started out for Underworld. I had no other place to go and I wanted
answers. There was still that heavy pain in my chest, but now that
it’d worn off a bit, I was
fucking pissed. I remembered all too easily that someone sent out a
bounty on Gob’s head and mine, double crossing the boss. Now I was
some rabid dog without a muzzle, and I was going to paint the town
red with whoever got in my way.
Unlike the past week or so, there was a lot of Wasteland trash in my way this time. Not anyone from Paradise Falls, Talon companies, or Megaton, but a lot of over-grown, mutated Wasteland shits that anyone could find prowling around the dirt for food. I left everything riddled with more holes than a whorehouse. It was like a bad jet addiction where I had to keep hitting up to escape the instant withdrawal. Killing got my mind off of the way her face looked, the way she went rigid then the way she wasn’t.
After a couple of hours, I found my way back towards that shallow part in the Potomac, steering clear of the Citadel like I’d said we…No. Fuck it. I’m not going to think about it. I walked right by the Jefferson Memorial and couldn’t look at it. Just it existing was a fucking insult to memory. What I’d nearly done in there.
I followed the bank of the river, finding my way towards an old aircraft carrier that looked torn in two. I remembered Schafer talking about that place a long time ago—it was most likely Rivet City. I’d never been there, but I heard enough about it to know I probably wouldn’t be welcome. A long docking bridge stretched from the bank to the deck of the boat, and about a hundred or so yards away from the platform was a metro station. I went down into it, passing by hordes and hordes of feral ghouls. They were all watching me. Somehow I was jumping to conclusions here, but they made me think that even if she had survived, we would never stick together. The world we lived in? Feral ghouls on the outside, smoothskins on the inside.
I’d had more than enough introspective bullshit sessions with myself than I could handle. I stopped thinking about anything but shooting shit up until I finally found myself in the mall. The Washington Monument was far off in the distance, safe from Brotherhood territory. My path was clear to the Museum of History.
Home. Jesus shit, home? Fuck that place. Maybe there was residue of anger form being with Ahzrukhal for so long, but when I saw the building I was sure as shit going to bust in and kill every last rotting asshole in that city if I hadn’t spotted the couple of super mutants nearby. They watched me from their trenches, keeping their distance. “Clear the fuck off,” I yelled past the cobwebs in my throat. It gave me a feral rasp, and I suppose that was just enough to convince those two maybe, yeah, I was about to lose it. It helped me realize that killing everyone in Underworld was going to fuck up all my last resorts. So I reined it in and approached.
Willow was standing beside the escalators down, her arms folded across her chest. When I got closer, she uncrossed her arms and she stepped towards me. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you around here anytime soon.” She gave me a cocked grin. “Where’s your pretty boss?”
I stashed the shotgun and drew my knife. She didn’t see it coming until I pressed it against her throat and pushed her over the median that lined the escalators. She scrambled to break free but I was a lot fucking bigger and tougher than she was. It made me think about how the boss had broken my grip a couple times but fuck off memory and eat your own fucking shit.
“Who hired the Talon company?”
She tried to escape again and I bent her so fucking far backwards over the median that she would have toppled over the edge if I wasn’t holding her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Charon, get the fuck off me—”
“Who?!”S I pulled her off the block onto the ground. She gagged and opened her hollow eyes, pleading with them. I started to freeze up—I’d been in this position before. Only, back then, it was the boss looking up at me, and there was a different feeling running through my stomach. Willow winced again, shaking her head as much as she could in a choke hold.
Fuck. As much as I wanted my answers, Willow genuinely didn’t know what the fuck was going on. Besides, now that she’d somehow reminded me of the boss, I wanted out of there, fast.
I let her go and stood. As I went down the escalator, sheathing my knife, Willow shouted, “If you so much as twitch your trigger finger in there, Charon, I’m gonna fucking blow your head off!”
Good. She’d be a fucking sorry guard if she didn’t. Maybe I’d blow her head off first, if it came to that. But I was going to make sure it didn’t come to that, because I needed to find out who the fuck decided to bring me back with Gob on a silver platter, and I couldn’t do that if I blew all my last chances to hell.
