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Town Meeting (Charley's Story, Chapter 31)



I ended up spending the night on the Ridge (in my mind, it had gone from 'the ridge' to 'the Ridge' now that, under the guidance of the ASAM sensors, a small town was practically bursting out of the ground). Before the sun failed entirely, I helped plan out good spots for a few more ASAM sensors, then I shut off the radio beacon and made sure that Bart had made a decision about Lily and her family. I was pleased to hear that he'd agreed with my solution, and with my work done I borrowed a sleeping bag before lying down under the stars. 


In the morning, I parted ways with Bart and he new community and walked back to Sanctuary. Arriving right around noon, I called everyone together to discuss the new developments. As the group congregated, I saw a number of things that interested me - not the least of which being a very naked Trashcan Carla (except for her perpetually-lit cigarette) chatting with Marcy Long. I approached the two with a wave of greeting.


"Carla," I said, "I like your new outfit."




She barked a raspy laugh, "talk to your girlfriend about that," she said with a poke of her thumb in Winter's direction, "seems I don't get an exception to your trading post's rules anymore."


I have to admit, I'd wondered if that was going to cause trouble. It seemed that this was one issue that had taken care of itself before I had to get involved. Still, I wondered what her and Marcy were up to, and I prodded just a little further.


Her perennial scowl only slightly abated, Marcy explained to me that the 'tragic' fate that befell the raiders of Concord had shaken things up throughout the whole region. Not only was it easier to move between Sanctuary and the Diner, but the fleeing raiders had fallen back into Lexington, where they were now locked in a turf battle with the existing inhabitants. It seemed that my intervention there was going to have a ripple effect that would change the power dynamics for quite a long time to come. 


That gave me an idea, that I broached to Marcy: "You know, as much as Carla's visits are a huge help, I wonder if it would make sense to build a more permanent trading relationship with the Drumlin Diner. If Trudy agrees, would you and your husband consider working with them to get the supplies we need, going forward?"


Marcy thought on that for a while, then nodded. "Yeah, That's not a bad idea. But you're not thinking big enough. We need to convince Trudy to throw in with us. She needs to take you as her boss, in exchange for protection. I saw Tracey's gizmo. Between that and some muscle, maybe under Minuteman colors, we can make the Diner our point of contact with the outside world." She paused a moment then smirked, "you can even strip 'em down and collar them."


I chuckled at that. "Do I detect something a little mean in your voice, Marcy? Got a beef with Trudy?"


"Ha, you bet. After we got out of Lexington half dead, she shook us down hard. I want to watch her squirm the way I did when you made me put this thing on. Though watching her junky son get used to the dress code might be even more delicious. But seriously, think bigger, boss."


And there it was... another path to feudalism. I really didn't want to be Queen Charley. I didn't even like styling myself an Overseer, even though that was probably the right thing if I was going to appropriate the Vault-Tec brand as my own. But... Marcy was also right: having a strategic forward location offered us a lot in the way of benefits.


"Hey, I know I'm not one of your blue-suiters," Carla cut in, "but you should listen to Marcy. If you can control the strategic spots around Concord, then you could move in and take over the town. That place is loaded with resources, even has a working plutonium well. Controlling Concord could be the difference between having a safe settlement and having a safe region. Those resources will let you project power all over."


"Did I hear you talking about Concord?" Preston asked. 


Turning, I saw he'd arrived with Holly in tow. Indeed, it looked like most of the gang was assembling even without me having to ring the bell.




"Marcy had an idea about making sure the raiders don't move back into Concord," I explained, "though I'm going to have to give it some thought. And..." I looked to him and Holly, and back, "did you two switch outfits?"


Holly grinned, "We did. I'm tired of listening to Winter nagging me about breaking the dress code, and Preston needs them more than I do anyway." She gave me a glance that suggested this wasn't the last she had to say on the matter.


"What about you, Stef?" I asked, "ready to lose that dress of yours? With all the gardening you do it must be getting filthy all the time. Surely it'd be easier to just jump in the shower to wash up."


Lila spoke up before Stef could answer. "Didn't you notice, boss? I almost got her out of it. Just give it some time."


