I run across the mire, vines whipping my face, blood speckled from thorns. The wind blows big drops of water from the trees above my head, splatting my face, dribbling damply down my neck. I am in no hurry, I just love how it feels to be running free, away from everyone, grateful once again to be out of that god forsaken vault.

My pipboy clicks, and I stumble as I am distracted by the rising radiation. The sky is green, and the rain begins to sting. Shit, a radstorm. I check my pipboy again to see if my map shows any shelter nearby. Just one place, a cave, very close by though. I change direction and run. As I reach the mouth of the cave, it occurs to me that I’ve been here before. This is where a deathclaw lives. Oh well, no choice, I have to get out of the storm.

I keep my pipboy light off, I don’t want to alert a Deathclaw if I don’t have to. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I start to notice some details. There is a streak of disturbed dirt on the floor, going from the mouth of the cave into the darkness. It looks like something has been dragged back into the darkness. As my breathing steadies and my heartbeat slows I decide to investigate further. I close my eyes and listen carefully. There is no indication that anyone is home, much less a deathclaw. I begin to creep slowly deeper into the ground.

After a while the tunnel widens into a larger cavern. There is still no sign of life, so I turn on my pipboy light. The green glow reaches the roof of the cave, it is a sizeable room. The only sound is the gentle trickle of an underground stream, and dripping water seeping through from above. I look around. This is definitely a Deathclaw nest. There are piles of bones, and some meat scattered around. The bones seem to be mostly wildlife, but there are a few human remains. One pile in particular catches my eye. I see some relatively undamaged fabric. Maybe I can scavenge something for myself. I go closer. It looks like an Enclave uniform, almost brand new. It’s difficult to tell though, as the pile is covered in leaves and branches. I tug on the uniform. It makes a sound I wasn’t expecting. I shriek and stumble backwards, landing on my ass. What the fuck? Could there be someone alive in this mess? Do I want to find out? Again, I approach the pile and begin gingerly clearing the debris.

As the pile shrinks, I realise that this uniform does indeed have an occupant. I lift off some sacking, tangled in a branch, and I see his face. He is one of the enclave clones, I’ve seen the face before, arrogantly patrolling the Whitesprings. He looks a little gaunt, but I put my ear to his mouth, and he is breathing. There are three nasty looking gouges across his chest, where the uniform is torn. His chest rises and falls rhythmically. I clear the rest of the debris covering him, and I notice that his forehead is beaded, and his hair damp with sweat. His wounds are infected, he seems feverish. I kneel back to consider my options. I should simply remove the undamaged pieces of uniform and leave him here. He’s probably beyond saving, and a Deathclaw needs to eat. I wonder why the Enclave haven’t come to collect their boy. I know that they consider their clones expendable, but they surely would not just leave one to die in the wild. Maybe the cave is blocking their tracking signal. Or maybe the deathclaw has damaged or removed the tracking device when it raked the three gashes across his chest. Perhaps if the Enclave were no longer receiving information from the clone they assumed he was already dead.

I began to wrestle him out of his uniform. It doesn’t smell great, and the jacket and shirt are beyond redemption. His boots are in great condition, so I remove them and put them to one side. The trousers are in good condition, nothing a good wash won’t fix. I remove them, fold them and put them in my backpack. Underneath I find underwear that looks much newer than anything I have seen in the wasteland. I bet if I give them a really good clean I’ll be able to sell them at a great price. Clean underwear fetches a premium in the wasteland. I slip my fingers into the waistband, but a hand grabs my wrist, startling me. I swear and shake my hand free.

“What, where am I, what are you doing?“ he croaks. Well shit, he’s awake. This is inconvenient.

“Don’t worry,” I reply, “you’re still asleep, this is all just a dream. Just lie back and relax.”

“I need…” He coughs, wincing “water… Have you got any water?” I sit back to think. Now that he’s awake, can I leave him here to die? Yes, yes I can, but he’s very pretty, so maybe I don’t want to. Plus you never know, the Enclave might pay well for the safe return for one of their soldiers. I reach into my backpack and pull out a carton of purified water. I hand it to him. He props himself up on one elbow, and takes the carton, gulping as if his life depends on it. It probably does. He begins to cough, wincing as he does so. As soon as his cough is under control he leans gingerly back down on the pile of garbage, closing his eyes.

