October 24, 2277. A date which has become known as The Battle of Concord. At least for the new residents of Sanctuary.
It was never my intention to kill anyone except The Man With The Scar. The Man who killed Nate. The Man who took Shawn. But The Wasteland has a way of changing who you are, and what you will or won’t do, rather quickly.
After shooting a few rounds into the Mr. Handy robot-butler somehow still trimming our irradiated hedges, eventually he helped me salvage supplies and a holotape with Nate’s handwriting. “Hi Honey!”
That holotape became my only way to remember the sound of Nate’s voice. Or Shawn’s. I play it every night through my Pip-Boy like a lullaby. Proof that The World That Was was more than a dream before this waking nightmare. Hope and Happiness truly existed, once upon a time.
Codsworth gave me a direction to point: Concord. And the lone radio station within range told me where to go after that. Diamond City. “The Great Green Jewel of The Commonwealth.”
I spent the first night in an abandoned Red Rocket, clearing the place of gigantic vermin and befriending a German Shepard who looked as though he wondered out of Ms. Rosa’s backyard. I asked him if he had an owner, but he didn’t object when I locked up the station for a rough night of half-sleep.
As soon as I got to the center of the seemingly abandoned town, I could hear the ricochet of bullets and the twang of lasers. I only had a moment to decide my fate. And so I gave my aid to the man who asked for mine, although one of the men in leather managed to get away.
Sometimes I wonder how life might have gone differently if I’d refused. But once you’ve made a decision, there’s not much use in guessing what the other might have brought you.
The Museum of Freedom was now only chaos. But with their attentions diverted I managed to creep through the remnants of American History and slaughter the men I would later learn are called “Raiders”.
When my bullets got low, I used a switchblade to slit throats as the dog throttled limbs in gurgled silence. Better than using their crude pistols made out of pipes and spare bits of wood. There was no time to think between the pounding of my heart and the ceasing of theirs. Only the time to act before they could. Six lives ended in the span of three minutes.
As I approached the uppermost room I could hear the last two goons arguing about how to proceed. I pulled out the strange “laser musket” tossed down to me by the man in colonial garb moments ago. I gave the handle a crank, and the digital number behind the breech counted up to 1-2-3. I braced myself by the door to the main hall, ready to unleash whatever this weapon was capable of.
That’s when I noticed the frag grenade by my feet.
If it hadn’t been for Preston Garvey, I might already be dead. Then again, he says the same about me. I suppose that’s how relationships get started out here in The Wasteland. The ones who keep you alive, the ones who want you dead, and the ones who can afford to pay you to kill or get killed. Everyone else is just a scavver.
As the stimpak brings my vision from a dark red to a sickly brown, I begin to register who I risked my life for. An old lady high on chems. A mechanic with a greasy pompadour. A young man in the throes of a panic attack with his less-than-comforting wife. And Preston, who introduces himself as a “Minuteman”.
They say my dog is called Dogmeat. They simply call me The Vault Dweller before informing me, “Death is coming. And it is angry.”
I have less than five minutes to get into this rusted old Power Armor before a man who calls himself “Gristle” breaks down our barricades. I remind myself what’s truly important, because I know there may come a moment when I have to walk away and let the others die.
Last Known Date. Last truly known date: October 23, 2077.
The Day which has become known as The Great War of 2077. The Day my country and another country destroyed The World That Was in less than a dozen hours. After years of fighting over territories and ideologies. Through mutually assured nuclear annihilation. It’s like my late husband said, “War never changes.”
But The World That Was, and my life, forever changed on The Day. And for every day I’ve spent in this Brave New World, affectionately known as The Wasteland of The Commonwealth by the people who inhabit it, the more difficult it becomes to remember What We Lost.
Sometimes, when the nights are quiet and still, and the illusion of safety creeps into my bed, I still dream about The Last Known Date. Because everything before that has become elusive as its relevance disappears. A story I recite like a prayer, but not one which I can truly say I faithfully remember anymore.
I was still a lawyer for JAG when we met, putting in for my career change to Psychoanalytics at CIT when we met in the lobby for his own court-martial mandated therapy appointment. We struck up a conversation, and within six months we were married so he could avoid immediate redeployment to Anchorage.
