She had never spoken to Paladin Moss before and the silent treatment that she and the others received aboard the vertibird did little to incentivize her to change that. Still, Laura couldn’t help but glancing away from the landscape below her -- the weight and killing power of the minigun alien and uncomfortable in her hands -- and to the armored form of the towering soldier, inscrutable behind the dark steel of his helmet. His exclamation before their departure had informed her of his religious beliefs and that was interesting to her. There had been religion in Vault 49, for sure, but its flock had been in the minority. Most of the Vault Dwellers, whether consciously or subconsciously, saw little reason for faith in the underground bunker that they called home. She wondered what had instilled faith in the Paladin, and she wondered how much of the world he had seen. Thaddeus had been right, of course; Laura often forgot that she was very well-traveled compared to most of the Brotherhood. But even she didn’t know anything about Boston. The idea that they were traveling to lands unknown as as exciting as it was anxiety-inducing.
“Paladin Moss, sir?” she said at length, keying the inter-squad comm so that her voice carried over the roar of the vertibird’s propellers and engines. “What else do we know about the Commonwealth?” Laura figured that there had to be more intel than what Moss had shared in his brief summary of the mission details.
“Nothing solid, initiate. Artemis should have given future missions a clear picture of the area and the players. Without them,” Moss trailed off, his frown hidden by the helmet. “We prefer intel from our own people. Rumors are tricky. You never know when a tip from a trader is actually a lie or even a trap. All that said, I have
heard talk of the Commonwealth’s thriving towns. As in multiple.”
Laura nodded to herself. She identified with the Paladin’s inclination towards caution, having witnessed enough on the way from Montana to justify it. She wondered if Moss was aware of her journey and of the experience she did
have. She’d refrained from groaning out loud at her own stupidity when Moss had to fasten her harness before the departure. Laura hated feeling stupid. “Very good, sir. It’s heartening to know that we’re not heading out into an abandoned wasteland. Are you... looking forward to meeting new pockets of civilization?” she asked cautiously, trying to get a feeling for how Moss looked at the world and its peoples.
The question made Moss tremble. Small movements, too subtle for the power armor to show, but not so faint that he didn’t notice. She found a nerve. Struck a tender spot he hadn’t known was there and with an innocent question no less.
Finally, the paladin nodded. “It will be informative,” he answered simply, as was his way. Yet, seeing the curiosity in the initiate’s eyes, he realized the opportunity before him. “I came from a place called New Canaan. There the people rallied behind an idea. Not so different from the Brotherhood. I believe that similarity is why both communities are strong. I hope we can bring that strength elsewhere. The Commonwealth, for example.” Moss paused a moment. “What have your travels taught you, initiate?”
Unaware of the effect her question had had on Moss, Laura pondered his return question instead. It was a loaded query. There were loads of practical things she’d learned along the way but she figured the experienced Paladin wasn’t interested in hearing how she’d come to fear packs of dogs, to watch for Mirelurks at the water’s edge and what the difference was between ripe and rotten mutt fruit. He’d know all of those things already. It was life lessons he was after, and not for his own gain. Moss was trying to suss out how wise she was. Laura was determined to rise to the occasion.
“That there’s no difference between bad people and desperate people when you’re out in the wasteland,” the Initiate said. “Maybe it’s like you said. People need something to believe in, to unite them, to save them from desperation. I believe in the Brotherhood’s mission, and… and I believe that humanity is good,” Laura continued, gaining steam and confidence as she went on. “People can be bad, but humanity is good.” She glanced up at Moss with the same curiosity in her eyes. “You believe in something else as well, don’t you, sir?”
“Humanity is good like a child is good. Too ignorant to realize the great gift it’s been given. Left without guidance, we’d surely scorch the world again.” Moss leaned in close. “I believe in the Brotherhood and its mission to protect humanity. However, my soul
belongs to our Lord. Elders speak of a better world like dreams. Only God can grant true salvation.”
With that the paladin drew back. A little more satisfied, curious, and hopeful that the seeds found fertile soil.
