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In the world of Chronicles of the Wasteland

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Chapter 4

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Preston made for a quiet travelling companion.  His head was constantly moving, in the way that reminded Aubrey of how Nate would walk through a crowded shopping center.  Only the area wasn't crowded; in fact, it was damn near desolate. Her hand hovered over her holster as she walked, watching Dogmeat happily trot in front of them.  The Vault suit clung to her skin, offering little in the way of protection from the chilled autumn air.  The piecemeal leather armor she had didn't help much either.  "Christ, I'd kill for a sweater." She mumbled. 

"Pardon?"

"Nothing.  Just a bit chilly, that's all.  I'll warm up soon enough as keep walking."

Preston nodded.  "Sorry we don't have any Slippies to speed up travel.  We didn't have time to saddle them in Quincy, and even if we did, I don't think they would've helped much."  He readjusted his grip on his laser musket.  "It is a bit of a walk to Diamond City."

"What's a 'Slippie'?" 

"You know, a Sleipnir?  They're mounts.  I think they were mutated from an animal called a horse?" Preston shrugged.  "Don't know why they're called Sleipnir now, 'cause it doesn't sound anything like the word 'horse', but it got shortened to Slippie.  Or 'Slipper.'  I've heard 'em called that too."

"Sleipnir.…" Aubrey frowned.  "I don't suppose these 'Sleipnir' have 6 legs, do they?" 

Preston turned to her.  "Yeah, actually. How did you know?"

"Sleipnir is the name of a six-legged horse from ancient Norse mythology.  Whoever re-domesticated the horse, it seems, had a great sense of humor."  She smiled.  "Are they common around here?"

"Not terribly.  Farms sometimes have one or two, but you see 'em mostly around Bunker Hill or with caravans.  Speaking of which," He pointed up the road, at a dilapidated billboard.  "Looks like someone's making a pit stop." 

Aubrey could only see an animal that looked more like a cow than a horse.  "Is that a Sleipnir?"

"No, that's a Brahmin." Preston shook his head.  "I think… they used to be called cows?  Or maybe bulls… I don't really remember."

"Cows and bulls were the same animal. Cow was a female, bull was a male.  Either way, it seems to be serving its purpose fairly well."

"Yeah.  Brahmin and Sleipnir are both good farm animals.  Some people have tried to work with other animals, but aside from getting lucky with a dog, there's not much else that's tame enough.  Maybe the occasional alley cat as you get closer to the city."

Aubrey nodded, chewing on her lip as she filed away that information as they approached the trader.

"So, what's your story?" The woman asked, eyeing Aubrey up and down.  "Looking to trade, rob me, or just ask directions to Diamond City?"

"Trust me, friend.  I have no interest in robbing you."  Aubrey sighed.  "But… if you know the easiest way to Diamond City…"

The woman scoffed.  "Directions.  Figures.  Just keep head south til you cross the Charles.  You'll walk right into it once you cross the bridge."

Preston cleared his throat. "Hey, Carla?  There's a new settlement, just set up a few days ago, up north of here.  We don't have much, but… we could use some supplies."

"Do I look like a charity to you?"

"Of course not."  Aubrey smiled.  "You need to make a living, I understand.  But at least put Sanctuary down on your map.  We may not have much now, but a little bit of help now will mean a lot of help for you down the road."

Carla sighed, working her jaw for a moment.  "Fine.  I'll go up there and see what we can work out."

Preston smiled weakly.  "Thanks Carla."

"Either of you two got anything to trade before I leave?"

Both of them shook their heads and Carla nodded again, taking the lead rope for her Brahmin and starting up the path for Sanctuary, muttering under her breath the whole way.

"Well, she's certainly charming." Aubrey deadpanned.

Preston shrugged.  "Trashcan Carla's not the most hospitable of people, but she's fair on her prices."

"Trashcan Carla?" Aubrey asked, arching an eyebrow.

"She sells pretty much anything you give her.  Doesn't specialize like some other merchants will.  It started out as a nickname over Bunker Hill, and just kind of… stuck. From what I understand at least.  My squad ran into her several times before Quincy."

Aubrey shook her head, and they resumed their quiet walk toward Diamond City. 

They'd only walked for another hour, the sun now high in the sky when they heard a commotion just ahead.

"We had a DEAL, Trudy!  Hand over the goods you owe us!" 

"I ain't givin' you poison selling chem-pushers anything!  You know what that junk has done to my boy?!"

Aubrey and Preston shared a look, turning towards the source of the argument: a long dilapidated Drumlin Diner.  Aubrey could just make out two figures standing in the parking lot through the trees.

"He bought them fair and square; ain't our fault if he's strung out.  Now, don't make me come in there and shoot up that little trading post of yours."

Both Preston and Aubrey changed course at that, starting up the service road toward the diner with Preston already charging the coil on his laser musket. 
The man who'd been shouting turned towards them, pulling a cheap, home-make looking pistol from his belt.  "Whoa, whoa, stay back Vault Girl.  This doesn't concern you."

Aubrey quirked an eyebrow, settling her features into her courtroom mask. "You stop waving that gun in my face, or it's going to involve me."

The woman behind the man tapped him on the shoulder, and they both lowered their weapons.  "Hey, easy now."  He sighed.  "We'll put our weapons away.  Just… don't do anything crazy, okay?"

"What's going on here?" Aubrey asked, crossing her arms over her chest.  

"Just a, uh.. Business dispute, okay? Trudy here is sitting on a pile of goods that she owes me." The man shrugged.  "I tried to reason with her, but it looks like I'll have to take what's mine by force."

"Sure didn't sound like 'reasoning' to me." Aubrey replied.  

"I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that."  The man sighed. "Look, if you want some easy money, how about you help us out.  I could use an extra gun…"

Aubrey narrowed her eyes at him.

"...Or maybe you could talk to her?  Make her see reason.  All I want is my money.  I got nothin' against her."

"I will speak with her.  There must be a way to peacefully work this out."

"Great." The man smiled.  "Good luck.  If things go sideways, we'll back you up."

Aubrey didn't grace him with a reply, instead simply turning and clicking her tongue for Dogmeat to join her as she walked over to the diner entrance.

A woman with gray hair met her at the door.  "I saw you and that poison seller talking.  You can tell him he's not getting his money. Period."

"Why not?  If you owe him something…"

"I don't owe him a damn thing." Trudy spat. "He came round here, got my boy hooked on Jet, sold him a bunch of junk on 'credit' and now he shows up here, threatening to kill us both and take everything."

Preston took his place at the side of the door, facing the two 'chem pushers.

Aubrey sighed.  "I want to help you, Trudy.  These two don't look or sound particularly trustworthy."

