Preston has an eventful run-in with Ronnie Shaw. Myra returns to the Castle.
Fog clung to the Castle’s battlements like tufted fleece, obscuring the world beyond the fort. The concrete walls were stark and bare against the white mist, figures moving like shadow puppets as they went about their morning work. It was the third day of heavy fog, and tensions were high in the fortress as minutemen jumped at shadows that might be hostiles moving beyond the walls, only to find that they were harmless tricks of the light.
Still, work had to continue, and so the Castle’s staff labored ever onward, turning the once-vacant ruin into a command center to be proud of. Even in these conditions, their responsibility to the Commonwealth would not allow them time to relax. As far as anyone was concerned, what precious time they had could run out at any moment, and they had to be ready.
“Move that turret over to the left a bit, Guerra!” called Preston from beneath the reconstructed Castle wall. The Minuteman’s newest officer stood on top of the forty-foot-high concrete structure, struggling with the heavy machine gun. She threw her whole body into it, finally scooting the turret half a foot closer to the corner of the battlements.
Preston couldn’t help but laugh as he watched her struggle. Over the last month, he’d gotten to know Talise fairly well, at least well enough to know that she rarely did anything the easy way. Still, she’d relaxed since she and Preston had returned from Jamaica Plain, and the Colonel was glad to see it. While they hadn’t managed to find any surviving members of her deceased boyfriend’s family, the town having become completely overrun with feral ghouls, Talise had at least gotten the opportunity to learn more about Henry’s early life from a half-burned journal they’d recovered at his family’s old homestead. Preston had been more than willing to help her continue the search, but Talise had come to the difficult conclusion that their odds of finding Henry’s next of kin were slim at best, and she had insisted on returning to the Castle and joining up with the Minutemen. He couldn’t say that he was entirely unhappy that she’d decided to stick around.
“Is that better?” Talise huffed, her face red from exertion.
“Looks good,” the Colonel replied, giving her a thumbs-up. “That wall should have enough defenses set up on it now. Come on down and get cleaned up before breakfast.”
“Yes sir!” the young woman replied, heading for the stairs.
Preston looked about the courtyard with a satisfied smile on his face. It had taken months, but the Castle’s walls were finally finished. The heavy armor plating on the outside of the concrete walls had been a good first step. Now, every wall was being armed against a siege that seemed inevitable. The Commonwealth had taught Preston many lessons in his time serving her, but perhaps the most critical was this: for every fortune, misfortune was sure to follow. No power or security came without a price, and the Minutemen had grown dramatically in power. Every settlement they protected was diligent about sending recruits to the Castle, to the point where Preston had a hard time training all the new members himself. That sort of population was bound to garner the unwanted attention of the Institute. Preston knew they would come. It was just a matter of when.
Still, the Colonel wasn’t content to just seal the doors and wait. There was a whole world out there, full of people who needed a chance to determine their own future free from the fears that plagued their lives. And now that the Minutemen had the numbers, it was time to send dedicated squads to defend the settlements already allied with them. They needed to show those that remained neutral that today’s Minutemen, at least, kept their word.
A small stage had been constructed at the base of the northern wall the evening before, in preparation for the reassignment ceremony that would take place soon, if the damn fog would lift. Preston wasn’t a huge fan of pomp and circumstance himself, but he’d learned how valuable events like these could be for morale. The only thing that would make the ceremony better would be if the General herself bothered to show up to preside over the squad selection, but Preston wasn’t even sure where Myra was. He tried to pretend that he wasn’t bothered by her absence, that he didn’t blame himself for driving her away with his awkward declaration of love. He just hoped that she wouldn’t stay away forever. The Minutemen still needed her as a symbol of hope, a rallying point. Without Myra, Preston worried that the whole beautiful dream of a free Commonwealth would fall apart.
As Preston checked the stage’s structural integrity one more time, he heard a loud, grating voice from beyond the Castle wall.
“Hey!” cried the voice. “I heard this place belongs ta the Minutemen again! Yer General in there? I need ta speak with her!”
Preston dashed up the stairs to the top of the battlements. Below, he saw a lone figure in what appeared to be military fatigues, though the fog made it difficult to see many details. Whoever it was was standing with their hands on their hips. “Who are you, and what do you want with the General?” he asked cautiously.
