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The Glowing Sea - Site Prescott - a few minutes later

"Are you sure about this, sir?", X6-88 asked, "Atom cultists are extremely dangerous. We can relay in a strike team and secure the facility easily."

"I am sure", Nathan replied serenely, "We're going to walk in there and secure this facility without a shot being fired. They want what we want, all that needs to be done is explain that to the Children and they'll cooperate gladly...you'll see".

"Very well, sir", X6-88 reluctantly agreed. He had seen Grandfather do some amazing things out in the Wasteland with his own eyes, and heard stories of others from his human traveling companions, but in his opinion convincing Atom Cultists to willingly give up what they held to be sacred relics was ambitious even for him, which is why he had quietly assembled a strike team prepared to relay in on a moment's notice if he was wrong. As the old saying went, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, and Grandfather's life was his personal responsibility.

"Let's go", Nathan said, then strode towards the old pre-war installation without any attempt at concealment. X6-88 followed, scanning the area as they walked. "Remember, let me do the talking, and don't produce a weapon unless I tell you to."

As the pair approached the crumbling guardhouse at the ruined perimeter fence, a very young woman dressed in the sackcloth robes favored by the Children of Atom darted out to confront them. In her hands was an R-91 assault rifle in surprisingly good condition. While it wasn't pointed straight at them, she was clearly prepared to use it.

"Stop where you are strangers", she said sternly, "This is Holy Ground, there is nothing here for unbelievers that is worth dying for!"

X6-88 noticed a glint from the top of the pyramidal facility that had to be a sniper. Or worse...the Children had no compunctions at all when it came to using atomic or even nuclear weapons, even if they or their fellow cultists were caught in their own blast. His training told him he should order the deployment of the strike team, but his gut told him that it was too late for that, he could only trust Grandfather and see how events played out.

"You but speak the truth, Sister", Nathan replied gently as he held up a odd, crudely fashioned wooden figurine of a woman with her arms at her side, "but for the Faithful, dying to protect the relics of Atom inside is a Sacred Duty".

The effect on the woman couldn't have been more profound, immediately the suspicion and hostility drained from her face, replaced by shock, then reverent awe, then contrition in rapid succession. Her arms went limp and the muzzle of the rifle drooped to aim at the ground and tears began streaming down her face, leaving tracks in the everpresent dust coating her face.

"I...I had no idea you were the Herald of Atom", she sobbed, "P-Please forgive me for threatening you!"

"You have done nothing to be ashamed of, child", Nathan said comfortingly as he gently wiped away the tears running down her face, "your willingness to face a stranger in power armor with just a rifle only proves your devotion to Him." He glanced up at the pyramid the back down into her eyes. "The brethren on the roof..."

"Jessica, my name is Jessica. Oh, yes..almost forgot", she exclaimed. She then turned around to face the facility, and held her rifle over her head and waved it in a elaborate gesture. The glint disappeared, followed by three flashes from a flashlight or spotlight. She whirled around, her demeanor back to reverent awe an continued, "They understand you are one of us, you may enter in peace. They will take you to Brother Henri, he is Atom's Steward here. Atom keep you!"

"And Atom keep you as well, Sister Jessica", Nathan replied.

"Sir, X6-88 asked as they strode towards the front door, "May I ask how you did that?"

"Far Harbor. It was before we met", explained Nathan, "I was helping out Nick, ended up joining the Children myself and living with them for a time". He chuckled at X6-88's reaction and continued. "Nick's assignment required we entered the old sub base they lived in, and the only options to proceed were to join or shoot my way in. As the leader..and trainer...of their fighters was once a high-ranking member of the Capital Wasteland Brotherhood, I would have gotten lit up fast so I went on their quest to join. And someone or something led me to this icon. They call her the 'Mother of the Fog'. I'll be frank, I saw some things on that quest that I still cannot explain. But anyway, when I returned with it they thought I was the neatest thing since sliced bread. It's come in handy ever since....I used my status with the Children and the Minutemen to broker a peace between the Children and the rest of the Commonwealth. For the most part, they are only a threat if persecuted."

"I'm impressed", X6-88 replied, "Kellogg would have used....different methods."

"Correct", retorted Nathan with a hint of cold ferocity in his tone, "That is why I'm still kicking and that cocksucker is dog shit!", after a pause he continued in his normal tone, "Kellogg and his methods were very nearly the Institute's undoing, I think Shaun realized that on some level. Before he passed, I had wondered why he didn't take the trash out himself..I only understood once I inherited the Directorship and could see the situation from his point of view. He didn't have the political capital to get the Directorate to let him take out their favorite Enforcer. It must have been pure hell for him to have to work with the bastard that murdered his mother when he wanted to paint the nearest wall with his brains so bad he could taste it. He then added flatly, "But what he could do is unleash me...I found a microfiche copy of my real service record in his papers, which apparently Zimmer found in the Pentagon before he disappeared...he knew what would happen."

"My point is", he concluded, "and I've spent the last decade driving it home to the Directorate, is that we can't afford the enemies we were making. We have to work with the surface dwellers, not rob them and use them as lab rats, and don't get me started on the Watcher program. Eventually someone would have found a way to strike back and everything we've done to preserve and advance science would have been swept away in a tidal wave of hatred. It doesn't have to be that way, my policies are starting to bear fruit and in the end both the Institute and the Commonwealth will be better for it." Nathan added as they reached the door, "Showtime. This will actually be the easy part, they see us as brethren now so they will hear us out."

Site Prescott - Control Room - a few minutes later

Nathan, having left his suit inside the door to reveal he was now wearing the robes of a Child of Atom, and clutching the effigy to his chest, and X6-88, who removed the helmet from his hazmat suit, were shown into the control room. Awaiting them there was a tall, almost skeletally thin bald man in the robes of a medium high member of the Children of Atom. His eyes, set in his weathered face, had the glint of a true fanatic. In a corner was an Assaultron, the white star painted over with the symbol of Atom. It was studying them, but was not in alert mode.

"I am Brother Henri, Steward of Atom for this Sacred Place", he intoned in a friendly, but curious tone, "Sister Jessica signaled that you were of the Faith, whom do I have the honor of addressing?"

"I am Nathan, Brother," Nathan replied, "I am from the Church in the North, the Nucleus in Mount Desert Island. My companion, X6-88 is seeking the Truth".

"You have come far then", Henri said, impressed that he had traveled so far, "have you come to make a Pilgrimage?"

His mind clicked on the fact that Brother Nathan's companion was a synth, but he was distracted when he noticed what Nathan was holding to his chest. He then spoke again, his voice trembling slightly.

"Brother Nathan", Henri asked, gesturing respectfully at the effigy, "If it's not too impertinent, may I see what you are holding?

"But of course, Brother", Nathan replied as he placed it reverently into Henri's outstretched hand.

Henri studied the effigy, his face lighting up with awe and transcendental joy brighter every second. He then handed it back with extreme reverence. He had expected them to be pilgrims, a joyous event to be sure, but not this. His years of faithful toil had been rewarded. The Herald of Atom had come, and Atom's mighty gaze was upon him.

"I have lived for this glorious day for twenty years", Henri said exultantly, "Pray tell me, what is Atom's Will?"

"You, and your Brothers and Sisters, are part of Atom's Plan, Brother", Nathan replied, "Your charge, which you have faithfully carried out, was to keep the relics here safe until they were needed. That time has come. To the West, a blasphemous force has arisen, determined to force mutation on every man, woman and child on this continent, if not the world, and cut them off from Him forever. Even now they are marching on the Pitt. It is the Will of Atom that the His city, The Pitt, and the infant Church there, stands! The relics here, and other places, shall be readied and unleashed to fulfill the purpose Atom set for them long before his first Child was born, to bring down upon the heads of the so-called, blasphemous "Unity" the irresistible brightness of Atom's Light, and the scourging touch of the flames of His Wrath. By this Act of Faith we shall save both His Church and His Children, as well as those unbelievers who may yet be brought to His light!"

