Heat. Dust. The sound of scraping metal. "Hold on!" "Shaun! Nate!" A cloud blooming to the south. Alive. Confusion. Cold. Cold. Nothing. Confusion. Nate? Who? NATE! SHAUN! "NO!" "Mum? Mum!--"
Aubrey gasped and shot upright, kicking wildly at the sleeping bag. "NATE?!!"
"N-no, Mum… It's me, Codsworth." The robot spoke, hovering nearby, quickly peeling back the covers to allow Aubrey room to breathe.
The woman swallowed hard, wiping the thin layer of sweat from her forehead. "Sorry Codsworth…" She muttered as reality slowly seeped back into her mind. She rubbed the sleep grit from her eyes and swung her legs over the side of the bedframe. She glanced down at herself. She was still in her vault suit. The thin blue and yellow monstrosity clung to her skin, sticky with sweat.
She sighed heavily and stood up, pulling her hair down and running her fingers through it before putting it back up again. "Alright, Codsworth. Let's get to work on these beds."
"Mum? Are you sure you don't want to eat first? Or bathe?"
"There's no clean running water, or decent food. And I really don't feel like eating Sugar Bombs this morning. I'll eat later."
"As you wish, Mum. But I should tell you, it's only five-thirty in the morning. You asked to be woken at eight."
"Don't worry about it Codsworth. I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep anyway."
Building the beds took less time than she anticipated, as her Pipboy told her it was 8 when she pulled the last one into the house across the street from hers.
"That's real nice. We'll all feel better now with proper places to sleep. Now we'll need fresh water and food." Sturges said, clapping her on the shoulder.
Aubrey hummed. "Codsworth? I know I asked you to go with me before, to this Tenpines place, but do you think you could stay here, and help Sturges build a well?"
"Of course, Mum. Whatever you say. Mr. Sturges? I assume you have a good place to start?"
"Yeah, actually. Figured over there by the playground might be a good place…"
Aubrey stepped away solemnly, leaving the two to figure out the logistics of a well. She whistled, high and loud, and Dogmeat bounded over to her. "Ready to go, boy?" She asked, scratching his ears.
He panted, tongue lolling out before licking her hand.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'." She smiled weakly before returning to her house and grabbing her pack and pistol, and starting down the curve of Sanctuary's road.
The walk to Tenpines was quiet, save for the radio playing from her Pipboy. Dogmeat trotted along happily at her side, occasionally running ahead of her to sniff the air, but always returning to her.
She smiled at the dog's playful nature, allowing herself a small giggle when he started chasing his tail in front of her.
She followed the main roads, checking her map at every intersection to make sure she was headed the right way. But she hesitated when they arrived at a railroad crossing. Chewing her lip, she checked her map, trying to gauge the distance to Tenpines Bluff.
With a decisive nod, she crossed over a swatch of grass before following the railroad tracks down into a small canyon.
Dogmeat barked suddenly, standing near a piece of plywood with an arrow sloppily painted on it. She checked her map once more, then shrugged, following the sign -- which turned out to be a trail of signs-- until a small cabin came into view.
"Hello?" She called, as Dogmeat ran ahead of her again, practically running into the wall of the cabin and barking. "Is anyone here?"
She walked up, noting a woman in a garden of what looked like tomato vines standing and glancing toward the cabin. She followed the woman's gaze and stopped dead in her tracks, throwing her hands in the air.
"Easy now, we don't need any more trouble." The man spoke, leveling a shotgun at her.
"I'm not here to cause trouble…the Minutemen sent me. They said you asked for help."
"The Minutemen?" He lowered the shotgun. "Didn't think you folks still existed. Not after Quincy. Bad business that."
Aubrey arched an eyebrow, slowly lowering her hands. "So what's the trouble?" She asked, smiling sweetly.
"There's a group of raiders nearby that's been harassing us for weeks. Stealing food and supplies, and threatening to kill us if we don't pay up. We know where their coming from, but…well, we can't risk going after them, and leaving the farm unattended."
Aubrey nodded. "Alright. I'll see what I can do."
"Oh, thank you!" The woman said, appearing behind her husband.
