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The Wrong Side of the Tracks

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Generally, as a personal rule, Jet didn’t lose her cool when someone pointed a gun at her face.

Not generally.

Not usually.

 

But when the raider pointed his other gun at the woman next to her, she saw red.

She knew that she only had a small time to react, on a logical level, but really, the next thing she knew, she was shoving her own elbow straight into the raider’s nose, blood spraying over her arm. Jet made a face as he fell backwards. Her companion covered her mouth, a look of horror on her face.

“Ew, gross,” Jet groaned. The raider was holding his bleeding nose with both hands. She sighed and picked up a piece of paper on the ground and wiped the blood off as best as she could.

“Disgusting.”

“What now?” The young woman ran a hand nervously through her thick, curly black hair cropped close to her scalp. Jet had given her a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt to wear, as well as an undershirt that was clean. At least, clean by Commonwealth standards. Jet pulled out her pistol.

“Someone fucked up cleaning this place out. So now I’ve gotta.”

The pop of the gun was sudden and startling. Jet grabbed the young woman’s hand and began hurriedly leading her.

“Pick a name yet?”

“Not yet. Is that important?”

The two ducked between a few alleys. “Yeah,” Jet answered. “You can wait until we get to the refuge, but think about it. We’ve got a list of names from an old pre-war baby book.”

The synth didn’t answer, and Jet didn’t look behind her to check her expression. It was getting dark quickly, and they would need to stop for food. They were near the hideout, but still too close to Bunker Hill for her liking. The outskirts of the city finally showed up, allowing them cover in an old bus with its windows blown out. The synth watched out a window while Jet made a fire.

“Is that how you chose your name?” the synth asked suddenly. Jet didn’t look up as she flicked her lighter.

“What?” she gently blew on the small wad of paper to coax a fire out of it.

“A baby book.” The sun finally slipped behind the horizon as Jet’s small fire grew. The synth, interested, walked out and crossed her arms, her skin prickling with goosebumps. “Is Jet in there?”

Jet let out a soundless laugh, more of a sharp exhale through her nose. “No. I did not pick the name Jet in a baby book. I just liked it.”

“But it’s a drug.”

“But also a type of pre-war airplane,” Jet pointed out. The synth shrugged.

“I had no idea.” she sat down across from Jet, looking at her over the fire. “If you could pick a name for me, what would it be?”

Jet chewed the inside of her cheek. Picking names wasn’t really her expertise, yet nearly every synth she escorted asked her. She cleared her throat.

“Names are personal,” she began.

“You could just say no,” the synth leaned back a bit.

“Then no. It’s better to pick your own.”

The rest of the night was much of the same. Jet sensed the synth wanted to ask her more questions, and usually she would be more inclined to talk. The crickets sang, lulling the synth to sleep inside the bus. Jet poked at the fire, the remnants of the snack cakes she had given to the synth melting away in the fire. She sighed and kicked dirt into the fire before heading inside the bus as well.

Two mattresses lay inside the stripped bus, the synth lying on one. Jet forced the door shut, causing the synth to sit up.

“What-”

“Shush, it’s me. The door has to be noisy, or we won’t hear it if someone tries to come inside.”

“Oh.” she didn’t lie back down. Instead, she hugged her knees to her chest and stared out the window. Jet sat on the mattress next to her.

“Rough day?”

“You ever think...you made a huge mistake?” The synth kept staring out the window. Jet’s heart dropped.

“You think this was a big mistake? Getting free?” Jet crossed her legs and faced the synth. Desdemona had very...specific instructions when it came to hysterical synths. And Jet had never gone through with the task before. She was already mapping out how far she could go with an unconscious synth over her shoulder.

“No, not getting the mind wipe.” The synth rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. Jet exhaled in relief.

“You said you wanted to remember. In case they found you. It was important to only have one mind wipe, or something.”

The synth chuckled a bit, it sounding similar to the sharp exhale she had heard Jet do earlier. “Yeah. Do you know what is unnerving? I can’t ever be sure that I’ve never had a mind wipe before.”

