Chapter 37 War Never Changes
"The Pride was like a family and Sarah Lyons was more than just its commander. She was our sister: she was our mother. Every member of Lyons Pride took her death personally."
The speaker had introduced himself as 'Sentinel' Kodiak, a slight hesitation indicating that he was not yet accustomed to the new title. He was dark-featured, serious-looking and spoke softly but with force. Arta judged that he would be a capable replacement for his predecessor, even if he did not quite have her outstanding charisma.
A small knot of Brotherhood soldiers bearing the emblem of Lyons Pride was assembled outside the house formerly belonging to Mr Burke. On hearing that its owner would most probably no longer require it, Sheriff Simms had declared it the venue for the First Capital Conference. However outside this function, it was temporarily accommodating the Brotherhood delegation. Arta wondered what Scribe Rothchild would make of Burke's taste in home decoration. An examination of the contents earlier had yielded little of interest other than the collection of salacious and violent books described by Mei Wong.
Fixing Arta with a penetrating look, Kodiak continued, "Your account that Sarah was killed firing a mini nuke at a Supermutant behemoth accords by and large with the reports we received before the station went silent. But one thing troubles me. Our scouting parties later found her power armour lying in a ruined building some distance away from her body, as though it had been removed prior to her death. Why would an experienced fighter take off her armour before battle?"
"The Fatman launcher had been dropped by Paladin Vargas very close to where the behemoth was standing. It would have been almost impossible for someone in armour to recover it without alerting the creature, but Sarah volunteered anyway as the most experienced in using the weapon. Unfortunately it detected her before she could retreat far enough from the blast radius to survive."
Arta spoke with confidence. She had the advantage of already hearing Jericho's concocted explanation to the soldiers at GNR.
With unfeigned sorrow, she continued, "By her heroic actions, Sarah saved me and my companions. In the short time I knew her, I learned to like and respect her. I mourned her death."
Kodiak bowed his head. "It is not often that outsiders express gratitude for the sacrifices made by the Brotherhood. I am satisfied that Sarah Lyons died in a manner worthy of a Sentinel of our order. She will be accorded a special place of honour in the Citadel records."
Perhaps sometimes a lie can attain a greater truth. Regardless of that, its what future generations will remember: a historical account as firmly established as the assassination of Lincoln. Yet if Kodiak and the other Pride members knew what actually happened, they'd want to kill me, along with Jericho and Clover. I'm using a falsehood to gain their trust.
Kodiak paused to consider. "Elder Lyons will surely wish to hear this testament from your own lips. I know he mourns greatly for his daughter in private, though he must present a brave face to the rest of the Brotherhood."
Arta said, "I had intended to speak to the Elder in due time."
Kodiak said fervently, "May that time not be long delayed! In the meanwhile, is there any further way the Brotherhood may be of service to you?"
"There is. I've been told by Doctor Madison Li that two of your soldiers were with my father, James Wendell, when he left Rivet City. They may have been the last to see him alive."
Kodiak said in surprised tones. "That's indeed true, but Knight Captain Dusk here has already submitted her full report at the Citadel. Were you not so informed by Scribe Rothchild?"
"No. He didn't even mention the subject!"
Kodiak frowned. "That's very strange … could he perhaps have been distracted by weightier issues?"
The woman Kodiak had introduced as Knight Captain Dusk spoke up. "I seriously doubt that. The old fox probably had some devious reason of his own for not telling you."
Kodiak said, "Dawn, you should not …"
"Hell, Greg, Sarah never minded us vets speaking our minds."
"Sure, but amongst ourselves alone." To Arta he said, "Forgive us if there's been some failure of communication."
Arta was focusing her attention on Dusk (Dawn Dusk?) She had brown eyes so dark they were almost black, and heavy, prominent eyebrows of a similar colour, that gave her a somewhat severe look to match her pugnacious manner. But her countenance was lightened by features of a typically Asian mould, a well-sculpted nose and Cupid's bow-shaped lips. Her hair was cut short in the military fashion.
"Tell me about your dealings with my father."
Dusk abstractedly traced the outline of her brows with her fingers. "I was on a routine patrol of DC, and we called into GNR to replenish our ammo. Your father was already there in the company of another member of our Pride, Knight Captain Gallows. Apparently they'd come almost all the way from Megaton together.
