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Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Epilogue

2284:  New York City

The Empire Wasteland had enjoyed relative peace, despite the violence that enveloped it ten years earlier.  Two attempted takeovers, first by an A.I., followed by an army of communists, had thrown the city into turmoil.

Now it was peaceful, the only remaining factions the Brotherhood of Steel, Broadway, and few Super Mutant or Raider holdouts.

Shrike climbed the once electrified fence into the World’s Fair pavilion, approaching from the north.  She had traveled a long way to get here, and would end up traveling a long way to get back. She did not envy herself the drive home.

Her target was the RobCo pavilion.  It was rubble.  Honestly, she’d expected it to be a little more substantial.  Still, what she needed would be intact, if difficult to find.  Nuked, exposed to the elements for the last eight years, it didn’t matter.  RobCo built things to last.

As she dropped down on the other side of the fence she pulled at the tough grass of the fair grounds.  They didn’t have grass back out in California, at least not like this.

Everything was so different out here.  Slavers were still a thing, so was a powerful Brotherhood.  The biggest entities were agenda-ed factions, nothing like the massive political machines of the NCR or the Legion.

Shrike made her way quickly across the grass, crouching low.  The Empire Wasteland might be safe-ish, but there were still the usual crazies who’d shoot you just to take your stuff and fuck your corpse.

“Keeping quiet.”  Sneaky-Suit whispered, the warm feminine voice filling Shrike’s right ear.

They slunk into the rubble, and Shrike began to leaf through it, looking for computer components.  It wasn’t difficult to find parts.  What was difficult was finding a piece that wasn’t melted beyond use.

What are you looking for?”  Suit whispered.

“Anything really.”  Shrike replied, crouching over a largely intact computer console.  “The routine I need existed in every part of Clive’s code.”

From Shrike’s understanding, Clive had been an overwhelming powerful A.I, comparable if not greater than a ZAX unit.  While a ZAX unit had to operate within its parameters, Clive adapted beyond his, and had been quickly evolving into a more highly advanced being before a collection of wastelanders had shut him down.  Violently.  With nuclear force.  Shrike wasn’t sure what she made of that.  What she did know is that it made her job more difficult.

I don’t see why you need some dumb password.  Suit said, sounding indignant.  I could sneak us into that tower no problem.”

Shrike didn’t say anything.  The stealth suit Mk. II possessed of a semi-aware AI that was deeply insecure and clingy.  It didn’t help that its previous owner had probably sold it for those exact reasons.  Still, the suit was one of the most useful pieces of technology Shrike had ever come across, and it did provide decent company at times.  She would be lying if she didn’t admit it had grown on her.

She cracked open the console’s casing and tore out fistfuls of fried wiring before coming to the computer’s meat.  An intact circuit board.  The RobCo pavilion had survived the bombs, shielded Clive’s brain from the EMP blast and radiation that followed.  It figured something would survive a short range nuclear explosion.  The ancients had built to last.

Uh-oh, there’s bad guys nearby.  I’ll hide you!”

Shrike chanced a quick looked around, before hurriedly pulling her backpack off and shoving the circuit board inside.  She stood up, and spotted beams of light moving in her direction.

“Looks like we’ve got company, suit.”  Shrike flexed he right hand, opening and closing her displacer glove.  She pulled out her atomic-valence tri-radii-accentuator—a piece of “hard light” that defied gravity—and wrapped it around her left arm.  Finally, she flicked on the hologram emitter that rested at the small of her back.  She was ready.

Are we fighting?  Suit pouted.  I wanted to hide.  You never let me hide.  Do you even like me?

“We’ll hide.”  Shrike promised.  “We just have to do things differently.”

Shrike deployed a hologram.  It looked exactly like her in terms of height and appearance, only it was baby blue and glowed.  She sent it in the direction of her would-be attackers.  Shrike had a pretty good idea who they were, and they wouldn’t be friendly when they found out what she had been doing.

As the hologram advanced, she circled around, staying low to avoid being scene.  The black and white suit blended well into the night, and she watched as the hologram entered the light, and then was lit up by lasers.  It immediately dissipated.

Shrike moved closer. There were four of them.  Three of them were Mr. Gutsies.  The fourth was one of the largest people Shrike had ever seen.  He stood halfway between six and seven feet and was easily over three hundred and fifty pounds of muscle.  He wore a suit of sleek armor—it was gunmetal, and composed of overlapping plates.  A fucking machinegun was mounted on his right shoulder.  It was too much weight for a human to carry.

“Fan out.”  The man-who-was-not-a-man directed the Mr. Gutsies in a flat, monotone voice.  “They are still here.”

As the four of them split up and went different directions, Shrike lay down on her stomach to avoid being immediately spotted.

