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A Change in Management


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Chapter III


"We just have to get some ammo," Kaori explained as we began to ascend the staircase-like ramp to Rivet City.


"Why didn't we just stay here last night," I began, "instead of-"


"Well, if it ain't little Catherine!" chimed in a loud male voice, followed by booming laughter.


Drawing my shotgun faster than Kaori could react, I spun around on my heels and took aim at the source of the voice.


"Stand down, Charon," Kaori muttered, pushing the barrel of the shotgun toward the ground with one slender finger, her emerald eyes heavy-lidded in mock annoyance. The corners of her velvety amaranth lips curled up in amusement.


"Well," a second man said, blowing a cloud of smoke from between his lips and flicking a cigarette butt over his shoulder, "You have definitely grown up, Catherine... Filled out." He winked and turned to the other man, who just smiled and shook his head.


My fingers twitched in agitation and I pulled my combat knife from its sheath, "She isn't interested."


Kaori laughed coldly and snatched the knife from my grip at a nearly imperceptible speed, revealing a gracefulness that was previously absent. In one smooth, elegant motion, she pressed the blade to my throat and drew my body against hers. It seemed close combat was her specialty. She then growled close to my left ear and said, "I think I know threats when I see them, and I doubt my brother is one."


The smoking man raised an eyebrow, "Kinky." He blew a ring of smoke into the air, "Yeah, Mike, you're gonna need to keep me away from this girl when I'm drunk."


Kaori released me and returned to her usual bubbly demeanor instantly, locking eyes with Mike for a split second before rushing over and embracing him, laughing.


"Where's my hug?" the other man asked jokingly.


Kaori ignored the man and stared intently at her brother, her scarlet eyelashes sharply contrasting with her green eyes. An eerie silence followed, one that nothing dared break. The ramp beneath our feet didn't creak, the ship didn't groan, the wind didn't blow, all for what seemed like ages.


Mike's voice punctured the silence abruptly, "Why did you leave the vault?"


Kaori blinked and looked away guiltily, "Amata said she couldn't tug at her father's heartstrings to keep me safe anymore. Things in there are starting to fall apart, and they got worse after people saw I didn't leave with you."


"I see," he replied, running a hand through his dark brown hair. I noticed his eyes were identical to his sister's, the only evidence of their relation. He was rugged and scarred, tanned and muscular; she was tall and lean, soft and pale, scarless and pure. Then again, maybe he had been like her when he'd left that vault, too. It could have been years since then.


"Speaking of vaults," began the other man smoothly, blowing out a smoke ring and watching it float away, "let me introduce you to the man who helped your brother escape from one." He tipped his black cowboy hat gentlemanly as he continued, "Morgan Hollister, package courier."


"Kaori Vance," replied Kaori with a warm smile, fingering the strap of her satchel with both hands. She glanced sideways at me and jerked her chin toward Mike and Morgan. She wanted me to introduce myself, it seemed.


"Kaori Vance?" inquired Mike just as I'd opened my mouth," You mean Catherine Ryan?" He stepped over to me and placed a hand on my shoulder, "Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt."


"Yes, Kaori," she said, her ears and cheeks reddening, becoming a slightly lighter shade than her hair before biting her lip and adding, "And this is my friend, Charon. I bought his contract yesterday, and although I don't agree with this sort of thing, I have my reasons for buying it... And changing my name as well."


Mike gestured toward the creaking, rusty ship before us, "Let's go inside. Seems we got some catching up to do."


Kaori and Mike walked off ahead of Morgan and I, although we followed close behind them.


As we entered the ship and began to descend the staircase to The Muddy Rudder, I clenched my fists and felt a flash of anger jolt its way through my body. It was hard not to noticed the absence of ghouls in Rivet City. At least, it was hard for me not to. The humans probably didn't even give it a thought. It's not something they usually care about.


Mike opened the door and led his sister in, before stepping inside himself.


