The Lonesome Road

Epilogue - The Duke

He sits under the stars and gazes up into the sky – tonight, like most nights.

Well, he says, quietly, to nobody in particular. No, not nobody – a very specific somebody.

What can I tell. I’ve been out here three more days and I’m still doing… swell.

The last bit is a lie. He is coping, and he is getting better, but the memories are still fresh. The sounds, the smell, the image… they still always come up whenever the Duke thinks of him.

We’re doing good out here. Well, mostly Eli. You would be proud of him.

He looks at the gun. ’Wrench’s gun’, he keeps calling it, even though Wrench is long gone. And the gun has been put to far better use since it left his possession.
Krogon, Matthew… only one bullet was not put to good use. One bullet fired too early, too carelessly, that if it had been saved for a better moment, might have-

Might have changed things.

The gun is empty now, and he suspects it will remain that way. He never did find any ammunition for it other than what was already in it. No matter. He doesn’t imagine he’ll want to use it again anyway.

He drops the gun in the river, and leaves to rejoin his companions.

He sits under the stars and gazes up into the sky. He used to do this every evening, at first. Now it’s rarer, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever fully stop.

It has been long now, and he is doing better. The final moment no longer haunts him as vividly, and he can find peace in remembering the man – his image, his sounds, his smell.

Sometimes the Duke meets someone he connects with. Someone that he can fall a little for, and who can fall a little for him in return. But he never really falls. He never gives his heart away. He doesn’t think he could even if he wanted to, and he doesn’t want to.

He produces a piece of paper from his bag. It has been folded and unfolded so many times that the fold marks have permanently distorted the contents somewhat, but it is still priceless to him. It is a photograph of him and his sister.

He misses her sometimes, but knows that this is for the best. He killed someone that was dear to her, and that’s not something you can get over. He understands that she is happier away from him.

She always looked up to him, but in truth it was she who was the better person. Wherever she is, she is doing well, of that much he is sure.

He sits under the stars and gazes up into the sky. He wonders, not for the first time, if some part of Snowy lives on, and watches from up there. He likes to think so.

He looks back down, across the camp fire, at his travel companions. It’s just the three of them, travelling across the land, making the world a better place in whatever ways they can.

Eli and Lili are his family now, and the road his home. Some people might say it ain’t much, but he ain’t some people. He is the Duke, and the Duke abides.
Because he has good company, he has food and water, and he has a car. And at the end of the day, is that not enough?
It is for the Duke.

Epilogue - 173

It is said that there are few good things in the wasteland.

But surely that means that there are some. And one good thing, one small light in the darkness given the chance to shine, has a way of making more, until the sky is full of stars.

It cannot ever be said that the group of travellers were good people – their destruction was certainly greater than many others ever accomplished. History will likely not be kind to them in its recounting of their journey together. They left a trail of devastation in their wake in that time between the first and second freeing of subject 173. But they tried, which is more than many do. And in the end, the fires that they left behind were enough, like the blaze that sweeps through a forest, to leave space and fertile soil for something new.

The world needs healers. People are great in their capacity for creation, and even greater in their capacity for destruction. Precious few are equipped to fix what is broken.

He began again after two years. He needed time, to travel and learn and rebuild the knowledge he had lost when the scientists stripped him of everything he had been before. He needed to see the world and its damage, so that he could understand how to fix it.

People remembered him where he passed, from before and anew. He relearned his gifts and developed new ones as he aged and grew. After all, the world needed healers and it was what he had been made to do. So after two years he went out into the world, and he healed it wherever it needed to be healed.

She travelled with him in that time, one of the few remaining ‘successes’ that survived the purging of the commonwealth. She always travelled with him, and both were followed by their guardian angel, the strange mutant with a heart full of quiet sadness. She rarely smiled, and nobody ever touched her. Such was the curse. She had been made to destroy, to kill more effectively. But destruction can be channelled, can be put to good in the right circumstances – the old world pulled down, to be repurposed into something new. He made her want to be a good person, a final insult to those who had created them as she failed in her design.

In the end, it is hard to say how much the actions of one person can truly matter when working alone. Just one light in the darkness is easily snuffed out. The world is a harsh place and the ripple across the wasteland meant that it fell far in the aftermath of the travellers’ actions. There were times that were dark indeed.

But 173 was a bright light, and wherever he went, he left constellations behind him.

Lost souls

Where am I?

She awoke in a box. The walls were smooth, neither warm nor cool, hard and strange to the touch. Everything seemed to be lit with a warm white glow, although there wasn’t a clear light source – it was as if the walls were the light source.

She stayed very still and tried not to panic. Everything was kind of fuzzy.