Aubrey smiled and fiddled with her Pipboy, letting the farmers mark the old Corvega plant in Lexington. She chewed on her lip some more, tracing around roads and railroad tracks to try and find the most efficient way to get there. She sat on the cliff-face, legs dangling over the edge with Dogmeat laying at her side. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Well boy, it's going to be another long walk. Feeling up to it?"
The dog woofed happily and licked her elbow.
"Alrighty then. Let's get going."
The sun had been down for about an hour and a half by the time she actually made it to the assembly plant on the outskirts of Lexington. She crouched near a small staircase, straining to see in the deep blackness of the night. She could hear a few of these Raiders chatting to themselves, something about one of them leaving for a the old Beantown Brewery. She made a quick mental note to avoid that place in the future.
She chewed her lip, scratching Dogmeat's ears absentmindedly. It was dark, and hard to see. If she moved now, she risked being mistaken for an attacker and shot on-sight. And she didn't know the lay of the land. All she wanted was an audience with whomever was leading this gang of bullies, and maybe sweet talk her way into them leaving folks alone.
But the severed heads and dismembered bodies strung up on pikes and bits of twisted metal didn't bode well for that option.
So that left two other options: Turn around and run, and leave the folks at Tenpines Bluff on their own, or she could hope and pray someone decided to listen to her. She sighed. "I promised I'd help them…Guess all I can do is wait until morning…" She took a deep breath and sat down. "And hope nobody shoots me."
She kept a silent vigil from her spot by the staircase, her nerves to active to allow her any rest, though Dogmeat curled happily up beside her.
There was a song about waiting being the hardest part of something. She'd listened to it and sang along happily in her car with Nate bellowing the lyrics right beside her. Before the bombs, the most she'd had to wait for anything was in the line at the Super-Duper Mart.
Well, if the time on her Pip-boy was right, she'd been waiting for two hours.
It felt like ten.
The chatter of the Raiders around her kept her occupied for a few minutes at a time. One was talking about something called Jet, and it sounded to her like it was some sort of hallucinogenic drug. Which didn't bode well for her being able to reason with these folks. If they were doped up on chems….
She shuddered and pushed that thought from her mind. She'd just have to hope that someone in the bunch was sober enough to actually use their brain.
She fiddled with her Pip-boy for a while, learning all of the functions and gizmos it had built in, before hunkering down against the chill of the autumn night. Dogmeat woke and licked at her hand as she scratched his ears with a sigh. She still had a long while before the sun would show.
Aubrey woke with a start, jerking out of the ball she'd curled into. Her Pip-boy read that it was an hour later. Dogmeat perked up and licked at her face, woofing softly. "Jesus Christ." She moaned, rolling her neck and shoulders in turn to work out the stiffness. She quickly wiped the grit from her eyes and peeked over the small wall she'd hidden behind.
There were still plenty of Raiders around, but the voices were all different. "Changing watch." She mumbled. "That suggests something resembling intelligence. At least in their leaders."
Dogmeat suddenly stood up, baring his teeth and growling.
Aubrey arched an eyebrow, then peered into the blackness once more. Two of the raiders were walking towards them, guns raised. "Who's out there?"
"Show your face."
Aubrey gulped and patted Dogmeat's head before standing up. "Hello?" She called, resting her hand on the handle of the pistol at her hip. "I'm, um, a bit lost?"
One Raider snickered. "You're lost? Well, sucks to be you."
Aubrey ducked back behind the half wall as the raider opened fire. She quickly pulled out her pistol as Dogmeat bounded forward, jumping on one raider. She took aim and fired. Two rounds, center mass, just like she'd been taught.
More gunfire reverberated off the walls around her, and she ducked back behind her cover.
"I don't want to have to do this!" She called out as she quickly reloaded her gun.
More raiders emerged, coming from the scaffolding and converging on her. With no other choice, she quickly defaulted back to her Navy training.
Aim. Fire, fire.
Aim. Fire, fire.
She registered the mechanical click and warning of a turret nearby and whipped her head around, her mind screaming at her to find it. even as something hit her upper arm.
Aim, fire, fire, fire.
The turret exploded in a fiery ball and she saw a raider clutch his middle and fall back.
More raiders. One sprinted at her with all their might, raising a pool cue over his head.
She easily blocked it, and struck him across the face with the butt of her gun. Dogmeat took the opportunity and went for his throat.
She focused again on the other Raiders that were still semi-distant from her.
Aim. Fire, fire.