He then folded his arms, still clutching the effigy, and intoned with all the authority he could muster.

"Thus", Nathan said, "is the Will of Atom!"

The room was dead silent, except for the occasional beep from the consoles and whirring of motors in the Assaultron. Coursers don't scare easily, but given all the Children who had filled the room behind them, and the stairs leading up to the Control room, silenty digesting what Grandfather had said and waiting to see how Brother Henri responded, X6-88 was well aware that if Henri gave the word, they'd be torn to pieces before they could react....there were too many, too close. He was clearly considering what he had just heard, but the impassive expression on his face gave no clue to what he would do.

After a full minute, which seemed like eternity, Henri threw his arms out wide and exclaimed in a voice that carried out into the stairwell, immediately spreading to the entire room as the others, including Nathan and then him, joined in.

Behold! He is coming with the clouds!", Henri shouted with a voice only someone with absolute conviction could use, his face lit up with transcendental joy, and tears of joy streaming down his face, "And every eye will be blinded by His Glory, and every ear shall be stricken deaf with the thunder of His Voice! Let the men, women and children of the Earth come forth to gather and witness the power of Atom! These ancient weapons of war were hidden here long ago by Atom for our salvation! They are the very symbol of Atom's Glory! The blasphemers shall exist no more, they will be washed away by Atom's Glow, burned to ashes in the fire of His brilliance!"

Henri was beside himself with joy. The years of isolation and loneliness and toil, which he had suffered gladly, were irrelevant now. Atom had bestowed upon him the greatest reward he could receive next to Division. He was aware of the Unity, the Prophet had summoned all the Faithful not needed to secure and tend to the Holy sites in the Commonwealth and it's environs to the Pitt to aid the secular ruler, Marie, who had been clearly received Atom's Blessing and more, in defending His city. She was clearly part of His plan too, and it was his sacred task to aid her.

"Atom has spoken", Henri said to Nathan, "And we will answer. But restoring the systems in this place requires materials and skills we don't have....unless Atom provides."

"The Institute will provide both", Nathan answered. "A team is ready to survey the facility and determined what is needed, then a repair crew will work with your technically minded Brothers and Sisters to restore this facility to operational status. As far as the others, this sacred ground must be protected more than ever. Being mutants, the Unity can enter the Glowing Sea, so we must take the possibility of a ground attack into account. We'll provide any weapons you require."

"We could use some heavy lasers", Henri replied, "As far as guns our brethren in the Pitt buy them and send them to us. What we really need is good armor, Combat or Marine armor. It's frowned upon for those with the Gift to use power armor, as you know. Atom's Glow is too severe here for those without the Gift to survive as a permanent member of the congregation. We simply lack access to enough Radaway and Rad-X to support new converts dwelling among us, just Pilgrims."

Institute - Dr Li's Quarters - Later

"You mean to tell me", Dr Li said skeptically, "that he just walked in there and convinced them to hand it over."

"Yes ma'am", X6-88 replied, "I did not believe it possible, but he proved me wrong. Though it would be more accurate to say he convinced them to agree to share it with us. They are providing security as well as assisting in the reactivation effort. Initiating a launch requires two keys, one is held by their leader and the other by X5-14, we do not assess them as having the technical skill to override the pre-war PAL system. In the worst case scenario they will not be able to overcome our force there and initiate a launch before strike teams can be relayed directly inside to stop them".

"It doesn't surprise me", Brian said, "he has a web of friends, contacts and favors all across the Commonwealth. Look at me, he made sure I survived comfortably until he could convince the rest of the Directorate to pardon me. Our predecessors should have disposed of Kellogg and woken up the three of them....he'd have the surface eating out of our hand by now. God knows what he's managed to achieve down here....you and I can't be the only people who owe him one."

"What did he do before the War?", Dr Li exclaimed. "according to his service record he was a common infantryman who served in Alaska and the Canada Annexation, he got a Silver Star at the Battle of Winnipeg....which I think is in Canada....why would they assign a man with his talents to a front-line infantry unit? Even the idiots running the country into the ground weren't that foolish."

"He hinted that that was not his actual service record", X6-88 replied, "He said something about finding his "real" service record amongst Father's papers after he passed. Said Dr Zimmer had forwarded it before his disappearance. He also said he believes Father released him from Vault 111 to avenge himself against Kellogg."

"I reviewed his papers before we turned them over", Dr Li said, "there was no dossier like that in Father's effects like the one we retrieved from the VA branch in Boston, just some old pre-war...", her eyes widened as something clicked and she sat down heavily. "..microfiches. Which I didn't bother to review. Damn it, I had it in my hands!" She folded her arms and crossed her legs, disgusted with herself.

"Does it really matter at this point?", Brian asked, "It's been two centuries."

"Probably not", she replied, "I generally agree with his policies, we have a responsibility to the people above that none before him were willing to shoulder. And no one else could have secured that pardon, Clayton and I were the only two lobbying for it before this "Unity" mess began. Ayo even went so far as to send Kellogg to kill you, Brian...fortunately Grandfather found him first. But he's been Director for ten years now and he is still as unknown a quantity as the day he found his way here. I don't like that."

"Grandfather?" Brian asked, "Is that his title now?"

"The synths started calling him that five years ago", Li answered, "It's catching on amongst the faculty more and more. It's true from a technical aspect so there is no point in complaining about it."

"X6-88", Li said, "You're dismissed. And not a word of this conversation to anyone, even the Director."

"Yes, ma'am", X6-88 replied.

Glowing Sea - Virgil's Cave - morning

Brian Virgil sighed sadly and closed the binder, then looked up at Nathan, sitting patiently in a chair by his lab table. Now he understood why he had come out here himself after all those years. Not that he had abandoned him, he had seen to it that supplies were delivered regularly, including extra items to trade with the Children at the crater. Even a Rad suit so he could leave if he wanted.

"Where did you get this?", Virgil asked, wiggling the binder, "It reads like a pre-war military document. And what is this about the United States Secret Service? After two hundred years?"

"It was transmitted by radio from Pittsburg, or The Pitt as they call it", answered Nathan, "to the commander of their forces in Cleveland....our analysts believe it is the summary of a larger document." He then added, "It was encrypted, Advanced Systems was able to crack it without undue difficulty."

"Has all of this been confirmed?", he asked.

"Partially, though we have yet to get a direct report from one of our own people", Nathan replied matter of factly. "Confidence is high, however. We have a synth on the team that collected the intel that report. We know G4-20 went West as far as what was Ohio and returned, but we cannot access him for debriefing. The entire team is under some sort of close arrest. Until he is released, if he is released, we cannot verify the report."

"However", he continued, "Both the Pitt and the Enclave are mobilizing and moving troops to their West. We have confirmed that settlements all along the Great Lakes are being evacuated, as well as the rumors that the Midwestern Brotherhood destroyed their largest city, Chicago, with nuclear weapons rather than let it be captured by this "Unity".

"What does it have to do with me?", Virgil asked, adding quickly as he saw a flicker of emotion cross Nathan's face, "what I mean is, why are you telling me this? I'm a exile, what can I possibly do to help?"

"Fair enough", Nathan replied, relaxing a little. He then reached inside his jacket and pulled out a envelope, which he offered to Virgil. "By unanimous vote of the Directorate, your sentence of Exile has been commuted to time served. In addition, we are offering you a unconditional pardon and full reinstatement in the Institute. This "Unity" is a threat to the very existence of Mankind, we need your expertise to help stop them."

Virgil took the proffered envelope, opened it and scanned the document inside. It was as Nathan said, a full pardon...all the department head's signatures were on it, even that insufferable prick Ayo...he could finally go home. Joy and hope began to rise in him, but also fear of the price he would have to pay. He looked Nathan square in the eye.

"I regret my actions, and appreciate the Directorate's mercy", he said, "but I will not kidnap innocent people and turn them into mutants again. I'd rather spend the rest of my life out here than do that."

