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Anxiety Relief (Charley's Story, Chapter 40)



The next morning, the heat of the moment had worn off and I felt like crap. In the time since I'd escaped the vault, I'd killed people, sure. But it was always in self-defense. Even when Jake and I attacked the raiders in Concord, there was no question that it was us or them. But this time, I'd killed three helpless people. And I'd done it in a way that was designed to humiliate them. I'd stripped them naked, tied them up, and made them watch as I hanged them one by one. I even made sure to kill the woman first, just to drive home to the men how helpless they were. And I loved it. I could feel my heart beating fast in my chest, I could feel my mouth watering, and when I went to bed that evening, I slept so well and so peacefully. Then I woke up with a clear head, and I really thought about what I'd done.


As a law student, I'd seen case after case of the death penalty being horrendously abused. By corrupt or racist officials, sure, but even by otherwise 'clean' people. Fervent patriotism, meant completely in good faith, is enough on its own to dehumanize one's enemies enough to mentally accept killing them in response for unproportional offenses. That's doubly true when concepts like felony-murder come into play. Actually, when I was in my last year of law school, one of the case studies I covered was United States v. Novak, et al. If you're unfamiliar with Novak, the case came from one of the first really big automation riots, back in 2073. Phil Novak was a labor union organizer who put together an illegal picket line around the Exalta plant in Philly after the company fired all the workers and replaced them with robots.


At first, Exalta just ignored them, but after a month the robots started coming due for maintenance and - against expectations - the repair technicians joined the picket line. At this point, the police issued a final demand for Novak to disperse the picket line, and he refused. Unbeknownst to him, the National Guard was already rolling out, and they picketed the picket line overnight. At dawn, they sent in Mister Gutsys to break up the 'riot.' It quickly devolved into a melee, and then into a massacre. 45 picketers were killed and one Mister Gutsy was "moderately damaged." The next day, the Civil Defense Administration arrested Novak and the other leaders of the union, charging them with seditious conspiracy and felony-murder.


Why felony-murder, you ask? Well, you see, according to the CDA, the picketers were also committing seditious conspiracy - a felony - when they died. Since Novak was allegedly an accomplish to their crime, under the felony-murder statute he was guilty of murdering the picketers. Novak and his crew got hauled before the U.S. District Court in Philly and were convicted on all charges in less than a week. They all got the death penalty. Of course, they exercised their right to appeal, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS ruled that the precedent on the legality of felony-murder cases was well established, further opining in the majority opinion that communist infiltration of the labor movement was an existential threat to the American way of life and communist organizers richly deserved death. Novak and his partners went to the electric chair a month later.


So back in the old world, I was pretty much in the 'abolish the death penalty' camp. Intellectually, I agree with the concept that as a society we can decide that some individuals can never re-enter society because of the threat they pose, and I also agreed that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is generally less humane than a properly executed, um, execution. But again and against I saw people in power abusing the justice system to dispose of people who they didn't like, even though those peoples' actions failed to meet the high bar of an irredeemable threat to society (to say nothing of innocent people who were railroaded into convictions - but that's a whole other discussion).


So imagine how I felt the next morning when I woke up to find that I'd become a literal judge, jury, and executioner. So there went another plank from my old life, pried up and replaced with something new. I tried to distract myself with work, supervising the construction of the walls and gates and checking in on the progress of the houses. I found it interesting that the ASAMs had directed two of Preston's troops to refit the old capsule trailers that littered the site. Thinking on other potential ways to use those took my mind off my troubles for a little while, but it was only a momentary relief.




Preston sidled up to me, asking in an 'indoor voice', "what's bothering you, Charley?"


I nodded my head towards the gallows. "I'm not sure how I feel about condemning people to die."


"You seemed all right with it yesterday."


"I know, but I think that was the more the excitement of the moment than anything else. Now that the battle's further behind me, now that my head's clear, I'm questioning if I did the right thing?"


"Why?" He asked, seeming to be honestly curious.


"In my time, Preston," I explained, "there were a lot of problems with the death penalty being abused. People getting executed for small offenses, people getting rushed through the courts on weak evidence or even no evidence, judges who let the power of their position go to their heads. I don't know if I want that in the society that we're building."


"You're building," he corrected.


"Excuse me?"


