The sun had risen, and with it, a new day had come. The air was warm and dusty, and the quiet morning breeze made a rustling sound as it passed through the withered tall grass.
Isaac slowly opened his eyes to the sky, blinking several times to adjust to the light. He spent a moment trying to recall the events of last night, but to no avail. He grimaced in pain as he attempted to adjust himself, covering his bandaged wounds with his arm. Turning his head to face his front, he noticed that his comrades were already starting off the day. To his left, David was sitting on a rock and doing the meticulous task of scouring the bore of his sniper rifle. He was deeply focused, and to interrupt his work wouldn't be a good idea.
To his right, he observed the sun shining through a caved-in cottage. Upon what was the lawn, next to a dented mailbox stood a tall iron pole, the American flag waving proudly from it. He barely recognized it, the thirteen stars encircling one smug star, the red, white and blue only a hazy memory. Something he had seen in a book, perhaps.
Edward appeared to be expressing allegiance to this torn and weathered rectangle of fabric, the words he uttered only faintly audible from the distance. Once he finished, he sipped down a bottle of Nuka-Cola Victory. Somehow, he was already clean shaven with slicked back hair. The flag almost seemed to give him comfort and hope, which he would need to get through the day.
Isaac finally managed to get on his feet, scratching his head. Edward turned to him, surveying his bandages.
"I see you're up. Are you feeling alright?" he asked, slipping the glass bottle into a strap on the faded straw-colored utility belt he wore around his waist.
"I guess, yeah." he said, still covering his wound. He looked off to the side, pausing for a moment. "Thanks. You saved my life."
"Of course. Don't mention it." he said with a proud grin on his typically dull and depressed face. Isaac couldn't help but smile either. He had a friend, and friendship was indeed a hard thing to come by nowadays.
"So I'm guessing we should get back to the road now, huh." he said.
"Yep." he looked over to their comrade, who had been quietly listening in to everything. "You ready David?" he shouted from a distance. The rugged man slung his rifle across his back and stood up from the rock, a non-auditory 'yes'.
They set out once more, further on down the road. The sky was clear, and there were few obstacles in their way. They were making good time, only stopping for supplies once. A caravan was passing in the opposite direction, and the men decided that it was in their best interest to stock up on supplies.
Edward had purchased five bottles of Nuka-Cola, which was when the others began to recognize an addiction. Isaac traded his 10mm pistol and a handful of bottle caps for a Wattz 1000 Laser Pistol with 12 small energy cells. David wisely held onto his money, recognizing that he may need it later.
"So where are you headed?" the merchant asked, making small talk. He was a balding, listless looking man who spoke in a monotone voice. Two Brahmin behind him were hitched to what used to be the back end of a car, with several crates in the open, rusty trunk. The trunk was painted haphazardly with the words 'JUNCTION CITY TRADING CO'. He was followed by a silent guard in leather armor, similar in stature and disposition to David. The guard closely watched their every move, and looked like he would be ready to shoot them at any moment.
"We're going to a town next door to Boomtown. We've got a letter to deliver."
The merchant nodded. "We used to do runs to Boomtown all the time, did a lot of trading there. Of course, place is a warzone now. Gotta bypass it. Yep, we used to walk 'bout a thousand miles and back on our route. Started back home in Junction City, did some trading with the Brotherhood of Steel in Brahmin Wood and the Devil's Graveyard..."
Isaac was peaked in curiosity, and motioned for the man to stop. "Brotherhood of Steel? Who are they?"
"Oh, the Brotherhood? Just a bunch of thugs with big guns trying to take over everything they can see. Last I heard they're going westward, so I don't think you'd see any of 'em around here." the merchant informed. Isaac nodded, taking note.
"So we would go through Junk Haven, then to Boomtown, and then south to avoid the radiation from the Detroit Crater. After that we'd follow the Erie Stretch and push north. We'd stop in a settlement called North Star, up in what some call the Winter Wonderland. Boy is that place cold! Colder than back home, that's for sure." he said. The guard rolled his eyes, and the man continued on with his rambling. "We also used to go south, all the way to the blackened prairies of Mississippi. 'Bout a decade ago, one of our caravans was attacked by a guy...if you could call him that. Had the strength of a super mutant, I tell you. He somehow impaled the driver with the brahmin...I don't know how, but I still get nightmares from it-"
"We don't have all day, boss." the guard said, finally putting an end to the chatter. The merchant nodded, and turned back to the men.
