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.
Grayditch, Washington – Columbia Commonweath – June 2277
From what they were told the majority of the population of Grayditch had begun leaving shortly after the Fire Ants started showing up, not that it had exactly been a teeming metropolis to start with. Other than the two families the only other person in the community seemed to keep himself to himself and he only emerged from the shack he had been hiding from the ants in to offer a half-hearted thanks to Coyle and to request any nectar from the ant bodies Fred Wilks and William Brandice were butchering for his “research”.
While Sheila Brandice did her best to convert ant meat into something at least mildly palatable Coyle dragged a couple of chairs outside into the street from the vacated property next to the Brandice home. He and Allison had been offered as overnight accommodation and using the remaining daylight to good purpose as they sat on the chairs he set his guide the job of digging the buckshot out of his hand while the raider that put it there found herself tied to the closest telegraph pole.
‘Keep still’ Allison told Coyle sharply as she tried to use the tweezers from his First Aid Kit to extract the lead shot.
‘This really hurts you know’ Coyle replied through clenched teeth, trying not to squirm as she dug into his flesh.
‘Got it’ Allison said with satisfaction, pulling out the tweezers with a piece of bloody buckshot held in them. ‘Next one’ she said all-too-brightly as she flicked it away and started on the next hole in Coyle's left hand which likely harboured another piece.
‘Goddammit’ Coyle hissed as the tweezers went in again.
‘You big baby’ Allison chided, concentrating on her task.
‘I don't feel good’ Dreamer spoke up, voice trembling. She was sat on the ground, leaning back against the wooden pole and when Coyle looked over she was obviously sweating profusely and shaking.
‘You don't really expect any sympathy do you?’ Coyle asked, glaring at her.
‘I need Jet’ Dreamer begged.
Coyle snorted with derision. ‘I wouldn't give you any even if it wasn't
you that shot this crap into my...’ Coyle began then went deathly white, eyes widening. ‘Please finish quickly’ he gasped once the sudden extra surge of pain in his hand dropped to the point where he could once again articulate speech.
‘There you go, last piece’ Allison told him happily, showing him the buckshot she had just hooked out. ‘I'll just sterilise it and bandage you up again’ she added, reaching for the small bottle of one-hundred-and-sixty proof whiskey Coyle carried for “medicinal purposes”.
‘Spirits of the Ancestors give me strength’ Coyle muttered as she unscrewed the cap and prepared to pour some on the wounded hand. It would likely kill plenty of bacteria off which was a good thing but it would also sting like an absolute... ‘SON-OF-A-BITCH’ Coyle exclaimed as the whiskey hit his bloody hand, helping wash it clean as he forced himself not to pull it away.
‘I think they'll close up okay’ Allison said professionally, inspecting her handiwork. ‘When I was about ten I once had to do this for my brother when he took some buckshot in the ass out hunting’ she said. ‘He didn't make such a fuss, though he was drunk I guess’ she continued. ‘Pa was drunk too, it was him that accidentally put the buckshot in there’ she recalled, laughing.
‘Well I'm not drunk and there's a hell of a lot more nerve-endings in a human hand than a human's ass’ Coyle replied with a snarl.
‘You don't have to sit on your hand though’ Allison pointed out.
Coyle thought about that. ‘Okay, I can see that smarting a little for a while after’ he conceded.
‘I think I'm gonna throw up’ Dreamer moaned.
‘Well at least I get the karmic satisfaction of watching you go cold-turkey’ Coyle responded, managing to force a smirk at the raider while Allison bandaged up his hand.
Dreamer felt like her skin was covered with crawling insects, which it wasn't because she had only recently bathed by her standards. ‘Please, I'll do anything’ she begged. ‘You've got all the Jet you took from me and the others’ she reminded them, ‘just give me one and...’
‘Winners don't take drugs, only whiners do’ the boy Bryan Wilks interrupted. ‘That's what my dad says’ he continued as he walked over to join them. ‘Mrs Brandice said to come fetch you all for supper’ he told them. ‘We've laid out a big table for everyone in one of the empty houses and she's put some in a bowl for the raider there too’ he added.