I sit and wait for something to happen. Nothing happens. I ponder my options. Maybe the Enclave will pay me for his safe return. If the cave is the only thing blocking the signal between the Enclave and this guy, then as soon as we get outside, they’re going to be alerted to the signal, and maybe come and retrieve him. I don’t want to find out what happens if they discover me with one of their boys in this condition… probably not pay me, at the very least.

The man gently snores on his pile. He looks almost peaceful there, stripped down to his underwear. He is certainly very well put together under that uniform. I decide to at least try to get him out of the cave. If the Enclave don’t immediately descend on us, I can always take him to the Vultures medical expert for some no-questions-asked medical help before I return him. I look him over, and I realise that I can’t move him without help, or maybe a contraption of some kind. I stand up and survey the mess around me. I manage to scrounge together a few large branches and some sacking. I throw together a makeshift sled and place it beside him.

“Ok, soldier boy, up and at it, gotta get you on this thing if you’re going to make it out of here alive.” I grab his arm and try to get the sled under him. “Fuck,” I puff, this dude is solid muscle, and heavy “Shit. Wake the fuck up, asshole.” I poke one of his wounds. His eyes open wide and he sits up suddenly, letting out a yelp of pain. “That’s it. Good boy.” I manage to wrangle the sled under him. I walk back up to the front of the cave to see if the radstorm has passed. The day looks clear now, although darkness is starting to fall. Once again, I consider leaving him behind. Getting him out of here will be a chore. There’s no guarantee he will live, and even if he does, there’s no guarantee the Enclave will even want him back, or pay if they do.

Sighing, I turn and go back down into the depths of the cave. Guess I’m going to get him out of here, see if he survives. I look around the cavern again, to make sure there is nothing else here of value. I don’t see anything worth my time so I take a few leather straps out of my backpack and strap him to the sled. Then I use a blanket to cover his legs. No need to give him back his trousers, I can still get a few caps for those. I pick up the handles of the sled and begin to drag it upwards to the waning daylight. I have a long trek ahead of me.

Luckily there is an almost full moon to help light my way, but after a few hours heading south, dragging 180lbs of raw meat along the uneven highway, I have had enough. I leave the road with him to find a safe camp spot for the night. I prop one end of the sled up on a rock to keep him mostly off the ground. I set a fire to keep the local wildlife at bay, no need to invite more trouble. I unroll my sleeping bag and I rummage around in my backpack for a snack. I find some fox jerky and a jar of healing salve that I forgot I had. I slap some on his chest wounds. I think they are beyond the reach of a simple healing salve, but it might at least ease the infection. Certainly, it can’t hurt. He can stay asleep on the sled. I check his bonds, before I lie down on the sleeping bag, my muscles aching. I wonder briefly if the Enclave are going to show up, but I fall asleep quickly.

Just before dawn I am woken by a possum snuffling its nose directly in my ear. It seems the fire has gone out. I reach my hand up and swat it away. I sit up, temporarily disoriented. My vision clears and I catch a glimpse of shiny thighs. The blanket has slid off my ward, and he looks delicious in the dim predawn light. I guess the Enclave aren’t coming, or they’d certainly be here by now. “Looks like you’re all mine for now, guy.” He looks slightly less like death. As I regretfully cover him up. I examine his wounds. They still look bad, but the stench has eased slightly. I look up, to see him looking back at me, eyes wide open. I give a start, and back away slightly. “Morning sunshine, how are you doing?”

“Thirsty,” he croaks. I give him the last of my purified water. He gulps it down. “Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on? Who are you? What are we doing here?” Oh great, questions. I much preferred it when he was passed out. He is out of breath, talking is enough to wear him out.

“Don’t worry, here, have this.” Before he can react, I stick him with some Med-X. I don’t want to have to explain anything just yet. Can’t have him activating some kill switch, or whatever it is the enclave drones do when they think they’ve been captured. His eyes roll back in his head, and his body relaxes. I’d rather he was fixed up before I return him.

