Fort Wayne, the Great Midwest Commonwealth

"...hurrah for the flag of the free... may it wave as our standard foreeeverr..."

Half-drunk, Augustus idly muttered as he rifled through the mutilated remains of a raider he savagely bludgeoned to death with the stock of his rifle earlier, along with the rest of his gang.

"...the gem of the land an' the sea, the-ha ban-ner... of the riiight."

He flashed a yellowed half-grin upon fishing out an unopened packet of cigarettes from the dead raider scum's coat front pocket. He momentarily stopped looting just to light one up and smoke it. With a more satisfied look on his face, the old scavenger continued on with his grisly work.

"...let despots remember the day... when our faaathers with mi-hi-ghty endeeaa-vor... proclaimed as they marched to the fraaay... that by their might, and by their right, it stands foreeev— oh. "

It was quite the find: hidden away inside the raider's coat itself was an exceedingly long, serrated sword bayonet, circa the 19th century. How a common wasteland scum managed to get his greasy mitts on such a prized weapon baffled the old man, but he did remember coming across a looted war museum dedicated to the first World War.

"Heh. God bless this country... what's left of it." Augustus stashed the blade away, inside his own coat. He made to stand up and continue looting the raider's other dead fellows, when he was suddenly forced to slither into the shadows and keep a tight lid on his mouth. Something was coming... and it was loud.

"—CKET'S RED GLARE, THE BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR, GAVE PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT, THAT OUR FLAG WAS STILL THERE!"

Immediately after did a shadow loom over the old scavenger, accompanied by the sound of rotors whirling around. A lone vertibird painted in Enclave colors just passed by him overhead, loudly streaming a song that used to represent all sovereign citizens of the United States.

"OH, SAY! DOES THAT STAR-SPANGLED BANNER YET WAVE, O'ER THE LAND OF THE FREE, AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE?"

Augustus cursed up a storm and hurriedly picked up what equipment he left lying on the ground. With faint hope in his heart and renewed strength in his legs, he sprinted down the street in an effort to catch up with the hovering aircraft.

"HEY!" He shouted in the air, desperate to be heard. "Over here, you fucking apes! I'm right HERE! DOWN! HERE!"

After a few moments of continuous running and more screaming, Augustus felt massively relieved to see the vertibird swivel around to his direction, its pilots having finally spotted his small profile jaunting across the empty streets. Augustus gradually slowed down to a leisurely jog as the aircraft carefully lowered itself down to his level. He had hoped to make contact with the Illinois outposts through his underlings from before the fall for other reasons, but this time, he had to do it in the flesh for another reason entirely.

The vertibird's wheels made contact with the cracked pavement with a pair of guttural scrubbing noises. Immediately after did the craft's side doors slide off to the side, revealing a rather large group of soldiers both in and out of power armor.

"Are you Colonel Augustus Autumn?" One of the soldiers asked as she climbed down from the craft, to meet the former Enclave colonel up close. "We've heard from our scouts that you've been making waves all over this area; clearing raider camps, defending settlements and wiping out feral ghouls! That right, sir?"

"That's right, soldier. I'm Autumn." Old man Autumn smiled crookedly, looking well at ease.

Of course, this demeanor of his was a carefully-practiced facade. At first sight, Autumn immediately noticed that something wasn't quite right with these "Enclave" soldiers; instead of Winchester Model P94 plasma rifles, they were carrying the more recent Capital Wasteland urban variant. Furthermore, despite getting the brown and dark gray paint-scheme right, their power armored soldiers wore advanced X-01 power armor instead of the old Mark II, as appropriate for the technologically-outdated Illinois personnel.

With this in mind, the former colonel hurried to formulate his game plan in case things turned sour. "I'm assuming you boys and girls are from the Chicago contingent? I've been meaning to find you — I've got some important news to tell your commanding officer."

"You could say that, sir." She nodded, smiling as well. She made some sort of signal with her hand to her comrades behind her, inside the vertibird. From his peripherals, Autumn could make out the faint profiles of people inside the vehicle arming up, shouldering their guns and double-checking their ammo. Without a doubt, Autumn knew it was his cue to act.

"Oh, and you might want to stand still for a moment, sir." The soldier's grin threatened to split her face in two. "We're just—"

Without so much as a warning, Autumn socked her in the face, crushing her nose and sending her staggering back. The soldier quickly refocused her wits, unholstered her revolver sidearm and made to point it at Autumn, when the latter cruelly swiped it out of her grasp with a vicious swing of the sword bayonet he found, unintentionally slicing off a couple of her fingers in the act.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." The colonel drawled, grabbing hold of the soldier's tactical riggings with his left hand and pulling her close. He then used his right to set the serrated edge of his blade hovering just an inch over his hostage's throat, silencing her agonized yelping. Behind her, however, the other soldiers hurriedly filed out of their craft, brandishing an armory's worth of laser and plasma weaponry at their old Enclave foe.

"Put the damn knife down, old man! Unhand Knight Douglas this instant, or face the consequences!" One of them shouted. "Elder Pedersen has given the order for your arrest or summary execution! Give it up and make this easy on yourself!"

"Brotherhood scum." Colonel Autumn sneered. "Thought you could trick me, did you? I'm insulted."

"You'd do well to stand down, colonel." The soldier Autumn was taking hostage managed to word out, despite her pain. "More of us are coming. What makes you think you can get away from us this time?"

Autumn smirked. "Easy, my dear."

In a swift series of movements, Autumn pulled out all the pins on the three grenades hanging from the soldier's riggings. She had enough time to widen her eyes before her captor shoved her back, right toward her own comrades. With his foes completely distracted, Autumn took the opportunity to whirl around and make a run for it.

"Shit! Take it off, TAKE IT OFF, TAKEITOFF!" The soldier shouted in panic as her comrades hurriedly tried to pry off her riggings. Fortunately for her, a power armored colleague managed to rip it from her body just in time. With a grunt, he tossed it into the distance, where it exploded harmlessly.

"The old bastard's getting away!" Autumn heard one of them cry out behind him; he immediately knew that a volley was imminent. He looked around the empty street as he sprinted for all his worth, but to his dismay, found no adequate cover he could hide behind nearby.

"Then what are you standing around there for?! CUT HIM DOWN!"

Autumn hissed and cursed profusely as enemy projectile fire screeched past his sides and over his head. With no cover in sight and with the threat of death hanging over his head, the old man knew he had no choice but to use the expensive device hanging from his belt like a satchel.

The Brotherhood squad was baffled to see their exposed target suddenly disappear from sight, as if he just vanished into thin air.

"Watch it, gang!" The power armored designated marksman shouted, peering through her rifle's tinted scope. "He's got a Commonwealth-variant stealth boy, but I've got thermal sights! He's heading deeper into Fort Wayne, thinking he can lose us there!"

"Excellent... some sport!" The paladin squad leader exclaimed. "Rally on me, soldiers! We must relocate and erase this old foe— but be wary!"

He smirked as he reloaded his steaming plasma rifle. "The infamous Colonel Autumn would not make for an easy prey." He took the first step forward, pointing a metal finger into the distant ruins. "Onward, brothers!"


The Commonwealth

"Deux gigaoctets de données !" Kryger sounded incredulous and amazed. "Comment est-ce possible ?"

"Oui, je suis plus avancé que la plupart des modèles, monsieur." Curie sounded eager to respond in kind.

"Ach," Kryger lightheartedly scoffed. "Il n'y a pas besoin d'être modeste; vous êtes beaucoup plus que cela."

Meanwhile, at the back of the formation, the rest of the group trailed behind, listening to the major and the Miss Nanny babbling unintelligibly with one another at the front. The two of them had been prattling this way ever since before they even left Vault 81, with no signs of stopping so far.

"Hey, fellas, can y'all cut the damn frog-talk just for a sec?" Paulson cried out from the back. "How far are we to Diamond City? We've been walking for hours, and there ain't no goddamn green walls in sight! Are we even headin' the right way?"

Kryger looked behind. "The pip-boy never lies, Paulson. We should be just an hour from it now."

"He's right, I recognize this rock." Piper quipped. "Oh, it's got a bit of dried blood on it. Forget what I said."

Preston rolled his eyes and looked to the major. "How long do we plan on staying in the settlement, sir?"

"Long enough to resupply our equipment and do some repairs on both our robots — Codsworth needs his guns cleaned and recalibrated and Curie hasn't had any maintenance since before the nukes fell." Kryger scratched his bearded chin. "Might also be interesting to see what kind of internal hardware she has installed... they all look cutting-edge, the most advanced I've ever seen. If I can get my hands on the proper tools, I bet there's plenty of room to improve on Curie's Miss Nanny chassis... if she'd let me, of course."

Piper snickered. "Jeez, Green, buy her a robot drink first. You've only just met."

"Hah," Kryger heaved a single, sarcastic breath of a laugh. "Thanks for the suggestion, Piper. What do you think, Curie?"

"I do believe a few modifications are indeed in order." The Miss Nanny said, uncertain. "In the lab, my survival was not much of a priority, as you must have figured out. As a result, I may not be able to function as well as I should out here. I apologize for this."

"If needed, I can assist with this, major." Olin cut in. "As a scribe, I know much about pulling machines apart and modifying them to suit their purposes better."

Kryger nodded. "That's good, though I'm not too sure about the "pulling apart" bit. We're only going to weld in a few useful bits of steel and tweak her software to accommodate them, just like I did with Codsworth. Might be useful to install a better medical subroutine, too. I know the Mister Handy and its variants aren't known for their fine motor skills."

"I am most relieved to hear that, but I assure you, I have a grip as steady as any human surgeon." Curie waved her claw-arm for emphasis. "But enough about me. How is it that you have come to know so much about robotics, monsieur? You simply must be an engineer."

The major balked at that. "I'm not smart or motivated enough for an engineering doctorate, but my family had connections with the armed forces, so I enlisted there instead. With the amount of Gutsies in the infantry and the general lack of competent mechanics a few years into the war, you'd have to pick up a few things on how to keep them running and on your side."

"Ah, so you're a serviceman. Most intriguing." Curie sounded impressed. "That explains why the others sometimes refer to you as a major. You must be very brave to willingly risk your life fighting the Chinese!"

Kryger arched a brow. "Yes... but don't you find that odd, what with everything that happened out here?"

"Actually," Curie pondered on that for a moment. "Now that you made me think about it, yes... yes, I do."

"My master isn't exactly from this time period we tread, madam." Codsworth pitched in. "I was with his family from before the war, more than two hundred years ago. Just before the bombs fell, the Krygers managed to take refuge in Vault 111, where they were suspended in cryogenic stasis by the Vault staff without their knowledge."

The Mister Handy mimicked a shivering motion. "Unfortunately for me, I had to stay behind and await their return to the surface. I hoped they'd return after a decade or so, but woe is me, my wait was a lot longer than that. All the horrors I've witnessed would've certainly be enough to drive anyone mad, but I persevered. It was a harrowing experience altogether, but I'm sure not as much as what the major had to endure."

"I... understand..."

