Love Never Changes
Chapter 26

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

Sierra was overjoyed that Mr. Bradberton had changed his mind. We had to sit on her a little bit about not being too annoying to him, but she finally agreed. She also agreed to stay down in the Vault, only going back up into the office area itself to use the bathroom. We gave her enough food and water to last two weeks. Things here would be resolved one way or the other before that.

The silence of the elevator ride back up was broken by Deacon’s comment. “How in the fuck did that woman survive adulthood? And make it here, by herself, from the Capital wasteland?”

“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity, I guess,” Piper said. “I swear, if I had to talk with her for two weeks, I’d want to kill myself, if I didn’t kill her first.”

Gwen chuckled. “Well, at least listening to her was better than ... oh, wait, I can’t think of anything that was worse than listening to her. I suppose being shot.”

“Childbirth. You’ll have to trust me on that for now, it was more painful. But at least it comes to an end, eventually.” I sighed. “Okay, now, where were we? Oh, yeah, going to meet Gage at Fizztop and figure out what the fuck is going on here.”

Once back on the main floor, I got back into my power armor and we headed out. It was now completely dark outside, with some lights still working, but mostly lanterns and torches lighting our way. I led the way around the pond. There were some women, in Disciple attire, that almost blocked our way, then they realized who I was and moved aside. On the outside of the mountain was a jury-rigged lifting platform on the outside. It took two trips for all of us to get to what had been the cafeteria.

Gage was waiting for us, but so was something else. I had hoped that gaining some altitude would help, and it did. I heard the voice in my ear of Haylen, “Scribe Haylen to Sentinel Wilson, please respond, over.”

I lifted a finger to Gage, before he could get started. “Haylen, this is Wilson. We had to gain some altitude for the radio to work. Sorry about the delay.”

I could hear the relief in her voice. “Thank goodness, Sentinel. We were wondering if we’d have to send in air support.”

“That’s negative, Haylen. Not for now. Be advised that I have added another title, so apparently I’m the Overboss of all the Raider gangs at Nuka-World. Plan on us being out of contact until late evening every night, and it’s possible that we may have to skip an evening, depending upon weather or what we have to do here. Wilson, out.”

“Are you done fucking around now with that shit, boss?”

“Gage, I’m just trying to figure out what the hell is going on out here.”

He sounded a little apologetic. “Look, I get it. Really, I do. I know I’m throwing a lot at you all at once. Let’s take a step back, and talk big picture, okay? Nuka-World ... Shit, this was the dream. Before we got here, bunch of traders had set up shop, hired a lot of guns to protect them. They were dug in like ticks. That’s why it took pulling a bunch of gangs together to even have a chance. Now ... we’ve got Nuka-Town, and most of the traders work for us. They ain’t happy about it, but screw ‘em.”

“We really need the rest of these parks, though. Every one of them not under our control is a threat. Gangs are too cramped here, they need room to spread out, avoid bloodshed between them. So the sooner you can get them to agree to follow orders, the sooner we can improve our situation.”

“I hate to state the obvious, here, but ... just a second.” I opened up my power armor, stepping out. “Surely you’ve got to have some idea of who, what, I am.”

“Oh, we’re not like those Commonwealth pieces of shit you’re used to dealing with. I’m not saying that we don’t have our own drugged out stupid assholes in some of the gangs. But the gangs here, we got leaders, are better organized. As for you, yeah, Shank gave me the heads-up. You’re tight with all three organized gangs in the Commonwealth, for what good they are. Well, okay, the Institute does some sneaky shit, so I already know you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get what you want. The Minutemen are a bunch of has-beens. I mean, I’m no genius, but I think history has already proved that what they’re after ain’t gonna work. And the Brotherhood? They ain’t different from Raiders, you ask me. They try to act legitimate, but they take what they want, just like us.”

I moved over to a bar stool and sat down on it. “So, what’s the appeal of all this for me? Like you said, I’m tight with everyone back in the Commonwealth.”

“Yeah, but you gotta share.” He looked around, motioned to those with me. “Mind you, I’m not talking about your immediate crew. We all have people we’re tight with, like Nisha is with Dixie. But I’m talking about with all those hicks. You don’t have to put up with their crap. You go in, you take what you want, and anyone gives you grief, you put ‘em down. Now, you can’t tell me that don’t have some appeal to you, maybe even be a little bit of fun?”

