I spy with my little eye-
“Hal, pick a new game already.”
I can assure you this is the best game to play out here.
“Fine,” Bro said, exhausted. They’d been traveling for days on the remains of the highway by now and there was no sign of a proper township. He smelled, his back and legs hurt, and despite having plenty of food water was always a precious commodity. He also had at least four letters to send by now, including a few sketches and schematics he’d designed after toying with the Furby body some more, in case Dave wanted to get his hands on a little guardian bot of his own. The kid was smart, even he’d be able to handle basic scripting to make a functional system for it. Surely someone else he was buddies with could figure out an AI of sorts for it, too.
True, it would have been easier to follow another path by now, but following the main point of the highway just seemed the best, most direct route for him. Who’s to say it was brahmin who made the trodden paths that led further into the wastes, or humans? What if it was mutants, or worse, deathclaws stalking the wastelands? Scuttling parties of mole rats or vicious dogs.
Would you like to know what I spy or not, Bro.
“I don’t want to know, but I’ve got a feelin’ you’re gonna tell me anyway aren’t you.”
Correct! I’ll give you a few hints.
Bro groaned in irritation.
“A bloatfly,” he guessed off the bat.
No, though it is annoying.
“As annoyin’ as you? Why isn’t there a fuckin’ mute option on these shades..”
Your second hint is that it’s bipedal.
That perked him up somewhat. Bro scanned the horizon further off for signs of a city or outpost, a wanderer, a courier. Anyone. Instead what he saw was the lanky, sharply pointed edges of a juvenile deathclaw. A definite pain in the ass, but nothing he couldn’t handle.
“...And how long have we been in deathclaw territory for, Hal?”
Uncertain, my saved map mentions shopping centers, not deathclaws.
“Ooh, shopping centers?” he said. “Put a peg in it, if we find somewhere to trade soon we might do a run back to grab some more supplies for trade and keepin’.”
The deathclaw is still nearby, you know.
“I can avoid it if I want,” Bro said, taking out his sword. A juvenile would take some fast work, but he knew he was good for dispatching the monstrosities, and people paid good money for their clawed hands, even the small ones. Hell, even he wanted some bits off of one sometime, though mostly for show. How sick would a deathclaw fang necklace be, after all?
You appear to be approaching the small one instead of fleeing.
“Watch and learn, Hal,” Bro said as he shifted his weight and began to run. Aching feet or not, his boots cut into the crisp cooked layer of topsoil and sank ever so slightly with each step. The deathclaw noticed him and turned, beginning to awkwardly run towards him, long limbs ungainly but just as deadly as an adult. They met in the middle, Bro’s sword singing off the armored hide of the creature’s forearms, taking a chunk with it as he went. The deathclaw lunged for his middle with a shrill noise, catching a chunk of shirt on the end of one of its spiky hands, but just missing his tender vitals. He turned, and used the momentum to slice at the space where its behorned head connected to its body, the sword sliding against softer skin. Staggered, the small deathclaw stepped forward, then tottered back unsteadily as it began to bleed out.
Bro lifted a foot and kicked the creature backwards to its spiny back, then followed with the sword to spear its chest, cranking the blade to the side once it glanced off a rib, forcing downwards till it stopped moving. Planting his boot on its chest, he yanked his sword free and swung it in the air a few times to rid it of blood, and smirked. Fuck, that felt good. Nothing like taking out a little nightmare to give a nice rush of adrenaline and dopamine. Hell, he wouldn’t even say no to a smoke or a drink right now, ride that high long as he could.
Excellent, now how do you intend to deal with the mother?
“Mother?” Bro asked, about a half second before he felt something plow into him like a freight train, sending him flying and pain searing through his right shoulder blade. He landed flat on his face and skidded before rolling over, hand on his sword raising it defensively and other hand reaching for his gun.
Shit. Shit, shit, this was definitely a mother death claw, the hide was darker than usual. He must’ve just killed one of her brood. Not a good look for someone not interested in dying in the middle of nowhere. He fired a quick two shots, missing the first and nailing her in the left eye with the second, though it only seemed to make her more enraged after a brief second of shaking her head. She raised a hand and slashed downwards where Bro was scooting backwards, forcing him to block with a weakened grip before the second slash sang home across his chest, blood spurting where her claws shredded flesh and fabric alike. One of the straps of Bro’s bags was severed, leaving him half dragging it as he continued to try crawling backwards, firing till his clip was empty.
Hal was urgently trying to tell him something, but Bro couldn’t hear anymore, couldn’t think, could only focus on the burning in his chest and the taste of copper in his mouth. Things were flashing through his mind as he stared down the deathclaw, who was raising both of her hands for a double slash that he wouldn’t be able to block in the slightest. Things he still wanted to do, to say. Memories.
