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Pete stood in a small auditorium somewhere in the depths of Vault 87. First time in a vault, and so far he was largely unimpressed by their hospitality. He had just finished spending the whole night sleeping in the most uncomfortable metal chair he had ever experienced, and was awoken just an hour ago to find out he was to stand before their Councilwoman to determine his fate.

No one had even thought to offer him coffee.

“You see the size of this guy?” A security officer whispered to another

“Seriously, they make em big topside don’t they?” The second guard replied

Pete eyed the pair from across the room “What? You boys never see a big black man before?” Pete shouted to them

They stood at attention “U-Um, sorry!” One said

Pete exploded into his signature booming belly laugh “Don’t worry, I ain’t going to eat ya.”

“I only eat my enemies. We’re not enemies are we?” His tone turning suddenly serious

“N-No!”

“Glad to hear,” Pete looked around and back at them “can I get some crackers or something? I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and I’m getting mighty hungry…”

They tightened their grips on their pulse rifles “I’ll g-go find something!” one squeaked and shimmied his way to the door. Not daring to take his eyes off Pete.

“I’ll go with him!” Shouted the second guard and followed close behind

Pete grinned and tried stretching his long limbs, but was restrained by the number of handcuffs and ankle chains they kept him in.

“How much longer is that dang girl gonna be,” Pete wondered out loud.

He looked to the security officer seated to his right. The man was decked out in riot gear and was reading a magazine while munching on a donut.

“Any word on Laura? I want to get this thing going already.”

The man checked for any updates on his digital watch “Said they started moving her about an hour ago, but they hit a snag.” He chuckled and continued to read the message “Apparently she made a prison guard cry.”

“That sounds about right.” Pete slouched in his chair

A handful of new guards appear from the east entrance followed by a woman in business attire, Liam, an elderly doctor in a lab coat, and a tall, lanky looking fellow in a gray jumpsuit.

“All stand for Councilwoman Alpin.” Instructed one of the new guards.

The jam-packed room vault dwellers, dressed in old world suits and dresses, did so. Pete follows suit, his chains jingling beneath him.

The Councilwoman stood behind the provided podium on the small stage, her entourage taking positions at her flanks. “Please be seated” She stated into the microphone.

The crowd retakes their seats as she scans the room. She appeared to be middle-aged, her black hair was tightly wrapped in a bun, and she sported thin black-framed glasses.

“I was told I was meeting two individuals this morning, where-“

The main entrance crashed open as a squad of guards escorts a very gruff looking Laura. They were leading her like some sort of wild animal. Her hands were restrained with steel handcuffs behind her back and a guard, who walked several paces behind her, held a pole leash with the leash end tied around Laura’s neck.

Pete didn’t see her struggling, at least not as much as he knew her capable of. Her face was one of a woman who had a long night and was over the entire situation. “I knew she would be pissed when she woke up,” Pete murmured

The squad of goons presented her before the Councilwoman.

“Howdy,” Laura remarked sarcastically “Hell of a hotel here in 87, huh?”

Councilwoman Alpin waved off the guards “Gentleman, please. This woman is to be treated as our guest, not a wild bear.

“Ma’am,” states one the guards containing Laura “With all due respect, she bit a portion of a man’s arm off last night.”

“Well, from what I heard she had a hell of a night too. So would you please?”

“Great,” Laura chipped, and without exerting much effort, she snapped herself free of her restraints and ripped off the leash. She tore off the remains of her wrist cuffs and shoved them into the chest of a nearby guard. Without much more grandeur, she grabbed the chair next to Pete and sat with a huff.

“Right,” Alpin muttered and pointed to Pete “Him as well if you please.” Pete’s guard mouthed the last of his donut and undid Pete’s restraints. Pete thanked him and rubbed his sore wrists.

“Now,” Alpin cleared her throat “Laura and Pete I presume?” she questioned cordially.

“Yup,” Laura answered flatly. Her arms and legs crossed

“I understand that my military adviser, Liam” she gestured to him “caught you two putting on quite the firework display for my troops last night.”

Alpin rifled through her the papers on her podium “I understand Colonel Briggs was injured after being trampled by a horde of terrified military recruits who were trying to escape.” She looked to the pair “What do you two say to these events stated?”

“Did you get the part where your military adviser shot me in the face?” Laura spat

“Yes, I did receive that fact. I also read that you had charged him with some sort of axe. Leaving him no choice but to defend himself, even after he asked you to surrender several times peacefully.” She explained, “Besides, seems that you managed to make a miraculous recovery due to your infamous healing ability.”

