“Well, shit. Looks like the crazy bastard finally blew himself up.”
Drew had hoped to find something good when he came over to Reginald’s place. It was an old ranch house that stood in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forgotten fields. Instead of the old house, though, all he found was a hollowed-out decimated property that looked like it had been destroyed from the inside out.
It begged the question: just what the hell had happened? Knowing Reginald, he had found something that was not only unsafe, but he hadn’t treated it with the respect it deserved. It was something that Drew had warned him about repeatedly, especially that one time when an old fusion core had fallen off a top shelf and slammed into hard the floor. It wouldn’t surprise Drew if something similar hadn’t happened here, blowing both him and his house to bits.
On top of being careless, Reginald was also more than a little nutty; or perhaps, rather, he had been. There was no sign that he had survived, but there was also no sign that he had died, either. As to the cause? Considering the odd crackle from his Pipboy, Drew assumed that either a mini-nuke had gone off, or a fusion core, as he had first suspected. Reg had had enough explosives stored away that one explosion could easily cause a chain reaction resulting in the decimated building he saw before him.
Whatever had happened, the house was no more and it was likely that Reginald was no more either. A shame, as Drew had really liked him.
Searching through the wreckage, it seemed almost everything had been wiped out.
Well, at least it seemed that way initially.
Out of the pile of rubble, Drew noticed an armored hand. It almost looked like it was reaching out, ready to grasp something. Moving in closer, he realized that it wasn’t just any metal armored hand but appeared to belong to some power armor.
Getting down on his hands and knees, he began to excavate. If he was lucky, there was a full suit of power armor hiding away beneath the rubble. Though judging by his luck, it was most likely just an armpiece.
“Please be a full suit,” he muttered to himself as he continued to dig.
It wasn’t an easy excavation, though he hadn’t really expected it to be. Ten minutes in, and he had only managed to excavate the heavily dented, pitted and bloodied helmet and down to the left shoulder, which was twisted out of shape. There was also a foul rotting smell coming from the armor which suggested, much to Drew’s chagrin, that there was likely a dead body inside.
By the time he had uncovered the chest, he’d had to put on an old gas mask from his backpack. While it lacked any filters, it did dull the smell enough for him to continue. Though with the smashed chest piece, it was clear that he had uncovered a power-armored coffin.
While the armor itself was a no-go, that didn’t mean that Drew was necessarily heading home empty-handed. With the rear uncovered he was able to pull out the fusion core, which was still warm to the touch. Usually, that meant it still had juice in it, though regardless of whether it did, it would still fetch a nice price.
With the core in his backpack, he decided it was time to head back to town. The sun was getting awfully low and he didn’t want to be out after nightfall.
It took over two hours to get back to Colville, an old-world town that was still mostly standing. It wasn’t just the town that had been spared the horrors of the wastes, though, as the majority of the county and those around it had been mostly untouched by the Great War.
That didn’t mean that everything had been unaffected by the Great War.
The local wildlife for one thing had changed a lot, and it wasn’t due to them mutating. Instead, critters from outside the area had roamed in such as Yao-Guai, Dire Wolves, Radstags, and other such things, and had replaced most of the existing wildlife.
Even so, life was good up here and the local population had no idea just how good they had it.
“Hey, Drew,” the gate guard by the name of Lee greeted.
“Hey,” Drew said in response.
A long time ago, a wall had been built around the center of town. Along it was the occasional guard and turret, all looking out for either predators or raiders, or the wayward haywire robot. It had kept them safe so far, but it needed constant maintenance which was a strain on what little resources they had available.
Lee gestured to his backpack. “Find anything good out there?”
“Not much. I got a fusion core and I found an old chess board with what looks like all the pieces.”
“Oh, wow,” Lee said with a grin. “How full is the core?”
“Had a little heat in it, which means there’s some juice left, but pulled it from a set of smashed power armor.”
“So likely almost empty,” Lee surmised.
“That’s too bad.”
“Sure is. Catch you later.”
Drew headed in through the gate and down the main street towards the make-shift power station that had been built out of an old substation. While the city did use fusion cores, its main source of power was wind and from the nearby Colombia River, mainly using the water flow from Kettle Falls. Neither produced a lot of power, but it was enough and any extra went into recharging whatever cores they had laying around.
“Sandra!” Drew called out as he stepped inside the main building.
Carter, a guy in his early twenties looked around from an old generator. “She’s upstairs.”
“In her office?”
