Fallout One-shot Project: The Butterfly of Autumn

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    The Butterfly of Autumn

     

     

     

     

    A Fallout One-shot

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

                           There are some things that they never prepare you for in the academy.

     

                    The shock of artillery fire, drilling into your bones as the shells come down. The glare of mini nukes as they detonate in the distance, searing into your retinas as the irradiated wind surges into you, howling as it knocks you down into the dust. The smell – oh, by the heavens, the smell. Mud. Dung. Rotting flesh. Strange fungi growing on your soles and between your toes as moisture somehow finds its way through supposedly waterproof boots, through the frigid air, into the pair of socks you were supposed to wear for the rest of the week.

     

                    The blank stare of an enemy combatant with the red mist bursting from the back of his head as he falls backwards. The absurd sense of intimacy as you keep on gazing at him through your scope. One millisecond ago, this was a man. Now he is the fifty-second notch on your rifle.

     

                    ‘Qiu Zhong Wei, hao qiang fa,’ Corporal Zheng grinned, lowering his binoculars as the Americans beat a hasty retreat. ‘Yang Gui Zi zhe gai zhi nan er tui le, eh?’

     

                    Excellent shooting, Lieutenant Qiu. That should give the Western devils something to chew on, eh?

     

                    ‘Zheng Tong Zhi, bie song xie,’ I cautioned. ‘Zhe li shi Mei Guo, wo men xian xia you zai jian xian hou – ta men you de shi ren, hou yuan zhuan yan jiu hui lai. Gei wo qu jian cha dan yao.’

     

                    Don’t let your guard down, Comrade Zheng. This is American land, and we’re behind enemy lines to boot – they have an advantage in numbers, and will be back soon with reinforcements. Now get off your ass and give me an ammo count.

     

                    Shifting, my spotter complied. ‘Jiu Jiu Shi dan jia sheng si pai, Shi Qi Shi dan jia sheng wu pai, Si Yi Shi hou bei dan… liu fa.’

     

                    Four magazines left for my Type 99 rifle; twenty 8x57 IS rounds. Five magazines for our Type 17 pistols; fifty 10 millimetre rounds. Six reserve 14.5x114 rounds for Zheng’s Type 41 anti-materiel rifle, seven including the one already in the chamber. We had enough for one more wave, perhaps two. Then the position would be overrun.

     

                    I gave Zheng a pat on the shoulder and began to straighten. Better safe than sorry – it was time to fall back. We had done enough damage for the day, and I had six more notches to scratch on my Jiu Jiu Shi’s stock. Zheng flipped his tripod back up to the Si Yi Shi’s barrel, smiling as he rubbed the stubble on his chin. Weary, but proud. And why shouldn’t we be proud? No one knew guerrilla warfare as the People’s Liberation Army did-

     

                    A sudden flash; light reflecting off the glass of a scope. Our only warning. There was no time to think. We threw ourselves off the hill into a ditch, plastering ourselves to the ground. An instant later, loose dirt kicked up in a neat little hole above us, followed immediately by a crack that echoed throughout the forest.

     

                    Zheng closed his eyes and began muttering to himself, calculating the distance between us and the enemy sniper by estimating the length of time between the impact and report of the rifle. Then he grabbed his binoculars.

     

                    ‘Liang dian zhong. San bai mi. Shu cong. Qiao dao le ma?’ Two o’clock. Three hundred metres. In the trees. See him?

     

                    I risked a small crawl forwards, smearing my face on the cold mud as I did, masking the shade of my skin. Then I looked through my scope.

     

                    The sniper had a Ghillie suit on, and it took my eyes a while to make out his outline. He had picked a good cuckoo nest, with a high vantage point and leaves adding to the camouflage effect his suit already gave him. Unfortunately for him, it was approaching dusk. Golden sunlight streamed down from between the branches. The American shuffled, adjusting his aim and trying to pick us out again. That small movement was enough. His frame was highlighted immediately.

     

                    I took aim with my own rifle. Breath control was everything. I inhaled and exhaled twice, driving everything out of my mind – fear, apprehension, the discomfort of lying belly down in muck. Nothing else mattered but the shot. Nothing else…

     

                    My heart slowed further and further until I felt as still as a corpse. All the while my crosshairs crept over the American as I adjusted for gravity and wind. At this distance, that would be enough. I couldn’t miss.

     

                    I exhaled one last time and pulled the trigger. The Type 99 sent a shock down my shoulder as it flung the bullet from the muzzle, sending the white-hot piece of metal into the American’s torso.

     

                    The enemy sniper folded over and crumpled off the tree, his rifle falling from unresponsive fingers. Seven notches to make now.