"Damn right they aren't.  Listen you wanna help, fine.  Get rid of Wolfgang.  I don't know what he offered you, but I'll pay you 100 caps to kill that Jet-selling scumbag."

Aubrey bit her tongue for a moment.  "There's no need for bloodshed today, Trudy.  We can come to a peaceful solution, I'm sure."

"I'm not paying the bastard one cap."

"Alright. So be it.  Those are your terms, I can work with that."  She leaned against the counter top.  "There has to be some way we can reach a compromise."

"I want him gone, I don't want him selling no more Jet to my son, or preferably, to anyone else." Trudy snarled.  "He's no better than your average raider, and only about a quarter as smart!"

"I heard that you fuckin' bitch!" The man, Wolfgang shouted from his spot in the parking lot.  "You messed with the wrong guy, asshole!"

"Hold your fire!" Aubrey shouted, but her words fell on deaf ears as Wolfgang and his companion both sent bullets flying towards the diner.

"Hit the deck!" Preston cried, ducking inside as a bullet pinged off the metal of the door frame.   

Aubrey wasted no time, ducking behind the counter as Trudy dove for the relative safety of a seating booth. Aubrey drew her pistol and swallowed.  "So much for diplomacy." She muttered, taking aim and firing two rounds into Wolfgang's leg. 
The man cried out and fell to the ground, clutching at his knee with one hand and firing blindly at the diner with the other.  Preston had already downed the woman he was with, and was recharging his musket's coil.

Trudy stood up when Wolfgang paused to try and reload, emptying four bullets from her own weapon into the man's upper torso, with one clipping his neck.

Aubrey winced, turning her face away as he clutched at his neck, trying and failing to keep the blood inside his body.  A final gunshot from Trudy, straight to the head, ended his life.

Then the parking lot was quiet again.

Trudy sighed, her exhale turning to a soft chuckle as she stood properly.  "Can't wait to see the crows feeding on that scumbag."  She muttered, opening the cash register on the counter top as both Aubrey and Preston stood.  "Here, this is for you two, for helping defend the place."  She dropped a small leather pouch onto the counter.  "If you ever need to trade, my shop's open."

Aubrey's knees were shaking, so she leaned against the back of the empty booth, trying not to think about what had just happened.  "You… have everything covered then?"

Trudy nodded.  "Yeah.  It'll take my son some time to get off the chems, but we'll make it." She shrugged.  "We always do.  Now, let's get back to business.  Need anything for the road?"

Aubrey swallowed down bile.  "N-no.  I think we're done here for today."

"Glad we could help, ma'am." Preston offered, following Aubrey out of the diner and back to the main road.  "Hey… you tried your best." He offered.

Aubrey idly patted Dogmeat's ears when he licked her hand.  "There was no need for him to react like that.  Do people not know how to take an insult anymore?"

Preston shrugged.  "I've taken more than my fair share.  But… he was a chem dealer, and most chem dealers tend to sample their wares.  They get aggressive.  Stupid things will set them off."

"He didn't need to die.  He was incapacitated." Preston was quiet for a moment.  "You did your best, General.  But not everyone can be saved."

Aubrey didn't respond, instead just wrapping her arms around herself and starting back on the road.  "Let's just… get moving.  I'd rather not think about what just happened.  It's still a long way to Boston." 

Aubrey stayed quiet the rest of the walk, only patting Dogmeat's head when he came up for scratches.   This world was so… different from the one she'd left.  How could society have stagnated so?  Two hundred years of development once saw the change in technology from the industrial era to nuclear era, and now… they were barely better than subsistence farmers and bandits.

"Hey," Preston cleared his throat.  "It's gonna start getting dark soon.  It looks like there's some sort of compound up this ridge.  We can stop for the night, if you want."

"Hm?"  She glanced around, noting that the shadows were indeed growing longer.  "Yeah… I guess that's a good idea." She wanted to vomit as they came up the hill.  Several bodies were laying, slumped over where they'd fallen.   "These look fresh."  She muttered.  "No signs of any sort of trauma, either."

Preston hummed.  "Yeah.  Strange though.  Children of Atom don't normally just… keel over."

"Maybe we shouldn't stay…"

Preston pursed his lips, peering out over the landscape.  "There's not really any place else to stay. Unless you wanna backtrack…"

Aubrey swallowed.  "No.  But… at least let us clear the bodies.  No point in leaving them to rot in the sun."

"Alright.  I'll move the bodies, if you wanna get a fire going in that clearing up there."  Preston offered, putting a hand on her shoulder.  "Probably less uh… traumatizing?" 

Aubrey snorted.  "Yeah.  That's a word for it.  Thank you, Preston."  

But before she could even start up the path to the ridge, the ground shook beneath them, dirt erupting around them as dirty pink animals crawled out of the ground, hissing and spitting at the two humans.

"Molerats!"  Preston snarled.  "Get up on top of something, don't let 'em get your legs!"

Aubrey didn't need to be told twice, scrambling on top of a ruined car and used a broken pipe to swat at the disgusting little creatures, knocking many of them flat while Preston fired with his musket.

Mole rats dropped left and right, stunned by Aubrey's pipe then finished off by Preston's fire.   "Christ on a bicycle."  Aubrey muttered.  "Does everything nowadays want to kill us?"

Preston wiped some sweat from his forehead. "Seems like it some days.  Well, least now we have some meat."  He climbed down from his perch on a flipped over forklift and started picking through the molerats.  "Here, this one looks fairly healthy.  Do you know how to butcher an animal?"

Aubrey gulped.  "I… have a general idea."  She nodded.  "It's been a while since I went to survival school, and the animals I killed weren't this big, but… I can make it work."

"What's survival school?"

"Oh, uh… it's, um."  She faltered.  "It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  The Navy had a two-week school that you attended that taught you the basics of wilderness living.  Even had a Castaway day, where we were stuck on the water for twenty-four hours."

Preston's eyebrows were knitted together in confusion when she looked back at him.  "So… you were in a Navy?  In a Vault?"

"...No.  I was in the Navy before the Vault.  Several years before the Vault."  She sighed, taking the mole rat's leg and starting up the hill towards the main clearing.  "It's… a long story.  I'll explain more later.  For now… I'll get started on this animal." 

She was able to butcher the mole rat fairly effectively.  The switchblade she'd found back in Sanctuary hadn't exactly been the best tool for the job, but she still had a few good sized pieces sizzling on a spit over a fire.   Enough for her and Preston to have a piece now, and potentially one in the morning, if she charred it well enough.

She watched Preston, her lips pressed into a thin line as he methodically went around the old disposal site, gathering the dead and laying them, face-down, in a line at the far end of it.   The molerat corpses, he simply tossed over the decaying fence before splashing some water over his hands and sitting down beside her.  "Wish we had time to give them a proper burial." He sighed.  "But it's nearly dark now, and we still have a long walk tomorrow. Better to save our energy." 

