The catacombs under the Old North Church were horrifyingly pungent in a way that even nuclear fallout hadn’t been fully able to remedy. Perhaps it was just the all-too-familiar cool undertone of mouldering bones mixed with the piquant tang of raw sewage from the escape tunnel, but the place really could use a few air fresheners.
Still, the battered and broken band of synth’s rights activists who called the facility home could have done worse. At least some of them were still alive, and there was enough space for what little equipment they’d managed to salvage from their old base. It wasn’t quite as cush of a setup as what they’d so recently lost, but it would do for now until they were able to rebuild their infrastructure.
Deacon peered over the top of his current literary treasure, The Albatross Anthology of Russian Poetry (and wouldn’t you know it, not one of the poems felt like it was written by an albatross!), to survey his peers as they continued getting the new HQ as livable as possible.
Dr. Carrington had managed to salvage a new lab coat, which was for the best, as his old one was so soaked in blood that even a metric ton of Abraxo would never get it gleaming again. He was currently attending to a pretty severe cut on the head of one of the newer agents -- what was his name again, Roachy? Poor bastard needed stitches, and they were all out of stims, so he was going to have to heal the hard way.
Good ol’ Drummer Boy was helping place a few additional mattresses down between the tombs. Ugh, it still looked like they’d have to double up. At least the questionably-stained beds they’d been able to scavenge would be more comfortable than sleeping in the actual coffins, though Deacon was still determined to try that at least once, if only to horrify the others.
Glory was nowhere to be seen. The feisty synth was probably stuck running concurrent ops again. It was hard enough with only a handful of heavies, but now… it was a good thing she rarely needed sleep.
Tinker Tom, of course, had commandeered several of the newer agents to help him sweep the facility, even though they had already checked for every bug, nanite, and other tiny double agent possible in every mannequin, junk pile, and suspicious puddle of goo they could. He couldn’t exactly fault the eccentric genius. After all, they’d thought the Switchboard was secure, and look how that had turned out.
As he turned his head slightly to look for her, Desdemona was suddenly right in his face, her toffee-brown eyes fierce. The leader of the Railroad was a stealthy one, he’d give her that. Though, typically, Deacon was a hard man to sneak up on. Perhaps the trials and defeats of the past few days were finally impairing his abilities.
“Deacon, I need you to head to Concord right away,” barked Dez, peeling the book from his hands while he gasped in protest. “We’ve gotten word that a raider gang has recently been spotted in the area. We’re pretty sure they’re looking for synths to capture. Normally, we’d tell our operatives in the area to lie low, but we don’t have anyone up there right now. Worse, still, that group from Quincy has been spotted nearby.”
“You mean Garvey’s group, the one with the catch-and-release from a few years ago in it? Shit. They’re in real trouble if the raiders catch wind of them there, especially with a mind-wiped synth with them.”
“Exactly. So I need you to go make sure our asset is safe, and get them out of there if you can.”
“Sure, Dez, but isn’t that usually a heavy’s job?”
Desdemona sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. How long had it been since any of them had gotten a full night’s sleep? After the Switchboard fell, there had been little time for such luxuries.
“You’re absolutely right. Normally, we’d just eliminate the gang and move on. But, honestly, we don’t have time to spare for Glory’s schedule to open up, and with Tommy Whispers missing... Look, I need you to get up there, pull some recon, and do whatever you can to ensure the safety of any synths you encounter, known or unknown.”
“What about Preston’s safety? I mean, the guy’s kind of a killjoy, but he means well. He’d be an excellent ally, especially if he felt like he owed us one.”
“Deacon...the synth’s your priority. We don’t have time to worry about anyone else right now. You know that.”
Typical. Deacon gladly followed Dez, most of the time. She was a good leader, passionate and convicted. But he often found himself wondering if the Railroad could do more for the other denizens of the ‘Wealth, not just the synthetic ones. It was one area they’d never seen eye to eye on, and he was sick of fighting the same losing battle over and over again. It was easier just to smile, nod, and do what he was going to do anyway.
