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Fallout: Vault 186 Ch 4

Below ground wars don't end...they become more personal

 

 

WEST ONE

 

 

They told him the badge would give away his affiliation, so he no longer wore it. Instead, Dennis Hsu had returned home in order to acquire a disguise; his civilian Vault 186 jumpsuit. V.S.P.F. jumpsuits bore a special insignia. On each arm, a golden police shield was stitched into the shoulder and in the center of that shield stitched in white were the numbers 186.

 

It was a meeting that the police force wanted to keep under the radar. Dennis had never been a part of any undercover operations and was reluctant in accepting this assignment. However, reason won out with the young officer after Lieutenant Brittle explained the obvious advantages of having Dennis be the point man for the operation.

 

It's your old home, so you'll be familiar with the area.  The lieutenant's voice echoed inside Dennis's mind.

 

He was right, Dennis thought. The young twenty-something-year-old officer grew up less than four hundred yards from the section of the wall he occupied. After graduating in the top five percent of the young initiate achievement program and moving on to complete his G.O.A.T. examination at the age of fourteen, which was a full two years before the standard age young Vault Dwellers took the test, Dennis left his home in order to take up residence in the V.S.P.F. academy.

 

Dennis's achievements never garnered him much community fanfare and no one from the lower west spoke of him or his classmates as prodigies, which was common treatment children in the program from the other blocs received. Since its inception, the lower west bloc was different. While the upper east bloc was the first expansion undertaken by the Vault Dwellers into the depths of the Earth and the first community constructed by the citizens of the vault, the lower west bloc was the first undertaking done right. While the V.S.P.F. was founded in the upper west bloc and its headquarters constructed in the upper east bloc, the lower west was the birthplace of its first celebrated captain; David Stance.

 

The lower west usually wasn't the first, but it was almost always the best, which encouraged its residents to nickname their piece of the vault West One. First in Excellence; Last to Defeat was the community slogan that all West One parents instilled into the minds of their children and Dennis was no different. Once he received his uniforms the first thing he did even before trying them on was stitch in dark gold letters the West One slogan beneath the golden police shield.

 

Now, the prodigal, but not prodigal son had returned to his old neighborhood and as he and his superiors had expected, barely anyone recognized him, including the special contact Dennis was supposed to meet in order to set up a rendezvous with the members of a secret sect within the upper east branch of the Vault 186 government.

 

A sect that Melinda Barret was supposedly affiliated with.

 

We've got everything we need. Captain Ford's words echoed inside of Dennis's mind. Apparently, the chairman's wife had given the police captain a coy signal that a future meeting would be taking place between her people and his. The West One diner was about a quarter of a mile in the opposite direction to Officer Hsu's old home and three hours after posting up between the two, the security officer found himself following a young blonde haired woman wearing a gray Pip-Boy 3000. The look and color of the device was the common design for most residents of the entire vault save for the small bright red dot painted onto the black nob that sat atop the black glove strapped around her left hand.

 

Like Dennis, the woman was small in stature, no taller than five and a half feet. Her face had a mild roundness to it, but her cheeks were flat and her nose seemed a bit too large and slightly pointed. Dennis could tell she spent more than her fair share of time in the gym and more than once found himself taking in the attractive form of her legs and hips.

 

Dennis kept a modest distance of about twenty feet behind the woman and frequently stopped in order to pretend that the view of some random office or panel had briefly grabbed his attention. Compartmentalize the main objectives so the mind can focus on completing one task at a time; that was the lesson his academy instructor had drilled into the students of his class. One mission may have only a handful of objectives, and most instructors taught their students to focus on one objective at a time while never losing foresight on how their actions will affect the main goal of that mission. But a West One instructor knew that each objective was composed of a multitude of tasks. Some as simple as unassumingly standing against a wall or following an operative to a contact meet. Approach every task as an individual mission in order to eliminate the maximum amount of human error.

 

The woman vanished with a left turn just before reaching the diner. Dennis knew where the alley led, which is why he was chosen for this mission. Melinda's contacts had refused to reveal the exact location of the meet, to which Dennis and Lieutenant Brittle immediately suggested Captain Ford turn down the offer. However, the captain had decided it would be worth the risk in order to uncover any information on the power station terror attack.

 

Being married to a government official had its perks. Melinda most likely had access to V.S.P.F. records and a smart terrorist with such information would know that Dennis was the only member of Captain Ford's unit who hailed from West One. So it was a race for the better hand in this game of espionage.

