Papa grew up here during the Third Space Race, the last time Sapiens pretended to give a shit about spacing. He used to play those old vids on a loop whenever he was feeling down.
You could always tell how he was feeling based on what vids were playing on our ship.
Papa had an immense, dense bank of computer storage in the Dodger dedicated solely to old Sapien vids, mostly from the Media Infancy era.
Outdated News Vids usually meant we were out of money. Cartoons meant things were good and life was easy for a bit. British comedies meant we were feeling rebellious, probably at the Cons’ expense. Mystery shows meant something needed fixing on the ship or Papa had a new idea he wanted to research.
Grandma would always complain about all the noise of the ship. But she never turned off the vids. She loved them the same way she loved Papa. Resentfully in the open, but with kindness in secret.
That’s the only Earth I actually understand. Pre-Con Earth still doesn’t look like a place I would want to live on, but at least it makes a sort of sense, in easily-digestible chunks.
You would think growing up with constant vids would make the bombardment of walking out into the street from Customs easier, but there’s never only one thing begging for your attention. Right now even with my earbuds I can still hear an advert for shaving cream, an announcement about curfews, continuing requests for other ships getting a Confederate shakedown, and a looping trailer for something called Martian Marshalls that keeps making explosions. I thumb down a cab and try my best to inhale and exhale slowly through gritted teeth.
The driver is a reptilian biped wearing a tank top and pinstriped pajama pants. Their vertical pupils eye me hungrily when I say, “If you can find me the closest tox bar with no Cons I’ll pay you double. Double that if it’s quiet.”
I peek down as we lift off the street, whizzing around a skyline that’s nothing like what I grew up watching. If it weren’t for the Statue of Liberty, I wouldn’t even recognize it.
“Intoxicants are one of the universal signs of intelligence,” Grandma used to say. At which point Papa would likely whisk me away and tell me about ancient Sapien agriculture and it’s connections to ethanol.
It’s not like she was drunk all the time. Who could afford it?
But because people are generally cowards when it comes to crime, intoxicants are part of the parcel. So she taught me how to order toxics and still keep my wits about me.
“Always keep it simple, Peewee. You want the toxtender’s good will, and they don’t like people being pissy about how they do their job. When toxtenders don’t like someone, they remember them.”
The driver was more than happy with my double-double tip, and I was pleased with the quiet basement bar they found for me.
“I’ll take a vodka and soda, with a cannabinoidinhalant please.”
One of my best rehearsed lines.
The toxtender looks mammalian, with a thin semi-translucent fur making distinctive markings on their face and forearms. Their “mammalian assets” are proudly on display in a shimmering dark leather top, but the fashion seems out of place in a dive like this. The toxtender takes my credit chips without words, for which I am immensely thankful.
I sit at the bar and fiddle with my comm nervously as I wait for my toxics. I check the corners of the bar but see only an old Sapien sleeping on a back booth, his hat resting next to his gray head. The only noise to drown out his gentle snores is one lone vid screen, scrolling the news at a minimal volume. It’s quiet, but not silent. Which is perfect.
A tray is silently brought to me and I toss back the drink and take a large hit off the inhaler.
“Another please,” I say to the toxtender, who continues to serve in silence.
I can feel my heart finally beginning to slow down as I fiddle with my comm settings. But I can never get these damn holographic buttons to actually recognize my fingers. Papa used to blame our calluses.
“Fuck this,” I mutter in exasperation, slamming the home button projected through my palm with my free hand until, finally, I hear a chirp in response, “Jackie, can you contact our employer for me? Send him my current location and try to sound intimidating if you can.”
“Right away, boss,” a tinny distant voice shouts from my hand.
“The wonders of technology,” the toxtender scoffs while bringing my next round.
I smirk at them as I raise my glass, “To your health, kind one.”
I swear, toxics and money are the only things worth being terran-side.
“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.
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.
It should come as no surprise the Courser is dead by my own hands.
Nick and I found him at the nearby Greentech Genetics, waging a one-man war against a squadron of military-styled mercenaries who apparently call themselves “Gunners”. Not that it matters. They’re all dead now.