"Right, right." he replied. "Well, be safe out there." he said, in his usual monotone voice. They nodded, and both parties began walking in opposite directions.
They hadn't taken much notice to the darkness ahead, and continued their walk. Dust occasionally swirled by, and a bolt of lightening flashed miles ahead. It had quickly become a grim, depressing day- then again, it would be hard to have a hopeful atmosphere in a lonely wasteland.
They'd gone for a few hours without speaking, but with a more friendly air than before. Edward would occasionally check the map on his Pip-Boy, if only to let the others know that he was still there. He was tempted to start up a conversation to keep himself from thinking too much, but then figured that perhaps the emptiness was better.
After walking a long way down the desolate highway, they began to wonder if the road would go on forever with nothing in sight. Then, amazingly, Isaac saw something in the distance. He squinted, just to make sure that it was real.
"Hey, I think I see something up ahead." he announced, a hint of excitement in his voice.
"I don't see anything." Edward noted. "...But, I lost my glasses a while ago." as he said this, David whipped out a pair of rusted binoculars and placed the filthy, corroded glass lenses to his sharp eyes.
"It's a town." he said. He wasn't sure how the others felt, but Isaac proceeded with a glimmer of hope inside.
The town consisted of about fifteen small wooden shacks, all doused in white paint. They were quite obviously made after the war, and judging by the look of the structures they were still in use. While not deliberately threatening, it was a strange sight to behold.
The others didn't mind, but Edward entered the town with caution. David, although not hit with the same gut feeling, walked in with the thought that there were a lot of freaks in the wasteland.
As the three proceeded down the road, through the town, Isaac would occasionally look to his sides to see if anyone was there. It was just as desolate as the road, and Edward's sense of uneasiness continued to grow. "We should probably just keep going. I don't think there's anything here." he said. They all froze in place when the noise began.
It started off as one stream, but quickly began to echo from the other buildings. It was clearly audible, nothing they would imagine, as it was only accompanied by the sorrowful winds. As the noise grew, they listened more intently. It was a disturbing sound, crackling through the static of radio waves- an unholy melody of twisted, painful screams, clanging and ringing metal, warped and backwards voices, and numbers. Random numbers, spoken by a voice that was somewhat human, but terrifyingly different too. The few minutes the sound emerged seemed like hours to them, as they stood trying to figure out what was happening.
It ended abruptly. Knobs moved, and radios were switched off. It was then that Edward's sense of dread was realized. There were people here, it was obvious now. Isaac had mustered up the courage to peek through one of the dusty windows and found a man on his knees, hands together. He was praying in the direction of the radio sitting on an aged, bent table in a corner of the room. His eyes widened, and he stepped back from the window.
The others had pieced it together by now- the berg was populated by a cult. Isaac backed away, and they attempted to leave the area as stealthily as they could.
"Greetings, wanderers!" the voice of an overly cheery, wrinkled and balding elderly man stopped them dead in their tracks. "Forgive us for not welcoming you sooner, for His Capacitance cannot be kept waiting. What brings you to Ashtown?" he inquired, a fake grin stuck on his face. Edward sighed, he knew that as the most charismatic of the group he had to speak for them. He put on his best smile and began to feign the same sense of warmness that the preacher had.
"Good afternoon, sir. Forgive us for taking your time, we're passing through." he said, as the two looked on. They were surprised at how good his act was.
"No, no! You're welcome any time!" the minister said, his unwashed robes blowing in the soft wind. "In fact, join us in our moment of prayer. It would bring His Capacitance much joy." Isaac rolled his eyes in annoyance while Edward quickly went over nice ways to decline.
"I'm afraid not. We've got a long road ahead, and we're on a tight schedule. We really can't stay." Edward said, sounding convincingly sorry. The preacher lowered his eyebrows, and took on an unpleased look. The sudden change was enough for him to appear menacing.
"...Oh. I see. Typical outsiders." he shook his head, and turned away. "Infidels. May Be'alza-Gates bring a dust storm your way." he muttered to himself. They stood for a little bit, having realized that they had barely learned a thing about the strange religious practices of the hamlet.
