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look around at the world we're inheriting and think of the one we'll create

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It really shouldn't have been as attractive as it was, Piper thought as she watched Blue dig a screwdriver and a bobby pin out of her bag and start prodding at the safe she'd found. Plenty of people knew how to pick locks. Any scavver worth their caps knew the basics; no sense letting a locked door stand between you and good scrap. Piper herself had learned the basics after about the third time she’d been... detained while chasing a story. Blue, though, was in a league of her own. Safes that had successfully resisted decades of scavengers would invariably open like cans of cram in her hands. Very talented hands, those.

Okay, Piper, focus. Jeez.

Piper watched as delicate fingers ever so carefully positioned a bobby pin in the lock and slowly twisted the screwdriver until it caught. Blue shifted the pin a fraction of an inch to the right and tried again.

"Tough one, huh?"

Blue paused and turned to look at Piper over her shoulder. "Means there's probably something good in there, right?" She turned back to the safe, her lips pressed together in concentration. "Think I've almost got it."

"And here I thought you'd finally met your match," Piper teased.

As if on cue, the safe emitted a satisfying click and swung open. Blue rifled through the contents and grabbed a few boxes of ammo before standing back up and storing them away in her backpack. "Ha. Maybe next time."

Blue had asked her to join in on a scrapping mission in Concord, and while it wasn’t the most exciting way to spend a day, Piper wasn’t going to turn down a chance to talk to a primary source about the world before the war. And hey, helping new settlements build up their defenses wasn’t the worst thing she could be doing . The two of them had spent the day wandering the empty streets and picking up as much useful junk as they could carry.

Piper cast her eyes around the room, trying to see if they’d missed anything. Blue had stripped the room bare, even picking up the old bottles and cans lying around, but Piper had learned that Blue would find a way to use anything she picked up. "Where'd you learn how to do that anyway? If I didn't know better I'd think you were some kind of two hundred-year-old cat burglar."

"You got me. Had to pay for law school somehow, right?” Blue picked up her pistol from where she’d set it down on the floor and walked towards the stairs of the hardware store they were currently searching. "Nah, I taught myself when I was a teenager. At the time I thought it would impress girls, but it really only came in handy one time when I’d locked myself out of my apartment. After that I sort of got into it as a hobby. Turns out a lot of the most common commercially available safes have pretty much the exact same configuration. Once you know the trick they aren’t too hard to crack.”

Piper followed her down to the main floor of the building. "Well, you can color me impressed, Blue. You'll have to show me that trick sometime."

"Sure. Teenage me would be elated that it finally worked," Blue said as she walked out the door and started down the empty street.

Piper smiled a bit at that in spite of herself. Sure, Blue meant it in a general sense and not a Piper-specific one, but it was nice to think that Blue might be showing off for her.

As she followed Blue back outside and through Concord to yet another abandoned building full of junk, Piper’s nostrils were assaulted for the umpteenth time that day by the smell of rotting deathclaw. The carcass had clearly been sitting out for some time. Scavengers both human and animal had taken what they could, leaving a misshapen pile of meat, bones, and spent 5mm ammo that smelled worse than a super mutant camp in August.

Blue had told her the incredible story of her first few days out of the freezer, and Piper had believed her, but seeing the dead deathclaw up close… if Piper had been surprised when her vault dweller interviewee had casually mentioned putting down a deathclaw, seeing the enormous carcass decomposing in the weak January sun made Piper shake her head and gaze bemusedly at the woman walking a few yards ahead of her.

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It wasn't every day that a vault dweller showed up practically on her doorstep, let alone a mildly famous one. It would almost be journalistic malpractice not to ask for an interview. 

Piper had headed straight to her office and waited there all day in hopes that the newcomer would stop by. She hadn’t given up hope until around 10, when she finally acknowledged that if the vault dweller was going to come it wouldn’t be today. So she’d headed to the Dugout, knowing that if she was going to hear news anywhere it would be there.

Piper walked in, ordered a beer from Vadim and sat in a chair in the corner, ready to eavesdrop until she heard something about the vault dweller. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Did you hear about that trader from Quincy that came in today?”

“Yeah, I saw her in the market earlier. Didn’t look like a trader to me, though. More like a merc.”

“Yeah? Roger said she asked McDonough about a missing person and he told her Valentine was the guy to ask. Though apparently he left out the fact that Nicky’s been missing for weeks.”

“Probably just another merc who got stiffed on a job. She was trading with Arturo when I saw her.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. So remember how I was telling you about my girl leaving the cap off the toothpaste?”