‘I think if you gave her a bowl of food right now you'd have to give her a bucket to put it back into a couple of minutes later as well’ Coyle replied. ‘She might be able to keep down some water, she needs to when she's sweating so much off.’
Bryan looked down at Dreamer, she looked sicker than people he’d seen that were dying of radiation poisoning. ‘If drugs do that to people why do they take them?’ he asked.
‘Because as long as you don't stop they make you feel great’ Coyle replied. ‘Of course they'll also take years off your life and turn you into a... freaking psychotic’ he added, moderating his language because of the kid's age.
‘If you won't give me any Jet just shoot me’ Dreamer requested. She hadn't had a hit since early that morning and after nearly two years of dependency that was far too long.
‘You're not getting off that easily after this’ Coyle responded holding up his bandaged hand.
‘Can't we give her something to make it easier?’ Allison asked, looking at the raider girl with pity.
‘Well I haven't got any of the antidote to Jet addiction with me and based on the question I guess you don't either’ Coyle replied.
‘There's an antidote?’ Allison and Dreamer said almost simultaneously.
Coyle sighed. ‘Figures that the damn drug would manage to get all the way here from the West Coast but the cure wouldn't’ he observed sadly. ‘We'll tie her up where we can still see her and then eat’ he told Allison.
‘GIVE ME SOME JET YOU PRICK!’ Dreamer shouted at Coyle, the boy nearly jumping out of his skin as she did so.
‘We'll gag her too’ Coyle decided.
After they ate, conversing with the local families about what they knew about the rest of the city during the meal, Coyle decided he could probably benefit from an early night and hauling Dreamer along with him he secured her still securely bound and gagged in one corner of the upstairs bedroom of the abandoned house. After injecting a stimpak into his wounded hand to speed up the healing process overnight he slumped onto the bed, only bothering to remove his boots and body armour before going to sleep.
Allison remained talking to Fred Wilks and William Brandice until quite late, trying to learn as much as she could about the area figuring that’s what a good professional guide would but eventually approaching midnight she realised from the increasingly unsubtle yawning they wanted to get some sleep themselves.
Using a small light-bulb fixed to an old fission battery as a lamp Allison left the Wilks place where she had ended up and went to join Coyle, wondering if Dreamer had managed to fall asleep herself or was she still climbing the walls (as much as you could if tied up) due to Jet withdrawal.
Dreamer was not in fact asleep but had stopped shaking leading Allison to reason that the cause for the raider-girl still being awake was neither addiction nor insomnia but was probably most likely due to the fact that Coyle was snoring loud enough to scare off a deathclaw.
The dim light given off by the bulb wasn’t enough to wake Coyle but it was enough for Allison to first take off her boots then find the water canteen from Coyle’s rucksack and carefully tip-toe her way to Dreamer. Gesturing with a finger over her own lips for Dreamer to stay quiet Allison gently removed her cloth gag. ‘Sorry but I can't untie you completely because you might kill us in our sleep’ she whispered to the raider before giving her a drink. ‘If you promise not to make any noise I'll leave the gag off though’ she offered.
The raider kept silent, the gag had hurt and if she felt nauseous again she really didn’t want to throw up while wearing the thing. Allison turned off the lamp but there was still enough moonlight coming through the window for Dreamer to watch as the other girl took off her boots and wondering how the hell anyone could get used to snoring like that she theorised that Allison must be partially deaf or something to stay with the bastard. Instead to her amazement when the guide got into bed next to Coyle she just gently rolled him on his side whereupon the snoring stopped immediately and propping him up Allison drifted off to sleep followed shortly after by Dreamer herself.
Coyle and Allison woke up early, albeit not by choice when Dreamer being unable to hold it any more cried out that she really needed to use the toilet. Fortunately she was used to a lack of privacy thanks to her raider lifestyle because Coyle insisted on having Allison there pointing a gun at her the whole time she was untied, something Dreamer accepted with little complaint because the other alternative was him doing it instead and that would have been a little too humiliating.
