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New California Dreaming - A Fallout Universe Fic

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Summary: An NCR Ranger in the Capital Wasteland, and he didn't travel 3000 miles to play post-apocalyptic tourist.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi(Current Donor)HotpointFR1824119,938208353,48429 Jan 104 Jul 12No

Chapter Twenty-One

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.

Canterbury Commons – Columbia Commonwealth – July 2277

‘The way I figure it, tagging along with the trade caravans is the safest way to travel around and meet people’ Coyle told Allison and Dreamer as they looked down at the hand-drawn map he had spread over the bed in the room he and Allison were sharing. ‘The route they take goes past most of the settlements and they stop to rest at the larger ones’ he continued. ‘I've already discussed it with Roe and he says the caravans will probably be grateful for the company and the added firepower.’

They had been in town five days now and Coyle wanted to move on, getting back to his scouting and reconnaissance mission. So far he had met two of the four traders that used Canterbury as the base for their operations and what knowledge he had gleaned from them indicated there might be some profit to be made, both in information and money, if he took the path most travelled for once.

‘So we just follow the next caravan that leaves town all the way back to Rivet City?’ Allison queried.

Coyle shook his head. ‘No, I want some time at each place so we travel with one caravan then stay behind when it reaches somewhere interesting and pick up the next when it arrives’ he replied. ‘If we plan on getting back to Rivet City in about a month's time I should be able to raise enough caps on the way to pay off a good chunk of what I owe Reilly too.’

‘I think it's Doc Hoff that’s running the next caravan, deals mostly in medical supplies’ Allison said, pursing her lips. ‘Pa used to say he was a miserable cuss, kinda gloomy you know.’

‘My gang used to buy their drugs from him sometimes’ Dreamer recalled.

‘If he had to deal with customers like that I'm not surprised he’s miserable’ Coyle observed. ‘Why didn't you just kill him and take what you wanted?’

‘Because if you fuck with the caravans who trade with Evergreen Mills then the raiders there will track you down and skin you alive’ Dreamer replied. ‘They're the biggest, most powerful gang in the Capital Wasteland and only the dumber crews will cross them’ she explained. ‘The Doc supplies a lot of their drugs, they get guns and ammo from Lucky Harith... well you get the picture’ she said. ‘It's not like raiders can just wander into Megaton or Tenpenny Tower to barter for shit they need.’

Coyle nodded his understanding. ‘Not smart to bite the hand that feeds you.’

‘Nope’ Dreamer agreed. ‘They go near Big Town, the caravans I mean’ she noted, studying the map with the trading route on it and pointing to where the settlement was marked. ‘I suppose I could visit, see if any of my old friends are still alive’ she suggested, looking to Coyle to see if that would be okay.

‘If you want to that’s fine by me, but I'm surprised you aren't thinking more about the fact the caravans stop at Paradise Falls before that’ Coyle responded giving her a knowing look.

‘Last time I was there I had a slave collar around my neck not a combat shotgun in my hands’ Dreamer replied. ‘Makes a difference’ she said evenly.

‘You'd better not be thinking about revenge or picking a fight like you did with that chick before because I won't encourage you by promising to back your play if the odds are suicidal’ Coyle warned her seriously.

‘Surprised you'd be scared of a few Slavers?’ Dreamer replied.

Coyle smirked. ‘No I meant suicidal for you, I'd be alright’ he said.

‘What so you're immortal?’ Dreamer asked sarcastically.

‘More like extremely lucky when bullets are flying around’ Coyle corrected her.

‘I shot you didn't I?’ Dreamer pointed out.

Coyle shrugged. ‘That was buckshot, hard to avoid the spread’ he replied. ‘I can't dodge lasers either’ he continued sadly, ‘but I did once duck under a plasma bolt from a P94’ he said. ‘The Paladin carrying the thing was so surprised I managed to put a fifty-cal through his helmet before he could pull the trigger again’ the Ranger recalled.

Allison and Dreamer looked at each other. ‘Coming from anyone else I'd never believe it’ Allison observed.

‘That's okay Honey, I wouldn’t believe anyone else could do it either’ Coyle told her. Not unless they were a blood relation anyhow he thought to himself, firmly believing that somewhere in his DNA there was an inherited combination of genes that amounted to an innate potential for developing “Mad Skills” in whatever area he chose to study or train for. An academic from the Followers of the Apocalypse who had written a thesis on the Chosen One of Arroyo had come to the conclusion that the man had simply possessed “a near ludicrous level of competence” which was easier for most people in the NCR to accept than the notion he was guided by tribal spirits.