“Thanks, kid,” Drew said as he made his way up.
As expected, Sandra was ready for him. “Come on in.”
Drew pushed the door open and stepped inside, taking off his backpack then reached inside.
“What have you got?” she asked as she stood up and made her way around the front of the desk, sitting on it.
“I got an old fusion core,” he said, passing it to her.
She took it and gave it a once over. “Looks to be in good shape.” She walked over to a small machine with a slot in it and placed it inside before stepping over to a terminal.
After a few moments, a smile spread across her face.
“Good condition?” Drew asked.
“Around ninety-five percent integrity. Almost out of juice, but the thing is in great condition. Will take loads of recharges before it starts to noticeably degrade.”
Drew rocked back on his heels, pleased with his find. “You probably shouldn’t have told me that,” he said with a mischievous smile.
Sandra smiled back at him. “You’re good for it,” she said as she opened a wall safe and pulled out a satchel of caps.
“Glad to be of service,” Drew said, taking it from her.
“Glad you thought of me,” she responded as she sat back down behind her desk.
Drew almost said: “I always think of you,” in return, but realized that he would be sending off the wrong message. While she was attractive and fun to hang around with, he couldn’t even think about flirting with her. He still wasn’t over Gemma, even though it had been a few years now since she and the others had been taken by those monstrous Super Mutants.
“I’m heading off to go spend some of this at the bar,” Drew said as he turned to leave.
“If you find any more fusion cores, you know where to bring them,” she called after him as he stepped out of her office.
“You know it,” he called back before closing the door behind him.
That was a lie. The truth was that he kept most of the cores he found for himself, only selling the odd one. The reason was because he needed them, or rather he would need them in the near future. He didn’t plan on staying in Colville forever and he believed he had found just the place to set up shop.
“She’ll be happy,” Carter said as Drew reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Make your day a little better, I assume?”
“She’s not bad to work with, but yeah. Always nice to see her with a smile on her face.”
Drew nodded as he opened the front door. “Catch you later, Carter.”
It was a short walk from the power station to the bar. Most services, stores, and recreational places were located on the main street that ran through the heart of town. The moment Drew opened the bar door, he was assaulted by the smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and food.
There was also the noise from loud patrons who all talked and laughed and whatever else. Compared to other places Drew had been in his thirty-five years, Colville was by far the most lively and the most densely populated.
There were well over a thousand people living there, and yet it managed to support it without people going hungry. At least too hungry. It wasn’t perfect, society never was, not even before the bombs fell, but it was stable.
Drew stepped up to the bar where a friend, Amy, was standing cleaning a glass.
“Hey,” she greeted with a wan smile. “Find anything good out there?”
“Nothing much,” he answered. “Just a fusion core.”
Amy looked around before she leaned forward, lowering her voice. “So, how is that place you found?”
“If you’re talking about the old Robco plant, then I’ve only scoped the place out at a distance. There was at least one patrolling robot that I saw and I don’t know if it was hostile. Haven’t been back there in about a week. Might go tomorrow. We’ll see.”
“I thought you had this big plan to move out there?” Amy asked.
Drew shrugged. “It depends. When I get the chance, I’ll be taking a proper look around.”
“Well, let us know how you get on.”
“You know I will,” Drew said, “Considering you and Jack want to come along.”
“Yeah, we do,” Amy said focusing back on the glass she was cleaning.
“No, I’m fine,” Amy said. “You want a drink or something?”
“Sure, the usual.”
“Coming right up.”
Drew watched as she grabbed a clean glass and filled it using the old pumps. There were few places left in the world that had drinks on tap, most resorting to just handing out bottles of two-hundred-year-old-liquor.
“There you go,” Amy said, passing it over.
“Thanks,” Drew said, taking a sip. “Good stuff.”
“Yeah, well, Kalvin is good at brewing beer. Got to be good at something, I guess.”
Drew was about to ask what she meant by that when they heard a commotion outside. It sounded like panicked shouting, verging on screaming.
With his drink in hand, Drew made his way to the door, along with several other people, and took a look.
It was Jerry, a scavenger, and he looked terrified, disheveled, and noticeably injured. His body was shaky as he leaned forward holding his stomach.
“It…” he began, pointing the way he had come. “I saw it…”
A town guard approached him. “Come on, let’s get you to the doctor’s office.”
Jerry shook his head. “I saw it. It was big and green. It chased me…”
Jerry now had Drew’s undivided attention.