“Ok, boss. I’ll do my best.”
“Oh, and Deacon?”
“Don’t get killed. I can’t afford to lose anyone else today.”
“Aww, you do care!”
He did his best to ignore her frown as he darted from the catacombs and into the pungent escape tunnel.
The trip north was long, and after another 4-hour stretch of hiking, Deacon decided he needed a break. Finding a fairly secure spot within a tight cluster of trees, he sat down to rest and have a bite to eat. It wasn’t much, but the squirrel bits he’d palmed off a sleeping scavver the night before would be decent cold, and he still had some purified water in his canteen that would help to ease the gamey flesh down.
He’d ended up north of his destination, but this had been by design. The main road into Concord had been heavily guarded by rough-looking raiders, who he presumed were part of the gang Dez had been so concerned about, so he’d decided to find another way into town. Perhaps the road from the northwest would be less protected. As far as he knew, fewer people travelled it. Why would they? There was nothing up here but an old abandoned subdivision and a dead vault.
It was just downhill from this vault that he now sat, struggling through his gristly meal. The abandoned trailers and storage containers that surrounded the vault entrance would have provided more shelter from the late autumn chill, but less from prying eyes. If he was wrong about the placement of another raider patrol, he would have found himself very exposed indeed trying to leave the area. So instead, he made due in his natural blind, keeping his sniper rifle close by in case he spied any unusual movement.
Deacon pulled his tan duster tighter about himself as the cool October wind blew off the naked hilltop towards the river, piercing through his worn navy button-up shirt. Damn this wastelander camo. He’d kill for an actual coat. Well, at least he’d had the foresight not to wear his typical stained t-shirt.
Still, Dez hadn’t given him his book back, something about “results first.” Well, he’d give his leader credit for one thing, she sure knew how to motivate people.
Or did she?
He smirked, pulling an identical book from his coat pocket. He had these bad boys stashed in all sorts of fun places. Thank God for informants and small bookstores with basements, that’s all he had to say.
As he reveled in depictions of sleigh-rides and lost love, he suddenly heard a distant grating rumble from the direction of the hill’s summit. The ground shook under his feet as the huge elevator buried in the hillside surged to life like an ancient beast roused from its slumber, roaring and churning in primordial ire.
He rose to his feet, poetry and squirrel meat all but forgotten as he pressed the scope of his rifle to his face.
“Well, that’s interesting,” he mused out loud. “Guess that dead vault isn’t so dead after all. Damn. I owe you those 50 caps after all, Gouger.”
Or, he would, if the raider hadn’t been shot in a bar brawl at the Combat Zone what, three months ago, now?
“Wow. Time flies when all your friends are being brutally massacred. Guess I’ll just have to have a drink to your memory instead, buddy. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
He smiled to himself before turning his attention fully to the vault at the top of the hill. Vault 111. Now there was something worth investigating, not that he would have suspected it.
Deacon’s contacts in the scavving community had written the damn thing off as a salvage destination years ago. There wasn’t even anything of value in there, as far as he knew, only corpses and clipboards. Well, there had been rumors of some sort of organ-harvesting operation being run out of the joint, but that had seemed a little far-fetched to him.
Now, however, the rumble and whir of long-stagnant machinery made him suspect that there was more to the place than any of his informants had suspected. What secrets were now fighting to be revealed, he wondered?
Through the streaked scope of his sniper rifle, he spied a lone woman emerging from the ground at the crest of the hill, clawing her way into the sun. Striking white hair billowed behind her as the late fall breeze caught it, sending strands dancing. Another snow-haired woman. Glory was gonna be pissed someone else was copping her look.
She was tall, taller than most women he’d met, and even some men, come to think of it. But then he’d heard that nutrition in the vaults tended to be a bit better than what they got on the surface. Her skin was almost as unnaturally pale as her hair, rendered even more blindingly white by the dark blue of the vault suit that clung to her curvy form in ways that would be much more alluring were she not in obvious distress.