Morgan put a hand on my shoulder and stopped me before I could go inside. He looked at me seriously, "I have to ask, is she your girl? I noticed the way you look at her and, well, I'm not stupid. What's between you two?"


I blinked, feeling the familiar pain in my chest that hadn't shown itself since I was human, "She is my employer," I began, the feeling intensifying until it was a thick, aching lump that occupied the entire center of my body, "I am contractually obligated to protect her through all forms of danger, and to obey her wishes. That is all."


It was a good lie, the sort that was nearly impossible to see through. Of course, most of it was true, but I'd protect her even if my contract was still in Ahzrukhal's hands.


That was a better lie, because for a second, I had believed it myself.


That crumpled piece of paper was my soul, and I HAD to listen to its owner, regardless of my emotions.


Morgan shot me an unconvinced look, then shrugged and walked into the bar. I followed behind with a bored sigh. When I took my seat, the one on Kaori's left, Morgan patted my back before taking his own seat across the table from me, "Sounds like you could use a few rounds on me."

Edited by tokyobleach
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tokyobleach, please keep writing this wondrous story! :thumbsup:

Thank you, and I am actually writing as we speak! I have to give lots of credit and thanks to MikeRyan, who the characters Michael Ryan and Morgan Hollister belong to. He gave me permission to use them and we work together to make sure everything fits together. His characters seemed to fit into the story like a missing puzzle piece, and tied everything together for me. :)

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i agree with darkedge, its getting better and better!


and you are very welcome for the use of the characters, tying together our characters worked out great!



looking forward for the next installment buddy! ;)

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Chapter IV


As I stared across the table at my brother, I couldn't shake the feeling that he wouldn't like what I had to tell him. He looked back at me with the same expression, as if he had similar news. All the while, I wondered about our father and where he'd gone.


"So, tell me about the vault," Mike said, then ordered two Nuka-Colas from Belle Bonny, the impatient and haggard barkeep.


I pried my bottlecap off using the corner of the table and took a swig, then looked back up at Mike. His eyes shone brightly under his furrowed brow, a serious expression on his face. I smiled a little. People always said our eyes had a special kind of life in them. We had our mother to thank for that, Dad always told us. Until now, after wandering this wasteland and seeing all the dead-eyed, broken men and women, I'd never noticed just how bright and lively my brother's eyes really were. And I appreciated it.


Charon took the seat next to me and Morgan good-naturedly patted the center of Charon's back, saying, "Sounds like you could use a few rounds on me."


I turned to Charon, "Are you okay?"


He nodded once, his cloudy blue eyes seeming to be tracing the grain of the wooden table in front of us. He paused, thinking, then said, "Nothing a few drinks can't cure."


I looked back at Mike again, "Sorry, Mikey. You know how I accidentally jump subjects."


He smiled, "At least the wasteland hasn't changed you much."


I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply, a grin spreading across my face as a wave of nostalgia and familiarity washed over my being. "Yeah, guess it hasn't." I looked at the floor for a moment and suddenly felt a sense of loss over my home back in the vault. "I miss the vault, though. It was paradise compared to this. I'd never really even felt hungry before I'd left."


"Yeah," Mike agreed, while pushing a bottlecap around in small circles with his finger," So tell what happened in there."


"Well, when I woke up on the morning you left, my door was locked and there was a note on my dresser. It was from Amata, it seemed. She hadn't signed it, but she was the only person who cared about us enough to try and keep me safe. At first, I didn't believe it, thought it was a joke. But when I opened up my door and saw Amata standing there, just about to knock, tired and upset... I knew it was all real."


Mike closed his eyes and sighed, "I was afraid things wouldn't hold together in there for very long..."


I looked down at the ground, focusing on a spot just to the right of one of Charon's feet. I looked up at him and observed the way he started into the bottom of his glass, taking in everything about it as if there were another world inside that tiny glass that only he could see. He swirled the whiskey around a few times and his eyes followed the rippling liquid.


