Fallout

Chapter 7: ED-E My Love

Shortly after the nuclear mass murder, the successor organization of the government of the United States of America rose from the ruins of the old world under the name Enclave*. Immediately, it began rebuilding, or what it understood to be rebuilding, on the West Coast of America. For a long time, its immense armaments stockpile and its technical expertise did not allow any serious challengers or even competitors. In its laboratories and workshops, the enclave also conducted research on a variety of advanced weapons systems and ordnance. Among these was the development of the Duraframe Eyebots, flying spherical robots that would be used for reconnaissance and reporting. Towards the end, researcher Whitley even managed to implement personality modules and neural substitutes. However, the project was discontinued when the development of the Hellfire Powerarmor was prioritized due to increasing resource constraints. Whitley was ordered to abandon his project and destroy the previous successes of his work.*

2ED-E 59. The dented shield is as featureless as the robot itself. The old rust bucket leaves Johnson Nash with no fewer questions than the courier who left him here a while back. A .308 bullet has damaged essential parts of the duraframe eyebot, leaving the spherical contraption to languish uselessly. The only reason Nash hasn't disassembled it into its component parts yet is the faint hope that he or someone else could get it working again and the Mojave Express could use the little robot for deliveries. A mechanical courier should be more reliable and less expensive than the soldiers of fortune the Mojave Express usually opts for. Johnson Nash looks up from the pile of scrap metal and electronic waste and looks around. In the hall of the Vikki and Vance Casino Hotel, the last surviving residents loiter and with what little they have left, prepare for the final confrontation with the Powdergangers. With Sheriff McBain dead and the useless Debuty Beagle gone, the rest of the population has been holding out in an improvised position of slot machines, blackjack tables and Nuka-Cola vending machines.

„Have. You. Heard. The Story. Of. Vikki And Vance?" Primm Slimm staggers awkwardly on his stiff servo joints toward Johnson Nash. The Protektron-type robot is about to play its programmed phrases when Nash throws his wrench against its steel body.

"Get lost, stomp off somewhere where you won't be a pain in the ass. You got a subroutine for that?"

"Hey there. Partner! You dropped. An click – click -click. Item. The staff. Will. Assist. You. Shortly."

Johnson Nash sighs deeply and leans back in his chair. Old world junk. Nothing just works. The robots that could be useful end up shot to pieces on his workbench, while the most useless tourist attractions still piss people off after 200 years. Primm Slimm awkwardly turns 180 degrees and sets off again to enrich his next victim with the fabulous story of Vikki and Vance. The most famous pair of criminals in the United States.

"Some say. That. Vikki and Vance. Were. Just. A cheap. Imitation of. Bonny and Clyde. But. It is. A fact. That. Vikki and Vance. Started. Their. Crime spree. Three days. Before. So. Who. Was. Imitating. Whom?“

The Protektron tells its story to the void, leaving Nash with his unsuccessful project.

The wretched piece of scrap metal continues to lie before him without comment, unresponsive to any input. The wrench is also lying on the floor and Johnson feels no desire to get up and retrieve it. Instead, he turns to his Rad-scorpion casserole. One of the many perks of his marriage to Ruby Nash, a fantastic cook. Knowing how to use the rad-scorpion's venom gland in a casserole without the consumer collapsing in pain and thick foam at the mouth is a rare and wonderful thing. Engrossed in his lunch, Johnson Nash abruptly jolts awake as the armed militia behind the barricades grab their guns and point them at the entrance to the casino hotel. His gaze follows the rifle and pistol barrels and falls on a scruffy figure, its outline silhouetted in the incoming light. Seemingly unarmed, a sloppy bandage around his right hand and a crumpled piece of paper in his left.

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"Does a certain Johnson Nash happen to be on the other end of one of these weapons?"

Today there were four. For the past few days Joe Cobb and his boys have stopped coming, and that's good for Rosie. It's also good for Rosie that more and more soldiers are being pulled out of Mojave Base. What is not good for Rosie is that Mayor Steyn keeps throwing free events for the Powdergangers. Not that Rosie makes anything, but when Mayor Steyn invites the guys from the correctional facility for a freebie, two to three times as many punters show up. And those are the worst. The freaks who spend their caps on jet and psycho and can only afford Rosie on the free days. Rosie thinks that by now Sylvia only notices half of all this. Sylvia is completely drugged up herself most of the time and Rosie can't blame her. She's tried Med-X herself and knows how much easier it is then. But when she's so drugged, she doesn't notice the nice things anymore either. And Rosie needs them. When the light show from New Vegas flickers across the night sky in the evening. Or when one of the soldiers gives her his pay, just to have someone to listen to him. Or when one of the merchants has a nice dress in stock. While she can't afford them, some of the fabrics feel nice when Rosie lets them slip through her hands. In the breaks between the visits of the Powdergangers and those of the soldiers, Rosie can wash and take care of Sylvia. Sometimes she has to wash Sylvia, too, and Sylvia always thanks her so sweetly.