“What’s in it for you? And Shank, for that matter? Sounds like since you put me in charge, you put a big bullseye on my back.”

“We get a piece of the action, of course. Ain’t no one going to argue with the Overboss that you deserve the biggest share. And thing is, taking the rest of these parks, you’ll see lots more caps and loot. This place is huge, and with these walls, easily defended. We take this, we can use it as our stronghold to take the rest of the Commonwealth.”

I decided to lie to him a little. “Assuming I was interested ... all I’ve gotten so far are the names of the gangs. Can you tell me a bit more about them, so I can see what kind of convincing I’m going to need?”

He smiled. “All right. I’m not saying you gotta do it tonight, but soon. First group I’d talk to is the Disciples. They like violence, the bloodier, the better. Promise them they’ll get that, and they’ll follow you. The Operators, they’re in this for the caps. They get promised those, that’s what they want, you’ll be good with them. The Pack ... hell, I don’t know. They follow whoever is the strongest. Show them some teeth, I guess. I mean, we’re talking about Raiders here, they aren’t hard to figure out. Promise them some violence and caps, they’ll be in.”

“Tell you what, Gage. How about you let me get some sleep tonight. I’ll go around in the morning, talk to everyone I need to talk to, and then get back with you, so we can ... discuss ... the next step in your plan, okay?”

“Sure, boss, sure. In the meantime, enjoy the view from your new quarters.” He headed back inside. James followed him, then reported that Gage had taken an elevator down.

Once we’d visually confirmed that he’d left the building completely, everyone gathered around. I looked at them, then said, “Okay, we’re going to take this in order. I want each of you to give my your thoughts, ideas, impressions. Curie?”

“They are no better than slave owners. Kill them, free the traders.”

Gwen said, “I agree. However, there’s still the rest of the parks. It sounds like they’re concentrated here. That might be too many for us, we’d need help.”

Piper nodded. “Definitely kill the Raiders. It sounds like they’re all assholes, anyway.”

“While I agree with the ladies regarding the Raiders, I’ve seen you operate too many times. I think that with a concerted effort, such as if we started from up here, we could eliminate all of the ones in Nuka-Town without an issue. The problem is, what about those that are in other places? We need more information.”

Deacon said, “James is right, boss. As much as I don’t want to suggest this, I think you need to meet with all the leaders of the gangs tomorrow, before we open fire on them. If nothing else, that’ll let us see the insides of their layouts. And we need to check out the market, as well. Talk to some of the traders, other than Katelyn. Hell, for all we know, other than a very few of them, they may all be working with the Raiders.”

I nodded as each of them spoke. “One thing as well. Did anyone else notice something about these guns we took from the bodies? They’re Chinese, or they were. I think some of the parts look a lot newer than 200 years, though.”

James cursed. “Damn, I didn’t notice that. That means they must have a source to make them, and ammunition for them, too. There’s no way they came up with that many guns of basically the same kind.”

“Not unless there was a massive depot of Chinese weapons we didn’t know about, here in the country somewhere, where they could have gotten hold of them. Don’t get me wrong, when we were in Alaska, killed the Chinese, there were a lot of souvenirs that came home illegally. But enough to give hundreds of Raiders, 200 years later, weapons to burn? Something doesn’t add up,” I concluded.

Gwen sighed. “Look, we’ve had a stressful day today. There’s no doubt about that. This is going to sound like I’m naive, but I really don’t think any of them are going to mess with us, not until we make the first move. It’s late, so if there’s beds or places for us to simply rest ... after we clean our weapons, of course ... then I suggest we get a good nights rest tonight.”

Gwen’s suggestion actually made the most sense. With a simple trap on the outside lift in case someone used it, then James and Deacon sleeping inside, the four of us piled onto the Overseer’s bed. Nothing but some snuggling happened for us. I was surprised that I didn’t have any bad dreams, either. I really was exhausted.