It seemed to Laura like a strange thing to say. It implied that there was an inherent unworthiness to anyone's actions if they weren't fueled by the grace of God. "There wasn't much room for God with us in the Vault," Laura said while she stared out of the vertibird. "I don't see much of him out here, either."
Only then did she realize how insensitive her words were and the red flush of shame crept up on her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Paladin, I didn't mean… I'll think about what you've said," she settled on and shot him an apologetic look.
Had he been so foolish? “What you see out here is the Lord’s gift, squandered,” Moss sighed deeply. “Don’t apologize. It’s easy to mistake... this
with an absent God.”
It was hard to argue with that. Whether God’s gift or not, humanity had definitely squandered the Earth. She thought wistfully, as she did often, about the pictures in the books of Vault 49’s library that depicted white beaches with bright blue seas and meadows full of flowers. It had looked like such an idyllic place. Now, the wasteland down below was hardly as inviting...
After the crash
Hearing what was left of the squad fall in line was just the reminder Moss needed. He turned toward the warehouse, then to the hills a little ways out. Uncertainty on all sides. That wouldn’t do.
“McDowell, Grimshaw. See what you can find in the warehouse. We may need to shelter tonight. Is it liveable? Is there ammunition or anything we can use to make repairs to our armor?” The paladin turned to the young knight, who’d already proven useful. “Esteves, I want you to explore the perimeter. See if you can spot the wreckage. Keep an eye out for signs of activity, who knows what we fell into here. I’ll stand guard in this position. Check in. We’re not losing anyone else today.”
McDowell maintained the salute, like a mannequin posed a certain way, throughout the orders that Moss would give them. Only in the end would he respond, thumping his chest in affirmation, followed by a loud and clear, “yes, Paladin Moss, sir! Ad Victoriam!” He dropped his arm to his side again, and turned face to move back towards the warehouse. His power armour squeeked slightly as he did so, balking at the weight it was meant to be carrying while damaged. Another warning popped up. “Energy critical,” it said. That was a warning that Gregory did understand, and frustrated him to no end. “Initiate, with me!” he commandeered, almost immediately pulling rank on the poor woman. It seemed she’d be on the receiving end of his force now.
With the thunderous thuds of his footsteps echoing throughout the half-destroyed warehouse came the sudden realization that it was very quiet here. It gave Gregory another bout of bad juju, like he had felt before the crash. Something was wrong here, but he wasn’t quite sure what. For a moment he thought he heard a sound, far in the distance, echoing just like his footsteps, but it was faint and didn’t last long enough to be worth making a note of or even mentioning it to Initiate Grimshaw. Lacking a weapon, Gregory felt naked and vulnerable, though did his best not to let on to that in the presence of anyone else. “Stay close, initiate,” he commandeered again, “we don’t know what manner of inferior beings lurk here.” For a moment it seemed like Gregory had turned serious all of a sudden, perhaps faced with the sudden realization that death could very well be lurking behind every corner they turned. “... would love to smash me a ghoul or mutie right now.” Well, perhaps not.
The first floor was relatively clear -- in the sense that there wasn’t anything directly dangerous to the two as far as Gregory could see. The further into the warehouse they moved, the darker it became, and so he was resigned to turning on the gigantic floodlight-like lamps on his helmet. They clicked once, twice, before turning off again, prompting the man to slap the helmet -- and his head -- in an attempt to get them to work. “Damn mechanics,” he swore, “can’t even fix a fucking lamp right...” In the brief moment that his lamp did work, all he could see was piles and piles of shipping containers.
He marched on, and almost forgot that Laura was with him, occupying himself with barrelling through the maze of containers with little regard for stealth. Not that there was a possibility of it since the half-broken power armour creaked like an old door. “Let’s go up,” he mumbled, more to himself than anything, but easily audible to Laura. The stairs almost gave way when he stepped onto them, the heavy concrete being no match for the portable tank Gregory was wearing, but luckily they held, allowing them to pass onto the next area -- an upstairs office of sorts. Most of the high-tech computers, at least in the eyes of a techno-incompetent such as Gregory -- were off, but there were a few shimmering screens still alive somewhere here. The Knight-Sergeant paid no mind and carried on, waiting at the door to the next room for Laura.
