Contubernium: The Redoubt

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Decanus looked out from the wall, viewing the horizon with binoculars from the armory. The approaching black vanguard looked even more frightening from eye level. Sheila observed them through her scope. The two shared a rare look that wasn’t of hostility, and he guessed they both were equally grim faced.

“What is this army?” She whispered. “Does the Legion know of this?”

Decanus shook his head. “The Legion and NCR are not the only people expanding their borders, it would seem. Much of the Frozen North is unknown to us, save for ghost stories. These liches have come down swiftly and in force,” Decanus said. “They must know that Caesar has fallen.”

He took a moment to take stock of their preparations. They had placed caches of molotov cocktails in chests at various points along the walls, along with some grenades and dynamite. He wished they could have put a flame trap on the outer gate, but there had been no way to secure it for such an upgrade. Even with the turrets it had been too unsafe. There had been a cache of stimpacls and healing powders. DeeCee had tried to convince him that they were basically the same thing, stimpacks were just more effective, but Decanus was insistent that neither he nor Pitch could use them, and would instead use healing powders.

Pitch, he, and Virgil all had automatic rifles. DeeCee was using the minigun, as Decanus reasoned that she could hold it the steadiest while it was firing. Sheila had her .50 caliber sniper rifle.

He peered through his binoculars again. The ferals were no longer in haphazard groups, but had organized into columns, squares of tightly packed ghouls, which moved about in an ordered fashion. Supermutants flanked the columns.

Above it all, floating in the air in a very long flowing black robe, was a lone figure swaying in some distant wind. His arms were outstretched as if in the modst of some conjuring spell.

Decanus lowered his binoculars and slowly let out a sigh. DeeCee stared out with wide eyes at the looming forces of darkness. Decanus felt her deathclaw hand, so strong and lethal, gently reach out and clasp his. She was trembling. He held her hand firm, and they looked out upon the madness. A Decanus could be a poor shot, and he could even be a poor tactician, but he could never, ever fail to be brave. His job was to keep his men from despair. He had his work cut out for him.

The columns began to move, and even from the great distance Decanus could hear the raspy, throaty battle cry of ghouls. Hundreds of ghouls were racing at the walls.

“Here they come!” Sheila announced, rapidly firing off rounds even as she spoke.

“Focus on the Supermutants. We’ll handle the Ghouls,” Decanus shouted. He put his battle rifle on auto and fired into the approaching swarm. DeeCee lifted up the minigun and opened fire. The onrushing ghouls were so dense that Ferals fell in great reams. Pitch and Virgil fired also, spraying down the approaching horde. Sheila targeted the Supermutants, nailing each in the head and methodically moving on to the next. Decanus had to admit that, for all her flaws, she was incredibly good at what she did.

Ferals were falling in droves, but the swarm seemed impossibly large, and Decanus believed it could simply knock the walls down by its momentum. But when the turret guns opened fire, the situation changed. In the span of a few seconds the horde was half of its size, staggering over its dead and losing momentum. Even so, they still slammed into the gate with high force.

Decanus lit one of the molotovs and flung it downward. The fire ignited, and a section of ghouls began to writhe and burn. A bullet from one of the Supermutants whizzed by his head, and he ducked down. A moment later that Supermutant’s head exploded, a .50 caliber round from Sheila penetrating tbrough his head.

Even despite their heavy losses, enough ghouls reached the walls that they began to climb up each other, and some were reaching the top. They were getting close to Sheila, who was still focused on Supermutants. Pitch drew his machete and began to hack at the rising tide of ghouls, lopping off arms and sending corpses falling back. Decanus moved up alongside him, using his Yao Guai glove, and sliced up the other rising Ghouls.

Virgil let out a cry. A bullet had gone through his side. It might have been serious, but DeeCee jammed a stimpack in just above the spot, and the bleeding halted to a trickle as he took up the rifle and began fighting again.

