's side. As he reached his commander, he retrieved something from the pocket of his uniform and handed it to Autumn who swallowed it without hesitation. A pained look crossed the Colonel's features for a moment before he straightened and returned once again to the model of military precision that Toby had come to expect. His facade back in place, Autumn began to speak.
"Ever since we first took control of Project Purity, the Brotherhood has been launching probing attacks. The first few were pretty bad; we had them startled so they tried to overwhelm us quickly. But since then things have calmed down somewhat. They would send a few scouts over but they did not try a major attack. At least, until a few hours ago."
The man's face darkened.
"They opened up with artillery early this morning. We thought they would not risk damaging the Purifier and hence are positions were... ill prepared for such an attack. We clearly miscalculated and we lost a lot of men for that mistake."
He let out another faint sigh but recovered quicker than before and continued almost immediately.
"Soon after the artillery ceased, the Brotherhood attacked en masse with troops in those ancient T45b suits. Our men at the Purifier held them off but we suffered badly. More men are being drawn up from Adams and Quantico but the area is rapidly becoming a goddamn meatgrinder."
History book pages flashed through Toby's head. Passendale, 1917. Stalingrad, 1941. Anchorage 2066. He shuddered. As impressive as the Enclave tech was, they hardly had the capacity to enter into such a battle. It would destroy the short grace period at the beginning of every war where the populace are fully behind it out of patriotic spirit and most likely kill morale within the military too. Such a small community made massed casualties hard to hide. Toby could not think of a worse way to begin a campaign. This could put their plans behind by years... His musings were interrupted by the sandy-haired young man.
"Due to the current circumstances, we have deemed further work on the Purifier to be a waste of resources."
It was a dismissal, naturally. Toby felt a little disappointed but nodded.
"Thank you for explaining the situation."
They could just have easily told him nothing. The fact that they were showing him weakness was either a sign of trust or simple idiocy. Or maybe it was misinformation, a small voice at the back of his head whispered; a test of loyalty to see if he would jump ship if the Enclave looked to be in a bad position. Toby bit his lip and let himself out. As he did, he heard Autumn's voice behind him call out:
"If you need anything, Lieutenant Walker is on duty. I will send her to check on you every now and again if you want to remain up to date."
Toby turned and was about to thank the Colonel when an alarm began to blare. A moment later, the young Lieutenant in question appeared in the doorway, her face slightly flushed.
"Colonel Autumn, Captain Weiss? The CASEVAC birds have just come in."
Autumn nodded and stood, motioning for the sandy-haired man to follow him. Toby watched the man with sudden interest. A Captain at twenty? Weiss clearly had some serious talent or was very good at kissing ass and Toby was pretty sure that Autumn was not the sort of man who tolerated the latter. Autumn and Weiss began to hurry for the door and Toby stepped smartly out of their way as they began a brisk walk towards the hospital. Toby followed, his hands fidgeting nervously.
Hospitals did not always smell the same. As soon as the doors to the hospital opened, a barrage of dreadful new smells assaulted Toby's nose. A dark acrid smell like burnt plastic where composite armour had been scorched by lasers, the sharp scent of motor-oil where it pooled from damaged servo-joints and underlying it all, a horrible greasy stench like poorly cooked meat. The sounds were all wrong too. The hospital had been quiet mere minutes ago when he walked through but now the filtered air was wrought by screams of every description. A shrill cry of pain as a doctor attempted to pull shrapnel out of a stomach. A pathetic moan from a soldier, eyes clouded by Med-X and fingers scrabbling weakly at a leg that was no longer there. A terrible gurgling sound issuing from a throat viciously slashed by a laser bolt, carbonised skin and red cooked flesh threatening to slide off the bone as the dying man twitched from side to side. An animal shriek as one of the doctor's recognised her husband just before the body bag could be zipped up.
Toby could not help it. He threw up all over the white linoleum floor.
There was really only one spot in Raven Rock where Toby could be alone. It was called the Rookery, a tiny open-air observation post that gave astonishing views over the Capital Wasteland to the south even if it was meant to be there to oversee the hanger entrances for the Vertibirds.
It was an odd thing. When he first entered the wastes, being alone had been a completely novel experience. Living in a Vault meant living in close proximity to dozens of others, even if you didn't really like them. Cough*Butch*Cough. Being outside was another thing. Agoraphobia had been the word he had picked up from the Big Book of Science and in those first few weeks, the great outdoors had been terrifying beyond belief. But now...
Toby lay on his back, the padded back of his jumpsuit protecting him from the rough feel of the concrete. Now that the last vertibirds had come in, the landing lights had been shut off and the landscape was completely dark. Above Toby, the night sky was awash with stars. The milky arm of their galaxy was visible, a blur of light caused by unknown millions of individual pinpricks of light.
There was the sound of the metal hatch opening and another figure pulled itself out the small opening. The figure did not seem to notice Toby as it stood and began searching its pockets. Eventually, there was the snap of a match and in the burst of light, Toby recognised Weiss.
