From Acheron to Inferno

“Hey, Charon,” Schafer said, throwing another twig into the fire. I looked up from tuning my shotgun (which Schafer had scrapped together from various parts we’d scavenged) and watched him, waiting for him to keep going. He was kind of staring into the fire absentmindedly, his brow furrowed together like he was concentrating real hard on something.

“Yeah?” I said, trying to get him to snap out of it.

He didn’t really respond, but he went to picking his teeth with a small piece of twig. He shook his head, grunting a bit as he concentrated on what he wanted to say.

“You really don’t remember anything from before I found you? In Paradise Falls, that is?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Mm,” he mumbled, then resorted to chewing on the twig. When he started to take apart his laser pistol and look through it, I went back to my shotgun. I’d only been with Schafer for about a week, but I was starting to get a feel for who he was, and this wasn’t like him. He usually was very talkative, and he tried to get more than a couple of words out of me constantly. All of the sudden, after we set up camp and started to make the fire, he got quieter than he’d been since I met him.

“I’ve done things I’m not proud of,” he admitted, throwing the twig into the flames. I moved my eyes to him from the shotgun again, trying to get a feel of the situation. He glanced up at me for a second, the corner of his lip drawing up a bit before he looked away again. “Sometimes, I wish I could forget my past.”

“Oh.” I was pretty fucking confused. I also wasn’t into the whole buddy-buddy bonding idea. I wanted to keep to myself, but it seemed like Schafer was fishing for any sort of statement. So, I sighed a bit, then flipped my gun over on my lap. “What’d you do?” I asked, testing the water. After I’d found out what kind of power that contract had on me, I wasn’t too keen on crossing the guy who held it. Schafer just snorted though, a kind of lame laugh.

“That’s a different story.”

He wanted to open up to me, but he wasn’t willing to get his feet wet. Well, if that was the case, I hoped he’d just leave it be. I took more interest in my shotgun. Schafer sighed, then I saw him shake his head from the corner of his eye. “Hey, man, I know I’ve got this contract,” he said, waving the paper in the air, “but I want you to forget about it. I’ll never use it against you, I promise.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I tempted, waiting for him to delve into it. It’s not like I could just “forget about it.” That thing was me. He sighed again, folded the thing up, then stuck it back into his satchel.

“I want to think of you as a…friend, not a goddamned tool,” he said, giving the bag a shove with his foot. “Just…I don’t know…don’t be afraid to be yourself, I guess.”

I let it roll around in my mind before I dared answer. “All right,” I mumbled, shrugging. “I guess.” I still wasn’t entirely sure what it was I was supposed to be doing differently.

“Good,” he said, giving me another weak smile. He picked up another twig, then tossed it in. “Good.”

I never put much thought to it then. Now that I remember, I suppose Schafer was a sort of father figure to me when I was in the band. Yeah, I mean, I was brainwashed, and he was part of some evil fucking shit, but he was always the good one in comparison. He really was trying to get me to forgive him, although I didn’t know what for at the time. Now, I kind of regret that he died, to be honest.

We spent the rest of the night in the memorial. The boss got up first to go, and I followed behind her a few seconds later. We got back to the room full of bunk beds, and she picked the farthest one in the corner. I didn’t see a need to stand watch, but I didn’t fall asleep either. I lay awake on the bunk closest to the stairwell, just in case some raider came down those steps during the night. I’m not entirely sure, but I think she might’ve started crying again. Normally, I would’ve felt awkward at this, but this time I just listened, thinking. It was pretty fucking depressing, and if I were anybody else, I’d be just as sad as she was. To this day I can still remember how he felt under my hands, floating in the water, and what it looked like when I let him sink down into the dark, disappearing so easily. Man, I fucked up. I wasn’t just beating myself up over it, I was also mad that we’d lost him to those Brotherhood bitches. I couldn’t have expected any less from them, but…fuck, why Gob?

I fell asleep again without noticing, and the only thing I could remember was picturing the boss’s face a lot. It was drawn, her silvery blonde hair clean and straight around her face and shoulders. Just before I woke up, she was trying to say something to me.

I didn’t know what time it was, but my eyes still flew to where she’d been sleeping, just to see if she’d woken up before me. She wasn’t there, and my mind started to jump to the worst. Grabbing my shotgun from beside my bed, I started back to the room with the cisterns. I found her leaning over the pool opposite where Gob had died. Her face and hair were wet, suggesting that she’d washed herself, and she was holding her long blonde locks back as she puked into the water. I stood there in the doorway, watching her get sick over and over. I wanted to help her, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do. When she stopped, she stayed sitting on her knees, breathing deep and slow. After a while, she let go of her hair, and let it drop over her face. She didn’t move for the longest time. “Boss?” I said quietly, and she turned toward me, looking up at me through the dark. Her face looked like it did in my dream, but it was so much more…empty.

