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After a far more restful night’s sleep in one of the vault’s guest cabins, Pete and Laura are escorted to the Vault armory.

“Z-series pulse rifles, repeater cannons, plasma pistols,” drones the armory guard “the good Councilwoman has given you all clearance for whatever you want.”

“I heard you mention something about a repeater cannon?” Pete squeaks

The guard nonchalantly points to the corner of the armory, and Pete takes off.

He looks to Laura, “What do you want?”

“Yeah, I’m too old to play with toys. You guys have any actual bullets?”

The man laughs humorlessly, pulls out a small chest, and cracks it open in front of her. Hundreds of rounds were neatly organized and filled in special compartments “We got every pre-cataclysm bullet imaginable.”

“Great” Laura slammed the chest closed and took it under her arm

“W-Wait, you can’t take the whole-“

“You heard Madam Councilwoman,” Laura taunted “You are to provide anything we want.”

The guard looked to the floor sheepishly

“Oh hell yeah! It’s got a laser-guided targeting computer? We ARE living in the future!” Pete shouts from the back

Laura rolls her eyes

A young tan skinned woman approaches her, “Excuse me, are you, Laura?” She had her thick raven hair tied back in a long ponytail and two large curious brown eyes

“That’s me,” Laura responded dully

“It’s a pleasure to meet you! My name is Aysha, I go by Ash, I’m the engineer you will be escorting!” She held out her hand to Laura.

Laura noticed Ash’s strange looking blue body armor “What’s with the get-up?”

“Oh, this?” She examined her armor “I made this a few months ago when Councilwoman Alpin first informed me about her idea for the trip. I took one of our exosuits and streamlined it a bit! Instead of heavy plastic and metal, I took a more conventional kevlar suit and integrated it with the onboard computer of an exosuit. I made it so this thing can take a bullet, monitor my vitals and much much more! Pretty cool, huh?”

Laura blinked “Right” She turned back to the armory “Pete, you done drooling in there or what?”

“I’m on my way out!” He emerged cradling an obnoxiously large gun and canvas bag filled with ammunition. “Crabs have some good taste in hardware.” He mutters to Laura from behind his new rocket launcher.

“Pete, meet our new friend, Suzie.”

“Oh, sorry, Laura, you may have miss heard me. My name is Ash.” Ash replied apologetically

“Pffft, like it matters.”

Pete shoved the heavy gun into Laura’s arms. Knocking her back several steps.

“Ash, you said? It’s a pleasure,” He held out his hand, and she shook “Cool outfit! Did you make it?”

“I did, actually! I was just telling Laura about it. I took the advantages of an exosuit and integrated it with a simple suit of body armor! I can’t wait to give it a test drive!”

“Nice! I like the blue.”

“Thanks!” She beamed

Liam emerged from the armory with a simple backpack full of goods and rifle over his shoulder. He approached the group and placed a hand on Ash’s shoulder “Hey there, Ash. How are you feeling? Have everything you need together and ready?” He asked sincerely

She stood at attention and saluted him, “Yes, sir!” She giggled, “I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks!”

Liam smiled “I’m glad to hear. But you know this won’t be like any surface op you’ve tagged along on before right? There are a lot of unknown variables here, and we don’t know exactly when you’ll be able to come back.”

“I know,” She stood a moment and took in her surroundings. “I won’t lie, I am a little nervous. It could be some time before I’ll be home,” She looked back to Liam, “But you know the old saying, ‘nothing ventured nothing gained.’ And I’m more than ready to get out of here and adventure! I want to see all that the new world has to offer!”

“Glad to hear it kiddo,” Liam looks to the others “You guys ready to see our new ride?”

“Ooooh!” Ash claps her hands “I’ve been helping outfit the crawler for this mission. You guys are going to love it!” Without waiting for a response, she runs for the elevators with Liam in her wake.

Pete starts to follow when Laura stands in his way and shoves the repeater rifle back in his arms “Carry your own shit asshole” She grumbles then joins the others.