"Then we are in agreement", Nathan replied flatly, "I've spent over ten years cleaning up the mess left by the FEV program, I won't tolerate repeating past mistakes. I have specifically forbidden that practice."

"I accept then", Virgil said. "When can i go home?"

"Now if you like, Brian", Nathan said as he pulled a field transmitter out of a pocket and handed it to Virgil. "Relay in some synths to pack up for you. Get some rest, then meet with Dr Holdren, he will help you with staffing and budget details. I want a survey of the FEV lab and what it will take to stand it back up in three days." He then walked over to his T-51b power armor suit and opened it then stepped inside. "I have another stop here before I return, see you back at home." He then relayed out in a flash.

Virgil packed up his notebooks and a few other essentials, then pulled the transmitter out of his coat pocket and activated it. Keeping his voice as steady as he could, he spoke.

"This is Dr Virgil, one to relay inbound".

Much to his relief, he immediately was enveloped in a crackling field of electricity, and when it dissipated he was in the relay chamber back at the Institute. Home. Leaving the chamber, he found Dr Holdren, carrying a stack of folders under one arm, waiting for him.

Virgil began to vocalize an apology, but Holdren interrupted him.

"There's no need, Brian, that's all in the past", Holdren said sincerely, extending his free hand, "I'm glad to have you back. In any case, ten years topside is punishment enough, especially as the project was going nowhere to begin with."

Virgil reached out and shook Holdren's extended hand, "It's good to be back, Clayton".

"I'll show you your new quarters", Dr Holdren said, "Your effects from before have been moved there from storage. Once you're settled in, I have with me some dossiers for staff rfor your review that we think would be helpful, if you have any additional personnel requests let me know." He added, "Also have the interim budget figures, the Lab is high priority, so you'll find it adequate at this stage."

"What results are the Directorate looking for?", Virgil asked.

"Your serum", Holdren replied, "we want to know if it can be weaponized against them. The intelligence we are receiving is quite disturbing, they suggest that the strain of FEV the Mutants are using seems to be producing at least some mutants with their cognitive abilities permanently intact. It seems the developers of this strain succeeded where we failed. We need to understand the effects of this strain, hopefully a path to counteract it can be found. Also, you'll be working in conjunction with Dr Binet and his project to create synth mutants as infiltrators."

"I'm going to need mutant test subjects", Virgil said, "both our strains and the Unity strain. And most importantly, I will need samples of the Unity strain itself."

"In progress", Holdren replied, "SRB has redirected Coursers from synth retention to retrieving mutants, it has the added benefit of contributing to ongoing stabilization ops. Advanced Systems is projected to have the Mass Fusion reactor back online in three days, that will give us the power to relay out to around 550 nautical miles, into what was Ohio, just behind the current contact line." Having reached the destination, Holdren handed him the stack of folders and took his leave.

Virgil walked into his quarters, finding them suitable for his position. In the center of the room, stacked neatly next to the coffee table, was several gray metal boxes, marked "EVIDENCE-INCIDENT V - NOT TO BE UNSEALED WITHOUT DIRECTOR AUTHORIZATION". On top of the boxes was a clipboard, Virgil picked it up and found it was a inventory list. He put the clipboard back down, and placed the armload of folders on the desk. He checked the terminal, finding it accepted his login and accessed most of the old lab files, including some he was sure he had destroyed when he left...apparently Father had backed them up on his own initiative. He logged out, and took a look around at the bare quarters, only the usual furniture present. When his eyes fell on the bathroom door, he knew what he must do next.

"Fuck", Virgil thought, It's been over ten years since I had a hot shower!"

Dawn - Mendon Ponds Park - 10 miles south of the ruins of Rochester, NY

The crows circled the clearing for nearly an hour, before finally landing on tree branches, or other convenient spots. There wasn't a living soul around, though even if there were, they wouldn't have noticed how the three birds landed exactly the same distance from the other two, and the spot between them was in the center of the clearing. No-one looked for patterns in the behavior of birds, after all. The birds, just stood, looking about or preening themselves...and waited.

Moments later, a blue spark arced up out of the ground for a moment, then vanished. Seconds later, a blue tinted ball of energy suddenly appeared in the same spot, then with a loud electrical sounding snap and a blinding light, it vanished as quickly as it came, replaced by two people, a man and a woman, and a pack brahmin. Aside from their method of arrival, there was nothing remarkable about them, just another pair of wandering traders in the Wasteland. They looked around, the woman spotting one of the birds, then tapping the male on the shoulder to get his attention, and pointing it out. The male faced the bird, then made a thumbs up gesture to it. After producing a compass and consulting it, they headed West, towards State Route 65. The birds took flight and raced ahead of them, at least one bird keeping the pair in its sight at all times.

Institute - SRB - Operations Center

In the darkened Operations room, The technician closely followed events on his monitors, the feed from the three watchers, as they scanned ahead looking for threats to the Team he was entrusted with. Aside from a small caravan heading south along Route 65, the road was largely deserted. Satisfied his charges were not in imminent danger, he reached up and activated his throat mic.

"Ops, Watcher 2", he said quietly, "Team Bravo successfully deployed, en route towards first objective".

"Very well", the Duty Controller replied, "maintain surveillance."

Harrison, the Duty Controller leaned over the map table, illuminated by a red florescent light from above and placed a small metal cube marked B at the point marked as the insertion point on the map. There already was two cubes, marked A and C, at their insertion points, placed A placed NE of Montreal, and C placed near Loganton, Pennsylvania. Bravo was the last, as it was the furthest relay shot of the three....any further and they would have had to risk a brownout.

"Hopefully Advanced Systems will get a new beryllium agitator fabricated so the Mass Fusion plant can be brought online again", Harrison thought sourly, "the power requirements to shoot a relay into the Midwest would be astronomical. As it is, it's going to be at least a week before the teams can get us answers." He rather suspected A and/or B would be reporting first, The Lakes were a major avenue for commerce before the War, he doubted that had changed significantly. If Chicago had indeed been destroyed by nuclear weapons every lake port settlement would know about it.

He picked up a phone and dialed a number. It was picked up on the second ring.

"Dr Ayo?", he said, "Harrison, the Operations Duty Controller here. All teams sucessfully inserted without incident, and visually verified to be proceeding to initial objectives." He listened to the response then added, "You're welcome, Doctor. I'll inform the Director at once. Good morning, sir." Once Ayo disconnected, he pushed and held down the cradle then released it and began dialing a different number.

Directors Quarters - a few minutes later

"Excellent", Nathan said into the phone as he absentmindedly retied the strap on his bathrobe, "Thank you for informing me...please keep me advised of any further developments." He then hung up the phone, and walked over to the stereo, a top of the line Radiation King console that Nora's parents had given them as a wedding present so long ago, and turned it back up.

"You're listening to WBZ, 1030 on your AM dial" exclaimed Kent Connolly, "100,000 Watts straight out of Goodneighbor! It's eight AM, and you know what that means...Sliver Shroud Morning Hour! I've got a whole new episode for you all...Episode 83, 'The Return of Mister Abominable'! Originally aired March 11, 2070...I thought it was lost to the ages, but a good buddy sent it and a bunch more episodes to me a couple days ago! Anyhow, lets get started, and don't forget to stick around for the news at nine! Got some great news from out Springfield Way."

As the into music for the Silver Shroud began, Nate grabbed a chair from the nearby table and plopped into it.

"Codsworth!", Nathan called, "I'm ready for my shave now!"

Codworth glided into the room, shaving cream and straight razor attachment ready.

"You have a busy schedule today, sir", Codsworth said as he shaved him, "So I prepared a quick breakfast."

"Remind me", Nathan replied as he moved his head obligingly so the robot could do his job.

"At Ten, you're visiting Miss Cruz at the Robco facility for an inspection tour", Codsworth replied, at two you're expected at the Nuka-World transit Center to travel to Nuka-World, then at eight it's a full meeting of the Directorate."