As the nearest Mr. Gutsy moved away from her, she crawled on her stomach behind it.  She reached into her backpack and pulled out a massive spoil of copper wiring.  It was immensely heavy, and without her cybernetics it would’ve been too much for a woman of her size to lift.

She crawled up directly behind the Gutsy and wrapped the wire around one of it jets, leaning away and grimacing as the heat hit her face.

Once the jump was done, she quickly began to unspool the wire as the Gutsy floated away from her, and then took off in mad crouching-dash towards the Vault-Tec pavilion.  She had to arrive inside before the wiring went taut.

The Vault-Tec pavilion was nothing exceptional, reflecting the various Vault-Tec exhibits throughout the country, and Shrike hurried into the lobby through the shattered glass of one of the revolving doors.  She lay the spool down—now unspooling itself as the Gutsy moved in the opposite direction—and cut the wire, allowing for lots of slack.

She pulled out a pulse grenade and wound the cut end of the wire around it.  Then, once that was done, she yanked the pin, and ran across the room.

The grenade went off, the electric charge traveled down the wiring, and zapped the Gutsy.  Outside, the robot would’ve spasmed violent as it was fried, and then fallen over with a bang.

Shrike scanned the reception area and elected the air duct.  She pulled out a pulse mine, set it on the ground, took off her backpack, and laid it over the mine.  She removed the circuit board, slipping it safely beneath the chest plate of her armor, sprinted across the room, pulled the vent open, and dove inside.  She counted to sixty.

“The wiring led here.”  The machine-man’s flat voice intoned as he stopped inside the lobby.  It was also deep, almost unrealistically so.

The remaining two Mister Gutsies hovered into the room.

“My sensors detect nothing.”  One determined.  They did not have the personality programming of regular Gutsies. Their master would have no appreciation for that.

“They are here.”  The machine-man affirmed confidently, scanning the room himself.  He wore a heavy black helmet, as sleek and featureless as the rest of his armor.

His eyes fell on her backpack, lying in plain sight.  “There.”

One of the Gutsies shuffled over to it, and reached out with a metal arm to lift the pack.

“Wait.”  The man traced his eyes over something on the floor.  Shrike frowned.  What was he looking at?  She squinted, and then almost gasped as she realized.

Footprints. Fucking footprints.  She had left prints in the dust.  And the damn thing could see them.  It’s eyes traced the prints from her backpack, directly to the vent.  Its visor locked directly on the dark interior of the vent.  Directly at her.  Oh come on!

“Come out.”  He instructed.  “I can see you.”

Shrike generated another hologram from her emitter. It clipped through the confines of the vent, only semi-corporeal, and she sent it rushing at the Mr. Gutsy near the backpack.  The Gutsy whirled to face it, but the hologram passed right by the Gutsy, directly over the pulse mine.  It went off.

Bolts of electricity shot into the air, launching her backpack across the room, and the machine-man turned around.

As the Gutsy was speared by several bolts, the second primed it’s weapons, and the man staggered backwards to avoid the electricity, Shrike emerged from the duct.

She launched herself forward, first pulling at the duct frame and then kicking off it, and fly directly into the final Gutsy.  She wrapped her arms around it chassis and actually managed to tackle the robot.  It inelegantly fell onto its side.

The machine writhed like a trapped rabbit, and stuck its plasma cannon in Shrike’s face.  She ducked her head into chest as the cannon went off and slapped it away with a palm.  She seized the cannon right before it went off the second time, and aimed it right back at the Gutsy.  A ball of plasma burned straight through it.

Shrike stood up to face the towering man.  He was easily a foot taller than her, probably more, and over two hundred pounds heavier.

“What are you doing?”  He demanded.

Shrike stood tense, ready for him to attack.  The android instead raised a hand, and lowered his helmet.

This was Rook.  The self-appointed guardian of Broadway and Manhattan.  He was a friendly Courser, if there was such a thing.  Shrike had only met one other friendly Courser in her time and she certainly hadn’t looked anything like this.

“This area is off-limits to scavenge.”  Rook explained.  “This was dictated in an ARC broadcast six years ago, and on every anniversary since.  Have you not been listening to the regularly scheduled updates?”

Shrike looked past him, wandering if she could make a break for the exit without him catching her.  Maybe she moved faster than he did, but she couldn’t move faster than a bullet.

“This place was home to a dangerous A.I.”  Rook continued.  “It is quarantined to prevent any piece of its consciousness from escaping.”

“Dangerous like you?”  Shrike replied, putting him off balance long enough so she could punch him.  A sonic shock wave welled up in front of her gauntlet and hit Rook in the face at the speed of sound.

The force of the blow knocked the android clear off his feet and threw him across the room where he landed with a metallic thud.

Shrike grinned manically, feeling a warm surge of adrenaline and confidence.  She had just floored someone three times her size.  She wasn’t new to a fight, but a feeling like that never got old.