It became clear that the wall was going to hold. The turrets and the defenders could bring too mucb firepower to bear against the attackers at the gate. The Supermutants withdrew first in good order, then the Ghoul tide turned back.

“We should restock our supplies. See if we can’t do something more permanent for Virgil,” Decanus said as he watched the attacking army withdraw.

Pitch raced to get supplies while DeeCee began to wrap bandages around Virgil’s wound. Decanus lifted his binoculars. There was movement among the enemy camp, of what he guessed was some kind of artillery or siege equipment.

But when he glanced through his binoculars, it was not what he had expected. Two giant Supermutants lumbered forth like oxen hitched to a yoke, dragging out a metal coil, a kind of immense barbed-wire fence which unrolled as they took their giant steps. Decanus had never seen Supermutants grow this big before, and had only heard distant tales of such from the East. They stood at least twenty feet tall, and these Behemoths pulled on the barbed wire and uncoiled it as one might uncoil a hose. Long spikes were mounted all along this strange fence, which might have been fence posts but for their haphazard placement and odd angles.

Just below the very top of each of the spikes was a lump, which at first Decanus thought might be some kind of turret or listening device. But then something moved, and Decanus realized to his horror that he saw an arm rise for just a moment. He lowered his binoculars took take a breath, then raised and focused them on the spot. Mounted on each of the tall spikes was a person, impaled through the anus and out the mouth, writhing in agony in the hot sun.

“Good God…” Sheila said, observing through her scope.

DeeCee whimpered, and he heard a heaving sound as Virgil, woozy from blood loss, threw up. Pitch watched with wide eyes, his chest rising and falling. Sheila maintained a stoic face, but Decanus could see her trembling. Only Gabriel did not seem effected, but then such came from having a metal face.

“It’s the vine, like in the stories…eternal pain and suffering…unending torture…We are dead, man, we are dead…” Virgil said, clutching his stomach. “We…we have the materials. We can make cyanide. We can…”

“Anyone who tries to kill themselves gets tossed over the wall to the Liches. They can take their rightful place on that vine,” Decanus said. Despite his harsh words, he helped the trembling prospector to his feet, then pointed at the writhing figures. “They show us this only so we will lose our courage. They want us to despair, and either abandon our position or just give up.”

He grabbed up his hunting rifle, sighted in on one of the writhing figures, and fired. The writing stopped, and the figure hung limp upon the long spike.

Decanus looked at the others. “My resolve has only deepened. It is a mercy to kill them, remember that.”

Sheila took his example, and a moment later the other victims within range hung limp upon their spikes.

Gabriel began to beep loudly, and trill. Decanus looked to his Pip-boy:

“MASSIVE energy signature. Possible nuke. DUCK AND COVER.”

They ducked against the walls, and Decanus searched the skies for any sign of an approaching missile. A few moments later the smell of Ozone hit, deep and strong, the smell Decanus knew as the smell of dead robots. A minute later there was a flash of blue light, and the outline of a suit of power armor began to materialize in the courtyard. The armored warrior had not yet finished materializing, but Decanus could see the hulking warrior was carrying a large gun in his arms.

The armor was like none he had ever seen, certainly not armor of the Brotherhood. It was black and jagged, with massive shoulders and a helmet looking like a black skull with long, serrated teeth. A blue light emanated from its mouth. From its back, long metal tentacles swayed like snakes, sparking every so often.

“Power Armor!” Decanus screamed. “Aim for his head!”

Pitch fired first, and Decanus saw a small dent form from the hunting rifle near the top of the skull-helmet. The Dark Warrior ignored the hit, but a much more substantial dent formed from a shot from Sheila’s fifty caliber, one which made the Dark Warrior’s head snap backward. With a booming cry the Dark Warrior turned and spun up his cannon at the Ranger. Blasts of red light peppered the walls, melting them with a superheated orange-white glow, and Sheila cried out as the heat burned her and made her uniform ignite in flame.