     

                    I heard Zheng chuckle. ‘Bu kui wei Jing Die’er, zhuan sha nan ren.’ As expected of our Silent Butterfly, manslayer in every sense of the word.

     

                    I tossed a wink his way. ‘Xia shi, xiao xin shuo hua. Da jie chuang shang gong fu ke bu shi shuo xiao de...’ Watch yourself, Corporal. Your Big Sister here doesn’t play around in bed…

     

                    We were scurrying back up the hill when we heard them. Footsteps. Loud, metallic footsteps, with a very distinct hiss behind them.

     

                    Pneumonic pumps.

     

                    Zheng blanched and swivelled around, pressing his binoculars to his face. ‘Ta nai nai de,’ he breathed. ‘Dong li jia.’ Fuck their grandmothers. Power armour.

     

                    ‘Ngo pok kui tsau gai,’ I swore in my native Cantonese. ‘Fu xia!’ Get down!

     

                    Power armour. A full-body, fusion-powered exoskeleton that bolstered the wearer’s physical capabilities in almost every aspect, while also granting him near complete immunity to small arms fire and conventional explosives. The very definition of American brute force.

     

                    We locked eyes as Zheng hefted his rifle. My own sniper rifle lacked the power to punch through that kind of protection. Zheng’s 14.5x114 millimetre tungsten rounds were the only hope we had of taking down the enemy. It was my turn to spot.

     

                    Poking my head out from the ditch, I raised my own binoculars and almost screamed out loud. The massive steel suit was right on top of us, a towering grey behemoth charging at us hefting a minigun with six barrels already spinning. Then I readjusted the magnification and breathed slightly easier.

     

                    The power armour was still uncomfortably close. Frowning, I realised that the soldier must have crept close using the sniper as a distraction, only engaging the microfusion cells until he was within firing range. Clever bastard.

     

                    ‘Shi yi dian zhong, zhi lu. Yi bai san shi mi… yi bai er shi mi… yi bai mi, tian ah, hau kuai!’

     

                    Eleven o’clock, coming down the straight road. One hundred and thirty metres… one hundred and twenty… one hundred… God, he’s fast!

     

                    Zheng rested the Type 41’s barrel on the top of the ditch and began to release a steady stream of air from his lips. I saw his eyes narrow and I knew he had the shot.

     

                    Then the armoured American opened up with his minigun. A hundred large-calibre rounds tore into our entrenchment within the span of one second.

     

                    I covered my ears and slid further down, but Zheng, brave Zheng, he persisted. He clenched his teeth like a loyal Communist and glared through his scope, trying to zero in through the barrage of machinegun fire.

     

                    The first bullet caught the scope, blowing the telescopic sight clean off the mount and sending shards of glass flying in every direction. Zheng shrieked and clapped a hand to his right eye, now a gelatinous mass of red and white. He recoiled, exposing half of his torso. His finger tightened on the trigger as he staggered back. The explosive report rendered me temporarily deaf as the bullet spiralled uselessly upwards. Another two dozen rounds stitched through his body, ripping his arm off along with fist-sized chunks of flesh, splattering me with gore.

     

                    ‘Zheng tong zhi!’ My eyes watered with grief and from the stench of faeces that filled the air. That was another thing they forgot to mention in the academy, how people lost control of their bowels as they died.

     

                    The minigun sputtered to a stop and I took a shuddering breath, collecting myself. There would be time to mourn later. Zheng had rolled to a stop right next to me. I patted his bloodied fatigues down and took the six bullets left for the Si Yi Shi.

     

                    The power armour’s footsteps were getting louder. Closer. I had perhaps ten seconds left. Sliding the bolt back and exposing the chamber, I loaded one round into the anti-materiel rifle and scraped what remained of the scope’s mount off the weapon. The iron sights were going to have to do. I spared one last glance at Zheng. He didn’t have much of a face anymore, but I reached out and closed his intact eye.

     

                    ‘Tong Zhi, yi lu hao zou,’ I whispered gently. Fare thee well, my Comrade.

     

                    Then I kicked off and rolled away from the ditch into a deep puddle of wet mud, clutching the Type 41 to my chest.

     

                    The wait was torture. Each footfall of the mechanical boots shook the ground as the American soldier approached, and I could begin to hear the recycled gas whooshing from his suit’s built-in air supply. The moment the armour approached and I saw the sunlight glinting off the steel, I drew as much air as I could into my lungs and dove under the surface.