‘Heading out already?’ Fred Wilks asked Coyle and Allison as when he woke himself and checked on them he found them packing up.
‘Got a few places to visit on the way to Rivet City now you've helped explain the lie of the land around here’ Coyle replied.
‘Watch out for super-mutants’ Wilks advised. ‘The traders coming through say the things are pushing nearer to that old rust-bucket every day’ he continued, ‘there's less of them on this side of the river because of the Brotherhood being holed up in the Pentagon but wander about over there a while and you'll eventually have a big yellow bastard trying to gnaw on your bones.’
Coyle grinned, soopies weren't ogres that ate people, that was a wasteland myth like ghoul's being zombies. They were big, and some of them were dumb and aggressive, but they weren't monsters any more than regular people were. ‘I'll keep that in mind’ he replied.
‘Three Dog on the radio says that most of the heavy fighting is in the Mall’ Wilks reminded him in case the stranger had forgotten their talk last night. ‘You really don't want to get stuck between the Brotherhood and the Super Mutants when they’re firing rockets and miniguns around’ he advised.
‘Damn, and there I was planning to hit all the tourist spots’ Coyle replied. ‘Still maybe I could pick up a souvenir tee-shirt with a hole in it’ he suggested. ‘I went to Washington DC and all I got was this lousy bullet-wound.’
Wilks laughed. ‘Seriously though friend, if you want to keep your woman out of harm's way play it smart and skirt the centre of town’ he said.
‘She's not my woman, she's just my guide’ Coyle replied.
‘If you say so’ Wilks replied, smiling, he knew that Sheila Brandice hadn't bought that line yesterday after listening to them bicker over dinner. Despite still being incensed about the incident with the Fire Ants the girl obviously had the idea she could cure him of his less attractive personality traits, and if a woman wanted to change you to make it more acceptable to have you around that likely meant she wanted to extend the period you would be around. Moreover if you took it that meant deep down you didn't object to the idea too much either.
‘Cassidy I don't think that we'll get far if we make Dreamer carry your rucksack’ Allison called out.
‘Not unless you want to give me some Jet’ the raider said quickly, it was worth a try at least.
‘I'll carry it for now’ Coyle replied turning around to look at the Raider carefully. ‘You're right, she looks like shit’ he agreed. ‘But if she slows us down I'll find a way to get her moving that doesn't involve drugs but might involve a combat knife.’
‘What are you going to do with her long-term?’ Wilks asked curiously.
‘I'll cross that bridge when I come to it’ Coyle responded. ‘Actually that's an idea’ he continued, ‘I could throw her off the bridge when we cross the river’ he said brightly, putting his sunglasses on as the sun rose high into the sky to warrant them.
‘Don't worry he’s joking’ Allison told Dreamer. ‘I think’ she added in a less encouraging fashion as she secured the other end of Dreamer's rope tether to herself.
Leaving Grayditch after making their goodbyes, Allison remarked to Coyle that she thought William and Sheila Brandice had an accent a little like his, or at least a trace of it. Coyle himself hadn't noticed, to him they sounded more like her Virginia accent, if maybe a little milder which he put down to them being city dwellers whereas she was a redneck. However when Dreamer chipped in that she thought so too Coyle began to wonder if Brandice was a former member of the Brotherhood, or even maybe a deserter, because now he came to think about it more the man did have a degree of military bearing about him too.
Heading back towards the Potomac, intending to follow it down to where he could find a good vantage-point to observe the assholes who had taken over the Pentagon for a while Coyle could hear the sound of distant explosions and hoped that it was the Steel Plague getting put through the wringer. The NCR Military knew from the scrappy intel they had obtained from captured BoS installations that the enemy had sent a second expedition across the country over twenty years ago, the group heading even further East than their first had done chasing down the fleeing Super-Mutant Army half a century before that, but they knew little else and that worried them. Back in California the Brotherhood was unquestionably losing the war, albeit an NCR victory being paid for heavily in blood, but the emergence of the Enclave had proven there was still likely plenty of advanced military hardware out there to be found and if the Steel Plague could lay their armoured hands on enough force-multipliers they might still be able to turn the tide.