It may be that today Sergeant Kilborn from the Mojave Outpost will come to Rosie again. Kilborn is one of the men who falls in love with Rosie and promises to get her out of Nipton someday. When Rosie was new to the business, she allowed herself silly little girl dreams in which she was rescued and somewhere, maybe in the Hub, she could start a new life. But the promises of amorous suitors are as untrue and tempting as the myth behind the blue stars on some Sunset Sarsparilla caps. Only more common. Rosie believes that some of the men make these promises to ease their own consciences. Rosie also believes that some of them get a certain masochistic thrill from imagining their mistress being fucked by 20 men a day. Rosie is disgusted when the punters make claims about her feelings. The last thing Rosie can call her own. And Rosie is disgusted by the way these kind of men sleep with her. Possessive. The evening dawns and it is not long before the first NCR soldiers arrive. Tonight is a night for Med-X.

I take a seat and Johnson Nash's wife puts a bowl of some kind of casserole in front of me. It doesn't look very good, but it smells tempting.

"Ever had rad-scorpion casserole, sweetie?" the older woman, who was introduced to me earlier as Ruby Nash, asks me. I answer in the negative and go about my meal. The joy of a real, proper, meal momentarily outweighs my urge to pepper her husband, Johnson Nash, with questions. The casserole has a pungent, smoky aroma and tastes like just escaping death while enjoying one of the wasteland's few palate pleasures. The fact that I have found Johnson Nash – found him alive – reassures me and I allow myself to rest.

When I have finished eating, I turn to Johnson.

"I'm a courier and I lost a delivery, meaning it was stolen from me. Can you tell me anything about it?" I hand him the crumpled order and remain in expectant silence. Johnson Nash accepts it, and more thoughtful wrinkles appear across his already wrinkled face.

"Howdy! Partner. Have. You. Heard. The story. Of. Vikki and Vance? And. Their. Spectacular. Series. Of. Check Frauds. And. Shoplifting?"

Next to me, an old Protektron robot positions himself, wearing a ridiculous cowboy hat on the round top of his body. I stare at him in irritation.

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„Vance. Was. A. Very. Inconsiderate driver. And. Vikki. Was. Notorious among. Store personnel. For her. Rude and. Demanding. Demeanor."

Johnson sighs in annoyance and, with a finger placed to his lips, indicates to me not to encourage the robot to tell any more anecdotes. We wait and the robot, obviously disappointed not to have found a more appreciative audience, turns away again.

Johnson Nash turns his attention back to the crumpled delivery order: "Yes, I remember. That was a strange order. This cowboy robot came in here one day and ordered six couriers. All of them were to deliver some junk to the New Vegas Strip."

"This robot here?", I ask, pointing to the annoying tin box with a hat.

"No, another one. Bigger. Rode on a wheel and had some cartoon-like cowboy face on a big screen,"

Nash replies, trying to remember further. "So all the couriers were supposed to deliver some kind of junk. Dice, playing cards, gambling stuff just. Pointless if you ask me, but the pay was lavish, so I didn't say anything. So far, all deliveries have been made. Daniel Wyand came last and collected his payment, the poor guy immediately caught a bullet from the Powdergangers afterwards. The bastards dumped his body somewhere in the alleys…" Johnson Nash raises an eyebrow, "Are you by any chance Courier 6?"

"Eh, yeah, yeah, that's me!", I stammer, unable to decide on a single question because of all the questions.

Nash continues, "Interesting. You know you were supposed to take one of the other deliveries…I had someone else on for delivery No. 6 at first. But when that other courier saw your name on the list, he insisted that you take delivery No. 6. Just bailed at the last second, the son of a bitch. He left his broken robot here, too." Johnson Nash points to a spherical, motionless robot the size of a basketball. "Let the storms of the divide get him. You couriers are going to get me, no offense."

"My name?", I ask breathlessly.

