A grimace pulled at my lips as I nudged the dead monstrosity before me with my foot. It didn't take much thought to figure out that the thing I had just shot was a super mutant. If the sickly green colour of its skin or the loud, barely intelligible grunts didn't tip me off the fact that it had taken five rifle shots to bring down should. It was a mess of hulking muscle and bone and its face was twisted in a permanent scowl. "You're an ugly son of a bitch, I'll say that," I muttered to the corpse before continuing past it.
Trailing after my abandoning father had ended up being the ordeal it had been promoted as for the three weeks since I'd stumbled into Megaton. The subway tunnels were, just as Gob had predicted, filled with ghouls a lot less nice than he was. Some were dressed in rags and some in make-shift armour I had to guess they'd been wearing since they were human. Most, though, were stark naked and scrabbling in the dark like animals. It was a disturbing shift from the nice if somewhat ugly man I had met in Megaton.
Raiders hiding out in the darkness of the tunnels had proven to be somewhat troublesome, though. They seemed to know just where to set up to avoid any of the packs of ghouls populating the derelict passageways. Firearms seemed to be reserved for only a few members in each gang down below, as well. Most were only armed with improvised weapons; pieces of metal or baseball bats were commonplace. The ones with knives rarely knew how to use them properly and for that I was thankful.
Luckily I was armed for bear and my weeks in the Wasteland had sharpened my instincts, my reflexes and my aim. So far I had avoided any serious injury in the tunnels but the scars painting my arms and legs kept me wary and aware of the consequences of a lapse of focus. It hadn't taken me very long to exchange the reinforced jumpsuit Moira had given me for a real set of hardened leather armour, once I had the caps to afford it. It was stiff and uncomfortable, but I knew from experience that it was hard enough to stop a pistol round at much more than point-blank range.
I pulled my canteen from its mesh sling at my waist, unscrewed the top and took a painful swig of slightly irradiated water. Purified water was incredibly difficult to come by and each mouthful of dirty, metallic water I swallowed in the Wastes made me realize just how much of Vault 101 I had taken for granted in my life.
In the Vault I had never gone hungry or thirsty, never had to sleep on a rotted out mattress next to freshly killed corpses, and never had to shoot someone or be shot at. Some of the skills I had been taught in the Vault had proven invaluable on the surface. Fixing broken water pipes and machinery and stitching wounds had earned me a few handfuls of caps. At the same time, though, so much of what I'd learned was suddenly useless. All of the books I had ever read and everything I knew about history wasn't going to save me when a bullet was flying at my skull. In the Vault I had never been taught how to repair a rifle, or how to wrap a scarf around my face to keep a sandstorm from cutting at my cheeks, or that it's best to stick a combat knife in a man's stomach because there it doesn't get jammed like it does in the ribs.
I glanced down at the faint green glow at my wrist for the time and saw that it was just after four o'clock in the afternoon. If it weren't for the clock in my Pip-Boy I would've long since lost track of how long I had been slinking through the old, dilapidated tunnels of the Old World. It was bizarre, but the artificial lighting and cramped spaces reminded me of the place I had spent the first nineteen years of my life in. The thought sent a pang of homesickness through me and I briefly wondered if I'd be able to go back when all this was done. I couldn't imagine why I wouldn't. I hadn't had any hand in my father's disappearance or the radroach infestation. Besides, I was a skilled mechanic and a decent doctor in my own right. My utility had to outweigh whatever bias the Overseer may have had against me. And if I couldn't convince him I was sure I could convince Amata, and that was all I'd need. I was certain of it.
Any further thoughts on what was once my home were quelled when I finally came upon the gate leading to the outside world. According to the map of the subway system I had downloaded from a terminal I had stumbled across this place - the map identified it by the odd name of "Chevy Chase" - was the section of DC that had GNR. I hoped that most of the inner city was still intact. If it looked anything like the outskirts I was going to have a hard time finding my way anywhere.
