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“Even an aloof wolf is not meant to be alone

He knows the pack, lived by them, would die by them

Little Wolf, find your home

For entering hell with a friend is much better than by one’s self”

*

Chapter 3: All Work and No Play

“We all set up?”

Pete laid down next to Laura on the grassy knoll “Just finished the last one” He handed her a set of binoculars

She peaks through and watches the group of trainees below “Just look at em all,”

“Pick up your feet, soldiers!” Yelled an older muscular man with a wide-brimmed hat “That pain you’re feeling is the weakness leaving your body!” He face was contorted and sunburnt

“Sir, yes, sir!” The cadets yell in mass while doing their burpee exercises.

“What try-hards” Laura mumbles

“They shouldn’t be able to see us up here,” Pete explained, “with the cover of night, and their lack of surface lights, they won’t know what hit em.”

“Even if they did, I’d like to see what they’d do about it.” She turns to her muscular companion, “Did you bring the old girl?”

“Yeah,” Pete reaches for his duffle bag, and a furry little head pops up “Merrow” chirps the plump gray cat.

“Why did you bring THAT thing with us?” Laura asks crossly

“He gets lonely at home by himself” Pete scoots Lucky over and feels around the bag

Laura rubs her face with her hand “For fuck’s sake, Pete.”

Pete’s hand emerges an old west style repeater rifle and hands it to her. “Adjusted the barrel and sights, should get better range now. Even threw in a detachable scope.”

“Hell yeah!” she snatched it from Pete’s open hand and sighted down the barrel

“What is with you and old-ass shit, Laura? You know what year it is?” Pete pulls out his own weapon of choice, a custom made laser rifle. While it did less initial damage than it’s, more popular, plasma-based cousin, Pete preferred the older laser-based technology for its precision and accuracy. Making it the superior long ranged weapon in his opinion.

“I like this old-ass shit, Pete,” she started to feed ammunition into her old world rifle “because it never breaks. Will take more than a light drizzle to put this old bird out of commission.” Now fully loaded she cocks the weapon and gives Pete’s gun a once over. “Don’t get me wrong, yours is cute too, Pete.”

He smirks and props the end of his sniper rifle up on a small tripod “You know most energy weapons are protected against weather right? So it would take more than some rain to kill my shit too.”

“Whatever you got to tell yourself, big boy.” looks through her scope and spies on the assembled Vault trainees below.

“Now, where my targets at? Or should I just make my own?” She asked ominously

“Laura, you gave me your word.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Pete points to the top of the hill opposing them. “See the blinking lights?”

“Yeah” She responds

“Got two there,” he points to the opposite ends of the encampment “One on each side,” He then hands her a detonator switch “And hit that for the grand finally.”

“Grand finally, eh?” she eyes the detonator and places it in the grass beside her

“Ready to get this party started?”

***

“I told you to pick up your damn feet!” Shouts Colonel Briggs

“Yes, sir!” Reply the heavy-breathing group of cadets

“You will sweat till I see blood, maggots!”

“Yes, sir!”

A man dressed in a long well worn gray duster and long scraggly hair that reached just past his ears joins the Colonel at his side. While not a particularly short man, Colonel Briggs toward over him.

The messy looking man taps the drill instructor on the shoulder. “Colonel,” The man’s voice was rugged but not overly so like Briggs’s was. The man contributed this to his pipe smoking habit more than screaming at trainees for years like the Colonel had.

Brigg’s craned his leathery neck towards the new arrival “What do you want, Liam?”

Liam looked over all the trainees working themselves to an early grave “Colonel, I know I’m here simply to observe, but I can’t help but be a little confused about something.”

Colonel Brigg’s tightened the grip he had on his left hand behind his back “What?” He spat

Liam took his time, stroking his short black beard, faining deep thought. Purposefully not paying the military man’s growing agitation any mind “Colonel, I understand exercising your troops. Being a guide and leader to various militias throughout the years, I understand the importance of physical prows. Where they’re going, they are required to be in tip-top shape of course.”

Briggs narrowed his eyes “Get to the point”

“What exactly are you trying to get done with this?” He gestured to the fatigued cadets “They have been doing this for hours, and it’s well into the night. If a situation were to happen, and they were required to be scrambled, don’t you think they might be to exhausted to function as needed?”

Liam pointed to one particular recruit in the corner of B group who was passed out in their own vomit. “Like that guy, for example. I mean, are we even sure he’s even still alive?”

Briggs saw the cadet and shouted “Hey! Someone wake that lazy ass up and tell him to run five laps for napping!”

“Yes, sir,” shouted a nearby soldier. He turned his fellow recruit over and slapped him tell he stirred. The vomit soaked cadet wobbly made his way to his feet and started a rough looking jog on the track around the field.

“Pick it up, porky! Maybe lose a few pounds while you’re at it!” Shouted Briggs. He swiveled on the spot and pointed a finger in Liam’s face “Look Dusty, or whatever you fucking hillbillies call yourselves, these are my men, 87’s best, and you will not tell me how to train them.”

Briggs points to a large medal on his chest “How do you think I got this, huh?”

Liam held it in his fingers and eyed it over. It was a large silver metal engraved with gold trim “I don’t know, your daddy bought it for you at the fair?”

Brigg’s slapped Liam’s hand away “I’ll have you know my Daddy lost the lower half of his body saving his unit from a grenade. That takes more balls then you’ve ever had, son.”

“Somehow, I’m fairly certain I have more balls now then he does presently.” Liam retorted

Choosing to ignore the comment, Briggs continued “I was awarded this medal for leading my troop to victory in the final battle securing the northern district twenty-years ago.”

