"Really? That's possibly the most boring mission I can think of." Carter said in disbelief.
"Prisoner escort isn't the most glamorous of assignments, yes, but this is important. I received the order straight from Head Paladin Shepherd, we are to deliver Paladin Rhys to Bunker Alpha. I can't say no to the man." Conrad replied.
The two had been staying in Osceola the last week, helping repair the damage done during the attack and awaiting new orders. In that time they had received word from Head Paladin Shepherd to deliver the leader of the failed assault directly to him rather than any of the usual prison camps the Brotherhood used for their enemies.
"But isn't that below you? You'd figure a Paladin Lord would have more important things to do. Told me you do special operations" Carter said, attempting to steer Conrad into turning down the mission in favor of something more exciting.
"I also told you Paladin Lords are assigned units that don't question orders!" Conrad yelled and sighed. "Look, I have no clue why Shepherd wants this man 'Rhys', but he does."
"You fine man? Seem out of it" Carter worried.
"Yes, just been dealing with things. My entire squad was killed. I didn't know the buggers very well, hardly knew some of their first names, but they were good and loyal. And, no offense, I'm stuck with just you until we get to Alpha, not very safe. Not to mention we're in a war and the General Smith is asking me to disobey Shepherd's orders. 'Too personal' he says" Conrad replied, frustrated.
"General Smith?" Carter asked. "Know that was a common name before the bombs, but you wouldn't happen to..."
"General Smith and I are... of relation. My uncle, father's brother. Mean sonofabitch but he's always looking out for the people. For whatever reason, he thinks Shepherd's playing the wrong game. To be fair, the Head Paladin does want to see this war end peacefully. A tad too utopian for my tastes" Conrad said.
"Your family. You were trying to tell me about your life awhile back, never finished. Care to continue?"
"Yeah, see I-" Conrad started but was cut off by knocking on the barracks door. He walked over to open it and Donna squeezed in.
"Car here. We go now." the super mutant said.
Conrad looked to Carter. "I'll tell you on the way"
The three soldiers loaded up their prisoner in the back of a hummer. The roof had been torn off and the bottom supported to carry super mutants. Donna got in the back alongside Paladin Rhys to make sure he didn't try anything. Meanwhile, Carter hopped in shotgun and Conrad got into the driver's seat, turning the key in the ignition. The vehicle roared to life.
Elder Hyde walked up to the driver's window. "Now, do be sure to give Head Paladin Shepherd this folder. It is of utmost importance that he receives it. Safe travels all of you, Donna I promise you will see me again soon" Hyde said.
"Got it sir" Conrad said to the super mutant Elder.
Hyde walked back into the city and out of view.
"Hate to be that guy, but does everyone have their things? We aren't turning back" Conrad said.
"We're good" Carter said.
Paladin Rhys muffled something, but it was indecipherable with the gag they put in his mouth.
"Yup bud, whatever you say." Conrad chuckled. "Okay, the drive from Osceola to Chicago is about half a day on these roads. We're going through some towns but we'll only be stopping if necessary." Conrad put his foot down on the pedal and the vehicle took off.
Donna shuffled uncomfortably in the back.
"Leaving brother. Brother need Donna" she said.
Carter looked back towards her. "Hyde said he wanted you to come with us. Look at the bright side, if Rhys here tries running you get to beat him"
Donna smiled devilishly and looked at Rhys.
"So, you gonna tell me now?" Carter said to Conrad.
"What? Oh, yeah, yeah. Don't know where to begin. You, uh, ever hear about the Enclave?" Conrad said.
"Enclave? Assuming we're talking about the same one, yes. A big conspiracy back before the bombs, all the tinhats believed in them" Carter said, thinking back to all the crazy things he heard people say about the government and aliens.
"Yeah, well they are real. Or at least were." Conrad said. "I was one of them"
"No, stop. You need to explain right now" Carter said shockingly.
"I suppose I should go back to the bombs. When the bombs dropped, the Enclave, a shadow government operating within the US, retreated to a base they built off the Pacific Coast. They planned to level everything, start over. 'Cept they didn't, base got destroyed and they ended up stranded on the mainland. My grandfather and father were two of the survivors. Our group ended up in Chicago, at a bunker the Enclave had built before the war. And that's where I was born, in that bunker. I didn't know it at the time, only 12, but our leadership had been wiped out in 2277. We disconnected ourselves from the outside world, no more patrols, no more communication." Conrad said.
"How'd you end up in the Brotherhood?" Carter asked.
"Well, shortly after that the Brotherhood found us. Sent a message that in exchange for our tech and the bunker they'd let us live. My father, who had risen to commander of the bunker, denied the offer. His second-in-command put a bullet between his eyes and opened up the door with a better offer. We give the tech, but we stay in the bunker. In exchange we'd join them. Brotherhood, always looking for soldiers, agreed. Very next day I was a Squire." Conrad stated, almost with a sour note.
"Geez, I'm sorry" Carter said.
"Don't be. My dad would've gotten us killed. And at least here I can make up for everything my people did" Conrad said.
The rest of the drive was silent.
"Wake up. Carter, wake up you lazy bastard."
Carter jumped up. "What? Where?" he yelled. Conrad was leaning through the passenger window shaking him. The Paladin had gotten back in his power armor save the beastly helmet, which was hanging around his waist on a chain belt.
