The Lonesome Road

Family

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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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The taste of rotting flesh

Her teeth sank deep into the rotting flesh at the back of his neck. She heard him give a guttural grunt of pain as the blonde woman barrelled into him and knocked all three of them to the ground.

His weight was crushing down on her, making it difficult to breathe. She bit deeper, feeling necrotising sinew give way beneath her mouth and her teeth splintering bone into shards. Blood and spinal fluid and scraps of putrid muscle coated her throat and her chin.

His body spasmed above her as his nerves failed at her touch, the back of his head beginning to melt into a pulpy mess of blackening skin. Then her teeth finally met as she severed his spine and he went limp.

She bit harder for a second, just to make sure. The smell was foul and the acidic poisons of her saliva were already dissolving the bone and tissue. Her hand was clenched tight on the back of his skull, fingers rigid amid the increasingly slippery mass of deep brown and red and black as the rot began to spread down to the rest of his body and the rancid liquids dribbled down her arm.

The blonde woman – Belial, was that what the Duke had called her? – rolled off the decomposing corpse, clutching at her sides and wheezing. Lili ignored her. She could hear Snowy’s laboured breathing somewhere nearby, punctured with sobs. She shoved the rotting remains of the ‘Could-have-been-King’ off her, staggering to her feet and moving swiftly to the edge of the platform.

Below her the body of Mr Echo lay split from sternum to groin, innards spilled out in a stinking pile atop him. She would have gagged, if she were not capable of doing so much worse. Cornelius was fighting Wrench. The man who had been sent to kill them was hideously wounded – no doubt the work of Mr Echo before things had turned sour. It was clear that things had not gone well for anyone involved, judging by the amount of blood and viscera splattered across the room.

The rage in Cornelius’ eyes was almost palpable as he glanced up at her briefly atop the platform. They looked at each other and there was a moment of understanding between them. She nodded. He grabbed Wrench, roaring and pulling the man’s head back sharply.

She stepped gracefully off the platform, her full weight landing sickeningly hard on the assassin’s neck and dropping them both to the floor.

Somehow, he survived it. Wrench gave a hoarse roar, attempting to turn and rip his way through the people surrounding them with his wicked knife. His legs were a mess, dripping blood and bent wrongly like his neck, and his face was similarly fucked up. Clearly the tables had turned too far from his favour and he needed to get out

He didn’t last much longer. Cornelius was a vengeful man, and he had a laser.

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He Hath Spoken -The lord Glork Lives!

A searing Light pierced the husk of the slime monster and Cornelius out of the now bunring husk of the monstrosity that had devoured him. It slumped to the floor with a muted thud and Cornelius stepped forward. The fiery blaze created a sinister back drop and Cornelius spun and took in the site of Glork’s Children.

He smiled a gentle smile, like that of old Mama Escobar when she talked of old times. He shook his head to get rid of the fake memories. He would deal with those later

“The Great father has spoken to me!” He exlaimed

Glork’s chlidren splutterd and coughed as they came to their senses and focused their gaze on Cornelius, dazed and slightly confused.

“Do not fear, for you are now awaken. The world as you may have known it is no longer the same. The world out there, has been destroyed by the flithly vultures of humanity, picking what is left from the rotting corpse of society.”

Some rolled their eyes, others looked teriifief and held close to each other and others still just stared, gaping.

“But Glork has spoken to me, and you are his children. You are the hope, the light at the nd of a very dark tunnel. A tunnel that we built around ourself. So many have taken from the bounty of this world, and have caused a terrible tax. We have tipped the balance, and Glork, Glork will balance it; and for that he needs your weight behind the re-establishment of the equilibrium. For you are his children and he the father of all will give plenty to those that bring back the balance.”

Cornelius looked around at the faces around him and proclaimed
“Step forward to me, those who will see their destiny through.
Sep forward to me, those who will set things right for our world.
Step forward to me those who are lost in the light for Glork has has asked me to carry his beacon to shine through the blackness and purge the world of its terror…

Brothers and Sisters, we are all his children , we are the dawn that is coming following the night. Let us ride forward like Helios and sieze the day back!"

His cloak bellowed, carrying the weight of his words on the breeze through breeze escaping the air ducts

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People in Tubes

The Duke watched the six tubes of red goo. Six people with intimidating names, four of which he was pretty sure he had met, but with much less intimidating names. One of them even had two.

Is this what we came here for? To discover the origins of the four people who keep forcing themselves into our lives?

Slightly confused, he began walking in a circle around the tubes. He scratched his head absent-mindedly. He had been led to believe that this vault was connected to Vault 98 somehow – but he couldn’t see the connection. Not with the scientists, and not with these super-people. In 98, they were all just mutants. None of them had psychological profiles that went on for days, or strength enough to punch through a wall – most of them just looked a bit odd.

The Duke frowned. He had come here looking for answers. All he had right now was more questions.

One of which is, why are you two not out playing with your friends?

Seeing as the scientists were pretty definitely dead, Duke had kind of assumed that the four awake ones had escaped on their own – or at least one of them had, and then freed the others. And they obviously knew the way back here, and they very likely knew that there were two more like them. Were they not friends with these two? Were none of them friends, and the fact that four of them were out right now was just coincidence or carelessness?

Belial. Charismatic and friendly – guess that makes her stand out from the others. Maybe they hate nice things. But if she emits stuff that makes people like her, shouldn’t they like her by default? Maybe they’re afraid she’ll turn them decent?

He walked around to the other populated tube.

Forneus. Extra super-duper-psychotic. Sounds like someone they’d get along great with. Or is he too violent even for these guys?

Faint screams echoed down the corridor. The Duke frowned. Sounded like things were going well for his friends.

I’d better go see if they need help. he thought to himself, and turned to leave. Then he stopped himself, as an idea struck him.

…After getting some help. Wrench has promised to try to kill us when we’re done here, so why not even the odds a little.

He turned back to the tubes.

Now, who do we want? Friendly lady or angry dude? Ennie, meenie, miney- Ah, who am I kidding. There’s too many psychos around as it is.

He initiated the release sequence for Belial, and stood back and waited for her to wake up.

Please don’t be mental, please don’t be mental, please don’t be mental, please…

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The box

The box was a nice place, a cosy place.

THe unpredicatable and every in chaos wasteland had made cornelius weary. The recent shock of his lie of a life had sent Cornelius to a bad place. There was a sstranger in his own mind and hadny even known about it. This made Cornelius question everything and it had drained him.

The box was constant in its darkness. He knew what he was getting to whilst in there and it felt good, the nothing, the blank. Maybe if he spent enough time there he would soon havea canvas onto which he could start to assemble his real life again.

Surely Glork will balance his misfortunes..Surely there would be some resolution to all of this hell. He only wanted the best for this place, and Eli was the only one that could provide it.

Cornelius Took out the Mysterious ball reecovered form the mine and fondled its cool exterior and peered further into the balck abyss within. It felt good. and his mind became clearer in between his unexplained moments of unconciousness…

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