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Radio Tower (Charley's Story, Chapter 27)


gregaaz

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I dreamed about Nate. About the good times we'd had before the war, about the trip to Acadia National Park we'd been planning for the next summer, about our dreams for the future. And then I woke up, with Seth next to me in my bed, snoring away. I felt like crap. Slipping out of bed, I took a long shower and thought about my life. Intellectually, I knew that Nate was gone; I knew that spending a night with a man was healthy and that I needed to carry on with my life. But emotionally? I felt like I'd replaced another one of those quickly dwindling original pieces of myself. Standing there, under the showerhead, I felt lonelier than I'd ever felt since I escaped from the cryo pod. 

 

At length, I turned off the water and started toweling myself down. While I dried off, I thought about my plans. For the last few weeks, I'd had an odd feeling picking at me, just barely tickling the back of my mind, but I hadn't been able to put my finger on it. It was like... like I was coasting along on auto-pilot without really being in control of what I was doing. Yes, we'd built new houses. We'd recruited more people for the settlement, people with good skills that could really help us. We had a strong wall, and Tracey was hard at work on her sentry gun project. And we had... the radio transmitter.

 

"Hey, hun, do you want some coffee?" Seth called from the direction of the kitchen. Apparently now, I was hun. I let out a long exhale at that, feeling that acute loneliness strike at me again. I wondered if I should set him straight right now, tell him that I wasn't his hun, and that this was just a one time thing. But I held back.

 

"Sure, Seth. Thanks," I called back. "I'll be a bit. I'm going to do something with my hair. Leave it out on the counter if I'm late."

 

I could hear Seth pouring water and then the stock clicking to life, and I momentarily wondered where he'd got coffee. He must have brought it with him. But I didn't want to dwell on Seth more for the moment, so I brought my mind back to the matter of the radio tower. I wasn't really sure why I'd be procrastinating on it so much. When we found the plans, our walls were already up, and while I still needed to put in guard towers at some point, our defenses were fairly solid. On consideration, I suspected that the real problem was that I was afraid about losing control over who came to the settlement. 

 

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That line of thought took me through the process of coming out and then putting a little braid into my hair, and by the time I was done I was pretty certain I'd discovered the real reason for my apprehension: the one time people had come to me of their own accord, they'd come close to kicking me out of the vault. Even though now I trusted all four of my original neighbors, that hadn't always been the case. What if someone came in the future and caused problems? Populating Sanctuary with the strays that I'd rescued gave me a degree of control over who I associated with, and I liked that. After what Vault-Tec did to me, being in control was therapeutic.

 

By the time I emerged from the bathroom, Seth had left to get about whatever business he had in mind for the day, leaving a mug of lukewarm but pretty good coffee for me. I definitely needed to ask him where he'd found the coffee beans - because I needed more. But for now... the radio tower. I knew I'd need Winter's and Tracey's expertise to get it set up, and I ran down Tracey first. She was working on the bike - her workspace was still set up next to the Ainsleighs' house, and I reminded myself that I needed to build her a proper workshop at some point.

 

"How's it looking?" I asked her by way of greeting.

 

Tracey stood up and wiped some grime off her face, considering the motorcycle for a moment. "It's... getting there. I talked to Carla about those parts I need, though, and it sounds like our options are either to try and get lucky at the market in Diamond City... or go down to the Corvega plant in Lexington and see what we can scavenge. I don't know if we're really equipped for either trip yet."

 

"Why's that?"

 

"Well, Lexington's a mess. Its full of Ghouls and gets occasional Super Mutant incursions. Plus, there are a few different raider gangs in the area that make it hard to travel safely through the area. We'd need an organized salvage party and some kind of fortified base to work from if we wanted to loot the plant. We need more people to do that."

 

"So why not go to Diamond City?"

 

"Similar reason. There used to be a fairly clear caravan route from Diamond City to Vault 81, and then to points north and south along the rail line, but in recent years that route's got more and more dangerous as Supers and raiders have moved into the area. If we wanted to go to Diamond City and come back with large items, we'd need a pack brahmin, and that would mean a caravan - guards, supplies, you know. And again, we don't have the people for it."

 

"So in other words, you're stuck because I've been dragging my feet on the radio tower."

 

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Tracey grimaced at that, but ultimately conceded I was correct. "I know you've got everyone asking for a hundred different things all at once, but I think that radio tower's important. We've go the wall up, now we need to find people to get inside that wall."

 

"That's actually what I was coming to talk to you, and then to Winter about," I admitted. "I feel the same way you do about needing more people, and I want to get that beacon operational as soon as possible."