“Doc” Hoff who was the next trader to reach town probably didn't have a formal medical training, Coyle frankly doubted there were many institutions on this side of the Rockies that could supply one, but he did at least dress the part of an educated man and his vocabulary and manner indicated he was at least a cut above the average wastelander education-wise. After Mayor Roe convinced Hoff that the trio who wanted to accompany him on the first leg of his trade route were trustworthy Coyle took some time to get to know the Doc himself and after an interesting argument regarding whether the post-apocalyptic world was destined for recovery or collapse they ended up playing a game of chess over dinner with the Ranger suggesting a bet on the result to make it interesting, the loser had to pick up the tab for both dinners.

As normal almost everyone in town was in Joe Porter's diner for their evening meal, with only Dominic D'Ellsadro and Hoff's mercenary caravan guard missing as they patrolled the outskirts of town and talked firearms. For some reason unknown to Hoff Mayor Ernest Roe had laughed when he found out about the bet but the Mayor didn’t elaborate on what was so funny as Coyle ordered the most expensive thing on the menu and for the Nuka Colas to keep coming.

Allison had initially tried to follow the game but not knowing the rules too well and therefore missing some of the nuances of play and sacrifice she soon lost interest. Joining Dreamer and Machete at their own table after an hour she was wondering how long a game of chess actually lasted when a cry of anguish from Hoff caused everyone to look in his direction.

‘What the hell was that?’ Hoff wanted to know, staring at the board.

‘Flying Liver Attack’ Coyle said smugly, leaning back in his chair. ‘Checkmate in three’ he added.

Hoff stared at the board. ‘I haven't lost a game in five years’ he said in dismay, not that he got to play very often but still.

‘I'd offer a rematch but my cousin only taught me the one killer strategy and you know that one now, the rest of my game is pretty mundane so you'd probably beat me’ Coyle admitted. ‘If it makes you feel better you took defeat better than he said the radscorpion did.’

Allison looked to Dreamer. ‘You don't think he was being serious before about the chess playing radscorpion do you?’ she asked.

‘I really hope not because that might mean what he said about the talking deathclaw was true as well’ Dreamer replied.

Hoff sighed and conceded the game by knocking over his king. ‘Radscorpion?’ he queried.

‘It was smart but the sporeplant that taught the Flying Liver Attack to my cousin was smarter’ Coyle replied. ‘Never could figure out how the plant moved the pieces though’ he added, frowning.

‘We're okay, it’s bullshit’ Dreamer reassured Allison who looked relieved.

Mayor Ernest Roe was grinning at Doc Hoff’s expression and came over to join them. ‘Cheer up, at least you didn't end up lying on your back in the dirt like Lucky did when they tangled’ he said. ‘Nothing nasty, just sparring, but Lucky ended up paying for his lunch because he accepted a wager too.’

‘I know a couple of moves he didn't’ Coyle explained when Hoff raised his eyebrows. Lucky Harith the arms-dealer wasn't just a good shot he was also a highly accomplished martial artist.

‘He beat Crow at spear-chucking before that, won dinner from him as well’ Roe noted. That was damn impressive too, he thought given that the armour-specialist Crow was originally a Tribal and his skill with a spear was the only thing that kept him alive for several years.

Hoff blinked. ‘He beat Crow with a spear, Harith at hand-to-hand and me in a battle of wits?’ he asked incredulously. ‘That's... that's inconceivable’ he stated disbelievingly.

Coyle reached for his Nuka Cola, it went well with everything he found. ‘Never go up against a Californian when a free meal is on the line’ he advised, taking a swig from the bottle.

They planned to set out early the next morning, Coyle rising before 6AM and finding Doc Hoff already loading up his pack-brahmin outside the Mayor's House. The caravan guard meanwhile was cleaning his R91 nearby and loading magazines for it, inspecting each bullet for signs of corrosion as he did so and discarding any that looked doubtful. ‘Not seen one of those before’ the guard noted professionally, looking at one of the three long-arms Coyle had placed next to his pack.

‘It's a gauss rifle, assembled it last night after your boss mentioned seeing Super-Mutants near Germantown on your last circuit’ Coyle replied.