The turrets had focused their attention on Dark Warrior, and their bullets ripped and chipped away at his power armor, but he was unaffected. He planted his feet and returned fire, and he began to effortlessly torch turrets with his cannon.

His rampage stopped when DeeCee had leapt and slashed at him with her massive claws. Chunks of metal flew everywhere, exposing sections of the power armor frame beneath, but not dealing serious damage. The Dark Warrior’s tentacles lashed out, and with an audible buzz they zapped DeeCee, and she fell back under the onslaught with a roar of rage and pain. The Dark Warrior turned his gatling laser upon her.

With a loud cry, Decanus leapt from the wall, and landed upon the Dark Warrior’s shoulders. With furious slashes he brought his Yao Guai glove down on the helmet multiple times, doing superficial damage but rattling the helmet. The Dark Warrior staggered, disoriented, and Decanus dove off just before the long tentacles could zap him. He fell with a tumble, and the Dark Warrior turned to shoot him, but DeeCee slashed at the gatling laser with a loud roar and knocked it to the ground. It fizzled and sparked with large gouges from her claws.

Undeterred, the Dark Warrior stepped back before DeeCee’s renewed onslaught, drawing a plasma pistol and firing it at close range. Fortunately DeeCee’s hide was quite thick, and she was quick enough to dodge most shots as she continued pressing forward. She hacked away the tentacles as they lashed out at her. Gunfire smashed into the Dark Warrior from the catwalk above as Pitch and Virgil shot at his head, and this coupled with a shot from Sheila tore a hole in his helmet. The hits staggered and disoriented him, and DeeCee grasped at his arms. She matched her strength against the powered armor, and they began to wrestle.

The tentacles along the Dark Warrior’s back were not idle. They zapped her mercilessly, striking like serpents, darting in and retreating. DeeCee cried out with heartbreaking roars, but she held her ground, teeth clenched, and matched the power armored warrior. Decanus hated to see it, and fought the urge to race between them and hack at the Power armor with his machete. The Legion had slain men in Power Armor before, this was not so different. He needed to keep a cool head.

He darted to the back of the Dark Warrior and tugged Pitch’s old slave collar from his belt. Generally the Legion liked to use a grenade covered in adhesive for this, but he could improvise.

He latched the slave collar onto the valve of the Power Armor opening, and it dangled down. He hoped the explosive was powerful enough. He dove away from one of the tentacles which swept out for him and from a backhand from his armored foe. DeeCee redoubled and grappled with the Dark Warrior.

Drawing his pistol, Decanus emptied all the chambers at the dangling slave collar. The third bullet hit the explosive, and there was a small, sharp pop. The explosive was far too limited to pose any danger to the armor, but it did precisely what Decanus wanted. The explosive had popped off a metal cap, and an orange disc was visible.

“Sheila, in his back! Shoot the Orange Can!” Decanus shouted.

Sheila aimed steadily for what seemed an eternity, then fired. The .50 caliber round collided with the Power Armor’s fusion core, and the entire frame erupted in an dull orange fire. The Dark Warrior cried out in a loud daemonic voice, and his suit collapsed into a burning heap. DeeCee fell to her knees.

Decanus ran to DeeCee and, with a grunt, brought her massive form into his arms. He heard footsteps racing up behind him, and Gabriel zoomed past, jabbing a stimpack into DeeCee’s shoulder. DeeCee’s back and sides had born the brunt of the zaps, and she stared at him, panting, then poked his Pip-Boy.

“I’m alright. The teleportation…this is Big Mountain tech,” DeeCee said, getting onto her feet. Decanus did not kniw whqt that meant, but struggled to brace her.

“They can breach our walls at will,” Sheila declared, the dread palpable in her voice. “We should consider trying to break out.”

“That doesn’t solve the problem of them teleporting to us,” Decanus said. “Can we stop it? Put up a shield?”