Preston turned to face me, his face hardening a little. "Charley, this isn't a society that we're building. I know that's a nice thought, but it's you who's doing the building. The world around you, the raiders, the failing settlements, no government, no minutemen, no hope, that's the world that 'we' built. You're trying to build something different. You."


"I know..." I muttered. "But see, that bothers me too. I don't want to be Queen Charley. I want a society where everyone has a voice, where they have value."


"But you still need to show the way. And part of that means teaching about justice. You said it yourself yesterday," Preston gestured towards the guards. "These guys, they don't understand the idea of a fair trial. Honestly, even for me, I don't think I really get what you mean by having a jury trial. Like, I get the idea at its surface, and I like it, but I think there's more to it, more layers, than I understand. If you walked away tomorrow, we couldn't finish the work you're trying to do."


"Dammit, Preston, are you trying to set me up as a queen? Do you really want me to rule over this place forever? Even if I get old and cynical and stop caring about the things that matter to me now?"


"You don't have to rule forever, Charley. But you need to rule for now. You're unique. Special, you could say." 


I chuckled at that, thinking of that stupid "You're S.P.E.C.I.A.L." book we bought to read to Shaun a week or two before the bombs dropped. I'd found it in the ruins of the house, and I'd had a good cry reading through it. Now it was back there on my bookshelf, a memento of times past.


"What's so funny?"


"Nothing. I was just thinking of something from the old world. But really, Preston, are you sure you want this? That the others want this? Even if I made every single decision with all your interests in mind, do you really want the whole 'dictatorship of the proletariat' business? In the old world, that never ended well."


"Then this is your chance to do it right. And if you don't trust yourself to make the right call, surround yourself with good advisors. You've already got some you obviously trust, and you'll find more over time. Let them keep you on the straight and narrow. But you have to make the decisions."


"Hah, so we're going to have the vanguard party, too? Jesus, I might as well just raise the red flag now."


"Call it whatever fancy words you want, and raise whatever flag you want," Preston said, obviously not getting the reference, "but do it. Show us the way. Because even in the minutemen, we didn't think what you're starting to do was really possible. But you have to do it, Charley. And you even have to do the hard stuff, like condemning God damn cannibal mother fucking raiders to hang. Do you hear me? Do you understand?"


I was silent for a long time, but finally I let out a long breath. "I hear you, Preston. And you're right. Thank you, I think I needed to hear that. But I swear to God, if you ever even think of calling me Queen Charley, I'm going to go back to the vault and climb back in the cryo pod. Then I'll try again in another 200 years."


Preston laughed at that. "Fair enough," he said, "but you better brace yourself, because sooner or later folks are going to saddle you with one fancy title or another. You might get them to hold off on queen, but there are plenty of other names they can call you."


I imitated a retching noise before offering him a smile. "Thanks again, Preston. Alright, let's finish setting up this outpost. Then we need to regroup and start planning for Concord."


We walled off the other approach to the quarry that didn't involve going down a steep descent, including with a steel mesh covered culvert to ensure the little pond near the quarry didn't get cut off from its source. Afterwards, Preston took me around and introduced me to the guards. He emphasized before hand that they weren't Minutemen. Not yet. But they were well on the way. One of the guards caught my eye; he had leathery skin and deep, sunken eye sockets. After a second, I realized that this man was a Ghoul.




"Pardon me for my ignorance," I said, "but every Ghoul I'm met so far has been, um, feral. Are there more people like you out there?"


"Not so many around here," he rasped, "and no offense taken. But not every Ghoul goes feral. There's more of us out towards Boston. Used to be a lot of us in Diamond City before that bastard McDonough kicked us out. Still plenty of us in Goodneighbor and the Slog."


"You've been here for a while, I assume, if Preston's got you deployed. What do you think - would other Ghouls want to work with us, join us?"


"Probably more than you think. We Ghouls... a lot of us were around for the War. Same thing that... changes... us on the outside, means we never get old. Take me, for example, I was in the Commonwealth Army when the bombs dropped. I've got no idea how I survived the riots, but a couple months after I started to change. The nose fell off a week later and I've been like this ever since."


"Well, shit," I muttered, then added, "I think at some point, we need to have a long talk about what happened while I was on ice. But I realize, I never got your name."


"James Lynch, ma'am. Call me Jim."


"Alright, Jim, this definitely won't be our last talk. But for now, carry on. And thanks for covering me while we cleaned this place out."