Thanks to the Sanctity of Marriage Act, we had one year after our wedding night to lead a Congressionally Mandated “Normal Life” before he returned to Anchorage. A year to settle and begin a family. And so we did, with the hopes we would eventually develop our new relationship into one worthy of the lifelong commitment we made before the United States Government.
We always knew we were living on borrowed time. But we never knew Fate would come calling in a trench coat and hat, holding a clipboard.
Would I have done anything differently if I had known this would be our last breakfast together? Would I have studied his eyes a little deeper? Told him any secrets we ran out of time to share? Or would I proceed as though it were a Normal Day, and savor that feeling of safety and certainty, rather than the details of the man I did my best to love while he was mine?
First Unknown Date. Possibly October 23, 2277.
Nate is dead. Shawn was taken. By a bald white man with a scar across his left eye. These facts are all I have now. Everything else is dead. Everything else is gone after a bright flash and a cold sleep.
I wish I’d never woken up. I wish we never made it to The Vault. I wish we just died in each others arms like the rest of the world. I wish I was dead. I wish Nate was the one left alive, avenging my own death and rescuing our son.
But that’s not what happened.
I was the one who got us into the vault. I was the one who wasn’t holding Shawn when we went into the pods. And so I became “The Backup”. That’s what the man with the scar who took my son and killed my husband called me.
The Backup for what?
The Vault doesn’t have any of the “creature comforts” that were advertised to us in the brochures that pushy salesman kept leaving with Codsworth.
There are no food replicators. No community centers. No media libraries. (Unless you count this copy of the Red Menace video game.) There’s nothing here. Nothing. They lied. Because they knew there would be nobody to answer to once the bombs actually dropped.
Nate is dead. Shawn is gone. Vault-Tec lied.
All of our neighbors are dead inside their pods. It doesn’t look like anyone has lived here for a very long time. And I’m not sure how long I can survive out there on my own. But there’s nothing here.
Except giant cockroaches. Working water fountains. Empty Nuka-Cola bottles. And thankfully, a 10mm handgun. With a Pip-Boy 4000 Mark IV, only slightly used.
The air outside feels real. I know it’s also highly irradiated but the crisp cool winter breeze against my face is exactly what I needed.
I seem to have stuffed my rucksack to the bursting point with every Institute widget I could find before escaping. Which would be great if I wasn’t trying to dodge bullets with a hundred pounds of bullshit strapped to my back right now.
“Oi, look out behind ya, feckin’ gobshite!”
I turn around to see a red-haired woman with a baseball bat trounce a man two steps behind me. The left side of his face goes soft as his body collapses into the gutter. She brandishes the bloody bat in my face as she closes the gap between us.
“You better remember who I am, Vault Dweller, because I sure as shite remember you. You’re the arse who killed all me customers. And I’ll be wanting proper compensation.”
I throw my rucksack in front of her and the weight makes an audible thud on the concrete.
“Take it. Take whatever you want. Go ahead and kill me too if you want. I don’t care anymore. I’m going to the Third Rail to get shithoused.”
I turn around and continue walking East. I can hear her heave the bag behind me and her footsteps catching up.
“So that’s it then? You’re not gonna fight me, but you’ll kill a whole theater of spectators in front of me?”
“That is correct.”
She scurries around me, panting with the extra weight but determined to match my brisk pace.
“That’s fucking bollicks. Is it because I’m a wee fragile girl and you don’t want to hurt me?”
“No. I am also a woman. And you would not be the first woman I’ve killed. You’ve done me no wrong. I have. Take what you feel you deserve and be on your way. I’m tired.”
“Oh aye, you’re tired, love? We’re all tired. You think you’re some kind of mysterious stranger with a heart of gold? We’ve all got tragic backstories here. You’re nothing special.”
She stops for a moment, falling behind as I dutifully press forward to make it to Goodneighbor by nightfall.
“You know what? I think you should carry all this shite for me. I mean, this is my payment, right? Well I only accept payment in caps or Psycho, so this won’t do me any good. I’m sticking on you until I am appropriately compensated.”
I stop to look at her. Her haughty face glistens from sweat despite the winter and her matted red hair shines in the pale sun. She has one boot defiantly planted on top of abandoned loot as I stare into her eyes. I can feel a deep unspoken sadness reflect back my own. And that’s the closest thing to trust or friendship I’m willing to accept right now.
