August 21, 2277:
We spent most of the morning lounging about in our new home. The below-ground conditions were just too nice, compared to the hell above.
Spending your entire life in a vault doesn’t exactly leave one with a great tolerance for sunlight and high temperatures.
The couch in the den proved quite comfortable, if a bit dusty. We listened to the radio, but even with a full antenna this one had the same problem as our Pip-Boys: the “GNR” station just wouldn’t come in, and who in their right mind could listen to the Enclave station for more than five minutes? If you can do it, you’re a better man than I. Fortunately, Angry Bob was still broadcasting… although his playlist was hardly soothing or romantic.
My headache was better this morning. I was beginning to think it had something to do with exposure to the outside air. Considering the possibility, and having nothing better to do, we went looking through the house for some sort of air filtration unit.
We found it in the basement, in an alcove built next to the doorways to the medical bay and workshop. Next to it, sat a water filtration unit.
Neither was active – the air and water we had been using were apparently left over from the previous inhabitants.
Since we still had power, Ria and I decided to turn the filtration systems back on. The water filter was in working order, but the HEPA filter for the air system was caked solid with dust. Fortunately, whoever had set this place up didn’t skimp on sustainability – there was a stack of spare filters stored next to the unit. Filter replaced, we toggled the main switch and were rewarded with the system rumbling to life.
Both systems showing green, we called it good. Tossing ideas around over a late breakfast, we decided to collect up the crap we had looted from dead people thus far, and head towards Megaton. We had no use for the odd case of prescription medication, or for twelve sets of clothing and mismatched armor.
Speaking of clothing, we had switched back to our Vault suits after the school incident; since we apparently couldn’t pass for cannibals anyway. We got off lucky, and after… extensive inspections, neither of us had ended up with any lice from our brief stints in the filthy rags and makeshift armor.
Since the house had a washer and dryer – along with a not insubstantial stock of anti-bacterial cleaners – we decided to see about assembling an outfit or two that wouldn’t stick out as much in the wasteland.
After some cleaning, we managed to get something workable. Long pants and decently covering shirts that were more or less our respective sizes; with mismatched belts and holsters. We kept the gloves, boots, and knee pads from our vault outfits. We also hung on to the armored vests; while it’s true they had the gold ‘101’ on the back, we hoped that being worn over normal clothing would make it look like we had scavenged them from dead vault-dwellers, rather than owning them legitimately.
Once fully loaded, we were more than a bit overburdened. I was glad it was a short hike to the town.
We stopped, as we neared the town; hoping to get a better look while still out of sight of the gates.
A wall built from scrap steel surrounded the place. We could see one sniper in a perch above the gate – though he seemed to be inattentive.
Moving closer, we met some sort of merchant caravan; the head of which identified himself as Harith, and proclaimed that he was an arms merchant.
This, of course, warranted Ria’s full attention.
Contrary to his claims, Harith’s selection was unimpressive, at best. He had some more of the cheap rimfire revolvers, a few knives, and what I thought at first glance was a single-shot 12 gauge.
On closer inspection, it turned out to be an M79 that someone had cut down into a handgun.
That warranted making a deal.
Fortunately, it seemed that these caps they used as money were worth a fair bit each. We managed to acquire the launcher and both 40mm grenades that Harith had without even dipping half-way into our stash. Managed to end up turning a bit of a profit, actually; selling off some of the spare ammunition and melee weapons we had acquired in the school.
Harith warned us at the last second that the grenades he had didn’t have rotational fuses.
Of course, he didn’t know exactly what the wounding radius on the payloads would be; and continued that explosives were too risky to oneself for his taste.
I agreed from a theoretical standpoint; but from a practical one, a quarter pound of solid explosive makes for one hell of a crowd control device, and is always a handy last-ditch option.
We got some information from Harith about the route the caravans took (there were apparently a few caravans, each specialized in inventory), and where they were based out of.
We parted on what seemed like good terms, and Ria and I continued on to the gate.