     

                    The soldier lingered in the area for what seemed like an unreasonably long time, pacing around Zheng’s mutilated corpse, making what sounded like jokes and laughing to himself. The helmet distorted his words, and the mud muffled them even more, submerged as I was. There was the click and clack of locking springs. The soldier seemed to be examining my Type 99 rifle.

     

                    Almost three full minutes had passed already. I could feel my chest about to burst, my diaphragm convulsing, begging to release my lungful of deoxygenated air.

     

                    I could bear it no longer. Tightening my fists around the grip and the forestock, I pressed my legs against the bottom of the puddle and stood, bringing the muzzle up as I cleared my airways with a wet puff.

     

                    To my astonishment, the American had his back to me. I could see the power armour’s fusion core bulging from the back of his steel plating. He was hunched over, examining the bullet casings that we had left behind earlier. ‘Two different calibres…’ he muttered.

     

                    I dropped to a crouch, levelling Zheng’s rifle at the swine and bracing myself for the recoil.

     

                    ‘Capitalist pig,’ I spat, and fired.

     

                    Even from such a close range, the bullet failed to penetrate completely. Aiming at the base of the skull was a mistake on my part. It was a gut instinct, borne of experience, as the human head was weaker there, where the spine joined the skull. T-45 power armour helmets, however, had a thick layer of composite steel around that particular section of the head. I should have shot at the air tubes instead, or the fusion core housing. Both would have disabled the suit, trapping the user inside and allowing for a second, easy kill shot towards the small seams of the armour.

     

                    Nevertheless, a forty-gram tungsten carbide core travelling at one kilometre per second cannot be simply nudged aside, even by power armour. The American stiffened as the four-inch-long projectile slammed into the back of his head, the dispersal of kinetic energy as it flattened forcing the steel plate to flex inwards. Unable to withstand the strain, the helmet imploded, popping the skull underneath it like an overripe watermelon.

     

                    Rubbing my bruised shoulder, I stalked over to the American’s limp form. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to see his ruined features, to see what Comrade Zheng had suffered etched into his final moment. I tore off the mangled helmet.

     

                    Dark green eyes. A tuft of brown hair. A little goatee that I had once jokingly told him made him look like the devil hanging off his chin.

     

                    Nate gazed lifelessly up at me, the back of his skull caved in by my bullet.

     

                    I fell to my knees and tried to scream, but my lips were gone along with my tongue and teeth.

     

                    Corporal Zheng’s dismembered arm flipped upright, crept towards me with crab-like fingers, and threw itself into my lap. A little plump mouth opened in the centre of its palm.

     

                    ‘Mama,’ it warbled in a baby’s voice. Shaun’s voice. ‘Mama, mama…’

     

     

                    ‘Honey? Honey, you’re biting my shoulder off, what’s wrong?’

     

                    Whimpering, I forced my eyes open and almost cried with relief. I was back in bed. Back in my husband’s arms, warm, safe, and far away from the nightmare of Alaska.

     

                    ‘Sorry.’ I snuggled closer, wrapping the covers around us. ‘Bad dream.’

     

                    ‘What about?’ Nate looked at me, concerned. ‘You might feel better if you tell me about it.’

     

                    I felt a familiar hollowness in my throat as I turned away. You lie every time you open your mouth, Qiu Die, it’s your job. Get over it.

     

                    ‘Oh, it was horrible,’ I turned back, burying my face in Nate’s chest. ‘I dreamed that you and Shaun… the war… they brought it here, brought it home, and…’

     

                    ‘Shh,’ Nate said, rocking me back and forth. ‘Shh. It’s okay, it’s okay. Just a dream. Just a silly dream.’

     

                    I did dream of you and Shaun. I shut my eyes as I hugged him back, the guilt settling into a toxic little pit in my stomach. It wasn’t a lie, not strictly. Not fully.

     

                    ‘Just a dream. Just a silly dream,’ I repeated, feeling miserable. This assignment was far worse than fighting on the front lines.

     

                    Not for the first time, I cursed the head-hunters at Military Intelligence for recruiting me right after my last tour. Then I cursed myself for… well, everything that I was. What business did a farm girl from rural Foshan have learning English? What was she thinking, enlisting in the Liberation Army? How could she stay so blind and wet behind the ears, even after all she’d seen and done for her ‘great motherland’? Why was she foolish enough to fall in love with an off-duty American infantryman?

     

                    And why, why, why, why, why did she decide to have a son?

     

                    ‘Lieutenant, your dedication to the cause is simply incredible,’ Shen, my handler, had shaken his head as he read my report. ‘To go to such lengths just to maintain your cover… do you truly intend to give birth?’