As I approached the Courser he managed to hear my footsteps. With a gun in my face, I told him I needed what was inside his head and he was about to meet his friend Kellogg. That must have spooked him, because instead of shooting he attempted to use an old military Stealthboy to escape. But not before I tackled him to the ground and forced my combat knife deep into his neck.
When he stopped moving, I ripped the whole damn thing off his shoulders and placed the gruesome prize in my rucksack. I know that chip is somewhere in his brain, but frankly I don’t feel like performing surgery out in the wild. I also stripped him of his superior armor, even though it is a bit too black-trenchcoat-over-black-clothes for my taste.
Turns out the Courser was there to track down a synth who escaped The Institute, only to be captured and sold by these Gunners as a slave. So naturally, I executed the slavers and freed the synth. But the synth was terrified of me, and refused to leave until I was gone. Given what she just witnessed me do, I can’t say I blame her.
I am no hero. I’m just a bigger monster than these other monsters.
This was confirmed by the screams of Dr. Amari when I plunked the head onto her desk in Goodneighbor.
“What the hell is that thing?!”
“It’s a courser. Or more accurately, it’s a courser head. I need you to get the chip out of its brain so I can decode it and get into The Institute.”
“Are you insane?! How did you even track down a courser, let alone kill it?”
“I’m…I’m not entirely sure. My memory is still a bit…untrustworthy, since the last time I saw you.”
“Yes. Yes I worried if there were going to be lasting side effects of such an unprecedented procedure. But you were quite insistent!”
Nick interrupted, “If we could just get back to the decapitated head in the middle of the room…”
Dr. Amari agreed to help me recover as much as possible but said it would take time. So I bought us a room at the Hotel Rexford and told Nick I was going out for a drink. I expected he might warn me, or tell me to be careful, but he never did. He knows me too well for that now. I can see it in his eyes when he thinks I’m not looking. The look of a man who is in way over his head but doesn’t know how to leave.
I made my way over the The Third Rail, a bar in what used to be State Station. Before The Day happened and turned my world into…this.
The bouncer is a ghoul in a nice suit. The bartender is a robot wearing a bowler hat. But the singer, yes the singer, is a stunning older woman in a sequined red dress.
She asks if I liked the song when she steps off the stage and sits at the stool next to mine. I guess I was starring a bit more obviously than I intended.
“I’m sorry, I just haven’t heard live music in a very long time.”
“That’s okay handsome. I love a captive audience. And you have the look of someone who could use it.”
I buy us a few rounds and we get to talking. She quickly evades any questions I have about her life, but is also polite enough to return the favor. Every time she calls me “handsome” I squirm a little too obviously on my stool.
During the evening she gives my left hand a sly look and says to me, “I may be wrong, but if I’m not mistaken that’s a wedding band.”
“It is. My husband gave it to me less than a year before he died. Before our child was kidnapped right out of his arms.”
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry to hear that. This wasteland takes everything it can.”
Whitechapel Charlie continues to pour drinks. Magnolia and I continue to drink them, the alcohol making us feel warm and safe. When her next set starts, she asks if I have any special requests. So I ask for Billy Holiday. She sings “The Very Thought of You”. Just for me.
For the first time I can remember since I woke up in that Vault, I feel tears stream down my face. Her voice is so beautiful, and she is so kind. She is the first person in this awful world who hasn’t asked me for anything upon first meeting them.
“What’s the matter, handsome? Didn’t like the song?”
“No, I loved it. A little too much, maybe.”
A long silence between us hangs heavy. Many of the patrons have already called it a night.
“Do–Do you want to get out of here? Maybe go for a walk?”
Days killing men and monsters. Days hacking at mutated beasts or digging up mutated plants or trying to stomach 200 year old radioactive processed junk for “food”. Days staying awake on Jet and Psycho and Buffout and Adrenaline. Days sleeping off wounds in bombed out shelters. Days obliterated with alcohol for the need to sleep. Days of never having a hot shower.
That’s the sort of unimportant focus on details that this sort of introspection cannot become, for my own survival. The only reason I am keeping this journal once again is to attempt to maintain my grip on reality in a life that feels absolutely unreal.