There was a reprogrammed Protectron. I’d never seen one in person before, and was amazed it still worked. It was apparently harmless though; only welcoming us and recommending we get a drink at someplace called Moriarty’s.
Through the gate and into Megaton itself, we were immediately accosted by the “Sheriff”. He questioned our reasons for being in town, made some thinly veiled threats, and eventually moved on to kicking puppies or whatever it is that megalomaniacs do when they’re not threatening people they perceive to be weaker than themselves.
I had to admit, though, that the assault rifle he had slung across his back would render him the winner of most arguments, even if he didn’t have more than one magazine for the thing.
Moving down through the center of town, I marveled that anyone could consider living like this an improvement over anything. The place could be generously referred to as a converted junk yard; I felt like I needed a tetanus shot just looking around.
We stopped at a restaurant of sorts, and spoke to the proprietor. She didn’t seem the most “on the ball” person I’d ever met, but was kind enough to point us towards the town clinic, and the shop of one Moira Brown – a general goods trader that was apparently of some local renown.
The clinic was closest, so we stopped there first. Inside, we found the doctor, who could be described as abrasive, if one were overly kind. Most people, I think, would call him an asshole.
Still, he was enthusiastic enough about acquiring the stock of extra chemicals and medicine we had. We scored a couple of hundred extra caps, and the right to a five minute “consult” – that I wanted to ask about my headaches. I described the symptoms, and was informed that it sounded like a sinus inflammation; rare since everyone was exposed to the toxins and dust since birth.
I didn’t mention that I hadn’t been.
The doctor continued on that he hadn’t seen a dose of a proper antihistamine in decades. He joked that I could probably find some in a Vault.
I hated to tell him that it didn’t work that way. Because of the recycled, purified air respiratory allergies were all but unknown in Vault 101. They had the heavy-duty stuff for use in cases of anaphylactic shock, but nothing that was safe to take daily.
Seeing that there was no point in sticking around, we moved on towards Moira’s place.
She turned out the be the polar opposite of the doctor. Moira was a disgustingly cheerful person. Talkative, too. Before even getting the chance to ask about trading, she set off on a tangent about some survival guide she was writing.
Moira apparently recognized our armored vests, and marked us as coming from the nearby Vault. I told her a bit about vault life just to shut her up. It was hardly a ringing endorsement I gave.
Her instructional urges at least temporarily sated, I managed to get Moira to discuss some trade. Most of her stock was junk, but surprisingly, her stock of weapons was better than Harith’s. She had a lone MK14, complete with scope and suppressor. I’ll confess, I’d always wanted one.
The price was steep, but Ria agreed with me that we needed some sort of long range armament.
Unfortunately, Moira was lacking any nice revolvers.
It cost us nearly all our swag, but a deal was struck for the MK14, some ammunition, and a portable water purifier.
Moira’s endless chattiness came in handy, when she mentioned having worked out sets of reloading tools for several cartridges – the 7.62 NATO that I now had a use for, included.
It cost me, but I managed to acquire the setup for the 7.62mm. Moira mentioned that components could be retrieved from certain types of ordnance. I had no idea they still packed gunpowder into land mines… but I suppose when manufacturing one’s own in a post-society wasteland, you use whatever you can get.
Once business was concluded, she began talking again. Wanting me to help with this guide. I was poised to say no, when she mentioned a local area that had become known as “minefield” – this struck me as a good place to collect workable components for creating ammunition... and get paid for it in the bargain.
Before I left, I tossed Moira one more question – being fairly sure that I’d regret it when the answer was fifteen minutes long – and asked about the cannibals we’d run into.
Astonishingly, her answer was short; terse, even. Moira said that they were referred to as ‘Raiders’, and were not uncommon throughout the wastes. They lived in disconnected, insular bands – almost clan-like, and were nearly as prone to fighting amongst themselves as they were to raiding towns, outposts, and caravans. Because of its walls and snipers, Megaton was largely safe, though the areas surrounding were anything but.
We left Moira’s, promising to be back as soon as we had investigated Minefield.