“Sure, but still didn’t make it any more pleasant” Laura replied

“Pete,” Alpin turned her gaze to the giant “Dr. Sutton informed me that you have done a great deal to help Vault 87. You have been a loyal outside contractor for 87 and have even helped him out personally with a broken vehicle. In light of that, why would you decide to attack a camp that you knew belonged to one of your employers?”

“My friend Laura was harassed by a squad of your troops earlier in the day. I thought it would help her blow off some steam by scaring a few vault cadets. I never intended for anyone to get hurt by the stunt and I hope this Colonel gets well soon.”

“I see,” Alpin puts her fingers together in contemplation “These are some serious offenses, and the Vault will need some sort of compensation from you two for the damages sustained.”

“Damages sustained? One guy gets trampled, and now there are ‘damages sustained.’ “Laura air quotes “It’s amazing the Pit hasn’t killed you Crabs off yet.”

Pete jostles her arm “Do you ever shut up?” he mutters to her

“You’re right Laura,” The Councilwoman responds

The crowd gasps

“I am?” Laura states with surprise

“We vault dwellers have much to learn from you Dustys, that’s why I am such an advocate for contracting work out to surface dwellers and funding outreach programs because, to be truthful, there is still much for us to learn about the new world above us.”

“Outreach programs, huh?” Laura resumes her look of disgust “Is that what you call those ‘missions’ of yours. You know the ones where you send out groups of soldiers and other Crabs to invade a village of Dustys, who are doing just fine on their own, and force your ideals on them?”

“I hope you know that is not our intention. We merely see our fellow man in need. We provide them with water purification systems, medicine and access to our free market. I assure you, our missions are genuine in nature. Our ultimate goal is for vault dwellers and Dustys alike to live in harmony.”

“Is that what you tell yourselves?” Laura stands “Because, to us, its just a whole lot of stuffy assholes looking down on us ugly Dustys with the facade of kindness and ‘helping your fellow man’ when in reality you are just pushing your ways on us. Forcing what you think we need on us. Shunning or even killing anyone who doesn’t agree with you! You don’t want to cohabitate, you want to dictate.”

One of the guards level a gun at her. The Councilwoman looks to him and shakes her head “Laura, I know we have had our differences in the past. I know people in my position have not always treated you very well-“

“Not treated me well? Is that what you fucking animals call what you did to me? You were just not being hospitable, is that it?” Laura shouts to the stage

Councilwoman Alpin rests her head against her clutch hands for a beat and returns her attention to Laura

“As I have told you before. We vault dwellers are not without guilt. We have made horrible, inhuman mistakes in the past, but, like those before us, we will learn from them and grow. I assure you, Laura, everyone involved in what happened has been expunged and banished. We want to do right by you and our fellow Pit inhabitants.”

Laura sat back down and crossed her arms “Sure you do.”

“That is why Vault 87 and the other west coast vaults formed the Alliance. It is our mission to support each other and reform our great nation once again. To rise from the ashes a new, and better, America. A land of second chances and opportunity.”

“Right, the land of second chances and opportunity. Don’t know if you noticed Councilwoman, but that amazing country of yours, hell, the whole old world, destroyed itself. You think by bringing all that back it wouldn’t just happen again?”

“As I said, we learn from the past and admit our mistakes. We will grow from our loss and become better. The only way we can accomplish that dream is if we start working together.”

The Councilwoman straightens her glasses “That is why I want to make you two an offer.”

“What kind of offer?” Pete asks

“I will give you two options. The first option, I can proceed with a court hearing and decide your fate by our laws. Which, more than likely, wouldn’t end well for either of you or, the second option, you can take on a mission that could change our world as we know it.”

“Interesting choices Alpin, but I think we will take the court option.” Laura states

“Hold on, before you decide, at let me at least let me tell you what you would be doing.”

A projector lights up the wall to Alpin’s left, and a map of the former United States appears.

“As you can see, this is a map of pre-cataclysm America.” She uses a laser pointer and circles the map

“As you are all aware, before the Cataclysm happened, the government preemptively made large fallout shelters, or vaults, across the nation in the event of a nuclear war so our citizens could seek shelter. During the Cataclysm, we lost communication entirely with the rest of our sister Vaults.”

She circles the portion of the map labeled Southern California “This is where we are. Our allies Vaults range up and down the west coast. Throughout the past couple of decades we have been able to restore old radio towers to build up a network of communication between our vaults. Making our newly founded Alliance possible.”