She remembered the ship crashing, ploughing into the cliffside and then onwards into the land beyond, into the houses. There had been so much screaming, fire and carnage around them as the ancient aircraft carrier tore into the commonwealth holdings in the dying light of the day. She remembered springing from the deck far out of range of the destruction. She remembered watching as it ploughed forwards, wondering if the others had made it off the boat as they had agreed. There had been shapes in the darkness, people running and moving fast, she assumed fleeing the destruction.

She didn’t remember anything after that.

What happened?

She laid her hand flat on the strange surface. It felt… familiar. She let her focus slip a little for a moment, felt the familiar sensation at the ends of her fingers as her control wavered and her body tried to destroy.

Nothing happened, and that answered everything. Lili felt tears beginning to leak out of the corners of her eyes as she lay motionless on the floor of her pristine white cell.

Oh God. They caught me.

Who am I?

He stared at the girl in the box, raging and flinging herself at the walls. It hadn’t done anything so far, even though she had been doing it since he had arrived in this strange… other, bigger box, smack bang in the middle of the huge warehouse. He wondered why she was in there. Why would anyone be kept in a box like this? He didn’t understand. Tentatively, he raised a hand to touch the edge of the wall, as if she could somehow feel it and it would calm her. It didn’t, of course.

He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know who he was. He remembered nothing before he had awoken perhaps twenty minutes earlier. Things seemed to have some meaning to him – some objects had names and purposes – but he didn’t know why. These people, they kept calling him Eli; except the woman standing on the ledge, he noted in passing that she never named him at all. Was that his name? They seemed to know who he was, seemed to expect something from him. Certain memories or behaviours perhaps, recognition? But they were just tall, slightly terrifying strangers and he didn’t know what to do or who to believe.

Apparently he could heal himself. He had discovered that when the man with the thing on his face had driven towards a line of men and then hot white heat had ripped through his shoulder. He had discovered it again when they had crashed into the building and he had been flung out and into a wall. The world outside was dark and loud and full of pain and he almost wished he could trade places with the girl in the box. It might be quieter in there. He wouldn’t have to feel all this… bombardment, of what he was rapidly realising was other people’s feelings. He could curl up and take some time to try and process. He had a lot of things to think about and no time to think about them.

And now this woman was saying that the people who he had seen first when he woke up were killers and she was his mother and he should just… do what she wanted? Listen to her instead? She had shot at the giant man with the wings, shot at the man with the thing on his face. Why had she done that? Was she bad? Were they all bad?

Eli didn’t want to listen to these people anymore. He didn’t want to go back outside, but he didn’t want to stay here either. The girl kept banging helplessly at the walls in impotent rage. She looked like she needed saving. He frowned and stepped sideways along the ledge again, away from the woman and the man with the wings.

He was going to do what he wanted to do. He opened the door.

For the good of humanity

It isn’t co-operating.

Still? It’s been months.

She wants us to keep trying. But personally I don’t think it’s going to work. I think she’s just desperate not to throw away years of research. It’s the last one to survive from this project.

It was already a lost cause as soon as it got taken. We should have scrapped it for parts weeks ago.

Scrapping it is no use. But the guys down in Biotech, they may have found a way to subdue it.

How? We’ve been trying for months. It’s resistant to poison, to all anaesthesia we’ve tried. We can’t coerce or threaten it and we have nothing it wants. Nothing works.

This might. And if it does, we can finally execute the development initiative.

Wait, really?

I hope so. Think of the good we could do with even a little bit of its blood. We can get so much from it, and we wouldn’t even have to kill it. If only it had been sooner…

I know. The possibilities are staggering. We’ll really make a difference in the world at last, lasting good to help fix some of the fuck-ups of humanity.

I hope this works.


Princess sat on the deck of the ship that had been a city a few days ago. Now it had only about a dozen inhabitants, the rest having fled or died trying. And it was moving up the coast towards – as far as she could tell – more death.

A winged shadow approached her, bringing her out of her thoughts. It moved too slowly to be a bird, which meant it could only be her brother.
Princess did not greet him or in any way acknowledge him as he approached, but simply continued to gaze out at the ocean.

Duke sat down next to her, and sat with her in silence.

After a couple of minutes, he spoke up.

“He was your friend.”

She did not reply.

“Krogon” Duke continued. “We knew him as ‘The Trapmaker’, and believe me when I say he was far less kind to us than he was to you.”

Princess tried not to cry. Krogon was the first person she had met outside the vault that had been kind to her. And now, when she thought of him, all she could see was his exploded head, the remnants of his brains leaking out on the floor, her brother standing over the body with a smoking gun and the same calm expression he always had.