After that, we both ate in silence in the bunk room, not looking at the other. We sat opposite each other, looking at the floor.

“I don’t look anything like my father,” she said in a small voice. I looked up at her, noticing how her arms wrapped around her ribs, how she winced with each breath she took. When she saw me looking at her, she shook her head a bit. “He claimed I had his face, but I think I’m more like my mother.”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. “There were a few old pictures we had stored away at home, in Vault 101,” she explained, drawing her feet closer to the bunk and trying to sit up straight. The moment she straightened out her middle, she grimaced hard again, and sank back down into her hunched position, favouring her right side. “She had the same bright blonde hair and dark brown eyes as I do, but we had polarized dispositions. In all of her photos, she’s smiling, and she looks so happy…if it wasn’t for our physical resemblance, I would claim that I wasn’t my parents’ child.”

I studied her as she said all of this to me. I wasn’t sure why she was mentioning it, but I figured it had something to do with the fact that she’d watched her friend die while she couldn’t do anything. I just let her talk. Maybe that’s all she needed. “My mother was so passionate and kind, and my father is determined and good-willed…I don’t know where I went wrong. I would like to say I have noble intentions, just like them, but everything I try to accomplish, everyone I try to help, they…”

Her head sunk a little lower. “I’m not fit for anyone.”

After that, we were silent again, and she just got up and wandered off, limping lightly as she climbed the stairs behind me. I knew I should’ve gone up there and consoled her or some shit like that, but what was I supposed to do? My social skills were pretty shitty, and as much as I felt for her, I felt just the same as she did: if I tried to help, I’d probably end up making things worse.

I spent a good half hour sitting in the basement. I rubbed the back of my flaky neck, and after a lot of deliberation, I decided I’d go up the stairs and look for her, just to make sure she would be all right. Maybe I’d ask her what she wanted to do next, just to get her mind off of Gob for a while. Maybe I’d get her into finding her dad again.

When I got up to the museum level, she wasn’t there. I looked around the gift shop a bit, but I didn’t find a trace of her. All I could see were test stations for some sort of scientific experiment. The closest I’d ever come to understanding science was taking ultra jet with Ahzrukhal, so I didn’t even bother poking around. Someone was trying to test something, that’s all I can tell you. It pretty much looked like they all gave up one day and just left, though. I was poking around one of the stations when I looked up and saw the door to the rotunda.

I pushed open the door, stepping in quietly. Inside, there was this huge circular room built on top of another pool of water. I didn’t see the boss, but I could hear someone talking. It was a man’s voice. Of course, I got all defensive at this—I wasn’t one for trust, especially not for someone who was lurking about in the old Jefferson Memorial. I pulled my shotgun and I started up the short wrought iron steps.

When I got to the top, I could see that the entire rotunda was converted into some sort of control room. There were monitors and old computers everywhere. I assumed that it was from the same people who’d set up the experimenting stations up all over the museum, and I felt a little weirded out, for some reason. I could hear the man’s voice drifting from around the bend, and I approached cautiously, but something felt off. It wasn’t like there was a man talking to the boss, but his voice was recorded and being played back or something. When I got closer, I could see her sitting on the floor, clutching her Pip-Boy in front of her face. Her back was to me, but I could tell she was on edge, or at the very least, excited about what she was listening to. When I stopped a few feet behind her, I caught the last of the recording.

“…well-hidden in some sort of garage…but I’ll find it. I have to. I’m so close, but that’s the story of Project Purity, isn’t it? An eternity of almost theres…”

There was more, but I didn’t catch it. I was watching her, trying to figure out the situation. When it ended, the kid lowered her arm, and stayed seated on the ground for a long time. She turned around and looked at me. I didn’t know anything about what she was listening to, but I started to make some assumptions once I caught the look on her face. It was worse than the crying. I looked away, then started back out of the rotunda, my shotgun held loosely in my right hand. She needed time to be alone. There wasn’t anything I could do for her, anyway. If I could tell it to her now, I’d say sorry. Fuck…that was a shitty time.

My Pip-Boy read six in the evening, and I’d decided I’d spent enough time sitting in the control room of Project Purity. When I found my father’s holotapes unexpectedly, I should have been elated. I finally found where my father had been. In his recordings he said where he was going and why. Jefferson Memorial had been their project headquarters. I’d been born here. This place was our life’s work. Everything I’d been looking for from the beginning was here. But I felt defeated somehow.