“The name’s Ronnie Shaw, though ya young pups probably don’t remember me. I came ta see what all the fuss was about. Apparently, yah new General’s got quite the reputation. I thought maybe it was time I came back, offered what I know.”
“You’re a minuteman, then, aren’t you?” Preston asked.
“Was,” Ronnie replied coldly. “I was a minuteman, back when that meant something.”
“We’re hoping that it means something again,” the Colonel replied. “Hold on. I’ll let you in.” He activated his radio. “Davis, would you please open the door? We have a guest.”
“On it!” Kes replied from her station by the entrance, pressing the door release. The heavy wooden gate swung open, and the newcomer strode inside, glancing around the compound with disdain. “Can’t say I love what ya’ve done with the place,” she called, “but I guess it’s better than nothing. Where’s yah General?”
Preston’s hackles rose slightly. They’d worked tirelessly to restore the fort to its former glory, and here was this stranger out of nowhere, criticizing his men? Preston wasn’t having it. At the same time, however, he didn’t want to risk aggravating Ronnie. If the old-timer really did have important information, the Colonel realized that he was going to have to play her games. “She’s away, currently,” he replied. “But we’ll reach out and see if we can get her here. Just sit tight.” He turned to Forrester. “Jake, send a message to the General. She needs to get here. Now.”
“What do I tell her?” Forrester asked over the radio.
“Just tell her that there’s someone here who wants to meet her, and it’s urgent,” Preston replied. “Emphasize the urgent part. I don’t want her blowing me off again.”
Ronnie scoffed. “Sounds like yah General’s a real piece-a-work. Who leaves their troops ta fend for themselves? Disgraceful.”
Preston sighed. “General Larimer’s a busy woman, but even still, she’s done a lot for the Minutemen. When you meet her, maybe you’ll see that.”
“Attention!” blared Forrester’s voice over Radio Freedom as he enunciated clearly and slowly into the microphone. “This is an urgent message for the General. If you’re listening, we have a...situation at the Castle. There’s a --what the--Hey! You can’t do that!”
Preston watched in disbelief as the newcomer pulled the mic out of Jake’s hands, pushing the young Lieutenant aside. “All right, listen up, General,” the old woman snarled. “Get yah heinie back here pronto. This is Ronnie Shaw. Ya've never heard of me, but yah'll want ta talk ta me.”
“Ma’am!” Jake protested with a grimace. “That’s delicate equipment!”
“All right,” Ronnie grumbled. “Don't get yah panties in a bunch. Ya can have yah precious mic back." She shoved the device back into the broadcaster’s hands, turning back to Preston. “That ought ta get her butt in gear. Now, are ya the one in charge here, in the meantime?”
Preston nodded, offering the ornery old woman a handshake. “Colonel Preston Garvey. I handle the day-to-day situations for the General while she’s away.”
“Huh,” Ronnie grumbled, accepting his hand. “Well, ya at least seem competent enough.” She pulled roughly on his arm, quickly turning it behind his back in a gooseneck. Preston yelped in pain as she forced his fist up his back just hard enough to incapacitate him. “Still, ya screwed up. Can ya tell me exactly what ya did wrong?”
Preston’s eyes watered as he glanced around the compound. At least a dozen guns were trained on them from around the keep, his Minutemen ready to destroy Ronnie at his command. “You’re outnumbered, Shaw,” he groaned. “If you’re here to hurt us, you’ll never leave the Castle alive.”
“I shouldn’t have even been able ta get through the damn door!” Ronnie said angrily. “What if I was a synth infiltrator, or a raider? Ya had no way of knowin’, but ya just let me waltz right in here. Idiots, the lot of ya. This isn’t playtime, kids. It’s war. And ya have to take it seriously, or the whole ‘Wealth’s boned. Understand?”
Preston nodded. “It’s okay!” he called to the guards. “Stand down. We’re all friends here.” Ronnie released his arm from the lock. The Minutemen lowered their weapons, though many of them still watched Ronnie suspiciously. The Colonel rubbed his arm gingerly. “Well, thank you for the lesson,” he muttered. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Ronnie sighed. “Ya can make it up ta me by tightening security on the door. Back in my day, we had a squad posted there 24/7. Ya have the manpower, don’tcha?”