When I stepped into the shit hole of a city, that re-programmed Mister Gutsy, Cerberus, was already at the door, waiting for me. It had its various weapons out, but it tucked them away once I looked over. A frustrated growl came out of its vocal processor, like it was hoping I’d be someone else, and it grumbled, “Go Underworld, go ghouls, yay…”
“Charon,” some guy muttered from across the hall, and I turned to face him. Quinn, the supply runner, was standing there, and a few other rugged-looking residents paused to look at me too. I could see it on their faces. They knew. Everyone was surprised to see me, which means they were all expecting me to be hauled in with a bunch of armed mercs, not for me to come waltzing in solo. I started walking towards Quinn, then storming him down, and I grabbed him by the collar of his old dusty travelling coat and fucking punched him like I’d never socked anyone. Something cracked between us.
I needed that.
There was an uproar of fear, shock, and outrage, but Quinn got up right quick and called them off. He was holding his mouth, blood gushing from between his bony fingers, but he had a look in his eyes like he’d been caught, or he thought he deserved it.
“I want to know who did it,” I growled. Everyone in the halls went silent. I could even see people poking their heads out of a few doors in the back and up the stairs. Quinn tightened his jaw. I reached over my shoulder to make a point and heard Cerberus’s weapons come back on, and I could almost hear glee behind those turning gears. He liked killing just as much as I did.
“Who did it?” I said even quieter, pausing in between words.
“Charon,” Doctor Barrows said from the back of the concourse. Everyone, including me, looked back in his direction, watching him and Nurse Graves approach. As soon as I laid eyes on him, he stopped, some sort of worried expression on his face. He sighed a bit, looking around in the faces of all the other ghouls there with some annoyance, before waving me in. “Come with me.”
I walked past Quinn like nothing happened. I felt like all eyes on my back, watching me like I’d explode at any second. Doctor Barrows and Nurse Graves led me inside the Chop Shop. The doors came shut with a loud echo. I fought my anger down. He’d give me the answers. If he didn’t…
There were windows lining the back that gave a view of a large open room, where a few feral ghouls wandered around, growling and howling every now and again. I didn’t see that the last time I’d been in here. I remembered hearing that Barrows was researching ghoul genetics, but I didn’t know he farmed them like brahmin. In between the windows on the back wall was the bed that the boss had been lying on. I could still see evidence of her blood being there, staining the white sheets permanently, but what bothered me more was the fact that someone else was lying on it. Another smoothskin. Another woman. She looked just as beaten up as the boss had been, and she was knocked out cold. I found myself watching her for a long time before Barrows broke the silence.
“I think you’ve gathered a lot of us didn’t expect you. Just you,” Barrows grumbled, collapsing into his computer chair and running a hand over his patchy head. “Mercenaries were supposed to bring you and Gob back.”
“Why?” I snarled. “Who the fuck sent them out?”
“Hold on.” Barrows gestured towards me like he was begging me not to tear him apart. “We want to know what you’re doing back here by yourself. No employer? And what about Gob?”
I really didn’t want to get into any of that, even though I knew I should have told them. I growled, and Graves inched back from me a bit. Barrows only shook his head.
“After you did Ahzrukhal in, we were…well, shocked,” Barrows admitted, leaning back in his chair. “None of us were going to come after you. We know how he treated you over the years, and he got what was coming to him, but still…it was a bit of a mess to clean up, literally and figuratively.
“What’s more, you ran out immediately following his murder. It was murder, you can’t deny that claim. We knew that girl from the Vault led you out of here. Either she’d ordered you to do in your old boss or she was guilty of something else and didn’t want to get caught. She was a nice enough girl, or so Graves vouches,” he said, motioning towards her, “but you know as well as anyone around here: we can’t trust smoothskins. We didn’t have to talk to you to know you hated them too.”
“Stop changing the fucking subject.” I took a step forward and Graves took another step back.
“Charon,” he started, then faltered. “We all wanted the best for Carol, and we didn’t have as much faith in that girl as she did, so…” he paused, grimacing. “Most of the town rounded together, threw in a few caps to a pot, then hired the mercenaries. We thought we’d be doing you and Gob a favour.”
I was fucking stone cold when I took another step forward, just within arm’s reach of him. “So.”
“We’re sorry. We were just looking out for you—”
“Shut that fucking hole in your face, Barrows.”
The first time I saw the boss, I thought the same things they did. Just…now that I knew, everything was so fucked up. If those mercs had never found her and sold her to Paradise Falls, if they hadn’t blown up the slaver camp and had us detour the Citadel, if Gob hadn’t died and she never got so sick…Sure, it was a stretch, but all of it was their fucking fault. Every last cap each one had thrown in. I took another step forward. Graves whimpered.