‘I've seen one of those in an old book, a gauss rifle I mean, and it didn't look like that’ the mercenary replied, finishing his task and loading a magazine into his assault-rifle. His name was Pete and apparently his older brother Alan worked for Crazy Wolfgang making caravan-guarding sort-of the family business these days. He looked to be in his very early twenties but seemed competent enough from his manner and the way he handled the R91.

‘That was probably one of the Chinese ones they made to try and even things up with U.S. Power-Armour’ Coyle replied. ‘This is an M72 made in Germany before the Great War, it's semi-auto rather than single-shot’ he continued. ‘I took “Germantown” as a sign I might need it’ he said, with a wink.

Dreamer emerged from Machete’s house, carrying her own pack and yawning. ‘Breakfast?’ she inquired.

‘Porter's fixing some grits’ Coyle replied then grimaced when he realised what he’d said. ‘I've been spending too much time with Allison’ he moaned, ‘I'm starting to sound like her’ he added in dismay.

‘Less than a week of getting in her purty pink panties and she's already done turn you into a Good 'Ol Boy’ Dreamer responded, laughing. ‘I bet that's like a total buzzkill, right dude?’ she said, smoothly switching from a good impersonation of Allison's dialect and accent to Coyle's.

‘Fo shizzle’ Coyle agreed sadly. ‘You'd better take Wanda’ he said, reaching for his customised R91 and handing it to her. ‘She's got a lot more effective range than your shotgun and out in the wastes that'll help a lot.’

Dreamer looked surprised as she took the assault rifle from him. ‘I thought you said I still wasn't a very good shot?’ she queried. Dreamer had improved her marksmanship with coaching but to her chagrin Allison had made better progress with her knife-fighting skills than the former Lamplighter had with her aim.

‘You're not, but at least I've managed to get you to the stage where you wouldn't miss the broad side of a barn’ Coyle replied. ‘Just remember to use the sights and if the first shot misses keep pulling the trigger until you eventually hit what you’re trying to hit’ he advised. ‘You might be tempted to go full-auto but don't spray-and-pray because it's a waste-of-ammunition.’

‘Yeah, you already drummed that into me’ Dreamer replied, after a few lessons with the kid’s BB gun Coyle had gone onto show her how to properly handle a real rifle. ‘I'm surprised you'd give this to me not your girlfriend’ she said, sighting along the rifle towards a ruined building in the distance.

‘Allison's hunting-rifle is more accurate and she gets good use out of it’ Coyle replied. ‘Mostly I still expect her to do more with her five shots between reloading than you will with your thirty’ he said.

The caravan guard laughed. ‘She'll draw more fire though’ he noted.

‘True, and if they're concentrating on you because you're throwing more lead it'll give Allison and me more time to pick our shots’ Coyle told Dreamer.

Dreamer narrowed her eyes at Coyle. ‘I want combat armour like yours’ she told him firmly.

‘Okay, sounds fair’ Coyle agreed. ‘At the next opportunity I'll try and shoot the next bag guy wearing some in the face so you get a good set without an extra hole in it’ he promised.

They set out half an hour later after a quick breakfast and some goodbyes, tearful in the case of Dreamer and Machete. Less than a mile out of town Coyle started singing and subsequently less than one and a half miles out Doc Hoff told him he could either stop or go back to Canterbury and wait for Crazy Wolfgang's Caravan to travel with instead.

Coyle muttered something about the Untamed Wild East being full of uncivilised tone-deaf savages that wouldn’t know a good, catchy tune if it bit them on the ass but he complied with the demand and trudged on with a scowl on his face hoping that something would attack soon so he could shoot it.

The pack-brahmin wasn't fast and by necessity it set the pace so it took a while for a trade caravan to get from place to place. For this reason working on a caravan was usually described as long hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror when a giant radscorpion, deathclaw or something even worse attacked.

The route the caravans took around the Capital Wasteland had gradually changed over time as new settlements occasionally sprang up and old ones faded in importance. When Doc Hoff first took over the caravan he now operated from its previous owner the route had gone out southwest as far as Girdershade and north past the former Kingdom of Tom. In these financially depressed times however there was simply no money to be made in trekking out that far and if it wasn’t for the curse of a social conscience the caravans wouldn’t even make the short detour north they did after leaving Canterbury Commons.

‘Where are we going anyhow?’ Dreamer asked, there wasn’t anything in this direction apart from that farm run by the weirdo ex-mercenary and that was a lot further than Hoff said they were going.