     

                    ‘Yes,’ I had said firmly. ‘If my superiors will permit me, of course. A woman with child is as innocent a picture as you can paint. I understand that standard procedure is to have the foetus aborted, however. I already have a clinic in mind if you deem it necessary.’

     

                    My handler had studied me closely. ‘You feel nothing for the baby? Nothing at all?’

     

                    ‘I care as much for the little mongrel as I do for the husband,’ I had replied with a sneer, all while the memory of my first kiss with Nate lingered on my lips, tingling like static electricity.

     

                    There had been a hint of suppressed disgust in Shen’s eyes as he stamped my report. ‘Then I suppose the Party is fortunate to have you as a soldier and not a mother.’

     

                    He had not thought that those words would wound me, and why would he? I had learned to lie often and well, especially after my previous handler threatened to have Nate assassinated if I didn’t arrange a divorce. Poor Xiao Yue. I wonder if the fish of Boston harbour have picked her bones clean yet.

     

                    But wounded I was. As I laid in bed, listening to my husband’s steady breathing, those exact words began to haunt me again for the umpteenth time this week.

     

                    I can’t keep this up forever. One day the truth would come out.

     

                    Shaun started crying, and Nate woke with a start.

     

                    ‘First the mom,’ he groaned. ‘Now the kid. Jesus, I’m going to have my hands full from now on, aren’t I?’

     

                    ‘You’d better believe it, big guy,’ I giggled, kissing him on the cheek as I rose. ‘Go back to sleep and let me tuck him in.’

     

                    ‘Mmph. What time is it? Ah. Might as well wake up.’

     

                    ‘Honey,’ I said sternly. ‘You didn’t retire from the army just to wake up at five a.m. all over again. Stay. I don’t want to see you up until six thirty, got it?’

     

                    ‘Fine,’ Nate mumbled, drifting back off. ‘Tell Codsworth I want my coffee black with three sugars. And bacon and eggs.’

     

                    ‘Scrambled?’

     

                    ‘Do you even need to ask?’

     

                    ‘Smartass,’ I shot back as I slid into my slippers and headed to the nursery. Codsworth was already floating there above the cradle, waving a bottle in Shaun’s face in those bizarre motions of his that were simultaneously posh and frantic.

     

                    ‘Good morning, mum,’ the robot butler – Americans had such wondrous inventions – dipped his head at me. ‘A thousand apologies for waking you so early, but young Shaun is trying his utmost to dislodge-’

     

                    Shaun gurgled happily as his pudgy fist found purchase on the pacifier on top of the bottle and knocked it to the side, spilling a few drops of milk.

     

                    ‘I say, young man, that’s quite enough out of you,’ Codsworth tutted, and I had to laugh. He sounded every bit the prim British gentleman.

     

                    ‘Here, let me.’ I reached for the bottle. Shaun cooed, and I slid the tip of the pacifier between his drooling lips.

     

                    ‘Ah, thank you, mum,’ Codsworth rotated the gyroscopics under the orb that made up his head, a gesture that I took to be the robotic equivalent of someone wiping his brow. ‘I confess, even for the pride of General Atomics International, one can still see the necessity of the human touch for moments such as these. Did I hear sir saying something about breakfast?’

     

                    ‘Yes, the usual,’ I replied, playing with Shaun with the tip of my finger, tickling his nose. ‘I told him to stay in bed until half past six, but chances are he’ll be up in another fifteen minutes. Coffee with three sugars, bacon and eggs.’

     

                    ‘Scrambled, of course.’

     

                    ‘Of course.’

     

                    ‘Sir is nothing if not consistent. What about you, mum? Can I get you anything?’

     

                    ‘Just toast will be enough. Maybe some eggs too. One soft-boiled, one poached, if that’s all right.’

     

                    ‘Of course, mum. I say, your taste is far more refined than sir’s…’

     

                    ‘Thanks, Codsworth,’ I grinned after him as he hovered off to the fridge.

     

                    Shaun gurgled again, slurping at the bottle, making empty rattles and frowning irritably at me. It would appear that he’d finished it a while ago.

     

                    ‘Sorry, little guy,’ I murmured as I took the bottle and placed it on the bedstand. Now that we were alone and quiet, my previous train of thought was beginning to run again.

     

                    What would happen if the truth came out?

     

                    I wasn’t overly worried about being discovered as a sleeper agent. The American war effort couldn’t hold a candle to ours when it came to subterfuge and deception. No, what I was really concerned with was my own people. If they observed me enough, if they somehow concluded that I was blending in too well for it to be an act…

     

                    Assassins. Hunter units. Kill teams and other assets. I knew perfectly well how efficient they were. After all, I’m one of them.