I tried to contact Haylen the next morning, but I couldn’t get through. I had guessed I’d have problems during the day, the distance was just too far with the interference from the sun. We’d have the same ionization problem if we had a radiation storm, too. After that, we ate breakfast and discussed plans. I decided that even if it was uncomfortable for whoever we met with, we were all going to stay together. Just because I was the Overboss didn’t mean someone might take an opportunity to weaken me if we split up by killing, or trying to kill, one of my people.

After breakfast, we suited up, me in power armor again, but with my helmet off, and headed downstairs. The first place we went was the closest to the restaurant. It seems the Disciples had taken over the inside of Fizztop Mountain. The ‘Mountain’ itself was a covering that was hollow, with maintenance buildings inside. One of the Disciples was standing outside on guard. “Go on in, boss. Nisha is expecting you.”

The first thing that hit me when I walked in was the smell. The coppery smell of fresh blood, and lots of it. Followed by the smell of stale blood, vomit, pee, and crap. Really pretty nasty, all things considered, as there were some holes in the fake mountain where air actually could circulate. There were a couple of gang members standing with their guns on slings, listening. Three people with different masks from the rest were standing by a set of stairs that led up to a maintenance building that was under the mountain.

One of them had a sweet, southern girl, accent. “Come on, girl. You know we should run this place. Not some little greenie that Gage dragged in.”

A woman wearing a mask such that I couldn’t see her eyes replied, with a cold voice, “We’re giving him a second chance. Gage screws up this time, he knows we’ll skin him alive. So shut up and be patient.”

The first one said, “What about you, big guy? Nothing to say on the matter?”

I realized when he spoke that I hadn’t seen many men wearing Disciple armor. “So long as she doesn’t get in my way ... don’t care much.”

I realized the second one was Nisha when she said, “Both of you, just get out of here. And make sure the rest get my message.”

As I was walking closer, the first one stopped walking by me, looked at me in my power armor, then shook her head. “The new OB, eh? Reckon you’re here to talk to Nisha. She’s in charge. Never understood the whole power armor thing. Takes half the thrill out of a fight.” She kept walking.

Nisha looked at me, disdain in her voice. “So, you’re Gage’s little pet project, eh?”

“And what are you? His grandma?”

“If I was, I would have cut that little suckup’s throat a long time ago. Gage will never be one of us. He’s lucky we’re giving him a second chance.” Her tone changed from disgust to simply neutral, almost professional. “But whatever. Let’s get this little meet and greet out of the way. I’m Nisha. I lead the Disciples. We’ve only got one rule around here, and that’s keeping the peace of this alliance. Otherwise, the way we see it, the world stopped caring about rules the moment people started dropping bombs on each other.”

“People have been dropping bombs on each other since long before either you or I were born. You’re just using that as an excuse. I know you, your type. You’re only in charge here because you’re more dangerous than anyone else here. You enjoy the thrill of the hunt, of the kill. The power of life and death.” As I described her, I could see her breathing getting faster.

“Maybe I am. We aren’t swayed by caps like those little brats that are obsessed with their hair, or those savage animals who can’t behave in public. Fuck this up, and I will kill you. Although, I admit I have even better plans for Gage. But ... if you support us and keep your promises like a good little Overboss, we back you, you get to live, and everybody wins. The Disciples don’t make threats, we make good on them.”

She was taken a little aback when I laughed at her. “I don’t make promises, Nisha, and you and your gang of sorority sisters will do what I say. You think you’re dangerous?” My tone changed, my voice went flat, and my eyes glared at her. “You only THINK you’re dangerous. I KNOW I am. Right now the only reason you’re still alive is that I have hopes you might become useful to me. Fuck with me, and there won’t be enough left of you for your lovers to recognize, let alone bury. I don’t have to make threats, I AM the threat.”

The way her breathing changed while I was talking, I could tell she was about ready to pop. So I decided to send her over the edge. “Now, before I bend you over and shove my fist so far up your cunt that I can pull your tonsils out through your twat, how about you see to your gang, that they don’t fuck with me and mine. Of course, I think you’d like that, my hand running into your wet little pussy, wouldn’t you?”

She involuntarily gasped, one hand going to her crotch. “I think you and I are going to get along just fine, Overboss.” She turned and walked away, a little shaky.