“Maybe…but we’d need powerful broadcast equipment. The procedure they are using involves ordered molecular deconstruction and broadcast on high band frequencies…”

Decanus read, but could make no sense of it. He unlatched his Pip-boy. “Virgil, here, read!” He shouted.

Virgil took the Pip-boy. He read, his eyes wide. “Okay…okay…” he moved in closer to the Pip-Boy as DeeCee dumped her vast technical knowledge into the Pip-boy’s screen. “molecular transmission over radio waves…fascinating. Science Fiction type stuff. The problem with anything using this is that signal jamming is a real problem. We should be able to broadcast noise, which will disrupt the signal…”

He read for a moment, then nodded.

“You are right, we would, but we can provide a localized solution,” Virgil said to some statement that DeeCee had made which Decanus could not read. “A Pip-Boy can broadcast within the right frequency range.”

“With haste, Virgil. Something tells me they will be sending more very soon,” Decanus said. “They sent one to scout, and only by Fortune’s smile did we defeat him. I expect a larger force is being prepared…”

Virgil began to furiously tap at the controls on the Pip boy and turn the knobs, but Decanus did not watch him long.

Gabriel, as if on queue, began to beep with all the fury his form could muster. Decanus did not need a Pip-boy to know what he was saying. He could smell the harsh, unnatural odor of burning electronics.

“Electric Death,” Pitch said. “Like last time…”

With a grunt Decanus lifted his rifle to his eyes and aimed it at the courtyard. He looked to his left and right. Pitch was readying himself, jamming the bolt forward on his gun as he ducked behind a concrete pillar. Gabriel had floated alongside him, his face red with a charged shot. Sheila knelt, cocking the hammer on her rifle.

“Hang on!” Virgil shouted, furiously typing into the Pip-boy screen. “Just a little more…”

There was another flash of light, and figures were starting to again form in the air amidst shimmering blue distortion. Decanus felt a pit in his stomach, and taking in a breath he guessed there were at least ten power armor frames shimmering into view. “Here they come!” Decanus shouted.

“I think I have it…” Virgil said. He flicked a knob on the Pip-boy’s face. “…There!”

The Pip-boy emitted a sound of harsh static. The blue lights turned a darker shade and began to buzz, as a kind of snow danced across them. The figures within the blue light began to writhe and convulse, screaming as the ‘snow’ began tearing them apart. The Dark Warriors landed in a pile of shredded metal and dust, with steam rising from them.

Virgil let out a relieved sigh. DeeCee smiled and clapped a giant hand on his shoulder.

Thinking quickly, Decanus grasped up the helmet of the first Dark Warrior, charred and still smoking. He raced forward to the wall, held the helmet aloft, and let out a cry of victory. He ducked down as a torrent of energy projectiles and bullets answered him.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Sheila asked.

“Even Supermutants have morale,” Decanus said. “And when they are disheartened, they make rash and stupid decisions.”

The sound of raging ghouls and shouting Supermutants answered. “I think you got your wish,” DeeCee said and Virgil relayed.

It was a full frontal assault, and it might have been threatening, but it was too reckless. The ghouls were not well formed and the Supermutants were all racing out in the open, easy fodder for shots from Sheila and even from the others. The attack fell back in disarray, and the ferals all fell to turret fire, not pulling back in good order and just milling about. At least a hundred Ferals and twelve Supermutants perished.

For a moment the attacks halted, as the Liches doubtless reeled from the unexpected annihilation of their elite troops and the two failed assaults. Decanus took the time to restock and assess, and take back his Pip-boy from Virgil. He considered giving it to him, but DeeCee and Gabriel both had insisted he take it. For the most part the defense had gone well. Virgil and DeeCee had been wounded, though not seriously, but Decanus knew they were far from through.