 

Dennis walked past the alley that led down into the lowest level of West One, which harbored a storage area that could fit about twelve standard apartments and entered the large diner. Childhood memories of disobeying his parents who forbid him from exploring the lower levels of the bloc briefly surfaced in his mind. Inside the West One diner; a larger but almost an identical replica of the upper east diner, Dennis's senses were hit with the thick smokey scent of freshly cooked hamburgers and hot dogs the young officer used to enjoy nearly everyday of his childhood. Nearly all of the livestock from above ground had perished due to the animals and their designated breeders failing to adapt to life below ground. For almost two generations, consumption of any animal meat was strictly forbidden in a desperate attempt to preserve them for future Vault Dwellers. Halfway into the first generation of West One, the livestock population doubled and then tripled a generation later. After that, all blocs were given strict rations from the cows, chickens, and pigs. All blocs except West One. Instead of machine processed vegetables from hydroponics bays, West One citizens had always enjoyed real meat and milk. Dennis had forgotten how good the real thing smelled while being cooked and quickly took a seat at the main counter.

 

"One cheeseburger, no mayo and a dab of hot sauce," Dennis said with a childish grin.

 

About twenty minutes later, Dennis took a large bite into a very large cheeseburger that he knew was freshly cooked and not picked from precooked patties on a heat rack. The taste was exquisite and brought back warm, comforting memories of home. Memories of sitting next to his father, Richard Hsu in this exact seat. The old cook who owned the diner must have passed away or retired but even if she hadn't, Dennis doubted she would have recognized the scrawny kid that would always tear through ten burgers faster than a Tasmanian Devil. Dennis smiled at the thought of the woman's cranky old voice.

 

After finishing his meal, Dennis glanced around the diner, taking note of the small number of patrons. If things really had remained frozen in time from his memories, then the establishment wouldn't see any real crowds until later in the afternoon when the security officers and techies would stop in for a burger and a beer before heading home.

 

"You think I could get one more to go?" Dennis asked the young man behind the counter.

 

"What are you, a tourist?" The current owner of the diner, a tall redhead nearing his mid-forties spat. "I don't know what they told you in the other blocs, but here in West One, we have set rules for food distribution. The number one rule being the only food that leaves the diner leaves in the customer's stomach. This isn't a ration station."

 

"Yeah, I know." Dennis couldn't help smiling at the statement. "But old lady Greener always let me leave with a little something extra on account of my dad being the technician assigned to this sector."

 

"Old lady Greener?" The cook said with widened eyes. "You're from West One?"

 

"Born and raised," Dennis said confidently.

 

"Well then!" The cook grabbed Dennis's hand with both of his own and shook it. "The name's Max, Max Greener. Old lady Greener was my aunt. She passed away last year and my dad decided to let me run the diner."

 

"Sorry to hear about her passing," Dennis said with genuine empathy.

 

"Yeah well, she lived a full life," Max said reminiscently. "My dad said she would never admit it, but she loved it when all of the kids would run in causing a ruckus and eating more than they were supposed to. I remember dad mentioning something about a deal she had struck with your dad; he kept the stove up and running, and his kids' bellies stayed full."

 

"That sounds about right," Dennis said with a chuckle. "But I guess she must have really wanted to keep that love for us a secret because I can still remember dodging my fair share of spatulas while running out the door."

 

Max leaned back revealing a large belly that jiggled beneath a white apron as he laughed. "That's Aunt Greenie for you. Tough love is better than no love."

 

"Very tough." Dennis Agreed.

 

"I'll tell you what," Max said with a slap on the counter. "Just this once I'll set you up real nice in honor of Aunt Greenie. But don't come back round expectin' to take advantage of a long dead deal." He gave Dennis a toothy grin before walking into the back to cook the meal. "You want any perks from me you're gonna have to strike a new bargain."

 

The thought crossed his mind for the briefest of moments. It wouldn't be too hard a task to get transferred to West One. A few extra patrols by the diner would more than likely garner Dennis the same privileges his father enjoyed. But as quickly as the thought came, once Max disappeared into the back the security officer's mind instantly refocused onto his next task; signaling Lieutenant Brittle and Captain Ford with the location of the meet.

 

Dennis quickly rose from his seat and made his way inconspicuously towards the rear of the establishment where if his memory served him, an access panel was tucked away around a corner in a small section of the diner that harbored one table with two red-cushioned metal couches. There were only five other citizens in the diner, and all of them were closer to the entrance so Denis could work with relative concealment. But he would have to work fast.