Curie seemed a little overwhelmed by the amount of information dumped into her processors — which was something, considering that she had two entire gigabytes at her disposal. In comparison, Codsworth only had a single megabyte to himself, even after all his upgrades.

"If it's any consolation, I know how it is to wait a long time in complete isolation, Monsieur Codsworth. Still, I am sure my time in the lab could scarcely compare to yours in the Commonwealth."

Codsworth waved his own claw-arm in a dismissive, nonchalant manner. "Eh, it wasn't all bad really. The constant danger staved off the crippling boredom and kept me on my toes, it did! Ha hah!"

The Miss Nanny laughed along. "Yes, I suppose it must have been quite the exciting experience for you." She then trained one of her synthetic eyes at Kryger.

"Although I must say, Commandant Kryger, your part in it must be the most fascinating aspect of my research thus far. What are the chances of ever meeting a Mister Handy, and his perfectly preserved serviceman master from before the war? Barring biblical figures such as Methuselah, you must be the longest-lived human in history!"

"Eh-hum." Paulson coughed.

"Oh, the many questions I could think of asking you. It will take us many hours — and perhaps even days — but for science and progress, it will unquestioningly be worth every minute spent!"

Upon hearing that, Paulson promptly hid behind the others and tried to draw less attention to himself.

Kryger shrugged. "Maybe one day, Curie, but I think it's time we focus on our main objective. Diamond City is just around the corner, we should prepare ourselves to enter the settlement. Preston, you're in charge of our inventory; how much caps have we got left?"

"Give or take two thousand. Maybe a little less than that." The Minuteman answered frankly.

"Right, we should have enough to pay for everything we need... but if we find ourselves short, we could always pawn off the excess gear we scavenged from the Gunners." The major uttered, mostly to himself. He then turned to Piper. "Ms. Wright, should we expect trouble at the gates?"

"Not really, but I'm not completely sure." The reporter scratched her cheek. "You've been inside, so McDonough shouldn't have a problem with seeing you around, but then again, you didn't stick around long enough for anyone to take notice of you."

"Hm, and I certainly don't plan on changing that." Kryger frowned. "We're just gonna get in, get what we need, and get out as quickly as we can before we draw undue attention. Am I understood, squad?"

Piper looked annoyed. "At least give me some time to see if Nat's gotten into trouble while I'm away. You won't even notice I left for a while."

Kryger sighed. He softened his tone. "I'm sure we can spare time for your sister. But for now, we should keep moving."

More hours passed as the squad kept traversing the ruins, though it did not take long for the distinctive faded green walls of the old Fenway Park baseball stadium to appear in sight. This time around, however, patrolling four-man squads of Diamond City Security officers roamed the area, looking all agitated and alert.

"Hey! You there!" An officer called out to the major's company as they approached. He carried a dirty, heavily modded Type 93 assault rifle and spoke in a subdued Scottish brogue. "Everyone's on high alert right now, and we've orders to not just let any idiot into town! What're you all here for?"

"Lemme handle this, Green." Piper placed herself in front of the major, though such an action was unnecessary. The major was just about to let her take point, being the only native of the city in his group. "Officer Craig? It's me, Piper Wright! What the heck happened out here?"

The Institute happened, lass." Officer Craig frowned, wiping his nose. "It happened a week ago. Some guy suspected one of his mates got replaced by a synth, and as it turned out, he's right. When it found out that its cover's blown, the bloody robot pulled out a shotgun and went berserk — right in the middle of town."

The man ran a hand through his hair in a weary, exasperated manner. "Lotta good people died before it was put down. Three adult civilians, two children and one off-duty officer... gone, just like that."

"Wh-what?" Piper noticeably paled at the man's grim answer. "Natalie — is she alright?"

The guard grimly nodded. "No need to get your knickers in a twist; the girl's fine. Those crazy Bolsheviks at the Dugout Inn made sure of that, I heard."

The reporter gave out a sigh of relief and let her tensed shoulders sag. "Words can't express how glad I am to hear that. I'll definitely write an article about the Bobrovs once I get to the printing press. Can you let me through now?"

"Technically, McDonough's orders still stand; you're not allowed in unless he says otherwise." Officer Craig pulled his gun upward and stepped to the side. "But whatever, I have more important shite to deal with today."

Piper gratefully nodded. "Thanks a lot, Craig."

He stopped her before she could take another step forward. "Aye, but do be more careful inside, though. People are... tense, after all that happened. Also, that last article you wrote? People thought you finally went off the deep end with that one; they thought you've run out of ideas and started making things up. It didn't help that you disappeared with little explanation soon after."

"Excuse me?" She blinked. "I assure you, what I wrote was a hundred and twenty percent true. That person I wrote about — Major Kryger? He's right there behind me, see?" She indicated at the major, who shrugged and waved back. "He's totally real."

"That so?" The man cocked a brow, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. "Hm, so you're telling me that man over there's the same square-jawed, steely-eyed git from all over the recruiting posters in the Commonwealth? He looks tired... and bored. Decidedly less impressive-lookin' in person."

"Oh, come on! He's practically dressed for a parade!" Piper exclaimed, somewhat offended. "How can he look so unimpressive to you with all those ribbons and golden crap plastered all over his body?"

The man squinted, scratching his chin. "They look like shoddy knock-offs to me..."

"It might surprise you to know that I'm both capable of hearing, and also physically present." Kryger deadpanned, annoyed.

"Okay, okay. No need to get all worked up." Officer Craig held up a hand from his rifle and smirked. "Head on inside, but remember to stay out of trouble. We'll be watching you... as always."


The Citadel, the Capital Wasteland

Sentinel Winters stared at the holotag she had in her hands. Idly, she traced a finger against the tiny letters engraved on its surface. Together, they spelled a name she was glad Sarah, Tristan and Gallows never got to see in the flesh.

As her commanding officer at the time of her death, I am responsible for her alone, her thoughts resounded in her head; cold, unfriendly, accusing. The guilt should fall solely to me.

"It's not your fault, sister." Paladin-Commander Kodiak must have noticed her grieving. "Nobody could have known the mercs had rigged their armory with explosives. The Pride was lucky to have gotten out of that place with only one casualty."

"I know." Winters breathed out, pocketing the tag. She turned, looking to Kodiak with a blank, weary stare.

"But... I just can't help but think about what might have happened if things worked out differently. What if I didn't order her to take point? What if I made her stop being stubborn for just one moment and had her take up a T-60 suit instead of her old T-45?"

The sentinel looked down, sighing, "There are so many things I could have done before I sent her in there... so many precautions I could've taken... If only I was a little more careful, Dusk might still be with us — missing some limbs and scarred for her trouble, but alive."

Kodiak shook his head, gently setting his hand over his leader's shoulder.

"There was nothing else you could have done, Elise. Dusk would have hated to see you like this. Don't get me wrong, she'd love to see Glade and Colvin crying, but you moping about because of her? She'd have slapped you back into shape."

"You're right about that." Winters uneasily forced out a grin. "Ugh, let's just get this over with. Come on, the rest of the boys are waiting for us."

With that said, Winters and Kodiak pushed past the door leading to the Citadel courtyard, where a Brotherhood-styled funeral service is being held for another departed member of Lyons' Pride.

Elder Maxson was at the center of the group of gathered brothers and sisters. He was in the middle of delivering an impassioned speech about Paladin Dusk's previous accomplishments in service to the East Coast Chapter, when he noticed the sentinel arriving into sight. After acknowledging her with a firm nod, the young elder went right back to where he left off.

Star Paladin Vargas left his position in the crowd and walked in step with Winters and Kodiak as they passed by. "Elise, where have you been? I was beginning to think you'd never show up."

"I was considering that." Winters grimaced. "I don't deserve to be here."

"Nonsense." Vargas frowned. "You're the last person to be excluded from Dusk's funeral."

Winters said no more after that. Together with Vargas and Kodiak, she navigated through the crowd and took the empty seat reserved for her. Upon arriving there, she could see Knight-Commander Colvin at the front alongside Maxson after being summoned. There, he proceeded to sing Dusk's praises while failing to hold back his tears, the notorious rivalry he had with her all but forgotten.

Elder Maxson took the grieving Colvin by the shoulder. "She is indeed one of the Brotherhood's finest. Truly, it is a shame to lose such a soldier like Paladin Dawn Hyeung."

He then raised his other hand, balling it into a fist. "The causeless, avaricious remnants of Talon Company has yet again claimed the life of a righteous defender of our cause. We must not let this slight stand unavenged, brothers and sisters! Together, we must endeavor to continue eradicating what's left of these honorless bastards off the face of the land we've struggled to rebuild, lest they take another of our own!"

Most of the Brotherhood audience started cheering as they expressed their agreement. They only stopped when Maxson held up a hand in a silencing gesture. After a while, he took hold of the microphone from its stand and started to speak through it once more.

"Just past our borders, near the ruins of Baltimore, lies a sizable Talon Company hideout. Recon Squad Damocles has reason to believe that the mercenaries have set up a lucrative trade peddling slaves in that area, and they have yet to reinforce their numbers after having lost so many to our forces and that of the super mutants. If we strike at them now, we may yet come down upon them at their weakest... then we'll exact justice for every man we've lost to their guns, as well as deliver freedom to those that need it most!"

The resulting cheer that followed the elder's speech was defeaning. Maxson had singlehandedly whipped the crowd of solemn mourners into a frenzy of hate and righteous fury... a testament to his charisma and considerable oratory skill.

"I need volunteers!" Elder Maxson proclaimed through the microphone he was holding as he started marching back into the depths of the Citadel, with his rabid horde of avid followers close behind his every step. "Those who step up to heed my call shall be among those sent inside the first vertibirds. I want—"

Maxson's deep, reverberating voice trailed off as he disappeared behind the door, leaving the remaining members of Lyons' Pride behind in the courtyard by themselves. Slowly, they exchanged a few more words in memory of Paladin Dusk before parting ways.


Diamond City, the Commonwealth

"Okay..." Kryger turned around to look to his company. They were standing in the middle of town, just beyond Takahashi's noodle shop.

"Olin, Codsworth, Curie, you three are with me. We need to find ourselves a spot where we can do some repairs and retrofitting safely. Preston, you're in charge of buying our "groceries"; try not to spend all our caps in one place. Piper, I'll leave you to do whatever you need while in the city. Paulson, where do you want to go with Dogmeat?"

"Hm, I'm feeling thirsty all the sudden..." The cowboy drawled.

Kryger sighed. "You've been doing a lot of good, Paulson, so I'll let you go this time. Just... try not to get too drunk, okay?"

"Not a problem, son." Paulson smirked. Followed closely by his dog, he turned around and made a beeline straight toward the nearest pub. Quickly, he disappeared from sight.

"Right..." Kryger set his sights back to the team. "Any questions I need to hear before we go about the city?"

Preston raised a hand, and Kryger wordlessly implored him to speak. "Uhm, this "grocery list" you gave me... besides the ammo, meds, gun parts and food supplies, why is it so full of junk?"

"Junk?" Kryger feigned ignorance. "Care to elaborate, Mr. Garvey?"

The Minuteman took a knee, set down his personal knapsack and pulled out a half-rotten piece of wood with tiny chalk markings engraved on its surface.