The vault dweller was nearly hunched over, one hand wrapped protectively around her stomach and the other clutching a security baton for dear life as she trembled so violently he almost thought her body would split in two. She took one slow, staggering step forward before collapsing in a heap on top of the vault entrance.
Without giving it more than a moment’s thought, he slung his rifle over his shoulder and ran to her unconscious form. Deacon usually preferred the hands-off approach, but he knew of no one else around for miles, no one else who could help. And besides, it wasn’t like she was conscious anyway. His cover was hardly going to be blown.
“Come on, little cicada. I know it’s a big scary wasteland out here, but that doesn’t mean you’ve gotta pass out on me,” he muttered as he gently eased her over onto her back, exhaling sharply as he saw the red marks already forming on her left cheek. Oh, that was going to bruise.
She was cold as ice, so much so that he feared she’d died already until he held his hand near her mouth and nose, sighing in relief as he felt warm, shallow breaths against his skin. Well, that was the first bit of luck he’d had today.
Even from a cursory glance, it was obvious that she had a small dose of radiation poisoning and was likely close to hypothermia. Her limp frame was littered with radroach bites, angry and dark against the exposed skin of her hands, neck, and face. He cursed under his breath, pulling a pouch of Radaway from his pack and applying the IV to her forearm.
“Damn,” Deacon sighed, “These vault dwellers never have any tolerance for radiation.” He supposed that hardiness was one of the few gifts the rest of them had been blessed with. Frankly, he’d rather have had the creature comforts, the libraries, the decent food. But, hey, everyone had their perks, as well as their curses. Whatever had happened to the young woman at Vault-Tec’s hands was probably… no, definitely not worth having access to a few more books and a wider selection of tv dinners.
If it weren’t for her present condition, he might have found her quite beautiful. Her face was unblemished by the ravages of the wastes, a smattering of freckles radiating from her narrow nose like blood splatter on snow. A pair of streaky eyeglasses obscured her eyes, but he could make out soft, feathery brown eyelashes and matching, well-groomed eyebrows underneath. He wondered if her hair was supposed to match them. Who knew what horrors she’d witnessed in her time below the earth?
Vault dwellers didn’t survive long in the Commonwealth, at least not alone. There was a reason he called them cicadas. They burst out of the ground after a long time in hibernation, made a lot of noise, and died quickly. So getting the chance to actually meet one and ask them about “Your Future, Underground!™” wasn’t exactly a common occurrence. Most that made it past the first few months of life in the wastes quickly learned not to discuss anything that would single them out.
But the few hardy vault dwellers that Deacon had met all attested that these purported havens were anything but cozy. Whether these survivors were intentionally trying to protect their plush lifestyle from being plundered by wastelanders or they genuinely had lived through the sadistic experiments they described, he couldn’t say for sure. But there was something about the unconscious woman in his arms that gave him pause, that made him think that his acquaintances had been more honest than he’d given them credit for.
“Well, princess, let’s get you someplace warm,” he muttered, scooping her limp body against his chest and carrying her down the hill to the ruined cul-du-sac below. It wasn’t ideal, but there were probably some threadbare blankets or curtains somewhere in one of the old houses, and he’d heard rumor of a Mr. Handy nearby who could probably look after her well enough. He didn’t have time to babysit her, not with so few agents available and so many synths in play.
As he neared one of the houses, his information was proven correct. A silvery ball of flustered British charm drifted towards him, limbs flailing.
“Unhand my mistress at once, you ruffian!” it scolded, three mechanical eyes boring into his soul.
“Miss Myra! Oh, what has happened to you?” continued the robot, pointedly ignoring Deacon’s question.
It’s her robot, he realized. Of course it is. That’s two in the win column. Maybe I should hit up the Red Rocket down the way and look for some old scratch-off tickets. I’d love to see Stockton’s face if I tried to trade those bad boys in.
“I found her by the vault entrance,” Deacon explained, “She’s extremely weak and cold.”
“Oh, that won’t do! That won’t do at all!” the robot tut-tutted dramatically. “Sir will be so worried when he gets home. He always tells her that she needs to take better care of herself… you haven’t seen Sir, have you?”