 

The security officer quickly removed the panel and detached the cable connected to his Pip-Boy glove and slid it discreetly into the panel socket. After five minutes of rerouting data, Dennis's lips formed a smirk as the signal was routed from the West One diner to an inconspicuous access point located in a restricted area of the upper west bloc near the main power station of that sector.

 

As Max made his way back to the front of the diner, carrying a large bag filled with four cheeseburgers and fries Dennis had already returned to his seat.

 

"Here you go...uh..." Max began before realizing he never asked for his customer's name.

 

"Dennis."

 

"Right, one of old Richard's bunch. I remember now." Max said. "Nice to have pleasant memories of Aunt Greenie brought back by a local."

 

"Sure is," Dennis said with a deep whiff of the bag and a satisfied grin. "Smells delicious just like I remember."

 

"It damn well better." Max guffawed.

 

"First in Excellence," Dennis said with an extended hand.

 

"Last to Defeat," Max replied with a smirk and firm handshake. "Drop back by anytime, friend."

 

"Definitely.",Dennis said before rising back to his feet.

 

Dennis knew the blonde woman would be waiting for him down in the lower levels. He hoped she was at least experienced enough to know that his delay in following her was to quell the thought that they were together to any passing citizens. He also hoped she wasn't experienced enough to know the second reason for the delay was for the signal he sent to his superiors.

 

Storage areas were usually restricted to those who weren't tasked with loading and unloading supplies and equipment. Keypads were set up beside the large gray doors that led into the lower levels and Dennis couldn't help but chuckle at the fact that the blonde woman had reset the security device after hacking her way in.

 

"So she's a tease then," Dennis said while smirking at the keypad.

 

Only the Overseer and a handful of Dennis's unit was made aware of the current operation. The assumption was that Chairman Barret most likely had contacts within the V.S.P.F. so keeping the logistics of the plan close to the chest was paramount. Forty seconds after approaching the keypad a low snap-hiss escaped the gray and yellow door as it opened. Dennis ducked down into the halls of the storage level and made his way into the smallest warehouse near the back left section of the area, making sure he wasn't noticed by any passing security or storage staff members.

 

Dennis kept his eyes open for clues as to the whereabouts of the blonde woman and then suddenly, during his travels, the security officer noticed the number thirteen marked onto one of the walls of the storage area with the same red color as the dot on the blonde woman's Pip-Boy glove. Melinda probably had sentries set up to monitor the entrance to the storage level in order to ensure her conditions were met. Dennis was supposed to be meeting her alone and receiving information about the recent attack in exchange for...well...she wasn't very specific about what she wanted in return. Captain Ford had said that one of her agents simply explained that he and his "boy scouts" would make giving the information worth her while. She had said that she wanted the upper hand so Captain Ford wasn't allowed to meet her in the company of her secret sect because it was "unbefitting" of a security captain to lower himself to the chores of a lackey.

 

So that means you're gonna have to get us in, lackey. Dennis could still remember the chastising grin on his Captain's face when he was assigned the mission.

 

Dennis had many objections to being the point man for the mission. Having to enter the lion's den unarmed was chief among those objections but it couldn't be helped. Walking through densely populated halls with an N-99 Pistol sticking out of a vault jumpsuit cargo pocket wasn't Dennis's idea of remaining inconspicuous. The small pocket knife his older sister gave him on his fourteenth birthday would have to do.

 

About forty minutes and one cheeseburger went by before Dennis noticed a low beeping emanating from his Pip-Boy. It was the signal he had been waiting for. He rose from behind a large storage container and began making his way towards the designated meeting area; warehouse thirteen. Upon entering the storage room, Dennis was immediately accosted by two warehouse employees who most likely weren't real employees. The two men were armed with N-99 pistols of their own and searched Dennis for any signs of weapons or communication devices, overlooking the pocket knife buried inside of his right boot.

 

Amateurs. Dennis thought.

 

"Take it easy with the burgers," Dennis said sternly.

 

"Shut up." One of the fake employees snapped. "This way."

 

Dennis was led to the back of the large warehouse that was littered with non-operational Mister Handy droids and storage containers of all sizes.

 

"So we gonna get down to business anytime soon or are you guys gonna keep up this secret agent act a bit longer?" Dennis said while scanning the area.

 

"Shut up." The same fake employee snapped again.

