By a Campfire At Night
When I talked to him of leaving, and returning to my home in the Capital Wastelands, Ulysses said that he wanted to come with me. It had been his goal, before turning aside towards the Pitt, to see the seat of the Old World’s power, and to perhaps get inspiration on how such a power could be brought back into being again. On another day, earlier, the idea of him with me, alone, would have made me dizzy, but I was soul-sick and torn, and only (at the time) grateful for his companionship. We made our way back out over the bridge that I had crossed, so long ago now it seemed, and found my rifle and other accoutrements still safely hidden within the belly of the burned out car. Then we made our way down to the rails, and started our way back.
Much as on our trip out, we did not stay in the settlements along the rails on the way. Where before it had been fear of pursuit, now it was more a desire to not upset more lives of strangers that I didn’t know. The Pitt had left its mark on me, in more ways than one. We took our time that first day, not pushing ourselves to give us rest after the events of the last few days, and we said little, lost in our own thoughts of all that had happened. It was only that first night, after he had started a campfire for us, that I asked him the question that had building in my mind since that dreaded scene in Ashur’s room.
“Did I know? What you were up to? Not for certain, but I guessed very early. As I said then, Midea was taking a good deal of interest in you, much more so than the average worker there. There was no word of you having been brought in with a raiding party, and you were clearly new. When you signed up for the Games, at her urging, it was more or less a confirmation for me. Either you were addicted to danger, or you were trying to get close to Ashur.” He smiled slightly. “I think both were true. But I also had met Wehrner myself. I knew most of the turns and tunnels of the Pitt. Wandered most of them, and I found him. He tried to recruit me, and he didn’t tell me about you, but I guessed with the rest that he was behind it.”
I could find no smile to return. “And the cure? Did you know about that as well?”
“What it was? No. That I didn’t know before we came into that room and saw for ourselves. Wehrner didn’t tell me that. I assume because he was afraid of my refusal. Ashur himself held that close to his chest, as he might be expected to. But . . .” he raised a brow at me, “. . . I don’t think that is what you really want to know, is it? I think what you really want to know is: knowing the truth, would I have done what I did anyway? That is what’s really troubling you, isn’t it? It all happened very fast, and you’re wondering if we, you, made the right decision.”
I thought for a moment then nodded, and he continued. “Yes, I believe that I would have. I came to the Pitt, and I stayed, because I wanted to watch the birth of a powerful nation, and the rumors I had heard led me to believe that it might be the Pitt. There was promise there. Ashur was hard, and heavy with his hand, and he forced his people, his slaves, into labor. But . . . I believe that likely is necessary, for a time at least, to build order out of chaos, and strength out of weakness. The Old World, I’ve read, prided itself on freedom of choice, but in a time such as ours it is unity – organized, concerted action, directed action and effort – that is the only insurance against destruction at the hands of all of the dangers in the Wastes. Ashur understood that, and I respected him in his vision, and his ability to be relentless in the pursuit of a greater power than himself. He paused, and his voice grew hard, his eyes bright and fiery when continued. “But all that is meaningless if the leader can’t make personal sacrifices, along with the people that they make do the same. Ashur had in his hands the hope of his people, the key to their sickness. But it was his daughter, and that made him cautious and afraid. Hesitant to sacrifice her for the hope of so many, because she was his. In the end, he was weak. He could sacrifice the children of others, but not his own, and when a leader puts their own wants on a separate place than others, they have proven themselves unworthy, and should be deposed.”
He looked down at me, and his eyes and his voice softened. I think he saw that my cheeks were wet. His strong hand cupped my chin and turned my eyes up to his, and he said, kindly: “So take some comfort if you can. You and I, we made a very hard choice, but what we did was right.” His fingers caressed my cheek tenderly, brushing off a tear, and then he told me good night and went to his bedroll.
I lay there for a time, twisting and turning on my pad. And then, I went to him.
End of Chapter Four: Of Hearts and Darkness
The Forgotten Past, Chapter Four: Of Hearts and Darkness
Page One: A Voice Through Despair
Page Two: Ambush At The Gates
Page Three: A Life Of Labor and Cancer
Page Four: An Inescapable Sickness
Page Five: The Killer of Trogs
Page Six: Quiet Shift of Fates 1
Page Seven: Quiet Shift of Fates 2
Page Eight: Let The Games Begin
Page Nine: Where Only The Strong Survive
Page Ten: One Precious Life Part 1
Page Eleven: One Precious Life Part 2
Page Twelve: One Precious Life Part 3
Page Thirteen: The Consequences of Action Part 1
Page Fourteen: The Consequences of Action Part 2
Page Fifteen: By a Campfire At Night
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