Deacon shook his head. “No, she’s the only person I’ve seen in hours,” he replied honestly.
“Oh dear! Well, perhaps he and young Shaun are out buying a present for her. It is Miss Myra’s birthday, today, after all. Over 200 years, and I still remember the date! How’s that for General Atomic engineering?”
“200 years? That’s impossible. I mean, look at her.”
Deacon stared down at the woman in his arms in surprise. She wasn’t just a vault dweller. She was an original vault dweller. But how?
“She does look remarkably well-preserved, doesn’t she? Well, her hair’s gone white, but old age will do that, I suppose.”
Not her natural color. Called it. Damn, I’m on a roll.
“Now, please, bring her inside,” continued the Mr. Handy, sweeping past him. “The bed’s not made, I’m afraid, so we will have to let her rest on the couch for now. I’ll find some blankets, and then perhaps I’ll whip up a nice cup of hot cocoa for her. I do think I have a tin of the stuff saved away…” the robot continued, muttering incessantly to himself as he puttered about.
Deacon sighed heavily, following the butler inside the ruined house.
He eased the unconscious woman down on the couch, brushing a few stray white hairs from her gentle face. His body heat had warmed her somewhat on the journey, and a faint pink glow had begun to rekindle in her freckled cheeks. She was probably going to live. Good.
He looked through the paneless windows, noting how low the sun was getting. As novel as getting to play white knight to an actual pre-war housewife was, it had caused a heck of a delay. He needed to be in Concord hours ago.
“What’s the harm?” he asked himself under his breath. “Dez can wait.”
Dez cannot wait, his better judgement chided. She’ll kill you if you let anything happen to that synth, you idiot.
Deacon sighed. When he was right, he was right.
“Excuse me,” he called towards the back of the house, where the Mr. Handy was now feverishly rummaging through drawers, muttering something about blankets.
“What is it, sir?” chirped the bot in reply.
“I’ve made her as comfortable as I can, but I really need to get going. I have to make it to Concord before nightfall.”
“Of course, of course! Miss Myra is in the best of hands. I will guard her with my life, as is my duty and pleasure. But please, may I offer you some reward for bringing her home safely? I’m afraid we’re quite low on cash at the moment, but I would be remiss in my duties if I did not thank you in some way for your heroic actions.”
“You don’t owe me a thing. It was on my way, honest.”
“Oh, but I insist! And I do hope you’ll forgive my tone when we first met. The people I’ve had the misfortune of meeting as of late have not been of the most savory nature, if you get my meaning.”
Deacon rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. Wow, this thing was persistent. Time for the cunning backstory for his cunning disguise.
“Of course. This might seem like an odd request, but do you have any spare clothes? I’m a clothing merchant, you see, and I’m always looking for new stock.”
“Ah! Splendid! Yes, I know just the thing!” chortled the robot, floating over to the second bedroom.
The Mr. Handy returned with a very handsome navy blue suit coat, freshly laundered and immaculate, with two silver buttons and a small white handkerchief folded in the top pocket, as well as a matching pair of navy pinstripe slacks, both perfectly folded. Deacon inspected the clothes admiringly. Not exactly subtle, but he could probably find a use for it next time he needed to gather information in the Stands of Diamond City.
“Sir never wears it any more,” sighed the robot, dejectedly, “claims the cut doesn’t suit him.”
“A shame,” replied Deacon, folding it carefully in his pack. “It’s a really nice outfit.”
Hmm. Maybe I could get some good use out of it in Goodneighbor.
“Indeed it is, sir.”
“Well, I suppose I should be going. Take care of her, all right? I’ll try to swing by on my way back to check on her if I have time.”
“Oh! Forgive me, but I nearly forgot! What is your name? I’m sure Miss Myra will want to know the name of her hero when she wakes up.”
“The name’s Billy...Billy Stitches.”
“Well, then, Mr. Stitches. A pleasure. Thank you for your help. You may call me Codsworth, and I wish you the best of luck in your venture.”
