The Lonesome Road

A little less feeling

Eli pottered about the car park contentedly, picking up pieces of metal and putting them back down. The war rig was built now, but spare parts would be useful.

He wasn’t entirely sure how he knew what was important and what wasn’t. He just… did. The others had told him to help built a war rig, and so he had. Cornelius had done a lot of the big bits, and between them they had created a large and functional transport. It had taken a couple of days, but Eli didn’t mind. He liked being useful.

He picked up another chunk of scrap and then abandoned it again. This floor had been depleted of useful materials, and the next few up as well. He would go up to the roof and see what was left up there before they moved on. He headed up the stairs, Snowy following along behind. The man had seemed confused and a little thoughtful after their conversation about lies. Eli didn’t pay attention anymore, since Snowy wasn’t saying anything to him. He didn’t know where the others had gone. They would tell him if they wanted something though.

The view from the roof was strangely beautiful, if you were fond of wide open spaces that mostly consisted of varying shades of brown and a few patchy shrubs in the distance. The road cut through it all, a long line stretching off into the distance on either side. There appeared to be somebody else up here, sitting slumped at the edge of the building. Eli ignored him. He hadn’t felt anybody else arrive, but the others hadn’t given him any instructions on what to do in that eventuality. Besides, he had things to do and he headed straight to the nearest scrap pile to see if there was anything left.

“Eli, get behind me.”

He turned back obediently at Snowy’s command and went to stand in the shadow of the doorway. The man’s voice was wary and concerned and his eyes were trained on the other person. He wasn’t sure why. The person on the roof wasn’t throwing off any feelings, so either he was very good at suppressing things or he was dead.

Snowy moved slowly forwards towards the limp figure, as if he was expecting something to happen. Eli started to move forward too when he felt a feather-light touch on the back of his neck. A woman’s voice whispered softly in his ear.

“Stay quiet.”

He did as he was told.

He curled in the corner of the war rig, facing the wall. There was a small hatch that slid open to let light in, but it was dark now. He stared at the outside world through the tiny gap, watching the lonely desert pass them by. The hatch was too small for him to see the stars. He wished he could see them.

They would be in Megaton in a few days. The last couple of weeks of travel had been quiet. Sometimes the others brought him food or tried to talk. Mostly they left him alone because he got upset if they tried to ask him about…
The Duke had said he thought Lili was in danger. He’d asked Eli if he could find her. But he couldn’t find her, not when they were far away. He had been so sad he hadn’t been able to handle it and he’d had to shut down in the corner to try and cope. Every time he thought he had pushed it all back down, it just came rising back up again.

Eli didn’t understand. Was the Duke punishing him? Was Lili being taken away because he had done something bad? He had done everything they had told him to do. He had tried so hard to keep control when the emotions had become overwhelming – although he had slipped up a couple of times, maybe that was it. Or perhaps it was because he had been healing people. He had been careful to try and do it at times when they weren’t paying attention. The only one who seemed to have any idea about what he was doing was Snowy. But maybe they had figured it out, and they were mad because he wasn’t supposed to do it without permission.

Eli felt tears dribble down his cheeks again. He wiped them away quickly, glancing behind him. The others were sleeping at the front, save Snowy who was driving. This was probably a test too. The Duke might have asked if he could sense Lili because they knew where she was. He’d find out when they got to Megaton.

Maybe Lili would be there, waiting for him. He smiled hopefully, face streaked and damp. Maybe that was why they were going here.

Fun and Games- For now

That ruddy psycho, where did she even come from? And what right minded person goes around put grenades in peoples mouths for fun. I mean, I knew it was a fake, of course, eventualy.

All we wanted was a ‘war’ rig and someplace to stay that wasn’t full of ants. At least we got the rig going. Im so pleased with the rig, I even managed to put in a signal locator, well almost. We did manage to hear some of that fine music on that radio too. I think we should follow the source of it myself. It’s going the opposite way of home, I mean, my home, I mean, Auburn Creek that is. Maybe one day we’ll make it a convenient stop on our journey. Maybe I can even stop there for a while and show the gang around. Maybe I can convince them to stay there even!