I stoop in front of her and gesture toward one of the straps so she’ll remove her boot, “Sure thing, ma’am. I’ll carry that bag for you if it’s getting too heavy.”
“Now you wait just a goddamn minute, Vault-Tec…”
We awkwardly shake hands and proceed past Boston Commons side by side.
“By the way, I’ve got a hit of Jet left if you want. I was saving it for a fight but if you need it…”
“Oh please, I’m not some charity case. I take care of my own Joneses just fine thanks,” she says as she slams a Psycho needle into her arm.
“Fine then, just thought I’d offer,” I take the final puff off my inhaler and can already feel the strain of the weight on my back easing.
She gives an approving nod as our mutual highs kick in.
“Only thing better than picking a fight is getting stoned, am i right?”
Every day I ask the old man when I can leave, and every day he tells me to relax and get to know his “family” better. It sickens me. These are the people who kidnapped my son. Murdered my husband. And then had the gall to raise him as their own. These are the people who made him into their image of “Mankind Redefined”.
He’s not my son. He’s their son. The Institute.
I’ll never get another chance to raise a child. No more hopes of first steps, first words, first day in school. Nate will never get a chance to teach him how to swim. I’ll never teach him how to read. He’ll never know his cousins or his aunts or grandparents. He’s gone.
They have surveillance everywhere in this place. And when I met with the acting director of Synth Retention this week he didn’t make a secret about it. Hell he even told me I was going to be monitored even more heavily, the moment I met him. Looking at the monitors, it’s obvious they’ve been watching my every move since I woke up. There are cameras watching the Vault. Watching the museum at Concord. Watching Diamond City. Watching Sanctuary. These people have never known a life without scrutiny, so why should they think anyone else deserves one?
But I’ve also been watching them. On the surface they are very clean, very pleasant, very polite, very advanced. But with the smallest degree of inconvenience they lash out at those beneath them. Either those of lower rank or the synths they’ve created. In fact they are constantly threatening the synths around here. No wonder the ones who gain free will try to escape this place.
Right now I can hear a man screaming outside my door.
“You call this floor clean?! Maybe you need a memory wipe and reprogramming. Although at this point it may be more useful to scrap you for parts.”
“My apologies, sir. I will recalibrate my receptors and disinfect the floor to your liking.”
I peeked through the door. I haven’t seen any open violence here just yet, but I can feel it bubbling below the surface. It reminds me of living with my father, or Kellogg’s memories with his dad, or some terrible clusterfuck of the two. Waiting for the explosion is always worse than the act itself.
Right now I’m doing everything I can to remember my training as a counselor, although I specialized in development rather than trauma. I can feel the crushing weight of hypervigilance in my bones. It’s somehow stronger than even out navigating the Wastes. At least there conflict happens quickly, in the open, and resolves with finality. Usually in less than a minute.
Here, my jaw aches from holding my tongue in every incessant social interaction. My joints creak from restraining my reactions to angry words from men with power. My heart wavers from the unreasonable demands of the constant flow of epinephrine.
Of course, knowing that intellectually doesn’t really do me many favors. I ran out of Daytripper and cigarettes two days ago. My knuckles are bruised and scraped from reacting to small sounds in my sleep. I tried drinking until I passed out last night, but that finished off the last of my vodka.
I should be working on how to escape from this place, but I’ve also had a hard time getting motivated for much of anything. Finding Shawn has been my sole motivation since I escaped from the Vault. So now…what exactly is there?
Do I go back to my home, where there’s an overzealous militia eager to make me their General? Do I stay here, where “Father” wants me take over for the dirty work Kellogg can’t do anymore? Do I work for the Railroad as Codename: Professor and work to destroy the only thing keeping a shred of my past alive anymore? Go work with Nick solving mysteries, knowing all the while my mystery has no solution?
Maybe…maybe once I get out of here I can just find a quiet place where nobody will bother me. I can salvage an old typewriter and work on my writing. Try to create something my barren womb couldn’t. Maybe that reporter in Diamond City might even publish some of my work in exchange for a few caps. Nate always liked my writing.
I miss Nate. I miss my mom. I miss my sisters. I miss my nephews.