“Thank you, Codsworth. Goodbye.”
Deacon took one more glance at the young woman on the couch before heading out the front door, down the broken pavement that lead to Concord and the synth he hoped he wasn’t too late to save.
“Ugh!” Deacon muttered under his breath. “Stakeouts are so boring sometimes! I knew I should have brought a word search.”
Ordinarily, he wouldn’t mind the quiet. It meant he had more time to read, plan new pranks, or ignore all the things he’d rather not think about. But he had to stay alert with so large a pack of raiders underfoot, and that level of concentration made every minute feel like at least six.
It was at times like these he almost wished he had a partner again. At least then he’d have another set of eyes, and a sounding board. Talking to himself was only fun for the first few hours of any mission. Then, even he got sick of him.
So far, he’d gotten nothing interesting from the group of raiders, apparently led by the ever-so-imaginatively-named Gristle, a brainless sack of sinew and brawn if he’d ever seen one. Well, he found out that some upstanding member of the gang named Hunk had been cheating on a raiderette called Slasher Debbie with another girl they called Vix, but that was hardly something worth reporting to Dez unless the girls decided to settle their dispute in a particularly violent or creative fashion. Unfortunately, the charming young women seemed content to just howl low-level insults at each other, which was hardly worthy of his attention.
As far as he could tell, the raiders had pinned the synth, his favorite sad-looking minuteman, and a few bedraggled settlers in the museum at the end of the street. But the idiotic raiders hadn’t been able to agree on what they were going to do with their prey, and so the hunt had devolved into a rudimentary siege on the top floor of the building. If Tommy Whispers were here, Gristle’s gang would all be dead right now, but Deacon was no Tommy. Hell, no one was.
“If these guys don’t start talking business or killing each other soon,” Deacon whined, “I’m going to rip my own ears off. It’s been almost three days. Make a damn move already!”
Suddenly, he heard movement outside the raider’s sandbags. They must have heard it too, because they all started commenting on it. Loudly.
A few well-placed small-caliber shots rang out over the din, and he watched as two of the raiders fell in the street. A tall figure bent over them, rifling through their pockets for ammunition and caps.
“Is that the cicada?” he whispered, eyes wide. “No way.”
She had traded in her vault suit for a green and black flannel shirt and jeans, and her long white hair was wound in a tight bun that hung low on her neck beneath a filthy newsboy cap that even Drummer would have probably burned rather than worn, but there was no mistaking it. Myra, the girl from Vault 111, was here in Concord. But how? What had drawn her here?
She wasn’t alone, either. Sometime since he’d left her asleep on the couch, she’d acquired a large German Shepherd who stood stalwartly beside her, a green bandana tied about his neck.
Deacon watched her from his perch on the top floor of the hardware store as she conversed animatedly with Preston, who addressed her from the museum’s balcony.
“Vault dweller, vault dweller. Wherefore art thou, vault dweller?” Deacon muttered mockingly, his mouth curling into a cat-like smile. Man, he cracked himself up.
At Preston’s request, Myra grabbed a discarded laser musket and stormed inside the Museum of Freedom, her fluffy companion at her side, and Deacon was alone with the increasingly agitated surviving raiders again.
It had been, what, three days since Deacon had found her? That was hardly enough time for her to recover, and yet here she was, already on her feet and carving her way through raiders like they were made of butter. Now that was something worth noting.
Who was she, anyway? As far as he knew, most pre-war women from the suburbs weren’t well known for their shooting skills. Had she been a criminal of some sort? No, that didn’t seem to fit. If she’d been on the wrong side of the law, she would have probably tried to join up with the raiders, rather than helping the trapped refugees.
Was she ex-military? She certainly had the skills, but she didn’t carry herself like a soldier. Was she really just that adaptable? Unlikely. There was something off about this Myra, and he was going to uncover her secrets if it was the last thread he ever pulled at.
He continued his watch on the museum, his thoughts racing as he tried to piece together a puzzle with most of the pieces missing.