"See here, it says that should I find these items being sold, I should trade for them: Abraxo-brand cleaning agents, wonderglue, alarm clocks, bits of aluminum scrap, ceramic bowls, broken biometric scanners and even microscopes, telephones, typewriters and dinner trays. I can't help but ask... what do you need these things for? I don't see any use for them out in the wastes."

Kryger saw the question coming just as he was writing down the list hours ago. "Not many people know the true value of discarded bits of wasteland junk. Tell you what, bring me those things I've written down, and I'll let you see just how useful I can make them, given enough time."

"If you say so, major." Preston stood up, though he still sounded a bit skeptical.

Kryger nodded. "Anything else?"

"Hey, um..." Piper slowly raised a hand, though she seemed uncertain. "Can one of you guys like, come over to my house in the afternoon? I'm going to speed-write some of the stuff we've been through in the Commonwealth, and I need someone to help with the writing. Maybe some revision and proofreading, too."

Preston crossed his arms. "Why don't you have Natalie do it?"

"Pfft, Nat usually has me proofread what she writes." Piper scoffed, waving a hand. "Besides, having been personally out there to witness exactly what I'm writing about, anyone in this company would make for a good editor."

"Hmph, I can't think of any reason why anyone would actively want to waste their time doing pointless, inane things with people like you, Reporter Wright." Olin, rather nonchalantly, worded out.

Piper turned on her heel and glared at Olin, looking indignant and beyond annoyed. Before she could fire off her own caustic remarks, Kryger seized the moment.

"Olin, after we're done with the repairs, I'm "volunteering" you to work with Ms. Wright as an editor for her paper."

"I beg your pardon, major." The senior scribe's reaction was instantantaneous. Her shoulders tensed up as she turned around; with the smirk she once sported disappearing completely. "I'd sooner shoot my own foot rather than spend even a minute—!"

"That wasn't a request, senior scribe." Kryger cut her off. He paused for a second before adding, "Codsworth, why don't you come visit Publick Occurences later today? I need someone I can trust to make sure these two won't kill each other before we leave the city."

"You can always count on me, sir!" The Mister Handy chirped.

"You... are a wicked man, Major Kryger." Olin shook her head disapprovingly. She spoke no more, but she clearly did not look forward to being near both a woman she loathed and a sentient machine for an extended period of time.

"For once, I agree with you." Piper folded her arms across her chest as she looked to Kryger. "I don't think this is wise, Green. Seriously, Blondie here can do whatever she likes, just not in my house."

"Noted." The major kept impassive. "If that's all, then we should really get going."

The company spent another minute discussing their plans before splitting off toward their own corner of Diamond City... though not before handing over their bags, satchels and backpacks filled with assorted loot for Preston sell off.

Before long, Kryger, Codsworth, Olin and Curie managed to set themselves up a makeshift repair bay in a deserted, northwestern corner of the city, adjacent to the green walls.

As for Preston, he took a deep breath, mustered his resolved and started bartering with Myrna at her surplus store.

Piper — after making sure her sister wasn't hurt in the synth attack — got into her office, pulled up a seat and immediately went to typewriting all about the company's journey thus far.

Both Paulson and Dogmeat were nowhere to be found.

After setting down their tools and commandeering the use of a public workbench, Kryger and Olin went about with the repairs on Codsworth and Curie. Olin figured she was one of the best in the Brotherhood when it came to fixing robots and machinery, but she usually always had the resources needed to do such nearby, generously provided by scavenging field scribes such as Haylen. That day, however, the team clearly lacked the raw materials to even begin the repairs, and as astute and proficient as she was, Olin knew she couldn't exactly rectify any issues on the two robots without enough of the goods she needed.

The senior scribe was just about to speak up and let the major know of the problem she perceived, but he managed to utter out first,

"We need more steel... aluminum, too." He stared at the inactive forms of both Codsworth and Curie, a hand to his chin and a thoughtful look to his face. "Hm, and if we want to finish the retrofits, we need ceramics, some rubber, plastics, three meters of raw circuitry and nuclear material."

Olin looked bemused. "In... deed..." She shook her head and cleared her throat. "Ehem, how do you propose we acquire the resources we need? I fear that without them, we can't begin our work."

Kryger did not answer, but instead, he looked around. They were standing at a T-junction, right near the partially-painted walls that protected the settlement from outside threats. Nearby were scattered bits of assorted junk, a fully-occupied but disused motorcycle rack, an abandoned, rusted-out National Guard M42 half-track parked near the wall, a dead, partially-cannibalized Mister Gutsy robot, and a sun-baked children's playground. All in all, the area was remarkably dirty and overflowing with garbage, and it wouldn't surprise the major if the area was treated like a junkyard by the locals.

"Perfect." Kryger sauntered over to the motorcycle rack. "Let's get to work, Olin. Strip these for parts... salvage whatever we can. We'll put them to better use."

Olin gave him a wide-eyed, baffled look. "What? Surely you can't be—"

The words died in her mouth after witnessing the major prying a motorcycle's gas tank loose with his bare hands. Softly muttering a curse, the senior scribe packed up her tools and ran off to assist her sole surviving paragon.


The Prydwen, Adams AFB

"Hey, uh, lady sentinel! Over here!"

Winters stopped on her tracks and looked to her side, whereupon she saw Veronica the Mojave liaison running across a hallway and pushing aside crewmen in an effort to greet her.

"Santangelo." The sentinel evenly received the other woman as she arrived, but said nothing more. Her strained tone-of-voice and the noticeable thousand-yard stare she sported were worth a hundred words by themselves.

"Hey..." The hooded senior scribe sheepishly rubbed the back of her head. "I just heard about that mission the Pride last took... I'm sorry about what happened, for what it's worth."

"What's done is done." Winters probably never intended to make her voice sound aggravated and bitter, but she was too tired to care. "Don't get me wrong, I do feel terrible... but I can do nothing more for Dusk."

"Yeah... I know how you feel." Veronica frowned, recalling the years she spent and the adventures she had with him in the Mojave. It saddened her that after ten years, she still felt her stomach churn when remembering those times, and how they're gone for good.

Still, Veronica tried to always look on the bright side of life. It was one of the things he taught her before he was abruptly taken before his time.

"If it makes the both of us feel any better, why don't you come join me at lunch, then? I always wanted to hear more about the Pride... you were legends even further west in the Mojave, you know?"

Sentinel Winters briefly considered the offer. "Ah, thanks for the concern... but I've been summoned to report to Elder Maxson at the Command Deck. Apparently, he's finally managed to round up some volunteers to replace the losses the Pride has sustained over the years."

"Oh? That's great news, then." Veronica smiled wanly. "I'm sure things would turn up for the best in time, sister. Some other time, then."

Winters smiled back and nodded stiffly. "Yeah, maybe I'll take up your offer tomorrow, when I've got time. Ad victoriam, senior scribe." She saluted.

"Ad victoriam...?" Veronica returned the East Coast salute, but hers needed work.

Winters coughed and continued walking down the halls, and soon, she arrived at her destination. Quietly entering through the door to the Prydwen's Command Deck, the sentinel was greeted by the sight of Elder Maxson standing at his usual spot, with his back turned to her, and his gaze focused on the Brotherhood-held airfield down below. By his side was a serving tray lined with various drinks, ranging from cheap whiskey, to the finest pre-war wine.

"Sentinel." Maxson crisply greeted Winters as he turned around. "I callied for you, but I did not expect you to come so early." The elder scooped the wine bottle he had been drinking out of and poured its liquid contents into a matching pair of drinking glasses. "Help yourself. I know you need it."

"Thanks." Winters walked over to Maxson. To his credit, he did not look surprised in the least when she ignored the wine completely, favoring the unopened bottle of Nuka-Cola on the tray. "Let's get down to business. Who did you assign to replace my losses?"

"Hmh," Maxson took a sip of wine. Slowly. "Lest you forget, Elise, your losses are for the entire Brotherhood to share. But... I concur, we should talk less about the past and focus more on matters of greater import."

Winters crossed her arms, intermittently taking draughts out of her drink. "I'm all ears, sir."

The elder set down his glass. His eyes were still on the sentinel as he bent down and picked up a folder visibly bulging with paper from his tray of drinks.

"This folder contains two dossiers of the volunteers I've hand-picked for the Pride." Maxson handed over the folder from his keeping to Winters'.

"One of them should fit in nicely as Knight-Commander Colvin's new spotter, and she should prove to be sufficiently skilled as a pathfinder as well. As for the other... well, I believe you already know more about him than I do."

The sentinel inclined a brow as she skimmed through the paragraphs of meaningless, bureaucratic text. She only stopped when she found a single glimpse of clarity within the incomprehensible mess of typewritten letters.

"Paladin Siiri Penttilä." Winters recited the strange name that crossed her eyes; she was certain she mispronounced it somehow. Next to the name was a picture of a black-haired woman's expressionless face, with noticeable scars and burns marring her distinctly Nordic features.

"Quite the unusual name for a paladin, wouldn't you agree?" Maxson said as he turned around, looking back to the window overlooking the airfield below the zeppelin.

"Paladin Siiri is a transfer from the Northern Ronto Chapter. Before she joined our ranks, she is told to have come from a land beyond the eastern sea and much further up north, where the sun is rarely seen... since winter never ends. The conditions she had to endure growing up had hardened her enough that the high elder himself considers her one of the best scouts at his disposal."

Maxson looked over his shoulder. "And now, she is yours to command. She'd be of great use to you."

"I'll be the judge of that." Winters seemed skeptical. She flipped to another page, read the print and was shocked to see a picture of a face she recognized... most dearly, in fact.

"You cannot be serious..." She muttered, tracing a metallic finger over the picture.

Elder Maxson smirked, nodding. "I've a feeling you'd like to have him on your team."

"Oh, you." Winters smiled as she continued reading the dossier, genuinely this time.

For a brief while, thinking about the fact that an old friend of hers would soon come to join the Pride almost made Winters forget that a much older friend had just recently perished in battle, and right in front of her own eyes, no less. She was quick to squelch this line of thinking, however.

"Looks like my request for a competent medic in the Pride finally worked out, and I couldn't have asked for a better man than Elliott Tercorien! Hah, I never thought he'd finally leave the safety of his workplace."

Maxson uneasily shifted at that. "Yes... Scribe Tercorien has always preferred to avoid field assignments whenever he could, and I think it's strange that he volunteered to work under you, considering where you usually spend most of your time."

Winters closed the folder and tucked it under her arm. "I suppose I should thank you for this. Elliott is a good friend of mine."

"There's no need for that. I'm only doing what I should, as your elder." Maxson said. "Although... there is one task I'd like to order Recon Squad Diomedes to undertake later this day, but I think it'll suit the newly-reinforced Lyons' Pride much better."

Winters briefly considered it. As a Brotherhood sentinel, she knew Maxson couldn't order her around, but since she felt she owed him, she stood up straight and made to listen.

"Tell me all about this "task", sir."

Elder Maxson seemed pleased. "This one concerns a missing scout patrol. Tell me, Elise, have you heard about Recon Squad Artemis' disappearance in the Commonwealth?"


