"Gen--Aubrey?" Preston asked, fiddling with the edge of his gloves as they walked down the road from ArcJet. "I know I promised you we'd search for your son, and I fully intend to stand by that, but… well there's a small homestead not far from here, just across that red bridge there, with the train on it."
Aubrey readjusted her backpack. "Go on?"
"I'd heard that they were having trouble with Raiders. It's on the way to Diamond City, would you mind if we stopped and checked in on them?"
Aubrey swallowed, pulling up a map on her Pip-Boy. "Where are they?"
"Uh…" Preston peered over her shoulder. 'There, just past the old brewery there."
Aubrey nodded, fiddling around with the map for a few moments. "You're right, it's not too far. If anything, we'll be able to stop and rest for a while. We're still a good walk from Fen way… er, Diamond City."
"My thoughts exactly."
Aubrey smiled, watching as Dogmeat trotted along in front of them. She hadn't been able to get much rest at ArcJet. The atmosphere weighed on her, and she wasn't sure if it was the dust or the ghosts.
The creaking of the building hadn't helped either. But she let Preston rest, envying how quiet and still he was on the musty old couch.
She hadn't been so lucky. Even if she was used to sleeping on couches, the air was thick with… something. She didn't dare try to pin it down.
"Careful on these tracks. People've snapped their ankles before, not watching where they step." Preston drew her from her thoughts as he climbed onto the bridge, stepping aside as Dogmeat clambered up beside him. "Here, gimme your hand."
Aubrey shook her head to clear the cobwebs from her mind before reaching up and letting Preston pull her onto the bridge. "Step lightly, got it."
"I'm fine. Didn't sleep well. I'll be okay, let's just keep moving."
"We'll have to climb through the train once we get over there, so watch your footing."
"As long as I don’t have to carry the dog." Aubrey chuckled. "We've got enough, with that Junk Jet thingy strapped to your back."
"Dogmeat's smart." Preston smiled. "I've seen him take this bridge faster than us humans before. He's already half-way across."
"I…"Aubrey blinked. "Well alright then." She sighed and started across. "I'm surprised that brewery's still intact. You'd think that it would've been either raided or destroyed."
"It has been raided." Preston sighed. "Last I heard there was a group holed up in there currently, but they haven't been bothering the local settlements so… Wait, why would you think it'd be destroyed?"
"Well, it's a brewery. I get the feeling that if it wasn't maintained it'd go up in flames. Maybe not as catastrophically as a power plant, but alcohol is flammable." Aubrey shrugged, grunting as she started to climb into the train cars.
"Well I haven't heard anything about it being in bad shape or dangerous, outside of the whole 'occupied by raiders' thing." Preston sighed. "Though.. If Oberland is asking for help, it could be that they've started harassing them."
"Hopefully not. Maybe it's something simple they need help with? Something like a broken water pipe or door?"
Preston snorted. "Yeah. Maybe." He pulled open the doors to the cargo container. "Come on, looks clear."
Aubrey followed him up, arching an eyebrow at the untouched crates. "No one's thought to raid these? See if there's useful supplies?" She brushed some dust off the top of the nearest crate.
Preston paused for a moment. "Dunno. Guess folks just thought it wasn't feasible." He shrugged. "I mean, it is kinda hard to get into and out of here."
Aubrey shrugged, picking her way through the packed train cars as carefully as she could.
"Now the fun part, climbing over the engine." Preston muttered. "Best we go one at a time. Some of these access railings look pretty flimsy."
"Don't know how the dog's gonna get across." Aubrey sighed. "I’m gonna have to carry you, huh boy?" She scratched his ears as Preston gingerly stepped onto the engine and started shimmying across.
Dogmeat barked and jumped out of the train car, just small enough to squeeze between the engine and the edge of the bridge with no trouble. He barked again and sat on the ground, panting and wagging his tail as if to say 'Look what I did!'.
Aubrey smirked as she started to follow Preston's lead, climbing over the engine, clinging to whatever hand holds she could find.
"There." Preston grunted as he swung down to land on the soil. "Here, I'll give you a hand." He reached up, guiding her as she jumped down to join him.
Preston smiled. "Come on, Oberland Station isn't far. Maybe another 20 minutes or so."
