The Lonesome Road

Test inconclusive

Eli sat in the dirt, staring helplessly as the wounded vertibird flew away. Behind him the war rig burned, belching great plumes of black smoke into the afternoon sky in its dying gasps. The flames were so hot, they wouldn’t be able to put it out for hours or get near enough to try and begin to salvage anything. Everything they owned was on the rig, except what he could keep in his pockets or strapped to his back. Now it was just a stinking, twisted metal pyre for Lysistrata.

He could sense the others moving behind him, picking each other up. He knew that he should go and help, heal the wounded and see what they could save before they headed onwards to wherever they would go next. But for now he just sat and stared as the flying machine disappeared off in the glare of the sun.

He could feel Lili pulling away from him for the second time that day. For the second time he was powerless to stop them – at least this time he was in enough control not to offload his pain and rage into the world around him. He just felt exhausted and empty. He kept replaying it over and over in his head, trying to think of what he could have done differently. But nothing came to mind. He just heard the man’s voice again and again, cold and casual.

Test inconclusive.

He didn’t understand. What was the test? Had these last few months all been a test all along? How was he supposed to pass if he didn’t know the parameters, didn’t know what he was striving for? Who was the man, to be setting him a test? Eli didn’t recognise him from the white rooms, although there was something vaguely familiar about him. Perhaps they had met before and he had forgotten. Eli would not forget him again.

Test failed.

For the first time in his life, he had actively defied an order. Eli had never even considered doing something like that before. True, as of late there had been times when in the absence of an order he had taken the initiative and indulged his own growing curiosity about the world around him. But nothing directly ignored or disobeyed. He’d never wanted to not do what he was told before. It had been agony to ignore the command, every fibre of his being screaming at him to just do what he was supposed to do. In purely technical terms he hadn’t – the nameless man hadn’t given him a time parameter for how long he was supposed to stay where he was, so if the order was interpreted liberally he hadn’t broken any rules. But that was just being argumentative and looking for loopholes to defy the order, still being disobedient. Was this what the Duke and Snowy had been trying to teach him to do, every time he was asked what he wanted or what he thought? The pain it brought to make the choices yourself didn’t seem worth it.

And worse, it had still been for nothing. He had been ejected from the machine before he’d even had a chance to reach her and they had left without him. He could only watch uselessly once again. He was always useless. For all that he had at his disposal, he was too small and weak to help when it really mattered – when it mattered to him. What good was it being born to save people if you failed?

He sat in the dirt, staring at the vanishing dot on the horizon.

Test inconclusive.

Test failed.

View
What next?

Mathew sat on the door ledge of the vertibird with his legs casually dangling beneath him. To a casual observer it might have looked like he was worried but anyone who knew how to read people could tell it was much worse than that. He was planning. The vertibird kept a steady pace heading west and was just about able to stay in the air thanks to Krogon’s repairs, ramshackle thought they were. The right-side of the craft was in a bad way. It could even be referred to as a burnt out husk. The charred remains of one hand still clutched the side mounted heavy machine gun were the dynamite had gone off. Not a pretty sight.

“Well that was a complete cock up.” Mathew glanced over his shoulder at Krogon. The Trap-Maker was not happy. He was pretty badly cut up and splatted with oil from the repairs.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Mathew replied, returning to watching the horizon.

“You wouldn’t say that would you? Well, here’s what I say. WE LOST A FUCKING VERTIBIRD MATHEW!!” The three men in white coats crowded round Lili turned shock and apprehension to see Mathew shouted at like that. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH A VERTIBIRD COSTS!!! WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE EVEN GOING TO GET THE PARTS FOR ANOTHER THEY DON’T SPRING OUT OF HOLES IN THE GROUND.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Oh yes right, Mathew will take care of it!” Krogon replied flippantly.

“We have the girl!” Mathew raised his voice for the first time, like a great serpent raising its head. Krogon visibly rethought his tone and decided to press on.

“We already had the girl. What you mean is we kept her and what good does that do us. We lost an out runner, a vertibird, not to mention the damage done to this one. We could drop out of the sky at any minute and of course, let us not forget, the crowning turd in the water pipe that is this shit storm. Lysa is dead. What have you to say about that, Mathew?!” Mathew ran his hand over his head, marking his hair line with his finger.

“I’ll take care of it.”

“You’d damn well better, because I am not telling the Dragon that his daughter is dead. It happened under your watch and you’re gonna deal with it.”

“I said I would didn’t I, just leave it! I’ll take care of it.” Krogon stood in silence listening to the wheezy hum of the remaining engine. The white coats had returned to their work, whatever it was, to avoid the awkwardness that was the shouting match in the back of the vertibird.