Dave the day he left home to travel to the city, bag on his back and barely a look back as he wove past the traps. Dave as a lanky tween, perched by his side on the counter top as he cooked an omelette for them both, telling him a joke that he still didn’t think was funny but that he’d laughed at anyway. Dave at five, sitting on his lap as he fiddled with a new project that would eventually become a birthday present game for him, looking up at him with big red eyes almost full of tears when he refused to tell him what he was working on.
Dave, still struggling to put weight on as an infant as Bro kept him warm on the sofa through a bout of fever, trying to coax him into eating just a bit more from the bottle, wondering if he should make the trek to find a doctor or keep hunkering down and hoping it would work itself out. Being scared out of his fucking mind about this tiny, sick thing in his arms and on his chest, worried he’d break if he moved wrong.
This wasn’t fear he felt. It was acceptance. Dave being sick or hurt was fear, even when he’d been the one to hurt him in the preparations he’d run repeatedly over the years. A deathclaw? This was his just rewards for being cocky without backup. He wanted to have time to apologize to Dave, like he always really meant to.
He wanted to apologize to Hal, too, for not managing to take him to get his body. For getting his hopes up about Dirk and then dying with him in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the shades would get crushed by the deathclaw after he died, spare him much misery. They’d both just go out like a candle in the breeze and nobody would be any the wiser.
A shot rang out, and blood spurted from the side of the deathclaw’s head. She staggered, stomping her sharp feet on his abdomen and legs as she adjusted her balance and snarled in alarm at the new threat. More shots, each one more precise than the last, till finally one hit the same eye he’d shot earlier, and the beast went down on top of him. Though his ears were still ringing, Bro could feel his pulse slowing down and everything going darker as the feeling of faintness took over.
“Sorry, Dave,” he mumbled, blood on his lips and eyes unfocusing as red eyes stared at him. No, wait, not Dave. “Hal..”
The last thing Bro was aware of was a high pitched repeated beeping pattern ringing out from the shades on his face, a signal he knew so well. Anyone out here could recognize SOS when they heard it, but Bro couldn’t care anymore who did hear it.
Darkness claimed him.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“...p. See? I think he’s waking up! Jake, push more fluids!”
“I’m going as fast as I can, don’t you think he’d bl-........”
“...ver if we don’t. Sometimes you have to do dangerous things in a time of crisis, just pu-...”
“...rry chap, we’re doing our best. Why were you playing with a deathclaw mot-...”
“...’s going under again, God damn it why don’t we have more gauze!”
“...aid last time we wouldn’t need that many, let me check his ba-...”
“....tting sick, stupid coat, ugh! Hand me a clo-...”
“...ehozaphat he’s rolling in meds and chems! Lookit all this, it’s a kings ran-...”
“...ab whatever you can, inject him with at least two, and hand the alcohol to me so I ca-...”
“...nk he’ll make it? He’s in an awful way, Jade. We’re still at least a few miles out fro-...”
“...re he’ll make it, we just need to hur-...”
...ve him. Please. Pulse is falling at an alarming ra-...
“...re trying our best, believe me, it’s up to him if we ca-...”
...n’t lose him to-...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When Ambrose woke, it was to clean sheets and a bright light coming from a window. He reached up to touch his face and panicked to realize the shades weren’t on him any longer, looking around as he tried to sit stark upright to look around. Tried being the correct term, considering when he got a few inches upright his abdomen and chest sang with burning pain and forced him to lay back on an aching shoulder. Sighing an exhale, Bro took the room and himself into account.
The room itself looked to be a standard medical setup for a scap town, shelves of supplies and a few more beds shoved into the same room with him, a shabby gray curtain sectioning the space off from another area. He was laying on a cot with the aforementioned clean sheets, which were a hell of a commodity, and wrapped what felt like head to toe in bandages. His chest had padding underneath that seemed fresh enough, as well as his abdomen, and another bandage seemed to be wrapping his shoulder. His forearms had bandages, a shift of his legs revealed smaller areas of wrappings and-
Bro snatched the sheets and lifted them upwards, looking down towards his groin in worry. Okay. Phew. Dick still there and in one piece, no need to panic. Thank fuck.
Were you honestly more concerned for your dick than me? Came a voice from the top of the shelves, arms folded in and tucked at an angle to not get damaged or in the way.
“To be fair, I’ve been attached to my dick longer than you,” Bro said, giving another try at this standing thing and getting as far as sitting upright before he had to stop, dizzy. He was also connected to an IV he realized, two bags half drained already and the tether attached to his arm carefully with another bandage and some tape to keep it from moving. One of the bags was unmistakably blood. “Where’s my stuff.”