Over the next few days, I visited each of our new outposts to check in on their readiness. In general, things seemed to be proceeding well. Some raiders had tried to make a move against Drumlin Diner, but the new fortifications and guards were enough to push them back. Trudy, as you can imagine, was very happy and told me that I was right to lean on her until she joined. Up at the farm, Blake's new razorwheat plot was thriving and things were generally looking good there. I pitched in to help Eloise finish putting her house together, then had a long talk with Connie about logistics and how to put her farm's extensive resources to good use. We both agreed that once Concord was under our control, we'd fast want to turn it into a hub for trade and supply so that Sanctuary and all the outposts could avoid any shortages.


Finally, I returned to Sanctuary itself. I'd made a bee-line for my home, since I badly needed a shower after all the work I'd been doing down at the quarry. To my surprise, I found Seth using my shower and Marcy Long preening herself in front of my bathroom mirror.




"What, do you two live here now?" I asked, jokingly.


Seth shook his head under the shower. "Sorry, Charley, you're away so long we've been borrowing this place as kind of a public meeting place. You don't mind, do you?"


I kind of did a little bit. This was my house, I bought it before the war and it was one of the few relics of the past that I still had to cling to. But I found it hard to be upset with them. After a moment's thought, I shrugged.


"No, you're right, I'm barely here nowadays. And after we take Concord, I'm just going to get worse about that. I take it the water purifier for the quarry was easy to set up?"


"Yes indeed, no problems. Though now I'm pretty low on parts. Until we get a new trade connection to Boston, don't ask me to make any more of them."


"Yeah, and about that," Marcy added, turning around to face me, "I talked with Trudy, her connections are drying up, too. We need to find new suppliers, ideally on this side of the Charles, because Gwen McNamara is telling everyone who'll listen that we're bad news."


I groaned at that news. "What's her problem with us? She seems to be putting way more effort into screwing with us than we deserve."


"You ask me, it's jealousy. She used to be the vault in this area, and that gave her a seat at a lot of tables where otherwise she might be left out. Now she's hearing that there's a new vault in the area - one that's expanding and flexing its influence - and she's feeling a little threatened. I don't know if you're aware, but Vault 81 mostly keeps to its self. Other than politics, it has very little power outside the Chestnut Hillock area."


Seth chimed in, "plus, I think she might actually believe that we're faking it. Apparently she has a pretty well developed conspiracy theory to explain where we're getting our identity from. Seems there was another vault in the area that did the whole 'no fancy clothes' think, but they died out a long time ago. She thinks you're just some scavver who found that vault and ripped off their idea."


I smirked at that. "I hope you don't believe that."


"Naw," he said, "Winter took me up to the vault to examine the water systems there. I know you're legit. But for a lot of folks down Boston way, I think it sounds pretty believable."


"Well," I conceded, "It sounds like after Concord is firmly under our control, I need to go make contact with the major settlements in Boston, including Vault 81, and set the record straight."


"That's a good idea," Marcy said. "People will listen to you in a way they don't to Carla - you're the big boss, after all, not just a trader spreading gossip and rumors. By the way, I like what you did with your hair."


"Thanks," I said. "It was starting to go all over the place inside the helmet for my suit, but I don't want to just cut it off. Not yet."


"Well, if you ever decide you want a real fancy haircut, or you want to color it or something, I know a really talented hairdresser down in Diamond City. I bet she'll give you a deal if you tell her I sent you."


At this point, I was starting to get a little tired of waiting and started peeling off my vault suit. Once I'd stripped down, I squeezed in between Seth and the shower wall, stealing a share of the water from the showerhead and rubbing up close against his wet skin.


"Hey, I'm not..." he started, but I cut him off with a finger to his lips.


"If you're going to hog the shower, then you can wash my back."


I hadn't had a man rub me down in the shower in a long time, and it was a nice sensation. I wished it was Nate doing it, of course, but I think by then I was starting to accept that his place was in the old world, and my place - now - was in the new one. Seth, it turned out, gave a pretty good massage and did a great job working the stress out of my shoulders. He also did a great job washing my hair. By the end of the experience, I was rather surprised that he was still single.


Finishing up, I noticed that Seth had apparently enjoyed the experience as well, at least based on the stiffness of his cock. I reached between his still-moist thighs and gave his warmth-loosened scrotum a little tug. "Is somebody feeling a little thirsty?" I asked.


