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Don't they know, it's the end of the world

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You know better, you really do.

But someone said something about Vault dwellers and your day was shit and you were half a bottle of moonshine deep so you punched, then they punched and now they’re on the opposite sides of the drunk tank. You’re out of Stimpaks and the psycho is starting to wear off now you’re all kinds of tired and angry.

The hulk of a man you fought is sleeping across from her, head tilted back, jaw falling open and snoring so loud it’s echoing off the fucking walls. He’s got bruises beginning to bloom across various parts of his face. You try to nestles yourself, attempting to get any sleep on the uncomfortable bench, wincing as you do so. He got a lot of hits in, your nose is most likely broken, your stitches from today are probably popped open and your ribs are giving off a dull, throbbing ache that you know isn’t a good sign whatsoever.

You somehow manage to lie on your side, making sure that all of your valuable are pressed against the bench. You just bought a new pistol, you’re not about to let the brute opposite you take it while you’re sleeping.

It takes effort for you to close your eyes, you don’t trust the asshole in front of you one goddamn bit, but staying awake is not a good plan, especially with whatever Flemming will do to you in the morning. You start counting, that’s the way you Dad taught you to get to sleep.

You get woken up by the door to the cells slamming open.

Fuck, the Psycho and the wine have worn off, you fucking hate hangovers.

“Rise and shine Heather, the mayor wants to see you.” A familiar voice says, goddamn Keith, sauntering in with his baseball bat and uniform. Smug bastard has had it out for you since you got rid of Skinny Malone and his little gang.

Getting up and sitting straight hurts, but it’s better than Keith pushing you until you stand. Jesus, everything aches, everything hurts and Flemming will only make it worse.

“Well I don’t want to see her.”

“Stop picking fights in Diamond City, then you won’t have to.” He opens the cell, staring pointedly at you. He taps his bat a couple of times against the metal frame, the clanging not doing much for the headache that’s already beginning to form.

You get up reluctantly, knowing that Flemming will just shout at you before letting you go, it’s better to get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid or something. Fuck, your ribs hurt more that you thought they would, you press your hand against them, happy that you don’t feel many extreme inconsistencies or bones that are in the straight up wrong place. The walk up to Flemming’s office is too bright and has too many steps for the state you’re in but you know that Flemming would never stoop so low as to see you in the cells. Keith knocks on the rotting wooden door with the handle of his back, a voice inside summons him in.

“Ah, it’s you.”

“Not excited to see me?” You sit down a chair opposite her desk, hunching over slightly. “Can we close the blinds?”

“No. On both accounts, do you know how much you owe Vadim for this fight?”

You roll your eyes, it’s not that serious.

“A hundred?”

Five hundred.”

You sit up in the chair, trying to ignore the spiking pain in your ribs.

“What? I didn’t even break anything!”

“You threw a chair at the man then hit his accomplice with a bottle of beer that wasn’t yours so half the inn got involved.”

Oh right, the chair. You forgot about the chair.

“And that’s all my fault?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t have the caps for that.”

“I know you don’t, that’s why I paid him. And why you will do a job for me.”

“Yeah right, the last goose chase you sent me on left me with a deathclaw, almost lost a leg.”

“Then be more careful this time.”

“No, I won’t do it.”

“Then you’ll be banned from Diamond City.” She says primly, getting some paper and setting it straight.

“What?” You almost shout, then immediately regret it, your own noise hurting you. “You can’t do that! I live here.”

“And I can evict you just as easily as I let you in.” She sneers at you, the way she always does, as if she’s better than you. As if you knew that you’d be kicked out of your Vault and left on your ass with no knowledge of the Wasteland. Diamond City was your first home since then, you’ll not have it taken from you. Your house, your life, your friends; if Flemming takes that all away you’ll have nothing. You’ll spend your days wandering around in the Commonwealth, with no anchor. You can’t do that again, not like you used to.

“People love me.”

“People tolerate you.”

You scoff. Flemming stares you down. Fuck, this is serious.

“Flemming, this is crazy, I can get the caps-”

“I don’t care. You will do this for me.”

They stare each other down. She’s not gonna budge, Jesus Christ, she’s not going to budge.

“Fine, what do you need?”

“First you need to meet who you’ll be working with.”

“Bullshit I work alone.”

“Not this time you won’t.”

“I said I’d do the job, just let me do it by myself.” You’re as close to begging as you will let yourself be, anymore would be pitiful, any less would make you almost delusional, considering what’s at stake here.

“No. You’ll be working with another merc, and you’ll no doubt pick up some strays on the way.”

