The Fallout Universe belongs to someone other than me. No infringement is intended, no profit is to be made and I'm just not worth the hassle of suing anyway unless you want a share of the wages of an underpaid Civil Servant.
Washington DC – Columbia Commonweath – June 2277
Coyle inspected his bandaged hand. ‘Does that hurt a lot?’ Allison asked, concerned.
‘Getting buckshot fired into it?’ Coyle replied, ‘Nah, not at all’ he told her sarcastically as they continued on their way. The raider girl they had captured was trailing a few paces behind them, her hands tied in front of her and the rest of the rope providing a leash that was also tied to one of the two ammunition bandoliers Allison had taken from one of the dead raiders back at the Super-Duper Mart.
‘When we get to Grayditch I'll see if I can do a better job of patching you up’ Allison told him, ignoring his snippy mood.
‘I've got some tweezers in my medical kit, if you don't mind digging around I could really do with getting the buckshot removed or it'll never heal right’ Coyle replied with a little more civility this time. ‘Of course if I thought her personal hygiene was better I'd get her
to take them out because she put them in there in the first place but I'd rather not risk picking up an infection’ he said, turning back to the raider whose own attitude was slowly shifting from frightened to sullen.
Allison looked at the girl who was carrying Coyle’s heavy rucksack. ‘I still think we'd be better off getting rid of her’ she said.
‘Okay, if you want to shoot her go ahead but you'll have to carry the bag if you do’ Coyle replied.
‘I didn't mean shoot her’ Allison replied quickly.
‘Yeah, slitting her throat would save the cost of a bullet’ Coyle agreed.
‘You're deliberately misinterpreting what I'm saying’ Allison protested.
‘Maybe’ Coyle neither confirmed or denied but he did grin. ‘Come on Rover’ he told their prisoner. ‘Walkies’ he said, reaching for the rope and tugging on it before they started moving again.
The road they were on had developed an incline as they headed away from the river towards where Allison thought the small settlement of Grayditch lay. The further they got into DC the more intact were the buildings and Coyle was again amazed that there were so few people around taking advantage of such a bounty of resources. Even if the radiation had been so high after the war that people stayed away for decades there should have been a myriad of scavenger groups scouring DC for supplies by now he thought. He could only assume that the super-mutants reputably infesting the city further in acted as a deterrent because the wealth of goods to be seen everywhere should have far outweighed any fear that a few raiders might generate.
‘What's her name?’ Allison asked, realising she didn't know.
‘No idea’ Coyle replied. ‘You know my policy of not asking because it might make it difficult to shoot them later’ he reminded her.
‘I remember you telling me that when we met’ Allison responded, ‘but when I told you my name you said that it still wouldn't be very difficult to shoot me’ she noted.
‘True but at the time you never shut up and kept asking questions which is annoying, and so far she's been keeping quiet’ Coyle pointed out.
‘Your ideal woman I suppose?’ Allison asked scornfully.
‘Generally I don't envision the ideal mate firing a shotgun at me or being a homicidal drug-addict so no’ Coyle replied. ‘Although having her tied up does fit in with a few other fantasies’ he joked.
‘My name’s Dreamer’ the raider girl spoke up nervously, hoping that maybe the thing about it being more difficult to kill her if he knew was true.
‘Nobody asked’ Coyle replied flatly. ‘Now keep quiet or I won't bother to feed you’ he added.
‘That's a weird name’ Allison commented.
‘Maybe she likes to kill people in their sleep’ Coyle suggested as he looked at his hand again. ‘I swear if she's fucked up my quick-draw permanently I'll put her
to sleep permanently too’ he vowed as they walked on.
Allison took out the cloth bag where she had stuffed the drugs she had taken from the dead raiders. ‘Do you want a shot of Med-X Cassidy?’ she asked. ‘I think there's a couple in here’ she added, rooting through the bag.
‘It's nowhere near serious enough for that’ Coyle turned down the offer of the painkiller.
‘They had a lot of drugs on them, more than the raiders we killed outside Megaton did’ Allison noted, putting the bag away again. ‘If she starts to get the shakes later do you think we should let her have some?’ she asked.
‘No’ Coyle replied.
‘You're right, it would be better for her to give them up’ Allison agreed.
‘No I meant we should sell them, I couldn't care less about her fucking health and well-being’ Coyle responded. ‘What are you on anyway?’ he asked the raider out of curiosity.
‘Jet’ the girl “Dreamer” replied, figuring that it was okay to talk if she was just answering questions that he'd asked her.