“We do have a problem,” Virgil said. He pointed to the eastern wall, where exploded turrets lay limp with black smoke rising from them. “That Dark Warrior took out every turrent in the southeastern corner of the wall.”

“Pitch, DeeCee…go help Virgil lock the walls down on the East. Sheila and I will keep an eye on the walls the West. Take the 5mm over there while you work, just in case. Get as many turrets back online as you can,” Decanus said.

Decanus knew the enemy had come from the south and west, and he hoped they might be able to fix the southeastern fortifications before they realized the weakness there. The turret repair was slow-going, however. While the repairs were made, Sheila, Gabriel, and Decanus watched the enemy in the distance. A Supermutant was marched in front of the armies and forced to his knees. Another Supermutant, dressed in heavy black armor, pointed an energy pistol at his skull, and fired. The kneeling supermutant’s head was vaporized into bright green paste, and the rest of him fell to the ground.

“Wonder what that is about,” Sheila said.

“Well, they wanted us to see it,” Decanus said. “My guess is it means a change in leadership.”

The black-clad Supermutant took a crude sword and scabbard off his shoulder. He tore the blade free, lifted it above his head, and let out a deep, supermutant war cry, which was answered by hundreds more. Decanus let out a groan.

“I think it also means we’re about to have guests,” Sheila said. She raised her rifle and prepared to receive the charge.

The horde came on furious. Sheila and Decanus held with the aide of the cannons and Gabriel, but it was tight. He was about to call to the others to come aid them when he heard the Eyebot beeping furiously over the loud reports of gunfire.

“DEFENSIVE BREACH!”

Turning back, Decanus cursed. The assault on the west wall was a feint, they were attacking the other side as well. The southeastern wall was overrun. The attackers had managed to push a steel staircase up to the wall, and Decanus gauged that DeeCee had expended her minigun ammunition. Dozens of Ghouls had streamed over, and Pitch and Virgil were lost from sight in the swarm. DeeCee was valiantly slicing and slashing, but being surrounded. It was decision time. Fall back into the barracks and cede the courtyard – and possibly DeeCee – or try a gambit to hold the wall. It really was not much of a decision, as he watched DeeCee hack and slash with fury near her companions, and knew he could never abandon her.

“Stay here and hold them,” he yelled to Sheila and Gabriel. He raced off the wall and across the courtyard. Ferals were coming down off the walls into the courtyard to meet him, streaming to engage the defenders on the western wall. Decanus cut down countless ghouls with swift strikes from his Yao Guai claws, then found himself stopped by a swarm, fighting and slicing as he tried to manuever. He was swift and agile, but even so, he took many punches, clawings, and bites. After he cut a mostly-naked ghoul in two, he felt a dry, wizened arm grip him about the throat. A moment later came intense pain as a dessicated ghoul sank its broken teeth into his neck. Decanus screamed, and ripped the ghoul free, feeling the searing pain of its bite. He fought on, now slower, and being slower meant more bites and hits. He knew rhe swarm was growing, and he prepared for his death.

Somewhere in that chaos, Pitch, wounded and head swimming, had found the strength to rise, and stand alongside DeeCee. His stand and DeeCee’s managed to stem the tide, and with the pressure lessend Virgil was able to slay the last of his attackers and, though bleeding profusely, he resumed work on his turret. It finally whirred to life, spraying down the Supermutants outside the wall and the mass of Ghouls awaiting the chance to get up the stairs. DeeCee took the opportunity and pushed through the swarm on the walls. With a mighty roar she grasped the siege staircsse by the railings and tossed it, toppling it to the ground.

Decanus was able to slice down the last of his foes in the courtyard, but he was bitten in at least half a dozen places. His neck was warm with blood. On the wall Sheila lay sprawled out, struggling to hold up her rifle as tracer fire shrieked abover her. Her leg was bleeding profusely, and Gabriel was mashing a stimpack into the spot.

