April 14th, 2288
With his head craned back, MacCready stared up at the massive, towering concrete walls surrounding Covenant. Beyond the barricade, proud rooftops baring all of their shingles poked at the belly of the sky. Enormous floodlights, powered up despite the daylight, stood at every corner of the complex, causing pockets of wasted and barren undergrowth to glow at the base of the wall. Turrets and barbed wire traced the ledges, making the settlement resemble a fortress that put most Brotherhood of Steel depots to shame.
MacCready’s small team had been swallowed up by the shade that the immense barrier cast over the roadway. With his rifle strapped to his back, he shifted, whistling. “What do you think?” he asked his cohorts, letting his head fall forward. “Keeping something out or keeping something in?”
“Such a secure location,” Curie remarked, jotting notes onto a pad, her ever-present satchel of papers slung crosswise over one shoulder. “How has Monsieur Nate or Colonel Garvey not bartered a treaty with this site? It would seem beneficial, no?”
Cait swung her bat absently as she guessed, “Maybe they don’t wanna play nice with the other kiddies.”
They had come down from the north, sticking to the highway to avoid stumbling over any camped raiders lingering in the hillsides. It was early afternoon and the sky was a bright, clear blue, cloudless and inviting. A wide river reflected the sunlight, breaking the rays up to sparkle on the surface of the water. The oppressive appearance of Covenant clashed with what would have otherwise been a pleasant vista. A jarringly cheery sign stood out against the flat grey tone of the barricade, welcoming visitors, overcompensating for the dreary exterior. Adjacent to a guard shack, a silver-haired greaser sat in a chair before the gates, waving at them in a friendly manner. “Ya here visiting?” he called to them.
MacCready shared a look with Cait and tilted his head in a here we go insinuation, before answering back. “On our way through from Greygarden,” shouted MacCready. It wouldn’t do to have any troubles follow them back to Sanctuary. “Looking to set up some trade deals.”
“Well, that bein’, I gotta walk each of you through the Safe Test,” the gate guard said, with a lazy smile. “We can’t just let anybody in. Gotta make sure everyone’s like they seem, ya know?”
One of MacCready’s brows lowered as he tentatively approached the gates. “…kay…”
“Sounds like the same line that Diamond City totes,” Cait muttered under her breath, her bat draped over her shoulder as she walked. Curie scampered behind them to keep up.
“Name’s Swanson,” the greaser said, settling down at a desk in the guard shack. “Test ain’t no big deal – just a couple’a questions. Take a seat.”
MacCready fell into a chair opposite him. “Alright. Shoot.”
Swanson cleared his throat and lifted a stack of papers, eyes scanning the first page. “You are approached by a frenzied vault scientist, who yells, I'm going to put my quantum harmonizer in your photonic resonation chamber! What's your response?”
Off in the distance, a dog could be heard barking in the silence that followed Swanson’s question. Dumbstruck by the question, MacCready looked up at both of his companions in turn. Curie was scribbling frantically on her notepad. “Oh! This is a riddle!” the little synth bubbled happily. Cait looked as if she had smelled something rotten, lips curled into a wicked scowl.
“What kinda fucktardery is this?” MacCready asked, turning back to the gatekeeper. Preston was going to be doing his own recon from now on.
“Please, take these questions seriously. What would you do?”
“Your mom,” MacCready answered.
The test went on for too long and followed no logical pattern that Mac could calculate. After him, Curie went, chatting through her reasoning and enjoying the process too much, followed by Cait, who answered in swears. At the end of it, Swanson stood and congratulated them. “Helluva bunch of answers ya gave, but ya passed.”
“Praise be for that,” Cait groused, hoisting herself out of the chair by using her bat as she would a cane.
Swanson opened the doors that led through the concrete barrier of the settlement. “Welcome to Covenant,” he said with a prideful grin.
The three of them passed through the entry and into a small, cheery-looking community complete with gardens, power and intact housing. Radios were tuned into the classical music station, soothing notes wafting through open doorways. Curie’s eyes went everywhere, marking notes with fervor. “Place is so clean, I’d imagine it squeaks,” said Cait, peering into houses. “Where you wanna start?” she asked him.
A stout older man passed by, looking too similar to Mayor McDonough from Diamond City. Too well fed and too opulently dressed by Wasteland standards, clearly, this was the man in charge. His carriage imparted absolute ease and power, a tight-smirking king looking down on his peasants. MacCready took the opportunity to collide with him.
“Sorry, man. My fault,” MacCready said, righting the man while slipping a hand into his pocket. His fingers closed around a key, which he palmed. With their luck, that key would lead to a hidden bunker of horrors.
“No harm, son. On your way then,” the man said, tipping his hat before moving off.
“I wanna start here.” He surreptitiously took hold of Cait’s hand and slipped the key into her palm. “No one keeps their trash out in the open. Find out what this goes to.” He turned his attention to Curie. “Ask around and see what you dig up. People find you adorable. Use that as leverage.”
“Oui. Although I am uncertain that shovels will be required.”