Aubrey nodded, readjusting her pack. "Let's get a move on, then." She spared another glance to the long-abandoned train and frowned. So many potential resources, left untapped. Why?
"That's Oberland Station?" Aubrey asked, arching an eyebrow. "The old train station is a homestead?"
"Yeah." Preston nodded. "Two sisters live here, last I heard."
"Who's there?" Someone called from a small fenced-in enclosure. "Show yourself!"
"Name's Preston Garvey!" He called. "This is Aubrey West; we're with the Minutemen!"
A woman stepped forward, one hand resting on her sidearm. "You two are Minutemen?"
"We are." Aubrey took a step forward. "We heard there was trouble."
"Yeah." The woman relaxed. "There's a group of raiders that have been coming up this way, harassing us for food and supplies and threatening to kill us if we don't pay up." She glanced behind her. "We just took on two new workers… we don't have enough supplies to feed an entire gang and ourselves."
"Has anyone been hurt or anything of major value taken?" Preston asked.
"Just some food. Probably all been eaten by now." The woman sighed. "But closest we got was one of them pushing Iris down. She can't talk, she uses her hands to talk."
"Sign language?" Aubrey quirked up an eyebrow.
"Yeah." The woman nodded. "But other than that, we're all fine. But we need our supplies for the winter."
"I understand." Aubrey nodded. "Do you know where they're coming from."
"Izzie said she heard one of them mention Back Street Apparel. Whatever that means. Could be their hideout."
"We'll take care of them, don't worry." Preston assured them. "What do you grow here?"
"Tatos. Bit of corn. We were considering starting razorgrain, but we ran outta funds to get seeds. Then this happened."
"We'll get them to stop." Aubrey smiled. "Good luck with your crops."
"Yeah, thanks." The woman nodded. "Uh, look. We don't got much, but you can refill your canteens or waterskins or whatever if you need to."
"Thanks." Both Preston and Aubrey spoke at the same time as the woman walked away.
"More raiders." Preston muttered. "Figures."
Aubrey was quiet as she knelt by the nearby water pump, splashing some water onto her face and hair. "I'm guessing raiders are a big problem?"
"Very big problem." Preston sighed. "Sometimes it feels like there's more raiders than good people nowadays." He kicked at a rock, sending it skittering across the dirt. "I know people who say it must be easier. Just taking what you want or need instead of having to work for it, but… so many more people get hurt. That's gotta take a toll on people, so why even…" He stopped and rubbed his face. "Sorry."
"Don't be." Aubrey stood. "You have a right to be upset. So do the people they hurt. All we can do is offer help, right?"
"Right." Preston nodded.
"Come on, let's get a move on. I've filled up some water bottles."
Preston nodded, following quietly behind her for about ten minutes before speaking up. "You know, when we first met I had my doubts about you."
Aubrey paused in her walk for only a half a second. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I was a bit concerned that you'd turn out like a lot of other Minutemen did: just viewing it as mercenary work, just like that Brotherhood guy thought. But… you've done nothing but impress me since then. You're just what the Minutemen need to bring us back from the brink."
"I don't think I’m all that, Preston. Don't go putting me on a pedestal. I'm only human."
"You don't give yourself enough credit. You're willing to help folks with no thought of compensation. Just… extending a helping hand. That's almost unheard of nowadays." Preston jogged to catch up with her, walking side-by-side now. He heaved a sigh. "When I was a kid, the Minutemen were my heroes. The only good guys around, really. When I turned 17, I joined up with Colonel Hollis' group. He was one of the good ones, really believed in the old-time Minuteman way." He shrugged, starting to pick at the hem of his gloves. "We had a few good years there. I really felt like I was doing something, y'know? Helping the Commonwealth and making it a better place."
"Sounds like you were making a difference." Aubrey offered.
"I think we were. I know we were. But… well, obviously it didn't last." He swallowed. "I'm sure there was a lot I didn't see, or was just too young to know to pay attention to. Y'know, all the bad blood, politics, petty squabbles between the different groups, that type of thing. It was just… These guys were supposed to be Minutemen, putting the protection of the people ahead of all else." He kicked another rock. "You probably think I was pretty naïve huh?" He didn't give her a chance to answer. "Guess I was. Guess I still am, even after everything. I still think that we could be the good guys, what we're supposed to be."