“What do you mean?” Jet popped her knuckles. “Does that happen a lot?”

The synth’s brow creased, though Jet couldn’t see it in the darkness. “More often than they should. If you question them, mind wipe. If you miss a scheduled chore, mind wipe. If you show any type of curiosity, mind wipe.” she shuddered. “I sometimes wonder if…” she trailed off. Jet shifted uncomfortably.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” Jet could see a barely-visible outline of a hand waving her away. “I’m fine. I got lost in thought. We should sleep.”

“Yeah, good idea.” the two of them laid down. It was silent, except for the crickets still singing. One perched right outside one of the windows and sang Jet to sleep. The synth stayed awake.

---

“Is your hair naturally that color?” The synth asked Jet. It was noon, and the sun beat down on them. Jet’s skin was pink, but the synth only seemed to be bothered by the brightness. “It’s an unnaturally bright shade of red.”

“It’s real,” Jet said. She drank water out of her canister. “You’ve never seen red hair before?”

“I have, but not that shade. It’s vibrant. It’s lovely.”

“Oh, well thanks.”

“Why not choose the name Red as a code name?”

Jet laughed. “Taken. Besides, it’s easier to break into mercenary groups with a name like Jet.”

“One of the doctors in the Institute discovered how to dye hair different colors. It’s why I asked.”

“Stuff like that is pretty rare,” Jet snorted. “You can find pre-war dye kits, but they’re all dried up. Most of us out here keep our hair short or shave it.”

“Yours is very short.”

Jet touched her short hair. “Yeah, it is. Easier to wear a helmet. Also not much to grab.” A gust of wind cooled Jet’s skin. She wished dearly she had brought a hat, cursing her short-sightedness. The sounds of a pipe pistol drew their attention south.

“Keep going. I have to get you there first.” Jet walked on with her.

The breeze turned into a gust of wind, which kicked up dust. Jet pulled a bandana over her mouth and nose. She reached into her pocket and handed another one, colored red, to the synth. The two of them pressed on.

Sunshine Tiding’s Co-op was little more than two barns and several run down houses when Jet discovered it. Or, as she called it, “a country-fried shithole.” Jet had no idea what the term “country friend” meant, but she loved dropping it into insults as often as she could. Desdemona had been thrilled at her idea for a training place of sorts for synths to learn skills that could help them survive the Wasteland. While a good number of synths opted for the mind wipe, and a personality uploaded into them, the few that decided against the mind wipe needed to learn skills. And learn skills they did.

“Wow,” the synth breathed as she took the site in. Jet’s chest swelled with pride.

“Not bad, right?”

“Way better than what we’ve come across.”

Jet deflated a little. “Ouch. Wanna meet everyone?”

“Sure. Oh!” She cringed when gunshots began firing nearby. Jet touched her shoulder.

“Practice range. You’re fine. The turrets you saw? Those should take care of anyone who might try to hurt us.”

“Okay, well...let’s go.” The synth followed Jet further in. the entrance was guarded by two guards on either side of the door, elevated to be level with the walls, which were about eight to ten feet high and made of whatever junk they could find, and propped up to form a wall. An old silo had been made into a guard post, complete with a basket that could be brought up and down via a pulley system for snacks and beverages.

Along the edges, several houses that had obviously been badly damaged, were clumsily repainted after being fixed with mismatching planks of wood. The two barns in the center were brightly lit, the smell of cooking meat wafting from the larger one. Crops grew towards the back of the place, where a second exit was guarded. The sound of gunfire was coming from the second exit.

Jet walked inside the barn, the doors wide open for the day.

“Lottie?” she called out to a figure in a mechanic suit, wearing biker’s goggles, their dirty blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. “What do molerats eat when they go camping?”

The woman, presumably Lottie, rubbed her dirty hands on her suit, leaving grease marks on a not-so-pristine suit. She stood up and wiped sweat off of her forehead, giving herself a small grease smudge.