I had to squint against the harsh light of the mid afternoon when I walked outside and I ignored the urge to strap the goggles hanging around my neck over my eyes. The few hours I had spent underground had done more to my eyes than I thought. When my sight adjusted I frowned at the broken rubble and ruins around me. I wasn't surprised so much as simply disappointed and frustrated. It was like the world was against me tracking down my asshole of a dad. "God dammit," I muttered to myself. I wondered faintly how I was supposed to track down GNR through a mess of broken concrete. "I won't find it by standing around here," I sighed at length and headed in the only truly accessible direction.
The streets were filled with pieces of buildings and decrepit husks of Old World vehicles. Every cracked and crumbling building, every split in the pavement beneath my feet was another scar left on the world by the Great War. Two hundred years had done little to heal the wounds, it seemed. As I looked around while I walked I understood how terrible man could be. Washington, DC, once the national capitol of the United States of America, was reduced to nothing but a ruined shell of civilization by mankind's hate and fear.
It occurred to me that it wasn't alone. All over the world were other broken cities; monuments to mankind's thirst for destruction and death. I wondered if the people who launched the bombs ever thought about the survivors. Most probably doubted that there would even be any. They willingly consigned the human race to extinction over petty quarrels made massive because the wrong people had them. The common man was made to suffer for the sins of the so-called leaders of their nations. I wondered then if the cycle would end up repeating, though that relied on humanity actually managing to pull itself back from the brink. Would our species learn from this catastrophe, or would it simply be marked as a footnote in history in a few centuries so that the new genocidal maniacs in power could pretend that they'd do better in wiping out their own kind?
Any further musing was abruptly ended when I saw a pair of super mutants round the corner of a building. They caught sight of me almost immediately. One, wielding a rifle identical to my own, let out an almost joyful shout and raised the firearm into the air. The other charged at me with a sledgehammer held fast in one of its hands.
I dashed to crouch behind a large chunk of concrete to get out of the way of the rifle-bearer. The other was on me before I had a chance to get my rifle trained on it from behind my cover. Without thinking I dropped onto my back to avoid the low swing of its weapon. The sound it made when it crashed against the concrete of my cover shook me to my core. I brought my rifle up without bothering to stand and let out a shot. It didn't catch it in the head as I had hoped but instead punctured through the beast's thick neck. What I expected to be a debilitating wound only served to fuel its anger, though.
"Puny human! You die now!" it screamed. The fact that it could speak English chilled me to the bone. Something so inhuman speaking my own language seemed horribly perverse. The sledgehammer careening down towards my head kept me from having time to dwell on it, though.
I rolled to the side and heard the handle of the sledgehammer crack from the impact on the concrete where my head had been a split second before. I raised my rifle a second time, though this time I actually lifted it to my shoulder and took aim down the sights. The sound of the bullet impacting the mutant's skull was almost as satisfying at the gory spray that leapt from the back of its skull.
"One down," I muttered as I pushed myself back to a crouching position. I shot up from my cover and instantly had my rifle aimed at the mutant across the way. I fired before it did and managed to catch it in the chest. It was enough to make its shot go wide. Or at least wide enough that it only grazed my own shoulder. I hissed against the pain, shut it out of my mind and took another shot. This one found its mark in the mutant's skull and I was grateful that their heads were so massive.
I swapped my magazine for a fresh one and let out a harsh grunt at the pain the movement caused in my fresh injury. I set my rifle down against the concrete that had likely just saved my live and set about dressing my wound. I was just tying off the bandage when movement down the street I had been walking along had my rifle back in my hands and aimed at the new arrivals.
There were two people walking down the road towards me. I recognized the power armour and energy weapons from pre-war books and comics from the Vault. I lowered my gun, knowing that if they wanted to start anything my best bet was by far to just start running and hope. There wasn't much a light rifle like mine was going to do against power armour.
"This your handiwork?" one of them asked as she approached.
I noticed that of the two she was the one without a helmet. She looked barely older than me with light blonde hair, a fair, if dirtied, complexion and hard green eyes. I couldn't deny she was attractive, but there was a coldness about her I found a little intimidating. Not that I was going to let that show.
"Yeah, it is," I answered simply.