Aim. Fire, fire.
Aim, Fire, fire.
And then the front was silent.
No more gunfire; no more screaming. Nothing, save for her harsh breathing and Dogmeat's panting.
She hunched down behind her wall again, quickly reloading her weapon then holstering it.
Dogmeat sat down beside her and cocked his head, tongue lolling out. She weakly reached up and patted his head. "G-Good boy..."
Her brow wrinkled and she looked at her arm. Blood was soaking through the sleeve of her Vault suit and dripping down.
And then the pain of the bullet hole in her arm made itself known to her and she recoiled, pressing her good hand to try and stop the bleeding some as her breathing became rapid once more and her vision zeroed in on the wound.
Dogmeat whined and nosed at the Stimpak she had in her belt, as if to say Use this, Human, it will help.
She grit her teeth and pulled the stim our and tore the cap away with her teeth. With a deep breath, she stabbed the needle above the wound and pressed the button to release the medication.
She watched as the Stimpak worked, shivering as her muscle and skin began to knit back together. Slowly the blood stopped flowing, and the only remaining evidence that she'd been shot was a small, tender, red patch of skin.
And it was only the front of the building. She hadn't even made it inside yet.
She looked at the time again. It was going to be a long and stressful night.
"Stay DOWN! Jesus…." Aubrey muttered, putting the last bullet in her clip into the raging Protectron before reloading and peering over the computer console she'd ducked behind.
The thing must've taken a hit to its combat inhibitor. That was the only reason that would explain why it had suddenly stopped shooting at the raiders and started shooting at the half assembled cars and her.
She heard another car engine burst into flames and she ducked back down behind the console as another explosion rocked the building.
"Functions….terminated….." The Protectron bleeped out as it finally, finally fell and the building was once again silent. In its frenzy, and the subsequent explosions, most of the raiders had been wiped out. Except for the leader, whom Aubrey herself had put down.
She waited a few beats to make sure no other cars were going to explode in her face, then stood up, picking her way over the garbage and debris to the bodies. She searched each one, taking the ammunition and valuable items as she worked her way up onto the platform above her. There was a mattress on the floor next to a steamer trunk. She glanced at the time on her Pipboy and rubbed her eyes. It wasn't much, but it would suffice. She checked through the room once more, searching the trunk and shoving the valuables into her pack before collapsing on the mattress. Dogmeat curled up at the foot of the mattress with his head on her shin.
She awoke to Dogmeat licking her face. "Dogmeat… c'mon boy, get off…" She muttered, gently pushing the Shepard away before stretching her arms. Sunlight streamed through the factory's few little windows and she sighed, hauling herself off the mattress. The building groaned ominously as she made her way back out, picking over the bodies and garbage and debris.
Once out in the fresh air she sighed heavily, idly scratching Dogmeat's ears as she checked her Pipboy, mapping out her route back.
The walk was blessedly uneventful as she trudged past the skeletons of buildings she once frequented. She passed the bar where she'd go after the particularly tough cases, then the bakery where she'd had her first date with Nate. Both sent pangs of nostalgia stabbing through her chest. Here she was, in a place that she knew quite well, and yet also didn't know. Everything was broken down, or completely destroyed, or possibly renamed. Who could tell how many people in the area could actually read now. And while she technically knew where everything was, the old highways were unusable now, even for foot traffic.
Dogmeat's barking drew her from her thoughts. He whined at her feet and cocked his head. "What's the matter boy?" Aubrey mumbled, glancing around the area, then at her Pip-Boy. "We're still on track, what is it?"
He barked again and nuzzled her leg.
Aubrey chuckled. "What, you trying to make me feel better?" She patted his head, and he started licking her arm and face as she kneeled down. "Thank you, boy…". She cooed, taking a few minutes to scratch his ears and rub his sides and belly. "Alright, boy, let's get moving again. I wanna get back to that farm before nightfall."
When she finally trudged over the bridge to Tenpines bluff, she was exhausted. The sun was only barely still over the horizon, casting long shadows around her. The woman looked up and called to her husband as they moved to greet her. "You're back!" The husband smiled. "That means, either you haven't gone after those raiders yet….or, good news?"
Aubrey mustered up a smile. "Those raiders won't be bothering you anymore."