‘Well that explains why I missed you the first time I shot at you in the Market’ Coyle reasoned, the amphetamine-like substance would have given her better reaction times. ‘Jet was invented by a guy named Myron over in my part of the world you know’ he told Allison, talking might take his mind off the pain in his hand he hoped. ‘He used to hang with my cousin and was a weaselly little bastard from what I heard but a first-rate chemist’ he continued. ‘I'm surprised the formula made it way over here to the East Coast but I guess if there's a market there's a supplier looking to cash in’ he said.
Not wanting to cart the smelly blood-stained clothing and leather body-armour the raiders had been wearing they had not bothered to strip them before heading out but the haul of drugs, a few coin-purses full of caps and their weapons had been worth recovering Coyle thought. He certainly wouldn't bother keeping the badly maintained .32 revolvers but if he cleaned them up they might fetch a few more caps and although he hadn’t enjoyed experiencing its effectiveness first-hand, as it were, the sawn-off the girl had been carrying was in relatively good condition.
Almost as importantly, at least to Coyle, the vending machines outside the Super-Duper Mart had still contained a number of bottles of Nuka Cola and although he left a few behind for the benefit of someone else that might have a hankering for a fix of caffeinated flat sugary beverage his conscript pack-mule was carrying a good dozen bottles of the stuff along with the bulk of his other gear.
‘Want some jerky?’ Allison asked, producing a couple of strips from her satchel and passing one to Coyle when he nodded. She was about to start chewing on her own when she had a thought and turned back to the girl tethered to her. ‘Hungry?’ she asked. ‘It's Yao Guai’ she explained, stopping to hand the meat back to the girl who looked at it suspiciously.
‘Eat it or don't, your choice, but don't expect to get anything else for a while because we've got loads of it left’ Coyle said to the girl before starting to gnaw on his own piece.
‘Could be worse, could be Mole Rat’ Allison noted, getting out a third strip of dried meat for herself as the raider girl sniffed the jerky before tearing off a section with her teeth.
‘You know you're way too soft-hearted’ Coyle told Allison as the three of them passed a couple of wrecked cars which the NCR Ranger inspected with interest.
‘I'm just not callous like you’ Allison defended herself. ‘Why be nasty for the sake of it?’ she asked rhetorically.
‘I'm not nasty for the sake of it woman’ Coyle defended himself in turn, ‘I mostly do it for the sake of entertainment’ he said before checking his watch. ‘We'd better pick up the pace’ he decided.
‘Still plenty of time to get to Grayditch before it gets dark’ Allison told him, she was sure she had her bearings right.
‘I want to get a good look over the place before I think about staying there’ Coyle replied, ‘if it sets my alarm bells ringing we might need to find alternative accommodation before the sun goes down.’
‘Pa always said Grayditch was a friendly little place full of nice folks’ Allison replied.
‘Don't let it be said I'd ever doubt the second-hand word of your father but your information is years out of date right?’ Coyle asked rhetorically. ‘I think I'll let my ever-dependable life-preserving paranoia steer me on this one like always’ he said.
They weren't too much further on when they started to pick up the faint whiff of smoke in the air coming from the direction they were heading, getting closer to their destination the smell became stronger and then they started to see billowy clouds of smoke wafting between the buildings. ‘If we're lucky someone has a barbeque going and we’re going to be invited to share a beer and a Brahmin burger’ Coyle observed, ‘I don't think we're lucky’ he said fatalistically as they arrived at a beaten-up fence made up of old wooden panels and corrugated iron sheets someone had erected across the road ahead with “Welcome to Grayditch” painted on it.
‘There's nobody watching out for strangers’ Allison noted, looking around with a concerned expression. Normally any community would be expected to have look-outs watching for raiders but there were no signs of life, only the smoke hanging in the air and the sounds of clicking.
Coyle chambered a round in his FN FAL. The hair was standing up on the back of his neck and either his instincts or his training, or maybe the spirits of his tribal ancestors were telling him he was about to see some more action. ‘Get your rifle ready’ he told Allison who nodded and worked the bolt on her hunting rifle.
The crack of a shot up ahead had Coyle drop to one knee, FN FAL shouldered. Allison did likewise and then the raider girl did the same wishing she wasn't the only one unarmed. Even if it was other raiders attacking the settlement they wouldn't be from her band which meant she wasn’t any safer than these two. ‘What are we going to do?’ Allison asked, voice barely above a whisper.