On closer examination I realized that Lila was correct - not unlike the time before in the vault, Stef had adopted an even more abbreviated version of the dress, with its top straps barely covering her chest and the bottom skirt - if it could still be called that - leaving her thighs entirely exposed.




"You know, I'm embarrassed to say I didn't notice it right away. That's a cute look, Is there a story behind the change?"


Stef smirked a little then pointed at her daughter. "Lila here was showing me how to get water from the purifier when I fell into the river. They fished me out and gave me Radaway, but my dress was soaked and... it was hot. Real hot. When Winter came back with a replacement, something was missing," she said, gesturing to her exposed thighs.


"Just doing you a favor, mom," Winter called from across the street. 


"Well," I said, "you know how I feel about things, and how I'd rather everyone be on an equal footing, but you do what feels right. When you're ready to lose that thing, I'll be the first in line to applaud."


With everyone assembled, I took a moment to brief them on the developments at Ridge, and my plan to eventually bring them into our community. I also floated Marcy's idea about Drumlin Diner. I was happy with the response I got, but a little surprised about the details.




Everyone seemed to welcome the idea of extending our hold over both settlements, as well as the longer-term goal of controlling Concord. In fact, it seemed the general consensus was that this should be equal in priority if not greater than completely rebuilding Sanctuary - especially considering our frequent shortages of building materials like glass. Access to better trade and to a massive source of raw materials like the ruins of Concord would go a long way to lighten the load on the home front. 


I explained my concerns about feudalism, about the danger of having a two-level society where Sanctuary reigned over the neighboring communities. Everyone acknowledged my concern, but they also challenged me, pointing out that it was better to have an imperfect situation than one where we were vulnerable. After some discussion, we came to a consensus that any community we brought under our authority or protection should adopt our laws (yes, they said 'laws', not 'rules', something that amused me) as soon as it was feasible. Especially, the leaders needed to get into vault suits and under the Neural Sentry immediately, to get everyone used to our unfamiliar customs.


After the meeting adjourned, I reflected on how much everyone was taking ownership of rules that, when I'm completely honest with myself, I'd formulated at least a little bit to humiliate them. To give me power over them, in a public and undeniable way. Maybe it was the influence of the Neural Sentries, chipping away at their inhibitions, but I was starting to feel like the people of Sanctuary took their uniformity - their exposure - as a sign of superiority, maybe even of purity and moral purpose, rather than one of submission. Even the men seemed increasingly comfortable with the large amount of female skin on display before them - I hadn't seen a flushed face or an uncooperative erection in some time. 


But I digress. Somewhere along the way, we'd gone from a gaggle of survivors under my eccentric leadership to a community with laws and with a will to power that extended beyond the boundaries of our walls. Indeed, I belatedly realized that the fact that they'd insisted on having Carla - our sole reliable trading link - discard her clothing before entering town highlighted the fact that those laws meant something to them more than just an expression of my whims. And the fact that Carla had acquiesced said something about the firmness with which they held to them. 


Winter and Seth reported next on their pet projects. The water purifier was running well, though its generator was running on diesel right now and we needed to find a permanent solution - ideally one of the nuclear batteries of the sort that was powering the town's lights. He also strongly supported building a water tower, if we could work out the engineering, so that we could store a respectable surplus of water - both for emergency use and for trading. Winter had made some interesting discoveries in the Workshop - actually, it came while she was making pants for Preston. Apparently the vault suits had a number of administrator options that were hidden from the normal fabrication view. A number of different colors were available, as well as several modifications - notably a reinforced webbing for use an an underlayer for armor, as well as an impermeable barrier to guard against hazardous material exposure. Winter was confident she was just scraping the tip of the iceberg, and was going to keep investigating.




Tracey, as I'd heard mentioned earlier, had made quite a breakthrough relating to her sentry gun. She'd actually built, disassembled, and built again a prototype that she felt was almost ready for actual use. Its main sticking point was targeting, as it didn't have a very good detection range, but she felt that combined with a short-ranged weapon, like a shotgun, her system would be effective. 