I shook my head, turned, and had everyone leave. I could tell Piper wanted to explode in some kind of outburst, but inside here wasn’t the place to do that. Gwen noticed as well, nearly pushing Piper to get her out of here. Once we were in daylight, and away from where there were any Raiders, I finally stopped so Piper could vent.

“Shove your fist up her cunt? Get some Raider so excited she actually came in her pants just listening to you? Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

Gwen smacked her in the back of the head, which, with her combat helmet on, didn’t actually hurt Piper. “For God’s sake, Piper, listen to yourself. Do you think Tina would say or do anything like that if our lives weren’t hanging in the balance?”

Piper’s voice got really small. “What?”

“For being the investigative reporter that bamboozled a group of the Children of Atom with her words, you seem just a little touchy when I do the same thing to a group of psychopathic Raiders. Or did you miss the piles of intestines on the floor, where they’d gutted some of their prisoners? Or the sheer smell of excited pussy in there? These are women that are really, truly, mentally sick. They get off on torture, on killing. If I were betting, I’d guess that right now Nisha is back inside, probably having Savoy fuck her ass without any lubrication, so she can get off from the pain.”

“I said I knew her, knew her type. I wish to hell I didn’t, but I do. Putting those rabid bitches down can’t come soon enough.” I sighed. “But, we’ve got two more gangs to go talk to, and I want to stop in the market as well, talk to some of the slaves.”

“I’m sorry, Tina,” Piper said, again very small.

“You don’t get to see this side of me very often. I’m sorry that you had to see it. I don’t like unleashing it, that’s for damned sure. But it was the only way I knew for sure we’d get out of there alive.”

“Boss, remind me never, ever, to piss you off. I mean that. Quite sincerely. I love you, I’d take a bullet for you, I’d follow you to hell and back ... which I think we’ve done, come to think of it ... but I never want you mad at me,” Deacon sincerely said.

I smiled at him, and he could see the smile was in my eyes as well. “John, you’re a good man. Full of shit, sometimes, but fun. Don’t worry, if I ever get mad at you, I’ll make it as painless as possible. Something large caliber.” That set us off laughing, breaking the tension that we’d had from Piper’s outburst.

I decided to take things in a bit of reverse order, as it were. We went back to the front of Nuka-Town, to the old Bradberton Amphitheater. Two guards wearing gaudy animal clothing were standing outside. “Mason’s inside holding court, boss.” They opened the gates.

To either side after we entered were the stadium seating areas. There were cutouts of figures in them, with Raiders using them for target practice. Just to the right was a cage filled with several people in rags. A mole rat came walking up to me, sniffed my foot, then walked away. In the center of the courtyard, in front of the stage and half dome, was another cage, reinforced with concrete blocks. Inside that cage, a dog and a mole rat were fighting. Off to the left was a cage with a gorilla in it. The half dome that covered the stage was still intact, as were, surprisingly enough, the curtains concealing the done structure. The old stage setting was still intact, with a throne seated in the middle.

On that throne sat a man with bright orange hair, obviously painted, wearing a t-shirt and a necklace that looked like it was made of foot bones from a big animal. He was talking to someone that didn’t look too happy, but that conversation had ended by the time we got over there. I walked right up to his chair, at his level.

He actually had a relatively pleasant voice, a strong body, and if he’d ditch the paint, would have been decent looking man. For what that was worth, anyway. He said, “Now that I get a closer look at you ... not sure I’m buying this new Overboss thing.”

“I’ll send you my resumé and references.”

He looked puzzled. “The fuck’s a resumé?” He shook his head. “Whatever. Don’t matter. Name’s Mason. The Pack’s Alpha. Don’t get me wrong. Colter was definitely Overboss. Not a man to mess with.”

“Colter was weak. Why’d you follow him at all?”

“Been wondering that ourselves. Maybe you’re the real deal. But we thought Colter was the real deal, too. And now he’s laying in a pool of his own blood. Don’t get me wrong, things were good in the beginning. Real good. But that was a year ago. Then Colter went soft. Wanted to take stock in what we achieved. Look what that got him.”

I wondered, “So, you don’t want to be Overboss?”

He grinned. “If I thought the other gangs would go along, yeah, I’d run this place in a heartbeat. At least it ain’t Mags Black or that freak, Nisha. Besides, you can’t possibly be worse that Colter.”

