You’ve responded to an invitation for a “social experiment” by Heineken. You are an outspoken trans woman trying to make a difference so you figure, sure. An opportunity is an opportunity. Let’s get this bullshit over with.
Their film crew tapes you speaking about who you are and why trans people deserve to exist. You already know where this is going, but you hope maybe this time you’re wrong.
You come to a warehouse and are made to stand within taped lines facing a bald, mildly put-upon looking man. Gaffs create a bar which the two of you are then instructed to approach and engage in polite conversation. You do so, critically hyperaware of your body and your transness because you already know what this “social experiment” is going to reference.
A buzzer goes off and you’re then instructed to stand and watch a short video. Sure enough, here is the bald man next to you talking about how “weird” the “transgenders” are. Just like clockwork.
“Another one of these fucking feel-good, bigots-just-need-a-hug commercials. Goddammit I gotta talk to my agent about this shit.”
Of course, two Heineken beers are now placed at the bar and you are given the “option” of having one with this man.
But you know if you actually leave you will garner no sympathy for yourself or other trans women. You are already aware that you alone now represent everything good or bad about all trans women to everyone in this room. You also know they will simply continue this “experiment” with other trans women until they achieve the outcome they want for their ad campaign anyway. So you do your best to make the most of it.
You put on that forced smile learned from your matriarchs for dealing with potentially dangerous men, and you make yourself as welcoming and understanding as you possibly can be.
He pretends to leave after you approach the bar. “Thank god,” you think to yourself. But then he comes back laughing and cracking jokes. “Oh goodie, this one’s a comedian.”
And even though that’s where the commercial spot ends, you now have to sit with this man for at least ten minutes while drinking a beer that tastes shameful with each sip, wondering if this is really the best you can do for your trans sisters right now? He asks you the same tired crap you’ve been answering your whole life out of the closet. And now, as you both leave, you know he feels great about himself, while you already feel like shit on the way home.
You retreat to your partner and tell them about how you got hoodwinked, and they reassure you that even though this bullshit gets old, we all have to make the best of what life throws at us, and they are proud of you.
The campaign comes out, and everyone praises the man who ridiculed you and your sisters on screen. And the company that didn’t give a shit about your feelings of safety if they could spin it into a message for drinking their swill.
“This is what we need to create change!” someone comments, “You win more flies with honey…or in this case beer!”
God, now that man looks like a hero, Heineken sells more beer, and you’re just a nameless tr*nny that normal people are saints for treating like a human being.
I was with those railroad children for an entire week while they slept in a sewer playing Church Crypt Clubhouse. But it’s over now. I got the code. They got the chip. That was the deal.
Desdemona tried to give me a mission before I left but I told her the only thing I cared about was finding my baby and getting the fuck out of there. I’m not here to play secret agent. I’m just thankful Tinker Tom knew what he was doing and they didn’t get us killed.
Nick and I sat on a park bench looking out to sea after we left. The salty air was a refreshing change from living in a sewer with kids calling me Codename: Professor. Nick lit two cigarettes and handed one to me.
I thanked him and asked with a smirk, “What’s the point of a robot smoking anyway?”
“Just a bad habit I picked up I guess. Goes with the outfit. Gotta put out a proper image to be a proper gumshoe, you know. But what about you, kid? Where are we going to build this enormous contraption of yours? We’re gonna need the resources and labor of an entire town if we want to get this done.”
“Funny you should mention that. Did I ever tell you about my first day out of the Vault?”
It’s a two-day journey from the church back to Sanctuary, but thankfully the day was uneventful. I figure these people owe me one since I saved their skins and gave them my old neighborhood.
It’s funny, according to my older entries I went back there once to retrieve power armor for that trip through the Glowing Sea, but I have absolutely no fucking memory of that whatsoever. Okay, maybe “funny” isn’t the word for it. I tried to ask Nick if he knew anything about it, but he just got quiet and changed the subject.
We made camp along the overpass, high above the ground and safe inside a hollowed out trailer. Nick eyed me intensely as I grilled a slab of molerat meat, sipping my lukewarm Nuka-Cola and vodka.