"Yeah yeah, apparently that triggered something in him. Maybe he knew something was different with delivery number six. Something worth stealing… It won't have been your name, unusual as it is. No, he must have had some other problem with you, Mercury!"

Mercury.

Even as I witness my second baptism, the spherical robot to my left reacts and lets it be heard with a whirring sound that its subroutines are powering up. The mechanical sphere begins to hover and stops two meters above the ground. Equipped with all kinds of sensors and antennas, the awakened machine orientates itself and turns towards me. At least that's what I assume, because the robot turns its front towards me and makes a confirming beeping sound. At its front, a large grille shows up, which seems to be speaker, eye and ventilation at the same time. On its side, however, hangs a dented license plate. 2ED-E 59. The numbers are badly dirty and scratched, so that only the lettering ED-E can be read with real certainty.

"H-Hello, ED-E?!", I say. The robot answers me with an approving "Bliep!"

"Looks like you've made a friend," Johnson Nash laughs, leaning back in amusement. "I don't know how long it would have taken me to get anything out of that fellow, but your name seems to have been enough. Do you know each other?"

My name. My name feels oddly foreign and familiar at the same time. And scary in an indefinable way, an announcement and reminder at the same time. Mercury. The only thing scarier than the unfamiliar is the familiar that suddenly seems unfamiliar.

"No," I say. "No, I don't think so." ED-E lets out a whirring, beeping, sort of electronic chuckle. I'm not sure I want to understand what he has to say.

Johnson Nash returns to the subject, "Well, I think you should take care of retrieving your shipment, this platinum chip – as it says here. Do you have any leads?"

"A man in a plaid suit and a group of great Khans. Supposed to have even passed through Primm, did you hear anything about that?", I ask.

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"Think so. But Deputy Beagle knows about it. He, in turn…" Nash leans forward, propping his ellbows on the table. "Deputy Beagle has been kidnapped by the Powdergangers. Since the sheriff died, Beagle's been taking care of everything – at least that's how he'd describe it. He's been staking out these guys you're looking for and got caught in the process. It's probably going to be a ransom thing, but they'd have to decide whether to kill us all or let us live. As you can see, we're counting on the first scenario here." Johnson Nash makes a ruddering gesture with his left arm, pointing to the makeshift positions all around. "We're going to need a miracle. And we need a sheriff again if we're not going to fall under NCR martial law. The fact that the army has moved in on the other side of town did Not Help one bit so far. I imagine they're just waiting until Primm is desperate enough to accept its annexation without complaint."

"Where's Beagle now?" Johnson Nash talk reminds me of Trudy's broken radio and clearly misses my priorities.

"If he's alive they took him to the correctional facility, that's where they're taking everybody,“ Nash replies. An entire platoon of the NCR would have to march in, that's for sure. And they won't lift a finger just for Beagle. Unless…" Johnson Nash wrinkles his face again, and I find it harder and harder to tell him from a turtle. "There are quite a few in the correctional facility, but rumor has it that there's a former NCR sheriff there, too. He might be worth something to our rescuers from the other side of town. The only question is how much and if the NCR is willing to negotiate."

"Other idea:" I say, leaning back. "We send the Powdergangers an offer. For the deputy and sheriff. The NCR and the militia lay in wait. And when the Powdergangers come, we take them down. Then I get the deputy and his intel, you get a new sheriff, and Lt. Hayes gets his promotion."

"A trap…," Nash mutters. "the Powdergangers are stupid enough to fall for that, that's for sure. But there'd be a bloodbath."

"What else are you left with?", I counter him. "Are you going to spend your last days listening to the story of Vikki & Vance until the eponymous casino hotel gets blown out from under you?" ED-E lets out a nervous clink and whine.

"You're a courier. Through and through, but you're right. Here's what we do." Johnson Nash stands up and comes around the table. Are you going to let our NCR friends in on your plan?"

"There's no way I'm crossing that bridge again," I say, turning my gaze to ED-E. "Can you record and transmit audio logs?"

ED-E lets out a clear, affirmative sound and bounces up in the air a few times.

"I'll take that as a yes. So listen:"

I dictate a voice message to ED-E for Lt. Hayes, explaining our plan. I then send the flying robot to deliver the message. The eager courier sets off immediately and with surprising speed.

"Now it's time to wait," I sigh.

"We've been doing nothing else for days!" grumbles Johnson Nash, pulling out a set of playing cards. "You playing caravan?"

"No, thanks," I say. "Never understood the rules."

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