After talking with Three Dog, they were about to leave again. But I decided that I was gonna tag along with them."
Dusk shrugged. "Curiosity, I guess. And also …" she glanced at Kodiak.
He said, "Dawn, please …"
"Look, I only tell it like it is." Looking at Arta. "To be honest because I don't trust Gallows. He's always out in the field on his own. He's not a team player. And he never talks much."
Kodiak said, exasperated, "Sarah trusted him implicitly! And working alone and remaining close-mouthed is natural for a special operative."
"Yeah, well that's a great cover, isn't it? Tell us its spec-ops and all questions go out the window."
Arta said patiently, "So you went with them."
"Yes, and didn't Gallows just hate it! But James didn't mind the extra company, so how could that sneaky bastard object? We went straight to Rivet City … or as straight as you can get when you're using subway tunnels through a mutant, ghoul and Raider infested war zone.
When we arrived there, James talked to your Dr. Li … well, argued with her would be a better way to put it. He didn't look too happy with the outcome, and announced to Gallows that he wanted to go to the Jefferson Memorial next."
Exactly as Li said.
"I figured I'd gone that far, so why not a bit further. Lucky for them I did. Jefferson was surrounded by mutant patrols. But …" tapping the sniper rifle slung from her back, "put any mutie bastard within one mile of me and my rifle, and pack up troops, fight's over."
Arta asked, "So did you go inside?"
A faint flush tinged Dusk's cheeks. "I would've liked to, believe me. Your father's quite the persuasive type. And, you know, if he ever considers remarrying … Still, enough's enough. That place was as thick with muties as anywhere in DC. And close quarter fighting's not really my style. I tried to talk them out of it. In the end, all I could do was to promise to try and fetch extra help from the Citadel."
Great, so in effect you abandoned my father in mutant central! And with a man in whom you've little confidence.
Restraining the impulse to voice what she thought of that, Arta asked, "And did you send any?"
Dusk shook her head, looking embarrassed, but Kodiak prompted, "Tell her what Elder Lyons said."
Dusk grimaced, "He said, 'Dr. Wendell will be safe with Knight Captain Gallows'."
Unable to hold back her emotions any longer, Arta burst out, "But you said you didn't trust him!"
Dusk looked down. "I don't. Still if there's anybody in the Wastes who can keep James alive in that hellhole, its Gallows. The man is a killing machine, and he comes and goes like a ghost."
Kodiak added, "That's the truth, believe me. Your father is safer than if we had sent a whole squad of Brotherhood knights that would only get the attention of more Supermutants. In any case, our resources were stretched too thin to do that."
Arta said despairingly, "So that's it then? That's the last you saw or heard of either of them?"
Gently Kodiak said, "When we left the Citadel, Gallows still hadn't reported in. But it's not unusual for him to disappear for weeks at a time. The odds may speak otherwise, but I have a feeling that somewhere he and your father are still alive."
Arta stifled a sob. "If only I knew that were true. I fear that its not."
"Hope remains for you at least. For Owyn Lyons there is none, yet despite the loss of his only daughter, he continues with his duties. And I know he respects your father, and would not wish him to come to harm." Touching Arta's arm briefly, Kodiak said, "Go to him, and you may comfort him, and find comfort. Go to the Citadel."
"Uh … Mistress?"
Nova turned to look at the whore hovering uncertainly at the bottom of the stairwell. She held a whip somewhat limply in one hand, while using the other to nervously twist the long strands of her glossy, black hair, partly confined beneath a peaked policeman's cap. Nova liked Serena. She liked her attitude to whoring, which was almost entirely pragmatic. Serena had few concerns about a profession she treated as any other job, apart from how best to go about it. Virtually the model employee, she soaked up instruction and advice like a sponge. She most often asked how, and seldom why.
Nova also liked Serena in a quite different sense of the word. The term 'Mistress', intended as a mark of deference to her employer, applied also to Nova's dominant role in the bedroom. Her regular training sessions, while of practical value to her apt pupil, also conveniently helped to fulfil some of Nova's wilder sexual fantasies. Fantasies which were more difficult to bring about in the gentler and more domestic relationship she had developed with Lucy. Nova figured that her partner might suspect what went on; on the other hand, she wasn't really in a position to object. In any case, it might keep Lucy from becoming too complacent, and Nova was definitely not in favour of complacency.