Oh, what am I even thinking? I’m never going to see Auburn Creek again. I’ll never see Nancy’s grubby hands fixing a pipe, or patching a wall again. Nor will I ever have one of Toby’s gecko stews. I don’t know why i Keep wandering my head back home, it must be the music, a respite from glork in all of this Mayhem. But he never gives us more than we can handle, and we’ve handled this much already…What does that sign say over there, is that writing on it…m-e-g-a-t-o-m. With a big arrow too! hopefully its a nice place, nice places always have arrows pointing towards them!


She watched the war rig disappear off into the distance and smiled to herself. Things had gone better than expected. She had made contact, as she had been asked to, and had even had some fun in the meantime. She’d kidnapped the boy, blown up the judge, shut up the rambler and spoken with the duke, in fact the only one she hadn’t interacted with had been the big one. She frowned to herself at that thought. He was smarter than she had first guessed. He was the only one who hadn’t fallen for her game, but still, there was time for another round, and she was far from done with them.

The boy, what a sweet boy he was. He had been so well behaved and played her game so happily, it was hard not to feel a warm glow inside when she remembered how he had followed her off the roof. When she had slipped the note into his pocket and kissed his cheek he didn’t object once. He didn’t even bat an eyelid when she placed the sign around his neck. So quiet, so obliging, what a sweet boy

The judge, he was fun. He had fallen so easily for her little trick it was almost embarrassing to watch. She had read him so quickly, with a glance she could tell his character, his reactions, even his next four moves, fancy fallen for the old booby-trapped body trick. The look on his face was priceless she would remember that moment for the rest of the week, maybe even into next week.

The talker, the rambler. By the dragon’s teeth he was annoying. Two days of listening to that man had driven her to the edge and had he not have been for her assignment then it would have been a real grenade and not a dummy. Still there was something wonderfully satisfying about making a dummy suck a dummy. At least he had shut up for 5 minutes, until he started screaming and swearing.

The big guy. He would be an issue. He was too well trained, to stubborn. He hadn’t been tempted out, he had held his position and waited for her, not the way she liked to play. He had been slow, careful and controlled while everyone else was either running around in circles or doing exactly what she said. The next time they met, he would have to be her primary target, well, maybe not primary.

Her mind wandered to the Duke. She had let him catch her of course she needed to speak to him, but things had taken an interesting turn. She smirked a little to herself, he wasn’t a bad kisser that was clear, and she liked a man who took risks and made dangerous decisions. Maybe she would give him a call after all. He wasn’t bad looking, and there was something in his voice something…tantalising.

She saw the last of the fumes from the rig disappear into the mist and set her binoculars down on the carpark’s wall. Well, that was fun. She smiled, taking a few steps and snatching up her motorbike helmet.

“The dragon’s gonna be pleased with me.”

She kicked the bike into life with a roar and pointed herself north.

“Now, the girl.”

Hide and Seek

The Duke liked playing games. It felt nice do something non-dangerous for a while. Since he had woken up in the ruined caravan it had essentially been non-stop seriousness, filled with fire and monsters.

Today, he had got to take his mind off that for a while. Snowy and the others had watched Eli for a while, and the Duke had got to play hide-and-seek with the nice lady.

His companions weren’t as convinces as he was that the woman was in fact nice – apparently both Snowy and Cornelius had almost been killed by her. The Duke, however, did not think that she wanted them dead. She had had plenty of opportunities to kill each of them, but instead chosen to play her games. The Duke figured that she probably wanted to be friends with them, but didn’t quite know how to express it. The wasteland was a rough place, and though it taught many lessons to people living there, friendship was all too rarely one of them.

So the Duke had played with her. Like a form of advanced hide and seek, the goal seemed to be to find her before she managed to sneak up on one of them. She was fast, and clever, but eventually the Duke had managed to beat her by trying to think two steps ahead instead of one. She was still ahead of him by 3 points by his count, but still.

Sadly, by involving explosives in her game, the woman had made Cornelius and particularly Snowy (understandably) upset, to the point where she probably couldn’t hang out with them for quite some time. Unfortunate. If only she had thought that through a bit more before she started playing.

“Too fast…” The Duke said quietly as the war-rig carried them out of the building and back into the wasteland.

Then he shrugged and climbed back inside the rig.

“Hey, what’s that note you got there, kid? Can I see it?”