I don’t know what I have to live for anymore.
But I still don’t want to die. Especially in this place.
It’s a new year and I have found Shawn. Except there is no Shawn. Shawn is a synth. The Shawn I see in the last of Kellogg’s memories when I dream isn’t real. He’s limp and lifeless in a glass room where “Father” can tinker with him. The body of the child I never truly had turned out to be nothing but a hobby for an old man.
The old man claims he is my Shawn. He says Kellogg kidnapped him sixty years ago, not ten. And even though I wanted to say he was full of shit, even though I wanted to kill him, I couldn’t do it when I looked in his eyes. Those eyes are still the same.
But if they can put those same eyes into that little boy, who is to say they couldn’t put them in an old man?
Why would Kellogg look nearly identical from my memory of Nate’s murder from when I murdered Kellogg if those dates were supposed to be sixty years apart?
Once again it keeps coming down to counting the dates.
This…Father…who claims to be my son, he was the one who released me from the Vault. He was the one who put Kellogg in my crosshairs. He has been orchestrating nearly every encounter I’ve had since I woke up. And with his ability to make robots indistinguishable from humans, it’s likely I have no idea how deep the rabbit hole truly goes.
I hacked into his terminal and was able to retrieve Kellogg’s personnel files. They truly do go back over sixty years, including records of his augmentations and longevity. Either this is false information meant to confirm “Father” or it’s the truth. Unfortunately I have no way of knowing at the moment. And that old man who claims he’s my son continued to use him even after learning what he’d done.
He wants me to stay here. He wants me to see what he’s accomplished. He wants me to be proud of him.
That’s why he woke me up.
Because he was curious if I would survive.
He was curious if Kellogg or I would die.
He was curious if I would find a way into the Institute.
But the old man stacked the deck in my favor. All these scripted events and breadcrumbs have been strings pulling me along a story he wants to tell. It would be touching if I wasn’t so manipulative.
I don’t know how to leave this place but the old man keeps saying I’m not a prisoner. He also insists I meet the department heads of his Institute before discussing anything further. He wants me to see his justifications for his actions.
This is not the first time I’ve been trapped living somewhere dangerous. I know how to play this game. Smiles and courtesies and calculations and stories. Make them feel safe while maintaining vigilance.
I don’t know what else to do now that there is no Shawn for me to Find. All I can do is survive and observe.
The sun rises as we approach Sanctuary Hills. Despite the bombed out houses and machine gun turrets posted at the bridge, it’s actually quite pleasant to look at the shimmering creek low with mist. I can see why so many people have settled here already. It’s why Nate and I moved here once he served his time.
We were going to be a normal family. Live a quiet life. Try to recover and heal together.
The adoption process was almost as arduous as the “transition” process I went through while Nate was in Anchorage. Nothing but endless questions and brain scans and psychological screenings and genetics testing to make sure you were the Right Kind of abnormality. The kind that can be covered up and never spoken of again.
If there’s one thing I can be thankful for about the times I’m living in, at least we’re no longer under the thumb of the fucking Enclave government anymore. There’s no more sense in pretending to be normal anymore. And at least Nate can finally sleep.
Dr. Amari, Desdemona, and Tinker Tom are waiting by the towering sensor array. It’s everything I can do not to punch that damn doctor in the face. But it’s not her fault. I made her do this to me. And what’s worse is I know I wouldn’t still be alive if it wasn’t for what she’d done.
It’s no mystery to me how I’ve gone from a chubby children’s therapist to a gunslinging murderer in the span of three months. It’s not as if I’m unaware that my instincts to draw and aim my gun with a steady hand come from a man who was doing this longer than I’ve been alive. But I still killed him.
“Oh thank goodness! When I heard from Nick about your condition I came straight away. And of course you already know Tom and Dez,” She approaches me with her tarnished stethescope.
“Get. The Fuck. Away.”
“I am here to add these last few components,” I hold up my backpack, “To shoot up a shit load of Psycho, Buffout, Mentats, and Jet,” I rattle my lunchbox full of drugs, “And then I am going to teleport into the Institute and murder every moving thing that comes between me and Shawn.”
I snap the biometric scanner into the console Tom has been Tinkering with. A couple red lights turn green.