"Not bad, for a Wastelander," she said in an almost approving tone as she looked between the corpses. "What's a kid like you doing here in the middle of DC?"
"Looking for Galaxy News," I admitted. I saw no point in lying to people who could potentially help me find the place.
"What business do you have there?"
"I'm following my dad, and that's the last place I know he was headed. I'm hoping I can find something or someone there to get me back on track."
The woman stared at me for a second and I could tell she was reading me for something. Probably trying to figure out if I'd slow her down. Eventually she gave a curt nod and motioned for me to follow. "Come on. We're heading to Galaxy News. Just don't fall behind or we'll leave you there." I nodded back in return and swiftly gathered what little ammunition the super mutant I had killed possessed.
"Ah, man. Now we've got some Wasteland kid tagging along?" one of the others, a young woman by the sound of it, gripped to her obvious superior.
"Stow it, Reddin. It's my call, not yours," the older woman said in an even tone.
"Who are you guys, anyway?" I asked after a couple minutes of silent walking.
The blonde-haired woman looked back at me sceptically. "You just crawl out from under a rock?"
"A hole in the ground, actually," I smirked when I noticed she couldn't tell if I was joking or not.
"We're knights of the Brotherhood of Steel," she answered at length. "I'm Sentinel Sarah Lyons, leader of Lyons' Pride."
"The best damn squad in the Brotherhood," Reddin chimed in. She earned herself a sharp look from Sarah and a rather bored one from me.
"No offence, but when you're walking around in power armour and hauling energy weapons it makes it kind of hard for ordinary wasters like me to compare," I said, reminding myself of the laser pistol strapped to my hip. It wasn't in very good shape and at the moment I didn't know how to fix it. I shifted the rifle strap sitting on my shoulder unconsciously.
"That's why we have to take care of you," Reddin said smugly.
"Remind me not to save you later when everything goes to shit," I shot back. Even with her helmet in the way I could tell she was scowling at me.
"If I needed you to save me I wouldn't be much of a Brotherhood Knight," she growled.
"You're still an Initiate, Reddin. Don't forget that," Sarah chimed in. "He's right; things are going to go south as soon as we hit GNR. When they do, don't do anything stupid. Just do whatever I or Vargas tell you."
"Yes, ma'am," Reddin said dejectedly as we came upon a fourth person in power armour. He was looking down the scope of his rifle, taking aim at some foe we couldn't see around the upcoming corner. The powerful rifle barked out a shot.
"Another mutant released from its torment," he muttered in a solemn tone and turned to face us as we approached. With his helmet in the way I couldn't read his expression but I imagined it was one of some surprise when he saw me. "Sentinel Lyons, I never knew you were the type to pick up strays."
"Only the ones who can drop a mutie. He has business at GNR, apparently," she said. She looked down at the corpse laying next to the other Knight and frowned. "Jennings didn't make it?"
"Afraid not," he said and turned to me. A few weeks before I would've been stunned at his unconcerned attitude with death, but as it was I understood. "Vargas headed out ahead of us a couple minutes ago to try and back GNR up."
"Then we probably shouldn't be wasting time," I suggested with a shrug. I was expecting some scolding remark in return, but instead Sarah just nodded and motioned for us to head out.
We wound our way through the broken down buildings and rubble-cluttered streets. Every so often we'd encounter a super mutant corpse, presumably killed by Vargas on his way. Much more often, though, we ran into live mutants. Between the four of us they weren't much trouble. I noticed that I was racking up a great deal more kills than Reddin. I had to wonder how someone fresh out of a Vault was a better shot than a trained soldier. I briefly wondered if whether she were actually trained. Sarah and Colvin, as the other man had identified himself, were proving to be very good with their respective weapons. Maybe Reddin was just a rare poor example of Brotherhood training.
As we made our way further along I noticed that the resistance was getting heavier and I was thankful for the travelling company. I was burning through ammunition against the mutants and I wasn't sure if I would've been able to kill them all on my own.