Once more, with someone else's feeling

The Duke had heard it said that the Mind was like a fortress. He was not certain he believed it – although he had never seen a fortress in person, he had heard they were sturdy, good at keeping things in and/or out. And today, a lot of things had entered and exited the Duke’s mind, without his permission.

The thought had first occurred to him when he was leaving the vault, and the memories he lost to the device he made there returned to him.
It was a strange sensation, having that many memories return all at once. Like water from a broken dam, the memories had poured back, and as they found their place, the Duke had experienced them all at once. For his mind to be so easily altered… remove memories in an instant, and return them equally fast, without him even noticing the intrusion, seemed curious to the Duke.

The second time the thought occurred to him came shortly afterwards, as he went over his experiences in the vault. The strange hunger stood out, the hunger that was more like a craving, an obsession. It had definitely not been his own. In retrospect it must have belonged to the cannibals.

Maybe the cannibals were so hungry they were projecting their hunger to their surroundings. Maybe it was something wrong with the air in the vault. Stranger things had certainly happened, but the Duke had a different theory.

See, the thing was that when the cannibals attacked, Duke had panicked – for the second time in his life. He had seen and lived through far more disturbing things before he met his current company, so why an ant and then some cannibals caused such terror in him, was a mystery.

Then it had clicked: Eli. When had he first felt the fear of the ant? Before he saw the ant; when Eli started screaming. When had he first felt fear of the cannibals? Long after he saw them – not until they attacked, when Eli started panicking.

The strange, quiet boy had been afraid just before the Duke did on both occasions. And what’s more, he had complained about the hunger shortly before the Duke felt it. The way the Duke saw it, all signs pointed to Eli. He must somehow subconsciously project his own feelings on his surroundings.

And since Eli did not seem like a likely source of predatory hunger for flesh, could it be that he was also picking up the emotions of others? That could certainly explain part of why he was so troubled.

The Duke smiled to himself. He had learned something new today, something that might help him understand Eli. Never mind the fact that he had been drenched in Ant-venom, temporarily lost his memories, and nearly been killed by cannibals – he was alive and well, had had come one step closer to being able to help Eli live. So, today had been a good day.

For The Price of a cup of Tea

By Glork, I never thought that we would have to go back in to that place again. We used up a pile of guzoline to get back there too. And not too Long after we found swell either. Damn Eli wouldnt even let me have a Cup of Tea in that rather odd Tea house, Roxannes I think it was. It was vey dark but just as I was about to get, there I am slammed through the blonking wall By big guy. And i thought we were getting along so well..

So, off we went to the Glork Forsaken vault 22 again to stop the radiation posining. I think I still had bit of the posioning from the last time we were there, Glork knows the pains id be through using the facilities recently…At least we knew about the ants this time. And boy did we find their home. The duke thought it pertinent to go and explore their home uninvinted. An you can guess what happened when he did that… I thought he would know better-Alas we managed to drag him only for him to choose the wrong grenade to throw down. I think he must have used the neural scrambler cause boy did I have a hard time with Him, snowy and the big guy. I had to lie to them by Glork so we could get to the reactor. And of course the big guy ignored those radiation signs and tried to stop from closing the door to the reactor. If i’d known that the cooling system was connected to the river I would have shut the door behind me. But no, I have to melt myself again, just in time for those poor Glorkless creatures to attack us. At least I managed to break that reactor door so it was locked shut so Bug guy could focuson killing them creatures. Though its a shame i had to resort to violence to keep him from leaving that door open…

Thank goodness Eli had listened to the instructions and finished them off. Else I reckon we would have been lunch. I am glad that we managed to finally get out and make sure that nobody else would get in that place. Good job we raided it before everybody else did though. There was nothing left in the place. And I finally managed to sell all those old broken guns at the market. Got a decent price for them too I think after we saved the town. Just enough for a Fantastic Cup of Tea at Roxanne’s… That was the best tea I’ve ever had… And Melissa’s wonderful company-well lets just say I didn’t need no sugar in my tea cause she was sweet enough…

A strange sense of calm

Hungry. So Hungry.

Been so long now.

Fresh meat, so hungry.