“Sounds like you know a bit. What’s the real story behind Gage and Colter?”

“Hey, I only know what I’ve heard. Story is that Gage talked Colter into becoming Overboss. And he got you in here, didn’t he? Maybe he likes people owing him. Maybe it lets him get things done without getting dirt on his hands. After Colter went soft, Gage got us behind closed doors, and promised he’d get someone to off Colter. And you did just that. Might’ve been the whole point of the Gauntlet all along.”

I smiled, baring my teeth at him. “Better not happen to me. You be a good dog and do what you’re told, or I’ll put you down.”

He lowered his voice. “Whoa there, boss. Not in front of my guys, alright? You got enough to worry about without a dominance struggle inside the Pack to deal with, too.” He sat back. “You know what? I don’t think we’re that different, you and I. I want you to have this. Consider it a token of our mutual understanding – and respect.” He pulled out a brilliantly painted rifle, handing it to me.

I nodded, taking it from him. He said, “This place beats living in the shit holes we had out there. But it ain’t the palace of caps we signed on for. Ain’t none of us happy, not even the Disciples. And they’re normally a chipper bunch so long as they’re drenched in blood. So, since you’ve taken care of Colter like Gage promised, I look forward to what you do for all of us.”

I looked at him, my teeth still bared in a grin. “Don’t you worry too much about that, Mason. I’ll take care of the gangs here.” I carried his rifle in one hand as we left.

“Nice rifle, Tina. Very ... colorful.”

“Don’t start, Piper. I actually think he gave it to me as a sign of respect. And I’ll take it as that. Doesn’t mean that I won’t put a bullet in his eyes.” I sighed again. “We’re still carrying all the weapons and shit we got off those dead Raiders. Let’s go talk to the traders in here, see what’s up, before we go talk to the last gang.”

The first stall I walked up to had a balding man with gray hair on the sides of his head, wearing a collar and dressed in slave rags. He had a lot of weaponry around him. He was a little wide around the middle. “Well, look who it is. Are you here to grace my humble market stand with your presence, oh great boss?”

“Wow, I don’t even know you, and I already like you. You remind me of Deacon. Just keep in mind that we really just got here, my friend.”

He looked a little surprised at my response. “Names Aaron Corbett. Sorry, I know you didn’t ask for this. It’s just a little hard to not be bitter, you know? If I seem a little salty, it’s because of the way things work around here. We do all the work, the gangs reap all the rewards. Pretty sweet set-up, at least for you.”

“If I was in your shoes, I’d probably complain if I could, too.”

“Well, it’s not every day one of us low-life traders gets to complain to the high and mighty Overboss. Maybe I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to tell you how things really are around here.”

“Aaron, let’s just say that I’ve a pretty good idea of how things are going. So, enlighten me as to why they allow you to sell guns and ammo? I’d think that wouldn’t be too smart, even for Raiders.”

“This collar on my neck. There’s people up there, on the catwalks, watching us all the time. Make sure we charge appropriately for all the stolen goods we peddle to traders from all over the Wasteland. As for why me, this is what I used to do, before them.”

“That makes sense. Since you know weapons and such, where did all these Chinese rifles come from? Most of them look like they’re not pre-war, almost new construction.”

He chuckled, a little. “You’re the first person to notice that. I have a source, but they’re not easy to get. The gangs took most of my stock, and since they’re dependent upon me for ammunition, everyone pays, even you.”

I looked at him for a minute. “I can pay. Don’t worry too much about that. I have some gear to trade with you. But ... do you know Arturo, in Diamond City?”

“I know of him, sure. He’s probably almost as knowledgeable about weapons as I am.”

I unloaded my combat rifle. “This is NOT for sale or trade. Look at it, tell me what you can about it.” I handed it to him.

“Certainly. It’s seen a lot of use, relatively recent, which is not surprising since you did make it through the Gauntlet. Stars stamped by the serial numbers? That means match grade receiver and barrel. Very well cared for, though. Presentation piece, one of the best prewar rifles made. Been modified by an expert since then, though. These aren’t factory, these are by a professional that knew what they were doing. If this scope is sighted in properly, you could put the eye out of a super mutant at 400 yards. Ah, for valor at the Battle of Valdez, 2076.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m wondering about the Chinese rifles the gangs have. They’re a lot better than the ones I faced back then.”