After clearing our way through a half-destroyed building we found ourselves in what amounted to a courtyard before a huge building. Mutants and Brotherhood soldiers were exchanging fire, and by the looks of things the soldiers were vastly outnumbered and dropping every minute. It didn't take long to figure out we were at the Galaxy News building.
"Colvin, move around to flank them on the right. Wastelander, I want you to start hitting them in the back. Reddin, you're with me," Sarah barked out orders. I considered arguing but ultimately decided she knew how to handle these beasts a lot better than I did and went about her appointed task.
My rifle bucked against my shoulder with each shot into the backs of the mutants ahead of me. I assumed my duty was more for distraction and to ease the pressure on the soldiers in front of the building and did more to simply attract attention than actually kill. My light rifle was less than suitable for doing much more than annoying a beast like a super mutant. Still, the odd shot found its way into an oversized skull and I was surprised by the body count I was beginning to build up.
I ducked below a chunk of what was once part of a building in time to hear a barrage of lead impact the other side. It seemed terribly unfair that the mutants had automatic weapons. I wished for a moment that I had grenades and that I had paid attention to where Sarah and Reddin had taken off to. I thought at that moment that perhaps they had simply abandoned me to death to make it past the mutants until I heard the telltale hiss of their laser rifles rip through the air. The concussive blasts of Colvin's sniper rifle soon joined them and I took the opportunity to poke my head out and join in the fight.
It wasn't long before the concerted crossfire actually managed to cut down the attacking mutants. With Colvin carving through their ranks on the far right, Reddin and Sarah on the left and myself and the garrisoned soldiers on either end the mutants didn't seem to know where to return fire. We had them divided and they didn't know how to deal with it. I realized that a single gun on each side was far more effective than any number on a single front with a force as stupid as the mutants. They thrived on simply ploughing through anything that stood in their way. They were much like the locusts and Old World ants I had read about in a few pre-war books in the Vault, I mused. Being flanked and surrounded wasn't something they were prepared for.
"Nice shooting," Sarah complimented as I approached. A group of Brotherhood soldiers were gathered around a fountain in the middle of the courtyard. "Reddin, Colvin, I want a sweep around the perimeter. Make sure we're secure. Vargas, I want a casualty report. I'm going to go let our Brothers inside GNR that we're clear."
The soldiers scattered, leaving me with a pair of nameless and faceless Knights by the fountain. They were inspecting the body of a fallen comrade and I saw them pull a chain from the corpse's neck. I didn't pay much attention to what it was since my attention was distracted by what I assumed was some sort of weapon next to the body. I set my rifle down next to the derelict fountain and knelt next to the curious device.
"What's this thing?" I asked them as I hefted it. It had to weigh at least twenty pounds and looked like what amounted to a pneumatic catapult with a lever as an oversized trigger.
"It's called a Fat Man," one of them explained. "And be careful with it. It launches mini-nukes."
My mind flashed with useless things learned in the Vault. World War Two, Japan, Fat Man, Little Boy, Nagasaki, Hiroshima. August sixth and ninth, nineteen forty-five. I resisted the urge to drop the thing in shock. "Mini-nukes?" I asked stupidly.
I heard one of the pair - the one who hadn't explained what the thing was - scoff with a muttered "Fucking locals."
The other simply picked up what looked like a short, fat missile and held it out to me. I recognized it as a very tiny and much cleaner version of the bomb sitting in the middle of Megaton. "One of these," he chuckled. "It rests in that cradle, you pull the lever and it throws it at whatever you're pointing the business end at. Or at least that's the plan. These things aren't all that accurate."
"Some small part of me doesn't think it needs to be," I chuckled back and held the nuke in one hand. The Fat Man itself wasn't too bad to just rest on my shoulder while I inspected the mini-nuke.
A loud rumble mingled with a roaring shout attracted our attention. I saw Reddin at the far end of the courtyard transfixed by a spray of dust and concrete. "Reddin! Get back!" I heard Vargas shout over the following crashes and roars. It seemed the target of his words was deaf to them, though.
An overturned bus erupted from the ground before the Brotherhood Initiate and in its place stood a monumental example of a super mutant. For the briefest moment all I heard was dead silence until it was shattered by the deafening crash of the bus returning to the cracked and broken pavement. "Behemoth!" someone cried. I couldn't tell who.