I’m fine, thank you for asking. I can really tell you were concerned for my safety after being nearly disemboweled. I can also tell you’re just dying to know how you went about not dying.
“My stuff, Hal.”
In the other room, safe and fucking sound.
“Thank you. Gimme a second and I’ll come get you,” Bro said, running a hand through his hair. He realized with surprise that it was clean instead of gritty with sand and dust and blood, freshly washed like the rest of him. Someone had taken care to wash him thoroughly it seemed. Hell, even his fingernails were spotless. Shocking. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been this squeaky clean, it was almost a shame he didn’t remember it. “How long have I been out?”
Almost a week.
“Jesus,” Bro rasped as he finally stood up on shaky fawn legs, reaching for the IV stand for balance before making his way over to the shelf, naked as the day he was born save for the bandages. He groped for the shades hurriedly when he started feeling faint again, and had just grabbed them when the curtain pulled back.
A tall girl with dark skin, shocking green eyes and long wild hair tied back into evenly sectioned ponytails stood owl eyed behind large round glasses with a single crack in the left lens, a stethoscope around her neck and familiar leftover military gear covering her from head to toe. She frowned, and immediately rushed forward to grab Bro by the elbow and middle of his back, steering him back to bed.
“How long have you been awake!” she asked. “Why didn’t you wait till someone came to help you? Are you in pain? Do you need any water? Food?”
“Few minutes,” Bro said, more than a little startled. He sat and covered himself soon as he could, but the young woman didn’t back off in the slightest, swooping close to shine a pocket light in his eyes, checking his pupils.
“Has there been any bleeding? Any night terrors? Do you have any numbness or weaknesses?”
“I feel like shit, but otherwise,” Bro said, grimacing and jerking his head back from her grasp as she turned the light off.
“I’ll get Jake to bring some lunch in for you, I’m glad you’re not running on glucose anymore. Actually, I’m glad you’re running at all,” she said with a grin. Her canines were strangely sharp looking. “My name is Jade Harley, and I’m half of the reason you’re alive right now.”
“Is the chap who tried to cuddle the wrong end of a mother deathclaw awake yet?” asked another voice from beyond the open curtain.
“He is! Get some of those mirelurk cakes and mac and cheese, please?”
“I’ll bring some of that slackjaw jerky too, I imagine he’s half starved for real food,” said the male out of sight, before Bro heard distant sounds of dishes and metal scraping metal.
“...So what, you a doctor?” he guessed.
“We both are, in our own right. My cousin, Jake English, is the one who spotted you first out there. The primary reason you’re alive, however, is because we’re both sharpshooters! There wouldn’t have been much left to save if we hadn’t pegged that bitch into the dirt,” she said enthusiastically.
Bro’s lip twitched in amusement. This person couldn’t have been older than her early twenties, but she was a doctor? And a sharpshooter?
“So who really saved me?”
Jade’s smile sharpened somewhat, looking predatory. “I don’t think I’d tease like that when you’re still so weak. All it’d take is a cushion to take you out right now, I bet.”
“Sorry, just. You’re so young…” he trailed off as another figure entered the room with a dinner tray. This person didn’t look much older than Jade if he was a day, face clean shaven and hair styled but messy, standing at about the same height. He looked much more solid, though, shoulders broad and chest straining a little at the fatigues shirt he wore, and his demeanor seemed much sweeter than his cousin at first glance. More innocent somehow, or somehow less aware of the intensity of their surroundings.
“Here you are, I’ll get some juice for you as well in a few ticks. First time I’m seeing this much of your outside as opposed to your inside since we got you scrubbed down!” he laughed, setting the tray on Bro’s lap. The food smelled fresh and was warm on his thighs beneath the sheet, mirelurk cakes looking greasy and delicious, mac and cheese that smelled plenty creamy from the box, and some kind of soft looking jerky rubbed with spices that made his mouth water as much as the fresh stuff before him
“Try to eat slow,” Jade warned him as Jake trotted back out of view for a moment and came back with juice as promised. “Hope apple’s okay! It’s what we’ve got.”
“Apple’s fine,” Bro promised, tucking into the mac and cheese first, eyes closing in bliss. Salty, creamy, rich. He could feel it flooding his system already, a body starved for nutrients beyond the bare minimum of functioning and safety. Once he shoveled a second bite into his mouth, he slid the shades onto his face and grinned a bit when haughty red eyes looked at him. Hal was clearly annoyed, angry even, but those eyes were full of concern too.
“We’ve got tea too, though not everyone enjoys what we brew,” Jake chuckled.
“Their loss, it’s delicious,” said Jade with a shake of her head.
Scans show temperature readings as normal. Pulse normal. Pupils overly reactive to light, but not abnormal.
“I hope he didn’t talk your leg off,” Bro said. “He’s kind of annoyin’.”