Aubrey chewed her lip. "Why are you telling me all of this?"
Preston shrugged. "Guess I'm trying to say thank you, if that makes sense? Thank you for not being like everyone else I've met." He shrugged again. "Anyway, thanks for listening."
"Anytime." Aubrey smiled, then paused. "Hold… I think I heard something." She motioned to another set of abandoned box cars laying on the track.
Preston frowned, dropping to one knee. "Looks like the kinda place ferals would shack up…"
Aubrey followed his lead as Dogmeat growled. "Can we sneak around?" She whispered.
"Maybe… if we're slow… but it's probably best if we take them out now…"
Aubrey was still for a beat. "Your call, Preston."
Preston paused just long enough to crank up his musket. "Ready when you are, General... Aubrey, sorry. Remember, shoot for their legs, then I'll put them out of their misery."
"Right." Aubrey swallowed, readying her rifle. She took a deep breath and nodded, holding her breath before firing the red beam at the first of the ferals.
The feral hissed and growled as it attempted to crawl out from under the dilapidated train car, waking its four other companions. They milled around idly, searching for whatever had caused the disturbance that had woken them up, seemingly still unaware of Aubrey and Preston's presence.
Preston swallowed, raising his musket and dispatched the ghoul.
The flash of light from his weapon cued the other three ghouls to their location, and they started rushing towards them, hissing and spitting.
Aubrey yelped and dove to the side as Dogmeat pushed past her, barking twice and latching his jaws down on the nearest feral's ankle. The emaciated form collapsed to the ground, causing the other two behind it to stumble.
Both of the humans took the opportunity and quickly ended the two disoriented ferals. Two laser shots to their chests were all they needed.
Preston stood up after firing at the downed feral. "Damn shame. To have lived so long... to go out like that..."
Aubrey sighed as she joined him. "It's hard to believe they were human once... they look more like something out of a cheap comic book."
"Right." Preston paused. "May wanna keep that to yourself around other Ghouls, y'know, non-ferals?" He rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know much, but I know a lot of Ghouls don't like being called that."
"I see. I'll keep that in mind, thanks for the heads up."
The two of them walked in silence, turning to follow the road at the tracks' crossing. Dogmeat seemed happy to just trot along, his tongue lolling out and his tail wagging as he bounded between Preston and Aubrey.
"There's a small trader's shack up ahead... might be worth stopping, seeing if they have anything useful for us." Preston offered, nodding to a cobbled-together building. "Unless you'd rather push on?"
Aubrey glanced at her Pip-Boy and shrugged. "We can stop for a minute; I don't mind. I could use a moment to rest."
Preston nodded, veering off towards the little shack, smiling at the woman who manned it. "Hey. Don't suppose you have any trail food?"
"You're in luck!" Her voice was bubbly, and Aubrey arched an eyebrow. The world around her was in shambles and this person was bubbly? "I've got just the thing for you, Mr. Minuteman." She gestured to a few of her wares, and Aubrey shook her head, taking a seat on a nearby boulder to let Preston haggle.
Dogmeat bounded up to her, and she scratched his ears idly while she checked on her Pip-Boy. Fenway Park was still a decent walk away, and that didn't include the detour they'd need to take towards Back Street Apparel for the ladies at Oberland Station.
"Hey there, Vaultie, need anything?" The shopkeeper called over. "The name's Niah. If you want advice, some gear, or just need someone to talk to, I'm your girl." She grinned. "Just 5 caps a session."
Aubrey smiled awkwardly, rising from her place on the rock and starting over.
"There's a special too: on my personal survival guide. It's got everything you need to know about surviving in the Commonwealth."
"Alright, I'll bite." Aubrey sighed. "What exactly are you offering?"
"Oh, it's better not to ask that. I do it all. " Niah chuckled. "But if want what's on the main menu, that'd be my Commonwealth Survival Guide. A must-have for any would-be adventurer. But, if you can't afford that, I sell bits of advice for 5 caps apiece. Limit one per person per day. I also buy, sell, and trade. So whether you're reloading or unloading, this be the spot!"