I supposed that I should have been awestruck by the massive beast. It held a club fashioned from a fire hydrant attached to a lamppost and had a collection of shopping carts lashed to its back. It was an immensely imposing sight and yet all I could think was how I had the fullest opportunity to save Reddin with the Fat Man on my shoulder. I had the fullest opportunity and I was not going to do it. I was going to make good on my earlier word and watch her die and I felt completely vindicated. I supposed if there were time I may have even shouted something to her. "I told you I wouldn't save you."
Instead the words died in my mind as I watched the giant club slam into her side with a sickening crunch of metal and flesh and bone. Her body flopped awkwardly through the air like a rag doll sent soaring by a child's tantrum. It landed in an unceremonious heap on the ground. Twisted at inhuman angles, it was impossible to tell what was once her body and what was simply power armour that had been smashed into it.
The mutant turned its eyes on me and began its slow stalk forwards. Or perhaps it only seemed slow with the adrenaline pulsing through my veins. I could feel terror seize my heart in an icy and crushing grip and suddenly realized how hard it was to breath. For an instant I wondered why it had chosen me as its target despite the laser fire streaking through the air around me. Perhaps it didn't even feel the concerted light show the Brotherhood soldiers played across its skin and simply saw me as the nearest victim.
Instinct more than actual thought raised the Fat Man in my arms to bear on the beast. I was grateful for how simple the weapon was. One pull on the lower lever set the catapult running along its rails with the telltale hiss of gas being released from its tank. When the cradle hit the end of its track a horribly misplaced "ding" signalled the warhead's flight through the air.
The Fat Man was as accurate as it had been advertised as being, though. The nuke went wide and ended up impacting the ground a couple metres behind the lumbering beast. It didn't seem to make a difference, though. The blindingly bright light engulfed the Behemoth an instant before I had to avert my eyes for the pain. The sound was thunderous and left my ears ringing for several seconds as the smoke cleared.
The sound of crushing footsteps made it over the ringing, though, and I opened my eyes to find myself staring at the crippled but still very much alive mutant. Or at least I was staring at the club as it soared down towards me. How had it gotten so close so fast, I wondered just before diving forward and rolling between the mutant's legs. The sound of concrete exploding behind me told me that the long-since dry fountain had been formally demolished.
I felt metal and wood in my hand as I scrambled through the dust and lifted one of the automatic rifles that had been formerly used by an attacking mutant. I had no idea how many bullets were in the magazine or even if it was empty and didn't have the thinking power to wonder or care. I simply turned towards the silhouette in the dust and squeezed the trigger. When it rattled to life in my hands I pointed it down at the mutant's crippled leg where I guessed the knee was.
It seemed I guessed right since the Behemoth dropped down to land on its hands and knees. Its club fell and for a short instant I felt some measure of hope. Then it spun with shocking quickness and slammed the side of its fist into my ribs. My leather armour did little to soften the blow. Adrenaline and determination were all that kept me on my feet, though I did stumble a few paces and instinct drove me to press my hand against my injured chest. Sheer ruthlessness is what drove me to drive the barrel of my firearm through the beasts eye like a spear. I squeezed the trigger again, uncaring of the pain shooting up my arm as I tried to hold the rifle steady with one hand. The Behemoth's head exploded with the bullets tearing through it literally from the inside out. Still, I wasn't going to take any chances and I kept my hand clenched tight until the gun uttered a soft "click".
As I pulled the rifle's barrel from the monster's eye I realized my hands were shaking and I couldn't stop them. I suddenly felt weak and lightheaded and had to force my body to keep its composure. Dozens of places around my body were starting to throb in pain and it dimly occurred to me my armour had probably taken more than a couple bullets and hadn't even noticed. Adrenaline was an amazing thing. It was less than stellar when it started to wear off, though. I was certain the blood pounding in my ears was going to deafen me before too long.
