- Cywren Caster
- Sarah Lyons
- Tom Stone
- Oberon Geiger
- James Caster
Some days he could swear blind that she thought of him as nothing more than mere muscle.
That's not to say that they weren't any less affectionate towards each other - anyone could see it from the way they looked at each other. But he couldn't help feeling that she was focused less on their relationship and more on his body and how it could be useful. He seemed to spend most of the waking hours he wasn't resting moving objects, driving, or any other job that wasn't being done by somebody else.
He wasn't going to complain about it - he owed her a lot more than his life several times over - but it was becoming a bone of contention between them, it couldn't be denied.
Not that they talked about it. She was more busy, now. Focused. Single-minded, almost. Obsessed? He couldn't rule it out.
There was definitely something going down, she had been spending a lot more time talking with the Council, the Paladin, and other people higher in the chain of command. A lot of planning was involved. Plot, organize, deploy. He knew he was being left in the dark on something big, but he didn't want to think about it. It didn't do him any good to think about it.
Was she leaving him out because it was a secret?
Or just because she didn't think he was smart enough to understand?
In any case, the word had got around, he'd noticed people looking now. He'd felt their gazes pierce the back of his head like tiny, scalding pinpricks. The thought of it made his blood boil. How is it any of their business!? It had taken all of his self-restraint not to whirl around and lash out at them, to yell at the top of his lungs that he was not simple-minded, that he could do it.
Because he could understand it, if she'd just let him.
He knew he couldn't hold it back forever. It was starting to get to him, and it was more than he could take. And he hoped she wouldn't be there if - when - he blew his top.
So tired. So, sooo tired.
Just stay awake a few minutes longer, Cywren kept telling herself. Just another few minutes.
She’d completely lost track of time by this point. A quick glance at her Pip-Boy told her that the time was well after 1AM. Dear mercy. She’d been up for hours.
The past few days had just been an endless stream of calculations, research and the intolerably excitable lab technicians that just sent her irate.
She combed her slender fingers through her soft auburn hair and pushed her glasses back against her forehead. The past few days had been very stressful and it was plainly taking its toll on her. She hadn’t been eating or sleeping properly, she was spending far too much time sat staring at screens, and she was almost certain her higher brain functions were starting to suffer because of it. Suddenly mental calculations and fine, subtle movements became a chore. She was frequently knocking things over or bumping into other things. It wasn’t improving her mood much either; her normally pacific, if easily riled temper was prone to frequent outbursts at the slightest provocation.
A few more days, she promise herself, then we can get away from all this. Just her and Timebomb, they could go away for the weekend. Maybe even the whole week after. Just take a car out and drive. It doesn’t matter where they go; just escape the sheer monotony of it and spend some time alone, together. She had heard about a place to the West that was apparently “real swingin’” and she wanted to check this place out. Whatever it was, it sounded like a riot and they were bound to have a good time. At the very least, it was worth a look-in.
Unfortunately for both of them, work must come first. This project has to be completed. Has to.
She hated keeping secrets from him – well, she didn’t like keeping them from anybody really, least of all him – but there just was just no other way. She couldn’t join the project without signing an OSA agreement “to keep shtum”. And she had to join. Had to. Next to obtaining the G.E.C.K., what they were doing onboard the Thunder Child was possibly the most important scientific (and, hopefully, humanitarian) contribution she had been involved in. The importance of this experiment could not be overstated. Could not.
Which was what made the dialogue proscription concerning all matters pertaining to it so tiresome. She wanted nothing more than to burst out about it, free of the stifling influence of the Brotherhood. For all their well-meaning, their methods had placed considerable strain on Cywren; initially she had barely even noticed it, but since she got back from Mojave, she had become a lot more self-aware about her own actions and affiliations, and had come to the realization that she had done quite a few things she regretted in her time. Would she have destroyed Mister House, or started a fight with the Outcasts if her father had still been alive? Possibly not. And the thought that his absence had changed her for the worse, to the point that she was becoming a ruthless, remorseless killer, inflexibly, unwaveringly set in her ways, scared the living hell out of her. Was this really what she had become? Was this all she would ever be? A resentful, overassertive teenager brutally razing away anything she finds remotely imperfect? What next, the ghouls? The civilians? The-
Cywren realized that she had become so lost in her train of thought that she had completely forgotten what she was supposed to be doing.
Ah, screw it, she told herself, this can wait. I need rest.
She shot off the power and rested her head against her crossed arms on the dull, coarse counter and slowly drifted into a dark, vacuous sleep.
It was mostly empty in Fairfax County, which made it easier for the convoy to move. Not that anybody was going to ask questions. After all, who was there to answer?
It didn't really matter anyway; it was only a few miles between the Springfield Industrial Complex and the Fort Belfoir Military Reservation, Lorton. Mostly it was just empty Golf Clubs inbetween, which was lucky for Corporal Stanshall as he happened to enjoy the occasional swing. Between his his five-iron and his soft-spoken, easygoing crooning he could've been another Bing Crosby - not that anybody knew who Bing was anymore.
Stanshall was fine with not being told what he was doing - most of the time he was certain they didn't know what they were doing anyway. It was some kind of test in the bay he theorized, some newfangled gizmo that would no doubt blow up in their faces in the messiest possible fashion. The USS Thunder Child was currently down in the docks not doing anything, and nobody could get on the site without a pass.