Aubrey tried not to frown at the clearly doctored sales-person speech. "I'm a bit short on caps... but I'll keep you in mind if I need anything in the future."
"Suit yourself. It's your loss." Niah shrugged. "Anyway, safe travels to ya both."
Aubrey nodded, quickly walking away before Niah could say anything more. "Did you get what you needed, Preston?"
"I did. Just wanted some jerky for the road ahead. Food in Diamond City can get expensive."
Aubrey nodded. "Sounds about right."
The city buildings creaked and moaned as the two of them made it to the river walk. Preston seemed unbothered by it, but Aubrey couldn't help but feel like the whole skyline would come down if she so much as coughed too loudly. Preston took the lead, stopping and checking down alleys as they approached them. Dogmeat continued to trot along, tongue lolling out and tail wagging the entire time.
"Where's this back street place?" Preston muttered. "None of the streets are labeled that."
"Back Street Apparel? That's on the waterfront, a bit further up the river." Aubrey supplied. "It's just the name of the shop, not the address."
Preston blinked a few times. "Huh. You know the way, then?"
"Vaguely." Aubrey swallowed, shading her eyes with her hand. "I'm not the best navigator, but I can get us there. Probably."
"Better than me. Lead on."
Aubrey swallowed and swapped places with Preston, leading him down the river walk, picking her way around piles of rubble that lined the edges of the pathways. She chewed on her lip trying to determine if her perception of her surroundings were off because of the decay or because she was in the wrong place.
"Hold." Preston took her shoulder. "Raiders, up ahead."
He tugged her to the side, ducking into a nearby alley. "There, by the door, and on the truck. Two turrets, two raiders." He whispered. "Could this be the group that the ladies at Oberland Station were talking about? Are we at this Apparel place?"
Aubrey frowned. "I think so, but… there's no way there's only two of them."
"You're probably right. The rest of the group is probably inside. How do you want to do this?"
Aubrey swallowed. "I don't suppose we can try to talk to them?"
Preston blinked a few times. "Raiders don't really do 'talking.'"
She bit her lip, shifting the laser rifle in her hands. "Let's at least give them a chance to leave. If they fire, then of course, we defend ourselves, but give them a chance to walk away with their lives."
Preston nodded slowly. "Alright. Want me to take point?"
"If you would?"
"Okay. Keep your weapon ready."
Aubrey nodded, and Preston stepped out, but before he could even begin to speak, one of the raiders caught sight of him and started to fire. "Hostile!" Preston called, ducking behind a wall and starting to exchange fire with the raider on the truck. "Get the turrets!"
Aubrey swore, taking aim and firing on the two turrets that had turned to target Preston. The first one, on the truck, was disabled with two shots, the second, on the balcony, with three. The second raider, a woman, sprinted up the short flight of stairs with a war cry, a pool cue raised over her head like a cleaver.
Aubrey ducked out of the way, pushing the cue stick away from her and using the woman's own momentum against her to knock her to the ground. "Stay down." She ordered, pulling one of the woman's hands behind her back.
"OW, ow! Okay, okay!" The woman squirmed, and Aubrey frowned, keeping a solid hold on her while Preston dispatched the first raider and started over to her.
He looked at the raider and sighed. "How many more are there?"
"Listen to me." Aubrey started, "Answer our questions, and you can walk away from this. I don't want to hurt you."
The Raider squirmed, spitting curses and kicking out her legs in some vain attempt to dislodge Aubrey.
"Hey!" Preston barked. "Calm down, answer the questions, and you can go."
The woman cursed some more, but stopped fighting. "There's 6 more inside. But they'll rip you assholes to pieces. They'll string you up and piss on your corpses!"
"I'm sure. " Aubrey deadpanned. "Preston?"
He shrugged. "Do you think she's telling the truth?"
Aubrey glanced back down. "If memory serves, Back Street Apparel wasn't all that large a building."
"There's only six, now let me up! You said you'd let me up!"
Aubrey quirked an eyebrow at Preston. He gave a nod so she did another quick pat down of the woman, checking for any other weapons, but found none. "Alright, you can go." She nodded as she stood. "Get out of here, and don't let us see you again."
"Fuckin' bitch." The woman spat at them, catching Aubrey's neck with her phlegm, then turned on her heels and ran down the side alley.