Decanus bounded to the western wall and was up on the catwalk in a leap. The guns had taken most of the enemies down, but Supermutants lingered along the edges, firing at the walls. Grasping up Sheila’s rifle, he fired and hit one in the chest, spiraling him to the ground.

With the the attack on the southeast thwarted and a gun in place, Dee Cee and Pitch joined Decanus on the southwestern wall, and with three defenders behind the wall with turrets for support, the attackers were forced to withdraw. After about ten minutes Decanus finally let out a relieved sigh. He poured a packet of healing powder on his aching neck and rubbed it in, feeling instant relief.

It was two hours later before they saw more movement outside the walls. A Supermutant walked toward them with a white flag, a metal object under his arm.

“Should I take him out?” Sheila asked, now recovered enough to hold a rifle.

Decanus sighed. “What is that thing under his arm? A bomb?” He asked.

“I honestly can’t tell. Looks electronic.”

“Not a bomb. Transmission device,” Gabriel said with beeps.

“I don’t want any of those in the walls, either. That’s far enough,” Decanus yelled in a booming voice, raising his rifle. “What is it you want to say?”

Wordlessly, the Supermutant put the device on the ground. A giant hologram of ghoul’s face appeared, translucent yet imposing.

“…Getorix,” Decanus uttered, the words coming out like a swear.

“Imagine my shock at seeing you, Decanus Storm!” The hologram-Getorix said. “Is that wonderful Deathclaw maiden still with you?”

“Eleven of your elite troops are dead in here with us, Getorix,” Decanus said. “We have your teleport technology figured out. I was hoping you were among the dead. I will have to take comfort that we killed Ghouls just like you, even if not you.”

Getorix laughed. “Not like me, not at all like me. I am immortal, undying…they are not. There are more of them, and we can make more easily. This affair is but a trifle, an amusement, to us. We can squash you like a fly, Decanus,” he said. “But we are not without reason. We can make deals. We want the Deathclaw maiden unharmed and the facility undamaged. Give us the girl and vacate the camp, and the rest of you will be given your leave to head west to warn the Legion and NCR – even that fool House – that we have arrived,” he said.

“You are a poor liar, Getorix,” Decanus said. “Your venture has been swift. You were hoping to remain concealed far longer than this. You would never let us live.”

“Ohhh, live you shall,” Getorix said. “Forever impaled on the Vine of Sorrow, cultivating grapes sweet with your torment, from which we press the wine of power. If you open the gate, we shall grant you a quick death. If not…your fate shall be the Vine.”

“Should I wind up impaled on one of your poles, I shall revel in the knowledge that I made you angry. And we both know that tonight, I am not on your vine,” Decanus said. “Every second I live is a victory over you, more precious than the years you plan to torture me, for we both know that your army is running out of water, and without this fortification you cannot hope to head further south. I have halted your conquest.”

Getorix’s hologram was quiet, his skeletal face coldly studying him. “Get a good night’s rest, Decanus,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper. “You shall need it.”

Decanus watched the hologram flicker, then cursed, and tossed his machete into the wall.

“What is it?” DeeCee asked, putting bandages over her arms.

“What he just said. They are going to hit us around the clock,” Decanus said with a curse. “Tire us out.”

“Storm…we’ve all been wounded,” DeeCee said. “All of us seriously. Sheila’s leg is more serious than she’s letting on. Your neck is…that was a very bad bite. Stimpacks and healing powders aren’t longterm solutions. We need help. “

Decanus sighed. To anyone else he would have given a reprimand and marching orders, but not to her. Never to her. “I know,” he said softly. He put a hand on her neck and cupped her face. “I know it is hard, but there is no help coming. Pray, DeeCee. Pray to whatever gods you hold dear. We need a miracle. Perhaps more than one.”

Decanus wished that he had been wrong, but the attacks came in all night. Groups would probe the edges, engage the turrets, then back off, then there would be a full rush of hundreds of ghouls and Supermutants to try to storm one side of the wall. Fortunately they had been able to repair all the damaged turrets.