The military circuits fit into the base of the gigantic beam emitter. Bright blue flashes swirl around the base of the stand. Now we’re starting to look like a damn teleporter.
Tom looks excited beyond his dreams, the blue flashes reflecting back in his eyes, “The signal is starting to rise! I don’t know how much time we’re gonna get before it peaks.”
Desdemona approaches me and hands me a holotape, “I don’t know how much time you’ll have when you’re there or if this will even work, but please take this with you! It will provide everything we know about The Institute and give you the means of contacting Codename: Patriot. He’s sympathetic to our cause and will likely be for yours as well!”
The whirring and spinning deafening noises manage to even drown out the stacks of gas generators needed to keep this thing running. I stand in the middle of the platform, surrounded by the blue light stinging my skin.
“Nick!” I call out, “Thank you! For everything!”
Suddenly the blue lights go pure white, flooding my entire field of vision. It feels as though my body is somehow being squeezed through a keyhole until just as suddenly…
My gun is already drawn but there’s nobody else here in this cold metal room. It feels too much like the Vault.
There’s nowhere for me to go but forward as the voice of a man is piped in all around me.
“I am known as Father. The Institute is under my guidance.”
A round glass elevator arrives as I enter the next room. It’s a trap, but there’s no other option.
“I know why you’re here. I’d like to discuss things with you, face-to-face.”
Yeah, more like gun-to-face, motherfucker.
I punch the only button in the elevator and it lowers me into a large atrium. There is a vibrant scene of people walking about in white jumpsuits in the bright white clean test tube of a world. The voice keeps droning on about saving humanity from itself or some other creepy bullshit I don’t care about.
This place looks like it was straight out of a comic book. It’s obviously very advanced, even for the time I came from. But I already know their weaponry and combat skills ain’t all that impressive. And that’s what’s about to really matter.
Then the elevator stops.
I step out and walk into the next room.
And there is Shawn.
He’s not a baby anymore. I knew that already but it still hurts. But he still has those same eyes. Why is he locked in a glass room?!
“Shawn! Shawn I’ve been looking for you for so long…”
He looks startled. A dagger goes through my heart as he screams, “I don’t know you! Father! Father help me!”
“Are you okay, honey? You’re not hurt are you? Shawn, what do you want me to do?”
“Father help! She’s trying to take me!”
“Shawn please. I am your mother. These people took you from me and your father when you were just a baby. I know it doesn’t make sense but I’m here to make it right.”
A door slides open and my pistol is already aimed at an elderly man’s face as he says, “Shawn, S9-23 Recall Code Cirrus.”
“General, if it’s alright with you, Minuteman Long and I will bunker down in Tenpines Bluff for the night. That way we can let them know The Minutemen are finally back.”
His words barely even register. Nick and I have been talking for hours while the two men from Sanctuary have been inside picking for parts. While the two of us have been counting days. Even though I promised myself I wouldn’t.
I give Preston a weak salute and he seems pleased. Jun is looking at his feet, rifle clicking away in his hands once again. Preston takes him under his own arm and gently guides him. In the still air of a fresh kill, I can hear Jun’s quiet whispers to himself
“I did it just like I said I would I promised him I promised him I would make myself useful I promised him not to be sad I promised we would get there I promised…”
In my backpack are military-grade circuit boards, a Biometric Scanner, and a Sensor Module. The last three things we need to Find Shawn.
Which brings us to The List. The mutated fruits of our efforts to make sense out of nonsense. I read it over and over from my Pip-Boy, only half paying attention to the road while Nick leads the way back to Sanctuary.
The Day The Bombs Fell — October 23, 2077.
The Day I Woke Up. Saved Sanctuary Settlers. — October 23, 2287
The Day I Met Nick. — October 27, 2287
The Day I Killed Kellogg. — October 29, 2287
The Day My Brain Got Fucked — November 5, 2287
RELIABLE BUT NOT REMEMBERED
I return to Sanctuary for the Power Armor. While helping the settlers search empty houses I opened Mr. Jahani’s root cellar and was attacked by ghouls. My former neighbors. Reportedly I fled the scene as soon as they were dead wearing the power armor in exchange for my vault suit. — November 24, 2287
Children of Atom from the Glowing Sea report meeting someone in Power Armor looking for a scientist. Presumably this is also the day I met Virgil. — November 28, 2287
Nick finds my barely conscious body on the edge of the Glowing Sea. He says when we woke up from the Brain Fuck I didn’t trust him and went off by myself. Sounds plausible. — November 30, 2287
We arrive in Diamond City. Doc Crocker does what he can. — December 2, 2287
REMEMBERED BY NOT RELIABLE
The Day I Killed The Courser — December 10, 2287
We arrive in Goodneighbor — December 11, 2287
We find The Railroad — December 13, 2287
We arrive in Sanctuary — December 23, 2287
I wake up in Sanctuary — December 27, 2287
I can’t believe I slept through fucking Christmas.