Preston shook his head. “We’re reassigning most of the Minutemen currently stationed here to our settlements. I’m only keeping a skeleton crew at the Castle until we’ve trained more to take their place. I can’t keep all our manpower locked behind these walls while people are dying out there.”
“People are always gonna be dying out there, Garvey,” Ronnie said coldly. “Yah first priority should be ensuring that the Minutemen don’t die out with them. Now, I’ve got some ideas that’ll help with that, but yer gonna have ta let me implement them. Startin’ with screening yah current militia.” She produced a clipboard from her pack, a list of questions printed neatly on it in red ink. “I happened by a place called Covenant a couple years back. Crazy-ass folks there, but they’d been working on a way ta detect synths using simple logic questions. We should screen everyone here immediately.”
Preston frowned. “I’m not sure the General would approve of that,” he said. “She believes that free synths are welcome in our ranks, so long as they work hard and follow our rules like everyone else.”
Ronnie laughed in disbelief. “Next thing, yah’ll be telling me that she’s training up a squad a’ Deathclaws to fight for her. Because that, at least, is less dangerous than having synth spies in our ranks. Ya know a Deathclaw’s a Deathclaw, what they’ll do, what motivates them. A synth? Well, that’s just asking for trouble. No way to tell if they’re still workin’ for the Institute. Ya might as well just tear down these walls ya’self and wave a great white flag around.”
The Colonel sighed. “Still, it’s the General’s call. I trust her judgement. But you don’t know General Larimer like I do, so I can understand your hesitation.”
Ronnie rolled her eyes. “From what I’ve seen so far, Colonel, I’m not impressed. But who knows? Maybe this General Larimer will surprise me.”
It was nearly midnight when the alarm went up from the front gate, rousing Preston from his fitful slumber. “What is it?” he groaned into his radio.
“General’s back!” Zev shouted, “and she’s brought company! Got a whole bunch of Super Mutants on her tail. Turrets are doing what they can, but I’m not sure it’s enough.”
Preston leapt out of bed, putting his boots on quickly. He didn’t have time to bother with much else, so he threw his coat on over his boxers and grabbed his laser musket from its hook on the wall as he ran past it. “Well, what are you waiting for?” he asked. “Open the gate and let her in!”
“Don’t listen ta him!” Preston heard Ronnie admonish Zev. “Ya open those doors, and we’ll be invitin’ all those muties in for a midnight snack. Yah General’s just gonna have ta fend for herself.”
“But, ma’am…” Zev protested, “that’s our General out there!”
“I don’t care if it’s the President of the former United States himself,” Ronnie snarled, “I’m not letting ya open that door!”
Preston, by that point, had cleared the hallway and was already on his way to the guard tower above the gate. The firing of the turrets was deafening, spouts of hellfire illuminating the starless night. He could hear the taunting cries of the mutants long before he saw them, and he shuddered as he thought about Myra being trapped beyond the walls. Hopefully, he wasn’t too late. “Damn it, Shaw, you’re not in charge here!” he screamed, firing a flare from his flare gun down towards the bellowing horde. He couldn’t risk hitting Myra. He had to get some light on the battle. “Open the gate, Zev! We’ll just have to risk it.”
“Ya make one move towards that button, boy, and yer dead,” Ronnie hissed. Preston heard the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked. It didn’t take a genius to visualize what was happening down below. The Colonel’s heart pounded in his ears as his mind raced. He could run down and protect Zev, or he could help Myra by covering her from above. There was no time to do both.
Preston cried in frustration as he fired his laser musket at the nearest mutant. He grabbed at his radio angrily. “Zev, don’t be a hero, okay? I’ll do my best to cover the General from here. Ronnie, when this is over, we’re going to have words.”
“I expect that we will,” the old woman replied calmly.
With that, Preston returned his attention to the scene beneath him. Myra knelt on the very doorstep of the fort, her laser rifle held trembling in her hands as she fired round after burning round into the horde. From what Preston could see, he counted at least seven Super Mutants still standing, their wrath concentrated on the General’s failing form. Preston cranked his musket and fired, trying to take down the closest target, a large, ugly brute with a sledgehammer who was charging Myra’s position. He managed to catch it in the arm, sending the hammer spiraling off into the night, followed by a scream of rage from the green monstrosity. Still, the creature wasn’t downed, merely wounded, and it continued its ferocious charge. Myra screamed as the brute caught her around the waist, hurling her against the Castle walls like a rag-doll. She fell to the ground, unmoving.