 

We talked about the nuts and bolts of installing the tower for a while, and the details boiled down to two different things: the machinery and the location. The first part was easy: that magazine had contained a code that unlocked the transmitter in the Workshop. The second part was trickier but it wasn't impossible. Sanctuary was situated in sort of a basin, beneath the level of hills on all sides. We'd want to put the transmitted up on high ground, not just level with the hills but above them if possible. After roping in Winter and brainstorming together, we kept coming back to the same two candidates: on top of the Abernathy family's fort, or on the rocky ridge to the northwest where I cleared out that raider camp. 

 

The ridge to the northwest as higher up, and it was further from Concord so if the inhabitants there tried mischief they'd have a harder time reaching it. On the other hand, Abernathy Farm traded away those advantages in favor of it being a fortified location. The thing was, even though I considered Blake and Connie to be good neighbors, even friends, they were definitely independent of us. And even though my gut was whispering to me that their homestead was the right place to put up the transmitter tower, the lack of control didn't sit well with me. 

 

"OK, say we go with the ridge," I said, "what do we need to do to make this work?"

 

Winter already had the answer ready: she could start fabricating the radio equipment and the structural parts for the tower today. She'd also make another chemical battery to power the whole thing - though she mentioned that we should really try and get more of those nuclear batteries for the long run. Tracey chimed in, mentioning that she'd see the ruins of a Wattz Consumer Electronics store near Boston... maybe worth investigating to see if we could find more batteries there. I agreed, but also said it would have to wait until we were better situated and had the people for a proper expedition. 

 

While those two got to work on fabricating the parts, I spent the afternoon finishing up the second floor apartment on the greenhouse to that Seth and Lila would have their own place to stay. I ran out of glass again before I completely finished, but I got all the living areas roofed over and furnished those spaces to the point where those two could cover all their necessities. In fact, until we finished the greenhouse roof and installed more planters, the two of them probably had more floor space than any of the other houses. While I got the impression Seth and Lila were close, it definitely gave me a strong 'just friends' vibe, and I equipped their apartment with bunk beds instead of the double beds I'd been putting in the other houses so far. 

 

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The next challenge, it turned out, was actually finding the two of them. I finally found Lila chatting with Stef up in the smaller greenhouse attached to the Ainsleighs' house, and after sending Lila off to check out her new abode I took a moment to catch up with Stef. She told me she was getting good results with the indoor planters, but she emphasized the importance of two more projects: Lila's water purifier (interesting that she didn't mention Seth) and the decontamination center the Donahue sisters were pressing for. She explained it to me this way: the water purifier would give us enough surplus water that we wouldn't have to choose between clean water for drinking and clean water for farming. At the same time, she'd been talking with Winter and they had an idea of how to use the decontamination system, once it was built, to scrub the residual fallout from clods of soil. Then they could use that soil for the indoor planters, hopefully resulting in completely rad-free crops in the future.

 

That was great news, of course, but it just underscored how many back burner projects I needed to get back underway. As for Seth's location, Stef pointed me down to the riverbank, and it turned out she was correct: he was scouting out possible locations for the water purifier. We chatted briefly, and he showed me a few potential sites. I also pointed out the location of the pump station on the far shore. Seth thought about that for a bit, then concluded that it might indeed be a good location - but if we wanted to use that place, we needed a way to protect it. The water afforded some natural protection against troublemakers, so putting it on the opposite shore meant we'd need guards and a barrier; ideally a concrete wall like the settlement had, but security fencing at a minimum. 

 

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I promised Seth I'd think more about our options, then reconnected with Tracey and Winter. They had a satchel of parts ready for me, and they'd enlisted Codsworth to transport some of the bulkier pieces. Between the boost to my strength from the power suit and Codsworth's robotic arms, we didn't have much trouble getting everything to the ridge. Once there, we had to hunker down for a couple hours to wait out a rainstorm that was ominously triggering my Geiger counter, then we set to work erecting the tower for the beacon. True to our experience with the kits from the Workshop, everything came together exactly the way the instructions indicated, and before long I was looking up at our brand new radio tower.

 

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With the tower installed and activated, my immediate work was complete. For now, the beacon was just sending out a simple morse code signal I'd worked out with Winter:

 

-. . .-- / ... . - .-.. -- - / -. .-- / .- -... .-. -. - -.-- / ..-. .- .-. -- .-.-.- / -. . . -.. / ... -.- .-.. .-.. -.. / .-- --- .-. -.- . .-. ... .-.-.- / ... .- ..-. . / .-.. -.-. - -. --..-- / -.-. .-.. -. / .-- .- - . .-. --..-- / - --- --- .-.. ... / .--. .-. ...- -.. . -.. .-.-.- / .- ... -.- / ..-. --- .-. / -.-. .... .- .-. .-.. . -.-- .-.-.-

 

However, Winter explained that I could also record a voice message - we'd just need some additional parts, then we could loop that instead, and so I was sure I'd be returning to do an upgrade soon enough. Honestly, I was already concluding that I needed to do upgrades anyway, since at a minimum I needed to fence off this place to ensure that wild animals, Ghouls, whatever didn't damage the transmitter or the power supply. That, and I supposed I'd need to post some kind of armed presence here to deter the raiders from moving back into their old camp. The work just never ended, right?