Following this general principle, despite her liking for Serena and the way she went about her work, she made a point of reprimanding her as often as she praised her. There was nearly always some occasion or excuse for it, and this looked like it would be another. That she also got quite a kick out of doing so was something that no longer troubled her.
"What is it, Serena?" She deliberately put on her 'Mistress' voice, which was cold, imperious but with more than a hint of sexiness.
Serena absently tugged on the straps of the tight, leather corset that was just about imprisoning her full breasts. "It's about this latest client that you told us wanted to be tied up and whipped, and … the other usual stuff."
"Yes, a task which ought to be second nature after all the training I've given you. Surely there can't be any problem?" Nova was determined not to make this easy on Serena.
Just as she'd hoped, Serena reddened. "Apologies, Mistress. It's not exactly that there's a problem with us, more like there's a problem with him. I get this feeling he wasn't expecting what we were going to do, and that he isn't enjoying it. He even looks a bit scared, like he's really in pain. I was wondering if we should …" She gulped, hesitated then finally managed, "If we should maybe take his gag off and ask him?"
"Serena!" Nova's sudden shout made the whore jump to attention. "What have I always told you?"
"Um … Mistress?" Serena looked ready to wet herself.
"When a client asks us, and most particularly pays us to do something to him, then that's exactly what we do. We don't question him, and we especially don't take off a gag if we've been told not to. I'm shocked that you should even bring this up."
"I'm sorry, Mistress!" Serena wailed.
"And I'm disappointed, very disappointed at your attitude. Call yourself a dominatrix! Look at you shaking like you're about to blubber away."
Serena's jaw firmed. She began to hold the whip like she was intending to wield it with extreme prejudice. As Nova had intended, the dressing down had really gingered up the young woman for her dominant role. She stroked the leather tail lovingly, then gave it an experimental crack.
"That's better! Now I want you get back in there and give that gimp hell!"
"Wait just a moment. We were asked to give our client a suitably grand finale to his time with us. I think we should make sure he gets an even bigger climax." Nova pulled a large, bulbous object from under the bar, and smiled grimly.
"Use the super size one. And make sure you use it like you really mean it!"
"Yes, Mistress, I will!" Serena turned to go back up the stairs, with an evil glint in her eye.
Satisfied Nova resumed her seat. From across the bar, Lucy drawled, "Trouble with the help?"
"No need for you to concern yourself about it, hon'." Though perhaps you should be concerned. That little disciplinary session has got me all stirred up. I think I'll need to see Serena for some 'debriefing' afterwards. Nothing like a bit of S and M to liven up your day.
"You have done well, Sentinel. You may leave."
Kodiak's bow was a mere nod, and he silently left the house.
The Chief Scribe turned to where Henry Casdin was irritably thumbing through one of Burke's volumes, entitled Justine; or the Misfortunes of Virtue by the Marquis De Sade. Without his bio-helmet, Casdin was shown to have deep-set eyes, inward sloping brows and the clear, bronze skin of an eastern ascetic, combined with the austere and unrelenting look of a religious zealot.
"I most particularly wanted you to hear Kodiak's report."
"Well, what of it? The girl's father shows a reckless disregard for his own safety and of those protecting him, which suggests that if he's not already left this world, then he will very soon. He and his insane project are a waste of everyone's time."
"I'm inclined to agree with you, but my intention was in part to learn more of the girl's way of thinking."
"And what conclusions did you draw? That she's concerned for her father is hardly revelatory."
"No, but the lengths she might go to assist him could be." Rothschild paused. "I assume there's trust between us?"
Casdin grunted. "As much as can be expected considering our very different positions."
"Well, I suppose that must suffice. Let me sum up my thinking on the matter. We are confronted with an individual whose potential to assist our mission is as great as her ability to endanger it. On the one hand she holds out the possibility of an end to the conflict which has blighted our hopes; on the other she threatens to begin a new crusade with even more terrible consequences."
Casdin nodded slowly. "I see your point. This new religion, even if it infects only the Raiders, could have violent and unpredictable consequences. To stir up the common people is always dangerous. If the girl persists with the same disregard as her father, she could unleash chaos and ruin upon us all."
Rothchild steepled his hands. "Precisely so. And my instinct based on what we've just heard is that's exactly what she will do."