He laughed pretty good then, shaking his head. “Only ones I’ve ever met that old are all ghouls, and they’re not nearly as nice a looking as you, if you will pardon me for being a bit up front about that, Overboss, ma’am. Now what other jokes you going to tell me?”

I leaned closer to Aaron, so he leaned closer to me. I quietly said, “No joke, Aaron. I was in cryogenic storage from the day the war started until not that long ago. I earned that rifle killing Chinese soldiers. And by the way, I have put the eye out on a super mutant with it at 300 yards. Blew the back of his head off, too. So, how about you tell me where your ammunition plant and weapons plant are?”

He lowered his voice, too. “If you know what those are, then you know how tough they are to get and maintain. That puts you way ahead of the gangs here intelligence wise. I don’t have them here, but I have someone who can make the rifles when I can get raw materials. Ammunition is easier, traders bring in the raw materials for that all the time.”

I leaned back. “Sounds reasonable. How about we do this? I’ll let you have all the guns and ammo we have that are like this, since I don’t need them. You give me all the mini-gun ammo you have, ammo for our guns, and if you have rockets for that launcher, we’ll take those, too.”

“Um, what you’re giving me is worth twice what the ammunition I have in stock is worth, boss. I don’t have enough caps on hand to make up the difference.”

“I don’t want any caps. Just keep a tab, then. You can give me more ammunition later.”

“Um, okay. Uh, look, I think maybe you ought to go talk to the doc. She might have something for you, there, if I’m understanding you right.”

We unloaded nearly all the weapons and ammunition for them we’d picked up, since it wouldn’t fit our rifles anyway. I felt much better having a lot more proper ammo for our guns. I looked at the young woman running the general market. She smiled at us.

“Hi, Overboss! I’m Shelbie, just let me know if you need anything.”

Just beyond her stand was a woman waiting at what was obviously the clinic. “Oh! Uh, hello, boss! Congratulations on taking out Colter. I’m, uh, sure you’ll do great.”

“You’re the doctor here, then? Aaron said you might have something for me.”

“Oh! Yes, I’m Mackenzie Bridgeman. Uh...” She leaned over, like she was looking at something on me. “Um, what do you think about the things around here?”, she quietly asked me.

“I think there’s some changes needed. And I think some people underestimate just how good I am at making changes.”

She nodded. “Then this might be your chance to make those changes. The gangs that call this place home are already at each other’s throats. Now, you could risk your own neck and try to keep them from tearing each other apart, or, if you don’t exactly agree with how they’re running this place ... you could do the right thing and put them in the ground. When it’s all said and done, you’re still running this place from your fancy house on the mountain over there. Except now, you won’t have to sleep with a gun under your pillow.”

I smiled at her. “I do that anyway, Mackenzie. This is the Commonwealth, after all. Dangerous place, if you’re not prepared. Thanks for your time and your thoughts.”

We left the market. “Well, at least we know the traders aren’t thrilled, and so far we’ve got two gangs that are psychopathic and strange.”

“What was that old term, boss? Time for the trifecta?”

I just shook my head at Deacon. The Parlor had been a dinner theater. Now it was the home of the Operators. Inside was rather dark, but brighter than the Disciple’s place. I was actually pleased that the interior didn’t smell as bad as the other spots, either. These Raiders seemed to believe in personal hygiene. One of the Raiders met us at the door and escorted us into the center of the old dining room, where a man and woman were standing. Both were wearing the signature armor of the Operators. She was clean, her hair nicely done on top and with subtle makeup on, not the garish paint the other gangs had been wearing. His hair was long, but clean, and he had a nicely trimmed goatee.

I stopped in front of them. The woman looked at me, up and down. “Well, I suppose we all owe you for putting down Colter.”

The man next to her said, “Man was an idiot. Made us all look bad.”

“A clown, stuck in his own little car. I’m Mags. This is my brother, William.”

“Pleasure,” William said.