I’d failed so many already. How could I go to him now? I felt my only place was by his side, but I felt I wouldn’t be able to walk in his shadow, not anymore. Not now that I knew how incapable I was. I’d made the decision that cost a life. I couldn’t face my father with that. I couldn’t even face myself. Self-wallowing is a weakness, let alone completely foolish, but I couldn’t stop. When I saw Charon look down at me and turn away, I felt torn. I was hoping he would say something, but it was wishful thinking. It was a blow, though, to have him leave me alone. That was how I should have stayed from the start: on my own.

I returned to the basement and I found him sitting on a bunk bed, tuning his shotgun. When he saw me coming, he pointed to the table in the middle of the room. “I found some more stimpaks for you,” he grunted quietly, “just in case your ribs are giving you hell.”

“Thank you,” I said quietly, pointedly looking at the floor. I felt ashamed to show my face, I think. I felt like he was judging me. It was an irrational thought, but I couldn’t help but get trapped in my own head, watching Gob sink to the bottom of the pool and hearing Charon’s silence.

I picked up a stimpak and turned away to a hidden nook in the room. I lifted up my hoodie gently, which felt like I was tearing loose skin off.

My entire right side was black and blue. A distinctive sore could be seen where I’d struck the ground after the yao guai threw me off its back. I’d claimed it to be a simple fracture, but it was worse than I wanted it to be.

After appraising the damage, I stuck the stimpak in my lower side (which hurt immensely) and injected it. It would have to do until I could find a doctor living in a town that wasn’t likely to have one of my many enemies in it.

I decided I would spend the night in the memorial before departing west to find my father. He said in his notes that he’d left behind that he was going to look for memoirs left behind from a man living in Vault 112 in order to help Project Purity function. The notes weren’t specific on what the project was about, but I could only assume it was for clean drinking water for the entire Wasteland.

Of course.

Revelation 21:6: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life, freely.

My mother’s favourite passage. Her dream. No wonder my father left Vault 101 behind for this project. He wanted to finish what he’d started before I was born. Even my very life interrupted the wills of others. I was merely a burden on everyone, including my father.

As I leaned against the wall of the nook, I listened to the sounds of Charon tuning his shotgun. Charon. He and Gob truly had been comforts for me in the last few days of my seemingly never-ending journey. I felt better having the bitter man around, and I felt better once I’d befriended Gob in the slave pen. I cared about them. I cared. Now that Gob was gone, I…

Charon set part of the shotgun back together with a click. It was a well-oiled machine, every cog correctly placed, never failing in its duty. He took good care of it so that he could fulfill his contract.

His contract.

I rounded the corner from the nook, sitting down on the bunk across from Charon. I saw him hesitate ever so slightly as he flickered his eyes from the gun to me, but he quickly continued his work. He’d started a fire in an old barrel that he’d dragged in between the bunks.

Finally I looked up at Charon, watching him fiddle with a specific part on the barrel. I wasn’t going to avert my eyes anymore. He deserved more than that.

He was resolutely avoiding looking at me. “Charon.”

He paused and looked up, staring at me like he was boring holes into me, just like he had back in the Ninth Circle. He waited for me to continue, so I asked: “When you were with Schafer, did you enjoy his company?”

He looked like he was planning a very clever response, and his eyes searched the ground for a moment. “Yeah, I did.” He seemed quiet, distant, like he was trying to be gentle with me, just in case I’d become breakable.

I felt my heart quicken when I started my next question. “And me?” I said, averting my eyes purposefully. “Do you enjoy my company?”

I wondered if his contract would make him bend the truth. After a while, I looked back up, and I saw him staring at me. “Yeah,” he said, slower, quieter, “I do.”

I was convinced that he had hated my presence since he first laid eyes on me. Even if he was lying…it felt good to hear it. It also stung. He was yet another person I had to disappoint. “I’ve found out where my father has gone. He went far out into the west, to Vault 112.”

“That’s where we’re headed, then?”


His hands rested on either end of the gun, and he looked back at me intently. I diverted my eyes to the fire, and I flexed my jaw. “I’m going alone.”

“You hold my contract,” he said, as if I had somehow forgotten this fact. “I’m required to be within reasonable distance of you at all times.”

I reached inside the gap of my Pip-Boy and withdrew the contract. It was old, weathered paper, and it had quite clearly seen a lot of years. But it was strong too. The integrity still held; I could tell it could withstand quite a bit. Even so. It was just a piece of paper. “Your contract…it means a lot to you.”