"We're here" he said. "Bunker Alpha"
"Alright, give me a sec" Carter said groggily. He turned around and saw that Donna and the prisoner were gone. Outside it was cool and dark, a breeze was blowing but not the harsh kind he knew Chicago was known for. Thank God it was summer, he thought. They were parked next to a building not unlike the bunker in Osceola, nearby were a few other buildings that he could tell were post-war but very wellmade, hardly different from what would've been constructed before the bombs. Carter opened the door and pulled himself out of the hummer. His legs were a tad numb from such a long drive but feeling soon returned to them.
"Where's Donna?" he asked, walking towards Conrad, who was waiting outside the bunker.
"Walked off with some Knights and the prisoner to lockup" Conrad said, looking around.
"Waiting for someone?" Carter asked.
"Yes, actually. A friend of mine, a defector from Maxson's side. Last I heard she was stationed here in Simulacrum with Shepherd." Conrad said.
"Simulacrum? I thought Bunker Alpha was in Chicago?" Carter asked, confused.
"It is, but technically 'Chicago' doesn't exist anymore. There's various settlements that occupy the former city. Simulacrum is one of them to the east of here. That's where Shepherd lives, and where he usually keeps to himself. Only comes back to Alpha when there's an emergency, like now." Conrad stated.
"This town is like the Osceola of the east? A border town?" Carter asked.
"Just full of questions today, aren't ya?" Conrad chuckled. "No, it's a border town, but it's not well protected. A more recent settlement, only built about eight years ago. Come on, let's go to the bar. If she isn't here yet we'll just have to wait."
Conrad led Carter to a nearby building that looked to be a former military barracks, muffled noises could be heard from inside. The two walked in and towards the counter. The inside was rather large and there were about thirty off-duty soldiers milling about and drinking, humans, ghouls, and super mutants alike.
"Two beers please" Conrad said to the bartender, passing him a few caps.
On the far right side of the building Carter saw someone up on a wooden stand. He was a human man with brown unkempt hair. He wore a tightfitting robe that looked to be stitched from a worn lab coat.
"Hey Conrad, who's that guy?" Carter asked, pointing towards the man and taking a bottle from his comrade's hands.
"Oh, Donald? He's a priest from Simulacrum. Always going on about the Head Paladin and 'his people' and a 'promised land'. Shepherd says he gets more annoyed by him than embarrassed." Conrad said, sipping his bear.
"What's he have to say about Shepherd?" Carter asked.
"You go listen to him, maybe you'll be his first convert" Conrad said, stiffling a laugh.
Carter walked closer to the holyman to hear what he had to say.
"And it was the Shepherd who brought us from the terrors into this welcoming land. A righteous hand to protect the chosen people and lead them into the land promised by our fathers. Our fathers, our fathers. Cruel though they were they promised a future of prosperity and evolution, mankind redefined. All are welcome to join us in our journey. Any human or non-human. Man or woman. All." the priest, Donald, went on, but Carter was bothered by a tap on his shoulder.
"Crazy, ain't he?" Conrad said, putting his armored hand on Carter's soldier. "Shepherd's just a man, a good man, but he ain't no god."
"Yeah, seems crazy. But you gotta a-" Carter was about to make a point in favor for Donald but was interrupted.
"You! I've been looking around for you!" a woman behind Conrad said to him.
Conrad turned and a smile went from ear to ear. "Haylen! Long time no see, we were waiting for you. Figured we may as well wait in here" Conrad said happily. "Oh, Haylen, this is Knight Carter, my newest squadmember. Carter, this is the friend I mentioned, Senior Scribe Haylen."
"Look, nice to meet you Carter, but Con, I need to speak with you. The prisoner, is he here?" Haylen asked quickly.
"Yeah, in lockup. What's so important about him anyway? Had me bring him all the way up here" Conrad said.
"Rhys isn't important, strategically-speaking. But I knew him back..... back before. When I read Shepherd the Osceola report I practically had to beg him to bring Rhys up here instead of one of those camps. Thank you Conrad" Haylen said.
"No problem, really. But shouldn't we be getting to see Shepherd?" Conrad asked.
"Yes, of course. Follow me" Haylen said.
Bunker Alpha was much better than the installation in Osceola. More lighting, less clutter, definitely more people. Carter had to squeeze to the walls to avoid bumping into someone. Conrad had it easy, no one would dare try walking down a hall next to a fully power armored person. The trio eventually reached a sort of command center. There was a table piled with files and a map of the area, surrounding it was a group of power armored soldiers, only one stood out. One soldier wasn't wearing the beastly and dark armor that Carter found usual of the Midwestern soldiers, he was wearing T-60 instead, though still with a cape attached to the left shoulder piece. The man was tall and had a short beard that was only beginning to grey.
"-take the northeast point from Maxson coming down and we may just have a chance at winning this war." the man said in a stern voice. He looked up from the map and noticed them. "That'll be all Alpha Squad. Dismissed."
"Sir yes sir" the squad collectively yelled, then marched out of the room.
"Paladin Lord Conrad, it's been some time. Glad to see you're still alive" the man said.
"Thank you Head Paladin Shepherd, likewise. This is Knight Carter Lakeman, the newest addition to Sigma Squad. Carter, this is Head Paladin Shepherd." Conrad said.
Shepherd looked Carter up and down and smiled.
"Welcome to the meat grinder Knight. But please, we're all friends here. Call me Danse"