"Agreed.  Here.  Hope you like your steaks well done."  She handed him one of the filets.  "I was able to get more than just these two pieces, but… I'm not sure they'll be good after tomorrow morning."

Preston eyed them.  "I've got some cheesecloth in my pack.  We can wrap 'em up in that for later, so we'll have travel rations. Just make sure they're cooked through and through." 

Aubrey nodded, biting into her own steak and grimacing.  It was tough, and certainly didn't taste like anything she was used to, but at least it was a proper meal.   Silence fell over them, broken only by the crackling of the fire, suffocating Aubrey until she could stand it no longer.  "Preston… did-- did you know these people?  Were they part of your Minutemen or a settlement?"

"No.  Well, I mean, I didn't know them personally. I knew of them.  Part of some religious group called the Children of Atom.  They worship radiation, but they can also get a bit… overzealous… with trying to recruit others.  The Minutemen clashed with them a few times, but we were never officially at war or anything."

Aubrey nodded.  "I still wish I knew what killed them."

"I think it was actual radiation poisoning." Preston shrugged.  "Found about 15 or 20 barrels of waste in that barn over there.  And some sort of shrine or something right next to it."

Aubrey shuddered.  "I can't wrap my head around worshipping something that could kill you."

"A lot of people can't, either.  But they do." Preston shrugged.  "Should I take first watch?  It's getting late."

Aubrey glanced at the time on her Pipboy.  "No…no, I'll stay up.  You go on and get some rest.  I need time to… process everything alone."

Preston nodded.  "Alright.  Wake me up when you get too tired."  He offered a weak smile as he stood.  "There's a fairly clean mattress inside that construction capsule.  That's where I'll be.  Good night, General."

"You can call me Aubrey, Preston; it's alright."

Preston nodded.  "Right. Well, good night Aubrey."

"Good night." 

As Preston went off for the capsule, Aubrey readied her pistol.   "Need to find or get a rifle somehow," she mused.  "This won't do much against an armored target… or at long range."

She finished her molerat steak in silence, listening to the crickets and the wind as they sang with the crackling of the fire, creating a deceiving song of peace that filled the quiet night.  On half-hour intervals, she walked the perimeter of the strange abandoned area, using the eerie green light from her Pipboy to illuminate her path when she left the safety of the fire's light and warmth.

The darkness seemed far less comforting than it did before she'd crawled out of that Vault.  She'd regularly spend time in their backyard, laying on the grass, staring at the stars with Nate at her side.   

Now the darkness mocked her, taunted her, dared her to walk into it and disappear.  To join so many others in the cold embrace of oblivion. 

She shook her head, forcing those thoughts from her mind as she made her way back to the fire.  Shaun was depending on her.  She needed to find him, to get him back, to keep him safe.   

She wiped a renegade tear from her cheek and sniffed.  "Focus."  She scolded herself.  "Focus on the watch, Aubrey.  There's time to mourn later." 

Dogmeat whimpered beside her, resting his head on her thigh, looking up at her with his big brown eyes as if to say It's okay. I'm here now.  She scratched his ears, and he licked at her fingers before putting his paw on her knee and lowering his head again. 

"General?  General, Aubrey?"  Preston's voice stirred her from her sleep.  "Wake up, it's first light."  He shook her shoulder gently. 

Aubrey grunted as she sat up, twisting her back to try and release some of the knots that had developed.  "Already?  How long has it been?" She asked through a yawn.

"Well, you came and got me around 2am, you said, so I'd say four hours? Maybe five?"

She nodded.  "Good enough for government work." She muttered, hauling herself to her knees, then standing. "Let's get moving then." She sighed, grabbing her pack from the head of the mattress. "Just let me find a place to use the restroom, then we'll be on our way."

Preston nodded.  "I'll scatter the fire coals."

Aubrey made her way over to a secluded corner and shuddered.  "I hate this suit." She groaned, unzipping the suit and shucking it down to where she could do her business.  "I need to find pants.  Real pants and a shirt."

She finished and splashed some purified water over her hands once she'd zipped the suit up.  "At least there's nothing to bury right now."  She sighed.  "Alright, Preston, let's get on the road." 

Preston smiled, handing her a skewer with a couple chunks of the meat from last night on it.  "Here, you'll need your strength.  I ate mine already."

"Thanks."  Aubrey nibbled at the food as they started for the main road, rolling her shoulders as she walked, idly checking the map on her Pipboy. "Huh."  She frowned, tuning the radio dial.

"Something wrong?"

"It says there's a new radio station…" She mumbled, listening through the static until she could finally hear the distinct words coming through. 

"Automated message repeated:  This is Scribe Haylen of Recon Squad Gladius, to any unit in transmition range; authorization Arx-Ferrum-Nine-Five. 
Our unit has sustained casualties, and we're running low on supplies.  We're requesting support, or evac, from our position at Cambridge Police Station." 

Aubrey frowned.  "Definitely a military style broadcast.  Or at least para-military.  Are these people Minutemen?"

Preston shook his head.  "I don't recognize that code or the name of the person or group. The Minutemen were a bit more unofficial than that.  We had groups, and ranks, but nothing like that."

Aubrey chewed her lip. "Cambridge is on the way to the river… practically right on the banks… Should we help them?"

"I think so.  If we're going to rebuild the Minutemen… we should start offering help wherever we can.  I just hope they aren't Gunners." 

"Gunners?" 

"Another group. Mercenaries mostly. They're the ones that attacked Quincy." 
Aubrey nodded.  "I see.  Come on, let's move.  I don't think I can send a reply to these people from my Pipboy."

"At least they don't sound like they're in too much distress." Preston added.  "Let's go." 

The group was definitely in distress by the time Aubrey and Preston neared the dilapidated police station.  Laser fire cut through the air, along with shouted, barely decipherable commands.

Preston sighed, charging the coil on his musket as the approached the back of the building. 

"Here, this way." Aubrey spoke.  "This alley will put us right in the courtyard."  Should be able to find better cover."

The two of them crept forward, and Preston froze just shy of a gate. 

Ferals…" he whispered.  "Jesus…"

"Ferals? Feral what?"

"Feral ghouls.  See if you can hit them in the leg.  I'll finish them off."

Aubrey nodded. "On your mark."

They slid open the gate and Preston nodded.  Aubrey went through first, crouched to make herself a smaller target. 

"Civilian in the perimeter!" A man in Power Armor shouted, making eye contact with her for the briefest of moments before firing on an emaciated body moving towards him.  "Check your fire!"

"Aye, sir!" A woman shouted from the door of the building.  Aubrey made a quick note of their positions before taking aim at another of the strange looking creatures that kept pouring through the gaps in the barricades.