You scoff again, this day is already going so much worse than you anticipated. Not that you were expecting much, but it’s definitely not good. You were hoping to be shouted at for the fight, down water and something to flush the chems out of your system, then see if you could grab a few caps by doing odd jobs by the folks too afraid to leave Diamond City, but no, now you’ve got to pick up some random person and do some random job that Flemming hasn’t even told you about.

“Fine, where are they?”

“You’ll need to grab her off some Raiders.”

“Are you serious? I’ll be traveling with someone who managed to get herself captured by Raiders?”

“She didn’t get captured, she swapped herself out for Martha, you know, the girl who owns the clinic.”

Somehow that’s worse, you’re stuck with someone who’s a bloody bleeding heart.

“Fine, I’ll grab some food, then I’ll go get this girl. What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“You expect me to work with someone you don’t even know?”

“No, I know her, she worked the jobs that you were too wasted to do.”

“Hey, I’ve had a pretty shitty year-“ You try to defend yourself but Flemming just interrupts you.

“She doesn’t speak much, she’s reliable, a good sharpshooter and one hell of a battlefield medic.”

“What does she look like?”

“Ask Martha, they’re practically sisters. Now get out of my office.”

“Right. So when I get the girl, then I get to know the mission?”

“Bye.”

Keith shuts the door behind you, smirking at you behind his helmet.

“Oh fuck you, country club.”

“Ooh, I’m quaking.”

You throw up a middle finger at him as you make your way back down the stairs to the market. One hand pressing against your ribs, the other shielding your eyes from the sun. You’re already over this bullshit. A couple of people move out of your way as you walk toward the clinic, some give you a dirty look, others check you out, some just chose to ignore your existence. Those are your favourites, they just let you live your sorry, dirty, violent life. Martha Dunnstock is bending over a Chemistry bench, no doubt finding Stimpaks that she can sell at a much lower price than necessary because her heart bleeds so much it’s a surprise that she even has any blood left in her body.

“Morning Martha.”

She turns, looking you up and down, disappointment obvious in her every movement. She’s not very good at hiding her emotions. That’s something you learnt a long time ago, she’s awful at Caravan and Poker and any card game because of it.

“Heather, did you get in another fight?”

“He deserved it.”

“That’s what you always say.” She tuts.

“I’ve gotta go get your girl.” You wince as you take another step up to the clinic. “And some supplies.”

Surprise bursts across her face, she quickly tries to hide it, clearly feeling guilty that you would do something for someone else for once.

“You’re going after Veronica?” Oh, that’s her name. You recognize it slightly, from people shouting it across the market, but you’ve never seen her, only a flash of dark hair running away. Hope is practically dripping from her tone. You’re not one for hope, the small amount that you had tucked in your back pocket for a rainy day was stolen from you this morning.

“Yeah, that’s the friend who took your place right?”

Martha looks at the floor, wringing her hands slightly. Shit, she’s the nicest girl in the world and you just made her feel like crap. She nods.

“Where did you guys run into these raiders?”

“By the Mass Fusion building.”

That’s about a four mile walk, with all the shit in the way it’ll take around an hour and a half. God, this is already turning into a trek, first to find the girl, bring her back, then go on whatever the hell Flemming wants you to do.

“I thought that place was overrun by Gunners.”

“Yeah, but there’s all sorts around there, we heard there was medical salvage. Ronnie tried to make me stay behind but I insisted she take me, then we could carry more.” She sits down on a ratty chair, sighing deeply. “But then we had Gunners on one side and Raiders on the other side and they took Ram’s crew took me and Veronica bargained for me. They didn’t agree, Veronica just kept them busy enough for me to run away without them noticing. God knows what they’re doing to her.”

“Don’t think like that, you’ll only twist yourself into knots.” You say, your tone could be a lot kinder, but the mix of pain and nausea from your hangover leaves a lot of whatever niceties you have left to be desired. You lean against one of the beams. “Can I get patched up? I can’t go up against Ram’s lot like this.”

You don’t exactly plan to cut through Ram’s little army, he owes you enough that he should just tell you where the girl is, but just in case he’s feeling especially stupid, you have to be ready – and these days he only ever seems to be stupid. He’s one of those guys who feels he has to prove himself to his crew, so now and again you avoid the Mass Fusion area like the plague, hopefully he’s not the worst today and will just let you take the girl, probably for a few hundred caps, but you can always windle him down a bit, he never was the smartest.

“Right of course.” She stands quickly, rubbing her hands down her trousers in a nervous tick. “Where does it hurt?”