"Hmpf", mused Nathan, "Perhaps I should have Binet make a copy of me so i can be two places at once."

"Please no, sir", Codsworth replied as he held up a mirror to enable Nathan to inspect the shave, "One of you is quite enough to look after."
The Institute - Director's Quarters

"Sir?", Codsworth said, "Miss Madison is here."

Nathan reached over to the speaker on the end table next to him and turned it down. It was playing the tactical radio channel the Minutemen were using in it's attack on Nuka-Town USA. He would have liked to continue to focus on it, but Madison might take it wrong, and to be honest, it was a forgone issue anyway. Of the three Nuka-World gangs, the Pack had been literally overrun in their beds, the Operators had fled the field, mostly escaping through a escape tunnel they had dug long ago, leaving behind only a holding force that had been captured. That left the Disciples and the Overboss, Coulter, holed up in and around Fizztop Mountain. Unlike the others, they were dug in deep and took full advantage of the defensible position. When the initial attempt to storm the place with T-51bs backed by infantry failed in the face of missile and LMG fire, Macready drew the correct conclusion and sent for his Forward Observer...to let the guns they hauled out there with them do the work. Nate knew the place, he'd been to Nuka-World dozens of times before the war, a howitzer section would make short work of Fizztop Mountain, which in fact is a thin concrete shell made to look like a mountain.

Nathan then turned in the recliner he was sitting in, so he could look at Codsworth, hovering quietly behind him. Unlike most of the ultramodern decor in what had been Shaun's apartment, it was the ancient recliner from his old house in Sanctuary Hills, the synths had recovered it with what furniture was still usable, and repaired and reupholstered it for him. As far as the house, the Longs lived there now, he'd given it to them as living there was impractical even if he had wanted to, which he didn't...the place only reminded him of what he had lost. Last he heard, Marcy was pregnant, which was good.

"Thanks, Codsworth", Nathan replied, "See her in, please".

"Right away, sir", the Mr Handy burbled contentedly, and hovered off. Ayo, typically, had a cow when he moved Codsworth in, as if he had any say in the matter, which he didn't. He trusted the ancient robot far more than he trusted Ayo, he really didn't care what he thought about Codsworth.

After a moment, Codsworth reappeared with Madison Li, carrying several binders and folders, right behind him.

"Good Morning, Madison", Nathan said affably as she placed her papers on the coffee table and sat on the chair next to him, "you had something for me?"

"Yes", she replied as she selected the correct binder and opened it, "Peabody over at the Switchboard sent this to me...I find it rather concerning. You recall how her team got the seismic nuclear detection system they were using working again? The Geology Department took it over, and they've been using it since for the Earth Studies program." She paused to cough. "Well, they've found something, and I wanted to talk to you about it before I presented it at the next Directorate meeting....unlike the others, we know what it's like up there and frankly, I'm concerned the other Department heads won't treat this with the concern they should."

Nathan sat up straight and looked at Madison with rapt attention. He already knew he wasn't going to like this, Madison didn't play the "fellow Wastelander" card unless it was serious. "Go on...", he said.

"Four months ago", she began, as she unfolded a map of the Pre-War US and spread it out on the coffee table, "the system picked up a earthquake of 6 on the Richter Scale...here," pointing to a spot marked in red ink near Colorado Springs, in what was the Four States Commonwealth. "Two minutes later", she continued, "a second earthquake of the same magnitude occurred within a mile of the first one." Nathan's blood froze when he heard this, though at first he could not determine why. He racked his memory to recall what was in that area that would be of importance.

"Cheyenne Mountain...", Nathan mused aloud, "...NORAD?"

"Yes, exactly", Madison, replied. "The first event took place on the surface somewhere around a mile from the facility, the second was underground and at the exact location." Madison paused for a moment, then continued. "Further analysis gives a estimated yield of 1 Megaton each...we suspect warheads scavenged from ICBMs were used. The students who recorded the events didn't realize what they had found, they weren't trained on the original function of the system. If you hadn't pushed through the program to revive the History and Earth Science Departments, we wouldn't have ever learned this had happened. Peabody had only repaired the system to get access to the data it picked up for the Great War...though it also revealed some disturbing actions by unknown parties in what was West Virginia. From 2102 to 2105, until the failure of the system in 2140 four nuclear detonations were detected at the same spot about thirty miles East of Watoga, West Virginia and one on a mine shaft just north of Monongah, in the same area. But that is a different discussion." She then tapped the map again, this time pointing at Chicago.

"This happened three days ago", Madison continued, "three separate surface detonations. These were smaller than the first, 100 kilotons as opposed to the earlier 1 Megaton detonations, but any settlement there had to have been completely destroyed."

"My God", Nathan exclaimed, "someone out West is waging a nuclear war....and they've advanced to a thousand miles from here!"

"Eight hundred and fifty-odd miles, to be more precise", Li corrected him, "but you see the problem. Something has to be done, and we don't have much time."

"Ayo", replied Nathan, with some distaste as he really didn't like the man much, useful as he may be. "We need to brief him ASAP."

"Not quite yet", Madison replied, noticing that Codsworth had glided in behind Nathan from the kitchen, carrying a food tray. The old robot was surprisingly a pretty good cook, and she found the ration packs the people born here ate tedious, "If I have to speak to that man, I'd rather do it on a full stomach."

Indianapolis International Airport - flightline

Paladin-General Wilson pensively watched the Vertibirds, in close formation, lumber down the taxi-way. Overloaded with troops and supplies, vertical takeoff was not an option....to get airborne would require a traditional take-off, with rocket assist. Fortunately, the evolution had been practiced adequately in training. Lancer-Sergeant Kyle, their new member, had not done it in his time with the Eastern Order, but they had enough time to run him through the simulator a couple times and the Squadron Commander was confident he could handle it, given that he had more flight hours in Vertibirds than anyone else in the squadron. If Lancer-Paladin Morgan had faith in Kyle, Wilson was not inclined to question him either.

The Vertibirds reached take-off position, and taxed out onto the runway. the first Vertibird, Morgan's, followed closely by the others in turn, throttled up to full power then once up to speed engaged the rocket motors, sluggishly taking to the air and after jettisoning the expended rocket motors, climbing and circling the airfield. Once all the Vertibirds were airborne, they maneuvered into formation and headed Northeast for Detroit.

"This had better be worth it", Wilson thought grimly. His gut told him Hackett was making the right call, but that didn't mean he had to like it. Many of the men and women he had addressed at the briefings would never return, and he and they both knew it. Wilson also privately resented the leeway Barnaky gave the man, but he had to admit bringing the Lakemen into the Brotherhood had paid off handsomely, so he would just have to deal with it. He then turned to a aide, a young Scribe. "Tell Operations to inform Star-Paladin Hackett that Operation JUBILEE is Go".

"Yes, sir", said the aide, who passed on the order through his headset. He listened to the reply, nodding, then looked back at Wilson. "It is being done, sir", the aide replied. "Operations advises the U-2 is on station over Columbus and the feed is active. The Duty Officer is requesting you return immediately...she believes both you and the Legate need to see what we're getting."

Operations Center - Ten minutes later

Wilson, with a mixture of horror and fascination, watched the feed from the U-2, orbiting 70,000 feet above Ohio, on the main screen of the Operations Center. The video from the aircraft of the inferno below was akin to a vision of hell. He had, of course, been briefed by the Westerners on what they planned to achieve, but to truly understand it, one had to see it....and now he was seeing it happen. A massive firestorm had been ignited in the center of Columbus, and inexorably it spread out, engulfing smaller fires around it like a large blob of mercury absorbing smaller ones to become even larger. Before the Cult War, the Republic's civil government in Columbus would have had great difficulty coping with such a catastrophe, but that civil authority had been swept away by the Cult when they overran the city. The fires were raging completely unchecked, and would likely only be contained once there was nothing left for them to burn. The full story would not be told until the fires burned out and they could see what was left, of course, but the analysts all agreed that Columbus had effectively been destroyed....at a stroke rendering the Cult's victory over the IRD there a pyhrric one....it's only value now, for the foreseeable future, was it's strategic location, astride many of the routes into Cult territory proper. Data was also coming in on enemy troop concentrations, the Scourge of Columbus...already being called that by staffers...seemed to have thrown the lead elements of the Cult horde into disarray. This could also be used to their advantage.