‘They call it The Temple of the Union’ Hoff replied. ‘I promised to drop off some medical supplies and there's a sack of food on the brahmin for them too.’

‘Some kind of church?’ Dreamer queried.

‘In a manner of speaking’ Doc Hoff replied. ‘They've got themselves a prophet at least, or maybe you could think of him as the Pied Piper’ he added with a smile.

Dreamer turned back towards Coyle who had taken up a position with the Caravan Guard at the rear of the small column, his FN-FAL in his hands and the Gauss Rifle hanging from his pack where it could be easily accessed. ‘Do you know what he's talking about?’

‘It's a settlement of escaped slaves, Roe told me about it once he decided I wasn't the type to rat them out’ Coyle told her. ‘You were off reminiscing with Machete at the time I think.’

‘We screw over Paradise Falls on deals and use the money to help them out, give some stuff for free and the rest for cost’ Pete the caravan guard chipped in. ‘We might have to deal with scum like Eulogy Jones but there's nothing to say we can’t use his caps against him.’

‘That's noble’ Allison said with a smile.

‘Also he’s really hoping to get the opportunity to lay one of the girls at the Temple’ Hoff told them. ‘Isn't that right Pete?’ Hoff asked his employee wryly.

‘It's not like that, I like her is all’ the caravan guard responded awkwardly. ‘She's smart and pretty and sweet’ also a little skittish he thought, which didn't make approaching her, or coming up with the right thing to say, any easier.

‘And she'll remain completely oblivious to you unless you man-up and make a move’ Hoff told him. ‘If you don't trust the Doc then get a second opinion from your brother. You know he'll say the same thing.’

‘Can we please change the subject’ Pete requested, a charging Yao Guai would be great right about now he decided.

‘Alright but keep in mind that one day we'll get there, she'll have moved on and you'll have missed your shot’ Hoff warned the mercenary seriously. The Doc was a cynic who was deeply pessimistic about the future but he certainly didn't begrudge other people a slice of happiness if they could get hold of it.

At the back of the column Coyle scented blood and smiled evilly. The guard was young and easily flustered, this meant an opportunity for amusement had presented itself and it would be a travesty to let it go to waste the Ranger decided.

Ten minutes later Coyle saw his opportunity when the guard stopped looking around for a short while. ‘If you don't stop checking out my girlfriend's ass there's going to be trouble’ he addressed Pete coldly.

Pete started. ‘I wasn't’ he denied.

‘Yes you were, you've been staring at her ass for the last quarter-mile’ Coyle stated.

‘No, I might have been looking in her direction sometimes, past her I mean, but I wasn't checking out her ass honestly’ Pete insisted. ‘Not even once.’

Coyle narrowed his eyes. ‘Are you insinuating that my girlfriend’s ass isn't worth looking at?’ he growled. ‘That she's not pretty enough for you or something?’

‘No Sir, she's real pretty and...’ Pete choked out.

‘And you were checking out her ass?’ Coyle interrupted him.

‘Cassidy, leave him alone’ Allison said loudly, turning back towards him. ‘He's yanking your chain’ she informed Pete apologetically. ‘He likes to do that to people because he's a jerkass.’

‘Hey I was just relieving the tedium of the journey’ Coyle protested.

‘That wasn't funny’ Pete complained. ‘I thought you were being serious.’

‘I thought it was funny’ Doc Hoff interjected from the front of the caravan party.

‘Don't encourage him’ Dreamer said seriously. ‘I mean it, don't’ she warned.

Coyle sighed. ‘I had a spotter that was a killjoy like you two when I was still with First Recon’ he said. ‘No sense of humour whatsoever’ he continued. ‘Good at his job though, we were the first team to put a hole in Joshua Graham’ he recalled. ‘I heard he was also on the third team to do it too after I transferred from Recon to the Rangers’ he said, frowning. ‘That skirt-wearing son-of-a-bitch just won't die’ he complained. ‘If I ever get another chance myself I'm using an anti-materiel rifle’ he decided.

When they finally reached “The Temple of the Union” Allison was disappointed to find that it was really just an old office block that had somehow withstood a nuclear blast better than its neighbours albeit still partially collapsed. Something grander and more distinctive out here would have been more likely to attract unwanted attention though she supposed as they approached the building, Doc Hoff out in front and calling out to the people inside that the strangers with him were okay.