"Oh, that's great news!" The woman beamed, clapping her hands together. "Listen, we'd been talking… and we decided that if you came through for us, we'd join up with the Minutemen again. If we want things to get better, we have to take care of each other."
"Thank you. Your support means a lot to us."
"Oh, but you must be exhausted, and probably injured." The woman frowned. "We were just about to have dinner, we can spare a meal for you, if you want. But I can understand if you want to get back out on the road."
Aubrey nodded. "I appreciate the offer, really I do, but there's a group of people in the settlement I'm from. They're in desperate need of sustainable food. If I could trouble you for some seeds…"
"Of course!" The man smiled at her. "You sit down, have a rest and a drink. We'll get you set up."
"Thank you. You have no idea how much this will mean to them."
The man went off towards the garden as the woman brought Aubrey into the small repaired house they'd lived in. "Here, sit down there, and let me get you something to drink. You have a preference, we got beer, some Nuka-Cola, and regular water if you want."
"Uh… just plain water if you don't mind. I'm positively parched."
The woman pulled a can of purified water from their non-functioning refrigerator and offered it to her. "We can't thank you enough, Ms…um…"
"West. Aubrey West." She smiled.
"Well, Ms. West. It's a pleasure to have you. And thank you so much for your help."
"Well, I won't say it was no trouble, but I was happy to help."
"I’m Betty, by the way. My husband's name is London."
"Pleasure." Aubrey nodded as she swallowed down the water.
London came back in shortly after, setting a pack at Aubrey's side. "I'm sending you with some tatos, seeds for the spring, and a bit of the salt fish and Brahmin we had left. It's not much, but it should help your people get through the winter. It's looking to be mild this year."
Betty nodded. "Yeah, normally we've started to see snow flurries by now."
Aubrey took the sack and tied it to the gaudy Vault-Tec backpack she had. "I can't thank you enough."
"Well, you helped us, it's only fair we help you."
Dogmeat barked from the doorway and Aubrey sighed. "I'd better get going. It'll be pitch black soon, and I don't want to be caught on the open road in the dark."
"You can stay the night here if you want. We got an extra sleeping bag in the shed."
"Oh, I don't want to impose…."
"Nonsense." Grace said. "You're welcome to stay. Anyone under the flag of the Minutemen is."
"I…" She glanced back and forth between the two farmers, and the rapidly darkening scenery outside. "Alright. Thank you so much. At least allow me to help out around here…somehow."
"You've done enough for while." Charlie started. "Taking out those raiders must've been quite the undertaking. Especially for a Vault-Dweller."
"How did you--"
"That contraption on your arm. Only Vault Dwellers wear them. That and the backpack."
"Oh." Aubrey looked at her Pip-Boy and shrugged. "Well, you're not wrong. On both counts."
Grace placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, Ms. West. London didn't mean nothing by it. Come on, let's get you settled."
As Aubrey followed the woman out of her home, she couldn't help but think of her old homestead outside of Charleston. When she was a girl, she'd been able to just skip about and stay over at her friends' houses with little to no warning. It was a bittersweet experience to be treated this way again.
The shed they'd set her up with was small, but cozy in its own way. Dogmeat curled around her legs as she set an alarm on her Pip-Boy and settled into the sleeping bag.
It wasn't easy to sleep, but it was better than trying to find shelter on the road. She seemed to wake every three hours or so, have to readjust her position, then fall back asleep, but by the time her alarm went off in the morning, she felt rested enough to endure the walk back to Sanctuary.
She bid goodbye to the couple just as they were on their way out to start their morning routines. The sun was barely over the horizon, but it was light enough for her to see. A young woman in an ushanka hat was thumbing through a worn book near a campfire and smiled when Aubrey stumbled out. "Hi there, my name's Kim! You?"
Aubrey smiled. "I’m Aubrey. Nice to meet you, Kim. You work here with the Waters?"
"No. I was hitching a ride with the caravan looking for settlement work, but so far no one's hiring." She frowned. "I'm a real tough worker, and good with plants, especially ones that grow in the cold, but it seems everyone's pretty much set."
"Plants that grow in winter?"
"Yeah! Mostly hubflowers. They don't bloom in winter, but you can still get their leaves and bark from the main stems. Good for medicinal ointments and teas."
Aubrey pursed her lip. "What about edible crops? You know, staple foodstuffs."