     

                    I found myself staring at the radio in the corner. The coded transmissions frequency that all agents received had been dead for three weeks now. Worse still, I hadn’t been able to contact Shen for a month, and all the dead drop sites were empty.

     

                    At first I feared the worst. I drove Nate insane by sprinting out to inspect his car every morning (running bomb checks), shutting all the blinds (I lined them with aluminium foil to prevent thermal imaging), turning Codsworth off and detaching his reactor (robots could be hacked and dear Codsworth had built-in saw blades along with an honest-to-heaven flamethrower), and, of course, constantly scouring the neighbourhood’s ideal sniping points (there were no fewer than sixteen, but the church bell tower was the most suspicious as it was where I would have set up).

     

                    But then the days turned into weeks, and now I was nearing a month of having had no contact with my superiors at all. And I began to wonder. What else was going on? Were all of us agents cut loose overnight? If there was an offensive or any other kind of invasion on the way, communication would have increased, not ground to a halt.

     

                    There was one very simple explanation, but I found it too terrifying to even consider.

     

                    And then there was the matter of me myself. Where do my own loyalties lie? And that, of course, brought me back to my original problem, deciding between-

     

                    Shaun let out a satisfied little squeak as my listless finger found his soft neck. And I suddenly felt very stupid.

     

                    ‘Shaun, your mother is a fool,’ I laughed. ‘It doesn’t matter! None of it matters.’

     

                    I lowered my voice. ‘China can burn. The war, “the great motherland”, Foshan, Chairman Cheng, Shen, all of them can go burn in the eighteenth layer of hell for all I care. They can send as many people after me as they like. Anyone who tries to lay a finger on my family… I’ll kill them. Kill them all, blow their brains out before they even get within one hundred paces and send them back to their masters.’

     

                    My son looked up at me, his fingers wrapped around my thumb. He had his father’s eyes, a leafy green shade.

     

                    ‘You hear me, Shaun?’ I whispered as I had whispered the day I left Corporal Zheng’s bullet-ridden corpse behind. ‘No one is ever going to hurt daddy or you. No one. Jun zi yi yan, kuai ma yi bian*. I promise.’

     

                    Light was beginning to seep in from the blinds. It was a new day in the Commonwealth. Nate yawned, declared that it was impossible for him to sleep after the sun was up, and headed to the bathroom. As I smiled down at my baby boy one last time and joined my husband in front of the mirror, I heard him practicing the speech he was supposed to give at the Fraternal Post today under his breath.

     

                    ‘War. War never changes…’

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    *‘Jun zi yi yan, kuai ma yi bian’, or written in Traditional Chinese as 君子一言,快馬一鞭 (yes, yes, the People's Republic of China uses Simplified Chinese, but I was only ever taught to type in Traditional, bear with me here~) is a Chinese proverb that roughly translates as ‘A gentleman's word can never be taken back, for it flies faster than a whipped horse’. In other words, Qiu Die means to say ‘I never make promises I can't keep.’

Comments

7 Comments   |   Sotek and 3 others like this.
  • A Shadow Under the Moons
    A Shadow Under the Moons   ·  May 8
    0.o

    Didn't expect such a positive reaction in such a short time. I will definitely be making this into a series if I have time.
  • Mottyskills
    Mottyskills   ·  May 8
    whoa...uh like whoa. that's some serious writing chops Harrow!
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  May 8
    Damn, you never stop to amaze me, matey. If anything this really shows that you kick some serious ass at writing. The commie chick is more than believable character, but also damn relatable even though I know jack about commie China. I would say that this...  more
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      Damn, you never stop to amaze me, matey. If anything this really shows that you kick some serious ass at writing. The commie chick is more than believable character, but also damn relatable even though I know jack about commie China. I would say that this...  more
        ·  May 8
      Trumps the shinobi?! Well we can't have that... I'm going to have to work more on RTHL.
  • KaiserSoSay
    KaiserSoSay   ·  May 8
    Well this was unexpected. Never thought you would write a Fallout story, Harrow. Great read, even though I never played Fallout before.
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  May 8
    Where the hell did this come from Harrow?
    The action scene was great as was the 'home life'.
    What a terrific contrast between the two though.
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Sotek
      Where the hell did this come from Harrow?
      The action scene was great as was the 'home life'.
      What a terrific contrast between the two though.
        ·  May 8
      Thanks, I'm glad you liked it, Sotek-jo! I wrote this during the rush of the last week of Camp NaNo (I was also playing an unhealthy amount of Fallout 4 at the time >///< ) and I didn't even look at it again after I was done. Then I decided to begin...  more