Preston was already firing, taking out two of the so called 'ferals' with his musket.  

The man in power armor was firing damn near blindly it seemed, having dropped to one knee in his suit.  "AD VICTORIAM!"

Aubrey fired, hitting two of the ferals in the legs as she inched towards the upper catwalk on the barricades.  If she could make it up there, she could fire downwards on them, take them out from relative safety.

Preston cried out, drawing a combat knife from his boot as one of the ferals lunged at him, stabbing the being in their throat and shoving it to the side as he reached for his weapon.

Aubrey steadied her arms on the railing of the catwalk, raining down covering fire on the ferals that seemed drawn to his call.  She gave up trying to aim for the legs, instead focusing on center mass.

Aim, fire, fire.

Aim, fire, fire. 

Aim, fire, fire.

Between the four of them, they managed to slow the swarm of ferals to a trickle, then finally to a stop.  None of them made it up the catwalk, thankfully, and Preston retrieved his musket. 

The man in Power Armor picked himself up from the ground as Aubrey made her way down the catwalk.   "We appreciate the assistance, civilian, but what's your business here?"

"We heard your distress call." Aubrey spoke.  "Figured we'd offer some help, seeing as we're all stuck trying to survive out here."  

The man arched his eyebrows.  "A variation on a common answer, but I'll accept it.  Are you from a local settlement?"

Aubrey shrugged.  "I'm from Vault 111, just north of Sanctuary Hills, on the other side of Concord."

"You're a Vault Dweller?"  The man seemed… surprised at her answer.  "Not many people would admit to that, I appreciate your honesty." 

Aubrey glanced down at herself, frowning at the blue jumpsuit she wore.  "Well, I can't really deny it…"

The man tilted his head in a mildly dismissive manner.  "If I appear suspicious, it's because our mission here has been difficult.  Since the moment we've arrived in the Commonwealth, we've been constantly under fire."

Brilliant, Aubrey thought.  So not only does everything want to kill me, a good-sized proportion of people want to, too. 

"If you want to continue pitching in," The man continued, "we could use an extra gun on our side."

Aubrey glanced over to Preston.  "I want to help, but I don't like the secrecy.  Who are you guys, really?" 

"Seems more than reasonable, if you really want our help." Preston added, standing at Aubrey's shoulder.   

The man looked between the two of them for a moment, then nodded.  "Very well.  I'm Paladin Danse, Brotherhood of Steel.  Over there is Scribe Haylen, and Knight Rhys.  We're on recon duty, but I'm down a man and supplies are running low."  He sighed, shifting and making his armor clank and groan.  "I've been trying to send a distress call to my superiors, but the signal is too weak to reach them."

The woman looked up from her spot tending to the other wounded man.  "Sir… if I may?"

"Proceed, Haylen."

"I've modified the radio tower on the roof of the building, but it's just… not enough.  We need something that will boost the signal."

The Paladin nodded.  "Our target is ArcJet systems.  It contains the tech we need: the Deep Range Transmitter.  We infiltrate the facility, secure the transmitter, and bring it back here." He tilted his head to the side, frowning. "So, what do you say.  Will you lend the Brotherhood of Steel a hand?"

Aubrey pursed her lips.  This man spoke like her old CO, and it unnerved her.  "Who are the Brotherhood of Steel?" 

Danse sighed again.  "Our order seeks to understand the nature of technology: it's power; it's meaning to us as humans.  And we fight to secure that power from those who would abuse it."

Aubrey quirked an eyebrow.  "Your cause seems noble enough."  Provided it doesn't get out of hand… 

"I'm pleased you agree." His lips formed the ghost of a smirk.  "There are very few outside the Brotherhood who understand the gravity of the situation we're facing as a species.  Now, I'll ask again: Will you help us?" 

Aubrey turned to Preston, who gave a small nod.  "Alright. We'll help."

"Outstanding."  Danse nodded, turning on his heels.  "If you're worried, don't. Trust me, I wouldn't undertake this mission if I weren't confident in your abilities."  He shrugged, an awkward movement in the Power Armor, before starting to speak to his squadmates.

Aubrey could feel her face twist into a look of disapproval.  "How can he be confident in my abilities if he met me less than 10 minutes ago?" She muttered, patting her leg to call Dogmeat to her side. 

Preston shrugged.  "Hell if I know." 

"Alright, civilians.  It's time to prove your worth." Danse turned back to them, his armor thumping heavily on the old concrete.  "Head into the Police Station and resupply yourselves as best you can.  Then let me know when you're ready to begin."  He didn't wait for a response before opening the door, letting it swing closed behind him.

"Charming, isn't he?"  Aubrey deadpanned.

"Sure seems the military type.  Sounds like one of the old Trainer Sergeants from the Minutemen." 

"Ah… well, it's good to know the position of Overzealous Drill Sergeant survived the apocalypse." She muttered as she opened the door to the police station.  "At least he had the decency to ask for help, rather than just try and conscript us."

"I just wonder what the Brotherhood is doing all the way out here.  I haven't heard of them operating in the Commonwealth." He scoffed.  "As if we didn't have enough problems." 

Aubrey frowned as they walked inside.  The place was barely livable.  Trash and debris littered the lobby, with only a small area of the place cleaned.  And even then, there were only a few sleeping bags and a table with a few chairs.  For a place that was supposed to be a military-esque outpost, it was sure in a state of disarray.  Preston took a moment to set his pack down, pulling out a bottle of water and sucking some down before offering the rest to Aubrey.

She took it, watching the other two squad members joke as Dogmeat sat down beside her, tail wagging and sweeping a slightly cleaner spot on the floor.  She scratched his ears idly, then stood and rolled her shoulders, moving to take down her hair when the once-wounded soldier stalked up to her.  "You think you're some kind of hot-shot?" He growled, staring her down as if she'd insulted his mother. 

"I beg your pardon?" 

"I said: Do you think you are some kind of hot-shot." He spat. 

"Why are you so angry with me?" Aubrey sighed, squaring her shoulders. 

The man's lip twitched.  "I’m not angry.  I'm just letting you know where you stand.  You two are hired help, and that's all there is to it." 

Preston stood, once again standing at Aubrey's shoulder, ready to back her up, but he stayed silent. 

Aubrey frowned at the soldier.  "I'll be sure to keep out of your way, then."

"You do that." He sneered.  "Now, why don't you run off and see if Top needs to you do anything else."  He shoulder checked her as he moved past, narrowly avoiding stepping on Dogmeat's tail. 

Aubrey glanced to Danse, but he seemed absorbed in fiddling with his laser rifle, his subordinate's words unnoticed… or he simply didn't care. 