"What then is your solution? Assassination?"
"That too could trigger the apocalypse that we fear, while throwing away any chance that she could be of help. No, our best hope is to tie her into the Brotherhood. By making her a part of it, we can then better control her unruly impulses. And there lies the other part of my instructions to Kodiak. We must bring her to the Citadel."
"You say 'we', but the Outcasts are no longer part of the Capital Wasteland arm of the Brotherhood for the very reason that it has abandoned our mission and core beliefs."
A wintry smile touched Rothchild's thin lips. "If all goes well, and the trust between us is not misplaced, then a return to the values of the Codex, and a reconciliation between the split halves of the Brotherhood may be imminent."
Casdin's breathing grew heavier. "You speak of treason?"
"That depends on one's perspective. From the viewpoint of our Brothers on the West Coast, we are the loyalists, and Lyons is the traitor."
"At least we have been honest in our views; you however …"
"Let's not split hairs. In any case, if these measures are not swiftly implemented, a far greater disaster could overtake the Brotherhood. I have something further to show you."
The two men walked into the adjoining room. Neither of them noticed a flicker of movement in the deepest shadows.
Rothchild was speaking again. "All of these artefacts were recovered from the wreck of a flying machine which our records indicate is a Vertibird. That in itself is ominous enough. The weapons unfortunately are too badly damaged to properly examine; the armour, however, is intact. You see?"
There was a pause, then a choked cry from Casdin. "This … this is beyond anything that we …"
"Yes, even our own plasma weapons would find it difficult to penetrate. And this wasn't the only sighting; there have been others. The Enclave is on the move."
"What can we do? Their intentions towards us can only be hostile!"
"The Brotherhood must reunite, and push forward the progress of our technology before its too late. In particular, we must reactivate Liberty Prime …"
As the two men turned away and continued to talk, a shadowy figure moved closer to the table, picked up a black metal object, and scuttled back into the darkness.
"It's as though there's another land up there in the sky." Clover pointed to the west, where the last dregs of sunset remained. "See how it's a pale yellow, the colour of the desert. The tufts of grey clouds look like rocks sticking up amongst the dunes. And further up the grey's mingled with thin lines of red, like the sides of a huge crater around a deep sea of sand."
Arta said, absentmindedly, "If it was a real land, it would be just as harsh and beautiful as this one."
They stood at the gates of Megaton. The city of tents was around them, figures moving amongst them in the dimness of twilight. Near at hand, the white glow from Deputy Weld's glass head plate shone out like a beacon, as the Protectron maintained its solitary vigil. "Thirsty partner? Try Gob's Bar and Grill."
"Maybe it'd be more peaceful, if there weren't any people … or advertising."
"Then there'd be no one to feel that peace or see that beauty." Arta gave a sigh, and walked to and fro, hugging herself.
After a while, she said, "So the Chief Scribe fears that I'm gonna take the Brotherhood on another destructive crusade. But he still needs my help if the Enclave appears. Sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it."
Clover said uncertainly, "There's no doubt he's a slippery character, like you guessed. You were right setting me to spy on him. And anyone who'll turn on his boss like that can't be trusted. But hasn't he called it about right? You do want to start a crusade, and the Enclave is a threat, isn't it?"
"It's not quite that simple. I want to unite the Wasteland, but not just for the Brotherhood's benefit, for everyone's. Including the Enclave, including even the Supermutants. If we can do that without fighting, then so much the better."
Clover said, "But you know that's not very likely, don't you? We'll most probably have to fight, and we may have to take sides, sooner or later. And when you sharpen a sword, that makes using it more likely."
Arta winced. "So the Sheriff keeps reminding me. Or as he says …" she tried not very successfully to imitate Simms' deep delivery, "War never changes."
"Yeah, ain't that the truth!" Clover held up the object she'd purloined, and shuddered. "But I mean, look at it. It's just evil, somehow."
Its certainly been designed to be intimidating. The helmet was tall and a deep black, with round yellow eye holes, and protrusions atop it that resembled wings or stubby horns. The obvious intention was to make its wearer resemble a mythical demon, exploiting fears buried deep in the human psyche.
Arta forced herself into a rational response. "We can't judge them on the basis of wearing scary, black armour. Supermutants and ghouls look hideous, but they're not all hostile."