"Oh, uh, well, the only one that will even try to grow are tatos, so I hope you don't mind eating them for three months."
"I figure if you're hungry enough, you'll eat them."
"That's very true."
Aubrey smiled, extending her hand to the young woman. "Kim, I may have a job for you."
"Really? That's awesome! I should've run into you sooner!" She took Aubrey's hand with gusto. "Where do ya want me?"
"A small town to the east of here. Follow the main road to Concord then turn north. Past the old Red Rocket and you'll run right into it. I'm heading back there now, you're welcome to walk with me."
"Great! Thank you so much! Oh, and if you're looking for someone with defense experience, Seven's contract with Miller's caravan is up soon."
Aubrey nodded. "I'll speak with her."
Kim beamed and starting gathering a small backpack as a blonde woman with facepaint approached them. "I heard my name?"
Aubrey offered a smile. "You must be Seven."
"That's me. What's up?"
"Kim says you're looking for a new gig?"
"Yeah. Preferably in one place, but if I can't find anything, I'll hook up with a caravan again. I’m a damn good shot though. Should be able to find work as a guard somewhere."
"How 'bout with me. I know a small settlement east of here that needs some proper defenses. Everyone's armed, but having someone who knows what they're doing would be a boon."
"Great. What's the place's name?"
"Sanctuary Hills. We're heading there now."
"Cool. Let me just tell Miller I'm heading out. Get my wages."
"Of course." Aubrey smiled, chewing her lip and hoping the others wouldn't crucify her for bringing two new mouths to feed.
Kim was very animated about her plants, explaining to Aubrey that tato plants and hubflowers, and a few other plant species had adapted well to the Commonwealth winters and then talking about how to tend them. Seven scouted ahead, with Dogmeat running happily back and forth between them.
As they passed an old quarry, they all had to pause as the sound of banging and cursing coming from it.
Aubrey frowned. "Seven, why don't you and Kim go on ahead to Sanctuary. Just follow the road north through Concord, past the old Red Rocket station. You'll walk right into it."
"You sure, boss?" Seven asked, her weapon at the ready.
"I'm sure. Ask for Preston Garvey when you get there. Tell him Aubrey West sent you, and your skill sets. He'll get you settled."
Kim nodded. "Be careful, okay? I'd feel terrible if you never came back."
"I will, don't worry." Aubrey smiled. "Oh, here. Take this bag with you. It's got some starter seeds and some salted meats for the settlement." Aubrey watched the two women for a while before turning up the dirt path to the quarry, Dogmeat trotting happily beside her.
The quarry was mostly deserted, save for a small construction pod with a bed and some foodstuffs on a desk. Dogmeat barked softly and Aubrey turned around, jumping when she saw a man had appeared beside her. "What're you doing?"
"I heard shouting," Aubrey sighed. "I came if anyone needed help."
"Help, huh. Well, I got some paying work for you. It's a bit dangerous, but you look like you can handle it. I'll give you 50 caps for your time."
Aubrey arched an eyebrow, noting that Dogmeat was quiet and alert. "What do you need help with?"
"Well, the pumps in good shape and should at least start, but it looks like there's some leaky connections flooding the quarry. Think you can fix 'em? The leaks'll be underwater. I'd do it myself, but I can't swim very good."
Aubrey nodded slowly. "Alright…I'll see what I can do." She reached down and patted Dogmeat's head. "Come on, boy."
"Look for bubbles, and you should find 'em." He called out as she started down the quarry ramp to the waterline. The water was fairly clean, and she could see three disturbances in the water. "Three leaks, all in different sections of the pool. Great." She sighed, setting her backpack down and rolling her neck and shoulders. "Well, boy, at least I won't need a bath." She muttered, taking off her boots, stripping down to just her vault suit, and taking a dose of Rad-X, just to be safe. "Here we go."
She jumped into the water, hunching in on herself at how cold it was when she surfaced. "Something tells me 50 caps is way underpaying me." She mumbled, swimming for the first stream of bubbles. Gulping in air, she dived down, following the bubbles until she found the leak. A loose valve. Thank God. Easy fix.
She gripped the yellow turn wheel and yanked, bracing her body against the pipe for leverage. Once the valve was closed, she kicked off the pipe, surfacing with a gasp. "Guess singer's lungs are more useful than I thought. Okay. One down, two to go."