“In future I would appreciate the professional courtesy of telling me what I’m getting myself into.” Krogon grumbled.

“And what do you mean by that?” Mathew turned to look at him.

“Well, when I took this job you told me you needed help with a group of runaway slaves. You didn’t tell me that one of them was a big guy who drove motorbikes covered in dynamite into vertibirds and who crashed vertibirds into their own war rig just to kill one woman. You also didn’t say they had a guy that shot lasers from his head. You didn’t say they had a guy who was so insane he’d let go of a war rig moving at 40 miles an hour just to get an advantage. You didn’t say you had a guy who’d play chicken and not even blink AND who Lysa couldn’t touch. Guess that’s why she liked him, a challenge. Oh, and don’t even get me started about that weird kid.”

“You didn’t need to know.” Mathew replied without turning his head

“I didn’t need to know?”

“No.” Krogon stared at him for a moment.

“I’m doubling my fee.”

“Done”

“So, what the plan now?” Krogon said sitting down on the edge of the doorway, gripping the handrail.

“We get to the citadel for repairs and refuelling. From there you head onwards and I’ll take the girl and head back home. I’ll drop her off, tell the dragon how things are going and then meet you at vault 98. Make sure you’ve everything ready by the time I get there.”

“I will. If you don’t turn up by the end of the week I’ll assume the dragon has had you staked to the wall in his hallway.” The two men sat in silence before Krogon spoke again in a hushed, slightly afraid tone. “Do you think it would be an idea to give Wrench a call?”

“No need. He’s taken a personal interest in this one.”

Krogon shivered. “God help those poor bastards.”

“Dragon help us all where that psycho is involved.”

“You don’t think he’d actually help them do you?!”

“I don’t know what he thinks.” Mathew shook his head. “That’s the problem.”

View
Hunchbacks and Getaways

Krogon was not having a good day. To start with the overflow valve hard broken and needed repair, then a group of very rude people had shown up asking to be allowed into the sewers. Not only would they not leave him alone but they also triggered his old gambling problems, and it’d been years since he’d let the dice decide fate.

What he was really troubled about though was that they may find the girl down there. She was hidden reasonably well though so unless they somehow knew exactly where they were going that wouldn’t be an issue. Even if they did somehow manage to stumble across the door it was 6 inches of solid steel, they’d need a laser to cut through it.

The cell itself was also a problem. The door was bio-coded and could only be opened by a select few and the walls were made of plasteel, you’d need more than a laser to get through that, you’d need a laser and a runaway train. Krogon smiled to himself. Yep, no need to worry, easiest bet I ever won.


“Hurry the fuck up we’re on a time limit here.” Lysistrata rolled her eyes. Like I don’t know that. Handling dynamite isn’t exactly a job you can do quickly. She ran the cabling under the front seat and connected up the last stick of explosives.

“OK, finished”

“Good, and make sure they’re well hidden. I want this over and done with.” That’s no fun. She pulled out some of the cabling to make it a bit more obvious. That’ll do it. If they don’t see that then they deserve to be blown up. She jumped down out of the cab and slammed the door behind her. “COME ON!” If he shouts one more time at me I’m going to snap his neck. I don’t care who he is. She climbed into the back of the truck and sat down next to Lili. The girl shot her a look that could, and often did, kill. Lysistrata smiled at her.

“Cheer up. The fun just getting started.”

View
Fallen angels

A wave of pain washed over Duke, completely overwhelming him. He fell to his knees, only barely managing to to keep his head from hitting the ground. It was hard to even think. The pain was unlike anything he had ever experienced. It wasn’t physical, nothing had struck him – whatever was emanating from Eli went past the skin and straight into the soul. Duke knew that Eli was able to impose his emotions on the people near him, but this was something else entirely – or the kid’s heartbreak was legendary.

To cause such suffering… maybe he is not a messiah after all? Or maybe he was, until this world broke him, and he is now fallen from grace. Or maybe even messiahs are human at the core.

Regardless, this girl – this ‘Lili’ – must mean a lot to him.


Mr Echo picked Eli up and carried him back down the tunnel they had come from, and the pain began to subside. After a few moments the Duke found himself able to move, and think clearly, again.
His limbs shook as he rose to his feet and slowly started making his way to the War Rig. He needed to have the rig ready to go when Eli, Echo, and Snowy came up – Lysistrata had a headstart on them already, and she could not be allowed to escape.