“General!” screamed Preston, firing at the Super Mutant once more. This time, he caught the creature squarely between the eyes, and it keeled over, rage and confusion frozen on its dead face. “Damn it, you’d better live,” Preston muttered, his heart sinking. Zev was right. Even between Preston and the turrets, Myra’s chances were slim. If she was still alive, she wouldn’t be for long. “I need more men on the walls!” Preston cried into his radio. “Hurry!”
“Oh, fuck this!” screamed a gravely female voice from behind Preston, “Duck, Garvey!” Before he could react, he felt a blazing woosh as a missile careened past the side of his head. The shell exploded into the crowd, sending chunks of mutant flying in all directions as two of the beasts fell. The Colonel turned to see Kestrel Davis grinning at him as she reloaded her missile launcher. “Liberated this from the General’s quarters a few days ago,” the petite blonde explained. “And no, I’m not sorry.”
“Right now,” Preston replied as he took aim, “I’m not even mad. Just try not to kill the General. Or me, if you can help it.”
“You’re no fun,” Kes teased, firing off another missile. “This thing’s awesome. Can I keep it?”
“Absolutely not,” Preston said. “You’re a menace, Davis.”
“Says the guy parading around in his underwear,” she retorted.
Preston blushed. “There wasn’t time, so...oh, forget it! If the General lives, you can ask her.”
More bursts of laser fire joined the fray as the other minutemen found their positions along the wall. While not all made their marks, due to inexperience as well as the poor sight conditions, enough hit their targets to turn the tide. In a matter of minutes, the battle was over.
As soon as the last monster fell, Preston tore down the stairs to Zev’s position. He shoved Ronnie out of the way, slamming his fist down on the door release button. “Ignatius, I need you to prep the infirmary!” he bellowed into his radio, dragging Zev with him as he ran to the gate. “Let’s hope the General’s still got a need for it.”
“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Zev said, his eyes brimming with tears. “My life’s not worth all that much. I should have opened the door.”
“I’m not angry at you, Stern,” Preston replied, trying to sound calmer than he was. “It’s Shaw’s fault if anything happens to the General, not yours. We just need to-- Damn it!” he exclaimed as he neared Myra’s still form.
She was lying on her side, curled into a loose ball. Her laser rifle lay discarded a few feet away, partially submerged in one of the rivulets of mutant blood that flowed along the gate towards the lake. Myra’s body was covered in scrapes and bruises, including a rather nasty gash just above her right temple that stained her snowy hair with sticky clumps of half-clotted blood. Preston noted with alarm that she wasn’t wearing her armor, her soft body barely concealed by scraps of green fabric that were once a dress, now torn to shreds. Without armor, it would be a miracle if the Super Mutant’s blow wasn’t fatal.
With the exception of her head wound and a few other concerning lacerations, Myra seemed to be mostly unscathed. Still, as Preston knelt beside her still body, he noticed that her breathing was ragged and shallow. He scooped her up carefully in his arms. “Zev, grab the General’s gun,” he ordered. “I’ll take her to the infirmary.”
Zev nodded, picking up the blood-soaked rifle with a look of disgust. “Is she going to be okay?” the young man asked as they raced back towards the keep.
Preston sighed. “I honestly don’t know. She looks fine, but for all we know, her insides could be all busted up. We have to just do what we can, and hope that’s enough.”
Ignatius was already preparing a large dose of his usual herbal remedy when they entered the clinic, boiling strange roots and powders to create a bitter broth. Preston had been skeptical when the doctor had first started using his plant-based treatments, but he had to admit that whatever was in them seemed to work well. The medic’s eyes widened as Preston gently laid Myra’s unconscious body on one of the hospital beds. “What the hell happened to her?” the gruff giant exclaimed.
“For starters, a Super Mutant tossed her against the fort,” Preston replied. “Some of her wounds look older, so I’m not sure what caused them.”
Ignatius frowned. “Has she been unconscious long?”
Preston nodded. “Nearly six minutes, now. But she’s still breathing.”