“Your story about those Minutemen has got me thinking a lot about the first town I encountered after The Institute tossed me out like garbage.” He stared into the fire, making his glass eyes seem hollow, the illuminated irises barely visible as he furrowed his brow.
I flipped the steak onto an emptied out Fancy Lads box and began cutting bites with my hunting knife, “With a freshly wiped memory that must have been a helluva rude awakening, huh?”
“You don’t know the half of it! Here I am, waking up in a literal trash heap, with a mechanical body, believing myself to be a cop from your time. Needless to say, I…well I panicked a little.” His hands shake as he pinches a cigarette out of his coat.
I let out a sardonic laugh, “Boy that’s relatable. What did you do?”
“The only thing I could do. I ran, until I finally came across a tiny town. It’s a wonder they didn’t shoot me on sight, a naked metal man screaming toward them.” The image made us both laugh.
“The first human who ever talked to me was a young boy. I think his name was…Jim. He was full of questions. And answers, at least for someone who had no idea where or when he was. Pretty soon the whole town came out to marvel at the mechanical man. They treated me pretty decent once they realized I wasn’t a threat.”
I gave Nick a smile. He’s one of the only people I know who remembers what it was like before The Day. “Prewar” as everyone else here calls it. I began to unroll my sleeping bag as I said to him, “Maybe we could go back there some time and say hello.”
Wrong. You fucked up, Dori.
Nick leapt from his seat and kicked the campfire, sparks flying everywhere. I instinctively drew my pistol and pointed it directly between his eyes.
“I CAN’T because they’re all fucking DEAD! MURDERED by raiders like they were nothing but animals, and all I could do was RUN AWAY! Like a FUCKING COWARD!”
He punched the side of the trailer and a long, low hum echoed inside our shelter. He finally speaks again, in a low whisper. And I finally lower my pistol.
“I’m supposed to be able to Protect and Serve. I know I’m not the real Nick Valentine, but his memories are all I’ve got. And you would think a cop would be able to take out a few punks with guns but I just…I had no idea. I didn’t know this brave new world had such people in it. I thought I could take my time, do a little farming, live an easy life out in the country and heal.”
Neither of us knew what to say. Nick shuffled his way toward the entrance of the trailer and sat down, standing guard for me to sleep. I poured unfiltered water over what remained of the fire.
“Doesn’t matter,” he finally muttered, “that was probably a hundred years ago, anyway.”
We didn’t talk much the next day. We passed the old drive-in. And that diner where I killed those two chem pushers. Once we reached Concord I began to worry. What if these people didn’t make it?
They asked for my help setting up camp and I just left them there. And why can I not remember going there before? Were they all dead? Was it so traumatic I just blocked it out? Are we about to walk into a horror show? Or maybe even worse, a new raider camp?
But as we cross the Red Rocket station I hear a familiar bark. It was Dogmeat!
“Well I’ll be damned,” Nick chuckled, “He’s been waiting for you to come home this whole time.”
I threw my arms around him before realizing he had some sort of “armor” made out of old tires and sharpened bolts. On the side somebody had written “Minuteman Dogmeat”. So that Minuteman guy must still be alive!
Dogmeat happily trotted ahead, leading us to the wooden bridge which was now heavily fortified. The Minuteman hopped from his guard post and waved back toward the houses.
“Hey everyone! The General is back! Here comes the General!”
Nick elbowed me in the ribs and muttered, “Kind of an overly enthusiastic hero’s welcome, don’t you think?”
The Minuteman ran down the bridge toward us, “General, permission to shake your hand?”
I stammer for a moment while Dogmeat bounds around the three of us, “Um, yes, sure. Uh, at ease, soldier.”
He escorts me over the bridge after giving me an eager and firm handshake. At least a dozen people are there to meet us at the guard towers and they all salute me as I approach. Which is…weird? What the hell is with this General business? Did something happen when I was here last time?
Where the Sumners’ house used to be is now a basketball court and playground. I pull the Minuteman to the side so we can hopefully talk privately. But everyone keeps staring at me with a creepy expression of adoration. I don’t even recognize half of these fucking people. What gives?