"I guess, though they can't help their appearance, and Eden's always struck me as sounding like an arsehole."
Her instincts are often right. "Still we have to give negotiation a chance."
"Whatever, though I'd say the Brotherhood's more likely to rely on their precious technology, and this giant robot they've got."
Giant robot! It sounds like something from a bad sci-fi story! "Which doesn't yet work, it seems. And you said they admitted Enclave tech is better. Perhaps if I talk to Owyn Lyons directly. He sounds more reasonable than Rothchild or Casdin, and he's still in charge."
"Not if that sneaky scribe gets his way. And how are you gonna talk to Eden?"
Arta decided she'd had enough of answering Clover's awkward questions. "Let's just cross that bridge when and if we come to it, okay? Maybe Rothchild overestimated the Enclave threat. In any case, there's little we can do right now. How about we spend at least one evening relaxing? Let's go find the new accommodation the Sheriff's provided us with."
"I'm all in favour of that. I've been waiting long enough for my own place to live."
The empty, locked house was conveniently close to the main gates, though it also shared a terrace with Jericho's dwelling. There was no sign of the shack's occupant, and the door was firmly closed. Of all the people to have as a next-door neighbour!
Clover said, "There's something sticking in the wall of the house."
Arta strode forward, and drew out the knife.
"What the fuck's it doing here?"
"Perhaps its some kind of warning, but who to?" Arta glanced at Clover. "She didn't know we would be living here. Or anyone else for that matter."
Clover sucked her lip thoughtfully. "My guess is it was for Jericho. Maybe she or whoever she sent got the wrong house. Probably meant to show him just what she thinks of him now, the dirty traitor!"
"I think you're right." Arta sent the dagger spinning so that it stuck in Jericho's door.
"Hey, you've been practicing! Did Katrina teach you how to do that?" Arta nodded, and Clover went on, "She could be very useful to us, I can't deny. But do you really trust her?"
"No, I don't. But I trust her ambition, her desire to make a name for herself. And if she wants to lead a new religion, then she needs me."
Clover said, "She needs the Angel of Death … alive or dead. If I were you, I'd start watching my back."
"I've got you to do that, haven't I? Anyway, let's go in."
Arta's fingers tingled expectantly as she inserted the key Simms had given her. We keep the house for anyone who does the town a major service. Getting that bomb defused qualifies in my book. People have used it from time to time; reckon you can have it for as long as you need it.
Clover said, "Wow, I'm really excited to see what's inside!"
The interior looked very much like any other Megaton house, rather drab and dilapidated, the stairs leading to an upper storey with a gallery running round, and doors to two small rooms visible above.
Peeping round the corner into an alcove, Clover said, with a trace of disappointment, "There's a fridge at least."
Arta said, "And plenty of lockers and shelves for storage. Lucas said that Moira could add extra features if we wanted, like special styles of decoration, or a drinks machine. Knowing her though we'll probably have to pay through the nose. I don't know if I'll bother."
Clover said, "Still if it's the first real home that we …" stopping uncertainly. "I mean, of course, you own it really, so I guess its up to you."
"Don't be silly! You helped earn it! And anything that's mine is yours, naturally."
Clover was just planting an affectionate kiss on Arta's cheek, when there came the sound of rocket thrusters flaring, and a remarkably life-like imitation of a modest human cough.
"Forgive me, madam, for interrupting."
Arta turned to see that a robot had descended the stairway. It was identical in design to Andy: a large spherical torso trailing triple multi-functional manipulators, like a gleaming three-legged metal octopus. Bobbing gently up and down on its thrusters, it rotated gracefully in mid-air, allowing one of the three rounded optic devices protruding from its circumference to face them, giving the impression of an eye staring rather than a camera lens focusing.
"Good evening, I'm Wadsworth, your robotic butler. I'm here to cater to your needs and provide you with entertainment. What can I do for you?" Thanks to their encounter with Jeffrey Bernard, its plummy accent was recognisably British.
Clover gave a small shriek of excitement. "Can you believe it, our very own robot!"
Accustomed as she was to working closely with Andy, Arta felt a little apprehensive, remembering his occasional 'eccentricities'. The 'Mr. Handy' model came equipped with a buzz saw and an internal flame thrower, leading to such unfortunate incidents as the demise of her birthday cake and at least one of the Vault's citizens.