Outside, I struggled with my new rifle. Whoever had worn it last had been a solid four inches smaller around the chest than me, and it took me a few minutes of trial and error to get the nylon sling adjusted properly. It didn’t help matters any that I had never worn a proper rifle slung before – let along in a cross-body method.
“We’re being watched.” I noted, finally settling the rifle into a more-or-less comfortable position on my armored chest.
“Tall, dark, bald, chain smoker?” Ria asked, not looking away from me.
She nodded softly. “He was eyeballing us on the way in. Lock and load – make a show of it.”
Ria moved around to stand in front of me. It occurred to me she had positioned herself to be able to look over my shoulder and at our observer, while appearing to be absorbed in paying attention to me.
Always the smart girl.
I twisted forty-five degrees to one side, to avoid covering Ria with the muzzle of my rifle, and pointed it up towards the sky; making a show of pulling the charging handle and checking the chamber was empty. That done, I inserted one of the freshly filled magazines and rocked it into place, then thumbed the bolt release paddle. The bolt sprang forward with a satisfyingly solid sound, and I pulled the safety back into its engaged position. Lastly, I laid the rifle back in its new place on my chest; shrugging once – still trying to get used to the weight on the sling dragging at my neck.
“Our friend suddenly remembered he had somewhere else to be, I think.” She returned, amused. “Guess we’re not the easy marks someone was hoping for.”
“Let’s get going, then. Too many people in this town.”
Business concluded, and not looking to stick around for any social events, we moved on.
Back outside the wall where we could keep a decent eye on our flanks, we stopped to check the map.
At least some of Vault-Tec’s infrastructure was apparently still functional, since our Pip-Boy maps had been updating themselves over the last few days. Showing us which roads were still intact, which had been destroyed. The new map looked like interlaced LANSAT photos, but after two hundred years it was difficult to be sure.
Nonetheless, it did clearly display that we were standing in front of a scrap pile that looked suspiciously like the as-seen-from-above Megaton. You’ve got to love automated satellite surveillance and global positioning systems.
Feeling fairly confident that we could trust the topographic data, we plotted a course that would take us over to and across the Potomac, and then north into this Minefield place.
We took to a partially destroyed road, and headed east.
Ria and I made it as far as the bridge without incident. We stopped to take a look around the area before crossing into such an exposed position, and were immediately glad we did so.
Across the bridge, and some ways up what was left of the highway, we spied movement. I quickly mounted my new rifle, and made use of its excellent telescope. It was a group of Raiders, five strong as far as I could tell.
Mismatched armor, no long range weaponry visible. I had begun to suspect these people were not an organized paramilitary force.
A group of feral, abandoned dogs; rather than a pack of wolves, if you will. Very little coordination or cooperation, and they seemed just as apt to fight amongst themselves as anything when there weren’t suitable victims within sight.
Considering that the map had said there wasn’t another intact crossing over the river for a couple of miles in either direction, this was most likely some sort of checkpoint.
I somehow doubted they’d be satisfied with a handful of quarters’ toll.
“Think we can sneak by?” I asked, still watching through the scope.
“Why bother?” Ria returned. “You’ve got a can on that thing – make use of it. Not like the world will miss these cannibalistic rapist pieces of shit.”
“Right. Suppose we’ll find out if this thing was worth the money.”
I laid prone, and positioned myself to fire between two of the bridge’s railing posts. It occurred to me completely belatedly that I had forgotten to check and see if the damned rifle was zeroed. Well, that’s why they invented box-magazine fed autoloaders, right?
Not taking any chances on the sight-in, I took aim on one Raider’s chest. I picked one who was separated from the group, and that the others weren’t watching.
I fired. The sound suppressor did its job admirably, and muffled the report of the shot. It did not, however, affect the trans-sonic shockwave – the ‘crack’ part of the ‘crack-bang’ that gunshots are so often described as.
The sight-in was off, but not by as much as I had feared. If I had had to guess, I’d say the weapon was zeroed properly, just for a different load. I was shooting scavenged military ball; the previous owner had likely fed the rifle strictly match fodder. I know I would, if I had the option.