Eli crouched in the corner of the cooling room, rocking back and forth. He could feel the poison in the air trying to taint his skin and creep in through his mouth, although his body was resisting. There was clashing and shouting in the background as the rest of the group continued to struggle with the hungry men, but he wasn’t being attacked anymore so he didn’t have to fight. He was bleeding heavily, bite marks from the hungry men leaving jagged holes in his flesh. Something in their bite was worming its way through his system, making his head feel fuzzy as his body fought against whatever it was.

The others didn’t remember who he was. He could feel it in their heads after the Duke had thrown something down a hole and the wave of something chemical had hit them. The senses they were giving off were confused and angry, not strong enough to overwhelm the hunger but rapidly rising. Mr Echo especially was throwing off such strong waves of anxious desperation that it was reaching Eli from the other end of the corridor. He didn’t know why it had happened. The Duke had said before that he didn’t remember some time before waking up in the burning caravan. Was this what had made them all forget before?

Eli remembered. They had come down here to close the door and fix the river. It had been easy enough to get back in, but the other men had started talking about getting special clothes before they went down to the reactor. Eli didn’t understand why they needed special clothes, but he had followed. They had gone down the side passage, back where the ant had attacked him. He had already been afraid at that point, although he was working hard to be good and keep it down. But there had been something there, something in the rooms at the sides.

The creature was staring at him on the other side of the glass. He couldn’t look away. It tilted its head back and forth, bloodshot lidless eyes fixed on his as it ambled closer. He felt an overwhelming hunger tinged with rage sweep over him, unable to stop it from pushing its way into his head. Flecks of spittle hit the glass as it widened its already lipless mouth into a macabre reflection of a smile.

Hungry. So Hungry.

Been so long now.

Fresh meat, so hungry.

Eli clutched at his arm, hand quickly coated in a slippery layer of blood. His other hand gripped the knife tightly. There was a thud somewhere behind him near the swirling centre of desperation that was Mr Echo, and he felt the hunger fade slightly. One of the three who had attacked them had gone down. He turned to look, to see the fight.

One of the hungry men turned at the same time as him. Their eyes met and it leapt up, lunging towards him, its teeth dripping blood as it moved away from the prone form of Cornelius. It was coming towards him so quickly, eyes wide and bloodshot and hungry, so hungry.
He could see the Duke out of the corner of his vision, turning sharply and moving in the same direction, too slow, too slow. Snowy yelled behind him, his voice slightly muffled by the struggle with the final hungry man.

“Stop hiding in the corner being useless, kid! Kill them!”

It loomed over him, dripping blood and saliva and bone, face descending at frightening speed as its jaws widened and cracked open to devour him. Fresh meat, so hungry. A strange calm descended over Eli, wiping out the hunger and panic.

He had an order, a command to fulfil.

He stepped neatly to the side, the blade moving in a precise motion and splitting the creature’s neck back almost to the bone.

It continued in its forward motion, toppling to the floor as blood poured out of its throat and its head flopped to the side. Its face would have registered surprise if it had time to realise what had happened.

He didn’t even stop to look. He was already moving swiftly towards the other one, the last of the hungry men still fighting with Snowy and Mr Echo. He passed the Duke, still in motion towards the dead man as if he hadn’t registered what happened yet.

He had an order, a command to fulfil. The knife swung up and severed the spinal cord at the base of the neck with a surgical accuracy. The third attacker crumpled lifelessly to the floor.

Eli stood in the centre of the corridor, knife held loosely in his grasp. He had moved so quickly and neatly that there wasn’t even any blood on it. The corpses of the hungry men lay scattered on the floor around them, the floor wet with black blood. The pain from his wounds returned, but it didn’t matter. He looked expectantly at Snowy, waiting to be told that he had done a good job, he had passed the test.

The three men looked back at him in stunned silence.


A scream. The Duke recognises the voice. He knows where the kid is now, but also that he is in danger. A strange sensation enters his mind, one that is not his own but one he can’t shut out. Is this… fear?

He has never known anything like this. Didn’t know he could. Whatever it is, it fills his mind, cripples it, until he can only think of one thing.

Eli is in danger.

Sprint back down the corridor. Through the door. There is a beast there, a giant ant, but it is not scary. It is not what is breaking the Duke’s calm. There is nothing here to scare him, so why does he feel fear?