Carefully she asked, "What can you do for us?"
"Apart from my usual cleaning and tidying functions, I can dispense liquid refreshment, style your hair, advise on alterations to your house and, ahem, even provide my own brand of comic relief!"
"We've just had our hair done, thank you." And even if we hadn't, I'm not trusting a robot to cut it. "Some refreshments would be good."
"Certainly madam, here you are." The robot dispensed a capsule of colourless fluid, which Arta, tasting with caution, concluded to be distilled water.
Well, well! So there's at least one pure water source within Megaton itself. No need for seeking accommodation at Tenpenny Towers after all. Arta remembered how Jericho had taunted her that she'd never find such a supply. Had he known of this secret? By experiment she found Wadsworth could produce over half a dozen such capsules before announcing that it was necessary to re-charge his 'condensers'. Nothing like the scale Project Purity was attempting. This was fresh water for the elite only. She wondered who had been allowed access to it previously.
Clover said, "How about telling us something funny?"
"A neutron goes into a bar and asks 'How much for a beer?' To which the barman replies, 'For you, no charge'." Wadsworth gave a slight titter at his own witticism.
Shaking her head, Clover asked, "Is it working properly?" To Wadsworth, "Another please!"
"My humour array requires recharging."
"You're taking the mickey!"
Lowering her voice, Arta hissed, "Don't upset it now!" Aloud she asked, "You mentioned something about altering the house."
"Indeed! The actual purchasing must be done from Moira Brown. However my recommendation …" the robot appeared to be scanning her with its optic "is for something in the Vault style, with a medical facility. Or perhaps a lab unit, should you be the sort that likes playing with chems … or getting addicted to them."
Arta frowned. "I don't plan to. And I think another style might suit. However that can wait. Let's check out the bedroom." With a slight flush: "Wadsworth, can you leave us in private please?"
"Absolutely madam!" Wadsworth hummed discreetly. "Perhaps I could tidy up down here?"
"That would be appreciated."
Collapsing on the surprisingly high quality bed, Arta was content to let Clover soothe the tension out of her muscles.
Working industriously, Clover commented, "That robot's slightly dotty, but at least it knows when to make itself scarce."
"Yes, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with it … watching."
Clover giggled. "Is this the sort of thing you'd rather it didn't see?"
Butch slammed the door of Gob's Bar and Grill, and, panting, looked frantically left and right. He needed a stiff drink, in fact several, but there was no way he was going back in there. Those crazy women! He could never have imagined they'd do things like that to him … well, he could never have imagined most of them, anyway. Special treatment! His back was aflame from whipping, his nipples and privates were stinging from applications of hot wax, and he was trying to forget what had happened to his butt.
After the initial shock of being unexpectedly tied up and gagged, it hadn't been too bad at first. He'd kind of got used to the pain, and Serena had even looked like she was going easy on him. Then she'd left and come back in a decidedly meaner mood. It had got considerably less comfortable after that. And just when he'd thought it couldn't get any worse …
With the more honest part of his mind, he had to admit it hadn't been all bad. Serena had been wearing some quality gear, looking like a woman out of a particularly wild wet dream. The peaked hat had been a nice touch too. If you did something like that with someone you trusted not to hurt you too bad, it might even be fun in a kinky kind of way. With Christine Kendall, maybe, though he'd probably never see her again. Clover was definitely off limits. Could she have tricked him, knowing very well what those bitches had in mind for him? Or was this sort of thing the norm in the Wasteland? How was he to find out? He could ask Arta. On the other hand, she might be into all kinds of perverted stuff by now. He shuddered. Best not to go there. If he ever managed to get to Rivet City, he hoped the whores would have a little less imagination … and much smaller sex toys.
He turned his thoughts back to recovering from his ordeal. First to buy some booze. He still had some of the caps Clover had given him. Luckily he didn't have to go far before he found a temporary stall selling strong liqueur. Knocking back a bottle of whisky, he felt a little better. Then even more fortunately he found a Wasteland doctor, who provided him with some ointment. It smelt peculiar but seemed to work quite well. She even helped rub some on his back, although, disappointingly, she declined to apply it to his more intimate areas.