“That won’t mean much if she never wakes up,” the medic replied, pawing through the ingredients on a tall set of metal shelves. “We have to assume there’s internal bleeding, probably at least some broken ribs. If we’re lucky, her major organs are okay, but we can’t bank on that either.” He grimaced, holding up a glass jar with some sort of dried purplish flower petals in it up to the light. “Super Mutants,” he grumbled, placing the jar back and selecting another. “I was really hoping there weren’t so many of them in the East. Well, at least you don’t have Nightkin.”
Preston wanted to ask what a Nightkin was, but he was frankly more worried than curious at this point. “Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.
Ignatius nodded. “We’ll need to get her to drink an infusion of fever blossom, bloodleaf, and a tiny hint of glowing fungus to boost her body’s recovery. But we can’t wait for her to wake up, so we’ll need to get a feeding tube set up.” He grabbed a coil of thin plastic tubing from the shelving unit, tossing it into a pot of boiling water. “I’ve never had to use one on an unconscious person before, so I’ll need you to hold her head steady while I place the tube down her nose.”
“That seems...risky,” Preston replied. “What if you send it down her windpipe by accident?”
“It’s that, or we have to wait for her to wake up,” Ignatius retorted as he prepared the infusion, “but she might be dead by then. We have no way of knowing how bad the damage is. I’m sorry, but we have to risk it.”
“Damn it!” the Colonel cried. He turned to Zev, who was still clutching Myra’s gun, tears in the boy’s eyes. “Zev, you and Kes are to confine Ronnie in a cell until we know if the General’s safe. Don’t let her leave.”
“Yes, sir!” the young man barked, placing Myra’s gun on a table by the door as he left.
Preston sighed heavily, turning back to Ignatius. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Myra regained consciousness about halfway through the next day, though from the cries of agony, Preston was sure she wished that she hadn’t. He rushed to her bedside as soon as his duties allowed him to, cupping her hand in his as she whimpered in pain.
“Is there anything we can do to make her more comfortable?” Preston asked Ignatius.
The medic shook his head. “I’ve given her as much pain relief as I dared. From what I can tell, she’s got at least three broken ribs. Frankly, considering what you told me when you brought her in, she’s incredibly lucky to be alive.”
“Can we at least take the tube out?” the Colonel retorted. “She should be able to drink now, right?”
Ignatius sighed. “Just to be on the safe side, I’d like to leave it in. But you’re right. With the limited equipment we have to sanitize anything, we don’t want to risk infection. Hold her still, will you?”
Preston gripped Myra’s shoulders firmly, hoping that he wasn’t hurting her. “I’m sorry about this, General,” he said soothingly. “This is probably going to feel really strange, but I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”
The medic took hold of the end of the feeding tube, slowly and steadily pulling on it. Myra’s eyes widened in shock and horror as the plastic began exiting her nose, moaning desperately against the blockage in her throat. It hurt Preston to see her so afraid, but he knew that they couldn’t stop now. After a few agonizing moments, the tube popped free, and Ignatius quickly tossed it back in another pot of boiling water to be cleaned.
Myra gasped deeply, her mouth opening and closing like a fish’s as she struggled to overcome the unpleasant sensation. “That…” she whispered hoarsely, “ugh...water.”
“Here, General,” Preston said. He poured her a glass, carefully tilting it to her lips as the General struggled to sit up. She took a few small sips before lying back down with a cry of discomfort.
“I really...ugh...I need to stop coming here,” Myra moaned.
“Or you just need to stop being so reckless, ma’am,” Ignatius replied. “I’m beginning to think you’ve made a deal with the devil, considering how many times you’ve avoided death since we’ve met. You’ve got more lives than a damned cat.”
“That too,” she muttered. “How long...argh...am I supposed to be laid up this time?”
“Considering that we still don’t know the full extent of your injuries,” the medic continued, “you’ll be lucky if you’re back on your feet by the end of the month.”
Myra shook her head slightly, grimacing in pain. “That’s not going to work for me,” she hissed.
“Well, like it or not, that’s the reality of it,” Ignatius said, holding out a shot glass full of pungent medicine. “It’ll go faster if you take your tincture regularly, though I can’t promise that it’ll taste good.”
She gagged as the liquid slid down her throat. “You weren’t kidding,” she replied.”What’s in this?”