"Sorry about him."  The woman from before, Haylen, came up to her next.  "Try not to let him get to you.  He's like that to everyone new." 

Aubrey shrugged.  "People are who they are."

"I suppose so."  Haylen sighed.  "Look, it may not seem like it, but Danse is a good man.  He's just all soldier, protocol is his bread and butter.  And Rhys? Well, let's just say he's as hard-headed as a Mister Gutsy."  She looked up, meeting Aubrey's gaze.  "But you know what?  I'd trust both of them with my life because they're good people… and that's hard to come by nowadays.  Just, give them a chance.  Don't write them off because they're a bit gruff right now."

Aubrey nodded.  "Don't worry, I'm not in the habit of judging books by their covers."

"Good.  Well, you'd better see if Paladin Danse is ready for you.  Unless you need medical attention?"

"No, I'm fine for now." Aubrey smiled. "But thank you."

Haylen nodded as she turned away, going back to whatever it was she'd been doing before. 

"You set, Preston?" Aubrey asked, readjusting the simple leather chest piece she'd found at the scrap yard. 

"Ready when you are, ma'am." 

"Oh, God, don't 'ma'am' me, please.  Just Aubrey is fine.  I haven't been 'ma'am' in years."   She offered him a smile, then made her way over to what had once been the reception desk.  "Paladin?"

"You ready to head out?"

"Nearly.  I just wanted to ask a question… why establish an outpost here at the police station?" 

Danse shrugged in his Power Armor.  "Given the nature of the facility, we felt it would be tactically advantageous to search it for weapons and ammunition.  The radio tower was an… unexpected boon, but it has some rather obvious shortcomings we need to rectify."  His lips quirked up in that scarcely noticeable smirk again.  "It may not be as imposing as the Citadel back in the Capitol Wasteland, but it suits our purposes."

So they do have a proper headquarters. Aubrey mused quietly. 

"Anyway, that's all I'm willing to divulge at the moment.  Are you ready to proceed with our mission?" 

"We are." She nodded, glancing back as Preston patted Dogmeat's head.

"Outstanding."  He took his helmet, flipping it onto his head with an out of place flourish before grabbing his rifle and starting for the main door.  "Let's get a move on, and try not to lag behind."

Dogmeat barked and Aubrey scoffed under her breath.  "Don't lag behind…. Says the man hauling two tons of steel on his back."  She shook her head, following him out into the courtyard, Preston on her heels. 

Danse huffed, staring at the corpse strewn courtyard as Dogmeat trotted in front of him.  "We'll take this alley.  Follow me."  He ordered, pushing open a chain link fence that led out to the main road.  "ArcJet is a short hike to the west.  If we take this road, we can avoid the larger packs of ferals infesting Cambridge."  He readied his weapon and started down the road.  

Aubrey shook her head.  "Never mind that this was the shortest route to begin with…" She muttered, keeping an eye out for anything hostile that might get too close while Danse expounded on his team's mission.   She half-heartedly listened, noting something about strange energy readings and two other missing teams, but she got the distinct feeling he was trying to ingratiate himself to them.    They passed near to a pond, and Danse managed to pick off three of those massive 'Bloatflies' in short order, but there wasn't much else to distract them from the hour or so walk to ArcJet.  

The parking lot of the building was filled with the corpses of expensive cars, the remains rusted and falling apart, barely stable on their chassis.  Something tightened in Aubrey's chest.  Had the employees here had time to evacuate? To take shelter in the building somewhere?  How many ghosts did this ruin hold right now?

"Here we are, Arcjet." Danse's voice pulled her from her thoughts.  "There shouldn't be any exterior security, so we'll head in through the front."  He paused outside the door, turning to look at Aubrey.  "Listen up: Our only target here is the deep range transmitter.  We do this as clean and quiet as possible. No heroics, and by the book, are we clear?"

Aubrey worked her jaw for a moment, then nodded.  "Crystal."

"Good.  Stay focused and check your fire.  I don't want to be hit by stray bullets.  Or… whatever that contraption shoots."  He nodded towards Preston's musket.  "Let's move."

The inside of the building was just as decayed as the outside.  Faded papers were scattered amongst fallen ceiling tiles.  Roots from what had once been an indoor planter broke through the floor, searching for a source of water.   Dust hung in the air, disturbed after potentially decades.

Danse tsked.  "It was corporations like this that put the last nail in the coffin for mankind." He shook his head, kicking some debris out of a doorway.  "They exploited technology for their own gains, pocketing the cash and ignoring the damage they'd done."

Aubrey frowned.  "I know it." She mumbled, picking her way through the trash to a security room, nearly crashing into Danse when he stopped short.

"Look at these wrecks."  He nudged the destroyed frame of what had once been a Protectron.  "It appears the automated security has already been dealt with."  He turned to look at Aubrey, his head tilted as if waiting for an answer.

"I, uh… I see that." 

"Damn.  I was hoping to avoid this."  He sighed.  "Look at the evidence:  There's not a single spent ammunition casing, or drop of blood in sight.  That can mean only one thing.  These robots were assaulted by Institute synths."

Preston mumbled a quiet curse behind her, pinching the bridge of his nose.   

Aubrey glanced back for only a moment before speaking.  "What's the 'Institute?'"

"They're a group of scientists who went underground after the Great War.  Spent the last few decades littering the Commonwealth with their technological nightmares."

"So… what makes a synth different from a robot?" 

"Synths are abominations."  Danse spat, making Aubrey's eyebrow arch so high it felt like it would disappear into her hairline.  "They're an abuse of technology designed to "improve" upon humanity.  They never should have been created."

"Right…" Aubrey cleared her throat.  "Well, I'll be on the lookout."

"Roger that. Let's move out." 

She sighed heavily, following behind Danse, avoiding the fallen wires and tubes that he pushed idly out of the way.  It was clear that he was quite used to being in Power Armor… and that she wasn't used to being in a unit with one.  

"This place is a mess…" Danse spoke, seemingly to himself.  "But I still see a few pieces of salvage that the Brotherhood might be interested in.  Once we're done, I'll have to mark this place for sweep and retrieve." 

Aubrey glanced to Preston, both of them shrugging at his comments as they entered one of the main labs for the building.  "Dead end."  Aubrey mused. 

"Agreed.  See if you can find a way to get that door open.  I'll reconnoiter the area."

Oh, for Christ's sake, just say 'keep an eye out.' Aubrey sighed, moving past him towards the heavy mag-locked security door.  "No way to pick this…. Thing's terminal locked."

Preston frowned at the banks of various computer terminals.  "There are so many buttons… how did people know which ones to press when?" 

Aubrey shrugged.  "Don't know, but… let's not touch anything unless we know what it does.  ArcJet was developing rockets last I heard."

"Rockets? For what?" 