Morgan tipped back his shot glass and downed all the liquid inside in one smooth motion. He sat the glass back down with a sound akin to the heel of a shoe on wooden floorboards and looked up at me, "You need a drink! Mike won't touch the stuff, but you look like you can handle your alcohol."


I smiled, "Yeah, I've been known to drink a lot in the past."


Mike shot me a look that made him almost a mirror of my father, albeit a younger version, "Keep talking."


Charon peeked at me through the corners of his eyes, taking a sip from his glass. He seemed curious underneath his usual look of indifference.


I smiled a little and resumed my story, "Amata said I was lucky, because her father had sort of liked me, despite all the trouble our family had caused over the years. Mostly, it was just the fact that I'd been pretty isolated from the other kids growing up, being two years younger than most of them."


"I did notice how he went out of his way for you sometimes, you know," Mike said, his arms crossed as he thought, "Like your Pip-Boy. He made sure you got a nicer one than I'd gotten, probably to keep the bullies from having something to pick on you for."


I chucked a little. Everyone but the Overseer knew how well I could handle myself against Butch and the other bullies. Since I was about thirteen, all I'd had to do was bat my eyelashes and give a few giggles and he'd practically start drooling, trying desperately to gain my favor. Before I was that old, I'd just break his nose with a quick punch. "The Overseer seemed to think every girl was as peaceful as his daughter. I, however, have been known to crack a few skulls when things get ugly."


"No kidding," Mike laughed, putting his hands on my shoulder, "Remember your tenth birthday party?" He paused, then explained to Morgan and Charon how Old Lady Palmer usually baked a sweetroll for kids on their birthdays. "Now, at my tenth birthday party, Butch, the vault bully, decided to try and take mine. I ate it in front of him, then slapped him. He cried."


We were laughing as Belle Bonny brought over another round, and she scoffed, as if she'd been listening the whole time. She probably had.


"Now," Mike continued, either not noticing or not caring, "at Catherine's tenth birthday party, Butch tried the same move. She responded a bit differently than I did." He paused for dramatic effect, "She punched him square in the face, then spit on him and wrapped the sweetroll up for later. She knocked him out and he stayed in the infirmary for the night."


Charon and I were the only ones in the bar who didn't laugh. It seemed that Belle Bonny was not the only one eavesdropping.


I slouched over a bit and wished to be invisible. There was a part of that story Mike didn't know. Nobody knew, unless Dad noticed and never mentioned it. He probably had, but I preferred to convince myself that everyone thought I was tough enough to not feel guilty about what I'd done. The memory of it coursed through my mind rather quickly.


I winced as the door to the clinic slid upward in its metal frame, staying open for what seemed like an eternity. I stepped inside and the door lowered behind me, closing with a metallic creak that made me shiver. I gulped, imagining what my punishment for being out past curfew would be if someone caught me.


"What are you doing here?" Butch asked loudly, making me jump.


I held up the brown satchel I'd gotten earlier today from Mike, and the Nuka-Cola bottles inside clanked together. Butch said nothing, so I stepped over to his hospital bed, my bare feet padding lightly on the cold floor. I smiled, "I thought you'd be hungry."


He shrugged, faking a look of indifference, then sneered at me, "What are you wearing, anyway? You look frilly."


I looked down at my white nightgown, "Um, clothes? I am a girl, you know."


He wrinkled his nose, "You sure as heck don't hit like one." He pulled down his lower lip to reveal four stitches where his mouth had hit either the floor or my fist, or maybe both.


I pulled an ice-cold Nuka-Cola from my satchel and handed it to Butch. "I'm sorry," I said simply, then opened my own bottle on the corner of a metal cart.


He took out his pocket knife and popped the bottlecap off his Nuka-Cola, "Got any food?"


I pulled the sweetroll out of my bag and tossed it to him, "It's not warm anymore, but it is food. I tried to sneak away some of my supper, but they were watching me too closely, and the last thing I want is for people to know I was nice to you. You would do the same thing if you were me."