“Fucking fascinating. There’s more of you then I thought, great.” Laura groaned

Ignoring Laura, the Councilwoman continued “Now, we know before the lights went dark, there was a lot of movement happening on the east coast. Vaults there were being outfitted with the latest technology and copies of research. Particularly the one at the University of MIT in Boston.”

She returned her attention to Laura and Pete “You’re right when you say we vault dwellers are soft Laura. We don’t have the know-how you two do of the surface. That’s why I want you both to escort one of our best engineers out there, and reestablish communication with the east coast and to help reunite our great country.”

“What do we get if we do?” Laura asked without missing a beat

“Well, other than the satisfaction of helping restore our country? I assure you will be paid handsomely. Neither of you will have to work another day in your life.”

“Screw your money,” Laura argued

“Woah, hold on. Laura lets not put down the nice Councilwoman’s offer so soon.” Pete gritted his teeth to her

“Fine,” She looked back at Alpin “Give Pete my money, but if you want me to work for you. I want the gardens.”

“You want access to our gardens? That can certainly-“

Laura cut her off “I don’t want access to them. I want them. I want you and your minions to get out the hell out.”

The crowd mutters angrily amongst themselves. Doctor Sutton fidgets with his tie anxiously.

“You want the entire building? You understand the building that houses the gardens is more than just that. It’s our whole biological science wing on the surface.”

“Yep,” Laura replied sharply

“We could see about building you your own gardens-“

“No. I want your gardens or no deal, Alpin.” She leans back in her chair, satisfied.

Doctor Sutton leans into the Councilwoman’s ear a moment.

Pete leans into Laura and whispers “Some gardens? Really?”

“Pete, have you ever had a fresh orange? Hell, have you ever even seen an orange? It’s worth more than some Vault credits and bullets.” she whispers back

“Must be.”

“Silence please” Commanded Alpin. The room quickly settles.

The Councilwoman addresses Laura “You have a deal Laura, if, and only if, you get my engineer there safely and help her establish communications with the east coast successfully. Then, in return, the gardens and the building as a whole will be vacated and left to you. No strings attached. Is that agreeable?”

“Fine” Laura confirms coolly

The crowded auditorium erupts in shouts and boos from the assembled.

“Where are we going to get our vegetables?” Shouts a man

“You’re just going to give the gardens to this crazy woman?”

Alpin shouted over the assembled “Silence, please! All of your concerns will be addressed in the upcoming forum!”

After a few more hisses from particularly angry mob members, they settle back down in their seats.

“Councilwoman Alpin,” Pete addresses “You want us to connect with old Boston on the east coast, right? Well, Laura and I have never been out of the Pit. We don’t know the way.”

“I understand your hesitation. That is why I will be assigning you a guide who is well established in traveling the wastes outside of our desert, and someone I trust with my own life” She gestures to her right “My military adviser Liam shall be leading you on your quest.”

Liam twisted his head in her direction “What? Me? You didn’t say anything about that!”

“I’m sorry to spring this on you Liam, but you are the only person I know of in the whole Alliance that has even set foot out of the Pit let alone traveled the country.”

“You have got to be kidding me. You want me to travel with that?” He points to Laura. She’s waves back sinisterly

Alpin covers her microphone with her hand and leans in towards him “Please Liam, you’re one of the few people I trust, and the Alliance needs the east’s help if we are going to survive. I can only imagine the risks involved here, but I can assure you, you will we awarded handsomely when you return. No more patrols, no more training exercises with Briggs, you only work if you want to and you will be a decorated hero in our history. We… I need your help this last time, Liam. Please.”

Liam rubs his face with his hand and groans “Before I agree, I have one last condition.”

“Anything,” She whispers back

“Briggs gets fired.”

“Done” She affirms

“Wait. I want to be there when you do it,” Liam grins sadistically

She flashes him a coy smile and returns to the mic “Liam has agreed to lead you in your journey.”

“I trust that we will be supplied with weapons and goods?” Pete countered

“The best the Alliance has to offer.”

Pete turns to his companion “What do you think?”

Laura shrugs “Fine I guess,” She stands and points a finger to the Councilwoman “But I swear if you don’t hold your end of the deal, I will rip off all of your heads and throw your babies in a river!”

Alpin raises her hand in front of her “Don’t worry, Laura. The gardens are as good as yours” she stated flatly.

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