“Last I saw him, he was with the army that was besieging the vault. Not the one with the Dragon, but the one before that.” Duke wasn’t looking at her as he spoke – he was looking out into the vast blue, just like she was. “The time before that, he lied his way onto our ’rig and then attacked us with a beartrap on a chain.”

She couldn’t keep ignoring him at this point – she turned her head towards him, one eyebrow raised as if to say really?

Duke raised his hands. “It’s true, I swear.” His smile faded as he continued: “Snowy has the scars to prove it.”

They sat in silence for a few moments.

“Before that, he…” Duke started again, before changing his mind. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. He was bad to us. I understand he was good to you, and I suppose there are few people you would be safer with as a friend.”

He gave her a sad smile.

“For what he did for you, what he was for you, I am truly sorry he died.” His face turned grim as he continued: “For what he did to me, to Snowy, to Lili, to Eli… I am not. I don’t know if you’ll ever fully forgive me for what I did to you – it was a monstrous thing to do, I know that – but I hope that in time you can understand why I did it, and forgive me a little.”

Princess wept. This whole situation – her closest and only friend for the past weeks dead at the hands of her brother, the brother she trusted above all things – it was too much. She wanted to hate the Duke, but at the same time she didn’t. She wanted to go home, but knew she couldn’t – she was stuck on a giant city-ship which was headed into hostile lands. She was so scared. She wished she had never left the vault. She cried, because she didn’t know what else to do.

She felt her brother put his arms around her, and then his wings. This was the brother she knew and loved. The one that was always there for her. She knew that in a couple of days he would storm a science base to rescue his son, and that he might not make it back alive. It he did, there would be plenty of time to figure out whether she should hate him then.

Until then, she chose to see only the good in him.

Approaching the cliffs

Lili stood at the helm of the ship, steering as best she could. After four days at the controls, she felt like she could be a passable sailor, in a very specialised setting. But then, it wasn’t going to matter soon. She could see the faint outline of the cliffs on the horizon, the cliffs they were heading towards at full tilt. Princess and the others were already preparing to take off in the vertibird, to go and hide somewhere safe with the radio until they were summoned to help with the escape. It wouldn’t matter if she was good at driving an aircraft carrier since they were about to destroy it.

There wasn’t much of a plan. Hell, there wasn’t really a plan at all after they rammed the city-aircraft carrier into the cliffs and presumably either caused a massive explosion or major structural damage to the boat and the commonwealth’s holdings as they ploughed far into the land. Given the speed they were going and the size of their vessel, she was inclined to think the second. They certainly weren’t going to just embarrassingly bounce off the side. There was something satisfying about knowing that any settlements too near the cliffside were probably going to meet a grisly end.

She had no remorse. After what they had done to her, to all others born of her batch, to all the experiments she had seen throughout her life here, she didn’t care if the group took out a few ‘innocents’ along the way. Nobody here was innocent. Everyone who lived and worked in the commonwealth was complicit, from the people who made bread and cleaned toilets all the way up to the top of the chain. They had done this to her and her family. She would quite happily kill anyone who stood between her and Eli.

As the cliffs became clearer on the horizon, she stepped away from the controls and headed out onto the flight deck. They were close enough now that, barring a freak tidal wave or something else of that magnitude, she didn’t need to steer the ship anymore. It was set on course and it wasn’t like she needed to carefully guide it into port or dock it. They were at full ramming speed. The commonwealth would have defences, of course. But they wouldn’t be expecting attack from the sea, because it was so radioactive here only the most foolhardy even went near the waters. They certainly wouldn’t be expecting the remains of Rivet City to come ploughing through whatever paltry defences would be stationed here.

Let them all burn. Let me kill as many as I can, then take Eli and never look back on the burning remains. Let me finally be free.

Cannon fodder

Lili sat under the engine and handed Cornelius a spanner. He grinned at her in thanks and then went back to waffling as he worked. She was surprised at how well he’d adapted to having only one arm, although it was clear that having two of them here would make the job much faster – she was smaller and more dextrous than him and it helped to reach into spaces nearer the back. The engine was also surprisingly well maintained for a boat that had been immobile for several centuries, but she didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, whatever that phrase meant. It was looking like this might actually be a viable plan, as long as everyone did their part.

They were so close now. She knew she wasn’t in range yet, but soon she would be, as long as he was alive – she shook her head, of course he was alive. They wouldn’t kill him, he was too valuable. She didn’t care that Krogon was involved, she didn’t care that maybe this Torak guy actually was the Dragon that had caused so much shit. She would kill them if they got in her way. Nothing would get in her way anymore. She’d be able to find Eli and take him away and they could just be somewhere by themselves where nobody would bother them anymore. Ideally she’d get to kill Mathew while she was there as well.