Snowy tackles the ant away. It tears Eli’s leg as it goes, and the kid screams louder and the sensation in the Duke’s mind intensifies. What does he fear? Is the fear even his own? Vaults are strange places and this one has a strong sense of wrongness to it, is it something in the air?

Hard to think. Hard to connect dots or to have cohesive thoughts. Only one thought is easy – must get out. A second thought, not constant, but recurring: Eli is in danger.

Only one solution, get Eli out. Snowy is fighting the ant. Don’t know about the others. Can’t focus on the others. Need to get away, need to get out.

Outside, Eli is still screaming. Sit down, hold him close. Mind is still an ocean in a storm, the Duke almost wants to join in with the screaming, maybe it would help get rid of the uninvited feelings. No, it would only hurt, would only startle Eli.

Calm, must be calm. We’re outside now, we’re safe. Say it, say it out loud, over and over again. Tell the kid he’s safe. Maybe if the Duke says it enough times, Eli will believe it.

Maybe if he can get Eli to believe it, the Duke will too.

Clothing optional

The sun was warm on his skin as he stood by the river and waited for the Duke to tell him he could put his clothes back on. Eli stared, fascinated by the rushing water as it roared past him and away over the falls. He didn’t know where it was going, or why it had to get there so fast. He didn’t know why it wanted to take away Mr Echo and Snowy and Cornelius either. Maybe there was something good where it stopped. It had wanted to take him too, along with the Duke and the car, but then the Duke had changed his mind. Now they were standing in the sun and waiting. Snowy had promised Eli that he would come back.

He liked the river. It was big and loud and scary, but it drowned everything out too. He couldn’t hear people when he was standing next to it – everything was muted by the roar of the water. It was freeing to not have to feel everyone all the time. He had never seen anything like it before – he had never seen most of the things he had encountered over the last few days before. His favourite thing was probably stars, although he had liked the music too. Finding little things had made the whole experience a little easier to try and cope with. It had been a stressful few days.

He woke up every morning expecting to be safely in his room, and he wasn’t. This made him feel anxious and upset.

He followed every instruction he was given in the hope that maybe the men would take him back or tell him where they were taking him, but they didn’t. This made him feel anxious and upset.

He waited every day for the tests to be made clearer, for them to ask him to do something familiar or take some samples, but it didn’t happen. This made him feel anxious and upset.

And every day the Duke kept asking him what he wanted to do, how he felt about things. He could feel that it made the Duke unhappy when he didn’t respond correctly. He didn’t know how to answer, what was the right thing to say. He didn’t understand why it mattered. This made him feel anxious and upset.

Eli didn’t want to think about the events in the vault, because it made him panicky and guilty. He’d lost control, he’d let the fear out and he knew it had affected the others even if they had somehow managed to act as if it hadn’t. He’d been able to feel it radiating off them back at him and it had made him even more afraid. He wasn’t supposed to let go like that and he was still waiting to get into trouble for it. So far nothing, but it couldn’t be forever. The… ant had bitten him and he’d panicked and just kept screaming and screaming. Even when the Duke had gotten him out and was holding him, trying to heal him, it hadn’t changed anything. The Duke didn’t have the same purpose Eli did, and Eli had healed on his own anyway. Then the others had staggered out and their faces and bodies were melting from the poison in the air in the vault and Eli had screamed again.

He had spent that afternoon sitting in the back of the car between Cornelius and Mr Echo, radiating restorative energy and sometimes gently touching them if he thought they wouldn’t notice so that they could get better faster. Their skin had been the worst, bubbly and pussy to the touch, but it hadn’t bothered him so much when he was up close. Watching the blisters disappearing and the dead skin sloughing away as they slept to be replaced with fresh new skin had made him feel better, like he was doing things properly. He touched Snowy too occasionally to help him as well, although the man always seemed to go wide-eyed whenever it happened. Eli didn’t understand why.

They were almost back to the way they were in no time at all – the worst was gone within the day, and he spent the rest of the week checking on them all during the night. He would always wake up in the dark. It took him a while to realise that it must have been the time when the people in the white coats would have woken him to do tests or take samples. He’d had no real concept of night and day before. Eli felt bad for being afraid now – it wasn’t their fault they had been poisoned. He was rapidly learning that these men didn’t have the same purpose as him, couldn’t do the same things. He wondered what they had been made for.