A large metal gate barred the entrance and a woman with an R91 stood guard at the window above it on the next floor up, any glass which had once filled them was long gone. ‘You don't usually bring visitors Doc’ she noted suspiciously.

‘They're just travelling with the caravan for a while, no threat to you’ Hoff replied.

‘Hamlin will be the judge of that’ the woman replied. ‘Assuming I don't shoot them just in case’ she added, making sure that her assault rifle was clearly on display.

‘Hospitable place’ Coyle remarked sardonically. ‘If I was here to cause trouble I'd just shoot you and blow the lock off the gate’ he called up to the woman.

‘You're not helping and they’re paranoid for a reason’ Hoff reminded him. ‘I've got the drugs and the food you wanted’ he told the woman at the window.

‘Lower your rifle and open the gate Simone’ a voice behind her instructed.

‘Okay, but if they sell us out I'm going to say I told you so’ the woman with the rifle replied fatalistically before putting it aside and pressing the button which released the lock on the gate.

Leading the brahmin with him inside Hoff entered the building first, there was a stable on the ground floor with the residents keeping a brahmin of their own there already and the two beasts mooed an introduction to each other. Coyle followed on behind wanting to talk to the man in charge but when his nose twitched and he subsequently sneezed he turned right round and walked back out. ‘They've got a dog’ he told Allison in annoyance. ‘You talk to them, I'll wait outside’ he said.

‘He's allergic’ Allison explained when the caravan guard threw her a quizzical look.

‘Captain California has his weakness to Xenonite, for me its dog hair’ Coyle said unhappily as he leaned his FN-FAL against the outside wall and began taking off his backpack looking for somewhere to sit down.

‘We'll try not to be too long’ Allison told him as he sat down not too far from the gate leaning back against the wall with his rifle and pack next to him.

‘Take your time sweetheart, I'll work on my tan out here, catch a few rays’ Coyle replied. ‘Ultraviolet I mean, not gamma for once’ he continued. ‘And could you ask them to tie up their dog’ he requested.

‘Will do Honey’ Allison replied before going inside.

After handing over the food and pharmaceuticals which Hoff had brought for them the escaped slaves did offer their hospitality to the strangers, such as it was given the circumstances. They were poor and had little in the way of caps or possessions to speak of but most of them were personable enough if understandably wary of new people. Fortunately Allison wasn't as abrasive as Coyle which was a blessing in the circumstances and Dreamer made a mental note to suggest the hillbilly handle introductions in future because as the people-person of their little band she was less likely to start trouble.

After a few minutes a man left the building with Doc Hoff and approached Coyle. ‘The girl said you might want to talk to me.’

Coyle nodded. ‘You the head man?’ he inquired, looking up at him.

‘I'm Hannibal Hamlin, I suppose you could think of me as the leader of our group’ the man replied.

‘Nice to meet you’ Coyle said, standing up and offering his hand to shake which Hamlin took firmly. ‘Nice grip’ he observed.

‘One positive of a life of involuntary hard manual labour’ Hamlin replied. ‘There weren’t too many others’ he added wistfully.

Inside Allison and Dreamer were trying to get to know the other escaped slaves that had chosen to live in the small community, they lived upstairs on the first floor with their own rooms and a communal area for cooking and eating. Alejandra Torres, the girl that Pete the Caravan Guard apparently carried a torch for was pretty like he had said and Dreamer had a good idea what her chief duties had been as a slave by her body language around men and the way she was reluctant to look Pete in the eyes when he tried to strike up a conversation. Another of the escaped slaves, an old man the others called Bill was making some kind of tea using sassafras root and his own docile demeanour indicated he had been enslaved for most of his life and was well broken in causing Dreamer to idly wonder why he had ever deserted his master because he certainly wasn’t the rebellious sort.

The big guy Caleb Smith was another matter. He might have been a slave once but he didn't act much like it and although less outwardly hostile than Simone, the woman with the R91, he had something about him that Dreamer picked up on quickly. ‘What gang were you with?’ she asked him eventually, confident of her suspicions about the man.

Caleb frowned. ‘How did you know?’ he queried.

‘Used to be a raider myself not too long ago’ Dreamer replied. ‘And a slave before that’ she added.

‘So what are you now?’ Caleb asked.

Dreamer started to reply but then realised she wasn't exactly sure. ‘Coyle’ she called outside to where he was talking to the man in charge of the merry band of escaped slaves. ‘What am I?’ she asked.