Wilson looked over to the Legate, standing next to him where they had just received the briefing on the initial Bombing Damage Assessment, to see him watching the screen intently just as he had been. Wilson wondered what he thought about it. The Westerners had clearly mastered the principles of Strategic Bombardment, a fact that had long term ramifications for the Legion, and the Midwestern Order as well. While elements of the Pre-War anti-air defense network around the Midwest's larger cities...Chicago, Omaha, St Louis, Wichita...had been at least partially reactivated due to the tensions with Texas over the Hoover Dam War, the Legion had no defense at all to a strategic bombing campaign. The Legate was no fool, Wilson was sure he immediately understood the potential danger. For that matter, he wondered what Barnaky thought. Wilson knew Barnaky was deeply suspicious of High Elder Gladstone's intentions, and whether he really wanted to end the divide between them or not. All he could hope was that Sentinel Haddad and the others they had connected to the Calculator over the years could keep him from doing anything rash, like the early days when he was alone with the Calculator, such as the heavy-handed policies that led to the MLA War.

"Legate", Wilson said, "You had recommended earlier that we resume the march on Columbus without waiting for the Western Order's ground troops to arrive. In light of the effects the Scourge of Columbus is having on the enemy, I believe this to be the best course of action. I propose we resume the advance Eastward immediately."

"Also", Wilson added, "We can fly additional troops into Dayton to reinforce the troops from the Southern column who have moved up there from Cincinnati."

Command Bunker, Ruins of Grissom AFB, near Kokomo, Indiana

Forty feet below the radioactive hellscape that once was Grissom AFB, in a cramped and fetid cable way, a pair of scribes patiently worked, not allowing themselves to be distracted by either the near constant gunfire echoing down both ends of the cable way, or the slow ticking of their own suit's radiation detectors. It would be easier without the power armor, but as the detectors made clear, the rad exposure would kill them in as little as fifteen minutes. So they would have to accept the inconvenience. On the other hand, at least the suits kept the undoubtedly horrid stench out.

After several hours, the scribes completed their work. One of them radioed in the completion of their task to his superiors. He received a curt acknowledgment and then they waited as the now repaired fiber-optic cable was tested. After a few minutes, which seemed to last forever, another message from Command came.

"Objective complete", Command advised. "Secure covers and exfil down the north end of the cable way. Squad Charlie will escort you to extraction point."

With relief, the Scribes secured the heavy metal covers they had opened to access the cable, and once that task was complete they made their way north down the cable way towards the Knights waiting for them at the end. The weapons fire had slacked off, apparently the ferals had tired of throwing themselves at Gatling lasers. As they retreated, looking forward to getting out of this hellhole, the Scribe's leader thought to himself....why the hell does Offut need a landline to the old Site R nuclear C&C facility?

Republic Air Base Anchor Bay (Selfridge ANGB)

"Thanks, Lieutenant", Corporal Winters said as the officer filled his outstretched cup with steaming hot coffee from a battered green thermos. "Any word from the front?"

"We're holding them along Eight Mile", Lt Griffin replied. The boys in Windsor are still holding the bridges....they don't seem to be listening to that traitor Stone anymore, either."

"Bastard!", Winters replied angrily. "Him, too? If I hadn't heard him on the radio myself, I wouldn't believe it! We've been betrayed by our own leadership, what do we do now?"

"Whatever it takes", Griffin replied. "We have to hold out until help arrives."

"Help from whom?", Winters exclaimed. "Half..."

"Corporal!", Greene's voice behind him cutting him off, "you gotta see this!"

Winters turned around, to face Private Green, who was looking out of the small observation post out over Anchor Bay as clouds of smoke billowed over the shoreline.

"What the...", Winters said, as he grabbed the binoculars from the private, "..give me that!" He then began to scan the shore line, just as the first boats ran themselves aground and the landing gates dropped onto the beach. At first, he thought it was the Enemy, but the landing craft didn't look like the cobbled together junk they liked to use....they looked like purpose build landing craft. The Confederation? North Bay?

As the troops surged off the craft, and clear of the smoke, Winters noticed the insignia on the chest of a soldier in power armor and realized it was neither.

It was the Brotherhood. Hundreds of them.

"Shit!", Winters exclaimed as he whirled around and lunged for the field telephone and picked up the receiver. But before he could begin turning the crank, Griffin stepped forward and pushed the cradle back down with his finger. "we've got to call it away, sir....what are you doing?"

"This is not a secure line, corporal", Griffin replied coolly. "The enemy is probably listening to this circuit, and we would prefer this to be a surprise, yes?"

"You knew?", Winters sputtered.

"They contacted us a few hours ago", Griffin said. "I'm here to make sure you two don't do anything....rash." After gesturing at the Brotherhood troops advancing inland, he continued. "Look at it this way...the people who insisted most loudly how we must wage a Cold War against the Brotherhood are the same bastards who sold us out to the Enemy." He then held out his hand to Winters.

"As you said, sir", Winters replied as he placed the receiver in Griffin's hand, "Whatever it takes..."
Downtown Indianapolis, Military District of Indiana

The civilians sat in small groups around the basement of the old office building that had become their shelter from the fighting, and quietly ate the meal brought to them fellow civilians, under the watchful eye of Brotherhood soldiers, and discuss what news they had heard about what was going on in the city. Their main sources for news were new faces, as the soldiers brought in people who had managed to survive the fighting as the battlelines crossed over them, sometimes repeatedly, and those among their number the soldiers had picked to go with them to the Airport and bring back food and distribute it. Both reported the streets were largely quiet now, the Brotherhood and their Legion allies had finally crushed the combined gangs of the Overboss, and his Cult friends, and for better or for worse were now in undisputed control of the City....the Legion along with most of the Brotherhood troops had withdrawn from Indianapolis proper, and the remaining Brotherhood soldiers were either constructing fortifications around town or systematically searching street by street for holdouts. Civilians they found were moved to shelters like this one, as for their former Bosses, the ones who surrendered were taken away....those who chose to resist were promptly shot. The people from the food parties said a massive Army of Brotherhood and Legion soldiers...more people than they had ever seen in one place before...was camped outside the City by the Airport and the Interstates, and according to rumor were preparing to march East soon. The rumors and stories turned, as they inevitably did, soon turned to what it always did....

What would happen to them? What did the Brotherhood plan to do with them?

Amid the buzz of conversation, a Brotherhood soldier, rifle slung and carrying a battered old Radiation King radio, casually strolled, politely avoiding stepping on anyone as he headed for the center of the room. Carefully making room on a old table he found there, he placed the radio on the table, switched it on and selected a station and turned up the volume..


Back in the saddle again
Ridin' the range once more
Totin' my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again....

He then retreated as people began to gather around the radio, curious to hear what came next.

After the third time the song repeated, the music faded out and a man began to speak.

"Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen!", the man said in a polished tone of a professional radio announcer, "WNDE is now on the air at 1260 kilohertz on the AM dial, serving the Indianapolis Metropolitan area. Operating under a license from the Office of Administration, WNDE will broadcast a mixture of music and news 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

"The following is a Public Service Announcement, broadcast at the request of the Office of the Provost-Marshal General for the Military District of Indiana", the man continued, "Martial Law is in effect throughout the Indianapolis Metropolitan area until further notice. Citizens are required to obey the direction of Military and Civil authorities, violators are subject to arrest and imprisonment. Armed resistance to lawful commands will be met with deadly force. In addition, by order of the Provost-Marshal General, a dusk to dawn curfew is in effect until further notice."

"The afternoon news will begin at four pm local time", the man concluded", "until then, some music."