“A few desert herbs I saved, plus some local plants that seem to work similarly,” the medic said cryptically. “So far, it’s the best cure for most things I’ve found out here. Should help the bruises heal quicker, at least.” He turned to Preston. “I have to go check in with Kes. Call for me if she gets worse, okay?”
Preston nodded, watching the large man as he ducked through the doorway and headed down the hall. The Colonel eased the door closed behind him before turning his attention back to Myra, glaring at her. “Why were you out there alone?” Preston growled. “Didn’t you bring anyone with you?”
Myra sighed. “I was with Deacon, but that didn’t exactly work out,” she muttered.
“Deacon?” he asked incredulously. “Where the hell is Paladin Danse? I can’t imagine he’d be stupid enough to let you come here by yourself.”
“Danse...ugh… he doesn’t know I’m here,” Myra replied. “I haven’t seen him in weeks. As far as I know, he’s still back at the Airport with the rest of the Brotherhood.”
Preston frowned. “Did something happen between the two of you?”
Myra shook her head slightly. “It’s not like that. I just...I learned something recently that might complicate things. A few weeks ago, I finally managed to get to the Institute.”
“What?” Preston exclaimed, his eyes wide. “How? You never told me that you’d found a way in!”
“I wanted to keep things as small as possible,” she replied, “so only the people directly involved in getting me there knew what I was up to.” She broke down in a fit of coughing, crying in torment as her body convulsed with the effort. “Fuck!” she cried once her fit subsided. “Where was I?”
“You were telling me about how you got into the Institute,” Preston replied.
“Yeah,” Myra said. “So, long story short, I learned how to hijack the Institute’s teleportation technology, and I used this crazy machine to launch myself into their facility. The how doesn’t really matter. But what I found there, that’s the problem.”
“Whatever it is,” Preston said, “I’m sure Danse can handle it. The guy almost died for you, General. I doubt he’ll leave your side unless you beg him to go. I know I wouldn’t, if I were him.”
“Are you sure about that?” Myra asked, her emerald eyes full of anxious energy. “Is this room secure?” she rasped.
Preston nodded, making sure to turn off his radio. “It is now. What’s the matter?”
“What if I told you that I found my son?” Myra asked bluntly.
“That’s great news!” Preston said, smiling. “I’m so happy for you!”
“Yeah, well, it’s not really,” she said, her face blank. “See, he’s the head of the Institute.”
“What?” the Colonel gasped.
“It’s the truth,” Myra continued. “The big bad monster everyone’s afraid of? That’s my child. Now do you understand why I’m here by myself?”
Preston nodded. He reached out to hold her, but before he made contact with her he thought better of it. It wasn’t his place, and even if it was, her body was battered and sensitive and he didn’t want to cause her any more pain. “Are you okay?” he asked softly.
Myra shook her head, exhaling a long, shaky breath. “No. I’m not even a little okay. Part of me wishes that I’d found him dead. Then, at least, I’d still have someone to bury. I could move forward. But this?” She looked up at him, her eyes welling with tears. “Preston, what do I do? If I go back to the Brotherhood, they’ll want me to kill him. And maybe that’s the right call, considering who he’s become. The Institute can’t be allowed to keep hurting people. But even knowing that...that’s my baby boy. That’s my Shaun. How could I ever hurt him?”
“You said you were with Deacon,” Preston replied. “That means the Railroad knows about this. What did they suggest?”
Myra frowned. “I don’t know. I didn’t tell them. Well, I told Deacon, but he promised to keep it between us for now.”
Preston scoffed. “And you believed him?”
She sighed. “I...I don’t know. Not any more. Look, it’s all gone to shit. Everything’s all fucked up. I can’t even think clearly. I was on my way home to hide away from everyone for a while when I got your message, so I came here instead. And, well, I wasn’t exactly watching where I was going. Hence the mutants.”
“Damn,” Preston swore under his breath. He smiled sympathetically at her. “I know things seem bad right now. And hell, you’re right. In a lot of ways, they really are bad right now. But if anyone can find a way through this, General, it’s you. Whatever you need, the Minutemen are behind you.”
“Thanks,” Myra said sincerely. “I know I can count on you, Preston. That’s why I came back as soon as I got your message.” She grimaced. “Speaking of, who is this Ronnie person, and why does she seem to think she’s in charge around here?”