I already knew Kellogg was sharing space in my brain, but the thought of other people knowing makes me feel contaminated.
I hurl my empty 10mm at Codsworth and his metallic body lets out a clang as the pistol falls to the floor. All three of us are silent, Garvey still behind the doorway with his laser musket aimed at my chest.
“Get out of my room, Codsworth,” I say flatly, “I need to talk to Minuteman Garvey.”
My blood is churning into foam and my ears are ringing, but I maintain my poker face. The robot follows my orders, because this is my house.
“At attention, soldier! Double Time!” I bark to Garvey.
He immediately lowers his weapon and stands at my feet. I stare him up and down with my best impersonation of drill sergeants from the stories Nate told me.
“Soldier, what you just heard is classified information. And I need to make sure it stays classified. Do you understand?”
“Sir, yes sir!”
Damn, I didn’t expect that to be so satisfying.
“Minuteman Garvey, I need a full status report on the teleportation project and any remaining needed hardware.”
I couldn’t stand still in that creepy place, so I’ve taken Preston Garvey and Jun Long on a milk run to get the last missing components and provide an assist to another settlement nearby, Tenpines Bluff.
I know Garvey can at least aim that musket of his, but I’m not so sure about Jun. As we passed through Concord and saw the rotting corpses of the very first men I killed being picked apart by crows, Jun’s rifle clicked in his shaking hands. I shared a bit of my personal Day Tripper stash, at least then he can keep his hands steady.
“I don’t see how you expect to be in fighting condition while using recreational substances,” Garvey says disapprovingly.
“Better living through chemistry, right Jun?” I reply after taking a handful of pills, “If I couldn’t get stoned on a consistent basis I’m pretty sure I would have died a long time ago.”
Jun nervously accepts my offer while stealing glances at Garvey, “I’m sorry. I promise to make myself useful. Nobody likes a grown man feeling sorry for himself.”
I give Jun a brief hug. Chalk it up to being stoned and him having a vague resemblance to my Nate. Dogmeat barks playfully as we leave Concord and make our way Northeast.
Tenpines Bluff turns out to be a tiny shack with a garden and two residents, but we quickly learn they’ve been getting attacked by feral ghouls at the nearby Satellite Olivia Station. So we make our way Northwest through the sparse “woods” toward the huge satellite dish in the distance.
“This is exactly why the Commonwealth needs the Minutemen,” Garvey puffs up, “Most folks are just trying to get by and just need a hand once in a while.”
“At least now we can kill two birds with one stone,” I joke, “A military site is bound to have all the hardware we need.”
It’s dusk when we approach the site. That’s when I hear them. Those awful sucking/shrieking scream they make with what’s left of their vocal chords. I can handle Raiders and Super Mutants and all kinds of other shit that tries to kill me in this world. But zombies still freak me the hell out.
I hold up my fist and direct my companions to take cover on a nearby hill. Once they’re on their bellies, Dogmeat and I creep forward. I can’t see any of them, but I know they’re in there. I lob a molotov into the middle of the courtyard to get the party started.
That’s when everything gets strange.
Time itself seems to slow down and I see them. Eight shambling corpses crawling out of Mr. Jahani’s basement in their tattered rags. The smallest one wears nothing but a baseball cap and I stare into his eyes as I put a bullet between them. The screams echo all around me.
Is that Ms. Rosa? Was that her little Louis? Oh god what have I done?
My pistol falls from my hands and I run for the big Oak tree in the middle of the cul-de-sac as they swarm me. Decaying fingers gouging and scratching. Putrid breath churning my stomach. Screams deafening my ears and chilling my bones.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t know I’m so sorry oh god please”
Why didn’t I make sure they got into the Vault too? How could I take cover while others got burned alive? Why did I have to be the one who lived?