He looks to the middle distance “Many lives were lost. A lot of good men and women didn’t get to see their families again after that, but we secured victory from the clutches of defeat that glorious day.” He wiped away a single tear forming in his right eye

“If you lost that many people, can you really consider it a victory? Especially considering that district hardly holds any strategic value and-“

Briggs grabbed Liam by the collar of his shirt “I will not stand you disrespecting the dead, son.”

Liam, accustomed to this sort of treatment from people such as the Colonel, gave little reaction to his sudden escalation. He liked the way the lack of fear he showed pissed of glory hounds like Briggs to no end.

“I’m not disrespecting the dead, Colonel, I’m disrespecting you.”

He dropped Liam back to his feet and resumed his watch of the troops “You may be on the Councilwoman’s good side, but you best learn to watch your mouth around me boy. I know where all the guns are.”

Liam joined Briggs in his watch “That’s fine, Colonel, I bring my own toys to a fight.”

A sudden BANG rings throughout the valley camp as one of the two LED lanterns lighting up the site goes dark.

Half the troops duck and cover while the other half scan the horizon for the source.

“What the hell was that?” asks a cadet

“Are we under attack?” cries another

A red laser momentarily lights up the sky above, and the second lantern goes dark. Leaving the camp pitch black.

“Oh, God! I think I’m blind!”

“What happened to the lights?”

“How can we be under attack here?”

Another BANG rings through the valley, and an explosion of fireworks erupts from one of the hills.

BANG then another.

Liam sees several cadets, illuminated by the moonlight, scatter and trample one another like a herd of wild animals. All screaming and running for their lives.

“This isn’t part of the drill, is it?” Yells Liam, scanning the hills

A wave of cadets flock to the south, only to be greeted by another loud BANG as more colorful fireworks go off. Re-routing the recruits back the other way towards Liam and Briggs.

“Oh shit!” Liam scrambles to one side, narrowly missing the charge.

“Recruits! Form up!” Briggs shouts just before he’s trampled by the herd.

BANG more fireworks go off on the north end of the camp. Cadets, more confused than ever, run into each other. Cowering like sheep surrounded by wolves, many curled into themselves and gently sobbed on the ground.

Continuing his search, Liam sees a glint of light on the hill to the west. He focuses in on his target and starts his assent.

***

Laura laughs harder then she had in months, “Oh my God!” Her eyes water and her stomach starts to cramp, “Did-Did you see that? That commander guy just got wasted!”

“Um… I don’t think he’s moving Laura.” Pete informs her, only mildly concerned, however. While Pete didn’t share Laura’s love of Crab murder, he still didn’t mind watching the snobbish Vault dwellers get their asses handed to them from time to time.

Laura composed herself and snatched the detonator from the grass “Ready for the grand finally?”

Pete grinned, “Hit it.”

Laura slams her thumb on the button, and mortars lined all around the perimeter of the camp simultaneously go off and balls of bright fire light up the sky. They at first appear like mortar shells about to wreak havoc below. Which must have looked similar on the ground for the amount of screaming the two heard coming from below.

However, thirty or so feet before the mortars hit the ground, they explode into a colorful canvas of dancing lights that fell gently to the ground in the shape of an erect middle finger. A number or soldiers passed out from fear, the rest scattered.

Laura’s eyes welled with tears, “Oh Petie! You sure know how to show a girl a good time!”

He laughed a bassy chuckle “Thought you might like that last-“

“Toss your weapons over the side and put your hands behind your heads.” Commanded a gruff man’s voice from behind.

“Oh, what the fuck is this?” Laura grumbled and turned to face her aggressor

She saw a man with greasy black hair, short beard, dressed in a flowing duster. Holding a pistol fixed with a silencer pointed straight for her.

It was apparent to her that this guy wasn’t a vault dweller. She knew they would never allow themselves to look so dirty.

“What the hell do you want?” she asked bewildered

“You heard me. Toss your guns over the side and hands behind your head.” He demanded again without an ounce of doubt in his voice.

Laura was well aware that her blood lust for Crabs was more than typical, but no one in the Pit had any patience or sympathy for vault dwellers. She couldn’t wrap her mind around why a fellow Dusty would actually be defending a camp of them.

“Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but you better get out of here before I start getting pissed.”

“I won’t repeat myself a third time.” He stated cooly

“Then, you better make that shot count.” Laura lept to her feet, tomahawk in hand, and charged the stranger.

Before she could make it even another step, a muffled shot ring out and Laura limply dropped to the ground. Bullet hole between her eyes.

“Oh shit,” Pete said shocked “Damn, she is going to be pissed when she wakes up” he mumbled to himself

“You,” the man addressed Pete, “Unless you want the same, I’d suggest tossing the rifle.”

Pete sighed, stood up, dropped his weapon at his feet, and placed his hands behind his head.

“I certainly hope I don’t look that stupid,” he motioned his pistol to Pete’s rifle “Over the edge, no tricks.”

Damn-it‘ Pete thought ‘This guy knew his shit.

Without much choice, Pete placed a boot on his gun and kicked it behind him and over the edge.

Never lowering his weapon, the man walked up to Pete and handcuffed his hands in front of him. He pointed to Laura’s body, “Carry her and follow me.”

Pete complied and slung Laura’s limp corpse over his shoulder while the stranger snatched up Pete’s duffle bag off the ground. The man gestured for him to walk and lead him down the hill to the vault.

***

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