In the days following the events at Camp Syracuse, a task force was quickly assembled by the New England Federation to track down Col. Ibsen. President Noah Vickers of the NEF had stated explicitly that the Guardian Angels were not priority and they were deemed expendable and “their safety optional and decision made about them up to the discretion of the task force leader.”
On request, along with a good word from the Institute director (who was a close friend of President Vickers), I was permitted to travel with the task force, although it has been said specifically that they were not responsible for my safety.
Progress was slow in the first few weeks, but soon we received a message that gave us our first lead.
The body of one of the Guardian Angels – Robert Schumacher – had been found by an NEF patrol in the Adirondacks. Apparently he was killed during a fight with mountain raiders. Several dead mountain raiders were found in the area, suggesting that Schumacher himself was accompanied by several others, confirming that Ibsen and the Guardian Angels were yet travelling together. Based on the location of where the bodies were found, it would appear that they were heading directly east towards the New York-Vermont border. This was confirmed around a week later by a sighting of the group: a sheriff of a small NEF town had seen them pass through.
And so after a long series of flights we set foot in this small NEF town and headed in Ibsen and the Guardian Angel’s last known direction.
Speaking of the NEF, perhaps a little background info would be suitable…
The New England Federation was a relatively new faction in the American northeast. It was said that founding members came from two separate state-owned vaults. After initial establishment of the Federation, nearby towns and wastelanders were quickly annexed, with the promises of being provided safety, security, and (relative) happiness. There were few travellers from afar who have even compared the NEF to something called the New California Republic, on the other coast of the US. The NEF had a system of towns, with those in control of each town reporting to the capital, which was a place called Hartford, in Connecticut. The current president, elected 11 years ago, was Noah Vickers, who demonstrated exceptional leadership ability and greatly increased the influence of the NEF in the region when he was a general in the NEF Army. However, some of his policies and tactics have been controversial…
The gravel crunched underneath my boots as we walked on the path heading east from the NEF town. According to the sheriff, Ibsen and the Guardian Angels were last seen heading this way. I walked alongside 11 men, who were all hand-picked to be part of the task force to track down Ibsen. He was now #1 on the NEF’s most wanted list after further evidence of his activities at Syracuse was discovered.
Our leader, Sergeant David Spade, was a seasoned sergeant of the NEF Army. Upon hearing of the opportunity of leading the task squad, he offered himself immediately, and with his record and skill set it was almost guaranteed that he would get the job.
It had been a long hike, as usual. But no one complained.
With nothing but the constant sound of crunching gravel beneath eleven boots, I thought about my situation.
What was I doing here? I was miles from home, searching for a name on a piece of paper.
Yet I know there is a face attached to this name. I just haven’t seen it yet.
And where is my home? Boston? I had lived there but it was not home.
I have no home. I was a wanderer of the wastes, with little direction in my life.
I guess somehow pursuing this would give my life some purpose. But even when I finally do find her, what am I going to do? Convince her that I’m her brother, despite the possibility that she has no memory of it whatsoever?
How’d I know she was even alive?
Then again, I thought, she had survived the raider attack, Enclave capture, and the Syracuse siege, I’m sure she’s a fighter. After all, they had selected the Guardian Angels based on their will to live.
At one point, after miles of fucking hiking, we reached a wide river.
“Alrighty, gents,” Sgt. Spade proclaimed, “After this here river we should be in Vermont.”
There was a bridge that was in decent enough shape for us to get over, although it was heavily ornamented with vegetation and a few parts had fallen off into the water below.
Looking at the Chrysluses on the bridge, I tried to picture what the Old World looked like… People driving back and forth on the bridge in their nuclear powered cars…
After we crossed the bridge we travelled through a series of farmlands. The old signs in the area indicated we were in Chimney Point, Vermont. It looks like this little corner of the world was basically left untouched by the nukes, I thought.
The water was blue, the trees were green, and our Geigers were calm.
And so we continued walking through this dream-like tranquillity for several more hours. At nightfall, we set up camp in an old barn and took turns being the lookout man whilst the others would sleep.
I was woken by Andersen when my shift came, “Ey, buddy, it’s your turn.”
Half-asleep, I grudgingly pick up my .308 NEF standard issue rifle (I had been surprised that they were generous enough to lend me one in the first place.)
I climb up a ladder to a small perch with an open window. The air was frigid and I could see my breaths floating upward and dissipating into the quiet Vermont air.
The moonlight provided basic illumination to see over the flat farmlands. I could easily spot anyone or anything who tried to run across it.
After a languid few minutes of just sitting there, I began to wonder how in the world we knew where Ibsen and the Guardian Angels were right now. Headquarters had told us they were heading this way, and a sighting on the ground confirmed it. But how’d we know where to go from then?
I thought I saw some figures move in the distance. I wondered what was out there… Deathclaws? Yao guai? Raiders? The journey thus far had been rather smooth, only a few mole rats and radroaches thus far…
I brought up the rifle and peered down its scope. These figures were humanoid. Very humanoid.
I could make out 5 of them, walking with a solid pace across the far end of the farmland.
Ibsen, plus the four remaining Guardian Angels. Sure, it could just be a bunch of raiders or wastelanders, but I had to know.
They were walking quickly, “Shit, what do I do...”
I scrambled down the ladder, and hurried over to the slumbering sergeant. “Sarge, I’ve spotted a few people walking across at the far end of the farm.”
With eyes barely open, he replied, “And are they walking towards us?”
“Then what the hell do you want us to do?”
“There are 5 of them. I thought they could be the targets we were pursuing.”
“They could also be any 5 random people from the area.”
Pausing a second, I replied once more, “But what if? This could be our lucky break. We’ve been hiking for days and they could be walking by right under our eyes now!”
“I suppose you have a point,” he said with a heavy sigh, “Wake up the men. Let’s check this out.”
By the time we had all our equipment gathered and were ready, the five were out of sight. However, we were able to track them by tracing the path of their footprints left in the dirt.
At the crack of dawn we had arrived at the edge of a forest. Andersen, who was our best tracker, told us that the forest was thick enough for us to trace their footsteps for quite awhile.
When we had trekked for quite a bit into the forest, the terrain became more mountainous. At this point, Sgt. Spade made sure all the men were on high alert, as we were closing in onto the targets and the dangers of the forest were great.
A few hours had passed before we were at a point where the forest seemed to end.
We peer out into the valley below and see quite a surprising sight.
There was, in front of us, what appeared to be a massive wasteland settlement.