The news on the motorcycle front was less promising. When push came to shove, either she needed a small vehicle fusion cell - hard to find - or she needed to totally rebuild the engine to use fossil fuels - also hard to do. She recommended putting that project on hold until we could visit one of the richer trading hubs. I appreciated her honesty, and her decision to not waste resources, and so I thanked her and agreed with that course of action. Instead, I suggested she put her effort into her sentry gun project, especially in terms of trying to improve the range.


"Oh, I almost forgot!" she blurted just before I moved on.


"We caught another raider spy while you were away." 




I looked to Holly for confirmation, and she nodded in the affirmative. "Not alive, unfortunately. But Preston did show us what a good shot he is with that musket of his."


"Any sign of more?"


Preston shook his head. "No. Holly and I have been patrolling since. If I had to guess, the scout was actually following those settlers who went up to the ridge. Either way, we got rid of him."


"Ahem," Tracey interrupted. "My point is that afterwards we dumped his body into the Workshop. It, ah, well, we learned that the Workshop will indeed chop up a human body into materials. But more importantly, it broke down the raider's crap gear and we got a bunch of metal out of it. In the future, if you run into trouble, try and bring back their armor and weapons, even if its low quality. We can reclaim materials from it."


I nodded in consideration. "That's an excellent idea. Good thinking, Tracey."


"Sturges," I said, "before I went up to the Ridge you mentioned how needed some things for settling in. Has that changed at all?"




The elaborately-coiffed mechanic nodded, then laid out the situation. Basically, the Quincy refugees needed their own place to sleep. Otherwise, they were in good shape, at least for the time being. He did echo his support for Tracey's sentry gun project, and said he'd seem similar devices implemented at other places in the past. At that point I didn't need any more convincing, and I agreed to put some time into both areas before my next trip out from town. 


We wrapped up then, but Holly followed me back to my house. Stopping just short of the carport, I looked to her.


"I got the feeling you had something you left unsaid before, about swapping your outfit with Preston."




"I don't know how things were in the old world, Charley," she said, "but you know that people like Preston... men who look like women - and women who look like men for that matter - they're pretty rare."


I nodded. "That's how it was before, too."


"And in the new world, in the Commonwealth, a lot of the time people don't treat them right. I think something about them scares some folks. The way they are... it feels like a mutation, and mutants are frightening."


"I wish it had been different where I came from, but no, people like Preston... we called them transgender. Like, going from one gender to another. It wasn't quite accurate, maybe a hint that we didn't really understand them as well as we should. But in the old world, there were people who liked power more than anything else, and telling people how to behave was one of their favorite ways to flex that power. Trans-men and especially trans-women troubled them intensely because they challenged all the complicated rules of behavior that they pushed on people."


"Hmm," Holly said, "so how does that make you feel about Preston?"


I thought for a moment before answering. "As far as I'm concerned, Preston is just like any other man in this community. He accepted me as his leader, and its only fair that I accept him for who he is - not for what body he's hauling around."


"Okay, well, how much do you know about men, Charley?"


"Uh, I'd like to think I know a thing or two."


She scoffed, "not like that. Oh, never mind, you probably do know but just haven't thought it through. Look, no offense, but for men, everything is a dick measuring contest. Like, figuratively, but also literally. When you made Preston lose his pants, you put him in a very awkward position compared to the other men. No matter how brave, smart, charismatic, and resourceful Preston is, he's still a man without a cock, and a man without a pair of balls. You know why raiders cut the balls off settlers who give them trouble? Because its a sign of domination, a degradation. Look, I know you didn't mean any harm, but you embarrassed Preston by putting him on patrol uncovered."


I frowned. "I hadn't thought of it like that."


"No, I know you didn't. And I know you mean well. Honestly, the longer I live here the more I agree with your crazy ideas. But for Preston... and for any other, um, transgender person you recruit, give them a break on the dress code. Trust me on this."


"Alright," I said, "I see what you're saying. For now I'll do just as you suggested... and longer term, I'll try to come up with a solution that fits into the rules." I laughed then, "in our laws, more smoothly."


"Thanks," Holly said. "I figured I could count on you to do the right thing here. Oh, and speaking on doing the right thing. Bartholomew Cole is a good man. You're lucky he showed up just in the nick of time to boss your new settlement. Make sure you treat him right."


"No need to worry about that," I said, "he made a good first impression, and I have big plans for him."




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