 

I ended up spending most of the afternoon up there, taking in the view and lost in thought about all the responsibilities that were hanging on me. In a lot of ways, I'd got the control I wanted. I'd even got almost everyone to buy into my aesthetic vision that, when I was really honest with myself, had at least a little bit to do with breaking down the settlers' boundaries and leaving them open for me to replace their old rules with something new. Especially the men - with Fred it had been a little anticlimactic since it seemed he'd been secretly wishing for a chance to let out his inner exhibitionist, but Seth... I'd gotten a bit of a thrill watching him awkwardly learning to walk in the vault suit's high heels, seeing him focusing his concentration on not stiffening at the sight of all the exposed breasts and rear ends.

 

Watching that made me feel powerful. It made me feel like I'd turned the tables on Vault-Tec, that I'd replaced them in the position of strength. But... I don't know if I'd say it made me feel happy, or satisfied. I was still incomplete. I was still lonely. 

 

And as my thoughts spiraled towards a dark place, I heard a voice. "Hi! Hello there!" 

 

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The thing I noticed right away was that this man had a Pip-Boy. I was starting to wonder just how common they were - first that Ghoul, now this guy? Perhaps Vault 81 was trading them, I supposed, but it still seemed odd. All of my settlers had noticed my Pip-Boy and they'd taken it as a sign that I was a genuine vault dweller.

 

"If I'm not mistaken," he continued, "you're the gal I'm looking for."

 

He had a curious accent to his words. Not quite Southron, but still with a familiar drawl and twang. After hearing everyone else speaking with a fairly consistent Massachusetts accent, he stood out as unusual.

 

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I asked him if he was here because of the broadcast, and he confirmed he was. That impressed me a bit - he must have picked it up immediately and started heading my way without delay. I guessed he was interested in joining the settlement, and he confirmed without me prompting that he was indeed here about the settlement... but not to join. No, he had something else he wanted to offer. 

 

Remember that odd sensor I bought from Carla earlier? He offered me an identical model, and he also offered an explanation. They were called ASAM Sensors, and they were an artifact from before the war. Just before, in fact, and they never properly got used in the old world. As Jake - that was his name - explained it, they were like the Workshops only smaller and... smarter. With a slickness that would have served him well as a door-to-door salesman before the war, Jake walked me through the process of setting up the sensor. I found a fairly flat spot of ground, situated the sensor on a collapsible metal pole hidden within its housing, and then switched it on. 

 

In the mist of the subsiding rain, I could see green laser light trace out from the sensor and splash over the surrounding terrain.

 

"Don't worry about that," Jake said, "it's just scanning for materials." 

 

What he showed me next blew me away. The sensor started scrolling off instructions and directions. It was listing different materials and where to find them. I helped Jake collect the items, stuff I never would have noticed on my own as much of it was concealed by underbrush or even mostly buried in the ground. Rusted chain link fencing, wooden planks, cinder blocks, all sorts of debris that could easily double as building materials. Once we'd piled up all the items the sensor listed, it started giving instructions for assembling a structure. In a way, this was the opposite of the Workshop. The Workshop broke down scrap and used it to fabricate brand new things. The ASAM was telling us how to build a structure out of what amounted to trash.

 

Now, if you ask me which I'd prefer, I'll take the Workshop, but Jake rightly pointed out that only someone with the administrator codes could use it, and no settlement boss in her right might would give away that password. The ASAM on the other hand? Anyone could follow its instructions. And that's just what the two of us did. When we were done, the two of us found ourselves standing in front of... a shack. It just barely kept out the rain, and it offered just a little bit of cover from the wind, but it was definitely the sort of place a person could survive in, at least till winter returned. 

 

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"So what's the catch?" I asked.

 

And that's when the other shoe dropped. Jake was from Concord, and Jake wanted my help kicking the raiders out of town. If I helped him, he'd keep supplying me with sensors and he'd help spread the word about Sanctuary, to get the message out to folks who might want to settle. 

 

I felt a little hesitation, but frankly I'd been tip toeing around Concord for too long already, and it was time to confront the threat on our doorstep. So I agreed. I checked my weapons and the reservoir levels in the medical system, and then we headed east towards a showdown with the raiders.

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