The Enclave themselves were a wild card in this, Coyle thought to himself as they reached the river and headed Arlington way. Their main base, the Poseidon Energy Oil Rig had been blown up a couple of years before Coyle was born, and the NCR had shortly afterwards captured Navarro their airbase north of San Francisco getting hold of a few Vertibirds and other high-tech weapons the NCR later found good use for in their war with the Brotherhood, but although they weren’t likely the power they had once been any Enclave remnants were still likely the best equipped force in the wasteland. Their Advanced Power Armour made the gear the Steel Plague used look primitive by comparison, not to mention the Laser and Plasma weapons they routinely packed, so tangling with them was really not a good idea, unless you happened to be armed with a gauss-rifle of course Coyle thought with satisfaction. For the humble regular infantryman the M72, or even the cheap Chinese knock-off version, was a great leveller against troops wearing Powered Armour.
‘We're heading into turf that belongs to Split Jack’ Dreamer said suddenly, and with obvious concern.
‘Let me guess, he's some raider boss whose gang doesn't like your gang?’ Coyle surmised.
‘Kinda’ Allison replied. ‘It's more like he takes taxes off the people round here...’
‘And in return he keeps people like you out’ Coyle finished for her. ‘Well running a protection racket is a little more civilised than your regular raider MO I suppose’ he decided.
‘MO?’ Allison queried.
‘Modus operandi, it means way of doing things’ Coyle explained. ‘It's Latin.’
‘I bet you only use it to try and sound book-smart’ Allison responded. ‘What's wrong with just speaking plain English anyway?’ she wanted to know.
‘I dare you to go to New Mexico and ask someone from the Legion that’ Coyle replied, laughing. ‘They'd nail you to a cross.’
Dreamer decided they weren't taking this situation seriously enough. ‘If we run into Split Jack he'll probably want a few caps for safe passage’ she said. ‘At least he will from you, he'll kill
‘Even if you're not with your gang?’ Allison asked.
‘Last time my crew tangled with his he kinda... caught some of my buckshot in the face’ Dreamer replied, saying the part about the buckshot very fast. ‘Cost him an eye.’
Coyle couldn’t help but glance at his bandaged left hand for a moment. ‘Assuming that I don't kill you, and he
doesn't either, in future you might want to consider using a weapon that reduces
the number of your mortal enemies it doesn't increase it’ he advised.
‘I can't hit anything at all unless I'm using a shotgun’ Dreamer replied before she stopped walking. ‘Listen, Split Jack will kill me slow so I'm not going any further’ she declared determinedly. ‘I already feel like shit so just go ahead and fucking shoot me’ she said, sitting down on the ground where she was.
Coyle looked down at the sullen raider and sighed. ‘Okay, you win’ he said eventually.
‘We're going to let her go or try another way?’ Allison asked him.
‘No, I'm going to fucking shoot her’ Coyle replied, pulling his MP9 SMG from its holster and switching the safety catch off.
‘You can't!’ Allison exclaimed, jumping between them.
‘Well it's not like you'll do it’ Coyle replied evenly, trying to move around her.
‘It would be like murder’ Allison told him. ‘Cold blooded murder.’
‘I'm not letting her go and if she won't come along my options are limited’ Coyle responded.
Allison's mind kicked into high gear. ‘We could disguise her’ she suggested.
‘We could what?’ Coyle replied dubiously.
‘If we get rid of the pigtails, put your sunglasses on her and make her wear that really horrible shirt of yours they might not recognise her if we run into this gang she's worried about’ Allison told him.
‘I'm not giving her my Hawaiian Shirt’ Coyle stated indignantly.
‘You'd rather shoot her than let her borrow your shirt?’ Allison scolded him.
Coyle tried to think of a reply in the affirmative that wouldn't make him sound like some kind of despicable psychopath so instead he lowered his MP9 and glared at Allison. ‘This is the dumbest idea I've heard in forever.’
