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The Wrong Side of the Tracks

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Out of the fifteen synths that lived at the refuge, she didn’t expect Grace to be the one to wake her up. Usually Lottie took care of assigning new synths different tasks, but Grace said Lottie seemed too grouchy to deal with anyone this morning. That only made Jet laugh.

“That is Lottie’s basic demeanor,” she said, her shoulders popping as she stood up and stretched. She let out a relieved groan. “She’s been around long before since I’ve been here. Desdemona seems to trust her, so…” Jet shrugged.

“Oh. How long have you been in the railroad?”

“Well, hold on a second, we need to eat first,” Jet chuckled. “How did you sleep?’

“The bed is dirty, and the mattress is worn.”

“That’s...the surface. So, badly?”

“I wasn’t woken up to perform some arbitrary tasks for a scientist’s amusement, so it was strange sleeping through the night with no interruptions.”

“Good. The first few nights are usually the worst. You’ll get used to the sounds of crickets, and the occasional gunshot. It’s usually bugs.”

Grace looked relieved, and Jet saw her shoulders relax for the first time since she picked her up. She gently patted her arm.

“You’ll do great. Today we get to see what type of skill you might like. Any ideas?”

“I was mostly maintenance. Some synths were used to test viruses and antidotes. I’m glad that wasn’t me.”

“I’ve heard. Come on. So, you’ll probably have a hard time getting used to the food here, but Cooke has really got some good ideas.”

“Nutritional paste is nutritional paste to me,” Grace shrugged.

“Ha, no, we...don’t eat any paste you come across out here. You’ll thank me.”

Cooke greeted them with a nod and a smile. “Morning!”

“Morning, Cooke! Whatcha got for us?”

“Scrambled mirelurk eggs with a side of toast. We have mutfruit jelly and tarberry jam.”

“Oooh!” Jet looked eager as she made herself and Grace a plate. Grace looked less than thrilled.

“What exactly is this?” her nose wrinkled a bit at the sight of the eggs on her plate.

“It’s food,” Cooke said. “Which I thank God, or Atom, or who-the-fuck-ever for every day.”

“Adam? Who’s Adam?” Grace asked. Jet cut her eyes at Cooke.

“You’re giving me more work, you ass.”

“Eat your damn food, you whiner,” Cooke chuckled and pointed a spatula at Jet. “She’s gotta learn sometime. Better now than being recruited by those nutcases.”

Jet rolled her eyes and turned back to Grace. “A-t-o-m, not Adam. It’s the deity the Children of Atom worship. It’s basically them worshiping the radiation. It’s probably more...I don’t know complicated than that, but that’s all I really care to know.”

Grace looked horrified. “Radiation kills and injures. Why would you worship that?”

“You got me there. Are you gonna eat?”

Grace hesitated, then speared a clump of egg with her fork. She paused briefly before placing it delicately in her mouth and chewed. Her mouth pulled into a frown, and one eye closed as she tested the texture.

“It’s different, I know,” Cooke said, a sympathetic look on his face. “But you get used to it. Try the toast with jam, it’s better.”

“I don’t know what you people have a problem with,” Jet said, shoveling egg into her mouth. “This shit is delicious,” a bit of food fell out of her mouth. She washed it down with some purified water as Grace and Cooke stared at her. She belched.

“You two better stop staring before I give you something to stare at.”

“I wish you would,” Cooke teased. Jet threw a piece of toast at him, and he let it bounce off his shoulder as he chuckled.

“Eat your damn food, you child. I have more people to cook for.” He turned around and kept cooking. Jet smirked and turned to Grace, who was tentatively placing the toast, smeared sloppily with tarberry jam, into her mouth. Judging by the look on her face, the jam was favorable to the eggs.

After(a slowly eaten) breakfast, Jet took Grace to the shooting range. A tall, dark-skinned man wearing a well-worn set of military fatigues, open to show a dirty undershirt, sat on a chair, cleaning a small gun. He looked up when they got close and gave them a wide grin.

“Jet, you’re back!”

“Hey, Cannon! This is our newest friend, Grace.” she motioned towards Grace. “I’m showing her around.”

“Tell me, Grace, have you ever held a gun before?”

“No sir.”

“Aw, you don’t have to call me sir. We’re all equal around here.” He flashed a charming smile, and Jet rolled her eyes and cleared her throat.

“Okay, well, why don’t we get right to the lesson?”