‘A pain in the ass’ Coyle called back.

‘No I mean if Allison is your guide then what am I?’ Dreamer wanted to know.

‘Another mouth to feed’ Coyle replied.

Realising she wasn’t going to get a decent answer out of the man as long as he could keep coming up with wisecracks Dreamer gave up and turned back to Caleb. ‘According to what he’s said before I'm either a guide or a conscript in an army that I haven't ever been within three thousand miles of’ she informed him. ‘Or a backup singer’ she remembered to add.

Coyle had been listening with interest as Hannibal Hamlin the leader of the escaped slaves now living in what he had named “The Temple of the Union” told his story and explained his vision for the future. He had been born free but was enslaved at fourteen spending over twenty years of his life as someone else's property. After his eventual escape he had wandered aimlessly until the chance discovery of a piece of a statue where it simply should have been struck him as a sign of what he had to do and thus began his crusade to gather more escaped slaves and lead them to freedom.

To be fair discovering the carved stone head of President Abraham Lincoln so many miles north of where it should have been on top of the rest of his body in the Lincoln Memorial was an inexplicable enough mystery to warrant a certain amount of pondering the serendipity of the find. Nonetheless as he listened to Hamlin tell the story Coyle couldn’t help but think a rather more mundane explanation than the former-slave believed was responsible and that Hamlin's desire to return the head to the Memorial and establish it as a headquarters for the anti-slavery movement was a chancy proposition at best.

‘It's a symbol’ Hamlin maintained. ‘One that people can rally around and look to for inspiration’ he continued earnestly as he tried to recruit the strangers to his cause. ‘Caleb is a stonemason and he will reattach the head to the body as a signal to all slaves everywhere that freedom is at hand.’

‘It's not the choice of symbol that’s in question, Lincoln is as good a one as any’ Coyle responded, ‘the problem is that if you were to relocate from here to somewhere that high-profile all you're doing is giving the slavers a convenient target and from what I've already learned about the Capital Wasteland they've got you massively outgunned.’

Hamlin smiled. ‘Once word spreads slaves will escape in droves and rally to our cause’ he said confidently. ‘Have you ever heard of a man called Spartacus?’ he asked rhetorically, not expecting the stranger to have done so.

‘Spartacus had the advantage of starting out with a force of experienced gladiators who had time to train the rest of the slaves who flocked to him before they faced decent opposition’ Coyle replied. ‘If you want to emulate his initial success you'd be better off ambushing slaver patrols to gain combat experience and collect weaponry you're going to need later anyway’ he advised.

‘Although he regrets the life now Caleb was once a raider before joining me and Simone was a mercenary before she was captured and enslaved’ Hamlin replied, indicating the woman who had been guarding the gate. ‘They can train others to fight.’

‘If she was good at being a mercenary she wouldn't have been captured’ Coyle retorted. ‘Also you might want to consider that the Super-Mutants in DC are slowly pushing the Brotherhood back so eventually the whole of The Mall is going to be their turf’ he warned Hamlin. ‘You really don't want to be in the Lincoln Memorial with a couple of dozen of those things toting automatic weapons walking up the steps.’

‘If they ever get past the Brotherhood outpost at the Washington Monument we'll leave’ Hamlin told him. ‘We're not stupid even if we believe beyond question that righteousness is on our side and our cause is just’ he maintained. ‘If we hold the Memorial for only a short while it will be enough to send a message right across the Capital Wasteland that as Lincoln freed the slaves so shall I.’

‘Lincoln had more soldiers and weapons than his enemy that's why he won’ Coyle responded evenly. ‘If you follow your current path you're more likely to end up like John Brown who ended up dangling from a rope’ he warned. ‘You might end up a symbol yourself like he did, they might even write a song about you too, but you'll still be dead.’

Hamlin straightened up. ‘I'm prepared to lay down my life for the cause’ he declared.

‘Very praiseworthy but you'll get better results making the slavers die for theirs’ Coyle told him wryly. ‘For one thing most of them are only in it for the money so if you make it too unprofitable or dangerous they'll just quit because they lack your conviction’ he said. ‘If you're going to move to The Mall regardless of what I say then make sure first that you've got enough guns to arm the slaves that rally to the cause so you’ve got a fighting chance when the opposition come gunning for you.’