She had to admit, she wasn’t entirely sure what would happen after they crashed the boat. She remembered her way around the compound reasonably well, but her escape route had been different last time. Plus it had been a year, and things could well have changed since then – different layout, different security, she’d never heard of this Photon guy before. She would know where Eli was once he was there, the problem would be getting to him. She hadn’t mentioned any of this to the group, of course. They didn’t need to know more than the basics. That was what the others were for, what they had always been for. Help if possible, distraction if needed, cannon fodder if nothing else.

She felt a small twinge in her chest at that thought and frowned. What was wrong? It wasn’t the first time it had happened. She’d always known that the others were just a means to an end for her. If they survived, good for them. If not, it wouldn’t be any great loss, right? As long as they helped her get Eli out, she didn’t really care what happened to them after that. Snowy and Duke could go and do whatever, Cornelius could find out the truth about everything that he’d been steadfastly avoiding all this time and then probably get killed in the facility. It would be no big loss, right?

Animal attraction

Lili rolled over and tried to cover her head with the pillow to block out the noise. She could feel the material starting to degrade and crumble as it touched her skin and threw it onto the floor in disgust. The bed was too soft anyway – she’d spent her entire life sleeping on things that were barely distinguishable from the floor and she wasn’t able to get comfortable now. But Cornelius had drunkenly offered her the room as he’d staggered out to the rig and she’d been touched by the gesture, so she’d said yes. Now she was regretting that moment of softness, especially given that her room was next door to Snowy and Duke. When she’d had another unexpected moment of kindness and left them alone together, she hadn’t expected… this.

She sat up on the bed, staring furiously at the wall. She wanted to bang on it to get them to shut up, but she didn’t think they’d hear. How could this have happened so fast? The Duke had been absolutely bloody oblivious to being literally kissed twice, but now he’d suddenly got the picture, now that she was allowed to sleep in a real bed! Not that she probably would have been able to get comfortable even if things were quiet, but still. She wondered if they’d even notice if she kicked in their door.

Was everyone suddenly exuding some sort of strange sexual magnetism that she wasn’t aware of? A strange woman had come up to her when she’d been fixing up the war rig yesterday and just straight-up propositioned her. It had never happened before – most people were smart enough to stay away and those who weren’t quickly picked up on the hostile aura without her even having to tell them that she could poison them with a single kiss. It had been utterly bewildering, more so after she’d very clearly said no and yet the woman kept just… hanging around. She’d seen her in the inn that same night, and then again during the day. The woman had been talking to Cornelius, although it had been too quiet for Lili to hear what they were saying. Perhaps the woman had been propositioning Cornelius as well – she’d put her arm around the man, although he’d been quite oblivious to any such thing.

Well, it was a small town. They probably didn’t have anything else to do besides ask strangers to have sex with them. Maybe sometimes they even got lucky.

She got to her feet and opened the window, letting in the cold night air. It was another clear and starry night. Carefully she hauled herself out and onto the roof of the inn. It was quieter out here, although she could still hear the sounds faintly if she concentrated – which she very pointedly did not do after realising that. She had never been gladder to have difficulty hearing out of her right ear. The roof was cold and hard, but it took her weight and it was more what she was used to anyway. She’d wake up with the sun and climb back down before Cornelius even got up. He’d never have to know.

New Friends

She walked through the rebuilt streets looking up at all the buildings around here. She had never imagined that buildings could be so tall, they looked like they could almost touch the sky. She had been out of the vault for nearly a month now and was still getting used to not having a ceiling over her head. She’d lived underground her whole life so seeing this new world was both exciting and terrifying for her but after seeing how life outside had changed her brother she’d decided that it was time she had some adventures of her own.

The Duke’s return had been timely. He’d saved the vault from the invaders and brought taller, mysterious, handsome strangers with him. He had a son now and a lover, they made a nice couple even she had to admit. A nice family. She missed her mother and father, but the new sense of freedom overcame her homesickness.

Atlas’ fall was a city bigger than she ever thought she’d see. She’d found her way here after meeting with a trade caravan which took pity on a girl lost in the wasteland. They were nice to her, never once commented on her mutations, they just spoke to her and tried to help. Here though, in this city, despite all the impressive wonder of it, she couldn’t help but notice that people keep glancing her way. Whenever she met their eyes they looked away from her, either in fear or contempt. Some passing children pointed until their parents pulled them away. She pulled her jacket and hood tighter around her, feeling self-conscious.