 

"You're pretty eager to commence with business that you know nothing about." The blonde woman stepped out from the shadows of an enormous storage container that Dennis concluded could fit one of the massive generators of a primary power hub.

 

"Well, after taking in the view from behind I really just wanted to get a good look at you from the front," Dennis replied coolly.

 

"Cute." The blonde's face lacked the playfulness of Melinda but was still kind of cute.

 

"Hey, easy." Dennis frowned while stumbling from the shove of one of the fake employees. "So I only need to know two things; what is it her highness wanted to convey to my boss?" Dennis asked before taking a quick glance back at his two escorts. "And, this is the really important part...I'm gonna get those burgers back, right?"

 

"Mrs. Barret informed us, Ford would be sending a low-level peon," the blonde said with a slight scowl, "but she didn't mention you'd be some moronic funny man."

 

"Confident men make you nervous?" Dennis shot back with a smirk.

 

"Quiet, shithead." The blonde growled.

 

"Can I at least get a name? Doesn't have to be your real name, but if I don't get one, I'm gonna make one up." Dennis asked calmly.

 

"I said quiet!"

 

"OK. Apple bottom it is then."

 

"You son of a..."

 

"Now, now...no need for things to devolve into childish bickering quite so quickly." Melinda Barret's voice echoed from the shadows.

 

"Well now...I didn't think you'd actually be here." Dennis said as Melinda appeared from the shadows of the warehouse.

 

"And why not, Officer Hsu?" Melinda asked with that same playful smile she wore inside the interrogation room.

 

"Officer?" The blonde pulled a pistol from a holster she recently attached to her hip and centered the barrel on Dennis's chest. "I thought we were clear about exactly who was allowed down here for this meet."

 

"Control yourself, Margaret," Melinda said while pushing the pistol down with her hand.

 

"Don't tell him my name!" Margaret said with a glare at the other woman.

 

"And why not? My name is the most valuable one here, and he can do nothing with it. So I think yours is safe." Melinda assured her on edge cohort.

 

"We gonna get on with this or what?" Dennis asked.

 

"Such confidence. Only a West One brat could possibly fake such control over a situation he has absolutely no control over." Melinda said with folded arms that pressed and raised her ample bosom against her chest.

 

"Who says I'm faking?" Dennis shot back.

 

A nonchalant grunt was Melinda's reply before she turned towards one of the smaller storage containers that still towered over the human occupants of the warehouse. Her fingers danced across a keypad fitted to the door of the container and after a confirming beep echoed across the area, the door opened with a loud metal whine.

 

Dennis was led over to the container and peeked inside when he was close enough.

 

Melinda signaled her henchmen to bring Dennis inside the container and activated a few dim lights that were connected to the roof of the metal box. The chairman's wife set to work on the keyboard of a large rectangular computer with a black square screen that lit up with bright green text.

 

"Pay attention. You might learn something." Melinda ordered.

 

Seconds later a video feed overtook the screen displaying a small room within a section of the vault unknown to Dennis. Inside the room were five men and three women, all of whom appeared to be in their mid to late forties and fifties. Dennis's left eye twitched as his mind recognized one of the figures in the room.

 

"You giving me insight into one of your husband's poker nights?" Dennis asked.

 

"You could say that," Melinda replied. "Poker is a game of strategy. If you manage to live through what's coming, you just might learn how talented my husband is at concealing his hand until just the right moment."

 

"Funny. He didn't seem like the strategic type when I met him." Dennis concluded.

 

"Which is exactly why you and your captain would never make it in the world of politics," Melinda replied.

 

"I'll take that as a compliment."

 

"You shouldn't."

 

With that, Melinda raised the volume of the video feed.

 

"Have any of them realized the true purpose behind everything that has transpired?"  One of the male figures in the video asked.

 

"Of course not. Agent 27 remained undetected throughout the mission." Another of the men replied.

 

"And what of the terminal? Has there been another communique?"  One of the women inquired next.

 

"Almost immediately after the destruction of the target. They say we are almost ready." The man who spoke first replied.

 

"I still have my doubts about that." John Barret stated with folded arms.

 

"Your  doubts have already been duly noted."  Another woman in the group shot back.

 

"So we continue to cripple ourselves for their benefit and hope they don't screw us over in the end?" John said with a scowl towards the woman.

 

"The potential benefits are too great to ignore and certainly worth the risk." Another of the men chimed in.

 

"We must all remain cautious in our line of thought. Accepting the possibility of total annihilation for  any  form of personal gain we may receive is never a good plan of action."  The last woman of the group added.