“Wait,” Grace protested. “I thought we were going to see everything?”

“We all learn to defend ourselves,” Jet said. “Even if it’s just learning how to load, point, and shoot.”

“Oh. I mean, that’s fine with me, but…” Grace hesitated. “Things seem limited here. I don’t want to waste any ammunition.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Cannon assured, putting an arm around her. “We’ll be fine.”

Grace relaxed a little, but still seemed unsure. Cannon seemed to notice.

“Hey,” he turned toward her. “How about this? Whisper is in charge of the stealth stuff. He could teach you how to use your hands and other instruments to defend yourself. Does that sound better?”

Grace perked up. “Actually...that does sound better. Is he around?”

Cannon turned his head to look around. “Yeah, somewhere. I’ll find him.”

“We’ll look around some more,” Jet said, guiding Grace by the shoulders back behind the settlement walls. “Sorry, but I know where Whisper is, and he knows you don’t know. Whisper is on a job, and isn’t here. He would have tried to get you to help him look to waste your time. He thinks he’s funny.”

“Oh,” Grace said, looking back at Cannon cleaning the gun. “Maybe I’ll go talk to him later.”

“Oh, a crush already?” Jet waggled her eyebrows. “He’s good looking, but not my type.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I just mean...he’s sort of...in a relationship already. I’m not into people who are taken. With explicit guidelines to not be with alone else.”

“Huh?”

“Monogamous relationships. He’s in a monogamous relationship.”

“Oh. Good for him!” Grace nodded. Jet snorted.

“You’re a good sport. Anyways, next stop is cooking.”

Grace halted. “Why?”

Jet stopped and turned to face her. “Were they not clear on what we do here?”

“No, they were, it’s just-”

“We teach you skills you need to survive, and some are mandatory. Defense, salvaging, and feeding yourself. No questions asked.”

“But the food is disgusting!”

“That doesn’t mean you’ll never need to eat again. Plus, not everyone likes eggs. Cooke will teach you how to make other things besides eggs.”

“Like what?”

“Oh wow, you want me to name it right now? Uh, okay, off the top of my head, vegetable soup, deathclaw steak, brahmin steak, shepherd’s pie, uh, even make some drinks with tarberry and mutfruit juice. Pastries, nuka cola cake…”

Grace sighed. “Fine I suppose.” she reluctantly followed.

Cooke seemed to be ready for them. “Welcome to Cooke’s restaurant. Learning to feed yourself is very important. From starches to seasonings-”

“Jet?” a Latino man with his hair slicked back came up behind them and poked his head in the door. “A word?”

“Oh, sure. Sorry, keep going,” she said to Cooke, who looked annoyed.

“Fine, miss the spaghetti with radstag meatballs, I don’t care,” he waved them away as they walked outside.

“He’s got a whole spiel going, huh?” She joked when she closed the door. The man looked serious.

“Okay, what’s wrong, Whisper? I thought you were on a job?”

“I was. Then I came across something disturbing.” He pulled out a blood-soaked letter and handed it to her. Jet read it, her frown deepening.

“This is one of our dead drops. I real secure one. Who did you find it on?”

“Not an agent, I’m afraid,” Whisper’s thick brows knit together. “A gunner tried to get the jump on me. He didn’t count on me using the buildings to get the drop on him.”

“Did you just make a pun?” Jet half-heartedly smiled. “Because if so, it was bad.”

“I did not, but I’ll be sure to tell Cannon is was intentional.”

“He’ll love that.

“Because I literally dropped from-”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it, Jesus.” she exhaled slowly. “ I don’t recognize this writing. It ain’t Desdemona’s or Deacon’s. What are you thinking?”

“Not sure. Maybe someone figured out something was going on, but hasn’t figured out what just yet.”

“Maybe. It also makes me want to double check this dead drop I got.” she pulled the letter from her pocket. Whisper took it from her and studied it.

“Where did you get this?”

“Courier delivered it right as I got back.”

Whisper frowned. “No signature. Our contacts are required to put an initial, or at least a code name. Someone delivered it here? To this place?”

“Yeah.”

“Then our position is compromised. At the most, they know this is a synth refuge. At the least, they know you’re an agent.”

“So, what do we do?”

“We meet them tomorrow, and set up a trap of our own.” Whisper smirked.

“This is so much better than eggs!” Grace declared from inside the barn.