So Blue (as Piper had mentally begun to call her in lieu of a name) had visited the market and probably gone to Valentine’s office. But not Piper’s. It was possible that she’d already left Diamond City. Piper swallowed her disappointment. Maybe Blue would turn up tomorrow, maybe she wouldn’t. Plenty of Piper’s leads had fizzled out before. And yet… this one was different. And not just because the woman had been attractive, although after polishing off her beer Piper was able to admit to herself that it may have been a tiny part of it. Piper waited another hour to see if anyone else might have information on the vault dweller, and when she didn’t hear anything she finally headed home and crawled into bed.

She awoke to the sound of a fist knocking on corrugated metal. Piper leapt out of bed, glancing at her terminal as she threw on her jacket. Whoever was knocking on her door at 9:30 in the morning better have a damned good reason. She opened the door, ready to give an earful to whichever unfortunate security goon McDonough had sent to harass her now and-

Froze immediately when she came face to face not with a man in an umpire outfit but instead a woman in a vault suit. Piper stared just for a second before her brain caught up to her mouth, which she closed before shaking her head and consciously making an effort to act like a normal person.

“Good morning. I’m sorry if I woke you up. I wanted to give you that interview I promised, but I’m leaving Diamond City today and I wanted to take advantage of the daylight.” The vault dweller’s eyes traveled their surroundings as she spoke before finally coming back to meet Piper’s. Brown eyes and freckles peered out from behind a banged-up pair of glasses. 

Piper opened the door and gestured her inside. “No, I get it. Thanks for coming. Uh, you want something to drink? I have water and uh…” She opened the long-since-broken fridge. “Lukewarm Nuka-Cola.”

“I’m good. Thanks, though.” Blue hovered in the doorway. On top of the vault suit she wore a hodgepodge of different armors and a modified 10 mm on her hip. The equipment wouldn’t have looked out of place on a mercenary or a caravan guard, but on Blue it seemed uncomfortable, like she still felt actively conscious of every piece on her body. Yep, vaultie for sure.

“Alright then. You ready for the interview?” Piper gestured towards the couch.

“Yeah, I think so.” Blue sat, and Piper followed suit, opening her notepad and uncapping her pen.

The vault dweller turned out to be named AJ.

“Does that stand for something?”

AJ looked over Piper’s shoulder then, taking a moment that Piper hadn’t expected her to for a seemingly simple question.

“No. Not anymore, anyway.”

Piper, sensing something more personal than Blue was willing to share at the time, decided to ignore her nosy journalist side for once and respect her interviewee’s privacy. 

“Alright then Blue, ready for the real questions?” 

Blue answered those real questions more with more candor than Piper had any reason to expect, at which point Piper was forced to wonder at how this woman had made it to Diamond City alive in the first place.

"So let me get this straight. You woke up from two centuries of cryosleep, rescued a group of settlers from a raider gang, and took down a deathclaw with a frag mine, a minigun, and a suit of power armor that was nearly as old as you. All in a matter of days.” Piper lit a cigarette, watching Blue’s face for any signs that she was spinning a yarn.

Blue gave a small shrug. "Well, when you put it that way… if I'm being honest, it doesn't even feel real. Those first few days feel more like a dream, or something that happened to someone else. I honestly don't know how I did it." She began fiddling with a loose string on the sleeve of her vault suit.

Piper took a drag from the cigarette, trying to figure out whether or not she believed her. Piper had always tended towards skepticism, but there was an earnestness in the bewildered way she spoke about herself that made Piper want to take her at her word.

"I've only seen a deathclaw up close once, and it's not an experience I'm eager to repeat. So then what happened?"

"I made sure Preston and the other survivors got back to Sanctuary okay. Sturges- one of the survivors, he's a mechanic- asked me to help make it liveable. And then I kind of just… kept helping. There are a lot of people who need it out here.” Blue remained steadfastly focused on her sleeve, avoiding Piper’s gaze. Usually that meant that someone was telling tales, but Piper’s gut told her that it wasn’t the case. Blue seemed to clam up whenever she mentioned a good deed she’d done or people she’d helped. 

"You can say that again. But you might have noticed that there isn't an abundance of people running around doing what you've been doing. So why? Why keep risking your life for strangers?" Piper looked up from her notepad, trying to catch Blue’s eye.

Blue had looked down at the floor then. "It's… hard to talk about." Piper could see her retreating inward.

"Oh, whoa. I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to drag up anything personal. You don't have to answer that if you don't want to." Piper was actually dying to drag up everything personal about this woman, but she also didn’t want to scare her off.