"For getting into space, or at least that's what they told us.  I don't know if it was the actual story. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't."   She shook her head, pursing her lips as she picked up a holotape, frowning at the faded writing.  She popped it into her Pipboy, letting it play while she searched through the desk, looking for anything that might key her in on how to unlock the terminal she now sat in front of.   

It was a discarded work log; a recording of two employees who would've been drafted had the world not ended.  A recording of two ghosts.  When it ended, she stood, shaking her head slightly.

"Find anything?" Danse asked.  "We're burning daylight."

"Not yet." Aubrey sighed.  "This terminal is hooked into that door over there, but it's locked down.  Password-protected." 

"Can' you access it at all? Turn it to the factory reset prompt?"

"In theory?" She shrugged.  "I was never good with computers. That was always Nate or Tony's expertise."

Danse frowned, opening his mouth to speak when Preston cut him off. 

Ma'am? Uh, I mean Aubrey?"

"Yes?"

"I don't know much about all this science stuff either, but… I think this terminal is unlocked over here."  

Aubrey quirked an eyebrow and stepped around Dogmeat, scratching his head as she leaned down over the second terminal.  "Yup, this one's open."  She clicked through the options and blinked a few times.  "Wow… very secure, ArcJet."  She scoffed.

"What is it?" Danse asked.

"They have a system that resets the password every three months.  It sends out an message to every employee with the new password."  She found an old ballpoint pen, scribbling on a scratch sheet of paper until the ink began to flow, then writing the series of letters and numbers on her forearm.  "An ambitious 10 year old could've broken into this place."  

"Fortuitous for us, at least." Danse added.  "Let's get that door open."

Aubrey typed in the password, selecting the option to open the security door.  The doors mag-locks screeched out their protest to being moved, and the tracks the door was on groaned as it opened.   

"AMBUSH!" Danse shouted not a second later, opening fire into the other room.  Aubrey ducked behind the desk, readying her pistol, peering over the table as Preston grabbed the desk chair to use for what cover it would provide.   

"By order of the Institute, you must be destroyed." The voice was deep and mechanical, the words spaced strangely.

Aubrey's eyes widened as she saw the owner of the voice.  A humanoid robot… an android.  Several androids.  Most of whom were firing upon Danse in his power armor.  She shifted, steadying her arms on the desk's surface, aiming for the robot's head.  "God I hope that’s its CPU."  She muttered, pulling the trigger.

The robot staggered, one of the bullets hitting its mark, but not doing anything to put it down.  "You are damaging Institute property." It spat, changing course for her.

"Shit, fuck."  She fired three more rounds at it, but they did nothing to stop its advance.

"DUCK!" Preston shouted.   

She did.

He fired his musket, and the robot went down, inches from bludgeoning her with something that looked vaguely like an electric security baton.

Aubrey picked it up, switching it on its highest setting.  She looked at Preston, then to his musket, then over to Danse with his laser rifle. "Electricity."  She muttered, vaulting herself over the desk and behind another of the androids that was making its way over to them, this one armed with its own strange looking energy weapon. 

She didn't stop to think, jamming the baton into the android's neck, watching as electricity arced over its exposed wiring.  "Sys-sys-sys-system… er-error…"  It stuttered out as it dropped, offline.  

Aubrey holstered her pistol, grabbing the fallen android's weapon and ducking as yet another one fired at her and Preston, the beam of light just barely missing her.  

Inhale.  Hold.

Aim.

Fire, fire. No recoil, it's a laser.

Exhale. Target down. Inhale.

Aim. Fire, fire.

Then the room was quiet, save for the blood pounding in her ears. She looked around the room, scanning for any further movement.

"Hostiles eliminated." Danse said, lowering his rifle.  "Good thinking, using that shock baton.  Well done."

Aubrey released a breath she didn't know she was holding, glancing down at herself.  "Thanks…" She mumbled, reaching down and picking up another of the strange laser weapons.  She pulled its fusion cell out of the chamber, then set it back down after checking the cell in the pistol she currently held.  

"Good idea." Danse nodded again.  "Salvage what ammunition you can.  Keep using that weapon, too.  You'll find replacement ammunition for it far easier than you will your pistol."

Aubrey nodded, her throat suddenly very dry as she pulled out all of the fusion cells. Only one was fully charged, but she'd make do.   "Preston, do you need ammo for that thing?"

"No, I have my own still.  You hold onto those."

She stuffed the extra cells into the pouch on her chest piece.  She had a feeling she'd need it later.

"I'll take point from here." Danse said.  "My Power Armor will protect me."

They inched forward through the newly opened pathway.  For every doorway and hallway they passed through, he left huge footprints, barely able to fit through.  And in every room, at least two more synths attacked them.  Never once were they given a chance to explain themselves or talk, but Danse didn't seem keen to give the androids a chance to talk either.  He fired upon them just as much as they fired upon him.

Aubrey and Preston kept Dogmeat between them, each of them picking off the androids that stayed at range to try and shoot at Danse, seemingly not expecting there to be two unarmored individuals just behind him.

But still, Danse pressed forward, muttering to himself about 'synths compromising the facility.'

Aubrey just wanted to be done with this harebrained scheme. Especially when the turrets activated.

"Alright, Engine Core's ahead."  Danse sighed.  "Should be our last stop." He forced open the final door, revealing a darkened hallway, with barely enough room to walk through for the debris piling up.  "Watch your footing through here." Danse offered, clicking on his armor's headlamp.  "Looks like the power's out in this section."

Aubrey turned on her Pip-boy light, bathing the hallway in an eerie green. This area was silent, unnervingly so.  

"Looks like the synths didn't get this far."  Preston offered.

It didn't ease the knot in Aubrey's gut as they made it to the main Engine Core.  The walls and catwalks were carbon-scored, proof of the tests that had once occurred in this building.

Danse let out a quiet whistle.  "Look at this thing… Scribes would have a field day in here."  

"Is that the rocket?" Preston asked, frowning at the shadowed contraption suspended above them.

"Most likely." Danse answered.  "Come on.  Intel suggests the transmitter would be in the control room, at the top of the core. But the elevators are dead, and the stairway has failed.  We'll have to head down, see if we can restart the building's auxiliary generators."  He started down the stairs, his Power armor making the dilapidated catwalks creak and moan under his weight. 

Aubrey exhaled in barely contained relief when they made it to the ground, pushing a stray lock of hair from her face.  

Danse tsked as he looked around the room.  "There has to be a backup power generator somewhere around here…. Scout the maintenance area there, off the main chamber.  I'll stay here, cover our six." 

From what? We killed all those androids. Aubrey thought, but said nothing, clicking her tongue to call Dogmeat to her side again.   The maintenance area was just as dilapidated as the rest of the building, despite having been left undisturbed for so long.  She stopped just inside, frowning at a strange contraption on a table.   
"Now, what do you think this thing is?" Preston asked, putting a voice to her thoughts.  