So I am going to go back to my last entry, the time I killed Kellogg, and do my best to reconstruct from there.
I remember Nick Valentine and I found a weird piece of circuitry and hardware attached to Kellogg’s amygdala among the “evidence” we gathered from our own murder scene. But how many days did I sleep on that concrete floor with a half-melted face before that?
I remember we went back to Diamond City so I could see a “doctor”, and Nick could speculate with Piper. That reporter who pisses off the mayor writing scare pieces. How many days did they drug me out of pain and hope for the best?
I remember Nick and Piper concluded we had to take the amygdala to the Memory Den. To Dr. Amari. The woman who put the brain of that murderous psychopath into my brain. And Nick’s…processor?
From that point forward?
I remember days that Did Happen.
I remember days that Did Not Happen.
I remember days where I died. There are so many of them. But those Did Not Happen because I am still alive. But I still remember dying anyway.
Ironically the one day I can focus on to keep my real-or-not-real barometer on track is The Day The Bombs Fell. The Day Shawn Was Taken. Because that day undeniably Did Happen. And that helps me focus on what really matters. Find Shawn.
Find Shawn. It has become a prayer I echo in my brain as I trudge through the bodies and the shit and the blood and the mud and the filth. Find Shawn.
Because otherwise I start trying to count the days. How many days in this hell actually belong to me? And how many of these days which I can never forget were just shoved into my brain just to maybe learn a clue to finding Shawn?
The reason I destroyed my brain.
I remember Kellogg’s most recent mission (not mine, he is not me and I am not him) was to hunt down and murder a man named Virgil who escaped from The Institute, “The Boogeymen of the Commonwealth”.
I remember that man was rumored to be hiding in The Glowing Sea, the most radioactive corner of the city. Where The Bombs Fell. The Bombs from The Day. Again, the one undeniable day everyone can agree Did Happen.
I remember I took that powersuit from Sanctuary and set off into The Glowing Sea. I remember I ran out of power cores once I got to the cave and found a Super Mutant with glasses and more clothes than a loin cloth. I remember he turned out to be Virigl.
I don’t actually remember how I managed to leave The Glowing Sea without a powersuit. But I do remember the doctor told me the white splotches on my skin and my white hair are scars for surviving ungodly amounts of radiation.
I also “remember” dying in The Glowing Sea. Being eaten by a Deathclaw. But I have this Deathclaw scar on my face I can touch anytime I want to remember I survived. Of course, a earlier journal entry confirms that happened before then. But whichever Deathclaw I got this from, I clearly haven’t actually been killed by one because I’m still alive. Death days are days that Did Not Happen, even if I “remember” them.
Scars are good. Scars keep me grounded. Any time I look at them I can touch parts of my body that confirm certain intrusive memories over others. Like markings on a map. The map I am now following to the Commonwealth Institute of Technology with Nick Valentine.
I am not entirely sure why, but there is a synth we must murder in order to Find Shawn. So that’s what I am about to do. Kill the Courser.
I hate being terran-side. The floor doesn’t hum. How can you tell if something’s gone wrong if the floor never hums?
The air is unfiltered and unscrubbed, giving it an unforgivable taste. The people are too many, too loud, too pungent, too crammed into walkways and buildings and vehicles. Everything is too much. My heart is racing and my head is pounding. I haven’t slept in about 30 solours, and I am at least 40% certain that the xeno behind me recognizes me, but as usual I don’t recognize them. It makes me uneasy, but that’s my general state of being. Am I anxious because something bad is about to happen? Or because I’m coming down off stims? Or is it just because being on land always makes me fucking jumpy?
“Captain Neiboski, of the SFC Brooklyn Dodger, please step to the side regarding an item on your manifest. You will be redirected to an interview room for further questioning.”
I knew this would happen, even though I actually filled out the paperwork for my “item” by-the-book for once. But sentient remains on a freight class rig are bound to raise even the laziest of eyebrows.