Preston sighed. “She’s one of the old Minutemen, from before my time. Seems like she doesn’t love the way you’ve been running things. Or maybe she does? It’s kind of hard to tell with her. Apparently she wants to help, but so far, all she’s been doing is second-guessing my orders and nearly getting you killed.”
Myra groaned. “Sounds like a real peach. Well, I guess we should get this over with.”
The Colonel shook his head. “General, you’ve been through hell. We can deal with Ronnie in the morning. Right now, the best thing you can do is rest.”
“Is that an order, Preston?” Myra asked. “Because as far as I’m aware, I’m still the General here.”
He laughed. “No, it’s not an order. Consider it a request from someone who cares about you.”
“Well, in that case,” she replied with a weary smile, “I guess I’ll comply. I am pretty exhausted.”
“I’ll leave you be, then,” Preston said, heading for the door.
“Thank you, Preston,” she called after him. “For everything.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied, closing the heavy wooden door behind him. His eyes misted as he thought about what Myra must be going through right now. After everything she’d lost, to find out that her son was...no wonder she didn’t seem to care if she lived or died. Carrying that kind of a burden was something that Preston couldn’t even imagine, and the Colonel had plenty of demons of his own. His survivor’s guilt had almost led him to his death. It came as no surprise to him that Myra had been taunting fate again. The drive to find her son had kept Myra alive. Now that she knew who he was, what that meant for the people who believed in her, it was a testament to her strength that she was still alive at all.
Preston wondered if Myra had picked a fight with the Super Mutants on purpose, knowing that she might die. It would probably be the easy way out of her situation. But it pained him to think that the people who cared about her mattered so little to her. Didn’t she know how desperately she would be missed?
He felt hot tears on his cheeks, and he wiped them away in frustration. So what if her son was the devil himself? It wasn’t Myra’s fault. She hadn’t gotten the chance to raise him. He was brought up as a creature of the Institute, molded by their ideology into the formidable head of their organization. As far as Preston was concerned, the only thing Myra and her son shared were their genes. Now, he only needed to help her see that.
Myra’s strength and determination had saved Preston’s life. She had given him something to believe in again, had shown him that his dreams of a free Commonwealth were still worth fighting for. If he had to, he would be that strength for her as well. One way or another, Preston vowed, he wasn’t going to let Myra fall. For the sake of the Commonwealth...for his own sake, he would help her as long as he was able to.
He continued down the hall to the Castle’s brig, a small room full of cages. Until Ronnie Shaw had shown up, the rusty iron bars had held no prisoners. Preston had even argued with Kes and her men when she’d told him that they needed a place to put prisoners. A shame that the fearsome Fox had been right, after all.
The Colonel smiled at Zev, who stood nervously outside Ronnie’s cage. The young minuteman returned his smile awkwardly. “Any news?” the boy asked.
“The General’s going to live,” Preston replied. “No thanks to you, Shaw,” he added with a glare towards the old woman. She sat on a simple stool in the middle of her cell, her battle-hardened eyes meeting his defiantly.
“I stand by what I did, Garvey,” Ronnie replied. “If you’d opened those doors, we’d mostly be dead right now. A good leader needs to be prepared ta sacrifice the one for the many. I’m sure when she’s better, yah General will agree with me, if she’s got any sense in her head.”
“And fortunately for you,” Preston shot back, “we have a chance to find that out.” He crept closer to the cell, placing his hands on the bars. “I know things were different when you were a minuteman,” he growled, “but don’t expect General Larimer to have any patience for you if you yank her around like you’ve done with me. If you do anything to compromise her authority, you’ll be wishing I left you in this cage and tossed it into the ocean. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” the old woman said with a smirk. “Looks like ya have some balls after all, Garvey. I guess ya feel tougher when yah General’s behind ya, huh? What, ya sleeping with her or somethin’?”
Preston clenched his fists. “Don’t talk about her like that,” he said as calmly as he could muster.
Ronnie laughed. “So that’s a no, then. No wonder yah’ve got such a stick up yah butt. Look, I’m sorry that the General got hurt. I really am. Lord knows I’ve seen enough a’ them come and go over the years. But if the Minutemen are going ta survive what’s coming, yer gonna have ta learn that ya can’t make exceptions, not even for leaders. Everyone’s gotta be willing ta die, but smart enough ta live. Got that? It’s a hard lesson, but a true one.”