She repeated the process with the other two valves and swam back to where she'd left her things and climbed out of the water.
Dogmeat was soon at her side, licking her face happily.
"Heh. Hey boy. Thanks for watching my stuff." She chuckled, shivering as she grabbed her boots, pack, and armor pieces and started back up the ramp. She greeted the man at the pump. "How's that?" She asked through chattering teeth. This was a mistake.
"That's the ticket! Why don't you do the honors, just hit that switch on the end of the pump. Then you can sit a spell at the fire 'til you dry off."
"Thanks." She smiled, going to the circuit breaker and flipping the switch. With a grinding rumble, the machine clambered to life.
"That's done it! Just listen to her go." The man beamed, patting the machine gently. "Wait… Did you hear that?"
Aubrey frowned, but before she could say anything, two large -- somethings-- erupted from the nearby earth and started skittering towards them. Aubrey stifled a scream and reached for the pistol in her pack as Dogmeat barked and bolted for one of the creatures.
The thing struck the dog with a massive claw, causing him to whine in pain, and Aubrey grit her teeth. "That's my dog!" She spat, aiming for the creature's face and sending four bullets at it in quick succession.
That put it down fast.
She darted around the pump to see that the man had already dispatched the other creature and was panting, his hands braced on his knees. "You alright?" Aubrey asked, grabbing her pack and fishing for a Stimpak.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Ugh, Mirelurks," The man shook his head as he straightened up. "Guess I shouldn't be surprised that stirred them up. Anyway, I've still got some tinkering to do with this thing, but it shouldn't be too hard now. Thanks for pitching in."
"No problem, happy to help."
"Here's your pay, and you can have this old magazine. I don't need it anymore. Like I said, you can have a seat by the fire 'til you dry off." He nodded at her, handing her the items.
Dogmeat growled at the man as he turned away and Aubrey frowned as she settled by the nearby campfire. The sun was high in the sky, and between that and the fire, it shouldn't take her long to dry off.
The man came over a few minutes later, with several slabs of bloody meat on an old grate. He set it over the fire, mumbling to himself about hating the taste of the creatures.
"Sir, what exactly are you planning on doing with this place?" Aubrey asked as she wrung her hair out, noting how Dogmeat kept putting himself between her and the man.
"I got some friends who want to move in, is all."
"Why choose a quarry?"
"None of your business." The man said, giving her a side-eye look in warning.
Aubrey frowned, but said nothing else, watching as he tinkered with the pump some more.
She stayed for about 20 minutes, until her suit was dry enough for her to comfortably walk. She laced her boots back up and shouldered her pack. "I’m heading out." She offered. "Good luck."
She chewed her lip, more questions on her tongue but ultimately decided against saying anything else and starting back for the main roads.
The walk through Concord was thankfully quiet, and she arrived back in Sanctuary around mid-afternoon.
Dogmeat barked happily and bolted across the street, nearly knocking over Preston in the process as he came out to greet them "Hey there, you're back!"
"I am. Did Kim and Seven make it here okay?" She asked.
"They did. Marcy wasn't too happy about more people in town, but Kim's already started transplanting some hubflowers from the nearby area and putting some seeds in the ground for tatos. Seven and Sturges were working on defenses last I checked."
"Great. I'm sorry if I caught you off guard with them."
"It's alright. We could use the help. But, about the settlement I sent you to?"
"I helped them. The raiders that were harassing them are gone. And they decided to support the Minutemen. "
"Good, good!" Preston's smile was contagious and Aubrey couldn't help but smile as his spirits seemed to lift exponentially. "Here," He reached into a satchel on his belt and handed her a small pouch. "You should have this flare gun. It's…not much use right now, but when we have more allied settlements, you can use it to call for help from wherever you are."
"Thank you...that's very thoughtful."
"Your welcome.…" He paused, shuffling his feet and shifting his weight for a moment. "So…there's something I need to ask you."
Aubrey arched an eyebrow, tucking the flare gun into her pack.
"I don't think I ever told you what happened to the Minutemen…how I became the last one."
"Oh." She looked up, meeting his eyes with a gentle smile. "I figured you'd say something when you were ready."
"I.…, uh. Have you heard of the….Quincy Massacre?"
Aubrey's stomach dropped as she shook her head. "Your group…you came from Quincy, right?"