The Duke called him from the car. Eli turned away from the water, feeling almost reluctant for a second. It was a strange, unfamiliar urge, one that rapidly disappeared. He went to go and do what he was told.



The barman grinned amiably, “Hope you don’t mind me asking son, but you got any rattlin’ caps in that big ole vest? Big feller like you, I’d be mighty troubled to have to throw you out. And you done look like you jest spent your last two-dollar chip fer a plate o’ nothin’ and a can o’ whoop-ass.”

The barman waited for a reply, casually wiping a rag back and forth across the oily counter, but none came. The heavy-set newcomer simply stood, scowling at the bottles lined up just out of reach.

Obviously a problem case. Working one of the two bars in Swell you got used to picking out those the wastes had chewed up and spat back. First you took care to avoid them, then maybe you resented their careless wandering. After twenty-five years serving up drinks to the homeless and broken, he had to admit he’d developed a soft spot. “Alright son, if you got anythin’ worth tradin’ for, I’ll set you up. Even give you some change, maybe.”

The stranger seemed to consider this. After a few moments, he slowly unbuttoned a pouch on his vest and drew out an old demolition charge, worrying scratched and battered.

The barman let out a low whistle. “Damn, son, I oughta throw you out jest fer bringin a dangerous thing like that in here. Assumin’ it still works, that is.”

“The other one did.” The stranger rumbled, staring at the mottled skin that marked his right arm up to the elbow.

“That so? Well, I know fer a fact Jules has been try’n shift a dang rockfall blocking the way to his ‘stead. A charge like that’d do the job, no problemo. And fer yer trouble, you can have a whole bottle.” He reached under the bar and placed a fresh bottle opposite the stranger. “Plus twenty caps fer the spendin’.”

Again the stranger seemed lost in though, staring at the bomb that sat like a child’s toy in his palm.

“Bomb’ll only go off once. A bottle of prime shine will be good fer a whole week.”

“Once is enough.” The words were heavy with earned knowledge. The barman decided not to press the issue.

“Well, there’s always the other way.”

The stranger looked up.

“Lotta people in town been worried ‘bout that ole’ Vault-22. Sayin’ it’s finally burst it’s shieldin’ and has fouled the water. Big tough feller like you, bet’choo could go up there, take a look-see, be back in no time. Really put people’s minds to rest. Might seem only a little thing, but people round here would be mighty grateful to a stranger willin’ to do some scoutin’ fer the town.”

“Ehhh, shaddup Yoss.” an oil-splattered mechanic called out from a few feet down the bar, halfway through a tin cup of something that smelled worse than the oil, “Yer wastin’ yer breath. Maisie’s got that exherbishinist boy up in her byoodwor. Five minutes workin’ her magic and he’ll be up to the Vault an back down before this one’s got his boots on.”

“That so?”

“That so.”

“Hm. Well, no reason two can’t go is there?”

“It’ll be three, I’m thinkin’.” Another voice cut in as a bearded man in a grey duster stepped in off the porch. “Just finished a card game ‘cross the way. John’s busy browbeatin’ some poor joe into headin’ up that way hisself.” He pulled up a chair and began idly shuffling a deck of filthy cards. “Four akcherly. Had some poor damn kid with him.”

Yoss and the mechanic looked to the stranger, who was either deeply considering his options or had forgotten where he was.

The pause was broken by someone rattling the iron windowframe. A soot-smeared youngster poked his head over the sill, “Hey Yoss! Sumthin’ goin’ on at the market. Lawman’s gone to sort it out but he says it’s likely to do with the water goin’ short now the river’s afouled. Says don’t serve no more strangers lest he says so. Need to ration what we got fer local folk.” His message delivered, the boy jumped back down and ran up the street, more news to carry.

Yoss picked the bottle off the bar and considered it a moment. “Stranger, I ain’t no philosphiser, but by my reckonin’ you can either head on up to Vault-22 or you can head on up to Vault-22” He sighed and placed the bottle back on the rack.

“It’s a hell of a catch, that Vault-22.”


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