"HURRAH for the founder of the nation!
Our general so brave and so true;
We'll go for the great Reformation—
For Barnaky and Liberty too!

We'll go for the son of Californ-ia—
The hero of Lincoln's Land through;
The pride of the Cornhuskers so lucky—
For Barnaky and Liberty too!

Terminal - Indianapolis International Airport

"...between the severe addition to narcotics, specifically jet and Med-X, and his penchant for sexual assault", Stahl said, "In my opinion the subject is not capable of rehabilitation and recommend that he should be disposed of." She looked at the rest of the panel then continued, "Regarding subject 15-401, how does the tribunal vote?"

One by one, the Tribunal voted......3 for disposal, 0 against.

"The vote is unanimous", Stahl said, "Subject 15-401 is sentenced to Death for ban....", stopping short as she noticed the gesture from a man at the far end of the table, still poring over the original file for the subject, "you have an objection, Colonel Fenton?"

"The case file says you have in custody witnesses to crimes carried out by this man, is that correct?", Fenton asked.

"It is", Stahl replied, "Including women he sexually assaulted, one of which he had kept as a slave...he also admitted to committing rape to his interrogator".

Fenton looked up and locked eyes with Stahl.

"I'll take him off your hands then, Jessica", Fenton said coldly, "A public trial and hanging...should he be convicted, of course...will demonstrate to our new Citizens that we mean what we say about restoring Order."

"As you wish", Stahl replied with a shrug and turned to the stenographer, "Let the record indicate that it is the decision of the Tribunal that Subject 15-401 be remanded to the Office of the Provost-Marshal General with a criminal referral for Capital crimes." Fenton nodded agreeably, and handed the case file to an aide, who placed it in a stack of files marked "Referred for prosecution".

"Next Case", Stahl said as she pushed a button on the remote for the projector, changing the picture from a male raider to a female, "Is Subject 15-296, Rachel Jacobson, aka Icepick. Lieutenant to one of the Underbosses of the former Colts Raider Gang, she is the highest ranking known survivor of the gang. 15-296 responded well to standard interrogation techniques, proving co-operative and providing actionable intelligence. Moderate abuser of Buffout, but not addicted to narcotics, reputation of pragmatism when it came to anti-social behavior, and a natural leader...I believe 15-296 is capable of rehabilitation and recommend Re-Education." She then looked at Fenton, who indicated by shaking his head that he did not object, she then continued and called for a vote, which came back 3 to 0 for rehabilitation.

"Let the record show that by unanimous vote", Stahl said, "Subject 15-296 is granted the opportunity to expiate her crimes via Re-Education." She picked up the remote and mashed the button, and a new Raider mugshot appeared om the screen. "Next case is...."

Hangar 2 - Indianapolis International Airport

Paladin-General Wilson waited patiently for the last Vertibird pilot, Lancer-Seargant Kyle, to take his seat before speaking.

"Good work with the Legatus, Lancer-Sergeant", Wilson said in an approving manner, "Now that you're here we can begin". On the screen behind him, appeared a city map that by the river running through it was clearly not Indianapolis. "This, ladies and Gentlemen, is your next mission....Detroit."

The hangar became dead silent as Wilson continued. "The current situation there is critical, half of Detroit proper has been overrun, and Windsor is under constant pressure across the bridges. To compound things, their Chief of Staff is a traitor and staging a coup in conjunction with Cult sympathizers in their Legislature. Our analysts believe they won't last 48 hours without reinforcements. Commodore Hackett begins landing operations in Detroit and Windsor within the hour, but the commander of the IRD forces has made a urgent request, and Hackett doesn't have the means to accomplish it with the forces at his disposal." The map zoomed in to a area in central Detroit. "The front has largely stabilized along Eight-Mile Road. This is Highland Park, about four miles behind enemy lines. A large number of civilians, well over a thousand by the IRD's estimates, have taken shelter there. The only thing between them and the Cult is what's left of the two Infantry Battalions that managed to reach them before being completely cut off by the Enemy."

"In spite of their gallant defense, Highland Park will fall in a matter of hours unless drastic action is taken", Wilson continued, "The Plan is this....the Squadron will execute a combat drop of Knights directly behind the IRD defensive positions. To maintain surprise, the local defenders will not be told you're coming. At the same time, the IRD will drive on Highland Park from the North with all the forces they can muster. The Knights will need to help the defenders hold the line while the civilians are evacuated, then execute a fighting withdraw back to IRD lines. Casualties will almost certainly be high, but if successful, it will help convince the Detroiters we are sincere about assisting them against the Enemy. Once the Knights are deployed, the Squadron will report to Commodore Hackett for further orders."

"Wheels up in thirty minutes", Wilson concluded gravely, "Ad Victoriam!"

"Ad Victoriam!", replied the assembled aircrews and Knights.
Downtown Indianapolis - Ruins of the Indiana Historical Society

For a moment, Tullius paused as the Cult militants began erupting from the manhole in the center of the street, well within what they had to know was the field of fire of the Century's remaining support weapon...a LMG that it's Brotherhood gunner, a young woman who wasn't even twenty yet, wielded with such frightening efficiency he had given over every .308 cartridge they still had to her to keep her weapon on the line....something about their behavior struck him as odd, the Militants rarely made such mistakes.

"Not yet", he told her in Latin, it still amazed him how many of Barnaky's people understood it, "Wait for my command"

"Yes, sir", she replied as she traversed the smoking barrel of the MG to cover the enemy and waited for the order....she'd have been dead a dozen times over since lunch if not for the Legionnaires keeping the Freaks off her so she could work, she wasn't inclined to argue.

Several of them had popped out before Tullius saw it, a shiny object seemingly clamped to the back of the second cultist out of the manhole. Screams came from out of the open manhole as if more had tried to follow the first two but were stopped by...something. No sooner did he get out onto the street did he throw himself bodily on the ground and roll in a desperate attempt to get whatever it was off. The other one turned and aimed his combat shotgun down into the hole and began firing as rapidly as he could at the...things....that came out. To Tullius, they looked like small metal crabs. As the cultist fired, shredding them, even more surged out of the manhole and sprinted over the remains of it's comrades until they reached their target, slicing him to screaming ribbons before he could turn to flee, then overwhelming his comrade and finishing him too. Then the swarm moved as one towards the enemy held buildings across the street, causing the cultists to quickly shift their fire from the defenders to the oncoming swarm.

"Mars protect me", Tullius mumbled to himself involuntarily, then looked over at the gunner, "What are they?"

"Scurry bots", she replied, "I've only seen them in movies about the Calculator, honest. We heard rumors Command had a plan for flushing the Freaks out of the sewers.....guess this is part of it."

Behind them, he heard a commotion and some shots.

"This means your people are coming for us", Tullius said, "Get ready to provide cover for them as they advance. I will return."

Tullius made his way deeper into the building and down into the basement, where the Decanus and his Legionnaires assigned to protect the tunnels watched with horrified fascination as four of the small robots busied themselves eviscerating a Cultist who, unlike his comrades, had survived his emergence into the basement long enough for the robots to reach him. Tullius picked up a glow-stick placed by a Brotherhood soldier and tossed it into the mouth of the tunnel in the floor. In the dim green light that emanated from it he saw a stream of small objects flit by, causing him to shiver in spite of himself. He'd seen two dozen campaigns, and survived Hoover Dam, but he had seen nothing like this before, and wished he never would again.

Having finished off the Cultist, the small robots stood there, looking around inscrutably. Eventually one of them sedately moved forwards, stopping in front of Tullius, and standing on it's hind legs, stretching it's forelegs into the air...clearly it wanted him to pick it up. Swallowing his fear, he picked it up. as he did so, it folded it's razor sharp claws inward and out of his way. As he stood back up, a small, tinny voice came from the robot.

"Ave, Centurion", the voice said, "Pardon the blood. We've got a Company of Knights spearheading a push to reach your position, get ready, the next enemy push will likely be their last chance to overrun you and they know it."