I look at the Minuteman’s uniform and hope the name stitched on it is actually his because I can’t remember it, “Um, listen Mister…Garvey? The reason I’m here is because I found a way to get to my son. But it’s going to require a lot of power and a lot of space. And I’m going to need your help.”
After many praises and cheers and way too much attention from everyone, I asked Garvey if he could give me some damn space. Everyone else leaves but he leads me along the road, insisting on showing me what they’ve done with Ms. Rosa’s home.
Finally Garvey lets me go to my own home. Which is apparently a diner now.
“As I live and breathe! Good evening mum!”
Codsworth. Of course.
“Now I realize the home looks a bit of a fright but don’t you worry Mum. Master Long and I have seen to it that yours and Master Shawn’s rooms are expertly prepared for your return. Um, where is Master Shawn, mum? Is he with you? Did you find him?”
I turn down the hallway to our bedrooms and my heart stops, “Codsworth, I need you to shut the fuck up right now and tell me what the hell this is!”
I’m just gonna put a picture in here because honestly I can’t even deal with this shit right now. I’m going to bed. I’ll write again when I get some answers.
As soon as we walked through the door, Nick and I were blinded by floodlights.
“Halt Outsider. We’ve been following you since you left the Commons. You have exactly one chance to answer truthfully before we blast you apart. Who are you and what do you want?”
I lowered my pistol and tried to deescalate with the desperate mom routine. Cry. Talk. Find Shawn.
“Please, I’m trying to find The Railroad. I have spent months trying to track down my baby. He was kidnapped by The Institute. I have murdered every single agent of theirs across the Commonwealth. I have had my brain scooped open and contaminated with a psychopath just so I could gather some basic intel about them. I have been to The Glowing Sea and back again to talk to a sentient Super Mutant who used to be their top scientist so I could get schematics. And now, finally, after all this fucking time, I just need this Courser Chip decoded so I can break in and Find Shawn.”
The floodlights went dark. As vision crept back into my corneas I could see a raised platform above us. On it was an olive skinned woman with white hair like mine, pointing a minigun directly at my chest. Next to her, a white redheaded woman smoking a cigarette and eyeing me with suspicion. In the corner, a boy in a blue jacket and newsie cap hiding his face. And on the stairs, blocking my path, a white man in Aviators wearing a plain white tee and jeans.
He was the first to speak, “The Courser Killer finally graces us with her presence.”
The redhead shot him an annoyed look and snapped back to me, “So it’s true then. You’ve actually seen a courser. And you killed it? And you recovered a chip from it’s brain?”
I pulled the cold metal component out of my bra, where I’d been hiding it ever since Dr. Amari recovered it. I held it flat in my palm as the redhead eyed it closely. Suddenly her eyes grew wide and she snapped back to attention, barking orders.
“Glory, lower your weapon. Drummer Boy, go get Tinker Tom. Deacon, I want every piece of intel you’ve gathered on our new friend. On the double, go!”
Glory eased her minigun slightly and stood at ease while the two boys clambered past each other into a hallway behind the leader.
Nick and I carefully approached the women on the platform, chip still in my hand. The redhead took a long final drag of her cigarette before flicking it away.
“I’m Desdemona, leader of The Railroad. Sorry about the rude welcome but you are about to become the only outsider who has ever set foot in our headquarters. But before I can allow that, I must ask you something crucial: Would you risk your life for your fellow man? Even if that man is a synth?”
A loud laugh escaped my mouth before I could compose myself. I thought about it for a minute. Truthfully, I had no desire to risk my life for anyone. Synth or human or otherwise. Had I put myself into dangerous situations for others? Sure. But always with ulterior motives. Find Shawn. The rest is secondary.
“Maybe I could answer that question for you: Yes. This woman risks her life every day for at least one synth. Not only did she rescue me from a sealed vault, she even managed to fast talk our safe passage out of there when things got too hot. And believe you me, you’d much rather be her ally than her enemy.”
Nick placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it an affection squeeze. Desdemona and Glory both seemed impressed.
Sure, I stick my neck out for Nick all the time. But that’s because I need Nick to Find Shawn. What would I do if I didn’t need him anymore? What happens after I Find Shawn?