I pulled the empty magazine from the rifle. It nearly slipped from my hands from the sweat coating my palms when I stuffed it into my ammo belt. I looked around for my hunting rifle. When I found it I was less than pleased to see it in pieces amidst the wreckage of what had once been GNR's fountain. I sighed and stooped down to retrieve its leather strap. I may as well get something back from the destroyed weapon.
I spent a few moments both calming down and collecting ammunition for my new assault rifle. Its last owner had clearly taken poor care of it so when my heart was still beating fairly hardly I took the time to collect a couple spares to work with and strip for parts. I also grabbed a few of the hunting rifles the mutants had been using. They were reliable and would kill most anything I ran into outside the city proper.
I approached the Brotherhood soldiers and earned myself a raised eyebrow from the blonde woman standing with them. "You missed with the Fat Man," she pointed out. I was surprised that she made no comment about the weapons in my arms.
"It isn't my fault the thing's impossible to aim," I shrugged. "...Sorry about Reddin," I said as Vargas talked to someone inside the building. I wasn't really, but I didn't figure Sarah needed to know that.
"She died honourably," she sounded contrived. I couldn't blame her. Reddin had actually died like an idiot just because she didn't know how to duck.
"So you taking any recruits to replace her?" I asked while we walked towards the building's doors.
She paused for a moment before shaking her head. "You can handle your own; I'll give you that. We don't take just any Wastelander, though, and even if we did it isn't my call."
Just any Wastelander? I wanted to laugh. I wasn't some two-bit raider just out to be a pain in the ass. When I thought about it, though, I also realized that doing something like joining up with the Brotherhood would probably get in the way of finding my stupid father, and as much as he may have lost some favour with me I still wanted to track his ass down. "Whatever," I answered with another shrug.
I heard a click emanate from the door that I assumed was a lock being opened. "You're here to talk to Three Dog, right?" Sarah asked as we walked in.
"If he's the guy in charge, yeah," I nodded.
"Then here's where we part ways. I have to see to my men. Take care of yourself, kid," she said with a short nod back.
I dropped the guns off at a table on the way and headed further inside. There weren't many ways to go; most of the doors had been blocked off by collapsed ceilings and overturned furniture. I eventually came to the top of a staircase and found a man sitting at a desk with what looked like a the intercom station from back in the Vault. He was wearing a pair of headphones and speaking into a microphone, though I had missed whatever the start of his speech was. "...Has gone quiet. The locals haven't come out to trade with the caravans in several days. So if you find yourself over by Grayditch, stick your head in and see what's what," he finished.
He suddenly seemed to notice me standing behind him and spun around. A smirk pulled across his lips when he caught sight of me. "Until next time, this is Three Dog," he said with a short mock howl, "now here's some music, courtesy of Billie Holiday." He put the microphone down, pulled off the headphones and stood up to walk over to greet me. He looked a bit younger than my father, judging from the flecks of grey in his hair. "Well now, it isn't too often I see a new face around here. I know what you're thinking: who the Hell is this guy and why should I give a damn, right?"
"From what I've heard you're Three Dog, the guy who runs this place, and I give a damn because there's a good chance my father stopped in here recently," I answered.
I could almost see the lightbulb in the man's head flicker on. "So you're James's kid. He said something about a son. Shouldn't you be back in that Vault?"
"As far as he's concerned, probably," I frowned. "Did he say where he was going after leaving here?"
Three Dog took on an apologetic look and I instantly knew there was a job I was going to have to do. "Look, kid. I'd love to help you find your dad. But Galaxy News...she's hurting," he stopped when I raised my hand to quiet him. He actually looked surprised that someone hadn't let him go off on a story.
I wasn't in the mood for stories or speeches. I knew what was coming and didn't feel like waiting longer than I had to. "Save me the bullshit. Just tell me what I have to do to get the information I need to track down the son-of-a-bitch."
A/N: ...I really need to stop ignoring this. On the bright side, it hasn't quite been two months since the last update and I have a good idea of what direction this story is going to start moving in. And I know I promised dark a while ago and I really will deliver on that. It just takes an unfortunate amount of time to setup. Especially when it's being written for free.