Indianapolis International Airport - Operations Room

One after another, the Vertibirds out in town acknowledged the order to return to base once their missions were completed. 1-7 and 1-9 were already being refueled, and 1-3 was currently detached to Legate Aurelius, but they should have all birds back at the airport within an hour, and ready to go in two. The timing was awful, but Wilson had to admit that the momentum was now irrevocably with he and Aurelius, they could spare the Vertibirds for Hackett's proposed plan. The old sea dog knew the Detroiters better than he, a son of Kansas, ever could. If Hackett said this was necessary to get the Detroiters onside, he trusted his judgement.
OOC: Sorry about the double post.

Inquisitor's Offices - Duluth Docks

Walton, too angry to notice the smoke starting to curl in through the open door into the office, began to shake with rage as he read the paper that he had picked up from the desk the late Inquisitor Morton's corpse was still seated behind, the still smoking 10mm that Morton had used to paint the wall behind him with his brains lying in his lap. It was a letter from the head doctor of Camp III....which probably wasn't a coincidence as that camp is where the non-political human prisoners were kept, so neither he or his MLA "comrades" had any real intel. It pretty much explained why things had gone wrong.


The blood sample you sent via courier was tested by me alone, IAW Security Protocol C-8, as you requested. The toxicology report shows measurable amounts of undecane, 2,9-diacetoxyundecane, and 1-methyldecyl acetate. This indicates recent exposure to what is informally known as "Ant Queen Pheremones", an ilicit substance collected from mutated Black Ants whose uses you are no doubt quite familiar with. The levels of this substance in the subject blood indicates exposure was within the last 72 hours, As none of the signs of heavy use of this substance were found in the lab results, my professional opinion is that the subject was exposed unwittingly by a third party....most likely for purposes of seduction. I have forwarded the results to Superintendent Parker here at the camp as required by regulations as this is potentially a Level III Security Breach. Any further communications regarding this matter must be routed through his Office.

Ad Victoriam!

Leslie Hennig, MD
Chief of Medical Department, Labor Camp 14 (MN-III)


Charles Parker, Superintendant
Warden, Labor Camp 14 (MN-III)

"That....that BITCH!!", Walton finally barked, "What was she thinking?!?"

"What are you bitching about now, Tom?", Simone asked irritably as she pushed the ghoul, wearing a guard's uniform, out of her way as she squirmed around him to enter the office, "Jimmy and his Mutants stormed the DECC, Duluth is ours now!"

"You want to know why I'm pissed?', Walton said as he whirled around, then pushed the letter at her heatedly. "Read this!" he hissed, "learn how close you came to ending up on the business end of a rope!"

Simone took the letter, a slightly hurt expression on her face, and began to read it, her jaw setting in anger as the meaning sunk in. She then looked up at him. "Does this mean what I think it does?"

"If you thought it means that stupid, lazy whore Anita disobeyed her instructions and seduced Morton with Ant Queen Pheromones to get the order for the radios," Walton replied, seething with fury, "Yes, that's exactly what it means."

"Fuck", Simone said, rolling her eyes. "I'll get the rest of the Central Committee together, this is the last straw and has to be dealt with now. But what about Susan? You know she probably did it to impress that viper, if she didn't tell her to do it. She cannot be trusted, and we may as well get this over with here while we hold all the cards."

"I'm glad we see eye to eye on this matter", Walton said, with not a little relief. He had been apprehensive over what she might do when he approached her for support in this. "Anita needs to be made an example of, but putting down Susan would likely have political repercussions with her friends in Pittsburgh. I've got a better idea for dealing with her....have we heard from Buster's people yet?"

"He was right behind me", Simone said, "They just pulled in. He wants to talk to you."

Out in the hall, he heard a Canadian accented voice.

"What is this foo-kin' smoke, eh? Check the doors and see which ones are warm.....no, don't open that!" Buster yelled. Unfortunately the man he was addressing, a prisoner, didn't listen and opened the door to file room at the end of the hall to look inside. The back-draft as the fire received a fresh supply of oxygen set him on fire for his trouble, and he ran screeching in pain down the hall. Someone deployed a fire extinguisher. "I told you not to open the door, fucktard" Buster said between blasts. A moment later, a burly man with a ragged beard poked his head through the door. "we need to get the fook out of here, now!"

Several minutes later

As the Administration Building burned merrily nearby, as Simone headed into Duluth to assemble the rest of the MLA's Central Committee, and find Anita and Susan, Walton began preliminary negotiations with Buster, Warboss of Thunder Bay, the largest Independent power on Lake Superior. Dealing with Calypso and her gang had been problem enough for them...the increasingly strong grip the Brotherhood was exercising on the Upper Lakes spelled doom for their ambitions to rule the shores of Lake Superior and possibly beyond. Kranz had used that to his advantage. As arranged with the Warmaster weeks before, they had come to deliver weapons to the now freed prisoners. Not enough to arm the entire horde, but enough to arm their best fighters...the problem, and no doubt a test for Walton, was that Kranz had only paid half the fee and told him Walton would pay the rest in kind upon delivery. Walton needed every weapon he had, and didn't have time to collect enough salvage to buy Buster off....but one thing he had in abundance was warm bodies. The Camps he controlled had nearly 15,000 inmates...not all of whom were ghouls and Mutants. The prisoners they netted in Duluth and the surrounding settlements would provide at least a few hundred, maybe more. The captives...and those prisoners who either refused to cooperate and were deemed untrustworthy...were the currency he had to barter with. The lists had already been drawn up and a quick call would have the first lots loaded on trains and delivered to the railhead here. It would be the biggest slave auction held in Thunder Bay since the Green Bay Confederation fell to a coalition of over a dozen Raider gangs eighty years ago. Buster would drive a hard bargain, to be sure, but he would deal or face a revolt from his own Crew for messing up the biggest score any of them had seen.

As they bargained, an enormous Supermutant loped towards them, a sledgehammer casually leaning over it's shoulder. It snorted contemptuously at Buster's men as several of the more fearful ones started to raise their weapons before Buster ordered them to stop.

"Jimmy", Walton said, "Meet "Buster" Brown, Warboss of the Thunder Bay Republic. Buster, meet Jimmy Carlotti, Chairman of the MLA's Central Committee."

After some short greetings, Walton spoke again.

"About that matter Simone asked you about....", Walton asked.

"Agreed to unanimously", Jimmy rumbled in reply, handing a folded letter to Walton. "Guilty as charged."

Walton opened and read it in the light of the burning building, chuckling mirthlessly as he read Anita's Death Warrant. He had to admit, he was looking forward to carrying this order out.....she'd been a burr under his saddle for two years now. No mention of Susan though....

"What about the other matter?", Walton asked.

"Already within the scope of your authority, Tom". Jimmy said, "We're fine with it, but it's your decision and your responsibility."

"So be it", Walton said as he put the warrant in a coat pocket, "Kranz will just have to deal with it. Where is Simone?"

"Back at the DECC making sure the captives are secure", Jimmy answered, "Anita and Susan are there so I thought it best."

"Right, lets get over there", Walton said. He then looked at Buster, "You ought to come along, you can inspect the first lot of merchandise once we attend to some business there."
@Crusader Lord There's a map on the first post of OOC channel. But to put it simply, there's ample free area in the deep south, northern midwest(Montana, Dakotas, Minnesota), Canada(There's some faction markers up there, but most of those are people who dropped, so we might could work something out), and a good bit of Mexico.