‘But we can try it’ Allison said happily, turning around towards Dreamer. ‘Honestly, give me five minutes and your own mother wouldn't recognise you’ she said optimistically.
‘My mother abandoned me when I was a baby’ Dreamer replied flatly, looking up at her.
Allison blinked. ‘Your father then’ she said.
‘Him too’ Dreamer responded.
‘She's just trying to win sympathy’ Coyle commented sardonically. ‘We'll be hearing tales of her tragic childhood raised by neglectful, poverty-stricken deathclaws next.’
‘Just give me the shirt’ Allison instructed him curtly. ‘It's got to be worth a try isn't it?’ she asked Dreamer, giving her a smile of encouragement.
The raider-girl thought about it. ‘I want you to promise to shoot me if Split Jack or his crew recognise me’ she said. She didn't want to be likely passed around his men and then tortured to death for what she did to his depth-perception.
‘Great, so now I might get the shirt back with a hole in it and covered in bloodstains’ Coyle muttered as he holstered his MP9 and took off his rucksack.
Dreamer got back up. ‘You'll have to take off that top’ Allison told her. ‘The shorts should be okay.’
‘You should have mentioned her stripping when you were trying to get me to agree to this charade’ Coyle remarked as he opened his rucksack and began rooting around in it for his shirt.
‘I'll untie you so you can change’ Allison told Dreamer. ‘If you try and get away or do something stupid then I'll let him shoot you.’
Coyle found the shirt, throwing it over his shoulder and resting his hand on his SMG again while she untied the raider. ‘If you looked less sickly I'd ask you to make a show of it’ he said as Dreamer started to take off her top.
‘Turn around Cassidy’ Allison told him.
‘Not a chance’ Coyle replied. ‘It's not voyeurism, I just don't trust her.’
Allison frowned. ‘Turn your back on him’ she told Dreamer.
‘Killjoy’ Coyle complained in annoyance.
With the shirt buttoned it hung too low so Dreamer tied it together, ending up exposing about the same amount of midriff as her previous outfit. With her pigtails conversely untied Allison produced a small comb from her belongings and did her best to alter the girls appearance hoping that the garish shirt, not to mention Dreamer's cleavage which was also now more on show, would attract attention away from her face. ‘Sunglasses’ she requested of Coyle who took them off and handed them over.
‘If she loses or breaks them I'm buying a replacement pair out of your pay’ Coyle informed his guide as Dreamer put them on. ‘Well at least I can't see your bloodshot, sunken eyes any more’ he told the raider. ‘Tie her up again’ he continued to Allison.
Allison frowned. ‘But she doesn't look like a raider any more’ she replied. ‘We'll look even more like slavers and nobody will believe us when we say she's just a bandit we captured’ she pointed out. ‘How about she walks between us a few yards ahead of me’ she suggested instead. ‘If I've got my rifle ready with a round chambered ready to shoot her she won't run.’
‘She'll make a break for it first chance she gets’ Coyle responded with certainty. ‘She still needs a fix so bad she might take the risk of catching a bullet in the process.’
‘Oh, you're right I hadn't thought about that’ Allison replied. ‘I guess if we keep her on the rope with her hands tied we can always say we're bringing her in for a reward or something’ she said, trying not to giggle as a funny line crossed her thoughts. ‘I mean wearing a shirt like that is bound to end up getting you wanted for crimes against humanity’ she said as deadpan as you could.
Coyle narrowed his eyes, he liked his garish party shirt even if nobody else did. ‘Just throw what she was wearing in the river and let's get moving’ he said, his tone indicating he was less than amused as he fastened up his rucksack again and put it on.
‘Sorry, I didn't hear that I couldn’t hear you over the shirt’ Allison replied.
‘Any more of that and I’m going to offer her your job and you'll be the tied-up one being dragged to the Pentagon’ Coyle told her.
‘I'll guide you for free if you give me some Jet’ Dreamer offered, trying to sound sincere. ‘I bet I know this town a lot better than her’ she continued. ‘And I'll blow you too’ she added as an extra enticement.