‘My curiosity has the best of me’ Coyle replied. ‘I'm going to go see’ he said, grinning as the adrenaline started to kick in and his heart rate increased. To be honest to himself he would have been much better off being a regular junkie like the raider chick he knew, instead of being a danger junkie, but he did enjoy the action and adventure. ‘If I don't come back... well same rules as before’ he said.
Allison watched Coyle rise to a crouch and begin to move forward. One day he really wasn’t going to come back if he kept doing things like this she was sure and that thought bothered her immensely. Her life since meeting him had been so dynamic and interesting and besides which he hadn't even kissed her yet she realised, the latter thought almost catching her by surprise in that it bothered her as much as it did.
‘If we have to run we'll be faster if we're not tied together and I'm not carrying this bag’ the girl “Dreamer” whispered.
‘I might cut the rope but you'll still be carrying that rucksack’ Allison whispered back.
‘Why, is what's in it valuable?’ Dreamer queried.
‘Not really’ Allison lied, some of it was probably worth a lot of caps, ‘it's just that if we're being chased by something nasty that wants to eat us I don't have to outrun them
I only need to outrun you
’ she said, immensely proud of the line but then really pissed-off Coyle hadn't heard her say it.
Barely a couple of minutes later Coyle returned, moving at double-time but no longer bothering to keep low. ‘Come on’ he told them. ‘I need to borrow your rifle’ he told Allison. ‘Your ammo is cheaper and easier to replace.’
‘But it's my
rifle’ Allison protested.
‘Don't whine, I have
been letting you keep all the .32 calibre rounds we've taken from people that I've
shot’ Coyle noted. ‘I don't want to waste any of my 7.62mm or .308 Winchester on these things’ he said, ‘come on, this is worth seeing’ he promised.
Allison reluctantly swapped her Hunting Rifle for Coyle’s FN FAL and after yanking on the road to get the raider girl moving too she followed Coyle into Grayditch which was mostly made up of old brick houses. There were fires in more than a few places but what caught her attention in a much bigger way was the sight of a giant ant nearby that saw them and then began heading their way in a hurry.
‘Seeing as I'm not from these parts I've got to ask’ Coyle said calmly, ‘is this normal?’ he inquired as the ant raised its head and directed a jet of fire in their direction in a manner much like a flamethrower.
Allison squealed and ran in one direction to try and avoid the flame while unfortunately for her Dreamer went in the other. The rope had enough slack so that they could both get up a little speed before it pulled tight, jerking them both to a sudden stop.
The not-quite brahmin-sized ant had overestimated the range of its unusual built-in weaponry, just as Coyle had seen it do previously before he returned to the girls, but he was glad Allison hadn’t witnessed him yelp and dive for cover himself like he had the first time. It looked much more dignified when he simply walked backwards to keep out of range and shot off one of the things twin antenna.
Giant Ants were well known in the Western States, some people near the town of Broken Hills had even tried ranching them for their nutritious if hardly tasty meat, but this was the first time Coyle had encountered any with this ability he thought to himself as he worked the bolt of the Hunting Rifle to chamber another round. On the other hand there was a sub-species of Gecko that breathed fire which lived in his part of the former United States so Coyle had been more surprised than completely shocked and panicked by the situation.
Coyle shot off the other antenna and the ant went crazy, that at least was the result he had expected based upon regular Giant Ant behaviour and he watched intrigued for a while as it started spinning around aimlessly, occasionally sending out another squirt of fire before Coyle finally put a third shot into its head.
The oversized insect staggered a little more but didn't drop right away. ‘Tough little bastard aren't you’ Coyle muttered, firing a fourth shot which finally put the thing down. ‘Going to need more bullets’ he said, turning back towards Allison. ‘There's more of these things around and I think they've got some people trapped in their houses over in the next street’ he said. ‘I heard a kid screaming for help.’
‘You could have warned us!’ Allison screeched.
‘I'd already seen what range they had, you were okay where you were’ Coyle replied.
didn't know that you asshole!’ Dreamer yelled at him, far too angry to be scared he might kill her for mouthing off like that. Her heart didn’t pound in her chest this fucking hard when she had just inhaled Jet she thought, trying to calm down.
‘Did I or did I not freely admit earlier that I do this stuff for entertainment?’ Coyle asked rhetorically, reaching Allison and borrowing the bandolier of .32 calibre bullets which wasn't tied to the rope.
Allison glared at him, she was now too angry to even speak.
‘I can see you're upset’ Coyle observed. ‘I'll just go save the locals and give you a chance to chill out and see the funny side’ he added, turning around and starting to re-load the hunting rifle as he walked off.