Suddenly, a loud thud shook him from his reflections as an ancient suit of power armor landed on the street below, minigun blazing as the armored figure mowed through the remaining raiders.
What the hell? Did they just jump off the roof? How did I miss that? I really am getting rusty.
The power armor wasn’t as flashy as some of the better-maintained suits he’d seen in his younger days, and the person inside wasn’t particularly great at walking in it, but it was at least a full set, more than what most people found scattered around the ‘Wealth.
“I we could get Glory in one of those,” Deacon mused, “we might not even need another heavy.”
The armored figure made short work of Gristle and his band of merry men, leveling them in a spray of bullets. They lowered the gun at last when they reached the far side of the street before turning around and slowly, awkwardly stomping back towards the museum.
An unholy roar resounded in the crisp October air from behind them as the sewer grate on the end of the road exploded. An enormous, grey, scaly arm tipped with vicious talons erupted from the opening, followed swiftly by the rest of the hulking, reptilian monstrosity to which the limb belonged.
“Shit! Deathclaw!” Deacon yelled, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be hidden.
That suit wouldn’t help whoever was inside much, he feared. He’d seen deathclaws open the metal armor like a can of sardines, and this one seemed particularly peckish.
He shifted positions, bringing his sniper rifle to bear on the giant lizard. He watched in horror as the creature rounded on the armored fighter who hastily struggled with their minigun, trying to aim the heavy equipment. The combatant got a few good shots off, but the impact of the minigun rounds only seemed to enrage the beast more. It picked them up like they were a doll, slamming them into the ground with a force so great that they probably felt it back at HQ. The helmet popped off the suit, and all he could see was white hair streaked with blood, large green eyes wide in terror.
“Really, Myra?” he moaned. “Am I going to have to do everything for you?”
The deathclaw’s arm swiped towards her skull, and Deacon heard her shriek in horror right as his finger gently pulled back on the trigger.
The creature’s head exploded in a splash of viscera, and her cry of horror turned to disgust as the gore rained down on her, the cold-blooded beast’s fallen corpse tipping her over and pinning her in her suit like a turtle.
The doors of the museum flew open as Preston’s group ran towards their fallen rescuer, who was using all the strength the suit afforded her to try and lift the deathclaw off of herself.
“Jun, Sturges!” barked Preston, pushing futilly at the deathclaw corpse. “Help me get this thing off of her!”
“You heard the man,” replied the man in coveralls. Between the three of them, they managed to push the heavy corpse far enough to ease Myra out from under it.
She wiggled free, accepting a hand from Preston who helped her to her feet as best he could.
“Thanks,” she managed, struggling to catch her breath.
“It’s the least I could do, seeing as you saved all our lives,” Preston replied, a bright grin on his typically melancholy face.
Deacon shuddered. It was unnatural. He’d never seen the man happy, not once.
“Well, I’ll be, ma’am,” drawled the synth apparently now known as Sturges. “How’d you pull that one off?”
Myra scanned the buildings, but Deacon shrunk back from the window, cursing as her eyes found him. Had she seen him? Did she know?
“Just got lucky,” she replied in a husky voice.
“Well, lucky or not, we owe you our lives,” replied Preston, clapping a hand to her ironclad back. “We’re headed to this place Mama Murphy knows about, Sanctuary. You’d be more than welcome to come with us if you wish.”
“I’ll do that,” she chirped, “but first, I need to get this suit off. Can’t say I’m a fan of brains in my bra.”
Deacon could feel their flustered expressions from his nest. Well, she definitely wasn’t the demure housewife he’d been picturing when he’d first encountered her. Dez had told him to report right back when the raider situation had been dealt with, but maybe he should keep an eye on this girl for a while instead. The Railroad could do worse than recruiting her. With those skills and her brash personality, she’d be an excellent asset and a welcome diversion.
“Oh, Carrington’s just gonna hate you,” he snickered to himself, the wheels of his opportunistic brain already spinning out of control. She’d be a hell of an agent, even with her seemingly endless death wish. Besides, whether she realized it yet or not, they already made a hell of a team.