"No, it's fine. It's why I came here, actually. I should probably get used to talking about it if I'm ever going to…" She drifted off, pressing her lips together as if she wanted to continue but couldn't. She swallowed.

Piper thought back to what she'd said to McDonough. "You said you were looking for someone." 

Blue nodded. "Shaun. My nephew. He's less than a year old."

"Was he frozen too, then?"

"Yeah. I had come to meet him and visit my sister and her husband when the bombs fell. They had just signed us up for the vault earlier that day."

Blue explained then the memory of the kidnapping, the bald man with the scar. Watching helplessly as her brother-in-law was murdered and her nephew was taken.

"When I woke up, I read the terminals that the scientists left behind. They mixed up the pods while we were frozen and they thought that I was Nora. Everyone else in the vault suffocated in their sleep.” Blue was fiddling with the dials on her Pip-Boy now.

Piper put down her pen and tentatively reached out a hand to touch Blue’s shoulder. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such a painful memory.”

Blue kept talking as though she hadn’t heard. "Honestly, I felt like I didn't deserve to be alive. I thought I may as well throw myself into helping Preston, and if I died, I died. But then I didn't die. And I realized that if I could help those people, then maybe I could track down Shaun after all. Or at least, I owed it to Nora and Nate to try. So here I am.”

Then Blue seemed to realize everything that she’d said. “I’m sorry. That’s probably not really what you were looking for, huh? Sorry. I guess I just haven’t really talked with that many people since, you know.”

Piper rubbed Blue’s shoulder again. “Don’t worry, I won’t publish that last part.” Even if it would move a lot of papers. “And look, whatever your reasons, you’ve done a lot of good for people around here. That’s plenty inspirational.” 

Blue finally looked at Piper and gave her a weak smile. “Thanks. It makes me feel a little more real when I help people, you know? I can visit a settlement I helped set up or see someone I rescued and I feel a little less like the past month has been a really awful dream.” 

Piper let her arm drop into her lap. “Yeah, that makes sense. Well look, I really appreciate you stopping by. I think people really need to hear your story. And if there’s anything I can do to help you out, just let me know.”

“Uh, yeah, no problem. I was a little surprised when you asked me to come yesterday, but then I was thinking that maybe if you wrote about Shaun in your paper, people might reach out if they know something. So, thanks.” Blue stood up from the couch and stuck out her hand for Piper to shake. Piper took it and gave it a firm squeeze, letting it linger just a moment longer than she normally might’ve. 

“Where are you headed, if you don’t mind my asking? I’m pretty familiar with the area, might be able to give you some helpful info.” Piper tried to keep her voice as light and detached as possible, but a bit more interest than she’d have liked crept into her tone.

“Well, after we met yesterday I went to see that detective McDonough mentioned, and…”

Blue explained what she had learned from Ellie as Piper questioned the woman’s self-preservation instincts for the second time that day. 

Piper stood up, placing an exasperated hand to her forehead. “So you’re just planning to waltz through Boston Common, gun your way through the Triggermen’s headquarters, and rescue Nick like you’re picking up groceries from the Surplus?”

Blue at least had the decency to look a little sheepish. “Well, when you put it that way-”

Piper closed her notebook and stuck it back in her jacket pocket. “No offense, Blue, but getting yourself killed isn’t going to do Nick or anyone else any favors. Nick’s a good friend of mine, and I want him home safe as much as anyone, but rushing in guns blazing is just asking to get yourself killed out there.”

Blue looked her in the eyes, her jaw set. “Rushing in guns blazing has been working for me so far.” She folded her arms and stood there, as if waiting for Piper to argue.

Great, she’s stubborn and a martyr. You really know how to pick ‘em, Piper. 

Piper stared back into Blue’s eyes and found no sign of yielding there. She sighed. “No chance you’ll reconsider?”

Blue shook her head. “I promised Ellie I’d bring him back. Plus, he’s my best chance of finding Shaun. I have to do this.” 

Piper thought about Nick in the hands of Skinny Malone’s gang, and then about Nat coming home from school to an empty house. If she got herself killed out there… but then, she couldn’t let this woman walk into a death trap by herself. Piper sighed again.

“Well, I’m coming with you.” Piper walked over to one of the lockers on the wall and pulled out her backpack and her 10 millimeter, before turning back around to see Blue opening her mouth to protest. Piper cut her off with a wave of her hand.

“No, I’m coming. Nick is my friend, and if both of us go there’s a marginally higher chance that we’ll survive.”

Blue smiled. She had dimples. Completely unfair. “As I was gonna say, thanks. I could really use the help.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, what are we waiting for?”