Lysistrata… I was wrong about her. She is not the angel my poets heart would paint her as. She is not merely mischievous, misguided, or impeopled. She is cruel, and kidnaps children, and couldn’t be witty if her life depended on it. I mean, what’s with the ‘too slow’ thing – is that her catchphrase or something? And why the obsession with speed anyway, is she related to the could-have-been-king?

Lame catchphrases aside (all catchphrases are lame in the Duke’s opinion), her attempt to try something new today had been downright painful. If the Duke had the capacity to cringe, and if he hadn’t been all but immobilised by whatever Eli was doing, he would have cringed himself into a coma.

But her lack of wit was not the issue, nor was the infatuation the Duke had had with her. This was not about the Duke. He knew he was quick to get attached, quick to fall in love. He knew the risks of leaving himself exposed that way, and accepted that lifestyle. In short, breaking Duke’s heart did not earn his enmity.

No, Lysistrata’s mistake had been to mess with his kid. It didn’t matter that Eli wasn’t technically his son, didn’t matter a damn. The boy had no one else, other than the Duke and his companions. And the Duke cared about Eli the way he imagined fathers cared about their children. In all the ways that mattered, Eli was Duke’s kid. And if you hurt Duke’s kid, the Duke would hurt you.

View
Emotional explosion

PAIN

It ripped out of him, an unstoppable flow of agony. Fear, rage, despair all wrapped up into a potent cocktail and flung out with such force that it overwhelmed him, brought him to his knees. The only way he could even begin to express a fraction of it was to scream.

PAIN

It was worse than the slave pit. Worse than the time when Duke had told him that he thought Lili might be in danger, because now he knew. He knew that somebody had caught her, that they wanted to hurt her because he could feel Lili’s fear and pain across the divide and he couldn’t do anything. He crouched on the floor, hands curled into fists and clenched so hard his knuckles were white. His nails cut into his palms, blood trickling down over his fingers. He could feel his entire body shaking as wave after wave of anguish tore out of his unresisting form.

PAIN

Somewhere beside him the Duke had staggered under the overwhelming force and collapsed to his knees. He ignored the man, focused only on the truck as it pulled away to fast for him to follow. She was so close. He could feel her across the gap between them, feel her fear and anger and pain and it only amplified his own. He knew she could feel it too. After so long apart, to find her for the merest glimpse and then have her ripped away again was unbearable. She just looked back at him as he stared at her, screamed after her as the truck drove away. The feeling blasted outwards into the city in a violent explosion of raw agony. He knew he was hurting people, hurting his friends. He didn’t care.

PAIN

He felt hands on his shoulders, somebody trying to touch him – perhaps in a vain attempt to comfort him. It did nothing. He could hear Mr Echo talking behind him and then large familiar hands circling around him, lifting him up and carrying him away back down the stairs. The pain continued to pour out of him in an unending flood.

He hung limply on Mr Echo’s back, throat hoarse from screaming and only able to wheeze helplessly in grief as he felt her pulling away from him again.

View
Growing pains

The boy pressed his hands and face against the dirt-smeared window of the war-rig as it trundled slowly through the smog and looming buildings. He stared mournfully out as they passed by rows and rows of pens, pressured with a crushing weight of human pain on all sides. The slaves in the buildings didn’t even turn to look as the war-rig passed by with a belching rumble, their eyes as dull and lifeless as their exhausted limbs. The men with him drove on, occasionally shooting glances at him. Even their bickering was more muted than normal.

The sheer weight of human misery and hopelessness was so overwhelming that the boy had gone a little numb. He couldn’t even really register the emotion and it had rapidly become just background noise within minutes of them arriving amid the towers of smoke and metallic air. Even when they had been in the midst of it and he had walked among the machines to find the dead slaves who could have been warriors, it hadn’t broken through. When the tall man had chopped into the head of the slave because he was lazy and so much blood and bone and brain had covered the front of the boy’s clothes, he had been afraid and upset, but he hadn’t been overwhelmed. It had all just made him feel sad and… determined, somewhere deep down inside.

He glanced down briefly at his top. It was heavily stained with gore and he could smell the metallic tang of the blood. But nobody had told him to change it, so he didn’t. He looked back up again, pressing his face against the dirty glass. A part of him hoped maybe that one of the people in the pens would look at him, that he would see something other than emptiness. Perhaps he could see that there were other types of slaves here, happy ones who got to do tests and serve and not have to slowly destroy themselves for reasons that he didn’t understand.

He wasn’t allowed to help these people. They didn’t have time, they had somewhere to be. They were just here to get supplies and then move on. He didn’t understand how you couldn’t have time to help make somebody better, but they probably knew what they were talking about so he didn’t question it. He had been allowed to help at least some people, even if only a few.