For her part, the Initiate kept her laser rifle slung by her side and unholstered her 10mm pistol as they stepped back inside the warehouse. Laura had been forced to swallow her disappointment when the Paladin ordered her and McDowell to explore the location instead of searching for the vertibird, but it wasn’t her place to question his orders, nor the Knight-Sergeant’s. When he ordered her to follow him she did so without comment. He didn’t sound like he was in the mood for advice or resistance anyway, and she could hardly blame him. It had been a hard landing, his armor was obviously damaged and his weapon was missing. She’d be pissed off too.
Fortunately his armor wasn’t so broken that he couldn’t make his way through the sea of shipping containers and Laura gratefully followed in his wake through the path he’d cleared, towards the back of the warehouse. She wondered what the shipping containers held but the Knight-Sergeant didn’t appear interested in finding out. “Did you hear that?”
she almost said, but the words died in her throat. Laura had cocked her head and froze when something caught her ear, a vague, distant sound, but Gregory didn’t stop and Laura didn’t feel like him bothering him. She checked the safety of her pistol, fingers briefly brushing over the name etched into the side of the barrel, and carried on, ears straining for the sound, should it return. It was hard to listen for anything over the din of McDowell’s implacable advance, however.
The rows of terminals, on the other hand, were something she couldn’t ignore. Her time with the Brotherhood of Steel had only intensified her natural curiosity when it came to relics of the Old World and she sat down at the first still-functioning terminal that she encountered, eyes wide and fingertips eager to start typing.
“Just a second, sir,” she called out, almost as an afterthought, without looking at the Knight-Sergeant. “Could be valuable intel in these terminals.”
After wiping away the dust and bringing the ancient machine back to life with a few deft touches on the keyboard, Laura was presented with a series of dates on the screen. They all shared one common characteristic: the year. 2077.
The year of the Great War. Laura whistled appreciatively. “You’ve been running for a long time, haven’t you?” she whispered quietly to the terminal. “Just waiting for someone to show up and extract your secrets. Well, here I am.” Her curiosity got the better of her and she started at the bottom with the last entry. October 21st, 2077.The rising fuel costs are a disaster for our operations. How are we supposed to run a shipping company when the overhead expenses have practically caught up to the fees we can charge our customers? Nevermind them being willing to pay more, they simply might not be able to. We’ve petitioned the Senator but to no avail. I just hope that this war is over soon, before there isn’t any fuel left.
And then there’s the roadblocks. “Security,” the Army says, but they don’t have anything to fear from us. The Chinese aren’t on the mainland, right? It’s all a big puppet show to make us feel safer but it’s just a giant pain in the ass.
Laura sat back after she was finished reading. Just two days before the Great War had ended the world, these people had been worrying about their business. It was a sobering reminder that it had all happened so fast. In a matter of hours, everything had changed forever. She took a deep breath and checked a few of the other logs. More of the same, really, and nothing that told her anything about what they might expect from this place today, more than 200 years later. She powered the terminal back down, got up and sat down at another terminal.
More logs, but the dates were scrambled. Laura raised an eyebrow and looked at the terminal more closely. The layer of dust that coated the keys was less thick and she hadn’t had to wipe the screen clean anywhere nearly as vigorously as the previous terminal. Her heartbeat quickened. Had someone else been here since the bombs fell? With her nose almost touching the screen, Laura opened the most recent log. Shipping containers are stuck. Macklen says he might be able to move them if he had some power armor. Good joke. Where are we going to get power armor here?
I don’t know why he’s so obsessed with moving them. We can all hear the sound coming from below them but I’m not exactly eager to find out what’s making it. Damn fucker might get us all killed.
If there weren’t so many rad storms I’d sleep outside. The sound continues through the night. It’s driving me crazy. Maybe it’s driving Macklen crazy too and that’s why he’s obsessed. But he was crazy already. Damn jet. I’ll never touch the stuff again.