“Everywhere.” You say dryly, she gives you a look, a proper Doctor look. “My ribs and nose, mainly, the rest can heal naturally.” You think of the caps this’ll cost you and chose not to mention the stitches that are lying across thigh, you’ll fix them when you have time. And money. Mainly money.

“Are you sure?”

“Please, can we just get on with it, I’ve got shit to do.”

You lift up your shirt, her cool hands make you hiss as she feels across your chest. She hums.

“Not broken, but definitely bruised. Badly.” She grabs a Stimpak from her bench and injects it into your system. It doesn’t exactly heal you up properly, but it speeds up the process enough that she should be able to set off before midday, and it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as the other things Doctors in the waste try to give you. “And your nose, well, that is broken. Let me set it.”

She clicks your nose in place, the pain bringing with it a new lot of blood. She puts a band-aid across it keep it in place.

“Going out without resting your body, even for a few hours, could be dangerous Heather.”

“I’m going today, Doc.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

“I thought you wanted me to save your stupid friend from Raiders.” You snap, Martha withdraws. You immediately regret your tone, not because you didn’t mean it, but because Martha doesn’t deserve your bullshit. “Sorry.”

You’d tell her about the threat of eviction, but then she’d get all puppy-dog-eyed and start pitying you. There’s nothing you want less than Martha Dunnstock’s pity.

“You’re forgiven. Here.” She hands you a familiar Addictol inhaler. You eye it wearily, unlike Stimpaks, this does hurt. Flushing Chems and alcohol from your system in one inhalation hurts like hell. You were hoping to do this the good old fashioned way, a cold shower and enough water to fill the ocean, but Martha clearly had other ideas. “I saw you huffing Jet and Psycho last night.”

“C’mon-“

“You will not go after my best friend like this. If you refuse to rest for a few hours, you will at least get clean.”

You reluctantly take the inhaler.

“You know that I’ll just take them again soon, right?”

“Well at least I can give your body a second before you put that stuff  into your body.”

She watches you as you breath in, holding it in your lungs for five painful seconds, before exhaling with a cough. She’s done this enough times to know what’s next, she gives you a bucket and a hair tie and whatever food you had yesterday is now sitting at the bottom the red plastic bucket in front of you.

“Let it out.” She says soothingly, rubbing your back, you push her arm away. She sighs and lets you hold the bucket as you puke your guts out. Or at least that’s how it feels. It finally ends and you pretty much thrust the bucket into her arms. Her face hardly changes, she’s good with gross shit like that.

“How,” you cough slightly. “How much do I owe you?”

“It’s on the house.”

“I don’t want-“

“You’re not getting any pity. This is for Veronica. Not you.”

You nod, feeling light headed. She dumps a bag on your lap, from a quick look, you can see various Stimpaks, water and other things that aren’t outright Chems, but close enough to numb the feeling of getting shot. You look up at her, about to refuse the supplies, or at least about to give her money.

“Veronica. Not you.”

“Fine.” You almost growl, standing quickly. Too quickly, you have to grip onto her shoulders to steady yourself, her eyebrows furrow, you roll you’re eyes. “I’m fine.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve forgotten what that word means.”

You say nothing as you limp off, opening a bottle of water from her and chugging as much as you can before your lungs scream for breath. Despite the unpleasant pain and emptiness that the Addictol left you with, you feel slightly clearer as you stumble to your house. The bright red door has a stark contrast to the blues and greens of the City.

Your house is empty, lacking personal items. It’s not like the Vault let you take any effects with you as they dragged you from you room and into the Commonwealth, but it’s home, it was all you could afford with the Caps you had scrapped together at the end of a few years alone. You throw Martha’s pity supplies onto the bed and fall into your only chair.

First, food.

The dark purple bruise that Martha poked at less than an hour ago has faded into a mottled yellow colour that’s ugly to look at, but at least it doesn’t hurt at every movement. Your nose isn’t swollen anymore and now leaves a dull ache whenever you make a face that isn’t neutral, so your famous glare is out of the picture.

Eventually you make it out of the City, Danny – the only nice guard – giving you a friendly wave on the way out, you grunt back to him.

The walk to the Mass Fusion building isn’t exactly hard, but it’s not easy anyhow. There are parts of the city that are overrun by ghouls, other sections you can’t cross a street without running into someone who would want to shoot you, so you gotta improvise.

Avoid the pond, there’s all sorts around there, go through the back alleys, it’s less likely that people will hide out there, you can’t be in large numbers. Normally you avoid the Mass Fusion area for the precise reason that this ‘Veronica’ is stuck there, it’s crawling with every kind of thing that wants you dead.