The bullet struck the Raider in the chest, about three inches left of my intended point of impact. My left, his right. That meant I missed the heart, but still holed a lung. I was rewarded with a blood spray from the target’s back; who then proceeded to collapse, wailing loudly a few seconds before his lung began to fill with blood.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the beauty of the 7.62x51mm. Kevlar doesn’t even slow these things down, so savages clad in cheap studded leather “armor” didn’t have a prayer of being protected.
Unfortunately, the wailing awoke the rest of the hornets; who had no idea where the shot had come from but were nonetheless very pissed off about the whole thing.
I did some quick MOA-to-inch conversion in my head, and twisted the windage knob on the scope several clicks.
That done, I took aim and fired on the next target. Still not a perfect bull’s eye, but close enough for government work, as they used to say.
Zero set, I proceeded to down the remaining three in four or so seconds. For all their yowling and gnashing of teeth and random pointing, the Raiders hadn’t gotten a shot off.
We waited a few minutes, to see if any more appeared. None did.
I pushed up to a crouch, and grabbed a handful of loose ammunition from my pocket; removing the magazine and topping it off to get back to twenty rounds.
We moved on across the river, and to the corpses. This time, we left the armor and clothing on them, and only took weapons and drugs. We had miles to go, and no reason to burden ourselves with rags and rotting leather.
Ria and I switched back, and headed north; tracing our way along the back sides of the ridges where possible, to keep from silhouetting ourselves against the afternoon sun. We ran into two more bands of Raiders. I had less and less respect for them, the more I saw. The Raiders were loud, disorderly, and mostly random in their actions. They were prolific though, I had to grant them that.
The subsequent bands fared no better than the first had.
We found a few more decent weapons along the way, most notably a Glock 18, and an old pump shotgun. These Ria took, though she loudly lamented the Raiders’ lack of a proper revolver.
As we neared a power substation some half mile short of Minefield, we were attacked by animals. Strange things; pink and mostly hairless, with buck teeth and no tails. They came at us in a pack of seven, moving surprisingly fast for having such stubby legs.
I managed to get two, but I was slower than I should have been – my rifle was hardly set up for close range work. Ria handled the rest with her pair of revolvers, not even bothering to un-sling her shotgun.
We pressed on, heading for Minefield. We stopped just short of the houses.
Mines were already plainly visible in the street, and in the dirt on either side. The place looked devoid of life. I laid next to a tree, and ran my rifle’s optic up to full power – surveying the place as best I could. After a moment, I noticed movement on the tower at the far end of town. Turning my attention there, I saw an old man…
…taking a piss off the tower, into the street below.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ria muttered, when I told her what I saw.
“I wish I was. Believe me, I don’t need to see shit like this, even from three hundred meters out.”
As I continued watching, the old man finished up, and moved back towards the center-support beam – up against which was standing a rifle. I was too far out to make a positive ID, but I could tell that it had a large optic on it.
“Well,” I noted. “That would be why almost no one who went into Minefield has ever come back. If the mines don’t get you, the sniper does.”
“We need the mines, and who knows what goodies are hiding in these houses. Cap the old bastard and be done with it.” Ria returned.
“You’re heartless, you know that?”
So, I did it. I waited for the old man to bend over to retrieve his rifle, and valiantly put a bullet between his shoulderblades.
Yeah, I’m not really proud of it, either.
Seeing the sniper down, and no one else evident; we moved forward, carefully disarming the mines as we went.
Reaching the tower, we took the old man’s rifle, ammunition, and even found a key on his body. A key, we later found out, that opened all the houses on the street.
In all, it took us only a couple hours to collect all the mines, and steal everything that looked useful but wasn’t nailed down.
Inside the houses had presented a fairly grim picture. We found several skeletons of what were presumably the original inhabitants; as well as several more recent corpses – the apparent disposal sites of the people the sniper had killed. Knowing he was a murderer didn’t make me feel immensely better about doing the same to him, but the alternative was even less pleasant so I didn’t let it eat me up.