A red light flashed, then we followed Desdemona through the hallway into a large open crypt-turned-military-operation. All eyes were on me and Nick.
“We’re going to need time to decrypt this Courser Chip of yours and make sense of these…very crudely drawn schematics. In the meantime, Deacon and I will brief you on everything we know about the Institute. I have a feeling we could be great allies. Welcome to The Railroad.”
When I woke up the next morning, Magnolia was nowhere to be found. Which saved me the trouble of any awkward goodbyes.
“Oh good, you’re awake.” I heard Nick opening my hotel room door behind me as I finished getting dressed.
“Dr. Amari got the chip out while you were wetting your beak last night. But she says we’re gonna need some help getting it to dance for us.”
I held the surprisingly clean microchip in my hand and sighed, “What does that mean, Nick?”
“It means we’re going to have to make some new friends along the Freedom Trail. A group that fancies themselves abolitionists. Call themselves The Railroad.”
I never did much in the way of Bostonian tourism before The Day. Or if I did, I don’t have any memories of it. As far as I can remember, my husband and I had only just moved here. But everyone knows about the Freedom Trail downtown. Even now, it seems.
Our would-be adventure started in Boston Commons, which is rumored to be the home of a giant monster named “Swan”. Thankfully, I can still neither confirm nor deny the truth of that rumor. In front of a broken fountain was a crude spray-painted sign reading “At journey’s end, follow freedom’s lantern.” Below our feet we found a State Seal with the number 7 pointing toward an “A” in crude graffiti.
Next is the State House, L4.
Then the Old Granary Cemetary, A2, which is naturally covered in feral ghouls.
Old State House is O6.
The Old Corner Bookstore was nearly a deathtrap between more ferals and raiders. But I’m still alive so – 3I.
At Faneuil Hall, a large gathering of Super Mutants put a hold on our progress. One of them had a missile launcher, which he was using to gleefully blast holes in the ground to prevent boredom.
Nick looked at me between worried peaks over our cover, “How do you wanna handle this, kid? I don’t think we can take them head-on and live to tell about it.”
I looked through my bag and dug out the Stealthboys we had salvaged off Kellogg and the courser. I tossed one to Nick.
“We can’t outgun them, so we’re gonna have to outsmart them. Use this to get to the other side of the courtyard without being seen. I’ll distract them by sniping a couple of the weaker looking ones. As soon as they start moving toward my location, that’s when you start shooting. That gives me time to cloak and relocate. Then I’ll pull them off of you from another corner of the yard. With any luck, they’ll be too confused until it’s too late.”
Nick stroked his plastic chin with a concerned look before admitting, “It’s suicide, but it might be foolish enough to work.”
The plan started off well.
I followed his hazy camouflaged figure through the scope of my rifle before lining my sights with the head of the “smallest” Super Mutant. Exhale and squeeze, Dori. Wait for the pink mist.
That’s when it goes wrong.
As soon as the first mutant fell, a missile came screaming toward my location, forcing me to fall back and reveal myself. Nick popped off a few shots so I could cloak, but then I began to hear a frantic beeping getting closer and closer.
That’s when I noticed the Super Mutant holding an active Mini Nuke in his hands like a football, charging toward me without hesitation.
I ran backwards as fast as I could while unloading half my bullets into that beast’s head. He dropped and I immediately hit the dirt, waiting for an explosion that never came. Nick’s cries for help pulled me back into the fray. As I ran back I slammed a big hit of Psychojet. Everything seemed to slow down except for me, while I felt a murderous surge of chemicals fill my bloodstream. I rushed toward Nick’s location with my shotgun in hand, and somehow managed to squeeze off a round into the last two Super Mutants’ heads before they noticed me. I unleashed the kind of yawp I imagine would be right at home among vikings, while I continued to bash their skulls in with the butt of the shotgun.
“Need I gently remind you we have a trail to follow?”
Faneuil Hall – 5R.
Paul Revere’s House – 8D.
And finally the end of the line, Old North Church – 1R.
1R, 2A, 3I, 4L, 5R, 6O, 7A, 8D.
Are you fucking kidding me?
If this is the smartest band of people in the Commonwealth, we might be in more trouble than I thought.