***

“The V87T900 Crawler” Liam looks over the beastly machine proudly

“Good God” Pete utters, mouth agape

The vehicle was a long, bulky armored truck painted with desert camo.

“We fitted this baby out with bullet-resistant tires and windows, an onboard computer, and topped it off with a retractable turret fixed on its roof,” Ash stands tall “Truly one of a kind!”

“Yeah, I think I’ll stick with my ride,” Laura mutters

“Don’t worry Laura, I was told about your motorcycle, and stayed up last night outfitting a small holding bay in the rear so you can bring it along!”

“Great” Laura moaned

“We also went ahead and stocked its weapon compartment with the weapons from your duffel bag,” Ash informed

Pete took Ash by the shoulders “This is very important,” His tone suddenly dire “did you-“

“Don’t worry, Pete! We found your kitty in there too! He looked awful confused when we found him in your bag.”

“That’s just how the dumbass normally looks,” Laura chimed

“W-Well,” Ash continued “either way, he’s waiting in there for you.”

Pete sprinted over to the truck and flung open one of the side doors “You in here boy?” he scanned the truck’s cabin and found his fat grey cat napping in the driver’s seat.

“Hey, buddy!” He picked up his little friend and hugged him tightly “I’m so sorry for leaving you out there! I love you, bud!” The cat mewed and licked his face

Laura makes her way to join her friend until Liam stops her “I think you and I need to have a chat,” he starts

“You sure you don’t want to point a gun at me while you do it? That seems to be more your element,” she sneered

Liam took a sharp breath and continued “I know you, Pete and I didn’t start on the best foot,” He saw Laura open her mouth for another smart comment but cut her off at the pass “But we need to work together. I need to know I can count on you as a teammate and that you will respect my position as leader.”

He offered his hand, “What do you say, Laura, can we start over?”

“I’m not going to backstab you if that’s what you’re worried about. Pete and I got skin in this game too now,” She shoves his hand to the side “As far as respect, that something you’ve got to earn,” She walks around him, shoulder checking him in the process.

Liam rubs his temples, “Why did I agree to do this?” He groans under his breath

Laura opens another side door on the crawler and joins the others “Jesus, this thing is even gaudier on the inside,” She spat

“Well, I’m sure we are going to need it for what we will be coming up against out there,” Pete stowed away his backpack in an overhead compartment.

Laura wandered to the back and found her motorcycle locked into a launching bay facing the rear double doors. She ran her hands over it “I hope those fucking Crabs didn’t hurt you, baby.” She whispered lovingly to it.

“Cool set up, right?” Ash commented, “Just slap that red button on the wall, and the doors will open for you.”

“Look, kid,” Laura looked to her new charge “Let’s get a couple of rules out of the way. One, just because Pete and I agreed to drag you across the godforsaken wasteland, doesn’t mean we’re friends.”

She held up two fingers “And two, don’t ever, I mean ever, touch my shit. Especially my bike. Got it?”

“Y-Yes ma’am” Ash swallowed

“You two stop getting along back there and buckle up, would ya?” Liam shouted as he mounted the driver’s seat.

Laura saw Pete had already claimed the passenger seat along with Lucky.

“I can already tell this is going to be a load of laughs with you, cupcake,” Laura shouts to the front while she and Ash claimed a couple of rear seats opposing each other and snapped in.

Liam turned monster’s engine over, and the whole thing began to vibrate with power. Eager to get to the open road. Slamming his door, the cab suddenly got significantly quieter.

“Alright,” Liam started, and a large screen above the windshield lit up. A large map of the continent popped up on the screen “I plotted out our course. Considering we know the desert better then anything else, we will be sticking to the south for as long as possible. We travel directly eastwards till we hit Texas. 87 Reached out to our allies over in Vault 65, near former Austin, and they agreed to allow us to resupply there.”

He circled Vault 65 location with his finger “Two things of note. First, once we about 300 miles out, we will be out of commutation range of the Alliance network, in other words, we will be on our own. Second, Vault 65 is not an official member of the Alliance. I have been told they are a trusted ally, but I still want us to be cautious.”