They broke apart in three different directions. While Cait slipped around the backs of the houses and Curie questioned the shopkeepers, MacCready wandered the center of town. A single tree towered over him, the focal point for the entire complex. Gnarled and long dead, the scrabbly tree was an ugly eyesore. He frowned up at it, noting that it didn’t fit in with the town’s pristine setting.
Along one of the picket fences that lined the houses, a man in glinting armor stood out, both by his apparel and by his long hair. This powerfully built man had a tough look about him. He was dressed like a caravan master, a survivor, not some townsperson that lived inside of a walled complex. The man turned away from a disgruntled citizen with a heavy sigh. “Passing through or here to stay?” he asked, addressing MacCready.
MacCready shook his head as drew nearer. “Just visiting.”
“Same,” the man said, giving a nod. “Name’s Dan.”
“Huh,” MacCready grunted. “I have a…a friend by that name.” He wasn’t sure if it was safe to call Danse friend, although it was certainly better than calling him an enemy. “Bob,” was the name MacCready gave. Common and untraceable, that was the name he used when undercover, despite hating it.
“You didn’t happen upon a caravan on the way here, did you?” Dan asked.
MacCready frowned. “As it happens, we’re looking for one, too. Was coming up from Bunker Hill.”
Dan’s eyes darted to a few wandering settlers before landing back on MacCready. “We’re in a similar business, Bob. I think we’re looking for the same people.”
“These people wouldn’t cop to noticing an atom bomb. Been giving me the run around since I got here.” Dan moved closer, his voice dropped to a whisper. “You might wanna keep moving,” he said, warningly. “Folks here ain’t what they seem.”
MacCready’s brows furrowed. “Is this so?”
Dan gave another tired sigh. “Look, I’m just trying to do a job but something ain’t right here. They’re hiding something. Dunno if it’s chems, caps, or synths, but they’re sittin’ on something.”
MacCready slid an automatic glance in Curie’s direction. She was chatting with a doctor, grinning while the doctor scowled. “What made you jump to synths?” he asked, bringing his eyes back to Dan.
“If one thing has the Commonwealth up in arms, it’s that anybody can be a synth. You might have caught that entry test. Supposed to weed out the real people from the fake ones, but who’s to say how well it works?”
Distress swelled, making MacCready fidget. Taking notice, Dan said, “Shit. You’re one of them aren’t you? Or you brought one in with you?” This caravanner was brighter than he seemed.
MacCready kept his mouth shut, knowing that giving no answer was just an incriminating as saying, sure, yeah, I bought in that one over there.
He knew that it made him a hypocrite, but MacCready’s stance on synths tended to waver depending on the situation. Danse was a dangerous element, packaged directly from the Institute, just like that courser, X6-88, – who had been briefly employed in Nate’s entourage before disappearing. Both Danse and X6 were literal killing machines, built to destroy anyone who they perceived as enemies.
Curie was different, though. She operated under whatever pre-approved programming Nate had seen fit to allow. She was still a meek scientist, almost a child, a newcomer to the Wasteland who abhorred violence, partaking in it only when absolutely necessary. Sweet, shy, and unassuming, she lacked the bloodthirsty nature that both Danse and X6-88 had shared. Curie posed no threat to anyone.
Unnerved, MacCready bid a hasty farewell to the caravaner and continued combing through the community. Although no one had any answers for him about a missing caravan, they had plenty of smiles and well wishes.
Cait resurfaced, steering him into a tight wedge between two houses. The sun was setting and dark shadows were easy to find. “Something’s weird,” she said as they huddled, swinging her bat lightly against one leg. “Ain’t nobody as happy as the folks here are.”
“Coverin’ something?” he asked her, keeping an eye out for Curie. He spotted her and waved her in. She jogged towards them, satchel bouncing.
“Definitely,” Cait answered. “Check what I lifted.” When Curie had joined them, they formed a circle as Cait flashed a piece of paper. A few rules were listed on the note, including a warning about discussing synths or the Institute. “What’cha think? Safehouse?”
MacCready shook his head. “Not really the Railroad’s style.”
“I don’t like this,” Cait declared. “We should book outta here and come back when we know what we’re dealin’ with.”
Curie slid her notes back into her bag. “I must agree. We are simply not prepared to combat an unknown variable.”
Shivers and unease ran through MacCready and he had to agree with them. “Then let’s beat.”
As they left the nook between houses, they found a sunset painted in pinks and corals waiting for them. Pressed tightly together, MacCready led them back out into the main arena of Covenant. They were almost to the front gate when the older man, the one MacCready had pickpocketed, fell into step beside them.
“Hey there, stranger,” the man said, nodding to MacCready. “Name’s Jacob. I run this place. Seems like the bunch of you have been poking around.” A line of Covenant citizens ambled from their houses to bar exiting the settlement.
Their group stopped, MacCready pushing himself between the girls and the crowd. “Hey, man, we don’t want any trouble. This just ain’t the place for us. Gonna be heading on.”
Jacob smiled from under his prim hat. “Now, now. Don’t go jumping to any rash conclusions.” The man spoke slowly and concisely, each word landing hard. “But we need to protect our own. I’m sure you understand that.”