He laughed at me, and my skin flushed in embarrassment. He tensed slightlly, as if expecting another blow, then said with a false toughness, "That's where you're wrong. I wouldn't come visit you after knocking you out. You're just a kid, so I wouldn't even care anyway."


I only smiled in response, which caused his temper to flare. I decided to say what I was really thinking, then, "I wouldn't care if you visited me anyway. I'd have plenty of people check on me. But who else visited you?"


Butch's eyes left me and veered somewhere to the right. He stayed silent.


"So," I said carefully, "Let's call a truce, just for tonight."


His eyes narrowed slightly as he thought, "Fine, but tomorrow I go back to making you cry and taking your stuff. Tunnel Snakes don't go soft."


"I'd put you back in the hospital if you didn't," I replied simply, grinning.


"So... What's a concussion?"


Mike was chatting with Morgan when the world came back into focus. He looked at me, "You come back to life?"


I smirked, then raised my shot glass to my lips, tipping it back and swallowing it all at once. It burned the back of my throat as it slid its way down.


Mike was obviously unhappy with that sight, as his eyes were slightly narrowed. Maybe he was curious as to why I'd even touch alcohol.


"The people were becoming very hostile toward me, and I decided after a week or two that I wasn't going to just stand by and let them keep sneering at me, and avoiding me, and blaming me, and-"


Charon surprised me by placing a massive hand on my shoulder, "You should calm down."


I beamed at the gesture, as it implied he did care about my emotional well-being as well as my physical. It implied friendship, and friendship was exactly what I missed most right now.


Mike looked at me and wiped under my eyes with his thumb, "What happened in there?"


I sniffled, unaware that I'd been tearing up, "I made a few new friends. I started running with the Tunnel Snakes."


"Namely Butch, I'm guessing?"


I nodded and rubbed the back of my neck.


"So..." He said, then paused for what felt like hours, "My sister the bully."


"They let me in because Butch had a respectful fear of my fists. I did what I had to so I could be safe."


Morgan patted Mike's back, "From what you've told me, things couldn't have been that bad even if she was a bully. They seem pretty tame compared to the Wastelanders and Raiders we've seen. Now remember not to jump to conclusions."


"It doesn't mean either of us are bad people, you know," I said, feeling Charon's hand on my shoulder again.


"Butch DeLoria," began Mike, looking as if he were pondering Butch's personality, "Nice?"


"Sort of."


"So, what did you do exactly while with the Tunnel Snakes?" Mike asked as I took another drink.


"Well, I did whatever I had to. Stole, lied, fought. All to make people fear me, of course." My answer was robotic, and it was obvious that I neglected to tell them something.


"Alright," Mike said sternly, "What's going on? What aren't you telling us?"


I cursed silently, "I wasn't supposed to leave the vault alone. Someone wanted to come with me."


Morgan drank what had to be his seventh shot of whiskey and said, "Must have been Butch."


I choked a little on my own shot and felt if drip down my chin as I coughed it back up. The stench of alcohol flooded my nostrils and my stomach threatened to empty itself.


Morgan laughed, "You're easy to see through, girl. On top of that, you've had a lot to drink. You should quit before I get drunk, too. I don't have reason, then."


Charon, seeming to be a bit more sociable with alcohol in his system, laughed and replied with, "If you did, I think I could handle it. I was a bouncer up until yesterday."


"Hey, wait!" Morgan exclaimed, "I know you! You're the one who threw me out of The Ninth Circle that one time!"


Charon's lips curled up at the corners.


"My knee still hurts from that!"


We all laughed, and for a moment, I felt like I was home, with nothing in the world to worry about.


Mike tapped his hand on the table as if he were remembering something, "Right! So what made you buy Charon's contract anyway?"


I smiled, "That's an easy one. He reminds me of a friend from Megaton. Someone else who deserved a friend, but was denied that by his employer. Everyone deserves freedom."


"But how free is he if you have his contract?" Mike asked sternly, the big brother in him showing.