"Charming." Aubrey rolled her eyes, grimacing as she wiped as much of the spittle off of her skin as she could.
"Here." Preston held out a faded bandana. "Yeah…. Like I said, raiders aren't exactly the nicest folk."
"I can tell." She shook her head as she wiped off her face and neck. "Thanks."
"No problem. So, six more. Let's see what we can do." Preston sighed. "Still wanna try talking?"
"Yes. Of course." Aubrey blinked, then bit her lip. "Do people… is that not the norm anymore?"
"No. Not really." Preston swallowed. "This… this ain't the Vault, Aubrey. You have to be able to defend yourself. Lots of folks have turned to raiding, and those few that haven't are either mercs hired to defend places, or just people who are very territorial. And that's not counting other things like Super Mutants, or ferals that just try to kill you no matter what. There's the odd town that will allow traders and travelers through, but those are few and far between."
Aubrey sighed softly. "Everything's gone to hell…." She muttered. "Well, then… I'll follow your lead I guess."
"We can still offer them the chance to surrender, but… don't get your hopes up."
"...Noted." Aubrey nodded, following Preston as they started into the dilapidated shop.
The remaining six raiders refused to surrender, opening fire within moments of Preston announcing himself. Aubrey stayed in cover, offering suppressing fire as Preston dispatched the raiders with Dogmeat at his side. Once the building was silent, Aubrey leaned against one of the display shelves, pinching the bridge of her nose. "How in the hell am I supposed to raise a child like this…" She mumbled. "How am I even going to *find* him?" She leaned her head back against the shelf and forced herself to breathe evenly as tears began to well in her eyes.
"Hey, I found some--" Preston paused. "Are you okay?"
"No, not really." Aubrey shook her head, then hauled herself to her feet. "But I'll be fine. What'd you find?"
Preston hesitated for a moment, then held out a few leather pouches. "Some caps and ammo from their storage chests. I figured we should split them."
"Oh." Aubrey nodded, taking the pouches and tucking them away into her backpack. "Thanks."
"There's also some decent armor pieces that could probably be salvaged… if you want, that is."
Aubrey chewed her lip. "Guess that would be prudent."
Preston nodded. "Have at them, I'm gonna do another run-through, see if there's any tradable items. Diamond City is just around the corner basically, and I could use some extra Stims."
Aubrey nodded as Preston walked away, glancing over the shelves and frowned. There weren't any remaining pieces of clothing that would qualify as armor. Most of clothing was decayed beyond any real use. So what had Preston been talking about?
"Hey, this one looks similar in build to you." Preston called, gesturing to one of the bodies. "Her armor might fit."
Nausea welled in Aubrey's stomach. "Oh." She swallowed and shook her head. "I…, right… okay."
"Want me to grab it?"
"…Yes, please. Thank you."
Preston nodded, then set to work stripping the armor pieces off.
Aubrey bit back bile. "I'll be outside." She croaked, then hurried out the door. If Preston responded, she didn't hear it. She rushed to the river wall, bracing herself against it as she willed herself not to vomit.
Dogmeat whined, nuzzling her thigh.
"H-hey boy." She whispered, patting his head and scratching his ears. "You're a good boy, huh…" She sat herself down by the river wall, and Dogmeat licked at her face a few times, then settled beside her with his head on her thigh.
Preston came out a few minutes later. "Hey. I'm sorry."
"For the whole armor thing. It's second nature to most people out here that you take what you can get from where you can get it. But, I imagine it was pretty different in the Vault." He handed her the armor pieces. "I wiped them down for you, too."
"Thanks." Aubrey swallowed. "This is all… very new." She flinched at how her voice still shook. "Thanks for your patience, at least."
"Hey, you still offered to help us, even though you had no idea what was happening. That means a lot. Least I can do is help you get oriented." He offered his hand, pulling her to her feet. "Once you're set, we'll push on to Diamond City? If we get a move on, we should be there by sunset."
"Right." Aubrey nodded. "Sounds like a plan." She took a deep, steadying breath and strapped the shin and armguards on. It wasn't much in the way of additional protection, but it was better than nothing at all. "Alright, I think I’m set. Let's go."