Mags said, “Along with our co-conspirator, Lizzie, we run this crew. Call ourselves the Operators. You’ll come to understand soon enough that we are the only gang you should be backing around here. Because we’re the only ones who see this place for what it is. A temple. A testament to the only thing that matters in this world.”

I looked at her. “Nuka-World was built for one thing. To make money.”

William looked surprised. “Well, it’s about damn time.”

Mags tried to stay calm. “Exactly. This place was built for the sole purpose of taking caps out of the pockets of fools. We only joined Gage and Colter’s little menagerie in order to restore it to that goal ... though by somewhat more cutthroat methods than I expect its founder’s intended.”

William frowned. “Instead, Colter had us sitting on our asses for the better part of a year, while he lived large in his damn mountaintop.”

I looked at them. “You might be surprised at how this place took money from people back then. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to get bit in the Reptile House, and then have to pay for the antidote.”

That made Mags frown while she looked at me. “So, are you like that woman who was wanting to wander around, an aficionado of Nuka-World?”

“Nope. I visited this place when I was about 13, with my Dad. Back before the war.”

William rolled his eyes. “Great, another nut.”

Piper walked up beside me. “I know you. I know both of you. I thought the names were familiar to me. It’s been, what, seven years since you left Diamond City?” She took her combat helmet off. “I never had a problem with you then, Maggy, regardless of what was supposed to have happened.”

William looked at her. “Damn! It’s Piper! What the hell brings you out here, girl?”

Mags did a double take. “You’re right. Lizzie! Get out here!” She stopped being so confrontational. “Shit, sorry, Overboss, this is a friendly face for us. Um, forgive our rude manners, we’re used to dealing with, well, you know. Please, all of you, pull up a chair.” She looked at one of her gang members. “You! Bring us some wine, and clean glasses.”

From further inside the Parlor, a woman came walking out. She had shoulder length brown hair, again nicely kept. “What’s going on, Mags? I was getting ready to start another experiment.”

“Look who it is. All the way from Diamond City!”, Mags said.

“What? Piper Wright? Budding journalist, and the only one who cared about things? What in the hell are you doing out here and not hiding behind the Wall?”

Piper stood up and walked over to her, holding her hand out. “Hello, Lizzie. It’s been a long time.”

I figured this was as good a time as any, so I stepped back a little, opened my power armor, put my combat helmet on, and took a seat across from Mags. “Don’t worry about insulting me and my wives, Mags, William. I think we all need to sit down and have a bit of a chat.”

Piper came back over, stood next to me with her hand on my shoulder. “I never steered the three of you wrong before. Hell, I even tried to investigate whether or not there was anything to the scandal that got you kicked out of the upper stands. I knew the three of you did some wild things, but nothing that would ever intentionally kill someone, at least not then. I got shut down, hard, on that one.”

The gang member brought several bottles of wine and some freshly washed glasses out. Mags took the time the opportunity of him serving us to think about what she was going to say, as well as taking a closer look at my combat armor. Once he was done and had given us some privacy, she took a sip, then put her glass down. Her voice wasn’t quite as sharp and cutting as it had been before.

“I’m not saying that the three of us weren’t doing some things that perhaps Diamond City Security would have frowned upon. Hell, you know we were. But our family had the status in the upper stands. So we could get away with it. Latimer was jealous of us, got some chems in. Everyone knew Lizzie liked to experiment. They gave some bad shit to that girl, then blamed Lizzie for it. Planted evidence. We didn’t have a choice, we had to leave.”

William shook his head. “I don’t know how they did it. Our parents didn’t care, didn’t even try to get us off. For that matter, didn’t even listen to us. Hell, I don’t even know or for that matter, care, if they’re still alive.”

Piper shook her head. “They’re not. I know the three of you broke out of the cell, took at least some of the caps your parents had saved up. It was ... what, five years ago, I think, when they both died. A ghoul went feral, or that’s what Henry Cooke said. The ghoul and your folks were the only ones in his bar at the time.” She snorted. “Given what we now know about Henry, I’d guess he had them killed. Latimer family took over your old place.”

William looked a little upset; Mags didn’t, she just looked puzzled. “What do you mean, what you now know about Henry Cooke?”

“Oh, he and Malcolm Latimer pulled off a big chem heist years ago. Cooke was running all the illegal chems into Diamond City for Latimer.”