He traces a path from Texas to the East coast “From Vault 65, we will continue our journey via the southern route and up towards Boston into MIT. We have enough dried food to last a couple of months, but I want that supply reserved for emergencies and have food primarily sourced from hunting and gathering when viable.”

Liam looks back to the gathered group “I know we are all very different people with very different backgrounds, but I need you all to understand, the rest of the wasteland is not like the Pit. I’ve done a couple of cross country tours, and I can tell you, there is some fucked up stuff out there. I know the route we are going. It’s reliable, but anything can and will go wrong. So, if we are going to get there and back in one piece, I need you all to promise me you will listen to what I tell you to do. I need you all to jump when I say jump, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Ash agreed enthusiastically from the back

“Sure man, you’re the boss,” Pete scratches Lucky’s head

“Laura,” Liam shouts to the back “is that understood?”

“Yeah yeah, don’t get your panties in a twist,” Laura shouted back

There is a sudden rapping on the driver’s side door. Liam opens the door, and a small dark haired girl leaps into his arms.

“Liiiiiiiam!” She shouts, “Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?” She wraps her arms tightly around his neck

“J-Jessica” Liam choked out “I can’t breathe, honey.”

She released her grip and crossed her arms “Well, serves you right for not telling me you were leaving.”

“Jessica,” Liam cleared his throat “I’m sorry, you know I have a hard time saying goodbye.”

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know for sure. It could be a few months-“

“A few months!” She shouted, “That’s foreeeevver!”

Liam cleared Jessica’s long hair from her face “It will go by before you know it.”

“Jessica!” Shouts Councilwoman Alpin “Jessica, it’s dangerous in here! You can’t go running off like that!”

“Why not?” She spat back, “Liam was about to run away without telling me!”

“Hey,” Laura addressed Ash, “That his kid or what?”

Ash smiled and shook her head, “Nah, but she likes to think so. Jessica is the Councilwoman’s only child. Ever since Liam showed up, shes stuck to him like glue.”

Laura nodded, “huh.”

Alpin pries the little girl off Liam’s arm “Come on, Jessica, Mr. Liam has an important job to do, and we can’t keep him.”

“Why not?” She flailed her arms in her mother’s grip

“Tell you what kiddo, what if I bring you back something cool from the trip?”

“Like what?” She asked puffy eyed

“Something super-duper cool!” Liam poked her nose

“I want something pretty!”

“Something pretty, huh?” Liam chuckled “Ok, I’ll get you the prettiest thing in all the wasteland!”

Jessica gave him one last bear hug, “Hurry home, ok?”

“I’ll be quick as a flash,” He replied

Alpin placed her daughter on the ground and saluted Liam, “Good luck on your mission soldier.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder and relaxed her stance “And be careful ok?”

He nodded, “We’ll be alright.”

She gave his shoulder one last squeeze and picked Jessica back up. The little girl waved at him with one hand and rubbed a puffy eye with another

“Bye!” Liam waved at them and shut his door

“Cute kid,” Pete remarks

“Yeah,” Liam chuckles “She can be a handful.”

Liam shot the gatekeeper a thumbs up, and the large hanger door creaked open.

“Everyone ready?” Liam shouts

“Too late for a pee break?” Laura remarked from the back

“Yup!” Liam replies, cranks the transmission into gear and guns the engine. The tires skid and race into the desert, launching them off a nearby dune. “Hell yeah!” Pete cries, hands in the air.

Ash looked out the window, butterflies in her stomach “Here we go,” She whispered to herself.

Laura leaned her head back and stared at the metal roof “Here we go,” She groaned.

***

Enjoy The PIT? Don’t want to wait for the book’s release to read more? Good news! If you join my Patreon (at patreon.com/artoflupin) not only will you receive regular updates on new chapters, but you could even get a character named after you in the book!

Get in on the ground floor of this new world by checking out patreon.com/artoflupin! Let me know what you thought of the book so far @markmcinturff6 on twitter!

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