The defenders had been under pressure for 36 hours. Decanus began to tell them to sleep in place when not fighting. He had done this before, this nightmare world of sleep and combat, and after hour 37, it seemed like the relentless assault may have lessened.

It was in the early morning, and the others were asleep, save for Decanus and Pitch. DeeCee looked so peaceful in repose, but she sounded like a machine falling down a flight of stairs. The wall was quiet, the enemy falling back as the Supermutants were growing tired. The ferals still stupidly milled about, but their abilities were so limited that Decanus hated to use bullets on them.

He kept a watch on the inside of the camp as well. They may have neutralized the teleportation, but he feared there could be other ways they came up inside the camp. That was how he heard it. Something glass had fallen over and shattered in barracks. He grasped his rifle and moved quietly to the barracks, signaling to Pitch to wake the others.

He entered slowly, rounding the corner to the source of the rustling. It was not what he had expected. A girl of about fourteen was opening a footlocker and going through its contents. She was typical of raider stock, half her clothes were metal and leather, her head was shaved but for a spikey strip of long pink hair down the middle which people called a “Mohawk.”

She found a small cylindrical object and clasped it in her hands. Decanus shouldered his rifle and drew his machete.

She heard then noise and tensed, frozen in fear. Decanus froze as well. She wasn’t looking at him but he knew she was aware of him. A moment later she tried to run. Decanus darted out, grasping her by the hair and yanked her back. The girl cried out in pain, and fell backward.

The girl struggled in Decanus’ grasp. “Let me go, you Legion cunt!” She shouted, striking at him. He easily parried her strike, and delivered one of his own with the handle of his machete, which made her go limp for a moment, then redouble her effort with more fury

With great effort and a greater struggle than one might expect from a rail-thin girl, He led her out into the courtyard by her arm. The others -whom Pitch had roused- circled them.

“Who the hell is that?” Pitch asked.

“It’s a raider,” Virgil said. “I recognize her, she was watching us when Sheila and I were taken.”

“I remember her, too,” Sheila said with a growl.

“Great, Ranger Ned survived the apocalypse. Fucking wonderful,” the raider girl said. “I’m surprised Virgil hasn’t killed you yet.”

“Are there any others of your group still in the camp?” Decanus asked.

“Oh yeah. Three hundred of us were just hanging out in the emergency bunker,” the girl snapped. “Another thousand are hiding under the fucking beds.”

Decanus clenched his teeth. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled downward. She let out a shocked yelp of pain. Out of the corner of his eye he saw DeeCee flinch.

“Storm…” DeeCee said.

“I am not in the mood for trifles, Dissolute. Did any of the others survive?”

“No!” The raider girl shouted into his face, grimacing. “Everyone’s fucking dead. My Mom, my Dad – my brother. All dead. Dead! Dead! Dead!” She shouted. Her face briefly contorted as if to cry, but then she clenched her teeth in anger. “Go ahead and kill me too, Legion.”

“I’d rather not,” Decanus said, releasing his grip. “We need every pair of hands we can get right now, including yours, or we are all going to suffer a worse fate by far.”

“I know who is out there,” the girl said with fear and anger in her voice. “Probably better than you do, Legion.”

“I am of the Legion, not Legion. I am Decanus Storm,” he replied. “Of Legatio XIII.”

“My name is Myra,” she said. “Of the Sinister Talon Gang. I guess I was a Sinister Talon, since they’re all dead.”

“This emergency bunker, where is it?” Decanus asked.

Myra sighed. “In the water treatment plant. Third panel from the right on the northwestern wall is fake, and leads to the vault door. I left the vault door open.”

Sheila and Virgil left to check the bunker. While they were gone, Myra inspected DeeCee with wide eyes. “Jesus. Was the Med-x I just shot up cut with something? I see a deathclaw with tits.”