“Sir?” Laura said and looked up to find McDowell waiting for her by the next set of doors. “These logs… they’re recent. Somebody’s been here before us. I heard something when we were down on the first floor, and these people heard it too. A sound coming from underground.”
She paused and rubbed her neck, trying to make the hairs that stood on end there back down. “What should we do?”
Gregory turned round to face Laura, contemplating what she said. “I don’t know,” he said, in a way that was less profound and more just genuinely stupified. “We should probably tell paladin Moss, but I’m sure he has more important things on his mind now. The leaders always do,” he told her, before turning his head to face into the next room. He briefly turned on the flashlight again, allowing it to flicker once or twice, only to note a large hole in the center of the floor. “We’re done here, we should go back down.”
He immediately moved back towards the stairs, and began walking down them. On the way down, he contemplated some of the lessons he had picked up in the Brotherhood. One of them had to do with initiative, or something to that effect. “Did it say how to get down there?” He asked it slightly more polite than he had been previously, perhaps because he was occupied trying to mill over whether taking initiative in this case would go over well with paladin Moss or not. Even in this life-or-death situation, he was trying to impress the paladin, one of his heroes. “If so, we should check it out and make sure we’re not sitting on top of like… a bunch of muties.”
A little ways behind him, Laura kept her finger close to the trigger guard of her pistol now. She couldn’t shake the feeling that they were above something that was bad news. But now was not the time for cowardice, she reasoned, and she was able to follow McDowell’s line of thought. Returning to the Paladin with half-completed reconnaissance might not go down well with the hardened veteran. “Not exactly,” Laura said, “but it’s supposed to be below the shipping containers.” She’d peeked past the Knight-Sergeant before he decided to go back downstairs and seen the hole in the floor for herself. An idea came to her.
Once they were back in the large hangar that contained the shipping containers, Laura searched the ceiling for the hole and found it about halfway back towards the entrance, a little off to the side. After that she followed the path Gregory had bludgeoned through the containers and realized they hadn’t walked beneath the hole in the ceiling. It wasn’t a waterproof theory, but the most likely place to start searching for an entrance to something underground would be there.
“I have an idea,” she said, caught up to McDowell and took point. “Follow me, sir.”
Keeping an eye on the ceiling, they made their way through the labyrinth of shipping containers until they came to a halt just a few meters away from the hole in the ceiling above them. Two containers blocked their path. Laura figured she might be able to slither through the gap to move on, but why bother when you have power armor on your side? Before she asked the Knight-Sergeant for aid, Laura pressed up against the containers and looked through the gap to what lay beyond.
Darkness. Shifting a little in place so that she could look down and onto the floor, Laura took a deep breath when she realized what she was looking at: the floor was missing. Just like the ceiling above them, there was a hole in the floor as well. She took a step back and looked at McDowell with a wary look on her face. “Just through here, sir,” she said, unsure of how to describe what she’d seen. It was better that he saw for himself. “It’s… it’s through here.”
Gregory’s face shriveled up slightly when they arrived at the spot, that feeling of dread and bad juju that had filled him before now growing ever larger. Laura, of course, could not see that through the visor. All she’d see was a hulking Knight-Sergeant that braced himself against one of the containers before giving it a mighty push. With a loud, screeching noise the thing slid against the concrete floor, before Gregory gave it one big, final shove. With a loud clatter the thing went airborne, entering the large pit behind it and clanging itself all the way down, banging against the concrete at first before concrete became bedrock. After what felt like an eternity, the damn container finally stopped, thunking loudly as it did so.
For a moment, Greg peered down the deep hole. If there’d been a scribe present, he might’ve joked about it. Reminds me of your mom,
or something stupid like that. But not now, not because Grimshaw was an initiate, but because for once, the safety of the Prydwen had been replaced by… whatever this was.
He finally looked back towards Laura, and gave her a resolute nod. “Right,” he posited, turning his head back towards the hole, “let’s descend.”