“Molerats don’t camp. Is this the new one?” She asked. Jet sighed.

“The correct answer is ‘marsh-mole-ows,’ and yep, this is her. Uh...we haven’t picked a name yet.”

Lottie grabbed a baby book from a nearby table, cluttered with various tools, and handed it to the synth.

“Flip through. Some of us go through several names. Most of us like to find a meaning we like, then find a name that fits.”

“How did you choose yours?” the synth asked. Jet chuckled.

“Good luck getting that story out of her. She hasn’t told anyone yet.”

“I’m a very private person,” Lottie said, unconcerned. She sat down at a nearby terminal and began typing.

“Alright, time to get a file started. We can veto the name for now, and call you New Patient for now.”

“Patient?” the synth looked speculative. “You’re aware that gen 3 synths use doctors for humans, right? Not...mechanics?”

Jet laughed, and Lottie sighed. “The mechanic is a side job," Lottie replied. "I am a doctor. Brain surgeon, to be exact.”

“Brain surgeon? But how-”

“We’ve tried,” Jet cut her off. “Doesn’t work. Just sit and let her do her thing. I’ll come back later to see what name you picked. Dinner is around seven.” She stopped herself two steps from in from walking. “Oh, and if you can get her to laugh, I’ll buy you a case of Nuka Colas.”

Jet turned around and headed towards the larger barn, passing a few familiar faces. Despite being the only human in the settlement, she felt at home. She enjoyed helping people find themselves in things that were actually useful, not just shipping them off with false memories and assumed skills. She wondered if the synths with farming memories actually knew how to farm, or if they stared at a rake or hoe in frustration. She wondered if anyone kept tabs on them. At least this way, she would know for certain that they weren’t helpless.

The cook greeted her, a slight man in his early twenties named, un-ironically, Cooke. Every synth she helped was in their early twenties. As far as she knew, synths weren’t going to change their ages soon. Not many reached the age where it started mattering, though. Unless there was a refuge of youthful synths or synths that eventually moved on when people started asking them what their secret to youthfulness was.

Dinner was pleasant enough, but Jet wanted to get in line for a bath before it was too late. Soap was scarce, but over the two hundred years, the art of soap-making had made a reappearance. One synth had been passing his knowledge down from what he gleaned in the BioScience department. Jet didn’t understand the logistics(something about ashes and lye) but appreciated the earthy-smelling soap his knowledge had gained them.

The bathing area was far from the small pond where they got their water from, and the water was chilly, which caused Jet to begin scrubbing immediately. Once she was finished, she took a moment to allow herself to relax, despite the night air cooling. When she was finished, she put her clean clothes, the same worn pair of denim pants most people wore, sneakers, and a flannel shirt. Inside the walls, there wasn’t much cause for guns, so she had set hers inside the house she shared with another person.

“Hey, Jet!” Lottie called out, waving her over. Jet jogged over.

“What’s up?”

“I picked a name,” the synth said from a chair nearby. “Grace.”

“Grace, huh?” Jet nodded slowly, approval on her face. “I like it.”

“That’s not why I called you over,” Lottie looked serious. “I courier just came with this.” She handed Jet a hand-written letter.

Jet sighed and opened it. “What is this? Another delivery? I just got back!”

“I didn’t read it. Does it have a time?”

She sighed. “Two days, but it’s not the usual spot.” she frowned at the letter. “It would only take me half a day to get there. Hmmm…”

Lottie’s stern expression grew slightly concerned. “Do you think it’s an enemy?”

“I’d rather not discuss it right now. I better get some sleep. Goodnight, Grace.”

“Good night!”

Jet slid between the mattress and the comforter, propping the pillow up with her arm. An unsigned note at a dead drop that has never been used by her before was a warning sign. But who would target her? Possibly no one. She would find out in two days, she supposed.

Crickets chirped nearby, the familiar sound lulling her to sleep.