Now what should he do? The sun was sinking fast, and he needed somewhere to rest. The most obvious place was this new house Arta had been presented with on account of her outstanding services to Megaton. But where was it? The twisty, spiralling pathways of the town, and the crowds, which he still felt somewhat agoraphobic amongst, made it hard to find anywhere, even in daylight. As for a house he'd never even seen … he could try asking someone, if he could figure out how to put the question.
"Uh … um, the empty house, the one they give to people who help Megaton, can you tell me where it is?"
The woman he'd asked, a Wastelander in a dirty, clinging white tee and black denim trousers, made a negative gesture.
"I ain't from round here, and have no idea what you're talking about. Now stop bothering me before I give you a buckshot sandwich to chew on."
Shit! Even the women here were scary and tough as nails; he ought to have figured that by now. In any case, he needed someone who knew the town, like a resident. After some thought, he remembered the woman serving food near the crater. She wore a yellow jumpsuit, didn't she, and was attractive in an ice-queen kinda way. She would be easy enough to find, because all he had to do was go downwards.
She was still there, griddling stuff on a … griddle thing. But the blue eyes that turned to look at him were cold and unfriendly.
"Yeah, what can I get you?"
Butch suddenly realised he was extremely hungry. So while he was here, he might as well… he put on his best woman-charming smile.
"Whatever you've got cooking there, darlin', it looks mighty good!"
Her steely gaze didn't alter. "It's squirrel kebabs. I bet you haven't ever tasted any, have you?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, darlin' …"
"Don't you darlin' me! You're that Vault guy, aren't you? Saw you in the grand parade. Guess you think you're some kind of celebrity that we should all be sucking up to."
Jees, was there no end to these aggressive chicks! "Hey, uh, take a chill pill, girl. I ain't no celebrity. Look, I really only came for some directions, though something to eat wouldn't go amiss." He repeated the question he'd asked earlier.
The woman in the yellow jumpsuit listened with what seemed like growing amusement. Then she said, "Sure, I can tell you where that is." She pointed. "See that stairway with the sign saying 'Luxury apartment'. Follow it round all the way up. House is right in front of you, up against the outer wall." She smiled in a way that made Butch a little uneasy. "You want some of these?"
"Thanks, I'll take a couple."
"Fourteen caps then. Now be sure to mention me to your fine friends. The name's Jenny Stahl. I know you won't forget it."
"How could I ever do that, Jenny?" He left with the impression his flirting was wasted on her. Munching appreciatively on the kebabs, he followed her directions. At the top of the stairway were two houses. The one furthest away had two stories and was in rather better condition than the average Megaton dwelling, the other facing him looked nothing more than a dilapidated shack. But Jenny had definitely said the empty house was nearer to the outer wall, hadn't she?
Butch shrugged mentally. Guess they ain't the grateful sort around here. He stepped forward, and tried the latch. It was locked. Damn! Maybe try knocking. Wait, what was this dagger doing sticking in here? He pulled it out, then used it to rap on the door.
The lock clicked, and the door was suddenly flung wide open. Facing him was a muscular-looking man with a grizzled beard and an angry expression.
He rasped, "How many times! This ain't a fucking john, shitface!"
Butch gasped, "Uh …. Sorry, wrong house!"
"You bet your bastarding life it's the wrong house … wait, what the hell are you doing with that?"
Butch became aware he was still holding the dagger by the blade, and sought to drop it. But the man was too quick for him, his hands moving in a blur of speed that Butch could scarcely have imagined possible, so that on the instant his arm was twisted behind his back and given an excruciating wrench that forced him to release the weapon.
Still gripping him in a painful arm lock from behind, the man held up the gleaming knife before the Tunnel Snake's terrified eyes. Butch was uncomfortably aware of the man's breath on his neck, smelling of cigarette smoke and whisky, and of the proximity of his bristling beard, clenched teeth and eyes bulging with rage.
"Look, man, I'm sorry, I didn't mean nothing by it. I just found it in the door … aargh!"
The man had given his arm another violent twist, moving the dagger closer to his throat.
"You're a fucking liar! Are you another messenger from her, from the Raiders? You'd better use your mouth before I tear you a whole new one."