As the sun rises, I roll up my sleeping bag, gather my belongings, pick up the sled and head back to the road to continue our journey to the Vultures clinic. I send a message ahead to the Doc, so he knows to expect us. I try to keep it cryptic, no way to know who is listening in. The trip is mostly uneventful, although the clone stirs a few times. I sort him out with a few more jabs. By the time we get to the Doc it is late afternoon. I am tired and sore. I drag George Cloney into the main building, and yell for help.

“Okay okay I’m coming, give me a minute!” I hear a muffled yell from the other side of the camp. I sit and wait. The Doc appears at the door, pulling on some grubby scrubs. “What’s the big rush?” He pauses “Oooh, what delights have you brought for me?”

“Found him in a pile of Deathclaw garbage, thought I’d see if I could salvage him. Listen, Doc,” I lower my voice “We can probably get a pile of caps off the Enclave if we return him in one piece, but we need to keep this just between us, okay? I doubt The Condor will approve of us recycling this clone.”

“Sure, sure, no problem. Let me examine him, you go take a load off.”

I leave them to it. The Vulture Doctor, Prince, doesn’t have a spotless record, but he’ll do better than I could have. I relax on a ratty sofa in one of the other buildings. A while later I am startled awake. It is dark outside. “Oh boy, Doc, you took your time. Is our boy going to make it?”

“He will, no thanks to whatever you pumped into him. That stuff is supposed to be used sparingly. It took me an age just to wake him up. His wounds will heal, but I can’t do anything about the scarring that he’s going to have. Maybe his overlords will see fit to polish him up, but his physical wounds aren’t the only interesting thing, Teek. He doesn’t seem to have a clue who, where or what he is”. The doc is as animated as I’ve ever seen him, at least as far as I can tell, with that mask he never takes off. “I haven’t told him anything, I thought you’d like to fill him in. I took off his uniform jacket, just to make sure he didn’t ask questions about it.”

“Huh, amnesia? Wow, that’s cool. I can mould him to my will, I mean help him rediscover who he is.”

Prince shakes his head, chuckling. “He’s going to need a bit of tender loving care to make a full recovery.”

“That’s cool, Doc. Let me know when he’s ready to go?”

“Hell, no, you take him home and be nursey. You can both stay for tonight, but you have to be gone in the morning. I’ve got better things to do than waste my time with your bullshit.”

“Okay, okay. I s’pose I’d better go fill him in.”

As I approach my new pet, I once again consider my options. Do I tell him the truth, and risk him running off on me before he is healed? Do I lie and hope his memory doesn’t come back? What should I do?

I burst in on him, “Oh thank fuck, you’re going to be ok, I was so worried!” I run over and plant a kiss directly on his lips. I don’t know who I was trying to kid, of course I’m going to lie. It’ll be much more fun that way. He doesn’t respond to the kiss, so I back off, feigning hurt. “What’s wrong? Did I hurt you? I’m so sorry, I’m just so happy you’re awake!”

He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “What the heck? Who are you?”

My eyes narrow in annoyance, but I try to hide it. “What do you mean? It’s me, Tara. I know you were missing for a while, but it was only a few weeks, you must recognize me. I can’t believe I managed to track you down in that cave, I was so afraid I’d lost you for good!”

“I don’t know you, what are you talking about?”

“Oh, wow… The Doc told me that you couldn’t remember, but I didn’t realise it was this bad. We need to get back to our camp so we can make you all better.” He eyed me suspiciously. “I have this medicine Doc said you needed for tonight. We can stay here for one night, but in the morning, we need to get going.” I stick him with the drug cocktail. It will keep him sedated at least until we need to leave.

The Doc and I stay up into the wee hours, drinking and talking. It’s almost dawn when I get back to sleep. I wake up with a serious headache. I shake The Doc, to let him know that I am going to pick up George and head off. He swears in his sleep but doesn’t stir. I check my pipboy, and Doc has sent a list of care instructions along with the message “Remember to cut me in when you return him, okay? I don’t work for free.”

I reply with “Yeah, of course. Scouts, honour,” I cross my heart with my fingers and giggle to myself.

Part Two

Part Three