Charon interrupted, "It's as free as I'm gonna get. That paper is my very soul, and I'm afraid of what life is like without it." He was drunk. Then again, I probably was too.


"What about your name, Catherine?" Mike asked. It seemed he wanted answers out of me before I got too drunk.


"Well, that one is pretty simple," I began, shoving my drink over to Charon, finished with drinking for today, "I didn't like how Three Dog covered the news on our family. Everywhere I went, people were disappointed that I'd showed up and you hadn't. So I decided to make a name for myself, figuratively and literally. After changing my name, I started doing small errands for people. They still know who I am, but the name change shows that you and I are our own people."


"It's smart," Mike said, running a hand through his hair to slick it back, "But when you're around Dad, be sure to call yourself Cate, like you used to."


"Dad!?" I exclaimed, my chest swelling with hope, "He's alive?"


"I think he must be," Mike replied, knitting his fingers together atop the table, "And I'm going to look for him. Today."


"Where is he?"


"I won't let you endanger yourself, Kaori." He had a tone that said there would be no arguing with him.


Morgan tipped his hat, "I'll also be leaving today. Gonna go get my latest assignment."


"What'll you be delivering?" I asked.


"Not sure yet. I'm just going to get my assignment."


I was intrigued now. "Have you ever delivered something dangerous?"


He nodded, "You bet your cute butt I have, Freckles. Plenty. You know, there is one thing I fear. That one day, one job is gonna come back, and bite me in the behind." He lit up a cigar and took a long drag, focused on some distant thought. He let his free hand rest in the pocket of his dusty trenchcoat.


Mike took a sip of Nuka-Cola and crossed his arms, "Charon, promise me you'll take care of my sister. Teach her how to survive out here. She needs to learn how to use a gun, cause her knifework is great, but she can't exactly defend herself with only a knife."


Charon nodded and responded with, "I will do whatever she wishes." Yep, he was very drunk. He'd never say he would teach me things if he wasn't. I read the contract, knew it didn't mention teaching me anything.


Mike nodded, "Good to know she'll be safe when I'm gone. I know she can take care of herself, she she's still my baby sister, you know? He stood up and stretched, "Well, it's noon..."


Morgan looked up, "Is it? We'd better be off, then!" He stood and pushed his chair under the table.


I stood, and found it hard to keep my balance. My head buzzed pleasantly, and I began to hum. Charon held me by the shoulders, keeping me upright, and it took me a moment to remember why. I was drunk, but hadn't noticed the effects until I'd stood up. I didn't like this, and felt the urge to punch something.


"Catie," Mike said as he hugged me goodbye, "be good, okay?"


"I'll be more than good, Mikey," I replied, wondering how many drinks I'd had.


Morgan tipped his hat, "It's been a pleasure, honey."


"Yes it has," I slurred, starting to feel sleepy. I heard Charon grumble behind me. I pulled the pocket watch out of my satchel and handed it to Morgan. "Remember our family when you think things are getting crappy." That seemed to amuse me, and I giggled.


Charon held my shoulders tighter with his massive hands. He had a strong grip, that much was certain, as my legs had given up on their attempts to support me. He carried me out of the bar and up the stairs, then outside and across the bridge.


"Thanks, buddy," I said as I patted his arm. He wouldn't put me down, and I protested, but he still kept hold on me, carrying me like an infant.


Mike hugged me once more, awkwardly fitting his arms around me as best he could without including Charon in the hug as well.


"Any last words?" I laughed, feeling tired suddenly.


Morgan thought for a moment, then said, "Honor thy dead, after you loot em. Nice guys take the stuff then bury em, okay?"


I laughed more, "Yep, I'll do that."


Mike shook his head and brushed the hair out of my eyes, "I'm gonna find Dad, Catie. Maybe things will go back to normal. All I know is I'm gonna find him. Now go get some rest."


The last thing I remembered before passing out was Charon buying a room in the Weatherly Hotel for the night and grumbling about my lack of alcohol tolerance.

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