Coyle adopted a thoughtful impression like he was considering it. ‘I don't suppose you feel like matching her offer?’ he asked Allison.
‘No’ Allison replied flatly.
‘Didn't seem likely but it was worth asking’ Coyle responded with a shrug. ‘Sorry but I'm still keeping the current arrangement’ he told Dreamer.
‘You don't know what you’re missing’ Dreamer replied, running her tongue over her lips in a very unsubtle manner.
‘Oh for just a few less scruples and lower standards’ Coyle groaned.
They stopped for a late breakfast at a place on the river called Wilhelm's Wharf where a woman calling herself Grandma Sparkle was making a living selling mirelurk based dishes including a surprisingly good stew. It seemed likely that being under the protection of Split Jack and his gang meant she could operate her business in a degree of safety despite her “boys” being off hunting for more mirelurks. Dealing with the criminal element had also apparently taught her to keep her mouth shut and not ask questions because she said nothing about the sickly looking girl on the leash, even though she was desperate to know if she was wearing the shirt as punishment or on a bet.
According to Grandma Sparkle Split Jack wasn't due to collect his “taxes” until the next day (not that they were very high in her case, he liked her cooking), and she didn't expect they would see him if they kept to the riverbank so hopefully it would be smooth sailing until the Pentagon. She did offer a warning about the Super Mutants becoming more active recently however and wished them the best of luck. She also asked that if they kept going south after passing the Brotherhood base, and found a ferry docked at the landing down there, could they tell Tobar the ferryman that if he bettered his price on his offer of supplying punga fruit by another ten percent he had a deal.
Grandma Sparkle had a radio and it had been playing the patriotic music broadcast by Enclave Radio interspersed with propaganda. One of the tunes Coyle knew very well and it stuck in his head enough for him to start humming it when they finished eating and set off again.
After a few hundred yards Coyle stopped humming it and began softly singing the words, or at least the words he knew for the song.Old Prez Tandy lies a mouldering in the grave
While weep the slaves and freemen that she ventured all to save
But though Tandy breathes no more now
The Republic’s strong and brave
Her truth is marching on
Glory, Glory California
Glory, Glory California
Glory, Glory California
Her truth goes marching on
Brotherhood, Enclave, evil Super-Mutants he thought, fuck the lot of them! NCR marches on!
Note from the Author:
Lesko, the scientist living in Grayditch was responsible for the Fire Ants plaguing that community (thanks to some ill-advised experimentation involving FEV) but Coyle and Allison aren't sticking around to investigate. They also miss discovering that William Brandice is a former Enclave Soldier which you can learn from hacking his computer.
Dreamer is suffering badly from Jet withdrawal. In Fallout 2 there was a cure developed for that addiction but it doesn't seem to have made it to Fallout 3 (unfortunate because it made using Jet safe).
With his family history Coyle quite reasonably hates the Enclave and the war with the Brotherhood means that as an NCR soldier he dislikes them intensely too (they have shot at him a lot) but he isn't quite as opposed to Super Mutants in general. The Super Mutants he's familiar with are typically much smarter (and saner) than the ones in the Capital Wasteland and quite a few have moved to the NCR and taken citizenship there over the years.
Split Jack is a bandit leader first encountered in the Broken Steel add-on to Fallout 3. He was hitting water caravans and planning to set up a protection racket for them with his gang meeting up at Wilhelm's Wharf (he liked Grandma Sparkle's mirelurk stew). I've fleshed out his role a little, he seemed smarter than most raiders and if he was controlling that part of town it would explain how Grandma Sparkle could operate her business safely. It being Dreamer that was the cause of his eyepatch (like she was Coyle's bandaged hand) seemed like a decent idea.
Tobar, owner of the ferry "Duchess Gambit" comes from the add-on Point Lookout. He was the importer of Punga Fruit from Maryland into the Capital Wasteland.
I've edited chapters 1-10 to tie the storyline in better with information learned from Fallout: New Vegas by the way.