 

"You West One citizens and your obsession with perfection." The final man in the group spoke. " Nothing is guaranteed in this life, and every avenue of a plan can not always be perfect."

 

"Perhaps not." The woman from West One replied. "But some members of this group are not giving this scheme the proper levels of caution risks of this magnitude should invoke."

 

"While you remain cautious," The first male of the group to speak stated, "we will focus on ensuring the success of the mission. Our forefathers knew the day would come when our society would need to reenter the world above and they made it clear that to do so before obtaining a beneficial foothold with the ruling classes of the outside could bring about the destruction of us all."

 

"We seem to be destroying ourselves without any help from the outside. If we cripple ourselves too much, we will emerge with an equally crippled foothold." John said sternly.

 

"We knew that once it was decided that our generation would be the one to reclaim the outside that not all would follow. We have to cut the fat before moving forward." The second woman of the group stated.

 

"Then we are in agreement to begin the final phase of the mission." The first man of the group said with an air of finality.

 

All members of the group nodded in compliance just before the video cut off.

 

Several seconds of silence engulfed the container before anyone spoke.

 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Dennis finally blurted out.

 

"From your tone, I can see you finally have some understanding of the gravity of the situation," Melinda said in response.

 

"This is like one of those old holodisk movies. One of the spy ones." Dennis continued.

 

"Idiot." Margaret hissed while shaking her head.

 

"Things usually didn't end well for most of the people in those movies," Dennis said, ignoring Margaret.

 

"Which is why if you want things to end well you and your unit will..." Melinda began but was cut short by Dennis.

 

"What? Start taking orders from your super secret spy club? You gonna have one of us blow up the next power station? Destroy a few more families while were at it?" Dennis said with unhindered malice.

 

"Shut up!" One of the fake employees, the one not holding Dennis's burgers said while hitting the security officer on the back of the head with his pistol.

 

Dennis let out a grunt then glared back at the man. "Don't do that again."

 

"Calm down boys," Melinda warned. "We... I am not asking you to blow up anything. I am asking that you assist me with helping my husband keep this group under control."

 

"Lady, this doesn't really seem like the type of group that can be controlled."

 

"And I thought you West One locals didn't believe in impossible missions."

 

"That's a common misconception." Dennis corrected. "We believe in making sure our missions are not impossible. Not accepting batshit crazy missions from batshit crazy cults!"

 

Dennis sensed the same man behind him moving to deliver another pistol whip. The security officer lowered his body and leaned forward while spinning around and catching the man's wrist and forearm. A loud crack rang throughout the warehouse after Dennis pulled the man's face down into his knee. Dennis disarmed the wounded henchmen and at the same time spun his body around in a roundhouse kick, planting his foot into the face of the second of Melinda's cohorts with immense force.

 

Margaret's eyes widened with shock and anger as she found herself staring down the barrel of her associate's pistol, which was now clutched firmly in Dennis Hsu's hand.

 

"Don't even think about it, apple bottom," Dennis warned with a smirk.

 

"Mother fu..." Margaret began.

 

"Drop it," Dennis ordered. "You," he pointed at Melinda with his free hand, "Over there with them, now!"

 

Melinda slowly raised her hands as the playful smile returned to her face. "There's that West One ingenuity I've heard so much about. You just might turn out to be an even bigger asset than Captain Ford."

 

"Lady, when I'm done with you the only asset you're going to have is gonna be the one pressing against that jumpsuit." Dennis fired back.

 

"I don't think so," Melinda said, never losing her playful smile.

 

Suddenly, twelve figures began emerging from the shadows of the warehouse, crowding the entrance to the container. Ten men and two women armed with N-99 pistols and stun batons appeared behind Melinda's other cohorts.

 

"I think you should return Pedro's weapon to him now, before my associates have to take it from you," Melinda said sweetly.

 

"Hmm, no," Dennis said with a sly grin.

 

"Come now, Mr. Hsu. You are quite talented but one man, even a West One man, is no match against sixteen opponents." Melinda warned.

 

"You're right." Dennis agreed before a confirming beep from his Pip-boy warped his grin into a mischievous smile. "But who said anything about one man?"

 

Before anyone else could react, the loud echo of a metal object rolling along the floor turned everyone's attention to the entrance of the warehouse. One of the henchmen near the rear of the group jumped away from the source of the noise while screaming a futile warning to the rest of his team.

 

"Down!"

 

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