She didn’t know her way around. She just tried to find her way towards the tallest most maintained buildings, they would be the centre of the town. If Duke had come through here maybe she could find some of his friends, they could help her out, point her in the right direction and a good place to start was the town centre. Her brother seemed to have a habit of making a name for himself after all.

She cut across a darkened alleyway trying to find a faster route and avoid the glances of the people in the city when a heavy set man in a rough jacket emerged behind an old bin.

“What have we here? A young lady who’s lost her way?”

“There’s a toll if you want to pass through these lands little miss.” Another voice behind her. A thug had stepped out to block her retreat. “There are of course… other ways you can pay. How about you pull that hood down and give us a smile. To start with.”

She was afraid, she didn’t know what to do. The man behind her had some kind of pipe. He could hurt her if she tried to run. Slowly, hands shaking, she pulled the hood down. Revealing her face. The men recoiled from her.

“You’re one of them freaks. A mutant. Mutants aren’t welcomed in our city are they Ken?”

“No way. Mutants round here get a beating.” The man behind her stepped forward, raising the pipe. She put her hands out, shut her eyes defensively and in fear. There was a crash, the sound of metal hitting the floor and a wet thump. The first thug, Ken cried out. “The burned man!” and took off running. The alleyway fell silent.

She opened her eyes slowly. The thug with the pipe lay slumped on the floor next to the bin. Over him stood a man wearing some form of body armour. Beneath that, his head, his arms, his hands, his whole body was wrapped in bandages. Only his eyes were visible.

He took a step towards her. She took a step back. Saviour or not she didn’t know the man. He raised his hand, showing they were empty.

“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“You… promise?”

“I promise.” He held out his bandaged hand towards her. She took it tentatively and shook it.

“My name’s Princess.”

“Hello Princess. I’m Krogon.”

Negative stimuli

Subject 173 is not responding as initially hypothesised. Opportunities to test newly manifested abilities have been hampered by uncooperative behaviour.

Subject unresponsive to positive and negative stimuli -

Rattray raised an eyebrow.

“What constitutes… negative stimuli?”

The woman in front of her coughed nervously.

“Subject 173 has proven unresponsive to various instances of pain in itself and others. He… it ignores threatening or aggressive behaviour and heals any damage inflicted upon it. We already theorised the subject would not be concerned by enclosed spaces or isolation and this has proven true. It seems unconcerned by lack of food and water – in fact, it has refused all sustenance offered to it since returning. We theorise it may be consuming its own bodily matter for nourishment, although the cameras have not managed to catch it.”

“How barbaric. What have these savages been teaching it?”

“I… don’t know, Doctor.”

Rattray stared at her. The woman smiled nervously. There was lipstick on her teeth.

“And the positive stimuli? Gifts, encouragement, praise, positive reinforcement? The obvious treatment one gives to a petulant child when you want it to behave.”

The woman nodded. “We… are uncertain how to proceed. It has been some time now and we are having limited effect. We do not know if we will ever be able to return things to a productive state. How long would you like us to continue trying?”

Rattray sighed, staring at the monitor. The image in the middle of the wall of screens showed a small boy sitting in the corner of the white room. It was curled up, arms wrapped tightly around its knees and staring blankly at the door. As if it knew she was watching somehow, it turned its head and stared up at the camera. She looked into its strange eyes, searching for what she needed to find. She didn’t find what she wanted.

After a long awkward pause, she spoke again. “I will let you know. It will take 1717 some time to reach us again. We have time to continue tests.”

“And if 173 continues to prove unresponsive? It heals supernaturally fast, resists all poison and disease and somewhere along the way it learned how to use a knife.” The woman shuddered. “Jennings found that out the hard way. He’ll probably never be able to use the hand again, unless 173… Regardless, we can’t simply lobotomise it.”

“Can’t we?” Rattray turned and looked at her.

The woman looked aghast. “Think of the damage it could do to the tissue, ma’am!”

“You said it yourself. It heals. It sleeps. All we have to do is wait for the right moment. Then we get the right tools, apply pressure in the right place and… reset.”

“I… can it be done? Do we have the tools? Do we have someone with the precision and neurological expertise to do that?”

“The tools are currently on their way back to us as we speak.” She drummed her fingers on the desk. “I will perform the operation, if it comes to that. But I would prefer that it didn’t.” She turned and gave the woman a pointed look.

“Of course.” The woman nodded hurriedly. “I’ll go and talk to the team. We’ll redouble our efforts, try something new. This can still be salvaged.”

“Good.” She went back to staring at the monitor. “It is important we take the best possible care of our… investments.”


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