Diamond City

Hours passed as Kryger and Olin kept up with their duties. Together, the two of them managed to almost completely strip the area clean of the eyesore-inducing clutter, thereafter they worked in concert with one another in breaking them down for components, raw materials and other resources for use during the repairs.

Dusk was rapidly approaching over Diamond City, and the repairs were very nearly finished. Work had flowed very smoothly and enjoyably for Kryger and Olin, so much so that they scarcely noticed the hours quickly going by.

"...so you're telling me, the president this "Enclave" the Brotherhood fought ten years ago actually planned to poison the Capital Wasteland's water supply, intending to wipe the region clean of anyone supposedly "impure" in his eyes?" Kryger secured a panel on Curie's central housing, sealing it in with a few twists of his hex key.

"Impure in its eyes, Major Kryger. President Eden wasn't human, but rather, a sophisticated and extremely dangerous artificial intelligence, housed within an advanced pre-war supercomputer." Olin attached Codsworth's sawblade arm and manually made it swing around a few times in an arc. "Thankfully, before the Enclave could execute their plan, the Brotherhood narrowly put a stop to it. Eden's soldiers defended the purifier with misguided courage and tenacity, but Elder Lyons' troops triumphed over them in the end."

The senior scribe visibly smiled at the memory as she stared off into the distance, her grip on her torque wrench slackening. "I remember Protector Casdin's surprise upon hearing the news... though it was only until Arthur Maxson took over as elder that he started to seriously consider rejoining the Brotherhood..."

"Arthur Maxson?" Kryger initialized a reboot of Curie's systems.

"Hmm?" Olin still seemed unfocused when she turned to Kryger. After quickly gathering her wits, she thumped her own forehead. "Oh! How dreadfully thoughtless of me. I almost forgot to tell you about Elder Maxson!"

"Let me guess..." Kryger wiped his brow. "Is he one of Roger's descendants?"

Olin nodded eagerly, setting her tools down. "Yes! The last one, actually. Elder Maxson really turned things around for the Brotherhood; under Lyons, it was dangerously close to collapsing due to his tender-hearted weakness and general incompetence. With Maxson in charge, the Brotherhood's East Coast detachment surged rapidly in both number and strength — enough that our decadent, misguided foes in the NCR have started to consider us to be more than a mere annoyance."

"I see." Kryger already knew he wasn't about to get an unbiased description of the Brotherhood's elusive leader from one of his underlings, so he just smiled and turned most of his attention back to his work. "He certainly sounds like... an interesting sort. Maybe I'll get to meet him in the flesh one day."

"Oh, you will, James." Olin said. "Sooner or later, you'll come to meet with our elder... it's either that, or he'll come to meet you himself."

"Hmh." The major shrugged. "Alright, we're almost done. How's Codsworth doing?"

Olin quickly checked. "Systems are stable, with only minimal corruption on some of the cached data. I say, this Mister Handy unit has seen some very extensive retrofitting and custom work... more so than any other of its kind I've ever seen."

"His kind, senior scribe." The major tersely corrected her before going on with the matter at hand.

"Whenever I'm on leave, I bring home some junk I managed to salvage from the Mister Gutsies and sentry bots destroyed in the line of duty. If it could fit Codsworth's central frame and his programming could accommodate it, it never could hurt trying to apply it to him."

Olin seemed impressed, looking intently at Kryger with those upturned blue orbs of hers. "And why would you need military-grade upgrades for Codsworth? Did your neighbors find it strange that you're outfitting a robotic manservant for war?"

"It's not any of their goddamn business, but of course they did... and not just because I'm a Polack." There was a hint of resentment to the major's tone.

"Despite what the neighbours thought, I do have legitimate reasons. Just when the war started heating up, I often worried about the Chinese invading Boston with paratroopers or proper landing troops, what with how close it is to the sea. In the event that they actually did, and I'm away at the time for certain reasons, I programmed Codsworth to guide and protect my family throughout the invasion."

His voice took a darker, more deliberate turn. "I've seen... what the PLA did to the people living in territories they've occupied. Heh, after all those years," He looked down and sighed harshly. "Urgh, it's all the same where I was posted — Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even the Soviet Far East. Men were tortured before being executed, women were... were defiled, and some were murdered right after. Don't even get me started on what happened to children."

Kryger looked more and more agitated as he continued, "Villages were completely depopulated and burned down, entire cities were looted and the earth was scoured of what little natural resources left, and those who resisted the Chinese advance were impaled on stakes and left to bake in the sun, to serve as an example, if nothing else. Seeing these things during my tours... made me paranoid. I don't want anything like that happening to my family. Nobody would."

And with that said, Kryger once more got back to work, leaving Olin alone to ruminate on his words.

"...I actually thought those pre-war propaganda posters all over the wasteland exaggerated how heinous the Chinese could be," The senior scribe spoke up after a moment spent in silence. "I mean, did the PLA really disembowel pregnant women with swords before impaling the still-breathing, underdeveloped infant on stakes planted on the ground? Heavens above, I had thought American propagandists had such morbid creativity to invent such atrocities in order to demonize their foes."

"They exaggerated quite a lot, sure," Kryger continued working, not even pausing to look at the scribe. "But they had to take their ideas from somewhere. And believe me, Olin, there's no better source material than the things soldiers like me got to see with our own eyes."

The major grumbled, clearly tired of having to recall all those unpleasant sights. "How about we shift the subject to something else? I intend to keep my lunch where it belongs."

"Ah, of course." Olin nodded, clearing her thoughts. "Hm, you just mentioned having been to Soviet territory... and if I'm not mistaken, your files from the Citadel did not mention you having been anywhere near Russia for the entirety of your career..."

In an instant, Kryger's gaze snapped to Olin. "Did I say that?"

"Yes, you did. The Soviet "Far East", to be more precise."

Kryger's face brightened up at the memory. "Oh... well, the government kept this one off the books. Officially, my unit wasn't involved in a joint US-Soviet defensive operation against Chinese forces. I didn't get the whole story, and my men got even less, but I think the reason why we were even fighting another country's battle on its behalf is because our secretary of defense at the time owed the Soviet premier a favor."

The senior scribe seemed thrilled to hear of something new she did not know about the paragon. "I'm listening."

The man shrugged. "Anyway, since the brass knew I'm a polyglot and Slavic, they assigned my power armored unit to work under a Russian colonel-general, along with several others. In summary, we bunkered with Soviets, got to know them better, defended half a dozen cities along the Russian-Korean border, froze half to death in the winter, pushed the "bad" commies out of the country, bid the "good" commies goodbye... and went back home."

"Heh," The edge of Kryger's lips twisted upward, making a half-smile. "We got along with the Soviets so well, some of us actually got awards from the Kremlin for our trouble." His gaze shifted down toward the considerable amount of service ribbons sown into his uniform and indicated at a particular one at middle of the very bottom row.

"The Soviet head of state gave me this: the Order of the Red Star." He said, sounding proud despite himself.

Olin squinted, examining the ribbon. It did not look very flattering compared to the other ones at the upper rows, being only a dark red field in a moiré pattern with a solitary silver stripe cutting a path down the middle.

"How very unusual..." She feigned interest.

"More than you know." Kryger nodded, seemingly oblivious to her indifference. "This one's normally awarded only to Soviet personnel, but the premier pulled strings for us to be considered as such. I'm actually very flattered — she appreciated what we did, and even if it was just for appearance's sake, I still appreciate the gestu..."

"Major?" Arching a brow, Olin implored Kryger to continue. For some reason, he suddenly stopped mid-sentence. "Something wrong—"

"Shh." Kryger suddenly held up two fingers at Olin.

"You hear that?" He whispered to her. Olin removed her hands from Codsworth's chassis, wiped them clean of lubricant and looked around, listening in for sounds. While she was not as perceptive as the major to pick up what he was hearing immediately, indeed, it was only a little later until she heard muted footsteps marching in concert with one another, slowly treading closer to their position.

Kryger also took his hands from Curie's internal workings, though he already started reaching for his laser pistol. "I think we're about to have some company, and not the good kind."

After a while, a large group of local settlers had appeared into sight, brandishing mostly improvised weaponry such as lead pipes and baseball bats. Quickly doing a mental count, Kryger saw that they numbered at twenty four.

"Here he is!" One of the settlers at the forefront, a girl barely out of her teens, pointed an accusing finger at Kryger. "That's him! Wright really wasn't talking shit!"

"That's him, alright!" Kryger was surprised to see Myrna herself among the settlers. But then again, she hadn't really made any effort to mask her paranoid, rabidly anti-synth personality.

"Is that so...?" Another of them, a hulking, jian-wielding, visibly muscular lout wearing dirty wasteland leathers, cursorily examined the major before drawing his blade from its sheath. He was obviously the leader of this group. "Alright, boys... form up. Come on, y'know the fucking drill."

Kryger and Olin warily stood their ground as the crowd dispersed, forming themselves into a rough circle in an effort to bodily obstruct every exit available.

"Halt! Don't come any closer!" Kryger made his move, training his weapon at the settlers as they slowly closed in around his squad. It did not take long for Olin to do the same with her laser shotgun. "I'm warning you! One more step and I'll shoot! State your business!"

"Our business? Hah!" One of them laughed as he hefted the sledgehammer in his grasp in a threatening manner. "You made the last mistake of your synthetic life, tin can! We know what you are, and who you really work fo—!"

Kryger made good on his promise. He lowered his aim and fired a single laser pulse at the man's leg, causing him to quickly drop his weapon and double over on the ground, gasping in pain while clutching at the exposed, severely-burnt flesh.

In shock at what happened, the crowd immediately stopped advancing as they hesitated. The brief amount of relief he was given proved enough for Kryger, as by the time the angry settlers decided to commit to a full-on charge, he and Olin had already reactivated both Codsworth and Curie.

"Good evening, sir!" Codsworth piped up as he rebooted. "What can I— bloody hell!"

"I am most confused. What is happening?" Curie's trio of mechadendrites whirled around, as if she couldn't decide which one she should use.

Kryger kept his barrel leveled over the settlers, which had thankfully stopped advancing once more with the robots' activation. "Nothing important, just some idiots who think I'm a goddamn synth. Again."

"I resent that remark!" The senior scribe shot the major a brief glare.

"We don't think, we KNOW you're a fucking synth!" The anti-synth mob leader shouted, trying to look more intimidating by showing off his sword by randomly swishing it in the air. To an experienced swordsman like Kryger, however, he only made his amateurish skill with the blade a lot more obvious. "Everyone's seen your ugly mug on those posters all over the Commonwealth; there's no goddamn way an old ghost like you can still be up and about without turning into a ghoul!"

"Yeah!" Myrna pushed herself at the front of the crowd. "I always knew you were up to no good the moment you showed up in my store! I'm a—"

"Paranoid lunatic?" Olin brusquely cut in, pointing her laser shotgun at the older woman. "Why, yes. Most evidently so."

Myrna's face scrunched up in visibly rage. "And who the hell are you, then? Probably another one of those synth-humping Railroad spooks! Bah, people like you disgust me! How can you stand betraying your own race to them!" She angrily pointed to Kryger.

