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Big Box Store (Charley's Story, Chapter 35)


gregaaz

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Nate would have laughed and laughed. He loved Wattz, and I gave him shit about it every time he shopped there. I mean, I'm not blind. I understood why he liked it. There's something relaxing about walking the aisles in a big department store, maybe daydreaming a little about all the fun gadgets and all the fancy appliances. And Nate was definitely the kind of guy who liked fun gadgets. I get it.

 

But the Wattz Consumer Electronics company was a bunch of dirty, union busting, worker exploiting, labor law violating bastards, and I felt like I'd been swimming in a sewer any time I'd had to spend money there. Every time I went there with Nate, all I could think about were the managers sitting out of view in their offices, stealing from the pension plan or plotting to use the employee bonus fund to hire robots, all while the poor schmucks up front are slaving away for minimum wage. It was one of those bullshit companies that makes the workers show up 15 minutes early, insists they punch in on schedule (not when they show up) and then makes them punch out 15 minutes early.

 

And if you had the temerity to talk about organizing? Well, then all of a sudden BADTFL gets an anonymous phone call about communist agitators, maybe about an arson plot or that old chestnut, 'terroristic threatening,' and next thing you know somebody's getting arrested in the parking lot when they show up for their shift. The company was just a giant, steaming pile of shit. They were like a poster child of everything that was wrong with the labor market in the USA.

 

I found it a bit galling that I was suiting up for a long cross-country trip on the hope, the hope!, that the Somerville Wattz store had survived well enough that I could loot one of those damn blue batteries. But that's what I had to do. It wasn't the easiest solution I had to the power problems at Abernathy Farm (to say nothing of the problems I'd have in the future at Drumlin Diner and at the quarry), but it was the best fit for our community. We didn't have the resources to actually build fusion reactors, and we didn't want to lock ourselves into the trap of fossil fuel dependence. So off to Wattz I went.

 

Based on the recent news from Lexington, I decided to give the city wide berth, so I was going to follow the route I've been using to get to Cambridge, but breaking off to head east a bit earlier than before. All things considered, it was a pretty smooth trip. Notwithstanding the one time I had to escape from a huge radscorpion, I avoided trouble on the road and in the process got some pretty good practice with sneaking past potential trouble. And that's not to say that I had some absence of potential trouble. I saw a number of raider camps on the route, too many by far to safely run convoys through here without a lot of protection.

 

Even more concerning, I saw at least one patrol that didn't look like raiders. Those men were trained soldiers, disciplined and watchful. I was pretty certain they were members of the Gunners, and I made sure to give them especially wide berth.

 

The signs that I wasn't going to completely avoid trouble started even as I made out the Wattz building in the distance. A loud, dull explosion rumbled from that general direction, followed by the crackle of automatic gunfire. Not sure what was ahead, I approached cautiously, doing my best to stay unnoticed even as the intensity of the gunfire increased by the second. Then I saw the source of the commotion.

 

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It was robots. Lots of robots. It looked like they were attacking a group of settlers. I almost left them alone. I was pretty sure I could have made it to Wattz unnoticed if I didn't intervene. However, I also knew that I had to help them out. And so I approached from the flank, looking for a clear shot. Soon enough I not only found a shot, but realized I was in a target rich environment as some of the more mobile attackers tried to reverse my maneuver an encircle me. The whole fight was a mess, and it left me with a distinct impression of being undergunned. I needed to talk to Preston about getting more firepower - at least, I resolved to do so if I got out of this alive.

 

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In the end, it was a massacre. The robots were all destroyed, but the caravaneers were all dead too. The only thing left in one piece was a blue-painted robot who was apparently the property of the caravan crew. 

 

The Robot's name was Ada, and she explained that this was not her first encounter with the hostile machines. In fact, this was their third. She didn't know where they had been coming from, but she explained that they were probably seeking to steal special modifications installed within her. She regretted her friends' choice to stay in the Commonwealth, as she believed that if they'd fled south, towards the Capital Wastes, they might have escaped this fate.

 

I spoke further with Ada, and learned that her caravan had specialized in mechanical salvage and repair. They had stayed here precisely because the Commonwealth was so rich in fairly high quality machine parts - indeed, they'd been preparing to ransack the Wattz store when the latest ambush struck at them.

 

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I tried to console her for the loss of her friends, though I got the distinct impression that she still blamed herself for what had happened. Ada believed she knew a location where she could find information about the source of the attacks - an old General Atomics factory in Boston. We talked about the details and the area, and while I concluded that I didn't have the resources to raid such a dangerous location right now, I promised that I would help her once my settlement had grown enough to wield the neccessary firepower. Until then, I invited her stay at Sanctuary, where we would protect her from these raiders. 

 

Ada agreed, even promising to help us build a robotics maintenance facility that could help enhance our defenses (as well as allow Ada to repair the damage she'd sustained so far). I suggested she talk with Sturges and wished her well in her travels. As she departed, I took a moment to examine the remains of the battlefield before proceeding into the Wattz building. 

 

I think I'd mentioned earlier that I'd - grudgingly - been to this Wattz before. That was two centuries ago, of course, but I still recognized the floor plan. I could imagine the faint smell of carpet shampoo and ozone that had once haunted the place, and I wondered just how much had survived the war. Clearly large parts of the floor had collapsed, and there was debris everywhere, but at the same time I could see major appliances all over - if they'd been stripped for parts, it had only been in a perfunctory manner. 

 

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I knew there were several reasons that could be. It might just be that I was lucky and this building had largely gone undisturbed over the years. It might be that until relatively recently, radiation levels kept scavengers out. It also might be that someone, or something, made this place dangerous to visit. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assumed the former and proceeded through the store cautiously. 