“DeeCee was a vault dweller,” Decanus said.

“Oh right. Those Vault-Tec guys were total shits. Dad said it all the time. They made those awful Lich bastards, after all.”

“How do you mean?” Decanus asked. “You know of their origin?”

“My Dad told me all about it. Vault-Tec had a big vault-skyscraper thing in some place called Bismarck up North. Some famous group of serial killers was put in there for a prison sentence, but got Ghoulified when the war happened. Dad looked them up after he got suspicious about that ghoul who hired him. He didn’t like what he read about them. He up-armored the facility and was getting ready to dump the FEV, but Griggs and Bad Marge – they were west coasters we added- were getting pissy. Everything came to a head, and then Ghouls showed up and…” she shrugged sadly.

“What about this hidden bunker?” Decanus asked.

“That was why this place was built. The FEV was supposed to go into the mines. They said it was better to preserve it there.”

“Salt mines,” Virgil said, emerging from the bunker. “This one was used by Hollywood, even. The dry air was good for the celluloid film. There are thousands of movies in there.”

“…and some supplies. Water, food, some ammunition…” Sheila shrugged. “Nice little setup. Could be a good place to hole up if the walls are breached.”

“It would be a good place to store FEV,” DeeCee said.

“Dad had them move it all to the chem lab to destroy it,” Myra said.

“You were in the bunker during the ghoul attack?” DeeCee asked and Decanus relayed.

“I was…” she paused. “There’s a projector down there. I was watching some of the old movies,” she shook her head. “I was pissed at my parents. Not sure if I’m glad I was watching Vic Fontaine mash a grapefruit into Vera Keyes’ face when my parents were turned into ghoul shit. They could be pains in the ass, but I miss ’em. I feel like I’m..I’m not supposed to be here. I got nothing left now. Home was where Dad and Mom and Hunter were. So that means my home is wherever dead people go.”

“Well,” Decanus said. “That home is not the Vine of Sorrows. We must persevere. The past few days have been hard on all of us.”

DeeCee trilled, and put her hand on the girls shoulder. She moved it away.

“Easy there, monster-gal. I ain’t big on touching people I just met,” Myra said. “Not unless some caps or chems change hands, anyways.”

“Grab a gun and settle in on the wall. I assume you can shoot?” Decanus asked.

Myra nodded. “I’ve shot people before,” she said. “Mostly ghouls.”

“That is relevant experience,” Decanus replied. “Get a rifle from the armory.”

“Is this the help we prayed for?” Decanus whispered with a yawn as the raider girl walked away.

DeeCee shrugged. “Our numbers have increased today. Can our enemies say the same?

Decanus smiled. The thought might have made him laugh on a happier day, but instead he took her hand in his own. She looked down at his hand with a smile of her own, and gave him a slight squeezs.

“Seven was always my favorite number, anyways,” she replied.

“My favorite number is nine,” Decanus said. “When I see nine men at the end of a day, it means I did my job.”

“There may have been only six of us, but you have done your job well,” DeeCee said.

“I did not mean to solicit praise, but thank you,” Decanus said. “In truth, we walk a knife’s edge. We were nearly overrun within the first twenty-four hours. Had Pitch been a normal boy of twelve, we would have been,” he looked about the structure. “How much of the FEV is left?”

DeeCee shrugged. “About a quarter of it,” she said.

“I shall go and mix some of the agents, like you showed me…” he said, yawning.

She put a hand on his chest. “You need sleep. If you stay up you will be getting punchy and making mistakes. You need to lead us. I don’t like our chances under Sheila,” she said.

She gently wrapped her arms around him and – with great care – she lifted him up in her arms as if he weighed nothing. At first he thought to struggle, and to tell her to stop, but he found being off his feet to be pleasant. In her powerful arms he thought back to that one embrace of only a few days but a lifetime earlier, and he drifted off to peaceful sleep in her arms.

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