“Yes,” he answered with a clipped tone, his hands tightening slightly on the shotgun.

“It represents the greater part of your life. It represents your torture. The chains…” I dared to look up at him. “It’s given you so much grief. I feel like I am this contract. For you, for others. I’ve nothing good to offer anyone.”

He seemed concerned, and I suppose he had the right to be. I stood from the bed, staring intently into his eyes. I wanted to take every last moment I could, I wanted to remember this image of him, watching me. I considered that what I was about to do could destroy him, but somehow I knew it would be better for him, better for both of us. I would redeem him, redeem myself, and though I would be alone, I would remember that he enjoyed my company. He was my friend.

I dropped the contract in the fire.

I thought she was acting odd, even for her, but when that paper touched the flames, I didn’t give a shit. I felt like something just stabbed me in the gut and twisted my insides around. My breath froze and my head exploded—my contract, fuck, my contract! FUCK!

I jumped up from the bed, pieces of my shotgun flying everywhere. The boss charged me. If she surprised me by dropping my contract in the fire—my contract, half of my fucking identity—she surprised me more by ramming her shoulder hard into my chest. My hands came down hard on her shoulders, and I tried to throw her to the side, but she hooked her leg in between mine and grasped the front of my leather armour, tripping me down on top of her.

I yelled this real feral yell, like I’d actually turned into one of those mindless zombies, and I forced my hands and knees up on either side of her, pulling myself back up. She kept herself attached to my front, and I grabbed her by the hair, yanking her off me. I knew that with my contract, grabbing at her like that would’ve caused me hell, but it didn’t right then. She wasn’t my mistress anymore. She didn’t hold my contract. It was burning, oh fucking Christ, it was burning! I’d dive into that barrel to get it out and burn myself before I’d let this kid stop me. The insanity was pulling me away again, and I needed to save my contract, I’d kill her to get to my contract, for fuck’s sake. Her scream was muted by the buzzing in my ears—the contract burning was louder.

When I’d yanked her to the side, I practically jumped to the barrel again, reaching out to try and save the burning paper. Before I could grab it she put her foot in front of mine from behind and shoved me forward forcefully. She wasn’t strong, but she knew how to spar. I tripped forward into the bunk bed, yelling out again. I pushed away from the bed frame and launched myself back, and her foot connected with my middle. I leaned over, winded, but I wasn’t stopping. Nor was she—she kicked the barrel over, the fiery contents spilling onto the concrete floor with a loud clank. I threw her aside as I made for the fire but she grabbed my wrist, trying to pull me back. I rounded on her, clenching my fist and swiping at her jaw. She ducked and pivoted behind me. She let go of my wrist and jumped onto my back, wrapping an arm around my neck and jabbing me in my weak spots.

I tried to clamber toward the fire, but her strikes made me fall. I didn’t think it would do that much, but I couldn’t even stay on my feet when she hit my sides. When I fell she kept striking all parts of me, but with a wild shove I flung her off. She hung onto me just barely as I got to my feet, and I could feel her trying to scramble back up to deal me another blow. I was like a fucking rabid dog at this point, and I wasn’t about to let her stop me from saving myself. So when she climbed on up for a ride, I gave her one, and fell backward, dead weight.

I crushed her. I heard her other ribs crack. She couldn’t hold on anymore.

I didn’t waste any time—I scrambled to the pile of embers on the floor. I threw burned crap everywhere, trying to find my contract. Most things were starting to simmer down into sparks, pieces of burnt scrap and ash simmered everywhere, but I couldn’t find my contract anywhere. Oh, fuck me. It was gone. It was actually fucking gone.

I can’t really describe to anyone properly what that felt like. It was heavy, it was dark, and it came in charging. I felt every torture I’d ever been put through during conditioning. I was tearing out what little hair I had left to stop the pain. I didn’t think it was possible, but this was much, much fucking worse than when I’d lost my contract on both accounts. Each time, I’d seen it in the boss’s hands again, and she saved me from my hell. This time, she’d caused it, and she couldn’t stop it this time. I was going to die, there was no way I couldn’t live through this. Oh, fuck, it was so heavy, so dark—I needed to get out! The first thought that came to me was red hot anger, and I clung to it like stink clings to rotting flesh on a ghoul, and I rounded from the pile of burnt remains on the ground, pouncing on top of her. I pulled my knife, fucking roared in her face, pinned her chest and pressed my blade under her throat.