‘If he was my
boyfriend I'd fucking shoot him’ the raider girl told Allison seriously.
‘I'm a better person than you so I'll let him save those people and then
I'll fucking shoot him’ Allison growled. ‘Come on’ she said, ‘if we're lucky one of those things will set him on fire and we can watch’ she said, pulling on the tether that connected them.
William Brandice had been typing what he thought was going to be his last journal entry into his computer when the sounds of gunfire outside pulled his attention away from the battered machine he had salvaged intact from a nearby office building shortly after arriving in Grayditch with his family over a year ago. The damn ants who must have a colony nearby had been growing increasingly aggressive for some time and then when they actually started to breathe fire too a couple of months back most of the people who had stuck it out until then had decided to leave the settlement behind for a safer place to live, if such a thing truly existed in the Capital Wasteland.
At first the ants had only been a problem at night but in the last few weeks they had started to appear in daylight too, firstly just the odd one or two but then more and more until a couple of days back the sheer number of the things out in the street round the clock had cut Brandice and his family off from the only other people living in Grayditch, the Wilks family and that scientist guy Lesko.
If the things scratching on the walls ever did break in Brandice still had an edge that the other poor bastards living in Grayditch didn’t however, though he had been careful not to let anyone but his wife Sheila and his sons Frank and Will Junior know about it for fear or people asking questions. He had dug up his old AEP7 Laser Pistol from where he had secretly buried it after coming here and in the last resort he knew he could protect his family like a man should.
Keeping his AEP7 close but concealed Brandice got up and found his wife by the door to their bedroom. ‘William’ she said, a look of relief on her face. ‘There's a man outside killing the ants’ she told him. ‘I took a peek out of the downstairs window’ she said. ‘Frank is there watching now’ she added.
Brandice frowned. ‘It could be raiders’ he cautioned. ‘Let's face it, that's more likely than some saviour appearing from nowhere killing the ants for us out of the goodness of his heart’ he said, hand subconsciously moving to where his laser pistol was concealed under his jacket.
‘William, I don't think we were fated to travel all the way across the country unharmed only to die here’ Sheila told him.
‘I wish I had your faith’ Brandice replied. ‘Just let me get a good look at whoever it is killing the ants before you or the boys show themselves okay?’ he requested.
‘You know best Dear’ Sheila replied, like a good wife. Brandice was still surprised she had agreed to follow him all the way from Navarro after he decided to desert the Enclave Remnant there, she could have easily found a better man he was sure.
Always impulsive, and with an upbringing that wasn't as strict as the Brandice children had enjoyed, Bryan Wilks the only son of Fred Wilks living across the street was already whooping up a storm as he watched the stranger outside gun down the ants which his father believed would soon be breaking into their home. Fred had been carefully loading magazines for his old Chinese Assault Rifle when he heard the shooting, wishing he wasn’t so short of ammunition, and he now had it clasped tightly in his hands watching with his son as the newcomer wearing Combat Armour and sunglasses methodically shot the antenna off the ants, causing them to fight each other before he finished them off. ‘Nice shooting’ Fred Wilks commented, the guy hadn’t missed once.
‘Do you think he's from Riley’s Rangers or something Dad?’ Bryan asked his father, they had heard tales of the well-regarded and unusually ethical mercenary unit that had a base somewhere in DC.
‘Maybe’ Fred Wilks replied as the stranger stopped to reload again from a bandolier of cartridges he had across his shoulder.
‘Pest Control, New California Republic style’ Coyle said gleefully, shooting another “Fire Ant” in the head and working the bolt of the hunting rifle again. It had a lovely smooth action, he considered, that weird peppy chick who owned the store in Megaton had really done a nice job with it he decided.
Up close the giant ants with the built-in flamers would have been a major threat but if you kept your distance and properly placed your shots they weren’t such a big deal Coyle thought to himself as he finished off the last one. He had killed seven of the things in total and although he doubted that was all of them the street he was in was clear and that was good enough for now. ‘Is anyone still alive?’ he called out.
One of the front doors opened slowly and a man stepped out cradling a Chinese Assault Rifle. ‘Who are you?’ he asked Coyle.
‘Nobody special’ Coyle replied. ‘Just never shot ants like these before so I thought what the hell’ he said. ‘Just you is it?’ he asked.
‘Maybe’ Fred Wilks replied, ‘is it just you?’ he asked in return.
‘No’ Coyle replied, turning around. ‘Do you want to swap rifles again sweetheart?’ he called out. ‘I'm all done with yours for now’ he added before turning back to the local.