"In the name of Jesus and all the saints!" Butch was practically weeping. "Please don't kill me! I'm not a messenger from anybody. I'm Butch Deloria from Vault 101, and I came here looking for the empty house. A woman called Jenny … Jenny Stahl, said it was here … she'll tell you, if you ask her. And I found the damn knife sticking in your door, its god's honest truth!"
He shut his eyes, and prayed. To his relief, the pressure on his arm lessened, and he heard a chuckle.
"Jenny Stahl told you to come here? That figures. And you're one of those cowardly shits from a Vault? I remember seeing you …"
"Yeah, yeah, I know, I was in the parade … and I don't expect any celebrity treatment." Butch opened his eyes. The man was grinning at him, but not in a particularly friendly fashion.
"Well, you ain't gonna get it. I hate you Vault arseholes."
"Okay, that's cool. Just let me be on my way, and I won't trouble you again."
The man gave another chortle. "Not so fast! First you and me need to have a little chat."
"Nah, you don't wanna do that, I'd just bore you with my lame conversation and …"
"Oh yes I do. You see you and me happen to have a mutual acquaintance, someone whose affairs I need to catch up on. I want you to tell me all about your friend from the Vault: what she's been doing and what she's planning to do. And I'm not taking no for an answer."
"That's the empty house, just a way down from Mr Jericho's. Billy told me not to play near there. But I did anyway, and sometimes I'd see people go in and out. I remember Mr Moriarty was there once. He's dead now, like Billy is." Maggie's face remained in solemn contemplation for a while, then lightened somewhat. "Are you gonna live there with Arta? Can I come visit?"
What will happen if Arta goes away? Will I have to stay there on my own? And suppose she …
Bryan shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe I will. And I'll have to ask Arta if you can come round."
"Oh, yeah, of course. Like if I could do a sleepover, say. But if you don't live there, where will you go?"
"I've an aunt in Rivet City who might be able to look after me."
"Really? But Rivet City is such a long way, so they say."
"Arta said she'll help me get there."
"I think she's a nice lady, even if …"
"Even if what?"
"Nothing. You going in now?"
Bryan was about to knock on the door, then was surprised to see Butch leaving the neighbouring house.
Butch started, then recovered himself. Touching fists with Bryan, he asked, "How's my man?"
"Good. Great! Say, are you coming to Arta's with me? Her house is right here."
"Yeah, I know." Muttering, "At least I do now."
"What's that, man, you okay? You look jumpy."
"Ah, its nothing. Kinda rough day."
*It's a rather shorter chapter than usual again, though I'm hoping but not guaranteeing that there's enough leftover material to reduce the next update time. Like it didn't after the last chapter.
Sentinel Kodiak: Previously a Paladin, Kodiak seems the most likely candidate to take over command from Sarah, assuming promotion would be made within the Pride. (Glade is probably more experienced, but the heavy weapons guy never gets made leader). Kodiak is also Owyn Lyons personal protégé from boyhood, after he spared him and other non-mutated children during the Scourge of the Pitt. His real name is Greg Bear (a kodiak is a variety of bear).
Dawn Dusk: Yes, it's really her name according to Wiki. You've got to wonder whether any parent would name their offspring thus, but then there's Zowie Bowie et al.
Nothing like a bit of S and M: I absolutely refuse to mention that awful Fifty Shades of … now there I've gone and done it! Its part of the fiendish effect that you can't avoid referring to it. You know even though in a sense I'm proud that 'one of our own' has been such a run away success in the 'real' publishing world, I just wish it had been someone who can write about sex without inducing laughter. And (there's the truth of it) I wish it had been me!
The Misfortunes of Virtue: From the little I've read, it's a story that supports De Sade's argument that being virtuous is stupid, and being evil is smart. A view that Burke would probably approve of, and certainly might find useful in the 'tuition' of Mei Wong. Not recommended as light reading (it's often tediously wordy but is still disturbing enough to make Fifty Shades look extremely tame in comparison.)
Treason: I don't think there's any real evidence in the game that Rothchild is disloyal or is contemplating deposing Lyons, but he always struck me as someone not greatly enthusiastic about the current direction of the Brotherhood in the East. 'Treasonous' sympathy for the Outcasts would also seem most likely amongst the Scribes, particularly the Orders of the Sword and Shield, who are most concerned with the search for technology.
Liberty Prime: the 'giant robot' is Rothchild's pet project and the only counter to Enclave Vertibirds (when working).*