“What did you see?” Drew asked as he stepped out of the bar and strode towards him. “Was it a big green man-like figure with lumpy skin?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head furiously. “It… It had horns and a tail. Looked like a big lizard, but walked on two legs. It also had these big clawed hands and… and.”
“It’s okay,” the guard said, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You’re safe now.”
“Sounds like a Deathclaw,” a voice to Drew’s right said.
Drew looked over to see an old friend, Jarik standing there.
He was right, it did sound like a Deathclaw. Well, apart from the green skin at least. Regardless, it wasn’t good news.
“Maybe diseased?” Drew guessed.
Jarik nodded in agreement. “Deathclaws don’t have green skin. Not usually at least. Radiation maybe?”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Drew began, “but Deathclaws can handle a lot of radiation. Lethal amounts, so is it likely?”
Jarik nodded his head. “So can ghouls, but give them too much and their brains start to turn to mush. Makes them feral.”
“I thought that their brains rotted?”
“That too,” Jarik said.
The gathered crowd watched as Jerry was escorted towards the clinic. He’d clearly had a fright and to be honest, if it was a Deathclaw he’d come face to face with, then he was incredibly lucky. Most didn’t live to tell the tale.
Jarik slapped Drew on the back. “Come on, let’s grab a drink, I need to tell you something.”
“Uh, sure,” Drew said as he followed him back inside.
Amy looked up from a glass she was cleaning. “Hey, what’s going on out there?”
“Jerry saw something,” Jarik answered as they both sat at the bar. “Deathclaw.”
Amy looked at Drew. “You’ve mentioned them before.”
“Yeah, and I was hoping they would never find their way up here. I just hope that he saw something else.”
Jarik shook his head. “He saw a Deathclaw. Nothing else fits that description. Well, nothing that comes to mind.”
“You sound certain?” Drew said.
“That’s because I saw one too,” Jarik revealed as he rested both hands on the bar. “I caught a glimpse from the back and the thing was dark green and huge. Like bigger than any Deathclaw I’ve ever seen down south. To say I didn’t hang around is an understatement. I got the fuck outta there as fast as I could.”
“Where was it?”
“Up near Deer Creek Campground.”
Amy leaned onto the bar. “What was it doing?”
Drew raised an eyebrow. “Weird?”
“It had two Radstags over its shoulder. Just slung there. Another weird thing was it seemed more upright.”
“Could the thing be intelligent?” Amy asked.
Jarik took in a deep breath. “I fucking hope not. Deathclaws aren’t stupid, but one that had actual human intelligence would be fucking scary as shit.”
“Yeah,” Drew agreed.
“The thing is, it also looked a little less armored as well. I called the thing a Greenclaw, but thankfully haven’t seen any more of them”
“Greenclaw, huh,” Drew said.
Amy shivered. “Let’s hope there aren’t any nests in the area.”
Jarik gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry, kid, but if it’s up here then there’s a good chance there’s a nest. It won’t be close to Colville as they don’t like to nest too close to large settlements. At least not usually.”
“Let’s hope so,” Drew muttered. “Because if left unchecked, Deathclaws can wipe settlements out. I know.”
“Colville is a very big settlement, so I don’t think we have to worry,” Jarik pointed out as he stood up. “Anyway, I need to get going. Things to do. Stay safe.”
Drew and Amy watched as he left. The thought of there being Deathclaws, particularly a variant breed in the area was not at all a pleasant one and brought back some bad memories.
Roughly a decade ago, when Drew had still been a teen, he had been trapped in a building for almost a week after Deathclaws had wiped out a small settlement. They had prowled outside for days and he had only managed to escape because some unwitting scavenger had blundered into them. While the two claws had torn him apart, Drew had been able to make his escape.
To this day, he sometimes still had nightmares over it.
Amy stared at the door for a moment before addressing him. “You think he’s being serious about seeing that Deathclaw?”
“The so-called ‘Greenclaw’?” Drew asked. “Yeah, he’s not one for bullshitting stuff like that. If he saw a green Deathclaw carrying two Radstags on its shoulder, then I believe it.”
“I guess. It’s just that when I’ve heard them mentioned, it’s always been accompanied with descriptive words such as ‘terrifying’ and ‘horrific’.”
“I’d add ‘nightmarish’ to those descriptors, but yeah. It’s not even the most terrifying thing out here.”
“Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”
Drew chuckled. “What’s wrong? Want to be able to sleep tonight?”
“Don’t worry, I think we’re safe here.”