"I'm not going to lie, Charley," he said, squirming in my grasp, "it felt pretty good to get my hands on you."


"Good," I said, "I like being appreciated by a nice man."


I didn't push things further at the moment, and we both started to dress. As I was finishing up getting dressed, Seth spoke up again behind me.


"Uh, Charley, this is a little awkward..."


I glanced behind me, and saw that Seth had re-dressed, but his erection hadn't faded at all. "I don't suppose you're in the mood to help me work this off?"


I put up one foot on the toilet and wiggled my butt in his direction. "It's been a while for me, too, and I have to admit that massage got me a little warmed up. How about you come over here and show me what you've got."




Marcy, who'd been watching this little display, groaned and retreated from the bathroom, evidently not interested in indulging in voyeurism. Seth stepped forward to let her through, and almost immediately started to rub his cock up and down my slit, feeling for the opening of my pussy. As soon felt his tip slip inside, I pushed back to meet his thrust and I was pleased to hear a little groan escape his lips. While I like a stoic man as much as the next girl, it really gets me hot when I can tell he's getting into it.


Another thing I like, Seth started slow and gentle, feeling me out and getting to know my depths and my limits. This was definitely a guy who'd had some experience making girls feel good, and I made a mental note to learn more about his past romantic conquests. For the moment, however, I concentrated on enjoying the feel of his cock filling me up while his still-loose balls slapped against my mound and my clit.


Once he got his rhythm set, Seth started strengthening his strokes, and I took my hands off his hips to brace myself against the wall and give some resistance against his motion. If before he was being careful to not push too far, too fast, now he was plunging to the hilt. I could feel myself stretching just a little bit to accommodate him, but long hours of using the power suit had desensitized my cervix to touching and jostling, and what would have been a little painful once upon a time was just a dull throb that added another flavor to my pleasure. 




He had pretty good endurance, too. Honestly, whenever I go right to fucking I'm not great about cumming fast enough to keep pace with a guy. Our shower rubbing was at best light foreplay and I wasn't really set up for an orgasm. Still, Seth got me surprisingly close before I felt his hot juices flooding into me, and even as he emptied inside me he gently turned my head to him to firmly and deeply kiss me. I think he got a good eight or nine spurts into me before his ejaculation stopped, and after he kept fucking me until he started to get limp.




Still, Seth wasn't done. Gently he lowered me to the ground and raised up my hips, leaning forward to start eating my pussy. This guy was a rare catch indeed, I realized, and I started to wonder if I should keep him for myself. I tried hard not to crush his head between my thighs as I squirmed and twitched under his ministrations, and it wasn't long before I found myself rolling into my orgasm. Holding my breath, I shuddered against him while he continued sucking on my clit until my thighs loosened and I started to get a little limp. 




At length, I opened my eyes to consider him. Seth had a shit-eating grin on his face, and a slurry of my juices and his cum all over his beard. 


"You better be careful, Seth, or I'll push a leash on that collar of yours. You're good... and its a rare man who'll eat cum just to get his girl off."


He shrugged. "I'd rather stay free-range, but you're welcome to come and play whenever you want. I'm always up for spending some quality time between a good friend's legs."


I have to admit, the semen all over his face was really drawing my attention and I considered asking if he was into men as well, but I thought that might be kind of rude to pry, and so I let it drop. I considered myself, all sweaty and liberally dripping, and pointed to the shower.


"I think we both need to clean up again, don't we?"


Seth laughed. "Even if we didn't, I'm always happy to get wet and naked with you and put my hands all over your body."


"Jesus, Seth, I never knew you were such a horn dog. How do you hide it?"


"In this suit?" He asked, pointing at his exposed cock, "with a great deal of difficulty and a lot of masturbation."


Peeling my suit back off, I leaned down to scrutinize he now-flaccid but still partially inflated member, "well, if your hand ever gets cramped, you know where to find me."


Laughing both, I helped him out of his suit and led him back to the shower. For a moment, I paused to look at myself in the mirror. In a moment of clarity, it struck me that I hadn't worn my glasses in a long time. It struck me as odd for a moment, but before I could ruminate on it further, Seth beckoned me to follow him.


"Better hurry up, boss, with the amount of water we've been using, it might start getting cold soon."


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