"Hah." Olin smirked. "A synth sympathizer is the last thing I am, citizen."

Kryger let out an exasperated groan. Turning to look at the mob leader, he said, "Didn't Piper already made it clear in her paper? I was frozen by Vault-Tec over those centuries! Hell, I never even knew the Institute existed until she told me about it!"

"The difference between us and Wright is that we ain't stupid and naive enough to believe robots like you!" Another of the crowd shouted. "There's only one real way to find out if you're really one of 'em, and that's through what's inside you, soldier-boy! We're gonna cut you open and see if there's metal inside!"

"Yeah!"

"Exactly! That's it!"

"Come on, boys! Let's cut him open!"

The rabid anti-synth crowd started chanting as they advanced, hoisting their weapons high. Kryger and Olin exchanged a look before the major put a hand on Codsworth's chassis, just as Curie silently brought out her defensive laser mechadendrite. No words were said between the four of them, but a grim message was conveyed all the same

They were going to have to crack a few skulls and perhaps even kill a few, but hopefully, whatever passes for authority in the city would understand. It was all in self-defense.

Just as Kryger was about to order a pre-emptive assault on the settlers, a flying brick soared through the air and smashed itself against the mob leader square across the face, knocking him out cold as it shattered to pieces from the sheer force of the impact.

"Bastards!"

Everyone looked up to see a tall, rather thickset man standing on the roof of a nearby shelter, holding an RPD light machine gun in his grip. He was flanked by four other well-armed settlers.

"These people are under protection of Bobrov brothers now!" The newcomer's voice was set in a very heavy Russian brogue. He theatrically waved his free arm around, making shooing motions with it. "I have big gun and many strong friends! If you value your lives, you will leave! Immediately!"

"Fuck off, Vadim!"

"Yeah, this ain't none of your business! Don't start what you can't finish!"

"Watcha gonna do, Russian? We outnumber you thirty-two to five!"

The man, apparently called Vadim, ignored the other settlers' unimaginative taunting and put his thumb and index finger inside his mouth. Inhaling sharply, he blew out a powerful whistle.

The only warning the anti-synth crowd got before they were accosted by a second group of gun-wielding settlers was the sound of rifles being cocked. A tense standoff between the three groups briefly erupted, but only after a little while did the anti-synth crowd acknowledge the fact that while they still outnumbered Vadim's group as well as Kryger's squad, they unfortunately lacked the weapons to take on their more heavily-equipped foes.

"You'll fucking regret this, Bobrov!"

One by one, the anti-synth crowd walked away from the scene until not one of them was left. When the coast was clear, Kryger stashed his pistol away and relaxed. Sighing, he steadied himself to face his squad's erstwhile savior.

"Thanks a lot for that, stranger. For a second there, I thought we'd have to resort to violence." He said as Vadim approached.

"Not to worry, comrade!" The Russian grinned widely.

"My brother Yefim and I have heard much of you through Publick Occurences, and unlike most other people in this city, we believed what Piper wrote in her paper! We know her too well — we know she is not one to write lies and fanciful tales like Ministry of Enlightenment back home!"

"Ah, but where are my manners?" The man laughed, extending a burly hand for the major to take. "I am Vadim Nikolaevich Bobrov, owner of cozy place Dugout Inn, and unofficial leader of local ex-Soviet citizens' fellowship. It is great pleasure to finally put face to name, Major Kryger!"

Before Kryger could so much as speak, Vadim had turned to his comrades and started excitedly introducing them to Kryger one by one. From their names alone it was clear that they were all from Eastern Europe... much like the major himself.

"This is Pyotr from Chukotka," A heavily-scarred man wearing a tattered black coat and a woolen cap slung his battered Kalashnikov over his shoulder and stoically nodded.

"Adrijana from New Yugoslavia," A younger-looking woman extinguished her primed molotov cocktail, disposed of the half-burnt rag and toasted her bottle at Kryger. She then quickly started drinking from out of it.

"Yuliya from Novgorod," A pale, middle-aged woman packing a modified PPSh-43 in her hands tipped her ushanka and smirked.

"Marko from Tropoja..." A tall man with wild, curly black hair holstered his revolver and grunted dismissively.

Vadim stopped to give Marko a pointed glance, though his smile held up. "You must do the cheering up more, Albanian!" He then continued with his introductions. "Ehem, where did Vadim left off? Ah! And here is..."

The Russian innkeep's lengthy introductions of his friends had gone on for more than ten minutes. Kryger tried his best to look as attentive as possible, which wasn't hard, considering that this group of peculiar people were some of the most colorful he had seen. Olin, however, had to catch herself a few times before she could start yawning.

"Now that we are all acquainted," Vadim heaved a breath of air. "I believe I should take you both in before it is getting further dark, yes? You must be very tired after working all day fixing robot friends! Ha ha!"

Kryger arched a brow. He held up an arm, rolled up his sleeve and looked to his Polish watch. Aside from the date being permanently capped at the 30th of December 2200, the time seemed to function as normal. He was somewhat surprised to find out that he and Olin had been working on the robots for six hours straight, and it was already four hours past his squad's scheduled departure at 2:00 PM.

He hissed out an oath. "I think we got a little carried away back there, Olin. We need to find the others; we've already wasted enough time as it is."

Olin walked up behind Kryger and opened her mouth as if to say something, but she instead cut herself off with an involuntary yawn, causing a chain reaction of yawning on some of the ex-Soviets.

"Ah, how unfortunate. It seems we found our work a little too enjoyable." She smirked. "Alas, some things did not go according to your plans, major. I do so hope Reporter Wright did not notice my absence in her home overmuch."

Kryger cursed again. He had completely forgotten to let Olin and Codsworth go and help out with Piper's work, much to the senior scribe's visible relief. Before the major could even tell her she wasn't off the hook just yet, however, Vadim boisterously clapped a burly hand behind his shoulder. When he did the same to Olin, she flinched at the force he applied.

"Dugout Inn is good place for rest!" The man excitedly proclaimed. "You are good comrades with Paulson and Piper, yes? I remember seeing their faces there, and it is best that you join with them! Come, it is only short way from here!"

"If that's where they are now, then that's where we're headed, I suppose." Kryger looked behind his shoulder, to Codsworth and Curie. "Let's move it out, squad. We'll redraw our plans from this... inn."

"Of course, sir." Codsworth chirped, with a noticeable jaunt in his "steps".

"As you say, monsieur." Curie followed after the Mister Handy.


US Air Force Personnel Emergency Muster Point 4, Adams AFB

"Elliott." A faint smile crept upon Sentinel Winters' face as she received one of her newest recruits for the Pride. "It's definitely been a while, hasn't it, iceman?"

"Too much of a while, Elise." Scribe Tercorien, in contrast, grinned quite openly. Despite this, his body language seemed nervous... likely because of his agoraphobia. "How's life been treating you? I've heard you don't take orders from the elder no more, being a sentinel and all."

"Sometimes it's great, sometimes it sucks. The usual." The sentinel shrugged, shaking her head. Before Tercorien could speak more, Winters subtly leaned over to him, her mouth drawing close to his ear.

"The ship." She whispered. "Please tell me you're not stepping up for the Pride just to tell me it's been discovered."

Tercorien visibly paled as he shook his head. "No, no, of course not! It— it's still safe... h-hidden." He breathed out nervously. "You and I both made sure of that, remember? Nothing's changed, as far as I kn-know."

"Hm..." Winters withdrew. "That's nice to hear, iceman." She then cleared her throat and shook her head. "Anyway, since you've... volunteered to be one of us, I think it's time you get finally acquainted with the rest of the Pride. Star Paladin Glade, can you take Elliott here for a tour of the crew?"

Glade let out a theatrical sigh through his helmet's external speakers as he stepped forth. Gripping Tercorien's shoulder with his gauntlet, he said, "Right, pretty boy, you're coming with me. How many times have you been out in the field?"

The scribe nervously laughed as he was not-so-subtly dragged away by the star paladin, to be introduced to the rest of the old Pride. With Tercorien out of the way, Winters turned on her heel and finally mustered the courage to speak to her other recruit, the enigmatic pathfinder paladin from far north, Siiri.

As the sentinel looked her way, Siiri immediately diverted her own gaze from the Prydwen in the sky and settled it down to her new commanding officer. For several uncomfortable seconds, the paladin kept that way — staring, gauging. Winters, despite herself, couldn't help but feel a little unnerved at Siiri's piercing scrutiny; her pallid blue eyes, unsightly scars and the weathered M40A5 bolt-action rifle strapped to her back certainly did not help.

"Welcome to the Pride... sister." Winters started, unsure of what to say. "As you should already know, I'm Winters."

After another second spent in silence, Paladin Siiri nodded. "Yes... your performance during the Jefferson Memorial Siege earned you a place in the Codex, I've heard."

Her voice was softer than Winters imagined, though she kept a crisp, professional air to it— much like a proper soldier. "For all intents and purposes, sentinel, you're a celebrity not just among the Brotherhood, but for the entire wasteland."

"Heh, something like that." Winters couldn't help but smile. She always liked being recognized. "Anyway, did Arthur tell you all about the mission we're about to undertake? In the Commonwealth, I mean."

"The elder was most punctual." Siiri returned the smile, though hers was colder, less sincere. "We are to take a vertibird to the Commonwealth, survey our surroundings for clues as to the whereabouts of Paladin Brandis' advance team, organize a rescue attempt for any survivors from Artemis, and bring them back home safely if possible. Is this the gist of it?"

"More or less." Winters crossed her power armored arms, clinking them together in place.

Speaking of power armor, Winters had just started to focus on how Siiri was not encased in one, merely being clothed in a Brotherhood soldier's field jumpsuit, armor and gear. "Have you everything you need? We leave for our objective first thing in the morning tomorrow, in case you're unaware. If you need a proper suit, I'm sure Proctor Ingram can supply you with a spare suit of T-60b—"

"I prefer to take to the field wearing light equipment, sentinel." The pathfinder interrupted her. "And trust me... I won't ever need one of those things weighing me down."

Winters shrugged; Vargas and Gallows back in the day used to eschew power armor when they thought it appropriate, and she was already quite adept at leading light infantry. From the looks of things, Tercorien seemed to prefer being in his poorly-armored scribe robes just as well. "Hmh. Your call, sister."


Diamond City, the Commonwealth

"Welcome, welcome all!"

Vadim seemed every bit like a good host. The boisterous Russian ushered Kryger, Olin, Curie and Codsworth inside the Dugout Inn, which seemed every bit like the pubs Kryger had used to visit with his men back during his deployment to the Soviet Union. There was even a little jukebox in the corner that played a jaunty, distinctly Hungarian tune.

"Please, take seats! Make yourselves at home!"

Vadim gestured at the empty tables in the establishment. Kryger noted that there were only few, given how occupied it was. Looking around, he could see plenty of people with noticeable Soviet features. Most seemed Slavic like himself, but there were plenty of Magyars and Finno-Ugric individuals as well. There were a few obvious Diamond City locals here and there which included the waitress, but clearly, the inn was overwhelmingly populated with Vadim's kind of people.