But Barrows looked…sorrowful. “Charon, what happened?”
I had a whole tale to make them cry a river, but I’m a man of few words. “Gob was shot to death. The girl died too. All of Carol’s money is gone. I came back here to straighten things.” Kill every last one of you and tear your corpses apart.
The pair of them looked like I’d just beat the shit out of a puppy in front of them. Graves shook her head. “What do we tell Carol?” she mumbled to Barrows.
The silence that followed was too fucking heavy to deal with.
“Where are you going?” Graves asked as I moved towards the door. I could see Barrows throw a hand out to her to silence her from the corner of my eye, but she did make me pause. I was thinking of what to say, if I should say anything, when I looked back over to the operating table. That redhead was lying on it neatly, with her hands folded over her stomach. She was wearing a plain tunic and pants, but I could see a bit of blood staining them here and there. I didn’t see her, though, not really. All I could picture was the boss lying there, her black eyes trying to hold on to me so desperately. She’d never do that again; she was really gone this time.
I left and they didn’t try to stop me a second time. I went through Underworld without looking at any one of their sorry ass faces. I wanted to hate them all, place the blame on someone else—that would have made things easier. I think Quinn tried to say something to me as I left, but I didn’t stop to let them in.
I walked out into the open mall again, and Willow was standing there, her assault rifle drawn. She looked me up and down, trying to figure if I’d gone in and murdered anyone in there. I kept walking past her. “Charon, where the fuck are you going?”
I did know where I wanted to go, but I didn’t say anything to Willow. It wouldn’t make any sense to her. Besides, wasn’t any of her fucking business.
“ I’ve found out where my father has gone. He went far out into the west, to Vault 112.”
At the time, I thought it was the last thing I could do for her.
“So,” Gob said quietly, throwing a glance over his shoulder towards the rear, where Charon prowled behind us, a scowl on his face, “once you drop us off at Underworld, what are you gonna do?”
We were walking south along the riverbank of the Potomac, trying to find a shallow point to cross over to the other side, or, at the very least, a bridge. I considered his question for a moment, but then I shook my head. “I’m not ‘dropping’ you off at Underworld, Gob, I’m escorting you there.”
“Fine, fine, however you want to say it,” Gob said, keeping his voice low. I knew he was trying to avoid letting Charon listen in, but I had no idea why. It could have a self-conscious thing; he did seem quite timid and especially unsure of himself in Charon’s presence. But it could have simply been that he respected me too much to make our conversations public. “When you’re done with us, what’re you going to do next?”
Done with us. The entire point of this excursion was to bring Gob home, but I didn’t want to leave them behind, despite the fact that someone from Underworld specifically hired others to take him and Charon back from me by force. I may not have been welcome there, but I wanted to stay with them. Both of them. I couldn’t imagine leaving Gob or Charon behind and going back out on my own again.
“Maybe I’ll stick around,” I replied after a long moment of silence, “get some business done.” I wanted to tell Gob about the mercenaries, and I was about to, but he interrupted me with another question.
“And what about him?”
I felt a strong desire to look back at Charon but I was all too aware that he’d be looking right back at me, and it made me nervous.
“You gonna be glad to get him off your back?”
“I’ll keep him.” That sounds horrible, I thought to myself. I scoffed at my own words. “I’ll ask him to stay around, I mean.”
“Asking him is pointless. Of course he’s gonna stick around, as long as you’ve got that contract. I just thought you two didn’t get along much. He doesn’t get along with anybody.”
“I know. I really…need him around, though.”
Gob didn’t say anything. I looked at him sideways. He was giving me this suspicious look out of the corner of his eye, a look that was almost teasing. I felt my cheeks flare.
“I never thought a smoothskin could make friends with ghouls, especially that one,” Gob said with amusement. “If I were crazy, though…I’d say you’ve got a soft spot for the bastard, Stella.”
That effectively killed our conversation. I shook my head, denying the undeniable. Vulnerability was not something I wore well. He let it drop, though he kept smirking.
It was very uncomfortable to think about. But I really didn’t want to part with him. He was not a valuable possession. It was not because he was a very, very useful ally to have out in the desert. And it was not because we were friends. Whatever it was we had, it wasn’t friendship.
It was more than that.
In another brief fantasy of mine, he wanted the same thing.