Mutants, ghouls, Gunners and Raiders.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke.

Once you’re past the turret-guarded streets around Diamond City, you draw your gun. A simple combat one, with sights and a drum magazine. It was one of your first weapons, you’ve just added onto it so many times so that it doesn’t jam every three shells or overheat and burn your hands like it used to.

The buildings are half caved in, rubble piling high on the street. You’re used to it by now, no more tripping over stones that clatter throughout the street, alerting whoever’s nearby. You walk North, toward the river, the radiation from wading through the water in better than a Mutant running at you with a Mini Nuke in his hand, anything’s better than that to be honest. When you walk past the weird cult that hangs out too much in Goodneighbour – the bad-boy brother to Diamond City – you find yourself finally coming to properly. No Chems in your system, a decent enough sleep considering and some heated up Pork n Beans sitting heavy in your stomach. Even though you don’t know, or particularly care for this ‘Veronica’, you find yourself itching for a fight that isn’t in the dingy Dugout Inn.

You would start thinking about what will happen if you can’t find the girl, or if she’s dead, but that’s a bit too big for today. Because then you have to start thinking about where to live and that just ain’t peachy, you can’t go back onto the road again, but there’s nowhere that’s anywhere near as safe as Diamond City, and nowhere that pays as well. You suppose you could get a room in Goodneighbour, but you know you’d get burgled at least twice a week and you can’t be bothered for revenge that often, revenge has to be something savored.

You finally make your way closer to the Mass Fusion building, checking your back and sides almost constantly. There are too many enemies here to be cavalier.

You crouch past the Gunners, hiding in between the buildings and run past the Mutants so fast that they only ask if anyone’s there, but you’re too far for them to start attacking. Lazy bastards. You see the recognizable Raider ruins; a chugging machine-gun turret, someone standing on a wooden scaffold with a gas mask and some sort of pipe gun. You make the mistake of kicking some old bottle and they come alive.

“Will you shut up for a second I thought I heard something.” You hear the one of the scaffold shout to another one. Then they all starts scanning the area.

“I’m looking for Ram Sweeney.”

“He’s not talking to you sweetheart, not today.” The turret starts firing and you duck behind a pile of cement that used to be part of a building. You really don’t want this right now.

“Just let me talk to Ramrod” You shout over the bullets flying near you.

“Not a chance Chandler! Go get her.”

For fucks sake. You look around the corner and shoot blindly toward the machine gun, you miss half of your magazine, but you’re luckier the next time around. You hear it explode and hear some of the Raiders shout in pain. They should’ve let her talk to Ram.

“I just want to talk to Raymond Fitzgerald Sweeney!”

“Alright Chandler! You’ve made your point.” Ram’s deep, stupid sounding voice bounces off the walls of the street, you peek around the corner to see him, hands up, waiting for you to do the same. You holster your shotgun and do the same. “What’s the deal today?”

“I’m looking for a girl.”

“Finally looking for love ey? Wendy did take a liking to you last time you had a drink with us.” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively, you resist the urge to insult him. He’s dumb, and annoying, but he’s also got a gang of twenty-three, most of which are still pointing their guns at you.

“Veronica, word is you captured her a few days back.”

“What she look like?”

“The fuck I look like? A camera? I don’t know.”

“You’re normally meant to know who you’re looking for, I thought you was a good mercenary.”

“Dark hair, was with another girl. She bargained herself for the other one.”

“What do I get out of this if I tell you?”

“I’ll bring you some Gwennet Stout?”

“No, this is big, I know you’ll take out half the Raider population around here, we’ll need a little more, won’t we fellas?” The Raiders around him all cackle and whoop. God you hate fucking Raiders.

“Fine, beer, a hundred caps and I won’t tell everyone what happened on the FMS North.”

Ram’s face dropped. When they ran around the Commonwealth together, they’d come across this place, South East, full of Ghouls and Mirelurks and all sorts of shit, then they’d found this place, the FMS North, where they could stay for a few days and wait for this Radiation Storm to pass. Imagine their surprise when they got ambushed in the middle of the night. The kicker, though, the bit that Ram is too terrified for his crew to find out, is that he slept naked, so he fought with everything hanging out, so when a Mirelurk hatchling bit him right on his bare ass, he leapt three feet in thee air, yelping like no tomorrow.

If they knew, he’d never hear the end, all that good faith, gone.

He nods.

“Took her to the Combat Zone, it’s South, by the pond.”