"Green!" Kryger was halfway across taking a seat when he heard Piper's voice. Craning his head to the direction of it, he saw her sitting at one of the tables along with Paulson and Dogmeat. Save for Preston, the other half of the team was there. "Over here!"

Olin, as usual, seemed less than impressed. "I suppose it's out of the question to ignore Reporter Wright, major? Yes, I believe it's best if we just pretended she did not exist." She seemed sarcastic, though only partly.

"Tsk, tsk. There's no need for that." Codsworth said, with only a hint of subtle disapproval in his voice.

"Why would we pretend one of our own does not exist? It seems rather... counterproductive to our group's integrity." Curie innocently observed.

The senior scribe looked behind her shoulder and frowned. "Because she already is counterproductive not just to our unit integrity, but to the success of my—" She forced out a cough. "—our cause."

"Truly? Ms. Wright has contributed nothing but good to our endeavor thus far." Codsworth's usual aristocratic, polite tone-of-voice seemed distinctly more barbed now. "She's been in this company for much longer than you, need I add."

Olin's frown quickly turned into a scowl; she already had a caustic retort in store — she wouldn't had hesitated to respond to Codsworth in kind if it weren't for Kryger's presence. Upon looking back ahead, however, the senior scribe was surprised to see the major gone from her side; he was already seated by the table offered to him by the reporter, looking as comfortable as could be among the wastelanders as if they were his battle-brothers.

The sight soured Olin's mood quite a bit. After all those hours she spent subtly trying to influence Kryger in order to make him see and think like the Brotherhood paragon he was, she really did thought she was getting through to his stoic, unrelentingly "professional" facade; she did not think that he would abandon her to them as quickly as he just did.

"Well, there's no use milling around here." Codsworth's voice snagged the senior scribe back to reality. "Come, we must rejoin with the other half of our company."

Meanwhile, at his corner, Kryger was busy skimming through the thick stack of potential Publick Occurences content Piper had unceremoniously dumped into his reluctant keeping. With fifteen full pages containing nothing but his company's recent adventures throughout the wastes, it was clear that the young reporter had a talent for churning out an extreme amount of words into paper within a relatively short amount of time.

"Looks good," The major put the stack down on the table, looking back up to the expectant faces waiting on him from across his seat. "Besides a couple of typos here and there, I don't see any glaring issues. You're leaving this to your sister to publish, right?"

"Yep, Nat's got it covered." The reporter nodded, pausing to think a bit. "Now that that's out of the way, what do you think of the quality of my writing? How does it compare to the press from before the war?"

Kryger blinked, remembering his wife's own stack of paperwork on her desk, left for him to proofread.

"...You know, I'm actually surprised at how impartial you made those reports; everything you wrote in here was exactly what happened out there, more or less. I half-expected it to be full of... strong language... and bias against the Brotherhood."

"I'm trying to write the truth, Green, not my own brand of propaganda." Kryger mentally winced at the look of genuine offense Piper shot his way. "All reporters have their own views, sure, but good reporters don't dilute the truth by using the press as a mouthpiece for whatever they have in mind."

"I know," He sighed, frowning slightly. Even though she was a photojournalist, Kathérine would have said as such. "Sorry, I meant no disrespect."

Piper threw up her hands in a nonchalant "don't worry about it" manner, and Kryger took the awkward silence that followed as his cue to press on to more important matters of note.

"All this... truthful reporting's all well and good, but did you know that Olin and I were attacked by a mob of settlers in the city?" The major anticipated how Paulson and Piper quickly focused all their attention to him, the former out of surprise and curiosity, and the latter more out of concern. "Apparently, they read your interview about me, and like the Danse's squad, came down to the same conclusion."

Paulson drained a shot and wiped his mouth. "Did'ja kill 'em?"

"It almost came to that." Olin supplied. "Thankfully, those settlers never got to pay the price for their stupidity."

All color seemed to drain out of Piper's face. "Aw, jeez, I didn't mean for something like that to happen when I published that interview. How did you get out of that mess?"

Kryger opened his mouth to respond, but was promptly silenced when Vadim Bobrov himself appeared by their table, and beside him was another man that looked almost exactly like him, only with a stoic frown, a small scar gracing his lip, and a tattered three-piece suit to distinguish him from the more rugged-looking Russian.

"Major James Kryger, this is Yefim, my twin brother!" Vadim, ever-smiling, introduced the other, more refined-looking man to Kryger. "As I have said, we both have heard of your story through Publick Occurences, and by God, what a story it is!"

Yefim nodded slightly as he looked to the major. "Indeed. We wanted to see you for ourselves, in person. Do tell us — is it true that you've seen what it was like before the war?"

The major noted the contrast between the twins; compared to his brother, Yefim spoke more natural-sounding English, was noticeably lankier, and seemed distant and less animated when speaking.

"Yes..." Kryger nodded. "Thirty years of it, to be more exact." He then turned to Vadim. "Also, thanks again for the assist back there. Things could've gone a lot uglier if you didn't show up."

Vadim beamed as Yefim made a grunt of approval. "It is nothing. As long as we could, we take it upon ourselves to help our Slavic brothers, those seeking refuge from the Kremlin, and those who are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. I believe you fit two out of three of those things I've said."

"The Kremlin?" Kryger shot Yefim an odd look. "The Soviet Union's still around?"

Yefim's frown turned a lot more sour, for some reason. "Unlike your United States, yes. The Union yet lives despite the amount of nukes it took, mainly because the Party's leadership was not as centralized as most of the world's governments back then."

The major took the time to absorb this new information. Finally, he spoke his mind, "You... make that sound like a bad thing. Why are people trying to flee from the Soviet government in the first place?"

Vadim pushed his brother aside, his eyes narrowed down to slits. His smile was gone, replaced by an open-mouthed scowl.

"Because Soviet leader has no tolerance for dissidents, free-thinkers, deserters and those he thought to be enemies of state. If one man says he does not want to fight in Red Army, or shows even slightest opposition to Party policies, he is taken to work in gulag or to fight anyway in shtrafbat... and that is if he is considered lucky!"

The Russian growled, baring his teeth in sheer rage. Olin, Codsworth and Curie slowly backed away, while those who were seated simply had to hold their ground and hope for the best. All were wary of the increasingly agitated man.

"If ministers were in especially bad mood, they have political officers simply shoot man in head, burn house, take away livestock and do terrible things to family to make example to others! We may be at war, but surely there is no need to become like animals!"

"Dima. It is alright." Yefim took his hyperventilating brother by both shoulders and started speaking in soothing Russian. "Listen to me. We are safe... here in the Commonwealth. We are beyond their grasp in this contrry, just like mother said."

Slowly but surely, Vadim's anger left him, leaving him looking oddly confused and embarrassed for a large man. "Yes... I remember. We're in America. The commissars... they can't reach us now, brother. Any of us. We're... safe."

Kryger felt his mind swimming in legions of unanswered questions. He let his curiosity slip for an unguarded moment.

"Hold on a moment," Without thinking, he spoke in clear, unaccented Russian. By the time he noticed the words were out of his mouth, he thought it too late to stop. "Vadim, you said the Union is at war, didn't you? With whom, might I ask?"

Yefim seemed only mildly startled to hear his mother tongue coming from an obvious foreigner. After a while, he sighed, looking to Kryger while massaging Vadim's shoulder with a hand.

"Please. This is a question that brings us much... discomfort, major. Forgive us if we cannot answer it as this time. Some other time, perhaps?"

Kryger flinched, regretting ever indulging himself. "Of course. Some other time, then."

Yefim nodded again, "Enjoy the rest of your stay here, my friend. If you'll excuse us, I think Dima is in need of a strong drink."

The company observed the twins leave, and an awkward silence between them soon followed. It was brief, however, as it was broken by Codsworth's voice.

"So... what now, sir? I do believe we're here to discuss your plans for the night..." He said.

The major sighed as he spied a glance at his watch. Looking back to his team, he spoke,

"Right, let's get down to business. According to the pip-boy, assuming we encounter minimal amounts of rubble blocking our path, it's only a short walk from here to Park Street Station. If we proceed to our objective right now, we should be able to return before sunrise with Valentine in tow. What do you say?"

He was expecting the miffed looks Piper, Olin and Paulson were giving him, though Codsworth and Curie seemed oddly content. With the way his ears perked up and his eyes gleamed in the shadowy atmosphere of the inn, only Dogmeat seemed truly enthusiastic about his idea.

"Son..." Paulson drained another shot of of his brandy. His hands, for some reason, were slightly shaking. "In case ya haven't noticed, it's already fuckin' late. I reckon we'd do a hell of a lot better at our jobs if we get some rest for the night first."

Piper nodded her agreement. "He's right. You probably already know this— but at night, the ruins around Boston get real crowded with Frankensteins, raiders and murderous assholes in general. Sane people generally let the night pass before heading on out at day. I'd like Nick back as much as the next guy, but there's no use killing ourselves trying to do it in the process."

Kryger exhaled. Adopting a coldly determined look, he began, "I understand your concerns, I really do. But trust me on this, I know what I'm doing." He swept his arm over the team, as if imploring his comrades to examine themselves. "Look at us; counting Dogmeat over here, we're barely larger than an average-sized squad. As an officer, I've personally led entire battalions of—"

"What's a battalion?" Piper chimed in.

"—entire units of several hundred men behind PLA lines during night operations, hidden and undetected until it's too late for the enemy." The major did not even pause for breath, though he did turn to give the reporter an exasperated look. "If I can infiltrate that amount of soldiers into hostile lines, how hard can it be to do it with five people, one dog and two robots?"

This time, he paused to let his words sink in. "Also, ever since that incident at Ackerson Bridge, I've been thinking..." He placed his hands on the table, leaning his weight to it while giving most of the squad appraising looks.

"If you really do want to help me find Shaun, I'd have better uses for you as actual soldiers rather than civilians. The choice is up to you, of course... but if you want to undertake some extra infantry training, I'll be more than happy to get you up to speed. Lord knows I could use a little less time worrying about your safety in a firefight."

"Awww." Piper gave Kryger a cheeky grin. "That's awfully sweet of you — letting us know how delicate and helpless you really think we are, Green."

"Kryger, I 'preciate the concern, but I ain't no pussy." Paulson grumbled unhappily. "I'd rather you spend less time worryin' about me. My eyes ain't as sharp as they were, and my legs're startin' to smart every once in a while... but I can still take care of meself, thank ye very much."

"You're all heart, Paulson." The edge of Kryger's lips curled upward wryly in amusement, but there wasn't a sheen to his eyes, and his voice remained hard and businesslike. "But no, you're not off the hook. You have several hundred years of updated combat tactics to catch up on, assuming what you say about your past is true."

Paulson kept grumbling, but he was otherwise silent after being told off. Curie used this opportunity to get the major's attention.

"Excuse me, Monsieur James," The Miss Nanny held up a mechadendrite, and the major was quick to look over to her, wordlessly imploring her to go on. "Will you and Madam Olin be outfitting my chassis with machine guns and flamethrowers like Monsieur Codsworth here? This may sound silly considering our circumstances and the environment we find ourselves in, but I must admit that I am... hesitant... to end human lives."