Mags frowned. “That’s someone else I’ll have to kill if I have the chance, then.”

Piper patted me on the shoulder. “No, you won’t. Our Tina here already did that.”

Lizzie said, “I can’t help but notice you’re standing awfully close and possessive, Piper. I didn’t think you, um, were interested in anyone else.”

“I wasn’t. Not then. Now ... I’m a happily married woman, Lizzie. To Tina ... Gwen, and Curie.”

William grinned. “Congratulations, Piper. I’m glad for you.”

Mags went a little cold, though. “That means that you’re married to the Overboss, then. So, I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out what your angle is, Overboss. I recognize a lot of those symbols on your armor. Would you mind letting us in on the secret?”

“Simple, Mags. I was quite serious when I said I visited this place before the war. I was stuck in cryogenic suspension during the war. After I got released, well, I had a reason that I don’t need to get into at this time to do some hunting of my own. I’m certain you remember the Minutemen as a group of folks that were torn apart by political infighting and general incompetence, as well as incompetent generals. They’re not that way anymore. I’m their General, and last time I looked, I’ve got about 150 troops under my command.”

“Now, compared to what’s here in Nuka-World, that’s not enough. But as they used to say on the old advertising commercials, but, wait, there’s more. I’m also in command of the troops from the Brotherhood of Steel that are operating in the Commonwealth. That’s about 200 soldiers in power armor, along with twenty or so vertibirds and another hundred or so ground support troops. I used to have a symbol representing the Railroad. I can see you all recognize that name. They don’t exist any longer, but that’s only because they were put out of business because there’s no need for them any longer. That’s where this last one come into play.”

Lizzie flatly said, “The Institute.”

“Not any longer, not by just that name only. It’s now the Commonwealth Institute of Technology. I, uh, just happen to be the Director of that organization. Which means that all those people who used to be Coursers for them ... like James, here ... are now security, and I have on call about 600 robotic synths, as well as all the advanced weaponry they’ve devised over the last couple of hundred years. Gage knows who I am, from what Shank told him. He has some grandiose plan that I’ll end up leading all three of the gangs here in some kind of glorious criminal crusade and take over the Commonwealth.”

The three of them were very quiet. “There’s just one minor problem with that. There are no more Raiders and criminal gangs in what he calls the Commonwealth. Nor are there any super mutants, or feral ghouls. I’ve even got Goodneighbor cleaned up. What Gage can’t quite grasp, but I’m certain the three of you are smart enough to figure out, is that when organized gangs run into actual military forces, especially military forces that not only have overwhelming firepower ... like troops advancing with 40 mini-guns and 30 Gatling lasers all in a line, not to mention vertibirds armed with mini-guns that are coordinating everything, that there’s not a hell of a lot of places to run. And Nuka-World is within aerial range of my forces there.”

“Now, I’m a reasonable woman. Hell, even Skinny Malone saw my point of view. I’m certain you’re counting the odds right now. You’re thinking, there’s just six of them. You’ve got, what, thirty some odd troops in this building right now. Now, before you do anything that Piper will regret, since it’s apparent that my wife likes you, I want you to pay close attention. There’s a cut out silhouette standing behind me, with a gun pointing away from it. That gun has no holes in it, unlike the rest of that piece of cardboard. Am I right?”

William blinked, then said, “Yes, that’s right.”

“Good.” I raised my voice a little. “Everyone, I’m going to give a little demonstration here, so I’d appreciate it if no one did anything stupid, okay?”

The gang members looked at Mags, who nodded. The look on her face was like she’d unwrapped a Christmas present and instead of the toy she was expecting, a cobra had popped out of the box in her face. That was actually what I wanted her to feel.

“You got a cap, William?” He nodded. “I want you to flip it in the air. As soon as it leaves your hand, I’ll stand, turn, draw, and start firing. I’ll fire until either the cap hits the ground or I empty my magazine. All my rounds will be in that gun section.” He pulled one out, and as I expected, he gave it a halfhearted flip, barely four inches in the air above waist height.

I stood, drew while I was turning, and opened fire before I was even fully turned. My gun locked open while the cap was still two inches from the floor. “Go count. I just fired a full magazine, twenty rounds.”

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