"Don't know.  Looks vaguely like a weapon to me, but I've never seen anything like it."  She picked up a holotape beside it, the writing on it too sloppy and faded to make out.  "Wonder if this can tell us."  She popped the holotape into her Pipboy, shoving the old one into her pack.   

The holotape crackled to life, playing the voice of some squeaky-voiced technician bemoaning his coworkers' bullying.  Aubrey shook her head, the problems of yesteryear seemed so… petty compared to now.  "But they'll see…. They'll all see… once I finish my project… my Junk Jet." The holotape clicked off and Preston hummed in thought. 

"Junk Jet, huh?  Wonder what it does. Might be worth taking with us." 
"Judging by the name, it probably shoots junk." Aubrey mused.  "But it's a prototype at best. And it is huge. Not going to be easy to carry."

"Well, when ammo is hard to come by, it could come in handy."  Preston shrugged.  "Can't hurt to at least test it out."

"Let's.…get the power back on, if that's even possible.  Then we'll worry about this thing." Aubrey said, walking towards the banks of computers.  "So many switches… talk about rocket science."  She muttered, wiping the dust off the displays.  "Nothing here about power, though."

"What about through here?  I think I see a terminal."  Preston called.  "Looks like its hooked up to some sort of…panel?  And I think those are generators."

Aubrey moved past him, coughing as she kicked up more dust.  "Yeah, that's a fusebox."  He grabbed the lever on it and pulled it down, frowning when nothing happened.  "Well, that was anticlimactic."  She sighed.   "And the damn terminal is locked. Fuck." 

Preston pursed his lips.  "How much you wanna bet that we have to unlock the terminal to turn on the power?"

"If I had any money."  Aubrey sighed.  "I saw Tony do this a couple of times.  He taught me the basics… should be like riding a bike…"  She mumbled.  

"Who's Tony?"

"Tony is.…was my brother."  Aubrey offered.  "We… my father turned to the bottle after my mom died.  Tony and I had to fend for ourselves a lot.  Tony learned how to mess with computers to get what we needed, I learned how to pick locks."  She frowned at the terminal.  "But I watched him enough times… I might be able to muddle my way through this."

"I'll look around, see if I can spot anything that might be able to help you."

Aubrey nodded.   "A password would be great…"

Preston chuckled.  "I'll definitely look."  

It took a half-hour for Aubrey to finally get the factory password.  "Oh my God, that little bleep is the best sound I've heard today."  She muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose.  

Preston joined her again. "Good job.  I think that Paladin is about to wear a whole through the floor."  

Aubrey snorted, turning on the power generators, then flipping the fusebox switch again.

Some of the cables sparked, and the generators groaned in protest as their fans puffed out the dust that had collected.  But the lights flickered to life, and a robotic voice called out that the engine was ready for testing.  

Then the sound of laser fire filled the small chamber.  

"SYNTH AMBUSH!" Danse shouted from the main chamber.  "Need backup!" 

"Shit."  Aubrey swore, grabbing the laser pistol from the table and darting for the main chamber.  "Oh Christ."

"We're not gonna win that, not alone."  Preston swore.

"SOLDIER! DO SOMETHING, IMPROVISE."

Aubrey scanned the room.  "Preston, grab any piece of junk you can find."

"What?!"

"We're testing this thing."  She grunted, pulling the Junk Jet off the table.  "Okay… not as heavy as I thought."  

She pulled open the cover for what she hoped was the ammo chamber on the thing."

Preston handed her a series of wrenches and a few ball-peen hammers.   "Are you sure this'll work?"

"No.  But at least if it doesn’t maybe it'll make a good pipebomb."  She hauled the Junk Jet up to her hip.  "Christ on a bicycle…" she muttered.  "Keep grabbing junk like that." She ordered, her command training taking over.  "I'll distract the androids." 

Preston nodded, darting back into the labs as she hauled the contraption to the maintenance door. "Mind your head, Danse!" She shouted, then pushed the trigger on it, sending the wrenches flying at the androids.

It certainly had the desired effect, as a wrench managed to properly sever one of the androids' arms.   The robotic voices were overlapping, preventing her from hearing exactly what they were saying.  

"Danse! Watch yourself! Grenade!" Preston shouted, tossing a frag grenade into the line of rapidly advancing androids.

Danse turned his head, raising his arm to shield his face as the grenade exploded.  The shrapnel launched out, and the explosion left a good number of the androids struggling to stand with shards of metal in their joints.  That combined with the junk that Aubrey leveled at them, and Danse's laser fire, they managed to put down the last of them. 

Danse stood, having been forced to a knee from the amount of synths that had ambushed them.  "Thank you.  Well done, using that… whatever it is." He frowned at the contraption.   

"Junk Jet." Aubrey supplied, standing.  "Are you alright?"

"I'm still in one piece, thanks to my Power Armor. Do either of you need medical attention?"

Aubrey glanced to Preston and Dogmeat. "No.  We're fine."

"Good, then let's get up to the control room and get the damn transmitter." He sighed. 

Aubrey nodded, swallowing.   The elevator could barely hold the bunch of them.  A power armor unit, two adults, and a dog seemed to be the very limit of what it could move.  And she was practically flattened into the corner.  

She forced herself to breathe normally, maintaining a vice-like grip on the handles.   

"Aubrey?" Preston looked over to her.  "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine."  She answered, probably too quickly.  "I just… hate elevators."

Preston was quiet for a moment, glancing to her white-knuckled grip on the railing.  "It shouldn't be too much longer."  He offered.

No sooner had he finished his sentence did the door open.  Aubrey took a deep breath the instant she was out, flexing her fingers slightly while Dogmeat licked at them.  She patted his head idly, shaking her head at Preston's concerned look.     

Danse stalked up the remainder of the stairs to the control room, growling in frustration as he started firing on the last of the androids.  There were only a few left, so he managed to take them out before Aubrey or Preston could even get a shot off. "Damn.  I don't see the transmitter here anywhere."

"Please don't tell me we did all this for nothing."  Aubrey deadpanned.

"No.  It's here.  It's likely the synths were after it as well, check their remains." 

Aubrey nodded to Preston and they began to search the room.  Preston seemed more intent at salvaging the fusion cells from the android's rifles. So Aubrey picked over the synths, until she found one that had fallen near some strange plastic case.   Grabbing a screwdriver off a nearby desk, she carefully pried it open, taking out something that was definitely Pre-War in design.  "Danse, is this it?"

"Yes.  Excellent.  Let's get out of here.  We can take the service elevator to the top." He sighed, walking over and all but smashing the button.