Amy eyed him. “From things like Deathclaws, right? The thing that Jarik and that guy have seen hanging around?”
Drew sighed. “Yeah, maybe we aren’t as safe as we think. I might take a look up there myself.”
“Bad idea,” Amy said almost immediately. “At least without a fully armed team with you.”
“Better to stealth a Deathclaw,” Drew told her. “Have a whole lot of people try and take it down and you end up with a whole lot of dead people. Especially if it turns out there is a nest and there’s more of them. They are faster, stronger and resilient to bullets, and energy weapons making them one tough fucker to bring down.”
“What was that about wanting me to be able to sleep tonight?”
Drew shrugged. “Just being honest.”
“As long as they don’t come near town, I’ll be happy.”
“So will I.” Drew agreed wholeheartedly. “Still want to come with me when I move out to that Robco facility?”
“It’s looking less appealing now that there are seven-foot-tall death lizards out there.”
“Closer to nine feet,” Drew corrected.
“Great, now I’m really not gonna get any sleep tonight.”
“Don’t worry. This place is surrounded by a pretty decent wall and a lot of guards.”
“A wall that was never finished,” Amy pointed out.
“You mean the brick part of the wall? Because a wall does surround the whole town. Well, the center of it at least.”
“While the brick part might, I don’t think the old rotting wood part will give much resistance against a nine-foot monster.”
“Well, they ran out of materials. Besides, the wood wall makes a decent barrier when paired with those turrets.”
“I hope so.”
“Amy, this place is far better defended than… You know… Paulson.”
“And look how that turned out,” Amy said with a grimace.
It hadn’t turned out well at all. Super Mutants had wiped out the town and had taken most of the rest. There were a scarce few that survived, Amy, Jarik, Drew and their close friend Jack being among them.
Their conversation was interrupted by a rather irritated-sounding patron. “Hey! Some service here!?”
Drew stood up. “I better let you get on with your job. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Yeah, see you tonight.”
As he stepped outside, he noticed that it was starting to get dark. The old electric light posts were beginning to turn on, giving the street a strange feeling of serenity.
Colville was a lot safer than most other places. Everyone knew everyone else, and there was also plenty of food, warmth, and shelter. The town also had a basic justice system, one that ranged from short-term incarceration to exile, all the way to a death sentence.
Strangely, exile was rarer than the death sentence and was used as a last resort. There was a reason of course. Roughly twenty years ago a group of exiles formed their own raider group and began striking at the town. They had been dealt with eventually, but since then only six people had been exiled, around one every half-decade.
It was a shame, really, but sometimes punishments had to be harsh and not necessarily to punish the guilty, but to protect everyone else.
Arriving back at his shared home, he found Jack sitting on the old couch listening to the radio.
“Hey, D,” Jack said as he leaned over and switched it off. “How was the scavenging?”
“Could have been better,” Drew said as he sat down next to him, the couch creaking under the added weight.
“Well, things at the purifier could be better, too.”
“How so?” Drew asked. “Something gone wrong?”
“Some components need replacing and the foreman was wondering if you’d get them for him?”
“If I can find them. What does he need?”
Jack shrugged. “He has a whole shopping list of parts.”
“Do you have it on you?”
“Didn’t write it down,” Jack answered. “Wanted to tell you himself.”
“I suppose I’ll have to go see him to find out,” Drew said.
“Well, I’ll head down tomorrow, maybe. Tonight I just wanna relax.”
“Same,” Jack agreed. “So, what did you find?”
“Some bits and pieces and an unfortunate scene.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked, frowning.
“Old Reginald blew himself up, or it seems that way. His house was just debris.”
Jack’s mouth fell open. “Old Reg? Shit. Do you know what happened?”
“As I said; he blew himself up. Not sure how.”
“I guess it was gonna happen sooner or later.”
“Yeah. At least I got a fusion core out of it. I sold it to Sandra.”
“That’s great. How much did you get for it?”
“Enough,” Drew said. “It will help me buy what I need to relocate.”
“When are you heading out there to check the place out?”
Drew leaned back. “I’m thinking about maybe heading out there tomorrow, but I’m not sure yet.”
“Can I come?”
“No,” Drew said firmly. “Firstly, I need you to keep making wage. It’ll help us relocate, and secondly, I still don’t know how dangerous it is. The last thing I want is for you to get hurt.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Gemma used to say the same thing,” Drew said darkly before he stood up. “I’m heading to bed, need to be up early. See you tomorrow.”