Still, for the first time in his life the boy felt a powerful feeling somewhere inside him, a feeling of ‘want’. He wanted to stay here, to make the sick people not sick anymore so that they could be happier. That was what he was made to do, to heal and fix things and make things better. This was a place where people needed to be fixed.

Perhaps if he was very good, they could come back.

View
Meanwhile...

Echo threw himself to the floor, slid into cover by his friend’s dying body as laser blasts lit up the night sky overhead. As the bursts of fire drew closer, he grabbed the body and drew it in close behind the steel crates.

“Mr… Echo… you must get away…. there’s no time…” he mumbled, a thin tickle of blood falling from his lip.

“Ain’t nowhere else to go.” Echo replied, as behind him the crates melted under blast after blast of laser fire. “This ain’t exactly how I pictured it, but you and me are going down together,” Echo drew his luger and slammed another magazine into the breach, “Auf wiedersehen, Mr. Hitler.”

CloneHitler coughed, weakly. “No, this isn’t how it was meant to be. All this time… all this time and the one lesson I never taught it…”. Behind them the RoboHitler was stomping ever closer, wave after wave of lasefire pouring from it’s armoured body, streams of brilliant swastikas illuminating the mechanised engine of destruction, “I never taught it the most important thing…”

“Shhh… don’t fight it. All this time I’ve been struggling, Mr Hitler. I been struggling for something I didn’t even know what it was.” Echo pulled Hitler in closer as their cover evaporated into slag, “All this time I’ve been struggling to die right. That’s all. And right now, with you…” RoboHitler roared in frustration and sent a barrage of rockets screaming into the night sky, “I think I can. I think we can die right, together.”

“That’s it, Mr. Echo… I never taught it…. I never taught it that…” CloneHitler’s breath became weak, ragged, this would be his final kampf, “I never taught it that the Fourth Reich was in… your… heart…”

“Mr. Hitler? Mr. Hitler?!” Echo shook the body, desperate to restore some sign of life, as the hideous Deathbot behind them vapourised a hillside, “NOOOOOOOOO!”

He leapt out of cover, raised the gun, emptied round after round into the hateful robot’s face, “Damn you!” he cried, “Damn you to hell!” round after round, shot after shot, but to no affect. The gun clicked empty.

He stood. Man against machine. Human against fifty-foot, nuclear-powered, HitlerDeathBot. The Robot seemed to pause a moment, to consider his sacrifice. This was surely the end…

Just then, a dozen explosions erupted across it’s face, HitlerDeathBot reeled backwards and collapsed to the floor with the weight of a dozen Reichstags. Echo spun around, could it be…?

Cornelius sat silhouetted against the night sky, relaxing atop his motorbike, attached rocket tubes gently smoking, “Miss me?”

“Cornelius? You came back? But what about Space Princess?”

Cornelius threw back his hair, “I got tired of her. I’m no one woman man, and all of space ain’t big enough for me.” He thrummed the motorbike’s engine, “Quick, climb on. We’ve got about thirty seconds before it repairs itself.”

“And then?” Echo asked, climbing on the bike behind Cornelius.

“And then RoboHitler…” Cornelius slowly lowered a pair of sunglasses over his visor, “Will meet his Final Solution.”

View
Could have been

The man was quick. The first time, the Duke had barely managed to evade him. The Duke figured that that was probably why he had tried again – this guy seemed to base his self-worth on being faster than anyone else. A strange thing to judge oneself by, but he was pretty quick.

Maybe now, having established some kind of dominance or superiority, he will agree to help?

Duke hit the water, gracefully piercing the surface. When he re-emerged, he looked around and – just as he expected – found the Could-have-been-King.

“Got that out of your system?”


No, he had not. The man had remained childish and ungrateful, so the Duke had called him a coward in hopes of making the Could-have-been-still-imprisoned-guy want to prove him wrong.

As the Duke fell down towards the water a second time, he thought to himself that he was in fact not a master of psychology and should maybe leave such stunts to those who were.

I think I made him mad. Hopefully this mediocre murder attempt will be enough for him to get over it so we can resume negotiations.


No, it was not. The Duke resurfaced to find the man gone.

Darn.

With Plan A turning out to be a no-go, and no Plan B, the Duke spent the next hour or so writing mean things on the Could-have-been-rescuer-of-the-Duke’s-friends’ wanted posters. On occasion the thought occurred to him that maybe provoking the guy was not the greatest idea – but it was the only idea he had at the moment. Besides, what was the guy going to do – throw him off a ledge again? The Duke had had enough interactions with gravity that they were practically at the “watching each other pee” levels of intimacy.