Aubrey swallowed again.  No.  Now is not the time to have a panic attack over a fucking elevator. She scolded herself.  

She forced herself to breathe evenly, twisting her fingers together and picking at the sleeve of her Vault suit.   Another quiet sigh of relief escaped her once the doors finally opened and Danse walked out.

"General?" Preston's voice was soft as he spoke to her, concern in his eyes. 
Aubrey swallowed and shook her head.  "I'm fine.  Let's go."  She frowned at the darkened sky.  

"Bunker looks clear, let's move out."  Danse muttered, his Power Armor thumping heavily as he pushed open the access door and stepped into the night air.  Aubrey turned on her Pip-boy light, following him quietly as he surveyed the area, then lowered his weapon.  "Well, that could've gone smoother, but mission accomplished." 

Aubrey arched an eyebrow.  "Smoother?" She prompted.  "I thought we did fine, all things considered." 

Danse shook his head, pulling off his helmet and tucking it under his arm.   "That sweep was sloppy.  We were caught unprepared more than once, which is unacceptable."

Preston shook his head, his brow furrowed as he leaned against the hulk of a rusting 18-wheeler.   

"But," Danse sighed softly.  "Your extra guns gave us the edge we needed. I'm not certain I could have accomplished this mission alone." 

Aubrey nodded.  "You're welcome."  She sighed, tilting her head from side to side to unlock the muscles of her neck.  "I suppose…. That's it then?" 

"Not necessarily.   All things considered, we have two important matters left to discuss." Danse sighed through his nose.  "First, if you'll hand me the Deep Range Transmitter, I'd like to compensate you for your assistance."

Aubrey held out the widget to him, suppressing a flinch as she tried to avoid her hands being crushed by his Power Armor gloves.  "Of course."

"Thank you.  Here."  Danse held out his laser rifle to her.  "Take this weapon.  It's better than the one you have." He nodded down to her holstered pistol.  "My own personal modification to the standard Brotherhood Laser Rifle.  I call it Righteous Authority. May it serve you well in battle."

"Don't.…you need to keep it?" She swallowed, fumbling slightly when Danse pressed it into her hands.

"This isn't the only weapon at my disposal." He shrugged. "Brotherhood soldiers always carry a backup.  And for you, friend, you're very accurate with your handmade rifle.  Will some additional ammunition suffice for acceptable compensation?"  Danse glanced over to Preston, pulling out a small case of fusion cells. 

Preston blinked, taking an extra moment to process Danse's words.  "Yeah… yeah, that's fine." 

Danse nodded, handing him the case before turning back to Aubrey.  "Now, as far as the second matter goes, I wanted to make the two of you a proposal." He squared his shoulders, adopting a stance of practiced command.  "We had a lot thrown at us back there.  Our op could've ended in disaster, but both of you kept your cool and handled it like soldiers.  Thought creatively to get out of unusual circumstances."  He nodded towards the Junk Jet Aubrey had set down by the door of the bunker.  "There's no doubt in my mind: you've got what it takes." 

Preston's eyes narrowed and he stood taller, glancing to Aubrey.  She simply arched her eyebrow at the Paladin.

Danse continued, and Aubrey wasn't sure if he was picking up on Preston's discomfort.  "The way I see it, you've got two options.  You could spend your lives wandering from place to place, trading a helping hand for a meager reward." 
Preston's cheek twitched and he shifted his musket in his hands. 

"Or, you could join the Brotherhood of Steel, and make your mark on the world."   Danse smirked, as if he'd just offered them both a buffet spread of good food but with a price tag the size of Montana.  

"Absolutely not." Preston growled.  "The Minutemen are more than capable of taking care of ourselves.  And each other."   

Danse nodded.  "I'm sorry you feel that way.  What about you?" He turned to look at Aubrey.  "What do you say?"

Aubrey sighed through her nose, biting her lip.  "What…. What would be expected of me, if I were to join?" 

"You're not seriously considering joining them, are you?" Preston asked, taking her elbow.  "General?" 

"Preston, please…" Aubrey held up a hand.  "I'll hear him out." 

"General."

"I said 'I'll hear him out,' Preston."  Her own voice took on a tone of command.  "We can afford him that much." 

"Thank you." Danse nodded.  "If you were to join, you'd be under my command.  I'd expect you to follow orders.  No more mercenary work, this is the real thing."

"We're not mercenaries." Preston muttered. 

"Right." Danse's nod was definitely dismissive.  She'd seen that nod far too many times by her own commanders in the Navy.  "In addition, you'd be entitled to two square meals a day, top of the line medical care, advanced military training and weaponry, and potentially, your own suit of Power Armor, depending on your chosen career path.  But most importantly, you'd have the Brotherhood at your back." Danse smirked again.  "Ready to spill their own blood to keep you alive."  He paused for a moment, letting his words sink in.  "My offer still stands, can we count on you?" 

Aubrey bit her lip again, then pressed them into a thin line.  "I… I don't know.  I'd need time to think." 

"I know the Brotherhood has all the fancy toys, but you promised that you'd help rebuild the Minutemen, General…  Please don't forget that?" 

"It is a big decision." Danse offered.  "I can understand your hesitation, and your need for contemplation. If anything, it reinforces my decision to ask your to join us.  We need people who aren't impulsive; who don't make overly emotional decisions."  He nodded, setting his helmet back on his head.  "Once you've made your decision, you know where to find us.  Good luck."  With a final nod, he turned on his heels, as much as the armor would allow and started down the hill toward the main road. 

Aubrey sighed through her nose, letting her shoulders drop as she rubbed at the back of her neck.  "Well, that was an adventure."  

"Cocky bastard." Preston muttered.  "Acting like he's so much better than us just because he has a good rifle and Power Armor." 

Aubrey nodded, but offered no response, instead choosing to examine the rifle Danse had given her.  Aside from some strange insignia on it and what looked like a custom paintjob, it looked like a regular laser rifle the Army and Marine Corps would've used.  And Danse was right, it was undoubtedly more powerful than the little 10mm pistol she'd been using… and for which she was running low on ammunition.  At least she could put all those extra fusion cells she'd taken from the androids to use, should she need.

"General?  Aubrey?"

Aubrey looked up.  "Hm?"

"I asked if you wanted to camp out here, or try and push for a safer location?" Preston asked.

"Sorry."  Aubrey shook her head.  "Do you think that this 'Institute' will send a recovery team for their androids?"

Preston shrugged. "I don't think so. Whenever one of those things gets put down, they stay down.  We've come across old ones before too." 

Aubrey pressed her lips into a thin line.  "Then let's stay here.  We know the building is clear.  And there were some old couches in the main lobby. We can barricade the doors to be safe." 

Preston nodded.  "Works for me." 


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