We briefly considered spending the night, but with the neighborhood’s defense screen gone, and us not knowing if the deceased sniper had had accomplices who may have simply been out when we arrived, it was decided that the risk of sticking around was too great.
Fortunately, it was still afternoon, and we judged that we had roughly three hours of daylight left.
We took a different route south, this time heading down through some more urban areas. The map had shown what looked like a cluster of multi-storied office buildings to the south-east that looked like they might be a better place to lay low for the night, if we couldn’t make it back home before dark.
We cheered a bit during the trip, having only encountered a few actual feral dogs along the way – which were easily dispatched.
The cheer faded quickly when we reached the cluster of buildings. It was swarming with Raiders. At least a dozen that we could see; many of which were on some sort of loose patrol path in pairs.
It was too late in the day to swing back and try to circle around; Minefield didn’t seem any safer now than earlier – least of all if someone noticed us and followed our trail. Neither did simply attacking them seem the best of ideas, for obvious reasons.
The universe saw to that little detail for us, however. A pair of Raiders had apparently been on a wide patrol, and swung in behind us. They were more surprised than we were.
I got one, and Ria nailed the other. Unfortunately, one supersonic crack and two unsuppressed 22 magnums equals one alerted mess of Raiders.
From there our path was effectively chosen, so we set about dealing with the rest.
Picking them off at range was fairly simple; these Raiders weren’t any brighter than the others had been. They were better armed, though.
We stayed low in the street – I took them as they came, and Ria put down any who got the bright idea to try and flank us. They just kept coming. Just when I thought they were done, at the far end of the street several more filed out of the back of a trailer.
Clearly, we had stumbled onto some sort of hot-spot.
Pressing on, we dealt with the last stragglers, and set about looting the dead; coming by several more M67 grenades in the process, along with some 9x19 ammunition for the G18, and an AC556 with a couple of magazines.
I kept the AC556, since it was select-fire, and my MK14 was locked into semi-auto. I’m no huge proponent of the little 5.56mm, but full-auto certainly has its uses when working indoors – and indoors we were a’goin’.
The sun had already begun to dip below the horizon. There was no way we could make it back to safety by dark, or even within a few minutes thereof. The wastes didn’t strike us as a safe place to traverse by night, so the only option was to move inside and try to find someplace to barricade ourselves in some relative safety until sunup.
There were two buildings more or less intact. One on the east side of the street, one on the west.
We chose one at random, and went inside.
This, it proved, was a mistake.
Inside, we found another dozen Raiders, who I can only assume were gathering in the entryway to investigate the gunfire outside.
Ria took down one without hesitation, and I proceeded to empty my AC556’s magazine from the hip – killing two and injuring several more.
Ria and I swept to one side, taking some small cover behind one of the load-bearing pillars. In only seconds, both of her revolvers were dry; and my carbine had eaten through both magazines – and there were still six standing.
I briefly considered throwing an M67, but didn’t care for our odds of surviving in an enclosed space. I had seen a bootleg copy of the BUST trials, after all.
“Use the M79!” Ria called, slapping another magazine into her G18 and hitting the slide release.
She proceeded to lean out, and fire a few bursts; not killing anyone, but forcing the Raiders to keep their distance, to cover of their own.
“In here? Are you nuts?”
“It’s an impact fuse! Aim for the far wall. Has to be fifteen meters…” She paused to fire again. “We’re outside the lethal range of the shell, at least – and they aren’t.”
I hated to admit it, but she was right. Even if it had been made with a proper payload of plastic explosive – which I highly doubted it was – we were outside the kill range, and had some passable cover to boot. The pressure wave would be another matter, but burst eardrums would be preferable to a brutal death.
I unceremoniously dropped my carbine, and retrieved the cut-down grenade launcher. Quickly checking that it was still loaded, I leaned out behind Ria and lit one off – doing my damnedest to get back into cover as fast as humanly possible; and dragging the psychotic killer of a woman I love with me.
There was a sound, and a flash.
I wish I could tell you what the sound was, but I can’t. As soon as the grenade struck, the world twisted on its axis in a very violent fashion, and I lost the ability to focus.