Dogmeat drags Mr. Peters off my leg and rips out his throat. But…but that’s not right? I thought I lost Dogmeat at the Fort Hagen? Where did he come from?
A red flash illuminates the sky and suddenly Mrs. Peters collapses onto my chest.
Where did that come from? What is happening?
I fish my combat knife out my boot and stab Mrs. Donoghue in the head. She’s still wearing that beautiful blouse I asked her to borrow.
It’s hard to see through the tears and the hands grasping my face, so I just keep stabbing and punching blindly. I don’t know how long we struggled, but eventually I was the only one left moving.
Once everything goes still, I vomit on my hands and knees, staring at chunks of half-digested Sugar Bombs and Nuka Cola.
Dogmeat’s cold wet nose against my arm makes me jump and I thrust him away before I can apologize. He whimpers but comes back to lick my outstretched hand.
That’s when it slowly dawns on me that I’m not actually in Sanctuary Hills. Because that is a giant satellite dish. And these ghouls are not my former neighbors. They don’t look anything like them.
I hear the flick of a match behind me and I snatch my pistol from the ground and whip around. It’s Nick!
“Well kid, that settles it. I’d say it’s past time we put our heads together again and try to get some answers. No matter how grim they might be.”
“I thought you might like to know your usual cup of coffee is waiting for you in Master Shawn’s room.”
Coffee. Yes. Coffee. How long has it even been since I had an actual cup of coffee?
For a moment when I opened my eyes, I thought it was all back to normal. Lying here, in his bed. Waking up in his house. Getting coffee from his robot. I actually smiled to myself. I actually thought for a moment Nate would walk back to bed from the shower and hold me in his arms like he always did before. I stumble across the hall into Shawn’s room for my coffee and realize it’s been meticulously reconstructed.
“Codsworth, how much progress has the town made on my schematics?”
A deep voice answers instead, “We’re only a few key components away before we can make the last installation and fire it up, General.”
It’s Preston Garvey, the Minuteman. He tips his black hat toward me with pride.
“Stop calling me General. How is that possible,” I ask, “It’s only been a few hours.”
Codsworth rotates his eye stalks to look at Garvey, then back at me, “Actually mum, you’ve been asleep for nearly 96 hours. Master Valentine became concerned so he said he was going to find you a Doctor. A Doctor Amari, specifically.”
My heart is shooting fast and my head feels light. I get that heavy stone in my stomach that tells me something has already gone wrong.
“But that doesn’t make sense. I’ve had longer recoveries than this and Nick has never taken off before…”
Wait. What if they drugged me and did something to Nick? What if this sick cult they’ve created demands sacrifices or something?
I can reach my pistol in my bedroom in two steps. Turn around with one. Shoot on two. GO!
The Robot and Minuteman realize what I’m about to do two seconds too late. I’ve got my back to my bedroom corner with pistol drawn before they even make it down the hall.
“Wait! Please don’t shoot us, Mum! I have proof!”
Codsworth stands in front of Garvey, who has taken cover behind the doorway. He reaches into his holoplayer and slowly extends his metal hand to me, “Master Valentine said there was a…a possibility you might need reassurances.”
I slam the tape into my PipBoy and within a few moments I can hear…me? Why does my voice sound all deep and gravelly like that?
“Awfully nice place you got here. I bet it was something before the bombs fells. Picket fences, green grass, a cul-de-sac where everyone has 2.5 kids and a dog. Too bad none of you people knew how to appreciate what you had.”
“Shut the fuck up!”
No. Wait. That’s me.
“Are you a sad Momma Bear now? Sad about your dead husband and your lost kid? That’s the problem with families, they’re always vulnerable no matter how strong you are.”
“Shut the fuck up or I’ll kill you again!”
“Only way to do that, doll. And I don’t think you’ve got the guts.”
There’s some kind of scuffle in the recording and then a gunshot. Then I hear Nick.
“Goddammit, somebody get me a mechanic and get rid of this fucking gun!”
The tape clicks off.
That’s when I realize the gun in my hands is unusually light, and sure enough the clip has been emptied already.
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.