Not that he minded, he just didn't want to have to clean up the mess.
"Ho hum." he said to himself drearily, his mind wandering to the lunch menu at the canteen. His stomach growled in anticipation and he shot it a dirty look. The convoy continued down the road.
Up ahead, a man stood out on the roadside, thumb outstretched like a hitchhiker. Stanshall's C.O., Ogilvy, boggled at the man. "What's this joker up to?"
Stanshall shrugged. "Thumbing a lift from the boys, you reckon sir?"
Ogilvy snorted, "Yeah, in his wildest dreams. Drive on." He sat back and continued reading his paper.
The man in the road smirked as he stuck his thumb out at the truck, which sped on past him. He tilted his head; he had been expecting that. It was understandable, considering their payload. Of course, in two minutes that wouldn't be a problem any more...
He nodded to another man concealed behind a thick brush of gorse, who nodded back in acknowledgement and stood up, pulling out a Beretta 3032 and aiming it directly at the head of the driver.
There was a flash of white and the sound of smashing glass as a great red mass exploded from the cabin of the truck. The truck veered off, swerving left and right before sliding off the thin road. It's rear end stung round to meet the front and overbalanced, sending the car careening into the forge, the rear torn from its chassis lying motionless in the road. The convoy behind all stopped, stunned. Just as someone realised this was an attack, the fifty-odd band of raiders burst out from beneath a layer of sand and ran in.
The man tutted at the sloppiness of the whole operation. So far a single soldier had been mobilized the entire time. Even with the advantage of semi-automatic weapons, the battle would be over very quickly. Whilst they had been planning the ambush for months in advance and had the element of surprise on their side, he still felt that they should've been able to respond better. He shrugged off his disappointment and turned on his heel to the wrecked transporter ahead, before striding off towards the severed front end.
Stanshall, somehow having survived both the headshot and the crash, was bleeding profusely, most notably from a large indent in the side of his head. His left arm wasn't moving from the shoulder down. He grunted and tried to push the twisted metal frame of the door open as petrol started to leak through the glove box. He tried to rouse Ogilvy, who was leaning, unresponsive, on the dashboard.
"Damn you Ogilvy, get up" he hissed through clenched teeth as a sharp pang shot through his lesser trochanter, up the iliopsoas and straight into the abdomen. He grunted again as he smashed the window and reached through to pull the door open from the other side.
Another hand pulled the door open and Stanshall fell out. A figure stood over him, obscured by the harsh midday sun. His hearing had recovered just enough to hear the man speak...
"You survived. Good. I want you to give a message to Cywren Caster..."
Reality had become an abstract for Cywren.
Time and space seemed distorted, fragmented. All vestiges of being capable of lucidity had been replaced with a new, altogether different kind of perception that transcended the human level. A new state of being, a Lynchian fantasmagoria. A vision of monochrome that somehow seemed filled with colours within and beyond the visible spectrum, briter than anything she had ever seen. Shapes dancing between light and shadow, both there and not there simultaneously. A seemingly endless corridor, row upon row of doorways with hidden opportunities within. Her head felt like it was going to burst from all the new sensory information streaming in, and she almost thought she saw it happen through the mirror. Or did the mirror break? No, it looked like... Ripples. A fluidic motion.
And yet, despite all these wonders, a terror gripped at Cywren's psyche. Something so ancient and primordial it had no mononym to describe it; and none did it need.
Sounds rang out in Cywren's ears, voices both and familiar and not, barely comprehensible to her cartwheeling consciousness as she made her way down the corridor. Some voices she knew; some she had forgotten and was only now recalling to memory; some completely alien and unknown to her.
"I like you..." "You're a hero, and you have to go..." "I am you, quite literally..." "Please help me..." "I am the Alpha and the Omega..." "...Cywren!"
One voice rang out above them all, one she thought she'd forgotten. A voice she loathed and detested with all her being. It had been a constant source of anguish for her throughout her teenage years, constantly spewing an endless stream of drivel, attacking her insecurities and forcing her to make decisions she didn't want to and then making her feel terrible about it.
She would not call it by its name. To name it would be to acknowledge it, and she downright refused to do that. She denied it that right, the way it had denied her for so long.
But she knew, one day, that she would have to face him again. He would not be silent forever. And she dreaded that more than anything else.
The pre-mass constitution of diluted audio frequencies suddenly became mute beneath the sound of a piercing scream.
Without time to think about it, Cywren's steady pace gave way into a full-on sprint as she dashed in the direction she thought the sound came from. A door loomed ahead of her in the passage, marked 101 in gold plating.
She forced her way through the door and fell blindly into a dark abyss. Pinpricks of light shot past her and faded away into the unfathomable darkness beyond.
A light source shimmered into view and she found herself bursting through the surface of a body of water, nuclear fire surging towards her at impossible speeds.
She jolted up in her chair as an clock alarm rang out in the other room.
Cywren mirthlessly chuckled at this as she rested her head back on the coarse surface of the table.
The atmosphere at Fort Belfoir was not dissimilar to that which must surely have been felt at Cape Kennedy in the days leading up to that historic first Apollo landing mission.