She vocalized letting out a breath she was holding. "After all, as a doctor and a surgeon, I made an oath to first, do no harm."

"Oh." The major nodded in understanding. "I actually do have plans to put that massive data storage of yours to good use by coding in and applying some extra defensive armaments on you, but... maybe you can have just as much use to the squad as a dedicated medical robot. How does that sound?"

"This role is most pleasing, yes. Thank you."

"Good, good." Kryger briefly nodded in satisfaction at Curie's way before we went right back to business. "But enough about this. We should already be out there, securing our objective. The clock's ticking, and I'd be damned if we waste any more time."

Most of the team still looked unconvinced, by the looks of their faces. Only Codsworth, Curie and Dogmeat seemed ready and willing.

"Okay," The major softened his tone this time, easing himself back into his seat. "I know I've been driving you around like dogs lately, and yes, I know you deserve some rest after all the work I've put you through. I may be in charge of where this company's heading, but that doesn't entitle me to work you like I do with enlisted men."

He drew out a resigned-sounding breath. "If you don't want to head out into the ruins tonight, that's your choice. And if I had to barge into the Triggermen Vault all by myself, then that's alright by me."

He made to stand up. "After all, this is my struggle to fight. If all goes well, I'll be back here before dawn. Wish me lu—"

Olin sighed loudly, almost as if forced.

"Major, I'd really rather spend the night resting in safety as is logical, but if you truly do insist upon recklessly wading through super mutant territory, I suppose I'd make for a poor excuse for a Brotherhood scribe in allowing you to get murdered out there."

The senior scribe edged closer to the surprised Kryger, cradling her laser shotgun. "Well, should we move on?"

The major cleared his throat, standing up from his seat. "Ehem, yes, senior scribe, we should. Come, then. Let's go find Preston and head out."

"Hold it!" Piper exclaimed before the two of them could depart. She quickly extracted herself from her own seat and made her way to them. "I know the ruins around Boston much better than everyone in this table! If Kryger wants someone watching his back out there, it should be me!"

"I beg your pardon!" The senior scribe shot the reporter an imperious look as the latter approached. "Going by your borderline abysmal performance in combat, my abilities in the field would undoubtedly see much more use in the major's service compared to yours. I advise you to stand down and leave us soldiers to our work, civilian."

"O-ho, look who's talking!" Piper crossed her arms and returned the glare. "Did the Brotherhood's glorified pencil-pusher just call someone a civilian? All those ten-dollar words make it so hard to tell when someone's being oblivious to her hypocrisy!"

A look of genuine anger briefly crossed Olin's face before it settled back to detached apathy. "I am soldier and scholar both, Reporter Wright."

Kryger just ground his teeth and simmered in resentful silence as the two women started bickering once again. He swore they somehow conditioned themselves to start liking pointless arguments with each other, what with how frequently they engaged in such activities.

Codsworth moved in after them. "Why don't we all just leave with my master, then? I certainly don't mind, being incapable of exhaustion and all."

The major nodded. "Of course. Curie, are you with us? I could always use a medic, just in case."

"Of course, James." The Miss Nanny stepped up for duty. "My abilities are ever at your disposal."

Paulson grimaced and drained the last of his brandy. Standing up, he motioned for his dog to follow close. "Time to get movin', buddy."

"Bark!" The German Shepherd happily obeyed.

Kryger gave his squad a brief appraising look. "Well, looks like we're all headed the same way after all. I appreciate this, I really do." He allowed himself a smile, satisfied.

"Now... let's go find us our detective, shall we?"


"Thank you for your patronage, sir!"

Preston took the items he bought from the counter and stashed it away in one of the bags he possessed. He wasn't sure which team member it belonged to, but at this point, he couldn't bring himself to care.

By God, was he tired.

"Thanks, Percy." The Minuteman offered the Mister Handy merchant a doff of his hat before turning around, lugging his multitude of bags away, and out of the light.

He couldn't believe his simple grocery errand took him almost an entire day to complete. Diamond City, despite common opinions, was very much a troubled place. Preston found that he would only take a few paces into the city before one of the locals, evidently recognizing his uniform, would accost him, telling him of their problems and imploring him to help them solve their predicaments thereafter.

Of course, being a true believer to his order's old cause, Preston set his bags down, secured them and did whatever he could to help these poor people. Over the course of the afternoon, he went out of town and assaulted a raider-occupied warehouse in order to procure some green paint for Abbot to use on the walls, helped Sheng Kowalski clear the city's water supply of debris (and nearly blew himself up after coming across a frag grenade), consoled Ellie Perkins and helped her organize some of her loose paperwork, and went over countless other mundane errands for other locals.

Being a Minuteman was involved grueling, sometimes degrading work, but by the end, Preston was sure he made Diamond City a little better for the people. The caps he earned from the jobs he finished were only a welcome added bonus.

"Nan-ni shimasho-ka?" Greeted Takahashi at his noodle stand.

"Hey." With a breathy grunt, Preston set his bags down under the seat he planned to take. "Yes, I'll have one of those white worms on a bowl, please. Oh, and I want some extra red flakes on top."

"Nan-ni shimasho-ka?" Having heard the only English word he could understand, the protectron complied with the order. He was finished within the minute.

"Thank you." Preston fished out some of the caps he was rewarded and exchanged them for the bowl he ordered. He had barely seated himself when his company, all gathered up, sauntered into his line of sight.

"Preston," Kryger greeted him first. "Piper told me you've been busy around town. How was your day?"

"Good." Preston started on his bowl as he talked. "I just need a little break here, sir, and I'll be good to go. We're heading out, aren't we?"

Kryger's brow arched up before settling back down. "Yeah... in a moment. I see you've bought what we need."

"Yep, it's all here." The Minuteman nudged one of the bags at his feet with his heel. "Food, ammo, equipment, new guns, meds and junk. All these expenses amounted to... twenty one hundred caps, more or less. That means we're down to... err," The Miniteman reached down his pocket and gave it a shake. "—sixteen caps."

"Aaaand, we're broke." Piper put her hands on her hips and let out a theatrical sigh.

"I'd rather we get rid of the caps in exchange for something we can actually use, Piper." The major went down on a knee and inspected the bags. "Alright, squad, grab your gear and get ready to move out."

The major's company wasted little time taking back their backpacks and satchels, all loaded to the brim with supplies and freshly-bought equipment.

"Check inside, and see if Preston's got us the right things." The major said, just as he opened his own pack. "We can't be too sure."

"Whoa, now." Paulson sounded pleasantly surprised to find a suppressor for his lever-action carbine inside his pack, along with three detachable laser sights for his assortment of weapons. As an added bonus, he also fished out a black, large-rimmed cowboy hat; with it, he cut a more intimidating figure.

"Sweet!" As for Piper, she found three shotgun shell holders — two were in armband form, and were designed to be strapped to both her arms for easy access, while the third holder seemed much more traditional, being meant to be attached to a gun's stock. In addition to this, she also found a wicked-looking bayonet deeper inside her pack.

"Unecessary..." Along with a second-hand reflex scope for her laser shotgun and a new AEP7 laser pistol sidearm, Olin found a tactical harness in her pack, meant to be stuffed with munitions, tools and other goods scavenged along the way — the perfect gift for a field scribe. "...but useful."

"Just what I needed." Kryger procured several modular enhancements for his own laser pistol in his pack, which included a photon jaunt agitator, a better grip and an improved short barrel. Finally, he had Preston buy him a weather-worn, dark-green combat helmet, a combat armor chestpiece worn over his uniform and under his greatcoat, and a pair of kevlar knee protectors.

"This here's for you, boy..." Paulson clapped a makeshift suit of metal armor around Dogmeat's body, which covered most of his torso nicely. "There."

"Looking good, guys." Preston set aside his finished bowl. His own pack was next to his feet, with a scoped laser musket's barrel visibly poking out into the open. As he stood to his feet, the straight-edged profile of an antiquated revolutionary sword could be seen secured to his belt, further enhancing his Minuteman appearance. "Is everyone set?"

To the chorus of affirmatives from the team, Kryger wasted no time having them march out, through the gates and back into the open. His heavily-armed, freshly-resupplied squad attracted bewildered stares from some of the officers standing guard outside, but none made an effort to warn them of the dangers that the ruins at night posed.

"It's startin' to get cold..." Paulson observed, his breath coming out of his mouth in the visible form of a cloud.

"Indeed it is," Codsworth agreed. "My thermometer suggests the temperature in the Commonwealth at night has dropped from 48 degrees the previous night to 32 degrees tonight. Winter is coming, I'm afraid."

"Maybe we should've spent some of our caps on thicker coats." Piper lightheartedly griped.

"And better insulation." Curie added. "Advanced though it is, my chassis is not meant to filter out the cold. Clearly, I was never meant to leave the confines of the Vault."

"We'll see to that as soon as we get back to Sanctuary Hills." Kryger assured. "But for now, we're just gonna have to tough the cold out. Don't worry, I'm sure adrenaline in the blood can keep the lot of us warm."

Everyone was silent after that. For a while, the squad's surroundings were calm, almost serene in the cold blanket of night. It wasn't was only until they reached the more run-down sections of the ruined city that they inevitably passed by mutilated corpses and several bags of gore suspended in the air — the most obvious signs of nearby super mutants.

"Keep on guard, meine Soldaten." Kryger warned, indicating for his team behind him to keep low. "Stay out of the open and keep to the shadows... we're in Frankenstein's domain now."

"Meine soldaten?" Piper questioned.

"I believe it means "my soldiers", in German." When Kryger hesitated to answer, it was Curie who did.

Piper nodded and turned to Kryger. "Right, why were you speaking German?"

"No reason." Kryger curtly evaded the question.

In his mind, he knew he slipped; memories of the war, leading his German-speaking troops through the ruins of PLA-held cities were slowly resurfacing as the night went on.

Several minutes passed without incident. The cold evening wind rustled some dead leaves on the pavement and made loose metal panels sticking out on some of the buildings creak eerily.

"Wait," Codsworth, who was taking point, motioned a mechadendrite, urging the team behind him to stop. "Sir, you might want to take a look at this. Hurry."

"What is it, buddy?" Kryger pushed past Preston and Paulson and briefly scanned the area beyond Codsworth. "...yes, I see it. That's a tripwire over there... which means..."

He looked up, and sure enough, he found several bundled grenades suspended in the air by a string. Closer inspection of the string revealed its connection to the tripwire up front.

"This could've ruined our night," Kryger patted Codsworth's central housing. "Looks like we're not taking this route. Good work, Codsworth."

Codsworth bobbed up and down. "My pleasure, sir."

Without further ado, Kryger led the squad through a nearby alley and away from the trap. They had barely managed to navigate their way out of the ruined path when the telltale thudding of super mutant boots made Kryger hiss out a warning, forcing them back into the shadows.

"SO HUNGRY!" One of the greenskins moaned as he dragged his sledgehammer along the ground. "THIS GUARD STUFF IS STUPID! FIST WEAK LEADER, SHOULD BE EATING HUMAN INSTEAD OF LETTING LIVE AS HOSTAGE!"