Edward sighed, relieved that it was over. "That was strange." he remarked. David definitely agreed, and had the same desire to leave the place. Curiosity got the best of Isaac, however. His scientific knowledge was very expansive, and from the names of the deities he concluded that they must worship technology...but who were they? Edward seemed to have a good geographic and political interest, and perhaps he knew.
"Edward, who are these people?" he asked.
"I'm not sure. You'd have to ask, and these people don't seem to be the most open." he replied. The others simply stared as him, as if telling him to do it.
He sighed. "Come on, you really expect me to talk to a bunch of whacked-out cultists?" Edward pleaded in a begging tone. Isaac stood firm.
"We should know if they could help us." he reasoned.
"Fine." he shuffled toward one of the wooden shacks. "You owe me." he said, turning around and pointing at Isaac. He knocked on the door, sighing. As the door creaked open, a woman appeared to answer. She appeared to be roughly 30 years of age, and wore a dusty old world dress. She had crow's feet on her face and looked a little worn down, but had a generally optimistic look about her.
She smiled, seemingly a courtesy offered to all in the town. "Hello, my brother. Can I help you today?" as she finished, Edward put on his charm.
"Yes, good afternoon ma'am. I'm just a traveler, passing through, and I wanted to learn a little bit about your lovely town. May I come in?" he gave his million dollar smile, and she motioned him in.
"Come in." the door closed behind them, and David and Isaac secured a hidden viewing spot by the window. Edward sat down on a musty couch, and she walked over to a barely functioning stove. "I was just making coffee. Would you like some?"
"No ma'am, I'm a Cola man myself." he laughed, and she sat down next to him.
"So...what would you like to know?" she said with a smile, eager to please her visitor.
He had it all planned out. "Well firstly, my dear, I'd like to know your name." she blushed, taken aback by the manners shown to her. The wasteland wasn't typically a friendly place.
"I'm pleased you asked. My name is Margaret." she said, sipping her mug of coffee and looking at him expectantly.
"Hi Margaret, I'm Edward." they shared a laugh, all really just an act to get the information.
"I'm pleased to meet you." she gave him a handshake and stared into his face. It stood out as cleaner than others, and his strange-looking outfit made him seem quite mysterious. "...Your smile is so sincere, but your eyes tell a different story. You're trying to forget something, aren't you?" she'd taken on a more serious look. He looked away, dropping some of his charm.
"No. Just...just tired." he blinked slowly, and then focused on Margaret once more.
"I know that look. I lost my husband three years ago." she replied, taking on a sad face.
"My condolences." Edward said, and they didn't speak for a little bit. He began his informational dig. "If you don't mind me asking, Margaret, where do your people come from? These roads are pretty empty, and I wouldn't expect much civilization from them."
She looked at him and smiled. "Well, you're such a kind person I think that you deserve to know the truth. We come from the west, a place called 'Newton'. We wished to worship and be left alone, and one day evil machines attacked our town. We fought bravely alongside men calling themselves a 'brotherhood', and together we destroyed the leader of these unholy forces. Then, the men in powered suits betrayed us. They took our technology, the thing that we valued among all else, and slaughtered our brothers and sisters. My parents were among those who fled during the mass killing. Our leader, the brave Albert Lamore the Second, led us here, to this barren land away from the danger."
"...And the current leader of your town, the preacher, he's the son of Lamore?" Edward asked, listening closely.
"Yes. He is a good, honest man. With his leadership and faith, we believe that His
Capacitance will favor us and lead us to salvation." she smiled once more, having been holding Edward's hands."This...this god you worship. Who is He?" he asked, now genuine in his interest.
"The guide, He leads us through radio transmission. I'm not supposed to share this with outsiders, but here is the signal at which He broadcasts at." before Edward could respond, Margaret stood up. She pulled him up as well, and handed him a slip of paper. As he stuffed it in one of the compartments of his belt, she gave him a quick kiss. "We never spoke. Goodbye, Edward, and good luck."
Knowing not to say anything, he nodded politely and exited the building. Outside, Isaac and David were holding back laughter. Edward knew what they were going to say, and stopped them before they could.
"Not one word." he said. As they made their exit, the two cracked up even more.