Preston sighed as he contemplated her words. What would he have done if the situation had been different, if it was someone else beyond the walls and not Myra? He wanted to believe that he would have made the same call, but he honestly wasn’t sure. Would he have risked his men for anyone else? Or would he have played it smart, the way Ronnie suggested? Perhaps, in her own callous way, Ronnie was right. The Minutemen couldn’t save everyone, no matter how hard they tried. And if they fell because of a single liability, they wouldn’t be able to help anyone at all.
But was that the type of organization Preston wanted to work for, one that turned its back on the suffering and desperate to save its own hide? No. That had been the way of the old Minutemen, the cowards who had abandoned the people of Quincy and their own brothers-in-arms to save themselves from the wrath of the Gunners. And even if it killed him, Preston would do anything to prevent something like the Quincy Massacre from happening again.
“You’re right that we need to be prudent,” he said firmly. “And I know that you think you’re helping. But I’ve seen what your methods can do in action, Shaw, and I can tell you that the path they lead down is not worthy of the Minutemen. We have to stand for all people, be willing to risk our lives for anyone who needs us, even if it’s not the smart play. We’re supposed to be the good guys, and that means that we don’t turn our backs on anyone, especially our own.”
“Then yah’ll all die,” Ronnie said, her eyes cold and determined. “But I’ll be damned if I let ya go down without a fightin’ chance. When yah General’s up for it, I’ve got somethin’ to show ya. Took a look around before ya locked me up, and I think the ol’ armory’s still intact. That means we can build artillery, really give it ta those synth bastards and anyone else who tries ta get in our way.”
Preston’s eyes widened. “No kidding! You know how to build artillery?”
Ronnie nodded, grinning. “I was in charge of the damned armory, back in the day. It’d be more right ta say that no one knows how ta build artillery as well as I do. But I’ll need my workshop back, if ya want my help.”
“That’s General Larimer’s call,” Preston replied, “but as long as you stop trying to act like you’re in command, and you follow the General’s orders, I think we might be able to work something out.”
“Great!” Ronnie exclaimed. “So when are ya gonna let me out?”
Preston shook his head. “Oh, you’re not leaving the brig until the General’s better. I appreciate any help you can give us, but that doesn’t excuse what you did. Still, I’ll make sure someone brings you a sleeping bag and something to eat. Don’t want you to be too uncomfortable.”
“Yer too kind,” Ronnie mumbled sarcastically, “but fair’s fair, I suppose. I’d do the same ta ya if it was me makin’ the rules. Gotta keep the peace.”
“I’m glad we understand each other,” Preston replied. He turned to Zev. “Sterne, I’ll send someone down with bedding and a meal. Just slip them through the bars, okay?”
Zev nodded. “You’ve got it, sir. I promise, I won’t open the door for any reason. Well, except if there’s a fire. That’d be okay, right?”
Preston sighed. “If it’s a really big fire, I guess.” He shot Ronnie one more pointed look before leaving the room, still trying to figure out her play. Was she sincere in wanting to help? Or was this just a ruse, acting cooperative and...well, not really repentant, but at least placid enough until she got another chance to start a one-woman coup? It was hard for him to tell. Preston wasn’t a duplicitous soul. It was impossible for him to think that way. But Myra understood manipulation. If anyone could tame Ronnie Shaw once and for all, it’d be her.
The way things stood now, she’d certainly have time to do it. Poor Myra. Preston knew her well, and nothing would be harder for her than sitting still while she healed. He chuckled as he remembered the young woman he’d met in Concord, stubborn and insistent on doing everything herself. She’d changed a lot from the girl who’d gotten stuck in Mama Murphy’s ceiling. In a lot of ways, she’d grown into the kind of leader he could really respect. But some things would never really change, and her refusal to ask for help when she was in trouble was still as frustrating as ever.
Preston made his way back to his room. He extracted a device from his coat pocket, a small cylinder-shaped flare, and set it on his desk with a grin. It was one of Myra’s vertibird signal grenades, snagged from her pack after the Colonel had gotten her to safety. Preston wasn’t a thief, not exactly. He was doing this for her own good. With a sigh, he pulled a sheet of paper out of one of the drawers and began to write a letter.