There was a commotion behind them and MacCready twisted around. The caravan driver, Dan, was tossed out of the shadows to land at the foot of the tree that fanned thick branches over the entire town.
“Looks like your test failed again, Swanson,” a resident remarked, flaunting a pistol. “One of these trespassers is a synth.”
Heat traveled up MacCready’s neck as his stomach clenched. There was a perceivable shift in the air.
Jacob snapped his fingers and the wealth of citizens rushed at them. It happened so fast that MacCready and Curie had no time to draw their weapons. Cait only managed to swing her bat once, connecting with someone’s upraised arm, before the three of them were restrained.
“Bitch broke my arm!” someone was shouting, as MacCready found himself being towed towards the immense tree at the center of town. He was forced to his knees and, as he looked around, found that his friends and the trader were being drawn into a semi-circle, all kneeling, wrists held behind their backs.
Brandishing his own weapon, Jacob prowled the assembly, stopping behind the trader, thumbing the hammer. “Which one is it?”
Dan shook his head, shaggy hair swinging. He was covered in bruises, causing his face to swell. “I told you,” he growled. “I don’t know for sure. They didn’t tell me.”
Jacob fired his gun and the front of Dan’s head exploded outwards in a shower of brain, bone and blood. The three from Sanctuary jerked, stunned into silence. Jacob cleared his throat and smoothed his tie, revolver still smoking at his side. “Apologies. That wasn’t very neighborly at all. Let’s try again.” He continued roving the circle. “Hypothetically – say that one of you is a synth. Which one would it be?”
MacCready’s eyes danced all over the scene. Cait was boring holes into Jacob’s face, muscles jumping in her cheeks as she ground her teeth. Curie was glancing at MacCready, as if pleading with him, but his jaw was fixed shut. A wrong word could be disastrous. Dan’s body lay in a heap, still leaking blood.
Silence stretched, townsfolk fingering their weapons while Jacob wove his way through the group, stepping between each of them, studying their expressions. “No? No one?” he asked as the three of them remained mute. He huffed a disappointed sound. “I supposed we’ll have to gamble, then. One out of three. Take him to the compound.”
At a gesture from Jacob, two inhabitants grabbed MacCready by the arms and hauled him to his feet. “Whoa, whoa, wait! No! I’m not a damn synth!” he shouted, as he was dragged from the circle kicking and struggling. Cait lurched to her feet, engaging in a brief struggle before she was subdued by a rifle stock striking her in the back.
Amid a sudden swell of fright, it dawned on MacCready that this fear of synths had cost of lot of real people their lives. How many had died being falsely accused, shouting the truth up until the end to no avail? With eager hands grabbing at him, hoisting him off the ground, it seemed like MacCready was about to join the ranks of the condemned. Christ, had more people had died this way than actual synths?
“Non!” Curie screamed, her voice cutting through Cait’s yelling and the shouting of the townspeople. “Stop it! It is me! You will leave him alone!”
“Curie, no…” MacCready breathed as the threat to him stalled, people pausing as they heard her.
“Oui. I confess,” she said, ignoring him and addressing the entire town. “I am guilty. I am not, nor have I ever been, human. My associates did not know of this. I have, how you say, bamboozled them.”
MacCready found himself being thrown forward, landing hard on his palms, minute bits of gravel cutting into the skin. Cait flew herself to his side as two men grabbed Curie roughly by the arms. The word ‘wait’ never made it out of MacCready’s mouth. Fighting for Curie would undoubtedly assure that all three of them would be restrained. He and Cait stood and were forced backward by leveled weapons.
Motioning to Curie with his gun barrel, Jacob said, “See? That wasn’t difficult at all. You’ll gladly remain here. The two of you” – he addressed MacCready and Cait – “should probably pick your friends a little more carefully next time. And let’s keep this little incident between us. No hard feelings, right? We all have to do our part to keep the Commonwealth safe and secure for everyone.”
He and Cait were hauled out of the front gate, stumbling backwards the entire time. The last MacCready saw of Curie was the resigned stare that she gave him. It is all right, she seemed to be saying. I can bear this. You will live and that is truly what matters. She gave a small smile as the gate swung shut, sealing her from view. The doors sealed with a heavy clang, turrets still whirring above the wall.
In a moment of desperate insanity, guilt gnawing at his insides, MacCready threw his shoulder at the doors, as if to break his way back in. And then what? Be immediately cut down? He stepped away from the wall.
“Hell,” Cait cursed, rubbing her hands against her thighs. Without her bat, she was unarmed. “We goin’ for Nate?”
It was a knee-jerk reaction to go to Nate with any problem that reared. His heart heavy, MacCready shook his head. “Out of range. And with the Brotherhood.”
“Not their bag. And their numbers are strained.”
With sudden inspiration, his back straightened and he threw himself into a run. He heard Cait’s shoes plod the pavement a step behind. “Hold up!” she cried. “Where you off to?”
“Back to Sanctuary,” he called over a shoulder, not breaking stride. “Gotta hop on the radio. Synth in jeopardy – this is a Railroad problem.”