"Yeah...Mama Murphy, Sturges, the Longs…they were all from Quincy…I thought everyone had heard about that by now…where the Minutemen betrayed each other, and the people they were supposed to protect." He sighed heavily, breaking their eye contact. "I was with Colonel Hollis's group. A mercenary group called the Gunners was attacking Quincy; the people there called for the Minutemen to help. We were the only ones that came…The other groups…they just…turned their backs. On us, and the folks in Quincy. Only a few of us got out alive. Colonel Hollis was dead, and I ended up in charge of the survivors."
"My God...I'm so sorry…"
Preston nodded, pressing his lips into a thin line. "We never found a safe place to settle. Just…one disaster after another. You saw how it ended, in Concord."
"Well...at least you can be safe here…" Aubrey smiled weakly, squeezing his shoulder. "Are you really the last Minuteman?"
Preston scoffed. "Maybe not literally. There are probably a lot of former Minutemen out there who gave up in disgust after Quincy. But we were the last active group. And now it's…just me."
"Hey," She found his gaze, her green eyes meeting his brown. "As long as you don't give up, the Minutemen will survive."
"Oh, I'm not about to give up." He set his jaw, straightening up. "But I can't protect the Commonwealth all by myself. Hell, I could barely protect these people! That's why I'm talking to you. I can't rebuild the Minutemen…but I think you can." "Me? What makes you think I can do that?"
"You saved us in Concord. There wasn't anything in it for you. You have your own problems to deal with. But you still helped anyway. That kind of selflessness…it's in mighty short supply around here for a long while."
"Preston...I'm flattered. Really, I am… but…I don't know the first thing about leading…any group of people, let alone a de facto army."
"The idea of the Minutemen wouldn't be any different. Still be citizen soldiers banding together to protect themselves and their neighbors. But we just need better leaders! Leaders who would put the good of the Commonwealth ahead of their own needs. You already proved your selflessness." He swallowed, biting his lip for a moment. "We don't need any more petty politics, or squabbling over resources, or arguing who has seniority. We need someone who can bring the whole Commonwealth together in a common cause. And I think you've got it in you to be that leader."
"But...wouldn't you be a better leader? I'm…too new here…" Aubrey chewed on her lip.
"That's not who I am. I can get my men through a firefight. I can defend a perimeter against all odds. But that's not gonna be enough to bring the Minutemen back from the brink. Please, ma'am…I can't do this alone."
Aubrey sighed and met Preston's gaze again. The idea wasn't bad, and the potential that the Minutemen had to be a force for good was definite. As she searched Preston's eyes, she found only sincerity and hope. She smiled. "Alright, Preston. I'll do it."
Preston's eyes practically sparkled as a bright smile lit up his face. "Good…Good! Welcome aboard! I feel like this is a whole new start for the Minutemen…and the Commonwealth too. And don't worry," He grinned. "I'll be right beside you the whole way….General."
Aubrey sputtered. "That's a hell of a promotion you just gave me…"
Preston shrugged. "The leader of the Minutemen has always held the title of General. Our last leader was General Becker. After he died back in '82, nobody could really agree on who should take his place." He grinned again. "The one good thing about being the last Minuteman is that there's no one to argue with me when I say you're the new General. But now it's your job to make it more than an empty title."
"I'll do my best to live up to the name. But…I do have my own problems…and…" She looked away. "They're…pretty important."
Preston nodded. "I have no doubt of it… you’re a Vault Dweller right? Maybe your friends can help?"
"There aren't any. There were only two survivors: me and my son…and I don't know where he is." Tears welled in her eyes as a flash of Nate's bleeding body filled her mind. "I have to find him. He was kidnapped."
"Jesus. How old was he?"
"He's just a baby…three months old…"
"Dear God.… we'll look for him, General. Mama Murphy said something about Diamond City… in my experience, when Mama Murphy says something like that, it's a good idea to follow it."
She swallowed down a lump in her throat. "I don't know if I can even make it…I barely made it out of Corvega alive…"
"I'll come with you. Now that Sturges has the supplies to build up some defenses, I think they'll be okay."
Aubrey looked up. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. You helped us. Now let us help you."
"Alright." Aubrey nodded. "Let's head out." She glanced up at the darkening sky and sighed. "In the morning."