I wanted to yell a few choice words to her, but all I could manage was that wild howl. She looked like she was dead on the ground, but I could feel her heartbeat under my hand. I wanted to slice her throat open, take her life like she’d taken mine. She knew exactly what that contract meant—hell, she’d even chatted about it like someone would about how to cook radroach meat, but she still dropped it into the fire, she still burned me, sent me to hell. Was she trying to be a saint? I just wanted to kill the sorry bitch right then and there, but I just kept yelling into her face, and my knife shook in my hand from under her chin.

Her thin hand came around my wrist gently, and her eyes opened halfway. Her mouth parted a bit, like she was going to say something, but she stayed silent. I don’t know when it happened, but I’d stopped yelling. The void was still sucking me in, but when I looked her in the eye, things in reality became painfully more obvious to me, like the way she was looking at me, the way that I felt about her. I could notice that I was hovering on top of her, my hand was clamped down on her chest and moved with her breathing, and that I couldn’t kill her and couldn’t and couldn’t.

I pulled my wrist from her hand and chucked the knife across the room with one last yell. I drew into a ball like I was imploding. My contract is gone, my contract is gone, oh, fuck, what do I do without my contract? Why the fuck did you do this to me?

Time compressed. I didn’t know what time it was or how long I’d been there. Without sunlight or lack thereof, I didn’t know if I was there for hours or for days. The pressure was so much, so possessive and crippling. I couldn’t find myself. I felt like I’d already died, and I was just wandering around hell, waiting for someone to come show me where to go. I was still waiting for my contract, and every time I’d hear a voice say it’s gone and I’d relieve the shit again and again. I didn’t want to be, and I just wanted to get out, but I didn’t know how—

I thought I’d spend the rest of my life curled up in a pathetic little ball. After a while, the reminder that my contract only made me twinge a bit. Sometimes I even had my own thoughts. Eventually I started to unfurl from my little ball. I think the contract started to fade out, which was a big fuckin’ surprise. “Big fuckin’ surprise…” That was my own thought, wasn’t it? And I’d said it aloud?

My neck was stiff as slate, so I slowly looked up. I was still in the bunk room in the Jefferson Memorial, not in hell. The barrel was still toppled over from where she had kicked it, and the ashes had long since gone cold and black. It was hard to breathe evenly, but I tried to force myself into a proper rhythm before I tried relaxing my arms and legs. After a while, I could stand, and I stayed still for a while, just trying to get myself back together. It took a long time before I felt like I’d returned to something closer to normality. I still felt wounded, like there was a huge gash in my side (except it was in my sanity) but the huge black hole of hell seemed far away now. It still hurt sometimes, but not nearly as much. There was a noticeable hole, and it was too fucking terrifying to look into. It was hard, but…I could ignore it. If I didn’t think about it too hard, it was okay. I was okay. I was…alone.

She wasn’t lying where I’d left her. How long ago had that been? An hour or a week? I looked around slowly a bit, thinking I might see her somewhere else in the room.

I’ve found out where my father has gone. He went far out into the west, to Vault 112.”

That’s where we’re headed, then?”

No. I’m going alone.”

Now that I was on my feet again, and I could remember my last conversation with her, it was easier to see why she did what she did. She’d been through a lot of crap, and she probably was hoping she’d be doing me a favour by getting rid of my other half and leaving me behind. At the time, it wasn’t. It still wasn’t now. I was really fucking unstable, even though I was feeling like heaven at that moment in comparison to the hell before. Maybe, in the long run, it would be best for me. She’d made me a free person to my own devices. But she didn’t know that was going to happen. I still didn’t know. Full of some real great fucking surprises, she was.

I didn’t have to follow her anymore; she didn’t have my contract, nor did my contract exist. It made me uneasy, but I kept thinking about her, just to keep things sane. Now, I was still right fucking pissed with her, but I was able to calm down once I thought about her face, how she looked with my knife to her throat. I wish…I wish I hadn’t done that.

She obviously didn’t want me coming with her, probably because she was full of guilt over Gob’s death or some shit like that, but I didn’t care what she was rationalizing with at this point. Just like going on that trek to look for my contract had made me feel more comfortable with existing, going after her seemed to be the only thing I actually wanted to do now.

I went around the room, collecting pieces of my shotgun and putting them back together. When it was reassembled, I picked up the rest of my supplies, cleaned myself off a bit, ate some rations, then left the memorial. I wasn’t an expert on tracking, but I’d hoped that she hadn’t gotten too far from the ruins for me to pick up her trail.

When I got outside, it was dark. I traveled down south of the river a bit, trying to avoid both D.C. and the Citadel. There was a dry part on the Potomac, and I crossed, heading west. I could only hope she’d gone the same way I was going. The more I thought about catching up with her, the better I felt. Like going back to something real.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.