"It's a lovely evening."
The sandy-haired officer jumped at Toby's voice and dropped his cigarette which extinguished itself in a flurry of bright sparks upon hitting the ground.
"Wilson? Is that you?"
The silence was becoming slightly uncomfortable but for once, Toby did not mind. He had been planning this conversation with Weiss ever since that morning and now was as good a time as any.
"Tell me, Captain. Have you ever read any von Clausewitz?"
In the dim light of another cigarette, Toby could see a flash of confusion cross the man's face.
"Shame. Before the war, most American officers would read at least parts of On War. Pretty good considering he died in 1830."
Toby was silent for a moment before continuing. Despite the poor light, he could tell that Weiss' own silence was not one of disinterest. Good.
"One of his more famous maxims was that the nation most prepared to commit totally to a war would be the one who would succeed."
Toby cleared his throat.
"As I understand it, the Enclave has three advantages in this war. The vertibirds provide us with massively superior mobility and reaction capacity. Our tech outclasses the Brotherhood in terms of armour, weapons and medical capability. And finally, we have a manufacturing capacity that no-one on the entire East Coast can match. By defending a single fixed position, we are throwing away the first advantage. By allowing our men into a situation where the Brotherhood's superior numbers can be brought to play, we are negating the second. And due to the Enclave's low population, the effects of the last are minimal."
Weiss nodded slightly.
"An impressive piece of analysis, Wilson. But I fail to see what we can do about it. We cannot cede control of the Purifier to the Brotherhood; it is key to our control over the region."
Toby sat up and looked at the young Captain, meeting his eyes for the first time.
"I will not argue about the importance of the Purifier. I of all people should know how significant such a machine will be in the reconstruction of this area. But... it is ultimately just a piece of land. It can be reclaimed. The lives lost defending it cannot be so easily recuperated."
Weiss inhaled sharply at that. The population of Raven Rock was small enough that Weiss had probably lost more than a few friends during the Brotherhood attack. Toby hesitated for a moment, his precious plan threatening to stumble if Weiss got too upset. But then the young Captain offered a sharp nod and Toby continued.
"The Brotherhood cannot start the Purifier without a GECK. There is no danger that they get the thing operational in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we can bleed them dry across fronts where our advantages are strongest. Attack their more isolated outposts with overwhelming force and disappear before reinforcements can move up. Destroy their supply convoys and harass their recruitment stations. Ultimately, they will have to choose between their mission of protecting the people of DC from the super-mutants or they will abandon the Purifier. No matter which one they pick, we benefit."
"And how will the fact they have stopped wasting resources on the super-mutants help us? Killing muties is just about the only thing those bastards can do right."
Toby smirked. It was one of the first things he had realised about the Brotherhood ever since he met Lyons.
"The Brotherhood's control of DC is one big illusion. They have a few pseudo-fortresses like GNR and the Washington Memorial but other than that, everything belongs to the mutants. Once even those outposts are gone, the mutants have total control of the city and will have lost the only distraction keeping them there. It'll only be a matter of time before they move on Rivet City or expand west towards the other population centres around Megaton and Big Town. People will think that the Brotherhood have decided to protect their own asses rather than the helpless masses. Once the situation gets dire, the Enclave can step in. Use our manufacturing capacity to arm the people with laser pistols and the like. Something with punch but not enough to penetrate Power Armour."
Weiss looked pensive.
"How about assault rifles loaded with hollow points? They should tear up the muties pretty bad but will just bounce off of our armour."
"And give them sentry bots. We can remotely play with their IFFs if need be."
The two men looked at each other, grins beginning to stretch across their faces. After a moment, Weiss offered his hand.
"I'm Simon by the way."
Toby reached up and took the offered hand which pulled him to his feet with casual strength.
"I'm Toby. It's good to meet you."
"Likewise, Toby. Now, all that talking has no doubt made you pretty thirsty. We're throwing a wake for those casualties that came in this morning. Plenty of booze and a few of the chicks will no doubt get drunk and start humping the fascinating new guy."
Toby paled slightly at that thought.
"B-But isn't that slightly disrespectful... For the dead, I mean?"
Simon shrugged and flashed a smile.
"It's what I would want if I died. Nothing like drinking and sexual promiscuity for a rousing send-off."
He chuckled and grabbed Toby as if he might run off. It was a pretty shrewd move.
"Come on. I'll introduce you to some of the men from Sigma Squad. They just got here from Adams and I promised them a good time."
I think, Toby thought as he was manhandled down the ladder, I have just made a friend. Sort of.
There you go. I hope you find my assumptions relating the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the Enclave and the Brotherhood to be believable. Now to pre-empt a few questions, this story will mainly take place in the Capital Wasteland and I am undecided as to include any of the DLCs apart from Broken Steel. However, New Vegas characters will make appearances (including one in the next few chapters) and I am toying with the idea of an Enclave vs Caesar's Legion campaign (as much of a total push over it would be...). Review with your two cents and I will do my best to accommodate your ideas.