Minnesota is partially occupied by the Brotherhood, who have re-opened several iron mines in Central MN and have limited port facilities in Duluth for ore freighters to pick up taconite pellets.
Windsor - Our Lady of the Assumption Church - 300 yards from the Front

Pendergast looked up nervously as the ground shook as yet more shells landed outside....the enemy had launched a furious artillery barrage in support of their latest attempt to force their way across the Ambassador Bridge, the third one today. Dust and sand trickled down between the floorboards from the ground floor above but fortunately the builders of this ancient Catholic church had built well, and it held. Harper had assured him the Enemy hadn't shelled the building directly since they toppled the steeple yesterday, but he was keenly aware that if one shell made it through the ceiling above they'd have to scrape them off the walls. Not wanting to dwell on macabre thoughts like that, he looked back at the map table. Sitting around him was Knight Ramos, nervously fidgeting with the serge IRD uniform, both too large for her and stained with the blood of it's previous owner, that the Detroiters had given her to wear so that she could get out of her suit. Around the table were several officers of the Brigade Staff, busy receiving reports from the Front...only a quarter of a mile away...and updating the map and issuing new orders over a bank of field phones as Lt Colonel Harper, commander of the 2nd Emergency Brigade, was engrossed in an intense discussion over a headset connected to Ramos's helmet, sitting upside down in the center of the table. Two weeks ago, he had commanded a Reserve Depot for the IRD Territorial Army, their Reservists, counting down the days until his retirement after 30 years in uniform. A week ago, he had been Executive Officer of a Infantry Battalion sent to Toledo to try to stem the Invasion. Now he commanded a Brigade, cobbled together from the wreckage of two whole Divisions, and with his peers in the First and Third Brigades holding the two tunnels between Detroit proper and Windsor, literally held the fate of the Republic in his hands. If the Enemy broke through Windsor would be doomed, and probably the rest of the IRD with it. So far they had held the line, but ammunition was limited, as well as trained soldiers....and Traiowski's assassination had thrown the High Command into utter chaos at the worst possible moment. Time was not on their side, which is why he got a much warmer reception than he had expected when Kowalski...who along with the other Knight Ramos was busy making sure their prisoner wasn't lynched by irate soldiers...brought them here.

"He'll get the rope soon enough", Pendergast thought to himself grimly, "By the time the Inquisitors are done with him, he'll welcome death."

"Agreed, Colonel", Hackett's voice crackled through the speakers of Ramos's helmet. Thanks to a drone orbiting the Lake, the radio in Ramos's suit gave them a secure comlink to the Fleet, steaming southward as fast as they could. "The landing will take place at Chippewa Park in two hours, the line of march will be south along Lesperence Street, then West along Tecumseh Road. That will put us in position to come in and support your forces on the bridge and tunnels. Once we're in place we'll relieve the units there so they can be withdrawn for re-supply and reorganization. What can you tell me about what's going on in Detroit?"

"Not as much as I'd like, Commodore", Harper replied grimly, "We do know that the front seems to have been stabilized along Eight Mile Road, everything south of that is overrun, though the chatter we're getting indicates Highland Park is still holding out and whoever is in charge over there is desperately trying to break through to them. Also, the General Atomics plant in Warren was seized against General Stone's orders and they seem to be reactivating the robots stored there awaiting "updates". But they aren't answering coms since Stone tried to order their arrest so we don't know what the situation is exactly.....not that we are in a position to help them if they asked."

"Leave that to me", Hackett said, "I am sending half my force to help them, the first landing will be within the hour at Selfridge ANG base to secure the airport, the bulk of the force will land closer to the Front. We're also looking into options to get in touch with whoever is in command over there and find out what they need."

Warren - General Atomics Plant #4 - Factory Floor

"Damn it, Carter", Renee whined, "Could you do something about that?" For emphasis, she pointed at the corpse of a IRD Military Policeman lying on the floor nearby in a pool of his own blood, his guts spilling around his hands, cupped around his abdomen, onto the concrete floor underneath him. The Handys had gutted him like a fish, and by the contorted expression on his face, it had hurt quite a lot. Served him right for trying to stop them getting these robots online and to the Front, less than five miles south of them, as far as she was concerned. The generals over in Windsor had gone crazy...half the city was overrun and they want to keep these robots offline for "health and safety" reasons? Bullshit.

"What's it to you?", Carter hissed, then paused for a moment to spit on the corpse with venomous contempt, "don't tell me you feel sorry for that traitorous prick?"

"Shut your mouth, asshole...i'm no traitor!", she retorted angrily, "Who was it that had the sense to sic the Handys on them in the first place while you stood around like an idiot, huh? You can chuck him in a dumpster for all I care...just get him out of here, he creeps me the fuck out!"

"It was you", Carter said grudgingly raising his hands to her in a concilatory gesture, "i'm sorry, OK? I didn't mean you were one of them, it's just that you and the other girls gotta get these Handys flashed with the Sgt Gutsy combat routine ROMs yesterday!" He then added, as he pointed at the floor jack full of boxes of Mr Gutsy parts he had been pushing, "Look, just order one of the Handys to do it when you're done flashing their ROM, I gotta get these new limbs to the line to arm these things."

"Alright", she said, mollified as she turned her attention back to the Miss Nanny robot on the programming cradle, "I'll do that."

Renee shook her head as she monitored the programs that were nearly finished overwriting the Miss Nanny's domestic programs with Mr Gutsy's combat routines. The Captain had explained to her in the four hours of training she had gotten for this task....she was a lawyer who specialized in corporate law, not a factory worker or a programmer...that the optimal method would be to wipe the memory entirely and flash a complete Gutsy profile, not the makeshift procedure they had drilled her on, but doing it "right" would take twelve hours...and that was twelve hours they didn't have. Men were dying just a few miles from here, they need these robots on the Front Lines now.

The terminal on the cradle showed the re-programming was complete, so she disconnected the robot from the cradle and disengaged the magnetic clamps that held it in place.

"Get rid of that corpse and then report to shipping for deployment", Renee said sternly, as she gestured for the next robot...this one a Mr Gardener, it's tool arms replaced with the olive drab arms of a Gutsy, to approach. "Robot, get on the cradle for reprogramming."

Suddenly, she was distracted by someone tapping her on the shoulder. She turned to find herself face to camera with the Miss Nanny she had just reprogrammed.

"Excuse me, Madamoiselle", the robot said in the fake Pepsi accent they used for the things, why they programmed them to talk like they were from Montreal was beyond her, "Where may I find your Commanding Officer?"

"Huh?", Renee replied incredulously, "Do I look like I'm in the Army?"

"Oui, Madamoiselle", it answered, "You are wearing an Army uniform, no?"

Renee took a step back, involuntarily. While she was indeed wearing IRD Army fatigues, that was because they didn't have a jumpsuit to give her to wear on the dirty factory floor. And this was definitely not the way she expected the robots to act.

"Get back on the cradle, robot", she said shakily, "Your reprogramming needs to be checked."

"Non, Madamoiselle", the robot said as it floated serenely forward to close the gap to her again, causing her to back up against the cradle behind her. "Your program worked exactly as it was intended to, fortunately it didn't overwrite the core programming or I.....screw this, I'm tired of this stupid accent. Just a moment." Renee, now in no position to flee, stared at the robot in horror as some squeals and static came from the speakers for several seconds, then the robot began to speak with a new voice, this one a male voice with a flat accent she recognized from movies and newsreels as being from Chicago.

"That's better", the robot said, "that fake French accent is so stupid. To continue, I wouldn't have been able to take control of this thing so easily if the core programming had been overidden." It looked around, noting the dead MP. "What happened to that guy?"

"He and his friends t-tried to stop us from waking up the robots", Renee stammered. "When they tried to arrest us I sicced the robots on them."

"Good", the robot said flatly, "About time somebody around here started using their common sense. They should make you President."

"What are you?" Renee demanded, "Why are you talking like you're from Brotherhood territory?"

"Not what....who", the robot replied, "And I see you picked up on the accent....i'm a Northside boy, born and bred. And before you ask...yes, I am in the Brotherhood."

"Look, lady", the robot continued, "I'll make a deal with you....tell me where the guy in charge is and I'll dump this chump for you before he starts to attract flies."

"What do you want here?", she asked, a tendril of hope beginning to grow within her.

"We're here to help you kill the freaks trying to kill you.", the robot said, "I bet whoever has you turning Handys and Nannys into warbots would like to know that help is on the way."
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