"SHUT UP. YOU STUPID!" The apparent leader of the wandering mutant patrol was quick to reply. "ALL YOU DO IS COMPLAIN!" He backhanded his subordinate across the face.

"Alright..." Kryger whispered. "They're just passing by. Stay low, and keep out of sight."

"THE HUMAN GETTING FRIENDLY WITH FIRST GENERATION OUTSIDER," Another of the mutants randomly uttered. "TOO FRIENDLY. MAYBE FIST WILL HAVE COMMONWEALTH BROTHERS THROW HIM OFF AT TOWER-TOP?"

"WHY SHOULD I CARE?" The leader shrugged his broad, muscular shoulders. "IF YOU DON'T SHUT UP, I'LL THROW YOU OFF TOWER-TOP! GRAH, MOUTHY BROTHERS MAKING ME MAD! DO YOU HEAR DOG COMPLAINING EVERY TIME? DOG MAKE BETTER COMPANY!"

Olin grimaced. "Did that abomination just mention a dog?"

As if on cue, a massive greenskin hound appeared into sight, intermittently sniffing the air. It faithfully trailed after its masters for a moment before it stopped and turned the squad's way, growling savagely while baring its teeth. Dogmeat also started growling, as if he knew a confrontation was assured.

"HMH?" One of the greenskins took notice of the mutant hound's behavior. "BROTHERS, LOOK. DOG SMELL SOMETHING."

"So much for stealth." Kryger drew his pistol and shocksabre. Turning to his team, he said, "Fireteams Baker and Charlie, mass here and hold position; get ready to repel an assault. Able will go around the back and flank the enemy as they advance."

"Been dyin' to try this out." Paulson pulled out his lever-action carbine and quickly attached his new suppressor and laser sight to the barrel.

"Ooh, my first encounter with the fabled Commonwealth strain of super mutant! How exciting it will be to extract valuable data from this!" Curie enthusiastically exclaimed, though in a hushed voice. "Just to be clear, which "fireteam" am I to belong to?"

Kryger briefly examined the squad. Fireteam Charlie still had one opening, but he doubted that Olin would appreciate having another robot in her fireteam.

"You're with us." He said, rather simply. "Come on, let's move it up."

The major, the reporter and the Miss Nanny parted ways with the rest of the team before surreptitiously making their way back along the alley. It didn't take them long to position themselves approximately behind where the super mutants would advance to, should they decide to attack.

"You know how to use that?" Piper turned to find Kryger giving the bayonet on her shotgun a dubious look.

"Green, it's just a knife stuck to the end of my gun." Piper waved him off. "How complicated can it be beyond stabbing things that get too close?"

Kryger shook his head at her. "Stabbing things can get surprisingly complicated in the middle of a fight, Ms. Wright." He then looked to his other companion. "Ready, Curie?"

"My point-defense laser emitter prepared for discharge, monsieur. Targeting parameters and friend/foe system set. I am as ready as I'll ever be... shall we proceed?"

The major looked around. "As soon as we hear—"

Loud gunfire, distant shouting and muted explosions interrupted him. Among the sounds of combat, one ecstatic wail could be clearly discerned from all the rest.

"HUMANS! HAH HAH, FINALLY! WE EAT GOOD TONIGHT, BROTHERS!"

"That's our cue! Move out!" Kryger quickly bolted into the open, and he was quickly followed by the rest of his fireteam. Once there, the major was proven correct when Able found themselves a short distance directly behind the attacking mutant patrol, in the perfect position to strike.

Taking aim with his pistol, Kryger squeezed the trigger and shot the nearest mutant at the back of his head, incinerating it. Running up to his next victim, the major jumped back and smoothly evaded a clumsy sledgehammer swipe from his foe, which he then quickly followed up by hip-firing a couple of shots into the offending mutant's torso at point-blank range. The major then surged back up against the reeling mutant, hoisted his blade above his head and swiftly decapitated his foe with a horizontal slash.

As the mutant's headless remains fell to earth, Kryger's ears picked up the mutant hound barking and snarling at him from behind. Steadying himself into a defensive stance, he managed to turn around just in time to get painfully tackled to the ground by sixty kilos of pure mutant hound muscle, knocking his sabre from out of his hand. Pinned by the rabid creature with very little means of fighting back, the major reached out, gripping the creature by the head in a desperate effort to push it off of him.

The mutant hound snarled and tried to lunge for the major's neck from above, clearly eager to clench its jaws around his throat. The major continued to struggle in vain against the creature for another moment, when blessed relief came in the form of an armored Dogmeat. With a defeaning bark, the German Shepherd rammed his ironclad body against the distracted hound, tackling it off Kryger's body.

Gasping for air and covered in spittle, Kryger picked himself up to his feet and took up his pistol with both gloved hands. Dogmeat, in a surprising show of strength and intelligence, buried his jaws around the rabid, mutated hound's neck, then forcefully dragged it around with his teeth to expose its unprotected side to Kryger. With little hesitation, the major aimed down the sights and pulled the trigger several times, blasting holes the size of baseballs into the beast's hide.

The area fell completely silent after the hound's snarling stopped. Seven mutants were killed in the ambush, all in all — clearly, it was only a small patrol the squad took down.

"Do you require medical assistance, major?" Curie floated up to Kryger while the latter scooped up his sabre from the ground.

"No, I'm good." He shook his head as he caught up on his breath. "So, what do you think of this?" He gestured at the dead mutant bodies.

"Regrettable, but nonetheless necessary." She responded. "You should know that I have been analyzing the mutants as we fought; I believe with enough data safely compiled, I may be able to provide you with better targeting solutions for cleaner, much faster kills."

The major nodded. "Keep at it, then. We might be in for a couple more fights like this."

Slowly, the rest of the team slowly marched up into view. Olin quickly got to work scavenging through the corpses for anything useful, while Paulson stood guard close to her. It was Preston who broke the silence.

"Sir, I have a request," He started, somewhat reluctantly. "Hear me out?"

Kryger shrugged. "Lay it on me, Preston."

"Thanks," The Minuteman nodded, shouldering his laser musket. "You heard one of those greenskins talking about a hostage, right? If we could figure out exactly where these guys came from, we might be able to get this hostage to safety."

"I do not think this is wise." Olin walked up to them. "We have our own hostage to secure. We must try not to get distracted from our true objective."

"Blondie here's right," Paulson chimed in. "Doin' heroics and rescuin' folks from muties is nice an' all, but the Triggermen ain't gonna wait for us to catch up. Best we just get this Valentine outta that Vault and back into his office as quick as we can."

"I can't believe you guys." Piper frowned, glaring at Olin and Paulson. "Are you seriously thinking of letting some poor schmuck get ripped apart and eaten by Frankensteins? We should do something, at least!"

Kryger considered his options. If this second rescue attempt was made, it would cost the squad much more time than he envisioned, and there was no guarantee that the super mutant hostage would even be alive.

Before he could reach a decision, is pip-boy briefly started churning out static — indicative of a new radio transmission being found. Arching his brow, the major put up his wrist-mounted computer, highlighted the new frequency and selected it to start broadcasting for the squad to hear.

"Help! Or "mayday"... or whatever it is one says on a radio!" A man's voice, filtered through a synthetic vocalizer, started streaming through Kryger's pip-boy. Strangely, it had an unsubtle air of culture and refinement to it, as if it belonged to someone from the upper-classes of society.

"My name... is Goodman. Rex Julius Goodman." The voice continued, somewhat dramatically. "I'm being held prisoner on the top of Trinity Tower! I think the super mutants plan on eating me... and soon!" Kryger noted how Rex Goodman sounded like he was narrating a play, instead of broadcasting a distress call.

"I'm sending this to repeat, and... oh, SHIT!" In that instant, all pretense of sophistication from the man dissipated. "Gotta sign off! They're COMING!"

The transmission abruptly cut before looping itself.

The major took in a lungful and exhaled. "Trinity Tower's the tallest building in Boston — when I was little, my parents used to take me there to see the observation deck at the top floor. It's been a while, but I think I still remember how the floors go."

He paused to let his words sink in. "If we proceed to the Tower right now, we can fight our way along the floors and bust Goodman out of there in two hours. By then, we'll still have time to grab Valentine and get back to Diamond City before the sun's up. Let's get moving."

Everyone except Olin and Paulson seemed to be in favor of the decision. To her credit, Olin merely showed her disapproval with a faint grimace, and Paulson only shrugged before marching onward with the rest of the squad.

For most of the next hour, the squad carefully navigated the ruined Boston streets, sticking to the shadows of the intact buildings overhead and evading super mutant patrols they came across. Every now and then they had to make their way around the myriad of traps the mutants set in their path while making sure they weren't spotted doing so.

After another five minutes spent marching, Rex Goodman's distress transmission had grown stronger, hinting at his much closer presence. Sure enough, their destination lied only a few more blocks forward.

"There. That's where we go in." Kryger indicated at the Trinity Tower entrance as the squad arrived.

Strong feelings of melancholy hit him as his eyes surveyed the abandoned structure's familiar minimalistic architecture, which made it look exactly like a crystalline tower made entirely out of blue reflective glass. For a brief moment that nonetheless seemed to drag on for hours, Kryger viewed the Trinity Tower through a child's unsullied eyes — standing tall and proud as it stretched upward into the skies, much like a magnificent cerulean blade that pierced the heavens above. Truly, it was a testament to American architectural ingenuity; there was nothing else like it in the world.

Then that moment ended, giving way to reality. The Tower's shining glass panes weren't there anymore, exposing the building's crumbling innards for all of Boston to see. Groups of wandering super mutants armed to the teeth could be spied wandering the floors, patiently waiting for the next batch of lackwitted would-be rescuers to kill.

"Right," Kryger loaded fresh cells into his pistol. "Storm the building. Get to the top floor and extract Goodman. Shoot everything that gets in our way."


Autor napomene i odricanje:

Hey guys, I'm back! Well... for now, at least. I still have a lot of work and duties to tend to in the real world. At first I was reduced from using a computer down to my old iPad to type, but my company says I can't do personal business on it anymore. At this point, I'm using my tiny, tiny Galaxy smartphone to type.

Not the most convenient device to publish chapters, I know.

Just FYI, this is a truncated version of a much, much larger chapter that I originally planned to release in full. The other bits (that I plan to release as a new chapter) would be about recruiting Nick and Strong to the team... much to Olin's dismay. Also, I did plenty of hefty changes to Strong's background (lots and lots of thanks to TR4PP3R for the ideas, by the way. They're top-notch, in my opinion), but it shouldn't derail him too much from his old self in-game.

As for my other, grander plans, you should keep in mind that I plan to include rebuilt European powers in this story. Already, Ronto (a canon settlement in Canada mentioned by Ashur from The Pitt) has capitulated to one such power... and it plans to head further south into pre-war American lines...

Well, that's it for me today. I'll reply to my month-old PMs much later today because I should really be getting back to work.

Here's the disclaimer:

The Fallout franchise is property of Bethesda Softworks LLC. All rights reserved.