So right the way you came, nice.

“I’ll get you your Caps, when I get the girl.”

“Bye Raymond.”

You start walking off, that was easy, just a little threatening, takes you everywhere.

 “Yeah yeah Chandler – you owe me a turret.”

“Should’ve asked me for that when you were bargaining.”

You hear him groan before you draw your shotgun again and start walking back, past the Mutants and Gunners and you stop by the Pond. Swan’s Pond, the one where you have to stay far, far away from so he doesn’t try and swat you with the boats he has attached to his hands. You hear some rumblings of Raiders as you near the corner with the station and watch as they go into an old, but pretty much intact building.

Now this, this will be a fight, one that’ll take it out of you far too much. You inject some Psycho so you’ll be resistant to some things that’ll get thrown your way and chug a Nuka Cola for good luck.

You manage to sneak in, undetected by the Raiders, they’ve taken the building and adapted it to some fight club. There’s a massive steel cage in the middle, with people shouting inside at the fighters. There’s a woman, tall and lean, dark hair pulled up to reveal an undercut and a long scar going from her left shoulder, down half of her back. There’s barely anything to her, but she’s spitting blood onto the floor and taking as good as she’s getting, somehow even more.

That must be Veronica. God Martha is lucky to have avoided this, she wouldn’t have lasted half an hour.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be in here!”

You thrown a grenade toward a group that have noticed you and start shooting at someone with a baseball bat that’s running toward you as if you don’t have a shotgun in your hands. Time blurs as people run at you, you shoot and you hit and you throw grenades, you even headbutt a guy as he shouted in your face and tried to tackle you. A bullet hits your chest-plate, making your ribs ache even more, but you rectify that by putting a bullet in the guys head. This is how the Wasteland works, no remorse, it’s always think now and shoot later.

You end up with your back against the cage, fending off three at Raiders at once.

“Give me a gun!”

“Fuck off, I don’t know you!”

“I’m not going to shoot you, shit-for-brains, I’m gonna help you.”

You stay silent, hitting a Raider with the butt of your gun, sending him reelling before stabbing him with the bayonet taped to the front of your gun. The squelching sound and feeling of warm blood dripping on your hands is one that you will never get used to, you kick him away, only to feel yourself pushed face first against the cage. Veronica, at least you guess it is because there’s no one else in the cage, punches the man holding you there, giving you an opportunity to shoot him once, square in the chest.

“Trust me now?”

“Fine.” You hand her a battered 10mm pistol, she rolls her eyes at the state of it, but takes it nonetheless. From what you can gather, and it’s hard with bullets flying your way, she barely misses a shot. The only indication of that being when she curses under her breath, gulps down some air then starts firing again.

Eventually, the only person left in the building is Veronica, the man who was narrating the fight ran away as soon as the shooting started. You open the cage, the woman points your own gun toward you.

“For fucks sake.”

“What do you want with me?”

“Flemming sent me to get you. Figured it was above security’s paygrade.”

“The mayor sent you?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“We have to do something for her.”

“I don’t work with people.”

“Yeah, me neither, and yet here we are.”

“Okay, let’s go. Martha’s probably worried sick. Help me look for my shit? Raiders took it and divided it out.”

“That wasn’t part of Flemming’s deal.”

“No, it’s part of my deal if we have to work together. I’m not going to try and know your life, and you’re not going to try to know mine, all I want is my gun, my ammo and my armour. And I’m guessing that you don’t want to stand around while I search everyone here.”

She makes a good point.

You hate that.

“Flemming said you don’t talk much.”

“Flemming doesn’t know shit, she’s so out of the loop the Brotherhood of Steel could knock on her front door and she wouldn’t even know.”

It takes God knows how long, but you eventually find Veronica’s shit, and little more that’s useful, she wears a t-shirt and jeans with combat armour that’s so ratty it’s almost glued together and a backwards cap that keeps her hair under control. She keeps your battered 10mm, putting it in the waistband of her trousers. You keep count of the .44 strapped to her right thigh and the combat knife on the other side, the sniper rifle over her shoulder and a weapon in her hand that looks like it shoots railway spikes? You’ve never seen a gun like that before, of course she has some weird gun that you’ve never seen before, she seems like that kind of merc. The strong, silent type who tries to be nice to everyone for and will comfort someone if the moment requires.

“How many guns does one woman need?”

She rolls her eyes almost affectionately even though you were just being mean and starts walking toward the entrance.

“Let’s get back to the great green jewel of the Commonwealth.”

You hate how it make you smile a little bit.