Maybe, the Duke hoped, by the time he was finished with the wanted posters the guys would have gotten themselves out of prison – hopefully clearing the murder charges in the process.


No, they did not.

In the end, the Duke got bored and broken into the prison. He had found his friends, and together they made an escape route out of the city ship thing. And who was waiting for them when they got out, if not the Could-have-been-helpful-person. The Duke had been mildly wary at first, but the man had been nice and helpful this time, giving them the items they forgot up in the prison-area. Maybe he wanted to be friends after all? Then again, he had said he hoped they would never meet again, so maybe not.

Either way, the Duke figured that at the end of the day, the man Could-have-been-worse.

View
Graffiti

Eli stood in the dark as the others pored over the contents of the computer. He tilted his head to one side, staring at the symbol daubed in dark paint on the wall. It was the same symbol that he’d had on the back of his neck, the one that they’d all had before the doctor had removed the marks. He wondered what it meant.

He knew it belonged to somebody called Dragon. He didn’t know who Dragon was, but he had thought they had all belonged to him as well, at least for a while. He had imagined Dragon was probably pretty cross about losing them, but the others didn’t seem to want to take Eli back, so maybe they hadn’t belonged to him after all. Originally he had thought the mark was just a slave brand, to let people know who the owner was. Now he wasn’t sure. Why would you put it on a wall? Perhaps this wall belonged to Dragon too.

Eli didn’t really know what the others were doing. They had come on here because the Duke had said it looked important and maybe they could find something useful. He had gotten them access to the computer as always by pressing the right buttons, and now Cornelius was pressing buttons and he and Duke were exclaiming about ‘vaults’ and experiments and travelling far away again. It didn’t seem to be that much different than what they had been doing before, although maybe this time they would get to drive in the war rig instead of walking underground and setting things on fire. He didn’t understand why they had left it behind anyway, but he trusted that the rest of the group had a good reason for it. Perhaps they could use it to go and find Lili afterwards. Perhaps Snowy had gone back now, to guard it for them whilst they took Andreia to Rivet City.

He felt in his pocket. The egg was nestled there, along with Snowy’s special stone. He wondered where the other man had gone, what he was doing now. He hoped Snowy had found the spaceman. Maybe then he would come back with Andreia and Eli could give back the stone and they could tell him he was doing well. He missed the two of them. He was pretty sure that the others did too, even if nobody talked about it. Perhaps that was why they had left Rivet city so quickly, because the others missed Snowy too.

He tilted his head to the other side. If he squinted, the mark looked a bit like an eye, if somebody was very bad at drawing. Or maybe it was just a swirly pattern, if somebody was very bad at drawing.
Perhaps it was just a letter that Duke hadn’t shown him yet? Maybe it was the letter for ‘Dragon’.

View
Krogon's Big Score

His head was aching again.

The ghoul’s scratches down his chest, the burns along his arm, they were the usual pain. The kind that punished you more the more you noticed it. They had learned early on that those kind of injuries only hurt when you had nothing better to be doing. So push on, stand watch, hunker down, clean, carry, fix, strip your weapon, count your rounds, count the fires, count the dead. Do anything that kept your head in the moment. That’s what they had learned. That was the drill.

But his head…

It didn’t just hurt. There was the pain, a stabbing ache that felt like his skull was growing inward, pushing a finger of bone deeper into his brain, but there was something else too. A sense of wrongness. He found himself wondering whether the colours he saw were the same as yesterday, or the faces. The burrowing pain was delving though his senses, his thoughts, his memories.

“And you still wouldn’t go under the knife. Don’t you wonder why?” The voice was low, syrup smooth, and familiar.

“Ghoul doctor don’t know shit.”

“Really? In all the years you served you never cared where your fellow soldier came from, but now you don’t trust ghouls. Turning bitter in your old age?”

“That doctor don’t know shit.”

“She could have been the best surgeon this side of the Rockies. You didn’t stick around to find out. You don’t want anyone rooting around in your head, soldier. And I know why.”

“Bullshit.”

“Really? Let me ask you one more question. Who are you talking to right now?”

He looked up, spun around.

The sun was sinking on their little group, casting the dusty scene into a reddish gloom. Cornelius, still gagged and bound, was perched on a pile of rubble, staring daggers into Duke, who was refusing to untie him until they were well out of Brotherhood earshot. Duke meanwhile was pointedly ignoring the stares and bravely attempting to explain the concept of currency to Eli. His rambling explanation of post-collapse economics echoed against the ruined facades of broken buildings, and met only the whilstling of the wind.

His head was aching again.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.