A second later it cleared. My ears rang, but I could still hear out of both of them, as far as I could tell.
Ria was in similar shape; leaning against the pillar and shaking her head sharply as though trying to clear it – sending her short, red hair flying about.
I put myself in the center of her vision, and asked if she was okay. A kiss and shameless grope informed me that she was.
I reloaded my grenade launcher with the last shell, and stowed it back in its place.
That done, I switched to a pistol I had picked up off a raider outside, and Ria put a fresh magazine into her G18.
We edged out of cover, and were rewarded with a scene of impressive carnage.
Best money I ever spent. Granted, I’ve only been spending money a few days, but still.
Moving through the bodies, we found a couple still alive. These were coldly shot, giving them the same quarter they’d given us.
At the back of the room, we found a woman still alive. She had only caught part of the blast; having been partly in the gap in the wall that lead upstairs.
She had been dressed better than the others; but the outfit had largely lost its effect now – most of her left leg was gone, torso scorched, arm mangled, and hair singed.
This one we didn’t immediately shoot. She was dying anyway, and quickly.
“Never figured… couple of waster kids would have a grenade launcher…” She managed to get out between ragged breaths.
I noticed an odd tattoo on what was left of her left arm. A sword with wings in blue ink? It was somewhat difficult to tell, exactly.
“You’d be surprised what you can pick up at your local sporting goods store these days.” I replied.
She laughed a bit, and ended up choking. “Not from around here, are you? You don’t have the broken spirit of someone who grew up here…”
“Vault exiles.” I shrugged, not bothering to be evasive – after all, who was she going to tell? “You’re out of place as well. I don’t see many Raiders that can talk like a human being.”
“Brotherhood.” She replied. “Kicked out five years ago… killed a kid… mistake…”
“The what?” Ria asked. “What ‘Brotherhood’?”
“Steel…” The woman breathed. “So many terrible things I did… let happen… always knew it would end this way; but still scares me to go… silly.”
“Maybe if you didn’t insist on attacking random people.” Ria shot back, not cutting any slack to the dying.
“Wish I could’ve… S-Steve, I…”
She never finished the sentence.
I’d seen death plenty of times since that morning back in the vault, but watching someone fade away before my eyes was far and away different than shooting someone who was trying to kill me. I found it more troubling by a wide stretch. Knowing that I was the one responsible for her laying there and bleeding out wasn’t helping matters, either.
Ria nonchalantly knelt, and popped the flap open on the holster hanging from the recently deceased’s belt. She gave a low whistle.
“A Colt goddamned Python.” Ria declared, holding it up to get some light on it. “Never thought I’d see one of these. It’s even still in time.”
Ria, of course, took her new prize and its holster, securing both to her own belt.
We proceeded to loot the rest of the dead, but were by this point in possession of considerably more weapons than could be practically carried. We kept the best of the lot, scavenged parts here and there to fix up second-line weapons, and left most of the rest.
The second floor produced no new enemies, though we did find a door that accessed a skyway leading to the other office.
Talking it over briefly, it was decided that even trying to secure the doors would be too risky to spend the night, with the other building still occupied.
We moved across, and into the second nest. Inside was more of the same, but on the second floor the quarters were far too tight to use explosives.
Surprise, effective use of automatic fire, quick reflexes, and sheer brutality carried us through somehow, though I ended up wounded. Not seriously – it turned out that my Kevlar was still good, even after two centuries. Fortunately, my wounds were minor and consisted only of a few grazes and some bruising under my armored vest.
In this building we found a work bench, and some medical supplies. There was even a Vault-Tec bobblehead on one of the desks.
Once this building was cleared, and before even looting the dead, we barred the doors on both floors, and piled some heavy objects in front of them just for good measure.
That done, we used a few scavenged medical supplies to see to my wounds, and set about sorting through the latest haul.
The bed we found was less than inspiring in quality or cleanliness, but it beat the floor.
After dinner of Cram and beer, we made use of it – though only for sleeping; even Ria wasn’t horny enough to try and get intimate in such conditions.