‘Don't you "sweetheart" me’ Allison called back angrily, still less than happy with him as she stomped into view, the raider girl following on behind on her leash. ‘Give me my rifle and the rest of my bullets’ she said, almost snatching the bandolier off him as she arrived after handing over the FN FAL.
Fred Wilks fingered his own assault rifle, they had a girl tied up and tethered. Slavers he thought, getting ready to protect his son. ‘What do you want?’ he asked coldly, noting with some relief that William Brandice over the road had partially opened his own door and was there with an automatic pistol in his hand.
‘Just came here looking for a place to stay for the night’ Coyle replied, ‘I had heard Grayditch was a mite more thriving than this’ he said. ‘Then again my guide didn't mention Giant Ants that spit napalm either’ he added, turning to Allison.
‘Pa never said anything about ants’ Allison defended herself, not that she really felt the need to defend herself from any accusing comments coming from Coyle after what he did earlier however.
‘You looking for someone to buy the slave or maybe looking for more?’ Fred Wilks asked guardedly.
‘Not technically a slave so much as a prisoner and she's not for sale’ Coyle replied. ‘She's a raider I ran into down near the river earlier today’ he explained. ‘I've just got her carrying my stuff until I decide what to do with her’ he said.
Wilks took another look at the girl with the bound hands, she did kinda look like a raider he thought, now he came to think about it, he'd seen a few raider girls in shorts before and those pigtails were a giveaway too. You didn’t usually get to see raiders unless they were dead or else hollering obscenities and shooting at you. Being bound up and looking worried, maybe even meek, was just not how you expected to ever see them. ‘Okay, say I believe you’ he addressed Coyle again. ‘We don't want any trouble, we’ve got plenty of that around here already’ he said honestly.
‘Your gratitude for me shooting these ants warms my heart’ Coyle responded sardonically. ‘Maybe you'd have been happier with them warming up your ass?’ he added.
‘Cassidy’ Allison said sharply in rebuke. ‘Please Sir’ she said to Wilks, ‘We just want to stay here until tomorrow when we’ll be out of your hair’ she said. ‘We’ll be no trouble’ she promised. ‘I'm Allison Brenner, this is Cassidy Coyle and the raider girl is Dreamer’ she introduced herself and her companions.
‘Fred Wilks’ the Grayditch resident replied guardedly. ‘Now you keep that raider tied up so she doesn't cause any trouble you hear’ he said.
‘She already shot me once, I don't plan to give her the opportunity to do it right the next time’ Coyle responded, holding up his bandaged hand.
Wilks looked over to William Brandice and beckoned him over. ‘This is my neighbour Will’ he said as the other man crossed over towards them, pistol still ready. ‘Will, do you think we should let these folks stay overnight?’ he asked.
Brandice shrugged. ‘I figure that's only fair’ he said, looking them over. ‘If you don't mind ant meat my wife has got good at rustling up something for dinner made from it that you can keep down’ he offered, re-directing his gaze towards the oversized dead insects. ‘Plenty to go around at least’ he noted.
‘Sounds good’ Coyle replied, not entirely truthfully. ‘The rest of the meat's all yours by the way’ he offered.
‘Much obliged’ Brandice replied. ‘Want to give me a hand butchering them after we've made sure there aren't any more around Fred?’ he asked the other local.
‘Sure’ Wilks replied just before his son pushed past him.
‘Wow Mister’ the young Bryan Wilks exclaimed, looking at the ants and then Coyle. ‘You sure can shoot’ he told him.
‘It's one of his few redeeming qualities’ Allison stated as the other residents of Grayditch started to appear to join them in the street.
Note from the Author:Grayditch is a small almost totally abandoned settlement on the edge of DC which is now home to only two families and a scientist that moved there more recently. Fred and Bryan Wilks live across from William Brandice, his wife and sons. When you visit Grayditch some time after August 17th 2277 you can find the computer terminal belonging to Brandice with the last entry dated June 17th 2277 and saying they were cut off and surrounded by the Fire Ants but you actually find his body some distance away indicating he got out. Here Coyle is the reason why Grayditch survived as a community a little longer.
Mutated Giant Ants are a staple of the Fallout Universe but the fire-breathing ones are only to be found around Grayditch. However the West Coast does had the Fire Gecko subspecies of the also greatly increased in size Gecko which also breathes fire so Coyle wouldn't have been totally shocked by the noton of creatures breathing fire.Reviews are always appreciated.