Doc Hoff had been listening in silence but for some reason he suddenly chuckled. ‘I've got a suggestion and I think you'll appreciate the irony’ he said. ‘Lucky, Crow, Wolfgang and myself are always being asked by Pronto the arms-dealer at Paradise Falls if we can get him better merchandise’ he said. ‘We've never obliged before because we don't much like the slaver bastard for obvious reasons but what if we told him we'd give him a break if he was to collect say twenty assault rifles for us?’ he suggested.

‘Twenty assault rifles which would end up in the hands of Hamlin and his people you mean’ Coyle replied, unable not to grin at the notion of the slavers not only unwittingly bankrolling Hamlin's crusade as they already did but also arming it too.

‘I'm sure that Lucky would be willing to fix any up for free if that weren't in working order’ Hoff said confidently.

‘Chinese Assault Rifles might be better than R91's if he can get them’ Coyle advised. ‘They don't require as much maintenance because they're idiot proof, not much more than an AK-47 chambered in 5.56mm NATO really’ he said. ‘It's a better weapon for someone that isn't well trained, like say an escaped slave, easy to use but still good and lethal and they throw plenty of lead downrange.’

‘We'd need a lot of ammunition’ Hamlin pointed out.

Coyle smirked. ‘From what I'm told Paradise Falls sends most of their slaves up to Pittsburgh and they're paid a good chunk of that in ammunition’ he said. ‘If someone, like say me, was to intercept a shipment of their ill-gotten gains that should help you out’ he said to Hamlin. ‘You get any 5.56mm for your new rifles as my donation to the cause, and I'll keep the rest.’

Hamlin raised his eyebrows. ‘Do you want anything from us in return?’ he asked.

‘Just don't mention me to anyone, I'm trying to keep a low profile’ Coyle requested. ‘And if you hear anything about the Enclave, the Brotherhood or anything else important or unusual send it my way via Doc Hoff or one of the other merchants’ he said.

‘Ambushing slavers doesn't sound like something that someone trying to keep low-profile would do’ Hoff remarked sardonically.

‘You're assuming that I'll leave any live witnesses behind and won't make it look like it was raiders that did it’ Coyle replied. ‘Their relationship around here is a little too cosy anyway’ he opined, ‘helps keep up their profit margins.’

‘It sounds like you're contemplating cold-blooded slaughter’ Hamlin observed, not sure whether to disapprove or not.

‘No, I always get a deep feeling of satisfaction when I shoot a slaver’ Coyle flatly denied the accusation. ‘It's not cold-blooded at all’ he maintained. ‘Shouldn't we be going soon?’ he asked Doc Hoff. ‘Tempus fugit as they say in Legion territory.’

Note from the Author:

Doc Hoff is one of the four merchants that operate a trade route around the Capital Wasteland. He specialises in drugs and other consumables with Lucky Harith dealing in guns, Crow in armour and Crazy Wolfgang in miscellaneous items (he says junk). Each of the merchants travels with a brahmin to carry their wares and is accompanied by an armed guard. They aren't named in FO3 but I thought Pete was as good a name as any for the one that works for Doc Hoff.

Joshua Graham is a character from Fallout: New Vegas. As of this point in 2277 (as far as Coyle knows) he's still a senior officer in Caesar's Legion and was already renowned for being very difficult to kill with the elite snipers of the NCR First Recon having reported him dead five times. Coyle was the first but it didn't stick!

The Temple of the Union is one of the places where the trade caravans stop which indicates the merchants trade with the rebel slaves led by Hannibal Hamlin. Given that Doc Hoff and the others haven't ratted Hamlin out to the slavers of Paradise Falls (even though they also stop there on their route) that indicates to me that the merchants must sympathise with the slaves. Hamlin's best fighters are former raider Caleb Smith and former mercenary Simone Cameron. They're not much of a match for all the slavers in the capital wasteland though so Hamlin really did need to have a better plan for what to do after he relocated his people to the Lincoln Memorial.

One of the side-missions you can undertake in FO3 is to collect twenty Chinese Assault Rifles for Pronto the arms dealer in Paradise Falls. You don't find out the specifics why so I thought I'd fill them in. When Hamlin's slaves do take over the Lincoln Memorial in the game Hamlin switches from a Hunting Rifle to a Chinese Assault Rifle, Alejandra Torres from a pistol to a Chinese Assault Rifle and Bill Seward starts carrying one too so it fits quite nicely methinks!
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