I’m a spacer. An independent spacer, as a matter of fact. One of the most endangered species in the whole damn Confederate Galaxy. I fly my own rig, the Brooklyn Dodger, which was my Grandma and Papa’s rig, and would have been my momma’s had she not died giving birth to me. I haul whatever the fuck I decide to haul along the Sol-Remidian Circuit. Which means when the predictable boring work dries up, I might have to hustle a little harder for contracts. And might have to look to the side once in a while. And might have to talk my way through some checkpoints now and again. But at least I don’t have to do what some Con asshole tells me to do. I was born in space, I live in space, and I plan on dying in space because at least space makes sense.
I’m in one of the interview rooms now. A sterile cold white room with nothing but a Screenbot, table, and chair. It’s so quiet I can almost hear my own blood rushing through my veins. Silence is usually a sign I’m about to die, but Terraners just seem to take it for granted.
The screenbot has a digitally rendered cartoonish face projected across the table from me. It stares blankly ahead for a moment, likely accessing whatever files and regulations it’s about to lecture me on. It suddenly whirs into “life” as it begins to address me in the forms of Sapien communication it was programmed with. Its voice is overly personal and chipper for my taste.
“Captain Neibowski, according to your flight records it has been 2.4 solycles since your previous visit to your home planet. How was your trip?”
It projects what I am sure is intended to be a friendly and caring expression.
“I’ve had better, robot. My papa died on our last haul to Remidian IV and, although I have no personal attachments to this particular planet, he did. So I’m here to burn his body, scatter the ashes, drop my cargo, and collect my money before heading back.”
The screenbot now forces itself to look concerned before continuing the friendly interrogation.
“My condolences. Our inspectors became concerned because, according to your cargo manifest, there are sentient remains in a non-environmentally controlled portion of your shipment containers. As you may not be aware, this is against Confederate regulation for the transportation of deceased sentient individuals.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t see much sense in storing him for over a solycle in a container that would only speed up the decaying process. I wanted to keep him fresh for his service. And a container with no moisture or atmosphere and sub-zero temperatures seemed like the way to go about that.”
“I understand your reasoning, Captain, but these regulations are in place for a reason. As this is your first violation for this particular matter, and because it concerns the death of an immediate family member, you will only be fined half of the standard 50,000 Credits for improper storage and transportation of restricted cargo.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate it. Next time a family member dies I’ll be sure to toss them out the airlock instead.” Screenbots, and most Xenos for that matter, never seem to pick up on snark. Maybe it’s the shitty translators.
The robot hums to itself as it processes my facial expressions and attempts to detect signs of deception.
“According to our records you have no remaining family members. But if you should discover others who later become deceased, know that remains disposal is only sanctioned in Neutral Space.”
“Thanks for the tip. Is that all, robot? Can you just deduct the credits from my ship account? I’ve got a haul to drop and money to collect before I get back to Remidian IV.”
“Your heart rate appears to be highly elevated, as well as your cortisol and adrenal levels. Is there a reason you are currently in distress?”
“I just fucking hate being on land. And I also hate discussing personal matters with a robot who isn’t programmed to actually give a shit about me.”
The robot hums again for a moment, “Yes, according to my records your bio levels, while unusual for most sapiens, are within the range of every previously monitored interview you have participated in. Would you like to consult with a Confederately-funded physician at the conclusion of this interview?”
“I’m good. The only thing I need is to get back on my rig.”
Since I’m not currently being arrested and tortured, I’m assuming neither my deception nor the other illegal cargo have been discovered. Grandma always said Cons are greedy but lazy. An obvious but minor violation like this means they’ll happily collect their fines and move along. I think being a red herring would actually make Papa proud.
“That will be fine, Captain Neibowski. As soon as your payment has cleared you will be allowed to continue through customs. However I would like to inform you that, thanks to the Sol Salvation Act, the Confederate government is prepared to extend psychological assistance to you as you grieve your loved one. As well as accommodations in an available Sol housing settlement for up to one solycle.”
“Yeah, that 25,000 Credits ought to cover at least that. Eh, bot? Thanks but no thanks. Space is where I belong.”
There is a long silence as the robot does whatever the hell it needs to do. Finally its face becomes expressive again.
“Your payment has been processed, and you and your cargo are now cleared through Sol III customs. Your sentient remains will be released to you within 24 solours upon further inspection. Welcome to Earth.”