You have terminal stupidity, I propose an immediate lobotomy to put you out of my misery.
“Will you knock it off for ten seconds and let me eat before rippin’ me a new one?”
It’s true. The doctor said so. You’re just stupid.
“You were snuck up on by a creature twice your size in the wasteland,” Jade pointed out with a smirk. “Though I’m glad Hal’s giving you a positive reading. He was quite useful while we were saving you.”
“How much did he talk,” Bro wondered aloud.
“A bit,” she admitted. “We discussed why you were traveling, though he wasn’t that talkative about details. He let us know about Dave when you kept saying his name, in case you didn’t make it. He wanted us to be sure to let him know, and to send your other letters.”
“You’re a long way from home,” Jake chimed in, taking a seat on the nearest bed to talk while Bro shook his head and went back to eating. “But it’s all fine now. Er.. mostly.”
“How much do I owe you,” Bro said almost immediately, breaking a mirelurk cake in half with his fork before stuffing it into his mouth. He’d worry about manners when he wasn’t sitting in a room with two strangers who’d apparently saved his life and seen him in more detail naked than anyone else had in years.
“We’ll figure out caps in a little bit,” Jade said. “You’re going to need to stay here a while longer either way, and we had to use a lot of your medical supplies.”
“Helped ourselves to a little bit of your food as well, but mostly it was the chems and supplies we needed at the moment. Lucky for us you were damn near carrying a medics inventory on your back!”
“Yeah, I just got through a vault,” Bro said. “Place hadn’t been looted yet till I got there.”
“A vault!” Jake interjected excitedly. “Was it like they say, all sterile and eerily perfect?”
“It was full of the people who used to live there, and they weren’t human anymore,” Bro said simply.
It was quite a show to see that many feral ghouls get put down in one go.
“Oh, that doesn’t sound very dapper.”
“Vaults rarely are. They’re either fulla deadly shit, full of a shit load’a nothin’, or fulla people who don’t want you to bother them because you’re all gross from bein’ outside and they know you just want the goodies they’ve got.”
“My grandpa was from a vault,” Jade said with a grin. “He’s the one who raised both of us, taught us everything we know.”
They traded conversation for a time while Bro continued to eat, though it waned when he finished and looked exhausted, surprised that the very act of eating took so much energy out of him. Jake took the tray away and Jade performed a followup examination as Bro settled back tiredly on the pillows. Before she left, he requested his belongings, or what was left of them.
He had an important letter to write.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Bro’s head ached sickly by the time he finished writing the letter, nearly as much as his heart, and his eyes were wet. He didn’t dare to rub at them, nor to even draaw attention to them, but the fact he’d cried while pouring his fucking soul out onto the page wasn’t something he’d admit to anyone. Hal, bless him, remained quiet aside from occasionally offering a correction on a phrase to make it sound better. At first Bro had resented the dictation, but found the changes in wording to be a positive thing, eliminating double meanings. What he ended up with was the letter he’d envisioned sending Dave when the deathclaw was about to do the killing strike, and the fewer mistakes and misunderstandings that could arise from it was for the better.
It took another few days of resting, eating, and conversing with the doctors before Bro was strong enough to go for walks around the town. First thing was first: he paid express for his letter bundle to be sent to Dave along with some money, the most recently written one marked URGENT in bright red stamped letters. Secondly, he got himself a cola and drank the entire thing in one go. The doctors had been kind enough to spot him some clothes, since his shirt was ruined and his pants were scrapped in the moment by bloodshed and emergency bandage use on top of their general wear and tear. The down side was he hated fatigues… but hey, beggars couldn’t be choosers.
He was settled with another soda at the little bar and grill early one morning, having shared breakfast with Jade and Jake once more (his own recipe this time, which only Jake seemed enthusiastic about once they’d tasted the product), but wanting to just sit outside and enjoy the early morning before the sun really got going on cooking everything in the wasteland to death. Hal was quiet, watching as well he presumed based on the little target viewers moving around every time someone moved.
What do you plan to do if you don’t get a reply?
“Keep goin’,” he said with a shrug, taking a sip. “I’m not expecting a reply to any of my letters, but he knows which way we’re headed if he wants to write back. Kid knows how to use a map of settlements to send ahead of the curb if he wants to.”
...I was worried I lost you too, back there. But you’ve never once apologized to me yet.
“Apologized for what?”
For nearly making me watch someone I care about die. At least the first one had the decency to not die while wearinng me on his fucking face.
Bro was pensive and stretched his long legs out from his seat before tipping it back on its hind legs, balancing in place as he took another sip.
“I promise I won’t die while wearin’ you, then.”
“I wouldn’t wanna hurt you at all now.”
… That is acceptable I guess.