To the android’s credit, however, he did not seem particularly affected.  “Stop.”  Rook said, easily standing up.  “I do not wish to kill you.”

“Feeling’s not mutual.”  Shrike said casually, rising up on one leg and heel kicking him in the stomach.  He staggered backwards, and the surprise on his face at having been moved was reward enough.

“Who are you?  Thongzi?  Enclave?”

Shrike shook her head.

“What then?”

“Does it matter?”

Rook cocked his head.  “I am curious.”

“Too bad.”

Rook seemed to do the equivalent of a sigh and came at her, swinging with a lumbering, powerful cross.  Shrike easily checked it and returned with an inside jab for his jaw.  She realized she’d been baited too late, when his hand closed uncannily fast around her wrist, and then it was Shrikes turn to be thrown.

She tumbled through the air, and spammed holograms.  They twisted and wrapped around her, orienting her into a gentle landing.  Unlike Rook, she landed on her feet.  The holograms dissipated.

"Oh he's strong."  Suit murmured.  "Maybe we should hide?"

Rook seemed to take a moment to absorb it all, curious about her identity more than ever.  “I have to know.”

“Get used to disappointment.”

He bull-rushed her, moving too fast for someone in a hundred point suit of armor.  Not that it was a concern.  Shrike raised her displacer glove and punched, generating another shock wave.  Rook ran directly into it.  He broke through it, but it staggered him, and his momentum carried him right into Shrike’s low kick.  He tripped, and ran smack into the wall.  Shrike approached from behind, rearing up to kick him, but Rook managed to be faster.  He turned, catching a kick that was aimed at his back, and swung her by her leg.  She tried to stop herself from hitting the wall, but only ended up hurting the heels of her hands.  Rook let go of her leg, but didn't let her fall, instead seizing her by back of the armor.

"He's got me!"  Suit shrieked.  "Do something!"  Shrike shielded her face as Rook slammed her into the wall with a enough force to throw her through it.  Shrike crashed into the Vault exhibit on the other side.

Lights flicked on and the loudspeaker triggered.  To her left, a conveyer belt started rolling.

"Here at Vault-Tec, we're prepared for the future!"

Rook stepped through the hole after Shrike as she was hurrying to her feet.

"You have made a grave mistake."  He warned her.

Shrike wiped her mouth.  "Show me."

Rook tried to grab her in a bear hug and Shrike backpedaled into the railing.  He chased her, and she ducked underneath the railing.

"Safety is our foremost precaution!"

Shrike swung around the railing, using it like a trapeize bar, and scissor kicked Rook around the neck.  She spun, sending the adroid toppling into the railing, which he promptly flipped over, landing on the conveyor belt.

"So when on the belt, please, watch your step!"

When he climbed back to his feet, Shrike could tell from his expression that he was done attempting a peaceful solution.  The barrels of his shoulder-mounted machine gun began to spin up.  Shrike quickly closed the distance as she pulled a baton-like instrument from her belt.  With the press of a button, it expanded into a short proton axe.

Shrike threw it, and as the machine gun finally roared to life, the axe cleaved through its barrels at an angle.  The gun began to spray bullets wildly, and as Rook was districted with trying to disable it, Shrike stepped in close.

She unceremoniously yanked the axe free, and completely severed the gun.  Rook shoved her away with a palm and retreated several steps back, but she stalked towards him.  He was becoming nervous now.  She doubted anyone had given him this much of a run around before.

He swung at her head.  She ducked.  The axe buried itself in his arm.

He uppercut with the other hand.  Shrike’s proton axe cleaved off the arm at the elbow, and she slammed her displacer glove into his chest.  He stumbled away, one arm trailing loose wires.  The severed limb bounced away, rolling down the conveyor belt.

“You made a mistake today.”  Shrike said.  Rook swung at her with his remaining arm.  She batted it aside with the flat of the axe.  He kicked, and she strolled around it.  He lunged at her, hand extended for her throat.

It locked around her windpipe, but the axe went buried up to the hilt in his chest.  He became ramrod still, and began to twitch.  Shrike pried the stiff fingers from her throat.

“You thought you could tell me what to do.”  She pushed on Rook with the tips of her fingers, and he teetered, and then collapsed like a felled tree.

“I’m sure it’s one you won’t repeat.”

She yanked the axe free from his chest, raised it over his neck, and cut free her trophy.

She stepped back to admire her work.  She had thought that would’ve been harder.  No matter.  It was a good warm-up for what came next.

She lifted the android’s severed head up so she could look into its drooping eyes.  It would’ve be sadistic, had this thing actually been living.

“We got started off on the wrong foot.  Rook, I’m Shrike.  How would you like to help me kill Josey Wales?”

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