 

The caution proved justified almost immediately. As I passed through an aisle of air conditioners, I started hearing a voice. Modulated and robotic, it wasn't coming from a human, but the mutterings clearly spoke of danger. 

 

"Left me here. Left me here. Hate them. Cut them. Burn them. Won't kill them. Make them hurt like I hurt."

 

I saw the source before it saw me. A Mister Handy domestic servant bot, the same model as Codsworth. It was floating, lost in its revenge fantasy, idly spinning its buzzsaw. I took very careful aim, using my 10mm instead of the laser, and took a shot. I was lucky, and it landed just where I'd meant. With a flash of blue, arcing electricity, the robot's thruster ruptured and triggered a fast series of small secondary explosions. A moment later, and the robot's burnt-out hulk was resting motionless on the ground. 

 

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Though I thought it might be paranoia at the time, I had a distinct sense that I was still being observed, so I didn't flip on my flashlight just yet. Instead, I continued to make a quiet circuit of the building, looking for any other threat that might be lurking in the dark. 

 

I wasn't wandering aimlessly, mind you. When I was here before, I recalled seeing a raised office, and I suspected that it might contain surveillance systems or other useful resources - assuming any of it still worked. I carefully made my way there, climbing a staircase until I entered the office. Within, I saw another Mister Handy and, not giving it a chance to engage me, I gunned it down. I let out a pitiful modulated moan before slumping to the floor, its processer housing thoroughly ventilated. Examining it, I saw it had a sticker attached to its metal shell.

 

Hello, I'm

Assistant Manager Handy

How Can I Help?

 

 I felt a twinge of pity for the robot. Had he been insane like the one downstairs? Or had he been just waiting here, the way Codsworth had waited for me and Nate for all those long years, hoping that his boss would come back for him? Now it was too late to ask, but I consoled myself that striking preemptively was the only safe choice. 

 

The office did have a computer terminal, but not one as capable as I'd hoped. Still, it contained a tidbit of information that suggested why this place had gone unlooted for so long. Apparently shortly before the war started, a disgruntled employee had quit right after the manager had told him to disable all the military protocols on the robot inventory. I have a creeping suspicion that he left those settings not just active, but activated. If not for the war, I imagine there would have been 'tragic' story about this place on the evening news that would have warmed my heart a little - at least if Cooper the otherwise-anonymous quitter had possessed the good conscience to warn his co-workers and left management alone to reap the consequences of his sabotage.

 

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Somewhat to my dismay, I had to put down two more Mister Handys as I explored the store. I did find a number of useful electronic parts, as well as some supply caches left behind by past visitors who perhaps hoped the robots would ensure their goods stayed safe. At length, a basement storeroom revealed what I'd been specifically looking for - three more of the fission batteries. I could tell by looking at them that they weren't in great condition, so I'd have to have Tracey and Sturges give them a thorough checkup before we tried to use them, but if we could recommission them this would nicely cover my three planned expansions. 

 

Perhaps more importantly, I found Cooper's workstation in the same office, and using it I was able to turn off the 'demo mode' that had turned this place into a death trap for so long. No longer needing to hide from the 'merchandise', I took another, more extensive walk through the building and picked up any other parts that I thought would be useful. I found a few things, including some spare computer parts that looked useful, but unfortunately it seemed like the best items were locked behind a security door that was far behind my abilities. Still, the trip was a success and I started making my way back to Sanctuary.

 

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As I got closer to home, I spotted a familiar sight - and indeed, an increasingly familiar rump - on the road ahead of me.

 

"Carla!" I called out, causing the trader to pause.

 

"Well, if it isn't Overseer Charley. What got you out from behind your walls?"

 

"Shopping trip," I said. "And what about you? I'm not complaining, but you're looking rather lightly dressed."

 

She shrugged, "After the way you cleared out Concord, Sanctuary's my only stop after this point. Figured I'd just toss the old outfit onto my brahmin and enjoy the cool breeze."

 

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"Well," I said, "maybe I should just issue you a vault suit."

 

"Maybe you should. I hear you've got designs on Trudy's place anyway, might as well officially make me part of your crew."

 

"Designs on Trudy's, huh? Where did you hear that."

 

She smirked at me. "I'm a trader. I hear things. Rumors. And I've got a good ear for when they're true."

 

"Well," I conceded, "if that rumor was true, then I'd certainly appreciate your advice on the best way to get Trudy onboard."

 

Carla laughed, considering me, "you aren't much for keeping secrets, are you? What if I went and warned Trudy about what you were scheming?"

 

"I wouldn't stop you. I think that if she had the time to think about it, she'd agree that what I'm doing is a win-win for everyone."

 

"Maybe, but she's also a stubborn biddy. Let me give you a hint: she adores her brat and she's still holding a grudge against Wolfgang. You get him to put on your collar first, get him up in those high heels and don't do anything to salve his ego. Let him have a little humiliation. Maybe get his girl Simone to laugh at him a little. She'll love it."

 

"Hmm, I could see that." I said. Never mind that seeing Wolfgang humiliated would tickle me a little bit also. Not that I really had anything against Wolfgang, but he was definitely a bit of a predator, even after I'd convinced him to mend his wicked ways. And humiliating predators, especially predatory men, was an activity that had a special place in my heart. "Thanks Trudy, I appreciate the advice."

 

Carla and I walked the rest of the way to Sanctuary, where she peeled off to visit the trading post. I carried on through the gates and found Sturges talking with Preston.

 

"I don't know, Sturges," he was saying, "This seems like it might be risky. Are you sure you don't need to supervise this?"

 

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Before they could continue, Sturges saw me approaching and waved me over.

 

"Boss," he said, "That robot you sent over? Um, she's been busy. Hell, you know what, just follow me and I'll show you."

 

 

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